Pay the women.

One of the greatest teams I ever led was the store leadership team during my first holiday season at lululemon. After just a year in the retail business, I still knew almost nothing about it. I’d abandoned my career as an attorney and was struggling to cultivate my identity in a new organization. I still think about their courage and hustle and greatness as the primary fuel that propelled my career forward.
There were six of them. All women. A majority were college athletes, a particular brand of woman I’ve found to be relentless in their commitment to excellence, fearless in their pursuit of winning, and humbly dedicated to bettering themselves and the people around them.
All of us belonged to the Title IX generation. Before we were female business owners, and people leaders, we were young girls with big dreams and mostly male role models. We benefitted from legally mandated access and funding and had opportunities our mothers couldn’t have dreamed of. When I watch my mom race around the backyard and roll around the living room floor with her grandkids, I wonder what her life might have been like had she been exposed to team sports.
I played soccer, basketball, volleyball and swam for our country club swim team. I dabbled in softball and spent a season as a junior varsity cheer leader. I grew up during the 49ers dynasty in a family where bay area sports worship was our primary spiritual devotion. My heroes included Jerry Rice, Will Clark, Scotty Pippen and of course, my older brother. Women athletes were barely visible in national sports media coverage and advertising. I was already a teenager when the 1999 women’s national team won a historic world cup and changed the landscape of women’s sports forever.
I was never a gifted athlete but I loved the thrill and challenge of competition. I learned to love winning, especially as a team.

In my professional life, I still apply the wisdom of most of the important lessons I learned playing sports. My approach to leading teams of people at work mirrors my approach to my role as a team captain. On the soccer field, especially, I learned how to communicate and collaborate. I learned the importance of leveraging individual strengths to further our collective goals. I learned about conflict resolution, decision–making under pressure, failure and resilience. I learned that one of the best ways to motivate the work ethic of others is to demonstrate a fierce one of my own.
In our youth sports arenas, girls like me* felt the empowering freedom of equality. Our parents showed up on the sidelines of our games with dedication and enthusiasm equal to what they demonstrated with our male siblings. Our coaches gave up their precious weekday evenings and sometimes entire weekends to better our lives as athletes and young women. We were celebrated and encouraged and lifted up. We were both told directly, and given the space, time and platform to prove, we could do anything.
Off the field, however, our life-experience remained deeply and uniquely female. I can remember as early as the second grade feeling ridiculed and ostracized at school for being smart and outspoken in class. When I won a school-wide election to be student body President as a sixth grader, the celebration of victory was undercut by rumors that my parents had written my campaign speech and that my mom had used her influence at the school to rig the outcome of the election. As a seventh grader, my English teacher gave me a C minus on a book report because she said the writing was too advanced for my grade level and must have been plagiarized.
In high school, what had once felt like subtle, even inadvertent, gender discrimination, became overt, sexism, as our bodies were increasingly sexualized by male peers, teachers and administrators.
As a freshman, I navigated an argument with our “yard duty” at the close of a lunch period as she tried to send me home for a dress code violation. The violation? a less than two inch strap on my tank top. My defense? I couldn’t miss a test the next hour, in Algebra 2. I had more male teachers than I even want to recount who sexually harassed and objectified me and my female classmates. Most of them were revered, tenured educators. The type who received awards from district leadership and advocacy from our parents who lobbied to secure our place in their class.
In college, I navigated the confusing and complicated landscape of coed living spaces and openly sexist frat parties. Me and other young women are thrust into these environments that are both liberating and terrifying. There is little guidance and limited policy to govern gendered social dynamics that are complicated and often dangerous. Teenagers are basically left alone to define boundaries, establish behavior expectations, and police misconduct. College is where I first felt shamed for sexual expression, threatened by male sexuality and unequal in a social sphere that privileges unmitigated male freedom above female safety, and enabled a “boys will be boys” attitude at the expense of genuine gender equity. I had more than one female friend whose educational path was disrupted, or outright derailed, by an experience of sexual assault.

After graduation, the hyper-sexualized gender dynamics of college take a shower, put on slacks and dress shoes and occupy every interaction we have as young, female professionals.

