Really? Now There’s Outrage?

So Donald Trump was recorded saying vulgar, awful comments [Content Warning: Vulgar Language] about women in 2005. In other news, water is wet.

What I am finding fascinating is the fallout from this recording. The rightful rancor towards Trump that it’s bringing out. 1) Is anyone actually surprised that he said these things? He’s made vulgar, offensive comments about women, on record throughout his campaign. 2) The fallout is highlighting some truly gross aspects of our society and culture, though I am grateful that the conversation is happening. This latest “revelation” is forcing a frank discussion about rape culture and our society’s values.

What I find interesting is these comments are apparently a tipping point for Republicans. Calling Mexicans rapists and criminals (racism) at the onset of his campaign, something that should have disqualified him then and there? That wasn’t a dealbreaker. Mocking a disabled reporter (ableism)? Didn’t disqualify him. Inciting actual violence, which was carried out, at his rallies? Didn’t disqualify him. He’s made statements that are borderline treasonous and was still in the running, with Republican endorsements. He is millions of dollars in debt to foreign interests and won’t release his tax returns. He dog whistled violence against his opponent and the response from Paul Ryan was “”It sounds like a joke gone bad,” Ryan noted. “You should never joke about that. I hope he clears it up quickly.” I’m not going to go through the litany of over the top actions and statements this man has made that in any other time or place would have him castigated and censured but now he’s said that he uses his power and fame to sexually assault women and that’s what’s got people fired up.

And I’d like to look at that, for a sec and what it says about our country and where we go from here. We already knew that Trump uses his male, white privilege to demean women. Fat women. Minority women. Lesbian women. Women who stand up to him. What is it about these comments that have people bristling?

It has something to do with the type of women Trump would “grab the pussy” of. To use his lingo, the “10s”. We know what Trump’s type is, for better or for worse. And now we have proof that he is A-OK with assaulting those women, though, once again, wasn’t that pretty obvious already? The response that I’m seeing “You don’t speak of the wimmins that way”paul-ryan strikes me as saturated in an larger narrative of patriarchal sexism rooted in “protecting the 10s wimmins virtue.” Women deserve to be treated with respect because they are humans. Not because they are married, look a certain way, share your religion, race, abilities, or the sexuality or gender expression you approve of. Not because you view them as an extension of yourself — a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother. Women do not need to be championed and revered, what we need is to be treated as having worth because of our inherent humanity.

Trump’s revolting tweets about Alicia Machado at 3 AM? Calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig? Referring to Megyn Kelly’s professional response to his behavior at the primary debates as being related to “bleeding from her whatever?” Crickets from the right, as an example. But now, suddenly, his statements aren’t acceptable? Yeah, I see racist, ablist, homophobic sexism in that. He says he tried to fuck a married, “10” woman and that’s unacceptable? But slut shaming, body shaming, racist bullshit isn’t? I call foul.

And then there’s the response of “Well, Bill Clinton is a sexual predator and Hillary supported him in that”. I think that is, in fact, true. Not necessarily in the tin-foil hat ways that are being propagated by Breitbart followers, I think Bill is a sexual predator, a “creep” and Hillary tacitly allowed that behavior to occur. That also speaks to sexism and rooted in a larger narrative of how we view male and female sexuality, in our society.

Sexism and misogyny are not the same thing, though they are conflated. That all misogyny is sexism but not all sexism is misogyny. Trump is a misogynist. He hates women, objectifies them and behaves in a way that is profoundly sexist. His ex-wife alleged that he viciously raped her and tore out her hair. Bill Clinton? The way Bill Clinton speak about women isn’t disrespectful. He is one of those men who, to quote Jay from Jay & Silent Bob “loves the pussy” and the women who have one.

I'm a smooth pimp who loves the pussy...

Sexist, to be sure, but not misogynistic. If the defense of Trump is that this is “just locker room talk”, then there is a profound disconnect between the above naughty language and chuckling over assaulting women because you can get away with it.

Back the the inherent sexism of blaming Hillary for Bill’s sexism and sexual behavior. The predominate narrative of sexual relations between hetero folks in our society is that men who get a lot of “pussy” are virile, strong, go-getters. Women, and the people around them (Paul Ryan’s statement), are to protect their virtue at all costs and are demeaned if they do not. Hillary has spent her entire adult life working her ass off to lift up women, around the world. She is also very cognizant of the systems in our society that oppress women and has decided to work within that system to improve the lives of women, minorities, the disabled, LGBTQAI folks everywhere, the Human of New York post illustrates that position.

