Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Ones That Sing in Winter

I stepped out
Expecting silence to swallow
Each crunch of my pensive steps.

The hubris of my forgetting
Your songs and feathers 
Tumbling the snow 
dust from the leaves

Your lilting melodies 
Indifferent to my progress
As you soar freely above.

Embracing Hygge, Solstice and Faith

A short while ago, I came across two writings - an excerpt from a book and an article - that have struck such a chord with where I am and who I've become. While not driving the decision I have made, they have helped me better understand it as more than an act of mothering and self-care. The decision was a necessary pang for new birth.

The birth of a divine child and savior at the winter solstice has formed a central part of spiritual beliefs throughout the world since the beginning of history — in ancient Egypt as the birth of Horus, the birth of Mithras in Persia, the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the birth of the divine Son at Alban Arthan of the Druids, etc. These celebrations have tapped into a universal spiritual principle that is just as relevant now as it was then. 
They speak to us of a mysterious and universal understanding of spiritual transformation. All things which come into being must first be born. Even as creation was borne by the great Mother of the universe, so too must we be born of the spirit to become spirit. The winter solstice is a celebration of being born again — not of flesh, but of the spirit. It’s a celebration of the birth of the spiritual Son, the Christ, within a person’s consciousness in the process of awakening. 
Symbolized as a child just as the winter sun is at its weakest, it will grow until reaching its full strength at the summer solstice—just as the spirit grows within a prepared individual to transform them completely from inner darkness into light.
And so the Winter light begins to return, with ever increasing clarity.

Friday marked my last day working for an organization I have admired for many years and worked for, for nearly two. I made the bittersweet decision to resign as the Best for Colorado Campaign Manager because - despite my love for and success with the work - it was becoming increasingly clear that for my family, and my own heart and soul, we need to return to Washington state. 

And so, I return Home, not to the state of my birth but to the state of my becoming. Where I became an adult more fully than I'd ever been before. Where I reconnected with my bucolic heart. Where I became a mother. Where I became better attuned to the resonance of my soul.

I don't know what's next. But I know my kid is happier than she has been in months.

Professionally, I have an interview scheduled with another organization I have admired and with which I have wanted to work for several years.

Residentially, I have a few leads on rentals in the notoriously tight rental market.

But thanks to the parting generosity of my former employer, I don't have to act with immediacy on the first "Next Gig". And we have friends who have offered interim shelter until I am able to find us a home.

What a rare and precious gift.

I have resources to take the time to release, relax and recalibrate. If my interview on Tuesday doesn't work out, then I will fail forward into other opportunities, as I make myself fully at home in a community that I have adopted, a community that brings Z closer to her paternal family and to which we have regularly returned as our True North since leaving Washington in 2012.

And while I HATE moving - especially cross-country moving, which I've done twice in the last 18 months for opportunities with B Lab  - and I have never moved in the dead of winter, I find that I don't entirely mind.

I have embraced my professional down time and even the move as an exercise in the spirit of the Danish tradition, Hygge.

Now, I'm pretty sure there is no Danish in my family history. But when I read an article about Hygge, a light bulb of recognition went off. Hygge describes what I'm looking forward to. Hygge describes how I plan to spend at least the next two - three weeks (well, depending on the move timeline).

“Hygge, during the short, dark days and long nights, is akin to wintering. To slowing down, allowing the year to fold in on itself, and tending to ourselves and to each other."

And it has six core elements.

1. Slow Down

My last year has been a case study in Marathon Busyness. And since I'm more of a 5k with Sparkle Dust kind of gal, I need to Slow...The Frak...Down.

I will slow down by taking snowy walks and finally some cross-country skiing lessons for the first time in almost seven years.

I both need and want to recalibrate my sense of Now, with a greater focus on presence and an unlearning of the disease of "busy." 

2. Create a Circle of Warmth

Hygge is "sort of a full-on embrace of all things toasty, cozy, and restorative."

