Sunday, July 3, 2016

Deep Thoughts on Shallow Subjects: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady was one of my favorite movies as a kid. When she came down the stairs in that dress, I sat close to the screen, looking as hard as I could.

I just watched it for the first time in a long time. I enjoyed it, and found it very interesting.

In the scene after the successful "ball heist," as no one has ever called it, Eliza is depressed; she has no idea what to do next, and on top that, the men do not acknowledge her efforts, her success, or her value as a crucial player in their game. The scene is filmed well, showing clearly how Eliza feels about the situation even though she does not speak at all.

Watching this scene made me think of Eliza's character, and how she has or hasn't change up to this point. It's not new for her to feel upset about the way the men are treating her. What's new is that she is no longer vocal about it. Whereas before she would cry out loudly and dramatically, only to be derided and made fun of, now she has been trained as a "lady," and she remains completely silent, and therefore [still] completely ignored.

Thus we can also see a thru-line in the situation itself: men not taking women seriously. Whether because we are loud and emotional, or because we are silent, absent even as we stand in the room, we will not be heard by men who will not care to hear us, who don't believe it's important or worthwhile to hear us. In the movie I see Eliza inhabiting two very different feminine roles and not receiving respect in either one, which to me indicates a larger truth: patriarchy don't give a shit about you. If you are a marginalized person within any system, that system will not care how you present yourself, what you go through to appear "respectable"; it has already decided how to see you. It has already decided who you are. Of course, you can push back on that, as many do. And I think that those efforts do help. I also think the people benefiting most from an imbalanced system need to take responsibility for their shit and start paying respectful attention to everyone in the room, not just the ones who are just like them (i.e. male, white, hetero, cis, etc). Listening is as important as speaking, and we have to take responsibility for our roles in both. 

P.S. I think it's bullshit Eliza goes back to him in the end of the movie, AND that when she does, Prof. Higgins says, "Where the devil are my slippers?" Is that what you call repentance, Professor Asshat? 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Turning Around

I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
- Macbeth, Act 3 scene 4

No matter how far down the wrong road you have gone, turn back.
-Turkish Proverb

I’ve been thinking a lot about these two quotes. I wonder what Macbeth would have done if he’d heard that proverb, and believed it. Part of Macbeth’s problem was that once he started killing, it seemed pointless to stop. If he had stopped, though he could not change what he'd done, he could spare the lives the rest of the people he went on to kill. But Macbeth was set on his wrong road, and could not see how to turn around.

It seems to me there are many areas in our lives and governance as members of the US that are wrong roads we have been traveling for a long time, and we cannot seem to gather ourselves together to turn back.

I have the sense that in this world it often feels easier to dig in your heels than to turn around, and that this is more true the more you have invested in a particular path.

I’ve also been pondering the meaning of the word “repent.” My favorite definition is that it means to turn around, and go in the opposite direction. It can also signify a significant change of mind. And it can signify a feeling of contrition. But my favorite definition is the first. This notion of turning around, an about-face, is very compelling to me, because for a person to turn around in such a way is both powerful and rare. It sounds simple; but one thing I’ve learned about life is that often things that sound simple are anything but.

Loving your neighbor as yourself, for example, is a simple phrase, and appears to be a simple concept. But learning to love myself has been a difficult, life-long battle for me, not to mention loving my neighbor. The world “love” itself is commonly used, is only four letters, and seems straightforward enough. But love as something we enact in ourselves, our families, and the world is challenging and difficult. How can something that sounds so easy be so hard?

To turn around sounds like a simple act. And maybe it is simple—but it’s not easy. I know this because I have had to turn around in my own life, and it hurt like hell and scared the crap out of me. And I know this because I witness other people refusing to turn around, no matter the cost to themselves or their fellow humans or the very planet we live on. I notice that we, collectively, have a hard time turning back when we have long been going down a wrong road.

