Putting Things on Pause

Construction sign

 

I’m going to be taking some time off from my blog for a bit for some personal exploration. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I hope to come back with some new inspiration.

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Books! Books! Books!

I tried counting my books once. I got to about a thousand, give or take, based on what was just on my shelves at that moment, not counting those in storage boxes from lack of space. Most of the time, I’m content with how many I have…or I want more because you can never have enough books, right?

Every once in a while, I get into one of those bizarre moods where I suddenly think, “I have too many books. I need to get rid of some!”

It’s usually driven more by appearances than anything. I see my brimming shelves with books stacked on top of books and in front of books, and the J part of my INFJ kicks in and desperately wants a single row of alphabetized, upright books per shelf.

Then I go through this sincere attempt of rooting through all of my books trying to choose which ones will leave. This week, I even opened up the boxed books, thinking that since I hadn’t seen or read them in years I’d probably be ready to pass them on to someone else.

Instead, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by books, bemoaning the fact that this book or that book had been hidden away for so long. Instead of clearing out shelves, I was adding to them.

It’s not unusual that when I try to get rid of books, I think of every reason to keep them. Even books I hate often hold an important place for me. Some, or course, are easier. I’ve been developing the habit of getting rid of any fiction book I find badly written after I’m done reading it, especially if I’ve given up on trying to finish it at least twice.

Non-fiction books are much harder though, regardless of whether they were written well or whether I agree with the content.

I have nearly a whole bookshelf dedicated to various religious books, with at least a shelf and a half filled with books specifically related to my former cult’s doctrines and teachings. I keep the terrible, awful marriage books that blame wives for their husbands’ infidelity and encourage and condone sexual coercion in the marriage. I keep the terrible, illogical books that twist and contort to cover their own doctrinal contradictions. As much as I hate them, I need them because I find them useful to reference if I need to demonstrate some of the teachings I used to be under.

I do the same for politics, though not as religiously (har har). I have books on Communism, Anarchism, Liberalism, Conservativism, Capitalism, Feminism, etc. etc.

Some books I buy and read simply because they are historically significant or referenced in other important works. I might hate them. I might not even be able to fully read them! (I gave up on Kierkegaard as soon as I established that he took pages and pages to craft cleverly concealed circular arguments).

But I have them, and I familiarize myself with them because books are important. Reading a book is one of the better ways of exploring different perspectives, especially if I have my own strong feelings about one particular stance. Books are clean in that the author has usually put a lot of effort into researching and crafting just what they want to say in the way they want to say it to be as clear and (hopefully) concise as they can be, which means I’m often getting a more thorough and well-thought view of that perspective than I might otherwise get just conversing with someone who holds loosely to that viewpoint but hasn’t developed much insight into the nuts and bolts of their worldview.

Better yet, I can yell at the book all I want—I can even throw it across the room— and it will still be there for me to finish when I’m ready.

Reading a broad range of books deepens my understanding of where others are coming from, which in turn helps me to know how to discuss things with them in a manner that might help both of us grow. It also challenges me to deepen my own understanding of my own worldview so that I can adjust where it’s flawed or bolster the weaker points.

See why it’s so hard to clean out my shelves?!

I did eventually create a substantial pile of books I’m ready to pass on so that I can (of course) bring in new books that are more relevant to my life right now, but the process reminded me of how treasured even the most despised book on my shelf is to me—of the role that books have played in my own freedom and development.  It also reminded me of how important access to books and information is to a free society.

At the end of September, bookstores and libraries will be celebrating banned book week. Throughout the month, many will have displays of books that have been banned, challenged, or censored in various parts of the U.S. or world. It’s an important time to take a look at the ways that governments and communities have attempted to police people’s thoughts.

Make a visit, take a look, let yourself be surprised/horrified/made uncomfortable at what has been censored in the past (no joke, the dictionary is on that list), and finally, pick something to read that you haven’t read before, maybe even something that challenges your perspective.

