Seeing the Gears

A meandering review

            I have loved film and television since I was a small, round faced child. It’s where I learn and escape. It’s how I avoid the monsters I don’t want to face. In my most recent bout of avoidance, I started watching 13 Reasons Why. This is probably not the best thing to watch when you’re already feeling sad and weary. It is however a choice I’m glad I made.

For some time, I have felt my hope and optimism fading. I realize now it’s because I haven’t been feeding them. It is easy for me to allow the pain of others to feel like my pain. With our global community, it is easier now than ever to become immobilized by the pain we are all feeling. It is not necessarily that the pain is more or less than before, just that I can see it. I can see the mourning, the dying, the fighting, and the violence. Easily and without thinking I can consume all of that pain. Sadly, my heart and body can’t grow to swallow it all. I would do that if I could. I would swallow all the pain if it would make things better.

This is why watching 13 Reasons Why, was a good choice. For me it made things better. While I feel uneasy about the treatment of suicide as a mystery, I also understand that for many that is how it presents itself. A great mystery or unknown, maybe even a monster. If we don’t look at the monster, if we don’t talk about the monster, maybe it will leave us alone. The story of the show weaves an enticing, heartfelt mystery. It tells its story with care; and reveals itself to you in digestible chunks. It gives you allies for your arguments and still makes clear the points it is trying to make. Most importantly it unapologetically tells its truth.

Normally when I finish a show or film, I’m quick to rate it. I go to IMDB and dig into the production information. Who are the actors? Creator? Writer? Is it based on something? Depending on what I’ve watched, this process can be a few minutes or sometimes hours. As a creator myself, I want to know. If I enjoyed show or film, I want to know that the actors went on to keep creating. I want to know if there is more of their work I might see. I want to know the intentions of the creators. Are my assumptions about their work correct? After finishing 13 Reasons Why, I want to know none of this. While I do hope those who worked on this film go on to have long and happy careers; I don’t feel a need to check things out. I don’t want to give it a rating.

This is new for me. I am grateful, as I always am, to the creators of the show. Weather I like it or not is irrelevant. If someone created something that I was able to view, I try to be grateful for this gift. This current feeling, after finishing 13 Reasons Why, seems different though.

For some time, I have been chewing on a conundrum. I love creating and I love consuming the creations of others. By consuming the creations of others, I learn more about the act of creating. I also risk losing the magic. When someone takes nothing and constructs something to put in its place, this is no less than magic. Not all magicians are created equal. Some have better tricks. The best magicians however are ones who invite you to face the truth. They don’t try to trick you. They merely invite you to join them on a journey. There are of course things happening that you can’t see, but you don’t notice. You truly don’t care. The problem with learning more about the act of creating is that I start to see the things happening. It’s as though I get a pair of x-ray glasses. I can see the wires and the gears. I can see them turning. It ruins it. Or so I thought.

While watching 13 Reasons Why, I could see and feel what the creators were doing. Using a mystery to explore a fairly taboo topic. Enticing me to continue down the rabbit hole, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter that I could see the gears, because they weren’t trying to trick me. They made it clear what I could expect. They managed me and pushed me. We were dancing.

The show solved my conundrum for me. They provided an answer, I had received, but didn’t believe. They also gave me hope. The world has darkness and pain. It can most certainly feel like a place without hope. Seeing the gears of this show. Thinking of the writers, directors, craft services people, grips, producers and every other hand required to see it through to its completion gave me hope. It reminded me that every day in direct rebellion to all the sadness people are creating and doing their best to share their truth. Is there any better gift than that?

This show is most certainly not for everyone. I don’t even know that I am making a recommendation here. I think what I’m saying is thank you. Thank you to all the hands that ensured I would be able to see this show. It gave a gift to me that I needed and for that I am grateful.

Advertisements

She was so upset.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

                 Martin Niemöller

Protestant Pastor and survivor of Nazi concentration camps in WWII

 

My wonderful writing partner reached out to me early this week. She heard the story of a man who was being deported. She was extremely upset by the story. I did my best to console her and remind her that the democracy of our country isn’t promised. Democracy is something we have to work at. Over the last year and half, she has reached out to me a few times. She sees a troubling world that seems to be narrowing its sights on her. As a Latina woman, what ifs cloud her mind when stories like the mans’ come her way. She understands the reality of the quote listed above and is working hard to never be complicit in systems of hate and oppression. Our conversation sent me on a mission for more information.

