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small stream bordered by lush greenery and dappled sunlight

Every once in a while I have these moments of absolute clarity about how traumatized we all are. How unhealthy is it that we are all expected to just keep getting up, working, helping our kids learn online, networking on LinkedIn and pretending like things are ok? There are children in cages. There are women in ICE custody who are being sterilized without consent. There are entire towns burning to the ground, millions of people on unemployment, hundreds of thousands dead from a virus. There are more storms forming over the ocean right now than ever before, and some areas on the West Coast of the United States are going on week four of air that is unsafe to breathe.

And yet, farm workers are out picking crops, college students are diligently logging on to their Zoom classes, and we are posting about November 4 as though it will be some magical day that will bring about a sea-change. If the culmination of so much pain and loss and collective grief doesn’t get us to pause, what will? I’m not talking about a General Strike (although, I’d be all in favor of that as a way to manage this), I am talking about the natural, physiological reaction human beings have to grief and loss, which is to slow down, absorb, feel the feelings, set aside what is not important and basic. We aren’t doing that. We aren’t giving ourselves the space to process the waves of trauma.

We are continuing to push forward, sometimes as a defense mechanism so that we don’t have to face the suffering, and other times because we know that the systems we have created will punish us for stopping to tend to ourselves as whole human beings. We have gotten so good at gaslighting ourselves – pretending as though what is most vital is to just keep going – that our bosses and landlords and parents don’t have to do it to us. We have swallowed the hook of capitalism that says that productivity will save us, that if we just put our heads down and keep working, “things will sort themselves out.”

I’m here to say that, even if things do sort themselves out, we will come out the other end of this traumatized and wounded and badly in need of rest and healing. What would it take for everything to stop for a bit – no school, no work that isn’t essential – so that we can nurture ourselves and our loved ones? What would it be like if we all took a week to just be in this overwhelm, to really settle in our minds and bodies around what is important, what our true basic needs are, and only focus on that?

What I know is that the thing that would feel best to me right now is to gather all of my beloveds in my home and cook for them. Play games and laugh and dance and nap. Walk the dogs and look at the trees turning color and sit around the table with a warm meal and the knowledge that we aren’t missing a damn thing out there in the world. That everyone else is doing the same thing with their beloveds, and if someone needs to cry, there are shoulders available. If someone needs a cuddle, there’s a sweet dog or little human there to sit with. And while that’s not possible on so many levels, even just imagining it calms my body and mind a bit.

What would it be like if we could all be honest with ourselves and each other about how damn hard this is, how scary and painful? What would it feel like to know that we are held in love by people we trust, and that whatever we feel is Real and True? That’s the world I want us to emerge in to. When the smoke clears and the rain and wind stop and the virus is vanquished, I want us to create a place where collective trauma is acknowledged and honored and rest is deemed more important than work.

 

I deleted Facebook from my phone two weeks ago and my nervous system is thanking me for it. I also decided to only go check the site once a day from my computer, in the morning, to make my way through the notifications, see what my friends and groups are up to, and maybe post a link to something I wrote, before logging off and leaving it for the next day. 

Since my divorce two years ago, I’ve felt lonely. (Actually, I was lonely long before then, but that’s not worth getting in to right now). Increasingly, I used Facebook as a way to connect with other people, to the point where I found myself checking it dozens of times a day. If I posted something and nobody commented or responded, I was frustrated, and conversely, when someone remarked on a post of mine or responded to a comment I left, I was elated. I felt that dopamine surge with glee. 

I will admit to some fear of letting go of Facebook. In the last several years, I’ve secured writing work almost exclusively from groups I belong to, and I am honestly worried that I will miss seeing opportunities if I don’t check the site more than once a day for five minutes. But I’d be lying if I said I feel good about supporting the platform itself and all that it stands for – capitalism, exploitation, curated news feeds, manipulation. 

Today, in a conversation with a friend, I was finally able to articulate what it is that I’m discovering about Facebook and, to be honest, other social media platforms as well. They are transactional, but they masquerade as relational. And my work, my passion, centers on the power of relationship and how transformational it is if we really engage in it with intentionality. 

To be sure, I am able to use social media as a way to  keep up with my cousins who live two states away – seeing photos of their kids and hearing about the things happening in their lives. I am kept informed of important events in the lives of friends who live far away and able to celebrate those things with a group of other friends online. But that’s not relationship. 

When I post something on Facebook, it is the equivalent of me standing on a stage with a bullhorn, proclaiming my opinion or telling folks about some idea I have. While, in general, they are free to comment, I don’t have to choose to engage with them, and often the comments aren’t inviting that kind of exchange – they are simply an acknowledgment. That’s not relationship. That’s a transaction. 

