Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
arch
Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

prep
As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

ceremony

My Six Travel Hacks

Between work and play, I end up travelling a lot.  This month, for example, I’m spending the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks on the road, bumping between Singapore, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.  I’m jokingly calling it #aprilasia.

While San Francisco is the center of my life, good work and important relationships aren’t concentrated there alone.  Instead, life happens both in the Bay Area and also at a bunch of other complementary locations around the world.  For better or worse (and often, for both), travel has become a significant part of my life.

As I’ve hit the road more and more, here’s my list of realizations – from the pragmatic to the philosophical – of what has kept me sane:

Adjust my eating schedule first:  I’ve learned to focus on adjusting my eating schedule instead of worrying about my sleeping schedule.  If I start eating on my destination time zone before getting on the plane, I’m better able to avoid jet lag when I get there.  This means sacrificing the perceived value of plane food (which I tend to eat out of obligation and frugality rather than hunger), planning ahead to bring my own snacks on the road, and often forcing myself to eat when I don’t have any interest (i.e., it’s lunchtime here, but the middle of the night my time).  If I can fix my eating cycle, however, my sleep cycle follows.  I can’t make a watertight case for the science behind it (though I did do a bunch of jet lag research at some point), but it works.

Take advantage of gyms:  The challenge and time involving in getting up, getting dressed, relocating to the gym, battling for a machine, showering in a foreign place, and pre-packing the day’s outfit often provides a convenient and reasonable excuse why I don’t exercise on any given day at home.  When there’s a gym in the hotel, however, I lose that excuse.  I try (though the operative word is try) to work out more on the road because the facilities are far more accessible.

Set boundaries:  As travel has become more frequent I’ve realized that, at some point, I can’t just string obligations together.  After a few ‘mega-trips’ last year, I now aspire to schedule trips no longer than ten days.  Even if it means flying back-and-forth to break the trip up, it’s worth it for me.

Do just one local thing:  When I started travelling, the best piece of advice I got from a seasoned road warrior was this:  “Wherever you go, make sure you do one local thing.”  It could be anything:  going to drinks with a friend, taking two hours to wander around a museum, or walking through town on your way to work.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that I have ‘permission’ to do this, especially if I’m travelling for work.  But the two hours that I spent at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center last week (a scale model of Shanghai!  a golden statue of the skyline!  ambition incarnate in display after lighted display!) made me better able to connect to understand Chinese development and also gave me some karmic comfort when I later found myself flying on Friday night. The trip became worthwhile in a bigger, more personal way.

shanghai
Acknowledge all parts of the truth
:  Friends often ask the question:  “Do you like to travel so much, or not?”  While it’s easy to fall into their proposed binary framing and either assert that “I love it!” or “I hate it!”, there’s often a more subtle truth.  For me, it’s important to acknowledge that travel is exciting, challenging, and exotic and also overwhelming, exhausting, and annoying – all at the same time.  I love the opportunities that come with travel, and I hate being dislocated from friends and family.  Acknowledging the full range of emotions that comes with travel – instead of glamorizing or demonizing it – helps to keep everything real.

Hold tight to gratitude:  Finally, it’s easy to fall into a world-weary mindset when I’m always on the road.  Travel can lose it’s charm and challenge.  And even the loveliest of destinations can go from being shiny, new, and delightful to being curiously familiar and even bothersome.  Whenever I stop seeing the amazing side of these experiences, I ground myself in gratitude. It is incredible that I get to develop such a broad perspective on life. It is incredible that I am able to feel at home in the world and connect to so many diverse people. Whatever the sacrifice, I can’t believe I’m deserving of all the places I go; I’m humbled by it.

