September 16,2015

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31 years ago I was raped. 31 years ago on this day. You’d think that after 31 years, the anniversary of that day wouldn’t matter—that I might not remember. After all, I was 29 and the rest of my life was ahead of me. Ahead of me except on that day, the me that was poised for whatever that life was actually died. I am not whoever I might have been if I had not opened the door on a sunny September afternoon. If I had been out biking or at the grocery store or taking a walk, everything would be different. But I was home and I opened the door.

It took two decades to recover from that 2 hours after I opened the door. Not that I was sitting in a closet all that time. I was living the new life of me—one that included many new experiences with great fear and great compassion. I was working hard to be good and caring and productive. I was working hard to heal some invisible wound that tore me apart. And to the most part, I was able to do that. But still, I hate that what happened on that day can still shake me, transport me, rip me open. it can never be like it never happened. I love that that day opened my heart to hear others, filled me with energy for change, for protection of people’s souls and broke the walls of my thinking. But still I hate that I have such a hard time feeling safe in my own soul. I am constantly working hard.

There is no better, there is no worse between the two of me…it is just that the truth is something happened that can not be undone. Something died and today I grieve for that.

My neighbor Julie lives across the alley. I often get phone calls from her complaining that my dog is barking and all she wants is some peace. I usually apologize and get Shya inside. But after the last phone call I realized I want my dog to bark—I want her to bark loud and long and tell anyone who is near me that I am protected and to get away. I did not have a dog the day I opened the door to a man in a suit who turned out to be a serial rapist. If I had, he would have not come in my house. Messing with me would have just been too much trouble. But instead, it was easy. Knock on a door, tell a story about losing your dog and then pull a gun.

He had been serving a life sentence for several brutal rapes but had been befriended by a church who supported his parole. He behaved well and was living in an unidentified halfway house in the neighborhood. After a month of good behavior in the halfway house, he was allowed to go out into the world unsupervised—for long enough each day to rape 5 women.

This is the first year that I have allowed myself to speak out loud that my life would have been very different and many things I might have wanted were not possible after that day—most tangibly, I think is being able to create a family to have a partner and to raise children. I know that many women in all circumstances have been able to make that happen in their lives, no matter what the trauma they experience. I know my life is all about my choices. I had a lot of children in my life and committed to them fully but I was not able to create my own family or relationship. I have not been able to ever feel whole enough and safe to do that. I still constantly battle depression and anxiety and physical pain. I have to specifically work hard to not fall into the hole in front of me.

On today, it seems like I have fallen and my adult life has been pretending I haven’t fallen. Maybe tomorrow will feel different. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to not be deep in today’s grief. I do that all the time actually but today I want to acknowledge that the last moment when I felt truly free in the world and in my body and in my future was the moment I heard the knock and put my hand on the door handle. And that pisses me off. I don’t say that out loud, it is not what I want to hear. Because noone can fix it and make it not have happened. And that pisses me off too.

When Julie calls again, I am going to tell her to fuck off…that when I was raped I did not have a dog and if I had, my life would have been different. That I want my dog to bark long and loud and tell the world that hurting me is not going to be easy. And she should be glad that my dog barks, she is being protected too. A little peace depends on that big bark. And get some earplugs, the world is not quiet.

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Afraid

I just yelled at the man who runs the repair company. That’s after I yelled at the young woman who answered the phone. You know, I don’t yell much usually. My dad yelled a lot. Most of the time. He had a lot of anger. I’m not sure why. I know that I feel out of control when I get afraid. Maybe he was afraid a lot. Because it seemed like he was always angry.

I got afraid outloud at some people who didn’t deserve me to yell at them. I could feel it, floating above my body. I couldn’t stop the heat in the center of my breast bone–and the twist in my stomach. I yelled more as I felt more afraid.

I get more afraid as I hear him telling me that they won’t fix my dishwasher.  I don’t care about the dishwasher.  But I am afraid because I have been paying a $40 a month for five months without anyone telling me they won’t fix my appliances because there are mice in my house (well, in august when they came..they have died now). Still I yell.  Still I feel a failure and I yell more.

i am afraid because I think that my life trying to make a living will never get easier. I was afraid because I am so tired and afraid I won’t be able to keep up the pace of all the jobs I have that don’t pay enough to pay my bills so I get more jobs to try and come close.

I just got afraid. Afraid that I am not capable and smart and creative. Afraid that I am not good at what I do. Afraid I follow a path but I make foolish and failing decisions. Afraid I will not be able to do it. Whatever it is. I just am afraid.

But the thing is. I don’t believe that about myself…usually at least. I do lean in and step up. I do what I do because I think I contribute to a better world.

Maybe my dad yelled all the time because he couldn’t get to the other side of the equation…not foolish but kind, not failing but present. Not inadequate but human. with a heart that is paying attention. I am still afraid, but the heat is gone and I feel the sad.

When the man from the repair company calls back saying my part is in, I will apologize for being afraid of being afraid.  and yelling.

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REACH

artworks-000048492015-5khuwe-originalWhen I was in my late twenties, I was raped. A devastating event that shattered me and spun me in a tornado for a decade.  But that is not what this post is about.  You probably know someone who has lived that story too.  Even if you don’t know it because the stats are still appalling, 1 in every 4 women will be raped in her lifetime.

But this post is about something else. It’s about sharing our stories and what happens when we do.

A few years ago, I did one of the scariest things I’ve ever done…really, no exaggeration here.  I told my story in front of 1250 strangers in a live event for a national radio program called The Moth Radio Hour.  I did it because it scared me so much and I was telling my students to do things that scared them.  Careful what you teach–you might have to follow your own advice.

