My Heart Hurts on Election Day

Against a cream background reads navy blue text: “There are many, many things wrong with U.S. elections.” Under this text is a sticker with a white background; American flag (red, white, and blue); and the words: “I voted. Yo vote.”

Election day morning:
I join a line that snakes around my new polling place. Like others, I pull my raincoat tighter against the cold and damp morning air, as kids squirm, jump, and cry around us. After 40+ minutes and only few feet of movement, I step out of line, knowing that if I stay, I’ll miss a hard-to-reschedule doctor’s appointment. I feel frustrated, disappointed, and angry.

Election day evening:
I re-join the line and, again, wait outdoors in the rain. This line is shorter, but, again, slow-moving. After 20 minutes or so, I make it indoors, where I face repeated requests to “squeeze tighter” and “get to know your neighbor.” Election workers explain that the lines have stretched outdoors all day, but only those people indoors by 8pm will be allowed to vote. The polling place is clearly beyond capacity. The conditions are clearly inhospitable. The workers are clearly doing their best, but the system isn’t designed to accommodate high turnouts, much less full voting of an engaged citizenry.

Throughout the day, I tune into my anger—an anger that simmers daily but burns brightly with each election experience. There’s long-rooted and widespread injustice written into U.S. governance, and election days highlight this unreconciled and ongoing wrongdoing.

To scratch the surface, here’s some of what’s wrong, wrong, wrong:

  1. We witness year after year all sorts of voter suppression: from outright obstruction of voting to long lines and limited voting places and hours. People can be dropped from voting registration rosters and can be turned away from polling places. People previously incarcerated are blocked from voting. And voter suppression particularly targets communities of color.
  2. We have active “taxation without representation” (the slogan on DC license plates) impacting many citizens—from those of us living in the District of Columbia to folks in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. DC, for example, has a population larger than several small states. Those states each have two senators, while we have none. Again, this disenfranchisement noticeably impacts folks of color.
  3. Our vision of “democracy” is particularly limiting when framed through representation and voting rather than active participation and shared leadership. Too often discourses that focus on elections pull attention away from questioning how we might better relate, participate, and organize ourselves as collectives.
  4. Systems like the electoral college, partisan gerrymandering, and “corporate personhood” show explicitly just how rigged and unfair U.S. elections are. Instead of designing systems to represent the people, power is concentrated in the hands of the already-powerful. And when systems concentrate power, they entrench the mechanisms that deny people personhood. More simply, elections illustrate how black, brown, and indigenous lives matter less under current governing structures.

The list goes on and on, reminding me that the system isn’t broken but functioning as it’s intended with white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and elitism at the core. The system is rooted in keeping power in power’s hands. It keeps us invested in where we are instead of envisioning where we could (should) be.

In the days leading up to this year’s U.S. general election, I took inspiration from “Elections in End Times,” an episode of the Brown sisters’ podcast How to Survive the End of the World. Featuring interviews with Three Point StrategiesJessica Byrd and Kayla Reed, electoral work is situated within larger organizing and movement work.

I so appreciate this work that adrienne maree brown, Autumn Brown, Jessica Byrd, Kayla Reed, and other black women and women of color are doing to hold visions and name what needs to break and be built. They remind me that voting is often, at best, harm reduction—about blocking as much as building. Both are needed.

As long as we in the United States are organized within this governing system, I’ll vote. And vote for and with black women, indigenous women, and women of color. And notice how and why my heart hurts on election day, so that I might witness and counter the many, many wrongs.

For election days to be days for truth-telling, I must start by feeling the HURT and speaking the wrongs aloud. With love. Toward justice. On election day and as everyday practice.


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

Hurting and Hollering in the Wake of This Week’s Violence

Bombs sent, guns shot.
And I cry.

Histories hidden, truths buried.
And I ache.

Hateful laws, escalating harms.
And I mourn.

White terrorism, everyday violence.
And I rage.

Black folks targeted.
Jewish folks targeted.
Native folks targeted.
Latinx folks targeted.
Migrant folks targeted.
Trans folks targeted.
Femme folks targeted.
Marginalized folks targeted.

Targeted, passive voice.
Failing to name the assailants.
Failing to name white supremacist, heteronormative, colonialist patriarchy.
And I cringe.

