Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

I (Don't) Feel Pretty


Admittedly, regaling you with mighty tales of empowerment in the wake of chopping off my hair would be ideal. They are there, to be sure! But, in the interest of full disclosure, they don't come as often as the feeling that I am no longer pretty.

I understand the psychology behind all of this, of course. I know that I'm a victim of a society that overwhelmingly values long, blonde hair on women and graying buzz cuts, not so much. I'm still me, just without my hair. But so full was my induction into society's notions of typical beauty that, very often now, I no longer feel attractive. Couple that with just not feeling like myself - or the self that I have known for four decades - and it can be a head trip. A massive head trip of the physical and metaphysical.

I'm confronting all of this inner turmoil head-on, and I'm proud of myself thus far. There have been no post-shaving breakdowns and this is quite a victory for a girl who could barely deal with cutting bangs and dying her hair just one year ago.

I have noticed that I avoid the mirror. Which is good and bad. Vanity is obviously not a desired trait but my reasons for avoidance actually have more to do with vanity than not: I avoid mirrors because I don't feel pretty, not because I don't care what I look like.

This is all a part of the process, I know. Before the big cut, I wondered if, like Sampson, I'd lose my perceived womanly power or if I'd feel empowered. What has actually occurred is very difficult to describe. It's a fusion of empowerment, letting go of the society's standard for typical beauty and the realization of how much I relied on my physicality for attention and validation in the world at-large.

Am I glad I cut off my hair? Yes. Do I feel attractive without it? Not yet. But that's the point! I am working to completely recondition my brain in several ways; not just tuning out society's narrative of typical beauty, but much like unlearning Mormonism and all the false perceptions it spawned in my mind, I have to unlearn my own notions of beauty I unwittingly acquired while living in that society.

I desperately want to get to a place where I feel attractive as me, who I am on the inside. The only route I could see to get to that place was ridding myself of the one feature I've consistently valued throughout life: My hair. It's also, arguably, the only physical feature I could eliminate. I'd like to eventually do away with make-up in much the same way, but I have found myself wearing it more after cutting my hair, as if discarding one area of perceived femininity forced me to up my game in another area to compensate.

Of course I know that neither my hair nor make-up create the woman that is me but it's a hard habit to break. Decades of habit energy and behavior are a bitch to unravel, you know? These are the lessons I'm learning and I feel certain I'd never confront them in such a direct, encompassing way if I hadn't cut off my hair.

All of this is what I keep firmly in mind when I look in the mirror and feel uncomfortable with who I see. I walk into the fear, confusion and pain and keep feeling what I feel until I understand the how and the why and can rid myself of those toxic perceptions. It's the only way through, the only way to get to the place I'm trying to find. A place where I feel strong and proud with the firm knowledge and understanding that my hair, make-up and clothing choices come from strength and are truly made by me for me, not a rotting society that has dictated my choices since the time of my birth.

When you've got work to do but your hair's gettin too long

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Hair has been a running theme in my life for as long as I can remember. My mom tells stories of strangers approaching her in grocery stores when I was as young as 3-years-old to compliment my long, blonde hair. So devout was her belief in my American girl good looks, she had me modeling at local malls before I started Kindergarten.

I have been wrapped in the security blanket of my long hair for four decades now barring one incident, when I was 36, empowered by Rooney Mara's portrayal of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander, I spontaneously grabbed a pair of dull scissors and, while my toddler babbled and weaved through my legs, chopped off nearly a foot of hair. It scared the shit out of me, but that is precisely why I wanted to do it. I have a vivid memory of that empowerment leaking from my being as I read comments on a website dedicated to gossiping about bloggers. "Any woman behaving like this is clearly mentally ill" read one comment. "What a stupid thing to do for attention" said another. I had not yet learned the term "gaslight."

I have spent the five years since growing it all back.

Despite immediately smothering my brave yet brief foray into empowerment before allowing other women and my own mind to order me back into social submission, I have changed more in the years after sawing at that thick wad of hair than in my entire life leading up to that point.

I emerged from divorce battered and bruised and promptly set about finding myself. As cliche as it sounds, this was the first time in more than a decade when I could survey the world from a solo vantage point, think what I wanted without influence, and conduct my life on my terms and my terms alone. Not that my ex-husband dominated me in any way, just that in my case nearly a decade of togetherness with the same person severely eroded any individuality I earned prior to that union.

