Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Money, Debt, Poor Choices, and the Parts of Ourselves We Wish Would Go Away

I have hesitated to write about this topic before because it is so taboo, or rather because I have so much shame around it. I am someone who has always had a job and worked hard at my jobs. I believe in work and being generous and I believe that money is not everything.

I work with people experiencing homelessness and I have preached so many times how important it is to remember that our identities are not wrapped up in our money, either our possession of it or lack of it.  I believe this completely. And yet money, in this world, does matter. It matters that we be able to pay for the things we have and pay back our loans. It matters in terms of eating and being stable. 

I went to a college that I could not afford. It was the most transformative, amazing experience for me, but none the less I could not afford it, which was not a reality I was in touch with at the time. My parents have given, and continue to give, me so many amazing gifts, both emotional and monetary (I have an amazingly supportive family who have repeatedly gone above and beyond for me), but they were not able to pay the family portion of the tuition. I still went to the school. I could have chosen to transfer, but I didn't. The jury is out on whether or not this was a good choice. I'm not quite sure how I slid through frankly. A lot of kind people in the registrar's office would lift the hold so I could register for classes. I would pay just enough to get my grades processed. It's actually kind of amazing. I so much wanted to be in school there. I so much wanted that education, even though I had no idea at the time what an unwise financial choice it was. A few people really understood how tight it was for me, but I did not process the amount of stress placed on me during this time. I would often fall asleep worrying about whether or not I would be able to pay for classes. I would have nightmares about the campus police walking into my classes and escorting me out, alerting all my fellow classmates that I did not belong there, that I shouldn't have been getting that education and experience. 

Needless to say during this time I got incredibly good at repressing thoughts about financial woes because it was the only way to emotionally function. I am someone who is decidedly overly sensitive and so the idea that I was "not doing what I was supposed to be doing" really undid me. It undoes me. By the time I finished my classes needed to graduate I had a lot of direct debt to my school, not just loan debt, which is a really unusual thing. I got to walk with my classmates and I finished my classes, but I did not receive my diploma for years after. I have a lot of compassion for younger me. I wish I could go back and counsel her and console her. 

So much of the fear I associated with money and financial decisions has really plagued my life as a 20 something. I decided to go into a field where I have had incredible jobs, but they are not the most lucrative financially (although I feel incredibly gifted to be able to be employed doing work that is meaningful to me and provides for my needs). I have struggled to make my payments. I have made mistakes. I have struggled to face my financial fears, which of course has made my financial situation all that more stressful. I do not want to look at the whole financial picture for fear of what it will tell me about how long it will take to attain certain goals that I have, like graduate school, that I have put off for years due in large part to cost and not having the financial background where I would be able to get comprehensive enough loans to pay for it. 

My dreams of my college security officers escorting me out of class have transferred into dreams of me being arrested by the police and taken to jail because of my debt. I clearly read too much historical fiction as a child, as the idea of debtors prisons seem realistic to me. 

This year I have been really trying to face it all head on, which is liberating, but if I'm going to be really honest, is also incredibly scary. It makes me sad to see how my financial choices have been so governed by fear. It is hard to look at this part of myself and feel that I'm a person of value. It's an area where I can easily be very cruel to myself, feeling like I have failed, and continue to fail, majorly. It is hard to face financial struggle. It scares me mightily. It makes me question fundamental truths that I believe about myself, that I am good, and smart, and kind. 

The purpose of this post is not merely to bum you all out to no end, but it is to be radically honest about an area of my life that I feel great shame around. I used to think that it was a wee bit tacky to disclose so much on a blog, but I think I've moved beyond that. I really want to write this down because it feels less heavy when I do. I want to be honest because I believe when we bring things into the light they can start being healed. I also believe that there may be other people out there in my world who are facing similar fears, realities, and paths. I know for some people money issues seem so silly, so mundane, so irresponsible, but for many of us it's our main area of growth. 

