Needing space

relax-1276639_1280I see a lot of jabs at the idea that someone should need a safe space. I guess it’s pretty easy to make fun of people who need to be protected from words. Didn’t they ever hear that old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?”  Aw, the little snowflakes need to be protected. Their poor little feelings are hurt.

These sort of jeers and jabs almost always come from white people. I have yet to see it come from a person of color, someone who worships a different religion and I have never heard it from a member of the LGBTQIA community. No, it’s always people who fit into the mold of what society has deemed both normal and optimal who mock the concept of a safe space.

I mean, it’s awfully easy to make fun of someone who needs a safe space when we’ve never had a racial epithet thrown at us. Perhaps, we’ve never been the victim of sexual assault. Maybe, we’ve never felt like there was a target on our back due to what we wear, who we worship, or who we love.  We don’t really know what that feels like. However, we can try to empathize with people who may have a different experience than us. We can try to understand that there may be times when they need a place where they can feel safe, where they can feel normal and where they can feel okay.

Take a minute and listen to the theme song from Cheers. What on earth do you think they’re talking about here?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

RaeAnn Pickett wrote in TIME, “After the birth of my first son, I had postpartum depression. I was a mess emotionally, and I was in desperate need of feeling safe. I had no idea what “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” were, but I had been using them internally for days—avoiding the mommy movies and choosing not to go to the breastfeeding support group where I felt like a failure. Being able to know beforehand what experiences I should avoid and create an environment where I felt safe made it easier for me to share my struggles and move past them.”

There have been times in my life where I have done the same thing, maneuvered myself so that I could avoid something that I found upsetting or troubling until I could find a way to move past it. I have also at times surrounded myself with people who understood me and what I was going through so that I could work through what I was feeling. 

Pickett was able to find the help that she needed for her own postpartum depression in one of these often mocked safe spaces. “When my first postpartum depression support group facilitator said in a hushed, happy voice that this was a safe space, I felt the weight slowly start to lift from my chest. All the pent-up anxiety I had felt was dissipating—just by knowing that the physical place I chose to be in was filled with people who understood me and could help me find the tools to get well.

This isn’t to say that safe spaces can’t go too far in another direction. It shouldn’t be used to stop conversation and discussion. They shouldn’t be used to censor ideas and concepts that we don’t like. Instead, it should create a space where a person can get away from the comments and arguments that are not helpful and can be damaging based on their experiences. Emma Kromm writes in the Harvard Political Review, “A college student who has experienced sexual assault and does not want to hear someone repeat an argument that in any way belittles her experience is not the right target for an indictment of censorship.”

Perhaps, there are times when we should be less concerned about our need to say whatever we want and instead think of other people’s feelings. To be empathetic. To understand that someone else’s experience might be very different from ours and that we all have our own ways of dealing with things that we find difficult. If you think that’s something to mock, then you, my friend, are the reason why we need safe spaces to begin with.

Safe spaces, when used properly can actually create an opportunity for understanding. Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University noted that “students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that comfort. The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.” 

Some of us build up our whole lives to be one giant safe space. We don’t go to places where we might feel uncomfortable. We don’t try to learn anything new or try anything different. We don’t make new friends. Some of us wouldn’t leave our house if it wasn’t for the responsibilities we have. If you think about it that way, then maybe we’re all just a bunch of hypocrites for making fun of everyone else for something we do every day.

Maybe you’re a tough cookie and you never needed a safe space. Maybe you never avoided people because you didn’t want to deal with something. Maybe you never wished you could go somewhere and not have to worry about being bullied or picked on. Maybe you are always out trying new things and meeting new people and you don’t feel any sort of anxiety about it. If that’s the case, I think you should just count yourself lucky and leave the people alone who haven’t been as fortunate as you.

Advertisements

Silence is complicity


silence-390331_1280It was always there. It kept to the shadows. It stayed, a whispered monster revered among its small groups of worshipers. We didn’t think it would ever be brave enough to come out into the light. We didn’t think it could ever be that strong. Its days of glory were gone, relegated to the pages of History books that we read and wondered how anyone could ever let it come out into the light like that.

Hatred.

Prejudice.

Racism.

Bigotry.

It has been growing stronger over the last year and over the last week, it has become brave. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200 complaints of hate crimes since Election Day, according to USA Today.

It wrote “Heil Trump” and “Fag Church” and drew a swastika on the walls of an Episcopal churchIt shouted threats and whispered intimidation. It picked fights. It used fear like it’s best weapon.

It echoed through high schools and colleges. In its wake, it left behind fear.

How lovely it was to be white, to not be Muslim, to be what is considered “normal.” Now, it’s creeping out into the light, and we’re trying so hard not to pay attention. We’re doing everything we can to pretend not to see it. I should know. I have a lot of practice doing this.

I’m not sure why this happens but it seems to be a normal occurrence that people see my white skin and think that in me they have found someone who will understand their feeling about people of color. A woman told me in the parking lot of the grocery story how the latinos in the store were all so rude and they should speak English. Sometimes it’s not what they say but it’s how they say it. Their voices drop down to just above a whisper when they tell me how some girl we know is dating a black man. They tell me that of course not all latinos are bad but just the ones that live near them are. They assure me that I don’t understand because I don’t live where they live.

They tell me how they really feel about Muslims, about refugees, how we can’t trust any of them, that they could all be terrorists. If I’m lucky I get to hear their usually limited view of the Koran. They don’t like where they want to build their mosques. They don’t like how they pray. They don’t like how they wear their hijabs.

