Blessed Change

What does it mean to turn our lives upside down?
How might looking at the world differently inspire new perspectives?
What new perspectives are needed to enact more equitable relations?

This card from Doreen Virtue’s “Magical Mermaids and Dolphins” oracle deck says “Blessed Change” in large letters at the top. An image appears below these letters and in the card’s center showing a mermaid floating upside down among seaweed, coral, and shells. At the card’s bottom appears the message: “A major life change brings you great blessings.”

In recent weeks, I’ve been pulling this “Blessed Change” card whenever using Doreen Virtue’s “Marginal Mermaids and Dolphins” oracle deck as part of everyday divination, a meditation practice for grounding and interpreting lived experience. I started pulling divination or oracle cards seven years ago, when I began learning Reiki. I chose this deck because of its blue color scheme (water colors and themes), which connects to my love of swimming, Epsom salt baths, and, more generally, immersing my body in water.

As a practice, the use of oracle cards helps me see patterns and seek guidance, slowing down to notice and reflect when I’d otherwise move too quickly through the day. I don’t pull cards for fortune- or future-telling, but instead as a sort of meditation on life. An openness to listening to what I might be blocking. A willingness to open my heart to divine guidance. A reminder to expect miracles in everyday life.

Over time, I’ve become frustrated with this deck’s mythical-norm representations of people (gender, race, size, and more) and its reliance of Christian symbolism (another part of what Audre Lorde so aptly named the “mythical norm”). At the same time, this deck has taught me a lot about trusting wisdom when it comes in unexpected ways. It continues to teach me about sifting through complicated emotions, imperfect situations, and kernels of truth.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that I’ve been pulling this card regularly in recent weeks, as I’m deeply inside the chrysalis, or experiencing mess, mess, and more mess. In many ways, I feel that my life is upside down, up for review. Nothing is too small to question. Everything deserves consideration:

While asking these questions, I’ve had several conversations reminding me that I’m not alone in feeling upside down at this moment. I’m not alone in wanting a different way to live that honors life and builds justice rather than seeing some beings as valuable and others as expendable. I’m not alone in grieving and desiring deep change. And I’m not alone in struggling to see this moment of possible change as a “blessing.”

So, in the midst of grief and anger and fear and trauma, here are some questions this oracle card raises for me, as I seek “blessed change”:

  • How might the pain (vast injustice) of this moment be prompting changes that too many of us might be too comfortable to confront otherwise?
  • What does this moment (I write during the Kavanaugh hearing and #WhyIDidntReport) have to teach me about what needs to change, personally and collectively?
  • What changes might I prioritize today? Tomorrow? Going forward?
  • What changes bring me closer to everyday living—falling down, turning upside down, and still striving again and again—for justice?

Postscript:
One thing I know from years of practicing yoga is that literally getting upside down (inverting the body or getting the feet above the head) does wonders. Legs-up-the-wall pose is both calming and stimulating, both quieting and energizing. It’s both deeply embodied and deeply contemplative. What I realize when thinking about being upside down is that changes, similarly, are full of both/and qualities. Perhaps it’s the recognition of both/and that will help move us toward blessed change.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” “Inside the Chrysalis, or Experiencing Mess, Mess, and More Mess,” and “Today Healing Looks Like …” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Inside the Chrysalis, or Experiencing Mess, Mess, and More Mess

It’s not uncommon for me to ride emotional roller-coasters with swings from sweet to sour as I go about my days. More and more, I’ve noticed these swings as I’ve tuned in with my emotions and embodied self through Reiki, yoga, and other contemplative practices. The more I do inner work and the more I embrace mess, the more the messiness of being an always-incomplete, imperfect human inevitability shows up.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, the past few weeks have felt messier than I’d like to admit. I’ve had a piece of a broken ceramic bowl in my foot, a mostly mild but sometimes excruciatingly painful attention-getter. My podiatrist tells me to be patient and let my body release the piece naturally. Yet, I’m impatient and complaining about this regular reminder that I’ve got broken pieces within myself to heal and release before moving forward.

What I’m realizing, as I work the healing process that requires patience with pain, is that I’m in the midst of chrysalis, or the gruesome transformation caterpillars undergo to become butterflies.

