At a certain point, I had to ask myself, "what can I do?" I mean, the world seems to be going in a violent and oppressive direction. Many things which occur as a matter of course erodes my confidence in humanity on an almost daily basis:
Well, I know I have no power. But, as I said, at a certain point, I asked myself what I could do with the skills and abilities that I have, to help people. For over a year, I have been writing and making art about self-love, body confidence and sex positive philosophies. I have been mentoring young people, and coming up with creative ideas to communicate to people that they are not as powerless as they think. That they are not as worthless as the media and The Man would have them believe. That everything they have been taught about how to move through this world is to a great extent a way to keep them under control.
So far, I think I have been pretty effective at starting that conversation.
I believe, more than anything, in the ability of humans to rise above. I believe that if people are given the opportunity, they will do the right thing. The problem is, people in this country have been brainwashed into believing that they are not exceptional. That being normal is something to strive for. That fitting in is most important. I want to encourage people to stand out, and further, encourage others to support that.
Right now, so many people believe that being "normal" is the goal, and this creates and angry and sometimes violent reaction in them when others have the nerve to stand out or be different. Because they have allowed themselves to be beaten down into normalcy, they take it upon themselves to beat others down. It is a sickness that must stop. We must stop beating each other down. We must take our own experiences with mind control and turn it around. We must be strong in the face of this ridiculous oppression. There is simply no other way.
And this, I now ask of you: celebrate the people you know who are taking risks. Share THIS news on FB or Twitter or whatever the kids are doing these days. Celebrate the people who are willing to take a stand for humans. It is clear that there is nothing I can do about our twisted government or the oppressive nature of international dynamics. But I can inspire people to love themselves in simple ways, so that is what I do. I tell people in no uncertain terms that if I could do it, if I can struggle every day with my demons and get to a place of love, that surely there is hope for them.
I tell people that if I can open my heart after the heartbreak, they can too. If I can forgive the hateful and abusive nature of some of the misguided individuals I have come into contact with, they can too. And finally, if I can find the courage to openly love my body, and write about how that affects every part of my life in crazy beneficial ways, then yes, they might be able to find the courage to work on that themselves.
I beleive that as a group, humans are not realizing our potential due to the fact that a small group of people for so long have needed control for whatever reason. I know that on a certain level, I cannot be free; I will always have to operate within a system whereby the fruits of my labor go to kill people in other lands. I know that my source of income will most likely stay the same as the cost of living rises, making my life smaller and smaller in some ways. But, I also know that there is one place where I can have absolute power, and that is how I feel about myself. This is where I draw the line. I refuse to let the government, the media, The Man, or the people around me dictate how much love and respect I will give to myself. I acknowledge that it is a brainwashed system, and many people do not realize the damage they do, but this fact does not in any way matter to me.
I am the most important person in the world to me, and while I have to do many things that make me profoundly conflicted, there is one thing I will not feel conflicted about; how truly lovely I am, and how truly lovely humans are. I will always keep my faith that people will be better, that people will improve, if they can wake up to their greatness and manage to shut out so much of what tells them otherwise.
Yes, I have been worried lately about humans. I have moments where my faith feels shaken. But then I remember. It really just takes one. If I can be the change I wish to see in the world, if I can keep my integrity and speak out against the bullshit that is dividing us, then surely, my actions might influence others to do the same thing.
Lots of people want to get behind politicians who seek to change the system, and I think that is fine, but a more profound way to change the system is to change the people which the system seeks to control. Show them their light. Show them their potential. Encourage their growth. Demonstrate that even within a system which seeks to control them, they can be free.
How much are we willing to do to save ourselves and each other? That is the revolution I want to be a part of. That is the revolution that I see as having the potential to change everything.
Share please. Also, this week I hope to launch my Kickstarter project for my Love Yo'Self Coloring book. I will letcha know when that becomes a thing.
"Your mom saved my life!" I am at my mother's funeral service, and several people are telling me how amazing my mother was.
My mom was amazing to me too, but in an altogether different way. She was destructive and neglected my brother and I quite a bit, and she also believed that that shouldn't really bother us, because it was no big deal compared to how she was treated as a kid. She was the daughter of immigrants who had to walk across Russia to escape the Pogroms* and to life in America.
In my mother's eyes, there was nothing she could have done that was as bad as what she had to endure, and then, as if to lovingly put the cherry on the sunday that was my life, she arranged it so that at her funeral, I would be surrounded by people who received more empathy from her than I did.
The other thing that I noticed at that funeral was that people seemed to be competing with each other with their pain. How much each had lost with the death of my mother was their entry, and each was sure their pain was greater than the next person's. There was very little consoling going on, just the self-pity derby that some of the people who had been saved by my mother competed in.
Pain is universal. Emotional and physical pain are two experiences we have all had. Empathy, however, is one which some of us are incapable of expressing. This is because we have not properly handled our own pain. We have not fully taken care of ourselves or acknowledged our need for comfort when we have endured great suffering. Maybe someone from our past treated us like we were not worthy, that it is not appropriate for us to show that feeling. Such treatment teaches cold indifference, it teaches a selfish nature devoid of generosity.
I noticed this in myself not long ago while I was embroiled in a two day argument with a Mormon over reproductive rights on Facebook. For some reason, I flew into a rage when he pointed out that there is an inherent value in the life of the unborn child which was not being addressed by women wanting abortions. My instant reply was, "what about my life? doesn't it have value?" which is a bit beside the point, but showed me that at the root of my retort was not feeling valued, which is, in the end, my responsibility.
We wonder why white men in particular seem to have a hard time recognizing that they do indeed benefit from their status and that people without that status suffer. We wonder, even though most men are raised being told that they cannot show pain and they cannot show emotion. They are not allowed to be anything other than a strong. They are not allowed to feel hurt. So, imagine, when a white man is asked to show empathy for another human, what must be going through his mind. "Feel sorry for you? Toughen up," or, "you're not really hurt, suck it up," or, "walk it off and stop crying." Or like me, respond with something like, "feel sad for you? I was never able to feel sad for myself and no one ever felt sad for me!"
Now, when you take this to the level of a society, of an entire culture, and you witness the way in which all people of color, indeed all marginalized populations are treated, you witness a de-humanizing of people on a massive scale.
Sick of waiting for white men to catch up? Then learn how to be present for people when they show emotion. Instead of responding with your own story of pain when someone shares their pain with you, asking them follow up questions, responding by showing empathy, or just listening is a far better response.
Better still, when you are sad or hurt, show it. Give yourself room to feel it. Express your grief. Seek help. Keeping it bottled up and behaving as if you have no right to your own feelings will not only damage you, it will damage everyone around you. It will keep you from connecting with others on this vital level.
It is a wonder to be able to participate in the joy of another, but to really be present with someone when they are sharing their pain, to not feel threatened and not act on a need to escape puts you in a position to experience something profoundly human.
Allowing someone their experience of pain, of abuse, of any type of violence is a loving gesture. Making room for someone to feel something, even when it is uncomfortable, is a generous act that immediately builds trust.
Not allowing people to feel their pain, diminishing the experience of loss, this is to not allow the humanity in them. This is a homocide of a different nature. This is slowly killing the human in all of us.
*Pogroms literally means "to wreak havok or demolish violently." In an historical context, it refers to the attacks on Jewish populations by non-Jews in the Russian empire and other countries, starting in the early part of the 19th century.
What can you do to comfort people around you who are in pain? What can you do to take care of yourself when you feel pain? What can you do? Share this. Send it to a friend. And start really listening to people when they express pain or loss. Connecting on this level will add to your life in ways that will surprise you.
I am crouching next to my friend Jimmy. We are hiding on his porch. We saw this kid walking down the middle of our street and recognized him immediately as a boy who beats the crap out of littler kids like us. So we decided to hide. Just as this bigger but younger kid is passing by Jimmy's house, and safely away from our much smaller and fragile bodies, Jimmy yells out, "Nigger!" Holy fuck. We are so dead.
"What the fuck are you doing?!" Jimmy looks at me surprised. "What?" he doesn't seem to understand that not only has he guaranteed us getting our asses whipped, he has also just screamed a word I had been told never to utter. A word, I have been taught in school, at my neighbors' houses, and in the alleys of our neighborhood, that means much more than its two syllables can describe.
A word, which, in my house, is really the only one we cannot speak, under any circumstances. To this point in my very young life, it is the only word I am afraid of. And he just screamed it. On my block. Within earshot of this boy, but also of every other human on my block who might be around. All I can think is, we are so dead. I am so dead. And I have no way to excuse it. I have no words to deflect fault. Jimmy is my friend. Holy fuck my mom is going to kill me. I am so dead.
About five minutes later, I go home. I walk into the kitchen cautiously and I am greeted by Veona, the woman who takes care of my brother and I while my parents are working on Fridays. Oh shit. I feel horrible. She smiles at me and offers me something to drink. "You look funny, hun," she is at the sink filling the iron with water. I can barely look at her. I am so hoping she did not hear. "I am going to lie down," I offer up as I slink past her. I go up to my room and lie on my bed. I start to figure out if there is a way I can avoid going to school for the rest of my life, but it is hopeless. I know that sooner or later, I am going to get my ass whipped. Fuck.