I definitely plan to do the same…especially since I’ve got some blank spaces on my shelves that need to be filled!

 

Reclaiming the Private Life in a Technological Age

Earlier this week, I was on an adventure with my partner that took us into this gorgeous hideout along a river’s edge. The water was so clear and deep that I could watch fish swimming just below me.

Delighted as I always am with anything animal, I whipped out my phone and tried to capture a picture. The sounds and smells around me receded as my eye took over my sensory processing, but I was frustrated to realize that my phone couldn’t capture what my eyes could.

At one point, I looked up and the fullness of the scene came rushing back into my awareness. I realized the experience was so much more intense when I wasn’t living it through a shrunken version on a screen.

Then and there, I pocketed my phone, deciding that I actually didn’t want to share what I was doing and seeing. No one would grasp what this place felt like through what little I could show in a picture, and trying so hard to share the experience with others was actually diminishing it for myself.

It felt like an epiphany.

Everything seems to be publicized these days.

We can read the break ups of complete strangers, find out the juicy details of how someone discovered their partner was cheating on them, or witness people proposing to their significant other, coming out to their parents, or giving birth to their firstborn child.

Increasingly, we’ve been able to watch people have emotional breakdowns, commit crimes, or defend against sexual/physical assault all through the spread of recorded interactions and “live” features of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and good ol’ security cameras.

In many ways, life has become a performative art. Moments become about one’s followers and “friends” (loosely applied regardless of whether you ever hang out or converse), not about…well, the moment.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a picture to show friends or posting to social media about stuff going on in your life. It’s an important form of sharing that I don’t intend to give up.

But having the option to share any moment at any time can become a compulsion to share every moment all the time.

Sometimes, it’s good to step back and revel in the privacy of the moment—to let it be sacred, special, secret, or solo.

When was the last time you did something for yourself, just yourself, and didn’t publicize it? (Other than mundane shit like brushing your teeth and stuff.) If you find yourself struggling with coming up with an answer, maybe it’s time to stop curating Instagram and start curating your privacy.

Take a conversation off the screen and make it face-to-face. Pick something not to share on snap-chat and explore how it feels compared to the times you do share. Maybe even cultivate something in your life that never gets shared on social media—it’s entirely private, deliciously secret from the Internet (though maybe not secret from people connected to you in person).

While the Internet does a lot to expand the world for us, sometimes it also ends up disconnecting us from our inner world or from the tangible world around us. When we choose to disconnect from the screen, we reject the idea that posting a moment makes it “real.” #NoPicsBecauseIWasTooBusyLivingIt

 

Five Ways of Resisting Without Punching Nazis

Wow! It’s been a hell of a week, and if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty damn raw and emotional.

There are many people who are scared, angry, grieving, etc. over the events that happened in Charlottesville.

Many are calling for measures to suppress free speech, seeing it as inextricably linked with the violence of the previous weekend. There are others arguing that we should go around and punch Nazis, harass them, send them threats, and “make them afraid” to show their faces in public.

I get it. I do.

But I can’t help but cringe at how these responses merely contribute to the problem. We’re dealing with extremism, and we have to be smart about how we deal with extremism. I believe, from what I’ve seen, that it’s safe to say that these white supremacist movements qualify as cults and that they have a very deliberate recruitment program.

And you getting pissed off enough to punch someone in the face for their ideology is part of that plan!

You getting pissed off enough to dox someone online or harass someone or prevent them from speaking at a college event is part of that plan.

Because they really want to convince angry, scared, and vulnerable people that they are being persecuted…and the more that you can give evidence of that, the better for their recruitment agenda.

But I also get that some of this extreme response to extremism stems from a very legitimate place of fear.

Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery writes about how revenge fantasies are not uncommon in response to trauma because they offer the illusion of rebalancing the trauma. People desire resolution, and sometimes the idea of becoming the big bad aggressor who makes the oppressor afraid the way they have been afraid seems like the only or the best way to go about resolving the trauma and regaining a sense of safety.

