When I Get Back to Paris

The rain-soaked streets were quiet that evening. I don’t remember whether it was a weekday or weekend or whether it even mattered to anybody. I remember being excited to get to the Notre-Dame Cathedral and walk along the banks of the Seine, across its bridges and back again.

Before I reached the river, I spotted the peak of the Eiffel Tower shimmering in electric light over the rooftops to my left. I was hearing music too. People singing and guitars playing. Flames over stove tops and candlelight in restaurant windows. People were laughing, lovers young and old holding one another, kissing in the still, cold night.

Man I couldn’t believe it, but somehow this city was already turning out to be everything I ever imagined and hoped it would be, which was saying a lot.

Ever since that first evening I’ve found it difficult to write about Paris. It could have something to do with expectations and some inflated idea of what an account of my time there ought to be and sound like. Many have written of it and will continue to do so, and I’m not sure whether I have anything particularly novel to add to the ongoing conversation but I can try.

What surprised me about Paris was that it met and more often surpassed every expectation I originally had of it from years of reading stories in countless books or seeing it in film and other media. Expectations were high enough to make it seem as though disappointment were inevitable, but like so many others I too fell in love with the city. Now during what are hopefully the final days of lockdown and travel restrictions, it sits among the top of my list of places I look forward to seeing again, not too long up the road. So maybe it’s no accident that I’m finally writing this now, years after that first night, since a city like Paris represents the opposite of everything most of us have experienced for the past year.

Where many of us understandably might be at a point where we’re re-evaluating our lives and no longer taking as much for granted, Paris is a place where nothing seems taken for granted and where every detail is savored and art, beauty, fine food and good company are given the priority they deserve.

Take the parks for example. Not only are there plenty of them, but they’re all beautiful and they stay busy with groups of friends gathered there on any given morning, afternoon or evening, sitting atop a picnic blanket enjoying wine, good food and ultimately the added company of everyone else sitting across the lawn of the Champ de Mars or along the hillside below Sacré-Coeur.

Or take the restaurants and how uncommon it is to see one that doesn’t have tables out front with seats positioned side-by-side, facing town instead of each other, so people can enjoy not just the company of the person with whom they’re dining but the feeling of being out in their neighborhood and appreciating where they are and where they live.

Then again, you’re equally apt to see someone sitting alone at one of these cafés having lunch or enjoying a coffee (no laptops) and out in their city in the company of strangers, in the company of neighbors, and in the broadest sense, in the company of fellow citizens and human beings, all participants in this grand experience of life and living.

If such a person can learn to recognize this and to cherish it, they may still be alone in that moment, but I can almost guarantee they’ll feel a lot less lonely.

We’ve heard the phrase work to live, not live to work. I wonder whether to someone in Paris, the phrase might sound silly not because it isn’t true but because it’s so obviously true. For here it’s an understanding that seems second-nature, as obvious as any other common realization made generations ago and now never given a second thought.

In the days ahead, after more than twelve months of lockdowns and social distancing across the world, I’ve got a feeling Paris is about to become a lot less exceptional, at least in this regard.

A man can hope and dream.

Ren Michael - Paris - Saint Michel
Ren Michael at Saint Michel

That’s Infotainment!

We have justly recognized Donald Trump as the leader and the primary inciter of the failed insurrection attempt on our democracy; but we must confront the reality that he is only the tip of the iceberg, go deeper and recognize not just the man who incited it but the system that propped him up in the first place, the system which sustained him and all those like him for years, long before 2016.

The system is the modern infrastructure through which we access our information, comprised mainly of social media outlets and cable news.

With the accelerated rise of each over the last ten years, Americans now essentially occupy different realities.  I have no doubt that the men and women who broke into the Capitol believed they were doing the right thing.  According to the information they are constantly fed through Fox News personalities or any of the various fringe outlets they follow on social media, Donald Trump won the election and their government is therefore being stolen from them by culprits ranging from a broad covert socialist movement to Bill Gates.

Yet the fact that Trump was even able to ascend to power in the first place, mostly by lying and stoking paranoia proves that he must have had a platform, multiple in fact, that gave him the stage.  I recall in 2011 how every cable news network—whether allegedly right or left leaning—was perfectly willing to have him on as a guest, while he spouted out baseless conspiracy theories that Barack Obama wasn’t born in America, that he therefore snuck in and unlawfully became President.

