Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why We Don't Wait Around For Santa

Act #334:  There are plenty of magical things about the holidays.

Note:  I wrote this three years ago, but much of it still rings true to our family, although there seem to be more questions about Santa this year. 

The cool dude with the beard.  Yes, that’s exactly what my 3-year old, Jack thinks of Santa – and we’re perfectly OK with that.  When people ask us why we’re not raising Jack to “believe” in Santa, here’s the thing – we’re not really raising him NOT to believe in Santa.  In fact we read books about Santa, we comment about Santa when we see him in the mall or in one of our favorite Christmas movies, “Polar Express.”  We’ve never told Jack {spoiler alert} that Santa doesn’t exist.  We simply choose not to perpetuate the myth that a stranger with no connection to our son whatsoever, will be bringing him an abundance of presents just as long as he promises to be good.

Come to find out, it’s not so easy to raise a kid in Berea, KY not to believe in the jolly old fella.  Before Christmas, people were constantly asking Jack, “What is Santa going to bring you?” and they walked away appalled when he responded by saying, “Nothing.  Mommy and Daddy already bought my presents!”  Even worse, after Christmas, when people asked, “What did Santa bring you Jack?” he replied, “Nothing.  Santa didn’t come to my house.”   I could just feel the pity and wrath of judgment piercing through my soul.  Based on these events of Christmases past, I thought it would be a good idea to try to articulate exactly why it is that we choose not to encourage our son to believe in the existence of St. Nick - so here goes:

1.  We want to teach our son that gratitude is just as important as giving itself.  We want him to have a connection with, and sincere appreciation for someone who has taken the time to give of themselves to him – his grandparents, family friends, his parents, and not someone he will never come to meet or know, or even be able to thank.

2.  We don’t want gifts to take center stage during the holidays.  We want to foster childhood memories that include holidays as a time to reflect on the importance of giving to others and being part of a community, rather than a year-long anticipation and build-up on the receiving of material goods.

3.  We want our son’s motives to “be good” to be intrinsic in nature, and not derived from a desire to make the cut on some fictional “nice” list.  As Santa himself would say, be good for goodness sake!

4.  And last but not least, I’m  halfway joking and halfway serious on this one – we’ll perpetuate the notion of Santa the day that we can explain to our son, why it is that Santa is so unfairly biased towards rich kids.

Have we killed the magic of Christmas?  Ruined our son’s childhood?  You be the judge.  This is what you’d probably hear (honestly) if you asked Jack what this past Christmas has meant to him:

Staying in a mountain cabin with baby Miles and Uncle Ronnie, making snow angels while daddy shoveled Miss Noreen’s driveway, seeing the national gingerbread house display in Asheville, shopping for 3 kids who don’t have a mommy and whose daddy doesn’t have a lot of money to buy them clothes and toys, seeing the model train display at the Children’s museum, eagerly anticipating the arrival of a brown paper package sent from Khun Ta & Khun Yai (his Thai grandparents), sleepover at granny's complete with homemade brownies and watching “A Christmas Carol”, spending Christmas Eve with pop and granny - his two living paternal GREAT grandparents (how special is that?), waking up every day for two weeks to mommy NOT rushing to get to work, cuddling and kissing on him, eating our traditional Chinese buffet lunch with our urban family on Christmas day.  Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the gifts, or the tree, or the turkey, it’s about being with people you love, and reaching out to others who could use a little love themselves. 

Now if that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why Do We Call It Black Friday Anyway?

Act #333:  Go ahead, start your own Black Friday tradition.

The name "Black Friday" apparently originated in 1961 from the Philadelphia Police Department who coined the term for the Friday following Thanksgiving because of the headaches, traffic, mayhem, and sometimes even violence surrounding "the first official shopping day of the season." Later, retailers began explaining Black Friday as the point at which they began to turn a profit, or be "in the black." 

This Black Friday, rather than commemorate with a day of mayhem and profit (mostly because we're still recovering from yesterday's food coma and shopping makes me want to gouge my eyes out), we ate pumpkin pie for breakfast and watched three Christmas movies back-to-back in our jammies.  My husband and I sat on the couch holding hands under a cozy blanket with a 6-year old with pink eye wedged in between us (hope those antibiotics work).  No judgment here if you got a jumpstart on your holiday shopping this morning at 3 a.m.  After all, you were probably out there shopping for others.  Alas, we missed out and didn't score any half-price iPad Mini's or any buy-one, get-one free yoga pants.  But in more ways than one, at least the three of us feel like we came out way ahead of the game.  In fact, Black Friday was so darn "successful", we may go ahead and continue with Black Saturday and Black Sunday.

Thank you for your insane Black Friday knowledge and!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Eleven People Who Rekindled My Spirit

Act # 332:  Thank those who rekindle your spirit.  And then go out there and rekindle someone else's.


In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
~ Albert Schweitzer 

Beyond the many mentors, family, and friends who I have been blessed with their guidance and support, there are a few individuals who (probably unknowing to them) have lit a spark in my soul at pivotal moments in my life.  People whose presence at particular points of my journey have truly inspired me to intentionally alter my path at that precise time.  Thank you for appearing at the right time, at the right place, and awakening my soul, rekindling my spirit.

Mr. Abram - My 10th grade Earth Sciences teacher at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland.  He made me look in a mirror when I ran out of his class in tears one day after a classmate publicly taunted me for being Asian.

Kif Skidmore - My college roommate who pushed (and accompanied) her terrified, introverted brown friend to apply and interview to be on the campus activities board.  The first of a lifetime of challenges of varying degrees that I now feel comfortable facing and conquering - thanks to that first push.

Dr. Mike Rivage-Seul - My Religion/Historical Perspectives professor who taught me that maybe I had something worthwhile to say.

Adam Mullikin - My second (and current) husband who found me and ruined all my notions of remaining perpetually single.  

