I love leftovers. I have quite a full schedule most days, so a home cooked meal that’s already prepared is a lifesaver. This week I've been dining on mostly Harvest Feast leftovers, which is an especially decadent kind of leftovers. These are are extra special leftovers because the meal they came from was extra special. I am nourished in my body by the delicious food and nourished in my soul by the very recent memory of gathering with humans I love.
Experiencing abundance also puts me in mind of people who don't have enough. There are free food cupboards all over my neighborhood and local mutual aide groups coordinate regularly to bring hot meals to folks living outside all around the city. So some humans are taking care of some other humans as best as we can within our current societal structure. But that doesn't change the fact that while I sit in my nice warm home eating fifth and sixth helpings of a meal from several days ago, those folks are probably having a different experience.
Politicians and community activists put forth many ideas for how to address and eliminate the effects of poverty, including not having an indoor place to live and store possessions. At best, those initiatives and policies only address the symptoms. At worst, those initiatives and policies blame the victims for their own circumstances and make the struggle worse. Poverty causes a great many problems in society and the root cause of poverty is the extremely unequal access to resources in this country.
When I was a kid, a lot of my clothing and school supplies were hand-me-downs. I am the oldest child in my nuclear family, so I wasn't receiving a wardrobe from my older siblings. We were just poor. So I had clothes and shoes and backpacks and books from families that had access to more resources than my family. My over-worked-single-mom somehow managed to avoid framing these leftovers as shameful. It was more like getting presents from helpful and generous strangers.
I remember only one time when a class-mate made a snide remark about my pre-owned attire. At the time I was just confused. I registered (correctly) that guy was just being a jerk. But I was lucky. We lived in a nice neighborhood, I went to a school with a lot of wealthy kids, and my mom worked in an office for a lot of wealthy professionals. So the hand-me-downs we got were no well-worn discards, they were like-new leftovers.
We should all be so lucky. Wouldn't it be nice if we on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder could all have ample and shame-free access to the leavings from the lap of luxury? No. No it would not. That only sounds like kindness in the context of our current capitalist societal systems. Instead, I'd like a different system. The have-nots shouldn't be subsisting on left-overs from the ultra-wealthy. People born into poverty shouldn't have to pick up the scraps people born into wealthy decided to throw away.
Everyone should have their base needs met first. Once that is paid for, people can decided what luxurious things they want to buy with their personal extra. People who can afford to fund scientific efforts to extend their lives can afford to feed and house and educate the rest of our people. As Anand Giridharadas so eloquently said earlier this week "It is a policy choice to allow some people to accumulate that much money (hundreds of billions of dollars in the case of people in the United States) before everybody has the chance to live with dignity."
As constituents, a lot of us are inactively choosing the way things are right now. By doing nothing differently, we choose the status quo. The status quo where people with the most money make decisions the rest of us have to live with and die from. Anand Giridharadas reminds us this week that we can actively choose something different. There is plenty of precedent, even in our own national history. I would like to make the choice to redistribute excess wealth. I would like us all to make that choice.
Information and Inspiration
I enjoy cooking all the food for this week’s holiday. I love roasting a turkey, boiling and mashing potatoes, steaming veggies, making cranberry sauce, and baking pies. I even like the two-day process of preparing stuffing following my gramma's recipe. I don't enjoy calling it Thanksgiving. The holiday attached to that title is built on a mountain of lies and celebrates colonialism and genocide. Not inspiration for gratitude to me.
Since I realized what I was taught about thanksgiving in school was a lie, I've been trying different ways to morph my default November feasting into anti-colonialist mode. I have listened to land acknowledgments before dinner. Included traditional dishes with local ingredients in the menu. Spent the month of November consuming content about native history and googled what local tribes are up to in modern times.
The last few years I experimented with calling it Harvest. The timing is seasonally appropriate, with all the leaves turning pretty fall colors, pumpkin spices flying around and getting on everything, and all the other autumnal vibes. But Harvest still felt like a misnomer because most of what ends up on the table comes from the grocery store. I wasn’t cooking bounty harvested from my garden; I was preparing dishes I don’t cook often because they take a long time to put together.