Written while gearing up for a beach walk in Phuket,
Meredith

phuket

Judgey McJudgerson

San Francisco, CA

“I wonder if you know what it means to be aware of something? Most of us are not aware because we have become so accustomed to condemning, judging, evaluating, identifying, choosing. Choice obviously prevents awareness because choice is always made as a result of conflict. To be aware … just to see it, to be aware of it all without any sense of judgment.”  -Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’ve been very much in the mode of judging lately.  I don’t mean that I’ve been judgmental from a moral perspective: gossiping about people, failing to be compassionate, or struggling with empathy.  Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of the innocent form of judging that we do every day.  I’ve been looking at things and saying:  This is good, that is bad.  I like this, I don’t like that.  I will take this one, I don’t want that one.  Or, at a higher level, my assessments start to look more like plans and ambitions with judgments hidden inside them:  I want more of this, I want less of that.  We are on-track, we are off-track.

It seems to be an easy (and fairly non-controversial) thing to make these assessments.

Aren’t they obvious?  (Of course breaking your leg is bad.)

Aren’t they generally agreed up?  (Everyone hates getting stuck in traffic.)

And, importantly, aren’t they useful?  (I don’t like getting burnt, so I will stay in the shade.)

From a pragmatic perspective, judgment is necessary.  We wouldn’t function in the world unless we were willing to make assessments and take action.  But from a broader perspective, there are three issues with judgment that I sometimes forget:

First, as Krishnamurti points out above, sometimes we lack awareness because we are so quick to judge.  We don’t take the moment of presence without judgment before we determine if a rose is beautiful or ugly.  When we decide how we feel about it so quickly, we miss the opportunity to just be aware of a situation.

Second, when we judge without that window of awareness, we forget that we are judging at all.  We go so quickly from seeing the world to asserting our judgments of it.  It’s not that we saw a rose and judged it to be ugly; we simply saw an ugly rose.  We lose consciousness that judgment happens at all.

And third, when we move straight to judgment, those judgments often become capital-T Truths to us.  In reality, all of our assessments are fungible.  None are necessarily right; almost all are, in some cases, wrong.  They look correct from some angles and wrong from other angles.  The rose that is ugly in a bouquet of lively blooms could be poignantly beautiful in a memento mori setting.  Time, place, and situation all play a role in determining the “correctness” of our assessment.  There is an old Taoist fable that illustrates this point:

There was an old farmer who lived on a farm with his family, his crops and his horse.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Ahh, what bad luck!” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.  Again, the neighbors came to visit.

“Ahh, what good luck!” they exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The day after, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses.  He was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to visit.

“Ah, what bad luck!” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following day, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army.  As the son’s leg was broken, they passed by him.  The neighbors came again to visit.

“Ahh, what good luck!” they exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

maybe
Bringing it back to my little, less rural world:  Is my line up of conference calls today good or bad?  Is it positive or negative that my friend cancelled dinner tomorrow?  Is it good or bad that the dog puked on the carpet last night?

I’m trying to remind myself that there’s no judgment inherent in any of it.  It all just is.  And the judgment I apply to it is entirely my own creation.

Meredith

 

horses

Self-Reflection Has a Short Shelf-Life

San Francisco, CA

I was chatting with a minister-friend of mine the other day about one of the universal truths of self-reflection:  Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in self-development workshops that I’ve both attended and run myself.  You spend a few hours navel-gazing or journaling or in a coaching conversation and come up with the most brilliant insights.  “Who knew that my fear of spiders was what’s holding me back from volunteering in the Amazon!” or “Wow, fear and love are opposites!  I never thought of it that way!” The insights are always that:  insightful.  You see things you didn’t previously see.  You feel a burst of energy for attacking the world with your new understanding.  And, with a bit of accountability, you use the power of your insight to push forward into a new way of being or acting.  It’s the core of self-reflection, and it’s all pretty fulfilling.

But the problem is that yesterday’s insight is today’s yawn-worthy platitude.  Insights are so quickly absorbed into our current state of thinking that they’re frankly no longer insightful.

I notice this same phenomenon when I share my personal insights with others.  As others rarely have the same obstacles obscuring their sight, sharing a powerful realization is often met with “Yeah, you just realized that now?”  It’s not that the insight is silly or simple, but instead that it doesn’t have the same resonance for someone else.

