a man’s world

I grew up in man’s world. My father was Dean of Men at a small college. Our family lived in Morrison Hall (pictured below), right through that center door and straight back.

Morrison Hall: the men's dormitory where I grew up.

Morrison Hall: the men’s dormitory where I grew up.

From the time I was seven until I turned 20, I was surrounded by 18-22-year-old-males. The smell of testosterone was so familiar that I never really noticed it.

Dad loved deaning. He needed it. In the dorm Dad ruled. One summer we left Bethany Beach a week early because Dad wanted to get back to the dorm. No matter that my mom, sister, and I enjoyed vacationing on the beach. He loved his work more.

The tide of testosterone dialed down a skoche when Dad stepped through the door that separated the dorm from our apartment. He sat at the head of the table facing Mom at the foot. Beverly and I, the girls, faced each other across the table as did our older brothers, the boys. Three males, three females. This balance was a visual illusion.

Dad’s preference for all things male flavored every part of life. I tasted it early and often. I knew Dad was busy, but noticed the way he made time with the boys — to putter on a car, play golf, or meet on the soccer field.

The Game

Dad loved games. He believed in the value of competition. The game How Will You Make Us Proud? was always in play at our house. It’s a small miracle that Beverly and I liked our brothers as much as we did. The parents held them up as examples of excellence at every turn.

  • When the boys were your age they took calculus.
  • When the boys were your age they had jobs.
  • When the boys were your age they knew how to study, socialize, exercise, and change the oil in the cars they bought themselves — all at the same time.

As luck would have it, there were ways a girl could try to compete. Dad shared his expectations freely about how I should: keep my room, do my school work, practice piano, style my hair, and spend time with peers. But no matter how I tried, I lost more points than I gained. There was always something that was not quite enough about my efforts, about me. Appearance was an area of particular interest to Dad. You look tired. Your blouse is too tight/low/wrinkled. You’re slouching. You seem a bit wide in the hips.

He was confident in the value of his opinion. It boiled down to this:

Dream, but not too big. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment. Be attractive, but modest. Be interesting, but not brilliant. (You’ll intimidate men.) After all, Don’t you want to get married and have children?


Growing up in a man’s world I came to believe:

  • I will never have a penis and so I will always be second rate, a disappointment.
  • Points go to the woman who makes her voice, her dreams, and herself tame, quiet, and small.
  • No woman lives bright & big and finds approval. When I figure out I am bright and have big dreams I entertain the idea of a lobotomy. Yes, really. Better to alter my brain than live with longing I’ll never realize.
  • I am a wretched ingrate. I collect all of the game-approved points — finish college, get married, have children, support my man — and it is not enough. I am so depressed I want to die rather than get out of bed.

I am angry that I believed this. I would love to redeem every single megawatt of emotional and spiritual energy I burned to win approval from Dad and the males like him I’ve met.


Game-changers

Someone — a mentor, neighbor, sister, teacher, coworker, writer — comes into your story. In my experience it took quite a few someones. It feels strange and disorienting when you meet a game-changer. Like the first spring thaw after a lifetime of winter. A game-changer finds you delightful, has no desire to fix you, and celebrates all of the you’s you become. You are neither too much or not enough. With this someone you cry shamelessly. Breathe deeply. Laugh freely. It’s weird and incredible.

I met Ken. And my friend Lisa. And a literature professor. And my therapist. And the writers Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott. And many more. It takes a village. But I’ll talk about Ken.

Ken is nothing like my dad. So I try to fix him! I’m so accustomed to criticism and never being enough, that after we marry I give Ken prompts: Don’t you think I’m a little overweight? Look, Ken, here in the belly. I have a roll that needs to go. I’d look better if I lost five pounds, right? I badger him to take up the game. But Ken does not need me to make him proud. Quietly, stubbornly, he resists all that I have learned and believed about men and approval. He does not want me to be tame, quiet, and small. He respects wild, loud, and large, so he says the beautiful words I shared when I started this series,

I think you should have been angrier.”

Game-changers refute the rules. Male privilege exists, but it is not acceptable. We are not meant to live in a Man’s World. We are meant to be an all-inclusive world. Thanks to Game-Changers, the anger generated by impossible games recedes. It is still large and dark, but you can look it in the eye. Examine it in the open. Recognize its lies. Figure out what it’s taught you. And decide how to use it to make your life more deeply and tenderly your own.


This is one essay in a series I’m writing about personal anger. Something happens when we tell our stories. Only when we face & frame our stories of anger can we process this difficult emotion and learn how it can serve us.

If I talk about my anger, maybe you will find ways to talk about your anger too.

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This will hurt me more than it hurts you.

This will hurt me more than it hurts you, Dad says. He is not angry. He is disappointed, but calm. My father raises his belt. Tears already flowing, I clench my muscles as the belt smacks my bare bottom. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Afterward, I sit on the edge of the bed with snot on my face. Dad hugs me and prays with me. I feel powerless and small. 

