2018

I’m going to start with failure.

At the Museum of Ice Cream

It’s so important to recognize and even cherish failure when it brings change. Admittedly, that is much easier said than done for me. I loathe admitting failure because of shame. But, sometimes looking at failure can put success in better perspective.

I wasn’t direct with people who upset me or made me feel excluded, even though I believe their intentions were not to make me feel this way. Much more importantly, I failed to call out racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and other forms of oppression that I witnessed.

I got rejected from two writing fellowships and received quite a few rejections for writing pieces that I submitted. Every single one felt like a punch in the face. Honestly, every single one made me want to throw my computer, quit this blog, and decide I’m simply not a writer and this pain could be avoided and forgotten.

I gained 15 pounds. This isn’t the failure, however- the failure was my ability to accept my body as it is and instead of focusing on health and wellness, I spent more than a night sobbing about my pants feeling too tight, my face looking more round, or my hips being too wide. I let myself feel unloved and not enough because of my body. At certain points it was excruciating and all I could do for comfort was bake or develop a guilt-ridden relationship with exercise.

I spent way too much money.

I wasn’t supportive when I needed to be, especially in a year that saw DACA ended and rights to healthcare and identity compromised.

I learned that my academic writing is…rusty, to say the least. I didn’t utilize all the office hours or meetings that I could have to improve my projects because honestly, I felt intimidated and overwhelmed.

That’s only a sampling. The good news is, after some of these failure I felt an urge to write “but” or “nevertheless…I persisted.”

I told someone directly that their actions harmed me by assuming ownership of my body and personal space. My heart pounded through the entire conversation. Afterward, I felt a mixture of guilt and pride. Currently, I feel much more pride for working on standing up for myself. In the same light, I learned who my friends are and how important it is for love to include both encouragement and honesty about times you screw up.

I actually did publish a few pieces online. I left my comfort zone and wrote fiction, which is still a work in progress but allowed me to see how creative (and downright weird) my mind can be. I got two academic papers accepted to conferences. My best accomplishment: I wrote a blog every single week, which means The Practivist has lived on through a year and a half.

Though my body looks and feels different, I asked it to do pretty strenuous things. I ran a half-marathon and a fill marathon, training in sometimes frigid temperatures. I met some amazing women at a writing retreat in New Mexico who helped me shape a new perspective about body and enough ness. At the same retreat, I called myself a writer and basked in the glory of an all-women space.

I left a job that I loved, saying goodbye much too hastily to students that taught me and inspired me. My chaplain colleagues held me through a time of incredible pain, and celebrated with me as I made an important transition.

My partner and I drove across the country and faced realities about our country that were difficult to accept, including a downright terrifying moment involving the police. When we settled back in Los Angeles, we spent the summer enjoying our city together. I watched him gently yet firmly climb out of mourning into thriving in his art, work, and teaching. While we know grief lasts a very long time, joy has found him again.

Recently, I got word that my application for a fellowship grant was accepted for a dream project. While I know this project would move forward even without the grant, I found myself crying at the kitchen table after I hung up the phone without full understanding of the origin of these tears. As I type this, I realize they represented success. Not just because someone else believed in me, but because I believed in a vision enough to make myself vulnerable for it.

No resolutions this year, except the Revolution. Happy 2018.

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Disobedient

We’re four days away y’all. 2017 is toast and the gyms will be packed, resolution boards populated, and whatever other changes we wish to instill in our lifestyles will roll out. I can believe.

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Photo by 贝莉儿 NG on Unsplash

I’m planning on starting a Whole 30 on January 1st because I’d really like to give myself the gift of health. And I figure eating Whole 30 when I actually turn 30 sounds like a good idea. But something else has been gnawing at me and I don’t exactly know how to explain it, except that my New Year’s Resolution is to disrupt and shake stuff up. I have a few examples.

Here is a simple one. For Christmas Eve dinner, my mom and I cooked all day before we piled into the kitchen. On the menu: my famous lasagne, Southwestern cornbread, creamed spinach, and a chopped salad. My grandpa commented on the “eclectic” mix of foods- meaning, they don’t really go together.

I’m committed to challenging “what doesn’t go together” this year. It’s time to rethink norms and values and why we do things a certain way. Once I got over buying “men’s” clothing, a whole new set of possibilities opened up. Sure, there’s something to be said for practicing and honing skills, for certain traditions to be upheld. But honestly, I think nothing should come without criticism.

