This article is not about illegal vs legal immigrants, and is not meant to attempt to address that topic. It must be said however, that when you encounter someone in passing who is foreign, or does not speak the language of the country they are currently in, it is by definition prejudiced to assume you know anything about who they are or why they are in your country. If you evaluate and judge people around you based on that criteria alone you are prejudiced. You are pre judging someone, with little to no information about them. You are creating a fictional story that has no basis in fact or reality.
"Jane says I'm going away to Spain
when I get my money saved..."
~from the song Jane Says by Jane's Addiction
I wanted to run away, far away.
I went to Spain for the first time on a high school exchange trip. I fell head over heels in love. I drank in the warmth of the place, like a magical healing tonic. I adored the way the sun glowed across the facades of centuries old buildings, the way people kissed my cheeks on first meeting, and every meeting after that, and I delighted in strolling arm in arm down the busy sidewalks with my new friends. I thrived on the person to person touch connection of the culture. I needed to be touched. It felt like my heart home, a place I had always belonged to and had finally found. From then on, I dreamed of moving there. I returned several times in the proceeding years. I majored in Spanish in college and attended one year of university there. I had built a bridge to cross over, to take my place where I believed my future happiness waited to welcome me.
It turns out I would get away eventually, but not to Spain, and not for many years. I write this sitting in my study in Taipei, Taiwan. I live here with my husband and three children. We have been married for more than twenty years and lived most of that time in the United States. I had planned to make my break for the land that first fed my heart, and instead found a venture into a new phase of life and happiness with the man I love.
Stephen is Australian and American, but despite an international upbringing, he did not speak Spanish at all, and so the best laid plans changed directions and I embraced new beginnings of a different kind.
We got married and started our life together in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I couldn't find a good job using my Spanish language skills, so I spent some time as a volunteer teaching English to people in a Latino neighborhood. It was clear to me that these were men and women who earnestly wanted to learn the language of their new country. They were enthusiastic and dedicated, and it was often very difficult for them. These were people struggling to get by, and trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sometimes they would not show up for awhile, they would get a job or move away and no longer be able to attend. I found it an honor to get to know them, to be of service for the time we had together. I always wished them well.
I grew up in a very white, middle class, suburban neighborhood. Diversity itself was the most foreign thing you might find there, and it offered little to no opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. My travels to Spain, the years of dedicated study I put in to gain fluency in the Spanish language, and my time volunteering with wonderful, bright individuals planting roots of a life without the benefit of the kind of language education I had received, filled my heart with respect and admiration for immigrants. I gained deep insight into being a foreigner in a foreign land, the courage and faith it requires. Immigrants are people just like you and me doing the best they can. I was lucky to have these experiences, at home and abroad, that strengthened my empathy muscle around language, and the challenge it is to master a foreign tongue.
It infuriates me when people denigrate immigrants who can't speak the language. I cringe at the very thought of the recrimination, "If you are in America speak English." America, a country founded and populated by immigrants from all over the world, whose first generation of any given family may not have been English speaking. Today people arrive here, in many, if not most cases, fleeing poverty, persecution, social or religious peril, many come with nothing but desperation and a flicker of hope, a dream. Isn't this our great story, our collective jewel, the American dream? Or do we really wish to stomp that dream into oblivion so we don't have to share it with others? When I hear someone say "speak English or go home", I want to shake them into memory of what this home means, what we are supposed to stand for. This nation was formed, a land of hope and possibility for those who wanted something more, something better, those who were thirsty for freedom. " Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." How can we forget, where we came from, who we are?
It hadn't occurred to me, that when I least expected it, I would become the person moving to a foreign land, and not the warm sunny Spain of my dreams. My husband got an amazing job opportunity and we packed up and moved to China with three of our four children.
We have been living in Mandarin speaking countries for three years and counting. I have learned very little Mandarin, just enough to be polite and get by. I know other people who have not even bothered to get that level of skill. We live in our new country and we make connections with other people like us, we don't integrate. We are not called immigrants, we are called expats. The difference being that we generally are not planning to stay permanently, and the second being we have money and privilege. The vast majority of us are here because of a job, we are either working, or here as a "trailing spouse". The typical expat jobs are fairly high level and high paying. We are people who come to our new country with ample resources and advantages. Many of us have drivers and domestic helpers, what seems very upper crust at home is fairly common here.
