Tag Archives: politics

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Keep Your Powder Dry

A few weeks ago, one of my high school friends who consistently brightens my day with her thoughts and photos put up a status on Facebook saying ordinarily she’d like to talk about a silly little event in her life, but in this current political climate, it feels terribly shallow or self-absorbed. I was bummed out to read her self-censorship because I know she is a deeply engaged, caring person, and I couldn’t imagine anyone in her life believing she’d gone into ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand mode, yet I understood where she was coming from (and have maybe been doing the same thing). I was relieved to see another of her friends point out that Facebook is a bit like a cocktail party, and if all you ever did at a party was launch into lengthy political diatribes or microanalysis of current events, you would be just as tedious as if you only ever talked about your recent haircut or your cat.

(For the record, I literally never get tired of talking about cats, and if you’ve ever got like fifteen cat photos you’d like to share with someone, I am your girl.)

I’ve been accused of being overly political, usually by people who haven’t seen me in person in a while. I find it somewhat laughable because I censor probably 98% of the political comments, rants, articles, petitions, etc. that I’d like to share, so the remaining 2% is too much for those who aren’t interested in, well, any politics at all. There are two extremes of the current polarization, both of which are actually fairly aggressive stances, and it seems many people are pulled between them in their lives at the moment.

1.) The “La-La-La No, No Politics Please!” Earmuffs Stance




Image via the Ear Plug Superstore blog, which is full of similarly adorable photos of babies protecting their hearing, awww.

This one can seem innocuous, shouting over conversations that they are tired of all the politics, and asking, “Can’t we talk about something else??” or posting about why social media isn’t joyful and fun for them anymore. Sometimes it’s a pointed refusal to engage in anything remotely political, or to even acknowledge that they live in a political world (I’m sure we all have those friends steadfastly posting diet and workout photos or inviting us to leggings “parties” or vaguebooking about relationship drama or whatever their thing is). I don’t mean the people who refrain from discussing politics publicly for professional reasons (which is an accepted form of capitalistic oppression, but that is neither here nor there) – I mean more the stance that politics are inherently unpleasant or rude, or the people who, to be blunt, can’t be bothered.

A guy who had been hitting on me at a club for an hour actually put his hand over my mouth when I made a political joke and said, “Please, you’re too pretty to think so much about these problems!” (That is a whole separate issue, and I know he was drunk and thought he was being clever, but still, ugh). I’ve been editing them out of my life, but I have had friends who brushed aside any mention of current events with, “No, I’m so sick of that stuff,” then steered the conversation to television shows and gossip. Dates who insistently redirected to what they did for leg day (NOPE).

2.) The Everything-Political-All-the-Time Stance




Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787, oil on canvas, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I am grateful for the friends always ready to call me out on my privilege, identify what they perceive as points of culture that reinforce white supremacy or heteronormativity, and help me constantly question society through a political lens. Sincerely – I think they make me a better person, and I’m glad they put up with me. But I have observed a shift toward aggression and anger that can become alienating and just as oppressive as that which they would like to fight. We all have friends and family on both sides who went overboard with political posts during the election and the post-election period, and I will admit I still have a lot of people hidden online and I have been relieved to be really busy lately and able to duck out of some social events with the more exhausting of them.

This is the type I fear I can be to the people in my life, so I may be overcorrecting to seem an earmuffer. I guarantee I am always reading and overthinking something (usually many things), and if something has happened in the world, you can be reasonably sure I HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT IT. But I am trying to temper how I express myself so it is not all-caps all the time.



I know that the people in both groups care very much, that they are expressing either their passion for harmony and community (which can be mistaken for complacency or acceptance) or their passion for justice, fairness, and engagement (which can be mistaken for militancy). I am trying – and often struggling – to strike a balance between the two. I think I’ve made my bleeding heart liberal politics crystal clear for years now, but I am also passionate about my interests. I don’t see these things as unrelated, especially when the arts or the environment or human rights are under threat, but I do think it’s important to find balance in one’s life, so we are not trapped in fixation.

I’ve questioned if my art was “political enough,” or if I should be more overt and direct (we’ll talk more about this over on the studio blog soon). I’ve gone through days where my entire existence felt pointless in the face of these massive events and threats, and it felt shallow comforting myself with the apocryphal Winston Churchill quote that if we cut funding for the arts to fuel the war effort, there is nothing worth fighting for. I’ve made my peace with what I’m doing and what more I will be doing, but I still have this uneasiness of feeling like I need to justify the audacity of existing and carrying on, with an attenuation I hadn’t experienced prior to last November.



