Releasing the Old as I Head into the New

I’m starting out this new year with a lot of re-evaluation and releasing. Yesterday, while I stayed home from my usual responsibilities with a cold and laryngitis, I sorted through a bunch of stuff in storage, finding things that I’d forgotten to return to others and weeding out what I no longer needed to keep for myself.

I suppose it’s sort of like a New Year’s resolution—I’ve set the intention of only taking with me that which still serves me, beginning with the physical but not stopping there.

Some things are super easy to get rid of because they hold little significance outside of their physical use. Old coats with torn linings, broken picture frames, dried up markers.

Others are harder because they’re not just objects. They hold a psychological and emotional significance. I can feel the readiness to release them from my life, but I have a harder time actually letting go.

Yesterday, perhaps for the first time in a decade, I decided to recycle some of the therapeutic projects I’d done earlier in my healing journey with my therapist. Dioramas and collages that had helped me process and grow–projects that had been sitting around for 5 or more years.

In some ways, I felt guilty. I had put so much energy into creating these that it seemed downright sacrilegious to get rid of them, yet I realized that in many ways I had already released what they represented. I no longer returned to them or wanted to pull them out to look at them. I didn’t struggle with remembering the truths expressed because I had internalized those truths. I no longer needed them to help me process.

By that point, they had lost the magic of holding for me what I was unable to hold within myself—be it grief or anger or hope or remembrance. They were a tool that had served its purpose and now were ready to be let go.

Once I had worked through the guilt, I realized that tools like these that have finished their purpose actually take on another purpose.

Their new purpose becomes helping me learn to release.

My journey has taken me to new places psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. I will never lose what has been involved in creating me, but I also no longer need to “stay” there energetically. It’s okay for me to reach a point where I can say, “This has been important to me, but it’s time to make room for something new.”

I think I’m reaching that point with other things in my life as well. I’m re-evaluating what role I want my blog to play in 2018.

It has been such an important platform for me to have a voice, but I no longer feel that weekly posts either feed my growth or replenish my zeal for life.

Perhaps I will move to a monthly schedule or just post as the mood fits. I’m craving less and less online activity and more privacy for personal reflection, so I’ll have to see what balance I can strike to continue allowing this tool to play a role in my life without needing to try to keep it in the same role that it’s been in for the last five or more years.

It’s a new year…it’s time for new adventures! (Or at least new approaches to familiar adventures to make room for renewed creativity!)

 

 

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Books! Books! Books!

I tried counting my books once. I got to about a thousand, give or take, based on what was just on my shelves at that moment, not counting those in storage boxes from lack of space. Most of the time, I’m content with how many I have…or I want more because you can never have enough books, right?

Every once in a while, I get into one of those bizarre moods where I suddenly think, “I have too many books. I need to get rid of some!”

It’s usually driven more by appearances than anything. I see my brimming shelves with books stacked on top of books and in front of books, and the J part of my INFJ kicks in and desperately wants a single row of alphabetized, upright books per shelf.

Then I go through this sincere attempt of rooting through all of my books trying to choose which ones will leave. This week, I even opened up the boxed books, thinking that since I hadn’t seen or read them in years I’d probably be ready to pass them on to someone else.

Instead, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by books, bemoaning the fact that this book or that book had been hidden away for so long. Instead of clearing out shelves, I was adding to them.

It’s not unusual that when I try to get rid of books, I think of every reason to keep them. Even books I hate often hold an important place for me. Some, or course, are easier. I’ve been developing the habit of getting rid of any fiction book I find badly written after I’m done reading it, especially if I’ve given up on trying to finish it at least twice.

Non-fiction books are much harder though, regardless of whether they were written well or whether I agree with the content.

I have nearly a whole bookshelf dedicated to various religious books, with at least a shelf and a half filled with books specifically related to my former cult’s doctrines and teachings. I keep the terrible, awful marriage books that blame wives for their husbands’ infidelity and encourage and condone sexual coercion in the marriage. I keep the terrible, illogical books that twist and contort to cover their own doctrinal contradictions. As much as I hate them, I need them because I find them useful to reference if I need to demonstrate some of the teachings I used to be under.