I have created relationship with folks I met online, but the connection was made offline – either in person or via email or FaceTime or, increasingly, Marco Polo. And in relationship, we are able to learn about and from each other, engage in conversations that are deep and also sometimes superficial and goofy. The communication is not performative in any way because there isn’t an audience and I think that’s important. I can talk to people about racism or what it means to struggle with trauma without voyeurs, and in relationship, I can make mistakes. I can say something and have the other person take a step back and let me know that maybe what I said was insensitive or even inappropriate and, without all of the rest of my Facebook friends looking on, I can take that information in and use it to learn. 

I do believe, and have for a long time, that the way we will make this world a better place is through relationship. It is not by “fixing” systems or forcing outcomes, but by engaging in conversations with each other on a very human level where we are allowed to be imperfect, grow, make mistakes, and hold each other accountable. It will take time and a willingness to be present, to pay attention, to suspend judgment, and to show up in our local communities. It involves us taking a leap of faith to connect with other people and let them decide whether or not to invite us in to relationship, or to invite others in to relationship with us. It is the stuff of every day life – seeing someone struggle to carry all of their things and offering to help shoulder the load, volunteering at a neighborhood organization for no other reason than there is a need to be met and we have the resources to help meet it, striking up a conversation with the neighbor while we are both out sweeping the walk. When we strengthen those connections with other people, we begin to see them as part of our community, and when we center those relationships in our lives in a way that feels foundational, it is harder to see other people as stepping stones to our own personal success. 

The post I wrote in April about systems centering themselves is part of this idea. When we center relationship, there is no way we can choose to disadvantage individual people in order to serve the “greater good.” Because the greater good relies on all of us being ok, and we are not ok. There are too many of us who don’t have shelter, or enough to eat. There are too many of us who are not safe, either in our own homes or out on the streets. And when we can create communities of care that are rooted in relationships, real, authentic, dynamic relationships where people have affection for each other, support one another physically and spiritually and emotionally, and see each other as vital to our own well-being, we will be on our way to inviting new systems to be born – systems that are grounded in the mutual exchange of ideas and love rather than transactions that serve some but not all. 

Ragesoss / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

If you have ever lived in Western Washington or Western Oregon, you know about Himalayan Blackberry – a plant that grows wild everywhere and is the bane of any homeowner’s existence. When I was a kid, I can recall Mom pulling over to the side of the road to park in July or August so that we could fill any empty container in the car with the enormous berries, often covered in road dust, and head home to make cobbler or freezer jam. The invasive, thorny vines grew at the edges of fields, sprouted out between gaps in a rock wall, could take over an entire back yard in one season. Years after they were introduced to the Pacific Northwest by a man named Luther Burbank, they are listed as one of the most invasive species in all of Washington state.

The Himalayan Blackberry is the botanical colonizer, eroding soil and crowding out native plants, thriving in rural and urban areas, in rainy and in dry climates. And yet, come July and August, the consolation prize is that we get juicy fruit, often for free, if we are willing to brave the thorns and brambles.

We are reaping what we’ve sown, in more ways than one.

When White Europeans began colonizing other parts of the globe, it was with the idea that white men deserved to own land, own women, own black and brown bodies, and use them to further their own agenda. For generations, in places from India to South Africa to the United States, we have embraced that idea and embedded it in to the psyche of white men everywhere. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are currently white men arming themselves to push their agenda in capitol buildings and public spaces across the United States. We taught them that they have the right to use whatever tactics it takes to assert their dominance, especially if the person in power is a woman, especially if she is asking them to stay home for the good of all.

In colonialism, there is no “good of all.” There is only the good of the white man, and the white women who choose to align themselves with the white men. It is no surprise that, given what these men think they stand to lose, they are furious. If you have been shown, in a myriad of ways, your entire life, that it is your birthright to own land, to take property from another by force, to use black and brown bodies and female bodies to enrich yourself, it could be hard to wrap your head around the notion that you are part of a collective that includes these other people. If you have been taught that competition is the natural state of things and that the winner deserves all the riches, I would imagine it’s difficult to believe in sharing resources or viewing the whole of the natural world as one symbiotic entity. But men are not blackberries, even if the ancestors of these white men were transplanted to a place where they didn’t belong but they somehow managed to thrive.

