3, 2, 1…2018, You’re Done!

Alright, 2018. As Nicole Byers would say, “ya done!” I think it’s difficult to say whether this year was “good” because there were some direly terrible, awful moments. And, I feel thankful for several people and communities that worked against all odds and supported one another. Despite the heartbreaking news we encounter every day, I do want to shout out the people that made good happen. Think about the activists, writers, teachers, artists, religious leaders, small business owners, athletes, entertainers, and others who took the time to teach and to listen. Especially people of color, women, queer and trans folx, disabled folx, immigrants, and folx whose native language is not English. To everyone who truly learned from their mistakes, that’s awesome.

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I saw so many awesome achievements and fearless actions, including a friend’s recent trip to the border to protest. Two close friends got engaged and another friend took a backpack to travel the world. Another friend finished a masters degree and got a sick job. And another started teaching Spanish and has been asked several times to be a model teacher for others just starting. My students improved their writing and one won a national championship. Scholars I admire wrote books that called out white supremacy, racism and sexism through their work and encouraged me to do the same. I witnessed pain, anger, frustration, loss, and the subsequent fight to find some joy despite it all.

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Before I offer my (partial) list of yays and face palms and resolutions, I want to reflect on one thing. I’ve seen many end of the year messages and posts that suggest we should cut people out of our lives who are toxic, that we must let go of those who are not ready to love us, and that those who cannot appreciate us for our flaws need to go home. I completely agree with these messages, and I wonder how, in this new year, we can hold more accountability for ourselves too. I struggled- I mean STRUGGLED- this year with balancing how to hold space for a friend or colleague or family member who needed to dump their emotions and saying no to holding that space because I didn’t have the capacity. How do we work through our own stuff while utilizing our support networks without emotionally dumping? This year I want to explore accountability of emotions. I think through my own work, I can be a better support and resource for my people.

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Yays:

-Met so many amazing people working to end the suffering of others

-Finished my first year in a PhD program when I said so many times I couldn’t

-Received three grants and launched Golden State Sacred, our project documenting the religious history of California

-Finished a tough mudder

-Presented for the first time at several conferences- and most importantly, lived into the nerves!

-Saw my body as strong and deserving, rather than overweight and lacking

-Got to be on an awesome podcast with one of my academic and activist heroes, and realized that I value a commitment to learning and listening perhaps more than anything

-Published a short story, an article, and a few contributions to publications I really believe in

-Learned so much about my home state through the graciousness of communities and individuals who helped me

-Helped create a public history project that brought scholars, artists and activists together

-Spent time with my family and my best friends, even if it meant I stayed up real late finishing my work to be at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium

-Took student feedback seriously and improved my teaching (and got really lovely student reviews)

-Asked for help when I needed it (and definitely need to keep working on this one)

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Face Palms (not really. But I think being vulnerable and sharing mistakes is really helpful):

-Exhibited stubborn behavior when I should have listened and acknowledged that my actions were harmful, especially as a white woman

-Stayed silent when I needed to speak out

-Took my frustration out on baristas and other workers when it was entirely not their fault my day was not going the way I wanted

-Failed to tell my therapist a few things right away because I felt shame

-Missed opportunities to communicate with people I don’t get to see or talk to every day (forgetting to text back)

-Let guilt guide my actions instead of letting go and stating my needs

-Lived into the narrative that I am not smart enough or qualified for academia because my path is different

-Allowed the patriarchy to get me down

 

My Resolutions:

-Exhibit ally behavior for indigenous and disabled individuals and communities and appreciate when someone takes the time to teach me.

-Write fearlessly.

-Tell people when I don’t have emotional capacity to hold space (and, recognize my own issues in asking for space).

-Treat my body as a gift that deserves care- instead of working out as punishment, treating working out as a gift of time, stress relief and celebration.

-Communicate more directly (even if it seems mean).

-Put my body and words on the line for the communities that do not hold the privilege I do.

-Build relationships without using English as a medium.

-Keep baking.

-Tell my friends and family when they do something fantastic.

