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.

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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…

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Untitled nonsense…

So the thing is, I’ve not posted much lately. It’s one of those vicious cycle things; life is too busy, so I don’t write, but not writing makes all the thoughts collect in my head, and the aggregate effect is life feels stressful, so I don’t write, and on and on and on…

That makes writing my version of exercise. Okay, I exercise too, but only because I have to or else things will stop working. But I guess that’s the point of writing, if I stop writing things will fall off my brain and I’ll get all lopsided.

So I’m making myself write so some of the crud works itself out of my bloodstream. Mindstream. Headstream. Whatever fucking stream happens to be pooling up there.

I don’t know what to say. I have too much to say. I don’t feel like saying it to anyone. I want to be left alone. But I want friends! Don’t leave me alone, take me to a pub, have a pint. As Dylan Moran once said, “do you want to be sane? Or not lonely.” Give me some cake. I’ve had too much cake. Give me some cake followed by some broccoli. It’ll all even itself out.

I still haven’t written the stuff I’m supposed to be writing. I think I’m in a sort of denial about how much academic writing makes me want to vomit. But I have managed to collect all my pieces in preparation for writing, which means I’m slowly running out of excuses to not write.

Thus now is the perfect time to write about writer’s block-busters, or here’s a list of ways to get past that blank page staring back at you, daring you to put words on it:

  1. Gather your sources.
  2. Organize your sources.
  3. Make an outline of your sources’ points.
  4. Come up with some snappy headers, like “Introduction” or “Discussion.”
  5. Take a tea break.
  6. Realize that a tea break needs cookies.
  7. Notice there are no cookies in the house.
  8. Leave the house to get cookies.
  9. Notice about 64 other food items you simply must try.
  10. Go home, put away all the stuff.
  11. Clean because of all the dust on the shelves where you put the stuff away.
  12. Sanitize the entire bathroom; realize you have no toilet paper.
  13. Go back out. Notice your favorite shoe shop is having a sale.
  14. Buy an entire outdoor furniture set, including matching fire pit, at neighboring store having a super end of year clearance event not to be passed up.
  15. Stuff furniture in your economy-sized car because you’re too cheap to pay for shipping.
  16. Call all your friends for help because only the pillow fits.
  17. Go for drinks with friends and tell the shop to ship your furniture anyway.
  18. Go home.
  19. Sleep.
  20. Wake up, hung over.
  21. Shove toast in your face and recall you still need to start writing.
  22. Sigh. Sit at computer.
  23. Google something.
  24. Cry.
  25. Write random words on your document.
  26. Spellcheck.
  27. Submit.

See? Whoever said all that stuff about publishing being hard…was absolutely correct. How do you really get past writer’s block? Just start writing, even if it is untitled nonsense.

(And if you need a little more writing inspiration, watch Bernard and Manny try to write a children’s book:)

 

The Play’s the Thing…

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That’s the view I’ve had for the last few weeks. I’ve been the eye in the sky, turning on lights and making noise for a play I joined up for a couple months ago.

A couple months ago…? Did we really start this thing in May? It is the end of June and we just had our last performance today. And odd for me, I’m writing about it now instead of when I first poked my toe in the entry way and said, “hey, need a volunteer?”

Let’s set the record straight: I don’t know why I signed up to help on a play. I don’t know what I expected to get out of it. I had no vision of where this was going. I had no thought about what I would bring to it. I was asked these questions when I signed up, and I do recall saying something, and I also recall that what I said was mostly crap. Curiously I mentioned nothing about having made a film. It just didn’t seem relevant. And perhaps that is true, because I wasn’t looking to be in charge of this production, but also because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

In short, I did another classic bumbling act. I suppose bumbling is apropos to theater, so it’s about time I paired these things together. Since moving here, I have found myself floundering about like a fish in the desert. How the theater became my saving puddle I have no idea, but something inside me said, “yes, try that, do that thing you know so little about because that will some how make the rest of this mess you’re in all better.”

These are the crazy things we say to ourselves. But as with most rambling madness, there is some wisdom in there if you just manage to listen closely enough.

I told myself I wanted to learn theater to help with my work, to understand a production, to learn more about directing, to meet people, to try something new. I suppose there were some truths in there. When I showed up the first day I had no idea what to do and felt amazingly idiotic. After a few more days I felt idiotic and doubtful. Then a few days after that I felt idiotic, doubtful, and feared I was wasting everyone’s time, including mine.

Then I said, “what the fuck is wrong with you, just shut up and enjoy it.”

