Friday, September 6, 2013

Honor thy commitments

So this week has been a little crazy, but what has really prompted me to write is the fact that while I work for my dream organization, and I get to do the kind of work that makes a difference in the lives of others, I have the skills, knowledge and capability to do more. As it stands, I just started this new job almost three months ago, and while I love it (direct services and working with clients, and making a difference), my skill set and my talent lies in community building and creating relationships between organizations. I'm a community psychologist, that's part of what I do, along with evaluation and some development.

Incidentally, the board of trustees for my organization is considering putting into place a position that would do all the community-building work that I also love. So which to choose? Do I honor my 2-year commitment with my position in case management and social services, or do I say, "screw it, I'm going for the job in which I actually have my master's training, and I can use my skills in that area"?

Hence the rock and the hard place.

The key thing to remember, especially as I grow older, is that I need to honor my commitments. How does it look to give up a stable job, and adding stability to an organization and a position, when I just "upgrade" into something after only 3 months of working at it?  Truth be told, while I really want this "new position" I need to honor the commitment I made. My mother (whose birthday is today, btw) has taught me that I need to honor my commitments, and that I need to keep my promises. When I signed my paperwork with my organization, I was committed to spending 2 years in my current position, stabilizing it, and making sure that I helped the organization with its growth.

I guess that means that no, I won't be making a leap into the next upgrade. Most likely it means I will be volunteering my time to help this person and perhaps after my two year commitment is done, revisit the question. 

I will be an adult and honor my commitment. It speaks more about me (and my character)  than what position I hold in the organization.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The constant pressure, and the constant heartbreak

I was hanging out with a friend not so long ago and she had told me about how she was seeing someone off and on. I did get permission from this friend to write this post, but I am not at liberty to say who it is, or how I know her. Basically, they get together, they spend time together, they may be even sleep together on occasion, however there's the rub... he has made it clear they fall into the "Friends With Benefits" category, and not at all inclined to really move past that, for various reasons (he may be moving, he isn't really in the market for a serious relationship, etc). Not to mention, there is  the fact that my friend has not had the most stellar relationship history, so this has caused her self-esteem to go down. She feels, as she puts it, "I'm good enough to sleep with/ have fun with, but not good enough to have a relationship with." 

I can understand what this person is going through, and frankly, I put it a different way -- "Good enough for fun, but not good enough to keep." Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing trend, and rather than feeling like we as women can embrace this sexual freedom and this singles lifestyle we are constantly pressured into this mindset of coupledom. So... we can't just "have fun" and enjoy being single with no stings attached. The intimate moments have to mean something, or lead up to something, or have a label. The constant pressure of being a woman nearly in her 30s and the "biological imperative" to become part of a couple, get married and have babies, is as inherent and as ingrained as worrying about our hair and if our butt looks big in this or that.  Personally, I feel this constant pressure not only from the media, but also culturally, and (unintentionally) from married/coupled friends. I've literally gotten the message of "Now that you've gotten your master's and you have a job and you're settled into your new apartment, your next mission is to find a man and finally join the rest of us/the world/etc in the realm of relationships and family-making." 

I have to tell you that message sucks, and here's why... 

I love my friends, I'm happy they are in happy, successful marriages and families, but that's not a lifestyle that may work for everyone. I am a loner by nature. Some of us are meant to be the teachers/hermits/crones in our society, providing a reflection and an outside persepctive. I joke around that I want to be the single friend my friends are all jealous of because I have no such commitments to another person, but it's hard when the message is constantly coming at you that "You are Nobody til Somebody Loves You." 

What about those of us who have trouble finding someone? Maybe we're shy, or awkward, or not as attractive as others. What about those of us who are constantly bombarded with the message that we are good enough to have fun with but not good enough to keep? What then? It's a double stigma because we are convinced that we are not worth having in a relationship and we feel we are defective in some way because we can't manage to get into one. 

To be honest, I wish that people would just let it be, and not make a fuss. If we could be happy with our single lives, then we could find more meaning in our work, and maybe even stop with all the heartbreak and the negativity of "Not good enough". 

Just my food for thought....

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Emphasizing loss while reinforcing what, exactly?

I realize that this post might lead people to be upset, angry, or offended. The disclaimer is that this is my opinion, and my feelings on this particular subject. Everyone is entitled to do what s/he wants with his/her life, just as everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. If you, as a reader, have a comment, let's keep it clean and respectful, please. I know this is a sensitive topic. Now... on to the post!

So what is the things I mostly notice about summer is the fact that people are feeling the need to lose weight. Not that this isn't something that is a year-round thing, but it seems especially prevalent during the summer months, perhaps because of the emphasis on "bikini" bodies or "beach" bodies. 

