Just a girl

what i've succumbed to / is making me numb

Image: Etsy

This week, a teen mom from a trailer park did something all kinds of fantastic.

Take this pink ribbon off my eye…

Tying on a pair of sneaks (and possibly an adult diaper?), Wendy Davis took the floor of the Texas Senate at 11:18 am on a Tuesday and proceeded to kick up some dust.  Since I’m no reporter, I won’t rehash the details here… let’s leave it to the professionals to refresh us on what happened, and let’s leave it to a fellow writer, also named Amy, who also lives in Austin (hello, spirit animal) to tell us firsthand of the shenanigans leading up to it. (Fun fact: if you live in Texas, one of your legislators would prefer to sit around playing Candy Crush — in plain view of you — on your dime instead of listen to what you have to say. Others like to enjoy salty snacks on the House floor while poking their colleagues in the butt. Just a day in the life, you see.)

I’m exposed, and it’s no big surprise…

A funny thing happened — and a rare one, too — as the self-made college graduate, lawyer, and legislator stood up and refused to sit down for twelve hours straight.  At age 50, she’d come quite a long way from her life three decades ago, when she’d married at 18 and had a child that same year, then quickly found herself living as a single mother, but she hadn’t forgotten the struggle.  In an unprecedented moment, her state — much of it, anyway —  took notice of what she was doing and decided to stand along with her… or at least sit still and stare.

I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing of the filibuster until it was actually happening.  I used to spend a fair amount time in the Texas Capitol, having worked for a year with an association whose members would routinely knock on lawmakers’ doors and beg to have their voices heard.  I once hit my head on a frame in Senator Duncan’s office while trying to get a photograph of our members having a discussion with him.  I live not 30 minutes from the building, and I’ll get as heated as the next girl about women’s health care issues, yet I had no clue what was going on this week until it was well under way.  

I have no excuses worth uttering.  But along with more than 100,000 other people, I crouched into my laptop Tuesday night, watching the drama unfold on the screen and trying to catch up.  I compulsively clicked back and forth between the Texas Tribune’s live stream and my own meager twitter feed, paying special attention to tweets from people in the building who were personally witnessing the chaos.  And as riveted as I was, I felt a little like a fraud.

Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had plenty of strong female role models to look up to.  I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, UNICEF’s first female goodwill ambassador, when I saw My Fair Lady at age five.  Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Salt n’ Pepa comprised my childhood soundtrack alongside a few male counterparts and a dash of Debbie Gibson (who, let’s face it, was essentially Taylor Swift before Taylor Swift was Taylor Swift).  I discovered Judy Blume around age nine and decided I wanted to have her life or something like it when I grew up big and strong.  And throughout high school and college, I was always drawn to strong, smart women in the public eye; I never felt like I had to look too far to find them.  I had plenty of male heroes, too; in fact, I never thought all that much about gender growing up.  I just lived my life, like most of us do, day to day.

My influences weren’t only external: my mom was paramount in my life.  She led by example: rarely preaching the gospel of feminism, she just lived it as best she could.  She put herself through college after having three boys with my dad, and finally had me in her late thirties, soon going back to work and educating something like a thousand children over the decades to follow, urging them all to become informed, independent citizens of the world.  My dad, too, was (and still is) a strong guiding force in my life; unlike most of my friends, who were shuttled back and forth between one divorced parent and another with nary a polite exchange during each dropoff, I got to enjoy the affections of both at the same time, plus their love for one another.  I loved “helping” him paint houses and go fishing, and nothing was better than falling asleep to his bedtime stories.  I never felt the void of parents who couldn’t stand each other, who didn’t speak.  I always felt the security of two people telling me I could be whoever I wanted.

So needless to say, as much as I love a cute dress, I know that it doesn’t define me.  As many romantic screw-ups as I’ve had, I’ve never let any of them break me.  And as much as I loved that super-catchy No Doubt song about the woes of being a little baby hen in a rooster’s world, it took me years to really get what Gwen Stefani was singing about.

