It’s Always Sunny Above the Clouds

It’s always sunny above the clouds. That’s my first thought when taking off through the fog and gray, at the moment when blinding light bursts through the haze into the infinitely blue sky above. I love that it works both literally and figuratively, and it sets my travel mood to introspection.

Perspective is a wonderful and tricky thing. On the one hand, I find it immensely useful whenever clear juxtapositions arise. Usually those take the form of gratitude: feeling lucky I have enough to eat, good health, people who love me, and a healthy, happy son. I find that kind of perspective easiest to come by. All I have to do is turn on the news to find countless examples of how lucky I am.

But let’s face it—I’m a bit selfish. Sometimes gratitude isn’t enough to assuage the frustrations I feel in my day-to-day life. Sometimes I need more to gain perspective. Flying 35,000 feet above the planet is a good way to get it.

In my life I’ve often felt disoriented. Not significantly. Not always noticeably. But it’s like I’ve been on a constant search for external cues to help me navigate toward the life I’m meant to lead. Am I on the right track? Are you who I think you are? What do you want from me? What do I want from you? Sometimes understanding myself within the limited knowledge stored in my mind and body feels woefully untenable.

When I was younger no one expected anything from me. “Of course you don’t have IT figured out,” they’d say. “You’re just a kid!” I exhaled a relieved sigh and bumbled along a little further, learning tidbits about myself and the world around me, not discovering any specific purpose. And then suddenly this invisible barrier went up and as we all crossed through, it was no longer acceptable to simply bumble. It was now time to at least pretend that we knew what we were doing.

I find other people infinitely more convincing at this than I myself have been. Because of this I’ve developed a habit of believing them.  I’ve met a number of people who genuinely seem to know where they’re going and why. Some have known the where but not the why. And others have known the why, but not how. I thought all of them had IT more figured out than me.

I’m beginning to realize that’s not true. Firstly, by engaging in lots of conversations about this sort of thing I’ve learned that a lot of people are just good actors. I can’t compete with that and I don’t care to. But realizing that they were acting—that it wasn’t true—completely shifted my perspective. It relieved a lot of that self-inflicted pressure.

That perspective shift permitted me not to make it up. I didn’t want to pretend, I needed to KNOW. Many years later, after trying on a lot of things that didn’t fit, I finally figured out what I’m doing and why. Yay!

I’m a writer, working to empower women through fiction. In the stories I write my heroines save themselves. This does not preclude them from enjoying romantic happiness, but that’s not their purpose in life and they’re not sitting around waiting for some guy to swoop in and save them. It’s important to me to add to a more constructive social narrative.

I’m also a photographer. I enjoy telling visual stories and capturing candid moments in people’s lives. People are beautiful and I love when I get to show them a facet of themselves they’d never noticed before.

Now that I’ve stopped pretending, I love that I don’t have to choose between the two professions I’m most passionate about. Doing both provides a good balance and keeps my creative well full. I also need to spend time with people I care about. Sometimes that’s my priority. One of my favorite things in the world is someone popping up out of the blue saying, “Let’s hang out!” Many of the best memories have been made by saying yes to that. I’m still working out how I can be most effective at balancing my life and work passions and I’m okay with being a work in progress.

No one has it figured out. We are all tiny specks on a dustball floating through space. Of course we’re disoriented. Infinite space has that effect. We would be delusional not to be. But in embracing the disparate vignettes that comprise our lives we can also see how perfectly, uniquely exquisite we are.

I’m tired of trying to figure IT out. None of us is a fixed entity. We are all (hopefully) growing and changing and so is the world we live in. To pretend otherwise is to engage in a losing battle. I tried that and got my ass kicked. I can admit defeat and move on.

So instead of figuring IT out, I am instead trusting that no matter what my dilemma, confusion or frustration is, it’s always sunny above the clouds.

 

Who Am I?

The other day while I was reading Harry Potter to my son I got a text from a friend I haven’t spoken to in years. It occurred to me that while my life has been a linear series of adventures and experiences to me, to my son, I am an entity that began seven years ago, with his birth. He asked who I was writing to, indignant that I was wasting time that could be spent reading Harry Potter on someone who, for him, was more fictional than Harry.

I saw clearly, for the very first time, that my son doesn’t really know me. That there is a whole person he may never know in me. He’s never met or even heard about the friend with whom I was texting—a friend I’ve known since I was barely older than my son is now. And in an Inception-esque moment I realized that I don’t know my own mother either. Or she hers. And on and on it goes.

Growing up not knowing my biological father, I was always interested in genealogy. So finally, I decided to order a DNA analysis to get some answers to questions I’ve long held. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in their genetic history, by the way.

