I have a price. I know that now.

I am having an existential crisis of sorts unfold before me.

My newsfeed on Facebook was recently beset with commencement and convocation photos of people graduating with Masters and Doctorates. Of professor friends and acquaintances participating in ceremony.

Diving straight to the heart of it, these represent, for me, family photos I was left out of, and it hit me so embarrassingly hard.

Let me explain.

Growing up, more than any other place and for better or worse, school was where my need for acceptance was met. Not entirely, of course. Oh so far from it. But certainly more consistently than at home and by so many other people. It is where I felt valued; where I was met with approval. I have letter grades to show for it, you know. And even though this is true for so many people, it still pains me to say that my teachers and professors, whether they knew it or not, were my surrogate parents. My dad put me up on a pedestal that I felt I could never live up to, and my mom was simply exhausted from life and had very little left in her for me. It’s how life was. I learned early on to be as emotionally independent as I could be, but I still had needs. A Lot of them. I still do. That happens when you’re human.

I took 5 years to finish my undergrad, at the end of which, I decided to apply to the Master’s program in the same department because little else was calling my name. It was the best thing I could think of doing with myself at the time. I spent an additional year and a half coming to the realization that I didn’t have the zeal I needed for that particular program. It wasn’t what *I* wanted to do with myself. So with help, I put effort toward creating my own program. And then life flung some big changes my way and I ended up in a different country, at a different university in a different Master’s program. I didn’t finish this program, either, for the usual reasons that people generally did not finish this particular program. There was a proficiency exam that I needed to pass. I had 5 tries to do it; I quit after the 4th failure. Quit the program and didn’t look back for 8 years.

This was my teenage rebellion.

During this time, I learned that I retain information much better if I’m interested. I studied neurotransmitters, drug usage, dietary issues, food intolerances, hypoglycemia, depression, went through various phases of living as green a life as I could within the confines of extant limitations. I learned I could live without blatant plastic usage. I learned about living life with two partners. I studied pregnancy, birth, and attachment parenting. I learned a fair bit about herbalism. Gardening, urban homesteading. I created two beautiful children. During which time, I learned about trauma, separation, flashbacks, visitation, learning what was ok to talk about and with whom, trusting my gut instinct, making do, letting it all fall apart so that I could put it back anew.

All of this has value. This is life, and I dare say, it has been a life well-lived. But there is unfinished business, so many loose ends.

I see these commencement photos and it draws up so many feelings I wanted to forget about. All the insecurities have come to the fore. I look at the life I have lived since leaving university and I see it through the merciless eyes of Academia. None of it has served the Academy, so therefore none of it has value. Maybe on a person-to-person level it does, but not overall.

I went to an academic conference last year and felt both at home for the first time in a decade and so out of place as to be ashamed and embarrassed that I had nothing to show for my time spent away. Meaning that, in terms of what is valued within that particular overarching community, I had nothing but an undergraduate degree and a descriptor under my name of Independent Scholar. With no university affiliation, I was Suspect. No post-grad degrees meant no short-hand ways of gleaning where I fit into the greater scheme of things. Truth be told, I was welcomed just fine but there was an obvious undercurrent of Othering. “I took time off,” I said. “I’ll be able to go back someday.”

I felt ashamed. I still do when I tell people that I’m a stay-at-home mother. I feel like I should start telling people I’m a writer, but then, blogs aren’t really Writing, are they? (We know we value bloggers because we get free insight, but we bloggers get made fun of relentlessly… “And now there are all these bloggers…” a writing teacher dismissively said last year to my Saturday class. “Do any of you have a blog?” I did not respond. I didn’t know how to play the game.) I didn’t respond because I didn’t value myself as a blogger in the face of criticism. And I feel ashamed to tell people I’m a stay-at-home mother because I do not value my work as a parent. I keep looking at it through the lens of our sociocultural norms rather than through the lens of someone who appreciates the work I do…

I have two amazing creative projects, my boys, but they do not serve the Academy, and they’re not actively serving society. I am not contributing to the economy because I have no job for which I get cash payment, and, as a result, I spend very little. Parenthood and all that comes with it is nothing that society at large actually truly values. As a parent, I see that reflected back to me in so many ugly and sharply painful ways. And that lack of value is reflected in Academia where so many academics, who are mothers, are consistently discriminated against, and not just by male academics, either. It is a problem. THIS is what I want to go back to?