Here I am grateful for the elasticity of the mind and the way it can simultaneously care intensely about protesting an unjust immigration policy and about a new cake recipe. I once spoke with a veteran who, after a harrowing day with an IED, cried at the book he was reading and wasn’t sure if it was because of the story itself or his relief that he would get to read through to its sad but beautiful ending. There is still music, and it still transports the soul. Awful things are happening in the world and humanity, but rather than spend all my time lamenting them, I need to balance them with kindness, action, creativity, and compassion. I think we all do.

My strategy has become, essentially, “Keep your powder dry,” coupled with “Choose your battles.” There are a lot of people in my life whose political views are intransigent, and just as I will never change my beliefs about egalitarianism or humanitarianism, I know they will never change theirs. It doesn’t make it okay, but ranting at them will only isolate them and prevent any further communication and consideration between us. I believe it is also taking a psychic toll on many people in subtly observable ways, as fatigue sets in from the public performance of citizenship and scrutiny turned on ourselves and one another instead of those we should be holding accountable. I am trying to encourage my friends and family to save their strength for the bigger fights, and to not get mired in petty day-to-day nonsense (that is, after all, the hypernormalisation strategy being deployed) so we can catch the signals through the noise.



Often lately it has been super tempting to lie on the floor and listen to “Holocene” on repeat. But to quote my dad, “This is a lot right now. But we can’t let this be all that there is for us.”




(My dad is hella wise.)

We need to continue making life and culture, engaging each other as full human beings, and finding pleasure in life without stripping the joy away through our guilt or fear. We have some control over how we interpret our experiences, and we can tap out when we need to. As Kumail Nanjiani put it:

During jury duty this week, I was involuntarily subjected to several blaring hours of cable news programs, and I watched the energy of the room shift from a general malaise of boredom or annoyance to acute anxiety to utter exhaustion and exasperation. My district in the Bronx is full of people directly affected by discriminatory policies on immigration, repealing healthcare, institutionalized racism, and the other topics that were being discussed. My district is one the president loves to impugn as the “disastrous inner cities,” mischaracterizing life here as a hellscape of misery, desolate poverty, and unending violence, when my actual experience has been one of a vibrant, beautifully harmonious, and loving community that looks out for everyone in it. It is the most civil and human place I’ve ever lived in New York.

I looked around and chatted with a few fellow jurors, always beginning with a shared eye roll about how we wished they’d turn the televisions off. I started to recognize the face of David staring at the Goliath of a political system gearing up to steamroll everything they cared about, but instead of fear, I saw patience and stone cold determination. One woman who had just described her fairly immediate and urgent concerns about losing healthcare said, “But we’ll outlast them, I know that,” then pointed to Michael Davis’s powerful Equilibrium sculpture overhead emblazoned with MLK’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I was stunned at how comforting her words and unshakable faith in humanity were.



When you think of all the hardship and struggle trees go through, clenching everything significant about themselves into a bud and hoping it’s not frozen or nipped off through seemingly endless months of bitter cold and darkness, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have flowers each spring. They don’t do it because they are brave or heroic, but because that is what they were put here to do: they have a biological imperative and a natural drive to persist and thrive. So too, humans were put here together to help each other and be good stewards of the planet, whether everyone does it or not. I believe we are in a winter of humanity, but spring is coming.

I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of what is happening in the world right now – it is truly as big a crisis as it feels – but I think we need to focus, tap into our reserves of strength and integrity, and organize. We need to resist “either/or” false dichotomies and traps of illogical, lazy thinking or tautology. We need to be critical and clear, use precision and purity of thought and language, and always let compassion lead our principles. It is possible to sacrifice truth for dogma no matter which side of a debate one finds oneself on, so we must resist the attempts to divide and alienate our country wherever they are coming from. Expressing anger is cathartic, and it pains me that some people have not felt able or empowered to express their objections before now, but we have to think about the end games and goals. We should not abandon a good mission over imperfect execution. We should not attack our allies, but instead come together and find our common ground.

We’ll get through this, and I have to believe we’ll eventually be stronger and better for it, if we preserve our humanity and follow our hearts. Nothing is more powerful than the love we share for one another.

