Monday, September 22, 2014

What Happened When We Asked Rape Survivors To Share Their Stories at A Charity Ball

When I was 15, a girl named Anna got up in English class to give an oral presentation.  I don't remember what the assignment was, but other kids that went before her, spoke about things like their position on the death penalty and the political climate of the country.  Anna got up and talked about being raped by her uncle.  Looking back now, I'm absolutely appalled at what went through my 15-year old mind.  How dare she expose me to that "explicit" content without any warning.  How inappropriate for her to talk about something so personal in such a public setting.  I didn't offer her support.  I walked out of that class incredibly uncomfortable, and just eager to shove all of those horrific images out of my mind.  Because I had the privilege to do so.

Twenty-five years later, I find myself directing a local rape crisis center, one that is in the midst of  a 40th anniversary.  For the last 12 months, we've been planning our signature celebratory event, and it finally took place last night.  And it was grand.  It was held at a castle.  There was a red carpet. There was a community art piece where attendees were able to share their connections to the anti-violence movement. People passionately poured their hearts out affirming the courage of survivors and offering them heartfelt encouragement.  There was a special program honoring the most extraordinary advocates over the past 40 years.  There was a live and silent auction with all proceeds benefiting survivor services.  This all probably sounds much like any typical charity fundraiser you've attended.  Except for one thing - we invited two survivors to talk about their experiences.

You've probably been to plenty of charity events where students are asked to speak about the impact a college scholarship has had on them, or where children with disabilities come out and thank guests for their support.  While it's easy, maybe even inspirational, to hear someone talk about overcoming things like poverty or physical limitations, for the most part, it's still excruciatingly uncomfortable for us to hear someone talk about overcoming a sexual assault....just as it was for me to hear Anna share her story with me over two decades ago.

You see, there's no good way to talk about rape, and there's no way to sugarcoat a survivor's experience. It's horrific.  It's painful.  It's uncomfortable.  There's just no getting around that. But for some survivors (and we honor the different healing journeys of all survivors), being able to share their voice is the very difference between seeing oneself as a victim and seeing oneself as a survivor.  Imagine the freedom you might feel, not carrying that burden around with you all by yourself.  Imagine being able to reclaim your silenced voice by owning that part of your story.  Imagine the power of a community of people surrounding you, affirming to you that it never was your fault, that your courage is inspirational, that your very willingness to speak out could be helping someone else right there in that room.  That YOUR STORY is not unworthy and has a place at a fancy charity event for a non-profit whose mission is to eradicate sexual violence.

So we didn't ask the speakers to focus merely on how they "overcame" such an atrocity - you know, to focus only on what happened after their rape.  We didn't ask them to keep it "PG".  We didn't ask them to try not to "bring the mood of the party down". In other words, we didn't ask them to tell their story in a way that wouldn't make others feel uncomfortable.  Because let's face it, rape is uncomfortable.  And everyone should be uncomfortable with the fact that every two seconds someone is sexually assaulted in America.

Last night, two incredible survivors spoke - one about being raped by her boyfriend's father, and the other about being molested as a child.   And we honored their healing journeys by encouraging them to express the real and raw emotions that they experienced, and continue to experience.  We encouraged them to tell their stories in a way that was authentic to them - not in a way that would make it easy for the rest of us to hear.  Because after all, isn't that what the 250 people in attendance were there for?  To support survivors and to raise funds for programs that provide counseling and advocacy for them? A friend of mine who attended came to this conclusion - we, as a society, seem to have a low tolerance for raw exposure to certain realities.  When we watch atrocities in movies like Schindler's List or Slumdog Millionaire, we can just turn it off and not face it.  But it's harder to do so when someone in the flesh and blood is telling you what they experienced.  It's even harder when you're at a charity event whose sole purpose is to raise funds to prevent those atrocities from happening in the first place.

Maybe if we allow ourselves to embrace the discomfort, we might start talking about rape and sexual violence more.  Because no matter how much we want to pretend that it's not happening, it is.  A lot. Maybe if we talk about it more, a greater number of survivors will come forward to seek help.  Maybe more offenders will begin to hear how intolerant we are of sexual violence - how we refuse to accept this as our norm.  Maybe by finding our voices in this movement, we might help survivors find theirs.

