Silver and Gold

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5/4/17

This is an older piece that I’m re-posting (with a new title and some edits) in honor of my fabulous friend Penny and her KICKASS accomplishment of being nominated for a NYS Emmy Award in the category of Sports: News Single Story. I’m hoping there will be some live streaming of Saturday’s awards so I can look for the striking redhead in the slinky green gown. You go girl.

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Penny

I’ve been working on writing this blog for about 3 months. The words just weren’t finding their way out of my heart and onto the page. The last month has brought a lot of changes – and a lot of opportunity for my heart to find its way out. I’m still a little nervous about it, but I’m gonna push “publish” anyway…

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About a year ago my friend Brian confided in me that he had been struggling with his gender identity for quite some time. He and I have seen each other through some big stuff over the last 12 years.  Divorces, raising children, dating dilemmas, family stuff, and we’ve seen each other go through a lot of different phases as we’ve figured out who we are. I honestly believed this was another phase. So I listened and let him know that I love him and I’m his friend always. As the months went on and we talked more, he went further and further down this road of (what I thought was) experimenting. I loved him and I supported him *AND* I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why I was uncomfortable, I just was. And I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. My discomfort forced me to consider whether or not I’m as loving, open minded, inclusive, accepting and compassionate as I like to think I am. Could it be that this whole loving, inclusive and peaceful thing is just bullshit that I tell myself? Could it be that I’m not really willing to “walk the walk”?

No. That just isn’t true.

And still, every time we talked about this new part of his life I’d get more uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable I was, the more I was ashamed of myself for being uncomfortable. Then I started to feel angry. As he got more comfortable with the changes he was making in his life, I was feeling more and more unsettled. I was thinking things like “you don’t just get to decide you’re a woman” and “I don’t really care if he’s got a new name in his new life. He’s Brian to me.”  I was actually starting to get really pissed off. I was refusing to acknowledge the fact that as he continued to be more honest about who he was, he looked more and more peaceful and happy. Holy mother of pearl. What the hell was going on with me?

Then one Saturday afternoon I was puttering around my house, and this little ditty from Girl Scouts nearly 40 years ago popped into my head:

Make new friends, and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.

BTW  – how weird is it when a song from Girl Scouts from 40 years ago pops into your head for no reason? Pretty weird.

With that little song playing in my head, I realized why I was angry. Dammit. It was so simple. So simple. It was about loss. I was losing my friend. I was losing Brian. Yeah, I know I was getting a new friend – BUT I DON’T WAAAAAAAAANT A NEW FRIEND.  I wanted my old friend! I wanted Brian!  I trusted him. I felt safe and comfortable with him. And now he was almost gone. He disappeared a little more every day. And there was this woman in his place who was a stranger to me – and yet she knew all of my secrets. That’s not fair!! She wasn’t just him in a dress. She was a totally different person.  She said things that I’d never heard him say, and she was just NOT BRIAN. I didn’t like this stranger knowing my secrets. I just didn’t like her.

At the same time, Kaitlyn Jenner was honored on the Espy’s, and anyone who was confused, or didn’t understand, or even gently intimated anything other than complete celebration of her courage was labeled a bigot, a homophobe, a narrow minded Neanderthal, or just a hater. Please don’t misunderstand me – I know there is no shortage of true bigots, homophobes, narrow minded Neanderthals and haters. But someone struggling to accept a huge change is not the same thing. I wanted to scream at the television “No one is telling the whole story!!! I bet somebody somewhere misses Bruce!!!!!” But no one was telling that story. I wasn’t hearing the stories of devoted friends and family who unconditionally loved the transgender person, and yet grieved the loss of the person’s birth identity. Where were those stories? Why weren’t those stories being told? Why did it feel so wrong to simply have feelings that needed to be acknowledged and worked through? Why did I feel so ashamed of my feelings? Why was I so afraid to speak up?

So I did the only thing that made sense to me  – because Brian was really important to me. I reached out to him to talk about what was going on in my heart. We’re friends; that’s what we do.  We talk things through. Talking to him about my struggle with this loss was so healing for our friendship. Talking to him helped him to understand that I love him so much, and that I want to be a part of his life. And talking to him helped me to let go of him, and to begin to embrace Penny.

