Seven Years Social

2 03 2017

(Note: A strange glitch prevented this reflection from actually posting last week, when it was written. Luckily, the sentiments haven’t changed!)

Seven years ago this week, I joined Facebook.

I know this because all week I’ve been regaled with those little “Friendversary” videos FB produces. Like many people, I would guess, I find them a bit cheesy – especially when they celebrate things like my 7-year friendship with my father. Also, though, there was a photo collage and comment posted to my wall by my friend Layne that was beautiful in it’s capture of joyous, raucous, supportive friendship. In part, it read, “Oh Jen, this is something. And telling of the photos- they include so many people. You rang in a whole chapter of my life, one of the greatest! The chapter that MAKES the story.”

As a result of that post, and after a flurry of instant messages, a group of friends who have not been in the same place together for three years have put a date on the calendar to rectify that long separation. I can’t wait to just BE with these women.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, I’ve also been tweeting for seven years. When I moved to a new city in 2013, I learned about a social event on Twitter, and went with my friend Mike. (One of two friends I already had in that city, Mike and I had reconnected through FB after twenty-seven years apart.) Over craft beer and ice cream, conversations with apparent strangers suddenly became reunions of a sort, as our Twitter handles were revealed and we realized we’d been talking to each other for months, 140-characters at a time. Though I didn’t know it at that night, the people in that room would become the core of my friend-group in my new city: my fellow volunteers at Open Streets events, the members of my writing group, my teammates on alleycat “races”.

Such are the promises and true possibilities of social media – to connect and reconnect, to nurture shared interests, to meet people whose orbit wouldn’t otherwise intersect with ours but, somehow, should.

That shining promise is why I am not a fan of the algorithms that have been developed by social media platforms. You know, those formulas that have narrowed the scope of what we see and who we connect with, what ideas are allowed to cross-pollinate, etcetera. Based on the assumption that we want more of the same – the same products, people, politics (propaganda) – these algorithms pre-select content for us. The other day, I tried to send a friend request to someone I know – and she tried to friend me – and we couldn’t do it. Even though we were sitting side-by-side, we were not able to find each other. Even though we both opened up all our security settings, we couldn’t find each other. Eventually, the only way in was through a third person’s tagged photo. I’m so grateful it wasn’t this hard to reconnect with high school and college friends seven years ago – I hate to think of my life without the enrichment those relationships have brought, thanks to social media.

More important, in this time of social/political upheaval and unrest, I wish it didn’t require such deliberate determination to find and hear voices speaking from perspectives other than my own. (Unfortunately, the only ones it IS easy to connect with are the trolls. Trolls: the reason we can’t have anything nice on social media anymore. But trolls are a topic for a whole different post…) Many more knowledgeable people than me have written about what this means in real terms for the divisiveness and polarization happening in our society.

I can attest, though, that my personal sphere suffers from this polarization. The original promise of social media was that it can/could offer a place for dialogue rather than division. And while this is still possible, it has grown exponentially harder. The whole blame for this can’t be placed at the feet of our algorhythmic overlords. A significant portion of the blame is ours – our refusal to carry the norms of civility with us from IRL interactions to online ones. Our refusal to maintain civil and respectful discourse IRL, so that it sometimes feels we’ve completely abandoned efforts to talk through our differences anywhere at all. Our fallible and fragile egos, which tell us to take it personally when someone we like (or love) strongly voices a different opinion.

Seven years into my own social media venture, there are moments when it feels like all the promise, all the possibilities, have been lost.

