Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bullying serves a purpose

In recent years there's been a lot of awareness raised about bullying and abuse. Many voices are saying they want to put an end to the cultural acceptance of bullying and create instead a culture in which everyone feels safe and respected.

I wonder if that's really what everyone wants.

Bullying involves keeping people feeling powerless, afraid, intimidated, and lying low in hopes of avoiding being targeted. Such people are much easier to control than people who feel fundamentally confident, strong, secure, and safe. If some people have a vested interest in maintaining that culture of fear and control, they will not support efforts to transform that culture into one of safety and respect.

Think about it.

All through my school years I waited patiently for everyone to grow up and grow out of that pressure to take cues from everyone else and to fit in with everyone else. At midlife, I am seriously considering that maybe the real, unspoken point was for those of us who didn't "fit in" to realize that we were "supposed" to learn how to fit in, and to hide whatever about ourselves persistently did not "fit in."

Peer pressure, in this light, is not a mere adolescent phase but an essential element of our culture and the institutions of our society.

Think about it.

And then decide if that's what you really want to see, and to be, in the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gender Whatever

Growing up in the Seventies, I used to sing, "I am woman, hear me roar," with great gusto.  Stereotyped sex roles were a thing of the past.  Bring on diversity!  Free to be you and me.  Do the work you love, wear the clothes you want to wear, and if anyone insists that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, tell them to bury those outdated views with the rest of the dinosaurs.  "Feminine" and "masculine" were now considered purely subjective social judgments about neutral personality traits; being a woman or a man simply meant you were born in a female or male body, regardless of what you liked to do or how you liked to dress.

And I thought that was the last word on sex, gender, and freedom, until transgender people began to raise their voices and speak out more and more often, taking their place on everyone's radar screen, invisible no more.

And I found myself challenged to reconsider, again, the meanings of sex and gender and society.

That some people born with a male body preferred to live in "feminine" ways, and some people born with a female body preferred to live in "masculine" ways, I could easily understand.  I've never understood why so many other people made such a big deal about strict gender roles that are totally arbitrary and totally made up.  As long as you do no harm, do what you will.

What I couldn't grasp was how it was possible for people inhabiting the body of one sex to have an internal experience of being the other sex.  To me, being a woman simply meant my inner self--soul, spirit, psyche, what-have-you--happened to inhabit a female body; being a man simply meant a person's inner self happened to inhabit a male body.  Free people were androgynous souls who happened to land in whatever bodies they landed in and didn't particularly care which body as long as the soul was free to be what it wanted to be.

I don't have an internal sense of being gendered.  And for much of my life, influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1970s, I thought that when people claimed to have an internal, intrinsic experience of gender, it was nothing more than societal conditioning and stereotyping.

Reading and hearing the experiences of transgender people challenged that assumption.  At first I dismissed it as a case of Old Stereotypes Die Hard, that men simply didn't feel free to adopt "feminine" traits as men, and women didn't feel free to adopt "masculine" traits as women.  But eventually, with more reading and more listening and more pondering, I realized that the matter of gender identity runs more deeply, at a biological level, than "what society says," whether conforming to or contradicting those social norms.

And it finally occurred to me:

Maybe my experience isn't everyone's experience.

And I think, if one by one each of us can begin to grasp that simple idea--that maybe our personal, individual experience of life on Earth is not necessarily a universal norm shared by all--then we just might come a little closer to peace on earth and goodwill towards all.

We don't have to understand everything about every human being to accept them as fellow human beings.  As long as you do no harm, do what you will.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Aging happens, when we're lucky

I suppose there's nothing terribly remarkable about it:  Having passed the half-century mark, I find myself comparing myself to others around my age.  How is it that some of the people my own age are starting to "look old"?  I don't feel old.  I don't look old.  Even if I no longer pass for twenty, a combination of lifestyle choices, genetics, and sheer luck do help me look young for my age.  One person recently suggested that my generally cheerful, optimistic outlook contributes to preserving a youthful appearance.  I can definitely agree that it helps to preserve health and well-being, whatever the effect on my outer appearance may be.

But why do I give a damn in the first place?

