Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Note to the Resolutioneers

New Year's Day is upon us, and everywhere we look people are gearing up for Massive Life Change.  This year, it's gonna be different.  Really a new leaf.  Gonna save money, gonna quit smoking, gonna get fit, gonna eat right, gonna bike to work three times a week.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I get that for some people that particular modality works.  Fresh starts are very appealing.  I'm here to talk to you today about one of those things you're all excited about: your gym membership.

My partner and I belong to a gym, and every year the regulars grit their teeth at the arrival of The Resolutioneers.  They're on all the machines, struggling and sweating, they're filling up the pool and the locker room, they're clogging your favorite yoga class and harshing your namaste.  They swell the ranks of gym-goers for about a month, and then it tapers back to normal by the end of February.  Many of the regulars, at that point, breathe a sigh of relief.  Now, they say, it will be fine until 'swimwear season' and then again until the holidays next year.

The resolutioneers make me profoundly sad.  Not because they're inconveniencing me or crowding a space I use.  I don't mind that part so much, because they're enjoying a thing I enjoy.  I'm sad because I see them hit the gym like it owes them money, fast and fierce and intent, but never find the grip on a lasting habit.  Over the last almost-ten years of gym memberships, I've been watching the resolutioneers to try and figure out why they fail.  If you're looking for a shiny new gym, I've got a few tips for you.  I'm not a trainer, so they're not tips for working out.  I'm someone who loves the gym, so they're tips for how to become one of those.

It starts before you even begin.  A lot of people are choosing a gym the wrong way.  The absolute first consideration for a gym is "how convenient is this for me to get to?"  All other factors take second place to whether a gym is on your way to or from work, near home or the kids' daycare, convenient for a lunch break session on the elliptical.  Even the best gym is worthless if *just getting there* is a chore.  After that, you look into classes and facilities, does it have childcare, is the facility clean and well-maintained?  But first, convenience.

Then, too many of you skip the personal training sessions.  Yeah, I get it, it saves a few bucks, but most gyms offer a low-cost introductory training session, in which you're taught how to gym.  You're asked to clarify your goals, and figure out what you need to do to meet them.  You're given a tour of all the things in your gym.  You learn how to set up the weights and use them safely and responsibly.  And if your trainer is worth anything, you learn about the importance of gym etiquette.

Not understanding the basic manners of the gym is one of the greatest sources of conflict between regulars and resolutioneers, and it's one of the biggest hurdles on the path to being an active member of your gym.  If you're breaking the rules in ways that interfere with other peoples' ability to work out, they won't help you.  They won't be open and welcoming.  They'll just work around you until you go away.

Listen, we know you're new.  We know you don't know what you're doing, because we all remember what WE looked like when we were new and had no idea what we were doing.  Some of us have been doing this for a while, and we've learned helpful things we could share with you.  We won't share them if you're sitting on a machine for ten minutes checking your phone, or if you're blocking the only available treadmill while you have a conversation with a friend.  We won't share them with the person who just walked away leaving the weight bench coated in sweat.  We won't share them if you've draped your gym bag over the machine next to you, or if you leave your equipment all over the weight room floor.  Pissy and elitist?  Maybe, but maybe not.  A gym only works if everyone uses the resources cooperatively; most of us are there to work, with a limited amount of time allocated out of the day.  We don't have time to explain to five people a day why you need to wipe down the equipment after you sweat on it, or argue with you about not slamming the weights.

If someone asks you, "You need a hand with that?" or "Everything OK?" it likely is a polite way of saying "I see that you are doing this in a way that may hurt you or break the equipment and I'd like to help you not do that," or "I see that you are struggling with something I know how to do."  Most of the time the advice they have will make what you're doing feel better, smoother, and less awkward.  If it doesn't, ask one of the trainers; they're usually good about one-off questions, especially questions about not breaking things or getting hurt.

Building friendly rapport with your fellow gym-goers goes a long way to making the experience supportive.  You don't have to make small talk or have long chatty conversations at the juice bar, but you'll notice people smiling at you, exchanging friendly nods, offering advice or encouragement, and that changes the experience.  You become part of a community.

OK, so you've got a convenient gym, you've got an exercise plan, you're making friends, now what?  You've got to set and keep sustainable goals and be realistic about your capacity for gym attendance.  Every year I talk to someone who says to me, "I've come to the gym EVERY DAY for the last two weeks!!!!!" and I never see them again because they're exhausted and then they miss a day, it turns into two days, and they get demoralized by the 'failure' and give up.

The most important exercise you do at the gym is walking through the door.  Just get there.  Whether you went yesterday should have no bearing on your attendance tomorrow.  Missed a week in a row?  I guarantee you no one will judge you if you *walk back through that door*.  Missed two weeks?  Man, they don't care as long as you *walk back through that door*.  Just gonna show up and sit in the hot tub?  No one tracks you once you *walk back through that door*.

