The real poison pill

What do you do when you learn that your body has stopped ovulating?

First, search the Internet to re-teach yourself everything that you should have learned in sex ed classes. (Where are my ovaries? What are hormones? Wait, a menstrual cycle isn’t really every 28 days? Thank you Taking Charge of Your Fertility – and the friends who recommended it – for setting me straight).

Second, create a list of possible explanations for why your body choose to abdicate one of its core responsibilities.

Theories on why I stopped ovulating:

  • I led a double life as a elite athlete. (Thanks for considering this to be included on the list doc, but alas, my pole vaulting career lasted a grand total of four weeks, and I never get off the actual ground)
  • My thyroid is wack. (Test, re-tested, medicated, test #3, cleared)
  • I’m hormonally imbalanced (WHO ISN’T?!)
  • I am experiencing stress. (SOMEONE TOLD ME I AM NOT OVULATING AND HAVEN’T BEEN FOR POTENTIALLY YEARS — AND MAYBE I AM ALSO HORMONALLY IMBALANCED)

Problems with ovulation are one of the top causes for infertility. Answers as to why said women are experiencing problems are less common.

Here’s a quick backstory: I stopped taking oral birth control in August 2015. Aaron and I had been married for almost one year, and we had decided to give ourselves that time before embarking on the potential for pregnancy. You know, that whole trying to figure out this marriage deal. I remember finishing my final pack, tossing it valiantly in the trash, and preparing myself for what could come. In September, something didn’t come: my period.

I was flabbergasted. My monthly flow was more Type-A than me. I could nearly chart it to the hour on the appointed day. But, no period for the first time in 15 years? Finally, this moment of being late that didn’t evoke an immediate panic attack.

Like any dutiful mom-in-waiting, I allowed the appropriate time to pass and then purchased my first at home pregnancy tests.

Negative.

Alright, perhaps I did this one too early. I let a few more days slide by (noting that my mind could only focus on the fact that I could at that very moment be formulating some zygote monstrosity that would ideally reform into a beautiful, healthy baby).

Negative #2.

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I didn’t understand. THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBILITY. WHY DID I BUY ALL OF THESE JUNKY PREGNANCY TESTS?

We’ll glide over the confusion and hurt I felt because, little did I know, this was only the beginning of my infertility journey!

Wonder woman on a unicorn on a rainbow

I wish this is what the infertility journey felt like. Image credit to the Tumblr blog “Power Pussy Says.” No, I’m not making this up. Brilliant!

How could I have foreseen that 2016 and 2017 would morph into my very own episode of “Unsolved Mystery”? Side note: easily one of the best television shows on Lifetime Television in the 1990s.

My period did not come back. Of course, I met women who shared that despite the fact that did not return to regular menstruation after birth control, they still were able to achieve conception. Have hope! Stay positive!

Nope. Well, I mean yes, I tried to stay hopeful and positive. But I certainly didn’t find myself procuring the coveted “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” novel or flocking to the nearest Target to oodle over burp blankets and onesies.

I’m less interested in talking about what transpired between those 24 months today. In fact, I don’t think what happened was really all that interesting, period (Ha! She’s got jokes). We tried a few things. I had some atrocious interactions with medical professionals whose callous, cold hearts made Charlton Heston look like a softie. What I really want to lament about on this Sunday evening is the evils of birth control.

After a failed round of hormonal injections last November and December (culminating in getting my period on Christmas Eve as I was in the midst of a wretched bout of food poisoning — happy holidays, folks!), we decided to take a break to start off the New Year. Or, I made that call as I do have an incredibly supportive partner in this process (even willing to be present in the room when I gave myself injections, if needed, but also would have had to turn away and not allow himself to hear any noises of pokes, or else I would have been waving smelling salts under his nose a half-beat later).

Fast-forward: STILL NO PERIOD. My ob-gyn is like: “ok, soooooo…maybe we should put you on birth control for a little bit to at least go through a couple of cycles. You don’t want your vaginal lining to get too thick because that can lead to complications. And, since you’re not producing estrogen, you should notice improved energy and mood. You may get some headaches initially but they should dissipate. Sound good?”