Why did they have him on in the first place?  Was he an expert on anything?  Had he been conducting any sort of hard reporting on the ground and thus been able to provide some kind of groundbreaking news relevant to the public?  The kind based on actual evidence? 

No. He was entertaining.  A personality who was good for ratings.  Who liked attention and who knew how to wield it, as demonstrated since the 1980s throughout his many public feuds perpetuated by New York tabloids.  When it came to playing the media to boost his profile, Trump was a true maestro, and he would prove to remain so for years into the future.

A liar needs a stage to consolidate power and Trump’s success is owed to the pervasive entertainment culture of our modern news media and to his mastery of it.

In their eagerness to follow him, driven by their need for high ratings, the cable news networks became his all-too-willing accomplices.  In the meantime so did we, all of us who continued to watch these programs and give them our viewership.

We created this monster and now we’ve seen the consequences quite literally breaching the walls of our institutions and our very system of governance.

In answering the inevitable question of what we do from here, it’s worth noting that We the People can still exercise our power by simply making different decisions on how we get our information, on what we will and will not watch, or read.  In making these personal decisions, it’s worth asking ourselves the following questions:

-Why do I trust this program/person?
-Are they providing evidence to back their claims?
-Can I access the evidence myself and if so, am I even willing to investigate the evidence myself?
-Have they made a claim in the past, one that was initially disregarded, dismissed or considered outrageous, that turned out to be true?
-Is what they’re saying backed up by other reputable sources?
-How do I define reputable?
-Am I watching this because I want to be informed, or because I want to be entertained and merely feel informed?
-Do I like this person’s personality?
-Should their personality be relevant?
-How would I react if they were merely reporting news and facts without adding their opinion?

Any broader political or legal action, beyond these personal decisions each of us can and should make, naturally raises new questions concerning free speech.

Or does it? Maybe all we need to do is study history, and remember the federal regulation which existed for nearly forty years before it’s revocation in 1987: the Fairness Doctrine.  It required that TV and Radio stations present all sides of an issue for the sake of an informed electorate.  The Reagan administration revoked the policy, believing that such considerations were better left to the will of the free market.

If at face value that seems sensible, consider whether the evolution of our media over the past 30 years tells a different story. In the mid-nineties, conservative talk radio took off with leading personalities (not reporters or journalists) like Rush Limbaugh. Shortly thereafter, perhaps picking up on radio’s cue, two competing cable news networks debuted within the same year–Fox News and MSNBC. Perhaps at first, the coverage on either network seemed straight enough and relatively light on its editorializing. That would change as other personalities like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews proved better for ratings, people less known for their reporting than for how they reported, for their personality and manner.

Today the cable news landscape is dominated by these prototypes, whether it’s a show’s host or the rotating usual suspects of spin doctors they consistently invite to speak, the talking heads telling us how to think and how to feel.

Editorializing is nothing new, nor is it particularly dangerous. What is dangerous is the editorializing being disguised as news, television shows–governed by the rules of entertainment before journalism–being equated to news programs that report facts absent of spin or opinions. Put it this way, if you’re wondering why we don’t have any more Walter Cronkites, David Brinkeys or Tom Brokaws, it’s not because they don’t exist. It’s because their modern equivalents have been overshadowed by the people who bring in more money for the networks.

So while most of us think we’re getting informed, we’re really just getting amped up with more of what we want to hear–not from reporters who report facts, but by people who think like us and present information (or don’t present it) in a way that will keep us in our own ideological bubble.

It frankly astonishes me that people remain perplexed as to why we’re so divided in this country. And while it might be too late to close Pandora’s box or fully reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in a modern media landscape so vast and diverse–at least without provoking mobs of people rallying against what they view as some ominous government censorship–we do need to begin properly distinguishing the news from propaganda.

Laws decree that motion pictures and television shows are given content ratings, that music with any profanity be labeled explicit. It might be time to issue similar regulations for television shows or internet channels posing as news, for personalities quietly reassuring us that we can count on them to provide all the facts we need, so long as they reserve the right to tell us how to feel about them.

Unless we take serious steps in regulating our media and information infrastructure we should expect our country to grow more divided, the mobs more frequent, and We the People to become a greater danger to ourselves.

Apathy Is Old News.

It’s long been fashionable particularly among young people to regard social activism and politics as something to be avoided, something messy and too rigged or corrupt to occupy our time.

We might regard the whole thing as much ado about nothing, a strange overcomplicating of ideas far more simple than politicians and pundits would have us believe, making compromise itself seem more alien than we ever thought possible.