Someone I care about deeply was feeling scared and worried and hopeless. I wanted to understand better what was so upsetting. I am not a Latina and wanted to try to better understand why this strangers’ story so effected my close friend.

I did a long deep dive into many articles and went down a few rabbits holes. One of my efforts to be a better citizen has been to be more diligent about questioning where information comes from. So I try not to take things at face value and ask a few questions before I read something. Who is this author? What authority do they have to be sharing information with me? To help you as you may ask these questions, I have included links to all the articles I read below. To be fully transparent, I did not read the full Disappeared reports. The information was becoming painful.

After reading and searching through a random assortment of articles, videos and reports all I could see was gray. Immigration it seems, like many issues, is nuanced and complicated.

I think our issues as a country with immigration and migration speak to the heart of our current identity crisis. We want to be a country of immigrants and prosperity, but it would be better if all of those immigrants looked and acted just like us.

As I was reading the various accounts of people trying both legally and illegally to enter this country I kept thinking about a play I saw. It’s called “The Art of Bad Men” by Vincent Delaney. The play focuses on a time when German POW’s lived in the mid-west and helped local farmers. After the play, I was lucky enough to go to a Salon talk-back style event. One of the historians at the event talked about the motivations for treating the POW’s so well. He shared that this practice of taking care of the POW’s was done because that is who we wanted to be as a country.

His words kept ringing in my ears as I was reading today. We wanted to be a country who took care of people. Who shared our democracy freely. Who hoped that by doing this, these POW’s might be changed somehow. This was happening at the same time that we as a country were interning Japanese-American citizens.

Who are we going to be as a country? I wonder and after spending an afternoon on my day off diving into one of the hot button issues facing us, I truly don’t know. I don’t know that we can continue to spout the myths of Ellis Island while building an ineffectual wall with one of our friendly trade partners. I don’t know that we can continue to be a place where we treat POW’s better than we do citizens. I also don’t know that we can continue to live comfortably. I don’t know that we can continue to focus only on our localized problems, ignoring our national community.

“An injury to one is an injury to all”

I love this chant. As an extremely empathetic person it encapsulates how I see the world. Why I don’t understand how people can dismiss human life so easily. Why I spent my day off researching to try to better understand the pain of someone I love.

I don’t know that I will ever fully understand the fear of deportation. Or comprehend the everyday stress that comes from worrying about being rounded up and detained. I do think I understand just a little why my friend was so upset. I think she wants to believe in a country that cares for her, even when all the evidence doesn’t support this. When a story like the story of Jorge Garcia comes her way it’s a reminder. As much as she may want it, we are not fixed. We are broken. It is really only our brokenness that we can agree on, but maybe that’s a start.

 

https://www.salon.com/2018/01/16/man-who-lived-in-america-for-30-years-was-just-deported-from-the-country/

http://abcnews.go.com/US/nightmare-family-bids-goodbye-undocumented-father-deported-mexico/story?id=52367022

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/31/16226934/daca-trump-dreamers-immigration

https://www.vox.com/2015/8/19/9177419/border-fence-work

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2017/11/09/442502/thousands-daca-recipients-already-losing-protection-deportation/

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/18/donald-trump-immigration-border/

http://www.newsweek.com/trump-administration-has-made-illegal-attempts-deport-daca-recipients-724842

https://medium.com/aclu/i-lost-my-daca-status-because-i-was-arrested-though-never-charged-with-a-crime-45561fd4a7fb

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/369096-trump-homeland-security-chief-deporting-dreamers-wont-be-priority-if

http://www.newsweek.com/trump-administration-has-made-illegal-attempts-deport-daca-recipients-724842

https://www.facebook.com/NowThisPolitics/videos/1877266742304807/?hc_ref=ARR7HdUJriRLrA7n6iRRUXdowQ0WfLdvkXOrcmmywyHDL2FEGhmYB2zorHjC4It4m3E

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/37284543/no-more-deaths-to-release-findings-of-investigation

http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/demand-border-patrol-stop-destroying-humanitarian-aid/

http://www.thedisappearedreport.org/reports.html

https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-factsheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone?redirect=aclu-factsheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone

GM’s and the Modern Day Campfire Story

Last night, I sat around a table with friends and we took an adventure. I played my first ever horror role playing game and loved it. I don’t like horror. I respect its contributions to film, writing and culture in general. I also have a hard time leaving the monsters at the movie theatre. So this is a genre of content I tend to stay away from.

