Saturday, November 12, 2016

Why protest?

I often feel like I'm not radical enough for my political community. But I'm also sort of an "accessible radical" in other areas of my life. The result is that in crisis times, I work to bridge the gap. 

Friends have been asking how to get involved. Because events change by the minute, please friend me on Facebook if you're interested in actions. I can more easily link up there. 

A friend asked for support in talking about protests with her community. I'd love your additions to this list, but here are some preliminary responses I have about the value of protesting and the reason why people are currently protesting Trump:

*protests are not always useful for overthrowing a candidate. They ARE useful for creating policy change. Occupy Wall Street gave us vocabulary to talk about predatory banking and created a groundswell of public pressure towards (some) banking reform. Black Lives Matter is forcing the issue of police brutality onto the public stage. All candidates had to address these issues BECAUSE protests and grassroots organizing created the pressure.

*protests channel energy, outrage, and sadness. They give it direction and then also allow people to come together to create platforms and social justice programs (think Panthers and their breakfast program, etc)


*protests show that we give a shit. When people 
grieve after ANOTHER police shooting of an unarmed Black Man it is IMPORTANT to show Black folks that they matter, that we get it, that we love them, that they should be protected. And we are working towards those ends. Right now, many demonstrating against Trump are saying that Muslims, women, LGBTQ, and others targeted MATTER to them.

*protests educate. I remember driving by protests as a kid and I would ask my parents what was going on. I didn't always get the best answers but it taught me to look into an issue. I remember Atlanta's pride parade going past my grandparents' church. My grandmother and the other church ladies gave out lemonade to the Dykes on Bykes, topless marchers, and all the other marchers. My grandfather and his cronies leaned against the church in the shadows with their arms crossed. That taught me too.

Why do you protest? Why does it matter? What other actions do you take to affect change?

Friday, November 11, 2016

The children

I confess, I kind of thought trump would win. I didn't want him to but it seemed possible. However, I didn't expect what came after his win. I was surprised by the depth of shock, grief, and fear among many white people. I was especially surprised to hear so many white people tell me about their children's fear.

They didn't know how to break the news of the election. Their children told them they were and are frightened. These parents have been understandably sad and angered and dislocated.

I didn't expect this.

My hope is that this pulls us into greater alignment with one another. I've talked to friends of color for years about how the government doesn't feel like it represents them nor protects them. They feel frightened of its symbols of power, like the military and police. After police killings of Black men, they try to figure out what to tell their sons about safety. They have long found ground in uncertain times.

My hope is that for those of us experiencing this sense of fear and uncertainty for the first time, that we can use it to fuel our empathy for those who have experienced it for a long time. Instead of spiralling into the fear, can this be used to say, "I am so sorry for what you've endured. I feel a piece of it. I want to figure out how to work together to make space for all of us to feel safer."

That's my hope.

White Women are not innocent. Everyone has power. Don't give it away.

Yesterday, I was heartened to read the following from writer Luvvie Ajayi: "White women. Some of you are starting to get in your feelings about everyone blaming you for Trump being president. Lemme tell you something. IT IS ABOUT TIME fingers start being pointed at you. Because in all of history, YOU have all gotten off scot-free for anything that has happened. White men are painted as the villains and folks have ignored the passive aggression and your role in the upholding of white supremacy.
In a world that doesn't really care about women WHEN it chooses to care, it is only for white women. You scream feminism but only fight for those who look like you. Y'all have been shielded from culpability all your lives and through history and been able to move in the system of oppression without getting blame when you have been active participants in the denigration of people of color and marginalized people. You have been the Damsel in Distress even as you've been the source of chaos. But still, you are protected above other women, because the way racism is set up, folks have been convinced that you are the default in womanhood. And part of what comes with that is you haven't learned to trust yourself. You didn't trust HRC to lead because you don't trust YOURSELF to lead.
COLLECTIVELY, y'all messed up on Tuesday.
So yes. You will sit in this discomfort and this shame. And you might choose to whine about it. What you should do is commit yourself to doing better. Look inward and see what part you've played.
Then we can move forward. For now, though, I'ma get these jokes off at your expense.
P.S. Read chapter 9 of my book (titled I'M JUDGING YOU). It's called "Nobody Wins at the Feminism Olympics.'"

