Category Archives: relationships

Marriage — to take his name…or not?

Who are we, as women?  As a woman, who are you?  Do you know?  If so, how do you express that? What sums up your identity?

For me, a big part of that is my name.  It’s something sacred.  It’s my calling card in the world.  It’s something that identifies me as me.  It’s something that provides continuity and coherence  in the long story that is my life.

I don’t always like my name, and in truth I legally modified my birth name several years ago to better suit me — I literally bought my first name an additional letter.  I don’t always like my last name.  It’s hard to spell and people often mispronounce and/or misspell both my first and last names.

But it’s mine.

I read an article the other day that struck a nerve.  Titled “Retro Marriage Trend Makes a Comeback, for Better or Worse” the piece describes how large majorities of women are now taking their husbands’ last names when they marry.  There seems to be conflicting data on whether this is more common among older women or younger women, but one statistic presented in the article is that 8% of women now keep their maiden names, compared to a high of 23% in the 1990s.

This troubles me.  It’s hard enough for women to discover who we are, what our values are, what our unique gifts and dreams are, and how to manifest them.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen as whole people, to have a Self outside the needs of other people — our children, spouses, partners, parents, and siblings.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen, heard and taken seriously — or for us to take ourselves, our voices, our lives and our responsibilities seriously.

So why add to all that potential for getting lost and not forming a solid independent Selfhood the additional variable of a name change?  A change in our major identifier, that connects us with our entire lives?  And a change that typically happens at an age when we’re just about to burst onto the stage of our own lives?

Maybe women in the United States don’t know the history behind the custom of changing names.  It comes from English law where women had nothing — were nothing — without attachment to a male.  First that male was their father, then it was their husband.  Women — even ones from rich families — had no right to own any property of their own, and no right to much of anything.  As economic entities literally owned by men, we women were vaginas and wombs used to pass on the names of men and their property (to sons) or to form economically and politically advantageous alliances with other families (through marrying off daughters).  To lose or gain a name was to lose or gain basic rights and economic safety.

And by the way the term “maiden name” is sexist in itself, implying that a pre-married woman is (and should be) a virgin.  Of course men enjoy no comparable labels distinguishing the various stages of their sexual activity (which is another subtext of unmarried vs. married — don’t get me started on the whole “Miss”, “Mrs.”  and “Ms.” thing).

It’s not this way in all parts of the world.  In countries colonized by Spain instead of England, people have at least two surnames — one from the father and one from the mother.  (This norm may have originally come from Arabic-speaking cultures, which spread to Spain.)  While the maternal surname eventually gets dropped after two generations, every person carries identifiers from both parents.  Latin American women rarely change their names when they marry, and if they do, it’s often added to the others and preceded by a “de” to show it’s a married surname.

Also in Spanish-speaking countries — cultures often thought to be more machista (sexist or male dominant) than the USA — women have long been able to own property separate from men.  In fact, California was the first state where women could own property separate from any man.  This was a holdover from Mexican law that was preserved when California became a part of the United States.

I understand the practical reasons for changing one’s name.  Sometimes we women don’t like our birth surnames.  Sometimes we don’t like our family of origin and are happy to join a new tribe.  Sometimes we want continuity with our children.  When I was married, I got a new passport with a hyphenated last name in anticipation of children, and signed legal documents as a hyphenated person when they were jointly executed with my then-spouse.  But nowhere else.  It gleefully tickled my feminist funny bone to no end when we’d get spam phone calls from some poor soul wanting to talk to Mr. [my last name].

My main issue about changing names is this — why is the name change only a woman’s issue?  Why don’t men get to go through this?  If marriage implies a union, why not make it equal and NOT a subsuming of the woman’s identity to the man’s?  Some men do change their names or both spouses take on a new hyphenated name, and I’d love to see more of this.  I adore how Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, actually combined his last name (Villar) with his wife’s (Raigosa) to create a whole new entity.  What a metaphor for partnership, union, shared new identity, and equity!

Marriage today has its roots in feudal economic relationships where women are not only unequal to men, but their property.  Because of this inequity and the burdens it brings, we continue to have to make myriad decisions that are men’s privilege to never have to consider — like having to time children before it’s too late biologically but after it’s sufficiently economically stable; whether to try parenthood plus career or choose one; like balancing”work work” and housework.  On top of all that, we have to decide what to call ourselves too?

There must be some payoff.  Let’s face it, the logistics of changing your name is a HUGE pain in the arse, especially in the digital age.  So ladies, what is the payoff?

I suspect there is another piece here that isn’t talked about much.  Women changing their names upon marriage is a public declaration of the married state.  It’s a way to announce to the world “I am married now!”  It’s a way to announce “I am now legitimate before the world, as are my children and my sexual activity!”  Even though we single women tend to be better offer financially and (according to some studies) also happier than married women — especially ones with children — there is still a stigma attached to being a single woman with our wild, unclaimed vaginas bandying about.  The stigma is that somehow we haven’t been able to attract a man that wants to marry us (which apparently should be our goal)…and therefore we are defective somehow.  Unintentionally perhaps, women taking on their husbands’ name contributes to a societal sense of “there are better and worse buckets of womanhood, and I’m in the ‘good woman’ bucket now!”

Let’s be honest.  There is some truth to the existence of the good bucket. Being married — and letting the whole world know we’re married by changing our name — still gives us an identity, legitimacy, and personhood that singledom does not.  Also, few relationships in a woman’s life outside of marriage have the power to determine the path and quality of a woman’s life (and that of her children) in terms of basic physical safety and economic well-being…whether for better or worse.

I hope for the day when marriage is NOT such a defining and critical moment in a woman’s life to the extent she feels compelled, or obligated (one of my recently-married acquaintances was pressured by her new husband to change her last name because it was “the polite thing to do”) to change her identity.  I hope for the day when marriage is just as critical and defining a moment for men.  And I hope for the day when men have to wrestle with the big questions of life, identity, work, children, and family to the same degree as women.

In the meantime, I do my part to encourage this shift by resisting the norm and its oppressive history.  While I may hyphenate again one day, I retain my surname, and along with it my identity, my herstory, my whole personhood, and my Self.

What do you think?  Why did you change your name? Or not?

In lak ech!

Jaxsine

“Do YOU have CHILDREN?!” …adventures in effective communication and childfree travel

I was on a beach in the Caribbean. It was a long-planned, greatly anticipated vacation at the end of a particularly grueling year. The plan was to sleep, read, write, enjoy nature, eat fabulous food prepared by someone else, and contemplate great questions about life, work, and purpose. So far so good. I wasn’t alone on that beach by any means; three cruise ships had docked that morning – one from Disney no less – and instead of reading my book, I was actually preferring to watch a super enthusiastic man growling and splashing about with his super jubilant son (I gathered) and two nephews, all under age five. I’d just returned from an epic snorkeling trip, and the water and salt were slowly evaporating off my contented body as I enjoyed the lingering moment in the sun.

Gradually, I became aware of the family occupying the beach chairs behind me. There seemed to be one woman and a gaggle of children (also under five) whose names I quickly learned because she was constantly admonishing them in a fifties-housewife-on-valium sort of extra-saccharine, extra-restrained voice. This voice was having little effect. Julia in particular seemed to be a handful. I got the sense she was going to do what she pleased, with a younger one, Estela, sometimes following suit. Julia would wander off to the water, or to the boats, just out of danger. Sometimes a boy her age, Leo, was a part of her shenaningans. I saw in their faces not the look of “I’m exploring this fascinating world, being curious and delightful” but rather “Screw you grownups, I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want and you can’t stop me.”

There was also whining and shrieking. Again, shrieks of delight are one thing, shrieks of manipulation and defiance are another.  And the whine of a human child is one of my least favorite sounds on earth.  Shrieks of manipulation and defiance administered in unpredictable bursts at full volume are even lower on the list.

And yet one more startling round of three children shrieking in whiny unison had just burst a few feet behind my head.

What happened next was out of the ordinary for me. Not only had I not given much thought to whether to say anything, what, or how, I somehow reached my limit with no warning, leaned around to look at the family behind my beach chair and communicated the following with an unaccustomed intensity:

“Oh. Come! ON!!”

In retrospect I’m proud of myself for accomplishing three things I’ve been working on: being in the moment, being honest about my feelings, and not thinking too much. But even if I’d thought about it, I wouldn’t have expected what happened next.

The woman – in an equally nasty tone – replied: “Why don’t you just move?!! There are children here!!”

I’m not entirely sure how I responded, but I think I said: “Oh, that’s your solution?!”

Pissed-off mama bear: “What would you like me to do, kill them?!”

Whoa. Even in that moment, I was aware that particular statement was so not about me.  Startled by this infanticidal suggestion, I got some of my sanity back and asked [tone still a bit nasty]: “How about something in the middle?!”

Her reply (so not a response to my statement-disguised-as-a-question): “Do you have children?!!!”

I turned my head back around to face the ocean and shook it in an exasperated “you’re worthless and I’m done having this stupid conversation with you” sort of way.  But it was because I knew she’d just played the mommy card on me and I couldn’t win.

After a few seconds, I thought of something to say: “Whether or not I have children is irrelevant to the fact that yours are being spoiled brats and disruptive to others!!” I also thought of “Yes, there are children here, do you see any of them acting the fool quite like yours?” and “Your children’s need to shriek and whine, and your need to do nothing about it are not more important than my need to have some reasonable peace and quiet on my hard-earned vacation!” I thought of calling her mommy card play and slightly lying: “Yes I do, she’s 34 years old and never acted like yours even on a bad day!” or outright lying and saying, “Yes, and I left them at home since this is not the place for young children, especially misbehaving mini a-holes like yours!”

