What My Heart Beats For.

IMG_0675Falling in love without fear or hesitation
The evening sun sinking like a golden backdrop behind magnolia blossoms
Flowers that sing of emerging hope in spring
Snow days in winter

High fives and peace signs
Standing on my pedals while biking downhill
Strangers acknowledging each other with a jovial, “hello!”003
The view of the world while up-side-down in a cartwheel

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for

Seeing people I love in my dreams at night
Barefoot walks on soft grass
My sister’s laugh
Nothing-to-hide smiles20140419_135824.jpeg

Raising hell and creating heaven
When people say what they really want to say
Watching a woman fall in love bicycling
End-to-end rainbows shouting ROY-G-BIV

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats forny 12

Catching elderly people in unadulterated moments of touch and affection
The last ten seconds before the finish line at peak speed
The sanctuary of warm evenings on the front porch
Spontaneous play

mel cliff jump

Living out of my boldest dreams and creativity
instead of debilitating fear and doubt
Healing touch
Looking people in the eye
The three seconds after jumping off a cliff, body entangled in open air, before landing in water

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

The questions and conversations that ensue from lying beneath dark star-filled skieselephants
Gathering around the table in beatific communion
Seeing animals face-to-face in the wild that I’ve only ever seen caged in zoos
Late night heart-to-hearts reminding me that each human heart contains some of the very same pieces

Laughing at myself and taking down my defensive wallssouth korea plane
The velocity of take off
Landing in a place my senses have not experienced before
Gentle rains hitting the Earth at night, a steady lullaby

All this is what my heart beats for,
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

All of this tastes of Heaven on Earth
A portion so sweet, tears collect in the corners of my eyes
Reminding me how beautiful it all is
I take one more breath, not wanting to close to my eyes

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

I want to see it, touch it, taste it, inhale it, exude it, splash in it, roll in it, make waves in it
No skipping beats, no wavering from the present
Steady my heart; this is what keeps it beating
A rhythm that cannot be quelled

And one day, death it will arrive
But life will just be getting started

We’ll meet on the other side;
A heartbeat yielding to the soul’s beat of all that cannot be explained.

Advertisements

Confessions Of a Woman in a Bike Shop (Plus Strategies to Get More Women-and men- Into Shops + On the Road)

bike blueHe pointed to his back tire. I knew now what that meant. I believe it was his way of subtly but firmly saying, “I see you’re pushing yourself. You’re reaching that point where you’re getting close to exhausting your energy. I want to see you succeed. Draft off my wheel and keep going because you’re capable. NOW GO.” I nod and stare intently at his back wheel, no longer worried of hitting his back tire like I used to fear in the beginning. I trust my instincts and that he was paying attention to the road and traffic around us. It feels so good to have allies, now, I think to myself, and we attack the remainder of our sprint. It’s Wednesday night and I’m riding on my local bike shop’s weekly ride. I’m one of three females out here—something I’m making my mission to change— but at least it no longer feels intimidating. I can’t speak for all of the men out here, but the ones I’m getting to know so far are allies, open to hearing new ways to support women in cycling.

It hasn’t always been that way. Like many women, I’ve battled feelings of inadequacy, intimidation, and fear in bike shops and on the road, despite having grown up biking with my dad in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, and being a triathlete since 2005. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012, when I signed up to ride in a 365 mile women’s bike ride across Maryland with World Relief, that I even learned basic bike mechanics. The great folks at Race Pace gave our team a general bike maintenance overview, including instructions on how to change a flat tire. But being a tactile learner, I went home that night and quickly forgot everything I was taught. It wasn’t until I started consistently bike commuting in spring 2013 that I realized there’s no way to fully avoid a flat tire and knew it was time tackle this skill. I confess, I went to a bike shop and paid to have it done the first time. The mechanic let me intently peer over her shoulder to learn—and my, was it awesome to learn from another woman. “Just practice in front the TV and you’ll get the hang of it,” she encouraged me. Satisfied with simply being able to successfully get home, I called it a night.

When I had a little more time, I went to another bike shop to buy tubes. “What size do you need?” the gentleman asked. What size do I need? Why don’t I know this stuff!? I thought. “I don’t know; what kind do you need for a road bike?” I asked, sheepishly. I learned that I needed 700×23-25c and scribbled this in my notebook as newfound vocabulary as soon as I got home. It wasn’t until my second and third flat that I used the tubes and gave myself a pep talk: “You’re gonna fix this damn thing if it takes you all night!” I then You-Tubed, grumbled expletives, levered, and pumped my way through fixing a flat 38 minutes later- a long time, I know, but at least it was a starting point.

