Saying goodbye to the Good Girl

Despite being seriously deprived of many, many movies when I was a kid, I grew up to be a huge Disney fan. I never saw Dumbo or Bambi or Snow White when I was a child, but thanks to my kids I saw *every* Disney movie that came down the pike, starting with The Little Mermaid.

Okay, okay. I didn’t have kids when I watched The Little Mermaid. But I indulged my inner child, so it counts.

I loved Disney, which bled into a passion for Pixar, which was a tad less sexist than all the fairy tale movies that predated me. (Cinderella isn’t as romantic when you watch it as an adult, especially if you’re a feminist.)

Even though my kids are now adults, I will still throw down animated movies whenever the urge strikes. I once had dental work done while watching Finding Dory, which – if their slightly stunned expressions were any indication – it wasn’t a common DVD selection for an adult to watch during procedures.

Don’t care. Love Disney. I will watch movies till I can recite them verbatim. I used to blame this on the kids, who made me watch the Lion King no fewer than 572 times in the 90s. I can literally recite it from start to finish.

Just watch a Pixar movie with me and see if I don’t drive you from the room.

My poor inner child. She had so much catching up to do.

When Frozen came out, I technically had no small children to justify watching it. But it’s Disney. And there’s a talking snowman. I really need no justification more than that.

Granted, I didn’t get to see the movie until it reached DVD, so I heard the song “Let it Go” before I got to see it used in context. I have to tell you… I was a tad underwhelmed. I’m like, THIS is the big number? You poor parents, having to hear this song over and over again. It doesn’t help that it’s a bombastic song that all of your young children were probably screeching at the tops of their lungs. Like you, I was tired of it before I even saw the movie.

Then I saw the movie and It. Changed. Everything.

Of all the movie princesses in the Disney universe, I relate most to Elsa. She wasn’t sweet, cute or quirky or admired for something as superficial as her beauty. She was an important character – about to be crowned Queen – and she committed the high sin of womanhood…

She wasn’t perfect.

She had a strange affliction where her emotions gave her great power that frightened everyone around her. She had to keep steadfast control over how she felt, trying hard to be a “good girl,” (i.e. quiet, calm and submissive) so that she didn’t upset the delicate balance of everything around her.It was the only way she was permitted to have power, which was really no power at all.

(If that’s not an allegory of misogyny, I don’t know what is.)

When the song first appears in the movie, it is a moment where she finally breaks apart from the society that wishes her bound, to live free… but alone. She has to be alone because if she was truly herself, she’d hurt the people she loves most.

But it is in that sad, lonely moment that she realizes how powerful she really is… and how she’s kind of okay with it.

I have to say that when I first saw it, I fucking cried like a baby. That moment when she tentatively embraces her “imperfections,” what makes her different, what makes her special… what makes her powerful… it was such an emotional release for me personally that I am now that annoying adult who is screeching that song at the top of MY lungs, even though I really can’t get through it without bursting into tears. (Ironically around the lyric “You’ll never see me cry.”)

There was a lot backlash around the song, suggesting that it was teaching lesbianism by “rejecting the good girl,” especially considering Elsa’s objective in the movie wasn’t falling in love or finding a man (which, don’t even get me started.) But as a straight woman, I identified so hard with this song because I, too, was imprisoned by the Good Girl jail cell that kept our girl Elsa bound.

Gay, straight or otherwise, some of us just aren’t meant to be a Good Girl.

“So what are you saying, Ginger? You want to be a bad girl?”

Maybe. Maybe, just maybe, it’s beyond me. I’ve been raised all my life to be a Good Girl and I have to tell you, it’s like a straight jacket that doesn’t fit. I have no interest in being docile or quiet or complacent. I have no choice in the matter whether or not I make a splash when I’m never supposed to make waves.

And it took me until 2013 to realize that I could still be a Good Person and reject, wholly, the idea of being a Good Girl.

The two simply aren’t synonymous.

I used to think they were. Way back in the day especially. My family was a God-fearing Southern Baptist family smack dab in the middle of Texas, a society that had very particular ideas on what made a Good Girl AND a Good Person.

As a result, I grew up confused because what I liked, what drew me in and appealed to me, was the very thing they told me made me bad. Rock music? Check. Three’s Company? Check. Sex… check, check, checkity check.

I remember, vividly, when I was thirteen and talking to my friend, who introduced me to the concept of “oral sex” because she had just had an experience with it. I wasn’t grossed out by her story. I was intrigued.

You did what with what?? Do tell me more.

Bad Girl, indeed. Toot toot, hey.. beep beep.

The whole reason that this topic came up at all for me this week was, in fact, because of music. I was around some other devout Prince fans, which reminded me of how much I loved him and how much he meant to me.

Good Girls weren’t supposed to like Prince.

I *loved* him. (N’ I still do.)

I discovered Prince when I was twelve, a year after my dad died. I was spending a lot of time alone back then, self-managing, self-parenting actually, and I had a lot of sympathy for the grieving child I had no idea how to nurture. I’d let her have another taco, an extra scoop of ice cream… and one more hour of entertainment WAY beyond her years at the time.

I was obsessed with Luke and Laura by the time I was nine. This should tell you all you need to know about what kinds of things appealed to me.

And let’s talk about Luke and Laura for a second. Everyone gives their origin story a lot of shit, because let’s face it – it deserves it. She was the ultimate Good Girl, a sunny blond, blue-eyed innocent with a stunning smile and a doting husband, who married her the second she turned eighteen… the living embodiment of Ken and Barbie. Luke was a rogue from the wrong side of the tracks and he raped her, yet they ended up falling in love anyway.

But it was *because* of the whole Good Girl stigma, particularly in the 1970s, that rape had to be employed at all as a storytelling device. She was married to equally good Scotty, but was irresistibly attracted to the Bad Boy Luke. She couldn’t stay away from him and found every reason in the world to be around him. Despite this, she couldn’t just *sleep* with Luke and act on all that attraction and chemistry between them. If she did, she wouldn’t be a Good Girl anymore and the audience would lose their sympathy for her. So he had to rape her in order to keep her virtue intact, but give fans the intimacy they all craved. Go back to romance books back in that same era and you have the reluctant Good Girl and the Bad Boy rogue who has to manhandle her to get her to give in to her attraction.

Good girls have to be talked into sex, doncha know. Or thrown up against a wall… either way…

Even four decades later the Alpha Male still holds appeal, the dominant who will open you up past The Good Girl the world sees. There’s a reason my blog about General Hospital is still getting hits, seven years after it was written.

It’s a delicate balance we are all forced to walk, like a two inch high wire 100 feet in the air with no net to catch you.

You only get the net if you’re a Good Girl, and I ain’t. Because even when I was nine years old I was screaming at my TV screen for Laura to jump all over Luke and forget Scotty, who was a controlling sexist pig anyway. I would have jumped into Luke’s arms at the first opportunity.

Fast forward to 1982 and along came Prince. I was introduced to him via his Little Red Corvette video and he was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before. (Small-town conservative Texas, remember.)

I was mesmerized from the start. Most people loved Michael Jackson, since this was right around the Thriller era, but I rejected all that for this unusual man in purple (my favorite color, no less!) who had swagger way before I even understood the concept.

Michael was too straight-laced for my tastes, ironically. I was still that Good Girl who needed a Bad Boy to open the world up for me.

Prince was so that guy.

I was hooked in an instant. I started buying his albums (yes, albums,). In addition to 1999, which was the album I purchased for Little Red Corvette, I had these two on constant repeat:

These included such ditties as “Jack U Off” and “Head,” both of which I could sing from the time I was twelve.

That Good Girl ship sailed early for me.

Whether it’s because I’m a Scorpio or just happily demented, sex has always been a fascinating topic to me. I can turn any topic around to it, and have. (Look at this blog, for instance.) You’re not supposed to admit this as a woman, but fuck it, I’m letting it go. Psychologically we could probably blame it on the attack when I was four, which introduced the idea of “sex” to me way before I was old enough to understand it, which meant I spent a lifetime after it trying to figure it out. But Luke and Laura, Prince… it was clear from the beginning that I had a fascination with all things forbidden… because I desperately want to unravel *why* it’s forbidden in the first place, especially if it’s something I want.

Like everything else, I work all this shit out with storytelling. If you’ve read my books, you understand that this is Bad Girl territory, from the Groupie who has to nail the hot rock star to the rich woman who hires an escort to make all her sexual fantasies come true.

Good, bad, I don’t care. It’s what interests me. Prince was the first person I remember making this okay. He even wove God and spirituality into the mix, which… dude. According to my narrow Southern Baptist confines of what it meant to be “Good,” being drawn to such things made me bad and sinful. With Prince, the message was, “God loves you anyway. Let’s dance!”

As a result, I learned more about spirituality from Prince than any preacher. In fact… despite being in church from the womb, it was Prince’s song “Controversy” that taught me how to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

(OMG Just realized there was an official video to that song… fangirl freakout… music break…)

Per Prince, I could be a “bad girl” and still be a good person; I could still love God, I could still care passionately about what was going on around me in the world, even if it was going to shit in apocalyptic glory. And I could fight it all by simply giving in to what made me… me, even if other people didn’t like it or understand it.

Looking back, I guess Prince was the first little snowflake I created in the Emancipation of The Good Girl.

(I’ve been on this mountaintop a long ass time.)

It’s taken me 47 years but I can say this openly and without shame: I have no interest in being your Good Girl. Being a Good Girl means that I conform to someone else’s idea of femininity and womanhood. It usually involves things like conformity and subservience, the kind of stuff I can barely talk about without engaging my gag reflex.

My name is Ginger, FFS. Have you ever had ginger? It’s strong. It’s spicy. It’s not for everyone, and even for those who like it there’s a fine line between just enough and too much.

Can you think of a more fitting moniker?

Thanks to my Dad, who treated me like a queen from the time I was born to the day he died, I wasn’t asked to contain myself. If I walked into the room, I could state whatever opinion I had. I never had to wait. And even if my dad disagreed, and he often did, and even if he didn’t, he’d argue with a fence post, I wasn’t afraid to stand my ground and make my point, even if I was all of six at the time. And he never once tried to shut me down.

(Thank you, Dad, for that gift of confidence. I credit you for never being overtalked by any man anywhere.)

Like Elsa, when my dad died I was left to navigate a world that didn’t understand me, who was discomforted by the fact that I was a complex individual with highly charged emotions that could intimidate those attempting to keep the delicate balance of polite society.

Like Elsa, I stuffed it all down to make myself more palatable to them. It was something I felt I had to do, just to survive. Often this meant I withdrew from people, because that scary Ginger, that Bad Girl Ginger, IS the real one, and you can only hide it for so long… and I knew even when I was eleven years old this was a deal-breaker.

Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know

Being who I am became my secret to hide… my super power to suppress.

Come to think of it, I think this is why I love the Netflix series Stranger Things so much because I identify with El – who shares the same affliction as both Elsa and me… who literally had to hide what makes her special just to keep herself safe.

But sometimes… it’s just impossible to keep it in…

Like El and Elsa, self-preservation meant suppressing and denying what makes me special. I’ve adopted The Good Girl persona so people will like me enough that they’ll never leave, because that is my single worst fear. It started when I was an eleven-year-old child and I realized such things happened. Even the people who love you mostest can and do leave, and then you’ll be all alone and vulnerable to a hateful world around you.

Been there. Done that. It sucks. There’s really only one good thing that comes from it: you’re free then to define who you are, and tap into your power and just see where it leads.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

El and Elsa are both heroes, forced to use their own unique powers to save the people they love, and in doing so embracing what made them imperfect.

They just had to learn how to “let it go.”

I’m in that process right now. I’m in the process of learning that I can still be a Good Person even if I don’t do what others think I need to do to be a Good Girl, someone who gracefully, quietly and prettily fits into polite society, like some docile little bird whose wings have been clipped.

To that I stand in your face, fists clenched, screaming, “SCREW YOUR POLITE SOCIETY.” Polite societies looked the other way during the rise of Nazis, and, quite frankly, can go fuck themselves.

nice-people-made-the-best-nazis-my-mom-grew-up-25654652.png

Being a Good Girl isn’t a measure of who I am, it’s how I’m expected to behave, rules set in place by other people. Believe it or not, I can enjoy giving a good blowjob AND be a good mom. I can write about fucking AND still kick misogyny square in the balls like they deserve. I can watch and understand the dynamics of Luke and Laura and still fight against the rape culture. (In fact, I think it makes me stronger not weaker to do so.)

Your shackles don’t fit me, and I have no interest in trying to make them. As a woman especially, the perimeters within I’m expected to operate are extraordinarily narrow, since the power structure built up around us was created mostly by men, which can include the following:

If we’re not pretty, we’re shamed for not putting more of an effort into being attractive to the opposite sex. (It doesn’t matter, apparently, whether I’m trying to attract them or not. Even if you’re 100% lesbian, you have to meet this rule – just ask any butch lesbian who has rejected any trappings of perceived femininity.)

If we ARE pretty, sure we get more perks but the general wisdom is that we didn’t really earn them. A woman can ascend to the top pegs of the corporate ladder, but some idiot somewhere is going to wonder, usually aloud, who she fucked to get there.

And let’s chat a bit about the fucking part…

If we’re not sexual enough, we’re frigid prudes who need to lighten up.

If we’re too sexual, we’re sluts and need to slow our roll.

If we’re married and we cheat, we’re selfish, hedonist sluts.

If we’re married and our husbands cheat, we obviously didn’t do enough to keep them happy. God help us if we dare “let ourselves go.”

If we’re lesbians, we just haven’t “met the right guy.”

If we’re raped, it is somehow our fault for either attracting the attacker or not being strong enough to fight him off.

If we’re married with kids, a stay-at-home mom, we have no goals, no separate identity.

If we’re career women who have shunned staying at home and having kids, we’re man-hating feminazis who are threatening the very fabric of America by attacking the nuclear family dynamic because we’re too self-centered.

If we’re docile and quiet, we’re pushovers.

If we’re loud and pushy, we’re bitches.