B&W 5 year old alone

Do not think I was abused. I was not. My father was a consistent disciplinarian. Mom could snap and fly into a rage. But Dad was reliable, methodical. His reliability framed the foundation for our family. It meant that I always had a safe place to sleep, clean clothes, three meals a day, a ride to school, a good education, and someone to call when, as a teenager, I was in a car accident. More than most other children in the world. Much more than my father had growing up. I took it for granted. I needed to.

Dad’s reliability also meant that he is the one: the one I needed to please, the one I needed to understand and be understood by. But I didn’t understand his words. This will hurt me more than it hurts you. I turned them over and over to make sense of them. They become a tangled heap of confusion in my heaving heart.

Physical pain is the way to make someone stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right. Parents must punish children. Parents do it even though it hurts them. It is okay because it is done out of love. I shouldn’t feel angry or upset. Dad is more hurt than I am. He loves me. 

My heart wrestles to make the pain, the punishment, the words Dad says, how I feel and what I think make sense. But I can’t. I need my family, my father, and my life to be alright. So I shove down the thought that what I feel is wrong. I don’t want to believe that pain and powerlessness are part of love. I hide these deep inside and cover them with a story. I tell myself that I have a special family, a reliable father, a wonderful life. I tell myself the story over and over and I believe it. I need to.


Years after my last spanking I sit on a therapist’s couch. Gently she walks with me into the deep trough of memory. She asks, How did you feel growing up in your family? I search for the right word. Erased.

Captured: a rare moment of truth.

Captured: a rare glimpse of truth.

I add quickly — But they loved me. We were very close. I had everything I needed. I was so lucky.

Did it feel like love?”

Did it what?! Where does she get such a question? How can she even ask? What psychobabble juju is this? 

I begin to tremble. If I tell the truth I will destroy my story that I had a special family, a wonderful childhood. If I lose my story I will shatter into a trillion pieces and disappear. They loved me. I know they loved me.

Did it feel like love? she asks again and waits. I inhale. Then exhale. My voice is small —

No. It didn’t feel like love.”

The room is still. I speak the truth* and I do not disappear.

I see the This-may-hurt-but-I-love-you moments in my life. The pain. The self-betrayal. The stories I told myself to make them alright. And I weep.

*Did my parents love me? Yes. Did it feel like love? No. Both are true.

This is one essay in a series I’m writing about personal anger. Something happens when we tell our stories. Only when we face & frame our stories of anger can we process this difficult emotion and learn how it can serve us.

If I talk about my anger, maybe you will find ways to talk about your anger too.

Wondering what will come next? Subscribe.

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Seeing and Being (seen)

It’s hard to know what we don’t know. Like how to see and how we are seen.

2nd Grade

Me in 2nd grade. See those eyes! So blue. So near-sighted.

This is me smiling into the unknown of second grade. I couldn’t read. The kind first grade teacher (not to be confused with the mean one) promoted me to second grade, but I had not unlocked the magic of marks on a page.

The popular approach to teaching reading at the time includes The Whole Word Method and Sight Words. I stand in the cool hallway outside the classroom while one of the kids who can read holds up flashcards for me. Held inches away from each card, I will it to tell me its secret. The only one I am sure of is the could card because it has a smudge on the corner. 

In second grade I have my eyes checked for the first time. My mother takes me to see the man who makes glasses. There is old leather furniture in his dim street-front office. He sits me up in the exam chair. Look at the chart and read the first letter you can see.

I can’t make out the biggest letter. The man fiddles with a huge pair of metal wings and swings them to my face. I sit up taller, each eye peers through a tiny window in each wing. Now, he says, tell me what letter you see.

snellen-eye-chart

Silence. I see the marks but I don’t know their names. I have not learned the letters. I can sing the alphabet song, but no symbol pops up in my mind for the names. Oh, except A! I know A! There is not a single A on the chart. Now the man can see I am dumb.

He has another chart:

graham-field-eye-chart

Tell me if the legs on the letter point up, down, left, or right. I don’t know the difference between left and right. I feel embarrassed. Use your hand the man says. Point your fingers the direction you see the legs pointing. That works. 

A week or two later we go back. My new glasses are ready. I put them on. BOOM! A slant of light pours into the office. I can see a million dots of dust dance in the beam. I blink. Mommy and I step out onto the sidewalk. I stare. The entire street rushes into my eyes. I can see the tire tread on a car parked at the curb. The bricks on the building across the street. And the leaves — swarms of perfect, tiny, individual leaves on the tall oaks along the block. This? THIS is how the world looks?! This is what other people see?

My world was not transformed in one moment.

I can see with my glasses on. But when I take them off, I forget all that I have seen. Like at the swimming pool. I leave my glasses in the locker room. In the pool, other people are a blur. I know my sister and our friends by swimsuit color. I can not see faces or silly expressions. I see other swimmers as blurs, and I am sure that this is how they saw me. Without concern I pick my nose or pull my swimsuit out of the crack of my bottom. As the self-conscious child I am becoming, I would horrified to know the truth. But instead I am just one happy, floating, splashing, little blur among many.