Decide how many days a week is a reasonable goal, and how many is a 'stretch' goal.  On a good week, I work out three times (plus whatever activity I do outside the gym).  Most weeks, it's two.  So I don't beat myself up if I only go twice, but I applaud myself if I make that third day.  Your reasonable schedule should be one that you can keep.  If you need to pay for classes, or work with a buddy, or designate scheduled nights to make yourself get into the habit then do it, but GO.  A hectic schedule will flex around what you make time for, I promise you.

Make sure you build a varied workout.  Use weights or weight machines to build strength, and treadmills, ellipticals, or bikes for cardio and endurance.  Balancing the work you do gives better results, and it keeps the gym from being boring.  It also helps you set goals that are unrelated to weight loss, and this is essential.  I can't tell you how much weight I've lost at the gym, but I can tell you how much my lift numbers and my cardio time have increased.

Learn to use the gym to deal with life stressors.  Bad day at work?  Move weight till you're not pissed off any more.  Family driving you nuts?  Plug in the headphones and run away for a little while.  Hyper kids?  Drop them at the activity center, then hit a yoga or a dance class while they burn off their energy.  Pack a gym bag and leave it in your car so you're always ready to stop off and work out.

Set functional rewards for practical goals.  It's best if they somehow improve your workout.  One full month of three-times-a-week attendance got me my Fitbit so I can track my workouts, and the next attendance goal will get me some new gym clothes.  A lot of people do food-based rewards, but that sets up the idea that food and exercise are enemies.  Food and exercise are friends because if you don't have calories you can't work out, and if you don't have protein you can't build muscle.

There will come a day when you really don't want to go to the gym.  You're tired from your day, you've got a headache, you're down to the crappy sports bra, whatever.  Whatever it is, it's not really a reason, just an excuse.  There's really nothing keeping you from going except that the sofa is comfy and warm and the Netflix is all queued up.  That day, you HAVE to go.  That day is your routine-brain trying to get back to what it finds comfortable, and it'll keep coming up with excuses for you.  You have to be able to tell routine-brain no.

Then there will come a day when you really want to work out and you can't.  You've twisted an ankle, or you're getting over a nasty flu, or a legit workplace crisis eats your workout time.  First, congratulations on building your workouts so deeply into your life that you *miss* them when you can't have them.  Second, set a return date and stick to it, or that two-day hiatus can turn into weeks.  The feeling of accomplishment at that 'first workout back', knowing that you took care of yourself and then came back to the goal, is wonderful.

Lastly, take advantage of your gym's amenities.  I wandered into the sauna once, and now it's how I finish every workout because it gives me a quiet, contemplative space to set that good endorphin feeling and carry it with me when I leave.  Whirlpools for sore muscles, steam rooms, dry saunas, cooldown pools, try it all and figure out what helps you walk out of the gym feeling energised and clear-headed.

I wish everyone luck and happiness on their 2017 journey, and I hope you find habits that you enjoy and benefit from!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It's 2016 and All Your Heroes Are Dead

This year began with a celebrity punch to the gut, and the hits haven't stopped coming.  One by one, stars of my childhood have been winking out, leaving me to navigate in darkness.

Beautiful voices fall silent.  Passionate hearts cease to beat.  Visionary eyes dim and close for a final time.  All lives do end.

For decades, they showed me where to go, how to love and live.  They dared me to achieve, challenged me to be compassionate.  They crafted lyrics that inspired me, delivered performances that touched me.  They changed the faces of nations, and rewrote human knowledge.

And for a while here, especially with the loss of Carrie Fisher today, I've been feeling...bereft.  Directionless.  As each life fades into grey I can see upon my own where its colors were, where the greatness bled through their gifts to me.

What, now, am I to do?  How do I find my way without their lights to guide me?  They blazed the trail for all of us, up to the edge of this terrifying blackness.

I ask the Universe, and the answer comes back, "If you need them, become them."

How, though?  I'm no virtuoso, no gifted performer, no brilliant creature to capture and inspire millions. I'm no political hero, no revolutionary.  I'm a simple person who lives a simple life, as heart-first as I can make it.

In that is the answer.  I will never be a brilliant guiding star, blazing across the heavens to touch millions of lives.  But here, today, now, can I lift one person to hope?  Can I teach one person that they are loved?  Can I show one child that I believe in them and their dreams are in reach?

Millions of us have lost heroes this year.  As we cast about for new heroes, let us not forget that this darkness gives US the chance to step forward and shine, to cast the light we need and maybe show others the way in the process.  We can find new heroes, or we can become them.

 If 2016 has destroyed something you loved, then face 2017 with a ready heart.  Raise your voice, raise your fist, raise your spirits.  Take hold of your passions, promise yourself that this year you'll create something beautiful, fix something broken, improve something that could be better.