In the past year, as I’ve announced career changes, moved cross-country, and continue to reflect on and refashion my identity, I’ve been seeing many caterpillars and butterflies and excited to think of myself as “in transformation.” Now that I’m fully in itin the midst of big changes—I’m remembering that caterpillars essentially digest themselves, dissolving their past bodies while creating new ones. They transform into another being that moves so differently, eats so differently, and experiences life so differently that they aren’t recognized as the same being. How much disintegration, discomfort, and dis-ease must be involved in that transformation?

Screenshot of astrologer Chani Nicholas’s Instagram post reading: “Butterflies are horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis. If we focus on the gruesome stages of our growth we’ll never find our wings.”
I have my friend Briana to thank for first alerting me to the gruesome chrysalis process when I was recovering from a concussion earlier this year. More recently, astrologer Chani Nicholas posted about how butterflies are “horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis”—just the reminder I need to be patient with myself.

So, what does chrysalis (this time of mess, mess, and more mess) look like for me?

More days that I’d like to admit …

  • I’m spending many hours in one place, curled on the couch.
  • I’m eating irregularly.
  • I’m waking from vivid and sometimes-scary dreams.
  • I’m crying often and at unexpected times.
  • I’m all over the place, teeter-tottering as I walk, carefully balancing on my injured foot, and yet feeling completely off balance.
  • I’m creating art and climbing and falling and calling friends and seeing a counselor and writing, writing, writing—all toward processing big changes and even bigger legacies of personal, family, and social trauma and wrongdoing and lingering hurts.

I don’t know yet who I’ll be when I emerge from the messy and often-painful chrysalis, but here are two embodied experiences from inside it:

Experience #1: On a day of bingeing sugar and TV, I find myself pulled into a documentary on hooking up via dating apps, which highlights rape culture, sexual violence, and the ways in which systemic racism and intersectional oppression manifest in technological innovation and intimate relations alike. It’s not until a headache gets me to turn off the TV that I recognize that my body is incredibly tense. I’m physically holding onto, remembering, and witnessing anew this violence. I need to hold myself, quiet my mind, and notice my body’s wisdom before I can process my own experiences and reactions to what’s surely shared (collective) tension.

Because I can’t look at another screen when my head is pounding, I walk around the block and meet a postal worker who acts with such gentle kindness that I find myself crying. In the exchange of mailing a package, I feel energetically how the person before me holds hope and good will in the words, “Have a bless day.” I’m lifted by human connection, and I’m blabbering about the beauty of this brief loving interaction, as I’m still releasing through tears the heartache of how much we, as humans, hurt one another.

Experience #2: I find myself fidgeting and biting my cuticles as I struggle to find words to write about complicity within systemic violence. I’m remembering several recently painful interactions in which I see myself contributing to harm (scenes for another blog post), and I’m turning that harm inward while writing. It’s not until I draw blood that I realize that I’m literally making myself bleed from my fingers—the instruments of writing expression.

Again, my body offers such a clear message about the relationship between personal (internal, self) and collective (systemic, shared) harm. My counselor uses language that’s familiar to me after years of writing about the relationship between the micro and macro. She tells me that processing my own lived experiences involves looking at broader family and community dynamics as well as social-cultural-historical conditioning.

What this means is that binge-eating sugar and binge-watching TV, as two examples, aren’t only about my actions. These “bingeing” experiences are also about cultural scripts that make “sweets” and “favorite TV shows” soothing salves for a harsh world. Sweets and shows stand in for or serve as reminders of good memories, loving relationships, special occasions, self-care, and much more. Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix start next episodes before previous ones have finished. The examples go on and on, pointing to the need for personal healing in the context of larger collective healing. For changing personal habits in the context of changing current conditions and cultural scripts.

Within the chrysalis—when experiencing headaches and bleeding fingers—I am lifted by human connection and the possibilities for personal, ancestral, and collective healing. And being lifted, inspired, and guided matters.

Grounding matters, too, which is why I suspect my foot has manifested the consistent, not-easily-forgotten reminder to keep releasing broken pieces. Pieces internalized and unseen. Pieces under the surface and buried deep. Pieces asking to be released if I’m to be transformed.

I suspect I’m not alone in facing the gruesome reality of the chrysalis, as there’s so much work to be done in reckoning with broken-and-brutal injustice and envisioning a more just world. May I brave the chrysalis, readying myself for this work. May we brave the chrysalis together, readying ourselves for transformations to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Welcoming Winter by Looking Within,” “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” and “Today Healing Looks Like …” and Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Announcing “Outside Higher Ed” in Inside Higher Ed

Today the first of four articles about my experience leaving academia appeared in Inside Higher Ed.

