September is one of those sneaky months.
Not quite summer, not quite fall.
As I look back over some of the Septembers I’ve spent in this space, and the Septembers out of this space… they were always, oddly, sneaky little transformative months that always ended up revealing a lot.
When I was in undergrad, it was the start of a new year, bustling with energy that I swore I’d be able to sustain for the rest of the year until that proved not true (h a.).
It was a time of moving and shuffling into a new place, (last year being no exception), of feeling on the edge of something but not quite fully in it. Feeling like something is brewing but not knowing exactly what.
Maybe that’s why I love September so much (aside from it being the tip of fall… (; …and my tendency to fall in fall)
because it’s this tumultuous mix of bizarre and beautiful, like a summer salad with raisins, or (whatever selection of fruit white people like to throw into dishes that shouldn’t have fruit in them).
September also feels like a very reflective time for me. When I look back on this space, when I look back at my writing, when I look back on almost 12 years of journaling, I’m hit with a fascination– a fascination in the sheer bits and pieces of reflection I’ve managed to keep up with over the course of my life, but also how, somehow, I’ve committed to mindfully keeping track of those bits and pieces for so long.
Just a few weeks ago I was at home in my childhood bedroom, cleaning things out, going through things, getting lost in stuff from the early 2000’s, but I found my 20-some notebooks & journals which I had been keeping since 2009. And every now and again I’ll sit down and leaf through them and laugh at my seemingly frivolous chronicling of my adventures and at-times obsessions with crushes and dead-end questions and frantic uncertainties and written over-thinking and heartbreak so honest that re-reading it brings those emotions back up from the deep recesses of wherever I repressed them to.
I’ve always told myself that I write to remember.
Because I move fast and I forget, and I want to remind myself of important feelings and epiphanies, learned lessons and small victories.
But a few weeks ago I just had to sit there with my younger self/inner child and say thank you, because those times of tracking Truth and memories were one of the greatest gifts I could ever give my present & future self. It’s somewhat fun, to go back and pseudo-psychoanalyze my past self and see patterns and pick up on trauma and corroborate what I was doing or feeling at the time with what I know now– what an incredible gift that is. Sometimes a painful gift, but a gift nonetheless.
And now I’m here.
Another September , and it feels like it’s taking the shape of Septembers before it, in its own little sneaky way.
has felt like a seesaw.
aggressively, incessantly, tentatively
between moments of joy and heartbreak
injustice and justice
hurt and healing
serenity and outrage
intimacy and isolation
facade and deconstruction
deep knowing and unknowing
security and loss
aggravating stagnation and abundant growth
Desperately craving for a balance—
for the riders to lift their legs in unity
to balance, in thoughtful tension
to commit to know better
To do better
To be better
To hold Both / And’s & Yes / Also’s with gentle validity and solemn regard,
with all of the complexity and courage and messy love they deserve.
I don’t really do Maundy Thursdays.
Probably because I never really did growing up.
And touching other people’s feet (and having them touch mine) was never really my thing.
But we’re not touching or washing each other’s feet this year. We’re not touching at all. And if we are, it’s after rigorous testing, a community “green light” and extensive quarantine protocol.
In our virtual service, we were presented with a practice of a truth mandala — we each are present with 4 items which we have a tangible connection to: a stone, dry leaves, a stick, an empty bowl.
“The stone represents fear, how our heart feels when we are afraid; tight, contracted, hard. With the stone, we let our fear speak.
The dry leaves represent our sorrow. There is immense sadness within us for what we see happening in our world. With the dry leaves, the sadness can speak.
The stick represents our anger, our outrage. Anger needs to be spoken for clarity of mind and purpose. As you express your anger, grasp the stick hard with both hands, channelling your rage into the wood
The empty bowl stands for our sense of need, deprivation and our hunger for what is missing. Using the bowl we acknowledge our emptiness.
Using these items we seek to process the collective and individual grief that we are wrestling with in this Holy Week.”
Psychologists reference “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” responses to trauma, and I could definitely feel my freeze coming on during this service. There’s just so much, I’m thinking, I want to name all of it but the list is too damn long.
This whole past year has been traumatic.
From the sheer existence of a global pandemic (and very LACKING leadership) and all of the existing anxieties that are tied to isolation, disease, loneliness, depression, and drastic life changes…to the continued gross hate, violence, and injustices brought against BIPOC…to our broken world, and systems and people that, as they and their associated harm are uncovered for who and what they are, seem to prevail without any attitude checks or accountability.
And there’s talk of the “COVID Brain”. We’re more forgetful. Social situations are more draining. We feel foggy. We feel empty.
“Normal” is some unsustainable fever dream that was, and shouldn’t, for our Goodness’ sake, be chased again.
We are deepening our souls, making space for complexity and holding space for duality and yes/and’s, gathering up hurt and healing and joy and tears and anger and shock and grief in our arms like a single trip of groceries from car to fridge–
and our brains can’t hold it all.
They’re on a constant ride on a badly built, wooden rollercoaster, up and down, shaking side to side between fear, sorrow, anger and emptiness.