We see ourselves as we think we are seen.

Thanks to phonics I begin to wrestle meaning from marks on a page. But I know I am eons behind my classmates. As third grade unfolds, I see smirks from easy readers and multiplication table mavens. I am a slow, hesitant learner. Nothing more than a blur. 

The personal anger.

Fissures start early in the break up of the body, mind, spirit, union. By the time I am nine years old I know two things:

  1. Something is wrong with my feelings — my heart (spirit). Showing my emotions means parental displeasure or a scolding. If I say I feel lonely or sad, I am told You shouldn’t feel that way, or even You don’t feel that way. What I know is This is what I feel, but important people, like Mommy and Daddy, know my feelings are wrong.
  2. Something was wrong with my mind. I can’t read. I hate spelling.

I come from a family of quick, clever people. They learned to read by osmosis. They play Scrabble by the hour. They read for fun, dammit! Intelligence is noticed and praised. One person’s work is held up as an example for the others. The subtext: Can you do as well? There is no way I can compete. I know I am too emotional and rather plain looking:4th grade school picture I now have four-eyes, cry too easily (pretty girls should smile!), and not musically gifted or athletically inclined. I hate school and myself because I am slow, dumb, stupid. In a family where relationships are transactions -- What do you have to offer? How will you make us proud? -- I have nothing. The trinity of my body, mind, spirit fractures a bit more.

I now have four-eyes, cry too easily (pretty girls should smile!), and not musically gifted or athletically inclined. I hate school and myself because I am slow, dumb, stupid. In a family where relationships are transactions — What do you have to offer? How will you make us proud? — I have nothing.

The trinity of my body, mind, spirit fractures a bit more.


So often anger blooms from pain. I talk with you about my anger — walk right toward my pain — because owning all of the story, especially the painful parts, is how I find healing, compassion & redemption.

In two weeks I begin teaching Basic English — a reading and writing class for college freshmen who struggle with the marks on the page. These students probably see themselves a slow, stupid, just another blur in the classroom. Because of my own anger and pain, I believe teaching as sacred. I see words — reading, speaking, and writing — as modern magic. It is my intention to see my students and teach them to see themselves and the words on the page in clear, fresh ways.  

How can an experience of personal anger from your life make you more tender, more passionate, more compassionate?

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too emotional ~ personal anger part 3

Where do emotions — fear, loneliness, anger — live in the Body Mind Spirit trinity?

Too tricky? What about a symptom of these emotions? Crying is a such physical thing — so are emotions of the body? Or do the mind and spirit partner in the process? Culturally, we are taught to be suspicious of emotions, of being too emotional. As a result most Western men are separated from their tears. Big boys don’t dry. Express emotions — aside from disgust, triumph, or indifference — and you face a litany of labels sissy, hysterical, worked up, losing grip, too emotional. And just like that a person, or personal experience is minimized. Ability, maturity, credibility: instantly in question.


This week I gave my statement at a hearing for a “Potentially dangerous” dog. Before the hearing the reporting officer called me. The officer told me that the dog owner had contacted her several times after I filed my complaint. Each time the owner said something new. Her dog was never off leash. I had been walking on private land. Some woman was harassing her dog.

Knowing this, I felt distressed (angry + anxious) as I braced myself to tell the truth and be called a liar.

The hearing: I report all of the details

Encounter #1:  I walk my loop. In the wild and quiet space away from the roads I see a woman with a Great Dane and say Please have your dog on a leash. The woman shows me the leash in her hand and tells me lots of people walk dogs in the area. Just so I know. She doesn’t leash the dog. The dog noses me up the butt. I blurt, Whoa, that’s offensive! Your dog just stuck her nose up my butt. No reply.

Encounter #2: In the wild again. I see the woman and the off-leash Great Dane. I pick up a walking stick. I overtake the woman. She tells me I should have the sense to walk somewhere else when I see her on the trail. She calls me a dumb ass. Brandishing my newly acquired walking stick I announce that if the dog comes at me, I will hit it. (Not my wisest idea.) The dog doesn’t come at me. I do not use my stick for protection.

Encounter #3: In the neighborhood leading to the wild. The barking Great Dane charges me. I stand my ground with my walking stick. I shout Your dog should be on a leash! You are breaking the law!! The dog owner replies You should be on a leash!

I report Encounter #3 to Animal Services. I am told an officer will visit the owner and educate her on the leash laws.

Encounter #4: Several weeks later I walk without a stick. Suddenly I am face to face with the off-lead Great Dane. Completely surprised I stand in the path and cry. The owner sees me, Oh no, she says. Hands to my face I sob. Then woman passes, Just so you know, she’s never hurt anyone.

I call Animal Services to report again. And now we’re at a hearing.

I give a full account. I include it all: the nose up my butt, the walking stick, shouting, and finally tears. Then it is the dog owner’s turn to make a statement.

Her first words are, “Everything she said is true.” 

I blink. Oh? Ok. Keep breathing.

