Do Not Let Me Entertain You

stocksnap_4rl6z4ot8t

This is in response to today’s Daily Post, entitled “Invitation.”

If you go to the theatre, turn on a movie, stand in front of a work of art, switch on the radio–do not let me entertain you.  If you do, you are being tricked, you are missing the point, you are closing off a part of you due to fear, misunderstanding, the anxiety of truly looking at yourself.  Each piece of art–from the loud, frivolous musical to the subtle, abstract painting–evokes something in you that wasn’t there before, it creates.  It creates joy, nostalgia, anger, confusion, wonder, and perhaps even inspiration to change.  And whether the art pleases or angers you, it makes no difference.  What matters is that you went from feeling nothing–from moving along in a neutral day, from following the rhythm of the world, to distracting yourself by your own inner world—to stopping, to looking at the mirror that art provides for one moment, and challenging yourself to listen, to look.

With all the confusing anger around Meryl Streep’s speech and Hamilton providing a “safe space” and other misrepresentations of my field, I see the opportunity not to quiet these incorrect views of art, but to challenge them.  If these people, the ones who believe that art and artists are literally only meant to delight them, to make them feel more comfortable in their already comfortable states, well then I say, great!  I dare to you come to something truly challenging and try to leave simply, “entertained.”  I dare you to listen to an artist’s “unwelcome” opinion and walk around with it for one day before responding.

I keep reading,  “We go to see theatre for an escape, do your job.” But I ask you, if you only see art as an escape, what are you escaping?  Even asking yourself that question means that art has proved your thesis as incorrect.

Continue reading

You Are My Starfish–A Camino Story

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

Despite the past several days throwing us some curve balls (I fell down the steps this morning–no broken bones but some pretty impressive cuts and bruises), I woke up feeling generally okay. Sure, the heat in our apartment still doesn’t work because our boiler almost blew us up last week. And sure, every day, the news reminds us that the country is crumbling.  And yet, as I tried to express in last week’s post, good things are still happening.  Maybe that’s why I can handle wiping out on my back steps, spitting toothpaste all over the room and nearly breaking my elbow.  I can take that.  Because on the bright side, I still don’t have to live through another November 8th, 2016.

After that terrible week, I felt paralyzed.  I felt that no matter what I did, nothing could fight this national disaster.  But as the days passed, and our clouds of fear slowly parted, many of us started finding very small, very subtle ways of trying to improve the days of those around us.  A coworker approached me about a Secret Santa for local low-income seniors, another friend arranged us to volunteer at a homeless shelter.  While I was there, I bumped into another friend, totally unrelated to the first arrangement, who had come just to volunteer with her husband.  Because she knew she had to do something.  Because of these, and some other random opportunities for acts of kindness, this was one of the most fulfilling holiday seasons I’ve ever experienced.

The country has seen this too.  A record-breaking donation season, a huge increase of women running for local offices, people stepping up to defend strangers, just to name a few.

But I’m not here to pat myself on the back.  I’m actually here to talk about a Camino story (surprise!).

The Camino of Animals

12916914_907223569729_3805495048724830339_o

Ben and I were chatting about this phenomenon last night–people’s call to action after the election.  It’s easy to feel that small acts are too insubstantial when the headlines tell you that no matter what you do, an unstoppable sentiment of hate and intolerance has been reawakened in our country.  It’s hard to feel that leaving a larger tip on someone’s bill, or going out of your way to say something friendly to a stranger really matters at all.  Why donate one place, when there are so many groups that need our attention?

Continue reading

grinch

Tell Your Story. I Will Listen.

I started writing publicly about seven years ago.  And occasionally, there are dry spells that keep me from blogging.  I’m too busy, too distracted, or sometimes simply uninspired.  I whine and procrastinate, and come back to blogging eventually, toting apologies and resolutions.  However, this hiatus, the dry spell that was sparked by the election, has been more painful than anything I’ve experienced so far.  It wasn’t my determination or creativity that was questioned, but rather, my purpose–this blog’s purpose.

