Women’s Day Thoughts (emotional labor)

Thoughts, re: emotional labor and women, and how we can proactively affirm each other’s right to take up space through our own proactive self-love.

(If you’re clear on this concept already, this post will likely seem remedial to you. Per always, I don’t see my hot take here as definitive, and welcome comment and critique, primarily from fellow femmes.)

So, rewind 10-13 years, to an earlier version of me.

I’d just chewed my way out of the patriarchal cocoon I was raised in, and was trying to wrap my brain around the concept of personal sovereignty while pushing through a blistering sense of guilt for wanting things for myself. Meanwhile, I was up to my brand-new-nose-ring in diapers, toddlers with developmental issues, and trying (with mixed success) to start a birth support business that demanded a good deal of time and physical energy.

That period of my life is hazy, to be honest. I mostly remember debilitating exhaustion, and doing nonstop heavy lifting for the emotional issues of the people around me. I’d been conditioned by culture to quietly believe that women who weren’t “helpful” or “nice” or “nurturing” in a self-sacrificial (often self-destructive) way were secretly selfish, shallow whores.

(If you’re rolling your eyes like you don’t have that problem, tell me how easy it is to step away carve out time for JUST you during the week, during which you field no calls and do nothing for anyone else while you only rest. I’ll wait.)

And I remember this: whenever I reached a snapping point, I’ll reach out to my community, giving pertinent details of my struggles, desperately trying to unsnarl the whole mess and make a plan for health. Ironically, even in this, I’d often prioritize the needs and problems of my family members, instead of my own.

In tears. Saying, “I’m about to have a breakdown” in a very non-hyperbolic way.

And then, WHOOOOOOOOSH! Fellow femmes would latch onto relatable details of my crisis, then barrage me with demands/questions (“Oh, you have bloody nipples, too?” “Can you walk me through this insurance issue?” “Could you recommend a good resource for coping with trauma?”). Almost invariably, they’d start their own emotional processing of a tangentially related situation in their own lives, and use up the paltry space I’d attempted to carve out for myself to tend to their own pressing needs. It was like one person’s honesty pried the lid off a Pandora’s box of communal anxiety, and I’d end up shouldering even more emotional labor on their behalf.

Thing is, I’m certain I’ve done the same. Also, I recognize the power of group catharsis and support as a way of healing; that’s not what I’m talking about. 

This became apparent to me: these women had been every bit as unsuccessful at setting emotional boundaries in their own lives as I had been. As soon as someone was brave enough to say, “This woman-carries-everything dynamic is killing me!”, it caused an explosive chain reaction in which every overloaded woman turned out the pockets of their soul at once in desperation.

And I started to realize it’s a cultural wound.

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@libbyvanderploeg

Often, emotional heavy lifters are doing five other people’s work for them, sometimes with little or no boundaries, and then, when the time comes to cash in their community chips, we’ve been conditioned to go to other bankrupt people. (read: women) ::wince::

I realized: no one was listening well or holding real space for women, because women were at capacity. And I realized my anger wasn’t really at fellow femmes, but the fact that we’re forced to both cave to AND exploit the patriarchal social rule that says, “You can ask any woman any emotional favor at any point, and she has to be nice and do it for you. Even if she’s bleeding, literally or from the soul.”

Cringe moment: this concept crystallized for me when, around my 30th birthday, I ran crying to a black dear one when I realized I’d been a Very Lazy White Lady (re: social justice), and asked her to plz halp, OMG. Her response was, “Ash, I’m going to be honest; this is much harder for me than it is for you. You have to handle that on your own time.” Initially, scorching guilt took the front seat for a bit, and rightly so. I’d run to an exhausted, hurting person with my own fixable problems, and I was predictably mortified.

After I got over myself a little (this is a work in progress), I realized she was worlds ahead of me in the emotional responsibility game. If I was going to contribute meaningfully to my relationships, I needed to take responsibility for tending to my own needs and boundaries more; honoring my own need for processing space so I could show up whole for others.

It also meant stopping myself from hemorrhaging resource in the direction of people who aren’t building their own emotional skill through mindfulness. (I don’t want to say men :cough: But it was often men.)

Today, I’m purposing this in my own life: to tend to my own needs proactively, and to be careful who I give the emotional floor to. AND, if a fellow woman has the floor, she has the FLOOR. I will hold *space* for her when she’s having a true crisis moment, for as long as she seem to need me to. I will not ask a favor. I will not make it about me in any way, unless it’s to enrich my being there for her. I will not center my children or my spouse. I won’t exploit her vulnerability.

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@wonderlustHfx

I will be sovereign in my own life, and try to rule it like a goddamned queen. I will set boundaries, demand that capable folks carry their own damned emotional load, be willing to watch them flounder a bit, and nurture those who can’t to the end of getting them there. 

