Your politics are bad for business

IMG_8694
It’s broken! Fitbit bands and flex are done!

I’ve saved a ton of money this year. Want to know how? Conservative politics, sexism, and racism are keeping my dollars in the bank.

First, move to a red state, the cost of living is lower, you’ll save time on figuring out which of your friends and co-workers are “-ist”, because most of them will let you know. Stars and Bars first clue, then the racist, xenophobic, sexist posts on FB second clue, and then third the “ist” things they say to your face because they wrongly assume that  you’re hanging with them because you’re one of “the good ones” and “you’re cool.” *Side bar, I must admit that I do prefer all of the -ism’s southern fried, because it’s so damn efficient. I don’t have to spend years cultivating relationships only to find out how awful some of my so-called “liberal” friends are, it takes somewhere between five seconds to a few weeks to figure it out in the South.* So you don’t do brunch, or lunch, or anything with a lot of the people you know. You stay quiet for a myriad of reasons, personal safety being number one on my list . You stop eating out because the service is terrible if you’re black. You don’t waste your money on dating sites, because if you’re a black woman they’re a waste of time (this has nothing to do with my personal look or profile, it’s a statistical fact), no one is going to respond. You cut the cable cord because mainstream TV has become increasingly bland, and you don’t see positive images of yourself anywhere. You stop buying clothes because John Oliver got you woke, I’m tired of paying the pink tax, and I personally spend 90 percent of my time in spandex and my racing t-shirts anyway. My Fitbit broke, and I think long and hard about the factory workers in China before I decide to replace it,  and if I’m  supporting abusive or toxic working conditions.

Which brings me to how I choose to spend my fitness dollars, and the honest answer to my friends when they say, “Hey, you haven’t been to yoga in a while!” or “Why did you stop going to CrossFit?”

IMG_8241
I thought it was just the workout that did me in.

March 12, 2016,

I went to Battlefrog for my first real OCR. This was a test of my overall fitness and I failed miserably. The obstacle course was 8k. Running trails through water and woods, and over rough terrain, no problem. Obstacles that required total body strength and agility, more challenging, but I did them. Obstacles which required grip and pure upper body strength, total failure. I confess that I’ve never been able to do a single pull up, so hefting my heavy lower half up with my arms over twelve foot walls was impossible. I also accidentally did my penalty body builders in an ant hill (an 8 count bodybuilder is a military burpee–yes it’s worse than a regular burpee.)

I know my weaknesses and have sought self improvement, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to properly train in traditional white spaces. I failed because I’ve stopped going to Crossfit, and Yoga. Two activities that have helped me make tremendous gains in boosting my natural beastliness.

I love the physical challenge of CrossFit. My old gym is a local business and is run by two very knowledgeable and good coaches, who are also veterans. I would love to join and support their gym, but I can’t.

I was uncomfortable the first time I showed up, I got stared at a lot. Not a new feeling. I often am the only black woman in the room. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. After a few sessions, the stares stopped and I got into the workouts. I love the challenge, and I lost my fear of lifting. I had wrongly assumed that lifting would make my already muscular body, even bulkier. I was wrong. I have leaned out considerably. I seriously considered joining the gym until I discovered that the non-profit that is tied to the gym is Concerned Veterans for America. CVA is ultra conservative group, who posts support for scary right wing politicians, which is actively trying to privatize the VA, and is funded by the Koch brothers. Those facts and the strange FB posts with the owner’s who spend their free time in small groups with automatic weapons “preparing” scares me. I can’t actively support this business if I know that my money is funding what I believe to be catastrophic for an already broken healthcare system, which I use.

I love what my Yoga practice does for both my body and my mind. The woman who owns my Yoga studio, offers a generous veteran’s discount, and I would love to support her local business, but I can’t.

 

IMG_6998
Ignorance and sweating with friends is bliss!

I was uncomfortable the first time I showed up…We’ve been over why already. After a few sessions I realized that the “Yogi’s” I share this space with are the worst version of stereotypical yoga enthusiasts ever! There isn’t enough space left in this post to go over the amount of awful that goes on in my studio. Just a few examples:

Overheard, two white men asked the new instructor who happens to be Asian, “Where did you practice before you came here?”
“To learn, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos.”
“Ooooh” snide “my yoga is more authentic than your yoga because I paid for it” tone and eye roll from the men.

