magnolia

trust yourself. you're really all you have.


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buffer zone

[for background reading, hit up the fine folks at SCOTUSblog. #teamlyle all the way.]

in a unanimous decision, the nine justices of the united states supreme court struck a blow for that oh-so-endangered concept: the right of angry despicable anti-science bastards to scream at women who have the unmitigated temerity to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to medical care.

and i am angry. i am so, so angry.

i do not believe that human life begins at conception. let’s start there. i do not believe that because that comes from religion. religion is an optional belief structure that people choose to follow because they like it. that does not make it true. but somehow, we’ve allowed people who have chosen an optional set of beliefs to define our reality. we grant an immense amount of respect in this culture to stories told in books that have no provable basis in fact. and that mythology drives what happened today.

the startling naivete of the supreme court in characterizing anti-choice protestors as kind counselors is APPALLING. if you’ve ever gone to a planned parenthood clinic, regardless of what you’ve gone for, you’ve seen their faces. even here in DC, women are set upon by loud shouting: DON’T KILL YOUR BABY! their male companions: REAL MEN DON’T MURDER THEIR CHILDREN! there are gory, blood-spattered images – which have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE REALITY OF ABORTION – meant to shock. people drag their children out with duct-tape on their mouths and yell LOOK AT THE LIFE YOU’RE ENDING!

they call you slut. whore. murderer. sinner. kind counseling, that. and that’s if you’re lucky. it can be far, far worse.

and by god, that’s okay with the supremes, it seems. those people’s rights to terrorize are more important than my right to medical care.

we hate the westboro baptist church, as a collective society. we hate those horrible, dour people who yell GOD HATES [other f-word]S and tell people that their kids are going to hell for being killed in war. we decided as a nation that it’s not ok for them to yell things like that at people. but where’s the same respect for women? where are our patriot guard riders, who block out the screams of the despicable, twisted zealots?

nowhere, that’s where. the puritans “founded” north america (read: stole it from the folks who were already here, but you get it), and it shows to this day. no one really wants to stand for sexually active women. no one speaks for us. sexually active women have to follow rules, to be hush-hush about it. we have to deal with the fact that STILL, in 2014, we are living under the shame complex of repressive religious fervor that’s imbedded in america’s DNA so deep i doubt we’ll ever be able to root it out.

and because of that, women who spread their legs will never be fully human, unless those legs are spread in the context of procreative marriage. how dare you demand to utilize science and facts to take charge of your own bodily autonomy, woman? nope. women like us, society says, earn whatever ills befall us in the context of sex.

  • if you get raped, you deserve it.
  • if you get pregnant, you deserve it.
  • if he leaves you, it’s your fault.

and of course, those “kind counselors” are there to point out the error of your ways, daughter of eve.

it really, seriously makes me wonder if women will ever attain full humanity in the eyes of our government. it’s corrosive to wake up in this environment, to know how fully your personhood, to borrow a term from the “kind counselors,” is stolen from you every day under the laws of your own nation. WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE GOOD GUYS. we denounce islamist regimes for their hideous anti-woman practices, but we do a lot of the same thing with a prettier face on it. we use religion to deny women full humanity. if men could get pregnant, said george carlin, abortion would be a SACRAMENT. he was right.

my own government puts more value in the rights of the zealot to terrorize me under the auspices of his own mythology than it does in my right to control my body. it makes me wonder what part of “the land of the free” actually applies to me. if i wanted to live by the rules of the bible, i’d be a christian. but the separation of church and state is supposed to make it possible for me not to have to live my life under the diktat of a religion that isn’t mine.

not today. not in 2014. maybe not ever.

where’s my protection? where are my rights? when do i matter?


