It is a bleak day, to be sure. The day that came at the end of a week where the Supreme Court of the United States, led by conservative justices, showed the citizens of this country how little they care for our health and safety and well-being. A week that saw dialysis patients being given over to the capitalist machinations of private insurers, states being told they cannot prevent citizens from carrying weapons basically wherever they want to, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade in a way that virtually confirms that our rights to privacy around contraception and sexuality will tumble to dust sooner rather than later.

It’s a bleak day. And I admit to laying on my couch staring at the ceiling for a full 40 minutes after posting posting posting to social media about the fuckery and nonsense that this is. My mind was numb because even though we all saw this coming, even though we wrote about it and marched and screamed and VOTED for folks like we were told to, it came anyway, and we were powerless to stop it. The Democrats have had multiple opportunities to make laws that would keep abortion safe and legal in this country and they’ve chosen not to prioritize it. They have had ample opportunity to enact gun laws that would actually protect the citizens of this country and they haven’t done it. It is enraging.

And, at some point, I was reminded that most of the crises I’ve found myself in throughout my life weren’t solved by coloring inside the lines. Laws are made up. Borders, too. You can try to legislate nature, but nature doesn’t really play that way. And, like it or not, human beings are part of nature. Abortion has been around as a practice since women needed it to be, which is basically forever. People have been having sex with each other forever, whether it resulted in babies or not. We might think we humans have cornered the market on imposing our will on things, but the fact is, we’ve been fooling ourselves.

I’m a little embarrassed that I fell into the trap of thinking that a group of people appointed by old, white men – many of whom are old white men themselves, and two of whom have been credibly accused of sexual assault against women – could actually make a decision that would prevent me from making some of the most important, fundamental decisions of my own. I do NOT have to live by these laws, and I’m not even talking about breaking them. I’m talking about a failure of imagination. If we accept the binary (as is our wont) that abortion is either legal or it isn’t in this country and that’s it (cue the brushing of the hands), we have failed to understand that the binary is artificial and was created by us. And if we created it, we can destroy it. Indeed, it is already crumbling.

These institutions we see falling apart day after day right in front of our eyes are the key to reminding us that we are trying to find solutions inside a box that we placed ourselves in and it is entirely possible to climb outside of that box and seek other ideas. Herbalists, healers, medicine women, curanderias – they have been the source of wisdom for generations and existed long before men like Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas showed up in their robes. Yes, there are ways to fight within the system, but there are also ways to take care of each other and ourselves that exist entirely outside of the systems we know are broken. Long before these laws were written, women took care of each other. We can imagine a new way that doesn’t put us at the mercy of these institutions that were never designed to benefit us. We need not always be on the defensive, begging for crumbs from the likes of Joe Manchin. We can craft new ways of being that prioritize our well being.

I am not saying that I know what those things are. I wish I did, but I do know that it is possible to imagine a world outside of the constraints we have placed on ourselves, and I also know that it is impossible to impose the laws of humans on nature. Lord knows, we’ve tried over and over again, but it will always be surface and unsustainable. What is sustainable is the human will to thrive and to be in loving community. Starting from there is where we’ll find our solutions.

All of that said, if you want something to do that feels tangible right now, go to www.abortionfunds.org and donate, support Planned Parenthood, visit nnaf.org/InvestInAbortionFunds, and call your local, state, and federal representatives to let them know you want abortion to stay safe and legal. But know that we cannot be forced to love certain people, ignore our bodies’ needs, and put ourselves in harm’s way by any man’s law. We will find ways to thrive. Together.

I have written and written and written about reproductive rights for twenty years or more. I’ve written op-eds, chapters in anthologies, essays for online outlets, and even an entire book that was never published. Over and over again, I’ve expressed my opinion as a woman and as a parent, hoping that my words weren’t just reaching folks who already agreed with me. And for a while, I stopped, because I feared that’s exactly what was happening. I don’t remember the last time I wrote about it until yesterday, but when I went to bed last night with such a heavy heart, the thing that came instantly to my mind was not abortion providers or women who need abortions and can’t get them (although I am outraged and fearful for them, no doubt). It was my children I thought of – the ones I gave birth to and the ones I love and nurture without any biological connection at all.

I know what it takes to raise children in this country. And my position and perspective is one of extreme privilege, so perhaps I ought to say that I know what it takes to raise children in this country as a white woman with money who was married to a white man, both of us college educated. I cannot ever know what it is to raise a child without financial security and a roof over my head and a partner. I cannot know what it is to raise a child as a person of color, someone who is not heterosexual or neurotypical or fully able-bodied. And so when I say that raising a child is hard, exhausting, overwhelming work, please imagine that for folks who didn’t have the resources I had, it is one hundred thousand times harder.