Donna McClanahan - My first and only reiki experience.  She literally ignited a light (blue, to be exact) inside of me that has since never gone out.

Collis Robinson - A former student who taught me that there are some things always worth fighting for.

Parker Palmer - A graduation speaker at Berea College two years ago who gave me (and the entire graduating class) permission to quit my job and seek the place where my deep gladness meets the world's deep needs.

Tammy Duckworth - Thai-American U.S. Representative in Illinois who I met at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  She unknowingly gave me permission to dream.

Dorothy Edwards -  Founder of Green Dot who has made me believe that "I" can indeed take part in making culture change this lifetime!

bell hooks - For being brilliant, and eccentric, and accessible.

Will Bain - My local barista whose strength, journey, and story......and the love he continuously gives out to the universe....are an inspiration.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why You Should Post An Ugly Selfie Today

Act #331:  Authenticity.  It's what's for dinner.

This past weekend I posted this status update on Facebook: 

Last night we talked about how perfect everyone's life seemed on Facebook, so let me put that rumor to rest. This morning I strategically hid my growing muffin top with a skillfully wrapped scarf. I haven't had time to bathe my kid in 2 days. Last week I unknowingly disempowered my staff. My husband and I haven't had a date in 4 weeks. I was late paying a bill. I chose to go to dinner with friends rather than take my son to a basketball game he's been begging me to attend. My toe nails are still sporting polish from my friend Leslie's wedding....2 months ago. And my finger nails have been chewed down to my skin. At least one person in my family is in therapy and at least two more should be. Perfection is so overrated.
I got 144 likes and 29 commiserating comments - probably one of my all-time most popular status updates.  Many of the commentators commiserated with me.  They too shared similar imperfections.  But many comments also expressed relief.  Great to know you are human like the rest of us!  Thank goodness you have a few flaws!  Finally! 
In the world of social media, we have the opportunity to always think before we act, to put our ideal selves forward - our perfectly cooked gourmet meals, our air-brushed instagrammed selfies, public commitments to our world-changing jobs, declarations of love and devotion to our perfect spouses and children, impeccable Christmas decorations.    Even when we are self-deprecating, we do so with exquisite wit and sarcasm, leaving all our friends of friends thinking we're about 8 million times cooler than we really are.  In essence, we're spending more time away from each other, and when we do "connect", we rarely do so with authenticity - we're pretty much fraudulent.  No one really knows who we are!  Our unintentional need to "document", play-by-play, our most ideal lives is leaving the rest of the world.....feeling inadequate, too fat, too boring,  Our "perfect" lives are leaving our friends thinking they need to make more money, find a more romantic boyfriend, start a new hobby, be a better parent, write a blog, and hike the Appalachian the snow.  When in reality we're most likely all struggling with our weight, our jobs, our identities, and our relationships.  And that's OK.  It's what makes us human.  And what my status update revealed to me is this:  Our imperfections and willingness to be vulnerable about them are what connects us as humans.  We can all relate to the realities of our struggles.  So if our sole way to connect with others these days is through social media, why not really connect and show the world who we really are every once in a while?  Because after all, it's not the most staged and visually appealing things in your life that make it beautiful.  It's the raw, vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect moments that do.
So on this day, the 27th day of November, this Thanksgiving Eve, I give thanks to our collective human realness, and I hereby declare the first annual Facebook Day of Authentic Imperfections.  I challenge you to post a boring, non-witty status update, a picture of the Big Mac you will have for lunch today, a non-sepia tone, non-airbrushed photo of yourself right this moment, a photo of your ugliest piece of furniture that you can't live without, a reflection on your hot "pizza and Redbox, jammies in bed" date with your spouse tonight (with accompanying picture of the drool you will leave on your pillow after the sex you don't have because you're both too tired with exhaustion).  And do so in your most regular, ordinary, every-day voice - without any added wit or humor (unless you are always authentically witty and funny all of the time).  Hashtag it with this so your friends don't think you've been hacked:  #BeingReal.  Go ahead, change the world today, just by being you.

Look!  I just woke up!  And I'm horizontal too. (Was that too witty?)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

That Time My Kid Called a Woman "Him"

Act #330:  Take cues from the kiddos.

Last week we had some new friends over to our house for dinner.  Sam, a guest of one of our friends, was a stunning woman with short hair, a sharp jawbone, and facial hair.  She had that effortlessly dapper fashion sense and wore dark blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a blazer. If I saw Sam out on the streets and wasn't previously made aware that she was born a female, I would have easily concluded that she was a very handsome man.  Sam was simply delightful - grew up in a big upstate New York family with a bunch of younger siblings - and thus quickly became iPad buddies with our 6-year old son, Jack. 

Jack referred to Sam using the terms "he" and "him"  throughout the night, and each time (after cringing inside), I watched Sam closely, in order to get cues on whether or not I should correct Jack publicly or pull him aside.  Sam appeared to be unfazed and continued to laugh and joke around with Jack as if she didn't even hear him.  So I didn't say anything.   If I had to be honest, I was on edge all night, worried that I'd say the wrong thing, that someone would say something offensive, that my kid might blurt out something inappropriate, and that Sam would be made to feel unwelcome.  And then about an hour into our evening, when I was in the kitchen and Jack and Sam were sitting on the couch deeply engaged in a new iPad game that allowed them to dress up an animated cat, I heard Jack say these words:  "Sam, I know you're really a girl but you look like a boy.  I'm sorry I keep on calling you him. Can we put a hat on that kitten?"  I froze.  At that moment, I felt like the whole world froze, but no one else seemed to have heard Jack's comment but me.  And without missing a beat, Sam laughed and said, "Should we use the Santa hat or the fedora?"