Up until yesterday afternoon, I honestly felt that creating anything new or trying to reach out to an audience was pointless.  I began this blog discussing how to stay creatively healthy in a field that often offers little to no financial stability.  It has evolved into a place to discuss Buddhism, personal stories, and even my experience with health problems.  And yet on the morning of November 9th, all I could think was, “Who cares?”  Why focus on building ourselves as empathetic, motivated beings, when the country is filled with such anger and chosen ignorance?

And then my house almost blew up…

Continue reading

It’s Been 10 Days

Just a heads up that this is not going to be a normal post.  I honestly just need to rant, and writing privately for myself is not doing it for me right now.  I have woken up every day since the 8th angry and deeply, deeply worried.  Even hearing people managing to go on with their days sends me into a personal fury, and I am still at a loss of how to move on without rage.

I’ve heard the whole, “This is how the other side felt when Obama won.”  Well, here’s the thing about that.  My fear is based in the idea that people (including myself) will lose their rights.  Fear of Obama was based in racism.  Even if people were unaware of this deep-seated bias, all their vocalized fears can be traced back to the fact that a portion of the country does not trust a non-white man to make intelligent and caring decisions.

I’m currently struggling with the difference between intent and impact.  I have always been a blind believer that intent is by far the most important thing, and that we must find a way to have ultimate compassion for those who act with the intention of genuinely doing good for themselves and those around them.  But the past ten days have truly made me realize that choosing not to recognize our impact hurts others, and for this, I am losing patience.  As someone who has studied Buddhism inside my bubble of suburban peace, I am lost on how to build the discipline to have empathy for those who could threaten the lives of literally millions of people around the world.

As usual though, my Buddhist studies are helping me work through the pile of garbage that has been the past two weeks.  First off, let’s talk about:

Ignorance and fixation on strength.  One of our largest challenges as human beings is seeing the world without lenses and biases.  It has become our nature in the Western world to believe there are only two sides of things, right and wrong, good and evil, democratic and republican.  We often ignore balance and, strangely enough, see the idea of balance as weak.  And heaven forbid if anyone calls us weak!  It’s like we’re a country of Biffs from Back to the Future, waiting for someone to call us yellow so we can unleash our wrath of Facebook vitriol to prove them wrong and show the world how strong we are.

We’ve only just passed Mental Health Awareness week, and already we are judging ways that people are choosing to cope with this legitimately frightening occurrence.  As someone who has spent large amounts of energy and many years managing my anxiety, I recognize projection.  When someone online calls another person weak or whiny, it’s because they are not at peace with their own confidence and mental wellness.

Anyway, lenses.  I have them, you have them, the Dalai Lama has them.  If we didn’t, we’d all be perfect, enlightened beings and wouldn’t need to be on earth anymore.  These lenses fog up and misdirect ideas and information around us.  The issue has become so extreme that false news stories are actually shifting the results of world-altering decisions.  Our job in the coming months is to remove these lenses, and to challenge others to remove theirs.  We should not give others our lenses, but instead, actively seek out the truth–actively seek out what we would still see if we were wearing neither side’s biases.

Obsession with Winning.  We have been taught, through our myths and fairy tales, through our religions, through our schools, through our superhero movies, that good wins and evil loses.  The whole week, all I’ve seen is “You’ve lost, get over it.” It comes from this mindset that the world through their biased lens has prevailed, and that peace and certainty will be restored to their unstable lives.  “Before” was bad, and “now” is good.  They chose their hero, ignored any words against his qualifications to be a hero, and fought for his victory.  Now that they believe they have “won,” they are confused by those around them looking outside of winning and losing.  They think we’re upset about losing a race, they think we wanted the trophy.  No, we don’t want the trophy, we want everyone to have the freedom to safely live their damn lives.  We want everyone to feel supported by our country’s system and to feel equal to someone they pass in the street.  Because, guess what?  We are equal, we just aren’t treated as so.  It’s not about winning, it’s simply about living and having the option to work and thrive.

