Dystopian Novel

Stunned. Shocked. Gutted. Blasted. Rocked. Pushed. Tossed. Angered. Flattened. Pressed.

Silenced.

There are no words. History is no longer history; we are living in a surreal social experiment replicating the most vicious and despicable acts perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless. There is no longer a need to argue that racism exists; it is alive, thriving, spreading like a fungus. Eat the mushroom and you too will believe that the systematic removal of human rights is the basis of democracy.

“I’m working with a child who is terrified her parents will be deported. What do I tell her?”

Tell her it will never happen, everything will be okay, as long as her family plays by the rules they’ll be taken care of. And don’t listen to all the hype. Stay positive. There is nothing to fear.

Which passage of Mein Kampf are you referring to? When you watched movies like Shindler’s List or Life is Beautiful, did you think the people in the fancy uniforms were the heroes?

 

Racism veiled as platitudes. Give me back my microaggressions. Unintentional acts imply the culprit would be amenable to asking for apology. Believing your own bullshit that says walling out entire religious and ethnic groups for “protection” is nearly a word-for-word iteration of racism. Protect who? Why? “I don’t hate them, I just don’t want them here.” Archie Bunker was a television character, a caricature of an ethos whose time had come, not an icon to be resurrected.

George Wallace was a villain. William Wallace was not. Make sure you know which Wallace you’re trying to emulate.

Naziism was not Hitler’s fault. Naziism lived because the people wanted it to. Because people of conscience, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, bought into a horrible, deliberately-crafted lie personifying the root of all their problems as Jews. And people who are gay. And people who weren’t Germans. And women who didn’t listen to men. And children who dared to read something other than the prescribed state literature.

All the leftover Aryans watched and listened as bodies were burned, shot, raped, tortured, shoveled like so much used-up coal. Some of the New World Order laughed. Some said it needed to be done for “public safety.” And some looked away, insisting loudly they were still good people with love in their hearts, because they had to blot out the whispers of the dying.

The required reading list should be everything written by Orwell. Throw in a little Wells, Huxley, Bradbury, Burgess, Nolan, McCarthy to name a few. Sprinkle in Thoreau for some light reading. Or just give us anything that looks like a book before the populace becomes illiterate and we have to teach reading in secret, in fear of being beaten for obtaining the forbidden knowledge.

Knowledge is power. Today it is also a commodity. Rome is being built in a day and in time we will be consigned to flames of woe. Enslavement means erasing the collective memory, replacing it with candy-colored fantasies of better times.

But we remember, and we scream, because the body never forgets the torture of the soul. Cry mercy, and unleash the dogs of war.

1.21.2017: We March

I thought I’d let a few news items do the talking today:

c2ucfcpweaes5zx14-year-old is asking to “Make America Think Again.” This is what the world has come to. #WomensMarch pic.twitter.com/PZzUYPBEtG— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) January 21, 2017

…And thousands more, and it isn’t even noon yet. This tweet captures it:

See, President Trump – we were already great. You and your cronies hadn’t figured that out yet. Now you’ll find out just how great we can be.

t-donald-trump-alec-baldwin-snl

Our Unpresidented Reality Show…

(image from Vanity Fair)

The electoral college votes have been submitted and…of course Trump will still be President. I had set aside a small finger bowl of hope on the off-chance another patch of Hell froze over and something unexpected would happen. But it is not really a surprise that the vote still stands.

I’ll get chastised by my fellow liberals for making that statement, but that’s okay. People who have little left need to feel like they can do something, and I suspected from the get-go that efforts to sway the electoral college were an expression of that need.  Changing this aspect of the system in such a short period of time and under such extreme circumstances is like getting the earth to spin backwards; even when Superman did it, it was a really stupid part of the movie.

However, there were some surprises. We did get 7 faithless electors, more than any election since 1808. Their switches were unexpected though, with most deciding to vote for someone other than – wait for it – Clinton. We did get 2 Republican electors who did not vote for Trump. But no huge jumping of the fence, no dramatic uprising. It is history in the making, and many political analysts will make their careers talking about this one. But for those of us living this experience, it is, frankly, like being told you have IBS: gassy and uneventful.

Since Nov. 8, there have been thousands of conversations about how to move forward. I’m tired of talking about moving forward. Moving forward is a ridiculous statement, a pointless sentiment. Of course we have to move forward because none of us can stop time. The phrase is at best nothing more than platitudes to try to assuage the now disaffected, or at worst blatant showing off that swaggering jerks can still kick sand in the face of beached weaklings. Stop telling anyone to move forward. Or, perhaps Trump fans could take their own advice and move forward, if moving forward means getting off of their narcissistic high horse for one instant and remembering they too still need to find a way of getting along with their neighbors.

My bitterness is obvious. But my frustration has morphed from the despair at the initial announcement of Trump’s win to a sort of despondency at watching the system reveal itself. Initially the terror after election night was connected to sanctioned racism. But as things settled, now that fear is replaced by anger and, honestly, befuddlement. Even before taking office, we get to learn about email hacking, Russian interference, international faux-pas, white nationalist appointments, conflicts of interest, continued network reality show entanglements, lawsuits…This all in the last month. And I sit here and wonder, did all of you die-hard Trumplodites really think he would suddenly become (un)presidential? Did you really think all of us who spoke against Trump were really just whining? Our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief gets into twitter wars with Alec Baldwin and you’re telling us to suck it up, buttercup?