I do the same for politics, though not as religiously (har har). I have books on Communism, Anarchism, Liberalism, Conservativism, Capitalism, Feminism, etc. etc.

Some books I buy and read simply because they are historically significant or referenced in other important works. I might hate them. I might not even be able to fully read them! (I gave up on Kierkegaard as soon as I established that he took pages and pages to craft cleverly concealed circular arguments).

But I have them, and I familiarize myself with them because books are important. Reading a book is one of the better ways of exploring different perspectives, especially if I have my own strong feelings about one particular stance. Books are clean in that the author has usually put a lot of effort into researching and crafting just what they want to say in the way they want to say it to be as clear and (hopefully) concise as they can be, which means I’m often getting a more thorough and well-thought view of that perspective than I might otherwise get just conversing with someone who holds loosely to that viewpoint but hasn’t developed much insight into the nuts and bolts of their worldview.

Better yet, I can yell at the book all I want—I can even throw it across the room— and it will still be there for me to finish when I’m ready.

Reading a broad range of books deepens my understanding of where others are coming from, which in turn helps me to know how to discuss things with them in a manner that might help both of us grow. It also challenges me to deepen my own understanding of my own worldview so that I can adjust where it’s flawed or bolster the weaker points.

See why it’s so hard to clean out my shelves?!

I did eventually create a substantial pile of books I’m ready to pass on so that I can (of course) bring in new books that are more relevant to my life right now, but the process reminded me of how treasured even the most despised book on my shelf is to me—of the role that books have played in my own freedom and development.  It also reminded me of how important access to books and information is to a free society.

At the end of September, bookstores and libraries will be celebrating banned book week. Throughout the month, many will have displays of books that have been banned, challenged, or censored in various parts of the U.S. or world. It’s an important time to take a look at the ways that governments and communities have attempted to police people’s thoughts.

Make a visit, take a look, let yourself be surprised/horrified/made uncomfortable at what has been censored in the past (no joke, the dictionary is on that list), and finally, pick something to read that you haven’t read before, maybe even something that challenges your perspective.

I definitely plan to do the same…especially since I’ve got some blank spaces on my shelves that need to be filled!

 

Sonnet to Poetry

I’m busy this weekend with a wedding and managing existential dread about nuclear annihilation, so I am posting a silly little thing I wrote the other day when I was realizing how much I miss creating poetry. So enjoy the light humor of some melodramatic song; I hope you have a good weekend!

Sonnet to Poetry

How long it’s been since I have played with words!
Too much has passed since last I crafted those
Delightful sounds that opened up the worlds
Of my imagination long ago!
It must be years my pen has gathered dust,
My dictionary yellowing with age,
While I have chased pedestrian pursuits—
Neglecting all my passion for the page.
No more will I allow my heart to drift
From that which fed my soul in infancy.
The gods have granted me the sacred gift
Of song, and I must use it faithfully.
The words come shyly back to me tonight;
Through ink my magic births creative light.

 

Radical Self-Care Doesn’t End Here

Over the last three years in grad school, I’ve been aware of the necessity for and committed to radical self-care. I couldn’t have gotten through grad school without that commitment.

Now that I’m graduated, the importance of self-care has not diminished, but the urgency is no longer as pressing. I have plenty of time to make sure I’m eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, hanging out with friends, stimulating my mind, caring for my emotions, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t have to choose what to sacrifice and what to give attention to anymore.

Ironically, now is when I’m realizing that I’m easily lulled into not caring for myself in the way that I need to.

Some things that I’ve sorely missed have been more readily done. I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on getting outside and exercising a solid 30-60 minutes most days of the week—which is great! I’ve missed running and haven’t felt great in my body for a while. I really enjoy being able to take an hour to move my body without the pressure of deadlines looming.

Other aspects of my wellness are harder though. I have to remind myself to make plans with friends—to not let that piece of me that is introverted and passive about social activities to drown out the part of me that needs to see people and be assertive.

