Making Waves

17 08 2017

“Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident was a Fat, Childless 32-Year-Old Slut.”

You may wonder what possessed me to read the Daily Stormer article with this title. After all, I knew that the website was a neo-nazi “news” and commentary site. Part of me didn’t want to believe that, hours after Heather Heyer had been killed in Charlottesville, anyone would be vile enough to write such a headline referring to her. Part of me felt compelled to know for myself what they said, rather than just rely on commentary from others. It is hard for me, after the fact, to reconstruct my thought process prior to clicking on the article because reading it changed something in me.

The gist of the piece was that women are always a drain on men’s resources and, as such, have only one redeeming purpose on this earth: procreation. Women who are not mothers should be exterminated to reduce the drag on men. This, the article assured me, was doubly true for fat women who are not mothers. What possible purpose could such individuals have? Following this line of reasoning, the commentator went on to say that, therefore, Heather Heyer – and by extension any woman without children or past their child-bearing “usefulness” – deserved to be murdered.

The article was vile. Truly, unequivocably, vile.

But, truth be told, it felt a little familiar. It was definitely more direct, more intentionally hurtful, and less sanitized than a lot of messages our culture sends to women. But it was, underneath the nazi rhetoric, not that different from what women are told repeatedly in this culture: We are worth less than men; We don’t deserve (nor do we receive) the same care/benefits from society as men; We should be grateful for the attention of men, even when it is expressed as harrassment and/or violence. I don’t want to spend this post arguing that these assertions are true: if you want convincing that women are treated as less-than and systematically discriminated against, you can do the Google search as easily as I can. Try “women and healthcare” or “women and wages” or “women and violence”.

Reading the Daily Stormer piece flipped a switch inside my brain. I could feel, at the deepest level of my being, the ways that I’ve both received and internalized cultural messages about my own worth and power (and also about the worth and power of a variety of other folks, whether people of color, LGTB+, those living in poverty, etc.) At the core of who I am, a word formed:

ENOUGH.

As in, “I/we have had enough.”

As in, “I AM/We ARE enough.”

As in, “There is enough.”

While there are definitely people who know where I stand, I have mostly tried to play by rules that I now see more clearly than ever were intended to keep me quiet: don’t ruffle feathers; don’t lose relationships over differences of opinion; be likeable; don’t be forceful; don’t assume you know anything (or that what you know means something). Sometimes, I have lived my life as if the greatest good that could come of my choices would be my own invisibility. I have allowed myself to make occasional small ripples, but I have avoided ever making waves.

I’ve believed the myth of my own powerlessness for far too long; I’ve finally had enough of that bullshit lie. I am powerful enough to change this world. Despite the scarcity narrative so prominent in white supremacist and nazi chants, there is enough to sustain each of us in this world if we will only use our power to shift dominant paradigms. We are – each and every one of us – so much more than just a drain on resources.

Today, I find myself wondering about Heather Heyer. Her friends say she was afraid there would be violence, but that she felt she needed to protest on Saturday anyway. What was she thinking when she left home that morning? Was she hoping to send a ripple of love or justice into the waters of racism, misogyny and hate? I feel certain she wasn’t seeking death. Whatever her hopes and dreams, Heather understood that she had the power to effect change and she chose to use that power.  Heather definitely made more than ripples: when she chose to stand in her power on Saturday, she unleashed a wave containing all the force of a tsunami. May each us discover our power and courage to do the same.

“The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.” — Virginia Woolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Nuclear Family

10 08 2017

 

When I was younger, I had a recurrent nightmare. Though in reality I was in junior high, and later high school, in my dream I was an adult living at a distance from my family. The dream always began in the middle of the story: the world was in imminent danger of nuclear destruction, the country in utter chaos. In the midst of this, I was attempting to reach my family in order to face what was to come with the people I loved best in the world. After a period of time in which I was fearfully, anxiously (and unsuccessfully) striving to get to my destination on crowded highways and congested city streets, the “thing” would happen. I would wake then, sweating, with my heart beating as fast as if I had just run a marathon. On many nights, my panic was such that I had to “accidentally” wake a family member just to be grounded back in reality.

On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated in New York City’s Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold war arms race. In solidarity, I protested in Washington Park, in Dubuque, Iowa.

In November of 1983, as a new college graduate, I gathered with others at a friend’s apartment to watch the television movie, “The Day After”.  This film eerily echoed my nightmare as it depicted an escalation of tensions, warfare, then full-scale nuclear engagement and its aftermath. According to several sources, more than 100 million people watched “The Day After” during its initial broadcast                         (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After).

