Nice roads in red states

In 2002, three days before Christmas, I got a speeding ticket. I was driving east on highway 50 in Sacramento, just past the Bradshaw exit, with a car full of my friends. We were on our way to look at Christmas lights, our hearts filled with the joy of being together, our conversations bubbling over with the excitement of being reunited after our first semester at college.

I’d just turned 19.

I had a reputation (and habit) of driving fast. I spent my adolescence bravely avoiding any semblance of rebellion in hopes of extending the life expectancy of both my parents, whose lives had been undoubtedly made shorter by my older brother’s tumultuous teenage years. But behind the wheel, I let the desire for freedom and irresponsibility seep through my thick wall of perfectionism, making my right foot heavy on the gas pedal.

That night though, I distinctly remember a casual and moderate cruise through the brisk Northern California darkness, maybe 4 to 5 miles per hour above the posted limit. I was too engrossed with my friends to engage in my ordinary ritual of breaking the rules of the road.

As soon as the CHP pulled me over, I felt unfairly victimized by his likely desire to stack up a few more citations before the new year and the relative emptiness of the pre-holiday highway. I protested immediately, urging him to admit to his error. I listened patiently and intently as he responded with confidence and authority, then hurriedly wrote out the ticket for “85+.”

A couple weeks later, I met the officer again. In court. He sat in a chair on what resembled a TV movie “witness stand” as the judge asked him questions about the “night in question.” I plead my own case, reminding the officer that he’d claimed he tracked me with his “odometer” despite pulling me over within seconds of us encountering each other on the freeway. The CHP, visibly annoyed by my efforts, couldn’t mount a rebuttal to my argument and the judge reduced my fine to the minimum. It was an incomplete victory, but an important one. I felt proud. and vindicated. And like years of standing up for myself and speaking my truth and doing the things girls my age rarely learn to do had finally made a meaningful, financial impact.

To this day, my best friend (who was both in the car and at the hearing) tells this story to help people understand my personality, disposition and determination, and/or, if she needs them to know (as she puts it) not to fuck with me.

I share this story as a back drop for the one I’m about to tell. To paint a picture of the type of confidence and personal will I’m operating with. To help you understand that I’m not exactly the type of woman who accepts things – information, arguments, ideas – at face value. I am relentlessly skeptical and almost unwavering in my willingness to stand up and say what I think. It is both a superpower and a liability. I embrace it as both.

Nearly a decade after my first court appearance, I went to law school.

During my third year – mostly spent learning how to cook, going to the beach and occasionally getting too drunk – I made friends with a Republican. He was handsome, tall, blonde and white. He was (is?) incredibly charming and hilarious, not to mention the type of brilliant that is both understated and effortless, intoxicating and infuriating, attractive and repugnant.

We had an instant, if unlikely, bond. We had a brief romantic relationship but mostly engaged in a deep and meaningful friendship. I loved and trusted him so much so that I spent a month traveling in Southeast Asia with him, after refusing to fly anywhere or leave the country since I was a kid.

I don’t even remember why we were talking about it, or anything else about the conversation but there was a time when he plainly asserted to me that “roads are better in red states.”

And I believed him.

He’d grown up in Colorado, which is now reliably liberal but back then was still clinging to its wild west conservative cowboy values. He went to college in Virginia, an experience I came to regard as shaping his white, conservative, male, identity in the way that my west coast public education shaped my intersectional feminist self.

For years I carried this “fact” around with me. I remember driving home (fast) to Sacramento, rolling my eyes with disappointment every time I hit a bump or dipped into a pothole. The night before Halloween in 2014, I got a flat tire driving to a friend’s house when my car struck a pile of loose debris in the middle of the road. Stranded on the side of the freeway, in the dark, I remember wondering whether I should risk my reproductive rights by moving to Arizona for the year-round sunshine and promise of smooth roads and the related assurance that I’d never be in this position again.