And you can just fuggetaboutit when you become a mother. Pregnant women become less valuable than the cluster of cells they carry in the womb, and we’re expected to carry that lesser value into motherhood, always placing the children and the family first – even if that means you give up goals and dreams you worked an entire lifetime to achieve.

Men and fathers can still do both. Women, not so much.

(Jeff and I will be watching Bad Moms later, which was actually a coincidence, but now I think is fitting the theme of the day.)

Basically there’s a critic for everything you say or do, how you look, what you wear, how you parent your children, how you manage your marriages and relationships… all of it. And basically to be a Good Girl, you have to be doing the opposite thing, whatever it is, of what you are currently doing… particularly if it brings you any joy.

That little box for the Good Girl? It’s tiny, y’all – about the size the pocket society wants to keep you in. It doesn’t fit. I’m uncomfortable, and – contrary to Good Girl wisdom, losing all my weight so I can check off at least the “pretty” box – it will still be way too tiny for all of this Ginger.

What’s a girl to do?

We’ll I tell you what this girl is gonna do. I’m gonna say what I want to say. I’m going to wear what I want to wear. I’m going to look how I’m going to look. I’m going to do what I want to do. You might not like it. In fact, like true ginger, it may get to be “too much.”

But I have faith in you that you’re strong enough to take it. You’re a survivor, you. You’ll live. You’ll live your life doing what you want to do, saying what you want to say, and I’m probably not going to like all of it either.

Being a Good Girl, I’d have to swallow it all and accept it.

I can still be a Good Person and refuse to allow your rules define me.

So I’m letting it go.

Good girl? No thanks.

I’d rather be a motherfucking queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Face-planting on the finish line.

It’s a very hard-won victory crawling over the finish line to Saturday this week. As I’ve shared before, my back is giving me a lot of grief trying to incorporate more activity into my routine. Whenever I add that third walk to the day, to reach my 30 minutes of activity and get ever nearer to the 10K steps a day I should be walking, my body launches a major protest that has crippled me more as the days go by. In the past I could go back to the two walks and find some kind of relief. Sadly this week it’s just been even more of a struggle. By Friday, coughing, laughing, turning slightly in my chair or even taking a deep breath caused my back to “hitch,” seizing up for a few painful seconds where it’s too painful to even breathe.

My coworkers are even seeing it now, which is major. Most people never know what I’m going through, but this… I can’t hide.

Still, I tried to maintain at least two walks a day throughout, refusing to admit defeat. I just usually came home and collapsed at the end of the day as a result.

Plus there’s a lot of negative stuff happening at work that have really dragged down my spirit. In that respect, I really do feel defeated, and have for a very long time with this company. In the year and a half that I’ve been there, I’ve officially gone up for positions that would pay very well, positions for which I’m well-suited and have experience, only to be passed over for other candidates, some of whom don’t have experience that I do.

I guess I can’t be too surprised this is an ongoing pattern since that’s been how I got officially hired into the company. I started as a temp last February, when they needed some assistance getting caught up on a project. I worked so well they kept me on, doing odds and ends to justify my time there until a position opened up and I could be hired full-time. Such a position came around last May or June, a billing position that was being especially created for our particular site – the Mother Ship of a company with six other sites across two states. A billing consultant interviewed me for this, and he believed I was the perfect candidate, but he was forced to interview two other favorites from the company, to keep it “fair” and “equal.” The owner made the ultimate call, promoting someone who had been there near a decade without any real upward mobility aside from merit increases every year to reward her for her continued service. It’s hard to hate over that, and I figured as long as I got my foot in the door replacing her entry level position, I would eventually work my way up the ranks.

So I accepted the position, which paid $10,000 a year less than the billing position, and have worked my butt off since then, revamping the department I’m in, taking on other roles, being a vital part of the billing team, figuring that in the future I could work my way into a position that would pay me for what I bring to the table: decades of experience and a focus on excellence that even surpasses the company’s standard.

In the year and a half I’ve worked there, I’ve focused on learning things outside the scope of my job to help assist, be a team player, get the work done. Bring money into the company, keep it healthy. Protect my job and the jobs of everyone around me. All I’ve asked in return is a higher investment on me as an employee. When they needed help at another site, running their Medical Records department, I stepped up. In fact, I was virtually *begging* for this opportunity to show what I could do. I created Standard Operating Procedures for how I ran my own department, so I wanted to take this to another site and further prove how efficient I could be – especially since their site had decided they didn’t even need a full-time Medical Records Coordinator. The reason they needed anyone at all is because the one they had quit rather than go to part-time work.

Months went by as they tried to patch the leak in the dam. They tried to send our old MR person, the one who got promoted, but it didn’t fit her schedule. They sent another employee, who does work for all seven sites, so she wasn’t able to get them caught up with the demanding duties of her job. Meanwhile I was chomping at the bit, just for the opportunity to show what I could do, like a stallion stuck in a starting gate. When the time came, I drove 3+ hours to go to that site 2-3 times a week to catch them up (which I did handily, impressing everyone there to the point they wanted ME full time.) And I probably could have run both sites, the largest one (where I work, along with another coworker in MR) and that smaller one, which has 1/3 of the census, and I told the founder this. I suggested that for just $1 more an hour, they could save the $30K+ a year hiring anyone over there and I’d just do both.

They paid me mileage to go back and forth to the site, it was a nice little boon to the check. One more dollar and hour would have made it a sweet little gig – AND saved them tens of thousands of dollars annually in the process.

Within a few weeks they hired someone there… for $1 more than I make an hour.

And I’m still helping them out, because that’s my ethic as a coworker. You help, even if you’re not getting paid. Things need to be done, period.

My current ED (Executive Director) pulled me in during that time, saying that they wanted to “promote” me to working in another department in my home site to cross-train. That turned out to be lip-service to keep me quiet in the wake of my ballsy request for a raise. The department they wanted to cross-train me in had just been downsized from two people to one, and they basically told her that she’s doing well enough that they can’t justify the expense of having someone else brought in to help her.

So nothing ever came of it. They dangled the carrot and then they dropped the ball.

Another opportunity came up recently where a very well paid employee resigned in our admissions department. I applied for her position, because I felt like I could kick ass it, the same as I did with the department I’m in. Nothing we do is rocket science. It’s a medical administrative office, and the non-clinical stuff is pretty basic. I felt like I could bring a lot to the role. I contacted the recruiter at the advise of a friend, and she confirmed that the move would have definitely included more money.

I figured I was a shoe-in. The job needed someone who could talk to outside sources and families, and I have customer service experience in spades – to the point I was implementing their new phone standard *BEFORE* I was technically trained to do it. The minute I got the new protocol, I enacted it. The CEO called and got that kind of excellence, and couldn’t stop raving about it. They needed someone who could be accurate and precise, and that’s my job as Medical Records Coordinator, often to the annoyance OF the Admissions department, as I’ve returned a lot of paperwork for being inaccurately filled out and won’t budge on it till it gets fixed. I have a very, very high standard, both for myself and others.

Not to mention BOTH my ED and another manager came to me the day that this gal resigned, asking me if I was interested. Of course I said yes. They said it would include alternating weekends, which didn’t make me happy but for more money I wasn’t going to complain.

When she asked me how much more I’d need to give up my weekends, I told her at least $18 an hour – which was a bargain price for the department and the role. Again… I was keeping the company’s bottom line as part of my focus.

But of course the minute I brought up more money, the whole subject once again dropped like a hot potato. I heard through the grapevine they ended up interviewing someone ELSE after that, someone who already gets paid more than I do, and it went as far as an official interview with all the managers, which I never got.

I figured that was that, until the recruiter herself wanted to interview me – which she did on a Friday. That following Monday, after she talks to my ED, the recruiter tells me the move would be “lateral” – meaning I would get the same money I’m getting paid now (entry-level pay) for a vacated position that paid over $30 an hour.

Oh, and I’d have to give up ALL my weekends, so that the other gals in that department – who get more than $20 an hour, can get their weekends off.

Everyone who knows what that position entails was flabbergasted by the offer, which, I truly believe was given like it was to force me to say no.

It worked. I said thanks but no thanks. If I’m giving up ALL my weekends, it would have to be $25/hour.

At least.

Ultimately they brought someone else entirely in and guess who is doing a lot to train her to revamp the department to what it should be, per their own compliance rules, which were still not being followed by the chick who had just left?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this new gal, who is there “just to help out,” makes more than what they offered me.

This seems to be a similar and frustrating pattern.

Finally, the position I really wanted became available: the office manager position. It has been vacant since February, when our then-office manager (and my boss – the best boss ever) had quit. She recommended me before she left. I had actual hands-on experience in the role, since I worked closely with her from the time I was hired on as a temp. I worked on HR files. I worked on the invoices. I created tools to help my then-boss to keep track of our current vendors and make the billing process more efficient. I even helped her write the newsletter. She knew I’d kick ass. I have management experience. I’ve helped two start-up companies, and run my own business on the side, so I bring maturity and experience to the role. I’ve hired, trained and supervised people. I work closely with the billing group every single week to turn their Bill Hold around from a two-hour trainwreck to thirty minutes at most, with a couple of months bringing it down to either $0 held or a handful of holds at the site level.

These are firsts at our location.

The *only* reservation I had about taking the position meant I’d have to manage my fellow coworkers, who, back in February, wouldn’t have taken too well to the change. But I feel like those relationships had gotten better since then, so I applied the day I saw it, which was a day after it posted, though I really didn’t expect anything to come of it. No one pulled me in to ask me if I could do it, even though I know for a fact that they had two people recommend me to the higher ups.

To my surprise, they actually interviewed me for it, but it’s not my first rodeo, particularly with this company. There’s a clear pattern that has repeated several times and I can read the signs. Their silence is a dead giveaway. I know that interview was just one more for the “Circus to appear fair and equal” show. They gave me a ten minutes, telling me how they “couldn’t pay me much more” than I’m getting paid now, despite the title and the workload.

They also said I wouldn’t have to manage anyone, which was my only admitted reservation to taking the position. But I already know now that the compensation is how they force me to stay right where I am, where they get maximum work for pennies on the dollar.

So I made it plain in the interview that even with only a slight increase, the promotion to manager (especially in such a short time) would really indicate what kind of work I do for the company, and be a great boost to my resume.

I’m forty-fucking-seven, I don’t have ten years to waste on an entry level position. If you want me to stay with your company, you’re going to have to meet my effort with respect and compensation. With VALUE. A raise is one way to do that. A title is another.

But that’s now how this company works. They’re drowning, but spend millions of dollars on consultants and manager training at ski resorts, but they can barely afford more than a 2.5% merit increase for all their employees, down from the 4% last year, and none of whom even got a face-to-face evaluation this year.

Unless you just happened to check your compensation history, you would have even missed you got a “raise.”

But I watch shit like that. And I watch what goes on around me. That’s why I’m 1000% sure that they’ll hire someone else as office manager – probably someone they approached before they even interviewed me, someone with less experience who will make more than what they want to pay me.

And I’m left wondering what the hell is wrong with me? It’s like I’m never going to get anywhere with this ED and this HR person. They’ve decided a long time ago where I belong at this company, and it’s at the bottom.

It’s been a rough, rough week dealing with this. It’s hard not to take this personally. The office is filled with people who make more money than I do, who play around on their computers, who slack on the work, who have no incentive to make the company stronger and healthier. They want to come in, do their eight hours and wait for the weekend. The “not my job” crowd never really sees any kind of consequence for their lackluster behavior. They get the same “merit” increase every year as everyone else, and this year was no exception. They barely get written up, even when they cost the company money, because upper management binds the hands of those trying to make a difference in the company. The red tape that we have to navigate through is a stranglehold, and I thought that it was contained just to this company, but my husband, who is a new assistant manager for a retail store, says he faces it too. Everyone is so fucking afraid of getting sued that slacker employees can damage the company with barely any retribution anymore.

Good news for them. Not so great news for people who actually give a damn.

To prove my point: last year it was uncovered that some employees were clocking in from their phones before they even entered the building, which was essentially stealing money from the company. It took months to get HR to take this seriously. Instead they wanted to “train” everyone that you shouldn’t clock in on your phone, you should clock in on your desktop computer, and without that training a “write-up” would be unfair, because they can claim they didn’t KNOW it was illegal to clock in a half-hour before one showed up for one’s shift.

I was gobsmacked. Is this REALLY where we’re at as a society?

Finally, months later, legal got involved and people were written up/suspended… but they all still work for the company.

And each and every one of them gets paid more than I do.

My spirit has died a little more every single day I’ve worked there. But it’s a job, and I have bills, so I stay. It’s not that I haven’t applied elsewhere. I have, especially on those days I get really frustrated. I’ve thought seriously about the day I can walk out of that building, flipping the bird to every single person who has made my life more difficult in the process.

I’ve been told to hang in there, that this company is facing a transition period. That rock star consultant they hired has a simple business plan: hard work will be met with more money, while the slackers will feel the pain of less. They tell me to wait out the storm and eventually it’ll be the job I want it to be.

But the fact is I don’t want a “job.” I want a career. I want my career. When the writing thing worked it was like I wasn’t working at all, even when I was pulling 15-hour days to churn out book after book. My back was never an issue. I could work around everything. And I got paid better than any other “job” of my life. It just felt *right*… like I had stepped into the life I was supposed to have.  It was physically and emotionally painful to compromise on ANY “job,” which is a big part of why I have been so dissatisfied for so long.

Stuff like this just reemphasizes to me that this is not the place for me. It hurts because it is supposed to. If they gave me a $5/hour raise, I’d stay forever, taking their shit because it’s easier to go down when you have money in the bank. I’d grow complacent. I’d give up on my dream because it’s smarter to count on the money that comes in on a regular basis, instead of the ebb and flow of book revenue, particularly when Amazon makes it more and more difficult for people to find you.

This current job and all its financial limitation keeps me hungry, for lack of a better word.

I want and need to crack that code again, and really – that’s all that the revenue from this job should provide.

