Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Standing Down and Pulling Back

I am...overcommitted.

That's putting it lightly, in fact.  I'm deeply overcommitted and I've been pulling energy from my future by skipping sleep or putting off necessary tasks, borrowing against tomorrow and then tomorrow again when the day comes due.

Right now it's not at a danger point.  I haven't run myself down to the place where Traitor Brain starts to sound reasonable, but it's been getting there these last few months.  I've actually done a few things in the last couple of days that have silenced a large chunk of personal anxiety and stress.  There are a few large frogs on the horizon to be eaten, and then I should be able to have a serious quantity of ammunition for silencing the voice of doubt and self-destruction.

Part of the problem is that I don't want to give up any commitments.  I love the Dionysium and I like my job and I love the stuff I do for CMA and I get so much out of my two D&D games and Ingress and everything else, but I find myself finishing a load of laundry at 1:30 in the morning because one of the cats, motivated either by missing a few days (OK, a week) of litterbox scooping or anxiety over me being gone so much of the time, has started peeing on important things.

My problem isn't a problem; my life is a glorious buffet of interesting, wonderful people and activities.  I just need to go on a bit of a diet, activity-wise (note to self: we were going to find time to work out).

I'm not asking for help, necessarily.  I'm asking for patience and understanding.

Please keep inviting me to stuff.  A couple of people have told me recently "We didn't invite you, though we really wanted you to come, because you're so busy and we know you've been tired."  This level of opportunity for interaction isn't going to change.  There will always be five excellent things to do every day, and only time to do ten things a week.  I need to learn to balance that myself, and the only way to do that is for me to start learning to turn down invitations that sound really wonderful but that I just can't reasonably do.  I've begun it, but I'm not 100% (hell, I'm not 25%).  But let me sort out my priorities and activities as I can.

Please understand if you invite me and I tell you I can't make it, even if you know I'm not busy or doing anything that day.  The bathtub has to get scrubbed sometime, you know?  And some days I just need to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or DVDs, or sleep in and read.

Please, even though it's not the politest thing for me to do, understand if I flake off on social stuff at the last minute.  Sometimes I commit to a thing because it sounds SO AWESOME but I completely didn't think about the thing I was doing across town until 20 minutes before it.  A couple of times recently I've dragged myself to something I just had no energy for doing, because the *people* involved in it were people I care about and want to spend time with.  I need to stop doing that, and that's no one's responsibility or fault but mine.

Lastly, I'm still an extrovert.  I still require substantive human contact.  But for a little while, I'm going to need to be less proactive about initiating that contact, while I sort out my activities and priorities.  If you don't hear from me, don't assume I don't care or don't want to see you.  I'm just out of bandwidth for reaching out and I'm trying to balance things.  Feel free to give me a call or ping me in chat; work is intermittently slow these days so I often have time to talk during the day.

I just keep telling myself this backing off isn't permanent, that I'm not giving up anything; I just need, for myself, a little more balance and a little more focus on maintaining life stuff.

I love you all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Open Letter to Texas Democrats

One year ago today, I stood in the rotunda of the Texas Capitol among a sea of orange, speckled here and there with huddled clusters of blue.  I saw my friend Nakia, and she said to me, "you won't get into the gallery.  No one's leaving.  Come to the auditorium, we're watching it stream live downstairs."

So we herded in, and I saw more friends and familiar faces.  Hello, oh you're here, I'm so glad, isn't it exciting?  What's happening, who's that, what did he just say, isn't Donna Campbell just awful?  We held our breath, watching Senator Wendy Davis filibuster.  Occasionally we explained pieces of parliamentary procedure to one another.  We made note of those who stopped her, to ask long-winded procedural questions (and then to ask for those questions to be repeated and clarified) and extend her time -- just as we made note of her opponents.  Come next November, we said, we will remember all of you.

When Senator van de Putte entered the chamber, having driven from her father's funeral, a whisper went through the auditorium, rising to a righteous cheer.  We could do this, we thought.  They have to listen to us, we said to one another.  Older activists, those of us who recall the so-called Summer of Mercy in 1991, said, "This won't stop the law, it won't stop them from trying, but we are being heard.  We have risen, and we will not return to quiescence easily."