I have theories about why turning around is so hard. Here are a few of them:
1.      Our minds are limited; we think we know everything but we actually know very little. And, being limited, we cannot envision an alternative to the way we’re going. We can’t imagine another way, and we are afraid to pursue what we cannot fully imagine. We want to feel in control. Going down the same, familiar path will make us feel that way.
2.      Our hearts, which are most powerful when open, are closed due to deep-seated fear. Being alive is fucking terrifying. We are exposed to trauma, danger, unkindness—some of us more than others. And I think we pass down to one another a language of fear that is supposed to help us feel safe, but makes it hard for us to distinguish between an actual danger and a perceived one. Maybe being afraid of Muslims feels better than not even knowing what to be afraid of, because we are so fragile, the world is so big, and there are no guarantees. Maybe our hearts create enemies so that we have something concrete to fight against, so we can feel safe in a world that is full of gray areas and uncertainty.
3.      Turning around may trigger deep shame in the one who turns. Usually, when you have been on a wrong path for a long time, the act of deciding to turn back is painful in part because you are forced to see yourself realistically; or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe seeing ourselves realistically is what finally convinces us to turn back. Either way, this involves noticing that you have been wrong, that you have hurt yourself or others in your wrongness; that what you thought was the Right Thing all along turned out to be Totally Not the Right Thing. You may feel stupid. You may feel angry at yourself. And you may feel ashamed: you may feel not just that you’ve done something wrong, but that you yourself are wrong, that you’re not who you thought you were, that you are a disappointment to yourself and to the world. You may feel as if a rock has been overturned in a beautiful garden, revealing gross stuff writhing underneath, and that you are that gross stuff, when before you thought you were the garden.

That’s rough.

But the thing you have to know, the thing that is a good thing to learn if you want to be a good person, or at least walk in that direction, is that the pain of transformation is a better pain than the pain of violent self- and other- destruction. The thing you have to know is that the courage to change is rewarded in ways you cannot imagine. And that turning around isn’t about feeling bad about yourself—that’s not the point of it, not at all. Turning  around is about seeing where the light is, and being determined to move toward it. Even though it scares the hell out of you. Even though it feels dangerous, because it’s new, and it isn’t what you thought you would be. You move toward it because you see truth there, and life, and the possibility of hope you cannot currently imagine. Hope can pull you forward like the moon pulls tides, even if you don’t know what it is. You just have to have the courage to notice it, and walk that way. It sounds simple. It isn’t simple.

But we can do it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Just me, trying to figure out how to keep living in this world.

Syria. Lebanon. Paris. And at home and abroad, the deep scars of racism and prejudice are pulsating. Sometimes I don't know how we are to live in this world that has so much pain and terror. I find myself overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness. Our troubles run so deep. The road towards healing is long, long.

And yet. I believe in my heart that hope always has and always will coexist with despair. Hope is powerful because it is happening right now, despite the odds. 

That's God for me. God doesn't only exist in perfect circumstances. We don't have to eradicate evil in order to witness God's spirit at work. God says, "Screw that, I'm showing up." I used to think the only way for God to be powerful was for God to intervene, to stop horrible things from happening. And honestly, I still wish God would do that. It's just that I've also learned that a way that God is powerful is by Being. God just is, and that being cannot be stopped no matter the circumstances. God doesn't stop being even when we try to kill her, even when we try to squelch out that light of God of in each of us, even when we try to erase hope for the Other. God continues to be. Maybe I sound crazy right now but to me that is powerful. God's being laughs in the face of that which would threaten our hope and our flourishing. And more importantly, God's being weeps in the face of that which would threaten our hope and our flourishing. God is there. God is there in our outrage. God is there in our cries into the dark asking for an end to the madness. God is there in the broken bodies of the murdered, in our fear and our brokenheartedness. Violence is appalling to us because it is the desecration of that which is sacred: Life, and the Opportunity for flourishing. And I think God is right there with us, appalled at that desecration.

Despair is real. I believe firmly in acknowledging the true devastation of moments like these. I don't want to put a bandaid on it. I don't want to make it "mean" something. I want to acknowledge the unspeakable horror of these events. I want to acknowledge how crazy difficult it is to keep going in a world that seems to constantly batter us with reasons to give up.  

