An Ode To One’s Spirit

Jupiter and Juno by Annibale Carracci

Jupiter and Juno by Annibale Carracci

She says the greatest sin is to not live for oneself. You do not understand her.

You say she is selfish and she blushes in gratitude.

Her responses confound you. But in the contradiction, there, you may glimpse her.

Though she alone owns her body, she alone owns her spirit, she sees her self, her identity, her body, her spirit, all these things and more, as a gift to be given freely and richly, and in giving that gift she finds greatest pleasure and greatest sense of self. So give she does, over and over, and her joy and her self both show increase for it. Such gifts that she fashions, which she makes only for herself and gives only to others.

This is her cave of two mouths.

She will allow you passage through her, the truth visible for barest glimpse. She will not force you to know her.

Emerging, you would think it arrogance. But in that moment, that glimpse, you saw, for a moment, that it is not.

The glimpse was fleeting, and it indulges you to slide back out of her, but you will not know her unless you embrace it, unless you remain inside her. So remain you must, and see her truly, for she will show you gladly. She knows no secrets.

And when you do, you who wish to compliment her, you who accept her truth, you will say nothing, offer only nod of encouragement or fleeting smile.

If you remain inside her this long, you will breathe a unity that needs no words, and you will rarely speak of it. When you must, you will say this:

This is she, who dreams of what might be, who prays for what should be, and who creates what must be.

Why I Believe in Magic

So a few months ago, we (all the managers and leaders at Hope Network, my base camp for changing the world) took a personality inventory that gauges our leadership style. Psychologists famously pooh-pooh this kind of thing, especially because of use of the Myers-Briggs inventory*. But it is kind of fun, and, well, you know you take Playbuzz quizzes, so don’t even start with me.  We used a tool called the DiSC in this case – it analyzes people based on four personality characteristics – dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. Most people, according to the model (which at least, in any event, is closer to the most validated five and three factor personality models) are somewhat more reliant on one of the four dimensions than any of the others. Somewhat unique to the business application of this model, it also analyzes a “natural” style – how one behaves when not under stress or pressure, and an adapted style. Some people change their style dramatically, whereas other people (like me) make more subtle changes, whether because we are self-confident or arrogant. It also provides some analysis with respect to how people perceive someone differently, under varying degrees of stress. I might seem bubbly and enthusiastic under low stress situations, and more of a shameless self-promoter under high-stress situations.

In my case, I am an “influencer” at the core (we apparently rate the only lower-case letter in the acronym, although apparently it’s just branding), and this is a very pronounced bias.

It's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me, it's not because they don't like me

It’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me, it’s not because they don’t like me

I like to promote and be passionate about things. I like to build an army of friends and people who love me, and act indirectly, through them. One thing that was somewhat different from how I perceived myself, but actually, when I stop and think about it, makes sense, is that I always thought of myself as not liking to make decisions and then becoming dominant when I didn’t see anyone else acting. The tool said, in contrast, that I can be somewhat dominant when I’m not under stress – but I actually become much more passive/submissive when stressed (see how the red bar drops on the left graph, below). I do think this makes sense, when I stop and think about it – I know that in high stress situations, I feel a sense of bitterness or annoyance that I’m the one who has to make decisions (although I usually feel like I’m better than many people at making decisions that value everyone’s concerns), whereas I actually don’t mind making them in day-to-day life. It can, and sometimes does, make me passive aggressive in those situations, whereas I am not very passive aggressive by nature.

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble....

Apparently, when backed into a corner, I become submissive and try to use my charm to get out of trouble….

My results generated some less-than-flattering generalizations about me. “Flattery will always generate a positive reaction from her**” and “Mira tends to break the rules and then attempts to sell you on the fact it was the proper thing to do***.” “She believes rules exist to serve rather than to be followed by her****.” Apparently, I really want everyone to like me, and not because it makes me happy, but because it’s good for them (it is!).

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

What??? Not effusive? Robbed, I tell you, robbed!

One of the things that came out of the analysis of my personality style, and this was something I was already aware of, but I’ve reflected on a lot more in the last few months (I originally took this quiz at the end of October last year), is that I am really drawn to the notion of life as an adventure. I don’t relish drama in the sense of interpersonal conflict (although I’ve learned not to always shy away from it). But, I do relish drama in the sense that I need everything – even my trips to the grocery store (okay, this isn’t an exaggeration, and so it goes in a parenthesis and not a footnote, I’ve blogged about the grocery store as an adventure at least once) – to be epic.