As someone who loves empirical facts and getting as close to the truth as possible I was especially partial to this scientific method that doesn’t require parsing out fact from fiction in a relative’s colorful recounting of their own personal history. And the results didn’t disappoint. But as I went through them again, I found myself wanting to know more.

I wanted to know who these ancestors of mine were. Why did they migrate to Northern Europe? What spurred them to come to America? Why California? Were they motivated by geopolitics? Religion? Escape? Hope? Adventure? Love?

The test told me I was likely to have wavy to curly blonde hair, blue eyes and light skin. It said I preferred sweet flavors to salty ones and had muscles more equipped for sprinting than long distance running. It was right on all counts.

But it couldn’t tell me if I have the same laugh as some long passed ancestor. Or the same spirit, stubbornness, compassion, or desire for adventure. Do my personality traits originate in epigenetic memories stored from their long ago experiences?

Even though I’ve heard many stories about some of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, I see now how anecdotal they’ve been. How woefully incomplete.

I was closer to my maternal grandmother than anyone in my life and yet I see so many gaps in my knowledge of who she really was. Like all kids, I was only ever interested in who she was to me. I never asked her what kind of life she’d envisioned for herself when she was a girl. I never asked her about her first love or heartbreak. I never asked if she wondered how her life would have been had she chosen another path.

I know she loved her kids and adored being a grandmother, but I never asked her what she may have done if she hadn’t had kids or gotten married. I never asked how she went from Sunday school teacher to cult member to acupuncturist. Despite some of these transitions taking place within my lifetime I never questioned them. She was simply my grandmother. That’s all I needed to know.

But now I wish I could ask her all of those things. I wish I could know the whole story of who she was. Of all people I’ve ever known she’d be the most well-equipped to tell me. But I didn’t know how much I didn’t know in time to ask.

And who knows? Maybe it’s not a question we can ever ask of anyone but ourselves. It’s like what people say about relationships: you never really know what goes on in anyone else’s.

None of us, however close we may be, ever know the fullness of feeling in someone else’s heart. We don’t see the myriad of nuances to every decision made or not made. We don’t see the struggle or feel the triumph of personal accomplishment. We often think, because of time spent together, that we do know. We see the patterns in behavior and maybe even accurately predict a lot of the outcomes. But in our hearts and minds the reasons we do the things we do can differ in exponential ways that are imperceptible beyond our corporeal husks.

We are each a mystery to all but ourselves. And right now, at this point in my life, I find beauty in the mystery. Mystery breeds adventure. And a life well-lived involves countless adventures.

In my current adventure of motherhood, I’m enjoying the existential philosophizing encouraged by my little co-adventurer. And I find myself wondering if I’ll ever know more than a sliver of him either.

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Rock Like a Girl

Being a woman can be tough. It often feels like a bunch of conflicting ideals: be desirable, but not needy; be hot but approachable; be intelligent but not intimidating; be confident in everything you do, but with a hint of wounded bird fragility that suggests you really do need saving; be a martyr caretaker and an adventurous free-spirit. I could go on, but you get the idea. Especially if you’re a woman. My point is that sometimes it takes a bunch of girls (aged 8-17) to remind a grown woman that while those pressures and conflicting messages permeate our culture, when we choose to work together in cooperation and lift one another up, each of us is able to see how truly spectacular we are.

Last week was a big week for women in this country in general, and apropos to that I had the pleasure and honor of shooting photos for the first ever Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls San Diego. It’s a camp specifically designed to empower girls through music. They get to camp on Monday, form a band, learn to play an instrument, write a song and perform it at the showcase on Saturday. In between, they learn about the history of women in music, talk about gender and identity, design and silkscreen their band logos onto shirts, learn self-defense and get to see other kickass women perform daily concerts while they eat lunch and make new friends.

The president of Rock Camp is my incredible friend, Melissa Grove, who put together an amazing team (of women) to pull off a uniquely life-changing event. A year ago, when she asked me if I’d like to participate, it was a definite “Hell yes!” I knew that it was going to be an amazing experience for the 40 girls who would get to participate. Also, it was the perfect extension of what I’d said I hoped for when I broke up with the patriarchy earlier this year. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

What I didn’t count on was how affected I would be. As a total introvert surrounded by performer-types I safely stay far, far away from spotlights and stages, hiding behind my camera so as to never be pulled out of the shadows.

Like most people, I’m drawn in by performers. I gravitate to their magnetic energy—my yin audience energy feeding their yang egos with attention, laughs and appreciation for what they do. And better for both of us, they love being onstage while I prefer sitting in the audience. It is a perfectly symbiotic relationship.

But in some deep (okay, not that deep) part of my brain I know there is a pretty high level of defensiveness feeding my visceral repulsion to being the center of attention. And I know that I was about the same age as these girls when I became aware of it.

