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.

 

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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.

Nothing is logical

Dating sucks and men suck and I don’t think that too many other women my age would disagree with me on that.  I changed my Bumble profile today to say that we should be friends until we figure out what it is we’re both looking for.  Because, let’s be honest, 99.9% of men on dating sites are not interested in this thing called a relationship. I think maybe we are living in an age where people don’t think relationships have capital so why invest?  It’s the best I can deduce.  Which is unfortunate because going deep with people is a beautiful, humbling, life changing thing.  As one who’s had the same roommate for 12 years, this much I know.

In other news the 49ers Colin Kaepernick is a total courageous badass and, as much as I would like to try to understand the other side, I can’t even entertain that kind of ignorance.  He is using his position and power and leveraging America’s sports obsession to say  (yet again) that we continue to kill and oppress black and brown people and (yet again) there continues to be not a damn thing done about it.  Because, apparently catching it on video is not enough and hearing story after story after story of the same shit happening everyday around the country is not enough.  Colin, I salute you and kneel with you in spirit.

 

 

Stupid

People are stupid.  They tell you what to do and how to do it and that you should write if that’s what you want to do and not think so much about it.  That you should write for yourself and not for other people.  That you should just post your dumb first draft full of mistakes and incoherent thoughts and nonsense and then post your second and your third and your fourth and….

Like I said, people are stupid.  That is all.

Alexander and the….

Sometimes nothing is right.
You can’t sleep.
And the errand takes 2 hours longer than it’s supposed to.
And the keys go missing
Just in time to need to move your car to evade a parking ticket.
And your hour haircut turns into three (making you late to work)
And no customers come
Because winter finally remembered its role.
And they forget the lettuce and tomato on your burger
After you waited an hour for it to come
And you’re so hungry because that errand took 2 hours longer than it was supposed to.
And the coffee lady is always so cheerful….but so damn slow.

And then, at the end of the day, you layer up, put your music on
And you run

Right foot
Left foot
Right foot
Left foot
Breathing
And running
running
running

And all the things that weren’t right
Are now specks behind you
Days behind you, even
And now, it is just you
And the ground
And the cold
And the music
And the river
Whose water you can actually smell
With each breath

Lady Liberty greets you with her steadfast confidence
Torch still burning after all these years
As if to stay
“I am still standing, still burning brightly.”

And her surety reminds me
And I too
Burn brightly

Me
and my breath
and right foot
left foot
the river
and this body
running and running and running

And at home
There is no hot water.