I think about Anna often.  I long desperately to go back in time and catch her at the end of class to tell her how much I admired her courage.  How brave I thought she was.  How her strength might have made it possible for others to find the courage to speak out and seek help that day.  I still hope for that one in a million chance that I have the opportunity to do so.  Until then, I hope we all are willing to experience a little discomfort, and  to hand the mic over to any survivor who is ready to have their voice back again.

Note:  At the event, we provided trigger warnings to those in attendance, and crisis counselors were available throughout the night.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dear Grown-Ups Working Hard to Break Down Racial Barriers

Dear Grown-Ups Working Hard to Break Down Racial Barriers,

I see you at the peace rallies, going out of your way to shake hands with everyone two shades browner than you.  I see you at church, walking way across the pews to welcome the new African-American family.  I know that you attend the MLK breakfast every year and some years you even bring your kids to march with you.  And was that you I saw at the Human Rights Commission banquet last fall?  Wasn't that you who showed up at the Trayvon Martin community discussion a few years ago too? And you always, always call the servers at China King and Mariachi's by their full names and ask them how their kids are doing.  The server at Olive Garden rarely gets that kind of love.

Here's the thing.  I think you might be complicating things. You see, I'm not even in second grade yet, so I can't do most of the things that you do - that is unless my parents make me.  And boy, they sure do.  Because like you, they also want me to live in that magical world that Dr. King speaks of in that children's book they read to me every January.  You know, where kids of all different colors play together. The funny thing is that, they keep talking about that world like it's one of those mythical realms on my favorite show, Adventureland, with rainbows and talking unicorns.  I don't understand why grown-ups always seem to be trying so hard when I already live in that world.  And really, it's no big deal.

This weekend I turned 7 and the grown-ups threw a birthday party for me.  They told me I could invite anyone I wanted to.  So I invited my friend Viktor, who was my very first friend in my very first daycare class when we were both just three months old!  Our moms keep in touch on Facebook and we've managed to have a few play dates since then even though we don't go to the same school.  And I invited my classmate, Gregory who was just as shy as I was in kindergarten.  His big sister helped translate my mom's directions into Spanish for Gregory's dad over the phone.  And I invited Telson, this totally awesome kid (from New York City just like in Home Alone!) that my mom introduced me to.  He goes to my school, but we're in different classes.  And Thurgood with the cool haircut, who sat with me at morning assembly everyday during first-grade.  And I invited my neighbor Elijah, my friends Colin, Jack H., Jack P., my classmates Rian and Wiley.  And the grown-ups wanted me to meet some friends of theirs who had two kids - Karston and Sadie.  And since the grown-ups were showing us a kids movie in the backyard, I told them to bring their whole families - brothers and sisters and all!  And at the end of the night, there were 20 kids from ages 3 - 12 running around my backyard, gulping up 80 beef, turkey, and tofu hot dogs.  And I never really noticed, but 12 of those kids (including me) were all different shades of brown.

And that's just my world.  It's not some magical land that I dream of, strive for, work towards.  It's my reality.  These are my friends that I play with, exchange toys with, make s'mores with, and play freeze tag with.  Sometimes I even fight with them, but we always make up.  These are the people I invite into my home, not to make some point or some big social statement, but simply because I like them.  And they like me.  Period.  I wonder when the grown-ups will figure out that they too can be a part of our "magical" world.  All they have to do is live it.

Jack M., Age 7

Photo credit: Jessica H.

Friday, July 18, 2014

If You Let Her In

If you let her in, one day she will tell countless young women that they can - because if someone had told her that, maybe it wouldn't have taken her 40 years to finally believe it.

If you let her in, on a cold, rainy day she will hand you a dollar, her wool coat, her tax refund, because she knows first-hand that the kindness of others can replenish a soul.

If you let her in, she will defend your child, speak up for your daughter, advocate for you, because she knows too well, what it's like to have a voice that doesn't count.

If you let her in, she will never let those high school boys who circled her when she was 6 and told her to go back to her own country, the customer who requested an "American" front desk worker instead, those men who called her gook, chink, chinamen just a few months ago - she will never let them represent all that is good and just in this country.

If you let her in, she will pour her heart and soul into your community, her community not merely by filling out some mandated tax form, but by actively participating, volunteering, maybe even running for an elected position that might allow her to do even more.

