I acknowledged 3 years of living life sober—free from any mood or mind altering chemicals—on November 26, 2019. Sugar asked me what I wanted to do on that day and I said I wanted to write. Writing is not something I wanted to do, but something I needed to do.
So, I sat down the couch as Morning napped and began to trace some ideas in a scarlet, tissued paper covered notebook. I scribbled pathways between various pieces of information I consumed, conversations I have had, ideas that are becoming the edges, the container, for the person I am becoming. The writing on this blog has always been about coming apart and coming back together. My need to explore the past is collapsing. My desire to continue building a political, spiritual roadmap to help me feel like I have a place to stand in this crazy new world is expanding..
What follows is some unscripted ramblings. Attempts to use my sleep deprived brain in ways that don’t involve redirecting traumatized children at my family resource center or trying to think of a quick witted response to the text my girlfriend just sent.
But speaking of texts, my oldest friend Gwenny sent me a text about a podcast I had recently listened to. “This is hitting me in so many ways,” the letters glowed in a green bubble on my I-phone. (I am always tickled when a friend texts me an article or podcast or webpage that I have already consumed, like there is some law of attraction that pulled us to the same spot within the ever expanding void of information that is the internet.)
She was referencing a podcast I had also listened to the previous week on my short drive to work. Krista Tippet interviewing a black Buddhist reverend, angel Kyodo williams. The interview spans topics from queerness, intergeneration trauma and transmission of pain (“Wait, this is not my house. Someone else has lived here.”) and place and race and class. The conversation felt so fluid and free flowing, yet structured and grounded, guided by an ethos that was animating every word and idea. I listened to the conversation three times, specifically, last night while laying bath tub, my iPhone in speaker mode sitting on top of the closed toilet bowl, casting an electronic white light into the grayness of the candle lit bathroom. My headphones weren’t charged, so I made do with this bathroom hack.
angel Kyodo williams spoke of love, the capacity to cultivate spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be exactly as they are, and the need to find the humaneness of the other—the Trump supporter, the man in blue with the baton. “It’s hard,” angel says, knowingly.
How can I come to understand love in this way? How can I practice this?
We say that term “hold space” when we talk about having hard conversations about race, privilege, difference. We hold space for the addict who still suffers by sitting in circles in musty church basements. I ask children to sit in circles and talk about harm and repair.
Yet, I get angry. I feel my chest tightened. I want to be right. I want to be woke. I want to be radical. And all of this seems to contradict this idea about what it means to love. What does creating space force me to let go of? And what of all this am I trying to hold onto?
I am also part of a loosely organized “feminist book club.” It’s not a club nor do we even read books, so perhaps we need to rethink the title. It’s a bunch people who identify as woman getting together to discuss something related to the topic of what it means to identify as a woman today. We are listening to a 9 part podcast series called Dolly Parton’s America. I suggested we switch from print material to podcasts, because 3 of us are new mothers and reading is something that I don’t seem to have the brain power to do with any sort of reliability.
Dolly Parton is an icon I have paid very little attention to, but after episode 1, Sad Ass Songs. I was fully intrigued. Like angel Kyodo williams, she seems to move through the world in a way that asks us to come to the middle. Unlike angel, she’s not a spiritual leader nor is she an activist or someone who even sought to create change in the world, she is an entertainer who unintentionally started a movement for workplace equality and becoming the most celebrated and prolific song writer of all time.
Dolly is also a master of diversion, deflecting comments and conversations about politics and activism for nearly 4 decades while building arguably the world’s most diverse and large fan base. Her songs were played in prisons in South Africa and at the political rallies of Hillary and Elizabeth.
One of the podcast episodes calls out a moment when Dolly was presenting an award alongside Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The trio starred in the movie 9 to 5 in 1980.
“In that movie, we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” said Fonda.”And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” added Tomlin.
Dolly stands in the middle—refusing to offer comment, choosing to make a joke about her breast instead. Turns out this is a tactic Dolly often uses when asked about politics, using her teflon coated bra as a shield from political forces that want to try to eek an opinion out of her regarding our current and or past political shitshow.
I have spent 5 hours listening to stories about Dolly and many more thinking about her. I can’t help but feel pulled toward her and her stance, regardless of the fact that boob jokes are really not my thing. I feel like the world needs more Dolly and less of us shouting, reposting woke quote of political activists we barely know or understand.
While she remains tight lipped about politics, during one episode, she offers a strategy, a hint of how she feels we might endure these current times. She asks instead of criticizing Trump, what if we just stopped and prayed for him?
What is we prayed for Trump? This feels like such a cop out to me…….and on some cellular level it feels right. It feels like praying for Trump might be a way we collectively inhale and breathe more space into the world. And space is love, right? Space is what allows others to be exactly as they are.
BUT, do I still get to be right if I pray for Trump? Do I still get to be woke? Do I still get to be radical? And will you like my instagram posts?
I spent several hours tonight prepping for a Thanksgiving Feast for two. Our Thanksgiving plans this year have taken many turns including a brother relapsing and ending up in a shed in my parents yard and a cancelled Friendsgiving. So, it seems that we’ll be spending a quiet night at home with Morning and Sugar, eating $300 worth of food I purchased at the co-op.
As I cut bread into tiny squares and let Morning taste her first orange (she didn’t like it, nor does she seem to like any food she has tried), I started listening to a podcast series called Startup about a charter school network in NY called Success Academy. I wanted a binge-able podcast to help walk me through the holidays and I am always interested in a debate about public education, so I started this charter school, start up podcast series and got hooked.
Normally, I’d have my mind made up about charter schools. Charter schools are bad. They take money from public education. They have very limited accountability and not enough space. They leave out students who don’t fit their model and the massively unjust and inequitable juggernaut that is public education in the US churns on. But I tell myself to make space and hold space as I listen to this engrossing story about the founding and expansion of these Success Academies in NYC.
As I dump a cup of Kosher salt into a large pot and get ready to brine the turkey, I listen to debates about the role of standardized tests as a measurement of the Success Academies performance. The argument is that the Success Academies do as well as rich white schools on standardized tests, so they are effectively closing the achievement gap between black and white kids in America. I hate standardized tests, but I listen to both sides of the story—the one that says tests are part of education, and that teaching poor black and brown kids how to do well on tests will help to “make up” for what they lack in social capital and connections that white kids have by design. Rich white kids don’t need tests, because their paths are already set for them, carved out by the first slave ships that docked in American ports. State tests are not necessary or important for these white kids, so their parents opt-out and these students get to have classrooms filled with project based learning about Maya temples and architecture.
Part of me wants to go on “woke” rage about how much I hate standardized tests and charter schools. But part of me wants to hold a space for Jayden Clark, the third grader who came to Success Academy not knowing how to read and now feels like he can accomplish something, because he learned read and did well on the test.
I stir the Turkey brine and watch the salt dissolve, I wonder which part the container that holds me have started to fade away. I wonder if I will let these parts go, or if I will continue to be dragged by my own dogged sense of what right, by my need to be radical, to be woke, to be “liked.”
I hope I can cultivate the spaciousness to allow others to be exactly as they are.