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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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.

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).

Grief

I continue to think about these recent tragedies. Continue to turn them ‘round in my head. Continue to think of them from one million miles away and one centimeter away. From all perspectives it’s loss. From all perspectives it is utterly sad and utterly senseless.

I think of past conversations on race I’ve had with my closest and how (mostly) terribly bad they went. How I was too much for them. How they were too much for me. How this particular topic seemed to be where every ounce of grace and understanding and love halted. And that, I think, is where I feel the most despair. I always think this is the black death that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is the one where scales fall from the blind’s eyes. This is when our unified white grieving finally begins.   I want to believe that’s true this time around. But it wasn’t true all the other times.   So it seems like people will just keep dying senseless deaths.

Who We Look at When We Say Things

I had an epiphany the other week. It came in the form of an email—a Donald Trump article circulated amongst family members. An article about his appeal to white working class men. About the state of white working class men and how the institutions of labor and marriage are no longer working in their favor. About how the policies formed as a result of the civil rights and women’s movements “failed” us all in our quest to maintain that fundamental value that makes this country so great—freedom. Because, apparently, those policies forced us to start treating people as groups rather than individuals and that sent America on a slippery slope away from our roots of liberty, freedom and self-determination.

What the article forgot to mention is the Men’s Movement—particularly, the White Men’s Movement that is so pervasive it needs no name. It just always was. Movements are often difficult for white men to understand because when you were born in a state of having (the right to vote, the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement, the right to own land, the ability to make your own income…), you don’t need a movement and special policies to protect you. You came out of the womb with those things.

I wanted badly to “reply all” stating all of the above. I imagined how my bold and pointed statements would create new spaces of enlightenment in people’s brains. I imagined how this would be the moment when everyone on this e-mail would be silenced once and for all by my brilliance. Never mind that I’ve replied all plenty of times before, only to be met with nonsensical comebacks, guised insults or silence. THIS would be the time it all turned around.

And then a friend (who I’d let read the e-mail chain) casually remarked, “You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?” I looked at him like he had two heads. And then, an odd feeling washed over me…

Relief.

In all of my worst dreams I am desperately trying for something—to say a thing or get to a destination or warn an onlooker. But in these dreams I have no voice or my legs refuse to move or my phone won’t work or the person doesn’t see me; I’m blocked at every turn. I am tormented and frustrated and often wake up sweating and crying.

In my non-dream life I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to have reasonable conversations with unreasonable people. I always thought if I yelled loud enough or got enough diplomas or knew enough facts or read enough books or collected enough experiences or earned enough letters after my name then maybe—just maybe—the people I was yelling at would finally understand.

“You know you shouldn’t to reply to this, right?”

Well…no, actually. I never did imagine doing nothing as a completely acceptable or available option in this scenario. That would mean defeat. That would mean the other side won. That would mean all of the people and perspectives and lifestyles that have ever been misrepresented or shit on or lied about would go undefended on my watch. That would mean I’m not ultimately responsible for other people’s beliefs. That would mean that my voice is just as strong and just as true and just as meaningful and just as essential apart from said people’s attention and approval.

The more we recognize and live in our own power the more aware we become of the tactics used to undermine this power. Sometimes those come in the form of e-mails disguised as platforms for healthy discussion and debate but intended to assert dominance over others’ thoughts, beliefs and perspective. Sometimes the tactics are less subtle.

We don’t have to live our lives responding to untruths. There are plenty of people ready and, dare I say, excited to listen to my words, my ponderings, my questions, my theories. There are people who live their lives in states of malleability, willing to be challenged and humbled and chiseled. Unfortunately, those were not the people on this e-mail.

“You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?”

Turns out, my most powerful resource was right there the whole time—the ability to choose my audience.