Progressive Postcards

I believe strongly in contacting our representatives because the pen is forever mightier than the sword. So I was delighted when the 10 Actions for the First 100 Days began with postcards to senators outlining concerns and requests.

And it turns out, I had quite a lot to say to mine.



I made postcards for 13 of the many, many issues that concern me, then I wrote specific requests for rights I want protected and actions I want taken. With each card, I focused my intentions, and it was a powerful meditative and emotional experience.

I’ve made my designs available for download, if you’d like to print them on cardstock or photo paper to send your own. The PDF download is formatted to print two 4″x6″ postcards (for each of your senators) or you can print one at a time by downloading the JPGs. If you follow USPS postcard regulations, you should be able to mail them using a 34-cent postcard stamp.

If you’d like the whole set, you can download it from Dropbox here (JPGs also on Flickr).




Mni Wiconi: Water Is Life
Download – JPG | PDF




Women’s Rights
Download – JPG | PDF




Environment
Download – JPG | PDF




Health Care is a Human Right
Download – JPG | PDF




Don’t Turn Our Backs On Humanity: Immigration, Refugees, and Ethical Foreign Policy
Download – JPG | PDF




Love Is Love: LGBTQIA Rights and Freedoms
Download – JPG | PDF




Support for Veterans and First Responders
Download – JPG | PDF




Black Lives Matter: Addressing Institutionalized Racism
Download – JPG | PDF




Make America Think Again: Education
Download – JPG | PDF




Disability Access, Independence, and Opportunity
Download – JPG | PDF




End the Epidemic of Gun Violence
Download – JPG | PDF


ERA

Equal Rights Amendment
Download – JPG | PDF


Workers_Rights

Treat Workers Like People: Fair and Humane Labor Policies
Download – JPG | PDF

I feel obliged to put the usual disclaimers that while our values may differ, I think it is essential that you also communicate yours. I’m happy to share what specifically I wrote about each issue, if you’re struggling to find words or have questions about my stances. Politics are nuanced and complex, as our conversations should be.

And while I doubt it’s necessary, I also feel obliged to remind you to please use respectful, clear, and concise language while communicating with your representatives.

The Fairer Sex and Why I March

I’m writing this post in advance of the Women’s March on NYC this Saturday, to express some of the reasons Why I March. There are, unfortunately, many other reasons, but let’s start with the first: I am a woman, and that still means I am a second-class citizen in America in 2017.



Unless you are a woman, there are some experiences of discrimination and misogyny I don’t think you can ever fully understand. For the sake of not airing all my grievances at once (a lady must keep some semblance of mystery), let’s say I haven’t lived everything on this list, just most of it, and it’s nowhere near a complete list. But if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s definitely happened to a woman I know and probably someone you know too.

It probably goes without saying, but fair warning, there is discussion of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, among other things below.