And. I think hope is real too. It doesn't make sense for hope to be real at the same time as despair. But that paradox is what helps me continue to Live, to seek flourishing for everyone. Somewhere in the world, something unimaginably good is happening. People are being healed. People are working towards peace. People are working hard to make life less impossible for another person, for another creature, or for our very Earth. Someone's heart is being transformed, right now. Somewhere, somewhere, hope is alive.

I pray that this hope may find a home in each of us, and that we may nurture it, knowing how uncertain our circumstances are, and what we're up against. May our responses to tragedy and terror become beacons of this hope. May it be so.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The failure of my brain and its many, many words

As someone who has been writing poetry since 5th grade, I never thought words could so become so completely cumbersome, so in my way.

These days, I have no idea what's going on with me and God. And this is a vast improvement from last year, when I was resting on a lot of nice theologies that I didn't truly believe.

I've been going to a Quaker meeting since September, an unprogrammed meeting, which means that we hold silence for an hour, listening for the holy spirit. Sometimes someone will speak if they feel moved by the spirit to do so. It's been interesting holding silence and listening to the rampage of thoughts that leap to fill it. I've had some very blessed moments in meeting, and I've also had some very painful moments (it's not easy to sit in silence when grappling with depression, for example--and I wonder how Quakers deal with the unquiet mind in the meeting  for worship). 

Attending Quaker meeting and also my class on anxiety and depression are hugely shaping my quest to understand my relationship to God. I'm really grateful for Professor Holton's wise thoughts, and the wisdom from our readings, such as:

--The broken heart is held by God, although often the person whose heart is broken can only feel the rupture and the pain and not God's presence.

--At a certain point, we can't cross the distance between us and God, and we need God to reach out and pull us to her [my pronoun--I think the professor did not use gender pronouns]. There is biblical testimony of God pulling us to her from our wilderness places (Hagar is an excellent and underused example).

--We have to recalibrate hope when we suffer from mental disorders. Hope needs to be pared down to something manageable, for example, making it through the next minute, the next five minutes, this coming night.

--From reading Jonathan Lear, we talked about a concept of Radical Hope that entails believing there can be some good in the future even though you cannot understand or envision what it might be.

--And we read a book by Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk in the Dark, which inspired me to consider that if I'm looking for a very particular thing when searching for God, I will not recognize God if she appears in another, unfamiliar way. This week, a student asked what we should say if someone comes to us and says that they're trying to find God. The teacher said one response is, "What would it look like to find God?" and she said that often our ideas about finding God are based on things we've heard about that seem like how it "should" be but may not be how it really is. 

All of this is to say that I think my brain space, the land of words, has been seriously failing me when it comes to finding God. My words often get in the way (in part because there are so many of them). When my thoughts are tangled with depression, I can't use them to make sense or meaning or find peace. I realize that I am still praying the way I've heard I should, and I think that's inhibiting me from recognizing the living God, who I believe is radical in how she manifests and speaks. 

And the fact is, once I faced my anger towards God, I saw a big gaping hole where I thought my theology should be, and it's difficult and frightening to face the emptiness, the fact that I have no clue how God will speak to me (or if she will) and how I am to speak and listen to her. 

Last night I realized that I feel most whole and alive when I am dancing or acting or using my face and voice and body to express myself. There's a freedom in my physical existence that I don't experience when my brain has taken over. This made me wonder if there is a way for me to use my body to speak and listen to God. 

Don't get me wrong, I think the intellect is really important and I prize my critical reasoning and my creativity with thought and words. I also feel like I'm incomplete when I only spend time in my head, and every time I try to reach God through my brain I hit a wall. I guess one way to say this is that my brain is doing a lot of work and I think the load is too heavy for it. Also, the brain has its own role and gift and authority, and the body and spirit do too; it's important to me that I feel integrated between head/body/spirit and not rely solely on one to do the work of three.

I'm looking for new ways to relate to God, to express my spirit and my heart, and perhaps most importantly, to listen. This listening bit is what's really troubling me. But I have a hope that there will be ways for me to hear God that I cannot yet imagine, and that God just might reach across the desert for me and pull me to her. A hope that there is powerful language besides words. 

