A love letter

10 year old Monya sitting at a typewriter
10 year old me

Dear 10-year old Monya,

I see you, sitting in front of the typewriter Grandma Flo gave you when you moved away; your fingers stained various shades of black from the ink ribbon, your head full of short story ideas. You wrote your first piece, “The Three Little Kittens’ First Christmas,” when you were 6, and haven’t let up since. I wish I could somehow speak back through the years and tell you to not to forget how much you love it. Because you will.

In the years not long after this picture, you will put the typewriter in the closet along with your goals of seeing your name on the cover of a book someday. You’ll stuff down your creativity: your love of reading, writing, and music, along with your intelligence because at some point it becomes uncool to be smart. You’ll learn to be exactly who they want you to be: quiet, agreeable, convenient. You’ll do all this without question or hesitation. You won’t even put up a fight. It will never feel quite true, but over time, you won’t remember what true feels like, so this might as well be it.

I don’t mean to sound like you won’t have a good life – you’ll know happiness and joy – but you won’t be living authentically. Don’t be discouraged by this – most people aren’t their living as their authentic selves either. We all go through life striving to be versions of ourselves that we think are the most attractive to other people that are also trying to be the most digestible version of themselves. It’s a pretty silly concept if we were to stop and think about it, but few seldom do.

The good news is that you will start to question it eventually. You’ll start to remember bits of who you were before you decided that you weren’t enough. You’ll fight it for a little while, but eventually the curiosity will get the better of you, and you’ll start to lean in. You’ll remember your creative side and how much you love to read, write, and how you need music like you need air or water. You’ll very slowly and timidly start to create again. I can’t yet say whether or not it takes off like maybe it would have if you had questioned it sooner – I’m not that far in yet.

As you continue to lean in to the questions you have about who you actually are, you’ll find that you have some pretty strong opinions about things that you hadn’t really stopped to consider before, and many of them aren’t quite in alignment with some of the people and situations you’ve tolerated before. You’ll realize that you’re a little bit crazy about humanity – especially those kept in the margins. It turns out that all those years you spent trying to be someone mainstream society found acceptable will be absolute wasted time, because it’s those people on the fringes that you connect with most. You’ll realize that community and relationship comes easy with the right people.

It’s been a little more than 30 years since this picture of you with your typewriter was snapped, and I’d be lying if I said most of them weren’t spent living as someone that’s not fully you. While I can’t go back and change anything, I can commit to continuing to rediscover and reacquaint myself with the person that’s been hidden for so long. You have always been enough.

Love,
An older, wiser version of yourself

There are no resolutions here

It’s New Year’s Day, and this year is a weird one. There are plenty of posts out there that will break down in detail what a mess 2020 was (and don’t get me wrong, it was), but this is not that post. There are also many posts talking about finding the blessings amidst the destruction of 2020 (of which there are plenty if you bother to look), but this is not that post either. Though there is much value in reflection, and we’ll need to do a lot of reflecting to even begin to heal from the events of last year, this is a post looking forward to the year upcoming. But instead of resolutions and specific goals, I am choosing instead to focus on improving specific areas of my life through habits and systems. There are five areas in my life that I have decided to focus on for growth this year.

Focus 1: Physical Health

First, let me emphasize this focus has nothing to do with weight loss. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and I have no intention to do so anytime soon. It’s not even about how my clothes fit or what the mirror shows. It’s all about how I feel. For example, I know by listening to my body that I am sensitive to sugar. Too much in the morning makes me nauseous, and too much any time gives me a headache. I also know from experience that sodium effects me pretty strongly. My hands and feet swell when I am the slightest bit dehydrated and have had anything too salty. I know I feel my best when I eat real food that is prepared fresh and hasn’t been in a package for who knows how long. The solution to this problem seems pretty obvious: just eat healthier, home cooked food. Ironically, I actually enjoy cooking. But often by the end of the day, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like it, and it’s really easy to talk my family into ordering takeout (we are a family of loving enablers). But in the interest of focusing on taking care of my physical health, I am putting in place a system that at 5:00 each evening, I will cook dinner.