The next day, I go to the Village Hall with my brother and some neighbors to play ball. We are in the middle of a game when the kid from the day before walks up to me. He towers over me. I am mortified, shaking. But I look up at him, and when I say up, I mean I am looking as far up as I can because he is standing about an inch away from me and looking directly down at me. He yells at me, "I heard what you called me!" I yell back, "it wasn't me!" He screams, "it sounded like a girl to me!" Ugh. I am so dead. I lower my voice, still looking up at him. I might as well be looking directly into the sun he is so angry, shaking too. "I would never say that word."
He stops shaking. He looks at me differently. I breathe in and close my eyes, I figure, after he hits me, I will just stay down. I deserve it anyway. But nothing happens. When I open my eyes, I see his back moving away from me. I am so relieved I almost collapse. I can't believe I am not going to get the shit beat out of me.
My brother comes up to me and asks what he was talking about. I tell him the story from the day before. He tries to comfort me by telling me that at least mom and dad didn't hear it. "I didn't SAY IT!" I scream at him. I am shaking again. He replies that he knows that, but it is still a good thing they didn't hear it.
I leave the field and go home. I am relieved I didn't get my ass handed to me, but now, all these people know. They know Jimmy is a racist and I am a friend of a racist.
And this is how it starts. We allow it. I have allowed it. And eventually, you see where it leads. Growing up where I did, how I did, I had the opportunity to be surrounded by people of all colors and backgrounds. I was lucky. I saw the projects. I saw racism every day, practically. I had friends who used that unspeakable word. I would either speak up or not, depending upon how threatened I felt in the moment.
Then I moved to the PNW (Pacific Northwest), and that all kinda went away...because there were so few people of color here in '91. Well..actually, it was just much more segregated. Still today, very few, and well, most white people here, if we ever have a conversation about race, which frankly, never happens, it all centers on that they don't believe that it is that hard for African Americans. The fucked up thing is that, as hard as it is now, it used to be much worse. WAY WORSE. And people don't believe it is that hard now. It is mind blowing.
And part of me says that white people don't believe it because they don't want to believe it. That it is just too horrible to accept as a reality. But I also think, being the white person in this scenario, that it is because we don't want to accept the rage. We cannot sit with the justifyable anger that is now centuries old. Just as many men I know don't think there is much sexism anymore.
It is hard to allow someone to be angry. Even harder to sit with that anger and be there for them as they are and not be able to do anything about it. Even harder when you know you will never have to experience what they are angry about, maybe even be at fault in some measure for what they are angry about.
We all know what it feels like to be shitty. To be the person who caused the pain. To be the person who allowed the shitty thing to occur. That is a universal human experience that we have all had. But not everyone walks around with a target on their back. Not everyone can really grasp the gravity of understanding that in some measure, you are absolutely without protection, and in fact, the object of some person's misguided pain.
I recently saw the play, Hands Up, at the Portland Performing Arts Center. Put on by The Red Door Project. It is seven monologues from seven different authors centered on the police shootings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and many others. It is stunning to witness this perspective; to feel, viscerally, that there are people in this world who are in danger of losing their lives when approached by police. Even the fear of this, knowing that this happens in the world, is enough to keep you scared.
It is like me hiding on the porch that day. I was scared. But looking back, I know that the kid I was afraid of? He was scared too. He was walking down the middle of the street in broad daylight. In that neighborhood, you only walked down the middle of the street when you were avoiding what might be waiting for you just beyond the sidewalks. But I never had to do that. I only walked down the middle of the street at night. Well, actually, I was usually running.
I have been too scared all my life, and I don't think I have been more scared than anyone else, but I think that is what keeps us all from moving forward, and frankly, what keeps things getting worse.
I don't speak for all white people, or all women, or all blondes, or all short people, but I do know that when I am afraid, I am usually not in my right mind. I am usually not able to do the thing that is best for all concerned. Being afraid, acting on my fear has never done anyone any good.
So the best thing I can do is get over that. The best thing I can do is admit to it. Then be better. Be conscious. Understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that I won the white girl lottery. But that I live in a world that I am responsible for creating, and that in order to live in one that I can tolerate, I will have to do better than I have.
I will have to learn to be okay with fear, mine and the fear of others, and then come down from off of my friend's porch.
I know this is not my regular topic matter, but I could not go on like nothing is happening. I could not act like what I care about most takes precedence over the state of the world. I am not sure if what I have written has helped, but if you think it has, pass it on. If you think I haven't, let me know.
I am not a parent. I should say this straight out, nor do I ever hope to be. Leave that to the professionals, I always say. But I do love certain age groups and teenagers is one of them. They are so challenging. They don't like to talk. They don't trust adults. They are beginning to form into adult-like creatures, and they are both thrilled and terrified at this.
When they come to art classes at camp, they are usually safely protected within their teen-shells. That is when I take out my mallet and chisel and try to chip away.
