Saturday, January 30, 2016

Label This!

I have many labels, and have been called many things. I was born in the United States, which means I’m a mixed breed. I don’t speak Starbucks, and as far as I’m concerned, they are the ones who should learn English.

I’m beige on the outside, which I grew up being told was ‘white’. Inside, I’m the same as everyone else.

My age of 48 puts me in Generation X (children of the Baby Boomers). Not cool anymore. I'm old to some and young to others.

As a woman older than 35 but younger than 50, I am a lost demographic to the marketing world; but since I am single, I may be used as a prop.

When I was a bartender, I was told I was very pretty – unless I shut that person off. When I was a legal secretary, I was a typist. When I was a stripper, I was called a slut. When I was a waitress, I was treated as a servant. When I was training male doctors on a new computer program, I was still just a woman expected to be intimidated by a male counterpart who made more money. When I was a school bus driver, I was ignored as an ‘underling’ – unless I made a child sit up in the front seat; then I was a mean-person-out-to-hurt-children-as-a-means-of-validating-myself, because your child would never misbehave. When I gave birth, I was just a mother (this includes a loss of sexuality points).

As a young girl, I was told I was ‘just a girl’ and warned of the many things I couldn’t do. I ran like a girl, threw like a girl, and cried like a girl (but I could spit like a boy).

Then I got ‘girl married’ and I was someone else’s possession, representative, mirror, and secretary.

Because I'm a girl, when I moved into my neighborhood three years ago alone with my young daughter, I was called a cougar. Because I’m a girl, I was hurt when someone broke up with me. Because I’m a girl, I was accused of having another man lined up when I broke up with someone (because a girl would never do that unless she had a safety net).  When I get angry, I must be ‘on the rag’. When I’m hurt, I’m overreacting. When I have an opinion, I’m bossy. When I say no, I’m a bitch (when I say yes, I’m a slut, again). I have been accused many times of acting ‘like a man’ – or trying to.

Oh, and since I’m single and own cats, I am now a ‘cat lady’, too (although the lady part might be questionable).

I am labelled because of my color, my sex, my job, my age, my looks, my choices, my hobbies, my lifestyle, my political status, my religious beliefs, my clothing, my children, my friends, my pets, and the color of my nail polish.

We use labels for organization and separation. Consider the file cabinet (unless you are under 40; then think about a file in the Documents folder of your computer): we will label a file as separate from another file, and then we will label a sub-file within that file, to isolate it even further from its parent file.  Generally speaking, each sub-file is a part of the main label, but still separate from it.

How is it that we are willing to split hairs and define paper, thoughts, projects, areas, time periods, and things as their own unique items, and not do the same when we label people? We even allow uniqueness with paint colors (fuschia is not pink), yet we label people in generalities. White or black, gay or straight, male or female, republican or democrat, liberal or conservative, etc. We have this need to separate; if you are not this, you are that. The sub-category (sub-folder) does not apply here.

In treating people according to blanket-generality labels, we deny them not only their own uniqueness, but our connection to them. Try as you may, you cannot deny our connectedness; it has already been established that we all bleed the same way.

Both sides complete a whole, yin and yang, male and female, heads and tails. I am not this or that. I am this and that. A little of both, a little bit of everything … a little bit of you.

(But since all that is too much to put on a t-shirt, you can just call me Susie.)

Ladies, Chaka was partly right: we are every woman, but we are more than that. You are more than that. 

The Stylistics said it better: You are everything.

And everything


Is You.

Stick that in your label maker.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dropping the Basket

I dropped my basket yesterday.


I hate admitting it, as usual, but since there were a few witnesses my secret is already out.

Actually, I dropped it last week, however it was as if the event was videoed in slow motion, giving plenty of people time to catch up and watch.

In my case it’s not about depression; this is a situation more like the feeling of being an egg sitting in the boiling water too long that begins to crack (that analogy is something I’ve had the opportunity to associate first-hand – an attestment to my cooking skills). Of course, it could also just be Head Up Ass Syndrome.