This hyperlinked screenshot shows the article (black text against a white background) as it appears in Inside Higher Ed.

As a series of articles, “Outside Higher Ed” seeks to identify processes that can be used by academics questioning whether and/or when to leave academia. Over the next four months, I hope to share my chronological process of leaving a tenure-track position, walking through four stages:
(1) origin—recognizing the seed or origin of the idea to leave,
(2) discernment—engaging in careful consideration and career discernment,
(3) planning—preparing when and how to leave, and
(4) announcement—experiencing the exit and others’ reactions to it.

This series has come about, in part, as a way for me to process my experience of changing careers. It has come about, too, as I’ve received requests to share more of my experience, decision-making process, and career advice. Additionally, it’s come about as a response to academic “quit lit,” which I read when making my decision and found both helpful and incomplete.

Typically, stories about leaving higher education share insights into the conditions that push people away from this work, but rarely do they share the pulls or “strong YES” leading to something else. Rarely do they share the processes or practices used to make big career changes or pull back the curtain into the nuts-and-bolts of planning how to leave.

This first piece in “Outside Higher Ed” is the most like the “quit lit” I’ve read, as I share the origins of my story, or seeds underlying my career move. These seeds speak to privileges (race, class, and other positionalities) that make available for me a range of career possibilities. They also speak to my conditioning as a young girl to pursue teaching instead of writing—conditioning that I continue to reckon with and push back on, inspiring new versions of myself called to speak-write-act in this time of urgency.

While sharing my own experience, I hope to situate it within patterns across many “quit lit” stories, pointing to what we can change, whether positioned inside or outside higher education: toward pursuing justice, humanizing education, countering educational trauma, shaking up/off schooling, and valuing the contributions of everyone (all humans) as learners-and-teachers together.

I invite you to join me in following this series if you’re considering career moves or responsible for mentoring others; if you’re situated in higher education or processing past educational experiences; if you’re undergoing identity shifts or aspiring to a new self; if you’re interested in making change or considering how others do so.

And I welcome feedback and shared storytelling, as I continue to make sense of my own experience and chart new directions from here.


With a lot of gratitude, this post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Going Public as an Educator,” “In the Midst of Big Changes,” or “Listening for/to the ‘Strong YES.’” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Do It Scared

“Do it scared.”

I have Docta E (Dr. Elaine Richardson) to thank for this mantra that I keep close at hand.

A couple of years ago, Docta E talked with my “Writing for Social Justice” class about her book PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life, and students asked Docta E to share advice for writers. Similar to the advice Luvvie Ajayi shares in the TED talk “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable,” Docta E talked about pushing through fear and showing up for the work anyway. In the simplest terms: “Do it scared.”

I hold this advice close because I’m so often scared, and recently I’ve been looking deeper into fears and noticing how much they influence (and limit) my life.

One example involves a recent hike in which I had an amazing experience walking on my own through twilight into dark. I strolled more than hiked, paying attention to my breath, senses, and the scenes around me.

I noticed, for example, how sound changes along the trail, especially when walking next to bushes alive with insects and crossing from one side of the mountain to the other. I could feel the ground—packed dirt, flat stones, and jagged rocks—and how each traveled up my body: from feet to ankles to knees to hips to my back. I experienced day turn to night—witnessing not only the sunset but also the twilight and darkening of night. My eyes adjusted, my perceptions changed, and the moon became more and more pronounced.

Truly, I love being outdoors at night and in the wilderness on my own, but I so rarely allow myself either experience because fears are driving more than back-seat riding. For a number of reasons, this evening was different.

To begin, I’d already thrown caution to the wind: riding across Phoenix to get to the trailhead during rush hour traffic. On a typical day, I’d give up hiking to avoid a car ride. Perhaps being out of my routine helped me open to what I too-often restrict.

The conditions also helped me feel secure. Though hiking in 105-degree heat, the trail was crowded with hikers every few feet, so I felt sure that rattlesnakes would stay far away. I had companions on the trail—people I knew were walking slower and faster than me, making me feel that I wasn’t out “on my own.” I had water and a cell phone, too. Sturdy boots and a hat helped me feel prepared.

As I strolled, I witnessed the beauty of the moment, wanting to soak it all in and linger in the possibilities. I found myself thinking about fear and its partner, trust. What if I trust not only snakes but also myself? What if I trust my feet to be sure-footed? What if I trust that I’m prepared to speak, write, and stand UP when action is needed? What if I trust that I’ll learn and recover from the riskiness, hurts, and whatever else fear is warning me about?

