Flying with the Falcon

Otter Brook State Park and Giving Thanks for Truth

*Photo taken from bridge over Otter Brook, at Otter Brook State Park in New Hampshire.

Right around the usual time of year, snow coats New England. As a child, I remember most Thanksgivings being snowy and cold, though in the last decade or so that has changed. Winter seems to be starting later in the year, often waiting until after Christmas for the big snowfall that freezes the ground and makes it stick. We’ll see if this most recent snow will be the one that begins the season, but either way the world outside my window is dusted with white powder, and several inches are projected to fall throughout the day today. School has been cancelled, a new concept for me. In Western New York, we could expect to see several inches of snow with every lake effect storm, and if we cancelled school every time we saw that amount of snow, we’d be missing school every week. For the amount of snow falling today, we probably wouldn’t even delay, but I won’t complain about getting to stay home and write. Yesterday at school, we took the kids out to the playground to play in the small amount of snow left from the storm last Friday, the Noreaster that was supposed to dump lots of snow. We barely had enough snow to pull the sleds over the newly-mulched playground, but we had fun anyway. The older students went to the hill on the playground to sled, and it was fun to watch them enjoy the weather. Over the weekend I had time to enjoy a local state park which is minutes down the road, and I am pleased to report it was lovely. I’ll get into the description in a minute, but first I want to share a few thoughts about Thanksgiving.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media that talk about abolishing Thanksgiving for the same reasons we should abolish Columbus Day. Understandably, we can and should be more sensitive to being honest about what our holidays actually celebrate; are we celebrating family, or are we celebrating European occupation? Both Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have roots in celebrating a misrepresentation of true history, in which European colonists came to the US when it was still rightfully occupied by indigenous peoples, and then Europeans savagely abused their power. Make no mistake: European settlement everywhere in the world did much the same thing to any culture it chose to dominate, and the saying “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a true statement for hundreds of years. Though much of that empire has been reduced in size, the lasting effects of pillaging across the globe for resources, wealth, slaves, and land still exist today. Because much of our culture in the US is based in traditions which do not question the source of why we celebrate anything, I am not really a believer in holding to traditions. I know most US citizens who celebrate Thanksgiving believe the holiday is about giving thanks, eating turkey and stuffing, remembering a mythical story about puritans and indigenous people having a meal, and watching a football game, but it’s not really about that at all. Really, Thanksgiving is partially about maintaining an idea about history which doesn’t actually exist, and continuing to honor a false story of our nation’s bloody truth. Honestly, what holiday celebrates the truth of its origin? Definitely not Halloween or Easter, but don’t let me get you down.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved Thanksgiving. It has been one of my favorite holidays because I loved the food, loved the time our families usually spent playing games, and the fact that I often got to go on a trip. In my adulthood, I loved Thanksgiving for the time I got to spend with family without having to do the stunts of other holidays, in which I needed to spend a lot of time and money on gifts or decorations or festivities which often didn’t interest me. Most holidays, if celebrated the way a majority of my Christian friends did, were too intensely oriented to expensive, time-consuming activities like those around Christmas or Easter, but even Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and other holidays often meant a lot of time and money (don’t get me started about consumerism and holidays—ick). In contrast, Thanksgiving was only about the meal. I loved that we just made a great meal and sat down to enjoy it without any other contrived activities attached. This is the idea of Thanksgiving which most appeals to me: spending time with people we care about, not pretending the history of such a holiday is roses and daisies. I don’t believe we should stop celebrating Thanksgiving, but I do believe we can be more honest about what happened to Native Americans, how the Europeans sold them up the river after enjoying that generous meal by killing them and enslaving them, and then we didn’t actually celebrate this as a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln penned the proclamation during the Civil War. All this information, by the way, can be found through a simple Google search. Lots of sources from Wikipedia to scholarly journals to personal transcripts of family history can be found on the internet, and I advise reading about it if you want to be informed. Let me just say here that public school should not be your main source of information about history—and I used to be a public school teacher.

So, if you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, please consider questioning your knowledge of why we celebrate. Be thoughtful of all the people in the world who suffered before this holiday was created, and be thankful for your life today. Remember that colonization created a narrative of literally white-washing history, erasing the true contributions of people of color from all over the world. If you are fortunate enough to have the money and time for a wonderful meal with your family—even if you don’t enjoy spending time with them—be thankful for that gift. Many people across the nation will not have a warm, safe place to eat, and many of those people are the same color and culture as those we slaughtered and enslaved because of misguided beliefs about religion and God. No matter what your religious beliefs, I don’t believe any higher power desires the death of other peoples or cultures simply because one group has a vision of a different future than another. Celebrate with the gratitude of truth, be kind if you can, and rethink the traditions. Traditions aren’t set in stone, and we reserve the right to change them anytime we want. It’s still a free country. If you dare to be uncomfortable, have conversations with your family about the true history of Thanksgiving, and maybe donate some time or money to organizations which are helping indigenous people, immigrants, or others in need so we can help them heal from their current strife. With that said about the upcoming holiday, allow me to share my exploration at Otter Brook.

On weekends, I do my best to make time for hiking. Now that I work Monday through Friday again (for now), I don’t always have the time or energy to hike during the week. I always make time for a walk, which is very fortunately in the woods due to my current location, but it’s not quite the same kind of fun as exploring a trail—at least, not for me. A couple of years ago, on our first stint of staying in the Keene area for Michael’s first travel job, one of our house mates took the time to explore Otter Brook and she said it was a nice spot to walk. At the time, Michael and I were busy enjoying other things in the region and never got around to visiting the place just down the road. Over the weekend, I decided that a place only minutes from my door sounded like exactly what I needed. Thus, I headed down route 9 toward Keene from Nelson, heading west. Only a short stint down the road from the Granite Gorge ski resort, one access to the park is located off route 9. If you’re coming from Keene and you get to Granite Gorge, you’ve gone too far. A small parking lot along the highway is located next to the road which accesses the park. At this time of year, cars cannot drive through because the park is considered closed for the season. Despite this, plenty of people park and walk the trails or roads, some of whom may be hunters. If you walk here during hunting season, wear bright orange to indicate you’re human. That’s a smart choice if you walk in the woods or explore the wild areas at any time of year, since hunters may be allowed in places you don’t realize until it’s too late. In the desert of Nevada, I encountered lots of public wild spaces which were open to target practice and hunting all year. Be safe.

Once I navigated into the park, I chose to stick to the roads for ease of access because I didn’t have a good map of the trails. A map of the park was posted at the entrance, but it was rudimentary and I didn’t want to think too hard. Another day I’ll get back out and try the trails for sure, since I discovered on my walk that a disc golf course lies hidden in the wooded area of the park. That looked fun, and I plan to have a little adventure to see where that goes when hunting season is over. What I found while walking the road was a pleasant small park loaded with family-oriented outdoor activities. I crossed a bridge which took me over the picturesque Otter Brook, for which the park is named, and walked along the road toward the lake fed by the river. On the shore of the lake is a beach and boat launch where people most likely frequent the park in summer. Places to picnic along the river are plentiful, and despite its proximity to the busy highway, the park was fairly quiet. The view from the road isn’t much to write home about, but the lake is pleasant, and the river is beautiful. Apparently pets are not welcome in the park, which is a shame, as too many parks in this state do not allow for people to walk their dogs. I may need to find out how I can make a change to this policy, as I do not believe I should be punished simply because a few pet owners were irresponsible. In any case, people are welcome to enjoy the water, picnic areas, and wooded preserves. The website for the park lists lots of sports activities, and recently I was told about a place that sells snowshoes for a low price; I might start snowshoeing this winter. 🙂

Soon I may need to get outside and shovel so Michael can get out of the driveway and go to work tonight. For the moment, I am enjoying a little quiet day in the brightness of new snow. Sometimes I marvel at the brilliance of nature in the way it provides more light in the darkest time of year. Without the leaf canopy of the woods, the snow provides plenty of light to be reflected even when the sun is hidden behind the clouds. As long as the snow stops falling in time for our travel to Olean tomorrow, I don’t mind the weather. I wish all of you a day of honest gratitude over the next few days, and a chance to consider how we can more deeply connect to the land on which we live, the people who live on that land, and how we can all be good to both. Changing the world starts with small acts between people and places, not necessarily huge impacts with large audiences. Each of us is a steward of the planet and its peoples, and your contribution to the betterment of the world matters just as much as everyone else’s. Believe. Listen. Act. Do it for love, and do it because it’s right. Your love is worth the effort.