We may yet have resorted to another kind of indifference, a kind that initially seems valid since it at least reflects a basic open-mindedness in considering both points of view.  Nevertheless it hints at an unwillingness or insecurity in standing up for what we truly believe.

In his book On Tyranny, author Timothy Snyder puts it best.

“What is truth?” Sometimes people ask this question because they wish to do nothing. Generic cynicism makes us feel hip and alternative even as we slip along with our fellow citizens into a morass of indifference. It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society. The individual who investigates is also a citizen who builds. The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant.





-Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny (2017)

This may remind us of our current political landscape and those in high office who’ve routinely reinforced notions of fake news along with a general hostility toward nuance and complexity and facts.

Politics is indeed complicated and for the most part it always has been, primarily because there are so many of us, each coming from different backgrounds and occupying our own sphere of personal experience.

But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible. It requires us doing the work in educating ourselves and listening to other perspectives–listening, that is, but still ultimately making a decision.

On that note, in this election we saw a greater turnout than ever before and it’s enough to convince me that the type of apathy I described may be turning into something of the past, to the point that anyone still falling into that “morass of indifference” seems not only impractical but passé to the point of looking silly.

Still, it’s important that our rising passions and renewed enthusiasm don’t lead to recklessness.  In this age of social media it can be particularly tempting to speak out on a cause more for the sake of saying something or simply conforming to sudden popular opinion and less because we truly believe in it or have done a good amount of investigating, critical thinking and listening ourselves.

Such oversight can lead to an increased state of tribalism where each of us places less value in facts and objectivity than we do in our side being right.

We must remember to be vigilant for the breakdown of objectivity both in our society and in ourselves.  Our allegiance belongs to facts and to understanding the truth as completely as possible, not to our own egos.

To that point, what’s particularly troubling is the continued prevalence of cable news in our society, which is without question the main culprit behind the ever-increasing divisions in our country.

These programs, mere talk shows masquerading as news programs, are far less beholden to the rules of journalism than to those of television and ratings; where they’ll report the news for a minute, and then open the floor to pundits and spinsters who occupy the next 20-30 minutes essentially telling us what to think of it.  As if we don’t have that ability ourselves.

“Viewers don’t want to be informed.  Viewers want to feel informed.”

Chet Collier, one of the original founders of Fox News

They’ll call themselves news programs but what they really are is propaganda providing less information than entertainment, reinforcing the things they know their audience wants to hear–indeed a far cry from the quickly fading journalism of the David Brinkley/Walter Cronkite mold anchored in facts and reporting before opinions and personalities.

It’s what we get when journalism becomes less a service than a business–content in which there is ultimately no liberal or conservative bias, but merely a money bias.  A business run by people who know where their audience stands and what it likes, and so naturally they keep playing the information that will keep its attention.

In this way they’re no different than most forms of entertainment.  Of course, the more serious problem is their continued suggestion that they are anything more, that they are something that we can actually trust and take seriously as a source of information, unaware that we are likely doing so less to be informed than to be entertained.

And so we have become the sad enablers of our own creepy addiction.  And our country is suffering for it, as we are more deeply divided now than at any time in modern history.  

Yet, as we the viewers have lifted cable news to this level of esteem, so too can we disenfranchise it by no longer watching it.  We can reinvest our time and allegiances to print journalism, a medium in which ratings are irrelevant and entertainment is not a priority, where outside the editorial section, there is little space for opinions and personality in an environment anchored in facts and words alone.

The better print journalists allow us to consider the meaning, for ourselves and our country, of what might otherwise seem to be isolated bits of information. But while anyone can repost an article, researching and writing is hard work that requires time and money. Before you deride the "mainstream media," note that it is no longer the mainstream. It is derision that is mainstream and easy, and actual journalism that is edgy and difficult. So try for yourself to write a proper article, involving work in the real world: traveling, interviewing, maintaining relationships with sources, researching in written records, verifying everything, writing and revising drafts, all on a tight and unforgiving schedule. If you find you like doing this, keep a blog. In the meantime, give credit to those who do all of that for a living. Journalists are not perfect, any more than people in other vocations are perfect. But the work of people who adhere to journalistic ethics is of a different quality than the work of those who do not.





-Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny (2017)

Indeed the time for apathy is over.  I am encouraged to see a greater feeling of activism among the electorate.  But we must ensure that our passions are those we’ve cultivated on our own terms, and not simply because somebody told us what to think and what to feel.  We must actively participate based on our own individual conclusions, not on those fed to us by what we hear on TV or see on social media. 

