Reexamining My Privilege

Unless you have been sound asleep for the past few weeks, you’ve probably visited the subjects of race and unearned white privilege a time or two. I know I have. Sometimes it has made me uncomfortable. But it’s necessary.

It’s so easy for white people like me to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that these issues do not exist, because the entire American system is designed for us to be able to do so. It’s easy. It comes naturally. We can’t wait for things to get back to “normal”, and completely overlook the fact that our normal is pretty darned awful for a lot of people. This it needs to change.

So I am doing my best to keep an open mind and educate myself about these issues. That reminded me that I once attended a very enlightening seminar that I then promptly and comfortably forgot all about. Fortunately, I blogged about it.

It did me good to read it again. I hope you will do so as well. The post is entitled, “I’m So Freakin’ White.”

I like it when one of my old posts becomes relevant once again. And this one should remain relevant even if  it makes us squirm a bit. Join me. Read it. Tell me what you think.

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On Being Let Down

I’ve been cranky lately. Grumpy. Impatient. Out of sorts.

It all started when it finally dawned on me, at the age of 51, that my sexually abusive stepfather had started grooming me for his pedophilia at the age of 7. The hard core abuse didn’t start until I was 11. Not that that’s an excuse. And I had been dealing with that for most of my life. But I had been operating under the illusion that I had had a few years there before the dark shadow truly descended.

On the contrary. Looking back on certain incidents from an adult perspective, there was a whole host of inappropriate behaviors from almost the day he married my mother.

As a child, I didn’t know any better. I just knew that the man made me uncomfortable, and I tried to avoid him. But looking back now, I can see that several things would have been nearly impossible for an adult to miss. And yet my mother chose to look the other way.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother very much. But I know that if I had been in her shoes, I would have made different choices. For starters, I’d have never married the pig in the first place. I’d have put my child’s safety ahead of my desire to get out of the projects and be supported by the first available scumbag that happened to come my way. And the first hinky thing that happened would have been the last thing he ever did. I know this as sure as I know the earth revolves around the sun. But that’s just me, I guess.

Over the years, a lot of people have let me down. Teachers. Counselors. Adult relatives. No one heard me. No one wanted to see. I was 21 before I independently arrived at the concept that none of this had been my fault. I should have been told that by every person who crossed my path.

From that, I suppose I could have learned to distrust the world and lash out like a wounded animal at anyone who came close. But I have always been someone who zigged when the rest of the world was zagging, so instead, I put a lot of pressure on myself to not be like those people.

As a result, I am probably the most dependable person on the face of the earth. I listen. I act. I speak out, even when it might be uncomfortable. If I say I am going to do something for you or with you, only hospitalization or death will keep me from doing so. I can be counted on. I keep my promises. I don’t look the other way. I stick my neck out, even though I often risk getting it chopped.

You’d think I’d have acquired a healthy dose of cynicism after a lifetime of being let down by people. But because I’m capable of doing all of the above, I expect it from others, and I’m always rather stunned when they fall short. And good God, do they ever fall short.

The fact is, people are going to disappoint you. It’s part of life. Perhaps part of my anger should be directed at myself, for having set such high expectations for the people I care about. They aren’t me.

Maybe when people don’t return phone calls, ignore messages, don’t follow through, or stand me up, I shouldn’t take it as the abuse that it feels like. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin. Because the fact of the matter is, I can’t control when other people screw me over.

There’s really no point in wasting energy on an existential tantrum because I can’t force everyone to live up to my standards. I can only learn to set up healthier boundaries and try to make better choices moving forward. Emotional distance. That’s what’s called for here.


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It’s Okay to Talk About Death

During the most profound parts of my grief over the loss of my boyfriend, I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it will be before I can talk about Chuck without making people uncomfortable.” I wanted to talk about him. I really did. Both good stuff and bad stuff. I wanted to process what I was feeling and why. But I found it really hard to discuss it with people because I felt as if I were making them squirm, and they didn’t know what to say.

How could I explain to them that it was okay to talk about Chuck? How could I tactfully make the point that death, as a general rule, is not contagious after the fact? How could I reassure them that they couldn’t possibly cause me any more pain than I was already in, and that, by talking about him, they were actually helping me? My energy was at an all-time low, so I wasn’t in the mood to school people.

Then the other day I came across the following in a book by Barbara Kingsolver, and as per usual, she really knows what to say:

“People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we’ll somehow remind them of death’s existence, we are missing their reality.”

