Pockets Full of Vignettes and Gems

Posted April 16th, 2021

I vote for life imitating art.

You know that chicken-and-egg question we’ve asked ourselves throughout time—does art imitate life or life imitate art? I choose art.

I know it’s not a forced choice and that technically we don’t need to vote…but I’m here to take a stand for art.

So often in the sixteen years I’ve been in this business of SheChanges, I have heard people refer to me as a storyteller. I’ve often marveled at that because it’s not something I ever set out to be. And when I think of the word storyteller, I imagine someone entirely different. While I have received this from others as a compliment and have, at times, donned that mantle, it’s never felt like mine.

But I was on a long walk with my dog Max the other day and this other word came to me: vignette.

I stopped right there in my tracks and looked up the definition on my phone to see if what I had in my head was a clear match to the FUCK YES I was feeling in my bones.
 

Vignette | vin’yet |(n)

  1. a brief evocative description, account or episode.
  2. a small illustration which fades in its background without a definite border.
  3. a short piece of writing that is more focused on vivid imagery and meaning, rather than plot.

I learned that while vignettes can be stand-alone, they are more commonly part of a larger narrative.

That’s it. That’s what I do. And from where I sit? That’s also what women do.

Think about it. Women often don’t have time, permission or space to tell a whole story so we’ve adapted over time to communicate in vignettes. Look at the dearth of women writers, producers, and directors in the publishing, film, and music industries and you will see how infrequently we get access to the luxury of telling the whole story from our perspective. Look at the entirety of the narrative that has been written and codified for our world, and you can see exactly how HIStory has shaped ours—from our places of worship, to our places of learning and working.

As bitter a pill as it is to swallow for many, the reality is that women (as well as BIPOC, LGBTQ and all those relegated to the margins of our predominantly white male culture) have been reduced to speaking in sound bites. We have had our voices, perspectives, and experiences relegated to the sub-plot, the supporting characters, loosely referenced or vaguely represented in footnotes.

But here’s the thing: we’re fucking good at talking in sound bites. We’ve had practice in getting a word in edge-wise. And we’re efficient as hell. Who needs the long drone of a meandering story when you can get a quick and pithy picture that you can pop into the pocket of your consciousness?

That’s where the power of art comes in. That’s why it will get my vote every time.

Side note: it’s also why programs in the arts are the first to get cut in budget season, when money is tight or there is a time crunch at play. Power and truth (not to mention heart) live in art. What would happen to our world if that became central to our conversations?

Enter, stage left, the vignette. It’s a powerful, potent and pocket-sized little gem that can travel faster than a tomb. Let me ask you this: would you rather travel through life with a handful of precious gems or a suitcase full of encyclopedias? Exactly.

I’ve often described the people in my life as “grab and go” people. They come screeching in from their travels on two wheels with leaves in their hair or bugs in their teeth, big smiles on their face and a sparkle in their eye. They start their sentences with “So anyway….” as if no time has passed. I am that person, myself, so I get those people. I share their love of movement, their insatiable appetites, limitless curiosity, wild spirit of adventure, appreciation for the road, and openness to giving just about anything a try.

So much so, I’ve come to see my work at SheChanges as being a “pit crew” for these people. I offer a way station off the main drag. I meet them at their window as they pull in, often screeching to a halt, with tires smoking. I hold their gaze and offer them a focal point as they gas up, check the tire pressure and scrape bugs off their windshield. My presence offers them a moment of rest, a patch of solid ground, solidarity and brave companionship on their way from here to there. And when the opportunity presents itself, I offer them inspiration, insight or food for thought in the form of vignettes.
 

This is what I hear on most days when I crouch down at a window in my pit and hold a gaze: “What have you got on __________, Lael?”

These people, intuitively at first, sense that I’ll generally have something of value for them. They can see the glittering gems falling out of my pockets when I make my way to their window, holding their gaze. But what’s more, ours is a powerful relationship built on trust, safety and resourcefulness—and it grows and gets stronger with each visit. They do not give me their power or ask for my own—they meet me at a place where our collective power connects.

Maybe you know this if you’ve worked with me. But I imagine many of you don’t because I work with a select group of people 1:1. You might never have had the experience of me coming up to your window, crouching down with hands on my knees, my face suddenly appearing in yours as I hold your gaze in my way station.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a taste of it from me on stage when I speak. Or maybe you’ve read one or two of my books and have felt that connection with me because my writing feels like a conversation with you.

But what might be possible for our world if more of us had access to a powerful pit crew—in the dark of the night, in heavy fog, or raging winds? That’s what I want to find out.
 

So here’s my great experiment that I’m inviting you to take with me: join me as I work the pit.