My husband is a GM or Game Master. This is a magical person who creates a world for others to have adventures in. Over the last year and a half he has done a deep dive into table top role playing games. RPG ‘s or role playing games are fun interactive experiences. The most well-known RPG is Dungeons and Dragons or D & D.

Over the last year or so, I have seen my husband move past D & D to discover all kinds of different RPG systems. I have also seen the glimmer in his eye fade as people respond to his excitement with confusion and judgments. Last night I got to see him beaming.

He wore a red shirt, with a white tie and black vest. To top it all off he wore a black bowler hat. He was in his element. Crafting every turn, creating suspense and fear and guiding us through an hour and a half interactive adventure. It was magical to watch. Three friends and I sat around my round black table. All light save a few candles and battery powered tea lights was turned off or blocked out. Under the table my husband taped a string of lights providing a soft glow coming from underneath us all. In the center of the table, a Jenga tower. The crackle of a virtual campfire care of Youtube provided a sense of atmosphere and additional ominous music was provided from the laptop screen in front of my husband who sat near but not at the table.

For the next hour and a half, we went on a journey together. Each player contributed some part of the story and my husband guided us. Before we sat at the table, he spent hours creating a sandbox for us to move in. Thinking through possible events and monsters and deciding how our adventure would draw to a close.

As I sat watching my husband, it occurred to me that a GM is nothing short of a storyteller who has very old roots. Yes, games like D & D or the game we played, Dread, are newer, but the roots of what happened at that table are very old. As the virtual campfire crackled, I thought of my ancient ancestors telling the history of our people centuries ago.

Over time the voices of storytellers have shifted to different mediums. Technology created new opportunities for the campfire story experience. From the radio to the early days of television, we as a society have enjoyed the tradition of sitting together and taking in a story. Although the technologies have changed and continued to provide more individual experiences we still seek out the same feelings of communal fear, sadness or laughter. People live tweet events to be connected globally as they sit in their home alone. We choose to use the internet as a place of connection. I’m doing that right now. I’m sending my words in a virtual bottle so that they might reach your shore. RPG’s are another extension of the campfire story.

A GM creates an experience and like all great storytellers allows their audience to contribute to or simply change the story. The campfire has been replaced with a table and some additions such as dice or a Jenga tower have been added, but the magic of what happens is the same.

A good GM, creates a unique experience one part board game, one part live performance. This experience cannot be recreated, but it can be appreciated and so can the GM’s of the world. I am so proud of my husband. He creates magic and taps into the very old oral tradition of telling and creating story.

If anything I’ve said has sparked your curiosity, I challenge you to seek out RPG’s and gaming communities wherever you live. The game we played was Dread, but there are many more systems. Below I have included a few links to get you started on your next adventure.

To all the GM’s out there, thank you for continuing the oral tradition and creating story. Story is something I have committed my life to. I am so grateful for others who also make similar commitments and continue to deepen the well of story.

 

 

PS: Yes, the RPG world is very white and very male, but this is changing and the community as a whole is super welcoming.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKejuEmQjMQ – A good video about where to start

https://dreadthegame.wordpress.com/about-dread-the-game/ – The game we played

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0loSZFsyoQ – A play through of Dread – TableTop is a great channel to see fun play-throughs of both RPG’s and board games

https://roll20.net/ – A place to virtually play RPG’s if you don’t have a community where you live

If you are now inspired to become and GM (YAY!!) links for you below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjmkolUrrB4 – A wonderful female GM sharing her tips about being a wonderful GM

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuGFF6RJgaMrlxVxEB7XsBerrIFgnqZIa –A good playlist with everything you need to know about being a GM

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/top_100.php – A place where you can purchase different systems

 

Today, I Choose Hope

Today, I choose hope. My beautiful writing partner grounds me. I work from home now and can curate, for the most part, my interactions with the world. North Dakotans are generally nice enough to keep their racism limited to a few looks or whispers on occasion. So I don’t have to see racism daily unless I choose to. I am privileged with being able to live in my bubble. My safe bubble, filled with people who love me. Wonderful white people who understand that our experiences of the world are different. Who respect it when I say something isn’t for them. Who never question when I wonder if a look, stare, attitude or bad costumer service is racially motivated. Although 95% of my neighbors who voted, voted for the current administration and 60% as recent as a few months ago still support that administrations destructive, hate-filled rhetoric, the people I let in my bubble understand. Even if they support the current administration, most are nice enough not to mention it around me. Those who are vehemently opposed to the current administration love and support me. This is my reality, my privilege.