This world is forcing me to hold your hand…

The first time I recall feeling a twinge of true sexism was when I worked for a man we’ll call “Bob.”  He had an all-female staff, to whom he referred as “gals” (It is Texas, after all) and also to whom he never paid any real attention.  Right from the start, it felt as though I’d broken through the ceiling most of the other women in the office couldn’t seem to clear themselves, but I never gave it much thought — I’d worked for Bob’s brother before moving to Texas and figured I must have had some sort of insight into his personality that gave me an advantage into working well with him.  As time wore on, though, working with him became a rarity, even though one of my primary responsibilities was to edit his writing.  Bob’s the one who was leading the discussion in Senator Duncan’s office on the day I bumped my head.  It was one of those rare occasions when he actually showed up to work.  Mostly, he couldn’t be bothered to come into the office; my guess is that he actually worked an average of ten or fifteen hours a week in return for his six-figure salary.  And as for the “gals” in the office, they had a strange love/hate relationship with him.  In fact, I’d never seen so many people cover for just one soul in all my days and then grumble so much about how insufferable he was.

Refusing to hook his computer into the network, he’d occasionally breeze in and email me an electric razor receipt or washing machine rebate voucher, instructing me to stop whatever I was working on and print it off for him.  I’d roll my eyes and do it anyway, then get back to editing his slipshod ramblings so they’d maybe make sense to someone.

“Where’s the harm?” I thought, even though it felt sort of… squicky.

Over time, the board noticed critical work wasn’t getting done.

They started asking questions.

Bob swiftly put on his Boss Hat and took immediate action.

I suppose I should thank him for cutting me loose; it’s one of the five best things that ever happened to me.  But it doesn’t make it right, and it wouldn’t have happened if I were a man.  Why, you ask?  Because he never would have hired me in the first place.  Men were his equals, his bosses; women, his inferiors, his servants.  That’s just how Bob rolled.

I wonder who’s printing his receipts these days.

I’m just a girl, oh little ol’ me, well don’t let me out of your sights…

Growing up in a sprawling but still small navy town on the Florida/Georgia line, I’d never really thought much of terms that, to some, feel pejorative.  I sometimes pepper my speech with “honey”s and “sugar”s, although it’s usually for comedic effect and not so much out of habit… but for much of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who are out-and-out Southerners.  Technically, I guess I’m one too.  There’s sweet tea in these veins of mine, and sometimes I forget that it’s there.

It’s easy to neglect our own biases, our own ways of becoming accustomed to things, our tendency to let the world around us just happen because “that’s the way it is.”  I, for one, was never meant for suburbia, and I may not be meant for motherhood either.  Where I come from, that’s just insane.  Luckily, I’ve got a strong enough sense of self to have figured things out for myself, and I’ve managed to sidestep the sorts of obligations that some people just can’t, even if they desperately want to.  It’s frightening to me that there could be a future where nobody has a say in the matter.

There’s a difference between being old-fashioned, or set in one’s ways, and refusing to see things for what they really are.  While I don’t doubt the sincerity of so many people who genuinely believe in the wrongness of abortion under any and every circumstance, our democratic process doesn’t only represent them.  As flawed, imperfect, and ever-changing as it is, its beauty lies in the fact that it gives us all a chance to have our say.  But that’s the thing: if we don’t say anything, we don’t count.

I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights…

I’m guilty of getting distracted.  I’m guilty of being naive.  I’m guilty of just charging through the stereotypes and doing whatever I damn well please… well, actually, there’s no guilt to be had there whatsoever; I’m proud to blast through those walls without a second thought.  But I’m so oblivious to some of them —  I’m not even sure why, but I am — that sometimes the thrill is lost on me (and isn’t that how it should be? …eventually?)  And there’s danger in the fact that it’s so easy to forget how we don’t all have the same privileges, the same advantages, the same edge.

