Thursday, April 17, 2014

Uncommon Woman

For any woman who’s ever been told she’s too much:
You, who broke out of the mold before they even cracked it off you. 
You, who came out inventing your own how-to-scale-a-wall with only vowels. 
You, who fireflash in the eye of so many midnights, so many men who want to taste your hem, 
who dream of being desired by an Uncommon Woman, if only because
their dressers are empty of anything but brand name cologne and predictable portrait. 
Let them call you different. 
Let them bait the minnows of you heart. 
Show them your heart is a school of fish, a solar system of all moons. 
When asked, say, "My heart is always causing the mating season." 
When they call you full of yourself, say, “Yes.” 
Breathe in their scorn and breathe out Atlantis. 
Let them come with their saw blade smiles. 
Let them come with their saw blade hands.
Let them come to see if you slice small enough to replace their handkerchiefs, 
the ones they’ll loan to who they’ll call easier girls. 
Let them choose easier girls.
When he tells you he is tossing your broken root out his open window,
and holds up to the glass a more common woman, surrender. 
Gracefully surrender the pretend olive branch of his matrimony. 
The pretend complete protein he slipped onto your third finger while you stood
in shoes that were always too small for you. 
When he says she is easier to handle, live with, attach to, fuck, I want you to remember your neck.
The way it ascends space, and always has, above the rest. 
You were brought here for so much more than walking two by two up a ship plank. 
Anyone common enough to go coward at the depth of his love for you, wasn't meant to walk beside you.
So go live in the liquid bowl of gold you were handed for a skin.
Uncommon Woman, let the easier girls pick up the socks.
Embrace your splendid singularity.
And look to the rest of us Uncommon Women standing in the centers,
holding up the tents of our skirts, we call them cities. 
Love should not have us stoop to fit a portrait.
Love should have us elevate our infinity.
So, Uncommon Woman, don’t settle for less.
Instead, stride towards the ever shedding horizon.
Take her example of renewal. 
Wear your grief like a party dress!
Remember, the sun’s only lover is not the Earth.
She’s got moons on every planet.
-Tara Hardy

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Weekly Tithe: Growing Community, and my charity:water birthday

Oy ve, so much for weekly. I've had a whole lot of life happening lately and haven't been grounded for long enough to keep up on regular writing. This week we return to The Weekly Tithe with a profile on Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project.

Deeds Not Words
My amazing friend Kelly started Acta Non Verba (ANV) in response to the gaping inequalities present in East Oakland in the areas of access to nutritious food, health education and extra-curricular activities for children and teens in the area. ANV uses the garden as a classroom to not only teach kids about where their food comes from, how to grow it and prepare it healthfully, but also leadership skills and community building. My favorite part of the program, though, is the seed fund. The garden sells fresh produce to the community, which is considered a "food desert," and puts the proceeds into college funds for the kids and teens in the program. This supports and encourages young people to aim not only to graduate from high school in an area with an almost 40% drop out rate, but to pursue higher education. Their time and effort working in the garden is rewarded not only in building invaluable life skills, but in actual monetary support for their future education. I don't know about you, but this makes me insanely happy.

There are lots of ways to support ANV! If you're local, you can volunteer in the garden planting or building, either on a regular basis or on periodic farm work days. You can also taste the fruits (and vegetables) of the kids' labor and purchase a CSA box or visit the farm stand- because who doesn't love locally and organically grown produce? If you don't have a talent for gardening or already have a veggie source, you can also send some money ANV's way to nourish their good work for years to come. Like ANV on Facebook to keep up with the goings on around the farm!

In other news, this year I have pledged my birthday to charity:water. They do amazing work building wells and bringing clean water to communities where lack of or difficulty in access mean high mortality rates among children under 5 and overall suffering for all people. I love their work and hope to raise $3000 for my campaign. That's only 100, $30 donations and at the time of this writing, I have already received 3, so it's only 97 more to go! Please help make my 30th birthday the best yet by contributing to my campaign and joining me in this truly life saving effort.

