Friday, July 15, 2016

Grieving Patriarchy

In my film class, we got to read "Wives and Concubines" by Su Tong, and see the movie, "Raise the Red Lantern". My professor related this story and movie to Confucianism, which is ultimately a patriarchy. From my class, I learned that patriarchy is designed to serve the interests of male members of society, and patriarchy does this through control and subjugation. The areas of culture my professor listed as subject to patriarchal control were religious, familial, political, economic, social, legal, and artistic.
I was struck by the story and how invisible the man was, and how the women competing for his favor, undermined each other. It made me sad to see how the women could have banded together to support each other, but patriarchy with its attending hierarchy naturally breeds competition and resentments. The movie is such a rich example of patriarchy and its self-limiting cruelties.
While my mind was connecting patriarchy to all forms of suffering in the world, and how patriarchy demeans men and women equally, I kept coming back to an area of my life where patriarchy has hit home, a personal patriarchy. It isn't just that cultures are set up to give privilege to certain males-in America it is white males-but that the family is a representative condensation of that structure, which means patriarchy can be the dominant structure of a marriage relationship. (See Terry Real and other therapists who work with this concept in personal relationships.)
I realized that I am in one area of our society that is unrelenting in its adherence to patriarchy, and that is court. I am not there by choice, which is an act of control in and of itself. The court system was created by men, and even if it is designed for fairness for all, we know from solid, repeated research that bias exists against black men and abused women, and women in general. Patriarchy relies on and breeds racism and sexism; even benevolent sexism is sexism. The goal is control and power, but it is an illusion because power is an addiction, meaning, that in order to maintain external power and control, you must have something to control. The alternative is controlling yourself and developing natural authority and leadership. Patriarchy discourages this development of courage, strength, self-respect, and leadership in a man.
But in our society today, the controlled are also given the illusion of choice. In a court situation, your choices are handed over to the judge. The other party's choices are ironically handed over to the judge, and in a strange twist, one party can fuel both forming a forced allegiance to patriarchy.
Today, I am sad. I was in a relationship that was essential patriarchy in all those areas listed above: religion, family, economics, politics, social, legal, and artistic. Every single aspect of my life was subject to approval, and if I stood up or spoke up for myself I was summarily squashed or punished in some way: silence, withdrawal, withholding, control. It feels awful to be the subjugated one, to try to reason with a person who demeans you and have your dreams, desires, and hopes for your life and the lives of your children so manipulated and controlled.  It doesn't matter if he hits you, and this, too has been hard, because at least if I'd been hit, there would have been some sort of honeymoon phase in the cycle. And it is STILL hard for women who have been repeatedly hit to get help and overcome bias. If in an extreme situation it is hard to get legal and practical help, how much less in a situation that is abusive dominance, but spit-shined to look like it's not and you are the crazy one?
And so there is a lot of pain, and isolation, and the rest of the world not having a grip on these things. Thank God for therapists who get it and for compassionate, honest friends.
But it makes me deeply sad. People who change policy and work for social justice have a hard row to hoe. Change happens so slowly and inevitably someone protests and great groups put up roadblocks to positive change and social justice. Naysayers to any social movement are a dime a dozen and some are more powerful than others. I am coming to clarity that my position is that we change the structure that allows for abuse, which is patriarchy, and many people put structures in place that help deal with the resulting problems. If the smallest act of dominance and bullying is allowed, it holds roadblocks for the most extreme abuse cases. But we need efforts on both ends-addressing patriarchal structures and creating places where woman-abuse via sexism and bias is not allowed, and helping women heal from abuses in the court, their families, or at the hands of angry exes.
It's not even a gender issue, it is a structural infusion of a dysfunctional paradigm. Women participate in holding up patriarchy as well, and can even be the dominant party who works to ultimately serve the interests of white maleness.
I'm sad. I wish it were easier to address this problem.
Part of me feels like giving up. It is all so overwhelming. It seems like it would be simple if people would just bring themselves to love, but love is not enough. The sense of powerlessness and being trapped and grief at having your choice of a healthy relationship with a person is completely taken away. But what does any of that matter? When one is unwillingly thrust into enemy position and hated so fully, what is there to be done but TRY to make some meaning of it? Be a contrast to the hate without getting completely railroaded...this is tricky, ungraceful business.
"To be human is to live within a hairbreadth of the unbearable." Sometimes, this feeling of powerlessness, of having no influence to make something better and good and right and fair is unbearable. This system that has betrayed me so many times, people who supposedly loved me who let me down over and over again, This system my daughter and son will have to make peace with somehow, and do their own stumbling through.
Patriarchy. It's what's for dinner.
As a woman growing up in this day and age, I was always told I could be anything I want to be. But that is a lie along the lines of "love is enough". Yes, a woman can be anything she wants to be but she is going to be lesser paid for it, have bigger obstacles, and fail if she does not learn how to play the game of looking like she is serving the system...the system that was designed by men and that they are loathe to let go of.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Good Kind of Trouble

