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#reverb15: getting vulnerable

Playing some #reverb catch-up. This is Day 5 from Sarah & Kim. Vulnerability. It’s scary to share our true selves because it leaves us open and vulnerable. When were you vulnerable this year? What was the result?

In 2013, I chose "open" as the word to frame my intentions. I did so because I felt like I need to be unfolded. I'd spent a lot of the previous years in a really internal space, managing some difficult situations and I was finally in a place where I wanted to open up again. One of the definitions of "open" that I loved, and came back to again throughout the year, iss "to permit passage".

Imagine how differently vulnerability seems if you think of it this way. When you open yourself to people and experiences, you are permitting passage, letting things through, providing space.

Pema Chodron says about our capacity for openness:

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.

This year, on numerous occasions I found myself talking to students who were sharing very personal situations and challenges with me. I was probably the most open with them about my own life than I've been before simply because it was important to share something back, to empathize with their experiences. One student in particular who lost a parent this semester told me that she would never managed the end of the semester without my understanding. The amount of students who disclose their struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief staggers me. I'm constantly reminded how much the work I do exists outside of the classroom. Even within the classroom, I try to be open, vulnerable with my students. It's a tricky line to walk because I need them to trust that I've been thoughtful about the work I ask them to do and that the see me as a guide, a resource. I'm slowly realizing that when I share stories with my students, the connection grows between us rather than diminishes. And once you crack yourself open, it's tough to tamper yourself back down.

I used to be afraid that if I let myself feel vulnerable, I wouldn’t be able to control the flood of emotions that would come; I would be overwhelmed and unable to handle all I was feeling. I think this is why Brene Brown’s “The Price of Invulnerability” resonated with me when I first saw it five years ago: because that’s what I was doing then, numbing myself from feeling anything at all, especially joy. Because I was afraid.

I'm not sure exactly when we, as a culture, or even I as a person began to associate vulnerability with weakness. But what I know now is that being vulnerable is the bravest, most demanding think you can ask of yourself and other people.

One of my students asked me what advice I would give myself in college. I think I would probably want to tell her that she has a right to her feelings, whatever they may be, that her future is so much more than she could have imagined, so full of love and friendship and amazing experiences. I would tell her that she will be okay. And that one day, her voice will be stronger than all the other voices that tell her no, or that she can't or shouldn't do xyz. One day she will listen to that voice, and fall in love, and go on adventures and make connections and be fiercely and deeply loved in return. To do that, though, she has to be vulnerable, to permit passage.


Currently, August 2015
Pretty much what I wore all summer

Weather: after an intense rainstorm, yesterday was beautiful and today is shaping up to be pleasant. It's still quite warm, but next week is supposed to be in the high 70's rather than the high 80's so I'm looking forward to a bit of a break from sweating so much.

Eating:  I've been exploring a variety of recipes, one for a version of pork Banh Mi sandwiches I will share with you soon. What makes the sandwich that much better is the pickled pineapple topping. I love pineapple and I've been eating a lot of it this summer.

Drinking: Sparkling Raspberry Iced Tea, and occasionally peach. M bought one of these for me to try and I really liked it. It has a bit of carbonation which I find refreshing but it has more flavor than sparkling flavored water. And it's only 70 calories so I can allow that for a treat. :)

Wearing:  2 pants sizes smaller! An amazing thing happened when I returned to Oxford. I was able to get into my smaller pants and shirts sizes.  So, while I will still wear workout gear (pictured above), I now have more choices than one pair of black pants. For some reason, I have like 5 different pairs of black dress pants in the smaller size. I've reclaimed my wardrobe! Now, I need to get organized so I can see everything I have.

Reading: I feel a little burned out on my reading choices lately. I've been reading some YA stuff and quick thrillers, murder mysteries. I'm waiting for something to capture my attention the way Station Eleven did at the beginning of the summer and so far, I've not found it. Recommendations welcome.

Watching: I haven't been watching much recently. I keep up with SYTYCD but that's about it. Football season will start soon and then I'll be actually watching TV instead of Hulu or Netflix.

Listening: I haven't completely given up my Summer Playlist but I've been listening to some other stuff recently as part of August's playlist. Handsome Ghost has become one of my favorites. I'm particularly enamored with "Weight of It All" which doesn't yet have a video but you can listen to it here. Such a damn good song. "Roads to oceans let's retrace the moments I had half erased; I'm going to be better."

I'm also digging Oh Wonder, who is putting out a song a month for a year. I like "Dazzle" and "Drive" and I can't wait for the entire album.

Here's "Dazzle"

I'm also intrigued by Coleman Hell's "2 Heads". The video is a bit weird but the song is cool.

Feeling: a tad anxious about the start of the semester but I figure the wrinkles of the first week will work themselves out

Anticipating: a full calendar but one with fun agendas, too

Enjoying: the last few days before the semester kicks off, sleeping without an alarm set

Preparing: course materials and schedules; also trying to mentally prepare for the pace the new semester will bring

Exploring: ways to optimize my energy, a new slate of fitness classes at the rec

random, and no longer secret things about me

Since my little wordpress meters tell me I have some new blog readers and because it's the ending of my summer and I'm feeling overwhelmed by my calendar and to-do list, which of course I thought I'd have more time to accomplish, I decided to repost some of my previous posts that I really love or ones that I thought might help new readers get to know me. This is a post from two summers ago, June 2013. And has been updated to reflect current truths.

