A Love Letter to Students Surviving Sexual Violence

As we near the end of spring semester, students in both my “Contemplative Writing” and “Writing for Social Justice” courses are pulling together projects to make interventions in some way. Several students are addressing rape culture, and one student is compiling a book of letters by and for survivors of sexual violence. She hopes that others at our university will read the letters, write additional ones, and add threaded response—facilitating healing through storytelling and solidarity-building.

I agreed to write a letter for her book, and I share that letter here with the hope that it speaks to others engaged with similar healing, storytelling, and solidarity-building work:

Dear Reader,

Every semester I’ve taught, students have shared with me stories of sexual violence and survival.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve experienced everyday enactments of rape culture.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve seen sexual violence create new wounds and rip open old ones.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve raged at limited and lacking response.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve been encouraged by incredible resilience and creative healing.

These words are too few and do too little, but with a commitment to justice, I say to readers and to your friends-colleagues-peers who have experienced sexual violence:

I hear you. I see you. I believe you.

I hurt with you. I learn alongside you. I speak and write UP for you. I advocate for change. I call violence violence. I build critical imagination to envision more equitable ways of being.

I write as a professor who carries with me story upon story of sexual violence that I’ve been called to witness. I carry my own #metoo stories alongside those of family, friends, colleagues, and students. I’m learning how to hold these stories as gifted memories rather than weight holding me down, and I’m learning to leverage these stories toward collective healing, truth-telling, reckoning, and liberation. These stories matter, and so do we.

With fierce love keeping hope alive,

A Feminist Educator

Blogging is often always a process of countering perfectionism and sharing words that feel not-ready, not-right, and not-refined. Writing this letter, however, twisted me in knots, as there are never ready, right, or refined words to speak into the violence I know many students are experiencing and even perpetuating.

So, I share this letter with Reiki, love, and mantras:

May these words do some good.
May what’s still unsaid be heard and healed.
May this offering reach those who desire/need it.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence,” “Revealing the Cultural Patterns of Rape Culture,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Revisiting Fear Through Walker’s Essay “Everything Is a Human Being”

Book cover for Alice Walker’s Living by the Word: Selected Essays 1973-1987.This spring I’m reading Alice Walker’s Living by the Word slowly, mindfully, as part of my “Contemplative Writing” course. I appreciate this book of essays for many reasons, including its title, which makes an argument that we live by the words we put into the world. As a writer committed to everyday living for justice, I am taken with this idea of “living by the word.”

I am taken, too, with Walker’s reflections on her many relations, including with her father and daughter, readers and publishers, ancestors and elders, horses and snakes. Across her essays, Walker shows the interconnectedness of all beings, tracing lineages of trauma and healing as well as fear and (in)justice.

Recently, the essay “Everything Is a Human Being” stood out to me. As a keynote address Walker gave at the University of California, Davis, in 1983 for MLK Day, this piece weaves together reflections on fear and humans’ destructive impact on the earth and each other. I found myself lingering over words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages …

In class, several students read aloud from the following passage, one I’d earmarked, as it spoke to my recent blog post on interrogating fear (fear of spiders and people alike).

Screenshot of blog post “Do Vegans Kill Spiders? Recognizing Fears and Others’ Right to Exist”

Here’s a bit of Walker’s reflections on fear, which resulted in a neighbor killing a small garden snake:

“Everything I was taught about snakes—that they are dangerous, frightful, sinister—went into the murder of this snake person, who was only, after all, trying to remain in his or her home, perhaps the only home he or she had ever known. Even my ladylike ‘nervousness’ in its presence was learned behavior. I knew at once that killing the snake was not the first act that should have occurred in my new garden, and I grieved that I had apparently learned nothing, as a human being, since the days of Adam and Eve.

“Even on a practical level, killing this small, no doubt bewildered and disoriented creature made poor sense, because throughout the summer snakes just like it regularly visited the garden (and deer, by the way, ate all the tomatoes), so that it appeared to me that the little snake I killed was always with me. Occasionally a very large mama or papa snake wandered into the cabin yard, as if to let me know its child has been murdered, and it knew who was responsible for it.

“These garden snakes, said my neighbors, are harmless; they eat mice and other pests that invade the garden. In this respect, they are even helpful to humans. And yet, I am still afraid of them, because that is how I was taught to be. Deep in the psyche of most of us there is this fear—and long ago, I do not doubt, in the psyche of ancient peoples, there is a similar fear of trees. And of course a fear of other human beings, for that is where all fear of natural things leads us: to fear ourselves, fear of each other, and fear even of the spirit of the Universe, because out of fear we often greet its outrageousness with murder.” (Walker, Living by the Word, p. 143)

Walker’s words not only touch my heart but also remind me of the deep work I have to do with confronting, befriending, and watching for fear. I notice, for example, that fear of snakes is close-at-hand when hiking. I’m fascinated by and try to learn all I can about snakes, yet I still have much to do to quiet the learned/internalized fear that drives me to keep watch along trails.

