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My stuff that matters a lot to me fits in a small carry-on.
My stuff that matters a little less to me fits in a small car.
Electricity and air conditioning are luxurious necessities.
Order is calming.
Waiting is hard.
My sister is brave.
Afternoon bourbon is helpful.
Ribs can be cooked on Sterno.
No one wants to leave home, even when a Category 5 storm is coming, even when there is no electricity.
Little kindnesses like cleaning-out-my-freezer casserole shared with a neighbor are appreciated more than usual.
Imminently restored electricity makes a woman want to hug a lineman from Indiana.
Adrenaline crash will kick your ass.
From Mary Oliver’s Upstream: “All things are meltable, and replaceable. Not at this moment, but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.”
Over the past few years, I’ve read fewer books than ever before, and of those books, even less fiction.
I’ve said that the internet has melted my brain, wrecked my attention span. Or maybe the problem is my 50-something vision, or my glasses, or the quality of the light by my bed.
I listen to podcasts while walking Sadie and getting ready for work and washing dishes; I read everything from news to email to long articles to social media to forums to product reviews on the internet from waking to sleeping, on my desktop, laptop, and phone.
I listen to audio books on long drives; the music that calls me is still the music with lyrics I care about.
There is no shortage of words in my life; only a shortage of (the reading of) books.
But still rising from all those words is a longing to be immersed in another person’s thought processes, as well as the ability to make notes and reread, that comes a weekend with a physical book. And I was determined to finish reading a book.
On the top of my stack was Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan. I’d heard her interviewed on Dan Harris’s 10% Happier podcast and I was intrigued by her story and the possibility that the internet is “among humankind’s great masterpieces,” as the blurb on the back of the book suggests.
Part philosophical deep dive, part history, part memoir, Magic and Loss touches on many of my preoccupations: technology (and the way it’s changing my brain every day), one person’s story, religion, writing and story telling.
And Heffernan wouldn’t judge my 2017 reading habits: As she says, “Codices, scrolls, leisure, work, epic poetry, tweets: let’s call it all real reading.”
I started blogging right after President Obama’s inauguration, participating in optimism and a sense of community here and in my little corner of the early days of Twitter. Vice President Biden championed victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and the Violence Against Women Act was strong and enforced.
But life–my life, your life, the life of the country–goes on, gets in the way, changes everything. And here we are.
My brother-in-law’s cancer fight over; my sister’s grief is a little bit less fresh.
Mr. Z and the dogs and I have moved house and reshuffled priorities.
My book is still in revision. I’m back to it now.
It’s time for me to start talking again, with anyone who will listen.
Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
When I read Dylan Farrow’s letter, I was sure that she was telling the truth. I’ve heard enough victims of child sexual abuse write about the pain of their experience and the aftermath on IRL that I am familiar with survivors’ shame, reticence, and knowledge that a shitstorm of judgment is likely coming their way from both people in their inner circles and people they’ve never met.
I am strongly biased in favor of anyone brave enough to come forward with her or his story.
And then a friend told me that her husband has been accused of abuse by a young child. I know enough about the logistics of their situation (who is alone with the child and when, how visits are conducted, that sort of thing), that I don’t believe that he could have abused the child.
Maybe someone actually abused her; maybe someone abused her by coaching her into a story that’s not true. I don’t know. I know that she was never alone with him, especially in the ways that she suggests in her story.
In this situation, I am not relying on what I believe about the man’s character or the child’s likely truthtelling. I know that people are not always what they seem.
Now the investigation continues, and I hope that the truth will come out and the child will move on in safety.
But my automatic bias in favor of the accuser is shaken. I can see at least the possibility of another side. That’s probably a good thing.
Things get weird pretty quickly when your search term on a stock photo site is “feminist.” Women with ropes, women with boxing gloves, women with their stiletto’d feet on the throats of men. Try it and see. Here’s a strange one. What does it mean?
To me the word has meant something simple and basic: pro woman. Women can or cannot be feminists. Men have the same options.
I am a feminist; I happily take the label.