In the first years of my career I had confrontations with male and female colleagues who challenged my wisdom and decision-making without explicitly invoking my gender. By that point, though, the tone and quality of their admonishment was familiar, identifiable and unmistakably connected to me being female.
Those years also included uncomfortable, sometimes scary encounters with men in the workplace who unapologetically sexualized and demeaned me. Men who were much older than me who would crowd the office door, hover over my desk chair or creepily accompany me to the employee parking lot. Men who were closer to my age whose advances felt less personally threatening but just as dangerous to my professional development and advancement.
All of this is to not even begin to count the daily, ordinary ways in which men undermined me, and the women around me, by interrupting, diminishing, and ignoring our presence, intelligence and contribution. It also excludes all of the male mediocrity, laziness and entitlement that we are constantly hustling to overcome, mitigate or ignore as to not distract from the pursuit of our highest aims.

I think what resonates most about the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team is that theirs is a relatable story of female excellence. Their dominance, chemistry, and teamwork are familiar to those of us who have felt the joy and fulfillment of collaborating with other extraordinary women to achieve greatness. Their struggle for equity is also familiar. They occupy a position as the definitive powerhouse of their sport, accomplishing unparalleled success and international glory, yet are forced to scrap, and scrape and hustle and fight to be paid and treated equally. All women** know what it feels like to have to be twice as good as our male counterparts just so we might be considered the same. We can equally relate to being unfairly criticized for demonstrating the type of confidence and assertiveness our male counterparts are praised and promoted for.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team also represents, and seems to understand, that equity means more than equal pay. Equity means dismantling a system that privileges men in every aspect, at every turn, of our lives. Equity means eradicating sexual violence against women, erasing sexual harassment in the workplace, ending rape culture and finally taking responsibility for all of the systems and ways our country devalues and diminishes women.

The imperfect history of Title IX reminds us that the fight is ongoing. It also demonstrates that law and policy designed to level the playing field and un-do the past harms of systemic inequity are both effective, and necessary, to achieve those results. My life is better for the opportunity afforded me by Title IX and the lessons and access that came with it. Now, it’s up to me and the other women of our generation to insist that it continues to get better, and act in ways that further that cause.

And I believe that we will win.

 

*with tremendous gratitude and appreciation for all that was afforded to me my Title IX access (and my parents and community!), I also recognize that much of it came as a result of my racial and economic privilege. Outcomes AND opportunities for low-income women and especially women of color are far worse than for women like me and while that is not the subject of my thoughts it is critical to both understanding and addressing issues of gender inequity.

**While I feel confident in speaking for all women in this context, I want to be clear that the experience of women of color, in particular, is unique and the challenges they face in the workplace, and beyond are more intense, by a long shot, than those I face as a white woman. Issues of ability, size, language and other intersections of identity are also critical to understanding how gender impacts experience.

 

The year after Columbine

The sun was still climbing up over the horizon as I drove into the near-empty high school parking lot. The sky was clear and the air was crisp and I was probably late for 0 period.

April 20, 2000.

Four months earlier we’d survived the panic and hysteria of “Y2K.” Me and my friends lived through the stroke of midnight that launched the new millennium without so much as a flicker of the light bulbs. All of the anxiety and over-preparation ultimately amounted to an ordinary New Year’s celebration with a few more batteries and bottles of water.

We’d all evaded catastrophe, for now.

On that late Spring morning, our community had distant thoughts of another, imminent threat. It was the first anniversary of a suburban school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, an event that awakened parents of affluent white school kids everywhere to the possibility that even the privileges and advantages funded by their high property taxes couldn’t insulate their kids from violence.

My mom and I reviewed our options on the eve of the anniversary. We discussed the rumors of “copycats” and the possible existence of a chapter of the “the trench coat mafia” in my hometown.

Back then, the threat of a mass shooting could be measured by the likelihood of a socially isolated loner type gaining access to his parent’s weapons. Columbine gave us a narrative to track and a set of signs and symptoms we could evaluate. I remember scanning through the students in each of my classes, trying to identify who, if anyone, would be capable of a massacre.

The next morning, as I looked back to note the location of my car in the parking lot, I felt only moderately certain my assessment was correct.

The year after Columbine, the conversation about school shootings was still dominated by the particular characteristics of the shooters and the collective failures of their parents, teachers and administrators. At least where I lived, there was still a sense that we could prevent “another Columbine” through vigilance and awareness about the individuals who might be capable of perpetrating such an act. Teachers received training and parents attended information nights and those of us who were still teenagers were taught to see something and say something about our peers.

