Upon Waking

Back from my second road trip in a month; staggered and still, dirty and delighted from my time in Lassen National Forrest in California.

Before leaving, I had a chance to sneak a last minute job in with a new family.  When I arrived, they woke the 20 month old up from his late nap.  Although I understood the necessity of this, those of you with children know how the story goes from here because–NEVER WAKE THE BABY!  He looked at me with the sleep glazed eyes that I know so well from my own pre-caffeine face.  Within ten minutes, his parents were out the door and he melted down hard.  He went face down on the floor, probably because he was still sleepy, and cried so hard that there wasn’t much breath for anything but yelping sounds.  The snot pooled on the side of his face as I rubbed his little back.

I understood.  Maybe I am grown up, but I still feel utterly defeated sometimes when my expectations are not met, and at least once a week I want to stretch out on my living room floor and cry as wholeheartedly as he was.  He had been snatched from sleep, a place that is very far away, and then abandoned by the people that are usually there.  It was confusing and that wasn’t fair.  I made sure to breathe deeply to help him find a way back to calm when he was ready, but told him to go ahead and cry for as long as he wanted.

The next night, three hundred miles away in 30 degree weather, wrapped in a sleeping bag in a tent by the creek, my anxiety kicked in to high gear.  I script it now as dialogue, but these were all actual “problems” that my mind tried to sell me on.

“My chest is heavy, do you think I have altitude sickness?  Four thousand feet is pretty high up.”

“No, I don’t think you have altitude sickness.  Don’t you think that there would be some sort of clearly visible warning posted somewhere if it posed any danger at all to hang out at this altitude?”

“Okay, but it is pretty cold out here, do you think we’re going to freeze to death?”

“Very unlikely.  We can put more clothes on if it gets colder, but right now we’re quite toasty in this sleeping bag.”

“Or we could go home.  If we leave now we could be back by two or three am.  No one would have to know that we chickened out.  And technically it’s not chickening out, I mean, what if the creek rises and washes your tent in while you are sleeping in it?  Then going home is just good foresight.  You don’t know how well you staked this thing down.”

“We are not going home because our chest feels heavy and it is cold outside.  And you realize that the creek would have to rise like six feet in eight hours in order to even touch where we’re at.  There is no rain in the forecast this week.”

“Fine, but what about wild animals or crazy rapists?”

“I get that this is a struggle for you my heart, but no one in their right mind, human or animal, is out to get us in this weather.  But if it makes you feel better, I will go get the scissors from the utensils bag, and you can have something close by to stab at any animals or crazy rapists that may wander by in the night.  Would that make you feel better?”

“Yeah, thanks buddy.”

“You’re welcome, I love you, let’s try this sleep thing again.”

As my cat has been reminding me since my homecoming this afternoon, all this adventuring is a very new norm for me.  My internal parents used to be very boring, stay at home kind of people, but as I wake in these last few years from a very late nap, I find that they have changed and are continuing to change.  Sometimes they seem like strangers and I don’t know if I can trust them to hold me while we’re moving, the same way I trusted them when we were still.  I want to protest.  It’s too hard!!  It’s too confusing!!  So many curveballs to deal with, growth and changes I never expected at this stage in my life.

In this light, my increased anxiety chatter makes sense.  But, just like I talked to the little boy the night before, I could talk to myself.  I could rub my own back, sit with myself till I felt safe again, all the while holding firmly to the fact that I could not bring the old, boring parents back.  I’m who I’m “stuck” with now, and the fact is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, I went hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park (moderate hike my ass, Hiking Guide).  Anxiety chattered again on the way there–was that sound a bear? what if you get lost?  what if someone has stolen your car when you get back?–with countless things that would likely never happen.  I set a timer for how long the map said it should take and attempted to breathe gently with myself while the ground was still relatively flat.

When I got to King’s Creek Falls, the chatter went silent.

“Wow.  We found it.  This is so good.”

“I know.  Let’s get closer.”

I shambled down the face of the mountain, on what was definitely off the marked trail, until I found a ledge to nestle into, the strength of my back meeting the strength of the rock.  I pictured the generations that must have sat somewhere within my line of sight and watched the water fall.  I even caught glints of sunlight hitting spider webs as they swung across the valley.  I wondered if, as I sat here immersed and serene, spiders were saying ‘fuck it’ and taking the zipline ride of their lives.  I didn’t wonder what could go wrong in this moment, not even a little bit.

