Friday, September 8, 2017

Don't ask; just dance

How are you doing? I am both fine and struggling.

The fine: I am going to work, getting my prep work done, making good connections with students, bringing them new information and teaching them how to read critically and how to write clearly. I'm making progress on my writing projects. I am still learning how to live whatever illness I have, and some days are really difficult physically, but I am taking care of myself, keeping myself moving.

The struggling: I don't half know how to write this part. I am negotiating the line between keeping track of what my government is doing (and objecting to most of it) and protecting my mental health. Just lately I've been feeling such dread. I could write a list here of the things that have made me feel worse and worse about what our country is doing--the pain and human suffering that it is causing--but that list would get too long. It's overwhelming, and it makes me feel panicky sometimes, other times like I'm going to throw up.

One of the worst parts, for me, something that broke me a little, was Charlottesville: white supremacists forcing their way onto a college campus, taking to the streets and killing a young woman and beating up a young man and shooting at people, spewing their hate all over the place. Their ideology feels like a rejection of everything I believe, undoing all the things I have spent my life doing.

And then Hurricane Harvey. And then DACA. And another hurricane on the way. Fires in the Pacific Northwest, fires in Southern California. People I know and love all being affected by these. Heartbreak after heartbreak.

In the backdrop there is the daily blanket of sadness over our household because our nest is empty now. Our son's moving to college has brought so much pride, and excitement about the future he is building for himself. But I also just plain miss him a lot. Like, a whole lot.

On Thursday morning of this week, I was getting ready for school and I couldn't get this one song out of my head. I've heard it in a commercial recently... but the unsatisfying thing about the commercial is that it edits out one of my favorite parts, where the background singers come to the fore and sing I'M TAKING, I'M TAKING, and DON'T YOU DO IT, DON'T YOU DO IT.

That part--the background singers making themselves heard--has always struck me as odd, but also awesome, somehow bold and unapologetic. So I went online, cued up the song, and started playing it.

All of a sudden, I had to hear it LOUD. And sing along. And dance around the kitchen. And turn it up LOUDER.



I had a sensation I haven't felt in a while. It took me a second to recognize it: Joy. Just plain joy.

After the song was over, I started to wonder: where did this come from? Am I relieved about surviving a demanding week at school? Am I celebrating surviving the horribleness? I had so many questions.

But I stopped myself and just noticed: it's still here, still available. Joy is possible. Relish it when it comes. Just dance.

I hope you feel joy today.

Cheers,
Karen

Monday, January 2, 2017

Finding the light in 2016

I guess 2016 and I never did get things quite right between us.

The year brought challenges I did not imagine were coming, and felt unequipped to deal with: a scary health issue for my son (and a long recovery process); really, really scary health issues for three of my friends; a mysterious health issue for me that remains unresolved.

And David Bowie's death early in the year (January 10th) made it seem like 2016 started in grief, for me. I cried for days--literally. I cut my hair, and got it dyed pink & purple & blue. The passing of the wonderful weirdness that Bowie was made January seem like a giant ending rather than a beginning.

And then there was the avalanche of celebrity deaths that followed: Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, James Alan McPherson, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gloria Naylor, George Michael, Gwen Ifill, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher. And good lord, that's not even a complete list! Yes, there's always someone famous dying, but I felt genuine grief at these losses, that I wouldn't get to enjoy new work by them anymore, or just know that they were out there in the world seeing it through their artist eyes. Knowing that we lost them seemed so sad.

There were terrible deaths from gun violence--unthinkable, awful deaths. And we don't seem to know how to stop them, or be able to take the steps to do so.

The fall semester was, quite frankly, a struggle. My number one physical challenge was a near-constant feeling of exhaustion, like I was coming down with the flu every day. Every single day. I managed to do my job reasonably well (though I spent a lot more time sitting down while teaching than I ever remember doing before). The worn-out-ness meant giving up things that brought me joy. I stopped running. For a long while I stopped knitting. I haven't had the energy to sing with the band or go out dancing for a long, long while.

In the fall, one of my colleagues died--quite suddenly. I did not know him very well, as we worked in different departments and had not served on any committees together. But I knew his devotion to students, and to his family. I know that there are people who are devastated by this loss. He was only a few years older than me.

And amidst all this difficulty, the election happened. It brought me to a level of grief I didn't know was possible from an election. But it was so much more than that, of course; I wasn't just sad that the person I voted for didn't win. I was grieving the world I thought would be coming, the world I thought we were stepping into. Now we've stepped into a place I never wanted to live in, and I continue to grieve because the lives of my loved ones are put in danger by that man and his followers. Oh sure, I'll be fighting the things that are coming--the bad decisions, bad policies, harmful laws. In the meantime, knowing we're going down a wrong path is truly sad.

So it felt kind of difficult to turn to the positive at the close of 2016 as we hailed the arrival of a new year. But I had to remind myself: if 2016 was the year that my kid had a really scary surgical wound, it was also the year that that wound healed; his body performed its amazing, everyday miracle and grew tissue and created skin. My three friends are still here, more healthy than they were before their scary incidents, and doing amazingly well and looking beautiful.

Even in the face of 2016 hardships, I was thankful for the research and travel I was able to do to Portland, Neah Bay, and D.C. I got to see beloved friends, met people doing amazing work that makes our world better, and breathed in the beauty of the west coast--the ocean! the trees! the ferns!--and remembered how to navigate city life in D.C.

All through the fall semester, I was inspired and amazed by the work of the water protectors--people who came from all over the globe to stand with the Lakota people of the Standing Rock reservation and stop construction on an oil pipeline. No matter what the eventual outcome, here are the things I celebrate about Standing Rock: the people there were able to bring awareness to a "local" issue in such a way that people from all over the world cared about it; the water protectors were putting themselves in danger not only for their own access to clean water, but for millions of other people who need that water, too; they created a place where people were living in community, helping and serving one another; and in the face of increasing and terror-inducing violence being used against them, they maintained a prayerful resistance. What a beautiful and amazing and life-changing thing to witness.

And then recently as I was scrolling through Facebook and seeing all the holiday photos being posted, I realized something that finally convinced me that 2016 wasn't all bad: the babies. This year, there were babies arriving to friends who had hoped and wished for them, tried and prayed and struggled for them. The babies came, and made everyone fall in love, and became our best wish for the future, seeds that will carry us into a new world.

I'm not sure what 2017 will look like. I know it will bear some challenges, both personal and political, and that I should not count on it being any easier than 2016. Of course. But love continues on, that much I know. We will carry it forward.

May your year be beautiful.

Cheers,
Karen

P.S. If you're looking for a way to learn more about Standing Rock and its historical contexts, here's a great online resource: the Standing Rock syllabus. And here's an article that made me think that perhaps Standing Rock could teach us how to resist oppression in the near future by some very scary, rich, and powerful entities.