In sixth grade my school principal announced that everyone had to be part of the school play. After recovering from this horrifying development, I quickly volunteered to do lighting so that I wouldn’t have to be forced onstage. It wasn’t exactly that I was shy, I just didn’t want to put myself on a literal stage from which to be judged. Conveniently, it turns out that there’s a lot less vying for behind-the-scenes positions, which meant that no one noticed what I was doing. A fact I have been exploiting ever since.

So while I happily encouraged and championed my friend in organizing this camp and couldn’t wait to shoot the photos and video, I also knew that I would have been terrified to do anything like this when I was their age. (Okay, okay, it is equally terrifying to me now.)

But as I wandered in and out of classes throughout the week watching them fearlessly learn and experiment in front of their peers and mentors I couldn’t help but feel admiration. These girls were amazing! Yes, they hit wrong notes. Yes, they changed their minds about styling/band names/song lyrics. Yes, they had to navigate differing personalities and manage to find compromises. And you know what? They did it all with grace and dignity and, most striking of all, kindness.

I am thoroughly convinced that if our politicians could negotiate as diplomatically as the girls at Rock Camp the world would be an infinitely better place. They faced their fears like the rock stars they are. They handled one another’s insecurities with compassion and encouragement. And whenever anyone was onstage all the others cheered and danced and roared with applause. It was badass beauty at its absolute best.

I hope the girls will always remember this experience. I hope, when they inevitably come up against a discouraging patriarchy, they call upon the empowerment they felt during the week and find the courage to be themselves. But honestly, after watching them all week, I’m not too worried. They already know what I’d forgotten.

As much as I thought this week was all about empowering them, I can’t stop thinking about how powerful it was for me. Looking around at the women I got to work beside, most of whom are professional musicians, reorganizing their schedules to volunteer their time, equipment, skills and positivity I was blown away by their strength, perseverance and grit.  They demonstrated daily how powerful that collective feminine energy can be when they chose to let go of inhibitions, embrace their unique differences and allow themselves and thereby the girls permission to shine. To be seen. To be heard. To have a voice.

There are very few times in my professional life when I have worked exclusively with other women. And even though I still got to hide behind my camera, I was truly inspired to be a little more fearless—like a girl—than I’ve been as a woman. The week was energizing and exhausting; total confidence and fearful uncertainty; emotional with a don’t-worry-just-be-you attitude. It was a tapestry of contradictions woven together into a pirate flag of female awesomeness, all under a banner that one spectacularly badass woman envisioned.

Hypocrisy and (In)Tolerance

In my wanderlusting life I’ve spent a lot of time in various countries and cultures, always taking it upon myself to be as aware and sensitive to whatever norms are typical and acceptable there. As the outsider I have always felt it is my responsibility to blend in and not offend. Inevitably, there have been times I’ve accidentally offended, like in Australia saying “what?” instead of “pardon?” Once told it was like nails on a blackboard, I started saying “sorry?” instead of “what?” I couldn’t bring myself to say “pardon.” It sounded horribly pretentious to my own ears, but I made the effort and found a compromise.

I love and respect our global cultural differences. Just this morning, however, I discovered that I feel differently about that within my own country. Staying in a hotel, I wandered down to the free breakfast to grab a quick bite before heading back upstairs to get some writing done. I was wearing workout capris and a loose-fitting t-shirt.

I smiled to a woman as I waited to grab my plate and didn’t get a smile back, which I just assumed was because she hadn’t had her coffee yet. I get it. We’re cool. After I grabbed my food I sat down at a table where I could look out the window, my back to most of the room.

When you eat sitting alone it’s that much easier to overhear other people’s conversations. Even easier when they’re not actually trying to keep their voices down. A man and woman were talking about how some women shouldn’t be allowed to travel alone. Saying that if she’d had a man with her he wouldn’t have let her go out in public like that. There were children here, for goodness sake! If she weren’t so desperate for attention she wouldn’t be alone.

I glanced around and realized they were talking about me! I was the only woman alone in the room. They were apparently offended by my exposed shoulder and tight pants. My t-shirt does have a tendency to slip a little off one shoulder depending on how I move. This is not something I pay much attention to because, well, who the hell cares? Apparently these people did.

As I looked around at all the women in the dining and lobby areas I realized that there were no tank tops to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that at 8:30am it was already eighty degrees outside. Every one of the women was with a man, and most had kids with them. I was, most certainly, the anomaly.

It’s probably relevant at this point to say that I’m in Utah. In a county that is between 75-80% Mormon. Now, as I finished my breakfast (not adjusting my shirt to cover my shoulder) and scrolled through a mental list of eviscerating responses, they shifted their conversation to the election (Fox News was on the TV screen in the dining area.) They were apparently reluctant Trump supporters, but inspired by some of the speeches at the RNC yesterday. They blamed a lot of the country’s current problems on a lack of decorum—not enough female modesty, too much swearing and porn—not enough God-fearing going on.