Raising a child in this country means being pressured by all of the people around you – professional and personal – to do things a certain way. It is a constant struggle to discern what is best – breast or bottle, pacifier or thumb, circumcision or not, vaccine schedules, preschool or daycare – if you have the luxury of choice, that is. It is 24 hours a day of tending to another human being one way or another – providing food and care and working to make sure they’re safe and learning. It is navigating systems that are not designed to support families – school systems, healthcare systems, and cities. It is often sacrificing your own well-being and health and rest in order to ensure that your child is healthy and happy. It is unequal work and it is uncompensated.

I could go on, given what I know about raising school-aged children and teenagers and supporting young adults, but I won’t. My point is this: parenting is an overwhelmingly exhausting and depleting lifetime job and it should be freely chosen. What if we lived in a world where each and every child was so loved and wanted that the task of parenting was embraced and supported by the extended community? What if every child was surrounded by a group of caring adults who had the resources and the ability to make them feel absolutely loved and safe?

That is what abortion offered me when I was 17. Because it was legal and I had access, I was able to make a decision to postpone having children until I was ready to provide them with a safe, loving home. When my first daughter was born, I was 29 and a full-throated YES to bringing her into the world. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t hard work, but I was married, financially secure, and emotionally ready to begin that journey. It changed everything about my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I was ready, and that made all the difference. My second daughter came when I was 31 and, again, it was a full-throated YES.

Over the years, other kids came into my life who needed something they couldn’t get elsewhere – emotional support, a safe physical space to be, help with a challenging situation – and because I had solid footing, I was able to give them a full-throated YES, too. Every one of us deserves that – to know that we can rely on others to support us when we need it, but we can’t have that if we don’t get to choose when to have children. Parenting is so overwhelming that it subsumes everything. Not all the time, but enough that careers get derailed, bank accounts get depleted, marriages fall apart. Allowing people to choose when they bring a child into their life is a game-changer. One of the most basic psychological needs of a healthy human being is agency. Self-determination. The belief that we get to be in charge of some of the biggest things in our lives.

Reproductive rights aren’t political, they’re fundamental to healthy humanity, and what is fundamental to healthy humanity is fundamental for a healthy community. We cannot build strong, caring communities without a full-throated YES to each and every one of us.

What if every child knew that they were a full-throated YES?

jumble of Meyer lemons on a cooktop surface

 

January has been a long month. Seriously. I know I’m not the only one saying that, and that the last two years have honestly been such a time warp in general, but it is only the 22nd day of the month and I honestly feel as though I’ve lived several lifetimes this year so far.

Last Monday I woke up with a nagging headache. Not debilitating, but pretty uncomfortable. I’m no stranger to headaches in general, since I have a very finicky neck that doesn’t allow me to sleep in certain positions or do particular tasks that most people wouldn’t think twice about. Probably once a month, I end up with a pretty gnarly headache that requires a trip to my phenomenal chiropractor to fix (she shakes her head and says, “what have you done?” in a very gentle, caring manner that reminds me I am in good good hands and puts everything back where it is supposed to be and sends me on my way). So, honestly, that’s what I figured this was. I made my way through the day with Advil and the hope that it would resolve on its own.

But around midnight on Monday/Tuesday, I started to notice that I was thrashing about in bed quite a bit and that is really unusual for me. It only took a minute before I realized I was spiking a fever – this was chills, and the headache had kicked up a notch. I knew pretty much right away that this was Covid. I stuck it out until dawn and then took my temperature to confirm, texted a friend who I knew had access to home tests, and waited.

It was a rough four days. That headache was brutal. Not the worst one I’ve ever had, but definitely second in line. I couldn’t watch tv or read or really look at much of anything. I just laid on the couch staring into space and hoping it would abate sooner rather than later. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that when I first moved here last May, this was the scenario I feared most – that I’d get sick while living on my own and not be able to really take care of myself or the dogs. I’m here to say that, like most fears I’ve ever had in my life, this one didn’t play out the way my amygdala warned me it would.

I had friends near and far texting me all day long, checking in, offering help of any kind. The friend with the home tests also brought soup, Gatorade, bottles of water, cold medicine from her own stash, and Meyer lemons from her tree. Other new local friends offered food delivery, dog walks, and just general moral support. One of my neighbors, having spotted a friend dropping off supplies at the front door, texted one night to say her husband had just made a beautiful homemade dinner – could they fix me a plate and leave it at the door for me?