I also thought of “Why don’t you leave?! You are the ones who are acting inappropriately for this setting!!” or “It’s your job as a grownup to teach your children to be appropriate to the environment and considerate of others!”  (Not too long before I’d lost it, Mama Bear had been pleading with the kids to be quiet since people were getting beachside massages nearby – no joke, and you should have seen the therapists’ faces at one point, watching the performance.) I could have played the classic female you’re-out-of-line-with-the-group-and-I-speak-for-the-mob card and said “Can’t you see you’re ruining the experience for everyone here?!”

But I didn’t say anything, and thankfully the aunt/sister/friend returned, who turned out to be the mother of Julia and Estela, and they calmed down. Mama Bear left to go “check on Baby Alexander” (good grief there were more?).

This episode brought up some things for me as a childfree (childless by choice) person.  First, my anger about the tremendous and unfair entitlement many parents feel, just because they are parents. I understand there may be some biological and hormonal issues at play in their feelings and reactions that I know nothing about, but if I were to have gotten drunk on piña coladas and traipsed up and down the beach shrieking, whining, bothering strangers, touching other people’s things and partially exposing myself too, I would have been asked to leave, and rightly so. As a group we tolerate behavior from children and young people that is inappropriate, and then wonder years later why they’ve grown up feeling so entitled and acting so helpless and selfish (Boomer parents of Gen Yers, are you listening?)

And speaking of the group, the whole idea of the nuclear family is a recent development during just the last few decades of the thousands of years of the human experience, and one we aren’t really built for. The responsibility of raising a child (much less two or three or more) being born by one and maybe two adults alone, is not something we are equipped for, nor do well. We should all play a part in ensuring the safety and appropriate socialization of children and youth because their socialization is critical to us all. I may have decided not to become a parent myself, but I have a vested material interest in your children growing up to be respectful, considerate, mature, contributing individuals. I have stepped in more than once to ensure the physical safety of a child that’s not mine, but not to discipline or ensure emotional safety, because of my well-founded fear of the caretaker’s wrath. [By the way — never doubt that women are capable of aggression, especially when our children are threatened. We would do well to cultivate the same level and immediacy of anger and action when our own person – our bodies, our communities, our planet – are threatened as well.]

I think the way many parents treat their children like their private personal possessions is unhealthy for them and all of us and also unrealistic, since not only do I pay taxes that help support those kids (and vote for pro-kid initiatives by the way), I also pay – and handsomely – for those kids who end up needing public services, prison, or other types of support. I pay in less material ways as well when children and young people grow up being irresponsible, disrespectful, incompetent, poor critical thinkers and self-centered.

So just as “there are children here” doesn’t give permission to those children to behave however they want, it also doesn’t give you, as the adult in charge, permission to flail and beseech helplessly without taking charge, managing the situation, mentoring the younglings and demonstrating leadership.

Along those lines, the second thing this episode brought up for me is my disagreement with the belief that only parents have the right to say anything about how children are acting or being raised. The classic “Do you have children?!” phrase isn’t a question, it’s a challenge to the legitimacy of any concerns I might have about your children’s behavior or your choices as a parent. It’s a trap whose primary purpose is to get me to shut the hell up. If I say “no” I don’t have children, the response is that I therefore can’t possibly understand or know what I’m talking about, and should shut the hell up. But if I say “yes” there would be some other excuse for why I’m unqualified to have an opinion or a say, and should still shut the hell up: “I bet they’re terrors too” or “You probably don’t love them as much as I love mine” or “You probably beat yours to make them mind” or “You raised yours in a different time when it was easier” or “But I have to do this on my own and you have help” or “But I have more than you” or “But you don’t know what it’s like to raise these children.” Blah blah blah.

I get that as a non-parent I don’t understand what it’s like to have my own child. I really don’t know what it’s like to be a mom – all day every day for years on end. But I do have some sense of what it’s like to parent. I had a hand in raising my much-younger sister (the aforementioned 34-year-old), I’ve taken care of kids of various ages off and on for many years, and I’ve had many intimate glimpses into the lives of friends with children. One of the reasons I’m childfree is because I do have a sense of what parenting requires, and I’m not willing to sign up for everything that commitment requires, especially with so many uncertainties a part of the bargain. I believe everyone should give much serious thought to this choice — to taking on one of the most important jobs for humanity — and I feel many millions (billions?) more should bow out as I did instead of throwing their frustrations or shortcomings in meeting their job requirements in the faces of those who said “no thanks”. Empathy enhances connection and broadens perspective, but my complete understanding of what parents go through is not required to have observations, concerns, and requests. Understanding doesn’t equal agreement.

Which brings me to the third item this episode brought up for me. The mommy card play is designed as a trap not only to shut up someone like me, but also to shut down mommy’s insecurities and serve as a righteous “get out of jail free” pass. Mama Bear’s sudden rage and suggestion she kill the kids was coming from a deep place. I suspect her embarrassment and frustration were simmering just under the surface, and my nasty comment just boiled her over by expressing what she felt she couldn’t, in order to remain a good person, a good woman, and a good mommy. Maybe her extra-restrained-extra-saccharine-fifties-housewife-on-valium manner was meant to regulate her own nervous system more than her kids’ behavior. Maybe she was jealous of me — older than her, rocking my bikini, enjoying the sun and some adult beverages unencumbered by anyone else’s antics or whims or schedules. Maybe she dreams of killing her kids and being free, and feels guilty or represses these thoughts. Murder was really nowhere on my mind that day, just a desire for less shrieking. I could have asked for this in a way that was less nasty, more mature, more appropriate, more considerate and more understanding – all the things I wanted from her and her children.

Thankfully, the Universe gave me an opportunity to try again. The very next night, after travelling all day and arriving tired on an island in another part of the Caribbean, there was a bit of revelry going on in the hot tub just outside my bungalow. Normally that was the sort of thing I’d be interested in checking out, but I’d had enough of meeting new people for one day, and my body was weary. I read for a while, and went to bed just before 11, the hour of the B&B’s quiet hours. The party group had left for a while, but were back, and after several minutes trying to sleep despite the noise, I decided to act before I got really frustrated, and thought a little about how to approach this. I opened the sliding door to my bungalow and addressed the six folks in the hot tub in a calm, even voice with something like this:

“I don’t mean to break up anyone’s fun, but it’s past 11 and I’m having trouble sleeping because I can hear you guys even with my door closed. Do you think you might be able to continue your party in a way that can allow me to sleep?”

The group was mildly apologetic, and I heard one quiet “wow.” The group dispersed and I went to sleep easily, putting aside my mild feelings of guilt and false mental scripts about being a party pooper or selfish.

The next morning at breakfast, two women sat down at a table near mine and said hello to the folks at another table, addressing them affectionately as “troublemakers.” Based on this, I assumed they had been part of the hot tub group, since I hadn’t seen their faces last night in the dark. I braced myself for some passive aggressive public shunning. Instead, after I chuckled at something witty and sexy one of the women said regarding the previous night’s events, she addressed me, asking if I was the one who’d asked them to be quiet. I said yes, and that I hoped I hadn’t come across as bitchy, but clear, assertive, and non-violent. She said not at all, said my approach was indeed just that, and actually thanked me!

That night at happy hour, the same pair invited me to join them, and we had a delightful lengthy conversation which continued the next morning at breakfast. I left the B&B later that day having gained two new friends, enriched by their humor and intelligence, inspired by their happy relationship dynamic, and validated by their appreciation. In fact, they told me they had actually debriefed my response to their noise and found it very effective and aligned with their own values and goals.  Wow!!

Sometimes we’re not our best selves. Sometimes we learn from what happens when we’re not. And sometimes we get a do over, and find not only our paths again, but kindred souls on the same journey.

Happy New Year and Happy Blazing New Trails!

In lak ech,

Jaxsine

Wherever you go, there you are … and we’re still here!

So the Great Winter Solstice of 2012 came and went with little more than a sigh, and La Nueva Era (the new era) was celebrated with vigor in New Age circles around the globe (including in spots around Xichén Itzá, a truly fascinating people-watching experience), and much more modestly in the Mayan World.

Wearing my new white hipil, gorgeously embroided by a local Maya woman (and me wondering whether wearing it would even be appropriate) I kicked off the new baktun cycle at a midnight ceremony that was as much Catholic mass as ancient rite, at the ancient Zací cenote (huge sinkhole is the closest translation) in the heart of prehispanic Valladolid, Yucatán.  I and the 100 or so other attendees — Mexicans as well as some young European tourists — got to see flowers and Maya wine (balché) being blessed and offered to the cenote, say about 30 Hail Marys, enjoy Maya ceremonial music and dancing, watch three young men take the high dive into the dark cenote, have some Mayan communion (!) and be sprinkled with holy water and have blessed bougainvilleas thrown at my head and into my lap.

I must admit I’m not surprised there was no Big Huge Deal on Friday, but I must also admit I’m slightly disappointed.  Much in the way I felt hope and some antisocial excitement on the morning of 9/11/01 when I turned on the TV and saw a major US city in smoke and flames, the part of me that sits on Mount Olympus looking down on mortal humans in judgement, mocking their foibles, hoped some mindblowing disaster would strike to get people to wake up and smell some kind of evolutionary coffee — along the lines of “oh yeah?  Well this‘ll teach ya!”

