Fourteen

Fourteen steps between what was
and what will be.

Fourteen dreams hesitant dreams of tomorrow
while hugging the teddy bears of the past
in secret.

Fourteen hides inside her room
whispering obscure thoughts
but sometimes opens the door
and invites her family in.

Fourteen has her own opinion
and ideas.
She does not want to be told what to do
or how to do it.
Yet she gets angry when she makes mistakes.

(Fourteen’s mother slowly learns to let go and let grow.)

Emotions coalesce inside fourteen
bubbling around in a multi-flavored stew
bursting out in different forms at the slightest provocation
or change.

Now exuberantly happy.
Now in the depths of despair.
Now in the quietness of confusion.
Now in the babbling silliness of enthusiasm.

So far not in the heartbreak of love.

The flavors of fourteen mix and mingle
into a life that is full of adventure
but also loneliness;
full of possibility
but also fear.

But fourteen has yet to learn of her own strength
and that
even with the unknown
and a world telling her she can’t, she shouldn’t, she won’t
we can see the truth coming out.

She can! She should! She will

(And fourteen’s mother will be there cheering her on!)

Happy Birthday to my wonderful, intelligent daughter! I can’t believe how time has flown, and how much you have grown.  Love “Mumsy”

To Those Who Said “You Don’t March for Me”

Dear Women:

There are some who said we did not march for all women, but only for women who think the same way as everyone at the march.

In a crowd that numbered millions (across the world), I doubt we all had the same thoughts on every issue.

I know my thoughts were everywhere as I moved through the streets of Washington, D.C. I agreed with some statements, I disagreed with others. I sometimes felt confident, and then I felt uncomfortable. I examined the discomfort and moved through it. I learned from it. The reality was more important than my own discomfort. I was surrounded by people: young, old, male, female, gender fluid, trans, white, black, asian, mixed, Christian, Muslim, Jew, unknown . . .  The one thing that connected us was a belief in the power of peaceful protest and love.

Because yes, we were surrounded by love.

At one point someone fell out of a tree. Within seconds, a call moved down the street for a doctor. A doctor appeared. A moment later, a call moved down the street for an ambulance (as cell phones weren’t working well at this point). And then, the entire street near me MOVED OVER to allow an ambulance through.

That is what we were marching for.

We were marching for us all. We were marching for the rights of everyone to live life fully, believing what and how they want to believe, loving who and how they want to love. We were marching to give you the freedom to have differing thoughts and opinions.

If you want to believe that you are the property of men, that you deserve less than men, that you shouldn’t be out in the work place equal to men, that your place is in the home, raising child after child, and that the decisions about your body belong to everyone but yourself . . .than it is your right to live life that way.

By that, I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with staying at home with your children. That is the whole point, it is all YOUR CHOICE, and nobody should tell you differently.

I marched so you can make your own choice. But YOUR BELIEF should not affect how other people live.

I finally understand, the problem lies in your believing in yourself. Your choice is not diminished by other people making other choices. Repeat that to yourself: Your choice is not diminished by the choices of others.

I get it. I understand that there was a lot of support for Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood at the rally. There were a lot of statements supporting LGBTQIA rights, or the rights of immigrants. There was a lot of discussion about equal pay, equal marriage, and the right to live without fear. You may disagree with some of these issues, but that is okay. It only becomes problematic when you try to say there is only ONE WAY to believe and all the rest are going to be damned for believing differently.

There are many ways to believe. There are many ways to live. That is what makes this country great.

The one issue that divides us the most, I believe, is that of abortion. I am sure you have heard this before, but you have to understand that Pro-Choice does not equal Pro-Abortion. Nobody is fighting to say “let’s all go get abortions.” No, we are fighting to say that women’s bodies belong to ourselves, and that we have the right to control how those bodies are used. While you may believe that life begins at conception, others believe that life begins when the baby can survive on its own, and some at birth. I can’t prove which one is correct, but it doesn’t matter. We will never agree on this, but agreeing to disagree would solve a lot of problems.