She goes on to say all of her neighbors walk their dogs off-leash in the wilderness space they call The Royo. They all respect each other. If I don’t like wild places — with snakes and coyotes — I should walk somewhere else. She would like to know when I’ll be walking so she can avoid me. She has asked the Animal Service officer where I live because she feels threatened.I have emotional outbreaks [sic]. She’s considered a restraining order. I stalked her to find her house. It’s clear that I’m very emotional. She is worried. She is the one distressed.

Wait. What? All that I’ve said is true. But because I have shown strong emotions I am suspect? She feels unsafe? I know where she lives in her fenced and gated house and she’s worried? (The officer found her by searching files for the dog’s name — which I heard the woman shout and watched the dog ignore — filed in that neighborhood. Not because I knew the address.)


Personal Anger

As a child I cried when afraid, when tired, when scolded. “Turn off the crocodile tears. Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” my father would order. I tried. In the long shadow of his disapproval I tried to turn off my emotions and shut off my tears so he would not be angry. So I could please him.

in tears in a tree

A cry of anger.

I could not find the muscle to stop my heart from pounding, flailing about in confusion, or breaking before pouring down my face. Crying is so much more than a physical thing. It is possible to stop the tears, to numb emotions, but I never mastered it. Those who do stop their tears stop much more.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” ~ Brené Brown

Before I learned this truth, I hated myself for being emotional, for failing to control tears and repeatedly having wrong feelings. I felt anger. I could not oblige my father. I could not do what he wanted me to do, or be something he expected me to be (a repeating pattern in our relationship). For much of my life my tears came with shame and self-loathing.

But the trinity of Body Mind Spirit knows the real wisdom science now validates. Tears heal us. Emotional tears, angry tears, help us release and recover.

Back to the Hearing

Emotion. Fear and anger expressed in shouting. Anxiety expressed in tears. That’s what the owner of the Great Dane used against me. It was surreal. The woman admits that she walks her Great Dane in a public place without a leash. But I’m the suspicious one. My account should be questioned because I’m the only one who’s ever complained. Clearly, I’m too emotional.

Sometimes we can not access words to explain our emotions, our tears, our anger. This doesn’t mean they are invalid. As we listen to all the parts of ourselves, Body Mind Spirit — the raw, messy bits included — we can choose the practice of self-compassion. For more on self-compassion Click Here.

The charge of too emotional sank in. Talk about a personal trigger. But I stayed very calm. I reached for all the compassion I could find. For me. For the other woman. Asked if I had a response, I found words, “I agree that I have been emotional. I’d like to put things in context. About four years ago I was walking this same area. A large dog named Valentino ran from his owner — someone who lives in the same neighborhood. Off leash, Valentino ran at me, and bit me.” The owner of the Great Dane said she knows Valentino. She had no further reply.

A determination will be made in a week’s time.


How do we unlearn self-loathing and shame about our emotions? For me unlearning has included work with a counselor, lots of time with people who see me as broken and still worthy of love, and a growing practice of self-compassion. These transformed and continue to transform my relationship to my too-emotional-self.

Anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness. Emotions — yours and mine — are not a liability, somehow suspect, at odds with reason and logic. When we own them & sit with them, we can learn from them. I do not feel angry for feeling angry. I do not feel shame for tears or fears. I feel the feelings and I feel very alive.

Where do emotions live in the Trinity? In the Body, Mind, and Spirit. Have you developed coping skills and learned to distrust and distance yourselves from your emotions (or body, or soul)?

How will you relate to your emotions to live more whole-heartedly, more wholly, & more holy as the healthy, vibrant trinity you are made to be?

Was this essay helpful? Let me know about it. Would it help someone you love? Let them know about it!

Read earlier essays in this series on Personal Anger:

The Secret No One Talks About

the first time I saw it

before it had a name

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Anger: the first time I saw it

Me and my little sister Beverly circa 1967 (a year or two before we caught fireflies)

Me and my little sister Beverly circa 1967 (a year or two before this story).

It is in childhood, often very early, that we see anger expressed by someone else. Someone we know. Someone we love.


We stayed in the extra bedrooms upstairs when we visited Aunt Lydia. The big two-story house with its sloping roof and wide lawn sat in a nice Chicago suburb. My sister Beverly — was she four or five? And I was two years older — caught our first fireflies on that lawn next to the tall blue fir tree. We made a lantern by scooping the tiny living lights in a mason jar. There they dimmed and went out.

Bev and I were reminiscing about that summer over the phone recently. I was sitting in the upstairs bathroom, looking out the window, she said. Then you walked past. I was so surprised! She pulled up her panties fast and came out to ask me, How did you do that!? A flash of excitement stirred the hot, boring afternoon. Look, here’s a little door, I pointed. Together we stepped onto the slightly slanting roof. What a splendid way to see the green grass and the fir tree below. Standing on top of the first floor we were not one bit bored. We took a few steps on the tar and gravel shingles toward the edge. Oh the thrill! After exploring the tiny patch of roof by the door and a narrow sort of walkway that passed the bathroom window, we went back inside. What an adventure!   

