Cost vs Benefit Analysis of Vulnerability

Posted on December 9, 2018

I’m teasing you with that post title. I do want to talk about vulnerability, acknowledging from the get-go I can’t possibly address all the different kinds of vulnerability. There are costs and benefits for each type, but how we weigh them will be vastly different. We don’t get to eliminate vulnerability, I mean, we can avoid it, do our best to minimize exposure, but then when we feel super safe a gust of wind’ll sweep right in and reveal all. Perhaps if we each move forward acknowledging that all of us are walking around with exposed patches of vulnerability then we can be the tiniest bit kinder—I won’t say if I mean kinder to ourselves or to others because either would be grand.

Lately, I’ve been off, like a headache that won’t quite go away, but instead of pain, it’s a sense that I might break. I have aches and tweaked parts, irritability, and frustration that slips just out of reach of my vocabulary. Am I mad? Tired? Sad? Confuzzled? There is no one to blame and nothing in particular that I can say to people who love me when they ask, “What’s wrong?”

Enduring moments of vulnerability

A few days ago we were doing a photo shoot at Trampoline, my turn in front of the camera had finally come. There had been a steady stream of Tramps working to make whoever was being photographed feel comfortable. They’d fix stray hairs, make goofy faces from behind the lights, and do anything they could to distract from the fact that we were in the midst of a photo shoot. The photo below is early on in the process. I have about 15 pictures that Staci snapped, each more awkward than the last.

Woman standing in front of brick wall with photographer slightly visible in the foreground.

What do I do with my hands? How do I become enough for what’s needed? How do I not smile so my gums show and my teeth look tiny? Is my one eye doing that weird thing? I hate this. What do I do?

 

Let’s break it down:

My lips are pursed.

My eyes look scared.

I’m doing my go-to nervous finger-lock.

I bet behind the stool one foot is back like it’s trying to break on a roller skate.

I was terrified because when I am having my picture taken every awful picture comes rushing back like the flashback scene in Armageddon. The misshapen, mint green velour sweater and constipated face on my 3rd-grade class photo, the ill-advised navy turtleneck and high waisted pleated jeans and orange belt in that snap from my exchange year in Spain. I can hear the hair stylist who said, “You should always lead with your right side, no pictures from the left. Ever.”

I half expect photographers to pop their heads out from behind the camera and say, “Do you need a minute?”

Nope. Rob kept clicking away while giving me small notes, “Tilt your head a bit to the left, ok, now try straightening your shoulders.”

Vulnerability on any level is still vulnerability

I once wrote a post about my relationship with weight. A dear friend and woman I admire left a comment that began with admitting frustration I would rant about weight. It is an understandable reflex for any of us to look at someone or something and almost without thinking assign whether it or they are worthy of concern or pain. I don’t think we are particularly conditioned to go deeper than, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” We miss so much because I believe that, as my friend demonstrated in the rest of her comment, we gain immeasurably when we reframe how we perceive things to include perspectives other than our own.

My greatest vulnerability isn’t being in front of a camera, but it may be the one that most frequently presents itself. My guess is we all have long lists of things that expose our vulnerability. A few more of mine:

Singing out loud.

Talking about my reading list.

Speaking Spanish out loud.

Standing with other moms.

Trying to explain what I do.

Talking race.

Talking women’s rights.

Dancing.

 

I am trying to do all of it more, except maybe dancing.

Getting comfortable with myself means owning my lines

I am uncomfortable in front of the camera. It’s ok. The worst thing that can happen is I hate a picture, which can then be deleted. This particular vulnerability isn’t going to destroy me and I can choose who I really let in to see me like that. I’ll never forget how Artist Mom treated me during a private shoot at Mom2. She talked with me, asking me questions, and letting me know what was and wasn’t working and why—none of it was my shortcoming. She talked about the ways to let ourselves be present in the images that emerge. It was so foreign to enjoy myself as I did.

After a few minutes of shooting, Rob offered to let me look at the pictures. I cringed, my stomach fluttered, and my hands got a little clammy.

“Ok, let’s see them,” I said.

It wasn’t long before I was laughing with relief. I did not love them all, but I saw parts of myself that I liked on the screen. The magic of that particular moment was the gift that surfaces when you present your vulnerability. Sure, there will be assholes, loads of them in fact, but there will be people who are kind.

 

Vulnerability isn’t a weakness

We are going to have plenty of challenges lobbed at us, pitched at us at super high speeds in the dark. We’ll stumble and falter, or lash out with words we regret, that’s living. Apologizing for vulnerability or making it feel like it weakens you is something that you don’t have to do. I genuinely believe that these parts of us are things that can guide us in who to trust and when.

The truth is coming here to write has been something that has been incredibly easy for the past 14 or 15 years. This post is pushing through some thick trepidation. My words may meander, the posts may be spotty, but they are here and they’re mine. I choose to share them with you and I thank you.