On the other hand, there are also still moments of true connection available – if that is what we value and what we put forward ourselves. For example, I’m FB friends with a woman who lives overseas. She’s an evangelical Christian and political conservative married to an American serviceman; I am none of those things. I’ve never met her – we connected through one of my sisters. We don’t often actually speak directly to one another on FB, other than to give the occasional thumbs-up. However, in the past year my respect for her has increased tremendously. She is a rare individual who uses social media to gather a variety of perspectives – and she responds with respect and kindness even when her views and another’s are diametrically opposed. She responds with the same integrity even when the other commenter shares angry, vitriolic or uninformed opinions. She initiated a very interesting and thoughtful thread during the presidential campaign, trying to understand the response to Syrian refugees in America, given her perspective as an American living in Europe, where so many refugees were being resettled. Recently, in the week following the Women’s March on Washington, she began a conversation about abortion – probably one of the most compassionate dialogues I’ve ever witnessed between women with a variety of perspectives about one of the most divisive and polarizing issues of our times.

In another example, shortly after the presidential election, a Twitter acquaintance sent me a direct message. He wanted me to know he was sick of all the politics still filling his Twitter feed. “The election is over. Trump won. Can we please get over it already?” he asked. I replied, letting him know that while I wouldn’t talk exclusively about politics, I couldn’t pretend that I don’t live in this time and environment. I would continue to follow my own moral compass, and if he wanted to unfollow me in order to stop seeing my issue-oriented tweets and retweets, I would understand. He replied, “Oh no, I won’t do that! Its too hard to connect with intelligent thoughtful people. You won’t get rid of me that easily!” I remember smiling when I read that – nice to have friends you’ve never met who don’t intend to drop you over differing worldviews.

I’ve seen many complaints about how social media has become a constant barrage of politics and protest. I’ve also seen some interesting, thoughtful responses to those complaints (along with one or two less thoughtful ones). We’ve all heard or know of someone whose relationships have been negatively impacted over this – people unfriended or unfollowed on social media AND in their off-line relationships as well. This makes me sad. And it compounds the degree of polarization between us, rather than holding out the hope of healing it.

I, for one, hope for increased understanding. I, for one, hold out hope for the positive possibilities of interconnection offered via social media. Admittedly, the daily thrill of logging on, eager for multiple notifications and/or friend requests has lessened significantly over the years. Some days I honestly “just can’t” with the flame-throwers and trolls and (even) the Facebook “friends” who haven’t learned how to argue without taunting, insulting or gloating. However, this week’s barrage of “friendversaries” has reminded me that I have ample evidence of the positive effects of social engagement online, as well. My life has been so enriched by connections that I’ve made via the interwebs. It is the gratitude I feel for these relationships that allows my hope to remain alive and well. It is what keeps me reaching out on various platforms – and what allows me to celebrate my “seven years social” with each and every one of you who read this blog entry.

Happy anniversary, my friends!

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more open and connected.” — Mark Zuckerberg



16 02 2017

“A puzzle with a solution is a game. A puzzle without a solution is a work of art.” –Marty Rubin

My friend Wendy made a passing comment to me in December about her enjoyment of online jigsaw puzzles. I don’t remember the context, but it wasn’t as if we had a lengthy discussion about it – she mentioned it and we moved on to something else.

Fast forward to January. I found myself, most evenings, restless and fidgety. Too tired to go out, too wired and worried to relax. Wendy’s comment about jigsaw puzzles popped into my mind one evening, and I immediately downloaded an app for my Kindle. That first week, I not only did the daily mystery puzzle (no picture to tell me what I was putting together), I also put together three or four easier puzzles a day. I was so obsessed with these puzzles that my brain began processing normal objects all day long as if they were puzzle pieces needing to be fit together (the same thing happened, briefly, in the early 90s when I became addicted to Tetris). I realized that this was not a good sign. Gradually, I increased the difficulty level and reduced the number of puzzles, until I hit a steady groove of completing one puzzle a night.

As stressors amp up in my own life, compounded by the stress we are all experiencing on the political landscape, I feel almost a compulsion to solve the daily puzzle. When I finish it, especially if it is particularly challenging, I feel a sense of accomplishment and completion – a brief but satisfying relief of anxiety.

As my anxiety has deepened, my sleep patterns have shifted. I fall asleep for a few hours then wake, sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m., for up to two hours. I’ve developed a bad habit of looking at social media in this interregnum between periods of sleep. I’ve read late-night screen-time is not good for my brainwaves and I know from my heart rate it is terrible for my emotional state.

