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When Nice Is a Dirty Word

When I was 6, my mother’s friend
showed me his genitals
and told me to show him mine
so I did

When I was 8, my step-grandfather
kissed me with a slimy tongue
and patted my bottom
as I walked up the stairs

When I was 22, my stepfather
showed me pornographic photographs
on his computer
and laughed


Three gratuitous men affirmed what I already knew: The container of my self—body, being, personhood—is not an inherent boundary to the wants of others. Unwittingly, I internalized and perpetuated this perversion. Maybe you did, too. After all, we’re supposed to be “nice.”

At 49, I’ve only recently begun to unravel the barbed rules of altruism wound tight around my psyche. These high-tensile wires are strong: The ultimate human goal is selflessness; to be evolved is to serve; to serve is to put one’s own needs aside in the face of others’. Mother Teresa didn’t run around satisfying her personal desires—nor did Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, or Pope John Paul II; nor does the Dalai Lama. If our paragons of virtue, service, righteousness, and love are largely free of self-gratification, surely the rest of us should strive for those ideals too, however imperfectly.

Dirty Words
My mother taught me the supremacy of selflessness. In our version, selflessness meant self-abnegation. By both example and maternal lecture, my mother instilled in me the lessons of her own family, her generation, and the culture we shared. Rudeness was a serious offense I had to avoid if I wanted to dwell in the safety of my mother’s warmth. “Rude” was a broad brush that liberally encompassed noncompliance, particularly when interacting with the outside world. A request from another person was inherently more legitimate than my feelings about that request.

I imprinted acquiescence. At 30, freshly divorced, I moved to a town with an outpatient behavioral health facility named Boundaries, its name embossed in gold italics on a tasteful wood sign. Each time I drove by this building I scratched my head. Boundaries? Wasn’t the point of therapy to dissolve one’s boundaries? To be more engaged, more available, less avoidant? I couldn’t understand why a therapy center would encourage separateness from the world.

This is how unformed, and uninformed, I still was. Slowly, with intention, I began to understand the meaning of boundaries and why a person with healthy boundaries is not fundamentally an asshole.

I knew I had questionable boundaries around physical intimacy. Some women have casual sex to satisfy their sex drive. They don’t feel used by a one-off or occasional encounter because they’re horny co-users. I am not one of those women. I’m envious of their physical empowerment. But I’ve never desired physical intimacy with someone I didn’t have good feelings about—and I need interpersonal context in order to know how I feel.

But here’s where my story falls apart. Because on too many occasions I’ve been intimate (attentionally, emotionally, physically) with people I don’t even like. I can’t understand it when it’s happening, and I can’t understand it afterward.

As a writer, I can be opportunistic in going with the flow simply for the experience and possible material; the story itself. But that’s not sufficient to explain why I gave myself to people I didn’t really like when I didn’t have to. I believe I could have freely and safely left any of those interactions. But I didn’t. If those people chipped away at my sense of self and personhood, I’d handed them the chisel and hammer.

Today, on the first anniversary of #metoo, I simmer in rage over Brett Kavanaugh. I rage that too few people in power care about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s demonstrably credible allegations. I rage because the man in the White House is a raving misogynist who exemplifies and celebrates rape culture, racism, xenophobia, violence, self-interest, and hatred. I rage because honesty, kindness, empathy, and love—core tenets of humanity—are not only ignored by the president and his supporters but mocked as weaknesses.

I rage because I have given myself away. And each time I did, I wordlessly said: “It’s okay for me to give you my [attention, time, person, body] even though I don’t feel good about doing so, because it’s a thing that you want, and I don’t know how to extract myself gracefully.” My inability to stand up for myself enabled the very paradigm I rail against. I buried my truth.

This rage is palpable inside my body. I don’t know what to do with it, but I need to do something. Tweeting at senators, making donations, joining protest marches, hanging signs in my windows—these things are important, but often feel ineffectual.

Mind the Gap
This rage is shared by many. Otherwise peaceful folk—both men and women—are bug-eyed, angry witnesses to the cultural moment. We don’t know how to get back to where we thought we were going. We’re driving with a shared GPS that at every turn blares “Recalculating!” and sends us back the other way. How do we navigate this nightmarish terrain?

In the way that all politics are said to be local, we need to start close to home. Perhaps this scenario is familiar: You’re working at your favorite café and an acquaintance stops to talk. You politely remove your earbuds and greet him warmly. He launches into a detailed exposition of his import business. This is not a topic that interests you. The minutes drag on and you try not to think about your work window ebbing away. Discomfort rises in your chest. At what point can you politely interrupt the monologue and get back to work? You can’t get a word in edgewise. With dismay, you realize that a full 20 minutes of your life have elapsed.

Don’t let this be you. Give the acquaintance a two-minute chat and then—you can smile when you interrupt, if it helps—tell him you need to get back to work. Don’t apologize. The discomfort you feel in exercising your boundaries is far less damaging than dishonoring yourself. When you don’t say no, you tacitly say yes. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a coffee shop or naked in bed. If you don’t feel comfortable, or if you don’t know how you feel, it’s time to excuse yourself. In practicing boundaries with consistency, we teach the world that we are not a buffet for the taking. In practicing our boundaries, we stand in support of sexual assault victims whose boundaries were run roughshod with a tractor. We stand with the girls, boys, women, and men who didn’t have the opportunity to say no, or whose nos were ignored. Exercise your boundaries for their sake, as well as your own.

Exercise your boundaries for Dr. Ford.

Stop giving yourself away in the name of courtesy. Stop giving yourself away in the name of conflict-aversion. Stop giving yourself away in the name of wanting someone to like you. Like yourself more.