And just like that, all the tension was gone.  All the insignificant questions that had been swirling through my mind (and probably all the minds of our guests) since Sam first stepped foot into our home vanished.  Was she a lesbian?  Was she transgendered?  Should I refer to her as her or as him

Suddenly, none of that really mattered.  

Our oblivious little 6-year old broke all the ice, all the tension when he simply stated an observation without assigning any value or judgment to it.  And then he moved on to the important things: like dressing up a cat and playing with his awesome new friend. And he humbled and taught the rest of the grown adults in the room an important lesson:  It really doesn't matter how people look or choose to dress - it has absolutely no bearing on the kind of person they are inside.  Jack knew from the start what the grown-ups in the room seemed to have forgotten - that regardless of how Sam self-identified, she was warm, kind, and fun-loving.  And that clearly, cats look cuter with fedoras than with Santa hats.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sue me, I'm Not An Angel Tree Person

Act #329:  Look closer.

Every year, right about this time, we flock to our local retailer to get first dibs on an angel tree cut-out angel so that we can choose the "perfect" child to grant a "perfect" Christmas.   We stuff shoeboxes full of school supplies and toys and send them halfway across the world.  We drop off our pre-wrapped new toys at the fire station for tots across the country.  If we were to solely look at the months of November and December, and we were to solely look at non-profits that serve children, we are an extraordinarily generous nation.  And that's wonderful.  And it's such an honorable and worthy cause to bring dolls and video games and play dough sets to young souls who might not otherwise get to experience the "joy" of the holiday season.  I get it.  But one year I remember overhearing someone standing at the Wal-Mart Angel Tree pretty late in December saying, "Damn, all the good ones are gone!" and I couldn't help but wonder, what actually made a gift recipient more worthy or desirable than others?  Why is it that we are so judgey about what shows up on the angel tree list? Are our angel cut-outs, decorated shoe boxes, and pre-wrapped toys merely  ways for us to satisfy our own mental do-good check-off lists during the holidays?  So that we can go about planning our $200 Christmas meals with three different pies and 8 different side dishes and proceed on with our Amazon Prime and Black Friday shopping? 

Here's something for all of us to ponder: people of all ages are suffering loss and pain and sorrow in November and December.....and January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October too.  People closer to you than you might think.  I'm reminded of a friend who was laid off from her job six months ago and is having a hard time finding something, despite the number of applications and resumes she has sent out.  For her birthday this year, two of her good friends didn't treat her to a fancy meal, didn't buy her a new scarf for her scarf collection.  Instead, one day, they pulled up their car parallel to hers and transferred an entire trunk full of her favorite grocery foods into hers. 

So if the pickins' on the angel tree this year are already slim, have no fear - chances are, there are plenty of cut-out angels right in your own social circle.  Right this very moment there is a family member, a friend, a church-goer, a colleague, or a neighbor who might need a little extra love.  Go ahead, reach out to them.  I promise, it'll be well worth the tax write-off that you'll be giving up.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

There Are Good Bosses And Then There Are Good Human Beings

Act #328:  Be a good human being.

This week I met a talented local photographer who wanted to volunteer her services to my non-profit.  Fifteen years ago, while seven months pregnant, her husband "punished" her for something and made her walk to work.  Her boss didn't say much when she arrived late that morning. But he simply gave her a paid day off and a slip of paper with the name and telephone number of  a local domestic violence shelter scribbled on it.  The photographer left her husband, and a ten year physically and emotionally abusive relationship, that day.  Fifteen years ago, someone cared enough not to judge her, and to make conditions easier for her to seek help.  Fifteen years later, she wants to do the same for others.
 Photo credit:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How To Make Friends Like These (But In Other Shades As Well) After 40

Act #327: The key is chocolate fondue, wine, and some courage to make the first move.

Last night I made dinner plans with 4 women who I either met or reconnected with in the last year.  Our paths had crossed at various community events and functions and we always hit it off during the 5 minutes we had the chance to chat, but that is where it always ended.  So last night, we met at a new restaurant downtown and talked for three hours, with not one single awkward moment of we washed down our chocolate fondue with refilled glasses of Malbec.  We proved our speculation to be true - that we might indeed enjoy each other's company.  So for three hours, we psychoanalyzed the Fitz/Olivia chemistry, shared our personal goals for the coming year, celebrated our most recent professional endeavors, discussed the intersections of race and privilege, discovered shared values about family and caregiving, mourned lost loves, and most importantly, we connected as friends in a way that I didn't think was possible at age 41. If you're like me and stopped making new friends because you think they're too busy, or you're too busy, you are probably missing out.

Note:  No internet photos of 4 African-Americans and 1 Asian drinking wine exist.  But plenty of pictures of white girls drinking wine.  Should've pulled a selfie.


Friday, November 22, 2013

2-Sentence Mini-Blog: Why My Kid Will Never Have "The Best Day Of His Life"

Act #326:  Choose to make every day the best.

"Mom, I won't ever have a 'best day of my life' because every day is always so great that I just can't decide on which one is the best."

~ My 6-year old, Jack this morning during morning commute to school

Why It Takes Us So Long In the Mornings

Act #325:  Recognize that it probably only took her five minutes to get that perfect hair.

I wouldn't dare generalize the sexes like this meme does.  I'm simply sharing all the things that I personally accomplish each morning during the two and a half hours before leaving for work.

Have a cup of coffee. (aka the single calm moment of solitude of the day)

Write blog.

Refresh speech remarks.

Go over kid's homework and random papers in book bag to make sure we're not missing a field trip slip or photo day.

Check and respond to urgent work e-mails.

Research new medication, healthcare, etc. for mom.

Fix homemade, nutritional lunch for kid.

Fix homemade, nutritional lunch for self.

Put up dishes in the dish washer.

Iron outfit.

Fix breakfast for kid.

Brush teeth for kid.

Clean up dog vomit.

Save the world.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Non-Sexist Approach to Blaming Rape on Alcohol

Act #324:  The most common cause of rape:  the rapist.