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disaster

[soundtrack]

ok, lana, you win – i’m listening to your music. i mentioned lana del rey, the music glitterati’s favorite new love-hate obsession, yesterday. i’ve always got the sense that her whole trip is a performance-art character study on how young women seem to love playing at disaster-tragic-violent-sexy.

i am a grown-ass woman, as i remind y’all often. i am basically in my mid-30s at this point, with a managerial position in a professional services firm that earns a half-billion in revenue every year. i am a lawyer, which pretty much makes me the textbook definition of THE ESTABLISHMENT.

but i passed an accident scene on the way home from work today. the cop directing traffic was standing in my lane, so i slowly merged over and rolled past. he snippily tweeted his whistle at me, pointed and yelled COME ON, YOU’RE TOO SLOW. and as soon as i was out of earshot, i unleashed a torrent of invective that would’ve made NWA blush.

why? because I’M A REBEL, MAN. at least, i was when i was a kid. and i still feel like that same person. i will loudly and proudly sing “baby, i’m an anarchist” (even though i’m really a spineless liberal, when you get right down to it). i hate authority, even as i hold a number of professional affiliations that make me authority. and i know full well that i am not alone in this feeling. most people i know my age and older feel most at home with themselves when they’re talking about the things they loved as teenagers.

[though i admit i may have taken this further than most by marrying my high-school best friend. but i digress.]

and of course, the decade of one’s twenties is that teenage impulsiveness wedded with, in most cases, full autonomy and some disposable income. you can make biblically huge mistakes with (in most cases again) plenty of ability to recover from them without severely ruining your life. i spent my twenties in a first marriage, but i even had a streak of fuck-it-let’s-party in me. my favorite picture of me and my ex-husband was taken in the parking lot of my dad’s hotel right after our wedding. daddy was in a “you can’t smile in pictures, i use black-and-white film” art-photography phase then. i can’t find the actual shot, but it’s me with my arm over my ex’s shoulders. he’s dead-on facing the camera, i’m looking over my right shoulder. neither of us is smiling – we look VERY MATURE AND GLAMOROUS.

i look like, honestly, every picture of lana del rey i’ve ever seen.

del rey, and a lot of pop artists i’ve been introduced to as an adult, are interesting to me in ways i didn’t expect them to be. when you run across art that revels in glamorized tragedy/violence/louche misery as a teenager, all you see is the glamour. i loved tarantino movies as a teenager in part because of the dirty, stylized outlaw feel going on.

but when you look at the same kind of art after you’ve grown up, lived life and seen tragedy, you see beyond the glamour. you can see lana del rey playing at sadness. you can hear the utter exhaustion in kanye west’s voice in “no church in the wild.” yeah, last night was mad real, but as a thirty-something, you hear the unspoken “and i have no idea why the hell i’m doing this anymore” behind all the sex and money. ["watch the throne" is, to a great extent, a perfect example of glamour-tragedy that reveals its fatigue with itself as you age.]

i will bet solid money that every woman who reads this post has had, at one point in her life, a fantasy life of being a rich, strung-out, tragic disaster of a skinny glamour girl (skinny because beauty standards are a bitch). i’m sure there’s a similar thought process for guys; i can’t write it because i don’t know it. all i know is that i’ve been the anti-heroine of my own mental film noir before in my life. if you’ve ever been clinically depressed to any extent, you recognize the seductive power of misery, too. that’s all tied up in this analysis. when you’re down, pain becomes alluring.

i think lana del rey gets all the scrutiny she does for two reasons. a) she’s not that great a live performer, from the clips out there, so she’s a total studio creation; b) she is one of the most up-front performers i’ve seen in awhile about being a fully-created character with no real humanity underneath it. and in 2014, with our obsession with honesty/authenticity/BEING REAL WITH EACH OTHER, that doesn’t play as well as it may have back in the day when every performer was a little bit fake. i mean, every damn tom waits song on the planet stars him being a total shabby drunken wino mess, one hair’s-breadth away from being homeless under a bridge. but he’s considered a legend (for good damn reason, too). if he was pulling that in 2014 for the first time instead of 1974, i wonder if it’d play as well.

in a way, it’s like the punk hyper-obsession with not being a sellout has infected everything. that’s my least favorite part of the punk scene, besides the groping-girls-in-the-pit thing. and that’s why i find lana del rey enjoyable. she’s performing a fantasy that most people understand. disaster-tragic is not that far from most of us, even as grown people. she lets us crawl back into that dirty cocktail gown in the back of our imaginations, try it on for old time’s sake, and remember when it was easier to be a mess. but it’s also a reminder of how exhausting disaster is. that sun-coming-up-5:00AM, wonder-if-they-got-cabs-still feeling is fun for a minute, but it’s also soul-drainingly fatiguing.

every once in awhile, you just want to be the strung-out girl in the back of the car, lost and tragic. it’s best that this happen in the confines of a pop fantasy.