At one point, a woman near the center called out for a doctor, for EMS; someone had collapsed.  We made way for the paramedics, and dozens of women called reassurance to our fallen sister.  We assured her we would hold faith in her stead, we would stand for her as she was wheeled away.

As midnight approached, the other side became desperate, and then they began to break rules and to make them up, to ignore questions and speakers and procedure.  You could have heard a pin drop as Senator van de Putte stood and asked her now-famous question:  "At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?"

And that was the signal, the trigger.

I remember very little about the next couple of hours, so much as that NOISE.  It had a weight, a mass of its own, compressed and vibrating against the walls.  We watched an ineffectual little man slam his hand and his gavel, shouting his mistake:  "This vote will not proceed until we have order!"  Order was nowhere to be found, and midnight passed, the session closed and the vote unrecorded.  Thanks to Senator Hinojosa, we still have record of the Republicans' attempt to record the vote illegally, and then pretend they had not.  And still the noise went on.  Chanting shouting screaming clapping laughing cheering crying, that wall of sound began to build a house where women could live safely.

That week, I was being treated for severe anemia, unable to stand for very long or walk very far, and that noise knocked me literally off my feet.  I faintly remember my friend, who had called me into the auditorium, telling me that troopers might be called to remove us, so we removed ourselves, filing out into the hallway and up the stairs into the rotunda.  And over our noise...THEIRS.  A rolling thunder cascading from the gallery, a roar of defiance and a thing of beauty.  I felt the world move, and begin to change beneath my feet.  In that moment, we were power incarnate.

So why, now, do I feel sad, unmotivated, disillusioned?

On this historic day, I've received seven e-mails from Texas Democrats.  Some are from the Davis campaign, some are from the van de Putte campaign, and some are from other Democrats on behalf of the campaigns.  I don't even read them any more.  I keep unsubscribing and still more come, from a new committee, campaign, or public figure each day.

Every day for the last year, I've received them.  Senator Davis runs to me to lay each fresh offense from the Republicans at my feet, and ask me for money to fight them.  Senator van de Putte tells me how we will beat them if only I will stand with her, and give her money.  Just five dollars.  Do I know about this woman who can't afford to give ten dollars a month, so she gives just seven-fifty?  How much can I be like her?  Have I heard the latest thing to be outraged about, and does it motivate me to open my wallet?

Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, Texas Democrats, please listen to me.

Stop.  Just, stop.

Stop asking me for money, stop pointing at outrages, stop telling me at every turn about the newest mean thing the GOP has said.  I never heard about Abortion Barbie but from you, and you told me five times.  Stop telling me that we're going to fight them, we're not going to let them win, we're going to throw it all back in their faces.  You cannot light the fire of my heart with anger or indignation.

Tell me, instead, how qualified you are to lead.  Tell me what your vision *is* for my beloved adoptive state of Texas.  How will you draw green industry?  How will you manage the fracking concerns?  How will you improve children's healthcare options?  What will your energy policy be?  What on earth are you going to do about the schools, the roads, the trees, the fires?  Tell me, because you have not bothered to do so yet, what moves you besides fighting anti-choice advocates.

If I am willing to look, sure I can find platforms and positions and stated goals; I have to seek them out, though, take the initiative and do the work for them.  By contrast, every single day, Senators Davis and van de Putte bring their hurts, their angers, their resentments and their outrages to my inbox, hand-feeding me with them so that I'll be groomed to provide the funding they so desperately need.  I cannot live on this diet.

In 2008, I joined Barack Obama's primary campaign, and donated all I could afford in time and money to help him get to the White House.  I did it because, undecided and unsure he could even win, I went to hear him speak and he spoke to me of what he wanted to do, to achieve, to accomplish.  He spoke un-ironically of hope, of the belief in civic duty, of a sincere and specifically articulated vision for America.

I doubt they will ever read my words, but I have to say them nonetheless.  Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, I want women of vision and purpose in government, and I believe you are women of vision and purpose.  I have faith in you, I want to support you.  As it stands right now, I will vote for you.  But I am not moved to anything more by what I have thus far seen.

