Gratitude: Week four

When I try to remember back to the days of recordings on VHS tapes, my memory is fuzzy—a mixture of magical thinking and nostalgia. I can’t remember one single recording that was actually saved on a tape, all I can remember is opening up the VHS cassettes by pushing the tiny square button on the side and lifting the protective “lid” to look at the magnetic tape inside. My mind was blown every time I tried to understand how it worked. My favorite part of the whole VHS experience was watching and hearing the VHS player open itself up by popping part of its top. It was like a robot from the future. The satisfying sound of inserting a VHS cassette into the player and watching it close is seared into my brain. If I ever come down with Alzheimer’s, just sit me down in front of an old VHS cassette player and let me open and close it. Maybe the sound will trigger an old memory, like watching “How commercials are made,” something I think my mom recorded and showed to me when I was nine.

That show may be the earliest lesson I learned in critical thinking. It showed how commercials geared toward kids were made. Like sugar cereal. I learned that they didn’t use actual milk on screen because it looked blue instead of white; they used glue instead. To say this revelation expanded my reality is an understatement. The glue insight was a seed sown. It came long before my high school English teacher taught me “All that glitters is not gold” and I harvest its knowledge to this day.

I feel like learning how and why commercials are made caused me to receive them with curiosity rather than consumerism. And for this, I am grateful. As I grew older my focus shifted from paying attention to the animated Snap, Crackle, and Pop who could talk, to advertising tactics used by companies. And even though I knew the purpose of commercials was to sell stuff, that didn’t mean I wasn’t influenced by the standards they set and the fear they instilled. You know the fear. We all do, because it’s pervasive. It’s everywhere like air. Except air helps us breathe and this fear is toxic. A toxin that makes us doubt ourselves into believing we have to look a certain way to have worth and be valued; makes us paranoid that no matter where we are or what we’re doing, we’re missing out on something, somewhere else with someone else; and it makes us terrified of aging, sometimes so much that we alter the physical appearance of our bodies to resist growing older. This fear eats away at our self-esteem, so subtle and stealth.

I’m grateful to have what I consider a healthy level of self-esteem. I’m grateful for the constant choices and small responsibilities my mom gave me as a tod and child, that were sometimes annoying. I don’t know where your shoes are Megan, those are your responsibility. I’m sure you can find them. Choices and responsibility that established my self-efficacy. I am grateful that my mom wasn’t a helicopter mom and didn’t do everything for me. I am grateful that she empowered me to achieve small accomplishments; no matter how messy they looked to her, she didn’t “correct” things I did, she didn’t stunt my self-confidence from forming, they way it had to, chaotic and organically.

Show + tell: Super Indian

Show + tell: Super Indian

I love the way Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) challenged the popular perception of Native Americans and how his work continues to break down stereotypes. Super Indian is currently at the Denver Art Museum, on view through January 17, 2016.

In order to fully appreciate Scholder’s work, I think some context is in order. Here are some traditional images of Native Americans:

Little Wolf by George Catlin
Little Wolf by George Catlin
A Sioux Chief by Frederic Remington
A Sioux Chief by Frederic Remington
Lucille, Dakota Sioux by Edward Curtis
Lucille, Dakota Sioux by Edward Curtis

Whether or not these depictions were accurate at the time they were produced (still, with the understanding that they were made by non-native artists and illustrated their perception), the trouble is that entire generations held on to these types of images as defining images. Especially troubling is how this art followed the systematic displacement of many Native American Tribes and numerous broken promises via treaties by the U.S. Government.

One of the reasons I appreciate Scholder’s work is because despite the terrible acts and mistreatment that Native Americans endured, elements of humor can be seen in his paintings.

Indian in Car by Fritz Scholder
Indian in Car by Fritz Scholder

This is one of my favorites of the exhibit. Not only do we get a Native American in a space we’re not used to seeing them, it looks to me as if the old notion of them wearing a feather and a leather vest is vanishing before our eyes.