I think we got in trouble for that, I said.

Beverly stopped me. Trouble? Don’t you remember? Remember what? Mom lost it. She came upstairs and asked, “What have you been doing?” And I told her. We went out the door and walked on the roof. Next thing we were face down on the bed and she was whipping us. I told her the truth and she whipped us. Don’t you remember? And just like that the smell of the humid room and hot bed sheets came back to me. I was writhing, buttocks muscles clenched, my voice a ragged wail. The length of leather flew. (A belt? the dog’s leash?) Again and again it stung. Anger flashed through me, a flame filling my body and mind. Trapped, I raged with all my being. Then dimmed and went out.

I blanked it out. My seven-year-old self could not process it. A part of me went into hiding. 

Mom never spoke of the whipping. Ever. Beverly’s words nudged the memory that had been too raw for me to hold. In a few sentences a blank page of my story filled in. But instead of the fire of anger that had been too much me, I found only the ashes of sadness. Sadness that anger was expressed as violence. Sadness that so much shame surrounded the emotion and actions that Mom never spoke of them. Sadness that my mother had no tools to address her anger in healthy ways. And I grieved that I didn’t have tools to talk about it with her before she died. It was after her death that I began the work of facing my own dark emotions. The exploding and imploding of my own rage. 


How does this story serve?

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.” ~ Brené Brown [emphasis mine]

  1. I know the value of having someone bear witness. My sister shared the experience. I was not alone. We can process this together.
  2. When the body and spirit cannot make sense of reality, the mind shields it, provides armor — sometimes for years — until it is ready and something, or someone says, Don’t you remember?
  3. As I face a dark memory, a piece of armor falls away & leaves me lighter.
  4. Early examples may teach us one thing, but we are capable of learning new, healthy ways to cope. Learning may be painful and take time, but it is totally worth it.
  5. Wrestling with writing about this led to a rich conversation with my own daughter. I told her of my fear of criticized — for telling family secrets, for having “wrong” feelings, for sounding bitter. She listened well. She reminded me that people will think whatever they want. No matter what. She confessed that she has grieved the time before I began addressing my fear, anger, and loss, and these seeped into our relationship. She said a bunch of other wise, funny, and gracious things (yes, I cried) and she reminded me of the words of Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger.

Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is.” ~ Harriet Lerner

Or as my daughter paraphrased, “Anger is neither good nor bad, it simply is.” (I’m thrilled that she quotes from a book I gave her!)

With this view anger is not taboo or frightening. We can face what is and find out what it has to tell us. As we do, we can mend our fractured trinities; bring body, mind, and spirit back into alignment. Owning and telling our stories is how we find integration.

This is not easy writing, it may not make easy reading. Thank you for coming this far.


There are certain notions about what is okay to say about people and what is not. This is especially true of dark experiences. We live in families and communities. When I tell my stories I also tell pieces of other people’s stories. My account is just that: mine. My goal: 1) To write from a place of peace — knowing that I am always processing, wrestling — to live with body, mind, and spirit in closer alignment. 2) To say This happened to me. Maybe it happened to you too.

If you missed earlier essays from this series click on the links below:

The Secret No One Talks About

Anger, Before it had a Name

 

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anger, before it had a name

We know the feeling before we know it’s name. One of my big brothers teasing me. Kind of typical sibling stuff. So why did I cry? He wouldn’t stop. I wailed Stop! Stop it! but he didn’t. When he did stop, it wasn’t because of my words.

The year I turned six my family moved from Beirut, Lebanon to Bakersfield, California. I knew I was six and I knew being six meant going to first grade. The story is that I insisted on going to school. I probably did. Here is my first grade class picture:

1st grade classphoto

First Grade. Find me fourth row down, third from the left.

I was unhappy. I didn’t know any one. The other girls and boys had been in kindergarten together, their families went to the same church. I watched them sit together at lunchtime and save each other a place in line. I spent recess waiting for a turn on the swings or sitting atop of the monkey bars, alone. 

I couldn't bring myself to cut these apart. Notice how proud I am of my loose tooth??

Just couldn’t bring myself to cut these apart. I really want you to notice my loose tooth.

I was confused. There was so much about school I did not know. And as the girl who stared at the sky wondering when it will end, I knew even less. Is this handwriting or spelling time? How do I write a little letter a? With that cap thing, like thislowercase-letter-a serif— Or without it, like this lowercase letter a sans serif ? I looked at Mrs. Isaac for a hint. Here she is smiling about the mystery of the little letter a.

Mrs. Isaac, my first first-grade teacher.

When I asked her how to write the little letter a she did not smile. She had already given instructions. I had missed that. So I looked for a clue. Maybe on the paper of the girl at the next desk. Mrs. Isaac called out, “No cheating!” What? But I…

Her scowl withered the words on my lips.

