Identity Formation

You can be whoever you want to be. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t.

First accept the basics, the things you can’t change – find your baseline. What are you working with? What do you like to do, what are you interested in? Get your bearings with yourself. Maybe you have no idea – so start trying things. What are you curious about? What are you drawn to? How do you want people to see you, how do you want to see yourself?

Want to be funny? Watch a bunch of funny movies, hang out with funny people, notice what makes people laugh, what makes you laugh. Want to be well-traveled? Find a way to go on a trip. Make a list of places you want to go, experiences you want to have. Seek them out. Want to be healthy? Start working out – try running, try yoga, try boxing. Go for a hike. Eat a salad, a handful of nuts. Practice. Want to write? Get a notebook and a pen, open a word document – start typing and find out what you have to say. Want to be a history buff? Go to school. Read a book – the library has a wealth of free options, anything you want to learn, you can learn.

The key is to see the possibilities – don’t limit yourself, don’t put yourself in a box. You have a mind, a body – you can build yourself, you can choose. All it takes is a little observation, a little practice, and – primarily – a belief that you can.

abstract pen and ink drawing

I recently watched the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man. The main character is shoved around by his life, his wife, his job – by circumstances. He envies his wife’s lover – a man people called “serious.” And he tries to be a serious man. But he doesn’t seem to get it, doesn’t quite believe he could be serious, doesn’t really know where to begin. He confesses to a Rabbi – “I’ve tried to be a serious man.” But was he? Did he own that identity? I’m not sure he made it in the movie, but all it would have taken was confidence.

I always loved the movie Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr, masterfully played by Leonardo DiCaprio, molds himself into a thousand men, plays a different part for every phase of his life. He acts as a pilot, assembling a crowd of flight attendants to breeze through the airport, works as a teacher, a doctor, a playboy. He was a conman. A confidence man. A man with enough confidence to believe that he was a doctor when he put on that white coat, and everybody else believed it, too. But if he hadn’t believed it, no one else would have.

I went to school for creative writing – had workshops with other students, swapping stories and offering critiques – writing. Ask most of them if they were writers, and they’d tell you they were trying to be. They wondered how to continue writing after graduation, how to make sure they kept at it. But it’s deceptively easy. All they had to do was write. Write a single sentence, and you’re a writer. All you have to do is believe it.

I also spent some time in business school, and a popular maxim there is – “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.” If you want a certain role, start by looking the part. Then act the part. Believe that you are capable of playing the part, and before long – you’ll get the part. Because other people notice confidence – they respect it, appreciate it, admire it, and generally, reward it.

Maybe this sounds deluded, silly, impossible. But you have more power than you think you do. You can always grow, teach yourself lessons about things you want to know, practice self-improvement until you love every bit of yourself. Begin by accepting where you’re at, and the possibilities are endless. You can build yourself into whoever you want to be – the only person in your way is you. The truth is, you’re limitless.

Love, calm, & care –

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Life Style

How do you see life? As a ride to be enjoyed? A game to be played and potentially beaten? A series of unfortunate events, or challenges to be hacked?

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival is the threshold – once basic, physical needs are covered, our minds and selves are freed up for higher pursuits. But are we born into certain levels? Is his hierarchy a kind of psychological caste system?

it's just a game abstract pen and ink drawing

I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in one chapter he argues, through a character named Prince Andrew, that Russian serfs are meant to work hard, to have their days filled with demanding physical labor and that, if a landowner wanted to give them more freedom, he would be doing them more harm than good. A serf is a type of person that needs this labor to survive.  Without it, he’d be lost – feeling useless and not knowing how to fill his time productively. In the same breath, the prince posits that just as he would suffer in the serf’s life of manual labor, a serf would have no idea how to manage his time in the prince’s life of leisure. So each is born into a level, and that’s that – it’s for the best. The rare ones who transcend levels are meant to do so, but they are mere exceptions.