From an instructor, “I just love yoga, but I don’t like what it is doing to my butt. I’m just not into that bubble butt look!”

In overcrowded class, “Hey, there’s an empty space right here!” Eye roll from lady who puts her mat right in front of the door to the studio which swings open and into her several times during practice, yet she refuses to move.

From an instructor telling a story that is supposed to be inspirational “….imagine that a young black man who wants to be known for his capability for change. How awesome is that? And if he can then…” She kept repeating that. The three brown yogi’s that night almost choked on our collective Ujjayi breath.

Running into the lady during a practice who skipped me in line at Staples, who looked at me like I was crazy when I asserted myself by saying “I’m next in line.” and rolled up to the register before her.

I’m starting to think that when we say “Namaste” we say “The light in me sees how dark you are!” When you have to take a Zanax before you go to yoga, it’s not worth it.

When I tell these stories to my friends. I get told how it’s not about race, or sex, or whatever. I get told that I’m being sensitive. I get told I should suck it up. The more I experience these things, and the less emphatic my friends are, the more money I save.

IMG_8653
Analogy time! One ant bite hurts. 40 of them will cripple you.

On a macro level, the more informed I become as a consumer, the less I want to consume. On a personal level; yoga (and I shouldn’t have to say this because yoga is supposed to be a holistic experience, and a lifesyle) you need to impart more social awareness in your customers, Crossfit your politics are bad for business.

I’m in full austerity mode America, so if I can’t appeal to the moral need to stop with all of the “-isms” then maybe when it starts to effect the economy you’ll get the message.

My Hillary Problem: Stop telling me why I don’t “like” her, I already know!

Trump or Clinton? Sanders would be my choice, and I’m not that enthusiastic about him as POTUS either, but I do empathize with him and his politics. Is there a special place in hell for me Ms. Albright? Or am I a silly millennial chasing after boys Ms. Steinem?

I declare I’m a Gen X woman who is supremely disappointed in Baby Boomer and Gen X feminists who have lost their damn minds by trying to “Femisplain” me into voting for Hillary just because she’s a woman. I find this theory of solidarity ridiculous, it’s like telling me that I should support Justice Thomas’ decisions just because we share the same skin color.

Rewind to 1999. I had the highest test scores coming out of my MOS school in the Marine Corps. The teachers of my class got together, “recalculated” the grade weighting of our tests and quizzes so mathematically I ended up with a class average hundredths of a point behind a man. I was upset for a minute. It was unfair, and I felt cheated. I said nothing, and I let it go.

I won! Wait, no I didn't. What do you mean I didn't win? #reallyfeelingtheBern
I won! Wait, no I didn’t. What do you mean I didn’t win? #reallyfeelingtheBern

I ran a 5k on February 20th, 2016. According to the race results, I had the fastest time in my age group. I was awarded the second place medal by the race organizers. Apparently a runner without a time chip was allowed to enter her time manually, and she claimed to have finished a few seconds ahead of me. I’m not sure if she did or not. I was upset for a minute. It was unfair, and I felt cheated. The purpose of having timing chips is to ensure that the race is fair, and normally runners without chips are not qualified for race awards. I said nothing, and I let it go. It was not the first time something like this has happened to me, nor will it be the last.

I feel like Bernie Sanders. He won the New Hampshire primary, but lost most of the delegates. Do you see where this post is going? These are micro parables, but pertinent. In 1999, I lost unfairly to a white male. In 2016, I lost unfairly to a white female. Should I be less upset sixteen years later that I lost to a woman?

“We’ve come a long way baby” screams the type of “feminist” I loathe.

I should like Hillary Clinton for president, but I don’t. I do support her foreign policy stance. I also think that she’s qualified to be our Commander in Chief. So what’s my problem?

I don’t like Hillary Clinton and for very good and rational reasons.

I’m uncomfortable with her campaign and the links between the Clinton foundation, and her rise to political power. The optics on her, and women of color are awful. Really Hillary, kicking a #blacklivesmatter protester out of a 500 dollar dinner? I don’t like her policies, she’s a right leaning centrist. Check your reproductive rights ladies, because Hillary’s stance on abortion “…safe, legal, and rare” sounds a lot like Texas right now. Her record as a senator is devoid of any real legislation that is favorable to the working class, women, or people of color. Her words of ending the wage gap ring hollow, there isn’t a lobby with deep enough pockets to make that happen…etc…etc… and double pumpkin spice etc…

I feel by electing Clinton we are signing up for a presidency that will preserve the status quo that I find untenable as an unapologetic feminist.