This couldn’t be more true! It’s not like we’re taking a vacation from grief and by bringing the subject up you’re thrusting us back into that awful place. You’re not reminding us of something we’ve forgotten. We’re already there, people. And it’s okay. We’re going to survive. It’s just that it would be so comforting to talk about it, so nice to feel less isolated. So make the effort, even if it’s just to ask if we’d like to talk. It would mean more than you know.

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten past the worst of my grief (although it will never go away completely), but if anything could have made the experience easier, it would have been the general sense that I didn’t have to censor myself to avoid making everyone feel awkward. Please try to give that gift to the people you love who are grieving.

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Letting People Be

Now that I’m residing in the wild and whacky world that is Seattle, I’m surrounded by diversity the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. I’m not just talking about different races and cultures. I’m talking about different lifestyles. On any given day, I can cross paths with a man with bright purple dreadlocks down to his ankles, a woman wearing a witch hat, cross dressers of every stripe, people who will only eat raw vegetables and call you a murderer if you don’t follow their lead, free love activists, and couples who host cuddle parties.

I love this diversity. I revel in it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I have to be honest. There is a tiny little part of me that feels awkward in these situations. It’s way out of my comfort zone. These are encounters I would never have had in the conservative cultural backwater of ignorance that is Northeast Florida.

I had no idea how sheltered I was until I came to Seattle. Actually, “sheltered” is not the right word. That implies that I was being protected from bad people. It’s more like I was closed off. Shut away. I now totally understand why Florida is such a red state. They don’t know any better. It’s hard to have an open mind when you spend all your time in a tiny little room with no windows, culturally speaking.

Here in Seattle, I seem to be growing up. I’m learning to relax that Florida muscle that instinctively tries to force people into neatly ordered cubby holes. I’m learning to let people be. I have no idea why that should be so hard, but a lot of people have trouble with it.

So, yeah, all this is new to me. And there’s a little squirmy feeling I get inside sometimes because of it. But you know what? Bring it on! I welcome the squirm if it means I get to see the wider world in all its exciting variations.

I feel like I’m seeing the universe in color for the very first time. A little scary. A little unexpected. But oh, how beautiful it is!

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Make Yourself Comfort-Able

I will never wear high heels again. I just don’t see the point. I have absolutely nothing to gain from making myself more clumsy and uncomfortable. Life is just too short. Or maybe it’s too long. Either way.

Once upon a time appearance meant more to me than comfort. I was all about the skin tight jeans. Now, whenever I can get away with it, I’m in sweat pants. It’s just how I roll.

I was thinking about the word comfortable the other day. Able to experience comfort? Able to be comforted? Both of those things appeal to me greatly. Comfortable as in financially well-off? The thing about that is that most of the rich people I know aren’t very relaxed or happy or able to just chill out in sweat pants. So no, not so much.

I think truly being comfortable means doing what’s best for you and not caring what others think about that. It also means opening yourself up, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, exposing your soft underbelly so that others can give you support when you need it. When you’re in the weeds, it’s nice to know there are others there who will help you find your way out.

I resolve, here and now, to make myself more comfortable every chance I get. Who’s with me?


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On Being a Fish Out of Water

Not fitting in or being uncomfortable is what the expression “like a fish out of water” means. That’s a pity, because if you think about it, a fish out of water is experiencing the ultimate form of enlightenment. If you’ve been in water your entire life, you don’t really realize you’re in water, do you? I mean, on some level you must, but you don’t know what it’s truly like until you’ve jumped out of it.

I discovered that on a small scale recently when I moved from one rental place to another. I knew I had been unhappy where I was for some time, but I didn’t fully comprehend what a negative effect that place was having on me until I got out of there. It was definitely just what the doctor ordered. I’ve had that feeling when I’ve quit a toxic job or ended a toxic relationship, too.

Now that I no longer have a completely crazy landlady and her ex-convict son living on the other side of my living room wall, I can breathe. Now that I don’t have to step over his cigarette butts and deal with the god-awful stench of their overly hoarded garage, I feel much better. Now that my dogs don’t get fed whatever crap they have as leftovers when I’m not looking, and don’t have to wend their way among the ever-increasing debris in their back yard to do their business, they feel better, too. Now that I’m not being constantly watched to see when I come and go and with whom, and how often I use my air conditioner, I can relax and feel like an adult in my own home again.

By the standard definition, I guess you could say I was a fish out of water at the old place. But if you look at it as a form of enlightenment, then I am a fish out of water now, and it feels really good. I will never take a comfortable living situation for granted again. If that knowledge is what comes from jumping out of my comfort zone and exploring the possibilities that come with change, then this is one fish who hopes to do it on a regular basis.