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The Hardest Lessons We All Must Learn

Alternately Titled: “A Shit-Ton Of Shame”

I often cite a particularly difficult lesson I learned over a decade ago because when I say “Over a Decade Ago” I feel like it implies that I am much smarter and wiser now. SO MUCH TIME HAS PAST! 10 Years! I’m so much better!

The lesson was that using the word “retarded” casually is offensive and hurtful to people with – or people who love people with – intellectual disabilities. AND I LEARNED IT 10 YEARS AGO! I AM SO MUCH SMARTER NOW!

But the truth is – I have learned many similar lessons in the 10 years since. I just don’t like to cite those because it removes the narrative I’ve set up that The Zoot Of Today Is So Enlightened.

Also? These lessons are hard. They are the hardest lessons.

The lessons I’m talking about are the ones where you have to categorically recognize: I WAS WRONG. And since they are lessons often connected with the negative impact of those you wronged (Like the ID community in the case of the r-word) then you can’t help but feel a SHIT-TON OF SHAME.

Here’s how it unfolds.

STEP 1: You say something.

STEP 2: Someones tells you what you said is offensive/insulting/derogatory etc.

STEP 3: You defend yourself.

AND THEN YOU WALK AWAY FEELING ANGRY TOWARDS THE PERSON AND YOU HOLD STRONGER TO THE WORDS YOU CHOSE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT A RACIST/MISOGYNIST/HOMOPHOBE/BIGOT!

“Wait, Kim? How do you learn a lesson there?”

Well. It’s not exactly what I have done. But two things of note:

1) It’s what I WANTED to do. DO NOT CALL ME A BIGOT.
2) It’s kinda what I’ve done in the past, I’ll be honest
3) It’s what a LOT of people do. Most, maybe.

Here’s where the lesson starts to unfold…

STEP 4: The words the person correcting you use rattle around in your head for awhile and you can NOT STOP THINKING about them.

Now…if you just get angrier and angrier and rant about how Political Correctness is ruining our country? Then you are missing out. Because the next steps are where the true beauty unfolds.

STEP 5: You feel shame because there’s a part of you that sees a bit of truth in the words the person used to point out the error in your words/actions.

STEP 6: You start to really think about that. I mean REALLY think about it. The painfully type of thinking about it because the shame really starts to surface. SHIT-TON OF SHAME.

STEP 7: You realize the person was right and you go forward in your life with a little more enlightenment.

STEP 8: YOU FEEL DAMN GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF. There are so many people who go through their WHOLE LIFE never being open to change AND LOOK AT YOU! YOU ARE OFFICIALLY A BETTER PERSON THAN YOU WERE BEFORE!

Now, full disclosure: The shame kinda subtly lingers for a long time. Sorry about that part. But that comes with the territory of evolving. You see the old you and kinda cringe a little. I still cringe at how casually I used to use the word “retarded.”

But, like I said. I didn’t just go through this 10+ years about about the word “retarded.” I’ve also gone through it about racism and how I discuss and look at movements like Black Lives Matter. I’ve been politely schooled on several occasions and I’ve gone through the steps above and I’ve dealt with the lingering shame of realizing how privileged I am and how much a part of the system of racism I have unconsciously become. No one has come out directly and called me a “racist” because I have kinda and empathetic friends who know that – around me – maybe kid-gloves are necessary. But they’ve called me out. They’ve corrected me. I’ve gotten defensive. I’ve felt shame. AND THEN I HAVE LEARNED AND PATTED MYSELF ON THE BACK.

Because if you survived the cycle of the hardest lessons? And come out a better person? And not stopped at the “RANT ABOUT HOW PC IS RUINING AMERICA” – then you deserve to be gentle and love yourself. It’s a hard journey.

Enter Steve Clemons – one of my favorite political writers. He tweeted this last night.

Let’s just call that: STEP 1

And what followed (because this was on twitter) was a TON of angry criticism. (Call that STEP 2.) Steve responded to a lot of it. And partly defended himself (STEP 3) and said he’s told men to smile too. But also, you can see, he started seeing how much pain those comments cause women because they get held to different standards than men. If you look at some of the conversation threads, you can see where he’s authentically learning how upset this makes women and listening to the lifetime of “being told to smile more” many of them have suffered when men are told that at a much smaller rate. Obviously he thought about it. Steps 4-6 happened in several different threads for Steve before he finally responded to his own tweet.