If our activism is rooted on our individual ability to think critically, then it will prove to be an activism that lasts, and one that creates the healthier and more united country we seek to become.  

Let’s get to work

Saturday, November 7 it rained in LA in the early hours of the morning.  I stepped out later as the sky cleared and the sun was breaking through. This mail van had parked across the street as it does just about everyday.

But that day I felt like taking its picture.  To me it’s a symbol that represents the heroes that go unnoticed, whose names we won’t know, whose jobs are usually tedious and not in the least bit glamorous.  A public institution seldom celebrated, much less romanticized.  But it does work, and like anything worthwhile, it gets better the more we prioritize and invest in it.

More broadly then, it represents those who volunteer to work the polls and register voters, who carefully and laboriously counted every vote this year under extraordinary pressure. 

It represents those who stood in line for hours to cast their ballot and boldly defy the pervasive and relentless notion that their voice didn’t matter.

It does matter.  And we proved it this year.

USPS - Mail Delivery Van - Postal Service- Quinby & Co.
USPS Mail Delivery Van. That morning I felt like taking its picture.

No, perhaps the work is not all that glamorous or glorified.  But that’s not why we do it.  

We do it because it’s necessary, because it amounts to something bigger than any one person.  We do it because it makes our community stronger and more inclusive of everyone no matter what they look like, how/if they pray, who they love or who they are.        

In America, we’ve long valued individualism typically expressed through personal ambition and prosperity; and while it seems a natural impulse, I’ve come to appreciate how and why service to oneself and to our community must go hand-in-hand.  It’s necessary to keep a democracy real.     

I am thankful for our public institutions which honor and embody that.  I am thankful for our schools, our roads, our libraries, our public transportation, our national parks and public lands, our postal service and (hopefully soon, with more work) our healthcare.  

And I am thankful for those who’ve worked hard to keep these institutions strong.  Institutions of the people, for the people, and by the people that will–like democracy itself–only grow the more we invest and participate in it. 

It’s most definitely worth voting for.  I believe it’s worth fighting for and living for. 

America, I see you.  Let’s get to work. 

 

In-Brief: On Parks and Wildness

Save Our Home, Save Ourselves

I recently applied to a job that asked me to select the best pic of myself in the outdoors. It sounds like it could be an exciting one, a job where I’d be spending time in some of my favorite places, or one place depending on how you look at it. That is, the National Parks or in the broader sense, in nature.

To that point, I’ve come to see them less as individual places and it more as one larger whole.  Our planet.  I like that approach more.    

It’s hard to say which picture could ever be the best, but this is the one I felt like posting–taken almost exactly four years ago.

Ren Michael - South Kaibob Trail - Grand Canyon - Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona - National Park - Quinby & Co.
Ren Michael on the South Kaibob Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Much has happened since then both in my life and throughout the world, and I’ve been fortunate to have gone on many adventures in the time in between. Hopefully I’m a strong sum of those experiences, as each was its own unique reminder of my connection to both land and people.

I’m not unique in that respect, since I know many who have turned to the outdoors and felt a similar way. Restored, replenished, readjusted to the point that their day-to-day ambitions either suddenly feel silly, or are just given renewed purpose in light of the bigger realization that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their possessions.

While I can only hope it’s enough to help us recognize the importance of preserving these places—since all of us deserve to experience the land in equal measure—above all, I hope we each begin doing our part in preserving the integrity of our environment, for the health of our planet, our one true home, for our physical health, and ultimately for our sanity.

I look back on recent years and I think about people marching against gun violence, or against corporate greed on Wall Street.  I think about people marching for Black lives and for our government’s full recognition of their humanity. 

And I think about two weeks ago, when everyday I stepped out and saw a smoke-filled sky blotting out the sun due to devastating regional wildfires.  In the back of my mind, the fire’s reach had far exceeded the limits of the west coast where I make my home.  Indeed, the larger symbolism was hard to miss.      

The issues of violence, racial justice, environmental justice and economic inequality are, I believe, inter-related.  The dangers of climate change for example pose the most immediate threat to Black and Brown communities, a disproportionate number of which fall below the poverty line in the United States and throughout the world–a reality most clearly demonstrated in food and water shortages not just in third-world countries, but here at home.  