I also have to remind myself not to become too obsessed with one project or activity. My time limitations are no longer set by syllabi; I have to determine, on my own, how much time is appropriate to spend on something like a political discussion or novel. And I’ve discovered that while I might feel incredibly energized and engaged for a LONG time on one thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for me to remain buried in that one thing for so long.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that self-care was easier when I was in grad school…but in some ways I think it was. I knew how important it was to carve out time for my various needs because I could feel the energy depletions happening on me at every moment.

The five, ten, or thirty minutes that I would scavenge to practice my spirituality or write in my journal were precious. I could feel them keeping me going.

Now, I don’t feel my energy depleting as quickly. It’s easy to say, “Oh I can do that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I don’t need to bother with that today.”

But I do.

I need to bother with making sure I stay balanced.

In the process of realizing that I need to renew my commitment to radical self-care, I’ve been having conversations with people about the definition of “radical.”

Colloquially, it has come to represent a word that means zealous—almost to extremism.

My understanding of and commitment to radical self-care certainly sometimes felt that way—when it seemed like I was making extreme choices to prioritize my well-being over the never-ending obligations and demands around me.

However, as I’ve been talking with people about how radical also means “to the root,” it’s been shifting what radical self-care means to me.

What does it mean to be committed to the root of self-care—to the necessity for balance of the multi-faceted aspects of wellness, to the rejection of habits or cultural norms that delegitimize my well-being or erase certain aspects of my self which are important to my well-being?

I know that radical self-care has always partially been about more than my individual choices. There is a huge component related to work practices in the U.S., gender role expectations, familial obligations, etc. The environment and outside factors cannot be ignored.

Yet how often do we actually talk about those factors as more than obstacles? I don’t know about others, but I have never been to a meeting with an organization to determine how the organization can improve the atmosphere of wellness for those working for it. If an organization is going to get involved in a conversation about self-care, it’s generally going to be because an individual hit burnout territory—the meeting will be about what the individual needs to do differently or what they’re not doing enough of.

I’ve been itching to be able to delve into an exploration of the external factors involved in wellness and how radical self-care relates to those, and now I have time!

Which means that along with reminding myself to take breaks and diversify what gets my attention, I can also finally begin looking more seriously at the systemic issues.

I am zealous about self-care, as a form of self-love and preservation but also as a form of resistance; that means getting to the roots, not just of my own well-being but of the self-within-society because, as Donne once wrote, “no man is an island.”

 

Celebrating the Lessons of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone turned 20 recently. It’s hard to imagine that  I was 10 when the first book came out! I didn’t read any of the books until I was in college, almost a decade later. My parents thought they were evil, filled with demonic energy, and a sure-fire path to the corruption of my soul.

They were…not wrong from their perspective, I suppose.

The books changed my life. I see it as a change for the better; they probably see it as exactly what they would have expected.

There were so many lessons I learned from Harry’s adventures. In honor of the birthday of the series, I wanted to share some of them with you this week in celebration of this incredible series.

Harry Potter taught me that standing up to injustice is something that anyone can do, even an ordinary school child who isn’t that talented and doesn’t quite fit in. From Harry to Ron to Neville, there was a consistent theme of “ordinary” people (as ordinary as wizards get among other wizards) doing extraordinarily brave things that have both small and large effects on the lives of others. These books are a consistent reminder that I matter—that my actions (or inactions) matter.

Harry Potter taught me that it’s possible to find a loving family through the relationships built with friends. He didn’t have a loving family. He technically lived with his uncle and aunt, an orphan grieving the parents he never knew. Even though my parents weren’t dead, I too had to go through a period of mourning the archetypal, good parents that I didn’t have.

Yet, the books provided more than a glimpse into the pain that can accompany something you never knew. In contrast to his biological guardians who try to control Harry because they can’t manage their own anxiety about his gifts, Harry and his friends and mentors display friendships that are close but not fused—that are supportive but not smothering. He models building a chosen family based on love rather than biology.

Harry Potter taught me to give people a chance. Whether it was Dumbledore’s insistence on trying to save Draco from going down the path of his father or the development of Neville from a bumbling annoyance into one of the most important people in the defeat of Voldemort, these books illustrate how people are not defined by their family history, awkward childhoods, or odd beliefs (Hi Luna!).