My divorce led me into the most intense period of studying in my life. Sexism, religion, racism - each area intersects with another over and over again. I've focused on luminaries whose words are worth more to me than any material wealth you could ever offer: James Baldwin, Audre Lord, Zora Neale Hurston, Roxanne Gay, Ibram X. Kendi, Christopher Hitchens, Glennon Doyle, Ta Nehisi Coates and Isabel Wilkerson whose masterpiece, The Warmth of Other Suns, is required reading for every American. If you're serious about doing the work, start there and then move on to Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning.

Podcasts like Seeing White and MEN were crucial jumpstarts into a higher plane of consciousness. I've honed my Twitter feed until reading it feels like listening in on an incredible conversation between the world's top minds. I listen listen listen - ask questions if I dare - and listen listen listen some more. Twitter gives you instant access to these people and they often answer. It still blows my mind. And then I cross-check those answers and conversations with the published ruminations of other incredible thinkers and writers I admire. Facebook groups filled with generous women willing to answer even the most ignorant questions have also been invaluable. Read the right threads, the right bloggers, pay attention. Listen to Black women. They have always known the way, have always been the backbone of an America that has demeaned, excluded, and oppressed them and yet it is they who usually lead the fight against injustice. We have ignored them for centuries and are now paying the price. You either do the work or you don't. But I submit your life is ultimately meaningless if you choose to remain in the dark. And it is a choice and a privilege, white people. Unlike for slaves, whose hands were cut off or who were often lynched if caught with books, as it was illegal for them to read and write.

It has been a long, slow awakening, but my eyes are open. And yet the work continues for that is the point of existence. Never believe you know enough. Ceaselessly ask questions, seek answers then ask more questions. Don't let yourself plateau or believe your work is done. Keep applying what you learn to form yourself into the best version of you and use that version of you to ask better questions and always, always teach what you've learned to your children and other people you're lucky enough to influence.

White people have a lot of work to do and I don't rightly know that it will be realized in my lifetime. If that statement makes you uncomfortable or defensive, that's an indication that you, especially, are not doing the work. You can roll your eyes at rhetoric like this, remain uncomfortable or even go back to sleep and conjure up that hypnotic American dream that's kept us complacent and complicit or you can roll up your sleeves and choose to recognize the propaganda that has hidden the truth about a country created on lies, slavery, supremacy, murder, sexism and racism, all in the service of white power.

We were taught to recognize racism as individual acts of meanness, of KKK members burning crosses, yelling at Black people at lunch counters, whites only drinking fountains or of slavery as a whole, and we naively believed this problem was solved when Black people were given equal rights. That's why we understandably get so offended when called racist. But, in the same way that the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free all slaves, The Civil Rights Act was merely a technicality of law that did not immediately create justice for Black people. Yes, technically Blacks were given equal rights, but nearly every governmental system has been created to hinder Black people from achieving the same things as white people. Some of those laws were created before the Civil Rights Act and many created after and they're all having the same devastating impact on Black lives.

If you ever wondered what you would've done if you lived in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, take a look at your level of interest in Black lives and you'll have your answer. Racism in America has caused millions upon millions of deaths that are now happening before our very eyes via cameras recording police brutality and shameful public harassment at the hands of racist white people. And this is just the physical collateral. What about the mass genocide, the utter demoralization of the hearts and minds of an entire people? Yet the majority of the white population remains largely uninterested.

"Americans don't know their history and history is not something you study, history is something you achieve and you've go to know what happened if you intend to make another move and Americans don't know what happened. Not yet."
-James Baldwin, 19-fucking-63

Ultimately, you can go on about your life blindly believing the propaganda those in power need you to believe to remain in power or brush the defensiveness aside and get to work figuring out what an increasing number of people are discussing when they talk about the white problem. Begin with the understanding that when we're being called racist it's because we continue to blindly support systems and ideologies that are rooted in racist ideas, not that we're burning crosses in someone's front yard.

