Thursday, August 02, 2018

When Life Moves as Fast as the News Cycle

I am often astonished at how much less I write here than I used to, and for a while, I attributed it to the speed of life. There have been so many changes - substantive changes - in my life in the last two years that I can barely keep up.

For a while, I was trying to peg some freelance writing work to the news cycle - writing about depression when Kate Spade was discovered to have committed suicide and realizing that by the time I wrote my piece it was Anthony Bourdain that was in the news and by the time I heard back from an editor, the world was talking about North Korea and then the next school shooting and then family separations at the border.

Funny how much that felt like my life.

Separation after 23 years of marriage followed by (or in the midst of) my oldest daughter's senior year in high school with the attendant college preparation/final Homecoming/Prom/graduation. Searching for an alternative to the youngest daughter's school and finding the Running Start program that allows her to enroll in community college in lieu of finishing at her high school followed by divorce and moving to a new home. Watching my mom descend further in to herself and trying to help arrange for her move to a long-term facility and preparing to help my daughter now move across the country for college.

The speed of life.

As I walked the dogs in the cool mist this morning, I realized that part of what has been weighing on me is a feeling of failure - that I am doing so many things and none of them very well. I've sold some writing, but not enough to live on. I bought a new house and there are still pieces of furniture where I don't want them and the outdoor space isn't as inviting as I want it to be. I don't cook as often as I used to and I am afraid I'm not showing up for my girls in the way they want me to.

But when I took a moment to really say those words in my own head - to bring them out of the shadows where they play havoc with my heart - I realized that I've actually done a pretty damn good job in the last two years simply by putting one foot in front of the other. The fact that I've sold any writing, finished my manuscript, bought and sold a house, navigated the end of a decades-long marriage, and managed to stay upright and kind and tell my girls every damn day that I love them is almost a miracle. If I've failed in any way, it was a failure to accurately assess what my future was going to look like, and I think it's a human trait to be pretty bad at that kind of prediction, isn't it? By making an effort to stay grounded in who I am and what's important to me and focusing on the next best step, I've strung together quite a path thus far, so while the news cycle of my life is still hurtling along at a fairly fast clip, I know it won't always be like this. I'm just going to hold on and keep doing what I've been doing for the next little while and believe in my own abilities.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

We All Belong To Each Other

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday night, I joined a room full of people of all different faiths to talk about how we can help the immigrants in our community - both the ones in the local federal detention center and those in our midst who have been living here and working here for months, years, sometimes decades. It was an amazing gathering with people of all ages and religions and backgrounds, and some of the individuals who have direct experience as immigrants were asked to share their stories.

While this meeting came up as an effort to build a Rapid Response Network to meet the needs of families separated at the border, it was also acknowledged that the immigrants who are living here are not safe from ICE, either. While I knew that, the stories I heard shook me.

One Somalian woman spoke about her experience translating for another Somali woman - a mother of four children who immigrated to this country via Kenya after the death of her husband. She came her with her four kids to try and build a new life for all of them and secure some sort of future in a land not plagued by war or drought. She knew that if she stayed home, she and her children would be in jeopardy. They've been here for more than ten years, integrated into the community, part of it. One day, not too long ago, she received a frantic phone call from her teenage son. He had been picked up on the light rail with a group of other teens (also Somalian) and instantly moved to a federal detention center in Tacoma. They were told that they would be sent back to Somalia the next morning on a plane that was already full. ICE had performed a set of raids specifically to round up Somalians in the area and send them back. This young man has been in the US since he was two years old. He doesn't speak Somalian. He has no recollection of that country. His mother had no time to contact an attorney and no recourse. He was flown back to Somalia where he and the other young people (all unaccompanied minors) were dumped at the international airport in Mogadishu without food or money and left to their own devices. She has not seen him since.