It doesn’t work though.

Perpetuating violence against others can actually compound trauma. That’s part of the reason why soldiers can get PTSD—it’s not just the threat to their own lives; it’s the memories of what they’ve done to others that can haunt them, even if that “other” was an “enemy.” (Edit to add: based on feedback from others, I’d like to clarify that I’m not condemning self-defense or protecting others and that those can be healthy responses to physical threat–they can also result in trauma, but not necessarily).

But we’re feeling helpless, and we need somewhere to turn, something to do.

So here’s a list of five ways that you can resist extremism and white supremacy that I think have a better chance of being effective than lashing out.

  1. Self-care. No seriously! Self-care is super important right now. Burnout and secondary traumatic stress (basically becoming traumatized from witnessing or hearing about trauma) are major risks, especially when there is very graphic footage that is being virally shared from last weekend.The symptoms of burnout and secondary trauma can compound the unhelpful aspects of this situation and interfere with your ability to think about and do things to help you and your communities heal.

    So, make sure you take breaks, get rest, meet your physical and emotional needs, do things that are pleasant, comforting, and hopeful.

    And if you notice yourself having nightmares, being hypervigilant, having intrusive thoughts or memories (or flashbacks), experiencing extreme mood swings, or other symptoms of trauma, consider seeing a professional and getting some extra support.

    You can read more about self-care after tragedies at this post. There are also some great resources on the Orlando Grief Care Project website for dealing with grief and stress that I would recommend you check out.

  2. Donate to Life After Hate, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or some other group that is working to counter the violence, racism, and extremism of our current times. I mention these groups specifically because they specifically focus on resistance without oppression.Life After Hate reaches out to people who have become embroiled in the cult of the alt-right. They are working specifically to help people leave these ideologies…which is way more effective than trying to silence the ideologies.

    It might seem like a slower approach, but every person that chooses to walk away from that movement is one less person at those rallies and one more person with connections to others and the ability to influence others who might be going to those rallies.

    The SPLC has released a handbook outlining how people can effectively counter white supremacists coming to campus without damaging the right to speech. I get that free speech doesn’t seem as valuable to many right now in the face of neo-Nazis, but if we are really up against a group that wants to implement fascism and we already have someone sympathetic to their cause in office, we definitely don’t need to help break down the protections of citizens. Once we start dismantling free speech for others, it’s only a matter of time before that gets used against us (see my post about Pussy Riot for a deeper discussion here).

  3. Learn some ways that you yourself can engage with cults and totalistic forces that are likely to be more productive than force.It’s important to understand why people get involved in cultic groups. They often don’t start out as radical as they seem after they join. Many join because they’re scared and angry and confused. Transitional/stressful times make people more vulnerable to cultic influence because cults promise to solve people’s problems and provide a simple worldview that clarifies all of the complexity that makes life scary.

    Cults offer certainty in a world of seeming chaos, and they subtly manipulate people’s emotions and beliefs in ways that most don’t recognize at first, sometimes leading to actions that baffle the rest of the world with their violence—the Manson murders and Jonestown being very prominent examples.

    But the good news is that there are ways of reaching people even while they are in a cult. Megan Phelps-Roper has a lovely Ted Talk about how she was able to break out of Westboro Baptist Church due to the compassionate but worldview-challenging dialogue that others offered her, and she offers some great tips on how individuals can engage with others in some of those difficult conversations. Her Ted Talk often reminds me that dialogue is the first line of defense against extremism.

    I also recommend reading the following for a better understanding of what we may be facing right now. These inform much of my own approach. Having the knowledge of how extremism and totalism work can go a long way in knowing how to reach out to those influenced by it.

    Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism by Robert Lifton
    On Tyrrany: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
    by Timothy Snyder
    Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steve Hassan
    Cults in our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer
    The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo

  4. Do healing activities with your own communities and connections.It is healing to get together to sing and dance. It is healing to spend time with loved ones. It is healing to engage in comforting touch like hugs and hand-holding. While organizing or participating in events that involve art or music or dance or other touchy-feely activities may seem so far removed from the issues at hand, it can be just as important as self-care.

    Healing trauma for an individual often involves a dance between dealing with the painful issues and doing comforting or pleasurable things. And healing as a society from collective trauma, societal trauma, and historic trauma needs the same thing. Peter Levine calls it the healing vortex and describes how it can counter the vortex of trauma that tries to pull you into a repetitive, unhealthy cycle of avoidance, re-enactment, and re-traumatization.

    If you’re involved in activism, give attention to community healing. It doesn’t have to wait until racism seems to be conquered—it can’t wait until then!

    At a social justice conference I attended this year, I was struck by an observation made from someone who was an activist originally from a different culture. They said that Americans are too serious about our activism. We don’t learn how to laugh and have fun even while we are fighting oppression. This person had come from a war-torn region and talked about how dancing and laughing were essential in keeping the work going, essential to not being overwhelmed with despair.

    That message stuck with me, especially because my training in helping people with trauma as individuals also highlights that need for pleasure, comfort, and joy. In fact, it’s the foundation. Every trauma model I have studied begins with a foundation of creating a sense of internal safety and strengths through connecting to happy memories or doing positive activities.

    Activism that is, at heart, dealing with collective trauma from injustice needs to be grounded in a trauma model, which means we need to have opportunities for our communities, divided though they may be, to come together in these ways.

  5. Explore your own relationship to and feelings about racial issues. I’m assuming that most of the people reading this would identify as people sensitive to social justice issues, but I also think that everyone’s journey is different. SO…It’s okay to need space to explore these issues even if you feel you strongly disagree with “SJWs” or if you have negative feelings towards the left. You don’t have to be wholly aligned with the most liberal stance in order to explore these issues.

    It’s okay to have questions or make mistakes in your attempt to talk about these issues. Be willing to make mistakes because that’s part of growth, but also be willing to own up to and apologize if you make a mistake because that’s also part of growth.

    It’s okay to want to feel safe and respected while you struggle with examining your worldview, and I understand that those qualities tend to be lacking in many spaces. Call-out culture has become pretty scary and toxic, but that’s not how everyone operates. There are many lovely activists, advocates, and social justice ambassadors (my new term for differentiating from the more antagonistic ilk) who don’t resort to shame and aggression to control.

    Of course, also be willing to feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is not the same as lacking safety…and it’s good to know how to differentiate between those. Talking about racial issues is uncomfortable. Challenging your worldview is uncomfortable. You shouldn’t expect yourself to tolerate feeling completely unsafe, but if you aren’t at least tolerating a little discomfort, you are probably not anywhere close to the growth edge.

    If you have a supportive group where you can feel safe to explore but still be challenged around racial issues, great! In person connections with people you know are always better for these tough conversations.

    You might be able to create a community yourself if you don’t know of one—but make sure it includes people who are respectful and compassionate as well as willing to challenge your thinking and allow you to challenge theirs. I’m currently in love with the deliberate dialogue movements that have sprung up and the idea that it is in the spot with the most tension that the solution ultimately lives.

    Just…don’t create yet another echo chamber. Make sure you’re not just talking to people who agree with you and validate your feelings (and for those who identify as more liberal, this might mean challenging yourself to talk with and explore a more conservative viewpoint. You help no one by insulating entirely.)

    Therapists are also a great place to go if you need a space that is confidential and non-judgmental but hella challenging. Therapists can help you explore your own assumptions and beliefs in a warm, compassionate way, supporting you towards the changes you want to make in your thinking. Generally, they also don’t let you off the hook of doing hard work (or they shouldn’t).

