YOU ARE MAGIC.

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash.

There’s something to be said for humility. Humility makes us approachable, coachable, and adaptable. It tends to focus outward more than inward. Humility says, “I am one drop in a large ocean. I am a work in progress.”

But there’s something to be said for recognizing the positive impact you make on the world around you, too.

I battle impostor syndrome, but I’m also motivated to “leave the campsite better than I found it.” I thrive on helping others, spreading kindness, and being a beacon of light (however small). When I don’t feel like my light is very bright, I reflect the light of others. Especially to those who can’t seem to see or feel their own warmth.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash.

Several years ago, I started keeping notes from others as a way to index my positive effect. I kept a physical file called “Folder of Awesome” in which I’d place thank you cards, emails, etc. That evolved to also include keeping a list of wins and milestones, even if they seemed insignificant at the time. I do this to combat the effects of impostor syndrome—a way to validate, with proof, everything I have accomplished in line with my personal goals (see the campsite quote).

But this catalog of awesome also helps me get through rough patches, dark days, and times when I allow someone else to dim my light. (We all have moments when others cause us to question our worth, despite our best efforts.) Another unexpected by-product of this is an easy way to look back on positive highlights for writing bios, presentation introductions, and job interviews. The most meaningful way to convey the impact we make is through sharing our stories.

It’s easy to forget just how much light we put out into the world—how life-changing it can be. That person you wrote a letter of recommendation for—and they got the job! That student you inspired because you spoke in a class once. The words of encouragement that took you seconds to deliver but made a lasting impact. The mentee you took under your wing at work who is now blazing his or her own path. The kindness you showed when someone needed it most even though you had no idea at the time how alone he or she felt. Volunteering. Investing time. Investing resources. Investing yourself. Leaving the campsite better than you found it.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Sometimes, we do these things because we genuinely care. Sometimes, we do them because we feel fortunate and want to extend grace and mirth. And sometimes, we do them because we know what it feels like to be down or lost—and we don’t want others to experience what we have.

Whatever your motivations, you are light. You are love. And while you’re out there, spreading kindness like confetti, make sure you show yourself a little of kindness, too. Take a moment to celebrate YOU and all that you’ve accomplished.

If this feels like bragging, stop right there. It isn’t bragging if you’re keeping a catalog of your own awesomeness for yourself. But you also deserve to toot your horn every once in a while. To look back on the love you’ve shared, the community you’ve fostered. Sometimes, looking back helps propel us forward.

You aren’t an impostor. You are magic. And don’t you forget it.

MORE THAN WORDS: THOUGHTS ON CITY PRIDE

photo credit: CIMMYT via photopin cc

photo credit: CIMMYT via photopin cc

I’m torn. There are two conversations going on about my city. One is taking Instagram pictures of sunsets from rooftops, writing its love across the sky in the same pen and ink that has been used a thousand times over. The other is tracing its tough-love approach in the dingy windows of humming orange-hued streets, giving shape to critical messages this city hasn’t seen before.

It’s a dichotomy and yet a duality.

Surely there’s a more productive middle ground between critically tearing everything apart and blindly praising the shit out of it all. Before you pick a side, consider creating your own somewhere in the mindful middle. Take a little cheery optimism from column A and combine it with a realistic, thoughtful eye from column B.

A city’s people are the true foundation of its structure. We have the ability to affect great change–or not. It’s your choice. When the ground shakes, it’s the citizens that hold everything together.

Regardless of your preferred consistency of the concrete, don’t forget to pour it. Build something with it. Get your hands dirty. Words can be powerful tools for rousing rabbles, but if the rabbles never rouse –if all they do is recite the same racket and then relax–then all we really have here is some pretty window dressing and fragrant flowers planted around a weak foundation.

Get out there and make a ruckus, Fort Wayne. Not with only your voices but also with your hands.

WHEN “SEXUAL ASSAULT BY A CUSTOMER” ISN’T IN THE EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

Photo gently borrowed from here.

Photo gently borrowed from here.

After the conversation that ensued from yesterday’s blog post and subsequent #YesAllWomen tweets, this story needs to be told. I don’t tell it for myself. I tell it for anyone (regardless of sex, gender, or orientation) who has been silenced after an act of aggression, for anyone who was made to feel like that act was somehow their fault, and for anyone who may still be silent about it to this day. What happened to me was not my fault, and it was not ok. Neither is what happened to you. In confronting the hurt, we have the power to heal ourselves… and each other.

