I've been struggling with what to say in the wake and aftermath of the attacks in Beruit, Paris, Nigeria, and this morning, Mali. I've been watching what's taking place in Minneapolis as a community demands answers and justice for Jamar Clark and are met instead with a miltitarized police force, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and refusal. I've heard the deafening shrill of hate and xenophobia towards Muslims. I've read comment after comment, heard remark after remark from elected officials and fellow citizens, from Christians declaring a need to turn our backs on refugees from Syria. Last night, I read, in disbelief, the names of all who voted to ban Syrian refugees and withdraw aid. I sat reading it in stunned silence not knowing how to even respond to it.
I've been paying attention to all that's going on. I'm woke, but I don't know how to respond to what I'm seeing unfold every day. Words fail me, paint fails me. So I've just been quiet.
But today I will tell you this: after all that's happened to Black & Brown lives over the last few years and after all of the racist, xenophobic hate and cowardice I've seen from our elected officials, presidential candidates, and US this past week alone? I'm far, far more terrified of Americans (and culture warring, refugee rejecting Christians) than I will ever be of terrorists.
Why? Because White supremacy, fragility and privilege? That's terrorism. Racism? Terrorism. We're living with it and dying from it every day. EVERY. DAY. Hate towards Muslims? That's terrorism. Rejecting refugees to "protect" yourself? That's terrorism. No gun control-the fact that it's easier for someone to get a gun than it is for refugees to actually get into this country or gain asylum? Terrorism. Forcing your beliefs & ideologies on others who are and live differently than you? That's terrorism. The mindset and power structures that support and enable Donald Trump and Ben Carson to be GOP front runners for the presidency of the United States, a country of refugees, immigrants, indigenous people and former enslaved people? Terrorism. Caring more about an ideology than you do about people, about their humanity? That's terrorism. White men plotting to bomb Black churches? Terrorism. White men shooting up Black churches, movie theaters, malls...those are terrorists.
We really want to pretend that we're any better or so far removed from what a terrorist thinks & believes. We want to look at them and then look at us and self-righteously boast to ourselves and to the world that we're different.That we would never resort to such heinous and soul-less violence or beliefs. We talk about wanting to defeat terrorism, but adamantly refuse to start with killing it in ourselves, and within our own society.
Instead we purposefully allow fear and hate to seize us and and enable us to do exactly what terrorists hope and plan for when they carry out these attacks: foster an environment they can continue to thrive in. Everyone's talking about destroying the enemy like we aren't our worst one. Like WE are not the actual threat.
News flash: We ARE the threat.
This week has been proof of that. This year has been proof of it. Our history has been. We've been here before and we're failing to once again do the work that could keep us from coming here again in the future. I'm desperately hoping we eventually show History that we've learned from it. Until then I'm just stuck here grieving that we haven't.
School gave me access to knowledge & learning in a variety of subjects, but it also gave me access to books which fueled my creativity & imagination. School helped me discover my artistic voice. It provided me an escape from the abuse and hell that was my home life. 62 million girls don't have this chance. Let's work on changing it so they do, shall we? Learn more about how you can support the fight for girls' education here: Let Girls Learn
I have nothing to utter but obscenities and prayers for those seized in the grip of this evilness and who have had their lives taken mercilessly. Neither are enough but I have nothing else in these moments when violence ravages bodies and devours humanity whole.
Between what's going on with the protests and racism at Mizzou and other universities around our country, the suicide bombing in Beruit, and the numerous terrorist attacks in Paris today, it has been a really fucked up week. I'm searching for love and redemption in the midst of it as I hold my boys while they fall asleep tonight.
Paris...I have no words. Just a desperate wail for Hope and some sense of Peace to meet you in the midst of your devastation.
I'm totally phoning in today's #NaBloPoMo post for 2 reasons: 1) I'm exhausted. It was a long, busy day. 2) MISSY ELLIOT RELEASED NEW MUSIC AND A VIDEO AND I CAN'T STOP LISTENING OR WATCHING BOTH.