Unless you are a woman, you probably haven’t…

  • Had adult men leer at your pre-teen adolescent body and make suggestive, hypersexualizing statements about how you are developing.
  • Been groped or fondled by a complete stranger in public, with no one saying or doing anything. Or had it suggested that you had it coming for dressing the way you did and smiling too much.
  • Been told your choice of a major in math or science “isn’t easy, you know,” and been told repeatedly that you would maybe prefer something like English or communications “where girls seem to thrive.”
  • Sat through an exam or a work meeting with menstrual cramps that are as painful as a heart attack, knowing you can’t flinch or react because it’s not appropriate to talk about that kind of pain.
  • Discovered you were pregnant when you started to have a miscarriage at work, then not being given any time off except the actual time you may have been hospitalized.
  • Sought treatment for mental health concerns, asked if better regulating your hormones might help, and learning that antidepressants and mood stabilizers make it that oral contraceptives don’t work; asking why this fact isn’t better known, and your doctor just shrugging because people don’t really research “that kind of stuff.”
  • Dated a man who fully expected you to give up your career one day to raise his children and referred to your degree as your academic interest, even when you earned more than him.
  • Worked yourself sick at a job while struggling to make ends meet, then learned the men at your office were making easily 2-3 times what you earned and none of the other women had ever gotten a raise.
  • Had a construction foreman pantomime to your boss that you should be put over his knee and spanked for a small mistake, then your boss laughing along with everyone on the site who you were supposed to be supervising, even when you asked, “Would you make that joke if [my male coworker] forgot his keys??” (Okay, yeah, this one really happened to me in Paris and it broke my heart.)
  • Had a man shove his hand up your dress on the subway with such force that he left bloody scratch marks on your inner thigh, arrived at the office late because you needed to sit in a park and cry for a bit, then been reprimanded for not being friendly when your coworker greeted you with objectifying comments about the dress you would now like to burn. (Yes, this one is also me, and I still can’t wear that dress.)
  • Had every bite of food you eat in public monitored and judged, as everyone feels they should offer advice on your weight and fitness level.
  • Suffered severe post-partum depression and been told by everyone in your life you just need to shake it off and concentrate on the joy of your new baby.
  • Been kept as a contractor for over a decade so your employer could deny you benefits; been repeatedly passed up for promotions because your boss felt the male employees should be prioritized as “they have families to support.”
  • Been denied a promotion because it is assumed you are going to marry your boyfriend and quit in a few years to have children.
  • Gained 20 pounds when you went on medication and been told “you have gotten so fat I can’t even see you as a woman anymore, let alone find you attractive.” (Yeah, I am not ever going to forgive him for that.)
  • Seriously assessed your safety level at a party or bar and concluded if you don’t want to be raped, you need to leave immediately.
  • Been told by a professor that you should probably focus on marrying well.
  • Known that everywhere you go and at any time, a man can rape you, and you may not legally be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy.
  • Been told you should take sexual objectification as a compliment and “enjoy it while it lasts.”
  • Dated a man who declared you were solely responsible for birth control, mostly because he didn’t want to wear a condom. Dated another man who refused to discuss birth control or what would happen if you became pregnant because, “That’s your problem, baby.”
  • Considered the ways you could make suicide look like an accident if it turned out you were pregnant and not just missing your period from the stress of an abusive relationship.
  • Mentioned how encouraging it was to work with an all-women team of scientists at a research symposium and having several men make jokes about your periods syncing.
  • Had your neighbors suggest a pattern you could knock on their wall if you ever needed them to call the police on your boyfriend or kick down your door to help you.
  • Participated in political conversations about reproductive rights characterizing women seeking affordable contraception as morally loose “sluts” because men didn’t want their health insurance to pay for family planning, while wondering if they considered their wives sluts too.
  • Given a presentation while a classmate, professor, or professional colleague openly stared at your breasts the entire time, wishing you could crawl out of your skin.
  • Had a strange man masturbate, to completion, while you were alone on a subway car being held between stations, petrified and trying not to react at all. Reported it to the conductor at the next stop and been told the train crew watched it in the cameras laughing, but it didn’t occur to them to intervene.
  • Requested an estimate for a car repair and been told you should come back with your husband or father, so he can help you understand it.
  • Been raped by a friend and had a mutual friend say it was your fault for leading him on.
  • Been screamed at and assaulted at work then had your HR complaint disregarded because you were being “overly emotional” about it. Later having your job threatened because you still seemed upset and uncomfortable and it was bumming people out.
  • Been called a bitch repeatedly in the same day, more days than you can count.
  • Developed a habit of figuring out how to escape every room and building you enter on a date, in case he decides to pin you against a wall somewhere and gets violent.
  • Weighed the odds of a man seriously hurting or killing you against your ability to talk or fight your way out of an aggressive sexual assault.
  • Learned that you were hired as a bartender with the intent to convince you to also become a prostitute for the owner, who assumed you understood that’s why he hired you despite your lack of experience.
  • Invited a man for dinner to discuss a contract job you’d like to hire him for, and had him say, “Okay, if you bring your best friend so I have something nice to look at while we talk.”
  • Discussed stories of the many ways your body has been violated and had a male friend say he is surprised because “you’re cute and all,” but not the kind of woman you’d expect to “get hit on” so much.
  • Had a seemingly sane guy you had spent a few hours dancing with wrap his arm around your neck, holding you in some kind of headlock so he could show you the money in his wallet that he offered you if you would go to a hotel room with him right then. (This just happened on my birthday.)
  • Expressed a controversial opinion on Facebook and had your face photoshopped on pornographic images and pasted all over your page and messaged to several of your friends.
  • Felt forced to choose between education and a career or starting a family. Been called crazy by men who don’t have an expiration date on their reproductive years and can’t understand why you are concerned with not wasting time. Been treated as if you are trying to “trap” a man when you say you only pursue monogamous relationships.
  • Only been able to deter a would-be rapist by saying you have a husband, and it happens to be someone he knows.
  • Had your concerns about pay equality, reproductive freedom, sexual assault survivors’ rights, and women’s health care coverage dismissed as “whining” and been told, “If you want higher pay, you should work harder for it or get better at negotiating” by men who have known nothing but privilege in life.
  • Told your friends and family about a new job and been asked repeatedly, “And are there any handsome men there? Anyone who might make a nice boyfriend?”
  • Been sent unsolicited dick pics by more than ten of your completely platonic male friends and anyone you’ve met online, including men pretending they are interested in commissioning art from you or hiring you for a job.
  • Spent a date deflecting attempts to steer the conversation toward a man’s salary because you don’t want to be called a “gold-digging whore” when you don’t agree to a second date on the basis of his personality.
  • Been referred to as “the girl” well into your 30s and called infantilizing names like honey, sweetie, baby, and dear in public and professional settings by strangers and vendors, whether you object or not.
  • Had a rumor spread to all of your coworkers that you got your promotion from $7 to $11 an hour by sleeping with your supervisor and having an entire receiving department of a clothing store pantomime you performing oral sex and telling you everything they’d like to do with you every time they saw you.
  • Formed a sincere friendship with a married man and had your coworkers start a rumor that you must be trying to lure him into an affair because they can’t see any other reason he would want to talk with you.
  • Been sexually assaulted, then told it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk.
  • Gone to an art exhibit and dinner with a professor on the guise of talking about painting, pretended you didn’t notice his “accidental” hand on your thigh or brush of your breast when he helped you with your coat, turned your head and pretended he was just kissing you goodbye on the cheek as he licked your face, then went home to frantically calculate how much of your grade in his class could still be affected. Felt genuinely grateful a few weeks later that he didn’t punish you for rejecting his advances.
  • Called the super of your building for repairs to the oven in your first apartment and been cornered in your kitchen with one hand squeezing your neck while he shoved the other up your blouse, thrusting against you. Later had his wife come to threaten you for telling the building owner what he did in your tearful request that he never come into your apartment unaccompanied again.
  • Dyed your hair red for several months after a friend of a friend shoved into a bar bathroom with you and tried to force himself on you, excusing himself with, “I can never control myself around blondes.”
  • Engaged in constant and exhausting self-monitoring of your posture, bodily position, use of language that could be misinterpreted as suggestive, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dress to hide as much of your figure as possible at work so your boss and colleagues don’t treat you as a sex object all day.
  • Believed the way men mistreat you is all your fault, or that maybe the way you’re treated really is your only worth.