We were living with a shared nightmare.

However, the 1980s saw a widespread movement, along with a number of international agreements and treaties, that led toward a safer world. Though we’ve never been free of the specter of nuclear war, by the 1990s there appeared to be agreement that preemptive use of nuclear weapons was unacceptable among civilized nations. And while, since 9/11, we’ve worried about nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists, by and large our nuclear nightmares have been centered on accidental rather than intentional destruction. At least, this is the world I, personally, have been inhabiting.

Sometime in my 20s, I stopped having that nuclear nightmare. Then this week happened.

Listen: this is my experience. I am not saying that everyone has experienced the same. I know there are folks whose nuclear fear has never been calmed. I know there are others who are not worried today. But I lived through events and political movements that gave me hope and that allowed me to feel the world was, somehow, a brighter place than the one I was born into. It does not feel that way anymore.

I don’t like the way things have been going. I also don’t like wallowing in my own dark thoughts or giving in to despair. I wandered back in memory to think about what gives me hope, as well as what contributes to the darkness. What I found were many examples of people coming together to work toward a more peaceful vision. I remember the Great Peace March, from Los Angeles to DC. I remember the pride I felt when marriage equality was legalized here in my home state of Iowa. I remember how moved I was to join my sisters and nieces across the country for the Women’s March last winter. And I remember that every day the place I work offers a haven for peace and transformation, where love for all of creation is expressed in what we do.

Earlier this week, I was introduced to the Birdtalker song, “One”. The lyrics speak so powerfully to what is happening in our world – and what we are forgetting in these divisive times – that I wanted to share them today. We need to be quiet long enough to hear the lowly hum of every particle vibrating with one life. That is the deeper truth that will make itself known, whether we as a species choose to learn that truth by walking the path of unity or by taking the way of division: we are one.

“One” by Birdtalker

I’ve played the teacher, the preacher, guru
Maintaining postures separating me and you
As if the thoughts of God were mine and mine to speak
I’ve listened with an agenda so I could prove
All of the shit I believe to be true
Just to hide the fear of being weak

Burn the scorecards, balance out the scales
We are one wind distracted by our different sails
Underneath what’s detectable with eyes
Every particle’s vibrating with the same life

If we keep running around deciding who’s right and wrong
Then tell me, where are we headed?
How can we all belong
When all our logic is colliding
And it’s constantly dividing me from you

So damn those eager protestations on your tongue
Shut your brain up long enough to hear the lowly hum
Underneath what’s detectable with eyes
Every particle’s vibrating with the one life

There’s a field waiting for us
All the notions of you, the notions of me
We finally agree don’t mean a thing
Burn the scorecards, balance out the scales
(We are the land of the right, the land of the wrong)
We are one wind distracted by our different sails
(There’s a field waiting for us)
Damn those eager protestations on your tongue
(All the notions of you, the notions of me)
Shut your brain up long enough to hear the lowly hum
(We finally agree don’t mean a thing)
Underneath what’s detectable with eyes
(Beyond the land of the right, the land of the wrong)
Every particle’s vibrating with the one life
(There’s a field)

 

 





Wherever You Are…

3 08 2017

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.
–Eckhart Tolle

Wherever you are, be there totally.

Last week, I was on vacation in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. Whether we were hiking to Treasure Falls or getting lost on our way to Piedra Falls, hot-potting in the natural springs in town or hot-tubbing on the deck at our rental house, I had no difficulty being totally there.

But while on the two-day drive home, it became harder to “be there” with each mile that flew under my wheels. Thoughts of the past, or the things waiting for me in the future (both near future and far), invaded my calm and I began to feel the anxiety, fear, overwhelm and shame that signal that I’ve lost that presence in the here and now. Back home, I had difficulty sleeping through the night, I felt the stirrings of panic over concerns (some beyond my control), and I felt generally stretched thin once again.

Why is it so easy to be fully present while on vacation, and so hard in daily life?

If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy…

How bad, I find myself wondering, is “intolerable”? I mean, I’m functioning. I’m capable of humor. I’m not facing the days with dread. On the other hand, I’m not happy with myself and with the daily choices I am making (or abdicating). How long can one drift in the “not exactly stage”: not exactly unhappy but also not exactly happy? Not exactly fully present here, not exactly somewhere else?

…you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.