But not all of my ire is aimed at Trumpamentalists. (Yes, I am making up new words to distinguish those who cast a thoughtful vote, who likely can still keep an eye on the big picture, who may even be saying to themselves, “what was I thinking..,” from those alt-right white national white supremacist batshit crazy idiots who are secretly hoping to photobomb President Trump and get a shot at their own reality TV show. They voted red because they liked posting Trumpified selfies all fucking day. I unfriended you on facebook not because I couldn’t accept your politics but because my eyes are still on fire from being forced to see your poodle-coiffed head wrapped in a “Make America Great Again” thong. Please lose your cell phone in a vat of acid.)

As I was saying…the Democrats have some work to do too. My irritation with them is an old one though, as someone who has been a Democrat and a social justice advocate for a long time. Both groups are plagued by a very similar disease. I’ve been afflicted by it and had it inflicted on me. I’ll use the following to illustrate:

Person A: “We’re going to host a banquet and invite all the local groups to join us. Then we can have a big talk about the problems this community is having.”

Person B: “That sounds fabulous. What will we serve?’

A:”We’ll get it catered.”

B:”Catering is so bourgeois. Let’s go shopping and get sandwich platters.”

Person C: “We can go to Costco!”

A:”Costco is a corporate monster.”

B:”Fine, let’s get sandwiches from the local grocer.”

C:”Great, as long as it’s organic.”

Person D: “I’m gluten intolerant.”

A: “Fine, we’ll get wheatless sandwiches.”

B: “We need a vegetarian option.”

C: “My uncle grows hemp.”

D: “I don’t think you should impose food on anyone. What about those who are fasting?”

A: “Let’s make it a pot-luck.”

B: “Excellent! I’ll make mini-imitation cocoa inspired flourless goujons crafted from soybean-free tofu and banana peels.”

C: “I insist on having pears.”

D: “Let’s make a doodle poll and see what everyone else thinks.”

A: “Fuck it. cancel the whole thing. I’m going to McDonald’s.”

In short, we are very good at undermining each other about very stupid things. Democrats need to realize this: Republicans are very organized. While it can also be argued that Republican agendas support status quo and therefore encourage conformity, Democrats could handle getting a little more agreement about what we’re supposed to be fighting for and about. Ironically, the left’s social agenda, also tied to social justice, is about fighting for the rights of those often rendered invisible in society. But this has also led to thinking every message is equivalent and deserves the same amount of air time. Hey fellow Dems, it’s okay to get focused. Maybe now isn’t the time to argue for every single point we’ve ever wanted to strive for. Maybe we should pick a few key items and go full steam ahead, and prove to the rest of the country that we can actually get something done.

I do believe President Obama tried that, and was undercut by Democrats just as much as he was undercut by Republicans. Because Democrats just couldn’t agree. Those of us on the left can fall victim to insular thinking just as much as those on the right, and we can get sucked into our own propaganda and self-aggrandizement. We need to have hard conversations with each other, those of us who claim to be on the same team, and we also need to unsaddle some of our own prima donnas. What should we learn from the fact that some of the faithless electors tried to change their vote away from Clinton? We should accept that Clinton may not have been a great choice, that she came with a mega suitcase filled with dirty laundry and that many in the USA just simply don’t and never will like her. We should also learn that we’re not doing a good job getting the message across – again likely because our message is muddled and complicated, and also because we are not doing well using words that can be understood. We hide in our rhetoric and multisyllabic principles. We are educated yes, but we are guilty of making just as many idiotic remarks as our conservative counterparts. We appear elitist because we adopt a superior attitude every time we think we are “saving” the masses, and we forget we are just as subject to prejudice and bias as everyone else.

 

I really don’t want to be stuck in a reality tv show for the next four years. But in a way, we have been living one for some time now, and the show has just jumped the shark. So maybe we need to get this thing cancelled before the current writers do something even more stupid. Let’s bring in real talent and get back to writing good stories. Or better yet, let’s turn all this bullshit television and newstainment off and, gasp, talk to each other again. Instead of blogging, I would have to physically find people and get out of my house…see the light of the sun…notice the shadows on the walls…wonder if anyone else will get this Plato reference…

 

 

Reconciling the U.S…A Letter to my Friends

 

Dear Friends, men and women who are white who are feeling upset, angry, hurt, and marginalized due to accusations of being “racists, homophobes, xenophobes, misogynists,” and other such things because you are white and because regardless of who you voted for, you resemble the “Silent Majority:”

I am writing to many of you whom I call friend, and who hopefully use this term earnestly towards me. I am also writing to those I’ve never met, whom I would likely enjoy meeting, just simply because you’re nice people I’d enjoy sharing cake with. But because of the results of Election 2016, I don’t know if you would enjoy meeting me, because a great many people in this country just made it loud and clear that people like me don’t belong here. So I am hoping you’d like to meet me, but I hold a certain apprehension which I will attempt to explain. Because truly, I don’t want November 8, 2016, to be the day that goes down in history as the date the USA imploded into the Cultural Civil War.

First, I don’t consider you to be a member of the KKK, a person who hates people of color, a man who hates women, a Christian who wants to burn non-Christians, or an American who hates foreigners just because you’re White. I don’t need to be reminded to see you as an individual, because I already know you are an individual. I know you are decent, respectable people who care about your children and the future of this country. You are interested in learning, have the ability to see beyond your own personal experience, and can feel compassion for someone who has been wronged. I also know many of you are not violent by nature and would have no interest in doing any harm towards me or anyone like me.