Racism does not start with hate and ignorance. Brilliant, powerful men and women create racist ideas to justify their racist policies and then place blame for the resulting racial disparities onto Black people for somehow being inferior or lazy, instead of blaming the policies. Our ignorance and hate didn't come first, it came last. The racist discrimination and policies create the ignorance, fear and hatred. Understand the policies, why they were created and what they've accomplished and you'll know why you're being called a racist when you firmly believe in your heart that all people are equal. I'll say it one more time: The definition of racism in this capacity is NOT an overt act of meanness and anger toward another individual, although there is plenty of that, it is the policies and their effects that are weaved throughout our laws and lives that we have always accepted without question.


She doesn't remember it, I'm certain, and she was years younger than I am now when she said it, but my sweet mom once casually told a teenage me that men are more attracted to women with long, blonde hair. The comment has stuck with me, obviously, as I have pretty much always had long, blonde hair, just like my mom. Both of us grew up in the heart of Utah, daughters in a long line of Mormon ancestors, including one of Joseph Smith's polygamist wives.

No matter where we're born all us women are born into patriarchy, but Mormonism, and the men in power, enjoy a particularly savage brand of male, white supremacy that strips a woman of value apart from her husband or children. The area I grew up in, Provo/Orem (85% Mormon) in a state where nearly 90% of its population identifies as white - is brimming with Colgate commercial-worthy smiling, blonde-haired, tanned white women with ready access to Botox and plastic surgery. It is unsurprising that Salt Lake City has more plastic surgeons per capita than Los Angeles.

Not only does the Mormon church quietly force an unrealistic standard of perfection both spiritually, morally and physically on its members via guilt and shame - either the Opioid or suicide epidemic ravaging the state is evidence of that - but young women coming of age in the Mormon church are exposed to widespread, systemic sexism from the instance of their birth.

The church has organized itself around the male sex, women are simply compliments to the men who hold positions of power. Boys are conferred more religious power than their mothers when they are given the Priesthood, which is essentially "the power and authority of God," at just 12-years-old. Thus begins a journey whereupon these young boys move up the ranks until, if they choose, they reach the highest level, apostle, and become counsel to the Prophet, the leader of the church. Women are not offered this option.

The all-male hierarchy of the church has given women specific roles involving women and children. As men are doing the organizing, via visions from god, it shouldn't surprise anyone that men, 99% white, have, and will likely always be in control at the highest levels all the way down to the lowest levels. There are no women leaders of Mormon "wards," which are the highly structured equivalent of Catholic parishes. Just as the folks in charge of the American government have a penchant for creating laws that keep themselves in power, Mormon men are very nearly deified by the powers and duties bestowed upon them... by themselves.

A woman's place is in the home rearing the children. Just as they were forced by societal progression in the late 70's to allow Black men into their inner ranks, in recent years Mormon leaders have half-heartedly tried to appease their female contingency while quietly ousting any feminists who dare challenge norms, including just wanting to wear pants to church.

No matter the tiny, meatless bones the church attempts to throw at devout female members who question overtly sexist ideologies, women must always abide by the righteous counsel of their husbands. If you disagree with your husband, even if the point of disagreement involves his habit of beating you into god-ordained submission, leaders encourage you to pray about it. If you return from prayer with a "wrong" response, you're usually told you are still closing your heart to god.

Twenty years after leaving the church, I have clearly not fully recovered from Mormonism. I realized this a few months ago when I was watching a documentary, Believer, about the church's stance on LGBTQ members produced by Imagine Dragons frontman and Mormon, Dan Reynolds. A scene in the movie shows one of the leaders of the church, probably Dallin Oaks (I've tangled with him before about, ironically, racism) talking about its stance on gay members. The video of that old, white man speaking words of shame to marginalized people who would often rather take their own lives than be themselves caused my guts to roil hotly and my chest burn in anger. I began shaking and sobbing with rage and trauma. I couldn't stop. My man had to pause the movie and quietly rub my back until I could get my shit together. That was my experience as a young girl in that church. No matter their moral character, older, white men were the architects of my self worth and my sexuality.

Slut. Whore. Shame. Guilt.

I was none of these things, of course, but the church and its members created a mental prison of guilt and anguish for even the most minor of transgressions that many people I love, including family members very close to me, will never escape. Who would these beautiful souls have been without this institution gaining control of their brains? For that matter, what would America be without its institutions gaining control of our brains?

