Dear Sujatha, My son is in the 6th grade. He is sweet, loyal, really handsome, hilarious, good at heart, but also immature, aggressive, quick to anger, impulsive, manipulative and sometimes he tells lies, though he can also be remarkably truthful! Here’s my problem: yesterday I […]
A post to tell you some bits of the worst thing that happened. Understand if I cannot give you more details. Understand if this reads like fiction. Believe me that it is not. Understand if this sounds like poetry. Forgive me if I seem coy. […]
This Year of Flossing Regularly, where I hope to arrive at my 50th birthday happier, stronger, smarter, wiser, healthier, and braver, has resulted in all sorts of thought-provoking discoveries. Things are burbling up all the time and causing me to think about my reactions, and to consider my habitual thought process and behaviors. It’s been a revelatory month. Since my eyes are wide open and looking for the fucks, I see them when they emerge, I tag them in my mind, and I think about them long and hard. Sharing them here with you is keeping me honest and vigilant.
One by one, here are my thoughts on the fucks that emerged on Election Day. We will discuss, then they get burnt. A lot surfaced, like worms on a rainy day, except worms are heroes and these are fucks, meaning they’re good for nothing and must go. If you haven’t read the events of Election Day and you find you don’t know what I’m talking about and you want to know, you can read that post here.
Facts: At 6am, I was alone at my table, waiting in the dark. The other table had a whole host of people and they were laughing and having a ball, as they should, because Election Day is fun. One of them called out to me, “Are you alone today?” I called back, “No, I have people coming.” They laughed.
My Reaction: His calling that out and all of them then laughing made me nervous. I felt afraid, awkward, and alone. And because I am in a process of noticing when things feel uncomfortable, I put a pin in the emotion to examine later. What I realized upon review was that this was not an unfamiliar feeling, though it has been a long while since. It’s a feeling from way, way back. I felt like a child who didn’t fit in. Sort of like I felt in Mrs. McCarthy’s abusive preschool .
Facts: Then that one man came over, and with a big smile on his face asked for one of my Resistance stickers and I thought he was a Democrat and that his request was sincere. Instead, I discover that he was pretending to be “on my team” to snag a sticker, but then he went over to “the other team,” and mocked me. They passed my sticker around and laughed, and when other voters and volunteers came up, they showed it to that newcomer and laughed.
My Reaction: There I was, a grown woman feeling intimidated. It felt like my neighbors were ganging up and laughing at me. Well, because my neighbors were ganging up and laughing at me. But, here’s the thing: I took it personally. Have you heard about The Four Agreements? One of them says not to take things personally. The way people behave has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them. I felt mocked when they laughingly called out asking if I was alone. I felt mocked when they passed my sticker around and laughed at me. But I was nice to him, and I really and truly believe in the sentiment expressed on the sticker. They were laughing and mocking but it had nothing to do with me, it had everything to do with them. They like the President and they believe in what he stands for, and they can’t stand that Democrats don’t, and that we are resisting, and that we’ve made swag. It had nothing to do with me and everything to do with what they think, both ideologically and with regard to how they treat other people. It’s not me, it’s them.
This hasn’t happened in years. When I worked my last office job, there were two people who, during big meetings, would take a legal pad to cover their mouths and whisper to each other when I spoke. One of them was a notorious office bully who routinely went to great lengths to make my job harder, and he was a very powerful person there. I have often wished I could go back to those meetings, so I could stop mid-sentence, look them dead in the eye and say, “Is there something you’d like to share with the group?” Election Day wasn’t even the same as this. Lighthearted precinct bullying does not impact my ability to do my job, so it is interesting and irrational that I felt intimidated, awkward, alone and unnerved.
So here’s fuck #1 to burn: I will stop feeling things like a 3-year old girl locked in her daycare provider’s bathroom or in the back of her station wagon being mocked and excluded because the red-headed boy called her a nigger. That had nothing to do with me either. And I’m grown now, and next time I feel this way, I will remember that it has nothing to do with me and I won’t instinctively feel afraid and alone, and I won’t take it personally. I will remember that all is well and that fuck is burnt.
Facts: At 6:30am, Ben whose name is not Ben ambled over and picked up my entire stack of stickers and walked away with them, declaring them “un-American” and “unpatriotic,” and issuing a unilateral edict that they were not worthy of being displayed on Election Day.