    There are also online groups, though I hesitate to recommend them because the Internet tends to be one of the more vitriolic spaces one can go right now. However, Authentic Allyship is an online group that seeks to provide a space specifically for white people to explore the emotions that come up around being white, including anger and the trauma of being part of oppression.

    It’s designed to be a safe space for “white emotions,” and from what I can tell, the person who runs it (who is, incidentally, a therapist) seems genuinely compassionate and highly principled about the work they’re trying to do. What I’ve read aligns a lot with the mindfulness-based, compassion-based, and non-violent activism towards which I tend to gravitate.

Bonus (because there’s never just five): Get to know the local groups already active in your area. This is something I am challenging myself on more as well. Online activity has always been where I most engage with difficult conversations because it brings me in contact with so many people all over the place. It’s also where I found my greatest supports in exploring my sexual orientation and exiting and recovering from cult life. But online has become more and more toxic lately, and I’ve started wondering if social media is exacerbating the problems we face. I want to give a social media detox a go, get to know more ways to be active “in real life” (which isn’t to say online isn’t important or real, just virtual), and test out other ways of staying informed that don’t involve being bombarded with catastrophic images and articles ALL THE TIME! So, I encourage you to do the same. As always, if you get involved in any group (online or otherwise) that starts to exhibit red flags for cultic or totalistic practices, it’s probably healthiest if you leave, even if you really like the cause they espouse.

 

Sonnet to Poetry

I’m busy this weekend with a wedding and managing existential dread about nuclear annihilation, so I am posting a silly little thing I wrote the other day when I was realizing how much I miss creating poetry. So enjoy the light humor of some melodramatic song; I hope you have a good weekend!

Sonnet to Poetry

How long it’s been since I have played with words!
Too much has passed since last I crafted those
Delightful sounds that opened up the worlds
Of my imagination long ago!
It must be years my pen has gathered dust,
My dictionary yellowing with age,
While I have chased pedestrian pursuits—
Neglecting all my passion for the page.
No more will I allow my heart to drift
From that which fed my soul in infancy.
The gods have granted me the sacred gift
Of song, and I must use it faithfully.
The words come shyly back to me tonight;
Through ink my magic births creative light.

 

Let Go and Let Goddess

There was this trite phrase that I used to hear in the cult: “Let go and let God.”

It was used to encourage surrender and submission to “God’s will” (which always turned out to conveniently be what the authorities wanted you to do) and to remind people that they didn’t need to understand what was happening. Questioning God was just rebellion. Rather, a good cultie—er, Christian—would recognize that all they needed to do was follow God’s lead and take joy in whatever trials were sent their way.

Gag!

But in a weird way, this phrase has sort of been coming back to me, with a slightly new twist.

I’m taking the biggest risk of my life. Okay…maybe not the biggest. I did decide that going to hell was a worthwhile risk when I left the cult, so eternal damnation might be a slightly riskier move than opening my own practice.

But it feels that big!

While my partner has decided to go back to school, I’ve taken up the role of breadwinner for the household…by going into business for myself, spending thousands on getting set up, and crossing my fingers that I can make a living doing what I love.

Part of what makes success seem like a possibility is that I am an extremely hard, self-directed worker. I’m thorough in planning and tirelessly detail-oriented.

But there’s a point at which I realize that I can only do so much, and then it’s out of my hands.

That’s when this phrase returns to mind. There is never a reason for me to abdicate my right to question or to sacrifice myself in surrender to some sadistic divine will, but there is a point at which I need to…have faith, I guess.

I find myself asking, Is it faith in myself? Or is it a faith in something larger than myself?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. As someone who has a healthy skepticism about the existence of a divinity and definitely doesn’t believe in an omnipotent god, it feels infinitely strange to find myself sending out a kind of prayer.

“Dear Goddess, it’s me—er, well, you know who—I’ve done my part; if you could see fit to send people my way, that would be great.”

