Survivor speaks out: why we must believe Kesha

Back in 2011, I distinctly remember listening, for the first time, to Kesha’s gut-wrenching, tearstained cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” As soon as I heard the pain in her voice, and her open weeping, I was blown away. I immediately recognized her as a fellow survivor — of what, exactly, I could not tell. But being someone who has survived both sexual assault and an emotionally abusive relationship, her pain was so real; so familiar to me. This was a cry for help; a declaration that this beloved glitter-covered, whiskey-drinking, dirty man-loving pop star was not, in fact ok underneath all that fame and fortune.

I read every article I could on the recording, which was set to be included on “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.” The song really struck me, because it deviated from everything Kesha had released up until that point. I had always been a fan of her music, but I’d never really thought much about the woman beneath the glitter. Through my reading, I learned that the powerful cover was actually intended to be a demo. She had recorded it on her laptop, sitting on her bed in the middle of the night. Her tears were not manufactured. According to Rolling Stone magazine: Continue reading

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Perspective from a pink-haired angel lady

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For the last few weeks, I have been feeling uninspired and dragged down. A wave of grief has come over me like I lost my mother yesterday. Even as I remind myself that grief knows no logic, rhyme or reason, I find myself constantly surprised by how it catches me off guard and sweeps me into its tide. Despite my best efforts (and of course, constantly berating myself), I can’t focus on my goals. I can hardly even motivate myself to take on my to-do list. January felt like I was running a marathon without my feet even touching the ground. February feels like I’m walking through quicksand; going nowhere fast.

My long, careful progress at the gym has turned on me. My knee injury is flaring up for reasons I don’t understand. Despite going through a full stint of physical therapy last year and doing everything in my power to prevent re-injury, I’m back to experiencing pain, patella maltracking and limited mobility. Needless to say, I’m very frustrated. It’s been starting to feel like no matter what I do to care for my body (Healthy food! Frequent and safe exercise! Vitamins! Getting enough sleep! Stretching and yoga! Cutting out high-impact activities, despite loving them desperately!), it betrays me.

My researcher brain demands answers for my injury flare-up: Is it the weather? Did I go too hard with the squats? Am I being punished for wrecking my joints with youth sports? Am I doomed to stop-and-go activity for the rest of my life? How can I nurture my body when it screams out in pain every time I try to do right by it? Why does it insist upon rebelling against me, even as I pour love into it day-in and day-out?

My grief compounds the injury. Everything feels more difficult without my mother to lean on. She had a way of making everything feel manageable. Without her, I sometimes feel like I’m aimlessly paddling a canoe out in the middle of the ocean without knowing which way is land. It’s enough to drive me up the wall. Yesterday, while in the pool working out with my trainer/mentor/friend/cheerleader/counselor Coretta, I started to weep.

“This is good,” she assured me. “We need to talk about it. And I need you to understand that as you age, injuries are an inevitability. You don’t just go through rehab and bounce back like you did in your early twenties. Your body has to reckon with all you put it through when you were young and destroying it with sports. This is not going to go away. We’re going to have to find a way for you to manage it and not let it derail you.”

While technically (ok, fully) correct, this was obviously NOT what I wanted to hear. I stubbornly fought her, the woman who has saved my life on more than one occasion, by listing off my reasons why it isn’t fair; why this shouldn’t be happening to me.

“I know. It sucks. But you’ll get through it.”

“I feel like I’m back at square one.”

“You’re not. You can’t see it, but you’re not.”

I resisted her tough but empathetic love throughout the rest of my workout, stewing in my anger. I wrongly assumed that if I did all the “right” things, my body would fall in line; that by my sheer will and grit, I could put myself back together both physically and emotionally. It all felt so unfair. Have I not suffered enough? I’ve always known that life isn’t fair, but for some reason I thought that the universe would recognize how much I have been through, and cease my suffering accordingly. Why should I be hurt again? I played by the rules and it didn’t matter. I was despondent.

Coretta left me and proceeded to worry about me all day. I know I hurt her heart every time I hurt, but I can only be where I am, even if that place is Shit Palace. Thankfully, she always understands.

This morning, I woke up and could feel my will beginning its triumphant return. I arrived at the gym with a decent attitude. As Coretta and I worked out on the floor, I could not keep my eyes off of a woman working out nearby. She was super fit and trim — an obvious gym rat — with long blonde hair adorned with pink streaks. Not going to lie, I was pretty envious of her body, and feeling a little insecure working out next to her. Coretta complimented her hair, and we all got talking. The woman proceeded to tell us that that she had recently undergone neck and knee surgery to correct decades-old injuries from a car accident she was in over twenty years ago. Like, we’re talking screws in her neck and building a new ligament in her knee. These were serious surgeries! “My neck isn’t working so great,” she explained. “I have limited mobility, it cracks all the time and it hurts every time I turn my head.”

“How do you do it?” I asked, gesturing towards the weights she was lifting.