If I’d grown up among people who didn’t foster my curiosity about the world, in a place where my education was barely a priority and where birth control was scarcely available, do you think I’d be writing this fancy little blog post right now?  Given the sad state of sex ed, the lackluster quality of access to birth control (and decent health care in general) for women in low-income areas, and the time it took to develop life-saving HIV therapies (note: people in America were still dying of AIDS while I was living it up at the number one party school in the nation at the time), I wonder if I’d even still be alive.  Fortunately for me, here I sit in an air-conditioned space, waxing poetic into a blog I have time for about a Senate bill I knew little about before this week.  Others aren’t so lucky.  That’s why people like me… and like you… have to pay better attention.

I’m just a girl / What’s my destiny? / What I’ve succumbed to is making me numb

When my mom was the age I am right now, she was pregnant with me.  That’s a crazy thing to consider.  If I were to find myself in the same place today, at the admittedly ripe age of 37, I’d still be crazy unprepared.  “There’s so much still left for me to do first,” I’d be panicking. “What about the book?  What about the traveling? What about the world-shaking?”

Now, that’s not to say a mom can’t be a world-shaker (or a novelist, or a traveller).  On the contrary; some of the best ones are.  But I don’t have that deep yearning for motherhood like so many women do.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t have it yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last year or so in general, and certainly throughout this week’s events, but no single, shining answer has made itself clear to me as a result.  Refer me to a therapist if you’d like, but I’m actually pretty okay with being undecided, and I realize there will come a day when the decision will be made for me, by nature itself, whether I’m ready or not.  And maybe that’s where adoption comes in — or perhaps it comes in beforehand — but that’s another conversation for another day.  For now, I appreciate the beauty of the fact that, for the most part, I can choose the way I want my life to go.  It’s served me well so far, and it’s happened because I’ve had access to the education and resources necessary to stay healthy and, frankly, not pregnant.  The sixteen-year-old sophomore who doesn’t even have a diploma yet, the grown woman who made a mistake or got screwed by statistics and isn’t ready to sign up for the full-time job it obligates her to for the rest of her life, the rape survivor who didn’t sign up for anything — they should have the privilege of choosing, too, in whatever form that takes.

Whoa-oa-oa-oa-oa / I’ve had it up to… here

People like Wendy Davis are critical to the health of low-income women — and really, women in general — a population that likely won’t be served by the special session beginning on Monday as the result of a governor’s scorn.  Those of us who care should pay attention to what she’s doing and help her defeat the status quo in any way we can.  Because as far as I know, and from what science and history both tell us, our only way of “shutting that whole thing down” is to do something that’s not nearly as easy as it absolutely should be:

Let her speak.

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Go take a leap

IT'S PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME, B*TCHES

image: Junebug Photography

This Wednesday was my one-year anniversary of being a full-time freelance writer.

I’m still not entirely sure what that means. I’d love to craft a beautifully worded treatise on the joys and foibles of the past twelve months, but there’s no way to encapsulate it in a blog post. This little girl with misaligned socks is a pretty solid representation of what it feels like most of the time, which is why I chose her to accompany this week’s installment… but to write some sort of summary would be damn near impossible.  I really wish I’d written something that first day about taking the leap so I could look back on it now and laugh at what a dolt I was.  I think I was too busy to jot down any thoughts, though. Not too busy with clients (yet), mind you… just too busy freaking out, looking in nooks and crannies for rent money.  Too busy trying to find my footing.  Too busy wondering if I’d ever drink fancy coffee again.