I also get to hear comments on gay people. How what they do is disgusting. How they choose to be how they are. I even get to see a children’s video on God’s view of gay people. Somehow, gay people are ruining marriage for all of us. I’ve had someone close to me say that two gay men shouldn’t be able to adopt children because they will molest them. Of course, who can forget the huge debate that raged on about where transexuals use public bathrooms? A hair stylist brought that up to me just a few weeks ago. She didn’t say anything but she gave me a look, eyebrows raised, the look that said, I’m just waiting for you to give me the go ahead to tell you exactly what I think.

These are all things that I hear in real life. This isn’t from people hiding behind computer screens. This is from people I know and love. This is from strangers in parking lots or in stores or in hair salons indulging in small talk that suddenly takes a dark turn. They see my white skin, my normal American life as a stay-at-home-mom with a husband and two kids and they think that they can say what they want to me and I will be their ally, that I will understand then and I will agree.

I don’t agree but until now I haven’t said too much. I wanted to pretend I couldn’t see it. I kept my mouth shut even when I didn’t agree and worked hard to justify not speaking out. I would say that obviously the person didn’t mean what they said. She doesn’t actually feel that all Latinos are rude.  I would think that there was no point in saying anything. I wasn’t going to change her mind. I would tell myself that I didn’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. If he really feels that way, it’s not really going to effect anyone. He’s just one person. I had a list of excuses that I would make, but none of them ever really felt good enough. I would walk away feeling uncomfortable, feeling like a coward and knowing that whoever I was talking to was right when they thought I was an ally. When the conversation was done, they still probably felt like I agreed with them.

And for all of my excuses, they were all to make me feel better about myself for not saying anything. I told myself that I was empathizing, that I was trying to understand how other people, that I was accepting all people even if I didn’t agree with them. Oh, the hoops I jumped through to justify my silence.

The prejudices and bigotry leaked out from the shadows and I looked away.

I’m not going to look away anymore. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t hear what was said. I’m not going to be silent. When I speak out, I might not be polite about it.

About other things, I’m still trying to be open-minded. If you want to talk about politics or our government, I’m ready. If you want to talk about this past election and have a constructive conversation about the president-elect Trump and the future of our country, I can do that too. If you want to talk about the protests over the last week and whether they are riots or protests protected by the second amendment, let’s go. You don’t have to agree with me. I won’t feel like I have to change your mind. We can just talk. We can share ideas. We’re all Americans after all.

We’re all human beings.

But, if you want to talk to me about generalizations that you are making on a whole group of people based on your limited experience or based on some fake news story on Facebook, I’m going to tell you I don’t want to hear it. I’m not going to listen to your view points on why all Muslims are dangerous. I have a strong aversion to religion but I’ll still defend everyone’s freedom to practice it. I don’t want to hear any hate speak at all about gay people or transexuals or really anyone.

My mom always liked to repeat that old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

So, if I can’t urge you to change how you feel about the people in our society that are marginalized, if I can’t get you to change your biases toward them, then I’m going to ask you to watch your mouth when you’re talking to me.  I’m taking this seriously.

I can’t kill this beast that is hatred and prejudice and bigotry, not when it seems to always survive, but I will fight to push it back to the shadows.

The siren song of NaNoWriMo

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76This is the fourth year that I’m going to attempt to do NaNoWriMo. To those of you who are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it is a celebration of National Novel Writing Month where the participant endeavors to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It comes down to writing exactly 1667 words each day, every day. I have been successful one time.

Now, let me give you a couple of excuses for my other failures. One reason is that every November I get some sort of illness. Without fail. It’s usually a cold, something small to just make me tired and lazy. One year I was pregnant but I was in the first trimester and I think we can all agree that pretty much counts as an illness. Getting ill and missing a few days of writing can put you behind pretty quickly on your word counts and if it happens at the beginning of the month it can be pretty discouraging. Also, let’s not forget that there is a rather large holiday that happens in November.  Pre-Christmas. I mean, Thanksgiving. Now that I’m a grown woman, I can no longer just appear at the dinner table, empty-handed and hungover. I have to prepare food. I have to get children ready. It eats up a lot of writing time.

I usually start the month off strong and hit the wall about half way through and then do a sort of limp/crawl to the finish line. And remember, only one time did I actually make it to the finish line.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I have an antagonistic relationship with it. I like it because it helps a writer get into the habit of writing. It gives the writer a goal to work towards. There is also something really nice about sharing the experience of writing with other writers. Instead of plinking away at my keyboard alone, I can go to write-ins. I can talk to people on the forums. I can take what is usually a very solitary experience and make it a social one.

What I don’t like about NaNoWriMo is the push to get words on the page. It can lead to a situation where you are pushing quantity over quality. It can lead to a draft that was rushed through to reach a sort of arbitrary goal, but that is a mess and needs a complete rewrite. I also have a difficult time writing a complete novel in 50,000 words. Depending on what genre you’re writing in, that is going to be a very short novel. The one time that I finished NaNoWriMo, I was only about half way to finishing my book and the first draft was such a disaster that by January I had thrown in the towel.

Still, I have to give credit where credit is due. It wasn’t NaNoWriMo that got me back into writing, but it was the thing that got me used to setting goals and word counts and pushing through each day, even when I would have much rather been taking a nap or watching tv. I don’t try to write a novel in a month but I do try to write one in three months. I don’t like to push my word count about 1500 words a day but I do keep it over 1000. Those have been the rules that I have been using for my work this past year and by the end of this month I should have three complete first drafts for novels.