Second, I also know that many of you may have voted for Trump, or may have at least sympathized with the image of Trump, because you felt like you had been left behind. America had moved too fast and too far, leaving you lost and neglected in a dead forest of debt, unemployment, and disregard. The images of yourself created in movies and television portrayed a middle-American who was, in a nutshell, a bumbling drunk fool incapable of having meaningful relationships. You’ve been told for a long time you are to blame for much of what has gone wrong in the social sphere; you are too white, too manly, too comfortable. And, you have been told that you benefit from the suffering of others, even though when you look around at your mountain of debt, your nonexistent savings, your layoffs and downsizings, your divorces, your miseducated children, and your fear resulting from living in a violent, uncertain world – you see no privilege, no mountain of gold, nothing in your life that says, “you’ve got it all, babe.”

In the midst of this, you tried to say, “hey, stop pointing the finger, I’ve got hard stuff going on too.” And not enough people heard you, and you felt ignored. So when a figure like Trump appeared, someone representing nothing of the status quo, and everything of what success could be, I can understand why his agenda might seem enticing. So some of you let the rest of the country know you would not be ignored any more, even though you want nothing to do with Trump’s sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Third, I also know many of you felt misunderstood, and did not vote for Trump. Many of you saw Trump’s agenda as a path to evil, a representation of the opposite of the Christian morals you’ve been trying to protect, a figure who behaves in ways you would never want yourself or your children to emulate. Even though you may have struggled with this thing called “white privilege” and still may be undecided about its existence, you knew Trump’s behavior became the permission now enabling many white supremacist groups to come out of hiding and put women and people of color “back in their place.” Many of you are just as outraged about his becoming the President-Elect. And now you feel betrayed that you are being referred to as racists, hate-mongers, xenophobes, etc. because you too tried to stand against the message of Trump’s Hate, and you are being judged guilty by white association.

I see you my friends, and I have been seeing you for the full 43 years of my life.

In return for seeing you, what I now ask is for you to – just for a moment – suspend your anger and outrage in the hopes that you might see me as well. And perhaps after we see each other, we will be able to put down our shields and swords long enough to remember what we kept dear between us, and that which will move us forward towards making a society where we hold certain truths to be self-evident, that we are all created equal…

Who are you seeing? I’m the diversity teacher, I’m the person who’s been standing in front of classrooms for 15 years telling everyone that White Privilege exists. I’m the one who’s been asking hundreds of students to consider how Racism affects and hurts everyone, including white people. I’m the one who challenges people to break down dominant discourses like the “American Dream” and meritocracy so we can start to see the multiple ways we have been shaped, influenced, and misled into thinking that if we simply dream it, we can make it happen. I believe it is impossible to grow up in this society, this world really, without being given thousands of messages about who does and does not matter, and that we inadvertently repeat those messages all the time.

I am a woman with a boy’s name; I am a person of color who isn’t always regarded as a person of color. My existence is the “thing” that throws a lot of racial identity concepts out of whack – I’m biracial, a person whose parents identify with two distinctly different ethnic groups. As I define it, my ethnicity is both and neither that of my parents. I am a living example of “fluidity” in its many forms. According to the “old” definitions of race, I’m supposed to “choose” my ethnicity (I suppose in a manner similar to how we “choose” sexual orientation). But the reality of my experience is that most people attempt to choose for me, and based on their own preferences. I get to hear a lot of opinions, particularly when I don’t ask for them, about whether or not I’ve had a bad, misguided life, about whether or not I’ll ever “fit in,” and especially about whether or not I should’ve been born. And to top that off, one of my parents is also an immigrant, so these days I am really the thing that represents “everything that is wrong in the USA,” according to groups like the KKK.

So to set the record straight – I haven’t had a bad life, but I have had bad things happen to me. I have experienced overt racism. More often I experience microaggressions, those small sayings, gestures, indications committed by many well-meaning people who inadvertently suggest my “difference” is also abnormal, undesirable, or flat out wrong. I have also unfortunately experienced violence, enacted by men; I have experience betrayal, enacted by the church. I know racism, sexism, and heterosexism because of what has been done to me.

I also know racism, sexism, and heterosexism because of the things I’ve done.

Admitting my own racism hurts me in ways you may or may not relate to. Because when I admit to engaging in oppression, instead of validating its existence, people who are white often turn this into a “free pass” to completely negate racism. “You did it, so therefore it must not really be there.” Or, “see, minorities do it, so why can’t white people.” I don’t really understand these arguments, because it’s sort of like saying, “you hit Jo, so let’s all go out and hit people.” Hitting is still wrong, except I end up being the only person in the room confessing.

So this gets to something else you may not have noticed about me: while I do hold more privilege now, as an employed person, as an able-bodied person, and I have a certain degree of power – my power can be negated in a second. Now, you may be recalling how you have felt powerless in your life, how you were not really given a choice about many things. Power might look to you like those three or four big houses on the hill in your town, inhabited by people who resemble the upstairs folk in Downton Abbey. And that is a particular kind of power that cannot be denied, and that is felt by very few people in this country and indeed, the world.

But most power isn’t felt. The kid who stands up to the bully, the teenager who moves against the crowd, the adult who speaks up – none of these people feel powerful when they do that. In fact, they feel afraid. And they know these actions could very well fail, and they’ll be worse off than when they started. This is exactly why such acts are courageous, because they act in the face of fear, and because there is no assurance of reward or success. Faith is not an act of power, it is an act of release.