Instead of blathering, I’d rather share a few of the notions, words and people that have inspired me from the start.  If I’ve done the math right (and I’m not proud of this, but that’s a big ‘if’), I’ve written more than 1,300 blog posts and articles totaling something like 396,000 words this past year, and that was just the dry run.  So today, I’m taking the day off to celebrate the fact that I’m able to pay the bills and feed the dog (at least this month, if not next) by doing what I love. I’ll let these pictures do the talking while I take a tiny break and figure out what’s next.  After I finish this here fancy coffee in my hand.

image sources: author's archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

image sources: author’s archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

For those of you who’ve made the leap yourselves, I salute you.  For those thinking about doing something scary that’s been tugging at you from the inside, I say, “Do it.”  If it’s how you truly want to spend your life, and if you’re willing to pay your dues, it will be worth the wait, the fear and the struggle.  The coolest part: when you get to your first benchmark, you’ll realize you never once looked back.  Because why would you?  That shit back there was awful.  This stuff right here is great, even when it isn’t.

Happy Friday, folks, and happy 2012. Thank you for coming here.  Thank you for believing in my work, whether you’ve checked out my portfolio or just enjoy reading these public diary entries.  I hope they make you smile, give you an idea every once in a while, or at least provide the distraction you’re looking for.

Most of all, thank you for your kindness, encouragement and time.  I appreciate it more than you know.

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Living in the margin

illustration via Drawing Saudade

My friend Saudi is a gifted artist, loyal friend and first rate human being. She’s lived on several continents, has a love of all things Disney and pulls no punches when speaking her mind. She’s a tough cookie, but a kind one. She’s used to playing the role, I think, of defender.

Saudi’s not only my friend; I was, strangely enough, her boss for a brief time, and I distinctly remember the fact that she always had a protective sensibility about her — a mama cub energy of sorts — always sticking up for the little guy. She was the good-hearted troublemaker in the back of the meeting who never actually made any trouble — really, she was productive, thoughtful and in many ways had a glue-like quality that helped hold the team together with humor in times of stress. She’d occasionally grumble just loudly enough to hold the title of “rebel,” and I think she took pride in that. There’s really no messing with Saudi, even though she’s a generous soul; she just has a tough exterior. So, needless to say, the image of someone marginalizing her and sending her home in tears isn’t only odd to me; it’s wholly unacceptable.

That’s an image I had to try to picture, though, when I read something she wrote this week. She shared a link to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper in which the writer at first appeared to give a somewhat balanced, if not particularly well-researched, accounting of the fact that fewer Canadian women are having babies than ever before. Balance flew out the window, however, in the latter portion of the article as it spun off its own rails with asinine conclusions — and then, of course, there’s the headline: Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish.

“I thought this was an Onion article,” Saudi began, and then went on to explain how much crap she gets for not having children with her husband. “I get, at the very least, one serious talking to from a stranger every other week, more if I happen to meet new people and have to exchange small talk with them. I try and ignore it and not let it bother me, but after a while it starts getting to me and I end up going home and crying, feeling terrible about myself.”

The article, at first blush, made me laugh — not an audible guffaw, but more a quiet series of eye rolls. I think my favorite parts were these three little nuggets of gold:

“Indeed, there are more finite calculations involved: Career demands. Timing. Not having a partner, or not having the right partner. Flaky fears about overburdening our already overburdened planet, personal choice and a bunch of other hooey that serve to hide the fact that happy couples that choose not to have kids are, at root, well, let’s see: selfish.

In Canada, a new normal could be on the rise, a great divide where, standing on one side will be the old guard — the haggard, the proud, the poor-looking schleps with their baby strollers and shrieking brats — while on the other will be childless twosomes, sipping their lattes and skipping off to a 10:15 a.m. appointment with their personal trainer.

What will it mean, for us, as a nation? What could be lost? And what will become of those trim, fit and fat-free-yogurt loving folks when decrepitude inevitably creeps in; when they age, as we all inevitably do, and the children they chose not to have aren’t around to look after them?”

Now, maybe this guy’s the Andy Rooney of Canada… a lovable old grump who likes to grouse and moan. Maybe he’s contradicting himself on purpose. Maybe there’s an intended wink in there somewhere (personal choice equals “hooey?”), and maybe it’s just lost on me. But after I let his words roll off my shoulders, I remembered they were still sitting squarely on top of Saudi’s.

