On being inclusive

We all know what it feels like to be left out. It happens to me all the time, especially since social media was invented. In the old days, you might find out about things you weren’t invited to, but it was usually after the fact, and though it might sting just a bit, you didn’t have it rubbed in your face by people posting photos online, sometimes in real time, of whatever you were excluded from. I guess I’m not really left out any more than I used to be, but it feels like more when I can see everyone posting about everything they are doing constantly. 

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It feels good to be included

 Recently, I read this article, and I was forced to remember that  I’m not alone to feel like this. Almost everyone probably feels this way from time to time. 

HERE IS THE ARTICLE: https://faithit.com/build-u-instead-circle-amy-weatherly/?fbclid=IwAR2C_jX4Xis0CpetGoWmwCR5N-jv0LTd4xFuFYI1Q3lmzA3KiJivOMOsmbA

 It’s hard not to take it personally when everyone you know is invited to a wedding, and you weren’t. Or when you see close friends posting pictures of their group outings and you weren’t included. Or when you see some industry related event happening that you weren’t invited to. It hurts, and it makes you feel very isolated if you dwell on it. When I’ve reflected on those moments after the hurt wore off, I had to realize that I’ve probably made someone feel that way too without even knowing it, and that makes me feel even worse than being left out myself. It also teaches me to forgive the people who didn’t think of me.  

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It is important to remember that sometimes you are one of the people in those photos.

My nature is to try to include everyone, and this has sometimes caused me trouble, to be honest. 

One issue I’ve had is that many people think that if you are a leader who is open to sharing the glory, treating people as equals and giving others a chance to shine, it means you are not confident or strong, and therefore not deserving of respect. If you don’t hold self promotion above collaboration, you must be a hack. 

People who are good at self promotion are able to put themselves on a pedestal and therefore require others to see them that way. I am in awe of this, and have always wanted to be that way, but never have the ability to pull it off.  Recently, a friend of mine who is very good at self promotion and maintaining respect as a leader told me that she thinks people don’t like her, and that I should be happy that so many people like me and that I’m popular. I was like.. “What?? I  thought YOU were popular! Everyone respects you!” I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the meadow, but neither of us is going to be able to be a different person than who we are. I guess all we can do is to try to do better in areas where we are not so proficient, but also to nurture our own gifts and stop being frustrated that we are not like someone else. 

Being inclusive has left me open to other trouble from time to time. For example, when I have  let an enthusiastic artist have too much of a voice in my theatre, only to find out the person is unstable and can’t work with others, stirring up trouble every time they are involved in something. On those occasions,  others in my circle have told me not to be so open, and I didn’t heed the warnings because it isn’t in my nature to be exclusive, but my lack of boundaries with people like that ends up negatively affecting others, so after a few times of that happening, I have been forced to become a bit more hesitant to include people too quickly.  This sometimes also happens in friendships, where I have let someone in too fast only to be tossed aside when I’m no longer useful. These experiences have forced me to learn to go against my nature, and to try harder to require people to prove that they deserve entry into my world. 

On the other hand, my tendency to include people has helped me to nurture many grateful artists, as well as led me to some of the most important friendships in my life. I also have a lot of connections with interesting people who enrich my life in a number of ways because I’ve given them a chance.  I think there’s a fine line I haven’t quite found, but that I really can’t have the good parts of a generous nature without occasionally encountering the bad. 

It is a goal of mine to continue to be the kind of person who tries to make room for everyone, without compromising herself in the process. Sometimes, I’m just muddled or too full of things to do and I lose my path a bit, but I am trying to do better not to ever make anyone feel left out without losing my grip on myself in the process. 

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“If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do.” – Southpark

Who decides what is ‘weird’ anyway? 

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Quite a few years ago, my friend John and I went to see a play in the upstairs room of a bar in Montrose. This is when Montrose was still weird and wonderful and we were just starting an experimental theater together. We were scouting out the bar for a play we were going to create.  It was a black comedy that had incest, cannibalism, bondage and murder in it. Basically it was him emptying his head of all kinds of demons, and me relating to it enough to want to direct/produce it (and I added plenty of weirdness to it, too). The play we had just seen was also very weird, and we loved it. We felt like we’d found the perfect weird place to do it. 