Power in American society rests in the ability to decide what is real or not real in this world. It is connected to decision, including the act of looking the other way. Power comes from having all the ability in the world to speak, but choosing not to, because you don’t have to. And none of this power relates to whether or not you’ve earned it, it is there simply because it was decided long ago that you should have it. White privilege means you are defined as the most desirable thing to be just because you are white. Power means you could have lived most of your life without ever noticing the privilege you were granted.

Power, in this election, came in the form of one word. One word from the self-identified Silent Majority, a group composed almost entirely of white men and women. That is not opinion, that is math. This group with their word, their one voice, turned the entire country upside down. This one word threatens to destroy decades of work towards civil rights. It is the reason why so many people of color, women, and people of the LGBTQ communities are afraid. Because the not-so-silent majority, those of us who have been very loud for many, many years, have been fighting, yelling, and bleeding to create a world where everyone, including white, Christian, heterosexual men and women, can have this thing called equality. And all that work was erased, that history negated, our lives invalidated, with one little word.

That, my friends, is Power.

This is why I am angry. This is why I am hurt and scared. This is why I must do something. I am sorry you are being unjustly accused, and curiously in exactly the same ways many of us have been unjustly accused for a very long time. It is wrong and should not happen.

This brings us to my final point. If you were uncertain about what the effects of racism could be, you have now been given a very big, unpleasant dose of it. And if you don’t like it, then welcome. Welcome to this part of reality we have been shouting about for generations. I do not mean to say, “get over it.” I don’t want you to get over it at all. I want you to feel it. I want you to get angry about it. Because now you know for certain that injustice lives.

A terrifying product of this election cycle has been the rise of White Supremacy. There are many out there, people who are White, who very much want a White America. They are more than happy to get rid of anything not white, and use any means necessary to do so. I don’t mean just the KKK. I also mean those who have been sleeping, the portion of the Silent Majority that were waiting for the new Hitler to emerge, to justify their hostile take-over. You are likely as disgusted by their actions as I am, and this is why it hurts you so much to be lumped in with them.

So I promise you I will not lump you with them. But you’ve got to make a promise too: instead of getting angry at me, get angry at them.

Talk. Tell people, particularly people who are white, how Whiteness does not have to equal hatred, racism, bigotry. Create a definition of white culture that is free of racism, that has the capacity to love and honor difference, that can see culture as a source of pride and mutual enhancement. Tell other white people how outraged you are; declare racist jokes as not funny, say “oops, my mistake” if you engage in a microaggression, try to just listen to (not fix) the story of someone who is different from you. Admit you are not an expert on other cultures, because I’m not either. Consider the ways in which privilege may have betrayed you, and how you can use your power to create the world you want instead of passively accepting the world you received.

And: talk to people of color. If you are stereotyped, it is ok to say, “hey that’s not me.” But also now, during this time when so many non-white, non heterosexual, non-male people don’t know who to trust, take a moment to say, “I’m sorry this happened.” If you too did not want the legacy of Trump’s Hate to lead this country, then say that, tell us you are hurt and angry as well and you will work extra hard to keep love first.

Because, my friends, it will be very tempting and very easy to say nothing. Talking will open yourself up to the potential for harassment, you could be jeered and derided for “loving” us. You will no doubt find it simpler to look the other way, to blend in. And in truth, you’ll be protected just because your skin is white. You still have the privilege of saying absolutely nothing.

But I don’t have that kind of protection. I’ve never had that kind of guarantee. And that means I need you, I need you to see me, hold me, stand with me, challenge me, fight with me, curse with me, laugh with me, and maybe even die with me. Otherwise I am alone, and our country is just an A without an US.

With fear and hope,

Shawn Patrick

Site Lift…(aka VOTE)

i-voted-stickerThose rare 2 or 3 people who read this blog regularly might notice a few changes around here. I decided it was time for a change, especially as I hadn’t updated the look of the blog since I created it almost 4 years ago. So we’ve got a new theme, some updated titles, and a new layout that keeps the posts from being too…exhausting? to read.

But time for change is also upon us…in just a couple days the next President of the United States will be decided. While you could argue that all elections are a big deal, this one is a Very Big Deal. I have already voted. I have an opinion. And I have a plea for all those out there who are thinking there is no point in voting in what appears to be one of the most ridiculous, horrific, laughable, and embarrassing Presidential races I’ve seen in my life.

What are the issues? Amazingly the issues don’t get talked about enough. What are the campaign promises, how will each candidate make a difference…ironically this has been almost completely erased from the public eye. We are trapped in a surreal enactment of a freak show circus and have bought into believing all the tricks and pantomimes are real. It is no wonder many, many people are expressing greater anxiety, fear, hopelessness, mistrust, than ever before; such symptoms cut across race, age, gender, leaving us all wondering what the fuck is going on.

So…is it a surprise that many people, especially young people who may be voting for the first time ever, feel their vote won’t matter? This campaign voyage crashed the dock a long time ago and has morphed into a presidential sharknado, gobbling every shred of sanity daring to step in its path. Voting can seem pointless, the outcome pre-determined (not “rigged,” as some would have you believe).

But voting does matter, and now more than ever. Because while we have lost sight of the work that is yet to be done, what has erupted to the surface is a rift in our society that will rumble across the land for some time. Scientists have been predicting the big earthquake – well here it is, and it’s a 9000 on the social cataclysm scale. Maybe the specific persons running for office leave some things to be desired, but what they have come to represent speaks volumes about who we are to become as a people:

  • One candidate represents a possibility for equality to still exist in this country, and a chance that our children could have a better future than the present we have foolishly created for them.
  • One candidate represents himself a couple of white people who will make out like bandits at the expense of just about everyone else.