*** Trigger warning***

It's no secret that sexual assaults are more likely when alcohol is involved.  The vast majority of rapes on college campuses happen when the rapist and victim are both drunk.  For the purposes of this piece, let's just get one thing out of the way:  Men can be victims and women can be perpetrators.  But statistically speaking, women are raped more often than men.  And statistically speaking, men are more often the perpetrators of sexual violence than women. Hence female education classes on How Not to Get Raped, warnings from our mothers about how to protect ourselves, and entire self-defense curriculums designed just for women.

So for argument sake, let's just say that alcohol is indeed the number one date-rape drug.  Now go ahead and imagine a man in your life that you respect deeply.  Maybe it's your grandfather, your husband, a mentor, your pastor.  Someone who is kind, compassionate, and has integrity.  Now imagine getting him completely wasted.  What are the chances that he would suddenly transform into a violent beast and begin to sexually attack and assault women?   Maybe there's a slight possibility, but realistically, most rapists don't just accidently drink too much and suddenly begin raping - they use alcohol as a weapon to exert power over their victims.

Now let's say you completely disagree with me and think that it is possible that a one-time excessive drinking binge can unknowingly cause a perfectly nice man to have violent tendencies towards a woman.  If that is indeed the case, why then do we spend all of our time and energy educating and preaching primarily TO WOMEN about binge drinking and protecting ourselves?  Shouldn't we also be holding classes and seminars for men on controlling their binge drinking?  Shouldn't fathers be taking their teenage sons aside and giving them the same "talks" on How Not To Transform Into A Rapist At A Kegger?

If alcohol is indeed the culprit of rapes among young people, why then are we not also preaching the woes of it to both men and women?    Because it's not.  It doesn't "suddenly" transform nice guys into rapists or "suddenly" make women want to be raped.  Because rape has never been about sex or booze.  It's about power and control.  And alcohol is merely a tool that is used to make conditions easier for someone to exert that power and control over someone else.   Unfortunately, alcohol has also been used as a tool in the criminal justice system - and countless rapists have walked away because we, as a society choose to focus on blaming the victims’ drinking.

So that's why there are many of us in the anti-violence movement who are working hard to change a culture that has vilified women for the very same conduct that we tolerate in men.  Especially when women are still the ones who disproportionately end up being victims.  That's why we don't blame the alcohol.  That's why it's dangerous for us to focus on alcohol as the primary "cause" of sexual violence. Because if we do, we will be taking our attention away from the real culprit - the ingrained, sweeping inequalities and oppression that continue to foster a culture of violence against women.

How To Help Without Judgment

Act #323:  Help them without judgment.

Yesterday I spoke with a dear friend who has an adult niece.  This week, my friend is sending his niece a one-way ticket from the west coast, back to Kentucky.  For the second time.  Last year when he got the call, she was leaving him for good.  On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves "for good." 

My friend knows that no one wants to be hurt, beaten or made to feel inferior. He knows that women often stay in abusive relationships because they have nowhere to go, for the children's sake, because they fear their abusers.  Statistics show that 75% of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left an abusive relationship. 

So this week, my friend is sending his niece a one-way plane ticket for the second time. Hopefully it will be the last time - and his niece will be able to find safety and healing with her strong family support.  If not, I know my friend is prepared to send her a third. 


Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Properly Act Like A Nosy Judgmental Customer In A Restaurant

Act #322:  Go ahead, tip someone 30% today (they make $2.13 an hour, you know) or pay someone else's tab - just for the heck of it. 

Do this.
 A lone gentleman diner  passed this note on to his server when he overheard the two women seated next to him crying.   She brought him the combined check and he paid for their meal.  He also asked the server to give them his best wishes, and he left.  Daedalus restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Not this.
When Dayna Morales introduced herself to a couple and their two children, the mother was allegedly shocked by Morales' short hair and said, "Oh I thought you were gonna say your name is Dan." At the end of the meal, Morales was left with no tip on the $93.55 bill. Instead, she found a note on the receipt, reading: "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I don't agree with your lifestyle & how you live your life." Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater, N.J.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

10 Reasons I've Been Told I Shouldn't Run For Office

Act #320:  Change doesn't happen by accepting the status quo.

Ten Reasons I've Been Told I Shouldn't Run For Office

1.   You're too liberal.

2.   You don't look like the voters in Rockcastle county.

3.   People will dig up your blog and crucify you with it.

4.   You're too much of a feminist.

5.   You're too pro-LGBT rights.

6.   You're not Christian enough.

7.   The party wouldn't back such a "risky" candidate.

8.   You don't know enough people with deep pockets.

9.   You're too outspoken about your beliefs.

10. You're not "political" enough.

One Reason I Probably Will Someday
(and you should too)

1.  See above, 1-10.


Friday, November 15, 2013

When Not To Tell A Loud Person to Shut Up During a Public Performance

Act #319:  It's not always about you.

Last night we took our 6-year old to a breathtaking performance of Japanese Taiko drummers.  It was a school night, and he is a squirmy little lad, so we had plenty of talks (and made plenty of threats) about the importance of remaining quiet and sitting still in his seat.  He was a perfect gentleman, who was clearly enamored with the performance.  We even ran into two of his first-grade classmates who ended up sitting with us and all three were exceptionally well-behaved.  Drums, who knew?  So there we sat enjoying this powerful performance, with perfectly behaved children...........and then FINGERNAILS ON A CHALKBOARD, well  that's at least what it felt like.  As soon as the performance began, a voice behind me also began (and never stopped) - a female voice that spoke in "regular" volume, painfully and articulately describing each and every human being, piece of clothing, hair style, color, and movement of the five drummers.  Throughout the entire 2-hour performance.  Not in a whisper, but in everyday normal conversational volume, like she was causally at a party or something. 

