Keening

I never really understood what this was – until this past week.

Of course, I’d heard of the practice: people crying, wailing, making all manner of sounds to vocalize their pain and grief. I understood that it often was a cultural practice at funerals. But that’s how I understood it: as some anthropological note about what other people do with their grief. It was academic, and wholly disconnected from my middle class American existence.

Continue reading “Keening”

For Colored Girls / When the World is So F*d Up That You Seriously Can’t Figure Out What to Do with Yourself

First off, THANK YOU to all of you who are following my blog during this experiment. It gives me a particular sense of joy to know that such wonderful people will be reading what I write. And the accountability is working – I didn’t want to get to tomorrow morning and have any of you ask me when my first RWR blog post was going to show up.

For those of you who haven’t been connected to me on Facebook: I finally reached that moment where the utility of the platform for sharing and discussing ideas was far outweighed by its soul-crushing, hope-devouring effects. One of my friends shared an article about the Trump campaign’s use of big data that made me feel like I needed to delete all my posts and take a shower. I want to still engage with people about how we live together in this world; I need to still engage with people if I’m going to survive this period we’ve entered into. But I was swimming in a miasma of toxicity, and I was putting back into that environment what I was absorbing from it. I want to bring joy and hope as well as righteous anger to my social media life. And while I’m so glad that the Lord was able to use the things I posted on Facebook to speak to people, I need to find a different way to go about this.

Continue reading “For Colored Girls / When the World is So F*d Up That You Seriously Can’t Figure Out What to Do with Yourself”

Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.

I’m glad I can laugh at myself!

Here’s a fun update: I’m currently clocking in at a svelte 212 lbs! While losing five pounds since the last time I posted about this may not seem like such a big deal, it becomes more impressive when you know that almost immediately after that post, I gained ten pounds and had to work my way down from there. It was an inauspicious, disheartening beginning; but I’m thankful that better things were yet to come.

Hilariously, I achieved my unusually successful weight loss by keeping rigorous track of what I ate and generally making sure that I expend more calories than I consume. 🙂 When I realized that I was just following really basic weight loss advice, it cracked me up. But hey, I never said I wasn’t incredibly hard-headed and terrible at listening to what other people tell me!

The key for me was finding tools that made the tracking fun and interesting instead of duty and drudgery. I got a Samsung Galaxy S6 this spring, and discovered that it came with this fitness tracker (S Health) pre-installed. I was curious and started playing around with it, and all the charts and analysis made it more like a game for me, as well as tying into my competitive mobile gaming side (wanting to beat my previous “scores”/get new achievements). I started to see that I was walking more and even getting other things like my blood pressure and blood sugar to go down a bit, but I was frustrated at not seeing more consistent weight results because I thought I was eating OK. So I decided to test my assumption about my own consumption using the app’s food tracker.

Turns out I was eating good food most of the time but really indulging in some crap at other times, and generally eating WAY too much (i.e., 3,000 calories) for my level of activity. So I set myself a goal of staying under 2,500 calories, which I seemed to be able to do most of the time, and then later tried staying under 2,000 calories, at which I was less successful. Slowly but surely, I started to see that when I kept to my steps goal and my calorie goal, the changes (albeit small ones) would show up on the scale. Those small wins, combined with the “gaming” perspective, kept me going as I tried to figure out how to move my progress along a little more quickly.

Oddly, it was the frustrations I experienced with S Health’s functionality that moved me to the next level. The food tracker database wasn’t very extensive, and I found myself constantly having to look up nutrition information on other websites for food I needed to log in S Health. That was when I discovered MyFitnessPal, the food log site I found myself turning to over and over. My other issue was with the step counter: because it was on my phone, I constantly had to be carrying my phone to count my steps; and since I don’t always wear outfits with pockets, that felt very inconvenient (not to mention upsetting my competitive side when I didn’t make a goal because all my steps weren’t being counted!). Enter the search for a wearable step counter.

It seemed a little ridiculous to buy yet another gadget after I’d just purchased a new phone and laptop; the fact that my shiny new phone wasn’t also functioning perfectly as a wearable fitness tracker is such a #firstworldproblem that it’s a little embarrassing to write about it. That said, I’m so grateful to my sister for my birthday gift of a Fitbit Charge HR, because it the difference it has made in successfully moving toward my weight and health goals is nothing short of stunning for me.