Is it an oversimplification?  Cutting across all the bullshit that has been recklessly slung in our faces, the bottom line is simple. While it is tempting to abstain from voting as a sign of protest (and there is much to protest), in this case it means the outcome will be decided for you. It means your silence will be interpreted as agreement in supporting a society that you may not want anything to do with. There are so many in this country whose right to vote is being challenged, taken away, threatened; thus if those of you who have this vote, have this voice, don’t use it, you are spitting in the face of those fighting to hold on to that right.

There is so much more I could get into here, like the unleashing of pure, unhindered racism that threatens to turn us into a modern version of Auschwitz, policing our own neighbors like Hitlerjugend; the flagrant disregard for women that stomps them back into believing their worth is dependent upon the approval of men; the support of rape culture that is attempting to shroud many survivors of assault into shame ; the glorification of violence which is turning bullies into heroes; the disgusting redefinition of masculinity that should make most men of conscience want to vomit. These are the issues we will really face after November 8. Your vote will matter, and the vote is also just the beginning.

So – VOTE. The world is watching.

Another brick…

My head is pounding. Probably because the emotional brick wall I keep encountering just won’t yield no matter how many times I hit it. Stop hitting it, you say? If it were that easy…

I’m inspired by a recent Facebook distraction where a friend of mine tossed a Batman quote in my direction, and it may have been slightly misconstrued by those reading who may not have had the requisite Christopher Nolan watch history to bring understanding. (So props to P, good quote. No worries, mate.) Applying the quote to teaching, he made a joke about me being the teacher my students need, but not the one they deserve. Ok, so maybe that sounds a little weird taken out of context, but I’ve been spending some time thinking about why I continue to be a teacher, especially when I encounter so many of these amazingly stupid, redundant, madness-inducing larger-than-life Joker-inspired walls.

I became a teacher by accident. I don’t know if that is a common story for teachers but that is what happened in my case. I spent all of my schooling never thinking I would become a person standing in front of a room while people wrote down what I said.

Here’s the thing: I’d been spending all my graduate work focused on becoming a better therapist. I left my master’s program thinking my egg hadn’t hatched yet, so I wanted to incubate a little longer. That was a good decision. A lot of important things came together for me and at the conclusion of my program, I was definitely a much more skilled and capable counselor. But being the philosopher I can’t avoid, I also noticed the irony of counseling work that I still haven’t escaped to this day.

If you ever apply to a counseling program, at some point you’ll be asked, “why do you want to do this.” And what admissions committees don’t tell anyone is that we are looking out for the “because I want to help people” answer. We look out for it because this is what most people will write; it is also nearly meaningless. What does it mean to “help” people? What is helping? Before any of us set foot in a classroom, we all held rather naive ideas about helping and our ability to do it. Most of our ideas are illusions, props we tell ourselves to believe we are more powerful, effective, and important than we really are. Somewhere in there exists altruism, but this is in reality a very small piece. We are usually interested in helping ourselves, and even there we don’t really know what that looks like either.

So after a few years of deconstructing all this, we find that we can’t really “help” anyone, and we adopt a new language of “facilitating change.” This is step one towards accepting we can’t actually make people do things, no matter how much we try. But counselors come to realize they don’t want to make people do things, because we appreciate and value this thing called agency – someone’s ability to be active in their own life and work from their own will. However, the flipside is we can make things happen, and often when we don’t intend to. Unfortunately our history is filled with such examples where our good-intentioned selves managed to hurt large groups of mostly disenfranchised people by subjecting them to lousy research or prejudiced, discriminatory practices. Thus we do know we can make a difference, but more often we see the results from when our differences create more harm than good.

I found myself caught in the sideliner’s observation that while I am witness to the experience of pain, I am rarely present to the experience of change. We have all kinds of phrases about “the process” and when it works, it means we are working ourselves out of a job. This means “change” doesn’t usually manifest in front of my eyes; rather it is inferred from the stories a client shares with me, and I usually fan the flames of hope that it moves in preferred directions. For a person to become responsible for all they have done, they aren’t changing because I’ve said a magic phrase, but because they have made change a part of their life. Thus when I do a “good job,” I’ve also erased myself from the picture. It means at any particular moment when I’m counseling, I am simultaneously influential and non-influential, powerful and impotent.

Damn you existentialists.

purple_manThis is a frustrating state of being. But it is also core to how I work, because I am always balancing this dilemma, this ability to do and not do. You could say this is why we have to pay attention to ethics, because it becomes very easy to transform into the Purple Man.

All of this exists in the world of teaching, too. My role as a teacher isn’t to make people learn, but to create an environment where learning becomes possible. That is similar to how we talk about counseling, but in the classroom, my chances of being present to learning are much higher. Conversely, if learning isn’t occurring, I will see it immediately, and not just in test scores. Any teacher who has ever seen 30 faces check out all at once knows exactly what I’m saying.

For me to be a teacher, I’ve had to do a lot of work that includes regularly challenging myself and stepping well outside my comfort zone. I find myself influencing the potential for learning every time I’m in the room and I am always shifting between stepping into the mix and stepping out. Every group is different, every class forming its own personality and way of interacting. I never give the same lecture twice, and I never know where the class will end up. This doesn’t mean I take an “anything goes” attitude; rather learning morphs towards the path of the learner instead of forcing students into one identical mold.