This comprehensive, religious and governmental sexist attack on my mind about gender roles has played a large part in a lifelong compulsion to please men or appear attractive to men or value myself based on a man's interest in me. Mormon doctrine is simply an intense microcosm of American society. Religion or no, every woman in this country has grown up assaulted by headlines informing us how to appear more attractive to men or what men want in a woman. At 41, I can finally, honestly say that I don't give a fuck what men want in a woman. I just want to be who I am without the constant, crushing need to modulate my looks and personality to fit whatever is currently pleasing to society(men).

I used to think that life was a constant quest to learn, and it is that, yes, but I'm finding that much of the learning comes from unlearning everything you thought you knew. The unlearning is as important as the learning. If you remember nothing else, remember that. The only way to unlearn is to question everything. Upend your mind, dump it out, examine the contents and very carefully choose what you place back inside.

As I attempt to unlearn what Mormon and American culture has taught me about the right and proper ways to be a woman I realize that my hair plays a larger role in the conditioning than I ever thought. The more I've pondered it the more my hair has started to suffocate me. I think of the thousands of dollars I've spent in its servitude, the hours designated to shaping it into what I perceived it should be, the unhappiness I've felt when it doesn't look great and even the happiness I feel when it looks good. My mood should never hinge on my hair, is what I'm saying. The only way to free my mind and my soul is to get rid of it altogether. I'm terrified, but I'm excited. I have subconsciously measured my beauty by my hair for so long it's like an arm or a leg. I want - no - need the liberation and introspection and life lessons that will inevitably come from shedding this hair that I frequently allow to define me.

After nearly a year of deliberation, I have decided to shave my head. It may seem drastic to you. You may be conditioned by society to think I looked way better with long hair and that's okay. I'm sure I'll have lots of similar freak-out moments when I think the same thing because I am you and you are me, that is to say that we are victims of the same cultural notions about women and women's beauty.

Hair is powerful. We ascribe such meaning to it whether it's about ourselves or others. What we do with it says so much about who we are, unfortunately. I refuse to let myself be a prisoner of that attitude any longer. So I'm breaking up with my hair. As mentioned, I'd been toying with the notion for a while but actively began to consider it in February when I saw this video of Emma Gonzalez shaving her head in a matter of seconds with the caption "when you've got work to do but your hair's gettin too long."

I follow Cheryl Strayed on Instagram. The woman who wrote Wild, the book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone. A couple weeks ago she wrote about putting on her swimsuit and doing laps in a hotel pool and choosing not to care what anyone thought about what she looks like in her swimsuit. "I thought about how simple the deepest revolutions tend to be. Sometimes it’s just saying no. Sometimes it’s just saying okay. Sometimes it’s just saying I am not sorry. This is my body and I do not and will not aspire to your gaze."

Emma's practical notions regarding hair collided with Cheryl's philosophical stance and exploded like 4th of July fireworks in my mind. I'm tired of being a servant of my hair. Products, cuts, colors, styling - done. I no longer want to aspire to men's gaze. My fella digs it and, even if he didn't, I don't care. I'm not attracted to anyone who isn't attracted to the real me.

I'm turning 42 in a few months, a time when most women began to flirt with Botox and expensive wrinkle creams. A time when many women begin to feel invisible because society has less value for us even though these are the years in which we come into our power, as any woman living this decade can tell you. So I'm going to exterminate the one physical feature that has supported me all these years? Yeah. Yeah I am. I am fucking terrified. I have already lived out the reactions of certain people in my mind. The Oh-my-god-what-did-you-do-your-hair-was-so-pretty contingency. I tested the water by telling a few of them what I wanted to do and the reaction was universal: Don't do it.

I have to do it. I want to learn the lessons on the other side. It isn't just the liberation I'm after. I want to know how much of a role this long, blonde security blanket has played in my personality. I need to figure out who I am without it. When I look in the mirror and feel naked and maybe even unattractive without all that hair - as I've been conditioned to feel - I need to walk into that fear and pain and figure out why I've allowed my value to hinge on a physical attribute that other people have defined as beautiful.

This is my body and I do not and will not aspire to your gaze.

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#womanifesto #holdtheline #BLM

From The Girl Who To A Broad View

Logo art by: Nicole M. Day

I've tried and failed to write this dozens of times over the past few months. How can I introduce A BROAD VIEW to you? I wanted to be smart and polished; A shrewd feminist who knows exactly what she's talking about. Someone who understands and can articulate the shades of gray, the complexities of being a woman in a post #metoo society in the 21st century. A woman who desperately wants to help forward this important and necessary conversation.

