the winter of my content

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I’ve been thinking a lot about winter lately–maybe because I’m living smack dab in the middle of it, ya think? 😉

After three decades of living with basically two seasons– hot as hell and beautiful–I have returned to my Midwestern roots of fall leaves, spring blooms and snowfall. As each season floats by, I keep thinking oh this one is my favorite, until the next transition.

That got me realizing something: transitions are my favorite.

 

 

Winter has brought so many beautiful things, that I’ll just let you see them in pictures.

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In my interior world, it has brought lots of time for reflection, feeling that harsh transition from a 104 degree hot tub to -40 windchill on my naked body running back to the house. They say that kind of sharp contrast makes your systems hardier–strengthens your immune and other systems. Like other transitions–not only do they create suspense and mystery, then newness and delight–they make you stronger.

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I’m still in a quiet healing mode, working on strengthening the core of myself that my personality and I managed to do a fine job of running down to near dust: my adrenal glands. At first, I resisted all of this rest. Somewhere along these months, I surrendered to it, and am finding myself in pure joy anticipating slow days of watching snow fall, reading, watching movies under a blanket, completing a craft project, playing with my new sous vide gadget and cooking fantastic healthy meals. I wake up in excitement for these simple days, where the biggest thing I might accomplish is a run to the poultry farm for eggs, chicken sausage and the best butter I have ever tasted.

 

I wake up and open the curtains to something new each morning–frost on the swail, a new snowfall, an ice rink outside our back door. And I daydream about the 300 plus bulbs I planted in the Fall, wondering how they are doing, when they will pop up, what’s going on with them under the frozen ground.

 

I think about what’s going on with me on the inside during this quiet, seemingly frozen but dynamic time. What deep changes are being made on days when my too-busy personality questions myself and my productivity. Then usually my beautiful husband reminds me you are doing everything you need to be doing in taking care of yourself right now, and I calm back down. We all need people to remind us of reality sometimes.

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Please enjoy these reflections of winter. I’m loving every single minute, yet like the dormant tulips and narcissus and hyacinths, I live in anticipation as well for my world’s next phase of showing itself off.

 

victim is not a dirty word

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A few months ago, a volcano erupted in my solar plexus, fueled by the Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and my own readiness. Some words spilled over to my Facebook page, to a limited readership,  that were decidedly controversial.   I knew these words would be, but they came anyway. Sometimes things have a momentum of their own. Words that had laid, for the most part, unspoken, buried and sequestered in my memory bank for decades, but it was time.

Like many out there– some even reading here– I was a victim of sexual harassment in my early career. There had been other subtler infractions along the way, like my boss in the men’s department store when I was sixteen pulling me in the back room after hours  as he poured himself a whiskey, telling me I needed to use my body more strategically to sell suits while staring at my well developed chest.

The incident in my thirties was far more invasive, and had greater lasting effects on me as a woman, and in the professional relationship with this man which continued for nearly thirty years.

I did not name this person in my essay, because he is not the point. Me reclaiming myself is and was. Going after him wasn’t and isn’t my aim. Telling the truth of something I survived, is.

I’ve decided to rewrite this incident, in a small nutshell, to give background here to my readers to the larger point I need to make about this. I’ve taken some time to digest all that occurred after my sharing it initially. There was some minor backlash, but I survived that too.

This time, I just need to speak it a little differently:

We both know what you did was wrong. We knew it then and we know it now. 

When a therapist in a private setting, assists their patient to open up to a deep, embarrassing wound–the intimate, sexual problems they are having in their failing marriage–listens and offers support, then uses that exact vulnerable information as an opening line to solicit a weekend of sex from them a few months later, that is called sexual harassment. You did that.

I know you’ve been having trouble with your husband lately, so thought you might want to share my room with me this weekend and get sensuous, you said. Like you were offering some kind of sexual healing to me, knowing what I was going through at home.

When a boss contacts a married woman who has stated she is trying to work things out in her marriage and asks her to share a hotel room with him on the very first time they are slated to work together, that is sexual harassment. You did that.