Similarly, fear of myself and other humans is never far away. Such fear leads to literal and figurative murder—from police and state-sanctioned violence to dehumanization and discounting others. It erupts in microaggressions and denial of anger and grief. It leads to destruction of the earth, disproportionally impacting people of color. It’s also why we all (and white folks especially) need to strengthen emotional literacies for racial justice.

Fear blocks the ability to see beauty, the potential for human connection, and the work of striving for justice. Fear tears down instead of building up.

In Walker’s words: “[W]e should be allowed to destroy only what we ourselves can re-create. We cannot re-create this world. We cannot re-create ‘wilderness.’ We cannot even, truly, re-create ourselves. Only our behavior can we re-create, or create anew” (p. 151).

With humility, I commit again to revisiting destructive fear and re-creating behaviors aligned with justice. To do so, I see the value of “living by the word”: words of relationality, connectedness, and kinship. Kinship with spiders and humans, snakes and structural change. Kinship linking why I’m vegan with why I’m committed to social and racial justice. Kinship toward blocking destruction and creating anew.

View of the book’s inside binding coming loose and pages falling away.
Speaking of destruction and re-creation, here’s my well-loved book on its way to physical destruction, but ingested as nourishment and fuel for ongoing action.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For related posts, check out “Do Vegans Kill Spiders? Recognizing Fears and Others’ Right to Exist,” Refueling with Feminists of Color,” and the series of posts on why I’m vegan. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

The Austin Airport Meal, Or Why I Love Potatoes and Cabbage with Salsa and Refried Beans

As someone who’s both vegan and gluten-free, I think a lot about food, especially when traveling. I travel with tea bags, snack bars, and other packaged food. More often than not, I prepare or buy meals from outside the airport to eat on the plane. Occasionally, however, I’ll crave a warm meal and find myself looking for chili, steamed veggies, or rice and beans (with guacamole, tortilla chips, and salad).

A few years ago, I wanted a warm meal in the Austin airport, where the options were slim to none. A Tex-Mex place I thought would have rice and beans had only an option of breakfast potatoes (home fries or hash browns) with refried beans. I ordered the potatoes and beans with large amounts of the available vegan toppings: shredded cabbage and salsa. An odd combination, I thought, but I sat down to eat and enjoyed the meal far more than expected (and more than any airport food in memory).

Since this discovery of the “Austin airport meal,” I’ve re-created versions of it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Though I typically roast or fry potatoes, I’ve used frozen hash browns in a pinch. I then open a can of refried beans, a jar of salsa, and a bag of shredded cabbage. A meal comes together with few ingredients and little time (about 10-15 minutes). I have comfort food (with potatoes as the base), and I meet my goal of eating vegetables as at least half of every meal (by piling on the cabbage).

So, with gratitude for food discoveries in the unlikeliest of locations, here’s my “Austin airport meal”—a meal that’s great when traveling, over-scheduled, or exhausted in the spring semester (for students and teachers alike).

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of potatoes (more or less depending on amount desired) with approx. 2 tablespoons of olive oil and water and ½ teaspoon of salt (and possibly pepper or chili powder) for frying
  • 1 bag or head of shredded cabbage
  • 1 can of vegan refried beans
  • Few tablespoons of salsa (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Slice potatoes if frying, or cut into wedges if roasting.
  2. For fried potatoes: add potatoes, oil, water, and spices to a large frying pan. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft and browned.
  3. Heat the refried beans.
  4. If not already shredded, chop the cabbage.
  5. Combine potatoes, refried beans, and cabbage in roughly equivalent proportions (I tend to add more cabbage). Add a tablespoon or two of salsa.
  6. Enjoy!


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try When Times Get Tough: Simple Sautéed Spinach and Tempeh,”Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free): Finding Comfort in the Growth Zone,” and other vegan + gluten-free recipes. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice

Today marks the final day of the 40-day practice I’ve been leading for a local, predominantly-white church on developing emotional literacies. We’ve been focused on building and strengthening emotional awarenesses, knowledges, intelligences, and response-abilities for racial justice. As part of this practice, I’ve been sharing resources, including TED talks that provide language for understanding emotional literacies.

View of TED.com Talks Search Page

In this post, I share five of these talks that are helpful for acknowledging a fuller emotional range, for building emotional courage, and for leveraging emotions to take action.

