Money and the Mosaic

Change/Transformation, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Writing

For most of my life, money was an unsensed presence.  I only noticed it when I was in a crisis, and never really considered it otherwise.

When I first started thinking about my relationship to/with money, I couldn’t describe it, envision it, or even feel it.  It took some time to realize I couldn’t describe it because it was so vague and intangible. It only became real when I was desperate so, of course, it seemed inconsistent, almost negligent or cruel.

I realized this some time ago, but couldn’t figure out what to change until a few days ago, it hit me – I needed to define a script, to write out the words. But what words?  I didn’t have a clear starting point, just a blank gray spot.  And what kind of relationship did I want to have?  That was part of the whole problem – what little I’ve seen of money relationships aren’t so positive or healthy.  What role did I want money to play in my life?  How could I think about money in a way that didn’t make it the center of my life and thought?

It came to me, though, that I could think of money as another reflection of myself, like my friends, family, job, hobbies – another piece of the mosaic of my life. I suddenly knew that money is just another way the world can reflect my value, that I could view it as another type of mirror.  I decided that I want that mirror, I want a healthy, prosperous relationship – I deserve to have my worth reflected in my relationship with money.  I bring enormous value to this world, and I want that value reflected in a new way.

The universe has been good to me – my life is rich and full, even with the recent move and starting over.  I have an unbelievable family of friends and loves, deeply meaningful work, a growing connection to my creative self, and I like the person I am.  Engaging intentionally with money is another way to learn about that person, to live well, and be comfortable with my whole self.

Do you think I’m black?

Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Reflection, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

When I was in high school, black boys and white boys both called me names.  “Oreo” and “high yellow” came from the black boys, “grape ape” and “jolly green giant” came from white boys.  The message was clear:  I was too light-skinned and too big.  Even then, I understood the issue of size.  Real girls, attractive girls, girls the boys wanted, were small – petite and dainty and slim – not tall and broad-shouldered, with big hands.  Their disdain was clear and the message made sense.  I knew I was a girl, those boys defined what it meant to be a “real” girl – if they said I was too big, then I wasn’t a “real” girl.

The other message, that I wasn’t black enough, didn’t sink in because it didn’t make sense.  I was raised by white people, in a white family and in every way that I’m aware of, I identify as white.  Most white people rarely think about race, and I’m no different.  Even living in the South, I never deeply considered race because I didn’t have to.  It never occurred to me that people’s perceptions of me might be different than my own; that based on my racially ambiguous appearance, people might assume I wasn’t white.

For years, people have asked about my ethnicity, my “heritage”, as it were.  I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the question, and tried to answer vaguely or avoid answering altogether.  Once I started dancing salsa, and found myself dancing with dozens of men from black and brown countries, the question shifted to “where are you from?” which covered the “what race/linguistic group do you identify with?” question.  They wanted to know what country I hailed from, to discover if we had that in common.  I was asked that question by men from Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad, Italy, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Eritrea, Somalia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic.  They all wondered if I came from their country.

I used to say “white people always assume I’m white, black/brown people always assume I’m mixed.” Now, I realize that’s a throwaway phrase – a casual way to separate and label interactions that were irritating and sometimes confusing.  The reality is more complex, and my toss-off answer doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

I can think of no better example than my fear of law enforcement.  No other white person I’ve spoken with fears the police the way I do – none of them describe having had the same type of interactions.  I’ve been bullied, harassed, and intimidated the handful of times I’ve interacted with law enforcement on my own. I had some “good” interactions when I and my upper-middle class white partner were living in an expensive home, in a white upper-middle class neighborhood. My racial ambiguity was eclipsed by evidence of money and whiteness, and I was treated respectfully.

My most unpleasant experiences have been through traffic stops. The few times I’ve been stopped, there have been reasons – a careless maneuver, or cell phone at my ear.  Only recently did it occur to me that I might be getting treated the way black people are usually treated – a confusing and terrifying thought.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but there’s a part of me that wants to go back in time and say “wait, are you treating me like this because you think I’m black?  I’m not black, I’m white! I know my appearance can be confusing, but I assure you, I’m white.  Please treat me like you’d treat a white person.”