I think about challenging the field of academia and how we write and research. That seems very daunting, but if I look back at my work so far, I’ve already committed myself to this path of innovation and improvisation. I’m studying a field that is building itself at this moment. The builders are young people who see real potential for disrupting, especially when the process of tearing things apart births new ways of building foundations.

I remember feeling most inspired at the Women’s March by the artists and creators because it seemed like they would be the ones to lead us into uncharted territory. So far I believe this to be true. To say this year has been trying is an understatement, especially for non-white, non-male, non-cis, non-straight, non-wealthy, non-citizen, non-able-bodied folx. There’s a radicalism in the air that might lead to some “wtf” ideas, but seriously- it might be what saves us.

Disobedience is coming. Religious leaders are ready to march, to sit-in, to block, to chant, to pray and sing and center, and to undefine what it means to do things the way they should be done. I’m going to try that in my own life. Creation can only come out of questioning our methods and even our beliefs. Let’s tear it all down, swirl it around, and put something new together.

Forgetting to Remember

76 years and two days ago*, Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu. Just two days ago I went about a normal graduate student day, writing fiercely about saints and early Christian monastics and interfaith dialogue using storytelling as a model for transformation. I took breaks and went on Facebook. On the right side of the news feed, the subjects trending included the college football playoff, more heartbreaking news about assaults on young women (this time in academia, very close to home), the terrifying fires in my city of birth, and something about bitcoin.

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Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

I don’t remember seeing anything at length about what happened 76 years ago. 76 isn’t a particularly meaningful anniversary- we tend to recognize milestones in fives and tens and fifties. The next day, more news appeared about Baker Mayfield as the Heisman trophy favorite despite his controversial behavior on and off the field. I went to my last day of classes for the quarter with a small feeling of triumph- I made it! Only five papers and an oral presentation to go. I looked forward to baking as motivation to get my writing done. After my last class I sat and chatted with some religious studies undergraduates and laughed about the sassy monks we read about this week. I went to my professor’s office hours and discussed my thesis for the paper. In passing, he used the phrase “I forgot to remember” to describe the woes of historians’ work. I kept repeating the phrase in my mind over and over.

What we forget is much more than what we remember, due to limitations of human memory. What we forget to remember is due to something else- pain, trauma, events we don’t want to relive. A recent article detailed why victims of sexual assault often describe the assault inaccurately- trauma often forces them to push the events out of their minds simply to go on living. They subconsciously forget to remember- though there is no such thing as erasing.

A couple years ago I was watching Archer with my divinity school classmates. The crude yet intelligent humor appealed to us amidst the brutal winter night. Archer, the brash but charming hero, finds himself in a situation involving a Japanese gang. Archer’s mother saves the day- she prevents the gang from wreaking havoc and at the end shouts, “that’s for Pearl Harbor!” The line is meant to be funny because as we say, it’s not “too soon.” Time passes and heals. Except that last part isn’t really true. Pain passes down through generations. We forget to remember atrocities because history is often about what we’ve forgotten. What about the two atomic bombs that killed over 300,000 people instantly and left years of radiation illness lingering for generations to suffer? It can be hard to connect with places and times far away, but progress is a dangerous assumption. We can’t forget to remember those before us suffered as many suffer today, from oppression and supremacy. Time can heal, but healing isn’t forgetting.

 

 

*Note: this post has been published retroactively

Myth

As the quarter closes this week, the writing process continues at full speed, with half-finished thoughts and some consolation. There is never enough time, but perfectionism impedes creativity and progress. I’m realizing that my three classes all revolve around narrative this quarter, so making sense of how stories dictate values is on my mind.

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Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

One of the projects I am working to finish is an essay about myth and interfaith dialogue. In my circles, I don’t need to stress the importance of dialogue (preaching to the choir) but I do think it’s important to complicate what actually happens when people are vulnerable and share how their own experiences lead them to convictions. More wisdom is better than less, but what if that wisdom promotes conflicting values? This seems a necessary question as not a day goes by without someone noting “how divided our country is.” We are living by irreconcilable myths, and we cannot deny that a selection of these myths intentionally ignores or legitimizes pain and dehumanization.

Northrop Frye, a literary critic, and Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago, both deal with myth in their work. Both stress myth as narratives that deal with human crises, especially finitude. Comparing myth across cultures and traditions is dangerous if we are not careful to acknowledge context and particularity. What I find compelling about myth, especially as a process for dialogue, is how we pull meaning from stories that have no historical or logical basis. I think our ability to do this speaks to creative expression as one of the highest forms of spirituality. I also think this process of meaning making is the closest we can get to a universal human experience, which is living with inevitable change. We are constantly attempting to make sense of “why things happen.”

