White Women, Take One Step Forward: Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote Part One about what got us here. Today, let’s think about action to take if you feel shitty about what is happening in our country.


Part Two: Take One Step Forward

My darling friend stood in my office today as we whispered about the violence and intimidation that’s already happening against gays, brown people, Jews, Muslims. All those people who aren’t now nor have ever been as safe as we are.  When she thought about what has been unleashed, this tender-hearted friend who didn’t vote to stop Trump covered her eyes in despair and said, “I can’t.”

But then she shook her head and stood up straighter. “No. I have to. I have to.”

Yes, we have to.

I reassured her: “You don’t have to turn into an activist overnight. Just take one step forward.”

Find one thing you can do and take one step deeper into that. One step forward.

This will require you to keep yourself uncomfortable.

Another friend, another conversation, same office (I have a sign in the window that says “Therapist’s Office” as a joke). My gentle friend is shell-shocked that her own family members voted for a man who has threatened to overturn equal rights for gay people. She has a gay child who has traveled a long road to find her place in the world. She said, “I’m furious. I’m heartbroken. I worked up the courage to ask my sister how she could do that and she answered, ‘I didn’t even think about (her child).'”

My friend’s face went flat at the idea of such a close betrayal. I promised her, “I have committed myself to staying uncomfortable. I am with you and I am with (your child).” She shook her head gently and said, “I’m so tired and sad. I don’t know if I can.”

I told her to rest for a bit then get back to it.

This is hard work, being uncomfortable.

It’s OK to take a break for an hour or two, but commit to keeping yourself uncomfortable. Here’s why I keep using that word–uncomfortable. As a white woman, I can slip into anonymity any time I choose not to bother with fighting the oppression of others. I could walk right past you in the grocery store and you would never know whose side I am on in this fight. But when I slip back into anonymity and put on the invisibility of white privilege, I am letting my comfort outweigh justice.

So yes–self-care and rest. Fill your tank then get back to it.

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Try some of this if you are ready to take one step forward:

Listen to the things that are hard to hear. If a person trusts you enough to tell their story about the grievances they live under, do not shift the conversation to your feelings about how hard it is to hear these things. Don’t shift the conversation to how bad you feel about the life they live. I cringe when Jasmine rages about the racism she faces in small-town Arkansas. I want to say, “Not me! I’m not bad!” to get rid of the bad feelings but I force myself to keep her words in the center of the conversation, to hear her truth without centering the conversation on myself. It’s the only way I can learn from experience that is not my own. Sometimes the only thing I can say in response is: “I hear you. I love you. I am listening.”

Call out racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism whenever you see it or hear it. People listen to white women, so use your voice, even if it shakes. If you struggle with confrontation, respond to an offensive comment with “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean?” This turns the mirror back on the person who has made the offensive statement. It asks them to explain themselves, just like my grandmother did when I was being foolish. If silence is mistaken for consent, refuse to be silent, even if all you can reply is “That’s not OK.” (This paragraph is advice straight from my therapist, so y’all chip in for a copay.)

Use your body. On the bus, Holly witnessed an angry white man screaming “GO HOME!” at a fellow citizen simply because she took a phone call in another language. Holly moved her white body in between the aggressor and his victim. Be a shield. When Andrew witnessed a police stop that escalated, he moved his white body closer as an observer. He didn’t intervene, he remained present. Say hello to the person who looks frightened. If you see bullying, move closer to the victim for support. If you see another woman being pestered, walk up to her and ask, “Are you OK? Can I stand with you?” Look into these safety pins that everyone is talking about.

Not just for Islamophobia, for all types of harrassment

Not just for Islamophobia, for all types of harrassment

Expand your circle. I think the thing that has changed me the most in the last three years is the blogging community. It’s a way to learn from smart, passionate women who are not like me. I have met white lesbian mamas with black sons, trans parents, African Americans and American Africans, urban homesteaders, and even a California hippie firebrand. It can be as simple as following families you want to understand better on Instagram. Take a look. In the digital age, there is no excuse for not knowing people outside your hometown. Get in touch with like-minded people in your town.