But wait, Hillary Clinton is a woman? So the irrational feminist in me should tow the line for historical precedence sake? Right? So totes wrong!
Hana Schank wrote in her Salon piece “My Gen X Hillary problem: I know why we don’t ‘like’ Clinton”:

“I suspect that the millennial women who are supporting Bernie may simply not have gotten to a place in life where they’ve experienced this kind of chronic, internalized, institutional sexism. In order for someone to ignore you at a senior level, you need be old enough to have reached that level, and most millenials aren’t quite there yet. They’re still where I was in my early 30s, hopeful that we’ve come through the other side to a post-sexist world. Because nothing says “sexism is dead” like a woman voting for Bernie.“

Is it just me? Or are feminists of a certain age starting to sound uber patronizing right about now? And I’m going to throw the privilege grenade at the scores of women like high-handed Hana, that refuse to look around, down, and up, from their particular small view of the “post-sexist” world. Women—the “we” referred to in the title— who firmly believe that feminism, and its ideals and implementation, began and ended with middle class white ladies and their moms (and grandma’s and great-grandma’s if we extend a shout-out to the suffrage age ladies.) Isn’t it ironic that women are starting to sound a lot like men, when they try to make an argument for Hillary? Or is it intentional that this “we” discounts the continued damaging experiences of young women, poor women, and women of color? You know those of us that couldn’t possibly have experienced “chronic, internalized, institutional sexism” because we haven’t reached the “senior level” of being a woman yet. Schank writes from a point of view that pretends that we don’t exist, or know our own minds, when it comes to our thinking about Hillary Clinton.

Besides my very rational reasons for not liking Hillary, reading a dozen or so think pieces about internalized sexism, has brought out another reason for me not to like her. I think I’ll call it “Trickle Down Feminism” and just like trickle down economics, it just doesn’t work. I know from the personal experience of being a veteran.

Back in 1999, as a young Marine I arrived to my duty station, as a radio repairman, a Lance Corporal (E-3.) I was one of three women in our shop. PFC E, was my (E-2) bestie from MOS school and Cpl Highlander (E-4.)

Cpl Highlander (not her real name, but she is a type of woman and part of an allegory, I’m taking liberties while I still can) was the “best” female Marine in our shop. She was also the only one, until PFC E and I showed up. She was the “best” because she did all of the admin tasks in the shop, was agreeable, and not particularly threatening to the forty other men in the shop. As a woman with some power (she outranked us,) she should’ve taken us under her wing and helped us to become better Marines, because thats what “we” as women in a male dominated field should do. Instead she spent most of her time trying to get the two of us thrown out of the Marine Corps.

She was threatened by two younger women (one black, one white) who were both measurably better than her professionally. She was right to feel threatened, it soon became apparent that she was really a middle of the road Marine. While a genius with the admin work, she couldn’t fix a radio, and she couldn’t run at all, or do any of the physical activities that are part of being a Marine. Instead of knowing herself and seeking self improvement (had she reached out she could’ve gotten better by running and training with two Marines who were passionate, and healthily competitive about being Marines) she spent her time and power charging two junior Marines with various crimes in order to make herself look better.

The Cpl Highlander philosophy was that there was only room for one woman in our shop. Fortunately for me, I picked up rank despite her efforts to burn me and I transferred out. Unfortunately for PFC E, she  almost bled out from the blood feud between her and Cpl Highlander. She persevered, but not without scars. She spent the better part of a year getting her rank stripped from her, and on barracks restriction.

Cpl Highlander was the type of woman I suspect Hillary Clinton is, and this is playing out on the campaign trail. Her smugness when dealing with other women “Why don’t you run for something, then?” her reply to a young women who asked her a valid question is just a politer version of Trump tossing protesters out of his rallies. A type of woman who believes in her entitlement, just because she’s outlasted all others. There is little in her record that suggests that she will be good for other women like her, and the record shows that her policies were/are devastating for women not like her.