But no such luck, and we are left to face something even more disturbing — ourselves, and the status quo.  So many people (myself included on bad days in the last few months) put a lot of stock in something big happening so “things” would start to change.  And yet here we are.  And I embarked on a long vacation to commune with my Authentic Self, relax, disconnect, and reconnect — things I struggle to do when I’m home.  And yet here I am.

Despite what we tell ourselves, and what clever advertising tells us, going away doesn’t change who we are.  Not by itself anyway.  Like with relationships, we exchange one set of problems for another.  For instance, here in southern Mexico I am no longer freezing like I would be at home, but now I’m dealing with sunburn and nasty mosquitoe bites.  I no longer have to cook for myself multiple times every day, but I do have to spend more money and find someplace to eat that’s tasty and meets my body’s needs — multiple times every day.  Ways that I tend to be anxious or rigid manifest differently when I travel, but they’re still there.

Of course, there is something to be said for a good fit.  Also like relationships, there are certain sets of costs and benefits that suit us better than others.  Being out of my normal comfort zone to some degree, without the normal list of distractions, I can take time to explore and notice things in a different way than I might back home.  I’ve realized for example — after 22 years of traveling! — that my first response to an unfamiliar place is to get oriented and get to know the place physically and geographically as thoroughly and quickly as possible.  I’ve realized that some things that used to delight or intrigue me many years ago now annoy or even anger me.  In some ways I’m only now getting to know the way I’ve always been, and in other ways I’m changing.

One of those changes is that at some point I became middle aged.  I’m now referred to as a señora (Mrs.) much more than I used to be, even though I wear no wedding band and I’m travelling unaccompanied.  I’ve only seen one solo female traveler and she was much younger than me.  The folks my age are in couples and have children in tow.  The adventurous-looking ones are young enough to be my children now and not only are they not interested in me, I’m no longer interested in them!

Not only that, I’ve actually thought more than once that I’m geting too old for this s**t!  Parts of traveling are just no longer recreational for me.  I’m sort of over the excitement of trying to flag down buses on long highways to get back into town, putting up with those long tedious busrides and dubbed B movies blaring in the dark, carrying my entire luggage on my back, washing my panties and t-shirts in the sink, getting blisters from all the walking, and trying to sleep decently in a new place every couple nights.  I’m even having some surprisingly negative thoughts about my Beloved Mexico and shockingly positive ones about USians and foreigners.  Places are even starting to look the same!

What the hell is happening to me? Am I bored?  Am I growing up?  I do seem to be a bit more myself than just my Wise Rugged Diane Fossey/Indiana Jones Lady persona or my Flirtacious Daring Cougar On Vacation persona. But when did I become some boring elitist who just wants to be promenaded around some tropical islands on some ostentatious ecologically disastrous cruise ship, or vegetate on a quiet beach under a crisp white canopy for hours having my drinks and exquisite meals brought to me … and my laundry done and folded, and my massage and whirlpool hottub waiting at the end of the day?

I don’t know, but whether or not it’s true that some kind of broader cosmic/economic/sociopolitical/spiritual Shift is afoot (which I still believe there is, particularly in the U.S.), I definitely feel myself shifting.  While I find myself feeling more more confident and secure than ever in strange places, I also feel the profound pain that my mistrust of people and fear costs me back home.  I notice the little guilt I feel about a few things I’ve done in my life that didn’t align with my word or intentions.  I notice the tremendous shame I feel about things I can’t control — past hurts, traumas, betrayals, and my lifelong challenges with a particular set of psychological health challenges.  I wonder why I am so hard on my body — a body that has given so much and generously supported me, like a horse I’ve run hard over mountains and plains for weeks, day and night, with barely enough food and water.  A body so many women would love to have, and great DNA to boot, and yet I direct nasty thoughts and shame at my thighs and belly, and tolerate excruciating exercises to try to shape and control them.

And I notice how my DNA affects me in other ways.  How I inherited the gift of words, the gift of music, sensitivity and romanticism of my father.  How I inherited the resourcefulness and ingenuity of my mother, as well as her sunny smile and ready laugh in public.  How I inherited brains, humor and great health from both. How I also inherited the bouts of depression of my father, as well as his narcissism and grandiosity, his isolation, his tendency to go up into his head under stress, and his naivete.  And I inherited my mother’s self-doubt, discomfort with her femaleness, resentment, constant doing, ambivalence about people, and sense of not-enoughness.

Wherever I go, there I am. Quitting my toxic job didn’t remove stress or constant work from my life. I am the one not managing my time, maintaining boundaries, saying no, or deciding not to check my iPhone at red lights.  Being single and childfree has not isolated me from loss.  It does free me from certain kinds of loneliness, but even though I’m better friends with Me Myself and I than I’ve ever been, after a week I’m definitely over the novelty of traveling alone.

It can be an advantage to grow up in a family where you’ve been taught you’re different.  I’ve been much more apt to take certain kinds of risks and take certain kinds of stands, especially as a female, than I would had I been taught to fit in and be “normal” (not that I didn’t desperately want to, but just couldn’t seem to).  But it also has its price.  42-year-old women don’t typically travel alone, nor have tattoos on their forearms or a nostril piercing.  As I try to connect and fit in, while constantly discovering and manifesting Me, I sometimes make choices that marginalize me.

And yet the ability to do such things — much less have the time to ponder and reflect on them — is a result of my tremendous privilege.  I have a life — partially by design, partially by circumstance — that affords me more freedom of thought, time, experience and movement than women have ever had.  My days are not taken up by the frenetic tasks of routine or necessity — the spouse, the children, the shopping, the cooking, the washing, the cleaning, the organizing or chauffeuring.  Or such services provided to other families.  Or the ordered, quiet life of a nun/priestess or duty-bound tedium of a royal.  I get to think about things most of us don’t think about.

Whether or not I should is perhaps another question.  It’s not fun to stare your life in its face, especially as it ages.  I’m also aware of a sort of pressure of expectations I tell myself is coming from others.  I get to go off on these adventures that others get excited about and experience vicariously through my photos and stories.  I therefore feel obliged to have a screamingly fabulous time, or experience some life changing realization.  Maybe this would make the trip worth it.  Maybe this would make it worth it for others at least, and justify the fact that they can neither go away nor have these realizations.  Imagine if Columbus or Marco Polo or Lewis & Clark came back from their epic journeys with a mere shrug and “meh!” to show for their adventures.  Not acceptable!

But as I become less of an extremist, I hope to allow some osmosis to occur among the various facets of my life.  Instead of mad long bouts of frenzied working punctuated with sparse periods of complete catatonic sloth, perhaps I can enjoy a dose of each every day?  Perhaps I can become more realistic about the miracles and joys and struggles and annoyances — of every day no matter where I am and what I’m doing?  Maybe I can learn to let my shame go, feel less fear, more vulnerability, more trust, and more joy?  Maybe I can learn to love my body and my life, regardless of what it’s doing, facing the reality that the losses will continue to increase and the control will continue to decrease if I allow myself to go gently and gracefully?

Because ultimately al fin de cuentas — in the end — wherever you go, and whenever you go, there you are.

[Epilogue: The above was written on December 22nd, and on December 23rd I spent most of the day with a twenty-year-old discovering an amazing ancient site together, and talking about a variety of subjects.  Not only was he delightful, he seemed to be enjoying himself with me as well!  More lovely people and animals have been crossing my path in the last two days.  There’s nothing like connection — however fleeting — to inject perspective, meaning, hope and contentment into my ongoing dialogue with myself. What’s your experience with this? Do people take us out of our heads in a good way, or are they mere distractions from necessary personal work? 🙂 ]

In lak ech,

Jaxsine

Breaking the “r”ules: The Final Chapter

The moment finally arrived when I knew it was time to go.  I finally left an abusive marriage.  I finally exited the burning building, unable to see, let alone breathe.  I finally jumped out of the boiling water  That is to say — on Friday, June 1, 2012, I presented my New Boss with my resignation.  And on Tuesday, June 5th, the day of the Transition of Venus and following a new moon, she escorted me from the building with my personal effects at 11:30 a.m.

A lot happened in 12 weeks.  Let me catch you up.

We left off in the story where Beloved Boss presented me with a title change to make me stay (which by the way, I later learned came without a salary increase), then a three-day suspension for a nostril piercing after I removed the jewelry, then the withdrawal of the title change due to the discipline, then a change in reporting structure.  New Boss had been my peer and mentor, and the person ultimately in charge of the disastrous department I inherited a year ago.  I was starting to notice shortcomings in Beloved Boss and New Boss I had failed to see before, yet my faith in them — if not in the organization — remained intact.  At last writing, I believed Beloved Boss had my back and was fighting for me.

I was wrong.

So I was suspended without pay for three days the first week of April, just after being handed over to New Boss on April 1st in a hasty handoff that took even New Boss by surprise.  There was no joint meeting, no formal announcement, no clarification of expectations, no division of duties or planning.  I spent my unpaid days off cleaning, reflecting, and building my new business.  I decided not to accept the discipline unchallenged, and filed a three-page grievance letter on the last day I could file.  I laid out the timeline of events and cited the reasons I believed the suspension to be excessive and unfair: I took responsibility for my actions, others have not been disciplined at all for more serious violations (including of the same policies I had violated), I had indeed followed direct instructions, communication was unclear and inconsistent, and the additional circumstances surrounding the discipline (title change and withdrawal and change in reporting structure) were concerning.  I stated I had shared the events with select medical school and community leaders who were also concerned, and I asked to be paid for two of the three days and given the new title.