We’ve all reached that point somewhere, sometime in our lives, when we just lose it. I’m not whining. I understand and even support that sometimes it needs to happen. I usually operate with an internal pressure release valve; when something happens, I vent (and vent … and vent). Sometimes my venting is quite entertaining (according to some of my friends) as I get creative in my descriptions of how I’d like to react – another part of my process; reaching for the ridiculous always helps me with perspective (or, it just highlights my own level of crazy – either way, it’s part of my charm). I have learned to temper my venting in front of a woman I work for occasionally, because even after 12 years she will still say, “But you’re not going to do that, right?”

Sometimes, the vent sticks shut, or is not open enough to allow enough air out, and the pressure builds.

Back to the basket. I dropped my basket. I always loved that saying, even before I heard it in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. With this morning’s acknowledgment of my own basket-dropping, I began to think about that phrase a little more, with a little mental imagery. Of course, I took it further – and then I found myself in the middle of another great (as far as I’m concerned) analogy.

I want you all to try something. (Seriously, try it and post pictures of it here or to my Facebook page) Fill up a basket with little plastic eggs (or superballs, if you have the time and really want to have some fun).

Take that basket out into the middle of any public area and just drop it. Watch the little eggs roll off in all directions (I think I really want to do this with superballs!). Here you can get a good visual of how the basket-dropping expression came about.

Now, watch what else happens. People start running around trying to retrieve the little eggs and bring them back to you. No, not everyone; but usually more than you think. Pay attention here: this is not simply a matter of other people trying to be helpful – it is that, but it’s more than that. Someone who is trying to be helpful has time to size up a situation before making the decision to do so – those are the people who were some distance from you who either saw you drop the basket or noticed everyone around you scrambling for the eggs. For other people, helping you out was automatic. Think about it; the people closest to you when you dropped the basket did not have time to think about helping you – they just reacted. Immediate reactions happen without thought; and without thinking, these people rushed to help you gather the eggs.

If you want to go further into this little social experiment, spend some time in this public place and study the people there before you let the eggs loose; see if you can pick out ahead of time which ones will help and which ones won’t. I guarantee at least one person will surprise you, by either not helping when you thought he would, or helping when you thought he wouldn’t.

This is life. You may let go, drop it, lose it, or fall down, however there is always someone there, in some way, to help you pull it together, pick it up, find it, or help you up. Automatically, because however our separateness, we have an innate connection in spirit. Whether it is the person who surprised you by not helping, or the one who surprised you when he did.

The actual physical experiment is nice in that you are detached from the outcome; if someone does or doesn’t help, it doesn’t matter to you because you had no personal investment in it – you were just watching to see what happened. In real life, you may feel disappointed if someone is not ‘there’ for you – but you also may be pleasantly surprised by who is (even if it is just for that one instant). But even then, you are in a position to detach yourself from that feeling of hurt, because if you step back and look at the overall picture, someone was there. And there will always be someone. That’s the order of chaos, the Universal system of checks and balances, this and that. We just have to believe it’s there in order to be able to see it.

We all have those blinders that prevent us from seeing what we have. Those blinders can also prevent us from seeing when another person needs assistance. In the physical experiment, you will notice that some people never offered to help because they didn’t see what happened – and yes, this is sometimes a conscious choice. Some won’t help because they are too far away, or they deduce that there are enough people involved. Each one of us has been in a similar situation where we didn’t see, chose not to see, felt we were too far away, or guessed the situation was under control. That’s human nature based on personal perspective, and it is in all of us. Whatever the case, someone was (and will be) always there for another. Trying to see the bigger picture will give you the opportunity to sidestep feelings of disappointment and be present in appreciation.

Back to me – yes, because I started this. I dropped my basket, and the eggs went flying.

And many people rushed around to gather them back up for me. I saw all of you.

Thank you.

So much.

Friday, January 15, 2016

When Will I Be Old Enough to Wear Purple?

In 1961, Jenny Joseph wrote a famous poem called “Warning,” that has become more and more relevant to women as they continue push beyond the societal norms that dictated their places in the home, limited their opportunity in the workplace, and infringed on their birthright of personal choice and expression.