As I sat at my desk in tears the other day, so frustrated with their treatment of me, and trying my level best not to let it rewire the chatterbox, that this is somehow what I deserve, I decided that I’ve grown too complacent. This isn’t a matter of them not seeing my value. They know what kind of worker I am, and they’re just jazzed they can get me (and keep me) at bargain basement prices. And I’ve taken it because despite that I don’t get fairly compensated at the job, I do make quite a bit more than minimum wage.

It’s just not enough. Not with everything I have to do. So I work harder, hoping that somehow the universe will reward.

Instead, it only throws me more scraps. They offered me a part-time job with another side company and I almost took it, even though I had no idea what kind of compensation I’d see. It wouldn’t be overtime, even though that’s what I’d be working. But how can I turn down money, when my finances are a big part of my problem right now?

After everything that happened this week, I wrote the founder and told her thanks for the opportunity, but no. I’m barely hanging on by a thread now, especially with my back. Something has got to give, and it can’t be me.

I need to create clear and consistent boundaries, focusing on what is really important: Plan A.

Whether this new job comes through or not, I’m going to stop treating Plan A like it’s Plan B, and vice versa. And if this promotion doesn’t come through, then I’ll know for sure that there is no future at this company for me. I’m sure as shit not going to languish in the same entry-level job for ten years waiting around for them to pay me what I’m worth. It’s a value statement, in how much they want to invest to keep me on the payroll as a part of their company. Despite the lip service of how I’m aces there, they clearly don’t value me as much as some of the others they have working there. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. As long as I’m being tied to the bottom rung of the later, that’s how I’m going to measure my ambition with this company going forward. They’ve offered to cross-train me on other positions, but I’ve decided to decline on doing anything above my job description unless there’s compensation involved. It’s time to make a stand, and if nothing else – THAT is what this job has taught me. I know what value I bring to the table. If they can’t see it, then they don’t deserve my best. I’ll do my job the way I have always done it, because excellence is not a choice for me.

But as far as doing anything else, above and beyond, to help them excel as a company, that comes at a price and I’m tired of being the only one who pays it. I’ll spend the time I would have spent working part-time for someone else on my OWN dream, which is where that time belongs anyway.

If the universe has determined that I’m going to play Sisyphus my whole life, then I’m going to roll the boulders up my own goddamn hill.

Despite this rocky week, I’m pleased to report that I didn’t binge despite several very close calls. It was almost frightening how little it took to wake the Sugar Monster inside. I just needed to feel good and it wasn’t happening, and I found myself physically having to turn myself away from the cravings. It was a conscious choice to say no, rather than the conscious choice to say yes.

After these last many months, I consider that a major victory. We’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

I did have a girls’ night last night where I drank a little too much, but I maintained my food intake like a champ despite all of the temptations. I really want to and feel like I need to go to the park for a little zen time, but my back is still in piss poor shape, so I’m going back and forth on whether or not I should do it. My son, who is a fitness guy, tells me it’s okay to take some time off to rest, that I’ve done enough this week, but it’s not just about the four or five miles I walk.

I just need to decompress, and that’s one of the best ways to do it. Spirit-wise, it’s probably one of the better things I could do. But where the spirit is willing.. the body is simply limited.

This, more than anything, is why I’m on this journey I’m on. It’s not to attract men, or make people like me more. It’s not even to make myself more promoteable in the workplace. It’s so that I can do what needs to be done, when I want to do it.

I’m sick and fucking tired of limitations. We’re nearing a Daffy Duck level meltdown. Seriously.

This week hurt because it was supposed to, to show me how I’ve clung to an ill-fitting cocoon for so long. This job doesn’t fit any more than this big body.

Somehow I have to break free… from BOTH of them.

It’s time someone treats me with the value I deserve, starting with me, because who on earth is better skilled or qualified?

I’m kicking ass for Ginger now. The world can prepare itself accordingly.

The Story of My Mother – Patsy Ruth McCandless

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Patsy at 16, taken approximately 1953 in Southern California. This was her favorite photo of herself.

Patsy McCandless was born Patsy Ruth McNamara in Tipton, Oklahoma on February 28, 1937. She was the youngest of four children to be born to George and Beatrice McNamara; eldest brother Houston (Mac,) and her two sisters, Anita and LaRue.

Though her life began in Oklahoma, hard times, including her parents’ divorce and the untimely death of her sister LaRue from kidney failure, sent Patsy westward to California to live with her brother and her father. After George’s death just a couple of years later, she came of age living with her older brother, Mac, and his new wife, Eleanor, who was quite a bit older than the two of them, so she took on a more maternal role for Patsy. Eleanor’s devout Christian beliefs helped shape young Patsy’s spiritual ideals, which led to her being baptized in the Salton Sea in Southern California, where she rather notoriously lost her shoe.

She went to high school in Inglewood, California, and had an active social life with several good friends, one of whom ultimately married Eleanor’s son, Buddy. Later Patsy herself would marry before returning to Oklahoma at age twenty-one, where she gave birth to her first child, Michelle, in Norman. When it became necessary to start a new life elsewhere, again, she finally found her way to Amarillo, Texas, where she met her second husband, Joel McCandless, who was a bus driver.

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Joel Watson McCandless – 1960s, Amarillo, Texas

Their courtship flourished as she rode the bus every day to work. They married in Amarillo, before later moving to Lubbock, where they were active members of their local church.

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Patsy and Joel McCandless, 1968.

She found her calling in the service industry, particularly sales and retail, thanks to her outgoing personality and her proficiency with math.

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Patsy hard at work, 1961

In 1969, the McCandlesses relocated to the area of West Texas known as the Big Country, where Patsy gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Ginger, at Abilene’s Hendrick Medical Center in November of that year.

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Patsy and Ginger McCandless, Christmas 1969, Abilene, Texas

By the 1970s, Patsy was one of the friendly faces Abilenians saw when they went shopping at Furr’s grocery store, when it was in business at its Grape Street location. Her family soon learned that Patsy never met a stranger, literally. Every single time they went anywhere, she’d find someone she knew, a phenomenon that would occur even if decades had passed between their seeing each other. She made a lasting impression, thanks to a friendly smile or joke to greet all types of friends, even the ones she hadn’t met yet.

Patsy was active in her churches, a faithful member who showed up weekly without fail. She was the kind of wife and mother who took pride in her family and in her home, as well as her job outside the home. She was creative both in the kitchen and in front of a sewing machine, often making her own clothes and clothes for her kids from scratch.

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Joel, Patsy and Ginger McCandless in their Easter best, 1974, Abilene, Texas

Also in the 1970s, she became a grandmother for the first time when her first grandchild, Isaiah (Patrick) Pursley, was born. Barely 40, Patsy was overjoyed to be a young grandmother, and would brag about her grandbabies to whoever would listen.

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Patsy and her grandkids, Patrick and Joni, 1978, Abilene, Texas

She cherished the three other grandchildren who joined her eldest daughter’s family: Joni, Dwayne and Melissa (Missy.)

After Furr’s, she went on to work at the Abilene State School. Because her husband Joe was disabled and retired, she took on the primary caretaker role, taking whatever job necessary to provide for her family while he stayed at home as the caregiver, which was pretty progressive for the 1970s. They relocated more than once, going back to Amarillo by September of 1980, where she went to work for the Levi-Strauss company.

Patsy was widowed by December of that same year, where she took on the unenviable task of single-parenthood right when her youngest hit pre-adolescence.

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Patsy and Ginger McCandless, 1982, Amarillo, Texas.

Always a hard worker, Patsy attacked this noble job with gusto and determination, finding a way to support her small family along while single-handedly parenting her young daughter, without ever taking a dime of charity to do it. She worked for a time in insurance, before relocating back to the Big Country, where she managed at convenience stores in the Abilene area throughout the 1980s.

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Patsy in 1986, Abilene, Texas.

It was while working at a convenience store in Amarillo in 1987 that Patsy met a man named Daniel Rutherford, who would go on to be her son-in-law. She would say years later she knew that he would be a good pick because of how well he treated her in those early days, when he would walk her to her car when it was icy or snowy, or come down to the store regularly to check up on her and make sure she was okay.

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Daniel Rutherford and Patsy McCandless, Rose Park, Abilene Texas, 1988

By the 1990s, she returned to California, where both of her children had relocated. Ginger gave birth to three more of Patsy’s grandsons, Timothy, Jeremiah and Brandon Rutherford, which filled in Patsy’s family tree.

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Patsy and her two grandsons, Timothy and Jeremiah Rutherford, 2001, Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Patsy proudly poses with grandson Tim Rutherford after his graduation in 2009.

Indeed it was family that meant the most to Patsy. Whenever she was needed, she moved heaven and earth to make sure she could come through for people she loved the most. They meant as much to her as her Christian faith. They are also the ones who will feel her absence the most. Even to the end, her sense of humor endeared her to her caretakers at Coronado Nursing Center, where she spent her final days.

On December 6, 2015, Patsy McCandless was finally called home, where she joins those who have gone before her, including her parents, her siblings, two grandchildren and her beloved son-in-law, Daniel Rutherford.

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Dan and Patsy, Hawthorne, California, 2002

Surviving Patsy are her two daughters, Michelle Pursley of Texas and Ginger Voight of California; her grandchildren, Isaiah, Dwayne, Joni, Timothy and Jeremiah, as well as several great-grandchildren.

Patsy’s funeral will be held Wednesday, December 9th, at Girdner Funeral Home, 141 Elm St in Abilene, Texas, after which she will be interred at Hawley Cemetery.

****

All of that is the technical obituary stuff, the stuff you could print in a newspaper if you wanted. This is the official one, but it only skims the surface of what she managed to do in 78 years.

It tells you some of her story, offering just a little bit more than a dash between dates… but not much.

Let me tell you about her life, from a daughter’s perspective.

My mother was one of the strongest women I had ever met. She had to be. Her life was not an easy one. Not only did LaRue die in her arms, but my mother had to sit with the body, because that’s what people did in those days, particularly in towns where milk was still delivered by horse and buggy.

She would go on to lose her sister Anita to brain cancer at the tender age of 32, and her mother in 1978. Uncle Mac was all that remained of her family, and she loved him deeply. They remained close despite the miles between them. In 2010, she’d return to Southern California to be with Mac and Eleanor in Eleanor’s final days.

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Mac and Eleanor McNamara, Hawthorne, California, 2010

As a child who came along at the end of the Depression era, my mother knew the value of money. She believed in getting a good deal, and making sure things lasted. She was incredibly self-sufficient, doing as much as she could for herself for as long as she could do it. I wasn’t kidding about the homemade clothes. I was 11 years old before I got my first pair of jeans, and only because she got a job working at the Levi plant in Amarillo.

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Me, November 21, 1980, my eleventh birthday.

After my dad died December 19th of 1980, it was my mom and me against the world. She couldn’t afford for me to have any kind of babysitter, so I began to babysit myself. I was alone from the time I got home from school till the time I went to bed, where I’d go to sleep on the hide-a-bed in the living room just because I was too wigged out to sleep in my room after my dad died.

She’d come home, wake me up, and I’d go on to bed.

I was safe the minute my mom got home, and I knew it.

She was learning how to be a single parent around the time I was learning how to be a latchkey kid. Some days we got it right. Some days we got it wrong. But I can never fault my mother for the things she did. She simply did the best that she could with what she had to work with, and that’s all we can ever do.

I remember those early days together, as we kinda got to know each other in new ways, playing Hearts or Rummy whenever she had some free time. Game time is when I loved being with my mom best. She wasn’t my “mom” anymore, the one tasked with telling me to sit up straight and keep my elbows off the table. She could let her hair down and have a good time – and that’s when we connected, that was when I felt like we were family, of the same tribe. One of the best Christmases we ever had was in 1978, when she bought me a game called Mr. Mouth, and we played it, my warring family and me, late into Christmas night, having the time of our lives.

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My mom, my sister, my nephew and me, Christmas 1978, Abilene Texas. (She’s wearing her Furr’s uniform here.)

She also passed playing dominoes down to me, something she’d learned from her own father, who would enjoy a game of dominoes and a beer every Sunday. My mother was a complete teetotaler. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t drink. She didn’t curse. She really didn’t know how to have a good time like a lot of folks, simply because of the way she was raised. Her mother shunned fun things, like biking or playing or swimming or camping, to keep my mom’s nose pressed firmly in a book. As a result, my mom didn’t know how to ride a bike, or swim, had never been camping, didn’t go to theme parks, didn’t act silly or play with me as a kid.

My mom was taught to work hard, to be an adult, to take responsibility, to do what she could for others.

Despite all that, my mom also loved fun.

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Mom and the Easter Bunny, Abilene Texas 1984

She loved to joke and to laugh, though there wasn’t always the opportunity for fun and games over the years, when she’d work 50-60 hour days running convenience stores. There were times when I would go to the store with her, where I was stocking food and pricing merchandise from the grand ol’ age of thirteen.

Even still, I’d make damned sure that my sodas were paid for. My mother was the disciplinarian of the household, and I remember quite the spanking I got when I had lifted some gum from the local grocery store when I was four years old. That was when they had those stick pieces of gum that tasted like milkshakes, in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I wanted some, but couldn’t decide which flavor to pick, since Mom said I could only have one.

One was all she paid for, but I took the other two flavors anyway. When we got to the car, I pulled them out of my pocket to show her that I had gotten them, and she proceeded to drag me back into the store to make me return my ill-gotten goods with an apology.

Then I went home and Mom asked for my dad’s belt.

It was one of the few instances she used corporal punishment with me, reserved only for those times when the lesson couldn’t risk being repeated – like me stealing from a store, or disappearing from her one day at the local Kmart when I was three, or playing hooky for a week when I first flirted with depression after the death of my dad.

Granted, that probably wasn’t the most effective punishment for a grieving kid – but it was also the 1970s/dawn of the 1980s, in the middle of Texas no less.

That was just how it was done.