One day something good happened at school. I saw a painting easel for the first time. Large blank sheets of paper clipped above a row of paint pots. Each pot had a lid like a donut. The handle of a paint brush stuck out above the hole and the brush bristles rested in the bright color below it. We would be taking turns painting butterflies! Riveted, I watched each boy or girl ahead of me. They painted colors on one side of a line on the large paper, removed it from the clips, folded it on the line, and opened it to find to perfectly matched pair of “wings”. It was magic! I thought of how I would make a beautiful butterfly. I would use red, and yellow, green, orange and blue!

Finally, I stood at the easel wearing a big backward shirt as my smock. So SO excited! First a blob of yellow. Put the brush back. Then some swirls of red. Put the brush back. Next some green. Put the brush back. Mrs. Isaac swooped down. I had put the green brush in the red pot. She pulled it out. The paint was the color of mud. Mrs. Isaac told me I had to use it. On my beautiful butterfly. I don’t remember what I said; but my words didn’t matter. I remember how my excitement left me in a whoosh. My now-icky painted paper was folded in half and opened to reveal a brown butterfly. A roar of rage welled up inside me, but all I did was cry.

That was a dark year. I didn’t learned how to make friends, or how to read, or how to put my feelings into words so that others would listen. My parents didn’t seem to notice my distress. It was a tough year for them too. My father found a different job and for the second time in less than 12 months we moved. West coast to east coast. A new school. A kinder teacher. A fresh start. I went to first grade again. But there was still so much I didn’t understand. And it seemed the other kids did. I began believing that something was wrong. With me. With how I learn. With how I feel.

That belief was the first tiny crack of disintegration, breaking up the trinity of my body, mind, spirit in an attempt to stop the pain of anger unattended.


What about you?

You probably don’t have a brown butterfly, but you have a story. Gently scan your memory. Do you see your small self? Do you remember the feeling without a name? When you felt it? Why? Tell yourself the story out loud or write it down. Now, speak to your child self. Wondering how to start?

Here’s some of what I say to my six-year-old self: Oh my gosh, look at you! Those big eyes and that loose-tooth grin. Yes, peachy, that was a tough year. No wonder you hated school! And look at you now? The woman who LOVES the classroom — as a student or a teacher. The person who knows and values the power of words, of self-expression, of compassion, of listening. That started then. Of course you are tender-hearted. You know loneliness, the sting of labels, the confounding ways of people in power. No wonder you rankle against exclusion, injustice, and hierarchy. Those were bad times, but there is good news: You, my little scab-kneed darling, not only survived, you have kick-ass-thrived.


This is part of a series I’m writing about personal anger. Something happens when we tell and examine our stories. Only when we frame our anger, with words or actions, can we truly see it, process it, and learn how it can serve us.

If I tell you about my anger, maybe you will find ways to talk about your anger too. Wondering what will come next? The next essay in the series will magically appear in your inbox when you subscribe.

 

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The Secret No One Talks About

I write about relationships in the context of being married because that is what I know.

Ken Crane & Rebecca Waring-Crane, September 1, 1986

Ken Crane & Rebecca Waring-Crane, September 1, 1986

I also know that:

Getting married is not an accomplishment.

Staying married is not an accomplishment.

This essay is about much more than marriage. It is about every meaningful relationship. Including your relationship with your Self.


Thirty years ago September 1st Ken and I spoke these words. Out loud. In front of witnesses.

With this ring I thee wed. With my body I thee worship. With all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

We had no idea.

I still wear the simple ring. I know a lot of wonderful ways to body worship. Worldly goods — we don’t have much, but we happily continue to endow each other with what we’ve got.

Recently, two or three younger women have told me, “You and Ken — #relationshipgoals.” I have two thoughts:

On the inhale: Oh! We encourage someone! 

On the exhale: Oh shit! What if we f**k up!? 

I feel tipsy and self-conscious — someone thinks of me next to a # symbol? Someone notices my marriage? Is there toilet paper trailing from my dress? Being admired is great in theory, but in reality…

I manage to get past the Oh shit! feeling and make eye contact and say thank you. I tell the woman my inhale and exhale thoughts and we laugh.

Last month I was asked, What’s the secret to your relationship? Forgetting the definition of a rhetorical question, I answered:

Here’s what I know about keeping marriage — or any deep friendship — fresh.

  • Tell the truth with love
  • Never take yourself seriously
  • Put your feelings into words (if words don’t work, hug each other)
  • And really listen to each other — not to reply, but to understand.

I stand by this advice, cliché and chirpy as it is. But there’s something I left out.


One secret no one talks about.

Did you sense that I was angry when we met? I asked Ken.

Yes. A little, he replied.

When we met, I was almost vibrating with anger — a story for another time. He had an inkling. But he didn’t step away.

I thought you should have been angrier, he added. 

This is one secret no one talks about. Relationships that grow deep and strong honor the whole person. Including each other’s dark emotions — like sadness and anger. There is a safe space for all of it. Ken stumbled onto this truth when we met. One reason I still nurture this relationship is that with him I am safe to rage and roar.

So what IS an accomplishment?