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

How to Say I Love You

*Photo taken from the Congress Trail at Sequoia National Park in 2017.

I had another post all set to go, but I just couldn’t publish it. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to say what’s been on my mind lately, because my feelings are still too mixed up about it. I’ll go ahead and say it has to do with racism and white supremacy and oppression and sexism…but I don’t feel ready to put my post up about it yet. Instead, I think I will fall back on what I know is far better to send out into the world at any time: love. It’s what I believe is missing from too many conversations, not just now, but all the time. We forget to see people for who they are, and we forget that all people have beauty in them, just as all people can be ugly, too. No matter who we are, we are both perfect and imperfect at the same time. Rather than focus on all the ways the world is wrong, it might help if we start to see all the ways it is right, and to remember everyone deserves to feel loved.

Let me begin with a beautiful story about my friend, Ola Mae Gayton. Several years ago, I was sitting at a table with a group of friends. We just finished eating a pot luck dinner which was the traditional end to a local celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every year for (I think) about two decades, a celebration has taken place at the First Presbyterian Church in Olean, NY. Every year, most of the church pews are full of people who listen to stories, music, poetry, and presentations about Dr. King’s work for civil rights. After we sing “We Shall Overcome” as a group holding hands all the way around the church, we all eat a meal together. It’s usually a beautiful tribute to Dr. King’s life and work, and for many, many years I looked forward to the day. In any case, it was after the dinner that I found myself sitting at a table chatting with friends, and one of the people sitting at the table was Ola Mae Gayton. Somehow we got onto the subject of Ola Mae’s former restaurant, and the fact that I missed her delicious banana cake when the restaurant closed. In my usual way, I made sure Ola Mae knew how much I appreciated her cooking, because I believe people deserve to know when they are appreciated.

In her usual way, Ola Mae smiled her beautiful white smile and laughed her rich, contralto laugh, and she thanked me for the compliment. We finished our chat and got the room cleaned up and we all went home. It’s been years since this happened, so I can’t remember how long after the celebration Ola Mae called me on the phone, but she did. Ola Mae had never called me before, so I was surprised to hear from her. I was even more surprised when she asked me if I was busy right then and could I come over to her house. If you are friends with a black woman and she asks you to come over, you are duty-bound to say “Yes, ma’am,” and do it. It’s in a rule book somewhere, I’m sure. Being a good listener, I of course went straight to Ola Mae’s house, just like she asked. She was very cryptic over the phone, though, and said I should look for her husband, who would meet me on the porch. “Okay,” I said, not really sure what to expect, but Ola Mae had never steered me wrong. I went.

When I pull up in front of the house, it’s already dark outside, so I can’t immediately see that Ola Mae’s husband is waiting for me on the porch. I get out of my car, ready to go knock on the door, but here he comes holding something in his hands. He’s got a big smile on his face, and he greets me with his usual friendly hello. When I see what’s in his hands, I immediately say, “Oh, no she didn’t!” Jim just laughs and comes to give me the container, a Tupperware cake carrier. Oh, yes, she did. Ola Mae baked me a banana cake. I can’t remember all of what I said, other than to exclaim repeatedly that I couldn’t believe Ola Mae baked me a cake. Honestly, I felt so honored by that kindness. Maybe it seems silly to you, but it meant a lot to me. Ola Mae remembered what I said about missing her banana cake, and then she took the trouble to bake one for me. How many people do you know who would do that? I mean, this was a passing moment in a conversation, but she remembered. And she baked me a delicious, love-filled cake. It was heavenly.

When I returned the cake carrier, I made sure to fill it with some of my homemade granola, because I learned from another friend that you never return a container empty. Let me tell you, Ola Mae knows how to say I love you, and I will never forget that cake.

On a few occasions when I was down on my luck and low on cash, a wonderful pair of friends, also from Olean, NY, took it upon themselves to bring me a much-needed gift. Two particular occasions stand out in my mind. The first was when I was pregnant with my son, having just returned from living in Savannah, GA. I was at a crossroads in my life, but determined to do everything in my power to be the best mother possible to my unborn baby. It wasn’t easy to crawl home pregnant, unmarried, and ashamed of my lifestyle choices at the time. Truly, I was making the best decision I could have made for myself, which was to take good care of my health and go back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. Once I finally got settled in a tiny new apartment, my friends (who also happened to live next door) came over to welcome me to my new neighborhood. They also brought me a couple of bags of groceries, a gift I really needed at the time. I will never forget how loved I felt when Jan and Mike came over with those brown bags stuffed with healthy food. I can’t remember exactly what food they brought me, but I remember the love. At a time when I felt so lonely, so misunderstood, they showed me I mattered, they cared, and they loved me.

About two decades later, right after I separated from my first husband, Jan and Mike showed up at my door after I moved into another new apartment. Once again, I was lonely, depressed, and felt abandoned by all the people I thought were my friends. Few people came to see me after my separation, at a time when I desperately needed comfort and solace. Because I left with little cash, and nowhere near enough money coming in to pay bills and buy food, I was struggling to feed my kids. For a while I found myself redeeming soda bottles just for the little bit of change I could get, and then I could buy enough food to feed my kids when they were staying with me. Jan and Mike once again brought me groceries. When everyone else seemed to treat me as though I had the plague, Jan and Mike brought me groceries and love. I needed those groceries more than they probably knew at the time, because I didn’t broadcast how hard I had it. Most of the time, I keep my problems to myself and just try to take care of things on my own. But no one lives in a bubble. We all need love.

One last story I want to share has to do with my husband, Michael. While we were living in Ely, Nevada a year and a half ago, he told me I needed to pack a bag for a trip. I actually hate surprises, but I was trying to go with it until he told me I needed to prepare for temperatures ranging from below freezing to 100 degrees. At that point, I put my foot down and told him to tell me where we were going. He fessed up that we were driving to Sequoia National Park, and I just about died. My whole life I dreamed of seeing the sequoias, and because Michael knew this was a big deal to me, he planned a trip to take me there. Even though the first leg of the trip was kind of a mess (you can read my post about that trip here), the part of the trip where we finally got to see the trees was absolutely magical. I still think about it sometimes, and have to pinch myself that I got to go. The first time I saw one of the sequoias, I squealed with joy, jumped out of the truck, and hugged that tree with all the love I could muster. My hubby gave me one of the best experiences of my life when he took me to that park. That’s love. That trip changed my life, and I am still in awe of both the trees and my husband’s kindness.

When you learn of a way to make a person happy by doing a little thing like buying groceries, or a big thing like taking someone on a life-altering trip, do it for love. You may never realize how much that little show of love will mean to someone, nor how it may heal a heart. So many people have been kind to me in my life, and because they were kind, I felt loved. It matters. Make love the reason you do anything, and do it selflessly, without needing anything in return. When you do, it comes back to you tenfold.

Flying with the Falcon

Save the Daylight and Enjoy the Night

*Photo from Nelson, NH as the sun sets.

It’s only 4:30 pm as I begin writing, and the sun is already setting. Daylight savings seems to steal my sunshine, rather than save it for me, as I am not a farmer, nor do I like early mornings. My best time of day has always been afternoon and evening hours, the time of day when I do my most creative, intellectual work. Sometimes it bothers me that the U.S. work schedule is so often geared toward people who like mornings, and that most businesses in rural towns are only open during the day, or even worse, only in the morning. If I need to shop, my preference is always to go in the evening, when most people have already done their after-work shopping runs, and the stores are quiet and free of traffic. For me, night time is enchanting. I love watching the sun set, listening to the night animals begin to waken in the woods, and enjoy the gentle appearance of stars as the twilight turns to dark. When the moon has yet to rise, I could stand outside for hours gazing at the lattice of the Milky Way stretching its arch across the sky. But then when the moon does rise, I take in the beauty of its waxing and waning, the optical illusion of size when close to the horizon, and the surprising amount of light by which to see without another source. What has been most interesting about living in the woods is the lack of street lights, and how readily my body has responded to the natural ebb and flow of light from nature.