If you're grieving, today, the loss of someone whose brilliance illuminated your life, then now is your moment to carry their light forward.

They weren't just shining for us.  They were teaching us to burn.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I Will Stand With You

My social media presence is full of people speaking to their frightened friends, saying "I'll stand with you,  I'll fight for you" and promising to use their privilege to help those who don't have it.  As a friend pointed out yesterday, that's easy to say and sometimes tough to do.  Many people don't even know where to start.  So, while there is no be-all-end-all guide to being an ally, I do have some helpful tips for those who genuinely want to support their loved ones.

  1. It's not about 'the barricades'; it's about the day-to-day.  It can be tempting to envision the fight for equality and dignity as an actual physical *fight*, one where we might need to take up arms to defend our friends.  I desperately hope it never comes to that.  The real battle is going on every day, in ways that don't feed our adrenaline.  Most of the things you can do to stand and defend involve sitting and listening, speaking and teaching, reading and writing.  It's tiring work, and it must continue steadily to do any good.  The good news is that if you do it right, the number of people doing it with you increases, rippling outward from you.
  2. The goal is supporting others, not protecting them.  We protect children, we protect the weak, we protect those who are incapable.  Our friends are strong, courageous, intelligent, and dedicated.  They can protect themselves.  Do not stand between them and harm, thinking you can somehow shield them with your body.  Stand behind them and beside them and among them.  You are not the hero in someone else's fight for equality.  You are the sidekick.  Embrace that and be the best possible sidekick.
  3. Start by listening.  Let your friends know that you would like to hear what they need from you, and then do your best to help them get what they need.  Be present.  Be thoughtful.  Be open.  Understand that they may have been burned, in the past, by 'allies' who demanded a tremendous amount of time and energy and praise in order to be decent human beings, so if  your friends trust you enough to talk to you about things, be grateful for their trust.
  4. Accept feelings as valid, even if you don't have the same response to the situation.  Don't try and tell people they're overreacting, don't try and tell them things will be OK, don't try and explain to them how it will all be fine and we just need to 'focus on the positive'.  There are people legitimately afraid for themselves and their families, and that's not new.  Some of these people are only experiencing a magnification of fears they've had every day for years.  Understand that there is a real vulnerability in admitting those fears, acknowledge them and take them seriously.
  5. Don't make your friends waste precious time and energy when you can do the work yourself.  Asking what you can do is good.  Asking for recommendations to read is good.  Asking your friend to dedicate hours to an online conversation explaining the basics of sexism to you and proving to your satisfaction that that is indeed what they are experiencing is cruel and exhausting.  Asking your friend to give you detailed descriptions of what is and is not racist because you want to change as little as possible without hitting any land mines is lazy.  Before you ask someone to explain things to you, spend half an hour with Google.  Don't use that time to come up with ways to punch holes in what they say.  Use it to try and better understand what they're saying.
  6. Stop hearing "That thing you are doing is hurtful to me and others," as "you're a bad person who should be ashamed of yourself."  Don't make others spend the time and energy to ensure that you have a positive experience as an ally, just because it upsets you to have your mistakes pointed out.  You WILL make mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Be the person your friends can trust to say, sincerely, "Oh, I'm sorry.  I didn't realize.  Thank you.  I will be more mindful of that," not the one who tells them, "Why do I even try?  I'm just wrong anyway.  You should not be so harsh with people who are on your side, you know."  Don't expect praise for basic decency as a human being.  If your friends don't thank you, it doesn't mean they don't appreciate that you're there; you'll notice that appreciation in greater levels of trust and respect and friendship, not in overt praise or thanks.
  7. Carry safe space with you, and establish safe space where you are.  Be the person your friend can trust to chime in with, "I agree with (friend), I don't think it's OK for you to say/do that either," or "I'd rather you not use that sort of language around me," or "I'm not sure you're aware of it, but that thing you're doing hurts people."  This is a hard balance, because you also need to do it without co-opting others' rights for them to speak for themselves.  Let your friends know you will back them, and then follow their lead.  Don't try to own the conversation, just support the people having it.  Make sure that your home is safe space.  This can be as simple as creating a space where others feel comfortable to speak up because they know they'll be supported, or as significant as keeping your spare room ready to receive someone who needs to get out of a bad situation quickly.
  8. Embrace and use your privilege.  There is *something* in your demographic that means some people might take you more seriously than they would take those who don't have it.  Once you understand what that is, whether it's your gender, gender identity, race, religion, sexuality, ability, or some other factor, you can use your status in the group to actively include and advocate for others who aren't.  Tell your male buddies you don't think rape jokes are funny, whether there are women around or not.  Call out your other white friends on racist comments.  Speak among your other straight friends of the need for LGBT rights.  Make sure that gender-specific events are planned as trans-inclusive.  Always be looking for ways you can include, support, and amplify others.  If you're aware of areas where you're not privileged, then let that awareness give you empathy in the areas where you are.  When different groups of people work together to overcome each other's oppressive systems, this is called intersectionality, and it is good.
  9. Members of demographic groups are individuals, not a monolithic hive mind.  One member of the group who doesn't have a problem with a slur or a joke can't 'give you permission' to use it whenever you like around anyone you want.  Some members of a group may not want your active support, for whatever reason.  That's up to them, and you have to respect it.  Some may not recognise you as an ally, while others might consider you one.  Again, that's up to them and you have to respect it.  Remember that these are your loved ones, first and foremost, and your goal should be making sure that you are doing what you can to make sure they, as individuals, have the opportunity to be safe and happy on their terms, not yours.
  10. You're not obligated to attend every fight to which you're invited.  The fight for justice and equality is going to be decades more at least.  You have to choose a sustainable level of involvement.  Sometimes, you have to say "I am too tired to take that on right now."  That's OK, as long as you do step in when you're NOT too tired.  If you see someone else fighting for their life, remember that they're probably at least as tired as you, and that even a little public encouragement could mean the world.
Finally, too important for a number:  Love is all.  Love is everything.  It is our shield and our fire and our reason for being.  Lead with it.  Live with it.  Fight with it.  Fight for it.