While insights seem quite generic or obvious, what makes them powerful is their situational relevance.  Insights are exactly what you need to realize – at this point in time, in this situation, for you and you alone.  They’re hard to share.  Sometimes they’re hard to remember.  And even if you did remember them, there is something else you’re going to have to realize in just another day or week or month.

All this leads to my conclusion:  Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.

The famous line from Plato’s Apology claims that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  To some, that’s an easy statement to agree with.  But putting this together, the real annoyance is not the need to examine your life – it’s the frequency with which you need to do it.

With love,
Meredith

self reflection

 

Saying yes to fears

San Francisco, CA

This past weekend I was lucky enough to catch up with a good friend who lives on the other side of the world.  He mentioned that a friend of his was afraid about many things.  Afraid about things happening.  Afraid about things not happening.  Afraid about being liked.  Afraid about not being liked.

When my boyfriend passed away unexpectedly in 2010, I found myself scared of so many things.  I was afraid of never falling in love again, afraid I would fall in love again, afraid I would fall in love and then that person would pass away, afraid I would forget him, afraid I would always remember him, afraid of being judged for grieving in my own way, afraid that what I felt was real, afraid that what I felt was false.  The list went on for pages in my journal.

Writing down the list of fears helped immensely.  I found that the first step in moving through the fear was simply to name it.  Give it form and substance.  Put words to it.  I didn’t worry about the ‘why?’ behind it; tracing each fear back to its psychological source wasn’t the point.  The point was getting rid of the fears.  And to get rid of them, I needed to know what they were.

My list of fears was very long.

Then, I had to face them.  By facing, I do not mean doing the thing you’re afraid of or overcoming it in some forceful way (e.g., intercontinental flights for those afraid of flying).  Instead, by facing, I mean just that:  turning my face towards the fear.  The point was to look at each fear instead of hiding from it.  I needed to accept them.  And most of all, I needed to say yes to them.

So, for each fear, I just said “yes” to it.  This was not a “yes” that I wished the fear would materialize, but instead an acknowledgment of its possibility.  “Yes, I might end up alone.”  “Yes, people may judge me.” “Yes, I might never be able to move past this.”  I just said yes.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  Yes, that might happen.  Yes, this might happen.  Yes, yes, yes.  I said yes.  I cried yes.  I kept going with yes until there was nothing left.

yes bold
And soon, I moved to a place of:  “Okay.  Yes.  But so what?  So what if it does happen?  If that’s what’s going to happen, then I’ll deal with it.”  And at that point the yes turned into a sort of acceptance of possibilities.

What I realized was that before I found yes, I was running from every fear.  I was doing whatever I could to escape them.  Trying every tactic.  (It felt something like this.)  I was exhausted.

But when I stopped running, turned to face my fears, and said yes, the fear passed right through me.  I always thought that once it caught me (like Coyote catching the Roadrunner), I would be destroyed.  But instead, when I stopped and let it catch up with me, it evaporated, ghost-like.  It’s almost like my fears passed through straight through me.

When I started saying yes to fear, I also saw that the thing I feared and the fear itself were distinct (FDR got this one right; in the very first paragraph of his First Inaugural Address).  If the feared thing happened, whatever it was, I could deal with it.  Step-by-step, I would figure it out, because that’s what humans do.  But there was no use in being afraid of it.  Why work myself up emotionally for a possible situation in the future?  Saying yes allowed me to let this go instead of ducking, dodging, hiding, and running to avoid it.

My mental image of running from and then facing fear is that of Bugs Bunny.  He runs away from Yosemite Sam, that creepy monster or some other cartoon villain with all his might.  But what actually diffuses the situation is stopping and facing the bugaboo.  Stopping and facing lets us see that the villain – the fear – is laughable and inept.

