The Need to Get Quiet

Last night, we sat around reading our numerology profiles. Aviva is a 6. I’m a 9. Mani’s an 8. I love this stuff. In fact, in some other life, I think maybe I’m a numerologist and handwriting analyst.

Except there is no other life.

I tried to have another life for a long time. Well, it’s not that I tried to have another life. I just couldn’t figure out how to fit into the one I had.

I think this feeling of not fitting may be universal, but then I wonder how much of it’s a cultural thing and suspect it’s more likely the latter.

There are such mixed messages about this. For all the take of being yourself and inspirational messages like “follow your bliss,” the pressure to conform is so subliminal and coercive you might not even realize it’s being applied. I attribute this largely to consumer culture which is inseparable from whiteness and misogyny.

This is what you are. This is what you can become. This is what you should aspire to. This is what is ugly. This is what is desirable. This is success. This is cheap. This is trash. This is holy. This is what money can do. This is what your body is worth. This is what your you can accomplish. This is what we expect of you. This is the gold standard. This is the glass ceiling. This is the way to eat pray love. This is the way. This way, this way, this way.

It’s noisy up in there, people.

Makes it kind of difficult to see yourself clearly. Where are the mirrors that say: You are beauty. You are powerful. You are capable. You matter. You matter. You matter.

What do you contribute? What makes your heart sing? What do you deserve?

Then these, too, become part of the capitalist machine. Buy something that will help you feel beautiful, powerful, capable, worthy.

Fit in.

Keep up.

Fit in.

Keep up.

Doubt, doubt, doubt. Question yourself at every turn. More more more.

And so we hide. We hide our insecurities. We hide our longing. We hide our rage. We hide our grief. We numb out, lash out, tune out. We forget how to sing, cry, giggle, ask, receive, and offer.

We wonder what we have to offer. We compare and measure and rinse and repeat and go into debt and shame spirals and then nobody sees how hard things are and we feel isolated and everyone is looking down at their phones while they walk.

America is built on this. On making sure we will keep spending, on making sure we know our place among the haves and the have nots, on prizing wealth, and on demonizing poverty.

It’s 6:04am. I need to pour a second cup of coffee. Chalupa woke up before 5:00am to pee and I didn’t even bother trying to get back to sleep. When my kids were little, I would get up early some days. That hour or two before the light came up, before the house become busy with morning, I would be able to rest my hands lightly over the keys, listening for something I could only hope would make itself audible to me.

This voice, the one that is truly mine, the one that is truly yours — what does it sound like? How can I be of service? How can you?

The need to get quiet quickly becomes apparent.

Find a way. We need you.

No More Big Guns

Gun to the head

Photo: Daniel van den Berg

The big guns — this phrase typically has to do with calling in the heavy lifters of spiritual sustenance, faith, guidance. But these days, it just evokes guns. The big ones. The ones with letters and numbers in combinations that sound militaristic, because they are. Because that is what they are intended for, military-style killing machines.

And then all the people who say, time to call in the big guns, to pray for those poor families who have lost loved ones to the big guns, but don’t you dare touch our big gun rights. Oy.

And then the undeniable inequities, always in America, of race, of pushing policies that will hurt people of color most. And the inevitable hierarchies of suffering that get invoked then, my loss against your loss, my kids against your kids, the very realness of black and white and yet the intractability of how this conversation often seems to go.

Full stop. Whew. See? This gun thing is inflammatory. The race thing, also. Our whole country a landscape of landmines buried deep into the soil we walk on, soil stolen and blooded and built upon, a haven and land of opportunity only for some, like my great-grandparents who came here by choice, for economic opportunity and yes, eventually prosperity.

The deeper I move into listening and learning and studying and trying to understand, they less I know. The more I know I don’t know. The more I see that shouting across digital divides gets us nowhere. Status quo is not an option. Life keeps moving, there’s so much to track, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

For me, overwhelmed means: I lose my footing. Footing is purpose, priorities, ability to focus without being myopic. The big guns? I may have to abandon this term altogether. Kind of like the phrase “having a gun to your head,” which I almost used with a client Friday in the context of there not being urgency for her to make faster progress on her book, but then though the better of it.

When violence infuses our politics, it is inevitably going to show up in the way we talk, the policies we enact, the monies that get moved around like a shell game we don’t know the half of. I am convinced we are more in the dark than we know, more in the darkness. I will not invoke love and light to make things feel falsely better, nor will I deny the joy and beauty right here under my roof, the miracle of this body, and the fierce love I feel for life itself.

So no. I will no longer be calling in the big guns. I don’t want any guns in my house, not even linguistic ones. I also realize that changing the language we use is not enough, but it isn’t nothing either.

It’s pouring and cold, neither winter nor spring. God is somewhere around here, putting out fires or maybe even starting them. I can’t know for sure, so I will listen hard and see what comes.

