Monday, September 15, 2014

cultivating unconditonal self love - a resource list

I am pleased and honored to have again this year been invited to teach at the Southeast Wise Women's Herbal Conference in Black Mountain, NC, which will take place October 10 - 12th.

I am teaching two classes. My class on Cultivating Unconditional Self-Love is returning for the third time to the conference, presumably because each time I have taught it I have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants that it was really helpful to them, which is a great source of joy for me. My greatest passion is facilitating others on their journey of self-fulfillment, health, and love!

This page will serve as a resource list for that class, but I haven't put all the resource links in yet, so check back soon for some great information for your self-love journey! 

raising confident girls - a resource list

I am pleased and honored to have again this year been invited to teach at the Southeast Wise Women's Herbal Conference in Black Mountain, NC, which will take place October 10 - 12th.

I am teaching two classes. My class on Cultivating Unconditional Self-Love is returning for the third time to the conference, presumably because each time I have taught it I have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants that it was really helpful to them, which is a great source of joy for me. My greatest passion is facilitating others on their journey of self-fulfillment, health, and love!

And, with a synchronicity that is so significant that I must give thanks for the divine mother protectors who clearly played a hand in it, the conference organizers scheduled me to teach my second class, Raising Confident Girls, on Saturday, October 11th, which just so happens to be the International Day of the Girl Child! Yes!

I have been compiling this resource list as a support for that class, but am happy to put it out here to the world to encourage others to tap into the many resources available for empowering girls, young women, and honestly, every child, regardless of gender. I think it is every bit as important to raise confident, well-adjusted, healthy, loving boys as it is girls. In the global climate of gender oppression and stereotypes, boys face different kinds of pressures and challenges than girls do, however as male gendered people, they also experience some privileges that girls and women do not. It is for that reason that this particular class focuses on girls. But don't think for a moment I am not every bit as invested in boys' and men's well-being. As the mother of two sons, I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to be a young man learning and growing in today's world. These tools are just as effective and useful if used with boys, though I would recommend seeking additional resources to complement this list.

Now that this list has begun, I am sure to be growing it over the years. Feel free to check back from time to time to see what new resources have made the list, and I actively welcome your suggestions for additional resources and your feedback on how these resources have worked for you.

Thank you for your interest in helping young people to thrive. We all have a responsibility to guiding the next generations toward ever greater levels of self-acceptance, self-love, self-esteem, and personal excellence and satisfaction, as defined by the members of those generations.

13 Ways to Build Your Daughter's Self-Esteem - Great tips for parents and anyone working with youth.

A Mighty Girl - An indisputably amazing resource to find materials to support healthy, confident, successful, happy girls with a huge, comprehensive list of books, movies/TV, music, toys, and more.

Assertive Communication Worksheet - Helping young people learn the importance of assertive communication and how it differs from passivity and aggressiveness is a crucial tool for self-development and self-efficacy. Downloadable/printable worksheet.

Confident Girls' Toolbox - Includes confidence boosting craft ideas and activities for encouraging girls in science, sports, architecture, politics, and more.

Eleven Facts about Teens and Self-Esteem - Intense facts about the crisis of low self-esteem in American teens.

Self-Esteem Activity Guide for Mothers and Daughters ages 8 to 11 - A comprehensive, 35-page PDF guide by the Dove Self-Esteem Project (I don't love corporate sponsorship, but this organization has done some impressive work in the area of self-esteem and offers many free resources to the community, and this one is quite good). Includes info on improving maternal self-esteem, writing activities and conversation starters for girls, communication builders, guides to discussing difficult topics, and links to several other self-esteem guide pages focused on girls and boys across a wider age spectrum for use by parents, teachers, and youth leaders.

Self-Esteem Boosting Worksheets - Three worksheets for helping kids to identify their strengths, develop focus on activities they enjoy, and transform uncomfortable situations.

Tips to Support Girls' Rights through Talking and Listening - Great ways to communicate with girls with a focus on hearing them and fostering positive interest in their lives.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

birth prayer

I believe that when a woman gives birth, when a new soul is born onto the planet there is a tremendous movement of energy, that energy surges forth onto Earth from a different time, place, realm, from another corner of the Universe. I believe that in the cosmic gateway of birth more happens than the pure physiology of a new mammal making the short but labored journey from inside the womb of its maternal source to life outside the womb on its own terms.

I believe that if a mother and father so choose that they can seek to direct this powerful release of energy, akin to the massive release that occurs during nuclear fission's profound moment of one becoming two, toward a specific intention, a stated prayer, a pointed focus. I believe it is a tremendous honor, responsibility, and privilege as a birthing family to acknowledge this power and to have the opportunity to choose the focus of our birth energy. I am grateful beyond adequate expression that I am approaching the gates of birth with this awareness in my mind and heart and to have a partner who shares the same belief and commitment to utilizing our child's birth as an opportunity for constructive intention setting.

I believe that humanity is in a terrifying deadlock in the course of our development as a species. I believe that humans are unique, astronomically intelligent, creative, and powerful entities. I believe that the only limits we face as a species are the limits we put upon ourselves through fear: fear of lack, fear of pain and suffering, fear of the unknown, fear of loneliness, fear of inadequacy, fear of loss, fear of death. I believe that fear is an illusion and that we can abolish fear from our collective consciousness and in doing so that we will conquer all barriers we previously believed existed, but only ever existed in our fearful minds.

I believe that humanity is staggeringly fortunate to live on an abundant, gorgeous, generous paradise called planet Earth. I believe that amongst the resources the Earth, Sun, Atmosphere, and Oceans provide for us in conjunction with our keen abilities to create, grow, build, problem solve, and develop technology that there are infinite solutions to all of the plagues of civilization and our growing population. I believe that there are absolutely no justifiable, logical reasons for there to be war, poverty, hunger, oppression, violence, hatred, prejudice, energy crises, or rampant environmental devastation occurring on this planet. I believe we are capable of developing ample solutions to live in a utopia, yes, I said, "utopia," in which all beings have their needs met for love, safety, nourishment, education, enrichment, freedom, comfort, joy, creative expression, connectedness, spiritual exaltation, and global as well as inner peace.
I believe the only thing that prevents humanity from achieving this optimistic and brilliant state of being is our belief that we cannot achieve it.

Thus, it is my heartfelt prayer and intensely focused intention that the energy from my imminent birthing will activate the planetary inception of an instinctive, intuitive, verifiable belief in the consciousness of every human to live on the face of Earth that we are absolutely capable of creating a global culture of peace, love, prosperity, harmony with the natural world, and wellness to be enjoyed by all beings. We shall understand that we have moved beyond fear and into the grace of acceptance of all positive possibilities. We shall be aware that sufficient abundance and solutions exist to guide us to the most holistic and effective outcomes for the betterment of all, and that we simply need to cooperate with all other entities on the planet to achieve these visions.

I also believe that my birth energy can be directed toward healing for a specific individual, and I pray that this energy move into my beloved friend Rowan Farrell Trombetta for the purpose of supporting her body in its process of healing and rejuvenation, and in eradicating cancer cells from her body.

I offer the gratitude of blessed lifetimes for the opportunity to set my prayers into motion and for my prayers being received, activated, and effective. I humbly honor, exalt, and give thanks for the unfathomable power, wisdom, and beauty of the Universe. So mote it be. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

presidential election rant 2012

Those of you who pay any attention to what I say may have noticed that I have stayed rather quiet on the issue of the election so far this year, whereas typically I am pretty "in your face" regarding political concerns. Partly this has to do with my utter inability to tolerate the absurdity of the presidential race: the lies, the fact that this incredibly developed nation is still having major battles over basic human rights issues, the ostentatious amounts of money being thrown at all of it.

I've also been challenged to cope with my own crushing disappointment that the political system that governs my self, my family, all my loved ones, and the land that I live on and devotedly call home is so unconscionably far from a model that truly supports my own values and values that are consistent with protecting and nurturing all human life and the safety of our homes and the precious resources that not only sustain all life on the planet, but make it captivating and delightful to live here, as well. This governing system is so broken that it would require nothing less than a complete restructuring of it to allow us to live in a true democracy. I'm not alone in feeling this way. I'm aware that many of you agree with me. Political lobbying, for one thing, and "corporate personhood," for another, are two of the gratingly salient examples of how we, the people, no longer truly have a voice.

(A very smart friend offered the critique when he read this section to not forget how much freedom we still have in our country, and I acknowledge that to be true. My desperation comes from my awareness about how much MORE our entire citizenship would be capable of given equal, reliable access to the resources that make for the healthiest, most successful personal outcomes, and I am vehemently anti-capitalist because I believe capitalism to be a massive factor in the devastation of environmental resources and many human rights related issues, and this system is profoundly embedded with capitalism. I feel very strongly that needs to change.)

Any genuinely "progressive" or "liberal" thinkers have, by now, hammered in the point that there are increasingly smaller differences between the two parties in this limited party system and that we need more choices. Some say we need a third choice. Some say we need no choices at all and need to abolish government all together. I think we need to have as many qualified candidates show up on a ticket as can make the commitment to being in a significant governing role. And the emphasis here is both on qualified and committed to governing.