This might seem cruel and unequal and classist – but does it matter? Are the concerns of one class really so different from another? I love the show Sex and the City, and I’m currently watching Girls. The former chronicles the lives of four women living in New York – they have well-paying jobs, are in their thirties, and the show explores their relationships, the ups and downs of their personal, everyday lives. Girls follows four twenty-something girls, also living in New York – they run in circles of entitled young people, all being supported by their parents, not really having a clue about how to handle life, and struggling just to pay rent. But the show explores the same themes as Sex and the City – relationships, everyday life – their humanity. So does it matter how much money they’re making? Maybe Carrie is worried about spending too much on shoes while Hannah can barely make rent, but won’t the same types of problems always exist? Won’t the real issue, the one we remember, not be our financial stability or the weird job we worked, but the relationship with the guy who wouldn’t commit, or the ex-boyfriend who’s now gay, or the moments of warm friendship in the midst of all this? Does class even matter?

Now I know that, in this comparison, I’ve looked at two sets of white women from middle class families. I know, it’s a biased perspective. But I think it could apply to more circles than you’d expect, and I think that what ultimately makes the difference is not the class you are in, but the way you approach life. If Carrie Bradshaw suddenly decided to dedicate her life to philanthropy and making the world a better place, I think she could find a way to do it just as well as Hannah Horvath could. Sure, they have different connections and talents, but that’s the point – they’re different people. The differences they could make in the world are equally valid.

If you’re born into the ghetto, raised in a gang, always looking over your shoulder, selling drugs just to survive – you could find ways to enjoy this. You could coast through it, accepting it as your lot in life, hardly thinking about moving up or down in the world, just letting yourself live the life you were born into, having relationships and making deals and simply living. Or, if you see life as challenges to be surmounted, maybe you’re driven to do well in school, to get a scholarship to college, to rise out of the class you were born into. You’re an exception.

But that’s on an individual basis. They don’t teach life strategy in school. I never took a class on figuring out your passion or your purpose in this world. So maybe you’re compelled, internally, to figure this out for yourself, or maybe you’re not. And, more than whatever situation you’re born into, I think this is what decides your fate. You can practice, you can study, you can move yourself up in the world – but it’s entirely your prerogative to do so.

What do you think – am I being unfair? How do you approach life?

Love, calm, & care –

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Birthing a New Nation

I read recently that what really defined the fall of man, in the beginning, was gaining awareness. The knowledge we gained was the knowledge that we existed on this planet. Instead of simply living blindly, allowing events and circumstances to unfold as they may, we started thinking about it, started plotting, started making plans and strategies for how to live – something that, as far as anyone knows, we’d never thought to do before. Because we didn’t know any better.

But, in the societies that followed this awakening, many groups were excluded from living in the light this knowledge provided. Women and people with darker skin tones or different religions were excluded from the greater plan that straight white men conceived and subsequently enforced. It’s taken hundreds of years and countless atrocities to get to where we are today. Damage has been done, but we are making progress. Think about when this country – America – was originally founded. White men who thought they ran the world came in on their ships; they plundered, exploited, and enslaved entire native civilizations. Our country – and others – were founded on practices of slavery, of cruelty, of subjugation.

Really, what was our nation birthed on? On the one hand, we have strong principles of liberty, of freedom to pursue dreams. Supposedly, if you read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, we are a nation for the poor, the downtrodden, for people who are suffering in their homeland and need a fresh start. If only these things transcended the boundaries of race and class and religion and gender.

Nate Parker’s film – The Birth of a Nation – is necessary, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. If you don’t know, it’s using the same title as one of the first movies ever made in America, one that praised the KKK as a heroic force and showed black men as unintelligent sexual predators. One hundred years after the first try, Parker redeems the title, telling the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a rebellion that started this country on a path toward ending slavery.

Schools today are deficient in education about slavery – people like to brush over it, gloss over the filthy things that slave owners did. This movie no longer lets that slide. Jarring cruelty is shown, but it’s not simply to shock – it’s told in such a way that brings it home, that makes it real, that makes you as angry and as heartbroken as if these unspeakable things were being done to your own brother or wife. Because really, the people who live in this country with us are our brothers and sisters regardless of race or class or religion. The emotion is intense, and that’s exactly what this country needs. It’s what I needed, and I know I’m not the only one who is able to live in some kind of bubble because of the lack of melanin in my skin.