The past couple of nights, rather than logging onto Twitter, I’ve been thinking about my sudden fixation with jigsaw puzzles. Why this particular activity at this particular time? At various points in the past, I’ve similarly questioned my Tetris addiction, my repetitive binge watching of “Felicity” and “Ally McBeal”, the weird card-counting solitaire game I invented one winter…and each time, the first answer I’ve hit upon has been a variation on the theme of control. In particular, when I feel as if I am inadequately meeting the challenges confronting me (i.e. under-prepared, under-skilled, and/or under-resourced), I have a tendency to take refuge in some meaningless activity that allows me to feel even a minimal level of mastery. I have everything I need to solve a jigsaw puzzle:

  • there are borders/boundaries; I know where they are and how to identify them;
  • I have all the necessary pieces (especially on my Kindle, where random pieces don’t end up on the floor or in the cracks between my couch cushions);
  • the variables are limited – basically, I find the right spot for each piece based on it’s immutable color and shape.

Wouldn’t it be nice if managing people or politics or my own fears and insecurities was as easy? How would it feel in other areas of my life to engage in a single activity that has shape, form, a clear goal and an easy way to assess that I’ve successfully achieved it? That might just be my definition of heaven on earth. Instead, my life is filled with complexities, from the people I interact with to the projects I engage with to the mission I try to live and serve. There are no immutables here: everything is changeable, everything shifts and forms and reforms into different shapes and very few of my tasks are of the kind that can ever be considered “finished”.

I said the first answer I hit upon was about control. Another answer for this fascination with jigsaws, which came to me in the quiet moments of wakefulness the other night, goes deeper than my control issues. This second answer is about interconnection and interdependence. Living in a “post-truth” world, where nuclear aggression is suddenly back on the table and, even in Iowa, the protests are loud and contentious, I feel the need to seek out models for a different way of being and interacting. Jigsaw puzzles are an excellent candidate. Each piece is unique, specifically both itself AND an integral part of a much larger whole. Without connection, the full picture cannot be viewed. Each piece is interdependent with every other piece in helping the whole image to coalesce into something meaningful.

If I am interdependent with all the other pieces of this jigsaw puzzle we call the universe, if we are all part of the same whole, then the very things that I am fearful of and rail against are part of that same whole; by extension they are part of me. Seen in this light, my sudden obsession with completion of puzzles becomes a quest for wholeness in a fractured world.

It appears that my commonplace problems and my deeper existential anxieties often surface and make themselves known to me through sudden behavioral anomalies. They enter my days practically unnoticed at first, disguised as simple distractions. It is only when I have (or take) the time to question what is happening, then to slow down and get quiet enough to hear the answers, that I begin to understand myself. But what do I do with this understanding?

After the election in November, Martha Beck published an article titled, “From Inside the Darkness“, in which she says:

“My job today is to feel all the parts of me that are like the darkest parts of my profoundly divided country, my profoundly divided species. It is to listen to them, to understand them until my own fear, anger, and sorrow dissolve into the light of compassion.

I can only do this inside myself–but that will be enough. It will be enough because one healed person broadcasts an energy that can pull dozens, hundreds, millions of people out of their own darkness.”

She goes on to state, “Compassion, friends, is the most revolutionary power on earth–not simpering and weak, but magical, powerful, the very force of Creation.” That compassion, according to Beck, must first be extended toward ourselves: compassion for our imperfections, our less-thans, our wish-I-weren’ts, and our hate-that-I-ams. When we extend the healing energy of compassion to ourselves, our little piece of the puzzle shines – and that shining light then radiates into the other pieces with which we connect.

It would be silly to suggest that I will heal the world by putting puzzles together on my Kindle. That said, thinking about why those puzzles have been occupying so much of my time has proven fruitful, and has led me to think differently about the divisions in my heart, my life and our world. It has reminded me that the way forward is one of healing and compassion. As the old song goes, “Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.” Let it begin in me.