Another man spoke of living in an apartment building with many Latino families. While he is not Latino, he has befriended them and gotten to know their children. It is a tight community of neighbors who all help each other (this man is physically disabled) and look out for each other. His voice broke as he told us of the gatherings they have to socialize where talk eventually turns to plans for what will happen when ICE shows up. Many of the parents have had to teach their children where to hide and how to be silent if a stranger comes to the door when the parents are at work or at the store. Many of them are citizens or are waiting on green cards to complete their legal process, but ICE does not discriminate, and with their unchecked powers, they are able to round up and deport or detain people before a legal defense can be mounted.

I heard a Kenyan man who has been here for much of his adult life speak of the refugee camps in his country and the people who come through them looking for a better life. He explained that even though Kenya is a beautiful, mostly peaceful country, the exchange rate for their currency is 100:1. That means that someone coming to the United States can make 100 times the amount of money here working in the same job as they can if they stay in Kenya. Is it any wonder that people are willing to trek through the unknown to get here?

There were more stories that broke me wide open, and the support and energy in that room was tremendous. It is tempting to succumb to the overwhelm and realize that there is so much happening behind the scenes on a daily basis that we can't even know about, but then I remember that even one family protected is vital. I will continue to work with these people to demonstrate my American dream - the dream that we all remember we belong to each other in profound ways and we all deserve to live our best lives, regardless of where on this planet we happen to have been born. I hope you'll find ways to help, too.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Dream and a Nightmare

I had a dream last night that I volunteered my car and my services to transport kids who'd been separated from their parents back to reunite with them. I have a car that seats seven and I was eager to help in any way I could with the family reunifications.

When I got to the detention center, I couldn't look at any of the children. I suddenly felt very white and wealthy and American and I wondered how much I scared the kids. I felt complicit. I wanted to apologize, to take them all into my arms and sob and tell them that I never wanted any of this, that I didn't vote for the monster in the White House, that I marched and protested and wrote on their behalf. But in the dream, I didn't touch any of them, because it's not about me. I had to stay in my own lane and remember that doing this work isn't focused on making  me feel better or less guilty. And so I bowed my head and opened up the back of the car and didn't make eye contact. I let the kids in and made sure their seat belts were all buckled tightly and then I went around to my side of the car, climbed in, put my glasses on, and drove them to their families.

I spent most of Friday throwing up - for real, not in a dream. I have been agitated and on edge all week. I spent Sunday - Father's Day - at a rally in the hot sun, tears streaming down my face as I listened to stories relayed to my Congressperson from parents in the federal detention center in Seattle.

I spent Tuesday writing my story of family separation, finally understanding why this is hitting me so hard (not that it shouldn't hit every single person on the fucking planet right between the eyes - this tearing apart of families). I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to get someone to publish my story, to hear the devastating effects of family separation.

But it's not about me. And I can't make it about me. There is much work to do to get these kids back to their families, to repair the damage we've wrought. Today, I will find others who can help, band together with them, and bow my head as I do the work.

If you want to help, please look over this article and find something that fits your skillset.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

This is Not a Father's Day Post

By Dave Huth from Allegany County, NY, USA - Pill bug, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64866062
My gut can be the source of some pretty deep knowing. It's often the first place I get an energetic "hit" when something is off or really, really right. But it's also the site of connection to my daughters and I realized this morning that if I'm not paying really close attention, it can lead me to places I don't want to go.

I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to make parenting decisions (or, really, any decisions, for that matter) out of fear. While fear is important, it's important as a first hit emotion, not a "let's move forward" emotion. So when I let energy sit in my belly, it's not good. Especially when it comes to my kids.

The alternative to acting out of fear, for me, is acting out of love, and for that, I need to be in my heart. I have to really work to open a portal from my belly upward and let that energy move to a place of abundance and openness and vulnerability. And that's the shitty part.

When I close my eyes and think of my gut and the way fear feels there, I shrink forward like a pill bug, curling around those soft parts and protecting them. But that traps the energy there and while it feels safe, it's not sustainable. My babies were in my belly for a finite period of time for a reason. I wasn't meant to protect them forever. And as they grow up and make their way in the world without me, I still feel that tug just below my navel - a cord of connection that is like an early warning system. It's always 'on.'

