Swinging from Sweet to Sour

A roller coaster of emotions. This isn’t a new experience for me, but one that’s becoming an every-day, every-week norm. I swing from moments of real hope and sweetness to moments of real hate and sourness. This roller coaster can motivate resistance, and it can send me back into the cave to confront both personal and collective shadows.

Here’s what these swings look like.

In the past few days, I’ve witnessed the acquittal of the Minnesota officer who killed Philando Castile and the layers of this miscarriage of justice. In the midst of deep discouragement, I revisit Awesomely Luvvie’s “The Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People” and feel awesomely encouraged by powerful photos of Juneteenth celebrations.

In similar fashion, I find myself deeply grateful when visiting Sanctuary Vegan Café in Knoxville, Tennessee, and seeing this “inclusive restroom sign”:

 

This sign and the spirit of this café seem to represent the intersectional, ecofeminist approach to veganism that I’ve been thinking and writing about, especially in the past week. Within a political climate that dehumanizes people to the point of making people illegal, it feels significant to see this visible affirmation of trans rights.

This sweetness then turns to sour as I am newly confronted by the cost of racism in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the United States. I live downtown—in a problematically gentrified and expensive area—and I’m moving only 3 blocks away. This move takes me from east of the river (an area historically white) to west of the river (historically black). When my partner calls to update our auto insurance, we learn it’s going to be $10 more per month, which represents almost a 50% increase from $23 to $33. When pressed for an explanation, the insurance agent says “location is the only factor.” The location is still downtown, still in this area that necessitates class privilege to afford the rent, and still predominantly white. From what we can see, historical racial divisions are the defining features of “location.”

There’s lots written about the costs of being poor and the costs of being a person of color experiencing the racial wealth divide. Similarly, it’s legally allowed and well-documented that people pay more for insurance based on who they are or where they live. Though none of this is new, it is grossly unfair. I see again first-hand the everyday cost—as in concrete, material cost—of being a person who’s devalued in the United States. It says volumes that my insurance was $23 (what I imagine to be much less than what many others pay) and that my privileged “locations” have been those not additionally taxed.

As a white woman with racial, class, and other privileges, I experience not the consistent experience of being beaten-down, but the ups and downs of the roller coaster. And so I experience the swing from upbeat, energetic moving energy into the visible sourness of systemic racism. A sour stench that lingers.

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I learned about the Philando Castile verdict in the bathroom pictured above. I went from a surge of hope, as I snapped that photo and stepped into that bathroom, to feeling flattened when looking at my phone.

And as I sat down to my computer, I had a similar slap, learning that a former Milwaukee officer was found not guilty in the shooting of Sylville Smith. In August, Smith’s death set off volatile protests, a city curfew, and arrests. The pain is real and raw, and my heart hurts thinking about families (like the Smith family) for whom the denial of life is not sour, but stolen. As in life stolen, money stolen, land stolen, history stolen, rights stolen, stories stolen.

So I write while facing not news, but injustice. And “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

My desire for sweetness is not to run, look away, or deny the ever-present injustice. But it is to cultivate and share the motivation, resilience, healing, self-love, and community to carry on the work—the work for justice. And the work itself is so so sweet. The work is joy from connectedness, hope for the ought to be, and possibilities of summer solstice.

May the sweet bolster and sustain us, for the sour is all-too-real.

Appreciating Rahawa Haile’s “Going It Alone” for the Hiking-Justice Connection

As someone interested in and impacted by the outdoors, hiking, human connection, harmful historical legacies, and ever-present white supremacy, I absolutely love and highly recommend Rahawa Haile’s article “Going It Alone”:

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Haile shares her experience through-hiking the Appalachian Trail as a queer black woman. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

  • “By the time I made it through Maryland, it was hard not to think of the Appalachian Trail as a 2,190-mile trek through Trump lawn signs.”
  • “Harriet Tubman is rarely celebrated as one of the most important outdoor figures in American ­history, despite traversing thousands of miles over the same mountains I walked this year.”
  • “There were days when the only thing that kept me going was knowing that each step was one toward progress, a boot to the granite face of white supremacy.”

In trying to figure out why this piece so deeply speaks to me, I realize how much I crave stories of hiking (like Amanda “Zuul” Jameson’s Brown Girl on the (P)CT and Garnette Cadogan’s “Walking While Black”) that challenge the assumptions of whiteness, walking as white activity, and the outdoors as white space.

I crave so deeply ways of re-seeing and relating differently with my childhood home in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Haile names places where I’ve spent much time and where I’ll be visiting again this summer: the Smokies and Shenandoah, Roan Mountain and Gatlinburg. These are places I feel within my body, both in the sense of heart expansion and heart ache. These are places I’ve fled and yet still seek again. These are places with deep legacies of racial, colonial, and other traumas that underwrite contemporary white nationalism.

Haile gives voice to the struggle of craving the expansive mountains, the blue ridges, and the relationship with birds and bears, while confronting Confederate flags, Trump signs, and stores selling blackface soap.