This quarter has been tough, not just because of the rigor and caliber of work required, but because moving to a new place heightens the knowledge that meaning is obscured. I always enjoy learning through a variety of channels- reading interesting texts, lively discussions, and especially making connections to my own work in the field of interfaith studies. But as a person who enjoys nerding out about baseball statistics and marveling at bright, obnoxious fashion trends as much as writing papers and discussing medieval saints’ lives, finding wholeness has been a real challenge. I think the process of living by a new story takes time and struggle before the narrative truly emerges. Communities are struggling to incorporate old stories into new problems. When the stories generate no meaning, it’s time to start telling new ones.

One thing all the stories have taught me this quarter is that crisis never leaves the human experience. It’s false to believe we will ever live without the apprehension of some kind of challenge, and there is plenty of wisdom from various times and places to aid us in remaining present and to let go of attachment to a particular outcome. Still, there is something comforting in the fact that a benchmark of the human experience is grappling with narrative and meaning-making. I think this is important to remember, especially when we need to reflect on how we participate in narratives that cause harm.

Forgiveness is Futile

I’m slogging through assignment after assignment this week as the end of the quarter creeps (RACES) closer and the news and its subsequent commentary causes some blood-boiling. Some people are surprised by the slew of allegations going public around sexual harassment and assault committed by men in power. And some people will continue to defend these men, even when multiple women come forward and have been coming forward for decades.

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Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

I have been noticing some argument around backing some of these men because they apologized, or because they stand for good values, despite their actions. Louis CK wrote a whole apology, so he is redeemed, right? No *expletive* way. I’ll continue to be enraged. And I’m struggling with two things. The first is, the men on the news are men already in the public eye. They’re scum, but there’s plenty of scum to go around in any old circle. I’m not trying to say I think all men are scum. I am saying that the way our society treats women teaches men that harassment and assault are ok, and worse, it doesn’t teach them what is terribly wrong. My mom was shaking her head the other day while we were walking because she felt confused as to why men would reveal their privates to young women in their offices- “didn’t they think eventually this would get out?” Here’s the horror- I would guess that most of these men had no conscious thoughts that what they were doing was wrong. Thus, they wouldn’t worry about their behavior “getting out.”

The second thing I have been questioning is forgiveness. Now, it is not my place to forgive the men who committed harassment and assault to other women. I can only choose to forgive those who hurt me. I will say that the “apology” letter is meaningless to me, because it doesn’t change what happened and demonstrates no attempt to change in the future. But what does it mean that the majority of men in our culture have committed some form of harassment or assault? Does this mean we feel disgusted by everyone? I’m not going to lie, I feel very privileged when I get to be in women-only spaces, and much less exhausted than during a typical day. I live with the incredible privilege to actually be able to call men out when they contribute to rape culture (commenting on my body is never ok. Don’t do it.), and to have resources to help me do this. So I believe I should ask where we go from here.

It is not the responsibility of women and non-male folx to educate men on any of this. If they choose to, it is their gift. I think we should forget the apologies for now. You’re not sorry unless you do something to change not only your behavior, but the behavior of the men around you. And you keep at it. Talk to other men. Tell them when they’re contributing to rape culture. Ask others to do that to you. Non-men cannot change this no matter how much outrage we preach.

I am in awe of the women who have come forward, and in further awe of the millions of women who can’t. As the allegations continue to come out (they should), I firmly hope we believe them.

Students

Winter is coming. Actually, many would argue it is already here. As I walked to class yesterday, I found myself shivering even though it was about 58 degrees. I guess my native Californian blood has returned in full force. Perhaps my body is also reacting to the mountain of physical and mental labor it has incurred this quarter and really, really wants winter break.

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Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

Last night a known Islamophobe came to Stanford’s campus. He met with a group of students and then did a question and answer session with the campus Republicans. Outside, about 300 students gathered for a rally, eventually joined by the 150 students who walked out of the talk.

The speakers at the rally were all students, representing Stanford Advocates for Immigrants, Stanford Sanctuary Now, MEChA and the Muslim Student Union, among others. Besides those who had the microphone, students started chants and mini-dialogues in between speeches. I was impressed with each speaker. They not only spoke with passion and truth, they utilized the skills this university has taught them- research, crafting a well-thought out argument, communicating their narratives.