My Reaction: Immediately upon his taking my stickers, I felt like when that kid stole my bike!! Clearly, my feeling of intimidation that morning was rooted in very old, deeply rooted fears that go way back of feeling unsafe and of having no agency, and therefore needing backup and protection, which is why I begged Wes to stay and then texted Craig to hurry up. I am astonished and embarrassed to realize this is how I felt, because it is absurd and irrational. When I told the story to Kiran that night, he said something interesting. “People are really lucky when they do stuff like that and they run into the right person.” He is right. I am the right person to mistreat and to blithely take advantage of. I tend not to want any sort of confrontation. I would rather just give in than have a big fight. I don’t hold a grudge. I am quick to forgive. I am happy to talk it out. And all I ever need is a sincere apology and it’s like nothing ever happened. I like this about myself, and therefore have never cultivated the personality trait that allows me to defend against people being mean to me or in this case, taking my stuff. But that is something I need to learn.
So here is fuck #2 to burn: I am not here to be abused by anyone. You cannot take my stuff. You cannot bully me. You do not have moral and ethical superiority over me just because you say so. I don’t need to consider your feelings as more worthy of consideration than my own. I am entitled to protect myself, my stuff, my feelings, my time, my dreams, my passions, my integrity. In other words, next time, I will remember how my dad got up, went to the boy’s house, and got my bike back without a second thought. Boy took my bike. Bike was not his. Daddy took the bike back. I am not 4-years old now. Ben took my stickers. Stickers were not his. I can take the stickers back. Next time, I have my own back.
Facts: The same Ben whose name is not Ben, who is is 80 years old if he is a day, who took the stickers, later came over and was rubbing my hands and my arms and calling me honey. Suddenly he’s super sweet.
My Reaction: This is one that all women understand. So again, many layers. 1. I don’t want to make him mad, because he’s already tried to take my stickers and I am now all alone. 2. I don’t want to make any sort of a scene at the tables. 3. He is very old and I know he comes from the era of Mad Men, and I believe he has no idea that what he is doing is unwanted and unwarranted. And bizarrely, I think he really thinks he is being nice to me and keeping me warm. I know I have some residual Pollyanna glitter that has survived this Trumpian nightmare, but I think he truly might not have realized.
But here’s the fuck #3 that must be burnt: it doesn’t matter what he thinks; all that matters is that I am not enjoying his ministrations. I owe him exactly nothing. If I don’t like what he is doing I can remove my hands and myself. I don’t even have to say a word. I am allowed to protect my own bodily boundaries without explanation. I often don’t do it because I don’t want to be rude and again, I always consider other people’s feelings over my own. I don’t want to embarrass him, or cause a scene or have any conflict. But this is the same guy who stole my stickers and pronounced them un-American and unpatriotic, and declared that they “should not be out on Election Day.” Why do I think I have to protect his feelings when he had no consideration for mine, especially when we are talking about him touching me when I don’t want to be touched? It’s a bad habit of mine and it needs to go. My feelings come first. I am an extremely kind person by nature. A decision to put my own feelings first will not impact my natural inclinations to be kind. So, me first.
Facts: The people at this other station who began the day with the sticker pass-around laugh party came over to my tent when I wasn’t there and declared to my volunteer-friends that the tent likely belonged to them because they were supposed to have a tent. Their tent arrived shortly after their declaration and yet no one apologized.
My Reaction: What I want to explore within myself is why I feel so affronted by their lack of ownership for their mistake and their lack of apology. The world is full of people like this, who wrong you and yet when their mistake becomes clear, don’t even think to own that mistake and apologize for it. I need to consider my own reaction to this reality, perhaps in light of The Four Agreements, specifically that one about not taking it personally. I need to really think about that. It doesn’t matter if they own or don’t own their error, does it? It only makes me feel better if I care. I need to work on emotional detachment from things like this. That’s what not taking it personally would afford me, detachment from acts, actions, and events that belong to others. They attempted to take my tent because they had convinced themselves that if they were supposed to have something and they don’t have that thing, but I have that thing, then my thing must be their thing. It is quintessential entitlement. It’s ugly, but it has nothing to do with me. Their failure to apologize for it reflects what they are and has nothing to do with me.
So fuck #4 to burn is this: I will detach any emotional reaction to the revelatory behaviors of others: no frustration, affront outrage, anger, none of it. If they had taken my tent, then I remember that I have already burnt fuck #2 above. If they take the tent, I take the tent back. But in this case, I will remember that I don’t need an apology, I just want an apology, because I prefer to like everyone. An apology would allow me to trust them and forgive them for having made a mistake. The fact that they offered no apology is information for me to keep. No emotional response is necessary. They gave me the great gift of knowing them better so I can trust them less.