Don’t Stop, Believe In…

9 02 2017

“I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”  — Kevin Costner as minor league catcher Crash in Bull Durham

In 1988, when the movie Bull Durham was released, my friends and I immediately fell for Kevin Costner’s character, Crash. He was everything we thought a love-interest should be: romantic yet rough around the edges, seasoned, able to see through the extraneous into the heart of things. That the movie was as much about baseball as love (maybe even more so – I haven’t watched it in years) just added a dimension of the all-American to an unconventional love story.

Thirty years later, I’ve not forgotten how I felt the first time I watched Costner deliver Crash’s “I believe” speech. It wasn’t just that I was young and he was good looking, though I’m certain that played a part. More, I think the speech resonated with viewers because we appreciate it when people simply, even boldly, declare what they believe in.

Every day, lately, I turn on the news or sign on to social media and I find anger and outrage. A lot of people are talking about what they don’t believe in (myself included). I’m not saying that it isn’t important to speak out – what we are against is every bit as important as what we are for. However, I have to find some balance because I feel, a lot of the time these days, like I’m tumbling into a dark abyss. Remembering a normal day a year ago feels like looking down a dark tunnel toward a very bright light. That isn’t normal, even if it is an understandable reaction to the current state of world affairs.

“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade… And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” — Ron White, comedian

While I haven’t actually consumed any vodka-lemonades lately (I may have to rectify that oversight!), I have been reminded that friends and community are a great antidote to abyss-tumbling. A couple of weeks ago, I met a friend for a storytelling event sponsored by a local nonprofit called The Hook. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear other people’s stories, to learn about what they believe – what they are for and against in their lives. There’s a wonderful alchemy that happens with storytelling in that kind of community setting – it becomes incredibly difficult to see the storyteller as “the other”, or worse, as an enemy. Even if what they are espousing or seem to believe is foreign or antithetical to my experience and firmly held beliefs, that alchemy allows us to connect through our shared humanity and our imperfections.

Last weekend, I spent Saturday night visiting friends. When the clock came around to bedtimes for the two children, I volunteered to tuck them in. One prefers being sung to, and requested my greatest hits (“The one about horsies”, “the one about the dragon”) while the older child prefers made-up stories while having her back scratched. These ordinary, homey moments with loved ones were a balm to my worried, weary soul.

Did the world miraculously change either of those nights while I was experiencing the warmth and love that community and friendship offer? Nope. What did change was my perspective. I was reminded that I am resilient. I was reminded that love is a powerful force in individual lives and experiences. Extending that to the larger community of which we are all a part, love is a powerful force for good. Please don’t misunderstand me when I use the word “love”. I am not referring only to the expression of intimate feelings shared between individuals – though that is the deeply personal experience that opens us to the much more vast and encompassing force of love.

I believe that love is a cosmic force that permeates every particle of creation. I believe that the degree to which I am able to act and react from a place of love will determine the degree to which I make a positive contribution to my world. I believe that the more ways we find to connect with others, to form webs of connection throughout the various groups and communities of which we are a part, the more we will effect positive outcomes for and with one another.

I believe that loving connection is how I will find much needed balance in those moments when I am most afraid of tumbling into darkness.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. ” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Personally Speaking…

2 02 2017

“We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally.” – Dalai Lama

Last night, I took Indian food to a friend’s house for dinner. It was a chaotic meal, with her four kids requiring varying degrees of attention (and employing tactics from screaming to tears to yelling “Mom” in a rapid-fire stream of syllables from the top of the stairs). In other words, a normal evening with a growing family.

Eventually, everyone began to quiet down. My friend and I moved from the kitchen to the living room at the urging of her three-year-old, who wanted to cuddle with her mom on the soft furniture. After a few minutes, during a lull in conversation, the little girl looked me directly in the eye and said, “You go home!”

Both my friend and I burst out laughing. My friend said, “Honey, that wasn’t a kind thing to say!”, but the little one was unrepentant, whining, “But I’m tired and I want everyone to go to bed!”

