sometimes the world is so much, it’s too much.

Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things.

Zooey Deschanel

A while back, my mom lent me one of her books. Until yesterday, it had been sitting on my shelf with my other “to-read-before-I-die” books.

It’s called The Highly Sensitive Person. A book to help people thrive when the world overwhelms them. (I scoffed to myself when she gave it to me: Ha! I’m not sensitive. Nothing gets to me. Ha!)

Now I scoff because I know better. Ha! Literally everything gets to me.

I grew up thinking that being sensitive was a bad thing. To be sensitive is to be weak and needy. It’s better to become desensitized and feel nothing at all, right?

The other night, I asked Nick what he thought one of my weaknesses was.

Silence. A smirk. “Is this a trap?”

I shook my head. “Just tell me.”

“Okay.” Pause. “Sometimes you are a little sensitive and needy,” he said.

I smiled and nodded. Yep.

But couple years ago, that would have eaten me away inside. Needy?! Sensitive?! I’m a self-sufficient, pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps, kinda gal. Don’t need nothing from nobody.

Ha.

If needing is my weakness, than I’m in good company… with the rest of the human race.

We’re all a bit needy, but some of us never say a damn word about it. Needy, along with sensitive, gets a bad rap, and I think we all should feel more freedom to need. (Worth saying: there is a line somewhere, of course, as with most things, because neediness can become desperate, selfish or unhealthy, too, and that is not what I’m advocating here.)

Maybe, just maybe being a highly sensitive person can also mean being a strong, capable person. Maybe being affected by things can be empowering. Perhaps letting yourself be affected by things is a superpower in disguise.

Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness; it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken; it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. . .

Anthon St. Maarten

We often try to be tough and unaffected on the outside while wrestling with swirling emotions and feelings on the inside, hiding the fact that things affect us. Why?! Is being affected so terrible?

I recently read the last entry in Anne Frank’s diary. She speaks to this dual life, this “bundle of contradictions:”

I’m afraid that people who know me as I usually am will discover I have another side . . . I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously. I’m used to not being taken seriously, but only the “light-hearted” Anne is used to it and can put up with it; the “deeper” Anne is too weak . . .

[. . .]

I’d like to listen [to the voice within me], but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke . . . I just can’t keep it up anymore, because . . . I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be . . .

Thirteen-year-old Anne speaks to me; here I am, a young adult fighting for balance between being affected by what goes around me and pretending she is unflappable and tough as nails.

There are moments of my childhood that I remember vividly as moments of immense freedom to be unapologetically me–to unapologetically be sensitive and needy.

I don’t recall feeling ashamed by my countless panic attacks when it was too windy or stormy in Pueblo West (where it’s ALWAYS windy, just so we’re clear). Although I’m sure my hysterics were annoying, my parents never made me feel foolish for my irrational fears. I recall my recurrent and irrational nightmares after seeing Dad fall off the roof and break his ribs; he recovered fine, but the event quite literally haunted me for a long time. I was terrified of Jafar from Aladdin, the whale from Pinnochio, and the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. I still remember the mean look a classmate gave me in third grade and how terrible I felt for days. I quit dance in third grade because I couldn’t suffer how mean the rest of my dance team was to me and to others. When the world didn’t make sense to me, I took a pen to the page and bled through scribbles and stories.

Things haven’t really changed, though my sensitivities manifest in more tangible ways: my closet is full of dozens of pairs of leggings and loose, flowing blouses (because some days, denim jeans feel like scratchy little cloth prisons, so yes, I am wearing these leggings as pants, thank you very much). I wake up angry and restless every couple of hours because something just isn’t quite right with my pillow. Nick finally spent $80 on a feather mattress pad so I would stop waking up at 3 am carrying on about how “I might as well just sleep on the stupid floor because this stupid mattress is about as comfy as a stupid rock” (apparently, it’s hard for him to sleep when I’m yelling; gosh, he’s so sensitive). When we went out to lunch yesterday, I have no idea what Nick said for about five minutes straight because I swear, I thought I was hearing every conversation that every person was having in that restaurant lobby. A lot goes on in the world, and sometimes it is overwhelming.