I was brought to tears with each and every one of these offers, and I accepted it all (well, not the dog-walking – my dogs would no more leave me behind at the house and go walk with someone else than they would chew their own leg off). Blissfully, the headache subsided by Day 3 and I remember lying on the couch, imagining my poor, stressed brain inside my skull, sending it waves of soothing light to recover. Every little thing I did prompted a two-hour nap. The last time I was this exhausted was after giving birth to Erin and that was only because I caught the flu while I was in the hospital so I brought her home and spent the first week battling a fever and trying to recover from a 40-hour labor.

I’m still recovering, but finally not sleeping 16-18 hours a day. I am able to do a few things here and there and then lie down for a bit to rest. There is some acute sense that if I don’t go slowly, there is a real danger of setting myself back, and I can’t help but wonder how people with children at home or elders to care for or lots of work to do that needs to be done manage this. It honestly brings me to tears to think about having to make a meal for someone else or go to a job feeling such extreme fatigue. I wish we lived in a world where we believed each other when we say we need rest, where we made sure to provide space and the necessities for that to happen. I recognize my massive privilege in this – that I was able to be cared for from afar by friends and family, that I am able to put off my work obligations as long as I need to, that I have a roof over my head and a soft bed in which to recuperate. I wish that for everyone.

It is so interesting that one of the first things people ask is “where did you get it” and then “were you vaccinated?” I am reminded that we have done a really good job of framing this pandemic in the same way we frame nearly everything in this culture – in terms of personal responsibility. I know that those two questions are some attempt to insulate ourselves – if we think we can crack the code, we can avoid getting sick. But I also know there is some judgment there because that’s what we’ve been taught. If you just didn’t do X, you wouldn’t be struggling with Y. I am so much more taken by the folks who ask “how can I support you” and “what do you need?” There is a radical form of community that can be created just by asking these simple questions and I am here to tell you, it feels amazing to be the recipient of it. On Thursday night, when I was so astonished by how absolutely tired a person could feel after sleeping most of the day, my phone pinged with an incoming email. As I read something from a friend expressing her deep care for me and her fervent wish that I recover quickly and thoroughly, I spent a few minutes going back through my day and replaying all of the text messages I’d gotten from a dozen or more friends and family members, checking in, offering help, saying they were sending love, and I made the conscious decision to hold that in my head and heart as the last thoughts before sleep – the notion that I was held in deep care and love by so many people from literally all over the planet. It was magic.

I’m now a week in and my sense of taste and smell is coming and going unpredictably, I struggle to catch my breath when walking the dogs on our normal, flat, 20-minute route through the neighborhood, and I still occasionally sit down after doing something  mundane like folding a load of laundry and feel a powerful need for a nap. My sleep is the sleep of the dead – deep, strange dreams and waking up feels like swimming up from the depths of the ocean, but I am grateful for the freedom to sleep when I need to and for friends and family who text or call or email to check in and let me know they’re rooting for me. That is medicine for my soul.

 

 

empty hammock suspended between trees with a field in the distance

 Jorge Polo, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you believe you are held in community?

I don’t mean to ask “do you think you belong?” That is a slightly different question. Belonging is often predicated on what we do, how we appear, the way we act.

I mean, do you believe that you are held in love and care by the collective?

Do you believe it, and by that I mean do you feel it in your bones, as a solid feeling in your gut?

Do you believe you are held? That regardless of your attributes or accomplishments or identities, you are woven tightly into the fabric of community, the people who surround you, who you consider beloveds, you will not fall away?

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday and I anticipated doing so alone. Not by choice, but also not not by choice. We are, after all, in a pandemic that is still swirling around us (whether we have the bandwidth to acknowledge it as such or not). But I have also uprooted myself and moved to an entirely new town in an entirely new state, my kids all live in different cities, and I am not a fan of parties where I am the object of the celebration. Whether that is simply a facet of my personality or my parents sparked that feeling by taking me to Farrell’s at the wrong developmental stage of my childhood is up for debate, but it does persist. I am not the kind of person who appreciates public acknowledgment of my birthday by singing waiters or birthday parties with more than five people or so. But I digress…

I fully anticipated spending the day alone and I was frankly unsure how I would feel, but then a series of things happened to change that. My youngest and her boyfriend texted to say they were driving up to spend the day with me and my heart broke open a little bit. A new friend I recently met texted to ask (randomly, she swears) when my birthday is and when I told her “two days from now,” she offered to take me out to dinner to celebrate. That crack widened a bit more. Then my aunt and uncle messaged to ask if they could take me out to lunch for my birthday and I cracked wide open.