I could easily go on for another thousand words, but I’m getting exhausted remembering all these experiences. I know that for every man who has treated me as nothing but a body he was entitled to use for gratification, there are other truly good, kind, feminist men out there who would never dream of treating a woman this way. I am grateful that so many of my friends who are fathers are as concerned with protecting the sanctity of women’s lives and bodies as I am, and I have hope that they are raising their sons to treat women better than past generations have. I know there are men who recognized the pay gap and encouraged me to ask for raises, and there are men who have seen me as their equal, or respected me personally or professionally – but they are few and far between. I still find it so incredibly frustrating to discuss issues of professional inequality, objectification, sexual predation, and institutionalized misogyny with most men because they just don’t see it.

I think about all of the experiences above that have happened to me and women I know, and I know not to trust most men to pass laws that affect women’s bodies and access to healthcare. I’ve discussed trans-phobic bathroom discrimination bills with men at length, and they’ve often come back to the myth of a man claiming to be a trans woman so he can expose himself to young women in a bathroom or locker room. They don’t seem capable of understanding that by the time a girl is old enough to go to the bathroom by herself, odds are high she’s already seen more unwelcome male genitalia than she can count, and she would be relieved if this strawman were able to just stick to flashing.

We don’t talk about the manifold ways girls’ and women’s bodies are violated, in part because we live in a victim-blaming culture that repeatedly casts women as wanton temptresses and their sexual assaulters as red-blooded American males feeling their oats. When the president-elect bragged about sexually assaulting women, it was dismissed by some as “locker room talk,” but just about every woman I know recoiled at the memory of their own assaults. Plural – often repeatedly, and violently, by people they should have been able to trust in settings where they should have been safe. I can’t accept that state of being as anywhere near okay.