It. Is. Everything. If I were to describe it in nothing but emojis I'd use all flames and probably a tombstone & Jesus to show how she killed me and resurrected me repeatedly today. Welcome back, Misdemeanor. I've missed you so.
Also: My kingdom for a marionette in my likeness doing splits & rocking to the beat.
I was 19 when I stood at a MEPS station in Pennsylvania and took the oath to serve in the Air Force. I left for Basic Training a week before Thanksgiving and had my 20th birthday my 2nd full week of training. I was the 4th element leader in my flight, in charge of helping our Dorm Chief guide our flight of nearly 50 young women through 6 weeks of intense personal and collective development. I even spent a few days as chow runner, taking our flight down to our meals and directing them where to sit while the government paid grown ass men & women to scream in my face and throw food at me.
One of those women, my TI, is who I always think of when Veterans Day rolls around. At just over 5ft tall she was a giant in presence and voice. The sound of the taps on her boots coming up the stairs or toward you across the chow hall were like the soundtrack to your impending death. The scariest part about her was that when she wore her wide brimmed hat, it was always so low that you could never see her eyes. All you saw was this hat in your face and her mouth moving a thousand miles per hour while she wrecked your world and your self-esteem in thorough, shade-filled ass chewings. Not that you'd want to look her in the eyes, though-doing so would sentence you to standing squats against your wall locker or diamond push ups until your arms and core were searing from pain. She was the type of woman who you "felt" coming before she even entered the room. I won't confirm if I ever saw her smile or crack a joke just to be funny or appear human. That's GS 14 classified info she'd probably kick my ass for divulging so I won't. I watched her make another instructor cry she dressed him down so when she caught him going too far with a trainee during PT. She did no harm and took no shit-EVER-and she taught our flight how to do the same.
She nicknamed me "Tia & Tamera" because she said my smile and attitude reminder her of them. Publicly she said my constant positivity and goofiness annoyed her. In her office early one Saturday morning after PT, she quietly thanked me for it, saying it was why she fought so hard to bring me back when I was recycled (transferred to a newer in training flight) in my 4th week, for failing a locker inspection. "It just wasn't the same around here without you...it was too quiet, the girls were too upset. No one was fighting to hide smiles or laughs. They missed you. Dorm Chief couldn't forgive herself. I didn't have anyone to catch dancing in the day room or latrine. You worked so hard to help everyone else, I just didn't think it was fair to make you redo a week. We need you with us. We need your energy. As you go on in your career Trainee Dudley, don't let the military take that from you. Being a woman in this game is HARD, especially in the AFSC you're going into. You'll constantly have to prove yourself, and you might have to sacrifice more than just what's required of you enlisting. But don't sacrifice your joy-hold onto that because you're going to need that. Lead with that. Keep smiling even when the shit is flying in your face. It'll help you adapt and learn what shit to take and what to keep walking past." This was coming from the same woman who my first night there, threatened to hang me out the window by the keys I had left hanging around my neck and outside of my shirt...and call my mother to tell her she'd only done it because I was so fucking stupid and couldn't follow the simplest of instructions.
Basic taught me many things. I learned it's entirely possible to sleep in a tightly made bed with perfect hospital corners and without messing it up....that folding my underwear into 6 inch squares with perfectly lined up ends was less about how ridiculous of a task it was and more about learning how to pay attention to detail under enormous amounts of stress...that all it really takes is 45 seconds or less to take a shower...that the same stuff I used to shine my boots also cleans scuff marks off the floor. How to lead and more importantly how to follow. I even became probably a little too proud of how well I marched, swinging my arms perfectly "6 in the front, 3 in the rear". Basic taught me how to be a team player and how to ignore the noise and focus on what actually matters.
But as much as I learned during those first 6 weeks and throughout my brief career as a Security Forces troop, the most valuable lesson I learned in the military, came the day I stood at "parade rest" in front of my TI's desk, and listened to her tell me to never adapt so much to my surroundings or circumstances that I lose myself. Over the years as shit has flown in my face and I've been forced to face seasons of living that were less than ideal both in and out of the military, her words have always been in the back of my mind, pushing me forward, making me fight to hold onto a sense of self. I haven't always followed her advice as well as I should have, but I hold onto it and do my best.
