talking to women

Tonight a friend and colleague of mine posted about an experience she had being shamed by her Uber driver for not having kids. She’s happily married. In her 30s. Living a life she loves in a city she loves in a career she loves, and is good at.

My instant reaction was to feel frustrated and pissed off. I rolled my eyes thinking about all of the times I felt wrong, or weird, in the awkward silence following my “no” response to the question, “do you want kids?”

As the night wore on, I thought about how hard it is to meet the expectations of being a woman. How much judgment and scrutiny is applied to mothers of all kinds, while the decision of women to not be mothers is equally, if differently, criticized.

We are expected to be thin and flawless and beautiful forever, while time, and child rearing and things like stress, and the sun, are known, unavoidable assailants of those qualities.

We ought to be kind, and compassionate and loving and gentle but we should also lean in and stay strong and stand up for what we believe in.

We have to hustle harder and speak louder than our male counterparts but we also have to be more likeable, and collaborative and always put together.

We are tired, but we can’t complain.

When I was a summer camp counselor I tried to avoid telling young girls I liked their shoes, or their dress, while I turned to their older brothers and asked them to show me their muscles.

It was harder than it should be.

As an adult, I’ve adopted a similar commitment where I try to avoid asking women in long term relationships when they’re getting married and asking newly married women when they’re having kids.

It is a perfectly normal way to engage each other but it is also an important, invisible way that we reenforce the ever growing expectations we have of each other, and ourselves.

Just as easily, we can ask women in long term relationships about their five year goals and ask newly married women what in their lives they are most proud of. Or excited for.

We can ask little girls the same things we ask their brothers.

We can create space for women to be tired, or loud, or quiet or angry. We can accept them if they are thin or beautiful, or perfectly made up, but also if they aren’t that day, or ever.

We can celebrate more and criticize less. Each other, and ourselves.

afraid of the ocean

Until I was in my twenties, I was afraid of the ocean. The sound and the force of the waves always felt too big, and too strong for my tiny body and lifelong anxiety made me a prisoner of my own fear. I’d watch my brother run at full speed towards the breaking tide then dive, head first into waves, that from where I was standing, looked twice as big as him. I’d hold my breath until his sandy face surfaced, beaming and triumphant. He’d glance towards the shore for a moment, only to disappear again, right away.

Discipline and moderation and work ethic were easy for me, even as a kid. I was so envious of how he made fun and adventure look effortless and energizing.

I spent my early adulthood in west Los Angeles. I chose college at ucla for a million reasons, none of which were proximity to the pacific coastline, which still felt threatening and intimidating. But, as the whole of the city often does to transplants, the ocean seduced me.

No matter the chaos and noise and busyness of everything else, the ocean always felt quiet, and comforting, and peaceful. In a place where I struggled to feel belonging, the shoreline always felt like home.

My “only the mountains” love for nature evolved to include sunsets on the beach in Santa Monica, cartwheels in the freshly wet sand and even, eventually, diving through the waves.

We’re leaving Kauai today so last night I walked to the beach at sunset. The familiar sounds and sensations, thousands of miles from where I first fell in love with them, reminded me of our infinite, undeniable connection to everything. It brought me back to what I’m seeking on this vacation: connection to myself.

My life now is busier and noisier than it ever was in Los Angeles. I live in a small town, but my mind and body race at the exhausting pace of the big city. I’ve mostly lost touch with nature and months, sometimes years, bridge the time gap between visits to the ocean.

Among the many things I take away from this vacation is the reminder that my life is of my own creation. If I only choose work, hustle and grit, that’s all I’ll ever experience. If I don’t make space for peace, it can’t make its way in.

Sending you love and ease and stillness, or whatever it is that you know you need, but haven’t taken the time to seek.

On redemption

I’ve watched or listened to almost every, awful inning of Giants’ baseball this season. The blurry streams from my ipad, the delayed radio broadcast on my phone’s mlb app, my mom’s 60 inch tv intermittently flashing to cable news, have all delivered mostly heart break and disappointment.

A few weeks ago the Giants signed a pitcher from the Texas Rangers who was let go from that organization after an arguably more disastrous start to the season than San Francisco. He had something like a 13 ERA. If you don’t follow or understand baseball, that’s a really important statistic for a pitcher, and that number is pretty much as bad as it can be. The guy had been dominant the previous year but appeared to have completely, irreparably lost his way.

