Vulnerability in Writing

I’m alive! The last month or so has been a little rough for me which is why I have been MIA from the blog. I’ve noticed that when I’m in one of my slumps I find it very hard, even impossible, to write. I have sat down to write this post so many times over the last few weeks, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I started thinking about what was stopping me. Initially I just knew that I didn’t want to talk about all the things that have been going on in my head, and because my writing is usually pretty autobiographical, I obviously couldn’t write. Then I thought, “OK, I’ll just write something very objective and completely unrelated to my personal life and personal thoughts. Then at least I will be writing.” I brainstormed different subjects, but every time I actually tried to write no words came to me. Then it dawned on me that all writing is personal regardless of whether or not you are explicitly talking about your personal life. And if you are trying to leave certain pieces of your life out of your writing it makes it difficult to really produce anything of quality.

This has been one of the biggest struggles that I have had with writing. I am naturally a pretty private person, particularly when it comes to my struggles. I’d just rather not have everyone know about my flaws and I don’t like people to see me on my bad days. I think part of the reason for this is that I don’t like to address problems that I don’t yet have solutions for. I like things being neatly tied up, well-thought out and reasoned through in my mind before I talk about them.

Unfortunately, a lot of the questions that we struggle with don’t have clear answers and it is these unanswerable questions are often the central themes of writing. They are questions like: Why are we here? How do we live lives full of meaning and purpose? How do we make sense of all the suffering and tragedy in the world? How do we make and sustain connections with other people? Though these questions seem deeper and more profound than the subject of most writing, they are usually lying beneath the surface, quietly asserting their presence and their relevance.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” This kind of honesty however can be very difficult to muster. Not everyone is willing to bleed so openly and freely for all to see. To write is inevitably to be vulnerable, and for me, and I imagine for many others, that is the hardest part. Regardless of what you are writing about, you are always writing about yourself. Your writing always reveals more about who you are than it reveals about your subject. And when you have secrets or things you don’t want to share with the world, it becomes very difficult to write anything at all.

So my goal for my writing is to not shut down when I am not in the best place mentally. I want to try not to partition off my struggles, but instead to allow them to infect and simultaneously to nourish my writing. Objectivity is impossible in creative pursuits, as it should be. So I will try to embrace the messy, the unanswerable and the painful questions because not to do so would be dishonest.

So in the spirit of honesty, here it is: I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. I feel stuck and directionless and unfulfilled. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Sometimes all I can do is get up and go through the motions. I’ve set goals that I don’t care about because it felt better to have a plan than to admit that I don’t know what I want. And I’ve watched some of those goals disintigrate before my eyes with surprising indifference, leading me to wonder if I don’t care about what I have pretended to, what do I care about? I’m not entirely sure what the answer to that is. I do know though, that writing has always felt like something I was meant to do. So for now I am going to write, release the need to have it all figured out, and hope for the best.

I realize now that my attempt to remove my personal struggles from my writing inevitably robs it of its substance. Without the gut-wrenching honesty of these struggles, my writing is stripped of its core, and what is left is a hollow shell of words clumsily strung together. If we wait for the answers to life’s nagging questions to come to us before we begin writing about them, the page will always remain blank, the blinking cursor mocking our ignorance.

-S

She Persisted: Vol. 1

Happy International Women’s Day!

“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem

If you’ve read this blog before, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a feminist. I’ve mentioned this fact a few times, but it bears repeating. Equality shouldn’t be something that varies by gender (or race or sexual orientation or economic status or religion or any other factor other than your actions). It drives me crazy that we have to have ‘women in leadership’ programs – it should just be called leadership. I don’t like that we still have to distinguish the novelty of a situation whenever a woman does something exceptional.  However, because we still have a LONG way to go, that is the reality. I’m proud to be a woman, and I am proud to stand with the women who have come before us whose shoulders we now stand on.

So I’ve been wanting to do a feature on some historic women who maybe are lesser known than they deserve to be. There are so many incredible women across the globe and across history who deserve to be remembered- I think the film Hidden Figures really spoke to that. I’m hoping to do this on a semi-regular basis, but thought I’d start with a women who gets glossed over in Western History as I recently read a book about her, so she’s been at the top of my mind.  Additionally, while this particular installment is focused on a woman from western Europe- I plan to do features across the globe.

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr was Henry VIII of England’s last wife. Most people are familiar with Katharine of Aragon and Anne Bolyen as that love triangle dramatically changed the face of Britain, Catholicism, and, honestly, Europe as a whole. Most people are also familiar with Henry VIII’s proclivity for killing his wives, so the fact that Catherine outlived him is a win.