I knew she always had my best interest at heart. No one had my back like my mom, all the way up until Daniel. Mom was willing to go without just so I could have whatever I wanted. Some called me spoiled, and perhaps maybe I was. It was difficult for her to connect with me any other way – she wasn’t raised by a warm and fuzzy mom so she wasn’t a warm and fuzzy mom. (By no surprise, I’m not really a warm and fuzzy mom either.)

This was simply the language we spoke. Whenever I got my first job when I was 18, I’d buy her plants (because she LOVED plants and had a wonderful green thumb.) I paid rent – not because she asked, but because I wanted to. That year I was able to afford her favorite perfume, Wind Song, all on my own, and it made me happy to give her the kinds of surprises she’d never buy for herself.

I didn’t have to bring in a paycheck to do nice things for her. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was cleaning or doing errands or trying to make her life easier and better, even if I had to go against what she had taught me to do it.

When I got into a health class in junior high, which tried in vain to reverse my bad habits before I spiraled helplessly into obesity, one of the things they taught me was that I had to stop needlessly adding additives to my food.

I grew up on the house wine of the south – sweet tea. We always had it around. Sodas were forbidden up until Mom started working in convenience stores, mostly because a doctor told her when I was very young that I might have a weight problem later. So we stuck to what we knew. As Hal might call it, “Brown Kool-Aid.”

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Me washing dishes in Lubbock, Texas, I think, 1974ish, ever-present sweet tea in the pitcher on the counter.

(You’ll also notice the whipped toping lid in the dish drainer… yes, that was how we stored food. No Tupperware in our house, just whatever could be recycled and used more than once for the money.)

Also because we were good southerners, we ate salt on things that didn’t need salt – namely watermelon and cantaloupe. My mother had always put salt on both of these, as well as a lot of other food she ate, so I had learned to do likewise.

When I first tried these fruits WITHOUT salt, I was amazed at the difference in the flavor. After that, I went on a no-salt mission with my mom, whose high blood pressure was cause for caution. She, however, was not quite as keen on the idea of giving up her favorite seasoning. I remember having to hide the salt shaker from her so she wouldn’t use it.

Eventually, she bid it adieu.

In fact, my mother adapted to me in a lot of unexpected ways. I even turned her onto rock music when I fell crazy in love with Steve Perry when I was 13 years old. That year I handed her a list of possible Christmas gifts with almost nothing but Barbies and music (albums preferably,) and she and my Aunt Gertrude, possibly her best friend in the early 80s, had to figure out what an “Air Supply” was.

Later, she would develop her own tastes. This was one of her favorites:

That song reminds me so much of the 80s, when it was just me and her against the world. My sister had her own family to worry about and raise, so most of the time it was just me and Mom. And of course as a self-absorbed kid, I never saw the hard work she put into being a parent. She made it all look so effortless as she struggled to pay Dad’s medical bills, and keep us afloat, without all the cool stuff that everyone else had. No cable, no MTV. No Atari system like my friends. She wouldn’t have even had a microwave back in the day had it not been for my Aunt Eleanor, who had gotten one from her son, but one that she wasn’t eager to use since she had seen a man electrocuted when she was much younger and had a weird sort of phobia about electricity as a result.

So if I was spoiled, it was because she made me believe I could have everything I wanted – and made it look to the world as though I did. I guess I was spoiled, because I know I’ll never get a love like that again. No one will ever love you like your mother will. It took me 46 years to figure out exactly what that means.

When I told her I wanted to marry Steve Perry, she didn’t even blink an eye. She let me dream big. When I wrote, she was my first real PR person, turning in my sixth grade poem to her insurance newsletter, where she alone was responsible for anyone seeing my name in print for the first time.

When I told her I wanted to write books, she never tried to rein me in, to suggest that maybe I should choose a more solid or guaranteed career. She was proud of every poem I wrote, every story, and every book – even if she couldn’t or didn’t read them all.

It was in those books I worked some stuff out, and got to know my mother on an adult level. My story Comic Squad ended up hitting very close to home, with a young girl who lost her beloved father, who was being raised by a mother she barely knew, and frankly resented, unaware of all the ways that her own mother was attempting to be her superhero and she didn’t even know it.

For a long, long time I didn’t know that Patsy McCandless was my superhero.

For a long, long time I took it for granted.

So I’m going to correct that error the only way I know how. I’m going to  tell you her story. I’m going to tell you that her favorite color was yellow, and her favorite flowers were tulips. I’m going to tell you how much she loved Jim Reeves and Jimmy Stewart, or how we laughed forever when she’d mimic Mr. Tudball talking to “Mrs. A’Wiggins” from the Carol Burnett Show, or how she’d dance like the gopher in Caddyshack just to make my friends and I laugh, or repeat Foghorn Leghorn because it always tickled her when he’d say, “I say-say.”

She loved Laurel & Hardy and jigsaw puzzles. She read Mary Higgins Clark books as she rode the bus to downtown LA for years, working for a stock brokerage company. She bet on horses and lived by the Game Show Network in her later years, when her body had failed her and she couldn’t live the life she wanted to anymore.

Instead she wrote letters to her dear friends she’d met over the years, in the same perfect penmanship she had always had my entire life. Where my handwriting looks like some cracked out doctor high on his own prescription medication, my mother’s handwriting could have been taken off of those posters hanging around school rooms, showing you how to write in perfect cursive.

It was elegant and beautiful almost all the way up to the end.

She knew my best friend was gay way before I did. I thought for sure she’d tell me to stop seeing him, because of the staunch Christian faith she’d raised me under, and I was ready to go to the mat for my bestie. Instead she just said, “Oh, I already knew,” and that was that. She never said one bad word about it, or him.

Mom wasn’t perfect, so she gave people a lot of leeway to be imperfect as well. I told you that I became a latchkey kid raising myself, and sometimes that had disastrous results. Every time I screwed up, she was right there to help me back out of the mess, even when it had to test her faith and her resolve. How many times did she feel hopeless, afraid, alone, with no one there to help her shoulder the burden?

She never said one bad word about that either.

She never judged me, though I screwed up plenty. She would have given anything for both of her daughters, and often did, even if we didn’t “deserve” it. As if one can ever “deserve” a mother’s love. As a mother myself, I know that it’s just there, no matter how much it tests you. She always had my back and I knew it. There was always someone I could call, who would tell me it was going to be okay, that she would figure out what to do.

She was my mom every day of my life, even if she couldn’t always remember.

I hope she remembered the good times.

I know I do.

And now… maybe you will too.

I love you, Mama. May you rest finally in the blissful peace you earned a hundred times over in this world. Until we meet again, look after Dan and Brandon for me. I carry you all with me always.

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Me and my mom, November 2004

“Every Day”
By Ginger Voight
©2015

Every day we write our stories, one single breath at a time.
Every day we aim for immortality, an impossible hill to climb.
Every day we whisper into the void, don’t forget me when I’m gone.
Every day we leave a fingerprint, though we know it won’t linger very long.
Every day we sign our names in books we will never read.
Every day you taught me lessons, lovingly planting every seed.
It took some time to see it, a little distance, some time away
But if you ask me if I loved you, I will answer, “Every day.”

For every day you strove to give me everything I needed.
You loved me even when I made mistakes, your wise advice unheeded.
Every day I hear your echo in the voice inside my head.
It is this echo that assures me that no one is every really dead.
For every day you’re remembered, your story continues to write on.
Every day you are loved by someone, you’re immortalized in their song.
Every day there will be a moment when it’s your name my heart will say.
And when it asks if I miss you… I will whisper, “Every day.”

Never underestimate the power of words.

Last November, when I declared 2015 was the Year of Transformation, I forgot one thing. Words have power, and I was begging the universe with my careless use of the word “transformation” to drag me right through the fire.

And so it happened.

2015 will go down in history as one of the toughest on record yet. My income was slashed by a whopping 75%, which was devastating enough. All year long we flirted with homelessness as we came to litter our walls with three-day notices galore. Our credit went down the tubes as bills piled up, unable to be paid on time, sometimes at all.

We lost one of our cars, but managed to keep everything else by the skin of our teeth. But the uncertainty lingers.

It was a rough way to get hit, one that sent me into an emotional tailspin as I wrestled even more than usual with self-doubt and insecurity. It set off some serious emotional triggers in ways I haven’t had to manage in a long, long time. This led to the realization that I’ve been suffering with PTSD since that event that happened when I was four.

I had time to figure this out when I had my emotional breakdown around May, when I came as close to suicide as I’ve been since 1999.

Needless to say, my aspirations to get healthy and prolong my life went right down the toilet when I could barely find any reason to battle through another second. I was off program way more than I was on it, though given all the complications I faced, I ended up staying fairly consistent with the exercise. I think I only had one or two spells that lasted maybe six weeks at the longest, but I always managed to get back on the bike. I’m less than 100 miles away from topping 1000 miles ridden for the year, which means my exercise bike may hold clothes every now and then, but it hasn’t gathered dust.

Because of this, I lost twenty-five pounds over the year. I will consider this a personal victory, given that I didn’t go completely off the wagon and gain back  even more, which is my typical pattern.

Also on tap for the year, three deaths of friends and family that sent me reeling. The first, back towards the beginning of the year, was an old friend I had reconnected with years ago courtesy of Facebook, whose sudden and unexpected death took everyone by surprise. This one hurt because he was so young and did so much good, spreading awareness, helping those who were in the battle of their lives with addiction.

It was truly a loss.

The second was my half-sister on my Dad’s side, also whom I had reconnected with on Facebook. Despite how differently we saw the world sometimes, she was always very sweet and accepting of me. We had never really gotten to know each other, thanks mostly to the fact my father was about 30 years older than my mother, and all his kids were grown with families of their own by the time I showed up.

Yet family was why we reconnected and why we stayed connected, until her death.

The third and most devastating loss was much, much closer to me. I lost my mother on December 6, 2015, 35 years to the day when my dad went into the hospital for a stroke, which would keep him hospitalized until his death thirteen days later (his birthday.)

This one was even harder than the others, not just because she was my mother but because I had no idea where she had been these last several years. I was contacted in late October, to let me know that she was in hospice so that I could sign insurance papers to release money to a funeral home to pay for her final expenses at the time of her death, which looked like it would be imminent.

I did get to speak to her one last time before her health failed her. I feel very good about the things we were able to say to each other, even though technically it wasn’t a ‘goodbye.’ My mother had been suffering dementia, so there were moments when I knew she struggled to remember certain things, but she knew who I was and I could tell it made her happy to hear from me.

I also knew she wouldn’t remember anything I told her when that call ended, or even if I called at all.

After that, neither my best friend nor I could reach her. According to her nurse, she went downhill quickly, unwilling or unable to eat.

There are other complications I won’t get into here but I choose to look at the positive of the situation; that I was able to reconnect with her one last time. That is a priceless gift to me, no matter what. My worst fear was that she’d die thinking I didn’t love her, which couldn’t be further than the truth.

Now I know for sure that she knew I loved her, if only for a fifteen-minute phone call.

And it reminded me how much she loved me all my life. It hurts my heart to go forward without her, though I find peace knowing that she’s been set free from an ailing body and a cloudy mind.

So this year has transformed me, no doubt about it. Just like the caterpillar, I’ve died to an old way of living, only to reemerge as something else – something even better than I’ve ever dreamed.

Oh sure. You can’t see my wings now. But they’re growing. And this cocoon is shrinking. 2016 is nearly here, and my year of transformation is blooming into a year of actualization.

I’m calling something different to my life this year. As a writer, I’ve always known how powerful words are, especially when you put them in the right combinations. Of all the lessons my mother taught me, the two biggest – faith and tenacity – will carry me forward into this new year. I’m calling success and achievement… the triumph, not just the trial.

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I’ve decided to declare it boldly going into things, stepping out of the boat on faith that I’m going to be able to run across the water.

And if I can’t run… I’ll fly.

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I’m going to get there.

Stay tuned…

So they tell me it’s bikini season.

So it’s now June and from what I understand, I need to double my efforts to get that smoking hot bikini bod ready for the beach. In fact, the issue even popped up on Fox News, where Andrea Tantaros had something to say about it.

“At this time of year, anyone with a functioning brain asks themselves that question, ‘Are you beach body ready?’” Tantaros insisted. “In fact, I ask myself that question every single day. And I bet you people who have a problem with this ad going into summer time are not beach body ready.”

Well, you got me there, Andrea. I am not beach body ready, per your bikini standards. I never have been.

I can honestly say that I have never worried whether or not I have a bikini body. That could be because I was raised in a very conservative Southern Baptist household, where such displays would be frowned upon for their inherent lack of modesty. It could be because I’ve never really been that much of a water lover. I didn’t even get the opportunity to learn to swim until I was 14, where a friend of mine promptly left me in the deep end to thrash and panic and almost drown because she thought I was “kidding” when I said I couldn’t swim. That traumatic experience made me phobic of pools and lakes and oceans, or any place where I’d be at the mercy of large amounts of water. I’m one of those weird people who is more afraid of the water than I’ll ever be of wearing a swimsuit in public. I have taken swimming lessons at the YMCA, *wearing* a size-24 bathing suit. The water? Much, MUCH more terrifying. To prove that point, here’s me in the bathing suit on a public beach in Cancun, circa 2005.

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There’s not one damn photo of me in the water.

My reticence to wear a bikini could also be because even though I was raised in the 70s/80s, laying out and getting a tan never worked for me. I’m 100% Irish. I have two shades:

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(If you think I’m speaking in hyperbole, take another look at that beach photo. If you look really close, you can even see my sunburn.)

Of course, much of it could be because I was sexually assaulted as a four-year-old, and as such I’ve never felt the burning need to show off any more nakedness than necessary to a beach full of potentially dangerous strangers. I need more than just a few inches of skimpy fabric covering a few patches of vulnerable flesh.

This body was no accident. Subconscious armor, but armor nonetheless.

Either way, I’ve never really cared to have a bikini bod. It doesn’t even make my backup list of priorities. Not even a little bit. And my brain functions just fine. (Last check, my IQ was in the 130s, and that was testing while I was high.)

What this boils down to, really, is a simple marketing issue. In order for me to fulfill my primary function as a woman (attracting a man,) I need to focus on being as sexually attractive as I can. If I don’t, there’s something inherently wrong with me and I must be shamed as a result.