Whether or not you know the title of the poem, you know the first two lines:

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

This is a wonderful poem about being in charge of your own happiness, boiled down to allowing yourself to make your own choices about who you are and how you express yourself. Many women have taken this up as their platform for personal empowerment and enjoyment. It spawned The Red Hat Society, founded by Sue Ellen Cooper in 1997, which promotes “fun after fifty”.

Ms. Joseph wrote that piece when she was 29.

29.  Most people don’t know that. That’s pretty young to be thinking that far ahead, don’t you think? At that point in her life, what age do you think she thought counted as being ‘old’?

Right now, the only people seeming to pay attention to this work are the older women – certainly not 29-year olds. If they are paying attention, it is information that is surely filed away for ‘when they are older’.

When is that? At what age are we defined as ‘old women’?  

When will I be old enough to wear purple?

Like anyone living in this generation, I asked Google.

“How to Dress Your Age” brought up about 84,900,000 results (0.52 seconds).

I have to say, first, that NONE of the results on the first 2 pages mentioned wearing purple anywhere. But I did find multiple lists of “age-appropriate” dress for people over the age of 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70.

(I’m sad to say that even Oprah had one. Age-appropriate, Oprah? Really? Conformity?)

By my deductions, that would make 80 the age of the ‘old woman’ and the allowed time slot for wearing purple clothes and red hats.

Are we expected to wait before we can be free in our expressions of who we are? Conform now, be happy later?

Ms. Joseph herself questioned that, in the last lines of her poem:

“But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

Whether your mode of dress is full-on ornamentation or simply a matter of concealing nudity, what you choose to wear is a part of who you are, and is often a matter of self-expression.

What happened to “Be You”? Is self-expression and thinking outside of the box conditional? How do we keep using lovely phrases like “Be-YOU-tiful” while we are telling people how they should look, and at what age they should look like that? Isn’t that talking out of both sides of our mouths?

One could argue that how one dresses does not determine the character of the person; however, how one dresses affects the perception of that person by others. No, another’s perception of you does not define you, but it will affect how another will treat you.

The only person that needs to accept me is me. But I will not truly have self-acceptance if I don’t allow the same for everyone else.

Change is needed here, but shifted to the perceiver aspect of ourselves; to allow others to be who they are, before the “Be You” attitude can be fully adopted and acted upon.

Fashion may seem like a small detail in the grander themes of personal power and freedom, but it really isn’t. This ‘small detail’ is a baseline for levels of acceptance and self-esteem. It is a long-standing, self-perpetuating model and prototype of societal conformity that is completely at odds with any and every idea of self-expression and the tolerance thereof. The gateway to all other types of the push for conformity.

A funny thing about this type of following the herd is that the rules are fickle. We knowingly adhere to rules we know will change nearly every 10 years; it’s like following a religion with changing Gods. Yet the true essence of ourselves doesn’t change (it may grow, but it won’t change).

Your favorite shirt, skirt, shoes, hat, pants, tie, hairpiece, or jewelry (whatever it is) makes you feel good, lucky, powerful, confident, comfortable, etc. Clothing and accessories you don’t like, don’t. How you feel in what you wear is reflected in your attitude, even if it’s only a little bit. Dress yourself up in what suits you. Only you knows what that is.

With more people making that choice, we can slow and maybe eventually stop the dictates of this one aspect of forced uniformity. Progress and change do not come from repeatedly same thinking. The pressure put upon young people by the fashion magazines cannot be discounted. Imagine the possibilities of the younger generations growing older with more self-esteem and better acceptance of others …

I’ll tell you this right now: I’m 48 years old, but the only things that will affect my decision to wear a miniskirt will be the outside temperature and whether or not I feel like shaving my legs.

(My skirt will be purple only if it matches my shoes.)

See also What Not to Wear.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Did I Win?

This was my fortune from a cookie three years ago today. Facebook reminded me of it a little while ago. Of course, my thoughts ran through any and all of my life events over the past three years. (And this is not considering the "in bed" game!)

