27 July 2015

This is Goodbye

Thank you for reading.  I'll leave the posts up for a few more weeks before archiving them with my personal papers. They will not be available after 1 October 2015.

Safe journey and meaningful sojourns to you.


20 July 2015

Lessons in a Charmed and Imperfect Life

Living the last 30 days has been like skipping through a sun-drenched field of flowers -- and stepping on a nail.

Three nails, to be accurate. If I expand the time frame to include C_____'s betrayal, four nails.

Last night I dreamed that one of two friends who were living with me invited an "enemy" into the house without my permission. I exploded in highly articulate passion. "Don't ever bring anyone into my house who does not love me as I am!"

Today I am still walking in the after glow of the dream's exhilarating moment. Feeling tall and clear and certain.

I relish energetic exchanges sparked by a difference of opinion. I am a would-be lawyer. This is not about wishing that everyone saw things my way.

This is about people who want to see themselves as friends of mine, who would say with pride that they are good people and they care about me.  This is about those people, upon discovering something about me that conflicts with their projections and idealized views of me, deciding to either attack, criticize or jump ship.  They reject dialogue as an option. They reject empathy. They reject compromise.

Today, I erase the board: I've been using the wrong symbols to solve the problem. I've been trying to find a way to maintain intimate relationship with people who perceive a fatal flaw in me. They insist that I be some way other than I am...or else. No more cookies. No more peace.  No more love. For them, something I am or something I said or did presents as a mortal threat so dire as to justify attack.

If this is Love....  Intimacy is not possible under these conditions.

I understand their behavior is a commentary on the state of their own hearts and minds. I wish them well in their lives. I am moving on. I divest interest in finding a way to prove myself to them, finding a way to keep them in my heart.

This decision will change the flavor of our interactions from this point on. I accept them where they are -- people who find me flawed -- and will proceed accordingly.


14 July 2015

Eyes Wide Shut


For over a decade I have consistently declined to participate in conversations about "race" or "racism." In 2003, I watched the compelling PBS series "RACE: The Power of an Illusion" and was inspired to design a workshop entitled "Final Conversations on Race in America." The creators of the series were diligent and provided a wealth of supplemental teaching and research resources, available free from their website. The film and those resources provided the primary thematic content of my workshop.

A lot of people took issue with the workshop title. "Final conversations?! Race is still a huge problem," I heard from people of all colors. "It's naive/callous/arrogant/insulting/premature/etc. to think it's time to stop talking about it."

Sometimes, in response, I would explain that the title reflected my exhaustion with conversations about race. Yes, I agreed, there is something to be talked about but it isn't "race." Yes, it's a cultural thing but not a culture based on human ethnicity or skin color.

The workshop sought to expose people to the irrefutable science disavowing the existence of the thing we've been talking about for over a century; to allow space and time to process what might have been new information for some participants; to support integration of the ideas with facilitated dialogue and theatre games; and, to encourage participants toward continued contemplation and activism in their day-to-day lives based on insights gained during the workshop.

Today, the video at the head of this post appeared in my FB news feed. I watched it and a light went on in my head:  Yes!!!  We keep talking about "race" when what we need to talk about and act upon is "racism." Conversations about race miss the point. "Race" is an illusion; "racism" is the rampant, voracious cancer responsible for the corrosive malaise gripping the American psyche. Talking about "race" is talking around the edges, talking in circles at the periphery of the real problem.

All my life I've heard black people, some but not all of them oppressed and suffering, talk about "how white people are." Earlier in my adult life I endured queries by white people, most with good intentions, about why "black people are so...." this or that. Everybody talking about race, framing their comments and questions inside an assumption that we are different from each other as people, accepting as a given that "race" defines some fundamental, measurable, immutable difference.

It is and always was a flawed, and hence, irrelevant, premise.

I think I knew this unconsciously back when I was designing the workshop. I was exhausted with race talk because it never went anywhere, never produced any results, and never solved any problems. Things were the same after every workshop, sermon, seminar, keynote address, retreat and training.

Then Barack Obama was elected President.  Race talk had always been tense, delicate work. I think now that underlying and unaddressed issues contributed to the trickiness of those discussions. Sort of like when there's an elephant in the room that everyone agrees to ignore it except that the elephant in this case is the systemic racism the entire nation bumps into and dances with every day. We had been talking about race, skin color, black culture and white culture for decades and then boom! a "black" man and his "black" family were living in the "White" House.  The sound of mental constructs shattering across the country was deafening.