If you let her in, she will choose to take a pay cut, drive 40 miles away from her family every day, if she thinks there's a slight chance she can become part of the solution.

If you let her in, some day she will end up standing next to you at a peace rally in Washington D.C., fighting for the same justice that you seek. 

If you let her in, she will grow with you, build with you, dream with you.  Like you, she will do everything in her power to create a world that is beautiful and fair for your children, for hers...and for all the children across those imaginary lines we keep drawing to separate us from one another.

I was 14 when my parents stuck an "unaccompanied minor" tag on me, put me on a plane 9000 miles from home, and sent me to live with a distant relative in Kensington, Maryland.  While I was born and spent the first 8 years of my life in the suburbs of Chicago, my family moved to Thailand when I was 8.  The Asian stock market crashed, along with millions of Thais, my dad lost his job, and a series of other hopeless, option-less events took place far away from the land of the free, in the developing part of the world.  And just like that, my parents were faced with the hardest decision of their life.

Thank you for letting me (back) in 28 years ago.  I hope we don't miss the chance to always open our hearts and our borders to the young people who most desperately need us to embrace them.  You never know who they might become.  If we make a little room in our hearts, to let them in.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Actually, I'm Not Being Defensive, I'm Just Being Right

Be who you are.  Own what you know.  Speak your truth.  

Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, I have a confession.  For the first four decades of my life I did NONE of these things.  I'm not sure if it's fair for me to completely place blame on my cultural upbringing, but I certainly cannot deny the fact that I was immensely shaped and molded by these values:

To, at all costs, "save face" in order to keep the respect of others
To always pretend that it's the first time I've heard a great idea (even if I've voiced that same idea a million times prior)

To allow people to "teach" "dispel wisdom" and "dispense advice" on things I already knew or had more experience with than they did

To put a smile on my face even if I was simultaneously imagining slapping someone square across the face

And then one day I turned 40 and (for a wide range of reasons mentioned throughout this blog) woke up completely incapable of being anything less than authentic.  And there I was at "the table" - board meetings, among other professional colleagues, in committees. I still had that same smile on my face, but I no longer acted bewildered and amazed when someone shared their "innovative" and groundbreaking idea with me.  Now I never humiliated anyone or acted like a know-it-all. I was always respectful, and I always thanked people for their contributions. But I also gently let them in on the fact that other bright and talented people had been operating with those same "groundbreaking" ideas for some time now.  When a well-meaning person without the slightest grasp of the complexities of my work tried to offer unsolicited advice on how I could be more successful in my job, I no longer nodded politely and said, "Gee, that's so insightful.  Why didn't I think of that?"  Instead I courteously, but directly - told them that it's a bit offensive that they would assume that I haven't considered the breadth of MY OWN job.  Or the fact that I was actually being compensated to provide leadership and vision for an organization.   And when someone was abrasive, confrontational and acted like a bully, I no longer just smiled and took it in order to "save face".  I called them out and held them accountable for their lack of professionalism, and their unwillingness to learn to disagree respectfully. 

And while my husband has been acting in this direct and honest manner for his ENTIRE professional career with no one missing a beat, when I began to do this I was met with remarks like these:

Aren't you being a bit defensive Mae?  
I'm just trying to help.
I didn't mean to upset you.

So, let it be known from this day forward, that when I speak with authority and authenticity, I'm not being defensive - nor am I upset.  And please make no mistake, that I am grateful for continued opportunities to learn from others, to see value in perspectives different than mine, and to embrace the wisdom of those that surround me.  But after 40 years of wasting my time, your time, and passing up on chance after chance, for ALL of us to make progress on a multitude of things, I'm done being "accommodating nice" just to spare and validate condescending feelings of inferiority.  There's a whole world out there that desperately needs us to step up to the plate, and act in ways far beyond any personal need to self-affirm. 

So meet me at the table with the assumption that I am just as capable - or perhaps (gasp!) maybe even more capable than you.  Go ahead and get comfortable with the notion that the ideas of others might also be innovative and groundbreaking.  And that yours might not always be that great.  And for the love of God, don't bring your baggage of privilege and power to the table in order to force yourself to be heard.  You will be heard - or more importantly, you will be respected if you too speak your truth with authenticity.

See, I told you, I'm not upset at all.  I'm just right.

