A Chain Of Support And Love And Reaching Out

Dear Mommy,

My friend is going through a really difficult situation involving life, death, and cancer. How can I support him and be there for him?

Wow. I’m so sorry that you and your friend are going through this. In situations like this, words can be so meaningless. I don’t have the skill or knowledge or, frankly, the desire to write about death and provide insight into its meaning and how it affects us. All I can say is that it’s just fucking shitty. To be alive and know that one day we and the people we love won’t be anymore. Life makes you love people and then it takes them away, and eventually you, too. You and your friend are in the thick of it, right there in the middle of what makes life horrifying and worth living. You are absolutely not the first and definitely not the last. If you want, let it comfort you that literally all of us will weather this storm, too. We are here by your side.

As far as supporting your friend through life-threatening illness, there is only one thing I can think to do: ask him how he wants to be supported through life-threatening illness. People tend to comfort people how they themselves like to be comforted, but we all need different things and we have not necessarily been taught to ask for them. Help him ask for them! Maybe he’d like you to keep things light when you hang out, maybe he wants you to witness his fear, maybe he wants to be held when he cries, maybe he’d rather not be touched. Maybe he wants you to listen to him silently, maybe he wants advice and comfort. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it at all. Maybe he wants a combination of these different things at different times, and it’s up to you to make him feel comfortable asking for them. You need to understand that the way he wants to deal with this is not up to you, and any way he wants to cope is valid. You need to admit that you do not know, and ask him. And if he doesn’t know, maybe you can figure it out together through trial and error. It can, and should be, an ever-evolving conversation.

I’d also like to say that while this situation is and definitely should be about your friend, you are also affected by it. You need to make sure you are doing everything you can to take care of you through all of this. Secondary traumatic stress is very real, and you cannot be a help to your friend if you are being stretched to your breaking point. Be there for your friend as much as you can, but remember that you are NOT selfish for taking care of yourself too. Understand that you don’t have to be available for him 24 hours a day, whether that means not responding to a text from him for a little while or setting boundaries for how long or often you hang out. Treat yourself like you are treating your friend, and turn to other friends in your life for support. Things can go on that way forever – a chain of support and love and reaching out.

Good luck, to both of you.

Love, Mommy

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Dear Mommy,

I work in a very sexist industry, and I try my very best to help lift other women up, but I am routinely cut down and condescended to by other women. It drives me crazy and it PISSES ME OFF. How do I support the fellow women in my industry, even when they’re being nasty?

Hello, my love. This is such a hard situation! First, I want to commend you on your mission to lift up other women. That is so powerful and radical! And sexism is so fucked up! One of the ways that it works so insidiously is by worming its way into our own bodies and minds, using its poison to turn us against ourselves and other women. We are continually given the message that there is only room for a certain, very small, amount of women at the top and the only way to make it in this “man’s world” (ew) is to put each other down. I commend you for doing the hard work it takes to rise above that deeply entrenched SHIT. Not everyone has, and some people never will. This could explain a lot of what’s going through these other women’s minds when they’re cutting you down. Of course, who knows, they could also just be mean. This is possible because people are sometimes mean and, well, women are people.

One thing I’ve learned in my relatively short life (some wise old people say this too though, ok?) Is that communication is always key to pretty much everything. You will never be able to control what other people do, no matter how hard you try, but if there are specific women at your work that are perpetuating this crappiness, try opening a dialogue. Say exactly what you told me! “Hey, I’ve found our workplace (AND ENTIRE CULTURE) to be really sexist and it bums me out. I feel encouraged to see the women I work with as competition. I’m trying really hard to combat that by lifting up other women. I want to have your back, but I feel like you don’t have mine. Can we talk about that?” It is possible that they’ve literally never thought about it that way before. This conversation could break down walls and be really healing for both you! Or maybe nothing will happen. Either way, you did your best and that’s all you can ask of yourself. At worst, you’ll become known as “that woman at work who has my back even though I don’t have hers.” There are waaaay worse people to be! If you work in an industry where the people you work with are constantly changing, you may have to have this conversation over and over again. If that thought exhausts you already, remember that you don’t have to fight sexism each and every day. You can’t, it would be too draining. Sometimes you need a break, so let yourself take one when you need it. And some women are never going to have your back, some women are going to keep pissing you off and putting you down.