Find some dollars. Heather checked through her annual budget and found new money to put behind causes that are important to her. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I can’t figure out how to write a check TO SCIENCE.”

Use whatever platform you have. If you can show people the truth, use that influence. For example, I needed a Veterans Day banner for our intranet home page. Instead of using a stock photo of all white male soldiers, I created one that reflects the actual ratio of OUR employees: six women, two men, fifty percent people of color. That’s what our employee family looks like, so that’s what our graphics look like. Jaime is in charge of alumnae communications for Wesleyan. She’s reaching out to under-represented alumnae to make events more inclusive and publications more reflective of our actual alumnae group. In her job as social media manager, if Nicole spots hate speech on our digital spaces, she sends it straight to HR.

Use your vote. Yeah, still. Every time. Every election. Local, state, national. You got an opinion about who would make the best dogcatcher in your town? Express it!

Hit the streets. I’ve put the Million Women March on Washington on my calendar for January 21, 2017. I’ve never done anything like this–never even gone to a protest at the Arch in Athens. But I didn’t read Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes” for nothing! It’s time to start opening my life to doing things that scare me. Peaceful protest is the cornerstone of our Bill Rights–it’s our FIRST RIGHT. “To petition the government for the redress of grievances.” See you there?

What else can we do to make this country a less shitty place for those who aren’t as safe as we are? Come on, white women. Our world needs us.

White Women, Take One Step Forward: Part One

This is a two-part post. Today, I’m talking about the election. Tomorrow, I’m talking about what action to take if you feel shitty about it and want to help. It was difficult for me to write this, because I have been raised like most white women–to be nice, to never make anyone angry, to try to keep everyone happy. I ran this essay past the three questions that Luvvie suggested asking yourself before publishing something that is scary to say: 1. Is it true? 2. Is it defensible? 3. Is it coming from a place of love?

I answered YES to all three. I love us and I know we can do better.


Part One: White Women

Half of eligible citizens didn’t even vote. The half that did were divided in just about half with Hillary winning the popular vote. That leaves 25% who decided that a failed reality TV celebrity will sit at the same desk as John F Kennedy.

And the power brokers in that 25% were white women. Forty-two percent of white women decided that his platform was the one that best represented their interests. OK.

Who are these women? I know many women who voted for Trump, some gleefully and some with great disdain. Let me clarify that because I have slipped into the default speech of white supremacy when I say “women” and assume we all know I am referring to “white women.” I know many white women who voted for him. I don’t know a single woman of color who voted for him. But let’s keep the focus on white women. Some of the white friends who chose T.Rump for our country:

  • She’s an evangelical and voted exclusively on the hope of overturning abortion rights.
  • She’s a highly educated and professional woman who refused to vote for him in the primaries and didn’t plan to vote for him in the general. But her state threatened to swing and she decided to do it because she wants a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution very strictly.
  • She’s convinced that an outsider will shake up DC politics, for better or for worse.
  • She’s mortified by T.Rump but she votes a party ticket and puts her faith in the cooler heads that will surround him. She votes for the combined power of the executive and legislative team of Republicans.
  • She’s been paying more for healthcare under Obama.

I get it. I see y’all and I appreciate your candor and owning your motivation.

I also see all the other white women, who didn’t say a word about their votes. They weren’t willing to join the fray and that is their right. We don’t all want to talk about our politics.

Some of us went to college together, or we work together, or we met in Sunday School in 1975. We love and appreciate each other. Now let’s get real.

It’s the white women who now, in the aftermath, are clutching pearls and wailing, “Why is everyone being so hateful? We’ve got to get past the anger. Give him a chance. God is in control. I’m certainly not a racist or a bigot!” I’ve been clutching my pearls, too, in absolute horror.

Have you heard any of those things? Or said any of those things?

Here’s the deal: If you voted for him, you don’t get to say how we react to receiving him as First Citizen of our great nation. You don’t get to decide that people who have been put at risk are over-reacting. You don’t even get to stick this on god. To quote the Reverend Debra Williams: “Be careful when declaring that “God is in charge!” or that something is part of God’s plan. There are things that happen in this world that should not be pinned on God. I believe that God weeps when human beings do harm, or when they allow and celebrate tragic injustice. Do not be silent.”