I love you all.


Monday, November 7, 2016


This will be my last appeal to voters this election cycle.

Tonight, I will get a good night's rest and then tomorrow at 6am I will report to the polling station where I've been assigned.  I will spend all day helping people exercise their right to vote, and then I will come home and, like most of you, anxiously watch as the numbers are counted across my city, my state, and my nation.

I am doing this because for more than 20 years, other people have done the work necessary for me to walk into a polling place and blithely cast my vote.  Other people have risen on dark mornings, blearily blinked away the sleep as the coffee took effect, and put in fourteen-hour days so I could have a voice.  It's my turn now, and I'm excited beyond measure to take my place within the process, to be the one who says, "Welcome, please step into this booth and cast your ballot."

It has never been hard for me to vote.  I've never had to fight for it.  Perhaps I was inconvenienced, perhaps I had to sacrifice an hour or two, but I've never been afraid for my safety as a result of my choice to vote.

That's not true for everyone.  Only a half-century ago, activists risked death to register black voters in Southern states, and those voters risked assault or abuse for showing up to the polls.  Voters navigated poll tests and poll taxes, risked the ire of the KKK, walked past armed men who just 'happened' to be hanging out around the voting locations, marking who thought they had the right to walk in.  And yet they walked in, because they believed in overturning the system that would keep them silent.  There are people who will vote tomorrow who have done so when they believed they might die for it.

Only a century ago, the right of women's suffrage was so important that women were willing to risk assault, imprisonment, starvation or force-feeding.  They were willing to be considered beyond what little protection the law afforded 'decent women' so that whatever happened to them might be called no more than they deserved.  Despite all the risk, despite all the threats, they fought and won it. There are women voting in this election who were not born with that right.

Even the privileged original American voter, the white male property owner, has an obligation.  Over two hundred years ago the colonies took up arms in the name of self-governance, granting you a voice instead of continuing to accept British priorities for colonial lives.  Our Constitution is based on the principles that drove them to take up arms in rebellion.

No matter who you are, no matter what your demographics or your politics, if you're an American someone fought for your voice to be heard.  We forget sometimes how much the simple act of voting meant to those who couldn't do it.  It's easy, in a frustrating election cycle in a cynical time, to get apathetic and feel like there's no reason to show up, no reason to care.

There is so much reason to care.  Our country stands at a crossroads, deciding what sort of nation it will be, what values will carry us through the 21st century.  Choices are being made in the halls of power that will dictate our economic relationships, our basic and fundamental rights, our ability to express ourselves, even the love we choose to honor.  And choices are being made in voting booths that will decide who fills the halls of power.

You must believe something.  There has to be something, deep down in your psyche, not matter how jaded or cynical you may think yourself, something that matters to you.  Somewhere in your ideology there must be a vision for what we as a nation should look like, act like, BE like.

And tomorrow, you should take up that vision, those ideals and dreams, and carry them to the poll if for no other reason than to honor those who cleared your way.

Go. Vote.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thoughts on Charlotte

This morning's news brings disturbing reports of protest turning to riots and unrest in Charlotte.  I'm saddened by the riots, because people are being hurt, and cops are using tear gas, and the long-term damage is more likely to affect the oppressed, not the oppressor.  All of that makes me sad and frustrated.

It's in moments like this that I seek understanding, and that understanding most often comes from the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Among a great deal of the "advocacy for non-violent protest" we're seeing today, he said, "A riot is the language of the unheard."