My bright shiny Latina writing partner doesn’t have this privilege. She works with children and has seen how they are effected by the hate, anger and anguish of adults in response to the current administration. She calls me and we talk. Recently I told her something that has resounded in me since. I’ll paraphrase below for you.

Love is something that you have to choose. I have been married for almost four years and each day of marriage solidifies this belief for me. In this same way, I believe you have to choose hope. This is not to say that you stop feeling anything you might be feeling. Being sad is often not a choice and those who say so are wrong. But despair is a choice. Despair is an attitude and you can change your attitude. So you must choose hope.

I went on further explaining that as women of color, when we choose despair it is one more thing we are giving over to White Supremacy and the structures and institutions of racism/sexism/homophobia and so on. It gives these things a win. It is one more thing stolen from us. As a Native woman, these things and the people who support them or are complicit in them have already taken so much. Add to that the things stolen as a Black woman and things start to get heavy.

Today I chose hope. I hope to do so tomorrow too.

Self-Care Selfish? Wrong Question.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to a group of strong, passionate women about self-care. I knew not to assume that all in the audience would believe like me that self-care is nothing short of a necessary part of life. It didn’t surprise me when the question of self-care being selfish came up. I shared with the group that for me the only way to get away from this line of thinking was to do the mental gymnastics that I am my best self when I practice self-care and that by being my best self I am able to help others more effectively. Later though, when I was having a walk and talk chat with my cousin a different answer emerged.

I realized that because I have been intentionally practicing self-care for going on a year and half I no longer feel a need to justify it. I do it because it is good for me and I don’t really care if anyone believes this act to be selfish. My cousin talked about how it is important that we as black women don’t give power to people who might question our actions. She’s right and not just for black women.

By allowing an outside perspective on my life and decisions to invade my little world I give over power to that outside perspective. Nothing says that I have to engage with this question.

For the longest time, I have felt a need to respond and engage, taking for granted that this was a choice. Nothing says I have to engage. Nothing says I have to respond. So before I start to answer a question or engage someone in a difficult conversation I think from here on out I will pause. I will take a weighted pause for myself. Is this something I have to do? Is this something I want to do? What are the outcomes of responding or engaging? If I don’t like the answers then I won’t engage.

Over the years, I have given too much of myself away. I have poured out my cup time and time again leaving nothing for myself. I have exposed myself to individuals who mean me harm, usually unintentionally but that doesn’t necessarily make it better or undo the harm they cause. This way of being is not sustainable. All renewable resources need to take in more than they put out. In farming, if you don’t put nutrients back into the soil the ground will cease producing nutrient rich plants. If you continue to pollute a water source without taking time to clean up the mess it will no longer serve as a resource.

I am no different and yet I have continued to drain my nutrients and not clean up the pollution in my life. I think I’m done with that. I value myself more than that.

There Are No Elves

there are no elves 1Last night I started reading a book called Scratch. It was the only book I could find at the library that explored the business of writing. The book dives into the tension between writing as a passion and writing as a profession. I have only read two of the essays included in the book thus far. Each one has hit notes in me and brought forth thoughts I have been chewing on for months.

For some time now, I have been struggling to understand the systems I see around me. I have never been a good capitalist or a good consumer. These modes of walking through life don’t make sense to me. Communal or barter based systems seem to be better. They are systems that encourage true community, foster respect for craft and bring people closer to one another.

I have observed dysfunctional nonprofit boards; and heard the horror stories from friends about their work lives in the for-profit sector. In both instances, I have stated with frustration that there must be a better way.

Working at a union for some time opened my eyes to the fact that in many industries there is no one looking out for the worker. How can this be when there are more workers than owners? Also why as an owner wouldn’t you want to look out for your workers? Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also looking out for your bottom line.