I emailed Beloved Boss to let her know I had submitted the grievance, expressing regret at any pain or disruption this would cause her, but stating I needed to do what was right for me and the future of my Office.  On the same day, I chaired a community meeting in which I let the group know of my new reporting structure.  The attendees expressed concerns about what this meant in terms of the future of the Office, my position, and the importance of our work.  I did my best to paint an optimistic picture without denying I also had questions.

Beloved Boss did not respond to my email, nor did I see her since she was no longer my boss, until two weeks later.  I thought our scheduled meeting was to provide me with a response to my grievance, and I was prepared.  I didn’t realize it was a hearing, and HR was there.

For this I was not prepared.  Thrown off guard, I collected my thoughts for a few seconds, and began by telling Beloved Boss what she meant to me.  How she had been my mentor, role model, big sister and friend.  How I didn’t want to report to anyone else in the organization  How this was painful for both of us.  I talked about how the HR process is antagonistic and dehumanizing — for everyone involved — and that although I was upset and the grievance was written as if it were directed towards her, I didn’t really know who I was upset with, or who I was grieving (the CEO? HR administration?).  She owned that it had all been her decisions.

This suprised and saddened me, given her sheepish, apologetic “they’re making me do this” demeanor in our previous conversations but I figured maybe she had to say this in front of HR.  I continued, laying out the basics of what I remembered from my grievance letter, since I hadn’t brought anything or anyone with me.  I still thought I was having a dialogue, and tried clarifying and asking questions.  The meeting turned into her grievance.  She was angry with me for calling the change in reporting a “demotion” and said going to the community was “a mistake”.  I told her I needed to get support and perspective and pointed out that at least I didn’t go within the organization — she said I had (the medical school folks).  She was angry about me making it look like she didn’t care or wasn’t committed.  I tried to explain the difference between intent and impact and that I wasn’t questioning intent, but that this decision can and will have negative impact. She was angry with me for suggesting she could have invited dialogue about my piercing instead of ignoring it or disciplining me, and she told me I should have had a dialogue with her before doing it — that there is a process.  I talked about processes not always working, and that sometimes people breaking rules is what causes change (I didn’t say this, but the Lovings just went and got married instead of spending years petitioning the courts to make interracial marriage legal, and Rosa Parks just “sat her Black ass down” [not my words] instead of heading for downtown Montgomery to lobby for equal seating on buses!).  I talked about leadership versus management and that I felt I demonstrated the former.  I didn’t tell her one of the reasons I didn’t tell her or consult with her beforehand was because I didn’t want to implicate her in a decision that was my own to make.

I could feel her, the situation, and our relationship passing through my fingers like sand that I tried to grasp as it followed gravity.  I talked about this sitation having a broader context that needed to be considered, like the context of inconsistent accountability in the organization.  She disagreed.  She said “no, this is about YOU.”  I talked about us having co-created the situation together.  She disagreed.  She said “this is on YOU.”

This was not the Beloved Boss I knew.  I don’t know why I said “thank you” when it was over and I left her office — for the last time I’d later learn.  The one thing that felt positive was her admitting that indeed the combination of the discipline, title change withdrawal and demotion “looked bad.”  But it will take me years to forget her face during that meeting — angry and wanting to yell at me, sad and close to tears, eyes full of disappointment and betrayal.  These were eyes that used to light up,  smile, laugh and bathe me in warmth.  I felt like my lover and I had just split after an ugly, avoidable quarrel.  I felt sad, disappointed, and shocked.  I hurt.  I doubted myself.  Had I done wrong after all? Was she right?

They (she) had two weeks to respond in writing to my grievance.  In the meantime, I was realizing that New Boss was not a good fit for me.  Her style was more controlling, mothering, and directive than I felt comfortable with.  I could see I was not going to be treated like a professional, and that we were going to end up having it out at some point.

I had set a goal to be out by July.  I felt that gave me enough time to be sufficiently prepared — psychologically and financially — to be out on by own.  Originally I’d been eyeing May when I told Beloved Boss in February I was planning to leave, but things had changed.  And now my goal each day was to avoid quitting.  Things had truly disintegrated.  The smoke was getting thicker and the water even hotter.

After hours on the day of the deadline, a Tuesday, I received an email from Beloved Boss requesting an extension to respond.  I said no problem and thank you.  I was heartened.  Maybe they needed extra time to do the necessary paperwork in HR to grant my request!

Or maybe they needed time for their lawyers to look things over first.  The following Monday May 14th, also after hours, I received the two-page written response.  Reading it made my abdomen tense up, my chest and arms turn icy hot, and my brain go numb.  Not only was my request denied, Beloved Boss asked me to “sincerely consider [my] ability to resume in a management capacity” given that my commitment to the organization had been affected.  She cited the fact I had communicated with people in the community about my discipline which “casted [sic] doubt on the [organization’s] commitment” to diversity, and the minutes from the aforementioned community meeting, which could be considered retaliation and grounds for future discipline.

How the hell did she get those minutes, which I had not sent out yet?

Bu that wasn’t all — the summary of the hearing, based on the notes she and the HR representative took — misconstrued my words and left out key points.  It stated I had taken no responsibility for my actions, and “continue to blame a ‘bad policy'”, which wasn’t true.

This was definitely a breakup letter.  It was definitely over.  I hurt all over again, and had a hard time grasping what was happening.  The emails and text messages flew.  I got support and indignation from my allies (“WHAT?!” and “they don’t have enough to fire you, get them to give you a nice severance package to shut you up”), but nothing soothed my heart.

On Wednesday I tried one more time.  I’d considered one colleague’s suggestion on how I could try negotiating a severance.  I didn’t believe that would fly, and the idea of me just carrying on with work if they refused me made my guts turn.  I clung to the idea that Beloved Boss had been unable to be real with me with the HR rep in our meeting — maybe she could be more of her old self if we didn’t have an audience!  Perhaps I could try a more “power with” tactic since going along with the “power over/against” process was not working nor feeling good for anyone.  I’m a mediator for Chrissake!  So I researched, then proposed we go to mediation.  I wrote her: “I feel like I’m not being heard or understood, and it seems you feel the same way.  Perhaps in a confidential, safe environment we can really talk to each other and come to some agreement on the best way to move forward.  Are you open to a mediation with me?”

She forwarded my email (to the lawyers? HR? CEO?) then responded she was “not interested in going through mediation” and said if I didn’t agree with the grievance, I could proceed to Step II.  Step II was to appeal to the CEO or HR Administrator.  I knew either would be as open and supportive as a brick wall on fire on the other side of a moat filled with demon alligators.  No thank you.

And so I pressed on, biding my time.  I contemplated getting a lawyer and realized this would take more out of me than the organization, even if I won, and I was not going to get what I really wanted — understanding and fairness.  In the meantime, Toxic Employee had filed another lengthy, detailed, crazy grievance against me for retaliation (I was still expecting her to work her full hours and follow rules).  Also, my performance evaluation date came and went.  New Boss said Beloved Boss (BB) was going to do it, and she was out that week.  New Boss said she had no doubt I would pass.  I doubted that was true.  I began to think maybe something who knew The Bigger Picture was loudly trying to tell me to leave, and maybe I should just listen.

I talked with my administrative assistant and New Boss about how ex-Beloved Boss (BB) had gotten a hold of those minutes.  My administrative assistant said New Boss (who she also supported) had asked her for them.  I explained why I was asking — that they had gotten to BB and were being used in an unhelpful way — and problem solved about how to handle the communication going forward.  When I talked to New Boss about it, it turned out she’d also wanted to discuss them with me, since she’d been listening to the tape (!?) and also had concerns.  I told her I hadn’t wanted to involved her in the situation between me and BB, but that my words were being misconstued and taken out of context.  I shared a little about my piercing and if I’m forced to choose between the organization and the community, and the organization and my integrity or reputation, I know where I stand.  I talked about BB not wanting to own her part, and that she’s angry because I’m not ashamed or afraid and I set boundaries.   I felt yucky being this honest, but it was good for me.  New Boss seemed to listen, and asked about my commitment and whether I could get on board.  I was flabbergasted that she was actually asking this question and thought I could be.  I said no, and that I would be leaving soon.  I told her that since I told her in December I’d started looking, I’d only stopped looking briefly when the title change emerged.  She thanked me for being honest.

It was Friday of the following week that I resigned and gave three weeks’ notice.  I still had not received my performance appraisal, and the retaliation grievance filed by Toxic Employee was still not resolved.  It felt like we had all been under water holding our breath in some twisted contest to see who would give, and I bobbed to the surface first.  That lungful of air felt so good to my lungs.

New Boss read the two-page letter and cried — she had seen me in my element and called me a “rockstar” just the day before.  She was most concerned about New Employee.  She was also concerned about how the community would react.  She wanted time to build a relationship with them, and to craft a message.  I asked who “community” was (I think she said local external contacts).  I agreed to her request to hold off on communicating my departure to them until she and I could meet again Tuesday morning.  I reminded her that some community folks already knew, since I’d been talking to them.  Yet again she thanked me for my honesty.

On Monday I sent an email to multiple national colleagues informing them of my imminent departure.  I included a line about having “revived my former company and will be pursuing client and projects that are a better fit for my talents.”  The email recipients included a listserv which BB was on — I knew this but didn’t think I was dong anything inappropriate.

On Tuesday I rolled into the office late after informing a crowd of 10-12 students in gray scrubs smoking not 15 feet from the entrance that they were too close to the building. I suggested that maybe no one had told them, pointed out the smoking area on yonder side of the parking lot, and quietly fumed over yet one more example of the insanity of the place.

