Reclaiming Happiness for Healing

When the movie ‘Flashdance’ came out in 1983, I along with millions of young girls wanted to be a dancer and have it all. We all had the soundtrack album, the leg warmers, and the ripped sweatshirt. In 1983, I was nine years old and definitely not dancer-material, or physically coordinated at all. And in that year, that was painfully driven home every single day in P.E. (physical education) class when we did our exercises to the song ‘Flashdance (What a Feeling)’ by Irene Cara. By the end of that year of P.E. hell, I learned how to hate that song and for close to thirty-five years, I couldn’t listen to it without those awful memories of being picked last for any team, laughed at when I fell on my ass, and glared at daily by the P.E. teachers I had.

But in 2018, I reclaimed my love for that song.

It started on a Uber ride one morning when I was in very heavy traffic and unable to take my hands off the steering wheel to change the radio station. So I had to listen to the song, and when I did as a forty-four year-old woman, I heard these lines:

All alone I have cried

Silent tears full of pride

In a world made of steel

Made of stone

(Lyrics by Irene Cara and Keith Forsey, Music by Giorgio Mororder)

When I heard those lyrics, I shocked and amazed that I had forgotten them. Then I got back to my place and put the song on my phone and put my headphones on to listen to it again while I made breakfast. But when I heard those lines again, I bawled my brains out over a plate of breakfast tacos. Luckily no one was around to see that and my pets kept their distance from me.

I’m glad I bawled my brains out over those lyrics because after that, I began listening to the song and not thinking about being bullied and teased as a little girl. I began thinking of myself as a woman who had survived all that shit and was on the road to becoming the person I have always wanted to be. And that person is one who can smile and sing along (quite badly, I will admit) to this song and yes, even move around to it. It was like I was telling myself it was okay to cry those tears in silence alone in a shitty world because if you listen to the rest of the song, you’ll understand why this is so liberating.

For many years, I glossed over a lot of those memories of my childhood and adolescence, unwilling and unable to talk about the shittier aspects of it. But because I had stayed silent about those shit-times, I had buried the good times, too. Because despite being bullied and hated as a young child, I had an imagination and through that imagination I had hope. Hope that I could live in a world where maybe I wouldn’t sing and dance, but where I would find my dreams and make them happen. I’m working towards that now and realizing I’m so much stronger than the lies all the shit-bag assholes of this world ever told me.

And being stronger than you think is also a message of the movie ‘Flashdance’ as Alex (played by the awesome Jennifer Beales) learns in the movie, too. That year in that P.E. class took that away from me, too but I’ve gotten that message back. So I want to say here to anyone reading this: you can reclaim the good and learn how to put the bad away in boxes and store them. You’ll never forget those bad memories but when you box them up, you take away their power and you remove their sharp talons from your heart and soul.

I recently found the word for this reclaiming process: healing. Healing is when you find joy and happiness that you’d lost, or had taken from you. Healing is when you find the good behind the bad. Healing is taking a deep breath, wiping away your tears, then smiling and singing along with the old songs that made you want to dance.

I don’t think I can stress the importance of healing now. For me, when this word came to my mind it was like a punch to my stomach. It knocked the wind out of me and pissed me off like pain does. But know this: healing is not rebellious and radical. And if someone sees healing as rebellious and radical, they can take that and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. We all have wounds we need to heal from. It’s not an easy process but one that’s well worth it.

Healing is what gives me the ability to write now and bring three very important projects together. It’s slow-going at times but that’s alright. The shit-heads of this world are wanting to burn it down and not nuke us like they wanted to back in the 80’s so there’s time to write.

Most of all, there is time to heal.

Define Yourself

The day before yesterday, news came that the actor Chadwick Boseman had died at the age of forty-three after a four-year battle with colon cancer. No one other than his family knew of his cancer diagnosis and in the last four years of his life, he made eight films, including the highest-grossing superhero film, ‘Black Panther’. Knowing he was battling cancer while making movies makes me think of him as a real-life superhero, and not just because of his strength and determination to perform so well, but not to let his illness define him. Because if he had gone public with his diagnosis, he probably wouldn’t have worked at all.