Tomorrow is Tax Day 2014, and it's the perfect time to begin thinking about Tax Day 2015 and the tax deductible donations you can make this year in order to lessen the tax sting next year. Donations to both Acta Non Verba and charity:water are 100% tax deductible, so you know what to do...

Give good, do good, feel good!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One Breath at a Time

He went to rehab this morning for the fourth time...or maybe it's the fifth. My memory doesn't serve me particularly well normally and this is something I'm keen to let fade. I've been running for two weeks, living out of a tightly packed bag, moving about the world in search of the path of joy. I touched back down just in time to say a sad, strained good bye.

The first time they go to rehab, you will be bursting at the seams with equal parts wild hope and anxiety. You will visit the first weekend they're allowed guests, attend the afternoon AA meeting with them and take a walk around the property, talking idly about nothing. You will be proud of them and afraid for them. When they leave early, disappear and relapse, it will feel like the entire world is collapsing on your chest. You were warned that this might happen but that did nothing to prepare you.

The second time they go to rehab, your optimism will become cautious and jadedness will creep in quietly. You will sing Amy Winehouse together on the way to drop them off and laugh a little too loud. You will only come to visit once. They might complete the whole program this time, but they make the classic mistake of returning to their previous environment and will relapse again. And again. And again.

You might recall what it felt like when they first told you they were doing heroin- the immediate wave of nausea, dizziness and blackening vision. They say it's casual, that of course they're in control, and you want to believe them even if you know better. It will be a secret that you alone keep and the weight of it will crush you. You buy a one way ticket as far away as you can get. You become the heaviest living being. You weep like a baby when Cory Monteith dies because it feels too familiar. You have long heart to hearts with them that spark what's left of your hope but ultimately disappoint. They have become a fluent liar.

By the time they go to rehab for the fourth (or fifth) time, your heart is weathered and hardened. There will be syringes all over their room and residue from cooking dope on their desk. You will begin to grimly consider that this disease may very well kill them as it has so many others. You are forced to surrender any remaining illusions that there's anything you can do but love them. You cannot control them anymore than you can the weather. You can only voice your concerns and feelings, and pray in a more focused and insistent way than ever before.

My God, please, let there be healing in their lifetime.
My God, please, help them find their way back.

Few moments have ever been as important as this one. The threads of future possibility rest in the shaky hands of someone you've come to mistrust and even fear. There is nothing you can do. This surrender feels like a tiny death everyday. Your dreams are haunted by darkened streets, handfuls of pills and a nagging, hopeless trepidation. You don't trust them to save themselves, you want for nothing more than to be able to do it for them, but you cannot. The most meaningful salvation is self-chosen. This is up to them. Once again, you give them your faith.

You keep breathing. You keep loving. That's all that's left.

Monday, April 7, 2014

No Sex in the City

The last time I took a new lover I spent a few months learning about him and carefully considering his candidacy before shifting the relationship tone. This was a new thing for me. Sex with strangers is not a normal occurrence but jumping right into a sexual relationship with someone I already know has been. I used to say that all my sex was surprising because I never thought about it ahead of time. It would just...happen! Whoops! This area of unconsciousness began to stick out like a sore thumb in my normal life of thoughtful reflection and self-examination. I recognized within myself the tendency to only act in the interests of my short term self in the arena of sexuality, living from the groin on instinct, and how this short term thinking was negatively affecting my head and heart.

So I made an earnest attempt to properly vet my next potential partner. I asked him big questions, met his friends and family, and spent neutral alone time with him. I waited, yes, in this I was successful. But I also ignored the abundant and obvious warning signs- apparent alcoholism and unresolved trauma, general poor choice making and the creeping sense that I was not being adequately valued. I took the time to get to know him well, but then ignored the findings because they didn't agree with my hypothesis that he was going to be dateable. I liked him so much in theory, but in reality he was just as much of a poor choice of partner as all the others. And since what all the others had in common was me, my own judgement came into question.