“Well, it’s going to hurt either way. I figure I may as well be here, doing something that makes me feel good.”

I was shocked. I mean, completely shocked. Suddenly, my gimpy (but fixable!) knee didn’t seem like such a big deal. And knowing that this woman has been through so many physical setbacks, but still rocks it at the gym and has maintained a body I can only dream of, really lit a fire in my belly. If this woman can drag her ass to the gym after neck and knee surgery, I can, at the very least, have a good attitude about the things I can still do. I am not back at square one. I am so much further along than I give myself credit for. I guess I just don’t let myself recognize my progress. Typical!

The woman finished up her workout, and left me with some words of encouragement: “you’re doing great. No matter what, just keep going.”

Talk about eating a piece of humble pie.

As I pushed through the rest of my workout, I could feel my perspective shifting. I could also see the elated (and maybe a little smug) sense of self-satisfaction Coretta was feeling from watching me have my a-ha moment. I’m not really one to see signs, but this happening felt so pointed; so necessary for me in this moment.

“Sometimes, a pink haired angel lady shows up just when you need her,” Coretta said.

Indeed. Thank you for the lesson, angel lady.

And now, I keep going.

A woman’s place is in the White House.

 

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New addition to my home office. Looking forward to the reminder every day.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with two parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be; even the president of the United States.

As a little girl, I asked my mother why, if women can do anything men can do, has there never been a woman president?

“There will be one day,” she told me firmly. “By the time you’re my age, there will be. Maybe it will even be Hillary Clinton.”

I couldn’t help but notice a wistful look in my mother’s eyes whenever she talked about Hillary Clinton. It was clear she had the utmost respect for the woman, both as a person, and a politician. I remember how, when Hillary would speak, my mother would nudge me and say, “that’s Hillary Clinton. She’s one of the smartest people in the world.”

Perhaps, my mother’s admiration for Clinton came from spending the majority of her own working life in industries that were boys’ clubs. In college, she’d been a math major. One professor accused her of cheating because she got an ‘A’ on a difficult exam, and because she was female, he didn’t believe that was possible. As a twenty-something, she was an insurance executive, back when few women were climbing the corporate ladder. She rose quickly through the ranks, but was constantly underestimated in her abilities and assumed to be the secretary as she sat in on important meetings. Later on, she became a high school athletic director; one of the few women in Connecticut holding such a position.

My mother felt the limitations of the glass ceiling intimately in her own work life. She felt the pressure to be perfect; to be better than the men but for only half the credit. She felt the pain of being treated with disdain, and of having to routinely work with people who hated her just for being an outspoken and driven woman. She was called terrible things behind her back — shrewd, bitch, tyrant, insufferable, fat cow. And those were only the words people said to or around me, her young, impressionable daughter. So I can only imagine what they were saying out of my earshot. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton and the trap of acceptable female behavior

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“She’s as power hungry as they come. She thinks she’s entitled to the presidency and doesn’t care what she has to do to get it.”

“She’s just not likable or charismatic. She doesn’t seem real to me.”

“She’s secretive, cold and calculating. She flip-flops constantly. She’s just plain dishonest and can’t be trusted.”

I spend a fair amount of time reading about and engaging in politics online, and I see these refrains repeated about Hillary Clinton over and over again, ad nauseum. Discouragingly, they’re often perpetuated by fellow liberals whom I like and respect. These are gendered and shadowy claims that speak to our country’s collective discomfort with the idea of a woman in the highest office of the United States. Yet, trying to expose their inherent sexism is dizzying. One of the reasons sexism can be difficult to call out is because it’s so often insidious and coded. Further, no one will ever admit to it.

When I suggest that the aforementioned statements hint at a subtle sexism towards Clinton, and ask for demonstrable facts to back them up, I’m met with rebuke: “I’m not sexist! I support and respect Elizabeth Warren. I totally would have voted for her if she ran!” This reasoning is essentially the “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” of misogynist liberal politics. It’s maddening trying to engage, but it feels even worse to let it slide by. Continue reading

My foolproof method of shutting down men who tell me to smile

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Photo Credit: Flickr user dotbenjamin

As a woman, I am told to smile a lot by men. When I was a mid-twenty-something living in New York City, I was probably told to smile 3-5 times a week. Now that I am the big 3-0, and living in a much smaller town in New Jersey, it’s less of an issue. But I’d still say it happens to me about once a month or so. For most of my life, I would respond to these requests by simply ignoring them, or offering a rueful grimace in return that screamed, “ISN’T THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?!”

I distinctly remember one instance, back in 2013, a few weeks after my mother died. I was walking through the city rocking my TBF (thinking bitch face) with my headphones on, working through some things in my mind; namely, how the hell am I going to get through this?!