Haile gives voice to the differential risks, to the differently embodied realities, and to the significantly different threats that she (a queer black woman) and I (a straight white woman) face when walking in the woods.

Haile also gives voice to the need to keep going, to keep walking, and to keep writing. To put one’s “boot to the granite face of white supremacy.” Haile reminds me to commit yet again my body, my words, and my actions toward justice.

So, how do I “make actionable” a commitment to racial justice, especially as a hiker?

I certainly don’t have a full answer, but the work includes:

  • Intrapersonal work: ongoing reflexivity and introspection, especially toward noticing more, disrupting biases, and changing my own limiting self-talk;
  • Interpersonal work: writing, teaching, and interacting—with others and often in relationship—to raise awareness and to make change; and
  • Institutional work: channeling time, talents, and financial resources into organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rethinking Schools, the YWCA, and America’s Black Holocaust Museum, which work for larger institutional change.

When I’m out on the trail, I’m engaged mostly in intrapersonal and interpersonal work—talking with myself, with hiking partners, and sometimes with others I meet along the trail. Part of why I love hiking is that it allows for long timespans that become more meditative, more contemplative as the body and the brain tire. I find that the more removed I am from my everyday habits and habitat, the more I can de-normalize damaging scripts that have become internalized. Like the meaning I find on my yoga mat, time on the trail is essential for healing, reorienting with gratitude, confronting my shadow self, and refueling my commitment to justice.

As I reflect on these components of making my commitment actionable, I’m thinking also about the ways my privileged positioning (e.g., as white, U.S.-born, cis-gender, able-bodied, economically secure) makes the trail a space of such possibility for me and for people who look, talk, and move like me. And this a reality—that outdoors spaces are made inaccessible and inhospitable for many people—makes the need for justice all-the-more urgent.

A case in point:

Last summer I had too little water at the trailhead for Big Schloss, a trail running a ridgeline between Virginia and West Virginia with outstanding views on clear days. My partner Jonathan and I thought there’d be water at the trailhead; yet, the well was dry. We asked others for water, and two white hikers returning to their cars emptied their bottles for us. I felt a sense of comradery with these other hikers, and I felt courage (surely from white privilege) in asking for help.

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I also was sure that if we couldn’t get water from fellow hikers, we couldn’t do this day hike (the closest gas station was miles away, so we’d spend our time driving instead of hiking). On the drive into Big Schloss, we’d passed many confederate flags (easily more than 10), and I couldn’t see myself knocking on any doors to ask for water. I remember feeling fairly vulnerable in this rural area.

And here’s what I want to remember and communicate more widely: my feeling of vulnerability arose from a trauma that’s shared, that’s part of the U.S. collective, yet is experienced so differently and with such potentially different consequences. As a white woman—especially when hiking in partnership with a white man—my concerns are primarily about emotional hurt. In contrast, hikers of color face the U.S. legacy of lynching (the hate crime of murder) that is part of America’s Black Holocaust that continues today through both microaggressions and macro-structures like unchecked police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, the cycle of poverty, voter disenfranchisement, and many other institutional issues. Haile addresses how such legacies impact not only human interactions but also basic choices like how to protect one’s body from cold and wind and not be perceived as a threat/target of hate crimes.

My pain of traveling in the Appalachian Mountains, which are so in my blood, involves being re-traumatized with each confederate flag, each Trump sign, each park or trail name that celebrates “founding fathers” and other prominent figures who took part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, forced Indian removal, colonization, genocide, and other atrocities. I think it’s important, though ever-painful, to take notice of such physical manifestations of ongoing dehumanization, especially as they show up in “the outdoors” or “the wilderness.”

Truly, all spaces are social constructed, so it’s important to keep asking: Whose stories do these spaces tell? Whose stories aren’t told? And why? What can be done toward recovery, retelling, and rewriting?

It’s important, too, to inquire into and take notice of the racialization of space and spatialization of race. As a white woman, this means asking about how my body works within spaces, especially along trails and the roadways that connect and supply trails.

Thank you Rahawa Haile for “Going It Alone”! This is an article I’m sure to come back to again and again. I so appreciate how it’s shaking up and shedding light on the connection between hiking and pursuing justice.

Disrupting the Mind-Body Split

This past week I dreamed that I was standing before a group of students, guest-lecturing in a colleague’s class. In the dream, I was slurring and stumbling over words—making little to no sense. The colleague asked if I was confused, and I realized that I had a concussion. Not from any physical injury, but from the semester. The semester had given me a concussion!

I woke with a strong sense that the dream was symbolically true, metaphorically speaking to me. Because, yes: I’m not only experiencing exhaustion and emotional uprooting, but also the serious warnings about self-care that come with concussions.

Growing up, I had two competing understandings of concussions: (1) they were minor and something to be “played through” and (2) they were major and something that could result in serious injury or even death. Within the school year, I’m too often acting from this first understanding: that mental taxation and cognitive overload are things to be “played through” until summer. By the time I get to May, I’m drained—arguably experiencing burnout. So, my dream of having a concussion gets me wondering:

  • What would it mean to operate from the second understanding?
  • What would it mean to recognize the serious risks of “playing through the pain”?
  • What might be differently required of me as an educator, as someone involved in learning-and-teaching?

