at the risk of sounding too soft

In afternoon clinics I can find and pull medical records in our paper-based system; when required, I can check weights and test urine samples. I measure blood pressure and blood sugar; I write prescriptions. I am quick and efficient, even if I don’t always follow protocol. I think this is easier than asking other people to do their jobs.

Black girl childhood is a very specific and nuanced experience. The particular damage done to black girls often comes from our mothers who perpetuate patriarchal standards of respectability and people-pleasing. This is the legacy of girlhood, passed from womb to womb like the secrets of our bodily cycles. What starts as admonishments to keep the girlchild safe (don’t fight, dress modestly) twists to become the base on which our worth is judged. Good girl/Bad gyal. Prude/Slut.

By the time I hit puberty I had absorbed a constitution of rules about good behaviour and decided that being “good” meant being liked by other people. If I was not liked by other people, that meant I was “bad”. And a sure-fire way to be disliked was to get involved in conflict. As a child observing conflict at home, at school and in my community it was clear that nobody liked the angry person who made noise and upset other people. I developed a panic reaction to conflict and tension of any kind, and to this day whenever I perceive conflict my stomach clenches, my breath hitches, and I become acutely aware of my heartbeat. I became sensitive to the barest hint of discord and in anticipation of that physical reaction I avoid, avoid, avoid.

So at work when someone raises their voice, or grumbles under their breath or takes an inordinately long break time and cannot be found, I hesitate the next time I need to ask that person to do their job. My anxiety doesn’t care that it’s the job they’re being paid to do; my anxiety’s only concern is protecting me from a potentially stressful situation. This ingrained response has kept me alive and safe so far, but the work I do is so much bigger than my anxiety.

So I keep trying to grow beyond my survival mechanisms to a version of myself who can be brave. I find solidarity in the realm of social justice where there are plenty of loud angry women doing their best to dismantle systems that oppress and harm entire groups of people. But mostly I hold on to this lifeboat of questions.

Why is it important for me to stand my ground? 
Who suffers if I stay silent
How will things change if I don’t 
What kind of example am I setting?
So what if they don’t like me?

I don’t get it right all the time, and most of my progress comes in the tiniest of steps. But I’m here to take up space in this fight. And no matter how imperfectly I try I will continue to take up space and work toward the future I want to believe in: a future where little girls don’t get boxed into respectability. A future where women aren’t afraid of their voices.

A future where all of us are brave, and vulnerable and radically compassionate with the world, and with ourselves.

Vulnerability makes me uncomfortable but people are kind of amazing

The Bloggess wrote a not-funny post about feeling like crap most of the time, and asked people to honestly  share how many days out of the month they felt like they were kicking ass. My memory is inherently faulty, though. On the days when I feel like crap, I think I feel like crap 98.98793% of the time. On the days where things are okay, I think I’m okay 98.98793% of the time. One of the reasons for this is actually Jenny’s mantra: depression lies.

One of the comments she got was from this guy and this is what he said:

You spend real time with your daughter every day. That right there is amazing. It’s not “curing Lupus” amazing. It’s not “dunking a basketball … that’s ON FIRE” amazing. But few things are. Few people mow their lawns, pay their bills, read the paper, and eat breakfast all in one day. Most people don’t change the kitty litter, walk the dogs, go to work, spend time with their kids, AND don’t owe their parents money.

Seems like the bar that we measure amazing keeps getting higher and higher every year. Anything that smacks of weakness is just so GROSS, isn’t it? I mean, we’re meant to be these beings who are completely in touch with our emotions, yet in total control of them, yet express them whenever we are supposed to, but only in the correct way, and the correct way is sometimes killing bad guys. Like Romulans, Klingons, and Vulcans, all rolled into one person.

Those people don’t exist. Albert Einstein wasn’t that person. Have you seen that photograph of his desk taken the day he died? It was a MESS. His marriage fell apart. The man was a disaster. A brilliant, beautiful disaster. One of those disasters that streaks across the night sky, so amazingly, serenely gorgeous in its descent, that we can’t help but watch as it makes its lovely way before it plops right into the horizon. There it remains, indelibly marked on our landscape, right above the dashboard, just below the mirror.

Truth is, none of us can offer you sage advice or candid disclosure beyond to say that we are enjoying watching you arc. Amazingly, gracefully, like a metal rooster, stuffed with dead animals, streaking across the night sky, totally on fire.

Once a week, you are successful.

Typically, whenever you talk to us.

Hands down, his was my absolute favourite answer. He wasn’t just trying to appease her with platitudes or sharing his own burden without speaking to what she had said. He listened, and he replied, sans BS. And it was pretty.

I want to give this man a hug. In lieu of creepy hugs from total strangers, I will send him readers.

Sally forth, my intrepid readership. His name is Craig Norton and the post explaining how to get banks to stop calling you is absolute genius.