For maybe the first time in my life, the time change has not bothered me quite so much. I am working hard at going with the natural flow of things around me, rather than always feeling at odds with my environment. Most of my life I have suffered the environments of school, work, home, politics, society, and any other culture of life as abrasive, always finding the ways in which I wish they could be different. Much like my desire to have society honor those of us who prefer evenings or nights to early morning work, I often struggled to make peace with the many failings of public schools, colleges, corporations, or government systems in my life. No matter what you want to see in the world, it will be there, and when I was always looking at the failings of the systems in my life, I was always unhappy. Instead, I am changing my habits to see the good and to go with the flow. Though I abhor getting up early, I am working at a school again, and early morning is when I must rise. Thus, instead of fighting it by staying up too late and running on a sleep deficit, I now take better care of myself and go to bed earlier. With more sleep, I rise much more readily and happily, and my day at work goes much better. Sleep in general always helps, but it’s taken me over 40 years to learn this wisdom. The lifestyle of too many in the States revolves around working too many hours, sleeping too little, eating nutritionless food, and getting too little exercise or time outdoors. And then we wonder why we’re sick, depressed, and suffering from auto-immune disorders. It’s not rocket science.

Ending the fight with morning has been an eye-opening experience. I have never liked early morning work, and yet I can function, and I can give myself the means for peacefully accepting this aspect of life for now. During the work week, I eat a strict low-carb diet with lots of vegetables and healthy proteins, both in morning and evening, and avoid any junk until the weekend. Though it may seem like a punishment to some, I actually look at it as a kind self-care to support my body’s needs during the week when I am working hard and must fill my day with so much physical and demanding activity. Sleeping enough and eating well are no longer negotiable for me. Since I’ve been sick for a while, due to the petri dish in which I work, I haven’t been able to put as much energy into exercise, but I did my best. If I keep up on getting out to walk and still lift weights every other day, it keeps my circulation up and my muscles strong enough to avoid injury. When I have to lift toddlers all day long, I need a strong back. Not negotiable. It’s a lot of work to be so diligent, but when my spirit responded so readily to taking good care of my body, I find myself convinced that this is the answer to happiness. Stop fighting the systems and work with them instead.

The day after midterm elections, I think this philosophy is where I need to reside with politics, too. I have no doubt that Democrats are feeling somewhat mollified to have the House back in their court, but probably wish they could have won more. Republicans probably feel frustrated by the loss of the House, and worry that now nothing will get done in Congress. We can see the brokenness of our government, but we can also see the revelation of how much awareness is coming about because of the uprising of new candidates, and newly-charged people in the population who were previously apathetic. If we choose to see this phase of our global shift in politics as a revealing of the darker parts of our human nature, we expose it to the light of day and see it for what it really is: unhealthy, causing suffering, and a fight against the nature of what we need. Rather than fear what is to come, we can see the shift as growing pain which will open up a whole new way to have dialogue, to honor humanity, and to serve and save the planet from our past mistakes. A moment ago, the neighborhood owl awakened and called out to let the hillside know. Recently I took the time to find out what kind of owl it is, and learned it’s a barred owl, a beautifully striped bird with the characteristic white feathers surrounding orb-like eyes. I think about that owl as a sort of friendly neighbor, and I want to make sure we keep the forest healthy and alive so it has a home, right along with all the other animals that live in the woods. If I’m honest, I must recognize I have been fighting the flow of what must be done, rather than seeking a peaceful solution.

No matter what we do to the planet, nature will find a way to deal with us. The earth has survived lots of catastrophic events over the millennia of its existence, and we may become yet another catastrophe for the planet to survive. People who consider themselves environmentalists often argue that we must save the planet, but what we’re really doing is saving ourselves. Humanity is at risk of dying out if we don’t take action soon to preserve our lives, but rest assured that even if we turn this planet into a raging oceanic waterworld of bacteria and viruses, the planet will survive and will figure out how to re-boot life as we know it. After all, the dinosaurs died out, but mammals took their place. If we die out, something else will take our place. It will be up to the humans to decide how much we want to live, but it won’t happen by fighting. We’ll have to find solutions which work with what we have, and fast. Meanwhile, we are getting an action-packed lesson in how to unite and take care of each other because we realize it’s the only answer to hate. Nature provides us the opportunity to change if we pay attention.

Michael and I took a walk on our lovely hill today, enjoying the warm sun as we climbed up to where we could see the view of the rolling hills. All the trees in the woods suddenly turned from a golden green to dead brown after the recent colder weather in Southern New Hampshire. We had storms which poured massive amounts of rain on the region, and for the first time since I have lived here I saw waterfalls in the woods where previously no water ran at all. The whole hillside became a series of small creeks which joined the stream that runs through Granite Gorge on Route 9. It’s a beautiful stream full of boulders, and is one of my favorite parts of the commute to town or work every day. Now the stream is barreling over the boulders after all the rain, and places which used to be fields look more like marshes. The sun today probably burned off some of the water, but it looks like more rain is in the forecast soon. Over the summer, the Northeast experienced a lot of rainy days, too much humidity, and less sun, which is going to become even more common as the planet changes in response to the warming. When the sun shines, I find myself dashing outdoors as quickly as possible. Our walk today served to remind me that I need to get out much more often, and for longer, as I struggled to climb the hill. Illness has taken its toll, but I will gently nudge myself back into health.

The light is gone completely now. My body aches for rest in the darker hours, and wants sleep earlier. After I lift weights and eat dinner, perhaps that is exactly what I should give myself. Worry not, darlings, about the future. Enjoy this moment. Breathe. Rest. Listen. Be at ease. If the future looks dim, remind yourself you do not live there now. You are here in this moment. Embrace what you are doing, rather than fighting it. Find what is working in the here and now, what is helping make your life work. What are you doing to make it worse, and how can you stop the struggle? If you hate, find what you love instead—seek it out and pay attention to it. We are often like children, even as adults, in the way we allow negative thoughts to be our focus. Children will accept any kind of attention, positive or negative, but they are happier when we praise them for what they do right, instead of pointing out all the ways they’re wrong. Do that for yourself by finding the ways you already are doing the right things, the good, rather than all the ways you might be wrong. I am willing to bet most of your day is actually going right most of the time, but you focus too much on what went wrong, even if it was only a few small things. Most of the moments of your day are not negative if you live in a safe place with food and a bed. Be thankful for your food and your bed and your house. Not everyone has those. If you woke in a bed, and it was warm, that is good. It’s a positive start to your day. Some people rise from a cardboard box or a tent in a parking lot. You can take any moment of your day and play this like a game: how can I be thankful right now? I am sitting in a comfortable chair in a warm room with a beautiful lamp on my table. The lamp is the one thing left from my grandparents’ estate, and is one of the most memorable articles of furniture from my childhood. I remember staring at this lamp as a child and admiring it my whole life. Now it is my lamp, a gorgeous knock-off of a Tiffany, and I treasure it. This light glows against the darkness now pressing against the windows of my room while I wait for the moon to rise or the stars to glimmer. Find the light, follow it, and let your body tell you what it needs. Feed your spirit, and the rest will follow.

Flying with the Falcon

#GoodTrouble

*Photo taken at the Women’s March of January 2018 in Reno, NV.

Hello, darlings, and happy Halloween. I hope it’s been a night to remember, whether you celebrate with your children or go out to parties with adults. Last week I encouraged you to find some fun, to enjoy the sweetness of life, and I hope you did that. If you’re from the U.S., you know our nation has had quite a rough time lately. As I have said before, some people are only now becoming aware of the depth of our country’s brokenness, and it seems as though we are coming apart at the seams. And yet, the hatred, injustice, violence, and short-sightedness of certain people has always been there, right from the very inception of our country. As I continue to learn more and more about how to be strong in such desperate times, I am learning that peoples who have been dealing with systemic oppression for hundreds of years know best how to teach us about living with oppression and injustice. Though we may not have been aware of it, wars have been raging on specific populations for the duration of our “democracy.” Only now that we are seeing the hate burn so brightly can we appreciate its magnitude in this moment of history. Such times are the fuel for change, and over the weekend I attended a women’s rally in Keene, New Hampshire to find out what this region is doing to stir up good trouble.