 

 

Saying Yes to Seeing Things Differently

Posted on November 7, 2018

You know that feeling when you discover a new word and then you keep seeing and hearing it? A month or two ago I agreed to participate in a campaign for GenderAvenger. Sounds superheroic, doesn’t it? I’d learned about them from my friend Elan, from what I’d seen GenderAvenger identified missed opportunities for a balance of gender representation at things like conferences. What I discovered as I began using  GA Tally, an app to quickly log who is speaking or how long people are speaking is that things can be pretty lopsided.

A group of caucasian and black adults on a TV set.

During a recent shoot for a Today Show segment. The female producer achieved a great gender balance.

The early tallies came out better than I expected. The first event was a women’s luncheon and there was a woman of color on the panel. Yay, right? At first, yes, but as time went on and I spent more energy really seeing what society puts forth, I realized that lauding the presence of one black woman on a panel of four is setting the bar pretty low.

But Is it Really Balanced?

To my knowledge none of the women on the panel were non-binary, none were disabled. This isn’t to say that every event needs to satisfy every box imaginable, but it does bear considering why there isn’t an effort to more accurately create, in panels, a reflection of their audiences.

I’ve always paid attention to the way movies and advertising treat women, either as set dressing or as vehicles for the male fantasy at any expense. What I hadn’t seen was how when it’s not wrapped in violence or sex, women are often simply invisible. I didn’t get worked up about that because I’d been conditioned to expect to listen to men. I noticed that at large events women were falling into support roles, being thanked for organizing and “making this whole thing possible”, while being positioned slightly off stage as men spoke at length about their experiences. There was one instance when a man was called up to introduce a speaker, he said he’d be brief. He wasn’t.

Who Does the Talking?

The man spoke for ten minutes and each time he mentioned the woman’s name he would mispronounce it. She was an elected official whose name you hear frequently around here. It was incomprehensible to me that he cared so little about anything beyond his own air time that he didn’t even bother to get her name right.

I chuckled when I learned about the term “manels” for all male panels. There were other things I began to notice, like how often the pendulum would swing so far as to be all women. Those events usually had the word “empowering” as a part of the description. It reminds me of lady pens.

The spirit of GenderAvenger isn’t to separate, it’s to help engage an awareness of representation—women and men, visibility for non-binary individuals, and a mentality that people can and should speak on any topic. Go beyond the predictable pool, because it is in the layering of different perspectives and experiences that you get your money’s worth from a panel of experts. Otherwise, it tends to be many mouths spouting the same idea.

 

This post was sponsored by GenderAvenger, but I promise that everything written here is purely me. I am grateful for the experience because realizing what I don’t see is one of the most potent ways of identifying where I can help create change.

All Of It

Posted on November 5, 2018

I am feeling all of it—tired and motivated, satisfied and discouraged, angry and at ease.

There are moments when I imagine that I have parenting handled, marriage under control, and running a business mastered. Other times I think, “Damn, I’m a fake.”

The other day, riding home from Finley’s concert, each of us tired to the bone from a week of to-dos, I tried to figure out if I was succeeding or failing. Why I continue to try and gauge how I’m doing is beyond me. I’d managed to get to the store to buy Finley a concert shirt between late nights for work and rehearsal. Saturday morning we found a pair of Avery’s shoes that would work because “If I wear my black boot heels I’ll be too tall because I am not in the back row. Can you believe that? Me, not in the back row?”

Fin had popped out of bed at 6:55 am after going to bed close to midnight the night before after a trip to NYC. Her sisters had come to the event, all available grandparents were in attendance, and no one had fought. It was a small miracle.

 

Children's Choir

Feeling All of It Sometimes Means Losing Sight of the Good Stuff

I had a splitting headache, I was in a foul mood, and it felt like maybe we’d pushed the girls too far. Looking toward the rest of the month, I have a lot of days I have to be out of the office and others days when I have to leave early. Sean and I are together all the time, but we are never together just Sean and me. The girls want to have sleepovers and bake cakes, but I’m stepping in puppy pee, and I am craving time to do nothing but read a book like I have 6 hours to burn. It’s non-stop, and yet I feel like I never get to the end of my to-do list in a way that doesn’t feel just short of catastrophic.

The music was on, and I wanted to turn it off. I was hot and cold at the same time. Briar said, “So what’s the plan for today?” and  it took everything I had not to wail, “I have no plan.”

It’s Still There & You Are Ok

Then the rainbow appeared. It was massive and distinct. All the colors visible and both ends in sight. As the road curved, we oohed and ahhed, trying to pinpoint where it would be next. At one point we literally drove through one end. The raindrops on the windshield made it more beautiful, and the power lines and trees made it feel all the more like it was stretching beyond any obstacle to get to us.