I went into my meeting with New Boss at 9:30 with a one-and a half-page list of single spaced bullet points describing all the most crucial items to be discussed and handed off in my transition.  We talked a little about this and that for a few minutes.  I asked about how we should communicate my leaving to my staff.  She suggested I send an email that day.  I was surprised — shouldn’t we do a meeting?  No, she said, actually today would be my last day.

W … T … F???   Why wasn’t this the first thing we talked about?  Was she trying to get all the important transition information from me before telling me?

Apparently the email I’d sent the day before was “concerning” and “cast doubt on the commitment” of the organization.   Two people at the medical school were included on the listserv I’d copied.  Oh yeah.  I’d truly forgotten about that.  (But wait, aren’t medical school people considered part of the organization and not the community? That’s what BB said in my hearing.)

I did what I tend to do in these situations — freeze and caretake.  My mind started blanking out.  We decided to cancel a meeting I was supposed to chair that afternoon.  New Boss stuck her head out of her door to ask our administrative assistant to send out an email.  I thought that was odd, since I was going to do that as soon as I went to my office.  I talked about having to complete two employee performance appraisals.  She said she didn’t know what time my computer access would be shut down, so if I didn’t get to it, she’d pick up.

OMG!  I finally got it, this was happening! Now.

I asked her to put her offer to pay me through the period of my resignation in writing.  She said “you don’t trust me?”  (Really!?)  About halfway through my list she said her heart was racing (from the overwhelm) — not a good thing for a morbidly obese person.  I touched her and gently  said something I’d wanted to say to her for a long time: “You also deserve to be happy and healthy.”  Wiping away a tear, and without pausing, she said “I have two kids in college.”

Wow.

We’d agreed to meet again 1:00 to go over and visit the staff together.  As soon as I got to my office I executed Emergency Escape Plan.  I sent two emails I’d composed and been holding in “drafts” for weeks.  One to internal folks, one to external folks, saying goodbye and providing my contact information and website address (just activated the day before in fact).  On the external email I included the line about “better fit for my talents” and on the internal one I added “values” after “talents” and a line about “I find myself unable to effect meaningful change, or lead with integrity, given the organization’s current culture and priorities.”  I felt people had a right to get a personal goodbye and hear at least a tiny part of the truth. I didn’t want to leave people in the lurch or feeling abandoned.  I also composed an email to my staff, letting them know I was leaving and that the abruptness was not my preference.  I thanked them for this and that, wished them well, reminded them of the crucialness of their work and asked them to keep asking the tough questions and holding their leaders accountable.

New Boss appeared in my doorway.  I don’t remember what she said, but she was upset about the emails I’d sent (?!) — something about making her look bad.  I genuinely asked “why?” and she said “because I’m your boss!”  I threw up my hands and made a gesture like “what did you expect!?”.  She had me shut down my computer and pack up my things.  I was prepared — as part of Emergency Escape Plan I had been preparing to leave for weeks, just like I prepared to leave my ex-husband almost exactly ten years before.  Important files, my books, other effects, were already at home.  I had cleaned up my computer drives too, after those meeting minutes got to BB.  Now I just had one more bag to fill with my desk toys, and my artwork and lamps to take down.

I drove my car up; got in a few hugs to a couple bewildered staff; loaded up, handed over my badge, keys, pager, and parking permits; single-arm hugged New Boss — whose face was like a silent scream — and said “until we meet again.” I drove away, free.  By that time my computer and email access had already been revoked, and the emails I had sent had been retracted from those who hadn’t opened them yet (I have since sent a pile of messages from my personal email).  They tried to take away not only my leaving, but how I left and who I told.  But I was free.

***

I am going to be processing this story for a long time.  Even just writing it now has been difficult, and a rollercoaster of emotion.  It still doesn’t feel entirely real, and my fired-up brainstem hasn’t completely relaxed yet.  It’s almost like a dream.  I am relieved to be free of Toxic Employee and the majority of my job.  But I do miss some things.  I miss New Employee.  I miss structure.  I miss reliable money and power and my ego being stroked.  But these are things I can live without, and things that were twisting me anyway.  And New Employee and I will still be friends.

What is interesting and disturbing to me is how few people have been outraged by my story.  People who know my organization — or even work there — are sometimes slightly disappointed, but not surprised.  Others who don’t know my organization, but know the corporate world, often have their own, similar stories.  The normalcy of this is disturbing — the banality of evil rears its head once again (see post on The White Ribon 12/19/11).  I have been reading a couple wonderful books lately on power that I will be writing about soon and one of them — Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times — suggests that one thing that causes certain people to stand alone and do the “right” or “moral” thing (e.g., breaking the law and risking one’s life to save Jews during Nazism) is actually believing in the stated ideals of a nation or organization.  Perhaps it’s not naïveté or blind idealism that make me tend to believe that people and organizations and nations actually mean to be who they say they are, and hold them to that.  Maybe it’s just about integrity, and a good trait.  Perhaps belief is subversive when apathy is the norm, and numbness the new evil.  Perhaps we need more believers, and more outrage, and more feeling.

Still, I have learned a lot.  If I had it to do over again, I like to think I would have left earlier before it got ugly, or turned down the offer of the title change and stayed on a path out.  I like to think I could have done something to preserve the relationship with BB and leave on good terms.

And maybe things happened exactly the way they had to for me, and for her as well.  Who knows what repercussions this story will have on how things play out moving forward.  I hope me taking a stand pushes the organization and change forward, raises important questions, or inspires others to be better, happier, healthier, and more alive.

I learned that me taking a stand pushed some people away, and others towards me.  I learned I was not alone. I learned I was loved, respected, admired and appreciated even more than I knew.  I learned that when the warning signs start to appear, I should listen instead of bargaining and doubting myself.  I learned that when I’m not listening to the Universe, she starts to speak louder, then shouts and hits me with a 2×4 until I get it.   I learned that I really can’t avoid messes if I’m going to be true to myself more.  I learned I still have some control issues and self love issues to work on.  I learned I need to get in better touch with my anger, sooner.

I learned that in a hierarchical organization, the culture really is driven, and the tone set, by those above.  Despite my insistence on the power of individual agency, ultimately this is the truth.  In an organization headed by a numbers man who is devoutly Catholic, lacking in emotional intelligence, fearful and intolerant of anything perceived as criticism, this orientation trickles down.  New Boss was protecting BB who was protecting him.  Both were afraid and trying to protect their jobs.   BB was copying his pattern of maintaining a small, close inner circle of trusted and protected people who could do no wrong until their “loyalty” came into question — when their toes started pulling back from the party line.  Because I was in BB’s inner circle (of which I was not aware), I was seen as even more of a traitor and punished even more harshly than someone not as close or trusted — like White allies during Civil Rights and light skinned “half breeds” in Indian boarding schools.

Also, I’ve realized that in a hierarchical “power over” institution, those above are always under someone else, with Almighty God being the Ultimate Boss.  Fear, compliance and control are the drivers.  And in a “power over” paradigm all manifestations of power are interpreted through that lense.  So those who exercise other forms of power — like “power with”” or power within”– are not recognized as such, but as players in a “power over” game trying to win and dominate others.  In making decisions true to myself, being honest, and raising questions, I was perceived as trying to assert “power over” and therefore neutralized as a threat instead of being recognized and engaged.

But more on power later.

While this is the end of this particular saga, I don’t know that I’m quite a Jedi knight.  🙂   But I am happily “single” and safe.  I swim in healthy, comfortable water.  And I can breathe again.  Hallelujah.

What came up for you as you read this post?  Insights or feedback?

Ometéotl!

~Jaxsine~

Knowing when to leave

It’s all right, honey. Let her go. Let her go. You know, Miss Ruth was a lady. And a lady  always knows when to leave.

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes.  Sipsey utters these lines at the moment the saintly kind-hearted Ruth dies, leaving Idgie alone again.  It usually makes me bawl.

But it has also made me wonder, for years, how to know when to leave.  How do I not possess Ruth’s grace and wisdom?  The truth is, it’s a tough call to make, especially if one of your virtues/flaws is to focus on the good instead of the bad, despite greater quantity or proportion of the latter.  The truth is also that I usually stay too long.

I have already shared the story of when I knew my bad marriage wasn’t going to get better (12/14/11 post).  The months that followed were a terrifying gift of staying in a dangerous, destructive relationship while quietly planning my escape.  It was excruciating not being fully able to speak the truth or leave, but the blessing was getting almost daily validation of why I had to get out.  It made my final exit less conflicted.

I feel like that now, but unlike with my marriage, I don’t have a specific deadline to rely on.  Towards the end of my marriage, I had graduate school in another state to plan for and provide an escape.  This time, with my job, it’s not so concrete.

But there are lots of parallels between the two.  How is my current bad job situation like my previous bad marriage situation?

  • I got what I said I wanted — but I wasn’t thinking carefully through  the long term requirements or commitment.
  • I didn’t want to tell myself, or anyone else, the truth about my feelings.
  • Once I finally started talking, however, I got understanding and empathy from others.
  • All it takes is one really bad day to make me want to leave — my loyalty and overall satisfaction are that fragile.
  • All it takes is one decent day to make me think it’s not so bad or it’s finally getting better … until the awfulness starts again and I realize the good day was just a respite.
  • There’s very little joy.  Good days are about the absence of significant conflict or drama, and satisfaction from having completed a certain number of tasks.
  • I give more than the other.  The other can’t, or isn’t ready or able, to change or give more.