Fear is of our leaders, how incapable they are of listening to their constituents. Fear is for our families and loved ones, from whom we are disconnected and who we can’t immediately rush to if something happens. Fear is of the virus, its variants, how it spreads, how Teds won’t wear their masks up over their noses and claim it’s a hoax, an attack on our “American Freedoms”. Fear is for white supremist, capitalist delusion, how it seeps deeper still, treacherously into all of our systems and lets murderers go free. Fear is for our Black siblings, our Indigenous Siblings, our Fluid and Gay and Bi and Trans and Asexual and Nonconforming Siblings who are oppressed every day by hurtful systems and horrid, racially tinged, outdated legislation. Fear is not knowing you could be in an active shooter situation at any moment, knowing that lobbyists and corporate donor funding on crack is what’s standing in the way of you and your safety. Fear feels like it could break this stone in half in our very palms.
Sorrow is not being able to see or hold family. Sorrow is feeling empty, and feeling empty is sorrow. Sorrow is losing someone– to COVID, to a bullet, to illness, to substance, to suicide. Sorrow is feeling the weight of grief from the past year and not being able to exhale fully. Sorrow is feeling helpless when our world is witnessing so much pain, anger, and fear. Sorrow is feeling inadequate, guilty, like you’re not doing enough. Sorrow is wading through, finally, what toxic positivity has told you not to wade through.
Anger is at our systems, our leaders, our representatives. Anger is at injustice, hatred, and oppression. Anger is at a population that doesn’t seem to care about the value of human life. Anger is at petty small shit and bigger, heavier shit. Anger is at all that was lost. Anger is at all that we are finding out. Anger is at painful stagnation, powerlessness, and immobility. Anger is inward, anger is outward. Anger is fuel for what we will not stand for.
Emptiness is sorrow. Emptiness is the numbness we slip into when we’re tired of feeling anger. Emptiness is a need, a craving for something we know we can’t have yet. Emptiness is the joy leaking out of things that used to be joyful. Emptiness is our collective longing for what we all know is missing. Emptiness is realizing that your core values and beliefs are someone else’s punchline. Emptiness is intentional gaps of communication and lack of interaction. Emptiness is what calls us deeper into ourselves, sometimes too deep; emptiness is the desert we’re in right now.
And when all of that gets too much we try to reach for moments of joy to distract us from the constant anxiety brain cycle, wondering if it will last or feeling guilty we even had some in the first place, when so many are unable to feel joy right now.
We departed the service in silence– profound solemnity that holds space for betrayal and sorrow, and profound love and compassion.
We’re all holding each other through this. We will need to hold each other through this.
On the one hand, I love doing these look-backs from year to year, noticing the stark changes (or similarities) in answers over time. But at the same time, sometimes it just feels like an arduous chore, an empty humble brag, driven by internalized capitalism and the “Need to Feel Like I Have Done Things™ With My Life” this year.
In reality, it’s a miracle I even *got* to do Things™ this year. It’s a miracle we’re even *here* this year. In all honesty I think my grandmother’s death last December may have been COVID related, as it snuck upon us like a quiet assassin. We’ve spent this year in uNpReCeDeNtED
~~killmenow~~ conditions, doing the best we can with what we have, trying to protect ourselves and the ones we love. Sure, there will be people out here saying this year was a really good one for them. That’s okay. There will be some for whom this year was akin to a trip to hell and back. And that’s okay too. I personally feel like my year was a bit of both, but to know that that experience is alive, valid, and okay is what is important.
Truth is I’ve been MIA from this space for a myriad of reasons– a whirlwind of work, life, riveting romance, becoming a cool-aunt to a new kitten, moving to a new place, not feeling like I had anything new or interesting or valid to say…. not to mention overall screen fatigue and feeling like I’ve just done so much reflecting ALREADY outside of this space, so it’s like I was battling a reflection hangover. But I do know within myself that I do have a desire to see, over time, how these stories and happenings play out– i enjoy looking back with fondness (or cringe-ness, or disgust) on this space to have some sort of proof that as the Earth moves, I’m moving with it.
This year has been hard. It’s been long. It’s been isolating, disappointing, lonely, and frustrating. And it has been humbling, rejuvenating, eye-opening, and mind-blowing.
If you had to describe your 2020 in 4 words, what would they be?
Evolutionary. Raging. Dumpster. Fire.
What new things did you discover about yourself?
I discovered a lot of my impulses. I discovered that I’m seldom alone with myself, so when I’m forced to do that, my body and its world are like, “what’s going on……Y U NO HAVE CONSTANT STIMULATION”. I discovered that I really wasn’t valuing myself in the way that I should have been, in the sense that I really did put myself and my needs on the back burner.
What single achievement are you most proud of?
Graduating in the midst of a fucking pandemic. The sudden shift to online learning for me was not good. I am so much of an in-the-classroom-seated-taking-notes-relying-on-professor-interaction type of person. I absolutely HATED my media law class, and, because I was not used to Zoom Fatigue and online learning, I thanked my lucky stars that I’d started out strong in the class and just accepted the D+ on my final because I just couldn’t do it anymore. If I had the chance to re-do it, knowing what I know now about myself and my learning habits, I could probably have implemented strategies for getting through it rather than just straight up saying “you know what, fuck this”, but who has that kind of re-framing, growth mindset when it feels like the world is going to shit, you know?
What was your favourite place that you visited in 2020?
Torn between Occonomowoc, WI and Woodland Park, CO — stunning natural features all around, warmth, and plenty of space to move my body.
Which of your personal qualities turned out to be the most helpful this year?
Which new skills did you learn?
– Cooking skills! Esp. related to vegan cuisine
– Learned how to set up a hammock
What, or who, are you most thankful for?
I am thankful for time to slow down, to be with myself and understand better. I’m also thankful for the Black womxn who propelled this election forward– they are the wind beneath ALL our wings.
If someone wrote a book about your life in 2020 what kind of genre would it be?
A post-apocalyptic romance self-help book.
What was the most important lesson you learned in 2020?
REST is just as important as the WORK.
Which mental block(s) did you overcome?
I don’t have to be doing something all the time– that’s a nod to internalized capitalism
There’s a saying about “you need to love yourself before you can love someone else” and I would like to report that as bullshit. You can still be in progress, and love someone else as well. Healing or not, loving yourself or not, you are still worthy of love, period.
I don’t need permission to do the thing I want to do.
What was your biggest break-through moment career-wise?
LOL graduating in a pandemic!
How did your relationship to your family evolve?
It’s still evolving. It’s distant. It’s developing. The pandemic doesn’t make this easier. There are boundaries. It is a continuum.
What book(s), shows(s), or movie(s) affected your life in a profound way?
1. The Body is Not an Apology, book by Sonya Renee Taylor
2. Daring Greatly, book by Brené Brown
3. So You Want to Talk About Race, book by Ijeoma Oluo
4. An Altar in the World, book by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor
5. Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, book by Rosalind Rosenberg
6. Eat, Pray, Love, book by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Find Your F*ck Yeah, book by Alexis Rockley
**If any of these titles speak to you, I encourage you to shop for them on independently owned, Black owned book shop sites like these (we must support our neighbors in these times!!!):
And, if it’s helpful, this article organizes all the Black-owned bookstores by state, so you can search close to you!
What little things did you most enjoy during your day-to-day life?
Coffee (:, developing a sleep schedule, memes from friends, being outside, looking out windows, spontaneous dates
What cool things did you create this year?
– An intro video to our ESC Corps based on the Full House intro!
– Some nonsense logos & branding ideas
– vision boardssss
– a ~podcast~
– christmas cards
What was your most common mental state this year (e.g. excited, curious, stressed)?
I can’t answer this question. Whenever I try to think of the answer, it just sends emotions rapid firing through my brain that really are all entangled together. Stressed-out curiosity, intense excitement and severe loneliness & uncertainty, etc. What was good was that I got a bit better at practicing to sit with all of those feelings.
Was there anything you did for the very first time in your life this year?
- Fly a plane!
- Throw a full-ass-fledged picnic!
- Do a protest in a pandemic!
- Have a full-time, big-girl pay job!
- Try veganism!
- Cook spaghetti squash!
- Moved to Colorado!
- Have a birthday in quarantine!
- Be in quarantine!
- Be single for the longest stretch of time!
- Be a cool-aunt to a new kitten!
- Hike mountains in CO!
What was your favorite moment spent with your friends?
Senior Gala, picnics at the park, goodbye meals, mini staycations, my birthday in quarantine, etc.
What major goal[s] did you lay the foundations for in 2020?
- My service year in Denver, CO!
- Paying off credit card debt (one card, at least!)
- being marketable to companies on linkedin/personal profiles??? idek
- Deconstruct my faith & my whiteness
Which worries turned out to be completely unnecessary?
- The move to CO
- what other people think, lol
What experience would you love to do all over again?
FLY THAT PLANE! among other things
What was the best gift you received?
A hand-illustrated portrait of of me and one of my best friends ❤
How did your overall outlook on life evolve?
I am aware of the fact that at any given moment I can sit down here, and my mood will not only influence the speed with which I type, the tone that I convey… but in many ways my outlook on life is looking in 2 directions– one with a rather pointed cynicism towards systems and people in places of power– rather, I think it’s a dissatisfaction. The other end of that arrow points towards possibility and cautious optimism, as I try to discern my place in this life. Nothing is all sunshine and roses– there’s sunburn and there are thorns that need addressing and so while I think a positive outlook is more my “default” setting, it’s definitely not all there is. We need to put in some work, y’all.
What was the biggest problem you solved?
I hate some of these questions, actually, that force me to single out specific things, or moments, but then I also think that some of them may show up in future job interviews, so that’s……..that I guess.
One “problem”, I guess, was just my ignorance to my privilege and my unexamined whiteness, as well as the harm that was coming either directly from my actions, or the actions of groups/systems/structures within which I participated. I really really recommend people engage in this kind of work, because it is very important when it comes to how we view ourselves, our society, and, perhaps most importantly, how we show up for, take care of, and support one another.
This year really did offer me the time and space to sit with that, do some re-evaluating and gathering of data on how my daily actions, the way I live my life, the way I engage with politics (or not!) and social justice efforts has the potential to cause real harm or heal harm.
My work and my experiences over the past year have forced me to learn, to read, to step into realities other than my own, and have forced me to be more cognizant of all of this nuance, this important inner work that forces us to think outside of ourselves and our biases. With this awareness, it’s been easier to lean into that latter ideal of healing harm and working to contribute in a positive way to my community and my work.
What was the funniest moment of your year, one that still makes it hard not to burst out laughing when you think about it?
*insert memory with MJ here*
What purchase turned out to be the best decision ever?