I continued to make my way down till I was at the base of the falls and could dip my head under a smaller stream before it plashed into the creek.  It was much colder than the head dip I took in the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls last year, but the thought was similar.  “Mother, bless me.  Come with me.  Help me move from fixed to fluid.”

However, the response this time was different.  “You don’t need a blessing.  You are a part of this.  All this strength, all this wisdom, all that I’ve seen in millions of years–you are part of it.  If you need the blessing, it is in you.”

I am a part of this.  The phrase stuck with me as I reluctantly made my way back up and out to the trail.  That would mean that my nervous, underslept two year old is a part of this too, as well as any future versions of myself in the making.  As I panted and my hip flexors helped me claim the trail summit once again, I could finally stop and really take in a view that was blue and green for miles around me.

I am a part of this.  We are part of this.

How surprising to wake and think you’ve been abandoned, only to discover you’ve been held closer than you can imagine, for longer than you’ve existed.

 

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The Road that Holds Us

Dear Beauty,

I write this to you today, not knowing if you are the correct recipient, not knowing if writing to an abstract concept makes any difference in the world, but knowing that I am soft and heart full of unsayable things that must be said this morning.

I have stood slack-jawed and dizzy at your presence for as long as I can remember; the smell of a new book, the sound of running water, a two hundred person choir, a real hug, a singular body flowing over the dance floor.  I have tried, and then tried and tried again, to help people see it and feel it the way I do, with the force of ice cracking at the first Spring thaw.  You are breathtaking, from your smallest speck to your most towering moment.

Mostly, I feel like I fail at sharing this potency in a way that even comes close.  And so, sometimes I sit with my back to you for a while, never willing to leave altogether.  My relationship to you then gets sloppy and fragmented.  I know some people who can hold the constant influx of senses and emotions with more grace than I, and not be washed away by it, not lose their toehold on this planet like a rogue red balloon.  I am not there yet.  I get so very tired staying open to the heartbreak and elation of your gifts.  I feel so very foolish at times in this grand romance, especially when the world around us is flailing in shadows.  And it hurts when I am thought of as a child, quirky and amusing as I look at your world with deep delight.

But I remembered something very important this week while on a road trip through Oregon and California.  I say ‘remembered’ because it woke up from my body, instead of being told to my brain by others who have experienced it.  Like all great truths, it was simple:  I am not alone.  Our relationship is created by the Earth and supported by the people who see us.  With myself, the Earth, and others present, I felt the invitation to step deeper into our love affair, and not pine and sigh on the shallow end.

Driving down Highway 22 in Oregon, there were miles and miles where there were absolutely no other cars on the road.  Just my travelling partner and I.  We had only known each other for a handful of hours before setting out together, but in the last day and a half I had watched his nimble mind play with ideas, invite randomness, and not shy away from the intensity of passion.  When we were offered free apple cider the morning before at the Portland Saturday Farmer’s Market, and it was not a sales gimmick, the force of our collective giddiness almost went supernova in the chilly morning air.  It was easy to see that I was in the presence of a similar spirit who had his own sparkling relationship with you.

The landscape was equally in tune with us; the trees looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to red, yellow, and green crayons, and the air was sharp, cold, and sweet.  Every so often, brilliant patches of snow punctuated moist, red earth, and the waning afternoon light tilted and painted every surface an impossibility.  Even the inside of the car, with our clothes still drying from the hot springs, smelled like animals burrowed in together, ripe and secret.

Once our course of driving was agreed upon, my companion slipped into his daily meditation practice.  Our shoulders almost touched in the car, but he was clearly and sweetly with himself.  A moment or two later, I started to cry out of nowhere.  Softly at first, but stronger as I leaned into the deep safety I felt with my fellow traveller.  Wave after wave of emotion came up from what seemed to be the ground I was driving over.  They were low and sleek, but tremendously swift and full of awe and gratitude.  Once again, I looked you clear in the face, and was humbled as you started showing me new possibilities for our relationship.

I finally had to pull over, running my fingers over my chest to feel for what must be the undulation of my skin.  My new friend, to his powerful credit, stayed with himself until his meditation was through, and then laid a simple hand on my shoulder while he listened to me try to put words to the moment.  The steadiness and generosity of that hand brought my feet firmly back to the pedals and the road.