I see the wisdom in this, but how do you pick one option? All are fraught with difficulties, and I’ve tried each at different points in my life – to varying degrees of success. What I think I’ve learned is that it isn’t a one-and-done prospect; you will have to keep choosing one of these options with each step along the path. Every time you land in a new spot, either you are fully there or you are eyeing one of these options.

If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.

Something else I’ve learned, though I still have difficulty taking corrective action: Every day of not choosing is incrementally worse than the day before. The phrase, “Wherever you are, be there totally” sounds deceptively easy. But it isn’t as if we stay in equilibrium – things shift and change all the time. So we must shift and change too. Not choosing is allowing the universe to decide – which sounds more pleasant than it actually feels. And while accepting it totally may seem like the easy way out, it is so much more difficult in practice than moving or making some other change, because it is all interior work. At least if you remove yourself from the situation you are in, or you make some other outward change, those changes in and of themselves assist by offering momentum. Where you end up may not be great, but at least it is different!

If you aren’t happy, it is awfully difficult to reach the level of acceptance that takes you through to the other side of that unhappiness without actually moving someplace else.

Then accept the consequences.

One thing I know for sure: you live with the consequences whether you “accept” them or not. Consciously choosing to exercise volition: to leave or to change or to purposefully remain rooted and committed to where you are makes it easier to find that acceptance. When I can’t be fully present where I am, or I find it overly burdensome to accept the consequences of my choices, I know it is time to take a hard look at Tolle’s three options again – turns out the distance between not good and intolerable can be bridged fairly fast.

And while taking another vacation might be nice, I know it isn’t the long-term solution. Still. When you’re living on the plains, it is so easy to miss the mountains!





Vacation, without words

27 07 2017

 

 

 

 





The Three Lacks

21 07 2017

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius

Thursday morning. I wake up to the alarm, knowing I set it with the intent of one snooze cycle only. But I am so sleepy. Each time it sounds I can only hit snooze again. When I finally decide I am awake, I check my FitBit, which tells me that of the six hours I was “asleep” I spent roughly the exact same amount of time awake as in deep sleep: 51 minutes.

In the kitchen, as I wait for the coffee to brew, I am tempted to log in to my bank accounts. I don’t need to as I’ve spent plenty of time there in the last twenty-four hours. I have a pretty exact idea of where every penny is allocated. I have the spending of an unplanned-for small fortune on my vehicle yesterday to thank for this crystal-clear knowledge.

I think about the day ahead. So many things to do, not nearly enough time. I have this image in my head: like Jacob Marley’s ghost, I carry a chain of heavy links-each one an undone thing I ought to have already attended to. An unreturned phone call, an incomplete task, a disappointed colleague or friend.

I sit at my kitchen table, sipping the coffee that finally finished brewing. At the start of this new day, I feel tired, broke, discouraged.

It starts to rain.

I try very hard to focus on abundance, but I cannot get the three lacks out of my mind: I lack resolve; I lack funds; I lack time. They are the three lacks I always seem to battle.  Maybe everyone does? Brene Brown says, “For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough.” But even lowering the bar to enough, I fall short many days.

I fall short today.

It isn’t even 8:00 a.m. and I have decided that the day is a bust. Already, my day is defined by what is lacking rather than by what is present.

I get dressed and drive to work – yelling at the other drivers for imagined transgressions.  (It only helps a little.)  Once there, before I can take the three lacks out on everyone else, sucking the abundance from their days, a colleague shares a poem that seems selected with my martyrdom of scarcity in mind:

Everything Is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you are alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice. You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mento of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

–David Whyte

 

And it helps. More than a little.

 





Too Young to Be So Damn Old

14 07 2017

 

 

The past couple of years, I’ve been struggling with midlife anxiety. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet (and may never), fearing the future and whether I will have the wherewithal to survive comfortably, terrified that some amorphous but horrible tragedy will strike. I’ve sometimes felt like the busy thoroughfare of life I started down became a dead-end street when I was, somehow, not looking.

I’ve finally had enough of that.

I can’t stop bad things from happening through sheer force of preemptive fear. They will either happen or they won’t – and I’ve decided to be miserable when I have to be rather than volunteer for it in advance.