While we're on my personal platform for election and party reform, we also need to do away with electoral college and go straight to a popular vote. Furthermore, we need to not only eliminate corporate political lobbying, but end any and all political contributions entirely. Any candidate who meets some basic criteria should be provided an election year stipend by the existing government. Let's say that in order to earn that stipend, potential candidates need to have earned a bachelor's degree, have worked in the U.S. work force for at least 20 years, have spent a minimum of 5 years in an elected political office, have contributed to a volunteer, civic improvement project for a minimum of 5 years, and, finally, must pass a stringent competency exam on American political and foreign relations history, states' history and culture, roles of all offices of U.S. government, checks and balances inherent in that system, complete with a section on world geography, a Howard Zinn Foundation approved section on American people's history, a writing feature, and a rigorous science component. This way even candidates of limited financial means can forge a candidacy, and candidates will by their very accomplishment of achieving the candidacy will have demonstrated that they might be viable in the presidential arena.

(I'm totally open to different ideas on the criteria for candidacy. These are my off the cuff ideas and aren't perfectly fleshed out.)

And, it shall be strictly prohibited that any additional amount be contributed to the campaign by the candidate or any other entity. This makes the playing field much more even -- we will no longer have billionaires buying their way into office. Political advertisements will be illegal. There will be designated public forums for displaying candidate's views, goals, and platforms. There will be commercial-free, instantly fact-checked, televised and internet available debates scheduled monthly for the entirety of the election year starting in January. There will be candidate profiles of equal length run in all major newspapers that will exclusively report candidate stances on required issues that will have been decided upon by vote of the people prior to the start of the election year. The campaign stipend will be used as candidates see fit to creatively express their intentions above and beyond these widely available, all inclusive, presidential candidate information sources, but, again, not through the purchase of advertisement in any form.

If you have spent any time sincerely ruminating on democracy and governance in this country, you, too, probably have some kind of elaborate fantasy of how we can make the election process fair and appropriate in garnering valid candidates who genuinely represent the interests of broad scopes of the American people. Or, perhaps I have delusions of grandeur and I am the only one out here single-handedly scheming how American political reform should take place? In any case, all of our fantasizing won't do us a lick of good where we are sitting right now. It is mere days away from the election, and one way or the other, we are all going to be disappointed in one way or the other, as no one candidate can possible ever perfectly represent the values we seek our governors to support.

This brings me to the point that inspired this rant. The reality is, that despite the inevitability of disappointment, today, right now, during this election, you do have some choices. Let's break those choices down.

1. You could choose not to vote. I read a fascinating article, which I can unfortunately not find now to reference, that asserted the validity of refusing to vote. The point made in the article was that in other nations around the world, when voter turnout has become astronomically low the election results have been deemed invalid, forcing political reform that in some cases resulted in true people's candidates getting voted in during subsequent elections. This is a possibly very valid form of protest in the big picture, but you know what? It isn't right now. It's too close to the election and too many other incredibly uninformed people will be out there voting even if you don't. If you believe this kind of revolution is necessary to allow us to get to political reform, then I implore you to immediately devote yourself towards aggressively recruiting others to do the same and campaign and raise awareness on how and why not to vote for the next election year. But, if you just don't vote in the presidential election this year, as an aware, politically conscious, and particularly progressive thinker, then you are quite literally feeding your tiny share of democracy to the drooling, gnashing maws that are howling to keep you and yours oppressed, silenced, and useless. I don't recommend it. 

2. You could vote third party. This is, unfortunately at this time, akin to not voting. If you have not been loudly, vehemently, actively, devotedly spending the last four years doing all you could to build a visible, viable third party platform that is actually on the public radar and could garner enough votes to gain a significant piece of the highly sought after American public's attention, let alone win the election, then I'm sorry, but you haven't earned the right to vote third party this year. If you want to vote third party after committing yourself in that way before the next election, then you are making a conscionable, admirable political choice. Otherwise, you are making the exact same choice as non-voters. See above.

3. You could vote for Romney. Perhaps you are so incredibly disappointed by the Obama presidency that you feel you must do something different, but you insist on voting and insist on voting for one of the candidates who are actually going to get elected. If you vote for Romney not only would you be voting for a candidate who is demonstrating such a profound lack of competence during the campaign that he is arguably trying to throw this election (as the Daily Kos asserts here:, but you would be voting to send the American people plummeting into irrevocably devastating economic collapse, leaping profoundly backwards in the availability of our basic human rights and expected social justices, and condemning the entire world to cope with devastating and permanent ecological disaster that may severely diminish the quality of life on the planet for the whole of humanity. Do I actually need to say more here? Are you willing to take this risk? Clearly voting for Romney is in no way a viable choice for any thinking person with a conscience.

