Community Adventure: Solitude and Connection

Connection

The Bean Sprout Guy and Other Market Wonders. Copyright Kimberley McGill 2015

Looking back to my childhood years with my abuela in Argentina, my memory can trace her constant movement between solitude and connection.  On one end the noisy Sunday lunch table filled with cooing babies, children tugging at her apron strings, adults jostling for a place in the thick layers of conversation happening all at once and on the other end the chair by the parlor window, open to let the scent of gardenias come in on the breeze while she hummed and knit for a whole afternoon.

I remember the quiet mornings spent alone, except for me watching transfixed while she made pasta for homemade ravioli filled with perfectly spiced ground chicken and spinach, set pots to steaming on the stove, her strong arms making the old wooden table shake as she kneaded the dough before rolling it out to cut into squares. But before the cooking, we took trips to the market stalls set up down by the river. There she greeted other women comparing notes on which vendor had the freshest produce or the best prosciutto, sharing bits about their lives, heads nodding in solidarity or agreement. The women cajoled and bartered with the vendors, but not before asking after their families. The market echoed with the noise of connection.

I can’t help but think of my abuela when I go to my local Farmer’s Market. Except for the occasional musicians, the market is quiet – a few children break the stillness with their exuberance and, too often, their mother’s hush them with a stern look or command. People wander alone or in pairs, point at selections for a vendor to bag or wrap, and mumble their thanks before moving on to the next stall. I haven’t done much better.

As an introvert, I’m happy to gather my veggies, snag a jar of organic honey from the beekeeper, maybe some fresh flowers for the dining room table and take all my goodies over to a table by the lemonade stand where I can sip on the tart sweetness while I people watch and make notes in my journal about what I notice. For last month’s trip to the market, I set an intention to stay alert to opportunities to connect –  I felt a little nervous about the whole thing, not because I’m shy, but because my introverted nature doesn’t usually do well with “small” talk. It helped me get past the nerves to look at it from a different perspective – there’s nothing small or superficial about people acknowledging one another with smiles, commentary on the weather or what great zucchini such and such a vendor has this year.  I didn’t expect to replicate the same experience from my childhood, but I wanted to stay open and curious about what might happen.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I ran into a woman in a beautiful blue Burka trying in vain to clean up her toddler who’d just bitten into an orange wedge and had its juice running down his chin, neck and arms. She and I made eye-contact and her eyes brightened as we exchanged smiles and a little laugh over the scrunched up face her boy made when she tried to run the baby wipe into the chubby crevices of his sticky neck.  There was the man who hauls fresh fish in from the coast packed in crushed ice – somehow a smile turned into swapping recipe ideas for the rainbow trout I bought from him. A jazz band, dressed to the nines in “fashionable disrepute,” played around the corner from the rows of farm-fresh eggs. When they noticed me taking pictures, the lead singer pulled his fedora hat over one eye just so, the bass player stood up a little straighter nodding his head to his beat – we didn’t talk but they grinned when I gave them a thumbs up.

And then the bean sprout guy happened.

It’s kind of a miracle. I never stop off at the bean sprout stall. Never. I’ve always said bean sprouts, no matter how they’re prepared, taste like a mixture of dirt, grass and oven cleaner – and I meant it. But there was this guy with a wide-open smile, wearing a seen-better-days tie dyed t-shirt and singing off-key about his bean sprouts, daring anyone passing by to try his bean sprout mix and home-made sauce. I had to smile his way and within sixty seconds, by whatever magic he conjured up, I put a spoonful (not a little bite, a SPOONFUL) of his prized bean sprouts in my mouth and chewed. Inconceivably, my mouth exploded with goodness! My Sweet Man is still in shock that I brought home a huge bag of those sprouts and ate them all within a few days. I told the bean sprout crooner that whether he liked it or not, we were connected for life and that I will find him no matter where he hides if he ever decides to retire. I also told him that each time I buy a bag from him he has to sing or it won’t work.

Like my grandmother, I’ll continue to move between the worlds of solitude and connection. Sometimes I’ll still want to sip lemonade and watch life happening, other times I’ll want to jump in and be part of it. Either way, whatever mood I’m in, I’ll always stop to chat with the fish guy and the bean sprout crooner. Maybe I’ll even ask them their names.

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Open Letter to a Gender Non-comforming Human Being

(This is an open letter to Jacob Tobia, the person featured in the video above, who is an activist for genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and transgender issues and has been featured on the website I’m From Driftwood.)