So I am writing this as the first of many posts about my movement from of a place of fear and denial around money into a place of clarity, bravery, and responsibility. I am committing to posting at least once a week about this little journey of mine. I'm hoping that writing about it can serve as a way to stay accountable, to be honest with myself and others, and to open space for other people in my life to maybe be honest about things that are plaguing them, but they feel too ashamed to name. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

On Loving Women, Not Being Thin, And International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day World! I love this day. In the past I've hosted parties for International Women's Day and I'm thinking of reviving the tradition. I value this day so much because I've been gifted to have the most incredible women placed in my life. They have shown me the heart of resilience, beauty, joy, and spunk. My mother is particularly notable to me whenever I think about women who inspire me, or really anyone who inspires me. She has demonstrated to me every day of my life what it means to love without condition, to meet each day with a sense of purpose, and she has instilled in me a deep well of self worth. My mother's love for me is a truth beacon.

So every International Women's Day, in addition to celebrating all the incredible women that have been, are, and will be,  I think about an issue that women are disproportionately facing in our country and/or world. This March 8th, I found myself thinking about weight and beauty standards. Men certainly also face pressures around body presentation, but ridiculous standards of beauty seem to plague us ladies. Standards of beauty certainly vary significantly around the world and in this post I'm focusing primarily on North American standards of beauty relating to weight.

I was thinking about my own relationship with weight and beauty tonight. I am not a thin woman. I have never been a thin woman. Even at my lowest weight, I am someone with curves. I have broad shoulders and hips and no matter how fit I am I still carry fat. I sometimes wonder if I hail from more Nordic lands than I know about. I am deeply gifted at storing fat. With the exception of snow driving, I weather winter very well.

I feel very fortunate to have had a mother who focused more on the beauty of one's character and spirit than on cultural norms of beauty. I am fortunate to have been a strange child, channeling the great women leaders throughout history while playing dress up. It was a gift to grow up in a community where thinness was not paramount and around people in spiritual practice who saw beauty in all life. Being on swim and waterpolo teams trained my mind to believe my body was good and strong. When you spend the vast majority of your time in a bathing suit around other people in bathing suits the small vanities tend to fade. No one cares about the stretch mark, or the bit of fat, or the awkward tan. Living in a college co-op, which drew people to it that had a propensity for the nude, further solidified for me that bodies of all shapes and colors are really remarkable and that nudity is not always sexual. My body could be many things; it is many things. I have amazing friends who do not spend all their waking hours consumed by the fire breathing media dragon's non-truth:
that to be beautiful you must be thin, and have flawless skin, and be within a certain skin color palette, and have curves in only the right places. I have a partner who loves me and does brave and amazing work around asking himself and other men to really confront what many cultural outlets have taught them about what makes women beautiful.

All this to say, I am one of the non-thin women who is really lucky. I cannot imagine how challenging not being thin as a woman in a mainstream North American context would be without a lot of the fortifying influences that I have had. And even with all of my life giving, truth telling influences, as a women who has always "struggled with weight" (such a strange phrase right...I don't really struggle with weight, in fact I put it on really easily) sometimes the non-truth telling fire breathing dragon perches in my head. I begin the insidious internal dance around my weight. The questions start coming up, "Are you working out for health or weight? Is it okay if it's for weight? If it's for weight does that somehow betray your ideal of beauty in all people? Why does weight matter so much? Why do I really love what I see in the mirror, but worry that others may find me lacking? Why does no one ever ask, 'Have you gained weight because you're looking really good?'? Have painful relational things in my life been related to my image?" Basically I begin the downward spiral into, as Ann with an E would say, the depths of despair. I just really begin losing faith in humanity and then in myself for allowing myself to spend even a minute on a topic so insipid and unhelpful. I'd like to think that I have better things to think about and do in my life and I'm right, I do. However, it does not mean that the very unhealthy and pervasive culture messages around thinness do not take their tole and require attention.

The reality is that being heavy in mainstream North American culture is stigmatized and this stigma, I believe, is the most acutely experienced in women. I have had men I respect deeply admit that they feel they are really open about the appearances of the women they date, with the exception of weight. They do not think they could date someone heavy. These men are brave and I admire them for being so forthright about this, but it's pretty heartbreaking. I cannot count the number of stories women, who have been told they are heavy and or believe themselves to be heavy, have told me about how they have been treated poorly on dating websites, on dates, in the workplace, in their families, and even at doctor's offices. Because of their weight, their bodies somehow become a valid and appropriate topic for conversation and critique.

