Five Senses Friday: 6.22.18

This week, many Americans (and the world) watched with bated breath as the family separation policy of the Trump administration generated optics that amounted to modern-day concentration camps. An alarming number of us sought justification: If people don’t want their children taken from them, they shouldn’t put them in danger by bringing them to the border illegally; Most adults are bringing minors who aren’t their children to get a free pass; Immigrants are infesting our country.  (A reminder from media critic Jean Kilbourne: Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person.)

But I saw another number speak up, shout out, and use their voices in a new way: a friend who just moved to a new state and immediately called her senator; people attending their first protests; acknowledging their own privilege publicly and calling others to do the same; donating, calling, crying out.

It was scary, wasn’t it? While I’ve been incredibly vocal lately, did you know I’ve been scared too? Though I’ve signed countless online petitions and sent dozens of template email forms, two weeks ago, I called my representativesfor the first time – and I left a message. I’m such a chicken shit. This week, I called Roy Blunt’s office during the middle of the day, talked to a staff member, and voiced my opinion on the issue of family separation. The whole exchange took about a minute, but I was shaking like a leaf.

Doing anything for the first time is nerve-wracking. We aren’t born knowing how this stuff works. We aren’t handed the confidence to be a bold ally for the marginalized the moment we decide it (finally) merits our attention. But we press on. We press on. At dinner this week, Brett and I shared some truths we are currently exploring (thanks Layla Saad’s Wild Mystic Woman Podcast for the inspiration). A truth we spent a lot of time on was this:

The world is to be engaged with: press up against the darkness and ugliness and lean into the lightness and beauty; leave your mark on your community and be imprinted upon by teachers, mentors, guides.

6.29.18 EDIT: Damn it. I was re-reading this to grab a quote for a social media post and was struck by and feel it necessary to point out a very common bias here. ^ The association of beauty with lightness; ugliness with darkness. Light and dark are spiritual concepts, but they are also the descriptors of appearance. John A. Powell discusses this with Krista Tippet in On Being and how very destructive it is for a person of color to have blackness consistently associated with negativity. Foot, meet mouth. I’m sorry. This is harmful and I was not being mindful. I’ll do better.

I’m not pre-conditioned to engage with the world in this way. It’s raw and vulnerable and when I’m doing it anywhere else but online my heart beats a thousand miles per minute. Any confidence you might you perceive is the confidence that my words are true, that my words are just, that my words need to be heard. There is no confidence in my saying them. I am afraid.

I’m doing it anyway. Perceived emotional discomfort does not hurt more than the real physical threat BIPOC experience in the face of white supremacy. We press on. If you do nothing more today, take 10 minutes to watch Luvvie Ajayi’s TEDTalk: Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. It’s lifegiving.

Smell: Sniff out the Issues (Research) Now that you know about white privilege, what are you going to do about it? Emptying the White Knapsack by Jaime Grant offers a great list of practical suggestions to “create the workplaces, institutions, neighborhoods and beloved communities to which we aspire” (found via Anton Truer).

fullsizeoutput_19b6See: Read, Watch, or Experience Art from Artists of Color The XCHANGE, is a content series co-created by Nneka Ude and visual artist, cultural critic, and my good friend Shawn Gadley. In the first few episodes, two black founders of Black Tech Mecca talk business strategy, black culture, and startup life.

Taste: Get a Taste of Life (Immersion) Cultivate an Instagram and social media feed featuring people who are black, indigenous, queer, Hispanic, Latinx, biracial, activists, artists, writers, hikers, educators, fat, thin, witchy, Christian, Muslim – folks who will help you better understand intersectional identities and uplift the veil of your own privilege. Here are some of my unmentioned favorites: Ron GriswellJacob Tobia, Rochelle Brock, Jessamyn Stanley, Glennon Doyle, Mona Haydar, Fran Tirado, Delainee Richelle (This is a practice I started almost immediately when I began educating myself about white privilege – it was a suggestion made by Thias Sky and Lindsey Rae in parts one and two of Thais’ Reclaim Podcast episodes “You’re Waking Up to Your White Privilege, Now What?” which are required listening. My personal prophet Rachel Cargle (see below) made this suggestion recently as well).