Saturday afternoon, the rain fell in a misty, half-hearted way that seems like it shouldn’t really get you wet, but tends to soak you after a few minutes. I drove my new/used Subaru to the Keene State campus where the rally was scheduled, though I had no idea who would be speaking other than a young woman who is part of the March for Our Lives movement. That alone was enough to get me there, since the activism of that group has been tremendous, and I have appreciated the thoughtful and inclusive approach of the high school students who have been taking activism to a whole new level. In any case, as I hopped over puddles with my umbrella shielding me from the rain, I was fortunate to be led into the right place by a helpful woman who was also going to the event. When I got into the lobby of the auditorium, it was surrounded by tables of literature about voting, political candidates, local nonprofits, and others I didn’t see in my hurry to get inside. I did take the time to visit the table where I found out folks from my small town of Nelson were handing out literature about our local candidates. Whenever I vote, I do my best to research as thoroughly as possible. No way am I giving power to someone who I believe will abuse it. The event started moments after I arrived and got myself seated.

To my surprise, the gubernatorial candidate for New Hampshire, Molly Kelly, was supposed to attend. The emcee for the event announced that a stand-in would speak in her stead because of a scheduling conflict, and I wish I could say I know who it was, but I can’t remember. It may have been a state senator, but either way, the speaker gave a good run-down of the issues on which Molly Kelly is running. It helped. Right after that opening, however, came a presentation about an organization called Girls at Work, a program which teaches girls woodworking skills. The founder of the program, Elaine Hamel, gave an incredibly inspiring speech about the girls and how much they benefit from the environment of support they receive. Elaine’s obvious passion for helping girls from abusive homes absolutely floored me. Knowing such a program exists in the world is a beautiful thing. Like Mr. Rogers used to say, “Look for the helpers.” It always makes me feel better to find the helpers, and then join them. After learning about Girls at Work, we heard from a candidate running for re-election, Anne Kuster. Her politics impressed me, and she gave a heartfelt speech about what she hopes to continue to accomplish in office. A short informal presentation from a dynamic duo named Metta Dael and Martha Neubert educated the very white audience on the topic of oppression, inclusion, and justice. They were fabulous, and I am not too proud to say I learned a great deal from them. Finally, the keynote speaker, Bria Smith, took the stage.

Ms. Smith began her address by getting the audience to greet a stranger sitting next to them, and then recite to them a few phrases about justice, protecting each other, and doing our part. It was actually quite powerful, and left me feeling a duty to remember to love even the strangers in my midst. We never know what others are thinking or feeling until we get to know them. When they stop being “strangers” and we realize their humanity, we can no longer put people in a box of “other.” As I said the words to a white woman who looked to be in her 70s, a kinship of sorts flared up in my heart. If I ever see her again, I am certain I will still feel that visceral connection to her. After our recitation, we all settled in to hear about this young woman’s activism. She shared thoughts about how she grew up surrounded by death, gun violence, and constant loss in the streets of Milwaukee. The stories she told about growing up with a steely continence did not entreat us to pity her, but rather to care enough about the gravity of such experiences to want to stop them from happening. Her story is not uncommon, and yet so often the story of inner city life is broken down into segments, compartments in which we place black and brown people into boxes as criminals, forgetting that children, families, elderly folks, people with disabilities, and regular folks just trying to get by all live in that environment, too. Children have to walk by dead bodies on their way to school, or may often see the blood stains of a murder on the sidewalk. They lose parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends…many of them lose several people they know by the time they reach adulthood. Rarely do we consider the desperation of living with violence and death as a way of life, unless you live that way.

Bria’s keynote got me thinking about women and children who suffer sexual abuse and harassment, and I couldn’t help but find the similarities of our suffering. Both groups live in the same wealthy country, right in the midst of privileged people who never see gun violence in their neighborhoods, who roll up their windows and lock their doors when they drive through certain parts of the city, and who tell themselves that because they don’t see racism or sexual abuse in their lives, it must not exist. I grew up in a religious family which looked on the outside like everything was fine, but it wasn’t. Few people knew what was really happening to me outside of certain members of my family, and if they did know, they didn’t do anything. None of the women in my family were fine, but they put up a good front. It’s what all women learn how to do from a very young age. We learn how to pretend everything is fine, we keep gluing the family together by taking care of everyone else, meanwhile plastering over the brokenness of our spirits. We really need to stop that. All victims of abuse really need to stop pretending, because it eats you up inside, riddles you with anger, fear, resentment, and depression. No one deserves to live with such heart-rending secrets holed up in the tissues of your body, fermenting into lord-only-knows-what kind of illness later. This is what #metoo is really about: loving yourself enough to say it aloud. Yes, I was abused. I suffered. It still hurts sometimes, even if it happened a long time ago. But I’m not broken; I’m strong because I survived. I don’t need pity—I need justice. See me. This is what #metoo means. It’s not about catching predators and stringing them up like some kind of spectacle, it’s about finally being seen, heard, and believed. This is true of people of color, too. See their suffering and believe it’s real, because it is.

When oppression affects us so deeply, the most healing comes from being heard, acknowledged, and believed. We can’t walk in another person’s shoes, but we can listen to their stories and believe they are real. For the majority of my childhood and youth, I suffered at the hands of several men who took advantage of my inability to protect myself. My story is not unusual, nor do I need to be coddled because of it. I don’t need special attention, and I’m not fragile—just the opposite. I am now a formidable ally to the oppressed because my experience deepened my compassion and heightened my desire to protect others. If we allow the saddest parts of our lives to be the only story we tell, we will never be whole. Instead, we must tell the whole truth, and remember the good, too. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “Blame honestly.” Though my childhood was rife with suffering, I remember a lot of good, too. We get to choose which parts become most powerful, even though it might be hard to let go of the pain. Near the end of Bria’s keynote, she made a statement which got a lot of heads nodding in the audience: “I’m tired of having to keep my mouth shut to make other people feel good about themselves.” The truth in that statement is profound. Too often women are made to feel ashamed if we speak up about how we are treated, which is probably why so many people are trying to shut down the #metoo movement. If we keep speaking up, soon the whole world will be aware of how deep the scars run in every family of the entire globe. I doubt any family is free of the sickness of sexual abuse, even if you have to go back a few generations. Sexual predators are more prevalent than we like to admit, and they usually are people we know, often family members. I know this may be crushing to think about, but if we are ever going to repair the damage of what is happening in our world, we are first going to have to see the breadth of the carnage we created and continue to cultivate.

As we move into election week in the U.S., I hope everyone is thinking about the seriousness of the civic duty of voting and being involved in public forums of debate. It’s very recent in our country’s history that women and people of color were given the right to vote, and we had to fight tooth and nail to be afforded that privilege—and it is a privilege. To have a ballot to cast is serious business, and if you are a person who believes your vote doesn’t matter, I can tell you that isn’t true. Every vote matters in every election. Imagine if you live in a town of 30 people. If someone runs for mayor and only three people vote, those three people just decided who gets to run the town. What if those three people are the worst three people of the town? What if they elect leaders who spend all the money on frivolous, unnecessary things no one needs? The rest of those people will still have to pay, whether they voted or not. We don’t connect those dots very often in public forums, but we should. Don’t let the loud, obnoxious, mean people be the only ones voting. Let’s make sure intelligent, decent, kind, compassionate people vote, too. If you have neighbors who need a ride and you have a car, please drive them. If you know someone who doesn’t plan to vote, please convince them to cast a ballot, even if they write Mickey Mouse on it. The more voters we have, the more likely the outcome will reflect the moderate middle where most of us live, instead of the extremes of the large hoards of nutjobs who get together at rallies and form mobs, whether liberal or conservative is irrelevant. There will always be extremes, and that is perfectly fine, as long as everyone gets out to vote. Most people fall into the middle on most issues, and most leaders we elect would reflect that truth if we get out and do our civic duty.