Photo courtesy

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why I Own My Prejudices

Recently, I have offended a few people with some of my social media postings. Not because I took part in a highly politicized discussion thread.  Not because I "liked" a controversial page.  But for one reason and one reason alone:  I own my prejudices.  Not all of them, and not all at once.  Good Lord, I do have real feelings (that may or may not have had me crying in fetal position in a corner at various points in my life).  But as a general rule, if there is ever an opportunity for me to publicly share my own limitations, I do - and today I'm going to try to articulate exactly why I do this.

So I'm that person who talks openly about what feelings the confederate flag symbol incites in me.  I talk openly about those things that have come to define me as "Asian" and I don't apologize for claiming them as my own.  I talk about how complex social systems like poverty and privilege have come to frame my perspective on so many things - sometimes in valuable and necessary ways.  Many times in non-productive and hurtful ways.  

This blog has provided me with an extraordinary space to do this.  But why on earth would I want to expose my personal vulnerabilities and my despicable prejudices to the world?  It's simple.  Because I want to change it.  I want to help make it a better place where hate crimes don't exist, love is universal,  gender-based violence is eradicated, heck, where all violence is eradicated, and the opportunity to live a safe and happy life is equally accessible to everyone. 

And I just don't think I can do that without taking a long, hard look at myself.  As you know, I don't claim to be anything but ordinary.  And let me tell you, this ordinary gal did not grow up in a bubble, immune from prejudices, hate speech, divisive thought, THE MEDIA, all the "isms", or her own privileged status.  But the beauty in all of this is that EVERY SINGLE TIME that I publicly admit my shortcomings and prejudicial thoughts - EVERY SINGLE TIME - someone on my friends list, or someone who follows my blog sees themselves in my story.  Someone stops working, scrolls down on their phone, and pauses to reflect on their own story.  Someone right there and then, vows to make an intentional change in themselves, in their children, in the world around them.  See for yourself.  Here are 6 blog posts where I am making generalized assumptions about entire groups of people.  And here I am owning my shortcomings, sharing my lessons learned with the world, and making a personal (and highly public) commitment to do better.  To BE better.

The Confederate Flag

Girly Girls

"Unsafe" Neighborhoods

Special Needs Kids

 Ron Paul Supporters

Other Asians

So here's my challenge to you.  How much progress are you making in your social circles and communities by suppressing and denying the existence of your own prejudices?  Perhaps, (like me for the first three quarters of my life) you are constantly walking around on eggshells trying NOT to offend anyone and everyone.  Perhaps you are constantly secretly beating yourself up when a racist, sexist, or just plain mean thought creeps its way into or from your subconscious.  Perhaps, like me - you attempt superficial ways to ease your burden of responsibility by buying your kid inclusive books, volunteering at the homeless shelter, wearing that "love sees no color" t-shirt.  But at the end of the day let me ask you this:  Do the people sitting around your dinner table still look and act exactly like you? 


I do have a bit of good news.  You are not alone.  You are not a horrible person for becoming a product of your environment, your upbringing, your social dynamics.  Your character however, may be in question if you think you are walking around with NO prejudices and that you are NOT contributing (either personally or systematically) to disparity, inequality, and injustice. 

And so I challenge US with this:  Let's own it.  Let's do something about it.  Let's change the world by first changing ourselves.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To You, On Days Like Today

On days like today, I stand in solidarity with you.

You, who have for weeks, been overcome with dread and fear about facing the sun rise.  Not because you don’t cherish that role everyone around you is celebrating, but because days like this are like a million broken shards of glass that pierce and prod, and relentlessly remind you of the unbearable loss that leaves a perpetual void in your heart…and in your embrace.

You, who have yearned and yearned and tried and tried.  And have heard the heartbeat, saw the ultrasound, laid numb and lifeless on a hospital bed while that glimpse of your entire future was swiftly taken from your body, from your soul.  You have longed, with every fiber of your being, to wake up to finally claim days like today as your own.

You, who find very little reason, or perhaps no reason at all, to celebrate the woman in your life who really is no more than just a title on a piece of paper.  You, who walk around lost and dazed on days like today, desperately trying to find a sliver of a reason to celebrate her.  Desperately trying to find a way to free yourself from her.