I’m going to more fully leverage my abilities to distill large amounts of information, weave compelling and relevant vignettes, and hold a steady gaze for weary road warriors—for a wider audience. I want to give you a taste of the intimacy of a conversation that happens at those windows off the roadways, but without the need to work with me 1:1.

A couple times a month, I’ll be letting you into my heart and my head as I share the gems I’ve gathered recently. I’ll always be honoring the confidentiality of my clients and what we discuss—that’s sacred. But I’ll be offering vignettes to illustrate what I’m observing, themes I’m seeing, things we’re experiencing, and places we’re playing. I’ll share resources I’m using personally and professionally, and will be sharing those I’ve been given by others.

I plan to sync up these connections with you to the moon, herself, harnessing the power of her lunar energy to pull us all forward, together. One email will arrive in your inbox around the new moon and another at the full moon. If you want to receive them, all you need to do is enter your email on the homepage of my website. I’ll be doing these for FREE through the fall as I experiment (and rehaul/relaunch a completely new website!!!), but will eventually be migrating these intimate communications with my audience to a subscription-based model. And I will doing all of this OFF social media.

So here’s a warm welcome to join me in my experiment. Let’s see where it takes us.

Because this I know: we are stronger together.
You know what else I know?
We’re all connected—we cannot do this alone.
We need each other.

I will see you at your window this coming full moon. Forward this to your people in your travels and maybe I will meet them as well. Or not.

But here’s an invitation to join me in the pit with my vignettes and gems.

The (Re)Birth of a Nation

Posted January 8th, 2021

Years ago, as I rapidly approached the birth of my first child, I started to wonder (panic, honestly), “How the $&%$ is this all going to go down…exactly!?” My wise midwife gave me great counsel. She said that nature would run its course. She reminded me that my body was built for this and would know what to do. In the meantime, she suggested it might be a good idea to get myself an art project to occupy my mind as I was waiting for active labor to begin. Giving something for my hands to do would soothe me, she assured.

So as my body dilated and the mild cramps became more regular and significantly sharper, I pulled out my art supplies and I make this sign. which is now 18 years old. Something in me—or my wise body—knew that I would need to focus on the task before me, and to mitigate against distraction by alerting any who came onto the scene that there was something BIG happening—that new life was being born.

 

The sign, quite simply, read: Mother at Work.

 

This morning, as I got texts from clients that read: “What have you got on this, Lael?” my feet took me down to my basement and I started digging through boxes, muttering, “Please tell me I didn’t throw that out, please tell me I didn’t throw that away…” And then, all the way at the bottom of the box, I found it. My sign.

Mother at Work.

Because that’s what I’ve got: A reminder to myself (and instruction to others) that new life is trying to come through a very small opening in a body, which can be loud and messy and terrifying and yes, often dangerous. And yet it happens everyday, all over the world—often without a helpful midwife, a clean hospital, and certainly without an instruction manual.

It’s organic. It’s ancient. And it’s happening now.

I’ll pause here and check to make sure we’re on the same page: you get that I’m not talking about a baby in this case, right? And that I’m using birth as a metaphor for what we’re navigating this very week as a country, when so many people are asking “How is this all going to go down…exactly!?”

 

We are a nation rebirthing itself. We are the mother in labor, breathing hard and bearing down.

 

I joked with one of my clients this morning via text that I had the urge to drive to the nearest border and post a handmade sign that read: “Please excuse our appearance, we’re in the process of (re)contruction.” Because isn’t that what we do when we tear down a bridge and reroute traffic? Isn’t that pretty standard fare when a building temporary inconveniences its patrons in favor of a longer-term service that will benefit them? We don’t stop traffic or close the store—we simply post a sign, put up some drop clothes or mark the area off with orange cones. All of these are visual indicators that “this is temporary…”, while subtly implying “…you’ll thank us later, because it will be even better than before…”

So this? This is the dismantling of what was so we can make room for what will be. This is the tear in the tissues of our most tender place (our nether regions) that rips a wider opening for life to come through.

 

This is, as midwives call it: The Bloody Show.

 

And I will say—as a woman who has opened her body wide enough for two, ten-pound babies to pass through her, and also as a professional who has worked for 20 years with people giving birth to new phases and chapters and endeavors in their lives—it’s really, really, really hard to hold the belief that this is about NEW LIFE coming forth, when you physically (emotionally, spiritually) feel like you’re going to die.

It’s really hard. Damn near impossible. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Once that birth is set in motion, you actually don’t even need to believe in it for it to occur. How many times have you heard stories of teenage mothers that weren’t even aware they were pregnant or hid their pregnancies and then gave birth in the bathroom stall of their high school between math and gym classes?

 

You can be in denial and still give birth.

 

Which brings me to the other piece of magic that found me last night as I collapsed on our couch, exhausted without understanding why and mindlessly scrolling Instagram. I noticed someone new started following me and I couldn’t quite recognize the post of mine that they liked—it felt really old.