We also both know that I came to you that day, the day we would have checked in to that hotel together, and apologized for your wrongdoing. I know, but you don’t, that I did that out of fear–fear that I may never get that professional opportunity again of working with you because I declined your completely inappropriate “proposition” as you later called it. This occurred during a probationary period and I was being evaluated, by you, for a future position when you solicited me. You accepted my apology, when you actually should have acknowledged yourself, how inappropriate your request was.

Working together for the first time, should have never included an unsolicited sexual encounter as part of the equation.

Recently, you tried to redefine this request as a simple proposition.  Including suggesting that I, myself, must have propositioned people sexually in my life, so would understand this simple, natural exchange between humans.

We never stepped in to the realm of proposition as you were my boss.  You were my therapist and teacher, as well. We were never peers and this was a work environment. You crossed every single line between us to invite me for that weekend of sex. And no, I never as anyone’s superior or therapist, have ever propositioned them sexually, to answer your question. Ever.

We both know I wasn’t your first, nor your last.

It was and still is textbook sexual harassment. Yet you were protected by my silence.

It had an impact on me, then and for years later. Both of our behavior created a genetic code that allowed you to come for me, in a different form of harassment when I resigned–the imbalance of power still expressing itself. And I apologized again for your inappropriate conduct. Another reflection of my wound.

I’ve unrung that bell and that wound has healed. But it took coming from a place of  you can no longer hurt me–personally or professionally–to have the strength to do that. My words now are not a symptom of my pain–they are a side effect of my having moved through it.

I am not afraid of you anymore. And the time for apologies has ended.

And, although I was victimized by you, I am not your victim. 

I am stronger now than I ever was under your tutelage, and made more so because of my own words. You taught me to stand on my own two feet. This is what that looks like.

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Now, readers, you understand the basis of what I’m going to talk about now.

Dr. Blasey Ford came under attack for her timing, her speaking out, her manner in which she did it–anything to shut her up, minimize her, yet speak up she did.

“Playing victim” is one term that was used to define my reality. Also suggesting I was only going public about this harassment, to “get attention”.

I guess he thought he could get me to retract the truth if he could diminish me for telling it. I’m sure Dr. Ford relates to that too.

So, today, I am here to tell you this, so listen up:

YOU CAN BE VICTIMIZED, AND STILL NOT IDENTIFY AS A VICTIM.

This is a tricky and fine use of terms, but it’s an important one. Important to me, anyway.

When I say that, I mean identify as victim in the ways that others may try to insult you with–playing the victim, always the victim, manipulating, not standing in your personal power, that kind of thing. In my observation, those behaviors are more often seen with those who actually have not experienced a great deal of victimization. That goes also for the ones who love to hurl those insults. True victims, rising, are the most badass people on this Earth.

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Believe it or not, there are others who have had pretty easy lives, who are actually jealous of true victims who have navigated lives of trauma–I’ve run in to them too. The ones who want to have something of value to write about, a testimony, a big struggle that will garner them kudos for simply existing. If they don’t have it, they will make it up (hello James Frey) or embellish their small hurdles in to just the worst thing ever! That is the kind of person who does something for attention.

Anyone who truly knows me, who truly pays attention to my life, who reads this blog, knows that I devote much of my time and energy to healing through some serious life crap. Many of you readers are drawn to me, because you are living your lives with some of the same challenges and drives. We breathe life in to each other through simply living our lives and not being destroyed.

The sexual harassment I was on the receiving end from this man pales in comparison to being a motherless child at 5, a child abuse survivor and a survivor of homicide and everything that has come with that for the last thirty years. It pales, but it did happen. And it was still not ok.

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Be careful who you are coming for, when that person has been through far worse than what you put them through.

The truth is, people are victims–of crime, of abuse, of terrible things. My sister was a victim, she will always be a victim of homicide. This does not diminish her life, and it is the raw truth about her death. I’m literally, legally, termed a victim by the State of AZ and the AZ Attorney General’s Office. I receive rights and benefits due to this terminology.

Yet, I am also victorious. I am also living my best life. As my father, who has literally known me my entire life, told my husband “I have never seen Kathy happier in her whole life than she is with you.” That was last year and it’s true. I’m happier and calmer and more content than I can ever remember. This is often the exact moment when things come up to be cleaned out. I want to have even more of this…and more yet! The releasing of this story takes me to yet a new level.

