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.

Creating My Own Meditation/Oracle Deck

A while ago, I took on a project of painting a 3×3 watercolor every new moon, pairing it with a quote or phrase that felt significant to my life at that point in time. I wrote about the process in the beginning, and about my hope that I would eventually have enough cards to be able to shuffle and select one to focus on. Well, months later (and several repaints down the road), I have a nice little deck that holds incredible meaning for me.

My artistic skill isn’t perfect, but I feel proud of my deck and want to show it off.

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Related quote: “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” –Longfellow

The original card for this Longfellow quote (this picture is a repaint) was painted during a period of intense grief over the loss of someone very close to me. It helped me remember that I needed to allow myself to cry as needed. Even now, it reminds me that sometimes emotions just need to be. They cannot move out if they aren’t allowed to move through. I’m a big believer in having days where “moping” is the only thing on the to-do list.

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Related quote: “You’re a divine animal and you’re beautiful; the divine is not separate from the beast.” –Lenore Kandel

This one is also an early card that was repainted because the image didn’t…well, it didn’t look like a person. Most people thought the original was a dog’s face. 😛 But this is a message that has been recurring for me to love myself as an embodied creature.

I’ve worked so hard to work through some of the baggage that comes from being raised in a puritanical, sex- and body-shaming environment along with the baggage that comes from sexual abuse itself. But I realize it’s never a “won” battle. Shame can come creeping back in even years after I thought I had cast it off. I need recurrent reminders that it’s okay to be embodied, to be sexual (or to not want sex), or to be imperfect.

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Related quote: “I wanna think that you’ll be different. Smoke and mirrors are so clever clever.” –Kelly Clarkson in “Let Me Down”

This mirror (which will probably be repainted because it doesn’t exactly scream “mirror”) grew from my need to remember that people who have been toxic in the past may know all the right things to say–and I may be tempted to believe them–but it doesn’t necessarily signify that things will actually change.

I’m coming up on a year of official cut-off from my parents. Inevitably, I find myself wrestling with questions. “What if they’ve changed?” “What if they can be better?” “What if I can make them love me?” Sometimes the most treacherous smoke-and-mirror trick is the one I can play on myself in thinking that I can somehow change the past by being “good enough.”

Deep down, I know that’s not true, but the lies that are the most tempting to believe are the ones we want to be true.

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Related quote: “But the monsters turned out to be just trees.” –Taylor Swift in “Out of the Woods”

I love this one as a trigger grounder. I have come to truly admire the way that my system can recognize red flags, but I also realize that sometimes it’s reacting to something that is not currently actually a threat. This card reminds me to take a step back and think about whether my brain is reacting to shadows.

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Related quote: “And so here we go bluebird, back to the sky on your own.” –Sara Bareilles in “Bluebird”

I’ve written before about the sense of permanent displacement, the sadness of always “moving on.” This card is a poignant expression of that–as much a reminder to think about when I need to take flight as it is a form of mourning that sometimes I cannot permanently belong, no matter how much I want to.

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Related quote: “What do stars do? Shine.” –Neil Gaiman from “Stardust”

A lovely but simple quote from Stardust that can encourage me to let my talents do their thing. I have magic and power within. I have skills that I have honed. Sometimes, all I need to do is let them be visible.

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Related quote: “Change your perspective, and you change your world.” –a spirit guide

I’ve seen somewhat similar phrases since I had this one come to me, but I can’t rightfully attribute it as a quote to someone since it was a phrase that came to me during an active imagination/vision quest in which I was conversing with a fairy queen who was my guide in that moment. It’s been an important concept for me for years at this point, so it seemed only right to put it into a card. It reminds me that there are always multiple ways of looking at something.

This is not one of those bullshit positivity mantras that all problems will go away if I stop thinking about them as problems. Rather, it’s encouragement to look at the ways that I can address the problem that may not be readily apparent. Sometimes that looks like “letting go.” Other times, it looks for ways in which I may not be recognizing my own power or using all the tools available to me. When I’m feeling stuck, sometimes what I need is a different view of the problem.

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Related quote: “I’ll be an army, no you’re not gonna stop me getting through. I’ll sing a marching song and stomp through the halls louder than you. I could surrender, but I’d just be pretending. No, I’d rather be dead than live a lie. Burn the white flag!” –Joseph in “White Flag”

This flag card is, hands down, one of my favorites–both as a quote and as a picture. It’s such a powerful card for me and probably one of the most recurrent themes I face in my life–the choice of whether to surrender or “fight against all odds.” This is my Frodo heading into Mordor card, my Aragorn at Helm’s Deep card, my Joan of Arc card, my Braveheart “FREEDOM!” card, my Thelma and Louise card.

