The Meaning of a Handout

1996 08 IMAG0047.JPG

My uncle was an Irish Catholic New Englander. Born days before the crash of the stock market that kicked off the depression as the fifth child in his family, he was the epitome of cheap and hospitable. His funeral was last year. At 80+ years old, his wake was standing room only. Hundreds of people came to remember and appreciate him. The stories shared during the eulogy were a fitting tribute to a man who opened his home to my mother when she lost everything in my teen years. The same man who constantly hounded me about not eating more than my 25% of any meal. 

He didn't believe in 'handouts' and opposed the liberal agenda, as he called it, with the passion he brought to everything in his life. Still, no one went hungry on his watch - there was always room for one more at the table in his world. He had a cultural prejudice against Italians. This didn't prevent his sister or his daughter from choosing Italian spouses. And we held the meal portion of the wake at an Italian restaurant. Sitting there with my family, drinking red wine with my cousins, I looked around and knew Uncle Paul would approve of our lovingly getting the last word. 

My uncle loved me, loved his family. We argued about abortion, capitalism, homelessness, and taxes. We likely argued about a lot of things I don't remember arguing about. He raised my aunt's children as his own after they married. He took care of her through years of degrading memory loss until she passed. Fair didn't really mean much to him-- for me or him or anyone else. There was your word and your actions. 

As progressives, we have something to learn from people like my uncle. He was overt in his prejudices. When confronted with something unexpected, he was able to see it and change. As liberals we are often pretty self-satisfied and smug. We pull out our graphs and charts and bully people with intellectual assertions. Many of us have ousted god from our iconography. This doesn't mean liberals have escaped the clutches of self-righteous faith in our religious values. Academia. Inclusion. Logic. 

Getting stuck on words like 'handout' or 'religion' loses us something important- the awareness of our fundamental agreement on doing better for more people. Our methods differ. Our goals are remarkably similar. My uncle was a force for good in his world, in many ways. I hope to have the same said of me in 30+ years. Don't we all?

 

Redemption

My grandfather as a choir boy. 

My grandfather as a choir boy. 

So when I first saw Emma Watson's presentation to the United Nations on how feminism was about men, I was not a huge fan. At its core, any movement to create a new world requires full participation, so men are essential to creating an equitable society. And there is a weariness in me, a weariness of seeing and not being seen. 

A friend of mine turned me on to a men's rights writer who he felt spoke to him. This guy, my friend, is a pretty caring, giving, equal rights kind of guy. My friend's point was the men's rights movement was dominated by the loudest, craziest people.  So I gave it a read. My weariness increased. 

#MeToo happened. Suddenly men in positions of power were being called out for misuse of power. Liberal friends of mine pointed out the anti-Trump rage had fueled a need to do things about power issues. So Weinstein and Louis get called out. Trump still sends tweets about his big button. North Korea still responds. Most everyone wore black to the Golden Globes. My weariness is unabated. 

The conversation about abuse and gender politics lives in a wild west vigilante 2 dimensional fairy tale. If we annihilate everyone who oversteps or commits a crime, we will finally live a 'pure' society.  As if. The righteousness of denial. The rage of our own humanity.

Unraveling the Pink had a great podcast recently talking about redemption as the next step.  What if people are more than one moment or one action? What if someone is both a sexual predator and a great leader or artist? Is that possible? Is it possible to hold someone accountable for abuse while also appreciating their contributions to life and society? For the person impacted, it isn't a simple question. For bystanders, it isn't an easy question. 

The more I experience this, in my life, in the world, as a bystander, as a participant, my weariness increases. We talk about gender issues. We talk about victims. What if the way we talk about this creates more of it? The issues of power and accountability aren't limited to gender or the workplace or race- they are pervasive. Perhaps these issues of power are rooted in ignorance, pain and fear. Starting there, how do we share the pain of the impact? I don't suggest we let people off the hook- actions have consequences. Perhaps contrition can lead to restoration as well?