You can argue the validity of that position day in and day out but that’s the tack she’s taken, up to and including, her marriage to Bill Clinton. Castigating Rodham Clinton for not calling Bill out or leaving him — let’s look at the sexist system around that choice. She could have called him out and left him. Within our current system, that would have set her back politically. Or she could do what she did; which is work within the sexist system we have to keep moving forward in her career.

I agree the system is convoluted and flawed, but in different ways then people who defend Trump. I do not think that the choices she’s had are demonstrative of a healthy society and this is just one glaring example of that. Folks don’t like that Hillary works within the sick system, I don’t fault them for that, however, she does that because she can get things done when she does.

Lastly, as we freak out that Trump confirmed what we already knew, let’s not forget Pence, who is waiting in the wings. That man is shrewd, he also knows the system and has proven, in his time in Indiana,that he hates women, minorities, the disabled and the LGBTQAI, thinks they are “less than” and has actually passed legislation to oppress and demean those populations. He’s attempting a long con, no doubt. It could be 2020 or he’s banking on Trump getting knocked down sooner and stepping in. It could potentially go any number of ways. Pence concerns of me because Trump, in all his blustering awful demeanor, is going to have difficulty getting things done as President. He doesn’t understand politics or government, isn’t going to listen to his advisors and Congress is going to be hostile against him. Pence? Pence has shown that he can get his revolting legislation passed. Trump has pulled back the curtain on absolutely revolting ideology and behavior and emboldened it, that’s not going anywhere and  Pence, or any number of other Republicans can polish that hatred turd into destructive legislation.

This election is a shit show and it’s pulled back the curtain on a culture and society that has had a festering wound of hatred for too long. Hatred has no place in our society. Demeaning people who are different than us has no place. Lifting up certain populations, at the expense of others, is not what I believe this country stand for. We have a lot of work to do, folks, if we’re going to make America, not “Great Again” but better than what it currently is. I believe, despite the shit show that we’ve become inured to this election cycle, that America is still a great but deeply flawed nation and I’M WITH HER.

hillary

Breaking It Down: Texas politics for a 6 year old

I Stand With Texas Women

Last week, the people of Texas stood up and in true Texan fashion, rebelled against attempted oppression. You might have somehow missed Wendy Davis’  11 hour filibuster against SB5, which would limit health care access to millions of Texans. You also might not have seen the final minutes where Texans of all ages, races and creeds shouted down the Republican attempt to push through draconian restrictions on reproductive rights and abortion. I shared watching the livestream with over 180 thousand people, around the world, including the two most important people I know — my two sons.

Pull up a chair and sit with me for a spell, I’d like to share with you my non-traditional family, my abortion to protect that family and how I’ve explained what’s going on at the Capitol to my 6 year old son, who I will lovingly refer to as Sprite 1 to protect his privacy. (Sprite 2 is still a little young to be engaged.) Though I am profoundly enraged at what is happening in the state I love, this narrative is not about anger, it is a reflection on freedom and family.

As the events of June 25th unfolded and I watched the livestream in the living room of my co-parent’s house, Sprite 1 was curious what I found so engaging. He curled up next to me on the couch and asked why that woman was talking. I explained (and have continued to explain) that some people believe that we are born free and can make our own choices, as long as we don’t hurt others. That’s what his Mama believes. Other people believe that they know what’s best for other people and want to make rules to protect them, which his Mama doesn’t agree with. I explained that the woman on the screen had been standing for  hours, without food or water or potty breaks, to defend our right to make our own choices, for ourselves. He responded, “That’s a really long time!”

He dubbed Wendy Davis “The Superwoman”. He asked a lot of questions about why the men on the screen weren’t letting her talk and why they seemed angry. I broke it down to the best of my ability; there are rules for talking in that room, like the rules at school about talking in class, and they were arguing about the rules. We discussed beliefs and being respectful of other people’s beliefs, even if we disagree. How in our family, it’s OK to believe something, as long as you don’t hurt others (notice a theme here?). He was fascinated and sat glued to the screen, as I did. Granted, there was a lot about what we were watching that neither of us understood but the sense that something bigger than ourselves was unfolding gripped both of our attentions. That is part of parenting: letting yourself be part of something bigger than you.

