Thursday, July 28, 2016

Basic Creativity Reminders

I met with a couple of new clients this week, to see if we would match for me to help them manifest their creative practice time and/or projects. I have grown to love this work, this one-on-one (secretly my favorite way to interact in all cases) support. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me and them focused, and often makes me interpret, re-state or understanding things in a new way all the time, which is good overall for me as a practitioner and as a teacher, both.

These appointments, as beginning appointments often do, reminded me of some really basic, key things we often overlook. That, combined with having just returned from teaching a week-long contemplative writing retreat, have put the importance of structure back in the forefront of my mind. So I wanted to write a post with some of my favorite suggestions, tools, and ideas for how to make sure you do the things you want to do in your life, but can't seem to find/make time to do.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The False Immunity of Being White

A few years ago, I got a flu shot. I don't usually get one - no particular reason other than no good reason to get one. But that year, ilana was getting one and I thought, "Why not?"

We didn't have health insurance, so we got it at a pharmacy. I kind of hate getting shots (likely another reason I hadn't gotten them often) and so felt a bit woozy during and after. They had me lie down and rest, and then I could get up and move around. I felt pretty sick for a couple of days - fever and all - when we called the pharmacy they said that can happen. It passed and I didn't get the flu that year, but I don't usually get it. Ironically, I did cancel classes that week due to the severity of my reaction to the innoculation - I did understand that one week sick is better than multiple weeks.

Why do I bring this up?

I've been thinking a lot about white fragility lately, and how easy it is for those of us who are not often exposed to the pain behind racism to get overwhelmed by it. So many good fellow white people I know - dedicated, heartfelt humans and activists, everyday Janes and Joes - are simply unable to endure the log haul, emotionally and physically. Self-care, like in any area of our lives, is crucial, but I also think we whites have to accommodate for our previous lack of exposure (chosen or by-product of privilege) and lower ourselves in slowly, or we wind up leaping in and out and being inconsistent in our support of important movements.

Innoculation a, by design, give us tiny exposures to a disease in order to build our immune systems to better handle them. Racism is a disease, an endemic one, and one that is in the air and water all the time. The thing is, white people, we think we are immune. But it is a false and dangerous immunity. We simply have the privilege to not be forced to be exposed as often, to choose our exposure and its effects on us. We have to choose to breathe common air, to drink common water. Even more accurately, we drink it, we breathe it and get sick - for racism injured us, too - and somehow don't feel the injuries.

Looking at the Flint water crisis is a great
Literal metaphor and example of this. Large numbers of people who are poor, and most often of color, pay the true environmental price of the computers and technologies of the privileges enjoyed by the few. When the few on top - the folks who are predominately white, and sometimes rich - hear about these prices, we are outages for a hot minute, then forget. 


Because we can. Because media encourages us to see such things as anamolies and unconnected, as if the flu were called something different each year, instead of being variations on the same strains. Because we are so unaccustomed to, so normally unexposed to just how bad - literally and psychologically metaphorically - the air and water are. Our shock is a symptom - rather than showing our righteousness, it shows our privilege. And our indignant and impatient responses are also a sign of how unaccustomed we are to the real situations.

This is not all bad. When the people on top begin to realize how bad it is for those on bottom, if they work on it and stay sympathetic, they can actually take action to help reverse the trends. If we inoculate ourselves enough (preferably with other white people so folks of color don't have to put up with our constant questions and emotions) we can actually have the benefit of having been protected from the disease, and having realized there is no protection for anyone so long as the disease persists.

The disease of racism can only be truly overcome through obliteration. This is where innoculation as metaphor falls apart. We have to be able to abide it so we can be allies in the race for the cure - to wipe it out. But that will take a long ass time. It just will. So becoming truly immune - not just above exposure but able to abide alongside those who have no choice but to drink and breathe it - helps us to truly see it, feel it, and touch the passion needed to get rid of it.

So if you are white, and curious, expose yourself. Go gently, but persistently. When you feel worn out, take a break but come back. Don't give up. Be inspired by people of color who have written about how to keep up the good fight in the long run.

And don't wait to get your shot like I did. If one wipes you out, then maybe more regular exposure is needed. Rest for a few days and try again. Keep trying.

*My back porch apologies to all the epidemiologists and other scientists I know who may cringe and my using the flu as a metaphor. I claim poet's license here!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Practice of Returning

Today is the last day of a week-long contemplative writing retreat I've been leading on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin. This is the second year we have done this retreat - other than some weekend retreats and occasional four day retreats, this is our main retreat of the year.

It's a trek from Madison - five hours, with a ferry in there. The drive is northeast, far enough north that the sun sets notably later and rises notably earlier in the summer. That final journey, the stretch on the ferry over to the island, is a commitment. One woman didn't attend this year because it's at least three hours, including an emergency ferry ride, to the closest Emergency Room.

The island, in other words, is rural and secluded, surrounded on one side by the Bay of Green Bay and on the other by Lake Michigan.

We go deep. People come to write fiction, non-fiction; about their lives or nothing to do with their lives. But we all come to write - to meditate, to move, to write. And to share. The sharing helps us go deeper, allows us to open gates inside ourselves to others and to ourselves. Listening, giving feedback, holding space.

After diving so deep, it can be hard to return.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Opening and Closing in Crisis: Alton Sterling and Philando Castle

Buddhism teaches this: when tragedy strikes, there are two ways to go:
We open.
We close.

I am trying to learn to open. Everything in me, all my privilege, all my familial training - all of my protective devices from both being a victim in the past and also having not had to face as much victimhood as a lot of other folks - all of that training says CLOSE. FIND ANSWERS. GET COLD. BE PRECISE.

And all of my Buddhist training says "Soften. Open. Trust. Feel."

I make mistakes when I feel, but I make worse mistakes when I don't.

This week, I am feeling the Alton Sterling killing. Then, the completely overshadowed but far more telling, Philando Castle killing not twenty four hours later. I am trying to stay open.