We are trinities,” as Glennon Doyle Melton reminds us “ — body, mind, spirit.”

  • Living a life that integrates body, mind, spirit — in work, in friendships (married or not), and in the quiet of your own companionship. #accomplishment
  • Each person in a relationship discovers safety with the other and all of their emotions — aka #relationshipgoals

Integrity and integration get a lot of attention. As they should. But personal anger is not a popular topic. That means there’s a lot of shame and fear about personal anger, AND not much integration. There’s also a huge need for conversation about  it. And so I will — at the risk of sounding like an angry woman — begin it. I will write about my experiences with anger. Something happens when we tell and examine our stories. And only when we frame our anger, with words or actions, can we truly see it, process it, and learn how it can serve us.

If I tell you about my anger, maybe you will find ways to talk about your anger too. 

Trusting the process,

~ Rebecca

 

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Photo Voice: Travel

Greetings from Europe!

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Ken and I are on the road. It’s tiring, wonderful, upsetting, and surprising and much more!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

Mr. Twain got it right. Travel, like nothing else, shifts my pre-conceived ideas, unexamined beliefs, and deeply ingrained sense of the rightness of how I see the world. This hurts. And it is also very healthy!

The shift starts with the lead up to “being there” —

  • packing (what do I really need?)
  • making arrangements for the house/mail/garden
  • getting to (and from) the airport at either end
  • the cacophony of languages at the airport/boarding gate

These are all part of the warm-up. And then there’s jet lag! Boom! I am broken open. I feel vulnerable. Raw. A beginner. Uncomfortable.

I can choose:

  1. to be defensive & find fault with anything that isn’t like home, or
  2. to roll with what comes, savor the unfamiliar, and delight in how much I do not know.

The second choice is the space where travel works it’s magic. (Is it all magic? No. But I shall not speak of the Airbnb debacle except to say I was surprised by my capacity for patience and self-compassion when careful plans turned very sour. And we got our money back!) Part of what is magic is intangible. But part of it can be identified.

As I learn about the world, I learn about myself.

  • Change is hard! — even when I choose it.
  • One carry-on case is quite enough!
  • Good company transforms times of stress.
  • You will find friends along the way.
  • Simple things make the experience good: eat, sleep, walk!
  • I have renewed empathy for non-English speakers in the US.

About that last point. Ken speaks German, so we move with relative ease. But you should have seen me at a cafe in Leipzig. On my own I asked the waiter, “Toiletten?” and he spoke only German and gestured for about ten second. Based on what I understood I walked out of the cafe, down the alley to the right, pushed open a huge door into another cafe on the left, went down stairs, through two more doors, and found it! When I returned to the table I was jubilant! I crowed to Ken, “I found the bathroom in German!!

It’s the little things. But what if I’d needed to rent an apartment, find a job, or contact family by myself?

Here’s the thing: I need frequent reminders. Complacency slips over me when I stay in the familiarity of home and routine. I need repeated doses of the fatal experience of travel to keep hubris in check and compassion fresh. This may mean riding the bus, visiting a nursing home, or driving to the next state.

Over to You

What small things have you learned from travel — this summer’s campout or your last trip around country? Pictures make wonderful writing prompts. They give us fresh access to personal insight.

What is Photo Voice? Photo Voice is a way to amplify and reflect on life.

And it’s simple:

  1. Look at your pictures. Those you have from past travel adventures OR those you take today or this week on your trip to the market.
  2. Make it super easy — I use my phone. And keep it simple. Just point and shoot!
  3. Choose one photo.
  4. Print it out and paste it in a notebook. Or put it in a fresh google document. Or create a digital album.
  5. Write 3-4 sentences (or more!) about it: the story it makes you think of (or think up), or why you love it, what it means to you, the metaphor it holds.
  6. Share it. Use Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook (share with all your friends or just one), or keep it in your notebook to share with your future self.

Photo Voice is a creative way to tap into your inner life. When approached with intention, taking pictures is an avenue to finding meaning in your experiences.

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.” ~ Brené Brown [emphasis mine]


Have you tried Photo Voice? Let me know!

Now I’m walking to the German version of Home Depot to find a thank-you gift for our host. Watch for a report from the road!

 

 

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Photo Voice: Clay

IMG_0226I’m a long way from my elementary school art class where we made clay coils and pinch pots. For the past 10 weeks I’ve reckoned with a spinning wheel.

Have you watched a potter at a wheel? From a lump of ordinary clay extraordinary cylinders, bowls, or mugs emerge. They make it look easy. It is not.

Hunching over the wheel, centering the clay, and getting it to rise into the vessel I envisioned — well, I had no idea how physical it would be. The clay does not prepare or center itself. If not balanced in the middle of the wheel, even a small lump of clay resists and bucks against your hands. It then morphs into a lopsided creation. Off kilter rim. Uneven sides. Like my early pinch pots.