So I clicked through and saw a photo of Maya Angelou smiling at me with this quote: “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” My whole body exhaled. And then I went on to read her words:

I’m experiencing some heartbreak with this latest news.
And I know I’m not alone.
I look at my children,
And I find I am holding my breath.
At times, fending off despair.
Blowing on the embers of hope within me,
Pleading, “please catch, please ignite.”
Help us help ourselves.

Again, my body exhaled. I saw the date of this post (June 2, 2017) and marveled at how something three years ago could find me at the very moment I needed it, like magic. And then? My jaw dropped as I realized those weren’t Maya’s words at all—holy shit, they were MINE. I had written that post two and a half years ago, inspired by Maya’s quote, and was reading my own words—how had I not recognized myself? My own medicine?

 

How had I become so distracted from the wisdom that lives inside me?

 

When people ask me what I’ve got these days, when trying to figure out these times and what to make of it, my response generally has something to do with this: The Divine Feminine at work. Because I do believe She’s working hard right now, focused, bearing down to deliver something better that we can’t even imagine exists.

She’s rerouting traffic, she’s posted orange cones and she’s gotten to work. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s inconvenient and yes, even dangerous. That is the power of the Divine Feminine to deliver life, even as so many of us are still in denial that we’ve been pregnant.

She doesn’t need permission. She doesn’t need a brightly lit room and a scheduled surgical procedure to make it happen. Truth be told, she doesn’t even need to hang a sign on the door to explain herself.

She’s that focused on her task—on her mission to bring new life into this world.

So here’s the bottomline: we can put out our hands and catch this new life, we can stomp out of the room and pretend like it never happened, we can marvel at it or we can rail against it. Each of us gets to choose how we’ll respond, so that’s on us to decide now or later. But to some degree it doesn’t matter.

 

New life is coming. Some might even say it’s here.

 

So if you, like many of us, are wondering what actions we can take in this moment, maybe sit with this question: How will I respond to this (re)birth? What will I choose? What role will I assume?

There is room for all of us at this birth, but it’s not over yet so you’ve got time to decide. In the meantime, take note of the homemade sign still hanging on the door. Depending on how you choose to enter, it is both a gracious reminder and a firm caution of a mother hard at work.

 

A Letter To Myself in 2019: Of Course You’re A Racist

Posted December 28th, 2020

Hey there. It’s me, Lael.

I’m writing to you from December 2020 to prime the pump for where you’ll be headed in the next year. This is the letter I wish someone had given me a year ago. I think it might have helped on all those dark nights of my white soul.

So….2020. Here’s the deal: a raging pandemic will sweep across the globe (so get some masks), but believe it or not, that’s not going to be where you put your energy over the next year. I know, I know, sounds crazy, but stay with me here. .

In 2020 you’re actually going to be reckoning with something bigger and something deeper—something you might even think you’ve moved beyond because you’re a “good white person” (spoiler alert: there is no such thing.)
 

You, my friend, are a racist. Of course you are.

Did you flinch a little bit when I said that? Did you pull back—ready to refute, show me all the evidence as to why that’s not the case, or point to others instead? Of course you did. That’s what we do as white people. We spend countless hours—sometimes even lifetimes—tussling about with the “I’M NOT A RACIST!!!” debate before actually getting to the work of dismantling systemic racism in ourselves our world.

And in the process, we just keep repeating the same predictable cycle as good little soldiers of white supremacy—denying, dismissing, disassociating, discounting—kicking the can further up our road and repeating history (with more of the same) as opposed to making history (by choosing something different).

That is our white privilege at work.
That is what white supremacy is counting on.
That is exactly what we’ve been trained to do.
That is systemic racism working exactly as it was designed.
That is what will keep racism alive and well.
And that, my friend, is where we are complicit.

Whether we realize it or not, you and I are a foot soldiers doing the work of system of oppression.

So of course you’re a racist. So am I.

That’s the bad news.
 

The good news is that in 2020 you decide to do something about it.

Having lived a little and learned a LOT in 2020, I thought I’d write this letter to you with some operating instructions that might help navigate all that. Consider what follows to be some field notes, if you will, to reference as you dig in in 2019 and take a hard look at your own behaviors and beliefs as they intersect with white culture and systemic racism.

It’s going to be a stormy year—some will call it a shit show. But perhaps these 11 things listed below can be channel markers to offer you a bearing in rough seas and help to guide you forward on your journey.
 