This shift in consciousness around sex happened to coincide with a lecture series on freedom at Mosaic LA. We were asked to examine different aspects of our lives to determine the ways in which we were bound or limited. I clarified that the way I'd been conducting my sexual life was causing me to shut down my heart and shy away from real intimacy, and concluded that I would abstain from sex until I was with my beloved. I wrote, "For as long as it takes, I will wait."

Ladies and gentlemen, I have now been celibate for 11 months...not that I'm counting or anything.

This is not to say that I haven't swapped scandalous words and photos, or thought salaciously about all the ways that I could break this self-pact. My ovaries are almost 30 years old and they shriek violently about making a baby. Everything in my biological being wants to get laid. But I haven't so much as traded kisses in almost a year. I'm a lusty, passionate physical affection junkie- if the kissing is any good it escalates expeditiously to nakedness. It was all or nothing, and it's been a whole lot of nothing for a good long while.

"My lord, how?? How do you do it?! I couldn't do it." I hear this a lot.

It's not easy. I'm honestly not that good at celibacy. There have been instances where, if circumstances had been different, I wouldn't have made it this long. My "success" can be attributed as much to self-control as to poor timing. All the same, here I am, all city and no sex. How, then, have I done it?

Over the din of hormone rush, I managed to hear a higher call that couldn't be unheard; the truth of my sacred heart begging me to make choices that create a space for love and true intimacy to flourish. I wanted to feel safe to let my guard down and be soft and receptive, but had come to realize that I couldn't trust myself to maintain the right conditions for that to happen. Like my former lover, I have a history of poor choice making in this area. In order to break the pattern, I had to examine and rewrite my entire sex, intimacy and love story. This would take far more time than I realized, require that I keep my head clear by keeping my hands to myself and lead me into the murky waters of my own sexuality.

What you realize first is the raw, primal power of contained sexual energy. It must either be released or channeled- I'm convinced that stagnancy in this area causes madness. There was a period of time during this last year when I needed all the energy and focus I could muster, so I decided to stop making self-love and began working to move and distribute my sexual energy in meditation. This went on for about two months, during which I experienced the electric vitality possible in learning to mindfully master this energetic flow.

Raising and channeling my sexual energy in yoga and meditation has been an ever present part of my celibacy practice, but I added a seemingly contradictory method a couple months ago: pole and erotic dance. Suppressing sexuality is the source of all manner of societal problems (I'm looking at you, religious institutions), but involving oneself in an admittedly sexy activity seems to be inviting unnecessary struggle. Wouldn't you want to minimize the amount of sexual energy generated in your body? Had this occurred to me earlier it might've been a cause for concern, but instead I just jumped into something I instinctively knew to be good for me. Best not to think too much sometimes.

The result has been a noted rise in sexual energy but it is sublimated through the circular sway and shake of my enlivening body to give rise to a still, deeply rooted confidence. It's a fully self-contained positive feedback loop; the more I move, the sexier I feel, the more confidence arises, the more I want to explore my dance, the bolder I become, the sexier I feel, the more confident I become, etc. My dance belongs solely to me for my own exploration and enjoyment, revealing parts of me to myself that I have never seen. I am titillated by the thought of sharing my dance with my beloved some day, but for now it is the most delicious and satisfying experience of my life so far to be my own witness to this transformation. No one and nothing outside of me is required for me to feel okay about myself. I am enough.

One of my most deeply held patterns was the tendency to look outside of myself for validation from men. This is something I've had a vague awareness of since I was a teenager, but really started trying to curb a few years ago when it became a truly problematic entity. I was having a hard time in other parts of my life, and would lean heavily on the guys I was interested in for gloriously distracting attention that made me feel less overwhelmed and messy. When they would fail to deliver what I needed, I would become irrationally resentful. In giving myself plenty of love and support, and through the validation supplied through my dance, I find the need for this male attention waning. In arriving at this place, I see how bound I was by my reliance on other people's approval. Letting that go means being free to be exactly who I am without concern for maintaining this outside feedback. I am beginning to earn my own trust, knowing that I'm less likely to make compromising choices in the search for approval.