I felt my pulse quicken and heat rise to my face as a million arguments swam through my mind, vying for first place out of my mouth. But I refrained. I took a couple deep breaths and chose not to engage.

I was appalled and offended by nearly every sentence out of their mouths, but I decided that if I actively refused to make them comfortable by covering my (clearly overly sexy bare shoulder) I had to give them the freedom to spew ignorant rhetoric to one another. In this country, we’re perfectly free to do that.

I will respect every individual’s rights exactly as I expect my own respected, but I too have the freedom of speech. And personally, I find writing to be a better and more effective outlet for my frustration than confronting strangers in a hotel dining room. I am not in a foreign country. I am not responsible for kowtowing to anyone else’s beliefs because this is my culture. And yes, the majority of people surrounding me believe in a specific religious ideology that I do not ascribe to, but my rights as a fellow American are not limited just because they may be offended.

And yes, if I were to speak my mind I would certainly offend them on many, many levels. My goal is never to offend arbitrarily. But I have a really hard time stomaching ignorance, bigotry and hypocrisy. For people who are so invested in protecting their rights to believe and act according to their religion (hey there polygamist colony down the road!) I would have thought they’d be more sensitive to the fact that we all want that.

The last time I was near a Mormon temple I was protesting for gay rights outside the tax-exempt church that spent $190,000 to legislate against gay people having the right to enjoy their own most prized institution of marriage. (Did I mention I’m not a fan of hypocrisy?)

I would like to point out to people who feel their time is well-spent judging others and advocating limits to their right to live freely in a democratic society that history clearly shows the fallacy in that thinking. Following fear and bigotry has never led to peace or freedom for anyone.

While I respect your right to believe whatever you like and vote for whomever you choose, I suggest you do some self-reflecting and think about the kind of world you want to live in and leave behind for your children. It’s not about whether everyone behaves according to your preferred moral code. It’s a big picture.

What are the core values of humanity you respect and choose to advocate for?

Equality? Freedom? Peace? Love? Kindness?

If you want people to see the value in your moral code you could start by showing them love and kindness rather than judgment and shaming.

(And ps: stop telling women what to wear or not to wear. I didn’t tell you what to wear and I didn’t ask you what you thought of what I was wearing. The end.)

 

Because I Can

I have this friend. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet. And I’m lucky enough to say that we’ve been friends for half my life. We met at the American University of Paris, where we were living on our own for the first time in our newly adult lives. In French class one day she made a joke under her breath and I cracked up. We became instant friends.

I came from the mountains and she grew up on an island, but both inside and outside of class we made each other laugh so hard that our cheeks and abs would ache as we struggled to catch our breath and pretended to pay attention to our professor. We spent lots of time together wandering around Paris, dancing, eating, talking about life and love and sharing secrets we’d only ever divulge to close friends.

A few years (and countries) later she was in my wedding. I was at hers. She had a son first, and not long after, I had one as well. She had a second child, a daughter. We talked about parenthood and marriage and jobs. She became a lawyer and I an author/photographer. We joked about how similar our peace-loving husbands are in disposition and how we’d love to live closer so we could hang out more. We have as much, if not more in common now as when we met. And she still makes me laugh like no one else. But we have one glaring difference. She is black. I am white. Her husband is black. Mine is brown. Her son is black. Mine is white.DC_8556_web

My husband, son and I toured the country a few years ago and when we made it to their hometown, our kids got to play together. They had a sleepover. They played and laughed and made up games. Our boys love Legos and drawing and pirates. They are both sweet, good-natured, smart, loving and funny. If we lived nearer to one another I’m sure they would have regular play dates, adding to that list of commonalities.

But as similar as they (and we) are, the difference in their melanin matters. It matters because I’ve never had to worry about my blonde haired, blue-eyed son being targeted by police. I don’t have to worry that he will be in danger if he plays with a toy gun at a playground. I don’t have to worry that he’ll be profiled while shopping. I don’t have to deal with kids at school not wanting to play with him because of the color of his skin. And I don’t know how my friend manages not be become an angry, cynical person when she has to balance raising healthy, happy children with the fear that they could be killed by someone in uniform who would be unlikely to lose their job, let alone be tried and convicted of murder. She is a better person than I am.

When I see the news that another black person was killed by a white police officer it makes me teary and angry and filled with righteous indignation. I am also forced to appreciate the fact that I can choose to engage in this issue or not. That I can call it an “issue” rather than experience it as a pervasive fear within my daily life. That is my privilege as a white person in this country.

But what if this had happened to my friend? Her son or daughter? Her husband? Do I only care because my friends fit that description?

