Question 16: Do you have any concerns or worries about your community or your community involvement?

The title of this post is the next question in the 50+ page “life review” that I am completing as part of my coaching certification program.

What a loaded question. Since it’s not one of the ones with the radio dial buttons for “yes” or “no,” I think it’s time to put into words the whirlwind of thoughts that I have been having on the subject.

Yes I have concerns and worries about my community, both the local and the online one. I’ve been asking myself a lot these past months why, when I’ve identified some distasteful (to me) elements possessed by the culture of these two separate but connected communities, I opt to step back in retreat over stepping up to make a difference.

I think I’ve figured it out. It’s like that old lightbulb joke – about how many therapists it takes to change a lightbulb?

Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

I think the community wants to change in the way that I want to lose weight. Like magic, and overnight, without actually having to sacrifice anything it enjoys or put in any long term effort into the hard work and sweat it’s going to take to build a new set of habits.

The community likes to say that it is inclusive the way I like to order a salad when I eat with people, but take a spoon to a jar of nutella when nobody’s watching.

I think the community leaders are those who once felt like they could make a difference – like they could either reinforce what they loved about it, and/or make changes to help create a better environment for themselves and the ones they care about.

Problem is that once they succeed, they think their work is finished. Just like I thought I was all set when I lost 80lbs and thought that I’d never have to wear anything larger than a size 12 again.

I was wrong.

In order for the community to be better, it has to never feel like it already is.

Yeah, I have concerns about the community.

But I don’t think I’m necessarily any better than anybody else who ever thought they could make a difference, succeeded in making a difference, and then stopped asking “what more needs to be done?”

I’d love to think that I am immune to the corruption and complacency that power and popularity seem to have on so many of our recognized leaders. In politics, in religion, in workplaces, and even in sex positive, polyamorous, and queer communities – we see people who had the best intentions get sidetracked by greed or become intentionally blind to the experiences of others.

How do I know I’d be any different?

I was reminded of something I learned in school – about George Washington and how he had said something upon the completion of his second term that led to a 150 years of Presidents that move aside after 2 terms before an actual constitutional amendment was made to enforce it.

I went to look it up and ended up on a page full of quotes about term limits…some of which seemed similar in theme to the aforementioned whirlwind of thoughts in my head:

The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it. — T.B. Macaulay

You will always find those who think they know your duty better than you know it. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the way to do good to my country were to render myself popular, I could easily do it. But extravagant popularity is not the road to public advantage. –John Adams

I don’t think my concerns over community are new or unique, and I don’t think that they’ll never be addressed, nor do I think I am powerless to address them.

I think when the community is ready, it will seek out the types of leaders and organizers it needs to make those changes. And I hope it never stops trying to be better.

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Children of Sacrifice

I was listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast on my way to work this morning, as I do. In episode 2.13, they speak with Don Baer, former White House Communications Director in the real-life Clinton White House.

He quotes a line from a speech he wrote for President Bill Clinton, given at the US National Cemetery in Normandy, France on the anniversary of D-Day in 1994. “We are the children of your sacrifice,” he says, referring to the generation that had fought in World War II.

It was a pretty powerful statement. It showed the acknowledgment of an “easier” life and appreciation for the generation that had a very hard life in order to give their children a chance at a better one.

I’m thinking of who it is in charge right now in this country. It’s those “children of sacrifice.”

I read something a while back – a blog about the Baby Boomer generation. For all that’s said about Millenials, the blog makes a good point that it’s actually the Baby Boomer generation that behaves with so much entitlement. I wondered about the connection – from being the children of sacrifice to sacrificing their own children’s futures for their own comfort.

Do they seem to care that their children and grandchildren are paying into the system that supports them in their retirement, while they gut the coffers so there won’t be anything left to take care of us?

Do they seem to care that the actions of this Republican administration in denying the existence of climate change so they can go back to dumping toxins into our water and dismantling environmental protections that will keep this planet able to continue sustaining human life for generations yet to be born?