I grapple a bit with my own questions about parenting… about creating life… about leaving something good behind. But as far as geriatric care goes, I’ve got news for this guy: if Canada’s treatment of its parents and grandparents on the whole is even half as abysmal as some of the atrocities we commit stateside, he needs to find another argument.

That job where I worked with Saudi?  It was at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, and you don’t even want to know how many hundreds… thousands… of seniors we came into contact with who hadn’t heard from their children in months or years, regardless of the fact that their health was declining, that they were being subjected to all sorts of maltreatment in the long-term care facilities in which they’d been placed, and that all they really wanted was just to connect with the people they loved who seemed to have once loved them. But we won’t go too far into that.  It’s been said that we can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its elders. In that regard, we have a long way to go — grandkids or no grandkids.

Parenting is far from easy.  I’ve never tried it myself, but I can tell from a mile away that it isn’t something to be taken lightly, and as a result, I have a ton of respect for those who enter into it and take it seriously. As for me, I very well may spring out of bed someday and exclaim, “NOW! Now’s the time when we do some kid-raising!” and then again, I very well might not. The verdict’s still out on that one. Even still, I wholeheartedly squeal at every birth announcement I get in the mail, every sonogram that pops up in my newsfeed, and every tweet sent from a hospital room that “mommy and baby are doing just fine.”  Because life is beautiful. Babies are awesome. And I’m as much of a sucker for the pure, clean slate of possibility each one holds as anyone else is. I don’t disagree with the act of having children; there’s not one molecule inside me that looks down on it at all.

My friends’ kids are some of the most engrossing, engaging, entertaining people I’ve ever met, and they can’t even spell their own names yet. There’s something to be said for that, and I can say with honesty that I take great joy in seeing my friends’ contentment over raising their families. But there’s also something to be said for those of us who are as yet undecided on the topic for ourselves, and certainly for those who’ve made the choice to contribute to the world in other big, bold, courageous ways instead. In the end, there’s more than one way to leave a legacy.

So, to the people out there with quips, sideways glances, raised eyebrows and opinions about friends and strangers alike who don’t have bambinos of their own, here’s a revolutionary idea: let’s try to coexist. You inspire us with stories of your families’ shenanigans and we’ll regale you with tales of our travels. We’ll write books and illustrate children’s stories while you teach tomorrow’s leaders how to read them. It doesn’t have to be either/or. There’s really no need for an air of competition. For anyone on either path to say one is better than the other isn’t only ignorant; it’s… yep, you knew this was coming: selfish.

The next time I hear anyone give someone a hard time about not having children — whatever the reason, whatever the argument — they just might get a stern, old-fashioned talking to, in much the same manner my mother would have given it. If I sound overly protective of those of us without little ones of our own, well… perhaps that’s my maternal instinct talking.

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Egg on my face

oopsie daisy

image: zazzle

Writing prompt:

Write about a time when you were embarrassed.

A time?  As in, one singular time?

Excuse me while I reach into my grab bag.  The act of choosing just one anecdote is, hands down, WAY harder than the act of writing it out.

My blunders in life have been plentiful and occasionally massive.  Luckily, I’m just a normal person living an ordinary life and therefore haven’t had to barndance my way off the SNL stage or explain to the American public just what in the world I was thinking when I did the “hey girl hey” with a White House intern.  My oopses, thankfully, are mostly garden variety screw-ups, but I’d still rather not rehash them; I’m oddly adept at replacing the old ones with new, sometimes even more inventive versions of their former selves anyway.  But then again, in re-telling the tales of our utmost idiocy, sometimes we get a good laugh out of things and even enjoy realizing how far we’ve come, followed swiftly by the sobering — exhilarating? — realization of how far we still have to go.

So, screw it.  Let’s empty out the whole big bag and count up all the goodies.