 

A rainbow across a blue sky seen through the rainy windshield of a black car.

I took a deep breath and let it out without trying to muffle it. Sean squeezed my hand, “That sounded like a good one.” I smiled and nodded.

Briar said, “We don’t need a plan. Let’s just go home and be cozy together.”

The ramp up to the midterm elections have been a lot on top of a lot. I get it. The clash of hope and despair, regardless of your political affiliation, not to mention the toll of so much sadness.

I hope we can all be that rainbow. Push through the obstacles, set aside the measurements of how we’re doing. Go vote, participate in the process because you can, if you aren’t sure about candidates read up in private. Heck, this site even links to a place that says it’s “like the Tinder for voting.”

Then, when you’re done, go home and be cozy.

 

 

 

Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

Posted on October 28, 2018

The midterm elections are around the corner. Maybe you are sick of the ads, or you think your vote can’t possibly make a difference. I hope you will reconsider. I’ve looked back a lot since 2016. I made donations to candidates, I sent out tweets, and posted on Facebook. I wrote and spoke with friends.

Three women stand with the arms linkedI didn’t knock on doors.
I didn’t put a bumper sticker on my car.
I didn’t attend meetings or rallies.
I didn’t speak as plainly as I could have.
I thought it was going to turn out fine.

It did not turn out fine, and I am trying to change the way I participate to come out on the other side feeling like I gave it my all.

Last week I let Sean manage the girls’ after-school commitments so that I could attend a fundraiser for Tedra Cobb. I’ve been following her progress for over a year. I didn’t immediately choose to support her, but today she has my full support. I believe that she will honor the things I hold dear—protecting women’s health care and reproductive rights and ensuring that our neighbors have the resources they need—social services, mental health support, and healthcare.

Elise Stefanik has not been available to us, and her voting has been more about toeing the Republican line than providing for her constituents. For me, the adherence to party over progress has been an unforgivable error. My kids are growing up in a world vastly different than my own, I feel it’s my job to help shape the world to address these changes. That means gun control, it means making college campuses safer, and it means acknowledging the environment’s fragility.

 

I believe Tedra Cobb will work toward that change.

 

I met Emily Martz on another occasion when Sean freed up my schedule. It was an event for Planned Parenthood in Glens Falls. I attended with my mom and was eager to support Planned Parenthood publicly. I didn’t know that I would meet Emily, but I was immediately drawn to her. She listened and was unafraid to speak about issues that have been ignored by our current state senator. Unfortunately, I think many of us have been silent, making it possible for votes against marriage equality and the Reproductive Health Act to be touted as “what my constituents want.” Senator Little, as a Catholic, has views on victim rights related to abuse in the Catholic Church that protect the offenders more than the victims. Her religion also influences how she votes on issues related to women’s reproductive health.

I am wholeheartedly throwing my support behind Emily Martz.

Amanda Magee and Emily Martz stand on porch of Morgan & Company in Glens Falls, NY

 

I hope that you will look at the candidates in your area and see if there are things that matter to you. Don’t be afraid to vote for someone other than the incumbent, try not to be intimidated by the idea of publicly standing for something. I know it can be upsetting to be attacked or to have someone challenge what you believe, but if we never stand up or speak out, if we never support someone who is trying to change things, then do we really believe in the things that we say we do?

We can’t actively support causes if we don’t let people know we’re in it. A former boss of mine used to say, “The world is run by those who show up.” Showing up takes courage, but what I can promise you is that you will never regret having tried.

Please use your voice in the places that you can.

Please vote.

 

Your Disbelief Doesn’t Eliminate My Reality

Posted on September 23, 2018

Woman in black and white photo looks over shoulder at man walking behind her.

Walking down the street will never be the same.

Would you mind if we spent a little time here on context? I ask because just yesterday I bumped into someone and I watched it take a minute for her to place me. When it registered she smiled and blurted, “Amanda” triumphantly. We both laughed, there were no hurt feelings or judgment.

“Context matters,” I said.

It can be pretty easy to assume that everyone has the same perspective or familiarity with something—whether something is a person, an event, or an experience. Over the past several years there have been attempts to contextualize people’s perspectives on pain: Trigger warnings, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo.

These hashtags and qualifiers are an effort to bring to the surface the pain or obstacles that people have and to honor them. If that seems impossible, even to consider them would be a step. As a culture that likes to make jokes to avoid discomfort, disparaging trigger warnings is a common phenomenon. The other thing we seem to do is celebrate the myth of strength, that people who push through pain without acknowledgment or help are better. As a result, the idea that someone could have enduring pain or trauma is a failure or a weakness.

Let’s talk about context

I want to try and give context and in all honesty, I am doing it for me too. When I was 17 I was raped. Between the ages of 8 and 10 neighborhood boys sexually abused the girls in the neighborhood. I was one of those girls. Today I am a 45-year old woman, married since 2003 to a man I have been with since 1999.