Yes.

Through all of this introspection, I have discovered that I have a price. A price that I am willing to pay in order to feel like I belong somewhere. It is the cost of a graduate degree. A graduate degree spanning 14 years, costing, on a monetary level, well over three times as much as it would have cost had I done it straight through. And maybe that price is the cost of two graduate degrees, because who knows what’ll come of my own search to feel adequate. I feel like if I have said degrees, I’ll belong somewhere where I want to belong. Somewhere where I felt like I once belonged. This is what I’m buying into. This is how I’m letting myself be bought.

I have oft times referred to the professors, students, and staff at the first and only university where I actually felt like I sort of belonged, as my dysfunctional family away from dysfunctional family. I am under no delusions that Academia is some majestic heavenly place of fluffy warm fuzzies. People bring their emotional baggage with them wherever they go and they act it out in all kinds of unsavoury and egotistical ways. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating those people and loving them (er, some more distantly than others). So yes, I get this. And, yes, I still want to go back. Mind you, it’ll be to a different university than the one referenced above, back to the last program I was in.

Except that the truth of the matter is, of course, that I can never really go back.

  1. the people are different
  2. even if some people are the same, they’re still different from who they were a decade ago
  3. I am different
  4. it’s not going to be what I need for it to be

but tell that to my Inner Child and she will cross her arms stubbornly and hold her head aloft, abjectly refusing to hear what you are trying to tell her. The Adult in me wants to tie up loose ends and finish what she started. The Child in me wants so very much to return to a place where her interests were nurtured. Where she felt valued and loved for what she had to offer (for what is love, after all, but connection? and connecting through shared and nurtured interests can happen frequently in upper level education). Where people actively tried to help her get to where she said she wanted to be. All the things she never got as a child.

What I want her to know and understand with all her heart is that she has value no matter where she goes, no matter what she does with herself, no matter what her creative projects are. She is an amazing person who works with integrity to help others and works hard to understand the world. That is laudable in and of itself.

Getting all of that at heart level is the real work that lies ahead.

In the meantime, there is bureaucracy, red tape, and finances to be dealt with. And, hopefully, Latin. So much Latin.

And maybe my returning to grad school is my equivalent of moving back home for awhile just so that I can reassess my life and get things in order before moving on to something else. That’s a price I can live with.

Poem :: Lightening the Load

my life is an act of releasing,
of letting go

I brought so much baggage with me on this trip
and I usually pride myself on packing light
but I am full of self-deception and misperceptions
I forgot that wardrobe’s back opened onto another world
that looks just like me

I brought friends this time; I always do
Saturn splits the chaff from usable grain
Pluto digs around my unconscious self
bringing things from the basement out to the yard for examination
all the hidden parts of me I’ve stowed away
Chiron, the wounded healer, sees my wounds, teaches me to heal
giving me a template of understanding,
a pattern of recognition for empathy and compassion
to blossom and flow from me to others who are also wounded

we are all wounded, even if
some of us would prefer to hide it and hide from it

wounds need airing to heal
and I have been digging and digging lately
eyes shrouded, hands stained with the soil of myself,
bringing so much up
the sweat streaming into my eyes becomes tears I reluctantly shed
I keep forgetting to let this stuff go; I keep forgetting how…
my guts strewn about in the open air, the pain of it
I can no longer make heads or tails
it’s just intestines, half-digested relationships
unfinished meals of thoughts and longings
I’m pretty sure there’s a broken aorta over there
and it feels like that’s the crux of it.
will it ever get reconnected? am I even seeing it correctly?
maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill
maybe it’s only a capillary
maybe it’s a vena cava, which would explain the starving heart
how can I have a broken vena cava and still
flood the grass from the aorta?