As I began training for my first half Ironman, I began having gearing issues. “What kind of gearing do you have?” the gentleman at the bike shop asked.  Here we go again… why do I STILL not know this stuff? “Um…” He came from behind the checkout counter and started counting: “3×9,” he shared, which I scribbled in my notebook later on that night.

After addressing the gearing issues, it wasn’t long before I experienced shifting issues on a training ride. So I went back to the bike shop and spent five minutes trying to describe what was happening when I shifted. “I’ll take it outside, shift through all the gears, and I’m sure I’ll figure out what you mean,” the gentleman reassured me. A couple minutes later, he came back in the shop. “I see what you mean. It’s skipping gears.” Yeah. Skipping gears. That’s what I was trying to say. The staff pointed out all sorts of parts I needed and $238.35 later, I made a commitment to learn how to do some of my own repairs and to actually understand the parts I even ordered. I spent months bingeing on Youtube bike anatomy videos, scribbling in my bike notebook, and vowed to lift my head a little higher each time I entered the bike shop.

Fast forward to now, and I love everything about going to the bike shop. The new tire smell. The myriad of shiny bikes that inspire me to dream of new races to register for. A place to test out the vocabulary I’ve accumulated and to laugh at myself when I invent names for parts that don’t exist— like I did last night. Ask me to tell you my story about “lib nuts.” But I think the thing I love most, though, is that my eyes now meet the eyes of each employee and my voice is louder than when I first walked in. I stand a little taller and don’t beat myself up when I mis-name a part.
Bike shops can be an intimidating place for some women initially, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. I believe that women can make a conscientious effort to familiarize ourselves with bike terminology and to practice effective communication skills. To go into the places that make us feel uncomfortable, even if we’re nervous. To ignore any internal dialogue of inadequacy and to remember that most people in the shop just want to see you experience the joy of cycling. To do it scared. To say yes. To surprise ourselves. Because I’d rather lack knowledge (and learn) than lack courage to embark on something new.

There are some things bike stores can do, however, to become a little more “female-friendly.” Take a look and share your comments & experiences below:

-Hire more female staff. An estimated 89% of bike shop owners are men, while 33% are owned by a husband-wife team, and 45% of paid bike advocacy staff are female. If more women are hired as bike mechanics and employees, perhaps more women will feel a sense of belonging.

-Conduct free or low cost bike mechanic workshops at the store. This is a sign that the store is safe to newbies and less experienced riders, thus making it more inviting to ask questions without fear of how it will be perceived. Furthermore, 26% of women say that learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more. Similarly, 20% of respondents in a 2010 Women Cycling survey said that a bike repair class would cause them to start or increase their riding.

-Host women’s rides from the store. While I realize a male-only ride can be off-putting, given that men outnumber women in riding 3:1, a ride designated for women can tilt the pendulum back to center and provide an unintimidating space to ask questions. And hey, since you’re at the bike shop anyway, it’s easy to go into the store afterwards for parts or tools. If you live in the Baltimore area, check out Twenty20’s women’s rides- 9:30 AM the second Sunday of every month.

-Examine the interior for subtle gender messages. Are all of the shop’s wall posters pictures of men biking? Is the TV in the store only showing men’s cycling events? Take a mental note the next time you’re in a bike shop as to what images you see. I did this recently and every piece of wall art featured a white male cyclist. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong about this, there also isn’t anything inspiring or inclusive of the rest of the world that’s not a white male. A few small changes in ambiance can help convey the message that women belong in the biking world.

-Stock child carriers and trailers. One factor that some women cite as a barrier to cycling is the inability to carry children and other passengers (19% of women reported this, compared to 7% of men). To increase ridership among different demographics, such as mothers and fathers, bike stores can have on display children’s bike seat attachments. If you’re going to promote the product with a poster advertisement, earn a brownie point for featuring a man toting his child via bike instead of a woman.

While we’re on the topic of reaching different types of cyclists, let’s place panniers and fenders on visible display to inspire men and women to commute and run errands via bicycle. Women comprise 24% of trips taken by bike, but on average, take an additional 110 trips per year than men, so same as above: if you’re going to have a poster promoting these products in the store, show a picture of a woman riding a bike with panniers and fenders to challenge gender norms.

It’s not just women who benefit from inclusive settings. As Chicks on Bike radio points out, not every man cycles competitively, so making bike shops more friendly in general can go a long way to make both genders of every ability level feel welcomed.

Moreover, we also know that both men and women cite traffic safety (both perceived and actual), lack of infrastructure, and the inability to bring bikes on other forms of public transit (such as trains) as a few of the many reasons for not biking, so in the mean time, let’s keep riding, keep advocating, and keep educating our friends and family on the realities of cycling.