I look forward to the warmth of old friends and the joy of new ones. And the introvert part of my extraverted introversion equally looks forward to the comfort of my favorite sweats. I might even see if I can find one of those sensory deprivation pools in dark rooms for a little Womb Return reenactment.

3. Soothe Your Senses

But I don't want total sensory deprivation. I want and need a sensory reset with familiar landscapes, and favored flavors (Cave B CuvĂ©e de Soleil, Chukar Cherries and all things Tillamook ...I have missed thee). All at an altitude that doesn't still have me wheezing.

And then there's the Sister Santa massage gifts and some day soon, a pilgrimage day to Olympus.

4. Embrace the Small Stuff

A small home in a small town can root and grow big dreams.

5. Celebrate the Season (and not just The Holidays)

Unlike the cacophony that often takes over the Holidays, the Winter season - especially in the mountains and high desert - has a majestic silence when we turn off the gadgets and allow ourselves to fully embrace the season. It creates an unavoidable encounter with Self.

6. Know That It Won't Last Forever

Having never been unemployed, with a child before - without also being a full time student - the most comforting part of Winter may be the reminder that This Too Shall Pass. One can survive Winter and just be glad to get through it. Or one can decide to thrive during Winter and commit to making the best of it. Slowing down, scaling back, and turning inward need not equate to coming to a stand-still, giving up and shutting down.

I am cocooning for a few weeks. And like all cocooning, mine is a stage in active transformation. It is not without its risks. But it's also not without its opportunities. And I know that it is the best choice for me, my daughter, and our family.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Inelegance of Grief and Vulnerability in the Seismic Age of Trumpence

 New Yorker Cartoon, Dec. 2, 2016

How is a person to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begins and s/he realizes s/he is standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

Having lived in California or Washington for nearly thirty years of my life, I have experienced many earthquakes, most so small that I barely took a pause ("Meh, that's like a 3.0 and I've GOT to get this laundry done"). A few - the Loma Prieta and the Northridge quakes, in particular - were doozies ("Oh, Sweet Lord, is this the day and place where I die?"). 

My one comfort during those bigger - dare I say, "bigly" - earthquakes was that at least I was on solid, if rocking ground. If I made it to a strong doorway or under a solid desk that could withstand the weight of falling debris, I knew I would be okay.

But for folks whose homes and work and and schools and lives were built on landfill (the approximation of equity in property development and urban design) they found out quickly, brutally, and totally just how illusive the security for which they paid dearly truly was.

 25th Anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake

These days, I've been thinking a lot about earthquakes, given the preponderance of seismic imagery in analyses of the Trump Electoral College victory. And I can't think of a more apt metaphor for the pace and scale of the threats, and the importance of situatedness in determining one's perception and vulnerability to those threats.

I am reminded of this video by Brent Kooi, who was a missionary in Chiba City, Japan, a few hours away from Fukushima when the earthquake struck.

Elsewhere, Mr. Kooi has stated that he was able to stay calm in the crisis because he did not know the scope of the damage further north. What I find striking, however, is not his calm but rather the reactions of some of the others in the video: both the dog and the Japanese citizens at 0:40. While Mr. Kooi admits to feeling disoriented as he continues to meander towards the train station, while recording the liquefaction of the park, the people at 0:40 waste no time leaving and the dog sounds like s/he is having none of it. It's not until 2:26, after noting the rapid expansion of the fissures, the sprouting of lakes where there was once lawn, that Mr. Kooi admits to feeling "a little nervous" because, oh yeah, the park is built on landfill.

It's personally hard to reflect on the seismic nature of the coming age of Trumpence and not react like the people at 0:40 or holler like the dog. Over the last few years, I've noted regional insurgencies and wretched Supreme Court decisions that have made it very clear that core human and civil rights, necessary for a successful free and fair democracy, are not bedrock rights for anyone who isn't straight, white, wealthy, or evangelically Christian. And now, the candidate who campaigned peddling contempt, ridicule and hatred for The Other, is queuing up a Cabinet full of hateful True Believers determined to enshrine their white supremacist, heteronormative, Inquisition-style Christianity into every chamber of government and into the highest law of the land for at least a generation.