The truth of the matter is I have status, privelege, and that allows me to easily ignore my deficit of language. I took lessons the first two years and gained enough skill to function, but I find Mandarin exceedingly difficult and when we moved to Taiwan I let my studies go. It had not occurred to me that this might be a problem. However, one day I was in the car listening to the English speaking radio morning show and the host started talking about the local Taiwanese frustration and poor regard for expats. He said there is a sentiment among quite a few Taiwanese that "if you are in Taiwan, speak Chinese".
If you are in Taiwan speak Chinese.
It dawned on me that I am one of "those" people. I am one of those people seen by some as rude and ignorant, one of those who saunters in and takes what they need, but has not bothered to assimilate, doesn't care enough to learn to communicate. I felt bruised and a bit guilty as I thought about this. I felt sad that there are people in the place I currently call home, who see me as an intruder, or at least an annoyance, an unwanted presence. I wanted to defend myself, but who could I tell? I don't speak Chinese after all. And that left me in the uncomfortable territory of helplessness, powerless to change a condition of my life. People are probably judging me, assuming to know my character, thinking badly of me, and I have no present moment avenue to change that, or to demonstrate otherwise.
Sometimes I want to run home to America where it's safe and familiar. But I am here for the immediate future, and all I can do is learn, adapt, and do the best I can with what I know right now.
The reality is I am here because it provides for my family, we followed opportunity. We are here because we want the best for our kids. It is such an exciting journey, full of rich eye opening experience, travel, culture, fun and expanded horizons. It is also challenging, disorienting, and scary at times to be a stranger in a strange land. Even with the many resources we have available to us we are confronted with a loss of what is safe and familiar, there are so many unknowns to contend with. We have had to adapt and learn to function within this new environment. It is important to be aware of the perceptions of the community we are living in, and to understand how we are being seen. I don't know much Chinese but I can say hello, I can smile, I can make small gestures of kindness. Shouldn't we all commit to that on a daily basis wherever we are?
When we step out our front doors and into the world, it would make for a much better place if we did so with an attitude of inclusion and positivity. We make an active choice after all, to go out assuming the best of people we pass on the street or in the coffee shop, wherever we go, or to assume the worst. If we walk around in life and invest in suspicion, judgment and preemptive dislike for our fellow human beings then that is the environment we will manifest. We have the ability to choose kindness, compassion and generosity as our foundation of being, and we would do well to give of those qualities freely until a person gives us a reason not to. There are bad people in the world of course, people we have every right to defend ourselves against, or at the very least establish firm boundaries. Some immigrants will be bad people, some people in any given group, or in any community or on any particular street, may not have good intentions in their hearts, but all over the world the good people far outnumber the bad. I know this is true. I have traveled many places, walked down many streets and every place I go I find good, kind, generous people. They are there, you just have to be looking. What we look for is often what we find.
In the current charged climate around immigration and the divide that is evident, the anger that is bubbling up, the hostility and increasingly violent words and actions, it is essential that narratives that increase understanding and compassion get written, spoken, demonstrated and acted upon. My experiences are my own, but I believe they hold truth. I believe what I have learned is deeply relevant. My best gesture into that uncomfortable territory of powerlessness is to maintain an open mind and heart and to speak out in the name of unity and love. These are forces that bring us together no matter our native tongue, no matter where we may travel, or where we make our home.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
forget the lesser evil
i want the greater good
i want truth that shines so damn bright
it burns away the stale necrotic status quo
the roll over and take it
cuz what else can you do?
what else can we do?
forget the lesser evil
i want the greater good
let's claw and cut through
layers of lies
rip the mask right off
the sinister system
stare it in the face and say
and that small phrase will
ring like a shot
heard round the world
and rise to the sweet note
of new freedom
that we create
together we stand
we will not fall
forget the lesser evil
we want the greater good
good rooted in respect
good that heals not harms
good that doesn't sell us one thing
and hand us another
good that doesn't steal the
life and liberty out from under us
or question any single person's
right to be
good that doesn't play on our
fears and frustrations
turning us on each other
good that doesn't tolerate violent
sweep it out the back door or
hide it under the rug
good that doesn't rape, kill or enslave
our bodies, minds or spirits
good that wants to give us all
a hand up
instead of a push down
to keep us in line
and tear us apart
forget the lesser evil
demand a greater good
gather us all
separation can't stand
in the presence of truth
bondage is broken
by the fire of family
we the people
stand in the light
eyes wide open
hand in hand
and in it we will know ourselves
infinitely greater than good
Monday, April 11, 2016
"Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you'd have.It's about understanding your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And, if you're lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you into the person you're supposed to be."