If you are looking to let go of fear (or simply anxiety or nervousness), you can take the same approach:

  • Make a long list of the things you’re afraid of.  It can be anything.  Fear of things happening, fear of things not happening, fear of the judgment of others, fear of how you’ll perceive yourself.  Keep writing until you have no more fears to share.  (“I am afraid of not having enough money,” “I am afraid of my kids not going to the right school,” “I am afraid if I speak up people will think I’m too assertive,” “I am afraid that if I don’t go to PTA meetings, people will think I’m a bad parent.”  Whatever it is.)
  • Go through the list.  Say yes to each one.  Keep on saying yes until the fear loses its magnitude
  • When you’re feeling afraid again, come back to the list or repeat the exercise anew.  Write down your fears, say yes to each one, and let them go

Wishing you all love without fear,
Meredith

 

"Fear Monster"

The Wedding Diet (For the Rest of Your Life)

Barcelona, Spain

The Wedding Diet (For the Rest of Your Life)
When Liz and I got engaged, our thoughts flew ahead to the day of the wedding.  Within days of “yes”, we started speculating about what we would do, who we would invite, and (because vanity strikes even the best of us) how we would look.

Now hypothetical wedding planning has never been an idle pleasure of mine, so thinking about the wedding feels quite new.  I don’t have a Pinterest board entitled “One day” filled with white dresses.  I don’t have preconceived notions about flowers, bridesmaid dresses, or the veil I want to wear.  But as I’ve started to reflect, there is one expectation of my wedding that I have harbored all these years.  And it’s an ambition that, after watching a cavalcade of wedding photos parade down my newsfeed, I’m confident I share with many other stunning brides-to-be:  Whatever outfit I buy, whatever hairstyle I pick out, and whatever shoes I find, I want to look fit, skinny, and frankly, freaking amazing for my wedding.

There, I said it.  It’s the definition of vanity (which I find embarrassing), but it’s true.

While fessing up to the ambition of looking ridiculously good on my wedding day, I’ll also admit that it feels strange to limit my ambition to one day and one dress.  It’s curious to crash diet to fit into a beautiful dress and then spend the rest of your life on what seems to be an inevitable march to gaining it all back (and more).  I have so much dietary motivation driven by this pending event.  More than I’ve ever had or likely will again.  Can’t I use that to create something better than just a handful of compliments and some fantastic wedding photos?  I want to harness this primordial force – this bride-to-be ambition – to create something that lasts.  Quite simply, I want a wedding diet not just for the benefit of one day, but one that will support me as I tackle the rest of my married life.  I want to use this energy to fight against the dietary challenges that will come with age, childbirth, life with children, and, frankly, the complacency of getting hitched.

Ahh, the wedding diet

Enter my lifestyle experiment:  “The Wedding Diet (For The Rest Of Your Life)”  The idea is to use the months between my engagement and my wedding to figure out what works for my body long-term.  My goal is no longer dieting in order to show off an enviable figure for one, glorious day.  Instead, my more ambitious goal is to use this in-between time to reset my eating patterns for the rest of my life.

Each month until my wedding I’ll give up a different food selected from the category of “things-that-are-incredibly-delicious-yet-alleged-to-do-something-horrible-to-your-body.”  Yes, you know what I mean:  dairy, meat, carbs, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, ya da, ya da, ya da.  Basically all the good stuff.  I’ll cut that category out for the first twenty-five days, then slowly reintroduce for the tail-end of the month, evaluating how it makes me feel.  Do I feel lighter or heavier?  Do I gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same?  I’ll admit now that this won’t be the world’s perfect lifestyle experiment.  I’m not going to control for every variable and I’m not going to live in a vacuum for the sake of blog-worthy science.  But I am going to do a sincere investigation while still living like a normal human being.  I’ll attempt to eat, sleep and exercise ‘normally.’  And on the honeymoon, I’ll put it all together into a diet that’s tailored to me.

The whole idea here is that a diet should be individual.  As a Californian, I’ve variously heard friends praising the virtues of vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, high fructose corn syrup-free, raw, and everything else possible.  Do I believe they have seen results?  Absolutely.  And do I believe that they would work for me?  I frankly have no idea.  Since our bodies look different, act different, and feel different, it seems curious to think that the same diet would make sense for all of us.  Instead of subscribing to someone else’s formula for health, I’m going to find my own.

