Never Have I Ever: A Sort-Of Book Review

neverhaveA few days ago, I had an epiphany: I fundamentally feel as if I’m unrelatable. I never operate from a premise that people will understand me, or be able to emotionally connect with what I’m going through. So far, people just assume that I’ve had certain life experiences (ie: dating) when I haven’t. It actually kinda blew up in my face when I admitted at an old job that I never dated before.

So when I read the snippet of an aptly named memoir: Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without A Date on HuffPo awhile ago, I was hooked. Within three days I devoured Katie’s book about how she’d never had a boyfriend, a short term fling, or ANYTHING for twenty-five years of her life. (She’s now just turned 27). Although our narratives are rather different, it felt just plain good to find another person who is like me. Or, at least, really similar to.

My (lack of) experience with dating, sex and romance overall is a gigantic sore point for me. Just like Katie mentions in her book, had you told my ten year old self that I would’ve gone this long without ever dating, I probably would’ve given up then.

One of the other reasons why I was hungry to read Katie’s memoir was because I’m often starved for validation. Affirmation that I wasn’t alone, particularly when people actively ask me about my non-existent dating life, or assume I understand what they mean when they talk about certain things. It’s a weird perspective to entertain when I read posts about people being alone for the first time on Valentine’s Day, when I’ve never had a date.

And now that I’ve recently turned 26, I’ve been turning it over more and more in my mind. On one hand, as Kate mentions in her book, my perpetual state of singleness means that my time is my own. I’m completely free – no one’s interests to balance with mine, no compromising, no having to check in when it comes to finances, or plans of any kind. And as I get older, this level of independence becomes increasingly addictive.

Being a late bloomer has its pitfalls, and it’s certainly a struggle feeling left behind in the unspoken race toward couple-dom. But also being forced to live with yourself in a way that not many other people do lends itself well to thinking more deeply about what I want out of my life, realizing that I’m important, and that I’m not defined by my relationship status (whatever it may be).

This is one of the hardest lessons I’m learning: it’s okay for my life to not look like anyone else’s.

(p.s. : A lot of people look at works like these and assume it’s a ‘woe is me’ tale about feeling lesser than for not dating. And while Katie never seemed to have felt that way, it’s not unusual to feel undesirable because you’re not dating, but your friends are. Overall, this memoir focused more on shit simply not working out, particularly in the way that you want. And while I’m more romantically aggressive than Katie talks about in her book – I’ve blatantly approached every person I wanted to date – the results are still similar. And it’s reassuring to “meet” someone who has the same late bloomer qualities that I have). 

 

 

 

Driver’s Seat Interview: Kylie Bellard

Hello!

Kylie

Kylie

Each month I’m going to showcase a new person (normally a blogger) who I think is being really awesome and taking control of their own lives. They’re the people in the driver’s seat, and are choosing to be more purposeful in getting what they want. This next person is Kylie Bellard, who blogs about introversion, shyness and being kind to yourself. I really enjoyed her posts on being highly sensitive person  and I adored her photography.

1. What is your ideal day like? Are you close to living that right now?

I’m definitely not one to have a super-specific ideal day. Every day is different, and I like it that way! However, there are certain elements of great days that I strive for as much as I can. Ten minutes of meditation, a morning walk, yummy meals eaten mindfully. A span of uninterrupted time for writing and/or photography. A coaching session or two. Some sweat-inducing form of exercise. And maybe even a chat with a friend, in person or on the phone. And then, at the end of the day, non-work time for socializing, unwinding, and non-doing. Also hugs. All days need hugs.

I don’t do all of these things every day. But I’m definitely on my way there. I get walks and meditation in much more than I used to. And I’m sure I’ll get even better at implementing more of the “ideal” stuff regularly as time goes on.

2. What is it that you desire the most for your life? What would you want your obituary to say? 

I most want to live a life that’s kind to me and kind to others. I want to spend that life with close friends and family, and in nature. I also really want a dog.

I’ve never thought about what I want my obituary to say! Probably something like, “Kylie consciously brought kindness and compassion to the people she knew. She was funny, and enthusiastic, and full of play. She leaves behind the hope that we all aspire to enjoy dark chocolate, or whatever our favorite thing is, as often as humanly possible.”

