failure: actually, not the worst by natalie miller

I'm sure you've heard this go-getter question:

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

This inspires me . . . well, at first, anyway. But then my mind gets ahold of it.

But you will fail, I think. You've taken enough trips around the sun to know that failure is part of the deal.

This is true, friends, and we know it. Failure is part of the deal. 

We are not, as it turns out, omniscient and omnipotent. We take wrong turns, we have bad timing, we make mistakes. 

Unforeseen circumstances impede our way, and we stub our toes on them.

We make messes. Terrible messes.

I say this is not entirely bad news.

flying or falling? thanks to @julianpaul for this extraordinary image

flying or falling? thanks to @julianpaul for this extraordinary image

I've definitely gotten some of my deepest wisdom on the other side of failure. 

I've learned a lot about relationships from failed relationships. I've learned a lot about cooking from failing in the kitchen.

(Come to think of it, most of my cooking fails were for the partners in the failed relationships.)

But listen:

My mis-steps, mis-understandings, messings-up - ALL of them - have been instrumental in helping me grow. 

My failures - maybe even more than my successes - have led me:

to work that I truly love (by failing to finish my dissertation, and following my heart)

to parenting with openness and authenticity (by saying - okay, yelling - the wrong thing, and learning to model vulnerability)

to be much more willing to take chances: professionally, emotionally, creatively (by failing enough that I've realized I'm not so destructible after all)

And to eyeliner that is perfect, like, 95% of the time.

Would you say the same?

I mean, not the eyeliner part, but:

Haven't your failures been essential to your growth?

Haven't they enhanced your humanness?

And

Each time you have fallen on your ass, haven't you somehow scrapped your way back up?

Aren't you rather impressed with this scrappy side of yourself?

If yes, maybe you agree:

Failing makes us stronger, yet more humble. Wiser, yet more open and curious.

As such, here are the questions I'm asking me and you:

What would you do if you knew that win or lose, succeed or fail, you are good and growing?

What would you do if you knew that every wrong turn you take is essential to you finding your best way forward?

What would you do if you trusted that every mess and mistake holds within it a jewel of wisdom?

Knowing that you will fail, and that you will be not just okay, but in so many ways better:

What do you most deeply want to do?

 

I'm the fairest and so are you. by natalie miller

“Inner beauty is what matters” does NOT a feminist message make.

It sounds kinda good, but let me tell you, it's a bait and switch.

I’m thinking about this because of the big Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs marketing blech.

Here are the basics of that mess.

This fat-shaming poster:

What if marketing departments employed more women?

What if marketing departments employed more women?

And this creepy-ass trailer:

Thank goodness for body-positive model Tess Holiday, who called this shit out right quick in the Land of Tweets. And thank goodness for the feminist backlash that had Locus Films pulling their posters and canceling the ad campaign practically within the hour.

To explain themselves, Locus Films basically says, "Hey. We misstepped. Our film is actually about how it’s what’s inside that counts. How inner beauty is what matters."

NOPE.

Please.

Yes, we have come a long way since beautiful (and fair and slender and petite and therefore Good and Pure) Cinderella triumphed over her ugly (and dark and fat and large and therefore Bad and Toxic) stepsisters.

But:

"Hey, fat girls are actually pretty on the inside” is bullshit.

[No wonder that Tess Holiday, who makes her living being large and beautiful ON. THE. OUTSIDE. was the first to sound the alarm here].

Look:

“[This fat woman’s] inner beauty is what matters” implies that her fatness is not beautiful. It accepts and reinforces excessively narrow standards for outer beauty.

Also?

“Inner beauty is what matters” implies that appearances don’t matter, when they absolutely do. Appearances are, in fact, crucial to our understanding that not everyone is the same.

Humans are all different. Look and see and marvel and appreciate.

Beauty norms do not adequately appreciate differences in bodies, and are therefore oppressive. THAT's the problem.

You don't have to "look inside" to find beauty in the fat princess. Just ditch the bigotry and open your damn eyes.

Hmm.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Maybe let's edit that. Because the beholder is often a misogynist asshole.

Furthermore.

This pretending that appearances don’t matter is such an important piece of the misogynist puzzle, this sexist Catch-22 (it’s more like a Catch-22 squared. A Catch 484?) around the way embodied women present themselves in the world.

You see: there is power in embodied self-expression, and we prefer that women not exercise it.