See you on the roads—


For more info, check out the following resources:

Local Baltimore Bike Collectives:
Bearings Bike Project and Velocipide Bike Project: Open environments designed to be safe spaces for learning about all things bikes, including how to do your own bike maintenance.

Local Baltimore Bike Advocacy groups:
BikeMore– advocating for biker rights, bike friendly infrastructure, and increasing ridership.
Baltimore Bicycling Club– Partners with area organizations to promote advocacy and ridership

Local Baltimore Groups to Ride With:
Biking in Bmore– weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces
Baltimore Area Triathlon Club– weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces- newbies to experienced riders. Road bike with clips recommended.
Crank Mavens-women only rides Monday nights, ~10 miles
Twenty20– Wednesday evening rides for experienced riders- road bikes and clips; women’s ride 2nd Sunday of every month, all paces welcomed
Race Pace– Beginner rides Sunday mornings out of Columbia; advanced rides Tuesday evenings at CCBC
Baltimore Bicycling Club– several rides per week of varying distances and speeds
Baltimore Bike Party– last Friday night of every month in costume!

Photo credit: Women on Bikes

Photo credit: Women on Bikes

Reports:
Women on a Roll, The League of American Bicyclists, August 6, 2013

Podcasts:
The Uphill Climb of Women’s Pro Cycling, Stuff Mom Never Told You, August 28, 2013
How to Get More Women Riding Bikes, The Bike Show Podcast from Resonance FM, March 12, 2012
Women: Expanding our Presence in the Bike World, Chicks on Bikes Radio, December 20, 2012.
How did Women Pedal Their Way to Emancipation? Stuff Mom Never Told You, May 11, 2011.

Infographics:
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
 Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike
Overcoming Bike Concerns, Women Bike
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
 Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike

Row Home Lit- First Edition

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Row Home Lit, a literary publication for Baltimoreans at heart, just published their first edition. Beautiful poetry! Check out the electronic version here: http://issuu.com/rowhomelit/docs/row_home_lit_vol1?e=10683710%2F7004005 You can also visit them on facebook or tumblr.

Midnight Conversations by the Lake

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

A young woman sits down on a log by the lake at sunset. All quiets down like a halcyon decrescendo. Birds fly into their nests. The colors in the sky fade to those pinky-purpley colors that you have a mere ten minutes to catch before they’re gone. And now the sun’s final curvature has sunk beneath the edge of the horizon. It’s been a long year full of hard challenges and changes. But she is all alone out here and takes advantage of this one-on-one time with the evening stars. She looks up to the Heavens and whispers out loud in a trembling voice, “Are you there?” Silence. Crickets- literally crickets. “What did you expect, you fool?” She tells herself angrily, crestfallen hands covering a face warm with tears. “What do you even want from me, anyway!?” She implores the night sky, burnt out, unsure if she even has the energy to give whatever the universe would request should the universe answer back. She shakes her clenched fists indignantly at the darkness until she notices the soft, glowing moon. An urge from inside causes her to want to release her hands, open her palms, in tune with the warm summer breeze blowing between her fingers. A soft, warm, steady presence enters in.

“It’s me,” the presence whispers. “The same me who’s been here all along. All this time I’ve been begging you to lift your gaze my way, but instead you’ve buried it in your job, you’ve buried it in your calendar, in ticking clocks and reminders. In to-do lists, in fears, in worries, and in a fog that I’ve been trying to get you out of. And so that’s why we’re here. Here out in the open. Where the moon and stars are your only light; where soft breezes blow against tall grasses. I’ve been trying to get your attention and it seems as though this would be the only way.”

“And so you want to know what I want from you, my love? I’ll tell you what I want.

I want for you to start by telling me that you’ll look up at the stars once in a while when you get caught up in your worries and fears about the future. Then tell me how you can possibly feel trapped when the sky is so open, so free?

Tell me you will let yourself fall in love without fear or hesitation.

Tell me you’ll do all the things you’d want to do if you didn’t feel afraid.

Tell me you’ll stop saying how much you hate when others see you cry, sometimes. Because it can unconsciously give others the permission they never needed to feel the most visceral of life’s emotions.

Tell me you’ll be the one to tell all your friends and family what you love about them and thank them for what they’ve taught you- and that you won’t wait for them to do so first. Because some people aren’t used to expressing their truest feelings and your honesty can help them open up the parts of their souls that always wanted to come through into the atmosphere, no longer bound in prison’s cobwebs.

Tell me when you mess up in public or stumble over words that you won’t beat yourself up and remember that in the process, you alleviate others’ fears of messing up publicly because they’ll see it wasn’t so bad and recognize that none of us are perfect.