Super Indian No. 2 by Fritz Scholder
Super Indian No. 2 by Fritz Scholder

I love this image. It reminds me of the time I went with a group of kids to play football against team mascots during halftime of a Broncos game. The kids were up against Dinger, Rocky, Miles, and some other mascots who I didn’t recognize. After they were done, we all walked back to the locker room. As we were walking down the hall, I think it was Dinger, who removed their head. The look on this one kid’s face was a combination of shock and loss of innocence. It’s as if the world they were living in, held up by a suspension of disbelief, tumbled. Super Indian No. 2 destroys the notion that Native Americans don’t enjoy ice cream. WE ALL scream for ice cream, no? Yes. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, then maybe you just holler for some vegan ice cream.

Indian Land No. 4
Indian Land No. 4

I’m not a huge fan of abstract expressionism. I’m not even a moderate fan. Yet, I really enjoy this piece. Go figure. Scholder challenged my perception of abstract expressionism as well.

Here are some more pieces from the exhibit:

Indian No. 1 by Fritz Scholder
Indian No. 1
Indian at the Bar
Indian at the Bar
Indian with Blue Aura
Indian with Blue Aura
Indian and Rhinoceros
Indian and Rhinoceros

If you find yourself at the Thanksgiving table later this week reminiscing about Pilgrims and Indians, I challenge you to imagine one of Scholder’s Indians at the table. I know I will.

Gratitude: Week three

I remember playing mercy with Jenny on the playground of the school I went to for kindergarten. It was a confusing and terrifying moment; I thought we were friends and her long fingernails dug into the backs of my hands, making four moon shape indentations. It’s as though I instinctively knew that I had to stand my ground and not back down at that moment. The fear of being dubbed a weakling and ejected from kindergarten society kept me engaged. I could easily have been crying my eyes out. Silently. Maybe a few shoulder shaking silent sobs to top it off.

It’s amazing to me, how early on we know the importance of belonging, as a survival tactic. It’s one of those reptilian brain functions and it can get ugly. An example of this is mean girls. And unfortunately, some mean girls grow up to be mean women. Although, I tend to think of them less as fully developed women and more like scared little girls in the bodies of grownups. Imagining a middle school girl inside a woman I find to be mean spirited, controlling her with levers and buttons like a robot, makes me less irritated by the woman.

My mean girl phase was in the 5th or 6th grade. I don’t remember which, but I’m sure the girl who I was terrible to does. And it was terrible. I was mean to one of my best friends, just because I could. SO TERRIBLE. There were tears. Hers not mine. There were hurt feelings. Hers not mine. There was immediate regret. Mine.

Basically, I convinced another friend of mine to go with me to tell this girl that we decided we weren’t going to be her friend anymore. I think this episode lasted a few days. It was horrible. And all because I was trying to secure my own place at school.

Are there schools out there where all students feel a sense of belonging, so much so that they don’t feel the need to tear apart others to establish their own place? What happens when these students grow up and enter the workforce, where a culture of belonging may not already exist? Can they dismantle infrastructures that pit people against each other and overcome them with collaboration and inclusion?

I am grateful that I grew out of being a mean girl. I’m grateful for the connections I have with friends and family. I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned from the failed relationships I was in. I’m grateful for the partnership I’m in that strengthens each day. I’m grateful for all the people in this world who choose love instead of fear.

Safety dance

I didn’t realize how much I love to dance until my freshman roommate in college (and since then recognized soul sister) introduced me to the world of dance outside the boundaries of booty dancing and dance floor foreplay. That was in 1998. I interpretive danced my way with whimsy into the camp of let the music move you. I stopped thinking about what others would think of me and started doing whatever the cuss I felt like on the dance floor. I danced my cares away (thanks Jim Henson and Fraggles!).

I found myself on The B Team in 2005. “Courage on the Dance floor” was our motto and

B Team, 2005
B Team, 2005

we expressed it with fervor. One of the members, who is in my contacts with an exclamation point after their name (because their personality more than anyone else I know can be summed up by !), is a master dance floor warmer uper. I admire them because they (still to this day) are the first one out on the dance floor 99% of the time I see them at an event. Most people fear being “that person,” the one out on the floor, solo, exposed to all eyes because the crowd of comfort has not yet been formed. This person is not afraid to express who they are on the dance floor.