That's why I always think of her along with others I served with on days like today. If there's one veteran who I'd like to take out for dinner, drinks, or send just a note of thank you to this Veterans Day, it's SSgt. Campbell-Gulley. Ma'am, if you happen to come across this, I owe you. Thank you for kicking and empowering my ass those 6 weeks. My military career wasn't perfect, but I hope I did you proud during my time and I hope I've even done you proud in my civilian life as well. I'm still smiling-even when shit is literally flying because my toddler pooped in the tub.
Today was hard. I can't exactly identify why. It appeared out of nowhere-I definitely didn't feel like this yesterday. Or over the weekend. Today I felt heavy and the weight of it (whatever It is) overwhelmed me in waves of unease and discomfort thought the day.
I couldn't shake it either. I tried. Tuesdays are studio days, so I spent time trying to evade what I was feeling by continuing to work on the sheets of canvas I started last night.
I couldn't get any of the writing done that I had planned but I worked my way through these, hoping the agitation and heaviness would lift as I did. They were a helpful distraction but not the remedy I was hoping for. On his lunch break and after work, my husband kept asking if I was ok, so I know he could see it too. Sometimes I'm pretty adept at masking where I'm at or what I'm carrying (survival mechanism), but today he could see it. "You look like you've got something on your spirit. You ok?" I wanted to say yes with confidence and meet his eyes. Instead I just mumbled something about being tired and having a lot on my mind and looked away.
I don't know. It's hard. If I can't understand what's suddenly thrown my mind and mood off, how am I supposed to explain it to someone else? Things are just..."off" today and I don't have any explanation for it other than it's just the nature of my illness and sometimes that's just life. Both are inconsiderate assholes who do whatever they want regardless of what you're trying to maintain and accomplish day to day. Sometimes Life and Bipolar Disorder don't care that you're taking your meds, engaging in your creative outlets, and fighting to thrive. Some days they scream FUCK YOU like petulant toddlers and force you to just deal with their funk.
So that's what I did today. I dealt with the funk. After following current events closely yesterday, I read nothing about them today. I didn't write but I painted. I'm going to go to bed early, remind myself this heaviness will pass, and strengthen my resolve to not give up. Tomorrow's a new day. Hopefully funk free.
I spent some time today quickly throwing initial layers of paint down on some 12x16 single sheets of canvas...just to test out new color combos, lines & composition, looser shapes and different impressions & imprints with the brush and brayer. I wanted to explore a more abstract, deconstructed composition. Turned out to be weird but wildly fun.
This last one made me laugh when I finished because of what I saw when I stepped back to look at it. I see an iguana or lizard's face, & big eyes. Which to me is a hilariously cruel trick for my eyes to play on me because I have a severe reptile phobia. (Just typing that made my toes curl!) What the hell?
So now of course I'm curious: what do YOU see in this one and the others?
When you're in BMT (Basic Military Training), they send photographers with your flight (team) to document certain milestones during your training: your arrival to base, the day you get your uniforms, when you get your first ID card, etc. The thing about these photographers though is that they're a real pain in the ass in those first weeks. They want you to smile, look their way and basically ignore the commands your TI's (training instructors, NOT the rapper) have given you to not breathe, move, or think until told to do so.
They also want you to pretend like you're enjoying being abso-fucking-lutely terrorized by the grown ass adults screaming at you at random moments for daring to let your leg twitch or your eyes blink so they don't dry up and become useless. You're afraid to look anyone in the eye, sneeze, make a sound or do ANYTHING to draw attention to yourself...and these assholes with cameras show up on Uniform Day, shove their lenses in your face, and demand you do exactly what will get you noticed by a TI and put on night guard duty for every shift or scrubbing scuff marks off the chow hall floor at 2am. It's a winning situation for them, but always a losing one for you. If you ignore them, they could snitch on you but yet give them too much attention and you've made yourself a target.
