Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Quiet Time

My life is relatively quiet right now.  I go to work, keep a budget, attend Mass every Sunday, sing in a church choir, attend social events, exercise, train my voice and spend quality time with my future hubby.  It's lovely, in its own way.  It's nice to come home to one person, keep a regular schedule, to have time to contemplate and be creative, to actually finish a book and to sip a glass of wine slowly and carefully.  It's nice to have a regular community of both young folks and older folks coming into our lives.  It's nice to focus on fun but relatively mellow tasks such as planning my wedding. It's nice to have a job where I can focus on my long term career and also reap necessary benefits such as health insurance.  I have to say, I'm grateful for the quiet.

I haven't always been. I've gotten used to chaos.  In the past few years, I've managed to hold down a demanding job and live on my own while attending college, spend a quarter of a year in a foreign country, question my faith as well as my ethics and sexuality, deal with crazy housing and travel situations, visit a Native American boundary,  deal with underemployment, make close friends only to lose some of them and experience some trauma along the way.  Right on top of that, I found myself falling in love and deciding to commit to him for life.   The lows may have been low but the highs were like standing over a waterfall in Kenya-well worth every possible risk that may have led to the adventure itself. 

It's hard to get used to the quiet.  It's not easy to adjust to the ordinary.  I keep wondering when the next big thing is coming.  However, I am starting to appreciate what peace and quiet feel like.  I'm realizing I need this in order to prepare for whatever comes next.  I need this to grow strong and to develop myself.  I need this in order to become who I am more fully. 

Still, I can't wait to see what comes next.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I'm Conventionally Beautiful......And I Hate It

By society's definition, I am conventionally beautiful.  I'm a white woman.  I'm young.  I possess a body type that is coveted in our society.  I've been told I have a great smile.  I don't possess any physical disabilities or disfiguring characteristics.  Of course, that should be important right?  What is a woman, if not beautiful?

I friggin' can't stand it.

First of all, my physical appearance is something I did not attain.  It says nothing of who I truly am or have become on the inside.  One can have straight teeth, perfect skin, and shiny hair and still possess an evil soul.  Further, we portray beauty as something that can be attained through discipline and hard work.  While exercise, healthy food, a carefully selected wardrobe and the right hygiene products can help a person feel good and can lead to improvements, it cannot guarantee that we will attain the looks so coveted by society, which segues into my next point.

Beauty is very narrowly defined by our society.  The attractive woman is always white, with very few exceptions for women of color-usually when they want to portray someone as "exotic" (and they still largely have European facial features and straight hair).  She always has a tiny waist and hips, with minimal body fat, yet manages to carry a large wrack.  She never has any physical disabilities or experienced disfiguring effects of a disease or accident.  When was the last time you saw a woman with a wheelchair on the cover of Vogue?  Or a woman with a missing limb? Yeah, that's right. Never. Maybe once. In addition, she is always young.  Why else do middle aged men, with wives of the same age, feel so free to joke about wanting to make it with a teenager?  Once you hit forty, you may be the mother of a beautiful daughter, but you're no longer beautiful yourself.

Why is it so problematic that we have such a narrow definition of beauty? The problem is, while men are valued for what they contribute (particularly if they're white/Christian/straight/middle class/able bodied and minded), women are solely valued for looks alone, followed by fertility.  Our destiny is contingent solely on having the ability to get people to want to glance at us. Our ability to have a fulfilling career, a loving partner and a happy life is contingent on people not being repulsed when they see us.  

But, I benefit from it.  Why should I hate it?  I hate it because I know I'm a pregnancy/car accident/illness away from losing my ability to be seen as a human being.  I don't want to be known for my looks.  I want to be known for what I do.  Why is that so hard to understand?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Financial Freedom is Freedom

I've always been interested in personal finance.  During my last two years of college, I worked as a waitress and paid for my own apartment.  Ever since, financial independence has been crucial to me.

I'll admit, I have not been perfect. I'd always been a saver (case in point, my relatives beg me to do "something fun" with gift money) and I tend to have a general idea of how much is in my bank account at any given time.  However, I never had a written down budget and I find that I can spend money on stupid stuff (I'll forget to pack sufficient snacks and need to make a Starbucks run during the course of my day). All the budgeting templates I would find online were complicated and I felt I couldn't use them at points when my income was irregular.  Also, living on a volunteer stipend and later supporting my partner while he found work left me feeling a bit lean on cash.  I thought, "Oh, I can do a budget later, when my job situation is more stable!"  However, I learned that living paycheck to paycheck was just too stressful and I needed to change.

I got a Dave Ramsey kit for my birthday and that really changed the way I thought about money.    I learned not only that I needed to save money-I learned how.  I learned how, exactly, to allocate my cash each month, which goals I should strive for as I save (an emergency fund first, pay off all debts next, etc.) and even what insurance I would need (I had no idea ID theft insurance existed, much less that it was necessary).  It also has forced me to look ahead into fellowships I can qualify for when I choose to go to graduate school-no more debt for this chick!

I learned that, even in this economy, it is possible to get ahead financially.  Even when wages have stagnated and jobs with full benefits are difficult to come by, it's possible for us to make choices that allow us to get ahead.  It is challenging. It involves very careful planning and living well below one's means (for us, that means not going to our favorite restaurants).  However, if it means I can spend my life pursuing my dreams and live well with my companion (not to mention set my kids up well for school), it's worth it.  Further, as someone who is committed to social justice, it would allow me to give more of my resources to work I believe is important. 

We may not be able to control our jobs or the economy.  But if there is the smallest barrier I can place between me and the chaos of life, allowing me to ride the wave even if I can't stop it, then I have the obligation to do so.  I always want to help others-but I need to use my own oxygen mask before I can help others with theirs.  If you can, I'd encourage you to do the same.