Jul 29, 2009

All Kinds of Peculiar

At some point, I suppose I'll fully embrace the fact that I'm different. If not for the fact that I'd feel ridiculous using the word "exotic" to describe me, I'd be all over it as a first response to "Tell me about yourself". Growing up, I didn't feel exotic or unique. I mostly felt peculiar.

My names (all 4 of them) are a never-ending saga through the badlands of Peculiarity. My first name is a creative (weird) variation on my father's first & middle names. This name has been more burden than blessing since my earliest brush with institutionalized learning. At the beginning of each school year, I dreaded roll call because teachers always mispronounced my name (and a few were flat out shocked when a girl answered "here"). Once, a service desk rep @ my alma mater chortled in my face, "That's a cracker white boy name!" (gee thanks).

My middle name is Hawaiian. It's such an odd combination of consonants & vowels, I refuse to utter it aloud unless pressed. There are people who've known me for decades who still don't know what the middle 'K' in 'JKK' stands for.

My last name, even though it's only 4 letters, is always pronounced wrong. Not your typical American surname, but you'd think it was written in hieroglyphics the way Americans stumble over it. Why, after all this, would I go and marry a foreigner whose last name is (you guessed it) hard to pronounce?

Well, I'm on a roll, can't stop now, can I?

For creative introverts (like me), solitude is almost seductive in its appeal. I have a high need for uninterrupted alone time so I can recharge (read, write, meditate, stare at the wall, daydream). This is as true now as it was when I was 10. Try explaining to a family full of extraverts that you spent 5 hours on Saturday afternoon in your room alone reading (Reading?! [pure incredulity] Yes, reading! [indignant & defensive]) and you get the not so subtle hint that there's something wrong with you.

Introverts are a frequently misunderstood minority in this society. They are often labeled "sneaky" or "strange" because they enjoy being by themselves. "The Introvert Advantage" tries to explain introversion. My husband is a shrink - he could barely contain his laughter as I described the book's position that we introverts are just "wired different" than extraverts & there's nothing wrong with that. In his professional opinion, "you just described someone who's mentally retarded" (introvert advantage, my ass!).

My tendency to seek seclusion & my love of solitary activities stood out since I was a child. The seeds were planted early that I was not normal but peculiar.

Who doesn't feel peculiar in high school? High school is all about belonging (or not). For me, it was just another exercise in all the ways I different from the norm (the norm being my older sisters, who I am nothing like). When compared to my older sisters, I was the "un-Cola" to their "Blind Taste Tests Prove Their Brand is Best."

How many ways did I not fit in, let me count the ways... My sisters' friendly chattiness to my silent aloofness. Their athleticism to my obesity. Their popularity to my invisibility. Their identical twinness to my "younger sister who looks nothing like them"-ness.

Put it all together, stir it in a pot, simmer on low 3 or 4 years, wuddya got?
Peculiar stew, comin' right up, enough to last a few decades & it's steamin' hot!

As a child & teen, I internalized many messages about my differentness as innate liabilities I had to overcome. That internalization fed a global sense of shame that bled into other areas of my psyche, contaminating my self-esteem, self-efficacy & self-worth for years.

Today, I recognize some positive side-effects of internalizing the message "you're not like everybody else." I'm most at home on the margins of a group. I feel comfortable among the foreign-born whose daily experience in America is likely filled with reminders of all the ways they diverge from the predominant cultural norm. These days, I deeply appreciate the ethnic cocktail that gave me a face & complexion that can blend in among any number of different cultures & countries on the planet outside the US.

A healing truth dawned on me one day when I realized: my place is to be "out of place."

Maybe I'm meant to be one of the ones who never fits in. The periphery is where circles overlap, the margin is where you build bridges. Hey, I bet Barack Obama had a similar experience (and my name is every bit as "unusual" as his). Now, if only I had the President's gift of gab... that'd really come in handy out on those edges.

Jul 26, 2009

Roadtrip from Hate to Healed (bring lots of wire)

I'm not a fan of Essence magazine. In fact, I hate it.

Hate is a strong word. I don't like to use it & discourage my kids from ever saying it. But hate pretty much sums up how I feel about the magazine. It tries so hard to cover everything from mortages & Mugabe to mammograms & Mac cosmetics. I get irritated every time I flip through it. Be serious & substantive or be fluff & gossip. But please don't be try to be both at the same time! It's bipolar.

That being said, you can imagine my surprise when the Aug 09 issue of my least favorite women's magazine leapt into my shopping cart @ Target yesterday. Idris Elba is on the cover - that alone was worth the cover price - but the reason I forked over my money was the article "Black Women Behaving Badly".

It was a carefully-worded piece on a subject that has a lot of sistas fired up: Why Black women hate on each other. It said the main reasons sistas hate are: low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance & lack of self-love. Just imagine how different things could be if sistas began to think more positive & acted less demeaning toward others.

Oh. Is that all? abracadabra, alakazam, hateful thoughts - be gone!

I'm disappointed the writer didn't go into how much work it takes to reprogram your demeaning thought patterns. (in fairness, I'm sure space constraints forced editors to remove chunks of good stuff). If you're contaminated by decades of negative thought habits & you weren't naturally upbeat to begin with, the transformation from hate to healed would be like an Extreme Brain Makeover.