how does one give up and release that which no longer serves?
how does one learn to let go of realities that never were?

either way, I have dirty laundry to wash and hang
and more lessons from Saturn and Chiron to survive:
I’ve surrendered to Pluto’s compulsion for reorganizing…

maybe I’ll have a yard sale
I’m so done with this shit.

Throw It on the Table and Deal with It: The Value in Valuing Yourself

In a matter of about 5 minutes on Facebook, I came across two gut-wrenching, rage-inducing links. The first was about Purity Balls in the States and the second about the mothers of some 200 girls who went missing from a Nigerian physics classroom staging a protest. I clicked on them in reverse order…

Nigerian Mothers Protesting

This is heartbreaking: Yesterday, the Mothers of the 234 missing school girls staged a protest, demanding that their children be brought back home.  The protest was held after news broke that many of the girls are reportedly being married in mass ceremonies and sold to Boko Haram officials for just 2,000 naira ($12 USD).  When officials gave parents almost no comfort or assurances about their efforts to retrieve the children, many of the Mothers broke down in tears, literally throwing themselves to the ground. Something has to be done, people. Something has to be done. http://face2faceafrica.com/article/nigerian-missing-girls-protest-chibok

“The protest was held after news broke that many of the girls are reportedly being married in mass ceremonies and sold…”

married and sold. stolen from a physics classroom, married and sold. The fact that “just 2,000 naira” $12 USD is the going price doesn’t fucking matter to me. These girls’ lives are priceless. You can buy into the story of OMG, TWELVE DOLLARS? but that’s just a diversionary tactic that supposedly shows how worthless a girl’s life is. The reality, though, is that you cannot monetize a life. You just can’t. Slavery attempts to. Capitalism tries to all the time. Healthcare tries to all the time. It doesn’t really work that way, though. If these girls really were worthless, then why were they stolen at all? These girls are precious and those men know it. The money exchanged is just a part of a propagandist story that attempts to reinforce the worthlessness of women. Except that the joke’s on all of us because it’s not true. Women are far from worthless. You can sell me and treat me like a piece of furniture, but if I know my own worth, then your actions only show how blind you are, how off the mark you are.

Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” and they’re a militant Islamic jihadist terrorist organization in northeast Nigeria. “Western education is sinful” really calls to mind the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. It really calls to mind Malala Yousafzai. She writes in her biography, I am Malala

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

To sin means to miss the target. The etymology of the word ‘sin’ is misleading, so don’t go by that. Go back to the original source and check which word got translated into the English word, ‘sin’: khata. Aramaic. It’s apparently an archery term that means to miss the target. To be off the mark.

If education is education, as Yousafzai states, then Boko Haram is completely missing the mark. Their actions are so beyond ironic as to be self-parodic without even realizing it. And once again, women and girls are paying the price. Also ironic since it was the girls who were sold for a pittance.

Nothing about this makes any fucking sense, and I feel absolutely devastated. There’s a Change.org Petition available to sign to help push the Nigerian president into actually making an effort to find the girls and return them to their families.

The next link I came across on Purity Balls was one that I skimmed over, since it was just a bunch of photos. But creepy freaking photos they were:

Striking, Creepy Photos of Christian “Purity Balls”

Photo Credit: David Magnusson

There was PolicyMic link suggested under this one on FB, so I clicked on it, hoping for an actual article, which I got: The Creepy Way Fathers Across the Country Are Controlling Their Daughters’ Virginity Highly worth the read. Particularly for the following quote:

“…it’s ironic that the method they’ve chosen to combat the hypersexualization of girlhood is, well, the hypersexualization of girlhood.

