Sunday, February 28, 2010
This experience is giving me an opportunity to exercise the most enduring lesson I learned at Heather Berthoud’s diversity training last summer.***
I boiled this lesson into a mantra which, with a lot of deep breathing, gets me through it all without sticking a fork into one of my own eyes:
“When you work with people who are different than you—which is to say, all people—things will move more slowly than you might expect.”
Heather never actually said, “When you work with people who are different than you—which is to say, all people—things will move more slowly than you might expect.” It’s possible that this was not the take-away she intended. But despite the fact that I’ve been attending diversity trainings for over twenty years—my entire undergraduate experience as a Women’s Studies major at the City University of New York was a protracted diversity training—I understood something new in her class:
When I am thinking: “This would go so much faster/better if we just did everything my way,” people different from me—which is to say, all people—are probably not thinking, “This would go so much faster/better if we just did everything Lynne Marie’s way.”
Apparently, other people might be thinking, “This would go so much faster/better if we just did everything my way.”
Other other people might be thinking, with regard to my own stellar contributions, “What is she trying to do here? This is not the fastest/best way. This is making me very uncomfortable.”
And some other people might not even think “fast” equates with “best.”
(Insert more deep breathing here.)
Now, Heather’s a terrific trainer (see footnote: “genius”). Of course the session explored differences which are often culturally linked—such as values around punctuality or conflict, for example. I do understand that my ideas of “best ways” are inextricably tied to my identity as a white, blue collar/middle class, North American native-English speaker as well as my upbringing in a wealthy East Coast WASPy suburb.
But my mantra defines “people who are different from me” as “all people” because the voice of God that spoke through Heather’s training told me that I have to be more patient—with everyone.
When I get that scritchy, irritable feeling that things should be moving along right about now and why don’t we just do everything my way?—it is time for me to get very quiet. It is time to listen as deeply as I possibly can.
I know my way around a committee meeting. I am not only a lesbian feminist; I’m also a Unitarian Universalist. I know that group process can (will) hit a snag. If I get quiet I might be able to facilitate the snag. Maybe there’s a need for information or it’s time to call a vote. Maybe someone misheard someone else. Maybe we all need a snack.
But what feels like a slow-down might not be a snag at all. I’ll never know unless I try listening to my peers. What feels like delay to me might be an indication that the other members of the group need something—to speak, to listen, to feel, to act. Maybe the solution which is obvious to me is not smacking them upside the head because it’s not the best way for everyone.
Maybe people who are different than me—which is to say, all people—are really different than me. Maybe they are being their true and whole and beautiful selves. As opposed to just slowing everything down by refusing to see things my way.
Maybe being comfortable in a group—having everything happen in a way that feels natural or easy to me—is not the highest success. It can’t be if we value diversity. People who are different than me—which is to say, all people—are going to be maddeningly, infuriatingly, incomprehensibly different than me. A lot of the time they are going to want or need something other than what I want or need. I don’t understand it but it doesn’t mean that they are wrong.
If I’m never unsettled in a group it means that people who are different than me are compromising themselves. There’s a social justice piece to this, of course. As a white person I have to be hyper vigilent. It’s easy for members of the dominant culture to railroad a process according to what’s comfortable to them. That marginalizes the non-dominant members of the group; in common parlance it’s what we call “racism.” Or “sexism,” or “classism”—you get the drift.
It feels like a profound switch, though, to draw my attention to my own scritchiness—and lack there-of—rather than the apparent differences between myself and other group members. Rather than casting an eye around wondering how the straight members, or the African-American members, or the privileged-class members are going to demonstrate their differences from me, I look to myself. When I feel too comfortable I have to wonder, “Who’s not comfortable?” When I feel scritchy and impatient I have to wonder, “To whom am I not yet listening?”
(***The other really important thing I learned from diversity training with Heather is that she is a genius. In the event that you are in a position to hire a consultant for your business or non-profit, do not waste time researching her competition—just hire her. Pay her highest per diem, fly her to you business class, and do not send your assistant to pick her up at the airport. Pick her up yourself, because you will want to spend every moment you can learning from her.)
Friday, February 19, 2010
In January, the phenomenal Lee Sinclair made her first demand upon the twelve feminist self defense experts she’s calling her national Comet Group.