Levels of Awareness.  When you’re driving in your car and someone cuts you off, what’s your first response?  I flail my arms and usually scream something like, “What is wrong with you?”  I see others do it all over town.  I am, quite literally, seeing the world in my small bubble of awareness.  I am protected there.  I then get to work and talk to my coworkers, talk to my husband online, and occasionally hear from my family and college friends through email or on the phone.  This is my medium bubble of awareness, and I want to protect this bubble.  Both Bubble One and Bubble Two feels within my control.  For some people, this is where their world ends.  They only have these two sections, and seeing outside of this world feels daunting and confusing.

Then there’s Bubble Three: everyone else, both in time and space.  People from America both now and 100 years ago, people from Australia, from Pakistan, etc. You get the idea:  not you and not your personal circle.  This circle most likely will not come to you, you have to go there yourself.  For me, I read constantly, if I’m busy, there are audiobooks.  I listen to podcasts, I read blogs, I read articles across political lines, across country lines.  I don’t get locked into one job for too many years at a time.  I work in theatre–a job that constantly pushes you outside both small levels of awareness.  I study religions other than the one I was raised on.  And hey!  I am not wealthy.  I am also not an Ivy-League educated person.  I do have extreme, extreme privilege, however, and I recognize that.  I am also still incredibly ignorant to so many things.  But, these are my weapons against staying safe inside my small levels of protected awareness.

When the bubble breaks.  I always felt a little different from my childhood friends because I was forced to see the outside world when I was very young.  It was obvious to me the moment my house was broke into that my small level of awareness was not all that existed.  Illness can also be something that breaks this myth.  On the other side of the spectrum, really amazing surprises like winning the lottery or getting hired for an incredible job can break this bubble as well.  They are all reminders that you are part of a larger world.  But without an occurrence like this, or without the push to seek out the environment outside yourself, what happens to someone?

It’s sadly clear that many people choose to only protect and defend their space, oppose to reaching out and learning about the greater world.  They build walls, they buy guns, they erect a fortress of fearful beliefs.  They keep themselves locked in a tower. Now suddenly, all these tower dwellers have felt that they’ve won, that their tower will be protected.  No one is going to force them to look outside their bubble anymore.  Hooray!  What these people don’t realize, is that by hiding, they are perpetuating the idea that those without the privilege of a protective bubble will be stripped of their rights as citizens.

But tower dwellers are not just rustbelt Republicans.  When I get really low, my bubble shrinks.  I often literally feel like the space around me is getting smaller.  I lose motivation to read, to reach out, to find new career opportunities.  I want to hide inside my personal space and protect myself from anything that will challenge me to come out of it.  I develop what, psychologically, is known as learned helplessness.  I begin to accept that I will always be in my small bubble, and nothing will bring me out of it.

This is what I see when someone tells me they are unwilling to see outside their own views.  I see the pattern of learned helplessness–the acceptance that what they know is all they can ever know.  Their small bubble is protective and perfect and strong, and the large bubble of the world only wants to threaten that, to destroy it.

But this week, I am watching their fear, and using it to become more aware of my own.  I am not helpless, and neither are you.  This past week has allowed me to feel justified in my anger, in my fight.  I got over my fear of writing to representatives and electors, I got over my fear of defending my choices online.  I got over the fear of reaching out to friends with opposing views and trying to gently start a difficult conversation.  And I am so uncomfortable. I feel terrible.  And you know what?  Good.  It’s really good I feel terrible.  If I didn’t, I would still be going on long walks and thinking lofty thoughts about my plans for next summer.  I would still be assuming that Obama’s beautiful presidency had actually calmed the racist fears of many Americans too afraid to see their weaknesses.

I’d rather feel terrible now than later find out I had spent my life living in ignorance.

What He Tried to Take From Us

The original title of this post was, “What he took from us.”  I decided against this.

I woke up this morning with a better hold on my thoughts and on my body.  As I learned on the Camino, a body is capable of more than we give it credit for, especially when the day requires us to get up and simply put one foot in front of the other.  As the Zen quote teaches us, “Chop wood, carry water.”  Or, both before and after enlightenment, we must continue to work, to improve, to continue on.  But the mind, without rest and nourishment, with the stressors that send our bodies into uncontrollable shaking and tension, requires greater care, patience and kindness.  And so I waited to put my words out there in there in the world until my mind could rest.