And with that, welcome to July, hereby dubbed “The Month Without Dairy.”  I look forward to keeping you posted; in the meantime, feel free to leave comments about what you suggest giving  up – from your personal experience and/or the scientific/pseudo-scientific diet reading you’ve done.

With love (and, from here through August, always without cheese),
Meredith

The New News (Part Two of Two)

Making sense of it all
[Continued from The New News (Part One of Two) here.  Here’s where we re-start the very personal discussion with a particularly nerdy spin.]

Putting my story together and applying my consultant lens yields one way of looking at the world:  a framework of sexual orientation and degree of influence.  This is not the end-all, be-all way of understanding sexual orientation and the question of determinism versus choice (every lens highlights something and obscures other things), but it makes sense to my analytical brain and rings true with my experience:

Enter:  Nerdy framework

The x-axis maps to the second question I tackle here:  the question of sexual orientation.  This spectrum of sexual orientation is visualized in the well-known Kinsey scale, which dates back to the 1940s.  Near the origin is ‘Exclusively heterosexual’ (denoted by 0).  Towards the end of the axis is ‘Exclusively homosexual’ (denoted by 6).** Between these extremes, Kinsey proposed a spectrum of attraction.


As you would know from the above, my feelings are neither entirely homosexual nor entirely heterosexual.  I fall somewhere in the middle.

For the y-axis, let’s track back to my first question – of choice versus determinism.  Note that this is not a biological choice of who you’re attracted to (the nature part), but instead a choice of whether you decide to open yourself to those feelings, to give them space, and to see where they go (conceivably, the nurture part).  Our biological impulses – not only in the realm of sexuality but in all areas of our lives – are tempered, colored and interpreted through the lens of our experiences.  Some people, like me, feel they have a large degree of choice in how they live their sexual orientation.  Others – homosexual, heterosexual, and everything in between – see themselves as having no choice at all; this was the way it was.  But just like sexual orientation is on a continuum, so is it important to accommodate this continuum of ‘degree of influence’ from ‘Completely determined’ (near the origin) to ‘Completely chosen’ (towards the end).


To upend the rhetoric of 2003, you can have full choice in how you live out your sexual orientation – and still be legitimate.

You can, in short, fall anywhere on the framework and be worthy of acceptance and (indeed) celebration.

And what of the labels?
This whole framework is one way of thinking about how people experience the world internally.  It addresses neither how people describe themselves to others nor how others classify them.  So, beyond this, there is a third question of identification.  And just as labels don’t fit neatly on people, neither do they fit neatly on a framework.  Instead, people at any point in the framework could identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, straight, pansexual, bi-curious, hetero, questioning, same gender loving, multiple of the above, all-of-the-above, or none-of-the-above (you know, just ‘human’).  (Note that I have left out transgender here as it’s actually quite a different discussion; see this fantastic resource on discussing gender identify separate from sexual orientation).

framework
For me, none of the labels fit very comfortably.  I don’t have formative experiences of frustration or judgment that are more normative for some who feel their queer identity is pre-determined.  Similarly, I don’t have the shared experience of complete homosexual feeling that would let me fully identify as a lesbian.  Sitting in the nebulous spots means that I don’t resonate with any labels.  Not lesbian.  Not bi-sexual.  Not queer.  Not really, umm, anything.

Except Meredith Whipple.

And maybe, in about a year, if she can convince me, Meredith Whipple Callahan.

With love and celebration,
Meredith

Read the unexpected sequel (Part Three of Two) here.

**Note:  Since the Kinsey scale was invented, it has been updated to include X, meaning “No socio-sexual contacts or relations” to include asexuality.

The New News (Part One of Two)

There’s been a lot happening lately, as you might surmise from my recent silence.  Foremost among these is the happy news that, on Saturday, June 14th (Flag Day, for those of you who follow those things), Liz and I got engaged.