I’m a little star-struck to even be counted among this group, which includes Nadia Telsey (who founded the school where I was first trained as a self defense instructor), Ellen Snortland (the writer/actor/activist/writing coach whose name I drop as frequently as I can) and Shihan Linda “Ramzy” Ranson (an eighth degree black belt who has intimidated me since I first met her twenty years—and several degrees—ago.)
The Comets—whose name was inspired by Miss Maria Mitchell, the first American woman to discover a comet—are a group of advisors to Lee’s No Means No Worldwide project. As Lee says, “It gives me a good feeling to think of this group’s exchange of ideas as lights streaking across the sky from one woman to another.”
Lee boiled her first question down to this:
“What do you feel are the absolute essentials that a Self Defense class needs to provide for students? These may be strategies or beliefs or a philosophy upon which many other fundamental behaviors rely."
What an amazing opportunity this was for me to name my core beliefs about the work I’ve been doing and thinking about for the past two decades.
This is what I know:
• Self defense is everything you do to take care of yourself: mind, body, spirit. It is acting as if you have value. Self defense considers both short term and long term consequences of your actions in terms of what will be best for you.
• As the instructor, I am not the only expert in the room. Women practice self defense—take steps to protect themselves and their children—all the time. Women are the best experts about what strategies and techniques will work to reduce or respond to violence in their own lives. In my classes we always learn from one another.
• Self defense is about increasing women’s choices. There is no “right answer” in self defense, no silver bullet technique that will work in all situations. No two women will respond to a given situation with the same choice.
• Self defense is a right and not a privilege. Everyone has the right to autonomy of his/her own body.
• It is easy to hurt another person’s body. The techniques we teach work. You can learn them. You can use them if you need them.
• It is never your fault if someone chooses to attack you. If someone makes the choice to hurt you, they are responsible for that choice. You might have compassion for your attacker; you might even understand what compelled him to make that choice. You can take steps to keep yourself safer and learn self defense techniques. But taking responsibility for your own safety is not the same as taking responsibility for having been attacked. It is always the attacker’s responsibility for having made that bad choice.
• It is my deepest hope that my students will never have to use physical techniques to defend themselves. These principles guide my understanding of physical self defense:
o Do the least amount of harm necessary to neutralize the situation.
o Understand that any physical engagement includes a risk of harm to the defender.
o Reserve the most damaging techniques for the most dangerous situations.
o Select techniques that will do the least amount of harm to your own body while striking vulnerable targets on the attacker’s body.
• Like many others in our movement, I use the Five Fingers of Self Defense as a pneumonic for the steps of avoidance/de-escalation/response:
1. Use your mind and breathe.
2. Use your voice.
3. Create distance.
4. Fight back if you have to and with appropriate force.
5. Tell someone you trust.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Violence, Unsilenced is a community blog featuring personal stories of domestic violence and sexual assault. Each post is a brave and unique story of courage and survival. It is sometimes hard to hear these stories. But it always feels like a priviledge.
Violence, Unsilenced is an example of the very best things that technology can bring us. It is a holy space among the noise of the internet. A space of truth. A space of courage. A space of compassion and the power of connection.
Maggie says, “Whether it’s domestic violence or sexual assault/abuse, perpetrators control their victims by relying on silence and shame. We can break the silence, thereby eradicating that fear and shame one voice at a time.”
As anti-violence educators, we teach the Five Fingers of Self Defense:
1. Use your mind and breathe.
2. Use your voice.
3. Create distance.
4. Fight back.
5. Tell someone you trust.
Violence, Unsilenced is a triumph of Self Defense Finger #5. In the past year over 100 people have spoken out on Maggie’s award-winning blog. Thousands have posted comments of support, becoming the trusted someones.
In the two decades that I’ve been studying and teaching self defense, I’ve heard countless stories. People have an instinct to survive and to tell their stories. I’ve had neighbors tell me over the fence and shopkeepers over the counter, students tell me in classes and colleagues tell me in the cafeteria, how violence has impacted their lives. How someone tried to hurt them and they fought back: with their minds, with their voices, with their bodies.
I am always honored and humbled when survivors tell me their truth. As I am honored and humbled to bear witness to Maggie and all those who have spoken out in her forum.
Last night at the dojo we stood in a circle throwing palm-heel strikes and yelling “NO!” In that circle was at least one woman who had never done that basic self defense exercise: strike, yell. In that circle were one girl, one young women, two teachers, three mamas.