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modern art

what the internet has taught me, vol. CXDVII: every single working musician, actor, performer, athlete, celebutante, or other category of person placed before us in the entertainment arena is the world’s worst person, worthy of at least some degree of castigation and scorn for some level of hideous behavior.

[and no, i have no idea if that's even a real roman numeral - i made it up. but i digress.]

now that tony gwynn, who was a genuinely wonderful, genial, happy, gentle soul by all accounts, is dead, i wonder if there will ever be another entertainer/athlete who will be remembered by all as a nice person who entertained us. we are in an era of extreme polarity of opinion, it seems. if you like it, there is a chorus of people to explain to you in vitriolically passionate detail how stupidly wrong you are for thinking that way, you LOSER. if you hate it, there’s a chorus telling you how stupidly wrong you are for thinking that way, you LOSER.

it is no longer possible to, for example, think lana del rey sings some pretty songs and is kind of vapid and uninteresting as a persona. you must have a passionate opinion about not just her work product, but her as a person/character/media creation/whatever. you have to be intrinsically dismissive or defensive.

are we ever going to be able to separate a person from his or her work again?

there was an element of this in the pre-ubiquitous internet days, to be sure. when i was a little kid, my second-favorite yankee behind donnie baseball was lou piniella. i got his autograph when i was a baby (although daddy swears the autograph is for him and won’t give me the signed ball, dangit). i really dug him. then someone – my ex-husband, i think – told me that piniella was a rather large donor in the early days of operation rescue, of all things. y’know, the anti-choice terror organization that “defends life” by violently attacking and killing doctors. ever since then, i’ve never felt the same way about lou piniella. every time i see his face, i think of murdered doctors. kinda shatters the illusion of baseball grandeur, you could say. and honestly, i’d rather know something like this about someone. it helps me decide where to spend my fan-dom.

but the so and so is too egotistical/vapid/unoriginal/original/sexual/asexual etc. etc. etc. fever pitch is too much to take. artists and athletes have been jerks in their private lives since time immemorial. they’ve also been nice, boring, weird, etc. since time immemorial. it just never seemed to matter. people could separate art from artist, as it were. not possible anymore. stop yelling about every single famous person not being exactly the type/kind of person that you want them to be. if they’re not being deliberately evil (mel gibson, alec baldwin, gary oldman, that photographer guy – richardson?), let them be weird, annoying, aloof, etc. without filling the entire internet with think-pieces and screeds.

i think we all know a little too much. and i think it’s wrecking the ability of art/sport/entertainment to just be, y’know, entertaining. not everything has to be a serious debate. we don’t have to parse pop music like we should be parsing education policy. let people like what they like. wrinkle up your nose for a second if you don’t like it, then go on about your day.


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humming along nicely

when i’m basically happy, i have nothing to say. hence why this blog has been a ghost town for nigh-on two months.

i love my new gig. i’m happy in my marriage. i’m doing ok (not great, but ok) following doctor’s orders and recovering from the year of destructive work-hell. i love my new home – our townhouse is GLORIOUS.

I HAVE A DINING-ROOM TABLE, Y’ALL. i am so giddy about this i can’t stand it. but i digress.

so what the hell is there to talk about? i find the endless recounting of yep, still great! to be dull as all holy hell.

maybe this is the difference between being a writer and being a person who writes. i am a person who writes all the time. lately, i’ve been devoting my “writing” time to waking up my knowledge of french. i stopped studying french in 2000 for some reason, and i’m so rusty i don’t know where to begin. (thanks to lauren for the inspiration on that one – her #monthoflauren project totally kicked my tail into gear on picking up things i loved to do, but stopped doing for whatever reason.)

but as far as having thoughts to share? i’m kinda tapped out. when i was unhappy, or going through crazy changes in my life, or whatever, i had so much to say, so much to analyze. i needed an audience to help me figure things out, to reassure me that i wasn’t alone. happiness is a lot simpler than turmoil. it’s also dull as dirty dishwater to rehash.

so hence the radio silence. i’m doing pretty well. i hope y’all are too. and we’ll see where we all go from there. :)


