Friday, October 02, 2015

I Will Speak His Name

It happened again. And there has been much acknowledgment that it keeps happening - we are killing each other at an unprecedented rate in this country and it is overwhelmingly sad and frustrating and I wish that we could find a different way to talk about it because, clearly, the way we have been approaching it isn't working.

I popped in to my book club for an hour last night and, even though the topic was the book of historical fiction that we had all read, it quickly bled into discussing the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Someone noted that one positive aspect of all of these things - wars and terrorist attacks and mass shootings - is that it rallies communities, that we all notice each others' humanity and come together to support each other.  But I couldn't quite agree.  The other common aspect of all of those things that ostensibly bring communities together is that they are united against a common enemy. In war it is the other country, after 9/11 it was "terrorists," after yesterday, it is either mentally ill people or mentally ill people with guns or, in some people's minds, simply people with guns.  So while this may feel like solidarity, it is false, because while we may truly be recognizing the humanity of those who are suffering the same way we are, we are setting up a false dichotomy and altogether failing to recognize the humanity of the "other," whomever we have decided they are.

The fact is, we are all in this together. How much must a person be suffering to pick up a weapon and shoot scores of people? How much pain must someone be in to want to inflict that much pain on others?

I have seen many posts on social media today from people and organizations vowing not to mention the name of the person responsible for yesterday's shooting, and I can't help but feel that that is part of the problem. His act was horrific and deplorable, to be certain, but we cannot deny his humanity. Pretending that there is an "Us" and a "Them" is simply perpetuating the problem. The fact is, Chris Mercer was one of us, but he didn't know it and I doubt he felt that way. So often, we hear the stories of shooters in these incidents described as "loners," "quirky," "angry," and "isolated." In other words, not part of a community.

I absolutely believe that stricter gun laws are a vital necessity in this country. I have said that time and time again. But I also think that until we recognize the equal human rights of every person, to dignity and health care (including mental health care) and education, we are destined to see this repeat again and again. Uniting in the wake of tragedies like this, or against a common enemy is not a positive reaction, it is a reaction rooted in fear and scarcity. Coming together to fight AGAINST something drives us into a corner and forces us to erect walls. It is only a matter of time before those boundaries are breached, and being united in fear is a tenuous thing. It is high time we started uniting in purpose, finding a reason to include each and every person in our community and work toward a positive future for us ALL. Refusing to speak the name of someone who is hurting so intensely that they could plan and execute a horrific act like a mass shooting is just another way of burying our heads in the sand. We need to acknowledge the humanity of us all, recognize that we are all entitled to be part of the community of people who deserve happiness and liberty and that so long as we ignore and marginalize individuals out of fear, we are setting ourselves up for more acts of pain like this one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When Your Kids Couldn't Be More Different

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that Eve and Lola came from the same stuff. They are so different in the way they approach the world. As a parent it is exciting and amusing to watch them and often, exhausting, because there are no shortcuts. Just because I went through one stage with Eve doesn't mean I know how to handle it with Lola, but it has given me a new way to look at the world. I am reminded that the choices we make are rooted in one of two things: our values or fear. I am reminded that it is this that makes all the difference and that if, as a spectator, I choose to remove judgment, I can learn a lot about what makes someone tick.

My girls each learned to walk in very different ways. While there are some things that parents and caregivers can do to help a child begin walking, ultimately it is something they must do for themselves. And while Eve and Lola both had the exact same goal - learning to walk independently - their methods were distinct and reflected exactly who they each were.

Eve took it step by step. She practiced shuffling along the couch as she held on with both hands. She worked on pulling herself to a standing position in the middle of the room without any props. She spent days standing and clapping, standing and holding objects, standing and babbling loudly. It took her nearly two weeks to take her first steps. Her overriding values were safety and mastery. She was doing everything possible to ensure that she could walk without falling or, if she fell, that she could get herself back up without help. Two weeks of methodical preparation, exploring as many possible combinations and permutations as she could think of, led to her walking without ever falling. She never had that drunken-toddler gait that so many new walkers do and she was supremely confident.

Lola just wanted to walk. Her overriding value was speed. She wanted to get from Point A to Point B as fast as she possibly could and so her method was to use the wall or the furniture or a toy or her big sister for support. She toppled over constantly. She was covered in bruises for weeks, but she never cried about it. She kept her eye on the prize and just did it. She jumped in with both feet and once she figured out walking, she moved immediately to running. She careened into walls, tripped over toys, leapt before she looked, and never gave up. She was driven by the need to keep up with the older kids, to just get somewhere. She didn't care about safety or looking goofy or falling over. She was just thrilled to be moving fast.