I have to admit that I have been in many social situations where I’ve listened to racist slurs and stayed silent. I grew up hearing a lot of Trump-esque blustering about all sorts of people and while I never condoned it, I often remained quiet. And when I think about that, I feel ashamed.

I was playing the role I was taught to play. I’d been instructed to smile and “let it go” because they “didn’t mean any harm.” Same went for sexism and misogyny. For a long time, I believed that was (mostly) true. They were basically good people who just had some ignorant ideas. But the thing is, that’s bullshit. I’ve experienced the real-life repercussions of female objectification. I know it’s harmful, intentionally or not. Sweeping generalizations lead to dehumanization. And dehumanizing people is a necessary precursor to accepted violence against them.

I am part of the problem if I can’t address my own discomfort and speak up. Yes, those conversations are awkward. Yes, there are going to be people who are offended by “reverse racism” and “political correctness.” Offending those who disregard others’ humanity is a laughably small price to pay for promoting human equality.

While I cannot change the institutions or systemic racism that exists in this country, I can use my racial privilege to speak up. When I hear friends, acquaintances or relatives make casually racist comments in conversation I can call them out. When I hear sweeping general statements about Blacks, Mexicans, Gays, Jews, Muslims or Immigrants I can point out the ignorance of those statements. I know and love individuals in my life that fall in every one of those categories. And every one of them would stand up for me if they were called to.

There is no question that we as a society cannot tolerate anyone flagrantly disregarding the rule of law, even and especially not those tasked with upholding it. We cannot ignore an ugly, racist history that has enmeshed itself at an institutionalized level. And we cannot pretend that it is a problem for black and brown people to address and fix. They did not create the institutions that continue to oppress and kill them.

When we stop seeing people as belonging to categories of other, and instead see them as individuals—friends—with the same hopes and dreams as us we can’t help but feel differently about the injustices they endure.

We see ourselves as good people. And no good person would stand idly by as friends or family were casually berated, unfairly targeted or murdered. If it happened to someone who looked like us we would be outraged and expect justice. We would not blame them for the violence against them.

So what can we do about the constant barrage of bigotry and fear-mongering seeking to demonize the victims of systemic racism? We can engage in uncomfortable conversations. We can ask questions. We can listen to people of color talk about their experiences. We can seek out conversations with people who think and believe differently from ourselves. We can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and think, “If that were me, how would I feel?” We can behave like friends and stand up for people we care about.

We can choose to live our lives with empathy and love. We can speak out against injustice. We can change the way our society treats its citizens, one interaction at a time.

A Turn Toward the Unexpected

In taking the advice of Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert I find myself in unusual territory—following my muse and learning to be kind to myself. I accidentally started writing two (very different) novels at the same time. It may seem a strange thing to do, but it just happened. Having ideas for multiple novels at a time is not unusual, but I generally finish one thing before beginning the next. I’d always found it rather simple and straightforward. You open one document, write words on the page and focus. Right?

But after months of work, I kept getting stuck on my dystopian WIP (work in progress) never finding the thread that got me through the muck. I’ve done my research, plotted my fantasy world, outlined and written a fair amount. I know why I’m writing it, I’m excited about the final product. It feels important for me to write. But writing it has felt like trying to sprint uphill in sand.

And then, out of nowhere, lines for the mystery novel started filling my head. Sassy, fun, satisfying lines. Lines like that don’t come along all the time. At least not for me. But I’d put this story out of my head months ago, choosing to work on the dystopian exclusively. I made a commitment and I was going to stick with it.

But no writer can just let organic dialogue float around in her brain and not write it down. I cracked. I had to! I’m only human, after all. But it was just that line. Okay, that scene. That’s it. I wrote it out while it was fresh and then turned back to my dystopia.

But it was no good. I only wanted to spend time in the world of my mystery. It excited me—filled me with electric energy that occasionally had to be danced out. (Solo dance parties are a crucial part of my writing life.) It didn’t matter that I’d been neglecting this story for many, many months. It was right there waiting for me when I finally turned back to it. I didn’t expect that.

Maybe I should finish one thing before beginning the next. But some things (okay, almost all of them) are out of my control. And I’m tired of fighting it. I’m going where the energy takes me. I’m willing to look silly, if need be, because I see the possibilities and they’re beyond my wildest dreams.

Sometimes you just have to let go and hope it all works out better than you could have planned. (Even when you’re a really good planner.)

 

 

The Flow

“Once I sat down the story just sort of wrote itself.” I was minding my own business, waiting for my latte when I overheard a woman make this statement. I almost laughed out loud. Almost. I have some self control. Sometimes. Although I may have had to remind myself that punching someone in the throat is not okay, even when they’re being insufferably smug.