The only way we will emerge from this pandemic and be able to move forward without fear is together. If we use fear (and force) to emerge from it, fear will be the water we swim in for a very long time. We are reaping what we’ve sown in this country, and it is time for a different way of being. We can root ourselves in the belief that we are a collective, that we are one symbiotic entity, and that all parts of this collective can and should be cared for, none at the expense of the others. We can center the well-being of all rather than the economic prosperity of some because we have learned, time and time again, that those who become prosperous at the expense of others will not ever take care of the collective. It is counter to the purpose and process of capitalism and colonialism to care for the good of all.

But in order for this to happen, those white men who have armed themselves have to believe that they are part of the “all.” They have to see themselves as not superior to or entitled to dominion over the rest. They have to examine their fear of losing something and decide that anything you have to harm other human beings to get is not worth it. And that will require unlearning much of what they have been taught for generations was their birthright, uncoupling the idea of themselves and their place in the world from the capitalist, colonialist waters they and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers swam in from the moment they were born. That kind of work takes courage, and while courage does not exist without fear, fear can unfortunately exist without courage. Storming a public space to threaten others with an automatic weapon is not courage, it is a desperate attempt to assert dominance and an expression of fear.

Our stubborn adherence to principles of “Independence” fuel that fear more than any other country on the planet. Our lack of universal health care and paid family leave, our mistrust of anything that smacks of social services and the celebration of “private enterprise” have brought us a school-to-prison pipeline and a broken public school system and workers with two or three jobs who still can’t afford to feed themselves and their families. Americans are loathe to imagine that they are not unique and exceptional and our ways of being reinforce the (erroneous) idea that our well-being is not intertwined with that of our neighbors’ each and every day.

We are reaping what we’ve sown. The real question will be whether or not we have the courage and the intelligence to do things differently from here forward or if we are willing to continue sacrificing black and brown bodies and women and children on the altar of capitalism and colonialism because we are too afraid to ask the white men to give up their “freedoms.”

Elizabeth Warren, official portrait, 114th Congress.jpg
“I want her, too, but she will never get the nomination.”
“She’s not electable.”
“I don’t think this country is ready for a woman president.”
I could go on, but I’m certain I don’t have to. I’m certain many of you have either heard and/or uttered similar phrases. 
This is absurd. 
This is us staying small and playing within the confines of the system that was set up without us and not for us. 
This is how we give away our power and agency. 
Can we stop? 
Please? 
It is not only a lack of imagination that leads us to this place, but it is also fear. Which makes it understandable and also incredibly difficult to break free from. 
Many of us have spent years minding the levies.
Many of us have been groomed to hold fast, take baby steps, think about the ones who are coming behind us. 
But it is important to recognize that the levies are man-made. They weren’t created to keep us safe, but to keep us small, to keep us compliant, to make us believe that venturing beyond the boundaries will surely destroy us. 
The overwhelm is real. 
Once we begin to think about what might be possible if we look up and out, peer over the walls we’ve been told are impenetrable, or at least can’t be breached right now, we can be flooded with confusion, and we are much more susceptible to the cries of
“Not yet!”
“Be realistic!”
“You’re going to ruin it for all of us!”
It is true that change can be made one tiny step at a time. We have seen it happen with everything from women’s suffrage to same-sex marriage.
But how many years did we wait for the ERA to be ratified? 
And what happened in the interim?
How many women’s voices and talents were hidden and squashed?
We are at a tipping point, and we’ve gotten here with baby steps – this adherence to Capitalism at all costs, Individuality above all else – it has gotten us a health care system that is quite literally killing people. It has gotten us an overwhelming population of people living in cars and tents and sleeping on the street. It has forsaken education and locked up children and made a world where people who aren’t white, non-disabled, cis-gendered, heterosexual, English-speaking, non-mentally ill have to work harder and harder to simply stay alive.

The old saw about whether the glass is half full or half empty? That’s us keeping ourselves small. That is Capitalism and patriarchy giving us the parameters within which we are allowed to live. That is the way we are told what our reality should be. 
But the truth is, we don’t have to just have one glass. 
And it doesn’t have to be filled with water. 
We can cup our hands and drink from an ever-flowing stream.
We can fill a mug with tea.
We can squeeze juice from an orange in to one glass and sip it alongside a mug of coffee.
During this presidential primary, maybe it would work for you to set aside what you’ve been told by fear or the media or your trusted Uncle Joe. 
Maybe gathering the courage to vote for the woman who shows up to listen, who has proven herself capable of learning and growth, who comes with a plan and a history of getting shit done is a way for you to stand tall and peek over the levy to imagine what might be possible if we do this in a big way. 
Maybe marking the circle next to Elizabeth Warren’s name would feel like you’ve just entered a bigger room where there is more air to breathe.
It could be that that simple act of courage, taken by all of you who say she is your preferred candidate, is a powerful counteraction to the shrinking, the resignation, the acceptance of the boundaries we’ve been told are unbreachable. 
And if there are enough of us who are willing to vote with hope and agency and clarity of purpose, we can begin to untangle ourselves from the Gordian Knot we’ve been told we have to live with. Join me? 