Recently I have had a few friends posting on Facebook about their weight loss thanks to this diet, or that eating style, this exercise, or that motivation/negative reinforcement from a loved one, or whatever. As a woman I find it sad and disconcerting that we place so much emphasis weight loss rather than just overall health. I personally know that I have to lose 40 to 50 pounds and I know that I have a bit of an issue with body image thanks to perpetually being on the larger side and being teased and/or constantly reminded and insulted because of my girth/weight. However when I consider weight loss I'm not extremely about it. I know that I have to lose weight to be healthy, but I also know that I am always going to be Rubenesque, and that doesn't bother me. I have come to terms with the fact that my body will always be "bigger". It is just how I am framed, and how I carry myself. I will never be less than a size 10 (in American sizes), or, hell, even a size 12 (much more feasible). 

When I think of weight loss for myself, I think more in terms of being healthy and active. I want to be able to walk and play with my dog without getting winded, and I want to dance flamenco and hip hop without getting a stitch in my side, and red-faced because I can't breathe. In order to achieve the abilities for all this I will need to change my eating habits and my activity habits. I would effectively have to "go on a diet" until it becomes an inherent part of my lifestyle change. If I lose weight along the way all the better, but I refuse to body-shame and self-shame, despite the well-intentions of those who in no uncertain terms tell me that I am "fat" and proceed to point out all the health risks related to obesity, especially those that are genetically imprinted into my DNA such as a propensity for heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. In essence, being full-figured doesn't bother me. The negative reinforcement, does, and that is what causes self-loathing and self-hatred (for me, anyway).

The true reason why my size does sometimes bother me doesn't have anything to do with my actual physical appearance but rather on the availability of clothing. I'm big-framed, but short in terms of height. Clothes for bigger women tends to look like bad drapery or sacks on my body, and pants are often too long or bunchy at the waist or ankles. It makes dressing nicely and dressing for my body shape difficult, because clothes are not made to fit both of my personal criteria (big-frame/short height). For the longest time this was such a problem for me that I hated shopping (still do) and I would get despaired of finding anything that fit or looked nice on me. Then I learned to dress both for my height and my body shape, and, believe me, that opened up worlds!! Not only was I finding clothes and styles that fit my style, my size, and my figure, but I wasn't as prone to body-shaming because I didn't look "ugly" or "disgusting" in my clothes. And I didn't feel disgusting either, which was a HUGE plus for me. 

As an additional and related note, I feel the need to comment on food and consumption thereof. I am not afraid to eat, and I don't think any woman should be afraid of eating!! If I feel like it I will enjoy a pizza, or chicken wings, or Chinese Food, or a cheeseburger with bacon! I won't penalize myself for eating these things, and I can't believe that so many women would do so! Having spent the majority of my time working in an all-female environment in a female-dominated field constantly has constantly reinforced the "ugh, I can't eat {insert 'bad' food here}" or "now I will have to run/walk/exercise/hate myself for eating this". I just look at women  who ascribe to this mindset and take a bite of my bacon cheeseburger with a smile while they force themselves to subsist less-than-enthusiastically on their lunch of salad/whatever healthy food fad of the season. The worst is when they look at me pointedly (which has happened before to me) and then at my lunch. I merely raise a brow and shrug. "I'm not afraid to eat." is my usual response. What they think of me and my lunch is irrelevant. What /I/ think of my lunch and my health is the most important factor. I do eat healthy as a general rule, and I don't like fried foods for the most part. If I can bake/poach/saute/ or guisar something, then I will do it over the frying any day. I eat rice maybe once or twice a week, and I try to balance my plate when I eat. That's my personal choice, and based on good nutrition advice from friends who are actually nutritionists and are actually certified to tell me what might be good options for my body. 

My point is, ultimately, do not condemn yourself or others because of this societal obsession with weight loss. As a woman, I want to encourage my fellow chromosome XX'ers to eat what makes you happy, but do it in proportion. Most of all, love yourself, stretch marks, flab, and imperfections and all. Be healthy, not obsessive. Be mindful, not critical. Enjoy your favorite ice cream and your favorite pizza, and don't worry about counting calories. We come in all shapes and sizes, colors, and heights, and it's glorious!

Peace, love, and acceptance!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Intelligence as a barrier

"No one wants to push you because you are intimidating."

"I am not intimidating!"

"Intelligence is very intimidating."

