Annoying Little Boddhisattvas Everywhere

Annoying Little Boddhisattvas Everywhere

I was walking with B & V after the most recent of the January 6th Committee’s televised hearings, describing the witness tampering that Liz Cheney had teased at the end, when I stopped myself mid-sentence. “My god, there’s no hatred in my voice when I say that name. Do you know how long I’ve been hating the name Cheney?” Decades of (arguably justified, if unhelpful) emotional enslavement to anger and disgust and horror around the lies, war promotion and profiteering, torture, and spying that defined her father’s vice-presidency vanished from my current self as I appreciated his daughter’s impartiality, levelheadedness, search for truth, and willingness to risk her political standing for our cherished institution of democracy. She has shown me that I can let go of the fraught attachment to the feelings, and that the letting go is not a forgetting or absolution. I think her political philosophy is inhumane, plutocratic, and destructive. I think her father was a war criminal. I would doubtless vote against her if I had a chance to do so. And I can hold all those beliefs and take any oppositional actions made available to me without hating her, without feeling any tension or revulsion at all; fully recognizing her as a part of the greater human mess and a person worthy of compassion. Liz Cheney has helped lower the bar in the best way, though I’m still working to drop it further: how little can I understand or sympathize with a person’s actions or beliefs and still empathize with them as a part of me, an interdependent element of my complicated world?

In the 90s, Ram Dass’ shrine featured Neem Karoli Baba, Buddha, Jesus, and Bob Dole. (Remember when Bob Dole was the ultimate enemy? FunnyNotFunny?) He said when his gaze settled on the latter photo, he would feel his heart tighten, and know where his “spiritual homework” lay. I don’t have a shrine, but if I did today I wouldn’t put Trump on it. I’m not welcoming that daily dose of constriction, but I know it’s something to strive for.

Last week, while picking up garbage around the community center where I volunteer to hang out with unhoused and economically marginalized and other random folks from the area, a guy started harassing me about why I was cleaning up there. He wasn’t happy about it and wasn’t, I realized a few sentences in, interested in actually conversing with me so much as lecturing me, and it wasn’t pleasant. But it didn’t take long for me to recognize several truths he had unveiled. First is my persistent desire to be liked and even appreciated, which has been a barrier for as long as I can remember – causing an often immature reaction to criticism and at times preventing me from being honest with people when it’s important to do so, and, as in this case, taking too personally words aimed at the idea of a person, and having little or nothing to do with me. I also have a compulsion to explain myself, which I guess I can attribute to ego attachment. (As my best friend once said to me, “I bet you’re one of those motherfuckers who has to explain why you’re leaving to your boyfriends.” It had never occurred to me that not doing so was an option.)

When my critic was giving me shit about “my own house,” I also had to recognize that I have neglected my own community in favor of coming to this one every week. I view the unknown neighbors on my block as unworthy of my attention – comfortable, middle-class white people who are so polite and reserved that I have written them off as repressed and dull. I have thought about hosting a happy hour, but never done it. I have convinced myself that I wouldn’t know what to say to them, yet I’m literally and figuratively going out of my way to converse with what are often mentally or chemically ill folks in another neighborhood. I’ve often declared in the past several years that my particular talents serve best through my talking to well-intentioned White people who don’t see the destructiveness of their internalized racism, ableism, etc. yet I do that almost exclusively in structured, deliberate environments, rather than creating open spaces where those meaningful conversations might unobtrusively and effectively seep in. There is work to be done here.

The final and perhaps most successful boddhisattva who came into my life recently is The Fireworks Guy. I liked fireworks well enough as a kid, but both of the dogs I have lovingly raised as an adult have been terrified of fireworks. Like most good mothers, I have loyally hated the things that cause harm to my kids. A few weeks ago we took V to our local dog-friendly restaurant patio for the first time in a year, and as soon as the server delivered her beloved marrow bone, a massive firework went off a few houses away. V started shaking, I yelled an obscenity, and B took off in anger (rare for him) to find the people who did it. What he reported back was that the guys (a racially mixed group) saw the fireworks as an intentional act of rebellion to annoy “yuppies”, protest “gentrification”, and generally disrupt people’s comfort. On the flip side, I have long held fireworks to be a deliberate act of toxic masculinity, symbolic violence, and cruelty towards nearby animals and traumatized humans. In fact, there’s little truth to either my accusation or their justification, certainly in the sense of a higher truth. Both beliefs are lacking in compassion and overflowing with resentment and blame. Something clicked in me after B’s interaction, and I made a conscious decision to stop getting angry about fireworks. V isn’t nearly as traumatized by them as she used to be – CBD chewies have worked wonders, and thunder (which we can’t pin on anyone) is much harder on her nerves – and I’m tired of crafting narratives of cruel, abusive men in my head. There are enough real ones out there. I haven’t got time for the pain.

