Hot Mess

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JUST ABOUT EVERY DAY I THINK TO MYSELF, “WHY DID THIS TAKE SO LONG?” What’s the this, you might ask? Well, it depends. It has been, and could be again:

Why did embracing your body take you so long?

Why did asserting yourself professionally take you so long?

writing a book

liking brussels sprouts

having a strong faith walk

reaching out when you need a friend

admitting you want true, romantic love… and so on.

And then, of course, there is the accompanying thought that, “It might be too late to do this.” The this in this case might be:

have a professional career to my liking

establish myself as a scholar

end up in a soulmate relationship

publish a second book

learn Spanish fluently

find the perfect church

get comprehensive health insurance… that kind of stuff.

So, this has been a messy week. My devotional reading this morning told me to trust God on messy days. And I know I should – and I mostly do. But, well, sometimes it’s harder than other times. Like right at this very moment, I am on hold with a doctor’s office where I have an appointment at 12:40pm today. They called to say the appointment time is wrong and then put me on hold to figure out when I should actually come in. A month ago, when I made this appointment, the time given me was 11am. This changed yesterday.

Additional messiness: I was slated to teach an online course for which I would be compensated quite well. That was supposed to have started today. (A week of supposed-to’s). Well, Monday I was told that the class might not run. And not – as adjuncts are prepared for – because the class didn’t fill, but because the school just might not open its doors. This was to be a college course for high school students at a “public charter school.” (Red flag right there). Apparently these poor kids may not have a school to go to – and I don’t seem to have a course to teach. Oh, I had to drive to Wilshire Boulevard last week for a speedy background check at the cost of $130. (I haven’t heard anything so apparently I passed).

Still on hold with the doctor’s office, by the way. I can’t quite make out the tune they’re playing, but it’s on a very short loop. At some point I am assuming someone at the office will notice the line is occupied and… Ah, she came back on and asked if I could come at 11:50am this morning. Yes, yes I can. That way I can make my dentist appointment – which was already canceled and rescheduled twice. It’s me, right? Like I’m really trying to go to the gratitude department here, grateful for medical care at all (even with a $5000 deductible). But of course, we really shouldn’t have to be grateful for medical care in this backward country still run by capitalist insurance companies. Luckily, people are working on that. Like Bernie and his compatriots. Like Socialists. Like I’m grateful.

Apparently Mercury has headed into Gemini, and that is part of the problem. As my friend Kristina Lynn Martin at KLM Astrology notes:

Mars makes a foreboding move into the sign of Gemini. Typically Mars stays in a sign for 6 weeks, but starting today, Mars stays in Gemini for a whole 6 months, due to an upcoming retrograde. What does this mean? The rocket-fueled, unchecked and action-oriented motivation that Mars provides us is coming to a slow down. It’s as if we want to move forward but the gas pedal gets stuck. So in turn, it requires us to meticulously examine and review how and why we were going forward in the first place. Additionally, being in the sign of Gemini, this will likely occur in communication with others. We can expect frustration in not getting our message across, the news/media/information outputs acting impulsively and needing to slow down our own reactionary charge after getting upsetting information. It’s an incredibly auspicious time to turn inward and readjust how you speak when faced with conflict. Expand your vocabulary, gather information from multiple sources and improve your listening skills.

Yup, the gas pedal is stuck right about now, and things are messy. (And let me tell you, I read several horoscopes weekly and they are all saying similar things. So pshaw at me if you want to, but I buy the fact that our earth’s atmosphere has something to do with our minds and bodies).

So there I was metaphorically speeding down the highway of life, V-8 engine, convertible top down, wind in my hair, and then — screech! A whole bunch of possibilities just started popping, like bubbles blown by a child hitting hot cement. Poof, poof, poof. And while I am fiercely sure that things are exactly as they are supposed to be, it still doesn’t mean it’s always fun. But this is the life I asked for, that of a gig-worker/independent contractor/contingent faculty/writer/activist. I don’t have one big block of a thing to rely on for income, for focus – or for distraction from life’s messiness. Nope, there is a constant assessing and investigating and weighing and negotiating that goes along with all this. And once in a while it catches up with the best of us. As it has with me this week.

So I’ll go to my two medical appointments today (August is my get-everything-seen month); then I’ll do a nice, long, hot, walk in my neighborhood. Then I’ll pop by the Armenian grocery store and pick up some grape leaves and baba ganoush to serve my neighbor who is coming over for a drink in my backyard tonight. Because I reached out. Because it’s been a messy week. So yeah, it has taken me a while to do things like that, to let people know I could use their company. But I do it now. So, clearly it’s never going to be too late for anything.

Hoping Mercury isn’t messing with your life as much as mine! But if it is, I’d love to hear some examples of your gas pedals getting stuck. Share – it feels good!