In those initial weeks, BMT is a complete mind f--- just to see how quickly you can throw out what you think you know about life and adapt and overcome. This is why I burst out laughing when I saw this picture a few weeks ago as I unpacked a tote to books and memories. I had seen my BMT "yearbook" in it and thumbed through the photos reminiscing when I came across this one. It perfectly encapsulates the struggle facing every Rainbow trainee trapped in those first hellish weeks of basic. None of us were having this photog's "show me how much you're loving Basic Training!" nonsense, especially me because as an element leader, I had to lead by example...and as I recall I was MADE an example many times over because of the photog who couldn't just leave us alone. We were just Rainbow trainees too scared and tired to care about her getting her shot. I think this is more authentic anyway.
Scene: Target parking lot.
Me: "OH- look at that mama with her baby-isn't that baby adorable?!"
Alex: "He is-look at his wittle face and baby toes! Baby toes! Mommie, we need to get that baby one day."
Me: "Uh, no, we can't just take other people's babies, sir. We can adopt a baby that needs a family, but we can't just go GET one that isn't ours."
Brennan: "Yeah, Alex, if we didn't adopt one, Mom would have to MAKE a baby, which is kinda gross-have you seen what babies look like when they come out? There's blood, and mucous, and a woman's insides all over it, because it was INSIDE of her. Like next to her ORGANS. It's so gross, but once you clean them up, and they lose the peeling skin, they're cute. Loud but cute."
Alex: "WHAT?! I don't want a poo-poo baby!"
Me: "Who said anything about poop?!"
Austin: *unleashes blood curdling scream, once again cementing his position as The Baby in the family and the last to ever come from THIS body*
...and yet another beginning because "Being complete with a painting is being complete with yourself, and that’s both an ending and a beginning." (Stewart Cubely)
"What are you willing to go unrestrained for in your art?" she asked me. "What's keeping you from really tapping into and unleashing your creativity, your artistic voice?"
I drew in a sharp breath and exhaled slowly. I knew the answer(s). They've been tugging at me and begging me to give in for months now. A year, really.
Be unstructured, they beg me as I fight to fit and tailor myself to what isn't meant for me.
Let go, they urge as I fight to maintain control. I'm not good at yielding. Survival mechanism.
Trust, they encourage as fear presses my toes into the edge and screams "BUT WHAT IF THEY DON'T APPROVE...UNDERSTAND...ACCEPT...SUPPORT...LOVE...YOU" in my ear.
You're overthinking it, just be, they admonish.
Follow me, the Muse beckons. Pursue me.
I want to, I whisper back. But...
I hold too tightly to the need for approval and acceptance, to be understood, to be valued, liked, loved. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest (pesky birth order). As much as I've worked through it in therapy, I have to say the effects of rejection, verbal abuse and neglect from my father still linger; choking, throttling, and gutting my words and paint. I haven't spoken with him since I was 17, but his criticism still plays on a loop in my head as background noise...as does the policing and disapproval from family and friends over the ways in which I choose to be expressive, to be vocal, to simply be myself.
Unrestrained? I'd like to be. But first I have to let go of the fears and insecurities stifling me. Lord knows I'm trying. What if I did? The potential answer terrifies me just as much as the attempt.
"The greatest majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life preserver which sinks them."
- Henry Miller
What would our words, visual art, ideas, dreams, living and other forms of creative expression look like if we ditched our life preservers?
Here's to kicking fear in the throat and finding out.
On September 1st, at Back to School night, I joined the PTA. I didn't plan on it. I didn't even realize that's where my life was headed until I found myself at a table full of brownies forking over $8 dues so I could eat as many as I wanted. Don't get me wrong, I'm an involved parent. I mean, between Room Mom and Who Gives a F--k, I fall comfortably in the middle when it comes to "being involved". I don't do field trips, classroom read-alouds, or volunteer to be the teacher's copy b*tch, but I DO go to Open House, parent teacher conferences, shell out money for the Fall Carnival and Spring Gala, buy wish list items, contribute funds to the end of the year Teacher Gift, and sign up to bring salad mixes or spaghetti sauces for the Admin Appreciation Luncheons. I'm aware and in the loop but not overly committed.
