This revolution will require love

Is it OK to rage when we’re committed to practicing love?

How do we love someone whose words and actions have lead to deaths and needless suffering for millions? And when their credo of selfishness taints and threatens to destroy this county?

If love is a tender, uplifting feeling of appreciation and warmth for someone, I can’t go there.

If love is a stance that acknowledges that the world is interconnected, we’re in this together, and everyone has a right to be here, then I can love.

I don’t have to like said person. I detest most of their actions. But it’s not worth hating because hate changes me and does nothing to better the world.

A time for revolutionary love

Author/activist Valarie Kaur would say I need revolutionary love, a love that doesn’t “other” people different from me, but does not condone their actions, either.

Valarie is a civil rights activist, film-maker, lawyer, speaker, author, mother, faith leader, and seeker, who has packed an unimaginable number of accomplishments into her thirty-nine years.

I listened to her speak in conversation with two other amazing souls, Parker Palmer, educator and activist, and Carrie Newcomer, songwriter and peacemaker. They spoke on Newcomer-Palmer’s “The Growing Edge Podcast,” which I recommend.

Valarie became known to many through her stunning 2017 TED talk, featured below, “3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage,” which led to her just-published book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.

She launched her path as an activist and documentary film-maker when a close family friend, a member of the Sikh faith, was the first person murdered in a hate crime post 9-11. Then, when she witnessed racism and police aggression while filming and was herself arrested, she decided to add a law degree to her theology training. When she speaks she is serious and joyfully uplifting, eloquent in the languages of compassion and social justice, birthing, mothering, meditation, and civil rights.

Got rage?

Valarie knows the micro and major aggressions directed daily at people of color. In the Newcomer-Palmer interview, Valerie spoke about seeing her father subjected to a racial insult in the presence of her son. She added,

“To rage to protect that which we most love is worthy.”

Rage is not the opposite of love. When we love deeply, the correct response against systemic bigotry and injustice may be rage.

To sanctify our rage and help it serve others, we must work with it. Too often, people stay stuck in grief and rage until it calcifies within them.

She continued:

“When we don’t give rage a safe container for expression–when we don’t move through our rage–it’s easy when it stays contained in our bodies to harden into something like hate.”

Parker added, “Or into depression, which is where I think a lot of people are… A lot of depressions are bottled anger.”

Valarie believes that white supremacy often reflects frozen grief for a country no longer here (and that maybe never was).

We all need safe spaces to work through our grief and speak our rage, without keeping it locked within us or lashing out reactively.

In the hands of someone committed to social justice, rage, grounded in compassion, can become a fierce sword.

Moreover, rage and grief can provide fuel for creative energy, which I need these days.

Keeping the flow

I’ve just started painting with acrylic paints and learned the hard way what happens when they dry out. Watercolors can be reconstituted with water, not so acrylics. The hardened blob of blue paint I cut from a tube was useless.

Similarly, I can’t let rage or grief dry out my heart.

Fortunately, when I paint, sing, or write, I have a way to move my feelings. While painting, I pick colors, like crimson red, burnt sienna, and cadmium orange, that speak to me, then see what comes forth. When I allow my feelings to flow, without clinging to them or justifying them, what emerges on the paper may surprise me.

Curiosity and wonder keep me going.

Softening with joy

I can throw a tube of paint away.

I’m not sure what it will take to help soften the many hardened hearts in this country. Listening to their stories? Practicing compassion?

I don’t have gobs of love to share, not the sentimental kind, at least, but I can offer compassion.

At the same time, I can work my rage and keep my soul soft by playing with colors.

A vibrant violet brings me heart-warming joy.

As the remarkably ebullient Valarie Kaur offers,

“Joy reminds us of everything that is good and beautiful and worth fighting for.  Joy gives us energy for the long labor.”

 

Is your head stuck in the sand? (Hint: neither is the ostrich’s)

How much news can one take?

My working answer is simple: it depends.

My friend Dan used to work as a crime reporter. Armed with his journalistic lens of objectivity, he saw horrible stuff, yet he was able to distill it into readable print. He likes keeping up with the national news and staying informed. Although he’s distressed about what is happening, the news hasn’t brought him down personally.