We see nonviolent protest every day, and we see those who practice it dismissed, insulted, and threatened.  Beyonce puts statements about police brutality, and the loved ones of those killed by police, into her art and she's criticised for being 'antagonistic' and 'too political'.  Non-violent protests block a roadway, and people shout and scream that they're disruptive and shouldn't inconvenience people 'just to make their point'.  Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the national anthem as a protest and other players and teams follow suit; people lose their damn minds, threatening him and burning his jersey in effigy.  When people offer peaceful social protest, we tell them to be quiet, that 'now is not the time' or 'that is not the way' to make that statement.

We see police unions advocating a refusal to protect those who use nonviolent protest to challenge their authority.  Aside from the fact that such a refusal is shameful when compared to the Dallas police who gave their lives earlier this year to protect peaceful protesters, it validates the position of those who distrust police and say that access to justice is restricted by institutional racism in law enforcement.

Rioting is the language of the unheard.  That suggests to me that if we want to stop people from rioting, listening will be a hell of a lot more effective than tear gas.  If we want to prevent the next riot, we need to work towards changing the things that keep people from being heard.  If we want to decry violence, we need to support, openly and actively, those who choose nonviolence.

So, if you've got something to say about rioting, I damn sure hope you had something to say in support of that nonviolent protest you're now advocating, when you had the opportunity.  I'll go so far as to say that if I've heard anything less than support and advocacy for people who use peaceful protest to speak against injustice, I don't want to hear a word from you about riots.

If you aren't hearing and amplifying the voices that ask for justice with peace in their hearts, you don't have any right to condemn those who demand it in anger.

Friday, September 16, 2016

BFFs are Totally a Commie Plot

I'm gonna talk about some things that will sound like Communism to some folks now.

Specifically:  from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

If that sounds familiar (which it should), it's because it's a paraphrase of one of the central tenets espoused in The Communist Manifesto, which is where people might get the idea that I'm talking Communism.  I am.

I'm also talking community.

In recent decades, as Americans have stopped living in large extended family groups, as we've moved for jobs or schools or partners to cities where family and the friends of childhood don't provide a close-knit peer group, a lot of us have sought to recreate that social network.

We build tribes, squads, groups, phamilies, whatever word we choose to designate "these people are My People, they are more than friends, we are a unified entity," and what we are creating are communities.  Some are huge (the 'Burner community' or the 'pagan community' which have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of associated people).  Some are small, like a group of six or seven who meet up for dinner each week.  They're online, they're in-person, they spring up at annual events.

We talk a lot about 'intentional community' and 'building community' and 'community standards', all of which is shorthand for "we were all raised with different sets of ethics and morals, with different ways of treating people and establishing relationships, and we need to navigate the process of developing a consistent set of ethics and mores for a group that will thrive and support all its members."

It's a struggle to create space that includes free speech and excludes expressions of hate and bigotry.  Where laughter has a place, but people don't mock each other.  Where those in need are supported, but those with more than they need aren't exploited to do it.  All these things are important, but that last one is especially so, because it contains the seeds of ruination for every community:  unequal resource flow.

This may sound cold, but it's true:  all relationships are transactional, most of them unconsciously.  You may not think "My friend bought me dinner when I was broke, so now I 'owe' her dinner when she is broke," or "My friend has spent seven hours listening to me complain about my job, and I have spent six and a half hours listening to him bitch about his partner, so in half an hour his time is up," but you can probably describe several times your friends have helped you out, and part of the value of any relationship is how much you have personally gotten out of it.

In healthy relationships, the transactions are most likely both unconscious and balanced.  You don't stop to think what your best friend has done for you lately before doing something for them.  You just know that this person makes you laugh, gives you insights, provides real value to your life in being there, and that having a relationship that makes your life better generally makes you want to make the other person's life better.  As the scale expands and more people are added into the relationship, it becomes a community and the value of healthy relationships within that community increases.

One of the things that makes a community a community is the sharing of resources to improve the condition of everyone in the community.  Resources can mean a lot of things: money, space, time, creativity, energy, emotional labor, physical labor, intellectual labor, physical assets like cars or tools, anything that the members of the community share with each other.  That sharing allows the community to do more than its members could do alone, and it 'evens out' the experiences of the individuals, because having that resource pool to tap instead of needing to go it alone expands your ability to handle problems.  Healthy community operates on the same principles as ideal Communist theory: we all put in what we can, and we all take out what we need, and it all balances eventually.

We've all seen it: you've got your friend group, your buddies, and over a few years you build a really solid structure.  No one ever has to carry a sofa alone, everyone has someone to cheer them up after a breakup, you know that if you were about to be homeless there'd be a couch with your name on it till you got back on your feet.  It's all good, all easy, all balanced.