These are snippets of a conversation I was having with a friend recently, and obviously I was rather offended/indignant that he would ever describe me as intimidating. I have always thought of myself as rather the opposite of intimidating. Then I remembered a different conversation when I was volunteering with some young women whom I was teaching about creative journaling. The topic had been roadblocks and challenges. One of them said to me, "Surely you don't need all this. You have your whole life together." She was referring to the fact that I am in school for a master's degree, not living at a shelter, and, in her mind, I was as far away from her situation as I could possibly be. We had no common ground. I was the "expert" and the "outsider". I was intimidating because I had education...

I recall a conversation on the same topic during my first-year research methods course, where my professor reminded us that our education would set us apart from the people we serve, especially in their eyes. Education places us in an ivory tower far "above" the regular folk, makes us "experts", and, yes, intimidates them.

Even when we don't want it to.
Even when we wish it didn't.

I have been considered "smart" and "intelligent" my entire life. It is, in fact, a label of self-identification for me. I was an above-average student. My critical thinking skills and my ability to acquire knowledge quickly often got me labelled as a nerd, a geek, a weirdo (labels I absolutely embrace now). I was different because I was smart, and because I was smart I didn't fit in. I learned to be a loner, an introvert, and to pretend that it didn't matter that my classmates didn't want to play with me, or include me. I was smarter. I was going places they weren't... I made myself intimidating so that I didn't have to suffer their rejection. But I did. I suffered it, just like any child would. I suffered rejection because I was different when all I wanted was to fit in, to have friends, to be just like everyone else. 

As an adult, I often find that my intelligence still gets in my way. It pushes away potential relationships and friendships. My inability to think in "simpler" or "common" terms (not my own words, but others') makes it harder for me to communicate with regular people. In my work it makes it hard for me to relate to groups in which I would otherwise belong. It even puts barriers between my family members and me. I am currently one of about five in my family that is able to add a master's degree to my educational experience. While it is a source of pride, it has its drawbacks.  I am often told that I can say something in 20 words when only 5 are necessary. Party games, like Taboo, are difficult, because I can't make it simple. I don't think in simple terms because I don't know how. I don't communicate in simple terms because I don't process information that way.  Whether I like it or not, I am intimidating, even when I try not to be.

This can become a potential hazard in my worklife, because often then populations I serve may not have the same educational background I do, nor do they process information the same way. Over the course of the next few months, I will have to determine how to overcome these barriers presented by a trait I have always admired and prided myself upon.

Ideas and comments are welcome!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Spring Break that wasn't. ..

Well...The spring break that wasn't is almost over. I find it is hitting me harder this year than it normally does. I don't like to whine on such a public forum, but I feel the need to rant a bit. I have worked every spring break since my undergrad, but for some reason this one, like this past Christmas break, feels particularly unsatisfying.  I am not rested, I am not ahead of my tasks, and I feel like I haven't done anything constructive neither creatively nor academically. My to-read list still remains,  my chore list still remains,  my unwritten letters,  meditation, self-discovery,  and knitting projects ALL still remain!!

Even when I worked nights, I still felt like my last spring break meant something. Being the introspective creature that I am, I started thinking about why this could be.  Part of it could be due to the fact that I am ending one aspect of my life and acknowledging that might be causing me subconscious panic,  since I feel up in the air future-wise. Another part of me could cite ineffective prioritizing and time management (ironic considering I have done research on that very subject and it is going to be a future topic).  I let too many things become urgent-important or urgent-not important and let the important-not urgent stuff end up in the  back burner. (For the urgency matrix, look up Stephen R. Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People")

Regardless, I feel more harried than ever. None of my weekends seem to be free until after graduation, so I can't rely on them for the break I desperately need. Even my body feels the effects, tired, worn down, and sick. I haven't had a manicure, a hair trim, and barely have time to gather my thoughts. I also feel listless, undesiring to work, unable to concentrate, and impatient.

I need a break from Spring Break...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Cleaning (but not the way you think)

When people think about Spring, they usually think about birds twittering, buds on branches, and cleaning out the winter blahs from their homes (usually in the form of dust, dirt, dried mud, and replacing drapes with gauzy curtains). Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm not the tidiest person in the world. Let's be real, I'm not tidy, period, and with my crazy schedule I barely have time to cook let alone clean.

But, like everyone else in the western world, I'm doing some spring cleaning this month... Just not the type of spring cleaning people usually expect. I'm spring cleaning my emotions, thoughts, and life. Oh, yes, I'm doing emotional and psychological spring cleaning, and that is a whole other kind of beast.