I continued to cry, on and off, for the four days together.  Even now, a few days later, I feel a thaw that stands out in sharp contrast to the chill of early Fall.  In the presence of love, in the presence of Earth, I took in more of you this week than I have in a while.  The marquee man, telling us his story, so full of joy.  The barefooted electric violin player all in white.  Jody, sharing her story and her backyard with us.  Strangers bonding over arcade games.  A man, who for all his love of logic and fundamentals, gave me fairy glitter mines just to delight my heart.  The laughter that bubbled from my belly like it was trying to water the sky.  The intimacy of storytelling, both lived and co-created.  The surprising elegance of walnut colored feet sticking out from under the covers.  The rush of the river.  The crunch of gravel and scratch of the pen before my tentmate was awake.  John Denver on the radio while we drove straight into a blanket of green trees.  Badly tuned, deeply felt, sing-a-longs.  Eating the world’s most delicious chicken with our fingers in the parking lot of a Safeway.  The cycles of quiet and convergence that lead from strangers to friends.

Maybe I don’t need to tell you all this, dear Beauty.  You were there.  In fact, you are always there when I encounter things I don’t understand, but need as much as I need air and water to stay alive.  You always pull me back in with a wink and a smile before I get too serious about leaving.  I continue to change, but the invitation to fall in love with everything, does not.

I want you to know I was listening.

Your Girl Unendingly,

Chelsea

 

Building Castles

I have spent a lot of time living in, building, and furnishing castles.

As a gung ho Jesus cheerleader, they were only accessible through miles and miles of winding roads, roads that felt like deja vu instead of progress.  The stones were made of the compressed spines of the faithful, but there were beautiful beds to sleep in while you were there.  The ceilings over these beds took my breath away night after night–all gold and purple and correct.  Few people talked about the locked rooms, and so I didn’t really worry about them myself until I got restless one night and started to wander the halls.  This didn’t last long before someone came to chase me back to my room and tuck me in with a platitude on the cheek.  It is only now, years later, that I hear secondhand what may have been in them.

As a school teacher, the roads to the castle were deceptively straight and the stones were transparent.  I was thrilled.  I knocked out every wall I could find in order to make room for everyone.  I banished the beds…and then seated them in cold, metal chairs that cut into the skin.  Only the sensitive ever named the cutting feeling, the rest just bled to death slowly with their eyes once again fastened on the ceiling.  I tried installing trap doors with paper covers, eight-and-a-half by eleven windows, anything to bring the attention horizontal, but they were too focused on the dragons crisscrossing the sky.  I have to admit, those dragons were hard to ignore.

As a daughter the castle I built was quiet, with a deep dungeon for even more unspeakable things.  As a friend, I bought a fleet of motorized golf carts to see to all my guests as quickly as possible, and I had fireworks going 24/7–not because I particularly cared for fireworks, but I’d heard they drew a crowd.  With every new castle the buildings grew harder to find and inhabit.

And then one day, like all good plot twists, I lost my building permit.  It was just gone.  Without it, none of the contractors would show up to work and none of the real estate agents would sell me land.  I checked my other pants pocket, and then I checked my other other pants pocket, and then I sat on the ground for a while to have a think.  It was a confusing time for a lifetime builder.

Thankfully, I have never been alone.  Furniture designers, carpenters, bricklayers, and all types of people who knew about structures that breathed, started to wander down the road to where I was sitting.  I have mostly listened, sometimes argued, and then started again, slowly, to build small things–a dance, a supply of colored pencils, a crew, a way to listen to my father, a smile, an ability to slow down.  I have heart rocking gratitude for these lessons, these teachers.

Tonight’s teacher was six, and surprise, I once again found myself building a castle.  This castle had sharks in the moat, but they were nice sharks, and all had saddles so people could ride them in to come visit us.  There was a dungeon “for people who annoy us,” but they were only allowed to be held for a week tops, the amount of time it takes for people to stop being annoying.  And, they were held on the other side of the diamond waterfall so that they could have something nice to look at while they were calming the fuck down (my words, not his).  This castle had a litter of newly hatched baby dragons, but no one worried when one of their enormous teeth fell out and pierced holes in the ceiling.  It made it easier to see when it started raining interesting things like lima bean sandwiches.  This castle had a café that served only ice cream and bacon (to which I stopped myself from saying “FUCK YES!!” out loud to).  However, when the chef came in (his Mom) and served us pasta, he explained that it was important to occasionally have veggies as well to ward off the highly contagious dragon flu from our staff, friends, and villagers.  This castle was full of friends for multiple parties, but we didn’t worry whether they liked it at our place or not.  In fact, we left during one party to go down the road to a movie theater run by vampires.  The people were all there when we got back.

