Too

"I don't care about blame. I care about solutions."

--

I've thought really long and hard about the #metoo posts. About my own experiences being a female, being a young professional woman, being a wife, being divorced, and being a friend. I've thought about my experiences in a world that digs into women at almost every turn. About trying desperately to explain to men that the harassment and abuse I have experienced aren't isolated. About the perceived minor infractions that made me feel unsafe or threatened simply because of the potential for danger. About how it feels to be interrupted, disregarded, or ignored in professional situations, or the rattling questioning and expectations about my dreams and aspirations simply because of my gender. About the drowning feeling that occurs when someone tells me I am overreacting when, in fact, I am simply responding to a society that devalues women's reality of living in a male-powered world. 

I have thought about the hollow "I'm sorries," that easily flow from male mouths when they watch disrespect up through sexually overpowering language or actions. Sympathetic pity enables a subtle form of shame. Sympathy is not helpful. It is not an action. And it, most certainly, is not a solution. Those "Not every guy..." comments that silently whisper, "Don't you dare hold us accountable," that we hear trying to create separation between our experiences and your responsibility. These excuses fuel blame fires that we are never quite able to get far enough away from to shake the faint smell of burnt ash from our skins.

Allies do not create distance, they move to the center of the issue and hold hands with the victims and their pain. 

I have thought about how rare it is for men to ask how these situations make us feel. What emotions we experience. To compassionately try to stare into the raw fear they create, the demoralization and damage they cause. To honor those emotions as real and living and space shifting for us. How rare I am asked, "Tell me what impact this has had on how you view yourself and feel about the world around you." How common it is that I am defending my right to feel offended and outraged at the power men hold over women with their words and actions and assumptions.

For many of us, the words to describe our experiences do not do justice to the feelings these experiences have caused. The inability to breathe when a man asserts power in the form of a sexual comment or degrading remark. The pain that rises up from shame. The hidden nature of these experiences have no real good words because there is no word in our language to fully explain the fear that comes from them. But we feel it. Lasting and heavy. Through our bodies, in our chests, and out our throats. For many people, it is hard to honor experiences, truly internalize them, if they are not our own. But a lack of one's own experience will never make someone's experience less real.

Allies do not disregard the experiences of others. They hold hands with those impacted and then work to remind the disbelievers that these situations are a truth that others live with daily.

In a society with no word to describe the power struggle between genders, we have one choice: To stand together in our magnitude of a fear that has become normalized, and to remind others of the definition of too.

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It is not just me. It is not just her. It is not just them. It is an undesirable, excessive, unduly, inordinate, unreasonable number of women. Alone, we are but one voice, but we are not just one experience.

We are the experiences that when shared amongst women in private, are almost always responded to with, "Me, too." The too is all of us. The too is our also, as well, in addition, and our likewise. Because these experiences are so common we have many examples to give. It is a too that we have learned to silence, to fake, to shake off. It is a too sometimes so damaging we cannot speak it or share it. It is the too that we have been taught to be ashamed of. But now, we are part of the too that must reflect a mirror back on society in a way that allows no hiding place from the reflection. 

Because it is too many. And we demand you pay attention.

Building a Wall

Although, in truth, nothing was the same. She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything… (Oliver Jeffers)

--

Over the last year, there has been a lot of talk about building walls. I know so many that cringe when this is discussed, myself included. Walls are limiting. They create boundaries. Us. Against. Them. Keep out. Damage and hate and isolation.

It is a bleak time to be discussing walls, I get it.

This summer was incredibly slow for me. I gave up a lot of what had previously been on my plate. I transitioned into a job that requires less emotional effort. I didn't travel. I bought a house. I settled into a pace slower than I was comfortable with and trusted that learning to listen to my heart beat slowly, for the first time in memory, would be good for me.

In March, when I purchased my home, I had a moment when I sat down and really wondered if I was insane. This house, all mine, with so many rooms, would soon offer refuge to strangers. I felt crazy. I loved living alone in my small one bedroom apartment, why was I disrupting this seemingly perfect existence with such an enormous risk?

But it felt right. That was really the only answer I found when I searched, and that seemed to be good enough to propel me forward.

In a lot of ways, that feeling has grown. As I moved in and started to hand my heart over to this new home, I realized there was something more to this than I had realized. Something beautiful and true I apparently knew about myself but didn't realize: I have always been searching for a home. And seemingly, I have found it.