It’s nice to have a nationally sanctioned excuse to spend what would otherwise be a workday gathering with friends and family to eat foods we don’t cook every day. So this year I decided to call it what it is: Feast. And I decided to use it as an excuse to talk about the detriments of colonialism still present in modern life. I also learned about two other alternate names for this long-standing holiday: Truthsgiving and Takesgiving.
What I really appreciate about these alternate titles is they include acknowledgment of the roots of Thanksgiving as well as the impact of that history on all of us today. They also offer an opportunity to examine how we celebrate and consider whether we would like to do that differently. For example: many people feel obligated to spend the day with relatives, whether they would like to gather with those people or not. If the whole tradition is made up anyway (and based on lies), that's all the permission you need to scrap the problematic parts and craft something more meaningful and fulfilling.
My favorite way to feast is with the group of friends who have gradually become my holiday family. I also like to invite all the strays and orphans to join us. Any coworker or friend or neighbor who is new in town or can't travel home to be with their people is welcome at our table. I spend three days cooking and baking and I enjoy pouring the time and care into food craft that I am too busy working to do on a regular week. We eat delicious food, we play games, we share stories and laughter, and commiserate over how much capitalism sucks. It's utterly delightful.
I want the November holiday to be a feast of truth and knowledge as much as a feast of food. I want to contribute to decolonizing my own worldview and as much of the world around me as I can. Fortunately we live in an age where information and historical accounts are extremely accessible. Unfortunately we also live in an age where misinformation is prevalent and powerful interests actively attempt to erase certain kinds of history. I am extremely grateful for all the Black, indigenous, queer and other historians of color who continue to tell the stories ignored by the whitewashed textbooks I read in school. Thanks to their efforts a more complete accounting of our past is available to peruse. All we have to do is look for it.
Information and Inspiration
This year we seem to have skipped autumn for the most part and gone directly from summer to winter. October was hot and sunny right up to the very end. Not at all the weather I grew up with (and still enjoy) as typical for the Pacific Northwest. I prefer crisp fall air and intermittent autumn showers. Leaves turning to yellow, red, and purple, gradually washed from the trees into soggy piles by the rain. Instead, we went to the pumpkin patch for jack-o-lantern fodder and mostly hid in the shade because it was an unrelenting 85 degrees.
This week it suddenly turned very, very cold after being very, very wet. So much for the transition of hoodies over summer tee-shirts, now it's time for wool sweaters and down jackets. So much for the transition from sandals to canvas sneakers, it's time for wool socks and insulated boots. It also suddenly became past time to pull the last of the root veggies and put the garden to bed for winter.
This transition to fallwinter was not the only strange feature of the 2022 growing season. The whole thing occurred amid abnormal weather. The fair planting weather started quite late in spring and was interrupted by a freak snowstorm mid-April. Then there were multiple intense heatwaves, and the summer rounded itself out by lasting way too long and finishing with a dense cover of wildfire smoke. And the weather itself wasn't the only strange thing to happen in my home garden. I also grew some unexpected crops.
Last year I planted pie pumpkins and spaghetti squash (among other things). This year I also planted pie pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the same collection of seeds. This year's spaghetti squash looked more like summer squash and the pie pumpkins were an entirely different shape and color... Same seeds; completely different results. Apparently this is a thing that happens and I was just lucky to get exactly what I intended the first year. Weird hybrid veggies is a risk you take saving your own seeds.
In other bizarre happenings, my carrots all grew three legs. The internet says carrots fork when the growing tip is damaged or impeded. The carrot beds were full of fluffy, rock-free, otherwise unimpeded soil, so physical obstacles didn't seem to be the cause. Digging further into the compendium of horticultural knowledge available online, it appears the transplanting I did to give everyone adequate growing space is probably to blame. Throw that in the basket of lessons learned for next year.
I've got plans for next next planting season, changes I will make to produce different results than this year's outcome. I wish we could do the same thing on a global scale for dealing with climate change. The COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference concludes later this week and the prevailing call for next year's conference is that actual actions actually take place. Year after year it seems like pledges and commitments are made and not much shifts out here in the real world. People continue to suffer and extreme weather events keeping getting more extreme.
Well-known climate activist Greta Thunberg skipped this year's COP because it's just a bunch of attention-seeking greenwashing. I'm not sure what the leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful nations are planning to do coming out of it. It seems more and more like they don't have a real plan. Or that their plan is to let everything go to shit and hope they can colonize whatever resources are left to grab once large swaths of the planet become uninhabitable.
