I recently decided to take horseback riding lessons because I'm 39 and because I wanted to. As I drove across the smoky Grande Ronde Valley to the stables for my second or third lesson, I put on an album by Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Lightning struck--a glitch in the matrix--and I saw with my spirit's eyes these hills covered in corpses: mothers, infants, little boys. My own little boys were at home playing video games. I started sobbing so hard my body convulsed.
When those who are beneficiaries of the status quo tell the victims of the status quo to "get over it, that was 500 years ago," this is a fundamental refusal to acknowledge truth. The truth is that today's reality was not invented today; we are swimming in a soup where ingredients have been added for generation upon generation. And we need only look a few generations back to see that the ROUX of America's soup is betrayal and thievery. These are STOLEN LANDS, my friends, taken by genocidal force from sovereign nation upon sovereign nation. While the present might of the U.S. military may lull it into thinking it safe from the consequences of its own treachery--that is, no one seems afraid the Indians are going to rise up and take back their lands--that's not how treachery WORKS. That's not how TRUTH works. Give truth some time, and it can't help but find a way to bloom.
And the hard, jagged truth is that we, the land-"owning" beneficiaries of the original theft of these lands, are guilty. We bought a stolen bike. Five hundred years doesn't make it any less stolen.
Does this make us bad people? Should we be thrown in jail? In my opinion: no and no. We play the rules of the world as they have been taught to us: we go to school, maybe college, get a job, start a family, go to church, buy a house, retire comfortably, etc. If our lived experience doesn't tell us otherwise, and if our ancestors haven't passed down the torch of truth directly, there are precious few bits of input in such a rule-following world that might contradict this narrated structure of what it's "supposed to" look like. The system doesn't want to break itself apart, after all! So as we perpetuate that cycle of belief, we--I believe, for the most part unconsciously--perpetuate MANY LIES, one of which is the lie that earth is ownable if you call it real estate.
Here's what I'm NOT saying: I'm NOT saying we should remove all our front doors and invite the entire human population inside. I'm saying "owning" land is a figment of our imagination that was part of a story we had to tell ourselves in order to commit such voracious atrocities against our fellow man and steal their land, and maybe it's time we stop playing by the rules we've been taught AND START BEING HONEST.
Until we can ACKNOWLEDGE the TRUE birth of OUR nation, until we can teach it open-eyed to our children, until we can show willingness to look at our own reflection-- EVEN WHEN WE DON'T LIKE WHAT WE SEE--well, THAT my friends, is how we begin to turn this ship around.
In peace AND SOLIDARITY,
*UPDATE: I no longer identify as a member of the Democratic Party, but the invitation is still open!* I've grown weary of the constant tone of fighting, fighting, fighting amongst ourselves. So instead of throwing out more anger into the world, I'm offering an invitation. Join me, my friends and neighbors. Let us break bread together and recognize ourselves in each other's eyes! Who's with me?
When I moved back to La Grande in 2017 after living transiently for a year, I was eager to plant some roots in the community I was proud to call home. I looked into service organizations, and Rotary caught my attention. I was impressed with the work that Rotary International did throughout the globe, and I liked that I wouldn’t be inventing the wheel of volunteerism: in the past, I had often tried to launch do-good projects without any help, network, or overhead. Rotary seemed like a good way to get to know my neighbors, make the world a better place, and join an organization with name-recognition.
I’ve learned from past experiences that when you’re the new guy, it’s best to simply listen for a while. I didn’t want to jump into Rotary and announce on my first day that I thought their mission of giving printed dictionaries to all third graders was an outdated waste of time. I consciously gave myself a year to simply get to know the ropes. I learned the members names as best I could, invited speakers to come when there were open slots, and participated in events like Community Clean Up Day, Daddy Daughter Dance, and whatever we do on Thanksgiving where we serve free meals at McDonalds.
Every meeting, I made a conscious effort to engage with my fellow Rotarians, asking them about their lives and following up when I knew they’d had a family gathering or a big business breakthrough. My nametag said I was a writer, but nobody ever asked me what I’d written. That was okay. I wasn’t sure they wanted to hear about my book, anyway. To break the social ice, I once asked the president at the time if I was allowed to email the group to invite them all to a party I was hosting. He deflected, never giving me a specific answer. Inversely, I was never invited to any social gatherings by Rotarians outside of formal Rotary business, unless you count the time one dear little old lady needed help taking down her Christmas decorations.
