So I have been working on a manifesto for Blogs Like A Girl, an intention for what I want this space to be and what voice. Work. In. Progress.
Until I came across this quote from Alexi Wasser of IMBOYCRAZY.com (a blog I have never read though I now plan to) while reading #GirlBoss (a book by Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso that I have read and highly recommend) and thought “yes, yes, yes”.
I found that by sharing my personal experiences, like through my blog, that we’re not alone—that the most shameful, personal, specific things you are going through are actually universal. You can laugh about it. I want to make a contribution that matters, and I want to be as vulnerable and as raw as possible so other people feel less alone. I want to make people happy or make them laugh—even if it is at my own expense.
And this feels like a good place to start. Hard. Clear. Honest. About my sorrows, my failings, my hopes and my plans. More to come, very very soon.
I am just going to say that thing you are not supposed to say: I care about those illegal immigrant children at the border. I really do. I just care about my own kid more.
There is a reason on an adoption application it asks for income. Because as important as it to provide homes for kids, there has to be funds to support them. It is the same reason there is an occupancy limit on a lifeboat even if there are more people on board the sinking ship. It is the same reason they tell you to put on your own air mask before helping everybody else.
It is because you end up doing more harm than good if you are not really capable of helping. You end up hurting everybody.
Are those scenes from the border heartbreaking? Yes. Do I want to help young kids? Absolutely. Do I cringe watching my fellow Americans protest kids in ugly displays? Of course.
But contrary to popular lib opinion, it does not make me racist or mean or spiritually bankrupt that I do not want to help them by getting further in debt to China, or by paying an even bigger tax bill, or even worse not figuring out the logistics at all.
The more this topic has been debated in recent days the more I have thought about that scene in Dave. Brief synopsis: The POTUS is a heartless prick. He has a stroke. His aides decide to hire a presidential impersonator to play him. Only his look alike is a bleeding heart liberal who objects when they cut funding for a homeless shelter. The advisors them tell him: “If you want your precious shelter, go find the $656 million in the budget for it.”
This feels right, actually. If a policy or program means enough to us, then we must be willing—in a time when this country finds itself under crippling debt—to cut something else.
This is how families work in America, or how they used to before too many began living beyond their means on credit cards and insane mortgages and loans. Of course, we created bailouts for those decisions. And you know who paid for that? Taxpayers like myself, like you. And when that was not enough money, we borrowed and stayed borrowing and borrowed more. As a country. Fail to repay loans. Get a bailout. Pay all bills on time. Live within your means. Save for a rainy day. Pay out the you-know-what on April 15.
Not only is this insanely unfair, it is unsustainable.
If we want to be a position to help real refugees who end up at our borders, we must first put on our own mask. We have to pay off our debt. We have to balance our budget. We have to say no.
Is it heartbreaking. Absolutely. But the answer is not to let every poor kid into our country, into our health-care system, into our schools, into our already strapped child-welfare system. Especially now. We are having trouble taking care of our own, or have we forgotten the sorry state of our public schools? Or the amount of time it takes for a veteran who served his country to see a doctor in a VA hospital? Or the daily influx of news about kids in crisis in this country?
I am not saying we never let another kid across the border. There are true refugees, fleeing unspeakable violence and ugliness, and we have a moral obligation to help. We also have a moral obligation to our own kids to have a plan beyond “Hey, we paid for this by borrowing more money from China. Good luck paying that off kids”.
I read a column recently in my Star-Telegram, saying this was a complex problem. It was a non-opinion, really, bland and intellectually dishonest. A solution is actually quite simple. If we as a country want to be able to do something with those kids at the border, beyond turning them into talking points about how heartless Republicans are and how fiscally inept Democrats are, we have to be strong enough to help. And we are not. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.
So I will say it again, that thing I am not supposed to say. My heart breaks for those kids at the border. But I do not think throwing money we do not have at a problem with no solution is the right thing to do. Even if it feels good to say otherwise.
I have a pile of Hobby Lobby detritus in my garage at this moment, paper straws in chevron prints and red-white-and-blue streamers and card stock for making flash cards. Yes, flash cards. I know. I need help. When I bought these items a week ago, The Supreme Court had yet to rule on Hobby Lobby’s petition to be able to opt out of providing certain forms of birth control to employees under The Affordable Care Act. Nor, if I am being honest, did I entertain this impending decision before walking in and consuming. My thoughts were only on decorating my 5yo’s bicycle for our neighborhood Fourth of July parade and how to properly accessorize the lemonade stand we had recently built.