Tell me that you will believe in the power of doing these things once the sun’s come up, that you’ll believe this conversation actually happened. That you won’t step into tomorrow the same way you did all those hard exhausting days before.

That’s all I want for right now. I know we’ll be back to this place one day soon, my love. Find each other at the crossroads of depleted resolve just before it meets with the intersection of grace and beauty. Or perhaps we’ll find each other out here by the lake in the daytime, at sunrise. You’ll see how all of this mess, all of the hard turns, all of the question marks had to happen. You’ll see how strong you became, how open your heart has swelled, and feel proud of your journey- that you lived the question marks in order to find their sweet exclamations; that they really did create a path, not just a cornered maze with no way out. And when we meet again by the water, you can tell me how well you think you did. And I will take you by both your hands, look you in the eye and say I love you. Because no matter how knotty and twisted the arrival, surely goodness and mercy will follow…

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Faith, Hope, and Bikes: Turning Cyclist Attacks into Community Dance Parties

In light of the Passover and Easter holidays upon us, I’ve been pondering Judeo-Christianity a lot this week. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words about peace and reconciliation, things he talked a whole lot about, while he was silent or had little to say on the heated issues that so often people associate with Church or religion. He said things like “Blessed are the peace makers” and raised the bar on love by saying, “What good is it if you love only those who love you? Instead, love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you.” He talked about creating Heaven on Earth, not just trudging through this life in order to reach some celestial afterlife. He believed we could experience some of that good stuff right here, right now.

And everywhere I’ve looked this week, I’ve encountered these sweet drops of Heaven that I think Jesus was trying to tell us was possible to experience on this side of the planet in our human bodies. On Sunday, I encountered it through Free Hugs at the Farmer’s Market. The next night, I experienced it when someone I never met before not only helped me find my friend’s dog that I lost (I know. Some friend, right?), but gave me a hug afterwards and offered to make me tea, willingly going out of his way at 11 PM on a weeknight for a dog-watcher he didn’t even know. But I think the example that speaks the most to me of all this love and peace and doing-good-in-the-face-of-bad stuff is what’s going on in the Baltimore bike community right now.

Last Saturday evening, a cyclist was attacked by a group of youth while riding home along Guilford Avenue. This cyclist bikes with a video camera attached to his helmet everytime he rides in light of a friend who was a victim of a hit and run. Since then, he bought a video camera and regularly records his commutes, unaware, I would imagine, of just how handy this would come this past Saturday when a group of young kids attacked him, punched him, and tried to steal his bike. He caught this 1:20 clip of the event before his camera shut off after the camera battery disconnected. It’s hard to watch, and even more personal knowing it occurred on an intersection used by so many bike commuters, my friends and I included. Attacks have occurred previously in this area, though at random.

The cycling community is one in which finding a friend, an ally, someone to connect with is never hard to find. In fact, most of the time when I bike throughout the city, I regularly make some form of human acknowledgement with other cyclists I see. A head nod, a wave, a hello, a “Hey, isn’t this a great day for a ride?” while we’re stuck at a red a light. Oh, and my favorite, the guy who gave me a peace sign as he rode by on a fixie.

So news travels fast in our little-but-ever-growing cycling community and it wasn’t long before we were dialoguing with each other in person and on social media about the event. I was amazed at the discourse because it seems as though all of the advocates get the fact that if kids just had more community inclusion and opportunities for recreation and play, they wouldn’t be out here committing crimes like this. Crime not being the problem, but the output of what happens when opportunity and meaningful activity cease to exist in an area. So instead of creating an us-vs them blaming mentality, activists decided to booth volunteers in the area in which the attacks occurred to “Bake some cookies and sell them! Make balloon animals for kids! Have a dance party! Whatever – the point is to be out on the street, watching for potential trouble, and nipping it in the bud before it happens!” (source: BikeMore google group). It’s ok to get angry about crime, in fact, humans harming other humans should arouse that emotion inside of us as a protective instinct to look out for one another. But what’s more beautiful to me- and to the other activists I know, is to turn something tragic into a reason to bring the whole city together to dance in neighborly love. That’s beauty. That’s Baltimore. That’s why I now almost come to expect activists to show up when injustice happens because everywhere I go around this city, I meet people whose hearts and voices refuse to be quelled in the midst of violence or oppression.

I think that’s what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Except instead of swords, we have present day street violence. And instead of plowshares, we have creativity. Creativity to create bake sales, balloon animals, dance parties, hula hoop contests, and community interaction in place of violence.