As much as I don’t love NaNoWriMo and as much as I don’t feel that I need it anymore, I still felt the call as November got closer and closer. Now, here we are. I’m not doing it as a way of writing one novel in a month but I am using it to push myself a little farther. I upped my word counts and I put away my paints for a few weeks. I have a novel that I’m working on. It won’t take that many words to finish it, but I intend to make up the difference with other writing, including blog posts, short stories, and essays. I’m also hoping to begin working on a query letter for the novel I finished writing in July. I have a little more work to do on it. I have friends reading it now and giving my feedback but when I am finished with the next draft, I am going to begin querying for an agent. (Eeeeek)

It’s going to be a busy month and although I’m excited, I’m looking forward to slowing down a little bit in December.

Also, I’m already behind on my word count.

My first Inktober

inkto2

My mascot for Inktober.

As is always the case with me, participating in Inktober was a decision that was made at the last moment. I was reminded that it was October and therefore it was Inktober and if I wanted to do it I was already two days behind. Nevertheless, I completely committed to doing it. For the uninitiated Inktober is a monthlong challenge meant to improve drawing skills and habits. The rules are pretty simple. Make a drawing in ink. Post it online. Hashtag it. Repeat. You can do it daily. You can do it every other day. You can post once a week.

I wanted to do Inktober but not at the expense of my writing. The time that I can find to write is sacred and cannot be used on other hobbies and endeavors. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do one every day. I also wasn’t sure that I would be able to do one every other day. There might be a few days in a row where I could work and a few days in a row that I wouldn’t be able to. So, I decided to commit to fifteen ink drawings, created through the span of one month. I thought I would be able to do more than that, but I finished the fifteenth at 11pm on October 31st.

I didn’t post  online as I went. I wanted to share them all together at the end here. There are prompts that are provided for each day, but I didn’t use them either. I like doing portraits, so that’s what I stuck with. My Inktober is my own bastardized version of what I think it’s supposed to be but I still think I got what I needed out of it.

inkto3

Sharpie, Pigma Micron pens

I haven’t worked with ink in a while. When I first started doing portraits, I did them in Sharpie and Pigma Micron pens, but it’s been three years since I did those. Ink washes I haven’t done since college. Understandably, I felt pretty rusty. Ink (I use Higgins waterproof ink) is very permanent, in a way that watercolor isn’t. Paint can be gently lifted from the paper, softly scrubbed away. Ink, once it make’s it’s home in the fibers of your paper, is everlasting. Therefore, when you place it on the page, you should do so with confidence. Mistakes can be worked into the piece, but even if the viewer doesn’t know it’s there, you will. There were moments where I sat with my brush or my pen poised over the paper asking myself if I really knew what I was doing. I felt an anxiety working with ink that I rarely feel with paint anymore.

inkto5Still, there is something really beautiful about how ink moves through water. I had more control with pens but I quickly moved to washes when I saw how the black ink bled into the water, how it could be moved around the page, following the wet like a river. It lent itself better to texture, creating a smooth solid color at times, and transparent layers built on top of each other at others. You could have sharp crisp lines and fluid, open shapes. I could have control or I could feel helpless with the way it pooled and bled.

I was most successful when I relaxed, when I didn’t try so hard. I enjoyed those ink washes more. Still, it was difficult to accept the permanence of the ink while relaxing into the method. It felt almost contradictory at times.

It was good for me to work in a different medium for a while and I am interested to see how it will effect my watercolors when I get back to them. I hope it improves them. I also think I might want to do this again. Choose a different way of creating and stick with it for a period of time. Get to know the graphite, the colored pencil, the charcoal or the pastels that I ignore in my collection of art supplies. Get to know them and see how they can affect what I already think I know about drawing and painting.

In the end, I’m glad I participated. I will probably do it again next year with better planning and hopefully, better results. For now, I can’t wait to get back to watercolor.

My Inktober portraits:

 

Short Story: The Entropy of Denim

denimShe held up the jeans and looked at them critically for a moment. She remembered the last time she had worn them. She had crouched down to pick something up and her left knee had finally poked through the old, tired denim. It was for the best. There was a spot between the thighs that was rubbing awfully thin and she was about one awkward move away from splitting her pants.

Some holes were good. If you bought them from the store like that, they were even cool. But homemade holes from wear and tear never looked like the ones fresh from the factory.

But, oh how she loved these jeans.

She remembered why she had bought those jeans, turning to look behind her, staring at the mirror with the sort of intensely critical eye that she only ever turned on herself. Back then it had been about how they fit on her waist and her hips and her thighs. It had been about where the pant leg had landed on the top of  her foot. Not too long. Not too short. It didn’t matter if they were a little rough and stiff because they had made her butt look fantastic. And isn’t that what it’s all about? A fantastic looking butt?

Those jeans, back then, had been a good pair of jeans. Added to the rotation, worn when she needed something unfaded and whole. Her nice jeans.

Somewhere along the line they had slipped from that. They became soft and pliable in a way they had never been when she had bought them.They stopped being worn out on date nights and weekend activities. They became the jeans she threw on to go to the grocery store, to run errands, to wear around the house. They weren’t her nice jeans anymore, but they became something more. She began to love how they felt on her skin, how they moved with her body instead of against it. They hugged her lower limbs. They didn’t restrain them. Maybe, her butt didn’t look as nice in them anymore, but goddammit, they were comfortable.

