Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Might Not be Badass, but I Conquered that Trail!

I'm wearing my bright yellow Vancouver Marathon t-shirt, channelling my Inner Strong Woman and perhaps hoping to signal my position to bears and cougars so that I don't surprise them.
My post evaluating my potential for badassery seems to have strike a nerve. More accurately, of course, my complaint concerned the term's trendiness, the reduction of its transgressive possibilities to physical toughness and a disregard for social niceties, and -- especially -- for its supposedly binary oppositions to "princess" behaviour (substitute Wimp or Weakling for other nouns at that end of the binary ruler).
Pater's posing by a huge, ancient stump, logged many decades ago. . . 

Since posting my complaint, I've been thinking more about it, inspired and fuelled by the energy of your responses. Honestly, I worry that I've painted myself into a corner a bit -- tends to happen with rants, don't you find? -- and I thought I'd worry away a bit more at the word's potential, with the plentiful diversion of these photos taken on a hike Pater and I took up a mountain last week.   In fact, I might even use the photos of our climb up the Sea to Summit Hiking Trail (near Squamish, BC, about an hour's drive from our Vancouver apartment) to illustrate my thinking.

The gondola passed over the hiking trail in a few places -- you can see the slope's steepness by following those cable lines.
First of all, I was pleased to see how many of you similarly deplore what seems to be a reductively Either/Or classification. But I was also pleased that some of you spoke up to defend the value of "snot rockets" (just because I can't/haven't yet blown one doesn't mean I condemn those who did -- they are undeniably a practical solution to a common running problem and can be executed with consideration for those downwind).

Another indication of the trail's steepness -- this was a brief descent as we worked our way around a bluff. The trail squeezes between those trees, feet having to find purchase from rock to rock, knees following in protest. . . 
I was also pleased that some of you pointed out the positive uses of the word "Badass," the way it opens up social space for women. Yes, I think there are adjectives and nouns that might do this with more nuance and precision, ones that are less dangerously likely to skew to caricature and that don't have the undeniable roots in macho, masculinist culture. But it's true that the term has, fairly quickly, aggressively even, loaded up admiration for tough women, even though I'd argue that it may have narrowed understandings of toughness.

A deceptively tranquil pool between waterfalls -- danger lurks in the temptation to clamber across those rocks. Hikers and dogs have been known to slip and fall -- the next photo suggests why that is best avoided. . . 
If I have to "come clean" on what really bugs me about the term is that, for me at least, there's a coercive energy associated with it. The voice of my old P.E. teacher, the bane of my elementary school years, echoed loudly in the post I quoted from, the one asking "Are you a Warrior (Badass) or Are you a Princess?" It's the bullying implicit in that kind of question that I can't tolerate, the boot-camp approach. If I am what you crudely label as "a Princess" and if what you're trying to achieve is to turn me into a Warrior, there are so many better ways to do that than to shame me.

It's very true that I am somewhat fearful about heights and about the possibility of falling (cycling downhill is often harder for my hands, gripping the brakes, than going uphill was on my quads and hamstrings!). Hiking, I notice scats on the trail and wonder if they're from a bear, and if so, where might she be. I worry about what we'll do if I can't manage the "steep and challenging sections" the website warns of, particularly given that it also warns that "downhill travel" is "not recommended." And what about those sections with "fixed lines required to assist you"? Will I be able to get through those or will Pater somehow have to get help to get me of the mountain -- or leave me there to freeze or be eaten by bears overnight?

This bluff terrified me in its steepness -- falling off it would require calling in rescue teams, helicopters . . . and Pater always seems far too comfortable near what I think of as its edge and he insists is metres from. . . 
Not very badass, right? I wish, how I wish, I were like my friends who look on those challenges as exhilarating, as part of the fun. Or those who scarcely recognise them as challenges, merely enjoying the demanding physical workout they know they're strong enough to sustain.