3. What initially sparked you to go about creating the type of life you want? (ie: Some people get broken up with, laid off/fired, etc before changing their mindset).

 I first discovered what life coaching was when I was at a job that was totally burning me out emotionally and physically. I had known that I wanted to create a life that was more self-directed for a while, but until then, I’d never actually imagined that it was truly possible. Finding out that this field (of life coaching) existed, this career where you could create your own reality and help others create theirs, just seized my imagination. I signed up for a coach training program, started taking photographs to fund my new educational adventure, and worked toward that lofty dream for the next several years.

4. Do you have a favorite mantra or saying you repeat to keep yourself motivated / centered / clear on your goals?

Right now, there are two. First, I’m always telling myself that “compassion is the way forward.” In most cases, having compassion for myself or another person is a very good first step, especially when I’m feeling emotional or stuck.

Second is a quote by Macklemore, a rapper who’s currently really popular and who’s from my hometown (Seattle): “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint / The greats were great because they paint a lot.” I paired that quote with one of my photographs and set it as my computer background. It really, really keeps me going whenever I get discouraged.

5. What are you working on right now that’s bringing you closer to the life of your dreams?

I have an offering I created called A Day of Nothing. It’s a guided opportunity for people to interact with non-doing, which is often really challenging because our culture is so action-focused. I’ve offered this program a few times in the past, but I’m currently making it into a monthly offering, so folks can implement non-doing as a regular practice. This also helps me to prioritize non-doing, which is absolutely included in the “life of my dreams” (and my current life). It’s also a dream of mine to help people to really understand, with their whole being, that they don’t have to do anything to be worthwhile. They can just be, and that’s enough.

6. What piece of advice would you give someone who is nervous or scared about stepping into the unknown (in terms of going after what they want)?

This is not easy for anyone. It isn’t because people aren’t scared that they’re able to do scary things. It’s that they’ve found ways to move forward, even with their fears. Find people who support you in whatever crazy thing you want to do. Then take the scary first steps, going as slowly as you need to. Then, fall back on your supporters whenever you think you can’t go on.

7. How did you figure out what you wanted to do. Was it a childhood dream? Or did you discover it later on?

Neither coaching nor photography were childhood dreams for me. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer and a singer. Now, I am a writer. It’s a huge part of my work. But coaching and photography are what allowed me to write on my own terms.

When I started both coaching and photography, they just felt good. They felt natural to me, somehow. Even though I was clearly a beginner and didn’t know what I was doing, there was this internal excitement that I knew I loved this stuff and I could work at it and become good at it. Starting to learn how to coach and take photographs felt very much like falling in love, for me.

8. How has your mentality changed (if at all) since you’ve begun creating your life in your own image? 

 

A lot. I now see creating your own path, whether it’s creatively or through business (or both, which I think is most often the case) as one of the most spiritual things you can possibly do. I also know now that anyone who’s had any “success” has worked at it more than we’ll ever know. Even people who are “naturals” at their craft work at it with unbelievable tenacity. I don’t believe in overnight success stories.

 

Lastly, I’m always prowling for inspiration now. I find ideas and encouragement to do what I do everywhere, perhaps most especially outside my industry. I let myself get fired up about the inspiring stuff I find, and it fuels me.
 
Bonus: Oh I really love your blog, your topics – everything!! It’s such a great place to hang out. (We seem to have so many similarities and yet be so different at the same time!) One of the [many] things that really draws me to your blog is your queerness, photography and what it means to be both different and sensitive. How long did it take for you to combine all these (wonderful) facets of yourself into one place? How do you take the time to nurture all these different sides of yourself? 
 
Oh, goodness. Thank you so much! I’m really so delighted to know that my blog feels like a homey, comfortable place for people (for you!).

 

Really, I think combining all my different facets is a lifelong process. I don’t focus too much on which elements of myself I bring to the blog and which I don’t. I aim to have a certain essence of me-ness that infuses everything I do. So I guess it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing (whether it’s cooking, or coaching people, taking photographs, talking about LGBTQ stuff), so long as I’m doing it in a way that represents the values I hold dear. I’m sure this milieu of what I offer will continue to change as I evolve, and as my business grows up.