1. Nothing changes without first acknowledging this (say it with me): “Of course I’m racist.”

Start there. Keep saying it out loud. It will be hard at first and loads of people will run to your defense and tell you all the ways you’re not. Don’t believe them. I promise you the more you say this out loud and publicly, the easier it will get and the more it will pave the way for other white people to do the same. This one sentence is the most powerful tool you have. Use it. And when you look around, feeling self-conscious and vulnerable, and see all those other white people who are content to remain oblivious to their privilege and not engage in the work of anti-racism (I wish I could, but I don’t have time…I don’t have the emotional bandwidth…It makes me uncomfortable…It’s not my fault…I’m so overwhelmed…I don’t know how…) brace yourself, because you’re going to want to get up in their grille fast. And that? That will be a distraction from you doing your own work. Focusing on them instead of working on you is going to be really tempting, because getting judgmental and self-righteous is going to feel a helluva lot easier than getting honest and reckoning with your truth. But start with you. Stick with you. Choose to embody instead of interrogate, radiate instead of confront, and inspire instead of convert.
 

2. Change begins with either getting uncomfortable or getting vulnerable.

Pick one and come back for more. 2020 is going to give you a run for your money—fear will be rampant, unemployment will be high, morale will be low, and there will be a really loud and scary election in the midst of a pandemic. Distractions, excuses, and justifications will all be readily available and competing for your attention. At times it will feel like the whole country is on fire…and sad to say, this will literally be the case out west. But keep choosing to get uncomfortable, and vulnerability will follow as you move closer to your truth. Hear me when I say this: this is a good and healthy thing. Contrary to popular belief, these things will not kill you, they will make you—and us—stronger as a result. If you’re not feeling one of these two things on a regular basis you’re not doing the work of anti-racism. It will be hard and awkward, and I promise you, you’ll feel self-conscious and wonder if you’re doing it “wrong”. These are good signs of learning and being on the move—away from the status quo and toward a better future for us all. Be like Dory, and just keep swimming.
 

3. Racial literacy—it’s a thing.

Your mind will be blown away by all that you don’t know or weren’t taught. You’ll uncover major shit that was left out of “history”—like discovering the existence of a parallel universe. Let yourself be surprised and horrified—because you will be, plenty. You’ll feel like Harry Potter going through that brick wall on platform 9 ¾ for the first time, leaving the land of the Muggles and realizing there is a whole other land you never even knew existed that had been right there all along. Except it won’t feel magical. It will feel embarrassing, shameful and disgusting. And then you’ll get mad—full of rage that it took you until the age of 51 to even hear about it. You’ll look for someone to blame—a teacher, your parents, our founding fathers. This is all part of it. By never questioning or looking beneath the surface of what you were taught, you were complicit in this false narrative. It will be up to you to get fluent in racial literacy because our white supremacy as we’ve designed it relies on you NOT being fluent. The good news is, once you realize this you’ll be like a dog on a bone about it, pulling back the curtain right and left.
 

4. Racism isn’t about Black people. It’s about WHITE people (that’s you.)

It might feel like it’s an “issue” that doesn’t concern you, but you are at the root of it. Your ancestors designed this system—the one our country has baked into it—with you in mind. It benefits you even if you don’t realize it. The only reason it feels like it’s not yours is because white people don’t want to talk about, so it falls on the very people who are oppressed by systemic racism to address it—again and again. You’re a feminist, so think of it like this: violence against women isn’t really a women’s issue, right? It just feels like it because we women have a vested interest in it stopping. It’s really about men’s violence against women, but women are the often the only ones making sure we keep talking about it—because if we don’t, who will? It’s like that. So be the white person who talks about white people’s shit—because it’s our shit that stinks.
 

5. Shut up, listen, and reflect.

Seriously. Put your words away for a while. This will be hard because you’re trained to spout your opinion at every turn in the road. But once you do this, you will be able to hear and see that perspectives and stories (words written or told) in Black voices are everywhere around you. Just take them in like a sponge. And then go back for more. And Lael? They’re right. You don’t get a vote about other people’s experiences and whether or not they are true or valid. They are. They might be different, they might be uncomfortable or hard to hear, they might test everything you believe about yourself or this country, but believe them. Notice and resist the urge to “yeah, but….” them away. Let it be hard. You won’t die of embarrassment or shame. But if it feels like you will, try getting curious about yourself. Curiosity will be your super power here, and will help you move out of shame more quickly and show you how you’ve been trained. Understand how you were baked with the beliefs and behaviors of white supremacy inside you. Mine for the ingredients. Learn your wiring. Familiarize yourself with the foundation on which you were built as well as the roots of the ground underneath it.
 