Tackling the threat of climate change will not automatically close the gap on income inequality or accomplish comprehensive racial justice.  Still you cannot adequately address problems in your house when your house is, quite literally, on fire; and truly, the fight for a healthy planet has the power to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, likely more so than any movement we’ve ever witnessed.  More to the point, it’s the understanding of our interconnectedness that will ultimately save us in virtually every domestic and global conflict we experience; and nowhere is that realization more critical than in the necessary global effort to mitigate climate change by cultivating a cleaner and more sustainable world for all people.  

The act of getting outdoors, spending time in our public lands and in the broader wilderness of the world has the unique power to reinforce the fundamental reality of our interdependence and dependence on the land.  It’s just one of many reasons why it’s so important they stay preserved and protected.    

I often reflect on whether it will just be an ongoing battle for every generation between people committed to preserving our wilderness for the public benefit, and the people who seek to exploit the land for their own profit. 

I hope that it won’t.  Maybe the dual threats of climate change and a global pandemic will convince people of their stake in each other’s health and the health of our planet, and the influence will carry over through generations to come.      

I only know that the need for such a realization has never been so urgent.      

As for our wilderness, and it’s unmatched beauty and healing power, for now there’s little more I can say, other than to simply go, as soon as you can, and experience it for yourself.

Let’s please take care of our home.  I am committed to doing my part and I hope you will join me.  The Sierra Club is one of our nation’s most enduring and influential forces for environmental action and awareness.  I’ve been a member for a couple years now and I urge you to consider joining and lending your support as well. 

Let’s get to work.   

 

*Take Action –> www.sierraclub.org

Friends of the Earth Action https://foeaction.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/

National Parks Foundation https://www.nationalparks.org/

Talking About Political Correctness

I used to complain about political correctness, even though I’d never actually met anyone who shamed me or embarrassed me due to my incorrectness. I wonder then whether most of the people who complain about it are just insecure people?  

The growing consensus seems to be that everybody everywhere takes everything so personal all the time, which may yet be true.

For starters, the complaint seems far more warranted, say, with respect to professional comedy where part of what makes a joke funny at all is it’s irreverence, its breach of political correctness. If a comedian were constantly wanting to avoid offending people, that comedian would likely lose inspiration and give up the whole thing. 

Comedy thrives on irreverence. Even so, the best comedians still grasp the basic concept of knowing how to read a room.

When people look at their life and really think about the number of times they’ve been slapped on the wrist by a friend, family member or acquaintance for using the wrong word or making an insensitive remark, is that number actually few and far between, if at all?

The way I see it, political correctness is a fact of life and always has been, no different from any other form of etiquette that will change depending on where you are in the world. The only difference now is that it’s been given a name, and stigmatized in the one sphere of public life where it’s probably essential–politics.   

I wonder then whether people who complain about having their head bitten off for breaching that etiquette, who yearn for some comprehensive, universally agreed upon rubric for what’s ok and what’s not, and who then further expect it to never change, ever again—at least while they’re alive—are simply operating in some other reality; as if anything like that ever existed at all within the long span of human history and the diversity of cultures that make up this planet, let alone the ones that make up this country.   

They’ll mention how it used to be different years ago, how somethings were ok and others were not—as if the ideal sort of history of language and expression is a static one.

People once used words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, words like ‘colored’, just as men once wore stockings and wigs out in public. And yet if you spoke or dressed that way today, you’d look like a jackass. Why? Because things eventually fall out of fashion. And yes, it might be a phenomenon but if we can’t accept it, then we might want to find ourselves another planet.

The complaint ignores the fundamental truth that language changes because people change.  It ignores the fact that larger, free-thinking societies are quite naturally heterogenous.  The bigger they are, the more diverse they will likely become, with each community and sub-community developing their own customs and standards of decorum. Political correctness, then, at the very least seems to represent that basic truth in the matter of how we converse with one another, when each of us comes from a different background and our own sphere of personal experience.  

I’ve noticed that people who travel a lot typically have no problem understanding this, because they’ve spent a good amount of time in communities other than their own. They learned to adapt, and often a part of them even enjoys navigating the complexities of different cultures.

They don’t get upset over the fact that they have to learn a new language, they embrace it as an opportunity. If something changes in the country or community they visit and they have to adapt yet again, they don’t dismiss the people as petty and refuse to budge any further.

They are often driven by an appetite for learning new things, and a wonder before all the intricacies of the world and its many points of view.

They don’t get hung up on the possibility of making a mistake here and there, because they’ve already accepted the high possibility that they will make one sooner or later.