Two years after that, I moved to Michigan, a state where the Republican governor knowingly, and unapologetically, poisoned an entire city, disrupting and ruining the lives of thousands of his constituents. I lived in the state for 8 months. I made coffee every morning with bottled water. I put countless pounds of plastic waste into our oceans and waterways between January and August, unwilling to surrender my trust to the corrupt state government.

In late Spring, I was scrambling to an outdoor soccer game, cutting in and out of traffic on the extra-wide suburban Detroit streets when my Ford Focus veered partially onto the sidewalk, jolted sideways by a collision with a gaping fissure in the road. It was sudden and startling enough to elevate my heart-rate and bring my attention back to the moment. As I collected myself and steadied my vehicle, I thought back to that now 4 year old conversation and how “the roads are better in red states.”

I’d been driving on terrible roads in a red state for months.

I think a lot of us form views, opinions and beliefs in much the same way I came to accept my friend’s assertion about the quality of infrastructure in conservative led municipalities (my words, not his). 1. Someone we trust, admire, respect or love shares something with confidence, especially on a subject we know little about or haven’t yet formed an opinion. 2. The explanation or belief seems plausible and rational 3. We accept it, and 4. When we encounter this issue in our lives we look for evidence to affirm it.

The problem is, most folks (including me!) are speaking from our myriad experiences, biases and cultural contexts. We aren’t expressing truth or facts. We’re almost always sharing an opinion, in many cases, an underdeveloped or uninformed one. In the worst cases, these formulations are racist, biased or bigoted ones. This is especially true of the folks who have the most access and ability to assert their voice and values – disproportionately wealthy, white, men (like my friend!). To make matters worse, most of us live in segregated communities, were educated in segregated schools, and are now further polarized and isolated by social media platforms designed to reproduce, concentrate and insulate opinions and ideas that are most like our own. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with voters (especially women) whose political values and beliefs are admittedly a product of the family they grew up in or the person they’re married to. In an even greater percentage of conversations, I encounter folks who don’t think they have political values or beliefs at all.

If I had it to do over again, my conversation with my friend might have gone something like this.

“Why do you say that?”

“Where did you learn that?”

“How did you come to that belief?”

“That sounds like a generalization, what information do you have to back that up?”

We could have engaged in a dialogue that would have helped me have a starting point to further investigate. Maybe I would have challenged him to provide evidence, or helped him give a more nuanced explanation. Maybe I would have held myself accountable to follow-up and find out more, so I’d be better prepared next time I encountered this position. It’s likely that the both of us would be better, more engaged, more thoughtful speakers and citizens as a result.

I know for me, I’m most vulnerable to accepting questionable information when I’m in a relationship or situation where harmony and compliance are more comfortable than challenge, dissonance and discord. I’ve experienced this in my family, at work, in school, and maybe, most memorably, in relationships with men who pretend they like how smart and assertive I am, but really prefer I be less abrasive, and more agreeable.

I think the trick is to cultivate relationships of honesty, trust and mutual respect, and to carve out safe spaces to explore complex topics, ask questions of each other and engage in discussion, even disagreement, with courage and love. I don’t want to downplay how difficult it is to act this way in real life. It is a challenge I’ve taken on, imperfectly and inconsistently, but with ongoing commitment and dedication. I liken it to other practices and disciplines that can be painful and messy, but are worth it, especially for their long-term, sustainable benefits. As I used to tell my new power yoga students, “it never gets easier but it does get more fun.”

Back in 2012, I had the type of friendship that certainly would have endured even a heated disagreement about local governance. The friendships, the relationships, worth having are that way too. And we are all likely to be better informed, more compassionate, more engaged voters and neighbors and parents and leaders for having  them.

Life is easier, but not always better, driving (fast) on smooth, flat roads.

“He is risen”

“Did you hear the news?”

My brother and I have been exchanging the same series of text messages on Easter Sunday for more than a decade. My memory is foggy now, but I think the tradition started as a phone call. We’d both race to be the first one to call the other, and then as soon as the line connected, race to be the first to ask the other if they’d heard the news.

Like many inside jokes and obscure rituals among people who have lifelong friendships, the origin of the Easter exchange is a mystery. However it began, it remains an enduring symbol of the special bond we share as siblings, the unique sense of humor that has always connected us, and a lifetime of shared experiences that shape who we are.

Growing up, Easter was one of my favorite celebrations. My parents were both raised in the church and my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Despite their rich connections to the Christian faith, we never attended church regularly. Our collective values were shaped by the Christian lessons of my parents’ childhood, even if we only showed up to formally worship on the “important” Christian holidays.

Among my most vivid recollections of Easter are those of Sunrise service on the big, open, lawn of the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian church.  I loved the smell of the meticulously manicured landscape – freshly cut grass and impeccably well-kept flowers, bushes and trees. I loved the sensation of my body warming from almost too-cold-to-stand-it, to comfortably relieved by the bright sun creeping up over the horizon, washing my face in just enough light to remove the chill.

I’ve thought a lot this week about Easter morning. About the bright colors in the dresses lining the pews and the blossoms of Spring’s bounty lining the crowded sidewalks outside the church. I’ve thought about the story of the resurrection in the bible, and what it means to people of faith. I’ve thought about how it felt to come to life in my body as the sun fought through the darkness of the pre-dawn morning, bringing the whole world into light.

The thing about the texts with my brother is that he himself is a miraculous story of second coming.

In ways and times, some that I can’t even remember now, I’ve lost him and gotten him back again.

His story, in its truth and facts, and especially how my lived experience and adult identity have been shaped by them, reminds me that both love and spirit are unassailable. It reminds me that the darkest, most unbearable pain can sometimes give way to immeasurable joy and gratitude. It reminds me that even a glimmer of hope and waning patience can sometimes triumph over consistent disappointment and long periods of despair. It reminds me that redemption, recovery, and even resurrection, are made possible by both spiritual belief  and personal conviction.

Whether you believe the stories of the bible as written truth, or, as I do, a mythical collection that helps us understand and make meaning out of the sometimes heartbreaking complexity and inexplicable tragedy of being human, the lesson of the resurrection is the same. It teaches us about hope and resilience. It calls to mind the power of faith and truth. It helps us endure the barely tolerable chill of darkness, while we wait for the warmth of the sun to reemerge.

My favorite chapters of my brother’s story are just now being written. They are filled with the heart-opening love I have for my nephews, his sons, and the over-flowing gratitude I feel in their presence. My nephews are the incarnation of my brother’s resurrection, and an expression of the deepest joy of his life. They have his spirit, his humor, and his relentless determination- their lives made possible by his courage, his ability, his willingness to rise again.

I woke up already missing the day we would have spent together. The morning is cloudy and cold, my mood, damp and uneasy. I’m feeling the weight of an Easter without my brother and his sweet boys. But, as I’m writing, my body softens, the sun starts to burn through the clouds, and I notice a text back from my brother:

“He is risen.”

Hey, it’s your aunt (again)

To my sweet boys:

The first thing I want you all to know is that you are brave and resilient. You will all continue to shine a big, bright light into the dark world you entered. You will fill your grandparents with joy, and laughter, and a sense of purpose. You will be the reason they get through this. The image of your sweet faces, and the memory of how you smell will sustain them through challenging moments. They’ll day-dream of a hopeful future, watching the late-summer sunshine bounce off your back while you gleefully race through the sprinklers in their back yard, spinning wildly, boundlessly, fearlessly in circles, giggling and screaming. Those screams and giggles will sound and feel especially soothing, an expression of a freedom we have newly learned to cherish.

Your spirit, even when trapped behind the tiny, distant screen of an iphone, is a gentle salve for the loneliness, fear, and anxiety.

The second thing I want you know is that by the time you read this, you’ll think of me as an activist. You’ll grow up learning about social justice and civil rights and how democracy depends on our attention, awareness and participation. I’ll ungracefully talk to you about what it means to be an affluent, white male in America, and how much responsibility you have because of your identity. This will be annoying when you’re younger and awkward when you’re a teenager, but if all goes to plan it will be an important reason you grew up to not be a douchebag.