Happy New Year, y’all! May the internet continue to save us in humor and real talk.

 

 

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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.

Preflection.

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PC: Niels Weiss

HAPPY 2017!!!

Another day turns into another year. Here we are! Today I checked my social media channels frequently to see what friends and family were feeling as the new year approached. I’m so proud of y’all! You achieved an incredible amount this year, despite some serious tragedies amidst every day strife and violence. If we are honest, changing the last two numbers of the date today to 17 don’t wipe any of this away, and surely, as we have already seen in Istanbul, tragedy looms over and over.

I really loved my friend/co-worker/colleague/tea buddy Kaitlin Ho’s reflection questions that she posted a few days ago. They certainly helped me put my own experience in context and focus on the present time. Though so much could be written for my responses to each question, here are my reflections and preflections as we begin a new year:

Where did I see glimmers of hope/light?

My students and co-workers. This past semester was exhausting for everyone, I have never seen so many young people physically show signs of fatigue and anxiety. Yet- the people around me, students and co-workers alike, delved deep and found unrelenting compassion for each other. The day after the election, 45 of our university’s community members gathered to dialogue and share, and I witnessed active listening, people making space for each other, and even strangers hugging. A week after that, a group of students attended a workshop I facilitated for the Global Citizenship Project around storytelling for social change- republicans, democrats, and international students included. Though I felt nervous, the students made themselves vulnerable to each other and shared some heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories about living with depression, experiencing their parents’ divorce, and other touching experiences. For a moment it felt like we had created community across an unbridgeable divide.

Where did I experience darkness?

I witnessed the ugliness of bureaucracy and large corporate institutions. I felt dehumanized and witnessed through my own lens of privilege how deep-seeded oppression is around me.

What did I see in my character that I’m proud of/want to see more of?

I ran 3 half marathons and started training for my first full marathon this past year. I’m gearing up for Boston in April. What I’ve learned in my running journey so far is that health cannot be achieved through only physical well-being, it’s so much more about the mind. I found that attempting to be gentle but encouraging of my body and mental state got me so much farther than beating up myself up for missing a day, or running too slow, or not stretching enough. I felt more motivated to take care of myself when I was merciful. As I start the serious training, I want to see more appreciation of the immense task it is to live, love and breathe on this earth day in and day out- appreciation of my own body, and of others’.

What do I want to change?

I want to engage in more honest, uncomfortable conversations that will continue to educate me in the fight for equity. I learned this year that I can’t expect people to call me out unless I create that norm and culture, demonstrating that holding each other accountable is an act of revolutionary love. I don’t want to feel frozen in my humble social justice work, and staying in motion means finding opportunities to educate myself at every turn.

Who are people I’m grateful for?

I literally start to cry when I think about how many people rooted for me this year, and how I could never repay the kindness and generosity they have shown. People I love donated to the charity I will run for in the Boston Marathon, listened to me complain and express frustration and still stuck by me, read my blog and other writings, gave me meaningful projects to work on, and met with me to give advice or just be in good company. I’m grateful for the interfaith movement, for the Revolutionary Love Fellows, for my students, for my new writing partners, for my family, for my partner, and for the people who were not afraid to ask for favors.

Who are friends with whom I need to reconcile?

I struggled with forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation this year. It took almost all year for me to realize that forgiveness and mercy are truly divine, but cannot be hurried. Rather than thinking about specific individuals, I’m going to continue challenging myself to hash out these concepts as they relate to healing and how I can be a better friend and family member to others.

What are my greatest desires and needs in my relationships, my faith, my work, my health?

This is such a good and difficult question. I like being needed and feeling important, but I think what I actually need is the opposite- a chance to be in communities where I don’t play a leadership role and simply exist among others. I need to continue struggling in my faith and what I believe about ambition and justice. I need to keep writing, focusing on meaningful writing rather than quantity. I need to be my own best advocate for my health and in doing so, learn to be a fierce advocate for others.

And finally…here’s to reading 100 books this year 😀 mostly for pleasure.