Dear Jacob,

You enchanted me with your jet-black hair, the perfect red lipstick, the afternoon shadow beard, so gorgeous and authentic. But the freedom shining in those dark eyes – that made you the most beautiful. Even though our situations are different, and your struggles with gender surpass mine in many ways, I see in you the same fierceness that’s grows in me as I continue to bust out of the cage of the cultural expectations and toxic “rules” set up for women. I was born female and I gender identify as a woman, but reject the narrow definitions of what that should mean about what I do, say, and believe.  I’ve miserably tried to fit into the “proverbial neat little boxes” for so much of my life, and the freedom I’m finding outside of those boxes makes me giddy and scares the hell out of me.

There’s the part of me that embraces you just as you are, and there’s another part that balks, not because I think it’s an abomination or any of the other usual condemnations. That part of me balks because it wants order, predictability, permanence. It wants either/or, not both. It wants everything and everyone clearly defined with no grey spaces. It wants you to choose between him or her and wants me to conform to my assigned roles as a woman because it makes my life predictable, without confusion or the hard work of making choices. It’s not the greater part of me, but I have to acknowledge that it exists because if I don’t that mind-set can sneak into my life while I’m not looking.

I believe we all have a feral impulse to escape the captivity of culture and traditions that distort our truest self. Hearing and following that impulse has taken me an awfully long time and I can’t I won’t risk ever losing that.

You reminded me of the truth: there’s absolutely nothing in this world that is static, orderly, and always predictable. Everything is flux and flow, everything exists on a continuum – whether it’s the range between masculine and feminine or the one between sweet and sour. Even more, dual truths can exist together in the same space at the same time. You can be ‘they’ and I can be giddy with freedom and scared witless – or the thousands of other combinations that make up our complex human psyches.

That freedom shining in your eyes helps me remember that every minute of living out of the illusion of static predictability and into the reality of flux and flow is worth it.

Thank you. Sending much love.

Kimberley McGill

 

Power: What Makes You Feel Powerful?

power

Power-from-within: Made it to the top of this hill without huffing and puffing as much as I did a couple of months ago. Copyright 2015 Kimberley McGill

 

The word power gets weighed down with negative connotations – oppression, aggression, violence, war, succeeding at the expense of others. It’s understandable, reminders of those expressions of power fill our cultural landscape. Other forms of power don’t get much airtime.

One of my favorite earth/social activists and authors, Starhawk, lays out clear and insightful definitions of  different kinds of power: power-over, power-with, and power-from-within. So when my coach, Rachel Cole, asked me what made me feel powerful, that framework helped me sort out the ways in which I feel powerful, or ways I’d like to feel powerful.

Power-over

The negative connotations we have with power fit under part of the definition for this kind of power when it’s in the service of domination, oppression, control, and violence. We all at sometime or the other felt the urge toward that kind of power, perhaps even acted on it, but whatever momentary satisfaction we get isn’t worth the suffering we can cause to ourselves and others.

Ready to cross power-over off my list, when I remembered that control isn’t always a bad word. Starhawk gave the example of parents of a two-year old – to the extent that they can they control him and his environment to keep him safe. So, there’s one thing on my list that I want to do and that I know will make me feel powerful – take a self-defense class for women. Yes, I want the capacity to over-power anyone that might try to physically harm me – wearing this totally helps, but I need some moves to go with my undergarment power.

Power-with

Starhawk describes this kind of power in a couple of ways: solidarity and influence.

Here’s a few things on my power-with list:

– Spending time with other women of like mind and heart.

– Using our collective influence to empower ourselves and others for the good – that’s beyond power and into a whole other realm. I’ve experienced this both online and off and I want more!

– Participating in groups that create together and learn from one another. Anything from writing and art to problem-solving and community building. Recently, I had a powerful experience in one of Kira Elliot’s Writing to Open Your Heart workshops. Through the process of writing together, sharing our writing so we could support and encourage each other, I wrote words that surprised and delighted me and got the opportunity to stand as witness as others shared their words and opened their hearts to possibility.

– Having time with people I love for good conversation, laughter, and celebration. Be warned, I love goofball humor – it happens to me spontaneously and is outside my control.

– Experiencing the power of empathy. It opens hearts, helps heal wounds and forms bonds of love both in the giving and in the receiving. In true compassion and empathy there’s no one up-one down.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Power-from-within

“Power from within is our creative power, the power of spirit, imagination, courage and will. [It’s] unlimited. [whatever I have the power to do] does not take that power away from you. Empowerment is another word we use for power-from-within.” Starhawk, Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery.

Some things on my power-from-within list:

– Body movement: dancing, hiking, hula-hooping, yoga – it all ignites my power. And when I see improvements, like getting to the top of that hill in the photo, it feels so darn good!

– Exercising my creative mojo. I like to define creativity broadly, living is a creative act. I’m creating when I’m speaking to someone or by the attitude I choose just as much as when I’m sketching and painting.