Fans on twitter and sports radio universally rolled their eyes as the move seemed like another symptom of total meltdown in the Giants organization.

His first appearance in San Francisco looked to be confirmation of such.

Then, inexplicably, he started throwing well. A few pitches at a time and then quickly entire innings. He now appears to be an effective closer on a team whose won six straight games.

I’m baffled, but also mega inspired.

This weekend I’m feeling confused about how to appropriately celebrate the fourth of July on Tuesday. I’ve always been a bit queasy about the unequivocal affirmations of American freedom and liberty on “Independence Day”, but in the current political climate it feels downright absurd. It seems more appropriate to be silent, and meditative, to declare the occasion one of mournful self-examination about the nation we’ve become.

Then, as silly as it sounds, I think about Sam Dyson. About how even, and especially, when we lose our way, commitment, effort, courage and resilience can still light the path to restoration.

We are only as far gone as our last, worst act.

We are only as good as our next best one.

Call it privilege

I decided to finally come up for air in a week that has felt more like a month and a half.

So it is in this wild version of reality we’re living that I have eighty five things to think and write about.

The one that has me most interested is our current, collective reaction to our President’s ongoing misogyny and complete refusal to comply with even the lowest acceptable standards of propriety and respect.

While I understand the source of reflections like “I don’t want to raise my son or daughter in a world where that guy has power and influence because of the terrible example he sets” I think it falls short of what we’re capable of, and what would be truly powerful, and transformative in this ever disturbing moment in history.

Instead of shielding our children from the president’s commentary (and others like it) or condemning it for how it fails, morally and otherwise, we have an opportunity to call out and name what makes it possible that a man who speaks and acts like that holds the highest office in all the land.

It’s called privilege, and chances are good, if you have the resources and insight and motivation to want to shield your kids from the president, you (and your kids) have it too.

The biggest, most important reason president trump continues to get away with his juvenile, erratic, disrespectful, bigoted, autocratic, ignorant behavior is his privilege. Race. Gender. Class. Privilege. He is a man who has lived his entire adult life doing, saying and acting any way he wanted, pretty much without consequence. He has done so because he’s white, and male, and rich.

The signifier of privilege is anything in your identity that you don’t think about in your daily life. For me, my race and class and education are invisible aspects of who I am that play a critical role in how I experience the world, but of which I’m rarely aware. My gender, on the other hand, is something I think about constantly. I think about it when I’m in an elevator, alone with a man, especially late at night, while I’m traveling by myself for work. I think about when I’m working on the retail floor and someone makes a comment about my body. I think about it when my family shows enthusiastic interest in my dating life and almost none in my career.

Part of the problem with privilege is those of us with the most are least aware of it.

I still remember two years ago when I was traveling on crutches and got dropped by a cab driver, with my luggage, 400 yards from the door of my hotel. I’d gotten out of a cab at least that far from my destination countless times before, but only considered it a problem when the limitation of my ability made a significant impact on how I experienced a familiar situation.

We can keep feeling horrified and frustrated by the president or we can take the opportunity to learn one of the many lessons his presidency is trying to teach us. We can teach little boys to say only nice things about women and hope to raise good, young men, or we can talk about what it means to be born a male in this world and maybe transform the future of masculinity altogether.

We can keep condemning the problematic actions of others or we can turn to ourselves and seek a solution.

I for one, am a woman of action.

My commitment is to be more conscious of my own privilege especially in my every day life, and to help others do the same. I’m going to figure out how to talk to my nephews about their privilege and help my friends talk to their kids about theirs.

Those of us with the most privilege own the biggest responsibility for how it does or does not continue to impact who we are for each other.

I believe we can make a big impact, together.

What we do repeatedly

 

“You are what you repeatedly do.”

I was a couple of years into my yoga practice the first time I heard one of my teachers say that now familiar phrase. Likely it wasn’t the first time somebody said it, just the first time I was open to receive it.

Over the next couple of years I thought a lot about the things I repeatedly do and how they’d shaped the person I’d become. Judgment, skepticism, criticism. Saying no way more often than saying yes. Believing the worst of people, or situations, and seeking evidence to confirm that belief.

I felt sad and lonely. I worried that the impression I had left on people I didn’t know well was intimidating, sassy and abrasive. I worried the legacy I was leaving in the world was a reflection, and expression, of those adjectives.