As I look at my girls now I see that they do, indeed, still share many of the same goals, but their everyday lives are vastly different because of the values they live by as they head in that direction. Instead of comparing them to one another, I can choose to step back and see each of them in light of what their journey is telling me about who they are as individuals. Once I know the driving force behind their decisions, I can figure out how to support them along the way and perhaps steer them away from being motivated by fear when it shows up.  I am reminded that, once again, remaining curious about the girls is a much more interesting and nurturing way to parent.

Eve took Driver's Ed this summer and I watched as she pulled out all of her cautious, process-oriented tricks once again. She is a very conscientious driver and is living true to her values of safety and precision. I can only hope that Lola approaches driving differently than she did walking, because in this case, speed is not something I can support. Fortunately, I have two years to work that out with her.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Going Down This Road Again

In light of the most recent Congressional vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood, I would like my response to reflect the same approach I've had to this issue for most of my life. Some folks know that about ten years ago I embarked on a project called The Faces of Choice where I endeavored to provide a forum for women to tell their stories regarding difficult or unwanted pregnancies. I wanted to elevate the conversation to include women that chose termination as well as those who didn't, but nonetheless struggled with the decision (because it is NEVER an easy one). I had hoped to publish these stories as a book and that didn't work out. I then moved on to creating a website where a community could be established for women who wanted to share their stories and support each other. For a whole host of reasons, that didn't take off, either. But the website still exists and I write here about why I was so passionate about the work. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but if anyone is on the fence about whether or not it is important to fund the work that organizations like Planned Parenthood does and to stay the hell out of a woman's private medical decisions, I encourage you to go read it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ear Worm Analysis (as opposed to dream analysis)

I have begun a new writing project. I'm not sure whether it is simply something I will do every morning as sort of a free-writing exercise to "get the juices flowing" so to speak, or if it will turn into something. At this point, I've given up trying to predict what will bear fruit and what won't. I have proven myself to be woefully inaccurate at that. So often, I send out something for publication that I think is really damn good and it gets roundly rejected over and over again and then I will write something here on the blog that gets a tiny readership and folks respond by saying it ought to be spread all over the place for more people to see. (By the way, anytime you feel that way about anything I write, you are hereby given permission to share, share, share. Just sayin'...)

Anyway, this new project was spurred by the fact that I wake up each and every morning with a snippet of a song in my head - like an ear worm that I inflict upon myself. The song is generally different every day, and it often takes me half an hour or so to even notice that it's been playing in the background for a while. It is my brain's elevator music, but stuck on one phrase so that it plays the same lines over and over again.  I am pretty sure I was in my 30s before I realized that this is something not everyone does - wakes up with music playing in their head.  

I don't remember my dreams except for maybe a few times a year, but the other day it occurred to me that perhaps there is just as much good information in the songs in my head. After all, they must be a function of my subconscious, right? Last week, I decided to start writing them all down along with a little journal entry and see if I can find a pattern. Of course, the first thing I worried about was that I might somehow subconsciously influence myself simply by paying attention, so I do my best to write about it and forget it during the day. 

I'm six days in and so far, I have no clue. The songs have run the gamut from annoying pop songs (although, interestingly, not ones that the girls tend to listen to a lot - they are more into independent singer/songwriter stuff or, in Lola's case, Panic at the Disco) to, yesterday morning, the theme song from James Bond - I shit you not. Try writing that one down. There are no lyrics. It's just "dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun...DUN-DUN." 

If nothing else, it is a reason to plant my butt in a chair and write first thing in the morning, and that I appreciate. Because my brain is so suggestible when it comes to music, if I don't record the song before I see or talk to anyone else in the morning, it could easily be replaced by another one that the girls are listening to as they get ready in the morning. Or, if Bubba is home, he delights in planting obnoxious songs in my head just to see if he can - his favorite ones are Guns 'n Roses songs because I can't stand them. 

I'll keep paying attention for the time being to see if I can discover any trends or valuable insights, but in the absence of that, at least I've got something to write about every day. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Morality Without Religion

There are so many examples in my life lately of the power of simple. The more I witness disagreements on social media, the more I retreat inside to my own quiet authority. Everything from the Kentucky court clerk who refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses to arguments about immigration reform and how we treat US immigrants; refugees desperately fleeing their homeland only to be shunned in other countries when they reach the shore and the Pope offering absolution for Catholic women who chose abortion tempt me to enter the fray. And when I sit and think about why and how, I realize that countering arguments is batting at paper tigers. 