And that was Election Day! So much valuable information for my quest, a win for my candidates, and so much proof of kindness (all the wonderful people who came by to chat and make merry in the rain, Usha and Jose slogging over in the rain to bring hot drinks, volunteers who stepped up out of nowhere, Craig coming all the way back to the precinct to help me break it down in the rain), so many people who signed up to band together and fight for our country against dark forces that threaten us from within. There is one more interesting story to tell, but it belongs in an other post, so I will share that then, but remember that I told you there was one more story from Election Day. That one is about Nikki and her adventures at Great Falls Precinct.
It was a good day for the dragon who had her fill of delicious, long-marinated fucks. She burnt them to a crisp and gobbled them down in one single gulp. It is a good year for dragons, so many fucks on the field and so many more on the horizon.
Okay guys. The VA Governor’s Election is over, and I will write a blogpost about my takeaways, adventures, and experiences with that, but it will take me a minute to articulate, so in the meantime, I went into that Facebook thread from a few weeks […]
I am moved to defend myself against a specific criticism that has followed me my whole life. Let’s burn some fucks.
Recently I saw this video. I can’t stop watching. It’s young girls dancing flamenco and if you haven’t seen it, watch before you read this. You won’t know what I’m talking about if you haven’t seen it. Anyway, these girls are completely in their power. I realize that maybe they are not at all in their power. Their passion, magnitude, force, and gravity might be for show; dancers are actresses of movement. A prayer for these girls: please let no man watching them dancing so fully emboldened, so in possession of their bodies, so captivating with their independence, their allure emanating from so deep inside them that we can’t turn our eyes away, please let no man allow himself the malevolent folly of confusing all this power with sexual/emotional maturity. These are little girls, but men often don’t care. If you project that magnetism, you’re adult enough. Two thoughts: 1. These girls are being allowed to fully possess their power and to project themselves as they wish, and 2. These girls are in danger of exploitation. Which leads me to today’s fuck-to-be-burnt.
I was born the way I see these girls. Granted, the way I see these girls is not necessarily what these girls are. But the way they portray themselves through dance is how I saw myself. But, I was a brown girl in a completely white world with a mother who had a long, black braid and wore a sari, and a dad who was brainy and capable, and though the spirit was in me, I was afraid a lot of the time. That feeling shines in my memory, the fear that someone was going to hurt my dad especially, because he was brown and he wasn’t an American. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have any other family here and I didn’t even have any siblings yet, so I was not deep with people. I was always aware that if someone killed my daddy, then it was just me and my mom, who didn’t even have a green card yet, and then we would be alone and we would die. That’s what I thought. When I was 4, I got a teal blue bicycle and one day it got stolen. I knew who stole it. The boy was the kind that scared me the most. Even then, I knew the people who didn’t like me because I was brown. I came home and told my dad that someone stole my bicycle, and my dad, who is never scared, got up and went with me to that boy’s 1st floor apartment. He knocked on their glass door and told them very calmly that their son stole his daughter’s bike. I was terrified because that dad was wearing an undershirt without a shirt over it, he had an orange beard, and their little yard had trash in it. But they returned my bike. Just like that. He wasn’t mean to my dad or to me, and I think he even apologized for his son. My heart was beating so hard it felt like a lump of vomit in my throat.