Now I look at them, this pile of stuff, and I beat myself up. Of course, the better thing for my daughter, my sweet little daughter, is to personally unfund Hobby Lobby who so obviously thinks so very little about the majority of their shoppers. Mostly women. Mostly crafty, family-oriented women. Mostly bright, educated women capable of deciding, in conjunction with their doctor, what form of birth control to use.
I know the argument, by the way, the religious freedom argument being used to say Hobby Lobby should not have to pay for medicine or procedures they do not agree with morally. And you know what, I might actually concede this if not for that whole slippery slope thing.
Because when we allow one group to opt out of laws that govern us all, even for religious reasons, we open the door for others to do likewise. Thus the slippery slope. And this is why Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissent is so powerful. The Notorious RBG gets at the very heart of this idea of the dangers of letting people opt-out of societal standards when she writes:
The Court’s determination that RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects. Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood–combined with its other errors in construing RFRA–invites for-profit entities to seek religious-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith. … The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.
But what does the majority white, male court care? The field will not be littered with men unable to get medical care deemed appropriate by their doctors. Because, apparently, Viagra fits nicely into everybody’s religious beliefs. No, that burden will be born by women, women who more often than not are incapable of providing for this care with the paltry sum paid to them by The Lobby.
I posted my thoughts on this on Twitter (@engeljen) almost immediately and what I heard again and again in defense of Hobby Lobby scared me. Guys were arguing The Lobby is not responsible for the irresponsible choices of women. Wait, what? The conclusion by many defenders of The Lobby seemed to be that birth control, morning-after pills and, yes, abortion are deterrents stopping women from being more sexually responsible. And, as an offshoot, helping keep guys in line, too. Because, you know, that is on US.
It is not. What is on us, women of all moral beliefs and political stripes, is to finally fight back against this constant whittling of our rights. Because the other thing about a slippery slope is eventually they will get to a right that matters to you and by then it will be too late.
So no more chevron striped straws, no more streamers, no more anything from The Lobby. I am morally opposed to abortion. Likewise, I am morally opposed to a bunch of old white guys overruling my doctor, or yours, or that of any woman. I am doing this for my 5yo daughter. And for yours. The Notorious RBG needs our help, our voices. She needs us to join the dissent.
So in terms of extraordinarily unlikely occurrences, my Wednesday morning ranked fairly high.
I woke up crazy early to teach a 5:30 am yoga class. Like 4:30 am early. I read a Harvard Business Journal article I had bookmarked about Anthony Bourdain. Not about sports. And I took away this really smart, yogic principle of mise-en-place.
Mise-en-place is French phrase which loosely translates to get your kitchen in order before starting to cook which loosely translates into every area of your life.
The tiny point was Bourdain, a crazy popular chef and TV personality, organizes his kitchen before cooking. Nothing Earth-shattering here, right? Even nascent chefs like myself do this. The bigger (and actual) point was we all need this brief planning session before we go about the business of tackling our days.
Before we open an email. Before we write a blog. Before we teach a yoga class. Before, before, before, we need to think ahead and ask ourselves: The day is over and I am going to bed with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. What happened?
Answers will vary, of course. I ran five miles. I closed a big deal. I asked for a raise. I quit. I held a lemonade stand with my daughter. I stood up for myself against that bully. I invited a friend for lunch. I answered truthfully.
You see, of course, how vastly different this is from a to-do list which, all too often, is a list of what feels important to other people. Your boss, your spouse, your kid, people not named you. This is not wrong this doing for others. This is just how one ends up, at the end of a day or a year or a life, feeling like things happened to them instead of like they happened to life.
So take 10 minutes this morning and ask yourself: I feel amazing about how Wednesday went. What happened? Now go do that, yes right now, this instant. Be a person of accomplishment. Happen to life.
My friend Richard Durrett’s memorial service is this morning. He is more my husband’s friend, really. I just knew him professionally. To know Richard in this way, though, was to feel like you were friends. In the snarky, gossipy, nasty world of sports writers, he felt like a safe haven in a locker room.
He would not ignore The Girl, or be a jerk to me like so many of his brethren.