--Now, yes, this could be a direct reference to tonight's Powerball jackpot - I mean, three years is technically "the near future" from that date, seeing as how that as far as The Universe is concerned, three years is just a drop in the bucket! I will know for sure a little later on tonight.

However, if The Universe was talking about something else, I'm back to the question I first asked when I saw that picture again: Did I win?

Immediately my thoughts went to two separate events that happened within a short time of each other. Both were life-changing chances, and both were something I'd considered at the time to be a definite 'win'.

At the time. I say that because I also lost both of them. This is not a matter of me getting something I thought I wanted and then finding out it wasn't as good as I expected; both were even more wonderful than I could have hoped for, and, for reasons outside of my own control (I hear The Universe gently mocking me here), I do not have either anymore.

This makes me question the idea of a 'win'. Is a win only momentary? Or is the win title applied when you can look back and still feel like you came out on top? A while ago, when I had what I wanted, I'd thought I'd won. Looking back now with empty hands makes me question that.

I try to find the answers by looking at events after/as a result of my alleged (I'm trying to be ... optimistic?) losses. I can't honestly say that I've fully recovered from either. The missing of both is still very prominent in my life, for many reasons.

So, I dig deeper. The fucking cheerleader in me has to find something ... anything.

I didn't get too depressed.

Stop laughing!

Let me rephrase: I didn't get SO depressed that I let it prevent me from moving forward. I did publish a book, didn't I? My first one! Yay me!

I began to see myself in a new light (after I stopped belittling myself). Progress is progress, right?

I also learned more about myself, some things I even like.

If I really learned something from my experiences, then I have gained knowledge. While that may not always seem like a win to me, any gain proves that I sure as hell didn't lose!

And I'm still here.

I'll take it.

Thank you. I needed to remind myself of that.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

USING MUSIC - Self Love (With or Without the Mirror)

 “Louise Hay is considered to be one of the founders of the self-help movement, and she promotes a technique for self-love that she calls "Mirror Work".  Basically, it is positive self-talk, using a mirror.”

Yeah, I know, I said that already (Mirror, Mirror); however, it’s not as easy as it may sound. Corny? Maybe. Ridiculous? Only if you’re concerned with who’s watching, and if it’s just you and you get embarrassed you might have more work to do.

I’m making light of it because it is hard.  Actually, it can be quite scary, because it can bring up things you don’t want to face (like ourselves). Most of us look in the mirror only to make sure there’s no spinach in our teeth, or that we don’t have our skirts tucked into our pantyhose – basically, to make sure we are presentable (or not offensive) to others. We are not in the habit of actually facing ourselves. Many of us take great lengths to avoid it; not spending any time looking in a mirror may seem small, but it’s the most obvious and overlooked tactic of self-avoidance. Try it. Look in the mirror and see how long you can stare at yourself – not fixing, adjusting, or applying anything – and pay attention to how long it takes you to find something you are unhappy with. You will know the exact moment because that will be the moment you look away.

That’s not even the hardest part, the ‘looking’. The hardest part is talking directly – nicely. Try it. The first time I tried to tell myself, “I love you” I couldn’t even be serious about it. I tried and then immediately went into comic mode. I held the mirror at arms’ length, lowered my chin and gave myself my best come-hither stare, and my “I love you” came out more like Billy Crystal’s “You looooook mahvelous!” Then I pursed my lips and blew myself a number of loud kisses.

There was another time I tried and I ended up focusing on my eyebrows, and out loud I joked about my unibrow; from there I went to unique, unicycle, unicorn, and Unabomber. I didn’t shut up until I was attacking my eyebrows with tweezers, having completely forgotten why I picked up the mirror in the first place.

Forgot. Yeah, that’s it.

I mentioned previously that the first time I actually looked at myself in the mirror, I cried. I realized I had nothing nice to say to me, but plenty of other shit to say. And it was so easy. Why was it so hard for me to be nice to me?