– Standing up for myself. Not long ago, I left a doctor’s office feeling ultra empowered because I spoke up for myself when the doctor spoke to me with disrespect. No aggression, no eff yous – just a simple statement “If you cannot respect me and my experience then I’m ending this appointment.” Which I did, because she wasn’t able to honor my boundary. Although, I confess that a part of me wanted to get two inches from her face and do the whole “really?-really?-are-you-effin’-kidding-me” thing. You know, righteous indignation. I’m glad I didn’t, I’m glad I gave myself dignity and respect.

Feeling powerful, feeling empowered can come from the help and support we get from others, but the last word is ours. We empower ourselves by our actions, our willingness to grow and change, by the situations we put ourselves in, and the biggest thing of all – by opening our hearts to connect with ourselves and others.

(And not knocking doctors out cold on the exam room floor.)

What makes you feel powerful?

Much love.

 

Community Adventures: A Mix of Inspiration and Culture Germs

inspiration and cultureWith my body back in its groove I’m getting to all that good stuff I had to set aside for a while – like this post about last month’s community adventure. Still sick, I pushed myself to go. I sent my Sweet Man to the drug store to get cough suppressant and Sudafed so my cough or the sounds of my mouth-breathing wouldn’t empty out the auditorium while the photographer Rick Rickman gave his lecture and presentation on his collection titled The Wonder Years: Portraits of Athletes Who Never Slow Down. I do recommend getting out into your communities, but maybe not the getting hyped up on meds and having your eyes look like they’re locked in permanent surprise mode. On the plus side, I was awake enough to notice my reactions to both the parts of the outing I liked and those I didn’t – a mix of inspiration and culture germs.

The first cultural germ I encountered makes its home in my psyche when I let it, it’s the one that shows up for a lot of us when we get dressed to go out. We get frustrated, sweaty and dissatisfied with anything we put on because our culture has infected us with the idea that our bodies aren’t good enough if they don’t meet the media’s standard for beauty. Well, I have a very un-media like body and I started out with a knot in my stomach anticipating all that sweaty frustration, but something happened when I got to my closet. I put on my favorite, most comfortable and colorful tunic top that hugs my curves just enough but not too much, the one I bought and kept hesitating to wear, and not something saggy-baggy-black.  Doubt and self-consciousness took a back-seat, I took a deep breath, guzzled down my cough syrup and got out the door.

inspiration and culture

Copyright 2015 Kimberley McGill

Before the talk, I had time to wander around on the lovely grounds and take pictures. Just as I aimed my camera at the winter rose bushes, I hear a woman’s voice call out to me in a heavy accent I didn’t recognize, “Oh, I love your shirt too much! It looks so good on you!” For a split second I had a vision of this woman, in her blue knit cap topped with a fuzzy pom-pom, standing on a ladder peeking into my bedroom making note of all the “shits” and “damns” I uttered before making the decision to just wear what made me happy, and now followed me to reassure me I looked great. A kind of sneaky fairy godmother – I had to smile. Both she and her friend told me they were from Greece and once again, how I was “rockin'” my tunic. Yes, they said rockin’ – sounds even better in a Greek accent.

inspiration and culture

Copyright Kimberley McGill 2015

Just outside the museum’s lecture hall I found a giant, wood carved statue of Kwan Yin with her hand reaching out. I stood there a while, peering up at her, wanting to touch her hand; I got that feeling we get when someone gives us one of those hugs that leaves us knowing we are loved. I may not believe in actual gods or goddesses, but I do know that the energies that move through this world have a reality and a corresponding effect on us. The energies of love and compassion swirled around me and I let myself lean into them.

So, yeah, I felt pretty good by the time I settled into my seat in the hall. While people milled around, many of them gathering around Mr. Rickman as he tried to set up for his talk, I sketched different perspectives of his face. I don’t usually sketch in public, it was nice to feel so centered and relaxed.

Seeing Mr. Rickman’s photos and hearing his passion not only for photography, but also for the idea that we can continue to thrive long after our culture tells us we have become irrelevant because of our age. He’d taken photos of people in their “wonder years” since 1984, but only recently had any publishers shown any interest in the images. He’s a Pulitzer Prize wining photographer, so the problem wasn’t the quality of the photos. It’s another one of those germs in our culture that tells us our relevancy and our vibrancy are connected to our age – old equals washed up, ka-put, over and done. It inspired me to know that he had persisted in his passion to capture the images of people embracing life all the way up into their 90’s and 100’s and, of course, his photographs were infused with the love he has for his subjects.