Believe it or not, I have more value than what I look like three months out of the year. And that value doesn’t go up or down based on what small-minded, superficial people dismiss or discard just because I dare to show up on the sand in regular clothing.

(You can do that, by the way.)

Bikinis can and do show off a sculpted body brought about by hard work and exercise, but those who have a sculpted body usually care about their physique every month of the year, not just during “bikini” season. So the target for this kind of shaming are those who usually do not focus their attention on being as attractive as they can be, and what better time than to single them out and remind them? If you want to pin me down to a religious philosophy, it’s this: help people where you can, and if you can’t help, just don’t hurt. Shaming people helps NOBODY. It only, needlessly, hurts those who may have needed the help most of all. (A kind word goes a long way, s’all I’m saying.)

Shame is a punishment, one that callously disregards a woman’s value based upon nothing more than how she looks. This punishment, by no coincidence, that can be remedied thanks to several multi-billion dollar industries (which fund the media with their advertising dollar, perpetuating the mindset.) These industries have no problem bartering your self-esteem for their bottom line. If you felt perfect as is, they would cease to exist.

Notice I singled out “women.” For men, the newest fad – if you hadn’t heard – is the Dad Bod.

(Note all the proud Daddies showing off their bods, shirtless, out and about in public, without one ounce of shame.)

And if you match their advertisers by comparison, to see what products are being marketed when men are the primary demographic, you’d find the weight loss and “anti-aging” commercials replaced with … yes… ads for beer and pizza. Voila! Instant Dad Bod.

Guess it’s a good thing chicks dig it.

If you’re an innie instead of an outie, the whole Bikini Bod thing is just another excuse to oppress, suggesting that there are different classes of women for no other reason than simple aesthetics. Apparently this is some important work. It’s as if these yahoos think there simply isn’t ENOUGH body-shaming stuff going on every single day (bikini season or no) for those of us who really don’t prioritize making ourselves a walking, talking billboard of sexual attractiveness.

And what better way to keep us prioritized from the things that really matter?

Granted, I like to feel attractive. I like to be in relationships where I can be romanced and wooed and seduced, as an object of desire for someone I likewise desire.

I’ve never worn a bikini in. my. life… and yet, somehow I’ve managed to make that happen, simply by flexing all those other muscles that make me, me.

Shocker, I know. According to the brainiacs at Fox News listed above, I’m a freaking anomaly. Why I’m not on the cover of Vanity Fair is mind-blowing.

Oh wait, no it’s not… turns out that even if you’re a brand new woman, attractiveness is still the #1 priority for making a magazine cover. (If you don’t count tabloids.)

Personally I am OK with the idea that I’m not an object of desire for just anybody. I rather like it. The guys who gravitate to me tend to be a little deeper than those shallow pools who think that I have nothing better to think about or worry about than how I look near buckass naked on a public beach every summer.

More good news for me, according to a recent radio interview, comedian Hal Sparks talked about the missed sexual opportunities for very hot women…

Sorry, ladies, that sounds like a real bummer.

So not only do I get the more enlightened, respectful men, whose concern for the world around them goes way beyond the surface, but I also get more time to teach my lovers a thing or two, from the conscientious lovers who taught me a thing or two.

Per any ugly guy I’ve ever met, fat girls give the best head, which I guess justified their debasing themselves to sleep with them.

Mama’s got skillz, and I don’t waste them on just anybody, particularly those guys who are looking for just a streamlined lady parts’ delivery service.

“So what do you do?”

“I fight injustice where I find it, I bring joy to those who don’t have it, I fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and I try to use my voice to enlighten the masses on new ideas on how we connect to each other and how that impacts our society.”

“But do you look good naked?”

#NEXT

I’ve always found myself drawn to those who are more intellectual, more empathetic, more – oh, I dunno – human… who allow me to be a human too. They make better boyfriends, husbands and lovers all the way down the line. The men who I find desirable care more about the things going on in the world than what someone looks like three months out of the year. Their functioning brain is actually in their head, rather than their pecker.

The way I see it, you get what you advertise for. If you need to starve yourself all spring so that you can drop five or ten critical pounds in order strip down to nothing, putting yourself on display as a sex object in order to attract a guy, you can’t really blame him for treating you like a brainless collection of body parts, one he can replace by a newer, younger, thinner model whenever you cross the inevitable portal into female invisibility.

(You can run from fat. Age catches us all.)

If that’s what I lose out on by NOT working a bikini bod, I don’t really consider that a loss.

And that’s not to hate on bikini-wearers, by the way. If you want to wear one, knock yourself out. No judgment, all love. You do you. Just don’t call me stupid because I don’t find the need to do likewise, because that’s – well – stupid.

People look at me and make a lot of assumptions about me, based on the fact that I don’t have a bikini bod. The first, obviously, is that they think I’m stupid… that without their shaming me for my ignorance, I simply wouldn’t know I needed to fix anything. I’ve lived in this body for 45 years, but, without the kindness *cough* of strangers, I simply wouldn’t know my weight is a critical concern. They somehow think that what they’ve said to me I haven’t heard before, by others, or even myself. Parents, children, siblings, bosses, teachers, doctors, friends, spouses or lovers… no one EVER in my life has EVER pointed out that hey… I may not have that bikini bod and I might want to do something about it.

“Well, Ginger. You obviously didn’t listen to anyone else, so I have to say something.”

Actually, no you don’t. The possibility exists that I don’t consider being overweight the fatal flaw you do. And I don’t really have anything to prove to a total stranger who is in and out of my life within minutes, who has forgotten me long before I have forgotten you.

In 1994, I used to bike to work. A car full of guys screamed, “Go on a diet!” at me while they drove past, laughing heartily at the funny fat broad on the bicycle. I was the joke, you see, and just like the drunk assholes who heckle comedians, they thought their two cents were needed to make the joke even funnier. They probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup today… but I have never forgotten their words. And guess what? I’m still fat. It didn’t help one iota… in fact, I *gained* weight. So fuck off with any “concern” trolling. It’s just an excuse to be cruel.

You may want to shame me for not trying to attract you… but maybe… JUST MAYBE… I consider repelling cruel, superficial jerks a mark in the “win” category.

However, since being sexually attractive is part of my job as a woman, many think I need to be prodded back on track as painfully as possible, even if I’ve heard it before. Year after year. Media outlet after media outlet.

It’s the only way I’ll learn, right?

The second assumption is that I’m lazy. Because *obviously* I don’t do the CLEARLY easy work of fixing my problem, it boils down to a lack of will.

And sure. You could look at it that way… if you want to be stupid or lazy. Just because I can’t step out in a size-2 bikini doesn’t mean that I’m not actively working to make my body fitter, or making conscious choices about my health.

The fact is I know more about weight loss and healthy eating than your average bear. Three decades of trying every diet you can think of will do that to you. I’m conscious about what I eat, even when I eat the bad stuff. I know what impacts the body, in regards to sleep, stress, good foods vs. not so good foods. I can do everything right and still see a weight gain or no loss at all, and I’ve had to figure all that out, divorcing my feelings of self-worth from the “failure” of staying fat. I’m the research queen when it comes to causes I care about. Did you know that some researchers believe it is more dangerous to continually yo-yo diet every year, indulging in winter, then losing weight for summer, than it is to remain a steady constant weight with a proper diet and exercise? Losing weight is always recommended, but constant dieting, especially drastic calorie restrictive diets, ultimately do more harm than good. When I spent the first four months of 2015 exercising and eating right, barely losing 10 pounds, I could pinpoint the culprit as the stress I was living under, which was fucking with my body so much more than simple ignorance or laziness.

You can see, then, how those assumptions would be so offensive.

So no one gets to shame me when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about – which is pretty much EVERYONE making stupid and lazy assumptions about my size just because I’m big/fat/obese – whatever adjective you prefer.

The fact of the matter is that I already HAVE a beach body, because I have a body healthy enough to go to, and enjoy, the beach. It may come as a huge surprise to those in the media, but I’ve been to the beach many times. There’s no bouncer in the parking lot sending you home if you don’t fit into a bikini. People of all shapes and sizes go there and have a good time, and the world keeps on spinnin’ around.

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As for me, I still won’t be wearing a bikini anytime too soon, but that would never be my biggest concern even if I had a body people wanted to see naked on a beach.

(In doing all the emotional, intellectual dirty work to get to the root of my emotional overeating, one thing it keeps coming back to is the fear of being attractive to anyone who might do me harm. If the day ever comes I DO get a bikini bod, believe me, the people who have the most to say about it would never even see it. I’ll wait till I’m 80 and then just do it because I’m an eccentric old lady no one can tell what she can or can’t do.)

Moral of the story: don’t let anyone shame you. If you want to wear a bikini to the beach, wear a bikini to the beach. And if you want to work out, do it to make your body stronger, to be healthier and more able, to live a long life where you can annoy these pinheads as long as possible. Never, ever do it so others will love and accept you.

If they need you to be skinny to do either of those things, then they do neither of those things.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Recently I started watching all five seasons of Queer As Folk in honor of Pride. It dawned on me that I identify with a new character each time I watch. In fact, QAF has come to represent my own personal growth in a bizarre way, considering I’m a straight woman.

When I watched my first episodes way back in 2006, I was easily First Season Michael. Michael Novotny is sort of the heart of the series. You start with him narrating the action and the series ends the same way. He’s not so much the nucleus of the action, that honor goes more to his best friend (and drug) Brian Kinney. The two, in fact, are the yin/yang of the story.

Where Michael is considerate, kind and thoughtful, Brian is self-serving, egotistical and unapologetic. When I first met these characters, I actually hated Brian because of the way he used and abused Michael. He treated him like shit because he knew he could. Michael was crazy in love with him and it would have taken an act of God to wedge Michael out from under his overwhelming influence.

Let’s just say I’m familiar with the dynamic. The more Brian toyed with Michael, the more I hated him. To squander that kind of affection and loyalty is a shitty, shitty thing to do. There’s an argument that can be made that Brian never promised Michael anything, but he never truly let him go, either. He liked knowing that no matter what he did or how bad he fucked up, Michael would be there to love him… to worship him. My BFF and I have had endless conversations about this, as he didn’t like Brian either. He says he’s known these kinds of guys who, while they were young and beautiful, would scorn the affection of their “groupies” while giving them *just enough* to keep them on standby for the day that they weren’t so young and beautiful anymore.

Essentially Brian was keeping Michael on layaway. He gave just enough attention to maintain a certain level of ownership without truly committing to the “full asking price.” In this case, “the full asking price” was returning the love that Michael was willing to give, especially in the bedroom.

As someone who has been on layaway many times in my life, even when someone committed to the “full asking price” of marriage, I found this quite objectionable. I couldn’t understand why Brian Kinney had the fan base that he did. He was an unapologetic asshole who did whatever he wanted to do, especially when it would piss off everyone else and hurt the people who loved him the most.

It was the main reason, honestly, that it took me until just this past year to finish the series.

The second time I watched QAF, I muscled through the whole series within a few months back in the early part of the year. My own interpersonal relationships had changed DRASTICALLY since 2006, particularly with my own Brians, so while I was pissed that Brian hurt Michael (often on purpose,) I was angrier that Michael let him.

In 2006, I wanted Michael and Brian to hook up because that’s what Michael wanted. In 2014, I knew that wasn’t what he needed. Ben, the man Michael would ultimately marry, was the better match in every way. He didn’t treat him like a child, like everyone else, or treat him like a possession, like Doctor David. Even with all the ups and downs, we knew that Ben honored Michael in a way that Brian would never be able to.

So I patted myself on the back for graduating from First Season Mikey to Third Season Michael. Growth! Evolution! Pride!

This time around, I’m kind of past Michael altogether. This time around, I identify more with Justin, someone I previously dismissed as a Brian wannabe. He was a teenager when he hit Liberty Avenue, and through the five years that followed, he blossomed into a man of his own. It took a village to raise this kid, and he got the best of all of them. He was devoted, like Michael. He was fearless, like Deb. He was nurturing like Mel and Linz. He was smart like Ted, confident like Emmett and loving like Ben. Sure he took cues from Brian to go after what he wanted and not make any apology for it, but as someone who has always done that myself, I can hardly criticize him for this. When I was 17 and I fell in love with someone bound and determined not to love me back, I would have done exactly what Justin did. (And did.)

As my empathy for the Justin character grew, I started to see Brian in a whole new light.

There are things he did that were heinous and unforgivable, but there were also things he did that took a great deal of moxy. I could see why, when things went to shit, everyone turned to Brian to fix things.

Yeah, he was a selfish son of a bitch, but he was also driven, intelligent, creative, passionate, ambitious, tenacious, outspoken…

Sounds like someone else I know.

The main difference between Brian and me (aside from the obvious) is that he refused to be a nice guy. He had no interest in being “nice,” no matter what society demands of us. While we all chase our tails trying to meet the expectations of others so they will like or respect us, he was unabashedly himself. He was completely conceited and self-serving, but he worked damn hard for the privilege of living life on his own terms.

He never asked anyone for anything. He made no promises and had no real expectations. He assumed if people were willing to give him anything, including attention, it was all on them. He’d take what he wanted and gave himself permission to reject the rest.

When Justin fell for the Violin Player, chasing after the fairy tale idea of wine and roses romance and love, Brian never even asked him to stay. He never asked to be chosen. He didn’t change who he was and he didn’t ask Justin to change what he wanted. He allowed Justin to make that decision for himself, even if Brian lost him in the process.

Playing nice, caving in, making compromises and concessions never even occurred to him. He never wanted anyone to tell him how to live so he refused to do that to anyone else. In his mind this wasn’t love, and he’s probably right. To love someone as they are, instead of who we want them to be, is one of the most challenging things we can ever do.

He had opinions and he expressed them, holding nothing back and sparing no egos, but he always let everyone make their own choices.

Looking back I can see that he held onto Michael simply because Michael always gave him what he wanted/needed without him having to really ask. He may have called it pathetic, but he never really turned Michael away, especially when he was battling his biggest problems.