It's hard to craft a plan without a clear shared vision. Kind of like what the US Democratic Party is perpetually suffering from. There is no clear democratic vision other than "we're not psychos like those other guys who have clearly gone off the deep-end." That's something, but it's not policy. And it's not good enough to propel us forward in any particular direction. All it does is buy some time. But if all those politicians are doing is buying time to then buy some more time, what good does that do? Eventually the electorate will probably get so fed-up they'll be willing to do something drastic (like vote in Donald Trump as president, for example) just to get something, anything to shift. I'd rather not wait for folks to get so desperate.
I am reminded of the phrase "stand for something or you'll fall for anything." Leadership has to stand for something. And that something can't be ambiguous or vague. It's got to be clear and concise, easy to understand and easy to explain. We're way past the point where my individual choice to reduce, reuse, and recycle can close the loop and save the planet. Governments need to make sweeping changes to policy, industry must make drastic adjustments to the way products are manufactured, shipped, and sold. And we the people have to demand both.
Information and Inspiration
I’ve had this topic floating around in my mind for a long time. Almost since I started this blog two and a half years ago. But I have been waiting to write about it because it feels like such a significant topic. I want to do it justice and the stakes seem high, so I've been afraid to work it through and publish my considerations. This week, with the election fresh on all our minds (and hearts), feels like the time to face my fear and offer whatever is about to come spilling forth from my heartmind.
Most of the time I can't stand listening to conservative politicians talk about how they see the world. Their version of reality includes substantial vitriol towards people like me and even more towards people I love. The narratives they perpetuate are nearly all fear-based, making them dehumanizing and problematic. They are also ridiculous. Take all the Q-anon conspiracies as an example. Utter absurdity. And yet... there's a more-than-I-can-count-on-one-hand number of elected officials in the halls of the US Congress who act as though they are legitimate.
And even though I kind of can't fathom why, many thousands of ordinary people believe in those bizarre fairytales too. Which is highly concerning, but still not as concerning as another kind of lie politicians frequently tell: lies based on some kernel of truth. These seem more dangerous and more damaging than straight-up falsehoods.
After the 2020 election, I watched an interview with Lindsey Graham. He said Republicans would never win another presidency if something wasn't done about the voting process. That's probably true, but not for the reasons he espoused at the time. According to that travesty of a public servant, mail-in voting was rife with voter fraud and that's why the Republican lost. The reality is something more like: the more diverse and broad-based the voting population, the more they elect candidates other than the stuffy oldguard who have used their incredibly long run in-power to benefit only themselves.
More recently, you may have heard that violent crime is on the rise. According to Republicans, this is because Democrats are too soft on crime. Violent crime rates have, in fact, risen. But you know what else has risen during the same timeframe? Poverty rates. Also eviction rates, the income and wealth gap, and the effects of climate change. The world is a challenging place to survive in the best of times and we certainly haven't been living in those the last couple years.
Unfortunately, if we ask someone on the Left about the rise in violent crime, they will probably tell us it's because there are too many guns out there and available for criminal consumption. That is also partly true: there are more guns in the US than is probably safe given the desperate state of society. But taking away one method of violence won't solve the underlying reasons people turn to violence to express their desperation. We still have to eliminate poverty, ensure everyone has access to stable and affordable housing, close the wealth gap, and deal with the effects of climate change.
It's asking a lot of our public officials to check under the hood of their lofty blame claims, but it's also necessary. A partial truth might stir-up the base and win votes, but it doesn't solve any problems. It's also a lot to ask of most of my fellow citizens to abandon their desire to be right or righteous and make some short-term compromises for investment in long-term gains. But it's also necessary.
Left unchecked this phenomenon doesn't get any better on its own. In fact it gets worse. In martial arts, every concept we learn nowadays came from somewhere. Many from the way way back, long before anyone currently alive was born. These great universal truths were discovered by one person, who taught it to another person, who taught it to their students and so on down the line. Over time, the kernel of universal truth may get lost in the interpretation.
