What’s Wrong With Humans (and Some Birds): Everyday Magic, Day 1052

An hour ago, a mourning dove crashed so hard against our living room window that Ken and I both jumped. The dove attacked his reflection so vehemently, it was hard to believe he survived. For a long time afterwards, he sat on the snow-covered deck and stared at the birds on the deck railing for their morning buffet of birdseed. Occasionally, he swiveled his head to look back at me on the other side of the window. I couldn’t tell if he was mortally injured or doing that total-repair-in-stillness thing that birds do.

For close to two weeks, I’ve been alternating between despair and heartbreak when I take in the news from Ukraine. Three women in the back of a truck heading into battle, one of them with tears running down her shining face as all three clutched their weapons. Two nieces and their children rushing into the arms of their Polish aunt as soon as they crossed the border. A family of four dead on the ground when they were supposed to be safely leaving the city. The deep state evil of how vastly news has been censored, twisted, and spit back out in pure decit in Russia. The great-grandmother lying belly-down on the ground, aiming her gun and still wearing her long gold coat. A little girl singing “Let it Go” in Ukrainian to a crowd of children and their parents hunkered down in a Kyiv subway.

“The birds are incredibly impulsive. It’s a survival mechanism. They fly first, ask questions later,” Ken just told me when I lamented the obviously hurt dove still on the snow. Obviously, this isn’t just birds. As we, who are outside Ukraine, watch and wait, donate money, even to Airbnbs for refugees to have a warm place to sleep, we also have no idea, as my friend Judy reminded me the other day, how this will end. Nor can we say what the right thing to do is that would lessen the shelling and missile attacks, the hunger and freezing, the war between cousins, without triggering Putin to go nuclear. Even if any one of us did know exactly what to do, we have little to no power to enact what we know.

I think of all the people being traumatized exponentially by the hour right now. I think of nations, cities, regions where trauma has reigned for generations, particularly in both Russia and Ukraine. Because of greed, fear, anguish, insecurity, and god-knows-what-else, there is Putin with all this power to destroy in minutes what it takes lifetimes to create.

Despite all the family ties crossing the border between these countries and the long entwined history, despite all the brutality and the wounds it threads through families and communities for decades, and especially despite what history has taught all of us humans in such a visceral and devastating way about war, here we are in an unfathomable place. A time when it seems only miracles could do any good, but I still believe that as humans prone to charge our reflections, we can do something other than charge our reflections. We also have an instinct to alleviate suffering and the capacity to sit with not knowing and enormous pain.

It’s not lost on me that this is an injured dove, and a mourning dove at that. He eventually lifted to the deck railing, stayed there for ten minutes watching all the other birds, and then, against the odds, lifted off and up to join the cardinals in the cedar tree and watch the rest of us. I want him to live. I want us all to live.

A Moment of Respite: Everyday Magic, Day 1020

Shay and I sit on the porch, exhaling. It has been a week, a year, and a close-to-four year thing. There’s still so much wrong with our country, Covid cases are rising daily to proportions of great anguish, millions of people voted for someone who denies reality (the pandemic, climate change, etc.) and the rights and dignity of so many humans, and untold beings suffer.

So much is too much or not enough, especially over this week when I’ve been hitting the GABA (to help me calm the $%#% down), the Pepto Bismal, and the pillow only to wake up anxious or excited at irregular intervals. I’ve done more math, including all sorts of contortions with percentages and adding very big numbers, in the past three days than I have in the last decade. There have been many hopeful or freaking out phone calls punctuated by big bouts of googling various angles of the same question. Yet in the end it seems certain a good outcome (mostly) will prevail.

Life, as Ken often reminds me, comes point-blank at us, often overfilling our imagined capacity. Then there are pauses, like right now. I sit with my tired brain and finally calm digestive tract, surrounded by the sunlight-filled leaves of the hackberry tree, the loving eyes of our old dog who struggles to walk, and the balmy air of a sweet autumnal day. Once again, I’m so happy and grateful to be here in every possible way.