So why did the university allow someone who disregards not only basic human decency but also any kind of intelligent, intellectual basis for crafting their platform? This isn’t new, arguments about free speech have ping-ponged for a long time. It is quite dangerous to presume that everyone has access to this “freedom.”

I’ve been writing an essay this week about St. Clare of Assisi, who was ordained by St. Francis. Female saints experienced some really heinous violence- beatings, whippings, even starvation at the hands of men. We’re kidding ourselves if we look at these texts and think “wow, THEY were so terrible.” Because women and those living on the margins right now, in this moment, experience physical violence, structural violence, and systematic approaches that aim to keep them out.

Clare is an interesting figure. According to her hagiography, she turned an entire army away from the gates of Assisi using the Blessed Sacrament, and a prayer. God spoke to her. God told her the city would be protected. Now, this army was a “Saracen” army from Sicily sent by King Frederick. As a scholar of interfaith interactions, I can’t paint a rosy picture of Muslim-Christian interaction. But one thing the story illustrates is that Clare and her sisters held vastly more power together. Which is why last night, students felt compelled to show up for their friends and classmates. We need to keep showing up.

The Stanford Daily called the rally “innocuous” and “peaceful”, diluting the power of people standing together (literally) and listening to those who rarely get public voice. Student activism has risen a striking amount since the election, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s not “innocuous,” it’s intentional, well-planned, and organized. It’s students taking their learning out of the classroom and applying it to their experiences.

Last night was the first time I felt really connected to the Stanford community, and definitely recognized again how important students are. As one of the speakers rightly stated, we have plenty of work to do, so let’s go.

 

What We Deserve

Some amazing election milestones took place this week. The first turbaned Sikh mayor got elected in Hoboken, New Jersey. During the campaign, racist fliers circulated calling him a terrorist. The first out trans person will serve in the Virginia legislature, beating the person who sponsored an anti-trans bathroom law. Also in Virginia, the first two Latina women ever will be state representatives.* The first trans woman of color ever was elected to public office in Minneapolis. My friend and classmate from graduate school, a Somali-American woman who wears hijab, got elected to school board in Hopkins, Minnesota. The list doesn’t end here. I’d like to take a moment to congratulate everyone who played a role in these elections. Your work is working.

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today I caught up with one of my chaplain colleagues. She has been more than a colleague- she’s been a mentor, a thought partner, and a friend when I desperately needed one. As we shared what’s happening in our worlds, she mentioned that her teenage son said something impactful. He said “people who do your work deserve therapy. You deserve therapy.”

I grew up with a mother who didn’t stigmatize therapy and counseling. She suggested it for me when I was a struggling college student trying to find my place among the vast sea of academia and university social structures. She helped me find someone that worked, someone I trusted and with whom I could see gradual change. I feel enthusiastic about my current therapist and the conversations we have, treating them as a gift and a privilege, which they certainly are. I have never considered that I deserve it, that I am worthy of this work for my mind and spirit.

Therapy is a privilege. Consider the cost, the time commitment, the need to break down preconceived notions and often to swim upstream against cultural and communal norms that demonstrate weakness or “something wrong” with those who seek it. It is not the answer for everyone, either. But everyone deserves to have an outlet. Everyone deserves to give and receive love. How do we prove that to ourselves, that we deserve this care and compassion?

The phrase “you get what you deserve” often seems threatening. Like, you got an F because you didn’t study. Our actions or lack thereof warrant consequences. I want to suggest that when we can recognize our achievements as something we deserve, and especially when others deserve theirs, we can challenge this negative thought process. It’s not about thinking positive, it’s about doing the work and recognizing ourselves once in a while. It’s equally as important to know that often people who are marginalized deserve recognition and basic human decency that is violently denied.

This week those who worked tirelessly to tell the stories of the elected folx who desperately want to create change and serve their communities, yet hold threatened identities, deserve to celebrate and be celebrated. The new faces of cities, counties, school boards, states, and other public office deserve to be listened to, and their constituents deserve a voice too. The work certainly isn’t over. As I’ve written before, recognizing the small milestones just like in therapy help us imagine what we might deserve down the road- our vision to be realized. What will we do with our victories?

*I wanted to clarify that this sounds misleading. See the article below to find out more about the first trans woman elected to state legislature in Massachusetts.

https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2017/11/8/1713845/-Before-Danica-Roem-Althea-Garrison-was-the-first-trans-woman-elected-to-state-legislature-in-1992