In no particular order, I’ve done all of the following: wore things in the 80s; confided in all the wrong people about all the wrong things; overslept and missed a nonrefundable flight; spent way too long dating someone (make that six or seven someones) who was were comically wrong for me (this epiphany, of course, only presents itself in retrospect); spent too much time lingering on half of those fools once all was said and done; nearly got fired from Bath & Body Works for having no clue how to work a register; wore things in the 90s; nearly got fired from Victoria’s Secret a year after the Bath & Body Works debacle, also for having no clue how to work a register (I was young, okay?); misspoke on a conference call and used the word “canoodling” (making out) instead of “cavorting” (just plain socializing), thus inadvertently accusing several higher-ups in one of the world’s largest PR firms of making out with one another in the middle of the workday; told a roomful of people, through a microphone while wearing a suit, that I was “so excited to finally meet most of them”; genuinely loved the show “Blossom” and had a miniature crush on Joey Lawrence; locked myself out of my own home while wearing a bikini; got pulled over for drunk driving while actually stone-cold sober (yes, my driving is sometimes that bad); and conversely, had far too much to drink on multiple occasions, getting tangled up in all the usual shenanigans folks get into when we’ve gotten too cozy with our spirit of choice.  And we’re not even going to get into my music collection, since a) we already did that last week and b) if I tell you I once stood in the fourth row of a Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch concert, what more information do you need?

Nothing embarrassing happens when we’re sitting at home alone.  Well, plenty of things would probably render themselves utterly mortifying if anyone were to walk in and catch us doing whatever weird nonsense we happen to do when we think no one’s looking (read a phenomenal book called The Visible Man for a lingering head trip on the matter).  On its own, hanging out alone doesn’t so much lend itself to embarrassment.  Playing it safe, staying on the couch and being creatures of habit aren’t the sorts of behaviors that render red-faced humiliation.  To properly embarrass oneself, one has to walk out the front door.  One has to face the world.  One has to take a deep breath and go, “Okay, let’s try something.”  One has to have — how do you say? — chutzpah… moxie.

Nerve.

The guy doesn’t get the girl by sitting in his room, staring at the wall.  The girl doesn’t win the Olympic medal by playing video games all her life.  Nobody ever won a Pulitzer for standing around, reading Us Weekly and waiting for their microwave dinner to ding.  The guy gets the girl by getting rejected a hundred times, giving up, turning around to go home and slamming face-first into the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.  The girl gets the Olympic medal after training like mad, falling flat on her face, knocking out a tooth or two, and getting the hell back up again a thousand times if that’s what it takes.  The Pulitzer Prize… well, apparently that takes a lot of writing.  Like a LOT a lot.  And here, my friends, we are, with a long stretch of Fridays before us.

Am I aiming for a Pulitzer?  Actually, no, and certainly not with this little confessional.  I’m aiming for bylines I’m crazy proud of and good books with my name on their jackets.  And I’ll keep aiming, every day, including these ramble-bramble posts each week to keep me accountable, as long as you keep aiming for whatever you want, too.  Let’s embarrass ourselves.  Let’s f*ck up royally and live to reminisce about it.

Let’s have some stories to tell.

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Touch a snake & slap a pirate

When was the last time you touched a snake?

Whatsa matter, Joan?

image: RKO Radio Pictures

Having grown up in Florida, slithery little serpents have never really freaked me out that much, nor have bugs or even spiders, which seem to have a significantly higher “ick” factor for most people than their short-legged counterparts.  But believe me when I say I’m terrified of plenty of things.  Failure.  Success.  Public speaking. Looking stupid.  Awkwardness, which makes no sense at all since I practically invented it myself.  Tons of things make me want to crawl into the carpet and hide on a near-daily basis, which is why I was riveted by this particular TED Talk I stumbled across earlier this week.  It was given by legendary designer David Kelley, and in it he tackled the notion of creatives vs. non-creatives and pretty much crushed the fallacy that creativity is some sort of finite, predetermined thing that’s rationed out to some of us but not to others. Even though the subject matter was specifically about finding creative confidence, I walked away from it with a fire lit underneath me about conquering fear in general.

