A Case for Glitter

Last weekend I spent three days learning the art of  peacemaking circles and walked away having learned just as much about myself as about circle keeping.  I affirmed that the spoken word is not my preferred or best form of communication–a fascinating (though unsurprising) discovery, made mainly through the sheer terror experienced each time the talking piece made its way to me.  Our (incredible) workshop leader Kay noted the importance of offering a variety of ways for people to respond throughout the circle process–with objects, self-made crafts, pantomime, etc.  ‘Otherwise’–she said–‘you are only catering to the people who are good with words.’  Now this is an obviously true statement and perhaps not even a remarkable one.  But (the more I’ve thought about it) it’s remarkable how much of our culture and process and spaces of expression hinge upon one’s ability to express him/herself verbally.  How many of our spaces are dominated by one form of expression?  And how can we create space for others to communicate by other means, allowing them to be their best selves?

I don’t have the answers….but I do have some thoughts.  I remember applying to college and of the ten (yes, TEN) schools I applied to, only one asked me to share about myself in some way other than the classic resume/essay/GPA combo.  One school (shout out to TCU) asked all applicants to take whatever creative liberties they wished with a blank 8.5″ by 11″ piece of paper.  Pure genius and pure fun.  That is likely the only application in my entire life that has ever been attached with the word ‘enjoyable’.  And I still remember what I did.  I recreated the scene from Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks is looking at Earth from the shuttle window and covers the entire planet with his thumb.

giphy

I don’t remember how I described it’s significance at the time but watching it again, that scene provides such an incredible paradox of our insignificance and our brilliance.  That we are small and dispensable yet profoundly powerful–enough to leave and survive outside our own planet.  And to dare believe that was even possible in the first place.

And I would have never been able to express such profundity without being allowed some construction paper, glitter and glue.

All I’m saying is that maybe we can and should do more of that.  How many job candidates are we overlooking because we can’t figure out a better way to allow people to show themselves than a cover letter, resume and lame interview questions?  And how many voices are we missing in important meetings because the only way to contribute is by interrupting or speaking up or having the perfectly-stated three point plan?

This feels particularly important when working with marginalized folks who may actually be scared by the sound of their own voice.  Or artists who could bring a room to tears with a simple movement, photo or gesture but may struggle to create a fully formed sentence in front of a crowd.  Let’s get to crafting y’all.

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Breath

I often find inspiration in unlikely places– words and phrases from real or fictional people, books, articles, or my own brain that dreams up visions and sayings providing purpose and clarity for this moment.  I thought I’d share some of my current bedrocks:

Breath (and Strength)
Last week my yoga teacher asked us to take a moment and pick one or two things to commit to during our hour of practice.  After some reluctance in picking two (my perfectionist self always tries to take on too much), I landed on strength and breath.  My favorite thing about yoga is that the entire practice is grounded in breath.  The goal is not to lift your leg higher than your neighbor or stretch until you feel pain (though both may happen) but to maintain your breath throughout.  I’m always struck by how counter this is to the world I live in (read: the world I’ve created.)

What if my own success was measured by remembering to breathe?  By noticing and being present and….breathing?  I often credit my strength as an ability to get through…to do all of the things I’m “supposed to”–to get through all the e-mails and the meetings and the news feeds and the happy hours and the dirty dishes and the endless stream of plans.  But breath makes for life and presence.  Breath allows us to show up to our lives, to our work, to hard conversations, to our surroundings and our struggles.  Through sick parents and hurricanes and relentless self doubt we breathe.

Sweating is always better
I’m pretty certain this one came to me after a recent run.  It’s about getting out of my own head–spending less time thinking and preparing and organizing and more time just doing (for the record, writing counts as doing).  “BUT I REALLY LIKE THINKING AND ORGANIZING AND RUMINATING ABOUT ALL THE ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES MY LIFE COULD HAVE!!”, screams every resistant bone in my body.  I’ve always been a very physical person but one who easily gets trapped in the cerebral.  Like, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if someone yanked me out of bed every morning and threw me into a cold river.  I would hate that person every time but I’d know it was the best thing. So, yeah.  Sweating (or hypothermia) is always better.  It just is.

