Sunday, 27 November 2022

May Your Days Be Merry; Of Love and LEGO

Currently, Dash is going through a phase of playing primarily with cardboard, construction paper, and painter's tape. His focus is on crafting, finding treasures on the ground as he walks through the world, and upcycling the ordinary into the extraordinary with his imagination power. 

If anyone asked him what toys he loves, he'd absolutely say LEGO, but he's mostly spending his time building things out of odds and ends from around the house. He frequently revisits his old toys, and plays limitless games with them, even as he looks at toy catalogs and imagines the infinite fun of MORE. 

MORE is fun to imagine, and can be fun to give, but is not the source of long-term joy. 

He's excited about the advent calendar (something that links me to my own Grandma Christmas), and about getting out decorations, and certainly anticipating opening presents once he sees them wrapped up under the tree, but even now a lot of what he talks about in the season ahead is the doing, and not so much the getting. 

Kids are sucked into this capitalist whirlwind as much as any of us, and they get snared by loud advertisements and the promise of novelty with even less framework of skepticism than us adults. We're human, and novelty is appealing. 

However, the lasting pleasures that resonate reveal themselves in excited talk about the rituals and expressions of love, even from very little kids. Momentary infatuation with material things fades very fast against the brighter light of connection, the spiritual power of stories, and the collective act of tending the fire together through the cold and dark.

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Tile Choices and Vote Tallies

My thoughts about the midterm elections right now: I just want to redo my kitchen. Hear me out. 

I'm lucky to live in my now not so new-to-me old house, and I'm able to afford it partly because it needed a bunch of work, which was definitely the deal and the plan going in. Housing costs are bonkers, and I am deeply grateful to have a roof over my head, much less one that comes with antique architectural details and opportunities to learn about traditional building. 

But part of me can't help having one foot out the door. 

I've been hovering at the edge of this kitchen remodel for years now, because there's never really a right time to tear an enormous hole into the heart of one's house. Our ragtag, falling apart kitchen--older than anyone living under this roof--was a blessing in the lockdown, and before that the idea of feeding a baby with no appliances and lots of dust and noise seemed crazy. 

Yet, now, the opportunity is here, and I'm looking at the many, many thousands of dollars it will take to get this done, and I'm nervous about investing that into the brick and mortar of a country that seems inconsistently trustworthy in governing itself. Perhaps I know too much. To earn my degree in Development Studies, I've read more than the average American about the impediments to improvement that come with chronic political instability and the looming threat of violence. Thanks to Trumpism, it requires no imagination to see how my university reading applies to the US context. 

It's not all bad. As I regularly remind myself, Trump never had a majority; on a national level, the electorate chose sensibly in 2016--to the tune of millions more votes--Hillary Clinton. In 2020, we swerved away from the Chernobyl of the Trump presidency, and narrowly elected a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress. We have the chance to expand our distance from coup attempts and religious radicalism in this election, right now. A further two Democratic senators with a Democratic House majority paves the way to passing a transformative legislative agenda to restore reproductive choice and take major action for environmental restoration. 

However, our judiciary has been screwed for the foreseeable future by extremist and unqualified GOP stacking of the courts, most evident in a Supreme Court which now favors Christian nationalism over voting rights and bodily autonomy, but also visible in a federal judiciary that was absolutely rammed with Trump appointees. The pipeline is now greasier and grimmer than the Keystone XL hoped to be. To contain that toxic spill, we're going to need to keep flexing muscle on policy that matters in our immediate lives. 

So this is where my consumer confidence is. Holding a bunch of job-creating cash and questioning whether my crumbling kitchen is really the rainy day to spend it on when a shitstorm may be brewing on the horizon. The realness of all this potential expenditure and the tangible risk of the US failing to imagine itself as livable for all humans is hitting me right between the eyes. I want to feel at home here, and safe in the choice to build back better.