And now the bald-headed white guy, dripping with sweat is talking. 
One of the three women has stepped to the front and is playing the flute. 
All the drums are lined up and all five of them are drumming next to each other in a straight line.
It drove me up the wall.  In ancient Japan, Taiko drums were used to frighten invaders, inspire troops in battle, and call the gods.  But all I could hear was some American's (who has probably never been to Japan) rudimentary play-by-play commentary.  And I pleaded in my increasingly annoyed brain, "Please, annoying woman, shut it down.  We don't need your commentary.  We all see what is happening on that stage."

Or do we? 

Well not if you are blind or visually impaired and are attending a Taiko drumming performance with your friend who wants you to fully feel the spirit of the group that has "catapulted Japanese Taiko drumming into the 21st century with an eclectic experience that is part martial arts athleticism, part dance, and all rhythm."  And as you may have guessed, that is exactly who was sitting behind me, when I subtly and curiously caught a glimpse during the height of my annoyance - a young visually-impaired woman with a walking stick, and her commentator friend. 

And after a whole minute of me shriveling up into a little graceless, humble ball of guilt and embarrassment, I did the only thing I knew to do, in order to remotely redeem myself. 

I closed my eyes.

And imagined what it would feel like to not have accompanying visuals to paint a complete picture of all that I was experiencing.  I felt the deep, throbbing beat of the war drums in the floors, in my chest.  I imagined the drummers moving in perfect synchrony with that beat.  I imagined their hair flying wildly along with their muscular arms.  But there were five drummers, which one is doing the lead piece?  And there's the flute again.  I wonder who is playing it?  And the crowd is laughing?  And my son is shuffling and stomping his feet beside me. Why?  And just when I was about to pull my privilege card and just open my eyes already, like clockwork, the reliable, consistent commentator chimed in, with precision timing, "The old man just put on some kind of lion puppet costume with a red face and snapping mouth - and he's acting like an overgrown cat!"  And I opened my eyes to get a glimpse of the reason my child was cackling beside me.  And I was thankful that the young lady behind me also got to "see" the lion, through the lens of her friend, whose voice no longer sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

5 Traits of People Who Get Up and Quit Their Jobs

Act #318:  Is it time?  At least ask yourself.

I have a 31 year-old friend who just quit his college administrator job to uproot his family and move to Colorado to do community organizing and flood relief work.  I have another friend who is seriously contemplating leaving his design business to cold call (and hopefully go work with) Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia CEO and author of "Let My People Go Surfing", which outlines philosophy on balancing work, play, and social responsibility.  And I have yet another friend - an attorney in private practice - who is mindfully and intentionally making plans to spend her remaining professional years devoted to public service. 

I can't tell you how many people I've run into in my lifetime, who have shared with me their discontent with their jobs.  Most don't feel fulfilled -they are underchallenged, bored, restless.  Some  don't feel like they fit into their existing work culture - they long for innovation, impact, change.  And some just can't get rid of that nagging voice deep down inside, telling them that they are meant to do something else, be something else.  Out of all the people who have shared these thoughts with me, NONE have left to find what they were looking for.  Sure, plenty left for better jobs in the same or similar fields.  And others were promoted , recruited, or kind of fell into something else.  But NONE actually listened to that voice..........and made that intentional decision to strategically follow it.  So I began thinking, what kind of person walks away from all that they've ever known, all that they are good at and trained follow that voice?  And I discovered that my three friends had these five things in common.

1.  They are not afraid of their own emotions. Out of my three friends, one had an imaginary friend most her life, one had to complete an anger-management course in college, and one just recovered from a 5-year self-proclaimed "dark period" of his life.  And they will all speak frankly about these things as transformative periods of growth in their lives.

2.  They are already philanthropic. These three are among the most selfless, compassionate people I know.  And they give away more than their money.  They give large chunks of their time to others by volunteering at soup kitchens, mentoring young people, and working to revitalize crumbling neighborhoods.

3.  They are impacted deeply by the world around them. These are the types of folks who don't just re-post controversial memes on their Facebook timelines.  We all do that - that's easy.  Every blue moon my three friends will post a heart-wrenching, painfully authentic reflection on some aspect of society, the state of the world, detailing how they've been impacted, appealing for societal change.

4.  Creative + Pushy = Innovative. They aren't confined to how things are always done. All three were born with that creative gene - expressed in very different ways though: design, logic, communications.  But these are also people who are always pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo, and they can't eat, sleep, or be at peace until they see it through.

5.  They have a great sense of humor. All three of my friends laugh a great deal - at the world, and quite frequently at themselves.  The journey of finding that place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep needs is not an easy one.  You will need humor and plenty of space to laugh at your mistakes and mishaps to make it through.   But it will be oh, so worth it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Do Something On Day 341 (Or Sooner)

Act #317:  Go outside and make a friend.

Every weekday for the last 16 months, like clockwork, I've watched this man walk his two little dogs right past my office window each afternoon.  That's about 340 times that I've watched him do this.  He was a tall, dapper man,  maybe in his mid 50's?  His dogs were little - one fluffy, one not so.  Both clearly in control of all of their journeys.  During the warm months he was always dressed in crisp, white shirts and printed ties.  In the winter months, I couldn't tell for sure, but I suspected that there was always still a crisp white shirt and printed tie hidden under his gray wool coat. 

For 340 days I watched him, wondering who he was.  Did he live in the neighborhood?  If so, why was he so dressed up just to walk his dogs?  But I always had a grant due, or a crisis to put out. Never a spare moment. And then one day, day 341, I pushed my grants and my crises to the side, and I got up from my desk.  And I walked out the front door. And I introduced myself to Mr. Braxton Crenshaw, who runs a small private law firm just a few houses down my street, with his brother, Jesse, a long-time Kentucky state representative.  And I met his dogs, who really were in control.  And just like that the stranger man who always walked his dogs like clockwork past my office window, became my neighbor. And my grants and crises were still waiting patiently for me when I returned.  