Now of course there are idiots in this world who are saying he should have been able to work and be public with his illness. We don’t live in a perfect world where people with illnesses are allowed to live a life while battling their illness. We have a seriously-misguided and totally fucked-up idea that someone who is ill is supposed to be defined by that and devote all their attention to it. This is why people keep their illnesses quiet and continue to live until the end. Chadwick Boseman was one of these people, and there have been others – David Bowie and Raul Julia are two people who come to mind as both worked through their illnesses until they passed away.

Twenty-plus years ago I was with my mother throughout her seven-year battle with cancer. I saw the horror of the surgeries, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, and it was why I tried to not let her live by that alone. One time I was outside on the back patio with her as she fussed with her plants and she asked me why I was outside with her instead of off doing something on my own. I in turn asked her, “Do I have to tell you why I’m out here with you?” She said no and we went back to our conversation and her plants. There was no need to for me to say I was spending time with her because I knew I wouldn’t have the time I wanted to with her, but also I wanted to treat her as she was, not defined by her damned illness.

This morning I’m thinking of how it feels to be defined by one thing when each and every one of us is so much more. I feel like we’re put into a box and told to stay there and that if we leave that box we’re either too fragile to be outside or that we’re breaking some rule that’s not a law.

To that I say: fuck that shit.

If you define people in this world by one thing and try to box them up, I don’t give a flying-fuck how good your intentions are. Take those good intentions and go to Hell and get roasted by Satan for an eternity.

We all have our good and bad days, some more than others. But that’s called life and we don’t have to be all or one way all the damn time. I don’t have to define myself as one thing, or to act a certain way all the time. And most of all, I’m allowed to fuck up, slip up, and even crack up once in a while. This feeling that you have to be one thing all the damn time is fucking hell, and totally fucking wrong. Yet this is what drives people into silence, and trust me, keeping shit to yourself isn’t easy. Because when you do, you take a lot of shit from people who are either just thoughtless assholes or casually cruel. Yet in order not to capsize your boat and go under, you stay silent and take their shit.

Most people don’t want to talk about the hard shit in life such as mortality and realizing to the core of your soul that your time on Earth is limited. You have to deal with huge waves of regret and guilt, most of which are total bullshit.

Chadwick Boseman knew he was on borrowed time, and he also knew the huge risks he was taking in working like he did because his illness could have taken a sudden turn for the worse. Yet he made the most of the time he was given, shared his gifts with the world, and will be remembered for those performances and for the life he led. He didn’t let one thing define him, and he sure as hell didn’t let anyone put him in a box. He shined, and always will even as he is with the Ancestors now.

Don’t define yourself by one thing, and don’t let anyone put you in a box and keep you there. Stay silent if you choose to, but know this: we are all so much stronger than some motherfucking assholes may say. Don’t listen to anyone who says you are weak and fragile, and don’t let that define you.

Don’t let anyone define your or your life. Live your life to the fullest no matter how much time you have on this Earth. Be strong.

#WakandaForever

Writing Through Grief

Many years ago, before my mother died, I heard I was too comfortable talking about death.

I wasn’t comfortable at all. I just learned to talk about it because I knew it was going to happen. There was no comfort in talking about it or what would have to be done when it came. In fact, the first time my mother and father sat down with me to talk about their deaths and what would need to be done… I got up and walked out of the room. They never held that against me but for many years, I felt enormous shame and guilt that I had done that. I was maybe twenty-one or twenty-two years old (I’m a bit hazy on the exact time frame), just a scared kid really and they knew that. But I knew I was being asked to put my fears aside and prepare for what was coming and I had to learn how to control my emotions and focus on the tasks at hand.

But there was no comfort in that and hearing that hurt me deeply. I tried to write it off as thoughtless bullshit or casual cruelty. But there is no justification for either one. Whether you’re thrust into the grieving process by sudden death or slowly pulled into it by a long, slow march to death, there is never any comfort in death. Yes, death takes away suffering from the person who died, but it leaves those behind with pain that only eases over time.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be writing about my grief. In October of this year it will be eighteen years since my mother died, and it’s been nine years since my father died. Both died after long and protracted illnesses I was there for every step of the way. Yet I was not given the opportunity to talk about my feelings while they were alive as I felt like people couldn’t handle what I was going through, or didn’t want to deal with me and my feelings. So I boxed those feelings up and put them away. Over the last couple of years, I opened those boxes and went through everything I put into them.