You, who teach, mentor, lead, guide, and LOVE without ever even having to carry life inside of you.  You instinctively offer your gift of life to all those outside of you, around you.  So incredibly beautiful how you - even more so than many who carry the title – sacrifice, empower, and nurture the countless spirits of others.

Today I stand in solidarity with you. 

Mothers of the earth,
Nurturers of the human spirit,
Lovers of the entire village,


Today, while the world celebrates a role you may or may not feel worthy or comfortable claiming as your own.

I see you. 
I hear your voice. 
I see your worth.
I stand by you. 

And I celebrate your indomitable spirit to continue to carry love and light into the world, 

Even when it’s probably a bit harder to do so, on days like today.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

That Time I Chose Racial Taunting Over Rape

It was broad daylight.  I was headed from a meeting at a local coffee shop and decided to take the alleyway behind my office back to work.  I had walked that road a million times without incident, but today my gut was telling me something different.   I tell women all the time that they should listen to their instincts.  I don't always take my own advice.  As I approached the alleyway, I saw two men walking towards me.  They happened to be African-American.  At that precise moment an epic internal battle erupted in my head.  You are NOT turning around and walking the other way. You are NOT perpetuating every stereotype about black men in dark alleyways.  You are NOT going to let on to these men that you are approaching them with unfounded, media-induced fear.  You are NOT going to clutch on to your handbag.  But, you are going to subtly take your cell phone out of it and hold it in your hands.....just in case.  The funny thing is, if these men were white, and hadn't been subjected to centuries of racial profiling and stigmatizing, I would've turned the other way, guilt-free, within seconds. 
And so, with a confident smile, I began walking towards my office, and towards the two men.  I smile and say hello.  You know, the kind of hello that we, as women have been trained to say, so that we don't get ourselves in "trouble".  The kind of hello that is devoid of any hint of flirtation, sexuality, but exudes matter-of-fact professionalism, and has that huge unspoken, invisible, wall of protection built all around it.  You know, the kind of hello that someone conducting a job interview would say.  And that's when it started.  60 seconds of pure, non-stop racial epithets.
Ching, chong, chang.
Me love you long time.
Show me your ninja moves.
They seemed to like those last three a lot.
So for some reason, at that moment, I wasn't scared.  I actually paused, wanting more than ever to have a conversation with these men, who were probably just misinformed, lacking experience being around "my kind".  I played it all out in my head.  I would say, "Gentlemen, my name is Mae and I work right over here in this community, in this neighborhood.  Do you live around here?  You know, I'm not really Hawaiian, or Japanese, or Chinese and those words can be pretty hurtful."  I wanted to use this opportunity to perhaps, break down racial and cultural divides, maybe even foster community relationships with the residents who surround my office.  And just as I was about to extend my hand with a conciliatory handshake, this French video popped into my head.  The piece is a brilliant depiction of a world where gender roles are reversed and women hold all the power.  I had just watched it two days earlier.  The one scene in particular that I just couldn't get out of my mind was a scene when the oppressed male spoke up to his street harassers, and was violently sexual assaulted in a dark alleyway. 
And so I remained silent.  And walked on by them, even as the racial taunting continued the entire time, until the two men were clear down the street.  I knew in my heart that I was missing a rare opportunity to dialog, to repair and reconnect with people outside my race.  But my desire to break down racial barriers was silenced, reluctantly quelled, because my vulnerability as a lone woman, in a quiet alleyway, in the presence of aggressive men, trumped everything.  I had to choose not to provoke. I had to choose not to "ask for it".  Like so many of the women that I work with every single day, I had to choose silence, so that I could walk away with only a bruised soul.

Friday, February 7, 2014

How We Survived Our Seven Year Itch

A love story about monotony, depression, and dead flowers
Yesterday, I walked into my bathroom and found a beautiful bowl of dried flower petals just sitting there on my counter, near my sink.  I recognized the black ceramic bowl from my kitchen, but I couldn’t really understand what on earth this bowl from my kitchen was doing there on my bathroom sink.  It was filled to the rim with fragrant dried rose petals, leaves, and other flower parts that I did not recognize.  And lying gently on top, right in the middle of the bowl, was a single fresh, bright yellow daisy.  I later came to find out that my husband, Adam, had taken the dying bouquet of fresh flowers he had bought me a week ago for our seven year wedding anniversary, and painstakingly picked out those flower petals that somehow remained perfectly preserved and intact.  His thought was to surprise me with homemade potpourri and to extend the life of the bouquet, or rather the joy that it brought me on the day he first handed it to me.  In the process of weeding out the rotting from the perfectly preserved, he managed to salvage that one fresh yellow daisy that became the centerpiece for this rare love offering to me.
Why would I, or anyone for that matter, make such a big deal about something so ordinary, so “done”, such as the act of a husband bringing his wife flowers?  I hear that’s what a lot of couples do for anniversaries. 