In the 20 years since, I’ve lost track of the mass shootings. If given an infinite timeline and access to Google I might be able to list the ones that took place in schools. Most days I can list the many venues of my public life where I now worry about being gunned down by an entirely preventable act of violence.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think often about what might be different now, if we’d reacted, then responded, differently, back then.

I imagine our parents using their immense social and political power to lobby our state legislators about gun safety and regulation. I picture the parents who came storming into the principal’s office, or roaring into a PTA meeting, wielding that same anger and entitlement to advocate for local, state and national action to protect their kids. I think about those parents who never hesitated to lobby for a different grade or a different teacher or a less severe punishment when their kids got caught drinking at a dance or leaving school property for lunch. I wonder what would be possible if they’d mobilized that energy for the future, long-term prevention of gun violence for their kids, for their grand kids, for all kids, forever.

In the same way that I mentally scrolled through the images of my classmates on the evening of April 19th, nineteen years ago, checking for signs of a “school shooter,” I now scroll through their pictures on Instagram, searching for signs of action.

We’re grown ups now, our social media feeds filled with tiny, innocent, beautiful children, sweet kids with big dreams, who will some day attend schools where they’ll hide under their desks and stare at the back of a closed classroom door during an active shooter drill or, God help us, reality. Those babies smiling up at the camera, proudly or reluctantly, wearing cute stickers indicating an age or development milestone will soon be teenagers. They’ll be casually walking through a shopping mall with friends or dancing to their favorite band in a club or at a concert, when their life will be suddenly changed by the sound of gunfire and the ensuing chaos at the scene of another mass shooting. Their bright eyes and bubbling energy are signals of  futures with limitless potential. They’ll be powerful executives or ground-breaking physicians until their office building or hospital or place of worship is destroyed by an assault rifle that should have been banned when their parents were kids.

Their parents, who were born before the internet and graduated from high school after 9/11, who went to fancy schools and have advanced degrees, who have all the resources and access and education to raise their kids on organic food with the latest parenting techniques and gadgets. Parents who belong to online and in-person communities that organize around everything from mom-and-me workouts to creating nut-free classrooms. Parents who bought nice homes in well-manicured suburbs so they could send their kids to “good schools” and even better colleges. Parents who would spare no expense in trying to guarantee the best possible outcome for their kids in every aspect of their lives.

A guarantee that is only as certain as their kids’ survival in a country where thousands of people have already died from gun violence this year.

If I could go back and tell the 1999 version of my mom what I needed from her I would tell her this:

Columbine is only the beginning. The years to come are woefully challenging for innumerable personal and political reasons but this tragedy, in particular is the start of a nightmare that gets unimaginably worse. I need you to talk to your friends about gun control. Next weekend, on the sidelines of my soccer game and all next week at the gym. Every time you get the chance to influence someone, I need you to make sure they know what we’re up against. Tell them to trust you that the future safety of their kids, and grandkids, and multiple generations of young people, depends on their willingness to demand action from their legislators and to hold them accountable if they fail to act. I need you to talk to me about activism and justice and what it means to create institutional change. I need you to both be and set an example by what you talk about and how you act. I need you to go to the next PTA meeting not to promote a more strict dress code, or heightened security on campus, but to demand that our history and government classes teach us about collective action, social change movements and legislative advocacy. I need you to ask me, on my eighteenth birthday, if I’ve registered to vote.

I need you to text me on every election day to make sure I voted.

My mom’s children are adults now and time travel is still just a plotline in fantasy and science fiction. It’s too late for our parents to impact the last 20 years of gun legislation, but it’s not too late for their children to change the next 20. We can use the same script for the conversation, but have it with more urgency and conviction. We can have it with more people, more often, and we should keep having it until we live in a country that found a way to end its epidemic of mass shootings.

We inherited the failures of our parents and we own the failures of ourselves. We do not have to pass those failures onto our kids.

Love Letter, 2018.

This is the type of love letter you write to your ex boyfriend but never send. You do it because your therapist suggests it but also because you’re desperate to free your now broken heart from the grip he’s had on it since your third date. Back when your heart was whole, and tender and full of hope. Back when you were that way, too.