Do they seem to care about starting fights with and essentially poisoning our reputation, not just in countries that pose current threats, but …hey, even pissing off our allies for a good tweet-sized sound bite?

I say this as the daughter of a man in his late 60s, who said the nomination of a completely unqualified woman to the position of Secretary of Education wouldn’t affect him because his kids were grown, and his grandchildren would always be able to afford private schools.

Oh, father. Your privilege is showing, and it’s ugly.

Same man who recently shared a memory on Facebook of the day he decided to help out a friend who’d opened a restaurant by volunteering as a server in the dining room. “Menial” work, he called it.

Yeah, ’cause spending the last 20 years of your pre-retirement career in a comfortable office with a private executive bathroom planning your next two week vacation was very skilled labor.

I keep wanting to tell him, “I don’t know how, but you raised me better than that.”

All across this country there are stories like mine. The rifts between families that were torn open during this last election cycle, that are being further unraveled under the regime of this cruel, unprofessional, and divisive administration.

They don’t get it, either. They don’t get why their kids are so opposite. Why don’t we behave? Why are we such “whiny crybabies” and “snowflakes?” Why cant we take a joke?

But we look to our own grandparents’ generation…one that is being put in homes, and silenced as they enter their own end-of-life phase. I seem to have much more in common in terms of fundamental values regarding humankind with them than I do with the “if it doesn’t affect me personally, it doesn’t matter” stance of my parents’ generation.

I go back to thinking about that quote. “We are the children of your sacrifice.”

Updated for 2017, I think our speech to our own parents would be: “We are the spawn of your entitlement.”

But mostly we just talk about the weather, if we talk at all.

Thoughts on “morality”

Last night I went to the movies with a 69 year old activist, feminist woman whom I met through my local Democratic club. She’s been protesting since the 1960s, her son served on active duty in the Army in Iraq,  and she’d suggested we go see Loving at the cheap theater near her house.

I didn’t know anything about this movie. Not the premise, not the actors, nothing. The only thing she said was that it had something to do with civil rights.

The story centers on the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple who’s marriage successfully defeated the ban on interracial marriage in the Supreme Court in 1967.

As the final credits were rolling on screen, she asked me if I realized how recent that was. “It was around the time I graduated high school,” she told me. That’s when it sunk in, the recency of this “history.”

I was born in 1978. I’m no math wizard, but that’s ….that’s 11 years from 1967.

Eleven years before I was born, it was illegal for people to marry people they loved because they were different.

And now, not really all that many years later, we’ve barely achieved the legal freedom for people to marry people they love because they’re exactly the same – and the current administration seems pretty comfortable with taking those rights away.

People say we’ve come so far, but …no, we really haven’t, have we?

It’s interesting to me that the country is so focused on one religion right now. Muslims – it seems like either you’re buying into the vilification of a fundamentally peaceful religion or you’re forming a protest line to protect their right to pray.

You hear the people screaming that it doesn’t belong in public, but those same people scream that prayer and the teaching of creationism should be enforced in schools.

Meanwhile, it’s a so-called “Christian” that blows up a Mosque in Canada. I’m pretty sure it’s not Muslims that are painting swastikas and calling in bomb threats on Jewish centers in my own state.

You can easily find factual data that tell a story about violence caused in the name of Christianity vs violence caused in the name of Islam or any other religion and…well, both historically and more recently, the data does not reflect the rhetoric of our current government.

Yet, I don’t believe religious people of any kind are inherently evil. I know many, many good people who are very religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are those who might disagree with me on certain issues, but overall – they are kind, generous, loving people who care about others.

But most of the best people I’ve known are also atheist or agnostic.

I’ve been questioning the concept of “morality” for a while. Why is it that people feel like they need religion to enforce their own morality? I’m not convinced the people who established the “morality” of a religion were even all that moral to begin with.

The thing about stoning women and selling your daughters? Yeah, I don’t buy it.