She was an incredibly compelling figure, but managed to fly under the radar while accomplishing a significant agenda. Catherine was a very well educated woman, and actively worked to educate the women of her court and her step-children (one of whom was Elizabeth I of England- who is widely recognized as one of the most successful rulers ever. Catherine being Elizabeth’s step-mother during her formative years had a large impact on her eventual ruling style and legacy). Catherine also restored both of Henry’s daughters (Mary & Elizabeth) to the line of succession. Basically, she fought with her insanely unstable husband to mend his very complex relationships with his children- and she succeeded.  That alone speaks to how selfless, loyal, and persuasive she could be.

Catherine Parr was one of the first females to publish a book in England, although she did so anonymously. She did eventually claim credit for her first book and published a second book post-Henry’s death. Essentially, her books were based on her reformer views around the Protestant faith, and as Henry VIII was very fickle and often looked for excuses to find a new wife, he tried to have her arrested (with the goal of execution) on the basis of her religious beliefs, so her publishing anonymously was paramount to her survival. In fact, it’s notable to mention another amazing woman here.  Anne Askew was the first woman burned at the stake primarily because she refused to name Catherine Parr as a Protestant reformer. The enemies of Catherine Parr basically offered to let Anne go if she would give up the queen, but she refused and was killed. The fact that Catherine’s friends and associates were so loyal that they willingly died to protect her should clue you into the fact that this woman was pretty spectacular.  As an additional note, she managed to change Henry’s mind about her arrest by saying she only engaged in these religious debates with him to take his mind off of his pain, and he bought it and turned on her enemies. That is some master manipulation of an egotistical maniac by an intelligent and strong woman.

She also ruled as regent while Henry was off at war. In her three months in power, she ruled without challenge, and did effectively maintain her authority. She dealt with finances and supplies for Henry’s war while also passing royal proclamations at home, and effectively controlling the dangerous and evolving situation with Scotland. This time specifically is thought to have shown Elizabeth I what was possible for a female ruler of England (spoiler alert- EVERYTHING). Catherine was renowned for her morality and loyalty, but she was able to remain committed to her passions (religion and education) while navigating through an incredibly dangerous marriage and role as queen.

In summary, Catherine should be remembered as a pioneer and an example for women as she was able to write, speak, and act with dignity and implementing progressive views into society in a time when her predecessors met very messy ends for less.

So let’s bring this back to today-  here’s hoping Melania or Ivanka pulls some sweet Catherine Parr maneuvers, and subtlety (or overtly) influences the actions of their version of Catherine’s egotistical unstable Henry VIII. We could use a little bit of her influence these days.

So ladies, let’s get out there and inspire!

 

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Just Another Night…

Last night, I was out with a group of my friends having a great time. The night was winding to an end, when some random guy asked me if I wanted to dance. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t. I said, ‘thanks, but no thanks- I’m good’. In my head, that was a super normal, non-incendiary response. I didn’t say, ‘oh hell no’ or ‘you disgust me, get away you monster’ or ‘go fuck yourself’, just a simple ‘no’. This guy didn’t take that well.

He immediately started yelling at me- calling me a whore, ugly, a bitch, and a slut. I (shockingly) didn’t engage back. I just sat there while he verbally abused me for not wanted to dance with him. (Apparently you can be a whore for choosing to not engage with a random guy- who knew?!) At this point, a female friend of mine inserted herself between the guy and me- she told him to get away from me, and leave us alone. He then started screaming obscenities at  her- the same types of things- commenting that she was ugly and a slut (again- apparently defending your friend is slutty, but I digress) He was getting more and more irate when some of our male friends got in his way. They were very calm and told him to leave immediately, and that he was making an ass out of himself. He tried to get physical with them- granted, the three of them averaged 6’4, so it wasn’t the best call. Before things got too crazy, he got kicked out.

We all left the bar within the next 15 minutes or so and he was outside- still yelling about how awful, unattractive, and slutty I was. My female friend who initially stood up for me ended up having to be held back while he antagonized us further. People kept telling her to calm down, and that he wasn’t worth it. She replied with ‘if we don’t stand up for ourselves now, when will we?’. Everything ended up being okay- we all got home without any further incident, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I firstly want to thank my friends who took it upon themselves to block me from this guy. I really appreciate having people in my life who are willing to stand up for me. But all of this raises a lot of issues.