Sometimes it is all too much. Life and death, joy and grief, anxiety and peace, homelessness, hunger, stray dogs, pain, doctor’s visits, births, music, stories, poetry, laughter, and weeping. Clamoring voices in my head–my own voice mixed with the voices of others, the fears and doubts grabbing at my heart, the truths He breathes into my soul, a busy schedule, anxiety bubbling from deep in the pit of my stomach. Scratchy jeans and the consciousness of every unexpressed yet palpable tension in the people around me. The impending headache. The stiffness in my joints, the fatigue of my muscles, and the anger I have at chronic pain. The worry for loved ones. The growing pile of expectations and obligations and self-constructed pressure to be more, do more.

I could choose to feel it all; I could choose to ignore it all.

I choose to feel it all more often than not, but I can’t live there in the too-muchness all day, everyday. I have to put my feet back on the ground. But.

I owe both sides of me–the feeling and the moving on–equal amounts of time in this sacred space of life.

There is as much room for being highly sensitive, for feeling deeply, and for being overwhelmed by the world as there is for being high-achieving, hard-working, and yes, even cool under pressure. Maybe being a hot mess–allowing myself to be truly affected by things from time to time–is a step forward to a more empathetic, wise, understanding way of living and loving.

There is quote from Lemony Snicket that I am reminded of:

“There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don’t know and even the people you don’t want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face.”

Maybe you know this exact kind of crying Lemony Snicket is talking about. He says he hopes you have not experienced it, but I kind of hope that you have. This kind of profound sadness is a burden, but it is also a gift.

A person who feels this deeply is a modern-day Atlas, and if you can feel the deep sadness of the world around you–the weight of the terrible things that have happened to you, to me, to everyone you’ve ever and never known–you are freed to truly feel the deep joy and beauty of it all. That is the rare power and gift of a truly loving and empathetic person; beauty comes out of experiencing and living and feeling things that deeply.

So yes, yes, I cry when I see a stray dog, and, yes, some days just thinking about how many people right at this moment are grieving loss or death right in this moment knocks me on my ass. I just hope that, in the feeling of it all, I learn to navigate the ecstatic along with the tragic moments. I might be needy sometimes. I might be overly sensitive at times. But to me, feeling strongly is better than feeling nothing at all.

(Even though Atlas had to carry the whole of the celestial spheres, he must have grown to know them more intricately and intimately than anyone living in the midst of them, and what a beautiful power he must have gained through all of that–the seeing and feeling of them–as he did the hard work of holding them all together.)

Banned Books are the Best Kind

Banned Books Week was last week, September 21 through September 27, and I love that we have a whole week set aside to celebrate the freedom to read. Freadom, if you will. (I stole that from someone else, so don’t hold me accountable to the cheesiness.)

Reading takes you on adventures. Reading teaches you about good and evil, about who you are, about how people think. You cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, or you’re confused because you suddenly realize when you’re reading Lord of the Flies in your senior lit class that good and evil are messy, blurry things, and the world is not clear cut. When you read “The Awakening,” you’re puzzled and confused and maybe annoyed because, What the heck, lady?, but when you look back on it again when you’re 24, you suddenly understand a bit more about what Kate Chopin was talking about, and you applaud the strength it must have taken to hurl those words into a world where they would assuredly be rejected and scorned.

We have to keep reading them.

When we ban books and deem them “unreadable,” we ban ideals. We ban education. We ban questions. We ban learning from our mistakes. We ban open-mindedness. We ban words, and when we ban words, we ban the power and ability to grow and change and better ourselves.

It’s interesting that all this hubbub in Jefferson County in Colorado has reached its head during this week, too, because as it turns out, censorship can affect what we learn in the classroom beyond the literature we read. In case you haven’t heard, a woman in JeffCo wants to alter the AP history curriculum to put the United States in a “more positive” light—which is the politically correct manner of stating that she wants to lie to make America look better than we really are. Thankfully, students and teaching are rising up against that, calling for honesty in the classroom. I am sad that this idea to manipulate curriculum came from my home state, but I am so proud to see the reactions against it are also from my fellow Coloradoans. Read more about the JeffCo issue here. (Check out Twitter, too, because there are some funny hashtag conversations going down. #jeffcoschoolboardhistory)

But I digress.

When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, I was avidly reading the Harry Potter series—I mean, I could hardly put it down. I have a picture of me with some of my extended family and I wouldn’t even put the book down to take the picture. I was cradling it in my arms. My mom decided to read it, too, to see what it was all about because Focus on the Family was implying it would turn my generation into a bunch of satan-worshipping drones.