4. You could vote for Obama. So, here is where I get to make my requisite, apologist plea for you to vote for the lesser evil, right? No. I'm not going to do that. I can comfortably tell you that as a deeply thoughtful person fully integrating the myriad of profoundly complex factors influencing the fate of the world around me that I believe voting for Obama is not only a reasonable thing to do as a very left-leaning, liberal American, but that right now it is the ONLY reasonable thing to do. If I need to assure you that I not only understand but share your rightful outrage at some of the ugliest points of Obama's presidency thus far by rattling off my gripes with him then I will: he didn't fucking close Guantanamo Bay, he has been slow to end the war in Iraq and is still grossly escalating the war in Afghanistan, he has supported the National Defense Authorization Act, he still supports U.S. oil drilling and silly concepts like "clean coal," and has appointed a Monsanto henchmen to the head of the FDA, right? I'm sure I have forgotten some, too.

I am, like you, thoroughly disgusted by these acts. But if you believe these acts rest solely on Obama's shoulders, then you are misinformed on how the American government works.

And, I am not trying to say that Obama has no part in these acts. He does. He has made choices that are in direct violation with my strongly held views on how our government should function.

But, Obama has also made choices that I value. He has participated in making choices that have prevented the tenuous and suffering economy from gasping its last breath, for the sake not of the wealthiest Americans, but working people like almost everyone we know. He has initiated a desperately needed dialogue on American health care reform and accomplished in making the first strides, baby steps though they may be, in working toward a health care model that will provide adequate care for all Americans. He has been vocal in supporting women's and family's rights, and turning around to make a public display for his support of the gay and lesbian citizens. He acknowledges the need for a change in America's reliance on fossil fuels and does promote green energy, even if it is alongside less wise plans for U.S. energy. He acknowledges the role that science has in improving the quality of human life. Quite importantly, he is neither despised nor ridiculed by most of the other countries on the planet; Obama's presidency has assisted in making positive strides in the world's opinion of the U.S. as a political, economic, and cultural entity. And he is an incredibly positive social role model for young Americans through his confident displays of intelligence, commitment to family and equal partnership with his wife, graceful conduct in a brutal political arena, and continued diligence to his goals and commitments while being publicly attacked on a daily basis just for being a black man.

I think all of this is very much worth acknowledging. I could say nothing I appreciated about the Bush presidency. Could you? How do you envision it would be during a presidency with Romney at the helm? What positives do you think you will be able to make note of at the end of that four year stint in American history?

By profession, I am a counselor. I spend every day working mostly with children and families dealing with severe mental health concerns, poverty, addiction, trauma, abuse, and so on. When I am working to help these people determine how to make the best choices to bring positive change to their lives, usually their options are quite limited. We cannot wave our magic wands and make the ills they face every day just vanish, and thus, I work with them to help them decide what are the sometimes small steps they can take to build toward the lives they want.

So, please, let me help you make that same sort of decision. Neither you or I can angrily, outrageously, or righteously force the U.S. political system to be exactly what we believe it needs to be to promote radical changes so the U.S. will become an equitable, peaceful, prosperous, healthy nation full of citizens with their needs meet, their homes and environment protected, and ample opportunities for personal success. We cannot willfully deny to make any choice at all, because in our lives making no choice always relegates your choice to being made by someone else for you. But we can actively work within our current situation. We can make good choices here and now to allow us to move forward toward making larger, more significant choices with greater impact on our collective future. Casting your vote for Barack Obama in this election, and encouraging the other conscious, thinking people you know to do the same IS that choice right now. Think it through, and do what you genuinely believe to be the most conscious action you can take in this situation.

Then fight like fucking hell with all your heart and soul to create the world you want to see every day for the rest of your lives. Voting is one very small step you can take. Your life is full of endless possibilities for how to support your vision of the American dream.

Best of luck to us all.

(And if you are interested to see how the New York Times agrees with me in their endorsement for Obama as president, see here.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

heaven in a wild flower

I often feel that flowers are the Divine's way of saying, "Believe."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

thirty-seven today

Yep, it’s my birthday, and I find I’m all caught up in self-reflection. I miss writing for myself so much that it is my gift to myself today to make time to write just for me and put aside for a few the cleaning, the school work, the organizing, the cooking, the rest of life that seems to always supersede this craft that I cherish so much.

Last night I had a lovely date with a lovely friend to see Aimee Mann, and on my way into the show I joked how I must truly be middle-aged now, as I was turning thirty-seven accompanied by my friend, already in her forties, and we made our way into the show to take in the emotional, female, singer/song-writer, clearly also middle-aged herself. Doesn’t it sound just like a damn episode of Thirtysomething?

Except, I defy that half my life has gone by. I am working on the theory that perhaps I may live to be 111, a wonderful number by my estimation. If that is the case, then I have lived precisely one-third of my life, which feels remarkably magical to my odd proclivity toward prime numbers, multiples of three, and repeating digit numbers. Thus, I might be middle-aged in the sense that today I begin the second thirty-seven year era of my life, which will make up my middle years. I’m at the very, very beginning of the middle. I hope. (Thank you for indulging that number weirdness. My brain works in mysterious ways.)