This castle had room.

It had room enough for everything.

Nothing was turned away, nothing.

I am not as talented as he is, yet.

But I reject the notion that this talent grows only with children.

I clean off my old tools, I buy and accept new ones, and I start scouting the horizon for spaces.

Spaces for everything.

 

 

Sunday Love Letter

Driving to Fremont this afternoon, the hills were beautiful; all tumble down gold like pennies from a giant’s pocket.  I felt the overpowering gratitude of mundane moments that has swooped me up over and over again in the last few years.

Lately however, I’ve been wanting to find a more indelible way to mark one of the most stunning eras in my life thus far.  I’ve thought about getting another tattoo, but the first hurt badly enough to make that highly unlikely.  I’ve even considered getting professional photos, but as my logical side pointed out, no matter how lovely those might be, I can’t see paying money to look at pictures of myself.  So, for now, that leaves me with words.

What is it that I want to remember so badly?

I want to remember that at 35, I finally agreed with my Dad and entered “the best years of my life,” giving by far the fewest fucks about anyone’s judgement that I had ever given.  I want to remember that some of my biggest illusions shattered, and it didn’t kill me.  I want to remember that I stopped letting fear keep me consistently small, and started asking for its wisdom on what else was about to grow.  I want to remember that at 37, I left a career of 13 years, something stable that I was good at, because the price of maintaining my comfort and my ego were too high.  I want to remember learning to speak my own languages, all of them.  I want to remember that I started spending time outside–in forests, in parks, in labyrinths, in cities I’d never been to before.  I want to remember that I stopped seeing friendships as legal contracts, and started seeing them as a constellation of stars, beautiful whether close or far from me.  I want to remember that I faux-hawked my hair, and that I finally understood the power of my own femininity because I chose it, not just submitted to whatever definition was in front of me.  I want to remember that my body, mind, and spirit started all showing up in the same place, more often than not.  I want to remember all the roads I walked to the middle of; still terrified by the mess but also intrigued by it.  I want to remember that I started saying ‘no’ and ‘I’ll think about it.’  I want to remember falling in love with poetry again–writing, speaking, reading.  I want to remember sleeping and waking at times that make sense for me.  I want to remember finally listening to the trees that had been trying so hard to get my attention.  I want to remember leading 8th graders in meditation, and how their faces looked when we had to leave that place.  I want to remember my cat snoring on the pillow next to me while I write.

While getting my toes painted today the lady breaks in from several minutes of silence and says, “I remember you from before, with long, long hair.  You don’t look so happy then as you do now.”  And words aren’t enough for this, the fact that this is true, but I use them to continue to graft this gratitude into my skin, to continue to bring the world something that does not destroy me in the process.

“Mirror, mirror on the Internet…”

Like many of us, I keep online dating, even though it is clearly the seventh circle of hell.

I used to justify it by saying, “But my job keeps me from meeting people, so it’s really all I have at my disposal.  It’s better than nothing”  (Don’t get me started on how many stupid ideas keep running on the strength of that line).

However, since that’s not true anymore in the last year and change, and I do meet some intriguing men out and about, I’ve had to find another purpose for this system, or officially ditch it and thus risk falling asleep at late night jobs when I am not awake enough for anything else.  Plus, I have more than one single friend whose self esteem is in jeopardy if one more person gives up on the Internet.  My solution is brilliant–online dating as a mirror to self, almost a meditation of sorts.  Let me explain.

I have gotten to the point that I can tell what’s going on with me, based on how I react to men’s dating profiles.  Now, I’m decently self aware to begin with, but I find this to be a fabulous tap-tap-tap on the shoulder when I need it.  Examples, give us examples!  Okay, since you asked with such enthusiasm.

Some nights I will find myself staring at the dogs and cats in guys pictures.  I will notice which ones look trapped, and counsel them on how to run away and get to the nearest no-kill shelter.  Some nights, when I’m really feeling my duty, I’ll ask every dog or cat in every picture, “Are you sure about him?  I think you can do better.”  That’s when I stop and wonder, what part of me feels unguarded or unprotected lately?  Do I need to stand up and be my own advocate, and not the theoretical advocate to pictures of animals?  The answer is probably yes.