 

As far as nurturing the various sides of myself, I try to do what feels good. I’m always aiming to give myself the rest I need, to get some creativity in, to write, to have aimless fun. I’m constantly switching things up and course-correcting. There’s no perfect combination that will create a balanced life. There’s just living the best we can with the tools we have available, and tweaking as we go.

 

Driver's Seat logo

 

You Don’t Have to Love Your Body

Thanks to Autumn’s weekly beauty round-ups, I came across this gem of a piece that encapsulates a lot of my thoughts on beauty and my relationship to my body.

woman-low-self-esteemFor ages I’ve had strong antagonistic feelings about “body love” work because much of it was being parlayed by fat* white women (many of whom were also straight and cis), and it was so disconnected to how my relationship with my body began and how it looks now. In fact, I recently had a minor existential crisis (if such a thing exists) over my gender identity not fitting with my expectations for my body. For months I rejected both the concept and label of “womanhood”, choosing to identify closer to gender-neutral.

While “womanhood” is a socially constructed idea comprised entirely of other people’s behavioral expectations for you (many of which are laced with sexism), there are also individually made ideas about what makes someone a woman. It’s an ambiguous term that means very little to me since the way I envision womanhood isn’t aligned with my personal reality. Without going into much depth, I’ll just say that my aspirations for my life as someone who presents as female haven’t at all been met by my day to day living since puberty.

So I recently began to refer to myself as ugly, because that’s how I felt, and it aptly described many of the pitfalls I’ve experienced in my life – especially in the relationship I was(n’t) developing with my body.

But many women shy away from ugliness because it takes you completely out of the game of attractiveness. For many women, the goal isn’t to eradicate the pursuit of beauty, but to make beauty standards more encompassing of different types of women. People don’t long to be unattractive, they long to be attractive in their own way and to have that way recognized. This logically spurs the “body love” movement, the practice of women constantly trying to convince each other that they’re not ugly, but pretty in a unique (ie: unrecognized) way.

This naturally creates an issue for people like me and Elyse who have no desire to love our bodies, or those who don’t wish to participate in the pursuit of beauty in any capacity. Elyse writes:

“But here’s the thing… It’s okay to not love my body. It’s okay to not even like my body. They’re my feelings and it’s my body and I will use those feelings to feel however I want to about my body. I don’t need you to tell me how to feel.

We don’t have to find ourselves beautiful. Beauty is not the one thing that makes us and our bodies worth loving. We don’t have to distort an already fucked-up definition of beauty, and pretend we fit into it, just to feel like we are people worthy of being loved.

Stop telling women that we should find ourselves beautiful and that we should love ourselves when you are standing right there, judging us on how our knees look in short skirts and how prominent our boobs are in a sweater and how much makeup we are or are not wearing.

Instead of us working harder on “love your body” and “find your inner beauty”, the rest of the world should be working harder on “stop telling women their bodies are a shameful place to live but that if they’re strong enough, they will learn to embrace that shame.”

This is my body. It’s not “beautiful”. I don’t “love it”. I don’t have to. I don’t have to have any strong feelings about my body. And whatever feelings I do have are not somehow invalid if they’re not glowing reviews.”

The inherent problem within the body loving mentality is that if you don’t “love your body” (or attempt to make strides toward doing so), then there’s something wrong with you. It inadvertently creates another standard that women are held against, and doesn’t actually solve any of the underlying problems in regards to women, sexism and beauty work. If I call myself ugly (which is my attempt to step away from beauty work) then people think I have self-esteem problems, or experiencing some other form of deep suffering. Women often make it a requirement that you like your body, or else you’ll never know any kind of sustainable happiness.

Naturally, this is complete nonsense. I’m not morally obligated to love my body and any kind of internal peace and happiness I experience will come from cultivating my self-esteem through taking control over my life, being honest about what I want and feeling confident in my ability to deal with hard things. True and lasting self-confidence doesn’t come from loving your body – it comes from loving your life. While you’re here experiencing that life via a body, it’s certainly not required that you be head over heels infatuated with it.