Women on a cold night getting stronger, yelling into the dark.
I thought, “I have been standing in this circle for 22 years.”
I thought, “There is nothing more important to me than these women, growing stronger.”
I thought, “Why isn’t this fight over yet?”
Maggie: I wish for us a world where there is no need for what we do. A world where women and children and men are safe, and no one needs to fight back or listen to one another’s stories. Because the violence is over and there are no more stories to tell.
But as we move from now to then, I wish you the continued strength of your huge heart. I see in your smile how you draw strength from the triumph of the survivors around you, as I draw inspiration from my brave, bold, powerful students. I wish for your movement to grow even greater and the voices of survival you’ve assembled to grow even louder. From your work I learn again how one person can make a profound difference in the lives of countless others. You are one of my heroes.
Friday, February 12, 2010
For a brief moment I thought maybe I could avoid all stimuli by pulling the covers over my head. Then my irrepressible darling arrived in my bed already dressed for church. Her self-selected outfit consisted of:
- A blue serge Benneton dress with a white Peter Pan collar ($4, Salvation Army) that makes her look like Wednesday Addams.
- A white nylon crinoline, brand name “Her Majesty.” (Mighty Meg hand-me-down bag.)
- A white cable knit sweater with rhinestone buttons. (Sister Carrie care package.)
- Silver ballet flats (Target clearance, $3).
Do you have to ask how the day went? Don’t you already know how sitting in the Great Hall full of congregants must feel to someone who forgot to wear her skin? Can’t you already guess that Small wanted to talk to every single person in that hall during the Community Greeting while I wanted to empty out my purse and put it over my head? You won’t be surprised to hear that Small danced—no, marched—away from me on her way to Religious Education, so eager was she to be in fellowship with her classmates. Or to hear that she had a sudden change of heart and regretted not saying goodbye, causing the Director of Religious Education to have to search the building for me. Did she find me? No, of course not. Because sitting through a service led by our brilliant, quirky, treasured Unitarian youth—a service that called upon the congregation to dance, and sing, and witness the young people’s poise and wisdom—was simply not an option in my state of agitation. I retired to the parlor where I could listen to the service while reading Douglas Adams and playing solitaire on my I-pod.
I’m not even going to tell you about swimming. I’ve summed it all up before: Ninth Circle of Hell. And that was without PMS.
This state, this feeling state of extreme intollerance, where I can scarcely bear my own presence let alone other humans, is like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul. I feel my real self like some panicked wild animal, blunt snout prodding and sharp claws scrabbling at its confines. Every breath is an exercise in patience. I would pull my own hair out of my scalp, I would smash things, I would holler, if it did any good. But it doesn’t do any good. So I practice de-escalation and count the moments as they pass.
I tried to say “Yes,” to everything, because staying another 10 minutes to play in the climbing structure wasn’t going to make me any more miserable than getting back home. I said, “Yes,” you can watch a video when we get back and “Yes,” you can have a popsicle too. And when we got all the way home only to discover that we’d forgotten the precious white sweater in the locker room, I tried not to cry before we packed ourselves back in the car and headed back to get it.
If I believed in God it would be really hard not to take moments like this as proof that he hates me.
But here’s the lesson:
I used to take this state of agitation, of desperation, of inner turmoil, for real. I used to feel this way a lot in periods of depression and anxiety and I thought that it required action. I thought that it was a reasonable response to the circumstances of my life, whatever they were at the moment.
So I did pull my hair, and also cry and stomp my feet and smash things and yell a lot. Thank goodness I do not have an addictive personality, because although I distinctly remember the toilet at CBGBs as a tilt-a-whirl, I did not do much self-medicating. I just acted it out: if I felt full of hate I acted mean, if I hated myself I acted pathetic, if I felt anxious I hyperventilated. I walked down the middle of city streets crying, I smashed the phone down into its receiver over and over again, I stayed up all night writing terrible poetry.
I had really dumb relationships. I had lots of stupid fights.
Now I look at this snarling cur of a mood and think, “Here we go again.” And I watch it. If it doesn’t slink away, if it shape-shifts into something else—days of uncontrolled weeping, nights of sleepless terror—I I ask for help. In the meantime I help myself with the things that help it go easier: lots of tea and hugs from my kid and chocolate and blazing cardio and practice hitting things really hard.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
“I am a storm cloud!” I informed my first client. I had considered fronting but it makes me queasy. Also, it doesn’t work. The other person knows something is going on and they become paranoid and/or hostile when you refuse to give it up.