Me, moving with some trepidation to pose closer to the edge than I'm comfortable...
But my fears and my strength came to the mountain together last week, and luckily, my husband knows of both. He made it his mission to encourage me, step by step, and I was as impressed my his efforts as I was by my eventual success. Whereas I followed him up the trail when we hiked the Grouse Grind a few weeks ago, he had me lead the way for this climb. Setting the pace this way not only helped me preserve energy, but it also gave me confidence as I began to see that I was managing to find hand and footholds on my own.  Sometimes, it's true, I was tempted to violence (only tempted, I assure you) by his fairly constant mantra of "Look at you -- you're doing so well" and the repeated "Yes, you can, you're stronger than you think" and especially by "You've run a marathon; Of course you can get up this trail." -- The latter made me want to protest, loudly, that the marathon-running happened two years ago and that, hey, by the way, that wasn't on a steep mountainside that I could seriously injure myself falling off (did I mention that the advice provided about the trail warned against cliff edges?). Sometimes the sweet encouragement felt like a silencing of my fears, a denial, a bullying me up the mountain, even.

It also, though, breathed life into the tiny fire of conviction that was beginning to whisper inside me, a little secret I dared to think, a "Wow! Look at me! I'm climbing this fairly difficult, steep trail, and I'm kinda awesome" . . .

And if the recent bandying about of the word "Badass" to signal strong women might have had anything to do with that, then I would concede that it's good to have examples that push us to aspire beyond what we see as our natural limitations. But personally, I'd rather be encouraged and supported to tap into my strength and resilience and persistence and endurance. And I'd prefer that encouragement and support to come with healthy dollops of respect for my fears.

That was the approach that got this Fearful Climber to the top last week, exultant and tired. Pater was right: I could do it!

Now about that way-too-steep Gondola ride back down!

This photo was taken from inside the gondola car, swinging above the mountain as we swooped down the slope. . .I refused to let my fear of heights stop me from enjoying this view
So I have a few questions for you if you haven't already had enough of this discussion. I can see that you might be surprised I'm second-guessing my initial rant, but I often do this in my daily life, and often did it in the classroom. Talking or writing about an issue helps me see what I think about it, but it also opens up complications in my position. Integrity and intellectual rigour, it seems to me, demand I acknowledge the complications, even if that might make me look indecisive. I sometimes regret the way blogs can appear to wrap up a topic, to move on to the next question, just as our thoughts begin to coalesce, our positions reveal their weaknesses or strengths or interesting contradictions.

In that spirit, then, a few questions for you: Despite not considering yourself a Badass (substitute Brave/Tough/Fearless, whatever), what have you been Intrepid or Resolute or Persistent enough to achieve, against your own conviction of personal limitations? And did that happen through another's encouragement and support? Or how about this for those who might be considered Badasses? Do you find the term confining? Would you sometimes prefer to be allowed to speak your fears or your weaknesses? And can anyone make a convincing argument for the more exhortatory kind of leadership, a Bootcamp approach, rather than the gentler encouragement that works better for me?

Meanwhile, it's a beautifully sunny Sunday morning here, summer having finally arrived and settled into Vancouver. . . I'll post this now, but I hope you're all out making the most of a summer weekend (except for my antipodean readers who I will wish a pleasant winter weekend instead). Perhaps you'll find time to read and think and climb the mountain with me tomorrow. Sometimes Monday morning is mountain enough, right?

33 comments:

  1. Yes, i think i might be considered a badass - especially if the alternative is princess. That trail looks like just the sort of thing i would love - if the instructions say it might be tough, i want to do it. And if snot-rockets are what i think they are, then i use them frequently. I rarely carry a tissue and have never really known how to use them properly.

    But i object to any binary. There is much more to me than enjoying tough physical challenges. I like reading, and thinking, and knitting, and baking, and sewing. I often like the tough physical challenges because they give me space to think. Surely this complexity is true of almost everyone? Sometimes labels do a job of helpful shorthand, or signalling a sense of belonging. But, they rarely capture more than a fairly simplistic notion of 'truth'.

    The word 'badass' also seems fairly poorly conceived. I rarely think of myself as 'bad'. Maybe sometimes a bit 'naughty' - i might go through a 'trail closed' sign, but only after having done a fairly thorough assessment of pros and cons. And as a brit, 'ass' is not a word that rolls naturally!

    For me, the good bit of feminism is that it is inclusive - all women are valuable and valued. Not any particular traits, or type of woman. The princess movement is great if the message is "being girly is fine and we value those women who are girly sometimes or always", not if the message is "women must be girly to be valued". Ditto badassery. But, the ultimate conclusion has to be "being any type of women, in any combination, is fine and we value them all".