On the day of my birthday, when I was as wide open as I’ve ever been, a really magical thing happened that still makes me cry when I think about it. A group of humans – most of whom I’ve never met in person, but who have vowed to have each others’ backs and support each other no matter what – began messaging me in the larger group to wish me a happy birthday. It began with one or two and within ninety minutes, there were close to 50 notifications in the group chat. I was overwhelmed and shaky at this outpouring of sincere, loving messages. The first thought that went through my mind was “why do they care about my birthday?” The second was “they’re only doing it because one person started it and it would be weird not to add their wishes to the chat.” The third came in the form of a question, “what if they do mean it? What if they are really taking a moment out of their own busy lives to sincerely think of me, hand on heart, and wish me well?”

That was the one that brought me to my knees. What if?

I texted a friend who I knew would get it to say how scary it was to accept these birthday wishes. I told her that I imagined all of the love coming at me from these amazing, complex, brilliant human beings was weaving an enormous hammock and all I had to do was climb in and be held by it. And also, there is no graceful way to get into a hammock. None. There is always that one moment when you wonder if someone is going to laugh at the awkward way you shove your butt over first and try not to get your foot tangled in the web of it. Or that other moment when you’re not quite sure if it will stay upright or flip and knock you out onto the dirt on your ass. My friend got it. She understood, and in that moment, we agreed that we would be each other’s spotter – that when one of us wanted to climb into that scary love hammock, the other one would stand by and hold it steady until they were safely inside, resting in love and care.

If you can’t answer the question, “Do you believe you are held in community?” you are not alone. I am 50 years old and just beginning to have the barest sensation of trusting it. I mourn for the last 49 years when I didn’t know that that was what I needed more than anything else, and also, I am determined to not let any more time pass by before I start asking other people whether they feel held.

We are killing ourselves and each other because we don’t feel held. We are addicted to drugs and food, buying weapons and physically and verbally attacking each other in public because we don’t feel held. We hide behind laws and cultural standards because we don’t know what it is to hold each other – in our hardest moments and our ugliest moments and our most triumphant moments. We haven’t learned what it feels like to believe we are held even when we aren’t producing, contributing, acting or looking a certain way. And the only way we will learn is to do it for each other, to take that leap of faith and hold each other in deep respect and care. When we feel like our well-being is something the collective cares about and for, we can rest in that space and come out ready to weave our strand of the hammock. It is terrifying, I know. And it is also the only thing that is left to do if we are going to make each other’s lives better.

So tell me, do you believe you are held in community?

speech bubble with a jumble of numbers inside

How do you measure the health of a community? I’ve said this before (actually over and over again for years now), and I’ll say it again: the fact that the media and the government insist on measuring the health of our country by the economic standards they arbitrarily set is ridiculous. Absurd. Irrelevant.

The daily or monthly reports on the stock market numbers, the numbers of jobs created, unemployment figures – all of these things are designed to create a picture of a country as a set of mathematical problems and people are not math problems. People are not even story problems. Communities are made of people who have needs that have nothing to do with the stock market and the number of hours of paid work they engage in. But for the folks who need data, who say that numbers are the way we understand what’s happening, let’s go on a little journey …

Imagine for a moment if the media started reporting the number of households who struggled with food insecurity in the last month and comparing it to the month before that and the month before that.

What if, instead of “jobs created,” they told us the number of folks who lost their housing in the last quarter? Or the number of persons who remain unhoused and for how long they’ve struggled with that?

Somewhere, there have to be figures that enumerate the scores of families and individuals who have unpaid medical debt and charts that show how much that debt has grown over the years and how it has impacted the other two measures of food insecurity and houselessness.

What if the media routinely talked about those numbers, over and over again, throughout the evening newscast, at the top of the hour on NPR, and in print for folks to see? Would it move politicians to address those issues more quickly and with more urgency? Because what politicians talk about now are jobs and the stock market, and these are things that don’t translate into healthy communities. We have seen for years that a rising stock market does not mean that everyone in this country is doing okay. There are scores of people in this country who do not have money invested in the stock market, who don’t have any disposable income to invest. We know that unemployment figures don’t show the kind of information we pretend they do. People are “underemployed” for a variety of reasons, and some folks don’t even show on unemployment figures because they’ve given up looking for work – either because they can’t afford to work (yes, it’s absurd that that is a reality, but it is), they don’t have the skills employers are seeking, they’re discriminated against, or they are not able to work for a variety of reasons.

Instead of talking about “the economy,” what if we talked about people and how their basic needs are increasingly not being met? Instead of doing a “homeless count” once a year in major cities, what if we looked at the reasons people lose housing and report on those numbers every single week?

Our priorities are reflected in the kind of information we choose to seek and compile and report. And the vicious cycle that is created here is that we continue to believe that these *should* be our priorities, so we focus on them to the exclusion of the things that might actually tell us about the health of our country. It’s not a panacea, but shifting the way we talk about and measure the health of our communities might give us more of a reason to start working on ensuring that more of us are supported and stable.