I am reading the most fascinating book right now and it is spurring all sorts of wonderings in my mind. The book is “The Values of Belonging” by Carol L. Flinders and every paragraph is an opening and a widening and a deepening of understanding.

The Values of Belonging breaks new ground by examining human value systems from the perspective of how we live, not our gender. “There is a way of being in the world that recoils from aggressiveness, cunning, and greed,” writes bestselling author Carol Lee Flinders. This way of being arose out of the relationships our hunter-gatherer ancestors had with the natural world, one another, and Spirit — relationships that are most acutely understood in terms of trust, inclusion, and mutual reciprocity. This society’s core values, which include intimate connection with the land, empathetic relationship with animals, self-restraint, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, playfulness, and nonviolent conflict resolution, are what Flinders calls the “values of Belonging.”

She contrasts the “values of belonging” with the “values of enterprise” that came about when humans began cultivating the land and domesticating animals. She speaks of how profoundly this affected the way we saw our place in the world – changing us from believing we were one integral part of something bigger to a culture of ownership, of dominion, of power.

I have pages of notes and sketches. I dream about it.

It has prompted me to start asking questions about Enough.
What is Enough?
What can I take part in without owning it?
Do I need to own things? Do I need to control them?

Part of the trouble with owning things is that, if we ascribe a certain level of value to them, we then start to fear losing them. And when we’re afraid of losing something, we often begin to believe that its value is greater than it once was. Then, we see anyone or anything that could potentially take those things away from us as a threat and this further severs us from a culture of belonging. Or, it means that we’ve created a new set of things to which we think we belong (and which belong to us) – inanimate objects or scraps of land, or even people, but this kind of belonging is ownership, not connection.

So many of the things that plague us today stem from a loss of connection. Depression and anxiety, relational aggression, climate change. These are all things that came about because of our desire to have, own, be in control of – these cultural values that make us believe we are safe and important. And they are tearing us apart. Owning land and cultivating it, drawing lines around “our” borders and rejecting those who we perceive to be a threat, these things might serve the short term purpose of feeding us and protecting us, but they are anathema to our long-term survival because no matter how hard we might try, we will never be separated from the natural world and each other. We are all intimately intertwined and, in fact, it is our biological imperative to live that way. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to connection by releasing hormones when we cuddle an animal, nurture our young, give or receive a hug. It is why, when we offer help to another person, we feel good about ourselves and when we walk in the woods our nervous systems calm down.

So how much is Enough?
How can we begin to return to each other and the natural world?
Can we integrate the values of belonging with the values of enterprise without destroying ourselves?

I hope so. I haven’t finished the book yet, but for now, I am asking the questions and spending time noticing how I feel when I imagine more connection and less dominion.

I was planning on writing a post today about yesterday’s breakfast with Donna Brazile (and roughly 699 other people, but still…).  It was pretty amazing, especially given that I got to hang around with a few dozen other people afterwards for an hour or so to ask her questions.  Sadly, that post will have to wait because I have a little rant I’d like to go on.

As most everyone knows, Twitter went public yesterday. Now, I will be the first to admit that I know very little about the nuanced workings of an IPO or the stock market itself, and I will also tell you that I have no intention of learning the ins and outs of this convoluted financial game in this lifetime.  I will say that, although I am certain I have benefited from the knowledge of others and their investments on my behalf, I still think this game is the most ridiculously rigged American institution out there. To me, it seems like one of those high-stakes poker games that only the crazy-rich or wildly bold really profit from and the story I heard on NPR this morning only solidified that for me.

You see, even though the vernacular states that Twitter “went public” yesterday, the truth is, they went private the day before.  They sold initial shares to huge investors at $26/share on Wednesday and by the time of the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, the shares had shot up so much that most regular investors were shut out. Not to mention the fact that most regular investors couldn’t even have gotten leverage to buy a share even if it were within their price range. Most of the trading yesterday benefitted the folks who were allowed to get in at the $26 price and those who hold massive influence on the floor of the stock exchange because they have enormous client lists and lots of money to burn.  NPR talked to one Texas stockbroker who was hoping to purchase some stock for his clients, but was unable to because of the skyrocketing price.