I am going to start taking medication that will prevent me from doing the one thing I’ve been trying for the last 2+ years to do? As Tony the Tiger would say:

Here I am: 33 and back on birth control. AND FEELING MISERABLE. The headache promise came true. But, what I wasn’t prepared for were the following:

  • Overnight weight gain (I’m sorry, what does my scale say?)
  • Bloating — or how I prefer to describe it — feeling SWOOL
  • Sore breasts that don’t fill sexy but just feel the pain
  • A general squishiness to my body (where did you go, muscles?)
  • Extreme anger — I may or may not have thrown vegetables at the wall at one point
  • Exhaustion
  • Constipation (something needs to come out of this damn body)
  • Generally unpleasant wife/co-worker/friend/human being
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I put Grumpy Cat to shame during these seven weeks.

The silver lining after three weeks: I got my period. Hooray?! Shed that lining. Feel like a functioning reproductive woman. All I felt was awful. Nearing the end of my second pack this last week, I said: “no more.” I chucked those last pills into the rubbish and dusted my hands of that experiment.

How do I feel now? Despite currently enjoying my second cycle of 2018, I feel so much better mentally and emotionally. I can’t hide from the fact that I will need to find a replacement therapy to put estrogen into my body.  That I may never get pregnant or carry a baby to full-term. But, like hell I’m going to allow myself to be subjected to feeling like shit and spending money on tampons by ingesting something that is designed to make sure I do neither of those first two things. I don’t have enough time or energy to sort that would with a therapist. Or to rationalize it any longer with myself.

Perhaps it’s time to give that pole vaulting career another try…

 

That time we visited Scotland and Ireland

Both countries lived up to the hype and my own personal hopes.

Rather than sketch out a full narrative on our 10+ day excursion, I’m going to challenge myself and aim for the 10 words or less review of each place (accompanied by a few photos to give, you know, context)

Edinburgh: birthplace of Scotland. Old meets tourist on cobblestone streets.

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St. Andrews: must-stop for golfers, botanists, beach walkers…and single ladies.

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Dingle: agrarian paradise held together through kindness, culture, and beer

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Dublin: Guinness-built international destination; class lines, once deep, now blurred

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Without hesitation, I would recommend putting both countries on your list for your next vacation. With nearly 86 miles under our feet (and 400+ in the car), we only scratched the surface of these nations.

We change from the insides out. When the joy is sparked, you can’t hide it:

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KT1

AT.1

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Finding one’s roots (literally)

When I grow up, I want to be a farmer.

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This is what farming life is like, right?

I was sitting on an airplane, reading Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass”, when this realization first struck me. To that point, I had dabbled in spring and summer gardening, casting “ooohs” and “aahhs” as seedlings emerged from the soil and pollinated flowers transforming into peppers and tomatoes. Owning the title of “green thumb” still felt far in my future. Yet, I savored the moments spent in the dirt, checking each plant’s progress, and nurturing those in need of extra care due to rising temperatures or a hookworm infestation.

I want to have a farm that provides organic, healthy, local food.

I laughed at myself, embarrassed, after a beat. What did I know about farming? I had never even set foot on one to that point. Besides the three years of backyard gardening and the occasional interaction at the Durham Farmer’s Market, I was as green as the crops I so badly wanted to yield.

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This sums up the amount of interaction I had with farm animals to that point. Is that how one properly holds a sheep?

I want to create a place where young people can work, acquire skills, earn an income, and reconnect with the earth.

This pursuit, while ever evolving, stems from my core values of connection to earth, animals, and people; stewardship of natural resources; promotion of well-being; and access to one’s humanity and the skills, values, and temperament to build stronger communities.

During my time teaching in Vance County, my students became intrigued with the various fruits and vegetables I packed for lunch. Upon seeing a bag full of red bell pepper slices, one of my students, Ahmad, gasped: “You’re going to eat those?”

“Yes…?” I responded with that questioning lilt trailing off to signfy my confusion.

“Aren’t those hot?”

I smiled and opened the bag, letting Ahmad know that these red bell peppers slices were far from hot; in fact, they were sweet and crisp. He warily eyed the slice he plucked from the bag, looked at me once more for reassurance, and then took his first bite.

He smiled. “No, these aren’t hot at all!”

Such interactions with Miss Paulson’s lunch offerings took place with jicama, mangoes, and sugar snap peas. While most students lived in a rural county, their ability to access fresh food was minimum. Nearly 1/4 of Vance County residents are below the federal poverty line and 30% of children live in food insecure homes. But, don’t worry folks: there are dozens of fast food restaurants in the county seat of Henderson:

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I’ve thought about my students, their families, and the broader Vance County community a lot since leaving in 2009. Often, these reflections are tinged with guilt and sadness. I left. I had the choice to leave, and I did without hesitation. On the surface, I became an example of “white privilege tour of poverty” levied at Teach For America.