These “what ifs” remind me that building trust involves practice: doing what scares me even when it scares me. Especially when it scares me.

To open my heart and trust more boldly and bravely, I’ll need to do it scared. In this time of vast injustice and needed resistance, Docta E’s advice is what I need to hear and to say to myself time and time again.

“Do it scared.”

 
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice,” “Choosing to Tread Another Path,” and “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Against the Tyranny of Positivity

On this day of the lunar eclipse in Aquarius, may we allow ourselves to feel.

To feel whatever comes up.
To feel deeply, expansively, expressively.
To feel a fuller range of emotions than we’re typically taught is appropriate or agreeable or allowable to feel.

To grieve for Nia Wilson, for Markeis McGlockton, and for many people whose lives are deemed expendable.
To rage against white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression.
To push past easy, ready, and first emotions.
To resist “the tyranny of positivity” that limits the ability to name violence, wrongdoing, and injustice.

The question

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what psychologist Susan David calls “the tyranny of positivity,” or the over-valuing of positive emotions to the point of blocking the ability to feel sadness, anger, fear, regret, guilt, and other “negative” emotions. These emotions are needed to reckon with—to remember, resist, redress, reconcile—harms done in the world. Harms done to and also by us.

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity” when a colleague expressed concern about me writing on the trauma of graduate education, cautioning me against being “too negative” and suggesting that “writing needs to stay positive to attract readers.”

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity,” too, when responses to my writing on trauma included statements like these:

  • “Career counselors are some of the most positive people you’ll meet.”
  • “If you look for the good in graduate education, then you won’t feel the bad so much.”
  • “It’s better to invest in building one’s career than to linger over the challenges.”
  • “You did a great job with that piece: you kept it positive.”

Certainly I understand the power of “positive thinking” for leveraging potential, and I believe that a focus entirely on the wrong (the critique against) interrupts our ability to envision more just futures (the critique for). I even wrote “When Everything Is Horrible, Try Slowing Down and Noticing”—a piece about noticing beauty in rough conditions—in the same week as writing about trauma. So, truly, I’m trying to learn and live out a both/and approach that invites attention to pain and pleasure.

Yet, what I see happening here and through broader social expectations for positive emotion is a sort of spiritual bypassing tied to white supremacy. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and other interlocking forms of oppression need denial to operate. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression rely on the policing of emotion, the forgetting of and failure to address deep harms that nevertheless live in the body.

Moreover, policing and blocking of emotions limit healing, creative response, and humanity.

Policing and blocking of emotions contribute to the epistemic injustice of being told you don’t even know what you know, and you don’t even feel what you feel, and you don’t even have the right to know and feel what you truly know and feel. And it’s epistemic injustice that undergirds trauma in graduate education and in so many facets of life.

In contrast, it takes the strength of working with trauma, sitting with vulnerability, and feeling what comes up to counter the tyranny of positivity. It takes love, and it takes anger. It takes a much fuller spectrum of emotions that those deemed “respectable” or “civil.”

So, today, when the astrology is inviting us to break down and break through (as eclipses invite “shadow work”), may we allow ourselves to feel.

  • What emotional work is waiting to be done?
  • When and how are denial functioning?
  • What emotions are asking to be acknowledged and named?
  • How can being truer about our emotions allow us to be truer about harms—those done to us and by us?
  • What emotional realness is needed for the long haul toward justice?
  • How do we break from the tyranny of positivity?


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice,” and “Naming Trauma as Trauma.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach

In the past few days, I’ve seen countless posts detailing “the horrors of this administration,” the latest of which include separating families and imprisoning immigrants. I’ve seen friends describing their embodied physical and emotional pain, including pain from complicity and always too-small actions. I’ve seen friends accounting their own family stories of separation, as the history of state-sponsored violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) is long and unrelenting. I’ve seen trauma and responses via trauma-informed care. I’ve also seen requests for folks to share how they’re showing up, standing TALL, and caring for themselves and their communities at this time.

As I engage in interactions around these posts and similarly experience rage and heartache, I find grounding, inspiration, and re-orientation in what I’ve learned from feminists and womanists of color: that we need not only active resistance but also sustained investment in envisioning and building more just communities. We need both critique against injustice and critique for justice. We need a both/and approach to thinking, organizing, and relating with each other.