You see, the thing is, I wouldn’t know. 
Because for the first seven years of my marriage, my husband never once brought me flowers.  Now, you should know, that I am married to a deeply compassionate, reflective, brilliant, loving, funny, sarcastic, and witty human being.  One who is a feminist, an equal parenting partner, and one who always, always has my back.    But up until about three months ago, my husband was not capable of buying something as simple and beautiful as a bouquet of fresh flowers for me.  Not because he was thoughtless, or cheap, or clueless, but because he was not capable of seeing the beauty in flowers…..or in much else.

I’d like to tell you the story of our seven year itch.  Actually, we (I have my husband’s blessing to write this of course) wanted to tell our story in case it might help others also going through the itch.  Our seven year itch culminated about four months before our actual seventh wedding anniversary.  We just had a houseful of lovely and diverse dinner guests over, and Adam and I were washing dishes after everyone had left.  I was on cloud nine, doing what couples typically do after a dinner party – rehashing the highlights of the evening, commenting on how the bread was just not crusty enough, but how the coconut ice-cream was divine.  And Adam, was well….silent.  So I asked him questions like:   Are you feeling OK?  Did you have too much to drink?  Why don’t you go sit down and let me take care of these dishes?  And much to my surprise, he did.  That’s right, the man dried his hands, left the kitchen and plopped himself on the couch, leaving me with mounds and mounds of dirty dishes.  What is this?  1952?  I looked over expecting him to be lying down or buried in a book, but I was startled to see him just sitting there on the couch, staring dead into space.   And it was at that precise moment that I knew that something was terribly wrong. 
And so our week-long seven year itch conversation commenced. During this time, I reflected deeply on the past seven years of my marriage.  I wasn’t really UNhappy I guess.  Adam was the doting, engaged father to our six-year old son.  On various occasions during our marriage, because of my work schedule, he actually ended up serving in the primary parent role.  He was attentive and took interest in things that mattered deeply to me.  He was supportive of my personal and professional goals and aspirations.  He was my rock when I almost lost my father, and when I walked out on my job two years ago.  I didn’t really have anything to complain about, did I?  But somehow over the years, life got in the way and I failed to notice that while Adam was always present and in the moment for our son and for me, he was no longer present and in the moment with himself.  When we first got together, we developed this crazy bucket list that most people would certainly mock for its lack of sophistication:  Enter a gingerbread house in the National Gingerbread Competition in Asheville, North Carolina;  Audition for a part in the Thriller zombie street dance performance for Halloween;  Take a photography road trip to capture church signs like “What’s missing in ch_ _ch?  UR!”  (Get it?)  Somehow, somewhere, Adam completely forgot about that bucket list……along with countless other things that used to bring him joy like movies, road trips, tinkering with cars and electronics, video games, you name it.  The only hobby that he held on to, and almost lost himself in every night for hours at a time – was reading (Adam’s first and only therapist would later explain to him that it made perfect sense for someone like him to lose himself in fiction, rather than to confront the mundane existence of his real life - but more on that later.)  So slowly and steadily, without even realizing it, I came to expect less and less “living” from Adam.  Sure we still had our family movie nights and Sunday dinners, but for those parts of me that longed for deeper fulfillment, I began looking elsewhere.  Slowly and steadily, my dreams and my bucket list became more and more separate from Adam's. I of course still loved him, but had resigned myself to the possibility that maybe this was one of the many different ways a marriage could work – two responsible, loving people coming together to build a responsible, loving life.  But I’d have to find that deeper passion for living through my own work and my own personal interests.