Ms. Mann, fine musician that she is, put on a thoroughly enjoyable show. One moment felt particularly poignant. She introduced her song, “31 Today,” and spoke of how when we are young many of us expect that we may die before reaching our thirties, as that age seems impossibly old and far away. However, she believes that if we do reach our thirties that we may be quite surprised by how much we don’t have our shit together by then, as evidenced by the sad song that laments that point. I wanted to resonate with the sentiment of the song, it being the closest thing to a birthday song about someone in their thirties that I was likely to see performed live on the eve of my birthday, but honestly, it was all wrong for me.

You see, I could never ever have guessed, not even for a single moment, how much more I would enjoy my adulthood than I did my childhood. I was so doom and gloom as a youngster, stricken with the infirmities of a broken family in a broken town in a woefully broken culture, that I couldn’t have begun to guess what grandeur my life might hold in my late thirties. Then, I started weird number games in my head again, because that is what I do, and I started to think about what my life was like and how I would have imagined my future exactly half my life ago, which was the very pivotal age of eighteen and a half.

At eighteen and a half I was just finishing my first year of college. I hated college then. I have no idea why I went to college at that point other than it was what everyone else in my private, all girls, college prep school were doing, as well as my two closest friends, Sarah and Allison. I loathed high school, and junior high school before it, with a foaming passion, and I cannot believe anyone fooled me into thinking I was ready to undertake more academia. I wasn’t ready. And yet, I had high academic goals for myself. My Aunt Lindsey, what with her prestigious PhD and all, my only immediate family member who completed undergrad work let alone post-graduate studies, definitely led by example. I wanted what she had, even though half my life ago the thought of these many years of school was nauseating. As I sit amidst the last semester of my graduate program, I realize that it’s not terribly surprising that I made it this far, though the girl of eighteen and a half would have been quite surprised to know how incredibly much she would love and become enriched by her collegiate and university experiences. I am blessed to have attended fine schools and to study under remarkable teachers, and today I give great thanks for that.

How would she have pictured herself, that girl? I can tell you that she would not have been surprised at the news that at twice her age she would be covered in tattoos and piercings and would still be dying her hair colors out of the rainbow spectrum. She was ripe for that. Babies? Considering I got pregnant the first time at precisely nineteen and a half, and had already become utterly fixated on women’s bodies and the cycles of the moon and craving to get in touch with my archetypal goddess self well before that, I assure you that girl knew that motherhood was looming on the horizon. The bigger shock to her, I suppose, would be that all these years later she would only have had two children, and would still be longing for more. The unexpected sensation that I am dealing with now is that after desperately longing for more babies during all these years of unbridled fertility, that for the first time since those heady days of womanhood’s early blush, I am finally beginning to feel like it might be enough to never conceive and never give birth again. I am not convinced of it yet, but not breeding again no longer feels like a tragedy. I might yet adopt, though…

At eighteen and a half the most remarkable, spiritual moments I had had were all at Unitarian-Universalist youth conferences, and maybe at a Grateful Dead show or three. Since I was too old for youth cons and the Dead were someday going to die, I would have thought it safe to assume that the ecstatic period of my life would be all downhill from that point. There were not going to be holy existential pinnacles, over and over again, in the forms of child-bearing and rearing, lovemaking, dancing, music worshipping, festival going, traveling, and deep, late, late night conversations with the most loving of friends. I did not see that coming. I had no idea it would keep getting better and better and better, with no end in sight. I mean, Burning Man, you guys. Seriously. But, as a young woman, I revered youth, believed that we had it all. I thought, how could a bunch of old fogies have more fun than teenagers? This, I truly believed. I assure you that there hasn’t yet been a trance dance floor all-nighter in which I did not think, at least at one point in time, that I could never have guessed as a youth that this much fun was possible. That eighteen and a half year old girl applauds this thirty-seven year old lady for her ingenuity in coming up with more and more delightful and radical ways to have a good time. Good show!

Now then, do you remember that ripe, smooth skin of our youth? Can you picture how we once glowed? It is easy to see now in our children and their young friends, that golden, fleeting gorgeousness of youth. One of the most astonishing phenomena of entering my middle years is that despite the loss of the idyllic body of my youth, is that today I feel more beautiful than I did eighteen and a half years ago. My young woman’s mind was so much more clouded by the insulting messages of patriarchal media and the hurtful things perpetrated upon my body by those who used me recklessly that I was never able to enjoy my beauty then. I am profoundly grateful that I learned to live comfortably in my body, unlearned the lies that misinformed me of my inadequacy, and have come to see my image in the mirror with clarity; I am beautiful, and so are you. But it is a source of great regret that I was unable to revel in myself during my brief days blessed by youthful, Aphrodite inspiring radiance. To the young ones that I know, I implore you not to make this same mistake. Learn to love yourself now before you lose parts of yourself you shall never regain. To the parents and teachers that I know, strive to help the youth recognize their own beauty! It is a tragedy for them not to know it.