A person can also be living a very happy life and still get angry, intolerant of bad behavior and have strong things to say that don’t make everyone happy.  Keep speaking!

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I have my reasons for coming out with this ugly piece of my past, that don’t get defined by the person who victimized me, or their representatives.  I’m also glad that my words got noticed where they needed to–they were helpful, not just to me. I’m sure I’m not even aware of how much they helped others who suffered similarly, no matter where they reside on their healing path with it. This is part of the power and importance in telling one’s difficult stories. I’ve certainly gleaned strength from reading testimonials from people far more influential than me. Oprah and Iyanla Van Zant come to mind–people who certainly have risen from tragedies and abuse and have told their traumas out loud, helping others like me.

To be clear, I wrote about this because those words needed to come out of me. I did it for myself. I selfishly, unabashedly told the truth for me. And I don’t have one sliver of regret.

I had to get some distance, some healing, some introspection, some safe distance, to be able to tell the truth. Again, my speaking out was not a symptom of my trauma, as much as a side effect of my strength. Again, I think I’m relating to Dr. Blasey Ford here as well.

So to anyone feeling inclined, or pressured to try and diminish me again on this topic I say this: I have likely already recovered from far more than you will ever endure in your entire life.  Many of my readers have as well. There is no room for you here. I understand what’s motivating you, as I stood in those shoes myself. Yet, your vulnerability in this regard makes you untrustworthy for me and I will hold a boundary around this.

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We never know how or why our words ripple out or where they might land, but ignoring that splinter as it dislodges, or worse yet, trying to jam it back in, is an act of self-destruction.

It is liberating to reach a point in your life, where intimidation no longer works on you, because the eyes for the hooks are unreachable. Or maybe even gone. And there will be backlash, and it will still be worth it. And the people who fall away from their intolerance to the sound of your new voice, create space for those who think your song is the melody they’ve been waiting for.

In a final anthem of supreme irony, it was this man’s teachings that propelled me to the confidence and strength I feel right now, to speak these truths. I can separate the man from the teachings now, as the latter has been very valuable to me.  People are complicated, as are relationships. We can learn many things with and through and because of someone, and still choose to leave them because they are not healthy for us. We can even love them and still make all of those choices.

And in the leaving of this man and all that went with it, the saying no to disrespect and devaluation, set me straight up for meeting my husband who displays none of that — and I mean none of it. 

Closed doors are as important as open ones. And sometimes, the reverb from the slamming shut of one door, dislodges that stuck hinge in the next one, that has kept bright futures obscured from our newly opened eyes.

 

Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. woman standing in doorway looking out at bright sunny day, view from behind and below

indelible impressions

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I made this wildly long post on Facebook today and thought, well, shoot, may as well make it a blog post too. Copying and pasting.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about lasting impressions and indelible identifications that are left and want to open a discussion about it. Why some people, even though the relationship is filled with turmoil and difficulty, leave a lasting imprint of loving, warm memories. Then some, even though the relationship was filled with good times and love, leave an imprint of, well, not that. A darker memory, or maybe simply the unvarnished truth. How people get defined once all is said and done, and why?

Case in point, my stepmother who I’ve written about in my blog and done lots of contemplating about. She was in my life for over 30 years and it was filled with all kinds of peaks and valleys. It wasn’t an entirely negative relationship. For example, she was amazing around the time I planned my first wedding and we had lots of fun doing it. I had many interesting intellectually stimulating conversations with her as adult–I admired her opinions on politics and other things. I learned things from her. Yet, when all was said and done, the lasting imprint she has, lingering in my memory, is of the abuse that went on for years–both physical and emotional. I’m not talking about a trauma felt to my bones, although that was once there. I’ve worked through most, if not all of that by now. Much of my working through it came after I started telling the truth about it/her. I can speak about her and the things that happened now without shaking, without feeling angry, just recounting them with a sense of power that I survived them and her. But that’s how she is primarily remembered for me–as someone I survived.

I wrote about another person the other day who also left that kind of challenged indelible impression on my memory. I would say I loved that person much more than I ever loved my stepmother, but when I look back, now in a place of neutrality in my emotional field, the lasting shadow is of the unwarranted disrespectful behavior–I’ll just say it–abuse, that was levied at me. There are positive memories, but they aren’t dominant, I reach for those and they are in a more “in spite of…” kind of place. That relationship was also primarily filled with many positive experiences and joyful moments at the time. Still, the stamp left is of something else. Not feeling tone; memory and identification.