I set out to change who I was by changing how I acted. The things I changed were simple, and easy and small. My focus for an entire year was just to be nice. To everyone. No matter what.

I know it had an impact because the people I knew before and the people I knew after would describe me differently. I used to imagine two such people meeting each other in real life and determining the katie little each of them remembered, and shared about, couldn’t possibly be the same person.

We are, what we repeatedly do.

I’ve been thinking this week about who WE are, and what we do repeatedly. I’ve never been patriotic or particularly connected to my identity as a U.S citizen. I’m realizing, more and more, that’s largely because my race and class and sexuality and ability privileges allow me to live that way.

We are, what we do repeatedly.

If we legislate to enhance power and wealth for the already powerful and wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized we can not claim to be a culture of equality, or freedom or possibility. If we continue to allow young black men to be slaughtered, with impunity, we cannot claim to be one nation, with justice for all. If we limit access to medical care for pregnant women, we cannot claim to be a country that protects and cares for kids. If we keep turning away from mass gun violence, as if it’s the unfortunate and rare casualty of a single bad actor making a single bad decision, we cannot claim to value the safety of our citizens.

We cannot claim anything that we don’t repeatedly do.

In my own life, I’m examining how I’m complicit with all of the ways we’re collectively failing to live up to our claims. How I speak and who I share space with and how, and where I spend my time and money. All of the ways I avoid confronting the things that make me angry, and frustrated. An avoidance that’s a luxury for me, but not for people, and communities, most impacted by those things.

It’s not enough to read and write and feel engaged. I, you, we, have to do something, many things, repeatedly.

Complete

I wrote us a love story. On a cold weekend morning in March, in Michigan, I made a list of the important moments, occasions and exchanges that shape my memories of you. All of the places and conversations that defined our relationship. All of the times I wondered what you were thinking or why you wouldn’t say what I thought you were thinking out loud.

5, nearly 6 years of wondering. Wondering over dinner dates and hometown latte meetups and the type of lengthy, rambling phone calls most people our age haven’t been on since high school. Plans and dreams and futures we mapped out together.Plans and dreams along life paths that sometimes sounded intersecting and other times seemed infinitely parallel in the same direction. An image of possibly converging lines, the uncertainty of their meeting point blurred when they disappeared into the unknown horizon.

The more of it I wrote, the more I realized I’d been writing it all along.

I wrote in the romance and the mystery and the do they or don’t they subtext of our every interaction. I wrote in the plans and dreams. The parallel lines and the intersecting ones. I wrote the whole thing.

When I’d written nine of the maybe fifty stories I’d brainstormed, I stopped writing. I got distracted by the occasional sunshine in Detroit and my commitment to keep showing up at soccer even though I was pretty bad at it and nobody on the team was my friend.

It was only when I stopped writing that I realized how much I’d already written.

3 years ago last February I called from Landmark in San Francisco and got your voicemail. Ever an A student, I diligently followed our Landmark leader’s direction by following up with you every time we had a break. Five weeks passed before you returned my call. I’d left the forum feeling like my confrontation with your avoidance was as close as I’d ever get to “completing” our relationship. So when you unexpectedly got back in touch with me, our completion unraveled into a beginning. Again.

And so it would be, for the next couple of years. One or two long phone calls of catching up followed by weeks or months of radio silence. An open-ended absence of expectations. I never knew whether the next time we’d talk you’d admit you loved me, or you’d be asking for my address to invite me to your wedding.

Meanwhile, I kept writing.

I wrote both of those endings and countless more. I wrote the banter and the conflict and the resolution. I wrote compelling story arcs and potential screen plays. I wrote happy, hopeful lines, tragic and ironic ones, and everything in between.

And then, I stopped writing.

The exact definition or purpose is foggy now but “getting complete” at Landmark meant something similar to what I knew about “closure” from romantic comedies. Landmark has a formula for it. Or the initial conversation at least. There were no guidelines for what happens after the completion, especially if there’s more to say, or in my case, write.

Today, I learned from Facebook that you’re moving to New York city. A dramatic life change that under ordinary circumstances of best friendship I would be, at minimum, consulted on before the final decision-making stage. But ours has never been a traditional friendship and over the years its ever-evolving ambiguity had made it even less so. I read your post looking for apartments in Manhattan and waited for a predictable sensation to wash over me. It’s somewhere between a twinge in my stomach and an accelerated heartbeat. Not quite heated, but elevated, from my normal state. A acute, but hard to define mix of nervous, anxious and uncomfortable. I pulled up my text message ready to put my reactions to words for my (real) best friend.