Yesterday was my 48th birthday. I'm not really blonde but for twenty minutes yesterday I was and it was super fun. As I edge closer to 50, and closer to finishing my degree, and closer to my potential,  I purpose to live this year with gusto, passion, and self-acceptance. It's time to let go of all that insecurity and doubt and just fly free into the next era of my life.

Andrea Balt of Creative Rehab posted this on my birthday, and I love it:

Don’t you find it odd or rather upside down when you are tempted to apologize for having a dream to the non-dreamers, a heart to the heartless, a vision to the blind?
For trusting yourself to the doubters, for having faith to the soulless, for practicing compassion to the cruel, for your childish nature to the deadly serious adults, for bleeding passion to the dead?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t THEY apologize for giving up on their dreams, for silencing their intuition, for agreeing with their fear, for settling for a life & a love that doesn’t bear their signature?
For staying when they mean to leave, for leaving when they want to stay, for being too scared to trust, to dare, to invest enough heart, to create every day like they are ALIVE & every fucking bit mattered?
Don’t apologize for being too much or for feeling things deeply, for wanting to change yourself, and then lives, and then maybe the world, through your gifts, dreams, ideas, as crazy, as mad, as impossible as they seem to those who cannot understand.
Apologize ONLY for the times you agree with your fear & want to give up.
The world needs more creative middle fingers & less polite I'm-sorry's, more art & less apologies, more wild & less tame, more jumping from the highest cliff & less fear of falling or flying, more trusting your own gut & less bullshit excuses for not creating your true life with every breath you've got.
Happy Monday, Dreamers! ❤️