It’s not to say that they got it all wrong. There’s that whole thing about loving your neighbor, but I didn’t ever see the version of the Bible that had the footnote excluding neighbors that are darker in complexion than you are.

It’s the same way that I see laws sometimes. Before Loving vs. Virginia, there was a law that said a black woman could not be married to a white man – and the basis for this law? According to the movie “God didn’t intend for the races to mix, that’s why he put them all on separate continents.”

The lapse in logic in this argument blows me away.

I mean, I think it’s bullshit, but let’s accept the premise that God intended for all the races to stay in their corners of the world…

Do the white people realize that they’re the ones that started mixing shit up? Nobody invited them to cross the ocean and settle in the New World. Nobody invited them to kidnap Africans and bring them there to do all the heavy lifting, either.

But God is gonna frown on interracial couples, but not the people who put them together in the first place?

Nah, “manifest destiny,” they claim. There’s a destiny decreed by God that Americans will spread their moral virtue on the world. That’s what bothers me. When you have people putting words in God’s mouth for personal gain.

It’s never really about God when it’s about power. Certainly not when the party seeking power is uplifted mostly when another party is downtrodden.

This is why I don’t practice any religion and why I adamantly believe that religion is frequently a toxin to morality rather than its arbiter.

Frequently, I said. Not always.

But there I am, one of the people standing between an administration and their religious-based targets.

This is not about how things affect me. Most of the causes I passionately fight for do not affect me. I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or asexual. I am not a person of color. I was born here. I am gainfully employed, financially comfortable, am in good overall health and get health insurance through my employer with or without the ACA. I’m definitely not Muslim, nor am I Native American. Nobody wants to bulldoze my home to put in pipeline. For that matter, I own my home and nobody has been trying to lay claim on it despite the paperwork that says it’s mine. When I’m hungry, I eat, and when I’m thirsty, clean water is available straight from the faucet. I can afford birth control and I’ve never been pregnant, and at my age – am unlikely to become so without medical intervention. I am never misgendered and nobody ever questions which public restroom I can use. In fact, there have been times I’ve even used the men’s restroom when the women’s line was so long, and nobody batted an eye.

And yet you’ll see me out there fighting for all of the people who cannot claim any of those privileges. What drives me isn’t only what benefits me. I am driven by own sense of what is right and wrong – my on-board moral compass that thinks critically and independently of a highly-flawed ancient text written by the highly flawed race of humanity – whether you are talking about the Bible that hates on gays or the Constitution that allowed for slavery before it was amended.

Maybe someone wants to make the argument that my sense of morality comes from God the way they attribute people’s talents to a higher power. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t affect me.

And I would fight for your right to think it has something to do with God, even if I don’t.

Because it’s not about me, specifically. It’s about freedom.

And that’s about us all.

Ms. Hardy’s 6th Grade Class

I remember the first time I became aware of her. I was sent to her classroom with a note from another teacher.  I’d stepped in just as she was quieting down her students after some sort of disruption, and she turned her head as I opened the door with her big, almost accusatory eyes piercing through my timid little soul.

I handed her the note and her demeanor changed.  “Oh. Okay.  Thank you.”

The following year, she I was assigned to her sixth grade class.

I’ll admit, I was scared. I remember talking to my friend about her.  Until then, all our teachers had been ….

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Sweet? Passive? I don’t know. They all just seemed like they liked us.

Not her.  She could quiet a room full of schoolchildren with a stern look. She was there to teach, not to babysit us.

And teach us she did.  After a few weeks, I started to realize that Miss Hardy wasn’t really all that scary. She didn’t have to like us. She respected us. She was an excellent teacher. It was in that class that I first learned there was such a thing as Black History Month.

Or maybe, it was in that class that I first paid attention to it.

Because Miss Hardy was black.

I remember thinking it was strange – that all of Black History could be taught in one month. It didn’t make sense to me.  Why wouldn’t we learn about historical Black figures throughout the year? I also pondered why it had to be the *shortest* month that was picked for this focused instruction.