That may sound a little weird since in recent times many think of school in a very business-oriented student-learning-outcome way and have reduced education to just memorizing times tables and spelling words. But education doesn’t end with basic skills, it starts there; ultimately education is about exercising and shaping a mind, a spirit, a being who is capable of interacting intentionally in the world. We’re not telling our students what to think, but how to think; the tools they must learn are the tools that empower them towards active freedom, not towards quiet subservience.

So when I say I get more chances to be present to learning, it means I get to see what I just described on a regular basis. Or at least, I am more likely to see it if I’m doing my job ethically, effectively, and earnestly. And I get to watch these students become counselors, people who are able to see the worth inside each person they work with. People who can sit in that existential dilemma so much more comfortably than I can because if learning took place, it taught them the most important lesson: they too are valuable because they exist, because they mean something and have a right to be here.

But this isn’t easy, and it is often thankless, and the obstacles to doing this work come from places you’d never imagine. That means I spend a lot of time banging my head against walls, and I’ll likely keep banging my head against walls. You’d think I’d have a thicker skull by now. But eventually there may be enough of us who’ve rediscovered our value as people to break through the wall, or maybe we’ll just walk off together and the wall will fall into obsolescence (Roger Waters was on to something, I think). I don’t know really; after all it’s just a metaphor. Enough speculation though, I have a lesson to prepare…

 

 

 

 

Religious Histories…

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I was never baptized. This was largely due to an oversight by my parents; basically, they forgot to do it. Now before the Freudians leap into writing dissertations about what this implies about my upbringing and its connection to my infinite personality flaws, my parents’ ignoring of my eternal soul was likely one of the better things they did. My course was set early on towards figuring out this thing called religion.

Even though my childhood lacked expected rituals, I was not without the presence of religion. My mother is Catholic, even though she doesn’t quite know what that means. She was baptized and given communion when she was growing up in Taiwan. Since the mass was given in Latin at the time, she had no idea what was going on and just went with it. Of course since my mother was raised in a very traditional Chinese home, she didn’t really need extra lessons in shame to begin with, so Catholicism in another language likely felt pretty familiar to her. This is probably why there has always been a Catholic influence in my life, but no one really understands it.

My father was supposed to be either Pentecostal or Baptist. He was dunked in a bathtub and ran after that which is why the choice was never really made. Religion terrified him, death terrified him, and women terrified him, which explains a great many things. When I was little, he announced he would never go to church again, and that was the one promise he delivered on. He also later divorced my mom so he could date as many women as he could find and adopted an attitude of “do whatever feels good.” Unless of course you were one of his children, and then the rule was, “if it feels good, NEVER EVER do it, see it, or think it again.”

Even though dad declared never to set foot in church again lest he burst into flame, I recall spending plenty of time there when I was young. Well not in any one particular church, but rather many, many churches. I didn’t know what to call my family because we simultaneously attended Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, Church of Christ, and Pentecostal churches at different times. This might be why I never really understood why Catholics and Protestants bicker amongst themselves over which one is “right” about Jesus, because when you’re 6 it all looks about the same; it’s just a question of which one makes you stand up the most.

I went to bible school on a regular basis. The school I attended the most had a fire-and-brimstone preacher who scared the living Christ right out of me. I have no idea what he was talking about because my strategy was to stare like I was listening so he wouldn’t shout in my direction. But I knew I wanted nothing to do with what he was selling. When he wasn’t looking, I would pull out the Old Testament and read it, trying to figure out what “begat” meant and why those old guys had so much of it.

Somewhere in my adolescence, my mother remembered I was still sinful and wanted to get me baptized. By then I’d decided to become an atheist, but mostly because I listened to a lot of punk rock. So my mother ordered me to the minister at the church we happened to be going to at the time, and made me talk to her about what would happen if I continued to deny God.

It is likely the minister had a more well-rounded version of one’s relationship to the almighty than my mother did, or perhaps she didn’t know what to make of the girl with spiky hair, black coat and combat boots sitting across from her. Either way she simply asked me what I thought of my relationship with God, to which I replied that I didn’t really know, but I didn’t want to sign up until I had a better idea of what I was getting into. She thought that sounded pretty reasonable and sent me on my way, offering to talk more if I wanted to. I skipped off with my get-out-of-jail-free pass validated, and I realized I really did want to understand God better. I wasn’t really an atheist, I was just angry, and talking to someone who wasn’t was, in a word, helpful.

I had quit going to church(es) on a regular basis but continued exploring the tough questions. Somewhere in early adulthood I decided to get pretty serious about it all. I suppose being surrounded by priests at a Catholic university had something to do with that. But this time I wasn’t having threats shouted at me from on high, rather I got the chance to learn. Religion is, amazingly, much more interesting when it is presented in relation to culture, history, ethics, art, and relationships. And surprise! This thing called theology invites questions and no one will go to Hell as a result.

But I never committed. I came very close on several occasions. It was sort of like showing up on the wedding day, looking down the aisle, but when the music started to play I would say, “nope” and turn around. And this was not due to a lack of belief; it is fair to say belief and I were good friends. I did well with a conceptualization of God that permitted me to challenge Him on a regular basis and I could accept Him challenging me back. But to get more specific – to make a declaration of faith – never quite happened. I recall praying with a priest, who was preparing me for formal entry into Catholicism. I was anointed, and afterwards he asked how I felt. He was disappointed when I replied, “Umm, a little weird.”

“Why?”

“This wine is corked.”

So it didn’t go very well after that; apparently some priests do get upset when you start questioning whether or not Catholicism is the thing for you. And some take it kinda personally when you decline communion, and some get downright offended when you suggest you’re not really into Jesus Christ after all.