Folks, you've gotta vote blue. At every level, all the way down the ticket. Everyday life choices depend on it, and not just my home improvement wishes. Your local electeds are determining whether it's safe to access reproductive healthcare, making choices about our increasingly precious supplies of clean water, and deciding whether democracy means anything at all in this country. This is our home we're talking about, the basic circumstances with which we shelter ourselves and each other against the uncertainties of human existence.

We are not exceptional. America can be a war-torn dump, a bad investment, a backward theocracy, or an impoverished hellscape just as much as any other country. Our deferred maintenance can become collapse with mind-boggling rapidity. Rightwing extremism is an incredibly efficient path to those destinations. 

We are all invested in the outcome here. We vote with our wallets, with our feet, sure, but the ballot box still matters, too. That is not a given. Our franchise is our most direct political statement of our intentions for our shared future. Elections have consequences, the personal is political... We choose to renovate or neglect our government for the people, by the people in every cycle. 

I want to vote for a sustainable life, full of choice, for joy in the present and excitement about what we can do. I want that politics of optimism. I want to build something that's going to last, and get out of emergency mode. 

Really, I want this country to be a safe space for us to dream big and relax into new ideas, to move toward that vision rather than simply away from the worst-case scenarios.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Politics of Optimism

A quick thought: As a cuspy Xennial, I was blessed to be in high school during a time of relative optimism, when the messages were that we were working on environmentalism, triumphing over sexism, and generally progressing toward accepting each other as fully human despite our differences. 

I don't want to pretend it was all okay--there were wars, scandals, and outrages, of course--but the tone was lighter. And I think about how my experience compares to kids in high school right now, or recently graduated. It felt possible to imagine that we were legitimately working on a better world when I was full of youthful enthusiasm, and I'm not surprised that I don't hear much of that coming from our newest adults now. 

I want to bring that sense of possibility back. I know, so retro!! But I think we all need it. I feel that there's a tilt now toward nihilism and despair, born of disconnection and very real crushing uncertainty, but these feelings are disabling. Omnipresent doubt short-circuits action, and the spiral continues. 

I would like a politics of optimism, please. In order to get there, we do indeed have to get ourselves past the immediate moment wherein our basic rights to bodily autonomy and democracy are very directly under attack. We have to breathe deep and shift that obstacle. 

But, then or even simultaneously, we need to hold dear that space to rebelliously dream. That's the arena where human social brilliance thrives, shifts paradigms, and manages to surmount generational challenges. That is when we have the capacity to transcend a status quo that is actively damaging all of us. 

And I think it's particularly important for those of us that have tasted such hope to find ways to cultivate it within ourselves, revive it when needed, and reach past the chaos and distractions deliberately placed in our path so we may gather momentum with others to envision and action on something better. Easier said that done, but eminently doable. 

Start with voting. Do that right now. Bring your friends. Let's first move the boulder of regressive conservatism so that we can get a real look at what our future can hold when we believe in solving the big problems of the day, rather than simply recreating the oppressions of yesterday. 

Actual progress is possible, and is present in our history at least as much as setbacks. May the glowing embers of optimism flare up in our hearts and warm us as we dream.

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Blood, Sweat & Selfies

I need to set a reminder to periodically look back through just my photos of myself. It's such an emotional timelapse of... Well, as many years as I choose to revisit, I guess. 

Looking back on recent history, I see a woman who had a fun, adventurous pregnancy through unexpectedly historical times, who fought hard for her happiness and sense of self in the early days of motherhood, who actually accomplished a lot, and who created a delightful, beautiful and nurturing environment for her child where they played and grew together. 

I know this from the perspective of having done it all at the time, with intention and perseverance, but wildness of these years has condensed it all in such a whirlwind that it can be hard to see myself in it. It's different to follow the pictures, with their thousands or probably millions of words, and be carried along on the story they tell. 