When I “woke up” yesterday (I use that lightly because I’m not sure I technically ever fell asleep on Tuesday night), I sat in my dark living room with my husband Ben and watched the sunrise.  I needed to see that it would indeed do so, after such a dark night of pain for myself, the ones I love, the country, and the world.  I believed that something had been taken from us–not just the belief that love could overcome hate, not just the belief that our rights would be protected by a caring leader, but over a year of feeling degraded and spit upon by a fearful, small, and ignorant man that awakened a world of hatred in a sea of vulnerable people.

But. By the end of a remarkable day, if you can call a day filled with so much pain remarkable, I realized that he had taken nothing from us, that he has already failed in breaking us apart.  Ben and I, for the first time in our six-and-a-half year relationship went to church tougher.  There was an interfaith service in Montclair that brought together Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, and a wide range of Christians, to both grieve and show one another that we will not be broken, that we will be brought together.  This to me, is true religion.  It is the recognition of our interconnectivity, it is the the turning away of no one.  As we stood with our candles raised, like wands to the sky, and as we sung and chanted a Jewish song, I saw that there was light to be found.  And now, with my mind rested and my spirit slowly on the path of restoration, I am drawn to my words.

The most powerful article I read yesterday was entitled, “This is Why We Grieve Today,” by Jon Pavlovitz.  The site is oddly down right now, and I hope I may share it with you soon.  After a morning of heated bickering online, it became clear to me that many Trump supporters, even those I am close with, were not clear about why we grieved, why we felt the heavy weight of despair and fear for the future of our planet.  This bigoted, physiologically unstable man is trying to demolish a world of love and hope that we have fought so desperately to build.  And we have made beautiful, beautiful progress.  Yesterday, we did not grieve losing an election, losing a contest, we grieved the belief that love could triumph over hate in our political system.  We grieved for the safety and the rights of our LGBTQ community, for our non-white and non-Christian friends, for ourselves as women.  Yesterday, after years of being harassed on the street by dangerous men that I did not feel safe enough to yell back at, I was told that this hatred was supported, was reinforced, was strengthened.  I was told that my niece and nephews, both of which are half African-American, lived in an even less-safe world.  I was told that our beautiful, stunning, delicate planet was not worth the loss of financial gain, that the effort and research into renewable energy sources and safer, cleaner sources of energy-related jobs, were simply not worth the research and care, because the bottom line would not profit those in the top 1% of our financial elite.  I was told that a truly lost and angry man could dupe and mislead nearly half the country into believing he would fight for them, that he was their advocate.  He not only tried to steal the hope from the hearts of those that fought against him, but he made a fool of the people in my life that supported him.  This is what he tried to take from us.

But he has, and will continue to, fail–as will the organizations that fight against love.  For we will not stop standing together in community centers, in churches, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods, to speak up for one another, to watch out for one another, and to slowly find a way to realize that we all want to feel safe and loved.  We must begin talking to one another slowly and patiently, and we must begin listening.

In the past 48 hours, I have learned two major things:

  1. That nearly half the country believes that something had been taken from them during the past eight years, that they were somehow losing the respect and support from a country they believed was slipping away from their grasp.  They believed they were not loved, that they were forgotten.  And because of this, many turned to the fear in their hearts and pinned their blame on either a minority group or a social movement, and ignored the character of the man who took advantage of their fear and sorrow.  If you are reading this, I want you to know you are not forgotten and you are loved.  This leader will, sadly, most likely not fight for you, and I am so sorry for the days ahead that will make this clear.  But as one country, a country that was built on the ideals that all of us can act from a place of love for all beings and beliefs, we will rise above our system and protect one another.
  2. I also realized that I have been living in a bubble of safety.  This feeling, that my right as a women, as a citizen, and a human being, could be taken from me by two men that act from places of greed and greed alone, washed over me at 2am yesterday morning.  But this is how many minorities feel every day.  Every morning walking down the street, watching the news, and even observing the predominantly white society in our entertainment world, they feel they are not cared for, that they are in constant danger of losing their basic freedoms.  I will never thank the current President-elect for anything, but I will be grateful to the movement that followed for opening my eyes to this ignorance.  And as someone who will be relatively untouched by his terrifying policies, I will stand for all of you with as much energy as I can.  I cannot stay silent anymore.