Like many people who reach life's midpoint, I find I still have many things I want to do, goals I want to accomplish, visions for myself and for my life that I have yet to fulfill--visions that, as with many of us, I thought already would have been fulfilled by now.

And yet I also intend to live to be at least ninety.

Here's the thing:  If I intend to live into my nineties, I have four decades waiting to be filled.  If I had already accomplished everything I wanted to do with my life, what would I be doing with those four decades?  Rocking in a rocking chair griping about how things ain't the way they used to be back in my day?

The secret fear, of course, is that I won't actually make it that far.

Fair enough.  Life certainly throws its share of curve balls.  Yet on reflection, I'd rather plan and prepare for more years than I have than sit around for decades waiting to die.  A truly successful life, however long it lasts, should always end with some business left unfinished.  I want my life to be a work in progress right up until the end.

And if I plan to live into my nineties, I need to make peace with the fact that I will not always look forty--and that a well-earned, authentic old age is indeed a beautiful way to be.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Economics is futile. You will be assimilated.

One of the biggest myths in our culture is that economics is governed by immutable laws.  Any action to change one aspect of the ways we create our economy, the ways we do business, is ultimately futile, we are told, because the Laws of Economics will kick in and neutralize our efforts.  Hence, we have no choice but to accept that The Way It Is really is the way it is.

Don't buy it.

Economics is a human creation.  What humans create, humans can change.  While it may be true that taking Action A tends to result in Reaction B, that does not automatically imply that Action A is not worth taking.  Alternatively, we can choose to see that yes, people tend to respond to Action A with Reaction B, and we can go on to conclude that we can therefore take Reaction B into consideration and counter or minimize its effect with Action C.

If you notice, for example, that accepting returns without a receipt tends to lead to some people stealing high-priced items from your store and then "returning" them for cash, you have options other than saying forget it, no returns without a receipt, period.  You can limit which items, or which dollar amounts, in a return will be accepted without a receipt.  You can keep a record of returns without receipt and track which people always seem to be making returns with no receipt.  You can make it a policy that returns not accompanied by a receipt will be granted or rejected at the store's discretion, encouraging the honest people to retain receipts until they are certain they will not need to return anything from that purchase.

On the broader scale, we don't have to simply accept such tropes as, "If you raise the minimum wage, that will just push prices up and employment down, so it's useless to raise the minimum wage."  Who wants us to believe that?  Who benefits from our meek acceptance that a substandard standard of living is An Immutable Law Of Economics?  Think about it.  Question it.  Question why it's supposedly impossible to pay a few more dollars an hour to food service and retail workers, yet very possible to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars as "bonuses" to executives.  Yes, the work of running a business is real work and should be rewarded, but is it really that much more worthwhile than the day-to-day work at the ground level of keeping the business in business?

And do we feel safe even considering that question, let alone asking it?  Or have we internalized the belief that our security and safety, however modest and tenuous they are, rest in keeping silent?

Perhaps the biggest deception of all is to prevent us from seeing our own power:  to think, to question, to create alternatives, to effect change.

Don't buy it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Indeed, I AM

Celebrate awakening:
     You have seen the day.

The sun has risen;
     the snow, melted,
nourishing a symphonic spring,
     a cantata in the key of
     survival, gold and green:

I AM !

Celebrate your own
from the realm of the dead.

When the ones who
     buried you
poke around the old
     whitewashed rot,

Send an angel
     to declare:
You are not there.

You are risen, indeed.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

I don't get lonely, or maybe I do

As an introvert, I don't think of myself as someone who gets lonely.  I enjoy solitude.  I thrive on solitude.  I need solitude to ground and center and balance myself.  I can and have spent entire days alone, entire weekends alone, reading and writing and listening to music and simply enjoying the restorative power of peace, quiet, and inward focus.

I never get lonely.  Or do I?

Yes, upon reflection, I do know how it feels to feel lonely.  When I do feel lonely, however, it is not when I am alone.

When people ridicule me and belittle me, I feel lonely.

When people treat me as a thing not worthy of respect, I feel lonely.

