I'm sitting here writing this post at 11:16pm on Monday night. I shoulda done it earlier, yesterday at least. But, nope, I prefer to torture myself. The truth is that this post has been writing itself in my head for at least a couple of weeks and I'm quite certain that what actually comes out on *paper won't actually be as awesomely graceful as it has been in my head. Thus, the procrastination.
Anyway. Here goes.
This post started writing itself just after discovering, or re-discovering rather, a box of my old stuff. And by stuff, I mean stuff. Like important stuff from every milestone of my life, including but certainly not limited to:
- this weird smock dress (mom, that is a moo-moo for the record) with a cut out bow-bib on it that I remember distinctly getting bird shat upon on the way to a friend's birthday party when I was 7ish
- pictures from when I thought I was Badass #1 (age 10-16)
- Freed pointe shoes from the Houston Ballet with my - get ready for it - name on the bottom
- videos of me dancing in all sorts of bizarre costumes
- about a gajillion journals/diaries, many of which I assign an actual name to because apparently "Dear Diary" wasn't enough
- that middle school art book where I had my first published piece about a girl whose grandmother got shot and died and then the girl felt compelled to share with the world the one thing her grandmother never did: World Peace. I know. I even used the word "dove" a lot.
- high school yearbooks where my glasses and braces are fighting for most honorable mention on my little face
- a pair of silver glittery sunglasses I wore at a massive party in Cape Cod during Y2K which I remember in bits of silver glittery moments only
Clearly, after wincing my way through most of it, I was drawn to the journals. Cracking each one open, I found pages and pages of angst ridden poems (no, you'll never see them) and lots of sketches and tons of anxiety and a whole lot of dreams. And just as I was about to put them away and close the lid to the bin, I got a glimpse of it. Just the sight of its top right corner, the blue and yellow streaks hinting at a monet-like painting, triggered not just memories, but a full breath of smell, taste, and touch. Age 10, my first "real" journal. The one I named Samantha, but called Sam. The one in which I thought I was a fluent spanish speaker after a mere summer of classes, evidenced by the introduction of every entry being "Ola!" and the ending being "Hasta la Vista!"
I ended up reading each and every page: The tales of barfing on my bunk mate at summer camp, the joy of learning to actually develop photographs in a dark room, the time my friend Erin got super mad at me in English class and marked my spelling test with -9, that one time my mom wouldn't let me help cook but let my sister do it instead (the horrors), my older brother losing his pit bull in the forest, and how my handwriting got super neat and small and controlled the day after school started back up. And as far away and distant that that little girl felt, she also came rushing back into my bones in the most familiar of ways. I could feel her light, her glow.
And I got instantly, deeply sad.
I've spent a lot of my adulthood trying to block that light.
I spent the next week considering why this was so for me. At what point did I kick Dorothy off the Yellow Brick Road? And I'll speak for myself here in the following comments to avoid an obvious poke at American culture, but, what I can only see is that as children, most of us are raised with this notion that we are "special." If we aren't told that by our families and our communities, then we certainly get to absorb from the worshiping of celebrities that being "special" matters. Yet, what we're not given is the truth that rather than being special, we are instead - and profoundly more importantly - uniquely ourselves. Added to that discrepancy, we are also not handed wisdom as to how to protect that uniqueness, how to nurture it, how to hold it, how to respect it, how to use it to benefit others, how to be critical thinkers with it and of it, how to use it to produce work that solves problems, how to own it, how to know it, how to never ever give it away. And so we trudge out into the world, bright lights all shiny and, um, bright and BLAMMO, the world tells us to A) tone it down or B) sell it. Both of these options involve diluting our light.
I'm not sure about you, but the times where I have either toned my bright light down or sold it (I've done both), only yucky things occur. The dilution of my unique self results ALWAYS in the abuse of myself. Meaning how I eat or don't eat, how I sleep or don't sleep, how I love or don't love, or how I waste my time or hurry it away. My view is that when we aren't expressing our unique self as wholly as we deserve and in whatever form we choose (not meaning fame or stardom, merely standing in your space in the world), then we start using our own bodies and life condition as a canvas. We start telling our stories not by the work we produce and the ways we engage in the world, but by how turmoiled our self-care is and how our bodies look, feel, and function. Sadly, this sort of expression, as we know, only hurts ourselves and does very little in the form of genuine communication of our unique purpose/value. And, worse yet, it starts to construct our social values more and more around surface-level appearances and not creative, immaterial expressions of who we are.