If you find yourself thinking “Eh – what he said isn’t too bad.” Then consider this blog post your STEP 2. I’m ashamed to say that – even as a woman – I have still had to learn lessons about misogyny and how I contribute to it as well sometimes with comments on women’s “niceness” and appearance. Having a daughter helped me get past STEP 3 and learn my own lessons. I still catch myself telling my daughter to “smile” when I never tell my sons that. If you still struggle to see the problem with it, here’s a good NPR story about it.

Y’all. Even as I’m writing this I’m struggling getting to STEP 8 about the whole “telling my daughter to smile” lesson. That’s probably the one I’ve learned the most recently and I’m still so ashamed when I allowed myself to really look at my parenting and see that I’ve NEVER told my sons to smile and have told my daughter to at least a gagillion times.

GAGILLION TIMES.

So, Steve Clemons? I feel ya, dude. I’m a liberal feminist Mom raising a daughter and I’ve made the same mistake. Thank you for learning the lesson and making me feel a little better about my own errors.

And if you can’t list anything you’ve learned in this manner then there are a few possibilities:

1) You’re enlightened naturally. CONGRATS!
2) You’re scary and your friends aren’t comfortable correcting you.
3) You’ve never made it past STEP 3.

Here’s to all of us dealing with the shame of learning hard lessons together. The more we do, the better our world becomes. Here’s to feeling a Shit Ton Of Shame together!

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Uggg.

I was going to title this “Lost” because that felt so “7th Grade Slam Poetry” and I’m feeling more “Not Enough Coffee” if we’re discussing general angst.

Uggg.

I had a stretch of a great 10 days before I left for Colorado. Anything big that was looming in my periphery I was just saying, “Eh…that can wait until after the trip.” I was running regularly, I was eating right, I was keeping up with my bullet journal website and instagram, I was keeping my kids relatively happy, I was GETTING SHIT DONE that needed to be done THEN but if it could wait? It was waiting.

Then I went to Colorado, had a great time, but came back to a sudden realization that there was A SHIT TON OF STUFF TO DO. Scarlett O’Hara helped me have a great 10 days by reducing my obligations to something I could obviously handle but now it’s tomorrow and I’m suffering from that terrible Anxiety-Induced Paralysis every day and I’ve been back for 2 weeks now and all of the stuff is still there and I still haven’t even begun to knock it only now I’m also NOT running and most definitely NOT eating right and…and…

UGGG.

I told myself I’m going to run today. We’re starting to lose morning daylight which cramps my whole schedule even on a good day, and now that I’m obsessed with Pok√©mon I really prefer to run outside so I can hatch my eggs (what) so I can’t get out the door until about 5:30am but I think I’m just telling myself today that it has to be done. Also? I’m back at the top of my weight limit where I’m down to only the BASIC large clothing in my closet. Before Colorado I was about the middle-of-the-closet range which makes daily outfit choices much better. But now? It’s like one pair of jeans and 2 dresses and THAT IS IT. So, you know, GET OFF YOUR ASS AND STOP EATING HUMMUS, ZOOT.

(Also? Sorbetto.)

There’s really no point in this other than expressing general discontent. We had a showing yesterday and they’ve been so rare (and we require advance notice since we have so many things we have to wrangle: Kids, dog, cats) that we’d fallen behind on general upkeep. I worked my ass off all morning to get it ready, sent Sweetie to doggie daycare, bought a box fan for the cats in the garage so they wouldn’t be too hot, went into work late and BAM! They texted and canceled it. I CRIED Y’ALL.

But my house is kinda clean so, yay? I guess?

UGGGGGGGGG.

Here’s to a full system reboot. I need to shake of the UGGGG and try to get organized and tackle some of the daunting things in my periphery. I need to say “NO” to evening activities for awhile until I get caught up on life. I need to smile more. I need to run. I need to put down the office candy and quit eating donuts. I need to CATCH A DAMN CHARMANDER DAMMIT.

(His silhouette is currently in my “nearby” box torturing me.)