I am increasingly horrified at the use of religious writing to prop up acts of selfishness (often couched as "good policy") or terror. I am ever more disillusioned with statistics and studies and numbers that justify treating human beings as problems to be solved. 

I continue to know in the deepest core of my own being that there is no external authority - religious text, political or spiritual leader, or otherwise - that will ever lead me to act in the way that expresses my best, highest, most human self. If a leader or book encourages me to get very quiet and still, to look at the photos of the human beings drowning and starving and fleeing their homes to save their children and really see, that is something. If I am prompted to read about people who are suffering and struggling no matter the circumstances or the choices they've made, and to open my heart to them, that is something. Because when I do that, when I acknowledge the humanity of each and every person on this planet without judgment, without moving from my heart to my brain that wants to categorize and problem-solve and blame, I am closer than ever to doing what is right. When I am driven by a shared humanity as opposed to data or someone else's interpretation, I am certain. There are no conflicts, no pros and cons, no licking my fingertip and flipping back and forth between pages that contain charts or someone else's words. The day that I can look upon another being who is suffering and only see "the bigger picture" is the day that I will have lost myself, my own internal sense of what is right. 

This doesn't mean that I don't disagree with others, it only means that I wish others could do the same. If Donald Trump and Jeb Bush and Kim Davis can see before them someone who needs their help and deny it based on some external notion of what is right and just and moral, I can't change that. If soldiers in another part of the world are convinced that raping and torturing women and children is justified by their religious beliefs, I can't change that. I can attempt to speak in the language of scripture, find citations and passages that call for mercy or implore us to act out of love. I could consult data and past precedent to counter a politician's words, but it is easy to twist words and numbers. It quickly becomes a question of whose authority or perception is "more real," and, ultimately, if I am going to act from a place of certainty and clarity, the source isn't a book or a data set. I can only hope that in some quiet moment somewhere, each of us is able to look within and find a connection, any small spark, that reminds us that words and prophets are not our true authorities, that at the end of the day, all we have is our own internal sense of what is real and right and human, and that to not reach out and help goes against everything that we are.

Time and time again, we hear stories of people who have had incredible moments of insight - generally when they thought they were about to die. The majority of them talk about suddenly realizing what is important, eschewing external motivators and measurements of success and happiness. Instead they strive for human connection, more time with family and friends, and a deeper understanding of themselves. We are all born with a need to be connected to others on a very basic level and as we move toward independence, we lose something. I love Dr. Dan Siegel's idea that instead of raising our children to be independent, we raise them to be interdependent, that is, to never forget that we are all connected and rely on each other. That is the world I want to live in. The world where everyone sees the pictures of the small boy drowning as he flees for his life and feels an enormous tug on their heartstrings. A world where that pull of love, of connection, leads us to talk and think about how to reach out, where we lead with our hearts instead of our heads, where instead of distancing ourselves from the pain by closing our eyes or explaining why that could never happen to us, we open further. A world where we are not driven by numbers and statistics and policies, but where those things become merely tools as we work to alleviate suffering and create support instead of walls we build to keep us from listening, from seeing, from feeling. It is in feeling where I find certainty. I don't always know where to go from there, but for me it is always the best place to start.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

One (Ex-) Catholic's Opinion

I had an entirely different post in mind for today, but I can't let this one go.

Pope Allows Priests to Forgive Abortion if Women are 'Contrite'

Being a long-lapsed Catholic, I am not really worried about this for myself. And I admit to having watched this Pope with a significant degree of awe because I feel like he really is being true to his Jesuit roots with regard to many of the decisions he makes and the things he says. I admire his commitment to being a voice for those in poverty and his courage when speaking about climate change. But this, well, perhaps there is something lost in translation, but this makes my blood begin to boil.

"I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal."
I call bullshit.

With all due respect, you don't know. You have no idea what a woman who is trying to make a decision like this goes through. And you have no right to assume that you know, especially as the head of the organization that puts many of the roadblocks in her way in the first place (what's your church's official position on birth control, again?)

I think that the Pope is trying to do the right thing here, and I can appreciate the sentiment. But the notion that a woman, any woman, needs a man to absolve her for making a private medical decision makes me sick to my stomach. Some folks have commented that priests have no business 'forgiving' anyone, that that is God's job. Others have praised the Pope for his liberal stance on this issue. In the context of the Catholic Church, a horrifyingly patriarchal system in and of itself, I suppose this seemed like a noble thing to offer.  Indeed, devout Catholics can be forgiven for a whole host of sins if they just ask with contrition, regardless of whether they are male or female, but to ask a woman to be contrite for a choice she made that is entirely private is utterly ridiculous. What's next, you can have birth control if every time you go to pick up your prescription you go straight to confessional afterward and ask for forgiveness?