I mean, I know there are other ways of looking at it. One of the people who has been instrumental in helping me get set up has resorted to the Field of Dreams mantra, “If you build it, they will come,” which is helpful in a different way in reminding me to chill the fuck out.

But I can’t help but be amused by the irony in the fact that I can’t control everything, regardless of which quote, phrase, or cliché I use to remind myself of that. At some point, I have to let go….At least, I can choose to give it over to a Goddess this time. Bitches get shit done!

 

The Chimera of Shushing the Taboo

Laci Green has become the latest social justice pariah, and there’s a good chance I’m committing social media suicide today by defending her…but I just can’t let this go.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Laci recently drew ire for her decision to begin talking to people with whom she disagrees, both in private as well as more publicly.

There are so many layers to what’s happening that I could talk about, one of which is the growing cult of shame within social justice. Thankfully there are many people who have begun writing about the toxicity of a culture built on shame and control. If you’re interested, read this, this, and this. I feel like they give a good enough break down of my concerns that I would only be redundant if I focused on that aspect.

So instead, I want to talk about one of the other pervasive themes I’ve seen in the critique of Laci Green: the “How dare she have that conversation about or give a platform to that stance/idea?” critique.

Yes, she’s talking to people who have some ideas with which I strongly disagree. Hell, I even disagree with some of her beliefs and stances, topics about which I would love to be able to talk with her further.

But here’s the thing that I thought/ hoped we had learned after the election: Telling someone not to talk about something doesn’t make them stop talking about it. It just makes them stop talking about it to you.

That might feel good for you, in that moment…but it doesn’t destroy the idea or the topic.

In some ways, it strengthens it and adds to the allure–something I’ve come to label “the taboo effect.”

Making something taboo backfires. We’ve seen it time and time again. Telling teens not to have sex doesn’t prevent them from having sex. Telling people not to drink or use drugs doesn’t prevent them from using drugs. Telling someone not to commit suicide doesn’t prevent people from thinking about it or following through on it. Telling someone not to read/watch certain materials doesn’t prevent them from reading or watching those materials.

Making something unmentionable doesn’t destroy its existence.

It just drives it into the shadows where it festers and grows much more monstrous than it needs to be.

When we say that certain conversations shouldn’t be given a platform, we’re not taking away the table; we’re taking away our place at it. We’re ensuring that the conversations will be less likely to happen with diverse points of view and amongst people who can challenge each other.

Instead, they happen behind closed doors, with only like-minded people who feed each other’s perspectives.

And then you get an election where the polls say one thing and the results reveal a different mindset that has been hidden (because it’s taboo) but still growing until it explodes like a national cancer.

We didn’t get Trump because we were having too many open dialogues about racial issues, women’s issues, sexuality, politics, etc. We got Trump because we thought that controlling what was socially acceptable to say could control what people believed. We got Trump because we stopped listening to those with whom we disagreed—stopped listening to understand, stopped listening to engage.

Not only did we stop listening but we outright told them, “Sit down and shut up. Check your privilege. Your perspective doesn’t matter here.” And surprise! Yelling at people, demeaning them, and silencing them didn’t make them magically change their position.

So I don’t really care whether I agree with what Laci’s guests are saying on her livestream. I don’t care whether I agree with her.

What I care about is that she has the guts to have these conversations, even amidst the vitriolic angst that it raises amongst those who previously supported and followed her.

I care that she realizes that the conversations need to happen, as painful as they are.

I care that she is willing to respectfully listen to and be challenged by others with different worldviews and that doing so, in turn, means that they are engaging with her and listening to her and being challenged by her.

She’s pulling that table back out into the open and saying, “I want a seat. I want a say.”

So if you don’t like that your perspective isn’t being represented, don’t criticize her for the dialogue. Get involved in the dialogue. Stop trying to shove it back into the closet. Deal with it like…well, like an advocate, because ultimately this kind of dialogue is what advocacy is all about. And right now, Laci is one of the few people on the left that I see actually modeling that.