Ajayi is an important writer to begin with and this is a very important sentiment.

To be clear: I'm not on the HRC bandwagon but I also did not and do not support trump. Just to get that straight.

I'm watching this election and the ensuing grief, fear, and bewilderment with my own trepidation, interest, and wonder. One of the things that gives me courage is that no one is allowed to be innocent.

None of us are allowed to be innocent.

I've tried to write about the place of white women as an idea, an archetype, in the cultural imagination before. I want to do this because I am a real, living, breathing white woman. Also, because I find ideas of white manhood and all that it entails-- unearned privilege, unearned pressures, etc. I find ideas of black manhood and all that entails-- undeserved criminalization, unrecognized humanity. I find ideas of black womanhood and all that entails-- unending pressures and responsibilities, unshared burdens. White women always feel a bit like a blank space. Unformed.

White women en masse love Oprah. White women en masse love Michelle Obama. White women voted for Trump.

White women were the excuses for lynchings of Black men. The accusation of looking at a white woman was enough to kill a Black man.

Helen of Troy was a white woman. As Ajayi wrote, "you have been the damsel in distress... and the source of chaos." That false innocence, that innocuousness has also meant lack of accountability. Along with lack of accountability, it means denial of responsibility, lack of agency, and power.

It's bullshit.

I'm not innocent. I never was. But I felt like I got a pass.

On Wednesday, after trump became president elect, when I walked down the rain soaked streets I passed a Black man who looked at me like, "Was it you, Judas?" And I wanted to pull out my radical ally card and beg my innocence, "It wasn't me! I swear!" And I thought, "This. This will be another side effect of this moment. This betrayal. My past actions don't matter. My current actions do." To be trustworthy, I have to be accountable. I have to keep showing up. I have to be culpable and also accountable. I have to have as much blood on my hands as anyone else, and I also have to have ownership. 

And that means I get to belong.

Part of the myth of innocence is not being a part of the whole, not making decisions, not having a seat at the table, not showing up. I don't get to be innocent and I also don't abnegate my own power. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wolves running with women

I pay great heed to the recommendations of witchy artist women. Thankfully, I have many around me. Women who are attentive to their own internal guide, who create beautifully and seasonally, and who engage with great respect all in their midst.

Repeatedly, I was urged to read Women Who Run With the Wolves.


I bought a used copy as I figured this was a read I'd mark up and return to. I do a lot of teaching around myth. Shoot, Caits and I did two retreats using myth as the intersection between yoga and writing or body and creativity. The book arrived and moved around my house a bit. It lived in my bedroom for a time. It landed on the shelf. It didn't get read.

Then I thought, "I should pick this up." I tried. I tried to read it. I loved it but I couldn't read it. This is a densely packed book, tiny type on thin, crowded pages. You can feel the author's presence. She must be wearing a shawl and a long skirt. She's probably brewing something on the stove as she speaks to you through the pages. She's there and she's very her. She's very of an era that feels to me like feral 70s feminism.

That's not a bad thing. That's sort of the medicine that healed me as a young woman. I've spent a lot of time with those women and they were huge influences. But somehow, it was too much in my suburban Philadelphia bedroom. I just didn't feel like burning my bra right then. The wolves have been pretty much driven out of the East Coast...

I'm usually really intentional about what reading I bring on a trip. Somehow, in all the busyness of preparing for the retreat, I didn't tend to my own book list. On the plane I kept exclaiming, "Why didn't I bring Muir? Or Edward Abbey? Or...? What was I thinking?"

But I did grab Women Who Run With the Wolves. On a whim, I pulled it off the shelf and threw it in my bag.


As is pretty common, I didn't read for pleasure on the retreat. I rested during personal time but I stayed pretty tuned into teaching and offering. I glanced at some essays Kevin had brought but that was about it. Maybe I was being primed... those essays were speeches from a witchy lady in the UK.