 

Liz and I drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

Liz and me drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

While there’s plenty of story-telling to go with the engagement (blanket fort, 5:30AM, videos of ring-making, flowers hidden in the water heater closet), the engagement also serves as a timely prompt for thoughts that have been circling in my head for a while.  While Facebook followers are likely unsurprised, there are many for whom my engagement is the first news that I have dated women at all.  So I’m going to rewind the tapes, share more of the journey, and give more context on everything.  (Note that this will be a two-part installment given the length.)

Choice or determinism?
Though I had inklings prior, I first time I seriously considered women was when I was a senior in college.  I wasn’t displeased with men, but I knew I was attracted to women as well.  I met my first out-and-proud lesbian and spent time quietly observing how she carried herself.  More importantly, under the guises of a project for my graphic design class (which asked us to create a poster for a cause we cared about), I started to think critically about LGBTQ* issues for the first time.  I went to my first march for LGBTQ rights outside of New Haven’s City Hall.  I was nervous and tentative, knowing neither what I wanted as an individual nor how to participate in the broader community.  But I designed my poster for class, walked in the crowd, and took a side on the first political issue I had real clarity on.

Researching that project exposed me to the rhetoric of the LGBTQ dialogue for the first time.  At that point, in 2003, the discussion of sexual orientation – and all the associated civil rights issues – hinged on the question of whether you had a choice about who you were attracted to.  The debate was framed as:  “We don’t have a choice about our sexual orientation, therefore you must accept us as we are.”  The political rhetoric was binary:  you were heterosexual or homosexual – and, either way, you didn’t have a say in it.

While there was still a lot I didn’t know about my feelings, this framing never sat well with me.  I could feel the choice in myself.  I knew that I was attracted to men and to women.  And I had a choice as to what to do with that.  There wasn’t any tension in it.  It was just true.

[Now pause for an interlude of almost a decade of very happily dating a phenomenal handful of men.  And park this thought of the question of determinism versus choice in sexuality.  We’ll come back to it.]

Homosexual or heterosexual?
Jumping forward to 2012, I started dating Liz.  Our first date was on a second obscure holiday (which, like Flag Day, would become personally meaningful):  Cinco de Mayo.  As my relationship with Liz grew, I quickly came out to those I interacted with on a daily basis.  This was easy in certain ways because my relationship with Liz was so happy and I had no reason to be ashamed of it.  My feelings weren’t ‘odd’ or ‘other’ to me.  I didn’t hold a lot of judgment as to whether this was better or worse than dating men.  And as I had been quite happy in my situations before, I hadn’t been hiding or avoiding anything.

When I started telling people, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  There was still curiosity, however, about how I had arrived here:  “Wait, are you a lesbian?”  “Have you known this all along?”  “But didn’t you date men?”  “Have you been hiding this for years?”  Everyone wanted to support and some people understandably struggled to fit this into their past experiences and previously-held beliefs.

We had an outpouring of love and support.  Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

When we announced our engagement, we had an outpouring of love and support. Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

It’s easiest for a society of many millions of people to define things – and people – very clearly.  Thus, as a way of simplifying, we migrate to binary definitions.  You can be homosexual or heterosexual.  You are attracted to men or to women.  The wide swath of middle ground (the many flavors of ‘bisexual’), the answer that negates the question (‘asexual’), and all other nuances are harder to put our heads around, even while they’re more accurate to our complex world of feelings.

Emotionally, I’m attracted to men and women.  What a wonderful thing.  And how lucky am I that this sincere openness to love made my relationship with Liz possible.

To be continued (in some combination of personal story and nerding out on frameworks) on Thursday.

With love and celebration!
Meredith

Read the next installment (Part Two of Two) here.

Yep, that happened.

Yep, that happened.

*Note:  I use LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) as shorthand throughout this post to refer to the entire ‘non-straight’ community.  That said, I know this label is not as fully inclusive as it could be and there are a million other letters we could append on the end.  With apologies to those who feel their appropriate letter is not included.

Go, go, go

San Francisco, CA

I spent the last two weeks following a frenetic travel schedule that took me to Europe, to Africa, and back to Europe before landing me home in San Francisco. Getting off the plane, I then ran the gauntlet of both a lot of voluntary fun (from Maker Faire to my first Bay to Breakers) as well as an intense schedule of professional commitments (three full days of working sessions and hosting a team dinner at my house).