Today, though. I have a confession.

I owe you an apology.

This hell you’re living through. This confusing, terrifying, disorienting crisis that’s stripped your life of your loved ones, trapped you inside with your parents, and undoubtedly harmed your impressionable, sensitive, delicate, little souls forever, was totally preventable. And I didn’t do enough to prevent it.

You see, before Harvey and Anders were even born I moved to Michigan. I lived there in 2016, the last year we elected a President. I spent 8 months in what we sometimes call the American rust belt. I lived 11 miles from one of the most desperate, poorest cities in the country. I lived in a middle class suburb, one of the few in the region that survived the 2008 recession. To get to the Target close to my apartment I had to drive by three empty strip malls. On the way to my summer soccer games I drove through entire communities that looked like the ghost towns we visited on educational family vacations when me and my brother were kids.  I heard from locals about the culture and values of grit and hard work and blue collar ethics. I took notice that the economic recovery and progress I’d witnessed, and normalized, on the west coast, hadn’t made it’s way to the middle of the country. I listened to conversations that reminded me that I mostly occupy a progressive, political bubble. I witnessed in the structure, organization and composition of the city and suburbs, numerous, constant, reminders of the systemic racism I’d basically been ignoring for the previous three years.

I moved back to California a couple of weeks after Donald Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination for President.

Throughout the primary season, I felt haunted by a nagging, persistent feeling of dread and anxiety. It felt like a tingle in the back of my neck caused by the ongoing clench of my back teeth and tightness in my jaw. Sometimes the sensation migrated to the back of my skull and took on a voice of worry. It never got louder than a whisper but the message was always crystal clear.

I knew Trump could get elected. I never admitted it out loud and I remained openly confident as I championed my long-time heroine, Hillary Clinton, and prematurely celebrated her historic female presidency.

But deep down, what I knew from my education, earlier years of activism, and especially, those transformative 8 months in Michigan, made it undeniably possible that Trump could be President.

And basically, I did nothing.

Here we are. There are two more of you than there were when he got elected and we are living in an unimaginable hellscape. Nothing, not even the most horrifying, egregious, corrupt and inhumane policies and actions, has surprised me about the Trump presidency. Even out of my worst fears, I couldn’t have constructed this, unique nightmare. Every time I get emotional about this crisis it’s because of you. I am wrecked by the unknowable impact this is making on your precious lives. I vibrate with rage when I think about the toll this could take on how you process emotions, or engage in relationships or,  interact with the world as you grow up. I’m overwhelmed by a particular, defeating sadness when I think about your tender hearts, broken and confused by an upside-down reality we can’t explain or help you understand.

I lose my breath when I picture myself, four years ago, knowing better and sitting on my hands. I want to reach back through my historical timeline and shake myself (vigorously) into action. I want to scream in the face of ambivalence until I move myself to do something to alter this horrifying, unforgivable reality I could have saved you from.

What I can do, what I will do, is be better for you. This summer and fall, when we are hopefully reunited to dance in your grandmarm’s bedroom or chase each other through the house, I will lay myself out to get Trump out of the White House. Fueled by how it feels to be with you, I will stay committed to make sure we don’t have to be separated, ever again. Because I owe you so much more than my own commitment, I promise to engage and motivate others to understand the impact of their own inaction. I will ask them to think about the people who mean the most to them and plead with them to give up a few minutes, or hours, of their week, to help create the world they want those people to live in.

After we defeat Trump, I will squeeze you and snuggle you and drink you in. I will fill myself up with the gratitude of your being and will remind myself that this is only the beginning. The life I picture for you is only possible with relentless activism and the type of tireless campaign for change that is rarely rewarding enough to keep propelling us forward. When I feel challenged, fatigued or discouraged, I will find you on Facetime, or even better, in real life. I will look into those still bright eyes, miraculously still  overflowing with possibility and wonder and forgiveness, and remember what I promised you:

To be better. No matter what.

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.