Doesn't Everything Die at Last, and Too Soon?

I hate impermanence. This was a problem for me when I first encountered Buddhism in my early 20s. Fast forward a couple of decades and my theme song for 2018 is No Roots by Alice Merton.  I don't know where the year will take me. If it is like other years, there will be plenty of surprises. And I finally know "I like standing still, boy that's just a wishful plan". Impermanence used to hurt. Now it feels like a gift. It means 'this too shall pass'. And some days I need the reassurance of impermanence.  

Year in Review

Thank you 2017. You have been a year of change, growth and new experiences. I evicted my gall bladder, said good bye to my uncle, and regained my voice. I saw Depeche Mode, Tori Amos, and Lords of Acid. I finally made it to New Orleans. My dear friend moved to Colorado, and we have been storing up as many joys as possible. We took a road trip, have been playing D&D regularly, and chatted for hours about all the things.

Our family changed our name and survived the first year of Ian's loss. I found ways to connect with my mother. I rekindled friendships and sold my first piece of writing.

I faced fears I didn't know I had. 

I held loved ones while they cried. I fell into books that consumed me. I made a difference for strangers. I failed. I put one foot in front of the other. I gave up. I started again. Hell froze over. 

I took the Landmark forum. Then a seminar. Then the Advanced Course. Then the Communications Course. I was patient when people called it names. I practiced being open and vulnerable. I got irritated anyway. I watched how living the work impacted my world in positive ways. I surrendered to my own flaws and accepted my imperfections. I forgot what I discovered and lost my temper. I created a world of possibilities. I bought into a finite limitation. 

I went to water aerobics. I started learning shorthand. I lost 30 pounds. I started running again. I gave someone a chance. I celebrated birthdays and holidays and new jobs and new opportunities. I grieved lost friends and family passed away. 

I experienced a total eclipse of the sun. 

I found myself in between the moments. I remembered to breathe and laugh and cry. I learned how to sleep. I fell apart. I re-membered myself. 

I tried things I knew I hated and discovered I was wrong. I let go of how things are supposed to be. I bought new boots. I gave peace a chance.  

Thank you 2017. 

The More Star Systems Will Slip Through Your Fingers

The Last Jedi released in theaters this week and of course I attended the modern equivalent of a midnight screening. The question of chaos versus control, which I see as a cornerstone of the Jedi/Sith conflict, is one I face daily. I contemplate it from a philosophical perspective and I suffer it in action from a "my life is a constant struggle against entropy" perspective.  

I recently read an article on traffic anarchy  in Amsterdam. They found removing traffic lights created a more pleasant, safer, driving experience in one intersection. City officials spent about 8 months working with different departments and groups to pave the way for turning off the lights at this problematic intersection. Nervously, they flipped the switch. Interviews and reports show an increase in positive interactions between cyclists and drivers after the switch. 60% of the interviewed cyclists felt the traffic situation had improved with the lights off. 

I'm not a full on fan of anarchy. Inspired partially by self-interest, I expect a totally lawless society might not be one in which I would thrive. And yet, there is something to decreasing the amount of control we seek to exert on one another. The traffic experiment shows how following a process and thinking out of the box can improve what seems to be an impossible situation- without compromising either safety or efficiency. 

I won't spoil the Last Jedi for you, and it does continue to bring up this conversation of chaos versus control. The allure of control is undeniable. Control promises safety, efficiency, a better future, with no senseless loss of life or unnecessary pain, a clean house. And control's ability to deliver is limited to special circumstances. Ultimately I expect we need a Jedi/Sith mash-up to create a better world, rather than bouncing between extremes. 

Surprise Yourself

My friend bought me a Dream Journal for my birthday last year. I eagerly opened it and began the process of building my dream life. The first section walks through questions about what you want in your future.  I get that, if I want to work towards my dreams, I must identify them. I dutifully began to answer the questions in each section, mapping out my life and vision methodically through their process. Until, I got to a question I couldn't answer. I didn't have any idea. And it seemed counter productive to put something down simply to fill in the blank. Not how I want to live my life. Or dream my dreams.