I guess it is fitting that we spent seven entire days scratching our seven-year-itch.  And boy, those days sure were wretched.  We’d wait for our son to go to bed and we’d suddenly start diving into impossible questions, with answers that we feared hearing like “Are you even happy anymore?”    It is during this time that Adam confessed to me that since he can remember, as early as his teenage years, he often felt hopeless and overwhelmed.    There’s this picture that hangs over our bed of a rope bridge set over a pond in a thick, dense fog.  Adam explained to me that for some time, he would  get up every day and get lost in that picture for several minutes.  But then when he snapped out of it, he would find himself still stuck in that fog, on that bridge, and the bridge just kept getting longer and longer, with no ending in sight.  He shared with me that he would often feel guilty for feeling this way, because he had everything he ever wanted in life – a stable home, a son and wife he was crazy about, a job that occasionally challenged him.  All he ever wanted was to see the beauty in all of this, for he knew it was there.  But try as he might, he just couldn’t feel the beauty.
And so by the end of the week, Adam had an appointment with a therapist.  A few weeks later, he also made an appointment with his family physician, who prescribed him a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor – more commonly known as an anti-depressant.  And over the next three months, Adam learned to become acutely aware of his emotions and how they have come to define his personality.   He learned to anticipate triggers that might set him back like work stress, interpersonal conflicts, and unplanned life events.  And he has, to the best of his ability, structured his life in a way that minimizes these situations.  He has come to terms with the impact that chemistry and family history has had on him.    Over the next three months, Adam also had the best Christmas ever, checked off multiple unfinished projects like fixing the front burner of my mother’s stove, finally watched the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, and bought a djembe drum. And over those same three months, I learned what it is like to be pushed to the depths of your marriage vows.  I’ve learned to care enough to keep asking questions.  I learned that a person is not always the sum of his emotions.  And probably the most important lesson I learned is that it’s not always about me.  It still terrifies me to think that if we hadn’t scratched this itch, if we just slowly let things decline and decay, we would have never faced or treated Adam’s depression. It is very likely, that I would have grown increasingly resentful of him, and he of me, for my inability to understand him.  We would have likely grown further and further apart and ended up like those dried flower petals, with no life sustenance, perfectly preserved, but really already dead inside.  

And that brings us to January 20, 2014, our 7th wedding anniversary:  a.k.a. the day I walked into the house to find a beautiful vase full of flowers that had absolutely no rhyme or reason.  There were yellow daisies, and pink roses, and purple lilies and they were wild and extraordinary.  And there were baby’s breath, and random other green leafy stems tucked neatly thoughout the bouquet.  Adam had talked the florist into letting him inside the huge walk-in cooler so that he could personally pick every single flower himself.  He just couldn’t choose, so he got one of each. Because for the first time, in a long time, he saw the beauty in all of them.   And for the first time, in a long time, I was reminded of that glorious day seven years ago when the universe brought together two imperfect, ridiculously flawed, but forever evolving individuals.  And that is the story of how we survived our seven year itch.

Note:  The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 18.8 million American adults have a depressive disorder. The disease is not discriminating, seeping into all age, race, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Depression  can stall careers, strain relationships, and sometimes even end lives.  If you know someone suffering from depression, or if you'd like to help break the silence and lift the stigma around this devastating and common disorder, visit know I've blogged about this before, but the single most impactful piece that has helped me truly understand depression has been this brilliant comic strip:


Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Son: I Pledge To Hug You Like It's the Weekend Every Day

I would never call myself glamorous or particularly high maintenance when it comes to personal style. And while I gave up such grooming habits like eyebrow waxing and pedicures when I turned 40 (and in the process saved $500 and 30 hours a year), I do still find  comfort and confidence in a simplified beauty regimen that consists of a 60-second make-up ritual of Mac Studio Fix powder (it took this brown girl 20 years to find the perfect complexion, don't judge), some black eyeliner, and a quick application of lipstick.  So when a six-year old boy with sticky syrup face comes at me for a morning hug before I head off to a board meeting, my response has consistently been, "Let's go wash your face first, dear" (a.k.a. the "conditional hug"). Painful as it may be to admit, often times, even when there's no syrup, I only offer up the "restrained" hug.  You know the kind where you hold them back gently, adeptly controlling the embrace so that their faces land perfectly on your shoulder (but not on your neatly pressed, stain-free blouse) rather than your face, thus perfectly preserving the beautiful make-up that you just painstakingly applied.  I justify this all in my mind by telling myself, I don't want to leave lipstick marks on his precious face or get any of my Mac Studio Fix on his school clothes.