Then something shifts.  Maybe a new member comes in and doesn't quite understand the established give-and-take.  Maybe an existing member suffers several setbacks in a row and just stops trying.  Maybe someone has a sudden windfall that drastically improves their personal resources.  Whatever happens, it exposes a problem you'd never realised: everyone is not working with the same understanding of how community resources should be shared, or even what should be community resources.  The transactional nature of the relationships becomes both apparent, and ugly.

This is a make-or-break point for a community.  If you're genuinely willing to face hard questions with integrity, and talk openly about your own philosophies on support structures and resources, you can come away stronger.  If you try to avoid conflict and force the peace, you can end up with a badly unbalanced community.  It can manifest as someone taking a disproportionate share of the community's focus and resources without demonstrating any inclination to share their own.  It can *also* manifest as someone providing a much greater share of the community's resources, and expecting that to 'buy' them a greater voice in the ethics and philosophies of the community.  There are a lot of possibilities for where the imbalance can lead.  In any case, it's usually based in an expectation that someone should 'win' at relationships and someone else should 'lose' at them: the capitalist model of human relationships.

I've been a manager, moderator, guide, or leader in a number of different communities, and the percentage of them that ultimately failed because of resource inequality is high.  My own failing as a leader was that I was not willing to put the health of the community as a whole ahead of each individual feeling completely included and happy on the terms they dictated.  In trying to meet everyone's demands, leaders empower a few greedy and entitled individuals to destroy what we've built, when we should defend it.

The hardest thing: sometimes this means kicking someone out of your community, or just letting them walk away without trying to win them back.  Someone who may be fun and funny, but who also doesn't feel inclined to support or share with others, while gladly availing themselves of what others offer.  Sometimes it means telling someone that they have to fall, because they have worn everyone out with catching them and they refuse to stop jumping off cliffs.  It *hurts* to do this.  You feel like a bad person, a bad friend.  Guilty.

It means standing up to a bully, saying "I don't care how much you give, you don't 'own' this."  That's scary too, because maybe your community's gotten used to having what this person shares, and if you make them mad they'll take it, and leave.  Will everyone blame you that you can't have pool parties any more, because you told the guy with the pool to stop making sexist comments to the women in the group?

We need to be willing to stand up for the value of our communities as their own entities, as discrete things, and be open and honest about expectations in the group, community ethics and ideals, and goals.  We need to get honest about the real value of people's intangible contributions to our communities, and respect creative, emotional, or intellectual labor on behalf of the community as essential and worthy.

The days of the widespread family unit with consistent traditions and philosophy are gone, and if the structures we're building to replace it are to survive, they can't be based in capitalist theories of 'value' that view 'success' as coming out ahead of others.  They have to be based in a communal understanding that we all do well when we *all* do well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What Now?

As much as it pains me to say it, we appear to have come to the end of the Bernie Sanders campaign.  While the DC primary is next week, and the convention still weeks off, only a major spoiler will remove Hillary Clinton from the position of 'presumptive nominee'.

I have a lot of thoughts about this primary campaign and how it was run, but that's not the topic for the day.  What I'd like to do today, from a position of relative political awareness, is talk to the Bernie Sanders supporters about what to do next.

This campaign has generated incredible energy, immense enthusiasm.  Don't let that energy die.  You can still change the world with it.

I won't ask you to 'get in line' behind Clinton, because there are any number of people doing that, both well and badly.  What I'm asking you to do is find a new star to back, a new focus for that energy and motivation.  There has to be at least one candidate running for something that supports what you believe.

Your local races are important, possibly more important on a practical level than the Presidential race.  In 2016, there are 34 Senate seats in contest, 10 currently held by Democrats and 24 by Republicans.  If the Democrats gain 5 seats, control of the Senate will flip.  Worried about who Trump will appoint to the Supreme Court if he wins, or about Clinton's nominees being blocked if she does?  Put a Senate into place that will support progressive judicial appointments.  Worried about a legislative agenda that further disenfranchises women, minorities, and the poor, or attacks the environment?  Find candidates who'll set a better one, and give them your time and energy and money.

If your Senator's not up for reelection, you can still affect the legislative agenda in the House.  Bigger gains are needed (currently Republicans outnumber Democrats 247 to 188), but the volatility of this race has put a lot of seats in play that might otherwise have been secure.  If either the House or the Senate (or both!) is controlled by the Democrats, that'll go a long way towards blocking harmful choices in the event Trump wins.  If we regain control of the Legislative Branch *and* keep the White House, then we might be able to exert pressure to accomplish some things currently dismissed as unreasonable goals.

Fed up with national politics?  Fair enough.  Twelve states are choosing a governor this election. Unhappy with how state politics are developing?  Looking for better leadership close to home?  Governors have a tremendous amount of power in most states, especially when it comes to whether federal programs and money will be applied.