    As i said, i like a physical challenge. My (male) partner does too, but he is more timid and less fit than me and i am often the one in front. I never know how to offer encouragement. "This is pretty tough, isnt it?" is generally met with "you don't seem to be finding it that way". "You're doing a great job", similarly with "not as great as you". The best i've come up with is just to go at his pace and talk about something that isn't anyone's performance or progress. Any advice for how to be encouraging but not patronising in these situations very welcome!

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    1. Glad to have you chime in, Jean, from the "badass" end of the spectrum, clumsy though we agree that word to be. I love to know that there are many women like you who are not hampered by fear when you approach physical challenges and risky pursuits. You inspire me to take my more careful steps in the same direction, if not as far or as fast.
      And I absolutely agree that feminism has to be inclusive.
      As for your comments re encouraging your partner, so good for me to hear the difficulties from that perspective -- yes! I do this to my poor husband. I think your solution is a good one, just letting us go at our pace and distracting us with chat about something else. I will say that despite my grumbling disbelief at his encouragement as your partner does to yours, secretly I often cherish the praise wrapped in his words. . . .

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  2. I tried to comment on the "bad-ass" post but my i-pad and google weren't feeling friendly to each other that day... so that comment did not happen.
    I must say that the idea that we're either badass or princess had me rankled. I loved to push my own limits as a kid, albeit timidly, but could be easily pushed to the side-lines and convinced to drop out by more loudly confident badasses than myself. This was achieved usually by other bigger, pushier girls. But I remember a junior high phys ed teacher who cajoled me to try a new high jump method when I was so comfortable with the old one. The new one ended up with my missing the foam and landing on my face on the gym floor instead... but his praise for trying made me fell a little bit badass... and able to try again. Yah me.
    And when I met my husband I tried all kinds of things I never would have attempted on my own. His knowledge of sports and the activities we were doing, as well as my trust in him, made me believe him when he said I could do something. So I did. Skiing and wilderness canoeing are two of those. I still feel awesome when we get back from a canoe trip. I did that! Yah me.
    You know, I think it takes more courage for us "princess" (cringe) types to take on "badass" (cringe #2) challenges because they are out of our comfort zone. And if I question myself every step along the way, read and consider all the warnings, so what? I still tried that high jump technique (even though I sucked at it) and you still made it to the top of that climb the same as all the badasses on the trail.
    Yoh...go Frances! Whoop, whoop. Now go buy yourself a new top to celebrate. Ha.

    P.S. You gotta love a man who can cajole you to the top of a cliff, don't you? I can't tell you how many times Stu has done that. And without that encouragement I wouldn't have been posing for the ritual "I AM AWESOME" photo at the top.

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    1. Lots of similarities between us -- for me, also, a husband with a love of the outdoors and some serious skills there made all the difference. There is so much more motivation in canoeing to a remote camping spot than in having to leap over a box horse (we had to do this regularly in PE class in elementary school -- I have no idea what the presumed value beyond terrifying 9-year-olds!)

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    2. Interesting that you mentioned the jumping over the box. I downright refused, especially the somersaulting over the box, because a) I knew it would end badly and b) what was the point. And I claimed the sweetest of victories- for all the shouting and ranting, the PE teacher couldn't physically make me do it. More anon in response to your so interesting posts.

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  3. I'm afraid of heights. One slip and I could plunge to my death!!!But I have backpacked (once with each husband in Olympic National Park) carrying food, sleeping bag etc on my back and hanging the pack on a line. Never sure if I got up in the night if hubby (either) would wrestle a bear to save me. I've also kayaked in the Broken Islands with my cousin. Neither of us had kayaked in the ocean before.
    I'm still not a badass but don't you think that P.E. teachers have a lot to answer for? Shaming or cajoling does not a warrior princess make. As women, we need to make choices for ourselves and hopefully have our fears respected.

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    1. Yep! I love your hyperbole in second sentence -- matches mine quite nicely ;-)
      Again, another example (see Sue,above) of the value of outdoor activities as a motivator. And let's hope that today's PE teachers are much more positive in their approaches for all kids, not just the naturally athletic.