1. I read something about my Aquarian self every day. Sometimes this means reading my twittascope, which I highly recommend, by the way. But sometimes it means going deeper, reading detailed horoscopes or profiles.

2. I believe we are complex arrangements of where we have been, who we have met, things we have seen, lessons we learn, and things we want to do and see.

3. I have never seen the film Citizen Kane. I have seen parts of it, but never watched the whole thing from start to finish.

4. The only Jane Austen book I have finished is Sanditon and that was for a class I took in my Master’s program. I just can’t get into it. Also, not a big fan of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, though I did finish it.

5. I desperately want to go to Ireland.

6. I think sheep are really cool. (Though that isn’t why I want to go to Ireland).

7. I find it fascinating how we, as humans, adapt to situations, locales, routines. I found my old journals from when I was in England and it struck me how everything seems so amazing when you visit somewhere, the whole tourist on vacation thing, but when you begin a kind of daily life in a place, it becomes something else. That transition can be challenging.

8. Which reminds me that being mindful is a practice. We have to practice awareness of the cool and great things in our lives every day. Sure, sometimes it feels like it’s easier when there are actual castles and historic sites and things we’ve never seen before, but appreciating what you have and where you are is important, too.

9. I have a secret desire to attend small town festivals.

10. Sometimes when I’m having a really tough or crappy day, I think, “Well, at least I’m not living in theSupernatural/Lost Girl/Buffy universe, fighting some kind of weird demon/fae/vampire or trying to prevent the impending apocalypse.”

11. I didn’t drink coffee regularly until I was in my mid-twenties and in my Master’s program. Now, I can’t survive without at least one cup a day.  (This could also be because I gave up soda a year ago, but still need the caffeine).

12. I have been blogging, in some form, for over a decade.

13. Even though it is a completely manufactured and unreal flavor, I love blue-raspberry.

14. I oscillate between the fear of missing out on things and the desire to relax at home.

15. I have no interest in sky-diving. Ever.

16. I do, however, want to zip line, but somewhere cool. And also safe-ish. Maybe. I'm rethinking this now.

17. I'm always building a soundtrack or playlist in my head. 

18. I'ma  bit of a music snob. 

19. If I could play any instrument it would be the harmonica. Or spoons. Both of which fit in your pocket.

20. When I finished reading, Never Let Me Go  by Kazuo Ishiguro, I was really sad because I would never be able to read it for the first time again. I also felt that way about The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. (Please do not see either film before you read the books, if you are interested. In fact skip Never Let Me Go’s film altogether).

21. I like to talk through my ideas, and I thrive off of conversation, connection, collaboration.

22. But I recharge like an introvert, alone and in the quiet.

23. I adore handwriting, though I think my own is terrible. I love handwritten notes, cards, fonts that look like handwriting.

24. If I were to go back to school or undertake serious study in something, I would want to study the brain, maybe neuroscience.

25. I smile a lot. Though I can be way too serious for my own good, little things make me happy, so I smile. I don't always notice I am smiling until someone smiles back or I see my own reflection.

26. I love watching TV series, marathon-style, over weeks and months at a time. I have a Gilmore Girlsmarathon every year, usually in the Summer. I have also watched the entirety of Sex and the City more than once, though I exclude the films. I’ve seen every episode (except the newest season) of Supernatural at least 4 times if not more. I own all 3 of those series but have watched a lot of other series, including LOST on Netflix.

27. Every time I lock the door, I do a silly dance so that when I am anxious, later, about whether I locked the door, I can say to myself, “Remember, you did that silly dance?”  (I read about the benefits of doing these kinds of things to stave off anxiety, but can’t remember where).

28. The sound of a key turning in a lock kind of scares me. I don’t know if it’s the anticipation or if I’ve seen one too many horror films. Even when I open my own door, I hate the sound of metal against the lock.

29. Actually, I am not a fan of the sound of metal, in any form, crashing, clanging, or even magnets against metal. There must be some pitch it hits that bothers me.

30. Sometimes I wish time travel were possible, so I could send a letter to myself through time and it would say, “Chill the f’ out.” And also, “You are amazing. You could have so much happiness if you could believe that.” And definitely, “It’s going to be okay.”

31. I have dreamt in black and white, and in French. It wasn’t the same dream, thankfully. I have also had a dream narrated by Bill Kurtis (a CBS news anchorman and also narrator of Cold Case Files and other similar shows). It was a really weird dream, obviously, and involved zombies and fire. ( I almost wrote immolation instead of fire, and then wondered if that was the correct word so I looked it up, in an actual dictionary, and it wasn’t exactly so I left it at fire).

32. I am a terrible singer. And tone deaf.

33. I get nervous on the first day of class every semester, every class. It’s also one of my favorite days, when everything is new and you have a blank slate, especially in freshmen classes.