I have been aware of these ironic parallels for some time, but recently I have had two additional realizations (which are also like what happened in my marriage).  One — those I loved are either changing or I am seeing them more clearly.  Two — I am changing too, and I don’t like what I am becoming.

My first inkling of changes or shattered illusions began when my colleagues didn’t say anything about my nose piercing.  Then my Beloved Boss didn’t say anything.  Then she came down hard on me, and later expressed feeling awkward about bringing it up — a management 101 skill in my book.  Then she suddenly offered me the one thing I always wanted, when I was already halfway out the door.  Then she got on one of my colleagues (my soon-to-be New Boss) about something I was working on instead of asking me about it, which was a new experience for me with her.

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be New Boss scheduled a meeting with me which I discovered (in the meeting) was about clearing the air about a few things before she became my boss (as if we could be completely honest and ignore the impending power shift).  I was completely unaware of her concerns, one of which was thinking I needed something from her when my Beloved Boss was getting on her about the aforementioned project I was working on.  (I still don’t entirely get that one.)

Another of her concerns was that something I told Toxic Employee got back to her (why did I trust Toxic Employee with that?).  I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have told Toxic Employee what I did, because I still believe soon-to-be New Boss made a bad decision and set me (or whoever would come after her) up for failure by not being honest with Toxic Employee about her poor performance.  I didn’t tell Toxic Employee the truth, even though I wanted to very badly, but I did imply her previous bosses hadn’t been entirely honest with her.  I was trying to give her a bigger picture that painted me as less the lone bad guy out to get her, and more the person trying to deal with a tough situation and do the right thing.  I was trying to show fairness and empathy with her shock and indignation, since she had been led to believe she had been a stellar employee for ten years until I came around.  The illusion she had been sold was hurting both of us — and the entire department — and I was trying yet another way to give perspective and make things better.  I guess it didn’t work, and she told soon-to-be New Boss what I’d said, with her own spin.

I received a message almost two years ago that “leadership is more than what most of the leaders around you, even the good ones, are doing.”  I couldn’t fathom this at the time because I adored Beloved Boss and soon-to-be New Boss (one of my mentors), but now I get it.  The two people I have most loved, trusted, and respected at work are not entirely the great leaders I thought they were.

I suddenly see The Matrix before me.  Beloved Boss contributes to The Problem.  She hasn’t always been direct with me about what she has needed from me, or in asking me to change or do something differently.  She didn’t go to bat for me when it mattered until it was too late.  She said yes to being given more and more responsibility for projects and functions outside her purview — with no title change or extra compensation, and to an extent that will hurt her other areas.  She allows her competence and skill to be exploited to make up for others’ (mostly men’s) incompetence and lack of planning.  She exploits soon-to-be New Boss’s competence and responsiveness instead of holding her colleagues accountable.  She sometimes says yes when she should say no — or sometimes she says nothing, which is the same as yes.

Soon-to-be New Boss also contributes to The Problem.  She allowed gross neglect and incompetence to go on for years in the area I inherited because she never had reason for concern (and I guess never had reason to even check).  She also allows her competence and skill to be exploited to make up for others’ under-functioning.  She enables her reports’ incompetence and irresponsibility by taking on their decisions for them and keeping their failures from showing (which keeps her from looking bad, but does not lead to growth or efficiency).  She doesn’t understand why our sister organizations say they don’t want to be like us.  She also says yes sometimes, when she should say no.

Both of these women have been in the organization for about 25 years.  They are outstanding people — and part of The Solution — but I now see they have not been immune to their environment.  They have grown up in a dysfunctional culture and have a tolerance for things they wouldn’t otherwise.  They don’t know any different.  Both allow their priorities to be manipulated by the latest regulatory freakout or demand from a superior without questioning or taking a stand (it seems).   Both appear to make pleasing their bosses top priority always, despite what suffers as a result.  Both allow themselves to be handed an impossible amount of work, which keeps them in a perpetual state of overwhelm, attending primarily to ugliness and urgent problems instead of mindfully building and nuturing people and programs.  Reaction over prevention isn’t their personal preference, but it is the reality of how they operate.

And both have told me my standards are (too) high.  My standards are not too high, I believe they are reasonable and good.  I don’t think keeping employee files locked up, doing decent performance evaluations, keeping accurate records, answering emails within a couple days, confronting problems head on and keeping one’s word are unreasonable standards, they are part of The Solution.   Perhaps I am like the frog put into boiling water — I jump right out when I sense right away it’s too hot and dangerous.  They are like the frogs put in water that has slowly been heated (over 25 years), and now they are (un)happily boiling to death.

Illusions are deadly — deciding someone or something is bad keeps us from seeing goodness, and deciding someone or something is good keeps us from seeing faults and failings.  Neither is fair or accurate.   Seeing through illusions can be painful and costly; now that I am seeing the Matrix, I feel more vulnerable and alone, without allies.  I see again my own failing to be entirely balanced in my assessment of people, tending instead to either blindly trust or entirely write off — like I did with my ex-husband (first the former tendency, then the latter).  It’s almost amusing how I fall prey to the same dichotomous either-or thinking I often rail against.

And hope can be dangerous.  Hope enables human beings to survive horrible circumstances and overcome tremendous odds.  But it can also keep us stuck in an illusion.  Holding on to the flickering possibility of change or good can keep us trapped in something mostly bad. This is tempting, since nothing is ever all good or all bad.  Holding on can lead to genius or breakthrough or triumph, but it can also lead to disaster and ruin and tragic waste.

Perhaps my doubts about knowing when to leave are really about my fear of being wrong.  I can stay and see things stay bad or get worse, and then I will be wrong about staying.  Or I can leave and see things improve, and then I will be wrong about leaving.  I just can’t know what will happen.

What I do know is I should not make choices counting on certain outcomes.  Besides, me making the choice and taking action changes the outcome — my decision shapes the future.  What I also know is that I do not like how I am changing, and what I have become.  I’ve noticed I’m not really a frog jumping out of the boiling water — I’m trying to swim in it, and my delicate skin is burning.

The fact that I would consider lying to get a coveted job title is not a good sign.  The fact I would violate confidence and tell Toxic Employee that soon-to-be New Boss wasn’t honest with her is not a good sign.  The chronic bags under my eyes that defy all beauty remedies are not a good sign.  My exhaustion even after only working eight hours is not a good sign.  It’s not a good sign that I have actually uttered the words “I hate my job” more than once.  The other things I hear coming out of my mouth to one of my new employees is not a good sign.  The subtle negativity, the undertone of anger, the ultra-political sensitivities and cautious maneuvering — these are not good signs.

In two months, New Employee has been showered with the appreciation, curious inquiries, and positive responses I have yet to receive in 18 months in my new role.  I recently read over the many wonderful comments I used to get all the time when I was doing what I love and am truly gifted in doing.  I remembered what it was like, and saw even more clearly when I compared myself to New Employee, that my unhappiness and lack of fit isn’t just hurting me — it’s hurting my effectiveness, and my ability to create positive change.

If everything we do is truly infused with the consciousness with which we do it, then me staying and forcing myself to make potentially positive changes in the organization is likely being cancelled out by my attitude and how I go about things.  Maybe I have taken von Goethe’s advice — “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being” — too much to heart.  Maybe I really am going too much against the grain, pushing too hard, or expecting too much.

In this way I still wonder, is it me, or the organization?  Can I still do good?  Is there sufficient hope?  I was curious to find some rational data — some objective evidence to provide some clarity or insight.  So I looked up “dysfunction” in the dictionary to see if my organization qualified.  The dictionary said “malfunctioning”, so I looked up “functional.”  The second definition was “having or serving a utilitarian purpose; capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed.”  This seemed like a good definition, but it struck me that folks in my organization would disagree about the proper definitions of “utilitarian”, “capable” and especially “purpose.”  Personally, I see multiple examples every day of how the organization is not serving its purpose, and lack of clarity around what (whose!) purpose it was/is really designed for.

Maybe the key word is “capable”?  Maybe my standards are too high and my expectations unrealistic in this environment.  And maybe I just don’t agree that the status quo is the best we can do.  Maybe I can still see that things don’t have to be the way they are — that there is A Solution (probably more than one).  Maybe I believe we can actually change things — that A Solution is doable.

And maybe my beliefs are moot.  Just like I believed my now ex-husband was capable of change, he just wasn’t willing or able.  And I got to a point where I realized I wasn’t willing or able to function inside that reality anymore — regardless of how that reality might be viewed or labeled by others, and regardless of how hard I tried.   And while that point is coming again, it doesn’t feel like it’s fully arrived.

So when should I leave?  Perhaps like Ruth, I will know when it’s time.

In lak ech,

~Jaxsine~

Househunting is like Dating …

So today is 3-9-12, which is a supercool date.  On top of that, yesterday was International Women’s Day (woot woot!) … and a Full Moon (how’s that for some serious female mojo!).  And today I signed the refinance paperwork on my mortgage.

This is noteworthy not only because I now have a 4.0% interest rate (!!??), but also because, even after being a homeowner for over 5 years, the historical significance of being a single woman who owns property by herself, with no help from anyone except a generous employer in a socially acceptable industry :), is not lost on me.  When I bought my house and signed my first mortgage paperwork in 2006, I could feel my mother and grandmother and many other female ancestors there with me, proudly looking on like so many signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Not long after, I wrote the following essay.  The housing market crashed within a few months, so I figured trying to publish it would likely be futile.  But all things happen in their own time, so here I present to you:

Househunting is like dating … or “How finding the right home is like finding the right partner”

Be ready for the hunt.