I ask again and again:

  • Where, when, and how am I complicit?
  • Where, when, and how am I called to act?
  • Do I act on these callings? Do I block them? Where, when, how, and why?
  • How am I hurting myself? How am I hurting others?
  • How do I break from these habits?
  • How do I intervene differently? Speak up? Act out?
  • How do I fall short?
  • How do I pick myself up and try, try again?

Failing and trying,
failing and trying again,
failing and trying again and again,
I write.
sign.
discuss.
walk.
eat.
breathe.
bathe.
read.
envision.
create.
unlearn.
relearn.

I continue to sob, to shake, to storm, to strive, and to seek justice.

And I share these questions in hopes that they may be helpful to others, especially white folks, christian folks, men folks, folks for whom disengagement is an option, at this time.

Because …

“If we’re not alarmed now, then when?”

If we’re not engaged now, then when?

If we’re not enraged now, then … truly … when?

Black text against a pink background, reading: "If we’re not alarmed now, then when? If we’re not engaged now, then when? If we’re not enraged now, then … truly … when?"


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville,” “Holding Space and Being Present: Two Resolutions Following the Las Vegas Shooting,” and “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Beyond Self-Care: How Hiking Invites Self-Work

Time outdoors and along hiking trails is especially important time to me. As I’ve written previously, it’s time to consider the steps involved in making change, including learning to tread alternative paths. It’s time to slow down, notice beauty, and appreciate life, even in the roughest of conditions. It’s also time to do important intrapersonal work toward disrupting biases and internalized inferiority + superiority.

It’s possible to consider activities like hiking purely as self-care. And refueling is important.

More than self-care, however, hiking—and perhaps any meaningful time outdoors, with the self—invites contemplation, which is so greatly needed for more mindful communication, for more emotional resilience, and for more equitable relations. Slowing down to reflect on ourselves, our responsibilities, and our response-abilities is needed regularly.

Photo taken near Sedona, Arizona, showing a green prickly pear cactus in the foreground, red soil and rock, a shrub in dark shadow, and mountain peaks and blue sky in the background.

As recent hiking experiences have reminded me, time outdoors invites contemplation and communion with the self, with other humans, with non-human animals, and with the natural world. It strengthens, for me, the commitment to ecofeminism and the need to intervene into brutally enacted hierarchies (represented as a pyramid pointing upward) that place god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth.

Though not typically articulated in explicit terms, hierarchical belief systems provide justification for so much oppression: not only sexism, ageism, and speciesism, but also racism and other -isms. Such hierarchies justify dehumanization and devaluation of the earth, as the lives and voices of powerful men (those ranked as closest to god) are expected to take priority. Hence, the “mythical norm” is reinforced in multiplying subtle, socialized, and systematized ways.

Triangular visualization of the hierarchy of oppression (motivation for ecofeminism) showing god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to learn from the natural world (along hiking trails) how all life is related, of value, and part of the whole. Though I’m small within the desert landscape, I still take up space, neither shrinking nor puffing up.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to see the historical-cultural-social construction of this and other oppressive hierarchies (e.g., hierarchies that rank people according to race, nationality, and other constructed identities). While I understand how I’m (expected to) function within such hierarchies, I can push back and create other understandings, much as I choose to walk differently.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to see myself as deeply embodied: not only experiencing life in my body but also having a body that carries historical meaning and present privileges. As an embodied woman (white, middle/upper-class, cisgender, adult, able-bodied, U.S.-born woman), I feel the anger flush through my body at sexism I experience and perpetuate. And at the related racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, nationalism, and other sorts of -isms I’m conditioned into, take into my body, inevitably perpetuate, and yet want so desperately to undo.

To put this more simply, hiking helps me dive deeply into systems of oppression that I’m striving to understand and intervene into. It helps me see myself not only as I self-identify, but also as I’m identified and constructed within the collective (within social hierarchies that do injustice to people, animals, and the earth). And it helps me linger over everyday interactions and actions, with time along trails to think and talk and turn over possibilities.

Coming off the trail, I am renewed in commitments to racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice. Contemplation and communion lead me back to these aspirations:

  • Unlearning what’s wrong, no matter how deeply socialized and internalized.
  • Affirming, holding up, sharing out, and amplifying work that helps with envisioning more just futures.
  • Studying and teaching histories that are largely suppressed, yet hanging over us as specters shaping life (e.g., histories of enslavement, genocide, colonization, and forced/blocked immigration in the United States).
  • Learning about, leveraging, and working to deconstruct my socially constructed whiteness (part of white supremacy) toward truer ways of showing up in the world.
  • Bringing joy in the midst of struggle (pure delight in the midst of physical pain) off the trail and into everyday living/striving for justice—holding onto and creating more intense love and possibility.
  • Making more explicit the connections between everyday actions—like eating, moving, and speaking—and structural hierarchies (systems of oppression and injustice) that limit that love and possibility.