Earlier this evening, I stopped by one of these volunteer booths for a Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event that members of  the Greenmount West community organized. Community members waved to cyclists and passer-bys and invited them over for snacks and conversation. Said one of the women I spoke with at the event, “We don’t like our community being known for violence. This is a chance to change that.”
This is what I love about the biking community.
This is what I love about Baltimore.
This is why I doubly love the Baltimore biking community.

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014


While the media shouts of violence and drugs, we are out here, out here in these open spaces linking arms and bike locks singing of something else possible.

While the cynics are out there saying “the city would be great if it weren’t for these hoodlums” (unfortunately, those are actual words I read on Facebook about this particular incident), we are out there finding these kids so that we can introduce them to you by name and not by label. We will learn their stories and they will learn ours and together we’ll ride our bikes at Bike Party or maybe down the street to the nearest bike collective. Or maybe I’ll teach them how to change a flat and they can show me how to pop a wheelie. Because we can all learn from each other, no matter our age or background.

The Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event today indeed reminded me that it was Good Friday, that violence, much like Jesus’ death, doesn’t have the last word, and that faith, hope, and love are not just quotidian metaphors, rather, they are tangible exchanges we can choose to give every moment, every day.IMG_0662

My heart is so full.
And my stomach is too, thanks to the snacks the Greenmount West community brought today.

But we’re not done.
Because like BikeMore said, we can run with this.

So next Sunday afternoon April 27th, I’ll be out there with hula hoops and water balloons. Another guy I met today offered to bring his guitar. And another said that while he couldn’t play music, he could bring a bunch of his friends.
So come join us Sunday evening April 27 on Guilford and Lanvale, say 4:30.
We’ll stack our bikes up next to each other’s and say hello. We’ll learn each other’s names, and faces, stories, and dreams. And then we’ll dance. Because we love this city, we love each other, and are willing to raise hell and create heaven by speaking up out of the silence and stepping into communion. Because that’s there the love is. That’s where the life is. And that’s how community will continue to build, one neighbor, one cyclist, one activist at a time.

Let’s dance.

Free Hugs and The Art of Burning Like Fabulous Yellow Roman Candles

I’ve always been enamored by idealists, the dreamers. The mind-speakers. The norm challengers and status-quo re-writers. The people of second and 99th chances. The ones who stomp in puddles and sing in the rain while everyone else is inside dry, … Continue reading

Restless like a Thousand Tall Trees: 4 AM Thoughts on God, Change, and Dancing

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I rub my eyes, grainy specs of rheum collected around my eyelids from the five hours of sleep I’ve gotten thus far. I’m not sure what it was that woke me up, other than the fact that I’ve been restless these past few days with jobs interviews that might potentially require a move. I lay in bed, then flip over on my side. But after 10 minutes of this, restless builds so strongly that I decide to feel my way down the dark stairs to get a glass of water. I head back upstairs and lay on the floor in my dark room, reminded of a couple songs that always brought me comfort in moments of uncertainty like this.

Even when I more or less walked away from Christian music a couple years ago, there were always a few songs I couldn’t shake. Audrey Assad’s “Lament” and “Restless,” being two of those. In the latter piece, she sings, “I am restless, until I rest in You, until I rest in You.” And tonight, I’ve woken up at 4 AM completely restless, having made a couple difficult decisions already this year, and soon to face a couple more, perhaps even a move from a city I have grown to love with a nothing-can-stop-me-from-loving-you,-Do-You-Hear-Me? kind of love, as I picture the faces of kind, fully alive people I’ve met over these past few years here. A smile and small laugh appear on my face, thinking about the places these folks have taken me. Dance parties. Biking down the city streets at night cheering at the top of our lungs so free. We climbed trees together. Played ukuleles in each other’s backyards. We square danced, rolled down hills, and laid under stars together. I love them all and every moment spent together.

But as I sit here in the 4 AM darkness of my room, I realize that I don’t know how people facing even bigger life changes than me do it. People who are a few months out from marriage or children. People who are moving to cities much further than my potential move. In all of this, I realize how averse and resistant I am to change. How I am not a willing dance partner to change’s dance. So I try to dance without change, only I keep scuffing my toes in the dark. My steps are heavy and clumsy.  Yet from across the room, I see change dancing freely and untrammeled in the open space, creating beauty, something more compelling than my solo dance in the dark corner.Come dance,” Change offers. I reach my hand out into the dark and wonder if I will ever be fully ready to accept this dance offer.

So hand reaching out, but not fully clasping Change’s hand, I think back to those songs I was talking about earlier, feeling exactly like the singer’s lyrics. I love when artists speak those experiences into melodies that flood your soul with a visceral hurt so good until you are singing right along too.