I want to leave you with something to mull over. It’s an idea we should try to explore to its farthest reaches. It may make things harder for you, but it could also liberate you! Here it is: you don’t get to choose which women deserve to be lifted up, because we all do. Internalize that instead, and make a commitment to lift up all women, regardless of their race, temperament, class, interests, style, ANYTHING – even how much they piss you off. Don’t worry, no one is saying you have to do it all single-handedly. You won’t be able to, so don’t even try. But do what you can. It sounds like you already are. I’m so proud of you.

Love, Mommy

Your Life Is Yours, Part Two

Dear Mommy,

All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?

Hello again. I’m sure that, after reading my entry last week in which I said I would give you two concrete pieces of advice, you have felt a radical change come over you and your problem is halfway to being completely, 100% solved! All you are missing is part two and, lucky for you, it’s here! You no doubt remember that my first piece of advice from last week was to do a little work on your relationship with you by making a list of some good moments in your life. I’m sure you have integrated this into your daily routine and you are feeling more loved and beautiful than ever. The second thing I want you to do may take a little more time. It’s a long game and it can be hard, but don’t give up! I believe in you.

To recap: you already know that you don’t want to be married and you don’t want a baby, but you want to feel loved and like you belong (as we all do!). Besides your relationship with yourself, I can think of another extremely important, loving, and special relationship that is not a spouse or spawn: friends! My second piece of advice is to start investing very heavily into the relationships you already have, or want to have. I’ve been known to say, when I get very drunk, “I want to text everyone I love and tell them how much I love them!” I have very vivid memories of that instinct, and also of carrying it out and feeling embarrassed the next day. (I also tend to do that in person, so if you were at my New Year’s Eve party and I accosted you in the doorway and made you feel uncomfortable but also very loved, well…I’m sorry and you’re welcome!) This is exactly the type of thing you need to do, though maybe leave out the drunkenness. If there is someone you love, text them right now and tell them! An obvious choice is a best friend, but I’d suggest also sending one to someone more peripheral in your life that you do truly love but want to be closer to. These declarations of love can take the form of a novella about your appreciation of the specific qualities that you admire in your friend. They can take the form of a simple “I love you!” out of the blue. They can take the form of, “I saw this movie and it made me think of you!” or “I think you’d really love this book/podcast/TV show I’m reading/listening to/watching.” The key is to let your friend know that you are loving them or thinking about them when they are not around. I think this is such an important way to show love to people! It is active and intentional and, like most important things, a little scary to do. It makes you a little vulnerable, but all you’re really doing is making your loved one feel known, which is such an incredible way to feel. And I’m fairly certain you will find that once you start to send the love out, you will start to get it back. It may take a while, but it’ll happen. Maybe not with everyone, but it also doesn’t have to benefit you in that specific way to be worthwhile. When I send out love, I just start to feel more love in general – how could that ever be a waste of time? And I have found that when people feel sure about their place in your heart, they are willing to be more vulnerable with you, they are happy to be there for you when you need them, they are more honest and at-ease with you, and they share the love they have to give with you. That is a recipe for supportive, loving, committed companionship with endless room for growth, which is exactly what you need to cultivate.

Your life is beautiful, and it is your own. And yeah, I know, it’s soooo easy for me to say that to you when I’m not inside your body, inside your life, when you’re up at 3AM feeling more lonely than anyone on the planet has ever felt, when you’re walking home from the grocery store alone carrying the heaviest bags anyone has ever carried and wishing someone was there to take one, or when you’re at work and you’re the most exhausted you’ve ever been and nothing feels right. I haven’t been there in your life or your body at those moments, but I have in mine. I have them too, and so does your friend from high school who just had a beautiful baby. And so does your cousin who just got engaged. It’s tempting to look at other people’s lives and imagine that they have exactly what it is that you’re missing in your own, but I promise you that you know people who wish they had your life or your job or your apartment or your group of friends. Try to appreciate you and your life for exactly what it is. Try to bring love and a sense of belonging into it by aspiring to healthy, long-lasting, fulfilling relationships that aren’t with significant others or offspring. I’m positive that you can think of a million more genius ways to do this than just the two I’ve mentioned here.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote: a few summers ago, one of my professors in college died very unexpectedly. She was a teacher who was extremely loved, with a large and devoted following of students. I attended her funeral, and the church was packed. At one point in the eulogy, the pastor asked us to raise our hands if we knew exactly how my teacher felt about us. Hundreds of hands went up. I remember being amazed at the kind of legacy my teacher was leaving behind, one in which love is spread around generously, and given so freely. One in which empathy, honesty, and kindness are radical acts and vulnerability is strength. That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave behind, and I vowed that I would try really hard to be the kind of person whose loved ones were always sure how much I cared for them, through my actions and my words. What kind of lives, what kind of world, could we build with this as our goal? Try to find out.