And I did. I abandoned any sense of needing an answer and just went with it. I found myself back in those highly awkward spaces of meeting people and having to insert myself into a completely unfamiliar environment. I had no credibility whatsoever and no one had any history of me. I had become, simply, anonymous. I had stepped off the stage of my own regular life and into this nebulous zone where I had no answers, no presence, and no certainty.

Bizarrely, I had created the opposite experience of my professional life, the one composed of scenes where I am accomplished, I have a reputation, and I frequently have to provide answers. It has been strange to realize these last few years that my name meant something to other people, that it is associated with various characteristics and capabilities. I don’t know when that happened, and I didn’t set out to do it, but I suppose that is the effect of doing a particular thing over a long period of time. People start to know who you are (or at least, who they think you are) through what you’ve done.

Work is also the setting where I have smashed my head into walls for far too long, and in most recent history smashing like a bull smashes against, well, other bulls. My head hurts. Literally. I get migraines. I am very tired of smashing.

So this step into the unknown where I also became the person who said, “tell me what to do,” was something of a relief. I embraced the idea that I could know nothing and just be completely open to discovery. It didn’t matter if anything was done my way because I wasn’t there to do it my way; in fact there was a curious joy in figuring out someone else’s way. I liked becoming the person who did things – you need to move something? Okay. You need a book? Got it. You need a lightbulb changed? Done. I read lines (badly). I moved furniture. I gave line cues (being “on book,” which basically means I read the play about 400 times so the actors could learn their lines). I learned how to work the machines. I found all the light switches.

I remember one moment in particular, when I had been sent to find a thing in the basement prop dungeon. Digging amongst all this old, dusty crap, eyes watering from the allergens seeping into my brain, I was tasked with finding the bright but not too colorful, short but tall, round with a hint of square, classy but not posh, smooth yet jagged THING, the almighty mystery object to hold the other unnamed thing that would also sit on the desk but couldn’t get in the way of the sight line and can’t upset the color scheme (yes, this is theater). The thing to be held by the thing, both of which I believe ended up not being used in the end. Yes that moment, my hand covered in crud from unburying some tatty roundish piece of shit that had fallen next to a stuffed rabbit staring at me with its dead freaky zombie eyes, when I thought to myself, “this is what you do when you have a doctorate.”

And I laughed, because I realized that is exactly what you do when you have a doctorate. You step into the unknown, you make yourself uncomfortable, you give up any sense of competence because that is how you make discoveries. That is how you remind yourself that at the end of the day, most of the bullshit we cover ourselves in during our “professional” life is exactly that, crap that no one really needs to care about.

I had stepped into theater because the reality of my life just stopped being interesting.

I still don’t know where this will take me. I have had the thought that if I could make a living at this, I may go all out and switch careers entirely. But I caught a glimpse of that when I made the film; I am also aware that part of the appeal of theater and film is that it is not my regular life. But for now, I like knowing that the people I worked with on this production seemed truly appreciative of what I did for them and that some of them would like me to come back. I made some friends. I hope I get to see them again. Maybe at some point I’ll try an audition (which truly is my final frontier…). Maybe I’ll keep learning more of these skills. Maybe I will use this to further some of my work in mental health. Maybe I’ll do none of that and just keep digging in the prop room.

Maybe all I really wanted to do was create a new home.

Or maybe I just wanted to hang out with theater people again since, after all, they really do throw the best parties…

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…and it all comes down in the end

 

 

 

Happenstance Happens…

I never knew how to answer the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up.” We seem to ask this of young children even though the likelihood of getting a coherent answer is minimal (“garbage collector,” “spy,” or “space ninja” are common responses). And growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s, the available models were not very well-developed; I spent some time believing a girl could only be a nurse, a stewardess, or a Charlie’s Angel.

As a working adult and mother of two, I get a new version of this question which is, “how did you know you wanted to be a ____________.” I admit having the fortune of  a highly active and fulfilling career, and I love and appreciate being a parent. But my answer to the question is somewhat of a letdown: “I didn’t know.” I was never one of those kids who had such certainty about what they wanted to do when they got older. Plans were often foisted on me, but they never really worked.

There were all kinds of things I was supposed to be and certainly things I wasn’t supposed to be. Not all of these impositions came from my family, by the way – society had a few words to say about what young, dark-eyed, dark-haired, biracial females can and can’t do. And let’s not even get into the whole not-conforming-to-stereotype gender thing. All of that is likely a different post, but the fact that I am not the typical face displayed on the postcard of success is likely why I get this question fairly often, particularly from women and pretty much anyone else who still colors outside the lines. It’s a question that really asks, “if you were able to find a place in the world, will I?”