There are multiple studies, focused in North America, that illustrate that women who are perceived as heavy face barriers in the workplace as well as in their dating lives. Now thinness is not the paramount of beauty worldwide and I think it's important to note that thin women in many cultural contexts are treated as less desirable, much like heavier woman are treated in the United States. This post is discussing heavier women in the United States, but points to the larger global issue of how women's bodies are culturally co-opted and forced to fit into beauty standards that separate us from each other, making some women part of the "in" group and some women part of the "out" group, which of course can leave all of us with a diminished sense of self worth and a compromised sense of sisterhood. It's also critical to note that this standard of thinness also creates a culture of discontent and body cruelty for women who would not, by others, be considered heavy. This beauty standard harms us all.

As I reflect on the issues of weight in the light of International Women's Day, I cannot help but offer a genuine prayer and call for each of us, whether we are the women or men who are on the heavier end of the spectrum, the man or woman who loves someone who is not thin, the person, whether woman or man, who finds themselves in judgement or revulsion over heavier bodies, or the person who is secretly attracted to people with heavier frames, but is too ashamed to admit it, to work daily to bring forth a paradigm shift when it comes to standards of beauty and desirability that separate us from each other and from ourselves. The reality is that heavier bodies are beautiful too and not just for the sake of being politically correct. Heavier bodies are truly beautiful, just like thin bodies. We interface with the world through our bodies, we are integrally intertwined with our bodies. They are desirable. They are valuable. Most importantly they belong to fellow human beings who have bright minds, big hopes, deep hurts, and a desire for connection. Even when I have my depths of despair moments around the culture of weight in this country and my place in it, I know on a pretty profound level that my body, in all its sizes, is a tremendous gift and that it is a thing of beauty, as I am a thing of beauty. Sadly, I do not think that all women (people) know this.

On this International Women's Day let's treat all women's bodies with respect. Let's do the hard internal and societal work to really understand what it is to love ourselves and others and get out from under this oppressive standard of beauty.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Sexuality and Sensuality of the Virgin Birth, Patriarchy, Fertility, and Advent

"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."
Angel Gabriel, Luke 1:30-31

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."
Elizabeth, Luke 1: 42

As this Christmas season is drawing to a close I have been reflecting on the meaning and messages that come from the Christmas story. The advent season is a time for celebrating, gifting, hopefully slowing down, hot beverages, carols, lights, maybe Santa, and the story of sweet 8lb 6oz baby Jesus' conception and birth. It's a season for Christians to stand in awe at the feet of this most pivotal of biblical narratives. I love this time of year. I, much like Will Ferrel, love sweet omnipotent baby Jesus. I love that even in his birth, the story of Jesus remains pregnant with hope as we wait on his adult ministry of radical love, table turning, justice, and mercy. Jesus' ministry is a ministry of forgiveness and paradigm shifts. His virgin birth and conception are often depicted as beautiful and holy things, emanating light and drawn in much religious art over the centuries with golden halos adorning the Holy Family. 

In my experience, the way that the story of Jesus' birth and conception is often told leads me to believe that both events, conception and birth, could take place on the pulpit of a church, with a whole congregation watching and everyone would be filled with a sense of awe and peace. The choir would sing, the smell of pine would waft through the air (because pine was probably present in Bethlehem), and we would all make a collective sigh as his holiness entered the world. I believe this sanitized concept of his birth is due in part to its record as a holy virgin birth, which for some of us seems somehow cleaner and less bloody. It is removed from the realities of the human body:  the vagina, the amniotic fluid, the blood. I think a message that is often assumed if not outright asserted is that this birth is made more holy not just because of this baby's to be role in the world, but because he is not born of a physical, sexual, act. Yes, I just wrote vagina in a post about Jesus. I couldn't help myself. I love bodies and I think Jesus does too. 

In reality I see the story of Jesus' conception and birth to be in line with his whole ministry, and God's long lasting relationship with her people, which are profoundly physical affairs. Conception is physical. Mary's egg began splitting and developing and her body chemistry changed to accommodate for this holy fetus. The Holy Spirit came over her to create this baby. Wow. That's kind of a crazy and embarrassing thing to believe for people who subscribe to a scientific system. I normally just pass over that part without really considering what that means. It's also can be kind of a hot thing to think about that God came to Mary in this profoundly life giving and presumably sexual way. I like God more knowing that God is a sexual actor. Growing up, I never thought that it was acceptable to think of God as sexual even though the Bible is full of metaphors of God's relationship with God's people that are unarguably romantic and sexual in nature. How could God be sexual? Jesus was a virgin, Jesus was born of a virgin, this virgin that bore Jesus found favor with God and was blessed among women, and although it never outlines why Mary found favor with God, I think that many churches and Christians, if only on a subconscious level, believe that her favored nature somehow correlates to her virginity. 