One teacher understands a particular foot position in a martial stance allows for better alignment and therefore a cleaner container through which their energy and power can flow. Their student may only learn "I put my foot here" because that is what I was shown. And so they teach their student to put their foot in a particular place, and so on down the line all the way to modern times when students are putting their feet in a specific position without any understanding of why it matters.
There are many of these truth kernels lurking among the things our modern figure heads say. But while some of what they utter may not be strictly untrue, the interpretation of the those words is profoundly incorrect and incredibly damaging. These slights and spins on truth are also frequently dished up with a healthy side of fear, which makes poor, desperate people even more worried and anxious and even less able to parse the absurd from reality.
I used to look only at intentions when someone caused me harm. I thought I was engaging in humanizing those folks, but ultimately it only served to enable more shitty behavior. Now I am practicing evaluating results instead. Mine and everyone else's. Intentions are relevant only to determine the flavor of work there is to be done. Someone who did an asshole thing on purpose has different work to do than someone who accidentally hurt someone with their inconsiderate words or actions. The outcome of actions, however intended, is what determines whether work needs to be done at all. And we all have a lot of work to do.
Information and Inspiration
Part of my family has a Halloween tradition to honor relatives who are no longer living. They bring out old photos and share stories of who they were in life and what they were like. The last time I visited that contingent of my family during Halloween I really enjoyed this practice. I learned more about some relatives whose names were already familiar to me, and I heard about some branches on the family tree I didn’t previously know existed. It was interesting and it was grounding.
This year I was not visiting those relatives for Halloween, but I have been feeling especially drawn toward ancestral connection lately. This feeling intensified for me while attending martial arts camp in-person for the first time in three years. In many martial traditions, establishing a connection to your teacher and your teacher’s teachers (and all their teachers) is just part of learning the art. I'm sure the pull I currently feel toward ancestry also partly derives from the onset of the holiday season, which is rich with nostalgia, tradition, and connection. It also comes from my longing to make the world a better place.
In my quest to cultivate a better future, I often consider the past. Especially the people who lived and worked and played on this planet well before I was born. Everything about modern life has been shaped by the people and institutions that preceded the present moment. And so much of how we conduct ourselves in the world and with each other is passed down to us by the people in our lives who had it passed down to them.
A lot of the rules we live by are unwritten. Often they are also unspoken. We pick them up by existing in a place, or a community, or a culture. Sometimes we learn about one of these unwritten rules only when we unwittingly act out of alignment with it. They are everywhere and they shape our every interaction. We cannot avoid them. We long-ago formed the practice of crafting and enforcing unwritten rules for survival, which is one reason they are so powerful.
The trouble with some of these kind of socially enforced agreements is that they are up for interpretation at every moment by whoever happens to wield the most clout. So we’re not all operating under the same agreements. For example, my household has agreed how we're going to communicate. We had an in-depth meta conversation to dig up all the assumptions and the unwritten rules we were operating under and examined each one. We then agreed on what things we will communicate about with each other and how we will express and receive those communications. We also agreed to review our agreements regularly to make sure they continue to result in our desired outcome.
As a household we established our own set of "default" interpersonal protocols and practices to facilitate healthy and effective communication. And they work because we took the unwritten communication rules passed down to us and intentionally agreed on something else instead. Unfortunately, these agreements are not the same default setting of the rest of the world. Fortunately, I take my communication practice with me when I venture out into the world. And so I get to be an example of how to live out my values of honoring the worth, agency, and humanity of everyone as well as being in-process.
And living out my values is critical to having an impact on the world around me. Ultimately I want to be a good ancestor. I want to leave the world better than I found it. To do that I must understand how I came to be here in this place and at this time and what operating agreements I was handed to navigate this place. I need to understand how the ground beneath my feet was shaped and how it was shifted over time. One way I deepen my understanding of the world is by learning more of the history of humanity. More of the history of the people who gave me their traditions. That puts the present into context and I can rest-in to that clarity. Then I can reach out to love the world.
Information and Inspiration
This week I went to camp. Not just any camp, but the most magical place in my martial arts world: PAWMA Camp. The Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists (PAWMA) holds a camp every year, where martial artists from up and down the west coast, Canada, and other parts of the US gather for a long weekend of training together. The depth of knowledge and experience present at camp is incredible. And the amazing martial artists who attend come from a broad range of traditions: hard styles, soft styles, internal arts, external arts, traditions with weapons, and empty-hand practices.