It just amazes me that this guy felt justified in verbally attacking me for choosing to not dance with him. I cannot imagine ever doing anything or saying anything like this guy was- it was disgusting and pathetic and really disheartening to think that he thought his actions were considered okay.Obviously this isn’t applicable to all guys, but I’m generalizing. I don’t understand the lack of respect so pervasive in our culture. I’ve had so many people make overtly sexist comments as well as more subtle remarks to me, and while sometimes its a joke, more often than not it’s a realistic glance into true opinions. Women are still getting paid less then men and are still 40% less likely to be in the workforce. The double standard among our culture is still in existence in a big way. The rules are different for each gender and it’s completely unfair. I just get so angry that guys have this power to make women feel so unsafe and objectified. What right do these guys have to make us feel cheap? It is sad and a complete waste that society has made it okay for men to be such assholes.

We all have our stories about times we were objectified, or threatened, or worse. In recent memory, I was in a bar with a friend of mine and she was assaulted by some creep- he felt it was okay to grab her by the crotch. I’m not super proud (I am a little proud), but I punched him in the face and had the bar staff drag him out. A little while after that some random guy tried to break into my apartment, and I managed to hit him in the head with the door and startle him enough to get the door closed and locked. Not too long after that a  random guy tried to lock me in a bathroom with him, but a friend of mine broke the door down and we got away safely. I’m saying all of this because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve certainly encountered dangerous situations, but I’ve been able to avoid the worst outcome, and a lot of women aren’t as lucky. Which by the way, considering that a lucky outcome is fucking insane.  In a survey conducted a few years back, “nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked.” I personally know people that fall into those groups. These women are strong and smart and incredible, and it’s sick that they have to fight every day not to be defined by the actions of their attackers. These women aren’t victims, they are survivors.

And it breaks my heart. It’s horrifying that we live in a ‘modern society’, and that we consider ourselves enlightened and exceptional, when half of our citizens are demeaned on a consistent basis. It breaks my heart that it isn’t safe for women to walk alone at night without being scared.  It breaks my heart that women have to be on alert at all times. It breaks my heart that women who are survivors of violence have to fight to be believed when they come forward.

Women are conditioned from childhood to be constantly on alert for threats of this nature, but men are rarely conditioned from childhood to understand what is acceptable conduct in regards to women. Society has conditioned us with a “don’t get raped” mentality as opposed to a “don’t rape” mentality.  This is not okay. Boys don’t just get to be boys, while women have to live in an naturalized state of fear. Even when that fear isn’t overt, it’s always there.

We need to do better. We need to stand up for ourselves, and we need to have the tough conversations. We need to figure out the right way to talk to our children about these things. We need to make sure girls feel empowered and strong- not weak and victimized. We need to make sure that men respect women, and do not feel entitled to anything a woman isn’t willing to give- whether it’s just a dance or whether it’s her body. It’s her choice, and that the bottom line.

Get Your Fika On!

I’m back again with a new Scandinavian life hack! When I wrote about hygee a while back, I thought it was a one and done topic, but it turns out that our Northern friends have more than one thing we should be aspiring to in our daily lives. This time, we turn our attention to our friends in Sweden for a lesson on Fika.

Fika is a Swedish cultural concept that literally translates to ‘coffee break’. Now I’m sure some of you are sitting there going, ‘Is she insane? Americans drink coffee like water. What’s so special about this?’

Well friends, I may be insane, but fika is unique to the typical American lifestyle. Americans typically use coffee to jump start their day or to reinvigorate themselves during an afternoon slump. In my experience, coffee is a vehicle for forward momentum and moving as fast as we can to get as much done as possible. In Sweden, fika is synonymous with a break. The point is to savor the moment, enjoy a beverage with a pastry or cookie, and allow yourself a chance to relax. People engage in fika with friends, family, significant others, and even just themselves, in cafes and parks across the country.

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Fika is particularly important in a work setting in Sweden. It is common to have 2 fika breaks a day in corporate Sweden, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Fika has become an integral event that allows employees a chance to disengage from work, while also engaging with co-workers on a more personal level. Often the entire office will break together and bond over fika. This seems like an incredibly simple, but powerful addition to any company. I find that when I have a chance to get to know people on a personal level, and take a second to break out of my normal routine at work, I am more productive and my communication is better. Granted, I don’t drink coffee, but I’m a big fan of tea, and when I’m at work, I really don’t tend to savor and enjoy my tea, but rather I drink it like fuel- propelling me onto the next thing. I want to try and incorporate fika breaks into my work week.

The Scandinavian lifestyle has a lot to be admired. That region is exceptionally productive with strong economies, and the people who live there tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. That’s a pretty strong case study, and I for one would love to incorporate some of what they’ve found to work into my own life.

So, get your fika on! See if you find yourself more relaxed with an uptick in productivity and empathy for the people around you. See if your work days move a little faster since you have something small to look forward too each day. See if you find yourself more contemplative and content. Can’t hurt, right?