I’m evoking some heavy, ancient femme code shit here, in a deliberate, re-claiming act of saying, “Fuck that terrible, woman-exploiting rule.”

Because I love myself. And because I love women, too.

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How Writers Give Us Common Language

:pops in dentures: STORY TIME!

When I was a young kid in the late 80s/early 90s, we didn’t have cable or dial up internet. Instead, we had books and a piece of furniture that could be most accurately referred to as a table with good local reception.

Our old wooden-bodied  television had a McGuyvered set of coat hangers taped to its antennae. When my brother sat cross-legged on the floor and I held my jaw just right on the couch, it picked up a spotty version of TBS. Reruns, and mostly Star Trek. And so, accidentally, a fierce little trekkie was born.

My favorite episode was Darmok. (For the uninitiated: the plot is about an alien race, the Tamarians, who speak a language composed of short phrases from cultural story-references. For instance, the phrase “Shaka when the walls fell” communicated a general sense of defeat. ) This story tugged at something deep in my bones, and I began noticing how people often use story quotes for quick, common emotional shorthand during otherwise difficult conversations.

Fast forward a couple of decades. It seems that now, even cultural shorthand has been abbreviated to GIFs, texts, or tweets to communicate empathy or frustration over our collective daily grind. These snippets boost morale and connect us. They keep us chugging along in a difficult world without stealing too much mental bandwidth.

Language is a metamorphic and fluid creature, with countless dialects and mediums. It evolves alongside us. It ensures we won’t be lonely, and that we can build and grow things together, and that we won’t starve.

But it takes up so much energy for most people to “out” their inner workings; putting complicated experiences and feelings into words can be exhausting. And, the faster-paced our society becomes, the more important clear shorthand for complex ideas becomes. Hence, “Shaka when the walls fell”, memes, geek references, book quotes, inspirational posters, GIFs, and pithy fandom tshirts.

I’ll illustrate with our most common Gen X/millennial tongue, savvy?

Harry Potter wasn’t gifted at putting his complex feelings into language. (In fact, mostly, he was terrible at it.) But Harry’s story gave us a common tongue as children. When a friend feels down, expressing all the empathy that bubbles up in that moment can feel a bit daunting for many people. “I, too, feel alone and misunderstood, and despite the demoralizing nature society, I hope you won’t succumb to the pain and give up, friend” seems a little heavy to reach for.

Instead, people can thumb through GIFs, send a meme, or purchase a coffee cup. Or simply say the words: Don’t let the muggles get you down.

“Shaka when the walls fell.” We’re all Tamarians, borrowing snippets of tales to convey our thoughts. But someone has to write the bedtime stories.

There are dozens of quotes by writers, all communicating that every story has already been told, but that the way we tell it is unique. The two things that keep our stories fascinating, as far as I can tell, are split evenly between writer and reader:

  1. The writer’s unique personal experiences and inner life.
  2. The writer’s intimate understanding of their reader/culture, for translation purposes.

See what I’m driving at? You, writer, must translate your own complex internal emotional experience into an accessible language for the whole of humanity. No pressure, right? But it’s important. Stories keep us working together, hammering away at our own proverbial tower of Babel. Language gives us empathy, and empathy facilitates change. That’s what you do.

You’re a wizard, Harry.

Now go write.

Tomato cages and The Unwanted Child

This morning, I took advantage of the rare cool morning and busied myself building higher tomato trellises. (Y’all. These maters have NO chill this year.) The whole time, I was thinking, thinking. Mostly about old stories. And I started crying on the tomato vines, after a bit.

The story trope of the Unwanted Child (I’ll capitalize for emphasis) has been so globally pervasive, throughout history. Something about that narrative sticks so hard, no doubt because there’s a lasting wisdom to it that speaks to and empowers undernourished hearts.

Aschenputtel, whose beauty inspired her stepmother to treat her as slave.

Rhodopis, the Greek-Egyptian Cinderella treated badly by other servants because she looked different.

Mary Belle and the Mermaid, whose cruel father shot the gentle mermaid who provided Mary Belle with the only kindness in her life.

The Juniper Tree, in which a beautiful boy is decapitated and cooked by the stepmother who hates him for existing.

Joseph and his coat, whose brothers sold him after he shared his gift of prophecy.

Vasilisa the Fair, whose jealous step sisters give her the impossible task of collecting fire from the witch Baba Yaga.

Father Frost, in which a girl is banished into the snow by a stepparent who despises her loving nature.

Harry Potter, whose adopted family despised his gift of magic.

Even Ratatouille, in which Remmy the rat is shunned by his family for his passion for cooking.

Instead of being valued and nourished, these children are feared for the goodness they bring to the world. I imagine the “step” parent theme speaks less to actual family arrangement and more to a sort of parabolic biological imperative of the mind and heart. Some homes are not safe. Some communities recognize that another person’s “DNA” is different, and, instead of holding and cherishing that community-balancing difference, they succumb to the urge to snuff it out.