My mom actually found a lot of good in the books. Good triumphing over evil. A down-to-earth, hesitant “chosen one” becomes a hero through sacrifice, friendship, trust, and love. Friends look out for friends. Family sacrifices for each other. Evil fails because it lacks love. Good succeeds because they have love.

I am thankful that I grew up in a household that gave me the freedom to read books that were challenging, mature, and good. They are part of who I am. I’m not afraid of ideas that challenge or contradict me anymore. How many wonderful lines would have not been highlighted in chapter books. How many pages would have no annotations. How many journal entries about quotes and themes and characters would never have been written if I hadn’t grown up in a home where books were never banned and were always embraced.

Here are some of my favorite banned/challenged books, in case you’re looking for some good books to read!

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    “I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    “Maybe there is a beast … Maybe it’s only us.”
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
    ”The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”
  • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
    “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness. Nothing more.”
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    ”So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    “It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    “I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    “I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
    “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
    “Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.”
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    “Let the wild rumpus start!”
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    “They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.”
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
    “I told him I believed in hell, and that certain people, like me, had to live in hell before they died, to make up for missing out on it after death, since they didn’t believe in life after death, and what each person believed happened to him when he died.”
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    “She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.”
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

What are some of your favorite banned or challenged books?

Vulnerability

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya, ftw!)

Vulnerability. Openness. Intimacy. Buzz buzz buzz. I fear these words are becoming empty and meaningless. Christians throw the terms around like we know what they are, but they’re becoming buzz-words. Christianese, even.

Small groups and Bible studies say that they want to create a dynamic that is conducive to vulnerability. Leadership experts say that good leaders are vulnerable and open. Pastors and clergy explain that churches need to be safe places for vulnerability and authenticity.

I’m getting frustrated.

Why? Because the words are losing their meaning. We just assume we know all know what we’re talking about. Call me crazy, but I think the first step toward vulnerability, intimacy, authenticity, etc. is maybe talking about what the hell those things are in the first place. We can’t pursue it if we don’t know what it is or what it looks like.

We can grasp the basic premise of vulnerability. We understand that it’s necessary for deep relationships and intimacy. But when you cry for vulnerability, and she cries for vulnerability, and I cry for vulnerability, I wonder if we’re actually crying out for different things and calling them by the same name.

I would argue that oftentimes, we are. We often confuse openness with vulnerability, and vice versa.

So what’s the difference?

I consider myself a very open person–for better or for worse. I don’t mind talking about who I am. I like to discuss what makes me tick, what makes others tick, what life events have formed their identities, what traumas have birthed their insecurities, their fears, their triumphs. Most times, I don’t mind expressing my opinion, if conversation permits. I’ll tell you how it feels to have parents who are fighting painful illness and disability. I’ll tell you how much it sucks to deal with chronic pain. I don’t mind saying that I have anxiety or that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing with my adult life. Why?

Because I like people to know me. Part of that may be my personality type; as an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging–so I find it easy to connect with others), I don’t like shallow conversation. I jump right into the deep end, and I want to share who I am, what I’ve experienced, what I believe–and I want you to as well. I like discussing things that matter.

I will show my scars. I will speak of the demons that have come and gone and the ones that I’m still fending off. I will tell you about my darkest moments, if the context or situation is appropriate and if I think it will benefit our friendship.

(Note: That doesn’t mean I don’t find it difficult or exhausting, nor does it mean that I necessarily open up for the right reasons all the time. Often times after sharing part of my story, I am terrified and insecure, constantly wondering what people think of my story, if they believe me, if they think I’m foolish, if they think I was just trying to get attention, if they relate at all, etc. And then there’s the reasons behind opening up and sharing, but that’s another topic entirely.)

Vulnerability is more than openness. Oftentimes, we view openness and vulnerability as one in the same, and they aren’t. If openness is telling you about my darkest moments, then vulnerability is lighting a lantern and inviting you to traverse all the dark places with me. It’s more than showing you my scars. It’s letting them bleed in front of you. It’s more than talking about anxiety. It’s letting you stick around when I’m having a panic attack. It’s more than telling you about how much it sucks that my parents are sick and in pain. It’s letting myself weep and mourn over it and allowing you to see me in that moment.

Openness is sharing your story; vulnerability is letting people inside your story. It’s letting people not only hear about the skeletons in your closet, but to see them, to feel them, to help you rid of them or accept them or confront them.