White people who did not vote to stop Trump do not get a pass. No grading on the curve, no excuses. If you gave your whole vote to this whole package, you are wholly responsible for the outcome. Own it. Are you feeling stereotyped? Get used to it. You’re being lumped in with some pretty awful folks, huh?

Every other group of Americans that has been specifically threatened by Trump–people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, gay citizens, ad nauseum–showed up to stop him. Not women. Oh, and we’ve been threatened. Some of us decided that the damage he was going to do wouldn’t really reach them, but the “benefits” he promised would, so it was worth it to put him in office.

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Why Is Everyone So Mad at White Women?

Collateral damage, that’s why. Let me define: “Collateral damage is a general term for deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted on an unintended target. In military terminology, it is frequently used for the incidental killing or wounding of non-combatants or damage to non-combatant property during an attack on a legitimate military target.”

Harm on an unintended target. Most white women I know had very clean and precise reasons to vote for T.Rump. They sincerely don’t support “all that other mess.” I didn’t mean for my vote to take away your marriage rights–I love gay people!–I just want the lower taxes he promised. I didn’t mean to destroy healthcare guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions; I just wanted my premiums to go down.

I didn’t mean to blow up the house to kill the spider.

Well, it’s done. The thing about candidates is that you vote for the whole enchilada, not just six beans and 1/2 teaspoon of the sour cream.

So OK, white women who voted for T.Rump. You exercised your right to determine our country’s path as is your privilege. However…

HOWever…

Don’t turn your back on the rest of us while the debris falls from the sky. I have seen scads of  very nice white women today saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?” or “I don’t want to see all this ugliness.” “We need unity and to remember that we’re all Americans.” “I’m going to take a break from Facebook–too much anger and name-calling.” All after electing the name-callingest, angriest candidate who had no problem attacking Americans who crossed him.

You can’t dig a ditch then complain about the mud.

Or bake a shit pie to serve to the rest of the country then not eat your slice. Pull up a chair and have a seat at this table.

None of us gets a pass on experiencing what happens next. What is already happening. Not one. Whether you voted for Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, or Depp, there will be no flouncing. I am not allowed to clutch my pearls and wail at how AWFUL this is then turn my back on it. I don’t get to say, “This isn’t my problem–I voted for Clinton.”

If you sincerely don’t want “the rest of the package” that comes along with whatever you DID like about this candidate, it’s time to start using your privilege and power to STOP the parts you don’t want.

Don’t want to be considered a racist? FIGHT FOR RACIAL JUSTICE.

Don’t want to be lumped in with the deplorable hate groups that have been emboldened by Trump? STAND UP TO THEM.

Don’t like what Trump has threatened and Pence has actually done to rob gay citizens of equal rights? SHOW US YOU ARE NOT GOING ALONG.

Use your privilege and your power to prove that you are not like those other people.

I Woke Up In This World

I’ve woken up with this pain before–the heavy ache in every muscle from carrying around a racing mind, a broken heart, and all on no sleep. I know this feeling.

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I felt this way the day after my first husband came home with lipstick on his collar. I felt this way the morning after we found out Richard had leukemia. I felt this way in 2000, when no one knew who the president was, even the next morning or the day after that. I felt this way on 9/12/01, stumbling through that day wondering what would come next. And today I woke up feeling this way again–this tired, this heartbroken, this confused. This surprised.

I always feel this way when I wake up to the reality that I am not living in the world I thought I had been. Where nothing adds up. Where being smart and working hard don’t lead to the job. Where being faithful and keeping your vows doesn’t matter anymore. Where facts don’t matter.

These aren’t the sleepless nights of tending to an infant or hot flashes or worrying about bills. This is the groggy feeling of being afraid to sleep because you never saw it coming. Think back to the last time the veil was ripped away, where the truth turned your world on its head.

I woke up in that world today. Shocked.