I’m allowed to feel any way about my body, and my face, that I want. If I want to call myself ugly, then I will do that. My body, and my feelings about my body, aren’t up for debate or discussion. If you don’t want to love your body, then you don’t have to and it doesn’t mean you can’t have any of the numerous other things in life that you want.

* I use fat to refer to women whose bodies aren’t represented in mainstream media – which focuses on either thin or hourglass shaped women. Several of the body love/self-esteem blogs I’ve come across are maintained by women whose bodies are at odds with what we see in movies, TV, ads and other forms of entertainment. White/cis/straight are indications of privilege, and so their work tends to come from this place which can be alienating for self-identified women who might be gender-queer, LGBTQ, non-white, etc. So I wanted to highlight those differences which initially effected my relationship to body love/self-esteem blogging. 

Looking at Depression [Quest]

Whenever I become interested in something, I dive in pretty quickly. So when I began to follow some indie game developers online, Depression Quest - a game created by Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler - popped up on my Twitter TL.

Depression quEST

Depression Quest

“Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.”

I struggled with depression for much of my life (if not its entirety). Things worsened rapidly in college where I seemed incapable of making friends, figuring out what I liked – while everyone around me met their BFFs in the second week and knew themselves pretty well. While my depression never kept me in bed, I did sleep a lot (due to boredom and loneliness) and it felt like a dense pressure weighing on my mind. Even as I tried to reach out, I was told that depression was a choice (it’s not), or having my issues completely dismissed by a college counselor (whom I promptly stopped seeing).

While I had never been officially diagnosed, and remained wary of popping any kind of medication - depression was the only word I could find that encapsulated all my thoughts, feelings and general reactions to my environment. Even as a child, I had depressive thoughts and reactions to things, and my mindset gradually worsened with age coupled with awful life experiences.

In no way do I believe that depression is a choice – sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance, other times it’s an accumulation of how you were treated growing up and the messages you received from family, friends, or strangers. Sometimes it’s a combination of all three.

I believe my depression was environmental + genetic : perhaps I was born more susceptible to depression (whether it’s brain chemistry or just how my emotions function) and where I’ve always lived (being treated poorly, not having any real support, etc). Depression, I think, is made harder to bear when you’re surrounded by people who won’t support you because they think you need to snap out of it, or you’re just being pessimistic.

Depression Quest is a really great insight into what it’s like to be living with depression (or at least one kind of it). To me, the narratives seemed to fixate predominantly on thought processes – feeling like you’re a burden to people, feeling like your problem is yours to bear alone, reading into everything and giving yourself a lot of anxiety. When I initially played it, I made sure to click all the options that let me work toward getting my character healthy, happy and whole. In the beginning, I could feel the depression pressing down on my body just from reading the thoughts and feelings, making me desperate to work toward wholeness.

And even with my own history, I still found it intensely insightful while also building my compassion.

Definitely worth checking out.

 

Addiction to Failure

KeyThis post appeared in my inbox, and I just had to share it with you.

It’s (Not) Okay to Fail by Rebecca Thorman of Kontrary 

Part of the reason we are so obsessed with normalizing failure is that we want to feel good about ourselves. And that’s hard right now, no doubt. It’s hard to find a job, to get out of debt, to pursue meaningful work. It’s hard to make time for family, get away from our computers, and engage face-to-face. It’s hard not to compare our bottoms to everyone’s top on Facebook.

I wanted to save this last piece for the end of the week because I loved it the most. It reminded me of what I blogged about earlier this week about expecting good things. The very idea of courting failure, of encouraging others to do it reminds me of pessimism. Expecting bad things to happen.

But being addicted to failing is not just expecting bad things to happen, but to actively take steps to manifest worst case scenarios!

Why would anyone do that? 

Because many aspects of life are hard, and if you’re being honest, you probably don’t have much desire to put in more effort than you’re currently putting in. And many ways, life can feel overwhelming, or like they have no viable solutions. So if things don’t work out, then it’s okay because someone will always be there to pat you on the back and say that you tried.