New Year’s Resolution

Wow, there are 19 days left in December. 19 days left in 2016. The “Me in 2016” memes have been keeping me going- though truthfully, the passage of 2016 to 2017 is merely night into day, a rotation of the earth, nothing more. Hope is important, and so is integrity. Lots of work and struggle ahead.

Have you started thinking about your New Year’s Resolution? I’ve thumbed through the usual: drink more water, go to the gym more, lose weight, eat more vegetables. All good ideas and things to work on, speaking for myself. I see a pattern in the popular resolutions: they all identify a deficit. They all require discipline and motivation. Time and again, I have made resolutions like this, and I can’t remember a year in which I successfully went more than a month in keeping the habit. Something is missing in our resolutions, and that is mercy.

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PC: Jay Ruzesky

The reason I’ve been thinking about mercy is because I hoard books and two of the books on my nightstand have the word “mercy” in the title. Traveling Mercies, by Ann Lamott, and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. I actually had to look up the definition of mercy, and according to google, means something between forgiveness and compassion. When we practice mercy, we actively harness our power to condone those who have harmed, rather than punish them. Action, power. Mercy requires agency, it’s a choice. The way I see it, forgiveness is self-practice primarily. I can forgive someone without their knowledge. I let go of anger and resentment not for the purpose of forgetting, but for the purpose of freeing myself from the suffering. Mercy changes the plan- it’s active compassion in the face of pain. Teasing out these differences, I remember something my writing professor said to us the first day of class: “To be a successful memoir, the narrator (you) must be compassionate toward the younger self.” I thought to myself, “Uh, why? I was the worst back then. I deserved to be thrown in jail and rot.”

And there it was, my New Year’s Resolution: Be Merciful. First and foremost to MYSELF! How can one understand the freedom from resentment, anger, disappointment, failure and actively change behavior toward it when we are not merciful toward our own selves? Pfffft. That’s a rhetorical question, but an important one nonetheless. Maybe mercy is about mindfulness. Everything is about mindfulness. But let me explain.

Thinking back on my 2016, it was a hard year. That’s an understatement: it was an excruciating year for me and so many of my friends, my students, and my colleagues. Some days getting to work on public transportation felt like the final battle in Lord of the Rings. But if I’m really honest with myself and what I accomplished, it was not nothing. I ran two half marathons and made a decision to run a full one. I wrote over 70,000 words for a memoir in progress- it’s no where near done, but I’m not giving up on it. Beginning in June I published an average of a blog post a week on this site and some others. I started therapy, took charge of my health, and spoke up about being a white woman. None of these processes has been perfect- there were days I didn’t run because I wanted to sit on the couch and eat pizza instead. There were days I didn’t write because my mind was uninspired. I gained some weight, skipped some therapy sessions, and missed a SHIT ton of opportunities to speak up about oppression. What does it all mean?

One of my students highly suggested (borderline demanded) that I try Forrest Yoga recently. Truth time: yoga freaks me out. It’s boring and slow and I have to sit with myself and my terrible flexibility for far too long. But I did it, and as our instructor repeated several times, I noticed where the struggle was. My mind really wanted to yell at my stiff body for using a block in pigeon pose. Mercy itself is the block- it’s an act of mindfulness as the world hurls crap at you over and over. it’s acknowledging that imperfection is better than not doing something at all- the end justifies the means. No, wait- the means get messed up sometimes, but you can still get to the end. That’s mercy: finding compassion and changing course. It’s acting on love that has been buried but not extinguished.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back. That action is extremely dangerous- congratulating ourselves too often lulls us into complacency. The reason I started this blog was to think about how we sustain ourselves as activists when justice fatigue is real. Though I don’t practice in the Pure Land tradition, the Boddhisatva Kannon has always inspired me. She’s known as the Goddess of Mercy, the one who listens when we cry out in suffering. As a Boddhisatva she has embodied the ultimate mercy by forgoing her ultimate attainment to help us out. In the journey rife with suffering mercy is about taking our power we could use to get even with others or ourselves who have caused harm, and instead applying it to change course, focusing on the goal and being mindful that we can still find a way to get there.