Love, Mommy

Your Life Is Yours, Part One

Dear Mommy,

All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?

Hello, friend. I was writing a response to your question and I couldn’t stop! I wrote you a letter way longer than I’d expect anyone to read in one siting, so I’m going to break it up into two parts. Today I offer you Part One!

What really stands out to me about your situation is that you don’t want to be engaged or have kids, yet you’re still feeling like shit when you see 500 baby pictures on social media when a friend gives birth or get a wedding invitation in the mail. I’m going to make the leap and assume that, while those aren’t the specific life events or lifestyles you want, you really want to experience the feelings that you imagine are associated with those particular milestones. Let’s break them down:

  • a feeling that you are loved and cared for
  • a feeling that you are needed
  • a feeling that that you are moving forward in life and building something
  • an outpouring of love built into your day-to-day life
  • a feeling that your life really means something
  • a feeling that you have people you belong to and who belong to you
  • a feeling that you have people that give a shit if you get out of bed in the morning

In the best-case scenario, those things all seem to be part of the package that is marriage and/or parenthood. And because those two particular milestones are given such importance and heft in our culture, you can be absolutely positive that they are not things you want for yourself AND still crave them in spite of yourself, or at least what you imagine accompanies them. It’s so confusing! And you may also be experiencing that more general, crappy feeling that can happen while perusing various media, where you see what you think are insights into people’s perfect lives, so different from your own. But those are really just snapshots of a small and possibly aesthetically pleasing moment in a life that is no doubt as messy and full of pain and confusion as yours! You are, without a doubt, not alone in this. So, where does this leave you poor, pathetic souls? (I’m listening to Johanne Bach as I write this shit, so I’m puh-reeeety confident about my place in this world and don’t consider myself affected by this particular issue! (I am joshing you so hard. Not about the Bach though. Don’t be intimidated! I’m just your average classical music-loving genius (I put on Bach by accident)))

To answer your question directly, I don’t know how you can stop from feeling down about it. But I think I can offer some hope that you can carve out a small place on this earth where you feel loved, appreciated, and less alone. I can think of two concrete things you can and should do.

The first thing I want you to do can be done in mere moments, or it can take all day or the rest of your life. Make a list, make it right now or after you finish reading this. In your notes app, in your journal, on a piece of scratch paper, a pizza rolls bag, whatever. It can be huge, It can be tiny, It can be medium. Make a list of all the good shit in your life that transcends the crushing weight of this shitty feeling. Just absolutely every moment and every thing you can think of, big and small, that makes your specific life worth living. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL!! You have to do this, and you have to repeat as often as necessary. We can get pretty stuck in the mudslide of going to a job every day where we don’t feel appreciated, of the big or small dramas of our various relationships,of all the little hurts and insecurities swirling around in our absolutely precious and sacred hearts and minds all the goddamn day long, of a scarcity mindset we can’t seem to shake, in which we never have enough – enough money or love or friends or anything. This list is to act as a metaphorical… stack of sandbags (???) that will help stop that flow of negative feelings about your own life, just like a real-life stack of sandbags stops a real-life mudslide! Is that how you stop a mudslide? I’ll offer up a few items from my list:

  1. My inexperience with serious, life-threatening natural disasters. Mudslides, for example.
  2. I recently got to see Joanna Newsom live, who occupies a position in my life I can only liken to a pastor or other spiritual leader. Not exaggerating. My sensitive little heart was burst wide open. I smiled and I cried, an hour and a half went by in ten minutes, and I saw everything in this world exactly as it really is.
  3. I watched Good Will Hunting the other night, in my bed on my laptop. I’ve seen that movie three times and I just love it for some reason. It’s cheesy at times, but it moves me. And yeah, I cried at that part where a young and skeletal-looking Ben Affleck is all, “Every day I come to pick you up I hope you’re not there! You owe it to me to work for the NSA or whatever!” to a baby-faced Matt Damon. I cry at that shit every time! As Matt Damon drives down the highway in the shitty car his friends built him and the credits start to roll, I took a screenshot to remember that evening by. A few days later, I went to a Paige Powell exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Paige Powell is a photographer from Portland who worked for Interview magazine in New York and became friends with Keith haring and Basquiat and all those other New York artist-types. The exhibit was a re-creation of a 1984 exhibit of her photographs from that time. It was held in this little enclave and I walked in and walked straight up to a picture of a baby-faced Matt Damon! I don’t know! I don’t really give a crap about Matt Damon, but it was a special moment, if minuscule and meaningless to everyone in the world but me, so it’s on the list.Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.23.53 PMIMG_3106
  4. Last weekend I was at my best friend’s house and I walked home at 2AM. I stopped at a late-night pizza place on the way and got a slice of pizza. It was full of people emptying out of a dance night next door. It was really weird to be alone at 2AM, very close to my house, a little drunk, not know anyone around me, and order a piece of pizza. But it was kind of exciting too! It made me feel young and anonymous and alive. I walked the rest of the way home and ate the pizza listening to Joanna Newsom. It was really hot and burned my tongue. I didn’t care.
  5. A few months ago, I started to tell all my friends that I was going to start a blog called Mommy and it was going to be an advice blog. I would be so excited about it every day, but then in the dark hours of the night I’d start to feel stupid and silly. “Who the hell am I to even think that I could offer advice to random people on the internet? Who the hell am I to even think that I could call myself a writer? Everything I write is crap! I am crap!” There were moments where I almost let nighttime-me win and told everyone I changed my mind and stopped doing the thing. But I persevered and wrote in tiny bits and then in larger chunks until I had my first post, and here I am writing my second post to you and feeling so proud and alive and joyful. Because I’m doing the thing.

My list could go on and on and on, and what’s intentionally missing from it is all the moments in between where I am lost and confused and crying in public, and I assure you those moments are MANY (many many many). But I find that I spend lots of time focusing on those crappy moments, and this list helps bring my focus to the fun, sweet, and fulfilling aspects of my life. This list also helps me in a way that is related to your problem. It makes me feel like my own wife! Some things that are really appealing to me about having a relationship are having someone to share those small special or funny moments of life with, the feeling of being known really intimately by someone, and having someone to love. When I look at the list above I realize that I am sharing all those moments with myself, I know myself more intimately than anyone ever could, and that I have someone to love! She just happens to have the same body as me and also…be me. I am in a relationship with myself! I am not saying that I feel like this all the time but, as I’m making the lists and reading them, I’m reminded. Make a list whenever you need to be reminded that you are your most important relationship.

I also want to acknowledge that your relationship with yourself is likely extremely complicated in ways no one else will understand. I have a hard time loving myself almost all of the time, so please don’t think I’m advocating this as a quick and easy road to self-love. I don’t want to make it seem easy, because you and I both know it’s not and there are many other things you need to do to get right with your own heart and brain. I understand that through trauma, other people’s actions, systematic oppression, and media you consume by choice or not, we can be poisoned against ourselves and that it takes so, so much work to get that poison out. I say all this because I sometimes read an article or comment on the internet that’s like “Just love yourself! Stop feeling bad about [thing you feel bad about]!” and I’m like, “Fuck you! You have no idea what it would take for me to love me!” I want to be clear that this list is a tiny thing toward that step, but that tiny things can also turn out to be very worthwhile.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week, in which I illuminate my second piece of advice!

Love, Mommy

Welcome To Mommy

Hello, and welcome to Mommy! It’s me, Mommy!

Mommy is an advice blog for anyone who needs help, who needs an ear, who needs validation, who needs a complete stranger to talk through their feelings in the public forum of the World Wide Web. I’ll begin by saying that I am no guru, nor am I an expert on anything. I don’t know what you should do with your life, I don’t know how you can find peace, I don’t know what you should eat for dinner. I can’t even figure out how electricity works. I, frankly, am insecure about offering advice at all which is probably something that, as a newly-minted advice blogger, I shouldn’t say out loud. I may be wrong about literally everything. I may not be able to tell you what to do about any given situation. I will never be able to explain to you why, when you plug a thing into a wall, it gets all shiny and makes noises. So what the hell makes me, your beloved mommy, qualified to be writing this blog in the first place? Believe me, I am asking the exact same question. All I have to offer is that I am also a human on this extremely messy planet and I, too, am squelching around in the muck that is human existence and, as I do so, I have this sense in every place in my body (yes, every single place) that I am here to listen to you and to offer what I can and to validate whatever it is that you’re feeling. I am your mommy and I love you unconditionally.