This dream reminds me that we need education to be about more than the mind.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 10.30.01 AMCertainly, there’s a LOT of writing about the mind/body split and the need for embodied education. I’ve written about this with my colleagues Jasmine Kar Tang and Moira Ozias in the article “Body + Power + Justice: Movement-Based Workshops for Critical Tutor Education.”

To take a cue from our article, it feels especially important to center the body—daily, in and out of school, throughout the academic year, and not just in the summer:

Our bodies and the spaces we inhabit shape our identities and carry legacies of social structuring, power, oppression, marginalization, injustice—deep inequities that are very much a part of our everyday lives in writing centers and in the teaching of writing. And yet through the production of whiteness and other dominant frameworks that render the body invisible, we can become so distanced from our bodies that we fail to recognize these links. We need to reckon with this disconnect across three spheres: (1) the personal sphere (how we relate within our own bodies); (2) the relational sphere (how our bodies relate with other bodies); and (3) the systemic sphere (how our bodies together represent and relate with/in institutional structures and larger body stories). Drawing attention to the body across these three spheres helps us counter the damage done when the intellect or institution is divorced from the body or when certain bodies are made invisible in our educational spaces. (“Body + Power + Justice” 62)

I’m thinking about how we divorce the mind from the body in school, as I am gifted this metaphorical/symbolic “concussion.” Concussions are so concerning because they cause cognitive and emotional impairments in addition to physical ones. A concussion can cause not only nausea, dizziness, and other physical complaints, but also irritability, depression, and difficulty with concentration and memory. A concussion can cause confusion, amnesia, and changes to one’s personality. It can literally disrupt the ability to learn, the ability to be in school. Yet, we continue acting like the body’s sole purpose is to be a head that holds, transports, and communicates learning. This disembodiment is deeply dehumanizing.

If a concussion (or at least my dream of having a concussion) serves as a warning, then it’s asking me to attend to my body, embodied knowledge, and the dangers of disembodiment.

If staying in one’s head can “cause a concussion” (which feels symbolically true), then I must attend to the whole body, the heart, head, and hands.

If I am to listen to my body’s wisdom (as gifted through the dream), then I must commit again to the healing process I’m journeying through with this blog. Doing so asks me to look at my own complicity, for it’s telling that the teacher is concussed. Doing so asks me to notice the relationship between wearing down the mind-and-body and wearing down one’s soul. Doing so asks me to become more aligned with commitments than conditioning. Doing so asks for a serious disruption of the mind/body split.

Wrestling with Whether to Wear Pantyhose

I’m attending a friend’s wedding this weekend, and I wish I could say that I’m experiencing the joy, gratitude, and love associated with celebration. Instead, I’ve been experiencing worry, shame, anger, and grief—so many unresolved emotions and resurfacing memories associated with the trauma of sexism.

I’m wrestling with a very real and raw question: Do I wear pantyhose to my friend’s wedding?

I’m wrestling with the pit in my stomach that relates not just to clothing, but to weddings as rituals of heteronormativity and codified expectations related to gender, race, class, religion, ability, and other intersectional identities. I’m wrestling with “beauty within and without,” as bell hooks names this issue in Feminism Is for Everybody. I’m wrestling with the question of what it means to live for justice when wanting to support my friend, yet finding my stomach churning.

What Should I Wear to the Wedding?

2017-04-15 10.57.27For the past week—since my mom asked simply, “What are you wearing to the wedding?”—I’ve had an embodied meltdown-into-outburst. At first I thought I’d wear a suit. Then I realized that I like hiding inside suits because they feel protective—like shields. I had to ask myself if I want to act as though I’m under attack, as though I’m in need of protection.

These questions led me to the Goodwill, where I found a green dress, and I loved the green color because it represents the fourth chakra and heart opening. Love: perfect for a wedding and perfect for protection with shielding.

2017-04-15 10.53.51But when I shared the dress with my mom and best friend, they both asked about accessories. What?!? I was willing to wear a dress, and I thought I was making an effort to be vulnerable, to embrace the feminine. But they were right: I would need to have shoes, a wrap, and … pantyhose?

So, I departed from my usual walk home from school and stopped into a department store, where I bought a pair of pantyhose. And here’s where I’m stuck in the stickiness, in the mess of seemingly simple, benign questions:

  • What do I wear to my friend’s wedding (weddings being particularly tough for me)?
  • Do I wear a suit, which feels protective and, for a woman, more subversive (ironic because suits mark status and the status quo)?
  • Or do I wear a dress (more aligned with the request for “cocktail attire,” which is tripping me up because I don’t want to play into feminine norms and norming)?
  • If I wear a dress, do I wear pantyhose (an object that I trace to my earliest memories of feeling constrained within a gendered and female body)?
  • Is there a way to wear pantyhose and still feel free (to redefine what’s for me an object of patriarchal containment and control of my body)?
  • Is this the occasion for shaking up/off my history with pantyhose?