Failure is boring. Failure usually means you didn’t try something; you didn’t follow through; you didn’t finish. Most people don’t really fail. They succeed at being lazy, and call it failure. But at least they tried. Er, right?

I know in my own life, the situations or choices that didn’t work out, failed because I wasn’t thinking clearly, I wasn’t doing what was necessary to get what I wanted. Basically, I wasn’t showing up for my own life and prepared to take full responsibility for what happened in it.

Purposefully failing, praising people for failing, is like saying it’s okay you didn’t show up for yourself. Not pushing people to want more out of themselves, out of others and life is disempowering. Expecting more and better for people is okay! It’s not a punishment to encourage people to want more, to do more, to push themselves in ways that’ll make them better, happier, and overall closer to their goals.

Persistence is important, because you learn not to give up when things get difficult. Encouraging yourself to think positively about your own success doesn’t mean that you’ll never run into roadblocks or issues. But, don’t expect yourself to fail. Don’t set yourself up to fail because you might be afraid of good things happening to you.

So expect good things, think about what you want and less about what you don’t want and be persistent in your goals. 

Realists Are Just Pessimists

Good Things

I found this really delicious, and admittedly mind-blowing, blog post via my Facebook earlier this week:

When things go terribly right by David at Raptitude

Good Things “There are no realists. Everyone thinks they’re being realistic. Nobody has an objective view of their thinking. Pessimistic thoughts feel realistic to a pessimist. Optimistic thoughts feel realistic to an optimist. If you think you’re a realist you’re probably a pessimist, because obviously you’ve found a reason to tone down expectations.

Expect things to go well. You don’t need a reason first.”

At first I thought I’d have this great examination of how this quote – specifically – meant to me. I’ve never called myself an optimist or a pessimist because I felt it was too binary, too either/or. Now, it’s so much more than that. It’s about how our thoughts influence our relationship to the world, ourselves and the people in our lives. It’s about how we don’t even realize we’re thinking about – even if it’s all the time – until someone points it out.

It feels rational to expect bad things to happen. Don’t go out at night. Don’t travel alone. The world is a dangerous world.  It feels almost normal to be so paranoid, fearful, unsure, living in hiding. Because that’s not just how lots of other people live, it’s how others expect you to live. So everyone is copying each other, not stopping to think that their thoughts aren’t really serving them, or helping them live more fulfilling lives. Because no one is objective about their thinking, and our thoughts change when we meet someone with a different mindset that I like better.

That’s what this quote makes me think of: the way it can be hard to pinpoint what’s wrong but then someone says it so succinctly, and you spot it instantly.

So am I afraid to expect the best?

And if so, why?

The biggest barrier I can think of is fear. Afraid that you’ll expect something that won’t arrive, or if it does, it’ll be awful. Afraid to want better things for yourself because you’re so used to how things are or used to be. I can understand that.

I know for me, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about worst case scenarios – almost daily. Oddly, it felt comforting since it had become so familiar. It’s what I knew. 

“I can’t believe how prominent imaginary bad outcomes were in my life. Most of my life was spent picturing every kind of disaster, from embarrassment to maiming, virtually of it habitual, draining and useless.”

And at the core of my Lent exercise this year is to switch up my thinking so that I can be open to serendipity, so that I’m not scared all the time and can start to view the [my] world with more positivity, with more openness.

That sums up the best advice I could give anyone: think a lot about what you want, and think only sparingly about what you don’t want.

Because, honestly, what do you have to lose?

 

Complain. Do it Loud and Do it Often.

complaint box

complaint boxOne of the perks of the internet are the plethora of ideas – many of which are fascinating – so I wanted to share with you what really helped in shifting my perspective and sparked an internal dialogue:

1. i want you to complain more. here’s why by Kylie at Effervescence

“There’s a lot of complaining going on when people feel they shouldn’t be complaining. There’s a lot of complaining happening that goes unheard by its audience. There are a lot of stifled complaints, and halfhearted complaints to test what’s acceptable in a given venue.

There’s too much pushing away of the negativity. Not enough letting it be there, letting it breathe.”