The final few moments of the women’s rally drove home a serious thought that has stayed with me since then. Bria said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” #truth. In this dark hour, when it seems that democracy may be dying all over the globe, remember truth. When we tell people the truth, we connect on a far more meaningful level. Be honest with yourself and you’ll realize how important it is to live as you are meant to live. None of us should live with the burden of secrets, simply because it makes other people uncomfortable. We all suffer, and we deserve to be seen. Before you vote, listen to the stories of the oppressed. Take their power with you to the polls, because no one is stronger than people who have endured the pain of oppression and are still here to tell you about it. Those of us who have survived are worthy of recognition for our strength and courage to hold our shit together, even though other human beings may have done heinous acts to us. We know love when we feel it, and we can show it by taking back our power. Be brave this week and look someone in the eye while you tell them your truth. Be real, be strong, and know we are stronger together, with love to bind us. Keeping people out never heals the wounds, only letting them into the most vulnerable spaces can we heal. What have you got to lose? Only your chains.

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Peterborough, New Hampshire

*Photo taken from Main Street bridge in Peterborough, NH.

Last Saturday I took the opportunity to head out to Peterborough for a writer’s group meeting, which I then turned into a little adventure for the day. It was a relief to get out of the house for some fun, since I haven’t felt well enough for much of anything all month. The sun came out for a visit with a few clouds scudding overhead, and even if it was brisk, it was a good fall weather day. Before I get into the fun to be found in the utterly quaint and very New England Peterborough, New Hampshire, I want to regale you with a small story about my vehicles. A couple of weeks ago, I got into my car on Monday morning, and started it to go to work. The day before, my car was fine. I had driven to the Nature Preserve (see my post on Horatio Colony Nature Preserve if you are interested) with my dogs, no issues. And yet, on Monday morning when I started my car, it smelled strongly of gas from underneath the hood. Probably I shouldn’t have driven it, but I had to get to work. As I drove out onto the highway, however, the gas gauge dropped at such an alarming rate, I chose to drive it to the shop. The mechanic said I was lucky the darn thing didn’t explode, or at least burst into flames, because the fuel line had been broken and was gushing gas, and then he also mentioned that when he looked at it the hose looked as though it had been chewed. Hmmm.

Flash forward to yesterday, a few weeks later. I now have a new vehicle (though it’s used), which I have been driving to work for about a week and a half or so. After work I ran around to a bunch of stores, and as I am loading a giant bag of dog food into my trunk I see a hole in the cover for the spare tire compartment. Grrr. When I inspect this hole, I realize to my horror that it has been chewed by a mouse (the evidence is everywhere, now that I finally see it—mouse poop all over the trunk and back seats). Seriously?! WTF? After having my last car junked because some little blighter chewed through my gas line (that was actually the last straw because the car was on its last legs), now I have another invader in my new car. Already I am not a fan of mice, but this is especially maddening. I cannot have another vehicle destroyed by rodents. Declaring war, I sprayed the car down with peppermint-scented cleanser (which they apparently hate), and I planned to go out for mouse traps today. Work sucked the life out of me this afternoon, so I didn’t make it to the store, but I’m glad I didn’t bother. After speaking to several people from the area, I found out that a) area stores are out of mouse-killing supplies, and b) mice are overrunning the region, because a lot of people are having trouble with mice getting into everything. Ugh. Where is the Pied Piper when you need him? What’s worse is I saw a rat in the dumpster a few days ago, so that seals it: no more taking out the trash for me. I absolutely hate rodents of any kind. Mice, rats, and bats are my least favorite, but I also really don’t like squirrels, chipmunks, or any other animal that chews. They make terrible messes, and usually carry tons of scary diseases. Ick. Okay, diatribe ended. If I manage to get rid of the rodent, I’ll let you know.

Shoving aside the strange rodent issues of the North, New England has a number of rather quaint little towns tucked into the hills of New Hampshire. When I drove to Peterborough on Saturday, after my writer group meeting I chose to wander the streets for a while, drifting in and out of shops. If you live near Peterborough or plan to pass through the area, this small town is worth the stop for either food or shopping. I love the historic appeal of the downtown, and the many surprises tucked into alleys or behind buildings. You can enjoy a weekend’s worth of exploring here if you really want to give it, or just an afternoon if you like. One of the best places to shop, just for the fun of it, is a shopping center off Main Street, which you access by turning onto Depot Street. Within this small shopping center is a row of shops backed up to a brook which runs behind them. One shop in particular is called Bowerbird and Friends, a shop where antiques, vintage pieces, art, and old found things are scattered in the most appealing way. It’s a store where you could get lost for hours, and at the back of the shop you can look through the windows to the brook. You have to trust me—it’s a treat. Right next to this shop is also a lovely public park with a walkway along the water, carefully manicured shrubs, and flowerbeds in warmer weather. Several places to sit along the trail are used often by the locals, including a small covered pavilion. If you visit, I recommend buying a coffee and pastry and having a moment in this park. You will not be disappointed.

Aside from the addictive antique shop, you can find a rug shop with fine hand-woven carpets, several clothing boutiques with incredibly friendly shop keepers, several cafes and restaurants, and the Toadstool Bookstore. After wandering the shopping center, I had to eat at the bookstore café, called Aesop’s Tables, where one can either be very healthy or very indulgent. I had coffee and a scrumptious salad with maple vinaigrette. Yum. If you are a book lover, beware. Toadstool is a place where book worms may easily be sucked into a black hole of fiction and facts, especially since they have a sizeable room dedicated to used books. This bookstore is one of my favorite things, and I am so glad we have a Toadstool in Keene, which is much closer to where I live. Really, such things make me giddy. Peterborough also has Harlow’s Pub, which has a stage for music (I once played an open mic there, and they were very welcoming), and good soup. If you enjoy art, Peterborough has several galleries on the two main streets of the downtown. You may also enjoy the Mariposa Museum, a “hands-on museum of artifacts from around the world,” as it states on their website. I did go in, and it’s a cute little museum friendly for children, centered around world culture education. On another occasion when we visited, we enjoyed the hat shop, where we had a lot of fun trying on the many colorful hats available.

Peterborough has a wide variety of interesting and fun places to discover, and all of them utterly unique to the town. Everywhere you turn, you can find a reason to take a photo, and then step into a fantasy-like experience as you shop and stroll. Truly, if you have yet to visit, go. I will also highly recommend the town library, which I discovered is the very first free public library established in all of the United States in 1833. Other libraries at the time were subscription only, but Peterborough chose to open a free library for public access. The library systems we have in the States today all began with the one in Peterborough. I find that amazing, and I will once again sing the praises of all public libraries everywhere. Because libraries exist, I experienced the worlds of Oz, Narnia, Middle Earth, and the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. I relished in reading at the local libraries of my youth, and everywhere I have ever lived I always frequented the library so I could feed my steady diet of reading. Books have been my escape, my educators, my assistants, and my lullaby before bed. If you love to read and you haunt your library regularly, please thank your librarians. They serve the community in a most meaningful way, by being providers of knowledge and programs to enrich our intelligence, to entertain us, and to help. Librarians protected our right to privacy when the Bush administration wanted access to our borrowing lists after 9/11. The librarians said no, and they stuck to their guns. Thanks to our librarians, the government didn’t get their hands on what should remain private: the books you borrow.

Anyway, after tootling around the magical town of Peterborough, on my way home I stopped in Harrisville, which is another picturesque small town of New Hampshire. Both Harrisville and Peterborough have their roots as mill towns, as both are on waterways which were used to run several different types of mills. Harrisville, according to Wikipedia, used to produce bricks, which is evident when you see the many brick buildings along the water’s edge. The lake on which the town sits was gloriously calm that day, and I was able to snap several lovely photos of the surrounding faded glory of fall reflected in the water. Honestly, the trip filled me with a restorative energy I deeply needed—it had been far too long since I’ve had time for such fun. Wherever you are this weekend, or on any day you have free, I hope you make time to enjoy the last of the autumn color, weather, and festivities. Go on a hayride, enjoy a spooky haunted house, find a costume party, carve a pumpkin, make hot cider, or find out what fun is on the town calendar near you. We only live once, so we might as well make the most of the time we have. I know some people are mystified by the pumpkin spice phenomenon, but I think it’s really about the cozy feeling of warm sweaters, blankets bundling, and yummy baked foods of fall. Even if you’re a pumpkin spice grinch, go eat a slice of pie anyway. It will make you happy, I’m sure. Go be a kid for a day. Eat candy. Frolic. Enjoy the magic of the season, and relish the time if you plan a trip to New England. It’s beautiful here.

Flying with the Falcon

Life Is Messy. Let in the Light.

*Photo taken in Nelson, NH, with autumn colors still muted in the hills.

Life is messy. Day to day chores and work and errands soak up a lot of time, especially for us poor saps who have to report to a building for work every day. When you get sick, if you are in the US you don’t get the luxury of staying home to get better unless you have a very unusual employer. Our culture encourages us to work through illness, despite the fact that when we come to work sick, we share germs which expose everyone else to what we have. We push ourselves too hard in other ways, too, like saying yes to things we don’t want to do, driving ourselves crazy to keep our houses clean, working too many extra shifts, or taking on projects we can’t finish. Time is a precious commodity, but we give it away to people we don’t know and don’t even like, simply for a paycheck, an uncomfortable request, or to save face. Of course, many of us are in no position to avoid such trades. Bills will come whether you pay them or not, food will not grow itself in your kitchen, and relationships are complicated. So we work, we slog, we give even when we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. But there are ways to live around that rat race. As Leonard Cohen wrote in his song, “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in/ everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

I have been sick for over a month. It’s been miserable. The moment I stepped into the preschool where I currently work, the germs saw me coming from a mile away. They knew I was fresh meat, and they were very overzealous about making my life hell. Fortunately, I didn’t end up in the hospital or come down with bronchitis like I might have a decade ago, but I’ve been down for the count. Mostly I’ve been battling a head cold and cough, but fatigue, headaches, a fever, and upset stomach have all been part of the mix. Meanwhile, I try to chase after toddlers who I believe are sneaking into a secret dimension where they dip into an endless fountain of energy, popping in and out whenever we adults turn our backs. When they finally crash for an afternoon nap, I want desperately to lie down and sleep, too. It’s hard to push myself to then drag out the broom, wash tables, and take out the trash. My diligent writing schedule has suffered somewhat, but I have refused to give up my intention to keep writing Monday through Friday. Some weeks I have to work on the weekends so I can give myself a much-needed break on Friday night, but I do my best to stick to my schedule. It’s not easy, especially when sick and tired. The other day I was moaning to Michael about how I can’t enjoy any of the things I came to New Hampshire to enjoy because all I do is work. This is not true, but it feels that way at times. Really, I am trying to be mindful of the fact that we’re doing a lot of things most people don’t have to do all the time. We just moved to a new state, which means we had to get new licenses, register our vehicles, register to vote, adjust to new jobs and new schedules, and deal with the minutia of things like finding new banks, learning where to go for things we need, and building networks of new friends. It’s a lot.

The book I had originally scheduled for release in August is still not finished. A poetry book I started is nowhere near done. The print version of my nonfiction is waiting for finishing touches. I need to make a cover for my sequel. A marketer would be nice, but only if I can get my shit together and finish my projects. Don’t even get me started about the lovely children’s book I started with my niece, which is now living in the ether until I can find time to go for a visit to work with her on drawings. If only I could monetize my books, but that’s not how it works. The only real measure of wealth is the actual work I put into my words, the care I give to my craft, the love which drives me to make the time, no matter what else happens. Ursula LeGuin famously talked about the importance of craft, because she knew that making her writing the best it could be was far more important than any prize, fame, wealth, or notoriety. Those rewards only come about because we give ourselves to the craft, knead into our paragraphs the emotions of our lives, coaxing our feeble, wimbling thoughts into full-grown novels. Because I am driven, I am a writer. It’s where I feel most myself. When words spin out of my head and into a narrative, I am most content. I know people who feel that way about adding columns of numbers, or arranging closets, or growing gardens. When we do what we love, a place of pure magic spirals away time, and even if we only have minutes to nurture that love, we breathe ourselves into it. No matter what else happens in my life now, my writing has taken the highest precedence of my time. Aside from taking care of my physical and emotional health, my writing is a pillar of keeping myself happy.

Speaking of happiness, I believe many of us overestimate how happiness is achieved or earned. I know I do. Those of us struggling with money and battling debt often have the sense that if only we had more money, everything in life would be better. Maybe. I mean, a million dollars would solve a lot of problems for me, but the parts of me that still need to grow, the aspects of my personality which still cling to unhealthy thinking or feeling, the habits to which I return so often when things get stressful are not going to stop simply because I have money. No matter how much money I have, my problems will travel with me. The only way I am truly going to be happy is if I stop beating myself down when life gets tough. Even rich people have problems. Even rich people are unhappy. Money helps alleviate some stress, but only if you manage it well. Money comes with its own problems, even if I still believe having more money would make my life easier, and it would. Don’t get me wrong, I would love a load of cash to pay off my debts, have the house of my dreams, and enjoy the second half of my life without having to break my back for it. If I could live in a hut in the woods writing books for the rest of my days, that would be a dream come true. However, what really has been the single most helpful thought for me lately is to remind myself to stop living in the future or the past—to be aware of right now, appreciate what I am doing in this moment. Here I am, typing on my computer, doing what I love. Words weave through my thoughts and into my fingers, like a trance. In this moment, I honor my true self. Such a majestic notion gives me chills, and I hope to do it more. Living in the moment takes practice for me, since my childhood was full of experiences I needed to escape, which I often did by imagining how wonderful the future would be when I could be doing something different. The future has come, and yet I still find myself dreaming about what can happen someday in the future. Wishing my life away, my father often used to say. Truth.

I have hope that I am finally getting healthier now; today’s plentiful sunshine helped immensely. It’s been so gloomy and rainy lately, I’m realizing I might need to go dig up the full-spectrum light bulb I stashed somewhere, though I don’t know if it really helps that much. My dogs are snoring while they lie snug in their kennel together, happy to have been walked and fed dinner. My tea is getting cold in my mug, and the darkness outside my window has blossomed into an inky black, impenetrable with human eyes. Now that the hours of daylight are waning toward the solstice, I’m glad that I took the time to visit my local library to get my card today—I learned from the librarian that the town hall in Nelson hosts the longest-running contra dance in the country (I think that’s correct, but I might have that wrong), and on the solstice it’s an extra-special holiday affair. It sounds like a delicious New England celebration, and I am looking forward to meeting people. Of course, I am extra delighted to now have a library card again, since that was an aspect of traveling which left me feeling deprived of one of my favorite things: going to the library for books to read.

All of my life I have been a book worm, and all of my life I have loved libraries. To me, they are the gems in the crown of any community. No matter what your interest, the library has a book for that. Libraries are hubs of incredibly interesting activities, like book clubs, quilting bees, coffee houses, movie nights, poetry readings, author talks, workshops on any topic…and these only touch the surface of all the fabulous offerings at any library. Even the tiniest of libraries have loads of activities, both strange and mundane and everything in between. If you ever find yourself bored, go find out what the library has planned on their schedule. I found out that tomorrow night the local library is showing the Mr. Rogers documentary, and I was thrilled to learn about it so I can go. Since I missed it in the theater, I now get to enjoy it at the library. I will probably need a box of tissues, but that’s okay—lately I need to be spoon-fed good stories about inspiring people. Too much bad news is bad for the spirit. The library will let the light in. I hate ending sentences with prepositions, but for Leonard Cohen, I will make an exception. As luck would have it, I found Leonard Cohen in a library while I combed through the shelves and sat down in the middle of an aisle. His poetry pressed itself into my soul like wildflowers in a book, a gift that gives fresh insight with every read. Some authors never get old, even if they die.