He talked about his experiences in creative workshops with his clients — top-level executives who tend to excuse themselves from the most critical points of such meetings to “take important calls” when really, they’re simply intimidated by the creative process and secretly don’t think they’re capable of taking part in a meaningful way because they “just aren’t the creative type.”  He talked about helping people build upon their successes, starting small and gaining ground over time until they become aware of their own power.  He likened it rather seamlessly to the phobia treatment process established by an esteemed Stanford psychologist named Albert Bandura.

So, Bandura.  This guy — yes, I’m calling him “this guy” even though his name is often bandied about alongside the likes of Freud, Jung and other high-rollers in the psych world… I call him “this guy” because he sounds like someone I would totally buy a beer if a) he’s in fact still alive and b) I were to run into him in a random bar somewhere and magically know who he was — anyway, this guy developed a methodology that cures people of their deepest fears within a matter of hours through something he termed “guided mastery.”  We’ve all heard of his process — you have legitimate phobias of, say, snakes and flying, and a therapist guides you through a series of actions that bring you closer and closer to dealing with both until you realize with horror/glee that OH MY GOD YOU ARE HOLDING A MOTHERF*CKING SNAKE ON A MOTHERF*CKING PLANE AND NEITHER OF THESE TWO THINGS IS KILLING YOU.  Tada!  Cured.  And also badass.

But really, the example Kelley gave that got deep into my bones and took up residence had to do with little kids and their fear of an MRI machine.  He told a story that I hope I’ll never forget, which is partially why I’m writing about it here — for my own selfish purposes.

The story goes something like this: Doug Dietz, a highly technical medical imaging equipment designer with an engineering background, was standing in a hospital watching one of his MRI machines in use.  Unfortunately, it involved a terrified little girl who was gravely afraid of the monstrous piece of equipment in front of her and who was rightfully pitching a royal fit about it, crying and pleading not to be forced inside.  He learned that the little girl was a prime example of the typical MRI experience at that particular hospital: 80 percent of kids undergoing the MRI process there (and probably everywhere else, too) had to be sedated in order to get through it.  The prospect of being put inside this godawful metallic coffin was petrifying, particularly for someone so young.

At the time, Dietz was attending Stanford’s design program and learning about things like empathic design and iterative prototyping, and thanks to the little girl, ye olde cartoon lightbulb blinked on over his head.  With kids like her (i.e., kids in general) in mind, he redesigned the machine to look — convincingly, I might add — like a pirate ship.  As a result, the entire imaging room now looks like something straight out of the imagination of Walt Disney himself, and the sedation rate has plummeted from 80 percent down to ten.  Dietz apparently always gets choked up when he tells the story of his creative journey and its results, including the fact that he once saw a little girl finish her scan, go up to her mother and ask, “Mommy, can we come back (again) tomorrow?”

That’s the thing about overcoming scary stuff — it strengthens us and makes us more fearless over time.  Bandura called the result “self efficacy,” or as Kelley describes it, “These people who had lifelong fears… ended up having less anxiety about other things in their lives; they tried harder, they persevered longer and were more resilient in the face of failure.”  He explains how we walk away from conquered fears with “the sense that you can change the world — that you can attain what(ever) you set out to do.”  The little kids that walk away from the “pirate ship” having totally conquered the experience… Dietz melding his technical background with newfound creativity he didn’t know he had until a child’s fear moved him to find it… even Kelley’s own bout with cancer, after which he decided to spend the rest of his days not just teaching design, but talking to large groups about the fact that we’re all capable of doing more than we realize… of creating great things… these people are all heroes in their own right.  These people illustrate for me with perfect clarity just how limiting my own fears and complacency can be.  These people make me want to grab a damn snake, get on a plane and go apesh*t on some pirates, like maybe even this weekend if I can find a coachwhip and a decent fare.

Screw fear.  Screw intimidation.

I’m ready to rumble.

Are you?

a.

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