Photo credit:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

That Time I Didn't Fire Someone

Act #316:  Mistakes are not character flaws.

There was a time in my professional career that I resisted a supervisor's pressures to reprimand and possibly terminate one of my employees.  He made a minor mistake that in my opinion, was the perfect opportunity for growth, maturity, and personal development.  My boss however disagreed, and felt strongly about formalizing consequences for him - including eventual termination.  He was a millennial - you know the type that doesn't ever take notes, can run 3 programs simultaneously from his smart phone, and spent a lot of time roaming around our work environment brainstorming with anyone who would give him the time of day.  He also had three things that I have since always sought out in an employee:  fit, grit, and heart.  I refused to reprimand him.  Instead, I coached him - it never happened again. I sure as heck didn't fire him - but let me tell you, that was not a popular decision.  And my actions seriously brought into question my leadership.

Well that was a long time ago.  I've moved on from that position, and that young millennial is now leaving his position to explore bigger and better things.  Interestingly enough, that same supervisor who at one point was so insistent on giving up on now doing everything in her power to get him to stay.  She finally recognized his "fit" for the organization - how he breathed life into the mission in his every word and deed.  She probably learned to appreciate his "grit" - how he rolled with the external and internal punches and remained flexible and stable during times of uncertainty.  She might have finally learned to see his "heart" - how he genuinely cared about those he worked with, and how he approached everything he did as a servant leader.   All things that she, the organization, and the countless people he touched, would have missed out on if we had given up on him for one simple mistake.

These days, in my new job - I not only welcome mistakes - I encourage them.  Mistakes feed innovation and progress.  If we keep doing things the same way we've always been doing them, we'll continue to get the same results we've always had.  And in my line of work, that's just not acceptable.  So show me  your fit, grit, and heart - and I'll take all the growing pains that come with you.  I know it'll be worth it.

You'll be worth it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Rule of Eight

Act #315:  Go deeper.

We have a rule in our household - that when we invite people over for dinner, we only invite as many people that will fit around our 8-person dinner table.  In my younger years, I took great pride in hosting parties that filled my entire house, even designing furniture that was seamlessly converted to accommodate up to 20, 30, maybe even 50 people in a 1700 square foot area.  At one such party several years ago when we had about 75 people in our backyard for a barbecue, I remember fluttering around with trays of food and drinks, sprinkling greetings and cheek kisses here and there, when I overheard one of my guests say, "She has barely even said two words to us!" I was devastated.

And then I met my introverted husband, who dreaded accompanying me to parties just like the ones I threw.  Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't terrified of the prospect of being around people, but he was insanely uncomfortable having to engage in ongoing superficial conversations with multiple people at a time.  So what I discovered at these parties was this:  while I was "fluttering" around making sure I met everybody and that everybody met me, my husband was holed up in a corner with a judge executive talking in-depth about their families and their hobbies.  At that same exact party, all I learned from the dozens of people I interacted with, were their names and what they did for a living.

And so we came to this rule of eight .  We decided to open our home to invite friends - new and old - over, but we would only invite enough so that we could have meaningful and engaging conversations with each and every one of them.  And them, with us too of course.  The magic number seems to be eight.   At our dinner parties, we learn way more about people than their names.  And every once in a while we have a particularly "successful" dinner party when all eight of us leave beaming and filled with each other's stories and energy - when after 3 hours of appetizers, wine, and dessert we have connected, shared, laughed.... and we have no idea who does what for a living.

"I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness."
- Dalai Lama's Tweet this morning

Sunday, November 10, 2013

To All the Brown People Making Things Happen in the Background

Act #314:  Thank you.  And dare ponder stepping into the light.

To All The Brown People Making Things Happen in the Background,

I see you.  You are Vice Presidents, Associate Deans, Campaign Managers, Speech Writers, and "Next in Command".  Others may see an "educated" black Asian who is "assimilated"....a Hispanic who can "help us bridge cultural divides"........but I see YOU.  I see your drive, your passion, your impact.  I see that they aren't that different from the man standing just a few steps in front of you.  Sometimes, they are even stronger than his.  I see your journey.  The hurdles, hoops, barriers you had to jump over, and through to be standing right the quiet shadows.  Every time your mother told you, you had to work twice as hard.  Every time you refrained from interjecting in your college classroom discussions.  Every time you had to act in a way that only the majority would be able to accept and appreciate. 

And when your gifts and potential became so undeniably apparent and people took note, I saw how quickly you were plucked and thrust....almost into the limelight. 

But not quite. 

Your powerful words began to impact others....but only when delivered through someone else's lips.  Your face became a symbol for "the right-hand man", "the counsel", the "up and coming", yet there you still stand, in the shadows.  It's just like your mama said - that in order to be the exception, you have to  know your place, play the game, work the system.  The statistics, the studies, the polls all tell you that you are already an anomaly, and that maybe you shouldn't keep pushing your luck.  That at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whose face is in the light.  As long  as it still shines on us all. 

But maybe, just maybe.... the light has always been beckoning for YOU. And that everything you've done, are doing, will preparing you not to propel others into the light,

But to finally claim your place, and step into it yourself.

Friday, November 8, 2013

18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Husband

Act #313:  Define your own relationship/s.

I saw this list: 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Husband on a friend's Facebook page, and really had no choice but to write my own.  Why do lists like these always make me feel like I'm a complete outcast to American society?  Is it because I'm brown?  A feminist?  A seeker?  A freakshow?  Are there others out there also cursed with never having things apply to them?   Here's my version of 18 Things.