I’d like to think that maybe if the media were constantly reporting on the number of people in this country who have declared bankruptcy or lost their housing or carried crippling debt from medical bills, we might find enough politicians who were willing to overhaul the system in the face of insurance company lobbyists.

Perhaps if there were an accurate picture of the number of households with members who are consistently underfed, there would be political will to change the way we support folks with SNAP benefits.

What we focus on grows. We need to start focusing on people and their struggles to survive and the things we can do to help them, help humans, not “the economy.” There is no such thing as trickle-down, except in the realm of fairy tales and rain water.

For the last six months or so, I’ve watched with increasing discomfort as social media posts telling people to get vaccinated against Covid and vilifying people who are choosing not to vaccinate fill my feed. Some of them are brief and to the point “Wear your damn mask and get your shot!” and others are full-on rants about ignorant people or angry missives that are full of sarcasm and othering language. There are folks who post polls asking their followers and contacts whether or not they’ve been vaccinated and links to videos mocking the people who choose not to, and so far, I’ve mostly resisted commenting on any of them or posting anything I think might come off as me joining the fray. Frankly, it has meant that my social media use is vastly curtailed (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just sayin’…)

I have remained curious about my level of discomfort, trying to tease out where it hits me and why. While it’s easy for me to agree with the observations that part of our downfall is our lack of collective consciousness, it has still been difficult to reconcile the nastiness and othering that comes with “yelling” at people to get vaccinated for “the greater good.”

This morning as I walked on the beach, part of the puzzle seemed to come together in my head, thanks to a text exchange I had with a dear friend about the horrific scenes unfolding in Afghanistan.

She texted that she feels overwhelmed with all of the crises in the world and yet she also believes that it isn’t ok to “look away.” It is so hard to know what we can do to help the people who are suffering right now in ways we can’t even imagine. I talked to her about a group I’m involved with who has spent the last seven days lighting candles, raising money, and holding vigil for an Afghani couple who is trying to flee the country. Within that group, as things got worse and worse, we had the conversation about whether what we were doing was enough. Helping one family versus an entire nation. Given that, last night, that one couple managed to get on a plane to safety, it seems that we are helping, even in some small way. But, it turns out, that isn’t even really the point, and this is where the puzzle pieces began to fall into place.

What we have done in the last seven days is build community. We have forged relationships – not only among ourselves (a group of people that are scattered across the Western world), but with this Afghani couple and their family members. We have created a space where we come together in solidarity to try and alleviate some suffering. We have helped each other when it became hard to hold that space because it triggered our own trauma and fear and, it turns out, we gave this couple hope as they sat in a hot, jam-packed airport with gunfire and violence playing out outside, not knowing whether they would manage to get on a plane or be sent back to their homes.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other. There will never be laws or rules that teach us that we are safe with each other and that we matter to someone else. Those things don’t build relationship and they don’t cultivate safety in the way that human beings need to feel safe. We white folks like rules and power because it makes us feel safe, but that is an illusion. When we think we are in control of a situation, we tend to relax a bit, but only a bit, because there is always the chance that someone with more power will come along and knock us off kilter and take control.

When we build relationship, by truly creating spaces where we feel safe with one another, we create community and a sense of shared well-being. That is why the physicians who take the time to listen to each individual concern about vaccine risks and acknowledge the fears of their patients can often have an impact on their choices. Playing on someone’s fears can be an effective way to change their behavior short-term, but you risk another, bigger fear coming along to usurp that one you cultivated. And even if you can change someone’s behavior, you can’t change their values by scaring them or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

We all want to belong, to feel safe with others, and to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but you can’t mandate that. Focusing on enforcement rather than relationship is where we white Westerners have gone wrong for hundreds of years. The social media posts that mock or shame other people destroy the potential for connection, even as they rack up ‘likes’ from people who agree with them. Those likes can make you feel righteous, but they aren’t going to convince anyone to care about the collective. Caring about the collective comes from feeling as though you are an integral part of it, and that comes through kindness and curiosity and trust-building.

Fabric with the words "Absurd times call for Absurd Amounts of Love" embroidered on it

Brad Montague

I am so fortunate to be part of a group of people called the Conversation Collective. During the lockdown in 2020, the Charter for Compassion teamed up with Citizen Discourse to offer a weekly meditation and coming together of individuals from all over the world who wanted to just be together in a way that felt real and soothing and solid. I began to mark time in terms of the Thursday morning meetings and really look forward to seeing some of the same people every week and deepen my connection with them.