6. Unmute yourself.

You’ll feel the urge to keep quiet about what you’re learning because you won’t feel ready, good at it, or know enough. You’ll talk about it being a private conversation, and that will be code for feeling shame. You’ll be afraid of getting “caught” not doing or saying something right, and at some point you’ll decide not to saying anything at all. But do it anyway, because to stay silent is to stay here—and complicit. Talk with white people about what you’re learning—share the mind-blowing insights, demystify the “work” of anti-racism by opening the door to another white person. Let yourself inspire others. You’re going to be experiencing a lot of pandemic humor in the next year to get through it, so I’ll put it this way: be a positive contagion. Infect others with a good virus. And? Stay in your lane. You’re going to hear this phrase a lot, and at first you won’t understand it. Then you’ll resent it. This will be your whiteness showing, as you’re taught that you’re an exception and a free agent who controls her own destiny. You’re taught that the whole world is your oyster and yours for the taking. In 2020, you’ll learn just how wrong that is, and worse—the impact it’s had on others. In the coming year, Black Lives Matter will take center stage more than ever before and grab the mic in this moment—as leaders, agenda-setters, and influencers. White people won’t like this, and you will be one of them. But you’ll soon learn that white people have historically just taken things without asking—and you’ll learn how to show up in service without stealing the stage or redirecting attention back to you. This will be a game-changer.
 

7. Practice, practice, practice.

Do you remember when you first started using clip-less bike pedals and you kept falling over because you couldn’t put your foot down to stop the fall? Do you remember when you fell down skiing and people in the lift lines thought you were having a seizure because you didn’t know how to get back up? That. You’re going to feel a LOT of that in 2020 and this means you’re actively learning. Also, you’re going to be noticed falling down and making mistakes, and this, too, will have a purpose. By you doing this work publicly, you will be making it safe for others to try and fall down as well. Resistance, denial and defensiveness are going to try to get you at every turn in the road. Expect it, and do not take the bait. It’s hard at first, but like with anything, with practice it gets easier. And here’s something helpful to remember when the going gets tough: this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is not a one and done sort of fix. Keep your foot on the gas. This will keep you inspired and moving forward even when it’s hard. It will also remind you that any other choice (stopping, coasting, taking your foot off the gas) will support racism (you’ll get a major insight early on that there is no such thing as “not a racist”, only “racist” or “anti-racist”). In 2020, you’ll choose being an anti-racist. Keep choosing it daily. And know that this choice will be the rest of your life, not just a moment in time. That might sound daunting to consider now, but I promise you, it will start to become second nature. Remember when banking became remote with ATMs and then we moved to online? It’s like that—a big deal at first, then the best thing that ever happened to banking, right? Which brings me to…
 

8. Resist the urge to do it alone or privately.

The desire to crawl under a rock will be powerful. Resist it. 2020 will show the degree to which this country is divided (spoiler: KAMALA WINS!), but this will be the year many of us white folks learn the power of pooling together our resources—be it financial power as consumers, learning power as anti-racists, or influencing power by sharing our platforms. We’ll start to share our mistakes and be inspired by our fall downs and get ups. We’ll learn from our fuck ups, failures and mis-steps, rather than burying them. The bottom line is no one will know if you’re not doing this work, but if you do it as a family or with a peer group you will be building in accountability and can process what you’re learning with them. Solve for that. Pull up a chair and have a slice of humble pie. You are not the only white person who didn’t know what you didn’t know. It’s not that you’re stupid, it’s that you didn’t see the water you were swimming in. This, by the way, will be the inspiration for you to create The Beach for white women in your community to gather and do anti-racism work together—and bonus!—as a result, you’ll donate $2,400 to the Loveland Foundation’s Therapy Fund because of all the registrations!
 

9. Holds multiple truths.

Yes, it is absolutely about you and it’s also about the system in which we are all operating. Yes, you are kind and you do harm. Sure, you didn’t mean it and you still had impact. Yes, you didn’t ask for your privilege and you still have it. Maybe you’re not directly responsible for our history of white supremacy and you are contributing to it daily just by existing. Yes, you might be self-aware and you also are blind. Yes, you are smart and you are ignorant. It’s simple and it’s complex. It’s multifaceted and it’s straightforward. It’s right and it’s wrong. See what I’m getting at? Your brain is going to rebel in 2020 with all of this because it won’t be able to reconcile all that you’re asking it to hold. Seek expansion instead of reconciliation. Look for the contradictions, see the paradoxes and feel the tension points. Seek the scary edges instead of the comfortable middle. Seek the yes/and. Drop the habit of either/or. This will serve you well and increase the capacity of your brain and heart.
 

10. Reframe your mindset from despair and overwhelm to hope.

The fact that you’ll be navigating a pandemic in 2020 will make everything seem dire. There will be much fear, lack and hardship. Everything will seem chaotic and you’ll be reminded of how little we humans actually control. You won’t know how to do this at first, and that will be hard because you’ll feel like you’re drowning with no land in sight. But keep looking for ways to switch your mindset from bad to good. Get creative about keeping your eyes on the prize. And remember that you are swimming against a powerful tide of training that has a vested interest in you NOT leaving this comfortable shore of whiteness on which you were born. Many will tell you this is who we are and there’s nothing that can be done. Don’t believe them. Imagine something different is possible for us. Live—and fight— daily for the future of a country in which you could be proud to live. Reach for this lifeline from Valarie Kaur (you’ll come to love this woman and everything she writes…) when you need it most: “What if this darkness we are feeling isn’t the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?…What if this is our nation’s greatest transition?” Imagine something greater than your worst fears—if not for yourself, then for those who will come into the world behind you like your grandchildren. Be an ancestor that leaves the world better than you found it and doesn’t just repeat history.
 