For both sides reading, please take a moment to consider that we are all acting from a place of fear.  And in respect to your minds, this is to be recognized, it is to be acknowledged with care.   Once we acknowledge this fear, however, we must question ourselves: How is this fear causing us to act and respond?  Are we staying silent in discomfort?  Are we narrowing our vision to only focus (and vote) for one particular issue?  Or are we allowing ourselves to grow and open our minds to all types of love?  Please put your defensive swords down, and pick up your metaphorical sources of light.  When you hear or read words that spark rage in you, take two deep breaths, and continue with patience and recognition of this fear that is poisoning all of us.  Now is the time to speak up for one another, to act, to volunteer, to donate, to protect.  We can still shock our broken political system, and prove them all wrong.  We can listen to each other, respect new ways of life we may not understand, and above all, recognize which choices and actions are supported by love, and not greed or prejudice.  It is okay to be wrong.  It is okay to change.  It is okay to reach out to someone you fear with patience and truth.

We must defend our beautiful planet, we must defend our rights to believe in different versions of God, the Universe, and our interconnectivity, and we must defend our brilliant differences in sexuality, gender, race, and background.  We all have beautiful stories to tell, and if we are willing to listen and to speak up, to discover our own personal strengths and contributions, then we can all overcome this together.

I believe in you.  Nothing has been taken from us, because we have not lost one another.  And to quote Anne Frank:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

I will not let go of this, and I will keep fighting for all of you in any way I can.

 

Day 30 Thank Yous–And just all-around HOORAY!

I have to say a final, massive thank you to everyone who supported my stories and fundraiser over the past 30 days.  I took a writing break yesterday after realizing how worn out I’d become after dragging a personal tale out of my brain every day for a month.  In a way I am going to miss it, and on the other hand, I am happy to climb into my little introvert shell for a bit.  More on this later though.  Until then–

We raised $1,092 for Zara Aina!!!!!

This is absolutely incredible.  That’s 21% over my goal during the month.  I have two more people to thank for the final donations that rolled in.  Though the 30 days is through, this fundraising page will always stay hanging out on Crowdrise.  If you still get inspired to give this way, I will happily stop what I’m doing and still write you a thank you post.  You are all amazing!!!

Jenna Clancey!!

So, not only is Jenna a super-awesome coworker and much-needed presence of positivity and silliness, but she’s also very generous!  For about four months of working with her I was convinced she was a 4th grade math teacher, which is not true.  She works in development.  I am still tickled by this.  I am so lucky to have her as a friend and fellow MKA lady!

14524517_10101895442933977_5685422230716270866_o

 

Claire “The Liar” Higgins!!!

Okay, let me explain.  A. This is the nickname Claire used to donate, and B. Claire is not actually a liar.  Senior year of college, my quad all chose silly nicknames for ourselves like we were a 90s sitcom.  Claire was not present to fend for herself, so we made her The Liar.  It stuck.  Claire and her lies!  Anyway, Claire is awesome and donated to my fundraiser!  I know her from…living together, being in three singing groups together, walking across a country together, and from her being my bridesmaid.  We’re basically related at this point.  Love youuuuuu.

1546440_721539571949_365760969_n

Day 30! Thank you!!!!!

Hi All!!  Even though we’re on our last(ish) day of the fundraiser (I may do an extra something for tomorrow), donations are still coming in!!!!

Thank you so much to Fangzhou Zhang for donating to my fundraiser!  Fangzhou is a very sweet and super-inspiring teacher here at MKA.  I am so lucky to have her as a colleague!  You are the best!