Slow down
A few weeks ago I met a friend for coffee after work (ok, well it was my pastor…but she’s my friend!  And technically I had wine but…).   For a moment I was outside of myself looking at the two of us sitting at this nondescript table made available to us courtesy of the “No Laptops” sign–she with her tea and me with my wine.  The both of us with our “get to know you” questions and stories of faith and families and old vs. new New York.  And I couldn’t help but acknowledge what a small miracle this was in a city like ours and a time like this.  That there’s still space for two souls to sit and talk and connect and not have any particular place to be at anytime soon.  And how much better we both were for it.

 

The Aftermath

OK y’all. These are rough times.  Everyone’s mad. Trump’s got us all freewheeling on the end of his unyielding yo-yo string.  Executive orders are flying and the worst of our fears are coming true.  But we can’t live like this.  We just can’t.  It’s not sustainable.  We are all going to have early heart attacks or drinking problems or politics-induced panic disorder or some newly-minted diagnosis that will spring up as a result of these twisted-ass times.

Today I had to take a deep breathe and remember that we are dealing with a crazy person. A literal crazy person who happens to have been elected president or our United States.  We cannot be surprised by any action he takes from this point forward.  He has a mental illness and he will continue to take action on any unwieldy, unreasonable, emotionally-charged whim that crosses his mind and is within—albeit questionably—his democratic power.  So there’s that.  No more surprises.  This is just who he is.  And maybe who a lot of America is since we voted for him en masse.

Here are some thoughts and paths forward I’ve been thinking on:

  • As a person of many privileges, my life will probably not be that directly impacted or damaged no matter who is in office.
  • Having said that, many people’s lives will and already have been torn at the seams and it’s my place to protect and defend those lives.
  • I am done with protesting—for now, at least. And in thinking about where to pick up the torch and go to battle I’ve landed on doing more of what I’m already doing with what’s before me.
    • Writing: I want to do more of this in a way that’s useful for folks on both sides of the aisle. I want to do this to articulate how strongly I think and feel about our shared humanity and pointing to ways in which we do not protect that and how we can do better.
    • Dialogue: I want to create spaces for dialogue. Because I believe that is the only thing that will truly get us out of this polarized mess we’re in. These spaces will be in casual conversations with friends, on social media, through art and through finding people on both sides who are willing to at least engage—not agree, just engage.
    • Work: As a person in a place of leadership at my workplace, I have a responsibility to create an environment and culture that challenges the status quo and flips oppression on it’s head. I want to find new avenues to recruit employees that have been typically left out of the mainstream—those with criminal convictions or disabilities or a lack of formal education. I want to pave the way for people of color to take on leadership positions and advocate for higher salaries of all non-profit workers. I want to make sure we are not only providing services to people, but are offering them ways to connect with and use their own power—through voting or community organizing or knowing their rights.
    • Criminal Justice: While Trump is shutting out refugees, we have millions of men and women in our country’s prisons who feel and are treated like foreigners in their own homeland. In fact, many who have come home refer to themselves as “returning citizens”. We are incarcerating men and women because we have been taught to fear their skin color and have recruited a police force who embrace that fear in the line of duty. Because we have underfunded their neighborhoods and their schools and left them with no other options. And when these men and women have completed their sentences we continue to punish them with supervised parole and withholding their voting rights and finding every excuse not to hire them based on their past convictions. And God knows what this presidency has in store for them. So I will continue to fight their fight until we have a justice system that is, in fact, just.