11. Begin anywhere. Just choose something. Anything.

This might seem obvious to say, but I offer it because this will be the #1 excuse you’ll reach for to avoid engaging with this work and feeling what you’re feeling. In 2020, you’ll hear a chorus of (formerly known as) “good white people” start to wail: I don’t know what to do…” and it will conjure images of Gary Larson’s boneless chicken ranch from The Far Side cartoon—only instead of chickens, it will be white people draped limply over corral posts and in pools on the barnyard floor. You will relate, and it will be seductive. In those moments, choose action. Open a book to the middle. Start listening to a podcast in the second season. Insert yourself in a conversation without understanding the context. Support BIPOC owned businesses. Make a donation to an organization that supports the safety, financial security, and freedom for BIPOC. Learn about Black Lives Matter, ACLU legal defense fund, the Loveland foundation, or just Google Anti-Racist. Play with numbers and start counting how many books, movies, Netflix series that come into your home or workplace center black lives? Learn the names of all the innocent Black and Brown bodies have died at the hands of police brutality? How many BIPOC are in your inner circle? Count them, Lael. It’s hard data and will be very revealing. You know how to do this. Don’t wait for an invitation. Don’t wait for the perfect thing to find you. There is no perfect thing. Pick anything. It doesn’t matter what, but don’t be a boneless chicken.

And finally, I’d leave you with this—as a parting gift from the future that you are helping to shape now with your daily choices and actions:
 

There is much joy and vitality that moves in as a consequence of doing anti-racism work.

You might have read this letter and be feeling a bit overwhelmed. That would be natural. It’s a lot of information—a year’s worth of information—to absorb at once, so take a deep breath with me. After all, I’m here at the end of 2020 writing this, living proof that you made it to another year—and an EPIC one, at that! It’s not all heavy and hard and overwhelming. There are many shiny bits of joy, life-giving encounters and deep pockets of fulfillment as you do this work. Tap into this, and you will tap into something bigger than yourself. Hope and a vision for brighter future will be waiting for you as a result, I promise you that.

All my love and some hot coals of inspiration to keep you warm for your journey ahead,

Lael

Tuesday’s Instructions

Posted December 15th, 2020

The morning wakes me before the alarm.
Eyes open, the bluebird sky fills the windows.
My body exhales and a smile forms under my ribcage.

Winter sun.
A welcome sight after the cold gray steel of yesterday.

Warm socks. Hot coffee. My favorite chair in a patch of sun.
Silence as the house still sleeps. The dog curled up on the carpet next to me.
Awareness of an organic ritual finding me, this time I take each morning.
Intending to read, the book stays unopened on my lap.

I watch as the morning sun makes its way into our neighborhood.
Idly moving across the street, it takes up residence on front porches.
It feels intimate—almost voyeuristic—watching the sun and its travels.
Does it know I’m watching?

Take me to church says a voice from deep inside me, clear as the sky on this December morning.

Something in my body shifts, wondering if I will respond.
But I brush it like an errant crumb, dismissing it as a lovely thought that fell out of my head.

Take me to church I hear again, this time slower.

Again, my body shifts, willing myself to take notice.

There is still coffee in my mug.
The dog has already been for his walk.
Besides, I reason, it’s Tuesday.

As if church could be contained by a one day.
As if I were literal in my interpretation.
As if I didn’t know we were talking about nature’s church.

Take. Me. To. Church.

I sighed at the inconvenience of it all.
I was still in my pajamas.
I had work to do.
It looked cold outside.
And it’s Tuesday, after all.

And yet.

Something in me was moved beyond stirring.
Something in me was already responding.
Something in me had said yes to these instructions.

In my mind, I had made a concession.
A walk with the dog, right now, not later.
No noise in my ears to distract me, just the crisp morning air and sunlight.
That would be church, right?

But as I pulled off my pajamas and pulled on my clothes, I found a different deal had been made.
I reached for the warm layers and thick socks.
I braided my hair, readying it for a hat and the sort of wind that comes off the water.

This would not be a neighborhood walk.
Not today.
Today I would be taking myself to church, it seems.
A church surrounded by water.

Warm boots. Car keys. Dog leash.
A short drive and a long cosway.
Water on both sides of me like guardrails, guiding me.