And before my fingers touched the key pad, I set down my phone. I breathed in, held it for a moment and let it out. I dropped my shoulder blades down my back. I pressed the weight of my body into the back of my chair. I breathed, slowly again, in and out.

In the moment, I had nothing to say.

I wrote this post over six months ago and then picked it up again last weekend. I’ve been trying to get back into writing and I used the drafts folder in my blog to propel me forward. I published all nine chapters of the book I started. Then I dove back in to complete my completion.

This morning, over breakfast when my text message beeps three times in a row I assume it’s my mom or someone who works for me. By the time I see the phone screen only the last in the series is visible.

P.S. I miss you.

I feel the pace of my heart quicken the way it does when I feel turbulence on an airplane. It’s a distinct sensation of uncertainty, and loss of control. I open up the entire thread with increasing curiosity, and worry, and excitement. I think about this entry, in this blog, still unfinished, so many months after I started it.

I think about our story, still without an ending.

Maybe, possibly, not quite complete.

9: “Cops hate white kids.”

There’s a square room in the center of the main law school building called the “student lounge.” It’s cluttered with old, uncomfortable, wood furniture and is a good place to find tired friends between classes and leftover cold pizza at 4p.m. or a half-eaten box of almost stale donuts.

It was my favorite place to study. Just enough buzz and distraction to keep me focused. Always the hopeful possibility of getting caught up in an unintentional thirty-minute break.

Eight or so weeks into our first semester, Nick and I had settled into a casual routine of semi-close friendship. We more or less knew each other’s schedules and had developed a pattern of running into one another other before we both left campus for the day.

It’s a Friday evening and I can tell that summer is over because it’s nearly dark outside but not quite 6pm. I always feel a subtle sense of heartbreak when summer ends. The loss of warm nights and long days and the carefree, unstructured hours of unfettered possibility.

It’s a likely side effect of having been a student for 90 percent of my life.

Nick appears from the upstairs locker room and sets his stuff down near my feet. He slides next to me on the lopsided couch. He looks law student tired: Pale skinned with slumped down shoulders. Like he didn’t eat quite enough to sustain the energy required to show up and look engaged during hours long lectures about parts of the law he’ll never remember, nor need to know about at any time during his career.

I could tell he wasn’t up for playful banter or even prolonged lingering on the couches where we’re vulnerable to an imminent gathering of peers that would demand his attention and exertion.

“Let’s go get food.” I told him.

Ten minutes later, we’re crossing Hilgard avenue to the guest house where he lives. He drops his heavy backpack on the ergonomic office chair in his bedroom and quickly pivots back towards the door.

The backpack drop lightened the aura around him but his urgency to leave again reminds me that he likely hasn’t eaten since well before noon. I hold back a smile thinking to myself, “and it was probably just a salad.”

Eighteen minutes later we’re waiting for dinner at the Literati cafe. I first took Nick there to study two weeks ago and we’ve been back four times already. It’s one of my old haunts from undergrad. One of the first, hip places my college boyfriend took me. The site of many a teary-eyed mixed greens salad and post make-up sex french toast.

I’d avoided the place completely in the whole year I lived in L.A. after undergrad. I was finally brave enough to go back, four years later, when I had this new, promising male friendship to distract me from the memories of that old, dysfunctional one.

Nick perks up almost immediately after three bites of sandwich. Half-way through the meal we’ve both been restored to the fullness of easy conversation and intermittent hysterical laughter.

Nick pushes his empty plate away from him, leans back in his chair and lifts his arm to check his watch. He fights back a yawn.

“Jesus. It’s only 7 o’clock.”

Nick and I have discovered many, shared characteristics. It is one of the biggest reasons we’ve so quickly become such close friends. One of our only so far discovered differences is our relationship to social: propriety, pressure and obligation.

While I have no problem calling it a night before 8p.m on a Friday, the mere suggestion of it threatens Nick’s well-crafted self-image as cutting edge and cool.

There’s no way we’re going home.

We (he, mostly) make(s) the decision to drive to the beach and stir up trouble in the dark.