When PAWMA was founded 45 years ago there were two gender categories of human recognized in the lexicon of broader society: men and women. Martial arts was dominated by men. Non-men were not respected as equals by their fellow students or even their teachers (if they could get a teacher to accept them as a student at all). As in broader society, sexism was alive and well at the dojo. And women were not welcome.
But, of course, women were still there. Still showing up to classes, still putting the effort in, and still achieving rank after rank in all the styles. So a group of women martial artists got together and invited all the other women from all the other dojos to train together for a weekend. They shared knowledge, skills, wisdom, and camaraderie across martial arts styles and in spite of inter-school politics and distrust.
Nowadays we have broader recognition of the vast array of gender expression. And we have a more nuanced understanding of who experiences gender-based oppression in both broader society and at the dojo. Martial arts is still dominated by men and non-men are still not always welcome or safe in their training spaces. If PAWMA were founded today, it might have some other word in its title where the W stands. A word I don't think we have yet.
What brought those founding women together in 1978 was their shared experience of isolation, invisibilizing, and lack of safety in their training spaces. They wanted a haven in which to train that wasn't dominated by toxic masculinity. Today there are women experiencing the same impacts of toxic masculinity in their martial arts spaces. And there are non-binary humans, trans folks, and gender non-conforming individuals who also share that particular marginalized experience because of their gender identity or gender expression.
We didn't used to have language in popular culture to describe any gender experience other than the male or female binary. Now we do. The same can be said for many other things. We didn't used to have language to describe the experience of many forms of mental illness. Now we do. We didn't used to have language to describe the impending impacts of climate catastrophe. Now we do. And now that we know more about these topics and have crafted more nuanced language to discuss them, it's time to address them.
In order to forge ahead and make the necessary changes and shift society, everybody who is used to doing it the way it has been done thus far needs to put some baggage down and get on the new-way-train. Specifically the giant, heavy, unwieldy suitcase of needing to get it perfect. I see many people struggle throughout their personal anti-oppression journey more than they need to because they are committed to instant perfectionism.
Perfect doesn't exist. It's a myth. There is no way to be perfect at relating to other humans all the time, everywhere, in every possible scenario. Even once you become highly skilled in some form of relating, like non-judgmental communication, there will still come a moment when you're not on your communication A-game because you're hungry or you're tired or your best friend just died. And that's fine. You need to be in-process, you don't need to be perfect.
In fact, fixating on perfection is one way various forms of oppression perpetuate and persist. If you're not allowed to change unless you can do the new version perfectly, then you continue to practice the problematic version. And if you continue to practice the problematic version, you're not getting any practice at the non-problematic or less-problematic version. And if you never practice, you'll never improve your skills. And that is basically a guarantee that you'll never be perfect at the new version.
This is one of my favorite things about studying martial arts. No matter how much you learn, how often you practice, and how skilled you become, there is always another layer to unpack. There is always a deeper depth to explore. As a martial artist, you're never done learning, growing, and adapting. We practice skills in a training environment so we can use them when needed in the real world. And that practice of being continually in-process applies directly to all other aspects of living, working, and being human. Including anti-oppression work of all varieties.
Martial arts teaches situational awareness, which we can use to dismantle systems of oppression by seeing what is, instead of merely accepting the narrative of the status quo. The dedication to lifelong learning includes continuous self-reflection, which we can use to shed light on our own bias and examine the impact we have on the world around us regardless of our intentions. Partner work gives us valuable feedback about what works and what doesn't since no human exists in a vacuum.
Even within the inherently hierarchical system of most martial arts systems exists an opportunity to teach and learn in a way that eliminates toxic superiority. One student's value is not created by diminishing another student. Each student's value derives from their own efforts, actions, and choices. We can model and encourage our students to value the unique contributions each student brings to the dojo. And we can use policy and take action to protect the most marginalized folks from toxic, dehumanizing, and oppressive treatment.
The PAWMA community has begun discussing what it means to be an organization started by women for women at this present moment in time. We know more about gender and gender-based discrimination than we did before, and we have more nuanced language for our discussions. But we are at the future-focused edges of this gender inclusion consideration with no well-worn and obvious path forward. We're going to have to make our own, just like the founders did in 1978. The process will surely be messy and complicated, but I'm not worried. We're warriors and we've done this kind of thing before, so it will also be beautiful and courageous and human.