But, I promise you that while I physically left Henderson, I’ve never forgotten it.

Back to the plane: here I am, seeking out my purpose. And images of Vance County surged from my past and plopped down on the tray table in front of me, wriggling with anticipation. What if such a place could exist in Vance County, partnering with the school system, community leaders, and other organizations? Do such programs and projects already exist within Vance County or in surrounding places that I could support and learn from?

I want to create a place where young people have the opportunity to learn and demonstrate empathy and compassion to creatures and crops.

I want to develop a platform for them to build strength — physical, mental, and spiritual. I want to give them the tools to cultivate the earth at their homes and churches to transform our food system from reliance on processed, transactional products to homegrown, transformational produce. 

This lightbulb moment took place two years ago. At first, it was easy for me to shrug off taking further action. Between work and professional commitments, I was too busy. There wasn’t enough time; I didn’t have enough energy.

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I’ve done two volunteer shifts at the Piedmont Animal Farm Refuge in Pittsboro. Nothing says getting more hand’s on experience than cleaning out goat barns!

Alas, I have cast those constraints to the side. The call rings louder and louder each day for me to do something to work towards this dream. This past week, I finished Will Allen’s “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” about his project to transform the food system starting in his Milwaukee home. There are a multitude of stories similar to Will’s where people just starting doing. He emphasized that call-to-action in his book on several occasions.

Just start doing.

One theme I heard from two of the #NonprofitSTRONG Summit conference breakout sessions I attended involved honoring one’s roots. Our ancestral histories can be fraught and painful. And, they are still part of us.

I’m sorry that I know so little of my family lineage. One thing I do know is that I come from a line of agricultural stock. In fact, I still have extended family members operating farms in Minnesota. Perhaps the seeds of my dream were planted for me by past generations. Perhaps it’s part of the social awakening that the systems we have to nourish and feed us are failing us instead. Perhaps its a selfish quest to marry all of my passions — education, food, conservation, mentorship — under one perfect umbrella.

Perhaps it will all be a bust. But I won’t know if I don’t do.

The less sugar-coated version of desert

No, we’re not talking about those sweet treats that evoke feelings of comfort, happiness, and mayhaps a slight tinge of guilt. Instead, we’re dropping one “s” and focusing on the bizarre cultural phenomena of ascribing certain people’s situations to their supposed ethics.

Case in point:

Whether outwardly acknowledged or not, Americans (generally) hold two distinct viewpoints about people:

Wealthy people deserve to be rich.

Poor people deserve to be poor.

You may read those two sentences above and exclaim (perhaps just in your head) that you would never subscribe to those sentiments. Those are ludicrous and unfair!

I’m in complete agreement with you. Yet, I see that even those of us who like to believe that we’re above such projections often help perpetuate them through unconscious actions.

Before we dive into what those might be, let’s push pause for a moment and ask: how did we get here? Why do Americans believe so strongly in the correlation of someone’s socioeconomic status and the values/skills/traits that contributed to their lot?

A 2017 Pew Research study examined the question of what makes someone rich or poor and found that partisan affiliation was one of the most significant influences on viewpoint.

By about three-to-one (66% to 21%), Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, has more to do with why someone is rich. By nearly as wide a margin, Democrats and Democratic leaners say the opposite: 60% say a person is rich because they had more advantages than others, while just 29% say it is because they have worked harder.

We Americans heart (as the kids say) the idea of the self-made person. You know, the one where someone (typically a man) pulls himself up by bootstraps and changes the world. But, guess what folks? These types of stories don’t speak for the hundreds of thousands who have been disenfranchised to even begin accessing certain resources to move beyond their current socioeconomic status. No access to loans to start a business; social supports for guidance; or even safe spaces to allow an idea to bear fruit.

Check this reporting out from Sam Pizzigati at Inequality.org:

“Just over 3 percent of the Forbes 400, the United for a Fair Economy researchers found, have left no good paper trail on their actual economic backgrounds. Of the over 60 percent remaining, all grew up in substantial privilege.

Those “born on first base” — in upper-class families, with inheritances up to $1 million — make up 22 percent of the 400. On “second base,” households wealthy enough to run a business big enough to generate inheritances over $1 million, the new UFE study found another 11.5 percent.”

If working hard equals being born in the right family, then congratulations! You’re ability to control the environment where sperm and egg came together forming you is commendable and well-deserving of wealth. But, I am going to hazard a guess that no one would admit to being successful at such an endeavor. Generally speaking, members of the upper and owning classes don’t work harder than members of the poor, working, and middle classes. They just got lucky.