I have other friendships that may have gone by the wayside or challenged loved ones I’ve lost, but their indelible mark is from the happy memories, good times, warm thoughts.

So I got to thinking, how does this happen?

For me, I have two conclusions right now.

1. The severity and/or length of the abuse. And what it took to get free from it, if a person ever does.

But I think the second is more the chestnut of the lesson.

2. The other person’s willingness and ability to look at their role, apologize for any harmful behavior and be open to my point of view with a genuine desire to grow together from it.

In both cases I mentioned, I knew that second element would be impossible. Either I tried, I thought about the futility of trying, and/ or I had witnessed a lifetime of observing how that person operates in a field of conflict, knowing the inevitable. Some people move directly from an uncomfortable sharing in to full attack mode. This is their pattern. It’s effective, but not healing. You know these people and the futility. Observing them in other dynamics informs your own.

In essence, you know if that’s the person you can work something out with and you know who isn’t. You know the people who, the only way out of a conflict with them is to own 100% of your part with certainty they will agree with you and own 0% of theirs, even if theirs was inadvertent.  That definitely will move you out of the acuity of the conflict or standoff, but there is no real healing in that. It’s a toxic bandaid.

I will say, a sincere apology goes a very long way with me–I melt like a pat of butter on an August Arizona sidewalk. I’ve learned a lot about apologizing from people who did it well and those who have not. This is a muscle I work on flexing as I need this medicine.

Marjorie, my stepmother, used to throw in one pat sentence in to most family conflicts “I know I’ve made mistakes too” (while pointing out our mistakes).

Cindy (my sister), once confronted that and held her feet to the fire asking repeatedly “ok,what were they?”. She kept skirting the answer and the one thing she finally could come up with was “I let you children get to me”. Even her mistake, was ours. That was the one and only time I can ever remember her looking at her part in any conflict with us, or anyone else. Again, we KNOW who will work with us and who won’t.

I turned on the TV and surfed the one and only time I saw the Queen Latifah show and Jada Pinkett Smith was being interviewed. Queen asked her why she stayed with Will Smith after years of conflict and marriage. She answered so clearly and succinctly, I paused my TV and played it back several times to hear her say, “He has a sincere desire to grow.” (I’m lucky to have one of those husbands too Jada).

For me, this is at the heart of it. Where and who to invest in and how those indelible memories are created in either direction. Another wise person once said to me “you can’t go to a dry well for a drink of water.”

And I’m ok with my indelible impressions being what they are, as long as they are REAL. I’m very invested in authenticity right now.

We know. I know. You know. We always know.

What are your thoughts?

my own white privilege

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Nia Wilson #sayhername

Artist: Ruben Marquez

I am both grateful and semi-cringing at my last post on racism. Grateful because a. I got some things off my chest and b. that post pointed me toward another level, via one of my readers.

Cringing, because, after being pointed to another level, I became aware of some things inside myself, displayed in that post, that are unpleasant to look at. But I’m looking at them. These things I’m talking about, fall under the broad category of white privilege. A subject that I’m at the stage of barely learning to roll over in my crib on. I haven’t begun to crawl yet. But I am listening and learning.

I was on track, when I wrote about listening. That is a good first step. There is so much more, though. In addition to Hannah Drake, who I’ve been following and being inspired by for some time now, I was pointed to two, which has evolved to three, black women’s Instagram accounts.  I’ve been intensely following them over the last week.  They are @wildmysticwoman (Layla Saad), @rachel.cargle (those were the two I was pointed toward) and @ajabarber. There are many, many more black women teaching about white privilege there and elsewhere, but those are the women I am following and listening to right now. There is a lot to digest.

I was going through somewhat of a personal turmoil last week, so welcomed the relief of focusing on something bigger than my smallish problems (pretty sure that sentence also displays my level of white privilege). It’s also interesting that when I’m being cracked open by one thing, the light starts to come in from another source altogether.