Information and Inspiration
I am an observant person. Observation was a skill I began to develop for survival in my younger years and continued to develop as an adult for professional purposes. I am especially adept at noticing things that fit right in and things that seem out of place. Show me an established structure like an accounting system and I can find all the parts and pieces out of alignment with that structure. Designate a place for something around the house and I can probably tell you where you last left something that isn't in its assigned spot.
It comes in handy for locating misplaced car keys and solving financial crimes. But observation is more than a mundane superpower or a professional aptitude; it's a way of moving through the world. And it's one of the paths to discovery. It isn't all you need, of course, curiosity is also quite helpful. But if you are bothering to observe the world around you, you are more likely to notice when something or someone or somewhere shifts. And if you are interested in that shift, then you're more likely to learn something you didn't know before.
I have made a great many discoveries in my life, just like everyone else. If you're participating in life at all, it basically can't be helped. And that's a good thing. If we never came across anything new it would be a dreadfully stagnant existence. It also might be less comfortable, more difficult, or dangerous. Just think about how life would be today without discoveries like penicillin, electricity, or cement.
Because humans are generally prone to curiosity, someone somewhere would have eventually made those same discoveries. There are many documented instances of simultaneous discovery around the world. But different timing would have made for different impact. If Europe had discovered the continents of North and South America before they discovered gun powder and capitalism I bet colonialism would have unfolded quite differently (possibly not at all).
Discovery is happening all the time, everywhere. Like many concepts, discovery itself is neither good nor evil. It can become a problem when the discoverer assumes they are the only person to have ever made that particular discovery. This drive for ownership of ideas in modern times is fueled by the demands of capitalism. If there is profit to be made from an idea, it must be known to whom those profits belong. Economic survival often depends on it.
Discovery can also be problematic when someone discovers something that belongs to someone else and tries to lay claim to it. Christopher Columbus is a perfect (and terrible) example. If he had been a different sort of person, when his ships landed he may have understood he was discovering new potential trading partners. Instead, he claimed to discover a "new world" because he had finally arrived.
Discovery does no good if it isn't also accompanied by humanity. Just as with discoveries about our external world, the journey of self-discovery is vast and unending. It is also key to remembering everyone else you encounter is also a human being. So plumb the depths of your own Self; discover all that you can about your internal landscape. Then apply all that wisdom in every way you can to shaping the world into a place for every person everywhere.
Information and Inspiration
This week when my partner turned on the car and it revved itself up to twice idle and stayed there, we noticed. It didn’t seem unusual, but we’d never taking much notice of it before. I wondered if it was because this car was advertised as a “turn on and go” vehicle that didn't require a lengthy warmup time. My partner wondered if it was set for a fast warmup so you can get in the car and push go, then it would be ready to go by the time you put your seatbelt on a get settled. Which made me realize that’s exactly what I do.
For reasons I had not previously examined, I always: get in the car and start the ignition, then put on my seatbelt, stick my phone in the holder, pick the music/podcast/audiobook, stuff my jacket somewhere, check the mirrors. Theeeeeen I shift into drive and move out. Which got me pondering whether I do that ritual in that order because most of my cars have been old enough to require many minutes of warm-up before they were ready to drive. Would I instead do all those preparatory tasks before turning the car on if I hadn’t formed the habit in an environment requiring waiting.
Noticing “I do this thing in a particular way” and asking “why do I do that” is a universal and useful skill. I am reasonably practiced at it for a variety of reasons, so I do it often. Sometimes my train of thought pulls into that station without my conscious choice - like I did in the car this week. Other times I set out to deliberately engage with that mode of consideration.
The practice of deconstructing the seed of my habits in thought and action has been critical to my personal anti-oppression journey. It’s one method I have used to dredge-up the bias I internalized by existing in modern society. It’s also not something that everyone does without some prompting. In fact, some people have learned to avoid or mistrust that particular flavor of self-examination.
Ultimately, we do things the way we do them because that’s what we have been practicing. At any moment we can begin to practice something different. It only takes realizing that's an option and then making a shift. Sometimes that's a small thing, like remembering to take my shoes off when I enter someone's house. Sometimes is a big thing, like learning to call someone by a new name or referring to them with new pronouns. Every time we practice the new way it gets closer to one day becoming the new default.