Many Christian people, specifically women, that I have known and know, and love,  including myself at certain times in my life, have struggled with correlating the concepts of blessing and virginity, meaning that if I remain a virgin I will be blessed, especially in the relationship department. Conversely if I don't, I will not receive gifts and be somehow tarnished. Although I do not think this thinking is entirely unfounded given the way certain Biblical stories and teachings are often articulated in modern evangelical church culture, I have seen virginity, when seen through this lens, become an idol. What I mean by idol here is not that it is a golden calf that we put on our mantles and praise, but that it is something that gives us a false sense of place and security. The belief that by remaining a virgin we are guaranteed a blessed relationship and life path and furthermore that virginity gives Christian people a moral high ground in spiritual community, seems to be to be pretty idolatrous. 

All this being said, I think that people who make the choice to remain virgins until marriage, or recommit themselves to abstinence because they believe it to be the healthiest way for them to be in relationship to God, themselves, and others are making a bold and commendable choice. Some of the people I love and respect most in the world who have taught me profound things about God have made these choices. Some of the people I love and respect most in the world who have taught me profound things about God have not made these choices. It is not my belief that one group is more "blessed" than the other group. One group is not doomed to relational failure or somehow cursed. This seems far too linear and legalistic for the living God I have come to know. It seems like the type of religious law that lends itself towards idolatry. It's made me sad for quite some time now, that I suspect this incredible holy and physical story of Jesus' entrance into the world provides, in indirect and direct ways, fuel to this often shame based idolatrous fire.

I often wonder why Mary found favor with God. It's one of those profoundly frustrating and wonderful mysteries in the biblical text. Was it because she was kind, was it because she was giving, was it because she was brave, was it in fact because she was a virgin, was it, as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber posits, because she was willing? Did Gabriel visit lots of women that night, but none of them but Mary were willing? Did God know her profound spirit of willingness prior to sending the angel? We will probably never know. It is probably best that it's that way. I think the pieces of biblical text that are most mysterious are the parts of Christian teaching that elicit the most conversation with God, which is one of my favorite ways to be in communion with the Spirit.

What has really stood out to me this Christmas season about the whole Jesus conception/birth narrative is that it is undeniably physical and it points to something rather shocking. Mary conceived a child, she carried this child in her womb, she toiled on a long journey while very pregnant, and labored in the type of conditions that most modern women in the developed world would find appalling. The barn, when illustrated in Christmas pageants, is quaint. It's sort of adorable to think of Jesus being born by the cattle, but in reality he was born in a barn, with all the physicality and germs present in any space where animals are living. This was in a time before bleach and other sanitary tools we now have. I like to think of myself as someone who could rough it, but I'd be terrified to give birth in a place that is so "unclean". Everything, from the moment of conception to his birth (and really to his death) is profoundly sensuous. Bodies and the physical environment play a big role in Jesus' story. I think I sometimes forget this. I wipe off the narrative until it shines and I think that in that act I am missing a lot of what Jesus' story is pointing to. Jesus came to rewrite the laws around who mattered, whose body mattered, and what practices led to purity. He is, among many things, the great editor of purity law.

I think, for example, that maybe, physical realities of this virgin conception and birth, point less towards the lack of physicality and sexuality involved (because let's be honest the whole Holy Spirit coming over her business feels pretty sexual to me and who can deny birth its physicality) and more towards a radical paradigm shift away from the male blood line power structure. Pastor Debbie Blue discusses this in her writing in really interesting and thought provoking ways. I suggest reading her. 