Then her knee rudely poked right through that beat up space at her knee.

That was just typical. If something got comfortable, it wasn’t too long before it seemed to all just fall apart.

It was like that soft pair of shoes, her favorite after months of wearing them in, until the soles began to detach so when she walked it was like two mouths flapping open and smacking against the pavement. There was the couch that was neither too firm, nor too soft, that allowed for long afternoons reading or laying in front of the television, but then the cushions started to lose their shape and the whole thing seemed to just sag. There was the car that she loved to drive right up to the very moment that the transmission failed.

Then there were her relationships. It wasn’t true of all people but for her it was. As soon as she started to get comfortable with someone, well, she couldn’t help but start pushing holes through the weakest areas. And there were always weak areas.

For example, there was her current boyfriend. He had been just like those nice jeans at the beginning. Everything he did and said was interesting. He brought her flowers. They went out to fancy restaurants and gallery openings and festivals. He always dressed nice and smelled good. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck, the lobes of her ears, and whispered sweet things to her.

All of that was nice, but there were the other parts that were less comfortable. She wasn’t sure if he would like everything about her. Maybe, he would discover who she was at her core and he would reject her. Along with all of that heart fluttering excitement of young love, there was fear and insecurity there . When he didn’t call her back or didn’t text, she wondered if he was getting bored with her. When they ran into his ex-girlfriend, she felt jealous. She didn’t always get along with his friends. She wasn’t sure but she was fairly certain his mom didn’t like her. It was fun being with someone new, but it wasn’t always easy.

Yet, slowly, it turned into something comfortable. She didn’t feel like she had to put makeup on every time she saw him. He didn’t feel like he had to dress up. They didn’t have to go to fancy restaurants, nor did either of them have to spend time or energy thinking of fun and exciting things to do. What was the point of going out all night and closing down the bars, when they could just lay on the couch, eat takeout and watch movies? She didn’t feel embarrassed around him. There was nothing to prove. They knew each other and at the end of all of the knowing, they still liked each other, loved each other. She knew why he didn’t return her phone calls sometimes and she certainly wasn’t jealous of his ex anymore.

There was a brief moment of enjoying this comfortable life, before she started to find the holes.

Sure, she was happy, but she began to wonder if he was the right person for her. If he was “the one.” After all, she may have forgiven him for past transgressions and she might have forgotten the fights that they had over the past few years but they were still there written in the faded and worn cloth that was their relationship. You could patch over it, but you knew it was there.

And if she was honest, it still bothered her why he couldn’t just return a phone call or at least text. It wasn’t hard. And no, she wasn’t jealous of his ex-girlfriend, but why was she always still around? It was beginning to feel like they couldn’t go anywhere without running into her. And would it be so terrible, if just once he dressed up and took her somewhere nice? She couldn’t remember the last time he bought her flowers.

Sure, she loved her boyfriend. He was great. And yet, sometimes, she found herself wishing for something new, something exciting and maybe just a little uncomfortable.

It was difficult to decide what to do. She could stay with her boyfriend, despite the threadbare spaces and the discolored patches they put over the problem areas, but always, she felt the pull to go find someone else. Maybe, when things finally got comfortable with the new person, it would be different. Better.

She held up the jeans and looking at them one more time, eyeing them up with that same intensely, critical eye she had turned on herself when she had bought them.

Well, there was no point in holding on to them. She draped them on top of the other clothes she was getting rid of, sweaters that had shrunk in the dryer, the print that she thought might be fun but just ended up looking weird, the dress that wasn’t quite long enough. Then, she hoisted the box up and marched it resolutely down the stairs and placed it by the door.

Her boyfriend was sitting on the couch, watching television and he looked over at her and then the box. “I can’t believe you’re getting rid of those jeans. I thought you loved them.”

Everyone is wrong and so are you

My dad and I regularly get into arguments.

We’re not talking about little things, like where to get the best cup of coffee or what is the best way to get to the beach. No, my dad and I get into awful fights about big stuff, what we believe in, what we don’t, where we come from, how did we get here, the existence of god. Most of these arguments stem from one large, all-encompassing conflict related to the religion that he is still a part of and that I have long since left. He believes with a faith that seems unshakeable. I don’t. I told him one day that as sure as he is that he is right about his religion, that is how sure I am that he is wrong.

These are not fun discussions that we have. We should probably stop doing it. We’re most likely one big argument from doing serious damage to our relationship. These arguments feel like they have no end. There is certainly no chance of resolution. In the end, all I end up feeling is sort of inwardly bruised and torn. If I had to guess how he felt I would say it’s probably bewildered and profoundly disappointed.

I bring this up because it seems very familiar to a lot of the political debates that I see on Facebook and Twitter. Largely two sides. Each one absolutely certain that they are right. Arguments ending unresolved with most people feeling angry, or hurt, or bewildered. I feel the same sort of confusion that everyone else feels, the same sort of confusion that I feel while arguing with my dad.

I think, how does he not see what I’m saying? How am I telling him something and he absolutely refuses to see? When I argue about politics, I think, why do they feel that way so strongly? How can we have the same information but come to such drastically different conclusions? Facts are facts. Why can’t they see that I’m right?

I have the facts.

I’m obviously right.