When I took Carlos to school, the teachers–all women of color–didn’t looked shocked. They looked tired and sad and angry, but not surprised. My darling friend, who just married his husband on the 20th anniversary of their first date, had encouraging and inspiring words to share about getting up and getting back to work. He was disappointed this morning, but not surprised. A college sister who wears the hijab was petrified to leave her home…but not surprised. Another friend wondered if she would be able to adopt her own children now, but she worked through her terror in that “been there done that” way of people who have had to fight for every step.

Clutching my pearls.

Clutching my pearls.

Only the white women were shocked. Surprised. Clutching our pearls. Aghast.

That’s when I realized–I woke up in their world. That teacher can’t walk to the grocery store without being called a n*gger bitch. I hear her. That man can’t kiss his husband on the sidewalk after a movie because they could be beaten, even though they pay their taxes and follow the laws, like good citizens do. My college sister knows that every time she wears her headscarf to graduate school, someone’s going to say something. I hear her. Their lives are up for comment and debate and remarks. Every day.

On Tuesday, I was so delighted with the high spirits of celebration, the GLADNESS and pride I felt in my candidate. I was running errands with the kids and decided to wear my Hillary hat and sticker. As vocal as I am on social media, in person, and with my yard signs, I hadn’t marked myself as “With Her” with clothing before. Within 15 minutes, I was literally shaking with fear from the snarling looks I got from angry white men. I’m sure they would have said things to me if I hadn’t had my children. For an instant, I thought, “This is what it feels like to be a minority–having to walk through a miasma of anger to get a sandwich.”

In the next instant, I realized how trivial and stupid it was to compare my brief experience to the experiences of those who live as Other in their own country. After all, I can take off my hat and slip right back into the invisibility of white womanhood.

My whiteness gives me the power to blend in when I don’t want to be bothered while also giving me the power to be noticed when I want to be seen or heard on issues. I can shift between visibility and invisibility as it serves me best.

I saw an explanation that said, “If you have never understood privilege consider this: if you don’t feel threatened today, you have it.” I live in many bubbles of privilege: a county that votes like me, a skin that’s white, a family that usually had enough when we needed it, an economic class that enjoys a cushion to weather storms. Even my accent projects that I am an educated Southern woman. I am connected and respected. Sure, I’m a woman in a sexist society–but I’m a white woman. I’m more powerful because of my whiteness in a racist society even as I am less powerful as a woman in a sexist society. In the big picture, it works to my favor and I can decide when to engage in changing these structures.

I cannot imagine how it felt to wake up today without my bubbles of privilege in an America that elected that person to be our First Citizen. To represent us on the world stage. To serve as the face on the coins or the voice of the Union. To know that 58,000,000 of my fellow citizens decided that whatever collateral damage he may wreak will be worth it in exchange for getting whatever it is they need to feel safe again. To “take back” the country from….inclusion? optimism? equal rights? complete sentences?

We all woke up to that America today. Now we have to decide whether to close our eyes again or stay awake.

 

Build Me a Son Like Joe

For 50 years, the world has been home to my brother Joe. For 48 years and 2 weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of being his little sister and sometimes making him cry.

Aunt Smarts, Aunt Fancy, Unca Joe, Aunt Sassy

Aunt Smarts, Aunt Fancy, Unca Joe, Aunt Sassy

When we were little, I’m sure I made him cry in frustration a time or two. Now that we are older (some of us more than others…), I like to make him cry happy tears by holding up a mirror to show him what a fine man he has become. I wrote that piece a few weeks ago called What Does Love Carry In Its Hands? My brother is the perfect example of how to be good at loving the world. His hands are never empty–he carries hammers and hams and small people who need strong men.

He’s made me cry a time or two. Like that time when Richard was in the hospital and I invited the family over on Labor Day. When I mentioned how much I hated the chain link fence around the pool, he and Daddy set to work and by the time I got back from Kroger with dinner, my family had that fence rolled up and gone. I stood in the bedroom window and watched them, crying. Joe is the kind of man who always has tools around, in case something (or someone) needs fixing. After all that sweaty work, Joe manned the grill when it was time to cook dinner. I handed him a pack of tofu dogs. He cried.