I marched for the right to disagree.

I am sorry that you saw this march as anything other than what it was. It was not whining because a candidate lost, it was uniting across difference to say we expect better of the world, of ourselves, and of our government.

So, sisters (and brothers) you may not believe it, but we were, indeed, marching for you as well.

Sincerely, and with peace in my heart,

A woman who marched for you.

The In Between Time

I am in the “in between” . . .

The time between the beginning of the new year and the beginning of another semester. The time between the end of a government that gave me hope and the beginning of a government that riddles me with fear. The time between the person I was, and the person I have yet to become.

The in between.

I sit here and think of all the things I should be doing. Writing. Organizing. Creating something new. Making connections with people to help me build another life. Looking for more work to help us afford the life we have, and live the life we dream of living.

But I am also in between dreams. I am in between words. I have many stories yet to tell, but they will not speak to me. I have many ideas wanting to grow, and they lie silent. I have many ideas waiting to grow into reality, but they lie fallow in the in between.

I am in between myself and who I want to be.

Sometimes it is lonely here. I listen to the voices of those who are not in between, and wonder will I ever find the other side? Will I ever make it through?

But here is the thing about the in between. It is never permanent. It can’t be because otherwise the “in between” would really be the end. It is a moment between possibilities. It is precious time where learning happens, where the body reinvigorates itself, where time becomes meaningless, and thoughts can wander until they find a home.

I am in the in between, but slowly I will find my way through it.

Thoughts on ALLEGIANCE and the Man Who Will Never be My President

What does it mean to give someone or something allegiance? In this country, we are asked to do this whenever we recite the pledge. By definition, it means we are giving our loyalty to some cause, nation, or ruler.

But what happens when that cause, nation, or ruler turns against us? What happens when it demands our allegiance without respecting the rights we have as living, breathing people?

Last night I watched the filmed presentation of ALLEGIANCE, the Broadway musical inspired by George Takei’s real life experience being placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. I wish I had seen it live while it was still on Broadway, because there were a few too many closeups for my viewing pleasure in this version. I wanted to see the beautiful and meaningful staging of the live production. But that was my only complaint, as the musical reminded me, yet again, of how important the arts are to our understanding of the world and toward making change.

My Response last night

This musical shares the story of one of our countries most shameful choices–one that many don’t think about or even acknowledge. It also reveals the struggle that comes from wanting to do what is right in the face of so much wrong:

  • Should citizens of a country fight for that country, even when the country has treated them as less than citizens?
  • Does allegiance to family come first? To ideals (like not fighting for a country that has illegally imprisoned your family)? Or to country?
  • What form does resistance take, in a world gone mad?

My journey through this production was one of tears, laughter, fear, soul-searching, and joy. My heart soared with inspiration when I heard this song:

It reminded me that the only way to fight the coming storm is to be stronger than before, and to stand together with other women and men who value justice and equality for all. The fight does not mean, however, that I have to pledge my allegiance to a person who, I believe, has allegiance to only three things in this world:

  1. himself
  2. his family
  3. his money

For that is the reality of our president-elect. He does not care about this country. If he did he wouldn’t have rolled over to Russia, revealing his belly and privates for licking. He doesn’t care about creating a more peaceful world. If he did, he would make an effort at understanding international relations and not pushing buttons (both literal and metaphorical).

(For those of you who argue that “at least Russia isn’t bombing us as they would have with HRC”–see the above statement about his rolling over for belly licks.)

He doesn’t care about making America better, because if he did he wouldn’t be making cabinet choices and plans that will destroy the lives of everyone except his wealthy friends, his family, and his own financial security.

So where do I give my allegiance? I give it to the people of this world (not just this country) who are fighting to make it a better place for EVERYONE. I give it to the earth and the environment that sustains us. I give it to people who recognize that love has more value than money ever will. I give it to my family, my friends, and people whose lives have touched mine–people who create a web of connection that makes us stronger.