(I will also offer, in the way of qualifications, that I was born on October 29, 1989 meaning that I am 1. a Scorpio sun and 2. a Scorpio moon. Consider that my resume.)

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Dear Mommy,

Sometimes I feel weird about how much I care about Instagram likes. It feels self-serving and selfish, like an ego-booster. Is that wrong?

Hi, friend! Isn’t our world so confusing? I truly believe that humankind has been plagued by different versions of the same questions for the entirety of our puny existence, but adding social media anxiety to the mix of our species’ god-given angst-tornado is truly a recipe for disaster. It feels like our culture is constantly telling me that I can’t like myself and that I HAVE to like myself, at the same time somehow? That I am simultaneously special and unique AND stupid for believing I am special and unique, that I was duped, that I’m just another ~entitled millennial~ ***special snowflake***. So whatever, right? If all this is true at the same time, that I am special and that I am not, that I rule AND that I drool, I’m inclined to believe that…truth just DOESN’T exist. And if I start to accept that there is no one way I have to be, that I am nothing and that I am everything, then I get to filter out all that noise, which sometimes shows itself like, “I am a terrible person for wanting Instagram likes, why am I so insecure? Aren’t I better than this?”

To advocate for balance for a moment, are you thinking about the likes when you’re supposed to be yukkin’ it up with your friends? Are you not able to stop checking your phone while watching a movie with a loved one, even in the holiest of holy places, the movie theater? Are you taking your phone to the bathroom with you, even when you don’t want to? The likes give you an ego boost and that’s not necessarily wrong, but what if you care too much? Is it interfering with your ability to be present in your daily life? Is being present in your daily life important to you? Then maybe try to take a step back. Take some simple, concrete steps – like only allowing yourself to look at Instagram at certain times of the day, turn off notifications if you have them set up, maybe de-activate for a little while every time you feel the need. If you know you’re going to post a picture and want to keep checking for likes, then don’t post that picture right before you go out with friends or when you sit down to begin your life’s work (as I did before I sat down to write this letter to you.)

I want you to know that you are so, so much more than your Instagram likes (as The Queen once said, “We’re so much more than pointless fixtures, Instagram pictures”) but you are also so much more than your worry about Instagram likes. Life is short, so worrying about likes on Instagram is probably a waste of it, but worrying about worrying about likes on Instagram DEFinitely is. Be gentle with yourself. You are showing something to the world and even if it’s just a picture of you in your own bathroom or a pile of dog shit with a cigarette put out in the middle (I looked through my own pictures for ideas), you want people to respond positively. We all want that, we have all wanted that, you are not a bad person for wanting that. We are ALL chasing that high in some way – through Instagram likes, tucking away the memory of your friends laughing at your joke, your boss acknowledging your skill, the moments that you feel like ~you~ have really shined through and someone noticed. That magic. It is so unbelievably radical and tight to get to a place where you give all the validation you need to yourself, but getting validation from other people is the next best thing and is also 100% okay! post to Instagram, rake in the likes and let them make you feel good. It’s ok. You deserve it. If we could all be more comfortable with our own need for validation, think of all the time we could put toward new Instagram posts instead of rolling around in our own beds, naked probably, clutching our heads and thinking to ourselves, “Why do I care so much about what people think of me?!?!? I am such a bad person, such trash, for hoping someone liked my picture of dog shit with a cigarette in the middle!”

We are allowed to want people to like us, to like the things we do, to think about us when we are not around, to hope that someone came across our picture and couldn’t double-tap it fast enough and thought to themselves, “Ugh, that person is so cute/funny/smart/interesting/I just like them!” All that said, I have to advocate for balance again. Look at your Instagram every single day for all I care, and absolutely GLOW with pride at those likes you’ve accumulated, get high as hell on your notifications – but, I also hope that your own double-tap is the double-tap that matters most. Your own seal of approval is truly the most important, you are the world’s foremost YOU scholar, a true genius. Your very saliva is imbued with magic, even your goddamn initials are holy. Telling yourself that with a straight face and being your own ultimate Instagram-liker is something to work toward. (You get that this whole Instagram thing has become a metaphor for life in general right?) I believe in you and I trust you – you’ll find the way.

Love, Mommy