Mr. Fixit

Mr. Fixit

A few months later, everybody cried when Richard died, but Joe didn’t show up with empty hands. We had planned to greet family and friends after the service at the church, so there were sandwich trays for that crowd. I hadn’t planned on all the folks who gravitated back to the house afterwards. We didn’t have much lying around to feed them. Then Big Gay opened after a knock at the kitchen door and there stood Joe with a glistening glazed ham. “Did you just drive around with a ham in your car?” she asked. “Yep,” he said. “Someone died…you make ham.” I cried.

Baby Carlos and Unca Joe

Baby Carlos and Unca Joe

Now that I have a son of my own, I cry when I see my little boy run to his Unca Joe for a hug. Back when Carlos wasn’t very social, Unca Joe was the first relative that he identified with, that he sought out, who was allowed to love on him, whose name he remembered weeks later. Joe picks Carlos up and tosses him over his shoulder, toting him like a sack of giggling potatoes. That sight always makes me cry. Joe teaches Carlos that he is loved and he is safe. Last year, we were at Cowtail for Easter. Joe had a drill out, fixing an old chair. The loud noise made Carlos cry. Instead of telling Carlos to toughen up, or saving the task for later, Unca Joe called Carlos over and explained the drill to him. He helped Carlos hold the weight and aim the bit then let this little boy do the work. Carlos crowed with delight. I cried.

Sack of taters

Sack of taters

When Joe’s oldest son was christened, I didn’t know what kind of gift to give. Instead of a thing, I found this prayer and shared it with my brother. He cried.

A Father’s Prayer for His Son

By General Douglas MacArthur

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those that fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men, one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.

Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

He read it, standing there in the colorful nursery of his own tiny boy. He cried. He handed it to Daddy, and Daddy cried too. The only person in that room who understood how much Joe loved Grant was Daddy, because he could look upon a son who had been built strong and funny and kind and gracious and brave and gentle.

A fine family: Joe, Jake, Beth, and Grant

A fine family: Joe, Jake, Beth, and Grant

Joe, I hope that you know you are loved and admired every day, not just early in November. I hope that you know that, judging by the men you are raising, you have not lived in vain. I hope you know that our father, who loved you so, could dare to whisper, “That’s my boy. I have not lived in vain.”

Happy Birthday. Now let’s eat some smoked pig. We can blame the smoke if there’s any crying.

She Simply Needed to Rest

On the second night of my adventure to the beach, I lay tucked into bed with a book and five pillows. The hotel fan was set on Hi but I left the sliding glass door open to listen to the sound of the ocean.

My rest ended abruptly with an ominous THUNK followed by a frenzy of flapping. I peeked over the edge of the bed in fear that a bird had blundered into my space. But I saw nothing, and the room was quiet again. Had I imagined it in a half dream, like that falling feeling that startles me awake sometimes?

Another flapflapflap led my eye to the source. One large orange butterfly clung to the bright white sheet of the hotel bed. Something gentle that had wandered into a different world.

Gulf Fritillary at Tybee Beach

Gulf Fritillary at Tybee Beach

I scooted my hand under her feet–I decide it’s a female right away for no reasonable reason–but she flees from my touch and hops onto the sofa. I try again to shoo her towards the open door and back out into the dark night. She flies to the curtain, then up to the white coffered ceiling.

Safely out of reach of my helpful blunderings, she folds her wings together to reveal brown and opalescent white patches. As I stand on the sofa below her perch, I witness the moment when the energy of her body stills completely, as if she has flipped a switch to OFF.

After a while, I go back to my book and my bed, but I leave the door open all night so that she can return to the world if she needs to. I leave her unbothered so she can avoid the world if she needs to.

resting-butterfly

 

In the morning, the butterfly is still suspended from the ceiling, still folded. As I pack my bags, I make a mental note to carry her out onto the balcony before I leave. I couldn’t stand the thought that a harried hotel maid might swat at her. Someone else, with more on their mind, might see a bug instead of a butterfly.

I slip off my flip flops to stand on the couch but before I can lift myself up to reach her, the butterfly turns the switch to ON. With an orange fluttery flash that startles me from my wobbly perch, we both go tumbling through the air toward the door. She lingers on the railing of the balcony then takes off in circles of flight, off towards the sunrise.