You have to be serious, and willing to invest the necessary time, energy, and money.

Do your homework.  Learn as much as you can about the process before you start.

Talk to people, especially girlfriends, that have had a successful hunt and are happy with their catch.  Listen to their advice, but know your experience will be unique.

Decide why you are hunting – is this a long term investment? A place to nest? A temporary place to sleep? A way to make some fast money? Will you be here long or not? Will there be children? Parties? Lazy afternoons together? Everyone has different motives, …and yours may change in time.

It’s important to know what you want BEFORE you start hunting so you can focus, and not waste your time or that of anyone helping you.

But… sometimes it’s good to explore and look around casually before you get serious, so you get a better sense of what you want.

And … know that what you want may change during the hunt.

Learn to communicate what you want clearly to anyone helping you with the hunt.

Use your head

Success has a lot to do with timing and what’s available when and where you are hunting.

Know how much you are willing to spend and invest.  Don’t get in over your head!

Have a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves.  Don’t compromise on the must haves.

Listen to past mistakes.  If in the past you have settled too quickly out of being tired or thinking you might not find something better, don’t!

Learn from every one you see or go inside.  You will get a better idea of what you like and don’t like, the lighting, decoration tips, things you may not have thought of before.

Check the foundation.  Check the plumbing.  Check the heating and cooling systems.  Are the surroundings safe?

Note that the time of day you see it can make a difference.  Check it out at difference times of day to see who’s hanging around and what the neighborhood is like at night on weekends.

Always get inspections done before you close the deal!

Don’t beg.  Don’t bid too high out of fear of losing.  Be clear on how much you’re willing and able to give.  Be open to negotiation. Be fair and not greedy … but be willing to give more than you expected.

Listen to advice, but make your own decisions.

Sometimes you need to change your search tactics, or get a new person on your team to help you hunt.

Have faith and hope

Understand that this is as much about heart as it is mind – let the magic happen.

Listen to people who tell you when you find the right one you will “know”.

The hunt is scary!  It can be exciting, exasperating, discouraging, exhausting!

Stick to what YOU want, since you have to live with your catch!

Don’t let anyone intimidate, guilt, or talk you into one you don’t want.

Don’t let anyone discourage you from going for the one you DO want, in your heart.

You may be disappointed.  You may make an offer that is rejected in favor of someone else’s.

It’s hard to get your hopes up and get excited, thinking this is the one, and then it doesn’t work out.

Try not to pine after the one that got away.  Try to avoid driving by and gazing longingly at “yours”, with the “sold” sign on it.

Trust that the right one will come along, and have faith that you lost the ones you did for a reason.

Be sure you have a great support system!

Be sure you have a kind but savvy advocate!

Don’t get out of the game too soon –  hold out for the right one, but also know when to take a break, or even when to quit.

Sometimes you’ll wonder whether you’re really ready for your dreams to come true, whether you’re ready for the responsibility.

Enjoy the hunt!  Stay present, focused, and kind!

Some of us take longer to recover from loss, rejection and disappointment.  There’s nothing wrong with you!

Be ready – it can happen at any time!  Be aware, and flexible.

Don’t accept the one in front of you because you’re afraid you won’t find another one better, but because you know you won’t find one better.

You’ll feel/know it when you’ve made a good decision.

Some of us fall harder and deeper than others.  Some of us need time to mourn and recover.

Sometimes prayer doesn’t work, unless you pray for the right thing to happen.

Hearing “no” is hard.

Sometimes it’s good to get back out there ASAP to see there are other options.

Trust that there are others, that it’s not the end of the world.  Don’t lower your standards.

For a while it may seem like none are as good as the one we lost.  That passes.

The search can be long and discouraging.  You may get tired.  You may need to give up or take a break for a while.

Opportunities present themselves at any time, out of nowhere. Be ready!

Sometimes the one that got away gives you a standard to shoot for, a vision to dream about.

Have courage

Be patient – the hunt may take a LONG time. Hold out for what you want.

Sometimes you will be the only one who understands what you are looking for.

Some aren’t as great as you imagined after you move in.

You will ALWAYS discover something extra after you move in – both flaws and delightful quirks.

The one that got away might haunt you, but hang in there!

Be ready to work

Sometimes you may have to clean up after the previous owner and spruce things up.

Some have been so neglected or abused by previous occupants that it’s hard to see the potential and beauty.

And … Strike a balance between seeing potential and noticing the reality.

Decide how much time and money you want to invest in repairs and decoration – do you mind a fixer upper?

No matter what, when you find the one you want, it will still need some fixing up or just some ol’ fashioned acceptance.  It will not be perfect.

Be grateful

Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve found until you’ve lost a couple good ones and regretted it.

You appreciate a good one more when you’ve seen lots of bad ones!

Listen to your heart.  Trust your instincts.

Sometimes it looks good on paper or in the ad, but when you see it you don’t want to go inside.

Sometimes they don’t look good on paper but are charming when you see them.

Sometimes the outside looks nice but the inside is in bad shape.

Sometimes the outside isn’t so great but the inside is clean, well-cared for, and cozy.

Sometimes you find one you want to love and think you “should” love, but you just don’t.  Don’t force the heart.

Don’t pass up the old ones just because they’re old – they often have a lot of character and charm to offer.

Listen to your heart.  It may fit everything on your list, but do you love it?  Can you love it?

You may see some that are out of your range, but it’s still fun to peek in the windows!

But … Do a drive by before you peek in the windows.  Peek in the windows before you go inside.  Consider bringing a friend or an advocate.

Sometimes talking to the present or previous owner yields helpful information.  Sometimes it’s just a turn off and not helpful.

It’s hard to get a sense of a place when there are occupants and their things inside.

If you don’t feel at home when you go inside, it’s not meant for you.

If it feels like someone else’s, and not yours, it’s not meant for you.

There may be some you appreciate or admire very much, but they’re not for you.

Remember there are some things that can be changed or modified, but some that can’t.

Be appreciative of those supporting and advocating for you, but be more concerned about not disappointing yourself.

When you’re in love, you forget the things that initially weren’t how you liked or what you expected.  Remembering those things can help you get over heartbreak.

You may fall in love with unexpected things you hadn’t thought of or hoped for.

It will only work if they love you back.  No matter how much you want or love, if it’s not mutual, it won’t work out well.

When you find it, it may not look like the picture in your head, but you’ll still recognize it.

Know the difference between what you need and what you want.

When you find The One, move heaven and earth to get it.

Inspect carefully before you buy.

Have plans for changes, updates, personal touches but if you want to change it too much, it’s not for you.

You may find yourself wandering back to check out the one you lost.  That’s OK as long as you look from the curb.

The one who ended up with the one that got away may not be taking care of the one that got away as well as you would have.  Their loss!  That doesn’t mean that destiny or history is cruel.

Timing is essential.

Things you didn’t like at first may end up being exactly what you wanted or needed in the end!

You will eventually realize that the one(s) that got away were actually not as perfect as the one you got, and you got a great deal on it to boot!

Someone nearby may have one very similar to yours and fix it up real nice and new, but somehow it’s still not as great as yours and still doesn’t feel like home.

Finally …

Finding the one is only the start of the journey!

I haven’t yet met my Beloved, but I still love my house! 🙂

Paz, amor … ¡y arriba las mujeres!

~Jaxsine~

Breaking the rules – Part III (The Empire Strikes Back?)

Those of you who are fellow card-carrying lifelong diehard Star Wars fans might point out that The Empire Strikes Back was actually the second (well, really the fifth!) Star Wars movie in the first trilogy and not the third, and you would be correct.  So why, you ask, would I name the third installment of this particular saga after the second installment of said Star Wars saga?  Answer: the title of this post is appropriate given what has transpired since Part II, and because in the trilogy formula, the second act is usually the darkest and most conflicted, as is this one.

Just days after I wrote Part II, and perhaps even because of the energy behind that post – or in spite of it – I got my first message that my piercing had been noticed and that I was, well, on notice.  After climbing the stairs and reaching the top of the parking structure on my way out that afternoon, I ran into one of my main allies in HR.  She and I had exchanged friendly words in another parking structure the week before, nose jewelry in full view, so I didn’t expect anything different this time.  As we parted, however, she mentioned — almost as an afterthought, and almost apologetically — that she had noticed my nose piercing, that it’s against policy, and if someone complained she would have to bring it to my boss.

I’m not sure what she expected (defensiveness? indignance?) but I politely said I understood, I realized it was against policy, and I thanked her for saying something.  Her stock rose in my personal Market of Integrity.  Finally someone was doing their job.  Finally someone had the guts to speak up!

But … what was this about “if” someone complained?  So I get to break the rules as long as no one complains about it?  I’m OK as long as I get away with it?

Apparently so, because a couple days later — again as almost an afterthought at the end of our regular hour-long weekly meeting — my boss mentioned that she got an “anonymous complaint” about my nose piercing, and that she said she’d address it.  There was no request to remove it, no statement of consequences and no question, so I assumed this “addressing” was the equivalent of saying “I see you.”

The following day in a follow up meeting I made the brave, premeditated move of telling my boss I was planning to leave the organization, citing unhappiness, lack of fit, and a desire to return to doing work that truly expresses my gifts — even perhaps as a contractor for the organization.  I told her I wasn’t giving notice yet, and that I wanted to be honest with her because our relationship is very important to me.  I told her it was hard for me to admit how I was feeling, since I didn’t want to disappoint or abandon her.  I said I intended to not leave my department in disarray.  It felt like a good meeting.  She heard me, said she knows I’m loyal, and just asked me not to leave things in chaos.  That was a hard day of three very honest meetings and lots of boundary setting.  It was epic.