The existence of President Barack Obama disrupted the flow of the race talk. The simplistic contexts for conversations about monolithic "white" people and "black" people were undone: there had never been valid bases for these conversations but we'd agreed to pretend there were. Not willfully, really; it is the nature of illusion to pervade perception and cloak alternative ways of seeing.

But the dissonance between reality/truth and illusion increased as time went on. Some people broke along that fault line. Their "true colors" began to show after years of being socially shamed into suppressing race bigotry or blatant, ostentatious exploitation of privilege. From politicians to plain
folk, they became bold and vocal and shameless:  unarmed black people were shot in the streets, black churches were torched, the President and his family were regularly disrespected, threatened and maligned. Elected officials resorted to acts of treason against the country and disregard for their constituencies. Mayhem!

Throughout the years of the Obama administration, people of conscience have sought to shame the hooligans back into silence with public accusations of "racism."  Years of talk about race and racism had at least managed to establish a fairly universal agreement that it's bad to be called a racist.

But something was wrong. The shaming wasn't working any more. In some cases, the accusations only stirred the accused to more vociferous expressions of bigotry as they sought to defend themselves against the accusations.

One had to wonder:  How could such ignorance and hatred persist in the land of the free and the home of brave? We have a Constitution. We have well-meaning white people. We've been talking earnestly about race for a long time. How can things be so awful?

Race-based ignorance and hatred is a mental illness.  It thrives on 1) failure, through inability or unwillingness, to diagnose and treat it; and 2) denial of the systemic supports that nurture and sustain the illness. Bipolar disorder, manic depression, schizophrenia, male erectile disorder...all acknowledged as mental disorders and energetically attacked with education campaigns, vigorous drug and psycho-social therapies, and well-funded pharmaceutical research.
But not, yet, racism.

Civil rights activism and legislative reform notwithstanding, we have not yet fully acknowledged the systemic nature of racism in the USA. Because conversations about "race" (the Illusion) continue to haunt and color conversations about racism, these discussions are still highly emotional encounters and, consequently, often and easily devolve into non-productive, circular discourse. Everybody takes everything personally.

We are all personally impacted by racism, yes. Racism is a contagion, coursing through the nation, a disease unchecked. It's like cancer in the way it adapts to its host:  it can thrive in school cells or church cells or the cells of financial institutions or governmental bodies. It's like herpes in the way it can lie dormant or flare up without completely debilitating the carrier.

One of the most striking points Laci makes in the video is that we've been "sick" with this disease for centuries. It will not be eradicated quickly.

But it will not be eradicated at all without our calling it what it is, acknowledging it is a sickness and deciding to treat it aggressively and relentlessly. There must be a national consensus that we want to get well. And we will each have to get over ourselves and let go of personal sensitivities.

The cure will require more than individual actions like inviting black people to your white church; more than passing desegregation legislation; more than affirmative action and Black Studies courses in our universities. It is about how many people of a certain color are in any given room or neighborhood or prison cell AND it is about more than that. It is about stereotyping and discrimination and prejudice wherever any of these occur AND it is about more than that.

Electing a "black" President did not eradicate racism. In a way, it only poked a hole in the thin containment seal formed by decades of race talk. And I suppose that's a good thing -- or it will be if it leads to transformation at the deepest levels of the American psyche. If we are awakened to the magnitude of the problem and see the way a hallucination has become the paradigm that has created and sustained a systemic web of racism,

if we are moved to bring a diligence on a par with the spirit of the "war on drugs" to the Remaking of America, then the suffering of the last few years will have been of some value.

As with so much that I rail against here at Sojourner in the 21st Century, the outcome remains to be seen.







13 July 2015

The Bright Side

What good is motivation if it doesn't spring from truth?  -- Chris Hedges in a post by Pallas this morning on FB


29 June 2015

Thank You....and I'm Sorry

For many years I have acknowledged without reserve two gifts from my mother:  teaching me to type and footing the bill for me to study piano from grade school through high school.  Each skill complemented the other, generously supporting acquisition and mastery. And, because of that, I developed exceptional eye-hand coordination, becoming a demon-fast typist and an accomplished pianist in the process. Both skills have at various times put food on the table and a roof over my head.

Two new insights today.

I didn't need to go to college. The staggering student loan debt I took on, that I will never have means to repay, was an unnecessary move. I have, to date, never had a job that required either of my college degrees.

Granted, my experiences in college led to adventures and being introduced to ideas I might not have encountered otherwise. I say, might not.