Looking Back to Look Forward: Early Associations of Pantyhose with Constraint

I’ve written before about the lies of internalized sexism, and I’m aware that my earliest memories involve me learning what it means to be socialized into and gendered as a girl/woman. And a particular sort of girl/woman—within the United States, within white supremacy, within Protestant Christianity, within class and other privileges, and within the “mythical norm.”

These early memories include two distinct occasions of getting dressed up for “big events”: a wedding and an easter morning. This weekend now brings these events together—literally, a wedding on Saturday and easter on Sunday—helping me to re-read their meaning side-by-side.

I can’t say which occasion happened first in childhood, but I remember being at a big wedding and feeling both thrilled and overwhelmed by the many people around me. I was not only dressed up, but “dolled up,” and wanted nothing more than to be free of both the uncomfortable clothing and articulations of how “cute” I was. I remember taking off shoes, then hair ribbons, and then tights (childhood equivalent of “hose” or “pantyhose”). And I remember that the potential joy of running freely within a large party space was mitigated and matched only by the constraint of those tights. They seemed the physical embodiment of being “lady-like.” And I wanted nothing to do with that constraint.

Also in childhood (when I was only 3 or 4 years old), I went tumbling down hallway stairs on an easter morning. I had a new dress with new hair bows, new tights, and new shoes. I was excited and moving quickly, which didn’t match the slick underside of new shoes. When I fell down the stairs, I caught the hose, tearing holes in both knees. What I held onto from this early-and-still-vague memory was a sense that dressing up is dangerous, uncomfortable, and likely to result in scraped knees.

Both memories resurfaced this week when talking with a friend who said (or more likely didn’t say, but I heard): “Beth, it’s only pantyhose.”

I could feel heat rush through my body, because pantyhose aren’t ONLY pantyhose for me. They represent “the interest of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal fashion and cosmetic industry to re-glamorize sexist-defined notions of beauty” (hooks 34). And attending a wedding, I’m positioned to embody this industry whether or not I wear pantyhose. Wearing them means identifying with the industry’s notion of beauty. Not wearing them means identifying against it and as a feminist who’s “big, hypermasculine, and just plain old ugly” (hooks 32). Nothing about this double-bind is new; it’s just showing up newly for me through this decision and around this event. How do I respect my values without making myself an issue or distraction for the friend who’s getting married?

“I’m Never Wearing Pantyhose Again”

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As soon as I was old enough to make clothing decisions, I let go of hose and other things I found uncomfortable—all of which linked physical discomfort and femininity. Objects like barrettes, headbands, and ponytail holders were gone. Tights, leggings, and pantyhose: gone.

I made these decisions young enough that I resisted make-up before I had time to learn about it. In high school, I had a few pairs of shoes with slight heels, but those were gone by college. Only cloth (no clasp) bras would do (and bras are still itchy and dis-preferred). I stopped shaving years ago. I buy pants with pockets large enough for my phone and don’t own a purse. All of these decisions are connected to an assertion I made as a young adult: “I’m never wearing pantyhose again.”

Nevers are dangerous, as I’ve now purchased a pair, whether I wear them or not. And this decision—like all of these detailed here—feels incredibly personal and political. Writing about these decisions feels important and yet far-too-intimate. I imagine that each can easily lead to judgment because, truly, we all (are taught to) judge a women’s worth—and virtue and respectability—based on such embodied decisions, performances, and actions.

To illustrate, when I google “cocktail attire” (the instructions on my wedding invitation), here’s what I find:

DRESS CODE: COCKTAIL
For guys, this dress code calls for a dark suit with a tie. For women, short dresses that are party-ready. When in doubt, wear a little black dress and dress it up with fun jewelry—or, if you’d rather wear color, opt for something bright and feminine.
Read more: http://stylecaster.com/dress-code/#ixzz4eFnznDU8

I’m so upset with the gender binary. I’m so upset with the short, less-than-one-line instruction for “guys,” alongside several lines on how to be “party-ready,” “fun,” “bright,” and “feminine” for women. And googling “pantyhose,” I’m literally blown back remembering that they are still required in some workplaces and praised for “covering blemishes.” It hurts to think how much time goes into both uncovering and covering up women’s bodies. Why not rewrite-rethink-reclaim the body and its blemishes as beautiful?

Judgments follow codes, and I think it’s having a clear code—“cocktail attire”—that’s kicked up this trouble for me. For as much as we might credit second and third wave feminism with fostering “greater care, ease, and respect for women’s bodies” (hooks 33), the care, ease, and respect are still far from enough. The rhetoric of “options” falls short. And even within the double-bind I face, I still have the privilege of making choices. For many, many, many women, marginalization, oppression, and dehumanization prevent even that.