At first, I accepted my inability to give an answer, "It will come to me." I decided, and put the journal down. A few days went by and I was no closer to an answer to the question. I began to feel stressed. How could I move forward without knowing where I wanted to go? I put the journal down again. A few days later, I had a therapy session scheduled. And I brought the journal. I work with an amazing person, Lisa Apel, who has guided me through the death of my ex-husband & moving my dementia afflicted mother across the country. Surely she could give me insight into the answer.

I showed her the journal and shared my challenge. I had begun to feel a sense of urgency around it. I wanted to start the work process. Still stuck in the planning portion of the journal was holding me back. As I explained the stumbling block and my lack of knowing the answer to one of the dream questions, she listened patiently. When I finished, she said, "Well you don't have to have every question answered to start moving forward in one area." 

What? *blink* I looked blankly at her as years of "be prepared" collided with her simple statement. "You mean, it's my life and my dreams. I can do what I know now. I don't have to know everything I will ever want to do or be in this moment to be able to start on my path?" Saying it out loud highlighted how ridiculous it was. I began to smile and I chuckled with the release of pressure and tension I had created around the act of creating my dreams. She smiled and nodded, "Yes. It is your life."

 

That Moment of Delight

Earlier this year I started acting on my dreams and goals in a more methodical fashion. I found a writing group and started attending with my son in May. I had put together a list of anthologies to start collecting rejection slips from, as all committed writers have a large rejection slip/email collection. I found this journal 6 days before the deadline and decided to dive in. Ali, my partner and amazing editor, committed her editing skills to the cause. When I saw the suggested edits tick over 100 for my 2 page essay, I knew she was taking my request very seriously. I pressed send on my submission an hour before the deadline. My first rejection slip request was complete.

Except ...

They accepted it. 2 am a slightly insomniac me casually flipped through her email and saw they had written. It was an amazing moment to have created something for a purpose and have it chosen for that purpose. A few weeks ago, I received the announcement the journal was in publication and would ship in mid-November

Paradoxically I feel unable to put words to this experience. It is an inspiring experience to work on something meaningful to me and see it bear fruit. As we close out 2017, I begin to ponder what I will invite into my world in 2018. 

Wisdom from Experience

Annually for years I have celebrated a version of Samhein. This year the theme I found that spoke to me was "One Who Gains Wisdom From Experience". I have had experiences. I am hopeful of gaining wisdom from them. 

Samhein is a time when I pause and thank my life for what it has brought me. While I do not enjoy all the experiences of my life, I appreciate my opportunities for growth. I celebrate the moments of connection and joy I have been gifted. This year I am especially grateful to the people who have been patient with me as I have sought to learn a new way of being in life. My family, of course. My partners. My friends. 

Photo by Ken Sieglinger

Photo by Ken Sieglinger

This is also a time when I invite a new direction into my life. I set an intention for myself to live into for the upcoming year. I invite you to join me in this, as you feel inspired. Take a moment and acknowledge your life. Or more than a moment. Write it out, burn it, fold it up. Once you feel clear in that, pause. Set an intention for what you seek to discover or create in the next 12 months. Perhaps more family time or greater community service? Perhaps making more time to learn new skills? Whatever it is, simple or complex, sweeping or specific, know you can create your direction with your intentions. 

It never falls out the way I imagine. So far, it has been a journey worth taking. 

Happy Samhein. May your journey be your joy. 

What Happens in Vegas... Ripples Across the Country

I was born in Vegas. A few years ago, my partner took me there for a weekend of silly extravagance to celebrate my birthday. My grandmother lived there when I was young. I saw ET with her at the Omnimax when I was 9. My cousins marveled grandma's energy (It was 2am and she wanted to find a place to go dancing and we were TIRED, they exclaimed. They were 20 years old, she was 70ish.) My grandmother passed away in the buffet line at the Silver Slipper Casino. The story is she turned to the guy behind her, smiled, and fell over from a stroke. It seems like how she would have wanted it. It was her favorite place. I loved the ice carved slipper they had on the buffet line. It felt magical. 