In Jesus' culture, as with most cultures, patriarchy ruled supreme. Children inherited their legacy through their father's ancestry. It was unheard of, in that culture, for a child to be more linked to his/her mother's lineage than to her/his father's lineage. What I love in Debbie Blue's writing is that she discusses the element of virgin birth that involves lack of sperm, and not so much lack of sexuality. Jesus, in the narrative, is conceived without human male sperm, a profoundly physical detail to note. Jesus, although adopted by Joseph, does not technically have a male blood line patriarchal place in the world. His human lineage ties to his mother. This represents a radical break in custom. From his very conception God, through Jesus, is turning tables. God is eliciting paradigm shift. Women play a huge role in this story. Jesus is integrally involved in a break with patriarchy through this lack of male sperm. Of course, this is not to say that men do not play a role in this story, but rather to say that Jesus broke the patriarchal mold of the day in a totally shocking, mystical, somewhat unbelievable fashion, through virgin birth that was undoubtedly painful, and bloody, and magnificent. This Christmas, I see this story of virgin manger birth as holy less because of its lack of physicality, but holy because of what the physical realities of the story point us to: faith is not just a concept and a shiny story to inspire us to lead "clean" lives; we carry our beliefs in our bodies in shocking, revelatory, messy, and totally challenging ways.

So as this Christmas season wraps up, I am left with a renewed sense of awe at Jesus' birth, not for its purity and cleanliness, but rather for its shocking and deeply physical nature and for its many messages that would be repeated in his later ministry. I love God more knowing how much her story is wound up in body and blood, in bread and wine. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Vote: Suffrage, Girldolls, Angst, Tina Fey, 2012.

Suffragettes don't let other suffragettes brush their teeth alone.

When I was a little girl I lived in three worlds: the world around me, the world of my books, and the imagined realm, which was a space made up of the first two worlds. I had this costume box, which was supplied for me by my mother. I could often be found wearing hodge podge silk pieces, plastic jewelry and strange shoes that didn't fit my feet. Little scarves wrapped around my extremities transported me back in time. I traveled back with my dolls. They became the characters in the books I was reading. They became the made up heroines of my play and they became the great historical women that I was learning about at home and in school. We traveled as a pack and I, like any lover of stories, recorded our thoughts in these tiny doll sized journals that my mother had purchased for our adventures. I lived many mini-lives before the age of ten. I was, clearly, a very odd child. 

Recently I was sorting through childhood knick knacks and I found a bag full of these itsy bitsy journals. The pages were so small that I could only fit a few words on each page as I still had large child scrawl. As I flipped through the pages, something stood out to me. I had taken up twenty two pages to write: "Amy (name of beloved girl doll with no hair), today women got the right to vote. They were hungry then they won. There are sad things still but everything is changed forever." I am imagining that I wrote this because I had just read, or had read to me, a story about women's suffrage in the United States. I'm imagining that I didn't fully understand the whole story and yet there is no other topic that got as much page space in all of my doll sized journals. There is nothing else that warranted such an epic, twenty-two page, entry. My little child brain knew, even then, the value of that particular history. It was clear that getting the vote meant something, something I was too young to fully understand, yet something awe inspiring. 

I have not always carried over this inherent understanding of what a gift it is to have a vote. I have not always maintained the level of awe that I first had when I learned about the fight for suffrage. When I was a teenager I still lived in a fantasy world, but I had discovered sarcasm and the ever so ineffable and cool culture of "not caring". Although I generally did not live in the space of believing that nothing mattered, I said something that to this day shames me to the core. It was something that I didn't mean. It was something I said because I'd heard it said and I thought that perhaps it was dark and poetic. I was talking to one of the women who lived next-door to me about politics. It was not presidential election year, but we were discussing who we thought would be president next. She asked me if I was excited to be old enough to vote in the next election. She asked this question so earnestly and I answered in such a glib way that it still makes me almost cry when I think of how insensitively and how arrogantly I responded. I said something like, "You know none of that matters. Nothing in the system matters. I am not even going to vote. Every candidate is only a puppet. They don't do anything." It was so out of character, as if I was playing a character in one of my elaborate fantasies. She looked at me with sadness and compassion probably knowing that I was speaking from a place of teenage angst and said, "Guerita (childhood nickname), you get to vote and so many of us don't, please don't waste the thing you have been given." I grew up in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood were many people did not have papers. My comment, although speaking to a few true things, in any space would have been ill informed and smug, but in the context of my home was downright ugly. I had a physical sensation that I imagine to be similar to a hot flash. I had, for a moment, lost the understanding that people fought for my right to particate in our governmental process and that it is my privilege to be able to have a voice, even in a system is deeply corrupted. 