I’m different. I’m sensitive to the news, especially the onslaught of bad-getting-badder news. It sends me into fear, agitation, and waves of “awful-ing.” I was holding my ground until the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the start of the Supreme Court nomination conversations. Then, I started going down.

My spurt of anxiety wasn’t helping me or the nation.

I have to stay careful about how much news I imbibe. Before consuming more, I ask, “Will I be able to do something constructive with this?” or “Will there be an action for me to take?” Often the answer is “no.”

Does that mean I’ve cut myself off from the news? Not exactly, because I live in an ecosystem where I trust people like Dan and my husband (who probably reads more than he can tolerate), to alert me to what I need to know. In a community, some have the interests and constitution that allows them to “digest” the news for those of us who have a weaker tolerance.

We all rely on others, to some extent, to share the news. We need to carefully choose the digesters, disseminators, gatekeepers, and curators we trust. Do they care about the truth? Are they open to diverse perspectives? How much do they let their own biases and emotions (which we all have) temper what they share?

Staying out of the sand

I don’t want to keep my head buried in the sand. Fun factoid: neither does an ostrich.

According to popular myth, ostriches avoid danger by burying their heads in the sand. I grew up imagining this enormous, flightless creature, who weighs 350 pounds and measures nearly nine feet tall, standing with his butt in the air and his head under the sand. Not a very safe position. Nor a breathable one.

And not at all true. First, the ostrich’s first line of defense will always be fleeing. They can run at speeds above forty miles an hour–faster than most animals (see below). The claws on an ostrich can be deadly. One good kick can kill a lion.

So why the misconception? It may be because ostriches, both male and female, take turns, a couple of times a day, putting their heads briefly into the large sandpit where they’ve buried their eggs.

Second, the ostrich has a small, sandy-colored head. Seen from a distance, the ostrich may look like it has its head under the ground when it’s just bending down nibbling insects. Or the ostrich may have flopped to the ground, its head and body blending with the terrain. That’s its last recourse to avoid being seen when it can’t outrun a predator,

The ostrich needs to stay up on the local news and is constantly scanning the environment. That’s not stuck in the sand.

The difficult news that I can digest

What looks like having one’s head in the sand may, upon closer inspection, mean one is contributing in a different way.

Do my limits on national news mean I can stand only good news? No. I can deal with news about death and serious illness. Last week, a friend died unexpectedly, another friend entered her last stages of cancer, and a close friend was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Another lost her dad. This kind of news breaks my heart, yet leaves it whole. Death will always be part of life.

This is news I can digest and work with. Feeling the grief of others builds my compassion.

Plus, I can take action. I can call the friend who lost her dad. I can visit (safely) the friend who may be dying. I can explore how to stay connected and support my friend with Alzheimer’s, without succumbing to the “tragedy narrative” about dementia in our culture.

Part of my role, in my ecosystem of friends and connections, is to extend caring to others dealing with grief.

Supporting each other

Dan will consume large quantities of news and help digest it for people like me.

Others of us may find an inner calm that can help steady those who are buffeted by the national storms. We may pray or offer our visions of a positive world. We find pieces of work that are ours to do.

We all have different roles to play in the apocalyptic drama we are facing.

We each need to discern what allows us to stay mentally and physically healthy while listening for how to best contribute.

We’re in this together.

If the news diminishes your energy, and you can’t watch, appreciate the curators in your life.

Give where you can.

We all have to stay strong.

 

Saying “yes/and” to dementia.

Saying “joy” and “dementia” in one sentence could sound like an oxymoron.

Like many, I have a fear that I might someday lose part of my mind.

Dementia’s not a far fetched concern: the stats on its occurrence rise significantly for every year we pass eighty.

Being with dementia can be tough for both patients and families. I’ve seen it up close. My brilliant scientist uncle was reduced by Alzheimer’s to being like a little boy. A favorite cousin spent half her life worrying that she might die from early-onset dementia, as had her Mom. She did.

And yet, heartbreak is not the whole story about dementia.

What may be almost as difficult as living with dementia is living within the narrative society has created. 

We fixate on what people with dementia have lost, rather than the capacities they still have.