I remember feeling particularly prickly when Tucker Billman, a white man in his twenties who would later become the club president, was invited to speak at a lunch meeting. (I am using Tucker's real name because he accepted a public position of authority; I will conceal all real names of Rotary members at large.) He talked about his career as a political assistant to a prominent Republican. He said he’d attended college somewhere near Portland, then rolled his eyes and said, “and you guys know how intolerant academia can be of conservative opinions.” The whole room chuckled. If it hadn’t been clear before, it was crystal clear now: the “us” of this group meant “Republican,” and anything else was the silent minority.
Another time, an older Rotarian spoke of his life and career during our Tuesday lunch. He talked about Vietnam and I listened intently. Then, tangentially, he started talking about that “communist” Allende in Chile and his successor, the noble Pinochet. My jaw dropped. I had to look it up on my phone just to make sure I was remembering my history correctly. With my heart pounding, I worked up the courage to raise my hand.
“Are you talking about Salvador Allende, who was democratically elected by his people? And Pinochet? The dictator installed after a bloody, U.S.-backed coup?” I asked. My heart rate rises even as I write this sentence to recall the moment.
“That’s what the liberal media would have you think,” he said, “but it was more complicated than that. Allende was a bad guy, and I would have killed him a hundred times over.” The room laughed. I swear to God, the room laughed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘Wait a second,’ I thought. ‘Aren’t these the same people who say a prayer to JESUS CHRIST every time we sit down to eat? They identify and Christians, but they think an assassination of a human being is funny?’
Fast forward to the spring of 2020. I’d been in Rotary about year, which was my mental deadline to start speaking up. George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement swept across the nation with renewed passion. A week went by. Two weeks. Rotary remained silent. I combed my emails, making sure I hadn’t missed something. ‘Even Amazon has managed to make a statement, and their whole MO is profit’ I thought. Rotary’s MO was making the world a better place and we hadn’t said squat.
I wrote an email to the whole group with the subject line reading something along the lines of “those who remain silent…” I said it was Rotary’s responsibility to make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, and soon! One fellow, a Mormon, wrote back to me privately to say he “didn’t know” what he thought about George Floyd’s murder. I thought, ‘well, when are you going to know? In another week? Month? Lifetime?’ I didn’t hear anything from leadership and nobody responded to the group as a whole. So I wrote again. “Listen, guys,” I said. “Thank you to the few of you who wrote back privately, but my intention was to have a group discussion.” That’s when things started heating up.
I’ll say now that there were two or three voices that spoke up in support of Black Lives Matter. They said it was absolutely in keeping with Rotary’s mission… but those voices eventually acquiesced to the much louder, dominant, majority voices. One man, a fleshy fellow who had served as a church leader, was most vocal about his disagreement. (I'd like to note that I'm not making a judgment about his physical size, merely an observation; his size was his most identifiable trait, so I'm using it here to identify him.) He said that there were lots of terrible things happening in the world (like rape) and we as Rotarians didn’t feel compelled to make statements all the time condemning rape. Another Rotarian, a woman, responded by saying she didn’t condone looting or violence of any kind. The minority Black man of the group said that Rotarians showed unconditional love in our daily actions, and that if we made a statement supporting Black Lives Matter, it would be perceived as disingenuous. Then Tucker, the one who’d felt so persecuted by liberals at college, spoke up. “I’m going to be taking over as President in the next month,” he said, “so I thought I should chime in.” He said that, while he knew and hoped we all knew in our hearts that Black lives matter, the Black Lives Matter movement sought to make changes in policing policies, and was thereby a political movement. “Rotary is not a political organization,” he argued, thereby shutting down the conversation. The fleshy man and many others echoed their agreement with the president’s. “Plus, we have law enforcement in this club!” the fleshy man added, as if that settled it.
At the end of it all, the group agreed to post Rotary International’s statement condemning racism “of all kinds” on our La Grande Rotary Facebook page. We further agreed to invite speakers who could shed more light on the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of racial injustice. It wasn’t a resounding success, but I felt like the door had been cracked open. I was proud of myself and the dialogue I thought I was starting.