I’m not going to go in to much about what I’m learning, but invite any of you interested to just start reading these women leaders and the wealth of information they are offering (especially Rachel Cargle’s social syllabi she has compiled). As I said, I’m just beginning here. 

It was interesting, however, that the very day I started exploring these women’s teachings and having my mind blown wide open, a bizarre drama unfolded centering around Rachel’s page and a white woman, who calls herself an activist, and goes under the handle @25park (Allison Brettschneider). I felt like I was living in my own parallel universe, reading about these concepts like white fragility, white savior complex, white exceptionalism, centering, performance activism, toxic feminism, etc., while seeing it all unfold in real time like a billboard had gone 3D and come to life. It was all right there in this woman’s highly disturbing behavior. I actually had a stomach ache for hours after reading her caustic and **I don’t even have the right words for it** comments.

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This eruption centered around black women leaders calling for other feminist leaders– particularly white feminists– to speak out about the murder about 18 year old Nia Wilson at the BART station. I’m embarrassed to admit, that I’ve been so out of touch, this was the first I had heard of Nia’s murder myself. But with what I’m learning, also unsurprising. Apparently, Ms. AB does not like to be asked to do something, because she snapped back with such–again I don’t even have the words--appalling display of everything these women are teaching about, that it almost became like a caricature but without being funny. I got, in such an immediate and deep way, what these black women are trying to teach us white women and what they deal with on a regular basis. I have to thank Allison Brettschneider for that teaching because I could have seen it if I was suddenly struck blind and reading it in braille which I do not know how to read. Even writing about it right now, I still feel disturbed. I think these feelings I’m having are transformative, because they give me a glimpse in to what black women feel on a daily basis living in on this planet.

On another planet than the one @25park lives on, Anne Hathaway, seemed to get a correct word out there in response to Nia Wilson’s murder.

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Another concept that is coming up in my diving in to these materials and listening to these women’s cries for awareness and justice and action, is that of spiritual bypassing. 

Finally a name to something I’ve been trying to articulate now for some time.

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. The concept was developed in the spirit of Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was one of the first attempts to name this spiritual distortion.
According to teacher and author Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, hiding behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.” From this link.

I have so many thoughts swirling in my head right now about this, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible.

I cannot teach something that I don’t know yet. I can’t know something by trying to teach what I don’t know to someone else. I cannot be that thing I’m trying to convince people I know enough to teach on, if I am filled with obstacles inside my being, unknown to me, that keep that very thing I think I know, from finding me. I cannot smile or positive think my way past my deeply ingrained unconscious beliefs and attitudes either.

The first step, is to feel it in my bones first. And what I’m realizing, is that my white female bones are filled with privilege that I would like to deny. It’s hard to write that.

I may not fully understand it yet, and I may never, but I know this to be true.

So I’m embarking on a quest, a quest to change. A quest to dive in to myself and see what needs clearing out, so I then can BE better in order to DO better.

I see so much nonsense right now in this “everybody wants to be a life coach” world. People who have decided they want to be somebody and make a living off of it, so they jump right to the role of teacher before they have learned anything about the thing they are attempting to teach. Marketing over learning. Destitute people in bankruptcy court thinking their way out of the trap, is teaching other people abundance techniques at the very same time. While asking them to fund them via “go fund me” campaigns. It’s insane to me. People who have never struggled in the world of relationship, much less maintained a successful one, thinking their way to finding love is teaching others about relationship skills. And so. much. marketing. The way to become somebody, is to learn the best way to market yourself, until you get there. I just can’t. The total lack of authenticity while marketing oneself as “real”.

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If I just sound positive enough, if I read enough on this topic, if I use the right buzz words and emojis laced through them in the right written patter,  if I just have enough followers, then people will pay me for my wisdom! And it’s always crumbling, of course it is.

This kind of mentality guides me right now, because, although, like in my last post, I like to think of myself as the last person on Earth who would be racist, I am wrong. It is ingrained in the fabric of my being and I am just barely beginning to learn about that. The only way, the only way, I can be a true ally in ways I may have already thought I was being, is to keep digging inside. Keep listening to these powerful teachers guiding me and letting myself be humbled and cracked open. This is an inside job first and there is no bypassing that–and guess what–black women can smell my privilege a mile away (and likely it is displayed even all over this post, even with me trying to be careful not to, I am not changed yet, I have a lot of work to do).