How am I to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begin and I realize I am standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

I know there are many who believe that the best way to react is to follow Mr. Kooi's example: stay calm in the crisis; make note of the changing landscape; look to the reactions of others as guidance for how best and when to react; don't panic; and don't disturb others with your nervousness. 

That's a lot to ask these days when the fissures of injustice are undulating and threatening an era of constitutional and humanitarian liquefaction.

Not only does it ignore the messiness of grief and legitimate fear. It fails to create space for the very productivity that it requires. How does a vulnerable person create a plan to alleviate that vulnerability without engaging those who may be inconvenienced but who purport to "empathize"? That's not a rhetorical question. That's my dilemma. If I follow the example of the dog and loudly announce my concerns, I am histrionic in my personal life and unprofessional at work. If I follow the example of the people at 0:40, I am uncommitted. 

I and others more immediately vulnerable (e.g. Muslims, Hispanics and sexual minorities) are now profoundly inconvenienced by the need to create exit strategies that may pull us away from homes we love, communities we enjoy, and work that inspires us.

And resolving those two inconveniences -- the one for those adapting to the liquefaction of their human and civil rights; the other for those on higher, more stable ground who want to help but also need the vulnerable to function as if they too are on stable, unchanged ground -- is a conundrum that many communities and workplaces will need to resolve.

Survival strategies for vulnerable people in the Age of Trumpence are not something that can be gradually evolved in wonderment at the rapidly changing terrain. And their genuinely empathetic but inconvenienced neighbors and colleagues who are less vulnerable to Trumpence priorities have a right to try to maneuver through the transformation with calm. 

I wish I had the answer. I suspect it begins with authentic heart-to-hearts between the vulnerable and the inconvenienced, focused on discerning mutually beneficial pathways towards continuity where possible, and towards escape where necessary. But those heart-to-hearts must be predicated on a shared understanding that while there are always tremors with change, seismic tremors (like the rise of a President openly allied with white nationalists) are different. And the discovery that some principles once believed to be bedrock are in fact landfill in the early stages of liquefaction is a living nightmare.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide for Anti-Fascists in the Age of Trumpence #GrabYourWallet #SmallBizSat

Image result for love peace gifts

If you didn't so much as vote for Trump as hurl a Molotov cocktail of rage at the current economic system, and are now finding yourself perplexed and appalled by the explosion of hate crimes emboldened by the flame you helped start, then this gift guide is for you.

If you are a progressive, unsurprised by the explosion of hate crimes leading up to and following the election, and are therefore inclined to throw a Molotov cocktail at your friends and family who voted for Trumpence, then this gift guide is for you.

You see, there are many thousands of companies that demonstrate better ways of doing business than the exploitative, discriminatory and often illegal approach favored by Trump. And the collective power of holiday spending can help draw attention to these exemplars.
If we value the fair treatment of workers, neighbors, and contractors, it's not enough to just boycott the Trumps, we need to also support those companies that treat their workers well, support equitable local economies, and operate as responsible environmental stewards (but at the very least, skip New Balance).

You can find excellent options here, in the B Magazine directory, or you can buy from locally-owned and locally-sourced companies as a way of creating a stronger local economic impact in your community.

For your beloved who looks with horror upon the kitchen, gift them with GrubHub gift cards. And while you prepare your holiday meals, consider using flour, butter, wine and cheese from these companies (note: A to Z's Pinot Noir is quite tasty and pairs addictively with many Cabot cheeses).

If you're not in a benevolent gift-giving kind of mood (believe me, I get it), and would rather support organizations that assist those most vulnerable to the incoming administration's priorities, then by all means, reallocate your holiday spending to make donations to those organizations.

But here's the thing, since calling someone out directly as a bigot or heterosexist doesn't work, perhaps using the gift as an opportunity to create empathy might. If you choose a mission-driven donation in lieu of a physical gift, try not to do it in spite. Realize this is a teachable moment between you and your beloved. For example, if you make a donation to the Trevor Project, include the personal story of another person you love or respect (note: get their permission first OR choose someone whose sexual orientation is already known).