I'm on an adventure! And while on the one hand I feel profoundly uncomfortable, on the other hand I have a sneaking sense of peace and reassurance, as if the gaping hole is not devouring me as a fear it might, but is actually holding me up. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On wholeness, piano, and yelling at God

I was thinking the other day about how long I've been working on "getting better." I put that in quotes because that is a poor way to express what I mean, but it's the best, easiest way I can think of to say that I've been working for years on trying to be more...hmmmm.

It's hard to say what exactly I've been trying to be more like. Perhaps I should start by saying that I've been on a long journey to be less miserable. Not happy. Just, less miserable. Not perfect. (Though I have often wanted to be perfect). Just...better. And when I say better I don't mean that I'm referring to some arbitrary ruler, or trying to make a value judgment (though I've hurt myself doing plenty of that too). What I really mean is that I've been trying to feel more balanced for quite a long time. I've felt for so long like there had to be a way to feel more centered, regardless of the crap life kept throwing at me, instead of swinging wildly with every slight breeze, much less a strong gust. Or maybe what I've wanted is to feel centered even as I swing wildly; to feel as if, though I am not in control, that's okay. 

I've been working on this for a long time, and I've noticed recently how this journey has involved picking up a habit here and there, collecting ideas and thoughts about what I'd like to be; almost like I've been spiritually scrapbooking. In fits and starts I've been able to implement behavior changes (such as, not over-extending myself so extremely. Or being nicer to myself. Or feeling proud of myself). But it wasn't til recently, when I felt a huge piece of my healing begin to click into place, that I realized what a complex art it is to try to be well.

The best way I know how to describe it is that it's like learning how to play a piano piece. 

The way you learn (or rather, the way I used to learn) a piece is, at first, you learn it in pieces. You learn it a measure at a time. Then you learn it in larger phrases. You practice, focusing only on the dynamics, how loud and softly you play. Then you practice focusing only on rhythm. You practice a few times not caring at all about rhythm or dynamics, and instead you only focus on playing the right notes. You divide and conquer. You take baby steps. 

You learn the music this way, in chunks, in pieces, in compartments. But none of these alone make an experience of art, or beauty, or wholeness. At some point, you have to play the piece. You have to play it, trusting that something has stuck from all those bits and pieces. But it's more than that too: something else happens when you play the piece. It becomes its own thing. It becomes something different than it was when you learned it in all its smallness, its fragmentation. 

It's not perfect, and it doesn't need to be. But it's...whole. Because you are playing it. Because, as you play it, you move inside the piece, and when you do that, it becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. 

For the past few years I've been juggling these bits and pieces, learning and practicing kindness toward myself, forgiveness toward myself, compassion toward myself. All of these things were phrases, dynamics, rhythms, notes in the music that I've been trying to learn to play. 

Then, only just recently, I began to play the music of my life. And the thing that I needed, the last big piece, the thing that meant that I could play at all, was that I started to be real with God, and in so doing, with myself. 

I realized this summer that I've been angry at God for 20 years. Scarily, ragefully, wailing-and-gnashing-of-teethfully angry. I had coated over this anger with theology and prayers that were Nice -- capital "n" Nice. They sounded good. They felt vaguely comforting. But they did not reflect my experience. I prayed about a God who was there, whose presence was real and comforting. My experience has been of God's profound absence in the worst moments of my life. I prayed to a God who intercedes. But my experience has been anger at a God who either lets bad things happen, or causes bad things to happen. I have never known which. I was praying to a God who I feared would hurt me. I was praying to a who God I didn't know, but who I was pretending that I did. 

Now I pray to a God I don't know, and what I pray is: I don't know you. Who are you? I'm pissed at you. What are you doing? Where are you? 

Except, of course, that my prayers have been much uglier, much more ragged and scornful and fearful, more despairing and cold, than those neat words that I'm typing for you now. 

It was hard to pray like that, especially at first. I have spent most of my life trying to be a Nice person who says Nice things, which means I hid a lot of myself because the fact is that "nice" is not a very helpful word to describe human beings or what goes on inside them. As I prayed I heard myself thinking, "You're not supposed to talk like this to God," to which I responded, "This is what's real for me. It doesn't matter if it's nice. This is what and who I am, right now." 