The word I used most in 2018 was “fuck.” It showed up frequently in text messages, typically in response to something unwelcome or tragic or uncomfortable from someone in my family or one of my friends. Sometimes it was a personal disclosure, usually bad news or a call for help. Other times it was a screen shot from twitter about the latest judicial crisis or threat to democracy. Always, it triggered the same sensation. A nauseous twinge in the pit of my stomach. A tension in the back of my neck. My body would get tight, all over, the familiar sensation of the only way I know to manage sadness and grief and bad news.

To close up and hold on tight.

It started on Valentine’s day. My mom and I were waiting for a table at our favorite ice cream shop when I answered a solemn phone call from my best friend, Amy. Her niece was in the hospital again. She’d been hospitalized on and off since I known her, more than 20 years now.  Usually she landed there so the doctors and strong antibiotics could combat an infection or help her gain weight. Occasionally she’d be there as a precaution, especially in response to concerning results from a breathing test. She’d been in the hospital a few months earlier, staying just a few rooms away from Amy’s husband who I visited more than once. I never made it to see Sierra, and by the time I heard the painful trepidation in Amy’s voice on February 14th, I couldn’t remember why I didn’t. My reasons for doing and not doing everything are so real, and important and defensible.

Until they aren’t.

The next day I’m in my car in a parking lot in Santa Rosa visiting one of my stores. I’m leading a conference call when Amy’s husband tries to get a hold of me. I listen to his voicemail in the three minutes before I have to show up at a big meeting with the store manager and one of our key partners.  There’s no space to cry or melt down or even call Kevin back to hear the voice of someone else who is scared and confused and heartbroken. I put away my phone and try to feel my breath. I shake away the tears.

Close up and hold on tight.

After the meeting I get on the freeway. I’m over a hundred miles from home and at this time of day it’s close to a four hour trip. I call Kevin to talk over the details of his message. As I listen to the ring tone on speakerphone, I pray that somehow the news has changed.

I’m not really spiritual but I always pray in a crisis.

I drive straight to the hospital because Sierra isn’t expected to make it through the night. Her room is private, but crowded. Friends and relatives I recognize from two decades of fourth of July parties and photo shoots before high school dances are awkwardly lingering, or anxiously trying to make themselves useful, or quietly hiding out on their phones. It was an awful, but beautiful scene. Somber and joyful and scary, all at once.

Amy looked like I felt. Times twenty. I could see past the softness in her face to the weight of the emotion she was holding back behind it. I tried to be present. And open. And present again. I tried to both soak up and add to the overwhelming feeling of unconditional love, all around us.

Sierra lived for more than six weeks after that. She died on a Friday afternoon, the second day of the major league baseball season, on her younger sister’s 21st birthday. That night I drove my nephew Harvey home from the hospital in Amy’s car, all by myself. I looked back at him in his car seat at every stop light. I watched the minutes until our arrival tick down on Google maps. I prayed, over and over again, that he be kept safe.

“We’re gonna make it, Harvey. Hold on tight.”

Sierra’s death was the worst of the worst of a terrible year. It was also the first of many opportunities life gave me to reflect on how I was living, and feeling, and being. The lessons of her death were the lessons of  her life and everything that came after it.

The lessons that are and were the same ones I’m always learning.

The weeks I spent visiting Sierra in the hospital reminded me of how special and unique she is. It stirred up grateful memories of the summer she changed my life at Camp Have-a-lot-of-fun. That summer I confronted my limitations as a leader, especially my willingness and ability to lead through inclusion, to invite and incentivize belonging, and to be accessible and inspiring for a broad range of strengths and personality types. Being close to her again reconnected me to the importance of listening and curiosity, of paying attention to the details of how other people think and feel and interpret the world. I spent an entire afternoon by her hospital bed listening to her personal thesis on comic book characters. I remember feeling both in awe of her brilliance and humbled by her courage but also disappointed in the ways I hadn’t made space for her in my life for years.

This year I struggled immensely with my own sense of belonging. I wondered where I fit personally in a peer group now mostly comprised of mothers to small kids. I wondered how to tactfully action feedback from my professional peers about “taking up too much space” without sacrificing my authentic voice or surrendering my aspiration for a world where all women take up as much space as they damn well please.