So I left, chuckling to myself about the directness of a three-year-old.

As I drove home, I thought about how silly it would have been for me to take the little one’s order to leave personally, because even though it was directed at me, it wasn’t about me. She was just trying to make her needs known to the adults in the room. I was glad that her mother’s correction was gentle.

People who have known me all my life, most notably my siblings, will tell you that I haven’t always been so able to let things roll off me. In fact, for much of my life I’ve tended to take most things personally. As a kid, it was hard for me to see something good happening to or for someone else as anything but a slight to me. If someone said, “Boo!” to me, it hurt my feelings. The occasional instances of true injustice left me sputtering with nothing to say but, “That’s not fair!”

Over time, though, I’ve been learning to adjust my perspective. If I catch myself thinking thoughts that overly-personalize the nonpersonal – like traffic or weather patterns – I can now laugh at myself and stop that thinking in process. No, every slow or timid driver does not have a vendetta against me which leads them to somehow cut in front of me. No, it doesn’t only rain because I have outdoor plans. No, that complaint about “some people” I walked in on at work wasn’t about me. Learning to put these nonpersonal issues into perspective has helped me begin to see that even things that feel or are, perhaps, intended to be personal are often not about me, either.

Once, a friend sent me a scathing email, accusing me of nefarious intentions and intentionally cruel behaviors. I was devastated. My immediate reaction was to sit down and write a tearful, point by point rebuttal to prove that these accusations weren’t true. After reading what I had written, I erased it. It somehow felt wrong – I had said, repeatedly, that the things I was accused of were complete fabrications and bore no resemblance to me, my intentions or my behaviors. But wouldn’t a friend know this?

The longer I sat with this situation, the more it became clear to me. Most of my friend’s email actually revealed her fears and her implicit (and unchecked) assumptions. Most of it truly had very little to do with me. Once my perspective shifted and I realized that the email projected onto me what she feared or was insecure about, I was able to respond in a less defensive way. I waited 48 hours or so before responding. I took time to question myself about each part of her accusations – what pieces were actually about me? what was fair? were there parts that I needed to own? what required direct response from me? how could I phrase my response such that it expressed my concern, compassion, and truth without projecting my insecurities back at my friend? I could not control her feelings or her response, but I hoped to move our conversation back onto level ground, where we could both remember that we were friends – that our intentions toward one another were positive, despite our human failings to express those perfectly in either words or deeds.

I have been thinking about this tendency to take things personally a lot lately. As social media and other forms of public discourse have taken a more incendiary and adversarial tone, it behooves me to remember that much of what is being posted, re-posted, commented upon, is coming from someone elses’ worry, fear, or insecurity (or, in the case of some outlets, purposely playing on those). When my friends are rude or incendiary, is it their intent to hurt me? When I am those things, is it my intent to wound the very people I care most about? I hope that I will be able to answer these questions in the negative – my friends are not purposely hurting me, nor am I purposely hurting them. So, how do we proceed?

I know I don’t have the answers. What I am trying to do is not take anything personally if it isn’t addressed to me personally. So, I assume that general postings/repostings on someone else’s social media wall or feed aren’t about me. They may certainly speak to me, but aren’t intended to hurt me specifically. I try to be sensitive about posting blasting rants full of name-calling and wild invective (sometimes, I’m not a good judge of this when I am emotionally reacting to news, but I am trying). Whenever possible, when I start to feel hurt or attacked, I stop and question my response – is this really about me?

The thing is, for some, all of this discord is nonsense. (We’ve all seen the posts asking Facebook to go back to being a place for feel-good news.) For others, politics IS personal. Often, the dividing line is how directly you see some opinion or legislation impacting your own life or lives you care about. Or how directly it touches on your most deeply held values and beliefs. This is true for most of us, regardless of political leanings. If one person believes that they are fighting for their life, while the other believes they are having a philosophical argument, that unequal amount of “skin in the game” will have a direct impact on the interaction – and it almost ensures that feelings will get hurt. For me, it remains important to recall that I am talking to, am in relationship with, a fellow human being about whom I care. A close second point to keep in mind: none of us, me included, has perfect insight.