34. I have a school supply/office supply fetish. Post-it notes and pens. Blank journals!

35. I hate when people ask me my favorite book/song/movie of all time. I cannot choose. I don't like to choose. There's way too much pressure. Although most of the time, I say Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. 



dig up your flaws

I'm deeply obsessed with this song, "Flaws" by Bastille right now. The lyrics resonate strongly with me.

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeveAnd I have always buried them deep beneath the groundDig them up; let's finish what we've started. Dig them up, so nothing's left untouched

I have the temperament of my grandfather, and my father. I loved my grandfather fiercely but with some trepidation. He loved people, loved talking to people. My grandfather was charismatic, but short-tempered, a man with high expectations and steadfast beliefs in family, in working with one's hands. He believed everyone had a part to play and each one was of equal importance.  But he wasn't an easy man to know. I often watched him in fascination of how people treated him, gently, with a kind of reverence.   He was a consummate storyteller, collector of mechanical objects, anything with a motor with which he could tinker. He often worked late in the night hunched over a car engine, an old fan, a lawn mower part. Our family joke was that everything my grandfather asked you to do was going to take "just one minute." One summer I helped him organize his nails, bolts, washers, and screws into mason jars. It was unbearably hot in his work shed off the carport. My grandmother kept us in iced tea and cookies, but I think she was checking on the two of us to be sure we hadn't infuriated one another beyond repair. A small fan whirred, blowing the stuffy air around the close space. While we worked and sweat soaked my shirt, my grandfather told me stories about my father as a boy and I momentarily forgot the Alabama humidity, enamored instead with my grandfather's recollections. Sometimes he slipped into his own stories, of walking creek beds looking for frogs, teasing his brother about his drawings, the two of them picking blackberries from the vine for my Granny's pies. He never backed down from what he thought was right, even if it wasn't popular and while he always seemed strong and tough to me, he had an enormous heart and would often take on others' well-being like a project. He cared immensely for people, even those he didn't know well. He was opinionated, deliberate, stubborn. He filled the house with his voice, his singing, cheering on baseball teams. He never did anything half-way and always had a project to work on.

Like my grandfather, I can be quick to anger, self-righteous indignation, annoyance. I feel deeply and simultaneously. I can go from angry to calm in a matter of seconds. I process emotions quickly, move through them like a bulldozer. And in doing so, I often bulldoze everyone in my wake, giving little thought to what they might feel as I dump emotions in their face.

I wear my flaws on my sleeve, my heart, my emotions.

I've never been good at hiding how I feel. When I don't want to do something (but know I should be selfless and do it anyway) it shows, which takes away from the act of going along with something I'm not jazzed about; if I don't like food someone has prepared it's hard for me to be polite because my initial feelings are all over me. As much as I've tried to learn to filter my thoughts, I can't change how they flash across my face, my eyes, my mouth. I've always known I was easy to read, terrible at cards, at bluffing, at lying, at keeping quiet.

I marvel at those who are hard to read, better able to allow their emotions to lay under the surface rather than erupting like tidal waves. M is like this. She doesn't instantly run through a gamut of emotions or if she does, it doesn't show. I often tease her that she is a mystery to me because I don't know her thoughts. She reminds me not everything needs to be spoken aloud.

All of your flaws and all of my flaws, When they have been exhumed We'll see that we need them to be who we are Without them we'd be doomed

Whether we bury our flaws or keep them at our surface, they shape who we are, how we think, and how we interact with others.

For years, I wore my flaws like a shield, a warning: danger ahead. When, in my twenties, on a date, someone told me I was too intense, they needed easy, light, carefree, I held that comment like a badge. I relished in my darkness, convinced people couldn't handle me at my worst. I tested people in my life, pushed them to see how much raw emotion they could handle. I was often an open nerve, waiting to be wounded. Rarely taken by surprise at others' cruelty, or their walking away. "See," I would say to my friends when a relationship or fling ended, "I knew they couldn't handle it." I think I wanted people to see me, to know what they were in for, but at the same time those flaws were like porcupine quills protecting my soft interior, the marshmallow in me, the one that cries at bank commercials, that wants so badly to be understood, to hold hands, to be comforted.

And then I moved away from the only place I'd ever called home, away from my roots, from the troubled girl I'd once been. And I thought I needed to change everything, to stop being so angry, so self-focused, so intense. I had trouble reconciling my reckless twenties, the fervor, the fear, the passion, the girl with muchness and bravado with the person I wanted to become. I fell hopelessly, quickly, and unwittingly in love. I spent a lot of time conflicted, refusing to see how I could embrace these versions of myself with all their flaws.

This is something I've written about before, themes I keep returning to again and again as I question and work through and write about the things that make us:

I tell my students that analysis is about taking something apart, examining its individual pieces in order to better understand how it works. That’s certainly been true of my own indulgent analysis. I’m in search of how I work, what makes me, why I respond the way I do, in order to deepen myself, to break myself more widely open, and be more porous to the world.

I want to be open but not in a defensive or challenging way. Instead I want to fully explore, fully engage other people, their stories and experiences.

My flaws are still on my sleeve, but I no longer need to use them as a weapon.