When I was 3-years old, my mother enrolled at the University of Maryland to take a prerequisite chemistry class which she needed to apply to medical school, a lifelong dream she’d deferred because there wasn’t enough money for her to go to medical school and also for her niece to go to college. So she did a master’s degree and figured she would go to medical school one day. She enrolled me in a day care in Silver Spring run by a woman named Mrs. McCarthy. This was an abusive daycare situation. Mrs. McCarthy used to lock me and this Greek girl in the bathroom. She used to swing that Greek girl around by her long, brown pigtails, like Mrs. Trunchbull in Matilda. She would make us eat our lunch in that locked bathroom. This was, of course, because we were the brown ones. Every so many days she would pack the class into her station wagon to go pick her granddaughter up from school. One of these days this redheaded boy pushed my face with his muddy sneaker and said, “Get away from me, I don’t sit next to niggers.” And I didn’t know what that word meant, because I was 3 and because I was the child of new immigrants-this word wasn’t part of our lexicon. I told Mrs. McCarthy that this boy had stepped on my face and said he didn’t want to sit next to me because I was a nigger. She replied that I was a nigger and that he shouldn’t want to sit next to me. I was very sad because I was a nigger and so people weren’t going to want to sit near me. It was an aloneness and an apartness that I can still draw up in my memory, along with the disgusting smell of those 1970s lunch boxes, and the terrifying sound of their metal clasps, the one on the box, the one that held down the thermos, and the one that secured the lid of the thermos to the bottle. I suppose the sound of clasps isn’t actually terrifying unless it is associated with being locked in a bathroom with a crying friend to eat your lunch. I used to pick books from the long brown bookcase against the wall, and sit on the floor to read them. If Mrs. McCarthy saw me reading, she would grab the book out of my hand, tell me I didn’t know how to read, and lock me in the bathroom alone, without my Greek friend. For the record, I could read. The story I don’t remember is that I would throw up every day before my mother took me to school and that my body broke out in boils. My mother was at a loss. She took me to the doctor who asked her if anything new had changed in our lives because he could determine nothing medically wrong with me. She told him she had gone back to school and that I was in daycare. He told her to quit school. She did. I went back to normal. Apparently, it was only one semester and only 3 days a week. My mom dropped me off at 8am and picked me up by noon. I remember it as 10 hours a day, for years. My mother was born like those flamenco girls too and her flamenco boldness is legend, but I’ll save her story for another day. As it applies to this tale: perhaps the first time she had to truly shut her dragon down was in 1971, in Silver Spring, MD, when she gave up on her dream of becoming a doctor because of me. I feel guilty about that. She doesn’t understand why I would feel this way; I am her child, she says has no regrets as it relates to that. Still…
So, I was born with flamenco girl spirit into a world where I didn’t always feel safe, and I always felt foreign, and whenever I talked too loudly, or even laughed too loudly, I was told to be quiet and to stop drawing attention to myself. When you are immigrants to a new land and you are alone and you are broke, your first thought for your children is of safety, not of dream fulfillment and being true to yourself. My parents needed to protect me from malevolent folly, and other dangers that might occur if I drew too much attention to myself. And if the people who love you most are always saying you are too much, and you always feel foreign and outside of the norm, then there is no safety in being your true self. Your instincts might make a fool out of you. But, if I kept my nose to the grindstone and my head out of the clouds and if I was calm and quiet, I could have all the good things. Sadly, I was incapable of being good and I was afraid of being me, so I was just wrong and bad. I do understand it, though I’m about to light that bitch on fire.
At the moment, the fuck I want to burn down is this one: that being myself, which necessarily draws attention to myself (because it’s that sort of self), is “attention-seeking behavior.” I want to state for the record that I disagree with this characterization which has followed me around my whole life. I attract strangers of all walks of life because I am interested in humans and their stories, so random humans with stories find me. I talk to them because I like to. I dance when music comes on, even in public, because I like that, too. I sing in public sometimes, not because I’m good, but because I’m moved. No one was harmed by my mediocre voice. I wear a giant, red, woven hat when it rains, though it looks like JJ’s hat from Good Times, because it is large enough to fit all my hair and it keeps the rain off my head. And I like it. I am not seeking attention; attention finds me. I don’t need to be the center of attention; I just often am the center of attention. It is not my job to behave in a way that makes others more comfortable. I will say what I want to say, laugh as loudly as I feel like laughing and I will show all my teeth when I smile. I will write whatever I want to write. I will do whatever I want to do, and if it draws attention, so be it. Just because you think it’s inappropriate, doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate. Why should I think anyone else’s idea of propriety is so much more accurate than mine? Little Sujatha is stomping and clapping and throwing her skirt this way and that. Behind her, the singer is ululating that low, guttural howl and off in the corner of the stage, the smoke is rising off the ashen remains of this particular fuck.
I read this article today and it’s reminding me to share a thought I’ve entertained for years on this subject. This is not the first such article I’ve seen. It might be the hundredth. We are raising our children to be more fragile, they say, and […]
Every day when I stop writing, I know exactly where I want to go in the next installment. But then people contact me to tell me different stories and things they are going through themselves. These stories give greater breadth to my own thinking, and I chew on the concepts a little longer. You all are helping me a lot. I am very humbled and grateful that I might be helping some of you too.
A friend of mine texted me this morning to tell me that she was gaining inspiration from this blog because she has been catching a lot of flack lately from some people regarding a very powerful, bold step she just took. The move serves her perfectly, it makes her immensely happy and it does no harm. The decision was hers to make and she made it. However, her owning her own power and making a decision that serves her best has made other people uncomfortable. There are many people judging her vocally and behind her back for doing what she needed and wanted to do for herself. It can bring a body down.