Let me tell you about my friend Penny. She’s happy. She is one of the happiest women I know. She is funny as hell. She’s got amazing taste. She’s a whiz with liquid eyeliner. She is an incredibly talented producer/director. She celebrates the little things in life like no one I’ve ever known. She’s kind and loving and caring and inclusive. A couple of weeks ago Penny took a big leap. She told her employer she was transgender. She started dressing like herself for work. She got a new work ID with her new name and picture on it. She’s living her life. I’ve never seen that face shine more brightly. She looks so joyous and so relaxed. As scary and as hard as it all must be every day, and she still looks happier than I’ve ever seen her look. She’s amazing.

I’m not ashamed of myself anymore for the time it took me to come to terms with this change. I’m just not. I needed some time to mourn the loss of my old friend. I needed time to process through my feelings. I’m not going to be ashamed of myself for having feelings and dealing with them. And I won’t let anyone else shame me, either.

I found myself in a conversation recently with someone who told me that they hadn’t even considered mourning Brian because to live as someone you’re not for a lifetime would be hell, and they were so glad that she finally broke free. Hmmm…It felt like a shame storm was brewing on the horizon. I pointed out that it was reasonable to mourn the loss of my old friend Brian as I celebrated the birth of Penny. Then it started raining shame. They said they understood what I was saying, but they just didn’t think of it as a loss since all that was lost was the isolation and handcuffs of an incongruent gender. Wow. Now it was raining shame, and there were random condescending lightning strikes. Luckily I had my shame umbrella, and none of that toxic stuff stuck to me.

Just because I experienced some sense of loss over my friend Brian being gone didn’t mean I wanted him to stay miserable! How is it that people draw a line between those two points so easily? How is it that people who are crusading for acceptance and tolerance are sometimes so intolerant of anyone who doesn’t immediately get on board with their ideas? That just doesn’t feel right to me. Sometimes people just need a little time, a little love, a little compassion, and it never hurts to carry a shame umbrella. 

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My favorite coffee mug

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I love outrageous language. I lean toward the dramatic. Make no mistake, I’m not a drama-mama, I just love dramatic language. I love breathtaking prose and heartwrenching poetry. I like to mix curse words in new and unexpected ways.  Gallows humor slays me.  I adore the juxtaposition of dirty words against a flowery background.

This is my favorite coffee mug. I use it just about every morning. I love the way it fits in my hand, the way I can wrap all four fingers around the cup through the big handle and cozy up to my morning coffee. I love that it was a gift from my dear friend for my 50th birthday. It absolutely delighted me when I opened the package. It’s so…ME!! Seeing the outrageous language in that slim, feminine font had me bursting out laughing and it still has me giggling every morning.

I’m not a bitch.

But I did spend the better part of my first 50 years trying to escape that label at home and at work. I am strong, independent, smart, resilient, tenacious and a natural born leader…you know…a bitch.

*sigh*

By my 50th birthday, in my efforts to escape the bitch label, I had become a human doormat. I was so driven to escape that label that I had let my backbone nearly disintegrate. I was so driven to be liked by everyone that I had completely lost the ability to stand up for myself. I was so driven to be loved by everyone else that I hated myself.

Ohmygosh – just seeing that sentence “that I hated myself” brings tears to my eyes. Truth response.

Now, with my 52nd birthday in sight, it’s been two years of rebuilding my relationship with myself, of BEING RENA, of growing a backbone, of learning to set boundaries and learning to stop making excuses for other people’s behavior.

It’s hard.

REALLY hard.

My default reaction is “oh, he/she didn’t mean it” and “well, it’s not *that* bad”. I’m slowly learning that sometimes people DO mean it and yes, sometimes it really is *that* bad.  I’m learning that sometimes I have to say “Bye Felicia” to people and situations that aren’t healthy for me and I’m learning to live with the discomfort that comes with that. I’m learning that I’m not a failure if I walk away from something/someone that doesn’t fit with me. That’s the hardest part, I think. It feels more like giving up than walking away. I’m programmed to soldier on, to motor through, to finish what I started. That stinking thinking kept me in some bad places during my first 50 years. So I’m doing the work to ensure the next 50 years are different.

*sigh*

Man, this growing up stuff is hard, AND I love it. Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to build the life I’ve always dreamed of.

30 days in

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I’m 30 days into my new plan to take better care of myself. For 21 days I was a rock star. I mean a full on ROCK STAR…meal prepping, walking, getting enough rest, mindfully approaching fueling my body…like a rock star.  And, tragically, like a rock star, once I had a taste of success I went way off the rails and crashed.

Every year I take a day off from work and bake hundreds of Christmas cookies for family and friends. Cookie Day 2016 took me down. Hard.