See, I believe that I’m right because of a neat little thing called “confirmation bias.” What is that? PsychologyToday defines it as “the direct influence of desire on beliefs.” It’s simply wanting to believe something is true, so we do everything we can to support that belief, often sacrificing reality to do so. Maybe we do it by getting out information from sources that share our beliefs. A liberal might get their news from MSNBC. A conservative might choose to get their news from FOX news. It’s why when we look something up on the internet, we will scroll past pages and pages or sources until we find the one source that backs up our point of view.

This is why there are people out there who still think that vaccines cause autism and there are still people out there who believe that global warming is a hoax. It’s why conspiracy theorists thrive. Everyone is a search query away from finding a person, an article, a blog post that confirms everything that they believe to be true. They distrust the government, their doctors, the scientists, their teachers and now you can too!

Facts don’t matter. Science doesn’t matter. When confronted with facts, we can say, well, I still choose to believe the contrary. Like, if I tell you that the sky is blue, if you tell me that you believe that the sky is fuchsia, well, there’s not much I can do about that. Facts are testable, but beliefs are not. It doesn’t matter if all of the experts tell you that vaccines do not cause autism, if you still believe that they do.

We do it on purpose when we only get our news from only a few sources, when we only surround ourselves with people who share our view, or when we scroll past anything that might contradict what we believe. But our brains take it one step further. In the background, they are also subconsciously working on all of our biases. And we have a lot biases. You can look them up on wikipedia, or better yet you can check out Buster Benson’s cheat sheet to them. At the end there’s a pretty neat infographic as well. The point is that even when we’re not aware of it happening, our brain’s are working to confirm the things that we already believe.

For example, if you think that I am a vain person, your brain will constantly keep track of any evidence of that. Every selfie that I post. Every time you catch me checking myself out in the mirror. Your brain will make a note of that, constantly underlining that early judgment you made. It won’t matter the times that I’m not acting that way. Your brain will discard that material. It’s harmless until you think how you could make a judgment about a whole group of people, like refugees, or Muslims or Mexicans and your brain will cheerfully help you find the evidence for that belief you now hold. You can tell yourself that you’re not racist. It’s just what you noticed. But, is it? Or, are your own biases getting in the way?

If you are honest with yourself, really, truly honest, what are some of the things that you just know that are not backed up by any sort of scientific evidence? Are you clicking share every time you see a meme or a picture with some clever words that back up what you’ve always believed to be true and not stopping to look for the evidence that backs up the presented claims? Do you find that when confronted with an alternate view to the one that you have that you do not allow yourself to even consider the viewpoint? If you’re doing these things (I do them too) think to yourself,  what truths am I keeping myself from knowing?

So, why do we do this?

After all, as Jonah Lehrer writes in WIRED, “We’d be a hell of a lot smarter if we weren’t only drawn to evidence that confirms what we already believe.” It’s true. If we weren’t so hell-bent on looking for ways to prove that we’re right, we would be able to see the world around us as it actually is and not how we think it is.

One reason they believe that we do this is because it’s a great way of processing information. We are constantly getting bombarded with information, from our television, from our computers, from our smart phones. The world around us is buzzing with news and if we didn’t have a quick and effective way of dealing with all of that, we would probably lose our minds. I sort of think of myself as a packrat of information and my brain as the tireless organizer. It only keeps the stuff that goes along with what I already believe to be true and ignores the rest of it. It’s like having a spouse or roommate or partner who is constantly going through your stuff and throwing it away and you have so much stuff that you don’t even notice.

Another reason why we might do this is that we don’t actually want to be wrong. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to feel smart. If we discovered that our truths and beliefs were inaccurate, we wouldn’t like the way that felt. And the higher we valued that truth or belief, the worse we might feel in discovering that we were wrong.

The other day, my son had a cold and I wanted to give him orange juice. My husband said that orange juice wouldn’t be good for him. I looked it up and I saw that he was right but it still took two full days for me to tell him that he had been right about that. Being wrong is the worst.

So, maybe you’re thinking, okay, I can see how maybe I do this from time to time.

How do I stop doing it?

Is there any hope for those of us who wish to shake off our blinders, who want to see the world outside of our own biases? Yes. But like anything worth doing, it’s not going to be easy.

  1. gijoeBe aware of the danger of confirmation bias.
    I’ve already helped you with the first one. You’re welcome. This is a classic, “knowing is half the battle” sort of thing.
  2. Go looking for an argument.
    Okay. Settle down. I hope you haven’t just started one on Facebook. What I mean is this: seek out the opposition to what you believe to be true. Get your news from a different source. Get out of your echo chambers. Don’t scroll past all of the articles that conflict what you believe, but read them. Think about them. Sometimes, they will confirm your beliefs. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s okay.
  3. Consider the source
    Are you getting your information from someone who is an expert in their field? A real expert. If you have a problem with your heart you’re going to go to a cardiologist, not an auto mechanic who has beliefs about the human heart (which is that a good prompt for a romance novel or what?). So, if you want to know the truth about vaccines, maybe you shouldn’t get your information from an actress, but maybe a scientist or a doctor. Check to make sure the person presenting the information actually knows what they’re talking about and can back it up with facts.
  4. Have an open mind
    Be open to the idea that something you always believed to be true might not be. It’s not a great feeling. Maybe, you based your whole life on these beliefs. Depending on how long you held those beliefs and how strongly you believed in them, admitting to yourself that they aren’t true can be devastating.  It’s worth it. It’s far better to live in reality than to hold stubbornly to untruths.
  5. Try to enter argument without worrying about winning
    I am admittedly terrible at this. But it goes hand in hand with the previous point, argue with an open mind. Allow yourself to consider the other point of view. Remove your ego from the argument. Approaching an argument like you want to learn something, instead of win something is a great way of opening your mind to other viewpoints. And listen, you don’t have to admit that you were wrong. My god, I’m not a monster.