Let us fit into the curve of a collective left hook as it lands hard against the jawbone of our societal dysfunction.

To disappoint no one is to be no one. Be you.


Sh*t’s Gettin Real


Come see me at Insta.


How She Does It: Swapna Dinesh


Swapna Dinesh is from the erstwhile royal town of Thripunithura in Kerala, India. She is a self-taught artist who designs and hand-crafts jewelry, sculpts with cold porcelain, and paints. Swapna was one of 300+ artists who contributed to the mixed-media installation “Into the Forest,” exhibited in November 2017 at the Spinning Plate Gallery in Pittsburg, PA. She has written articles for Creative Bead Chat Magazine and works as an art instructor. Swapna is also a mother and homemaker, avid bookworm, and loves to experiment in the kitchen. You might find her exploring museums and libraries; the older, the better. Enjoy!


SM: Please introduce yourself and your family.
SD: My name is Swapna Dinesh and I’m from Kerala, India. My husband and I have been married for 16 years and we have a sweet 11-year-old daughter. I have a master’s degree in international business but I quit my corporate career to embark on a creative journey after I had my daughter.

SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
SD: I am a self-taught sculptor of cold porcelain clay, and I design and create jewelry with beads, wires, and semi-precious stones. I have mostly made miniatures, beads, and floral elements which I incorporate into my jewelry. My website,, is where I put down my thought processes as well as the trials, errors, and triumphs of my creative endeavors. Indian folk art and those of other countries inspire me a lot. I have made jewelry based on Warli art, one stroke paintings, blue pottery, etc. I have also worked with several art mediums like charcoal, faux glass paints, watercolors, and acrylics. I’ve had the privilege of having my jewelry and articles written on Pietra Dura (seen in the Taj Mahal and the blue pottery of Jaipur) published by the USA-based Creative Bead Chat Magazine. I have been working as an art instructor for students ranging from ages 4-15 for more than two years, and I lead workshops in fabric painting, glass painting, and charcoal art.

SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
SD: My life’s work is about doing what I love the most, exploring new techniques and mediums, and hopefully inspiring at least a few people to step out from their comfort zones and explore their creative sides. For me, incorporating the motifs of various folk arts into my cold porcelain work is essential. The possibilities are huge and exciting. I would love to have my own studio space in order to conduct workshops and share what I have learned and to reciprocate the support and inspiration that I have received from so many special artists around the globe.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
SD: Creativity and motherhood are very similar; you have this perfect picture in your mind and you put in your best efforts to make it that way, but as you advance you realize that it has a life of its own! I have learned to take a step back, adjust my perspective, lavish love and attention, and hopefully, it turns out way better than originally envisioned! I find that motherhood has also helped me streamline my priorities, and better my time-management skills.


SM: Where do you do your creative work?
SD: I currently work in a compact room with a desk and storage space for my supplies. Despite its small size, it is private and gets good natural light.


SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
SD: Currently, it isn’t as easy for me to schedule set hours for my creative work, but I manage to steal a couple of hours each day to get to my space and work. While it is not easy to be creative whenever I’m available, I have trained myself to be productive in that time, even if it is just to organize my supplies or make a few handmade labels for packaging!

SM: What does creative success mean to you?
SD: To me, creative success is a two-part process; creating distinctive and original work and bringing life to my creative visions, and inspiring others in turn.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
SD: Raising my daughter in a way that allows her to become a person confident enough to follow her own dreams and goals makes me feel successful.


SM: What do you struggle with most?
SD: I have a difficult time convincing people that a creative career takes more effort and time than a conventional career. A home-based workspace means constantly dealing with outside demands on your time – that never happens when you are “at work” in the conventional sense. From the conception of an idea to giving it form and color, translating it into a piece that is original, taking pictures, posting it on social media, blogging about the process, following up on comments and queries, maybe pricing and selling, the mailing and follow-up… none of this can happen if there is no time to yourself to even derive inspiration and translate it into a workable idea! Not to mention the fact that being self-taught takes a lot of trial and error to get the necessary skills to turn creative ideas into reality.

SM: What inspires you?
SD: My biggest influences are the varied arts, especially the architecture and culture of Kerala and other states of India. I love exploring the folk arts of different countries, and of course the work of all the talented artists around the world.

SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
SD: I am not one to plan that far ahead, though I would love to have my own studio. I manage by taking it one day at a time and making sure that each step I take is a creative one!


SM: What are you reading right now?
SD: I just read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I am a JK Rowling fan and was wondering how I would like her writing in another genre — I absolutely loved it!

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
SD: I use Pinterest extensively to pin those ideas and inspirations. Facebook puts me in touch with a lot of people with similar interests, and I have sold a few of my creations on my Facebook page. I use YouTube to check out the techniques of other artists and I have been regularly posting on Instagram for the past few months. I also use Bloglovin’ to follow my favorite blogs.


SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
SD: It would have been great to know that there are so many creative and talented people out there! A decade ago, knowing that there were so many creative forums and such great sources of inspiration, know-how, and like-minded people would have helped my skill sets and confidence levels to be better than they are now. Especially knowing a community like Studio Mothers, who manage their careers and home life just like I do, gives me a great sense of belonging.

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
SD: If scheduling specific time for creativity is not possible, do not despair! Try to work towards your goals one day at a time. Slow and steady is good enough if you can see an improvement in the quality of your work. And good luck!!

Find Swapna!


Meme of the Week


As found here. Happy Friday.

The Monday Post 2.12.18

Anna David quote

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.

Meme of the Week


As found here. Happy Friday.


The Monday Post 2.05.18

Brenda Ueland quote2

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.


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