High tide. No people. Blue sky and water.
Message received. Permission granted. Opportunity taken.
Tuesday’s instructions.

Something in me exhales deeply as my car door opens on the island.

Welcome to church the voice deep inside me said.

The water envelopes me like an old friend who has been summoned.
The morning light makes its way through the tall trees like sentries along my path.
Empty benches are strewn about like gentle invitations.
My pace slows.
Silence grows.

And I am filled up with church.
Grateful for following the instructions I had been given.
Even on Tuesday.

Especially on a Tuesday.

Daily Verse 11.30.20—The Opposite of Dangerous

Posted November 30th, 2020

This fall I started to refer to myself as “dangerous”. I don’t know that it was conscious, but it was more of a consistent mumbling I started to do out loud to those that know me well. Ordinarily outspoken and opinionated, it was like I had entered a new realm, which included brash, aggressive and angry. It was that “angry feminist” feeling I feared—except not I didn’t care so much anymore. Of course I was angry. More and more, I found myself countering that inner sensation in me (shame?) with WHY AREN’T YOU? I thought the “dangerous” feeling was about my growing ire at racial injustice or the apathy among so many white American’s to clean up the mess our ancestors had systematically baked for us, serving up our privilege without overtly calling it white supremacy. Then I attributed it to the election that demonstrated our nation wasn’t apathetic when it came to race—it was actually quite clear, intentional, and divided. It wasn’t until after my birthday (which began this 30 day practice of writing Daily Verses) and after the election that I realized the root of it. I felt “dangerous” because of my training as a woman. I felt dangerous because I was accessing deeper levels of my power. I felt dangerous not because I was “too much”, but because I was saying ENOUGH! I felt dangerous not because I believed I would do harm, but because others saw that I could be of service to something they were actively fighting—in themselves and in our society. I felt dangerous because I was being brave, and had the courage to give voice to something that so many were actively trying to deny. I’m not dangerous; I’m a force of nature, uncorked, unchained, and unstoppable. I’m the opposite of dangerous—unless you are standing in the way of justice, equality, and freedom.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.

Daily Verse 11.29.20—Fear of Hitting Snooze

Posted November 29th, 2020

I’m worried we just hit snooze with that election. I’m worried that with all the talk from white people about being awake, rising, and woke, we saw that election as an alarm to “turn off” rather than look at the larger system in which we’re operating.

I have learned that one of the hallmarks of our white culture is to point fingers at individuals as a means to smoke out injustices. I’m worried that among all the pot-banging and horn honking the night Biden+Harris won the election, we won’t hear the alarms of those people still caged by a system of our making. I’m worried that we’ll be lulled back to sleep and a self-congratulatory stupor, deluding ourselves as we kick the can up the road. I’m worried we think this election was about Trump, not about us. I hear white women talk about being exhausted and our over-taxed adrenal systems, and it feels like that deep yawn and stretch we do before we head off to bed for a deep slumber.

Maybe, just maybe, my worry isn’t a bad thing, but is the very thing that will keep me up on this dark night, mindful of how many people in our country do not have the luxury of going back to sleep. Maybe staying up on this dark night will be a form of holding vigil for the reality of so many Black women in this country that are standing over the beds of their children this very moment, wondering and worrying about their future and their safety at their kids sleeping at night. Maybe my worry is the pilot light in the stove at night, signally that all is not lost, but is also not actively making anything.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.

Daily Verse 11.28.20—My Ancestors

Posted November 28th, 2020

I was listening to an interview with Rachel Cargle, activist and founder of the Loveland Foundation, the other day and she shared she had a stickie note on her fridge that read: “I am my ancestors wildest dream.” It was intended to inspire her to do right by those who came before her, to build off of all the work that had been done before her, and to continue to the fight for freedom and social justice.

Listening to her, I had a different thought that coursed through my white woman’s body that day: “I am my ancestors worst nightmare.” And the thought made me chuckle a bit, because it’s true. I’m not going along to get along. I’m no longer “working for the man.” I’m not muting myself because it might make someone else feel uncomfortable. I’m not “playing nice” and I’m not “acting like a lady.” I’m bringing my fullest expression of myself to this go-around on our blue green planet, and am hell-bent on leaving it better than I found it, intent using myself to be of service to the greater good, and with an eye to those not as fortunate as me and the white people who surround me. I ask too many questions of my ancestors. I see the need for truth and reconciliation where there is denial and sweeping under the rug. I will not “move on” or “get over it”, but will take a stand, rooted like a stubborn oak.

I am that woman that my ancestors would have talked in hushed tones about, behind their white gloves at tea parties at cotillions and DAR meetings. I would be called outlandish and brash, inappropriate and uncouth. I would be tolerated, but shunned. But somewhere in that crowd of white ancestors of mine, there would be another woman like me. And we would find each other. And make good trouble together.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.