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

I’VE BEEN THINKING A LOT ABOUT WHAT WE ASK FOR LATELY — and what we get. As in, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Or as in, “you asked for it,” which apparently is a common theme of many a Sunday sermon. (Thanks Google). It turns out we really do get a lot of what we ask for. So maybe a useful perspective on that would be that reflecting upon what we get — and why — could help us understand what it is we really, really want in the first place. As the Spice Girls said so well, “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want/So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m at a restaurant, for example, looking at a menu, I imagine some of the dishes that I’m considering having already arrived before me. How would I really feel being faced with a medium rare steak, asparagus, and red potatoes? Is that what I really, really want? I then imagine starting in on the meal, does it taste good, does it satisfy? Was that what I was looking for? Sometimes, the answer is yes. And I order the steak. But other times, in this somewhat elaborate process (it goes faster in real life, of course; I’m not trying to make my dinner partner sit through all this) I realize that my imaginary steak isn’t fitting the bill at the moment, and what I really, really want is the mushroom risotto with shallots. So I order the risotto.

Life isn’t quite as orderly as a menu. (Order-ly? Hmmm). As in, one cannot simply place an order in life. Order: the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern, or method (Google again. Whatever did those of us who love rabbit holes do before the Google)? Anyway, sometimes we are not even aware that we are asking for — ordering — things in the first place. It’s like dialing the wrong phone number. After the fact, though, we might just realize we had actually envisioned that particular scenario or situation that we eventually find ourselves in. Sometimes that can be a great surprise. Like my apartment in LA. I literally imagined, over and again, standing at the back door of a modest house, looking out upon a modest backyard. When I finally looked out the back door on my first day here, in a place I moved to sight-unseen, I realized it was that which I had been picturing all along. Order up!

Other times, however, we find ourselves very clear about what we want. Dead certain, no question. (Which can be a red flag when it comes to us humans). For example, I thought I wanted a companion to fill some of the hours I have in the evenings. I have finally settled into life on the west coast such that I have arrived at some sort of routine. And on any given day, once I am done with exercise, work of various sorts, some volunteering perhaps, I close my laptop and think, “I wouldn’t mind someone taking me out to dinner right about now.” To that end, I reluctantly signed up with an online dating site. Starting with truly positive energy and hopefulness, I quickly wearied of the parade of men who looked old enough to be my grandfather; or were searching for lifetime partners only; men still married who had “agreements” with their wives; and especially those who refused to engage in a bit of written correspondence prior to getting together IRL.

I went on two uneventful dates. And then came a third date, at the very end of my subscription period (how I couldn’t wait to bow out). It was a nice date. We both liked eating at bars – a funny commonality, but it said a lot to me about shared sensibilities. The guy was cute, fun, smart, adventurous, and complimentary. Quite a contrast from the last two guys, so I thought perhaps there was something there. There was. Sort of. I had found someone to fill those hours I was looking to fill. Kind of. I mean, not reliably. Not the way I would have liked, by him asking ahead of time, suggesting a plan, that sort of thing. But I told myself to be more open; just because I favored a more traditional (old?!) style of dating, didn’t mean I should cancel someone just because they did life differently. After all, I liked his spontaneity, right? Well, there’s spontaneity and then there’s just plain flakiness. And immaturity. And I really just expect grown folk to do life in a bit more orderly fashion than he did. (His bedroom was messy – messy like my daughter’s in junior high). So, it was a whatever and we mutually stopped communicating. (Officially, I sent the last text, but I’m not calling it “ghosting” because his non-response felt consistent with the rest of our short-lived relationship).

Anyway, I say that all to say that as soon as this guy and I started seeing each other I started feeling a little uneasy — restless about things. And God said to me, “You asked for this.” Now this isn’t the mighty, booming voice God used on Moses at Mt. Sinai, it’s more a little quiet spirit voice that comes from inside. But that spirit can be quite pointed in its declarations. “Yup,” I responded to God, “you got me on that one.” It turns out that I didn’t really, really want someone to take up space in my days, but instead space in my heart. I had ordered the steak when the risotto is what I truly desired.

The cool thing about life (and let’s just take a moment and acknowledge that this is coming from a place of high privilege and cannot be applied to all the shattering situations people find themselves in – like my friend who I just learned has been living in his truck for the last two years) is that you can often send your order back. Or at least push it to the side, and then go ahead and re-order. Like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (which I referenced to a 20-something the other day and received a blank look in return), we can try all the porridges, and take our time doing so, as long as we are not afraid. Certainly there could be bears lurking (and we shouldn’t be partaking of others’ resources if they don’t have it to spare), but the fact is that life can be one big feast where we learn what we like, and what we need, along the way.

I’ll leave you with this blast from the past, when a car company decided that “you asked for it, you got it,” would make a terrific commercial campaign. So many metaphors, so little time! Enjoy the feast.

Only Natural

Smith Rock, photo by author

When I was in a book club way back when, I became notorious for disliking the nature-themed books we read. This eventually got boiled down to, “Katie doesn’t like nature.” And I went with it, because if that meant we did not have to read another five-page description of a tree’s shadow, or a leaf’s crackle, that was fine by me. After all, it would not be my first curmudgeonly attribute. The thing is, though, I actually really like nature. And one of the women in that book club of so long ago recently led me through some pretty big nature. And I am forever grateful.