He just needed it to be Michael’s choice to do it. He would never ask for a goddamned thing.

And I get that.

Honestly… I have newfound respect for the Brian Kinney character in general. There is something very empowering in a character that isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and go after what he wants, even when – especially when – society at large disagrees.

It gave him a charge to flout convention. He welcomed the haters. He never worried whether or not he would impress anyone. He didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. As I divorce myself from public opinion, I recently adopted the mantra, “The lion doesn’t care what the sheep think.” Brian Kinney is the epitome of this. He had enough humanity to recognize when he crossed the line and he tried to make up for hurting the people he truly cared about, but the core of the Brian Kinney character was, “This is who I am. Love me or hate me, but your opinion is irrelevant.”

This seems unimaginable to me. I’ve spent my life conforming to this idea that I had to be the good girl, the “nice” girl. The way I saw it, I had to overcompensate for all my faults and quirks, which leave me feeling – much of the time – like the redheaded stepchild in the basement. I could blame my family or society or religion for teaching me to squelch myself for the comfort of others, but I was the one who believed the bullshit. I’ve gone into nearly every single relationship I’ve had past 1980 thinking people were doing me a favor to befriend me… that I had to work twice as hard and expect half as much as a “normal” girl in order to earn love and devotion.

As such I filled my time with plenty of folks who are happy to have me around, just as long as I don’t “expect” anything. I’m great to have around if someone wants stuff done. But if I need something, even if it’s human contact or even a text, I cease to exist. Any request was like screaming into the abyss.

That’s why I stopped asking for anything. From my first crush to my last, members of my family and a handful of fair-weather friends, my requests (spoken and unspoken) for a little reciprocation usually went unrecognized. I didn’t even deserve the effort it would take to reject me. They simply ignored me and I was supposed to take the hint, even though the relationship generally started and sustained itself on nothing more than my participation. If I ever needed affection/attention/consideration in return, I was generally on my own, no matter how devoted or considerate or “nice” I happened to be.

All “nice” really means is that you’re doing everything for everyone else, but you don’t expect anything in return, apparently including simple consideration.

My disappointment stemmed from this unmet expectation, as if they owed me anything… like being “nice” in return.

And you know what? They don’t. Not a damned one of them. Everyone gets to make their choices and none if it has to do with me.

So why am I taking it so personally, to the point of changing who I am to accommodate it?

In the end, people only care as much as they’re going to care, AND on their terms. In the end, I’m still going to be invisible for some while they keep me in layaway, treating me like an option rather than a priority.

In the end, no matter how nice I am, I’m always going to be First Season Mikey for someone. A nice little doormat who isn’t even worth the response to an email, much less the “asking price,” no matter how much I mark myself down.

Or… I could be Brian. I could do what I want, say what I want and expect that the people who dig that about me will hang around.

You know, kinda like I’m expected to do for others.

After an upsetting episode on Friday, I spent the entire morning yesterday of trying to make sense of this, in tears feeling insignificant because someone I thought was really “nice” ended up being an inconsiderate flake at best, a self-important jerk at worst. (Seriously? Dropping a conversation midway through? AGAIN? For someone so “nice,” I wasn’t even worth a goodbye/get lost.)

One of the questions I kept asking myself was, “Is it me?” Why am I so off-putting? Am I really that hard to take? Am I really that difficult that it is impossible for someone to treat me with a little human decency?

Brian Kinney would never ask these questions. Only First Season Mikey would, and that’s reason enough to make some changes.

The only obligation I have in this world is to be me. That comes with a lot of ingredients in the gumbo. There are a lot of tasty, palatable ingredients, but there are some spicy components as well, which won’t be to everyone’s taste.

There’s always going to be someone more desirable than me, easier than me and nicer than me. But there will only be one me. If you don’t consider this a loss, I don’t have the time to chase you down and convince you otherwise.

It’s like pruning a dead leaf off of a plant. The more I cut these stragglers down, the more energy I can send to the people who deserve it.

So if you want someone nice, if you want someone easy, if you want someone polite and unassuming, keep looking. My Michael days are over, and the Brian Kinney era has commenced. I’m done compromising myself for people who don’t give a damn about me. I refuse to glue dead leaves back on my branches, or mark myself down for those who cannot recognize my worth.

I need all my energy to get where I’m supposed to go, which is a thousand times further than people like that would expect me to anyway. #itsallhappening #aintnobodygottimeforthat

The Emmett Era is yet to come. Thanks to the a-holes for freeing up my dance card for the people who really count.

**Update:

I wrote this blog yesterday, when I was having a rough emotional go of it and trying to strengthen my spine and my resolve. A lot of times I preach to myself in a Tough Love kind of way. After I wrote it, I was satisfied not to publish. It’s kind of ambiguous and the last thing I need are more rumormongers reading things into stuff that isn’t there.

BUT today the universe hit me with a brick when my dear friend posted this:

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And so she encouraged me to post for the benefit of anyone else who may need the message. Since she is my fellow OGWO (Oh Great Wise One) I heed her advice. 🙂

It is also important to note that I used the supermoon to release these old mindsets and today the Universe rewarded in an epic and unexpected way. Essentially I pruned an ugly dead leaf and today I found a bright, colorful bloom.

Life meets effort, step for step.

Trust me when I say, it’s not only OK to prune the dead leaves … it’s critical. If your life is gummed up, kick away the things that don’t serve you.

Raise your value. You’re worth it! And you’re worth the people in the world who will agree.

I’m Not Sorry

A billion years ago in another lifetime, I used to work for someone we’ll call The Boss. Some who worked for her or with her might call her a dictator, or invoke, with liberal hyperbole, the name of Hitler, but to be fair The Boss never committed genocide.

She just killed hopes, dreams, and often the will to live. Fortunately for all of us who worked for her, these things could be (and hopefully have been) resurrected.

She was one of those bosses that by Friday night, you’re already dreading Monday morning.

When I first started work for The Boss, there were no other people on the payroll. I bore the full brunt of her bad attitude on a fairly regular basis. And I can’t even vilify her fully for her behavior, as she demonstrated these qualities in the interview and I ignored every single red flag. I needed a job that didn’t involve the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?” So even when she implied that I, as a welfare recipient at the time, with two young kids and a husband on disability, posed a threat to her expensive belongings, I earnestly promised that I, in fact, was not a thief. I was willing to work – hard – for my own living despite my lowly circumstances, which was why I was interviewing with her in the first place (and got a second job the first few weeks I worked for her.)

But apparently for her, people on welfare = thieves.

This never changed, even when more and more people joined the payroll. If anything came up missing, I was the Number One suspect. And maybe not even completely unfairly. In the sake of full disclosure, I did sometimes make poor decisions that literally could be considered theft. I guess this kind of happens the longer you accuse someone of being a thief. If someone holds a poor opinion of you, then you have nothing to lose by crossing the line, proving once again it’s hard to rise above low expectations.

The first of such decisions was taking cans of soda from her fridge. She had filled the fridge with soda for the staff after a birthday party for a coworker, and I assumed, wrongly, they were free for us to drink after the party ended. I should have asked, but I had been working for her for about two years by this point and fairly browbeaten. I barely wanted contact with her based on work stuff, much less something frilly and unimportant, which is how it translated to me.

Unfortunately it translated to her in a much different way. It was a violation of her own personal space/belongings, no matter if she had set down the rules or not. I should have shown her the respect and asked. After she confronted me on it, I didn’t take any more, but the damage by then was done.

The other, more significant, transgression happened about a year later. It became a kind of office habit to order breakfast once a week, and if we didn’t have the funds between the four of us office workers, we’d take money from petty cash to pay for it. It was an entitled, bullshit move and I own that. Maybe we were all resentful over her piss-poor treatment of us and felt like she didn’t deserve the privilege of being asked. Not a one of us jumped to answer the phone when she called. We avoided her whenever it was possible, simply to avoid the inevitable ass-chewing or critical lectures.

I think we all excused it in our minds as no big deal because we’d always replace the money on payday, as such figuring it was a “victimless” crime. But she deserved to be asked, since it was her money, and she had every right in the world to be upset with us when she found out. And I owned up to it when she asked, just like the sodas. But it didn’t necessarily help my “thieving poor person” image, even though the other coworkers had been equally responsible.

So when she couldn’t find something, it was my fault. And she wasted no time at all telling my coworkers this, which is how I found out about it. I knew everything that went on because people found me approachable and agreeable. In fact, she was the only one in that office that didn’t like me. Sometimes I felt like she wanted to punish me for this. I was an easy whipping post when she was in a sour mood. She told me once that I was “too happy,” as if there could ever be such a thing.

That was when I first started working for her. She spent the next four years beating that outta me.

I was behind the eight-ball from the moment I started the job. I was in a new industry and scared as shit to make a mistake, especially when it came with such clear contempt. She wanted things the way she wanted them, and woe to the underling who got in her way.

This is the kind of person who would order from McDonald’s in the drive thru, telling the poor wage slave at the window she only wanted TWO packages of ketchup. If there were more, those extra, unwanted packages were THROWN back at that person who doesn’t have the time during a lunch rush to count out her precious packages of condiments. She’d run up the clock as she rustled through the bag to ensure her directions were followed to the letter.

As someone who had been on the other side of that window, I was mortified.

It got to the point whenever she’d offer to take the staff out to dinner, we’d recommend ordering in just so we wouldn’t be embarrassed by how poorly she treated the waitstaff. It wasn’t ALL the time, but it was a gamble none of us felt like risking just for a free meal.

Despite her biting personality, she was also the kind of person who would go to great lengths to be overly generous. From the time I started to the time I quit four years later, I saw my pay per hour almost double. She paid for classes to teach me this new trade, virtually ensuring I’d never have to go back to fast food. She gave me bags and bags of clothes and even paid for my entire family to go to Disneyland.

Just when I was set to hate her, she’d do something unexpected and wonderful. This kept me questioning whether she was the true problem or I was. Maybe I WAS this huge screw-up she took mercy upon by hiring me when I was so clearly inept.

If I dared voice the question of whether it was her or it was me, she was quick to point out that it was me. She came from a management background and had never had problems like she had with me, or so she said. Yet she was the first real boss I had ever had that didn’t love me and value the work that I did.

I never knew which way was up.

Since I regrettably came from a background of abuse, I found all this very intimidating, to the point I was petrified to find myself in her crosshairs for any reason… hence why the above mistakes were made.

Going to her and asking for input historically blew up in my face.

She bought an expensive fax machine that was a vital part of our office communication. In my first year of working for her, this $400 piece of equipment started printing an annoying black line right down the center of the page. I noticed it right away, of course. Who wouldn’t? But it was mostly inconvenient than problematic. I let it go for a few days, maybe a week, because honestly I didn’t know what to do about it. The last thing I wanted to do was mess it up and owe her a freaking fax machine. She never made mention of the black line, which I was kind of waiting on so she could take responsibility for fixing it and I wouldn’t have to. It ended up being a huge game of chicken to see how long it would take me to fix a problem without the explicit directive to do so.

I had never worked with fax machines so I hadn’t a clue where to start. But as days passed, I knew that I would have to figure it out somehow. Finally I dug out the manual and read the instructions on how to clean it. It stated to use “rubbing” alcohol on the screen, to clean off the offending smudge causing the black line. I went to her bathroom, where I found “isopropryl” alcohol in her medicine cabinet. I read that label no less than five times, and didn’t see the words “rubbing alcohol” on it anywhere.

In these days before Google, I had but one choice before I used this product on her expensive fax machine. I had to ask her if it was OK.

So I go to her and tell her that the manual said to use rubbing alcohol, and I wanted to know if Isopropryl was OK to use. After a dramatic exhale of breath and roll of her eyes, she confirmed that they were one in the same and added, just for good measure, “I can’t believe you have gotten to the age you are without knowing that.”

Months and months of this went on. The job itself was great. It put me right in the middle of an exciting industry where I got to do things I never thought in a million years I’d ever get to do. I could even be creative, which was invaluable. Best of all, she was usually never around. Her job kept her out of the house much of the time, so I was delegated to doing all the “personal assistant” stuff, which was usually fine. I can’t stand a micro-manager who hovers over my shoulder to oversee each one of my choices. I don’t see this as helpful, I see this as a lack of trust and faith in me to get the job done. Tell me what you want done and I’ll do it. If I need you, I’ll let you know.

For the most part, The Boss and I worked well this way.

So it wasn’t all bad, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did. She really wasn’t a bad person. She was just an unhappy person, there’s a difference. It wasn’t easy for her to build her business in an industry dominated by men, yet she did it. Much like Peyton from The Undisciplined Bride, she adopted the role of Queen Bitch to own her power. She came from another generation, where women had to balance assertiveness and aggression to be taken seriously. But she did everything she set out to do, and worked very hard to do it. If I met her now, I’d probably even like her. (It’s taken me writing this blog to kind of release her from my own lingering resentment. Beware falling epiphanies… the Year of Muchness has already been chock-full of them.)

Back then, though… it was a much different story because I was a much, MUCH different person. Within a year, I was scared to answer the phone or dreaded her coming in the front door, because I suspected an ego-bashing was afoot. Saying, “I’m sorry,” became an instant reflex, so much so that when a new employee came into the fold – someone who had worked with The Boss before and knew exactly what kind of person she was – would call me on it every time those two words slipped out of my mouth.

God bless this angel, she so tried to mitigate the damage. Right after she was hired, there was some sort of billing error that I took immediate action to fix, which I did successfully. My angel made sure she hollered through the whole house that, “Ginger ROCKS!”

To which the Boss replied, “If she rocked, she wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place.”

:/

In fact, the entire cast of coworkers who came into the company as it grew were the main reason I stayed for so long. They made a fun job even more fun. The Boss even worked with me so I could work four ten-hour days as opposed to five eight-hour days, so I could take Dan to his many doctor’s appointments, etc., and where was I going to find that again?

