Stop Trying to Outrun Yourself

Posted on February 24, 2019

A woman's shadow is shown against a wall, there are horizontal shadows from blinds.I can trace back to as early as eleven, things about myself that I remember running away from. I had a penchant for cussing, picked up from sitting along the periphery of my dad’s poker games. The vocabulary would escape with enthusiasm on the playground.

“You’re a bad influence. We don’t want you around because you bring trouble. Just because you’re parents are splitting up doesn’t mean you can act like an animal.”

Her name was Lisa, we were at Amazon Park in Eugene, and I can still see the way the weeping willow limbs cast shadows on her face. She had a hint of a smile as she said it, the other kids gathering around her. I was poison. Too strong, too loud, too wild to belong. “I’m afraid you’ll rub off on me. On us.” I wanted to outrun their views of me, but the anger I felt only made me want to swear more. I berated myself:

 

Be less, Amanda.

Be less Amanda.

 

A few years later it was my emotions that shamed me. Fractured friendships because I was too moody, again I tried to be less. Then it was the size of my clothes, I’d cut the tags out, trying to erase me.

Blaming myself for being myself

The clash of enough and too much is something I’ve tried to coax myself into conquering. As an adult, the race has been to be more organized, feel less passionate, accept more passion, be more disciplined, care less than I do, try harder. I’ve put different names on things, but at the root of it all has been an attempt to be less of who I am.

Each carrot held just out of reach—

Once I start waking up early…

If I can just get my weight down…

When we move to the new house…

As soon as the girls are old enough…

After we reorganize the cabinets and…

Getting away from the day-to-day I’ll be able to…

We don’t have to change to change

I know that sounds ridiculous, but I mean it. The parts of ourselves that we try to change are inside of us, it’s our mind we have to change, not our body or our habits.

The common thread for me has always been a failure to achieve enough. Even in the times when I’ve followed a workout routine, set intentions, or practiced periods of meditation, I’ve never said to myself, “That’s it, Amanda. You did it.”

I think the problem for me began the first time I taped an image of Elle Macpherson on the wall in my bedroom.

“Aim for that,” was what I told myself. On some level, I’ve been measuring myself against her every day since. My success told in how close I got to Elle, how far I moved from Amanda.

I am here to tell you that we never get there. We run and attack, shaming ourselves for our inability to get to a place, to a self, that simply does not exist. We’re always there, we cannot undo ourselves.

We can’t outgrow, outrun, or outlast who we are.

Change isn’t about distance

We were on vacation last week. I spent less time reading the headlines, I honored the promise I made not to work, I slept when I was sleepy and ate when I was hungry. I found a different rhythm and at no time did I try to change. Sitting in the sun reading a book it hit me that none of this needed to wait for vacation. The change of scenery was nice but at the beginning and end of each day, I was still me. The parts of me that I wish to change were all still there, they’ll still be there when I have (insert wild, audacious goal) _____________.

We’re all working toward (or running away) from different things. I know that I am never going to be done questing, it’s who I am. What I am done with is the impossible chase, remembering a 30+ year old photo of Elle Macpherson. I can’t rewrite who I’ve been, nor do I want to. I have made some big mistakes, I wasted time hating myself and carrying grudges.

Today I am strong. I still feel weird about certain parts of my body, the sound of my voice, and my inability to dance, sing, or speak publicly without being overcome by nerves. I’m getting better, little bits of singing along with the girls, allowing myself to not feel ashamed when the music calls me to move and using my voice even when it shakes.

Becoming who we are

My daughters are 10, 12, and 14. They are bursting forth into young women, filled with opinions and ideas. I won’t kid myself into thinking I can lift them over the potholes of self-loathing. The best thing I can do, for them and for myself, is to be slightly more tender with myself.

We can try things on, sluff things off, and afford ourselves do-overs.

Don’t try to outrun yourself, let yourself catch up.

 

 

What Did You Want to Be?

Posted on February 7, 2019

Finley and I were walking across the Target parking lot the other night. The pavement was slick, and we weren’t in a hurry. We strolled, holding hands, and talking.

A ten year old girl smiles at the camera as she walks. She has a long pleated skirt on and she casts a shadow. The photo is black and white.

“Mom, what did you want to be when you were my age?”

I thought for a minute, “A writer.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled, “You kind of do that now, right?”

“Yes.”

She looked up at me, “Do you ever wish you were a book writer and that you didn’t do all the other stuff you do?”

“I’m not sure, maybe? I mean, I like what I do,” I said honestly.

“Would you still have met Dad if you were a writer?”

“That’s pretty doubtful. A lot of things have to happen, decisions and just life’s twists and turns, for people to meet.”

She was quiet. We both slipped inside ourselves for a moment. I found myself thinking that I didn’t want to say that if you are destined to meet, then you’ll meet. As much as I love parenting with an open heart and hopeful spirit, suggesting that love is promised and easy isn’t in the plan.

“Do you ever think that if you had gotten exactly what you wanted that we wouldn’t be here today?” she turned to me. “Like, the girls and I would never be born?”