In some ways I can't be because my life over the last three years has revolved around getting the boys the interventions & support services they need, and well, having another child. The way my stay at home mom life is set up, being available to be in the classroom or running Chess Club or being uber involved during the school day just hasn't been possible...and even if it was, I probably still wouldn't unless the need was significant. I like doing other, non kid related shit because motherhood is an identity I work really hard at not getting lost in. I like devoting myself to other personal interests & passions. I also just like being behind the scenes and contributing in ways that don't force me into awkward moments of small talk with other class parents. I've done it enough at pick up and classmates' birthday parties to know that I'm just not cut out for that life. Or at least I wasn't at Brennan's previous school in Austin where the privilege, affluence, and lack of diversity made socializing extremely uncomfortable at times.
However, things are different this year, at Brennan's new school. We aren't the only Black or Brown faces, and the socioeconomics of the student population are drastically different. While I have a few issues with the availability of support services here, I'm comfortable. So is Brennan. So comfortable that after the Title 1 meeting on Back to School night, when Bren asked for $25 so he could buy a spirit hoodie, I happily agreed and followed him to the table in the courtyard to pay. That's when I saw the brownies. My stomach growled, I heard my toddler screaming at my husband a few feet away, a wave of hormones screamed CHOCOLATE THREE O CLOCK, and as Bren was getting his hoodie, I was stuffing a brownie (okay TWO brownies) in my mouth while filling out a PTA membership form.
I...don't even know who I am anymore.
A Minivan. The PTA. 3 kids. Weeks away from being 33. Stay at home mom. Married.
How did I get here w/ these identifiers?
You think, plan, and work for your life to match this fantasy or ideal in your head, right? Then Life takes a look at what you've got and is like F---- YO PLANS! TAKE THIS ROAD BECAUSE ADULTHOOD AND DECISIONS AND STUFF.
And then before you know it, you're a 32 year old disabled veteran and mom of three w/ an associates degree in communications and a bachelors in forgotten aspirations of being a youth minister/journalist/therapist grabbing more brownies than is probably allowed and forking over $8 PTA dues while your youngest goes ape shit on their dad.
I didn't want any biological children. I took my birth control faithfully. Austin is an IUD baby for crying out loud. I didn't want to be one of those military brats who joined the service like their parents. I thought I'd be a Peace Corps member then an investigative journalist like Lisa Ling or a music critic with a steady gig at Rolling Stone who was actively involved in racial reconciliation work & youth ministry for FUN. At the very least, post kids and military, I thought I'd be a therapist. Through it all, my bottom line has always been my desire to serve and help and fight for others.
That's why at times, it's so strange to find myself here living a life well outside of what I had hoped and tried to plan for myself. It's not a bad life, don't get it twisted. It's just vastly different than what I lived out in my head. Hell, it's vastly different from the one I was living in 2011 when I was a single mom of two attending college full-time, consulting full-time, and living off of GI Bill benefits, Medicaid, and TANF. As much as I wrestle over this What The Actual F--k Am I Doing With My Life Now existential angst that seizes me when my toddler is adamant about sitting on my lap while I use the bathroom, I'm still trying to overcome the feels from THAT.
I'm not complaining though. I'm simply ruminating because I'm tired as f--k and chugging a glass of sangria like it's the blood of Christ that will give me new life to face the tantrums and mayhem of parenting tomorrow.
I'm also sleep deprived. (Aren't we all?)
Life is weird and beautiful...and sometimes it's a smug ass bastard laughing at the stops and detours it's taken you through because it needed you to grow and it needed to be entertained.
I'm still feminist as f--k though. I wonder if that would fit on my membership card.
I've been thinking a lot about the rhythms, patterns, and cycles that exist in my life lately, particularly those related to my mental health. After years of living off and on with depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 in July 2011. Looking back 4 years later, the significance of the timing of such a critical diagnosis isn't lost on me. Since I was 19 years old, July has consistently been a month of conflict or strife either in my relationships with others or my relationship with myself. It is also THE month where definitive moments or events take place that transform my life on some level.
Some examples include...
- July 2002: I enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 while being estranged from my family.
- July 2006: Found out I'd be raising my first, Brennan, on my own without his father.