When we settled into Crestone, into this place to which I'd been called, in this place that we found by consulting sun-beat, calloused women who looked like they'd given all their fucks decades ago, I heard the author calling again.

I picked up the book and it felt REAL. Like, it felt near. I felt with her. I felt of her. Interestingly, I felt strongly the presence of the woman who rented us our magic hobbit hole. I felt all these women living on the edges, off-the-grid, completely untamed.

What felt sort of silly, or hard to relate to at home, felt relevant. There are wolves. There are feral spaces. There are stories being told around fires. It's all still there and real and felt like a valued road map in that particular moment. I felt like I was on a quest and here was my guide.


I still haven't finished the book. It's living in my purse right now. Every now and then I pick it up and read some more. The author still feels in the room, but a bit further away. I'm building trust that not only can I find the places and teachings that serve but that they find me too.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Willow Lake Trail

When we first landed in Crestone... err, drove into town? Really, landed feels more accurate, we put down our things and took a walk through town. In the small crystal/VHS video rental shop the store-keeper mentioned Willow Lake hike. When we did a little more research we saw that this 9 mile, 3,000 ft ascension was listed as one of the most scenic in all of Colorado!

On our last day in Crestone our poor little rental car climbed up to the trail head through pot-holed, rock-strewn, unpaved roads. I love how much parts of the US can feel like anywhere else in the world. I love the world when it's less sanitized and civilized.

Kevin had tried to get some info on this trail but hikers are notoriously rough communicators. On the Boulder retreat we kept asking returning hikers how long it would take us to get to the Royal Arches. Without fail they'd say something innocuous and falsely encouraging like, "15 more minutes!" An hour later we'd find more hikers who'd say the same.

And on the descent, happy, completely disoriented, we became them.

Armed with this complete lack of information, we set off.


The landscape did shift beautifully and wildly. We wandered on switchbacks in the woods to open meadows to sheer rockscapes.


We only encountered two other hikers and that's when we were about a mile from the parking lot. As we were on the descent, Kevin mislead them WILDLY on how far to the lake. He still feels bad about that.



We started at Crestone's elevation of around 8,000 ft above sea level. We ascended 4.5 miles upto 11,000 or so ft above sea level. My ears continued popping. I stopped frequently on the vertical ascent to catch my breath. Between altitude sickness and where I was with my cold it often felt hard to breathe. But once I recovered, the air tasted good and I felt better than if I stayed inside.


As with everything in this corner of the world, distance and effort felt unpredictable. The usual markers we offer ourselves were meaningless. We were working in a different spatial paradigm. Endless up. Endless quad burning. Endless panting lungs.

Until.


Willow Lake sits in an alpine mountain crevice. The water bubbles out of the mountain, springs into the lake, and then drops into waterfalls and rivulets before winding a creek through the valley below.

A lake. In a mountain, Improbable. Clear. Empty. Beautiful.



Of course, Kevin stripped down and jumped in. He said he lost his breath for a moment. He said he found God.

Air temp was about 50. The sun was hot when it reached you but clouds moved quickly through the sky and sometimes lost you in shade. The water had some ice on it and there was snow on the shore.


After endless ascension-- well, 4 hours of it, we descended the 4.5 miles and 3,000 ft in 2 hours. We basically skipped like mountain goats.


When we drove out of town the following day I still felt the climb in my body. I love coming home with remnants of a place in my skin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Spirit houses of Crestone

The Sangre de Cristo range has long been a site of pilgrimage for Indigenous spiritual seekers. Apparently, when students of Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche were looking for a site to house their teacher in the Americas, they thought that the high altitude of Crestone would feel like home. They were a large part of building a stupa in Crestone.


Somewhere in there a politician bought a bunch of land in Crestone with thoughts of development. Somehow, happily, his plans didn't come to fruition. Either due to conscience or for the tax write-off, he donated the land to several religious organizations. There is now a Carmelite Catholic Hermitage, several Hindu Ashrams, several Buddhist monasteries of different stripes, permaculture sites, and more. Most people going to Crestone are going for periods of contemplation in one of the religious houses.