~ from The Water Giver by Joan Ryan
My son Mason is 17 years old, a Junior in high school. He is bright, caring, independent, strong willed, funny, compassionate, off beat, introverted, deep thinking, and he is twice exceptional or 2E.
What is 2E? I am sure you are probably asking that right now.
2E is a designation for people who are both of high intelligence and also have some form of learning disability. Mason is both gifted and talented and he has ADD and a written language learning deficit. These diagnosis were determined over time. It has taken considerable effort, and several experts, most importantly a board certified neuropsychologist who performed extensive testing, to identify the specific issues at play. It is a constantly changing endeavor to advocate for, support, and make forward progress in the best interest of Mason. In fact, he needs multiple people on board to ensure positive outcomes at school. He has an outstanding academic coach who he has worked with for years now, a support teacher at school and a psychiatrist. It is important to note that "as it not a common diagnosis it is important that teachers and school personnel are fully informed about best practices in relation to 2E students".
As his mother, his first source of nurturing and support, the road has been rugged, breathtaking and deeply transformational. His potential is immense. Drawing that potential out of him, motivating him to pursue areas of strength, and assisting him in managing expectations and tasks, as they are, in an educational environment, has taken steadfast and diligent effort, along with loads of support, encouragement and most of all love.
Parenting a 2E kid has felt like a tug of war at times, between encouraging and focusing on his incredible gifts and abilities, and additionally, addressing the obstacles to utilizing those abilities. Frustration happens on both sides. Stephen, my husband and Mason's father, and I, experience frustration, but Mason does too, even more than we do, so much more, and intensely.
If we, his parents, and I would add his teachers, feel stuck, spinning our wheels around the knowledge of Mason's gifts and abilities in contrast to his outcomes, or ability to perform within the constructs and design of the educational institution, we must dare to imagine how he feels. His coach says of her experience working with him, "Being Mason's academic coach is both a privilege and a challenge. Like most 2E students, he is simultaneously frustrated by the confines of school and ravenous for knowledge." It pains me to think of this conflict he must face every day at school; the pressure, the feeling of being wrong, of being outside the norm, an other, and so thirsty for education at the same time. It breaks my heart. I know it crushes his heart too, because he tends to self deprecate, he bursts out angrily at times, he screams about hating us, hating the world, hating himself. I know this means I must love him more, I must tell him what he means to me, and often.
To understand the kind of opposing forces a 2E kid and his parents contend with, I will share the events of one afternoon that illustrate it beautifully. As a junior in high school, Mason was administered the PSAT along with his entire class. This particular afternoon I received the paper copy of his test scores. Mason scored in the top category of mastery. He achieved a near perfect score on the math portion and was also very strong on the language portions. He nailed it.
This very same afternoon I received an email from Mason's resource support teacher, who assists him due to his learning disability, informing me that Mason's grades had taken a serious downturn due to lack of homework and task completion, and a couple low test scores. He was in jeopardy of not making the grades he would need for credit at semester end, and would have to do some really hard work to get it back on track.
I had, within hours of each other, received fantastic news about Mason's intellectual abilities and equally difficult news about his continuing lack of follow through and achievement at school. I was there in the kitchen feeling paralyzed, frozen in my not knowing. The most painful experience in parenting for me is when I simply do not have a clue what to do. I begged myself the questions, "When he walks in the door from school, how do I handle this? What is the right approach? What is the best thing to focus on, to say?" I would later tell a friend, jokingly, "I didn't know if I should hug him or hit him." (I am not in favor of hitting or spanking, to be clear.) The familiar tug of war came full on, a great pulling in my head, strategies and outcomes erupting in a great confusion.