It wasn’t so much Cookie Day itself that started the fall, it was the days following Cookie Day – the days where there were trays and trays of cookies on my dining room table waiting to be delivered – just sitting there on the table silently taunting me with their sugary goodness. Bastards. That’s when the sugar beast made her appearance. And once she’s out there’s almost no stopping her. Suddenly everything else changed too. No more walking.  My daily water intake was surpassed by my daily Aperol Spritz intake. Meal prep consisted of craftily unwrapping a cookie tray from the table, snatching out a few of my faves, then re-wrapping the tray (I actually got pretty good at that).

“Hi, I’m Rena and I’m a cookie addict.”…..”Hi Rena.”

So here I am on December 29; finally sick of cookies, sick of feeling achy and grouchy and pretty sure I’ve un-done all the progress I made in my first three weeks of being a healthy eating rock star.

The game isn’t over yet. I fell down. I ate a lot of cookies while I was down. I’m not staying down.

Happy New Year, dear friends. Thanks for being with me on the journey. xoxoxo

 

 

The Jill Look

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December 2001

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A sea of SUVs and minivans greeted me as I turned into the plaza.  I was overcome with a sense of panic that felt like a huge stone being laid across my chest.  ‘Tis the season, I thought to myself.  The overcast December day did nothing to relieve my stress.  After finding a place to park in what felt like another zip code, I stepped out of my car frustrated, hot, and tired.  The cold air slapped me in the face as the slushy parking lot assaulted my already soaking wet feet.  How could I be so hot and miserable and yet freezing at the same time?  Even though it was an icy late December day, I had abandoned my coat in the trunk of my car hours before.  My holiday stress had become my little internal furnace.  My cheeks were flushed from the cold and from feeling so overwhelmed.  My hair was gathered into a messy ponytail and pulled through the back of a baseball hat – which was only sealing in the heat.  Why did I put on this damn hat?  My purse felt heavy over my shoulder and my body ached with exhaustion.  I was in a hurry, and I looked like it, walking determinedly through the lot with an intense scowl on my face.  I had a list of fifteen things to do and I was quickly running out of time.  The last days of hurried shopping before Christmas had left me looking, and acting, like a bit of a lunatic.

I trotted through the sloppy lot and began to recognize the soft tones of Muzak Christmas Carols being played through the plaza’s sound system.  The noise only bothered me.  The annoying melody of White Christmas was soon wiped out by the sounds of whiny children and frustrated, snappish mothers.  Great, I thought, just what I need – a bunch of whiny kids and their bitchy mothers who really should have taken them home for a nap an hour ago.  The true spirit of Christmas had completely passed me by.

I dashed in and out of Bath and Body Works in no time at all.  Two things checked off the list.  Yes!  A quick trip to the movie theater for tickets for my nephew and that’s one more thing ticked off my list.  The Hallmark store?  Not on your life.  Not the week before Christmas.  No way.  I just didn’t have enough time.  After all, I was busy.  I had things to do.  Those little ornaments would just have to wait until the after Christmas sale.  I was turning on my heel after rethinking the trip to the Hallmark store when I saw her.  Oh God, not now.  Why me?  I had a million things to do.  There was just no way I could deal with this right now.  More accurately, no way I could deal with her right now.  Jill was walking slowly down the sidewalk.  She was smoking a cigarette and looking down at her feet as she walked.  The world was whizzing past her so quickly, and typical Jill, she hardly even noticed.  She was wearing a cream colored ski jacket and dark blue jeans.  She always looked like an LL Bean model.  Her blond hair was cut shorter than the last time I had seen her.  She had that look on her face.  The Jill look.  The look that says “my life is absolutely miserable and I have nothing positive to say.”  I think everyone knows somebody like Jill.  She’s the friend that will suck the life out of you like fire sucks the oxygen out of a room.  Everything about her is a downer.  It had been three years since her engagement had abruptly ended, and yet she still talked about it as if it had only happened last week.  She was still as heartbroken, still as confused, and still as bitter.  It was as if her misery was her companion now.  It was exhausting to be around her.  She was a beautiful woman, and she was letting her entire future slip away into a world of bitterness and anger.  I could see her becoming a crazy old cat lady.  I looked up again quickly, and made a split second decision to duck into the closest store.  It was easier to stand in there and pretend to look at things than it would be to stand out there and listen to Jill complain about her loneliness.  I waited for about ten minutes and then decided the coast was clear and that it was safe to make my way back out into the plaza to finish my list.