At this time, I feel it’s important to emphasize that both/and matters because it’s too easy to fall into the trap of either/or. It’s too easy to focus on a single action or single problem and let it consume all of our energy. It’s too easy to prioritize self-care over other responsibilities or, alternatively, to prioritize others at one’s own expense.

Photo from a crowded protest with a poster in the center reading: "Human Rights are Women's Rights are LGBTQ+ Rights are Native Rights are Black Rights are Latinx Rights are Immigrant Rights are Refugee Rights are Muslim Rights are All Religion Rights are Homeless Rights are Disability Rights are Survivor Rights are Veteran Rights are Elder Rights are Child Rights are Student Rights are American Rights." The poster includes blue and red letters against a white background. Photo credit to Lauren Fitzgerald.
Photo credit and thanks to Lauren Fitzgerald.

Let me explain further through two examples.

Example #1: Toward Dismantling Dehumanizing Systems

Yes, it’s important to make donations and call representatives and learn more and post/tweet/share widely. And it’s not enough to stop there.

The problems are much, much bigger than this moment, than this instantiation of violence.

What more can each of us to do invest in emotional literacies, resilience, and long-term staying power? What more do we each need to learn about transformative justice and alternative ways of organizing ourselves as people? What visioning can get us out of the ongoing violence associated with the nation-state? How we can learn “to survive the apocalypse with grace, rigor, and curiosity” (in the words of Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown in their podcast How to Survive the End of the World)?

Questions such as these call our attention to the need for both small, immediate actions and large-scale, long-term change. We need both direct, imperfect response and expansive, imaginative visioning. Let us not settle for the first without commitment to the second. We must not ignore the immediate nor the long-term.

Example #2: Toward Recognizing Relational Responsibilities

Yes, it’s important to empathize with families torn apart by naming this wrong as wrong. And it’s not enough to see only the most explicit manifestations of violence. 

One of the many lies of living in oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism) is that our imagined families include only those who share blood or those within close physical proximity. This lie allows for separation and division of people. It plays into scarcity logic, which goes like this: there are a limited number of resources, so I better get mine and make sure my people have all they need. So long as my people are protected and provided for, I am safe and good.

This lie undercuts our humanity, and it also mobilizes the conditions that allow for people to be separated and imprisoned.

To repair the larger damage of separation (related to individualism and social stratification), we need to learn again from feminists and womanists of color who study, name, and teach relational literacies. To see ourselves as truly in relation with—as family to all humans—we need to expand our circle of relations. Such work can begin by studying “abuelit@ wisdoms” (Licona and Chávez), “kinship” (e.g., Collins; Richardson), and the Indigenous values of relationality and “all my relations” (e.g., Powell; Riley-Mukavetz). Such work involves seeing one’s “family” (or familial circles) as expanding outward to include more and more relatives.

What work is needed to shift worldviews toward communal kinship and relational responsibilities? What needs to change in order to see ourselves as responsible not just to immediate family groups but to all humans and beings? Are we ready to let go of national and other dividing lines?

Again, these questions call our attention to the both/and. We need both inward-oriented healing and outward-oriented building. We need both self-care and community care. We need to engage in the work of looking both backward (reckoning with the colonial past and present) and forward (imaginatively creating a relational future).

My hope in sharing these examples is that we might use this moment of mobilized political engagement to engage in bigger dreaming and scheming. To move beyond resistance fatigue, we’ll need to leverage both this moment and all the moments to come.

Recently, I shared with my Reiki teacher that I’ve been “burning up” with anger, and we reflected on the contrast of fire as warming versus fire as all-consuming. Instead of allowing the fire to rage out of control (and to burn down the house), how could I tend to my anger (my fire) as I would tend to a fireplace that provides light and warmth?

At least in part, the answer involves ongoing attention. Whereas an either/or approach alternates between a raging fire and burned-out embers, a both/and approach invites continued maintenance and planning: from preparing materials and adding wood to fanning the flame and keeping it alight. May we embrace the both/and approach and keep the fire burning—to brighten our path into the darkness that surrounds us and is still to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice,” “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Turning 39 and Thinking about Age(ism)

A few weeks ago, I turned 39.

The number 39 printed in blue within an orange circle against a gray background.

I get excited about birthdays, believing that age is cumulative, as “we’re all the ages we’ve ever been.” I think of new ages as adding experiences and insights while keeping all the previous ones: I’m still my toddler and teenage selves, and now I’m adding multiple adult selves into the mix. I joke that “I’m greedy and want all the ages” as a way to affirm and reclaim the joy of aging.