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  4. What a great post! I refer to myself as a badass all the time and EVERYONE laughs like I've said something absurd. My husband calls me a goodass. There are ways in which I am such a free-thinker, I scare myself. But I'm also persistent and resolute in the extreme. Maybe that's how I'm badass :-) The last time I surpassed a self-imposed limitation was in interviewing for the job I just got. That took nerve and it could have gone so badly. But I did it anyway. Alas, now, of course, I have to continue to impress them on a daily basis... And I've just put up a yoga rope wall. It's the first time I've done full-on anti-gravity yoga in many years. That takes some nerve also given that my body is so foreign to me these days. Mind you, my mini-practice was ecstatic (if sickening). You know, though, I'm happy to express my numerous weaknesses. I'm afraid of heights, bugs. Noise makes me crazy. I have OCD. I've been known to experience panic in its sincerest forms.

    I'm ok with both sides.

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    1. Some great points here, K. Long ago, my husband pointed out to me that while I see myself as not a risk-taker because I'm physically cautious, in fact I'm much, much more of an emotional risk-taker than he is. I let myself be vulnerable in many situations. And I do stuff despite being afraid or unsure.
      So maybe I could start calling myself Badass occasionally. Except I still don't love the word. (if I did, I'd def. call you Badass, especially now you're hanging upside down on your wall at home!)
      Note to self: Need new words! ;-)

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  5. I'm so impressed with your making this climb. I'm not particularly fearful of heights, but having been pushed by (bullying) people in the past into climbs that were above my skill level at the time, I tend to be wary of climbing now. The views are spectacular. I just added a comment on the prior "badass" post (which for some reason didn't come up in my feed reader earlier) but there's also a hint of able-ism inherent in equating "badassery" with physical prowess and risk taking: not everyone has the same starting point with regard to physical capability. Strength can also be quiet and gentle.

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    1. Thank you for this comment, Susan...you make a very important point.

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    2. Yes! This is a very important point indeed, Susan. And not simply do our physical capabilities differ, but also our sensitivities. I'm much more sensitive to my environment than my husband is, which surely factors into my greater perception of possible dangers. Noise stresses me more, as it does with K, above. Phobias are almost as deeply rooted, for some, as a physical disability. So if we use the word "badass," which seems to have some use value, we should keep its meaning expansive, be aware that might seem tame to one is badass for another. . .

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  6. Again, novels of thoughts...

    I always disliked team sports - the beat 'em up mentality of it all. I have rarely found "just a friendly game" to be that. I would be far happier if we could translate that rivalry into cooperative building of some kind. But no, we are animals. BE NO. 1!! I'm so sick of that. What's wrong with No. 1,245,574,446?

    I'm glad you made it to the top! The exhilaration.

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    1. There were a few pre-teen years when I liked playing basketball at recess and lunchtime, ditto pick-up baseball in the back lane with the neighbourhood kids. And then too quickly, that fun went away with the sorting that happened in high school, the competition. Plus realistically, the team sports thing just requires too much socialising of the type that doesn't energise me. . . But I can see how much joy it's brought those who suit it -- the continued connection my sister-in-law has had with her high-school basketball team through 40 years is really cool. To each her own, right?
      And yes, exhilaration and fatigue and a HUGE appetite! ;-)

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  7. I am so happy that you did it.
    You are so blessed with Pater,but you always seem to me as a very brave and competent woman
    We are sometimes much tougher than we think or as people consider us
    I am also happy that was/am living in
    Europe where categories,shelves,labels were blured,not so strict,if even existed
    And,in former system,we,girls and women,were always encouraged and supposed to do a lot of things that were hard or tough work (after doing all the dishes...etc :-))
    I would like to be a princess but actually I was a warrior(/princess) (for all kind of things,people and justice),but this is something that keeps me going on, despite living with MS for so many years ( exactly 29)
    I still do more than I should or could
    I remember,some fifteen years ago,we were hiking to Odyssey Cave on island Mljet (unearthly beautiful island,check it please,DvF was here last week),it was too hot,all rocks and too much for me-but I had to come back,no?
    It was some crying involved,a lot of "leave me here",but I did it eventually!
    Dottoressa