Anyway – I’m happy to bless you guys with this wealth of joy and wisdom today.

<3

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Preaching Without God.

I get really preachy on social media. I find myself second-guessing statuses on Facebook or tweets or even blog posts here all the time thinking, “Okay – this is too far – even for Reverend Zoot.” Yes – you heard me right – for every ONE preachy status or blog post or tweet about the importance of compassion and empathy, there are at least TWO that I didn’t share because I worried it was too much.

I really do struggle with this a lot. I have lessons I have learned in my life – some from experience and some from the wisdom and example of those around me – and I want to share those with the world. As much as I struggle with anxiety and depression, I love my life and I love the world and I firmly believe it’s compassion and empathy that keeps me from falling into a deep hole and never coming out. Sometimes it’s empathy towards people making me feel anxiety, but sometimes it’s compassion towards myself. Either way – there are forces I use to guide my perspective and my life and many moments are made easier by those perspectives; so I’m compelled to share them.

I’m also a writer deep in my blood and there are often current events and attitudes that won’t let me sleep at night until I put words to paper somewhere and clear the chaos from my mind. A perfect example was something that’s been haunting me in the days following the RNC. I was seeing a lot of my liberal or progressive friends giving conservatives ultimatums. “If you are voting for Trump, we can’t be friends.” Maybe not that clear or black & white, but the general point was that…time and time again. I can not understand any reason you would vote for that man so we should cease all connection. My feelings about these attitudes have been rattling around in my head and in my heart for days and finally – around 9pm last night – I got my sermon ready to share with any congregation who would listen.

DO YOU SEE? I AM SO PREACHY.

But I’m trying to become one with that tendency. I’m still deleting blog posts (I have at least 4 million preachy blog posts in my draft folder) and tweets and FB statuses, but I’m trying to allow myself to do it once it awhile to soothe the compulsion I have to make the world better by helping everyone else learn the lessons I learned through blood and sweat and tears. I am not like my daughter, I was not born with this level of compassion and empathy. It took being an asshole – from like age 12 to age 22 – to really learn the importance of the two traits. And for every year that ticks by that I try my best to keep my grasp on that perspective, I feel the need to spend time sharing that outlook with others who may not see the world the same way I do.

But here’s the kicker: It is REALLY hard to be preachy without God.

There are so many times I want to use God in my sermons. Not because I believe it, but because it makes things so much easier. “Why should we refuse to sever ties with Trump supporters?” “Because God told us, through his son, to love one another.” Or maybe, “Because we are all created by God and only made evil by sin so we must love each other like we love God.” Or even take it to a more Eastern philosophy of God, “God is part of everything. He is part of the prostitute on the corner, the sociopath with the gun, and the children in the school yard. We have to see that in order to give the world the love it needs.”

DO YOU SEE? So much easier than, “Humans are complex. I still want to love them.”

I also think about when I’m talking to the kids about good/bad behavior. Sometimes I feel like it would be so much easier to explain, “We don’t lie because it’s a sin.” Instead I have to give this lecture about trust and how important it is to have trust in a family and in friendships and how people won’t trust you if you lie and…do you see? SO TRICKY.

But I guess I’ll keep preaching because it is my penance for the actions of Zoot of yesteryear. I want to enlighten the 20-year old Zoots of the world. I would love it if my words could help teach love and compassion and empathy so that people don’t have to learn the way I did – by being such a self-righteous asshole you find yourself alone and miserable and questioning all of your life choices for the 10 years prior.

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Random Lightheartedness

I posted something serious with a preface that said: LIGHTHEARTED TOMORROW!

But then I took it down and thought: Let’s do lighthearted today.