Of course on the weekends it's utterly magnificently different.  When my son, Jack awakes to hear the sounds of me typing away on my laptop, he runs to the top of the stairs, and I meet him at the bottom.  We then throw our hands out towards one another with dramatic flair and embrace in a full-fledged make-up free, "weekend special" extended hug.  The kind where he buries his (sometimes boogery and slobbery) face in the crook of my neck and I breathe in the baby scent that he still hasn't shed.  He then grabs my au natural face with both of his hands and plants the world's worst morning breath kiss on my lips, and we embrace again.  This time with me burying my face in the strands of his wild morning mop of a head.  It is indeed magnificent and one of my most soul-gratifying moments of motherhood.  One that I know I will long for deeply, when he has left our nest.

And then one day it suddenly occurred to me.  Considering that I'm usually headed out to work 240 out of 365 days of the year, by the time my son graduates high school, I will have given him 4080 conditional or restrained morning hugs, but only 2125 weekend specials.  And so my board of directors always gets a fresh-faced, not-a-hair-out-of-place, wrinkle-free, "confident" employee, and my only offspring, gets to choose between a "conditional" hug or a "restrained" hug.     

So dear boy, from this day forward - for the remaining 12 years that we will share a home, I pledge to always accept without fear, your stickiest syrup face.  Even on those days that I'm headed to important meetings.  I pledge to leave Mac Studio Fix remnants on your pristine school clothes and random faint lipstick marks on your precious face, as long as you will allow me to do so.  I pledge - for every single remaining day that we are gifted to wake up to one another - to hug you with no conditions....and with no restraints. To give you the weekend special every day.   After all, a little syrup never killed anyone, but regret and jumbled priorities, just might.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Vaginas, Black Babies, And Redemption

Last month the news and entertainment industry successfully sucked us into a downward spiral of controversy, contention, and separation.  In case you were living under a rock and missed it all, here's what went down:
Phil Robertson's (Duck Dynasty) interview with GQ magazine...

If you're not a Christian, you are a murderer.  All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus.  Look at their record. Uh, Shintos?  They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists?  Zero.  That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups.  Just look at the records as far as murder goes among these four groups.   

Black people celebrate oppression  (with song and dance).  Oh, and they're all on welfare too.  I never, with my eyes saw the mistreatment of any black person.  Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them.  I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash.   We’re going across the field.... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, "I tell you what:  These doggone white people" —not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare,  you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.    

Vaginas are prettier than buttholes.  It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There's more there!  She's got more to offer.  I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC panel captioning Romney family Christmas card...

Holy moly, there is a black baby on that Christmas card!  Actress Pia Glenn, started singing lines from the song popularized by Sesame Street:  "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others."
....but there aren't many black babies in the Republican party.  Another panelist, comedian Dean Obedidallah, said the picture "really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party."
Bi-racial babies should stick know, keep all that cuteness in the family.  Host Melissa Harris-Perry described the baby as "gorgeous," before predicting Kiernan would one day marry North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, "Can you imagine Mitt Romny and Kanye West as in-laws?"
Both, in the name of free speech, (with or without intending to) caused pain to individuals solely because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

One was defended by Sarah Palin, while the other was crucified by her.  More specifically Ms. Palin said,  "Free speech is endangered species; those intolerants hatin and taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all" on one occasion, and "Media hounds are not expressing an opinion with this attack; they are expressing a prejudice" on the other.

Both elicited public outrage, and scores of people demanded apologies, boycotts, and resignations. One apologized immediately, tearfully, and publicly via social media and on-air. She also used the opportunity to further a dialog on race, privilege, and bipartisanship.  Not to mention that much of her own career has been devoted to deeper conversations about the intersections of race and poverty. The other maintained that his beliefs were "grounded in the Bible", that he is a "Godly man".  He was suspended for a few weeks before being invited back to continue contributing to the highest rated program on A&E network history. 

One shares the racial and religious background of the subject of her targeted comments (African-American father and a White Mormon mother). The other is Christian, straight, and white who has no shared experiences or personal insight to the lives of his targeted subjects (African-Americans, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ community).   

Just something for us all to ponder as we sit our judgmental selves in front of the television tonight.  Better yet, maybe we should instead try turning off the T.V. and maybe having a real conversation with someone we might be inclined to target?