I am fiercely protective of my sons, and like most mothers, would do damn near anything for their well-being. Here’s the rub – I have no legal or biological standing as their mother and with the current adoption laws in Texas, there’s a good chance won’t have that standing. “How can that be?”, you might wonder.

I met a family – my eventual chosen family. This family had just lost a wife and a biological mother to a terrible accident, a few months before. The boys, Sprite 1 and Sprite 2, were 18 months and 2 years old respectively, at the time, and very shell-shocked. I came around, helped out, held them when they cried, established firm boundaries when needed. I established routines and guidelines, it seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t want to push an agenda, I had none; so I let the boys decide what role I would take in

Sprites, Photo by Gyesika Safety

their lives. I read up on toddler trauma and grief and I tried to smile and laugh, as much as possible, so that they could have more joy in their lives.

On Mother’s Day 2010, I was standing in the living room of my co-parent’s place when Sprite 2 looked up at me and said “Mama!” Floored me. Didn’t expect it. Tried to not freak out (think that went pretty well) as I realized that, for this little boy, I was his primary female role model. On that day, I became a mother. It’s not what I expected but it works.

We are not your traditional family. Their father and I are not married, though we have an excellent co-parenting relationship. We travel, eat, and  have family time, together. We celebrate, we mourn. Our arrangement may not be traditional but our dynamic is — it’s built on love and the primary directive of the wellbeing of the children. My perspective was rocked, the moment I was called “Mama”, that first time.

That perspective continues to shift and morph last night, Sprite 1 and I sported orange shirts. We went to the Capitol, so that I could formally register my opposition to House Bill 2, before the second special session attempt to push through legislation that would harm people like me. People who are struggling, families, women, and children. People who have a right to choose what is in the best interest for themselves and their families.

Last year, I had an abortion. I wanted that child and I still mourn the child I will never have. What is not in the article is a simple fact I did not share at the time: to have the child I wanted would have been a slap in the face to the one who honored me with the title of “Mama”. I will not go into further details, for they are not mine to give, but let me be clear – only myself, their father and God knew what the right choice was and I made it. It was devastating and painful. I’m still grateful I had the option to do what was best for my family. What I wanted was secondary to what the Sprites needed.

Sprite 1 and I got to the Capitol building last night and he was awestruck by the grandor of the building itself. We wandered around, trying to find where the hearings were being held. The State Troopers and Staffers were respectful and kind to us.

Opponents of an abortion bill walk in circles around supporters of the bill as a committee holds hearings on the bill near by at the Texas state capitol, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

We got to the hearing rooms and found our friends. Then we waited in a short line so that I could register my opposition. The person manning the kiosk mentioned that the Sprite could register his opposition too. I begged off, mainly because a 6 year old isn’t able to consent to such a thing and it’s his choice, too; but cited not knowing how his father felt about it. We then went to the auditorium to watch the testimony. He found that boring and wanted to take pictures and clap. We watched the protestors, both in orange and blue.

He had many questions: “Why are the people in blue singing?”, “Where’s the Superwoman, Mama?”, “Why are all these people here?”, “Is Jesus here?”, “What’s freedom?”.

I’m not a teacher or a civics scholar, and breaking down what we were seeing and experiencing to a 6 year old was challenging. We talked a lot about our choices and that we get to make them, even the bad ones (a concept we talk about when he makes bad choices, like pinching his brother to get a toy). We talked about the rules Mama and Papa (and other adults) have to follow and how we get to choose what rules we want, in this country. We discussed freedom of speech, bodily autonomy, and most of all, our ability to choose.

When you limit someone’s ability to choose, you don’t just limit bad choices, you limit good choices too. My 6 year old understands this concept. He also understands that we have a right to make those choices. When someone tells me what is best for me and the people I love, without knowing anything about our special family, they are limiting my ability to care for the mental and emotional health of the people I love. Sprite 1 asked me today “What is ‘special’?”.

“Buddy, ‘Special’ is our differences that make us interesting.” I believe that in our country, what makes us special is that we honor those differences, celebrate them and let people flourish and choose for themselves.

 

The Slut Vote

I recently read a scathing article on jezebel.com about bskillet81’s opinion on why Romney lost the recent election: the all important “Slut Vote”.