It was my first or second week at my new job. When you work part-time retail after school, it all sort of blurs together. I was hired to staff the young men’s department, floating over to the toddler section when needed to cover breaks, but that night, I was stationed in women’s with a woman I had never met before.

Our shift was winding down, and the roar in the mall quieted to a murmur. My coworker, the only other associate in the department that night, finally felt comfortable leaving me to take her half hour break. Not even ten minutes after she left, a man wandered into our department.

He was a small Indian man who spoke broken English and browsed the women’s clothing with a close eye. He told me he was looking for clothes to send back home to his wife. “She is about your size,” he said, asking me for help in picking out items. I asked questions like what her style was, what she typically wore, etc. etc. He dodged these questions, but I just assumed it was a communication barrier.

He held up a pair of khaki pants, reiterating that she was about the same size as me, asking me to hold them up to my person for comparison. Perhaps this is where a warning should have sounded in my head. However, I was a trusting individual, bestowing the benefit of the doubt in most cases. Also, I was new to this job–this line of work, even–and I wanted to succeed (which meant making the customers happy). Further, I was only 17. While I had experienced sexual harassment in my short time in this world, I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.

I obliged the man, holding the pants up at my waist. He looked me up and down, which made me a little uncomfortable. I looked around to the neighboring departments to see if anyone was nearby to help. The other associates were busy trying to get home to their lives beyond retail. I turned my attention back to the customer who was now shaking his head and making “tsk tsk” noises. “No,” he said, articulating that the fit didn’t look right to him. “You look in the mirror and tell me.” He gestured to the mirrors just outside the fitting rooms, not 10 feet away.

Again, I complied with his request. No sooner than “I think they look fine…” tumbled out of my mouth, he pushed me into the nearest dressing room stall and shut the door. “Stop.” I heard my own voice say out loud. “NO.” He silenced me with his mouth, pressing me against the stall mirror with his entire body weight. “Stop! STOP!” The voice yelled in my head, quieting down into a “Why is this happening? Why is this man doing this to me?” sort of whimper.

I’m not sure how long he pressed against me, lips on mine, exploring my body uninvited. At some point, it was like I divided: my physical self being victimized there in that dressing room stall and the rest of me witnessing it helplessly in the third person.

Suddenly, as if he remembered he had somewhere to be, the man stopped and exited the dressing room. Stunned, I stood there in wide-eyed silence. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, and “sexual assault by a customer” wasn’t in the employee handbook.

I sauntered out of the dressing room and stood next to a clothing rack, holding onto it to steady myself against the tide of thoughts rushing through my head. Did I do something to make that man think that behavior was ok? Surely it was a miscommunication, right? He didn’t mean to do it. I’m sure he’s sorry. Should I tell someone? Do I want to be known as THAT girl when I just started here? Oh god, what if I get fired? And so on.

My coworker came back from break, immediately sensing my tension. “What’s wrong? Did something happen while I was gone?” A jumbled recap tumbled out of me. She immediately phoned the head supervisor on shift that evening. They asked me to go over my story multiple times before saying they wouldn’t report the incident to the police. “The video surveillance system doesn’t work anyway, so there’s no proof. And it’s not like you were hurt…” The whole thing was no big deal. Go home and come back the next day for a new shift. Of course, if I ever saw the man again, I was to report him immediately to store security.

At the urging of my mother and without any help from my employer, we reported it to the police. There was nothing that could be done. I knew that. I had a fuzzy description of the man, no physical evidence, and a faux surveillance system. But something in me felt it was important for people to know what happened. What if it happened to another woman? What if this man made a habit of hurting women like this? Because I was a minor, the incident showed up in the police blotter of the local newspaper as “17 year old reported being fondled by man in [department store] dressing room on [date and time].” Case closed.

But I’ll be damned if those little dressing room alert bells don’t give me a pang of anxiety to this day.

I understand #NotAllMen. I don’t like sweeping generalizations either, and I’ve known my share of good–truly good–men in my life. Men who would never intentionally harm anyone else. Men who understand what it means to treat others with respect and live as an example of that. Men who were raised to see women as people–not a gender, object, or conquest.

But please understand that all it takes is one incident to dwarf all of that and create a fear in someone that may live for years. Please try to appreciate the need for stories like this one to be told–for people to stand up and embody the faceless statistics that are so easily shrugged off. And again, this isn’t a woman or man issue; it’s a human issue. No one should experience abuse or assault. No one ever asks for it or had it coming. Period.