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    1. Love this: "we girls and women were always encouraged. . . to do a lot of things that were hard or tough work (after doing all the dishes, etc)" Ha! too funny!
      Amazing that you could do everything you have with MS for so long -- such strength and conviction and commitment.
      And I did look up the Odyssey Cave -- absolutely magical, but it does look difficult to access. So glad you got back to it! (and I recognise that cry of "just leave me here"! ;-)

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  8. At school I was probably considered a princess . I detested the competition of the sports field & had no wish to prove myself better than anyone else - it all seemed so unimportant . I kept fit by roaming the countryside with friends , enjoying the beauty around me . Fortunately I met the right man & we've wandered around together in various countries enjoying the beauty around us . I've done some serious hikes but not lately . I do like peering over steep drops , my dad used to encourage this ! , but hubbie tries to drag me back . Perhaps those are my ' badass ' moments - not a word I've come across much .
    Wendy in York

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    1. You sound like a very sensible and capable "princess" to me, Wendy. And I'm glad to hear that "badass" doesn't seem to have caught on over there yet. Do be careful as you peer over those cliff edges though, won't you? ;-)

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  9. Heights horrify me. Now I decide whether or not I am going to do something that involves sheer and high and slippy and then follow through. Hence I never, ever, ever go skiing. And have no qualms whatsoever about saying: no, not for me. Go ahead. See you later. Going up is bad enough, down is the real terror. I did, however, manage to brace myself to trek across the tops of high desert dunes because I realised that, should I need to move aside, I could simply step down and then back up again. Falling would not result in death. Did it remove my fears? No. Rather like snakes and rats, a fear of heights is perfectly natural. I am sick, sick, sick of being expected to take challenges, push myself, be some kind of warrior. Because we all know that true grit is about facing something unexpected and dreadful when we least expect it and when we have no choice. But I am pleased that you enjoyed your hike and did The Thing. Plus, if anyone accused me of being a Princess I would punch their lights out.

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    1. "no" is such a useful word at times, isn't it?!
      I think I could do desert dunes as well, unless I started worrying that they might swallow me up. . . I was happy to climb to the top of the Dune du Pilat (in the Arcachon area of France)

      "true grit is about facing something unexpected and dreadful when we least expect it and when we have no choice" YES! This is it! The truth is we won't know what we can or can't or will or won't know until that moment. We might rehearse and rehearse mentally and physically, but that is the determiner. Well put. . . And I'll be very careful never ever to call you a Princess.

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  10. I was fearless as a child , adolescent and young adult. Now in my sixties, I would say that I take calculated risks. I will try new adventures once and drop them immediately if they frighten or potentially harm me. I no longer downhill ski, sail, jump horses, teach in a maximum security prison, drink heavily nor shop at the Army and Navy show sale.

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    1. Wow! That's a great list -- I'm imagining a game of two truths and a lie. . . ;-)
      I've never been fearless, but I'm with you in thinking that our 60s is an age when we've earned the right to try new adventures and also to drop them if they frighten or might harm us. (and I've never braved the Army and Navy shoe sale, but I think that takes immense courage! ;-)

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  11. Physical challenges have never been an issue for me probably because they did not matter to my parents (intellectual challenges were a different issue), childhood asthma, an ability to sunburn in a rainstorm and growing up where it could over 100 F six months a year. I'm just fine staying at the bottom of the mountain if it looks too difficult. My challenge is resilience -- trying to stay in focus and optimistic when life is difficult. Patient support is the best assistance, but the most effective strategy is often to try to just take it a day at a time instead of spinning out different scenarios in my head.

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    1. Ah, the different scenarios spun out in our heads. . . my downfall, although I do try to work at it and go one step at a time. Resilience, Focus, Optimisim in the face of difficulties -- good qualities to cultviate, Lynn, you're very wise.

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    2. Although words are so much easier than deeds. One adult son is having a hard time, and I really have to work not to intervene primarily because I keep thinking of the worst that could happen. One day at a time...

      Happy Anniversary -- quite a wonderful thing!