I was surprised that though I found his position and statements offensive and antiquated, I don’t actually disagree with the statement that Romney lost because of the Slut Vote. Mainly because I don’t view “Slut” (as bskillet81 obviously does) as a pejorative term. I define slut, and have since reading The Ethical Slut in college, as any person who is confident in their sexuality and empowered to act on their sexuality, as they see fit. There are chaste sluts (I was one, choosing celibacy to refocus my energy for a while.), there are active sluts. There are sluts who express their sexuality with many partners, there are sluts that express it with only one other person. Gay, straight, bi, male, female or transgendered, I feel that anyone who expresses their god-given right to sexuality is a slut.

And those people vote. At the end of the day, Romney lost not just because women want to control their own bodies (Though with 44% of women voting for Obama, we are a force to be reckoned with and have been since 1920.) but because many people see the inherent slippery slope of the government regulating sexuality. The topics of fetal personhood, sexual assault, and who gets to decide what a woman does with her body, sexually or otherwise, does not end with women. This is a fundamental HUMAN rights issue.

From Flickr, photo by a_peabody

So, yes, bskillet81 – sluts, all of those sexually empowered, free, confident individuals came out and delivered a message to the conservatives in this country – we cherish our freedom and we are not willing to let it be taken away. That our bodies are still something that we will not give over to the government. That your petty, infantile, schoolyard name-calling is a defense mechanism that keeps you from seeing the common denominator – it’s not that blacks, or latinos or women voted; it’s that you’re terribly out of touch with post-modern America.

We voted. Our voices, protecting our rights, spoke for those rights. You might want to listen.

Catharsis

My chosen family and I were impacted by the fires in Bastrop County, Texas, over Labor Day weekend, of last year, where 34,000 acres burned to below the ground. It is still difficult to type those words out, the sinking in process over the past six months has been surreal. I couldn’t write about it publicly, afterwards. Could barely talk about it, except in bursts and flashes. There was such loss. Loss of stuff, of course, and loss of security. Loss of promises made to ourselves, loss of past, impacting loss of future. Relationships burned away because of those fires and relationships were forged in that heat.

"Fiery Sunset" by Jonathan.vail, on Flickr.

After a disaster, a tragedy, there is a lot of support. People come out of the woodwork and it’s beautiful to see and experience. The coming together. The friends that took me in. The friends that sat with me while I boggled at the magnitude of it all. The friends who helped clean up the property. The friends who donated to me and to my family. The work doesn’t end two weeks after the event, though, or a month, or even six months down the line. My family is still dealing with the impact those fires had on their lives. I’m still working through the repercussions of that disaster. How do you articulate that much sorrow? I struggle with that, still. I’m not the only one.

My partner and I broke up recently and I trace back the tension to the fires. We’re still family, we still love our children and are committed to co-parenting but the loss of that relationship is something I mourn more than the loss of objects. My tangible memories, my irreplaceable things. Things I miss. My fountain pen collection that I started when I was ten years old. The masks I haggled for in Africa. Wedding presents. The vintage steamer trunk my parents gave me for my 18th birthday. (Yup, my parents gave me large baggage, as a coming of age present.) My letterman jacket. The jewelry box that I got for Christmas when I was six. My journals and poetry from high school (which might not be much of a loss, most of it was pretty terrible, granted.). I treasure what survived, what was stored elsewhere or the ceramics that didn’t burn. That were re-fired.

My pottery that survived. Photo by Gyesika Safety

And that is what I have learned in the last six months, that everything is constantly changing and sometimes we have to lose in order to gain. That some things will survive but not be the same; and some things we will consciously or unconsciously protect. My relationship with my former partner is being re-fired into something new, and that’s scary but exhilarating, at the same time. I am closer to his family than I was before.  My most precious gift, the one gift that I don’t ever want to lose; that for a brief, terrifying few hours I thought was in danger — my children, were protected. They were safe. I never will forget the roiling terror I felt, until we found out that they were. I have learned, on a profoundly visceral level, that life is more precious than any object.