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mad Banana Man

When I was in high school, I made a sculpture I called "Mad Banana Man", It was a banana with a face on it, pinched into an expression of cartoonish anger. Right after I had finished it, I impulsively smashed the wet clay with my fisted hand. My teacher was flabbergasted as to why I would destroy it...he liked it.
But there was part of me that could not tolerate that kind of public display of anger, could not tolerate the righteous indignation of my own heart. In addition to normal teenage angst, I had every reason to be angry. Year later, I wondered, why did I squash my own healthy impulses, even artistically rendered? Why was I surprised that a person would be comfortable with my anger and happy that I had expressed something so? Where had my anger been wrongfully squashed?
It was my learning, my upbringing, as a woman, as a daughter, to kill any hint of anger, to exercise great intolerance of a woman's anger. This is largely cultural. Angry women are seen as being irrational and out of control. Many times a woman is not listened to until she flares up in anger. Even then, her anger is not always taken seriously. But anger has a purpose, and a logic. Of course we need anger to energize us and bring us to rightful action, especially when there is a scapegoat situation. It makes complete sense.  People say anger comes from fear, that primal emotion, or when boundaries are crossed. It can be tricky, and related to one's self-view: chronically angry people, and those stuck in passive-aggression quite possibly feel completely inept and powerless, something they learned somewhere.
Righteous anger can be a cleansing fire. It is indeed a fiery emotion, a consumption that momentarily clouds your thinking. Anger is a hunger, a hunger for change, for justice, for power. It is important to use such power wisely and with love. Listen closely to anger. Listen to why she is angry. Once this work of anger begins, which is the purging of illusions and acceptance of what the voice of anger truly has to say, then clarity will come. It burns away hope, and fear, and control if we let it. It leaves one dancing on the bed of those white-hot coals called Grief. Ultimately anger compels us to act with regard to love, protection of the weak, and justice, not with self-serving oppression of another. Ironically, the oppressor is as angry as the scapegoat.
I have a situation in my life that in every way is unfair. As a friend pointed out about a similar situation in her life, on no set of morals, values, or virtues is this type of situation "fair" or "right". We are both scapegoats. She said something to me about trying to build a bridge, and then realizing there is no bridge. Of course we are angry.
There is no bridge, there is no bridge, there was no bridge. This has haunted me since I heard her say it.  I have patiently, and awkwardly, and faithfully, and imperfectly, tried to tend a bridge. The bridge was an illusion, one where anger had to burn away the veil so I could see how there was no bridge to tend. I lost so much of myself trying to prevent the loss of a bridge that wasn't even there, trying to fix and nurture something that didn't exist. I am angry at myself, and I have to forgive myself for taking so much time to tend a facade.
The realization becomes that anger has a season. The work of anger is tiresome and at some point, for me, it is not possible to live anger as a lifestyle, although the oppressor does live anger. That doesn't mean that for me, anger doesn't rightfully flare in response, but that it becomes a messenger, and often leads one straight to grief, and you can't run from grief forever. The truth that there is no bridge between you and someone once-beloved is very sad. It's more than disappointing.
One vision/theme that has been coming to me repeatedly is the picture of a wall. How some people are bridge people: relational, caring, empathetic, humble, and some people are wall people: impenetrable, stoic, rejecting, judgmental,unfeeling, unkind. How I often find myself hiding in front of walls, trying to milk them for something they are incapable of giving, angrily beating my fists against them as if they are capable of something real. The bigger part of the picture is that behind me is a big field full of color, trees, greenery, sunshine,and the flow of life, and people:bridge-tenders and bridge-builders, open sky, room to run and play, just beautiful, endless possibility. People connect and love in that field. Standing in front of walls or illusory bridges keeps me away from this field, disconnected from loving and being loved.
Spirit taps me on the shoulder, waking me up with righteous anger, cleansing me with grief: "Turn around. Live. Here is this wide, wild field, not a wall in sight."
I close with a poem by May Sarton, invoking Kali. This line says it all: "Put the wild hunger where it belongs, within the act of creation"
I'm walking into that field.

Kali, be with us.
Violence, destruction, receive our homage.
Help us to bring darkness into the light,
To lift out the pain, the anger,
Where it can be seen for what it is—
The balance-wheel for our vulnerable, aching love.
Put the wild hunger where it belongs,
Within the act of creation,
Crude power that forges a balance
Between hate and love.

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

Bear the roots in mind,
You, the dark one, Kali,
Awesome power.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Of Pizza and Men