Be warned from someone who knows what women do to other women to be “successful.” My immediate response to Ms. Albright’s question about that special place in hell for women was “I guess I’ll be there somewhere behind Hillary.” The way Clinton got up the ladder was not by being a liberal, or a feminist. In fact, she’s been relatively silent on most “woman’s issues.” She has her reasons, and I think one of them is that she doesn’t care about other women. In order for feminism to trickle down, I think you have to be a feminist to begin with. I don’t like Hillary because I know too many women like her, cis gendered but ideologically aligned with men.

Clinton has spent so much time and effort trying to prove that she is one of the good ole boys, that she just might be one.

Hillary Clinton will probably shatter the glass ceiling. American women look out for shards of glass that will cut you as she breaks the barrier. And then look up after to make sure she doesn’t pave over the hole she leaves with cement.

Lady Bougieboo

February 20th 2016,

Formation First Squad, First Fireteam! Lady Littlefoot, Lady No Shame, and Lady Bougieboo post race shine!
Formation First Squad, First Fireteam! Lady Littlefoot, Lady No Shame, and Lady Bougieboo post race shine!

We watch and listen to “Formation” at least once a day, everyday. We all have our separate reasons for doing so in my house. My daughter, Bougie Boo says, “It’s like a lullaby!” She’s a casual fan of Beyonce. Her tastes are more alt rock, electronica and k-pop.

I worry for her. I’m a big momma of a new teen and who won’t eat lunch in the cafeteria. “It’s too loud, and too crowded. The food is awful. I go to the library.” These are normal teen issues. She’s trying to figure out who she is. I worry that she’s isolating because she’s different. She’s a STEM girl, who codes in her free time, she reads dystopian YA, she listens to K-pop, she golfs, and is a new runner. She needs to eat during the day and is having a hard time doing so.

She’s a brown girl who is interested in a world where she will often be “the only one” in the room. As a woman who is often “the only one” I know that means, “the lonely one.” I treasure her uniqueness, but I don’t want her to constantly have to justify her humanity in a country that increasingly refuses to see uniqueness while being black (and female) as a quality to be encouraged, fostered or celebrated.

She came home from school one day and asked, “So, what country are we moving to if Trump gets elected?” We laughed, but we both know it’s not a joke. I’ve been careful about keeping my fears about what Trump’s America might be like for us, to myself. Her political beliefs should be her own. To hear her articulate what has been preoccupying my thoughts was disturbing. I’m angry that I have spent time thinking that what might be best for the both of us, going forward, is leaving the country. It’s a tough space to occupy. She’s supposed to start high school next year, and we plan on staying, but the political reality might dictate that we leave, no matter who wins.

It’s becoming intolerable to live as a what I call a “slash citizen.” We come from a family that has always been heavily invested in civic service. My grandmother is the only pure capitalist among us. Everyone else has worked in the public sector. We are a family of nurses, and cops, and social workers, non-profit professionals, Air Force and Army officers, and enlisted Marines, and it seems we’ll never be American enough. My daughter is thirteen and knows that the rhetoric “Make America Great Again!” means an America that is hostile to those who are like her. She feels it already, and I hate that it’s 2016 and the burdens of gender, race, and class are trying to dull her shine.

This year has been a year where I’ve had to do some hard core parenting. I’ve navigated between heavy-handed harpy when it comes to her scholarship, and letting her develop her own compass and agency when it comes to everything else.

I didn’t suggest that she start running. She volunteered handing out water and snacks at one of my races earlier in the year. Her decision to start running came entirely from within. “I saw these tiny kids out there Mom, running with the adults, and I thought ‘What am I doing with my life?’” She was so dramatic, with a hand up to her forehead, mimicking crisis. “You want to run?” I asked. She looked at me serious for a moment “Yeah, I think I do.” I started taking her out every other day less than two months ago, so she could compete in her first 5k.
Introducing Lady Bougie Boo

Dimensions: 5’4 1/2”
Origins: black/white -some other ethnic stuff that may or may not be in her DNA by way of the suburbs in Connecticut and Northeast Florida
Rank: red belt two stripes Tang Soo Do Korean martial artist
Weakness: fine food and nice hotel rooms
Geek girl credentials: Star Wars, Potterhead, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Supernatural
Slay weapons of choice: Sarcasm, Python, Html, Java “script-ish”
Tag lines: “The aesthetic is real!” and “Don’t judge me, I’m fabulous!”

I’m excited for her, and the woman she’s becoming. I’m scared for her, and the woman she is becoming. Earlier in the school year she lopped off her pony tail. She came down the stairs with twelve inches of her hair clutched in her hand. It was an act of defiance, not against me, but against the hoards of long haired girls and boys she encounters daily, her small group of friends are the the nerds, like her. “Mom, I don’t know I just felt like I had to do it!” I almost cried. “Are you upset?” she asked. “No, I don’t care about your hair, it’s just that you look so much like your baby self.” I trimmed the rough edges of her new short curly ‘fro, as she flipped through her baby picture book. I told her stories about her baby self, the almost disney princess type of sweet she used to be, and I mourned and celebrated at the same time. My worry for her a year ago was that she might be too soft, and that she might rely on her beauty to make her way in the world. She has grown emotionally and intellectually, and has developed a personality that at times infuriates, surprises, and challenges me with her quick wit. My worry for her now is that the world might turn her hard and cynical. Having a changeling can bring on bouts of conflicting emotions.

Lady Bougie Boo was dressed, calm and ready for her first 5k. She’s a marvel to me. She didn’t have race day nerves. I had plenty of nerves for the both of us. It was a beach run, its going to be hot. She knows nothing of pacing, or the bodies rejection of doing an exercise in the sun, or feeling the sand suck you down, when you want to move forward. I worried that I’d set her up for failure, by entering her in a tough race. Lady Littlefoot and I’d been shuffling back and forth, collecting ourselves, complaining about the warm weather, using the bathroom “one last time” multiple times. We played our favorite songs and right before we leave the house at 10:15, for the unusually late race start of noon, Bougie Boo asked me to pull up “Formation.” We danced before we left.

After the race, she is wearing her medal for winning her age group. “You know, it’s win by default, right?” She was the only female runner in her age group. I’m proud of her anyway. She committed to training, and she finished. Normally, I’m not down with the participation trophy. But I felt like it was a worthy win. In checking with the race stats, there were only five women under 18 who participated, compared to fifteen boys. I asked her, “How’d it feel?” She replied, “Kinda good actually, I feel empowered. Strong you know…” she leans into me and whispers mischievously, “Like a bad ass beeyatch! Plus the beach and the water. You know how I am, the aesthetic is real!” And as for the win by default, “Why aren’t there more 10-14 year old girls here?”

IMG_7955
I like my baby hair however she chooses to rock it!
IMG_8533
Winning!

“Why?” indeed.

Active Bitch Face and Me

IMG_7259
Sunday after Marine Corps Marathon. Happy, for all the things runners alway profess to be grateful for? No, its raining, and too early, and a 5K. ABF

 

Resting bitch face is real. The “science” has now declared it so. The articles give many examples of celebrity women, who are often photographed with a look of dissatisfaction, which is declared “neutral” and quite disquieting to the public at large, because in the age of media we need the smiling faces to reassure us that the paragons are all good with the state of the world, so that we can remain engaged and entertained. The man they use as an example happens to be Yeezy, and I find that to be apropos to the topic at hand, because of the intersection of race and gender. They look unhappy in situations where they should presumably be content. The “science” is faulty. Why? Because people lie.

No the WOD sucks, it really does! I love my cross fit people but I don't want to do it. ABF
No the WOD sucks, it really does! I love my cross fit people but I don’t want to do it. ABF

So, if my pictures are run through a computer programmed to detect emotions, and I state that my face just rests with a look of boredom, or dissatisfaction, or seriousness when I should have a neutral face—that is oxymoronically defined as having slight upturn of the mouth, which is a slight smile—then the computer diagnoses me with RBF. Scientifically sound right? Absolutely not, because I’ve repeatedly lied my ass off hundreds of times when asked about what my face was communicating. No computer can register what I’m thinking in any given moment when the camera flashes.

You know it's been a hell of a day if I'm with Steve Rogers and not smiling! ABF
You know it’s been a hell of a day if I’m with Steve Rogers and not smiling! ABF

 

What if, like everything about us, our facial expressions are complicated? Human evolution says we relied body language and non-verbal indicators before we developed language. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so why do we use three useless ones to describe a state of being that can be as complicated as we are? The need to condense the range of what goes on non-verbally with women is disturbing to me. If anything, we should be unpacking extensively what these faces are saying to us.

 

Kristen Stewart, chances are you haven’t eaten in decades, you probably workout to the point of exhaustion, 99% probability that you’re career is over before you can say Botox—or that nonsense you just recently spewed, and you don’t have anything interesting to say or do in the movies you are featured in. Yeah, I’d have that look on my face too.

 

Queen Elizabeth, yeah she’s the queen of a defunct monarchy and lives in England…nuff said.

 

Kanye , literally sings about how unhappy he can be.

 

What if leagues of RBF sufferers are just lying? Or are unaware, that their true emotions are showing?
As women we are socialized to smile, even when we are bored, unhappy, unsatisfied, or terrified. If we get caught out not smiling it’s so very easy to discount what we are truly feeling as Resting Bitch Face. Because that’s what we do, and lying about our true emotions is unfortunately very necessary to our success, and sometimes to our survival as women. So I don’t blame you for lying about it. I just wish we didn’t have to.

 

The danger of chalking those unhappy faces to RBF is just another list in a litany of things women do to appease. The consequences are dire. In the workplace, RBF can get you fired, passed over for promotion, or not hired in the first place.

 

Further, if a woman can get killed for actively refusing a man’s advances (R.I.P. Mary Spears and countless nameless others), how many survivors are out there blaming themselves, or worse, getting blamed for the violence committed against them, because of the look on their faces? I hear it all of the time, “I should’ve smiled. If I had, he wouldn’t have raped me.” Or from a perpetrator, “I hit her because of the look on her face!” Because of these realities, I am going to stop denying the shade I’m throwing.

 

RBF being a new “scientific” thing can and will be used against women. In the court of public opinion–this matters economically to most women when it shouldn’t–and in all likelihood a real courtroom. “Not so serious, it’s just an internet thing!” you say. Ask a social worker, lawyer, your friend who was raped. You’d be shocked how the seemingly innocuous has real world consequences; and the excuses people will use to make an already intolerable situation, worse.

Me, I’ll just say I’ve got Active Bitch Face. I’m the worst actress in the world. So “that look “ is probably communicating exactly what I’m feeling. Note: It’s precisely what I’m feeling in that particular moment, it can change in an instant. Anyone who runs with me knows this. I feel it’s so very important to own the darker side of my existence.

I hurt. ABF
I hurt. ABF and SE

I have to my detriment.

 

My ABF (Active Bitch Face–sometimes, but not always interchangeable with Angry Black Female. I noted FLOTUS and scores of other black women are not part of this discussion because we not be complex like that) has gotten me fired, and passed over for promotion, and not hired at all, and got me kicked to the curb in a veteran’s organization, and used against me during trial and, and, and…

I’m experimenting with the idea that ABF can be a force for good. My 40th birthday brought out the super “zero f*cks” version of me. I’ll keep you updated as to whether this works out.

ABF because!
ABF because!

Most importantly, I own my ABF for my mental health.

If I don’t own it, I’ll go crazy(ier.)

 

Cam, the Dab and Me

Matanzas 5K St Augustine January 30,

IMG_8260
At the Start with Mickla, who is #runsmidgerun happy for her first 5k in a while!

I hate 5k’s. I running this one because there’s a better than decent chance that I can win something, because the Matanzas 5000 has the Athena division (in past years known as the Clydesdale division.)  I chuckle at both of these monikers. Oh, so polite of the race organizers to celebrate the “big-bodied” runner . In my mind, the prize is for the “fat girl fast” and I want it. I have all the feels for the runners who are content with participating and challenging themselves, and enjoy the camaraderie and beautiful scenic routes which bring them a sense of zen and wholeness. That’s just not me.  I declare: I’m “that” runner who wants to win.

At race end, I don’t think I won at all. I’ve come close to the podium in almost all of my distance races for my age in the past year, and while I’m getting better at the half-marathon distance, the dreaded 5k was going to beat me again.  Matanzas was an awful race for me. It was too hot. The course turned too many corners. I had no sense of  where the finish was, so I couldn’t time my sprint to the end. My time was slower than my previous 5K by more 2 minutes. I sat in the gym, not so patiently waiting for the awards to be announced, thinking that I’d lost once again because…

I hate 5k’s. The 3.1 mile distance has always been linked to a profound sense of shame for me. I’ve failed so many times at this distance, and it all revolves around: gender, race, economic disadvantage,  and my big body. I’m 5’6″ and  0630 on race day I weigh 165 pounds. I’m built like Serena Williams. In an alternate universe, where women play in the NFL, I think I could’ve made a pretty good running back. As it is, I’m 40, I have thick thighs, and a butt that you can balance a cup of coffee on. I’m no where close to having the body of  prototypical distance runner.

My running journey started in my junior year of high school because of a mandatory requirement to play a team sport. I was dumped on the cross country team because I wasn’t experienced enough at any of the sports requiring specialized equipment to make a team. I was also poor as a child. If you can’t afford regular shoes, running shoes ( and club fees, race fees, uniforms, mom taking off work shuttling me to and fro for practices) were a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Academics was supposed be my ticket out of poverty. This is a limitation that is placed on many bright women of color, and sometimes I mourn the athlete I could’ve been if I had started running, or playing basketball, or tennis when I was a child.

I never finished a race in high school.  I spent most of my youth despising running, because the 17-year-old version of me was too big and new to the sport to compete with the lithe, white teenagers who had been running for years. Running was (is) difficult when you’re heavy, and lonely when you’re the only brown girl, and skinny girls can be mean. Runners know that half the battle in distance running is mental, and I let all of the things about me that shouldn’t have mattered, stop me from competing.

I didn’t discover my “fat girl fast” until I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 23. I’d spent the six months prior to bootcamp reteaching myself how to run. I had to lose 30 pounds to ship to Parris Island. I didn’t record my time or distances. I just knew that I had weight to lose, and Marines do a ton of running. I was surprised to be  the fastest female runner in my battalion. I won the honor of high PFT’er but was not allowed to celebrate. Recruits don’t celebrate, or get trophies. Recruits get smoked for such offenses.

As a woman Marine, I learned early on in my career that with excellence one must carry one self with a sense of modesty and bearing so as to not bring the wrath of the haters. So with every 5k we ran, I had to hide my joy at being the best. Being the best, as a woman in the Marine Corps, is dangerous. It upsets the status quo, challenges norms, sets standards for other women, destroys stereotypes, and we all know how disquieting that can be in any arena.

I mean Cam Newton does the Dab and everything good and wonderful in the NFL has come to an end. How dare he, in his blackety blackness, celebrate unabashedly his achievements with his teammates by doing a dance?

There was always someone during my  Marine Corps career waiting for me to fail; so I made myself small (literally and figuratively), and unassuming, humble, and gracious, because thats how they like the ladies in the Marines.  I’ve learned throughout the years, that this is how they like veterans, and particularly black women, and everyone with an “other” label attached to them, to be too. But it’s such a lie. I want to celebrate, and be noticed, and have fun as a person, no matter what I look like. I’ve spend too long hiding, thinking, “I will succeed if I appease!”  This sense that I can’t do me and all of me, affects all aspects of my life.

IMG_6372
I’m almost done with this particular brew. It’s bitter and black. Not how I want to be!

I thought my  running career ended with my EAS (End of Active Service.) With my high risk pregnancy, and the complications that came with my daughter’s birth, I ballooned up to 240 pounds. I was sick, and depressed and went through the nastiest divorce. I remember putting on my running shoes after more than a decade of not running, and wondering if I could ever find my “fat girl fast” again. Three years later, I’m proud to say that I have and I’m going to celebrate in the silly way that I can. There is so much to celebrate because I’ve lost so many times.

Today I took 2nd place in the Athena Division, and celebrated like Cam, without a second thought to the gym full of runners who looked at me like I lost my mind when I accepted my trophy for “running while big” by doing the much reviled Dab.

IMG_8283

 

 

WWP and Me

Asheville, NC January 21-24

IMG_7989
Me after running five miles, including a two mile steep incline back up to the hotel. The best description I have of the hotel is that  the sets of The Shining and The Lord of the Rings had a baby; and yes, it’s beautiful!