How us do-gooders help to stop reinforcing this notion of desert

If we truly believe that much of our life is determined by luck — where we’re born, who we are born to, the societal expectations for our identities — then we need to be active in dismantling this “norm.”

#1: Eliminate the knee jerk reaction to include language around “people abusing the system” when talking about social supports.

I hear this far too often. This qualifer — “I know some people abuse the system and all…” Why is this commentary necessary? There are a lot of systems — social, financial — that people “abuse” every day. Sometimes those individuals make a lot of money. No, that’s not people utilizing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) (in 2017, 42 million Americans were enrolled).

 #2: Talk about other forms of government “handouts” that exclusively benefit wealthy, owning class individuals.

If you were completing your own tax paperwork this year, did you celebrate the credits you were able to claim? Mortgage? Educational payments? How about contributions to your retirement?

Oh, did you think you weren’t one of “those people” receiving government handouts? And those three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Yacht taxes. Rental property write-offs. No more estate tax.

And think of all of the incentives local and state governments offer multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies.

#3: Reflect on how you evaluate philanthropy and charitable giving.

Making a donation to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization makes people feel good (and it used to make people feel even better because you could write it off on your taxes! Now, less incentive. But again, who does that credit really benefit?). But, what does a 501(c)(3) designation truly tell you about a nonprofit?

It tells you that someone(s) completed the appropriate paperwork and paid the fee to the Internal Revenue Service. Consider it akin to the SAT or ACT tests many high school students may choose to take to pursue higher education. Do those tests — or any standardized test — truly evaluate someone’s preparedness for learning or intelligent? No. The tests reveal how a student performed on that test on that date at a certain time. That’s it. Sure, if you have access to resources, you might have been able to receive more instruction on how to prepare; you may have developed better study habits because of the schools you’ve been able to attend. But, it doesn’t mean that you’re better than someone else who didn’t.

Community-based organizations are the same. Just because a group doesn’t have that shiny seal of approval from the IRS, or has less than 10% “overhead”, or whatever Guidestar review it should have, doesn’t mean that the organization and its people aren’t doing vital work.  Avoid fanning “the flames of injustice.”

We can get hung up on giving to nonprofits that have the best name recognition or the shiniest covers. But real work to eradicate hunger, upend poverty, and dismantle systemic racism doesn’t come in 120lb gloss paper. It comes with sweat and tears. It can’t be captured in an annual report and doesn’t make an appearance at the gala.

Desert. Do people deserve their lot? Do you work hard? Are you wealthy? Do you know individuals who have struggled financially? Are you aware of the wealth you may have, even if income seems a bit spotty?

 

 

 

 

That moment during ‘Waitress’ where I wanted to stand up and scream

Not the typical response during a Broadway musical, perhaps. Especially one built on the bubbly, emotional-fueled songs of Sara Bareilles. But, it wasn’t Sara’s fault that I felt compelled to stop the show and decry the scene unfolding on the stage.

If anyone needs to be blamed, then I will point a finger at the original book’s author, Jessie Nelson. Although I don’t like to blame others. It’s counter productive.  Instead, let me offer an open letter (are those still a thing??) to the writer about what bubbled up inside me at the pivotal scene in the musical:

Dear Jessie,

Former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano said: “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Adopting that approach to evaluating a day, I can proudly share that I had a heck of a day yesterday thanks to seeing the traveling production of Waitress. However, I also experienced a level of frustration that left a stain on my memory of the show. It has to do with this:

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Jenna is a woman who has clearly endured years of pain and suffering due to an abusive relationship. She is a dedicated friend and employee; she creates and shares willingly. She is not perfect; she perseveres yet doesn’t allow herself to achieve actual happiness.

But then she has her baby and EVERYTHING IS SUNSHINE AND ROSES. She has the courage to leave Earl and start her own business. She reclaims her self-worth and finds her entrepreneurial chops. Obviously, she shares this newfound realization in a musical number dubbed ‘Everything Changes’ where Jenna sings:

“Today’s a day like any other
But I’m changed, I am a mother
Oh, in an instant
And who I was has disappeared
It doesn’t matter, now you’re here
So innocent
I was lost
For you to find
And now I’m yours, and you are mine.”

I do not doubt that such a moment could have such a profound impact on someone’s perspective and life. Yet, as an audience member struggling with infertility, it felt like a reinforcement that achieving motherhood is the ultimate quest. My life remains in gray until that moment of bringing a life into this world. If my life was a mess prior to this moment, then it will be magically scrubbed anew. 