They have expanded the offering to twice a week and on Monday afternoon I joined the group anticipating yet another really wonderful discussion prompt and I wasn’t disappointed. Karen from Citizen Discourse asked us to take a few minutes to reflect on one or more of our most deeply held beliefs (in the style of the NPR program This I Believe) and then we broke into pairs on Zoom to share our thoughts with each other. I wasn’t going to write much, as I’ve written to this prompt before, but I pulled out a sheet of paper and thought I’d jot down a few thoughts to share with my partner. In the end, I surprised myself with what came forth:

I believe in the power of connection.

I believe in hugs as a transfer of energy and a way to show solidarity.

I believe we all know each other better than we think we do, and that when we focus our attention on love and relationship, we feel a deep resonance that is the only thing that really matters. 

I believe that fear drives us apart – away from each other and ourselves.

I believe trust leads to love and that we are safe in each other’s arms.

I believe we are more a part of the natural world than we will ever know, and when we do begin to know it, we feel safer than we ever thought we could. 

I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with and listen to two extraordinary people about our beliefs, and when the group came back together, I was reminded why this is such a special place. Because we focus on relationship and what is important to us, because we listen deeply and honor each other’s perspectives, because we allow the full range of emotions and reactions – anger, frustration, laughter, tears, joy – this is a place for humanity and solidarity and friendship. I’ve met people from Canada and Cape Town, Kentucky and California and Portugal and the UK, and I have deepened my belief that we know how to be together with peace and love and joy just as much as we know how to isolate ourselves in fear and anger. I am reminded every single week that choosing peace and love and joy is a gift to myself and others, and this is one simple way to do it.

We belong to each other, whether we opt to acknowledge that or not. We are designed to be together, to share our thoughts and feelings with each other. We get energy from one another and hold each other up. So despite all of the other cultural messages we get about fear and independence and not burdening others with our struggles, the natural state of us as beings is to belong, to seek out others and find ways to collaborate and cooperate and be in community. It is there that we can begin to feel secure and in harmony with our natural rhythms. I am so grateful for this and other collectives that are holding me, that have welcomed me, because they allow me to remember that I am not alone. I am never alone.

The Conversation Collective is open to anyone who wants to join. Click the link to find out more if you’re interested.

image of multiple lightning strikes against a dark sky with a city below

U.S. Air Force photo by Edward Aspera Jr., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I was talking to two new friends yesterday about my daughters, explaining that I feel so connected to them energetically – I mean, when they are joyful, my spine sings with energy and when they are overwhelmed and anxious, my skin crackles with angst – and I don’t often know how to contain it. I talked about how I’ve learned, over the years, to close my eyes and ask, is this mine? It is a way to get space, to begin to discern whether the weight I’m carrying, the clench of my jaw and the tightening of my tongue against my soft palate, is vicarious or coming from some deep place inside my brain or body.

Often, this question gives me some relief. A way to distance myself a bit from the physicality of the connection if I determine that the anxiety, the frustration, the overwhelm is not mine. But yesterday, as we talked, I began to question whether it matters or not. If what I want is to maintain that close, empathetic connection with my daughters, perhaps trying to find boundaries between what is “theirs” and what is “mine” is something I learned from colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy. A protective mechanism that assures me I am separate and, therefore, not responsible for someone else’s strong feelings. And while I am not sure I want to assume responsibility per se, I don’t wish to completely divorce myself from being able to stay in tune with what my beloveds are feeling, especially their deepest, most intense feelings.


This morning’s walk on the beach was an exercise in “I Don’t Know.” The dogs were pulling at their leashes back in the direction of the parking lot, there were none of the usual birds standing in the shallows, there was more beach glass tucked in among the rocks than ever before. I watched as my mind tried to go down different paths – looking for explanations and attempting to find answers – and noticed that when I do that, I become blind to what is around me. When I preface my observations with I don’t know, I am able to simply notice what is.

I don’t know why there is one amorphous patch of brilliant bougainvillea on the hillside tucked in among the shrubs.

I don’t know why one rock has so many enormous mussels on it and the one next to it has anemones only.

I don’t know where the birds are this morning.

I don’t know why some of the rocks have marbled streaks of white in them.

There are certainly answers to all of these things, but those answers are not important to me. On my wanderings in the morning, paying attention to what is takes my nervous system from jittery to still. Widening my gaze and finding a steady, rhythmic gait sets the foundation for a slow heartbeat.


Texting with my daughter this morning about her sore throat, I was reminded that I read somewhere that our nervous systems develop in the womb before we ever have skin or bones or hair. Before we have physical form, we have nerve cells that will receive information and translate it to all the parts of our eventual bodies.