Essentially, I wanted to write a savvy, inspirational manifesto about women for women. But I couldn't do it. I simply could not articulate what it is I want to tell you about why I'm creating this podcast and how I envision the adventure unfolding. Then it hit me. That's what I need to write: The challenge of defining womanhood and what it means to be a woman in 2018. My struggle to articulate womanhood and my ever-evolving definition of feminism as I attempt this podcast are exactly what I should be sharing, not some polished version of feminism that I finesse until it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, because a lot of the time I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm stumbling across the potholed divide of my youth and middle-aged womanhood, same as everyone else, even the ones who pretend they have it made. I'll note here that I'm 41 (holy shit I've been writing here since I was in my twenties!) and still consider myself verging on womanhood, which should be an eye-opener to all the women behind me - chronologically speaking - because it aptly demonstrates that there is no magic age at which you feel like you're an accomplished, grown ass woman. At 25 I would've told you that certainly at 41 I will feel like a grown woman who has her shit together. And yet, here I am. This concept is something I'd very much like to confirm during interviews with women in their forties, fifties and older that will be featured on A BROAD VIEW. Do you ever feel as if you've arrived or are you constantly growing, even near the end?

At 41 I'm just now wandering into this wondrous place of realization, empowerment and learning how to actualize those things in my everyday life. There are now periodic, astonishing glimpses of how remarkable life can be if I am able to unlearn the disinformation society forced upon me about womanhood and fully come into my own. They don't come naturally, the glimpses. You have to actively do the work. Read, research, listen and if you're lucky, the glimpses happen more frequently.

What does coming into my own mean? I don't rightly know, but that's what I hope to spend the rest of my life figuring out. For now it means being a woman who fully understands she doesn't need to be validated by any man. Not strangers, bosses, co-workers, ex-lovers, lovers, brothers, not even my own father. A woman who recognizes she has spent her entire life living under arbitrary social rules, mostly created and enforced by men. A woman who no longer gives a fuck what men think. A woman who wants to spend the remainder of her days validating and inspiring other women to break the same mental chains of patriarchy and societal expectation they may or may not realize are keeping them from discovering who they really are in this blink-of-an-eye lifetime.

Times are strange. Confusing. Many of us are struggling to understand who we are now as opposed to who we were raised to be. Grappling with our personal definitions - many of them forced upon us - of what it means to be a woman, a successful woman, and what role feminism plays in that definition. Few of us are polished and savvy in our stance and we shouldn't be! We should always be asking questions, learning, redefining, leveling up and always, always bringing our sisters with us!

I grew up feeling jealous and competitive of other women. I judged myself against them and felt superior or inferior as a result. Now, I want to spend the rest of my days learning from and celebrating other women and teaching those behind me to do the same. That's where A BROAD VIEW comes in. I've spent the past 15 years writing about myself, mostly. I'm tired of me. Now, I want to write about you. About your mother, your grandmother, your aunt, your sister. I want to amplify the painfully beautiful stories every woman has about their very unique paths in life. Every episode a piece of art containing essays, interviews, music and more that will help depict the life arch of a woman; the mistakes she's made, the triumphs she's experienced, the heartbreak, the love, the loss, the events in her life that define who she is and the lessons learned. I want A BROAD VIEW to be unapologetically raw, brutally honest and as authentic as possible. Everyday women's stories shared by a forty-something woman trying to figure out what it all means while increasingly realizing it all means nothing if we don't shout our truths, learn from and uplift each other.

Success as a woman is difficult to define in 2018. Is success becoming the CEO of a huge corporation or is it choosing to be a stay-at-home mom guiding children into becoming enlightened citizens of Earth who can move us closer to true equality? Women who came before us fought hard to afford us the opportunity to choose. Paradoxically, having the choice makes it harder to feel successful. I'm a mother of three and I work full-time, which makes it nearly impossible to feel like I'm doing either thing adequately, let alone successfully. I know other women who work full-time who feel judged for not being home with their children, others who stay home with their children who feel as if society writes them off as "just a housewife" and others whose religions tell them being a housewife is their true glory and working outside the home is a husband's role.