Just like me, that butterfly needed a place to rest, a safe place to be still and turn the switch to OFF.

I’ve been off work this whole week, as a birthday treat to myself. I can’t recommend it highly enough! But even with the prospect of a week to do whatever I needed to do, I burned the first two days with errands and to-do lists. I voted, I donated outgrown clothes, I washed the car, I sold it. The pool project got finished and paid for. I polished that bracelet that has been needing attention. I got my toenails painted for the first time since July 4th. I bought a new car and read the manual to learn how the radio works. I bought the right kind of snacks at the grocery store and made sure the kids would have clean clothes for the week. I busied myself with getting ready to relax.

After two delicious nights on Tybee Island and hour after hour of reading and writing and laughing with old friends and eating shrimp at every opportunity, and taking naps, and sitting in the sun…I got back on someone else’s schedule and got myself to the dock to catch a ride to Ossabaw Island for a writing retreat.

I didn’t think I had a lot of expectations, but apparently I did. The island was still cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew. The air hung thick with mosquitos. There was no breeze. After the lush hotel bed, I was reduced to a bunk bed in a room with nine other women. Our lunch had gotten wet on the trip over. Someone drank one of my Diet Cokes that I had lovingly packed. There were many nice people and a couple who annoyed me right off the dock with incessant chattering. There was no place to hide except behind my rigid smile.

Oh, and that teacher I’ve been excited about working with? He couldn’t make it. There’s someone else and he’s perfectly skilled and kind and here, but I need a moment to adjust. I hit the end of my equanimity and I felt myself begin to flap, to wheel in crazy mental circles.

Like that butterfly, I needed a minute to myself.

I tried to go for a walk in the direction of the old tabby cabins, but the mosquitos threatened to carry me away, one drop of blood at a time. I walked around the corner of the wrap-around porch to find a place to cry but every Brumby rocker might invite a conversation. Finally, I grabbed my pack and walked back down the quarter mile track to the dock, the only stretch of this 24,000 acre island that I had already seen.

Ossabaw Island, 2 p.m.

Ossabaw Island, 2 p.m.

Just like the butterfly, I blundered into exactly the place I needed to be. Out on the dock, there was a cool breeze. No mosquitos. A wide blue sky. Space to breathe. Silence. Except for something big in the water that surfaced, flopped, and disappeared before I could spot it. Peace and quiet, rippling across the water and across my worried mind.

I folded myself and tucked my wings together. I hung there in quiet, as DNR trucks unloaded, a kayaker paddled by, a couple pulled up to the dock and unloaded. The chatter passed and quiet returned, every time.

After a while, with my wings recharged by rest, I went back up the dirt road to join my people. Good people, curious people, brave people who crossed the water to find a community of writers. We each stretched our wings and began to see where they might take us.

My neighbor on the dock.

My neighbor on the dock.

Agency and Archery

Yesterday, I wrote about kinetic energy and potential energy and how both can be seen in the image of an archer pulling back on a bowstring. By pulling on the bowstring while pressing against the rigid curve of the bow, the archer amplifies the potential energy of the weapon, all thanks to the magic of math and angles and physics and stuff.

Every element of the machine has an effect on the outcome. Is the bow made from stiff oak or rubbery yew? Is the string linen or rawhide or polyethylene fiber? Are the archer’s muscles tired or fresh? Does her breath make her wobble or do her hips make a steady base? Is her elbow at the correct angle to amplify the power of pulling back, or does some force dissipate? Are the fletching feathers on the arrow in good shape and positioned for maximum aerodynamics? Does the wind blow?

Which part of this machine is truly powerful? Is it the arrow with its piercing metal tip? Is it the curved bow–just a piece of wood with a string tied to it? Taken separately, the bow and the string and the arrow are harmless. It’s when they work together that they can feed a family or end one. They are tools for converting potential energy into kinetic energy and converting deer into dinner.

Artemis (later Diana). Goddess of the hunt.

Artemis (later Diana). Goddess of the hunt.