Looking into her eyes, the sky dark around us, I felt the dizziness of all the times I have imagined losing the girls. I don’t think about them never being born as their existence is as much a part of me as my own body.

“No, honey. I never think about that. I also don’t regret not becoming a writer immediately after being in school. I’m glad things happened the way they did.”

“Do you think you’d like to write more?” She moved her second hand to rub my wrist above where her other hand was laced together with mine. Her instinct toward tenderness always catches me off guard, and I am shocked by how much comfort my baby can give me.

“You know what I think? I think I’d like to do this more often. I like spending time with you and hearing the way your mind and heart work. What do you think of that?”

“I think I really love you, mom. And I think you are pretty special.”

Incidental Joy, or saying yes to little things

Posted on January 10, 2019

Today I am casting out a small raft of hope in the sea of resolutions, words of intention, cleanses, and tidying interventions. Not your typical, “Ten easy ways to be happier” kind of essays, more of a “This kind of surprised me, thought I’d share.”

The other day I was having a teeth-clenching kind of day on both a personal and professional level. As I started my car to go from a meeting in one town to a meeting in another I looked at the rearview mirror and said to myself, “You have to stop.”

The shadow of a woman is shown on a concrete wall. She is tall with shoulder length hair.

A recurring theme for me is delaying using the bathroom. It’s wrapped up in my belief that I can multitask. I wedge two more to-dos, dashing off an email and taking a phone call, in front of hitting the restroom. Then I try to stack papers and have a conversation, again, before walking the 40 steps to the bathroom. By the time I look up, it’s time to leave for a meeting for which I’m already tardy.

I pointed myself in the direction of Starbucks and let out a huge sigh. My shoulders dropped, my jaw unclenched. What was happening? I still had to go to the bathroom. My car climbed a hill and I found myself looking down on the valley. I was calm because I had paused. I’d given myself permission to prioritize myself along with my other to-dos.

The Starbucks visit was fairly uneventful, I used the restroom without having to wait, got my drink, and was on my way in less than 5 minutes. I made it to my next meeting feeling on top of the world. The next day I had an eye appointment. My left contact was giving me grief and I told the eye doctor as much.

“It’s on inside out,” he said.

“Really? ” I asked a little bit embarrassed.

“Yup.”

The woman who helped me with my contact lens order said, “So it was on inside out, huh?”

I began to explain that it wasn’t surprising because I go through my days with at least some sort of low-level discomfort—bladder, eye, back soreness from too many kids and cats in the bed, hunger because I didn’t leave enough time to eat.

“I mean, it’s just that I am used to being uncomfortable,” I trailed off as I said it.

What am I doing? Of course, there is time to use a bathroom. Obviously, if a contact feels wrong I should stop to sort out why

Unsurprisingly, it felt great to have the contact right side out.

These two experiences got me thinking about how many seemingly insignificant things happen in a day that burden me, diminish my sense of worth, or just plain slow me down. I’ve begun to make minor adjustments to see if the return is greater than if I hadn’t done them.

A few things I’m doing to eke out, if not outright joy, sweet relief.

 

Car Pause:
I pull my car into the garage and wait 15 seconds before launching myself into the next thing. Think about it, fifteen seconds. It’s infinitesimal when held up against the 14-18 waking hours spent doing. Fifteen seconds can be a mind clearer, an itty-bitty palate cleanser.

Shower Pause:
I’ve set a bottle of lotion just outside the shower. I shut the water off and do a quick dry in the shower. Then I step out and apply lotion to my legs. This one takes closer to a minute, but I have never taken the time before. Some mornings I even close the bathroom door. The payoff to this one is that I don’t dread getting dressed and I don’t feel us hurried. I think it’s because I have taken the time to do something tender for myself.

Listening Pause:
When I can’t concentrate I say, “I’m sorry, I was somewhere else. Can you start again?” Usually, I would just fight the eye-glaze and pretend that I heard it all. Nope, now I am able to reset or, even more daring, say, “Can we talk about this another time?” We are not receptacles to take in everything at any given moment. Asserting control over what I take in has calmed me down internally a lot.

Eye Contact:
I am making it and breaking it on my terms. Some days I don’t feel safe meeting the gaze of men on the street, so I don’t. Listening to the girls, when I look at them they sit taller. At night, on the couch, I smile at Sean. He looks back, tilting his head to one side, “What?” he drawls with a widening smile. I smile back, maybe flutter my eyes a bit. It’s flirting, I guess. It feels good.

Considering Why:
This is a big one and can be hard, but if anything from this post sticks for people I hope it’s this one. I can get caught up in an either/or and yes/no approach to everything. Taking time to think about why I am doing something or why someone is asking me to do something makes my decision more significant.  Maybe we don’t mean yes.

Do I have the time? Sure.

Do they (work, strangers, kids, friends, distractions) deserve that time? Not so sure.

This is our time and as much as it feels like things are out of control and predetermined, we have power. Tiny openings each day to carve out a greater sense of well-being and hope.

 

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.

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