There is still room for beliefs. There is still room for differing opinions. But it should never be more important than facts and reality. You can be conservative and still be right. You can be liberal and still be right. But don’t sacrifice truths for it. Looks things up. Research. Find multiple sources. At the end of the day, you will be smarter for it, more often right, and an easy winner of all of the best Facebook arguments. And take a deep breath, the election will be over soon. Of course, the debates of differing viewpoints will never go away.

If you are interested in reading more about confirmation bias, I recommend these as they were very helpful in writing this post.

Hot mic: The power of words

christmas-soapLast summer I swore in front of my mom.

It wasn’t one of the lesser of the swear words, the ones that you can sort of explain away. No, this was the big one, the big grand-daddy of swear words.

It was road rage, I guess.

“I can’t fudging get over!” I shouted. Only I didn’t say fudging. The people in the other vehicle? They didn’t hear me, but my mother sure did.

There was that moment, that desperate, frantic moment where I tried to talk my way out of that slip. Could I say that I had said something else and she had misheard me? Could I pretend I didn’t say anything at all? Could I blame it on other people, those nonexistent, terrible people around me who also use that dirty language? Was there any way that I could blame it on my husband?

I looked over at her where she sat with quiet dignity.

“I’m really sorry I said that.” I didn’t have to say what “that” was. I swear I could still hear it echoing through the car.

“It’s okay,” she said quickly.

“No, it’s not,” I replied.

She waved it off, a quick forgiveness that I probably wouldn’t have gotten if I still had lived at home. She wasn’t above washing our mouths out with soap.

Words say something about who we are. People may hear me swear and make some assumptions about who I am as a person. I don’t like that my mom now knows that I use that language. I still cringe when I think about saying that word in front of her.

There is a reason we should watch what we say. Words have power and if we get in the habit of using certain words or to take it a bit further, expressing certain thoughts when we think no one can hear, they find ways of coming to the surface. Sometimes, they can reveal who we are in a way that can be damaging to how we want to be perceived.

There’s no better lesson for this than the lesson that Donald Trump is learning over the leaked hot-mic footage from 2005. It’s been three days since that has been leaked but it’s been everywhere. If you haven’t heard of it then I assume you live in a cave and then my question for you is do you have room for one more? Trump has since apologized, and talked about it in the debate where he told us once more how much respect he has for women. Yeah. Okay. There has also been an influx of posts where people have rushed to come to his defense. I’ve made a list of some of their points that I have seen. Let’s talk about those.

It’s just locker room talk.
I thought the expression, “Boys will be boys,” was bad. I mean, come on, is it such a terrible thing to make boys be accountable for their actions? Now, words of misogynistic men are just explained away with, “It’s locker room talk.” This is what most men will say when women aren’t present.

But, is it?

There is a subreddit called AskMen, and a redditor asked, How much truth is there that guys have lewd, vulgar “locker room talk” between themselves (a la Trump and Billy Bush)? The answers didn’t surprise me. One redditor said “I’ve lived in a lot of countries, and engaged in a lot of male-only conversations, and have never heard anyone say anything like this in my entire life. If anyone had, the reaction from the other men wouldn’t have been “slightly uncomfortable.” We’d have thrown him out on his ear.” Another redditor said, “I’ve played rugby in the macho bullshit culture of an Australian rugby club. Sometimes shit got really crude, but not once did anyone cross the line into discussing sexual assault, even in a joking manner.”

So, maybe this isn’t just locker room talk? Maybe, not all men talk like that? Maybe, and in my case I’ve found this to be true, men are so much better than what they are sometimes given credit for.

It’s just crude words.
cuxaw14waaadhfzLet’s just be clear about this, joking about sexual assault and admitting to it goes far beyond just using crude words. I personally don’t like the word pussy. It’s certainly not what I call my vagina, but I’m not offended by that particular word. What does offend me is someone talking about grabbing a pussy. The word grab is the problem, because that is assault. It’s not being overly sensitive to say that joking about this or basically admitting to doing it is disgusting. My being offended by this is not the product of a society that is too concerned with being politically correct. My being offended by a joke about sexual assault is the product of living in a country where every 109 seconds a person is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, a child is the victim. Have you ever been groped in public? Ask around. Have people you have known been groped in public? Ask them if they think that what Trump said was just crude words.

It was over ten years ago.
Yes, this was over ten years ago and maybe it would be something we could sort of shake our heads at, accept his apology and move on. Except, this is a man who has a history of saying awful things about women. There are articles, entirely too long, detailing all of the very public things that he says about women, essentially reducing us all to the shapes of our bodies and our only worth based on how we look. He has been making these comments for most of his adult life. I don’t have to go into all of them, do I? Do you want me to remind you that he called Megan Kelly a bimbo or that he said that Heidi Klum was fat (Heidi Klum!). Just last week, he talked about the former Miss Universe’s nonexistent sex tape. If you don’t know what I’m talking about or you think that I’m exaggerating, check out this and this and this. And let’s not forget those were things that he said in public, when he was supposed to be watching his mouth. The hot-mic clip gives us an idea of what he says in private.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-43-19-pm

For what it’s worth…

You read Fifty Shades of Grey.
Listen. I read all sorts of things. I don’t limit myself. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought it was awful, but I read it. Does that mean that because I’ve read that book and that admittedly I’ve read other books that sometimes explore kink and the beautiful and strange world that is human sexuality that it means you can say or do whatever you want to me? Does that mean I’m not allowed to be offended when someone laughs about sexually assaulting someone? If I read a book about someone being murdered, does that mean that I’m now okay with murder? No. Obviously not.