Krumboltz developed the career theory called, “Planned Happenstance,” where career paths are established through unexpected events and experiences as opposed to a carefully directed linear plan. When I was in school, this theory was presented to us as the theory that doesn’t really work. It was probably taught this way because the theory contradicts the good ol’ American Dream, whereby with fierce determination one can achieve all goals as long as you stick to the plan, never quit, and take the heart medication necessary to keep you alive while you pour 125% of your lifeblood into reaching these goals.

It’s no surprise The American Dream never really worked for me as my dreams usually included visions of lying on the couch and watching television. This might explain why I silently questioned the dismissal of Krumboltz’ idea. Also this was the first career theory I’d heard that made sense in relation to my life, especially while taking a course in a degree program I had no idea about whether or not I actually wanted to finish. I was in graduate school, true, but partly because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I had to do something after finishing undergrad, and as I’d ended up in one of those fields that doesn’t get you very far with just a bachelor’s, graduate school was likely. I ended up in this particular degree program because 1) they accepted my application and 2) my then-fiance was also going to attend that university. But had I embraced the idea of becoming the Thing you were supposed to be after you completed the program? Not really. I wasn’t against it, I could explore it, and it definitely beat getting micromanaged at a desk job (I realize plenty of other people would’ve been fine with option #3, but I already had some glimpse that living as an office jockey would’ve resulted in me peeling my skin off flake by flake).

But as it happens, I got lucky – I found the subject intriguing and it led to a redefinition of purpose. I met some very good teachers who could show me why their career mattered to them. This particular program also challenged me in new ways, so I started learning very different kinds of skills. My interest in the arts found a way to mingle with my interest in science and there was a greater chance I could earn a living. There was still a great deal to learn but this little accident was working to my advantage.

Even though I graduated, the chicken was only half cooked so I decided to try for a doctoral degree program. At least this time I knew what to look for, but because I decided late about applying I had missed the deadlines for many programs. But luck struck again – one program still took applications, invited me for an interview, and accepted me. I guess they liked my responses to the question of where I saw myself in 5 years. I’m pretty sure I made up my answer, borrowing from something I read about a week prior to the interview about a particular specialty needing more people with doctorates to do such and such work. I wasn’t really interested in it, but “I’m just along for the ride” usually isn’t an acceptable reason to an admissions committee for getting into a program.

It is also possible the committee noticed that in spite of being a rudderless ship, I love learning. If I could’ve gotten paid for being a student, I’d have found the perfect job. So doctoral study suited me pretty well. However, doctoral work also cracked my naive veneer as I got my first taste of academia not being all that academically inclined. Feeling lonely and weird, I was the youngest in my class and many seemed to delight in reminding me of that fact. Freely generating my own ideas was exciting, but I still felt as though I was missing something. I promised myself if after a year I hadn’t found “it,” I would get out of the program and chase something else.

Something happened the semester before that year ended; it was as though a switch flipped and everything turned on. I found meaning in what I was doing and somewhere this thing called confidence crept in. A specialty revealed itself, connecting so many dots I wondered why I hadn’t seen it earlier. I liked what I was doing and I was certain I would continue in a clincially-focused career…until I took a class towards the end of my program that uprooted that illusory path.   I found a whole new interest that made everything point towards academia. Thus I birthed a dissertation and applied for professor jobs, again later than I should have, and yet managing to get an offer enabling me to literally defend my dissertation and move all in the same month.

That should be the end of the story, but really it was just Part 1 of the trilogy. The twists and turns that have taken me to today create a complicated and familiar tale. Volunteering for the unknown and stumbling into unexpected situations is the norm, not the exception. I suspect Part 2 is coming to a close, but Part 3 is still a mystery. I have no idea what the title, setting, or plot will be. Happenstance has become for me, a way of life.

I never knew what I could do when I was a kid because I never knew what I could do. That’s the unself-conscious world kids live in, though.  I was capable of everything and yet also capable of nothing. The people in my life said take it all and take nothing, shouting everything is right as long as you don’t do anything wrong. I had potential, and was reminded daily that squandering it would be a tragedy. But these expectations didn’t belong to me; they were prescribed by entities who insisted they knew better. Living someone else’s possibilities made others proud, but my identity scattered to the winds, floating away like burning leaves. But every time I stepped off the path, a new piece of me came into focus. When I tripped into the unknown, I discovered what was missing. A series of mishaps, stumbles, and wanderings created the rhizomatic stem that has become my “career.”

I’m an uncoordinated bumbler, adept at staggering into accidents. Pretty good way to make a living.