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something’s always wrong

[soundtrack]

[caveat: i know that every single time i say things like this, everyone older than me is laughing at me to some degree or another. but i don't care. everyone comes to fundamental conclusions in their own time. just because the themes are universal doesn't make the individual discovery of said themes any less meaningful, or deeply unsettling. now then.]

my understanding of maturing into an adult was that, after a period of adolescent struggle, life would eventually reach a coasting neutral. there would be happy deviations and awful deviations – y’know, ups and downs, strikes and gutters, as the dude would say – but the mean would be kind of a relaxed peace with home, work, family, friends, etc.

that has not at all been the case.

what my maturity into adulthood has actually been is a series of long fights, capstone incidents (either victories or defeats), brief lulls and BOOM, on to the next fight. just when you think ok, we’re good – here comes the part where i can coast for awhile, something else swings around the bend to send you into fight mode again. it’s a never-ending series of struggle-struggle-struggle-breath-struggle. even when one area of life settles down – school, job, relationship, health, etc. – another area falls into chaos. it’s like some kind of tire fire must always be burning.

and it’s dumb. it’s tiring. there’s NO REASON for this.

i have always railed against the ridiculous american myth of redemptive suffering. i think it’s the height of stupid that pain is a necessary growth agent. redemptive suffering is the sucker-job the religionists laid on their congregants to keep them in the flock in spite of all the restrictive, repressive diktats they mandated. you must deny yourself anything good, pleasurable, or nice in this life, but it’s okay, because your reward is in heaven. if you ever want me to thoroughly distrust you, tell me my reward is in heaven. that’s a con job to make people comfortable with abuses and injustices.

so why the hell does life have to be so hard all the time? and yeah, it’s all first-world problems, another cute little snippet of language designed to shame people away from questioning challenges. i get that my life is better than a starving kid in a war-torn corner of the world. clearly. that doesn’t diminish the fact that everyone up and down the scope of privilege has pain and challenges. it’s supposed to be a badge of honor to be STRONG, TOUGH, BRAVE, WARRIOR, ROOOOAR. dude, whatever. i am not always tough. and that’s NORMAL. it’s not human to be completely fine all the time. you’re either lying to yourself or you’re a sociopath.

you have to have enough fortitude to get through your day and meet your responsibilities. but sometimes, it’s okay to be broken for a bit. even the man is guilty of this. he thinks it’s encouraging to say things like, we’re young, we’re healthy and we have each other; what else do we need to be happy? [nota bene: we are NOT that young anymore. the mid-thirties are here.] it’s a well-intentioned statement, but it ends up doing two things: a) diminishing whatever’s upsetting me as being ungrateful for the good things and b) engendering guilt for not being happy all the time. i call bull on both of those things.

look. resiliency is a good character trait to have – since hard times are a part of life, it’s good to bear them with grace. but i question why the hits just keep on coming in this life. and i have a good case. the whole thing is, you’re supposed to live right and things will fall into place for you, isn’t it? well then, what happens when you live right and they don’t? how long are you supposed to struggle before you start wondering why? or are you just supposed to bow your head and bear it?

i don’t know. i am just tired of struggles on struggles on struggles. it’s like a taunt – come on, a little closer, almost there, almost through it, LOLNOPE!!!!!! – that never ends. i don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some level of security and peace in life after a certain point. i may be 100% alone in that feeling, but i doubt it. i am just ready for life to settle the hell down.


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empathy gap

i am fed up to my back teeth with about 99% of this country these days, and it can all be summed up in one sentence:

we forgot what empathy is.

there are so many attacks and assaults against the vulnerable, the disfranchised, the out-of-power in this country these days. the hand-selected supreme court, picked by george w. bush to shape policy in this country for a generation or more, continues to dismantle the tools given to regular people by the founders to stop oligarchs from stifling the actual will of the people. zealots and demagogues have unleashed a tidal wave of dominionist insanity based on apocalyptic psycho-christianity that views human life as pledgeship for a narrow, repressive version of “heaven.” the internet is crammed FULL of horrific racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, violent insanity, unleashed the second someone of a “lesser” class dares to step “out of line” and speak up.