I continue to sit here on the floor in my dark bedroom. All is quiet outside, while inside, my soul “Rustles like a thousand tall trees. Why is it easy to work but hard to rest sometimes?” Audrey Assad’s words come easy to my soul tonight. “Still my heart, hold me close. I am restless until I rest in you,” her voice continues.
It’s been a while since I felt like I have truly rested in god while all of life crashes around me, thrashing waves thundering in the dark seas of change or hardship. It’s been a while since I’ve known life without anxiety, since 2006, in fact. And that’s ok; I’m not expecting nor demanding for anxiety to go away from my life completely. But I do wish to develop my wellspring reserves of confidence and unshakeability to believe that I can handle each of life’s changes as they come. Because bigger life changes are sure to come, especially when you’re someone who thinks you’d like to be married one day and adopt two kiddos. But when I sit here on my floor barely able to make peace with the changes in my life already, I think to myself, “thank God I’m not there yet.” 

IMG_1613But maybe God can show me how. How to rest in the one who made us. Show me what that looks like, because I have long forgotten, and I am weary. Show me what peace in the midst of uncertainty looks like, because I know there is a better way than my own self devices. There is a simple beauty to be found here, if I choose to try and walk its unnatural lines. And doing all of this, though not comfortable for me, would make my life easier too, I imagine. I mean, what’s easier, to trust in my own fears and dwell in uncertainty? Or take a chance on “all things working together for good,” like they told me in pews and sanctuaries so many years ago.

I take a deep breath, ready to hop back in bed and try again. I don’t have any new answers to my questions about the direction I’m going. But I do have a presence I’ve asked to teach me along the way, to show me what this rest looks like.

I can only ask myself to courageously try and follow this presence, this voice, the same voice that promises to lead us by still waters and open pastures.
I can only ask myself to embrace the question mark, the semi-colon, the dot-dot-dot ellipses…
I can only ask myself to be brave enough to accept change’s invitation to dance in each life stage.

Because there will be many, many more changes to come. Maybe I’ll marry one day. Maybe I’ll co-parent one day. I will say goodbye to strangers that came into my life for an ephemeral, teachable moment, recollecting their faces in daydreams or while idling in traffic one rainy afternoon. People I love immensely will die, and it will be a change that I will never, ever, feel fully prepared for. Because some changes you simply cannot ease your body into like a cold swimming pool.

But tonight, I can choose to reach my hand out to God and to change and choose to take a little solace in the journey that I’m so resistant towards. Maybe tonight, I will go to back to opening my eyes on the roller coaster, instead of keeping them shut. I will trade clasped hands on the lap bar, for hands held high above my head in the free, open air. 

But for now I’m going back to bed.

I hope to see you in the morning, feeling less philosophical and more fun, ready to dance like mad in the spring sunshine.

shadow dance

The Words I Could Never Understand Then, That Could Only Be Understood Now

ImageI binged on 90s music last week and rediscovered some of my favorite gems. Among them, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Primitive Radio God’s “Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth,” and The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I sung them freely around the house, delighting in the early evening spring sun shining through opened blinds, grateful to be in the present moment, yet overcome with nostalgia and wisdom from time’s past.
I think that’s one of the gifts music provides. That no matter your musical history, the words and melodies will find a way to speak to your heart. My small brush with musical talent began in first grade when I got to play the glockenspiels for three years in a row in the winter concert. The best part of all— my music teacher would let me come practice in the music room during lunch time. I figured out what mallet to hit based on sound and never learned how to read music. FACE, Every Good Boy Does Fine— that was a foriegn language I could never understand. In fact, I only made it through high school chorus by knowing that when the music notes flipped upsidedown, that was my part to sing, being a soprano. Needless to say, it’s a talent I never possessed but appreciate like no other.

Music’s gotten me through training practices, heartache, amplified my best days, and softened my worst days. It’s provided me clues of my past and offered wisdom for the future. So as I was singing the familiar harmonies of “Closer to Fine,” I was struck by all the things I missed while singing those words back in the 90s. Things I could never understand until my heart developed into a melded mess from beating fast, and being held after brokenness. Things I could never understand until my memories included those of pain, uncertainty, doubt, big decisions, hard breaks, tough calls, and the freedom of the open road and hostels. Experiences, in other words, that my young heart was too naive to understand until it went through the hard process of growing up and maturing.

I think much like music, pictures or stories speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. As a kid, The Giving Tree was an awesome book about a boy and a tree that fell in love with each other, and now -call me jaded, but- it feels like a story of a selfish little boy who manipulated a codependent tree. I’m still a sucker for Oh The Places You’ll Go, though, and will forever wonder what a zizzer-zazzer-zuzz is in Dr. Seuss’ ABC.

