Hardcore activists still need to sleep enough, eat enough, and stretch every once in a while. On this episode, we explore the gender and race dynamics of taking care of our minds and bodies and share self-care tips.
Featuring Evette Dionne on why self-care is a radical act and writer Emily V. Gordon on her book Super You, which tells us how superheroes can help us rethink anxiety. Plus: a diary of heartbreak by Grace Manger.
SELF-CARE IS A RADICAL ACT
AN AUDIO DIARY OF HEARTBREAK
INTERVIEW WITH EMILY V. GORDON
LISTENERS’ SELF-CARE TIPS
This episode of Popaganda is sponsored by Lewis & Clark College’s 35th Annual Gender Studies Symposium in Portland, Oregon. This year’s symposium title is “Game On! Gender and Sexuality in Play.” Don’t miss out on this exciting series of free lectures, workshops, panel discussions, and an art exhibit, March 9-11. See you at the symposium!
• This episode features the Sammus song “1080p,” which is all about self-care and the importance of therapy.
• During her week-long audio diary, Grace found solace in this beautiful comic about depression.
• Evette Dionne’s article about how self-care is a radical act can be read in at Ravishly.
• The whole video of the Angela Davis lecture quoted in the beginning of this show is available online from Pacific University.
Our show was transcribed by Cheryl Green of StoryMinders. We’re proud to make Popaganda accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Here’s a question that feels obvious but is actually rather complicated. Why is it so hard to take care of ourselves?! You would think that because of some evolutionary urge, our minds and bodies would be our own top priorities, that come hell or high water or heartbreak, we would make absolutely sure that we are at least eating enough and sleeping enough to stay healthy. But we all know that’s not how it works.
Personally, if I’m left to my own devices, I’ll stay at work until 7:00 pm, never exercise, eat meals that consist of only bagels and coffee, and then stay up watching Netflix in bed until 2:00 am until I’m literally too exhausted to function, so that on weekends, I collapse in a heap. That is my normal way of being. In order to be even moderately, reasonably, human-level healthy, I have to push against those bagel and no sleep impulses. I have to carve out time to write and draw and think. I have to convince myself to leave the office. I have to basically trick myself into going to yoga. And it’s not just me. As a society, we don’t take our vacation hours; we work ourselves to the bone. We dismiss a lot of healthy habits as indulgent or selfish. The process of intentionally making time to take care of yourself has a name, of course, “self care.” Actively taking care of yourself is not a new concept, but in recent years, the practice of self care has gotten a lot of new traction and value. It’s not necessarily a movement on its own, but it’s a crucial part of a lot of movements, as activists and others recognize that to be fully up to the task and the hard work of changing society, you first have to be taking good care of yourself.
In 2014, I saw the legendary social justice activist Angela Davis speak. Someone asked her how activism is different now than it was in the 1960s and 70s. Angela Davis said that the biggest thing she had learned from the youth of today was self care.
ANGELA DAVIS [From video clip]: But let me conclude in answering these questions about organizing with something I often forget to say, and it’s so important. And that is the significance of self care [applause] and how that has to be incorporated in all of our efforts. And this is something new. This is something that I have learned from younger generations because we worked ourselves–I mean, if someone had said, “You know, you should do yoga,” [audience laughs] I’d say, “Yoga?” [audience laughs]. So I had to learn from younger people that it is as important to take care of yourself and to do this within a collective context. So yes, this means exercising the body. This means finding a space for spiritual expression. This holistic approach to organizing is, I think, what is going to eventually move us along the trajectory that may lead to some victories.
SARAH: There are race, gender, and class components to self care. When we’re expected, culturally, to take care of others emotionally and physically and to be grateful for all that we have financially, taking time, energy, and resources for ourselves can feel shameful, like we don’t deserve it, or we should really be spending every minute and penny on helping others. That, my friends, is a ticket to burn-out city. There are a lot of cultural forces telling women, especially, that we’re not worthwhile. And that’s part of why women in the United States report higher rates of stress in their lives than men and report they’re not as good at managing stress either. People of color in the United States report higher rates of stress than white people, and there are a lot of factors for why, including the stress of racism and discrimination. And self care is an important way to counter that under stress to live a healthier, longer, less anxiety-filled life.