Over the past few months I've had countless conversations about the election with various friends. Some are voting for Romney and many are voting for Obama. I'm imagining some will get to the polls and in a fit of disillusioned creativity cast a vote for Tina Fey or, horror of all horrors, Honey Boo Boo. A common thread in the conversations I've had are that people feel disenchanted with the process. I've had a hand full of friends speak about voting as if it is as pivotal to survival as breathing, but I've had just as many, if not more, people say that they aren't sure they are going to vote because in the end none of it matters as the candidates are the same and it is only a process that divides people by creating single issue voters. Neither candidate is good. Neither candidate will save us. I have not always known how to directly respond to these comments because to a degree I agree that without campaign finance reform and voting practice reform candidates are mouth pieces for corporations and all voters do not have equal access to the polls. The candidates do not stand fully for the issues and platforms that we, no matter what side of the political spectrum we fall on, subscribe to. They are not perfect representations so it is all ruined. I have always railed against the if it's not perfect it's ruined doctrine. I think that all of these points are valid. I become more than a little angry thinking about how many people who go out to vote will not be able to stand in line and wait for their turn because the lines are so long, and the process so inefficient, that they'll leave without voting lest they lose their job or show up late to pick up their children from day care. Or perhaps there will not be chairs for people who are ill to sit in while they wait and they will not have their vote counted. There are countless issues with our political system. I could spend my entire lifetime listing them. There are a lot of reasons to believe that ones' vote doesn't matter. If you're from a state that always goes for the party you vote for maybe you feel like it's a drop in the bucket. The weight of our vote is different depending on what state and district we vote in. 

Yet in the face of all of these depressing realities that mar the once bright shiny face of suffrage that my child mind so loved, there is the reality that if we have the right to vote and the ability to vote it is a gift as much as it is a right for us to go out and participate in our government because whether or not we acknowledge it fully all branches of our government impact our lives. The act of voting matters and who we are voting for matters. 

It is no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am voting for Obama. This is not because I see him as perfect and Romney as evil. It is not because I believe that the democrats will save us all and the republicans will signal our collective demise. This is a human system that the candidates are operating in. They are both flawed. They are both gifted. I am voting this way because in the face of the disappointments in the past four years, I have been moved by Obama's administration. Our government has expanded the rights of people in this country in numerous ways. We are moving towards a greener, if not yet green, economy. For all of its flaws, we have passed a measure of universal healthcare. This is no small thing. Healthcare is a human right. One only needs to have one episode, or have a loved one have an episode, of illness to recognize this. Moreover I want Obama to be appointing justices to the highest courts. This is an administration that to the degree it can recognizes and supports the progression of human rights in our country. I cannot vote against it because it is because of people who have subscribed to the belief that access to rights needs to be increased for all people that I, as a woman, get to cast a vote at all. 

I have had many friends say that they are voting for Obama for "x" reason (insert gay marriage rights, dream act, Obama's view that women belong in the realm outside Lisa Frank's canvas of choice, foreign policy, etc...) and have had a number of friends say that they are voting for Romney for "y" reason (almost universally the answer has been due to his fiscal policy, abortion beliefs, or gay marriage doctrine). Although it is so natural to vote this way because as people we have issues that impact us more than others, I keep reminding myself in my own voting process that even though I might be voting for a few issues I really am voting for the whole package. I do not just get to vote for Obama because his administration increased access to healthcare, has created funding for alternative energy sources, publicly supported gay marriage, and will probably support justices whose rulings I agree with. When I am voting for him I am also voting for some of his foreign and domestic policies that I disagree with heartily. I have to decide if it is worth it to vote for him. In the same vein when someone tells me that they are voting for Romney for fiscal reasons I see that it is probably true. They probably are voting because they believe his economic plan to be more sound and they align themselves with conservative fiscal policies and yet they are not just voting for Romney's fiscal policies. They are also voting for a candidate that has made his point perfectly plain that he will be working to overturn women's healthcare rights, universal healthcare rights, and will stop the progression of the rights that accompany marriage for gay couples. It's all so frustrating and complicated. 