Similarly, much like pictures and stories, parents and friends speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. I learned the joy of what it feels like once you finally see your parents outside of an authoritative role and into the role of an old friend, finally understanding the sacrifices they made to bring your little life into existence. I learned the great sadness it feels to see a parent sick in the hospital, as you question their mortality, and yours as well.

And much like parents and friends, faith/God/a Maker/Creator, can speak to us in different ways throughout our lifespan. That’s one of the things The Indigo Girls reminded me of last week. While I relate to the Indigo Girl’s description of what it feels like to take life less seriously and to search for the things that will fill our heart with peace, perhaps what sticks out most to me is the refrain, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” And how true is that of life, or faith, or getting older and “growing up?” Why does it feel like my human nature to tighten my fists, muscling through things the way think they should go, when perhaps it really would be easier to turn my gripped fists into open palms? Why do I look at paper applications and beg for certainty that everything in my life will all turn out ok, and then lay on my front porch, stare up at the stars, and suddenly don’t care anymore? Don’t care about career. Don’t care about when to get married, if/when to have kids. Don’t care about my sh*tty salary. Don’t care how I’m perceived. Don’t care if I’m understood. And, most freeing of all, don’t care about certainty anymore. And the less I beg of God for answers to life’s questions, the less I feel like I need to explain or defend why I don’t really go to Church anymore because of the way I experience Church when I ride my bike, when my sister smiles, when I feed the chickens, and when I sing old 90s songs alone in my room that feel less like pop culture and more like hymns. 

I’ll stop asking for certainty.
And trust that the God that got us this far can get us the rest of the way.
I’ll linger under stars.
Stand up on my bike pedals when going downhill.
Do headstands in the grass.
Get fresh Earthen dirt under my nails.
Learn from the birds, the bees, and the beats of 90s rock. 

Because I’m closer to fine than ever before
And we’re all gonna be ok. 

 

The ABCs of Gender, Sexual, and Racial Equality

Photo credit: Leanna B. Powell

One of Baltimore’s cafes that promotes equality right on down to bathrooms. Love Red Emma’s! Photo credit: Leanna Powell

I’ve been having some of the most mind-opening conversations of my life recently as I’ve been interviewing women and men about gender and listening to podcasts covering privilege, gender, and sexuality. In discussing and listening, I’ve come across terms that I was unfamiliar with (such as “cis-gendered”). This piqued my curiosity to learn more about gender, sexual, and racial equality. Below are some terms that may be helpful in educating ourselves and others about gender, sexual, and racial equality. This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a smattering to get your feet wet. Whether you’re well-versed in your equality vocabulary, or just beginning advocacy efforts, you are needed. No matter where you are in the journey, let’s ask each other questions, have a posture of a learner, ask how we can help one another as allies, and change the world. Comment below with your experiences in allyship, advocacy, or questions about these words/topics.

Asexual: one who does not experience sexual attraction
Ally: (in context of equality) one who unites with other causes, organizations, or people to promote the global concept of equality promotion (ex: a gender ally, an LGBTQIA ally)

Binary supremacy: the belief that genders fall into two (and only two) separate and distinct categories and that a male or female identity is superior to other identities
Butch: A woman who adopts what would typically be considered masculine characteristics. Note: This is not a derogatory word when used for self-identification. Just like “gay,” or “retarded,” the word is not inherently disrespectful; it’s only disrespectful when used inappropriately.

Cis-: as in, cis-gendered: identifying with your biological sex.
Cis-privilege: The benefits and privileges that go along with identifying with one’s biological sex.

Dyke: Lesbian. Note: this is not a derogatory word if someone self-identifies as a “dyke.” Some women do not like the word “dyke” because of its oppressive roots, while others have reclaimed the word and found identity as a “dyke.”

Egalitarian: Having equal rights, regardless of social, economic, or other distinctions such as income, race, or religious or political beliefs; as in egalitarian marriage (vs. complimentarian marriage),  for example.
Equity (vs equality)In simple terms, equity is equipping everyone what they need to be

equity

Photo credit: Everyday Feminism

successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Consider the image below- if everyone was equal, they’d have the same view, right? But what about the children? They need a boost to be able to enjoy the same view. Policies like affirmative action are temporarily necessary to give equity to educational and career opportunities until people of less privileged backgrounds who’ve had long histories of exclusion can experience equality.

Femmephobia: The devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine and anything commonly related to femininity (the color pink, high heels, etc.) that denotes femininity as inherently inferior.