Which brought me to one of my realizations of adulthood, that theology is great but religion, not so much. The people of religion didn’t always live up to what they were supposed to, and the Institution can engage in some not so great stuff.

I grew up in an area where priests’ abuses against children were first exposed. I initially didn’t grasp it. It was hard to know what abuse even was because when the authority of God sits behind the man, you are led to believe that everything is love and you do what you’re told. Victims get labelled as heretics and speaking up becomes a crime. The Pope gets the last word, but is he really infallible? The problem existed longer than anyone ever guessed and continued well after it was claimed to have stopped; the scope was not limited by borders and a community’s crisis was actually a world’s crisis. We had no idea how to reconcile this and the subsequent bad decisions: hiding priests, hiding children, hiding stories, hiding answers. The only people who seemed to walk away without injury were the men in black.

We watched The Church ignore the very people it was supposed to care for, we tried to keep hope even when they kept the problem going by simply rotating instead of rehabilitating. We extended forgiveness when promises were made about making reparations but one has to wonder about the true price of silence. Eventually we say, “fuck off, any god that wants these men for his loudspeaker has a serious inferiority complex, or is simply a figment of your imagination.”

I became a Buddhist. The thing about Buddhism is, you don’t actually have to do anything to become one. It’s just how it works. This fits with my inability to engage in ritual. Buddhism also didn’t put all its faith in men. This is likely because Buddhism teaches that individuality is an illusion. Collectivism means if I injure you I injure me, and we are therefore injured. That was a refreshing sentiment.

Buddhism fueled me for a while. I wasn’t a very good Buddhist; I ate meat and rarely meditated. But I could live in a world where good and evil were the same, because that matched my lived experience. I didn’t want to lose suffering because suffering was at the root of existence; we couldn’t really learn to love until we could accept the heart of pain. That worked for me; I also didn’t have to rewrite my identity in order to fit the mold because there isn’t really a mold to begin with.

And yet…I didn’t stay there. I haven’t abandoned it, but then again I haven’t abandoned any religion. I’m no religion these days. I don’t like the word spiritual because in the USA it seems to be linked to scenty candles. I am still very concerned about theology, morality, and ethics. I am not seeking a “good” life though, rather searching for a human life. I don’t know if God is there, and I don’t think it’s possible to know. So I’ve stopped looking. It has become less important to have an answer to that question, “what is God,” or “who is God.” But if there is a God, I don’t think they’ll be too upset that I haven’t been baptized.

Oh yeah, that job thing…

instagram-do-amor-snoopygrams_16Hey, so I managed to write something that got published on a different online platform*…Go check it out:

http://wp.me/p2BxKN-4sq

This is an edited version of a longer piece I wrote and I was going to put the longer piece here, but I decided not to because I’m lazy. In truth, I do have this job that pays the bills, and occasionally I have to, you know, do stuff. Some think I should blog more about the behind-the-scenes of that work environment, but that Shakespearean tragedy (comedy?) belongs in a different dimensional plane altogether. So enjoy this little diversion into an aspect of my professional self.

*Published at CT Online (http://ct.counseling.org), the companion website of Counseling Today

I’m Not Sayin’ I’m Batman But…

“Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” – Rachel Dawes (Batman Begins)

batmanYeah, yeah, I just started with a Batman quote, and I tried to make it look all important and flashy-like. It isn’t the first time I’ve stolen lines from Nolan’s film, and it won’t be the last (because…wait for it…).

This post is really meant to be about social justice (again). Batman and social justice sort of go together, or rather, in my comic-book influenced pop culture brain, I can make them go together because it’s my blog and I get to do things like that. The part of the quote I’m focusing on is the “what you do” phrase, as this is what I get asked most often: How do you DO social justice?

I also realize I’ve written on that theme in prior posts. So spoiler alert: this post concludes by stating in giant, bold letters that there is no magic formula for “doing” social justice. There is no step-by-step method, there is no correct action, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Sorry peeps, that’s just how it goes sometimes. I realize writing the summertime blockbuster, 7 Steps for Dramatic Social Action, would probably be an easier and more lucrative way to make a living than what I do now, but it’s not going to happen.

There is, of course, a place and time for talking about specific action points – for example, when you have a Stalin-esque presidential candidate making a real bid for the White House, concrete plans need to be written. But this post is more about looking at the day-to-day work of social justice, the “behind the scenes” work if you will. The stuff some of us have figured out is essential to getting anything done, but also the stuff that many people overlook and even forget.

I’m talking about relationships here, the art of making connections, especially with people you might not like or agree with.

Recently I found myself speaking to a group of people in a workshop setting. I have been doing things of this nature for many years, which means I am no stranger to our version of professional heckling: the wide range of odd, unusual, and sometimes blatantly arrogant questions that can come our way. While all seasoned teachers learn various useful and not so useful ways to respond, most of the time what you don’t want to do is get into an argument. And I can say that as someone who got sucked into at least one argument in my greener years, and regretted it fully (another spoiler: the teacher always looks like an idiot when arguing with a student, even if the student said something remarkably stupid. Because you’re the teacher, and you will look like a raving adult lunatic who decided to yell at, say, a puppy).