For some reason, I think first about this mustard yellow coat– a christmas present to myself to remind me of my bad-a$$ b!tch vibes. It’s warm and it was on-sale….but the more I think about it, it was Wireless Bluetooth Headphones that take center stage– they enabled me to find joy in running again, and fill my meditative 2-mile walks to work with podcasts and music that feeds my soul.
What’s one thing would you do differently and why?
I JUST heard this question come up in a podcast, and when I tell you the guy being interviewed was like “I can’t answer this, because then I wouldn’t be where I am right now” talking about the ripple effects of our decisions, etc………….. sooooo the one thing I would have done differently is spent less $$$ on food delivery.
What do you deserve a pat on the back for?
Starting group therapy, working to pay off debt, setting boundaries, and graduating in a pandemic.
What activities made you lose track of time?
Playing ukelele, writing coverletters (more of a time suck, but still an interestingly engaging process nonetheless), watching some top series on Netflix, walks, running, hiking with people, creating with my hands, and listening to podcasts.
What did you think about more than anything else?
“How do I survive”, “how can I take care of myself right now?” “what do I need?” So yeah I’d say the answer to this one was: myself / my wellbeing
What topics did you most enjoy learning about?
Internet privacy! Human emotions & psychology, practically everything ever about Sonya Renee Taylor’s & Brené Brown’s work, social justice movements, #mutualaid, restorative justice, racial healing & reconciliation
What new habits did you cultivate?
Drinking water every morning, walking to work, adopting veganism, getting better at meal-prep, scrolling on my phone when waking up, using an alarm clock instead of my phone to wake up in the morning (to mitigate the issue of the former item, there)
What advice would you give your early-2020 self if you could?
So I actually wrote myself a letter (to future me!) from 2019 to 2020, and reading that felt like a fever dream. So, as for right now, writing to me ~~in the pAsT~~, what I’d say probably goes something like this:
dearest 2020 steph,
shit is about to HIT THE DAMN FAN LOL. I’m gonna need you to do me a favor. Put down your phone, drink some water, go outside, and maybe practice some furious journaling during this time because things are MOVING and SHAKING and HAPPENING and paying ATTENTION is so important right now.
Take time to look at the best in others. Take time for yourself, and spend less time feeling guilty about all the things that you think people “expect” out of you. At the end of the day, you don’t have to come home to anyone but yourself.
Don’t settle, don’t linger to hard on past mistakes, take repeated behavior at face value (don’t merely trust words); some people will make their choices, thus allowing you to move forward in a direction that actually serves you— leave shit to explode in the periphery, and then do yourself a favor and don’t even bother looking at the periphery ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ simple as that.
Take some time to step into & live your truth. Surround yourself with people who understand complexity & nuance, and who are willing to root for you even when you feel utterly defeated (or you’re hard-core PMSing) or when you can’t see your own power. And spend time with them. Send the text. Make the call. Schedule the zoom. Connection will be key during this time. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down a little. Let yourself be surprised. Lean into love that others have for you.
Stay curious, and stay adamant about loving & seeing people where they are. Be prepared for some hard days. This work is not easy, especially the work you will do day-to-day. Curiosity mingled with compassion & daily gratitude is your best way forward.
Seek justice in all that you undertake and do not wait for others, or systems, or groups, to give you “the green light”. Surely your momentum, your courage, your outspokenness will inspire other kinds, where it is needed most.
Take time to breathe and don’t beat yourself up too much about eating cheese occasionally. You’ve gained a myriad of experience this year that will serve you well in the next one.
all my love,
Did any parts of your self or your life do a complete 180 this year?
yeah, u could say my white privileged ass def turned itself around. And I moved to a new state. That’s a pretty big degree-age change, too. Add on veganism there and it’s like i’m a ~~wholE nEw hUm@n~~
and I date a dedicated, insanely talented chef and VERY attractive NASA man now so there’s that 😀
What or who had the biggest positive impact on your life this year?
I would say this move out to Colorado has had a laundry list of positive impacts on me. Being able to be in a new space, living with those I love dearly and who inspire me every day to be better, living out work I can get behind, all while aligning my Truth with my personal desires and personal growth…. all of that has been amazing. And I look forward to continuing that this year.
May your new year be rife with meaningful intention, doused in self-love & respect, and lit by the lights of love & justice, between friends, family, neighbors & co-workers.
i have a tendency to fall in Fall
head first in ecstasy
and it reminds me
of your sweaters, losing track of time, and all
of warm Chai musical moments
that pulled out the crazy in me
the blind in me
the “i don’t mind” in me
the “never enough time” for me
so yes i have a tendency
to fall in Fall
face first in bittersweet agony
and it reminds me
to believe in me.
it’s been a hot minute since I actually sat down and took stock and did an “update” in this space, so here we are.
I started August on the beach– running & sunning & trying to be present ahead of spending the last few weeks at home before I made The Big Move™.
And then The Move™ The short version of the story:
I hopped on a plane
to LAX to Denver, CO on the 23rd of August to start a year of service within a program that is similar to the Peace Corps, but instead within the Episcopal Church. After almost a year of deciding, discernment, interviews & placement I decided upon Denver– and will be serving within a partner agency that supports homeless populations in finding work & giving them a hand up where they need it.
But of course, COVID had hit.
The plan was to continue with the year– the previous corps group had their year pulled out from under them, it seemed. But they got through it and urged us to do the same. In order for our program to be successful, we developed painstaking COVID planning, part of which included with us getting to Denver to drop off our living supplies & then all 5 of us quarantining at a lodge in the woods for 2 weeks, to make sure we could operate as a pod (seeing as we would be sharing a house among the 4 of us later.)
And so, with packing and moving and finishing up my summer work position and saying goodbye to the people & places I’ve lived for the biggest, most important chunks of my life thus far… it’s been a ride.
And this summer has just, all in all, felt very in-between.
When nothing is certain, anything is possible and I have no idea what to expect after this and I’m not planted anywhere or with anyone permanently right now and it’s all just sort of….suspended in air.
Exhilaratingly, immensely freeing.
With that said, here are some happenings in those categories I used to do in this space:
read/reading/re-reading // We were shipped a few books to finish ahead of the start of our service year– all great titles in their own right, though there is pLEnTY of room for criticism (esp. when it comes to Daring Greatly, written in like, 2012). But all books, reading them now, in this time, offered some great critical perspective:
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Another one I’ve been reading is:
From Social Media to Social Ministry by Nona Jones, as well as The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner
writing // this POST! [<3 finally, it’s been so long!], reflections, and letters home.
learning // to hold and sit with a variety of opinions, experiences, and Truths at one time. And learning when to step away, when conversation is no longer respectful nor constructive. And learning to lead with love & trying to assume the best in people from the outset and if it goes down from there, then let it down gently. Firmly, but gently.
doing / working on //
- getting better at napping
- filing & paying my taxes
- celebrating the artistic work of friends
- photography as a spiritual practice
- editing services (well, I was, for the majority of August, I’m done now.)
- Getting adjusted to this altitude!
- Building a labyrinth! 😀
- Climbing mountains.
eating // the delicious cooking of the chefs of Cathedral Ridge, which has been a wonderful whirlwind of vegetarian & vegan options.
drinking // coffee, LOTS of water (altitude sickness is a thing!!!), & La Croix
listening // to so many new, beautiful things.
being inspired // by this space, and the people who fill it. We’re all from different places, bringing our own lives & experiences to one table and doing our best to show up for each other in this *iNsANe* world we are occupying right now.
laughing // with my newfound community — at bad first date stories, happy-wholesome moments in The World’s Toughest Race, and just at ourselves as we navigate the wilderness.
thinking // about ~so many things~. The pandemic. This experience. This experience within a pandemic. the joy & pleasure of slowing down and not having to work at break-neck speed every day. About my family back home. About my smoller brother starting college.
trying // to take it slow, get used to the altitude, stick to a decent sleep schedule, mentally prepare for the weeks ahead, compile a list of last-minute house things I’ll need from Target, and, as lovingly as I can, interject & interact with the racist things people have been putting on social media. Between the conventions going on right now….The RNC definitely has put a LOT of shit on blast and some of this fear-mongering & hate-provoking rhetoric has to stop. It’s so….dehumanizing at times and I hate that the political arena is so focused on slinging that mud and hate around.
hoping // that this too shall pass, that we innovate with love and consideration, and that we have the courage to collect our siblings and forge a better way, using what we now know and what we have within us.
loving // this time to disconnect & connect in nature, finally being able to see that Colorado blue sky that I’ve merely been hearing about– with some rain, the sky has cleared of smoke and we can finally see a jagged mountain range off in the distance that before I had no idea was there.
praying // for the people affected by fires, for those suffering from flagrant injustice, for those enclosed in drought, for those traveling, for those affected by COVID-19, and for our country, as we navigate hostile & triggering media & political environments.
I cried when I hugged my mom before security and the gate.
I have a whole row to myself, a window seat, a plastic bag “snack” kit, the world’s smallest cup of coffee and 3 sugar packets.
The airport was like a graveyard. In this respect, I’m thankful. I don’t know if I could have arrived 30 mins before boarding, still in enough time to get my bags checked AND do security. Everyone was wearing masks, and
I can see out and down, and notice just how starkly the geography changes, from staggering roads and winding suburbs to geometric plots and winding rivers. And smoke. The visibility is not very good, because of the fires that have, quite literally, been burning up the atmosphere.
The hills of Virginia undoubtedly will pale in comparison to the towering rocky mountains of Colorado. The last time I was on a plane, I was headed to Ireland, with 6 weeks of supplies shoved into a carryon and a backpack.
This time, I spent way too much on baggage (annoying) — all I have brought is my best estimate at what will be enough to last me a year.
With the window as my main form of entertainment (after boarding we were informed that the “Wifi doesn’t work on this aircraft”) and my mask snug on my face for the next couple hours, I find myself rolling around in my own brain and trying to process the past 2 – 4 weeks.
After a few months of pretty much straight, vigorous work in a job within my field that was half handed to me (??like omg wow?), I have a moment of breath.
…With the exception of last night, as I searched FRANTICALLY for my passport for an hour as I simultaneously tried to finish my last bits of celebratory rosé while The Incredibles played on our boxy 2000’s TV.
(I practically know all the words to that movie.)
But I can breathe, in and out, re-organize the books in my brain shelves and take stock of all the “yes ands” and “while also’s” that, naturally, accompany the multitude of feelings passing through my body right now.