So, Will I Wear Pantyhose?

hooksIf this question were purely procedural, the answer might be simple. Yet, the question is deeply symbolic and embodied for me. As a girl, I learned to associate sexism with pantyhose, and the symbol today makes me feel both anger (at the injustice) and shame (at my imperfect body and at having internalized the messages I am so adamantly against). In Feminism Is for Everybody, hooks explains, “Girls today are just as self-hating when it comes to their bodies as their pre-feminist counterparts were” (35). It’s clear to me, therefore, that I need to make the decision with both the awareness of self-hate and the practice of self-love.

My plan is to see how I’m feeling just before the wedding. I’ll hold my hands over my heart and belly and imagine each clothing option. I’ll wear the option with the deepest, fullest breath, using the breath to honor my body’s wisdom and to find agency within constraint. If I choose to wear a dress, I can take off or put on pantyhose during the event. Instead of straight-up following the dress code, I’ll follow my body’s requests, desires, and communication.

Perhaps in looking for freedom and flexibility, I find a feminist orientation. For my body’s wisdom, I am grateful. For bell hooks (as a guide and companion), I am grateful. For the divine timing of re-reading Feminism Is for Everybody, I am grateful. For friends who consider these questions with me, I am grateful. For remembering and rethinking the past, I am grateful. For the possibilities of healing personal and political hurt, I am grateful. For processing the wedding through writing, I am grateful. For the reorientation toward gratitude, yes: I am grateful.

Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free): Finding Comfort in the Growth Zone

These days I’m experiencing a lot of stress, finding myself quick to cry, and noticing both tightness in my chest and shallowness of my breath. Undoubtedly, this stress is both personal and political, particular to me and shared in our collective. Conversations throughout the day address concerns about the Muslim ban and travel restrictions, ongoing deportations and abuses of power, challenges to health care, an unwillingness to look for missing black and brown girls, and countless other injustices.

At the same time as trying to understand these matters and to take action (and too-often feeling small and powerless in the process), I’ve got a lot going on and getting churned up in my personal life. As I approach my year of “up or out” for tenure and promotion within the university, I’m reminded of one mentor’s insight: “No one gets tenure without getting black and blue.” And here’s the interesting thing: my body is covered in bruises.

You see, when I had acupuncture and cupping earlier this week, my body bruised at almost every needle point. The cupping left darker circles than usual, and I’ve been adding to these bruises by bumping into furniture, walls, and other physical objects. I hadn’t made the connection to my mentor’s line about “getting black and blue” until my Reiki teacher, Marty Tribble, pointed out this literal, physical manifestation.

So, I looked in Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body app, and I found this information for bruises:

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As is so often the case when I look in this app, the “probable cause” feels right. I am feeling (and internalizing the feeling) of many little bumps. And I am being awfully tough on myself: from scolding myself when I walk into walls (like I’ve done over spilled milk) to holding deeply onto ideas that I’m not doing enough (even when I’ve got sticky notes around my home saying “I am enough,” “I do enough,” and “I am worthy”).

I believe—no, I know—that self-love is of critical importance, especially for confronting white fragility and dismantling white supremacy. I know that “Only love can heal the wounds of the past” (hooks 5). I know that I can’t show up for others (in classroom, online, or activist spaces) if I don’t show up for myself.

So, I affirm new thought patterns:

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Seeking Comfort as an Act of Cherishing Myself

Comfort isn’t a word I gravitate toward, as it seems to communicate stasis or a sense of being OK with the world as it is, instead of as it ought to be. I remember first becoming concerned about “comfort” when realizing that students sought this within classrooms, a space where “discomfort” is more typically the goal. As a colleague taught me during graduate school: “There’s no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.”

Now I share this mantra often when teaching and mentoring, as it communicates the importance of valuing openness to learning, change, and growth (even when growing involves growing pains). As a learner and teacher, I want to be growing, striving, challenging myself, and reaching beyond what is to imagine and enact what could be. I believe there’s power in prioritizing growth for learning and unlearning, making and remaking, writing and rewriting. And the goal of growth typically runs counter to the goal of comfort.

More recently, I’ve begun questioning how my attachment to growth (and growing pains) may actually be a form of harshness or hurting the self. I cringe when I hear the line “there’s no gain without pain,” but I think I’ve subtly/subconsciously been holding onto this idea in my body. (Sorry, body! Sorry, Beth!) I’ve been willing to experience pain for productivity. I’ve been willing to push myself beyond boundaries (physical, emotional, and relational boundaries) that play important self-protective roles.

Seeing Louise Hay’s affirmations to be kind and gentle toward the self, I realize just how much I’ve been craving—truly, truly craving—a little comfort, as in snuggling closely and cherishing myself within a warm comforter (quilt/blanket). This isn’t to say that I don’t value growth or that I’m settling with the world as it is. In fact, quite the opposite: I hope to recognize and affirm the right to desire comfort, especially at a time when discomfort and growth are already defining everyday life. I suspect this is part of recognizing when greater kindness and gentleness toward the self is needed. I suspect this is part of self-care.

Finding Comfort in Food

So, if I’m seeking comfort, what is it?