The times I can avoid taking the other person’s comments, postings, statements as deeply personal – then see my way clear to a compassionate yet truthful response – are the times when real communication happens. Getting to that level is vitally important to moving forward as opposed to ending in an invective-filled, anxiety-inducing, tear-producing stalemate of an argument.

As I prepare to post this reflection, I’m aware that some readers will disagree with me or take issue with something I’ve said. I’m prepared for that every time I post to this blog. But please know that I am deeply willing to engage in respectful dialogue – even difficult and gut-wrenching discussion of our beliefs – with you. Please accept that my intent is positive and motivated by care. Also know that I am trying not to take our differences personally; rather, I hope to find in them an opportunity for personal and collective growth. I can’t help but believe that this is what our world needs more of right now.



My List

26 01 2017

“Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi

When a friend asked me last weekend what the Women’s March was about, I could tell she was having difficulty discerning truth from all the hyperbole gushing from every perspective. I thought she might be having a difficult time reconciling the fact that people she loves fiercely have diametrically opposed viewpoints – and nothing I said about the Women’s March would necessarily be helpful with that issue.

Her question did give me pause, though. Millions of people around the world marched that day. I could not begin to speak for such a huge group of people – anyone who feels comfortable characterizing the whole or summing them up with one or a few pithy statements or soundbites (whether pro or con) is likely to miss the mark. And since I couldn’t answer my friend’s question for the whole, I wanted to answer it in the particular – for myself, the one person whose reasons I needed to be clear on.

So, I made a list. It was a magnificent list! I listed all of the issues and ideals that I am concerned our country isn’t adequately supporting under our new administration: equal opportunity and equal rights for all, voting rights, affordable and just health care policies, immigrant rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, preventing gun violence, protecting families in need and the federal programs that support them…it was a long list and had soon filled two sides of a piece of paper.

After a while, I stopped and looked at the list. That’s when I realized that this lengthy laundry list was not really why I marched. Sure, I care about these things – I’ve cared about these things most of my life and I’ve often felt that, as a country, we weren’t doing enough or were doing something but missing the mark.

So I made a new list. At the top of the list I wrote: #WhyIMarch:  (which also happens to be a social media hashtag used by many). And the reason that came immediately to mind was: Love.