Fire is something that I have never feared. I am a member of a community that celebrates fire, we refer to ourselves as burners. I dance with fire fans. I have always had a healthy appreciation, respect and love of the beauty of the flame. After Labor Day weekend, I lost that love. I became scared. Fire took so much away. It hurt people I love, the people I would do anything to protect from pain. I felt so impotent in the days and weeks afterwards, that nothing I could do would be enough to wipe away the smoke that surrounded the hearts of those affected. I listened and I was present. It was all I could do and it didn’t feel like enough. I remember though, the friend that visited me, the first time I was alone, a week after. I remember that his listening, his presence, was all I needed to feel less scared. Less hollow.

"Resilience" by Phil Ostroff, on Flickr. "A lone fern plant grows out of a landscape covered in pieces of burnt bark and pine needles. Taken during a photo walk through the Bastrop State Park in central Texas. The park succumbed to a massive brushfire in 2011, and is slowly starting the natural process of self-healing, with some human intervention in some places." - Phil Ostroff

It’s been about six months, give or take, and I don’t fear the flame anymore. I’ve danced with my fire fans as my former partner played the djembe I got in Africa. I treasure every moment I spend with my children and I relish the new bonds that have risen up, out of the inferno. I see that though life stopped for me and mine, for awhile, that life also keeps moving forward. I’ve stopped measuring my life as “pre-fires” and “post-fires” and I’m realizing that catharsis is how we grow. I suppose sometimes life has to burn to the roots to create room for the new shoots.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

My father taught me an expression while working on putting together some Ikea furniture in college: faen, a Norwegian curse word, loosely translate by him to mean “bullshit”. We riffed that “It’s all faen”, with the double meaning of “it’s all fine” and it’s all bullshit. Two sides of the same coin, I believe.

I’ve been assessing illusion lately and how illusion can work for and against us. How a life built on bullshit can also be a life that is just fine, thank you very much. There’s a push towards leading an authentic life, a life of truth. I’m beginning to question the veracity of such a life as we use our illusions to create that sense of an authentic experience. Is an experience any less valuable for being bullshit? Depends on the nature of the experience and the quality of the bullshit.

Illusion, by gandhiji40, on flickr.

My grandfather on my mother’s side used to say that “you slide farther on bullshit than you do on sandpaper.” Bullshit is a good social lubricant and it though ultimately messy, a useful way to get our wants (but not our needs) met. There is a balance to be had between sandpaper (radical honesty) and bullshit (social lubricant) and perhaps that’s where the authentic life resides, in the middle of the pendulum between the two. Between it being all fine and all faen.

Crazy Pants

A friend of mine speculates that everyone has some version of Crazy, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Crazy is those idiosyncrasies that make us special. She does say that not everyone’s Crazy will mesh well with other versions. No one is “wrong”, per se, in those situations, the Crazy just doesn’t match up. I like this way of viewing Crazy, it’s non-pejorative and it embraces the quirks we all have. I’m always leery of folks who say they’re not crazy, even normalcy can be off kilter, depending on the situation and environment.

Definitely Crazy Pants. Photo by Brande Jackson on Flickr.

There are different versions of Crazy but there’s also a state where one can go beyond the standard base Crazy and go straight to Crazy Town. I’m talking about putting on your crazy pants. (The opposite, perhaps, of putting on your Big Person Underpants). When you are hurt or in pain, the crazy pants come out. You might fantasize about doing something destructive or out of character, in an attempt to mitigate the pain. People often find their crazy pants after a bad breakup, when all sorts of unhealthy behavior seems like an excellent idea.

I believe that Crazy is state of consciousness, a baseline of the weird and often wonderful that we all have. However, our emotions, though powerful, do not control us or our behaviors. One could look at crazy pants as the id, that primal beast that wants to react from a purely emotional space. However, as we go through life, we learn (hopefully) coping mechanisms for dealing with those moments when we find and put on our crazy pants. Our ego regulates those unhealthy impulses. Most people I’ve met have, at least once, put on their crazy pants and went out for a night on the town. Leaving the house wearing your crazy pants rarely ends well. 

Because we all have a version of Crazy, most folks also have their crazy pants and can empathize when someone they care about puts them on. This is one healthy way of dealing with donning the crazy pants: talk to someone you trust about those unhealthy impulses. Many people can relate, they’ve been there. What is harder to relate to is wearing your crazy pants and going to Crazy Town. Acting on those impulses is a behavior and we are accountable for our behaviors, especially if they hurt other people. Realizing that emotions exist and are valid is essential to accepting our personal humanity, acknowledging that our emotions don’t control our behavior is essential for accepting each other.