Asking a woman to be 'contrite' is whitewashing the entire set of cultural pressures that Catholic women live under daily. The Pope's slight nod to the church's anti-birth control stance (if that is what it was) doesn't erase the reality for many women around the globe that basically tells them their highest purpose is to get married and procreate and be subservient to their husbands. It ignores the reality that women are the main caregivers of these children and yet are powerless to determine how many of them they are willing to risk their health and life having and give up their careers to raise. It ignores the reality that the only alternative to birth control or abortion is to refuse their husbands, often at their own peril. It ignores the reality that women often have very little control over whether or not they will engage in sex, especially in areas of the world where sexual assault is used as a weapon of war, but that these women are the ones left behind to deal with the consequences of that violation. Are these women to feel 'contrite?' Are they to come to the church and beg a powerful male figure for forgiveness because they made a decision that that powerful man who has taken a vow of celibacy could not possibly understand or have the right to judge?

I call bullshit.

Nice try, but it's time to move along. Perpetuating the idea that a woman's sexuality either belongs to the church or to her husband is so last-Pope. Don't even get me started on the fact that abortion isn't mentioned in the Bible even once.... The bible is a religious text, not a medical one. It has no authority to tell a woman how to make a medical choice, nor to forgive her for making it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Gratitude Isn't

I have a gratitude practice. Sort of. It used to be a lot more robust, when it was a matter of life or death (I mean that honestly, by the way; there was a point in time when digging deep and listing off a few, measly things for which I was grateful kept me tethered to the planet when nothing else would). But now that I don't "need" it, it doesn't happen every day.

It is definitely one of the top things in my toolbox, though. One of the first that is pulled out when I'm feeling cranky or overwhelmed or just plain sad. And I know it's been a while when the first few things I run though mentally as things to be grateful for start with, "at least I'm not...." If I am comparing my life to someone else's, as in, "at least I'm not part of this oppressed group or that oppressed group" or thinking about all the ways my current situation could be worse, such as, "neither of my kids is suffering from some horrible illness and I'm not homeless," I'm not really being grateful. Even though those are things to be happy about, the fact that I am conjuring up ways that my life could run off the rails taints the whole process. Instead of helping me to feel calm and centered, it is a simple reminder that at some point, one or more of those things could potentially happen and for now, I'm just dodging a bullet.

If I am also making a mental note of the number of "good" things in my life as they compare to the number of "bad" ones, that is not gratitude. It is not helpful to weigh them against each other, ticking off one thing for which I am grateful in response to each thing that drags me down. They are not figures on a balance sheet. They both exist simultaneously in my life and in my mind, but gratitude is about the ones I choose to pay attention to, where I decide to place my focus in any given moment. It doesn't make the other things disappear, it simply allows me to notice that there are positive things in my life.

When the girls were little and I quit my job to stay at home with them full time, I quickly learned that the only way to gauge my level of tangible activity during the day was to note the absence of certain things. If the laundry was folded and put away, the dishes were washed and put away, the floors were devoid of dirt and debris, I had been productive. This was completely opposed to any system of determining productivity I had ever been a part of in my work life - there you were rewarded based on the things you created and they were present. It was incredibly frustrating to me to realize that outsiders would come into my house and only notice if I hadn't done something - if there were piles of laundry and dirty dishes and hungry children. For me, gratitude is like that. For most of my day, I go about things only noticing the items that need to be 'fixed' or that don't meet my expectations. This is not always a negative thing - often I am happy to know that there is something I can do to make things better. But unless I take the time to really engage in a gratitude practice, I rarely note the things that are just absolutely right in my world all around me.

I am loathe to imply that gratitude is a complicated thing, because when I'm in the zone, it really isn't. When I am feeling it, when I am really tuned in to the goodness and abundance in my life, it is simple and pure and I am hard pressed to stop finding things for which I am grateful. In fact, for me, the key to actual gratitude is to simplify things.  When I am frustrated and irritable, the best thing for me to do is to stop and look around. I see my computer and I am grateful for the ability to write and to connect with people who are important to me online. I catch sight of a glass of water on the counter and am grateful for clean water and a cupboard full of dishes. I note my sunglasses on the table next to me and close my eyes and thank goodness that I can so often feel the warm sun on my back. There is no context, no attempt to think beyond any of these things, just simple gratitude, and when I can find that place in my day, I suddenly feel as though there is more air in the room.
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