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  12. I'm leaping into this conversation after reading only this post. I'll go back and read your "badass" definition - a word I've never liked. I'm a rather fearful person and my husband is not. I try to think logically about situations, but often my emotions overtake the logic. I try to push through my fears. I am paranoid (really) about snakes (even hate writing the word) and yet, I lived in the jungle for many years. There was always an awareness, a slight tension, that I would notice only when it disappeared when we went to the mountains. And I don't like bears (we met a mama and cub on our hike at Toba Inlet last summer), but I don't want my fears to paralyze me from living.
    Good for you for tackling that challenging hike. I can identify with the "don't cajole me" feelings as well as the "I'm actually accomplishing this" ones. And what a view!

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    1. Thanks for leaping, Lorrie, it's good to have company from someone else who tries to move through fear. I remember a few posts of yours (accompanied by magnificent photos) that took on this same issue, although from a slightly different perspective (perhaps when you were hiking in the Rockies?)

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  13. When you do something you thought you couldn't do it is natural to feel proud, satisfied and - I think - free in a way: a limitation cast off and left behind you. But the challenges do no have to be physical ones: speaking in front of 100 strange people, spending an entire weekend by yourself in a lonely house, saying No to your boss... for each one of us they may be different. And the need to try must come from within, nobody can tell you that "you have to overcome your fears" etc. (Although some cajoling can be very helpful, indeed.) Rising to a challenge always deserves applause, so hurrah to you for doing That Trail!

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    1. Exactly, Eleonore, there are so many ways to stretch ourselves beyond what we assume to be our natural limitations, and so many motivations. Thanks for the applause -- I did feel pretty satisfied with getting myself to the top

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  14. Like everyone , I'd love to be able to do the whole Badass thing . But the best I can ever hope for is a sort of little flea-bitten mutt's yappy determination . Doesn't stop me swaggering , though .

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    1. Oh, there's something so very appealing about a swaggering little yappy mutt ;-) Go for it!

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  15. "Sometimes the sweet encouragement felt like a silencing of my fears, a denial, a bullying me up the mountain, even"

    How much I miss that, and how perfectly you have captured it in that sentence. For that gem I thank you and I may well use it somewhere if you do not mind.

    This post resonates on many levels, and I am not sure I can add anything to the comments here. But it is good to challenge ourselves, and I have occasionally done so. Some challenges were physical and lonely -- a solo bike ride across New England in my 20's including racing down a steep hill with cliffs on either side and no shoulders, terrified that I would either lose control of my bike at high speed or be run over by a speeding car, and even the decision to keep my husband at home even though I could have made other choices. Each time, what I learned far outweighed my fears. I object to the term badass because I object to dual thinking, and the entire badass/princess debate reminds me of the virgin/whore mentality I grew up with in the American South in the 1970s. Aside from that it glorifies but one tiny aspect of the complex beauty of who we are as human creatures.

    But that is rather abstract. Celebrate overcoming fears. And congratulations on that climb. What constantly amazes me is that we are all really such complex, and wonderful beings, all of us, but we can only seem to become our best selves through interaction with others. And so, I will say that equal congratulations to growing into that simultaneous tension and harmony that builds relationship, one that allows you both to complement each other and grow.

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    1. When you say you miss this, are you speaking of G, Mardel? Because I think/thought of that, as well, of how much my getting up that mountain depends, at the moment at least (and has depended throughout my adult life), on the supportive presence of my husband and how quickly that could change. . .
      I think, at some level, part of what I might be objecting to in the way this term gets used -- and I know this is foolish of me, reveals my teenage vulnerabilities, is goofily revealing of a wistfulness, a wishfulness -- is that it doesn't seem to capture the qualities and the life experiences wrapped up in bodies and faces and grey hair and more constrained or genteel behaviour -- like ours, if I may dare say so. Having been cast in a certain role throughout grade school to move past that quite happily, even triumphantly, in adulthood, I'm a bit cranky at being plunked on the margins again. And part of the crankiness is at myself for letting others define the playing field, the sidelines, the margins.
      But then I read your comment, and my crankiness is replaced by a momentary exultation that we're sharing these stories that unveil our complexities -- We're so much more than either/or, and I am adding that glorious image of you hurtling down the New England hill alongside all the images of knitting and sewing and gardening and grieving and uprooting and decorating and traveling and caregiving and reading Mardel. . .And I'm very pleased that you find that sentence useful. xo

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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