I want to feel, rising through my chest, that roar that shook the nation a year ago today.  I want to feel the steps of the Capitol shake beneath my feet again, to weep with joy at the solidarity, the beauty of motivated women and men united not in hate or fear or anger, but in hope and love and fierce passion for one another's freedoms.

Senators, I am a woman of power and passion and prodigious vocabulary, all of which I would put at your disposal.  The fires that burn inside of me are strong enough to light the world, and I will add them to your own.  I will give you more than my vote and my money; I will give you my loyalty and my heart.

I will walk through flood and fire and righteous fury to follow you.

But you must lead me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meandering Through Maslow

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs outlines the journey from 'survival' to 'self-actualization'.  It's based in the premise that before you can deal with emotional needs, introspection, or personal growth, you have to begin by ensuring the simpler needs, and that once the simpler needs are addressed, you are able to turn your focus to meeting other, more social and philosophical needs.

Mostly, I think that Maslow's hierarchy appeals to me because it's in direct opposition to the idea that there's this inherent nobility in being poor, an idea I think people embrace rather than address the systemic inequality and injustice that cause poverty, but that's not what I'm really thinking on today.

What I am thinking about is how Maslow's idea seems to be based in the idea of evolving hungers.  When my body is fed, and rested, and my pure physical needs are met, then I can start thinking about safety.  Once I am in a secure place, then I can begin building relationships and community.  It continues on, with each need met introducing another need to meet.  We are, perhaps, destined to be perpetually unfulfilled, and in seeking fulfillment we do our most amazing work.

When I look at that pyramid of needs, at every level I see the same thing: find what feeds you.  On a deeper level, it makes me fully aware that a life well-lived isn't measured by how much you earned, or owned.  It's not determined by either the quality or the number of your relationships.  I don't even call how you changed the world an effective measure of a well-lived life.  For me, it's all in the answer to this question:

How much of what you do feeds you?

How much of your life fuels you?  When you consume, do you consume selectively, choosing things and ideas you can use as beneficial resources and building blocks, or do you consume emptily, just to fill a space?  When you create, do you light up your work with the active fire of a joyful spirit?  Are your relationships productive, nurturing, supportive and fun, or do you fill your time with people you don't hate, because it's better than being alone?  When you give your energy, your name, your focus, your love to a thing, does the end result nourish you in some way?

Last week I asked the question, "If there are things in your life that don't bring you joy, why do you do them?  Do you have a plan for replacing them with things that do?"  So many people cited "I have to pay the bills" and "I am obligated to do them," but they missed the larger question, one I've been asking myself a lot lately.  If there are large chunks of your life (for a lot of folks, they seem to occupy, oh, about eight hours a day...) that are just place holders, marking time until retirement, or death, or even just the weekend, then that's a third of your life you're giving up each workday without even fighting for it.  If there are relationships you maintain because you're afraid ending them will mean you failed or because you just can't bring yourself to walk away, then you're giving love to people who don't value it, or you, as they should.

So I find myself asking, what am I going to do to replace the parts of my life that don't feed me with things that do?  I certainly can't quit my job tomorrow and run away to...

Well, now, that's the problem, isn't it?  What is it, exactly, that feeds me, that would fill my life with purpose, excitement, and joy?  I have no idea.  When I was younger, I agonized over potential career paths, because I was certain that somewhere, on one of them, was the key to that soul-deep sense of a fulfilling life of purpose.  I never found it, or even got any indication where I should look.  I know on the small scale, the things that bring me joy.  Good friends.  Good food.  Reading until the wee hours of the morning.  A great glass of wine.  Writing, hiking, taking pictures.  Serving my community.  Helping my loved ones in ways that make them stronger and happier in the long run.

On the larger scale, what I really don't have is an idea of how to bend the larger arc of my life.  I can't think of a vocation or a career change that would fulfill me, I don't see a path I should be walking.  I have fed all the obvious hungers, with food or sex or sleep or creature comforts or friendships, and now I am faced with the hunger for a joyful life, and I find it significantly more complicated to meet that appetite.