And I do see joy in aging—in experiencing more of life, in growing into different embodied identities—despite the prevailing cultural messages that denigrate the very young and old alike. With awareness of how ageism constructs and constrains ideas about aging, this year’s birthday felt significant for at least three reasons:

First, I’m not freezing myself at 39.

I remember being conditioned in childhood to see 39 as a benchmark, as the age when adult women “freeze” themselves in place. When asked their age, older women would respond, “39, of course!” Laughter and cautious reminders would ensue: “You know better than to ask a lady her age.”

Witnessing these interactions taught me a lot about the intersection of ageism and other -isms: women, particularly able-bodied, cisgender white women seeking class standing in the United States, didn’t want to be associated with older age. Thirty-nine (and later I’d hear 29) was the last desirable age.

As a young girl who already understood how adultism made me seen as less-than, I took note of this form of gendered ageism. Before I had the language to describe myself as a feminist or to play the rebel, I’d made a promise not to freeze myself at any age. I looked forward to reaching 39 and all the ages to come.

Second, I’m reclaiming feminine strength expressed in 39 (a multiple of 13).

I grew up seeing the number 13 as unlucky until learning a few years ago that 13 has a long history of being associated with goddesses and the divine feminine. It’s not just that aging (moving through cyclical stages of maiden, mother, mage, and crone) has been interrupted and interpreted negatively (hence, women being frozen at 39). It’s also that whatever is considered “feminine” (from intuition to caretaking) takes on negative associations: in this case, 13 has literally become the basis of many superstitions and prophesies of bad luck.

What if 13 conveys good luck instead?

Luckily, 39 is a multiple of the number 13. As I count up by 13s (13, 26, 39), I recognize ages that have signaled important turning points for me and ages that feel powerful for reclaiming and integrating characteristics considered “feminine.” I’m particularly excited about 39 being a time to become more fully humannot limited by gendered expressions but able to reclaim what’s been cast off and to heal what’s been broken.

Third, I’m making choices that break from what’s “age appropriate.”

Throughout childhood, I also learned cultural scripts about what’s expected at what age. I questioned these scripts, especially when I realized as a pre-teen (around ages 11-12) that I didn’t want to have children. I had so few models for women pursuing lives of learning and activism that I looked to the few I saw on TV and thought briefly about becoming a nun.

Despite my recognition that normative age expectations do harm by reinforcing whiteness, heteronormativity, and other parts of “the mythical norm” (and thanks again to Audre Lorde for this language), I’ve still found myself internalizing scripts about what’s possible at particular ages. Like internalized sexism and white superiority, these scripts involve internalizing class superiority and then denying the privilege and power it carries. What if instead of denying my class privilege and the choices it allows (choices to follow or to break from what’s considered “age appropriate”), I locate my choices within the finding that “white families have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families”? What if I recognize privilege as possibility and, moreover, responsibility? What is I see power as not to be hoarded but to be yielded, wielded, spent, and transformed?

The more I work on releasing myself from age expectations (and expected timelines), the more I am called into action. Currently, as I enter 39, I’m making major career changes and a cross-country move, which involves downsizing to roughly the amount of “stuff” I had when entering college at age 18. It’s seemingly a move backward to move forward. A move that involves giving myself permission to “retire” from a career in academia. A move to pursue commitment-driven “passion projects” that I’ve been allowing to backslide for too long.

Realizing that I’ve been holding off on passion, I’m hoping to course correct mid-stream. I’m hoping that “retirement” at age 39 allows me to act on the enormous privilege to pursue my heart’s desires. It might not be age appropriate, but it sure feels age-igniting, inviting, and inspiring …

This year’s birthday (my 39th) has me asking a range of questions, which I hope might to speak to others whenever you’re experiencing age:

  • What if we think differently about age and aging?
  • How might we interrupt aging timelines and other age expectations?
  • How might better understandings of ageism mobilize understandings of other -isms (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, sizeism, nationalism, +++)?
  • What possibilities come with redefining ages and our associations with them?
  • How can we do more to interrupt ageism and its limitations on who we are allowed to be, what we are allowed to do, and how we are allowed to play?


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Reclaiming Childhood Power with Coloring Books,” “Wrestling with Whether to Wear Pantyhose,” “‘We’re All the Ages We’ve Ever Been.’” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!