Of course, physical health isn’t only about food. Movement is important too. I go through pretty drastic hills and valleys with regard to exercise. I’m either working out 6 days a week and feeling amazing, or I haven’t gotten off the couch in a week with no current desire to do so ever again (one guess as to which extreme I’m at now – hint: I’m currently lying in a recliner watching my 4th Marvel movie of the day, typing on my phone because my laptop is charging in another room). The challenge with this one is finding the best time to do it. If I start my day with movement, I feel great, but then I feel like my day is running late. If I wait until the end of the day, it’s likely something will get in the way and I won’t get to it. So the system I’m putting in place for this one is at 4:00 each afternoon, I will move my body for 30 minutes. This could be a jog around the neighborhood or a workout in the garage. Hopefully before too long it can be a gym workout, but right now that’s not in my comfort zone due to Covid.

Focus 2: Mental Health

A lot of the mental aspect of health can be improved by improving physical health, so if I can get that under control, I feel like I’m that much closer to better mental health. Unfortunately, I have historically focused specifically on one or the other meaning that the one that wasn’t the focus at the time only got as much benefit as the other provided. For example, in times that mental health was the focus, I tended to make sure that I was prioritizing rest, meditating regularly, and being kind to myself without putting any real emphasis on nutrition or movement. My mental health systems are small, but impactful. Most of these practices are how I start my day. I will list 5 things to I am thankful for first thing. I will not check my phone for the first hour I am awake. I will meditate and reflect each morning before I start my “work” day (more on that in a minute). I will continue to meet with my counselor every other week.

Focus 3: My Work

This is a tough one because it doesn’t yet have a specific focus or determined direction. That’s why I’m putting these systems in place – to establish that direction. I have joined author Kathi Lipp’s ministry team as an intern to learn more about how to build my brand and put myself out there. In joining this team, I have joined the Writer’s Collective which is a program that I feel will really strengthen my progress toward my goals. The program is broken down into three categories: create, build, and serve.

3a: Create

Creating for me means making progress toward writing my memoir. The plan is for this manuscript is to follow my evolution of a mother through my life as a pregnant teen, teen mom, single mom, married mom, and now that my kids are mostly grown, as a self aware individual. I will spend 90 minutes daily, Monday through Friday, working on some aspect of this manuscript.

3b: Build

In addition to writing, I am also putting a system in place to spend 90 minutes each day building my platform and community. This will be useful in hopefully increasing my readership, but also in attracting an audience that will actually find value in what I hope to offer in terms of hope and support and acceptance.

3c: Serve

The final 90 minute block in my “work” day is dedicated to serving my community. Right now this will be primarily through blog posts, but as I get more comfortable reaching out and as it becomes safer to interact in person post Covid, I would like for service to be feet on the ground serving marginalized communities wherever I can.

As I mentioned before, all things “work” related are pretty vague. The systems are there, but the projected outcome is not. Not yet anyway. If nothing else, I’ll be learning.

Focus 4: Personal Growth

Another pretty nondescript category, but not any less important than the others. I would like to set aside time to discover new interests and rediscover interests I have set aside. I mentioned earlier that I enjoy cooking. I’d like to remind myself that regularly and make a habit of it. I used to play piano, and while I hated it as a child (to be fair – my teacher was really mean – even my mom will back me up on that), I wish I still played. We got rid of our piano about 5 years ago, but I think maybe I’ll pick up a keyboard and try to get back into it. Part of me would like to learn to dance, though that sounds terrifying. Regardless, I plan to set aside 30 minutes per day for some sort of personal growth activity.

Focus 5: Spiritual Growth

This one is a little bit scary for me as my spiritual upbringing swings between my step-dad’s extreme Old Testament, fire and brimstone beliefs and nonexistent avoidance. I’m in a place now where I’d like to learn actual truth. I have a hard time accepting a God that is ok with things like misogyny and white supremacy and homophobia, yet sends his son to teach love and peace and acceptance. I need more information. I need reconciliation. Last year, I started to get involved in the Daughters of Abraham and was looking forward to learning more not only from women from my own faith background, but women from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds as well. Covid put a damper on that though, and it fell by the wayside with so many other intentions. I plan to get more involved with the group this year – even if it is virtually. I also virtually attended the Evolving Faith conference this year, and found myself among a group of seemingly like minded people. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to make some connections in person and find a church community that I can plug in to and learn from.