You see, my boss is one of the three things I like about my job.  And I love this woman as a person — she is the one individual I would want to report to in my organization and one of the few I not only admire and respect, but like.

The following week, on Valentines Day, we had our regular weekly one-on-one.  It was a normal meeting, mostly me going over all my projects.   I followed up later that day with an email regarding two things I forgot, and in her reply my boss mentioned she had gotten another inquiry about my piercing and that I needed to remove it as I was not in compliance with policy.

So now we were in the Realm of Direct Communication and Danger of Defiance Zone.  What to do?

A day later I responded that I appreciated her saying something, but that there was a story behind it I wanted to explain.  I said I would not be asking for special treatment or to be allowed an exception to the policy.  I asked — is that OK?  She wrote back that several people were now commenting and questioning her, and that we could talk, but that I had to remove it that day or face disciplinary action.

Whoa.  I realized I had not expected that reaction, nor to face that kind of clear dilemma.  I spent that day, and the next, sort of out-of-body at work, but with facial jewelry intact.  Then the weekend came.

I realized I needed help figuring out what to do.  Do I back down on my commitment?  Sell out? Submit to oppression and injustice?  Defy my beloved boss? Risk burning bridges?  Make a big deal?

I was also angry and suspicious that the hammer had come down on me right after saying I was unhappy and planning to leave.  Could it be possible that my boss was pulling tightly on my reins just because I was trying to break free?

In seeking wise counsel from trusted friends (thank God(dess) for such gifts as friends!) I learned two things.  One, my Beloved Boss is human, and as a human she probably — albeit subconsciously — was sad and upset I was leaving and found it easier to deal with the grief and loss (after all I have been her ally and confidant too) by getting angry with me and exerting her authority.  After all, screaming “FINE!  Go on and go, you %&*$-ing #^*$!” after your loved one as they exit the house with packed bags in hand feels a lot better and more powerful than bursting into tears and facing the silent, ambiguous emptiness left in their wake.

Two, I learned I had been selfish.  I hadn’t fully played out the scenario of her reaction to the piercing in my mind, but I had assumed it would consist of her noticing and asking me about it goodnaturedly, maybe teasingly telling me I was going to have to take it out, me explaining my reasons and her totally getting it, then negotiating some resolution with me or asking me to take it out, citing some really good reason I had never thought of before.  OR!  Maybe she would even join me in my commitment, let it go, and tell the concerned parties to go focus on more important things like ensuring our patients get the safest, quickest, most respectful care imaginable, and keeping stellar employees happy and feeling supported.

What I had missed is that my Beloved Boss likely sees herself as constrained in her role as I do, if not more.  Allowing me to walk around with a tiny jewel on the side of my nose undermines her authority.  It implies that either I enjoy her favoritism, or that she is powerless to get me to follow The Rules.  I had not considered that my actions would put her in an awkward position that hurt her credibility — credibility I respected and had worked hard to protect.

So I went back to the studio and got a clear glass retainer put in, which is actually healing a lot better now than the jewelry was.  I didn’t do it because I backed down from my commitment, or because I am weak.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I did it out of love — love for my Beloved Boss and what she represents, as well as who she is.  I did it out of respect for how difficult her job must be, and how she will be the one left behind when I leave, continuing the lonely fight to do the right thing.

One of my friends also pointed out that this decision could also be about me letting go of being right.  I had never thought of myself as insisting on being right since I’m the type of person who meets disagreement or conflict with dialogue and a sincere attempt to come to a mutually beneficial solution.  However, I hadn’t considered my righteous commitment to an ideal or principle despite all consequences as having undertones of insisting on being right or superior.

The following week at our meeting my boss and I had a candid conversation.  Indeed, she had been annoyed with me.  I was surprised to hear it’s awkward for her to bring up dress code issues with staff (I assumed this would have been old hat for someone who started out as a front line staff person and supervisor).  I suspect she felt extra hurt it was me — of all people — she had to address this with.  I’m the Teacher’s Pet after all, so my apparent defiance must have really stung.  I realized I have no idea what kind of pressures and challenges to her authority she must face, and how I put that in jeopardy.

She heard my reasons (I gave the main ones), listened to my explanation (no intention to be defiant of her initial “addressing it”) and accepted my apology.  I don’t think she fully understands why I did it — after all, she has spent nearly 30 years in the organization and has grown up in the culture — but I hope she still believes I’m loyal, at least to her.

I suppose this is a part of pushing the envelope and breaking rules — sometimes it doesn’t have an effect on anyone but us.  It can sometimes be as much about our own psychological development and spiritual awakening as anyone else’s.  Through this process, I certainly have learned a lot more about people and this organization — as well as reminders about why it doesn’t work for me.  Most people really don’t think on the level of metaphors and philosophy and ethics and big principles.  It’s really about relationships — and safety.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Ultimately then, I have gone through another trial, grown, and come back to share my new knowledge.  So perhaps a more apt title for this post after all would have been … Return of the Jedi?  🙂

In Lak Ech … paz, amor y sabiduria

Jaxsine

He brought me flowers

He brought me flowers today.  It was a magnificent bouquet of fragrant pinkish stargazer lilies surrounded by white roses and some lovely purple buds.  Yesterday he surprised me with a couple red roses.

Not too long ago, I would have been ecstatic.  I would have felt hopeful relief, a sense of love renewed, and blushing flattery.  Today I know better.  These flowers, lovely as they are, do not erase the beatings, nor the humilliations.

I recognize the cycle.  This is only a respite, and not a sign of change.  It’s just a phase embedded in an overall pattern of abuse and tears.  I know this, and yet I am surprised by my lack of bitterness and pessimism.  I still really enjoy the flowers.

Yesterday the red roses arrived in the form of a small meeting at the end of the day, attended by only three other people — which is far fewer than ideal for that particular committee.  But instead of getting caught up in the spirit-crushing tedium of analyzing statistics and poring over a lifeless action planning grid (both of which I had spent months helping create!) we meandered off into a delightful Big Picture tangent about race, historical trauma, empathy and diversity.  It was a precious moment of safety, honesty, and humanity.  We all expressed gratitude for each other, hugged, and ended our work days there, feeling like we were part of something special and important.

Today the bouquet arrived early — a meeting with some of “my employees” that could have been frustrating and tense, but instead was light and warm.  The following meeting contained not only some rare moments of humor, but an informative presentation and (but wait, there’s more!) a tray of holiday cookies that were colorful and cute as well as tasty!   After that, I got to see another of “my employees” (by the way, I can barely believe that this kind of plantation vocabulary comes out of my mouth now) shine in front of a group in a truly inspiring way.  She is having some serious “performance issues”, so it was beautiful to see a side of her I had not seen in a really long time.  I was able to genuinely and enthusiastically praise her.  She beamed — for the first time since I became her boss months ago.

Today my email was manageable and  there were no “hair fires” all day.  I was able to get my boss some important information right away when she needed it during a critical meeting, and “my assistant” was positively glowing after her two days on vacation.  I finished my day talking with two more of “my employees”.  One of them is one of my favorites; the other is someone who had been the hostile, passive-aggressive bane of my existence up until a few weeks ago, so the ease and excitement of our conversation were especially sweet.

I enjoy the flowers, but I am not fooled.  I admire them; I close my eyes and inhale their perfume, but I have no regrets or second thoughts.  This feeling is heartening, but surprising to me.  I thought this would be harder.

I remember the day almost ten years ago I realized my now ex-husband wasn’t going to change.  I was looking at him in our kitchen and he had just given me another piece of shockingly disappointing news.  I heard the sound of glass breaking, like a tremendous wall of frosted glass had simply shattered and fallen down between us, and I could finally see him clearly.  I began planning my escape not too long after that.  Continuing to live with a husband you know you will leave but cannot tell the truth to is a terrifying feat, especially for someone like me who values integrity so highly.  But it was a wise choice, and I was fortunate to receive almost daily validation of my decision in the following months.  Thankfully, the sex was almost non-existent at that point, which made my attempt to live in two worlds easier.

But it still hurt.  I still doubted and I still agonized.  I still wondered, even on the last night, sitting among my packed boxes, ready to leave with my sister to go begin grad school in another state.  The next morning when we said goodbye — me seated in the cockpit of the U-Haul — was the first time we had been tender with each other in many months.  And watching his form shrink in the rear view mirror as I pulled away was the last time I ever saw him.

I don’t know that there will ever be anything in my life I will be 100% sure of — I am too reflective and analytical — but I think the calm I feel now may be close.  I don’t feel fake or guilty enjoying the people and the moments as they come in my current job, even as I am planning my exit.  The things and people I will truly miss are few, and I will likely be able to take the more valuable connections with me.  The promise of the future is definitely brighter than the current reality.

And yet, this limbo is also a blessing because this time around, being in two worlds — here and also already gone — is allowing me to be fully present and savor that which matters, and “blow off” things that don’t (an almost sacrilegious notion for me, but one I am starting to gleefully entertain!) I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said:

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it “the present”.

Amen Sister Eleanor.  And Merry Christimas to me!

So I am grateful for the flowers, but they do not change my mind nor represent a fundamental change in the situation.  Instead of being beacons of hope, they are “presents” to provide respite during this transitional phase.  They decorate the rest stops on the road out.

After all, a prison is still a prison, even when you brighten your cell with flowers.

Paz, amor, vida y fuerza,

Jaxsine