Suzanne lived a lot of her life in the state of Oregon. And I have known her for some thirty years, but this summer I really got to see the places of her young life. This was a unique experience, a way to see someone more broadly. Like, how many of us have gone home with a friend during college break perhaps, only to find they live in a mansion/brownstone/housing project and then seen them in a whole different kind of light. It is not like my friend has kept this part of her life quiet; anyone in ear shot will have heard tales of her nature-filled Central Oregon childhood, the deep meaning of the coast to her as both mother and daughter. But this particular trip showed me the rocks the she climbed on, and the rivers she swam in, and the house she lived in… and I watched sense memory in action as she told me stories of these important places.

I may never have seen such beautiful parts of Oregon had it not been for my friend. Years ago my kids and I visited her mother’s ranch in Terrebonne, meeting up with Suzanne and family there. The vastness of the landscape wowed us. (And that’s all I’m going to write about that landscape)! Years later my daughter and I visited Suzanne at her mom’s latest abode in Newport, on the coast. It was a whole different ocean than the one Down the Shore. And then there was this trip. Well, this trip I saw some stuff that made me understand just a little bit better why folks insist on writing for pages about light glinting off wet rocks in the middle of a flowing river. (Doesn’t mean I want to read about it, but I get it)!

Briefly, our first stayover was at Smith Rock. I mean, just looking at it was enough to stir up the Holy Spirit. I mean, take a look at the thing.

We hiked the Summit Trail (an arduously exhilarating day); we floated in the Crooked River, using the rocks as our pillows; and we stared at the sunset each night as it fell behind the ancient canyon. After three beauty-filled days replete with poplar trees and deer, we headed to Yachats. (So many things along the way, but I am not going to be accused of writing some travelogue here – I have a reputation to hold on to, remember)!

Thanks once again to my friend, we were in a beautiful house on the misty coastal beach. It was grey most days which only intensified the power of the waves as they contrasted with the stillness of the sky. We walked every day, sometimes not even being able to what lay in front of us, thanks to the deep fog hanging like chintz curtains from the sky.

It was so much nature, and it was all so beautiful. I am lucky that Suzanne chose to bring me along on such a tour of her land. I saw things I had never seen and, well, the older you get, the more exciting that is. I soaked it all in, the red rock, the running water, the smell of sage, the beating sun, the lava flows, the Ponderosa Pines, the packed sand, the biting water, the salty air… My molecules rearranged and I am fuller for seeing so much of God’s creation up close. That is what nature is to me, gifts to be received, humbly, joyfully. I believe Suzanne feels similarly. And I want to be in it, that nature thing. I just don’t want to read 200 pages about it. But that’s just me; so keep it up all you nature writers out there. Because someone somewhere might never get the chances I just got, so reading about it could certainly be the next best thing.

(Don’t) Do the Hustle

Photo by Brett Jordan on

I’m waiting to see if I got the job I most recently interviewed for. I mean I’m doing other things, but I am also totally checking to see if there’s a (1) in my Gmail tab pretty regularly. Just as I wrote that, a (1) came up: it was a rejection of a short story I submitted to a contest last month. And herein lies my point: we artist/writer/gig worker-types are constantly checking, weighing, applying, submitting, and researching. And it’s exhausting. You know how they say that looking for a job is a full time job? Well, that’s our eternal job, looking for a job: before we have a job, while we have that job, and then after that job no longer exists. So that’s why this month I have taken an oath to not try to make anything HAPPEN. It’s No Hustle July up in here.

See, my birthday is in July. The 10th to be exact. And I love summer. When I was a kid I longed for summer. Kind of because of my birthday, but mostly for a reprieve from Michigan winter/springs which were pretty much just one long bleak season. Summertime and the livin’ is easy – – all that. Summer meant no school; tubing down the Huron River at Delhi Park; playing tennis for hours at the Pioneer High School courts and then going to A&W for a tall waxed carton of ice cold root beer. Summer was being so hot, and so sweaty that you just weren’t expected to be at top productive level.

When I moved to Arizona for college, summer was still discernibly different from the other seasons. Summer still meant no school (sometimes); tennis all day under a very hot, but very dry, sun; and then sitting outside drinking pitchers of Coors Light at Gentle Ben’s on University Boulevard. Next for me came New York City summers: not as many acting jobs to audition for, and lots of space to breathe. See, the wealthy city folks headed out to the Hamptons, Montauk, and the like. Manhattan emptied out like an hourglass and all us poor people got the place to ourselves. Summer meant hanging out near the fountain in Washington Square Park; tennis at the Riverside courts; and drinking Heinekens on the stoop at the end of the day. Next were New Jersey summers, which will always be about my kids. Homemade waterslides in the backyard; popsicle-red tongues; and renting our beloved beach house at the Jersey Shore. (It took me a long time to transition to my next season of summers once my kids were too old for wading pools).

And now here I am in Southern California, and I still and again love summer. My East Coast peeps might think summer doesn’t hold the same weight here, seeing as how it’s pretty much tennis weather all year ’round. But that is not the case. In the summer my teacher friends come visit; street fairs abound; and the Pacific Ocean is actually a tenable temperature for swimming. So why should I power through this spectacular season, grinding out applications for jobs that have a good chance of already being filled, spending money I am not making on short story submission fees? I know there are a lot of months already earmarked for ostensible self-care and expression: No-Shave November, Dry January… So why not No Hustle July?

Now, clearly this is a privileged stance in many ways. But it is probably a stance more folks could take than will choose to. After all, it is scary to take the foot off the gas if one has been acculturated by our capitalist society to remain productive at all times — and have something to show for it. I am hoping that the space I make this month by taking my foot off the gas — and my eyes off the job boards — will illuminate any opportunities I might be overlooking simply because I can’t see over my nose and the grindstone. This is exciting to me, the possibility of it all. And that is why not making anything HAPPEN is my birthday present to myself.

I’m still writing this month, because I enjoy it. And clearly I’m still interviewing if someone asks. I don’t want to be rude, after all (and I really do need a job). But I’m also watching the hummingbirds for even longer than usual, and monitoring the height of the one sunflower miraculously growing out of the sandy dirt that is my backyard. And yes, of course, I am playing tennis — all over Los Angeles. Because it is summer. And I need a break from this hustle, this lifestyle that I chose so very many years ago. Here’s to not hustling, and instead just taking it all in for a month. Happy birthday to me.


WE LIKE TO SAY THIS PHRASE, thinking it a kind of funny, high-falutin’ call-out. It actually comes from the first words of author Emile Zola’s letter to the President of the French Republic in 1898. He was defending Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of treason. Zola was accusing the French Army of conspiracy and cover-up and downright lies. It was a serious statement that got Zola thrown in jail. Sound familiar? Why of course, it does. #january6thcommitteehearings

We have all sorts of folks accusing and conspiring and covering up in DC right now. Let’s see, Trump plotted with his lawyer to pressure the VP to overturn the presidential election. Loads of politicians conspiring and covering up for Trump, and for themselves. This is high drama, watching high officials accused of high things. People are j’accusing all over the place. Of course, some of these accusations are a little late to the party, like little kids saying they never liked so-and-so who yesterday was the most popular kid but now is deemed least likely to succeed. But what if I make the political personal IRL, like our own accusations can be dangerous, too, especially when we hurl them at ourselves.

I’ve been re-reading The Inner Game of Tennis lately. It definitely has remained relevant, as they say. The author, W. Timothy Gallwey, published this book in 1974. I checked, and he’s still alive (born 1938) and with a full-on website (way to join the intranet generation, Tim!) Gallwey talks early on in the book about the relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 that we all have going on inside of us. When playing sports, Self 1 is typically the voice that tells us what to do, how to do it, and then critiques the results. Self 2 is the doer, just trying to get ‘er done, even as Self 1 is yelling in its ear the whole time. Basically, if we (Self 1) tell ourselves (Self 2) we’re stupid for long enough, e.g. “why would you hit that toss; how could you miss that volley,” we will believe the accusation. Or as Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements, we will begin to agree with this accusation. On and off the court.

Now the funny thing is that this accusing doesn’t seem to work the same way on powerful people as well as it does on the less-so. Take, for example, the aforementioned French Republic Army and Donald Trump. Maybe powerful people have practiced ignoring the public and have trained their Self 1s to tell their Self 2s that they rock at all times. So we will leave them out of this part of the discussion. Let’s instead bring in a little Bible lesson that Pastor Albert Tate at Fellowship Monrovia Church shared last Sunday…

We all know about that woman in John, chapter 8, who was accused of adultery. (Of course, a woman cannot commit this act alone, yet they so often are the lone accused). The big shot Jewish men were testing Jesus saying, Hey the law says we’re supposed to stone this woman to death for what she did. Jesus was not big on accusations that led to violence — including his own — so he offered up a suggestion; anyone who hasn’t done something wrong, who hasn’t sinned, you go ahead and throw a stone at this woman. Well, to the scribes and Pharisees’ credit, they all took their stones and went home. Jesus then told the woman she was forgiven and to go do right in life. But what if — pondered Pastor Albert — she went ahead and grabbed some of those rocks herself. You know where this is going.

But who would ever throw rocks at themselves? Well, that’s the point, we might actually be doing that a lot and not even noticing the bruises. Maybe we tell ourselves we’re too old — should have done things earlier; not experienced enough — shouldn’t have dropped out ; not intelligent enough — remember math class… We are j’accusing ourselves on the daily, condemning ourselves. Again, the Bible tells us in Romans 1 that we have been forgiven, thus no more condemnation. Not from God anyway. But we voluntarily continue to wear the labels of our failures and mistakes. Even though if one is Christian we ascribe to the belief that the highest power is okay with the worst of who we are, long as we are repenting, trying to do better.

