#Brexistentialism

There’s heartbreak in what happened yesterday. I woke up this morning to a torrent of devastated, incredulous and shell-shocked texts, updates and headlines. A campaign steered by hate and fuelled by fear had won.

Leave.

A text I’d send to someone in response to “I’m wildly bored at this party.” Not the response to a nation-wide referendum on whether a key EU member should divorce from the union after 43 years. The nervousness I felt yesterday was similar to one I felt on October 19th when Canada was deciding whether it was going to be swayed by an embarrassingly xenophobic conservative election campaign. Thankfully, that one went a different way and we had a second bout of Trudeaumania, but now instead all I’m feeling is a bout of #brexistentialism…

I’m not even going to go into the economic consequences of it because well…  the uncertainty and instability alone is enough to have sent markets into the frenzied statistical equivalent of a Picasso painting.

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uhhh. I don’t even know how to process the above.

But that’s not necessarily what’s been teasing my tear ducts all day. It’s the fact that there’s such an agitated undercurrent across the world that entire “democracies” are at the boiling point of being run by bigoted ideology and a sense of othering unlike any I’ve seen before. Who are these people voting with such anger and disdain for people who have been literally driven out of their homes? Global insecurity is darkening the future of entire generations across the world. Meanwhile, the British leave campaign focused on sentiments of inward-looking, myopic nationalism, citing the “lack of English spoken on the streets of London” as a reason for wanting to keep out those left with no place to go. Like a child with too many toys and not enough heart. The real breaking point of the awful campaign came when people seeking refuge were weaponized…

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I mean really… I get angry all over again every time I look at that.

Then there’s the age disparity in voters, which is best explained by this table:

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WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE???

I want to be understanding and realize that many of the voters voting “Leave” are facing their own personal disasters, feeling economically marginalized and discounted in the larger EU framework. But the decision to Leave, doesn’t fix that. All it does is show the rest of the world that America is not the only crazy super power. And that we are all alone in dealing with an increasingly terrifying world.

Britain, you’ve played your Trump card.  

All we can hope for now is that the shock and devastation that’s reverberated across the world from such small thinking will lead to a shift in political processes towards more humanist thinking. Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn after all, right? …

Old Haunts

It’s been four years and I’m not quite sure that I remember the way to the cafeteria. But I feel my way. I make it. No problem.

I do remember that the food is bad, and expensive. But this time, I can afford it. I don’t have to get the soup and stack up on the free bread. I’ll get the special.

I eat alone today. Don’t worry, it’s by choice. It most often is. Attributed to something in between my own laziness and my grand appreciation for solitude in the midst of the blur.

It’s finally sunny. So I sit in the sunroom. I hear people’s conversations. There are a few distinctive types – the one happy for some superficial social interaction for their lunch break, the other discussing family details like they’ve lived amongst each other for years, another in what seems to be obligatory work discussion – just to have someone to sit with. With others, I see the plain-faced boredom – they look up to watch me eventually put my tray away. Longer than normal. Curiosity mixed with the interest of something new.

I start walking back to my office – my office for the day, anyway. The elevator is small, but I get in with two other people. Something, or really – someone makes it inevitably awkward. The first gets off at the second floor. “Bonne après-midi,” mumbled, just barely discernible. There’s no room for a response. The next elevator ding is mine and the other person gets off with me, clearly confused at who I am and why I’m on his floor, but no questions asked.

This isn’t the first time I’ve returned to old stomping grounds. And I suspect that it’s going to happen more and more often. I can’t remember if I ever really meant to be back here – I think I hadn’t exactly planned on it in the way that one doesn’t when one doesn’t think about it. It forces me to reflect on the ways I’ve changed and what I’ve done between now and then to cause that change, for better or worse.

I was young – fresh out of college. I’d never worked the 9 to 5. And I was eager, so insufferably excited. So sure that this is where I wanted and needed to be, that this was the only logical decision for me, because this is what you do, and what people want. That all dropped off somewhere in the first or second quarter of graduate school, scattered and windswept over the streets of Baltimore. By February, I’d had enough. I wondered where I’d gotten so mesmerized by all of it. It was time for something real. Two years later, I’m still finding that that’s a hard thing to pin down.

So, what’s the difference between being here then and being here now? Basically that I walk around like I own the place. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But in comparison to what my demeanor was before, that description is pretty accurate. There was confidence before. But that confidence seems to have taken root and blossomed, somehow escaping my watchful inward gaze. Or perhaps, I simply give zero fucks. I take in the looks and stares like they were self-evidently meant for me. And they’re thoroughly amusing.