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When someone tells me the best way to be in support of them– which includes my own husband–the best response is to put away my ideas of what I think the best way to support them is and listen to them. Then do that to the best of my ability. Allison Brettschneider. showed me the opposite of that in neon. Don’t tell ME what to do is such a knee jerk response. It’s infuriating, even to me. I can only imagine what Rachel Cargle was feeling and the barrage of attack that came down on her. I can’t imagine really, which is the whole point.

I’ve known for decades that humiliation is valuable if it can breed humility. It would be a miracle if someone like Allison B.–who is being called out everywhere on these topics–(I would say she’s becoming a poster child for this now), could have that kind of revelation. It could change the world.

My own revelations, however, are more important right now to make the changes that can make a difference.

Layla Saad (@wildmysticwoman) just completed offering a 28 day course in White Privilege that she will be offering again in the coming months. I will be taking it. If anyone would like to join me, I will get you the information. You can start by following her on Instagram where I’m sure she will also post more information on it.

Here is an article to start with.

I’m aware, that my posting about these topics may make many of my regular readers uncomfortable. You may feel the need to unfollow me. I get that. Yet, that discomfort that you or I may be feeling, pales in comparison to standing on a subway station and out of nowhere getting your throat cut for simply being. Or witnessing that. Or knowing about it across the country, or the world, when that person looks like you and feeling your own unsafety in the world.

I just have to do this work. And I know I will stumble, say stupid things, even be offensive unintentionally in my unlearning. And I will keep pressing on.

Ok, back to listening and reading and drinking everything in and letting myself be transformed. And when it feels right, taking action, such as this post.

In the name of Nia Wilson, I write this. I say your name. #sayhername

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Artist: Kaylani Juanita

 

Racism 2

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I know I’m not alone in a heightened awareness (and a heightened sensitivity) these days around racism. I’ll just let that sentence stand alone without examples, because no one should need them. We are living in a culture right now, where racist attitudes are expressing themselves everywhere at full throttle. Not that they are new, I don’t think, but that they’ve been given permission to fly their freak flags (again) and they are creating parades with them. Even if their parade has just one participant, that racist person is marching out loud and proud.

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As a Caucasian female, I’ve prided myself on my personal lack of racist ideas and attitudes–the opposite really. I mean I’m that same girl who was the only kid in my 3rd grade class who volunteered to participate in the integration program. I was the only child in my grade level in my white suburban neighborhood who was bussed to “the black school” on my own volition. I held my hand up proudly when they asked for volunteers, and spent the next three years riding that bus, watching it cross paths with the black kids who were so “lucky” to come to the white neighborhood. I don’t know what their experiences were, but I can guess that they were less fortunate than mine in the attempts to help them be fortunate. Booker T. Washington grade school was a place where I thrived, got introduced to computers before any of the other schools did, and I was popular. It gave me a safe and nurturing environment at a time of turmoil in my homelife–when my father married the woman who started abusing us almost immediately. School was my refuge. I loved that school.

Yet, now, I feel I’m being asked to go deeper inside myself to these issues of racism–not just around me, but inside me. I’m realizing that now is a time to be humble, to be a listener-as-activist, and to learn.

I follow a very outspoken black woman online named Hannah Drake. She is a writer/poet/gardener who is guiding me in ways that she can’t imagine. She writes on her blog Write Some Shit and I encourage you out there to take a moment and check her out–maybe just start with her most recent challenge called Do Not Move Off the Sidewalk.

This is the part of the challenge that pertains to me (and maybe you):

For White people, I challenge you for the next 24-48 hours to be aware of how you treat Black people and People of Color in spaces. Do you have an expectation that Black people and People of Color should move out of your way? How many times do you insert yourself and your comments into virtual spaces because you feel it is your right without reading and listening to People of Color that have stated their truth on a particular issue? Do you speak around the Black person as if they are not in the room? Do you interrupt People of Color when they are speaking? Are you cutting a Black person or a Person of Color in line because you feel that is your right? Also be aware of how it feels to be cognizant of how your body navigates spaces and imagine how that would feel to do that at the very least for 8 hours out of each day.