Daily Verse 11.27.20—White Womanness

Posted November 27th, 2020

I am a woman who has spent much of her professional energies in the world being a supporter and champion of women’s leadership. I’m also a woman who didn’t realize she was a woman until my early 30s and pregnant with my first child—a fact, which revealed me to myself in this man’s world. Those two things taken at face value seem at odds with each other, and they often are. But they have caused the creative tension that helped me give birth to myself, years after I was born.

Over the past four years I’ve thrashed about a bit as a white woman, alternatively indignant and resigned, awkward and tentative as I reckoned with my whiteness, and frequently outspoken and spewing righteous vitriol in response to our shit piles in this country. It’s not been pretty and it’s not been quiet. As the only woman in a houseful of white men during a pandemic, I felt alone and often resentful, because now it felt like I had two axes to grind—the fight for Black Lives Mattering and the fight for women to be valued as equal.

But then I had this moment in my closet when I was clearing out and organizing my closet (yes, I watched HomeEdit…), and I realized I was surrounded by color, like a rainbow I could wear on my body. I had forgotten the gifts of being a woman. I had lost sight of the things I’m granted just because I’m a woman, focussed as I was on the fight for the things we didn’t have. As I looked at husband’s side of the closet, and the muted tones of blues and browns in his shirts and pants and shoes that looked the same, kind of like a uniform that men are asked to wear, I was so very glad to have been born a woman—if nothing else than to be given the freedom to adorn my body with all the colors of the rainbow.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.

Daily Post 11.26.20—Truly Grateful for a Non-Holiday

Posted November 26th, 2020

I have struggled with the celebration of Thanksgiving my whole life. When I was young, I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I just did. To me, the holiday always felt wildly inappropriate. In another generation, I wonder if a little girl might have felt similarly at picnic with her family at a public lynching. I felt as if I were being asked to silently go along with a script in a play that’s plotline was actually quite gruesome and violent. Over the years, I have tried to express how I felt and got summarily dismissed, told I was “missing the point”, didn’t understand what the holiday was really about, and that I was dragging everyone down. Every year, I watched people I loved celebrate the gluttony of our society unabashedly take center stage as the Macy’s parade of consumerism took over 5th Avenue, not understanding the compulsion to retire to couches to yell at the television as grown men beat the shit out of each other for our entertainment. Every year I got shamed into silence, bullied into conformity, and mocked for my apparent grasp of our nation’s history. I learned to mute myself, like how I trained myself to swim the length of an Olympic-sized pool underwater with just one breath, I held it in because it was just one day a year.

What I realize now is that my feelings about Thanksgiving weren’t unfounded, they were unpopular. No wonder I was silenced and shunned. What I realize now is that my feelings told me that it was fundamentally wrong to celebrate the genocide of indigenous people on an annual basis and call it a national holiday. No wonder indigenous people don’t tend to celebrate the holiday. What my feelings told me was this holiday was a grotesque mask that covered an ugly narrative about this country and the culture of white supremacy baked into it. No wonder I never had an appetite. No wonder a big part of me breathed a sigh of relief that a global pandemic would put a damper on the holiday for 2020. If only for a year.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.

Daily Verse 11.25.20—Invitation of the Night

Posted November 25th, 2020

The houses in my neighborhood are fairly close together. So much so that we can actually catch a glimpse of people inside sharing meals, doing dishes, or even see what they’re watching on television. Having lived in this neighborhood for nearly twenty-five years, and being a relatively private person myself, I like to think that most people learn to avert their eyes and not look at what is meant to be intimate. But in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep—for those are pretty frequent these days—I prop my chin up on my pillow, gaze out the window at the head of our bed, and look across our backyard and into the back of our neighbor’s home which abuts our property. I try not to, but it’s often lit up and blazing well into the night.

I’ve noticed there is often a man—a middle-aged white guy—sitting at his dining room table, a lone figure under the glare of a chandelier that feels somehow out of place in the early hours of the morning. I’ve thought about this man as a metaphor for where we are as a country right now.

How many of us are alone at the table where decisions are being made? How many of us are awake while the world continues to turn? How many of us soldier on alone, when really what is needed to arouse the masses from their beds on this dark night? How many of us are working alone and making decisions in isolation? How many of us are proceeding with business as usual, when there are others up at night, laboring alone?

Maybe it’s the delirium that can find you in that that not-quite-asleep-but-not-yet-awake time, or maybe it’s the truth of the situation I was feeling. Maybe that’s the invitation on this dark night of our country’s collective soul: to see the empty table and the lone white man sitting at it, working away while all around him, neighbors sleep, and to stay awake.

 

Want to know what these daily verses are all about? Read here to learn what inspired this practice on my birthday post, November 1st.