“Smile, sweetheart!” A man standing on the corner barked at me, loud enough to hear through my over-ear headphones. I was incensed. How dare he tell me to smile when I was feeling such pain? Who did he think he was? I’m a human being, not a doll! I thought. Frustrated, I ignored him. But his words burned me for blocks. Why hadn’t I said something? Why was I letting him ruin my walk, which was already pretty dang sad in the first place? It was that night that I had a stroke of genius and decided to make a change. I would no longer ignore men telling me to smile, and I would certainly no longer fake it so they’d leave me alone. No, from now on they were going to feel the full force of my reality, whether they liked it or not.

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On surviving, and taking the long road to “success”

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While responding to a reader email this weekend regarding my latest essay “What are you willing to sacrifice?” I found myself grappling with the idea of finding happiness in success. Without thinking much about my words, I wrote the following:

“As for being happy, I don’t think that success with writing will necessarily make me happy. It would help, in terms of career and life goal fulfillment (like, not looking back on my life, and saying “you know, I should really have tried to make something of my writing. I was pretty good back there!”). But I really want to check that box and say, I tried. I’ve missed out on much of the opportunity for achievement in my life up until this point. I’ve never really lived up to my potential, and a huge part of that has been because so much of my energy has been tied up in healing from a laundry list of traumas: early sexual abuse, being raped in college, an emotionally abusive relationship, devastating injury, and losing my mother at 27. I’ve always felt a bit damaged, and I’ve learned to find happiness outside of the traditional ideas of success. But again… here comes the yearning!” 

This concept — of fulfilling my potential — has been exceedingly salient in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve berated myself for not doing more. I’ve always thought myself to be a bit bored and lazy. I set myself lofty goals, and then when I (obviously) can’t fulfill them, I enter into the shame spiral. Whenever I read back on my old journals, I wince at how hard I am on myself. It’s always should, should, should. I’m never doing enough. I am always behind; always failing.  Continue reading

What are you willing to sacrifice?

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Photo Credit: Flickr user CelestineChua

As a newly-minted 30-year-old, I spend a good portion of my time grappling with impossible questions: what am I doing with my life? What should I do with my life? Should I have a family? Should I be doing more for my career? Should I fake my death to get out of paying my student loans? (Kidding… sort of.)

One issue I’ve been working through lately is the pursuit of my writing: On the one hand, I am pulled to be a successful writer who makes money with my words. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I’m willing to do all that being a successful, paid writer entails.

This dichotomy is illustrated perfectly in this brilliant article by Mark Manson, “The most important question of your life.” Manson (I think rightfully) claims that asking ourselves what we theoretically want in life isn’t as important as asking ourselves what dreams we’re willing to sacrifice for:

“Because if you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand. 

If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.”

Manson’s words are so spot on it hurts. I love writing, and I think I’ve always imagined myself as a writer. Writing is one of the only clear goals I have ever had in my rather directionless life. Yet, when it comes to the sacrifice — the long hours spent keeping up on Twitter, posting to Facebook, reading and commenting on other blogs to build WordPress relationships, promoting myself across social media, pitching myself out to media outlets, writing every single day, never being able to unplug — it all feels like too much.

It’s no longer enough to hole yourself up in a beach cottage somewhere, write the next great American novel, and ship it off to publishers. These days, to be a successful writer, it feels like you have to have absurdly high follower counts, a “strong social media presence,” the body measurements of an E! host, professional photography skills, an intermediate understanding of HTML, and oh yeah — you have to be “on” at all times.

It seems endless and it all totally overwhelms me. I’m going to keep it real here: by the time I’ve spilled my heart onto the page and pressed publish, I’m kind of exhausted. I’ve barely got the energy to halfheartedly post my article to social media, much less follow up on comments, cross-post, or even submit my essays to media outlets who have outright asked to publish my work.

The truth is, if I don’t bother to sacrifice myself at the alter of social media and shameless plugging, someone else will. Let’s face it, thousands will. There are millions of wannabe writers out there, many of whom are willing to do what I am not. I could have all the talent in the world, but without the hard work, I am a waste.

I love to write. I love to blog. I long for more. But at what cost? The idea of being chained to social media day in and day out fills me with dread. I do not like the thought of giving up the balance in my life and tirelessly throwing myself into the dream.

Perhaps I really am just in love with a powerful illusion; a vision of me sitting in that little cottage composing my life’s work. It’s a beautiful chimera, that’s for sure.

But maybe there is more inside me. Maybe that little voice that says what I’m doing now isn’t enough is pushing me out of my comfort zone for a reason. Maybe, after nearly three years of deep, all-encompassing grief over my mother’s death, I am coming back to life, and ready to try again.

In 2015, I promised to publish more. I did that. I posted essays rather consistently, built a moderate following, got syndicated by Thought Catalog, and overcame my incessant and damaging need to be liked. 2016 could very well be the year I go further, and really sacrifice for my art.

I think I’m ready to throw myself in.

What are you willing to sacrifice to accomplish what you want in life?