This kind of radical kindness has been ascribed to Richard a lot and by many in the days since his sudden and shocking death at the staggeringly unfair age of 38. And with every fresh tribute, I was reminded of this TedTalk by David Brooks about the value of and inherent challenges with aiming for a life worth eulogizing rather than a resume-ing. Your resume is filled with skills you bring to the market place; your eulogy is who you are, the nature of your relationships. The challenge, of course, is we live in a society that favors resume and achievement, a life that looks good on Facebook even while reeking of hypocrisy and gossip. So, of course, as humans we spent a majority of our daily life focusing on resume virtues.
How much money, how many Instagram likes. Doing good rather than being good. Reputation, not character.
This is folly, of course. As legendary UCLA coach John Wooden famously said:
Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are.
I love what Brooks says about how to build this depth of character. Start at your signature sin. Anger, gossip, selfishness, cruelty, dishonesty, whatever. And fight this weakness. Because out of this wrestling and struggle, pain and heartache is where this character starts to be constructed, where your eulogy really starts to be written. Every time you say “I am not a clearing for gossip”, every time you say “Yes, of course, I can help”, every time you tell the truth, every time you, like Richard, say “How can I positively impact whoever I come in contact with today?”, every time you do the right thing, even when it is hard, especially when it is hard. every single time you create an imprint. And these imprints become our eulogy.
We think we have plenty of time to start this business of living more authentically, of being kinder and of creating happy. We tell ourselves, like a diet, we will start next week, next year, after we finish this one stressful project, after we take down this one enemy, after we get a little bigger house. Unfortunately, this is not true. Time is not guaranteed, certainly better use of it is not.
Richard was uber healthy. And young. And he is dead.
I have all of the emotions most people do about this: Angry and sad and disillusioned, struggling to find a why in this kind of tragedy, wondering where God was in all this. I have no answers. And I do not believe in slapping philosophical meaning into tragedy like we inexplicably love to do this in country, like saying “everything happens for a reason” is in any way comforting.
I do not believe Richard died for a reason. I just believe he died.
The comfort, if there is any to be found, is in how he lived, how he was always connecting and giving people his best and building up instead of tearing down, his positivity and yes his ability to make everybody feel like a friend.
These do not fit well on a resume. They do, however, make for a great life. And so on this day where we say goodbye to Richard, the best tribute to him is to start working on your own eulogy.
So George Will, a usually erudite if somewhat boring columnist, penned a little essay this weekend saying being a victim of sexual assault is “a coveted status that confers privileges”.
That wacky Will. Oh wait, girls, he was serious.
He went there, denigrating sexual assault survivors, apparently because he takes umbrage with President Obama offering to help end a rape culture on college campuses, a rape culture Will says does not exist.
Yes, Will argues statistics suggesting 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college are as flawed as the win statistic for pitchers in baseball. The numbers are inflated, Will argues, because coming forward and saying you were a victim of sexual assault is so chic, so fun filled and so loaded with privileges not afforded to males on campus.
Paying for your own rape kit. Taking an AIDS test. Being asked what you were wearing, how much you drank, were you to blame. Being called a liar. A whore. Being scared, being sad, being depressed.
I mean the list of perks of coming forward and trying to get justice on a sexual assault is just endless, which is why national statistics say like 2 in every 3 sexual assault victims never even report what happened. Never tell police. Never tell anybody. Just choke what happened down, and hope it does not destroy them from the inside. If you know anybody who has been raped, you know how true this is and you know just how wrong Will is and why his words are just so ugly and cruel.
All we have to do is look at what keeps happening in India, and Africa, and lands far away. Girls raped. Girls killed. Backs turned. We say “how awful”, “what an awful way to treat women” yet I have to wonder are we any better when men like Will, smart enough to know better, write that being a sexual assault victim is a privilege? Or how we live in a country where joking about rape is OK. Or when females complain about this they are met with rape threats.
I know what I am talking about, too. I promise you that. Want to immerse yourself in sexism? Read comments after my columns on FoxSports.com where I am called ugly, told to get my butt in the kitchen and, yes, occasionally threatened with rape. And the only way to fight this is to write more/talk more, speak out more forcefully and keep talking until heard.
What we need are more female columnists in this country, more strong female voices in politics, more average everyday moms and daughters and sisters to say enough.
Enough of this War On Women. Enough of pretending sexual assault is like being prom queen. Enough of talking about women’s bodies like they do not come equipped with brains capable of making decisions for themselves.