This movie works like hydrogen peroxide on a wound that has been festering, infected, never fully healing. It’s massive and dirty and awful, but this film, along with other movements and works of art, is cleaning it out. Healing will take some time and some pain. But pouring the hydrogen peroxide is a step forward. Acknowledging what happened can lead us toward progress. It can unite us as people under new empathies, new knowledge. We can express our concern by speaking up, by looking critically at what our nation was founded on, and by evaluating if that is still what we need.

Discrimination is dead. We can look to current news and politics to see that this is not yet true in practice, but I know enough people who believe that – that nothing is skin deep, that a person lives INSIDE a body, and any judgments should be suspended for conversation. I know this is easier said than done, but at least we’re talking about it. Let’s use our fallen trait – our awareness of living – let’s use it for good. Let’s stay woke about what’s going on, let’s practice love and kindness and inclusivity in our own lives. It starts small, with individual people, and when individual people all watch a movie like The Birth of a Nation – that does the world some good. And isn’t that what we all want?

Take care –

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How to Have Feelings

I don’t know about you, but America’s education system did not prepare me for real life. Emotions? Those aren’t mentioned in physical education or Spanish I. I spent my adolescence with a brick wall between my mind and my heart – I was emotionally ignorant. While I did just earn a college degree, what I actually learned during the past four years was how to feel. And I didn’t learn this in school.

You know how when you’re really happy, you physically go a little nuts? Whether you shout or dance or grab someone near you and shake them with joy, you move. Emotional energy has to move out of the body. Negative energy is no different from positive in this way. My reflex is to shut down and isolate myself, only to find that I’m more upset than ever and am burning with angst or something, but I have no clue what it is or why it’s happening.

I used to be so embarrassed that I had feelings. I saw it as a weakness, something to get rid of quietly. Movies show people acting out of raw emotions without thinking things through, without taking the time to feel before making decisions. Feeling and movement go hand in hand for me – they both clear my head. Whether it’s a run or boxing or lifting weights or yoga – when my body is busy, my heart can feel and my mind can think.

A good cry is scientifically proven to be the most efficient way to move the emotional energy out, but that doesn’t always come easy. Often, it comes on the heels of exercise. When I have something pent up inside, I find myself shedding tears as I’m punching a bag or breathing on my yoga mat. Then I finish my yoga, and I turn on the shower and let hot water run over me while I sob in the fetal position. It’s so cathartic, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I began with boxing. I’d been hurt by a lot of people [including myself] and didn’t know what to do with that, so I punched out my aggression. It’s okay to be pissed off, as long as you’re taking it out in a healthy way, a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Yoga, in many ways, saves me every day. Breathing air into all parts of the body, letting it circulate, it’s the freshness of spring cleaning every time you practice. It’s entirely free because it’s all over Youtube, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home, so no one cares if you look funny or if you fart, because you will. And the acceptance, the calm that comes with it makes you okay with that.

Movement, getting in touch with my body, has served as one of the most effective tools of recovery for me. Finally feeling all the emotions that I’d pushed down with food or alcohol or whatever else has been purifying. It’s helped me dig out all the skeletons in my closet, and now they are all happily cremated and serving as fertilizer to the new growth in my soul. And, really, I don’t think any of that would have been possible without physically getting my feelings out of my body. Once they’re out, they lose their power, and you’re able to analyze them with a clear mind, to work through the causes instead of acting out of the effects. And, like every other form of self-care, it’s so worth it.

What do you think? How do you get your feels out?

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Breaking Up with Jesus

I recently realized that my first breakup was with Jesus Christ. Having foregone dating in high school because it didn’t seem important yet, my first real relationship was a religious one. Maybe that sounds weird, and a little incestuous in an impossible way, but it’s true. Christians will tell you it’s not a religion – it’s a relationship, and many would say they are in love with Jesus. Looking at this now, some seven years post-breakup, it sounds a little crazy.

So – what is a relationship with Jesus like? Really. I spent time with him every day, whether it was reading his word [The Bible], praying, singing worship songs, or just talking to him like he was my best friend, because, for a while there, I think he was. I know, I know, but take it easy, I was practically raised in a cult and didn’t have many friends because I was a prudish, shy, and intelligent teenage girl – a triple threat in all the wrong ways.