It seems that a lot of the answers on how to be whole adults come from how we were as children. Like early on, before we started pulling hair and spreading rumors. D.T. Suzuki, a Buddhist monk, said “Childlikeness has to be restored with long years of training in self-forgetfulness.” We need to forget all the accusations that have been lobbed our way. Now Emile Zola acted like a child in publicly pointing out a wrong he witnessed. Like the kid in the Emperor’s New Clothes parable. And in 1904 all of the false convictions against Dreyfus were finally reversed. (The good news). Unfortunately, that stubborn French Army didn’t officially acknowledge his innocence until 1995. (The bad news).

In our own country’s present mess, it is likely that many of these rightful accusers — supported momentarily while en vogue — will go on to lives of obscurity, probably off the political grid. The accused, well, these folks just seem to land on their little tiny feet in our world. But what about us, our Self 2s? Let’s be nice to them, they are working so hard. Let’s accuse them of being smart, and funny, and beautiful, and kind. Like we would treat young children, so they don’t grow up to be selfish destructive adults like all those fools on the Hill. Like all those folks who stormed our capitol on January 6th in what they considered their own kind of Bastille Day. Je n’accuse pas! Vive la vie!


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WHEN I’M HELPING STUDENTS WITH THEIR ESSAYS, and they ask if something is a good idea, I respond, does it help support your thesis? When I’m in a meeting, and folks are wondering what steps are next, I often ask, well, what is our mission? When I’m working on a project of my own, I ask those same questions of myself. The answers to those questions let me know whether I am on the right track or not. So I have been asking myself these questions about a number of things lately, including this blog.

I started this writing project on my birthday-gift website from my kids, a little over a year ago. I had a few reasons. Foremost in my mind was the desire to practice a slightly different writing voice, one that was a bit more popular-culture in tone, a step away from my (still very accessible) academic writing, and in yet a slightly different direction than my creative writing voice. I fancied doing some journalistic-type writing and wanted to settle in on a style that seemed more conducive to the venues where I would try to publish my work. I think I succeeded in that mission.

This blog also provided an opportunity for me to share my thoughts. Why would I think anyone would want to share in my thoughts? Well, because a lot of people — believe it or not! — seek out my opinion. And, yet other people quite often echo the things I have been thinking. So it seemed there would be a bunch of folks who would enjoy the discourse I was having in my head, and also be interested in the conversations I had with others. According to comments, that mission was accomplished, too.

It was pointed out to me by my wise daughter that it seemed to her that the blog was aiding me in connecting with others. She is correct; and that supports my thesis as stated in the last paragraph! And who wasn’t/isn’t trying to find some connections during this pandemic!? Well, a few people are not, but most of my even hyper-independent peeps were seeking evidence that they still existed outside of their heads and abodes. I know I was. And then, well, I went and moved across the country, away from friends I saw regularly, so of course I wanted to stay connected to them by sharing my thoughts and experiences. (In long form, as opposed to simply a tweet or happy-face photo). It also has been a means of some of my new community getting to know me. So that’s been a nice added footnote.

My insightful son then observed that my blog at times frames others’ ideas as ones I have never had. In fact he even mentioned that a number of the observations — and even revelations that I seemed to be experiencing for the first time — according to my writing — were the very things he had been taught by me as he was growing up. That gave me pause. (Yes, I am super fortunate to have wise, insightful children who trust me enough to share their thoughts with me. And those of you who have such children know, it ain’t always easy to hear what they have to say)! So I had to ask myself, was I attributing wisdom solely to others that I also carried? And did I already own certain beliefs that seemed brand new when coming from somewhere else? Well, yes, somewhat. And, that can all be very valuable at times, to hear your ideas presented differently — and to acknowledge others’ astuteness. But I also didn’t want to participate in any kind of self-deprecation at this point in time. Like, I spent way too many decades dimming my light for others. Self-deprecation, my friends, is not humility, it is a dismissal or disparagement of oneself. Ladies, take note. Women, be on alert! We still get sold the bill of goods that being self-deprecating is a polite, feminine thing to do. No it’s not.

Anyway, as I have been thinking about why I do this blog and what would be a good idea to add to it, I have been asking myself the thesis question. As in, what am I trying to say. And while I have been able to answer that question for the past year, it seems I may have run out of answers for the moment. Apparently this blog is no longer supporting my thesis; I have moved on to a new mission statement. My desire to connect is being satisfied in other ways right now. And I’m not focused on pitching articles because I am actually working on a grown-up deadline for a book draft. And I also just sort of feel like keeping my thoughts to myself, and my journal, and my inner circle for a little while. I am mildly wrestling with a couple of things, and I would like to do that wrestling in private, before putting my stuff out there again.