Other nights, I find myself staging whole conversations between the assorted buddies and family members in some of these fine gentleman’s photos.  I wonder how he made these friends, what his family is like, and before you know it, I’m shutting the computer down to call my Mom or check up on a friend I haven’t heard from in a while.  The brilliance of storytelling is that it is often easier to process your own web using stand ins.  The bummer of storytelling is when you never get to the self processing piece.

I’ve also been known to take on a defense attorney like conversation with some of the items in these men’s profiles.  “Alright, Jake of Menlo Park.  You say you are into hiking, so when was the last time you hiked?  Oh, you’re the strong silent type?  That won’t help you now Jake, you’re in my courtroom.  What is the closest hiking trail to your house?  What is the difference between a sneaker and a hiking boot?  ANSWER ME JACOB!!!!!”  This is usually when I look up to the cat/dog/goldfish I’ve just scared the shit out of–yes, I do have some of these conversations out loud–and wonder who I feel is lying to me right now.  What part of my life is currently out of integrity and trying to snap back into line?

Even tonight, as I plodded through profiles, I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous everyone’s hair was.  Many of them also seemed one dimensional or douche-y, but other than that it was like Vidal Sassoon and Fabio had gotten together and built a master race of good haired robots.  I wanted to play with all the hair so badly!! Like life sized Ken dolls, boinging curls, bristling flattops, braiding long shiny manes like I used to with My Little Ponies in the bathtub.  “Why are you so pretty, goddamnit!!” was uttered more than once, I won’t lie (what would be the point at this juncture, I’ve already thrown all my weirdo cards at the Internet).  So, tomorrow, I will pick up my paints, or pick up some produce from the Mexican market that sells iguanas (even though I have never seen one), and give my fingers a chance to create and play.

In closing, if my next love, great or small, is somehow reading this, I know it sounds jaded as fuck.  It’s not really that as much as my frustration at how technology flattens and hides your story from me.  Get your ass in gear and let’s start this adventure!  My Romantic Smush Monster (RSM for short) has been sequestered too long 😉 Until then, the RSM and I will keep trying to tell me what I need, if I’ll listen.  Instead of beating myself up for not disconnecting from the technology deluge more often, what if I use it to listen differently?

Listening Practice: Vignettes in Entering the Mess

Everyone I know is asking some variety of the same question right now.

How do I contribute to healing, racial and otherwise, in a way that encompasses concrete action and personal examination? 

I talked about listening in my last post, as part of my personal examination, and so I wanted to share with you three moments from our city’s peace rally this weekend.  Despite my temptation to speed past what was being said when the ‘white fragility button’ was pushed, I found myself listening in a way I haven’t before.  I was listening with the curiosity I used to bring to my students, and I am humbled and further curious about what I heard.

Ghostbusters

He had kind eyes and a clever sign with the iconic Stay Puff Marshmallow Man as a Klansman instead.  This tall African American gentleman, clearly a practiced speaker, quickly put the crowd at ease with his warmth and humor.  In the short time each speaker was allotted, he started drawing a parallel between reading levels and people’s willingness to deal with racism.  In part I think he was trying to highlight the ridiculousness of people who still needed what he called “the Disney version” of our country’s history with racism–namely, slavery, Civil War, Martin Luther King Jr., the end.    While his point made sense, as a teacher I started thinking about it literally.

When I first started teaching, I encountered reluctant readers with the firm sword of ‘they should learn to read for the intrinsic value of it.’  I had always been a reader, delighted in words.  It didn’t make sense to me that others were not.  In fact, it seemed insulting to bribe them with extra credit, candy, and all manners of ingenious bribes that teachers come up with over the years.  I had to fall on that sword a lot of times (I mean a lot, a lot, a lot) and get my metaphorical guts everywhere, before I was willing to concede that some kids just weren’t there yet.  They needed a ‘carrot.’

So what if that’s true of understanding and dismantling racism?  Yes, we should stop being racist assholes because it is the right thing to do.  I also know it is inherently and deeply unfair to ask or expect people who have dealt with it THEIR WHOLE LIVES to care about those who are truly backward in their thinking.  And I am not suggesting that a Nazi, or someone else who wants you dead, deserves that.  But there are others, like myself, who are genuinely motivated to move with heart and take responsibility, but we’re struggling with the ‘how,’ feeling it out as we go, hoping it will be enough.  So could we have racism flashcards, like we do phonics flashcards for new readers?  What would breaking down this complex reading look like?