  • Love led me to march in Dubuque, Iowa where an estimated 600 people gathered, instead of marching in larger crowds in Des Moines or Chicago. Dubuque, my hometown, where I could stand side-by-side with women I love: my cousin Stephanie and my dear friend, Sue and some of the women who taught be to care about the world around me.
  • Love led me to march in solidarity with my sister, Anne, and with all the queer folk I admire and care about. Since the day she was born, Annie has been one of the great loves of my life. Annie doesn’t need to be cured of anything, thanks; but she does need and deserve legal protections and a world that accepts her innate right to exist (and thrive, and love) without fear of violence and discrimination.
  • Love for my niece, Zoe, who attends public school in Chicago, led me to march. Zoe is bright and engaged, and at eleven she can already reason better than many adults. She deserves an education that reflects the fact that we live in the greatest nation in the world. And because I love Zoe and want this for her, I also want it for all the children – even those living in lower income neighborhoods or communities without a strong tax base to support their schools.
  • Love for this Earth led me to march with deep concern for the environment and for continuing the momentum against climate change that has been gathering globally. I want my country to lead on these issues, not bring up the rear. Pope Francis admonishes us to “hear both the cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor”, to practice an integral ecology – and because I love this universe we were created to be a part of, I am doing my best to heed this call.
  • Love for all of my nieces: Myka, Rachel, Hallie, Atalie, Zoe, Nikki, Emma, Elsa, Ada, Carys led me to walk. It leads me to want a world for them in which they are free to walk safely on city streets, country roads, running paths and wooded parks without fear. A world where they are protected legally if the men in their lives behave violently toward them. A world where the laws that are already on the books are actually applied. I want them to feel loved and supported as contributing members of society – whether they work in the home or outside. When/if they have babies, I want their health care to be the best available, and I don’t want them to become statistics in a United States where mortality rates for mothers are rising.
  • Love for my nephews: Ben, Tim, Ezra, and the tiniest yet-to-be-born little baby E., was part of why I marched, too. I want them to live in a world where their strengths are cherished and so are their gentler attributes. I want them to live in a country where the men around them – regardless of their income level or the color of their skin – have had the same opportunities. I hope they live in a world where, if they or their families should need help to thrive, that assistance is available without forcing the diminishment of their self-respect.
  • Love for my parents took my feet to the march. These two have always worked hard, made the best of what life dished out, and tried to leave a better world than they were born into. They deserve a retirement without constant financial worries and stress over changes to “entitlement” programs enacted by people who will always have an easier retirement than my Mom and Pop (due in significant part to the fact we taxpayers will foot the bill for their peace of mind).
  • Love for my former students led me to march for today’s young adults. In my 25 years on college campuses, I worked with: uncountable suicidal and mentally ill students who could not get mental health care because of ever-shrinking community resources; dozens of young men and women who faced discrimination and bullying for daring to explore, and to share truthfully, their own identities; enough young women who had been physically, sexually or mentally abused or assaulted to lose count – and almost invariably these young women were treated shabbily by the very people/systems ostensibly designed to protect them – as well as blamed/shamed by their peers. Each of these students deserved better than they got, and I want more resources to be made available for them and for their peers who aren’t in school instead of fewer resources for communities that are already hurting.
  • Love of self, too, added to my desire to march. I marched because my life has dignity and meaning despite the fact that many, many people have tried to tell me otherwise. Those who think I am somehow “suspect” as a woman because I am single and not a mother, those who have felt it was their right to publicly humiliate me for their own pleasure because I haven’t met their standards of beauty, those who have behaved with physical and/or sexual aggression toward me because they perceived me as “fair game”, those who have disrespected me, talked over me, paid me less and tried to silence my voice because I am a woman – those individuals have only made me more determined to speak, from love, for my own right to fairness and justice.
  • Love for the ideal of sisterhood, for the reality of sisterhood, and for the incredible history of sisterhood on this planet.

Love. It’s why I marched – for the love, the people, and the reasons listed above and for more on my list at home. I know that other marchers had different lists – some shared concerns and some disparate. I understand that there are those who are critical of the Women’s March – and that is their right, too. To be clear, though: I wasn’t duped into marching for something I didn’t support regardless of what anyone else’s reasons were and, despite ludicrous assertions to the contrary, George Soros did NOT pay me to walk on Saturday.

It would have been easier and more comfortable to stay at home, but I felt called to go. I didn’t carry a sign. All I took with me were my sisters and my heart full of love.


Help and Sanctuary in These Times

20 01 2017


“I’m inspired and troubled by the stories I have heard.

In the blue light of evening all boundaries get blurred.

And I believe in something better, and that love’s the final word,

And that there’s still something whole and sacred in this world.”

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, mere hours before marchers enter the streets in protest and solidarity (and, yes, in celebration) throughout this country and around the world…

…here, on the cusp of whatever is about to emerge…

…I find myself seeking comfort, searching for courage, for wisdom to choose right action and to speak truthful words.

There are very few things I can claim to know with certainty. But I am certain that love is the answer to all questions of how and why and to what end. I believe that we can always change for the better – in our homes, our communities, our world.

And in our hearts.

I believe we are created with a desire for this implanted in us; that we are hardwired for compassion. My simple prayer is that we, the people, will wake from our collective nightmare into a new day, remembering that this is so.

“In a state of true believers,

On streets called us and them,

Its gonna take some time,

’Til the world feels safe again.”  ****

“I can’t tell you it will all turn out fine,

But I know is there’s help in hard times.