Is success leaning in or leaning out? It's something I know so many of us are dealing with as we strive to be successful at work and home and end up suffering debilitating stress, anxiety and depression. I don't have answers except to say that feminism, to me, means that no one can or should define what success is for you except you. One woman's triumphant success is another woman's worst-case scenario. Stop listening to pundits making the TED talk/social media/talking head/website/blog rounds and carve out your own path. Lean in, lean out, lean sideways, lean down into bed and take a fucking nap. Whatever works for you.

It's a strange, cathartic, scary, magnificent, exciting time to be a woman. I feel a kinship and a responsibility to all of you like I never have before. We're here to love each other and learn from each other and then we're gone. So, then... Here is my effort to ask and answer questions all women grapple with, listen and learn from those whose knowledge can help us navigate strange times and level up. My love letter to womankind: A BROAD VIEW.

First episode coming soon-ish.


Leveling Up

Pale skin hangs loosely over my bones like an old white sheet draped on a clothes line to dry. I'm tired. No energy. I drink too much but never get drunk. Maintenance drinking, I tell myself. I drink my evening beers like you take your Prozac. It's the ritual more than the alcoholic effect I crave.

No wonder I'm tired. But I can't break the cycle. Get up at five, get three kids ready for school or daycare or summer camp and out the door by seven, work by seven-thirty, home in time to catch the 2:55 bus arrival or daycare pick-up, do the breakfast dishes, maybe a load of laundry, straighten up bedrooms, stare at Twitter in horror for ten minutes and then it's dinner and bed and can I not enjoy an ice cold evening beer or three, dammit?

I could, but I won't let myself. I constantly analyze my alcohol consumption to the point that it ruins any enjoyment of consumption. I've been monitoring my intake for a decade and I'm still fine. Which means I could've spent the last ten years enjoying my evening beer instead of sweating it.

I am at war with myself but am desperate for a truce. The only casualty of war with one's self is one's self.

In other words, be kind to yourself.

Here's something. After spending my entire adult life trying to change situations usually not within my control, I have resigned. Instead of attempting to change the situation, I change my perspective. It's the only thing I truly control and even that is an exaggeration, sometimes we're just victims of a perspective forced upon us by society and unwitting parents who passed down their own shitty hand-me-down perspective.

It's all perspective. The only real happiness you'll find in life is adjusting your perspective to the thing, not endlessly endeavoring to change the thing itself because most of the time the thing is not within your control. Work with an asshole? Quit focusing on it. Not a whole lot you can do about it other than alter your view of the situation. What I'm saying is, let it keep bothering you until it festers like an infected wound or change your perspective. Change your anger at the asshole to empathy for the asshole. It's a small thing, but it's also a huge thing.

I just finished reading Cold Mountain, a gorgeous book that has changed my relationship to nature, to the Earth, or at least smacked me upside the head with a reminder to pay attention. Pay attention to the sun's path over my house each day, to the sound the wind makes when it whips through the trees in my backyard, to the way I can hear the river out behind my house on quiet days when the kids are with their dad, to the different bird songs that wake me up each morning and the way the grass smells just after a fresh cut. There are countless beautiful lessons in the book but the one I'm thinking of today is about perspective.

We mark some days as fair, some as foul, because we do not see that the character of every day as identical.” - Charles Frazier

Most of our days are identical. Sure, there's a bit of variation; your kids are being jerks one day, you get a flat tire the other, you're late to a meeting... But even those things are identical in their nature. They are the average stuff of life which makes up, what, 90% of our days? It's how you respond to those things in your mind that makes all the difference. If we mark most days as fair then that is what they are. I may have had a flat tire today, but my ex-husband rescued me from the roadside and I listened to a great chapter from my audio book while I waited for him. It was a fair day. Instead of Oh my god it was the worst day ever, I got a flat tire.

I have fought so hard against so many circumstances life has thrown at me. Divorce left me fucked up and lost. Scrambling for new meaning. Recalibrating my life and searching out a new vision for the future. And the actual fallout from divorce; I've lived with rage roiling in my gut for months and months, years even, and I've focused my anger outward, at those I rightfully or wrongfully believed caused the anger. But, at the beginning of this year I made a hyper-conscious effort to let it all go. To not be mad. To stop viewing situations with the same perspective I've always viewed them. I changed myself, the only thing I really can change - while allowing others to be who they are and full accept who they are as a part of the wonderful fucked-upness of life. I widened my perspective. I stretched my brain. It was hard.