On today’s show we’ll talk about the racial and gender dynamics of stress and self care, including insights on how superheroes–yes, comic book superheroes–can help us rethink anxiety. Plus, a diary of heartbreak. Stay tuned. Oh, but first! Let’s start the show with a song. The musician Sammus just released a new track that is all about self care and therapy. It’s called 1080p, and well, just listen to the lyrics.
SAMMUS: [Recorded music and lyrics]
I see things nobody sees
Since my bee stings turned to double ds
That my feelings
Now I’m lovin’ me!
I could give it up, but where’s the fun in that?
Gotta live it up or you will never laugh
Life’s a box of chocolates with a lot of options
Gotta keep it rocking life’s a rumble pack
The first letter of your first name
Makes your name emerge when I search things
And it hurts me but I guarantee
That without you I’m a better me
Now I see the past with some clarity
Yeah, glad I took my ass to some therapy
Now I’m seeing the world in 1080p
Now I’m seeing my world in 1080p
SARAH: We’re going to frame this show with a conversation with writer Evette Dionne. She’s written a lot for Bitch and recently published a great piece over at Ravishly about how self care is a radical and subversive act for black women specifically.
So you started out your article, Evette, with a quote from Audre Lorde–the black feminist theorist and activist of course. And she once wrote about how self care is not self-indulgent, instead that self care is self-preservation and also an act of political warfare. That’s such a powerful line, and I’m hoping you can tell us what that quote means to you and why you think it’s important.
EVETTE: I think it’s especially important because black women are often the pillars of their community, literally, where we’re tasked with taking care of everybody in our families, taking care of people who are not in our families but are in our villages. And we’re often given the messaging that taking care of ourselves is selfish and that putting ourselves first takes away from the community. So when I read Audre Lorde’s quote, and when I actually use it on social media and just in my everyday life, is that taking care of myself should be a priority, that there is nothing wrong with putting myself first and making sure that I am healthy. Because I am no good to anybody else when I am not good to myself.
SARAH: And how do you feel like self care is particularly a radical act and not something that’s just like oh, a normal fact of life?
EVETTE: Because ordinarily, particularly for black women, we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. Many of us are poor, many of us are working ourselves into graves, early graves particularly, and many of us put everybody before ourselves. So standing and saying that I matter and that I’m important and that taking care of myself is important is a radical act because so often, we’re expected to take care of everybody else, that we’re supposed to come last, almost as if it’s a familial expectation. And so saying that I matter, that I come first, that what I need and what I want matters I think is a radical act because it goes against everything that we’ve been conditioned to believe.
SARAH: Yeah, and there’s another part of that quote talking about self care being self-preservation and survival. How do you see self care as being tied to survival?
EVETTE: Because health, particularly chronic illnesses like obesity, like heart disease, like diabetes, are killing black women in droves. So when we say that our health matters and that we want to live as long a life as possible through self care, it means that we’re going to the doctor, it means that we’re going to the gym, it means that we’re eating healthier, if that is what it takes to preserve our health. It’s all about putting your health first. So whatever that looks like, whether it’s making sure that you get annual pap smears or making sure you have physicals just because, that is literally a matter of life and death in extending your life.
SARAH: So can you tell me, Evette, do you remember the first time you heard about the concept of self care?
EVETTE: Yes. So I did not learn about self care until I was in graduate school, actually, which was when I began identifying as a black feminist. Prior to that, I had been conditioned to always work to the extreme, that you’re supposed to work until death, literally, that you shouldn’t take time for yourself, that you can basically sleep when you’re dead, is the phrase that I’ve often heard. So I learned about self care, actually, in a black feminist thought class when I was a graduate student.
SARAH: And how do you practice self care these days?
EVETTE: Oh, it’s a lot. I mean, it’s everything from just listening to my body: when it’s time for me to go to bed, I go to bed. Even if I have work left to do, I prioritize that and make sure I go to the doctor. I go to the gym, I travel a lot, I unplug a lot, especially covering topics like race and feminism where there’s so much happening in the world that it can be emotionally draining. So I take time to unplug whenever I can.