So, heartbroken as my legion of fans (!) may be, I’m going to step away from my weekly blogging and use my Sunday afternoons for some new missions. (Now you have time to catch up on a year’s worth of Katie blogs)! I really want to thank those who gave me feedback and encouragement. As some of you know, it’s not that easy putting your ideas out into the ether and seeing what sticks — and who might throw things at you because of them. I am really happy that I did such a thing; it felt brave. But I don’t want it to feel redundant. Many blogs ago I wrote about schedules and routines and how I was a fan of the former but eschewed the latter. This blog has become a routine, routine, and so I know it is no longer serving me. And that means I’m serving no purpose, and thusly and heretofore I am out. I’ll be taking an alternate route for the time being.

Let’s keep the love going that we have amongst ourselves. Let’s stay connected with each other through varying channels. And let’s keep changing this world — through words, through action, through faith. Peace.

Voicing Vocal Women

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JUST BEFORE GOING TO BED THE OTHER NIGHT, I scribbled a note to myself. A question, really. Do I go around empowering women and their voices because my mother had lost hers? It just came out like that. It happens to all of us, ideas popping up in our heads. Often fleeting. Those of us who spend a lot of time writing tend to record those sorts of thoughts, even when we don’t initially understand them, or are even sure we are behind them.

Now what might I mean that my mother lost her voice? Well, we are most all of us born with a voice, and babies, for example, have no compunction with making that fact known. I mean they think nothing of using their voices, even in the most inconvenient of times. Like, when the parents are trying to sleep, or smack in the middle of a Sunday sermon, maybe. But after a while, as we grow up, some of us start to question our voices. Not how they sound exactly — although that can be a factor in all of this — but how our voices should be used. We begin to apply rules, and get rules applied to us. Children should be seen and not heard. Keep your voice down. If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all. Shhh! But why do we allow others to tell us how and when to use the voices we were given?

My mother had many voices I never got to hear, or only heard whispers of. She was an anthropologist, for example, seeking to understand communities to which she did not belong. I didn’t hear much about those stories. She was a musician and singer; I do remember hearing her playing her guitar at parties when I was very young. She was an artist, too, and fortunately that voice lives on in her paintings — and in my daughter who also speaks with an artistic voice. When I was growing up, my mother’s voice was rarely heard in the house, unless it saying some pretty bad things things under the influences that overtook her. My sister’s and my voices were pretty quiet, too. We learned early on to pretty much speak only when spoken to. It was a matter of some survival and not just manners. My father’s voice ruled the roost; even now I quote him regularly, hear him still, all these years after his passing.

Now what do I mean that I think I empower women and their voices? Well, I do think I am a woman’s woman, as they say, a pretty fierce proponent of women of a certain age, in particular. My age. Women in our “silver years,” as Pastor Smith (blessedly back in the pulpit) coined today. In my day-to-day I am on the lookout for women’s voices getting tamped down — at meetings, on social media, in personal conversations… I have finally become the person who says, “I believe that’s exactly what my friend just said” or, “did you know she was a historian, maybe she has some things to add to this conversation.” Who is to say which came first, but my work in the field of oral history is directly tied to this mission that I have apparently accepted. Specifically, I am interested in amplifying the voices of African-American women through the stories they have lived and told. Having been a student, and now a teacher, I can testify to the paucity of Black women’s voices in the classrooms of this country. And that drives me crazy.

Many, many people have asked me over the years how and why I — a White woman — am dedicated to the field of African-American History and Culture. I do not know the answer, but I can see a trajectory. From my 4th grade best friend Brian Johnson’s mom, who lived in what we called “welfare housing” (with no concept of derision) who was so busy with work as a single mom; to my fabulous girlfriends of color all the way up until high school when an apparently universal sociological event happened that separated White kids from Black kids; to the music, and the art, and… But I think it’s mostly because there were just not enough stories told about these folks that I knew, and I wanted to know why.

Please understand, I do not “give” voice to the women in these oral history interviews. They surely don’t need my help there. I merely provide increased access and contextuality to their stories. Whether I am writing an article about Louise Epperson, fierce Newark, New Jersey activist central to the city’s mid-century housing battles; or interviewing members of my former First Baptist Church of Madison, where I facilitated an oral history project featuring stories about domestic work, the old neighborhood, and segregation, I believe it is important that Americans hear these voices amidst the cacophony of yet-mainly White male voices. They speak to us in the news media, on the movie screen, and in the political arena. Sure, you can think of a lot of exceptions to this White male domination — thank goodness — but they are still exceptions.

I believe that unearthing the stories of women — of color, especially — is a call for me. Whether I am writing a blog about the obfuscated Biddy Mason park in downtown LA, or interrupting a man telling his story for the fifth time to a table of women with untold stories, I want our country’s chorus to sound different than it does right now. I want people to read the words of my friend, Naomi Extra who just defended her dissertation while already being a lauded poet and writer; my friend Evelin who has seen a lot in her day and yet walks with enviable grace as she facilitates diversity training sessions for companies and organizations; and all the Black women whose lives have been cut short because of our gendered and racially violent society And then there is my mother, a woman who had fewer obstacles in keeping her voice than some, and yet chose to internalize so many other’s stories that she lost focus on the telling of her own.