As I got older and gradually got exposed to the world around me, I started to think. Objectively. I started to wonder. Reading apologetics books that were supposed to help me defend my own faith, I wondered why defending it would be necessary at all, why people who believed in Jesus could be the only ones to go to this place called heaven. I started to think that heaven didn’t sound all that fun, that maybe I didn’t want to wear white and worship God forever and ever and ever. Among other things.

So, as is my habit, I researched. I secretly checked out atheist literature and read it like a pre-teen boy who just stumbled on his dad’s porn collection. Maybe God wasn’t as great as I thought. Maybe other people could be right, too. Maybe religion was something I’d held onto too tightly, and maybe I’d built my entire world around myths. Maybe I’d been in a strange, codependent relationship with Jesus Christ.

Maybe this is where it gets familiar – you realize you’re in a bad relationship, then what? After much deliberation, and probably a few tears, you end it. And then the void appears. That empty place where this thing had taken on a life of its own and formed your entire identity. What then?

Then you get to start building. First I became okay with not knowing – with having no idea of whether or not god exists or if heaven or hell are real, and I felt free. Then I started living in new ways – doing the things my “ex” hadn’t allowed me to do, trying things because – for the first time in my seventeen or so years – I could. Because no one could really tell me what to do anymore. And of course I wrestled with my still-Christian parents until I moved out a year later. And then maybe I did a lot of crazy shit. But I didn’t lose my grip entirely – I just slipped a few times.

Then I started to find balance. I realized I didn’t want my entire life to be a festival of debauchery, and that morals were good things, even if they’d been imposed on me for strange, guilt-inducing reasons. I realized that I didn’t need a specific set of rules to be good to people, but that – simply for my own sake – I would be good to people. Because that’s better for everyone. I discovered love in real-life relationships, and with time and effort and practice, I healed. And I moved on from Jesus. I found myself, which was something I’d been taught to deny for most of my existence. And I found out that I wasn’t the vile sinner I’d been taught that I was. I learned that I mess up, but so does every one, and that doesn’t define me and, I think most importantly – I learned to love myself. And I learned that I could be enough. And if you can learn that and be a Christian, more power to you, but for me – this journey of self-discovery, which is fundamental to existence, couldn’t, didn’t happen, until I broke up with Jesus.

Do you have a story of leaving a religion? What was it like for you?

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Do you like yourself?

If not, here’s how. I certainly have my moments. It’s not always easy to feel beautiful and amazing when we live in an entertainment, image saturated world. With so much to compare ourselves to, it can get confusing if you take all the images as advice – as the way you’re supposed to look. The truth is, you’re not supposed to look like anyone but yourself. How could you? Changing your perspective may take some time, but this should help.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length - I tore it up.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length – I tore it up.

 

  1. Objectify yourself. It sounds ridiculous, even cruel, doesn’t it? But really, find a way to distance yourself from yourself – not forever, just long enough to analyze who you are really and find the objective truth that can stand above the lies that your mind might be telling you. It’s true that you are your own worst critic. So if you can please yourself, you can please anyone, right? It might not be pleasing now, but be honest. Talk to a therapist or a friend if it helps – someone who can help you see the truth. There will be things you don’t like, even things that are objectively awful. It sucks sometimes, but no one is perfect. Not me, not you – we are imperfect humans. And it’s better to see that for what it is than to deceive yourself.
  2. Accept yourself. As you are, misaligned morals, traumatic past, ten extra pounds, unibrow and all – or whatever it might be. Nothing will change until you honestly accept what you’re working with. Living in a delusion about yourself won’t help matters. Learn who you are at this moment. How do you spend your time? What makes you excited, what puts you to sleep? What do you cling to? Regardless of how you feel about your findings, accept them. Accept that you are a human being on this planet and you are worthwhile.
  3. Find your values. There are assessments you can take online, providing you with dozens of traits like adventure, creativity, and self-awareness, and you choose which ones are important to you, narrowing down your set until you’ve selected a top ten and then a top five. And then you can refer back to these and evaluate your actions and lifestyle by them. These serve as a guiding light, a sort of north star for personal growth. Any time you lose your way, you can reference these. They’ll grow and change with you, and your life should follow them. If it doesn’t, and if the values are truly important to you, maybe it’s time to make some changes.
  4. Figure out who you want to be. What do you look like in your daydreams? What are you doing? What would it take to get there? Dream. Don’t stop yourself, just let your mind roam freely in fantasy land and then find ways to make those things happen.
  5. Become who you want to be. Maybe this sounds silly or daunting, but trust me, it is possible. The way out of this mess is self-love, and it happens when you can be happy with yourself. With your values and your newfound self-worth, there’s nothing you can’t do. Want to be kind to yourself? Practice. Remind yourself daily that you deserve kindness and love. Start to see your world through these new lenses, and everything will begin to change. Painfully, slowly, then all at once, and one day you look in the mirror and love what you see, one day you gain five pounds and you still love yourself, one day you do things that make you happy every day. It just takes practice. And you’re as capable as anyone else.
It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It’s not easy every day. But it gets better. It always gets better. Life is filled with growing and changing and it’s an endless wave that you get to ride. But first – pick up your board and learn how to surf. You’ll fall a lot, but you’ll pick yourself back up because it’s important and because you’re strong. And before you know it you’ll be swimming farther out, riding bigger waves. Before you know it you’ll be yourself. And no one can do that better than you.