When I met this house for the first time, I had a moment of disorientation. There was a wall, a large wall, that caught me off guard. When I entered, I wasn't prepared for this structural monstrosity. Spanning the entire length of the home, this bare and sturdy wall, completely naked other than a coat of beige paint, pulled me close. The unpredictable nature left me slightly breathless. I trusted this wall, and I trusted this house. 

Over the last six months, I have found this wall to be something fantastical. I have struggled to figure out what exactly to do with it. It holds up a place that I can be crushingly vulnerable yet shatteringly safe. It doesn't waiver. It just pulls me in, each and every time I enter. It soothes and sits and waits. It doesn't demand, yet it commands respect. I have spent a long time staring down the length of this wall wondering how I can show it the right, and appropriate, love.

I thought this wall deserved some art. Or maybe I thought I deserved some art. Either way, I begin to search for beauty to give it. Pieces that represent how I feel: a journey, love, home, shame, loss, strength, or any other feeling I am momentarily throwing around in the aftermath of divorce and discovery and heartbreak. I added a mantle because that is warmth, I added a piano, mainly because I fell madly in love with this old, broken thing upon seeing it and I thought it appropriate to represent that reckless part of my heart on this wall. But building this wall of love isn't easy. It isn't complete with some nails and some keys stuck up against it.

Building this wall began to reveal the pieces of myself I was also building. From a blank slate to something deeper that is pieced together with laughter and tears and so many unsure moments of satisfaction and regret.

With some help from a local artist, I started to consider a mural on this wall. It is still, at this moment, hard for me to imagine, but the concept is coming together slowly. A piece that grows. A mural that isn't finished quickly and whose next phase of development is unknown. An evolving work that is delicately crafted with trust and bonds and an opening of the heart, revealing a journey that remains unknown until it is experienced with forwarding motion and a ton of faith.

Building this wall isn't easy. Mainly because it requires me to dismantle so many other walls I have built over the last few years. Walls that mercilessly reshaped my heart and my beliefs and, me. Those walls need to come down to build this new wall. This wall is different. It pulls in instead of pushing out. It reveals instead of shutting things away. It creates openness rather than binding shut. It requires me to stop hiding. In so many ways, I am unsure if I am fully ready for what that means.

But, building this wall feels right. And if I have learned anything, it is that this feeling is worth following.

Big House, Many Suitcases

"Can you imagine who you'll be in five years?" she asked.

"What an incredible question. Let me show you," he answered. 

--

Last year, the Baltimore Museum of Art opened an exhibit called Imagining Home. The experience was everything I always hope art to be: interactive, beautiful, surprising, and uncomfortable. As someone that has reimagined and reworked my definition of home over the past few years, this exhibit designated with a depth I had not anticipated. 

At the end of the exhibit, there was a table with stacks of postcards and blank labels. Above the table stood directions to answer questions about your definition of "home" on the postcards. Your card should then to be slipped into a box. You could also write an address on the blank label and release that into another box. The museum staff would then randomly match each postcard with an address label and mail them away into the universe.

Pretty cool, huh?

About a month later, this experience more of a shadow than a bright light in my memory, I received this. A modest haiku, written by the hand of a stranger, made its way into my one-bedroom apartment on Saint Paul Street. I loved everything about this home. It had a surprisingly personal history I only discovered after moving in, and it quickly became a character in my life. In the two years I lived there I traveled a lot and came to discover that while I loved the rush of traveling there was no place I would rather return to than Baltimore. 

This is one the most important truths I have come to learn about myself as an adult.

I decided to make true my commitment to Baltimore and buy a house here. While looking at houses and trying to find my right match, I uncovered that I was wildly attracted to three story houses (read: homes way too large for one woman and cat). This attraction brought to the surface a wild notion I had nurtured years before of having a "reflection home–" a place people could come to gather, retreat, recharge, eat, laugh, and love. 

A place we could be ourselves, together.

My search soon took me to the edge of East Baltimore and into a home that made my heart ache. I was seduced by the large, open staircase that winds through the middle of all three stories of this home. I was enchanted by the transition and grit of the neighborhood. I was in love with the energy that lives in the walls of this 1920's Baltimore rowhome. Knowing this was the one, I purchased this home, welcoming my first guests in two weeks later. Though not exactly the reflection home I had imagined just yet, over a dozen people for all over the world have rested, eaten, uncovered, laughed, and loved in my home. 

For many years I thought that I would build a life around the philosophy of "small house, big suitcase." The restlessness. The travel. The excitement and the unknown (!)– I could have sworn it would be all I ever needed in this life. But strangely, this settled life is gripping me tightly. The roots, the stability, the time spent building a foundation just feels so smooth and easy all of a sudden. The space to wake up and ask myself the questions that are hard to answer– this life feels pretty good to stand in the middle of and own. 