Well, now that you know the Chocolate Box theory of relationships, here is what I shared with A.N. Nonymous that got our wheels turning:
The emotional lives of men can be likened to a delivered pizza. Some have a pizza they will seductively open, waft in front of your face, let you smell it, let your mouth start to water in anticipation, pop a small bit  in your mouth and then quickly close the pizza box. Then they leave the pizza box there, distract you while you grow hungrier and hungrier, ignore your requests for just another bite (well, maybe they give you a crumb and TELL you it is a whole slice, leaving you confused and hungrier), and offer you a glass of water instead. Meanwhile, the pizza gets cold and you don’t want it any more. Well, maybe you remember when it was piping hot and think to yourself, “I can live on cold pizza for awhile” and perhaps you do. Or you try to reheat it in the microwave or oven. Perhaps you try to preserve it in the refrigerator. In the end, you wish you’d left when the pizza was hot and the dude wasn’t giving any away.
There are those men who have a beautiful pie they just won’t dress up and heat up. They just won’t. Sometimes they are pining away for their own old pizza they finished and that was good for awhile but now it’s long gone and they can’t stop looking at that empty pizza box. Ugh! Throw it away, dude! Don't let your own pizza grow cold and gross over an empty pizza box!
What about the asshole pizzas? A.N. Nonymous briefly mentioned assholes in his writing. Asshole pizzas present themselves as a gourmet, trendy, truly outstanding pizzas, but when you take a bite, you realize it is not gourmet, but something frozen and embellished with words, something like Jeno's or a generic brand. Or worse, it is not pizza at all, but  pizza rolls or tater tots. At any rate, there is nothing of substance and it's total false advertising and when you open your mouth to protest, asshole-pizza gets stuffed angrily down your throat while taking ALL of your great pizza. And then he demands more and more of your pizza so he doesn't have to go to the trouble of faking his pizza any more. NOT what you signed up for. 
Then…THEN there is the question of brand of pizza. Sometimes, when you are really hungry, you might settle for one of the standard-issue chain pizzas of varying sizes and qualities. Ok, and sometimes a frozen pizza, presented in the right way and with heart, can be completely satisfying.  But you realize that you, yourself, have taken the time and baked a whole gourmet pizza of your own, you, kept hot, appetizing, creative, satisfying, and tasty. The ingredients are fresh, high quality, and artfully placed. Not perfect, mind you, but honest and good. You have it to give. Still, you end up settling for the commonly available pizza far too often until…until….

In walks the big shebang, a pizza as hot and juicy and endlessly satisfying as yours. We are talking the most delicious pizza…like Garage Bar kale chip pizza served with a basil gimlet (my personal favorite). Artfully placed…satisfying…creative…juicy…interesting, for God’s sake! And the guy delivering it gives you whole pieces…you won’t go hungry. And it's REAL. He feeds it to you by the hot slice, nothing held back. It shatters everything you knew about pizza and how good it could be.

It is then you realize you could never go back to cardboard chain pizza. You realize you cannot have anything less than the whole pie, the good stuff, the one that makes your mouth water every time you see it, the one that makes you devour and savor and pleasure in every-single-moment, that makes you hum loudly, "mmmmmmm" and close your eyes in senses-satiated ecstasy.
 I want the whole pizza and I want to give my whole pizza.Life is too short for a steady diet of crappy or pedestrian pizza. I WANT TO SHARE PASSIONATE PIZZA and I will not live without it. 

Make your own passionate pizzas, and share with a whole-sliced lover:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Knitting As Re-Ordering

One thing I’ve learned and am completely convicted about is that trauma is pervasive, and trauma issues are at the root of so many things we consider pathological or “wrong”. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that is pathological is that which cannot be fixed: entitlement. This manifests in people who remain rigid walls, who enjoy causing suffering in others, who have no empathy and therefore no remorse or motivation for change. Those who struggle and identify their struggles and move to change within their struggles are the keepers of hope; are the guardians of relationship.