When I am shamed for expressing my point of view simply because my point of view doesn't "fit in" with the rest of the people in a group, I feel lonely.

When people mock my words and dismiss my ideas, I feel lonely.

When people ignore that I have spoken, I feel lonely.

When people talk around me, playing the conversational equivalent of "Monkey in the Middle," carrying on among themselves as if I have not spoken, I feel lonely.

And I feel angry.

And manipulated.

And hurt.

And violated.

And voiceless.


I do have a voice.

I have every right to be heard, and to have my voice respected, and to be respected in speaking my truths, whether or not anyone else sees the way I do.

And when I remember my own dignity and worth, derision and shame cease to have any real power over me.

And I am no longer lonely.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Elton John in concert: He's still standing, better than he ever did

Thanks to the generosity of my son, who surprised me with a ticket for a FLOOR SEAT in the 16th row, I got to see Elton John in concert for the the first time in over a decade.  I wasn't close enough to even think of angling for an autograph, and unfortunately I have not yet upgraded to a phone with zoom-lens capability, so I didn't get any really good pictures, but I was near enough to the stage to get a good view of Elton* as he sat at the piano doing his Elton Thing, singing with power and expression and playing piano with the sureness and virtuosity of someone who's been doing it, and doing it well, for four and a half decades.

Yeah, that's something to think about.  The man who still rocks "Rocket Man" and belts out "I'm Still Standing" better than he ever did, the man who amazed us time and again with his agile shifts between making the auditorium reverberate with the power of his vocals and moving us emotionally with deeply soulful ballads, is sixty-seven years old.  Why did that sound so much older when I was just a kid?

And yes, he did sing "Candle in the Wind."

Elton performed many, many 70s classics for his older fans (though I heard from at least one twenty-something fan that they, too, love Elton's early work) mixed in with a few tunes from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, including a couple of pieces from his latest album.  Elton introduced "Oceans Away" with the observation that next year marks the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, along with remarks about the horror of war and the courage of those who, for whatever reasons, find themselves in the midst of fighting them.

As one of the many people in this state who worked and advocated for marriage equality, I found Elton's performance of "Believe," from one of my favorite albums, Made in England, especially moving.

Love is simple
Hate breeds
Those who think difference
Is the child of disease


Without love
I wouldn't believe
In anything that lives and breathes
Without love
I'd have no anger
I wouldn't believe
In the right to stand here
Without love
I wouldn't believe
I couldn't believe in you
And I wouldn't believe in me
Without love

For me, the highlight of the evening came not from hearing this or that favorite song, as much as I enjoyed hearing and singing along with my favorites, but from something Elton said several times over the course of the evening:  "I am the happiest man on Earth.  I am the luckiest man in the world.  I am blessed."  This sentiment was echoed in the slide show accompanying "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road," an artistic overview of Elton's life and career, culminating in a wedding cake with two tuxedoed grooms and, atop a blooming flower, a photograph of Elton and David's sons.

This is a man at peace with himself and with his life and with his work.  Being there to see that, to feel the sincerity and happiness in his words, seeing Elton as happy offstage as he is amazing onstage, really made the concert a memorable experience for me.

Here's the playlist for the November 22, 2013 concert at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota:

  • Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
  • Benny and the Jets
  • Candle in the Wind
  • Grey Seal
  • Levon
  • Tiny Dancer
  • Holiday Inn
  • Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
  • Believe
  • Philadelphia Freedom
  • Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road
  • Rocket Man
  • Hey Ahab
  • I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues
  • The One
  • Oceans Away
  • Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  • Sad Songs Say So Much
  • All the Young Girls Love Alice
  • Home Again
  • Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
  • I'm Still Standing
  • The Bitch is Back
  • ? - An Elton John song I didn't recognize?! - Okay, the man's developed a considerable body of work over the past 45 years.  I suppose it's possible. ;-)  Anyway, Elton rocked it, whatever it was.
  • Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting


  • Your Song
  • Crocodile Rock

If I find good videos from the concert, I will post them in the comments on this note.  Meanwhile, you'll have to take my word for it that the Captain is still FANTASTIC.