When I first started work at a small nonprofit theatre in town, my knowledge about business grew exponentially. One of the biggest things I realized is that there are no elves. The theatre was a small business with only my boss and I working full time and two other staff helping out a few hours a week. This meant that everything that happened in that space had to be done by one of the four of us, usually my boss or I. We were there every day so we had the clearest grasp on the work that needed to be done. If the lobby was a mess when I left, it was going to be a mess when I returned unless my boss had cleaned it. Day by day I realized the fact that there are no magic elves who come and finish your work for you.there-are-no-elves-2.jpg

This revelation opened my eyes. No longer could I look at anything without thinking of the people behind it. Take for instance the cup I am drinking hot water from as I write this. In order for it to get to me someone had to sell it, shelve it, ship it, package it, make it, gather materials, ensure it met safety regulations, design it, create a company to make cups. I’ll stop there, but that’s a lot of work for a simple cup.

Now when I look at something all I can see are the many hands who made it possible. Whether I’m attending an event, receiving a service or purchasing an item. My experience in each of these instances has been created and crafted by someone and most likely by several someones.

How would things shift if we thought not just about the joy we have at receiving something good but also about who helped make that happen? How would things change if we accepted that there are no magic elves?

Endings

Endings are difficult for me. I love potential. This deep rooted love guides many of my feelings. Potential means that anything is possible. As a person who has committed her life to story, creating something from nothing is what I do. It’s a magic I believe in, and anything being possible is the heart of this magic. This makes endings complicated. Endings are the death of potential. Not always, of course there are certain times when it’s only a partial death, but still, death. Death is a word that makes my heart slow with sadness and fear. Death to potential is something that makes me feel deep sorrow. Within a project or at the end of a show, I will and have done anything to delay the end. I also love to focus on the ways those things aren’t ending. A theater performance is only done if you stop working on that character, or so I say. Any mental back-flip I can use to avoid admitting the end will do.

For the last while, I have been spending much time focusing on myself and how I work. Part of this work was realizing that I had many, many almost done projects. They just needed to be filed away so that I could reference them again if I wished. These almost done projects weighed on me. They took up brain space and I needed a way to clear some of that space out. I needed to finish the projects, but that meant embracing the end. So I created a form, trying to encourage myself to celebrate the end. I love definitions, so I looked up the word eulogy, below is what I found.

 

Definition of eulogy

  1. :  a commendatory (compliment, praise, recommend as worthy) oration or writing especially in honor of one deceased she delivered the eulogy at his funeral
  2. :  high praise

 

That didn’t sound so bad, “honor” and “high praise,” I could do that. So I began the process of finishing my almost done projects. It felt amazing. I still have several to go, but I have begun to embrace endings. They are healthy and good. A good story is so much about its’ ending, how it leaves you.

I was on the road to acceptance and then a different kind of death came to visit my life. A distant aunt passed away and then my husband’s grandfather also passed away. I was forced to look at the leftover items from others I had lost in recent years. Gifts sent after their passing, by those that remained and unopened cards of condolence.

The death of a person is the ultimate end of potential. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the potential for that person as they were on this plane of existence is done forever. As a lover of potential, this is hard for me, forever done.

As I have comforted my husband these past months, a thought occurred to me. I was reminded of the feeling I had as I finished the almost done projects. Finishing them changed how I felt about them. Yes, they were done and the potential for them was done, but something shifted in my feelings about those projects. They didn’t weigh on me anymore, leaving room for the projects I am actively working on. I started to wonder if I needed to do something for those I had lost. As it is now, all that exists when I think about them is sorrow.

That eulogy definition came to my mind. There is no sorrow there. The perspective is one of hope and honor. It’s almost forward thinking. Maybe there is something in the process of taking time to honor them and their memory that shifts feelings from sorrow to something else.

It feels horrible thinking of releasing the sorrow to make room for those still alive in my life. I don’t want to forget those who have died. They mattered to me. Their lives mattered.

I have to believe however that there must be a way of somehow honoring them and letting go of the pain. Letting go I think is the important phrase in that last sentence. I have to learn to let go and embrace the something else that awaits me when I do.

So I think from time to time I will write eulogies for the things and people I lose and post them here. One small step in letting go and accepting the death of potential.

I Am Not Ok

                           I am not ok.