Pycho-emotional spring cleaning is one of those things that should be done on a regular basis. It is a re-assessment of where I am in life, and whether the people and thoughts, emotions, and baggage of the past year(s) still fit. Those who know me know this isn't necessarily a new theme for me, and it is, in fact, something I've been building and working toward over the past few months. It starts with a re-evaluation of where I am and where I want to be in the next year, the next 3 years (short term) the next 5 years (mid-term) and the next 10 years (long term). Being that I am in a crossroads of life, on the verge of finishing my master's degree and trying to find work, potentially moving to a different state, and radically changing my existing paradigms this psycho-emtional assessment and re-structuring is crucial to my short-,mid-, and long-term objectives. I am on the cusp of adulthood as considered by social norms (moving out, financial independence, etc), and I need to start leaving my "childish things" behind. These childish things include attitudes, behaviors, and habits. They also include emotive attachments, and identifying healthy needs for affection. I need to modify -- "spring clean"--  my perspectives. I need to, essentially, grow up.

That's where the actual "cleaning" comes in. Some of these things need to go the draconian way and literally be purged from my life. Others need to be forced into transition with planned steps to the "weeding out" process.  That might mean limiting to stopping contact with toxic people in my life. It might also mean changing my habits including how I view and spend money, how I view my clothing and style of dress, what kind of relationships and interactions (romantic or otherwise) I will accept, and even how and what I eat and drink.

Granted, I know many people who will read this and say I'm a great person already and don't need to change much, but the changes that I need to make are internal and behind-the-scenes. Some of these changes include getting professional psychological help in order to address some of my concerns. Other changes might require some very helpful, very patient friends to guide me with their skills sets or to support me when I feel like the process isn't going the way it should.

Either way, 'tis the season for Spring Cleaning, and it will start with me!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On being the "Peaceful Warrior"

This is a topic that's been on my mind for some time off and on, but it came to a head tonight while I was talking with my 13 year old nephew about fighting and why I abhor physical violence to the point that I don't engage in it, even when someone physically attacks me.

In all his 13-year-wisdom, he doesn't get it. What's more, people in my own family, grown adults don't get it either. My brother and I have always grown up with the instruction that if we are ever hit by a bully, we should hit back and defend ourselves. When I was eight years old, I was smacked in the face by my bully. I didn't hit her back. Some classmates thought I was an idiot for "staying hit". Twenty years later, people who are close to me still think I was stupid for not hitting her back.

I don't.

Anger, violence, fear, shame, and aggression are all the tools of the oppressor. Peace, courage, ideas, words, humility, and love are the tools of the oppressed. You can quote me on that. I didn't hit her (my bully) back for the same reason I didn't punch my 8th grade bully in the face during a class trip to Washington after he humiliated me:

What would it accomplish?

Violence only begets more violence. Bullies only want attention, and to get you riled up to make themselves feel better because now they have the power. Bullies also go by many names: Abuser, Batterer, Oppressor, Instigator... At the end, they seek to make you feel small in order to make themselves feel better. They are angry at the world and take it out on people they think they can prey on, those who are "different" for any reason. What's more, we let them. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Bravo, Mrs. Roosevelt. Bravo.

I may be over-simplifying things a bit. However, if anything in community psychology has been the most relevant to me it is the idea of context. It's not enough to see something or someone's acts at face-value, but understanding why that person acts that way. In my work with domestic violence, I often come across the idea that those who have been abused in childhood have a higher propensity to abuse or be allow abuse as an adult.

I could go on ad nauseam about statistics and give you the depressing, and disheartening facts on abuse and bullying, but that's not really my point. My point is that one needs not confront violence with more violence, aggression with more aggression. It wouldn't solve anything. When would it stop? For me, it stops when I stop responding to violence with more violence. Growing up I took to heart the teachings of some of my greatest heroes -- Jesus Christ, Mahatma Mohandas Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) -- people who changed history and the world with one simple rule: Respond to the violence with nonviolence and peace. These world and history leaders were known for being radical thinkers, changers, and warriors of justice and peace. But they never raised a finger against another, and instead embraced nonviolence. They were pacifists, and their words, their ideas, their lack of violent action changed minds, spurred action, and changed the world.

Inspired by these leaders and many others, I tried to explain to my nephew why I am a pacifist, and why I don't like violence. As I said before, violence only begets more violence until someone puts a stop to it. Some might say that a warrior is an aggressor, and uses violence as a tool. I disagree. I'm a peaceful warrior, a pacifist. I fight with my words, my ideas, my knowledge, and my beliefs. Some might think that's stupid. Others might think it's weak. I think that it takes more strength not to raise arms or fists, than it does to physically fight someone. There is nothing to be gained from physical violence save pain, more anger, possible issues with the law, suffering, and even death. When I fight with my words, I still retain the upper hand. When I fight with my intelligence I am finding other ways of doing battle. Being a Peaceful Warrior doesn't mean that I don't fight. It just means that I fight smarter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

One Billion Rising!!