Having admitted to my storm-cloudiness I entered the client’s session with focus and purpose which was good because girlfriend was on fire. The chance to witness her totally kicking ass was completely worth the pain of crawling out of bed.
Honesty was working for me so I led with it in my 10 o’clock exercise class too.
“I am evil and grumpy and a horrible mean teacher and you are all going to suffer! Why haven’t you left this place and gone out for donuts yet? This is your last chance! RUN AWAY!”
“Oh, Lynne Marie, you’re so funny!” they tittered. Then, as they do every week, they all did their own customized exercise routines regardless of what I told them to do. I cultivate a classroom setting where students listen to their bodies more then they listen to me, and I devote a lot of time to individual instruction, so my classes look like utter chaos. It’s good for the clients—it’s how I love to teach. But it offers no salve of order when my soul is stormy.
“Jump UP!” I hollered between exercises. They all lay on the ground and rolled their eyes.
Somehow everyone survived the class and BirthPie was there for me to talk to.
“Me too,” she hissed. “I need chocolate. There’s no chocolate at my house!”
“I can score you some chocolate. Meet me after school.”
On the pick-up run I slipped BirthPie a slab of the therapeutic brownies Sweetie had baked the night before, having hit the chocolate-jones part of her month too.
“Do not share this with anyone in your family,” I cautioned.
“No chance,” she said, slipping it deep into her satchel.
Once again I was reminded that Frisbee is the only man in our little constellation of families: six females, one guy. In only a few short years it will not be the three of us cycling together but the six of us. I’m advising Frisbee to take up extreme marathoning or international consulting and organize his absences strategically.
Because there may not be enough chocolate or Drambuie in the hemisphere to survive that adventure.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
My entry into Momalom’s Love It Up challenge: a love letter to my on-again/off-again martial arts training buddy Seamus who leaves for a new life in Tennessee (what the--?) this week.
I know you are leaving soon and I have fairly spectacularly failed to say goodbye. I could blame it on a lot of things, like the fact that we just don’t fit into each other’s worlds in any kind of way that makes sense. (Seriously, do you see me fitting in at your karaoke goodbye party?) But the truth is I’m just not dealing. Jender asked me the other day how I felt about you leaving and I said, “I’m sticking with really, really pissed off.” So, there you have it.
The truth is that we stopped hooking up a while back, but so long as we both still resided in this neck of the woods there lived the possibility that on any given Wednesday night we’d be locked in a sweaty embrace, desperately trying to knock each other down. Or kicking each other across the floor with teeth-rattling power. Or practicing joint-locking pain-compliance techniques.
And laughing, always maniacally laughing.
When I met you—damn, I was jealous! You were this hot young phenom and you remembered everything they taught us. I had ten years’ training on you and just hoped to make up in depth and principles what I lacked in straight out memorizing. But then you started coming to my Saturday morning sparring class—hung-over—and I realized what a total goofball you are.
Somehow, along the way, you became my go-to person to practice anything with. The stick fighting that confused me, the falling that scared me, and the kicking that makes me love my life. I wanted to do it all, but I wanted to do it most with you.
I have trained with a lot of women in the past twenty-two years, and I have grown to love and trust many of them, but I have never had another training partner like you. I have trusted you with my body more than I have ever trusted anyone other than a lover—and if I’m honest I have to say I’ve had lovers I trusted less.
At the School of Love we say that training can bring up strong feelings, and that’s okay, but it’s one thing to say it and it’s another thing entirely to see someone else’s badass ugly rage and not want to run screaming off the scene. You and I always knew that our snarling snarkfest had more than a grain of actual anger running through it. And that was really okay because we were strong enough to hold it for each other.
Who would have thought to put the two of us together? I arrived in town with my wife in tow and my wild days a safe and distant memory while you were still stomping around in your army boots doing the Big Dyke Around Town thing. I bought a house and I’m pretty sure you slept in your truck, before it got towed. I had a baby and took her to story hour while you studied auto mechanics.
But it worked. I can’t think of another way we could have been friends but for the sheer delight we found in slugging each other. Maybe if we’d been really young together in the same city we could have squandered our connection on a drunken one night stand and a few months of really tired drama and bad poetry, but that would have been a flat-out waste. What we’ve had is the perfect dojo love story.