And last (but so very much not least) there are literally HUNDREDS of state representatives and senators up for reelection, and thousands of local officials.  While you can't really feel that your vote, in your state of millions of people, could possibly really matter in a national election, in a state legislative district that has a few thousand people living in it, every vote matters.  Your city council, your school board, your judges, they all make decisions that affect your real, everyday life.  Putting progressive candidates into local elections means direct policy changes on real issues, and it increases the talent pool for 'upstream' elections later.

How can you help?  Don't just show up to vote.  Pick a candidate to back.  Give them time, give them money, give them attention.  Work for them when you have time, talk to your friends about them, get informed about their plans and policies.  It's a good chance to make a real difference.

If you send $100 to a Presidential campaign, you cover a fraction of a second of a media buy in a swing market probably hundreds of miles away.  If you give them five hours of your time, you're phone-banking to states they think they can win.  The donors who affect the outcome are the ones who can afford to put more zeroes on the check; you're just a statistic.

If you give the same money to a local campaign, you just paid for hundreds of yard signs or mail flyers.  Five hours of your time means five hours of knocking on your neighbors' doors or calling them, talking to them about local issues that affect you all.  That coverage can mean the difference between election and failure for a local candidate.

Many of us chose to back Sanders because he brought the personal to the political, because he spoke to issues we care about, real ideas that have a chance to change the structure of the world.  He spoke of political change as a real, practical tool for making other people's lives better on a very basic level.

We can still do that, and we should.

Monday, May 23, 2016


The people who touch our lives all in some way define who we will become.  Some are good, some are less so.  Some shape us with pain, or joy.  Sometimes, a relationship is pursued with the intent to influence, and sometimes, over the long arc of a life, its trajectory is so powerful, so impassioned, that it bends those around it effortlessly.

When I was a child, living with my parents near the military base where my father worked, my parents had a close group of good friends.  On Sunday, we'd go to brunch and then over to the home of one of the couples.  The kids would swim and play, the adults would chat, and in general it created this 'family dinner' atmosphere in a time and a place where all of us were far from our homes and our people.

When the Army runs your life, you don't get connections.  You don't get the same best friend for more than two years in a row.  You don't get a neighborhood where everyone's watched you grow up, where you've played with the same kids since preschool.  You get boxes marked with tape and stickers, packed by strangers every few years.

My parents both came from homes where a premium was put on family, on gatherings and togetherness.  Their last posting had put them in a city where both of their families were within an hour's drive; I was still young enough that I didn't understand you don't get that everywhere.  So here we were, a full day's drive from family, a little four-person unit struggling to make a home.

We got five whole years in Texas, and my parents' friends had long hitches there as well.  So there is, in my memory, this halcyon 'long time' (probably about three years) when my family had a tribe.  At the heart of this tribe were Joe and Mary.  It was their house we went to, into which we were welcomed like family.  I remember so many happy hours splashing around, watching fireflies come out, listening to the happy chatter on the patio.  I remember Joe's boisterous laughter, and Mary's quick wit, and I remember feeling more at home around them than around 'normal' adults.

The most remarkable thing about Mary was that she never spoke to me like a child.  She was direct, kind, honest, and open with me.  She treated people like people, regardless of age, so I never felt 'less-than' in her eyes.  As I grew into adulthood, at some point she transitioned from "my parents' friend" to "my friend" but I can't say when it happened because nothing *changed*.  I remember the first time Dad told me, "Mary wanted me to give you her number, and ask you to call her," there was this sort of awed, "Mary wants to talk to *me*?"  It was like finding out the coolest kid in school wanted to be your friend.  I called her and we chattered away like old buddies, reconnecting and rediscovering kinship.

Outside of my view, there was an entire person I never fully realised.  She was a brilliant and accomplished woman, whose service to her country had real and direct impact.  She was decorated and praised for her years of hard work, and in her personal life she was creative, thoughtful, and passionate.  All I knew was this woman who was smart, and fearless about being smart, in a time when I was learning from almost every other source in my life that I needed to soften my edges and dull my shine in order for other people to accept me.  She told her jokes or made her opinions known, and everyone stopped and *listened* to her.  Not because she was loudest, or brashest, but because she cultivated respect with her actions.

Mary was fearless in how she loved the world, and loved other people, and sometimes I find her legacy in my own heart-forward life.  She was one of the first people I knew to treat love as an act of profound courage.  Though I don't know that she'd have described herself this way, she walked the same Warrior's path I do, armed with fierce love and compassion, fighting for a better world one person at a time.

Whenever I have thought to myself that it's not possible to be both loved and fierce at the same time, Mary's life gives the lie to that, because in all the years I knew her, she had a passionate, dedicated advocate in her husband.  They were partners in every sense of the word, supporting and defending one another without reservation, creating with their love a space where they could stand to help and serve others.  In this day and age, it's so rare to see a match where two people are more together than either of them ever could have been alone -- not because they weren't whole, but because they were committed to each other's goals and dreams.