I’m counting my steps and tracking my food rigorously almost every day, managing my activity and calorie consumption goals with the benefit of the the seamless integration between Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. I’m engaging in challenges with my cadre of Fitbit buddies, which helps to push me on those days when I’d rather not get all my steps in. I’m even tracking my sleep, along with still monitoring my blood sugar and blood pressure through S Health. And I can see the results so clearly: my weight is down, my sugar is consistently in the target zone, and my blood pressure, while still high, is markedly down from where it was. My energy is up, I can move more quickly and more easily, and I generally want to eat less.

Plus, I feel more in control of my weight (rather than it having control of me) because I see very directly how my body responds to a low-activity or high-calorie day – both of which I still totally have. There’s no specific food or activity plan: no special diet (although I have to watch how much I eat food out, as the calories in those meals are generally crazy), no series of workouts beyond my daily step target. But I feel like the information I get from my trackers empowers me to make activity and food intake decisions that affect my weight and overall health in a way that is dynamic, natural, and sustainable.

And really, that’s the underlying change, which is a gift of God and not any work of my own. He slowly and patiently brought me to the place where I could look at those health metrics as tools to use in pursuing the things He is prompting me to do, rather than judgments on my worth and character. That sermon I mentioned in my previous post was a turning point, where the Lord helped me to stop using insecurity and fear of failure as excuses and crutches. He prepared my heart and then spoke the right word to me at the time when I could hear it. And He led me to ways of managing my health that are responsive to my real life instead of some imagined ideal. So this is one of my testimonies to the things the Lord has been doing in me this beautiful year – and it is only one of many!

In summary, here’s to discovering the obvious; having my weaknesses (competitiveness and technology obsession) turned into strengths; and the overwhelmingly impossible becoming completely doable. I’m still at the beginning, and there will be setbacks along with successes – but I know that I’m moving forward instead of backwards, and I am rejoicing at the transformation.

Big Bertha

That’s what I call my computer, a hefty 18-inch laptop that’s been my gaming desktop replacement for the past several years. She’s too large to fit in most laptop bags and a pain in the ass to carry around; but she is powerful and reliable and I couldn’t do without her. I named her affectionately, because her girth and weight are part of what make her exactly the machine I need. I also named her in solidarity with her owner, who currently clocks in at 217 pounds and change.

[It’s fun (#sarcasm) to put your weight out in the world for everyone to see. After the initial sense of embarrassment, it raises a whole set of questions: will people be shocked? And if so, are they shocked that I weigh that much or shocked that I weigh that little? Who’s empathetic, who’s silently judging, who’s a tiny bit disgusted? Who’s even reading this? Also, isn’t it fascinating that I’ve increased my weight by 50% over the course of my adult lifetime? Numbers are fun!]

A few weeks ago, I was at church and the pastor preached a sermon on what he called “dealing with the necessary.” Roughly put, he was talking about those times when the Lord finally brings you to confront whatever that thing is in your life that you’ve been putting off, ignoring, hiding from, hoping it will just go away. Some people call it handling your business. Whatever it is, I have some of it to do in regards to my physical health.

My health was a significant driving force in my decision last year to leave my job and my life in Massachusetts. I began to realize that the way I was living, the way I was pushing myself to the limit, the way I was dealing with (or not dealing with) massive amounts of stress was staying to make me physically as well as mentally and emotionally sick. My sugar was up, my cholesterol was up, my blood pressure was up, my weight was up … and it occurred to me that, especially as someone with diabetes, if I didn’t get a handle on all of that pretty quickly it really might kill me. That seemed as good a reason as any for a major life shakeup.

Realizing that I had to make a big change to get back to being healthy was the first step in dealing with the necessary; but of course, it wasn’t the last, even though I kind of wanted to treat it that way. I moved to help myself break out of some of the situations that were fostering my unhealthy lifestyle, but the habits and behavior patterns are still in me, and they came for the ride right along with my clothes, books and furniture. Virginia didn’t magically turn me into someone who slept and ate better; who prayed and read her Bible more; who was less impatient or had fewer rage-outs after reading too many Facebook news items. The new setting helps clear the field for new habits, but it won’t create them.

And so the past few months have been about discovering the work I need to do. Most of it I didn’t mind and was eager to get into, even when it was challenging. But the physical health thing is something beyond challenging for me; I don’t exactly have a word to describe the combination of anger, shame, frustration and fear that comes together when I ponder my size and weight and what I ought to do about them. But the jumble sounds something like this.

I hate having diabetes. (Duh, nobody likes it.) I feel ashamed for bringing it on myself with bad eating and not enough exercise, especially when I knew it ran in my family and I knew what it had done to some of my family members and I knew what to do to be better. So being sick is my punishment for being stupid, and there’s no one to be upset with except myself. Bonus points for getting it at 35 when other people in my family didn’t develop it until a decade or more later, and for apparently developing a related condition that keeps my ovaries from doing anything useful anymore. I’m such a high achiever.