These days when I am afraid for my girls, the stakes seem so much bigger. They're driving, working, spending time with people I've never met and maybe never will. They are making decisions I don't know about and maybe wouldn't make for myself or them, given half a chance. The gut hits tell me to draw in, tug on that cord to keep them closer to me, curl around and try to protect them again. That's fear. Fortunately, sometimes I have the presence and ability to remember that I chose not to act out of fear.

It's time to draw that cord up through to my heart, to open and expand, to breathe and shine light and lead with love. It's time to trust that the connection will always be there, it's just that the nature of it is changing, like everything else does. It's time to remember that fear shrinks, dims the light, takes so much energy, but love expands and shines and releases energy. These girls are up and on their own legs, and when they wobble, I'll be here, with open arms, standing tall with my shoulders back, leading with my heart, because love is so much more powerful and transformative than fear.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

An Open Letter to Men Whose Daughters Opened Their Eyes To Feminism


By Father of JGKlein, used with permission - Father of JGKlein, used with permission, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10787084
If you are among the men who claim to have awakened to feminism because you had a daughter, I just want to let you in on a secret: that’s not feminism. If, before you had a female child who shares your DNA, who may or may not continue your legacy, you didn’t identify as a feminist – despite the fact that you have spent your life surrounded by women in one way or another – you’re not one now.
You may be on your way to finding feminism, but you’ve got a ways to go, so keep moving. You are not yet enlightened.

What you’ve found is narcissism. Or, alternately, patriarchy masquerading as feminism. If you suddenly see your daughter as a human being who might be mistreated based on her gender, if you feel compelled to protect her and fight for her rights, that’s patriarchy. If you look in to your daughter’s eyes and see yourself, or watch her on the soccer field and think, “she got that from me,” that’s narcissism. You feel as though you have a vested interest in her equality simply because she is ‘of you.’ 

Feminism is about all women and girls, so if you had a mother or a sister or aunties or female teachers or friends who were girls, and you didn’t feel compelled to support their struggle for equality before now, keep working. 

I’m happy you’ve gotten this far, but I’m not going to congratulate you on your newfound social justice muscle. We have way too much work to do for me to take the time or energy to make you feel better. You can join us, watch us, learn from us, and hopefully you’ll make it to feminism at some point. But you are not the center of the universe here. 

Women and girls have been raised to believe that the male gaze is the one that is most important – their daddies, their coaches, their bosses. Because men are the ones who have traditionally been in power, it is their acknowledgment and support we have been taught to seek, so I understand why you might think you deserve to be praised for this novel idea you had – that girls are people, too – thanks to your fatherhood. I’m here to tell you that that is all nonsense and you’ve been sold a lie. Women and girls are people regardless of whether you think they are or not. Women and girls are powerful, smart, and deserving of all the same things men are, their relationship to or with men notwithstanding. We don’t deserve equality because we are your sisters or your cousins or we have your eyes. We deserve equality. Period.

So put away your self-concern and self-congratulation and get on with it. We have miles to go and you’re a bit behind. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When The Story Gets Too Heavy

Naturvetenskap 1

 I am a storyteller and I have been my whole life. I carry them inside me, work on them, figure out the best way to share them. But sometimes the stories get heavy. Before I ever put anything on the page, the words and feelings chase each other around and around inside, making connections and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. When I sit too long with the stories, they start to burn and I know it's time to walk or go pull weeds. Somehow, being outside helps the sentences flow and combine in ways they can't when I am indoors.

The stories of the last year and a half are heavier than many that have gone before, and I'm finding that walking takes on a new urgency for me and it also requires a focus I haven't been forced to have before. These days, I have to walk farther away from home and immerse myself in places that are new and expansive in order to divorce myself from the circling thoughts and feelings. I have found an open space surrounded by trees where few people go and at least once a week I walk there and sit and untether the words from each other, and also from my head and heart. Sitting in this place just breathing helps to re-string it all in a way that offers clarity.