And I must say, thank you, thirty-seven year old body, for chugging along as well as you have. Thank you, thirty-seven year old face, for braving the elements and the years of laughter and tears with such grace. You are exquisite.

And then there is the whole not married thing. At eighteen and a half I was SOOO in love with my children’s father. I wanted to be partnered with him forever and ever. I thought we had been lovers in previous lifetimes, that we had a timeless, ageless love hardly conceivable by mere mortals. But…… we all think that when we are in love at eighteen and a half, right? Mmhmm, we do. But yes, I did authentically believe that Alan and I would have a successful partnership, and unlike our parents, we would learn to make it work through many years. Obviously, I was quite wrong. And even if I could have known at that age that my relationship with Alan would evolve out of partnership, I feel sure that I would have thought that by the ripe old age of thirty-seven I would surely have succeeded in some other long-term pairing. Furthermore, I think my young self would be saddened and scared at the prospect that she would be an old lady alone. Hmmph. Guess what, missy? It’s not so bad! I have so much fun! I am loved by so many giving, adoring friends, and I have explored such a variety of interesting, if not always functional, pairings and love relationships that I feel enriched. I feel sated. I feel like my life is enough. I have art, poetry, education, music, the high harvest moon and the scent of spring on the air. I have dogs. Cats. Snakes. Rats. I have the most comfortable bed and deeply restful nights of sleep. I have the future.

That is not to say that I don’t desire to go deep with someone, to spend long years in reflection with another intelligent, striving, uplifted human being to discover what hidden potential that we might unlock in each other. I do. But I do not fear living without it. I do not doubt that the other opportunities that life will bring me and that I will create for myself can be just as fulfilling and may bring me to unimagined shores. I am at peace with my singularity, while being open to connecting with lovers and perhaps a partner or more.

My home and land. Wow. Who knew? I hoped. I think I knew. I was determined to have a sacred plot of land upon which my family could live and cherish as our bastion of heathen dirt worship. I knew I needed a place where kids and dogs and friends and plants could all thrive, away from the threats of traffic and bright lights. It is not perfect. It is a struggle to pay for it, to maintain it. I have not been able to do anything quite near what I have hoped with it. But we have it. And I love it. I love every sunrise, moonrise, lightning storm, starry night, blizzard, bloom, and breeze that I experience here. You did it, Jus. You manifested land and got out of Shaler Township, which you so needed to do. It has been an unexpected journey, arriving at this home, and required the generosity and support of many along the way: my AMAZING little sister, my brother and mother, the deep love of my former partner, and all of you who have ever dug a hole, driven my kids around, watched my dogs, and supported me emotionally so that I could keep it up to keep our home. We did it together, and there is no end to the thanks and praise I offer you for helping me make my girlhood dream come true.

And today I make a dedication to Zelda. She was a beloved pup of mine, with a long, silky, black coat. She was killed by a car on Mount Royal Boulevard, the busy road where we lived, on the eve of my twentieth birthday, seventeen years ago yesterday. Only moments before she ran into the road I was crooning to my brood of three dogs, promising them that someday I would have land for them to roam. The painful irony that her life ended on the busy road just past my front yard almost instantly as I made that promise was bitter, bitter, bitter for my heavily pregnant, emotional self on the very last day of my teenagehood. But I think that perhaps Zelda’s life was a sacrifice to propel me to make that promise come true. Zelda is an angel, and was designated as Lennon’s guardian, and she has watched over us well. Thank you, precious girl.

Yes, I am entering my middle years with nostalgia and delight, some regrets but much gratitude, and full of zest for the years to come. Thank you, those of you who have shared this journey with me, those who chose me and those who got stuck with me through life’s random assignment or karma or whatever has brought us together. I live my life for all of you. You make it worthwhile. Your love has propelled me to places that eighteen and a half year old woman could not have dreamed possible. I am spellbound by the magic of your love and the ever-building crescendo of my blessed life. Thirty-seven today, and it is the prime of my life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

duty to know

I am currently reading a book that my sister, one of the most dedicated peace activists I know, encouraged me to read, Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. This is a book compiled by Iraq Veterans Against the War and is comprised of the testimony of dozens of young, bright, and once idealistic U.S. military service members. In the tradition of the Vietnam War Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971, a group of recently active duty military gathered to talk about how their service to our country was abused, and how they found themselves engaged in highly questionable activities in the name of the "War on Terror." They reached deep into the personal reserves of bravery that they had only recently relied upon to face the harsh realities of foreign warfare, but now they used it to speak out about the atrocities they witnessed and committed in the name of the U.S. government and the optimistically but falsely named Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am forever changed by the gut-wrenching tales of their noble intention to serve our country and to improve another part of the world, nations they believed were in need of the assistance of a powerful country like the U.S., and how their intentions were subverted to the extreme by the offensive dehumanizing practices of our nation's military branches, egged on by the political leaders that we have put into office.