However, that leads to another point of discussion.

Could those who are hip to the changing tides of fashion be more polite about it? Do they have to be such a dick about it? Is being woke, for example, nothing more than a matter of bragging rights, one that ultimately involves shaming all those who are out of the loop?

I’ve never encountered anyone like that, but if and when I do, I don’t think it will surprise me. I used to complain about political correctness because I’d automatically bought into the notion that these types of people were everywhere and running absolutely wild…even though I never met one.

I think it had to do with insecurity. My own fear of making a fool of myself led to a defense mechanism against the enemy I had never actually seen. If these woke people exist–and I do think there are a few out there–then I imagine they are likely motivated by the same fear. Fear of not being hip, fear of looking like an idiot, or just someone out of step with the times. An outsider.

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being ignorant. I think the real pity is either burrowing yourself in your ignorance, or over-compensating in the direction of righteousness or enlightenment, all for the sake of never being wrong and being some kind of insider.

Personally I think it’s more fun being a little bit of both, having one foot on the inside and another on the out.

It’s one reason I like to travel.  I like knowing that I can adapt easily enough to changing surroundings, and I know doing that involves a flexibility of perspective, a willingness to listen and an actual openness to being wrong every once in a while.

It’s something I’d forgotten about myself, but I think it’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. It might make life a little more complicated now and then, but with the slightest tweak in perspective, if we can set aside our ego, it might also make life a whole lot more enriching.

When is Enough Enough?

There are those who will simply not listen, who will try and talk over you, shout at you, and maybe even say something ugly to you before they’re willing to even consider whether they are wrong.  In all likelihood, it stems from their own insecurities.  I don’t think you have to be a psychoanalyst to see it.

Granted, some voices out there will encourage you to keep fighting the good fight.  If you think you can do that, then by all means go for it.

But if you find that continuing conversations with those people is adding stress and sadness to your life, people who continually put up a block and care more about being right than the egoless pursuit of truth, then is it still a good idea?

What about with family?  At what point should we decide that enough is enough?  And how should we navigate our relationship with these people considering our different points of view?

Of course, there’s no clear answer because how much of it we’re willing to endure is something only each of us can know.  And while I certainly don’t think it’s necessary to part ways over differing points of view, I do wonder whether it’s more practical to part ways with people who are either unwilling or unable to listen, especially when it’s bringing you pain and eating up both time and energy that could be invested elsewhere.

For one thing, if they’re unwilling to listen, then what kind of relationship is it?  And if they go so far as insulting you, then how responsible are you really for continuing any sort of conversation?

Anyway, what I’ve noticed about these people is that they’re typically the kind who can only work things out themselves, in their own time and their own way.  Besides, maybe there’s a lot more going on with them than you realize.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe they just don’t want to listen.

Either way, the reasons are mostly–if not entirely–out of your control.  So unless you’re a congressman or lawmaker, if you find yourself giving up on trying to talk to them, don’t beat yourself up over it, because it’s better to save your energy for those who have the mind and the courage to hear out a differing point of view.  And there are plenty of those people who exist, by the way.

One of the greater problems in our society is that many of us are convinced otherwise, as we automatically assume that the people with whom we disagree are hopeless and unreasonable.  It’s a myth, in my humble opinion; one that is encouraged by the manner in which so many of us access information–mainly through social media and the big cable news networks.  But that’s another topic for another time.

Anyway, can we maintain a relationship with people while avoiding certain conversations?  Again, I think it depends on the standards we each set for ourselves, on what we essentially want out of the relationship.

No matter what we decide, I think what’s more important is making the decision not to judge them, or spend any more of your time and energy resenting them or being angry.  Mostly because it’s not going to make anything better.  In fact, it’s only going to damage your own well-being.

Ultimately, what another person believes is their business.  Perhaps what’s most important then, is knowing when it’s time to get back to yours, and seeing to it that your voice is heard.

No matter how we decide to do that, it ought to begin with respect.

A respect that translates into listening.

A personal statement

In recent years, as a rising number of voices far more qualified than my own began speaking out on racism from the standpoint of their personal experience, in movements like Black Lives Matter, I thought it more appropriate to speak less and listen more.

While it was mainly an act of deference, it also partly came from a fear that my own voice might further add to what I viewed as a dangerously monotonous chorus perpetuated by social media, a superficial facade of allegiance rooted less in justice and more in fashion, something I saw as alarmingly characteristic among people–particularly in the white community–in this rising technological and social media age.