These words generally signal the start of a crisis. For many people it’s the sign of someone who needs help instantly. It sends friends and family into a state of panic and worry. This means that many don’t want to voice these words until they truly are in a state of panic. I am beginning to wonder however, with all of the talk recently about mental health and self-care, how we might change this.

Listening to him speak to a group on a different continent, it felt as though he was in my living room speaking directly to me. Sangu Delle talked about taking the shame out of self-care. I watched his TED talk and instantly felt moved by this idea. Why is there shame in the first place? On social media and in life we celebrate with each other and when something really bad happens we mourn with each other. We can laugh with each other. So, why is it only a brave few who seek a pick me up if they need it?

                        I am not one of the brave few.

A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook that she wasn’t feeling strong. The tone of her post was almost apologetic. She was apologizing for feeling a few moments of insecurity, but she was brave enough to put it out there.

I have, like my friend, felt at times that because of who people see me to be I can’t be who I am. People see a person who is strong and organized and on top of things. Some may even look up to me and by showing something different, maybe I would hurt them in some way. I have to wonder if this is one reason why there is shame in self-care.

If this is true, it’s a flawed logic and it doesn’t give enough credit to people. My friend who posted that she wasn’t feeling strong received a flood of comments filled with love and care. By opening up, she allowed others the opportunity to serve and support her.

This give and take is what true friendship looks like. So, how on earth can we create spaces on the internet and in life where this kind of friendship is normalized? The solution is that we have to normalize needing and seeking help. That was my big take away from the TED talk. Mental health is a subject that I have seen cause unease in many people. The idea of making this issue smaller seems to be what the TED talk was getting at. If we can remove the shame from self-care, normalize seeking help, and create space for people to not be ok, maybe mental health wouldn’t seem so scary.

After all when a friend is feeling down, helping them is usually not about addressing a mental health crisis or having to know exactly the right words to say. Generally it’s just about creating spaces for people to be open and honest about where they truly are. Rather than forcing the idea that we’re all “fine.”

I’ve started in the smallest ways trying to create this space for people in my life to be not ok. When I have a meeting and someone pauses before they say they’re fine, I make a joke. “What good liars we are.” I say. It’s not a huge step, but it is a start. If as a society we could just start creating little spaces for people to be honest about where they are, even if that’s not in a good place, things might change.

Maybe then, saying you don’t feel strong today could be received similarly to saying you’re having a great day. Because waiting until a person is in crisis is not the best way to go about things.

Most people I know have mastered feeling horrible and continuing to function. Sadly the working world and commitments of life don’t truly care about feelings. The dog still has to get walked, the clothes have to get cleaned, and for most people if you want to keep your job you have to be in by 8am. So generally with my close friends if they say they are not ok my first response is not panic, but just a simple commitment to listen and support in whatever way I can.

If it became possible to normalize being not ok, I wonder how many emotional barriers and walls would come down. How would it change how we viewed our mentors and heroes?

Ultimately I believe this to be important because I think in the long run it could save relationships and lives. If in every workplace, organization and relationship there was space for people to not be ok, when a true moment of emotional crisis happened it wouldn’t be a shock. And leaders would know that they didn’t have to “keep it all together” for appearances. They would know they could lean on their teams and families for support because they had practiced many times before the crisis happened.

Because no matter what, the crisis will happen. Eventually there will be a death in the family or an illness or a car crash or a bad breakup.  Something will happen that isn’t a regular “I am not ok” moment. But by then not only will the person experiencing the low or sad or angry moment have practice in expressing what they need, so will their community. With practice people get better.

And why wouldn’t we as a society want to commit to getting better at supporting one another when we need each other most?

On the Road to Angry Brown Lady

I started this post on December 6, 2016 like this…

For the first time in my life, I see myself clearly on a track and feel uncertain how to get off. The horrible injustice that seems to be finding its way to my eyes for consumption and emotional response has increased greatly. I am not stating that the amount of injustice in the world has changed, merely my observance of it.

My default response to most things is sadness and empathy. I feel sadness that the world continues to exist this way and that our global community cannot figure out how to listen deeper and love greater. Then I try to understand why and how the conflicts, disagreements and deaths happen. A new response is slowly rising within me.

I am angry. I am annoyed. I am furious. I feel deep rage. I wish ugly horrible things to the leaders instigating and calling for violence and intolerance.