I felt, for the first time in five years, a sense of regret and sadness about leaving my career as a lawyer for all the fun I’ve had at lululemon.

My word of the year this year was “courage.” It was both a theme and a declaration. It was a source of accountability in moments where I wanted to say no and stay home and hide out until the anxiety subsided. Courage dragged me out of bed and out of my own head and reminded me over and over again that the anxiety never subsides, anyway.

There were moments of paralyzing fear and worry, like the night I drove my mom to the emergency room after her major surgery. Within seconds of our arrival at the check-in window, she disappeared behind a heavy, swinging door. She was immediately hooked up to an EKG machine and I was left alone in a cold waiting room, terrified and alone. I flashed on my life without my mom in it and wondered whether it was even worth living. I made mental phone calls to my brother and my dad and my nom’s close friends. I was half way through my call list, in tears, when I was summoned to meet her. We spent a couple of more hours waiting on hastily delivered feedback and opinions and too-long-delayed test results. I felt only partial relief. The prospect of being without her haunted me for weeks.

There were moments of incredible triumph. Like the top of a 9km bicycle climb to a cresting view of the Adriatic sea in Croatia. My sweaty skin tingled with the touch of the warm breeze. I felt every beat of my heart as it slowed to its normal, steady pace. I took deep breaths to calm the fatigue but also to remind myself to cherish every second of this incredible feeling of personal accomplishment and freedom.

I took risks as an activist and explored my boundaries in speaking my truth and sharing my story and expressing my values and beliefs. I talked to hundreds of strangers on their doorsteps about who we are and what we stand for and why their vote matters. I got up close and personal with the irrepressible threat of a democracy from our friends and neighbors continuing to watch Fox news.

I re-engaged with social justice, a mostly messy journey that required me to examine patterns of language and behavior I’d ignored for years. I remembered the inescapable and ongoing tension that comes with a commitment to intersectional feminism and dismantling white supremacy. I connected to a group of supportive, visionary white women who helped both navigate and sustain my commitment.

I cried more this year than any year I can remember. I cried alone in my car and out loud to my mom. I cried at the end of Crazy Rich Asians thinking about my college boyfriend and the defiant, multi-cultural life we almost had together. More times than I’d like to admit, I cried from my couch watching cable news. I cried to my boss and with my best friend and the day after the November election, I got choked up on a video call in front of my team. I wept uncontrollably from the stiff, uncomfortable, single bed in an airport hotel room watching the European CNN station cover child separation in the U.S.

All of the crying left me wondering if this was a particularly challenging year or if the arc of my adulthood bends towards more heartbreak and loss and sadness. I’ve considered whether my tears are an unavoidable consequence of getting older, or a symptom of global chaos, or hopefully a benefit of so many years of personal development work related to my vulnerability.

Regardless, I’m embracing the opportunity to cultivate more joy in every moment its available. To focus on it and amplify it and not let it be silenced and suffocated by the volume and weight of the joyless.

My hopes and dreams for the coming year are to be more present, more socially engaged and to actively seek out relationships with more humans, face to face. I will practice more yoga, and put down my phone more often, and be brave and bold in my decisions and actions. I will hold space for others and write things that are meaningful and do more to make the world better for everyone.

I will remember what it feels like to lose people so I can hold on tighter to the ones I haven’t lost.

Sending you lots of love and purpose and resilience in 2019.

 

 

After the fires

I’ve been quiet on social media since the election. It’s some combination of how busy I am this time of year at my job, and the emotional overwhelm resulting from the collective trauma of living in California right now.

I used to line dance at that bar in Thousand Oaks where another mass shooting tragically and unnecessarily took more young, innocent lives. I keep having flashes of a particular, vivid image from my time there. It’s of my college boyfriend standing alone looking sexy and brooding by the big wooden bar. I see him from the dance floor and I’m willing him over to me with my mind. It was my friend Tracy’s birthday. There was so much joy and love in the room that night. I’m haunted by the thought that it was precisely that type of moment that was suddenly, irreparably, interrupted by the sound of gun fire, a disruption that would be life altering for every, single person inside.