When you detox from something for which you have a strong attachment, you can begin to see just how much it is emotional as it is biological. This is just as true for reliance on substances as it is for food or sexual attention. Deeper, subtler motivations lie beneath our urges and cravings which are difficult to clarify when we are still actively using our drug of choice. I had to consciously choose to abstain from sex to understand what it was that I was really after in my encounters. It was not a big leap from there to see how the choices I had been making were unsupportive and far from healthy. My celibacy and everything that's come from it have shown me who I am, and who I have the potential to be.

Celibacy may not be as educational or necessary for you as it has been for me. It's certainly not an entirely pleasant experience. However, if you have ever felt that sex or your sexuality is a burdensome or otherwise unhealthy part of your life, I'm here to tell you that there's another way. Yes, it's possible to go days or weeks or even months without having sex. No, that doesn't make you a prude, and no, your sexual organs will not stop working. If anything, if you take your period of celibacy to do some thoroughly, bravely honest self-discovery, you may come out the other side with much more confidence and self-knowledge, and that can't help but make you a better lover. Our inner workings can be scary places to explore, especially in the realm of sex and sexuality, but without going there how will you ever know who you are and what you really want? Explore, clarify and rewrite your story. Free yourself to confidently live your most authentic life.

Sometimes, at least for a while, the best sex is no sex at all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fire Sale

Every time someone publicly dies of a drug overdose now, two things happen for me. First, my heart tears in two and I feel sick to my stomach. Next, comes the flood of relief and the selfish thought, "Thank God it wasn't anyone I know this time."

A very dear friend of mine is a brilliant, creative musician. In line with the terrible stereotype, he also has a very serious drug problem. Today my friend sold his guitar, the center of his musical life and heart, to a stranger on Craigslist. Were he not an addict and had this not happened before, I would've believed him when he told me that he just wanted to buy a new one. I asked him once, in a moment of clarity, how much money he'd squandered on drugs in all his many years of using. He told me that it was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000.

I wonder how much time and money and health and brilliance has to be wasted before he returns to the land of the living.

I wonder how many times he has to almost overdose before he'll find his rock bottom.

I pray strong and sad and fearful and angry prayers every night for intercession, for healing, for peace.

I wake up wondering if today is the day we will find him dead.

Because there is no long term life expectancy for addicts who have such a deep disdain for themselves. The disease of addiction is a controlling, abusive, codependent relationship which he has chosen to engage with fully, forsaking what he loves the most. There is no way out until he is ready to sever those ties, to choose life.

How much more? What will it take?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Weekly Tithe: Sacred Sleep, Yogic Renewal and Harnessing the Nepalese Sun

True to form, the faithfulness of my tithing (and let's be honest, my sheer awesomeness) led to an uptick of work over the last two weeks. What can I say? People like to have me around and sometimes I even get paid for it. Mo' money means mo' to give, so this week's tithe was split between three projects which spoke to my heart. Sleep, yoga and light- all personally important to and well loved by me. Please learn a bit about these awesome projects and consider giving what you can. Give good, do good, feel good!

Sacred sleep at St. Boniface. Photo by Brent Ward.
The Gubbio Project
In my early 20s I decided that it was important for me to live alone but the only place I could afford to do that was in San Francisco's infamous Tenderloin. The Tenderloin is a tiny neighborhood known for its abnormally, disproportionately high amount of bars and liquor stores, pimps and hos, dealers and addicts, and public urination. It is also the home for people who contend with sometimes lengthy periods of homelessness. While San Francisco is a relatively temperate place to be out in the elements and the threat of freezing to death is nonexistent, sleeping outside remains a dangerous undertaking. Whether because of potential threat of bodily harm or theft of their few personal possessions, those experiencing homelessness rarely get a peaceful night's rest. In response to this, 10 years ago St. Boniface Neighborhood Center and Church created the Gubbio Project, and began opening their doors during the day to provide the homeless with a place to get some restful, sacred sleep. In addition, they also offer "availability of clean, safe restrooms; toiletries; weekly free haircuts; blankets; socks; monthly HIV testing; weekly community meal for 35-50 guests; and a listening ear." If you are as moved and inspired by their work as I am, please consider volunteering or donating to the project.