The fruit these children bore out of their own beauty and goodness became a liability within their unsupported environment. They were exactly like tomato vines, producing goodness from the sacred blueprint of their bodies, but their homes were flimsy cages that failed to bolster them up. Their life-force broke under the weight of their own beauty. No one lifted them up and made them strong.

I’m rambling. My point is, to myself, to you, precious reader, is that sometimes escape is okay. Engaging your culture is important, generally speaking, but not to the point of death. And not from a position of tentative survival and desolate exposure; that kind of engagement is best done from a position with deep roots in a scaffolding of love. This is an old, old wisdom that’s fought hard to find its way to you over thousands of years.

Don’t introduce your mermaids to assholes. Don’t tell your dreams to mouth breathers. Don’t slave over creme brulee for those who dine on garbage. Let the witch in the woods teach you the hard earned skills you need to survive without the haters. Your apparent idiosyncrasy is someone person’s “most beautiful in all of Eygpt”. And maybe that some person is *you*. That’s good, too.

It’s okay to get away sometimes. Sometimes, the simple act of surviving is the best kindness you can provide to the world. Because, in that story, you LIVE. You get away. And the world needs you.

The Blogger Recognition Award

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The charming Laura Noakes tagged me in this blog challenge, and she’s so damned fun and adorable, my doesn’t-do-mornings self was sucked right into the spirit of things. Plus, who doesn’t love answering fun questions? The rules are as follows:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them & provide the link to the post you created.

 

The story of how I started my blog: 

Can I tell you how I wish it began?

One day, while I was busily plugging away at my seamstress job in a boutique raincoat shop, full of ennui (because I’m really not much of a seamstress and kept sewing the sleeves shut), I found a slip of paper in the pocket of a particularly discouraging puce-and-beige duck print coat. When I unfolded it, the following message was addressed to me in a feathery hand: Fulfill your destiny. Below this, the handwritten url with my name in it.

I went home that very night and typed in the url with a fluttering pulse, and found a blog depicting yours truly as a writer. Over a hot cup of tea, I personalized and scrolled and clicked my way into a heroic new future. The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve never discovered the identity of the person who gave me that initial nudge, but if I could, I’d take them out for drinks and a long night walk around the city. We’d become bosom friends. Or they’ll give me a thousand dollars.

(***But really, I think it’s because I entered PitchWars a couple of years ago, and needed a blog address for registration) 

 

Advice for newbie bloggers.

Write more often than I do. {dons cone of shame}

And while you’re writing that often, don’t be afraid to be the most honest version of yourself. Let that real self evolve, every day. People seem to be drawn to unadulterated versions of others, so even if you’re not someone’s cup of tea, you might be someone else’s PERFECT cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream, cayenne pepper sprinkles, and fruit loops. You do you! The world needs you.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. While I’m not an avid blogger, I can certainly say that the writer blogs I enjoy reader are the honest ones that pursue unique content and put their own fabulous spin on things. If you show up with an authentic attitude and an honest/brave approach to a topic, be still my beating heart! I’m in love.

Blogging is a great way to interact with other writers and explore your own communication identity. Invite people to guest post. The worst can happen is that they say no. And when they say yes, you’ve made a connection! Have fun with it.

One important guideline: try and be flawlessly respectful to others. Read up on important topics (like sensitivity readers, representation, and social media etiquette). And do it with an earnest heart, not because it’s the current trend. Soul-search. Heal, if you need to. Again with the theme of authenticity! People notice when your motives are good, and it’s a lovely thing.

My nominations for this fab tag:

YOU. Especially if you’ve just started out and are in the process of building your reader list. giphy (6)

Then, leave me a comment, so I can come admire your handiwork!

 

 

 

 

 

Strategies For Creating in Chaos: an Interview with Author Robert Duff

Today, I’d like to welcome psychologist and self-help author Robert Duff for a chat about self-management and stress. Hi Robert, and thanks for joining us here! 🙂

What role do you feel creative expression plays in fostering mental health? 

I think that it plays a very important role. I often see the world in a yin and yang sort of way – creation and destruction. Often when we are depressed or having other mental health issues, we have to go through a sort of grieving process and we have to allow the life we expected to have (free of these issues) to die. In my opinion, one of the most helpful things for overcoming a loss is to create something new. The definition of creative expression is pretty broad in my book. That could be creating physical art, writing something, or even just cultivating new friendships or hobbies. Continue reading

Of exhaustion and summer breaks

Being a disciplined writer while raising kids requires a sort of fanatical, dogged commitment (if you ever want to accomplish much). You have to be kind of ruthless with your spare minutes. It helps if you have a crazy gleam in your eye at all times. It lets people know you’re mat as a hatter, and that they shouldn’t invite you to social functions. You have important ish to do.

Continue reading