Parking near third street is easy, another sad sign that summer is over. The night is warm for early October but too cold for the average Los Angeleno to be out and about after sundown without a heavy jacket. I’m wearing the same thing I went to campus in at 10a.m. so I’m noticeably chilly as we make our way toward the sand. I yank my hood up over my ears and pull the zipper tighter around my neck.

The closer we get to the ocean, the more it feels like we’re the only two humans for miles. It’s a rare, special moment when you live in L.A. Silence. Complete dark. And the feeling of being peacefully, finally alone. It’s one of those sensations you don’t realized you were missing until you experience it.

I peel off my converse and ankle socks and put one roll in my jeans. I tip-toe towards the incoming tide, surprising myself that I’m willing to touch the freezing water with my feet. Being with Nick makes me feel light and playful. Adventurous.

The temperature is dropping and my toes are going numb. We seek refuge from the clear skies and light breeze by climbing up on to a lifeguard tower, maybe 600 yards from where we parked. We lean up against the front of the splintery, rickety building and sit peacefully in the quiet.

I have flashes of all of the nineties era movies and TV shows where a scene like this would be unequivocally romantic. The shy female protagonist nervously bites her lip and wrings her hands as she patiently waits for her handsome male love interest to make a move on her. It’s the type of repetitive media image that gives all young women unrealistic expectations of our male peer group and sets up a lifetime of bizarre and confusing gender dynamics. It’s the type of repetitive media image that made young women like me feel anxious and insecure about being outspoken, loud and opinionated.

Even in my late twenties I’m aware of the ways I lack the feminine allure of being mysterious and demure.

Nick breaks the silence asking if ever came to the beach at night during college. I remind him that between my very demanding extra-curricular activity schedule and frequent blow-outs with my boyfriend, I didn’t have much time for leisure.

“We used to bring the mentorship kids here during the day.” I say it softly, half talking to him, half narrating myself through reflection and nostalgia. I feel warmer as the memory washes over me. It’s the type of private, personal observation I don’t typically share with someone I’m newly acquainted with. That I even say it out loud surprises me. It tells me there’s something unusual about my closeness with Nick. I make note of the feelings: Vulnerability. Openness. I observe that I’m less uncomfortable than I think I should be.

Nick tells me he’s surprised by the quiet. I share a story from a few years ago when I spent a weekend at my then-boyfriend’s family home in Lake Tahoe. It was midway through my fifth year living in L.A. and I was alone for six hours, reading in natural light and pure silence. I told him how you get accustomed to the background noise and the not quite dark enough city darkness. I advise him to cherish the kind of experience we’re having right now.

“The longer you live here the harder it is to remember the things you miss about your former life.”

My poetic wisdom is cut short by the appearance of bright lights over the horizon to our right. I exhale dramatically.

“Ya see.”

Nick leaps up from his seat and grabs me by the hood of my sweatshirt.

“We gotta go.”

I’m a little light-headed from the whiplash and confused about the swift and inexplicable mood change.

“We gotta get out of here. They’ll fine us or arrest us or something.”

I’m wondering why my seemingly normal new friend has morphed into a shifty conspiracy theorist and I’m suddenly aware of being completely alone with him, on the beach in the dark.

“Cops hate white kids. We should run.”

I burst into laughter but before I have time for some entertaining and witty banter about it, Nick has jumped off the side of the lifeguard tower and is running at full speed towards the car.

Once again, I am my typically cautious self so I lower my body down gently, butt first, then struggle to match Nick’s pace in the sand. I get to the car with just enough breath to squeak out the question, “what the hell was that?” I’m still laughing, halfway thinking the entire episode was a hilarious and dramatic gesture by him designed to make me laugh and create a mutual, fond memory.

We’re half-way back to Westwood before I realized he was completely serious. The whole time.

The best, most well rested version of myself would take the opportunity to impress Nick with my progressive intellectualism. Cite something smart from bell hooks, maybe drop a little Dr. Cornel West. We’d have a rich discussion about race and justice and the disparate impact of unconstitutional policing.

But it’s getting late and it’s been a long week and all I can muster is, “do you really think cops hate white kids? Are you out of your mind?”

Nick tells me a couple of ridiculous stories from his not-rebellious adolescence running the mean streets of the upper middle class white suburb where he  grew up, adjacent to the upper middle class suburb where I grew up. Two or three non threatening encounters with bored Sheriff officers chasing him and his friends out of the neighborhood park after midnight. Real, gritty, stuff.

We decide to table the intense social justice conversation for another time.