Patients and their families may feel ashamed by the condition as if it’s something to hide. It’s tempting to want to tuck patients away, where their deficiencies won’t disturb anyone.

Dementia is stigmatized.

My recent podcast guests, Mary Fridley and Susan Massad, of the Eastside Institute in New York City, call this dementia story “the tragedy narrative.” 

This outdated story keeps us from exploring the possibilities for development, joy, and relationship that dementia has not taken away.

Mary and Susan are offering us a new narrative, using the vehicle of improvisational theatre to help us look at dementia in new ways.

The lenses we use shape what we see

Susan, retired from a fifty-year career as an MD, says that when you look at dementia through a medical lens, what you see is an individual problem that medicine can’t fix. The medical model sees deterioration and offers no hope.

But that’s not the only lens through which dementia can be viewed.

If we look through a social-relational lens, dementia is not just a problem for the patient. It’s a condition that affects many, including family, doctors, caregivers, and friends. Susan and Mary refer to this community affected by dementia as the “dementia ensemble,” a reference to the world of performance they know well.

Yes, dementia can take away memory and some mental powers.

Yet life is about much more than brain-powered activity. It’s also about laughing, loving, using our imaginations, being social, creating, and enjoying music, art. and nature. When we only see brain decline, we miss seeing the range of capacities people with dementia still have.

Towards a more humane outlook

Even if you don’t know anyone with dementia, it’s important to notice the idea, implicit in the tragedy narrative, that one needs to be fully-functioning, cognitively, to be a complete human being. Brains are good; they’re just not all of what makes us human.

No one, whatever their brain capacity, deserves to be written off.

When we devalue a group of people, we devalue ourselves, making what it is to be human that much smaller. 

In our brain-oriented, success-driven, results-oriented world, some categories of people can be seen as incomplete, inferior, or even not necessary, including people with:

  • Dementia
  • Developmental disabilities, like Down’s Syndrome
  • Brain Injuries
  • Parkinsons and other degenerative conditions that can affect how we think and function*

No wonder we try to tuck such people away, where they can be taken care of without being seen or honored.

*(When we start thinking this way, the list rapidly expands to include older people, people with other differences, crazy owners of Springer Spaniels, etc.)

Using improvisational theatre to bring a more life-filled approach to the dementia community

Mary and Susan run improv theatre groups in which the dementia ensemble, the community of people affected by dementia, are invited to play together, without consideration of their cognitive capabilities. Patients play with caregivers, family, and others. Improv opens up a way for everyone to connect, laugh, and have fun.

The key to improv lives in two magic words, “Yes/and.” For dementia patients, who hear a constant barrage of “No, that’s not true,” and “No, you can’t do that or say that,” it can be tremendously positive to hear the word, “Yes.” In improv you affirm and say yes to any “offer” your partner makes (such as a “The moon is looking purple tonight”), however fantastical it might sound. As an improv player, your job is to empower your partner. (“Yes, it’s purple, and I see a big green halo around it.”)

When my mother’s mind was deteriorating with old-age dementia, she talked a lot about “going home.” Talking “sense” to her was useless. It worked far better to play a bit, asking, “When are you leaving Mom?” and “Who will be there?” “What are you looking forward to doing?” Saying “No” to her stopped the conversation. Saying “yes/and” kept the connection going.

(I know “Yes/and” doesn’t apply to all situations, but it sure helps change the culture of “No, but” that can surround dementia patients.)

All the world’s a stage

As faculty at the Eastside Institute, Mary and Susan are skilled in social therapeutics, “an approach to human development and social change that relates to people of all ages and life circumstances as social performers and creators of their lives.”

Like actors performing together on the stage of life.

In a great play, like Shakespeare’s, not all roles require speaking. An actor may stand on stage, saying barely a word, but you still know her presence is important to the scene. The actor playing the fool often has a key role.

In life, as in stage performance, many roles are possible, including valuable roles played by people affected by dementia.

I still pray that I won’t lose parts of my mind. It hurt to see my cousin Brenda’s decline. Yet when I was with her, I loved her smile, kindness towards others, imagination, love of family, and how she kept making art,up until the end of her life.