As a society we've been practicing certain things for a long time. I'd like to practice some different things. I'd like for all of us to practice humanizing each other. I'd like for us all to practice housing people no matter who they are or why they don't already have an indoor place to live and store their stuff. I'd like for us all to practice using fewer plastics and wasting less water and driving fewer miles in gasoline powered cars. I'd like us all to practice the things we need to make a better world.
Information and Inspiration
I love celebrating my birthday. Some people don't like marking another trip around the sun, but I just completely enjoy it. It's a day that makes anything I do special simply because I am doing the birthday version. Brunch with the family? Heck yes family birthday brunch! Sitting at a park with friends? Heck yes b-day park hang! Very normal, regular workout? Heck yes birthday workout! Grillin' and chillin' in the back yard? Heck yes birthday grill 'n chill! It doesn't matter how mundane, add the birthday honorific and it's suddenly noteworthy. Like all the birthday naps I've enjoyed over the years.
Part of my love for celebrating my birthday stems from childhood. It was the one day a year that was all about me. There was such high emotional volume from other members of my family the rest of the year, there wasn't space for my emotional experience most of the time. I learned to take up as little space as possible in a variety of ways and it helped me keep the peace as much as possible around me. But every year on my birthday, everybody else shelved their extra and it was my turn to shine.
It was tradition for my parents to hang streamers the night before a birthday, so we could wake-up to a colorful acknowledgement of the day's specialness. A balloon marked the place of honor by hanging over the b-day person's usual spot at the table. Every birthday started with family b-day breakfast. After that, my parents were pretty creative. I can remember some outlandish experiences for the very low budget household we were. I'm sure my parents pulled some favors to arrange a ride-along in a small two-seater plane, a day off school to go to my dad's company picnic at the lake, and a clown show for me and my four closest friends.
Those were pretty memorable events because they were so far out of the ordinary. As I accumulate more years on the planet, the less extravagant things are more and more my favorite. One of the few friends I've had since the 6th grade (who I still see regularly) calls me every year and sings me a dramatic, interpretive birthday song. It's different every year because they make it up on the spot, and listening to it fills my heart with so much joy. My birthday just wouldn't be the same without that phone call from that human.
Birthdays are also a wonderful time to reflect on who I have been this past year and who I want to be going forward. Someone once told me they didn't make New Years Resolutions, they made Birthday Resolutions instead. It's probably safe to say I do both because I'm personally fond of the practice of reflection. It's an integral component of growth, which is important to me, and reflection can be any mix of joyful, painful, insightful, or intriguing.
This year I'm also reflecting on how birthdays are celebrated. The image in my mind of the "typical American birthday" is the greeting card version: humans gathered around the birthday person who is about to blow-out the candles topping a cake. Everybody has a party hat and there is a stack of presents nearby. I've been to a lot of birthdays like that, and not just for children. So what does that say about the American birthday experience? What values do we express with this kind of birthday celebration?
Certainly the individual is at the center of things. Community is present, but the focus is on the birthday person. Apparently in Vietnam everybody celebrates their birthday on the national New Year holiday called Tet, when everyone turns a year older along with the nation. I appreciate both approaches. From a purely practical standpoint, every citizen turning a year older on New Years would simplify some parts of bureaucracy. At the same time, I believe each person makes a unique contribution to the world and recognizing that feels meaningful and important.
I'm less enthralled with the gift portion of the typical American birthday. Don't get me wrong, I love presents. I love giving gifts and I love receiving them. But I don't like the obligation of gift-giving for societally or socially pre-determined occasions. I much prefer a gift from a friend on any random day because they saw something and thought of me. A physical symbol that I was lovingly on someone's mind is delightful any day of the year. It almost holds even more meaning because it's not attached to a scheduled gifting.
And just like the madness of the Xmas gift season, anytime expectations exist there is an opportunity for disappointment. There is a lot of pressure (crafted largely by the interests of Capitalism) to buy "the perfect gift," and far too many definitions of what that might possibly be. Is it the most expensive gift? The rarest item? The thing that took the most effort to acquire? There's no way to know because there isn't actually an answer. By design, the inquiry is what drives you to shop until you drop in the relentless pursuit of that unattainable goal of perfection.