This is not who I have been in the past. Anger for many reasons is not my default emotion. Anger makes me feel powerless. All of my impulses are good neither for me nor the world at large. So I sit turning the anger inward and it becomes deep sadness. It is better for these reasons to avoid this emotion. Only recently and out of necessity have I begun to embrace it.

This does not change however that I feel myself pulled in a direction with no way to deviate. There are two of me. The empathetic me tied to the train tracks and the angry me gleefully blowing the horn of the train about to run empathetic me over. Angry me has a handlebar mustache and evil laugh. I need both mes to get off the tracks.

I realize that within the anger there are deeper feelings. Behind my anger is a sense of deep exhaustion. A famous quote comes to mind.

 

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

                   – Fannie Lou Hamer

 

Read quickly about the speaker behind these words and you see something stronger than anger. You see a woman who was beaten, written off and still did what she thought was right. You see a woman determined.

I think even deeper within the anger is a sense of brokenness. More than sadness. I feel broken by the fact that just as I am recovering emotionally from one blow another comes to shatter what little solace I have found.

I don’t want to head down the track not only because I don’t desire to become a stereotype but also because I don’t desire to become someone I’m not. I try to live my life as authentically as I can and anger is not me. It’s not my go to.

There is also a huge part of me that fears the stereotype. I identify as brown to acknowledge that I am not only black. I have a vast and beautiful heritage filled with African American and Native American history.

Do a quick google image search of “Angry Black Woman” and you will find you have options. You can have: old, funny, ape, big, attitude, michelle, glee, mad, reality tv or at work sub categories for your search. Google conveniently provides them in pretty rainbow colored buttons above the original search results.

I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be a meme. I like most humans want to be respected when I express feelings.

You don’t have to look far to see Native American Nations being made fun of for expressing emotions. I can’t even start to dive into that here. Maybe in another post.

So I find myself on the track. I’m brown and don’t feel like changing that. The world likes to make fun of any nonwhite person who expresses emotions. And I feel angry based on exhaustion and brokenness. What do I do now?

Avoiding, sitting on the sidelines only keeps me out of the public eye. It doesn’t necessarily change all of the feelings going on inside. And unfortunately I don’t see the injustice changing or moving anytime soon.

 

Flash forward to now…

It’s hard for me to believe that it has been 6 months since I wrote the words above. I didn’t post them then because I was still wrestling with myself and with how to write this post.

I don’t think I’m on the track anymore. There aren’t multiple versions of me comically trying to kill each other. No handle bar mustaches. I’m off the track and on a path.

Yesterday I graduated from a leadership program. I have had many unsettled feelings about the program and on this day I had an interaction that upset me.

I felt crazy. I felt militant. I felt angry. I reached out for help. And with that help came a clear sense of direction.

Today, I listened to words of wisdom flow from my dear cousin to me. I think of my amazing writing partner who’s more than family. I think of the words of my grandmother reminding me of my heritage and the strength that lives there. Today I think of my mother always at my side, my continual support. And I think of my white husband, the proud feminist and gentle hand by my side and at my back holding me up when my legs quiver.

I come from strong women. My heritage is beautiful. Today was the first day that someone complimented me on this. It was a good reminder.

The United States Government has tried to kill my people and failed in the 1800’s, 1960’s and even today. Black and Native people resourcefully and skillfully continue to live.

That is my commitment. I am going to keep living. I am going to keep being myself. My loud, emotional, thoughtful, inquisitive, brash, angry, empathetic, silly self. I love me. It took months alone to remember this and I won’t back.

I won’t go back to quieting myself for others. I won’t go back to tip-toeing around issues of discrimination, racism, privilege, inequality, injustice and every other thing wrong with the world.

I will no longer poison myself by turning feelings of anger inward. If I’m labeled a stereotype so be it. I know who I am.

I am a beautiful brown girl ready to learn, listen, grow and have a great impact on the world. I hope you’ll join me.

A Black Scar in the Carpet

a creative nonfiction piece

As she past the black dress on the floor, she was reminded of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Many years previous, in her theater design class, she watched a documentary about the designer of that memorial, Maya Lin. During the documentary, there was a veteran who had called the memorial nothing more than ‘a black scar’ within the earth. This dress was that for her living room floor.