That’s a question a naive child asks herself – the naive child who had learned about the United States Constitution and believed everything she’d heard about an America that believed in Civil Rights, denounced cruel and unusual punishment, and valued truth, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, sweet, dear young me.

Most of my memories of actually learning can be traced back to the year I spent in Miss Hardy’s 6th grade class. I remember details from the lessons she taught me more clearly than any other in my entire educational history, all the way into college. I still have all 51 prepositions memorized in alphabetical order.  I still use many of our weekly vocabulary words in every day sentences.  I first became fascinated with the story of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in her class. I looked at pictures of the ruins in Ancient Rome – these relics of ancient history and learned about the importance of innovation with the aqueducts. We drew the ocean currents in blue crayon on a huge world map across the back wall.

She was the teacher that interrupted our scheduled lesson for the day to pass around the front page of the newspaper the year that the Berlin Wall came down. She explained its significance to us.

But there was much more she taught me that I didn’t even realize I had carried with me all this time. She taught me not to judge people based on their appearance or their first impression. She taught me that to be respected was often significantly more important than to be liked. She taught me about the America that I could be proud of despite its questionable history.

I miss that America, sometimes.

Today is the first day of Black History Month for 2017.  It makes plenty of sense to me now.

Tourists in Dropland

Those of us who’ve spent some time in the kink/BDSM world are eventually educated on the concept of “drop.” Google “BDSM drop” and you’ll get over 770,000 mostly relevant results.

After an extreme experience, there’s a period of time that last hours or days, or depending on the longevity or intensity of the experience – longer, of feeling mildly down, fatigued, and maybe a little self-loathing.

Our friends out there in the non-kinky world don’t really have a frame of reference for this concept; and these are nothing if not extreme times.

I’m starting to see it again today – the fatigue. There is a constant onslaught of news, and it’s not good news. For many who had previously lived a relatively neutral existence (read: those with significant, albeit unrecognized privilege) this is the first time that they’ve been on the business end of a series of emotional wallops for which they were completely unprepared.

Even the ones who raised the alarms during the election are now starting to fade – to say they just can’t anymore. Not one more thing.

But we don’t have a national safeword, and I have a feeling the Tyrannical Tweeter isn’t one for aftercare.

It was someone on a kinky social networking site I frequent who first identified it for me. He posted a status update after the Women’s March suggesting that many of his friends seemed to be suffering from March drop, then followed up with a comment on one of my posts with the point that his “vanilla” friends (not my preferred terminology for the non-kinky) didn’t understand what was happening to them.

But, we do.

I was chatting with another friend this evening and he made a very astute observation: “We live in the extremes, they don’t. So protest drop is gonna be bad.” He went on to say “We’re the locals in drop-land. They’re tourists.”

I sat in the parking lot outside of my office building for an hour today, scrolling through the day’s twitter updates and facebook posts. It was an hour of informed consent to the harshness of a very cruel and very scary reality to which I was willfully submitting myself. It wasn’t until I looked up and noticed how dark it had gotten that I looked at the time.

Just like how an hour in an intense rope scene can fly by, only with fewer orgasms.

Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed. My brother’s phone number is still written in sharpie across my ankle, where I’d scrawled it yesterday on my way to the Los Angeles International Airport.

I regard this marking similarly to the marks I receive in the course of play, only this is a little different. As I’m not an enormous fan of bruises for bruises sake, I accept them as a consequence of the type of play I enjoy with my consenting partner.

This was different. And yet, not so different.

It is a visible, lasting reminder of an extreme shared experience. Only instead of being in a dimly-lit room with my loving partner, I was one of tens of thousands assembled in peaceful protest of the Angry Mango’s latest Executive Order.

Recognizing the feeling, I went in search of connection to those with whom I’d shared this awesome, powerful experience – only to find that many of them have gone rather quiet on social media today.

I wish I could just go on facebook and explain “drop” to them. Those who intersect with kink have already figured it out. As soon as you say “drop,” they go “Oh shit. Yes. Time for some self-care.”