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Intro to Style: Form & Function

Style is fun. It’s wearable art. Any kind of art takes a certain knowledge of your self, your preferences – what colors belong on the palette? What are you painting on? What types of brushes do you prefer? These are the questions that must be asked when figuring out your style. I could write a whole essay on the case for having personal style, but put simply – don’t you want what people see to represent you accurately?

What do you want your painting – your art – your self – to look like? Some prefer garish prints and neon colors, while others enjoy muted tones with a focus on texture. Really the possibilities are endless. The two principles to consider, under which all others rest, are form and function.

Form should follow function. This was a principle of the architect Ansel Adams that always stuck with me because it makes sense – and his work is gorgeous, workably beautiful. I like to be comfortable in my clothing, but that doesn’t mean wearing sweats. The function of clothing is also make me feel incredible. A bomb outfit boosts the confidence. But it begins by feeling good in it. The two go hand in hand.

I can do anything in a long pleated skirt.

I can do anything in a long pleated skirt.

Form

This is the visual aspect, the textures, colors, prints, silhouettes. It takes getting to know your coloring, body type, preferences. Do you look better in warm or cool colors? Solids or prints?  I’ve done this through trial and error. I’m drawn to textures – I have velvet shirts, leather and wool skirts, a denim dress, silks, and all kinds of blends. I like clothes that hit my natural waist, calf-length skirts, backless anything, and fitted shoulders. With experimentation, I’ve found that shades of red belong both in my hair and in my wardrobe. Warm colors, olive greens, oranges, mustard yellows – rich, fall hues. I wear far more color in the summer than I do in the colder months. I like my accessories to be black and versatile. All my jewelry is gold, with various gem stones.

To figure this out for yourself, pay attention to what compliments people give you, to how you feel in various colors, etc. I once saw an episode of Scrubs in which Elliot returned a dress because she didn’t get three compliments on her first day of wearing it. This is excessive, but it’s worth noting that people don’t usually lie when they compliment you. And people notice when you feel good. Feeling good is the ultimate goal. And that leads us to…

Function

I like to be comfortable, to be able to move freely. I like room around my waist because I don’t want to feel like I can’t breathe. Soft, luxurious fabrics feel nice against my skin. I have two bags – one backpack with sturdy straps, and one simple black cross body number. I have a shoe for every occasion, but only 4 pairs, all of which are comfortable and worn regularly. I wear the same pair of earrings every day and rotate through five rings. All of my clothes can be mixed and matched [part of why color palette is so vital]. Everything goes with everything. It makes getting dressed so much easier. But it’s still fun! Like when you were young and had a Barbie doll with a 4 piece clothing set that allowed for at least 10 outfits. That’s me every morning. And it gets fun trying to find all the combinations.

Notice what you feel comfortable in. Take into account your lifestyle, your daily activities. There’s no point having a closetful of sky high stilettos if you’re on your feet all day and rarely go out in the evening. They might be nice to look at, but it feels better to use everything you own, to make your wardrobe your own.

Another aspect of function is price. I like high quality, always have, but I’m forever on a budget. And maybe it’s my Jewish heritage, but I love a bargain. And I find some of my nicest pieces on clearance or at a thrift store. The hunt is part of the fun. I also customize things – little fixes here and there make pieces uniquely your own.