Here are a few other things I’ve decided:

  1. I will not watch depressing movies about early-onset alzheimers. I don’t care if they have beautiful cinematography, amazing scripts and finely wrought performances from an entire cast of academy award winners. Please reread the first paragraph above if you don’t immediately grasp the reason for my boycott.
  2. I will deviate from social norms if I feel so inclined. Really? You want to publish a list of things women my age should or shouldn’t wear/do/be/think? Go right ahead. But the minute you try to shame me into compliance if I choose otherwise, be prepared. Most of you have never been on the receiving end of the full force of my verbal wrath. Believe me, you will not like it.
  3. When I am feeling “stuck”, I will not write my own obituary or walk through a graveyard to contemplate the fleeting nature of time. I know there are workshops that use these activities to good purpose. But at this point in my life, writing my own obit is a little too real. Save these activities that “begin with the end in mind” for people who are actually at the beginning.
  4. I will not apologize for my gray hair…or my magenta, blue, or purple hair if I choose to go that way. If I color my hair, I do so for me – not because anyone else has an opinion. Who knows, there may be some wild colors coming. Gray hair makes me feel old, which in turn causes me to feel anxious. I hope that won’t always be the case, so I’m letting myself ease into it. I promise you, I’m not trying to recapture my youth. I’m aware that youth is not only fleeting, it has done fled.
  5. I will stop, throw in the towel, or give up any elective activity I so choose. There was a time I could not put down a book I had started reading until I had finished it. No more. I’ll never get that precious time back. So now, if the book isn’t doing something for me, I can quit it. Same for movies, card games, and seeing every booth at the farmer’s market. When I’m ready to be done, I’ll just stop. (The exception is Monopoly – I won’t even start playing that game so don’t ask.)
  6. I will follow my curiosity, even if it means I’m the oldest one in the room. I’m actually already used to being the oldest one in the room. I’ve been immature for my age basically my whole life. I thought that alone might protect me from midlife anxiety, but not so much, it turns out.
  7. I will sing the song in my head if the mood strikes me. This goes for whether the song is playing on Muzak or not. Since I was in about sixth grade, I’ve been self-conscious about singing in public. But recently, I’ve caught myself singing in the hallway at work or, once, while checking out the sales racks in Von Maur department store (they have a live pianist there). Sometimes you just have to belt out a Manilow tune.

Speaking of singing, I discovered a wonderful Swedish proverb earlier this week.“Those who wish to sing always find a song”. Fear and anxiety often encourage silence. The longer we are silent the greater the power our fears hold over us. I’m not entirely sure what reminded me that I am someone who wishes to sing. I’m just grateful to finally be finding a song again. I recommend taking my list of “decisions” with a grain of salt. But if you suddenly hear someone singing “Ready to Take a Chance Again”, you can bet your hard-earned money its me.





Excuses are reasons past their prime

6 07 2017

When, exactly, do reasons become excuses? 

I’ve been wondering.

I was having coffee on Sunday with three dear friends whom I don’t see as often as I’d like these days. At first, we talked about normal life stuff: food, our crazy schedules, the difficulty of maintaining perfectly groomed toenails. When you haven’t been together in a while, it takes some “warm up” talk before you get comfortable and start sharing what’s really going on in your life – how you feel, not just what you’ve been up to.

When we got to the real stuff, I listened with compassion to my friends’ concerns, as they did to mine. But afterwards, thinking about what I’d shared, I couldn’t help but wonder: was I holding onto reasons so tightly because I was, in fact, using them as excuses?

Many of the things that trouble us in life are not of our own choosing, and even the things that initially are choices often turn into things that are beyond our control. One example: you choose to have a child, but once they pop out you are basically SOL in the control department. Another example: I chose my job, but that doesn’t mean that, in any real sense, I get to choose how each day in that job unfolds. Mostly, I try to manage the chaos and hope for the best.

There are reasons, often good ones, for why things turn out the way they do. Which is fine – end of story – if the way things turn out is copacetic. But when it isn’t? When we’re unhappy or uncomfortable with where things are (where we are)?

How long do reasons remain reasons in that unhappy or uncomfortable space? When do they morph into excuses? I haven’t exactly figured that timing out yet.

But I do know that change has happened for me.

If I’m honest, I realized it when talking with my friends on Sunday. As I told them the reasons for my 80-pound weight gain and loss of physical fitness, I heard it in my own voice. “Menopause,” I said. “Medications,” I added. “Mobility challenges!” And that’s when I heard it: the false, tinny note of self-excusation.

What might have been reasons to begin with are not any more. Now, they’re just the excuses I use to justify inaction. Realizing this totally sucks. Now, I have to stop making excuses and make changes instead. And the fact is, making changes is hard. There’s also no guarantee that the outcome of these changes will be everything I want it to be.

But the eventual outcome isn’t the most important reason to change. A much more important reason is to be able to say, without reasons or excuses, “I’ve done the best I could do.” No matter what else happens, I’ll be really glad when I can say that again.