Me? I like bubble baths.

Anyway, it’s not as easy a concept to convey to the unkinkformed. Less easy if I’m attempting to protect them from having a little too much information about my sexual preferences. (Sexual is not the best word to use there. It’s not necessarily about sex, but like “vanilla,” it gets the point across quickly.)

I’m starting to get a few more twitter followers now who’ve added me in the last week or so when I’ve been a bit more of an “activist” type than a “sex blogger” type, so maybe this post will help a little.

But to the rest of them…I don’t know.

I want to find the words to explain it to them. To help them understand that taking a break to go see a movie, to make love, watch funny cat videos, or to have a bubble bath with an old-fashioned is not the same as going into a “news coma” and willfully turning a blind eye to a world that needs you by hiding in an impenetrable bubble.

We absolutely have to keep doing the things we enjoy, and finding ways to express love, compassion and care for ourselves and each other. That’s what fuels us to keep going. It’s what brings back the equilibrium that helps us stay in this resistance for the long haul.

That’s how you fight drop.

Find a little peace tonight. Your voice makes a difference, it absolutely does….but screaming until you go hoarse will silence you for too long. We need to pace ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves.

Even our heroes sometimes take a moment to stop and smell the falafel.

Angry White Woman

I’m angry.

I’m angry, and it’s not just because recent events have exposed my complacency with an imbalanced system because I was under the impression that “things will get better.”

I mean, that makes me angry. It makes me angry to have been so wrong. It means I was believing lies and avoiding truths.

There was a time when I was actively avoiding truths. I wasn’t pretending they didn’t exist, I was just putting on the blinders so I wouldn’t have to see them. I knew they were there.

Like those videos with the animals and the Sarah McLachlan song. I couldn’t watch them without crying and feeling completely heartbroken. So I’d mute the TV, go off to get a drink, or change the channel. I knew that my not watching wasn’t automatically saving all those animals from hardships. I knew that shit was still happening. All I was doing was trying to avoid the additional hardship of feeling helpless to do anything about it (other than send money).

Last year, I started doing a little more. It was either the #BlackLivesMatter movement or the Orlando Pulse shooting that woke me up a little and helped me realize that my blinders were a disservice to my convictions and the causes I believe in. They were making me complacent, and in some ways complicit.

Now, I’m no big social media star. My voice doesn’t have much range in the grand scheme of things, but it has some range.

So I started writing. It’s what I can do. Possibly not the very least, but pretty close to down there.

Then the Flaming Yam* became our national main course. I got really angry because it was pretty much proof that the reality I thought I existed in – the “things will get better” reality – was way off base.

I was so wrong. So wrong.

I tore off the blinders. I started to see, not just where the injustices play out in the media and in the lives of people I’ve never met, but even in my own family and in my own (in)actions.

I struggled hard last week – coming off the high of that incredible show of civil discourse in the March that exponentially eclipsed Captain Tangerine’s inauguration – I struggled with the heavy levels of criticism that came, not from those who oppose everything we stand for, but from within the community of my allies.

It was that feeling again. That uncomfortable feeling, but without the Sarah McLachlan song as a signal it was coming. Why? Because, in a way, they were right.

In every way, they were right.

Now, in reality – in my reality – I’d done as much for the BLM and LGBTQ causes as I did for the Women’s March.

I blogged about them. Again, pretty close to the least I could do. I didn’t show up in person for any of them, to put my physical whiteness on the line for the causes I believe in. I just blogged, under my pseudonym from the safety of my suburban home.

The difference, though, was my intention. If I hadn’t had to work that day, I had planned to go to the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

I had the intention of doing more.

So the criticism, while difficult to face – was right on the money.

For those who follow me on twitter, or who intersect with me on Facebook, you’ve likely seen a change. I’m a little more vocal now and there are a lot more political messages coming out along with the cute pictures of cats doing funny things.