She would have loved to do improv. I think she would have been great at it.

If I acquire dementia, I will be comforted if the people around me know that I am still here, that I still matter, that I enjoy laughing, dancing and making art, and that my presence has a purpose, even if that purpose lies beyond the realm of what any of us can understand.

PS You can hear the podcast interview this post was drawn from over on the Vital Presence podcast. Click here to listen.

Do you know these (mostly) new words?

Words create worlds.

Words in turn have lives of their own. 

I used to think that the words in the dictionary had been there forever. Like “binge-watch.” (Added by the Oxford Dictionary in 2018.)

I also thought that words stayed forever, but it appears to be a case of “use or lose.”

Some perfectly good words have gone the way of the albatross and been retired by the Oxford Dictionary.

No longer will we be able to say “Snollygoster” when we want to describe a dishonorable person. Given our times, I think we still need it. The word was a twist on snallygaster — a mythical creature that preys on poultry and children and is said to live around Frederick County, Maryland. The folks at Harry Potter know all about snallygasters so that word is safe for now.

Occasionally, words go as viral as J-Lo’s latest outfit. In 2006, a fake word, made up by a fake commentator, on a fake news show, was crowned “Word of the Year” by Merriam Webster. “Truthiness,” invented by the brilliant Steven Colbert, was said to mean “truth as you want it to be” as opposed to facts. Sadly, this word is still viral.

Verbacizing

Words are being created daily by adding an “ize” or “ing” to a noun. I call it verbacizing. This must make some writers cringe. I wince that business jargon like “on-boarding,” (integrating new employees into a business), has been accepted into the Oxford lexicon. Stop business-cizing words! (And you are welcome to make a word out of that.)

Translating across generations

If you want to speak with a teenager, there’s a raft of new words you should know, most of which have not yet made it into the Oxford. Since these were designed to be part of a secret code and will disappear as soon as I learn them, I’m not trying.

In the unlikely event that I’m invited to a teen party, I will buy an app that allows for simultaneous translation of teen-speak into English. With my phone and earbuds, I’ll be like a representative at the United Nations letting interpreters pipe words into me.

New with the pandemic

Oxford no longer makes us wait a year to receive new words. Between April and January 2020, they published a new set of have-to know words, which were already old by late March. Among them, (I quote):

  • infodemic, n. “A proliferation of diverse, often unsubstantiated information relating to a crisis, controversy, or event, which disseminates rapidly and…”
  • self-isolation, n.“The action, fact, or process of deliberately isolating oneself; an instance of this.
  • WFH n. “Working (or work) from home, either as a regular or permanent alternative to office work or on an occasional or temporary basis.”

Do we get to delete these at the end of the pandemic?

As far as I know “Zooming,” which everyone knows is a new word, is not yet official. You’re late Oxford!  (See verbacizing, above.)

New Oxford additions that reflect the culture

I wish these words weren’t so timely:

  • awedde, adj.: Overcome with anger, madness, or distress; insane, mentally disturbed.”  (Makes you think of…)
  • Hater–no definition required, just remember the word didn’t exist a few years ago.

Goofy words 

  • Frankenfood (n): Genetically modified food.
  • Guyliner (n): Eyeliner that is worn by men.

In the running but not yet accepted

  • Lypophrenia. A vague feeling of sadness seemingly without cause.

Recent additions (pre-2020) 

  • Nomophobia (2018) Meaning fear or worry at the idea of being without your phone or unable to use it. (Who me?)
  • Omnishambles (2019) means a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by blunders and miscalculations. Originally created to describe current British politics, it has clearly jumped the pond.
  • Nepenthe – An old word that means something that makes you forget sorrow. It was the anti-sorrow potion given to Helen in Homer’s Odyssey. Now is it late-night comedy? CBD? Cat videos on Youtube?

Lost in translation–words from other languages for which we have no equivalent

New words I am inventing 

I don’t mind if you suggest these to the Oxford:

  • Stretchophile: Someone coming out of the pandemic with a decided preference for stretch waistbands.
  • Amaskiration: Sudden fury at someone not wearing a mask in a public place.
  • Caffecupio: An intense desire for a cup of coffee with a friend, as in “like we did in the good old days.” (From the Latin Cupio, desire)

Now, you brave nefelibata. Go dream a few good words, then create a better world for them to describe.