They are defined “by their choices” as Dumbledore so eloquently puts it. We each have the influence of our genetics, environment, and desires…but we do not have fates mapped out for us over which we have no control. Rather, our fates emerge out of our choices, and there is always the opportunity to choose differently, e.g. Regulus Black.

Harry Potter taught me that sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean obeying the rules. This is one of the most important lessons throughout the books, and can be seen in different ways.

On the one hand, there are times when genuinely good people are in power, and the rules are there for a seemingly good reason. But Harry still understands that sometimes he needs to break the rules in order to do what is truly right. In this way, Harry modeled advanced moral reasoning and critical thinking, something I wasn’t really exposed to in any other way within the cult.

But then there are times when people are abusing their power even though they might be occupying a position that has previously been “good” (i.e. Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts or Voldemort after he corrupts the Ministry of Magic), and Harry, along with many others, understands that it is imperative to resist that power, demonstrating in a different way that blind obedience isn’t the highest good. The Order of the Phoenix, in particular, was responsible for planting the seeds of rebellion that eventually led me out of the cult, sprouting into my current commitment to justice and activism today.

On the other hand, Harry Potter also taught me that you have to be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. Not every time he went against the rules or advice of his elders did it turn out well. He has to live with the knowledge that he led his godfather to his death because he failed to heed warnings that Voldemort might try to manipulate him.

He also doesn’t always use his power for good. He nearly murders Draco by shouting out an unknown curse in anger, and he attempts the cruciatus curse on Bellatrix out of rageful grief.

Part of his coming of age is working through the consequences of his choices and learning that he is neither invincible nor infallible. He has to learn that he needs others to temper his impulsivity and help him learn to compensate for where he is vulnerable. He also has to guard against becoming like those he fights against. What good is it to defeat Voldemort if he becomes as bad as Voldemort?

I’ll go ahead and wrap up now because this post is already getting long. These are just a handful of the lessons I learned from this remarkable collection of books. They guide me in some way every day, whether in my relationships, my activism, or my professional life.

I’m curious now, in what ways has the Harry Potter series influenced you?

 

The Lessons I Learned: A Graduation Post

This weekend is my graduation weekend. As I look back over the last several years in grad school, I can’t help but be amazed at how much this experience has transformed me. As I celebrate how far I’ve come, I have been thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Excellence is not about perfection; rather, it is about wholeheartedness, open-mindedness, creativity, and passion. I couldn’t hold onto my perfectionism and survive the demanding pace of graduate school, but I could throw myself exuberantly into everything I did and work passionately on it while I had the time, letting go when it was “done enough.” The last three years taught me how to dive in deep without drowning in the details, how to create quality work by accepting my own limitations.
  2. Self-care is vital. It’s the fuel to the flame of life, and I have a responsibility to honor my own needs, physically and emotionally. But it’s not a solo effort. It’s a collective one. I need to surround myself with people who also value and honor my wellness and the things required for me to maintain it. A focus on radical self-care is not something I can afford to lose, nor is it something I can carry out on my own.
  3. Success is just as scary, if not more so, than failure sometimes. It take courage to step boldly into possibility, and when I don’t fall flat on my face right off the bat, it takes even more courage to keep stepping into possibility. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself over how scared I can be, but what I fail to realize in those moments is that I keep moving forward despite my fear. I’m learning to respect the courage I find to pursue my dreams.
  4. I am more capable than I think I am. It’s so easy for me to doubt my own abilities—to listen to the doubt of others as well as my own insecurities. I have had to learn how to respect my own limitations, as I mentioned above, but I have also had to learn that I have more to offer than I have previously learned to think I do.
  5. Lastly, grad school has been transformative in helping me learn what it feels like to be part of a healthy organization. All of the skills and knowledge I gained pale in comparison to the experience of building stable attachments with mentors, teachers, and peers within an institution that values autonomy, critical thinking, individuality, and wellness.
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Quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol