“You need to take a step back. You need to take a pause, relax, reassess. Two steps back, you can see more clearly, then you can move forward.” That’s what my brother first told me as I shared with him the overwhelmingness of my life. My first reaction was: Well – that is easier said than done. Plus, the thought of taking a pause and relaxing only made me think about how much more behind I’d fall on everything. I confessed to him that beside my regular teaching-related responsibilities, I commit to too many other things – only to end up feeling poorly about my performance.
“Do not be that person,” he said. I knew he was right. Some of my situation of overwhelmingness I do to myself; knowing I have limited time available, I nonetheless say “yes” more often than I say “no.” This is born of my own compulsion and socialization. But, as Dawn noted in a comment she left on Tuesday’s post, I need to remind myself that “my compulsion…is often just my compulsion.” Much of the time, I can choose otherwise.
It is, of course, also true that there is real pressure we experience from the systems of which we are a part. The university, like almost all institutions, will take as much as one is willing to give. Its objective is its own survival – and, as Esther retells in a quote from Junot Diaz (also in a comment on Tuesday’s post), “The system is organized to make you go out of your f******* mind.” And still, the truth is, I have power.
And that is the piece of wisdom I needed to hear, something I had lost a grip on – my brother said those words to me: “You have power.”
It was as if I had unexpectedly run into a long lost friend – my own power. As I heard my brother speak those words to me, the realization hit me like a bolt: I have power to make decisions for myself. In that moment of letting that simple truth sink in, I–have–power, I actually felt power coming back into my be-ing and I was physically reenergized as I reconnected with this truth.
My brother also said something else to me that I struggled with for a second: “You have to do right by you, first. If you are not right with yourself, how can you be right with anybody else? It doesn’t work.” This was tougher; my communitarian inclinations raised their red flag, for how can it be ok for me to do “right by me” first? But it isn’t surprising that I would stumble here. In fact, it’s a little cliché. Women are not typically socialized to put ourselves first (which is why I need my feminism!). But here is how the point finally really sank in…
I was troubleshooting with him – asking him how he would deal with this scenario and that scenario; playing out with him the kinds of situations where I end up making my poor choices and getting sucked into the system – and shared a current dilemma: “I really need to work on a writing project I’ve been neglecting, I want to work on it, but I don’t have the time or space to think. So I’m tempted to cancel two meetings I have in the morning, that way I’ll at least have the first part of the day to work on my project. But how can I do that – how is that ok?”
Before I even finish my sentence he says, “You are telling yourself you need time and space to think – you are literally letting yourself know you need that; give it to yourself.”
It was so basic and simple, but it felt like a revelation. I was telling myself I needed something. Why was I resisting giving it to myself? As Dawn noted, “More often than not, that to-do list can wait.” It is not only ok to pace myself, it is necessary if I am going to do my work “without sacrificing myself,” without giving away my power or letting the system suck me in. I have to do right by me just as I seek do right by others. To acknowledge this is to value myself at the same level of importance as any other. And isn’t this part of the good news I seek to live with my feminism – that we all, each and every one of us, matters. We are of sacred worth and of equal dignity. It is a simple and beautiful truth.
Mujerista theologian, Ada María Isasi-Diaz, advanced the category of “lo cotidiano [the everyday] as the main site of struggle that reveals oppression at the same time it illumines the preferred future.” The site of struggle serves both to reveal the system that creates the conditions of struggle and also reveals the desired, liberated future. These are not separate or disparate – they are intertwined. We can look through the lens of the everyday to see the structural issues that create our suffering and to find the revolution we desire.
My brother called me because he heard it in my voice – he knew something was awry. He invited me to vent, listened, and extended his free-spirited gutter punk wisdom my way with some pretty simple, straight-forward talk. He chooses to live pretty much outside the system. I choose to stay on the boundary of it – but sometimes I get sucked in. It took my radical gutter punk brother to help me take up space again. Two steps back – take the long view and reassess – and don’t take ‘you’ out of the equation. Especially during these somber days, we need to be our most empowered selves as we “go through the labor pains of birthing a new world.”
Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.