As someone who is seriously struggling with two novels currently in progress it got me wondering. I’ve published two novels so far and neither wrote themselves. Have I been doing it all wrong?

It stings like a slap in the face for anyone who has to work for their story to hear those words. My inner devil’s advocate suggested that it’s just what they say when describing their own version of Flow. It isn’t meant to be smug, just vague. But come on, what the hell did she mean by that? Did it not take time? Sacrifice? Battling with her inner editor? Nothing?

I define Flow as that timeless inertia wherein one is so totally engaged in what they are doing that the rest of the world seemingly ceases to exist.

There has never been a point in my writing life when a brilliant idea organically and effortlessly became a final product. Sure, I have been bursting with excitement at a new idea I can’t wait to start on. I have experienced those times when my fingers struggle to keep up with the flow of words from my imagination onto the page. But these are mere moments compared to the overall time spent creating a finished novel.

Flow is something that occurs, hopefully frequently enough to spur one on enough to endure the rest of the hard, tedious work behind a finished story. It is the buzz—the inner resonance of some greater aspiration that this will be the idea that translates from a great idea into tangible reality. That one’s vision will be realized and seen.

I’m not actually angry at this woman’s statement. It’s too ridiculous for that. I have learned a lot about how I write (and how I procrastinate) and am able to laugh off the absurdity.

I’m writing this because I think that careless statements like this can discourage the countless people who desperately want to write a story. They are already struggling to find the courage to take on their internal and external critics. The don’t need to be made to feel inferior when their idea doesn’t “just write itself.”

And honestly, anyone who knows what it takes to transform that idea into a fully fledged novel would never believe for a second that it wrote itself. A book is written with tenacity, grit, procrastination, self-doubt, perseverance and always, one word at a time.

So for anyone out there who is struggling to find your own Flow, just know that you are not alone. Not writing in a constant state of Flow is not a sign that you should give up. All it means is that you are human. I’m with you. Ease comes and goes, so keep putting one word after the next and get your story out however it comes.

A Love Letter to Addicts

In my life I have been significantly impacted by addiction. Sitting idly by, watching someone you love wrestle the beast is the most helpless and soul-crushing part. I don’t want to enable, but when I see someone in pain, it hurts to say the things I know they least want to hear. So here is my love letter to addicts everywhere, from the sidelines.

Dear Addict,

I see you—the real you. I see the latent potentiality of the beautiful, fun, loving relationship we could have. And I know you’d really like it. I would too.

I see the darkness,too. I see how you internalize it, let it envelop you, let it cocoon you until no light gets in. And it may surprise you, but I know the darkness, too. It’s in me, it’s in you, it’s in all of us. Every one of us possesses darkness as well as light.

The only difference is perspective. You are not the darkness. You haven’t seen your own light, but know that it is there. There are people who love you and see your light even when you don’t. We may not say it often, or at all, but we see it.

We are not delusional. We are not pretending to see it. We are not ignoring the shadow side. We simply see that you—like us—possess a darkness and a lightness of being. We accept both. We love both. You are enough. You are loved.

And yes, you may have made choices that force those that love you to walk away. We may or may not forgive you. But we have to respect our own boundaries. We are on a journey through life, same as you. If only you knew how much harder it is to walk away from someone you love—who is in pain—you would begin to understand that we showed you love in the only way you allowed us to.

We see the only kindness left to offer. The gift of solitude. You need to learn to be you. You need to believe in your own value. To sit alone with your thoughts and enjoy your own company. We know that it’s possible. We know, because we love you. We enjoy your company.

We don’t want you to feel cut off. We don’t want you to feel pain. We don’t want you to hurt yourself. And there may come a time when we have to acknowledge that we can’t help you. And I guarantee that we did not come to that decision lightly. We think of you often. We dream of the day you come to us, healthy and bright-eyed, that latent potentiality finally a reality. When we can laugh together. Sit together. Be. Together.

We want the best for you. We want you to see how wonderful, amazing and lovable you are. We already know you are. But we can’t make you do the work. We can’t make you see yourself the way we see you. That is up to you. So whether we can support you from close by or with some distance, please know, no matter what, you are loved. You are enough.

Signed with love.

 

Harry Potter and the Love of Reading

For this blog I’m making a point of acknowledging a parenting win. I struggled to figure out what to write about this week, between the Stanford rape case and the powerful letter written by the victim that sparked a much needed national conversation, and Hillary Clinton making history as the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major political party. Regardless of political ideology, the fact that the black sitting president had a conversation with the Jewish contender about the female presumptive nominee is a pretty good indication that we are at least moving in the right direction.

I care about all of these social and political issues, but this week, for me, has been about history being made in my own household. My seven-year old son has discovered Harry Potter. This is a big deal to me. Not just because I love the series (I do) or even because I love seeing my son develop a love of reading (I couldn’t be prouder.)