Then I felt beyond my mind and into my heart. I often return to a conversation I had at a ladies lunch once. I had been describing some of the behaviors I had to contend with in dealing with Mason's ADD, specifically his inattention to tasks, his frequent flat disinterest, the great challenge of getting him to do the things he was expected to do, so that he would not fail his classes. One mom asked outright, "I cannot imagine how you deal with that! How do you handle it?" My response came easily and immediately. "I love him."
Of course I do other things too. I hold him accountable for his choices and actions. I make sure he has support at home, at school, and beyond. I talk to him all the time about how things are going, how he is feeling, I set limits, I instate or illustrate for him the consequences of his choices, good choices as well as the not so good ones. But the most important thing I do, by far, is love him, unconditionally, unfalteringly. I show him that, though I may have to go fierce mama bear on him sometimes, it is always rooted in love. That love is not going anywhere, ever.
So that afternoon, when he walked in the door, I greeted him like I usually do, asked about his day, and then I opened up a calm, conscious conversation with him about the good and bad news I had received. I celebrated the good with him, and helped him decide on some steps he could take to resolve the not so good. We talked about what had gone wrong, how he was feeling about it, we agreed on a path forward, it went really smoothly. It does not always happen that way, but I think on this day, because I had paused to make my connection to my heart, instead of staying fully in my head and the story of the situation, I came to it engaged from that place of love, and he felt it.
We determine, day by day, how to move through the difficulties that ADD and learning challenges present, including the unique qualities of 2E. I am becoming more skilled at it, and so is Mason. The great learning of life happens through experience and awareness, and through mistakes and reconciliations. I am invested in establishing ways to support and assist my son who has particular needs and struggles. It is rich soil for growth.
I know labels like ADD, and new designations like 2E, perhaps even more so, come under fire in regards to their overuse and the perception that they are simply making more and more kids "special cases". I can only say, it is impossible to know what it is like to deal with these kinds of issues, unless you have dealt with them. Collectively we need more empathy and far less judgment. Every kid is thirsty for that, to be known and validated. Every kid is also confronted with the demands of an educational system built of benchmarks and boxes to check. That system does not often take into consideration the need for individuation, critical thinking and creativity, which is what grows minds, hearts and spirits. It is up to us to forge an understanding of how to nurture our children in a way that brings them to their full and unique potential.
I hope sharing my experience here helps foster this in some way. If it helps even one person better understand themselves, or their child, more deeply or with greater consideration and care, it is well worth it.
Parenting Mason is a great joy and privilege. As much as I have taught and guided him, I have equally learned so much about relationship, love and family by being his mother. This ever winding road of discovering him, receiving the gift of my son, has helped me also to discover myself and the depths of my heart, the power of love. He truly is exceptional to me, beyond any labels or expectations.
Perfectly imperfect, just as all of us are. Doing our best, learning and loving all the way.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Oh the time has come
And you know that you're the only one
The song came on, after a flash of premonition. It popped into my head, just as the DJ said the theme for the morning was songs related to family. Goosebumps rose on my skin as the first familiar notes played and internally I shivered.
I had just been thinking of the song the previous night. It came out in the summer of 1984, the summer before I started 8th grade, I was twelve going on thirteen, and it spoke to me. It spoke to my pain and struggle in my emerging adolescence, my tender-hearted confusion, but most of all my loneliness.
I was reminiscing about that time purposefully after a couple close friends had suggested I do some writing about my experience being bullied in middle school. I was lying in bed, drifting there, letting flashes of feeling, smells, sounds, sights emerge, bone deep memory rising to the surface, and that song came playing from the depths of memory, almost haunting. My heart dripped with something close to longing for it. I felt the old familiar belly ache, like being punched squarely in the gut, breathless and penetrating.
"Where you going?
What you looking for?
You know those boys
Don't want to play
No more with you
It's true. Those boys did not want to play with me, nor did the girls. I was a loser, a geek, a reject. I didn't have the right clothes, the right hair, the right anything. I was picked on ruthlessly most days, other days mostly ignored, nonexistent, a nobody. I had a couple friends in the same boat as me. We clung to each other like girls overboard, in a cold and punishing sea.