I went on about my day, eventually finishing all of the items on my list, like I always do.  No matter what, I always get it done.  It’s what I do.  I should have felt a terrific sense of accomplishment that I got it all done.  Why did I feel so bad?  What was wrong with me?  Why had this overwhelming sadness settled on me?  I hadn’t even talked to Jill, how did she manage to bring me down this way?  I saw her face in my head over and over again.  That look.  That Jill look.  Dammit!  It was stuck in my head.  That damn Jill look was ruining my day.  That pathetic, lonely, Jill look.  How the hell did she do it?

That night as I was brushing my teeth, I looked in the mirror and saw it.  It was right there.  It had been there all day.  I was ignoring it.  It wasn’t the Jill look that was ruining my day.  It was the Rena look.  As I was brushing my teeth and replaying the events of the day in my head I thought about Jill and I blushed.  All alone in the bathroom mirror, I blushed.  I was ashamed of what I had done.  I had behaved horribly.  I had turned my back on a sweet woman who was simply having a tough time getting back on her feet after a loss.  I was sick to my stomach.  How could I ever fix this?  I couldn’t very well call her at this hour and say “hi, Jill, I totally ducked you earlier today because I didn’t feel like listening to you whine, and I’m really feeling badly about it, so I just wanted to call and apologize.”  That would never work.  That’s not much of a plan at all.  Why can’t I just go back and undo it?  In a split second I had defined who I am capable of being.  I was sick with my newfound knowledge.  I decided that the next morning I would send her a cheery holiday note.  It was nothing more than an effort to appease my guilt.

As I lay alone in bed that night I thought of Jill.  I thought of the pain she had been through.  How she had wallowed in it.  Had she?  Or was she just working it out in her own time?   I thought of the pain I may have caused that day.  I obsessed over whether or not she saw me.  Had she?  Had she seen me at my worst?  Could she ever forgive me?  Did I deserve to be forgiven?  In those moments Jill became my mirror.  She held up the mirror and let me see the kind of pain I was capable of causing.

Some people wear their loneliness openly.  It’s the Jill look.  Always looking down, shuffling their feet slowly, never noticing the world around them.  Others wear their loneliness differently.  They carry lists of things to do, they look through the crowd, complain about tired children, and trot along without really hearing the music.  As I drifted off to sleep I realized that’s what hurt so badly.

BS on my BS about BS

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This is a follow up to a post from March 2015 – Calling BS on Myself.

This morning, in a blinding flash of clarity (omg but I do love those!), I realized that it wasn’t BS!!! So I’m calling BS on my BS about BS. 🙂

Still with me?

The original post had me apologizing for a particularly dark night of my soul. Apologizing to the people who loved me and witnessed that ride. Apologizing for “leaving” those people while I was lost in the dark night. Apologizing for my feelings. Apologizing for being “too much trouble”. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!! I was apologizing for BEING RENA.

You can read it here: https://beingrena.wordpress.com/2015/03/

Or you can just take my word for it that it was sorta pathetic.

Quick backstory to the darkness: Within a two week period in October 2012 both my dad and my dear friend Rita died. I have no words to describe that loss.  My heartbreak was compounded when, within that same two week period, my boyfriend broke up with me because I was “too emotional”. But that’s not the darkness.

About a month later I let him back into my heart. What can I say? I lost 3 people I loved all at once, and I had a chance to get one of them back. I took it. Letting him back into my heart came with a big price tag. That’s where the darkness started. I had to pretend *all the time* that my heart wasn’t grieving the loss of my dad and Rita. I had to pretend *all the time* that I was happy, OR ELSE. A year later I was an anxiety-ridden mess, living with a man who wouldn’t tolerate anything but joy from me. It wasn’t safe for me to express my feelings. It wasn’t safe for me to be myself.

Then, in the late winter of 2015, I started to reclaim my life. I found a great doctor who found the right medication to help me with the anxiety. I found a fantastic therapist who helped me understand that it was okay to have a full range of feelings. And I found the courage to start expressing my feelings.

That’s when I started to write about my “Dark Night of the Soul”. And that’s when “the boyfriend”  (or “that cowardly man” as I’ve come to refer to him) told me that it was never about me, it was about the people with me. That it was actually about him.  Hmmm…still so new in my practice of actually feeling my feelings, I internalized that message. I believed that it WAS about him and how I had made him feel. So once again, I called BS on my own feelings rather than having the courage to feel my feelings and risk losing him. (mercifully, this is one of the LAST TIMES I would do this to myself)

Which brings me to this morning’s blinding flash of clarity.