My partner and I spent a weekend there early on in our relationship, celebrating another friend's birthday. We saw Ka together. My ex-wife and I went there to see Melissa Ethridge in concert. It was weird and uncomfortable and awesome. My then gf gambled a quarter and won $40. She's always been lucky.  

I've ridden the New York Hotel roller coaster.  I thought Circus Circus was all that when I was little. My ex-husband and I were entranced by the dancing fountains at the Bellagio when we visited in college. My step-mom loved to shop there. She and my dad lived a couple of hours away. Her house was full of sparkle found in outlet malls in Vegas. I hated the way my hands smelled like cigarette smoke almost the moment I walked into a casino. I loved the cheap buffets. 

My cousin lives there. I texted her after the shootings. Isis claimed responsibility. The police say they can't find a motive. What does motive tell us? It shapes the story into a narrative meant to comfort us. Oh, this happened because this person is x or y. Next, combine it with ever increasing restrictions on liberty and invasive search procedures. Eventually the motive will be connected to something culturally expendable, something agreed to be 'other'. This will help with profiling, another way to feel safe. Only minorities or immigrants or ... something not 'us' would do this. Does it matter the shooter was a (seemingly middle class) white man? So, definitely 'us'. It matters to me. It matters to me because the fiction of 'not us' doesn't serve our country. It doesn't keep us safe to pretend only 'other' people do horrible things.

It hasn't worked. The invasive searches, the racial profiling, the restrictions on liberty, the ethnic profiling, the religious profiling- it hasn't stopped the violence.  Who benefits when we fear each other so much? Not us. Not our communities. Not our poor, hungry, sick, tired, black, immigrants, disabled, hispanic, white, working class, middle class, women, men, straight, gay ... not the majority of us.Not our kids. Not my neighbors. Not me.

As country, we respond with outrage and sorrow. We mourn the loss, the waste, the violence. Maybe we will react and demand stronger gun laws or better care for the mentally ill. I hope we do. What we have done, rage and blame, hasn't worked. 

I hope my cousin is okay. My heart is with everyone suffering and watching loved ones fight for their lives. 

 

Life's Side Mirrors

Cars have side mirrors because we evolved with eyes only going in one direction. Most of us who drive would agree our mirrors perform an important safety function. Life's side mirrors are a little more difficult to adjust. 

Life moves fast. I get overwhelmed by how much there is to know and learn. The gaps in what I know are evident. This doesn't even touch on the things I don't know that I don't know. As an educated and experienced person, I feel the pressure to "know" things or "do it right".  After close to 2 decades of social justice activism, I also know how unforgiving I have seen my communities be towards people who make errors. I watch in perplexed astonishment when folks rally to condemn imperfection.

In the world of social media and modern reflex reactions, it is hard to step forward and speak. Here are some guidelines I have in my own work to put myself out there. 

1. I promise to listen to people who have different experiences. 

2. I promise to grow and change. This means what I say or think today is limited by what I have experienced and know, right now. 

3. I don't promise to get it right. Or to agree with people based on generalized political ideology. Or to support you doing things I disagree with even if I agree with your politics.  

4. I will risk myself and my world in the service of my principles and values.

5. I will seek the wisdom and guidance of those who have gone before me.

6. I will seek out my own teaching on the lessons we are learning as a culture about race, ability, gender, economic justice, and more, and not ask people to explain their lives to me in addition to the work they are doing to live their lives.  

7. I promise to take responsibility for my words and actions. I expect I will sometimes be tired and do what it is easy. I might say something out of reflex.  I will make mistakes. I will address them honestly and directly. I will take responsiblity for my impact. I will work to do better. 

8. I won't waste my time in arguments with people that are going nowhere. I will leave those battles and conversations to people better equipped and focus myself on the work I can do.