I wonder what the world would be like if everybody felt as safe on the dance floor as my fellow B Teamonian. Can you even imagine what a judgement free dance floor would look like? I can and I want it now.

Emotional safety as a concept is relatively new to me. As common sense and a product of kindness, it’s very old news. I’m continuing my exploration of things I’m grateful for and the focus this week is safety. Both physical and mental.

If safety is security, stability, order, and freedom from fear, then how do we get there as individuals and collectively?

If I gave thanks for all the safety related things in my life, I’d be bowing my head in gratitude for the remainder of my life. There’s this small part of me that’s scared to jinx it by putting it “out there.” I guess that in itself proves I don’t feel 100% safe. BOOM. As a woman, the most common thing I find myself fearing is being sexually assaulted. I walk around at night feeling on guard. I repeat what I learned in self-defense classes on a loop in my mind until I get to a place where I feel safe. I am grateful that I’ve never had to use the self-defense skills I know. I’m thankful that so far I’ve escaped the terrible odds of “1 out of every 6 American women are the target of an attempted or completed rape.” I am also thankful that the adults in my life who I trusted and felt safe with never shattered my trust. I’m deeply grateful for the trust I have in my husband—the trust he earned and solidifies every day. Thank you husband, for helping me unlearn some of the toxic lessons I learned from pop culture on the topics of lust, love, and cheating. I’m thankful for the financial stability I grew up on, and for the order and routine that my parents provided.

I feel a certain responsibility to spread the safety. I can’t undo anything that others have gone through in the past but I can create spaces of inclusion and acceptance. Here’s some of the ways I practice creating inclusive spaces:

I use gender neutral language. Not always but sometimes, I say “my partner” instead of “my husband.” It’s a reminder to me of my heterosexual privilege, because I get no looks when I say “husband,” but when I say “partner,” sometimes the person I’m talking to is noticeably assessing in their mind whether the partner I speak of is male or female. Why does it matter to them? Ideally a day will come when everyone feels safe and comfortable talking about their partner.

I use “junky,” “falling apart,” or “cheap,” never “ghetto” unless I’m talking about the Warsaw Ghetto. Similarly, I don’t use the words “retarded” or “gay.” 

I’m aware that people may have preferred pronouns that are different than what I assume. I don’t dismiss transgender people’s experiences just because I don’t understand them. I practice seeing people as people and understand trans and cis statuses as one part of overall identity.

I use “kind” instead of “politically correct.” The phrase “politically correct” comes with such a burden of obligation I find unnecessary. If the label a group of people prefers to be called changes over the years, that’s their preference and my choice to honor.

What can you do in your own life to help create inclusive and safe spaces?

I like to imagine what the world will be like when we’re all more accepting of each other, when more spaces feel safe, when everyone feels moved to dance, not like nobody is watching, but like everyone is and it’s all good.

Gratuitous gratitude

Welcome to November, the month of gratuitous gratitude. Thank you for being here! I appreciate you taking the time to read these words. Gracias por being. 고맙습니다, Merci, Danke, Þakka þér fyrir.

All superficial joking aside, I do value gratitude. I practice it, probably not as much as I could, but that’s okay, room to grow gives me a goal. With Thanksgiving a few weeks away, the interwebs will be trending with gratitude journals and scientific research that tells us the health benefits of practicing gratitude.

Just as with the months that celebrate Black History (February) and Women’s History (March), I like to use November as a time for heightened awareness of gratitude and its importance, with the idea that what is remembered this month is not forgotten every other month of the year.I’ve decided to spend time each week reflecting on what I’m grateful for, with the idea of using November as a springboard for gratitude, rather than an excuse to pay lip service to being thankful. With Abraham Maslow’s handy hierarchy of needs as a framework, I invite you to join me in reflecting on and being grateful for what aids us in our actualization of being human. The focus for this week? Basic needs.

How often do you think about the water you drink and how it most likely comes out of a faucet on your command, free of pathogens?

I am grateful for indoor plumbing, for the people who work at Denver Water, for the person who designed the water bottle I most frequently use, and for hydrogen and oxygen getting together to make some refreshing science happen. Thank you water!