She had set it out to dry two days ago. It was to be worn at the funeral of a distant aunt. The young woman didn’t own any black dresses. She only ever ended up buying them for funerals and then never wore them again. Her mother had suggested that she go to the local thrift store. She had and was happy to find two outfits for under fifteen dollars. The young woman had planned on attending both the wake and funeral. This was before she knew that later in the week she would be traveling to Arizona to help her husband say goodbye to his grandfather. Now the dress would be worn to the grandfather’s funeral instead.

Death had been lingering in her mind for a few weeks now. A conversation with a friend had reignited an old curiosity around the death of one of her uncles. He had died at the hands of the police. There had always been mystery around his death. He was alive. The police officers entered the room. They pushed him to the ground and then he never got up again. This was all the family knew. She had promised herself that someday she would meet the men or women who were in that room when her uncle died. She kept thinking about her uncle.

This had led to thoughts of her other uncle, the sweet grumpy one who had died less than a year ago. His birthday was coming up. He would have been 51. She knew this because for his 50th birthday they celebrated. Her mom got pizza and ice cream cake and invited all his friends. The young woman and her husband had joined. She had taken many, many pictures that day. She had felt connected to her family and so happy. After all, a main reason she moved to North Dakota was to get to know her family better.

Her efforts had not gone as she had hoped. They were all busy and had lives of their own. They were also different than she was and many of the numerous clan didn’t know her. She had grown up in cities far away. Many of them had grown up in North Dakota on farms or ranches. She knew they loved her, but during family events she always felt separate, not really knowing who to talk to. Her family loved her, of this there was no question, and if she needed help they would drop everything for her. She had desired something else though. She wanted to feel that she belonged. This would only come with time, but she knew her time in North Dakota was in its final lap. Her husband and she planned to leave within the next two years. Now was the only time left to make true connections. Being a military brat, she knew how hard it was to maintain relationships over a distance.

This desire to belong was only deepened by the sense of cultural bankruptcy which became more apparent daily. She had grown up off her reservation, away from her tribe. She didn’t speak her language or understand the traditions and customs of her people. In the past year, for the first time, she had bumped into many who were interested to know and understand her culture. Which put her in a particularly difficult situation since she didn’t know it herself. Her mother had done what all the elders of her time told her, “Get off the rez.” Now this choice, made before the young woman was even a thought in her parents’ minds, caused her to feel set apart from her tribe.

On top of this, she missed her church family. It had been two years since she had been to church, but she finally missed them. She had left because of questions she had about the character of God. These questions had proved large and vast. They would take time to answer. Sitting in church growing bitter would do no good, or so she believed.

Quietly she sat down at her black kitchen table, staring at the dress. All she could think about was the great longing in her heart. Since moving to North Dakota she had lost a friend, an uncle and now an aunt. Soon her husband would lose a grandfather. Her mother had somehow survived the loss of both her parents and three brothers, not to mention the aunt who helped raise her and the grandmother who was a mother to her. The young women questioned if she had the strength to be like her mother. Could she survive more loss? Did she even have a choice?

The long black dress on the floor seemed to grow and shift. It was a reminder of the trip her husband and she would take in two days. It was a reminder of another ending of a life. The names of her uncles, her friend and her aunt pounded in her head.

Endings had always proved problematic for the young woman. She loved potential and an end was the death of potential. In the past few months she had become more comfortable with endings, but the end of potential for a human life still caused her great trouble. She had yet to open the cards she received after her sweet grumpy uncle’s funeral. She couldn’t. Like many she sought to delay the end. This was a lie.

Truly, the only lie she tolerated. You can’t delay the end of a life. Maybe this was why she couldn’t bring herself to pick the dress up off of the floor. If she disturbed it, something could happen. If she moved it, she would have to acknowledge that something was happening.

This day was the day her distant aunt would be buried. The day before, the young woman had seen the grieving family. They had asked her to return tomorrow, but she knew she couldn’t. Being at the wake had made the names pounding in her head grow louder. She had to be there for her husband. Soon he would be the family grieving.

She felt inadequate. Her power had always been in words. They made things clearer and signaled so much in her life, but when death came to visit the young woman, words failed. The things she depended on so often. They failed her. They were useless and wrong and out of place. They were nothing. They are nothing.