But as a mom, it’s a big deal because he’s always been his Papa’s boy. They are two peas building Legos in the same pod. I’m invited to see what they create, but I’m definitely a spectator. His eyes don’t light up when I suggest we go to the park or drive RC cars or play a game. I’m just not as exciting a playmate. I get it. The two of them are equally excited about the same things whereas I play along because I want to connect to something he loves. Their bond is wonderful, adorable and deeply connected. It’s organic. And I’m so glad they have each other. But sometimes I feel a little left out.

Occasionally I interject with something like drawing or gardening that gets his attention briefly, but then my husband gets a new RC car and I’m left to finish planting on my own. I never found an activity that drew him in enough that it would trump everything else on offer.

But finally, it’s my turn. Harry Potter has been the great equalizer. Since I’m the reader in the family I got to introduce my son to the wonderful world of Hogwarts. And he loves it. I have read over 450 pages aloud in the last week as we finished “Prisoner of Azkaban” and are well into “Goblet of Fire.” He’s so excited that he makes me read to him while he eats breakfast before school, restarting the second he comes home. He skipped Kung Fu (which he loves) because he wanted time to read. He was excited they didn’t have homework this week because it gave us more time to read. He sat reading by himself while his friends ran around waiting for their parents to pick them up after school.

He wears his Gryffindor robe around the house, carries his wand and holds his stuffed Hedwig as I read. His nose wrinkles in frustration when Malfoy does or says something mean. He yells out ideas about which spells Harry should use to get past the dragon in the first challenge of the Triwizard Tournament. He cracks up when Mad Eye Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret for attacking Harry with his back turned. He built Hogwarts out of Legos while I slept in this morning, complete with secret passageways and Hagrid’s hut.

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent countless hours lost in worlds of someone else’s creation. And I’ve chosen to create worlds of my own to hopefully offer that same experience to others. But I have never felt so much affection for an author as I do for JK Rowling right now. I absolutely loved the books when I first read them, but that’s not the affection to which I’m referring.

It is an entirely different thing getting to watch my son lose himself in a fictional world, unable to sleep without knowing what happens next. He told me his “tummy feels weird from all the excitement, nervousness, frustration and courage.” What a great description of some complicated feelings.

I overheard him telling his Papa—who had to take over reading briefly—that that’s not how the characters sound because “they sound more like Mama.” My husband’s Australian accent was apparently not up to par, even after we told him his accent is actually much closer to Harry’s British one. In the movies they all have British accents, too. Nope, he wasn’t having it. That was unacceptable. The characters all officially sound like Mama. End of discussion.

I can see that this is one of those experiences that’s affecting him on such a deep level that it’s footprint will remain long after he’s finished book 7. As a mother, I am so grateful for the author who created something that ignited my son’s love of reading, introducing him to that amazing feeling of immersion where the real world slips away and the only thing that matters is finding out what happens on the next page.

As a writer, it has made me more aware of that potential as I work on my first YA trilogy. The idea that a world I create could potentially ignite a young reader’s love of fiction and make their real world slip away as they immerse themselves in my imaginary one is inspiring beyond words.

So thank you JK Rowling. Thank you for sharing your imagination with us. Thank you for entertaining and inspiring a new generation’s love of reading. And thank you for writing seven wonderfully long books that allow me to spend time snuggling and bonding in my own pod with my son. It is an experience I will always cherish.

 

The Politics of Silence

Usually I don’t write about my political beliefs, respecting that everyone’s opinions are equally valid and deserve to be part of the civil discourse. However, based on the current US presidential election I am making an exception. In my opinion, it is a moral choice rather than a political one to speak out.

The issue is not Republican versus Democrat. We are not voting on policy differences. This election is about humanity versus ego. Equality versus oppression. American idealism versus fear-mongering.

I’m sad and angry on behalf of all Americans who choose not to normalize demagoguery and bigotry. While I am just one small voice among 7 billion Earthlings, I refuse to be silent. Trump’s power is derived from collective silence—stupefied, terrorized or acquiescent. I will not gift him my silence.

It’s important to me that my friends around the world know this is not accepted by all Americans. This is not a standard we accept.

Stephen Hawking said recently: “He is a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” This couldn’t be more true. No really, here’s the definition.

Full Definition of demagogue

1:  a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power

2:  a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times (Merriam-Webster)

As laid out by Michael Signer (quotes in italics) for The Washington Post, Trump meets all four criteria that make a textbook demagogue.

First, a demagogue imperils his country in the international arena.

-Trump “has suggested that he’d order the U.S. military to kill families of Muslim terrorists and institute interrogation techniques worse than waterboarding, itself widely condemned as torture. Torture and retaliatory executions are both war crimes under international law.” (Victor Morton, The Washington Times)

The second danger is that the demagogue will surround himself with incompetent and dangerous advisers.