I remember taking the MMPI-2 back in graduate school*****, and there was a question that was something like, “I like to go to parties where there is loud, lively music,” and I used to quip, “I like to go to breakfast where there is loud, lively music!” If I were just a neuropsychologist who put on her white lab jacket and saw a few patients everyday, then wrote my notes, and hung up my jacket, I would be sincerely bored. One of the things I love about Hope is how much this is not my job. I get to create things and change kids’ lives, and I get to play, every day. And I do need that, desperately – no clarifying footnote or anything. I need my life to be an adventure. People who just have a “job” that “pays the bills” make no sense to me whatsoever – it’s like I know they exist, conceptually, and I’ve learned to understand how they think and act, to some limited extent, but I have no intuitive grasp of them at all.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a "laboratory"? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby pinned to my head.

I mean, seriously, do I look like I fit in with neuropsychologists who refer to their clinic as a “laboratory”? A couple weeks ago I went to work with Solo cups bobby-pinned to my head.

This is reflected in my icons – my namesakes who lived an epic life (Princess Mira) or wrote epic stories (Charlotte Bronte). It’s very much reflected in the stories I love. I understand and accept that there are tragedies and dark endings, but I need everything to be a love story – I don’t get stories that aren’t love stories of one kind or another. And I see the epic in everyday life. Mostly, Teri and I don’t watch much science-fiction or fantasy or anything like that, but I do get him to let us watch a lot of epic love stories (and usually he likes them as much as I do). Last night was fantasy. It was Teri’s pick, Stardust.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too.

Okay, I kind of glow like this when I see Teri, too. Go watch Stardust on Netflix. They said I’d give it only 4.5 stars. Pssh. 

So, so satisfying. Later that night, I did have another one of those nights when I spent a little bit of time crying in the middle of the night, nestled in between Teri and Iago. Like the lost star in the movie, Yvaine, who fell to earth, I thought about our child, lost and alone out there, looking for us but not knowing how to find us, just as I was lost and alone, not knowing how to find Teri, until I finally did. I know our child is strong and will survive and persevere. And I thought about Teri going through things in his life – leukemia, bullying, family challenges, and so much more – and how I couldn’t be there for him, yet (Teri says I was there in spirit, and he’s right). But Teri pointed out that, like us, our child, out there, frequently lost and alone, would see life as an adventure, just like we have always seen and will always see life as an adventure. And like us, our child, out there somewhere, will have so many adventures, will make so many friends, will have so many people echo in a small way the love that they will know when they find us, before they ever come to us. Our child will know joy before we finally meet, because people like our child are the reason there is joy. Because our child may not carry the marker that they are our child because their eyes look just like Teri’s, or their smile looks just like mine, but our child will be marked in this way, and when we finally meet each other, we will know it. Just like Teri and I knew.

Way back when – and I’ve referenced back to it a couple times – I mentioned the very first book my book club read, Life of Pi, and the challenge it makes to the claim that the adventure is not “real.” This isn’t some psychotic dream. I don’t see dragons, and I am no damsel in distress. Magic may not let people disappear in clouds of smoke, or turn into doves, but it is real. It exists in this world, drawing meaning and deep structure between us. There are not wizards or Muggles, per se, but there is another kind of magic, and in some it runs deeply, and in others only a trickle or not at all. The magic runs deeply with me, and it is why my life is full of the amazing experiences with which it has been stocked. It runs in places, and those places call out to people like me, but people like me also infuse places with magic. The magic is why magical people sense a natural kinship and stay near to me, whether by miles or by the units of distance of the heart. Like the impromptu party towards the end of The Fountainhead, when we magical people draw near, we have a natural kinship that crosses boundaries of wealth and experience and time and space.

This is how I see life. It is my strength and weakness, both. I believe in it. And I embrace it.

* Oh, psychologists, why ya gotta hate on pseudoscience?