I feel I'm at a junction in life where I can reach back and grab a little of my youth to carry forward, maybe in my body or perhaps just in my heart. That energy and optimism has been easy to forget in the last couple of years. Honestly, I long for naivetĂ© and enthusiasm that I fear is never coming back. I feel anxious to conserve what I can, to stabilize just what I have in a world that has rocked to and fro far too much, and right at the time I had more to lose than ever before. 

I felt my child's soul calling to me to come to Earth. I reached up into the stars, and we danced back down together. A paradigm shift transpired, and I wondered at the great mystery and deep knowing of my baby. I was left alone far too often, and I gave profoundly from myself. 

The vulnerability I felt scared me, maybe too much to ever go back to that bewildering, primal state of early motherhood. I discovered new beauty, and I lost trust in the world around me. I slept little and felt the tension of the few strings that held me where I had hoped a fabric of society would offer warmth and protection. Often, the loss-averse nature of my own humanity dominates the emotional view, and I hold the growing independence of my now-kindergartner in a loving embrace that feels like there's room for both of us to thrive without excessive sacrifice. 

But, the photos somehow don't convey the exhaustion or the fear. They are triumphant, and only mildly curated: self-portraits in moments of tenderness and laughter, me and my silly baby, learning and growing together in the big miracle of life's longing for itself. The toddler dances and goofy smiles, clumsy hugs and dimples, naps in wraps and international stroller adventures... These are the reward for that raw vulnerability, and tasting the honey alone is sweet indeed. 

I have been stronger and more beautiful than I have known. When I castigate myself for what I failed to accomplish, I need to reach back for that younger version of myself and hold her dear. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

The Only Constant is Change

Let’s talk about change, what rushes by and what stays the same. 

The past few years have been, at least for me, a study in discomfort about all of this, but bolstered by an innate ability to breathe deep, lean back and survive.

Maybe you, too?

There have been so many false starts, and winter is coming, etc., but over here it’s actually feeling like some rhythmic pace of life that can be called normal, or the new normal, is here. I’m trying to see it for what it is.

My child is vaccinated, as of this summer, so we’ve finally cast off some of that odd holding back that typified most of our pandemic days. We started traveling again in earnest, booking flights and throwing masks on, and a backlog of two years of missed trips somehow got caught up on within a couple of months before school started. Re-entry jitters gave way to the suppleness of bone-deep exhaustion and jet lag, which required some sit-down time.

Honestly, I kind of landed with a thud. We came back, and the whole house was a mess from the back-to-back chaos, months of throwing things into and out of suitcases. Getting ready for adventures kind of forced me to organize the garage, and now getting everything squared away will require that again. The leaves built up in the backyard. The office I tiled for myself prior to departure still needs shelves and a sense of stability to be installed. As usual, we forgot how to shop, and the fridge was full of nonsense, but a few weeks in and we’re starting to make sense of it enough to fit the milk in and find unexpired food when we’re hungry. 

Finally, the rhythms are settling. Dash is in school, James is back at the office, and I am… Here. Nakedly, the rhythms of this new life are still unsatisfying, yet I find myself loathe to take on any more changes. I’m trying to catch my breath here. I’ve found it hard to motivate to attend to any of the millions of things that sat, dusty and waiting, calling for my action.

I find that I’m dwelling in this odd hybrid life. I’m probably the person in this family who most needs to socialize and be out in the world to shine, and yet all of my classes have moved online and my evenings are largely taken up with staring at screens, still. I’m trying to finish a certificate program that has stretched on longer than anticipated, thanks to bereavements, COVID’s interruption and the demands of being a mother, daughter, and wife.

I keep trying to go back home to what’s familiar, and it’s kind of not working. Things don’t mean the same as they used to. I appreciate all of the work that has gone into offering consistency even as adaptation has been required (my own included), and yet there’s no denying that things have changed: My design classes have changed. My appointments with doctors have changed. I can dance every day of the week from home, as long as I’m happy to schedule yet another online meeting. So much of my life is mediated by screens, which made sense during the peak of pandemic danger, but now that the threat is fading the purpose is changing. 