Touch: Take Action with Your Hands On June 30, rallies are planned around the county to send a message to the Trump administration that families belong together – and free. Find an event in your community (or start one!) here. Not ready for public protest? Use to demand reunification of migrant children that were separated from their families during the past 6 weeks.

Hear: Listen to Voices of Color Rachel Cargle: Unpacking White Feminism on The Kate & Mike Show; Rachel is an academic, a writer, a student, an activist, and a voice that I listen to very closely. She is a no bullshit, community-building, portal of education and a movement maker. To me, she embodies Cornell West’s quote “Justice is what love looks like in public.” This podcast episode is a nice entry to her work. (Support her on Patreon.)

Bonus Resource: The fight isn’t over: Immigration Advocates Say President Trump’s Executive Order Creates Even More Problems, but here’s how you can help.

As a note: I’ll be taking the next week off, so look for another round of resources July 6!


Five Senses Friday: 6.15.18

I’m starting a practice called Five Senses Friday. I’m big on themes (if you know me personally, this shouldn’t surprise you). I’ve been unsettled lately. I’m unstuck. And with Five Senses Friday, I’m inviting folks to join me. I want to wiggle out of, chip away at, and disrupt the quiet but pervasive forces of injustice and oppression.

By engaging all five “senses,” my hope is to commit, with my full self, to doing “The Work.” What is “The Work”? It probably depends on who you ask, but I’ve come to understand it as this.

Rooted in humility, respect, and curiosity:

  1. Spend time in self-reflection to understand how our identity informs our impact (and how this differs from intent);
  2. Lean into the discomfort of our revelations, despite how vulnerable it feels to face the harm we’ve done; and finally,
  3. Advocate for, align with, and act in the best interest of racial and social justice.

The third step is critical. It represents the transformation from ideas to accomplishment, from knowledge to understanding. I have spent a lifetime talking about what I might do; believing I was already doing enough claiming labels for myself based on no evidence, no action, no allyship. When I started to dig into my own self-work a little deeper, a writer I follow on Instagram posted this image:


It is profound in its simplicity. It allowed me to realize that in my segregated world, almost every room I enter is full of white people. It’s time for me to start speaking up.

And so, Five Senses Friday. These are simply resources to stay educated, to take some action, to make a small step. Whenever possible, I’ll share resources written, created, or developed by BIPOC (that’s an acronym for black, indigenous, and people of color). There are resources developed by other white folks I have found particularly helpful, and I’ll share those from time to time too.  I’ll always credit my sources and do my best to credit where I discovered the resource as well.

If you’ve done a little of the work yourself, you might think, “she’s not saying anything new.” That’s right. I’m not actually that interested in saying much new. If I add some colorful new commentary, it’s unfortunately likely my interpretation will be shared, reposted, and praised because our culture loves a “woke, blonde, white woman” A LOT and it will overshadow the intellectual, meaningful, and original work that a person of color (probably a woman) did to stay alive.

What I will share is my own experience, here, at what I hope is the back of the crowd. I will do my best to not speak over or for a person of color. There’s a good chance I’ll fuck this up. I expect my community to hold me to a high standard and to call me out when I make a mistake. This literally doesn’t work any other way.

The first resources are for beginners – many are articles I read and revisited when I decided this topic didn’t scare me so much I had to simply run away.

Smell: Sniff out the Issues (Research) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh (found via Anton Truer) (If you’re not quite sure about the concept of “privilege,” try Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is by John Scalzi; it’s a good primer.)

See: Read, Watch, or Experience Art from Artists of Color 5 Tips for Being an Ally (found via Rachel Cargle’s Social Syllabus: How to Be an Ally; Rachel makes so many resources available for free, but do consider becoming a Patreon supporter so she can continue to do so.)

Taste: Get a Taste of Life (Immersion) I got the idea for this “sense” while listening to a conversation between Brene Brown and Deray Mckesson on Pod Save the People (Joy & The Gift and We’re Not Going Anywhere). Brene and Deray discuss how proximity to people different from ourselves is one way to battle hate. However, white folks have to tread carefully here. Our history is one of colonizationappropriation, and disrespect. So, before we move in close to others, we need to first understand our implicit biases to reduce the risk of harm. And we do have them. We aren’t colorblind, you know. Project Implicit (which is mentioned in the podcast episode with John A. Powell) provides a series of tests developed by scientists to measure implicit preferences, which are related to behaviors we make in the workplace, the medical office, and in our criminal justice system. Take a test, understand your biases, and spend some time in reflection before exploring this sense next week.