When I started my 40 day ‘Get Back to Spirit’ project for Lent last month, I kept thinking of what I’d like to add to my self-made, and steadily growing project. On Twitter, one of my followers had announced that she would “not complain” for 40 days, choosing to focus only on the positive, and joyful side of things. Initially I hopped onto this bandwagon, thinking that this was a good spiritual move for me. But it didn’t resonate, and I rejected the notion completely after seeing another woman suggest that people not complain to avoid focusing on negativity.

I erupted on twitter, quickly jotting down my initial thoughts on why women in particular were so drawn to purposefully silencing themselves. To complain is to be heard, it’s about taking up space, being seen. When you complain, you’re letting people know how upset you are, and it’s about acting on those feelings because you know they’re legitimate.

I’m a fairly big complainer. Once me and a friend went to see the horrific Halloween remake by Rob Zombie. Not only was the movie a total waste of my existence, but a guy in front of me was on his cell for the entire film. Afterward, I went to customer service desk and complained about both the quality of the film, and the talkative patron. While my friend seemed sightly embarrassed, I got us free movie passes because of his disturbance.

While complaining can be healthy, you have to know when to do it and with whom. Many people are compulsive advice givers, so if you complain to one of these people, you’ll inevitably have someone offering you steps on what you should to do to correct your situation. Personally, I find this insufferable, and I’ve gotten to a place where I know exactly who I complain to (if I complain to anyone at all). Some compulsive advice givers are really vocal about this, telling people to stay away unless they want their two cents.

There are people, of course, who are addicted to complaining – the sympathetic ear, having people bounce back at you your own sense of righteousness (deserved or otherwise), feeling validated, understood and that your complaint is rational.  The type of people who, every time you talk to them, they’re complaining about something new, the same old or a combination of both. The types of people who get more fulfillment from complaining than actually doing anything about it.

So there’s a balance – you should definitely complain if you feel that your boundaries were crossed, if you felt as if you weren’t being respected, if you felt cheated in some way. Never, ever keep those sentiments to yourself because they’ll fester, and you’ll be pissed for not standing up to yourself. But you also need to know when your complaining is hypocritical (ie: fuming when your room mates don’t wash the dishes while you don’t wash yours) or when they infringe on someone else’s ability to live their life (ie: when your friends are always complaining about your clothes and expect you wear something they like).

Complaining is about acknowledging your own unhappiness or discomfort with an idea, a person or attitude. Never alone someone to silence you because they’re uncomfortable with our complaining. So complain. Do it loud and do it often. 

Crafting an Identity

How do you start a post about your identity?

Credit to : Calamity Kim

Do I talk about my racial background? When I did copy-editing for an indie magazine focusing on black women’s narratives, pretty much everyone focused on being black, on being part of the African diaspora. I didn’t relate to that.

Should I talk about my sexuality? How I’ve been rolling it around in my head, trying to figure out where I belong, how I fit in – even though ultimately it doesn’t matter?That it’s more about love, compatibility, connectedness than it is about sex or gender expression?

Do I bemoan my educational background and the amount of loans its burdened me with? How I dread SallieMae and wish they would get swallowed up by the Earth and free me from my debt! That would, however, be really awesome. 

What about my own internal processes? How my faith seems sated only when I get what I want, how I go into a tailspin when things don’t go according to plan, the way I try to motivate myself with little success, the goals I wish I was achieving but am not? How lazy I am! 

Should I mention my external happenings? Living at home in a cramped situation, working a minimum wage job with no real potential for growth, wandering through a city I don’t like. Too bad my world won’t change over night!

Identity is a complex arrangement of all these nuances and more, and is liable to change. I’ve gotten a new job, in a new city that I’ve never been to. I’ve started looking more seriously into what my next steps would be, wanting to continue my education, wanting to be more of service to the world. Attempting to look at my life with more clarity and trying not to be afraid of being more responsible.

I hope that my identity, how I relate to and see myself is ever evolving in a way that makes me happiest. There are many people who fear change, because they’re afraid to leave behind worn labels, worn ways of seeing themselves.

Hopefully, as I move forward, I’ll become more proactive in shaping my identity, and becoming the type of person I want to be.