I cannot report any revelation from God. I'm still yelling at him, mostly (and calling him "him" out of spite). I mean, I've been holding all this in for 20 years. I think a few months of seething rage and billowing doubt are pretty reasonable.

But--I can report that since I started being real, I have felt safer in the world than I have felt in a long time. I feel this pleasant weight like a loving hand on my heart, and I know that that weight is the assurance that, if nothing else, I will not abandon myself. If no one else is, at least I am on my own side. I feel trust in myself for the first time since...well, maybe even since 20 years ago. 

All of this is me putting together these pieces, these bits that I've been collecting for so long not even knowing how they would fit, but hoping that they would. This is me playing my music. Before now I was not close enough to myself to play my own music. I am hearing the sound of it for the first time. I didn't even know I was practicing, but I now see that my practice has paid off.

I see in this story that regardless of who God is, or what God is doing, or how I feel about that, I am a person of faith. I have faithfully practiced for a song I didn't know I would play. I have faithfully screamed at God and moved into this space of Being Real, not knowing where those things would take me. 

I don't want to fall into my old trap of announcing "I have arrived!" only to feel disappointed that, yes, life is a journey, and no, I will not be perfect on the way. But I think I can say "I have arrived," and mean it realistically. I know that I will not be perfect, ever, and I expect to fail, repeatedly, and be disappointed in myself for failing, and be disappointed that I'm never going to "Get over" this perfectionist thing and the other crap that nags at me. I know that life is a journey and that, even if I want to, I can't ever fully "arrive." And I've had enough horror befall me not to expect the rest of my life to be rosy and blissful all the way through. 

But I also think now that anything is possible because I AM HERE. I am really, really here. I am learning to play my music, and maybe that means that I can never lose this music. It's inside me. I have tools now to deal with the crap that life throws at me, and I have faith in myself for the first time that even if horror knocks at the door, I will not necessarily be consumed or annihilated by it. I am strong. I am resilient. I have inside me the things I need to thrive. 

This is HOPE! I'm feeling it ya'll! And it feels pretty frickin awesome. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014