  • I just finished season 4 of Orphan Black and I love that show so much. There are moments where the pearl-clutcher in me thinks “EEEK! TOO GROWN UP!” but for the most part it’s tame compared to the other popular cable shows. Tatiana Maslany is a genius and I have said time and time again: You know she’s good when you do not even think about that fact that she’s is playing just about every character in the show. She’s also good when she’s one character imitating another and you pick up on it because she manages to lace some of the imitator qualities into the persona and OH MY GOD SHE IS AMAZING. Did you watch it? Do you love Krystal? What about Helena? WHAT ABOUT THE JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR MONTAGE? OMG. So good.
  • I also developed a huge crush on a fictional character this weekend when I saw Ghostbusters. I loved Holtzmann SO MUCH. I watched the original at least 50 times as a kid (it was one of the VHS tapes in my Dad’s office so when we had to go to work with him it was our only option) and loved it dearly and this one was just as good. I lurved it.
  • I’m going through my iTunes music library and trashing stuff I no longer want (It’s a compulsion) and y’all – I went through a Hannah Montana phase I’m not sure I can blame on my children.
  • I need some book suggestions. I want something compelling and light. I read The Husband’s Secret – do Liane Moriarty’s other books that compelling but also not too difficult to read?
  • I was totally geeking over so many San Diego Comic Con reports. My favorite is that Draco Malfoy is going to be on The Flash and it seemed Grant Gustin was as excited about it as I am. I love SDCC and some day I’ll go…IF IT KILLS ME.
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Social Anxieties And Discussing Racism

Part 1: Old And Busted Social Anxieties…This Is Not My First Rodeo.

In response to the surge of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, some leaders in our community organized a first meeting of a new group: Racial Equality Action Committee Huntsville (REACHsv). I missed it the first week but heard some great things about it so I decided to try to go on yesterday. I clicked “attending” on Facebook and shared out the event to encourage other people to go, but also to hold myself accountable because this was stepping really far out of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone being my home, of course. By myself. With Season 4 of Orphan Black.

The meeting was being held at a guitar shop/small concert venue at our local (and famous) art collective. The art collective itself? I’m totally familiar with. The guitar shop? Never been inside. Enter the first Social Anxiety trigger: An event in a location which I’m unfamiliar. This causes problems to people with social anxiety because:

Where do I sit?
Will everyone stare at me when I open the door?
Will I have to sign in, meaning talk to people immediately?

I got to the collective early and sat in my car a bit and centered myself. I went to the store and immediately a nice lady started talking to me about the weather and – because my social anxieties were DEFCON 1 – I made some sort of attempt at humor as a response and used the word “oppressive” to describe the heat and then I went into “racism panic mode” (she was white, FWIW) and started panicking that I was using trigger language before I even got into the Racial Equality meeting and OH MY GOD I SHOULD GO HOME RIGHT NOW.

Instead, I went to the bathroom outside the store and took a few deep breaths. YOU CAN DO THIS, KIM.

I opened the door to the store (the scariest part of the whole evening because you have NO IDEA what’s on the other side) and there were just a handful of people there and plenty of seating. I found a seat middle of the room and all the way against the wall so that I could at least have one plane of No Human Contact to keep my anxieties calm.

And then I noticed a few people holding pieces of paper with numbers on them. Enter the next Social Anxiety Trigger: There is a system in place for this event of which I am unfamiliar.

What do the numbers mean?
Do I need a number?
Wait. Are those the group leaders? How do I know what group I’m in?

A nice lady (holding a number) introduced herself to me and I told her my name and then – quite visibly – retreated back into my Panic Attack Shell. I started remembering discussions from the previous meeting and I remember people saying the broke up into small groups and the numbers seemed to support that and I started panicking at this idea. I CAN NOT HIDE IN A SMALL GROUP. GET ME OUT OF HERE.

There was also a LOT of people just randomly introducing themselves to other people as I observed and I was building up this scenario in my head where at the PREVIOUS meeting they had all discussed the importance of introducing yourself or something and OH MY GOD WILL PEOPLE QUIT TALKING TO ME.

So I did what everyone does, and tweeted.

I started trying to calm down as the room started filling and it seemed like they were going to get started. (The meeting was also getting started late and I had a hard out at 2 hours so that was worrying me that I’d have to leave before it was over.) I also saw a few people I knew, two of whom sat next to me so that calmed me a bit.

Once the meeting started and they explained a little how things were going to work, I started relaxing. First, they took discussion ideas from the group as a whole and we singled out the 5 most popular to discuss in small groups. The asked the leaders (the people with numbers) to stand up and then everyone to divide between those groups. And this? This is where we take my GENERAL SOCIAL ANXIETIES and evolve them into OH MY GOD I AM ABOUT TO DISCUSS DIFFICULT SUBJECTS LIKE RACISM WITH STRANGERS.