1. Jay Smooth’s “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Talking about Race”:

Hip-hop DJ, cultural commentator, and videoblogger at illdoctrine.com, Jay Smooth breaks things down in a really accessible, engaging way. In this talk, he offers a simple-yet-powerful framework for thinking about feedback on racist beliefs and actions as similar to having something stuck in your teeth. Lowering the emotional stakes can help with countering white fragility, resistance, or defensiveness that block this work.

2. Susan David’s “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage”:

Psychologist Susan David defines emotional courage, rigidity, and agility in this talk, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging rather than denying tough emotions. She shows the individual and systemic harm that comes from denial, reflecting on experiences of processing her father’s death and growing up in white suburbs of Apartheid South Africa.

3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”:

One way to notice more in everyday life is to ask the question: “What single story am I being told about _______?” Then fill in the blank with just about anything: from the story of normative skin color told by bandaids to the story of imagined business leadership (restricted by race, class, and gender) told by clipart. Author Chimamanda Adichie’s talk is especially helpful for thinking about the narratives we’ve inherited and hold within ourselves. To rewrite narratives, we need to make them visible and to see the danger of continuing to tell them.

4. Valarie Kaur’s “3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage”:

How does rage impact the capacity to love? Civil rights attorney, activist, and filmmaker Valerie Kaur describes fierce, revolutionary love as an “antidote to nationalism, polarization, and hate.” She describes revolutionary love as the “call of our times” and as the work of “birthing a new future.” Kaur attends to the connections of anger and joy, rage and love—asking us to understand emotions as action-oriented and actionable.

5. Luvvie Ajayi’s “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable”:

Writer, activist, and “professional troublemaker” Luvvie Ajayi (of Awesomely Luvvie) explains how she’s learned to push through discomfort and still to speak out, arguing that “silence serves no one.” She describes the work of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” underlining the importance of speaking even/especially when there is risk and consequence. In this way, emotional courage is not about leaving behind fear, but still acting when scared.

Together, these TED talks call us into self-inquiry alongside continued, committed action. As I close the 40-day practice, I commit to flexing my emotional muscles, to sitting with discomfort, and to speaking/writing up, especially when shaking. May these TED talks give fuel and inspiration for the continued work of developing emotional literacies for racial justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Snapshots of Support,” “Blogs I Love: Reading Suggestions for Women’s History Month,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

“We’re All the Ages We’ve Ever Been”

As much as I value self-care, there are times when it flies out the window. I’m no longer the adult caring for my inner child, but I’m the toddler or teen full of emotion and pursuit of immediate pleasure.

This week, I’ve been really in touch with my 2-year-old self, who’s been demanding attention. When it’s running the show, I’m inclined to emotional meltdowns, sugar binges, irregular sleep, over-tired crying, and resistance to naps. I readily settle in front of the TV and need an adult to get my jacket and take me for a walk. When back from the walk, I find myself whining: “But I don’t want to take a bath …” even when baths are among my favorite things and absolutely calm me down.

There’s nothing like embodying my toddler self to remember that I have access to all my former ages and selves—and not only as memories but also as immediate actors and agents in my life.

Some years ago, when taking children’s literature courses, I remember hearing and repeating the line: “we’re all the ages we’ve ever been.” Versions of this quote have been attributed to Madeleine L’Engle and other authors, but I attribute it to my storytelling professor, who regularly stepped into characters of herself as a child, a young mother, an established researcher, and an elder storyteller. Through these characters, I could see such love for life and willingness to re-play past experiences. My professor performed the sort of deep revisiting of the past that I imagine my 2-year-old self is asking me to do when I’m in resistance mode.

Interestingly, in this week’s total toddler takeover, one of the few things I wanted to do was coloring, a form of art I’ve craved from a very young age. I also chose to color images of owls, symbolically associated with wisdom and aging. The more I layered colors, the more I could see the wisdom in honoring all my ages and in looking backward to look forward.

Colorful image of owls with hand-written mantras: "I am all the ages I've been. I honor the wisdom of past and future selves, loving the child me and the aging me. I love and approve of myself."