 

Zoomed out? Time to Zoom back in.

Zoom’s emerging as a technical hero of the pandemic. Millions of people are connecting in ways no one would have thought possible just three months ago.

After bajillions of uses, however, a new expression is popping up: “Zoom fatigue.”

“There is a special kind of tiredness that comes from a day of Zoom calls, despite the fact that they can take place without you ever leaving your couch (or your sweats). More strangely, this fatigue can hit even after meetings with coworkers you love and friends you miss very much.”       Gianpiero Petriglieri, MD,

Despite being grateful for the emergency life raft of connectivity Zoom and similar virtual platforms offer, I, too, am wearing out.

Last week, I had a get-to-know-you conversation with a new friend I met in a virtual class. We used the old fashioned telephone to talk, untethered to the computer, and it was a relief.

I’m a mover. I hate sitting still for 90-minute Zoom conversations. Trying to pay attention. Trying to look at people. Sometimes I go audio-only, with a picture of me posted on the screen, so I can wander around the house using my headset. I listen better when I move. Honestly. (It’s not that I don’t love seeing you…)

I listen to webinars by weeding the garden.  Dirt is a terrific antidote for too much screen time.

Apparently one of the things that makes Zoom fatiguing has to do with how we use our eyes. We’re creating a new distorted reality staring at people on screens without really making eye contact. Look at a room of Zoom-ers and almost everyone will be glancing somewhere else. We look sideways or down in order to see others on camera.

What’s going to happen when we have to make eye contact again?  Will we greet each other by looking sideways?

Watching yourself on camera for periods of time is fatiguing. I will occasionally look straight at my computer’s camera to offer eye contact to others, but then I have to glance sideways to check out what I look like on-screen. Probably best not to know.

I have come to anticipate the dead spaces, technical glitches, and the ubiquitous ritual called, “Start of a Zoom call.” The first ten minutes of a meeting will often be wasted as people struggle with Internet issues or try to find their mute buttons (the most important thing you need to know about Zoom). Then we’ll have the fasten-your-seatbelts-before-takeoff lecture called “How to use Zoom for the first time” as our host prepares to finally launch the meeting. Finally.

If I were more enlightened I’d use those ten minutes for deep breathing, meditating, or practicing presence. It’s more likely that I’ll check my email once, or maybe twice, at which point my mind will start darting down the rabbit hole of thinking there is something else I should be doing.

Recently, Zoom has introduced the option of fake backdrops. Believe me, I’d prefer to see your messy office than the picture of you you sitting in front of tropical palms on the beach where I know you’re not. Plus, there’s the artistic problem of the little halo we see around your head.

The benefits of zooming in

Challenges aside, through Zoom and YouTube videos filmed at home, I’ve made some remarkable discoveries:

  • No one can see me close enough to know that my gray roots are growing out or even cares. (Theirs might be, too.)
  • Hollywood stars were not born with two-inch eyelashes and super-styled hair.
  • Celebrities are real people who can stumble when they talk and aren’t always that funny away from an audience. They have kids. I wonder if they really keep their houses that neat or whether a maid is standing off-camera, hopefully in a mask.
  • Bookcases. I LOVE the Twitter site: Bookcase Credibility, where the motto is “What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.” I have a passion for people’s bookcases. But remind me to remove any erotica from mine before I record business videos.

Then there are cool events that couldn’t happen otherwise:

  • I attended the wedding of a friend’s son, which took place on the other side of the country. Over 300 guests attended, frantically typing Mazal Tov as tears fell on their keyboards.
  • I was surprisingly moved when I attended my first Zoom memorial for a friend’s grandmother I had never met.
  • I experienced a virtual version of the Story Bridge process that I love. In little breakout rooms, small groups shared experiences of the pandemic and then created stories to perform before the larger group. The magic of connection occurred–not always my experience online.
  • The Alvin Ailey dancers put together this shelter-in-place video,  A Call to Unite Alvin Ailey’s ‘Revelations,’ an excerpt from Ailey’s classic piece. Get ready to tap your toes. It inspired me to want to get moving and remember all the places in the world where we still can be dancing.