And that’s where things fall apart.  I start to question whether I’m being treated as I expect to be treated  because I KNOW I’m white – don’t they?.  It is the most ‘in your face’ way to experience white privilege I can imagine – to think that, perhaps some people see me as black or mixed, and they’re not treating me as well as I should be treated because – hey, I’m WHITE!  What’s the solution?  Maybe I should ask?  “Hey – you were mean to me, don’t you know I’m white?” or “Ummm…why are you yelling at me for a traffic stop?  Don’t you know I’m white?”

As I’ve gotten older, the negative messages about my size have become irrelevant.  I’ve grown enough in my confidence and self-esteem to feel comfortable in my body – my tall, broad-shouldered, big-handed body.  But questions of how my skin color and the shape of my features affects people’s perception of me have only now started to surface.  Do people see me as black or white?  Am I being treated this way because of a mistake?  How do I deal with the embarrassment of asking that question – even if it’s only to myself?  Do I wanted to be treated differently?
No – I just want the privileges all the other white people get.

Privilege

An Exaggeration

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Random Observations, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Seth Godin recently published this very short post:

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

When Seth gets it right (which is often), he gets it really really right.  I’ve been thinking about this question since I saw the post and damn.  What *do* people associate with me, my presence, my contribution?  I know what I want them to associate with me, and I make an effort to focus on those traits.

But what can I do about those unknown things – the personal quirks and habits and unlikeable bits that I’m unaware of?  The things that people who love me don’t care about but could nevertheless impact my ability to accomplish my goals?  Self-awareness and reflection get me to a certain point, but how do I get past all the doubt and uncertainty and accept that I’m just a human?  A normal human who has normal human-y quirks and habits and oddities?

I thought about doing a self-parody but stopped that idea right in its tracks.  I’m not in the best place to parody myself from a helpful, funny perspective and it’s far too easy to think of myself as a ridiculous monster.  Untrue, of course, but that’s what too much navel-gazing gets me.

So…going out on a limb, I’m going to answer Seth’s question with a “yes.”  People tell me that I’m creative, engaged, warm, attentive, and kind, and those are traits that only make me better 🙂

Lodestones

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I’ve been avoiding writing for the last several months.  There are many reasons for this.  I’ve been turning to artwork as an expressive outlet, a need to be out of my internal, intellectual world, a deep, pervasive feeling of exhaustion, and, related to that exhaustion, no desire or will.

The impacts of seven months of looking for work, a two month journey to losing it, and the last ten weeks of re-entering the world of unemployment and job searching again?  Those impacts aren’t clear yet and probably won’t be for some unknown time.  What is clear is that my desire to feel productive, to feel useful, has lost its lodestone.

My internal compass has been spinning wildly, seeking an orientation, a focus, a place to land.  I’ve volunteered, networked, job searched, made art, written, and simply sat on my couch doing nothing.  I’ve had countless ideas for products, novels, art pieces, and community organizations, and I’ve put effort into a business idea with some potential.  But nothing has snapped into that empty spot.  None of my own ideas have quite slipped in to fill that hole – they aren’t big enough yet, solid enough.

What I have noticed is that the pressure to be productive – to always be creating something, doing something, seeking success in some way – is enormous and intense.  Internal, external, implicit, explicit, the subtle and not-so-subtle influences are everywhere.  To say that I feel like a piece of coal being squeezed and compressed into a diamond is a bit dramatic, but maybe it’s the best metaphor.

I no longer have an external motivator or source of direction; there is no one to help me direct when, where, and how I spend my energy and resources.  While I have a strong sense of myself, values, and interests, I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  This time of unemployment has changed my thoughts and feelings though, and I’m planning toward self-sufficiency, toward being my own boss.