Openness leads to vulnerability leads to intimacy. I can choose to stop at openness and go no further, or I can light the lantern and take a step into the darkness with you alongside me–which is why I’m choosy about who I am going to be vulnerable with.

To be open is to share about you. But to be vulnerable is to share you–unapologetic, true, 100%, genuine, dirty, mucky, beautiful, sinful, messed up, tear-stained, glittering, weak, terrified, but strong and determined you. Sometimes that means expressing a need. Sometimes that means admitting a weakness or acknowledging a hurt. Other times, it means saying things that are hard to say but need to be said. Sometimes that means showing a side of you that people will not like. Sometimes that means rejection or conflict or pain or insecurity. And that’s okay.

I am open. Sometimes too open, sometimes not open enough. But I am not quite vulnerable, and it’s because I’m still learning what it means for me to light my lantern and invite those around me into my darkness. I’m learning who it is I am called to be vulnerable with, and I’m learning that it is not everyone I meet. I am learning what it looks like to be unapologetically me while still striving for more. I am learning how to use my openness for the good and the healing of others and not just for myself. I am learning how to share my story in a way that invites the important people in my life into my story, into the depths and crevaces.

(Note again, sorry. I want to point out that I intentionally said “important people” and not just “people.” Being vulnerable with everyone is not a good idea. And being vulnerable with just anyone is equally not advisable. Be choosy. Be intentional. Be smart, be wise. Don’t just let anyone down into your dark places and skeleton closets. Not everyone will help heal. Some will hurt.)

Oi! What a painstaking process living life can be when you add other people into the mix (says the introvert).

Why We Should Stop Laughing at Rape Jokes

[This post is inspired by a quote I recently read on Tumblr.]


 

When I got a tattoo on my collarbone, just about every guy friend and/or coworker I have acted… well, bizarrely. The responses were all over the board, from, “There’s something on your chest” (to which I said, “Yes, they’re called breasts,”) to saying absolutely nothing at all and making a face to explaining that it caused their eyes to wander where it shouldn’t and that I was causing them to stumble. I started to wonder why my decision about my own body was causing so much odd behavior to surface in the men around me. I started to feel guilty. I was worried they were labeling me as something I wasn’t: trashy, slutty, immodest. I started to think I should not have gone with collarbone. Maybe I was asking for negative attention.

But I wasn’t asking for negative attention. I know I wasn’t. I got the tattoo there because I wanted to because I think they’re beautiful, and I wanted to be able to see it every day. And I don’t need to feel guilty for that. I actually am very intentional about dressing modestly and presenting myself respectably to others. My tattoo doesn’t change that.

It reminded me of the victim-shaming that happens whenever a young woman is raped. People ask what she was wearing, how much she’d had to drink, if she was flirty or had a bad reputation, etc.

As if any of those things justify someone being raped. As if a woman who was wearing a low-rising short skirt that revealed a lower back tattoo or a v-neck that revealed a collarbone tattoo or had a couple of beers was “asking for it.” As if a woman who says, “No,” is just playing hard to get. As if rape wasn’t really rape at all.

Perhaps I have just become more aware of the world as I have grown older, but I have discovered that the world around us can be pretty misogynistic. And I’m tired of it.

The truth is that women are raped whether they are “asking for it” or not. In fact, 1 in 5 women have reported being raped in their lifetime. That’s a lot of women. That’s a lot of rape. That’s a lot of disrespect toward an entire gender. (I am, of course, aware that men are raped as well, and I want the reader to be aware that I realize that women aren’t the only ones who are taken advantage of, but for the sake of this post, I am focusing on women.)

The above statistic—that a whopping 20% of women have been raped—irks me. It saddens me. So when I hear rape jokes on TV, in skits on SNL, in regular conversation among friends, my heart just drops. Why, when 20% of women experience something as horrible as rape, are we still telling rape jokes? Why?!

My husband and I often talk about how much I despise rape jokes. I’ve never found them funny. There are many reasons why, some personal and some based on principle. They propagate a misogynistic rape culture while wearing the mask of, “Come on, lighten up, it’s just a joke.” Anything that masquerades under that guise usually merits a second look at the damage it could be causing. You honestly never know what stories the people around you have, which means you never know what sort of horrible memories or traumas you are triggering for the sake of a good, ol’ rape joke.