Weirdly, that worked like an off switch. Once I let go of my manufactured justification for harboring the anger, the anger disappeared completely. I still don’t like the sound of fireworks, and I still wish it didn’t bother V, but I’m no longer wasting a single iota of energy on hating the perpetrators. Crazy, right? I’ve certainly tried to let go of emotional attachments in the past with far less success. I don’t know if this one came easily because I’ve been practicing more, or because I recognized the weirdly ideological motivation for the resentment or what, but it does give me hope for my indubitably lifelong efforts to let. shit. go.

Thank you to all my teachers.

2022: The Path So Far, So Furious

2022: The Path So Far, So Furious

I suppose 6 weeks is plenty of time for a little self-assessment, especially as I’ve noticed some … wandering, I guess you could say.

Meditation has been good so far this year – consistent in the mornings, which is always best for me. The quality of the sit varies, naturally. Sometimes I can barely manage two minutes of actual focus. Sometimes it’s more. Sitting before work is crucial to my overall wellbeing and I’ve recognized and therefore been disciplined about that, but it seems wellbeing without wisdom and oversight is not quite enough.

I’ve been an Officer at my employer’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee for years, almost since it was initiated. It’s probably time to step off, and I will in 2023, but we’ve always had trouble recruiting officers (few people have enough breathing room in their jobs to take on the commitment, company support for the roles is limited), and it is my favorite part of my work. It is also the place in my life where I have the most direct impact on the education of White people. Our staff is composed of lots of well-meaning White folks, many of whom have limited experience with different cultures and an unintentionally parochial worldview. The trainings we’ve commissioned and led, on everything from White Cultural Supremacy to Islamophobia to Indigenous Approaches to Disability, really seem to have opened people up, and rarely freaked them out enough to get defensive.

Nonetheless, more substantive Committee proposals have made painfully slow progress. We have been asking Leadership for an Inclusion Statement for 3 years, and the only movement in that direction has been from the committee itself. We asked for a policy on responding to Tragic Events (a weak email about George Floyd’s murder came long after he was killed, and only after the DEI committee had already communicated with staff – and been admonished for doing so), and were eventually told that Leadership would only respond to events that directly impacted operations. We have no people of color in leadership, and only two BIPOC supervisors in a 200+ employee nonprofit. There have been some improvements – a greater percentage of BIPOC employees and Board members, some other accommodations for non-European cultures, religions, etc. but the Committee’s frustrations are manifold.

Another Officer reached out to me about our antagonistic relationship with Leadership, with a goal to mitigate that this year. I wholeheartedly agreed. And then I fell into the seductive arms of collective anger.

Leadership had us amend our Black History Month post not because anything in it was inaccurate or offensive or inappropriate – they couldn’t call out a single word or line – but because it made them feel, let me translate: icky. A week later, they “asked” us to host a “space” for staff to talk about the police killing yet another Black man in the Twin Cities, and when we explained that a group of White DEI Officers should not hold space for Black people who most need that space held, they announced that to the organization that we would do it anyway.

Do you feel it? That delicious distemper? That noble nastiness? That righteous rage? They’re clearly wrong, right? And they’re not wronging me. They’re wronging others. Better still, I have a cohort that agrees with me, who will bring their own passion and lift up my own. People with whom I can, if not demonize, at least criticize and somewhat vilify our primary antagonist.

Many of my teachers in last year’s Buddhist training talked about anger. How could they not, since they were promoting mindful social action in a program imagined while Trump was still in office. There was a lot more ambivalence around this fiery emotion than I had anticipated, however. More recognition of its power to motivate and even purge. And I have much more to learn about it, undoubtedly. My relationship with anger is largely one of dismissal.