Just before Mr. Rickman ended his presentation he invited questions and comments from the audience, and that’s when another cultural germ wiggled it’s way in. Someone went on and on about how fit these elderly athletes were and how “they didn’t sit around on the couch eating potato chips” that “they weren’t fat and lazy like so many Americans are now a days” and that “if it weren’t for those wrinkly bodies, they’d look stunning.” For a while, I felt zapped into self-consciousness about my fat body and the expanding set of wrinkles I’ve earned as I approach my crone years. I felt angry that such an age honoring presentation, and my sense of being grounded, collided with some of our culture’s toxic crap. Then I flashed back to Kwan Yin.

I softened again when I realized, that spoken or unspoken, our culture’s toxic germs are ever-present. These attitude and mindsets have been handed down from generation to generation, they’re deeply ingrained. The realization softened my anger and dropped me back into my body where I could return to center, to knowing we all have a right to take up space and deserve dignity and respect. Although I wish Mr. Rickman had responded in a more assertive way, it wasn’t about his response. It was a about where and how I choose to stand within myself. We are the cure for the toxic elements of our culture – showing up, not hiding ourselves away in our homes because we don’t reflect back to the culture it’s pathological image of of how we’re supposed to look,sound or act, of how we’re supposed to think, showing up with a healthier perspective and sharing that in the way we look, is the medicine our culture needs. We are the love and compassion our culture lacks – even when the medicine may not taste good to some people, it’s still the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and for them.

On my next community adventure, when I get the jitters about how I look or whether or not my way of being in the world will be accepted, I hope I’ll remember this experience and allow it to remind me that it’s not only OK to be exactly who and how I am, but to remind me that it’s absolutely imperative for my health and for the health of the world we live in. I won’t do it perfectly, sometimes I’ll struggle or even get overwhelmed. But the truth will stay the same and it will always be there for me to live into.

We can do this together. You have the right to take up space, to breathe deeply and follow your passions. You, now, exactly the way you are. No matter your shape, size, ability level, sexual orientation, gender identification, education level and any of the other things the culture tries to twist into a narrow and damaging definition. Let’s not let shame keep us docile like creatures in cages. Let’s follow our Feral Compass into freedom.

If you break out and decide to go on a community adventure, I’d love to hear all about it. We can encourage each other by using the hashtag #FCcommunityadventures

Much love.

Feral Wisdom: Listening to Our Bodies

our bodies

Feeling like the Come-Back Kid after a month-long illness lasted about 48 hrs. before my body got assertive telling me, “Stop it. Now. Not kidding.” Even though I know better, I hadn’t listened to all the quieter clues – like almost falling asleep at the dinner table while trying to eat and converse as if everything was all dandy or the way my lower back ached for the first time in a long while. My mind and spirit felt enthusiastic, creative, and full of all kinds of want-to (along with a bunch of should-do) and I tried to drag my body along when all it wanted to do was take naps, get massages, eat yummy restorative food, take more naps, snuggle on the couch with the Sweet Man, listen to cats purring and go to bed early. With lots of compassion for myself and my body hijacking ways, I surrendered. A bit of hard won feral wisdom I needed to revisit.

We’ve all done this at one time or another, driven by enthusiasm or should-do’s or some combination of the two. We tend to think of our minds and spirits as separate entities from our bodies when, in reality, our bodies are the kit and caboodle that includes the other two. When we’re listening to our bodies our minds and spirits feel energized – no matter which part of the our whole body we give attention to the other parts benefit. Our bodies have feral instinct and sharp intuition, that’s why we talk about gut feelings or opening our hearts.

It works in reverse too – our whole-self suffers when we stop paying attention to our bodies, or if the attention we give comes from that box of emotional weapons we use to beat ourselves up when things go wrong. Now that I’m feeling better I can see that the creative energy I felt while pushing my body shrinks in comparison to what’s happening for me now. And it isn’t just the amount of energy, it’s also how and what I create. When one part of us closes down because we don’t offer what it needs, the rest of ourselves can’t access the ingredient that only the part of us suffering can give, nor can we access whatever we might need from the visible and invisible world that surrounds our lives.

Except in the worst of scenarios, living our best lives doesn’t hinge on whether we’re ill, but it does depend on how well we listen to our bodies. I’ve lived with chronic pain and other health issues for years and my level of self-care has made the difference between living in  limbo or living life as fully as I can. Sometimes living life fully can look like getting out all the art supplies to experiment and play, sometimes it can look like intentionally making myself a nest on the couch with purring cats and sleeping on and off all day rather than waiting until all the springs in the caboodle start popping out – otherwise known as crash-n-burn.

How often do we tell ourselves we don’t have time for the kind of self-care we really want? Either way, we’re going to have to take time. It’s up to us to choose whether we want to take the time to care for ourselves, or end up out of fuel and having to take an even longer time to get back to wholeness.

Take a moment with your body and find out which part of your kit and caboodle needs your attention.

Much Love