Struggle As Joy

Life is struggle. There is no doubt about that.

For the past year and a half, for the past decade, my struggle has been the struggle of my parents.  It was, of course, a struggle to the death.

They both had a different approach.  For my mother, loss was intolerable, so life needed to be constrained.   I tried to get her to see that life held rewards.  For my father, loss was inevitable, so life needed to be embraced.  “Why don’t you speak for you?” he repeatedly asked me from his deathbed.

The challenge for me is how much resource I have left in me for the struggle.

The game of life is hard to play, I’m gonna lose it anyway.”   When you feel shredded of mind, body and ego, where do you bet the little you have left?

“I love it every time someone tells me ‘No,'” a salesman once told me.  “I get a ‘Yes’ maybe once out of every ten times I ask, so every ‘No’ gets me one step closer to a ‘Yes!'”  My salesman friend wasn’t wrong.  You have to be able to take the knocks to get to success, have to be able to get past no to get to ‘Yes.’

For me, my trans expression is about tenderness, about openness, about vulnerability.  It’s about being femme. If I just wanted to bull through being a transwoman, as I have seen in others, I would have transitioned fifteen years ago.

I told all this to bereavement counsellor, about how much I carry, about how safe I end up playing, limiting my exposure, limiting my risk, limiting my expense, yes, but also limiting my possibilities.

There is sunshine out there, she reminds me, and we all need it.  How can you be in the right place at the right time, if you are nowhere at all?

My brother contacted me for the first time since we were in the room where my mother’s body was still warm to have me edit his resume.  There was a job he wanted, but he didn’t have the qualifications, so I had to work hard, struggle to get him to see it wasn’t for him, no matter how much he desired it.  “You can’t be all things to all people,” I told him.

“You can’t be all things to all people.”  As so often, when I give advice I need to listen closely, because it is a message I also need to hear.  TBB thinks it is amusing that she gives me advice she values because I gave it to her and she found it useful, but as C.S. Lewis said, what is a friend but someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget the words?

I left that appointment a little more empowered.  I stopped at TJ Maxx and for the first time in a year I found something to use my gift card on, a pretty taupe cardigan with tiny sequins, holiday bling marked down from $30 to $10.   It is a hopeful purchase, one that I have no place to wear now, but maybe, someday, there will be a perfect occasion to wear something so beautiful.

And I stretched to the store that had the clearance J. Jill dresses.  I had bought one shirt at $9 down from $15, and I wanted one more, but when I got there, the big warehouse sale was on and they were marked down from $15 and $20 to $4 and $6.  I bought an armful.

I took the risk on that sunshine day and found a reward, strong enough I even went to buy the five pound bags of russet potatoes for a buck.

It’s not special to show my nature, just natural.  Waiting for considered occasions doesn’t allow life to happen.

It is possible, I guess, for struggle not to be just struggle, but for struggle to be joy.  The joy of trying, the joy of learning, the joy of succeeding, the joy of getting one more “No” that gets you one step closer to yes.

As my friends on What Not To Wear remind me, showing your beauty in the world shouldn’t just be a sometimes thing.  Shining is always good, good for you and good for the world.  After all, shouldn’t you let people have a chance to love you?

I heard an affirmation in my head:

It’s not dressing like you want that is special. That’s just clothes.

No, Cali, it’s you that is special. Dressing with your heart just lets other people see that.

I want them to see that. I want them to see you and how beautiful you are, because In have seen you and I know you are wonderful.

It’s really easy just to slip into your old armour, the jeans and polo and fleece and walk in the world. You can grind out your chores that way, sure. And it was really useful when you just had to grind out taking care of your parents.

But, honey, it’s not a big special occasion when you just put on a dress and some tights and a little makeup and walk in the world. That’s not just something to be saved for special occasions, whatever they may be. No, it’s just you walking in the world with pride and grace, like any other woman who takes a bit of care with her appearance.

It’s not your clothes that are special. It’s you that is special.

Just go put on something nice and get out there to do whatever.

Show yourself, just because you are you and it is today.

That’s enough, gorgeous. Nail varnish isn’t just for galas, it’s for everyday. It’s for every you.

Put on your everyday gold or silver and walk in the world with your heels tapping on the floor.

You are special. That’s enough, enough reason to show your beautiful choices.

And people, some people, enough people, will see your beauty.

Like I do.

It’s today. Let your beauty shine. Trust in your beauty. Beauty is a good choice, anytime.

Or at least it is for you, beautiful.

Everyday, pretty.  Everyday, Cali.

The gifts of your heart are gifts of beauty, and your mother in the sky asks that you show them.


Struggle is hard  Life is struggle.

But struggle is not just the path to pain, it is also the path to joy.

You can’t be everything to everyone, no.

But you can be in the right place at the right time, if you put yourself out there.

If I can take the pain.

The Journey

Making a pilgrimage is really important because it represents the journey of your life. The meaning is to leave everybody behind and set out on your own, to face difficulties in order to get closer to God. You become purified because you experience this journey alone.  The place that you don’t know is the place where you can find yourself.

Brother Daniele, Novalesa Abbey, BBC Italy Unpacked, Episode 3, 2013

How can you find out who you are and change to be more in harmony with God when you are always surrounded by people who think they know who you are?

Then again, I see What Not To Wear as a pilgrimage, where people go to see themselves through new eyes and transform themselves so their external appearance is more harmonious with their inner truth.