By Now, I Should Have a Doctorate, So I'm Claiming It

An animated gif video of a woman holding a magnifying glass over one eye, so that it's larger. She holds her head still and just moves her eyes side-to-side, like she's looking for something shifty.

Here's a fun thing I realized: I basically transitioned straight from being a teenager and young adult who would hold her face inches from a mirror examining her acne to an adult (am I still a young adult or am I just an adult now?) who holds her face inches from a mirror scrutinizing her skin for fine lines and for whisker hairs PLUS still the occasional acne outbreak.

I wonder, at what point did I put in my 10,000 hours of up-close skin-surveillance? Maybe I should find an honorific to communicate this expertise with the world.

Yes, I am Andrea Loewen, SS (Skin Scrutiny).

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An animated gif - a black and white illustration of a person standing on an empty planet looking at earth. The light rotates around earth so that it is dark and then light.

My plan was to try to find some wise quotes to write about hope for today, the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of hope. I wrote the headline "SOMETHING ABOUT HOPE" up there as a placeholder so I wouldn't forget.

But I kind of like this better: an all-caps cry into the void, looking for something about hope to come to me.

Now seeking hope, please! SOMETHING ABOUT HOPE, PLEASE!

(And, like some kind of on-the-nose bell, this is the song that came on my playlist right this second: Everything is Going to Be Alright by Infinity Song.)

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For When You Are Afraid and Don't Know How to Rest

A photo of a bunch of prayer candles - the only light comes from them, everything else is darkness.

Blessed are we who admit,
"God, I'm afraid."

Blessed are we who confess,
"I don't know how to rest."

This is an excerpt from a blessing written by Kate Bowler, penned specifically for these, as they say, 'uncertain times.'

The whole thing is lovely, but I deeply appreciate these two stanzas in particular.

Admitting you're afraid? That's scary as heck! Now there's the original fear, and a whole extra fear of being vulnerable on top of it. Who wants that? And yet, when we admit our feelings, whatever they are, that's when we open the door for blessings. The blessing of support, help, love, companionship, or understanding.

The sentence "I don't know how to rest" hit me hard.

I have actually been getting better at finding rest in my life over the past few years, and this is a reminder: for whatever reason, I (and so many of us) have no idea how to actually rest.

As a collective, it seems that we know how to be so busy we don't realize what we're really feeling and we know how to numb out. But rest? That actually rejuvenates us? That's harder, somehow. We don't know what will actually make us feel better.

But we can learn. We can get help. We can be brought to rest.

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More Animals on Tinder

More of the smart things people say to promote themselves on the dating apps, put into the mouths of innocent wildlife.

What a time to be alive.

See them all on @thereceptionistblog on Instagram!

A comic of a whale saying "In person I will try to make you laugh. It maaaaay not always work" - which is a tinder profile

A comic with a drawing of a mouse saying "don't want to get to know you"

A comic of an octopus saying "Make you laugh, even when you don't want to."

A comic of an otter saying "I don't meet in cars in random parking lots."

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Ummmmm.... I Mayyyyyyy Have Started Posting to TikTok

I've started a tiktok! I know, I'm too old for it. Whatever. Right now it's pretty much exclusively me giving you weird compliments. It's kinda lame and I am enjoying it.

Here's one:


you catch people in their hearts! ##affirmation ##magic ##yourock ##positivevibes ##loveyou ##heart

♬ Twinkle - Spiritual Sounds

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Infinity Song Are the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Ohhhhh hello. I was introduced to Infinity Song through this incredible cover of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, and my oh my. They are STUNNING. Currently listening to their original song Far Away and floating in a sea of heart-eye emojis.

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Duy Huynh's Quest for Enlightenment

Duy Huynh says that he is celebrating the quest for enlightenment with his work. I love it.

A painting of a woman suspended in the air above a placid sea. She is surounded by bird (probably seagulls).

A delicate painting of a woman standing in an open field. She is holding an empty, oval frame in front of her face and she has a cloud of birds around her

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Recommended Read: On Despair and the Imagination

An animated gif illustration with a line of light bulbs hanging from strings - the first one lights up and swings in, hitting the others, and the light goes down the line of bulbs.

This School of Life post On Despair and the Imagination is a fantastic read with so many wonderful little tidbits to chew on.

They discuss the fact that we often fall into despair just because we can't imagine another outcome or option for ourselves. We lose a job and can't see a world in which we get a new one or retrain for a different field or start a business. We lose a relationship and all we can see ahead of us is the misery we currently feel:

"We are not merely ‘sad’; we cannot picture any better life than the agonised one we currently have."

Instead, we could envision an endless array of possibilities for ourselves:

"We are grown-ups, that is, people with choices... We would be able to build ourselves a small hut on the edge of the desert. We could work as a postman or retrain as a psychotherapist, find employment as a bus conductor or as a carer in a hospice... We can change our names. If we’re feeling shy and defeated, we don’t have to go out and see anyone ever again. We can live by ourselves, mind our own business, read the classics and go to the movies all day. We can go mad for a while and then recover; a lot of people do. We could throw ourselves into learning a new language or take a university degree in Sanskrit by correspondence course... We could make a new circle of friends among recently released convicts (they tend to be very bright and very free of social snobbery). We could go to a monastery or a nunnery. We could become a gardener."

This reminds me of a practice I discovered for myself a while back, which is simply imagining a variety of different ways something could work out. I find that it really helps me regain a little perspective at the moment and remember that everything in my life doesn't rely on one particular path working out.

Another, similar, practice that I found really incredible for regaining some of this imagination and perspective is at the turn of 2020 when I reviewed where I was at ten years ago in my life compared to now, and then thought a bit about some of the major changes that had happened as I journeyed through that decade. That was FOR REAL. What a salient reminder of how much changes, even though, in each moment, I could barely see past what I was experiencing at the time.

To prompt this kind of thinking, The School of Life piece also suggests a creative writing exercise, to simply start with the prompt: "If I lost everything and had to start again, I might..."

Finally, buried in the middle of a very long paragraph is this incredible sentence:

"The oceans are so large and beautifully unconcerned with us."

Is that comforting to anyone else? I love it.

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New World Horses

Oh pals. Never knew I would love some childlike drawings of horses and rainbows so dang much. Jillian FitzMaurice's series New World Horses is just the innocent place I need to be right now.

A piece of art - on a pink background is a drawing of a bare landscape with a cactus, there is a horse, and in the sky some stars, a rainbow, and a moon. It's a childlike, imaginative drawing.

A piece of art that looks almost like a child's drawing of two horses with a rainbow and squiggly lines around. It's probably with pastels. It's whimsical.

I want to go to there.

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Furious Dancing

“Hard times require furious dancing”.
— Alice Walker

What does your furious dancing look like?

An animated gif from some kind of contemporary dance class, a woman stomps angrily forward while other dancers make worship-like motions.

An animated gif of two young women dancing. They have kind of wonky facial expressions and are just moving their torsos. It's hilarious.

An animated gif of a young woman looking into the camera and bopping, rolling her shoulders in a dance

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Treating Hope Like Worry

Ooooooh, yes.

If we're going to give a bunch legitimacy to the bad things we imagine might happen in the future, we might as well legitimize the good things we would love to see, right?

My question is, how do we give this kind of space to our hopes without getting so attached to them that it's devastating if they don't materialize? That's why we try to ignore them in the first place--we can't handle (or don't think we can handle) the loss.

But there must be a middle ground where we embrace hope without digging our claws into a particular outcome.

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Sometimes it Takes a Long Time

A black and white photo of Miles Davis standing on a stage holding a trumpet with Darryl Jones behind him holding a guitar
Photo by ::ErWin on / CC BY-ND

"Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself."
- Miles Davis

I like to imagine that this quote actually came from Miles Davis working with some rookie musician who kept trying to imitate his sound instead of owning their own.

But more than that, I love to see him sharing the struggle to find his voice. Sometimes it takes a long time! And in the meantime, I guess you just gotta try some things out.

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If Debt Forgiveness Has Got Your Goat, Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

It's natural to feel a bit ripped off if you've worked hard and sacrificed for something that just gets handed out the next minute for free.

But remember: the enemy is not the "handout", it's the capitalism, complacency, scarcity, and greed that kept your sweet hands handout-free in the first place.

When I was an apprentice at a theatre company, I got paid a measly $600/month stipend. Two years later (when I was on staff), the apprentice stipend got increased to $1,000/month, just because someone who they really wanted asked for an increase.

I felt two things: happy for the new apprentices who would make closer to a decent amount of money and also upset that I'd had to live off much less and now it was going to increase to what was practically a lavish wage to me at the time. (Oh what teensy tiny expectations I had.)

What really got me wasn't the fact that the increase was happening, it was how easily the wage changed and the knowledge that I had not been valued in the same way.

Because that's all it takes to increase a wage or forgive a debt: a decision. A little bit of will. One person to value the work or life of another.

The problem isn't that someone eventually might make that decision, the problem is that a bunch of people spent so long maintaining the opposite decision--the one that kept you in debt or at an inhumanly low wage.

So feel your rage, if you've got it, just send it in the right direction.

An animated gif from The Hunger Games - a man stands in a jungle at night calling back towards the camera, "remember who the enemy is"
Kate Tumblr

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The Four Time Horizons and How We Spend Our Lives

A photo over the ocean, the water is choppy with a flat horizon and the full moon is visible even though it's daytime.

Why do we do things?

There are a lot of reasons, but usually, it boils down to us thinking that whatever we are doing will bring some improvement to our lives, perhaps just for the moment or perhaps in the long term.

Enter the four time horizons: a way of looking at the impact of an activity or choice today, tomorrow, and through the rest of our lives. I found this really helpful to clarify my desires as I considered various habits I am want to incorporate or increase in my life. It could also be used to consider the impact of less-desired habits or activities.

Today: The immediate impact of the decision or action.

- Moving my body today improves my mood and focus, makes my body feel more alive.
- Meditating today makes me feel calm and connected to the moment.
- Writing today gets me one step closer to finishing a project, gets a blog post out, or helps me sort through my thoughts.

Day-to-day: The way the activity impacts my life in a current, but ongoing way.

- Moving regularly means I can say yes to a hike with a friend, move a couch without worry, and feel more comfortable in my body in general.
- Meditating regularly means I am better able to recognize my emotions when they arise or re-ground myself when anxiety flares up.
- Writing regularly means I make continual progress on projects and my desired identity as a writer is matched by my actions.

The Unexpected: How does this decision impact unexpected situations that may arise?

- Moving regularly lets me recover more easily from injury or sprint to the grocery store before closing when I've run out of ice cream.
- Meditating regularly means that when an emotional upheaval occurs I already have a practice to help carry me through.
- Writing regularly allows me to have something in progress (or even finished!) if I ever happen to meet a publisher or editor who says the magic words, "send me some of your writing."

My Final Years: What impact does this activity have in my final years of life?

- Moving through my life means I will be more likely to be able to go to the toilet by myself, walk with balance, and stay independent.
- Meditating through my life will lend to mental and spiritual health in old age, feeling calmer and more able to accept circumstances that arise. Maybe I'll have more wisdom to share.
- Writing through my life will create a giant body of work, a way to communicate even if my body falls apart, an ongoing connection to my imagination.

Going through this exercise reminds me of the Annie Dillard quote:

"How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing."

(I came across this concept from The Workout Today newsletter (I've referenced its lessons before), and the benefits of moving were lifted directly from them!)

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On the Preciousness of Being Ordinary

A photo of a dishrack with colourful ceramic plates lined up in it. The colours are slightly muted, so it's not super cheery.
Tracey Hocking.

“Ordinary isn’t the enemy but instead something nourishing and unavoidable, the bedrock upon which the rest of experience ebbs and flows. Embrace this — the warm water, the pruned hands, the prismatic gleam of the bubbles and the steady passage from dish to dish to dish — and feel, however briefly, the breath of actual time, a reality that lies dormant and plausible under all the clutter we pile on top of it. A bird makes its indecipherable call to another bird, a song from a passing car warps in the Doppler effect and I’m reminded, if only for a moment, that I need a lot less than I think I do and that I don’t have to leave my kitchen to get it.”
– Mike Powell, An Ode to Washing the Dishes

I remember, as a teenager, making dramatic declarations about how I could not possibly do something "normal" or "boring" or "ordinary" with my life. My mom, in all her wisdom, would point out to me that most people had regular lives and that was a good thing - the world doesn't need us all to be big and flashy and impressive. It needs us to contribute on the ground.

Of course, at the time I would say that sure, that may be what the world needs, but some of us get to be extraordinary and that's what I needed to be. I was desperate to be lifted up onto some kind of pedestal of specialness, which of course, was only because at my deepest core, I hated myself and craved mountains of external affirmation to balance it out.

Now that I've learned to like myself, I have a deepening appreciation for the ordinary, as Mike Powell puts it, as "something nourishing and unavoidable, the bedrock upon which the rest of experience ebbs and flows."

How comforting.

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How to Tell Your Boundaries Aren't Being Respected

A photo of two signs, one in front of the other, both say "No Trespassing" on them. They are bright yellow, hanging underneath a bridge or boardwalk.
Michael Dzeidzic

I have always struggled with having boundaries.

Once, I was talking to my counsellor about an issue I was having with a person and she said, "that's a great place to put up a boundary," in a sort of off-hand way. I don't know what my face was doing, but when she looked at me she actually laughed, realizing I had NO CLUE how to do that or what it really meant.

After that, I began to dip my toe into the world of boundaries by looking at them through the lens of prioritizing the people and things that mattered rather than fencing out the things that didn't.

It turns out, however, that establishing boundaries isn't just something you do once and then you're good! (Why am I always surprised when my self-care isn't "set it up and then clap your hands and walk away"?) So I've really enjoyed this list by Anne Write of 15 Signs Your Boundaries Need Work to help me recognize when I've started letting my people-pleasings-anti-conflict-here-let-me-help-I-can't-be-alone-with-my-thoughts tendencies take over.

The list includes the usual suspects like resentment, dread, exhaustion, anger, and feeling like you "just can't". But there was one I hadn't considered before: feeling hurt, but with no real sense of why or how it happened.

That's interesting, isn't it?

Honestly, I always assumed that whenever I walked away from an interaction with a friend feeling inexplicably bad, it was just my depression doing its thing. (Sometimes, it shrinks down real small while I'm busy or with people, and then the very INSTANT that distraction goes away, POP! It expands to fill all my brain-space.)

I will bet, however, that some of those times, I was feeling the sting of my boundaries being ignored. How INTERESTING you guys! It's a whole new face to my self-analysis prism, what FUN!!!

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Lest We Forget

A tapestry with poppies all over it that says "lest we forget" in the middle.
David Clode

As a pacifist, I have often had a complicated relationship with Remembrance Day.

I certainly respect the people who gave and risked and lost their lives to stand for what they believed in--even if I disagree with the premise of what was happening (war), that's an honourable thing to do. I also realize that there are things worse than violence and that sometimes, fighting may be necessary to prevent a greater evil.

Yet, sometimes the proceedings can feel a little like they glorify war, which I am not really comfortable with, either. I mean, I'm not surprised that the people leading Remembrance Day ceremonies aren't critically engaging with the question of why we fight in the first place or mourning that the soldiers had to be soldiers in the first place, but I guess a girl can dream.

Either way, I've felt like my pacifist values needed constant reconciliation with the day.

This year, however, I came across a tweet that helped me bring all that together. Unfortunately, I didn't save the tweet and I can't find it now, so you'll have to deal with my uncredited paraphrase:

The best way to honour those who died in wars in the past is to ensure we never ask anyone to die in another war, ever again.

I love that.

It grieves the lives lost without glorifying the context in which they were taken. It also drives us towards becoming the peacekeepers we (we being Canadians) pretend to be on the world stage. After all, I have a hard time believing that "lest we forget" was intended to be something we keep saying to remember new wars.

So let's remember those who died and honour their sacrifice.

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Asiko's Portraits Will Wound You, and You'll Like It

I went to Àsìkò's website because I saw a post of some stunning, renaissance-inspired images he created posted on Twitter. Then I saw these beauties. Wowwwwwwww.

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Spellchecking Pluralism

Deborah Roberts' image series called Pluralism is a simple, yet evocative, demonstration of one way white supremacy makes people of non-European descent into the other: which names spellchecker knows and which are seen as misspelled words.

This image contains various typed names like Jenise or Niakya, each one of them has the little red line underneath it that word processors use to show the word is misspelled.

This image contains names like Inetha and Quonish, it is printed to look like it is a photocopy of an old book (faded a little in the middle) and names are circled, underlined, crossed out, or otherwise "corrected" in red.

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I am crying.

I am crying because FINALLY the terrible, racist, sexist, wannabe-fascist is going to lose his job.

I am crying because everyone is so excited to just go back to a normal level of disappointment in political leaders.

I am crying because a woman of colour has been elected Vice President of the country that everyone says is the most powerful country in the world. (Is it really still? I don't know.)

I am crying because a woman DIDN'T get elected President of that same country four years ago basically because she is a woman.

I am crying because I keep seeing tweets about whole neighbourhoods bursting into cheers in the States and that's so beautiful.

I am crying because the bar was so very low and it almost wasn't met.

I am crying because there are so many memes right now about people coming together to fight evil that are kind of silly but also beautiful.

I am crying because I didn't sleep very much last night.

I am crying because I am scared what the armed civilian militia (read: terrorists) might do in reaction to this.

I am crying because Joe Biden, from what I can tell, is pretty much fine but has been cast as saviour.

I am crying because people are saying, "well done, America" when it was fractions of percent of the vote that ultimately decided and is that America doing well?

I am crying because I am not sure if the world will ultimately get better but also because now it might not get worse.

I am crying because I didn't really have hope but the good thing happened anyway.

An animated gif of Kamala Harris at a rally saying "Obviously, dude's gotta go."

An animated gif of Kamala Harris saying "we will get the job done."

An animated gif of Kamala Harris saying "thank you"

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Turns Out I'm Past My Prime (Cognitively Speaking)

A photo of a few pineapples wearing party hats, one is tipped over and there is confetti.
Pineapple Supply Co.

Turns out that my last birthday was a big milestone and I didn't even know it: I was exiting my cognitive peak.

A new study shows that our brains reach their "cognitive peak" at age 35. Downhill from there.

What would I have done differently, had I known I was in my peak year last year? Honestly, probably not much, except that I would have also made a lot of jokes about how I was the smartest I would ever be. (So my friends are probably grateful I didn't know!)

Other fun research:

If you want to feel good about yourself and build efficacy, you should do the hardest thing first. Contrary to popular belief, we do worse when we start with something easy and build our way up to the hard thing.

Bad news for me: depression and social anxiety symptoms are associated with use of dating apps in women. (Insert teeth-gritting/brace yourself emoji here.) This is correlation, not causation, but I can certainly tell you that I don't feel like my best self after a round of swiping.

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What I Thought I Wanted

A photo of a old theatre marquee saying "I'm so glad I didn't get what I thought I wanted."

Funny how, in retrospect, we can easily see that what we thought we wanted wasn't really what we wanted for our lives, and yet we still want the things we want now so so so much. (Or is it just me?)

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What Do You Need to Feel Like Yourself?

A photo of a woman holding a magnifying glass in front of her face, so her eyes and nose are magnified larger than the rest of her. The overall vibe is fun and playful.
Photo by Marten Newhall.

A friend of mine asked this question recently:

What do you need in your life to feel like yourself?

I didn't have a good answer at the moment and so the question has stuck with me.

There has been a time in life when I very noticeably flipped from not feeling like myself to feeling like myself and it was when I went on antidepressants.

I generally described the shift as feeling like I had energy again - like I was no longer carrying a heavy, floppy weight that sapped all my strength and attention and feelings. I was actually able to not only do things, but to enjoy them.

So is that it? Is feeling like yourself just having the energy to do things? Perhaps things that you enjoy or that you have pinned your identity to?

Because the next step in this analysis is to get lost in a maze of questions of identity and what even is that in the first place and what makes me me and do any of us really know ourselves and wait a second, do I have to know who I am in order to feel like myself?

(My answer to that last question is no. No, I do not. In fact, it can go in reverse! I can follow the feeling to discover more about who I am: what activities or circumstances give me that sense of, "Oh, this is where I belong/this fits/this feels like me"?)

So when do I feel most like myself?

I feel most like myself while engaging in creative activities. While with people I love, especially if we are being goofy or cuddling or having an intense, revelatory conversation. While planning things (I know, it's dorky but it's true). While dancing or walking or stretching otherwise using my body.

In a general sense, I feel like myself while doing things instead of not doing things. They don't have to be fancy or meaningful or particularly special things, it's just being up and engage instead of, well, the opposite. At the end of an evening puttering around the apartment with the TV on in the background, I'll feel more like myself than if I give in to the allure of the couch and enter sloth-mode for the night.

Which brings us back to my antidepressant-fueled realization: energy. All of this is moot if I don't have the energy or desire or ability to do the things that make me feel like me. Sometimes that energy comes from an antidepressant, sometimes it comes from a good night's sleep, and sometimes it comes from a mental pep talk and forcing yourself to start. Without it, however, it's just an exhausting slog through a bog in the fog.

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Aakash Nihalani: Artist or Portal-Keeper?

I am pretty sure artist Aakash Nihalani, who says he uses tape and paint and corrugated board to create his optical illusions, is actual the master of several portals into alternate dimensions.

A photo of a public artwork - on a white wall, tape has been used to create an outline creating an optical illusion to look like a piece of the wall rotated inward and opened, like a window.

A photo where two men are standing, wearing white t-shirts, and there is an optical illusion that makes it look like a neon green L-shaped thing is going through both of their chests. (It looks cool, not gruesome.)

A photo of an old, abandoned cabin in the woods. There is a line of white cubes with bright pink outlines that appear to be going through the cabin's window and off into the air at a diagonal.

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To Answer Your Question, No, We Are Not Okay

I saw this on Twitter recently.

To answer her question... no, no I don't think that we are. On so many levels.

First of all, we are humans. Are humans okay? We don't seem to be doing very well.

Second, the person described here has postpartum depression. Many humans experience some version of depression which is both okay (because I don't know, I seem fine with it for my entire life) and also very much not okay (what is broken that so many of us live like this?). From what I have witnessed, postpartum depression is a particularly brutal experience, what with all the exhaustion and babies to keep alive and feeling all alone.

But more to the point of the section she highlighted, let's use a Venn diagram.

On one side are the white women who are aware of our role in supporting a white, hetero-patriarchy, hate it, don't know what to do about it, and are too scared to really go there. These women are constantly guilty and would fully feel absolutely wracked about adding another white man to humanity. Not okay.

On the other side are the white women who think there's nothing wrong with our role in supporting the white, hetero-patriarchy. They may feel fine or they may feel very angry (at all that political correctness ruining their white son's futures) but either way, they are really not okay either.

In the overlap are the white women who are aware of everything we have done to hurt humanity, doing what they can within their sphere of influence to change it, and while they sometimes feel a terrible weight of guilt, they also feel free to experience joy and love and raise their little white sons as best they can, should reproducing be a thing for them. They are okay.

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