What I went through in those middle school years we now call bullying, back then it was called teasing. Whatever you call it, it hurt like hell and ripped my young confidence to shreds, buried it alive, screaming. And honestly, at that time, there was no intervention to be had, it just didn't happen.
Even today it seems like a nearly impossible problem to overcome, adults can step in and attempt to intervene, it can help or hurt, but the damage is often already done. The damage goes deep.
I was teased about my clothes even though we wore uniforms, Catholic school. I didn't have brand names, and I sported K-Mart tennis shoes not Nikes. My face and body took constant hits, my hair, my teeth, how I smelled. I was called a dog, ugly, flat chested, freak. I always had to worry about getting a seat on the afternoon bus, as everyone piled in, usually no one would let me sit with them. I was consumed with anxiety every single day. My heart would race, jaw clenched, biting back tears or shrieks, stuffing things down into a widening chasm of ache and razor sharp pain, buried in flesh. Some events blaze in my memory, but the whole of it seems blurred, like a dirty smear on my own reflection. It is hard for me to fill in all the details, who said exactly what and when. Like many traumatized people, I tried to block it out, had to block out what I could, or perhaps I would not have survived.
"Babe you know you're growing up so fast
And mama's worrying that you won't last
To say let's play
Sister Christian there's so much in life
Don't you give it up
Before your time is due"
Every time a kid commits suicide and it is attributed to bullying we all collectively gasp in horror. We wonder how such an awful thing could happen. People question why no one did anything, why no one knew? The bullying often goes unseen. It happens when people aren't looking. It happens in the bathroom, in the hallway, on the playground, in quietly passed notes and whispers, in sideways glances, in isolation tactics, and now, under cover of social media.
The victim of bullying is silenced by shame and humiliation, not only from the perpetrators, but also by not being seen, and when the problem is seen, it is often minimized. I think people may have noticed that I was being "teased", but the conventional wisdom was to scold the teasers, tell the victim, me, to brush it off, or toughen up, and that was that. Problem solved.
It did not solve my problem. The pain I endured was excruciating, and I did think about death, about running away. I just wanted to escape somehow. My favorite part of my days was sleep, and each night it seemed I had just closed my eyes, barely rested, and the alarm would throttle me to the beginning of another round. Another insult laden punch in the gut, or waiting for one, at any moment, around any corner. So much fear and pain, and brewing underneath that, anger, rage.
I was torn between hating my classmates intensely, violently, and on the other hand wanting desperately to win them over, somehow.
The summer of 1984, I loved the song Sister Christian and the video pulled at my heartstrings, it struck every lonely chord. The video featured a beautiful girl who seemed like me, a bit lost and lonely, apart from the crowd, trying to catch up. She had blonde hair cut in a bob, she wore a school uniform quite like mine. At the end of the video, she jumps in a car with the cool kids she has been wistfully watching, and is laughing and happy as they drive off into the sunset.
The summer of 1984 I cut my long, and very uncool hair, one of the objects of my taunting, into a Sister Christian bob. I managed to procure a pair of Nikes and some cheap make up. I thought this could be just the thing to save me from yet another year of dejection and wounding. I was wrong.
I got crushed.
What's your price for flight
In finding mister right
You'll be alright tonight"
Body shaming and sexual degradation are among the most punishing and cruel things that can be done to a young teenage girl. I was a late bloomer. I am small chested. That became the aim of a lot of cruel jokes, jokes that are abuse. I remember one day we had indoor recess and someone decided to draw depictions of my body and my best friend's body on the board. She was very tall and big chested, I was short and flat. They shot two birds with one stone of insult and shame. One person drew it, but everyone laughed. I wanted to disappear.
I remember, another time, a popular boy feigned asking me out in front of a bunch of kids. I told him to shut up, no way I was falling for that shit. He proceeded to laugh and say he had thought about tossing a dog a bone, but on second thought...gross.
The final insult, among so very many, happened at an eighth grade graduation party held in the school gym. Some of the kids, I don't even know who, or don't remember, made up these fortunes, like who we would be in the future. There on stage it was announced that I would be named "most shapely woman" in some year or another. I didn't register the minute detail. It was a dagger in my underdeveloped chest. They thought it was all in good fun. I wanted to go "Carrie" on all their asses. I wanted to crush them under a concrete wall of insult and injury, I wanted to bust jaws so no more words would come out. I wished they would hurt deep in their chests, bellies and bones the way I did. I wanted to hurl objects right out of my inner storehouse of injury and anger, now bloated and pressurized, explosive, if I had had the power of telekinesis I would have, but I did not.