Remember Dr. King. He wasn't all kumbaya, rainbow character love, he was an astute economic strategist who understood that civil and human rights are intricately connected to economic priorities and opportunities. When he was killed, he was supporting a workers' strike in Memphis, calling for a boycott of discriminatory Memphis stores, factories and banks and preparing for the interracial Poor People's March on Washington. This was when he became truly dangerous to the ruling elites. It was fine when King and other modern civil rights leaders insisted that overt white supremacy was anathema to the country's moral authority in the rapidly changing world of the Cold War and decolonizing black and brown nations. But when King began with increasing fervor to connect racial injustice to economic predation, he "had" to go.

I'm not suggesting that engaging in guerilla gift-giving will result in That Cousin passing you the mashed potatoes with a side of anthrax. Rather, I am saying that you should be prepared to have your guerilla gift-giving used as Exhibit 1 in the case that you are petty or are a socialist whiner who lacks empathy (even King was accused of being tone deaf, impatient and heartless towards white people). Give anyway. And if - unlike me and others who have experienced racist vitriol and are therefore less inclined to be magnanimous towards those who have gloated about Trump's White America since the election - you can give your guerilla gifts with love, please do it. For love of the best that America can be, for love of your community and for love of your beloved.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Requiem for an American Dream

When I started this blog, it was after accepting that my long and circuitous journey towards becoming an academic was derailed, and I needed to re-chart my course.

Last month, I began drafting a post the week after my birthday. I'd learned that a high school friend (the first boy I ever loved) had died tragically. And a few days later, a college friend died after a sudden, fierce and ultimately futile battle with cancer. Questions of mortality and purpose intermingled with grief for two of the kindest and most decent people I've known. And I was plunged deep into introspection.

In the days that I have been drafting this - tapping a few letters, sometimes words, deleting, and gradually needing fewer pauses to remind my lungs to function - I have reconciled with the demise of my delusions about the state of the country of my birth.

My American Dream has long been to finally settle on some land in a rural spot within a half day's drive of an international airport. My mind's shameless cosmopolitanism would finally reconcile with my agrarian progressive heart and I would establish our family's farmstead bed and breakfast some place in rural America that would welcome our presence, and respect this dream.

But in light of last week, my encounter with Trumpence, and the litany of indignities and threats piling on to my black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, Latinx, and queer friends and acquaintances, I've decided to rechristen my American Dream as my North American Dream.

I've decided to resume the journey of emigrating to Canada, something I've explored off and on for over a decade. And for that, I've been accused of being histrionic. Of being a quitter. Of never really being an American anyway. Of being naive. Of simply not doing enough.

I've been told that now is not the time to walk (or sprint) away. It's the time to grieve through volunteering, strategic donation, and consistent self-care. It's the time to stockpile Plan B and lean in, just a little bit more. It's the time to celebrate the glimmers of hope that also manifested on Tuesday (see 1, and 2). Now is the time to lead and testify and build bridges to those who want me and mine gone my neighbors and listen with an empathy they clearly lack for Others. It's the time to give hate a chance.

But here's the thing: at best, all those exhortations sound like Hamilton's Aaron Burr chatting revolutionary strategy with General Washington, and at worse, they are the knight reassuring the pawn.

I will continue to lean in to support the development of communities that support businesses that implement more positively impactful practices (an aspect of my current work that I deeply enjoy) and I will lean in to advocate for more equitable distribution of economic opportunity to regions beyond the coasts and large cities. But I will not lean in to place my head in the guillotine and become a martyr. And Hell will host the Winter Olympics before I knowingly gamble with my daughter's safety and options. Staying put feels - and with each passing day, looks - like a risky gamble.