I’m grateful to my friend Jean-Daniel, who specializes in youth ministry (this is, I think, a painfully simplistic summary of what he does. Sorry JD). ANYWAY. I’m grateful to him because he posts frequently about how frustrating he finds it that we make so many assumptions about the difference between children and adults, especially when it comes to maturity. Immaturity and self-centeredness, commonly held to be childish traits, don’t just disappear when you hit some magical mark of adulthood. And there are enough adults behaving badly in the world that such distinctions seem foolish upon examination.      
            I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately; what does our age actually mean about us, and how does it relate, if at all, to our “maturity”? What exactly is maturity? What is adult?
            From studying theatre and literature and nonviolent communication, I can see that part of learning to be an adult is learning to edit yourself. This obviously has its uses in a civilized society, but it also has a detrimental effect; we learn to reject our authenticity so as to better fit in with the world’s standards.
Another thing that happens is that we are destined to learn the behaviors that we are shown by the people who raise and teach and care for us. For a long time I thought that adults had magical skills of communication and understanding, merely by virtue of their being adults. It recently dawned on me that things like great communication skills have to be learned and practiced. We are not necessarily born with all the tools that would help us have fulfilling lives; and then, sometimes, the tools we are born with fall out of use and become alien to us. For example, there was a time, maybe, as a child, when I trusted myself because I had no reason not to. I quickly unlearned that skill when, after my dad died, the world seemed too dangerous for such confidence.
When I got married, I realized there were all kinds of new communication and relational skills that I needed to learn, and that it wasn’t my fault or anyone’s fault for not having them; they weren’t part of the package growing up, so I had to acquire them. It made me wonder if a lot of marriages fail simply because we’re under the misconception that we should have everything we need to make it work, when in fact marriage requires just as much continuing education as training for a new job.
            Catherine Cadden, in her book Peaceable Revolution Through Education, wrote that she would begin each school year with a circle in which every person would introduce themselves by giving their names and how many years they had walked on the earth. This was not to establish hierarchy—in fact, it was just the opposite. The point was to honor everyone’s experience, everyone’s innate wisdom connected to their time on the planet. The point was to recognize the differences, and all the similarities; each person had spent a different number of years walking the earth and acquiring experience, AND each person had valuable experiences to share from their years walking on the earth.
            I’ve been noticing recently the deeply ingrained enmity and alienation we express about people of other ages. It seems that if you are "too old" or "too young" then your voice is not heard, valued, or understood. Young people seem to struggle to feel adult and mature and receive respect from people older than them. Older people sometimes express hostility towards the younger people who seem to be “replacing” them in the spotlight of the world.
            We each want to be seen, heard, and valued, no matter our age. And I think we each want to feel that we value ourselves, no matter our age. I think that when we attach a predetermined level of wisdom to a particular age group, we do not actually see, hear, or value the people in that age group. We are so busying categorizing that we don’t recognize the beauty of the diversity before us. And we use these categories to pass judgment on people; that person should be more mature because they’re X years old. That kid should start acting more like a grownup soon. My experience has been that as a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up. I wanted to understand things, to be taken seriously, to feel better about myself. And then I did grow up. And in some ways, it was devastating. It wasn’t a magic button; life became more confusing, more challenging, more scary.
As a kid I imagined that adults weren’t ever scared, maybe because I hadn’t really seen any adults expressing their fear. Now I imagine that life is pretty scary no matter what age you are. Now I know that the skills we want to have to be the best people we can are not necessarily skills we are born with. Now I know that I can’t expect a magical change once I reach a certain age, but that I will always need and want help and support. And I’m starting to learn that when we either devalue someone because of their age, or we put extra value on someone because of their age, we don’t actually appreciate their unique experience. A five year old may see the world differently than a 40 year old; but is one really better or worse? After all, we can only be where we are. I’m tired of the struggle of trying to be somewhere other than where I am so I can meet some Universal Standard of Comportment for people of my age. And I’m tired of having judging thoughts about others instead of trying to accept them where they are too.

            My hope is that we can all begin to see one another and appreciate the years each one of us has walked on the earth. May we appreciate our diverse experiences without trying to evaluate and rank them. May it be so. 

Thai Peanut Butter Risotto recipe

My partner in crime and I have made peanut butter pasta plenty of times. This time, we had some risotto around so we figured out how to make peanut  butter risotto. It came out DELICIOUS. Also, it's vegan. Here's what we did: 

Thai Peanut Butter Risotto

We made the risotto, veggies, and peanut sauce separately and then mixed them all together at the end.

First, cut up whatever veggies you’re going to add in, as well as the onion and garlic for the risotto. I cooked the veggies at the beginning of the risotto process and then took them off heat until everything else was done. I used bok choy, red peppers, and shitake mushrooms, but you can probably use whatever you want (snappeas are good in this dish too). For bok choy you’ll want to put the stems in the pan first and the leaves in last.

To make the risotto, we worked off of this helpful recipe, with some alterations: 

We did not use wine or cheese. 
We used Earth Balance buttery spread (made from plant oil I believe--no dairy) instead of butter.
We used "no-chicken" bullion to make the broth.

Peanut butter sauce:
Begin with the smallest amounts listed for each ingredient, then adjust them to taste. Put in however much of everything you want so that it tastes balanced and isn’t too runny or too thick.
2/3-3/4 cup peanut butter
¼-1/2 cup coconut milk
1-3 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice (juice of up to 2 limes)
¼ tsp cayenne or siracha (more if you want it spicy)
½-1 tsp ground ginger (I used some from the spice jar, and probably more than 1 tsp)
1-3 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1-3 tbsp soy sauce
Water, if needed

We found it very helpful to have two people cooking this, so that one could be managing the risotto while the other did the veggies and then made the sauce. That way, as soon as the risotto was done, everything was ready to be mixed up. You could also make the sauce and cook the veggies before you start the risotto, and then you won't have to worry about it!