We also can't forget about the cake. Sugar is a terrible drug, and no one should consume it… ever, for any reason. But it's acceptable to indulge on your birthday. This feels like the most insidious because it implies we can have things that are harmful to us as long as we have a good enough excuse. This practice plays out in many areas of our lives. Had a tough day at the office? How about too many drinks to wash it away? Stressed about a work deadline? Skip the gym and order-in while you complete that assignment.
This also extends beyond our personal physical and mental health. As a society, we employ excusable indulgence all over the place. We know we need to collectively eliminate harmful carbon emissions to avoid worsening the climate crisis, but we continue to collectively create excuses to delay that painful transition. There is plenty of data showing the way to end homelessness is to provide people with housing, but many cities continue to do just about everything but that. Economists have told us plainly that our current model of constant growth cannot go on forever, but buying stuff is supposed to make us content so we just keep consuming.
We're always practicing something, every moment of every day in everything we think, feel, do, and say. How we move through the world has an impact, whether we acknowledge it or not. It's worth considering why we do things the way we do them. It’s worth identifying what practices cross-over to which areas of our lives. The more clear we can be about what we're cultivating on accident, the easier it will be for us to cultivate a future we want on purpose.
Information and Inspiration
A cute video came across my social media feed this week. It features a person and their brain facing a common conundrum. They make a beautiful plan, stand back to admire the plan, then realize it's time to do the plan. And that's when they abandon the plan. I have definitely experienced this exact moment in my life, apparently just like the entire rest of the internet. The video is hilarious precisely because it is so relatable.
Chances are if you live in a modern western industrialized society you have also been there. The reason may vary from person to person, but that transition point from planning to doing is a challenge for us all. Some folks get stuck due to the wiring of our brains. Other folks can't make the shift due to some flavor of circumstance outside our control. Other times, we arrive at this particular pitstop because it is designed into the structure of whatever organization we're working within.
I am reminded of a single-frame cartoon that hung in my office my entire career as a federal employee. The cartoon shows a group of professionals gathered around a conference table. One person is standing authoritatively with a piece of paper in their hands, and a flowchart hangs on the wall. The caption simple reads "this plan will be much easier not to implement than the last plan we didn't implement."
I have no idea where I found that cartoon originally, but I kept it because it captured my experience of bureaucracy perfectly. The people in charge would gather to craft plans for the upcoming quarter, season, etc, then present those plans to all employees in a big meeting. But when we all got back to our desks we would do the same work in the same way, except that we were expected to use new buzzwords to describe what we were doing. In the end I left because I realized I could not create change within government from my position as one tiny cog in the great machine.
There are innumerable versions of advice for how to bridge the gap from planning to doing, but the first step in solving just about anything is knowing the root cause. Most of the advice out there starts by assuming you have already identified your particular flavor of stuck. Very little guidance is focused on sussing-out that minute detail of extreme import. I think this is one of the major reasons we as a global society of humans can't seem to get our collective shit together to do the solving of global problems.
There is a multitude of reasons major national and international institutions flounder in the sea of status quo. Maybe instead of forming another committee to review the issue, we should just start making shifts and see what happens. Try literally anything different and be prepared to adjust and shift and pivot again if and when that change isn't moving us closer to resolution. At the very least it would break the monotony of using only well-worn methods to forge a path forward in this new world.
This week I finished a major project, squeaking in under the deadline like movie action heroes who roll out of the dangerous tomb just as the rock wall falls heavily in place to block the exit for another thousand years. My focus has been spotty to non-existent in the last few weeks due to grief and emotional processing. I wanted to get things done. I wanted to follow my beautiful plan and do all the things I scheduled and put on my calendar, but I just... couldn't. So I reached out for support and reshuffled my priorities.
This week my doing barrier was built of emotional upheaval. Next week it might be a differently flavored disaster. Unfortunately those have been especially plentiful the last two and a half years. And it doesn’t seem like the tide of catastrophe is set to ebb any time soon. So we all need to come together and find a way to help each other keep moving through the many economic, social, and environmental storms on our collective horizon. We can’t just plan a better world, we have to do things and make it happen.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.