Unlike many women, apparently, I have never had difficulty expressing anger. For whatever sexism I was raised with (less than many, more than some), anger was not discouraged in my household. I couldn’t get angry at my father – that was not allowed – but I could get angry at the world, at people we disapproved of, at the police, at politicians. I had no problem pulling off theatre performances as an enraged wife, director, prostitute, actor, medical student. (Apparently I have a very scary glare.)

I couldn’t turn it off, though. I was an angry, angry person. My cohort in acting school was, for whatever reason, chock full of angry, angry people. In our group of ~25 students there were a half dozen guys periodically flying off the handle, and me. I chain smoked and drove dangerously fast and drank a half dozen cups of coffee every morning and slept very little and in the rare times I noticed my body, it was like every blood cell was a whirling dervish of rage. All the pain I had been unable to express to the people who had hurt me perpetually simmered under the surface, spitting out steam at my fellow drivers and uncooperative retail employees, through sing/screaming to loud music, and onstage.

Once I got beyond that turmoil and saw it for the grating, exhausting force it was, I became vigilant about avoiding that state of being. Weirdly enough, it’s not that hard most of the time. I don’t worry about screaming at the radio when a politician puts their own reelection ahead of the lives of other human beings, or any of the other countless injustices that happen every day. Because I don’t hold onto it. I yell, I let go, I move on. (Meditation can take much of the credit.) I try to redirect any lingering energy towards something positive, or at least neutral. I remember that we are all flawed, fucked up little humans.

But that righteous group anger …. mmmm-mmmmm. It doesn’t feel bad. It feels delicious. When the DEI Officers got together to air our grievances about Leadership, it felt like getting together with a group of close girlfriends to talk about an overlooked artistic triumph. There was camaraderie and passion and pride and joy and frustration and fun. I didn’t feel like I was crawling with subdermal fire ants; I didn’t feel the need to scream to a Hole song. And there was something valuable and perhaps spiritually neutral in it: sharing frustrations, validating perceptions, and discussing & interpreting behavior aren’t inherently negative or destructive. But retrospectively, I saw that we had simplified the matter; that we had concentrated the complicated world of White supremacy down to a single point – the messenger for the organization; that our focus had subtly shifted from doing the right thing to winning. I did not have the courage to address an unearned insult thrown at the absent messenger, because I had been walking that unethical, cruel line in my own speech. Once the conversation was over, I had to take a good look at myself.

Right speech is hard. Our culture subtly and incessantly encourages talking shit. There is community to be found around naming a common enemy, around demonizing the other, around denying their humanity. I’ve been able to recognize it and avoid it on the large topics of the day – I don’t call all anti-vaccers idiots; I don’t call all Trump supporters Nazis; I do my best to look for a reasonable explanation for behavior from the right wing, and when I can’t find it, I look for the source of the behavior in the system, not in the “evil” of specific individuals. I try to practice my favorite cheesy aphorism: Don’t get furious, get curious. Why did I fall off the wagon at work? It’s not the first time. Groupthink has definitely seduced me before, and it’s so much easier to get sucked into it when COVID has left so many of us so lonely. But it is truly icky. It goes against what my Buddhish heart and mind believe, and it simply doesn’t help me be a force of love in the world.

So, 44 days into 2022, I guess the resolution that has forced itself upon me is to practice Right Speech, and hope it wriggles on down into my thoughts and bones. I will doubtless fail again and again, but they say the path, like the precepts, is not a do or die. Just as you haven’t failed if you get caught up in thoughts while sitting, you haven’t failed if your speech lacks empathy once in a while. It’s a practice, it’s about returning to the commitment again and again. Sometimes method acting is just too hard, sometimes you have to work from the outside in.

Anger (The End of Empathy, pt. 2)

rageAh, Anger. It’s the hip vibe of the Trump era. Friends and acquaintances and annoyances and feminists and proud white supremacists all sing the praises of anger. It’s the caffeine of activism: perceived as necessary to wake up.

Trying to categorize sensations or psychological states as feelings or emotions is about as difficult as trying to distinguish between Empathy and Compassion. Just so we’re on the same page, though, let’s agree to this: emotions are uninterpreted physical sensations: they start in your body and often are almost instantaneously translated into something else (one of the things meditation tries to slow down), but they are real things, no matter how you interpret or indulge in or ignore them. Feelings or secondary emotions (don’t ask me to distinguish between them), are emotions interpreted on a very quick and base level: maybe fear or anger or attraction. I used to be a proponent of the Two Emotions: Love and Fear theory (pretty, isn’t it?), but now I buy into four: pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness. These are vague and hard to describe, but I think that’s the point. Meditation in the back yard on a lovely summer day: calmness; light breeze: pleasantness; neighbor’s dog growls menacingly: arousal; dog bite: unpleasantness; your neighbor calls you an asshole for bothering their dog. Anger is the most obvious next step, right? Probably. The neighbor’s reaction is unjust, and you have been done wrong, which typically leads to anger. And that’s fine and natural and all that.

Here’s the thing: the anger may be caused by the injustice, but it isn’t necessary to address the injustice. The most gut-level, emotional reaction would be to punch the person or kick the dog or both. Most of us would agree that this is not the ideal reaction, however, and few of us would do it. Maybe we know the neighbor’s going through a rough time, or the dog is sick, or maybe now that you think about it, you might have accidentally hit it in the face when it startled you. There are reasons why you don’t act on your anger.

And yet, people love to talk about how anger is necessary to social justice work. I simply don’t believe that the most effective actions that have been performed in the name of reform and progress are actions of anger. The anger may well have helped the recognition of the social ill, but acting in anger, instead of assessing the situation, looking at the history, finding an appropriate organization through which to organize, or a creative way to call attention to the issue, is typically feckless and often disastrous.

I used to love the saying, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” but now I find it offensive. No one should judge or police anyone’s feelings. You can be informed and aware and active and mindful. You don’t have to buy into anger activism. At best, the anger clouds the message of the activism. Did the marchers in Selma act out of rage? No. Were they angry? Fuck, yeah, but that was not how they chose what to do. They marched because of a reasoned decision that this action would bring attention to the cause and have the greatest national impact and likelihood of changing the law. Nonviolence itself is a suppression or redirection of anger. Action in anger leads to riots.

Maybe you like riots; maybe you think they’re effective. I can’t say you’re wrong, I can only say my heart hurts when a single innocent (no one is innocent, yeah yeah) person is hurt in blind anger. Not only is it immoral (the forces that led to it are immoral, yeah yeah), it makes those in the right look like they’re in the wrong. It’s a terrible recruiting strategy. It is true that the organizations working for civil rights in the South in the sixties knew that white kids would have to die before the national media would pay attention to what was happening, but they didn’t kill those white kids. Riots are understandable, and they may sometimes lead to indirect positive action, but the pain caused is deep and awful.

My father was extremely angry, and did not hide it. He did a pretty good job of not expressing it in the form of physical abuse, which his parents did, but the threat of violence was always there nonetheless. I wasn’t really allowed to be angry around him, so I suppressed it or let it out in short bursts of screaming to punk music. And then when I got out of the house, I exploded with anger all over Los Angeles.

When I was in college, anger was my #1 go-to secondary emotion, by a longshot. And it suuuuuuucked. Yes, there was something invigorating, something exciting about it, but at the same time I could feel it eating away at me, depriving me of sleep and joy, draining me of energy and focus. I chain smoked and cut myself to release some of the stress of that raging rage, but my main outlet was on the streets of LA, where I could drive recklessly and aggressively and yell at people from the bubble of my car without consequences (usually), and lay on my horn and speed on the freeway at 3:00am. But none of it made me feel better, and some of it was truly dangerous.

I am now a recovering rageaholic. If you catch me on a bad day, I don’t look like I’ve recovered much. (My partner would agree.) But the bad days happen less since meditation, and even better is my ability to move on when I am overtaken. I used to cling to anger, because it is energizing and it feels purposeful. It can be a kind of hot, thrilling mania. But I have never made good decisions while I was angry. Most of the really embarrassing moments in my life have been born in anger.

I know there’s a popular book about the power of women’s rage. I don’t need to read it, but I’m sure it has value. Black people have historically been pressured to stuff their anger because of the manufactured stereotypes of primal, unbridled emotion; and because it could sometimes get them killed. And of course that’s horrific and of course women and Black people have the right to be angry. Anger and rage are a part of life, but sanctifying rage or dwelling in it is always destructive to the rager, and often to others. Maybe I’ve put too much weight on this – it’s the longest post I’ve written in months – but a central tenet of the great Claw to Enlightenment is not acting on my base instincts, my raw emotions, the bullshit behavior that’s fucked up humanity for centuries. I’d like to better. I think we all can do better, but we first we have to know what we’re doing.

The End of Empathy, pt.1

(Unnecessarily dramatic title brought to you by the allure of alliteration.)

invisibiliaInvisibilia is one of my favorite podcasts. Given, I only listen to half a dozen podcasts, but that’s because I’m picky, dammit. They recently did an episode on empathy, that left me with at least as many questions as answers, which is, in my view, doing things right.

Before I get into this, I’d like to try and distinguish between empathy and compassion (something the Invisibilia ladies did not do). You can disagree with my conclusions, but good luck trying to find definitive definitions. I’ve read half a dozen interpretations online and no two of them agreed. Even my trusty Shorter Oxford dictionary couldn’t help, for the simple reason that English just doubled up on the term by pulling it from two different languages. Empathy is Greek; Compassion is Latin. As much as I’d like to believe that every word in our ridiculously large lexicon is unique and necessary, it’s simply not true.

But I do think there is an important distinction in the definitions applied to the two words. When they are distinguished, one is taken to mean something like co-feeling: actually experiencing the pain, etc. of another. This is also referred to as Affective Empathy. The other is more like relating to, or understanding, or being able to identify with another. That’s called Cognitive Empathy, but I’m going to refer to it as Compassion, because that’s the word typically used in (metta) meditation, and I’ll use Empathy as co-feeling (except where I’m forced to do otherwise by the language of my sources). Compassion seems to have a level of useful detachment to it, which also aligns with Buddhism; whereas empathy gets you deep in the shit.

You may have heard that empathy is on the downslide in our youth. This conclusion is mostly based on self-assessments that have been administered to college students methodically over the past 50 years, with some cohort-wide behavioral changes tossed in for validation. Most of the guesses as to the why of it all have to do with decreased personal interaction with others due to technology, highly competitive schools and sports, and an emphasis on “success.” I’m interested in why it’s there, but more in our capacity to right the course going forward. And that ties nicely into the “punching a Nazi” culture that has compelled and repulsed me ever since Trump got elected.

The Invisibilia episode hinges on a clash of values – those of host Hanna Rosen, and producer/job applicant Lina Misitzis. Hanna fully admits that her goal, the show’s goal, is to help listeners feel empathy (either definition) for people who they might typically write off. When Lina asked her “Why?” I was stunned, but impressed. To me, compassion is an inherent good. Compassion increases connection and decreases conflict and isolation. It’s what we should be aiming for as a species. The most horrifying thing about terroristic acts is not what they do, it’s that they do not care about the people they perform these acts upon. Religious extremists are terrifying in their absolute assurance that they are correct, and that others are not worth correcting or worth giving a shit about.

(I was impressed with the Why because I think questioning any assumptions is a wise move.) Anyway, Lina’s position is that empathy is not healthy because humanizing people you are opposed to weakens your resolve to fight them. She said she had listened to an interview with the guy who organized the racist Charlotte rally, an interview that let him express himself like a regular person, and it started “fucking with my conviction.” I guess it’s natural that this worried her, but it ties into a couple things that I’ve heard a lot the last few years, and that I disagree with.

First, that anger is a great motivator, or that it is necessary to fuel action.

Second, Don’t Know Thy Enemy.

Third, Compassion is a limited resource.

To be continued soon. Sorry for the delay on this one, dear reader/s.

Rest in Peevishness, Samuel French

sfI worked at the Hollywood Samuel French store for eight years in and around the nineties, as a manager for two or three of them, and I’ve never been prouder of a title. I wasn’t surprised to learn it was closing (I am familiar with the internet), but I already miss its grimy magic. The theatre and film selection was incomparable, the music books drew Morrissey and Michael Jackson back repeatedly, but it was the culture of Samuel French, organically and unconsciously crafted by the underpaid employees of 7623 Sunset Blvd, that make it worth mourning.

Most of the staff were artists, and we always had a core group of theatre and film experts who (shocking) couldn’t make a living in their chosen field. They weren’t the most equanimous lot. There was an undercurrent of anger that flowed through the staff, who were forced to listen to lazier, less experienced, talented, intelligent, and/or knowledgeable versions of themselves daily regaling us with their successes while demanding free advice. Unless a customer was exceptionally appreciative, deferential, and humble, they probably experienced some of the fallout from this conflict.

I don’t excuse the behavior; I’m not unashamed of it; I only explicate it. If you wanted Zen, you could go to The Bodhi Tree. Here you had employees who would spend 15 precious minutes thoughtfully collecting a requested type of scene thanked with, “can’t you give me something you’ve never given to anyone else before?” Or the equally narcissistic demand, “can you give me a monologue that’s perfect just for me?” As a soft-core monopoly in the era before social media, we had the privilege of taking out our frustration on anyone too demanding. Several A-listers were told that if they wanted special treatment, they could try and get their plays elsewhere. Pre-twitter, no one person could ruin our reputation. Pre-Amazon, no one would dare try to put us out of business: there was nothing to replace us.

Of course, there was also plenty to keep us going, even beyond the limitless book-borrowing policy. Our favorites were when people came in with a specific description of a piece for which they’d forgotten the title, which the team in back would jump on with all the passion of agents trying to solve a bizarre crime. Sometimes we were just happy to help because you were nice, or because this was something we could control. We could prove that we were worthy, that we were real actors, writers, filmmakers, by demonstrating our superior artistic knowledge, even if our careers felt like failed crapshoots. In here, experience and diligence alone might occasionally earn sincere gratitude, or the feeling that you had something worthwhile to offer.

The peevish, hyper-literate employees are what made Samuel French special. Maybe they didn’t always give you exactly what you wanted, but it was always personal, not algorithmic. You could get lucky and catch an employee after a trip to NY, eager to share all the newest plays, or a film buff who just read the latest Tarkovsky criticism. Even if you didn’t walk out with the monologue that would make your career, you were the recipient of a personal, complex series of choices that couldn’t be replicated elsewhere, with all the quirks of human interaction sprinkled on top. We gave our hard-earned expertise away to people who by and large did not appreciate it, while the eleven phone lines rang ceaselessly and the queue at the register lengthened and the mail orders piled up and the shelves were stripped of stock. And we did it all for around $10 an hour. The store could have, theoretically, charged for advice, but then our bona fides would have been questioned; and if our jobs had been strictly customer assistance most of us would have quit. The consultation was inimitable because even if it was given grudgingly, it was given without obligation, and contained all the eccentricities, proclivities, and marvels that come with that.

Several of my coworkers went on to successful careers, but then they didn’t work there anymore. None of the hourly employees working in that store were exactly where they wanted to be. They were lurching down the same road as those who frequented it. An older employee once told me that staff were more themselves at Samuel French than any place he’d worked. It made for good staff rapport and four marriages, but the tradeoff was unhidden capriciousness. For better or worse, when you walked into Samuel French you got authenticity: battered bookshelves, card catalogues crammed with scribbled notes, a surfeit of resources; and the human equivalent in its employees, who contained multitudes.

 

 

Feminism & Racism: Up Close & Personal

femrac

Some of my feminist behaviors are actually acts of white supremacy.

Damn it.

I’ve been on a Racism Awareness journey over the past year. Well, for longer than that, but aggressively over the past year – reading lots, talking with folks on their own journeys, facilitating conversations on race as much as they’ll let me, going to conferences on equity, volunteering as Secretary on the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee at work … stuff like that.

Simultaneously, I have been on a feminist journey: a #me-tooing of my own. This hasn’t required any books, just a clear-headed, clear-eyed recognition of life as it is and has been for me for decades.