There is a staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women will have been raped, beaten, assaulted, and/or abused in her lifetime. In a world that's roughly 7 billion people in the world, half of which are women, that number amounts to one billion women worldwide....

How does a person feel that's acceptable?!?

How does a person not want to change that?!?

I can't imagine not wanting to do something about it, which is why I'm a member of my local V-Day organization and taking part in the worldwide campaign known as ONE BILLION RISING on February 14, 2013!

As an aspiring community psychologist, I'm taught to think of myself as change agent in the world, and that by participating in grassroots events that tend to catch on (like Eve Ensler's V-Day campaign), I can essentially help change the world. That's what OBR is all about. We are dancing to show the world that women are not meant to be afraid and that we are rising above the limitations put on us.

This movement isn't just about women, though... There are men rising, too! In fact, his Holiness, the Dalai Lama is rising! And so are world leaders. That's pretty epic. At last count 196 countries out of the approximately 250 recognized countries in the world have a rising event going on.... That's more than half! Talk about a global movement for social change!!

If you feel as strongly as I do about this topic,  I suggest you go to the ONE BILLION RISING website, and find your nearest OBR event. If there isn't one, still do your part! "Dance! Strike! Rise!" is the rally cry for this event.

Rising means taking time on February 14 (yes, I know it's Valentine's Day, that's the point) and standing wherever you are for a minute of silence and reverence for those who have passed as a result of rape, abuse, and assault.

Striking means that you make some kind of public stance in your community, whether it's a flash mob, or marching while holding signs and making noise (that's what we're doing) to bring awareness to the cause.

And then there is the dancing. Alot of the theme of OBR is based around dancing and how it is a revolution for women all over the world, which brings to mind one of my favorite movie quotes -
"A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having," ~ V for Vendetta

And it is the truth. Dancing is a significant part of community, of expression, and of joy and pain. It encompasses emotions that are expressed through body movement and music and makes them a part of visual art.....

So... if you're not doing anything this year for Valentine's Day, or if you are really wanting to show your significant other how much you value him/her and his/her gender as well as social justice and gender equity, take part in the V-Day One Billion Rising campaign. It will be powerful, it will be cathartic.... It will change the world!

PS - If you are in northern Massachusetts/southern New Hampshire and wish to join us for our event check out our EVENT INFO page.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reflections on the "home stretch"

So I’m taking time to evaluate where my life is at the beginning of my last semester of graduate school. I’ve learned so much about myself, what I like to do, what I’m driven to do, and what I’m good at.

When I first started in CSP (Community Social Psychology), I thought that my focus was going to be on women and families. I even signed up for the graduate certificate in family studies. I thought that my career would lead to social work and family case management, much like my aunt had done, but somehow in the 2.5 years that I have been attending my graduate program I learned something more about myself. By accident, or perhaps not so much, my graduate work has reflected not an interest in family studies, like I originally planned, but in Organizational Change and Development.

Granted, I love to work with women and children. I love families, and giving disenfranchised people a chance to better their lives through education and support. It’s my passion and my first love, especially when it relates to women and children who are victims of abuse.


I realize that I also love the administrative/organizational aspect of community building. I enjoy helping organizations better themselves to better serve their clients. These improvements might be through program evaluation, intervention building, grant-writing, facilitating organizational change, and clear communication among departments and between management and employees. By ensuring that an organization is evolving and improving itself regularly, it is like servicing a well-oiled machine whose output is positive community service and change.

I never realized this about myself until I took stock of my last few semesters. I have taken courses in organizational change, grant-writing, program evaluation and community dynamics. I managed to find work in an organization that also does work with organizations from an outside perspective, and I find myself loving my job in a different way than when I worked with battered women. At the same time I have an internship in which I evaluate an existing program, and I create an intervention program based on the needs of the clients. While it is all about working with children who are victims of abuse, the more exciting part for me, seemingly, is not the kids,  but in the planning, execution, and evaluation of everything I’ve built, and ensuring potential sustainability through copious note-taking.  

So, now, nearly 4 months before I am to (hopefully) graduate with my master’s degree I find myself re-evaluating my goals in life, and what I want to do when I am done with academia. I considered a PhD program, but it seems like that would pander to my ego (calling myself “doctor”) more than something I actually want to do, or see myself doing. I want to work with communities. I want to help the organizations that serve the underprivileged, and make changes that will have a worldwide ripple effect. How I will accomplish that remains to be seen...