I have accepted this challenge and in all public spaces, I’m noticing myself. And yes, I’m noticing that, although I don’t feel entitled to the space they are occupying, I have not been giving people of color the same treatment that I give people who look like me. It’s kind of scary to even say that out loud, but I am the subject of my own experiment, so I need to keep it objective. I notice that sometimes I simply feel like I might say or do the wrong thing, so I avoid. It’s not a fear of that person thing, it’s a fear of myself. That’s about as far as I know about it now.

So, applying this challenge, I’m confronting that fear. I’m making a point of pausing, stopping, holding a door vs rushing through it, making deliberate eye contact, smiling. Even yesterday in front of the grocery store, I struck up a conversation with two black women about the heat. They looked surprised that I stepped in to their space with my words, but they opened up to me. I am confronting an avoidance in myself that I was not even aware of before this challenge. I don’t really know what my fear is, and I may never find out exactly, but I’m willing to challenge it.

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In contemplating this further, I’ve also made a decision to shift in another certain way. I looked more deeply at another example that I encountered this week over a stupid reality show that I stupidly follow. It’s about couples agreeing to be married to a stranger (Married at First Sight). I not only watch this show, but discuss it with others on social media sometimes in a small Facebook group. This week the new season aired and it displayed the interview process with the matchmakers for selecting their couples. One gregarious black man shared, during his interview, that he was not attracted to women with darker skin than his. He said something about darker women not “melting his butter”.

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Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

A few days later, a black woman in the group brought this up for discussion. I noticed everyone chiming in with their thoughts and feelings about this disclosure–from outrage, to “everyone has a type and it’s no big deal”.  Reading through this thread, a shift happened in me.

You see, I’m a person who is often very quick to form an opinion. Some might even call me opinionated. I’m also a person who, when confronted with a challenge, is quick to seek and form a strategy to deal with it–formed of course on my opinion. What I should do, what I should say, how I should approach this thing.

I realized, reading that thread, that what I needed to do was listen. Not even form an opinion (yet) but to stop all that inner commotion and listen. Who I needed to listen to in this equation, were the people his comment affected most: the black women viewing it. My mind opened up as I thought about this discussion being their domain and if I’m invited to this party, I need to shut my damn mouth and listen to how they are feeling about it.

That led to me making that comment–that the thing I felt I needed to do was listen to how the “darker than him” women were feeling about this and learn something. Not do something, not post something, but just listen. 

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

The opening poster immediately thanked me for that perspective, then went on to educate the group (if anyone was paying attention besides me that is) about the term colorism and its roots in slavery and how this was a bigger issue than simply this man’s type. God, it’s exhausting to witness how quickly white people want to discount a black person’s historical perspective. Like “that happened then, so shouldn’t affect you now” kind of thing. I am SO SICK of reading comments like those. How about just trying to understand, that since obviously the person is feeling affected, what that means to them? Before so quickly denying their right to have the feelings they are already possessing? (that comment could apply to almost every marital argument–or any argument– by the way)

I felt a sense of relief in this awareness and decision. How about I make that my goal, at least for awhile or however long it takes, to stop forming opinions and judgments and do this or do that? But make my focus and intention to pay attention and listen. And maybe that listening will change me for the better. Then from that new place, I will know what to do.

So I’ve decided to release my fast thinking/deciding/judging/overworking mind for awhile and on these issues around racism, to pay attention to the people who are affected the most by it and deeply listen to what they are saying. Even if it is uncomfortable for me, to allow their words and thoughts and feelings to sink in to myself and see where that takes me. Maybe I can change the world by being changed by it even more deeply. That’s where I’m headed now.

I’m going to continue Hannah’s challenge indefinitely. I’m going to keep noticing how I feel and keep taking more risks in that regard. And I will see how that changes me too. Just me, one person living in a smallish town. This is my path to activism for the moment.

I’ll end this with David Whyte’s poem Start Close In. Take a listen, in his own voice.

 

Reach In #reachin

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This is a very sweet story about Anthony Bourdain that I ran across this morning. It’s about his championing for, not just people in parts unknown, but in our very heart of America.

I know I’m not the only one out there who is still very rattled by his suicide and this former Psychiatric RN, sister of a schizophrenic brother, and daughter of an often depressed father, has some things to say.