I can't make a whiplash life shift, and I don't believe that's the answer in any case.  What I can do is stop feeding what doesn't feed me, and look for ways to replace the things in my life that don't contribute to my overall happiness and greater joy with things that do.  I just have to give up on the idea that I'm going to suddenly discover some grand and magnificent purpose that will click into place and turn my ambling, meandering life path into a clear trajectory towards a coherent and defined goal.

Friday, May 16, 2014


We love the image of the conquering hero, carried triumphant through the streets, and behind him we place the slave to whisper, "Remember, thou art mortal."

I have my own whispering slave, and I think each of us does. It's how we clip our own wings, and turn our strength to weakness. Mine waits until that moment when I see someone struggling and step forward to say, "Hey, do you need a hand with that?"

And then it hisses, "This is how Ted Bundy killed people."

My voice of mortality says no good deed goes unpunished.  It points out that altruism is probably not an individual evolutionary advantage, though the complexity of human relationships often makes it a social one.  It tells me I'm statistically more likely, running towards trouble, to be hurt or killed than those who run away from it.

There have been times in my life that I thought "I have made a decision that may kill me."  Maybe I got back on the road when I was probably too tired to drive safely, maybe I worked my way out onto the unsteady path before considering just how deserted the trail was and how far that drop went, maybe I called out that guy harassing women on the corner without knowing if he had friends, or even just a knife and a grudge.

The truth is that we never know until it happens which will be the decision that confirms the mortality.  Maybe it's as simple as 'I keep meaning to get that mole checked out, and putting it off.'  Or just stopping for the yellow light instead of gunning through the intersection, so that five miles down the road we cross paths with the speeding truck.  When you really consider it, every single decision you make every day could be the one that makes you mortal, and there's no way to know.

Kind of paralyzing, no?

When I first came to this understanding, this pure helplessness to predict a safe course, my impulse was to curl up in a dark quiet room and do absolutely nothing.  But then I came back to that thing I said earlier, about being statistically more likely to be killed running towards trouble than away from it, and I realised there was a qualifier to it:  by the trouble.  Running away from trouble, especially when they're other people's problems, only decreases the chance that particular situation will harm you. It can't make you safe.  You are never entirely safe.

The statistical likelihood of death is 100% for me, as it is for everyone else.  I will die, and in hindsight I will be able to see the choice or set of choices that led to the circumstances of my death.

This would suggest that the ideal course in life is to make every single decision worth dying for.  To live a life of such epic courage and adventure it gets its own soundtrack.  But I don't have that option.  Bills must be paid, tires must be rotated, sinks must be scrubbed and the laundry never stops needing to be folded.  It's hard to maintain that level of significance in every choice, to wash the dishes as if your life depended on how you did it, because it just might.

I release the small decisions, the ones of fate and chance, the 'do I cut through the parking lot or wait at the light?' the 'do I wear sandals or tennis shoes?'  It's good to weigh risks on decisions, but it's not reasonable to spend your life calculating detailed risk assessments for every left turn or breakfast taco.

Instead, I listen for the voice, for that hissing whisper just behind my right shoulder.  I interpret that voice as my subconscious alerting me to choices that define me, choices that give me a chance to *earn* my mortality and its rewards.  Yes, I tell it, Ted Bundy used people's kindness to prey on them.  But kindness keeps the mechanism of human interaction moving, and a life of choosing to be kind instead of afraid is worth living.  Yes, love leads to grief and loss, and it can end in betrayal, but in the life I want to lead that's a risk you have to take.  I may have few opportunities to live an epic life, but I have many many chances to live a pattern I'll look back gladly on creating.

I'm still often painfully aware of my mortality, but I've stopped resenting that whisperer, because in trying to clip my wings, it's inadvertently pointing out opportunities to fly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Complexity, Nuance, and Lazy Storytelling

I first read "Game of Thrones" shortly after it came out.  I was entranced by the world, and the characters, and as each subsequent book was written I devoured it and began the long wait for the next.  "Read this!" I gleefully told friends, building a small community of people I could talk to about the books, swapping theories and ideas for what was coming.  I put a dent in a wall with the corner of the book when I read the Red Wedding; I had understood why Ned Stark had to die like a Disney parent, but Robb was supposed to WIN, dammit.