I wonder what my mom was doing when my nervous system was developing. I know she was on bed rest for much of her pregnancy, but I also know that it was stressful, with a toddler running around. I doubt she felt very zen. I wonder what effect maternal emotions have on a developing fetus.

This is not about blame. It is about connection. It is a wondering about all of the ways we are connected, and have been for longer than we know. It is an acknowledgment that there are so many ways in which we are designed to be together, to grow and learn and be part of each others’ experiences. And it is a reminder that being energetically connected to my children is something that is normal, natural, and likely immutable. So from this point forward, when I feel a strong emotion that comes to me from one of my daughters, rather than asking whether it’s mine, I will affirm that it is ours. Together. And we will ride that wave in solidarity until we can breathe deeply and resist asking why, because sometimes it is a huge relief to start the sentence with “I don’t know”

sandy beach with large rocks and a sunny blue sky

There is no One Right Way to live a life.

It seems absurd that I have to consciously remind myself of that from time to time. That there is an undercurrent of dogmatic belief humming inside me that tells me I’m doing it Wrong upon which I surf daily.

I’ve written before about how a sudden push to Improve Myself (!) is a red flag for me – how it signals that I am at some crossroads, heading down a path of Not Good Enough and eventual depression. And this move, this reimagining of my physical surroundings and my community and my work, has certainly ignited that. As I think about finding new friends and creating new routines for myself and struggle to identify people and organizations in this new area whose values align with my own, there is a small voice inside me saying, “you have the opportunity to show up as a better version of you – one that is more mindful, smarter, presents with an impressive resumé, speaks Spanish (I don’t, but I could bust my ass to learn), looks better in a swimsuit (WTAF? this voice – oy).”

And so I spent time on the elliptical machine yesterday and made sure to do my daily DuoLingo lesson (until I ran out of hearts because those damn verb conjugations get me every single time), thought about eating more veggies and less fruit, and worried about how to make meaningful connections with strangers online.

I met a woman a couple weeks ago who was sleeping in the park near my house. We talked for about 30 minutes and it is clear that she is not being served by any of the systems well-meaning politicians and non-profit organizations have put in place to meet the needs of the unhoused here in my new town. Not that that is much different than the way things worked in Seattle, but it was disheartening to be reminded that all of our systems are predicated on the notion that there IS One Right Way to live a life, and that if you want to be treated with respect and care, you have to Follow the Rules. Indeed, A volunteered that more than one of her friends has told her that if she just Follows the Rules, she will certainly find shelter and get back on her feet soon.

A and I exchanged email addresses and have kept in touch. She is a poet and a musician and a teacher and has been unhoused for more than a year at this point. She has done some combination of Following the Rules and not following them to no avail. It is clear that she is struggling to express herself in words, is more and more frustrated and angry at the failures of the system, and that some folks who are charged with helping unhoused people find her abrasive and alienating. And, I think, of course she is. Being ignored by most people and then treated with contempt by many others who you ask for help would make anyone frustrated and angry over time. Engaging in a daily struggle to find food and water, a place to go to the bathroom, and a way to get to the social service agencies from wherever you camped overnight would make anyone irritable. Being physically attacked (which she has been on more than one occasion in a shelter setting) and having your meager possessions stolen while having your present circumstances downplayed by your friends would make anyone struggle with their mental health.

I am in no way equating my situation with that of A or other unhoused people. Please know that. I am simply struck by how all of us have been so brainwashed by the systemic rule-centered society that we diminish our own value and dehumanize ourselves and others. When we are struggling, we look to ourselves for the solution, we assume we have done something wrong, or we haven’t quite found the answer yet. We have internalized the messages that encourage us to suck it up and soldier on. We assume that if someone is houseless or jobless it is because of something they aren’t doing right. I tell myself it’s my own fault that I feel lonely and frustrated – it’s because of the choices I made.

But what if the answer doesn’t lie in me becoming fluent in Spanish and losing 30 pounds and working with a Life Coach to learn how to market myself better? What if A can find help not by being a more presentable, more compliant unhoused person, but by showing up just as she is and asking to have her needs met? What if the answer lies in community and relationship and people who care about others simply because we all live here together? What if, instead of presenting A with a list of rules she has to follow in order to receive shelter and food, she is offered those things because she is in need of them? What if we learned to meet each other where we are and act on the belief that there isn’t One Right Way to live a life, beyond treating each other with respect and care? What if we stopped subscribing to the notion that there is some external set of criteria that we need to check off in order to be ok, to be happy, to be worthy of living in community? What if we just built relationships on a foundation of now, of enough, of acknowledgment of your worth and mine just as we are today, however we show up?

logo for Education for Racial Equity on a grey background with overlapping circles of red, blue, and yellow

The past year has been an incredible time of learning for me, specifically around anti-racism and Whiteness. I say this not to pat myself on the back – honestly, I’m incredibly embarrassed that I haven’t done this work before – but to acknowledge how much I don’t know. I began, like many others, after the extrajudicial (read: unjustified, police) killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and have been lucky enough to have found a group of other white women with whom to do it. Through those interactions, I’ve learned of books and workshops and I recently joined a cohort of white people working with a group called Education for Racial Equity. 