Now, I’m left wondering where that change began. Was it becoming thoroughly jaded with the work and the world? Did it start with a need for more tangible impact, right now? Or realizing so much of the perpetual, tangible frustration are problems of the system? Or was it simply a byproduct of aging and more practice, if only four years of it? Whatever it was, I’d venture to say that the transformation hasn’t ended there. All I’m left with at this moment is sheer amazement at the magnitude of the change.

In some way, it gives me more confidence of the things that, in my head, I can’t do now simply because of “how I am” or what skills I may or may not have, I’ll be able to do only a short time from now. Perhaps I can now if only given the opportunity. But why leave it to so much circumstance? Maybe, I need to create my own opportunity.

Some.Body.

I have a confession. I’m a complete hypocrite. Ok, not so much a confession as a baseline assumption for most humans, but still.

I realized it at an Italian restaurant. I was eating a capriccio pizza in the most offensive way. Avoiding the crust, peeling away most of the cheese, picking around the puddles of drizzled oil. Basically I was mastering the art of pretending to eat pizza and doing it in the least appetizing way possible. My younger sister looked at me with her face contorted into a blend of anger, disgust and pity. “She doesn’t even eat. It’s like she has an eating disorder or something.” I immediately felt guilty. Being five years older, I was supposed to be her role model. The strong, independent, confident, brilliant, understated yet fabulous older sister. And here I was, a cliché. Part of an “n” in some vague college survey statistic stating that 35% of the 95% of women dieting end up dieting pathologically.

It would take me another year to notice that maybe I did actually have a problem.
I grew up being slim. “So pretty. Just like a Barbie doll.” Relatives mashallah-ed my figure, my face, my grades. It became an identity. A valuation. I was pretty and I was smart. This was my truth.

Then I went to college.

What I gained in pounds, I lost in GPA points. My report cards and dorm room mirror reflected a person I didn’t know how to be. A person who soon became the roommate I never wanted. I dragged her weight around from early morning class to half-assed gym sessions, still uncomfortable with the association. Four years later, we graduated together, still at odds.

My post-grad experience was filled with external validation. I came out of the shadows and basked in the glow of professional praise and romantic interest. But it wasn’t enough. Every photo seemed to capture a person I still didn’t see as being me.

“Beauty comes from within.”

Sure, but my “within” was without solace from the torment of stretch marks crawling under my skin. I felt that the vessel that carried me was betraying me. So I started to betray it right back. Food was the villain. Running shoes the hero. It became a positive feedback loop where the more weight I lost, the less I was willing to eat “bad” foods. At the time, it felt like I was finally regaining control over who I wanted to be. What I didn’t notice was that the confidence I was building was paper-thin – entirely reliant on a few numbers that I had set as benchmarks for my worth. I should mention. We’re talking 20 lbs here. I was tormented over basically nothing. Embarrassingly silly.

At work, I’d write about empowering women to stand against external pressures that undermine their worth, to overcome unhealthy behaviours triggered by commercial quest for profit. Then I’d go home to work out and eat four pieces of rice. At the bar, I’d be enthusiastically discussing body positivity and being confident women who don’t shrink away but rather refuse to apologize for existing. Then I’d go home feeling guilty about the 164 calories worth of wine I’d just had.

I warned you. Hypocrite.

That day, over the oily carcass of the innocent capriccio pizza, my sister’s uncomfortable face shamed me into re-examining my own hypocrisy. The process took a year, but by the end of it, I ate pizza like a normal human being. My workouts became about being stronger, not smaller. As my focus shifted away from shrinking, my strength grew. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

The process is far from complete. Sometimes I still look at food and see calories where there should be joy. Or I drag my tired body onto a yoga mat and sweat the small stuff. But I’ve also finally started to be grateful to my body.

It. Is. Amazing. All bodies are. They’re a collection of bone and tendon and flesh that magically come together to do the most incredible things. They help us show our strength, our grace. And where necessary, they also help us weather storms or clouded judgment.

I’m determined not to forget that.

I’m taking off the “for display only” sign. My body is so much more.

Rose-colored words

I have a problem. When framing my problems to external audiences (boss, friends, strangers, boyfriend), I compulsively force everything into this stupid, false optimism-shaped mold. I’ve been praised for this.