Also, I do plan to upgrade to a smartphone sometime soon, so if anyone knows of a Bic Lighter app for smartphone, suitable for waving in the air at a concert during the slow songs, that'd be great.

* That is, when everyone in front of me wasn't standing and dancing and singing along with Sir Elton.

Monday, November 4, 2013

At fifty

I am the woman I always dreamed of becoming.

Strong.  Confident.  Serene.

Sometimes, yes, external circumstances can shake me, throw me off balance, upset me.  I am still human.  I feel deeply.  I am connected to life, to the world.

Yet in my core I remain stable and secure.  I know who I am.  I know my value.  I cannot be truly, fundamentally shaken.  I am stable.  I am secure.

Yes, fifty is a pretty good place to be.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The parable of the giraffes and the sheep and how everyone else is wrong

For a few days at the end of October the Great Giraffe Riddle Meme swept through Facebook like a storm.  And, like a storm, it left some telling wreckage in its wake.

The rules of the game:  Send your answer to the riddle in a private message to the person posting the riddle.  Get it right, hurrah!  Get it wrong, you have to change your profile picture to a giraffe for the next three days.

The riddle:

It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese. What is the first thing you open?

Of course it's a trick question.  It's a riddle, and trick questions are what riddles are all about.  We're expecting that.

We're also expecting that the answer to the riddle, once revealed, will be obvious, evoking the quintessential A-HA! moment in which all the pieces fall neatly into place.

This riddle, however, didn't fall out so neatly.  Arguments ensued, claims and counter-claims were made regarding the real "correct" answer, people were chided for voicing dissent from the shared viewpoint of their circle, friends were unfriended over their disagreements.

You'd think everyone had been arguing about religion and spirituality.

As with religion, some people chose not to participate at all.  And as with religion, some were criticized for not participating.  They were told that they were not good sports; that they were losers who couldn't handle a simple game; that they were idiots who couldn't comprehend the truth; that they were just all-around party poopers who had no sense of team spirit.

And as with religion, some of the ones who chose not to participate retorted that the ones who accused them of not being good sports were just a bunch of mindless sheep, following along unthinkingly according to the rules they were told to follow.

And as with religion, some who chose not to play the game still took an interest in studying the game, learning the different answers people were offering, engaging in discussions about the ways in which the texts could be interpreted.  And as with religion, people who did choose to play the game sometimes claimed that those who chose not to play the game had no business offering an opinion about the game, nor about its Official Text, nor about how to interpret its Official Text.

And as with religion, many chose to play the game, but not everyone played the game the same way.  People divided over their interpretations of how to play the game, and by what rules to play the game, and what answers were and were not acceptable in discussing the game.  People argued over other people deciding not to change their profile pictures, whether because they didn't agree that their answer was the wrong answer or because they simply liked the pictures they were currently displaying.   People argued about whether other people had the right to argue about the riddle.

As with religion, there were multiple versions of the Official Text being passed around.  And as with religion, people disagreed, sometimes heatedly, about which version was the One True Version.

And as with religion, people argued, sometimes with detachment and sometimes with passionate attachment, about which interpretation of the One True Version of the Official Text was the correct interpretation of the One True Version of the Official Text.

And as with religion, some people allowed for more than one possible right answer.  Or for no right answer at all.  Or for the existence of a right answer but enough ambiguity in the text and in the interpretation to suggest that we could not definitively say who was right and who was wrong.

And as with religion, some people argued not only that their answer was THEIR answer, but that their answer was THE answer, and that anyone who did not agree which answer was THE answer was certainly lacking in logic and intelligence and the social grace to acknowledge their horrendously offensive wrongness.

At least nobody claimed that anyone who disagreed with them was going to be damned forever and ever amen.  One small step, and all that.

And I'm left thinking, if we can't even agree to disagree over a poorly-worded grammatically-ambiguous riddle about an absurdly implausible scenario, is it any wonder we humans can't seem to agree to disagree on the far more personally important subject of how we view religion and spirituality?

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the giraffe, after all, about not being a sheep.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Be your own confidence

Be a lamp unto yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within yourself, as to the only lamp.