Before Tuesday's results and the racist encounter I experienced on Thursday, if I unexpectedly encountered a person as I rounded a corner, I would respond with a chuckle and a greeting, my default reaction for ALL people. Now I go through my day with a heightened vigilance, uncertain whether I am truly, fundamentally safe. My trepidation isn't reverse racism, it's the law of averages. More than 53 million overwhelmingly white Americans voted FOR a candidate who promoted white supremacist views and violence against his detractors. They voted for a man who would rather me and mine weren't here, in the land of our birth, investment and homes. And many millions more didn't bother to vote to keep him and the hate he enthusiastically celebrates at bay.

I'm not the fighter I used to be. For my daughter and for my aging heart, I seek Safe Harbor in a sanctuary where I can mourn, heal, regroup and thrive.

But I also want to understand: 

How have Canadians made diversity and immigration "work," especially in rural and exurban communities?

Sure, I could just stalk the British Columbia OARH online, and dive deeper into reading about Canadian history to glean what I can learn. But, as a former study abroad alumna and a card-carrying cosmopolitan geek, I prefer immersion. In the US we like to talk a good game about how we are the exemplars for the world but on this point, we are a cautionary tale and clearly have a lot to learn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Fights and Backs in the Age of Trumpence

When I was my daughter's age, there was a little white girl I wanted to play with. Her parents didn't allow it, so I shrugged it off and went off to play on my own. At the time, Mom didn't tell me why the girl  wasn't allowed to play with me. And to those parents' limited credit, they didn't tell me either. It was much later that I was finally told it was because I am black.

When I was just a little bit older than my daughter, a white boy in my class called me a nigger on the walk home from school. I turned around, kicked him hard in the nuts, and then chased him home. Classmates were around. They heard what he said. They saw my response. And when the kid and his father came to school the next day, looking for witnesses to report me, my friends had my back. And I don't think it was because they were afraid I'd beat them up too (I wouldn't have). They had my back because in their elementary sense of ethics, they knew it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward thirty years, and some of those same friends who had my back in grade school, have turned their backs or stood in palpable silence as I and people who look like me have begun to be harassed by racists emboldened by my "friends'" chosen savior. Those friends no longer have my back. They have stabbed it.

New friends, better friends, promise they have my back in the fight(s) to come. And to the extent that their hearts are true and their spirits strong, I believe they do. But I also know that the beat downs along the way (some reputational, some legal, and others, I'm sure, physical) are coming as much for my allies as for me and people like me.

And the tests my back-havers will endure will be many, with varied expectations of advocacy and intervention.

When I studied abroad in Russia one summer, I was one of maybe two dozen black people in the entire city of St. Petersburg. It wasn't long before the neo-nazis under Nevsky Prospekt saw in me an easy mark, and the abused and down-trodden Roma saw in me someone who, finally was lower on the whipping post than they were. I got through those two months sometimes by hiding in my room but mostly because two white male friends who spoke better Russian than I did, essentially took shifts hanging out and exploring the sites with me. They had my back in a most literal sense and I will forever be in their debt.

Last Thursday, when I finally had to leave the house (pesky job and adulting responsibilities), I was anxious. Friends and others around the country were already reporting racially abusive language and physical acts. But though I live in Denver, CO, I was on alert as I walked out my door. What would the rise of the Age of Trumpence have in store for me that day?

Very little, it seemed. I parked in a parking garage and scurried to my office hours, encountering no overt racial enmity whatsoever. I carried a large box several blocks to another meeting downtown and encountered nothing but either averted eyes or really earnest and hyper-kind smiles. I got through the day! Yes! And as I walked back through downtown, to the garage, I allowed myself a little relief.

Then a car rolled up slowly beside me, which was odd because there are no parking meters on that part of the street, nor any storefronts. A sneering voice said something out the window to me. I didn't catch all of it but I did hear "Trump's White America." And as I picked up my pace, without looking at the car or saying anything, the car sped up too and drove off with the sound of the occupants' malicious laughter.

I was shaken. But I wasn't alone. There was a thirty-something looking white guy who was just a couple feet ahead of me. When the haters rolled up and pronounced the truth of the day, my sidewalk neighbor glanced over his shoulder at me and the car. And here's the thing: he didn't say or do anything. He just kept walking.