He wasn’t running for president then.
So? Seriously. So? Does that mean that when he began his candidacy for president we should have wiped clean the slate, pretended that he didn’t say all of those racist and sexist things? That’s not how it works. He is running for president now and to be honest his candidacy hasn’t exactly slowed down the racist and misogynistic garbage coming out of his mouth.

Hillary Clinton/Bill Clinton/Rap Artists/Anyone else you can think have said or done worse.
I’m not interested in getting into an involved discussion about all of the other people who have said and done worse things. Pointing the finger at someone else doesn’t change what Trump has said or did. It’s irrelevant. We can talk about rape culture. We can talk about rap artists. We can talk about the Clintons, but it doesn’t change for one moment what Trump said or admitted to doing.

See, words are important. Trump’s words tell us more than anything else how he feels about women. We could also talk about how he feels about minorities because we all know he has had a lot to say about them as well, but I’m trying to stay focused here on just this one issue. Trump says terrible things in public, in speeches, on twitter, in interviews and then thinks we should all forgive him for what he thought he said in private. He wants to just sweep away the words with a half-hearted apology, but you can’t do that. I can’t unsay the f-word that I said in front of my mom. I can’t blame anybody else. Trump can’t unsay words just to get out of the consequences of them and he can’t lessen them by pointing the finger everywhere else.

It must be exhausting having to defend this. I almost feel sorry for the Trump supporters who are looking for the ways to make this okay, to minimize this. But, really, you don’t need to that. Do yourself a favor. Stop. Stop defending this. You don’t have to like Hillary Clinton. I don’t care who you vote for. (Well, I do, but I’m not going to get into that.) Vote for Trump, if you must. But, stop defending this behavior and these words.

If you’re okay with everything he says and does and how he feels about women, that’s fine. I’m not here to change you. But, I need you to know that you also are a misogynist. Own it. Write it on a t-shirt. Wear it as a sign around your neck. You cannot be okay with all of these things that he says and does and then shrink away from what that makes you.

A misogynist.

That’s a pretty powerful word, isn’t it?

Lessons from the dance floor

danceDo you know what I learned this weekend? I learned that for me dancing the electric slide is not like riding a bike. It is not something that I just remembered how to do. I shouldn’t have walked out onto the dance floor and expected all of the steps to come back to me. No amount of wine was going to help me and I think if I’m honest with myself I think it might have been a contributing factor in my subpar performance.

In case you are the one person in the world who doesn’t know the electric slide, it’s a simple dance, basically a lot of shuffling. In fact, when you have a second, watch it on YouTube. It’s fantastic. You are going to love every second of it.

Anyway, I seem to recall being fairly excellent at it when I was a kid. I know that my memory is faulty when it comes to what I was and was not capable of as a child, but I had to have been better at it than I was the other night. I don’t think for the duration of the song that I was ever going in the correct direction and there is a poor woman out there who nearly had to limp off the dance floor when I stepped on her foot.

I only danced to one other song that night. I forced my poor husband to dance to YMCA and it was awkward and we were clumsy and ridiculous. Twice, I tried to do the letters too early and my husband kept doing a backwards letter C. We made up for our ineptitude with buckets and buckets of enthusiasm and we had fun.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, oh here we go, Amanda is going to take her tipsy foray onto a crowded dance floor and turn it into some sort of life lesson.

And my answer to that? Yes. Yes, I am.

There are so many times that I don’t want to do something or I hold myself back because I don’t want to look foolish. There was a time that my butchery of the electric slide would have mortified me. But now, that I’m trying to loosen up and not be so hard on myself I think, what’s so terrible about looking foolish? Do I have such a weak sense of humor that I can’t even enjoy a joke at my own expense? Do you know what’s really foolish? Not ever doing anything at all because of being afraid of being laughed at. No, it’s not foolish. It’s sad.

So, from here on out, I’m up for it. I’m doing it. I’m going to treat my life like I’m in the middle of a dance floor and I’m trying to learn the steps as I go. What I do know how to do I’m going to do with enthusiasm. Gusto even. What I don’t, well, I’m going to learn. And until I do, I’m going to have a sense of humor about it.

If you’re out here on the dance floor with me, I’ll try to be mindful of your toes.

Sidenote: I’m going to be doing Inktober for the first time, which is an ink drawing for every day in the month of October. I’m not committing to 31 drawings, but I am hoping to do what they call the half-Marathon, only an ink drawing every other day. I plan to write a post about it at the end of the month and share my work, so stay tuned.

Balance

I used to think that I had to choose which creative outlet that I wanted to give all of my time. I felt that if I was going to write, then I couldn’t paint or draw and if I was drawing or painting, then I couldn’t write. I thought that this was how my brain was wired. It’s a big part of the reason that I didn’t do much writing in my twenties. Instead, I was a visual artist. I discovered oil paint and watercolor and I went to school for graphic design. Writing was limited to college papers.