As an everyday action, hiking invites intrapersonal self-work that’s so needed alongside interpersonal work-with-others and institutional work-within-institutions. To engage in intrapersonal work is not to turn away from other responsibilities and interventions needed in pursuing justice. It is to do this work more mindfully with attention to one’s own positionality and to what learning and unlearning are needed.

May I continue to engage in self-work through hiking and other means.
May this self-work allow me to show up more fully and fiercely for myself and others.
May I show up ready to work within families, communities, workplaces, and other spaces.


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 “Do It Scared.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

“Pedagogical Too-Muchness,” Or a Call for Shaking up Schooling

This year I turned 39, and it’s my first in which I won’t be returning to school. I’ve spent my life in academic settings—as a child and adult, as a student and teacher, as a researcher and writer. Many of my friends are teachers, too, so I understand how August brings both angst and anticipation for the upcoming school year.

Recently, I’ve been having conversations with friends about syllabi and course designs. I’ve been reading social media posts about the start of school. And I’ve received emails from several people asking me to share my experience teaching “Writing for Social Justice.”

The combination of these conversations, posts, and emails has reminded me of the importance of rethinking what we know and have typically experienced as education. So much of schooling needs to be shaken up/off, as traditional schooling perpetuates social inequities, damaging discourses, and injustice. What we’re typically conditioned into—conditioned to accept and expect from schooling—does harm by contributing to the status quo. (I’m thinking here of scholarship by bell hooks and Paulo Freire, in Rethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance, and in research journals like Feminist Teacher and Equity & Excellence, among many other sources.)

Given the recognized harms of schooling, August seems like the perfect time to question what we know about teaching and learning.

  • How might we intervene into and rewrite the scripts of schooling?
  • How might we rethink not only curriculum and content but also assignments, assessment, and activities that structure relations in and out school?
  • How might we change our approaches to education, even if/when those changes are considered “too much”?

I raise these questions and share my own attempts at trying to teach differently—perhaps “too much” differently—through a newly published chapter, “Pedagogical Too-Muchness: A Feminist Approach to Community-Based Learning, Multimodal Composition, Social Justice Education, and More.”

As part of the collection Composing Feminist Interventions: Activism, Engagement, Praxis edited by Kristine L. Blair and Lee Nickoson, this chapter describes my approach to “Writing for Social Justice” and situates feminist, critical education as “instead of” rather than “on top of” more traditional approaches.

Throughout the chapter, I share several guiding principles:

1. engage our full selves—not only our minds, but also our bodies, emotions, and spirits;

2. prioritize relations, or put the time and effort into building and sustaining meaningful (and often cross-status) connections among people and organizations;

3. understand power as related to (in)justice so that efforts against sexism and for gender-and-sexuality-justice are linked with other justice-oriented work, since identities and issues are intersectional and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere;

4. cultivate agency so that students and other actors see themselves as having the responsibility to act, as well as the questions and insights to ask who is responsible to act, when, where, why, and how (troubling savior and victim narratives);

5. seek interconnectedness among ways of seeing, thinking, doing, and being in the world so that we work toward coherence across spheres of activity and recognize that our work occurs within complex socio-cultural, historical, and rhetorical systems.
(pages 337-338)

I share this chapter and these principles as part of ongoing conversations about how to do education differently—toward making commitments to justice actionable. My hope is that the more we think of social justice education as the core or center of schooling, the more we shift away from schooling that leads educators to dismiss critical approaches as additional, extra, or “too much” to take on.

Truly, we all—students and teachers alike—need courses that are complex, critical, and transformative. We need educational practices that humanize people and develop relational responsibilities. We need concerted effort to disrupt the status quo, foster commitments to justice, and build agency beyond the classroom.

Though I won’t be returning to the classroom this fall, I’ll be reading, writing, and engaging as someone with much to shake up/off about my own educational history. May we share in this ongoing work and lifelong learning. May this new school year invite new ways of approaching education and learning to take action in this time of urgency.


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,” “What Is Justice?” and others posts on teaching. 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!