- July 2009: Conceived Alex, shortly after beginning to date my husband.
- July 2014: Read my piece "America's Not Here For Us" as a VOTY honoree at BlogHer 14
- July 2015: Took part in my first art exhibit + Moved to California
I don't really know why Life decides to show up exactly in the middle of the year and begin rearranging everything I've spent the first half of the year building...or sometimes just getting through. I don't understand why it feels the need to test the bonds and boundaries of my relationships with others either. Seems like kind of an asshole thing to do in my opinion, growth and forward movement notwithstanding. What I do know is that once August arrives, I'm reeling from the impact, my mind and mood thrown off kilter. What adds to this particular rhythm of mayhem and fuckery is my annual onset of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I'm not really sure why my SAD symptoms get triggered as early as mid-August. I think some of if it is due to stress from whatever was kicked into motion in my life the month before, and I think it's just my body & brain chemistry's natural response to Fall's impending arrival. Whatever the case, it descends and stays, triggering the rapid cycling aspect of my illness until the end of October. I also notice a similar pattern with milder symptoms when Winter starts to near its end, and Spring begins to awaken.
While medication has helped stem the frequency, some days the cycling between hypomania and depression still occurs hourly once Fall kicks into high gear. Others it's daily, but usually I just find myself in what they call a "mixed" state: hypomanic and depressed. Only my hypomania doesn't manifest as boundless stores of energy that send me skyrocketing through the stratosphere, and rarely does the depression have me sink so low into its gravity well that I become enveloped in a darkness I can't see my way out of. For me, a mixed state usually just results in my living in a daily state of agitation and unreconcilable tension. The weight of it rests in spread eagle fashion across my shoulders. The pressure causes migraines. Bearing it means I'm exhausted but sometimes unable to turn off my brain enough to sleep before midnight. Thoughts buzz incessantly and noisily around. My focus and concentration fragment into abstract bits and pieces, leaving me to sweat from anxiety while I stand in the bread aisle in the grocery store and try to remember why I'm there and who these kids are calling me "Mom". My productivity goes down, way down, throttling my creative practice and output. I become withdrawn, selectively social, unable to tolerate the noise of social media, and the desire to disappear from it rages strong. I want to accomplish all the things and then abandon them for someone else and some other life where I'm only responsible for myself. It's this constant see-saw action that I am the first to admit renders me a less than pleasant person to live with...but I fight to contain it. I spend so much of my time working to keep its grubby paws off my relationships with my husband and children, I have little energy to keep it from impacting the one I have with myself, and that's what always winds up suffering the most.
Then as quickly as it shows up, it leaves, dissipating until the next shift in season, until the following July. Literally overnight. I awake on November 1st and feel the fog that was clouding my brain lifting. My body suddenly feels lighter. Simple bodily movements like lifting my arms, extending my legs, and turning my face toward the day are easy again. My mind is busy but calm, quiet but ALIVE with ideas, focus and concentration locked in on exactly how I should structure my day, my mothering, our living. My desire to create roars voraciously. Words return to dance impatiently upon the tip of my tongue waiting to be brought to life, and my eyes turn back to viewing my world through paint and color. I become introspective and hyper-focused on dreams and life goals, asking intuition to guide me on where to head next. I go back to being the more congealed, fuller and more embodied version of myself. The one I like and recognize when I look in the mirror.
I went to bed Saturday night with a flailing, disjointed brain chemistry, and woke up on Sunday morning with it having fallen back in step with a much steadier rhythm, working more fluidly in conjunction with other components of my treatment plan. I woke up feeling alive and released from Fall's vice like grip. It hasn't been the worst Fall I've experienced, but it has still forced me to accept it's the one time of the year I'm the most vulnerable and susceptible to my illness, and that is why when I woke up on Sunday, I took full advantage. I threw myself into the tasks that in weeks prior triggered overwhelm: cleaning the house, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, preparing us for the week ahead, cleaning up my workspace in the garage.
It was a relief to feel the desire to thrive coursing through my veins, pumping in rhythm with the hope beating wildly in my heart again. Hello, November. I've missed you.