Instead I turned it inward. I hated myself. I shut down. I became sullen, withdrawn, depressed, and oh so very angry. The impact of this bullying would continue to ripple through my life, and contribute to years of addiction and self destructive behavior. I spent high school and most of college stewing in self hate and hate for the world. I nurtured a contempt for life and those who seemed to skip happily through it. I was so fractured and emotionally hobbled that I longed to either escape or lash out. I tested limits with increasingly risky behavior. I wanted to spit in the eye of the world, because the world did not have a use for people like me. I clutched onto resentment and fell headlong into the darkness of despair. I alternated between numbing out and exploding in rage, other times crying uncontrollably, grief stricken, fixed in a straight-jacket of unstoppable pain. Depression and anxiety tossed me deep into a suffocating undertow. Yet there was a part of me that wanted life, that refused to be destroyed. I put my toe right up to the edge of the cliff, but never went past the tipping point, never fully opened to the impulse to jump. For that I am grateful.
I have continued to struggle with depression and anxiety my entire life, in part because of those years of torment. The bullying is not entirely to blame, but it was a major factor. It wounded me terribly. It contributed to my descent into years of deeply damaging behavior, and vicious self sabotage.
At the age of twenty I began the arduous work of healing and recovery. I decided I would fight for myself, that I would lay claim to my truth and my value. I put my feet on the path of the warrior, and I have taken a journey out of the darkness and toward my own light. It is really hard work, to this very moment. I slip and fall regularly. More importantly I have learned how to get back up.
Oh the time has come
And you know that you're
The only one to say
But you're motoring
Years after that final humiliation in the gym, I got an invitation to a class reunion. I was married to my loving husband for several years by then, we had our son Mason, and I was early in my second pregnancy. I wanted to go, but I was terrified. I didn't know if I could handle seeing them again, to be near them, to let them see me, and give them a chance to hurt me again. Stephen said I should go, so they could see how good my life had turned out, how awesome I am, and to prove that they did not get the best of me. He thought it would be an opportunity to finally get closure, and he would be right by my side.
As we crossed the street to the bar, it was cold and rainy, the wind whipped sharp and biting. It echoed the atmosphere of my emotions. I was scared, I recoiled at the thought of their faces and voices, part of me wanted desperately to turn and run. But the warrior part of me was dying to step into the room tall and strong, shining in my vitality, in my pretty dress with my strong legs, and my warrior heart. My mere presence would be my testimony to the strength of me, and it was.
I chatted and smiled, I spoke confidently about my life, what I had accomplished. I bragged on my husband and our growing family and showed off pictures of our beautiful baby boy.
One classmate actually apologized to me for the horrible way I had been treated, and for the part she had played in it. That was powerful medicine, the acknowledgement, even more than the apology. It was like finally hearing that I was not invisible after all, she saw me. It is something to have someone bear witness to experience, even over a decade after it happened.
That night I faced demons; demons in the forms of people I once knew, demons in the form of feelings and fears, demons of a girl deeply wounded. I faced it, and by doing so, another level of healing could happen.
After getting through the small talk I felt somewhat avenged, set free. So I took my perfect as it is body, baby bump and all, to the dance floor and I let it fly.
Friday, March 18, 2016
the moth in the dark
flutters like the lost dew drops
and then goes away
~haiku I wrote in third grade
Our words are our most potent tools. Language is the most transformational force in human experience, and it deeply informs our relationships with each other. Words have the power to create or destroy, to foster peace or ignite war, to heal or harm on every level. I have always felt a great kinship with words and writing in particular. Writing gave me my first truly impactful experience of feeling seen, of having talent, of being an intelligent artist. Words, for me, have always been rooted in a desire to express feeling and to create beauty. I have been writing poetry since I was a child. My poems, whether expressing joy, sorrow, anger, or despair, whether rising from my light or my shadow, have always had this quest for truth and beauty at the heart of them. I have evolved over the years as a writer. I write both prose and poetry now. I write to heal, I write to understand, I write to reach out. It is a quest for authenticity, truth, vulnerability and connection.