So now I’m diabetic, and fat, and infertile, and I’m also black and cruising toward 40 like a freight train — as a result, it’s important to recognize that I’ll never date again and I’ll totally die alone. (I’ll probably also die early and/or painfully, but we’re not talking about that right now.) People will value me less, pay me less, like me less, and totally give me dirty looks when I dare to wear a bikini or eat potato chips in public. Shopping for clothes will now become a painful ritual that reminds me how far I’ve come from the time when I was an adorable size 6 who could wear anything and look amazing. I might become socially acceptable again by shedding my fat (30 lbs MINIMUM), if I were actually disciplined enough to exercise and eat properly; but in that unlikely event, I’ll always be reminded every time someone tells me how great I look that I only look decent now because I am skinny, which means up until then I looked pretty gross.

I’m depressed. Where is that bag of potato chips?

Suffice it to say that when you step on the scale with all that looming over you, it’s a much heavier burden. And while externally my weight might be the presenting issue, what I really want to shed is the horrible weight of all those distorted perceptions, that litany of my blemishes and failings and barriers to the things I want for myself. No matter how many days I get dressed and think I look cute, or how often I tell myself to disregard the devil’s lies designed to tear me down instead of build me up into the woman God is making me … that bundle still seems to be tied to my back.

I read a blog post a few weeks ago that was one of the few times I’d heard someone else put into words how this mental mess around weight loss feels for me. (Definitely worth reading through other posts on the blog as well.) It was very affirming; coming just a day or two after that sermon it both confirmed that this is the time when the Lord is working with me on these issues and let me know that the things I’m struggling with are not uncommon. It made it easier to start talking about what I feel and why it is so hard for me to try and address my physical health. Yes, there are things that I want to change because I think I will feel and function better; but by doing those things, I don’t want to lose the bits of progress I have managed to make in accepting myself as beautiful just as I am right now, because I had/have to fight so hard to hold onto that self-love when so much around me tells me how ugly and unlovable I am.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m posting this. “Accountability” isn’t exactly the right word for what I’m seeking, although that might be part of it; I would probably phrase it as “support” or “encouragement.” Or maybe just help — I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this, I don’t know if I’m going to be successful, I don’t know what my end game should be. I’m scared and trying to take some baby steps on an unfamiliar road that I can’t really see. I guess I want some people with me so it’s not as terrifying as it feels right at this moment. At any rate: here I go.

Busy B

It’s strange to suddenly not be busy in the middle of a social network where almost everyone else is VERY BUSY. The contrast hit me today when I received from a friend over of those quick can’t-talk-saying-hi-will-get-to-you-later messages that I was always sending people before. It’s not a critique of that friend, because I appreciated that they took the time to respond; I think it’s just been a long time since I’ve been on the receiving end of that message at a time when I wasn’t running around crazy myself.

When I left my job and my former city at the end of last year, I said it was because I needed to “take a break” from the way I’d been working and living. The implication is that in some way I intend to return to that world, albeit hopefully with “better” self-care habits. But at this moment, it’s hard to imagine that I’d want to get back to my former lifestyle, where I always felt pressed and rushed and tired. I’m still tired, but if anything that’s mostly from my holdover habit of staying up all night doing not-so-useful things to “decompress.” In all honesty, I’ve got plenty of time to come home, do a little writing or reading, run some errands, make dinner, talk with my mom, and/or play with my cats, and still get a decent night’s sleep. It’s just that my patterns haven’t totally caught up with my reality.

I thought I would feel more antsy about needing to get “back,” but I’m actually quite happy. I like this pace of life, and I want to keep it. I like having work to do during the day to get me up and moving around, but I don’t feel the need to visit around all the time, and on the days when I am a little more hectic, it’s very tiring and I look forward to not doing that again for a while. I feel rested and peaceful.

I do get, if not antsy, the urge or sense that I should keep an eye out for my “next thing,” what I’m supposed to go to when this is “over.” But I think that pressure comes a lot more from external expectations or perceptions of what I “ought” to be doing with myself at this age, with my level of experience and education. It’s that oft-repeated set of questions, “So what are you doing now? What are you looking for?” I’ll have to answer it again for another group of people at a leadership development retreat in a few weeks. And while I’m very happy with the answer “nannying for my niece,” I also know there’s that lingering question: what does that have to do with pursuing a path as a social justice leader? As if nannies can’t be social justice leaders, because they’re not doing the things that it takes to take on that role. And maybe that’s true, and it’s fine for me to take on a role in the world that isn’t about that kind of public leadership. I truly don’t know. I suppose I’ll learn in time whether I still belong to that world.