The thing is, we all know how we feel when we witness a child's bright light shining through. And as I thought about this post at dinner tonight, I watched my girls doing their thing across the table from me. The wee one, her eyes always searching for the audience, the connection to that genuine laugh from an observer. Her dimples etching deeply into her cheeks as she giggled uncontrollably, declaring my option of breakfast for dinner an ultimate success: "My moatmeal momma! Moatmeal and ac-on and, yayyyyyyy, pant-cacks." The elder, sitting by her side in typical deep thought, getting frustrated every time the wee one opened her trap, "Mom, I can't think or talk when other people, especially herrrrrrrr -" her eyeballs darted annoyingly to the side - "are talking. I reallllllly need to know if you believe in 'dog,' you know that thing or something that is spelled dog backwards."
Every day, I watch how their gorgeous fleshy little bodies bend and bounce, how their soft skin on their cheeks melts into their tangled hair, how their eyes get dark as soon as 6:46pm arrives, and how their little feet become dusted with dirt and grime from a day well-spent. And I just can't imagine that someday they might get the message that their bright light, that thing that has made them their own unique self from second number one, is anything short of a miracle needing the most intense protection.
The tricky part of all of this is that it takes work to protect that light. As we get older, we have the opportunity to stand up for it. We do that by hard work, nothing short of it. We can decide to stop turning our energy inward and give ourselves the resources to express ourselves beyond just our physical canvas. But, it doesn't just happen by a simple shift in thought. Instead, it's like my former MFA professor, Rachel Manley, explained grumpily to a group of us, all aging students attempting to keep a grasp on a writerly life: You can't expect to produce good work if you are abusing that thing that made you show up here and pay tuition to learn the craft the writing. You can't expect to put good work out into the world if you aren't protecting that "thing" that makes your story not just matter, but be an act of art. Protect it with your life, she said. Don't fill your brain with useless information, don't let your eyes absorb things that take away from your ability to observe the world as a writer needs to observe it, and certainly don't waste your time being numb. Be good to that which brings you here.
You have to do the work.
The good news is that when we say FUCK IT and step up by deciding that our bodies deserve better and our bright lights need protecting, we start externalizing that vibrant energy into something far more productive. And the more we do that, the more our life starts to get streamlined and high functioning. Aches and pains dissipate. Exhaustion becomes less attached to physical disintegration and more attached to the satisfying sensation of giving "it" all you got. Toxicity melds into activity. Fear turns to risk-taking. You get to show up.
I know this. I have been here. I have said it before. MommaStrong was born from the throws of dark depression and inwardly expressed energy. I don't encourage women to show up for 15-minutes because I want them looking different or because I hope they sport big biceps. I encourage it because I know what happened for me when I got my blood pumping, my neurotransmitters active and balanced, my core stronger, my back less fragile, and my breath deeper. The more I showed up for myself and stopped allowing self-destructive habits, the more I wanted to seek risk and adventure. And seeking risk and adventure began the process of allowing my light to shine in all the ways I wanted it to. I could not care less about being known or having strong google analytics. My intention is so different than that. What would be possible if we, mommas of the world, start doing the work it takes to protect our vital energy?
Be Good to Yourself. Pay attention to the mundane things you do that stifle your light. Is it a lack of sleep? Is it that extra glass or two of wine at night? Is it that entire cake you ate out of the trashcan because you could care less? Is it the petty arguments/gossip you engage in? Is it endless hours of tv? Is it the acceptance that stress equals worthiness? Is it the lack of sunshine and fresh air you seek? Is it the belief that you are a martyr without any time for yourself? Is it your toxic relationships? Is it the stagnation of your physical strength? What are you doing to keep your light from shining bright?
Stop it. [said with love]
I'll be your Rachel Manley today, the maternal force behind that little light of yours. Show up today. Do the work. Shine, baby, shine.