Part 2: New Hotness Social Anxieties – The Value of Being Uncomfortable

Preface: As the meeting started I noticed the room was still majority white and this bothered me at first. Like, “DAMNIT. I really wanted to hear from members of our black community and OF COURSE it’s mostly white people. I KNOW PLENTY OF WHITE PEOPLE.”

But the more I thought on this, the more I realized: Change has to come with the MAJORITY group, right? So while we can’t do it alone, there needs to be MORE White people or else nothing concrete is ever going to happen. So I take back my disappointment over that and am glad everything divided like it did.

HUMOROUS NOTE: As the groups were self-dividing (there was some confusing about groups which make that part a little strange) my group had nothing but white people at first and we were already cracking up about that. The leader said, “Well, White people…what do you think?” Which was hilarious. And then, even funnier was seeing us all celebrate when two black members joined we were all, “YAYAYAYAYAY!”

We discussed 5 topics and what we discussed specifically is not as important as the general takeaways. The biggest one to me: THERE IS VALUE AND NECESSITY IN DISCOMFORT.

This was SO IMPORTANT because I was fighting a crapton of discomfort that night just to be there. Some of the discomfort was typical for someone suffering from social anxieties, but some was just the discomfort of talking about racism with strangers, many of different races. So, I tried to really become one with my discomfort and see the value in it.

Also discussed – the importance of awkward conversations…WHICH I AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE. But here’s the thing. Let’s say you have 10 conversations, 9 of them are great and 1 is really terrible and awkward. Do you wish you hadn’t had then other 9 just to avoid the 10th? Because by avoiding them all – you miss out on the possible learning experiences.

BUT THEN I challenged myself further: But Kim, What if you only had ONE GOOD conversation and NINE awkward ones?

And that’s where I have to say: If I learned something important or walked away with a new perspective or enlightenment…then I have to value that one GOOD conversation over the total of the nine AWKWARD ones.

And that’s what I’m going to try to keep reminding myself. That in order to enact real change in myself and in my community, we have to all be willing to step out of our comfort zone. Be open to different parts of town (another place where my social anxieties accidentally make me contribute to system racism) or different restaurants or businesses or playgrounds.

And finally – another thing I’m glad I knew going into this meeting: The value of listening. Time and time again I see articles “For My White Friends” or similar that remind us that this is NOT OUR STORY TO TELL. And I saw a little about why that’s important last night. I’ve seen some writers of color reference the mistake a white person can make when making an issue about themselves. Sometimes by pointing out the wonderful diverse experience they had doing this thing, or by simply bogarting the narrative. This group definitely brought up tough subjects which was good because it was a safe place, but there are times where the voices we need to hear are the voices from people of color because their experiences can help teach us, and I saw how easily it is for people used to being the storytellers…to continue to hold that position.

I wish I had more time, especially with one woman in my group who actually taught about racism online as a social worker. I wanted to hear more of her experiences. She did share some resources about trying to encourage our educators to diversify their lessons. I was also introduced to this TED talk about that difficult conversation that we have to at least attempt once in awhile: WHAT YOU SAID MIGHT BE CONSIDERED RACIST or even worse, someone may have with US.

So I learned some great resources and listened to some great points of view. I heard many people agree that “I don’t see color” is not a true perspective NOR a goal to achieve. I also heard someone point out that “the 80 people here are not the problem” and that was almost depressing to me. Yes – I just spent 2 hours in an effort to work on racial equality with people who ARE ALL WILLING and – Is that a waste of time? Are we preaching to/with the choir?

And I’ve settled into: It was VERY worth it. If I can take my lessons and spread them, then the conversations may reach people who might have not otherwise heard them. So, yes. Those 80 people there are willing participants in the “Let’s Be Better” approach to racism…but maybe their friends or family or coworkers are not. So maybe they take their lessons or their perspectives casually into environments where other people feel safe and the word spreads that way? That’s what I’m hoping anyway.

Conclusion

Mark this night as entirely worth dealing with all of the social anxieties. So, if I put myself out there 9 more times and all 9 times are terrible, I’ll remember how good this night turned out and that – in the end – getting out the door 10 times for this one positive experience, is a balance I’m okay with.