Now, think for a minute about what happened here.  A visionary company made a boatload of money for their efforts. That’s kind of cool. But more salient is the fact that lots of rich investors made themselves richer while shutting out smaller investors whose profits would likely have gone more directly back into their communities.  Even if you still believe in trickle-down economics (don’t get me started – I am no economic wizard, but I have read and witnessed enough in my short lifetime to think that was all a giant scam), what are the odds that the astronomical sums of money made by these large investors yesterday will find their way down to the middle class?

To paraphrase Donna Brazile (hey, I worked in a reference to yesterday after all), if you aren’t part of the group when the rules are being written, the deck is likely stacked against you. If the rules are written to benefit one group of folks and you can’t add your voice to the discussion, you’re never going to win. What would happen if we made it easier for smaller groups of individuals to invest in the stock market and initial public offerings? What sense does it make to keep shuffling the deck to give the money out to the same folks over and over again? I know Twitter was handsomely compensated for their hard work and innovation and I appreciate that.  But offering pre-sales of popular stocks to those who already have money is like saying the families who can afford to pay for their kids to attend private pre-schools will get first right to enrollment in the Head Start program.  I know that engagement in the stock market is not an entitlement and I am not advocating priority for anyone. It just seems ludicrous to me that there is such an uneven playing field that virtually shuts most of middle-income folks out of the game when they could be benefitting and investing in their communities with the money they make by helping to support their own families. It is disgusting to watch the ever-increasing rolls of those living in poverty whose food-stamp benefits are being cut while others are literally making money hand over fist after being allowed early purchase of IPO stock. Am I the only one who feels this way?

I am regularly reminded of the bubble(s) in which I live.  The mostly-liberal-Democrat bubble of my town and neighborhood (and daughters’ school). The I-can-pay-my-bills-and-have-money-left-to-eat bubble. The our-family-has-health-insurance bubble.  I could go on, but you get the gist.  We are blessed, privileged, incredibly lucky.  I drive and walk past homeless people almost daily. I live in a country where running water and electricity are the norm.  I am aware of how comfortable my life is and am grateful for it every day, all the while doing what I can to make the lives of others more comfortable as well.

But every now and then I am really struck by the possibility that there are other bubbles out there smaller than mine.  I tend to ignore the news of mega-millionaires (I couldn’t pick a Kardashian out of a line-up and most Hollywood insiders could stroll right past me without prompting a glance) and actively discard news reports of egregiously selfish behavior on the part of filthy rich corporations because they turn my stomach.  And then there are stories like this one on NPR that make me feel not that I live in a bubble, but in some alternate universe.

The abbreviated version is this:  Major pharmaceutical companies have apparently devised new methods to hold the exclusive patents on their drugs just a little longer than the law allows.  You see, when the original patent expires and other drug manufacturers are allowed to begin making generic forms of medication they often charge up to 85% less than the original price of the drug. Nobody in their right mind (especially the incredibly bottom-line-concerned insurance industry) would pay for the original drug at that point, so the profits for a single drug can go down significantly in one year.  That obviously gives these enormously rich pharmaceutical companies incentives to disallow generics.

Enter the “reverse settlement” or “pay to delay” tactic.  These companies often apply for new patents, changing perhaps the source of an ingredient or some other minor tweak by way of reason, and when the generic-manufacturers sue, they are offered a gross amount of money to go away for several more years, thus enabling the original company to continue to rake in piles and piles of money.

From whom? The insurance companies and hospitals.  Which means, ultimately, consumers. Those who are paying the hospital and insurance bills.

In one case, the settlement for a single drug was $42 million per year for 15 years. If it was worth that much to the pharmaceutical company, how much do you think they are profiting from that one drug in a year?  On the backs of the American public?

I understand that these companies have to pay for their R&D and that they deserve to be making more money for discovering these drugs, but there has to be a better way. And there also has to be a middle ground somewhere.  Is there such a thing as a company making too much profit?  Call me an evil anti-Capitalist, but I say yes. Especially when it is the American public who is forced to give these companies their hard-earned money, in many cases, far beyond what the drug is actually worth, because they need the medication to survive.  Especially after most of these companies have already utilized taxpayers’ money to create these drugs in the form of tax breaks.

Other countries (Canada, European Union countries) have figured out how to pluck these pharmaceutical companies out of their pockets and put them in their place and the world hasn’t stopped spinning yet. Here’s hoping the US Supreme Court will follow suit.