When you get down to it, Purity Balls are literally all about sex. If your worth as a human being is invariably tied to what you do with the parts between your legs, who you are becomes defined by your sexuality; you’re either pure, or impure.”

The Facebook tagline for the article reads, “You’re married to the Lord and your father is your boyfriend.”

You’re married to the Lord AND YOUR FATHER IS YOUR BOYFRIEND. Let’s push the bounds of father-daughter relationships right towards incest, shall we? Let’s overtly tinge that relationship with sex. Yes. Let’s. That’s totally the way to create healthy boundaries and a solid sense of selfhood, agency, and self-determination.

When I was looking up sin and khata for this post, I came across this beautifully apt quote from the Bible: “What goes into the man from outside cannot defile him.” (Mark 7:18) It’s a really potent quote. What goes into the woman from the outside cannot defile her, either. Yes, in context, Jesus was talking about food and how food only touches the stomach and not the heart, so it is eliminated, leaving you untouched. HOWEVER, the greater meaning here is that when our heart — our core — is pure, then we are not defiled. If we have a strong sense of self, then we cannot be defiled. We cannot be tainted by someone else.

If we are purely ourselves rather than trying to be someone else in order to please another, be accepted by another, be loved by another, then we value ourselves for who we are rather than who we can pretend to be. And like the notion of selling the Nigerian girls to Boko Haram officials, this whole concept of a lack of sex making someone pure and the presence of sex making someone impure is yet another ridiculous piece of propagandist bullshit from the patriarchy.

Sex is how we get onto this planet. But we’re born pure? How can we be pure if we got here by supposedly impure means? And where are the virginal boys and the Purity Balls for them?

Really, between the stolen girls in Nigeria and the Purity Balls in the States, I’m feeling really flattened. Did we just travel back in time several hundred years? Because that’s what this feels like. It feels like we’re dredging all this shit up from the Collective Unconscious. All our sociocultural skeletons just fell right out of the damned closet and we’re staring at them all, aghast. Bad Family Secrets right out there in the open. So here’s an idea: Let’s just throw all the shit on the table so that we can actually deal with it.

Which means we have to actually Deal With It. 

You cannot stick your head in the sand any longer. There’s too much bad in this world. So if you’re going to LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU, then you’re totally part of the problem and I really have no time for your shit. Doesn’t mean I don’t have time for YOU. It means that I have no time for your bullshit and neither do you.

Men, if you can’t step up as allies and unlearn all the bullshit society has taught you, then fuck off. Get off my goddamned lawn. Women, unlearn that shit, too. It’s not about a goddamned ring — marriage, purity ball or otherwise. It’s not about sex. It’s not about money. IT’S ABOUT VALUING WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON. NOT WHO YOU CAN MOLD YOURSELF TO BE IN ORDER TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED.

Value women. Value them for who they are on an individual level. Not for what they can do for you. If you value them, truly value them, then you will support their own agency. You will support their autonomy and grant them full self-determination. None of this paternalistic crap of telling them what they’re allowed to learn or how they’re allowed to use their bodies. Show them that they are valued no matter what they do. They ain’t here to serve you men and your overblown ideas of what has value.

All of these skeletons that we harbour are getting pulled out for us to examine. These practices of Purity Balls and kidnapping girls from school, selling them off to be married against their will are still acceptable because women are not yet valued as people. Do the hard work of valuing who you are. We are always unfolding and transforming. We are a work in progress and loving that is also a work in progress. But it’s really goddamned important work that will serve every person on this planet. Help others value who they are as people. Accept how awesome you are. Accept that you still need work. Accept that it’s TOTALLY OK because it damn well IS. Ain’t nobody perfect. And everybody’s shit stinks. That’s realism. And that’s what makes it fabulous.

Throw that shit on the table and deal with it. This is how we purify ourselves. This is how we remember that we are already undefiled. This is how we return to ourselves, men and women both.