If that is the measuring stick we’re using for women like Jenna, that such troubled lives can be turned around completely after taking on the role of mom, what does that mean for those of us who cannot — or don’t want to — take that journey? It reminds me of my former high school students, many of whom actively sought getting pregnant in order to create something to love — and something to love them — in their lives. 

While I applaud Jenna’s metamorphosis, I do wish that it didn’t have to be fully centered on becoming a mother. Because that makes me feel sad, inadequate, and worried that I don’t ever fully realize my best self if I can’t become a mother. Will I be able to experience that type of love and empathy? Will I ever feel that overwhelming sense of joy that I have watched play out in film, TV, books, and now a musical?

I know you can’t answer my questions, Jessie. But thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Katie

Stop Telling Women to Smile

The costs of emotional labor

Emotional labor: something we give daily, often without much consideration. And, it is also something we demand daily from others. Again, this expectation often stems without much thought or deep analysis as to why we expect others to give their emotional labor freely and what the ramifications and costs are for that individual.

Let’s back up for a moment: what is emotional labor? Here are a few examples and perspectives:

“In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.” – Rose Hackman, The Guardian

“Emotional labor includes the management of negative emotions and the cultivation/performance of positive emotions as determined by the nursing role (Bolton, 2001). In addition to the specialized, technical labor required of today’s nurses, they are required to effectively manage their own and others’ (e.g., patients, physicians, aides, coworkers) emotions, so patients and their families retain a sense that calm, confident, and effective care is being provided. As others have shown, however, the expectations surrounding the performance of such emotional labor—or the management of one’s observed emotional displays for pay (Hochschild, 1983)—are not equally distributed across all occupational sectors or incumbents (Fixsen & Ridge, 2012Wingfield, 2010a). Beginning with Hochschild’s (1983) original study, for example, the performance of emotional labor has been framed as a gendered experience linked to sociocultural stereotypes of women as more emotionally competent and community-oriented (Ridgeway, 2008).” – “I Can Never Be Too Comfortable: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside”, Marci D. Cottingham,  Austin H. Johnson and Rebecca J. Erickson, National Institute of Health

““When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama during that epic, make-you-want-to-cry speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the next 15 minutes, Mrs. Obama moved a nation from the needle of fear and hate sharpened so dangerously by Donald Trump. FLOTUS spoke to the hearts of a country, dealt with the hate of an opponent, invoked a bloody history, and re-imagined “Make America Great Again” to “America is the greatest country on earth.” She lifted the DNC from confusion and controversy to optimism and committed engagement. Essentially, FLOTUS was doing the emotional labor so many Black women do in nation building, movement building and electoral politics. Black women’s emotional labor matters.” – Esther Armah, Ebony Magazine

Bottom line: there are expectations built within our culture that women, especially women of color, have to take on certain tasks and perform in certain ways. Why? Somewhere in our DNA, we were born with a skill set that makes us the best:

  • caregivers
  • event planners
  • notetakers
  • listeners
  • secretaries
  • assistants
  • customer service representatives
  • nurses
  • wait staff
  • flight attendants
  • doormats

Whatever we can do to make your experience the most pleasant, we will. Or, at least that’s the social value underpinning the concept of emotional labor. And that value does not require or even suggest that women should receive greater financial compensation for that work; equal access to power or decision-making; or even outward acknowledgement of their contributions.

Conversations around emotional labor are happening with greater frequency, which is great. Yet, how do we shift from deep discussions to real actions to address this social and economical inequity?

Reader! You can make an impact on this at your workplace, on boards you sit on, wherever you have the space to exercise privilege and power. And, you can most certainly take responsibility for shifting these norms within your own mind.

Don’t pigeonhole women to play key roles within a team/organization.

Y’all: I’m tired of the assumption that because of our “good handwriting”  or “innate skills” we will want to be the secretary/note-taker of the group. Those roles require the individual to divide their attention between participation and record-keeping, which means less opportunity to fully participate in the process. Women, especially women of color, have been shut out of these processes for eons. Step up and assume that role. Hold other men in the group accountable for doing the same.

Provide financial compensation for trainings, speaking engagements, and knowledge-sharing.

I work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it: we feel stretched when it comes to allocating funding for professional development and thought-leaders. Whether we’re planning a conference or hosting a forum, we request that experts donate their time and talent for our cause/purpose. Good for our bottom line = not equitable for said speaker.