Touch: Take Action with Your Hands Update your voter registration to your current address, mark your calendar for the upcoming primary (or general election if it has already passed in your state!), and familiarize yourself with candidates and upcoming ballot initiatives. (Hint: Rock the Vote and your state’s Secretary of State’s website are great places to start!) You cannot be an effective advocate if you are not an engaged voter.

Hear: Listen to Voices of Color Opening to the Question of Belonging with John A. Powell, On Being with Krista Tippett; Powell (the scholar, not my father-haha) profoundly names the two “parents” of our current considerations of race as slavery and The Enlightenment – which brought us the myths of individuality and independence. If you find yourself in conversation with “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstrap” folks (like my own personal John Powell, for example), you’ll be glad you’ve listened to this podcast episode.

Bonus Resource: Racism against white people doesn’t exist in America, and here’s why it never will; TL;DR: Racism = Prejudice PLUS Power. A person of color being an asshole to a white person while never, ever strip that white person of their cultural power. So, yes, a POC might have been a real dick to you once, but no, if you are white, you’ve never experienced racism.

There ya have it! If I didn’t piss you off, confuse you, or alienate you completely – I hope you’ll ask questions if you have them and share your journey with me if you decide to undertake it! And if you are pissed, confused, or alienated, know this . . . I’m placing my value in relationships that will evolve alongside me. I anticipate there are some that will not grow at the same pace. There is work to be done and I won’t wait any longer. The risk of staying silent is far greater than the risk of speaking up. I’ll be back next week with more!

The D Word

For about 6 weeks, I’ve been considering what my life might be like as a single woman. Not because that life is one I want, but because I’ve wanted any life but the one I’ve had. I have been intensely unhappy. Brett has been unhappy. We’ve been unhappy separately and together. This sentiment has been rolling around in my body and working its way into my soft tissue.

Following an early departure from drinks with friends (caused by an awkward confrontation that felt juvenile and humiliating), I informed Brett of the following: I couldn’t think of a single reason for us to stay married that didn’t include the fact that we’ve simply always been together and furthermore, (I didn’t actually use the phrase “furthermore” but grandstanding is one of my preferred offensive strategies so it bears clarifying here) if we separated, I could hardly come up with a short list of things I would lose.

The human heart is a dark thing.

For several months Brett and I, for separate but similar reasons, have been working with mental health professionals. In the poker game of family genetics, anxiety, depression, or alcoholism might not be in our particular hand (unless they are), but the cards are certainly in our decks. We’ve got to be prepared if or when they appear. Consequently, medication is part of our care routine. This is complicated business. Anti-depressants rarely manage “it all” on the first attempt and side effects are weird. Excuse me, that’s an understatement–side effects make you feel like someone else is at the steering wheel of your brain.

During these months, we’ve been on deeply personal journeys, re-opening partially healed wounds, digging our heels into the belief that we are worthy of our better selves. It’s emotional puberty – growth is so prevalent it’s physically painful. If you’ve known us, you might not believe me when I tell you this couple, these two people dedicated to reflective, introspective, intellectual exploration, are doing inner work we’ve never come close to before.

We do everything together. We thought we were doing this together too, but I was the first to realize we had actually been alone for months. We hopped on two separate tandem bikes at the same time. Well, fuck.

For 6 weeks, any time Brett needed my generosity or empathy or compassion, my mind generated a future where I was free; not of him, necessarily, but of his need for me. I started to consider if I was an obstacle to Brett’s healing. I began to link both thoughts together. And like water rising, these thoughts eventually overflowed and outward to him: “I can’t think of a reason for us to stay married. I wouldn’t lose a single thing if we didn’t.”

It was as awful as you think it was. But worse because I was there, and you weren’t. And I said all the horrible things, and you didn’t. We fought all night and slept in separate rooms and woke up gutted and ignored each other all day.