Perhaps I’m becoming my own lodestone.

lodestone2

Reading the Comments

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Wins, Writing

I recently wrote a post about rediscovering my desire to serve others.  Much to my surprise, my post garnered a very long, angry comment largely focused on what an arrogant dick I am for openly expressing this desire.  The comment opened with “I don’t even know you” and proceeded to cover a wide swath of territory that included judgments on my character, accusations about my intentions, and speculation that losing my job was caused by my arrogance in thinking I have something of value to offer.

The level of judgment and bitterness was extraordinary.  I hadn’t written anything controversial, it was a personal statement, nothing I’d ever expect anyone to care much about.  I wrote it for myself, to clarify my own thinking and solidify my commitment, and I’d expected it to go entirely unnoticed.  That it engendered such a vitriolic response was a giant surprise.

But what was most surprising was that this stranger had plucked out of my head my very own words, fears and doubts and insecurities, typed them up, and sent them to me.  When I read that so-familiar and hateful rhetoric, felt the judgment and resentment, I was paralyzed.  How did this stranger know to use those words, the exact words that live on a never-ending loop in my head?  How did they know to say the most harmful words, words that would undermine my confidence, and tear down what I’d worked so hard to build – my belief in myself, in my own value and contribution?

How could one person say such cruel things to another person – a complete stranger, someone they know nothing about?  Even worse, what if they were right?

Encouraging words from a friend helped me gain perspective, but this comment, I think, may prove an invaluable tool.  Seeing my own self-doubt and self-judgment so clearly articulated was terrifying.  I would never say those things to someone else, why am I saying them to myself?  Marianne Williamson’s famous writing on our deepest fears includes the following lines:

“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

My internal monologue and this anonymous comment both demand smallness.  They demand that I not recognize any of my potential, talent, or value.  This message – that we have to play little, hide our light, deny our desire to shine and grow and expand – is the message of fear and denial and rejection.  It is rooted in rejection of our shared beauty and grace, grief at our self-imposed barriers, and a profound fear that we will never measure up.  It is that message that keeps us suspended in a state of perpetual self-hatred and destruction.

It is valuable also because I do need to check in with myself, ask for feedback from friends, and pay close attention to the impact I have on others.  But I get to decide which feedback is helpful, which friends and colleagues to ask, and what advice is helpful.  Because I tend to believe the worst of myself, I have to get objective opinions, and advice from people who care about me and want me to thrive.

Ultimately, that one comment prompted useful thought and reflection, although perhaps not in the way the author intended.  I am proud of my talents and skills, the work I’ve done to develop them, and my commitment to helping others, and it doesn’t matter what other people think about my decision to write those things down, or say them out loud.

88427-Confidence

Finding North

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, service, Uncategorized

Today, my life re-oriented itself and I am renewed in purpose.  I had the enormous fortune to spend some time with a friend – one of those friends who is supportive but directive and says the really crucial stuff, sometimes the really hard stuff.  It was the equivalent of someone taking me by the shoulders and saying  “Look, what happened was painful and unexpected, and this path doesn’t get any easier.  you need to learn how to apply some of your skills to yourself, to be more objective about your successes and setbacks, and recognize your value and purpose. you are prepared and skilled and talented and your heart is big enough – time to move forward again.”

And she’s right.  What I’d forgotten, what my time at DOC had hacked away, is my desire to be of service.  For almost two decades, the question that has driven me is “how can I best be of service?”  I haven’t always known this question was pushing me onward, although the pattern of seeking some answer is obvious in my choices of education, career, and interests.  And to be clear, I’m not entirely thrilled about having discovered the question.  I’ve been fighting the knowledge for a while, wanting some acknowledgement for what I’d already done, the service I’d already given.

I was so tired, so exhausted, so beaten down by the endless need and casual, normalized brutality of the prison system that I couldn’t tolerate the thought of more service.  I couldn’t tolerate giving more of myself and getting nothing in return.  The final defeat was when I was being targeted by DOC.  My employer never acknowledged my service, my value, or that they cared about my situation or me.  That was crushing.  To have worked for them for so long, doing such difficult work, and be pushed aside, so casually and thoughtlessly, was a terrible experience.  My desire to serve was profoundly wounded, and I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself back into that arena.