When the pop singer Katy Perry said last year that she wasn’t a feminist, she elicited reactions ranging from “Katy Perry is an idiot” to “maybe if feminists didn’t think Katy Perry was an idiot she would be more likely to identify as one.”
I rely on the recommendations of Mr. Z (who calls himself a feminist, by the way) to read a tiny fraction of the articles in the issues of The New Yorker that pile up on the coffee table. A couple of days ago, he suggested that I read an article by Susan Faludi about Shulamith Firestone. I recommend that you read it, too.
Firestone’s name is familiar to me, but by the time I was reading feminist theory in the 1990s, she and other “second-wave” feminists (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, for example), no matter how influential, were already sort of “vintage.” I didn’t know her ideas and I didn’t know her story.
Firestone’s ideas are still radical and fresh and needed forty years after she first wrote them.
Firestone’s story is tragic and compelling and all too familiar.
If more women and men knew about the feminists on whose shoulders we climb, would more people be honored and humbled to share their label, identify as members of their tribe?
On March 1, I had an idea so clear and bright that before I knew it, I was sending out this email:
“I’m putting together a month of blog posts for National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. Women’s stories are near and dear to my heart, and I believe they are important to you, too. I admire your writing, and I would be honored if you would be willing to share a story and/or photos in a guest blog post at www.angelakelsey.com. I’d love to read your stories of women who’ve contributed to your education and/or your empowerment, in whatever way(s) you choose to define the words and convey your stories. Poetry, prose, and photos are welcome.”
After the initial email, I exercised no more control over this series than I did over the hydrangea pictured here, and the pieces worked together just as beautifully, just as organically. With the exception of knowing that I wanted to contain the posts within the supportive bookends of Jeanne and Julie, I posted them in the order I received them, and if you read them in order, I think you will see that a whole, greater than the sum of its parts, was formed.
Part of me, not wanting to impinge upon the nest that’s been created of its own accord, wants to post an awestruck retrospective that simply says, “Wow.”
Wow to the synergy and the dance of the posts with each other. Wow to the openness and the willingness of the writers. Wow to the women they honor, the personal journeys they share. Wow to those who continued the conversation through their comments.
Another part wants to acknowledge the generosity of each woman who gave of herself and her life and her stories. Another part wants to highlight some of the themes that emerged.
So, in awe mixed with gratitude, I do a little of each, although these pieces are so tightly interwoven that they touch each other in many more ways than I can show here.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Bindu Wiles. It’s a milestone post for two reasons: it’s the blog’s 500th post, and more importantly, Bindu is one of the first people I met online to become dear to me offline as well. I’m very happy to have her words and images here today.
In honor of all the women who have given their bodies
as a soft place to fall
to rest upon
to enter into the world
to bear witness
We are all mothers of some sort.
Bindu Wiles is in a deep mid-life crisis that she is walking, writing and photographing her way through. She has an undergraduate degree in fine art (photography) and 3 graduate degrees because the one she really wanted all along was an MFA in writing, which she finally received at 47 years of age from Sarah Lawrence College. The tattoo on her left forearm sums up her life motto: Art Saves Lives. She has completed a 300 page memoir, her essays have been published in various literary journals, she is bringing more of the under 12 years of age crowd into her life, and is always up for a good laugh. In fact, she is trying to stay in a state of silly as an approach to aging.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Sally G. It’s an honest and heartfelt account of one woman’s process of becoming her Self, a woman to be honored.
The moment I saw Angela’s introduction to this Nest Making series – I felt its importance. Like a quiet call to action, it captured my heart immediately. Something inside me shifted, and part of me stepped a little more fully into Who I Am.
A blog post immediately flowed through me, honouring the quiet shift taking place right now, online and offline, toward healing, shared compassion, inspiration and support.
I appreciated the way this quiet movement is cutting through the noise of the ‘connection and conversation’ geared more for sales and self-gain than community and service as it was once known and experienced. And I expressed a desire to somehow be part of it.