Okay, so here I am tempted to talk about one and done plastic water bottles. How yes they are recyclable but how very few of those bottles are actually recycled. However, going there doesn’t feel very gracious. Here’s where the stretch happens though, where can I express gratitude for plastic water bottles that end up in the ocean? I am grateful for the technology that makes bottled water available. I am grateful for having the option of bottled water in the event of a natural disaster, when I would not have access to my typical source of water. Sigh. That actually felt pretty good.

Do you express gratitude for the food you eat through prayer or words to all the lives who got it to your table?

My go to prayer as a kid was the old standard, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” I always wanted it to be, “Let us thank him for our plate.” A good rhyme but a misdirected message of thanks, maybe. Nowadays my life is filled less with capitol “G” and more with “powers that be.” My husband and I never say a prayer of thanks before a meal…except on Thanksgiving when we are part of the collective prayer said by his 93 year old grandmother, who I am so grateful to know and spend time with…but before I get carried away on a tangent of thanks, back to giving thanks for food!

I think I’ll talk to my husband about adding some gratitude to our before dinner time. Shared meals are a gift, a great time to practice expressing thanks! Marking my To Do list with: “Words of thanks before meals.”

Does your house feel like a home?

I tend to think about how thankful I am for my home when the weather gets colder. On really cold nights, I think about how grateful I am to have a home with heat that works. For people in positions of privilege, it’s easy to take shelter for granted. We may feel entitled to the roof over our head and the walls that protect us from the elements. It may be hard or scary to think about life without a home. For me, perspective comes when I think about the young people I used to work with, some whose families were homeless. This could mean they were living out of their car or in a motel room, long term. Neither scenario is one I’d want to have to deal with. I am grateful that I haven’t had to do so.

I am grateful that my house feels like a home, and that I don’t have a landlord or lady who I have to worry about raising the rent. I’m thankful for the three other hearts (husband, cat 1 and cat 2) who beat in the Sound Space, truly making it feel like home to me.

When’s the last time you thanked the clothes on your back for keeping you covered?

Okay so maybe you don’t anthropomorphize everything like I tend to do and haven’t said, “Thank you clothes! You saved me from an embarrassing moment of being naked in the library.” But when’s the last time you were thankful for having clothes to wear? I am grateful for having the basic clothes I need to protect me from the elements (cold in winter, sun in summer) and for having easy access to a washing machine that I can wash said clothes in. I’m thankful that I don’t feel the need to have a closet full of brand name clothes and for having just enough style that I know they’re now called “joggers,” not “sweats.”

I think for many people, basic needs are the ones we express gratitude for the least, so there’s the most room for improvement. Here are some suggestions if you’re looking to work more thanks into the air you breathe (thanks air!) and the ground you walk (thanks ground!).

Check your privilege.

Trouble being thankful for drinkable water? Think about those living without.

Food no big deal to you? Well, it is to many. Learn about food insecurity in the U.S.

Leaky roof got you down? At least you have one. People who experience homelessness are more common that you may realize.

Replace guilt with action.

If you start feeling guilty about being a have instead of have not, don’t let guilt paralyze you. Use your privilege or position to do something that spreads the need for gratitude. Remember, try one thing. No matter how small. You will be thankful for the opportunity. Or will you? That’s up to you.

The impermanence of technology

I recently plugged my iphone 6 into my computer to upload some photos from a recent trip to the City Museum (I planned on posting a show+tell about the amazing spot in St. Louis that is one of my favorite places on earth). Instead of syncing, my computer registered my phone as new and asked me if I wanted to restore from a backup or as new. Very long sob story (with even longer back story of me being forced to upgrade from my 4 that I was happy with until it couldn’t run the current operating system) short, I lost all the photos I took in October and from the dinner I attended last night. This makes me sad, mostly because I had very specific plans for those lost pictures!

This experience reminded me of the impermanence of our digital lives. It also made me take one step closer to the Samsung camp of mobile devices.

And a note for those of you wondering why I don’t just auto sync over wireless; I hit my limit for free iCloud space and didn’t feel like getting bullied into buying more space. Talk about first world problems.