While this point of view had some merit, it’s one I can no longer fully practice. I’ve had the opportunity to educate myself more deeply over the last few years, and while that experience certainly continues, my silence has reached it’s end.

I am a musician. I play American music. I often play what some people call Roots music. The term is typically used to group together folk music, jazz and the blues—art forms unique to America that shaped the music we enjoy today, an enduring tradition through which we continually express ourselves.

As such, it’s a useful conduit to understanding the broader history and dynamic character of this country. While all communities have shaped and continue to shape that character, it is critical to understand that Black people specifically laid down this country’s foundations—both literally and to a large extent, culturally. For me, a great part of understanding that foundation has been through the music they’ve given to America, and to the world.

This wasn’t an act of mere patronage on my part. It wasn’t done out of pity or wanting to better understand a community that I viewed as separate from my own, much less from me. It was an act of studying my country and by extension, myself. It’s been an intensely personal, at times painful, and ultimately gratifying experience.

Still, as I continue along this road, which often feels cyclical as well as linear, I’ve returned to one specific realization over the past few weeks. It’s simply impossible for me to continue playing American music without actively speaking out against racism. To do so would be a betrayal of my personal and artistic roots and to the generations of people who profoundly shaped our country and way of life, one that I celebrate every time I sing, or strum the guitar.

I recognize that they aren’t my ancestors, but without question, they are my musical forbearers; and I cannot, I will not turn my back on them. To do so would be to turn away from myself.

So while this is just a brief summary of my own personal experience as an artist and American citizen, my ultimate intention is that is serves as a call to action for anyone still ambivalent about their stake in this country, in something bigger than themselves.

We must fully recognize racial justice as a cause relevant to more than just one community, and recognize the necessity of it being no longer their fight, but our fight. What happens to one of us will and should affect the other. The riots in our cities are living proof of that universal reality, and while I don’t advocate violence, I implore everyone to communicate, openly and with respect, preferably face to face.

To abstain is to compromise not only the welfare and prosperity of one people, but the soul and lasting integrity of our country.

Until these virtues are fully realized, so long as people of color continue to suffer under the tyranny of systemic racism, persecution and oppression, we should–at the very least–expect people to kneel when we sing the national anthem.

____

Resources to Take Action

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

Quarantining Solo

We’re all in a similar situation right now regardless of where we are in the world. Stay at home orders are in place, we’re practicing social distancing and patiently waiting for the world to get back to some form of normalcy.

In the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, which can be scary and even physically difficult for me, I’m here to admit that, after seven weeks into self-isolation, when I thought I was totally fine and could handle it all alone, I had a debilitating panic attack. 

Let me preface by saying I’ve never had a panic attack or anything remotely close to one before.  I have even judged others for saying they’ve had one because I never understood the severity of it until now.  It was, by far, the scariest day of my life.  

I’ll spare you the play-by-play details of the experience and sum it up for you like this:

After beginning to feel out of breath while driving, I pulled over to try and slow it down. Then, all at once, I couldn’t control my breathing at all, my heart was pounding harder and faster than I’ve ever felt, my vision began to blur and I could barely feel my body.

For the first time in my life, I thought, “something is terribly wrong and I might be dying.” I began to think about my life, all the people I love the most, my dog waiting for me at home,  that this might be the end and that I was going to be found alone in my car on Vermont Ave. 

Clearly that was not the case, and I later understood the reality of what had happened. I suffered a panic attack.

Thankfully, my boss was nearby and was able to drive me home where I proceeded to stay on the couch for the rest of the day, feeling completely drained and weak. 

This is all difficult for me to admit, and I honestly didn’t really take time to process much of the experience until the next day, after some much needed rest.

For one thing, I’ve always considered myself the “strong friend.” The person my loved ones can seek out to fill their cup, to consult for advice, to whom they can vent whenever they’re going through a bad time.

Even now, with the stress of a global pandemic changing our lives, I’ve had friends and family tell me how “brave” and “strong” I am to be handling everything on my own, but I never really felt like it was that big of a deal.

“I’m fine,” I thought.  “I can handle this, I’m strong and independent and this is all temporary anyway.”

Though this whole experience was definitely a surprise for me, it’s not too hard to understand why it happened. I realize now that I’ve been overburdened and stretched so far thin that my body just broke down. I’ve been doing this whole quarantine alone for the last seven weeks, separated from my partner, my family and my closest friends.  In the midst of these uncertain times, I’m still working full-time, maintaining a home, taking care of my dog and still trying to take care of myself and my own mental health. Reality check, I DON’T GOT THIS LIKE I THOUGHT I DID.