My habitual behavior in the realm of the latter is to recognize blatant sexual assault and blatantly sexist language (and in my case to apply feminist analysis to works of literature and art), but to “deal with” the rest as the necessary burden of being female in the world. To play the game, laugh at the jokes, tolerate the piggery. Because we can. Because we are strong enough to do so. Because we can take jokes. (Unlike men. Don’t panic, guys. She’s a professional comedian.) Because we know how to “play with the big boys.” I realized last year that this is not necessarily healthy, and I’m certainly not the only woman doing it. And while I don’t regret behaving in that way, it is a coping mechanism performed out of defensive necessity. I should not have to be tolerant in the face of offense or attack or abuse. I should be able to call it out and have it redressed. That has been a difficult thing to accept, because I take so much pride in my toughness, my ability to withstand sexist bullshit, but in reality it is much braver to upend the game than to play along. I also have to recognize that I have looked down on women who “couldn’t take it,” who chose to make themselves vulnerable by calling out the crap, and I am not proud of that.

It took a bit more formal education and a bit more time to recognize that there was another destructive aspect to the persona I’ve cultivated in response to sexism. I have made it a point to be heard, to express opinions, to speak out at work, to argue and disagree and confront professors because it is my responsibility to fly in the face of stereotypes of female inadequacy and submission and deference. What I never thought to recognize is that while this might be a stand against patriarchy, it’s right in step with the white supremacist culture in which I was born and raised and live.

I have never thought of my assertiveness as consensual with white supremacy, but it is. It’s hard to say what threatens white men more – women or Black people – the threats are different and context is everything – but as a white woman I have certain privileges that Black men and Black women do not have, and I have taken advantage of that privilege more times than I can count. A big one with me is the right to be angry. While I might be described as shrill or hysterical if I openly express anger, I am not perceived as a threat and I’m not usually written off. That is not typically true for Black people in America, because it feeds into the manufactured stereotypes which I certainly don’t need to explain here.

So this idea of standing up to authority, of being what I am in spite of the powers that be: much of that has been an illusion. And coming to terms with that has been … interesting. It doesn’t mean I stop, but it means I bring a little more mindfulness to that behavior. Powerful white men have always benefited from pitting various “others” against each other, but it’s particularly upsetting when we do it without their (explicit) help.

When you start to recognize that we live in a society anchored in the bedrock of white superiority, your perspective on everything changes. The new vista isn’t always pretty, especially when you’re looking in the mirror. If you’re trying to head off another excuse for self-loathing, it helps to recognize that we are all soaking in it, and it takes a lot of work to scrub this shit off.

What’s Wrong With Wanting to be Perfect?

perfectYou know how all those hippy-dippy new-agey pro-therapy weirdos are always saying you can’t really love someone else until you love yourself? I’ve always said I believe that, but to be honest, I never really understood the logic behind it. That started to change last winter, when the weather crept into my heart and I was filled with … I wasn’t sure what, but it manifested as anger, my fallback emotion. I was blowing up more than I have in years – particularly at Ben & the Dog. And while the specific trigger for my anger was at times a legitimate complaint, it did not justify the intensity of the reaction. Being, let’s say “blessed” with self-awareness and apparently benefiting from years of daily meditation (maybe? a little?), I didn’t revel in feeling angry the way I used to and I knew there had to be a personal reason for it. Continue reading “What’s Wrong With Wanting to be Perfect?”

How Winter Kills*

winterWoman & Guy go out for dinner & a movie at the art museum. Pleasant conversation follows – good film, bad audience; good food, bad waiter – as they join the line of cars waiting to exit the parking lot. Woman, sitting in the passenger seat due to her low tolerance for alcohol, looks at her sideview mirror and remembers she got the car – finally, right?! – washed today. Did the mirror get moved? She asks the man if he can see out of her mirror. He doesn’t answer. She waits. She calls his name. He responds with mild defensiveness. She sighs, “it’s just … exhausting!” She presses her palms against her face, hard, and wills herself not to cry.

And just like that – winter depression makes its grand entrance! Continue reading “How Winter Kills*”

Ms. Judgment Goes to Washington

 

million_women_rise_rally_at_trafalgar_square_londonIt was an emotional election night. I cried, then meditated, then meditated some more. When that wasn’t enough, I went on a meditation retreat. Then I bought a plane ticket to DC for the Women’s March on Washington – a pretty expensive one – with a recklessness I rarely employ. No place to stay? No one to hang with? It’s okay. Feminism will provide.

Continue reading “Ms. Judgment Goes to Washington”