I’ve been up close and personal with wildfires twice in my adult life. Once after college when I was evacuated from the San Bernardino mountains where I lived and worked in outdoor education. Again, ten years later, when I spent a few hours on the floor of the Santa Rosa lululemon, talking to all sorts of folks who had lost everything. I’ve been around plenty of heartache and grief in my life but theirs was uniquely devastating. Like they’d been completely emptied of the things that keep us hopeful and centered. Like they were floating around in bodies that didn’t belong to them in a broken life that couldn’t possibly be theirs.

Unthinkable tragedies always remind me of my core belief that all of us are good and generous and loving. That while sometimes the expression of those parts of our humanity are suppressed or confused or misrepresented, they remain intact inside of us.

At the same time, I find myself frustrated by our collective willingness to help those who have been devastated by a natural disaster, while many among us continue to subscribe to political ideologies and policy making that undermine our ability to be generous and compassionate for those impacted by: poverty, institutional racism, homelessness, homophobia, mental illness, addiction, and other systemic issues that cause serious, life-changing harm every, single day. Systemic issues whose victims are no more responsible for the devastation they cause than those who have lost their homes in a fire.

Related, if you’re horrified by the air quality in Northern California but are going to keep voting for Republicans because you’re worried about a tax increase, maybe you consider examining that value system before the next election cycle. If you’re concerned at all about the amount of taxes you pay, you probably have more than enough already.

I know I do.

Nothing makes it more clear that we’re in this together than when a wildfire that physically touches just a few of us, has an impact that is felt far and wide, forever.

The air we breathe, and the economy we collectively generate and the fear that our kids might get murdered by a shooter while dancing with their friends at a birthday party or sitting at their desk at school are shared parts of our collective experience. We are all connected, in all of it, and our only hope for bettering ourselves and our communities and the lives we are living is our recognition of that fact and action in accordance with it.

I’m indescribably proud of the work I did in this election cycle. It was energizing and hopeful and rewarding. It was challenging, confronting and exhausting. It was only a tiny piece of the work required and it’s only just begun. I am committed to working more and harder and in better collaboration right now and into the future.

I hope you will join me along the way.

Sending you lots of love tonight. Whatever air you’re breathing, I’m breathing with you.

We’re all breathing together.

Brief thoughts on domestic abuse

In my life before lululemon I was a domestic violence family law attorney. I’ll never forget the first time I represented a survivor in court.

She’d come to my office the week before to prep for our appearance. She was smart and articulate and poised. She warned me that her kids’ dad, let’s call him Jim, was manipulative and charming. She said he and his own dad had a couple of good rackets going including one where they took her kids out shopping with them to steal from department stores. Grandpa would cause a distraction in the back of the store while playing with and riling up the kids, while dad would calmly walk out, undetected, with an armful of merchandise.* She shared that people who knew him loved him and the people who knew both of them could never believe the stories she’d tell them about him. The real him.

This is a standard description of many a domestic abuser.

Before our appearance I met Jim in the hallway. He winked at me as he shook my hand. He smiled.

I swiftly whipped out my paperwork and fast- talked him through how it was going to go down once we got into the courtroom. I let him know we were leaving with permanent orders and he was going to start paying child support immediately and that if he failed to, or refused, I’d attach his wages and take it from him instead.

I wasn’t there to fuck around.

Instantly his demeanor changed. His eyes narrowed and he leaned backward and put his hands up over his face as if to waive me off.

I told him we could agree now or we could fight it out inside but reminded him that he was unrepresented and I’d be speaking on my client’s behalf. The game has changed, I told him. She has a lawyer now.**

He turned his back on me and told me “I ain’t signing shit.” Then walked away.

Inside, our court appearance went just as I anticipated. Our opposing party was a bumbling fool and I was feisty and articulate.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Just as things started to go down hill for Jim, a commotion erupted in the back of the courtroom. There was Jim’s dad, dramatically clutching his chest and gasping for air. He rose up out of his seat then crashed sideways onto the floor in the aisle. When I looked over at my client in disbelief, she just rolled her eyes.

The hearing stopped. The man was dragged out of the courtroom by the bailiff, the ambulance was called, the whole thing.

The judge told us to come back in a week and when we did, we got everything we wanted.

Just as we suspected, Grandpa’s “heart attack” was fake.

Domestic abusers are cowardly and pathetic. They are the most vile expression of insecurity and incompetence. They often have tons of bravado and machismo but it’s always a thinly veiled cover for how terrible they feel about themselves inside. They cling to power and control by exploiting and manipulating those who are vulnerable, and soft and trusting.