And, what was my own ‘racism reading level?’  I put myself at about sixth grade, for those who are interested.  Like most sixth grade readers, I can understand a plot, a few nuances, but if there’s not enough action, too many big words, too much description of the setting, or if I have to read aloud to my peers, I start getting sweaty and losing attention as I scan for the nearest exit.  I want to read the hard books on this subject, but like a brand new English speaker I had once who carried around Harry Potter for the better part of a year and finally brought it back to me unread with tears in her eyes, they make me despair sometimes that I won’t ever get it.

Thank you, fellow tall friend, for giving me a metaphor I could wrap my brain around.

Southern Swag

This lady scared me.  She was beautiful, both steel and roots in one body, but she scared me like the black mothers of some of my students used to.  I knew I better be on point and not waste her time with trifles.  I could hide behind the label of teacher, or in this case rally attendee, but she wasn’t having it.  She started speaking about multiple encounters she’d had with police brutality, and how even today some had warned her to not “say too much” before coming up to address this largely white, affluent audience.  I had to grab Wonder Woman’s lasso to get my attention back, it was running out on her words so quickly.  But then she came to a point that stunned me into complete attention–black people have always known what it is to be other, but now, under this administration, unless you are a white, male billionaire, everyone will soon know how this feels.  “And what are you going to do then?”

Weirdly, I found myself excited by this point after the shock of it stopped me short.  I started thinking that maybe this was EXACTLY WHAT WE NEEDED.  Forced disenfranchisement.  It is hard, and maybe impossible, to teach empathy as an intellectual exercise.  What if we finally fucking felt it?  What if we looked around to men and women of color and went, “Oh, you weren’t just being melodramatic”?

The American government does not love us.  Institutions can not love us, because institutions are not people.  They are meant, at their best, to be a representation of people’s hopes and values.  They are concrete buildings, built on abstractions.  Unfortunately, when we confuse institutions with people, we have a harder time trying to change them.  I can’t be the only one on planet Earth that has struggled to correct this thinking, and there is still an inexplicable part of me that wants the institution to love me (probably because the rules for loving and relating to people seem much more vague and messy).  When I left both organized religion and public education, I was an exemplary participant and cheerleader. Understanding that the institution did not love me was heartbreaking each time.  However, doing so allowed me to realize how little I had settled for, the other possibilities that were present, and sadly, the opportunities I had lost to really be with the people inside these institutions.

The current administration is allowing sickness to surface on every level.  Could the silver lining be that it reminds us of how much we need each other, of how similar we are, of how we are in charge of shaping institutions, not the other way around?

Thank you, brave warrior, for believing in our collective destiny enough to tell us the truth.

Matter-of-Fact Boy

Upon leaving the rally, I walked past a mother and her two young sons.  I overheard the following snippet of their conversation:

Son: “I’m glad they are saying all these things.”

Mother: “How come?”

Son: “Because maybe the bad people will hear them and change their minds about hating.”

And I saw the mother’s face.  Overwhelmed with the myriad of conflicting emotions a moment of hope like that brings, she did what we’ve all done as adults.  She gave the, “Awww, that’s sweet,” face.  I’ve seen that face given to me, to artists, to children, to anyone really who holds a pure and simple emotion or belief fiercely.  In response, he gave the face I’ve seen on children time and again, the face I myself have given in response to the distance created by condescension:  “What?  I’m not kidding, I’m not trying to be cute, or quirky, or entertaining.”  What he said to his mother was true and completely possible in his eyes.  There was zero conflict between his heart and the state of his words/actions.

After all these years, I can only believe that adults are jealous of this integrity, this harmony.  And maybe it’s not the “real world” that kids or other dreamers live in, but if it is not “real”, why do we go to such great lengths to destroy it?  Why do we make children learn the word ‘pretend’ in order to meet us where we’re at?  Shouldn’t we protect any vessels that can shelter and grow hope this pure?  Shouldn’t we chase this degree of alignment, integrity?  I know that every time I unearth more of it for myself, I have more love for the people around me.  We already save seeds against future disasters, so this is not a new concept.