Me Siento Nuevo
Peruvian yoga flow.
My amazing friend Addy has been working in Peru with the Peace Corps for 15 months as a Community Health Promoter. Addy began teaching yoga to a few women in the community in her free time as a way to connect on a more personal level, and the classes took off. The story goes that, after completing warrior pose, a little boy proclaimed  “me siento nuevo” – I feel new. Yoga lovers everywhere can personally attest to the transformative benefits of the practice, and this is being experienced in this little village in Peru by people who had never so much as heard of yoga before now. Addy's family began a campaign to raise money for the little yoga program selling awesome "Me siento nuevo" t-shirts, which I personally cannot wait to rock. If you would like to support these fledgling yogis, please buy a shirt and/or make a donation. If you're looking for some life inspiration, Addy keeps a wonderful blog about her experiences that you can read here.

Michelle with her happy students.
Solar in Nepal
I was first introduced to Michelle Welsch through her smart, insightful writing on Medium. After grad school, Michelle quit everything and headed out to Nepal where she volunteered teaching English and had her life path altered forever. Nepal experiences lengthy, daily power outages between October and July which make basic functioning feel more like Little House on the Nepalese Prairie and less like 2014. Michelle is raising money to build a solar system in the community where she volunteered that will help bring consistent, needed light and heat to a school and a local monastery. There are 13 days left in the campaign and it is within $2,000 of the $8,000 goal- a modest sum considering the positive impact that it will have for the community. If you are a champion of renewable energy, Nepal and/or adorable kiddos, throw some money at this awesome project. There are even perks for specific donation amounts and Michelle will send you periodic updates on the project progress.

Stay tuned next week as I continue my quest to make more beauty in the world by supporting good, life giving work.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Case For Tithing: Making Something Beautiful

Open to give, open to receive
Growing up in Catholic church, I never heard the word "tithe." The wicker collection basket would weave its way around the pews every Sunday, and my brother and I would fight over who got to put the money in, but I had no idea what we were doing. It wasn't until my adult life when I made a friend who grew up very Christian in the Midwest that I became aware of the practice of tithing, but it bore a very negative connotation. In her church, the pastor made tithing mandatory for anyone who worked, including young people, and would demand their checks to ensure they were giving the church their proper share. I've never liked being told what to do and this disturbed me deeply.

For those unfamiliar, a tithe is one-tenth of something, paid to either a religious organization or a government. Tithing is an ancient practice present in slightly varied forms in Judaism (ma'aser kesafim), Christianity (tithe) and Islam (zakat). While the details vary, the basic premise is the same: you give up a portion of what you have that is of value to someone or something else. During more strongly agricultural times, tithes were frequently given from peoples' crops (indeed, there are many references in the Bible to tithes as "first fruits"). These days, it is far more common for people to tithe with money.

It wasn't until I attended the FREE series at Mosaic that I got a different perspective on the practice of tithing. Pastor Hank explained the history and biblical reasoning for tithing, but then took a powerful stance. He asserted that he wouldn't insist that anyone tithe money to the church, but that we should all be tithing to something which moves us. He talked about how we are all resource managers and how we have a duty to be wise and generous with what we've been entrusted. Then he said something simple that reshaped the way I will think about money forever:

"Every dollar is a paint brush to make something beautiful."

The first time I practiced tithing was a month after hearing this message. I donated 10% of my income one week to charity: water and it felt good. Four months later, I received an email update to let me know that my money was sent out into the field to help build a well in Rwanda and my heart flooded with joy. The amount I had sent was humble, but it would be responsible for some small portion of bringing clean water to a region where about a third of the population struggles daily to attain this basic necessity. What a tremendously worthwhile way for my money to be put to use!