Here in the Nest ~ I intended to be part of it by showing up, filling with inspiration, admiration and wisdom from the experiences of others. I’ve been moved by what’s been shared so far and feel so happy to be here. Angela then invited me to contribute a story of my own ~ and while my heart surged at the invitation, the inclusion, my mind wondered what I could possibly contribute. You see, I don’t really have anyone specific in my life story that I’d hold up in the light of “you changed my life.” Even now, almost five decades into this journey ~ I look back and see paths populated with those who dismissed me, let me down, hurt me, marginalized me – palpable with the disappointment that I didn’t turn out as they’d hoped, or expected, or – desired.
Please don’t read those words with heavy residues of pain – because in the five days I’ve spent reflecting on how to meaningfully contribute to this series, I realize that these people ARE the shining lights who pushed me to learn about my Self, to trust my Self and to even grow to like my Self. Over the years, I’ve learned that we all serve as Mirrors to each other – each reflecting something back to the other. It’s an integral part of our feeling, and understanding, the connection we all share, that we’re all here to help each other along. Sometimes the help is instantly recognizable and appreciated. Other times, its true value emerges in hindsight, in all its depth, significance and meaning.
I spent the first few decades of my life seeing others as Mirrors reflecting back Who I Am. This began a process of defining myself on others reactions to me and fitting myself into the interpretation of what I thought I saw. I guess on some level, I figuratively dismantled who I naturally felt myself to be, because only distortions of it could be found in the Mirrors around me.
One can only do this for so long though, for the discomfort becomes unbearable and the future feels limiting, at best – hopeless, at worst.
Supported by life circumstances, like giving birth to two daughters, for instance (and feeling a fierce responsibility to get clear about what it meant to be a Mother, a Daughter, a Woman) – I opened to facing the reality that what I’d been doing and how I’d been feeling wasn’t working for me at all. This Honour Student, Exemplary Employee, Perfect Wife, Disappointing Daughter and Hopeful Mother found the courage to accept the fact that “the worst” had probably already happened: I’d failed.
I stand before you to confirm the truth that acknowledging Shame and accepting Vulnerability is a powerful catalyst to meaningful change. Approaching life with Humility and a willingness to learn healthier and more empowering methods of travel has made all the difference. I’m still very much in-process, but I see things differently now, I do things differently and I no longer define my Self by the judgements, feelings and opinions of those around me.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This, I’ve experienced, is true. The caveat, however, is that you have to know who you are to allow the emotional detachment necessary to feel the words of another as merely words.
Looking back, I see my paths populated with Shining Lights, Earth Angels, who created opportunities for me to learn valuable life principles like Self Acceptance, Self Awareness, Non Judgement, Unconditional Love, Forgiveness, Hope for the Possible, Humility, Empathy, Enchantment and a Sense of Humour that brings laughter to me on call.
I am nothing in particular and absolutely everything – all at the same time. And with the help of everyone I’ve ever met along the way ~ I have created my Self to be the kind of Woman I’d have given my right arm to meet at any point in my past.
We grow, we learn, we heal – all while in relationship with others. They reflect to us Who We Are, Who We Are NOT and Who We Have the Potential to Create Ourselves to Be; from the platform of Character, Values and Spirit more-so than personality, lifestyle and career (though we can always do that too).
Knowing this has allowed me to accept the gift each person brings when our paths cross. Judgement, Criticism and/or Dismissal moves me into reflection and assessment. Is any of it true? If yes, I’m grateful for the information and course correct appropriately. If not, I let it go – I don’t have to accept others’ opinions of me, sometimes they’re seeing me through filters I can’t see – and it’s not actually about me at that point anyway.
Most important of all, for me, is that I move through Life serving as best I can as a soft, quiet light to others. I see others, I hear others, I accept others – and, others matter. I’m ever so grateful to everyone who has, in their own special way, contributed to the Wonder-in-Process that I am. And with luck ~ I’ll serve as the kind of woman many of you recall with such fondness and appreciation to someone in my Present, today – so their tomorrow is a better place for the encounter.