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Related quote: “If you wanna break these walls down, you’re gonna get bruised.” –Halsey in “Castle”

Probably somewhat similar to the flag card, this card is also about fighting…but more about fighting the established systems and recognizing that there isn’t a way to break down some of the toxic structures of life without it hurting a little. I felt this card a lot during the election season, the realization that we were at a painful juncture as a nation that offered little hope of positive outcome. This is the card that reminds me that sometimes in order to address the root of something, it might seem like things have to get worse before they can get better.

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Related quote: “You can’t push the river.” –Unknown quote found in “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine

I think this might be a proverb or something. I have no idea where it came from. I read it in Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger. It’s a lovely image though about the importance of letting a process happen at its own pace.

I need to remember this for my own healing. “It takes the time that it takes,” as a dear friend put it once. Like the Longfellow quote, this one helps me remember to allow myself to be in the muck, but also reminds me that the much doesn’t last forever–it’s just part of the flow.

I also need to remember this when it comes to others too though. As a counselor, as an activist, as a friend, as a lover–I find myself in various positions of supporting or encouraging growth and change in others. It’s easy to get frustrated if things don’t progress as fast as I want them to or in the way that I want them to, but I cannot hasten someone’s process. I can’t do the changing for them. The more I try to influence the flow of the process, the more I’m probably going to actually face resistance.

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Related quote: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” –Sylvia Plath

This heart is another that is a particular favorite of mine. I adore the colors in the heart! I don’t think I could recreate this if my life depended on it, but I’m thrilled that it turned out this well when I first painted it.

This was the card I painted following the Pulse massacre. It was the cry of my heart at realizing that people not only hate me for being queer but that some would even want to kill me.

It was a cry of grief as well as defiance. “I am here! You can kill me, but you can’t kill my pride!” Perhaps that is why they colors turned out so vibrant…

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Related quote: “Once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” –John Green from “Paper Towns”

There is a particular passage towards the end of John Green’s Paper Towns that I have earmarked and read over and over. It’s a passage talking about the importance of metaphors and how they shape how we approach different things. It’s also a passage that talks about the ways that life buffets you. This is the passage the reminds me of how our wounds are what helps us connect and empathize. They can become our superpowers, so to speak, like Harry seeing the thestrals.

The thing about this meditation deck is that it’s literally tailored to my life. As an oracle, it might have some meaning for others as a side effect, but it isn’t designed for the sake of universality. Rather, it is a reflection of the specific themes and patterns of my life, something that makes it particularly powerful for me. It’s far from finished, but it’s full enough now to be useful.

Feel free to share the mantras that have helped guide your life in the comments!

 

Radical Self-Care Doesn’t End Here

Over the last three years in grad school, I’ve been aware of the necessity for and committed to radical self-care. I couldn’t have gotten through grad school without that commitment.

Now that I’m graduated, the importance of self-care has not diminished, but the urgency is no longer as pressing. I have plenty of time to make sure I’m eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, hanging out with friends, stimulating my mind, caring for my emotions, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t have to choose what to sacrifice and what to give attention to anymore.

Ironically, now is when I’m realizing that I’m easily lulled into not caring for myself in the way that I need to.

Some things that I’ve sorely missed have been more readily done. I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on getting outside and exercising a solid 30-60 minutes most days of the week—which is great! I’ve missed running and haven’t felt great in my body for a while. I really enjoy being able to take an hour to move my body without the pressure of deadlines looming.

Other aspects of my wellness are harder though. I have to remind myself to make plans with friends—to not let that piece of me that is introverted and passive about social activities to drown out the part of me that needs to see people and be assertive.

I also have to remind myself not to become too obsessed with one project or activity. My time limitations are no longer set by syllabi; I have to determine, on my own, how much time is appropriate to spend on something like a political discussion or novel. And I’ve discovered that while I might feel incredibly energized and engaged for a LONG time on one thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for me to remain buried in that one thing for so long.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that self-care was easier when I was in grad school…but in some ways I think it was. I knew how important it was to carve out time for my various needs because I could feel the energy depletions happening on me at every moment.

The five, ten, or thirty minutes that I would scavenge to practice my spirituality or write in my journal were precious. I could feel them keeping me going.

Now, I don’t feel my energy depleting as quickly. It’s easy to say, “Oh I can do that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I don’t need to bother with that today.”

But I do.

I need to bother with making sure I stay balanced.

In the process of realizing that I need to renew my commitment to radical self-care, I’ve been having conversations with people about the definition of “radical.”

Colloquially, it has come to represent a word that means zealous—almost to extremism.

My understanding of and commitment to radical self-care certainly sometimes felt that way—when it seemed like I was making extreme choices to prioritize my well-being over the never-ending obligations and demands around me.

However, as I’ve been talking with people about how radical also means “to the root,” it’s been shifting what radical self-care means to me.

What does it mean to be committed to the root of self-care—to the necessity for balance of the multi-faceted aspects of wellness, to the rejection of habits or cultural norms that delegitimize my well-being or erase certain aspects of my self which are important to my well-being?