I sat in countless tiny rooms with them to satisfy our meet and confer requirement. I talked to tons of them on the phone and faced a few dozen in court appearances. They always came in hot with conviction and a sense of valiance, only to be crippled by my lawyer suit and the fancy letters after my last name. The way the authority of my title and position hobbled them only verified their complete absence of self esteem and self worth. And that their aggression and abuse was feigned masculinity. False dominance.

Desperate. Despicable.

I believe in redemption and rehabilitation and with few exceptions, believe people are born good. I never condemned my opposing parties as irredeemable but I certainly acknowledged that they needed a lot of work to recover as decent human beings.

There is no defending a domestic abuser. There is no justification for abuse and there is no separating an act of domestic abuse from the person who committed it. You can’t beat your spouse at night then walk into your job the next morning and be an honorable person.

I’m tired of being poised and diplomatic in my analysis of the Trump administration and the current leadership of the Republican Party. I think they are both disgraceful and disgusting. They’re all clinging to power at whatever cost; frequently exploiting those who are most vulnerable to prop up their otherwise pathetic contributions to being alive. They do more harm than good. They continue to defend and excuse the indefensible and inexcusable. This latest bullshit is some of the most alarming but it’s equally just more of the same.

The only positive thing I can say about Trump is that he’s straightforward with all of us about who he is. He never tried to play us with a fake public persona. He’s honestly and transparently a misogynist, autocrat, racist, moron.

I almost have more disdain for the ones who are trying to masquerade as martyrs of liberty or defenders of democracy or heroes of the American dream. That look on Paul Ryan’s face, lately, makes me nauseous.

I really don’t care what contributions John Kelly has made to this country’s military. No amount of professional accomplishment, accolades or decoration can justify being a racist, or a liar, or a defender of abuse, of any kind.

I’m tired of feeling sad and anxious and disappointed.

I’m ready to feel feisty, and fired up, and ready to fight.

* I left my lawyer job and now have a career in retail and was surprised to learn this a pretty common approach to theft- who knew?

** I find the disparity between the outcomes for those who are represented and those who are not deeply problematic for a variety of reasons but as I always felt I was on the right side of the moral good, I took advantage of this particular systemic inequity.

Start Swimming

I used to tell a story to my yoga classes that I heard at my friend Mitchell’s bar mitzvah. It’s about the famous “parting of the Red Sea.” Most of the accounts in the spiritual texts describe the event as a miracle, the kind that just happens when faith and hope come together to manifest salvation.

The version I heard at the bar mitzvah describes people furiously and valiantly swimming and swimming, working together and fighting hard for what they needed. Only after the effort, and teamwork, and struggle, did the red seas finally part.

I particularly love this story because I believe in both the spiritual and the practical, the human and the divine, I think that kind words and conscious behavior create the environment for powerful actions.

Our thoughts and prayers are the foundation for how we do things, they cannot, themselves, replace the things that we do.

My personal value system is one of non violence. I’m anti-war and anti-aggression. I don’t think anyone should own guns for any reason and I don’t think any problem has ever been solved by violence of any kind.

But my beliefs are situated in a complex, varied system of laws and culture. They must co exist with my rights and obligations both as a human on this planet and a citizen of the United States.

What continues to frustrate me about gun violence in this country is our failure to meet the challenge to act every time we are met with an opportunity.

We are standing on the shoreline, clinging to our values and perspectives, unwilling to do the work to affect (and effect) change.

Gun violence, like absolutely everything, has more than one root cause. There are all sorts of complicated and intersecting issues here, some, like the legislation that governs access to and use of weapons, the way the media covers and responds to violence, and how we provide resources and support for mental illness are well within our control; some, like the individual thoughts and mindsets of the people who commit mass shootings, are admittedly, tragically, outside of it.

It seems absolutely ludicrous to me that we continue to unpack and focus on the latter, something we never could and never will be able to impact, as we shield ourselves from meaningful action on the former, the things we absolutely can do something about. We can’t control everything, but the things we can, we must.

Send your prayers and dedicate your yoga practice and tell your family you love them. Sending “light and love” to the world matters. It all does.