In the shorter days of the Northern Hemisphere, I hope we all find the light as it shines through the cracks of our imperfect and beautiful lives. Even though I have work to do on myself, I can appreciate my growth. You, reader, are perfectly imperfect, too. Where your armor is cracked, I see your light streaming out in a line, a guide to who you really are and what you have to contribute to the world. We all contribute, whether for good or ill. I do my best to make my contributions positive, but I know they aren’t all good. This morning I was cranky with my husband because I didn’t feel well and didn’t get enough sleep, and even though he cooked breakfast and made coffee, I didn’t thank him until later in the day in a text. No matter how grumpy I am, I could have remembered to say thank you. Luckily my husband is forgiving and patient. We do that for each other. No one is perfect. Let the cracks show. Let the light shine through. Let the bells ring. Be who you are. Apologize for mistakes, be present, and do what you love, even if the time for what you love is as slender as a slip of paper. Slip the paper through the cracks. It will fit.

Flying with the Falcon

Even a Grip of Steel Opens to Flame

*Picture taken at sunset in the woods of Nelson, NH.

Hello, dear ones. This has been a rough weekend for the US, particularly for a large population of women. As I write this, fog obscures the woods, rain gently patters on the foliage, yellow and gold leaves drift slowly to the forest floor, each one a moment of poetry. The resident owl calls mournfully in the distance. Prepare yourselves, friends. I am about to disrupt the peace of my quiet retreat and get fiery about political feminist ideals. If that’s not your bag, you are under no obligation to keep reading, but I hope you will anyway. What’s happening politically in the US right now is happening in other parts of the world, and it isn’t new. For millennia, the globe has been ruled by a patriarchy which favors the needs of a few, while the many are kept ignorant, brainwashed, hungry, and fearful in order to keep them too busy to rebel. Over the years of my life, I have read a lot about equal rights and how it may be achieved, as well as reading about how the masses are kept essentially enslaved to leadership which does not represent their needs. In this time of human history, we finally have achieved a means for supplying plenty of food for all, have the means for providing shelter and clothing for all, and we have the means to educate all. We have everything we need to ensure the health and safety of every human on the planet, and yet the majority of the world’s population struggles in poverty or illness. Why? The patriarchy.

In the US, despite our “freedom,” we are raptly engaged in a system of societal obedience which encourages us to stay silent when we see bullying, sexual harassment or assault, or abuse of power. Girls are taught from the time they are born that they are expected to be kind, nurturing, and submissive, while boys are expected to be brave, adventurous, and dominant. Even parents educated on gender roles, and who encourage gender fluidity, have a vigorous uphill battle to help their children avoid the deep waters of social acculturation which inevitably happens when children see and interact with the culture of patriarchy all around them. No matter how much you work at home, no matter who you befriend, no matter what school you choose, unless you live in a commune in the woods, your children will grow up in the culture of patriarchy. We all learn that girls are expected to suffer the indecency of being seen as sexual objects, to prepare for the inevitable sexual assault which may happen at any time, and that our brains are weakened by hormones out of our control. Boys are expected to be the violent protectors of their loved ones, to stuff their emotions away regardless of what they see or hear, and to handle their problems on their own, without coddling or comfort. None of these things demanded by society are based in any actual scientific research or true human need; rather, they are arbitrary rules we follow simply because everyone else is doing it. I’m sure any of you reading now already knows all of this, but the consequence of us knowing it and not helping to change it is what we are seeing in our political system right now. It’s a repeating pattern, and it will continue to repeat until the population of the globe decides to do what works for the betterment of mankind, rather than just the instant gratification of the moment, and blind obedience to a broken system.

I’ve been reading a book titled Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. It’s an in-depth biography of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder which explores a wide, holistic view of the United States in the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. At the turn of the century, women were fighting for the right to vote, and before that, in the late 1800s the political climate of the US was very similar to what is happening in our country right now: lots of misinformation, political leaders refusing to help the needy (saying the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps), and refusal to acknowledge that short-sighted farming methods were causing environmental change which resulted in heat waves and droughts, and then later the Dustbowl. Yes, the similarities are incredibly uncanny. Slavery had come to an end, but not the suffering of people of color. Native Americans were being corralled like animals onto tiny, miserable plots of land after centuries of living free. Here, I will insert my own knowledge from other sources to say the patriarchal march of white male privilege stomped all over the globe, spreading its venomous control through every single society it conquered, assimilated, and destroyed through colonization, war, and creating self-indulgent empires. Unfortunately, Christianity was a massive vehicle for this crushing take-over. Hold your horses if you’re Christian and feeling offended. I am not saying all Christians are responsible for the mess of the world, but Christianity has a long history of male-dominated culture which abuses its power. This is not news, and it needs to be said. Religion should not be used to control others, but it is, and Christianity isn’t the only religion doing it. I was a member of a religion which I thought to be very progressive, but even that religion had brainwashing built into the culture, and it’s less than 200 years old. Because of that, I quit religion and set myself free. I believe I am better for it, even if I can still respect those who wish to remain.

Women and people of color in this country (along with other various groups) have been fighting for equal rights since the inception of the US, and we have made some progress, but largely we are still ruled by a patriarchy which refuses to see a basic truth: when we take care of everyone, we all win. No, I am not talking about communism. Allow me to explain. If you ignore the health of part of the population, disease spreads. If disease spreads amongst enough people, even the healthy may be affected, regardless of how well they eat or where they live. When vaccines became the norm, and science showed us how much better life would be for everyone if we vaccinate the whole population, our global health improved. We eradicated small pox, virtually eliminated polio, and reduced the effects and spread of several other deadly diseases. This is known as herd immunity. It’s a smart decision to take care of the whole population, rather than just a few, even if you’re a selfish wealthy person who lives in a mansion high on a hill, surrounded by a moat filled with alligators. You have to leave your mansion at some point. None of us lives in a vacuum, and you will be exposed to germs when you venture out into the world at large. If you apply this same ideal to cultural norms, when the whole population lives in a state of imbalance about intelligence, contribution, earnings, importance, power, and ownership, you have problems with portions of the population which will be unhealthy emotionally, will abuse their power, and the imbalance of hierarchy creates diseases of the mind and heart. This does not mean we have to be communists, but if we inject truth and logic into the masses which are brainwashed into believing this imbalance is good for them (eg: white women who are raised believing they must submit to the authority of their husbands, and that their place in society is one of submission, which denies them the right to power over their finances, property, and bodies), the patriarchy would crumble immediately. Right now, the patriarchy relies on our acceptance of its norms through obedience, and too many voting Americans are placing all their eggs in the November basket.

When November rolls around, do not be surprised if the Republican party has hijacked the election to remain in power. Proof abounds in a smattering of sources which provide insight into how the GOP managed to leverage its way into the position of power it now occupies more openly than ever before (as if it ever really hid itself). Unfortunately, it’s once again acceptable to be openly racist, sexist, and biased. Being a bully is in vogue again as the patriarchy rears its ugly head to belch flames all over the progress made by activists for civil rights, mental health, people with disabilities, veterans, LGBTQ, and women’s rights (and if I missed anything, please note in the comments—I do enjoy your love letters). Voting alone will not ensure a shift in politics. Democrats are no safer than Republicans in the US. Both parties have their pockets lined by big corporations which pull the strings of the entire rigged system, which also control the school systems, social welfare, health care, farming and food regulation, and pharmaceuticals, and most of it is owned by uber-wealthy white men. Go take some time to research the wealthiest people in the world. Don’t just take my word for it—don’t take any one person’s word over anything. I believe in finding out the truth for myself, and I encourage all people to do the same. My views are mine alone, and I don’t expect anyone to just believe me. Learn about who holds the cards of leadership in our world, discover their political affiliations, read about where they spend their cash, and how it affects policies globally. I have a feeling you will not be surprised to discover a web of intrigue which is meant to keep the populace foundering in ignorance while the wealthy behave like puppet masters. Thing is, I don’t believe the puppet masters are really that happy. When your entire life is wrapped up in keeping secrets, managing institutions of suffering, and maintaining imbalance, you aren’t a happy human.