 

 

Line Dancing

“The terror of failure can make you feel like a failure. So a bunch of people think you’re not very good at your thing. How much do you invest in what they say? How much do you care? Failure is not putting yourself on the line.” – Dylan Moran

Jane Elliott (Eye of the Storm) spoke at my campus recently and I finally was able to see her. I have shown her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes “experiment” in my classes and used her work to help students understand how racism and privilege get created and perpetuated. In short, Jane Elliott is a pit bull. She takes no “guff” from anyone and speaks the truth of racism bluntly, directly, and fearlessly. For example:

I admit, I’ve used that line in my own classes. It works. It also takes a good amount of guts to do it. I am not able to deliver my stuff the same way she does, but of course it would be foolish to try to be a copy of her. Her way of doing things is exactly that, her way. But my way can also be direct, challenging, controversial, and make everyone in the audience as uncomfortable as her audience. It is not an easy thing to do because it invites people to really, unreservedly, dislike you.

The thing is, I do like it when people like me. It’s kind of nice. But my adult life has been full of realizing that being liked and being respected are two very different things that often don’t lead to each other. And that means I get a lot of people not liking me.

What has baffled me about this is most of the time though, I’m not really intending to be controversial. Challenging classroom scenarios aside, most of the time I seem to set people off just by asking a question or making an observation. Lately I seem to be getting serious criticism because I keep noticing when someone breaks the rules. But even there it is a matter of me saying, “what did you do?” and then someone curses me with the fury of their ancestors.

It isn’t always that naive though, as I’ve written plenty of times about needing to speak up in order to identify injustice or highlight bias or instigate change. That definitely doesn’t win popularity contests. So there I am choosing to enter a situation where my likability will be questioned, even threatened. And I often find myself thinking in the middle of an altercation, “why the heck did I do this again?” If I would just keep my mouth shut, people could just like me and I wouldn’t have so many sleepless nights.

Except it wouldn’t really happen that way, I think. It’s true that if you spend your time being pleasant and conciliatory, you’ll have way fewer arguments. But what would really get done? In my own experience, I had plenty of times when I went along for the sake of going along. Perhaps I wanted to be part of the crowd, or was afraid of an argument, or not sure if my stance was worth defending. I could just say the thing that makes someone else feel good, or the thing that distracts from what is going on, and keep things simple. But it never really did make anything simple, because then I’d leave and think to myself, “why did I do that. Why did I go along with that stupid thing.” And when my eyes opened up to see how keeping my thoughts to myself mostly allowed other people to be overlooked, ignored, or even mistreated, it became much harder to justify why my comfort was more important than their humanity.

So I learned to say things. I later found out that many people do actually appreciate me saying things, whether I am deliberately controversial or innocently inquiring. Some have even said that it was validating, because they found out that someone else had the same thought they did. This led to me eventually building the confidence to keep talking. After enough arguments, it also led me to realize that the worst thing that happens in an argument is: having an argument. People get mad and say dumb things. The truly hard part is staying cool and not saying dumb things. But I learned I can do that too.

But it does mean I spend a good portion of my time being disliked.

What people don’t realize is that even when someone like me learns how to take such experiences as the norm, it doesn’t mean that we don’t get hurt in the process. It is not fun to have someone shout at you, call you names, criticize your work until you want to bleed from your ears. I get filled with doubt, I want to go home and hide under the duvet and not come out for several years. I will ask myself over and over again, what is wrong with me. Just shut up already. No One Cares.

I’m writing about all this because lately I have felt particularly disliked. It is not easy to bounce back and sometimes I don’t want to. I have spent several sleepless nights of late debating in my head if I should just pack it all in. Things were supposed to get easier, and yet I think it all really got harder. Will it ever end?

And then I get to see Jane Elliott, up on stage, telling it just as hard as she ever has and letting that audience know she is not fooling around. Okay, so I don’t agree with every single point she says, but that is insignificant. Because what is real is her passion, her fire, her fury, and she has been doing this for 48 years. That’s longer than I’ve been alive. And she has sacrificed and suffered, and definitely not been liked. At the end of a very emotional 2 hours, she shares:

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations… can never effect a reform.” – Susan B. Anthony

I am reminded that the important stuff is never easy. Because if it’s easy, it means you’re just going along, riding the current. It also suggests there isn’t anything needing to be changed. And if you’re okay with that, then keep on going along. But if you for a moment think that something looks, smells, feels, seems, just in the teeniest bit askew…

Then get ready to be disliked.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name…

Moving is in that top 10 list of life stressors, along with things like marriage, divorce, childbirth and death. Some say it takes 3 years to really “move-in,” the point at which things become familiar and your home is really yours. You know where the grocery store is, how late you have to leave to get the kids to school on time, and what corner of your bedroom has morphed into the unofficial laundry basket.