But the other things that matter, as much, if not more, are the concrete actions we take as we move forward. Call your representatives, both at the state and federal level. Tell them the outcome you’re seeking and what you need them to do to make it happen. Get involved in a 2018 primary campaign with a candidate who has a platform that explicitly addresses gun violence. Take a look at where you’ve been unwilling to sacrifice your personal freedoms for the protection of your countrymen, and what the cost of that has been, up until now, and will be, into the future. Acknowledge where you’ve stayed out of the debate about gun control because you’re meditating on healing or praying for unity or manifesting peace.

We are all in this together. And the red seas are not going to part for us all on their own.

Time to dive in and start swimming.

Acts of white supremacy

Sometime in the early summer of 2015, I found myself on the back porch of my apartment, on a Saturday night, at 3:00a.m. It was the fourth time I’d come outside in a tank top and underwear since 10pm.

I’d spent most of the night, and now early morning, negotiating with my neighbor about the volume of the music blaring from his patio, at what appeared to be, a pretty fun celebration. I’m a deep sleeper and noise doesn’t much bother me but for some reason the orientation of his speakers and my bedroom window made it sound like the beats were playing, at full volume, from my bedposts.

First, I tried to do the kind-but-assertive lady neighbor thing. Then used my “don’t fuck with me” domestic violence attorney voice, and finally got sassy, and fed up, and pretty pissed off.

So there, in the dark-but-light-enough that I probably should’ve put some pants on, leaning over a rickety wooden railing, I told my young, black, male neighbor that “If you don’t shut this down immediately, I’m going to call the cops.” And, in one of my darkest moments in recent memory, I continued, frankly, “I think we both know whose side they’ll be on.”

I’d been on crutches for five weeks and it was six hours past my bedtime. My knee hurt and my heart hurt and things all over my life were more painful and miserable than usual. I like to think in better physical and emotional form I would have acted better.

But I didn’t.

What I said that night was an act of white supremacy. I took my white privilege- in this case, my ability to live in a world where law enforcement is unquestionably my ally- and applied it to subordinate a person of color. My neighbor, for god’s sake. I didn’t intend it to be, but in acts such as these, it is the impact, not the intention, that matters.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a lot of thoughts but not a lot of words I felt fit to outwardly express them. There’s a piece of me that feels like I gave up my place at the discussion table of racial politics, years ago, when my life first started to resemble that of all the other affluent white people I know. I live in a gated community in a predominantly white neighborhood a mile from where I went to a high school lacking so much in diversity, when I was a teenager I thought we referred to people of color as “minorities” because they were rare.

True story.

I work with white people, practice yoga with white people and date white people. I grocery shop with white people, drink coffee with white people and recently, spent a week on vacation with nary a non-white person in sight.

I don’t aim to compare myself, or any of the white people described above, to white supremacists and neo-nazis, but I do think it’s important to examine the shared root causes of the type of hateful violence we witnessed last weekend and the fact that I can dwell in a diverse city, in a diverse state, and still only know, and interact with, white people. To ignore the institutional realities that create the conditions for each to occur is to oversimplify a complex set of historical and cultural issues that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the contours of race in this country.

I have mostly progressive friends on social media and I’ve appreciated a variety of articles, insights, charts and memes used to describe how we got here and how we might move forward. But for all of my consumption of them, I still feel empty, and a little lost.

On the plane ride to Hawaii I finished “between the world and me” practically in tears, moved so deeply I was at once stirred to action and totally paralyzed. Then, as our plane, mostly filled with white people, made its final descent, I promptly shut down my iPad and went right back to the same life I’ve been living for the last four years.

I don’t know what meaning I can bring to the conversation about race but I do know I want to be in it. I don’t know how to reconcile the life I choose with the politics I believe in. I still don’t know how to speak eloquently, and inclusively about race at my job, but I know I want to learn how to.

I don’t know what to tell my nephews about their whiteness but I do know it’s important for them to understand their place in racial politics, and history. It’s not enough to describe racism as overt acts and language of hate and superiority, they must understand the small and big ways their actions and choices and inactions work to affirm and reproduce, a system that has never created all men equal.

I don’t know what comes after this but I’m trying to stay open. Listening for what’s needed and trying to play a role in the solution, while observing how I remain, at least passively, a part of the problem.