As we were leaving, we had to walk past a row of people in green, red or blue mohawks, facial piercings and tattoos. They were all dressed up for some concert that was happening in the space after the play. As we passed, one of them said  loudly, looking down his nose at us with total disdain,  “look at the cookie cutter people!” Obviously, he said that because we both had natural hair, no visible tattoos (I don’t think he has any. I don’t), no facial piercings, and we both were wearing pretty mainstream, gender-specific clothes.  However, we didn’t look as much like each other as all those people looked alike, so I just laughed at the guy who said it. Inside, I was a little offended, though. To be honest, I thought.. “you would be shaking in your fake combat boots if you knew how scary we are.” I didn’t say it, because there were a lot of them and only 2 of us. 

But as I always do after I’ve gotten mad at someone for hurting my feelings, I went back and thought about what it was about me would make someone react that way, and what about that other person would make them want to be mean like that towards me.  I knew that John and I were quite possibly among the strangest people I knew. We had both been odd our whole lives. We both had difficult, traumatic childhoods and had become the kind of people who made art as a necessity because it was the only thing that kept us tethered to the world.  We didn’t need costumes to prove to anyone we were bizarro freaks.  In fact, you could say we had spent our whole lives trying to disguise ourselves as ‘normal people’ in a desperate attempt to blend in.

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John and Me acting together in a show by Dos Chicas Theater Commune (a Sadomasochistic XMas)

I wondered if the people in those goth/punk costumes felt ordinary on the inside, so they had to be as expressive as possible on the outside so they could feel unique? Or was this just another way of blending in, but just blending in with specific people?  Or were they all just really so bold that they didn’t mind showing an outward expression of their weirdness to the world, like they were flipping the bird to everyone else? I don’t know for sure what is in someone else’s heart, but I wondered why someone who seemed to want to embrace the right to be who they wanted to be would judge anyone else so harshly for the way they dressed.  I only know that if I had tried to do that goth thing, I most definitely would have gotten it wrong. It was too specific for me in its rules to ever be able to pull it off. I also would have gotten really freaked out if people had stared at me because of the way I looked. I would worry they could see the inside of my head. 

Also.. if they were trying to be ‘unique’, they totally failed, because they were the true cookie cutter people that day.  They were just like the ‘cool kids’ in high school who taunt the weirdos. We were the weirdos, like we always are.

It’s like that SOUTHPARK episode, when Stan is depressed and makes friends with the goth kids, and one of them tells him: “If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do.” 

Anyway, just a story of an epiphany I had one time.  Everyone’s just trying to find a way to be special. Maybe we’re all weird inside and nobody is weird, and we all just do different things about it.

Here’s some pictures of the art John and I made together, with other weirdos helping us, of course. We all find each other eventually.  Photos courtesy of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company (www.mildredsumbrella.com)

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‘Night of The Giant’, by John Harvey.. with me and Amy Warren.
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Dan Laden, Me and Josh Gray in ‘Eros: A Circus” , by John Harvey
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‘Rome’ , by John Harvey, directed by me (Christie Guidry and HR Bradford)
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Us pretending to be normal

 

Olivia (aka Poopy Lungstuffing)

Sometimes I am so busy, and I don’t have head space to write my own ideas.. So I decided that every now and then, I should use my blog to celebrate someone I know who is amazing so other people will know how amazing she is. 

Today, I will honor my friend, Olivia Dvorak, AKA Poopy Lungstuffing. I got permission to blog about her, but I didn’t want to invade her privacy by using an unauthorized picture of her, so here’s a picture of her doll collection at Super Happy Funland, a music venue that she co-founded. 

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She is one of the cleverest musicians/songwriters I’ve ever known.  She downplays it herself, but she’s even had musicians cover her songs internationally. She played the ukulele before it was cool. She’s an original, one of a kind, amazing artist. She’s also incredibly cute, smart and funny.  Don’t crowd her space if you ever meet her, though. She gets overwhelmed by that (so do I, actually, so I get it). She explains in some of her songs why this is a thing. She’s open and self-aware about her issues, and also recognizes pain in others, which is why I love her songs so much.  