The biggest thing I’ve taken in is from Serene Jones. In her wonderful, gracefully written book, “Trauma and Grace”, she speaks of trauma in terms of imagination and how trauma of any kind  disorders its sufferer's imagination. I won’t go too far into what constitutes trauma, but as Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk says in “The Body Keeps The Score”,
“Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, not being mirrored, and not being taken into account. Treatment needs to reactivate the capacity to safely mirror, and be mirrored by, others, but also to resist being hijacked by others’ negative emotions.”
To put the two together, trauma, through not being seen, mirrored, or taken into account, creates a disordered, chaotic state…it creates an imagination where one is constantly a victim long after the threat has ceased, or frozen and immobile in the face of real threats, where one is isolated and powerless, or where one seeks to re-live the state of original trauma. The limited imagination is a stuck feeling, an extended deer-in-the-headlights chosen limbo. It is frightening and vulnerable. The inner chaos can express itself in emotional numbness,
To step into healing is to venture to re-order one’s story. Jones says that healing involves 1. Telling your story in safety and truth 2. Having your story be witnessed by a compassionate person and 3. Forming a new story with the help of your witness. Forming a new story involves developing capacities of imagination that were either put to sleep, or completely disordered by, trauma (which is why I love IFS so much).
I am, of course, a huge advocate of the arts as a way to awaken imagination and re-order one’s story. Knitting is one art that brings not only an aspect of mindfulness and presence, but helps a traumatized person walk into a process and model of healing.  Part of the stuck-ness of trauma is avoiding seeking novel experiences, such as the experiences of being accepted, loved, safe, nurtured, and celebrated.
Knitting, first of all, is a process. Knitting an object of beauty and usefulness has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Following a pattern is being given a map to a certain destination, a destination that is presumably fixed but allows for myriad variations and endless creativity within a guided journey. Following a knitting pattern is not a passive wandering, but is an active opportunity to make decisions, figure things out, and keep the goal in mind of creating something of beauty. This journey is a gift, and is a slow working-toward an end goal.
As an experienced knitter, I have sometimes encountered patterns that bring in a technique that is new-ish to me. Often, when I get the jist of the technique, and THINK I know the basic steps and dive right in with what I already know, I mess up. When I open myself to learning something new, to experiencing the novelty and pushing myself beyond what I think I know, I make myself so much richer and more creative. And inevitably more successful.

In knitting, there is stumbling. There are mistakes and setbacks. I once knitted a whole sweater and hated how it looked on me and couldn’t even GIVE it away. So I unraveled the whole thing and used the yarn for something else. This, too, is transformation: the ability to completely let go and destroy something one has worked so hard to build. In the destruction, there is the ability to place hope in something newer and better. You can’t get too stuck when you paid $20 a skein for yarn and you are motivated to justify that purchase. You are forced to re-invest. Such is the way of inner healing, too.
Sometimes in the process you rely on your own resources, and sometimes those of others.
I remember when I was working at bridal shop, sitting there so quietly and intently at my sewing machine, the manager called me aside to talk to me. She wanted me to ask more questions. She said, “no one should be sitting in the corner, struggling alone.” This stuck with me, how there is always someone who will help you along your journey, be it knitting or healing one's psyche, and at times, for me, those two have been intrexicably linked. I cannot count the kindnesses and veritable "angels" that have been put in my path to show me kindness, generosity, presence, forgiveness, and ever-faithful grace.
Trauma creates a disordered, fractional, unpredictable story that sticks like bad perfume. Knitting is rhythmic, predictable, repetitive, reliable, satisfying and ultimately PLEASURABLE. Those who have experienced immense pain take their time coming back to the goodness and pleasure in life. The slow putting of the stitches together into a whole, the unwinding of mistakes and putting them right, the capacity to make sense of unwieldy directions or disparate pieces….this is healing to an imagination disordered by trauma.

Knitting constantly tells a story of safety and comfort, of color and life, told repeatedly by one’s own hands. It creates an order out of any momentary inner chaos, calms the breathing, and satisfies one’s soul. In every way, it mirrors back the value and beauty of one's own soul. 

 May the light of your soul guide you. May the work that you do be blessed by the secret love and warmth of your heart. May you see in your work the beauty of your own soul. -Unknown

For a cursory overview of Van der Kolk's work:

Ideas and themes for affirmation in the service of addressing trauma (re-ordering one’s imagination) through knitting:
-knit a cocoon (a shawl, cowl, or large scarf for introspection)
-knit a sweater (for warmth, protection, adornment, new color)
-knit anything for anyone else (for a sense of contribution, to develop altruism and therefore happiness, to experience one’s compassion and generosity)
-knit something as a gift (to nurture gratitude and sheer love)
-knit socks or slippers (to challenge one’s self, and to represent moving forward in grace and out of one’s own resources)
-knit a hat (as a colorful halo or crown of celebration!)
-knit baby stuff (because it is cute, nurturing, and celebrates life)