So there you have it. No actual resolutions, but plenty of areas to focus on growth. I’m seeking out accountability resources to keep me from losing focus, and the only real goal is growth. Here’s to 2021.

A Personal Growth Post (i.e. a semi-coherent brain dump)

Two things are going on in this post. One is that I signed up for the #30day10k writing challenge though the Writing at the Red House group, and as such, am committed to a whole lot of writing this month; but I’m not really feeling my manuscript today, so a blog post it is. The other is that since my bi-weekly appointment with my counselor Wednesday evening, I have been processing a lot of thoughts, and since part of the tagline on the logo that my dear friend Anna created for me says “personal growth,” I thought it appropriate to ruminate here and use the words toward my word count goal for the day (which is 500, so buckle up because we’re only 124 words in).

It’s no secret that in recent months I’ve been on a journey of self discovery. I’ve felt an enormous, unrelenting tug on my heart to serve in some way that makes a positive impact on members of marginalized and oppressed groups. The main challenge is that I’m not sure in what capacity I am meant to serve, what my gifts are, or where my focus lies, and so my counselor has shifted the focus of our sessions together in a more career coaching sort of direction, which has given me a different perspective of myself and my goals. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel any closer to clarity than I did four months ago when we made this shift, but I’m finding the process to be incredibly enlightening. One of the first “assignments” she gave me was to write a mission statement. She gave me no hard deadline, which was a rookie mistake, because I’m not sure if anyone of the three of you that read my blog posts have ever written a mission statement, but it is flipping hard. At least it is for me. I have wrestled with this thing, written, rewritten, thrown away, walked away from, and written again for the better part of nearly three months now and it’s still in draft form (though it’s way closer than it was even last week). On Monday, I finally texted the latest version to her and told her to “chew on it and give me feedback at our appointment Wednesday”. Of course, when Wednesday rolls around, instead of telling me how she felt about my statement, she goes the counselor route and says “how do YOU feel about it?” Ugh. After a whole lot of stumbling around for words I thought maybe she’d like to hear me say (please tell me I’m not the only one that does this), I finally said “Well, it’s still pretty vague, but if it was a mission statement for an organization I was considering serving, I’d work for them.” To which she said, “So are you proud of it?”

Am I proud of it? We had roughly 15 minutes left in our session and with one word – proud – she secured me as a counseling client for at least another three months. Am I proud of the statement I wrote? I can’t say that I am. Which is stupid, because I worked hard to come up with it, and on a rational level, I know that even if I’m not yet completely satisfied with the outcome, it’s ok to recognize the effort I put in to it, but proud? Can I have a different word, please? She said I can’t. Proud. After a lot of uncomfortable squirming and mentally hoping the internet would fail and cut our connection and damn – we’ll have to pick up again in two weeks (and maybe she’ll forget what we were talking about by then), she asked what my problem was with the concept of pride. Nothing. No problem at all… for other people. You finished that marathon? Way to go, sis! You defended your dissertation? That’s astounding – you must be on top of the world! You dragged yourself out of bed and made it through the day? You’re amazing, and should celebrate with a nap! I am completely comfortable with, and excited about, celebrating other people’s successes. Sincerely and wholeheartedly. But can we please just look the other way when it comes to me?

Of course, now I have opened the gate to the never-ending (though admittedly necessary) conversation about core beliefs; how they can be challenged and changed, but first you have to figure out where they come from. So begins the hard work of meditating on the questions: What do I want to believe about pride? What was I taught about pride in childhood? What accomplishments would I like to feel pride in? How can I feel qualified to empower people if I am not empowered enough to acknowledge my own accomplishments?

So far there are no answers, except to the last question which is I can’t, and while I can’t say I’m excited about this step in the process, I recognize the value in the work. I’m committed to discovering my calling and I acknowledge that challenging my core beliefs is key to unlocking my potential, and therefore required for any kind of success.

I’ll start here. Today I wrote 872 words, and of that accomplishment, I am proud.