At the same time, the increasing demands of normalcy on limited time in a busy family reframe the screens as convenience. It’s no longer making do, it’s the efficiency of skipping a commute, apparently clawing back a little more space to fit in extras. I should be even more productive, right? I have the space, the time, the demands, the calls to action. 

Yet, like a tortured actress, I find myself asking: “What’s my motivation?” I find myself alone a lot, and struggling to keep polishing the walls of my prison cell. Get dressed, put on makeup for the next Zoom meeting. My beautiful house, which I used to find solace in, kind of feels like a dungeon right now. Would it feel different if I gave it the work I feel it is owed? Or would I feel less soothed, older and more disconnected, more deeply invested in the very place I feel stuck?

Lingering projects, languishing in the midst of a life in transition. At the start of this pandemic, I had a toddler—now I have a kindergartner. I have poured myself into keeping life stable for him, and keeping us all alive. These are victories! But, as I try to recalibrate, to feel for my own desires, the sense that I shouldn’t get too attached to anything I want hovers. It is hard to move from this place. What’s going to happen next? What big changes are coming?

I want to close on a high note, wrap this all up somehow in a way that is motivating. Yet, the world beyond these safe, stultifying walls remains unstable. There’s so much work to do out there, too, and I know I’m not the only one who feels deeply worn out by all of it. A lot of fighting spirit has been required—and delivered—and that comes from somewhere. It’s okay to sit and examine all this, to try to pick out the threads and darn the holes discovered. I feel sure there’s something beautiful to be made from it all, up-cycling this experience into solace or even wisdom.

Still drawing breath, still capable of change. Life will keep changing. Meaning keeps changing. Emotional clutter and physical debris are part and parcel of this human life, I suppose, and I believe deeply in the personal responsibility to attend to them. 

Best put the kettle on, make myself a cuppa and get on with it. The only way out is through, right?

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Where to Act Now for Reproductive Rights

Are you wondering what to actually DO about reproductive rights, right now? 

I've been going to a lot of protests and panels about what to do next in the wake of the Roe v. Wade overturn, and I thought I'd share a rundown of the most important areas we should be applying our attention, according to the experts. Feel free to share!! 

đź’šAbortion funds and providers: If you are in a state that is protecting abortion, please donate directly to your local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Donating to the national organization is important, of course, but directly funding capacity to provide care in pro-choice states where demand is about to surge is essential. Support your local providers financially and volunteer for them where you can. 

Find your local Planned Parenthood affiliate here:

Abortion funds also need you, wherever you are, and are currently the essential link to services for people who can no longer access reproductive healthcare locally. The cost of abortions is going up as the number of providers is cut and the delays to care complicate procedures in the wake of bans (and threats thereof). Travel is obviously a huge added expense as well, and all of these expenses fall most heavily on the most marginalized and impoverished people, who are of course also the most disadvantaged by forced birth and general lack of access to healthcare. 

Abortion funds are counterbalancing these already-existing inequities as well as working to meet increased demand. Help them!! They know this work, they are doing it already, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel—look for the helpers, and help them. 

In California, ACCESS is doing this work: 

Nationally, WRRAP and the National Network of Abortion Funds are doing this work: and 

đź’šCalifornia: We are explicitly setting ourselves up to be a sanctuary state for reproductive rights and abortion access, and this means there are actually a lot of opportunities for folks here to take meaningful action. 

The Select Committee on Women's Reproductive Health – the first select committee in the nation dedicated to women's reproductive health—is a group in our state assembly that has already prepared a package of bills that Newsom is set to sign which protect abortion providers as well as those of us that offer practical and material support to folks seeking care here. 

They have also already voted to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot for us in November that explicitly protects not only abortion access but also contraceptives. Very soon, this will have a proposition number and a campaign to join, and both legislators and abortion providers are emphatic that getting this passed is a crucial item for us here. Focus on this—register to vote, register other people to vote, and vote in every election and especially November. 

We also have opportunities to volunteer to care for folks coming in from out of state, check in with ACCESS to get involved. 