And the years I spent in classrooms also delayed commencement of the series of mind-numbing jobs I held after college. College was, hands down, a heck of a lot more fun than any job I've ever had working for someone else. It was a very expensive Good Time.

But the whole "go to college so you can get a good job" thing never panned out for me.

The second insight comes as I juggle my teaching schedule to accommodate the goings and comings of my students. Their lives encroach upon and collide with their music studies. This did not happen for me. My mother insisted, with very little resistance from me, that my piano lessons were a priority. Everything else came second. In the absence of debilitating illness, there were no acceptable reasons for missing a piano lesson. Period.

What drove her? It dawns on me today that she probably nurtured a dream of playing piano herself. A dream deferred -- realized vicariously. I benefited greatly from that situation and continue to benefit.

She frequently assured me, 'You have no talent. No more than anyone else. Anyone can play piano." Now I see that her sour-grapes attitude was an expression of a lifelong disappointment that she did not have/make a chance to play piano. In the lean years of my adulthood, when I could not afford to purchase or rent an instrument, she adamantly refused to store the family's piano with me and was staunchly uncooperative in working out a schedule so I could practice at her house.

Such mean-spirited-ness makes sense at last to me. It was a highly emotional issue for her. I didn't get what I wanted. I sacrificed so that you could have what I wanted. It hurts....








17 June 2015

Inadvertent Courage

Things are moving along. Progress is Happening.

One of the boys, D____, started work for hire today with my dear friend and comrade, Ms. Genna. The other boy, S_______, younger of the two, has had some difficulty honoring commitments and following through generally. They both have really; but D____'s challenges have not directly challenged either of the two specific agreements we made that day in the police station.

I requested and they agreed to keep in touch with me. Dates and times were left open. A fluid, organic, getting acquainted. Spending time together. Learning about each other. And, at least as it is turning out for me, also learning about myself.

I requested and they agreed to attend at least the next six sessions of the mentoring group that meets every second Saturday morning at the police station. The Chief mentioned it the day the boys were caught and I thought it sounded like a great idea.

D____ has been loose with regard to the first agreement but he has stayed in touch. Neither of the boys has a cell phone or access to land line. School is out and there is nothing to do in Holly Springs so they float around town. Hanging out. I reach them through somebody else's cell.

Last Saturday was the first mentoring session. D_____ showed and S________ did not.

They were to begin work with Ms. Genna today after ironing out schedule and pay arrangements yesterday afternoon at 2:30. Neither of them was here at 2:45 yesterday so I drove to Ms. Gemma's alone.  

I'd been there less than 15 minutes when D________ arrived. He remembered where she lived from when I took them for pizza and pointed at the house as we drove by. (The attention span of an adolescent boy fluctuates; hard to know whether they heard you...) I was delightfully surprised to see him. We hammered out details and he left, promising to be punctual the next morning.

He was punctual.

Around noon today, as I escorted a piano student to her car, S___________ arrived. "I'm ready to work Miss Alex."

That's great, I said. We need to talk first.

We sat on the front porch and I restated the provisions of our agreement. I asked if he remembered those provisions and he said he did. "Have you honored the agreement?" I asked.

"No," he almost wailed, "but I have an excuse. I overslept. I woke up at 6 and went back to sleep and then I woke up and it was 10."

"Thanks for that. I wondered what happened. Now I know. It's good to hear that you intended to honor the agreement.

"But you didn't honor the agreement. That's my point. And because of that, I don't feel good about approaching Ms. Genna, three hours late, and presenting you as a person I trust to do the work she has available. Can you understand that?"

He could but he was furious. Outraged that D______ was on the job today, MAKING MONEY -- and he was not. "It's not fair!! I'm the one who mowed your lawn that time!"

"Yes. I thanked and praised you for that when it happened.

"Defaulting on our agreement is what's happening now and I have no praise. I'm disappointed.

"...so

"if you can help me see you as work-ready and trustworthy, I will be happy to ask Ms. Genna if she's still interested in hiring you. Maybe she'll let you start work next week. Between now and then, your unpaid job and mission is to become a work-ready, dependable young man in Miss Alex' eyes. Can you do that?"

I told him that I care deeply about him and see this situation as an opportunity to facilitate a lesson about life in the "real world", the "adult world" (he is newly 16). A place where employees who oversleep, completely skip coming in that day, or calling in that day...then show up four days later saying they are ready to work are rarely allowed to keep that job. Second chances do happen in the Adult World but they're not guaranteed and the employment arena can be an especially unforgiving setting in the current job market.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&


He cooled down eventually and his complaints dwindled. We spent most of the afternoon together. Trying and failing to get the lawn mower working. Borrowing another only to have it also break down. Which required a trip to the repair shop.