The director, Sarah, was amazing and helped me in the process of distilling my story to 12 minutes.  A decade in twelve minutes.  The audience was warm and loving.  And on that dark stage, staring at the red exit sign, I ultimately realized I had survived.  I was not running from what happened, I was feeling and holding it.  I was letting the broken part of me be loved and whole.  It was an incredible gift to be able to do that for… me.

But maybe the most amazing part is that each time this story is broadcast, people find me.  I get emails from old friends and I get emails from people I don’t know that tell me their story.  They tell me that what happened to me is what they experienced and they tell me how they are dealing with it and they touch me.  Every single time, I am moved to love.  I see that fragile me and I see them and I know I am alright. And I know they are too. A few email connections and as raw as the pain is, I know how remarkable people are. And how caring.  And everything I thought I knew about the world that broke the day I was raped, comes back.  The world is filled with love and caring and reaching out–it is filled with hate and pain and craziness too–But you know what, the love and reaching out are more powerful.

A woman named Julia wrote me tonight.

here is the story, you can send it to someone who needs to know they are not alone, if you like. Because just hearing from you will remind them they are not alone

http://themoth.org/posts/stories/september-light

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Pretty

i grew up thinking I was not very pretty.  Smart, yes. Pretty,no.  It was part of the roles my father carved out for us in my family.  My sister was the pretty one but not too smart.  I was the smart one but not pretty.  my shoulders too broad, my breasts too small, my opinions too loud.

I look back at those photos of my childhood and adolescence (when the pretty thing became really important) and I see how wrong I was.  That bright, alive, curious, adventurous girl was pretty…beautiful actually. But because she couldn’t see it in herself, she didn’t see it reflected back to her from others.

I still struggle with this–I do not look like a classical pretty woman.  My body is shaped like an apple, the hair on my head thinning and growing instead in odd places on my face. I am the perfect specimen for the ads on Facebook that encourage one to reach for youth (re: unattainable beauty). I do not believe those products will work for me. It isn’t youth I need.

I do believe I am smart, not pretty.  I also believe I am kind and curious and adventurous and compassionate. And that is really something beautiful about me.

And you know, sometimes, I look in the mirror and actually hear myself say “you are pretty today”.

You may have seen this wonderful speech by Lupita Nyong’o’s speech from the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon hosted by Essence.  She talks about being dark skinned and hence not beautiful.  ‘You cannot eat beauty’ her mother tells her.  Lupita’s insights are for all of us.

watch.  she is inspiring. Lupita’s thoughts about beauty

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me on 3/3/14

 

AWAKE

My companion is a 14 month old German Shepherd named Shya (after the last named Shine and the one before named Shelby-you see the pattern).

She stands at my bedside at 6:00 a.m. and whines, first soft then with increasing strength and pitch.  I trundle down the stairs to let her out.  It is cold. 15 degrees below zero.  She stands in the hallway looking.  No she doesn’t want to go out.  She wants me awake.

She doesn’t want food.  She wants me awake.  She wants me to be awake as she is, experiencing life consciously, immediately, fully.  She is awake and wants to be awake with all the world that is important to her.  The world doesn’t have to DO anything–just be awake.

Mary Oliver has a wonderful book of poetry called Dog Songs.  This one reminds me of Shya’s desire for me to share the awakeness of the world.

LITTLE DOG’S RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
  in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

of course there is the afternoon nap…when I am awake.  But I find joy in watching her sleep too.

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Privilege

explosion.jpg one of the things I get to do in my life is teach–it is both a great joy and honor and equally,a frustrating, exhausting task.  I teach filmmaking–and that is to say, I teach what it means to shape the world around us with stories and images.  How to think about shaping what we make and offer into the world.  My big thing is that every image has an impact–and we have to think about the impact we want and WHY.

A lot of my students are young men, college age. And mot of them are kind, caring and passionate.  And the one topic that is like lighting a can filled with fireworks is the topic of privilege.  ‘Let’s talk about white privilege today…how your status of being white and male shapes how you experience the world and the world experiences you.”  BOOM, FIREWORKS, BIG EXPLOSION, ZOMBIZE

They think of the concept of privilege as really about being racist.  It is hard to hold a place that says how you are treated is not how all people are treated and not feel guilty and then angry.  It’s part of being privileged–most of the world reinforces their experiences and thoughts..so they must be RIGHT, right?  RIGHTRIGHTRIGHTRIGHT…  It is hard to realize that the world is more interesting than just right or wrong, And that you can make it even more interesting in your work by thinking about the different experiences of the world in your work.

One of the core girls of TVbyGIRLS, Thryn found this wonderful piece about privilege that I want to share with you (and my classes). Made by Robot-Hugs. com

http://www.robot-hugs.com/?attachment_id=894

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Happiness

1304120556251old_fort_jackson_savannah_I have to admit, my tendency is to worry and get stuck in thinking about why things didn’t work.  I know in my intellectual brain, it would be more effective to look at the things that go right.  Retraining the grooves in my head to see and give weight to the things that go well.  Sort of the light verses darkness thing.

Martin Seligman, is considered the Founding Father of Positive Psychology.  This is a study of assets that  lead to well-being (the lab word for happiness) in contrast to the study of conditions that cause suffering.  I think we need both but he makes an interesting point that we are conditioned to dwell on what doesn’t work. It was his theories of Positive Psychology that we used to create our working process in TVbyGIRLS–finding and accenting assets each girl has that can lead her to successful adult life of subjective well-being and engagement. (yes, that is Happiness).

What Seligman says:

For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.

He suggests two exercises, one to write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life…a good difference…and then visit them and share the letter.  The other is called the Three Blessings–every night write down 3 things that went well today and WHY.  When I think about it, this raises my anxiety level.  I am not sure why but that is a sure signal for me that it scares me and hence I need to try it.

You can see the article I saw and see what you think here: