Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

From The Girl Who To A Broad View

Logo art by: Nicole M. Day

I've tried and failed to write this dozens of times over the past few months. How can I introduce A BROAD VIEW to you? I wanted to be smart and polished; A shrewd feminist who knows exactly what she's talking about. Someone who understands and can articulate the shades of gray, the complexities of being a woman in a post #metoo society in the 21st century. A woman who desperately wants to help forward this important and necessary conversation.

Essentially, I wanted to write a savvy, inspirational manifesto about women for women. But I couldn't do it. I simply could not articulate what it is I want to tell you about why I'm creating this podcast and how I envision the adventure unfolding. Then it hit me. That's what I need to write: The challenge of defining womanhood and what it means to be a woman in 2018. My struggle to articulate womanhood and my ever-evolving definition of feminism as I attempt this podcast are exactly what I should be sharing, not some polished version of feminism that I finesse until it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, because a lot of the time I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm stumbling across the potholed divide of my youth and middle-aged womanhood, same as everyone else, even the ones who pretend they have it made. I'll note here that I'm 41 (holy shit I've been writing here since I was in my twenties!) and still consider myself verging on womanhood, which should be an eye-opener to all the women behind me - chronologically speaking - because it aptly demonstrates that there is no magic age at which you feel like you're an accomplished, grown ass woman. At 25 I would've told you that certainly at 41 I will feel like a grown woman who has her shit together. And yet, here I am. This concept is something I'd very much like to confirm during interviews with women in their forties, fifties and older that will be featured on A BROAD VIEW. Do you ever feel as if you've arrived or are you constantly growing, even near the end?

At 41 I'm just now wandering into this wondrous place of realization, empowerment and learning how to actualize those things in my everyday life. There are now periodic, astonishing glimpses of how remarkable life can be if I am able to unlearn the disinformation society forced upon me about womanhood and fully come into my own. They don't come naturally, the glimpses. You have to actively do the work. Read, research, listen and if you're lucky, the glimpses happen more frequently.

What does coming into my own mean? I don't rightly know, but that's what I hope to spend the rest of my life figuring out. For now it means being a woman who fully understands she doesn't need to be validated by any man. Not strangers, bosses, co-workers, ex-lovers, lovers, brothers, not even my own father. A woman who recognizes she has spent her entire life living under arbitrary social rules, mostly created and enforced by men. A woman who no longer gives a fuck what men think. A woman who wants to spend the remainder of her days validating and inspiring other women to break the same mental chains of patriarchy and societal expectation they may or may not realize are keeping them from discovering who they really are in this blink-of-an-eye lifetime.

Times are strange. Confusing. Many of us are struggling to understand who we are now as opposed to who we were raised to be. Grappling with our personal definitions - many of them forced upon us - of what it means to be a woman, a successful woman, and what role feminism plays in that definition. Few of us are polished and savvy in our stance and we shouldn't be! We should always be asking questions, learning, redefining, leveling up and always, always bringing our sisters with us!

I grew up feeling jealous and competitive of other women. I judged myself against them and felt superior or inferior as a result. Now, I want to spend the rest of my days learning from and celebrating other women and teaching those behind me to do the same. That's where A BROAD VIEW comes in. I've spent the past 15 years writing about myself, mostly. I'm tired of me. Now, I want to write about you. About your mother, your grandmother, your aunt, your sister. I want to amplify the painfully beautiful stories every woman has about their very unique paths in life. Every episode a piece of art containing essays, interviews, music and more that will help depict the life arch of a woman; the mistakes she's made, the triumphs she's experienced, the heartbreak, the love, the loss, the events in her life that define who she is and the lessons learned. I want A BROAD VIEW to be unapologetically raw, brutally honest and as authentic as possible. Everyday women's stories shared by a forty-something woman trying to figure out what it all means while increasingly realizing it all means nothing if we don't shout our truths, learn from and uplift each other.

Success as a woman is difficult to define in 2018. Is success becoming the CEO of a huge corporation or is it choosing to be a stay-at-home mom guiding children into becoming enlightened citizens of Earth who can move us closer to true equality? Women who came before us fought hard to afford us the opportunity to choose. Paradoxically, having the choice makes it harder to feel successful. I'm a mother of three and I work full-time, which makes it nearly impossible to feel like I'm doing either thing adequately, let alone successfully. I know other women who work full-time who feel judged for not being home with their children, others who stay home with their children who feel as if society writes them off as "just a housewife" and others whose religions tell them being a housewife is their true glory and working outside the home is a husband's role.

Is success leaning in or leaning out? It's something I know so many of us are dealing with as we strive to be successful at work and home and end up suffering debilitating stress, anxiety and depression. I don't have answers except to say that feminism, to me, means that no one can or should define what success is for you except you. One woman's triumphant success is another woman's worst-case scenario. Stop listening to pundits making the TED talk/social media/talking head/website/blog rounds and carve out your own path. Lean in, lean out, lean sideways, lean down into bed and take a fucking nap. Whatever works for you.

It's a strange, cathartic, scary, magnificent, exciting time to be a woman. I feel a kinship and a responsibility to all of you like I never have before. We're here to love each other and learn from each other and then we're gone. So, then... Here is my effort to ask and answer questions all women grapple with, listen and learn from those whose knowledge can help us navigate strange times and level up. My love letter to womankind: A BROAD VIEW.

First episode coming soon-ish.


Leveling Up

Pale skin hangs loosely over my bones like an old white sheet draped on a clothes line to dry. I'm tired. No energy. I drink too much but never get drunk. Maintenance drinking, I tell myself. I drink my evening beers like you take your Prozac. It's the ritual more than the alcoholic effect I crave.

No wonder I'm tired. But I can't break the cycle. Get up at five, get three kids ready for school or daycare or summer camp and out the door by seven, work by seven-thirty, home in time to catch the 2:55 bus arrival or daycare pick-up, do the breakfast dishes, maybe a load of laundry, straighten up bedrooms, stare at Twitter in horror for ten minutes and then it's dinner and bed and can I not enjoy an ice cold evening beer or three, dammit?

I could, but I won't let myself. I constantly analyze my alcohol consumption to the point that it ruins any enjoyment of consumption. I've been monitoring my intake for a decade and I'm still fine. Which means I could've spent the last ten years enjoying my evening beer instead of sweating it.

I am at war with myself but am desperate for a truce. The only casualty of war with one's self is one's self.

In other words, be kind to yourself.

Here's something. After spending my entire adult life trying to change situations usually not within my control, I have resigned. Instead of attempting to change the situation, I change my perspective. It's the only thing I truly control and even that is an exaggeration, sometimes we're just victims of a perspective forced upon us by society and unwitting parents who passed down their own shitty hand-me-down perspective.

It's all perspective. The only real happiness you'll find in life is adjusting your perspective to the thing, not endlessly endeavoring to change the thing itself because most of the time the thing is not within your control. Work with an asshole? Quit focusing on it. Not a whole lot you can do about it other than alter your view of the situation. What I'm saying is, let it keep bothering you until it festers like an infected wound or change your perspective. Change your anger at the asshole to empathy for the asshole. It's a small thing, but it's also a huge thing.

I just finished reading Cold Mountain, a gorgeous book that has changed my relationship to nature, to the Earth, or at least smacked me upside the head with a reminder to pay attention. Pay attention to the sun's path over my house each day, to the sound the wind makes when it whips through the trees in my backyard, to the way I can hear the river out behind my house on quiet days when the kids are with their dad, to the different bird songs that wake me up each morning and the way the grass smells just after a fresh cut. There are countless beautiful lessons in the book but the one I'm thinking of today is about perspective.

We mark some days as fair, some as foul, because we do not see that the character of every day as identical.” - Charles Frazier

Most of our days are identical. Sure, there's a bit of variation; your kids are being jerks one day, you get a flat tire the other, you're late to a meeting... But even those things are identical in their nature. They are the average stuff of life which makes up, what, 90% of our days? It's how you respond to those things in your mind that makes all the difference. If we mark most days as fair then that is what they are. I may have had a flat tire today, but my ex-husband rescued me from the roadside and I listened to a great chapter from my audio book while I waited for him. It was a fair day. Instead of Oh my god it was the worst day ever, I got a flat tire.

I have fought so hard against so many circumstances life has thrown at me. Divorce left me fucked up and lost. Scrambling for new meaning. Recalibrating my life and searching out a new vision for the future. And the actual fallout from divorce; I've lived with rage roiling in my gut for months and months, years even, and I've focused my anger outward, at those I rightfully or wrongfully believed caused the anger. But, at the beginning of this year I made a hyper-conscious effort to let it all go. To not be mad. To stop viewing situations with the same perspective I've always viewed them. I changed myself, the only thing I really can change - while allowing others to be who they are and full accept who they are as a part of the wonderful fucked-upness of life. I widened my perspective. I stretched my brain. It was hard.

Recently I realized my anger is mostly gone. My gut unclenched. The burden lifted. Beautiful things have occurred as a result of the letting go, including inner peace and drastically improved relationships. Leveling up. It's an everyday battle. But it's worth it.

It looks like rain and other small talkisms that destroy me

At work I dutifully engage in the requisite, mostly weather-related, conversations required to grease the wheels of the small talk necessary to make a trip to the coffee machine or restroom not completely, unbearably awkward. These conversations about weather are doubly painful not only for the torturous nature of small talk, but because I happen to work at AccuWeather. The last thing I want to do on a coffee break is discuss the weather.

"Yes, Sharon, it IS unseasonably warm for this early in Spring!"

After these interactions wherein I crank up the charm and bury the charisma needle in red, I often shake my head at myself and mutter "What an asshole" as I walk away. I'm referring to myself, by the way, not the innocent soul with whom I just chit-chatted about the cold or what day of the week it is. Days of the week: another work small-talk go-to.

"How you doin?"

"It's Thursday! We're almost there, Bob!" Finger gun to my head as I round the corner because WHO AM I? A person who says things like I'm hangin' in here Carl, just have a case of the Mondays, I guess. Corporate Monica who is very much concerned about office-related small talk that lubricates otherwise painful social interactions.

I'm an asshole because I detest these interactions and yet there I am, faithfully adhering to the social contract of work small talk in these United States. And I'm not just eagerly following the rules, I crank that shit into overdrive, I rev the engines of small talk, shift into gear and lay rubber with my feigned enthusiasm for the abhorrent ritual because I can't not. I am obsessed with your comfort level, always at the expense of mine.

Maybe it's my fault, though. Maybe everyone else is perfectly content to luxuriate in silence. I have consciously tried to sit in silence with another human being or in a group setting without attempting to improve the scenario with polite questions and small talk and I can't do it. The silence is unbearable, but maybe only for me. Do others even find the silences uncomfortable or is the fact that I'm perceiving discomfort my problem?

It's not just small talk, either. I have spent my entire life overly concerned with the comfort level of others. A people pleaser to the detriment of my own well-being. I can't help it. At social events I keep conversations flowing like I'm being paid by the host even as I long to go home, take off my pants, eat chips and watch TV. It's exhausting and why I require recovery time after any event that causes me to curl my eyelashes, leave the house and interact with humans for more than an hour. I'm constantly worried about your goddamn comfort level.

Is he enjoying this conversation?

I should ask him about his family, he might like that.

He looks uncomfortable, I should change the subject to his job.

"Oh, you're a (insert whatever job here), that must be really interesting. What's your favorite thing about your job?

***10 minutes later***

"So you met your wife at your job but she's not there anymore? You're divorced? With two kids? Ugh, that must be difficult, how are the kids handling it? Ooh, you're dating? Is it serious?"

People love to talk about themselves, I've found. Even the quiet ones. I walk away from these interactions knowing more about someone than their relatives and realize they never asked me a single question. Is it because I didn't give them a chance what with my awkward silence phobia or because people spend most of their time hiding behind keyboards these days and suck at actual conversations? Why do I always feel like I'm doing the heavy conversational lifting, is what I'm asking.

It's rare that I find myself in an engaging, reciprocal conversation. When they do happen, the engaging conversations, I go all Anne of Green Gables, mentally declaring someone my kindred spirit, probably because I'm thrilled they're sharing the conversational burden and not even because what they're saying is all that enthralling. Interact with me during a conversation by offering up a cool fact or interesting story or maybe ask me a few questions about my life and I'll be blown away by your effervescent charm. Am I just that hard up for good conversation? Yes. Yes I am. The conversational bar is set very low these days, I am easy to charm and yet I am rarely charmed.

Maybe I should explode the whole motherfucker and roll with weird, uncomfortable silences from here on out. Terminate small talk effective immediately. Stop working so hard to keep conversations flowing. What do I care? I'm 41 and tired. Let someone else do the work now. Except I won't. I'll bury that charisma needle in red every damn time because awkward silences destroy me, they are my Kryptonite and there is nothing to be done about it. Except complain in blog posts.

Woman in Search of Women Part 2

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I'm a woman, sure, but I don't know fuck-all about courting women. At least I don't think I do. Is it really all that different from flirting with a guy? In my limited experience, sometimes it's vastly different and other times flirting is flirting, regardless of sex or gender identity.

Still, for a brief moment my nerves win and I wonder what business I have driving through the dusky evening, steering in the direction of the bar & grill at which my Tinder match and I had agreed to meet for drinks.

She was smart and funny - via text, anyway. And bisexual, which was a relief. I was tiptoeing into an unfamiliar universe and loathe to piss off anyone who could potentially perceive me as some kind of lesbian tourist. Besides, it wasn't tourism. I've always been attracted to women. As far back as I can remember, I've been intrigued by women. My upbringing simply didn't allow for the curiosity to even manifest as a conscious thought in my head. Can it be tourism if I'm open to buying a house in the region?

Sexiness is subjective and those who land on my sexy spectrum generally do so for reasons difficult to define but that rarely have much to do with appearance. Intellect and humor are the tits and ass of my world. Which is not to say that tits and ass don't hold sway, because tits and ass sway beautifully, it's just that it's possible to do without them, but without intellect and humor there is nothing. And then there is the way one carries oneself, a combination of the physical and that mystical essence of a person that make them so uniquely them. A certain tilt of the head, a gentle tucking of hair behind an ear, biting a lip while deep in thought, the sway of hips while walking, how she looks when she's listening to me tell her something. Eye contact is everything. She looks away, looks back, tucks her hair behind her ear, bites her lip, then laughs. Looks away again. This exchange of physical-ness is equally as important as the actual conversation, sometimes even more important.

I pulled into the parking lot, checked myself in my mirror one last time and walked into the bar.

Woman in Search of Women Part 1

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About a year after my divorce I ventured onto Tinder and clicked the box that prompts both men and women to show up in the videogame-esque dating app that allows you to indiscriminately swipe people in and out of your life based solely on appearance. As I live near a city smack in the middle of the enormous rectangle that is Pennsylvania, pickins was slim. Penn State is located here, so while it is a college town, I was 37 at the time, which, for me, ruled out a large percentage of the collegiate population, although there was a brief but certainly educational dalliance with a sexy Argentinian grad student.

Bernardo was an invaluable acquaintance as I attempted to rediscover my sexuality amid the smoldering wreckage of my divorce. But it wasn't strictly a physical thing. About a week after meeting him my beloved dog Max died. Bernardo allowed me to cry on his couch while he studied. He'd serve me tea, occasionally adjust the blanket he'd draped over me and play M. Ward's Hold Time album on his turntable, the perfect soundtrack to debilitating grief.

If I thought quality available men in the area were lacking - on Tinder, anyway - women (seeking other women) were nonexistent. Profiles like "Power of God blesses me every day. Constant work in progress, getting closer to who I want to be every day. Love pizza, my cat, tequila slammers and dancing but not necessarily in that order lol" left much to be desired.

I'd almost decided to delete the app when I saw her. Cute thirty-something blonde, director of something that involved advocating for children and a smattering of photos revealing she also liked to play in the great outdoors. Attractive woman who spends her worklife concerned about the well-being of children and also likes to get outside and have some fun? Fuck it. Let's give this thing a go, I thought and swiped right.