** Okay, kind of true.

*** Okay, totally true.

**** It’s like you know me. Stop talking.

***** It used to be a thing, that psychology trainees had to be patients of their professors or adjuncts associated with their department, as part of graduate school (this is more of a psychoanalysis era thing), and that MMPI’s were not only administered but had to be shared and interpreted by one’s professors, in a clear conflict of interest. We were simply asked to take it, to know how it worked and to see the results, ourselves, without having to share them with anyone. Now, this was my first year in graduate school, at the tail end of the most severe era of my eating disorder. I saved my MMPI, and I still sometimes show it to trainees as a cautionary example of understanding the resiliency of humanity. My (completely valid and not at all just suggesting I am histrionic) profile suggested fairly extreme, “lock her up, stat” distress in those days… I think I had six of 10 significantly elevated clinical scales, and this was during a time when I was making new friends, succeeding (and frequently knocking it out of the ballpark) in an extremely challenging graduate program, adapting to life in the South, training to run a full marathon for the first (and ultimately only) time, and recovering by pulling myself up by my bootstraps. That time was incredibly hard for me, but without medicines or therapies or anything but the kind of magic this post is all about, I not only survived, but this time became a gateway into thriving more than I have ever thrived.

I Love The People I Draw Into My Life

Recently, I went to an amazing conference of an organization advocating for youth, of which I am an advisory board member. This is somewhat remarkable. A year ago, my boss made me go to their conference for the first time. I looked at it and was…non-plussed (somewhat mirroring how I hated and feared kids before I started grad school). But I went (I follow orders, most of the time). And I loved it. People took me under their wings, introduced me to their colleagues, I felt like I went home with something like three hundred new friends. And I kind of did. I wormed my way onto their policy committee, and this year I presented part of a plenary on the position paper I helped write (my first plenary). And I got invited to my board position. I sort of love these people.


Friendships complete your heart, or,
erm, if you’re alone on business travel,
a mirror works also.

I feel like, as I’ve started coming out, I see queer everywhere. The next paper we’re doing is on LGBTQIA+ issues. So this is the twelfth paper, and it’s quite random that it happened to be on that topic at this time in my life. I took a deep breath and offered to help the author in any way I could (since I’ve done one of these now, and others outside of this organization), and a deeper breath and explained to him the personal side of why. And he was amazing and gracious and I’m helping him along, although he knows what he’s doing by himself. One of the first conversations with a friend reconnecting when I got to the conference was about how her contract was coming up and she was thinking about leaving her organization. Why? Because the organization had taken the position that a trans young woman referred to them was “a man” because she has a penis. And she is seriously considering quitting because of it. Amen, sister. I did not actually cry when I heard this story, but the tears were welling up.

I came out to several more people while I was there – because at some point, and since and I see this family twice a year mostly, and like for my parents in Florida, this change may come quickly for them. I have to stop here and say that, after coming out to probably sixty or seventy people, at least, in the last six months, I’ve had all of one neutral response, and no negative responses. Everyone else has poured love and acceptance on me. I know this isn’t typical, and I grieve for my brothers and sisters who find rejection, fear, or hatred. But the love I got here, again, overwhelmed me. How it was okay to pause in talking about kids and talk about me, in this professional context, and I even felt comfortable to talk about my eating disorder history, about which I’m still very secretive. And how people were interested in my experience, and actually understood it pretty well, and saw me as bringing yet another strength to the table.

If I delve into my self-esteem issues, over time, I’ve learned how to accept a compliment, I’ve mostly learned how to respond to criticism. I have to admit I’m still expecting people not to love me, and I still melt when I’m loved and don’t always know how to say thank you adequately enough, although I want the people who love me to know that my heart beats with thankfulness for them. I don’t always have good boundaries. I don’t do anything terribly embarrassing, but people who see that I’m “smart” don’t really understand how much a creature of my loves and passions I am (I don’t think I’m stupid, but I feel profoundly misunderstood when people see being smart as a primary strength of mine, because I have never felt that it was the central unifying principle of my identity). I take everything personally. Apropos to my blog about signal amplifying, I have a tradition of drawing people into my life that don’t care about me, and want to be celebrated for their lack of caring about me, and I’m ashamed to admit the extent to which I have celebrated them for what they’ve done to me.

On the other hand, and bewildering to me that I achieved it, I have had the luck to draw into my life so many people who don’t fit that pattern, and the rate at which these people who challenge my older experiences come into my life is increasing. They don’t want to be celebrated at all but love me without cost or regret. When I started transitioning, a part of me wished I didn’t do all these things like committees and boards and all this frenetic networking. It adds hundreds of people to the list to whom I’ll eventually have to come out. But when I am loved (not just respected) in professional spaces like this one, my heart is overwhelmed, yet again, and I view all these daring people, who accept me, who love me, who pledge to stand up for me (and for others), not as a burden on my coming out parade, but as the very blood that flows through my veins and keeps me alive.