It is not a necessity to vote and there are many good reasons that a good many people are not voting. Yet I think that voting when we have the right and access to vote can be an act of integrity as we are honoring the voice that has been given to us, generally by the hard work of people who came before us who believed themselves and all the people following them worthy of suffrage. In the same vein I believe it to be an act of integrity to go to the polls or the mail in ballot fully aware of the package that we are voting for, knowing that when we cast our vote for Romney or Obama, or the other candidates whose names are not branded onto our brains by the incessant commercials that have been running non-stop for months, we are casting a vote for all the things their  platform stands for. We may not believe in every position, but we are voting for it. I think that, at least when I, face this reality I recognize more fully that my vote does matter.I am prioritizing certain issues, paths, and legislative ideologies. In the same vein I am sacrificing other things that matter to me. It is hard to live in a state of disconnected angst about the political system when I think about how when we truly vote in a conscientious way we must put our beliefs on the line and make decisions that may seem small, but in actuality are very big. The act of voting can and perhaps should be our way of stating what matters to us most and what we are willing to sacrifice. It forces us to say something about ourselves. 

This entry has rambled. I have talked about dolls, doll journals, smug teenage angst, suffrage, and my soapbox. The main point of all these musings is this: I feel incredibly fortunate to have the right to vote. I believe that as important as it is to recognize the power of suffrage it is equally important to recognize that who we vote for matters and moreover that we are voting for them and their platform as a package. 

I wrote to my bald girldoll Amy so many years ago that there are still sad things, but that everything is changed forever. As an adult voter I now lack the bright eyed idealism of my childhood self running about in silk skirts pretending that I was part of the women's suffrage movement. I still maintain though that suffrage can and does change most everything. That change may not be as shiny as I, or we, would like it to be. It is marred by political games, but the change we can enact with our votes is real and it is deep. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ineffable Voodoo Glue

Over the past week I've been reminded that I am hopelessly and I believe lastingly in love. The love I'm speaking of is not a romantic love, or at least it is not romantic love anymore. This week a very dear friend got married in the mountains of Colorado. A large group of our friends piled into planes, cars, tents, cabins, and bathing suits and made a raucous nuptial pilgrimage to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Although we have had smaller reunions with specific people in this group, it has been years since all of us have been in the same place at the same time.

It was wonderful and overwhelming. It was surreal. It felt at once that no time had passed and that we had each lived a mini-life since last congregated. It felt like we are all growing into the people we are supposed to be. It filled my heart up and made me proud to know such wonderful people who I could converse with endlessly.

During college I remember a night where most of the people present at the wedding were at a party together dancing, talking, and wearing the ridiculous outfits that visually marked my collegiate experience. I recall a self-indulgent thought that night where I wanted that moment and these friendships to be frozen in time, exactly as they were. I was on a fire escape over a citrus tree. I looked up at the hazy rainbow that sometimes circles the moon in Northern California and thought, "Damn this is the life." I wanted to preserve the feeling of absolute unity. It all seemed so "written" in the stars, as if we all deserved to feel the way we were feeling that night for all time, amen.

Our friendships have not remained the same. In addition to all the joys,hopes, and accomplishments we have had individually and collectively there has been a lot of loss. We have lost people, we have lost love, we have been asked to move romantic relationships into platonic ones, we have forged new romances, we have wrestled with our career paths, we have made impossible moves, we have questioned our choices, we have been brave, we have come face to face with the recession, and we have been asked to find forgiveness for ourselves, others, and even each other. My fleeting, well intentioned, and naive hope that all would remain the same could never be true. I'm glad for that.

The joy of college friendship feels inevitable. Coming back to these friends a few years out now feels like a gift. We no longer share all our space and every thought with each other. The ability to live separate lives and then reunite with a genuine appreciation, warmth, and love for each other speaks to a deep bond, a true delight in each other, and growth. Within this group I see some of the best things about community and individuals.

Thank goodness relationships are not stagnant. We grow, redefine, and forge newfound closenesses. I should not be surprised to be feeling this way after my friends' wedding. They are genuine, kind, smart, hilarious, and community oriented people. They will be great partners for each other. They are the best of people so it makes sense that at their wedding gathering we would have such a gratifying reunion full of old love, new stories, and the ineffable voodoo glue that is made out of time, shared histories and hopes, and the subtle work we do in our own lives to keep us open, growing, and ripe for friendship.