The truth about our social network of imbalance is that if we achieved a “herd immunity” for emotional and mental health by ensuring safe and affordable housing, healthy food and water, health care, and clothing for all, we would be more likely to benefit from the contributions of individuals who would likely discover cures to deadly diseases, science which helps us better explore space and the deepest parts of the ocean, better ways to replace plastic, or save the water supply. We may already have had such a person alive in our world, but we may have lost our chance to benefit from that individual contribution because we have allowed the imbalance of hierarchical society to keep us enslaved in suffering. If you look at how racism has indelibly damaged our globe, just think about what you know of Africa. Look at the suffering, the death, the irreparable damage to life, culture, and the environment. South America suffers the same fate. The Middle East? Ravaged by war and politics and religion which all play tug-of-war over oil. It’s foolishness to think these are accidental conditions, and dangerous to assume the general populous has no control over it. We have all the power, which is what the leadership has been keen to hide. We have the power of numbers on our side, even if they have all the weapons. With numbers, even technology can’t prevent the overwhelming tide of revolution. We know injustice when we see it, no matter what your religious or political beliefs.

No one should have to feel less than. No one deserves to live with guard towers shining lights into their barred windows, being followed like criminals, or interrogated when out after dark like people living in government housing around New York City right now. Who lives there? High numbers of people of color, single mothers, the elderly. Go look it up, or you can watch the movie Copwatchers. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, regardless of what he or she is wearing, saying, or doing. Only about 5% of the people who come forward to report an assault are lying, which means about 95% of those who say they have been assaulted are telling the truth. If you received a vaccine which gave you a 95% rate of effectiveness, you would be willing to get the shot if it kept you alive. Don’t believe me about the numbers? Go read the info on false reporting from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, or better yet, just read as many sources as you can find. No one deserves to be caged because of their skin color, and yet roughly 13,000 children are still being kept in government custody because their parents wanted them to have better, safer lives. Sexual assault runs rampant in these shelters, as does other abuse. These children will most likely live with the effects of being taken from their parents and kept as prisoners for the rest of their lives. Even if you believe these children should not have come here illegally, they do not deserve to be caged and subjected to assault. The choices of their parents should not be taken out of their well-being. Read about it in any of the major newspapers, like the LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post…the list is long and the sources are varied.

Such injustices create imbalances which keep people in a state of stress, which affects their health and their ability to contribute to society as a whole. For centuries, the United States has touted itself as the land of the free, but that applies only to those who are privileged, which usually translates to white males. Anyone else is subject to the perils of oppression, and even if your argument as a white man is to suggest that your life has not been full of roses and daisies, your life has not been burdened with the racism and sexism that people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, people with mental illness, people with disabilities, and women have endured. White men suffer, too, and some of them have even been sexually assaulted and oppressed, but that is only more proof that the system is broken if it does not care for all equally. We must make the choice to support all lives equally and fairly, rather than to hand over power to those who are privileged and connected to the good old boys’ club. Too often, we allow zeal and popular views to govern our choices, rather than research, considerate discussion, and humane guidance. Logic dissipates in the face of emotional, blistering commentary based in opinions rather than facts. As a society, we must learn to stop simply repeating what we read on social media or hear in passing, and actually research the facts. Learn the science, understand the politics, and know the truth. If you have time to goof around on Facebook or Twitter, you have time to read an article in a scholarly journal or to watch a documentary. Take the time to educate yourself on the views of people completely different than you, and really listen without arguing. Even if you disagree, it’s not going to hurt you in any way to just listen for a few minutes.

When I married Michael, I had no idea what a fantastic education I would enjoy as a result of our relationship. All of my life I have been anti-gun, I raised my children without any toy guns in the house, and I believed guns were the source of way too much violence in society. Though I still believe in gun control and reasonable laws to govern their use, I have shifted my ideas about guns due to my husband’s beliefs. He regards the liberal bias about gun control as fear-based, and disagrees that guns are the basis of our mass-shootings. Though I disagree that we should blame individuals only and avoid discussion of guns as part of the problem, I do agree that guns are a tool, and most people who own them would never go out and shoot anyone. Do I think anyone needs an AK-47? Not really, but even if people do own them, that doesn’t mean they are destined to be killers. The real issue, once again, is the imbalance and illness of oppression and what it does to the minds of everyone in the broken system. Who are the individuals doing the majority of mass shootings? White men. What does that tell you about the mental health of what our oppressive culture does to white men? Though they sit at the top of the heap, even they aren’t happy. In fact, being forced into the role of fierce protectors who must provide in the dog-eat-dog world of business is too heavy a burden for some. They learn that their only safe escape, their only means for stress relief, is violence. Sometimes they duke it out on each other, sometimes they beat their wives or children, and sometimes they get guns and shoot up malls, hospitals, or schools. Healthy, happy people don’t misuse guns, and law-abiding citizens are the ones who suffer when we take away the tool they might use to help feed their families. I know a lot of people in rural New York State who live on the meat they shoot. They aren’t shooting with AK-47s, but they do often have large collections of guns, and they carefully instruct their children on proper handling to avoid injury. The issue is complicated, but the fact that men are only allowed to show two emotions—happiness and anger—under most circumstances is clearly a bigger problem than gun laws can solve alone.

Protests over the last couple of years have erupted over the issue of gun control, inequality, racism, immigration, and much more, but I maintain that the basis for all of the unrest lies deeply rooted in the problem of living in a patriarchy which limits individual rights and oppresses humanity as a whole. We can do better. Womens’ Rights activist and writer, Gloria Steinem, is famous for saying, “Imagine we are linked, not ranked,” pointing out that hierarchies encourage imbalance, while embracing people as equals would improve everything about world society. Al Gore, founder of the Climate Reality Project, states in many of his speeches about climate change that we have all the technology, science, and information we need to solve the problems of climate change right now, and yet spread of misinformation keeps the oil companies in power. The problem isn’t the tendency for a few power-hungry tyrants wanting to seize control, because there will always be tyrants. The problem lies in our blind obedience to systems which do not serve human needs. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (which I encourage you to read in its entirety if you have not already):

 “…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will…”

As a white woman, I can appreciate King’s notion of the white moderate who sits on the sidelines of the struggles of others, not wanting to upset the status quo, resting on the laurels of our relative comfort in comparison with what we know will incur suffering if we get involved. And yet, it will require that white people get uncomfortable, question authority, learn about the oppression of others, believe survivors of abuse or oppression, and realize that we simply must honor human life over the systems which enslave us. If we stay home when others are protesting, if we stay silent when others are crying out for help, if we keep our saved dollars when others are donating their last pennies, you have every reason to expect the patriarchy will survive and continue your slavery. Not even white people are really happy in the current system. If we want it to change, we are going to have to help, and that means everyone who sees the truth must come out and do their part. You don’t have to go knock on doors if you’re an introvert, but you can write emails or post on social media, and you can certainly read up on history, current events, science, psychology, and whatever else lends itself to understanding what is happening right now. Anything is better than nothing, and your small expenditure of time, effort, or donation will add to the massive number of active people in the world. You will be joining the millions of people working to end suffering worldwide. If you’ve already joined, thank you for your service to humanity. I hope you keep going. We need you. Stay strong, take care of yourself, remember to laugh. It’s okay to enjoy yourself, even though the world is a mess. The world has been a mess for as long as we’ve been recording history, so do your part to help, and then feel better when you have the time to play. Working at fixing what’s wrong with our world will alleviate your own suffering and stress, because action is one of the best sources of countering depression, anxiety, or rage.

Above all, remember that even people who have completely opposite viewpoints from your own are still people. We don’t have to hate anyone, even those who behave like monsters. Instead, I try to remember that even the oppressors are suffering, which is why they are doing harm to others. If they were happy and well-adjusted, they wouldn’t feel comfortable hurting anyone. Pity them if you have the heart. If not, feel your rage and use it as fuel for change, but don’t let it eat you up inside. No one benefits if you make yourself sick because you forget to take care of yourself. This has been a long diatribe, I know, so I want to say that even though Kavanaugh was voted in because he is part of the sexual abuser club, we will survive. In the words sung by Gloria Gaynor, “…I will survive, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive…” Additionally, don’t just survive…thrive, my friends. As Oprah has said, “Success is the best revenge.” It’s true. Want revenge? Succeed. In everything, seek success. Answers to every problem are out there if you take the time to find them, even if it takes you a lifetime. Be a flame under the iron grip of patriarchy, not just for women, but for all humans. We will all win when we can all be free to contribute in the ways we are most suited, and to live in a society which values human beings over systems.