Style is a journey. Hopefully seeing mine will inspire yours.

Style is a journey. Hopefully seeing mine will inspire yours.

Style is important to me. Remember that the phrase, “Look good, feel good” is axiomatic; “Feel good, look good” rings just as true.

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#mentalillnessfeelslike

Much Madness is divinest Sense –

To a discerning Eye –

Much Sense – the starkest Madness –

‘Tis the Majority

In this, as All, prevail –

Assent – and you are sane –

Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –

And handled with a Chain –

– Emily Dickinson

May is mental health awareness month. Emily Dickinson did a swell job of making people aware, and hit the nail right on the head with this poem. Madness is nothing to be afraid of – in fact, it opens the mind to a whole new realm of possibility. Even in Dickinson’s time – the mid-nineteenth century – society was scared of it, and continues to see it as an illness today – a battle to be won or lost. As a mentally ill person, I hope to contribute a voice that changes the way we talk about it. So, here’s what #mentalillnessfeelslike for me.

“I’d say you have mixed bipolar disorder, type II.” – my psychiatrist in January of 2014.

Cue shock, denial, tears, rage, fear. What is that? How do you know I have it? Why is this happening to me?

Madness can be triggered by a traumatic event – for me, that came in the death of one of my few close friends, stacked on top of myriad dysfunctional family situations, a trying adolescence, ignorance of self-care, and a subsequent dropping out of college.

Labels suck. Especially when someone else slaps one on you. Even worse when it’s someone with a lot of degrees and knowledge of exactly what he’s talking about. So it’s practically inescapable.

I boxed out my rage, cried a lot, and decided to try medication. Pills only made me feel worse so, after about six months of free-falling into depression, I bottomed out and decided to try. To dig my way out and get to know this illness, this label that had been thrust upon me so rudely.

I decided to notice, evaluate, make every effort to understand what my manic depression was, how it manifested, and how to live with it successfully – how to navigate it. In getting to know this manic depression, I chose to accept that I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. Instead of choosing to numb it, though, or turn it off somehow, I decided to learn about it. To practice living with it, finding ways to remain a functioning, productive, positive member of society.

In understanding it, I’ve come up with different terms for what it is and how it works. I had many preconceived notions about it before I was diagnosed, and I’ve realized that most other people do as well. Lately I’ve taken to explaining it to my saner friends, and have found that I’m able to elucidate it for them.

On the etymology: Bipolar and manic depression are technically the same thing – bipolar is what they started calling it in the 80s, a fitting representation of our modern culture’s attachment to binaries. I prefer manic depression; I think it shows the spectrum more clearly. It’s more fluid than bipolar would imply.

I see my mind as a vast ocean. I am on a boat, navigating the waves. In some spots the water roars, carrying my vessel skyward and then crashing it down, capsizing the whole operation and dunking me deep underwater. I’ve learned to carefully steer clear of those contumelious whirlpools.

I’ve collected the necessary navigation tools and skills, and now my boat rocks gently on the sea as I admire the views afforded by my position on the open water.

But what is this sea made of? What do mania and depression feel like?

Depression is slow. Daily actions feel like walking in thick mud, your feet sinking in deeper at every step. If you’re not careful, you’ll get stuck, thigh high in stinky sludge. Weights in your heart and soul pull you deeper with a thousand times the force of gravity. And that’s when you think about diving all the way in, drowning yourself in the darkness. Because the effort it takes to get out might be more than you’re capable of. And you feel so desperately disgusting that you’ve come to believe you deserve this.

But, if you remain aware of it, understand where you’re walking or sailing, get the lay of the land, you can step strategically, even take advantage of this sluggish state, listening as if your body is telling you to take a break, slow down, rest. Notice that you’re seeing the world as two-dimensional, in sepia tones or grayscale. Your self-image is cloudy. Words don’t come to your tongue, and daily tasks feel…difficult. What does it take to speed it up? Correct the course, step out of the mud – there’s green grass right next to you.

Breathe. Find little things to be grateful for. Read “How to Conquer Depression.” Call a friend. Remind yourself that you deserve a delightful life. Do the things your body will thank you for. A lack of harmony between mind and body can often lead me into depression. But awareness of this makes leveling out – sailing into clearer waters – suddenly possible.

