‘Cause Im Not Beautiful Like You, Im Beautiful Like Me

The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure...
The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure of the Hagia Sophia. From here the empress and the court ladies watched the proceedings down below the basilica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known ...
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known as Hagia Sophia in English, is a former Greek Orthodox church converted to a mosque, now a museum, in Istanbul. It is universally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angry Girl Rock Band: Joydrop.

This is going to be a strange combination of my experience in the Hagia/Aya Sophia and my personal experience of , connected by the thin line of peace. That quiet inner peace you get when youre in tune with the world and yourself. Its a feeling I had in the Hagia Sophia and one that Im developing when looking in the mirror.

Its also about the feelings of beauty when you are so out of place in a culture – every time I see a group of locals on the street and I hear them laugh really really loud as they pass – I “know” they are talking about me and how odd I/my hair/my height/my whatever looks compared to what they are used to and I feel strange. Its not an automatically bad feeling, but after a few days of it – its really hard to feel positive, especially sitting in our new hotel in Izmir where the entire wall seems to be a mirror. And I feel ginormous. Like the bed in comparison behind me seems small – and its a full.

Its hard in a world where most people (from my perspective) seem to fit in to be in a place where you are constantly reminded that you are not the norm. Yesterday, we went to a park where all these elementary children were walking by. Every single one of them wanted to wave and say hi to the obvious foreigner. The friend I am traveling with, everyone keeps speaking to in Turkish. I get the “bye-bye” on the plane and he gets – well – whatever they said in Turkish as we got off.

Im not sure what I want exactly. Its not a bad thing to be different. Part of it means that I dont have to work that hard for people to remember me. At church, at school, apparently around the world, there’s just one me. Except for that girl my best friend saw in France who looked just like me. It also sometimes means people want to talk to me. Especially when Im new in a ward, people love to come “fellowship” me, assuming Im lost or a new convert to the LDS faith. It makes breaking the ice a bit easier, which is always a welcome event. But its also jarring. In my head Im just like them. The world is pretty stable from my perspective, so I think oh hey Im Mormon just like the rest of them, or Im a tourist just like lots of people walking by. And then there’s the wake-up call from my black friends learning Im Mormon saying “You know you’re black right” or the 10th Turk that day calling out “I like your hair” that just makes you think, right not the same, mental readjustment. Sometimes its not just physical traits – its also hearing from someone you trust, that you’re particular about things and people, while you think “I go along to get along all the time!”

The image I have in my head of what I look like and act/think like in comparison to the rest of the world, isnt as stark as it must be to them.  But when I take a beat such as when I was in the Blue Mosque earlier today, or the Aya Sofia earlier this week, I feel in sync with myself and my life again and its like the external forced awareness melts away again. There is something about places of worship – even if they are not currently used as such – that houses that quiet hushed peace that is so hard to find in everyday life. You can be in a room that people made beautiful in an attempt to express their devotion to God and feel the combined prayers of thousands of years of petitioners. You remind yourself that there is a God, and Im doing my best to do the things He wants me to do. It makes you feel a lot less alone and spotlighted when you are so out there on the spectrum.

Right now, doing what I think God wants, involves traveling and going places I have dreamed of going my whole life, while dealing with the truths you learn about yourself when you step outside of your normal routine. Im also grateful to be traveling with a friend who is far more flexible about some things than I am, and is always in a good mood regardless of outside events. Except when there is snoring.

So I may not be the size or look or personality that I think constitutes beauty – although that odd man the other day seemed to be a fan – but there is still a way to feel beautiful and content and at peace in a lonely world; if I can just remember that after each small crack in the foundation.

I’m Just a Girl in the World…That’s All That You’ll Let Me Be

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

No Doubt’s first album. Yes I know its a bit cliche, but  it fit the point.

A few months ago there was the big debate over whether women could “have it all.” Here are the commentaries from the two major players: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and  Anne Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official. I thought I would talk about it, as Sandberg is starting to do press for the release of her new book that expands that talk, Lean In. I am sure there are other people we could add to the debate. Marissa Mayer, current Yahoo CEO, who started the job a month or so before she was due, and decided to work through her maternity leave, which drove some people crazy. Also others are throwing her under the bus with the new Yahoo work from home recall.