We start with exercises; draw balance in one minute, imbalance in two, movement in four minutes, stillness in eight. It is also a practice in letting go; after each time period elapses they have to move one chair to the right, so they are seeing the way someone else expressed the theme before. After all four exercises are complete, I give them a demonstration on talking about art, I give them some guidelines, then, I give them the chance to talk. After they have all practiced talking about art, I tell them that I will expect to hear from them about their classmates after lunch, so get busy talking to each other.
Then, I tell them we are going to do an exercise called, "Draw it Like You Mean It." I direct them to go to the storage closet, which is full of really cool stuff, and pick something they really like, and draw it so that it conveys that they really like it. They get 20 minutes. After that, I tell them to pick something out of the closet that they really don't like at all. They have another 20 minutes to draw it so that this feeling is conveyed. I tell them they can change the object in any way in their drawing, just so they convey their emotions.
I explain to them that engagement is the key. That I could have them go through exercises where they are practicing looking and drawing, but the true challenge is to express and convey a feeling with confidence. That if an artist can do that, she can draw almost anything and have it mean something.
Both of the exercises yield great results. There are some funny drawings, some very accurate drawings, and frankly some pretty creepy drawings. I then tell them that the whole point of the exercise is to convey the importance of engagement in art. That while this is a class at summer camp, I will never ask them to do anything easy, and each assignment will not only challenge them to improve their drawing skills, but will challenge them, as well, to put themselves into it. I tell them that in art, the best stuff is the stuff that conveys something confidently. The best stuff is not someone knocking off someone else's style or subject matter, but digging up the stuff that is within them and putting it on the paper. That this is the true practice of art; to convey something that matters to you so that the viewer might also feel that.
We discuss this at length, and eventually, we come to, "what if they don't get what I mean? What if I have gone through all this work to try and convey something, and they get something completely different?" This is of huge concern, I can clearly see this as I look at the faces in the room looking back at me. So I pull out my football analogy. I tell them that they are the quarterback, and their job is to throw the ball down the field. There is nothing they can do once they let that ball go. About two of them get it, so I pull out the Sparkle Pool analogy.
I tell them that we each have our own Sparkle Pool, and that everything inside it is our business, and everything outside of it is none of our business. As I look around the room, this seems to have resonated. I go on to tell them that once we have hung our art up on the wall, it is officially outside of the Sparkle Pool. At that point, you must allow others their space within the work. I go on to explain that this is why making work that matters is so vital. Because if you make work that you don't care about and the people love it, it won't really matter to you because you didn't really engage with it. If you make work that you don't care about and the people hate it, you will kick yourself for not having put yourself into it. It is like failing as someone else.
Now, if you make work you care about, I explain to them, and people hate it, that is the fear. That you will put your heart and your guts up on the wall and people won't get it, or hate it, or think you are an idiot. And that happens sometimes. But when it does, it hurts, but you realize it matters much less than you thought it would. You live through that and find that if people don't love your work, it doesn't actually kill you. You might even get to a point where you realize that if someone doesn't like your work, it's not about you. It's about them. Because that too is outside of your Sparkle Pool.
There is also the possibility that they will love it. They might think you are a genius. This feels great. This feels validating. This feels like you are not so alone in the world, when you make work that resonates with people. This too, is outside of your Sparkle Pool; beyond your control but a very nice benefit of making work that matters to you.
The point is, in either of these scenarios, you learn. You learn whether or not you care if people love your work, (it is rare that everyone does,) and over time, you will come to learn that you are making the work for you. That people do or do not like it becomes less of an issue because what you are doing is for you. Yes, there is the market, there is the business of art. But right now, when you are learning to draw, you might as well start learning how to express yourself honestly too, because that is where you will set yourself apart. There are millions of ways to duplicate art, to imitate styles, to steal ideas. The best stuff is the stuff that comes from each of you, and if you are not willing to share your experience, your perspective through your art, there is really no reason to make it. The value in the art is the filter of the artist, not the flowers she paints, or the smile on the Mona Lisa.
Then I take the leap. I just jump in. I tell them that life is like this too, that none of them can control whether or not people like them or how others will behave. That other people, by definition, are outside of their Sparkle Pool. "The only person inside your Sparkle Pool," I say to them, "is you. There is no one else like you in the world, and if you spend all of your time trying to act like everyone else, you rob the world of knowing you. You rob yourself. And your Sparkle Pool ends up being quite shallow, because not even you are in that thing."
I know I have taken a leap, but I figure if just one person heard this, it might be enough to change a life.
This is another reason why I love teenagers. They are still open enough to consider that being themselves might just be the very best thing they could ever hope to be.
If I said it once, I have said it a million times: give it a shot and share this puppy.
Also, on July 23rd, I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for my Love Yo'Self Coloring Book For Adults. I will give you the details as they surface.
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