Here is her singing one of my favorite songs in the world (an original by her) “Dolly Got a Haircut” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb3bli6I1R0

Below are some more songs of hers. Some of them are funny, some are sad.. My favorite one is ‘The Thing That Eats Only Food’. I pretty much love all of them, because the lyrics are amazing. That one always gets me, though. 

Here’s an album she made: https://poopylungstuffing.bandcamp.com/

She was featured in this article about Houston’s most eccentric musicians (number 1, in fact) https://www.houstonpress.com/music/houstons-10-most-eccentric-musicians-6524546

Here’s a cover of  her song, ‘Dolly Got a Haircut’  by a musician in Finland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQtxuUVPFvQ

Anyway, do check out her songs. She’s incredible. I’ve always been a huge fan. 

 

Fragrant Jewels

I haven’t had anything important to blog about this week, so I’m going to do a product review.  I had seen a Facebook ad for something called ‘Fragrant Jewels’ , which are these bath bombs that have a little surprise jewelry piece inside. A friend got me one for my birthday back in May, but I am not really a bath person, I have only taken showers for years, so I didn’t use it right away. Today, I decided to be a bath person and give it a shot.

Here it is at the beginning. It’s almost as big as a baseball.

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So, I got a book and started running a bath. I was going to try to do it right and sit in the bath relaxing, with a candle and a drink. I’m not drinking alcohol at the moment, so it was just a diet Cherry 7up, but it’s kind of like champagne if you put it in the right glass.

So I dropped the thing in the tub, and it started rolling around, spewing out yellow and green foam into the water.

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I think if I bought one myself, I would probably choose a different color, because it looked a little weird and swampy when it was done. Also, I was really disappointed that it barely had any fragrance at all, since that was part of it’s name.

Anyway, I decided to think of it as mermaidy, instead of swampy, so I lit my candle (which did have a nice fragrance)  and got in.

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I quickly realized that, not being a bath person, I really didn’t know how people took relaxing baths. First of all, my hands were wet, and my book got wet, and that wasn’t relaxing. Then I couldn’t really see it with just candle light, so I gave that up, and I didn’t have one of those bath pillows (I think I have one somewhere, but I don’t know that I’ve ever used it, so… ) so I was just kind of sitting up. If I tried to lean back, I slipped around and bumped my head on the back tiles, so that wasn’t relaxing either. Eventually, I got bored and just got out, and I was expecting residue from that swamp monster to be all over me, but it didn’t seem to be. It didn’t leave any residue in the tub either.

What it did leave was THIS: IMG_0750

When I opened this little plastic ball, I got this! Now I know why the green one was chosen, instead of a purple one. Emerald is my birthstone. Not that this is a real emerald. It is costume jewelry, but it was fun to find in the bath bomb.

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So.. that was my Fragrant Jewel experience, in case anyone is thinking of trying it. I also found out from their website that they have candles, also. That sounds like it would take a long time to get the prize out of, and I’m not that patient, so I don’t know if that would be for me either. Also, when I went to their site, I had to put in my email, and I’ve gotten 3 emails from them just today, so be aware of that. They send a lot of emails.

Anyway, it was fun!

 

 

Inspiring Women

Happy Sunday,

I haven’t blogged in a bit. I’ve been busy-busy and a little bogged down mentally lately, and also feeling like I’m always struggling against impossible obstacles. Today, I read some inspiring stories about 5 women in the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya. Apparently, the ‘average length of displacement’ in these camps has risen to an estimated 26 years. These 5 women have seemingly insurmountable challenges thrown at them by their situation, and still, they have managed to flourish, and instead of just waiting around for a better future, they have created their own present. There’s a self-made filmmaker, a mechanic, a stove maker, a dress maker and an aspiring software engineer.

I’m sharing the link here in case anyone else (my 5 followers :)) wants to read about it in Danai Gurira’s newsletter. I love her, so I get her newsletter. She is an amazing human.

Read it here   Learn about some bad-ass women.

This picture/logo is from the newsletter on the site. I hope I’m allowed to use it. If you like the story, you can sign up to get emails from them.

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I GOT A HANDMAID’S TALE JACKET!#BlessedBeTheFight #HandmaidsTale

So.. less than a week ago, I got this email from Hulu, saying:

“We know you’re a big fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, so we wanted to thank you for being with the show since the beginning. We partnered with Levi’s® to create an exclusive, limited-edition Handmaid’s Tale jacket to give to a select number of dedicated fans, including you.