I give it to myself–to stand up for what I believe in and to be strong enough to fight when I see injustice being done.

I will not, however, give allegiance to a government that does not support ALL of its people, and a ruler who will never stand for the things I value most.

Where does your #allegiance lie?

Bullies Win . . . Because we Let Them.

My daughter is in 8th grade. She plays the saxophone, and this year as a pre-freshman she was asked to join the high school marching band. She loved it.

She worked hard, practiced a lot, and improved as a musician.

Recently, she was assigned the 1st part in the music she is learning for the next Middle School concert. Yay!

Except that one girl, who used to play 1st, is now playing 2nd, and she is not happy about it. In typical middle school fashion, she is showing her displeasure in subtle but unpleasant ways–dirty looks, taking my daughter’s seat at the lunch table (and forcing her to sit elsewhere), etc.

Luckily, I have a great kid who sees it for what it is. She finds it annoying, but isn’t going to let it get her down.

I am proud of her. At the same time, though, I wonder if I should be teaching her to fight back.

We live in a world where the bullies have won. In this world, people who believe in kindness, listening, compromise, searching for truth, and peaceful approaches to disagreements are being pushed aside for whoever can scream the loudest, lie the most believably, or wield the biggest weapons and the most violent emotions.

We are told to cave, to roll over, to show our bellies and lick our wounds in silence.

And we do it.

This applies to politics. This applies to life. For some reason, it seems that as a society we have decided to let the bullies win at all costs.

I just read an article suggesting that HRC should release her electoral delegates to vote for an appropriate Republican candidate, because even though she won the popular vote by 2.5 million people if the electoral college chose her, she wouldn’t be supported and would be a lame duck. WHAT? Translation, roll over, accept your loss, and put a person who didn’t even come close to winning the nomination into power so that the party of BULLIES wins again (while removing the biggest orange bully of them all). Face it, in its current incarnation the GOP is a party of bullies. They weren’t always like that, but that is how they have acted over the last 8 years, and that doesn’t look likely to change.

But this wasn’t supposed to be a political post. No, instead this is a personal one. I am wondering when enough is enough. When do I stop rolling over and start fighting back?

I have students who are bullies. One student in particular this year, who feels (without actual evidence) that I am being unfair and biased against her. She feels unwelcome in my class. There is nothing I can do or say to make her feel differently, because that is her perception. She also seems to think she knows the most of anyone in the room, and therefore I will always be grading her incorrectly. How is she a bully? In this class participation and attendance are a large portion of the grade. To me, part of participation includes attitude. If I grade her fairly based on that aspect, then her grade would naturally drop. If I do that, though, then she will most likely bring further complaints against me. Who has the power in this situation? Do I stand up for my right to grade as I see fit, or do I let the bully win?

You know the answer, and it is breaking my soul.

When do I stop rolling over? When do I say pacifism is not an answer anymore? When do I fight back and say bullies will not win?

I’m trying, but I can’t do it alone.

So another bully wins again.

But I will no longer stay silent.

Letters, Stories, and Future Projects

I failed #NaNoWriMo this year. It’s not that I didn’t write, but that my writing was all over the place, as were my emotions as I reacted to . . . well, you know what I reacted to.

I am disappointed with myself, but I also know that my heart wasn’t in it. I found myself in the “why bother” stage of writing, when it felt like my words were futile. My current manuscript can’t seem to find a home, although I am not giving up hope. The other ideas I am working on haven’t found their voice yet, or I haven’t found mine. They are coming out in pieces, which is fine, but it did not make for an easily flowing 50,000 words.

I know that my project is about the stories that bring us together. I know that my next project has to somehow include my attempt at healing the rifts that divide us.

That’s a tall order.