We live in a world where we have access to vast amounts of information, and most of it comes without a price tag. At least, a visible one. But, we need to recognize that within that tweet (shout-out to Monét Noelle Marshall who educated me on this frequent type of informational co-option sans compensation) or workshop, someone is providing a service for you. They aren’t just “doing their job” but are actively participating in arming you with knowledge to make a difference, which will often result in a net positive for you/your organization. Pay them. If you don’t have the means to cut them a check, find other ways to compensate them in the exchange: a meal, in-kind marketing and promotion, etc. While those other options are fine, I would still argue that actual payment in cash is the ultimate goal. We can do a better job to allocate those funds within our budgets from the start. (Yes, we’re talking about being intentional.)

Let go of norms that people in certain jobs should act in a certain way.

There are certain jobs in our world that fall under the category of “performance”: dancers, musicians, actors, etc. The server at the restaurant is not one of those jobs. Neither is a receptionist. There are a myriad of examples where any gendered or non-gendered individual can hold a certain title, but we (consumers) expect different outputs depending on whether we perceive that person as female or not.

It behooves us to question our own emotions when we feel slighted in a service experience. Is our reaction based on our perception that the individual, because of their gender, should have acted in a certain way? What are the dangers of the assumption? Lost wages, lost jobs. The continuation of gendered norms that transfer to the next generation. The toll it takes on that individual (self-worth, self-acceptance).

As a white woman, I cannot and should not speak for women of color who are disproportionately burdened by emotional labor expectations. Here are voices speaking to this intersectional oppression and ways to dismantle such discriminatory norms:

A final takeaway from Adia Harvey Wingfield in a 2016 Atlantic piece on this fraught and frustrating topic:

“On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.”

Featured image credit: Clyde Fitch Report: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2016/02/black-women-misogynoir-communication/

Reflection: 2.5 months as an intentional shopper

Like many projects that I have embarked on before, I start strong and then, after some time, the great fade comes.

I blogged earlier this year about my goal to become a more intentional shopper after being inspired by Ann Patchett’s “My Year of No Shopping” essay in The New York Times. Many friends shared their own pursuits to live a more minimalist life; to increase support for local business; and to break the habit of instant gratification.

January = I rocked out. I crafted detailed lists when I went to the grocery store and stuck with them 100%. I shifted out of the “I need to buy” mindset; I evaluated what already lined our pantry and freezer shelves and attempted to become creative in the kitchen again, letting go of adhering to recipes. For meetings scheduled at coffee shops, I carried a bag of change from our collection to pay for those 12 and 16 ounce drips. Less reliance on the credit card. Using resources I already had. More shopping at the Farmer’s Market and at Compare Foods. More coupons. One Amazon purchase where I could cash in my points. And, no, I didn’t buy a book.

One month in, and I was winning! 

Then…February.

I’m not sure what happened during those 28 days, but I essentially pulled the rug out from underneath myself. More eating out; less accountability on how and where I was spending my dollars. Now, I didn’t completely fail in my goal for that month; some ways that I tried to be more intentional about my shopping included:

  • Using a gift certificate at The Scrap Exchange to purchase supplies for Valentine’s Day card-making rather than buying cards elsewhere
  • Cleaning out my bookcase and selling more than a dozen to Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham [transparently: yes, I have absolutely leveraged that credit to acquire a new book]
  • Seeking out more free activities/spaces where I felt less pressure to make a purchase.

Yet, I still slipped. Instead of purchasing one item to bring to a meeting, I justified purchasing two. I had more drinks out.

And this is why it is wonderful to have such thoughtful friends. One of my favorite nonprofit & public television rockstars, Sarah, forwarded me another NYT article on March 1st as she checked in on my shopping challenge. One of the “a-ha” moments for me in reading this piece was the advice to “confront your triggers.”

I can definitely be an emotional shopper. Running by the grocery store after finishing a workout or before eating a meal spells trouble for my ability to stick to a plan. I’m hungry and tired; I want to reward myself and that’s when I see my cart filling with items like Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream or Kite Hill cheese that are both delicious and unnecessary (and really expensive!).

Another one of my triggers is seeing products and events on social media. I want to do it all! But, I can’t — due to time, money, and capacity. But the desire remains and can propel me into purchasing tickets or showing up to a space where I will no doubt spend money.

Like I reflected in my prior post, none of these actions are inherently bad or wrong. It’s more about recognizing the “why” behind these choices and being at peace that there will always be more. Our world loves to promote scarcity, which is so far from reality.

After taking a few steps back last month, I’m feeling good about getting back on track. It’s about finding a balance between militancy and blowout.