it’s sick beyond reason. and why is it happening? lack of empathy. i practice empathy as the central driving force of my life, because it’s the only way to navigate in this world. it is incumbent upon each of us to make an attempt to understand, at the very least, the people with whom we must deal every day. even the angry, snappish, churlish jerks at my job are coming from some viewpoint. i don’t let them off the hook for being jerks, but understanding where they’re coming from helps me preserve myself and respond appropriately. like, if i know that this dude is yelling at me because he’s severely underperforming and is terrified for his own job, i know that a) he’s not a threat to me and b) i don’t have to take his rage-spasms seriously. i can let him scream and holler like he’s a two-year-old who dropped his cookie, then when he’s done, i can repeat the question as if the tantrum never happened and proceed accordingly.

but beyond daily life, i truly believe that empathy is VITAL to the success of a free society. how the hell can we say that america is free and equal when a) it’s patently clear that we are NOT equal in standing, even at a fundamental level, in this society; and b) if you mention that point to someone with privilege, all discourse shuts down in favor of people hollering HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE ME OF THIS I’M NOT PRIVILEGED I HAVE TROUBLE YOU’RE THE [RACIST/SEXIST/BIGOT/ETC.] AND YOU’RE BEING HATEFUL. (and that’s the best outcome – a lot of times, it shuts down in favor of people hollering rape/violence/death threats.)

and that is no way to run a railroad. seems to me that many people, when presented with a different kind of person or a different set of circumstances, shut down and refuse to consider what that life could be like. people REFUSE to consider that, yes, my life might be hard, but someone else’s life might be harder than mine. people REFUSE to consider that, hey, i might have it easier that other folks because of my gender, or my race, or whatever. and hey, that might not be fair. and hey, maybe i should do what i can to help that. and hey, maybe i shouldn’t be a jerk when someone points out something i’ve said that hurts them.

ugh. it’s so easy, and NO ONE DOES IT. my god. just listen. hear people. stop applying your lens to everything. take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. like, really think about it. what must it be like to be, say, a trans person? imagine it for a second? you look like a guy, so everyone assumes that you’re going to “act like a guy.” the set of stereotypical values that “traditional society” hangs on “guy” are applied to you in every way. you need to be tough, athletic, virile, etc. but every fiber of your being is screaming at you I AM A WOMAN, NOT A MAN. you grow up with this crossed-signal message. if you dare to present in a way that contravenes “tradition,” you are ostracized. unless you’re very lucky, you meet resistance at every turn. even if you get to transition so that your outsides match your insides, you run the risk of being “othered,” exposed, at any turn.

i can never know what that’s like. but i can spend a few minutes trying. and i can listen to the person living that life present how things are. i can understand what they’re saying. and i can ask them, what can i do to help? just… be a nice person. if your first response to “there are real limits to my ability to live in this culture because of who i am” is “FUCK YOU WORK HARDER AND DON’T CALL ME A BIGOT LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH,” you are hurting society.

we will never get anywhere in this life without people learning how to get past their own limits and lines and coexist. not “tolerate” other people. you tolerate a loud noise at work when they’re building out the floor above. you have to – HAVE TO – accept the fact that:

– people are different.
– america has a long, long history of placing real legal restrictions on people because of arbitrary differences.
– america also has a long history of claiming that this isn’t true.
– some legal restrictions have lifted; others have not.
– even when legal restrictions have lifted, the mindset that created the restrictions sometimes has not. [example: my racist grandmother.]
– because of these restrictions, life is easier for the “preferred” group.
– people can belong to the “preferred” group in some instances and the non-preferred group in others.
– preferred groups in 2014, still: white > non-white; male > female; cis > trans; straight > gay; rich > poor; christian > jewish > eastern religions > muslim > atheist.

and the only way out of this is: listen. think. empathize. and ACT ACCORDINGLY.

be a human being. we’re all dependent on it.