But when it came time to promote to different positions within the company that, by the way, I helped grow, she overlooked me for another employee who had a college education. When I suggested that I would start college classes, she told me not to bother, that she didn’t use her college diploma, and I might want to think twice about incurring that kind of debt.

At the time it felt like she was shoving me back in the welfare/underling box where she thought I belonged. Now I might agree with her, simply because I know people who will NEVER pay off their college debt, despite how much money they make.

It’s a sad reality that is killing the American dream.

As much as I would want to vilify her for all this, the reality is that I was complacent in my abuse. I stayed for the money. I stayed for the work. I stayed for the people that I loved. But in staying, I said it was OK for her to treat me this way. She was one of three driving (female, critical) voices I had in my head, all of whom thought I owed it to them to be complacent whenever they tread all over me. Like I owed them this because of what they gave to me. It took me years to realize that there is nothing anyone could ever give me that would match the the worth of my own self-esteem, though I have often given it up for much, much less than a free trip to Disneyland.

This was emotional abuse at its most insidious. After my years with Dan, where physical and emotional abuse were so overt, I often doubted myself whenever I questioned how abusive this other, more subtle behavior was.

The minute you question if you are responsible for someone else making you feel bad, it’s a problem.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was preparing myself for a huge shift away from my lifelong status quo. That’s the thing about boxes that other people try to put you in: they don’t fit for a reason. They hurt so you’ll claw your way out of them. They’re uncomfortable. They’re dissatisfying.

And every single one of them lock from the INSIDE.

“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains. And we never even know we have the key.” – “Already Gone“, Eagles

Suffice it to say, this period of my life was fraught with growing pains. I ultimately disengaged, but I did so sloppily, making things worse because I simply couldn’t face her. There was a time I couldn’t see her name or image without that same stark terror chilling me down to the bone. I had panic attacks where I couldn’t even breathe. I felt paralyzed to the point I couldn’t even answer my own phone. So I buried my head in the sand to avoid dealing with it, and paid a HEFTY price for it. She no doubt assumed I was being dishonest and crafty.

I wish. The more shameful truth was that I was just weak and cowardly.

Her parting words to me were, “You’re a joke and you always will be.” For a long time I believed it.

(Fun fact: Pilar says this VERBATIM to Jordi in Fierce. It takes poor Jordi two more books to convince herself otherwise. This is no coincidence.)

(Even funner fact, my random playlist just landed on this song:)

So why am I revisiting this fairly traumatic era of my past? In my Year of Muchness I have two major objectives, and one of those is to stop apologizing for everything. My son Tim busts my chops for this almost every single day. “I’m sorry” is my kneejerk response that begs the hearer for permission to exist, and that’s tremendous bullshit. So it’s gotta stop, and I need to dig this weed out at the root.

Near as I can tell, this first became an issue whilst working for The Boss.

When I started work for her, I left my value at the front door. I didn’t feel I “deserved” the shot she gave me, which stemmed from my piss-poor self-esteem. This allowed her to railroad me in ways she wasn’t able to railroad others who came after me. I accepted that treatment because, in some way deep, deep down, I bought into this lie that I had nothing of value to offer the world… that my existence truly demanded my own regret.

And I reinforce that negative mindset with every unconscious, “I’m sorry,” for things that are a.) not my responsibility b.) not my failure c.) not my problem.

We’ll use the fax machine scenario above to illustrate this.

When The Boss chastised me for not knowing the difference between rubbing alcohol and Isopropryl, I probably felt the need to apologize for this “failure.”

Why do I need to apologize for not knowing that rubbing alcohol and Isopropryl alcohol are the same thing? It was simply a thing I didn’t know. Guess what? There are billions of things I don’t know. This isn’t a failure, it’s simply a fact of life. No one knows every single thing there is to know, nor will we. If we need to apologize every time we figure out something new, we’d all be apologizing ten times a day.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that

Life IS learning. That means it is our responsibility to learn, NOT to know.

And since I didn’t know, I took the responsibility to ask to make sure. This was not a failure on my part. A failure would have been to assume and bullshit my way through it, rather than admit I needed more information.

And most importantly, it’s not my responsibility to impress her. She hired me because she trusted me to do the job she gave me, which I did. Any value statement she wishes to place on such a minor incident is her responsibility alone to carry. It’s not my baggage.

I’m not sorry I didn’t know a nugget of information that my twenty-five years beforehand had never offered the opportunity to learn. I’m not sorry I asked for clarification prior to doing a task I had never before done, to make sure that it would be done without error.

Mostly I’m not sorry that she felt I was lesser because of it. That speaks way more about her character than it would ever speak about mine. If she wanted to be mad about it, more power to her. It has nothing to do with me.

If I HAD gone ahead and used something I wasn’t clear was OK and it damaged the machine, THEN I would have something for which to apologize, like the soda and petty cash incidents.

Everything else? Not so much. I never needed to apologize to her for her hiring me. That was her choice. If she didn’t fire me, and in fact promoted me and gave me raises, that was all the permission I needed to be in that position and do my job to the best of my ability.

If anything, I owe myself a ginormous, tremendous, emphatic, heartfelt apology for not standing up for myself way back then. But clearly this was knowledge I had yet to learn, and this incident was part of the process.

So before I whip out, “I’m sorry,” like some kind of self-loathing Tourettes, I need to ask myself:

1.) Was it my responsibility? Did I have a job to do and fail to do it?
2.) Was it my error? Did I hurt someone or something by making a mistake?
3.) Is it my problem? How much responsibility do I need to take for the standards/moods of another?

While we’re at it, let’s just dump “I’m sorry” entirely. Literally it translates to:

I’m {in a poor or pitiful state or condition}.

In the Year of Muchness, this is a label I must reject entirely.

If I make a mistake, I will apologize and do my best to correct it. Otherwise, I will fill my mind and my mouth with more positive words.

I’m not sorry I exist. I’m here for a reason. It’s up to me to figure out what that is, not prove my worth to anyone else.

The Year of Muchness (Thank you, Hal.)

Many folks know that I am a fan of and admire actor/comedian/multi-hyphenate Hal Sparks. He’s inspired me a lot since I met him nine years ago, and is in fact the reason that I gave up all those new year’s resolutions I never could follow. Instead he uses his birthday to assign a theme for the coming year, making each year consciously progressive toward meeting his many goals. I thought this was a grand idea. I started doing it myself way back when with the “Year of Courage.”

By assigning each year a new theme on my birthday, this would guide and direct my goals for the coming year. And since I started doing this so many years ago, I’ve done some amazing, incredible things. If you had told me in 2004 that this is where I would be, I would have thought you were crazy. The girl I was in 2004 wasn’t ready, physically or mentally, to embrace the woman I am today. And I know that goes all the way back to these goals. Each birthday I am faced with the question: How can I challenge myself to evolve even more into that picture of myself I’ve had in my head for so many years of the person I want to be?

Or, more specifically, since my goals have always been fairly lofty in the first place, which challenge naturally follows the aspirations I had the previous year?

This past year was my Year of Living Boldly. I expected to face many uncomfortable challenges along the way as I faced, rather than avoid, those difficult situations that shoved me right out of my comfort zone. For me, this could have been anything. I dealt with my social phobia head-on by going to events that I normally would have skipped. I was still uncomfortable, but I went all the same. Likewise I stood up for myself by removing myself from toxic situations that simply made me feel bad. Most of all, I dealt with all my inner demons by completing, in one year, the Fierce trilogy of books that forced me to face some of dirtiest, most shameful secrets on a national stage for the world to see.

I was Jordi in many, many ways.

Bold living indeed, even if there were many challenges I let pass by me entirely. It isn’t about the quest for perfection… it’s about progress and improvement, so that I can look back after nine years and think, “WOW! Look how far I’ve come.”

I lose track of this many, many times. I’m so focused on those things I WANT to do, I often forget all the things I’ve already done. Like my heroine Jordi, I have a really hard time giving myself credit. This stems directly to my poor self-esteem, that demands I have to work harder than anyone else to get half as much credit. No one around me makes me feel that way, this is something I decided for myself a long time ago.

I was raised in a very religious family steeped in the Southern Baptist church. I wasn’t allowed to feel “proud” of my accomplishments, because that was vain. Instead I was taught to see myself as a dirty dog sinner who didn’t deserve what blessings I had. Everything I had that was good didn’t belong to me, but everything I did that was bad hung around my neck like a dead chicken.

It all came back to value. Instead of being celebrated as the unique individual that God had created me to be, I was constantly condemning myself (and others) for how we all fell short of these standards that were completely self-imposed.

Value doesn’t come from any external source. When it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks about you. It is what you think of yourself that guides your path in life. It’s the difference between happiness and conflict, victory and victimization. And I’ve been fighting this battle for decades, even though I’m perfectly aware of it.

Through Jordi’s struggle, I was able to examine why that was. In repeating some of my life’s mistakes on the page, I was able to understand the motivation behind the mistake rather than the mistake itself. Like Jordi, I’ve had an entire cast of people in my life who repeatedly build me up when I try to tear myself down. Their voices are continuously drowned out by my own damnable inner chatterbox that regurgitates this crap over and over again, dismissing what I’ve done as “never enough.”

Earlier this month I wrote a blog about a novella I wrote in the seventh grade. I had to pull out my old yearbooks to get some information, and in doing so I went down memory lane in a way I normally don’t. I run from my past because I have no use for the old me, the scared me, the flawed me who knows better now. That girl had always embarrassed me so much that I never gave her credit for being a kickass kid who wasn’t afraid to try new things and chase after her dreams.

Other people could see that, but I never did. As I looked through the inscriptions in my yearbooks, so many people I knew praised my writing ability. One teacher in particular wrote that she hoped I’d be “famous” one day, to keep writing.

It hit me that I had become what I always dreamed I would be. I knew I was destined to be a writer from the time I was eleven years old, and despite all the crap littering my path, I turned those inscriptions into prophesy. I didn’t quit doing those things I loved, even when I thought it was all in vain, that I’d never, ever make any of my dreams come true.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and I am a published, professional writer who has best-selling books and a growing number of readers who really do *get* what I do and why I do it. I wanted to live a life of importance. And slowly and surely I’m making that a reality. This is a significant achievement I often overlook while I’m beating myself up for all those things I have yet to do.

Recently I watched Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I Am.” This has shifted my entire perspective by challenging what I think about true happiness and purpose. It starts off with this odd proclamation that we Americans are not primed to understand: the abundance of stuff doesn’t equate happiness. We think that if we reach that pinnacle of the “American Dream,” that we will be happier. If we have the money and the houses and the fame, it’ll plug up all the holes of dissatisfaction we’re hard-wired from the crib to have. Our media drives this message that in order to be happy, we have to accumulate and amass things. What you got yesterday is only half as good as what you can get tomorrow… and without it, you simply won’t “fit in” with the rest of the “happy” people on the commercials. Even on holidays where we are supposed to connect with other people (i.e. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day,) it’s all about what we can buy or collect.

But happiness doesn’t come from a store. It’s virtually impossible to buy yourself happy. If you are unhappy with what you have now, you’ll never find happiness in anything you get, because you have set up the expectation that what you don’t have holds the key to what you want most.

I always thought I’d be happy if I could work as a writer. Then I thought I’d be happy if I published a book. Then I thought I’d be happy if I sold a lot of books. With each achievement, I realized it didn’t quite plug up the hole. I had to keep going. Once I had what I thought I always wanted, I found that I wanted more. My standards for my own happiness marched just a little further out of reach.

In many ways this is a good thing. Progress is never fully satisfied. Once you hit one goal, realize one dream, there’s always one more step in the future. Excellence demands that we press forward.

But if you hinge your value on that next thing, you’re never going to feel fully confident and fully realized. This has been my problem. I shun compliments and internalize criticisms because I know I’m not where I want to be. This totally invalidates where I am, which is pretty fucking awesome if I take two seconds to think about it.

That girl who wrote her first novella in a spiral notebook, who wrote Barry Manilow to get his permission to use his song in the dedication of her book, was just as awesome. My biggest failure was that I never let her own her victory. I agreed with the world around her that she wasn’t good enough if she wasn’t extraordinary, instead of boldly proclaiming that she was kickass just as she was. In my drive to make her “better,” I refused to acknowledge how perfectly good enough she already was.

I was running from who I was, rather than building on each and every good thing and making it better.

This coming year I plan to change that. If I truly believe that we are all unique and valuable (and I do,) then I need to allow *myself* to own that beautiful muchness. We are ALL important. We ALL have value. We are ALL significant. That means I belong in this world. More than that, I have something to offer it. I don’t have to apologize for not being “completely realized” yet. My job on this planet is to grow and learn and progress. It’s OK that I make mistakes, fall short, or stumble along the way. And it’s even more OK that I reward all those times when I succeed and excel.

The biggest revelation of my life happened this very second, when I realized that I do the latter way more than the former. My focus has been on the failure because that is the only way to turn it into a success. But I have been doing the most damage to myself by thinking that it holds any more significance than the other, when it absolutely doesn’t.

Life is about finding that balance. If I’m going to beat myself up for all those things I’m not, then I need to be the first in line to pat myself on the back for all those incredible things I am. I need to be equal parts cheerleader to my inner critic.

I haven’t been. I’ve outsourced that to others around me, all of whom are not any more qualified to judge me than I can judge myself.

So this year ahead, I am going to own my muchness. I am not perfect but I am not insignificant. My main goal this year is to stop apologizing for who I am, what I do and how I feel. I’m also going to stop sniveling around like I have no place alongside humanity, waiting to be “invited” to share in the experience. Every day my eyes open is a day life itself decided – more than anyone – that I deserve to be here… that I have something to offer that no other person on the planet can or will.

It’s time to stop arguing, even though I am not where I want to be. I will never be. There will always be new dragons to slay, new mountains to climb. And they’ll be bigger and more impressive to defeat the farther along I get in my own journey. I am the heroine of my own movie, of my own book, of my own very specific tale. It is time to step into the muchness the universe has set aside especially for me to complete this task.

I spent a lifetime beating myself for all my flaws I believed made me less. What will life offer when I decide – at last – that I have so much more than I ever knew?