Not all the pressure is external, of course. I’ve had many grand visions for myself, as a public leader and speaker and writer; and my most recent lifestyle was part of pursuing those visions as I thought they were to be pursued. Plenty of that is more about glory for myself than service to others, so it’s not a bad thing to step back and reformulate my understanding of what I want to do in the world, whether or not I go back to “leading” as it’s usually understood. I do wonder whether being a leader and living a life that feels this peaceful (not complacent, that’s a whole other thing) are two things that don’t go together. I sincerely hope not, but I don’t have any examples right now to draw on of people who don’t have that running-around vibe in their work and life. Perhaps the peace isn’t a peace of time and circumstances, but some deeper inner peace that makes hectic circumstances somehow not hectic. That’s something I haven’t learned yet.

And maybe this is one of those pause/mountaintop times, and ultimately I do have to go back to the valley but I’ll be able to take things back down with me that change my while experience of the valley into something different. Time will tell. It’s a curious place to be right now, and I don’t totally understand it, but I don’t mind it, either.

In Need of an Intervention

I was having a conversation with a friend last night about how living in America is basically living in a framework of daily, continuous lies. We lie about being a democracy; being a land of equal opportunity and social mobility; being a nation governed by the rule of law and equal protection under the law; being a model and a purveyor of liberty and justice throughout the world. We tell ourselves these lies so we can get through the day in relative psychological peace, because we have invested heavily in these stories and the idea that they are not true is too much to bear. We isolate ourselves from any information that would contradict this national story and we ignore any evidence that happens to slip through, so that we can remain secure in what we know to be true. We are in an abusive relationship with a national identity that we know deep down is hurting us, but that we don’t know how to leave; we can’t imagine what the alternative would look like, and we fear that the cost of trying to find it will be too high.

August was a strange and terrible month for me for this very reason. In the weeks following the murder of Michael Brown, I had what is probably best described as a mild mental and emotional breakdown. I didn’t have direct ties to the Brown family or the Ferguson community; instead, what prompted my breakdown was the severe discontinuity between the things I have to believe every day in order to walk around and stay sane, and the reality that was being uncovered in Ferguson. In order to live here, I assume that my life won’t be taken capriciously by agents of my government; I assume that I will get justice when wronged; I assume that my right to exist isn’t dependent on whether someone white decides to view me as a human being that day. But in reality, none of that may be true. And as I said to my mother in tears over the phone, I don’t know how to live in a nation or a world like that.

I had this experience for the first time when I read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and saw how the current prevailing system of racial injustice had been crafted with such detail and maintained with such vigor. When I was confronted with the truth at that time, I truly didn’t know what to do; so I stored the information, but put it mostly to the back of my mind, because I didn’t know how to engage with that reality and still go about my regular life.  And perhaps, ultimately, that is the choice we have to face: in order to truly confront the truth and deal with it, we will have to let our lives, our systems, and our worldview be disrupted. It may feel like they are even being destroyed; but it is our only chance to escape the lies that are truly killing us.

It is time we learned to tell the truth about ourselves, to face who we have been and who we are. It is time to acknowledge that whatever we wanted to believe our nation was founded on in theory, it has been founded in practice on genocide, racism, theft, exploitation and violence. It is time for our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to account for both the sins of our forbears and the injustices we allow to continue every day. It is time to speak honestly about the reality and origins of ongoing inequality and oppression: its causes, the structures that maintain it, and how those structures must change to achieve the values we claim to hold dear.

Post-Ferguson, I’ve had to figure out how to go back to my regular life, but this time, I’m trying to find a way to do it while continuing to engage in this confrontation with the truth. For my first step, I’m starting a book club on The New Jim Crow, so I can dive into it again and process it with other people. It’s probably a small step in the scheme of things, but I’m hoping it will lead to bigger ones – and at the very least, there will be more of us engaging in this truth-telling. I want to host some showings (either personally or through work) of Race: The Power of an Illusion, as another opportunity to reveal some of these facts of our history to a wider audience. Writing it out, these feel like such tiny, insignificant interventions, and I feel like I have so little power to make a difference. On the other hand, I have to start somewhere.

More than that: we all have to start somewhere, to break free of the cycle of lies. What will you choose to do?