Unfortunately, purpose doesn’t really work that way.

Even if my conscious mind couldn’t bear to think of being in service, the rest of me knew the deal.  I focused on private industry, found a job, and all was well with the world.  Until two weeks ago when, out of the blue, with no explanation, they let me go.  I was thrown into the perpetual chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of looking for work, again, in a very tight market.

I was also faced, AGAIN, with the question of what did I want for myself, what kind of life did I want to live?  Not once, but twice in a six month period I found myself asking the same round of questions, looking at the same batch of answers, and questioning my sanity.  Why would this happen twice?  Why would I be forced into this process twice, in such a short period of time?  What the fuck was I supposed to learn?  Sweet baby christmas, how much reflection was I supposed to do before the light came on?

Of course, I was far too close to see the answer, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else.  Everything in my life is about being of service.  Hell, every single idea I’ve had about starting my own business is based in service to others through education, creativity, or advocacy.  My reading, my art, my writing, it’s all grounded in the desire to serve, to help others be the best they can.

I was hoping for a different answer.  I tried to redirect my ambition in other directions, but it literally didn’t fit.  My ego, my intellect, wants a bigger presence, accolades, acknowledgment, praise, the recognition I see going to others who do work I admire. But that’s not why they do the work and, ultimately, not why I will continue doing that work.

We do it because it’s who we are.  We came here to serve, to be of service, to lift others and, in turn, be lifted.  As Gandhi said “we find ourselves in service to others.” This clarity doesn’t mean my desire for recognition has magically disappeared, it just means it isn’t driving the bus anymore.  I’ve found my north again.

Nothing-Liberates-Our-Greatness-Like-The-Deisre-To-Help-The-Desire-To-Serve.

 

 

In a Raggedy Nutshell

Art/Images, Business, Change/Transformation, Leadership, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized

This last venture into unemployment, although not even a week old, has coughed up some significant personal epiphanies.  Because I’m a writer and believe in laying down the roses and the shit, here’s what I’ve learned.

First – I’ve long been clinging to this notion that if I just make the right choices, I’ll somehow have a normal, conventional life.  I’ll write more on that later but the end result is that I’ve never had a normal, conventional life and I likely never will.  I’ve been accidentally unconventional most of my adult life and I wouldn’t change even if I could.

The second epiphany is that I know far less about myself than I thought.  What I’d like to believe about myself and the person I truly am aren’t exactly in alignment.  The best I can say is that I don’t speak or act on my wartier thoughts and urges, which is probably a reasonable success.

Third – I want to own my own business, take charge of my career and financial security, and have what I choose to work on reflect my talents, skills, and interests.  I gave self-employment a try a few years back, but not because I thought it was the right choice.  This time, it’s different, I have a vision for myself, my business, services, projects, and brand.  I’ve resisted even considering this path because it often feels like an incredible cliche, and there are many, many barriers to success.

Frankly, I’m terrified.  I’m considering opening a service business in a city that is physically awash with service-focused solopreneurs.  I want to offer professional development, personal growth, and leadership skills in an environment where even the clerk at the 7-11 is offering a web-based course that will help you realize your true potential.  It’s like Hollywood, only “the industry” is personal development and everyone wants a piece of the services action.  We’re so over-preneured that even the yoga instructors and massage therapists are starting to complain, and yet….and yet….

I am an extraordinary coach and educator.   I excel in working with women, building educational communities, increasing circles of influence, and supporting people in their creative endeavors.  I have a clear vision of building a leadership incubator that focuses on developing everyday servant leaders, everyday bodhisattvas.  I see those people, in turn, extending compassionate influence in all areas of their lives.  Our world is sorely lacking in people who are willing to own the influence they have, and use it for the betterment of others.  I believe that needs to change, and that I am a person who can help others make that change.

But I’m still really, really scared.  My safety net doesn’t feel very safe, and all I ever thought I wanted was a secure, comfortable, normal life.  I can’t pinpoint when that path disappeared, but it’s obvious now that it has, and the path in front of me is far from certain.