I won't have friends like my buddies in Russia around me everyday. I need to rely on the kindness of strangers in this Age of Trumpence. But can I? When 1/4 of the voting-eligible population saw an opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I'm cool with that." And nearly half of the voting-eligible population saw the rise of the opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I don't care enough about that to vote to keep it at bay." When nearly 3/4 of those who could have had my back chose or enabled those who'd rather but a bulls eye on it, can I rely on the kindness of strangers and still feel safe in the land of my birth?

I am tired of abuse. I'm tired of the shocked white moderate and liberal realization that white supremacy isn't America's underbelly, it's fundamental to too many Americans' national identity. I'm tired of those with more privilege and security than I have ever had or ever will have here telling me THEY need ME to fight the fight that THEY should have been fighting with their families and friends.

I need sanctuary to recover my footing,  heal my broken heart, and raise my daughter in a space of genuine compassion and safety. I need to relearn who I can trust to have my back as I have theirs, and who offers nothing but smiles and lies.

Sometimes, getting out is the best course of action. Trumpenistas may triumph when I and others leave. They may even try to block the right of return for anyone who departs. But if those who have the wherewithal (and strategic privilege) to stay and fight prevail, then the Trumpenistas will win this terrible battle but will lose the long and bitter war for this country's soul.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Manifesting 2016

Last week, when Z and I returned from a palliative visit back to Washington, we spent the first weekend of the New Year making and studying our manifestation collages for this year. 

Z's was adorably concise:

By the time the year is over, we will have two dogs. We will also visit Arizona (including camping). Z will attend cowboy camp and learn how to ride a horse. And we will live, once again, in a small town (I didn't have the heart to tell her that the "small town" she chose for her collage was actually a street in Memphis).

My collage is a bit more ... ambitious.

This year - I pray - my various projects, risks, opportunities, obligations, and loves from the last few years will come to a productive bloom. Some - like my fellowship with B Lab - have a predetermined end date. Others - like becoming a licensed attorney for resilient local economies and re-establishing a home west of the Rockies - are a bit more nebulous in their ETAs. In large part, this is because I feel quite driven by my Duty of Care: care of myself, yes, but mostly care of those I love.

The care of someone or something differs from the care for the same.  Care for connotes actions but also feelings and taste ("I do not care for Faux News or artichokes"). Whereas Care of solely connotes actions. What must be done to keep that about which I care in good condition? We take care of our stuff, if we want it to last. We take care of our children, if we want them to thrive. And sometimes, we take care of our parents, for the same reason, prompting a reversal of roles that is both empowering and terrifying.

My mother is facing a common but scary illness, and though it was caught early enough that her prognosis will likely be good, there's still a lot of uncertainty. But the one thing about which we are certain is that I will need to step up and help take care of my mother at some point, in ways that I have not done before.

At the same time, I must take care of Miss Z (who, like me, is impatient to move back to Washington). And I must take care of myself as I fully reboot my career and pursue my entrepreneurial goals (a niche law practice and homestead B&B).

The language of duty reads like an imposition but I experience it more often as an opportunity. I have the opportunity to figure out how to take care of my Mom. So many of my friends and family have lost one or both parents. I'm sure that my relationship with my Mom will evolve but at least we have a relationship to nurture.

On those nights when I stare wistfully at my 1st edition copy of Go the F*ck to Sleep, while my beloved, sleep-drunk five year old is in full banshee mode, I nevertheless appreciate the opportunity to be her mother and take care of her. And then I enjoy a glass of Washington red wine.

And when I look at my collage with impatience and anxiety, I challenge myself to focus on the opportunity that a new year, combined with my talents, ambitions and dreams present. I don't know if by the end of 2016 I will have done even half of the things represented in the collage. But I know that I am very fortunate to have no small amount of pluck and luck as I embark on my 2016 journey. And I am so very fortunate to be able to put family at the center of my values and my aspirations.