SARAH: Yeah, you pointed out in your article a really important detail, which is about how there’s a lot of strength in community. You know, communities raise children. Communities, we pour a lot of ourselves and energy into communities for a reason, and there’s a lot of strength and power there that’s really important to respect and recognize and appreciate. So how is self care not being selfish? How is self care actually positive for communities?
EVETTE: I actually recently watched a Facebook video that featured actress Jada Pinkett Smith, her mother, and her daughter, Willow Smith. And she asked her how difficult is it to be a wife and a mother and to balance that out. Jada Pinkett Smith basically said something that mirrors how I feel about self care. “You cannot be good to other people if your health is declining. You cannot be good to other people if you’re miserable. You cannot be good to your children if you have them, to your spouse if you have one, to your job and your career if you are not emotionally and mentally and physically healthy.” So prioritizing self care and prioritizing health allows you to be a better member of your community. And I think that is especially important for black women when we take on so much of other people’s loads, that we make sure that we are also healthy too.
SARAH: I’m wondering: do you feel like this is like a generational shift? I mean, if you first started hearing the concept self care in grad school. I feel like I didn’t hear the words self care until after I graduated from college. Is this something different than what our parents’ generation was doing, or has this concept always been around but had a different name?
EVETTE: I think it’s both. It’s a both/and question. I think that self care is not a new tactic. I think also that younger women have more options, right? Whereas my ancestors, my grandmother, my great-grandmother had to work, where when I was considering a career shift, my grandmother was adamantly opposed to it because she comes from a generation where you stay at a job for 20 or 30 years, and then you retire, and then you spend the rest of your life in retirement after having served at that one job for 20 or 30 years. So I think self care has always existed, maybe in different forms. My mother has always been a person who takes an hour away from everybody a day just to soak in the bathtub and read. So that’s an act of self care. But for us–and when I say “us” I mean younger women–are making it a priority. And not only making it a priority in our own lives but also encouraging other young women to do the same. And I think that is where the shift comes in.
SARAH: That was writer Evette Dionne. You can follow her on Twitter @freeblackgirl.
One of my favorite people is my former new media intern, Grace Manger. She graduated from college last year and came straight to Portland to work in our office. Now, she’s a published queer feminist writer who also works at Planned Parenthood. So I was really sad to hear that a month ago Grace was feeling really low. She and her girlfriend had just broken up. I know that feeling all too well. In the first month after a breakup, it can feel like nothing matters, and the world is a cruel and terrible place, and there’s a cloud raining. Just. On. You. So I asked Grace to keep a one-week audio diary of heartbreak to document how she was practicing self care or how she wasn’t. Amazingly, she agreed. Here’s Grace’s seven-day diary of heartbreak.
GRACE: [sighs] OK, deep breaths. It has been three weeks, almost four weeks, since the person I was dating and I broke up, and I have gone through so many emotions since then. I’ve just been really sad and really vulnerable and just struggling to make it through each day feeling some kind of wholeness. It’s nighttime. Nights are hard. They’ve always been hard, but especially lately, nights are hard; they’re lonely. I’m kind of just biding time until it’s an appropriate time for me to actually go to bed.
It is day two of me documenting my day by day heartbreak. Today, I cried twice. I drank four cups of coffee, and I had two drinks tonight. So today was kind of rough. I worked, which was hard. One thing I will say is that–not that you asked for my advice–but my advice is this: when you’re going through a hard time, or you’re going through a heartbreak, I really suggest you have somebody, you find somebody that you can text these three words to. And those three words are “I am sad.” And they don’t have to have the answers or anything really to say in response.
Today is day three of these tales of heartbreak. Tonight, after I got home from work, my plan was to go get some dinner and get some work done and maybe go on a run and, you know, just kind of stay busy for the night and be productive and get things done. I ended up getting a slice of pizza, and now I’m watching The X Files in bed. So days don’t always go as you planned.
Day four: I learned, yet again, there is never any good reason to text your ex, and yet I did it. And I think today was just kind of plagued with a feeling of not being good enough, and I think a part of me really just wants this person to prove me wrong and prove that voice inside my head wrong and tell me that I am good enough and that I am loved and blah blah blah. So I think I went searching for that tonight a little bit. And I didn’t get it. Of course I didn’t.
Day five: I had a tough time getting through work today. In fact, I ended up rewarding myself with chocolate and extra long bathroom breaks for every hour I worked. Now I just got home from babysitting, and it’s late, and I’m tired. But I did it.
[more upbeat music]
So today is day six, and I am actually really excited to record this, not because I’m in a particularly good mood or anything. But I wanted to share something with you that I found on the internet. So autostraddle–autostraddle.com–has a weekly series of Saturday morning cartoons drawn by various queer cartoonists, and this one, it is created by Cameron Glavin, who draws and writes various things for autostraddle and other places, illustrated this cartoon about depression. And she kind of personifies the depression as this tantruming toddler. I’m not trying to equate depression and heartbreak because those are two very different things, but I am somebody who experiences depression and think that I am kind of experiencing that now. So this really did hit home for me. But yeah, I wanted to read just one part. “And like a toddler, my depression didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate clearly to me what I was feeling or why I was feeling it so much. This part of me had a small, simple world where any negative imbalance had the potential to become a major crisis. This toddle monster was mad at being brushed off as naive, dumb, and irrelevant. It demanded to be felt.” You know, I think my default with any negative emotion is to ignore it and avoid it, and I think I like to pretend that laying in bed with junk food and Netflix is me taking care of myself and a form of self care? I think that’s what they are. I think they are more an effort to numb rather than to really nurture and nourish any kind of healing within me. And I think instead, the healing and the self care actually can take the form of taking responsibility and being proactive and doing the dishes and calling my mom back after missing her last five calls.
Today is day seven of these tales of heartbreak, and I’m honestly shocked [chuckling] that I managed to do this for an entire week. I just usually try to keep things really light. And with this, I have kind of reached a new level of vulnerability, something that I didn’t really think I would feel comfortable doing. And I still don’t feel totally comfortable doing it, but I did it. Today was actually pretty nice. It was so sunny and so warm in Portland, and I went on a long bike ride and then a long run. And it just felt really life-giving to be out in the sunshine and see others crawl out of their nests and be outside and happy to be outside.
SARAH: Hi, Grace.
SARAH: So I just wanted to call and tell you one thing.
SARAH: And that thing is you are definitely good enough!
SARAH: You are great and good in so many ways, and you deserve all of the love in the world.
GRACE: [laughs] I don’t know what to say. That’s so nice. That’s really nice to hear. You’re so sweet, Sarah. Thank you so much. Voices are like–I mean, it’s a podcast. But I wish you could see how much I’m smiling right now.
GRACE: Yeah. That just made my night.
SARAH: What does self care mean to you? On our Instagram and Facebook, we asked Popaganda listeners to record a voice memo with one way they practice self care. So many people sent us their ideas! Thank you, all! You’re all brilliant and wonderful. I chose seven listener tips to share. Here we go.
EDEN: My name is Eden, and I’m from Fort Wayne, Indiana. My personal method of self care needed to be changed recently. After working in a professional field for over 12 years, where self-expression of personal matters was shunned upon and encouraged to be locked away, I lost touch of how to express my pain and how to be vulnerable in public. I know I realize that my most effective method of self care is to be open and to allow myself to be extroverted, whether it’s a conversation with a friend or a stranger, or it’s communicated through creative projects. I realized the best way to take care of me was being willing to admit that I need it.
DANI: Hey there. My name’s Dani, and I’m getting in touch all the way from London in the UK. My tried and tested self care activity is to do something creative. I like knitting and doing cross-stitch. So whenever I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I love to start a new craft activity or to pick up something I’m already working on. The process of making something myself feels really good. And having busy hands means I can’t check my phone or my emails for a bit, which is great! Plus, you end up with something really nice and handmade to give to a friend.
LAUREN: Hi! My name is Lauren. I’m from New York, and one thing I do to practice self care on a nearly daily basis is I try to read a lot of quotes or other just small, little bits of wisdom from different people that I admire or respect. And it’s just a reminder that there are a lot of good and worthy things in the world on those days when I’m feeling incredibly stressed out or overwhelmed.
MICHELLE: Hi, my name is Michelle, and I live in Portland. So one way I like to incorporate self care into my life is by indulging in a long, hot bath after a hard day at work. I like to soak these lavender-scented tea bags made for baths, and I’ll have a snack on the side–probably Doritos–and I’ll drink a margarita or a beer. And I’ll watch a couple YouTube videos or maybe a podcast. And at the end of that, I feel pretty incredible.
GIL: Hello. My name is Gil, and I’m from Peterborough, Canada. One of my favorite self care tips is usually I like to run a really hot bath, put some essential oils or a bath bomb in there, turn off the lights, light some candles, and just relax and listen to some meditative music, maybe cry. It’s nice though. It feels good after.
BRITTANY: Hey, Bitch Media. Brittany Fitzgerald here. Self care for me, if I could only get one or two things a day that make me feel better, first thing in the morning, before anything else, a mug of hot lemon water and at least two Nalgene water bottles full of ginger lemon water. Helps me feel a little bit healthier and a little bit of a cleanse. And also a dash of dancing, at least once a day.
CARLA: Hi, Bitch Media. My name is Carla Bergman, and I live in the Pacific Northwest, also known as Vancouver, Canada on Coast Salish territories where I am a mom, a writer, an organizer, and an activist who also has a chronic illness. I do my self care daily, my self care practice daily, which is to lay on the floor, put on an album, and listen to it. Some days I hum along, some days I stretch, but mostly I just lay there and listen to it and take some space and time and feel the music through my body.
SARAH: That was Eden, Dani, Lauren, Michelle, Gil, Brittany, and Carla. Thank you so much to everyone who called in with their self care tips.
This episode of Popaganda is sponsored by Lewis & Clark College’s 35th Annual Gender Studies Symposium, which is scheduled for March 9th, 10th, and 11th in Portland, Oregon. “Game On! Gender and Sexuality in Play” will explore subjects ranging from queer comedy to gaming culture. Don’t miss out on this exciting series of free lectures, workshops, panel discussions, and an art exhibit. Learn more at www.lclark.edu, or click on the Gender Studies Symposium ad on the Bitch Media website. All right. See you at the symposium!
At first glance, you might not think Superheroes have a lot to do with sadness. After all, superheroes like Wonder Woman and She-Hulk are usually stronger and bigger and more resilient than us mere mortals. But as writer, comedian, and former therapist Emily V. Gordon points out, superheroes are usually made more heroic because they have some sort of weakness.
Emily’s book, Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero, came out from Seal Press last fall. It’s a self-help sort of book that revolves around the idea of using superheroes to help us become better, healthier versions of ourselves. You might also know Emily from the very popular podcast Indoor Kids, which she co-hosts with her husband Kumail Nanjiani.
SARAH: So Emily, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for making time.
EMILY: Yeah, thank you for having me.
SARAH: So your book, Super You, is all about how superheroes relate to self care.
SARAH: And it’s basically the gist of your book is pointing out how superheroes don’t start from glorious beginnings. Instead, the superheroes which we tend to think of as like perfect idols are deeply flawed. And that’s part of what’s good about them.
EMILY: Yeah, absolutely! I think I had wanted to write some sort of a self-help book for a while, but I think what always bugged me about it was the idea that self-help–to me, cuz I’m kind of a rebellious [laughs] girl who doesn’t like to be told what to do–to me, when I heard “self-help,” I always thought well, OK, well that means I’m not good enough. OK, well, screw that; I hate that. So I started kind of trying to think of self-help in a way of like accepting yourself where you are, accepting who you are, but then also realizing that all of us can always make improvements. All of us can always be upgrading ourselves. That’s kind of one of the many ways that I started thinking about superheroes as a good place to start this book and a good framework for the book.
SARAH: So let’s talk about some superheroes. See, it’s so funny because our cultural conception of superheroes is that they’re strong, that they’re invincible, that they’re super humans–obviously.
SARAH: But as you point out, they all have flaws. So let’s just walk through some of them that you mention in your book. Let’s start with Catwoman. So tell us about Catwoman’s flaws and how they help her as a person and as a crime fighter.
EMILY: Well, I think Catwoman, she’s kind of a little secretive. She’s a little not trusting of people. She is a thief [laughs]. I mean that’s her basics are that she is a thief; that’s what she does. But she kind of uses those flaws and finds a way to kind of reimagine them and create this other version of herself, which I always had a lot of respect for. And also, she looks really cool [laughs]!
SARAH: [chuckles] Yeah, I do love her outfit. Though the Halle Berry movie, I don’t know. Took it a little too far in my opinion.
EMILY: Yeah, I did not watch that movie. I’ll be honest.
SARAH: OK, so let’s talk about probably the most famous female superhero, Wonder Woman, who’s obviously an Amazon. She’s got her lasso of truth. But what are Wonder Woman’s flaws, and how does that help her?
EMILY: Well, they always say that Wonder Woman’s biggest weakness is her compassion for others. And the basics are–there’s several Wonder Woman origin stories, but the kind of basic one is–a man named Steve crashes his plane on the island where she is. She finds him, nurses him back to health, and then goes with him back to where he’s from, which is America, of course, to help fight crime there. And she goes back with him because she’s in love with him, but then when she gets to Earth, she’s like–well, I guess she’s already–yeah, when she gets to America, she’s like, well, OK. This places is screwed up. I kinda need to stay and help out. So her compassion for Steve and her love for Steve is what got her away from the Amazonian tribe and kind of got her with us, but it’s her compassion for people that became her biggest strength and got her to start fighting crime. I really love that because I do think especially for women, our compassion and our sensitivity–for those of us who have it and those of us who have emotions and are very expressive with our emotions–it’s seen as a negative. But it’s not a negative. I like that Wonder Woman, even back then, was kind of reframing it and using it in a different way.
SARAH: Right. So some people say that compassion is her biggest weakness, but actually, it’s a real strength of her character, and it’s a way that she becomes a superhero is through compassion.
EMILY: Absolutely. Now, we don’t need to talk about her wristlets that when a man binds her wristlets together, she loses all her powers. Let’s not even worry about that!
EMILY: We don’t even need to talk about it.
SARAH: So you couldn’t find a silver lining in that flaw?
EMILY: It was a tough one! I was like, what even does that mean? So I was like ah, let’s not address that one so much!
SARAH: You know, my favorite thing about Wonder Woman is that her primary weapon is a lasso of truth, that to get out of trouble, to fight danger, you don’t need a gun, you don’t need violence, you just need brutal honesty.
EMILY: Yeah! It’s kinda great. It’s a little Doctor Who-ish. Obviously, Dr. Who came way later. It’s like no, you don’t actually need violence. You can just use your brains, and you can use what you’ve got around you, and you can get out of any jam and kind of solve anything. It’s really cool.
SARAH: Mmhmm. So talk to me a little bit more about how reading comics made you feel more OK with weakness and difference and being screwed up sometimes.
EMILY: I think it’s interesting. I haven’t always been a huge, huge comic book fan. I run a stand-up comedy show in a comic book store, and I have for five years now. So that was my first–I’ve kind of been a nerd my whole life. But being in a comic book store constantly for five years has been a really interesting experience because I realized, oh, these were all–we’re all–somehow there’s something that’s attracted all of us to this place. What is it? Why are we all here? I’m really interested in crowd dynamics and why a group of people gather for anything whatsoever. And I do feel like comic books, I think that people who read comic books, it’s like these secretive stories. It’s stories that you can tell yourself that maybe doesn’t have the best, most positive beginning, but it’s people kind of making the best with what they’ve been dealt, the hand they’ve been dealt. Batman’s kind of the best example of that to me. He watched his parents be murdered in front of him. If he ended up being an alcoholic who was homeless and couldn’t find a job and couldn’t get his shit together because he saw this traumatic thing, you’d be like, well, yeah, that totally makes sense. But he made this choice to rise above that.