1.  Freeing him to find joy outside our marriage. This man has hobbies.  And for that I am grateful.  When he's cooped up in the garage fixing up a Mini Cooper with 157,000 miles on it, or having a zombie apocalypse midnight movie marathon in the den, it also gives me space and time to pursue my own interests, or have quality one-on-one time with our son.   The time away from each other actually makes us appreciate one another more when we're together....and the outside interests give us something to talk about.  I know way more about crank shafts and World War Z than I should.
2.  Letting him cry like a baby. Just like me, he hurts.  Something about being human and all.   I've always made him well aware that I only think even more highly of him when he is able to let down his guard and express his true emotions with me....even if he has a penis. 
3.  Visualizing our bitter, messy divorce.  Maybe it's because I've been divorced before, but I do not take one second of my marriage for granted.  I do not think that we are immune from the statistics, the temptations, the challenges - and because of that, I work harder at making sure our connection continues to be strong.
4.  Vacationing with him....and my ex-husband.  My ex-husband is gay.  And he also happens to be my best friend.  In a crazy, completely unorthodox way, we've formed a wonderful and supportive chosen family.  Most of my friends think I'm incredibly lucky.  I tend to agree.
5.  Accompanying him to Comic-Con. Before I met my husband I never knew that real-life Sheldon Coopers existed.  Grown men who camped out in front of theaters and had comic book collections that could probably fund your kid's first year of college.  And to be honest, I didn't really get it.  BUT, I get him.   And by golly, if this man accompanies me to diversity dialogs and watches HGTV marathons with me, I will dress up like an Asian Wonder Woman and travel to San Diego with him.
6.  Giving him the privilege of changing the first poopy diaper.  I have a picture of this and it is priceless.  While I was laid up recovering from someone cutting my stomach open, setting my spleen to the side, and pulling out a 6 pound human being, I happily stepped aside to allow my husband to change our son's first diaper.  He would go on to change about 80% of the ones that followed as well.  And his son loves him for it.
7.  Loving him through loss, grief, unsuccessful E-bay bids, and the big ‘ol mess of emotional baggage that he came with. Life ain't always pretty folks.  But you love each other through it all anyway.  Romance alone, just doesn't seem to cut it when one is drowning in sorrow and despair.
8.  Freeing him to follow me. It is true, I have freed him from all societal pressures to be the sole leader of this family.  Instead, we take turns leading at moments when our natural skills and instincts allow us to step up to take charge. Call us crazy, but we dig balance...and the equal capabilities of the female brain.
9.  Holding his hand. Quite possibly the only cheesy activity that we partake in, we do it everywhere.  Under tables at restaurants, under the covers, and in broad daylight.
10.  Dropping our kid off at school together as a family for the first 6 years of his life.  We're cutting him to the curb by 2nd grade.  Yes we can.
11.  Expressing love through sarcasm, wit, and humor.  I could not imagine a life partner who didn't laugh with me while watching Hangover or Office Space....or who sent me Hallmark love poems.....or called me love bunny.
12.  Dreaming with him.  Together, we've built an Alice In Wonderland backyard courtyard oasis, traveled by train through the Canadian Rockies to Banf, danced at our son's wedding, and opened a gourmet hot dog stand.
13.  Disagreeing with him. He may or may not regret this.  But I never do.  Makes us spicy, saucy, interesting, and what on earth would we talk about if we already agreed on everything?
14.  Experiencing “firsts” together.  When you marry later in life, this can be quite a bit challenging, but there is something just so awesome about doing something together that neither of you have ever done before.  You should try it.
15.  Acting like a goofball with him. Whether it involves earth-shattering karaoke (literally earth shattering), sliding down a massive inflatable at the bounce house, or kidnapping our neighbor's ceramic bears to dress them up every major holiday.....there's nothing better for the soul than to act pure and simple silly.
16.  Evolving with him.  Through #13, we've learned from each other, challenged our own belief systems, and grown together.
17.  Seeing God the shapes of the clouds, at the top of the Pinnacle, and in the chocolatey, boogery face of an oblivious, sleeping toddler.
18.  Visualizing two rocking chairs, a mountain view, and a lifetime of Depends. And if we make it to the end our journeys together, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.

I sure hope these people aren't real. 
Just in case, I'm sorry.  You are cute.

Ever Wonder What Retired Women In Small Sleepy Towns Do All Day?

Act #312:  Listen to you foremothers.

I frequently get asked to speak to civic organizations about the rape crisis center.  So when my own small town women's club asked me to fill a monthly speaker's spot over a salad buffet lunch at the local steakhouse, I of course obliged.  A few months prior, I had just spoken with a mostly male civic organization at the same exact steakhouse and it went just fine, but a bit uneventful.  There wasn't a lot of interaction or follow-up, but my hosts were most gracious.  So I figured this women's club luncheon, that consisted mostly of retired women over the age of 70 would be a polite, regularly scheduled program of me talking about a local non-profit, and then we'd go our separate ways. 

But that was not the case. 

After I finished my salad, I got up in front of the group of about 20 or so women, and despite the fact that I was a good 20-30 years younger than most, that I was the only brown woman in the room, I can't explain it - but I suddenly felt completely and utterly embraced by them.  Like they were my sisters, my mothers, that we somehow shared a journey, a story, a history.  And so I asked them to close their eyes with me and imagine who they were when they were 15.  Were they hopeful about the world ahead of them?  Were they taught to protect themselves against violence?  Unfortunately, with 44% of all rape victims being under the age of 18, at that point they had probably even seen or experienced violence themselves.    But did they feel powerful or powerless?  And then I told them about a 15 year-old survivor that I met at our very own local hospital on Valentine's Day of this year. And I asked them to join me in creating a world where all 15 year old girls could grow up feeling hopeful and powerful. 

And they not only obliged, but all those collective years of wisdom, knowledge, experience, feminism came pouring out of the form of questions, disbelief, interest in volunteering, survivor stories of resilience, commitment to advocate for others, commitment to speak up and speak out against violence.  And as I left, I carried away with me a $500 donation check tucked neatly in my folder......and a legacy of activism and inspiration tucked deeply in my soul.