The hard part is some people do seem to have it be their goal to generate the most irrational and controversial commentary to plop on your lecture doorstep, particularly during the last 5 minutes of your presentation because they know full well there will be no time for you to offer even a bemused grunt much less a thoughtful acknowledgement. Yet when the topic is related to social justice, it is also often the case that this curiously timed remark carries suffocating undercurrents of privilege which will also undermine and dismiss just about every other person in the room who isn’t, for example, a rich white heterosexual male. And let’s just say that in a room of thirty mental health professionals, there aren’t too many rich white heterosexual males running around,wile_3366650b which means your educational train has just crashed Wile E. Coyote-style into a ravine.

This sort of thing happens to me a lot. But this is also supposed to happen, because if I’ve created a room where people can freely speak their mind, it means people will be able to disagree with me. So to shut down such comments contradicts my purpose, which is to open space for dialogue. However, I am also in a dilemma of how to permit comments that also have the potential to get a lot of people very, very angry in a very, very short amount of time. This is the balancing act that has no formula; it is felt and experienced and sometimes you tip the scale in the wrong direction. But balance is essential to creating any hope of the “successful resolution” we all crave at that moment.

So while my ego would prefer I say something along the lines of, “shut your face,” I know that would add a lot of hydrogen to this bomb. Instead I acknowledge this will take a few minutes, but would the speaker permit me a few questions in the hopes of understanding better the purpose of their message?

In other words,  you took the floor, so let’s take a moment to find out what you are really trying to put out there. Are you feeling ignored? Are you trying to “level the playing field?” Are you responding to a history of being accused? Do you fear your voice will be diminished? Is this simply not for you? The point is, I have no idea what drives someone to do this, but I must attempt to find out – which means setting aside all the irritation, frustration, and even justified anger I may have at what they did. Because the only hope at that moment in returning the room to a place of understanding is to do just that – create a connection with the person who feels out of place.

Will this solve all the social justice problems out there? No. But does it work? Yes – well presuming I am trying to understand and not simply appease. But that’s the very thing we’re trying to get across in building community – I am baffled and curious at what is being thrown at me, and I am more interested in the person behind it than the weirdness of the words. I don’t want to reject the person, I want to connect with them, because perhaps in our connection there is more potential to recognize the many lies our walls have been built on; to see how our barriers were not erected by us, but rather by those who profit when walls are maintained.

That’s the moment in the room though. What happens next? That’s the work most people never see. The part where the person and I meet, have a conversation, get to know each other. The part where we share a joke. The part where we share about our lives. The part where we walk away knowing behind those initial comments rests a person, someone with fears and hopes, someone who is reconsidering their “certainties” now that there is a face to replace something that once existed only as a stereotyped caricature. The part where we ask each other for help. The part where we start working together because we want others to realize that it is through exploring our differences that we develop a true appreciation and interest for each other.

It’s social justice work, conversation by conversation. Yup, it’s slow. There is no magic formula for “doing” social justice. Go figure it out, one person at a time.

Next stop…

Let’s begin at the end. I’m somewhere over an ocean, flying home after 3 weeks abroad. For some reason, I don’t sleep on planes. Perhaps that’s because planes are ridiculously uncomfortable to sleep on. It is basically sharing a bed with about 200 people, but the bed fits really only about 3. And the other 2 you’re stuck with are people you’d rather not be in bed with.
So I don’t sleep on planes.

I did however sleep more often than usual while abroad, given that when I typically work at the institute we direct each summer, I average about 4 hours of sleep a night. Whether it was because I had my children with me this time, or perhaps because staying up all night comes with much greater consequence than it did when I was 20, I slept. And I needed it since the last several months have been extremely, irrevocably, exhausting. Granted this trip was work-related, but it was also the vacation I’ve been waiting for. 3 weeks of letting the rest of my life disappear from my brain.

The sign of a good vacation is when the answer to the question of, “what day is it” is answered with, “I don’t know.” While I still had to check email from time to time, I declined responding. Admittedly, I could not totally divest myself of social media and managed to post a few pics of our journeys. But otherwise I was “off the grid,” and glad of it. What the rest of life back home thought was important I could ignore and instead focus on what was in front of me, which was typically either a vista I’d never seen before, or a pint. Win-win all around.

I hiked as far up a hill (created by a volcano) as I could, which means I almost got to Arthur’s Seat. I could see it, but my eyes started wobbling at the height and I had to stop. But I did look over the edge as far as I could, which is pretty good for someone who can’t look down the Sears Tower. I rediscovered the joy of walking along an unknown path, even if it sometimes resulted in running away from the velociraptor we imagined lunging at us in the tall grass. Paddle boats can be cool. Humidity is not. Late night conversations with friends is still the best way to end an evening. Your kids can ask some really good questions, even if you never have answers to them.

And then there are the random conversations, the ones had with strangers like taxi drivers, ticket collectors, waitresses, museum docents. People who are interested in talking especially when you’re interested in listening. While parts of me started to blend in, I realized my foreign oddities might be just as interesting to the locals the way their idiosyncrasies are interesting to me.

Edinburgh is a pretty cool place.

Tour groups drive me completely bonkers.

It’s a curiosity how we try to bring back pieces of our experience with us when we travel. I like to take photos, but the irony of photography is it can detach you from what is directly in front of you if you let it. We wander into endless shops to bring back the trinkets (even though I never got my highland “coo”) but really it’s just stuff, things that mimic the real. What you’re really hoping to bring back is the feeling, the parts that don’t have words and can’t be quantified or totalized, but simply must be lived. The experience goes away but hopefully the effect stays.

So what do I go home with? Ask me again in a couple weeks. I am ready to be in my own home but I miss where I was. “Missing” is the fuel that can keep a hope burning.

I’ll return sometime. Mind the gap.