Clearer waters are smooth, enjoyable, level – what most might call normal. These clear spells often swing up into mania. Mania is a drug that I’ve learned to enjoy responsibly. Too much will only make things worse for me and make the subsequent depression darker and deeper. But a little bit. Now and then. A feeling of confidence. The belief that I can do anything. Clarity. Focus. Bright colors. Quick thoughts, synapses firing at light speed. Light shines brighter, words come quicker, my enthusiasm is unbridled and I’m in love with any person, place, or thing I encounter. And they’re in love with me. Creativity is boundless, as is my energy. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It’s easy to get carried away.

Once again, awareness makes smooth sailing possible. Being kind to myself on both sides of the spectrum allows my baseline to be healthy. I see this as a blessing – if I hadn’t been thrust into this ocean, it might have taken me a lifetime to learn self-love and to sort through all the events and relationships of my life, redeeming them and allow the neuroplasticity of my brain to work for instead of against me. I harness mania like horsepower to propel me through the slow afternoons into marvelous evenings. Mixed manic depression means I encounter these moods often – they cycle rapidly. But awareness means moods don’t sneak up on me much. I’ve come to know the boat I’m sailing on real well.

Sailing is hobby of mine. I didn’t have much of a choice in taking it up, but I’ve actually come to love it. And the satisfaction of navigating around eddies and whirlpools and waves – well, it makes me a tiny bit manic. But it’s nothing I can’t handle, and it’s what I’ve been given. I don’t see this as a curse to be broken or a battle to be won. It’s simply the mind I have. And ignoring that or trying to change it would feel transgressive, like throwing away a beautiful gift. I wouldn’t stay out of the sea because I’m afraid of sharks. I’ve built a strong boat, and sometimes the waters get rough, but it’s all alright. And, as Dickinson wrote, madness makes divine sense.

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On [Lemonade] and America

If you haven’t read Part I – it’s not necessary. This focuses on general themes.

What I love about this album is its transcendence. On the surface, the obvious meaning is Beyoncé making lemonade with the lemons that Jay-Z gave her when he cheated on her. But this can represent so many other things – controversies and conflicts that are referenced throughout both the visual and auditory albums.

For one thing, on “Sandcastles,” Beyoncé is transcending herself. She sings “Every promise don’t work out that way,” referencing the ultimatum she had always set down that if he cheats she is gone. And then James Blake, in his chillingly angelic voice, sings – “Forward.” The lyrics of this songs make it sound, for one, that Beyoncé is suggesting an open relationship of some sort between her and Jay-Z, recognizing that the bond they have is greater than most, that the strength and multidimensionality of their connection is not worth throwing away over some becky. At the same time, these lyrics suggest a moving forward for America, an opening of minds to unity – an American identity.

I’ve heard people reference “white culture,” and I guess this is meant as mainstream America, but, honestly, I’ve always felt lost in this country because I can’t see a culture I identify with. My ancestry is mostly Jewish and Irish, but we’ve all been in this country so long that if I tried to join a Yiddish community in New York I’d feel interested, but certainly not at home, and while I might look Irish with my red hair and pale skin, I have no idea what kind of Irish communities exist in the U.S., and I’m not sure I care enough to find out. If I think of white culture, images of preppy kids on golf courses and in country clubs or California surfers come to mind. I don’t fit in either of those scenarios, but even they have some diversity. I don’t know what white culture is, but I don’t want to. What I want is American culture. And I want it to be more than what it is right now. And I think that can only come if we embrace each other, start being generous with our traditions and beliefs and strengths, and come together.

bell hooks, in her critique of Lemonade, wrote that Beyoncé neglected to really call out the patriarchy – that change must be mutual. This goes for intimate relationships, for patriarchy and feminism, and for people of all races. Change must be mutual.

There’s a Gandhi quote that’s used so often it’s likely lost its meaning for many – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want a world of love, acceptance, kindness – you don’t have to wait. In Beyoncé’s visual album, a woman’s voice speaks these words: “So how we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love.” Be love to everyone around you. People notice a positive example, even if you don’t get constant praise and recognition for it, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing, and, I promise, your actions will make a difference. Someone is always watching. Maybe not the world, but all progress begins on an individual level.

hooks also wrote that, while Beyoncé’s Lemonade focused primarily on the bitterness of the lemons, it’s actually a sweet, refreshing drink. We’ve all been through some shit, but true lemonade is made in “celebration of our moving beyond pain.”