 

And that brings me to the idea of AGENCY. Agency is the ability of a person to act for herself. A child has less agency than the parent. A person who refuses to vote surrenders agency. Financial independence supports agency. Systems of control, like racism and sexism, try to strip agency from others. Energy is one thing–agency is quite another. We can expend all the kinetic energy in the world, but does it lead to or stem from agency?

Think again about the example of the bow, the arrow, and the archer. We spend so much time paying attention to ENERGY. The bow thrums with potential energy; the arrow slices the air with kinetic energy. These tools have energy, but only the archer has agency. Until the archer decides to nock the arrow, and takes aim, and pulls back, and releases…the bow and arrow are useless.

Forget about the energy and the noise and the angles. Forget that your muscles may be tired or the wind might be high.

Go vote. It’s your agency and a lot of people fought long and hard for you to have it.

On another note: Have you ever wondered why British people make a rude gesture by holding up a reverse peace sign? Two fingers up with palm facing in and fingers slightly curved? In England, it’s called “flicking the v’s” and it’s similar to Americans shooting a bird. Those are the two fingers you use to pull a bowstring. English archers destroyed the French at Agincourt, so legend has it that the defiant sign for “piss off” hearkens back to English soldiers waggling those two fingers to remind the French who won. It’s an expression of agency AND archery!

Kinetic Energy and Potential Energy

Think back to elementary school science class. Remember learning about kinetic energy and potential energy? I was smitten with the word “kinetic” from the moment I heard it–that word is not one you bump into by accident. It is a book-learning, SAT kind of word. I’ve been thinking a lot about kinetic energy and potential energy this morning as I try to get myself packed to go to a writing retreat. I have re-organized our silverware drawer, talked to my insurance agent, folded everything that needs folding, and even done a few chores for other people because I am a bundle of nerves. I am downright kinetic.

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So, in case you are having trouble finding that fourth grade science part of your brain, a refresher: imagine an archer, pulling back the string of a bow. Potential energy is “the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors.” So when the archer pulls back on the bowstring, the string possesses a great amount of potential energy, all derived from the force the archer’s muscles can pull, the tautness of the string itself, the angle at which the string is stretched, etc. When the archer’s fingers let slip, we are watching kinetic energy as the arrow is pushed forward by the released energy of the bowstring. Kinetic energy is the energy of being in motion.

For potential to move to kinetic, the archer has to LET GO.

Last week, when I wrote about the challenge I’m facing with writing, Margaret reminded me of something our boot camp coach Tami used to say: if you want to run faster, you have to run faster. Simple in words, but hard in dead…right? Margaret pushed through her PhD with those words. Tami moved herself from a nursing career to an interior design career. To achieve the thing you want, you have to DO the thing you dream of. The only way to train your body to run faster is to push it to run faster. Not to talk about running, watching Chariots of Fire every night, join a running list serv, or shop for new shoes. You get better at running by running.

That got me thinking (see how I’ve been doing allllll this thinking but no writing?) about Wise Heather. Heather has been training for MONTHS for the Marine Corps Marathon. It’s her first full marathon and it’s this weekend. She’s running in memory of her father. She has hit every mark of her training plan, mile after mile after mile. She’s run in wind and rain and heat and other cities and other races. She knows the course elevation. She knows the forecasted temperatures. She knows she has to “beat the bridge” at mile 18 and she has practiced running that far, that fast.

Then her training plan told her to quit running. Not quit altogether, but quit pushing herself higher. This is the dreaded “taper” that runners have to do before a race. Cut the mileage back, let your muscles rest, all with the aim of going farther and faster because you slowed down.

Heather is pulling the bowstring and it is HARD. Building up potential energy requires those stresses in oneself. Waiting to let the string go and see how far it can push the arrow, in the right direction, if the wind is right.

I am writing these words, right now, about her, and about math and science and Margaret and Tami and elementary school, because I really want to be writing a book and it is HARD. I think about writing and talk about writing and read books written by people who know how to write. But the only way to write more is to write more. In sun and wind and rain and in other cities.

So. My car is packed. The string is pulled. Now I just have to let go. Change potential into kinetic.

This Saturday, think of Heather and remind her that she can do this. At the same time she is running her race, I will be writing mine. We can do this. Potential to kinetic.

Let’s go.

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