-While he hasn’t actually named any advisers in his would-be-presidency, here’s how he answered Jake Trapper’s questions on CNN (February 28th) regarding David Duke’s endorsement:

Trapper: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?
Trump: Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.

However, according to Politifact.com, “As fellow fact-checkers at the Washington Post and Factcheck.org have pointed out, Trump knew enough about Duke to denounce him several times over the past two decades.”

Vague hypocrisy is still hypocrisy. Just sayin’.

The third danger is that the demagogue, who ascends to power by manipulating the passions of his followers, will fall prey to passions of his own. 

Considering Trump is most passionate about Trump (that’s why he puts his name on everything from buildings to steaks,) it’s safe to assume he’ll fall prey to his own narcissism, choosing his own best interest over the country’s. Just as he has done in filing his taxes.

“We have somebody on the one hand who has lawyers saying the value is less than $2 million while at the same time he’s claiming it’s worth over $50 million,” Levenberg said in an interview. “And we have seen no revenue or expense forms. It can’t be that he is making all this money but saying he doesn’t have to pay taxes on it. That’s less money for the children in school, less money for learning.” (Ben White on Politico.com)

Fourth, demagogues like Trump threaten dissenters in an effort to silence them.

Trump has threatened to sue everyone from reporters to artists to comedians for saying (or painting) things he doesn’t approve of. His thin skin and egomania make this trend particularly disturbing.

Trump’s objective here is clear, several campaign strategists and political reporters observed: To discredit the people who call attention to his lies, his contradictions, his lack of transparency and the less seemly aspects of his history.
“Why attack media?” asked Michael Barbaro of The New York Times. “So you can keep saying they are ‘discredited’ when tough stories come out. It’s deliberate attempt at inoculation.” (Dylan Byers and Jeremy Diamond for CNN Money)
Article II of the Constitution specifies that the president has two primary job functions: to serve as chief executive of the federal government and to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. (OurWhiteHouse.org)

Some of you may still be thinking, “I just like that he says what he thinks—that he’s not part of the establishment.” And, while I understand the desire for an outsider, there is a considerable difference between one who is not beholden to big business and one who is truly for the people.

Think about Trump, the president. Not as a position held in a movie or on television, but the actual day-to-day reality of Trump being the leader of this country. Of brokering peace talks. Of understanding (let alone setting) foreign policy. Of developing educational policies. Having authority to send troops into combat. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help it. I’m picturing Idiocracy’s President Camacho.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.49.46 PM
Screenshot of Terry Crews as President Camacho in the satirical 2006 film Idiocracy (2oth Century Fox)

Earlier this year I blogged about  Breaking up with the Patriarchy. This election feels a lot like the awful relationship that just wouldn’t end. He’s not getting it. Everyone knows we deserve better than a narcissist who tells us what he thinks we want to hear before doing whatever the hell he wants. As a female, I hear him say he “cherishes” women and then follows it up with things like this:Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.09.55 AM

That’s right, a man shouldn’t be held responsible for sexual assault when he’s presented with a female in combat! Thanks, Donald. I do feel cherished. For more, The Huffington Post compiled this handy list of 18 things Donald Trump has actually said about women. (Spoiler Alert: they’re all disgusting!)

But he’s an equal opportunity bigot. So don’t feel left out if you’re not a woman. Chances are, whatever kind of human you are, Trump’s got an offensive quote for you too. Here is a list of 199 gems compiled by Politico.com.

Even if you belong to that very thin sliver of humanity not blatantly offended by things Trump says, there’s still a practical reason for you not to vote for him if you do, in fact, want America to be great.

They [Demagogues] undermine the stability of a “by the people” form of government particularly by turning “the people” against each other. They represent a danger not just to electoral outcomes or political parties, but to democracy itself. –Megan Garber, The Atlantic

I understand that people are scared. We live in an uncertain environment. There are terrible things happening we don’t understand and don’t know how to stop, like mass shootings and terrorism. There is a dwindling middle class caused by economic disparity. There is corruption in healthcare, politics, banking, food production and many other areas. I get it. It isn’t easy to hold all that on one side while on the other we try to attain happiness and personal success.

But the world is not one dimensional. It’s complex. No issue has a singular cause or solution. No one group of people is to blame now or at any point in history. It is all collective. Causally and consequentially. We share a universe, a planet, a country, a leader. And a history.

This is that point in history when we collectively decide. We get to vote. So use that right. Protect that right. It’s painfully obvious which side of history Trump is rocketing his way toward. The only question is: Do you want to be the one on that exploding ship with him or cutting the fuel supply before it leaves the ground?

 

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