đź’šNationally: State legislatures have never been more important, and we need a revolution in so many of them! 

Local elections have been given a whole new importance now that we lack national protection for abortion rights; recently a California Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan stated that she wouldn’t vote for an anti-choice candidate for the Fire Board right now, because local elected officials tend to move up to statehouses or other positions of political importance by using smaller wins to build their careers and platforms. Do not give conservative, anti-choice candidates any support whatsoever, at any level, because it all contributes to a power structure that is successfully stripping women and people generally of our rights to bodily autonomy and privacy (the latter being the structure upon which many of our civil rights wins were gained, and which is openly under assault right now). 

Also: Women, we need you to run right now, for any office you can, wherever you are. School board, city council, state legislature—you can be the revolution, and the book-banning, transphobic and homophobic rightwing extremists have already figured that out. We have to show up, too. (Two of our Bay Area stars on these issues—Assemblymembers Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and Buffy Wicks—ran for California State Assembly to take action against Trumpism; Bauer-Kahan is the Founder and Chair of the Select Committee on Women's Reproductive Health, of which Wicks is also a member, and both have helped craft key legislation to make California a reproductive healthcare state for all in just a few short years.) 

Fund pro-choice women running for office at every level, and get involved with their campaigns by knocking doors and making calls for them: 

Also, follow Gretchen's List for monthly calls to action about where best to put your money and time to move the ball forward on these issues. Gretchen is truly an expert in reproductive health and will clue you in to what the state of play is in actionable ways: 

đź’šDestigmatize abortion: No more of this, “I support abortion in cases of…” talk. No qualifications, no caveats. Support abortion on demand and without apology! This is essential healthcare, talk about it that way. 

Tell your story, if you have one—no one can debate your experience, it is your story and it is yours to share as you choose. Everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion, even if they don’t realize it yet. Our life choices are linked to our freedom to choose when to be mothers, whether or never, and there are deep tranches of data that reflect the better mental health and economic well-being of women who received an abortion when they needed it versus those who were forced to give birth after care was denied. 

Simply being able to choose to not be pregnant is good for us, and very often the choice is a straightforward one. (Mine certainly was!) 

đź’šMeetings and organizing: There’s a lot going on right now, much of it pretty spontaneous. Reproductive rights groups have been preparing for this moment, so there are already gears turning, but in terms of engagement opportunities for the general public, things are popping up in events everywhere and with little time to get the word out. 

If you know of Bay Area organizing opportunities, or national events that are virtual, please share them here. If you know of organizing happening in your community outside the Bay Area, share that info and invite others to get involved. We need to be organizing in our communities right now.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

We Could Be Done.

America, we could be done with school shootings. A supermajority of our citizens believe in common-sense gun control measures. Our children are certainly more precious than the right to unfettered access to weaponry. 

Other countries have had a single school shooting, and then fixed it. In both the UK and Australia, countries with whom we have an enormous kinship and shared history, they had one--ONE!!--incident each in which children were terrorized and murdered in their schools, and they took drastic action. 

We can do that, too. We have to rise up and demand it, and soundly reject ammosexuals at the ballot box, but we can do it. 

I lived in the UK for over 5 years, and in all that time I felt a relaxation and safety that comes with navigating public spaces without fear of being shot. It's amazing. It's normal. Even the cops mostly don't have guns. It's pretty hard to die by bullet in England. 

I want that for my kid. I want that for your kid, too, and you. I want it for me again. 

We can feel safe like that here in the US, too. It's just a matter of priorities. It's a matter of flipping the table on those bastards with a masturbatory love of the weapons of war to make room for our own children to grow up safely. 

Don't be fooled that American gun violence is normal, that dead bodies are just the cost of doing business, that domestic homicides and rampant suicides can be part and parcel of a healthy society. The 2nd Amendment dictates that this matter is to be well regulated. Regulation is what changed in the UK and Australia, and we can damn well change it here, too.