Sure it could, it could all be just fine

But I know there is help in hard times.”

**** (Most of the words in quotations, above, are from “Help in Hard Times” by Carrie Newcomer. This stanza is from her song “Sanctuary”. Both songs are from her album The Beautiful Not Yet.)



Channeling Lizzy

12 01 2017

Mill City Ruins, January 11, 2014

It was not till the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

— from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Mr. Bennet (above) facetiously observes that we are are prone to be too severe on ourselves. Had he been written in the last decade (as opposed to two centuries ago), he might have appended the word, “NOT!” to his statement. One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Mr. Bennet’s character is just this: he may fail utterly due to a weak will, but he is clear-sighted enough to be aware of his own failings.

The reason I have loved his daughter Lizzy more, though, has always been her self-efficacy and willingness to change.

As I considered what I intended to write about this week, I heard Mr. Bennet’s voice first. His “mea culpa” in the scene above has stayed with me over the years and comes to me when I am feeling particularly – and rightly – self-critical.

This post began when the photo I shared above popped up on my Facebook memories (though its subject has been hovering, unspoken, for a while). The picture is from a particularly memorable weekend in January 2014. The day of the photo, I worked an 8-hour shift on my feet, biked fifteen miles in the snow and cold for fun, attended the mayor’s victory party (another several hours on my feet) listening to speeches by people I admire like Senators Klobuchar and Franken. The next day, my friend Mike and I bundled up for another wintry bike ride, this time to – and on – Lake Calhoun, followed by coffee at Spyhouse.

That weekend was indicative of the whole year that followed – jammed full of new experiences, standing in crowds of people listening to folks I admired (mostly musicians, rather than politicians), shift-work on my feet, miles and miles logged by bike and on foot exploring and laughing with friends. By the time the year was over, my average mph by bike had risen from 12 to 16. My feet always hurt but the rest of my body felt amazing – by January 2015, I was in the best shape of my life.

Seeing my photo of the Mill City Ruins brought it all back. Looking so closely at my memories from 2014 into 2015, I could hardly avoid the sharp contrast with where I am today – a mere two years later. There has been, in those two years, a spectacular failure of will – mine. I’ve stopped riding or walking, I’ve stopped making time for new people and experiences, I’ve stopped paying attention to my food intake. I am now seventy-five pounds heavier and in horrible shape. My feet hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hate me. Like Mr. Bennet, I need to own it, need to feel it. Though moments of self-recrimination have popped up occasionally, even the worst of these passed by without effecting any real change in my behavioral choices.

And now, I’m worried that I’ve left it too late. What if I’ve backslid so far I can’t fix it? I haven’t written much about it here, even though this whole blog began as a record of my weight loss journey – and this certainly qualifies as part of that long travail. I haven’t written about it because  I have been too ashamed. Not embarrassed by a number on the scale – I’ve truly learned not to measure myself or anyone else based on that. Rather, ashamed of my self- neglect. Ashamed of my almost willful lack of self-discipline.

So, this is probably the moment to call upon my inner Elizabeth Bennet, rather than her father. Lizzy could have allowed her pride to carry her forward, refusing to be seen as fickle in her opinions or wrong in her assessment of character. In doing so, she certainly would have saved herself some moments of extreme embarrassment – imagine having to admit to virtually everyone in your community that you were the complete opposite of right! But there’s a good reason Lizzy is a beloved heroine to generations of women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy chose to grab her chance to be happy even though it meant admitting her mistakes, standing up to those who wished to belittle her (especially that bully, Lady Catherine deBourgh), and working to set right the damage her behaviors had inflicted.

This is definitely the moment. But, I can’t help wondering, is there enough of Lizzy’s fortitude in me? Getting healthy and in shape the first time around required all of my attention and energy, plus most of my non-work time. It also sucked up oceans of support from loving friends and family. Now that I’ve pissed all of that away, can I find the strength to do it again? I honestly do not know. But it is about time to find out.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

   — John O’Donohue, from “A Morning Poem”