This blog is my voice: awkward, controversial, and out of tune, I would imagine, at times. But it is mine, and I use it to tell stories — of life, thoughts, experiences, and other people. Sometimes my stories resonate with you, the way that your stories so often do for me. There is so much more I could say right now, on the subject of saying things. But for now I will leave it here. It’s someone else’s turn to speak.

Risking and Receiving

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“THE BLESSING OF IMPROVISATION” WAS THE MESSAGE IN CHURCH TODAY, “A New Wine for a New Time.” The sermon was courtesy of Pastor Jonathan DeCuir, guest preacher. (Pastor Smith made a video cameo, and we all agreed he was looking close to 100%)! Now, I never intended for these blogs to be regular reflections on Sunday service, but the thing is that what happens on Sunday is quite often an extension of what I have been thinking about all week. Coincidence? I think not!

This week I was writing in my journal about loving oneself. My devotional suggested saying to the mirror, “I love you.” Yikes! Sorry, not ready for that, yet. (Why is that so hard to even consider?! Anyone else ever done that successfully)? Anyway, I got to thinking how it really is honoring God to honor oneself, to love all God’s creations, not just the other ones. And this got me thinking about discernment, and how some of us are more discerning than others about what we do with, and in, our lives. Like if you really loved yourself, would you accept scraps, bow and scrape at the feet of other humans, embrace compliments from those who do not mean them, or accept money from activities not in keeping with your values and beliefs? “Celebrate yourself,” Pastor DeCuir exhorted us. Let me tell you, when you’re sitting in church and immediately start feeling some kind of way when certain words get said — or sung — then you know it’s time to pay attention. In fact there were audible sounds from the sanctuary of ooh, huh, etc. when he told us to celebrate ourselves. So it seems I am not alone in how that hit.

A person can suffer from lack of self-love. So can a city, or even a people. Like if we buy the message long enough that we are not worthy of true love then we are vulnerable to all that is said dirty about us. I can think of a lot of ways that I have been negatively described (think inscribed, like we take these words to heart). How do we get back to self-love — not self-indulgence or selfishness, but the kind of love of self that frees us up to go out and do great things? Well, Pastor DeCuir had some suggestions.

For one thing, if we don’t keep promises to ourselves (which isn’t what we do to folks we love) then we mess with our confidence. We lose our focus, though not necessarily our faith. When we are focused, intentional about keeping those promises, for example, we stay strong. This made me think of balancing in yoga. For balancing poses you are told to choose a spot in front of you, and to focus on that spot. This aids in balance. If you look away, maybe start thinking about how you appear to others, or how somebody else’s leg is higher, or whatever, boom you’re down! You broke your promise to balance your body, you gave away your focus, and now you’re thinking maybe you just can’t do Eagle Pose at all, and maybe should just quit practicing yoga anyway. Instead of going down this dark road, Pastor DeCuir recommended we “hold space for transformation.” I mean if yoga isn’t a perfect place to practice holding space! Try to stay with me on this metaphor: I can stand in that space of Eagle Pose, shaky as it might look, until I get to that transformation of my mind that sounds something like, Well, look at you all balanced and everything, looking like some kinda yogi. You go, girl.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 

A perfect Eagle Pose! (Or at least a good one.) If we find our mind is wandering, we need to adapt! To improvise. Perhaps there’s been a particular thought that typically helps bring us back to center — maybe a prayer even. But what if for some reason this time it isn’t working so well, and we continue to feel unbalanced – in class, in a relationship, at work. We’ve got to go somewhere new for our focus, for that confidence. We can’t keep going back to the well too many times, as they say. It turns out — and here’s where Pastor DeCuir might say, Lord, help me explain this part right — you can’t pour “new wine into old wineskins” (Mark 2:22). You’re in a new season, at a new point, feeling a new kind of way; so don’t go back to where you used to go, but be in the moment and let it take you where you need to go now! I mean, this pandemic has certainly given us that lesson, that opportunity. As the Pastor said today, we have been given the chance (aka forced) to be much more intentional about everything — from hugging to churchgoing, because most of us are in risk-assessment mode. (Most of us. Please don’t get me started on those who seem to think this thing ain’t real).

I wonder, sometimes, if this blog is too church-y for some readers. After all, not everyone is about the tradition that I follow. I hope that what comes through here is that I seek truths, and that that truth-seeking resonates with you even if my way of seeking does not (yet). I’ll finish up with a visual that Pastor DeCuir shared. (He likes visuals; last time he brought a box with him to illustrate how we should carry ourselves). It was a simple gesture today, the way he imitated the pouring of water into a cup and then he put his hand over that imaginary cup. We ask for things, he reminded us, and then we hinder the flow. We have to allow those cups to actually fill and run over. We can’t do that if we don’t think we’re worthy of such abundance, if we don’t love ourselves enough to receive all that there is. I am preaching to myself right now, and I am taking notes on my sermon — just the way I did on the preacher’s message today. Amen. Peace. And Namaste.