It pains me to admit that I can’t handle it all, that I can’t be superwoman all the time, that maybe sometimes I have to say, “I need help, I need support.” Being in quarantine alone–that is, with no other person or people to be alone with–is really hard.  So now, I realize how essential human contact is for someone like me. I love to love on my people.  I love hugging and holding hands and being held and cuddling and affection and who knew that not touching a single person for over seven weeks for the first time in my 32 years of life would push me over the edge?! Definitely not me. 

Me in ‘Park Avenue’ at Arches National Park, Utah

So now what? What did I learn from this experience that might keep it from happening again?

Well first off, I had an extremely vulnerable conversation with my partner. I opened up to him emotionally in a way I’ve always been too afraid to do, and I immediately felt an immense weight lift from my shoulders.  As obvious as it may seem, I am not quite as infallible as I thought, and simply admitting this fear both to myself and to my loved ones has alleviated that self-inflicted judgmental pressure, the kind that says I need to have everything under control at all times. Ironically enough, admitting that is actually allowing me to take more control than before. I can look at my situation far more objectively, and give myself the break I didn’t know I needed. 

A key to self empowerment is admitting your weaknesses. When you face a fear or personal judgment head-on, you remove its power over you. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but, “what you resist, persists,” and if there’s one lesson I can take from this whole thing, it’s to quit the resistance, let go of expectations and learn to surrender. 

We’re all in this together, so ask for that help when you need it, set those boundaries that give you a break; and for goodness sake, listen to the cues your body is giving you. 

Going forward, I know I will.

 

Issue #4
Q&Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait of a Chef #1

Typical Family Photo – 1992
One day, as per usual, I was scrolling through Instagram and stopped at this post by @briannamadia (by far my favorite person on IG.)  I’ve always loved her writing but this particular caption struck a chord.  In fact, one line stood out from the rest. 
“Not only do we grow up and in to who we are…we grow up and in to who we’ve always been.”
When I think back to being a little girl, I was fearless and uninhibited. I loved to be the life of the party and refused to conform to social norms. I grew up as the only girl in my family and so I received a lot of attention, which was fine by me.
Countless family photos show everyone smiling for the camera with me jumping into the shot making funny faces, throwing my hands up and being silly.  At four years old, when my brother and cousin were playing video games, typically shirtless, in the living room, I’d go and join them until my mom came in and reminded me, as she’d done a million times that I had to keep my shirt on because I was a lady.
I’d stand up to boys on the playground who wanted to steal my toys and share my young opinions with little thought as to what people might think about them.
Of course, as is often the case with kids, everything changed around adolescence.  I became a shadow of who I was, really only showing my true self to those closest to me, which was mostly family. I’d grown shy and deeply self-conscious, scared to speak to people I didn’t know, scared to say what I really thought for fear of rejection. I conformed to those around me so I wouldn’t be labeled different or weird.  Never once stopping to remember the little girl who was so unabashedly herself.
I spent a ridiculous amount of my young adult life questioning myself, living in a state of perpetual self-consciousness and eventually placing my self-worth in the hands of whoever I was in a relationship with at the time. In short, I had forgotten who I was.
Furthermore, I always had a vague picture of the woman I wanted to be, but it felt unattainable. It felt like I could never change, like I’d be stuck in a spiral of insecurity for the rest of my life.

 

Big Sur Adventures 2016
Fortunately that turned out not to be the case.  I didn’t realize it then, but it had less to do with becoming something I actually wasn’t and more to do with letting go of the limiting beliefs and doubts I had placed on myself.
Thankfully, at 32 years old, I am happy with who I am.  Though of course, that’s not to say this is it, since I continue to reflect on who I am, who I used to be and where I’m going from here. Change isn’t always something happy or easy to go through, but I would always rather evolve than remain stagnant. I am no longer in that shell I lived in for so long, hiding behind a mask of what I thought I should be. 
What’s more is that I hadn’t really considered my experience as a shared experience at all until I read that line.
“We grow up and in to who we’ve always been.”
It made me think of that little girl in the family photos, and I couldn’t help but smile.  I’ve done a lot of growing, especially over the last decade (that’s a longer story for a later time) but those words made me realize something extremely important. 
I am becoming who I always was.

Issue #3
Q&Co.