Comfort (noun): a state of physical ease, freedom, contentment, or coziness; the easing or alleviating of grief or distress (example: “I found comfort and solace among friends.”)

Comfort (verb): to ease, console, support, strengthen (example: “The crackling fire comforted me after being soaked by the cold rain and gale-force winds.”)

When I think of these definitions, I see that comfort can bolster or build the strength, support, and readiness needed to make change, to grow, and to act on commitments. The trouble is if we stay with contentment or want only coziness. This sort of sheltering is what my colleague’s mantra warns against. The trick seems to be avoiding all-or-nothing thinking about comfort: not settling and also not disallowing.

Clearly, I don’t have the answer about when comfort is desirable and when it’s obstructionist. But I do have a strong sense that in the midst of current turmoil, I’m craving some comfort as a bolster. And the sort of comfort I’m especially craving is “comfort food”: those foods that are carb-loaded and heavy; those foods that remind me of the best, most loving memories from childhood; and those foods that fill me up and leave me feeling full.

Comfort foods” are so often associated “guilty pleasures” that I’ve internalized a sense that craving these foods is bad or wrong. They’re typically often less nutrition-dense and less colorful. Yet, if I let go of these negative associations (like my negative associations with “comfort” more generally), I can appreciate my body’s wisdom.

Specifically, I crave comfort foods at times when I feel ungrounded, disoriented, or overwhelmed—as though too much growth has me tilted off balance, threatening my ability to stand firmly rooted and tall. And comfort foods (at least for me, and I suspect for many others) tend to include potatoes and other “root veggies” as well as tomatoes and other red foods. What’s so interesting is that foods from the ground (roots!) and foods that are red similarly represent the root chakra. I am totally amazed at my body’s wisdom in asking for the foods that will provide grounding support, that will help me get connected to the earth, even if only by feeling weighted down.

Recently, for example, I’ve been eating the following comfort foods (all vegan and gluten-free):

  • Grilled cheeze-and-tomato sandwiches with tortilla soup
  • Refried beans with roasted root veggies
  • Tomato and pea stew
  • Cherry and cranberry smoothies
  • A favorite potato and kale casserole—a vegan twist on my mom’s “ham, cheese, and potato casserole” that I enjoyed as a kid.

It’s this casserole I’d like to share with you, as it’s been nourishing and healing me these past few days. (And how appreciative I am for leftovers as I write!)

Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free)

Ingredients:

  • Several potatoes (3-6, depending on size and type)—sliced for layering
  • Bunch of kale—pulled apart into bite sizes
  • 1 cup of shredded vegan cheeze—my favorite for casseroles is Daiya cheddar shreds
  • 2 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread—my favorite is Earth Balance
  • Creamy sauce—when I don’t have time to make my own, I use a full jar of Victoria Vegan’s Alfredo Arugula Pesto
  • 1 cup of almond or other plant-based milk—to pour lightly over each layer
  • Salt and pepper—to lightly cover each layer
  • 1 teaspoon of safflower or other high-heat oil—to grease casserole dish

Optional Add-ins:

  • Additional greens (e.g., spinach, chard, or a larger amount of kale)
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions, shallots, and/or leeks
  • Crumbled tofu or tofu ricotta
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Crushed nuts or no-harm parm

Preparation Time:

  • 30 minutes, including time cleaning vegetables and slicing potatoes

Cooking Time:

  • 1 hour at 375F covered and then 15 minutes uncovered at 425F degrees

Instructions:

  1. Wash and then thinly slice potatoes.
  2. Wash and pull apart kale into bite-size pieces.
  3. Rub safflower oil, other high-heat oil, or even the buttery spread along the bottom and sides of the casserole dish.
  4. Spread a thin layer of the creamy sauce along the bottom of the casserole dish (just enough to moisten the first layer of potatoes).
  5. Begin to create layers: first, by laying out potatoes side-by-side, as shown in the photos below.
  6. After this first layer of potatoes (and after each additional layer), distribute 8-10 dollops (small bits) of the buttery spread across the potatoes.
  7. Sprinkle salt and pepper atop this layer, and then add either another layer of the creamy sauce or the vegan cheeze.
  8. Add a layer of kale (typically I use half the kale, though it’s possible to have a single, fuller layer of kale and to use it all at once).
  9. Then lightly pour the almond or other plant-based milk atop the casserole so that it soaks down into existing layers.
  10. Create a new layer of thinly sliced potatoes.
  11. Repeat steps #6-#9—adding buttery spread, salt and pepper, creamy sauce or vegan cheeze, and kale; then lightly covering the full casserole with plant-based milk.
  12. With remaining potatoes, create a top layer (typically, my casseroles have this third/top layer of potatoes, but if you’re running short on ingredients, you can certainly adjust the recipe and create two layers).
  13. Finish the casserole with salt, pepper, and a top layer of vegan cheeze. Be sure to add enough cheeze shreds to cover the potatoes so that the top becomes crispy.