I volunteered at a local butterfly garden the next morning (because I am Amanda all day, every day) and afterwards, while sobbing in the McDonald’s drive-thru waiting for my lunch, I had a horrible realization: I had absolutely no one to call for help. I needed a friend so desperately but couldn’t think of a single person I was close enough to that would understand.

Because I have billed myself as Mrs. Marriage. Mrs. Marriage cannot call you and tell you she is contemplating divorce.

I’ve officiated 3 weddings. Brett and I have been together for 10 years. These are lovely things and I’m proud of them. But I’ve created a ridiculous ethos for myself with regard to relationships and marriage – I’ve dressed myself up like some sort of sage; as if I have access to special knowledge. Come to me for answers. It’s complete bullshit.

I had ice skated into the center of the pond, doing triple axels the entire way while proselytizing about it. Now, I was out in the middle and realized not only was the ice under my feet dangerously thin, but all my friends were couples skating on the thickest, safest ice in the pond. If they could even hear my cries for help at all, they wouldn’t understand me.

Through all my efforts of transparency and authenticity and vulnerability in the hopes that I might help someone else’s marriage, I had completely failed to find a sage of my own to turn to. Shit.

I have one mode of processing: verbal. In the absence of a confidant, I had one person to whom I could turn. Brett. This did not start pretty, friends. It felt a great deal like picking a scab, actually.

Here is a short, edited transcript of the conversation:

Me: “What the hell?”
Brett: “Go to hell!”
Me: “Fix all our problems.”
Brett: “I’m not the only cause of all our problems.”
Me [VERY unhappy this is clearly true]: “Fix something anyway.”
Brett: “You’re being pretty damn mean, don’t you think?”
Me: “Yes, I’m being mean on purpose because I am very hurt and angry.”
Brett [VERY unhappy this is clearly true]: “Stop it!”

These are, obviously, the highlights. Toward the middle/end of the furious parts, Brett lobbed a fastball into the center of the strike zone: “You’ve made your love conditional.” This gave me pause because the truth, even when you are angry, is still the truth. And the truth is a pathway to healing. If you are brave enough, when the truth shows up in your relationship, you can get naked and show up beside it. I don’t know if this ever gets any easier, but I do think it can happen with less resistance the more you practice. Showing up naked next to truth looked like this for me:

“You’re right. I’ve been in so much pain lately. I wasn’t prepared for the impact your mental health journey would have on me and I should have sought support immediately. I spoke out of malice, so I could hurt you and that isn’t fair or in alignment with my character. I deserve happiness in this marriage, but that’s not how I want to find it.”

Brett can tell you what showing up naked next to the truth looks like for him sometime himself, if you ever want to ask him.

Being a healthy person is hard as hell. Being married is hard as hell. Doing both at the same time is damn near impossible. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.

I do not want to divorce Brett, but I did want to scare him into loving me better. Brett doesn’t want to burden me but does need tremendous support to manage his mental health. But know this – your partner does not have infinite capacity to hold space for you. We are not infinite vessels, even in the context of unconditional love. Great partners create this illusion, but you must be a conscientious steward of it. Your bad behavior has consequences, even if it takes place on the path toward wellness. We build up collateral in our relationships with impact, not intent.

How do we carry on? I, for one, aim to find the tools I am not equipped with. I need to find a new therapist and schedule more regular visits. I need to read some old love notes and remind myself what being with Brett has always been about. I need to find someone who has been married for longer than I have that I can call when shit gets bad (currently accepting applications). Brett has an agenda of his own.

I believe in the healing power of vulnerability. Without a strong foundation of emotional expression, I’m not certain Brett and I could have navigated through (let alone to) this particular challenge. To that end, I’m recommitting to this blog as another tool for restoration and a strategy to invest in myself as well as others. I hope someone, least of all me, knows themselves a little more intimately as a result.

I wrote this post prior to Kate Spade dying from suicide. It feels more important than ever to share my family’s journey with mental health with our friends, family, and neighbors, and to remind anyone who might read this, to know – you are not alone if you have felt badly, if your marriage or relationship is far from perfect, or if tomorrow seems like it will be the very same as today. There is help available to you, now and always.