The town of Crestone proper is a few dusty roads at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range before opening into the vast San Luis Valley. If you don't turn back to the valley but instead head up into the mountains you're entering a part of town known as The Baca. There are scattered houses with view of the tumble weed and shrubs below and soaring cliffs above.



Soon, you come to a remarkable Buddhist stupa.


On site, we read about the formation. There seems to be an unusual level of collaboration between the various spiritual houses. As I write this it actually makes better sense-- it is HARD to live in the San Luis Valley. Perhaps cooperation is a natural byproduct of maintaining in adverse conditions.

The stupa was erected in coordination between some of the various Tibetan Buddhists in the region. There was a small meditation house devoted to the Divine Mother. There was a potent feminine energy there... but I tried to describe it to a friend. It also felt very strongly masculine at times. She said, "That's when you're in the presence of something outside of what we know." I think that's true.

We made a few trips up the Baca. We visited with some attendants in one of the Hindu Ashrams and heard stories about their Guru. I loved that many of their structures were built with repurposed tires into the cliffs to be less interrupting to the environment as well as naturally temperature controlled. We read some of the ashram schedules-- early rising, meditation, seva or work in the ashram, all while repeating mantra. The Baca is the site of many people performing cleansing austerities.

The Carmelite Hermitage is said of have one of the best spiritual libraries in the region. The University system in Colorado also had a satellite school studying local ecology.

Everyone there was there intentionally.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Great Sand Dunes

When we landed in Crestone several friends said, "You're going to see the sand dunes right?" 

Well. It hadn't been our original intention but sure!

We drove out the one road from Crestone to the Cosmic Highway connecting the high San Luis Valley. Given that I had a cold, was stationed in a 4-road town of 150 people, I was partially hunting cold supplies. I wanted tissues. Cough drops. I always imagine a land of no CVSes and no convenience. I can now say from experience: it's AMAZING and should happen but it has it's costs. One is when you have an unexpected cold and are underprepared.

As we approached the Great Sand Dunes national park we happily encountered the one all needs shop. It seems like every park has this place. They'll make you a hot dog. You can buy propane gas. There are weirdly great salves made by a local Indigenous woman. There's kitschy home decorations next to survival hunting knives. And happily, there was ONE PACK OF HALL'S COUGH DROPS.

I bought hot sauce for my Aunts and cough drops for myself. Finally, a store. Errands. Check.

Now, to epic sand.


In Crestone we'd stopped in a shop that sold sacred healing crystals and VHS tapes of movies. Cause, Crestone. The very sweet woman tending shop suggested a few hikes and of course to head to the sand dunes. Kevin asked about how they formed. He loves the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge in Kitty Hawk so he's sort of tuned into this stuff. She said, "you know. This is a desert. Sand just went there."

We later sat in the park's visitor center and watched a video on the geology of the park. They didn't use that language but I swear, they basically said the same thing.


The main nuance left by those wordy scientists was that the sand plays a huge role in the local ecosystem. The sand blows and drifts as sand tends to do. It blows up the mountain. When the winter snows melt it travels back down the mountains and to these dunes. There's a sweet dance occurring in this particular place. It's rare and beautiful.



On a Tuesday there were an assortment of campers and kids who have sand boards-- basically snow boards to coast down the sand. The sand dunes were crazy high and steep. Just due to a normal respect for heights I felt some trepidation. Then I tested the water on a sand hill and found that the costs of running, rolling, or generally playing in any imaginable way were nill. It's pretty freeing.




I was sort of at the height of my chest congestion here. Between altitude and the winds that naturally whip you this high up without tree cover, I paused a lot. I cared for my ability to breathe. Kevin, as is his nature, played.

He is still finding sand in every bit of his being.



We became creatures of the sand. As we walked back to our car, I paused to shake out my boots. I can't even tell you how long sand poured from them.



Many camp throughout the park. The landscape changes quickly. For those who do camp, at night you can return to the sand dunes for star watching. I can't imagine a closer nor sweeter view of the infinite sky.