I don’t know if it is helpful to share these experiences with men and confront them with what it’s really like to be a woman, but I think we should try. Or maybe share them with women and work on ways to prevent them from happening again to others. Because somehow women are still not being treated as equal human beings, and that needs to change right now.

As with other forms of discrimination, I believe that codifying unjust treatment of women by laws that restrict reproductive rights or limit access to healthcare is a way of sanctioning our treatment as lesser, making it the law of the land that our bodies are not our own, but open for others to possess and legislate. I feel it is crucial to protect women’s rights and keep on fighting for equality, now more than ever.

Now is the time to learn from Pollyanna

You may have already seen this on my Facebook page, but if not, here, have an excellent feel-good holiday cry on me:



Right??? I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still burst into tears every time it comes on. I may or may not have kept it open in a tab on my browser for a week or so for when I needed a big “awww” moment and a smile. You can too, I won’t judge.

The other day my mother mentioned that my father excitedly asked her to record the recent remake of Pollyanna on PBS. She was surprised to learn it was one of his favorite movies as a boy, after his whole family (he had five sisters) piled in at the drive-thru in 1960 and he fell head over heels in love with Hayley Mills. They kept it on their DVR so I could watch it from my apartment, and it was so utterly charming and uplifting that I completely understand why they felt “a little emotional” and / or cried their faces off watching it.



Georgina Terry as Pollyanna, © Carlton Television 2016

One of the central motifs of the film – and part of why the term “Pollyanna” caught on to describe irrepressibly optimistic people – is the Glad Game, invented by Pollyanna’s deceased father. In any unpleasant situation, the challenge is to find something to be glad about, however small or seemingly insignificant, and to hold onto that positivity.

In the past few weeks, I have not particularly wanted to feel glad about anything. It has been tempting to be overwhelmed with discouragement and sink under the crushing waves of despair, to dismiss any attempt at positivity as naïve, magical thinking, or to snap at people who pointed out rays of hope and tear them down for their privilege or lack of concern. It was like an across the board dirge of “Let’s call the whole thing off.”

But damn if Pollyanna didn’t get me right in the feels and remind me that the times when you feel low are the most important ones to play the Glad Game and to try to find the silver linings. I saw that the key to Pollyanna’s sunny disposition and perpetual good humor is that she was always thinking about other people and trying to make life better for them. She resisted cynicism, negativity, and self-interest, and so she was able to help people and bring about change.

I’m trying not to talk too overtly about politics in every post, but a stated part of the GOP campaign strategy this year was to stoke such intense feelings of cynicism and fear that people were too despondent to get out and vote. They wanted people to believe the system was rigged or that every politician was just as corrupt as any other, and that the government was too inefficient to help anyone anyway. I have thought a lot about who benefits when cynicism prevails. When people feel too hopeless to insist on change, the hegemony succeeds in maintaining the status quo. When we feel overwhelmed by the forces of evil in the world, we start to believe good never existed and was all an illusion anyway. But I believe in my heart of hearts that most people are inherently good and want to do right by one another – it just takes overcoming fear, precarity, and self-interest enough to stand up to those motivated by greed and power. It is therefore more essential now than ever before to embrace radical, subversive optimism and to refuse to become complacent in the face of constant attempts to drown us in cynicism.

I’ve started to channel my feelings of frustration, worry, and fear into working to help other people and the environment. I want to stop wallowing in the things that upset me in my personal life and focus on spending my time more constructively, making art, raising awareness, helping promote education and compassion, listening, and working harder to understand. The more I can escape my own ego / consciousness and focus on others, the easier it is to find ways to be glad and grateful.

So that is my wish for you this holiday season and in the coming months. May you always find something to be glad about, and may your life be full of gratitude and compassion.

And go watch Pollyanna. This girl just gets it.

Be with this moment

As I have mentioned previously, I quote romantic comedies with a somewhat comical frequency in my everyday life. One of the more unexpectedly profound moments in Sweet Home Alabama (spoiler alert) is when Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) tells her fiancé Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) that she can’t marry him:

MELANIE
Andrew, you don’t want to marry me.

ANDREW
I don’t?