I know that radical self-care has always partially been about more than my individual choices. There is a huge component related to work practices in the U.S., gender role expectations, familial obligations, etc. The environment and outside factors cannot be ignored.

Yet how often do we actually talk about those factors as more than obstacles? I don’t know about others, but I have never been to a meeting with an organization to determine how the organization can improve the atmosphere of wellness for those working for it. If an organization is going to get involved in a conversation about self-care, it’s generally going to be because an individual hit burnout territory—the meeting will be about what the individual needs to do differently or what they’re not doing enough of.

I’ve been itching to be able to delve into an exploration of the external factors involved in wellness and how radical self-care relates to those, and now I have time!

Which means that along with reminding myself to take breaks and diversify what gets my attention, I can also finally begin looking more seriously at the systemic issues.

I am zealous about self-care, as a form of self-love and preservation but also as a form of resistance; that means getting to the roots, not just of my own well-being but of the self-within-society because, as Donne once wrote, “no man is an island.”

 

Celebrating the Lessons of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone turned 20 recently. It’s hard to imagine that  I was 10 when the first book came out! I didn’t read any of the books until I was in college, almost a decade later. My parents thought they were evil, filled with demonic energy, and a sure-fire path to the corruption of my soul.

They were…not wrong from their perspective, I suppose.

The books changed my life. I see it as a change for the better; they probably see it as exactly what they would have expected.

There were so many lessons I learned from Harry’s adventures. In honor of the birthday of the series, I wanted to share some of them with you this week in celebration of this incredible series.

Harry Potter taught me that standing up to injustice is something that anyone can do, even an ordinary school child who isn’t that talented and doesn’t quite fit in. From Harry to Ron to Neville, there was a consistent theme of “ordinary” people (as ordinary as wizards get among other wizards) doing extraordinarily brave things that have both small and large effects on the lives of others. These books are a consistent reminder that I matter—that my actions (or inactions) matter.

Harry Potter taught me that it’s possible to find a loving family through the relationships built with friends. He didn’t have a loving family. He technically lived with his uncle and aunt, an orphan grieving the parents he never knew. Even though my parents weren’t dead, I too had to go through a period of mourning the archetypal, good parents that I didn’t have.

Yet, the books provided more than a glimpse into the pain that can accompany something you never knew. In contrast to his biological guardians who try to control Harry because they can’t manage their own anxiety about his gifts, Harry and his friends and mentors display friendships that are close but not fused—that are supportive but not smothering. He models building a chosen family based on love rather than biology.

Harry Potter taught me to give people a chance. Whether it was Dumbledore’s insistence on trying to save Draco from going down the path of his father or the development of Neville from a bumbling annoyance into one of the most important people in the defeat of Voldemort, these books illustrate how people are not defined by their family history, awkward childhoods, or odd beliefs (Hi Luna!).

They are defined “by their choices” as Dumbledore so eloquently puts it. We each have the influence of our genetics, environment, and desires…but we do not have fates mapped out for us over which we have no control. Rather, our fates emerge out of our choices, and there is always the opportunity to choose differently, e.g. Regulus Black.

Harry Potter taught me that sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean obeying the rules. This is one of the most important lessons throughout the books, and can be seen in different ways.

On the one hand, there are times when genuinely good people are in power, and the rules are there for a seemingly good reason. But Harry still understands that sometimes he needs to break the rules in order to do what is truly right. In this way, Harry modeled advanced moral reasoning and critical thinking, something I wasn’t really exposed to in any other way within the cult.

But then there are times when people are abusing their power even though they might be occupying a position that has previously been “good” (i.e. Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts or Voldemort after he corrupts the Ministry of Magic), and Harry, along with many others, understands that it is imperative to resist that power, demonstrating in a different way that blind obedience isn’t the highest good. The Order of the Phoenix, in particular, was responsible for planting the seeds of rebellion that eventually led me out of the cult, sprouting into my current commitment to justice and activism today.

On the other hand, Harry Potter also taught me that you have to be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. Not every time he went against the rules or advice of his elders did it turn out well. He has to live with the knowledge that he led his godfather to his death because he failed to heed warnings that Voldemort might try to manipulate him.

He also doesn’t always use his power for good. He nearly murders Draco by shouting out an unknown curse in anger, and he attempts the cruciatus curse on Bellatrix out of rageful grief.

Part of his coming of age is working through the consequences of his choices and learning that he is neither invincible nor infallible. He has to learn that he needs others to temper his impulsivity and help him learn to compensate for where he is vulnerable. He also has to guard against becoming like those he fights against. What good is it to defeat Voldemort if he becomes as bad as Voldemort?

I’ll go ahead and wrap up now because this post is already getting long. These are just a handful of the lessons I learned from this remarkable collection of books. They guide me in some way every day, whether in my relationships, my activism, or my professional life.

I’m curious now, in what ways has the Harry Potter series influenced you?