Well, with mirror talk being so difficult, I came up with another idea. Using music.

(It always seems to circle back to music with me. Ah, well … it’s part of my charm. J)

I use music to affect my moods quite deliberately; that's nothing new. It was Hoobastank that gave me the idea of taking my deliberateness further with their song, The Reason.  I love that song. As far as I’m concerned it is perfect, simple lyrics sung simply, with feeling –

Yes, I have a playlist of songs that I feel are pure, in that adding anything else to them would ruin the tone. Ask me one day about Marty Balin and his song, Hearts.

Anyway, the chorus of The Reason is:

            “I found a reason for me
            to change who I used to be
            a reason to start over new-
            And the reason is you.”

I would listen to the song over and over, and feel it.

-- Now, I have had an inner mental battle going on for a number of years about relationships, what they are, the whys and the wherefores, yada, yada, yada. I resent the line from Jerry McGuire - “You complete me.” – that everyone gushes over as being so romantic, because I feel we don’t need anyone to make us complete. Romantic relationships should be about two, separate, complete individuals coming together, retaining their wholeness, under one big umbrella.

This thinking, of course, can ruin a good love song.

That is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed (i.e. cried to) a song that goes on and on about how shitty we can feel after a breakup.

But that is another discussion totally.

As I listened to The Reason (and like I would with any heartfelt song), I thought about the song being sung directly to me. First, I got the heebie-jeebies; the thought of someone changing their life for me seemed like way too much responsibility for me to handle.
And then, I heard it sung to me, from me.
(Then, I really started crying. And this happened)
I thought more about it. If we can’t find the words to be able to say something nice to ourselves when we look in the mirror, why not find a song and sing it to ourselves? Not having to come up with the words takes a lot of pressure off, and if the song already resonates with you it would mean those words are just what you need to hear.
Turn the song around. To you. From you. You don’t even need a mirror.
Or, at least, just think about it. When you’re in the car or listening to the iPod and a really nice song comes on, turn it on yourself. If it’s too hard to sing the words, hear them.  
With or without the mirror, it will help change how you feel about yourself. Even if it only makes you feel better for that one moment, it will be enough right then.

Remember, “you’re amazing, just the way you are.”

And you won’t need anyone else to tell you that. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mirror, Mirror – Self Love

Do you love yourself?

Before you answer, think about the question and everything it means.  Do you take care of yourself? Not just your body and health, but your spirit and heart? Do you support yourself? Celebrate victories, your birthday, or just you? Can you offer yourself encouragement when you really need it?

Let’s change the angle of the questions:  When you try self-encouragement, does it work? Do you need other people to validate your victories, your birthday … you? When you look into a mirror, are you quick to find fault with what you see? Is love only thought about when considering a family member? Does LOVE only matter when it involves a romantic interest? To feel loved, do you need to hear the words, “I love you” from an outside source?

Do any of these questions make you uncomfortable?

Here’s another question: Who or what do you take the best care of? If your answer is anyone or anything other than yourself, you may want to give the original question a little more thought.

Usually the answer to that last question is emphatically and vehemently – and quite indignantly – by parents. The children come first.  I know; I am one. This may be hard to swallow, but one doesn’t have to preclude the other. The best way to show your children how to love themselves is to show them that you love yourself.  (“Self-love vs. Parenting: It’s Not One or theOther”)

Louise Hay is considered to be one of the founders of the self-help movement, and she promotes a technique for self-love that she calls “Mirror Work.” Basically, it is positive self-talk, using a mirror. 

While it may seem laughable, this method is brilliant in its simplicity. We may feel silly talking to our reflection in a mirror, but having that reflection, that ‘person we are talking to’ involved in our conversation makes the idea of having a self-talk more like an actual conversation. Because we are looking at ourselves, it helps cement not just what we are saying, but to whom we are speaking. It’s harder to ignore something that is spoken “to your face” than it is when it’s just in your head.