Writing about my grief is my grief-into-purpose moment. So many of us are grieving right now: for our loved ones who’ve gone before us, for those we’re watching on that final journey, for those we know who share our pain, and for a world that is changing, and for the fear and violence in our world now.

I have heard accusations in the past that I was trying to be a martyr for talking about my feelings, or that I was being a martyr for not talking about them at all. It was like if I tried to say something, I was only doing it for martyrdom. But if I said nothing I was also doing that for martyrdom.

I have never, ever, been comfortable with attention on myself. I experienced a lot of humiliation and pain whenever I did seek attention when I was young, so much so that I tried to run and hide and only step onto a stage in my imagination. Again, maybe it was just thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty but there is no justification for either one. I want to say this to anyone who thinks a quiet person breaks their silence for attention or worse, some sort of martyrdom: no, that’s not what’s it about at all.

I think it’s good to see and hear people talking about grief and loss. It’s good to see it move past funerals and graveside services. It’s good that people are saying I understand your pain because I have felt pain, too. And most of all, I’m glad there is a man who is inspiring people to work for a better world by saying we have to turn grief into purpose (Joe Biden, 2020).

Cruelty to me is an absence of emotion, and not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. I will not absolve it, and my way of forgiveness for it is to describe it like this: forgiveness is when I remove razor-sharp talons from my heart and soul, wash the blood off, clean and stitch my wound close, then put a bandage over it. In time, I will learn to let go of the pain, and to know that I don’t have to let myself be hurt like that again.

Grief is not a razor-sharp talon in my flesh. It’s a shock to the heart, a body-blow that knocks the wind out of you. But you can recover from that, stand up straight, and breathe through the pain. And you learn to breathe again by feeling your emotions, and putting them into words. You don’t really breathe, or live in silence. Grief does not need to be silent, not in your mind, your heart, or your soul. Words and memories will always be there, even if you box them up and put them away.

When you’re ready, you’ll open those boxes and go through everything. And you’ll find the words for your feelings. And you’ll have a shield against cruelty, against those who would harm you for speaking your truth, and your feelings. I choose to write about my grief, and to break my silence over it.

Writing For Therapy, Knowledge, and Healing

Four years ago, I set out to use writing to try and figure out why I thought and felt the way I did. This is what I call writing as therapy because I was working through mental and emotional shit to gain knowledge. I thought therapy and knowledge would be enough until this thought came into my mind: I need to heal.

Following that thought was this one:

Since when did the thought of healing become a radical and rebellious idea?

Right after I typed that out yesterday, I got up and stalked around my room with a serious urge to rant and rage. Why? Because healing meant I would be letting myself feel happy and letting go of pain and misery once and for all. That’s a radical and rebellious idea for me because all my life I have felt like I had no right to be happy, and especially no right to express my feelings of happiness.

Writing on the non-fiction triumvirate as I call it now is not easy at times. But I do gain satisfaction with myself for my writing even though it’s a lot of hard work. And that satisfaction does make me feel happy. It’s not shout-in-the-streets joy but a deep-seated feeling of happiness from doing what I want to do. Yet why does writing the word ‘happy’ itself and thinking about feeling it hurt so much?

The answer to that last question is a long and complicated story with a lot of chapters. But now that I know the end of that story, I can write it. Because to heal is to let go of what’s hurt you and held you back. My fear behind this is that someone won’t like that I’m moving on, feeling the way I do, and most of all, expressing those feelings. My first instinct used to be to retreat, and my newer instinct is to rant and rage on the page here. Now I know I don’t have to retreat, or rant and rage. I just need to write, to heal, and be happy.

But yesterday I also wrote this: I’m not responsible for someone else’s feelings, especially if I’m not doing anything wrong. I will tell myself this now: just because someone has come at me in the past with either raging bullshit or passive-aggressive good-intentions doesn’t mean I have to take that shit any more. Or be scared that I can’t deal with it.