It goes like this:

we like it when women look good and reward them for that, but Women should not CARE about looking good. (If they do, they’re vain! Antifeminist! Superficial! Part of the problem!).

we like it when women look good, but Women must not ASSERT OR EVEN AGREE that they look good. (God no not that. Conceited whores! Asking for it!)

we like it best when we can all pretend that our beauty standards are totally reasonable so Women should look good, but in a “natural” and “effortless” sort of way. (Turns out this actually takes a lot of effort).

Basically: women should look good for everyone but themselves.

Because when a woman outwardly celebrates her body and its beauty on her own terms - when she’s powerfully, confidently self-expressive through her appearance - she must be trouble.

No wonder the patriarchy loves a “pretty on the inside” girl, whose beauty is revealed in a non-threatening, almost passive way. Whose beauty gets discovered, rather than announced.

Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing.

Laney Boggs in She’s All That.

Even freaking Hermione Granger in the Goblet of Fire. (Okay okay, I’m gonna let JK Rowling off the hook and decide that Hermione got all fancy for herself and on her own terms).

Listen.

We’re at a critical juncture, feministly speaking. “Inner beauty is what matters” is not an adequate counterpoint to this phenomenon:

What we need instead are beauty anti-norms: an insistence that beauty is borne of autonomous individuality, not conformity.

This starts with recognizing and rejecting the norms - the racist, ageist, cis-privileged, fatphobic, ableist norms - wherever we see them imposed.

We insist that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is where YOU are.

We declare sovereignty of self-expression for every woman. Even - no, especially - those Fox News anchors. Please, ladies, look how YOU want to look. Roger Ailes can’t get you now.

We decide that if you care how you look - if you want to be beautiful on the outside - you are a self-expressive human, not a vain bitch.

Wear what you want, ladies. Take your selfies, too. Strut down the street and pepper-spray the cat-callers and take up all the space you want and be pretty on the outside in your own damn way.

I WELCOME YOUR TROUBLE AND I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU.

what is broken is not ruined by natalie miller

Fix it.

This is my knee-jerk reaction.

Something is broken? My body? Our country? Your heart?

If it’s broke, fix it.

What else is there to do?

*

Language has deep roots, and when I dig down to the taproot of break, I expect ruins and shards. Broken means damaged; this is the broken I must fix.

I do find some ruins in the etymology of break. But among them, there is possibility.

I find: “to burst forth,” “to spring out,” and “to break into,” and I expand my thinking.

Daybreak is a beginning.

We break bread to share and connect.

We create comfort by breaking the ice.

We hear the latest through breaking news.

We recharge with a lunch break - or we used to, anyway, when we still took them.

When we are boldly original, we break the mold.

We have a breakthrough, and expand our sense of what’s possible. What is.

*

Thinking of brokenness as not destructive but generative - as a means not of dis-integration, but of deeper connection - brings to mind that well-worn Leonard Cohen lyric:

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

In breaking: that’s how the LIFE gets in.

I love how Walt Whitman describes lifeforce: Nature without check with original energy. Life, like Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” is unruly, unpredictable, unstoppable. Each moment breaks open, bursts forth into the next.

Urge and urge and urge
Always the procreant urge of the world.

For Whitman, the brokenness is not regrettable, but lovable. It is an aspect of lifeforce propelling us to become more of who we are. It conveys Original Energy, and is not to be resisted. It is to be embraced. Look for me under your boot-soles and all that.

I love him.

I love him.

During the Civil War, Whitman volunteered in hospitals with wounded soldiers. He did not try to fix them. He simply loved them. He helped them pen letters to loved ones, entertained them with games, brought them candy for sweet tooths, re-membered them in his own writing.

What happens when we embrace the brokenness, when we tend it with love?

*

I inherited a beautiful vase from my grandmother. It survived World War II. It survived a journey from Poland to Chicago to New Mexico to Maryland.

It survived Grandma.

And then - sunny afternoon, children laughing, ball thrown indoors - it broke. A small piece of the rim, and (also, again) my Grandma-grieving heart.

I never did find the little triangle of porcelain chipped away.

Until today, I winced to think of the vase’s ruin. But now, in that little triangular space in the broken rim, I sense small, laughing children on a sunny afternoon. I imagine Grandma in the scene with arched eyebrow and suppressed smile. My eyes brim with tears.

That’s where the life got in.

*

So, what to do with what’s broken?

Look for the light, and the life, coming through. Tend it with love.

And remember that you choose the word that comes next.

Break through. Break open. Break free.