 

 

Ties that Break

This last trip to Texas was a real doozy and I’m not sure where to begin but here is where I try to make some sense of things. A few realizations I had while I was back in my home state the past week (and I’m sure more on the horizon):

I’ve turned out really different from a lot of the people I grew up with—this may seem obvious but I’ve always held onto a reality that no matter how different the paths life takes my family and I, there will still be that common anchor. That sturdy, wrought iron core of a shared value or belief or whatever that thing is we are proud to boast as “ours” and ours alone. And lately that has felt tested as some of the things I hold core to who I am and how I am in the world are not only different, but in direct opposition to those of my closest kin.

Religion can be a source of great manipulation or great freedom and I think I’ve found the latter in spite of the former. There is a vein of Christianity I grew up around that says “no” to everything in its path. It generates fear of the other and is in the business of creating new “others” on the regular. And there are clearly understood lines drawn to dictate who is in and who is out. Who is good and who is bad. Whose eternity is secured and whose is not. Which words are acceptable and which are not. Whose lifestyle is celebrated and whose is not. Which questions are allowed and which are not. And I have since breathed cleaner air and cannot go back to that suffocating place.

Being a woman in my family comes with limits. Now this is certainly not something that is advertised or articulated in explicit ways (as sexism often isn’t). It is the ever-subtle yet ever-present sense that others hold a limited set of expectations for who you are and what you will be. It comes in the childish retorts from adults’ mouths when you question them on a belief, a position, a life choice because who are you, as a female, to understand such complexities? Who are you, as a female, to know what the right thing is?

It is often communicated through absences—the absence of substantial conversations about politics or finance or career or economics directed at the female members of my family. The absence of women’s voices in mixed company and the absence of male listeners when women do speak up. The absence of confidence I feel in the presence of brothers and uncles and cousins who are male.

And it is sometimes spoken in the ways things play out. Like how the men have managed to plan and attend their annual golf tournament for ten years strong while the women have barely gotten their reunion off the ground in the past couple of years. Like how every one of my female cousins is a teacher, nurse or stay at home mom. Like the fact that my brother owns two houses in two different states. And how the more questions I ask and the more ambitious my dreams get, the more I am looked at like a traitor, a dissenter, a “liberal”, one in need of “prayer.”

And, believe it or not, I am thankful. I am sad but thankful. Because with each look and with each subtle snub I am pushed to be more, to do more, to fight harder for those who feel like this times a billion. To continue to speak truth to power—right now, a particular power who is about to become our president (and all of those that voted for him). I am thankful I live in a city of other fighters and work in a profession where every day I see strong, female, black and brown leaders in action.   I am sad but thankful. Because this anger ignites me. And this anger builds empathy. And empathy builds love. And love is unstoppable.

A Poem About Love

I have learned that love
is a malleable thing.

It builds fences
and abruptly tears them down.

It is never what you think
and always what you want.

I have learned that love
is a complicated thing.

Unattached
to the hopes you had for it.

Love instructs
From within
and without

I have learned that love
is a sorrowful thing.

When you think
you can’t can’t have it
don’t deserve it.

When it leaves
unsuspectingly

And slips
into places you have not yet been.

I have learned that love
is a freeing thing.

If you let it be
And choose to believe

That love
is everything.

And, then…

I am going to keep writing about this stupid election until there is nothing more to say, which is looking like may be a while.  Since I don’t have many Trump supporters in my direct circles and the ones I do have I swore off talking politics with several years ago I have had to google why people voted for this asshole.  Here are some things I found followed by some things I have to say about the things I found:

Illegal immigrants: First of all, I’m pretty sure the people who are citing this as a reason for voting for Trump have probably never met an undocumented person in their life and are completely unaware of the fact that if every undocumented immigrant left the country right now, our service industry, farming and so many other vital parts of our economy would completely tank.  So, you know what…if you are upset about having to pay taxes so that undocumented people can receive medical care or whatever else it is you cry about all the time, just think about the sticker shock you’ll have when you get the bill at your favorite restaurant or grocery store or retailer once all of the undocumented folks leave town.  Then you’ll be begging to foot their health insurance bill.  See this and this.

OK, well that’s apparently all the energy I have for this post.  The show must go on tomorrow….peace (good Lord do we need a lot of that right now).