I’ll admit I heard the Sheryl Sandberg TED talk first and I loved it. Her three points are as follows: 1) Sit at the table. She talks about how too often women literally dont sit at the table. They will often assume the table is for people more important than them. Women also attribute their success to outside factors, while men attribute their success to themselves, which removes women from the table as their circumstances made them good – not them.

2) Make your partner your partner. We should treat our spouses as actual partners, instead of taking on most of the housework and other chores in addition to full-time work. I also read an article that says women often feel uncomfortable with men doing household work as it makes them feel like less of a woman, or failure, and also can emasculate the men in their eyes.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Women often start acting as if they other responsibilities before they actually have them. They start thinking about what if they have children some day and then start making work decisions NOW about what that someday should look like. This can mean not taking on projects or promotions because it may not leave enough time in the future.

This third point is probably the one I like best. I am often in conversations with women where I find that I am the only one thinking long-term about a full-time career. Im planning on how many years I want to work internationally, and how I can get the experience to rise up within an organization and how can I build up my consulting practice before I start expecting it to be my primary income. And while no one ever asks me about kids or marriage – another odd quirk of being me: you’re exempt from typical life event questions – I also dont have any right now and they arent even a possibility. No one is putting sperm in the uterus. So no Im not making decisions now based on what I may need to adjust when I do finally have the little ones. Im also not tempering my ambition because of a someday. Yes, that means I will be making more money than most men I know – and we all know what the stats are saying about women and men and income disparities. But it also means that I can afford to live the kind of life I want to have without relying on someone else to create it – Ive realized that recently Ive been fulfilling the dreams I had when growing up poor without a real way to accomplish them, and its really a fun road, despite hoeing it alone.

I dont think all women should work. I have no agenda for our gender as a whole, other than this: whatever you choose to do, be the best. If you are choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, then be involved in fighting for your children, educating them and creating an environment where they will grow into great adults – like the one my mother created for us even though she was working.  If you choose to work – then work! Take promotions, be the best, dont shrink to make anyone more comfortable with you and own the growth you can make at work. And if you choose to switch or combine in the myriads of available ways – then lean into those. I just want us not to settle for lives that are below our capabilities in any sense. Lets make real choices for ourselves. Let us know what we are giving up and gaining in whatever role we take, and embrace fully the direction we are choosing. Let us not default to a stereotype that does no one a service, including the men, children and family we may be trying to protect and appease. We do not need to be CEOs to continue to shape the world in a better image, but we do need to be fully conscious wherever we are. That to me is the take home message of Sandberg.

Ill talk about Slaughter’s argument later, as it combines some other interesting issues in the debate.

What Have I Become? Something Soft and Really Quite Dumb

Istanbul from the sky - Topkapi Palace
Istanbul from the sky – Topkapi Palace (Photo credit: CyberMacs)

Ingrid Michaelson. I dont think Ive done her yet.

Its odd to travel right now. I feel like everything is buzzing by me at the speed of light and I cant hold onto anything Im experiencing. In the last week I have been in 4 different countries, and crossed like 4 time zones. Im in Instanbul for another day or so and then its off to the western coast of Turkey, and it just seems like so much so fast. There’s just something so insubstantial about being here. While I can understand that I am no longer in Utah or America, its very hard to accept that Im in Turkey. In addition, Im feeling pushed – like I keep doing things that are out of sync with what I would want/need to be doing. I like going to the touristy spots (to an extent), but Im a people/experience person. I want to interact with my environment, or learn the culture or observe the people. Right now, Im just a photographing fool who keeps getting accosted by sales people. Today one wanted to give me a gift, and then put ice chips in my hand. So weird.

I just realized that this is the most classic me situation ever. Im always getting into conundrums, where I let shoulds dictate my life – especially when it comes to doing things with other people. I feel I owe them something per some unwritten contract and I push myself until Im exhausted and cranky and give up. It becomes hard for me to voice my feelings or needs, except in snarky – bordering on bitchy ways. I end up acting less than and stuffing myself down, which used to work a lot better before all the self-actualizing crap of the last 9 years. 

