Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Crushing Nature of Hope

Distance is a strange thing. It makes you question things. It makes you doubt. You'll find yourself wondering about things you never considered before and you'll shock yourself at how ugly your thoughts can turn. At how quickly you can see the worst in everything. How cruel you can be.

I seem to ricochet between feeling too much and feeling nothing at all. I haven't quite decided which is worse.

When I reach the point where I've had enough, when I am ready to throw in the towel and find some way to get control of my emotions, I've found it's helpful to think about who I want to be as a person. I may be a work in progress but I know that I still want to be the type of person who loves. Who loves with everything they have. The type who is always willing to try again. To be open to forgiveness.

I want to face the loses in my life with the grace of a woman and not the grief of a child.

I hope to be able to look back one day and know I always tried. Tried to love. Tried to listen. Tried to live as fully as I could. I want to be able to stand tall and know that I embraced the moments that scared me the most and that I was willing to cast off old plans and worn out dreams when the shells no longer fit.

I don't want to be the type of person who uses love as a weapon. As a sad excuse to try and control the people around me.

When I think about these things, I can suddenly think clearly again.

So I'm not gonna question and wonder and turn my thoughts inside out. At least not today. I will be strong and confident and remind myself that we all love in our own ways. I can't worry about the way you love. I can only worry about myself.

And that will have to be enough.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Power of Ugly

For one of my finals I am writing a series of blog posts. Each one will focus on a different reading or topic from the class.

When I was reading the Mia Mingus piece, Moving Toward the Ugly, it struck a cord in me. The pressure to be beautiful has always been a heavy weight. All of my life I felt too pale, too large, and too...wrong. My teeth were crooked, my nose was crooked, and I was covered in freckles. To make it worse I was too loud. Always too confident in my opinions and unwilling to “behave.” I was often the “smart” one, but never the “pretty” one.

I struggled for a long time with my relationship with my body. Of course I could never admit I was so self conscious. Somehow admitting I longed to be seen as beautiful was wrong. It was a weakness that the “smart” part of me rejected. What would my relationship with myself and those around me look like if I had embraced that struggle like a badge of honor? If I looked at the struggle to be beautiful as a tough outer layer that's made me stronger, more magnificent.
...We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence. That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb. Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us.

The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself. The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use. A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed. The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human. The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour. Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly. Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength.

Because we all do it. We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly? What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us. What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it? What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent?

Where is the Ugly in you? What is it trying to teach you?
Over the years something interesting started to happen though. I began to feel like beauty was something I could claim for myself. I rejected the idea that my fat body was unlovable. That my crooked nose was a flaw. I decided I didn't care about beauty at all. That I would be powerful and bold and unapologetic.

And the strangest thing happened.

People started to see me as beautiful. Suddenly I was desirable. And now that I'm beautiful, maybe I don't want to give it all up. It's taken me a long time to get here and I wonder at how easily Mingus asks me to walk away from it all. The world has told me my fat body is ugly and yet it also celebrates my curves. Am I doing my fat sisters a disservice by rejecting the desirability of my body? Am I somehow reinforcing the idea that my body is inherently ugly?
If you leave with anything today, leave with this: you are magnificent. There is magnificence in our ugliness. There is power in it, far greater than beauty can ever wield. Work to not be afraid of the Ugly—in each other or ourselves. Work to learn from it, to value it. Know that every time we turn away from ugliness, we turn away from ourselves. And always remember this: I would rather you be magnificent, than beautiful, any day of the week. I would rather you be ugly—magnificently ugly.
I try to remember that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then it isn't something I own. It's something that has been given to me. Something that was long denied and can be taken back at any moment. My beauty is not my own. It is something I merely wear temporarily. So maybe the problem is not with how the world sees me. It's how I see myself.

I don't need the world to see me as ugly. I just need to know that I will not be destroyed by the word “ugly.” That even if the world does see me as ugly, I am still powerful and strong and beautiful.

Your Body Must Be Heard

For one of my finals I am writing a series of blog posts. Each one will focus on a different reading or topic from the class.

I'll never forget when my last relationship ended. I felt like my life was falling apart. I didn't know where I was going to live or how I would balance work, school, and my son. But beyond all that, I was so sad. Sad in a way I had never experienced before. I felt abandoned and scared and really really alone.

Even though I didn't know what I was going to do, I knew I had to talk about what I was experiencing. I couldn't sit silently by and let my life fall apart without a word. And as I started sharing my experiences and feelings, I realized that many people had experienced the same thing. They knew what it was like to be on an emotional roller coaster that ricocheted between despair and rage at a moments notice. Strangers on the internet were able to look at me and say, "I see you. I see your pain and I understand."

For that I'll be forever grateful.

It reminded me that I wasn't alone. That broken hearts and broken futures are far too common. As I shared my story, the people I met felt permission to share their own. I learned how people found a way to pick up the pieces of their lives and knew that I would be okay. That I would be even better than okay.

In Helene Cixous’s “Le Rire de la Meduse” (translated as “The Laugh of the Medusa”), Cixous seeks to urge women to write. “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.” Cixous' writing can be difficult, but the idea is that women need to reclaim writing. While Cixous never clearly defines what feminine writing is, in fact she claims it is impossible to do so, she's critical of masculine writing and sees it as a tool for reinforcing hierarchies and limiting possibilities. Feminine writing opens up new possibilities. Through a reconnection with the feminine body, women can reshape language and writing as a whole.

While some of Cixous' writing can be seen as essentialist, since it is so deeply rooted in the female body, the idea that your lived experiences are what make your voice matter is powerful. Individuals are often denied authority on their own lived experiences. What should appear to give someone more clout, is used as a tool to disregard their opinions. ("You're too emotional" or "you're too involved to see clearly.") Instead, Cixous is moving away from that type of thinking and empowering people to share their stories.

Stories have power.

As we share our experiences and thoughts we start to take control of narratives that are often denied to us. Instead of being a caricature or a parody, I become a fully fleshed out person. I am not someone who can be easily dismissed because I am made up of too many things. Like I said in the beginning, writing can help people cope. It can mend relationships and build friendships.

I feel like this post should have been structured better or I should have been more critical of Cixous. But when I read the article I felt empowered to share my stories. And when you share your stories you give those around you permission to share their own. So share a story. You may be surprised what happens.