Mine-Alone

The Eleanor Club

Change/Transformation, Feminism, Leadership, Life, Power/Privilege, Reflection, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized, Wins

My friend Dennise and I were talking a few months back about women and power.  We’re both mid-career professionals, were both unemployed, and having weekly conversations about our job search, and what it means to be older women looking for positions of responsibility and influence.  Those conversations birthed The Eleanor Club, a place where women can speak directly about their areas of influence, personal ambition, and what it means to be a woman with power.

Our first meeting was last week and it was extraordinary.  Dennise and I had NO idea there was such a craving for this conversation!  Woman after woman came up to each of us and said “I’ve been wanting to talk about this, ask questions, explore what it would mean to expand my influence and own the influence I have.”

We had no idea, but we should have.

The current power paradigm we live in – authoritarian, hierarchical, individualistic – is becoming more and more problematic.  While it is not clear whether women and men are biologically inclined to use power differently, my personal experience is that women are often more interested in power as a way to connect, not dominate. While this offers its own set of challenges, it also opens the door to an multitude of new directions we could grow as a race and individually.

Women are actively seeking ways to exert power, to leverage their existing influence, and grow their circles.  We are learning to own our ambition, to state loudly and clearly that our agendas are critical to the health and well-being of our families and the planet.  At our first meeting, when we opened the floor for women to speak about the issues closest to their hearts, we heard about

  • community development on the micro level,
  • the importance of civil discourse in theory and practice,
  • amplifying the voices of women in the music industry
  • building a conversation around an all-year school schedule
  • the criticality of local and state elections,
  • finding ways for working mothers to serve as elected officials,
  • and how to protect and heal our environment.

Even though the conversation was entirely unscripted and unexpected, we can clearly see the seeds for robust discussion and action on a wide-ranging and deeply connected group of concerns.  In those moments, I realized that all the women in that room had tapped into something revolutionary – our mutual commitment to actively  and directly influence change through OUR decisions, our ideas, and our actions. It was an unforgettable moment.

quote-when-you-have-decided-what-you-believe-what-you-feel-must-be-done-have-the-courage-to-eleanor-roosevelt-81-51-50

 

Women, Tech, Leadership

Change/Transformation, Leadership, Power/Privilege, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

Today was the first day of the Advancing the Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W) conference in Portland.  I was selected to facilitate conversation about Servant Leadership, and these are the notes from that session.  It was an excellent conversation, and I am deeply appreciative to everyone who participated.  I didn’t get pictures of the whiteboards, but here’s what I remember from the conversation, my presentation, and some additional resources on the topics we discussed.

  • Coaching up
  • Culture trumps everything” (Change the culture, change the world); when people feel authentically heard, the culture automatically shifts
  • Building listening skills; importance of giving indications that you’re engaged including body posture, eye contact, reflective listening (rephrasing or summarizing what you’ve heard), head nods, encouraging verbal responses
  • Slowing down processes and thinking slower  allows integration of a variety of emotional intelligences
  • Using data and metrics to demonstrative the effectiveness of inclusivity; redefining success
  • Self care:  Your role is not as a therapist.  It is NOT your job to walk your colleagues or employees through their personal problems.  The best thing you can do is refer them to appropriate resources.  Expending large amounts of your time on one person does a disservice to your other employees, your company, and yourself.
  • Receiving feedback:  Helpful to detach and receive information from a neutral place; process and respond later
  • Rules of dialogue include suspending judgments and assumptions

recommendedreads

These are the books I had with me, there’s a longer list of books here.  If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, I run a Servant Leadership meetup and you’re welcome to join us.  Thanks again for your interest and participation.

After the Purge

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will.  I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief.  For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts.  It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not.  Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.

Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF.  Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again.  Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman.  I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.

Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.

Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness.  The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence.  I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months.  But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art.  Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.

I just don’t know how to start again.

Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency.  That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted.  It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best.  I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness,  deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side.  It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.

I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering.  This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift.  Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.

I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world.  When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today.  How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space?  It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.

How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years?  I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself.  How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?

Figure vomiting words

Give It Up