Can a Good Man Love a Size 16 Woman?

This was a search phrase that brought someone over to the blog in recent weeks. I had written a diatribe against the notion Rubenesque romances were unrealistic simply because most men (and certainly all “good” ones) couldn’t possibly want a fattie. For the (female) blogger who made this assertion, this included any woman over a size 6. So me being me, I proceeded to feature hot superbabes who ranged in size from an 8 (bootylicious Beyonce) to a size 16 (model Crystal Renn) in order to show how beauty comes in all sorts of packages.

Trust me, when straight guys are looking at women like Sofia Vergara, Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks, they couldn’t care less what the number is on the label of their clothes. They’re kinda too busy doing this…

In my “Groupie” Rubenesque series of romance novels, my heroine Andy Foster is a size 16. She catches the eye of a rocker on the rise who finds himself insatiable for her fuller, more luscious curves. The books come with hot, sexy scenes and I never apologize for Andy’s size because she doesn’t feel the need to. She is comfortable in who she is, and it’s that self-confidence – along with her hourglass figure – that keeps Giovanni Carnevale coming back for more. If you have a hard time believing that a size 16 girl could have that kind of effect on a hot bad boy rocker, I present model Kaela Humphries.

Also for your consideration, model Ashley Graham:

How about Fluvia Lacerda?

So is it really unrealistic to think a size-16 can be a beautiful, sexy and desirable woman? Only if you swallow the bullshit we’re sold as women in this culture, and I most certainly don’t.

I’m a proud writer of Rubenesque fiction because I refuse to buy into this cultural mindset women only are as valuable as the size dress they wear. Femininity is a beautiful mosaic that we forfeit for some tired ol’ paper doll template with very little wiggle room. (Literally.) We’re inundated in the media with this physical ideal of what women are supposed to look like, which is reinforced in movies and in books to drive it home that if you want a prince charming, you have to be perfect (i.e. young, thin, beautiful.) Any woman who finds love, then, should fit into this narrow example. We see this perpetrated over and over again to the point we accept it as the ultimate “fantasy” of what our happily ever after should look like. All you have to do is dye away the drab, fix or prevent those wrinkles, stuff down those love handles, pluck, tuck and otherwise change everything about you.

If you go by this media standard, then I guess the answer to “Can a good man love a size 16 woman?” is “Are you freaking kidding me?”

By no small coincidence this mindset helps sell magazines and fuels multi-billion dollar diet, beauty and fashion industries. No matter what is wrong with you, there’s a product on some shelf to help fix it. How convenient is that? We are continually (and successfully) sold this bill of goods that the only things we need to worry about are how to lose those pesky extra pounds and how to find/land/keep a man. Go stand in any grocery store checkout line anywhere and peruse all those blurbs meant to entice you into picking up and buying a woman’s magazine.

What is the media telling you about yourself? It’s telling you that you are one hot mess, and only their sage and all-knowing advice can save you from your biggest problem. You know… YOU.

I’ll let you in on a little secret and save you about $5 on that magazine…it’s all hogwash.

Men aren’t nearly as obsessed about our weight as we are. They know what they like when they see it, and that runs the gamut between slender and athletic to voluptuous and “womanly”. Many men like curves. Studies have even suggested they are biologically predisposed to. They salivate over buxom beauties that are closer to a double digit size than a size 0. They sing happily about Brick Houses and Big Butts, while we give more and more of our money to those who get rich off of convincing us we’re fat and ugly (and that fat always equals ugly.) We fixate on that stupid scale while, honestly, “good men” are more concerned with how confidently we carry what we got. This is why the average American woman can be an unforgivable size 14 yet still find a husband, have a family and generally enjoy life despite what the media would have her believe.

Let’s put a face on an the average woman, shall we? Meet model Robyn Lawley, whose UK size is 16, which happens to be the average woman size of British women.

In the US, the average size is a size 14. Know what that means? THIS is the body of the “every” woman.

Yet in our media we have to congratulate Christina Hendricks for being “brave enough” to buck the norm and flaunt her curves – when her curves ARE the norm. These are the folks who want you to believe there is something wrong with you, ladies. Why on earth are you listening to them?

Fortunately the real world application of sexual attraction is a little more complex than some arbitrary number. Women are, and should be, three dimensional humans who have value above and beyond what size dress they wear, and men – particularly good ones – will find themselves attracted to all sorts of women for all sorts of reasons.

Some men even find what we consider our fatal flaws kinda sexy. It means we’re not perfect. When you think about it that’s a lot of pressure to put on a mate.

In fact, judging that all men can only love a certain size woman isn’t giving guys a whole lot of credit. Sure they are visually stimulated creatures who have a propensity to think with their penises. But shouldn’t the guy you’re with be able to love all the things that make you uniquely you the same way you love all the things that make him uniquely him? I mean… isn’t that what the ideal of love truly is? Being unconditionally accepted and valued for who you truly are, warts and all?

The real-world answer of “Can a good man love a size 16 woman” is a resounding yes. Thankfully for all the people who don’t fit in the paint-by-numbers boxes of mainstream media (which is the majority of us) love isn’t a formula. Good men can love a size 12, a size 2, a size 24 and a size 10. It’s not about the *size* – it’s about the WOMAN. It’s a novel idea, really… that someone can be loved for the sum of their parts and not something likely in a constant state of flux like one’s dress size.

Many people will tell you that what they thought they wanted and where their hearts eventually landed were completely different. Love is funny like that. If you create within you a woman worth loving, which has nothing to do with the size dress you wear, a man is going to find himself falling in love with you. The trick is to be the kind of woman he never knew he wanted/needed, which is kinda what happened with my darling hubby, Steven. I’m sure 14 years ago if you would have asked him to conjure the woman of his dreams, it wouldn’t have been me. Instead he got more, in almost every sense of the word.

Men are fully capable to appreciate all the things that make you the fully realized person that you are. In my not-so-humble opinion this is the very quality that makes them “good men.” If you’ve been dumped on your ample fanny because some guy couldn’t handle your extra padding, the problem isn’t really yours. It’s his for being a superficial jerk. Wipe that dirt off your shoulder and move on. One day you’ll be so thankful he dumped you so that a truly good man could find you and give you all the love that other guy didn’t think you deserved.

But let me also propose this: if a “good” man dumps a size 16 woman, it probably has nothing to do with her size. More than likely it has everything to do with how she views herself because of that size.

See, this is really the crux of the whole problem. I can bet you the woman who asked that question had just been dissed by the guy she fancied and it probably wasn’t the first time. This is a pattern that has repeated, so she ended up in that spot where she wondered, “What’s wrong with ME?” since clearly she is the common denominator.

If you’re being continually dumped by otherwise good men, it may indeed be something you’re doing wrong. But that has dick to do with the size you wear. Despite what our culture will tell you, being overweight is not a personality flaw or inherent failure. It’s simply a physical condition. Carrying a few extra pounds isn’t really even a “bad” condition, despite being “aesthetically displeasing” to many. Some detractors will jump on the “health” bandwagon of fat-shaming but the simple truth is you can’t determine someone’s health by the weight they carry, and that’s usually just a straw man argument anyway. The teenage boy mooing at you at the grocery store couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you are in more danger of developing heart disease or diabetes; anymore than that guy at the bar sizing up the hot chick with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other cares much about her liver or her lungs.

It’s not about health, it’s about fat. And here’s the great thing about fat… you can lose it. No, really. You can. If you think your weight is holding you back most of the time there are steps you can take to change your current physical condition. The problem isn’t with the weight. It’s with your attitude. If you don’t love yourself you’re not going to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself. Period. So whether you plan to stay a size 16 or not, eventually you’re going to have to give up hating your own body.

A remarkable thing happens the minute you do. The people around you then begin to treat you with the same respect you show yourself. The person most guilty of not being able to love the size 16 woman is the size 16 woman. Societal distaste aside, odds are the one beating you up most for being a size 16 is you. You’ve bought into the fantasy the media sold you. If you were a size 4 and a guy didn’t love you, you wouldn’t blame your size. So that means you accept inferiority based on nothing more than some dumb ol’ number on a label, which kinda makes you the superficial douchenozzle and not the guy at all.

Worse…if you think no one can love you because of your size then that sadly becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You’re never going to believe that a man could love you despite your size because you clearly don’t. Even if you do luck out and find “a good man,” he begins the fruitless endeavor to fill the holes you keep gouging in your own self-esteem. Anyone trying fill that bottomless pit of validation will inevitably tire from the strain.

Even some of those “good” men.

Can a good man love a size 16 woman? I argue that only the best men can. So do your part to hang onto them… love yourself as unconditionally as you wish to be loved and give these poor guys a break. If you have a good man who wants to love you, he already thinks you are the body beautiful. Own it, diva!

Learning to Play Nice

Y’know…it’s ironic. I consider myself a nice person. I like to be happy and I like to make others happy, but more than that I want to inspire people to be better overall. I think that comes from cultivating a positive light within us that cannot be dimmed even when dark circumstances loom.

I’ve been through some stuff in my life and have been told, more than once, people don’t understand how I’m still standing after the trials I’ve been through. My first response is usually that I had no choice. What’s the alternative? You just get through it. Anyone else would do the same.

But the thing is, that’s not always true. Over the years I’ve realized that there is a stark difference between someone like me and some of the others who have gone through similar trials. It’s all about the attitude. I know someone in my own family who has gone through almost every identical trial I’ve been through but she’s turned into a bitter, lonely alcoholic who is verbally and physically abusive. She’s given up, for lack of a better term. Life sucks and there’s no point to do good, be good or aim for happiness. Life finally won.

Despite everything I’ve been through nothing has ever truly killed my boundless hope. I march through the icky stuff because I know something better is waiting on the other side. I refuse to give up. Life can be wonderful and beautiful… it just takes the purposeful actions of a determined few.

As such I started doing something a couple of years ago because of how much I believe in lighting our own candles to offset the darkness in the world. I truly believe in taking the higher ground and doing things progressive and positive even when faced with oppression. It’s meant a lot to me because this is the core of who I am as a person, as anyone who truly knows me will tell you. I have chronic Good Girl Syndrome. I like to help others, I like to do good… I like to spread happy.

Happy is good! I’ve been unhappy. It sucks. I don’t like to wallow there any longer than truly necessary.

Herein lies the irony: often by being this person I attract those to me who are not quite as good as they could be. They see opportunity rather than value. These people will be nice and supportive as long as you have something to offer… but the minute you dare to have your own mind or see through the games and BS all of a sudden you’re a threat that needs to be annihilated. That is when, even when you endeavor to be good to others, people aren’t so nice to you… and they make sure to influence others around you to do likewise.

To my dismay I’ve been battered by this bullshit for way too long now and I fluctuate somewhere between bitter and frustrated on a daily basis. Unfortunately life isn’t always fair and people like this can get away with short-term damage in a way that makes you doubt long-term universal justice. As such, I haven’t really been feeling warm and cozy to others. In fact, I have begun to regard everyone suspiciously as I figure out who is in it for “real” and who is just wanting to take advantage of opportunity rather than see my inherent value.

I’ve learned all too recently it’s VERY hard to figure out who is whom when everyone you meet is smiling at you and calling you “friend.” It’s only natural, then, to withdraw and hold myself back as a protective measure.

As a result this year was the first where I even considered backing away from doing what I normally (and successfully) do to make the world a better place. It’s been tough, and continues to be tough, for no other reason than some folks we share this planet with are just plain ol’ mean. The ugliness got a little too close to home and it affected me profoundly. It was not my first instinct to be sunny and happy and full of sunshine after people who called themselves my friends attempted to lay me to waste this past year. I’ve been angry and bitter and resentful – and thought about letting that affect the things I do to make the world a better place because I’m tired of those things being used against me. Honestly my first impulse is screw the world! From where I sit the world is ugly, nasty and full of users, posers and backstabbers. Right?? Why should I do even one more thing for anyone else, when it always seems to tear me asunder in the process?

But that’s not who I am, that’s never been who I am. I have my human moments but deep down I deeply and honestly believe in the power of positivity. Good always wins over evil, the universe is (eventually) just. I believe in doing good for no other reward than having done it. I believe in healing over hurting and forgiveness over revenge. So even when banished into exile from worlds where I used to be welcome, I decided to roll that dumb boulder back up the hill even when current circumstances could mean it would crush me on the way back down.

Some things are more important than my ego. I started a movement two years ago that was not and is not circumstantial… and when I feel least likely to be kind or good or NICE is when I need to stand behind it the most.

Because that’s the point.

In the last couple of years my International Nice(r) Day got a lot of mileage as hundreds of people felt that same call to honor those slain on 9/11 with a movement to be nice… to do good… to spread positivity and light. This year, however, it’s not drawing the same crowd. Maybe it’s the political climate we are currently in or maybe it has to be with a lot of the unnecessary BS drama I alluded to above.

Maybe it’s a mix of both.

Either way, it’s ironic that the year I need it the most is the year I need to fight for it the most. Or maybe it’s not ironic at all. Maybe the is the Universe’s way of testing my muster and giving me empathy and insight so that I can really answer a stronger calling in the future.

I’m encouraging the world to be nice when I don’t know what their struggles are, or how hard it may be to put aside understandable hurt and pain just to spread kindness. Maybe this is God’s way of teaching me to walk the walk.

No matter how hurt I am, how bitter, how resentful, how frustrated… in order to make the change I want to see in the world I have to BE the change I want to see in the world. And that will never ever happen allowing others to change me into something I’m not. So even if people lie about me, I must stand behind the truth. Even if I’m being used and manipulated, I have to strive even harder for authentic connections with those who are just as progressive as I am.

Even if people are being petty and mean…

I have to be nice.

That’s just the way it is.

So you can join me… or not. Maybe this year is the year only my true friends will stand up with me to do what I know is important to them (which is why we’re friends.) But even if I stand alone I have to do what I know is right.

They can try to tear me down but they can’t destroy me unless I let them. In the end right is right and good will win out and truth will prevail.

And niceness is never EVER wasted.