Rationales:

  • Casseroles are incredibly forgiving. Both ingredients and cook times can easily be adjusted. Only a couple of potatoes at home? No problem: make fewer layers.
    Want more veggies? No problem: try variations. Need to cook at a particular oven temperature? No problem: just leave the casserole in for more or less time. In the past, I’ve seriously over-cooked casseroles, and they’ve still tasted great. I’ve made them both skinny/thin and stuffed/spilling-over-the-edges, and they’ve forgiven the poor composition.
  • Casseroles allow a lot of flexibility. In addition to being easily modified with different ingredients, cook times, and compositions, casseroles can be prepared hours and even days ahead of time. If I make a casserole Saturday morning, I can cook it that evening or on Sunday or Monday. And because casseroles make a good amount of prepared food (at least in my household of two people), we can eat leftovers for a few days. This means we can enjoy the casserole now, later, and both now-and-later.
  • Casseroles invoke memories. Growing up, my mom would cook on weekends, and I have memories of Saturday evenings around the fireplace, often wrapped in a heavy blanket—an actual comforter. Among my favorite meals were chili, lasagna, soups, and this potato casserole. To this day, I associate casseroles with Saturday evenings. I know it’s a blessing that I can associate food with love, and for that blessing, I am grateful. Stepping into gratitude, I see how privileged I am (in both the negative and positive senses of the word privilege) for the ability to seek comfort and to create vegan-friendly comfort food.
  • Casseroles are filling. At times when I’m seeking comfort food, I’m often feeling vulnerable, shaky, off-balance, and in need of support. Because casseroles are tasty (so I eat a lot) and heavy (densely packed with carbs and fats), they leave me feeling filled up and full—literally and metaphorically weighted down. Through grounding, I regain my footing. And with firm footing, I’m ready to root down to grow tall. I’m ready for more growth. I’m recommitted to the long haul toward justice.

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Countering the Lie of “I’m Not Enough”

I like following the blog Raising Race Conscious Children because it helps me relate with the young people in my life, including my own inner child (my younger self). Among the blog’s resources are examples of scripted conversations and sample statements that align with racial justice. Such language helps me think about the language I use with myself, including language that reinforces an old lie: “I’m not enough.”

I’ve been thinking about this message—“I’m not enough”—as a lie since a student recently shared Jim James’s song “Same Old Lie.” At the start of my “Writing for Social Justice” class, we typically listen to protest songs. Students bring into class music that they enjoy, music that shapes their understandings of justice.

When the student shared this song, I listened carefully, following along with the lyrics. Then the student asked us each to identify a “same old lie” we’ve been taught.

At first, I wrote about internalized sexism: messages that my value is tied to being thin, pretty, and white; messages that I should wear make-up and should not have body hair. I could see how these “lies” are wound up with a much bigger one: that, as a woman, I’m not enough. Constant efforts to reshape, refine, and re-create the body all indicate this not enoughness.

As I wrote about the work I’m constantly doing to unlearn sexism, I thought about a different but related set of messages I’ve inherited about class, education, and even productivity. I often try to shore up my sense of self (to shield or secure myself) through credentials, educational attainments, honors, and other markers of “success.” I fall back on degrees and measurable productivity to create a sense that I’m doing well, that I’m meeting my next goal, and that I’m worthy. In doing so, I’m unintentionally upholding the Protestant work ethic and the social stratifications it creates. These old patterns are related to my perfectionism (something that’s served me well in the past, but is now tripping me up). They are also related to the deeply internalized message that I’m not enough as I already am—that I must be striving for something more, something better.

I’ve been working with mantras to let go of this not-enoughness discourse, affirming daily:

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Still, I’m finding something new, something powerful in this exercise of naming “I’m not enough” as a “same old lie.”

I can see more clearly that this internalized and seemingly individual issue perpetuates and is perpetuated by larger systems of injustice—the holding down (denigrating) of some people and the holding up (elevating) of others.

I can also see more clearly the relationship between being rocked by internalized sexism (feeling that I must shield myself from awful feelings of inadequacy) and the inability to confront white supremacy and other forms of privilege (experiencing white fragility when faced with seeing one’s position as more-than-enough—that is, socially constructed as superior—within race, class, religion, ability, and various other social hierarchies).

It feels especially important to name the dualistic problem of not-enoughness facing people who experience both internalized oppression and internalized supremacy (for example— white women like myself). Imagine a single coin with two sides, one facing up and the other facing down. We can see only the side that’s exposed to us (this side representing lesser-than messages of “you’re not enough”).

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What happens if we don’t ask what’s on the other side? If we don’t turn the coin over? If we only focus on the feelings of being lesser-than? Then we fail to see the still present, though hidden, side—the side in which we’re actually positioned as greater-than (in a position of privilege, power, and supremacy).

My sense is that too often we don’t flip the coin, which explains why white women can deny or fail to explore participation in white supremacy. It’s as though the fixation on the lesser-than side makes it impossible to turn the coin over. Perhaps it feels too painful to touch the coin at all?