“The Perfect American Family”

Watching American Ninja Warrior this morning, one of the contestants gave the glowy little story about his family and how he came to be on the show.

“We were the perfect American family…” he began. A photo flashed across the screen of himself, his wife, a boy and a girl. White, blonde, middle class, smiling.

Hold up a second.

I pointed out to Pearl what I’d just seen and heard. This is the stuff we’re bombarded with in every medium countless times a day, often without even pausing to register the message, the myth, and most importantly — the harm they cause and the system of white supremacy they uphold.

The man continued to narrate his road to the show. He and his wife adopted a third child from an African nation. This boy “completed” their family. So now we are also expected to applaud them for this noble move and get teary at how sweet it is that they don’t see race.

A few minutes later, Pearl asked a question. (I hadn’t realized he was thinking about it — a good reminder that our kids are paying much more attention than we may think.)

“Would it have been better if he’d said they were the ‘stereotypical’ American family?”

I responded that I thought this would be at least a step in the right direction.

Who defines “perfect” or “typical” or “average”? Narratives come in many forms — written, spoken, visual. The dominant ones — on TV, in textbooks, on magazine covers, in the news — perpetuate a story about America that normalizes and celebrates whiteness as the default setting (not to mention heterosexual, Christian, cisgender, etc.).

If you haven’t already, think about the impact of the pairing of that contestant’s photo with his “perfect American family” comment for a non-white kid, or a kid with a single mom or a kid with same-sex parents for that matter. That adopted child is not going to have the same experience and ease in the world as his white siblings. I hope to God his parents know this.

White parents: Please.

Look hard at yourself. At the ways you want to bubble wrap your littles and protect them from the harshness of the world.

Think about the fact that parents of color have to talk with their children about not getting KILLED. To consider how they talk, what they wear, where they walk or drive, who they’re with — all while navigating a culture that centers whiteness and all while white people and culture are saying: You’re overreacting. You’re being too sensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re being negative.

Do not “protect” your kids from the realities of racism and the ways white dominance seeps into every aspect of our daily lives. No matter their age, they are old enough.

Catch these moments. Say something. Ask questions. Talk about it. Everything counts.

If we want things to change, we cannot raise fragile kids. This is not about being a good white person or getting pats on the back. This is about bringing up a generation who sees through the bullshit and won’t stand for it.

My America

Photo: Kayle Kaupanger

To all of my friends across the globe, to the north and the south. To the east and west: This is not the America I represent. My America has open arms, minds, and hearts. My America says, come in, how can I help? My America insists on justice for all and the beauty of truth. My America takes responsibility for its hypocrisy and sets about making things right. My America is accountable for so much death and destruction. My America makes amends. My America says I’m so sorry. My America says, we were wrong. My America says, here, let’s unmask the myths of opportunity and put all that love of money where our hungry mouths are. America, my America, says, we didn’t think of it first, or even second or third. My America says, let me redistribute, give you back your rivers and farms. My America says, I am a bully. I am an abuser. I am an addict. I am a victim. I am I am I am I am. My America says, it has been about me for too long. My America says, how are you? I’m listening. My America says, I was a kleptomaniacal sales rep thug wearing a nice suit. My America says, I’m checking myself into rehab. My America says, your body is not an abomination. My America says, all languages spoken here, translators will be provided free of charge. My America says, I am handing over the mic. My America says, you’ve heard enough from me. My America says, women always seem to come up with the best solutions. My America says, queer bodies deserve safety, black and brown bodies deserve safety, undocumented bodies deserve safety, children’s bodies deserve safety. My America says, I have been so arrogant. My America says, enough. Enough. Enough.

Expand/Contract

Jack Comstock: “The American Dream II”

“with every contraction there is an expansion” – Peter Levine

Yes there is the breath
Yes there is belly rising falling
Yes here is chaos and fear of chaos
Yes we clamp down – – effort – – control
Yes we say can we say can’t these are just
Yes these are just words until we feel in the body
where can lives where can’t lives how the stomach
clenches or the temples pound and the temple doors
open like a mouth saying come come in or close like a
renunciation of what you thought was safe blessed even
by a god whose name you were told was sanctioned by state
leaders but no that was not here that was not yes that was not
ours that was another time another place another person’s history
not ours surely we would be we were destined to be different
and by different we knew we really meant better better than
our predecessors our ancestors our mothers and fathers
after all wasn’t that the myth the fairy tale the storyline
we followed through privileged childhoods believing
we were special believing each generation goes
beyond the one before except oh not for those
people it’s different these rules don’t apply
to the ones who are poor or who were
not born into opportunity and ease
no for them this was never true
and they knew it even tried to
keep telling us through acts
of poetry and resistance
but we did not listen
and now it’s time
when the only
choice is to
say you
were
right