I felt out of my body this morning— perhaps it was the stress of getting to the airport, or only being able to sleep from 2:30am to 6am, or just the general fatigue-numbness that comes as a result of literally everything being so uncertain right now.
I have no expectations because if there’s anything this season has told us is that we can’t expect anything, that plans change, that plans fail, that there is turbulence that just prompts you to strap yourself in and power through it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s an incredibly exhausting space to be in. However, for my slightly ADD self, the fact that it seems there’s always something different happening keeps me engaged and curious. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose.
We’ll land 30 mins early, according to the pilot. I’m praying for some deep breaths, no luggage mishaps, open eyes & an open heart.
I don’t think you get it.
When, with justified unrest turned on “high” outside your windows, you turn to tell me in your driveway that you “feel bad for not doing anything”.
That you are scared of phone calls and sending emails. Could you hear it? How heavily those words fell, covertly cloaked & dripping with privilege?
I don’t think you get it.
I don’t think you get it, when your chosen words, buried in bias and blinded by whiteness, cut like knives even from 2 hours away. How your chosen words pulled out tears of anger out of a friend whose pure existence is light, strength, and love.
Have you felt second-hand pain like that? Feeling someone else’s heart snap in your own body?
I don’t think you get it. How hard it is for them to speak up amidst “just joking”s and “that’s not what we meant”s, and “sorry they feel that way”s.
How often they want to. How often it’s a calculation of risk.
How easy we fail, cowering back into “comfort”, falling back on fragility.
I don’t think you get it. How important it is to try. Over and over, in any way you can. Because if you don’t, you’ve sold your soul to the oppressor. Discomfort is not dangerous. It is the catalyst of growth.
I don’t think you get it. The kind of anger that is hot. Wet. Scared. Shaking. Crystal clear & razor sharp. The anger that is at-wit’s-end, torn between being too scared, and far too tired to even bother to surface.
I DON’T THINK YOU GET IT! Just how your failure, and my failure!
Are the very sick roots of the problem, and just how important it is to SEE someone– truly see someone– without calling the Tone Police.
I don’t think you get it.
But I hope to God
that soon you will.
….since my last post, I have felt like a sponge that has been doused in lighter fluid — I am soaking up as much as I possibly can, and yet simultaneously feeling like everything could go up in flames at any moment. Some new thing popping up, another exponential spike in COVID, yet *ANOTHER* completely evil, unjustified piece of police brutality caught on tape that leads to zero arrests or people being held accountable for their actions…
But this time is important. So important. Yes, I feel like there were moments of complete paralysis I’ve tried to keep written record elsewhere– to note, to process, and to understand everything that is going on. And it’s taken far to long to finally get into this space– because there is a *lot* swirling around. And a lot to process.
But. It’s meaningful processing work.
This is going to be a long post, so grab a beverage.
So I’ve been thinking about it. And when I say “it”, I mean the whole movement. The movement among people (rather, the mobilization of people all over) and the gusto into the movement itself– what started as the Black Lives Matter movement 8 years ago and what it’s bubbled into now. How, the way we’re witnessing it right now, the way it’s unfolding here and now, is *long* overdue. And I’ve been unpacking a couple things.
My white privilege, for example. How I’ve long benefitted off of a racist system. One of my clergy friends articulated it in a rather simple, yet powerful way:
“I benefit from a system of White Supremacy. And I am working to dismantle that system on an individual, community and systemic level. More times than not, I accept Whiteness as “normal ness” which is not right.
Whiteness is a racial construct as is any other racial construct. According to my Christian identity I strive to be part of a community which does not distinguish male from female, slave from free, Roman from Jew.
But according to my 20th and 21st century American Whiteness I have been granted certain privileges that are not given to my Black siblings in particular. These differences include but are not limited to:
1. Feeling that it is safe to call the police for help
2. Being able to wear my clothes, hair, jewelry or accessories in any way I see fit.
3. Being able to get adequate health care for myself and my children
4. Having the choice to send my kids to “better” schools which have more `money and less people of color
5. Having access to 5 grocery stores with in a 2 mile radius of my home – Having a job which allows me the flexibility to work from home during global pandemic
….And so many more benefits to my whiteness.”~KR, Facebook
I can’t just put blinders on and “not see color” and pretend it doesn’t matter. First, “not seeing color” is such a privileged thing to say to begin with, and it’s harmful because it’s a blatant disregard for the fact that, YES, people are STILL discriminated against because of their skin color. This is something we need to “check in” with, within ourselves, every day, in order to consciously take steps to be anti-racist. Because in this case, being neutral is taking the side of the oppressor. In this case, it is the systems that are inherently racist.
Some of this realization for people, especially if they’re just now coming face to face with it, triggers feelings of guilt and being “under attack”.
It’s important that we sit with this discomfort.
Which brings me to the topic of white guilt. I’ll start by saying that it’s a thing. And a lot of people feel like the #BLM movement is a ploy to “make white people feel bad”. Which is….not correct. What the #BLM movement is calling for is accountability. Acknowledgements that our systems and words and actions have caused harm and that we need to do better at owning up to that harm, and then doing the best we can to repair it, with the preferences, the feelings, & the emotions of the hurt party as the primary focus.