The beginning of a letter to Maggie
The beginning of a letter to Maggie

But this morning I woke up with an idea to get me started. A new LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN! (The link leads to my first time doing this)

When I first launched P.O.W.ER I wrote cards and letters to everyone I had an address for (although some came back, so the addresses were wrong). Call me crazy, but I miss the days of actually sending and receiving letters through the mail. I truly believe that, if we are ever going to be the change we want to see in the world, we need to start understanding each others stories. I believe in the power of words, of creativity, of art, to make the world a better place. So, for sake of my own sanity, and because I want to know more stories in this world, I am starting a personal letter writing campaign. No, this isn’t about politics–it’s about people. Here is my plan, I will write a letter to anyone who wants to receive one from me, whether I know you well or not. All I ask, in return, is two things: 1) write back and 2) write someone else a letter sometime.

The problem with my P.O.W.ER letter writing campaign, though, was that I began to get repetitive with what I was writing, and so I lost steam. To change that, I ask one more thing from you. If you are interested in getting some actual mail from me, please respond below with a question, a phrase, a word, a topic and that is what I will write about. Then, email me your address, just in case I don’t have it.

I can’t promise to write quickly, but I do promise to write. I know this may seem silly in the face of all the challenges ahead, but I believe the stories that connect us are the ones we need to share.

 Lisa

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What Lists am I On?

Did you hear about the new website called Professor Watchlist that seeks to “expose and document” professors who supposedly “discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”? Yes . . . it’s a thing.

While my name is (not yet) on there, I tend to ask students to question society, to challenge perspectives, to think critically. I include readings and course material that represent diverse races/cultures/sexualities/belief systems, etc. I try to allow for alternative views, including conservative ones, but the I believe that education should be about introducing people to other ways of thinking so that when one forms an opinion it is based on knowledge not just emotion or conspiracy theories. When I assign research projects, I require my students to find sources that represent opposing perspectives, so that people can make well-rounded arguments.

Someday, I suppose . . . all of this will put me on “The List.”

the-list-of-doom

This made me think about all “the lists” I might be placed on soon . . . lists that mean that life is NOT “normal” and that people have a right to be afraid.

The Jewish List

I remember years ago being surprised when I started receiving mail that was specifically target to the Jewish population, even though I did not belong to a synagogue at the time. There may have been no official registry, but this “list” exists somewhere.

Should I be afraid? Well, when CNN decided to ignore and normalize the question “Are Jews people?” . . . the simple answer is yes.

But, I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to be treated as something other. I refuse to be silent. (And, as a side-note, even though I am on this list, it will not stop me from registering as Muslim if it comes down to it).

People Married to Someone of a Different Race

Did you know that the year before I was born, my marriage would not have been legal? Now, I realize that is not an issue under discussion now, but in a world ruled by white supremacists who feel threatened about the purity of the race . . . this, too, is a list that could be problematic.

Artists of all Types

Over the past few days our president-elect, probably as a diversionary tactic, deflected attention from his settling a lawsuit and other horrific things by picking fights with the theatre community, a television show, and the media. Many people made light of this, but history tells me that we need to be even more alert. There is a reason that artists tend to be attacked, imprisoned, and killed in despotic regimes. There is a reason that one of the first things to go is freedom of speech. Examples. like the cultural revolution in China, exist throughout history. Why should we think this is any different?

Feminists

Perhaps the most dangerous list of all, now. I am proud to say I am a feminist. I believe that we should all be equal. I believe that people should be able to choose how they live their lives, as long as they do no harm to others. But, our government has now been taken over by a bunch of men who fear women in power, with the support of some women who fear women in power. This is a list that I choose to be on, but it is a list that carries danger with it.

The “I will not be silent” list.

This is a list of my own creation. This is the list where I say, label me as you wish but I will not stop fighting for my rights and the rights of other. My name may be on many lists, even ones I haven’t yet thought of, but I make this promise . . . my name will go down as one who has fought on the side of goodness, while the names of the new leaders of our country will only live on in infamy.

I’m okay with that.

Will you join me?

Racist Does not Mean Dumb or Deplorable

“The people America has forgotten about are the ones who voted for Donald Trump. It does not matter if you agree with Trump. It does not matter if you believe that these people voted for a candidate who won’t actually help them. What matters is that the red electoral college map was a scream for help, and we’re screaming racist so loud we don’t hear them. Hatred didn’t elect Donald Trump; People did.” (Victoria Sanders, “Hate Didn’t Elect Donald Trump; People Did)

Please, read what I am saying before you react.

As I struggle with what this new country is, I have also struggled with how to be open and understanding of people who see the world so differently from me. This is something I have tried to do all my life, but when so much anger and hate is being spread around–and when I carry it inside myself as well–it is hard to listen to the voice inside saying we have to build bridges, not walls.

The article I linked to above has helped me work through some of my thoughts.

“Racism” as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary:

  • n. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others

  • n. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

There is nothing in that definition that says “a position held by people of inferior intelligence.” In fact, there is overwhelming evidence provided on a daily basis that shows well-educated, intelligent people, often hold prejudicial or racist beliefs.

So where does it come from? I believe it comes from fear and lack of exposure. It is taught. It comes from a society that lives by an “Us and Them” philosophy.

  • We don’t have something because they took it from us.
  • We can’t be special if they are the same as us.

All of us go through some stage of this. All of us react to difference. If your first experience with someone different from you is negative, then it is logical that it would affect your interaction with those you perceive as Others. I’ve written elsewhere of how I started to come to terms with my own biases, a painful journey that never really ends. I question my responses every day, in this journey to be open to the world around me. I think it is naive and irresponsible for anyone to claim that they are not biased or prejudiced in any way.

For me, this means that, even though some people might have voted out of racism, I don’t hate them for it. I truly believe that people could learn if only we shared stories and truths with each other in open conversation. If only we listened to each other instead of the voices of dissension feeding us horrific stories.

When I was living in Kansas, I taught stage makeup. It wasn’t a huge class, so sometimes the discussions as my students were practicing technique wandered in many different directions. For some reason, one day, it came out that I was Jewish. One of the students, a young woman who came from a nearby farming community, stopped what she was doing and stared at me.

“Oh!” She said, a look of shock on her face. “I never thought . . . can I touch you? I’ve never seen a Jew before.”

Need I say more? Did I hate her? No, of course not. Was I uncomfortable? Yes, because it was awkward. Did I lead her into a conversation where she could learn more about me? Yes.

The point is, racism or prejudice does not mean someone is dumb or deplorable. It can sometimes mean they simply have not been exposed to something different.

However–and this is important–racist acts done with knowledge and choice does make someone deplorable.

To me, that means the people our president-elect is putting into power, who know full well what choices they are making, are deplorable.

He, himself, is deplorable.

These are all people who have had opportunities to meet with people different from them, but have built walls around their own beliefs to the extent that they choose to hate. That is what is deplorable.

I am not angry at his supporters who genuinely believed he would help them, and who fear diversity because they have no experience with it. I am angry with the people who chose hate knowing that there are other paths. They are the ones who have chosen to act with hate, and that to me is truly deplorable.

We have to find a way to bridge the gaps that divide us. It’s our only hope for the future.

I believe, the solution lies in the sharing of stories, and the connections we build through creative acts.

Creation is the opposite of hate.

image-5-1-group-sharing

 

 

 

 

Please Don’t Judge Me by the Color of My Skin

my-skin

My skin
tiny spots of pink and brown
red and yellow
blending together into the palest of pale.
I am white.
Please don’t judge me by the color of my skin.

“Your complexion is beautiful”
I have been told
but now I see the weary lines
of age, of worry, of fear
etched into my flesh
as a reminder of my past journey
and our future struggles.

My complexion
fades when I am tired
turns red when I work hard
blooms with freckles in the sun.
Please don’t judge . . .

I hear the cry of people
with skin the color of warmth
saying, “we are judged this way all the time,
listen to our words.”
I listen, I hear, I learn.
I also make mistakes.
Please don’t judge me as I try.

I see color.
I see it when my students walk into my classes,
and I reaffirm with myself
that my syllabus is inclusive of all.
I see it in my Asian-American husband’s face
on those rare occasions when we are out together
and we get that look . . .
You know the look I mean.
I see it in when my daughter is standing on stage
amidst an ocean of other young people.
She stands out in beauty
she stands out in poise
she also stands out because she is not white.

I know that this skin
painted on me by fate
carries with it, privilege.
But that is not my whole story.
It doesn’t tell the truth of my past
of being molested
of being hurt
of being rejected
of being attacked.
Not because of the color of my skin
but because of the culture to which I was born.
Sure, one can say, religion is a choice
I agree.
But being a Jew is not just a religion.
I am not a religious Jew.
The color of my skin
will not protect me against
a person placed in a position of power
who lives with hate of my people in his heart.

I’m not comparing your pain with mine.
I know that they cannot be compared
but you ask me daily not to judge you
by the color of your skin.
Why can’t I ask the same?

I hear you when you say
that a safety-pin is meaningless
and perhaps offensive
But I am wearing one
not because I don’t think you are strong–
you are far stronger and more powerful than me.
I wear it to remind myself that I need to be braver and stronger.
I wear it for those people judged not by the color of their skin
but by the people they love
or their feeling that they were born different.
I wear it for the people who have shown me
that their talents and love far surpasses
the disABILITY defined by their bodies or minds.
I wear it for those who have not found strength yet
and might be afraid.
I wear it because it helps me push my own fears aside.
Please, don’t judge me for that.

The tree...a reminder of my connection to nature and my family. The Star if David and the sign for life... a declaration that I will not be afraid. The safety pin for anyone who fears.
The tree…a reminder of my connection to nature and my family.
The Star if David and the sign for life… a declaration that I will not be afraid.
The safety pin for anyone who fears.

What Can I Do?

Today I’ve received numerous requests from people to call government officials about various issues surrounding this election. As much as I realize how important it is to make those phone calls, the thought of doing it made my stomach ache and my heart palpitate. It’s strange, I know, but for some reason I hate talking to strangers on the phone. I’ve done it plenty of times, I even used to work as a receptionist at various places, but when it comes to important conversations this is one area where my unreasonable fears take over.

I’m fine face-to-face. I’m fine in written words. I just hate the phone.

snapshot_20161114

This started me thinking about what I can do over the coming months and years to make a difference. I often feel like I don’t do enough. As brave as I can be in certain situations, there are others where I let my fears get in the way. I am surrounded by women (and men) who stand up bravely every day, in powerful ways, and I think, “I should be doing that.” But I don’t, not always.

The truth, though, is that everyone has their strengths, and everyone can do things that make a difference. I have been doing that all along, I just don’t always recognize it. I may not be able to make huge donations to causes. I may not be able to make those dreaded phone calls but there is a lot I can do, and many things I already have done and continue to do.

So what are they?

  • I can continue to teach with passion, encouraging my students to question, challenge, and speak out against oppression of all types.
  • I can continue to mentor young women to recognize the powers they carry within them.
  • I can continue to advocate for people with disabilities, immigrants, and causes I believe in.
  • I can create theatre for social change programs that teach empathy and encourage discussion.
  • I can lead more workshops in writing and creativity, encouraging people to share their personal stories loudly and proudly.
  • I can continue to write, whether novels, stories, blogs, or non-fiction books that challenge the system while reminding us what we have in common.
  • I can use my skills as a theatre artist/director/stage manager to help create productions and performances that advocate for change and celebrate diversity.
  • I can write letters to the editor, and emails to public figures, to make sure all our voices are heard.
  • I can be a sounding board for people who need to talk or express their fears.
  • I can be a protector, for people who afraid.
  • I can start doing more P.O.W.ER talks, because those are all about empowering women.

That’s a lot.

Maybe I can’t make those phone calls, but I can definitely make my voice be heard, and help others find their own voices.

Images from my projects creating collaborations between college students and transition students.
Images from my projects creating collaborations between college students and transition students.

What can you do? Please share in the comments below.

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