- The Buddha

Like every human being on Earth, I sometimes feel insecure.  And, like every creative and artistic person I've ever known, many of those insecurities center around my worthiness as a creative and artistic person.  If I am not careful, I can fall prey to the temptation of becoming a feedback junkie, constantly seeking signs of affirmation that my writing, my thinking, my insights are appreciated and valued and making a difference in people's lives.

These insecurities did not arise in a vacuum.

In seeking validation from others, I am seeking to assuage internalized beliefs that nobody wants what I have to offer, nobody values what I create, nobody wants to reward me for doing the things I love.  Every time I take a "hit" in terms of lack of support, especially by someone whose opinion I valued and trusted would be supportive, it's natural to want to fill the void with reassurance and affirmation that I really am all right, that I am worthy of my dreams, that I am not wasting my time, that it's okay to go after what I want to go after, that my most deeply held aspirations are valuable contributions waiting to be made to the world.

Many of you know--and have lived--the script:

Well, isn't that nice.  Wouldn't we all like that.  Sure you're going to change the world.  You'll learn.  Huh, who's going to pay you for that?  Some of us have to work a REAL job.  You're a writer?  Since when? Oh, that doesn't count.  You call that art?  LOL.  Still working on your great masterpiece, eh?  Dream on.

It took me a long, long time to realize that this kind of ridicule has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the person who is directing it at me.  Unlike constructive criticism, it serves no useful purpose and should be dismissed outright.

Constructive criticism focuses on ideas, addressing specific points where, in the opinion of the person offering it, a work, a proposal, or a project can be improved.  Often it will "ring true" as soon as you receive it, and you will feel positive and more clear as a result of receiving it.  Also, a person offering constructive criticism offers it as just that:  her or his opinion.  They say, This is how I see it, and then they let go of the outcome.  They will not be offended if you question the criticism, ask for clarification, or decide it just doesn't fit your vision.  Their ultimate goal is to build you up and help you to fulfill your vision.

Destructive criticism, rather than addressing ideas, attacks the person.  People who offer this type of feedback are not seeking to build you up but to tear you down.  Their criticism tends to be vague, evasive, shaming.  Any attempts to pin down specific points and ask for alternative ideas are met with yes-buts and non sequiturs.  Sometimes it takes the form of things unspoken, the support that's being withheld, the implicitly judgmental silence.  In any form, this kind of criticism has nothing to do with you or the value of what you are doing.  Its sole purpose is to undermine your confidence in yourself.

Whether overtly critical or subtly disapproving, when you encounter such a lack of support--even and especially if it is from someone close to you, someone whom you believe loves you and would never want to hurt you--protect yourself.  Back away psychologically, physically if necessary, and build a nice virtual wall around your heart and your craft and your visions and your dreams.  Recognize that this person is not and will not be supportive of your goal, accept it, and move on.

Then ask yourself the big question:

Why am I waiting for someone to give me permission to be who I am?

And then realize:  Your primary support comes from within yourself.

Just do what you want to do, create what you want to create.  Waste no more time or energy or attention on getting other people's approval or affirmation.  Approval and affirmation are wonderful, when you do get them, but learn to keep going even when the only one who believes in you is you.

That is the only way to stick to your vision, finish your novel, create your art, make a difference, become the change you wish to see in the world, reach your heart's desire in your life and your work.  Be strong within, strong enough to withstand the shifting winds of loyalty and support from without.  Release the restless search for feedback and affirmation.  Connect, but don't cling.  Dialogue, but don't depend.  And when someone turns on you, withdraws support, cuts you down?  Let it go.  Let them go.

Once we have established that we are indeed good at something we love to do, we need to confront our internalized critics, dismantle their ridicule, and replace that misguided ridicule with an appreciation of ourselves and of our own work.  The more we appreciate ourselves in a realistic, grounded way--the kind of appreciation that is genuine and heartfelt, not bluff and bluster to hide insecurity and doubt--the more we will radiate the confidence that nourishes our creative life and inspires others to appreciate us in turn.

Be your own confidence, and the time and energy you once expended on seeking approval for your dreams will go instead toward making your dreams your reality.