For some, the guilt response swings another way— with these feelings of immediate need to take all of our “guilt” and unload it onto someone (I think now of the massive amounts of DMS and comments that Black educators on social media are receiving– full of the “I’m so sorry’s” and “I didn’t know racism existed this bad” and perhaps the more subtle “I never talk about politics on social media but……” along with whatever other examples I’ve seen. There’s bound to be discomfort here. But it’s our job to sit with it. In private. Deep down. Where it counts. We CERTAINLY should not be burdening the Black community with it.
There is an excellent piece of social media that was very eye-opening to me that I recommend to anyone:
How to Commit to Doing Anti-Racist Work Without Causing More Harm
And because PAYING BLACK ARTISTS, EDUCATORS, & CREATORS is PARAMOUNT, you can go to her site to figure out how you would like to financially compensate her for this work that is *not hers to do.*
And though right now it’s crucial that we work to center & amplify melanated voices, I did want to share also Alexis Rockley’s resource video on Discomfort. (Because sadly, we learn best & are more accepting of information when it’s shared with us by people who “look like us”):
Now that you’ve seen that, I want to clarify that as I’ve moved through this journey, there is some nuance to that. That being how to get involved in racial justice work & who to amplify and when and how.
I’ve heard from many Black educators that they are tired. Tired of doing this work and educating people. That they shouldn’t have to be out here calling people out. That we should be taking initiative to teach our fellow white people how to be anti-racist. I’ve also heard from many that we should be staying in our lane. That we should be shutting up and listening for a hot second about what the community has to say. That we shouldn’t be trying to jump into work we’ve had no experience in, or to lead a movement we don’t know anything about.
All of these assessments are equally valid. There’s a lot of This is not our work to lead (as in, start from the ground up with little to zero education), but rather, our work to engage with this work with an open mind and an intentionality centered in love & compassion that does not do more harm.
I found the below to be a helpful graphic as we unpack these dichotomies & dualities:
So as I’m learning about all of this, it’s made me aware of patterns. Patterns of people, patterns of words, patterns of brands, patterns of organizations in response to all of this massive shift in opinion.
I’ve looked to my IRL role models. How they’re acting. What they’re saying. Who they are standing behind, what they’re standing for, the actions they’re taking to be & do better.
But I’m also looking at their silence.
Very telling for me were a couple influencers I’ve followed on Instagram for a while. A crazy eye-opener (and an example of how so much racism is baked-in and goes on behind the scenes in the corporate world) for me was the Jenna Kutcher Case Study, made public by Toi Marie which you can read the whole exchange here. Context can be found here.
And that…. is not what we want to aspire to. We can and MUST do better in supporting our Black brothers and sisters and their communities. And because I’m not an expert on racial justice (I really am new to this work, and it’s going to be a lifelong journey of committing to it) it is not my job to lead, but to listen, to amplify, and to follow.
And with this realization, I thought (and you may be thinking now)–
Well, first off, let’s not fall victim to performative activism and virtue signaling. A lot of this work is rooted in changed behavior which is action. So it’s important that we find opportunities that allow us to show up this way.
What was a nice example of performative activism was when millions of people flooded their instagram timelines with a black square accompanied by the caption “#blacklivesmatter”. What was suppposed to be a very visual “movement” was actually harmful– protest organizers and movement leaders relying on the availability of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter to direct them to meaningful, useful sources were bombarded by streams of blacks squares.
It was hard to watch– something that was supposed to bring awareness to the movement ended up *hurting* the movement. And this is why we have to be careful.
Another nice example of performative activism would be D.C. Mayor Bowser’s “support” of the BLM movement by painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the road in Washington D.C.. But, since it was not backed with reduced police funding, it was performative. Even the painting was altered by Black street artists to include the words “DEFUND THE POLICE” right after the “MATTER”. The crazy thing?? A Conservative group is now *suing* the mayor for having painted it on the street….
And the virtue signaling can’t just be us, going on Instagram and Facebook and sharing things to prove how “woke” we are. Unless we’re backing that activity with petitions, phone calls, deep-seated change, and commitment to do better…. it’s performative. We can do better. We also don’t get “cookies” for this stuff. Just now waking up and coming to the “antiracism party” doesn’t get us gold stars. We need to do this work because well, we need to do this work. And it’s the “bare-minimum” to be just “not racist”. We need to work to be anti-racist, to fight against those systems that are steeped in white supremacy. And because it’s these systems built by white supremacy, it’s going to take white privilege to help dismantle them.
Part of the proposed ways to do this is by de-funding the police. Some even advocate for abolishing the police. Many people can’t seem to grasp this idea because “the police” as we know them just seem to have just…existed. But I encourage you to read Are Prisons Obsolete by life-long activist Angela Davis to get some perspective. One of the main arguments (besides police showing their abuse of power over and over) is that we ask our police force to handle too much. Too many things that they’re not specialized in. If we were to re-direct funds (even just a fraction!) toward more community minded funds, think of the impact that could be taking place. Minneapolis is one of the front-runners here, experimenting with defunding the police and more community-minded systems. I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that, if this works, it can be implemented across the country. Exploring how we can better revise/abolish prison systems, make more room for meaningful funding of community based procedures for safety and public health as a result of the redirection of funds could be monumental. The conversation has started– and it’s up to us to contact our *LOCAL* legislatures and bug them about these concerns if we’re going to see ANY change come of this whatsoever.