But, I’m also done doing the very least I can do. Earlier this week, I rolled my window down and thanked a homeless man who rushed needlessly to move some things out of the way when I was driving past him. Before? I might have waved and smiled. I took a moment and viewed him as a person and not an extra in the story of my life. (That’s the writer in me that believes every piece of dialogue in a well-written story serves to inform the plot or move it forward, rather than the simple gesture of a hand wave that would have been forgotten by the next scene.)

I’ve RSVP’d and am planning to attend local marches and protests being organized to protest on behalf of a number of causes that don’t personally affect me. I am not black. I have great health insurance. I’m not at great risk of having an unwanted pregnancy. I have the right to marry because I’d choose someone that our oppressors wouldn’t find objectionable (polyamory notwithstanding). I’m pretty darned heterosexual, and as a widow, I’m given a bit more of a free pass for being an unmarried woman without children in this society.

I’ve gotten involved with my local Indivisible chapter and am planning to take a day off from work next week to join a group or citizens in a local visit to my republican representative in congress – a man who won by less than 2% of the vote in my district.

I’m reading a lot more, I’m fact checking a lot more, and I’m allowing myself exposure voices I care about who might not have the nicest things to say about me based on the way that I look.

As a fellow blogger wrote, “they don’t know what’s in my heart.” They don’t know that I identify culturally more along the lines of Latino than Caucasian. They don’t know my first language was Spanish and my parents were immigrants from Latin America, and great grandparents were from Syria and Egypt. They don’t know this by the way I look.

But for how long have they endured living a life where they are under constant scrutiny and prejudice for the way that they look? For how long have I benefited socially from the paleness of my skin and the blue of my eyes?

Maybe it’s time I walk a little in those ill-fitting shoes.

I’m “leaning in” to my discomfort.

I want to thank the people in my life who listened to me as struggled with this over the past week. I didn’t come to this conclusion right away. I had to do some soul searching and a whole lot of listening before I figured out why their truth was so hurtful, even though I knew it was true.

But mostly, I want to thank this woman for posting this video on facebook. This is the one that helped me come to terms with my discomfort. I hope you’ll watch it. I hope you’ll listen.

And I hope you’ll join me in doing a whole lot more than the very least we can do.

(Flaming Yam* taken from a comment someone left on a blog. I can’t take credit for it, but holy shit it gave me a good laugh this morning.)

Growing Pains

I can’t words right.

So, I’ll just spew it out:

This past weekend was a huge one for me on a professional level. I was given my opportunity to shine, and shine I did. The right people saw it. Ten years at this organization and, for the first time, I felt like I had my Board’s respect, approval, and support.

This past weekend was also a huge one for me on an emotional level. I watched via social media in between meetings, the awe-inspiring aerial shots of hundreds of thousands of individuals – everywhere – who…again, I’m overcome with emotions. To say they “stood in unified solidarity in opposition to a regime built on hate,” are the flowery words I want to use, but the impact gets lost in the fragrance.

Yesterday I felt something I first experienced in the days after 9/11, and very few times since then. I felt like the world had my back.

I’m so grateful for that feeling and for the resolve it inspired in me.

Both professionally and politically, what comes next is going to be a challenge. There will be hard work, long hours, countless unexpected setbacks, and several metric fucktons of frustration. We’re gonna hit that “in between stage” like when you have decided to grow out your hair and it’s past your ears but not quite shoulder length and no matter what you do, it doesn’t look right.

There will be temptation to give up and cut it short again, or maybe to cut corners by putting in some extensions.

But, if you’ve ever successfully grown out your hair, you know….

There’s a payoff when you get past that ‘in-between-stage’ hurdle and sometimes the healthiest way to keep growing is to trim it back a smidge.

The next two years are the in-between stage. When the fatigue sets in – and it will – it might be time to get a trim. Pull your hair back into a ponytail for a few days if you have to. Watch funny cat videos. Go to a light movie. Read a book for pleasure. Take a bubble bath with a vibrating rubber duck.

Self-care must be part of this process, so we don’t all burn out before the next critical mid-term election.