For now, I’ll hug myself close as I work on being a better parent to this 2-year-old who needs veggies and sleep. I can see (again) that there’s much to heal in my past if I am to make change in the present and future. I commit to this healing, as I commit to justice: work that involves deep revisiting of what’s old, what’s hidden, and what’s nevertheless demanding attention.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Reclaiming Childhood Power with Coloring Books,” “Playing Through the Pain,” and “Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut-Butter Mash: Changing My Relationship with Sugar and Rethinking Self-Care.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice

This spring I’m teaching a new course titled “Contemplative Writing.” I’ve visualized the course design through triangulation, or three intersecting points that rely on the others for fuller understanding. Like a compass, triangulation helps with navigating complicated terrain. It shows locations (or ideas) in relation to each other, highlighting multiplicity. In the case of “Contemplative Writing,” triangulation brings together three semester-long focuses, audiences, and goals:

  • 3 intersecting focuses = writing, justice, and contemplation/mindfulness
  • 3 audiences (or spheres of interaction) = self, others, and institutions
  • 3 goals = rhetorical flexibility, self-awareness, and courage in writing/speaking

To cover this complicated terrain, the students and I are journaling and doing regular (almost-daily) contemplative practices, while also pursuing “Projects That Matter” (research and activist writing). To keep me writing and practicing alongside the students, I’ve been doing some form of contemplative journaling, meditation, or movement daily.

Some days, I’ve been responding to the writing prompt that gives this blog its name, checking in with my heart, head, and hands:

  • Heart: What am I feeling?
  • Head: What am I thinking?
  • Hands: What am I going to do?

Through these check-ins, I have been triangulating intellectual, emotional, and embodied knowledges.

Recently, I discovered a yoga-asana (movement) video that essentially asks the same questions through a 25-minute “Head & Heart Reset”:

This Yoga with Adrienne video has resonated with me because I want to build physical strength to carry a hiking backpack, and it includes several strength-building poses. While I typically prefer gentle and super slow asana, this flowing practice seems to be opening the energetic pathways connecting my heart, head, and hands (as well as my gut, tear ducts, and held-within knowing).

The practice opens with wrapping arms around the shoulders, giving myself a hug, as I’m striving to do daily. It ends with deep breathing to carry energetic connectedness off the mat and into all communication.

While in the past I’ve practiced yoga through writing, now I’m channeling writing through yoga. I’m reminded of the importance of nurturing my body and its wisdom in order to create and share wisdom through writing.

Such realizations are also showing me that triangulation is much more than a navigation tool, research method, or course design. Triangulation is why I understand writing as connected with embodiment and everyday living. It’s why I associate yoga and other contemplative, spiritual practices with the work of countering injustice and investing in more equitable relations. And it’s why I strive to connect the heart, head, and hands.

Said differently, triangulation helps me not only navigate complicated terrain but also remember that no guiding principle stands alone. May I continue to learn and make meaning in multiple ways. May I continue to open to what emerges through varied contemplative practices. May I continue to weave triangulated webs of striving (with an attitude of try-try again) to live a life for justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Gentle Yoga for Releasing Burdens,” “40 Days of Yoga Nidra,” and “Practicing Yoga Through Writing.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Snapshots of Support

This week I’ve felt stretched thin—waking up earlier and heading to bed later than I’d like. One moment, I’m reviewing students’ midterm portfolios. The next, I’m scripting a hard conversation. While attending to microaggressions and facilitating tricky online and in-person conversations, I’m also sharing hopeful-yet-emotional announcements with family, friends, colleagues, and students.

In the midst of such frenzied and frenetic activity, I’ve been finding support through everyday practices and joyful reminders that past-me put in place for present-me. To give a sense of what I mean, here are some views into what’s keeping me grounded in gratitude this week:

For re-centering and re-committing —

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My practice space: yoga mats, blocks, and foam roller.

For doing self-inquiry as a daily practice —

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Journal for the 40-day Lent practice I’m leading for a local, predominantly-white church on “Building Resilience for Racial Justice.”

For healing the cold that’s been holding on —

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“Initial Defense” herbs recommended by my acupuncturist.

For everyday divination

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Divination apps I use for guidance throughout the day.

For a breakfast that feels decadently sweet

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Banana, chocolate, and peanut butter mash.

For inspiration and imagination of the “ought to be” —

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Books I have positioned around the house for visible inspiration, even when not reading.

For prioritizing art and play

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My coloring book and some recent creations.

For remembering the love of family and friends —

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Kitchen wall with photos, poetry, artwork, and prayer flags.

Certainly, there are other snapshots I might take, but these are a few for which I feel particular gratitude. And slowing down enough to recognize and experience gratitude is its own sort of healing, energizing practice.

I’m curious: How do you create support for those times when stretched thin? Perhaps this post gives some ideas, and I hope you’ll share additional suggestions through comments.

With gratitude and love! ~ Beth


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Exploring Exhaustion and Energy Loss,” “Gratitude for/on Earth Day,” and “Imperfect Meditation and the Desire to ‘Slow Way Down.’” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!