Its especially difficult, because Im traveling with a friend that I have not really spent significant time with since high school. As far as I know, there are two people that I have actually still kept in constant contact with over the years. We were really good friends in high school, and still are, but being with someone, in a demanding situation like travel after 13+ years is an interesting experience. So the old me was a passive audience member to my incredibly gregarious friends. I mean I was always a talker, but Ive had many friends who are the life of the party for as long as I can remember – and I sort of laughed and clapped at the appropriate times. Ive changed since then. Ive learned to accept a new role in my life – one where Im more often the life of the party, and even when Im not, I dont do passive anymore. My friend and I have also been talking about this blog – and he immediately recognized it for the platform it could maybe be one day. That its a unique perspective I hold, and despite the fact that hes not religious, he understands how important my religion is to me, and what I could do given the social changes facing the LDS church.

I know better what my needs are and have spent copious time learning how to say them, deal with the aftermath of it and keep relationships alive. But the old habits come back hard. Fortunately my extreme jetlag has lowered my tolerance level, so its either accept the increasingly bitchy version of myself or “woman up” and remember who I actually am.

Starting with, this girl likes massages, so Four Seasons it is! (its 30% off at 7am :)). And choosing which relationship to prioritize and then dealing with the aftermath of making big girl decisions about how to handle it. Which in the last 3 hours since this realization is going exceptionally well. Thats the thing I always forget in the initial no-win solution: I know how to handle myself and it usually works out ok. Plus this whole traveling thing is supposed to be fun right? In honor of that, Ive changed my header picture – this is one I took at the Hagia Sofia two days ago. Beautiful place, but I will write about that later.

When You Lose Something You Can’t Replace

Family Portrait - Montreal 1963
Family Portrait – Montreal 1963 (Photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa)

I dont often talk about my father in depth, mostly because its one of the more complicated conversations I can have. But as it gets nearer to the anniversary of his death, I occasionally think more about him.

My father was my best friend. I loved him more than anything. My love of computers comes from watching him work on the PC we had in our home from age 5 until he died when I was almost 10. We didnt get another one until I was 13. My father played ping pong with us in the garage. He spanked us with a belt and told us he would give us something to cry about. He let me shift gears on the old blue Toyota, when his old wrist injury was acting up. And he was smart. Never graduated from high school, but he did all the checking of our math homework counting, and other times swearing, in Spanish.

My father was also Mormon. He converted when he met my mother and held the first level of the priesthood in our church, but was never active during my memory. He never prevented my mother from taking us to church, played with the missionaries (19-year old boys who are always up for games) when they came over for food, and attended our youth talks in sacrament.

My father was also abusive. He drank without my family knowing it. He cheated. And he basically stopped working when I was 7. When he suffered a massive stroke, it was a blessing for my family that he died instead of lingering on severely handicapped, the financial and social responsibilities of which, would probably have limited what my family has managed to accomplish since then.

I still love my father. I love the man who took me on adventures with him when I was small. I love the man who I only remember teaching us Spanish at one dinner table session, pointing out leche. I love the man who was so charismatic and larger than life that everyone wanted to be around him. But I also hate him. I hate the man that made my mother sad and never want to remarry. I hate the man that hurt me. I hate the man who was so lost he could not find a way out for himself, and in my opinion, God took him so he could have a better chance in the Mormon version of purgatory, instead of continuing to make grievous mistakes here on Earth.

I think whats been hardest for me is how to answer questions about my family. We arent a typical family unit. I love my family and talk to them online or by phone multiple times a day. We exchange pictures of clothes and my sister’s cute dog and Ive helped my mom find the home she is now living in. But I dont live near my family, have no strong desire to (we are all extremely independent, controlling and prickly), so I am amazed whenever someone says it would be difficult to live far away from their’s, much less outside of the same state. I cant imagine needing to live anywhere closer than 45 mins to the nearest international airport to get to them. I spent 3 weeks with my mother last summer and was starkly reminded of why I will do all in my power to never live at home again (its because dusting is not important to me and likely never will be; This is a fundamental point of contention).

I dont really have an extended family – I mean Im related to a lot of people, but I have no relationship with them for a variety of reasons. Im still struck by all of the family pictures of cousins and second cousins twice removed on walls at my friends’ grandmother’s homes. I hate taking pictures and Im pretty sure we have no immediate family pictures that Im not age 6 in.