As I was texting with her, a different perspective shone clear: this judgement is fantastic news! The judgement of others coming up into the open air is the fucks rising from the shadows. Once we see the fucks, our dragons can burn them to ashes. Until they present themselves, we might not even know they are there. How can we fight the fucks we cannot see? So this is what we are going to do, my dear ones: we are going to welcome the fucks. We are going to be our truest selves, we are going to pursue our dreams, we are going to be exactly what God intended us to be, and when others confront us with judgement or castigate us for our choices, we will think, “YES! A fuck has emerged and now I will burn it to ashes with the dragon in my heart.”
We are in this together. We are not to be pulling anyone down. We are not here to insert our judgement. We are not here to superimpose our desires onto others’ lives. We are not here to make ourselves smaller so others feel bigger. We each get to tell our own story. We need not mold our stories to fit the guidelines and parameters put in place by others, and we need not concede our stories to be told by others while we play the parts they write for us. Those are not the rules. And it doesn’t make sense anyway. We can’t do a good job of living under those constraints, can we? We can only offer a small fraction of our gifts to the world if we are trying to flourish in a story written for us by others. My parents thought I would be a good doctor. Wanna know why? Because I have a super sensitive heart, as in, I cry a lot. Outstanding reasoning, I know.
So I get to UVA and my dad had made me sign up for the pre med Chemistry. He said, “Oh, you will love it! It will be much better taught than the basic Chemistry, and you will learn so much more.” And I said, “Daddy, that is a very bad mistake, I am terrible at Chemistry.” And he and my mother said, “What do you mean? You got an A in AP Chemistry!”
Little did they know that I, and every other girl in AP Chemistry, got an A because Logan the Lech liked teenage girls. And he would stand behind us and put his hands on our necks and then down the backs of our shirts while we squirmed and flinched and did backbends to peel our rhomboids from his gropey fingers. I imagine he went further than that with others, but I can honestly say that’s as far as he went with me and my bench partner Chris (as in Christine). The following year I got an A in AP Physics because I washed Mr. Toney’s coffee pot. Anyway, I signed up for that class knowing better and it remains to this day among the most shameful experiences of my life.
My partner’s name was Julian. He was half Asian and half White, handsome, strong, and his face is emblazoned on the forefront of the crate in which I hold my shames. He was so smart and really patient and nice to me despite the fact that I was the worst Chemistry partner in the history of the world. Literally, the world has never seen a worse Chem partner than I was. I was clueless about every single thing, and I began failing from minute one, like when they explain the lab equipment. Once the experiments started I was useless. I used to cry in my goggles. When you cry in your goggles, they fog up. When you are crying in Chem class, it only gets worse. You didn’t understand to begin with, and then as class proceeds, there ensues a calamitous comprehension breakdown, and that is only made worse by the fact that you are crying so you can’t see, and you’re crying, so your heartbeat is in your ears so you also can’t hear. Then there was the patient, kind, yet woeful face of Julian who had to do the whole thing himself while also sort of trying to carry me while I sort of tried to keep up, when we both knew this was a lost cause. On top of all this was the ever present rolling thunder of shame that followed me around everywhere I went. And that was lab class. Then there was recitation, where you went to go over all the homework, and lab write-ups. You know how in Chemistry there’s “moles.” Ya.
Our section TA was young and from some Eastern European country. She was so disgusted with me. Rightly so. I didn’t understand anything, and I hadn’t understood anything from the 11th grade on, and I couldn’t ask for help. You know when you are so far gone you can’t ask for help? That was me. So before too long, I just stopped going to class. I just stopped.
Among my great shames is that when I was 17 and I got to UVA, that I didn’t have the grit, or the confidence, or even the smallest clue how to handle this situation. I told my dad I needed to drop this class and he said no, that it would get easier. I was so ashamed of myself that I didn’t insist, and I didn’t go to a counselor, I didn’t ask my RA what a person did when they were in that situation, I didn’t do anything at all. I just stopped going to class. And I failed Chemistry.
This of course is not my dad’s fault. This is entirely my own fault. But you know what it’s a really good example of? It’s a really good example of what happens when you are playing a part in a story someone else wrote for you, rather than writing your own story unapologetically and suffering no judgement against you being exactly who you are. That was 32 years ago and I’ve been dragging that shame along with me in my giant, bulletproof, lead-lined, steel-reinforced crate of shames with Julian’s face perma-sealed to the front all this time. That box is open now, and I’m burning the shames one by one. Shame #1: I went to the University of Virginia and failed Chemistry.