Thank you, little seed, for hoping.  I can’t honestly hope like you do yet, but I am working on it.

What could you hear today, if you were listening, that would help heal the world?

 

When Things Need Replacing

I could only bring myself to watch one clip of events unfolding in Charlottesville.

In it, a torch carrying mob chanted, “You will not replace us.”  In a split second I was keeled over in gut shaking sobs on my couch, cradling my laptop as if it were a baby.  Though I revile their message, I found myself connecting to the feeling underneath that chant–the feeling of pouring yourself into something, right or wrong, so vigilantly that you develop tunnel vision.  If and when your hacked off awareness then starts to creep back, push in on you, the feeling of having worked for a lie is terrifying.  Change brings anger.  Your self-worth crumbles.  The rules seem to be new, just as you finished mastering the old rules.

I felt these same things while leaving the church fifteen years ago, and public education one year ago.  I never picked up a physical torch, but I burned lots of things to the ground in both those seasons.  I never pointed an actual car at a crowd, but there were lots of bystander casualties as I came to terms with my illusions.

I wasn’t crying for the Nazis, but because I did not understand how we as a nation could possibly combat this cellular fear of otherness that is now oozing from our historical pores.  Dealing with children who still inhabit children’s bodies is one thing, but what if the child is in an adult’s body?  How do you begin to enter a space where tantrum and logic are both present?  I felt hopeless, like I wanted to run away.

But tonight, somewhat calmer after a neighborhood peace vigil, I can listen enough to hear my heart.  Although I want there to be a “right” course of action, I know that’s not possible.  The only “wrong” course of action is inaction, allying with hate through inactivity and numbing distraction.

So, what else can I do?  What else am I asking of myself in response to this newest display of fear?  Listening is the first word that comes to mind.  Seeking out stories that are different than mine, and doing what it takes to strengthen the skill of listening without judgement or concurrent narrative.  Facing institutional and interpersonal racism is some people’s everyday lives.  I believe this with my brain because I’ve both seen and heard it, but my heart has not yet absorbed it enough to be fully transformed, to consistently act in line with my values instead of my privilege.  Even tonight, as a young trans woman spoke at the vigil, I found myself wishing she would tone down her anger a little.  My very next thought was really more of a sigh, a deep one, on realizing how much better I need to be at listening.

Owning my own racist/privileged attitudes, in explicit terms, is the next request I feel myself making.  What is my part in Charlottesville?  Well, first off, I am frustrated at the never-ending nature of social justice struggle.  I want there to be one big action, or a series of smaller actions, that will count as “enough” on the cosmic scales.  I want that action to have concrete and somewhat immediate results, and I want it to be hard enough to do that it feels “worthwhile.”  In short, I want to tap in and tap out again with something I can put on my Facebook.  By doing so, I contribute to how long these struggles take.  This option is less available for folks who are fighting for their own lives.

There were also lots of times as a teacher that my racism was quite clear to me, but more recently, I’ve become aware of it in my internet dating practices.  My first instinct is to swipe left or delete men of color, often times before I have even read what they have written.  When I do read, and often find myself intrigued, I find myself saying things like, ‘it would probably be easier for him to date someone who is Black.  How could I ever understand what life is like for him in a way that would be enough?’  Translation: I am not willing (yet) to put myself into the vulnerable territory of doing that work, even though it is the exact same work I ask people to do in getting to know me.  I tell myself I don’t want to add to someone’s pain by misunderstanding them, but I am not entirely sure that is honest.  I often add insult to injury by conflating these men with the absentee Hispanic and African American fathers of my students all these years, and the judgement I hung over those men was immense.   Again, it comes down to my ease.  It is easier to know people as categories than as individuals.

I assure you, there’s more.  The countless moments that I am probably not even aware of as they are happening.  I hope to shift that, rooting these weeds out with kindness where I can, with a little ass kicking where I can’t.  I also don’t expect a gold star for these revelations, but I am starting to see that if I don’t name them plainly, then there’s little hope of real change; a heart that more closely matches my outward actions, so that the actions don’t become just a politically correct bandaid.  I don’t want to march, donate, email, call, and still allow myself my comfortably dirty corners.

I don’t know how else we start truly belonging to each other, seeing each other as parts of ourselves, when some are born with such privilege or such struggle, but I know we have a lot of things that need replacing before we get there.