SARAH: Yeah, so some of your interest in this, and some of your way that you got started on this book, is actually through your work as a therapist.
SARAH: Yeah, you write in Super You, your book, that you used to work as a therapist at a facility for young men who were removed from their homes because of behavioral problems.
SARAH: Can you talk about how working at that facility and the boys that you worked with, their thoughts on comics, helped lead you toward this idea that actually superheroes’ strengths are their weaknesses?
EMILY: The boys would stay there for a year at a time, so I had these guys for longer than just a couple of weeks. So we really got to explore a lot of different things. One day, I just had them do a thing where I was like, “OK, draw yourself as a superhero.” Nothing else, no other instruction, just draw yourself as a superhero. And they all loved that, and they had all these crazy weapons and all this insane armor. We’d already been talking about, obviously, a lot of therapeutic stuff, but with young boys, you often kind of have to slip in the back door. So it was like, “OK, all of this stuff, all of the equipment that you’ve drawn on your superhero, tell me what it represents as far as your emotional wellbeing and the tools that you’re learning while you’re here.” And I suddenly got them to talk about coping skills and talk about their strengths and even talk about some of their weaknesses in a way that they would not have been able to verbalize to me if I’d just said, “Hey! What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths?” Because it kind of was tricking them with hey, it’s not just that you’re a person that doesn’t have all the parts you need or a person who’s got this problem and this problem. You’re like this superhero, and you’ve got this tricked out suit. And as much as you can objectively just lay it out and talk about what’s going on, on your superhero suit and how that relates to you, I got them to open up about themselves in ways that they kind of hadn’t before.
SARAH: OK, so let’s get deep. So if you were a superhero [laughs]–
SARAH: what would your strengths be, and what would your weaknesses be?
EMILY: Well, OK, that’s a great question [laughs]. I think that the superhero version of me is very, very good at reading other people’s emotional states, and it it something that’s both what attracted me to becoming therapist and what kind of I learned as a therapist. So I think I can always tell when a couple has just been fighting. I can always tell when someone has been crying fairly recently. I can usually tell when I’m walking into a room where something tense is happening. I’m not saying these are the most magical skills, but I am just highly attuned to reading a room. Weaknesses. What are my superhero weaknesses? I’m always trying to work on some of them. I think for now, I’m really bad at getting out of conversations.
EMILY: Like really, really bad. If I start talking to a stranger at a party, we’ll end up talking about how many grandparents we have left, and we’ll get way deeper than is necessary, just because I don’t know how to gracefully exit a conversation. And I’m also still, I think when I am not feeling well, or when I’m in any kind of physically vulnerable in any way, I tend to lie about it and pretend that I’m doing fine, much to my detriment. And I’ve gotten way better at that over the years, but I think that’s still something that my superhero–is a weakness that I could probably work on. For some reason, I think somehow people are going to think less of me if they think that I’m physically vulnerable. It’s such a weird, it’s an odd thing. But that’s what I’m still working on, I’d say, my superhero is still working on.
SARAH: It sounds like your Kryptonite is awkward silences.
EMILY: Oh my goodness. I’ll fill them. I’ll fill them with anything [laughs]! Whether or not it’s a good idea or not, I will just talk. I will fill any silence. It’s great.
SARAH: [laughs] So one thing that I think is interesting about the world of superheroes is the gendered nature of powers, how in a lot of comic books, female superheroes are more likely to have more passive powers such as invisibility, such as mind-reading. Whereas male superheroes, at least traditionally, have more action-oriented powers: the ability to laser-vision somebody, the ability to get super big and crush somebody. How does that thinking play in to your ideas about how superheroes can teach us about self care?
EMILY: That’s very interesting. That’s a question I’ve never actually been asked before, but I think–That’s actually quite interesting. I think that they, it definitely plays into it. I feel like when we’re thinking about ourselves, at least so far, the people that I talked to for the book and the people I’ve talked to since the book, I kind of feel like the biggest issue I run into is that women tend to not, they don’t tend to see what their strengths are, or they tend to, if I bring up, “Well, you have this strength,” they’ll go, “Oh, no. I mean, that’s not anything.” So it’s interesting that a female superhero’s powers are considered kind of somewhat lesser, somewhat smaller, somewhat less tangible perhaps. And also, the women that I talk to often, even if they’re intangible, think that those are not their strengths whatsoever and that they aren’t really able to find any or that they’re embarrassed to talk about them. Whereas, often the men I talk to are immediately like, “Well, I can bench press. I can jump up and touch the ceiling over there,” like [laughing] an immediate list ready to go. So I think you’re right that it does kind of carry over, in that women aren’t even acknowledging those intangible super powers that they may have as much as they could be and often don’t realize that what they have–I think to me, a super power of being able to make people feel comfortable, I think that’s like a crazy super power that not a lot of people have. And yet, the women I meet–or the people I meet in general–that have that super power don’t think that it’s important or useful or even a thing. I think a big part of it, then, is redefining what we consider super powers to be and what we consider our weaknesses to be also.
SARAH: Yeah, that type of emotional care and emotional work that it takes to make someone feel comfortable and welcome and OK with being vulnerable is definitely a super power that I personally value.
EMILY: Yes, of course!
EMILY: Yeah, for sure.
SARAH: I just want to ask you one more question, and I hope we can close on this quote from your book. It’s from your introduction to the book that says, “We’re here on this earth to progress. It’s not that you need to change to be good enough. We’re already good enough. It’s about making the choice to be different if you want to.” Can you just talk a little bit more about that quote?
EMILY: I think for me, as I said before, I definitely had a bit of a chip on my shoulder for a while. I kind of was pretty unhappy with myself for long stretches, and I also was quite resentful that anybody would even want me to change, and that me acknowledging that I needed to improve on anything was me acknowledging the world’s view of myself. And so I think for me, I wanted to make it very clear with my book that I’m not saying that we all need to get better. I’m not saying that everybody’s constantly gotta be striving to be better, better, better, because that sets up something incredibly stressful and often unattainable and just kind of lame. You don’t want to think that you’re not as good as you could be and that you’re not good enough. So I think the main thing I always wanted to drive home is that even though it’s a self-improvement guide, you’re good enough. You’re absolutely good enough where you are. You’re making it. You’re surviving where you are, and that’s a feat in itself. This is just for if you want to kind of add an extra layer because whatever you’re doing, the days are going by either way. So you can have days, weeks, months at a time where you’re just kind of getting through, doing whatever you can to get through the day and stay where you are. But also, if you choose, you can choose to work on yourself however you choose to. Just if you want to strive for something more; here’s where you are, and here’s where you could be. Let’s figure out how we can get there.
SARAH: That was writer and comedian and podcast host Emily V. Gordon. Her book Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero is now out from Seal Press.
After listening to this show, I hope we all think more seriously about caring of ourselves and making time to do it.
I want to say thanks to everyone who called in with their self care tips for this show. I also want to say thanks to everyone who has taken the time over the past few months to donate to Bitch and to mention the podcast in their order comments. It makes my day. Now, as promised! I have some listener love to share from the past few months.
Danielle from the Netherlands wrote in to say that the story about Sailor Moon on the recent Nostalgia TV episode made a big impact on her. She said, “It was so touching that it made me cry in my university’s library! Don’t worry, the podcast doesn’t usually bring me sadness but embarrasses me in other ways. Walking around laughing, while listening to your podcast, has resulted in some strange looks from people on the street.” That is so wonderful, Danielle.
Karli from Nevada wrote in to say, “I spent last semester studying in London and passed many a long bus ride to class listening to Popaganda. I fell in love with the podcast (especially because it was nice to hear other American accents while I was abroad).” I wish I was studying abroad in London [laughs], Karli! But that’s wonderful.
And Emily from North Dakota wrote: “I feel like y’all have be covering some really poignant (not seminal!) topics lately.”
Yes! Another step in my ongoing campaign to rid the world of using the word “seminal” to mean “important.” If you missed that whole discussion, you can hear it on a recent episode of Backtalk and catch up on a lot of other interesting, non-seminal conversations, too.
Thanks so much to everyone for listening and writing in.