11402923_10153335000869303_1325062366977978340_o

 

Day 30: The Day We Decided to Get Married

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

528910_659935556889_1759137401_n

The morning and afternoon leading up to Ben’s proposal was one of the worst days as a temp to date.  At the time, I was assisting a married couple’s computer business in a small office on 18th street.  For several weeks, I was greeted each morning by passive-aggressive comments about how my days as their assistant might be numbered, and that we should explore different online personality tests to figure out if we were really compatible–so you know, healthy work environment.

Somewhat contradictory to their mistrust in my abilities, they decided to leave me in charge of the business for the first time (note that this is two weeks after I started).  On this day, I believe the phone rang approximately 100 times.  This is not, be any means, an exaggeration.  By noon it had become a joke.  Today was the day whenever every wealthy person’s computer decided to die, explode, fall off their desks, mysteriously self-destruct.  Interspersed with the panicked, entitled-rich-person phone calls came the, “Hiiiiii, I just wanted to have a nice slow chat about what your company does.  Are you the owner?”

By lunch time–or lack of lunch time–I had spent no more than five minutes looking at my email, which was now overflowing with emotional meltdowns.  Now, I swear to you, though most days were busy, they were never like this by any stretch of the imagination.  By the time my bosses called to check in, I had scheduled 9 new clients, set up over 15 meeting for fixing computers, and personally put out several fires by just looking up computer-y things on Google.  For once, thank the Lord, they were impressed with me.  Unfortunately for them, this madness put the nail in the coffin of whether I would ever accept this as a permanent position.

Continue reading

Day 29: The Break-In

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

Google Maps screenshot of our house, with the tree mentioned in this post, before it was cut down

Google Maps screenshot of our house, with the tree mentioned in this post, before it was cut down

When I began this month of writing, I knew at least one of my major Plainfield stories had to make an appearance during the final week.  But I have been dreading it.  The picture above is a huge step for me, it is a mixing of my two realities–now and then.   It makes me stomach churn to look at it, but it proves to me that nothing bad happens when the two realities come together.

There are the main stories though, the ones that significantly shifted our lives, that–as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts–are less likely to ever end up in a blog.  But there is one story I can now write about that I couldn’t talk about for years–not because anyone in my family was physically injured, but more so because it was the jumping off point for years of anxiety that still shape the way I see the world.  It was the event that broke the false idea that my small world was protected from “things that happened to other people.”  I’ve told Ben about my lottery theory.  The whole “it could happen to you” idea with winning a million dollars, can also go the other direction.  When something bad happens, you have the same eye-opening reaction.  As in, oh, it can happen to me.

Anyway, here we go.

Quick note as of 1:30pm: After chatting with my parents after this went up, a few details have been clarified below.

It’s important to remember that each traumatic event usually involves several realities occurring at once.  In this case, there were three.

Continue reading

Day 28: The Keeping Your Sh*t Together Award

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

stocksnap_35f048a566

As the final day of this writing challenge approaches, I wanted to write a story focusing on gratitude–especially for those who go out of their way to commit small acts of kindness.  Many of these, especially for people in vulnerable situations, rarely go forgotten.  This is dedicated to my junior high principal–

It was the end of my 8th grade year, and yet again, I found myself sitting in on a sticky plastic seat staring at the rafters of the gym ceiling.  One of the teachers was at the mic, giving a presentation of awards for students that had volunteered to save puppies or build houses for the homeless, or something else genuinely admirable.  If I had had the time to do such things, I’m sure I also would have appreciated a piece of shiny paper with my name on it.

But for me, assemblies like this required a special type of self care and mental armor, and luckily I had plenty of time to build this up.  I was always a decent student–it really wasn’t until I got to 6th or 7th grade that I got anything lower than an A.  But that’s about as far as my in-school achievements took me.  Theatre was the real world in my mind, for not only did it define who I was, but it was my true escape from the family issues we had been working through since I was about eight years old.  I didn’t get awards, and didn’t expect them.  “What do you do with them anyway?” I always thought.  Still, year after year of blending in with the scenery during these meetings was a dreaded moment of the year.

Continue reading