Centering is key. Once the clay is centered, keeping the wall thickness even comes next. I was thrilled (can you tell?) when I made my first large piece, the bowl below.

beautiful bowl on batOnce the vessel is formed, it’s time to let it dry. Because I live in a warm climate, I covered this bowl loosely with a plastic bag to regulate dry time and avoid cracking. The next day I checked on it and found this:

mystery of the broken bowlNo signs of foul play. No earthquake. The instructor was mystified. Sometimes, even with care, things don’t work out.

Here’s what I learned about life while working with clay…

Centering is crucial.

It’s also a metaphor for a life that feels whole. I center by spending time right at the start of my day in silence. This may be walking on my own or sitting in my old pink easy chair with a book or my journal. Other ways I center: Heart-to-heart hugs with the fam. We hug long enough to get the oxytocin drip going. I sweep the kitchen floor or putter in the garden. Things I don’t have to overthink and that bring a sense of peace — these center me.

Control is an Illusion.

We show up, do our best, and anything can happen. This once drove me round the twist. Now it is a huge relief. Neither the world nor my reputation as a responsible, caring person depend on me being in control. I do what I can and release the outcome.

Be Prolific.

Or: To make art — any art — make lots of art. That first bowl taught me a lot! I determined early on to over-produce. For every two pots I began on the wheel, only one would make it through the final glaze fire as hoped. There are so many possibilities for failure in any creative process, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fool’s game. That means anyone can participate — write, garden, sing, dance, parent, bake, teach, learn, knit, paint — who has the heart to keep at it.

Here’s a bit of what I brought home from the studio after the final exam:

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Over to You

Pictures make wonderful writing prompts. What small things have you learned from making? Look at the things you make — a meal, a quilt, an orderly cupboard, a new friend. Take a few pictures.

What is Photo Voice?

Photo Voice is a way to amplify and reflect on our very visual lives. And it’s simple:

  1. Look at your pictures. Those you have OR those you take today, this week. Make it super easy — I use my phone.
  2. Choose one: of something you made, or that thing/activity/place that centers you.
  3. Print it out and paste it in a notebook. Or put it in a fresh google document. Or create a digital album.
  4. Write 3-4 sentences (or more!) about it: the story it makes you think of (or think up), or why you love it, what it means to you, the metaphor it holds.
  5. Share it. Use Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook (share with all your friends or just one), or keep it in your notebook to share with your future self.

Photo Voice is one way to access your creativity and through it your inner life. Creativity is the way we make (and find) meaning in life.

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.” ~ Brené Brown [emphasis mine]


Did this article speak to you? Let me know below. Would it speak to someone you love, let them know! Thank you 

 

 

 

 

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Photo Voice: Water

IMG_0486The color, the sound, the feel. Water! It is my element. I love the ocean, rain, a sparkling pool. And while I’ve never over-hydrated, I love to drink water — plain or with a little lemon juice. After surgery last summer, I spent four days in hospital without showering. A huge thank you to the nurses who gave me sponge baths, but oh how I longed for a warm shower!

Long-time readers know that swimming makes me very happy. I am thrilled to report that I’m back in the pool this spring. The first date with chlorine went well; I swam a slow mile and still felt great for evening class. But the next day – I needed a little rest and relaxation! In spite of that setback I’ve kept returning to the pool. Now I manage a mile and can still stand the day after.

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Do I swim as I did in college? Nope. But I enjoy it just as much, if not more. My heart thrums and my lungs expand as I reach and pull doing the crawl stroke. And the backstroke — Bliss. The backstroke was one of the first thing to go when Myasthenia Gravis first flared up. I couldn’t keep my head above water. My neck wouldn’t hold. It was like lifting a bowling ball with silly putty. I remember holding the edge of the pool at the deep end as I cried. Frustration, confusion and fear almost drowned me. I had no idea what was happening to my body. But now I glide through the aqua depths gazing at the clouds or squinting in the sun as I count off lap after lap on my back!

Swimming is part of my emotional hygiene, a baptism that washes away the dust of the ordinary and reminds me of the simple gifts I have right now: healing, recovery, buoyancy, movement.

I love water. I love taking pictures of water. What about you? What is your element? What brings you healing? Use Photo Voice to practice gratitude for this gift.

What is Photo Voice?

Photo Voice is a way to amplify and reflect on our very visual lives. And it’s simple:

  1. Look at your pictures. Those you have OR those you take today, this week. Make it super easy — I use my phone.
  2. Choose one: of your element, or that thing/activity/place that brings you healing.
  3. Print it out and paste it in a notebook. Or put it in a fresh google document. Or create a digital album.
  4. Write 3-4 sentences (or more!) about it: the story it makes you think of (or think up), or why you love it, what it means to you, the metaphor it holds.
  5. Share it. Use Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook (share with all your friends or just one), or keep it in your notebook to share with your future self.

Photo Voice is one way to access your creativity and through it your inner life. Creativity is the way we make (and find) meaning in life.

If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.” ~ Brené Brown [emphasis mine]


Did this article speak to you? Let me know below. Would it speak to someone you love, let them know! Thank you 

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