Thinking loving thoughts isn't a "hat" you just put on. It could take years to figure out why you think like you do. And then to make yourself stop? There's a reason people stay in therapy for years.

Thinking different literally rewires your brain - you're telling it to stop using the pathway it has always used & take a route it doesn't know, doesn't trust & never heard of.

Me to Brain: Connect the dots the way you always have, just don't take Cynic Parkway anymore. Take Goody-Goody-Gumdrop Lane instead.

Brain to Me: The quickest, shortest route is Cynic Parkway.

Me to Brain: I know but you have to take Goody-Goody-Gumdrop Lane from now on.

Brain to Me: That doesn't make sense. I can get everywhere I need to go on Cynic Parkway. Goody-Goody-Gumdrop Lane isn't even a route in my GPS.

Me to Brain: We're not taking Cynic Parkway ever again no matter how quick & convenient it is.

Brain to Brain (under her breath): I'm going the way I know - I just won't tell her. She won't know the difference.

It took years, but I finally rewired my own inclination towards negativity. I'm a liar if I say I did it on my own. The part of my brain that was addicted to negativity shut down one night (not unlike E. Tolle's account). Then God (love, light, peace, gratitude, awe, hope, beauty) poured in.

So what does it make me when I say I hate that the article I read in a magazine I hate didn't go far enough to cover the hard work it takes to heal from your hate.

"Hello. My name is J and I'm a hater..."

Jul 23, 2009

The Nitty Gritty

Who am I, How'd I get here (& why should you care)?

I'm a mom-on-pause. (no, not as compelling as "mom-on-crack" or "mom-on-Prozac", nor as sexy as "PTA Prez by day/stripper by night"... but that's me. Normal.) Two years ago, I arrived at a mid-life whateverucallit. I was 11 years into a career that didn't fit. My soul was saying I need beauty - I need peace. My mind was saying to hell with this!

I couldn't shake the feeling that something was slipping away. Things were left undone (unfinished business is a recurring theme in my life).

I'd been an admin assistant @ D+E almost 4 years. Like most professional services firms, D+E's culture values control freaks. But I'm the anti-control freak. And on many days, I felt like I was an inch from a meltdown.

A life spent behind a desk at D+E was safe. But for me, that life would be an utter waste.

I decided I would not waste this life.

Doors were closing all around me. (I don't mean the firm's doors were closing, mine were). One by one, my reasons to stay - those precious ties to my friends & co-workers - were plucked away. All I had left was a place, culture, team where I was a mismatch.

Now, I ain't no punk. I gave birth twice all natural, with absolutely no pain relief. The OB even gave me an episiotomy without any anesthetic (ok, that did make me scream). My pain threshold is pretty high. But when it comes to emotional & psychological turmoil - my theme song is the rap classic "I'm lookin' at the front door." Not fitting in was painful for me. (do we ever really get over the high school fear of being the outcast?)

The writing was on the wall. It was time to get off the train. So... I jumped.

I landed here. Regrouped (somewhat). Balanced (sorta). The future is taking shape (in a way). But, I'm still the same old piece of work.

Part of me wants a shortcut to get wherever I'm going because the long way will be painful. (endurance - my lack of it - is another recurring theme in my life. It's a test & I'm sick n' tired of flunking). The long way will eventually earn me the Masters in Public Health. But first I have to get through the GRE, biostatistics, hours & hours of agonizingly dry journal articles.
Eventually, the long way will deliver a purpose driven career in a concentration of public health that doesn't exist (yet)... spiritual health promotion.

I want to develop & implement programs that can transform public health into a science and
art that works to heal the public (get it? Public Health --> Heal the Public). Not surprisingly, storytelling, creativity, spirituality & collaborations with faith communities would be a key part of this undertaking.

I'm sure I haven't answered the last question of this post (which is why it's in parentheses): why should you care?

I guess there's no reason you
should care... unless you're at a similar place... or you've been-there-done-that... or you have nothing better to do.

Don't worry if the latter is your reason - you're in good company, if I do say so myself.

What's In A Purpose?

Oprah said, "tell a story so people feel something... people don't do anything until they feel something."

As a writer, the truth of that statement was like a mandate. I love nothing better than to hole up in a room for hours with a great book. That was how I spent most of my teens & 20s. But in my 30s, my love for fiction was replaced by a love of new discovery.

I ask lots of questions. I want to know where you come from, what language you speak, how you feel about God, what's your ethnicity, (if foreign born) how do you see America, Americans, the American way of life, how did an experience change you, how do you understand an event in light of your spiritual beliefs?

I don't want to read words on a page so much as I want to read YOU.

I'm looking for the all the ways we can connect even though we're so different. Especially because we're so different. That diversity of experience & perspective is thrilling... like the old thrill of starting a new novel.

Six years ago, I was healed of depression. But there are negative thought habits that I've been working on in the years since my "transformation". My healing is ongoing. It involves reviewing my life story to see how & why I came to believe what I believe.

Stories are a recurrent theme for me, connecting me to healing... to others... to meaning & wisdom... to my passion... to beauty... to my community... to my authentic me... and ultimately to God.

Now, all I want is for others (who need it) to be opened ("unlocked") the way I was.

So the answer to the question (& the reason for the blog) is simple: stories & healing.


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