Healing is telling myself I can do something, and that I’m a lot stronger than I have ever realized before in my life. And that writing, Uber driving, sleeping, watching stuff on my laptop, listening to music, or maybe someday having some sort of social life is not out of the realm of possibility for me. That old fears are not my present anymore. I know I can work through the times where I want to rant and rage, or run and hide. Working through those rant-and-rage or run-and-hide moments is what led to this piece now, which I am forever grateful for.

Four years ago, I had no idea what my journey would lead to. But then no one else would have known either. I’m glad I have reached the point I’m at now where I can begin to embrace healing. Healing is not a radical and rebellious idea to me now. It’s not just a need, but something I want to do.

I know we live in some seriously fucked-up times right now. But I also know this: the future isn’t written. We write it in the present. As a writer myself, I write it every time I sit down and put words onto a page. That’s a hard realization because looking at a blank slate and thinking what could go wrong is scary as hell. And it’s not easy to think of what can go right either because of the unknown. Hope to me is accepting that things can work out not just by thinking about it, but by doing something about it.

My ‘doing something about it’ is writing. And publishing here to start with.

And most of all, I want every reader here to know the most important thing I’ve learned over the last four years:

You have every right to your thoughts and feelings no matter what they are, good, bad, ugly, or anything in between. And you have every right to deal with them in whatever way you choose to.

And in my case, that includes writing about them.

I Am the Fire, the Fury, and The Cool of the Ocean

A few days ago I began working on a short piece I titled ‘Why I Write’. But I couldn’t get it to come together and instead, it opened up a box inside my mind I thought I had gone through but needed to go through again. I had a nice ranting piece ready to go but luckily I held it back then deleted it entirely. Why? I have no need to rant and rave and say ‘fuck off’. And I have quit worrying about someone not liking what I write and trying to make it all about them or some other passive-aggressive bullshit.

So instead, I want to talk about what a simple writing piece has led to. It led to a title change and an overhaul of a project that really needed it.

A couple of years ago, not long after I came up with the title ‘Breaking Radio Silence’,  I came up with a piece I titled ‘My Relationship With Writing Is Complicated’. I wanted to put that piece into the ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project but as I began to work on it, I realized it wouldn’t fit in with that project because it’s focus is pretty narrow. So I spun it off on its’ own and then sort of forgot about it until yesterday.

Yesterday I retitled my writing-book project and I’m in the process of overhauling it in terms of structure and outline. But I nailed the introduction and realize I’ve got another non-fiction hybrid project in the works. I call this book a hybrid because it’s a mix of memoire and writing how-to. My other two non-fiction books (Breaking Radio Silence and Intersections) are also hybrids mixing memoire with self-help and history and commentary. I don’t think I’m the first writer to do this but I may be the first one to put a label on it.

But I will admit here, I’ve been holding back on all three projects.

Why?

Because I thought I needed more time to be ready to write and post about them. But I realize that if I wait until I’m ready, I’ll never be ready. What that means is I have to stop waiting and start doing things. And most of all, I have to stop being afraid or worried about what someone might think. So I’ve revived the title ‘My Relationship With Writing Is Complicated’ and made that the introduction to my writing book. It’s a piece two years in the making and it’s a great introduction like the new introductions I’ve written to my two other non-fiction books.

These three books are deeply personal and will be hard to read at times because I know they will be hard to write at times. But I know now that I can write them. I know I can write them because all I have to do is what I did earlier: delete the shit in my mind that tells me to be scared and run and hide rather than risk pissing someone off with my writing. As you’ll read in the introduction to my writing book, which I’ve titled, “Writing Through Fear, Imagination, and Courage”, you’ll see where that fear comes from. Having written about it over the last day or so and realizing I can finally put it back in the box where it belongs, means I can move forward and just shut the fuck up and write.

Writing is sometimes easy for me, and sometimes it’s harder than hell. It’s harder than hell when I have to burn off a lot of shit to get to what I really need to write. I don’t need to justify my words or my ability to write them. I’m not a scared twenty-something kid anymore. I’m a pissed off middle-aged woman with a sarcastic sense of humor.

I am the Fire, and the Fury, and the Cool of the Ocean.