This jacket is free (seriously!). To get yours, just use the link and code below. You’ll be able to select your size and tell us where to send it – but please hurry because we only made 2,020 of these jackets and are gifting on a first-come-first-served basis (and sizes are getting limited).”

Then there was a claim code to put in.

I almost deleted it because I thought it was spam, but it came from Hulu, and I do watch Handmaid’s Tale, so I thought ‘what the heck’ and I replied with my size and my claim code. Five days later.. I got the cutest denim jacket delivered to me with patches to put on it if I wanted. For free! Come to find out, many people covet this, and I was very lucky to be chosen!

Y’all, this never happens to me. I literally never win anything. I won a couple of medals for playing the flute in high school, and an essay contest when I was 10, but that’s about it. Chance drawings.. forget it. I do not have luck. So I feel super chosen right now.

There was a note in the box asking recipients to post selfies ‘styling the jacket’. Sounds like a small thing to do for a free jacket.

So here’s me styling the jacket! I haven’t put the patches on yet because they wouldn’t iron on like the instructions said, so I’ll sew them when I have time.

 

Photos by Steven Wolfe (my husband).

And here are the patches. Handmaid’s Tale watchers will get what they mean..

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So… that was me having luck for once! Have a nice rest of the week!

 

Childhood Trauma and PTSD- My Journey

I’m opening up about this because it has been a hard journey of self-discovery for the last few years.  It took a series of unwise and toxic relationships, a few years of self-medicating by having drinks almost every day, and finally cutting the cord on how much work and other people were allowed to dominate my life to really start focusing inward and working on this. 

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 I’m saying this out loud, partly to let people have a bit more understanding of me and people like me, but also to maybe help someone else who hasn’t yet realized these same things about themself. Yes, I’ve been to therapy. I was told by a few therapists that I don’t have an actual ‘mental illness’, I have childhood trauma that has caused a form of PTSD. Being able to know what it is has helped me help myself.  I can’t take a pill to help it. I have to deal with it in my brain pretty much daily if I don’t want it to take control of my life. 

To be honest, I don’t remember most of the details of my childhood. This is a common defense response in people who suffered abuse. I had a stepfather who was pretty terrible to me during my formative years, and I have a few specific incidents that stay in my catalogue of memories that I can relate if asked, but many of them are just woven into the fabric of my brain, and not really stories I can tell as a narrative.  I just know I spent most of my childhood feeling like I could be in a lot of serious trouble without warning for things that were just normal kid behavior (like talking too loud, leaving a light on by accident, forgetting a chore, and more than once just for reading in my room when my presence was requested elsewhere) or I could be ridiculed in a sudden and humiliating manner for something natural I was doing or reacting to. There was some physical abuse disguised as discipline, but mostly I was just emotionally and mentally under attack without warning almost all the time when he was around. If you grew up like that,  and you survived it to be a relatively successful and productive adult, you might not understand how it changed you from who you might have been to who you actually are. It’s not something you can change back, but you have to learn to manage it for your own good. 

I’ve been reading a lot about how childhood trauma, particularly when it comes from abuse,  can cause a form of PTSD. When the world is unstable and dangerous while your personality is forming, you develop a heightened awareness of anything potentially dangerous around you. It is a defense mechanism to survive your childhood as a helpless person in constant danger. For me, noise, light, crowds and even just the wrong situation at an unplanned moment can trigger it.  If a baby is crying in a restaurant, or a phone is ringing without being answered, other people show normal levels of annoyance, but I actually feel like I’m under a real and dangerous attack, and I panic. I get hot, my fear level goes up, and my anxiety is so high that I often feel like I’m shaking inside. If it happens on a TV show or a movie, I have to mute it until it’s over.  Like if it doesn’t stop soon, I will actually lose my mind and run out screaming so I won’t die. I know if I verbalize it or show my distress, other people will think I am unreasonable, so I often have to actually just shut down as much as I can until it stops so I don’t seem unreasonable to other people, including my husband who just silently tolerates me if I verbalize it too intensely, which to me often feels like judging, and that makes my reaction even worse. Strangely, it can pass as fast as it happens once the source of the issue is away from me. Then I just feel unreasonable, bad, flawed and ugly about it in the aftermath. 