We American women keep letting Republican and Democratic (mostly male) politicians divide us on issues that, frankly, are only talking points for them and they have zero real-life experience with and thereby no real consequences for their choices.
It is easy to say rape is a privilege when you have never been raped. It is easy to say abortion is always wrong when you have never had to decide what to do with a baby conceived during rape. It is easy to say mammograms are luxuries and birth control is for whores when they impact your life not in the least.
And so this is less a George Will rant and more “wtf” for all of my female friends—red and blue, Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew and atheist, SAHM and working moms and grand moms and women who have a mom. Let us take back the conversation about issues that impact us, let us decide what is best for our bodies, our daughters, our lives.
Because that power is not only a privilege we have in this country but a responsibility. One we have not taken seriously enough.
Right now in yogaland, where I have been begrudgingly given a passport but still very often feel like an awkward tourist, almost everybody has done or is doing a daily handstand challenge. And these are cool. No really, handstand is one of the coolest positions in all of yoga because the simple act of standing on your hands encompasses so much of what I believe yoga to really be about. Overcoming fear. Shifting your vision. A return to play. Strength, grace, determination. And I want-wanted to do a 365-day challenge, too, to post daily a picture of my rock star, lean body rocking out a perfectly aligned handstand except I do not have such a beast in my yoga practice. Or such a body. I have a wobbly, against a wall, handstand-ish pose. And who is inspired by #wobblyyogi? #noteventeachingaclassyogi? #doesotherworkoutsyogi?
So I was going to wait. Wait until I had a strong handstand. Wait until I weighed less. Wait until I looked better and therefore felt selfie-ready. Wait until I was teaching regularly. Not only was I going to wait but I was content to wait, happy to delay the start of yet another thing I wanted to do. Then, my daughter chose Seuss for one of her bedtime books. Specifically “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. And I am reading about “a most useless place, The Waiting Place… … for people just waiting. or waiting around for a Yes or No. or a pot to boil, or a Better Break. or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.”
I have included only Seuss’ capitalized examples because these, to me, feel like when he was writing for big kids, big kids like me who tend to get stuck on perfection and fair and wanting to be best.
Every time I read this book a new part speaks to me. And on this day, the part about escaping The Waiting Place felt brilliant.
With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you are that kind of guy.
That is the kind of guy I want to be, one that is ready for anything under the sky, ready to embark on a 365-day challenge that likely will be messy and have great highs and a few terrifying lows. I want to be the kind of guy who shows her imperfect so others are inspired to do likewise. Hell, a couple of days ago I shared on social media an ugly picture from my childhood, a picture I for a long time had been ashamed to admit existed. And what I heard back was:
Me, too. I still feel that way. Be kind to yourself. You were beautiful. How brave.
And so with that in mind, and in the same spirit of handstand a day projects, I am going to take a photo of and document my daily sweat—be that yoga or running or bootcamp or anything else I decide to try. For a year. Yes, a whole year. What I am committing to is big, especially for me a chronic starter and quitter. I am promising to sweat once a day, even if my daily sweat is a wobbly handstand, or 10 sun salutations in the front yard with Vivian, or a walk.
I am doing this for a couple of reasons. 1. To motivate myself to sweat once a day. Yay. 2. Motivate others to sweat once a day. Double yay.
Because I know I am not alone. I know I am not the only one who views health and exercise, days and years, and yes even life as an all-or-nothing pursuit. Either I am rocking out the world’s best handstand for 365 days in a row or I am shoveling in pizza and beer. So I am committing to sweating once a day. That little. That much. And I’d love to have you join me, or me join you, invite me to your favorite workout, or come join me as I teach or take a yoga class, or bootcamp, or let’s do handstands together somewhere, wobbly imperfect handstands.
You can follow my journey at Blogs Like A Girl. On Twitter: @engeljen On Facebook: Jen Floyd Engel
ps. That picture is of me and my daughter after a bunch of runs on the Slip And Slide, in our side yard, in my swimsuit, running and belly flopping for all the world to see. And this is progress, proof I am getting over this whole not good enough, ashamed of me and how I look thing.
The best thing about the worst times of your life is they give you a bench mark, a place to go back to when right now seems particularly painful and unbearable. It allows you to breathe and remember. It could be worse. It has been worse. I survived. And now, I giggle at the memory.
