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.

talking to women

Tonight a friend and colleague of mine posted about an experience she had being shamed by her Uber driver for not having kids. She’s happily married. In her 30s. Living a life she loves in a city she loves in a career she loves, and is good at.

My instant reaction was to feel frustrated and pissed off. I rolled my eyes thinking about all of the times I felt wrong, or weird, in the awkward silence following my “no” response to the question, “do you want kids?”

As the night wore on, I thought about how hard it is to meet the expectations of being a woman. How much judgment and scrutiny is applied to mothers of all kinds, while the decision of women to not be mothers is equally, if differently, criticized.

We are expected to be thin and flawless and beautiful forever, while time, and child rearing and things like stress, and the sun, are known, unavoidable assailants of those qualities.

We ought to be kind, and compassionate and loving and gentle but we should also lean in and stay strong and stand up for what we believe in.

We have to hustle harder and speak louder than our male counterparts but we also have to be more likeable, and collaborative and always put together.

We are tired, but we can’t complain.

When I was a summer camp counselor I tried to avoid telling young girls I liked their shoes, or their dress, while I turned to their older brothers and asked them to show me their muscles.

It was harder than it should be.

As an adult, I’ve adopted a similar commitment where I try to avoid asking women in long term relationships when they’re getting married and asking newly married women when they’re having kids.

It is a perfectly normal way to engage each other but it is also an important, invisible way that we reenforce the ever growing expectations we have of each other, and ourselves.

Just as easily, we can ask women in long term relationships about their five year goals and ask newly married women what in their lives they are most proud of. Or excited for.

We can ask little girls the same things we ask their brothers.

We can create space for women to be tired, or loud, or quiet or angry. We can accept them if they are thin or beautiful, or perfectly made up, but also if they aren’t that day, or ever.

We can celebrate more and criticize less. Each other, and ourselves.

afraid of the ocean

Until I was in my twenties, I was afraid of the ocean. The sound and the force of the waves always felt too big, and too strong for my tiny body and lifelong anxiety made me a prisoner of my own fear. I’d watch my brother run at full speed towards the breaking tide then dive, head first into waves, that from where I was standing, looked twice as big as him. I’d hold my breath until his sandy face surfaced, beaming and triumphant. He’d glance towards the shore for a moment, only to disappear again, right away.

Discipline and moderation and work ethic were easy for me, even as a kid. I was so envious of how he made fun and adventure look effortless and energizing.

I spent my early adulthood in west Los Angeles. I chose college at ucla for a million reasons, none of which were proximity to the pacific coastline, which still felt threatening and intimidating. But, as the whole of the city often does to transplants, the ocean seduced me.

No matter the chaos and noise and busyness of everything else, the ocean always felt quiet, and comforting, and peaceful. In a place where I struggled to feel belonging, the shoreline always felt like home.

My “only the mountains” love for nature evolved to include sunsets on the beach in Santa Monica, cartwheels in the freshly wet sand and even, eventually, diving through the waves.

We’re leaving Kauai today so last night I walked to the beach at sunset. The familiar sounds and sensations, thousands of miles from where I first fell in love with them, reminded me of our infinite, undeniable connection to everything. It brought me back to what I’m seeking on this vacation: connection to myself.

My life now is busier and noisier than it ever was in Los Angeles. I live in a small town, but my mind and body race at the exhausting pace of the big city. I’ve mostly lost touch with nature and months, sometimes years, bridge the time gap between visits to the ocean.

Among the many things I take away from this vacation is the reminder that my life is of my own creation. If I only choose work, hustle and grit, that’s all I’ll ever experience. If I don’t make space for peace, it can’t make its way in.

Sending you love and ease and stillness, or whatever it is that you know you need, but haven’t taken the time to seek.

On redemption

I’ve watched or listened to almost every, awful inning of Giants’ baseball this season. The blurry streams from my ipad, the delayed radio broadcast on my phone’s mlb app, my mom’s 60 inch tv intermittently flashing to cable news, have all delivered mostly heart break and disappointment.

A few weeks ago the Giants signed a pitcher from the Texas Rangers who was let go from that organization after an arguably more disastrous start to the season than San Francisco. He had something like a 13 ERA. If you don’t follow or understand baseball, that’s a really important statistic for a pitcher, and that number is pretty much as bad as it can be. The guy had been dominant the previous year but appeared to have completely, irreparably lost his way.

Fans on twitter and sports radio universally rolled their eyes as the move seemed like another symptom of total meltdown in the Giants organization.

His first appearance in San Francisco looked to be confirmation of such.

Then, inexplicably, he started throwing well. A few pitches at a time and then quickly entire innings. He now appears to be an effective closer on a team whose won six straight games.

I’m baffled, but also mega inspired.

This weekend I’m feeling confused about how to appropriately celebrate the fourth of July on Tuesday. I’ve always been a bit queasy about the unequivocal affirmations of American freedom and liberty on “Independence Day”, but in the current political climate it feels downright absurd. It seems more appropriate to be silent, and meditative, to declare the occasion one of mournful self-examination about the nation we’ve become.

Then, as silly as it sounds, I think about Sam Dyson. About how even, and especially, when we lose our way, commitment, effort, courage and resilience can still light the path to restoration.

We are only as far gone as our last, worst act.

We are only as good as our next best one.