Sadly, I see, and have experienced, all too often, words, both spoken and written, being used to harm, to control, and to abuse. Bullying, gossiping, and all aggressive and passive aggressive misuses of the power of language are hugely destructive. This is a degradation of our most powerful possibility, it devalues our human gift, it puts us in the bondage of hurt and shame. It has driven me to continue writing, pushing my edges, and risk creating and expressing from my heart.
One of the most challenging things about writing with the intention of sharing publicly is what I would call gag orders. These are not orders of the official kind, but ones that come from, often subtle and implied, social conventions, statements of judgment around vulnerability and transparency, advisements to not rock the boat, the threat of outright bullying, and the often abusive intrusion of trolls. I have actually experienced only parts of this personally, I have never been trolled, but I know it is out there, I know it can happen. It does, and the mere chance of it occurring, often causes me to hesitate, to consider and reconsider, and to be honest, it affects my writing. Knowing that a wrong word, idea or opinion could result in rejection, judgment, and even brutal verbal assault, has kept me from saying things full on, it has kept my writing smaller than it wants to be. I know I am not the only writer who lives in that fear, it takes great courage to go beyond it.
These external forces and implied gag orders contribute to another silencing force, this one even harder to break through, the binding strictness and doubt that comes from within. My inner struggle is a choke hold that goes right into core wounds. Those places of inner hurt and self doubt that are sensitive and raw, my feelings of unworthiness, stories I carry about my lack of ability and intelligence, my fear of being wrong, my fear of being rejected. Ultimately, my fear of finding out that after all this questing for truth and revelation, that I will finally be confronted with my inadequacy, that I am just not good enough.
As a child I often felt like the moth of my haiku, fluttering, a bit lost in the darkness. I didn't fit in. I was awkward, different. I never won at the math fact games or geography quizzes. I got my first ++ grade on that haiku, with two gold stars to boot. I was surprised to hear I was really good at something. I often spent recess time on my own, not unhappy, in my own world. A moth searching for something in the dark, searching for myself. Then, as a young teen, I was verbally bullied at school, my sense of safety was shattered and fear became overwhelming. I flew into the darkness, I made myself hard and untouchable. I shut off parts of my heart, and became angry and numb. External and internal gag orders issued. Command received.
Over time, and with a lot of hard work, healing has happened. I have come out of that shell and found my voice again. I am finding more and more courage to speak, and to come back to my writing. I have received support and guidance from fellow travelers on this path to truth. I am reclaiming myself. I forge ahead, learning about skillful communication and potent expression, the medicine of words.
Words can be used to heal and they can be used to cause harm. I want to be a healer, a medicine woman.
I have given people some genuine and solid advice about their struggles with their own gag orders and choke holds, both the external and internal kind, as they are intimately related. We have all grown up and been conditioned to self censor, to be polite, to hide our truth, to some degree or another, and then we take that into all our relationships and interactions. This is not just writers or artists I realize. We all deal with these gag orders every day. We end up becoming both enforcers and victims of these rules and regulations, and they keep us from true intimacy and deep understanding. I have advised others to be bold, to be vulnerable, because the only way to change this is if people start taking the risk to speak their truth. That advice is correct and I stand by it, but I also understand the fear that rises up when I stand in front of the potential consequences myself.
If I reject these gag orders and allow my writing and my way of being to evolve, if I allow my voice to grow, if I commit to that journey of vulnerability and truth, if I show myself and allow myself full expression of who I am...if I do that...I do risk rejection, judgment, insult, trolling...I may upset people, I may lose friends, but in my heart I know what there is to be gained as well.
If I do it, I get freedom.
It is that simple, and that powerful. When we step out of the shadows, and reject the gag orders, then and only then, can we learn, together, about right relationship with ourselves and each other, about a life of action and sincerity. Powerful communication is transparent and vulnerable, it is not ruthless or violent. Freedom of expression is not a license to harm others. In fact, it is about sharing our own experiences and feelings, and taking responsibility for them. It has no room for scapegoating, blaming or shaming. We will make messes of course, no doubt, we will make all kinds of mistakes, but mistakes, when we are living and speaking in truth, can be opportunities to grow and evolve.