#YESALLWOMEN, INCLUDING ME

A fascinating conversation is happening on social media under the #YesAllWomen tag. (See here and here for a snapshot.) Reading the experiences of others is both comforting (“You carry pepper spray when you go for runs, too? I’m not the only one?”) and disturbing (“I can’t believe someone else has to endure this bullshit!”). The conversation is also empowering, lending courage and strength to voices previously silent. Like mine…

I was raped. I was also sexually assaulted. These aren’t experiences I share lightly because I anticipate judgment from others. In part, I still wrestle with judgment from myself, 15 years later. I over-analyze every detail, wondering where I signaled that it was acceptable to treat me that way… when I doubt either man ever gave it a second thought.

Most of my female friends have known what it means to fear a man at some point in their lives–be it from verbal, physical, or sexual abuse; assault; rape; or harassment. Some have experienced this fear multiple times over. Some experience it today.

These things stay with you, in small ways or large ones, forever. Sometimes, they echo louder than any positive gesture ever could.

It’s not about feminism, sexism, or any other kind of -ism. It’s about human beings. Similarly, men experience these things, too. Again, it’s about human beings–not gendered beings. No one should have to live in the threat of or experience violence.

These acts happen every day, hour, and minute. They could be happening to someone you care about right now.

What are you doing to help fight the good fight?


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BE BRAVE. LIVE.

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, ‘He fought so hard.’ And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.” – Sally Brampton

I don’t trumpet the fact that I’ve thought about ending my life on more than one occasion. Society tends to treat thoughts of suicide as a dirty secret, with the act itself being a scandalous betrayal. But when necessary, when someone could benefit from knowing that someone else in this world experienced the same dark thoughts they might be having, I’ve freely given comforting solidarity. It’s different when you’re on this side of it–the side of someone who has held a bottle of pills or razor blade in her hand, the side that had a “last wishes” document drafted at 14 in case she found the courage to actually go through with it, the side that has looked the lonely beast in the glaring, red-eyed face and chosen a different path.

That’s why I found Linda Gray Sexton’s essay “In the Shadow of My Mother’s Suicide” in Salon to be so damn powerful. She eloquently articulates what it’s like to be on that other side of suicide–so close to it, you can feel it breathing on your neck. It’s seemingly inescapable, and the more you struggle against it, the more your resolve waivers and fades. It has nothing to do with selfishness; it has everything to do with this ineffable, growing void that feels like it will consume you from the inside out. As Linda Gray Sexton writes, “My thoughts of suicide did not mean that I didn’t care about these very important people in my life. It was more as if the pain that accompanied my depression had moved onto a new plain, and, in my confusion, it seemed to require a new and different sort of release.”

The-hardest-thing-in-this-world-quoteIf you’ve ever thought of taking your own life or are contemplating it now, I urge you to read “In the Shadow of My Mother’s Suicide.” If you’ve ever had a family member or friend commit suicide, I urge you to read it, as well. And, more importantly, I advocate for compassion and patience–on both fronts. Linda Gray Sexton points out that the road out of the valley of suicidal thoughts is a long one; there were several moments (years, even) when she didn’t think she would make it out alive. The choice to survive the journey is an every day one. For many, thoughts of suicide are like that old acquaintance that shows up when you least expect or want him. You know you shouldn’t indulge him, but the familiarity pulls you in, sometimes before you even realize you’ve been suckered, and then he just won’t take the hint and leave.

I’m not ashamed to admit that at my lowest points I still gravitate back to thoughts of self-harm and self-destruction. I’ve likened it to a compulsion to equalize the pain inside with pain outside–that somehow the act will restore balance (even though, logically, I know it won’t). But in knowing and admitting this about myself, there is a bit of strength. I acknowledge my feelings rather than allowing them to spread like a silent blight beneath the surface. I journal the feelings, sing them out of me, confide them to a (very trusted) friend–and then I put them away.

The heart of the matter is clear in the second-to-last paragraph of Linda Gray Sexton’s essay: the word “hope.” Hold onto it with a white-knuckled grip. When you find yourself at the lowest of lows, the last thing you want to hear is a handful of trite cliches about how it gets better, you have to put up with rain to get rainbows, you take the bad with the good, etc. etc. But, if you’re openly honest and compassionate with yourself, there will be at least one small glimmer of hope–a flicker of light in the dark of seemingly unending night. Find that hopeful thing and focus on it. Even if it seems small like a barely visible star. The important thing is that it’s visible. Never lose sight of it.