I know that no matter how far friends scatter around the globe they can come back to each other changed, but still in love.

It was a great weekend of celebrating our beautiful bride and groom. It was pure voodoo glue.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A City on Fire: 20th Anniversary of the Rodney King Riots

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King Riots. Today marks the anniversary of the day that my childhood neighborhood became a war zone in what seemed like a matter of minutes after the Los Angeles jury charged with King's case decided to acquit the four police officers that brutally beat him. Today I'm compelled to remember what the human spirit and human bodies can do to space and each other when their rights and their dignity are repeatedly compromised. Today I am reminded that cases like Rodney King's are not causes of mass rioting and violence, but rather catalysts in the context of greater oppressions. Los Angeles, especially South Central, in the 1980s and into the 1990s was referred to by The New York Times as a war zone of international importance due to the high rates of violence and fatalities. Many factors intersected to create a space that was ripe for rioting and public uproar. The relationship was strong and growing stronger between the crack cocaine boom and the expansion of gang presence and stronghold in many of LA's low-income neighborhoods. The LA police department had a history of racial profiling and limited follow through in the neighborhoods deemed most dangerous and their presence induced fear more than safety at that time in South Central's history. When the jury found the police officers not guilty people's anger at the verdict spread like wildfire and soon literal fires dominated the landscape of South Central, Koreatown, and other surrounding neighborhoods. Although my memories of this time are blurred in the way that a child's memories tend to be, I vividly recall the oppressive smoke that filled every street and room of our house. The palms of my hands had a layer of soot on them. I tried to lick the grime off and the taste of acid and charcoal was so overpowering that even today when I see images of riots or cities burning my mouth is filled with the memory of the ash. Stores on our block were firebombed. People took to the streets looting, screaming, burning, and raging for days. It was a riot rooted in the classicism and racism often perpetuated by governing institutions that isolate people without access to power turning them against one another in conflicts often drawn along racial lines. The police initially stayed on the Westside trying to contain the spread of the movement. For days we did not see police officers in our neighborhood. People do not often think about US cities losing rule of law, but that was precisely what happened in the days following the verdict. On May 2nd 10,000 National Guardsmen and the entire LAPD were called into my neighborhood. Again, my memories are blurry, but I do recall the lines of armed men in combat gear. I remember being afraid of them, even at that young age understanding that they did not belong in the community and that their presence signaled danger and an escalation in violence. After that the rioting was contained. Dozens of people were dead, over a thousand seriously injured, and thousands of people's livelihoods were compromised or destroyed. It felt like everything was smoldering. I had no context for understanding tornadoes at that young age, but I now think that it was like an extended tornado full of ill intent had lingered over us for days permanently altering the landscape of our space. Since the riots much work has been done to rebuild the community. In fact you would not know that South Central had almost burned to the ground if you saw it today. I think for the people who lived there though during that time it is something that is hard to forget. I remember the fire, the smoke, the booming, the shields, and the ascorbic taste I licked off my little chubby child hands. I remember holding my stuffed animal letting him know everything was fine, already understanding the power of reassurance when all other forms of control seem to have left the building. Today these riots feel far away. I am in Colorado. I am no longer a child. South Central itself has in many respects been transformed. This is a simple blog post about a highly complex issue. Although this time in my life is distant from my present realities, I must honor what happened in 1992 because it was significant not only in my life, but in the lives of the people I loved most, and in the history of our country. I am reminded that when institutions do not honor the humanity of their people it is enough to create a welling of anger so great that it lights a city on fire. The memory of this time reignites a flame in me that fuels my belief that I must in all of my small everyday dealings act in a way that promotes equity, community, and the dignity of all things. So today I want to honor the people that died and were injured in the riots and the time leading up to the riots. I also want to celebrate the people that stepped up in the wake of the chaos to make their community stronger. Let's never forget the riots and what they have meant to so many of us. *for some reason blogger will not allow for paragraphs in this post...hmm...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

hello duckies,

hope this prayer finds you uplifted wherever you may be. it's moved me countless times in the pursuit of a life lived in contemplation, love, action, and focus on others. i am humbled and ignited by his words.

written by Cesar Chavez

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I may know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.

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