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lent

yes friends – the atheist does lent.

when you grow up on the upper gulf coast, in the mardi gras belt, winter is different than it is here in virginia. christmas gives way to new year’s, then twelfth night, then mardi gras. after mardi gras comes lent, then it’s all capped off with easter. it’s a cycle of joyous fun, solemn reflection and sacrifice, and joyous fun again as spring appears. and yeah, it’s 110% catholic/episcopalian. you’d think that i’d do everything i could to run as far away from that sort of mindset as possible. but growing up, i never saw this as part of a religious adoration cycle. it’s just what everyone in mobile did (except the baptists, who never did anything fun or interesting in my estimation and were mad, dour and judgmental all the time).

but if you strip out the god from the gulf-coast winter and look at it from a secular life perspective, the celebration-reflection-celebration season makes a lot of sense. mardi gras/carnival season brings fun and joy to a dark, cold part of the calendar. and once you’ve spent january and sometimes february blowing the doors off and having fun, lent gives you a season of reflection, focus, recovery, and yes, even sacrifice. a built-in period of examination and editing is great. it’s good for writers – lord knows i read everything i write a thousand times over before i submit it, and even a few times after. but it’s also good for humans.

2014 in america is about excess. and i don’t mean OMG rock and roll and licentiousness. i mean the 24/7/365 intensity of information overload, the constant demands of work, and the realization that, though we think we’ve solved so many large problems, we have SO much work to do to make society just and equal. we are expected to be everything all the time, and what that “everything” is shifts so fast we don’t have time to keep up with the latest impossible-to-attain standard. and it’s painful, and it wears us down, and it’s not healthy. lent, to the secularist, is a nice excuse to voluntarily check out of things that don’t work. it’s a time to take a slow, solemn inventory of one’s life, find the places that are hurting, and take the sometimes-challenging steps to right the ship.

so yes, i do lent. i have since i was a teenager. in 12th grade, a friend and i gave up fast food cold turkey. for 40 days, nary an ounce of fast food passed the lips of a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old. (best BELIEVE i had a big mac extra value meal super-sized on easter sunday, though.) and it was great. it did wonders for my sense of willpower and achievement. it was a clue that i could do something challenging that wasn’t easy and comfortable, but that was good for me. now, 16 years later, i’m starting another lenten sacrifice.

globally, the sacrifice i am making is fussy complacency. as i’ve alluded to before, 2013 was rough on my body. i finished gaining all the weight i’d lost in law school, which made me feel sluggish and down on myself. i worked so damn much in 2013 that i next-to-never saw the sun or went outside, going from the apartment to the garage at home to the garage at work to the office and back again. then in september, my compressed disc situation came to a head. i had to go through physical therapy and a series of very tight controls on what i could and couldn’t do. it was really the first time in my life that i had to face a series of physical limitations. and i did not handle it well. i got sulky, and sad, and kinda resigned myself to well, that’s it; i’m done. i won’t be able to move right ever again.

two weeks ago, i got a physical for the first time since my mid-20s. the doctor is a kind, patient, low-key woman who gently but firmly reminded me that a large portion of the recovery process from this injury is doing my part. she gently instructed me that i have to go outside and get some sun to correct my very low vitamin D levels. she noted that my back injury is aggravated by carrying weight around my midsection, so it’d be best to lose some. and she assured me that exercise will actually help me stop hurting, not hurt me further.

so lenten sacrifice means exercising instead of sitting. it means eating quality foods at snacktime instead of eating candy. it means taking a full inventory of my behavior and emotions to strip out the hurtful things (hurtful both to myself and to others). and it’s about facing the fact that getting older means being mindful. and at the end of 40 days, if i work this program properly, i will hopefully have the happy results of feeling better, hurting less and being a nicer person to be around. and as it happens, if a change yields happy results, it tends to perpetuate itself.

i am not advocating scrapping everything “bad” in your life and replacing it with everything “good.” that in and of itself is the type of excess that i believe a lenten-style sacrifice should avoid like the plague. lent is supposed to be thoughtful, careful, modest, and humble. you’re supposed to think holistically and act carefully. little tweaks, made in context, are the point. and you’re not supposed to brag about it either; just do it because it’s good for you. then, when the season ends, you’ve made some growth and can celebrate a hard-earned victory over the stuff that was dragging you down. you can do anything hard/good for you for 40 days.

so that’s my $0.02 re: lent. i think it’s healthy, provided you don’t take it to crazy self-abnegating extremes of penitence and harm. i think it’s good to take stock and enforce some changes, especially at a time when a lot of people you know are doing the same sort of thing and can offer you support. so here’s to lent, everybody, sincerely. go get some happy.

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