Though we may only look at one side of the coin, the other side is still present and simply hidden from view—though perfectly visible to others who are scratching their heads, asking why folks just can’t see what’s going on. What I’m hoping to explain through this coin metaphor is that there’s a close relationship between internalized oppression and internalized supremacy.

To step back for a moment, it might help to name the warrants (or assumptions) this metaphor is built on. I’m assuming the following:

  • That readers share a commitment of working to attain equity and justice.
  • That though we’re socially constructed as unequal, we as humans are equal (all valuable, worthy, and human).
  • That there’s a relationship between buying into internalized oppression (e.g., buying into sexism, even while feeling/experiencing its harm) and buying into the conditions of inequity (which keep us feeling/experiencing separation).
  • That buying into internalized oppression is closely related to buying into internalized supremacy, so that these ideologies can co-exist within the same individual, even when trying to hold ourselves accountable through self-work.

In my life, I can see that I’ve bought into internalized sexism at the same time as using class, race, and other positions of supremacy as a shield from gendered oppression. Only when looking at feelings of not-enough straight-on can I see my own participation in perpetuating the lie. Then possibilities emerge for seeing and changing my own participation in passing along the lie to young people—to my own inner child and to children in my life.

So, there’s BIG TROUBLE in the lie that “I’m not enough.” This lie limits the ability to see systems of inequity, injustice, and violence. It limits the ability to act. It limits the potential of undoing sexism, classism, racism, and other -isms. It limits the potential of imagining alternatives—a vision of the world in which we all are already enough, already worthy, already valuable.

To stop telling the lie, I affirm today that I am enough. I speak to myself as I would to a young child, affirming my humanity. Being human is messy, sure, and I’m sure to mess up. But the mess does not make me less. I remind myself to that I am worthy. And to step into worthiness, I step into the ability to stand TALL, to speak UP, and to act with COURAGE.

Living in Mess

This week I overfilled my hot cocoa, knocked the mug, and spilled sticky-sweet almond milk on the kitchen counter. Before thinking, I was already saying aloud: “Ahhhh, Bethhhh …” I could hear a parent scolding a child, over-reacting about spilled milk. And I was shaken—stopped in my tracks—because I would not like to respond in such a way to any person, let alone myself.

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Spilled cocoa = a minor mess.

Spilled cocoa. Sticky surfaces. Mess.

Mess characterizes life, and I like to think that I’m good with mess. As a researcher, I like to describe the research process as “incredibly messy” and to delight in scattered post-it notes, coded transcripts, piles of books and papers, and other materials. As a teacher, I like to announce: “This semester we’ll get to roll around in the messiness of understanding race/ism (or feminism or the writing process or other complex things).” Mess is perhaps one of my favorite words, something I run toward instead of from. I even describe myself as “a mess”—affectionately so and at moments when I seem to be experiencing the most growth.

Yet, I really struggle with mess, perhaps more than I know. When I spilled the hot cocoa, I not only needed to clean up right away, but I could also feel a wave of negative emotions wash over me. I could hear an old familiar voice asking, “What’s wrong with you?” And I could see my tendency to shrink, a tendency that runs counter to my current affirmations:

  • It is safe for me to be seen.
  • It is safe for me to stand TALL.
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Mantra sticky notes on my bathroom mirror.

Certainly, I’ve been on a roller-coaster this week, following (inter)national events, feeling fear within my body, and fumbling to move forward. Last week, I wrote about “mucking around in the mess,” and this week I’m still very much in mess and a mess.

One minute I’m signing a petition; the next I’m confronted by 2 or 10 or 20 new problems.

One afternoon I’m inspired by an exciting teaching collaboration with community partners; the next I’m intervening into a campus discussion in which one person disparagingly calls others “foreigners.”

One day I’m feeling uplifted (participating in, seeing friends’ photos, and reading great critiques of the Women’s March); the next I’m swinging low (e.g., asking why professional associations encourage action for some causes but not others—and realizing that rifts run deeper than I even imagined).

So, how do I navigate the current roller-coaster ride? What does it mean to be living in mess?

  • It means giving myself permission to feel my emotions and ask what they’re communicating to me.
  • It means giving myself permission to eat sugar and break out with acne and still work on cultivating radical self-love that’s needed for standing in solidarity.
  • It means welcoming the Divine feminine that’s struggling to break through the shadows.

It means a lot—a lot more than I can or am ready to unpack here—but it surely means asking questions and looking at the self and wondering why I’m so quick to snap or scold.

My Reiki teach Marty Tribble often reminds me: “We teach what we most need to learn.” And it’s clear that right now I’m learning about mess: how to live in mess, befriend mess, be truly ok with messing up …

So, some more mantras for the days ahead:

  • I give myself (and my home and my relationships and my writing) permission to be imperfect.
  • I allow my actions and activism to be imperfect, emergent, uneven.
  • I give myself permission to act out, smart off, play hooky, miss a week, fall behind, let loose, whine, cry, rebel, take risks, get hurt, try again, etc.
  • I give myself permission to be messy, a mess.
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Creating a new mantra, a new sticky note.