If we unshackle ourselves, and claim our right to speak and be heard, and also commit to listening to each other, we all win. We get freedom. We will know about compassion and love. We will be empowered and safe in each others company. We will stand in truth and honesty. What could be better than that? I know it is a long road ahead to get there. It is a dream. But, if one by one we begin, and grab the hand of those near us, we can get there. I am sure we can.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
your good ol' days
don't seem so good
with stretchers for broken bodies
and your boot heel crushing the heart
of a dream
you'll say i'm too young
too young to see
the real world
the cold world
the world you call home
in my soft middle age
you see weakness
i have my battle scars
and i refuse to fall
in my feminine form
you see frailty
you see difference as
the rungs beneath you
to step on
but we are gathering before you
women and men
of every color
you can have your good ol' days
we are marching on
your good ol' days
don't seem so good
cuz you froth at the mouth
at their memory
and seethe all the way
to the angry skin
of your screaming face
are you afraid?
i glimpse a scared child
hiding there in the crease
of your furrowed brow
a little boy
you told that girl
standing her ground
to go home to her mommy
do you need yours?
in the dark night
of your good ol' days
did you cry out
for her arms?
have you been on that stretcher, broken?
who put their heel on your heart?
if you take us back
to your good ol' days
when the walls are built
and the bodies are broken
when the stretchers have taken out
all of the casualties
of your so called righteous battle
you say we will be great again
i wonder what we will remain
when the destructive dust settles
and we do rise
from those ashes
still a people
but torn at the seams
of our very souls
who will hold you then?
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I have been struggling for a number of weeks now with a fairly intense flare up of depression. The weather had been dark and rainy for many days, causing me to feel heavy and unmotivated. I took to my couch whenever I had a chance, and soothed myself with excessive portions of Netflix, binging and numbing at its finest. I became increasingly unhappy with myself, feelings of self doubt and inadequacy occupied my mind, my body wracked with a profuse ache, so the cycle goes. Depression had the momentum.
Fortunately, I have been through this enough to know that I am stronger and more resilient than depression is. I have discovered over the years a skill set that works to assuage the crushing force of a depressive cycle. Depression comes and depression always goes, and I know how to push against it and take back my life force. The momentum always turns back to me in the end. I win.
Today I can say the momentum has fully shifted, and the fog is lifting. I got through the dark days by giving myself permission to be, and at the same time, digging into my disciplined will to do the things I know I must to create a pathway out. First I told my support people, my husband and a few close friends who understand and have my back. Second, even though I spent a lot of time couch bound I also moved my body. I went for runs, danced to a song or two, did my yoga practice. I also kept my commitments to yoga classes I teach, and the immensely important work of being a mom. These are the things that get me through.
And then, the clouds parted, the sun returned, literally and figuratively. My mood began to lift and shift, but some heaviness was holding on. Then over the weekend my patient and persistent husband got me out, on a beautiful day, to do something I used to love to do, but had not done in a long time, and was now afraid of trying anew, getting on my road bike. The last time I rode my bike was over three years ago, and the last time I got on my bike was to participate in a triathlon. My loss of cycling touches a greater nerve, that being, feelings of loss of self I have experienced in moving abroad, a loss of ground, cycling being one thing among many that seemed to have become an, "I used to...".
We drove to a riverside bike path, traffic free and flat. Even there, I told Stephen about how nervous I felt, afraid in reality. What was that fear? Fear of falling, fear of failing, those are fears that stalk me, and here they were again. But I got on my bike and I began, first with great hesitation and over the ten mile jaunt with a blossoming renewal of confidence. Moving through fear to reclaim joy. Moving steadily through the dark patch knowing that the light is returning. Momentum shifts.
Today the rain and dark have returned, and knowing where that can take me I put on my running shoes and went seven strong miles. It felt invigorating, I felt powerful. I am keeping the momentum on my side. I know that another challenging time will surely come, and I will be ready to take it on.
But for now, in the present moment I know who I am, a strong and vital woman with so much to give, that is the truth. It is the truth of each and every one of us, even though sometimes we can't see it, the essence of us can never be lost. That is what I have learned, what I know in my heart, and I extend it to you.