But I haven’t been here 3 years. I’ve been here 6 months. And even though this was a move for many good reasons, moving still, in a word, sucks. I used to not think about the effects of moving and considered myself something of a rambler. That’s likely because from 18 on, I moved roughly every two years (with the exception of my longer 5-year stint in Chicago) until I was 32. Moving was the norm in my life, and my mind had adapted to living in an existential suitcase. Friendships were of the moment, to be grabbed by whoever could be found, because you or the other person might be leaving at any time. Carpe Diem made practical, not just philosophical, sense.

And then I had that 10 year lag…the one where I had things like children, mortgages, pets, parent-teacher conferences, annual holiday parties, restaurant special nights, season passes, oh and that job thing. The one where I showed up at the same job for 10 years, the first time in my life I’d had the same job for that long, went to the same office, saw much of the same people. Drove to the same places, saw the same buildings, taught the same classes, walked the same halls. Attended the same stupid, pointless, mandatory start of the term meeting every year. Crossed my eyes and doodled on my brain during the same committee meetings in the same boring rooms with the same glazed over faces dozens and dozens of times for 10 years.

Routine.

As much as my younger self recoiled at the thought of ever having a routine, the bottom line is I had one. Even when it included the things I didn’t like doing, it was still a routine. I learned how to navigate that space; I didn’t just know how to get around, I knew the backroads including avoiding the train that regularly blocked the entrance to my subdivision. I knew everyone in my neighborhood because my dog and I had walked the same route twice a day for several years and we met everyone who also walked, ran, or biked that route. When I was bored at work, I knew who to waste time with. When I didn’t want to get into a pointless conversation, I knew who to avoid.

Without realizing it, I had created “roots,” even though I wasn’t too pleased about where those roots were. I knew a long time ago I wouldn’t spend my life there, but in spite of that roots still developed and anchored me to a place and a way of life that was, for all intents and purposes, “normal.” It was what I knew.

I have been completely derailed therefore by the experience of knowing absolutely nothing now. Perhaps it was naive`, but I presumed I would bring something familiar with me. I still had my furniture, clothes, car…my family were still the same people and even the dog was still with us. It would just be a matter of changing the scenery, adapting to a different backdrop. I would still be teaching, reading, writing, and all that regular stuff. Life couldn’t really be that different, could it?

Wrong. I have watched every tiny piece of familiarity slowly dismantle itself as it walks across the threshold. The furniture I brought doesn’t fit in the new house. The car doesn’t work. The clothes are for the wrong season. And my family – still the same people, but now as turned around as I am. We bump into each other regularly because we haven’t figured out what direction to move in.

This is figurative and literal; when I get a moment to myself now, I still haven’t any clue where to sit in my own house. I haven’t found “my space.” When I find a spot, I don’t know what to do because I’m not sure how to fill that time. Even the little things I used to do, the hobbies, the activities, the ways of killing time and stretching through boredom just don’t exist the way they used to. Even my job, the teaching thing – it’s true there is an encyclopedia in my head that was written over the last 10 years, but I can’t deliver it the same way I used to. The format I teach in is nothing like what I did before, and every day is an adaptation to a new context. I have had to remind myself that I can put together a sentence and work a room, but my audience is not the same one I had before and I am learning them all over again.

It’s a weird kind of identity crisis. I’ve found myself wanting to volunteer for almost everything, things I’ve never even heard of because I don’t know where I belong. Outfits that I wore in the past don’t seem to match anymore. I am constructing an image all over again and I don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  This is an experiential lesson in social construction; the context of myself is impermanent, my knowledge of me fluttering constantly with the unrecognizable mirror of my unfamiliar social sphere.

I don’t have a clear answer out of all this. And it may seem surprising when I say I like being here. But I have made myself remember things like patience and temperance. Slowly the new little things are making themselves known to me; I recently ripped out a lawn feature left from the previous owner because I could finally say, “that isn’t mine.” I bought 4 pairs of shoes too many in trying to figure out this new fashion only to settle back on my old, reliable set of doc marten’s. I’ve abandoned local television to Netflix binge old seasons of House, the show I was addicted to (curiously) 10 years ago when I moved and started my last job. I bought a new car, and I blast 80’s music on my drive to work.

My spaces are still being developed. What’s it going to look like? I don’t know. Check back in 3 years.