The continued posting of these “reaching out” memes and comments, although may be helpful to some, is a superficial response to this complicated issue of suicide. And, in some cases, it can make things worse for some people.

Depression with suicidal ideation has its own set of complex symptoms. Like a heart attack does–and, similarly, many of them are universal and identifiable. As heart attacks have warning signs like chest pain and pain down the left arm, so does suicidal depression.

One symptom of that kind of deep despair is that people have a clouded set of thoughts–that they truly start to believe that the world is conspiring against them and that their presence is detrimental, not only to themselves, but the world at large including their own loved ones. These symptoms become very real in their minds. They are not excuses or weaknesses or made up stories. THEY ARE SYMPTOMS OF THIS DISEASE.

One thing that can help ground a suicidal person is reminding them of this. That these thoughts are not who they are, but symptoms, just like chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack. SYMPTOMS THAT CAN PASS. Another symptom also being, that these symptoms will never pass. Do you see the drain they circle in?

One reality check I have given, even to myself, is “you are likely feeling that this is never going to end, and that is a symptom of the disease process you are immersed in right now, and even that set of thoughts is going to pass.” This helps to distance somewhat from the pervasiveness of it. Even for a second, a shift can begin, a life raft can be seen in the distance.

 Encourage them to look for change, even a change in a momentary thought or feeling–even if the change is a different kind of pain, but still pain. Change can equal movement out of what feels like a devastating stuck pit that will remain forever. The slightest change, can signal to the deep psyche that evolution is possible even when it has not registered yet to the conscious mind.

Expecting someone experiencing the throes of that kind of immobilized, pervasive symptomology–to rail against it completely and be able to reach out– is akin to asking someone in the throes of a full blown myocardial infarction to begin CPR on themself.

There is so much more than these trite “reminders” or “admonitions” to suicidal people to “reach out”. I think more has to be educated to THE REST OF US, to reach in. How to do it, what to say, when to intervene, how to intervene.

I’ve had to do it with my own family acutely for the last several years. Identify those moments when it is time to take over for them–get them in the hospital or to a doctor for medication. Not to “encourage them” but to simply sweep them up and say “we are going, now”. For both my brother and my father. Psychosis and depression have plagued my family my entire adult life. I know this world intimately. I have had to find and realize the strength to sit right there in a hospital or doctor’s office and say the words for them that they cannot say. Words like “he is hearing lots of voices telling him to harm himself” or “he is experiencing significant depression right now”. Words they were unable to utter, again, because they were consumed with the actual disease (or embarrassed, or in denial, or…).

So what if you get someone to be evaluated who ends up not hospitalized or deemed in need of that? It’s the same as if you take someone to the hospital who, may be having a heart attack, but in reality is experiencing indigestion. Ok, now you know. Now you’ve done something. Now you’ve communicated to them that they are not going to have to manage this distress alone.

And, yes, there are the Histrionics who cry wolf and have a whole different kind of mental illness issue going on, but don’t let them inhibit us and let the rest slip through the cracks. It’s pretty easy to discern these things when we are honest with ourselves.

People are often afraid to take action when mental illness is involved. I moved my brother to Arizona for that very reason–people where he was living were not taking action and he was drowning. He would not have survived it, and I could see that clearly. I could see it because I was not suffering in the ways he was. He is thriving so well right now, because he has a coalition of caring people watching him, every day. But that took years to craft and is still always being crafted.

None of us are afraid to step in and call 911 or start CPR with a person who is choking or having an obvious medical emergency. We need to get better with this when it comes to mental health. This responsibility should not solely rest on the acutely ill patient–I believe it rests more on the rest of us. We need to know more and have more encouragement to act. I’ve yet to see the memes instructing loved ones to call a suicide help line for someone they may be worried about.

Don’t get me wrong–no one is responsible for the devastating choice of suicide of another, just like no one is responsible for another person’s heart attack.. YET we need to understand it better and have deeper and more global interventions and take more steps to unburden our loved ones who are suffering before this becomes their only option. We need to find more oxygen masks, and use them. To unabashedly be unafraid to slap that right on their face and tell them to inhale. Then find people to take care of them, until they can breathe on their own again.

#reachin