This also happens in crowds where people are too close to me for too long and I feel like I am having a panic attack just trying to maintain my personal space, or when anything is too loud or light is too bright. I always just thought I was just very sensitive (which  always seemed like a weakness to me), but it is actually more like people who have been in war-zones who go into full panic mode when someone sets off firecrackers or a car backfires. 

All of this is apparently called ‘Hypervigilance’, which is extreme or excessive vigilance : the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat.”(merriam-webster).  It might result in a severe state of anxiety that eventually causes exhaustion, because the person experiencing it is constantly looking for danger in a particular situation. This is a fight or flight response that develops in childhood to protect you from the dangers in your home with your family.  Some people are apparently like this all the time, which I imagine is absolutely miserable for them. With me, it is triggered by certain environments and situations, and I’ve largely learned to avoid situations that might make me feel that way as much as I can. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, however, and I have what probably seems like an unreasonable meltdown to anyone who is around when it happens. 

If I get overwhelmed with too many things that I have to do, I sometimes get panicked that I will forget something. Because I am a full time college instructor and I run a theatre that doesn’t have the budget for a real staff, I am constantly working if I don’t just force myself to stop. I have gotten pretty good at managing everything, by keeping to-do lists for when I have a million balls in the air and can’t get finished with anything because other people won’t give me the information I need to cross something off, or I just run out of time that day and need to rest my head.  I answer people who need things from me as immediately as I can to avoid a pileup at an inconvenient time. I can usually just move something to another day to finish and forget about it in that moment so I don’t get so overwhelmed with unfinished things on my mind that I melt down over it. Sometimes other people control the situation, though, and too many extra things are sprung on me at once that are unexpected and I don’t have time to sort them on my lists. Or people are in my face when a lot of things come up at the same time, and it throws off all my plans and I panic, and lash out or melt down because I can’t physically remove myself from the situation. It’s not completely unreasonable, because most people would be stressed by the amount of work that piles up on a person with 2 full jobs, but people without PTSD can walk away from it more easily or control the stress reaction more manageably. I can most of the time control it enough on the surface to get through the situation. Once in a while, I can’t. Then I spend days obsessing about how I upset someone over it. 

The other thing that happens as a result of this PTSD is a hyper-awareness of other people’s reactions or feelings toward you. You develop an almost psychic sense of when someone is displeased or doesn’t like you, and it can be distressing in a way that most people would see as silly. I realized along the way that when someone didn’t like me or was upset with me, I would panic and spend an unreasonable amount of energy feeling upset about it, and trying hard to counter it by giving that person too much in an attempt to win them somehow. If I am slighted in a situation where I feel  I should have been noticed, I often suffer hard for that emotionally for days. That’s a response to a parent (in my case, a step parent) always disapproving, showing disdain and never giving praise for any accomplishment. You grow up depending on other people’s opinions and reactions to let you know how you’re doing in the world, because you never really get a sense of how to gauge it on your own. On the other hand, one little accolade or nice thing someone says can feed my soul and keep me basking in sunlight for weeks, provided I don’t decide it’s not true and try to give the credit to everyone else. I’m happy to say that I”ve gotten much better at blocking out people who don’t like or approve of me, and moving on. I really have to work hard on the other part of this, though. Every time I’m triggered. 

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I know that this is part of my personality and my brain, and I cannot remove it. I know that the only reason I did not develop something worse is that I am naturally resilient, and for that, I am thankful. Knowing what it is helps me, and I have gotten to where I can control my responses, at least on the surface, most of the time. Sometimes I feel it terribly, but I’m able to not show it, which is a huge thing for me, and honestly that is the best I can hope for. Once in a while, I don’t do such a good job. I apologize to people who suffer or feel confusion when that happens.  Trust me, when I mess up, I feel a lot worse about it for a lot longer than anyone who got caught in the crossfire. It’s a lifelong journey for anyone to work on themselves, and it’s no different for me, but I will keep working. 

(photos courtesy of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company,  by Anthony Rathbun, 2007).