Initially, I wasn't particularly aware of a lot of the issues around which the books are problematic.  My view of racism was not particularly nuanced, so "Have you noticed that most of the nonwhite characters are kinda...savage?" escaped me.  Likewise, there's a remarkable tendency towards sexual violence, and most of the non-heterosexual characters are pretty bald stereotypes.  Most of that went right over my head, I'm sad to say, until friends began pointing out their own concerns.

My journey with the books and social awareness has been a long study in liking something problematic.  I started from the traditional rationalization positions: this is just a book, don't take it so seriously, there's much worse stuff in the real world, and so on.  Eventually, I did finally face the reality that this thing I love is deeply flawed, and it's flawed in ways that mean it may be perpetuating things I work against.  But what to do?

There seem to be three ways speculative fiction can address sexual violence and racial/sexual inequality.  There's the Star Trek approach of handwaving it all away in "and then we were ALL equal!  The end!"  Never mind that even in the magical equality of the Star Trek Universe, there are still some pretty glaring examples of racist and sexist casting and writing.

The second approach is to create the world where terrible things happen, but make your protagonists shine by inexplicably developing an aversion to the parts of your world that don't fit with modern sensibilities.  You give them parents who, in a world populated by slave labor for generations, raised them to see everyone as equal.  You give them an aversion to a 16-year-old bride when the entire culture is based on menarche as the signifier of marital availability.  Usually, the protagonist doesn't have a compelling reason for opting out of his entire culture besides "He just knew it was wrong."  You never put them through the process of examining that culture and evaluating it critically.  And most importantly, you create a world where you use horrible things being done to some people as a way to shorthand "My character is a decent guy because he opts out of this terrible culture I created!"  This is the most common approach, and it's the one I like the least because it's lazy.

The third approach is my personal preference, and it's best exemplified by Babylon 5 and the Song of Ice and Fire *novels*.  You create a world in which racism and sexism and bigotry are real, and then you force your characters to navigate that world as decent human beings with the socialization they would have had living in it.  Babylon 5 is notable for its frank address of racism, though they used nonhuman races for a broader view, so that it's less obviously a critique on modern culture -- but it still is.  Because guess what?  We live in a culture where some people think an accident of demographics makes one less worthy of basic respect and decency, so B5's constant struggle to blend disparate and sometimes incomprehensible cultures is a useful reflection of ways we ourselves often approach it.  Some work, some don't, but you end up really thinking about it either way.

Game of Thrones' racial representation is problematic and there's really no way to handwave around it.  I just have to say "Yes, there's some pretty blatant racism there and if I ever meet GRRM I'mma ask him what the hell he was thinking."  But the books' sexual representation is much more nuanced and interesting.  How does a decent person raised in a culture where there is no such thing as statutory rape navigate an obviously frightened and anxious child bride?  The notable scene between Danaerys and Khal Drogo in the book involves a lot of nonverbal communication and shared pleasure until her comfort level allows her to consent -- and lays the foundation for their loving relationship.  In the show, this was shorthanded to a painful, horrifying rape scene, which turns Dany's embrace of her culture and her marriage into an uncomfortable Stockholm-syndrome feel.

Tyrion's marriage to Sansa is another one of those nuanced situations.  He's been given a beautiful bride, formerly betrothed to a king and conditioned since birth to be someone's lady wife, and commanded to bed her by a father who's displayed a consistent willingness to murder those who balk him.  He tries; they get as far as taking off their clothes.  At the same time, he's looking at this terrified child, whose father his family murdered in front of her, whose younger brothers and sisters are presumed dead, who's been a hostage for months, and he just...can't.  Not because of her age, but because of the pure brutality of the situation and that he can't make anything good for her, just less horrible, and the least horrible option is "I won't touch you until you ask me to."  Sansa displays a lot of character in the book there, first steeling herself to endure it and then mustering the courage to ask him, "And what if I never ask, my lord?"  That chapter really seals her understanding that all her childhood fairy tale dreams are dead, that Tyrion Lannister is the only prince she gets.  This is glossed in the series, as he just sends her to bed like a child and drinks himself to sleep on a sofa.