Recently I realized my anger is mostly gone. My gut unclenched. The burden lifted. Beautiful things have occurred as a result of the letting go, including inner peace and drastically improved relationships. Leveling up. It's an everyday battle. But it's worth it.

It looks like rain and other small talkisms that destroy me

At work I dutifully engage in the requisite, mostly weather-related, conversations required to grease the wheels of the small talk necessary to make a trip to the coffee machine or restroom not completely, unbearably awkward. These conversations about weather are doubly painful not only for the torturous nature of small talk, but because I happen to work at AccuWeather. The last thing I want to do on a coffee break is discuss the weather.

"Yes, Sharon, it IS unseasonably warm for this early in Spring!"

After these interactions wherein I crank up the charm and bury the charisma needle in red, I often shake my head at myself and mutter "What an asshole" as I walk away. I'm referring to myself, by the way, not the innocent soul with whom I just chit-chatted about the cold or what day of the week it is. Days of the week: another work small-talk go-to.

"How you doin?"

"It's Thursday! We're almost there, Bob!" Finger gun to my head as I round the corner because WHO AM I? A person who says things like I'm hangin' in here Carl, just have a case of the Mondays, I guess. Corporate Monica who is very much concerned about office-related small talk that lubricates otherwise painful social interactions.

I'm an asshole because I detest these interactions and yet there I am, faithfully adhering to the social contract of work small talk in these United States. And I'm not just eagerly following the rules, I crank that shit into overdrive, I rev the engines of small talk, shift into gear and lay rubber with my feigned enthusiasm for the abhorrent ritual because I can't not. I am obsessed with your comfort level, always at the expense of mine.

Maybe it's my fault, though. Maybe everyone else is perfectly content to luxuriate in silence. I have consciously tried to sit in silence with another human being or in a group setting without attempting to improve the scenario with polite questions and small talk and I can't do it. The silence is unbearable, but maybe only for me. Do others even find the silences uncomfortable or is the fact that I'm perceiving discomfort my problem?

It's not just small talk, either. I have spent my entire life overly concerned with the comfort level of others. A people pleaser to the detriment of my own well-being. I can't help it. At social events I keep conversations flowing like I'm being paid by the host even as I long to go home, take off my pants, eat chips and watch TV. It's exhausting and why I require recovery time after any event that causes me to curl my eyelashes, leave the house and interact with humans for more than an hour. I'm constantly worried about your goddamn comfort level.

Is he enjoying this conversation?

I should ask him about his family, he might like that.

He looks uncomfortable, I should change the subject to his job.

"Oh, you're a (insert whatever job here), that must be really interesting. What's your favorite thing about your job?

***10 minutes later***

"So you met your wife at your job but she's not there anymore? You're divorced? With two kids? Ugh, that must be difficult, how are the kids handling it? Ooh, you're dating? Is it serious?"

People love to talk about themselves, I've found. Even the quiet ones. I walk away from these interactions knowing more about someone than their relatives and realize they never asked me a single question. Is it because I didn't give them a chance what with my awkward silence phobia or because people spend most of their time hiding behind keyboards these days and suck at actual conversations? Why do I always feel like I'm doing the heavy conversational lifting, is what I'm asking.

It's rare that I find myself in an engaging, reciprocal conversation. When they do happen, the engaging conversations, I go all Anne of Green Gables, mentally declaring someone my kindred spirit, probably because I'm thrilled they're sharing the conversational burden and not even because what they're saying is all that enthralling. Interact with me during a conversation by offering up a cool fact or interesting story or maybe ask me a few questions about my life and I'll be blown away by your effervescent charm. Am I just that hard up for good conversation? Yes. Yes I am. The conversational bar is set very low these days, I am easy to charm and yet I am rarely charmed.

Maybe I should explode the whole motherfucker and roll with weird, uncomfortable silences from here on out. Terminate small talk effective immediately. Stop working so hard to keep conversations flowing. What do I care? I'm 41 and tired. Let someone else do the work now. Except I won't. I'll bury that charisma needle in red every damn time because awkward silences destroy me, they are my Kryptonite and there is nothing to be done about it. Except complain in blog posts.