Speaking of monuments & starting the conversation… this carries over to our monuments. The things we make shrines of to “remember” the past and “honor” those who were “important”. The thing is, what if who you’re “remembering” and “honoring” was part of a crafted history by a dominant race? There’s a thing I read somewhere that I thought was very true:
“All history should be remembered, but not all history should be honored.”
The deep dark, black stain on Germany’s past that is White Supremacy and Nazi ideology is in history books. This is something that Germany has made clear must never happen again. Their monuments are not those of Nazi “heroes”. Rather, they are monuments to the persecuted Jews, the masses of those slaughtered by Nazis.
A lot of people disagree with the toppling of monuments of “Confederate heroes”. And as we engage with those conversations, it’s important to remember that echo chambers are no good. Simply surrounding ourselves with the same ideas and opinions, while comfortable, is not where the growth happens. We have to remind ourselves that listening to the opposing sides & conflicting opinions is part of the work, too– no matter how frustrating it may be.
One of my professors always would say to us: “We force you to sit in classrooms and listen to the folx and people you don’t agree with, so you can reinforce or improve your beliefs.”
This is important. So very important.
So when Aunt Karen starts spouting off racist comments and logical fallacies at the Thanksgiving table, you can sit there and *listen* to her actively, ask her questions to gain understanding, all while corroborating what she’s saying with what you believe and weighing it all against each other to finally arrive at your conclusion.
True democracy has to have space for this discourse. That doesn’t mean, however, that that space needs to be hostile. I agree with the fact that some morals, are, at their base, fact and necessary. Caring for Black lives, for example, is non-negotiable for me. Basic human rights are non-negotiable for me.
To all the people screaming “All lives matter!” at the top of their lungs– yes. All lives *do* matter. No one said they didn’t. But that’s not the point.
One of my fave analogies I’ve seen circulating around the internet is that from Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
It was illustrated as:
“Jesus in Luke 15:
100 Sheep, but one goes missing.
Jesus leaves the 99, and goes after the one.
The 99: “But…what about us? Don’t we matter?”
Of course the 99 still matter, but they are not the ones in danger.
The one is.”
Which brings me to the point about religion & how it very much informs our beliefs & votes.
I can’t call myself a follower of Jesus if I don’t follow his most urgent, basic, commandment– and that is “to love one another as I have loved you”, and do “for the least of you that which you’ve done for me”.
I witnessed a sermon a few weeks ago that talked about how this world is on its own trajectory. Of though, of ideals, of priorities… Jesus’ priorities don’t often “fit” into our pre-packaged, neat, divided, fast-lane ideals. Jesus’ priorities are “radically compassionate: and seemingly non-conventional– but we’re called to UPHOLD those high standards for ourselves & other HUMAN BEINGS with DIGNITY.
And this means showing up, best we can, for our brothers and sisters, of all creeds and colors, and diligently denouncing, with grace, fervor, & compassion, the systems that are faulty, broken & racist in this country.
And once we’ve stood up, learned, and educated ourselves and attempted to educate otheres, we have to act.
Because this moment demands accountability.
This movement demands passion.
This movement demands attention & dedication beyond a shingle news cycle. (Your timelines & feeds may have gone back to “normal”, but we CANNOT STOP HERE.)
This movement demands intentionality, sincerity, honesty, introspection, deliberation, discernment, and joyful, earnest, relentless momentum.
Take note of who is quiet right now. Actions speak louder than words.
And while it’s not our place to judge or condemn or shame, it is our job to lead by example, to amplify what is right, to educate others, and pull others in with compassion & understanding. “Collect our Cousins” , if you will. And engage in bold conversations with our family, friends, & co-workers.
And then we have to rest.
Because we won’t be any good to anyone if we don’t look out for each other & cherish each other in our periods of rest– we have to take care of ourselves, in order to keep the joy, keep the passion, keep the momentum, to do this work correctly & meaningfully, to carry our weight in every part of our lives, every day.
I’ll end on this note of hope, leaving with you a series of resources, links & accounts to follow so that you can start on this journey as well.
ANTI-RACISM READING LIST:
- Ijeoma Oluo – So You Want to Talk About Race
Beverly Daniel Tatum. Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
- Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be Anti-Racist
- Jason Reynolds. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix (audiobook)
- Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow
- Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism
- Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
- Rosalind Rosenberg. Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray
- Clayborne Carson (Editor), Peter Holloran, Keith David (Reading), Jay Gregory (Reading). A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
Color of Change @colorofchange
Black Lives Matter @blklivesmatter
Equal Justice Initiative @eji_org
Move to End Violence @movetoendviolence
Center for Black Equity @ctr4blackequity
The Okra Project @theokraproject
Embrace Race @embracerace
Rachel Cargle @rachel.cargle
Ijeoma Oluo @ijeomaoluo
Monique Melton @moemotivate
Michaela Angela Davis @michaelaangelad
– White Allyship [Co-Conspirating!] 101: Resources to Get to Work https://www.dismantlecollective.org/resources/
- SURJ’S “Collect Your Cousins (To Vote!) Calling Campaign https://actionnetwork.org/forms/lets-collect-our-cousins-to-vote
- Guide to Allyship
– Color of Change + SURJ = Bold Conversations https://boldconversations.org/