His anger flared with each malfunctioning lawn mower and he would toss in a line like ...."I wouldn't even be bothering with this if I was at Ms. Gemma's working...."

"Yeah, you right," I admitted and moved the conversation back to whatever we were doing. I think he learned a lot this afternoon. At the repair shop, I asked if we could watch him work, so that S_______ could learn more about mower repair. The repairman agreed and we followed him to the rear of the shop where we entered a very, very male space:  lots of things made of iron lying about on the floor and on workbenches and in cabinets; huge floor fan blowing at hurricane strength and volume. The repairman even spat on the floor several different times, the last time into a puddle of motor oil.

Very different feel from my kitchen. Today was the first time S________ visited my kitchen. "You have little kitchen, Miss Alex," he said and laughed a little. "And clean."

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Later I posted a brief report of today's events to Facebook and was again praised in a Comment for
my "courage." It looks brave from someone else's perspective but for me "courage" is about facing danger and feeling fear. I am not afraid and I do not sense danger in my relationships with D_____ and S_____________.

I feel unsure sometimes, like I'm doing things I've never done before. I feel the incline of the learning curve as I climb. It's steep but I am right where I am, with my feet right where they are....and so I'm OK. I don't have all the answers but I'm finding them. 

And finding people. And people are finding me. 

Progress is Happening. 

And it takes Time. Which means patience. I am patient. I am learning patience. 

I would say, "...among other things" but pressed to make a list of "things" I could not. It feels more like I am growing, experiencing simultaneous expansion and shrinking.  The circle of like-minded people and interested people and people in need of something I can offer and people who want to DO something is expanding. So many business cards and scraps of paper with email&phone and texts and Shares....

Simultaneously, my life focus is tightening. And brightening. I can see what I'm doing and I am all about doing what I'm doing. Paying attention.  Full attention.


Fear
Uncertainty
Anger
Denial

all drop away, swirling off into the infinite black waters beyond the brilliant brightness of The Present Moment, the tempestuous currents of the Lost Past and the Unknowable Future.

This is a time of lessons in Attention and Patience. It is deeply spiritual work...which sometimes resembles courage.


12 June 2015

Ready for Close Up

The name for this blog was largely inspired by years of research into the life of the 18th century feminist lecturer, spiritual leader and social activist, Sojourner Truth. I admire and respect her personal integrity and spiritual passion. I feel a resonant kinship with her where our life paths trace similar arcs:  name change, social confusion about our genders and being often mistaken for a man, separation from her son, and a lifelong yearning for a place of her own, to name a few.

I was living without lease or keys or fixed address during most of the years of actively researching her life. I was physically relocating on an irregular and unpredictable schedule. Carrying what I needed in a backpack.

Sojourning. In the homes of friends or friends of friends or people I only knew through email. Playing "hello, new space" and "...my last night in this room..." scenes over and over.

I was the constant in those scenes. I like to say I learned a lot about myself and about human nature during those years. The solitude of "wandering" allows much time for reflection, which can benefit spiritual growth; but the impermanence of nomadic living frustrates other potential growth. Most plants have roots. 


 

Some things -- gardening and community, for instance  -- demand presence. Some evolution of consciousness is only accomplished in relationship. Some understandings about the journey of life are only acquired through intimate, ongoing, physical interactions with other humans.

These are not new ideas to me. For many years I have observed married people or people in other kinds of long-term relationships with an acute awareness that they at least had the potential to grow in ways that I could not. I did not find the situation distressing usually but I wondered "What does that kind of life feel like? How did they create that kind of life for themselves? Will I ever live that way?"

"Sojourn" contains a sense of imminent relocation. There is a farewell soon to come.

The sense of imminent relocation is fading within me. For the first time in 11 years, I am not thinking about where I'll be next.

It's not an "I love Holly Springs! I want to stay here forever," type feeling; but I'm not thinking about the future or yearning to move on.

It is a bit disconcerting. I am not anxious to get the hell out of Holly Springs?! What is happening to me?! I'm melting...........


 I love my house.
I love the things I do each day.
I feel loved and admired by the people around me.

Certainly not by design, but suddenly it is easier and more interesting to stop moving. I am not between sojourns. I am where I am. And there are people here.... And I am learning.