Crazy pants happen. We have irrational, intense emotional reactions to situations. How we handle our crazy pants is a measure of our character. Do we own our crazy pants and seek help from people who are not wearing theirs or do we go to Crazy Town? Each situation is different and sometimes the best thing to do is own that you wore your crazy pants when you did something and apologize.

Guest Blogging

I am pleased as punch to be the guest blogger at approximately 8,000 words, Kit O’Connell’s blog, with an article I wrote recently — Embracing Conflict.

What really tickles me about writing this article, outside of the chance to express my feelings and experiences on a topic many of us shy from, is how meta it is. Kit’s a member of my choice family and I ask you to show me a family that hasn’t had conflict. We’ve had our share and I can say, from being there, that time can be the greatest tool you have when dealing with conflict, resentment and a host of uncomfortable feelings. I’m proud of us for getting through some unfortunate and often dramatic incidents and getting back to a place of mutual support and love.

Kit is the reason I have this blog. He’s hosting the site and he set it up for me. When I came to him and said “I want to start writing publicly, how does that work?”; he almost immediately got me started. I have enjoyed seeing him find his volunteer and artistic niche in the burn community (we do art but most of it is visual in some way. He found the place for his words and did an amazing job as Flipside’s Web Content lead, this year. I look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve.) He found an outlet for his voice and passed that along.

Salt Shakers by harlanh, on flickr.com

The gift of conflict is that once you’ve been through it, once you’ve handled it in a positive, constructive manner, is that now you know you *can*. That, for me, is very reassuring in any relationship. I was convinced, for the better part of a year, that I had lost a member of my family and that conviction was worse than the anger and resentment. When I finally calmed down enough to engage, it was scary but now I have the comfort of knowing that we’ve been through the fire and I trust we can go through it again. Conflict as comfort, like a reassuring hug. Reframing it that way has helped me immeasurably in my relationships.

 

Pop Tarts

Recently, my wasband (yes, you can get along with someone you used to be married to, but that’s another post entirely) posted this video to my facebook page:

It’s been a rough couple of weeks recently and I’d been down on myself. The negative messages that we all hear, day in and day out, were beginning to loop in my head. As much as I’ve attempted to avoid succumbing to them, I was beginning to toilet bowl into negativity. That infectious pop song snapped me out of it. The message that we’re all good enough, that we all have enough and therefore, we all deserve to be accepted for who we are, is a hammer encased bubble wrap.

This is a message that has come up in several pop songs lately. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”

and Katy Perry’s “Firework”

The Onion’s AV Club has already covered the differences between Gaga and Perry, better than I could. What they do share is a wide audience and two songs that, to varying artistic development, state that it’s perfectly acceptable to be who you are. That those aspects of ourselves that we’ll self-deride are the very points that make us powerful creatures. That our power comes from stopping the internal cycle of derision and owning our power, even when it hurts. Perhaps especially when it hurts.

The power of a pop song is much like the tension between negative self talk and personal power: they are pervasive, insidious even. When you look beyond the fluff, the message of acceptance, of oneself and others, is hard to ignore. Because these songs are in wide circulation, they are reaching audiences that are more limited in their personal outlooks. Bigots, homophobes, and sexists are part of the milieu that listens to pop music and they might not like it; however when you can not avoid something, it will eventually change you. Just a little bit, perhaps. Perhaps that’s enough.

I am heartened to see this trend. When a air bubble like Katy Perry, who sells an idea of female sexuality to heterosexual males that I find, at best, obnoxious; also sells a message of personal tolerance, I am hopeful that the very people she sells to will gain a measure of insight. When Lady Gaga, who may be the single most notorious and popular artist, at the moment, says that being gay is not a choice, I can hope that someone will hear that and be swayed enough to rethink their position. Pink states that you can be spiraling downwards and still be lovable … well, that was a message I needed to hear today.

 

Safety 33rd: I was born

And I’m not dead yet. And if you’re reading this, neither are you.

Kit, another Taurus and good friend, posted about how, as we get older, birthdays become about celebrating life. The fact that someone exists and is still here. The milestones we and they have crossed and that we’re all moving steadily forward.

