Words from two of my favourite female poets in celebration of International Women’s Day, and to remember that in many, many places in the world we still have a lot to be very angry about.
“Responsibility To Yourself”
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.” ― Adrienne Rich
(click on the title to hear a reading of this poem by the author)
– June Jordan, 1980
The weeks approaching my 40th birthday (which was last weekend), I did what I usually do about my journeys, I wrote about it. In trying to assemble a list of 40 things I’ve learned about life, it became apparent that a few themes seemed to dominate the paper landscape. So I did what any good teacher did, I organized. So here, friends are some personal conclusions I’ve reached after four decades of life.
1. The state of women in the world has not changed since my early feminist-teen years. I always thought that by the time I got to this age, being a woman would be awesome. That around the world women’s health, economic situations, political power, day-to-day living and general freedoms would no longer be controlled by religion, government or culture. I thought that violence against women would be seen as archaic and the “way things used to be”; that women would all support and encourage each other’s individual choices in life even when they conflicted with their own; that gender specific rhetoric would never cross the mouths of young girls; and that men would have taken up some of the feminist reins and helped create a truly equal world. Alas, the proliferation of media has shown me that this is not the case, and on some level we may even be worse off in part because of the same said media. I hope that in the next four decades (but hopefully much sooner), these things I hoped for long ago will somehow materialize.
2. Sincerity is a very difficult thing to master and even harder to identify in others. I’m not talking about the inevitable jealousy that sometimes rears its ugly head, I’m talking about reaching a place where you actually mean it; a place where the motivation behind your thoughts and actions is pure and unadulterated desire to do so. The disappointing life lesson has been the realization of others’ insincerity, manifested in family members who allow money to dictate relationships, friends who toss you aside when they no longer need you, and coworkers who pretend with a selfish end-game in mind. But the journey here ends when you reach a point when sincerity is the main motive behind what you say and do. I am here now.
3. The human body will respond to the way it is treated. If you treat it like a garbage disposal for unnatural food, toxic substances, and mental anguish it will respond accordingly with unhealthy manifestations of rage. I think I’ve successfully conquered all of these things, except for the latter; something which I have yet to learn to manage properly. I continue to internalize way too much, and the stress reeks havoc on my well-being as it does with so many other people. I am still working on not “sweating the small stuff”, especially at work, and focusing instead on what really matters because, almost always, it’s not that which I get stressed out about.
4. Experience wins over stuff – every time. I’ve realized over the years that humanity’s obsession with stuff is merely a distraction, a temporary detour on the path to finding real satisfaction. The most detrimental thing we do to ourselves is waiting (wait for next week, next year, when I get a better job, when I lose 10lbs, etc.). Life will not wait, and happiness is worth actively seeking. Time and experience will always unfold the same answer: things will never bring you real joy, and one of the most fulfilling experience is love. Real love and partnership is so worth it. It takes time to find, longer to hone, and a lifetime to cherish, but it is the one thing the drives life.
There you have it, me at 40: happier and healthier than I have ever been and that I ever dreamt I would be. Here’s to another 40…