Never again will I underestimate the power of women who are already far along on their journeys - for truly, they are the ones who have the power to guide us on ours.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

8 Things We Can Learn From People Half Our Age

Act #311:  Be 20 again.

This week I had the privilege of participating in a number of college activities at my alma mater.  Earlier in the week I was one of five people interviewed for a senior theater major's documentary titled, "Kentucky Made Me".  Just last night, I was a guest at a "Lean In" book discussion that consisted of about 15 college seniors.  And tonight I will serve as a table host for an alumni-student career networking event.  I worked at a college for 9 years and up until this week, I had completely forgotten the undeniable energy that surrounds young people who have their whole lives ahead of them. 

I selfishly soaked it all up. 

And while various 20-year olds all curiously picked my brain, asked for advice and a glimpse into their futures, I was the one who walked away reminded of how utterly awesome it is to look at the world through a lens of possibility.

1.  It's OK not to have all the answers.

2.  .....or to know what you really want.

3.  But it's never OK to stop dreaming.

4.  To imagine how one's life might turn out is the perfect combination of sheer fear and sheer exuberance.  And both are necessary.

5.  That it can be liberating to eat copious amounts of pasta and sweet tea at 8 p.m. at night, guilt free.

6.  That it will be worth it to keep on pushing forward, despite your own worst enemy - yourself.  

7.  There is value in surrounding yourself not only with people who support you, but people who have the ability to make you laugh at 2 a.m., care enough about you to be brutally honest, and are crazy enough to think that you can do just about anything.

8.  There is an infinite amount of wisdom out there for you to books, films, people, and life experiences.  Go out there and get some. 

Note: A Special thanks to Rochelle, Brittany, and Andrew for giving me 20 years of my life back this week.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Simple Way to Inspire Someone Else

Act #310: This holiday season, give away a book that inspires.

These 6 books rest near my bedside and were given to me by my closest supporters - my husband, my former boss and mentor, one of my oldest college friends, and a dear girlfriend who recently moved away.  These words, their spirits, are among my deepest sources of personal and professional inspiration.  And then it occurred to me that I've never gifted a book to someone else.  Sure I've bought my kid I Spy books and maybe once I bought by husband some zombie apocalypse book, but I've never really seen a book and reflected on how it might impact someone else's these individuals did for me.  I'll make this the year that I do that.

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

― Roald Dahl   

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is It Your Own Fault You Were Hit By A Drunk Driver?

Act #309:  Never blame the victim.

Trust me, I already plan to teach my child these things:
Drink responsibly.
Drive defensively.
Don't talk to strangers.
Lock your doors.

But I will also teach him these things. 
Don't rape.
Don't drive drunk.
Don't harm others.
Don't break into other people's homes.

Imagine a world where all parents - well actually, all humans - focused most of our efforts on the second set of lessons.  Maybe we might not have to worry so much about the first?  What would the world look like if we invested more of our time, resources, and energy on stopping future perpetrators, rather than gearing up to blame future victims?


Monday, November 4, 2013

A Super Easy Way To Help Ten Women in One Month

Act #308:  Support a sister.

Last month I wrote five professional reference letters, one grad school reference, and read and edited an academic fellowship proposal for someone.  This week I will be interviewed for an undergraduate woman's documentary, attend an all female "Lean In" group meeting, and speak to a local women's club.  In less than a month, I will have had the opportunity to reach out and offer support to 10 different women (and one awesome man).  Twenty years ago someone did this for me, and it has made all the difference.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

30 Days of Thanks in One Word

Act #307:  Practice gratitude.

Ah....November....the month where all my Facebook friends list one thing they are thankful for each day, for 30 days.  I thought I'd go ahead and do all 30, upfront.  I've challenged myself to reflect on each, through one simple word.   The length of each of the lists is certainly noteworthy.

Sisters (I'm an only child, so this term is inclusive of chosen family)



Saturday, November 2, 2013

Meeting People Where They Are

Act #306:  Meet them where they are.

This concept of stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a few steps into someone else's has been a personal struggle.  In my head, I know that meeting people were they are can be a powerful way to break down walls and build bridges - particularly when the desired outcome is to elicit behavior change.  But to actually push yourself to do this, is a different story.  Be it race relations, violence prevention, or LGBT advocacy, all of my encounters that resulted in a deeper understanding and mutual respect, have involved me reserving judgement and seeing something from someone else's perspective.

I'm reminded of a physics professor at my alma mater, a small college tucked in the foothills of southeastern Kentucky. I never had him for a class because I feared his reputation of being brutal and unapologtetically demanding.  Both of which many of his former students have confirmed to be true.  But I also heard about another group of students who unknowingly found themselves in a required general science class taught by him.  They were music majors, theater majors, and English majors who didn't have a natural "knack" for the sciences and struggled a bit to get through the course.  For extra credit, this professor allowed them to write and perform musical pieces - like blues, rap, and classical - about the course content (in this case, the natural sciences).  He didn't waste much time judging or penalizing them for not being able to keep up with the science majors, but instead, he met them where they were - a place that was most likely unfamiliar to him - and allowed them to use their natural talents to demonstrate, in their own way, that they had acquired the class knowledge.  He could have failed them, made them think that they just weren't the "science type", turned them off from the sciences altogether.  But instead, he nurtured them to absorb the fundamentals of science in a way that made sense to them.  Many of these students went on to become choir directors, musicians, and artists.  And I have no doubt that as they continue on with their journeys, it will one day occur to them, just how rare and special it is to cross paths with someone so willing to meet them where they were.  
In memory of Dr. Amer Lahamer, who taught Physics and Natural Science at Berea College for 24 years.  Dr. Lahamer passed away yesterday and will be missed greatly by many.