I didn't know it would. But it does. And I like it. 

So as life has a way of doing, my philosophy is slowly shifting to meet my new self-discovery and budding life in a beautiful space of truth, honesty, and authenticity. Slowing down seems to suit me. In practicing this, I invite you, travelers, to come to me. If you find yourself in Baltimore or would just like to come visit, Hemingway and I are excited for everyone we love to help us make this house home.

We have time, safety, and sunlight waiting for you in Baltimore. I can't wait to see you soon.

31 Approaches

" I am so excited to see you," she whispered, vulnerably.

" I wish I could say the same," he shot back with a smirk.

She could only look away as she tried to hide her cracking heart.

--

When I was in college, I learned that I could be Type A. Before this point, I had no idea how to organize, plan, predict, or get anything done. Once I got a taste of the control this brought into my life, I was hooked. Getting shit done was my drug. 

This trait has only deepened as I've grown older. With little exception, every area of my life is tainted by a very stern need to control outcomes with high-energy and ambitious attacks of tasks. My personal and professional goals are carefully outlined, the action steps are calculated, and satisfaction comes when things are accomplished before deadlines and above expectations.  

But thirty has been a different kind of year for me. It wasn't the most transformational year, or the hardest year, or the most exciting year. It was, though, a year that was wholly unexpected. Nothing about my life ended up as I predicted or planned. I did a lot of things that took me aback, both positively and negatively. It was the first year of my adult life I wasn't in love. I took risks but not with the kind of enthusiasm I have experienced in the past (more with daunting, dragging-myself-forward motion). I cried more as a thirty-year-old woman than any other year of my life. Yet, felt the most content in my skin than any other year of my life.

Thanks for totally fucking with me, 30. 

Sometimes life is like that. You learn truths about yourself and they don't really shock or scare you, even if you're blindsided by them. You just accept them and keep moving, albeit little changed. I think that's called growing up.

As I exit the first year of my 30's, I find myself approaching this human existence in a few new ways:

  1. Giving words, hugs, gifts, time, and love in small, unexpected moments is a disarming act that I am dedicated to practicing, even if it is uncomfortable. It feels so much better to give than to take.
  2. Being okay with falling apart, a little, sometimes, and without judgment of myself.
  3. Allowing others to take care of me, even when every thread of my existence wants to resist.
  4. Reaching out instead of pulling back. Holding hands. Kissing. Crying into someone's neck. Rubbing a shoulder or back. Pain is soothed by touch. Sensory experiences connect us.

In all the grace I can muster, I will slide into 31 as it arrives. This time, without plans.

All the Noise

"You're just free," he kept reminding her.

"Does that make you nervous?" she would ask.

"I haven't decided, yet," he answered. Until he had. And it did.

--

Almost two years ago, I decided to get rid of my television. Sort of. Really, I moved and didn't take a television with me. I made a home on the third level of a beautifully historical rowhome, in a space that I fell deeply in love with, and a TV didn't seem to fit the space or my new life. 

At night, I would lay on the couch, or sit in my window seat, and listen to the city. The urban soundtrack, I called it. Sometimes I would have music playing; sometimes I would dance. Other times I would turn on a podcast, doing work at my desk or just sitting quietly to listen. Lots of evenings I would read. All with this urban soundtrack softly humming in the background. It became reliable and nurturing.

For the first time in most of my life, I controlled the noise. When I sat down, it was with great purpose: to work; to read; to write; to listen. That thing people refer to as "being present." I controlled the way my home sounded and felt by eliminating a television and it drastically changed the way I interacted with everything else in my space.

Every day we are surrounded by noise we can't control. Some of it is damaging. Some of it is crushing. A lot of it happens without our permission. Noise from people, media, co-workers, family, lovers. A lot of us live with a ton of static noise within our own heads. It distracts. It creates anxiety. It blunts our senses. In a lot of ways, it is a subtle build, and we don't even realize it is happening.

The noise isn't always bad. There can be beauty in noise. But even beauty can be overwhelming when we can't manage it. Or worse, the background static becomes comfortable, making it impossible for us to understand how anyone could live without it.

I have no resolutions this year. Nothing major I want to make resolute, and I am steadfast in that decision. But I have some particular ways of living I want to invest in and tend to this year. Some are small, a few larger, but most extremely personal. To be open and free, to accept what I want for my life without judgment of myself. To be unwavering in my conviction to certain needs and beliefs, while flexible enough to change my mind and pivot.

And when I can't control it, to move through the noise with a grace.