Story after story, these previously dedicated soldiers explain how their humanity was devastated by what was expected of them in these war zones. Rampant murder of innocent Iraqi civilians fueled by absurdly lax Rules of Engagement (the laws that are supposed to govern modern warfare to make it safer for civilians and non-combatants) is a commonplace, daily event in Iraq. Disgraceful treatment of human remains and devastation of families' homes, personal property, and tools of their livelihood take place with no forethought and no consequences. And this is only a mere mention of the atrocities committed against the Iraqi people.

Our military servants, those for whom supposedly patriotic Americans display yellow ribbons in a useless show of support, are being fucked, to put it bluntly. They are being lied to. They are told that they are being sent to countries who want and need our help to free them from their oppressive governments, but when they arrive on the scene, they find that the local populations have already been terrorized by previous troops, who were only acting as they were instructed, and now the local population live in fear and rage against Americans. Thus, our service members are being attacked by the very people they thought they were there to serve, and the hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that greet them with a spray of hellfire at every turn reduce them to reactionary animals, desperate to stay alive as they see their brothers and sisters fall, and then all Iraqi natives become the enemy to dispatch for the sake of their own safety. The situation in these urban, highly-populated, war zones becomes a vicious, cyclical, "us-or-them" face-off, in which it is believed that only those who shoot first will survive.

Our deployed military members are being subjected to unendurable fear and are surrounded by death and threats on every side, then are forced to make split-second decisions about dire, ethical dilemmas at every turn. They find themselves acting callously, cruelly, inhumanely, then later look back on their own actions and recognize that they made critical mistakes. Normal, caring, conscientious people find themselves posing for "trophy" pictures with dead Iraqi citizens and blown up cars, pose in destroyed, ancient holy sites with their hands recently stained by the blood of the people who call that land their home. Then they come to find that their acts are futile, that their sacrifice and service is not guaranteeing safety for anyone, not for the American people, not for the Iraqi people, for no one. Our country's continued participation in this war is consuming human lives and human sanctity with an insatiable voracity, and we are duty bound to listen to those who have made the greatest sacrifice. Our fellow citizens, those on the front lines in this immoral war, are asking us as to listen their stories and to take action to prevent any more unnecessary suffering or loss.

As one National Guard member stated in the Winter Soldier hearings, "I remember a man running toward me carrying a very young seventeen- or eighteen-year old Iraqi guy, very thin, and very pale. The guy was missing parts of his arm; his arm and his forearm were only held on by a small flap of skin. The bones were protruding and he was bleeding profusely. He had shrapnel wounds all over his torso and his entire left butt cheek was missing and it was bleeding profusely, and it was pooling blood. To this day I have that image burned into my mind's eye. Every couple of days I get a flash of red color in my mind's eye and it won't have any shape, no form, just a flash of red and every time I associate it with that instance. Not only are we disrupting the lives of Iraqi civilians, we are disrupting the lives of our veterans." (p. 40-41, from the book title listed above, emphasis mine). If you believe that America is on a righteous mission in Iraq, you are mistaken. The very men and women who are fighting this war are pleading with us to listen to their stories and to stop this war that is killing American and Iraqi sons and daughters, American and Iraqi brothers and sisters, American and Iraqi mothers and fathers. I believe most people I am likely to reach through my writing are already opposed to the war, but I ask of you to share this information with others, and I ask you to ask yourself, are you doing enough to stop the war? Do you really know just how bad it is?

I believe that, though it is awful, terrible information to learn, that we have a duty to know what is going on in this war. It is so easy for us to sit back in our safe homes and be opposed to the war without ever having to really see, hear, or feel the horror being done in our name. While I count my blessings every, single, gracious day of my life that my sons and I have never had to know the wicked ills of war, I think it is an unfair privilege. We have a duty to know the pain we are being spared, and we have a duty to do everything we can to prevent more soldiers and civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan from living this fate. These stories will propel you to action. Please, visit the Iraq Veterans Against the War website and purchase the book and read it and share it with others. Donate to their organization and tune in to know that there are ongoing Winter Soldier events and writing workshops happening around the country. The first Winter Soldier event was not an isolated gathering of a few disgruntled rebels. There are more and more traumatized veterans returning home every day wondering what the hell we as a country are doing about ending this war in which they had to make untold personal sacrifices. We have a duty to know their stories. We have a duty to know the trauma they have endured, and we have a duty to know that many of them, those who survived, will never be the same again.