It’s not easy at first. What’s funny is that when we try it for the first time, we feel silly or ridiculous without even realizing that we already do it all the time, every time we look in a mirror and pick out a flaw that we see. If we are already doing a perverted form of mirror work, why is trying to do it positively a foolish thing?

It took me a few attempts before my mind would take it seriously. I would try to say something nice to myself and immediately make a negative joke, or I wouldn’t be able to look away from ALL of my imperfections. I would get distracted by wishing I could change how things looked.  I gave up on trying to talk to myself and just tried looking at myself without saying or thinking anything (that took a few more tries). The first time I was able to manage that, I cried.

Of course, after that, I threw the mirror down and stayed away for a few weeks. I didn’t want to bring up what I’d been avoiding.

I didn’t love myself.

The fact that I cried made it embarrassing (embarrassment’s a funny thing – I was embarrassed why? Who saw me? No one!); but my reaction served to drive home how important self-love was, by the fact that its absence hurt me so much.

For me, the crying turned out to be a good thing. It released a lot of pain and resistance.
I’ve since picked up the mirror again. It’s getting easier. I’m even thinking about making a special, designated mirror for it. Maybe I’ll even write something positive on all of my mirrors.

I’m learning to love myself more, too; not just how to, but that I actually do (at least, a little more). I’m also seeing proof of its positive impact around me, in many little ways.

And that's enough for me to keep at it.

Using Music

Music is powerful.

(I’m sure I can hear many of you respond with, “DUH!”)

-- Oh, God, she's writing about music again! Hey, Life is a Rock, But the Radio Rolled Me
I'm just trying to get it right. I tried this same conversation back in 2013, but it never gelled. So now, here we go, once more, with feeling. 

Music is that important to me. “I often refer to music the “Universal Leveler”. It brings people together because of the emotions it evokes. Music has the ability to resonate with our emotional energies, and can both raise and lower them. We’ve all seen the many videos on YouTube set to Pharrell’s Happy. People have separate playlists for romantic dates and working out. How many times have you heard someone say, “This song gets me pumped!”? How do you feel when you hear Amazing Grace? What about We’re Not Gonna Take It? What’s it like being in a bar and hearing that song?” (Collective Consciousness, Mob Mentality, and Personal Energy") 

Certain melodies and lyrics resonate with us, stay with us, comfort us, empower us … and can change us.

We find that listening to music, hearing the melody or words that call to us, can make us feel better when we are down. (Thank you, Tears for Fears. You got me through high school. Please come back to Boston soon!) 

Negative feelings of any kind are usually made worse by self-imposed isolation. Most of us will hide our true feelings, refuse to talk about anything that is bothering, or actually lock themselves away from people (I use sleep as a method of hiding). Music is something we use when we are alone that can make us feel not so. We connect with the artist and the song can take us out of ourselves, and we no longer feel like we are the “only one going through this.”

Many of us will deliberately listen to music to feel that support. Why not take that a step further and actually USE it. Find a song or tune (or many), and listen with the intention of getting something from it?

I have playlists on my iPod devoted to certain themes ("If I Show You Mine, Will You Show Me Your ... Playlists?"). They are not just broken down by decades or common genres, but they are broken down by memories associated to certain periods of my life, memories of specific people, and every single mood you can think of. We are talking serious splitting hairs here, like Anger/Pissy, Anger/Despair, Anger/Empowered, Love/Sweet, Love/Sexy, etc. – and I give each playlist a special name, too. I don’t let people see my iPod because of how personal my playlists are. But I use all of them for something; to get me moving, to think better, to cry with, whatever. I even have a tendency to listen to one song on repeat (for days), if it is ‘hitting’ me right. Sometimes, a song will give me an idea, and I will listen to only that song until I’ve been able to fully flesh it out. 

Music is every feeling we have. I challenge anyone to deny that they haven’t heard at least one song that made them feel.

Why not be deliberate with music? I’m not just talking about making party or workout themed playlists, I’m talking about making playlists that are put together with the deliberate intention of helping you through something? Playlists that make you feel better, or just feel good?

And then just listen ... and feel.

Here, I'll start you off:

Magic Power – Triumph