My first encounters with rape jokes came from overhearing my brother his friends “raping” their opponents while playing Call of Duty or Halo or some other video game. Not exactly a rape “joke,” per se, but the damage it causes is much the same. “Raping” is the colloquial equivalent to a great victory–totally destroying the opposing team. To rape was to win, and to win well. When my brother’s team “raped” another team, it was cause for celebration, or at least a fist bump.

But rape is real. Rape happens. And yet people use the same word “rape” as a way of communicating just how greatly victorious they have been? Not only did they win, but they raped the other team, and now they get bragging rights and high fives.

They came, they saw, and they conquered, and the word people are choosing to use for that is “rape.” Let that sink in for a second.

You might say that using the word “rape” to communicate a win in Call of Duty is really not a big deal, or that rape jokes are just jokes. But hear me when I say: you’re wrong.

We can believe that real rape is completely different, and we cannot compare colloquial language and humor to a tragedy like that, and we can believe that young men understand the distinction and know very well that rape is wrong. We can also believe that young men know what rape even is and that no means no, that they understand that consent is. (We can also stupidly think that a song called “Blurred Lines” is not about rape, but then you’re taking your ignorance to a whole new level.) We can fool ourselves to believe all that.

We all want to believe that.

We all want to believe that rapists do not get high fives or fist pumps after taking advantage of a girl. We all want to believe that the average male and a rapist are completely different people–that rapists are anomalies,  just dark, unstable individuals with issues that move them to behave the way they do. But then we hear about things like the Steubenville rape case, in which what appeared to be average, decent young men raped a young woman, and then they actually bragged and fraternized about it via YouTube videos and texts and honestly did not understand that what they had done was actually, seriously rape. They treated like some sort of Call of Duty round and didn’t realize the severity of their actions. Now they’re living with the consequences of their arrogance and ignorance, and a girl will have baggage and trauma in tow for the rest of her life, and (I hope) we realize that perhaps equating rape with victory could be more subversive than we originally thought.

Now, hear me clearly: I don’t believe that every man is a rapist. I don’t believe that every man condones rape. I don’t believe that the average decent guy is intentionally encouraging or propagating rape by telling rape jokes or laughing at them.

But, yes, all women. #YesAllWomen.

I do believe that these decent men have blinders on. They don’t understand what it’s like for women to live in a culture where sexually assault is the brunt of a joke. They don’t realize that maybe 200 yards away from them, a guy might actually believe rape is okay. The Steubenville rape case is evidence enough that some men don’t even understand what rape is; they’re so clueless that even when it happens, they announce it as if it were some great accomplishment to be proud of. So we laugh at rape jokes because, hey, it’s funny, and it’s not like he is actually going to rape or hurt someone, and we’re all good guys here. It’s just a joke. Besides, you don’t want to be that guy–the wet blanket who is overly sensitive and “has no sense of humor.”

But that’s just propagating the ignorance.

Considering that about one in five women report being raped–and that’s JUST the reported incidents–chances are these funny rape jokes are told well within ear shot of someone who either has been raped or knows well someone who has been raped, and to them, it’s not funny. Furthermore, a reported 1 in 6 college-aged men admit to raping someone (as long as “rape” isn’t actually used in the description of the act–which again, shows that men do not actually understand what rape is even when they’re doing it–ignorance and arrogance. Need I mention Steubenville again?).

Statistically speaking, if you are laughing at a rape joke in a group of 6 of buddies, one of them will actually, seriously, in-real-life rape someone, whether they call it rape or not (and let me clarify: rape is rape whether the rapist calls it that or not). One of the friends you’re laughing with may actually take advantage of or has taken advantage of another real human being. In real life. Not just as a joke. And you’re laughing with him, and in so doing, you communicate that rape isn’t serious. It’s just another term “totally annihilating and destroying” an opponent (don’t believe me? See the UrbanDictionary.com entries for “rape”). Suddenly rape is as ho-hum or casual as winning a Call of Duty match or joking about the funny thing your dad said at Christmas last year.

And chances are, when you turn around or walk home, you walk by a woman who has been victimized. Chances are, to her, rape is so much more than a joke. Rape is real to her. Chances are, she was taken advantage of. Chances are, she was at one point in her life stuck in a place where she had no control, couldn’t fight back, couldn’t escape, and her no’s fell on deaf, uncaring ears. And chances are, she fights off the demons and repercussions of that one event every single day.

That alone should be reason enough for you to be that wet-blanket guy who sucks all the funny out of a rape joke. Because there really is not anything funny about it, and the world needs to know that.