WHAT???? IT WAS ABOUT YOU???? That’s just effing insane. Or wildly narcissistic. Or a little bit of both.

An early morning text exchange with a friend who is navigating a lot of big changes in his life was the catalyst for this flash.

Friend: Remember a few weeks ago when you told me you felt like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed…feeling gloomy…needed to work through some things in your head? I’m in that place now…

Me: I hear you. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Clean and clear communication. Imagine that. A few weeks ago I had been brave enough to let him know when I just wasn’t feeling completely joyous. No consequences, no BS, just me being brave and him meeting me there. Today I had the opportunity to repay that kindness, that clarity, that strength, and that dignity. We both had a chance to claim what’s ours and not project our sh*t. It felt really different. A little scary, AND ultimately really good. And it brought me back to thoughts of a time where I had to hide my less-than-beautiful feelings.

I’m not wrong to have feelings. And neither are you. I’m not wrong to cleanly and clearly express those feelings. And neither are you. I’m not wrong to ask for what I need – even if what I need is just time to sort out those feelings.  And neither are you.

I’m not wrong for BEING RENA. And you’re not wrong for BEING YOU.

#BeingRena

 

 

 

 

Dancing in my Santa socks

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I’m 9 days into reclaiming my healthy body. I want to feel better. I want to look better.

I want to prove to myself that I can still do anything I set my mind to doing. 

I used to KNOW that. With every fiber of my being I KNEW I could do ANYTHING I set my mind to doing. ANYTHING. There was always a way – and I would always find it. Somewhere in the last bunch of years that blazing confidence slowly slipped away from me. I guess this is a little bit about reclaiming that piece of myself as well. Actually, I’m realizing this is A LOT about that.

It’s been nine days of being very aware of everything I put in my mouth. Do I want that Hershey bar with almonds? Yes. Yes, I do. Very much. Give it to me right now. Ugh. Yes, I want that Hershey bar. No, I’m not going to eat it. And I’m not going to eat it because I’ve set my mind to not give in when my noisy, insistent, tantrum-throwing inner voice tries to talk me into taking the easy road of short term immediate gratification.

Oh boy. If I’m going to keep winning the battle with that inner voice I’m going to have to create an easier road for myself. I love cooking. I savor the joy of creating delicious meals for the people I love. Why the heck don’t I do that for myself?

So I spent a chunk of this afternoon in my kitchen working on food prep for the week. I cranked up my new Prince CD and got lost in the creative process of cooking. Chopping, slicing, steaming, baking, belting out a rockin’ duet with Prince on Raspberry Beret and dancing my curvy ass off.

Today I’m grateful for the joy I feel in my heart that gives me the lightness to dance in my kitchen in my Santa socks all by myself.

#BeingRena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I hate this picture

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I hate this picture of me.

I *should* love it. It’s me teaching my first yoga class – which was the culmination of a summer’s worth of really hard work. I can sort of see that I’m smiling in the picture – I was having fun! I’m clearly talking with my hands – which tells me I was in my expressive state of peace. I remember what a high it was to be guiding that class.

And yet I hate this picture.

I can’t look at this picture and deny anymore that I’m carrying around an extra 25 pounds. I just can’t. I can keep on lying to myself and believe I’m achy and tired all the time because I’m anemic, or not getting enough rest, or not sleeping well, or, or, or….

OR…I can accept the fact that my skeleton is used to carrying about 130lbs, and for the last year I’ve asked it just about every week to carry just a little bit more for me. No wonder my body hurts. No wonder I’m tired.

***sigh*** It’s time to get serious about taking care of myself.

My incredibly energetic and wonderful neighbors across the street are fitness professionals (seriously – they’re like Stepford nice and beautiful). They’re going to help me on this journey to reclaim my body. The journey began yesterday with my first day of sugar-free, junk-free, responsible eating and exercise.

The journey gets pretty effing real today when I push “publish” on this post and commit to sharing the journey 🙂

Lots of people share their journeys with before and after pictures. I’m going to share this journey with gratitude  – not pictures.

Today I’m grateful for courage. Today I’m a braveheart. Today I push publish and put it all out there – the whole messy, crying, doughy, over-eating, sugar-binging, comfort-seeking, self-deprecating, scared, lonely, insecure, hot mess of a 51-year-old curvy girl’s journey to reclaim her healthy body.

Wish me luck.

#BeingRena