Im learning not to feel so alone anymore. Ive learned Im not the only one with crazy parents and strained family time. Ive learned lots of people dont have a billion cousins, like all the perfect Mormon families. Ive become comfortable with the family I am creating for myself. So, my family now consists of a few lovely dogs, some excellent friends, an alumni network, a broadway play or two, dear TV characters (Im looking at you, Felicity!), a worldwide LDS membership and some John Mayer songs, in addition to my nuclear peoples. Its full of things that provide comfort and the ability to keep trucking everyday. And at the end of it all, there is a God who promised himself as a perfect Father, in place of the one He took away. I love my Father in Heaven and because of Him I am capable of having more family than I ever dreamed possible. Everywhere I go on this Earth, I find someone who fits in to my little world. My best friend, Team Awesome, a new friend at work. It makes it far less scary when I do leave my Utah-imposed exile to know the world is just family waiting to be discovered. I can spend a summer in China and remember for the rest of my life the video store people who set aside DVDs they thought I would like (this mostly consisted of Fast and the Furious, which I love). Against all odds, I can keep in contact with a few friends from the summer I started college. And I can remember fondly the elementary school classmates at my father’s funeral.

Perhaps its not the normal way to make a family, but since Im not getting married anytime soon, who’s to say what we children can’t do? It beats the hell out of staying lonely, just because I dont share blood. So even though I cant replace my dad, or make my grandparents come back to life, I can connect with my half-brothers teenage children, or build better relationships with my mom and sisters. I dont have to stay lost forever.

I Could Spend My Whole Life Good Will Hunting

Dinner Party at a Mandarin's House - Thomas Allom
Dinner Party at a Mandarin’s House – Thomas Allom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jay-Z feat. Kanye West and Rihanna.

There comes a time when you have to give up on the fantasies of youth. I used to think that be married by now, a politician’s wife, or maybe a doctor’s, presiding over the dinner table at some important event. It was a silly dream and I gave it up a long time ago. But it seems as you get older you continue to have to discard old dreams, so new ones can take their place. I used to want help people on a one on one basis, being down in the trenches. After a few years though I was being worn out at a rate that was more than I could possibly continue to help at. I remember crying in my driveway one day, just exhausted and knowing something needed to change. Giving up that dream to move on to something more sustainable, was incredibly difficult and anxiety-provoking. I  had to choose between two dreams when I decided to move to NYC – the one with a cute craftsman house and walking a dog and riding a bike tow ork versus the eating at every culture’s restaurants each night, having ultimate convenience and being on whenever I wanted. I really wanted that dog – have since I was 8, but I guess it will wait a bit longer.

Now Im going to the Middle East. Initially Im giving up showers, Western comfort and variety, and being with the friends Ive made over the last two years. In exchange, I get…: anxiety, homework and the need to pack, ugh. And massive uncertainty. I am completely reliant on other people – I barely speak the language, I dont have housing, and I dont have income until May. This lack of control and predictability is a situation I try to avoid at all costs and now Im throwing myself headlong into it.

I think thats the cost of Good Will Hunting, as Im interpreting it. Everytime you get near the summit of a dream, it changes so that you can get closer to a real summit. Being able to play my perfect note. So I let God keep informing my decisions. Moving all over the country, earning extra degrees, and aiming higher than Iv Im persevering in the face of all of this, because I have certainty in the form of inspiration. Everytime I think about the fact Im getting off a plane with no place to go, I dont panic nearly as much as I should. That peace apparently doesnt extend to the mess that is my room, but I have a week. Soooo, heres to hoping.

It would be easier to keep searching for our original dreams, even though it probably wouldnt led to the happiness we are searching for. Im stretching every time I make the choices I do. And when I talk to friends I havent seen in a few years, they have no idea how to make sense of where my life is right then. There’s some inherent fun in being the wild child – if wild is going to school forever and then getting a job to pay one’s bills – but every once in a while acknowledging how difficult and painful it can be to walk along my own path makes me feel a bit less scared. At least this time, Ive got a few friends to ease the way. And traveling is going to be a hell of a lot more fun than waking up early for class. So bring it on anxiety – Ill be on a plane shortly.