Since then, it's been my pleasure to wisely allocate my monetary resources to non-profit projects which serve war veterans, teen filmmakers and the homeless, and provide refugee yoga, art in Haiti, solar in Nepal, and support to two different young people battling cancer. I'm deeply moved and inspired by the variety of life giving work being done by big hearted people all over this beautiful planet. While today I am unable to go to Rwanda to dig a well, my money can go there for me and assist in the effort. Money can be cold and it is certainly the source of a good deal of trouble. However, it can also build bridges (or wells, as it were), serving as a warm, loving, supportive connection between strangers who may never meet.

We're not talking about large, lavish sums of money here. My income is relatively small, so at 10%ish, so are my tithes. I used to think that you could only be generous if you had a lot of money. I'd say, "When I win the lottery, then I will give so much!" This is a trap. The likelihood of winning the lottery is infinitesimally small, making the likelihood of never participating in regular, generous giving monstrously large. I'll admit that it was scary at first to let go of any portion of the little I had, but it felt so good that I kept at it and a funny thing happened: the more joyfully and faithfully I gave, the more opportunities for income opened up, the more I had to give. It felt like I had tapped into a sort of fluid money cycle, my participation in which created smoother and more abundant financial flow in my life.

Maybe it's coincidence. Feel free to raise a skeptical eyebrow. I understand- I disliked The Secret and am beginning to turn away from the notion of manifestation entirely. But I do believe that you reap what you sow, and that living with our hands confidently outstretched in offering puts us is a great position to also receive. No, I'm not advocating that you empty your savings today giving all your money to the many amazing, worthy non-profits and causes out there. We're supposed to be wise resource managers. There is wisdom in balance and restraint. We give what we can reasonably, within our budget, and if your funds are stretched thin as is, tithing becomes even more of a discipline requiring careful thought.

Of course, there are many ways to give back and create beauty in the world. Our time and talent are invaluable- we don't have to give of our treasure to be generous. Indeed, there are times when the most generous and appropriate contribution is your physical presence and effort. But until we create a new system of commerce, money pays for land surveys and permits, and puts operators behind drilling equipment to go deep into the earth in search of water. Non-profits need money to do their good work. Plus, I don't know how to drill a well, and you probably don't either, so the best help we can give may be financial. If you do happen to have a talent or skill you enjoy sharing, volunteer work is a lovely offering. I spent a year volunteering for San Francisco Suicide Prevention, and it was one of the most enriching, rewarding experiences of my life- the sort of thing, as they say, money can't buy.

You know what money does buy? Office space. Light and heat. The salaries of the professional staff who trained me to listen carefully and compassionately to the deeply wounded. Give of your time and talent if you can- love (and people) will always trump money. Money can't talk someone through a desperately low moment. However, combining money with talented, passionate people is a sort of alchemy that makes so much magic possible- the young woman who decides to live another day, the well that makes it easier for thirsts to be quenched. Money + The Right People make Hope, give Life, create Peace, generate Sustainable Solutions. Isn't that exciting?

Money is a sensitive, emotional topic. You have to do what is right for you. I certainly wouldn't want you to tithe because I said so. I don't tithe because Pastor Hank or the Bible says so. I tithe because I love the way it feels to create something beautiful in the world with my money. I love putting the resource that money is to work doing something positive and supportive instead of something negative and destructive. If this speaks to you, perhaps it's time to make tithing a regular practice. It has totally shifted the way that I think about money, generosity and gratitude. It has changed my life. Would you like it to change yours?

Beginning this week, I will be posting a reoccurring entry entitled "The Weekly Tithe," which will highlight the cause or causes that I'm backing that week. I hope to call attention to the incredible organizations which inspire my generosity and make my heart sing. Hopefully this will inspire your generosity, as well- if not for my causes, then for the ones which you hold dear. Please join me in the flow of giving.