So, Beyoncé, I love Lemonade for its celebration of black women and its transcendent messages. It’s a necessary work of art with words and images that the world need to see, to recognize its power, and to acknowledge and laud the strength of black women. Now – I know at least one white girl that can twerk (it’s me), and I’m sure some Asian and Native American and Mexican and racially ambiguous girls know how to get down to a beat, too, and I would love to see some racial inclusion in your future work – practicing your own message of moving forward. After all, we are American, and, more than anything, I want that to mean something. And I want it to be positive. AND I believe that’s possible.042015_0136_HowtoWinFri1.jpg

 

Self-talk

I remember people joking about messages in Lizzie McGuire and other Disney shows – “Believe in yourself.” It sounded so cheesy, so silly – foolish, even. But actually, it isn’t. It’s some wisdom that Disney was tryna drop on us, and we threw it on the ground. Maybe some people absorbed it, but, growing up in Christianity, I was taught to believe in God – not myself. Only myself through God. Which never fully made sense to me. And, while I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the people in my life, I’ve heard many people I loved talk to themselves negatively – criticizing body parts or actions, beating themselves up. This broke my heart. I saw that these people didn’t deserve that. But everyone has to find it for themself.

Example 1: Your bills were due yesterday. You forgot to pay them. In the moment you remember, what do you say to yourself?

  1. “Oh shit, you idiot, how could fuck this up?!”
  2. “Okay. Fuck. It’ll be okay. Just pay it now. You can’t change it.”
  3. “Fuck the bank, they don’t deserve your money.”

Hopefully we can all agree that, while many of use might feel c, b is the healthiest option.

But so many people choose a. Too many. If you call yourself an idiot, sooner or later you’re going to believe it. In the same way, if you consistently call yourself a genius, you might become a megalomaniac. Of course a balance is key in this, but a healthy, positive self-image is an integral piece to achieving any type of happiness or success.

Example 2: You wake up with a massive pimple on your forehead. Looking in the mirror, you tell yourself –

  1. “You’re a hideous monster. No one will ever love you.”
  2. “This will pass. You are more than your face. I love you. You’re worthwhile, regardless of your blemishes.”
  3. “You already have the face of a goddess, so this is hardly an issue. You are the best looking human on this planet.”

I think we can once again agree that, while c is a fun option, b is the healthiest.

An angsty high school mirror photo - a time when I only said negative things to myself.

An angsty high school mirror photo – a time when I only said negative things to myself and overtweezed my eyebrows.

And once again, it kills me every time I hear people say things like option a to their reflection. While it may seem ridiculous to tell yourself, “I love you,” it makes such a difference. And, once you begin, sooner or later you’ll start to – if you don’t already.

Some days are hard. People can suck and make you feel like shit, and your mind can do this to you as well. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to. Really anything. I just don’t. But then I catch it, I stop my freefall, and I look in the mirror and I say, “I love you. You are worthwhile, intelligent, strong, brave, beautiful, etc. You can.” And, even if I don’t believe it in my head, seeing myself say those words to myself actually does something in my brain. And I feel a lot better. I believe myself. And then I believe in myself. And that’s not cheesy at all – that’s necessary for me to function as a healthy human being.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself, brimming with joy when I look in the mirror.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself. It’s better for everyone this way.

Society seems to place more value on what other people think of us than on what we think of ourselves. While the opinions of others can hold some weight, what actually allows for a healthy mental and emotional state is a positive self-image. It’s a beautiful thing, the self-image, something that can be curated carefully and cultivated into exactly what you wish it to be. Developing this actively is a lifelong pursuit, and it doesn’t stop once you make your self-talk positive. Having it allows for comfort in your own skin, realistic ideas of who you are and what you can accomplish, and the ability to love others well.

See, to love others as you love yourself, you’ve gotta love yourself. And it all starts with what you say to the person in the mirror. You can.042615_0013_HeartlessCh1.jpg