Gay masculine of center: One example of many forms of self-identification, this identity is used by some women who tilt toward a masculine side of gender identity
Gender binary:
Classification of sex and gender as two separate and distinct identities: feminine and masculine

Hapa: A term that originated in Hawaii to describe one who identifies with mixed racial heritage, with partial roots in Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry.
Heteronormativity: The social and cultural constructs that assume heterosexuality is the norm.
Homosexuality: A word some find hurtful, as it links to days when homosexuality was a clinical disorder (some instead advocate using “a person who is gay/lesbian”); a term that The New York Times dropped from usage in 1987, while Fox News continues to lag behind.

Intersectionality: The concept that cultural oppressions (i.e. gender, race, class, and sexual orientation) are all intertwined and that we can be oppressed through multiple identities (ex: a gay African American can be discriminated against for being BOTH gay AND African American)
Intersex:
A condition experienced by approximately 4% of the population in which there are genetic, hormonal or physical differences thought to be typically male AND female. Some choose to self-identify as intersex, while others find this identity troubling. One thing we can agree on: Don’t use the word ‘hermaphrodite!’

Jail: The place 97% of rapists don’t enter; the place where a gay Ugandan can go by law simply for being gay through the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act (rooted in laws from British colonization); the place where interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to for interracial marriage in 1958.

Kinsey scale: A rating scale developed in 1948 in order to account for research findings that showed many people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.

Late onset adrenal hyperplasia: One example of an intersex presentation affecting 1 in 66 individuals.
LGBTQIA: Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally

Microaggressions: small, everyday examples of negative statements about a non-dominant group or marginalized identities; may be implicit or explicit.  
Monosexism: Belief that a person can only be attracted to ONE (and only one) gender.

Non-binary: Umbrella term for anything that doesn’t fit in the stratified gender binary model; one can self-identify as non-binary.  

Outing: When someone reveals another gender identity or orientation often without the person’s consent or approval.

Pixie manic dream girl: A female trope known to be carefree and playful and whose primary role in a film, book, or television show is to awaken the heart of a man. What does this have to do with equality? Equality is a byproduct of acknowledging the unequal or oppressive messages we encounter in everyday life, including media and advertising.
Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. In simpler terms, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.’

Queer: Umbrella term for one who identifies outside of the societal norms in regards to gender and sexuality; once was considered a derogatory term but has now been reclaimed by many LGBTQIA as a desired form of self-identification.
Queer femme: One of many forms of self-identification; typically someone who identifies as a lesbian who exhibits typically feminine traits.

Racialized sexism: When women of color are discriminated against in both race and sex, often stemming from issues of privilege

Sexual entitlement: Belief that another “owes” you sexual encounters that can take the form of sexual harassment, ogling strangers, and demanding sexual favors. While any gender can act sexually entitled, women disproportionately experience male sexual entitlement as expressed in many media, language, and cultural norms or attitudes
Sexual fluidity: Term used to describe that one’s sexual identity and attractions can shift throughout the lifespan; there is a tendency for sexual minority women to experience higher levels of sexual fluidity than men.

Third wave feminism: Current wave of feminism (though some advocate we’re in the fourth) that began in the 1990s focusing on changing cultural constructs of language, embracing intersectionality and allyship (in regards to sexual orientation/identity, race, and class), securing equal opportunities for women, and celebrating the accomplishments of women past and present.

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

UN Millennium Development Goal 3: One of the 8 goals established in 2000 by the UN to “promote gender equality and empower women” internationally

Vagina Monologues: Play written by Eve Ensler depicting womens’ experiences with masturbation, rape, sex, orgasm, female genital mutilation, menstruation, love, and birth.
V-Day: Global activist campaign started by Ensler to end violence against women and girls. V stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

Women only space: A place committed to empowering women in safe spaces; historically the women’s movement failed to include trans women but is now changing to promote inclusion. Opinions vary about women-only spaces. I personally have benefited from women-only spaces and also felt torn about them- a post for another time.
Woke: (Often “Stay woke”) A phrase used to encourage critical thinking about social injustice, often used in relation to racial injustice. The term can be traced back to singer Erika Badu in 2008 but became popularized during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or of anything that is unknown or “foreign”.

You:  A person needed to address equity and privilege while engaging others in the discussion.

Ze and zir: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used the same way “he” or “her” are used. Ze is singular, as in “he” or “she-” “Ze laughed.” Zir is a possessive pronoun, as in “it:” “I called zir.”


 

 

 

Resources/Education
-Developing your awareness of cissexism
-8 Ways to Stop Street Harrassment
-Identifying problematic language
-Identifying gender neutral language
-Strategies to move past “privilege guilt” 

Share your own! Comment below!