When this picture was taken, I was in fifth grade. I had not yet realized how nerdy and uncool and, yes, ugly I was. That realization would come in a couple of years. In this picture, though, I was just comfortable being me—preppy nerdster before being so was cool.
Middle school slapped a little bit of that from me, each year my picture skewed more toward center as I attempted to hide my nerdy and cover up my ugly. What I realized now, looking at this picture and those that followed, is I really like this photo. This was me embracing being myself despite my flaws. My glasses were crazy big and my hair kind of totally looked like a dude’s but (and I don’t know if you can tell this by the picture) I did not care. I was happy with my imperfect self. I actually, and my sister Amy can totally attest to this, thought I was The GREATEST. I was smart and funny and opinionated and athletic. I mean who would not like that? As it turns out, lots of people. Mostly guys. Guys who like blonde and beautiful and not me. But again, those days were still years ahead and, on this day, I thought I had nailed this school photo.
It was only later, and by later I mean 7th grade and as recently as when I started at Fox Sports less than a year ago and well into my 30s, when I tried to be somebody else’s thinner, blonder, prettier version of myself, that I really started to hate me. Because self hatred always, always begins with the premise that what you are is not good enough. Maybe, somebody else convinces you. Maybe, you convince yourself. It does not matter. When you come from a place of “I’m not … ” or “I lack … ” the destination is always a little bit of loathing. And it is way harder to look back at those glimpses of yourself than awkward 5th-grade you. This picture day massacre does not embarrass me at all whereas a few others, where I looked “prettier” but not me are painful to look at. Those are the ones that I look at and say “What was I thinking?”
As I stared at this photo this morning, before deciding to turn this into my #tbt contribution, I felt such love for this girl. For myself. She was brave. She was beautiful. And she did not give a fuck. There is bravery in facing the world without the armor of good looks or blonde hair or perfect skin, without being the tallest or prettiest or thinnest. It is brave to think you are good enough anyway. It is brave to think everything is possible for you anyway. It is brave to know what is coming and go forward anyway.
Fifth-grade me might not have been beautiful but she had Navy SEAL levels of brave. And needed every damn bit.
And this is the best thing about the worst times of your life, you can look back and remember just how strong you were and this gives you guts for what you are facing and proof. Yes, it is mostly proof that you are strong enough to handle whatever comes your way. With a caveat. Hard things are best faced without masks, without apologies for who you are, without hair extensions. Because if you are taking on something big, you at least want yourself as an ally. You want to be able to look at yourself and say “Rock on, bad ass!” This is damn near impossible to do while simultaneously telling yourself “Hey dork, they are right. You are ugly.” That is not an ally, and that person is of not help to you.
So this is mainly for the dorks and the nerds, the uglies and the uncool ones, the glasses-wearing, bad hair-having, yoga pants-wearing, zit-infested among us: Remember to always embrace being you. Because the world needs you, exactly as you are. We have enough fashionistas and cool kids. Be you. And realize that is beautiful.
Twitter, Facebook and social media were ablaze with Maya Angelou tributes and quotes and remembrances Wednesday; a nod to this revered artist’s impact on a world that tends to ignore genius when it comes in packaging like Angelou’s.
Woman. Black. Intelligent. Opinionated.
So I feel pretty confident saying the world mourns Angelou not simply because she was an accomplished writer and teacher and artist and human. Many of those exist. Nor was it her distinguishing physical features—woman, black—because many talented writers and artists with those characteristics exist, too. No, what resonated about Angelou was unabashedly herself she was. She did not strike me as someone who shrunk down to fit the smallness of those around her. Instead she towered above and dared them to rise, too.
Of all of the quotes of hers circulating, and I have relied on many, this one about girls is my favorite. In a world that too often tells girls to blend, to not rock the boat, to not be bossy, bitchy, demanding or so many others ways that men just get to be, Angelou stayed true to “be what you have to be to be able to live with yourself”.
Angelou also had a few thoughts about complaining. Mostly stop. So I hope this does not sound like complaint. I am just tired of living in a world where young girls are kidnapped in Nigeria for going to school and shot down in California as retribution for a guy’s inability to get laid and double standard after double standard. And I think Angelou would want us to tell the truth.
Her mantra was living truth. And perseverance.
"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."
What Angelou knew for sure was the world will beat you down, and it is your job to keep getting back up, to unabashedly be you and not care if they like it.