The last piece in this puzzle of the series failing the books is Jaime's much-talked-about rape of Cersei.  In the book, it's an incredibly complicated scene that really demonstrates the complete dysfunction of their relationship.  So much of their relationship has been grounded in that whole "It's wrong, but I want it, but I feel guilty, but I want it," on both their parts.  In the series, it's...the creepy hate-rape of your sister next to your mutual dead child's corpse.  This makes me as angry as Drogo's rape of Danaerys does.  First, because hey, isn't there enough rape and brutality in the story without adding more?

Second, because it strips characters of a chance to develop.  Jaime's long and conflicted arc of becoming a better human being, of overcoming the single stain of killing Aerys Targaryen, just stops right there.  I can't see how the producers can possibly bring him back from this.  Cersei's loss of agency and depth there just makes her another boring victim for another angry man.  Drogo becomes just another savage possessing a woman who's been given as a gift, not a partner sharing joy with a fellow human being.  Danaerys' subsequent transformation into comfortable khaleesi makes no sense.  Sansa, who'd finally been beginning to develop past whining, becomes just another trial for Tyrion to manage (though the producers did keep the subtle beginnings of what might have been a long and comfortable friendship had circumstances not intervened).

It's a much more interesting story to watch people navigate complex situations than it is to watch them go through the motions of rebelling against the status quo and ultimately be destroyed by it.  To say I'm disappointed that the shows are taking a lazy approach the books avoided is understatement.

On the whole, I've been pleased with the adaptations.  I understand that in a book with hundreds of named characters, sometimes you need to combine a few or cut a few for the sake of a comprehensible story line.  I understand that some storylines that interest me may be trivial to the outcome, just there for worldbuilding, so they might not make the cut.

But destroying one of the things Martin really did *right* by facing questions of sexual agency and power, and reducing those situations to rape and torture porn for shock value, is a grave disservice to the whole series, and to those of us who've loved it for years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Am Not A Shepherd And These Are Not My Sheep

The longer you work in festival or convention safety, the more likely it is you'll run into the perception that the rest of the people, the ones not on your team, are somehow the 'sheep', who need to be protected.  They are, as an aggregate, dumb and thoughtless and unable to make good decisions for themselves.  I've heard them called 'gomers' and any number of other names, all of which imply that we, the safety staff, are the only thing standing between them and their messy, embarrassing demise.

This is, frankly, bullshit.

The first team I worked on held this perception.  Perhaps it was a cynicism, or an egotism, but either way I'm faintly embarrassed now at the way I nodded, smugly, when it was explained to me that "We protect the people.  Mostly from themselves."  It was easy for me, because I only ever saw the people having trouble, to view those others as a collection of bad decisions and personal frailties waiting to happen.  It was easy to view myself as a voice of calm reason and sanity to a childlike population.  I bought into that particular line of patriarchy without even thinking about it.

As I began to consider my own warrior's path, away from my earliest influences, I evaluated my relationship with those around me.  I considered how we would interact, what role I would play in their lives, and they in mine.  It started to chafe at me, this perception of a mindless mass of helpless sheep.  These are people, I thought, my equals and my peers.  Together we form community, and together we create, sustain, and protect that community.

Over the last two years, as I've been training to lead my own safety services team, I've had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to lead and guide that team.  What would we do?  Would we be physical warriors, standing up bodily in the face of harm?  Would we be spiritual warriors, focused on magical defenses and energy work?  How would we protect the people?

The more I thought about my own history, and what I saw in it, the more I realised that I don't protect these people.  Not in the traditional way.  I protect this community, and that's something entirely different.

There is a part of it that is the taking up of arms, of walking into battle in the very real sense.  That is a minuscule part of this commitment, but many groups treat it as the default expectation, a physical defense against a clear threat.  They walk with swords and arrogance, looking for obvious battles, but when you begin by looking for a fight, you almost never find anything else.

No, the real work is elsewhere.  To speak up with integrity in defense of those who do not feel empowered to speak.  To model the actions you want to see in others.  To choose empathy and compassion in the face of anger and confusion.  To walk out among your community, opening doors and creating bridges, wherever you can.  To be a resource for clarity and understanding.  To build trust.