I wrote this phrase yesterday and it’s really resonated with me since then. What it means is I have the fire and the fury of wanting to write without hesitation or fear, but the cool of the ocean not to let fire, fury, and fear overtake me.

So starting tomorrow, I’ll be posting about the new introductions then other stuff, too. I hope I don’t find any more boxes I need to unpack and sort through again but now I know I don’t have to take days to do that.

Most of all, if I’ve got something ready to go, it’s going out into the world.

Origin Stories – The Origins of ‘Intersections’ (aka, my ‘political book’)

Warning: I am a flaming-liberal Progressive Democrat who never has, and never will have much use for conservative right-wing ideology. Here’s the short version of why.

After that awful night in November 2016 when the US Presidential Election was stolen via Russian election interference and that original vestige to slavery courtesy of our Founding Fathers, the Electoral College, I asked myself a question along with a few million other people:

How in the Hell did this happen?

Shortly after that, I created a file on my computer simply labeled, ‘Untitled Political Book’. Like my other project, “Breaking Radio Silence”, I had the idea of using writing to answer that question. It’s a big question because there’s a lot of stuff to sort through. And worst of all, I’ve had to live through the four years since then and I’ve watched any real good prior to 2016 ground down to almost nothing, and stacked up in morgue trucks, too.

Finally, back in March of this year I created an outline that’s stuck even after some revisions to it. It came to me after I decided to start looking for answers from the year 1992 onward. I used 1992 as a start because it’s the year I turned eighteen and voted for the first time. The 1992 Presidential Election was a changing of the guard and the first election set to a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. But that hope died in an impeachment that shouldn’t happened followed by eight years of war-mongering Republicans who put two wars on a credit card but didn’t set aside any money to pay the bill. The hope of the Obama administration was never fully realized due to a Republican opposition that took civility and partisanship and sold it along with their souls to the evils of white supremacy and Vladimir Putin.

Any tolerance I may have once had for racism, oligarchy, environmental destruction, and all-around greed has died and is buried six feet under the wreckage of our world now. And I’m not looking to resurrect that tolerance. Instead, I’ll fight like Buffy with her stake to keep it dead and buried forever. The last twenty-eight years has fully exposed conservative ideology for what it is: all about preserving the status quo for a chosen few no mater what. The term ‘compassionate conservative’ was, and is now a completely dead campaign slogan that never really came to life at all.

Growing up in the 1980’s, glitz and glamour was just what I saw on tv. My existence was a middle-class one my parents held on to by the skin of their teeth. For the most part, it was an illusion at best and one I saw through even at a very early age. Yet because I grew up in a dysfunctional way like so many of my generation, I learned not to talk about it. Because I was to made to feel like I had nothing to say and if I tried to speak at all, I was nailed to the ground with an MX missile straight down my throat.

I have been told to my face I have no ability to think or write about politics and nor should I even try to talk about politics at all. We’re all supposed to just get along, right? Not anymore. Not with people shitting all over science, common-sense, and worshiping at the altar of deflection, disinformation, and death.

History has a way of repeating itself time and time again but I want not only to see where the mistakes were made, but to see what we can learn from those mistakes. Most of all, I want to see if we can take that knowledge and build a real foundation for the future. Despite all the pain and suffering of the last thirty years, and the last few months, I still have hope. And despite seeing the values of hope, compassion, and kindness torn apart by people who say those values are dead, I still believe in the good of this world.

Will I be critical of the Left? Hell yes. I don’t do left-wing purity bullshit so I’ll hammer that at any opportunity I get to do so. I will also hammer at cynicism and getting bogged down in the past. Because as I’ve looked back, I’ve seen people lean in time and again, and in my definitely not-so-humble opinion here, anyone who just leans in needs to lean their ass right out the door. We have to go all-in today because there’s no time to do otherwise. If you want to throw in the towel and say to hell with it, this book might not be for you.

I used to get really scared at wanting to speak out against shit like injustice, poverty, environmental destruction, and all that’s terrible in this world. Now I know I can speak out and be exiled and shunned and live to tell the story. I’m not out to convince anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong. Most of all, I want people to pull their heads out of their asses and really look at things. I want people to tune out the rhetoric and bullshit and take nothing at face-value. And I want people to put it all on the line and think for themselves.