Did I ever thank you for everything you did for my black belt test? Like dying your hair Spike-blond, and reminding me not to punch you with my right arm after Strawberry almost broke it? Not to mention the months upon months upon months of loyal practice. That was your test too, I hope you know.
I love you like that bruise you get while sparring that doesn’t bloom until two days later and you smile when you see it because you remember how goddamned much fun you were having.
I love you like that predictably stupid fake somebody throws that still works after all these years.
Like the sneaky uppercut to the ribs,
like the way your wrist cracks in the hanging lock,
like the irritating sweep that takes your foot right out from under you and lands you on your ass,
I love you, man.
Safe travels. Don't forget us.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Moments later, I birthed baby Small.
So we had a shiny, functional shower but perhaps not the greatest amount of attention to lavish on its upkeep.
Years later—two? Three? I am not the best at tracking the SAHM period of my life— I noticed that the subway tile—or more specifically, the grout—was no longer shiny. At the end of the stall where the shower head is the grout was yellowed and scuzzy looking. At the far end it was as clean and bright as the day it was laid.
That’s when the shame started dogging me. Unlike the rest of this dirty old place, I felt responsible for this tile. I could remember the day we bought it from the smart, sassy Irish saleslady in West Springfield and left the showroom asking each other if there weren’t more things to tile in the house—she was that good. I could remember the brother’s red reading glasses sliding down his broad nose and the way he held his beer bottle in one hand and tilted his head to survey the placement of the next tile. This shower stall represented one tiny corner of my home where a century of other people’s dirt did not precede my tenancy, and I had failed to keep it pristine.
While I felt ashamed and inadequate every day, I never felt compelled to change my cleaning routine.
Which was this: Every six months or so I would agonizingly choose between a green cleaner and a toxic cleaner. Every six weeks or so I would squirt the chosen cleaner onto the dirty tile. The grout would fail to immediately resume its original whiteness at which point my shame transmogrified into frustration, bitterness and anger.
“I don’t know how to clean this!” I would howl—sometimes to Sweetie, but more often to myself. I’d think of the clean, bright homes of my mother and sister and grandmother’s and sister-in-law, and how they would never have let this happen. Occasionally I would spend an afternoon standing in the shower with a toothbrush or a tiny bleach pen, obsessively cleaning the grout with the same lack of results.
The whole experience of failure was so exhausting and upsetting that I’d need at least a month to recover before I could try again.
I kept that up for a few more years.
Six months ago I had some kind of shower epiphany. I have noticed that these surges of self-efficacy have corresponded to Small’s developmental stages: The first time she slept through the night, we painted the dining room. Something about her first grade self determination restored the emotional wherewithal required to shift my shower stall gears.
I decided to act like a person who cleans her shower stall once a week. I expected it to keep looking awful, but I’d know it was cleaner and maybe that would make me feel better. Every Monday I squirted cleanser onto that tile; just the random toxic cleanser that happened to be on the closet shelf. I felt a frison of environmental guilt but determined to take this project on without agony: the next bottle of cleanser might be a gentler brand. I didn’t take hours with a toothbrush or waste evenings Googling “How to clean grout.” I just squirted the cleanser on the tile, wiped it off, and moved along. When it didn’t get newly, beautifully clean the first week, or the second or even the third, I forced myself to think positive. “Oh well, maybe next time.”
Gradually, the grout got clean. Now, you might not even notice a difference between the shower-head end and the dry end. It’s unremarkably, simply clean.
There’s no way to tell the story that exactly explains how this felt like a tiny little miracle in my soul. Every Monday I squirted something out of a bottle and a month later a burden of guilt I’d been carrying for six years lifted off my conscience.
Aha! I thought. There is a lesson here. I could even write about it: “Imperfect effort, applied consistently, will yield results.” I thought about how already knew this lesson from karate, how just showing up is more important than doing things perfectly.
I felt very smug, and serene, and wise from my Zen shower lesson.
The other day I was brushing my teeth and I noticed how discolored the grout was on the bathroom counter that was installed two years ago. My conscience started twisting and whining. “I don’t know how to clean this!” it howled.
For the love of God. I thought I could generalize the lesson to my whole life, and I couldn’t even generalize it to the whole bathroom.