A storm was coming. Winter storm Jonas, and a scathing report from CBS news criticizing Wounded Warrior Project.  Friday afternoon after checking in to the SouthEast Female Warrior Summit hosted by “dub-dub p” as we say here in Jacksonville–where I live (St Augustine north to be precise) and the headquarters of WWP–my main concern was to get my run in before the snow came. I’ve always wanted to visit Asheville. What writer doesn’t?

I wasn’t sure how I was chosen for the summit, but my  plan was to keep my mouth shut the entire weekend, to try and enjoy myself, to network, and remain positive, and all of the other happy horse manure I tell myself  in order not to be kicked out of  the conference (this almost happened with another veteran’s organization last year) for expressing my opinions concerning the organization who was graciously hosting me for the weekend.

As a warrior who has been openly critical of WWP in the past, I was sure I was on the infamous “No-Fly List” at headquarters. The mythical blacklist that that bars alumni who have anything “bad” to say about WWP from participating in their programs.

After being an alumna for the past three years, I can confidently say that NO such list exists. I have gotten into some programs. I have been denied for other programs. I had been on the waitlist for the program which I was participating in this weekend. Another woman had to decline because of illness, and I was next up. This happens all the time at WWP. And this is precisely why we need WWP.

Is the “dub dub p” perfect?  No. Any charitable organization of this size and scope is: complicated, and messy, and great, and bad, and inefficient, and has growing pains,  an can be exclusionary, and is awesome, and rocks it! The summit was perfect! and needed and empowering and… and … I digress, by now  you’ve read “THE FACTS” from both sides. CBS and the NYT has its “facts.” WWP has its “facts.” And the whole interweb is aflutter with individual personal opinions which are either: a healthy gulp of Haterade,  or a heaping plateful of praise for WWP.

I’m always hungry, so I decided there is room in the blogosphere for a more “ambivalent”  response. There are things I love, about WWP. But like any love affair, it’s complicated. For example: I’ve had a tough time lobbying for more women veteran programs.  There are  programs, that I could live without- I just personally hate hunting and fishing. I also read about the suing of other charities and branding, and other things I find distasteful.

I can state as a fact from a very personal “boots on the ground” perspective: that WWP has lobbied for post 9/11 veterans relentlessly to a congress that has been ineffectual in promoting real change in the VA.

WWP has granted millions to other veterans organizations that I belong to: The Mission Continues and Team RWB. And is piloting a mental health program that is  going to save thousands of lives.

Personally, WWP is one of the programs that has helped me heal. And I try to pay it forward to every veteran and civilian I encounter. So, to let you in on my “FACTS”

Without WWP I would be dead. Why? because I’m suicidal.  Details later,  for the purpose of this essay, just take it as my personal truth.

WWP got me out of my house, and into the gym and running again, through their Physical Health and Wellness program.

I belong to TeamRWB which brings the veteran and civilian world together through fitness. You want to run, walk, OCR, cross fit, triathlon, yogi?  Talk to me, because I do all of that. Join a chapter! There are more things that I personally don’t do, but a chapter near you does.

WWP  also introduced me to The Mission Continues which is also a joint veteran and civilian endeavor that seeks to change the conversation about my generation of veterans by providing fellowships to veterans  with other non-profits so that veterans can continue to serve. I served more than 1000 community service hours last year. The largest chunk of my time was with The Women’s Center of Jacksonville as a Rape Crisis Advocate. And guess what? We have service platoons nationwide so veterans and civilians can come together to make a positive change in our communities.

Can WWP do a better job at servicing veterans? Yes, and guess what I got to do this weekend? Remember 600 words ago when I said I was going to keep my big mouth shut? I was encouraged to speak on all of it. And I did.

Besides all of the fabulous fun depicted in the pictures. I worked really hard at lobbying for more programs, and I was given a safe space to voice my concerns, and what, what, what??? I got to super-size my criticize! I was allowed to give voice to all of the things the critics are saying without repercussion . WWP is looking to improve. However, the “dub- dup p” can’t do that without me, or without you, asking the hard questions of everyone involved. So, this is your invitation.

If you’re a wounded warrior, engage.

If you’re a civilian, find more than one veteran to talk to about these issues, and get involved.

IMG_8030
Silliness after death by powerpoint!
IMG_8018
Metaphor, anyone?