Today I celebrate life, after years of being afraid of this gift I’ve been given, the most precious gift of all. I celebrate my own life but I also celebrate the lives of the people I love and who have walked with me, some since I was born, others for 20 plus years, some briefly but with impact.

A message at Burning Man's Temple of Flux, 2010 Photo by Gyesika Safety

I celebrate as a person who has faced death several times in her life. As someone who’s been scared to carry on. In the winter of 2009, my life took a turn for the dark and scary. Each day was struggle to get out of bed and feel human. I was so terrified that leaving the house was a challenge. The grip of that depression, as I sat in a grey apartment, isolating and alone, took me further and further down.  Through divorce, malaria, abuse, diagnosed with a mental illness, poverty, job and housing loss — that time of hibernation and nothingness was the worst pain I have ever felt. I couldn’t seem to shake the desperation and gripping terror.

And on Christmas Eve I had an epiphany: If I’m not going to *do* anything for my own happiness, then misery is what I will have. I called a friend and then another; people whose paths have crossed mine and  for whom I am immeasurably thankful. On Christmas Day, I contacted another person in terrible pain. We started dating a few months later.  I am now a mama to two odd and lovely little boys; I do volunteer work that fulfills me; I have a loving partner; I’ve met goals (like finally making it to Burning Man, last year); reunited pets; an ex-husband that I get along with again; and a multitude of talented, smart, funny, caring, kind friends. Life is still challenging but it rocks toe socks.

If I had given up when I felt over shadowed, at any of the times I have felt that life is too much to deal with, I would not have been here to meet these people, to have these positive experiences, to continue to grow and change and love and learn. I would have missed out on so much. I share my story because I know what it’s like to feel scared, small and hopeless and today I am grateful for the little voice told me to reach out on Christmas Eve. The one that wouldn’t let me give up.

Life is a gift and so today I celebrate that gift: mine, yours and everyone who I will cross paths with at some point in the future.

I have a future.

Angels vs. Demons: Burnier-Than-Thou

Original image by colodio on Flickr. Modified by Gyesika Safety.

I’ve recently begun rereading Elaine Pagels’ wonderful book “The Origin of Satan”, where she postulates that the social origin story to Satan was an attempt to moralize an inherent human tendency towards us vs. them. To take that sense of comfort we feel at belonging to a group, and creating that group identity through defining what we are not (them), and magnifying it to a cosmic level. I see this tension at play in the burn community I participate in and identify with. I see it within myself, as I self-identify as a burner.

There’s a term for this interplay of “us-vs.them” within the burn community: burnier-than-thou. It’s a recognized and accepted concept within the group that this tension exists. There is a sense of moralization, I do more, bring more, work harder, been here longer than you, therefore I am more of a burner than you are. In some sense this is true. Some people have been around longer and thus have done more. The inherent nature of us-vs.-them is humanity speaking the less pleasant truths of our nature.

The benefit of having a “them” is that is solidifies what “us” constitutes. On a basic level it’s “me” vs. “you”; we tend to self identify with what we’re not, giving ourselves a clearer picture of what we are. We can also accomplish this process for ourselves on a micro level of our own self-identity and apply it to the macro group ethos. I tend to view burners as people who contribute something to the community and to burn events. Whether that be art, their time and energy via volunteering, a theme camp, gifting, or contributions that I haven’t thought of yet; for me, being a burner means action. Doing the do that makes up our community and events.

However, not everyone agrees with me on this (as it should be). For some, being a burner is attending an event and experiencing it. For others, being a burner is attending the myriad of activities that happen through out the year, including online interactions. I can get into an us-vs.-them attitude, where I dismiss these other versions justifying one’s inclusion in a group that I cherish but that this mindset, though natural, overlooks is that we are all on our own personal journeys. Some of us will stay and contribute more, others will fade away. However your journey plays out, the experience of a Burn has the capacity to change you, if you let it.

Perhaps that’s the real lesson to be learned about judging how other’s view themselves. We can feel justified by our self-identity (personal or group) and intolerant of those who are not part of our group. We can become exclusive, instead of inclusive. When we allow a group, an event, life to mold us into new, more open people, we have experienced and contributed to that group, that event, life. I think this appeal to out better, one could say angelic, nature.

I think that my criteria for what constitutes a burner has shifted to “Were you open enough, even just a crack, to let the experiences of the group, up to and including whatever event you attended, change you?”