In her later years, Mary's interests aligned with my own spirituality, and one of my biggest regrets is that I was never able to get her to come out to a festival and experience an entire community of people who share the beliefs in energy, and love, and community that she held.

As I'm sure it's apparent, we have lost Mary, and I am far more heartbroken about it than I thought I would be.  I am grateful that I was able to travel and attend her funeral, but not just because I could say goodbye in person.  I'm grateful because while I was there, I met the other people who had surrounded her, and in them I could see the echo of her.  A turn of speech, a way of seeing, to reflect this woman we all loved in different ways.  Like many incredible people, she collected to herself the bright hearts and fierce spirits that balanced her own, and in her love we could all find a space to stand together and hold her memory.

In her own way, one last time, Mary brought me to tribe and community, and I can think of no more fitting way to honor her than to carry that practice forward.

I love you all.

Friday, February 5, 2016


People who bitch that social media is making is shallow and isolated should reconsider how they use it.

Every day I see, in my feed, my friends documenting their self-care, journaling for accountability in how they treat themselves, talking about the things they experience with tremendous vulnerability and courage, advocating for social change, and speaking in defense of kindness and empathy.

And I see them receive the support, encouragement and love that helps keep them balanced, helps keep them making the choices towards happiness and health, helps them grow and learn in safe and loving space. I see them find others with shared ideals, and delight in the knowledge that they're not alone in the world, even if they're alone in their neighborhood.

This didn't happen by accident. My social space is carefully curated, and it took a lot of work. I couldn't just cut out all the people who disagree with me, because everyone eventually disagrees. What I could do was cut out the people who couldn't disagree reasonably and come to an understanding that allowed the friendship to continue. What I could do was weigh the substance of those disagreements, and establish whether they presented an insurmountable barrier to respect.

I've also had to be somewhat ruthless in cutting those who choose paths other than kindness and integrity. Mind you, these are *my* definitions of kindness and integrity, and I've taken some heat from this friend or that one, for keeping a person who didn't meet their personal standards in my space. Bluntly put, it's MY space. You stay in it as long as you meet MY expectations for conduct within it, and no one gets to dictate what relationships I keep or set aside but me.

When I garden, I do so on the principle that 'everyone works'. No free rides, no spending time and resources on those who don't produce or add to the garden. It may seem heartless, but I will not waste my energy on anything that doesn't add to my experience in some way, even if it's just making the world a generally better place. I technically get no more direct benefit from plants that draw hummingbirds than I do from friends who post travel pictures, except that my world becomes more rich and beautiful as a result. Whenever I have the chance to make a choice that brings more beauty into my space, I do it. When I have the chance to feed a friend's roots and watch the resulting bloom, I do.

But just as in the garden you remove the pests that destroy what is beautiful, in your social spaces you can remove those who destroy. That friend who responds with cheap shots, the person who posts with the intent to use guilt or shame to elicit a response, the family member who blasts daily hate into your otherwise loving atmosphere, you do not owe any of them space in the garden.

That's at the heart of it: you do not owe anyone space on their terms in your life. Not a parent, not a partner, not a lover or a friend or an employer. Not even a child, if it comes to that. You may choose, in the interests of peace or getting through a difficult situation, to allow someone more space than you wish they had because the alternative is worse for you. If possible, treat those people like compost: move them away from the pleasant spaces and let them fester. Allow the rot and waste to feed the rest of your garden, even if it's in no other way than giving you a greater appreciation for what beauty you're able to cultivate elsewhere.

A few years ago, I was looking at a particularly bitter and angry post, and I thought, "Who are you? We have like fifteen friends in common, I have no face to go with your name, and I never get any joy from what you say." So I hit 'unfriend', fearing some sort of backlash, some anger, something, and then...nothing. No drama, no anger, just a single voice fading out of my space. Since then I've used the 'unfriend' button, though sparingly, or the 'unfollow' or even the 'block' if I found that everything someone said made me irrationally angry. When I think about engaging someone, I stop and ask myself, "What will this feed? Can I hope for resolution? Can I hope for a reasonable discourse? Is it possible that others watching this will be comforted if I speak up here?" If the answer is no, then Someone Is Just Wrong On The Internet, and I move on without spending time and energy on it.

It's not perfect, of course. There are still moments when conversations frustrate me, when friends of friends are rude or hateful in company, when someone pipes up with a previously-unrealised bigotry or hatefulness. But I'm learning, every day, how to determine whether something that annoys me is just a passing pest or it's a genuine threat to the peace and beauty of the garden, and when to pull out the pruning shears. I'm also learning what works best to encourage lush and beautiful growth, to cultivate the friendships that will last, and to create, in my personal interactions, a space that feeds me when the rest of the world difficult and scary.

I love you all.