This brief audio clip shares just a few of the voices of veterans and active duty military speaking out against the war. Take a few minutes and listen, please. Every single one of us who plans to sleep safely in our beds tonight, without the threat of mortar attacks or our homes being raided, without the fear of loved ones dying all around us, and without the pain of recurring nightmares and ugly images forever emblazoned on our minds has a duty to know that we are very fortunate. And we have a duty to cry out for a world in which everyone can live in that same safety.

Friday, October 09, 2009

the personal IS political

Today feels hard. Though it is beautiful outside, I am plagued with thoughts of the world around me, those in war torn nations and those fighting the wars of ideology and international finance dictated to them by those in power. I am thinking of those without healthcare, as I wheeze my way through another fall day. I am thinking of NASA spending millions (billions?) of dollars doing whatever it is they did to the moon this morning, and how, though I do believe in space exploration and I know that the moon was not "bombed" per se, I also don't believe in, say, mountain top removal. The essence of these great rocks circulating through our solar system, I believe, is greater than lifeless dust.

But I diverge, which I guess is the point. There is so much to think about, so much to be concerned about, and I am overwhelmed by my desire to do "right" in the world, and beyond. So, I need to reconvene here, get perspective, and simplify. I can't do it all, and there will always be problems that need fixing, issues needing to be resolved, and everything in life simply isn't and won't be perfect. But I can do my part and find peace in that. Hence, this poem I write earlier this year.

And yes, I hung the laundry today, three loads of heavy towels, sheets, jeans, and sweatshirts, in this indescribably gorgeous fall weather, and it made me feel good.

The Personal is Political

Picture this:
Homework deadlines,
dishes to do,
dogs need walking,
plus the job,
the kids,
the constant everyday crises &
there I stand, feet planted firmly on the ground,
sun shining warmly on my skin,
as I pull each freshly washed piece from my laundry basket,
shake it crisply with a snap,
then clip it to the line.
Instead of quickly zapping our clothes dry with fossil fuels &
electricity spewed from burning coal
I stand in the sun,
move my body,
breathe clean air &
hang my laundry to dry.

I shop at the French Broad Food Co-op,
unionized labor, member-owned & full of food that’s locally grown &
organic products that do not poison the water & soil shared by all.
I purchase dried beans & grains from bulk bins
that use less packaging & less fuel to transport
than convenient, hydrated foods in steel cans.

I don’t use bags crafted from petroleum or trees to carry my goods
I’ve used the same canvas totes to haul groceries for fifteen years &
If I forget those bags I don’t fret
‘cause I’ve got two strong arms & can transport, if I must,
One apple at a time from my cart to a backpack, a bike rack, or car
to take my goods home.

I wear the hair on my legs & in my pits that god grew there
Not just because I think it is a fanatic beauty standard that women must be clean shorn, rather I choose never to give my money to corporations that
profit from enforcing that beauty standard &
are responsible for our throwing
tens of millions of pink plastic razors into landfills every day.

I remember one day in elementary school as I claimed my food from the lunch line,
An older woman, the proverbial lunch lady stopped me, and she told me that
I was the only child who came through her line every day and said, “Thank you,”
for the food she put on my plate,
This woman, my grandmother’s age
who worked tirelessly for a minimum wage
She told me that I made her feel good,

To this day I remember her lesson, and now
I raise my sons to be boys who say, “Please” and “Thank you,”
I raise sons who will be the kind of men I want to know in this world,
Sons who are sensitive, aware, able to do dishes & laundry & cook their own food,
Sons who ask questions about why gender differences are so important to some people,
Sons who are outraged by military training camps & inform their peers why they
should help shut down the SOA.

And this year I have been spending a lot of time & energy
studying & training.
I have had to sacrifice time with friends & family,
I have been missing parties & festivals & poetry
staying up late with books in my lap
to learn this new skill,
follow a new career path
that will allow me to serve humanity,
to empower others & ease suffering as my profession,
rather than seeking to earn my living from work that could
pollute or alienate or cause harm.

If I seem self-righteous I apologize in earnest.
I’m sorry.
It is not my goal to make others feel self-conscious for the choices they make,
only to bring our collective awareness to the truth that is
We make choices & our choices have consequences.
We can prioritize differently &
You may prioritize differently from me,
but as long as you make choices consciously
You are contributing to the kind of world in which you want to live.

Every kind word you do or don’t say,
Every cent you spend,
Every thread of clothes you wear,
Every bite of food you eat,
How you earn your dough &
Where you choose to go
Ripple their impact
through our fragile, vulnerable globe,
And I am just trying to spend most of my time kicking only pebbles into that pond &
Speaking out against those who launch boulders.

(The picture below is what my laundry hanging mechanism actually looks like...)