Zoom or similar video medium are here to stay. But if you’re Zoom-ed out, zoom back in by walking away from the computer and going outside or to a window. Stare at a real flower, a real cloud, or the eyes of your housemate. Your eyes and your spirit will thank you.

 

 

 

 

Time to think long haul

 

Fallen cedar in the Northwest

On the trail

Some years ago, on a sunny day hike with a friend in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, I started running out of steam. The trail through the cedars was beautiful, but the switchbacks up the mountain seemed endless. As two youngish men in jogging shorts bounded down the trail ran towards me, I yelled out, “How much farther is it?” Without missing a step, they shouted, “Not too far,” and were gone.

Forty minutes later, I hadn’t seen a peak of the summit. This, in my book, was “too far.” As the trail opened into a clearing, I thought we might be near our goal. A couple walking down the trail approached and I asked again, “How much longer?” The man said, “Just a few more switchbacks.” 30 minutes later, I’d had it with “just a few.” I sat on a rock and fumed. I’d used up my energy thinking we were almost there, and we hadn’t yet summited.

In contrast, on another Cascade hike, I was again tired (a theme here?) after walking for what seemed like hours. I asked a descending hiker, “How long?” and she said, “You’re about halfway there. The last section is really steep, and you might want to stop, but keep going. It’s worth it. The views are amazing.” Initially disappointed by the distance ahead, I decided this was the long haul and I needed to pace myself. I stopped periodically, took breaks, and ate part of my lunch before we reached the steepest part of the trail. As we ascended the last stretch, I sweated and groaned, but I knew what to expect. She was right. The views were stunning.

Research has shown (sorry, I can’t find the source) that it’s less stressful to be told that an outcome is a long time away than to be told that something will happen soon, only to have the target date pushed out again and again.

Many have been treating the pandemic like a short hike, asserting that it should be over by now.

It’s time to think, “long haul” and acknowledge that although the ascent may be difficult, we will make it through.

I get the frustration. I know what it’s like to want to something so badly that I’m tempted to act precipitously. Once, despite a high fever, I wanted to attend a concert that I’d been looking forward to for months. Another time I wanted to take my horse to an important show, knowing that he wasn’t quite sound and needed more time to heal from a sole bruise. Fortunately, in both cases, my husband and friends talked me down off of the ledge of my crazy, “but, I want to”  passion. I grieved for my losses but was glad that I’d been spared the consequences of acting prematurely.

Pack for the long haul

Time to recalibrate expectations for the pandemic and think long-haul. If the shelter-in-place guidelines can be safely lifted tomorrow, terrific. If they need to extend restrictions until October, that’s all right, too.

Of course, the best would have been to think long haul from the beginning.

At least now we can start packing the emotional/spiritual supplies that will see us through the months ahead. Lower our expectations. Treat others with kindness. Release blame. I’m sure you already have plenty of insight into what works for you.

The fuel of imagination

We’ll need energy and stamina, which is why it’s important to put our imaginations into training. All of us.

We need imagination to create visions of the positive future that awaits us.

“Returning to normal,” isn’t a vision of that future. It’s a deluded hope of a “normal” we aren’t going back to, and probably never even experienced.

The imaginations we need will use pictures, images, dreams, stories, and songs to convey what a new and better world could look like.

Some people consider imagination “not real.” Untrue. It’s a very real force that lies behind some of the greatest innovations. Einstein used his imagination, more than equations, to arrive at his ground-breaking theories.

Imagination is the field from which the future grows.

No one person can imagine that future for all of us. The path ahead will emerge from the many visions of those who dream what lies before us.

Keep nourished

Most serious mountaineers know the importance of nutrition. We can’t sustain ourselves on a diet of bad news. We need to stay aware of what’s happening, but I’m thinking a diet of four parts uplifting information, stories, or observations to one part news might be a workable ratio, Or maybe it should be eight to one.

To that end, I’m sharing part of today’s uplift: an opportunity to hear James Taylor performing “You Can Close Your Eyes” from home, singing with his wife and son.

 

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