Why I Won’t Watch the Debates: Everyday Magic, Day 1018

Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten in Gaslight

Gaslighting. What a useful word that, when I first heard it, snapped a whole lot of abuse and shaming I suffered into a new and true reality. That’s because gaslighting is manipulating someone into questioning her take on the world, and at its most extreme, her sanity.

The term for this systematic psychological manipulation originated in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play Gas Light and was popularized in the 1944 film of the same title (starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten). In Gaslight, a husband convinces his wife that she’s insane, mostly by incremental changes in their home, such as slowly dimming their gas lights while acting as if nothing has changed.

Having grown up with a father who constantly beat into me (by word and by hand) that reality was a land that didn’t include me or I obviously couldn’t even grasp, I grew up sensitized to many manner of experiences that reinforced gaslighting. Being a woman in a patriarchal culture with the added layer of working in academia for 33 years (which, even among spectacular educators and student-centered learning, has plenty of tiny gaslight villages) provided me with lots of grist for the mill.

I’ve been a teenager told her calling to be a poet was a pipe dream. I’ve been a young reporter, activist, non-profit employee, and faculty member told that her ideas were “interesting” with a patronizing chuckle or told I didn’t understand how things are because I was too young, female, naive, sensitive, intense, or other terms was used to put me on the shelf. As I developed new things that did mirror Reality with a capital R — such as Transformative Language Arts, which focuses on learning who we and our communities are through arts-based inquiry and experiential learning — I faced years of academic edition gaslighting, often manifested in men telling me what was and wasn’t real scholarship or the purpose of an education.

How many times have I and so many of us (especially if you’re female, LGTBQ, living with serious illness or disability, a person of color, or low income) sat in rooms where someone *calmly* and *logically* mansplained to us why what we asked or said was irrational, unrealistic, impossible, or just crazy-wrong? How many times have we heard “Let’s not let our emotions run away with us” by someone who was backhoeing in made-up rationale actually based on their emotions and on burying our spirits? How many times have we heard we’re too much or not enough?

Even writing this post, I realize my hands are shaking and my heart is racing because I — like so many of us — have had to endure people in power trying to turn down the gas lights of my own and so many others’ innate power to create, speak our truths, and live authentically. Make no mistake about this: gaslighting is all about power. It’s designed to take away, diminish, or otherwise obliterate our power to believe in ourselves, to speak and act for change, and to feel the full weight of our voices and visions.

Which brings me to why I won’t watch the debates.

The two specimens from the party in office exemplify two sides of the gaslighting coin. One screams, belittles, sabotages, name-calls, changes course in a split-second, and yells some more. The other talks steadily wearing a mask of calm logic completely impenetrable to all reality except for a fly landing on his head. Both divert, obstruct, talk over others, and are obviously convinced that any agreed-upon rules or norms don’t apply to them. They also both use the formula of lie, deny, and repeat multiplied exponentially until they and their followers believe what they say is as solid as bedrock.

I’m not saying the challenging party is perfect, but they are talking some undeniable reality: Yes, climate change is real. Yes, Covid-19 is far more deadly than the flu, and hey, America has 4% of the world population, and over 20% of the cases of this lethal and, if you survive, potentially life-long disease. Yes, people of color are systematically targeted by many police departments, and they die and suffer at much higher rate due to racism, the pandemic, and economic disparities.

I believe that the debates are important in showing us more of what this next election is truly about, and they can be helpful in both mobilizing the base (for both candidates) as well as helping undecided voters decide. But as someone who is a recovering gaslight survivor, I have left and will leave the room each time they’re on, taking long, slow deep breaths, reminding myself that I’m not in any danger at this moment, and opening my heart to all of us who have been told there’s something deeply wrong with who we are and what we know. And I will tell us now and again: you are enough.