For the past two years, I’ve been mostly writing. This meant that I stopped painting. I barely doodled. I’ve loved writing, but I miss painting. I get something different out of each endeavor. Writing is harder work, and can often be very frustrating, but is very rewarding when the story comes together or I find the right words or the right phrases. It’s a workout for my brain. Painting is like a meditation. I can completely unplug from everything around me. Time slips away. The joy I find in painting is in the creation of it and less about the finished product.

I don’t like having to choose between these two pursuits and I think I might have been terribly wrong about how my brain operates. I decided that I probably should be doing both of these things simultaneously. I have this theory that writing drains the creativity from me and painting might just fill it back up.

So, this week I tried to find a balance between visual art and creative writing.

Each day, I first had to reach my word count. Right now, my daily word count is around a thousand words. That’s a nice comfortable amount for me for the amount of time that I can put into it every day. If I push myself I can write as many as two thousand words a day, but I find that’s a bigger struggle and I lose some of the joy that I have in writing. If I reached my word count early enough in the day, I could then spend my evening doing visual art. I returned to the redditgetsdrawn community and did watercolor portraits. I usually only had an hour or two to draw and paint them, but that was enough.

This was what I accomplished this week:

None of that painting got in the way of my writing. Apparently, my brain is perfectly capable of handling whatever I throw at it. I wish that I hadn’t allowed this sort of self-imposed limitation rule my creativity for the last fifteen years.

P.S. Writers who were also visual artists? There’s apparently a lot of them, so I’m in good company.

The Rebirth of Creativity


I like to watch my kids play. I like the way they throw themselves into it. They make things up. They dance. They sing. They draw. They paint. There is nothing better than a child being creative. It’s messy, crazy, and uninhibited. They don’t color in the lines. They don’t worry about something looking perfect or being the right color. They don’t follow the rules. They don’t always use tools the way they are intended. And when they are done? They are proud of it. They show you.

This is how my kids are and from what I’m seen and heard, this is how most kids are. That means that when I was little, I was like that too. So were you.

freak

Oh, sweetie…

My mom kept stories that I wrote when I was in elementary school, stories that were complete nonsense, but that I remember being so proud of.  I made up dance routines with my little sister in our back yard. I recorded songs on cassette tapes. I made a big lion fish in fifth grade out of paper mache that I thought was perfection.

That same grade (I think), I, with three of my friends, did an entire lip sync routine to “It’s in his kiss,” for a talent show in front of the whole school. I think we used the version sung by Cher. And before you ask, it was wonderful. We were amazing.

There was no art form that I didn’t think I could do. I don’t remember when I stopped thinking that. I don’t remember when I started saying things like:

“I can’t sing.”

“I’m the worst at dancing. I have no rhythm and no coordination.”

“I’m not good at that.”

“I can’t.”

At this point in my life, I think I would rather die than get in front of a group of people and lip sync the song, “It’s in his kiss.” And seriously, why did we choose that song of all songs? We were in fifth grade in like 1993, not 1964.

So, where did all of that go? Why did I stop dancing and singing and painting and writing?

For me, I think the thing that killed my creativity as an adult was this idea that there had to be some sort of profit from creating. If I was going to be a painter, then I needed to paint things that people would want to put in their homes. If I was going to be a writer, then I needed to write books that could be published. I am an adult. I needed to be professional. I had to be the best. It wasn’t something that I could do for fun anymore.

But that put a lot of pressure on me and so when I sat down in front of a blank canvas or an empty screen, I was paralyzed. There is a quote from the book “Art and Fear” that pretty much sums it up:

To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do – away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes.

I had gone a long spell without creating. I painted here and there, but never as much as I wanted and I always left more paintings unfinished than finished. I couldn’t remember the last time I had written something outside of course work in college. It felt like my creativity was just all dried up inside of me.

And then the craziest thing happened several months after my son was born that pulled me out of my creative funk.

portrait49

RGD portrait in watercolor

There’s a subreddit on Reddit called redditgetsdrawn. How it works is that people upload photos of themselves or their kids or their friends or their dogs and they ask artists to create something with them. I started creating portraits, first with pens and markers but then with watercolor and even oil paint. I became obsessed. I spent nearly every moment of my free time creating these pictures for strangers on the internet. I stayed up late at night because I couldn’t pull myself away. It didn’t matter if they didn’t look great or if what I was experimenting with didn’t work out. I was a faceless person on the internet. When it failed, I just shrugged and moved to the next thing. If it succeeded, I was motivated to do more.

For months I did this. I have stacks and stacks of portraits of strangers in my house. I have a tumblr that is nothing but these pictures.

Then one day, I was reading a book and I told my husband that I thought I could write a book too. He said he believed me but I wanted to prove it. And I did. I wrote a book. It was garbage. Total, utter garbage. But I had failed before. I shrugged and moved to the next thing. I rewrote the story. I’ll probably rewrite it again. I’ve also written another book, a book that needs some work but a book that I like, that might just have the capability of going somewhere.

I have my creative mojo back.

I hope it will stay. I’m clinging to it tightly, pushing myself to work every day, even when it’s hard and I don’t want to, even when I’m still a little afraid that I will only fail. I don’t want to lose it, but if I do, I have a little more experience in finding it again.

As for the singing and dancing thing, we’ll leave that for dancing with my kids in the kitchen and singing in the car. It’s for the best.