MELANIE
No. No, you don’t, not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago. My whole heart, and I never really got it back. And I don’t even know what else to say, but I’m sorry. I can’t marry you. And you shouldn’t want to marry me.

ANDREW
So this is what this feels like.

The simplicity of his statement, paired with his shocked expression as he struggles to process everything she’s said and what it means for his life, is a touchstone of cinematic empathy for me (it’s okay to make fun of me for that). I picture Patrick Dempsey’s stupefied face every time I hurt someone or watch someone struggle with disappointment, and I can’t count the amount of times I’ve stood stunned myself in the face of heartbreak, identifying with him completely. His response is most typically how I process let-downs now, usually echoing his exact words to myself. So this is what this feels like.

The scene continues as his overbearing mother, played brilliantly by Candice Bergen, shouts, “That’s it?! You’re just gonna let her humiliate you with some bullshit about an old husband?” Dazed, he replies in the same calm, detached manner, “Yeah, I think I am. Excuse me.”

(I really love this movie.)



For as long as I can remember, I have adopted a style of depersonalization to cope with fear, hurt, upset, anger, disappointment, and so on, detaching and looking at the situation from the outside as an abstraction. I frequently cite a point of trivia from neuroscience that seemingly conflicting emotions, such as dread and excited anticipation, are identical signals in the brain – it’s simply a matter of interpretation whether they are experienced as positive or negative. Stepping outside oneself, upsetting events are still novel, and in a certain light, our capacity to hurt or fear or experience anything intensely can be kind of abstractly beautiful. I guess that’s why depersonalization works. We can step back and say, “Wow, I can actually feel my heart sinking, how about that.”

I have felt myself resisting conscious experiences since the election, either sinking into altered consciousness / escapism, or sublimating and floating somewhere outside of myself. I am either deep under the sea or up in the clouds, with no desire to deal with the sinking ship of emotions in the present tense. Not surprisingly, that has its own problems, especially when so much of my mental health strategy involves being as Present as possible. I am on familiar ground here, and I have caught myself hiding inside my mind, but I don’t want to be emotionally sequestered anymore and especially not for the next four years.



I’ve been reading books on meditation and philosophy lately, especially Thích Nhất Hạnh. They have been incredible and perfectly-timed reminders that we have a seemingly infinite capacity to bear pain or hurt from others and that the resilience of the human spirit comes, always, in compassion and being fully present. Quite literally getting on the ground (through sitting meditation) and being with this moment.

In Pema Chödrön‘s excellent book Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, she outlines the importance of groundlessness and why we should not resist situations that cause trepidation or an unsettled sense of confusion in the universe. Citing the concept of samsara, which she defines as going around and around, recycling the same patterns, she identifies kleshas as the force behind the samsara turbine of pain. Kleshas, she explains, are the “conflicting emotions that cloud the mind,” such as anger, pride, jealousy, and despair, which are the mind’s attempt to escape groundlessness. When we give in to them, our preexisting habits are reinforced, and the wheel continues to spin, paradoxically keeping us even more inescapably trapped in the feeling of groundlessness.

Instead, Chödrön and everyone who’s gotten further in Buddhism 101 than me recommends trying to be even more present, feeling every feeling, reflecting on ourselves having these feelings, and while not obsessively dwelling on the kleshas or just going numb, living through these moments. By being with them, instead of trying to get away from them, and facing reality head on, we can find meaning and inspiration to make changes. In short, take the Patrick Dempsey approach, “So this is what this feels like.”



I have found myself stepping back a lot, limiting the amount of attention I can give to news items (I suspect there will be no shortage of think-pieces and disheartening headlines on our ensuing chaos), trying to keep political conversations focused and specific, seeking positive action instead of anger or despair, choosing my battles or when to walk away, and trying to get into the present tense with this surreality, which includes a lot of world and existence outside of our government and the unconscionable behavior of some of my fellow Americans. Slowly, I am starting to find a path – not out, but through – that gives me a tiny bit of hope and reassurance. It’s not terribly pleasant, but hey, at least I’m feeling again.

I already resent the amount of mental energy and emotion I have spent on this election and the current state of politics in the world, but I am resolved to not let it be in vain. I’m going to transform it into more beautiful thoughts, ideas to help people and the environment, substantive art, acts of compassion, and energy toward progress.

I am reclaiming my present. So this is what this feels like.