I consider what may happen, and how best to respond.  I marshal resources and maintain, in my head, a list of people who can be depended upon to be calm and patient when it is needed, and fierce and passionate when it is needed, and who have the wisdom to know which is which.

The people of my community will usually, if given good information and the time to think clearly, make reasoned, intelligent decisions.  When there is not time to think clearly, I have to call upon the trust that I have built rather than the authority I claim, to ask them to do something on my word because important things are at stake and I cannot stop to explain.

I worry, but with a plan.  What is the worst that might happen, I ask myself, and then what will I do?

Through it all, I remember that I don't stand between these sheep and the wolves.  I stand among these people.  I am of them, and we are united in the future of this community.  I am often asked why I'm so adamant about the difference between "I am on the safety team" and "I am on the security team."  The difference is that the safety team is always thinking about the health and the safety of the community.  They understand that flexibility and understanding are critical to the dynamic situations affecting the tribe.  The security team simply enforces the rules, by force if necessary.  There are too many instances of 'force' in that for me to be comfortable with it.

A shepherd protects and tends the flock, but he also culls it for his own sustenance.  A sheepdog will ward against danger, but if it becomes hungry enough it will turn into a wolf in the blink of an eye.

A warrior walks among the people, of the people, and stands united with them for the good of all.

That is what I want to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shifting Anxiety into Clarity

Today I turned off a set of Red Cross notifications.

When I got my new phone, I set up my Tornado Alert Warnings to include the Kansas City and Lawrence areas, where I used to live and still have many friends.  A few weeks into tornado season, I am struck by two things.

First, that I used to spend a substantial part of every spring fairly blithely living under the reminder of constant potential doom from the sky.  Sirens once or twice a week wasn't that unusual.  I formed the habit of making a mental note, in every building I regularly occupied, of the lowest and most sheltered ground.  Each year I checked and repacked the small bag containing a change of clothes, some emergency cash, a flashlight and other necessities, without really acknowledging it as a tacit admission that I might face an actual tornado or have the roof blown off my apartment building by a microburst and need to grab the cat and run for shelter.  In all that time, I never saw a tornado though the city I was in was hit more than once.  I became blase about the danger because I was both used to it and personally untouched by it.

Second, that at some point in my life I created this fantastic and beautiful network of people, reaching across the country and around the world, and as a result my world has become very small.  Today alone I am thinking of a shooting, tornado warnings, two children in my community facing illness, people facing the loss of loved ones, friends who are out of work, fearful for their futures, or worried about their own health.

Facebook keeps me in touch and aware, and e-mail, text, and messaging let me maintain a network of love and support.  I have found that network a lifeline in my own daily experience, and I'm grateful for the ease with which an "I love you and you're in my thoughts," can fly hundreds of miles in a second.

But at some point, I have to unplug and hope I will hear what I need to hear as it happens.  I turned off my notifications for Douglas County and Kansas City, not because I do not love the people who still live there, but because I cannot share their ever-present awareness of dangers that will almost certainly never come to pass.  There is nothing I can do, except light my candles and hold fire and faith.

I was an Army Brat.  I spent my childhood forming fast friendships with a changing population of peers, and then walking away with the knowledge that I might never see those best friends again.  I've been running my adulthood that way, but now I keep the friends as an ever-expanding network of deep emotional connections.

But I'm having to refine and reframe the way I manage that network, all the time.  A few years ago, it was evaluating my relationships and choosing to focus on the ones that supported and empowered me.  More recently, I've been looking at a lot of my interactions and choosing to focus on those where I had a chance to change someone's mind or make someone consider a different viewpoint.  Today, I'm choosing to step out of the reactionary mode, trying to give up that constant awareness of where my love and support will be needed next, and shift to simply giving it where it's asked.

To my gods I say, I am not abandoning my love and support for those who are important to me.  I am not changing how I feel, or how deeply I wish for their happiness and success.  I am simply pulling back my constant threat awareness and trading worry and anxiety in for the calm faith in love and community.

I love you all.