There’s in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but
fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears
a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she
is kind and very clean without
but she has
And there’s a
turbulent moon-ridden girl
or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers
and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs
but she is not kind.
~ In Mind, by Denise Levertov ~
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for the same reason I never did “rebound” relationships: they both seem too much like ending one huge chapter of my life and immediately leaping to the next without giving myself a chance to assess or recover, my head full of demands and expectations designed to set myself up for failure: this new one will be better, this will be the one for me, I’ll be better with this one, and this one I just let go of will seem like a bad dream.
Years seem to crawl from January to October, when they suddenly take off and slam to a finish – we have our anniversary in October, then the holidays are upon us, and suddenly, BOOM, it’s the New Year. Because of this frantic finish, I like to make getting to the end of one chapter the priority, stepping over the line of the New Year, and then closing the book for a moment to take a look back at how I – how we – did in the previous year from the safety of this side of the new year. 🙂
2016 was a real son of a bitch. But we made it. I mean. WHEW. We made it. And everyone’s healthy and relatively unscathed. And somewhere in the midst of all of the awful, I had an epiphany, and that is the one thing I am dragging with me out of the old year. I’m sharing it with you in the hope that you learn from my mistakes, because with what’s coming, with the way the world is and the direction in which everything is going – politically, economically, and technologically – it’s more important than ever to be true to yourself, to find out who you are and love that person no matter what, and in the face of diversity and hatred, to be strong enough not to deny, lose, or allow others to make you doubt or give up who you are.
Cleaning the Slate
I’ve spent most of my life proclaiming that I could care less what people think…but until this year I didn’t realize I was lying the entire time – to myself, most of all. From the beginning, I cared very much what everyone thought.
My side of the family is extraordinarily undemonstrative, so, as someone who somehow ended up with thin skin, I have always felt the need to appear tougher and harder than I actually am in order to avoid being mocked – just hearing the words, “Gah, you’re so sensitive,” would make me cringe with shame, which in turn would cause me to be laughed at even more, and then I’d scamper off, fleeing with some lame excuse for the safety of my car or my friends or my house. Le Mumz actually commented once that her children were like night and day: the Bruddha, self-assured and confident that everything he touches turns to gold, while the only thing I was sure of was that I could do nothing properly except become a chameleon and disappear into other people’s expectations. I adapted that false chitin for the masses, to make myself as armored and untouchable as possible in order to avoid being viewed as simple, weak, needy, or controllable.
With the rise of social media, that armor became even more necessary – it’s so much easier to judge, to pick and needle and rip apart someone else from behind the safety and anonymity of a monitor. Not only that, but it can be done so quickly, in a fit of pique and with the tap of a few buttons, whereas in the past one would have had to go through the trouble of physically writing out their grievance and mailing it.
I pissed off quite a few people I’d once considered friends when I posted this article in early 2016 regarding my thoughts on breeding. As they blew up my accounts with their angry retorts (and it wasn’t lost on me that not a single one called to discuss the matter but instead fired off e-mails as if we were strangers), I suddenly realized something: I had been deleting their messages without even reading them. I went into the Trash folder to see how many messages I’d treated to this button-pushing fate and realized I’d deleted ten without so much as skimming past the subject lines. I asked myself why and the answer was simple: I didn’t care anymore. In fact, I’d posted the article knowing full well that the very friends I’d mentioned (not by name) in the post would see it and dislike it, and I clearly hadn’t cared then… and I cared even less now that they were announcing their displeasure.
Once I had that moment of clarity, I noticed it happening more and more often throughout the year, both in the personal and professional aspects of my life. I began speaking up, speaking out, and pushing back. I argued where I would have let things go with a complacent shrug. I said “No” where I would have given a begrudging “I guess.” I called people on their bullshit. I had heart-to-hearts that brought some relationships to an amicable end, I had a couple of falling outs that truly needed to happen, and I had one seriously overdue conversation with a friend with whom I wanted to salvage the relationship and which resulted in us becoming closer than we have been in three years.
And all of it was possible because of one seriously awesome realization:
I have finally reached the point in my life where my opinion of myself is stronger than the opinions of others.
I am 38 years old, closer to 40 than 30, and I’m thrilled about that. Yes. Thrilled. Because there was a time not so very long ago that I’d never have thought to be this age at all. And I’m embarrassed at myself for having wasted so much of those 38 years fretting or weeping or fuming over what someone else thought about me. I’m appalled at the hours wasted in anxiety, the number of times I complied simply to avoid confrontation, the various moments in which I swallowed my pride or my tears or my voice just to keep the peace, to keep from being laughed at or ridiculed, to keep from being judged, to keep on “the right side” of “the right people.”
I’m 38 goddamn years old, and I’ve earned the right to be exactly who I am, not someone else’s idea of who I should be, not some version of myself I wish I could be. If I know you personally, if I care about you and respect you and your opinion, then we can discuss your perspective – but at the end of the day, the only person I actually have to answer to for who I am or how I live or what I do is me.
What you are is not who you are – your gender, sexuality, skin color, and religion don’t define you unless you allow them to do so. And in the coming days, weeks, and months (and years, agh), you will need to make sure you are deeply, firmly rooted to who you are. You are the only one of you who ever has been or ever will be.
And your opinion of yourself should be stronger than the opinions of you held by others.
Incidentally, in case you’ve been under a rock for the past few months, there is an upcoming Women’s March on Washington. Despite the name, it’s open to anyone with concerns about civil rights under this new regime – which should be pretty much everyone, considering that, thus far, they’ve openly and unrepentantly insulted just about everyone who isn’t a filthy-rich white American male. If you’re not able to attend the primary march in Washington, D.C., there are plenty of “sister marches” going on across the world: find one, put on your Pussy Hat, and make your voice heard!