There was a time when my rape was a story I had used to avoid intimacy. Looking back I think I also used it to keep my dreams away, the ones where I didn’t have flashbacks of being held down, where my future was unencumbered by a past that elicited comments like, “I wouldn’t expect that from a person like you.” I’m telling you this because I want you to know that for me there came a moment when it stopped—no more flashbacks, no more terrors, no more weeping. I went so far that I judged other women who continued to lead with what had happened to them. I was “healed.”

It shattered one day during a family vacation on Cape Cod. My parents were footing the bill, my sister was with us, and the girls were happy basking in the attention of the entire family. It was a perfect time until I saw a clip on the news of Representative Todd Akin talking about what the body does with rape.

The walls closed in and every sound bite about victims of rape felt like a personal attack. The defense of accused men made me feel insignificant. A divide opened between my family and myself, I was on one side pummeled by all the things I didn’t do to prevent my rape, they were on the other side with just one more story on the news that they could tune out. I locked myself in a room and began typing. I’d like to tell you it was purposeful and considered, but the truth is closer to a violent episode—hurling facts at the screen in an attempt to have my reality be more than a blip.

I am a woman.
I was raped.
I was 17.
It was not my fault.

Getting Over It Isn’t a Thing

Writing helped, but it came at a cost. Revisiting what happened and trying to explain how my rape was “legitimate” and how I wasn’t drunk, wasn’t dressed provocatively sent me back into the obsession. I needed to participate in every discussion, every thread, defending women and explaining the intoxication shouldn’t matter, clothing shouldn’t matter, flirtation shouldn’t matter. The louder I argued, the more insignificant and unsupported I felt.

I wanted to get back to being me and feeling whole. The thing is traveling with the omnipresent specter of a trauma isn’t something people choose. When I used my rape as armor it was to get ahead of panic. If I made sex harder to get to the chances of being in the middle of making out and suddenly being back in a car with my pants around my ankles and a stranger forcing his crooked penis inside of me again and again shrank.

Once again I buckled down and “got over it”, pushing the memories back. I unlinked the post I wrote about my rape. I stepped back from the articles and the news. It’s been six years. It’s been 28 years. It’s been 35 years.

What I’d like to do is explain to someone who hasn’t been raped what it can feel like to have the memories dredged up against your will. People are talking about the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and the accusations that he attempted to rape Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school. It is on every screen when I am at the gym. Friends and acquaintances are weighing in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Radio personalities are talking about it between songs. Magazines and newspapers plaster the story on their covers. News capsule emails fill my inbox. People talk about it on the train. Staying at home might be the only option, but then my daughters ask me what I think about the situation because it’s been talked about at school.

People Tell Us to Let It Go

It doesn’t matter that my story isn’t identical.

Dr. Ford was 15 at the time she was attacked.

I was 17.

Dr. Ford knew her assailants (or would-be assailants if we need to qualify it.)

I did not know mine.

Our stories aren’t identical, but the time since the trauma is similar.

Here is how I am feeling: I‘m crossing the street before I have to walk past a man on the sidewalk. Standing in line at the café I inch forward each time someone stands close to me. I wedge myself in the back door of my car as I pump gas to avoid being looked at. I’m looking over my shoulder, literally jumping at shadows. I can’t get clean enough in the shower. I look in the mirror and cannot stand how I look. I’m exhausted in a way that neither food nor sleep can touch.

I’m hiding from Sean, slipping away before he can touch me, meeting his loving gaze with blurted chores that need to be done. He asks me what’s wrong and I say nothing, drowning in the ways he can’t fix it.

It started with Kavanaugh and his defenders, but now it’s all of them. Who is them? I can’t tell you. It’s politicians and actors, it’s women who don’t stand up for women, it’s the articles mocking trigger warnings. All of it makes me feel smaller and unheard. I don’t know how to pull myself up.

When Can We All Move On

That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s been so many years. How can we ever know the truth? Why does it matter now? Move on.

Let me tell you, I’d give just about anything to do all of those things. I don’t want this. I don’t want these emotions any more than I wanted to be raped. I don’t like burdening people with my pain or my fury. I ache to have things be simple, but I don’t get to have that. I promise that I’ll do my best. I can work really hard on keeping my wounds from making other people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

I have no doubt that there will always be people who think that I could have been parented more strictly or with more love, could have made better decisions. They’ll think that something like this would never happen in their family because they are too smart, too-well trained in self-defense, and ‘not those kinds of people.’ I hope to hell it’s true for them. I promise not to spit “I told you so” when it touches their family. I’ll believe them and I’ll fight for them.

I can’t make people believe the individuals who are sharing their experiences, I can’t make it hurt less for those who have been assaulted, but I do hope that in some way this makes it possible to begin to understand how we feel.

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