I am learning that there is a sort of chemical reaction taking place as I assimilate the stories and try to keep my heart and my head on the same level. Most days, the two are at war, fighting for supremacy, which sometimes means wild swings from sadness to anger. My brain can only witness so much grief before it burns it off with anger, like alcohol in a skillet. My heart is simultaneously relieved of its burden and seduced by the beautiful flames, but the anger is also expansive and  at some point I realize it is taking up too much space in my head. The sadness dissipated, but the stories are still there and they are all about other people. I imagine a large section of my brain colonized by the stories of others, the actions of others, the words of others, and I am impatient to evict them.

When I was in college, the days I spent in the Chemistry lab were some of my favorites. The cool, cave-like room with its expanse of concrete worktops and glass beakers and pipettes and orderly rhythms gave me a stillness and a focus. There were rules, a set of steps to be taken, and all that was asked of me was to do one thing at a time and remain curious - observe and report. Even if I knew what I was supposed to be creating, somehow the cascading chemical reactions along the way were always enchanting - sometimes it was a smell or a particular color flame that I hadn't expected. Witnessing the magic kept me from getting caught up in the story or the sequence. I had my instructions. Observe and report. Remain curious.




Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Tough Love is For the Birds...

and for the parents. 

If you were raised in the 1970s and early 1980s, you might be familiar with the "tough love" approach. It was my dad's go-to method of parenting. Figure out how to treat your kid like they'd be treated in "the adult world" and apply that. And tell them it was "for your own good - you'll thank me someday." 

I didn't. Ever. Thank him. 

I have, on occasion, been sorely tempted to employ the Tough Love method of parenting - telling my kids to suck it up, stop sniveling. Urban Dictionary defines it as "being cruel to be kind;" Dictionary.com says it's "promotion of a person's welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions." I call bullshit. 

Tough love is about the parents, it's not about the kids. When parents use these tactics, it's because they're uncomfortable with their own kids' pain. Every time my dad told me to stop crying it was because he couldn't stand to see me cry. (I didn't know that at the time - I thought there was something really wrong with me that I cried so easily.) Every time my dad told me that I had created the mess so I'd have to figure out how to fix it, it was because he didn't have the bandwidth to sit with me, listen to me, soothe my feelings, and help me talk through how I got here and how to move forward. 

I'm not saying he was a monster. He was a product of his time, and that was the prevailing parenting wisdom in those days. But I am saying that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him, his discomfort with strong emotions, and his insecurity with parenting overall. If he convinced himself that he was doing what was in my best interest, "promoting my welfare," he could wipe his hands of the affair altogether. It was mine to figure out. I'd be fine. I'd pull myself up from my bootstraps and learn (or I wouldn't, and he still wouldn't be accountable or have to jump to action).

How do I know this? Because the other day when I was supremely frustrated with my kid, worried about a choice she was tasked with making, and so overwhelmed with emotion about the entire situation, I considered taking the Tough Love approach. Not because she's nearly 16. Not because I thought it was in her best interest. Because I. Was. Tired. Because I couldn't stand to see her struggle anymore and if I just told her to figure it out on her own, then I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. 

It was about me and my pain, not hers. It was because hanging in there, holding space for her angst and confusion and really empathizing with the fact that there was no easy answer felt too hard. I'm happy to say that instead of channeling my dad, I took the dogs for a walk and gave myself some space to breathe and remember that I know how to do hard things, especially when I'm doing them with people that I love fiercely. I was reminded that walking beside her, being exactly who she needed me to be in the moment of her biggest challenge, and not throwing her to the wolves is my job as her mother and her champion. I can model for her that sticking by the people you love when things are hard is what we do. I can remind her that she can lean on me when she's tired and it all feels too much. And I can remember that, no matter how difficult this all feels to me, she's the one living it, and the least I can do is let her know that I won't go anywhere. 

Screw tough. Just love. 
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