Tag: mental health
Pop Quiz, or, Report to my employer on the last three years after a “Sabbatical.”
(Dear reader, I know there is irony in speaking of truth and then redacting parts of this post. However, my commitment to living in the truth does not extend to telling other people’s truths on the internet, and so I have hidden details pertaining to other people where I felt the need to give them the gift of privacy.)
Now, pop quiz time! See how many you can get correctly.
Quiz on Sabbatical Leave
Point value: 1.5% GSI or unspecified merit increase
Instructions: The statements below either do or do not describe Prof. Anne Whitney’s efforts and experiences in the period between her initial application for sabbatical and her return to service.
For each statement, fill the box in the left-hand column with “T” if true and “F” if false.
|⃞||Prof. Whitney gave away more than 48 cubic feet of clothes.|
|⃞||Both of Prof. Whitney’s children changed schools.|
|⃞||Critical family medical history was disclosed to Prof. Whitney by her parents, including the cause of death of her sister, who died before Prof. Whitney was born and was kept a secret until Prof. Whitney was 15 or 16 years old. This history would have been relevant to several critical medical issues experienced by both Prof. Whitney and her children.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had a kidney stone embedded in her ureter, causing urine to flow in reverse.|
|⃞||Two out of the three members of Prof. Whitney’s household were identified as having intellectual disabilities.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney led professional development for the teaching artists of the nonprofit Ridgelines Language Arts.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney appeared on television discussing how childhood sexual abuse affected her psychologically from childhood to the present.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had a urinary tract stent for two months, causing pain upon any movement including walking.|
|⃞||All of Prof. Whitney’s research sites (schools and professional development sites) closed/canceled.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on talking with children about childhood sexual abuse.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney used writing and social media action to make contact with more than ten additional victims/survivors, urging them to report the same coach for crimes occurring from the mid-1970s to the present.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had at least five panic attacks.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had two uterine surgeries, the second of which was a total hysterectomy.|
|⃞||All of Prof. Whitney’s doctoral students and at least three of her master’s students completed their degrees.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney’s mother explained that they had declined psychologist-recommended mental health treatment for her after sexual abuse. They gave as a reason that she had made hurtful and “unhelpful” comments about the family to the doctor. The same explanation was given three years later, when they again withdrew her from treatment immediately following an intake session.|
|⃞||To date, at least 17 victims of Prof. Whitney’s sexual abuser have made reports to law enforcement, alleging crimes over a period of 40 years.|
|⃞||After discovering that her childhood sexual abuser was still active in children’s programs, Prof. Whitney reported him to multiple authorities.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney enrolled in training to teach Zumba, an exercise dance style.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had daily gastrointestinal symptoms.|
|⃞||A geneticist determined that Prof. Whitney and others in her family almost certainly have genetic disorders of connective tissue, bone, vascular system, or hormone function, pending confirmation by whole exome DNA sequencing.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with autism.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney incurred more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for her own care alone.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had Covid-19.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had twelve or more kidney stones.|
|⃞||One of Prof. Whitney’s children was hospitalized for two weeks after an x-ray revealed a bone lesion encompassing almost 50% of the child’s femur.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on high school writing instruction.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney was interviewed by investigators including law enforcement, federal authorities, and multiple journalists about her experience of childhood sexual abuse. The interviews required prolonged, repeated engagement with traumatic memories and personal questions about her family relationships, sexual experiences, and mental health from 1983-2022.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney initiated partnerships between Penn State teacher education students and middle school students.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney borrowed money from her parents for the first time, even though she is 49 years old and an employed professional.|
|⃞||Two of Prof. Whitney’s colleagues died.|
|⃞||All of Prof. Whitney’s planned sabbatical research funding sources canceled their award cycles.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney gained 25 pounds in less than 12 months.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney co-led a group of Anti-Racist English Language Arts Educators in a critical reading group. These teachers teach high school English in two schools that partner with the university.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney has both physical custody of and full financial responsibility for her two children, making her officially a “single mom.”|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney accumulated a pile of clean yet un-put-away laundry so big that she could not open her closet or walk unobstructed from the bedroom door to the bathroom. It was so anxiety-provoking that she ultimately asked friends and even hired teenagers to fold and stow it.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney published two books, two book chapters, and multiple articles.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had a bladder resection surgery.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney missed deadlines for several important academic conferences.|
|⃞||Out-of-pocket medical expenses for Prof. Whitney’s children totaled more than $15,000 in an 18-month period.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney’s parents explained that they had taken no action following Prof. Whitney’s experience of sexual abuse in 1983 because Prof. Whitney had said she didn’t want to.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney’s childhood sexual abuser was arrested almost 40 years after he assaulted Prof. Whitney, charged with multiple counts of indecency with a minor.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney divorced her spouse after sixteen years and two children.|
|⃞||Two of Prof. Whitney’s books came out in the same month.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney canceled presentations at several important academic conferences.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney read more than 150 books, 19 of them memoirs.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney took up kayaking.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney played a feisty bard gnome in Dungeons and Dragons.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney visited HersheyPark three times. The SuperDuperLooper was closed every time.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney’s children required treatment from healthcare practitioners outside the university insurance network. Of the four specialties needed, three of them are not practiced by any physician in a 90-mile radius of State College. The fourth specialty required waiting lists of six months or more at all practices within a 120-mile radius.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney learned to make pottery using both handbuilding and throwing techniques.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on the professional development of summer camp staff.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with ADHD.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney had untreatable uterine disease.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney experienced the prolonged escalation and consequences of a global pandemic (along with most Earth inhabitants).|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on writing practices for spiritual reflection.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on school literacy experiences of a student with autism spectrum disorder and high intellectual function.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney joined with hundreds of teacher-writers in a joint writing effort in March of 2021 and 2022.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney led two new workshops using writing and collage as modalities for reflection and (re)composition.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney served as a writing partner for women serving prison sentences in Oklahoma, via the nonprofit Poetic Justice.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney sold approximately 35% of a house, bought a house, and moved into it within a 30-day period.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney spent whole days and weeks at a time completely unable to think or write.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney’s children both accelerated in school in two or more subjects.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney survived.|
|⃞||Prof. Whitney is writing again.|
No “answers” when it’s my own life I’m living. Whatever answers I have been taught about what should be, or what makes sense, or what a good or healthy or capable person would do– turns out they aren’t really what living is about, at least not if I’m aiming to live my life and not just get through it. I’m learning that, for me at least, reaching for “the answers” is like earnestly, naively trying to answer a trick question. I’ll just end up both wrong and ashamed of having fallen for it.
All I can authentically reach toward is truth. As my therapist Leslie asked me almost weekly for twelve years: What do I know right now to be true? If I look inward, if I listen to what Glennon Doyle calls my “truthiest truth,” what does the deepest me need me to know?
ANSWER KEY #2:
All of the statements are true. It’s been kind of a shitshow. Nadia Bolz Weber tells about a turning point in her own life as “having my heart of stone ripped out of my chest, and replaced again with something warm and beating, like an emotional heart transplant” (I linked to her Substack, but the best place to start with NBW is her memoir Pastrix). I had turned my own heart to stone, in hope that it would stop hurting. Maybe I even stoned myself, like they might a whore in the Bible or another outcast. This is me in January 2023, standing in a puddle of molten rock, melted lies, left with hot feet and a lot of lava around… but alive. A living human with a warm and beating heart.
A story about telling my story
When I decided in spring 2022 to make sure that the man who had sexually abused me in 1983 had actually been officially reported to law enforcement, I did so for my own peace of mind if nothing else. I had no real sense of the places it would lead. Now Mike Spiller, a gymnastics coach who sexually abused me and who is accused by many others, has been arrested, and Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle has written this loving and precisely researched story. With more to come.
Here’s a quote from the top of the full story, as it’s most personal to me:
Anne Elrod Whitney had only recently joined a girls gymnastics team at Rowland’s Northwest when she was invited to attend a team sleepover at the gym’s building in northwest Houston. It was 1983. She was 10.
What should have been a safe, fun-filled event in a familiar space instead became corrupted.
The sleepover had the atmosphere of a school lock-in with loosely organized games, sleeping bags splayed across the floor and pizza ordered in for dinner. Kids played on the gym equipment normally reserved for rigorous instruction. Some people propped blue vinyl gym mats up against the wall to construct lean-to forts.
At some point Whitney found herself alone in one of the forts with Mike Spiller, who she knew as a charismatic man and one of the gym’s primary coaches, out of sight between the mats and the wall.
There, she says, Spiller snuggled with her on top of sleeping bags and began massaging her thighs and hip while commenting on her muscles. Then Spiller put his hand inside Whitney’s underwear and massaged the outside of her vagina.
“I actually, at that time, didn’t know anything bad had happened,” says Whitney, who is now 49 and resides in Pennsylvania. “I think I liked to be somebody’s favorite, you know? And I know now, that’s the thing that happens to a lot of kids where, you know, there’s (seeking) approval in a relationship, and even affection, from somebody that you care about.”
Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 18 of this year, Spiller turned himself in after police in Boerne, Texas, put out a warrant for his arrest. He was booked into the Kendall County jail, where he remains on a bond of $150,000, on a charge of indecency with a child.
Read it in one of these forms:
Full investigation (for Chronicle subscribers, 99 cent paywall): https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/texas-gymnastics-coach-arrest-sexual-abuse-17618101.php
Free version of need-to-know info: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Mike-Spiller-gymnastics-coach-sexual-abuse-Texas-17618279.php
Timeline of the allegations: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Gymnastics-coach-timeline-17618424.php
I’m not the first to say we’re made of stories. In fact, I have sometimes heard that kind of statement and thought, “blah, I’m sure that’s true, but how trite!” And on a slightly more articulate (but equally grumpy) day, I might have thought, “Stories are meaningful and good, BUT stories don’t get someone more money or medicine or a job or a loving advocate when hard times come. Or at least, they don’t work anywhere NEARLY as well as actual materials, resources, and actions do.
And yet. AND YET! Time after time, in my own life and in so many lives and spaces and communities, I keep seeing how it is true. Stories make shape out of the messy and incomprehensible flow of experiences and ideas. Stories make lives, they make communities, and they make selves.
It’s a beautiful idea and one that I’ve built a life’s work around. Even when I haven’t been aware of it, this idea about the meaning and power available in acts of in storying, storytelling, revising, etc. has threaded through all of my work in writing, research, teaching, teacher education, parenting, and faith.
We don’t make all the components of these stories. We don’t get to pick where and when we are born. Whether our ancestors or our current selves were or are oppressed and/or oppressing. What our bodies look like and the histories of how are bodies are seen in the places we find ourselves. The movements of populations, celestial bodies, revolutions. Diseases. So little is under our control.
And yet. We are always making and remaking the stories from which and into which these components flow. We string together events and feelings and wonderings and all the other bits and pieces into narratives. And as we grow, as we acquire additional story elements, or as our vision changes, we get to change the stories.
What a gift of power.
Abuser in jail. Boom.
They got him. This is Mike Spiller, the gymnastics coach who sexually abused me when I was 10. It took 39 years, but tonight there’s ONE LESS ABUSER out there getting away with it.
Thanks so much to the people who shared, retweeted, looked up old photos, etc. It took your help to turn up enough of my fellow victims/warriors to get here.
If you had interaction with Mike Spiller that in any way connects to his 40-year career as a gymnastics coach, camp leader, and pedophile, please get in touch with me and/or call the Crimestoppers number in the photo.
It’s never too late to tell the truth. We may not change the facts, we we sure can change the story!!
Talk about “just-in-time” delivery!
“This is an example of what we call ‘just-in-time’ inventory.”
Maybe these are not the words you think of a new grandmother saying to her first newborn granddaughter, but if you know that both of my parents are CPAs and that there’s only so much a new mom can chit-chat, it makes more sense. I’d had my newborn home for just a couple of days, and I spent almost all time nursing and nursing that hungry baby, and was a sick combination of exhausted and restless, weeping daily by 6:30 pm an dgenerally no fun at all to be with. So an uncomprehending newborn baby was basically all Grandmamma had in terms of people to talk to. And my mom thinks about stuff like inventory strategies a lot more than theh grandmothers in books and movies do. And I have to admit, I laughed, so it was a good relief from the tension of sleeplessness and adjustment. And I also did not know what just-in-time inventory was*, so hey, it was informative. If you’re wondering, it means a way of managing such that you don’t have piles of materials sitting around but instead have the materials arriving just as you’re about to need them.
*The reason I did not know this term is because having two accountant parents and having a stronger-than-average drive to individuate, I refused to listen to any financial-related info ever if I could help it. And it was hard to help it: two and sometimes three televisions were on with different financial channels and shows on each one for what felt like 24-hour financial education opportunities. Opportunities I rejected, to my later disadvantage most likely, though feel free to look me up when I’m retired and see. So defensive I was of my creative spirit that when Mom suggested I take typing in high school, I adamantly replied, “Why? I’m not going to work Sitting in Some Office!” Apparently I thought all the creative jobs were done standing up and/or outdoors. And that computers, which at that point were original Mac and some early PC clones, were not really going to catch on. Annnnnd now I am a writer for a living, literally typing in an office NOW, and I’m ergonomically horrid.
I’ll never forget my mom speaking these words to my newborn daughter 15 years ago, watching me on the sofa, again, under a baby again, nursing again. I was always on the sofa it seemed and never fixing dinner even though I was so hungry, never cleaning up the mess someone had left just a few feet away, never getting any item from one room to another or getting that glass of water I needed or shower I needed or book I forgot in the other room or or or or or.
Then, your mileage may vary if you’re normal like other moms seemed to be (ok, seem to be, present tense, even now when said newborn is 15 with a ten year-old sibling), but for me it went on feeling just about the same for most of both my children’s early years. I felt behind, always failing in some area, be it cleaning or work or wife-ing or just general being. I was trapped under a baby, and later just trapped, trapped in a body in one place at a time and on one relentlessly advancing timeline in which I could never, ever do enough, catch up, do things right. Never have enough or know enough or be efficient enough or strong enough to do all these many important things. Never organized enough or disciplined enough, or relaxed enough or healthy enough. Never enough.
My head was pretty much always working through how I would get my act together. It went a little something like this:
ME: I feel like there's just not enough time for everything I'm supposed to do.
ALSO ME: Your colleague seems to make time. Why can't you?
M: It's not the same. Their kids are way older, and their spouse stays home with the kids anyway, and doing things like laundry and having dinner ready.
AM: Well, the rest of the department won't know that. They'll just think it's you.
M: Shit. I'm getting up at 5 daily already! I can only do so much. I'll have to try again to divide up the work more fairly at home. Even if I had one more hour a couple times a week...
AM: He can barely do what you're asking of him now. Cut him some slack; some husbands do less! Manage your time better. You wasted a whole hour last night watching TV on the couch.
M: I meant to be packing lunches then, but I was so tired...
AM: And then you conked out early, and you know you need to be having more sex or you're going to end up alone.
M: Being alone wouldn't...
AM: Shut up; you'd be a basket case. No way you can keep all this up on your own.
M: You're right. I know. I can't even keep it all up now. I'm fucked.
And then because minds can be real assholes, as in even worse than it was already being alI day long in conversations like that one, I also felt (feel!) bad that I felt bad about this. Now, I’m a grown-ass woman with a Ph.D.! And I know for a FACT that this isn’t just me. I have read articles! Peer reviewed articles! I actually offended myself as a feminist for feeling like I was supposed to breadwin AND do all the mom stuff AND clean AND oh yeah put out more… but none of that stopped me from feeling it. And then judging the feeling as a dumb feeling to have. Like, I could just feel like I was failing, and that would be bad, but my head prefers the layered, deeply grooved bad of reflexive-looping self-judgment bad. It’s a bit like having that same exact argument with someone you love for the millionth time, and knowing that nothing will change AND you may actually be doing damage…but to yourself.
So a newborn gets just-in-time inventory from a boob, but my mind goes either for excess or extreme scarcity. Excess: My mind appears to have excess stock of poison. Scarcity: I know I am supposed to know that it’s not me, and that I have enough and am enough, and that a lot of my feelings of inadequacy are really just what it feels like to like and work in America in 2022. Yet often my heart rejects the knowledge, seeing just empty shelves where intentionality and self-compassion and acceptance should be. (I think they’re somewhere near the empty shelves for grading, baking, getting grants, raking, and putting away laundry.)
And then, just in time, this text floated near me!
Somehow, I was able to pick it from the air and feel myself set right– or at least right enough to keep going. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s take on the parable of the mustard seed is that it’s not that the mustard seed WILL grow to be enough, it’s more like just a seed IS enough. Now. (Seriously, she even uses Greek grammar to do this, so you know my nerdy heart was extra open to her point.) The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, and in answering that, she writes:
Jesus isn’t actually scolding them for not having even the tiniest amount of faith – instead when they ask him to increase their faith he’s basically rejecting the premise of their request.
In essence, he seems to imply that what they need isn’t more faith,
What they need to realize is that the thing they already have IS faith.
It’s like Jesus is saying how much faith do you have? and I’m like I don’t know Jesus, it’s not very much it’s like barely any and Jesus is saying “perfect!”
That’s a different message entirely isn’t it?
I think this message is for the humanist lacking faith in one’s own sufficiency to circumstances as much as the Christian’s. I don’t have enough, I can’t do enough, my faith is not enough– these are the earworm-y jingles that fear plays on the pianos of our heads. And we let those fill our ears, let them distract us from what we know deep down to be true, and end up seeing ourselves as empty cupboards, tiny seeds, when the truth is: here we are, human and all, already having just what it takes to be human. Not great reassuring piles of what we need, and not all stocked in ahead of time so that we feel ready. But already, always, we are who we need to be to live the moments we live through. Just in time.
Doing Hard Things
In conversation today, I heard myself use a line I’ve used about myself many times, a line that feels truer every time I say it:
I am great at big things; I’m terrible at little things.
I make no claims about the originality of this line, but I have been saying it since my twenties and it’s truer than ever (and improved upon only by the great Glennon Doyle, who has said on We Can Do Hard Things and elsewhere that she can do hard things, but not easy things. I so get this!)
I can do, and have done, some big things. Like, things some people see as forever unreachable: I’ve written books! I’ve moved cross-country (too many times)! I’ve handled a lot of misfortunes from child sexual abuse to mental health issues. I’ve done some big things! Or at least moderately big.
But little things? I am the worst, and I am worsening. The list of things I can’t do ranges from remembering your birthday to paying bills on time to answering email to keeping the kitchen clean to taking daily medications. I am terrible at establishing or maintaining habits or systems of any kind, from exercise to filing to putting away laundry. (Literally. I am so unable to put away laundry, since forever, that in August and September alone I have had a dear friend put it away for me while I was away (several hours’ work), have paid a stranger to help me put it away, and have sorted it into piles several different times… only to I mess up many, many little things per day, and unfortunately many people around me have had to accept this intermittent incompetence.
If you know me in real life– or even if you’ve glanced at some of the titles of recent posts here– you’ll know that I’ve been dealing with some extra-big Big Things. Some of those I have written about, and some I haven’t. Overall, I am coping with these Big Things as well as can be expected or better.
But, there’s a catch! I’m not sure if this is obvious to all but I’ve been clueless, or whether these Bigs differ from my many previous Bigs, or even if my unskilled skills have gotten even less skillful. Turns out: the these Big Things I am dealing with now have necessitated way, way more Little Things than I had already, and I am drowning. Just as one example: my son’s mystery tumor and its related or adjacent other medical mysteries require coordination, communication, and administration by me, as do the bills, insurance, times and places of appointments, transportation, medication, rehabilitation. It’s cascades of unrelenting -ations of the very type I’m absolutely miserable at. The other Big Things I’m wrapped up in are the same way. It’s like the Autobots of important life priorities and the Decepticons of tasks required to address those priorities are in a full-on melee situation, but they keep transforming unexpectedly, and switching sides, and nobody is quite sure whether the enemy is a truck, a dinosaur, a giant gun, or a bumblebee.
Then, and here’s actually why I started this post, there are the ways I make it harder for myself. I’m unaware of most of them, and the ones I have caught onto are apparently the ONLY habits I’ve been successful in forming! Like how I hire help with some home maintenance projects to save me some time, but then I have to keep the multiple unfinished projects in “pending” mode, with materials everywhere and clutter then amassing around it, leading to clutter in some other place, and we’re all living in a house with alarming, precarious piles and nothing in its right lace and a looming threat of panic attacks from the visual clutter alone. You know, those ways!
No solution, just a report from a tired woman who, coincidentally, is not only behind in tidying but who also discovered– just as I was about to hit “publish” on all the remaining course material my students need and have waited so patiently for– that the video material comprising about 1/3 of the “reading” for the course has DISAPPEARED! Like, every link now broken. Good news is the library still owns most of the resources; bad news is every single one is now on a different platform, indexed in a different way and requiring a different link. So what was to be a ten-minute task on Tuesday is now STILL not done!
And so Friday night is like this: the students, who are amazing and very busy, will keep on waiting, and I’ll keep on trying to accomplish the Big Thing of supporting teachers in the very hard work of teaching writing via a trillion impossible Little Things of hunting down links and editing an elaborate course management system accordingly while trying not to accidentally Google symptoms of horrible bone cancers or what kind of grout I am supposed to order or forget to eat the soup I heated up three hours ago.
No answers! But since that’s all both grim and a bit dramatic, I’ll leave you with this aggravating, inspiring statement, one we can file somewhere right in between Little Things and Hard things perhaps: Let it Be Easy. It came up accidentally when I was trying to source/link Glennon’s quote about “easy things.” Go read it. It’s got me thinking about my way of linking one task to another to another, and then overwhelming myself, causing blockage of my more important pursuit of the Big Things that matter to me.
And yes, I knew it wasn’t the detail I needed to complete this post, which itself arose organically and distractingly from a different search I was doing for an essay to replace one of those damn videos! [Process note: I had to search for my own essay Writing is Hard (because Filing! It’s a little hard thing!), which led to this Writing is Hard post from Jeff Goins, which led to his Let it Be Easy post, which led to this post you are now reading. Yes, I know. I KNOW!] I’m a free woman, damnit, and I clicked on it, and read it, and MAN I want to learn how to let it be easy.
The Big Scary TBW List
Do you have a to-be-read list? Or shelf or pile or bags full, like my kids and I do? Are you such a cool reader kid you call it a TBR? There’s an art to the TBR, and I don’t have it. Take for example my friend and colleague Rob, who one magical year actually accomplished the impossible of actually reading all the books on his TBR shelf before buying more. Not me; it’s just piles everywhere and then I grab whatever, or I end up ordering from the library/internet anyway.
I have a TBW list. I think many of us do, whether we know it or not: these are the stories that may matter most but also can be hardest to tell. What Glennon Doyle calls your “truthiest truth.” And I don’t know about you, but these years since the pandemic began, or maybe it’s since Trump, or wait maybe it’s since… all the wrong and sad and overwhelming things ever… These years have showed me some TRUTH. And the more I know what is true, the more I have to write about it.
And it’s super scary.
What if it hurts their feelings what if they don’t believe me what if it doesn’t count what if I am wrong what if I can’t what if it’s stupid what if nobody reads it what if I’m crazy what if i regret it what if I show too much real me what if what if what if kind of scary.
Here’s the list of things To Be Written in the coming days and weeks. Hold me to it.
- How Mike Spiller, my first gymnastics coach in Texas, fondled my crotch while “massaging” me in a tent of gym mats at a lock-in in the early 80s
- How Mike Spiller is still active in gymnastics and other youth camp settings, to my horror and stupid surprise
- How I didn’t realize what Mike Spiller did was bad at first, so starving I was for affection and approval
- How I did tell what Mike Spiller did, but not right away and not firmly enough, maybe
- How I lived out a life for the almost forty years since then, in all the messy and fucked up ways people live lives, but with the additional mess that Mike Spiller left behind for my head
- How I work at Penn State and did not re-report Mike Spiller even when child sexual abuse was all anyone talked about
- How I watched the trial of Larry Nassar and did not re-report Mike Spiller
- How I recently reported Mike Spiller to USA Center for SafeSport
- How it appears that I am not the only one who has something to say Mike Spiller
- How now I am doing everything I can to encourage others who may have similar experiences with Texas gymnastics coach Mike Spiller to contact me
- And whatever happens from there.
Thanks to the many people who have tried to love me at some point since 1982 and have recently answered questions when investigators have gotten in touch. I’m diving into the big scary TBW.
Here’s to all the truthy truth!
Getting write down to the truth
I’ve mentioned how 30 consecutive days of blogging in March renewed my desire to be writing as a way of being in my life. It’s as though I have remembered for myself all the things I so regularly structure or recommend for others: write informally. Write long and short and fast and slow. Write incompletely. Share writing. Springboard from the writing of others. Make writing social. Write to find out what you want to write. Write to discern what is true. And write the truth, what Glennon Doyle would call “the truthiest truth.” The truth that I know is true when I get really, really quiet, close my eyes, put my hand on my heart, look inside, and ask myself “what do I know right now to be true?”
As those first five days became ten, twenty, thirty, I felt I was living closer to my truth and writing more fluently from it than I had done in a long while. I learned again what I already knew: that I really do
wantneed to be writing about most everything, most all the time.
Since “the 30 day challenge” has ended, now it’s simply “the challenge” every day. Apparently I am not blogging every Tuesday, though I still dream. And while I am not posting daily, I am actually writing daily if I count all the writing that “doesn’t count” in many of our minds: lists, post-its, voice memos, notes to self, jottings in a conversation, additions to my book shopping cart/TBR list, texts to my truest partners in truth-telling, sentences I write in my head as I listen to interesting podcasts.
This is the truth that I have recovered during the sabbatical period I’ve been having since January: I really love writing, and what’s more I really NEED writing. I need my head to be always writing its ideas; it leads to more and better ideas and more and better writing!
And then the deepest part: I need my heart to be always writing its own truth to itself.
Force of Habit
In March, I blogged every day as part of the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Every day. I didn’t do every day well, or thoroughly, or at the same time every day, but I did it.
Not going to lie, it felt amazing. My professional work and my own experience have taught me so much about the benefits of daily writing, but I had never been able to put it together quite so well until this March. All the benefits of writing came to me, more powerfully than ever. I noticed the world more. I noticed myself more. I felt more creative. I felt inspired to write other, more difficult things. I felt connected to the other people I was writing with and for. Right up until March 31, come what may! It was wonderful.
And then, the next day, I didn’t write. And I didn’t write the next day, or the next. And today when I opened this document with intention, it still took me two hours of farting around doing other things before I started typing.
What makes habits so hard to form? I have spent years reading, thinking, and even teaching about it (list of my favorites below!). Even in elementary school, I was making charts for myself to tick off. I’ve read the books, used the apps, listened to the podcasts, made the accountability groups. They all help. I’m getting better.
None of them has made me the kind of person who can just do all the things daily.
I made a list of the things I actually do every. single. day. without fail. It’s a short list:
1. Brush teeth
2. Use the bathroom
3. Eat food
That’s about it. Even on workdays, in the job I have held for 16 years… there’s nothing I do every single day. And how I have wanted there to be!
If I could be, I’d be the kind of person who does all kinds of things daily, with routines and habits that are nourishing and consistent and peaceful and intentional. Every day in my imaginary consistent, intentional life, I would practice the piano, do yoga, drink 70 oz. of water, take vitamins, write in my journal, make something, check my budget, meditate, tidy up before bed, floss, read a poem, work on my book, take a walk outside…. obviously I would need more than one day to do all of these daily things, daily. Also, I would be a completely different person.
The more I learn about habits, the better I get at developing them. However, it’s also true that the more I learn about myself, the more I am OK with my inconsistency. I do still want healthy habits, and I do still work on that. Yet I’m more self-compassionate about how hard it is for me, and I’m more realistic about what is truly important enough to do every single day.
On Sunday, I revised my blogging intentions from daily to each Tuesday. I began this post on Monday. I am now finishing it on Wednesday. So much for consistency, but hooray for persistence.
Love me as I am! That’s what I’m working on. ❤️
A few of my favorites on habits (and self-compassion because, for me, they’re partners):
Some facts about pain
My whole life, I’ve had a desire to somehow measure physical pain in a uniform way. Like so many other important human things, pain is on the inside of us, not the outside. Maybe sometimes we can see the cause of the pain, like a cut or a swollen foot. But the pain itself is just impulses running through nerves and brains, right?
Then there’s the problem that not only can’t we see the pain, we also can’t determine its strength relative to the pain of others. Like, what hurts more, my mosquito bite or your ant bite? I would just leave this tagged as one of life’s imponderables, but my screwed-up mind feels like it really needs to know. It needs to know because, without external evidence that someone else’s pain is actually less, some secret part of me thinks I don’t get to complain about my own.
I never said this was healthy!
Not sure if this is because I am Texan (so tough!), because I was a gymnast (don’t cry in here!), because I have spent a lot of time dissociated from my body (like a brain in a vat), or because my body does seem to have some kind of weird pain disconnect (didn’t realize that bone was broken for days!)
Is it a superpower? A curse? Or just weird?