“My challenge is that I’m struggling to get everything in order for this project to meet deadline, but it gives our team an opportunity to BLAH BLAH BLAH”

My boss LOVES this.

I read back on some of my previous posts (blah, blah). They are not completely honest. I force a rose lens in conversations with everyone. (“This terrible thing happened, but you know,  it’s not *that* bad because BLAH BLAH BLAH, it will be okay!”) I feel so much more doubt and hopelessness than I let on. And I think that is okay, to feel this.

I’m so concerned with being flexible, optimistic, positive. Where does this come from? Is it a female condition? I’m strong, yes. I’m optimistic and bright and resilient. Yes, I pride myself on this. But where did I learn that I concede weakness if I present my struggle and my sadness and my hopelessness without a delusional tint of optimism?

I want to approach my struggles with grace, and with grace I think comes a degree of optimism and hope. But I am doing myself no favors when I strap those stupid fucking rose glasses onto my face.

 

On quitting: doubt and certainty

I’ve been radio silent for months, trapped in my own mind as I’ve tried to salvage a miserable work environment. I couldn’t find my light/happiness/contentment/courage/self in the hours that were sandwiched between eight to fifteen hour periods of professional misery.

Slowly the negatively of work crept into all the hours of my day. If I wasn’t at work feeling awful about myself, I was at home, untangling the false beliefs about my value and ability from my identity. I’m exhausted. In these months I’ve lost a sense of who I am, what I love, what I need. The self-doubt, the defensiveness, the apathy, has come to occupy what feels like an entire physical segment of my brain. I feel like my mind has atrophied, that I’ve become simplified and reduced by misusing my brain for work that doesn’t make me feel more connected to the world or to myself.

Quitting a job that pays well, one that sounds okay on paper, seems insane. But two years ago I felt like anything was possible for myself. Now, I’m terrified that if I quit without options, I am not capable of doing better and that every semi-formed plan or aspiration I have will fall through.

But realizing the antimorphoses (is this a word?) that has occurred in the past many months was like waking up from a bad dream. I know with certainty that I can’t stay. I’d rather face the doubts about what comes next than live with false doubts about myself and my professional value.

Spirals

I had to explain the concept of a spiral yesterday. I’m talking about the mental ones that rapidly devolve into the same black hole of self-hate and pity despite its origins. When it really is a dark abyss because the periphery of your vision becomes blurry, and the blinders focus on all of the miserable inconsequence of all that you do and ultimately are.

I gave examples.

You know, when you question whether this is what you want. And it has to be because, if it weren’t, than what the hell are you doing right now, here? Why do you have to sit through these anxiety-ridden situations with people you don’t understand and who don’t understand you? You could be frolicking in Dolores Park with a beautiful brown-eyed hipster who you don’t care about seeing tomorrow or talking to ever again for that matter. So this has to be what you want. But at the same time, you don’t fit here, do you? Do you really not fit? Or is it all in your head?

You know, when you question whether you should have come here? Or whether it was a huge uncomfortable mistake? And it probably was, because otherwise, this would be easier. But is the challenge all in your head? Something wrong with you? It must be because this seems so much easier for everyone else. And then, it’s your fault again. All of your shortcomings and inability to just deal with what life is, in this moment. But it might all be in your head. And then there’s something wrong with you.

You know, when you just had to say something, but didn’t. And with that omission, you are lacking. People think less of you. Or maybe you said too much. You couldn’t just hold it in, just for a few more seconds just to think about it to yourself. And you’re again reminded that you don’t fit here. You don’t know how to deal with this situation. But then, how much are people really judging you by it? Usually people are wrapped up in their own thing, but sometimes, they’re not. Or maybe other people really are more forgiving than you are of yourself. Perhaps.

And the worst and best part of the whole spiral, maybe because it’s the end, for now – could you just get a grip and get your shit together and get over it? Because if you don’t, you’re going to be forever anxious and afraid, consumed by others’ perceived judgment when it’s your own self-absorption that makes you think that they’re really thinking about you for more than a couple of seconds. And you’re not that. You can’t be.

One’s own head might be a horrible place to be alone, especially mine. And I am most often alone by preference and sometimes by necessity. But everyone goes through spirals – spirals of shame, of self-hate, of inadequacy. Whatever you’d like to call it. It happens when we challenge ourselves, push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and hopefully learn something for it – hopefully for something we want. Or maybe that’s what I need to tell myself. Maybe I need to know that all of this will somehow be worth it. So here I am, forcing some perspective, to fix my head.