There are a series of lessons and interactions that will occur over the next nine months and after the first one, I am already making notes and observing my own thoughts and choices, and feeling that particular “brain on fire” sensation that happens for me when I know I am about to really deepen my understanding of something new. During the workshop yesterday, the leader played a short video of Dr. Ken Hardy speaking about relationships (one of my favorite topics, as you know if you read my posts often) and the notion of subjugated versus privileged self.

We talked about this in the context of trauma and individuals who have suffered trauma – specifically white people, since the entire group identifies as white. The idea is that, if you have suffered trauma, you formed a “subjugated” self at some point in your life. Whether that is because you’re a woman and you have been harassed or assaulted because of that gender identity, or if you’ve been denied specific opportunities or absorbed microaggressions directed at you because of that, etc., you have some part of you that identifies with that persona.

Because I am white, I also necessarily have privilege in all spaces. That doesn’t mean my trauma isn’t important and that it doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged, but in the first part of the speech, Dr. Hardy says that when we are in relationship and someone “is reaching out to me, in my privileged position … and I respond from a subjugated position…” that causes harm to the relationship. It stunts the possibility of coalition-building. This was my first “brain on fire” moment.

Immediately, I replayed times in my head when someone came to me for help or solidarity and I responded defensively – justifying my previous inaction or trying to explain why I couldn’t help now because of my subjugated self. I’ve made excuses for my choice not to act definitively – I can’t speak up in this meeting because I’m a woman and my position is precarious/nobody will believe me. I’ve justified my decision not to push beyond that first no – I can’t confront that person because it brings up fears of being verbally attacked that remind me of a painful time.

I recognize now that often, I was being asked to align myself and use my privilege as a white person to advocate for change and instead of acknowledging my privilege, I retreated to my subjugated self.

Later in the workshop, I had another moment of realization when another video played in which a white woman was talking about being in a group with many people of color and telling a story about an incredibly difficult time when her father was persecuted as a young boy because he was Jewish. She acknowledged that she was attempting to create a connection with many of the others in the room by illustrating that her family had experienced prejudice and something really terrifying, and it was only later when she was able to understand that telling that story caused harm to the other group members. At one point as she reflected on the incident, she said she realized that, while it truly was a horrific story and one that had impacted her family in a significant way, it wasn’t her “current reality.” Meaning that she was telling this story as a way to do something Brené Brown calls “hotwire connection,” as though her story was somehow equal to the current day reality of the people of color in the room. She was using her subjugated self to try and make a personal connection when what the people of color needed from her was for her to show up and acknowledge her privileged self.

The fact is, I have a subjugated self. I think we all do. And my subjugated self rarely affects my current reality with regard to privilege. While the person I am is certainly shaped and impacted by my trauma history, I do not leave my house every morning knowing that I will likely be treated poorly because of my status as a woman. I move through the world believing that I will be treated fairly for the most part.  Yes, there may be catcalls or misogyny, and those are personal issues, but the systems through which I move regularly are not set up to malign me or ignore me or cause me significant effort to navigate. By and large, my subjugated self and the stories that accompany it are not my current reality. And if I want to create relationships and collaborations that will change these systems of oppression, I have to show up as my privileged self.

At the end of the video, Dr. Hardy tells a story of a man who blamed the elevator for nearly taking “my fricking arm off” as a way to talk about how we tend to resist self-awareness in favor of blaming the problem on something outside of ourselves. It was the elevator that was the problem, not the fact that the man stuck his arm in the door to try and stop it from closing all the way. All of us have had experiences like that, which is why the audience laughed so hard at the anecdote. But in relationship, it is even more important to try and develop some awareness of the choices we are making when we respond to others, and decide if those choices align with the goal we are shooting for. If I am choosing to respond to someone’s request for help with excuses about why I can’t do it or a story about my own hardship, is that more about getting them to respond to some need I have for comfort or solidarity than about using my position to lift us both up? When I think about it that way, I have to say it is. And that is ultimately not what I’m going for.

I have a feeling the next nine months are going to be mind-blowing and humbling for me. Stay tuned.