As I ran about, attending to everything, the to-dos piled up higher-and-higher. I could only clear so many of them on the flights that took me here-and-there and in the wee hours of the morning. So at the end of all this, I had a feeling of relief: “So many commitments, but finally, I can get some work done!” I sat down to my computer with the relish of someone ready to rip through her inbox. But, instead of reaching my productive stride on Day Eighteen, my body gave in. I came down with a familiar, intense migraine that happens when I’ve simply pushed too hard and too long. And it’s lingered an unpleasant two days, sticking around to make sure it’s impact is fully felt.

It was probably some combination of the bodily resilience of youth and my own ignorance of my body’s signals that let me push so hard in my teens and twenties. I never stopped. I rarely slowed. I needed to be told to go home when sick. Four to six hours of sleep a night seemed to be easily enough. And bodily feelings of any type (tired, hungry, grumpy, whatever) seemed irrelevant to the task at hand.

But now it’s different. My body has learned the tricks (like migraines) to simply shut me down when I refuse to listen to the signals. My body has resorted to extreme measures to bring me back into balance. And I have no option but to respond: “All right. I hear you.”

I listen more now. I try to pre-empt the extreme measures, to co-operate with my body more, and to watch for the signs. I hydrate, I sleep, and, loath to my twenty-something self, sometimes I even pass on the glass of wine. I try to give up controlling my physical body with my rational mind and ignoring the feelings because “I’m stronger than that.”

It seems silly, obvious and a bit embarassing to write it all down (after all, what thirty-something hasn’t mastered basic homeostatis?), but it’s tough to reverse twenty-plus years of being rewarded for productivity at the expense of self.

How does your body shut you down?

Beyond Freedom

Johannesburg, South Africa

I reached Johannesburg earlier this week subject to that ‘just arrived malaise’ that often hits me upon landing in a new city. I always acknowledge that I’ve travelled far and it’s okay to be tired, while another part of me jumps straight to aggressive self-judgment:  “You are only in this city for so long!  You should go out and experience it!  Why are you laying on your bed?!”  While I have learned to quiet that inner voice full of “should,” I nonetheless feel fairly awful if I haven’t ventured out of my hotel by the end of the day.  So I touched down, took a much-needed nap, knocked out some work, and rallied.

My first and only stop was the Apartheid Museum, an elegant and well-executed history of apartheid in South Africa.

Between the mock-ups of Mandiba’s jail cell and the ‘Europeans Only’ signs, the part of the museum which stuck me most was the struggle of it all. Hundreds, thousands of people dead in the fight.  Such intractable reluctance to give up power.  An almost inconceivable investment of energy, emotion, and life to secure what I naively see as the basic, universal right to freedom.

In truth, freedom has been hard-fought – not just in South Africa’s recent past, but in our continuing global present. Freedom is not a right that is won, but instead a daily reality which we must continue to bring into existence.

But what happens when we are so fortunate as to feel secure in that freedom?  What next?  Where do we direct our energies when the exhausting fight for freedom is done?

One definition of freedom is “the power or liberty to order one’s own actions.” This definition necessarily elicits the next question:  With the liberty to order our actions, how should we do so?  And to what end?

We of course have different goals – different definitions of happiness, purpose, meaning, or fulfillment.  Yet I would propose that whatever our goals, we articulate them clearly and pursue them consciously.  Freedom gives us the right to choose.  Intentionality means that, when exercising that sacred freedom, we do so conscious of the world we want to create for ourselves and others.  (See earlier post on the definition of intentionality here.)

With all the struggle that goes into securing freedom, it seems disrespectful and almost amoral that we would exercise that freedom in anything but the most thoughtful way possible, consciously creating ourselves into the people we want to be and thoughtfully crafting the world in which we want to live.  What is beyond freedom?  Intentionality. 

 

Image“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 
-Nelson Mandela