I’s the Limit

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THE TITLE SOUNDS A LOT LIKE A MOTIVATIONAL POSTER that might be hanging in a fluorescent-lit office space somewhere. I don’t mean for it to. But I guess motivational posters do have their moments. (I mean the “Hang in There” kitten is a classic, right?). What I wanted to say with this title — and I almost never have a title prior to completing my writing, but this one was buzzing around — is that limits are all in our heads. And I don’t just mean, “we can do anything if we set our minds to it” (another poster). The definition of what a limit even is varies so much from person to person that I am really asking, What does “limit” mean?

I was thinking the other day how limits are necessary in order to live life effectively. Speed limits, age limits, seating capacity limits, and service limits to only those vaccinated, to name a few examples. (If business owners choose to do this, I support it 100%). We are always told to set limits for ourselves. That is unless we are being told that there are no limits. Pretty confusing, if you ask me. So let’s go to the etymology, shall we? (While many of my students tend to head over to Webster’s to commence their essays — even though I forbid dictionaries as a source — I, myself, often fall back on Oxford Languages to get things started). So the word came from the Latin limes, meaning a “boundary” or “frontier.” I mean right there, that sounds like two different things to me. (At first I thought limes, like the things you put in your Gin and Tonic. But no). So those two words — boundary and frontier — conjure up very different visuals for me; a boundary is something you don’t cross, while a frontier holds promise of things to come. Those are my connotative associations. But these conflicting (for me, at least) origin words make sense of my original thesis, that a limit can be many things to many people.

*By the way, Webster’s defines the word as, “bounds, restrains, or confines.” And this, my dear students, is why we don’t use dictionary definitions, because they are concretized in connotations based solely upon present societal thinking. #nodictionaries

This is starting to become a blog on connotations and denotations. Oh well, that’s okay. But I need to interject yesterday’s sermon here; you knew it was coming. (My Sunday blog turned into a Monday blog, by the way, because my daughter and I were putting my new bed together last night. It’s almost done, okay!?). Anyway, Pastor Nick was in for the on-the-mend Pastor Smith. And he shared with us his message entitled, “Growing Up in Love.” Pastor Nick encouraged us to take “ails” as joy. As in, “Count it all joy when you meet various trials” (James 1:2). Because I’m on this limits thing, I was seeing the ails as limits, or what we tend to consider limits until we start counting those things as joy. I came up with some examples pretty quickly, though they are fairly mundane. Like last week I was on my union’s Zoom meeting. Now I have been lamenting the fact that I am still teaching remotely, having yet to secure an on-campus teaching gig this side of the Rio Grande. Well, after listening to the chaos of university mandates, recommendations, and suggestions, and then the confusion and anxiety in the voices of my fellow faculty members heading back to campus, I said a little thank-you prayer. Seems God might just be sparing me from the messiness of yet another school year plagued by the plague. So I am going to take that ail as a joy, for now anyway.

Our relationships can be limiting, too. Maybe we could ask ourselves if they are boundaries or frontiers. Pastor Nick suggested yesterday that God may well limit our contact with certain family members because we are putting them before God. Interesting idea, and tough for some of us to hear. But the Bible says, depending upon translation, that we are supposed to “hate” our family if we are to truly be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Now, again, the connotation of hate is in question here. I don’t think we’re supposed to sit back and talk bad about our kin. We love them — mostly! But the idea, apparently, is that if we get too caught up in all things earthly, including its humans, that we lose sight of the biggest picture, God. We then limit our relationship with God. Now, for some this could sound super harsh, and for others it is actually a watered-down interpretation. I’m still grappling with all sorts of things, so I’m just sharing my thinking process here.

In church yesterday we were also reminded to keep an open heart. (See, we have so much capacity for love that we can be close to man and God)! Even when folks have hurt us Christians — and lots of other people — we believe that we are to keep our hearts “sensitive” as Pastor Nick called it. And I see the limit theme here, too: we limit our vast capacity for love when we harden our hearts. It’s on us. (By the way, I had all these classic rock songs about hard hearts spinning around my brain as I listened to this part of the sermon, but I couldn’t nail down one specific one. Can you?).

The bottom line — right now anyway, because the bottom line is unstable to say the least — is that love has no limits, in its original form. That’s my thought. I mean most everyone knows this scripture in one form or another:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Sounds like love is a straight-up frontier, unless we choose to make it a barrier. Sounds like life is a frontier, too, ready to explore (but not colonize, please). I’m just going to keep on picturing frontiers — which is especially easy to do out here in the wild, weird, west. This won’t be a practice of denying that which is painful, but simply one of seeking out hope in even the darkest of situations. Easier said than done, but I am going to try real hard to start limiting my limits from now on.