I began reaching out to the higher ups of our Rotary district. The new district governor, Jo Crenshaw, was a Black woman, and I was eager to hear her feedback about what was going on in La Grande Rotary. She wrote back to me right away, praised me for my passion, but essentially redirected me back to my group. She encouraged me to solve all my problems at the local level. I was bummed. I felt like I’d asked for help and been told “sorry, I’m not here for that.” When I emailed the person who was supposed to be in charge of the whole district’s new racial response team, my email went unanswered. I wrote two more times and didn’t hear a peep. I reached out to the person on Facebook, introduced myself as Evelyn, and asked for more information about how Rotary was responding to the pressing issue of racial inequity. A few days later, I got a response. “Dear Sarah,” it started, then informed me about an online meeting for everyone throughout the district to come together and brainstorm. I wrote back, thanked her for the meeting details, and reminded her that I preferred my middle name, Evelyn.
When I logged on to the Zoom meeting, I was optimistic. And the people who joined seemed optimistic, too. They were excited to share their stories about what their clubs were doing. One man said that his club had hosted their local sheriff and discussed what law enforcement was doing to assure their Black citizens that their lives mattered. Another man introduced himself as a racist, acknowledging that when we are raised within systemic racism, the idea of white supremacy is baked into us; it is our duty, he proclaimed, to become aware of this so we can change it. The moderator of the discussion was clearly reading something else during the meeting, and in between each speaker, she would attempt a recap. Her summaries were lifeless and inaccurate, and I thought how happy I would be to do her job. When she later encouraged anyone who wanted to help host future meetings to reach out to her, I did so.
“Hi, Evelyn here again,” I wrote on that same Facebook messenger thread. “I’d love to help in whatever way I can with the district-wide conversation/ Zoom meetings,” I said. “Dear Sarah,” she wrote back. Goodness gracious! Was anybody even listening?!
A few weeks later, when the dust had settled, I found a letter to the editor of a local-ish paper written by a fourteen-year-old white kid about white privilege. (As a rural community, “local” usually means the eastern half of our state, and this paper was from a community about two hours away.) I suggested we invite the young fellow to speak at one of our meetings. He had shown leadership by writing into the paper, which is a characteristic we allegedly valued as Rotarians, he was local-ish, and he was speaking from the same position (i.e. white male) that represented the vast majority of La Grande Rotarians. I thought he would be an ideal, non-threatening speaker who could open the conversational door a little wider.
But Tucker disagreed, and wrote back to me saying as much. He said he’d have to get board approval before allowing me to reach out to the young man. I asked if that was standard procedure for guest speakers, and he said no. Then he launched into the multitude of reasons why this speaker was inappropriate for Rotary. These are the reasons he gave:
By this time, a few things were clear to me: 1) I was on my own and couldn’t count on higher-up Rotary “leadership” for support or back up. 2) My local club wanted nothing more than for me to sit down and shut up.
I was exhausted. Whatever door had cracked open was now being slammed shut. I cut and paste my emails with Tucker into a blog post, then added my commentary and responses to his long-winded shut down. If I wasn’t making any headway within the group, I was going to take the conversation to a more public sphere. After all, I reasoned, Rotary wasn’t a top-secret organization. These emails weren’t confidential or private. Plus, weren’t we trying to expand membership? Anyone who wanted to join had a right to know what was really going on.
This public outing enraged many Rotarians. The next meeting I attended got heated. Men were pacing like angry tigers when I accepted Tucker’s invitation to speak. What was I saying that was so inflammatory? I was simply restating the events that had transpired. “There was a lot of pushback when I said we should make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter,” I said.
One man shouted me down. “I won’t sit here and be lectured by you,” he said.
“Excuse me,” I responded. “I was invited to speak. And I am merely retelling the story of what already happened.”
“Well, we don’t need to hear it,” he continued. “Just get to the point.”
One man said he’d been in Rotary for fifty years, and that I owed Tucker an apology. Tucker didn’t correct him or tell him that he could solicit his own apology if need be. The fifty-year-Rotarian said I should look in my heart and ask myself if Rotary was the right place for me. I mention this because I was being told out loud and in public that I was unwelcome, and nobody from leadership spoke up to say otherwise. Rotary was showing itself to be a place where the majority opinion ruled, the minority opinion was attacked, and “leadership” was willing sit back and watch a member get bullied.
Another man, the fleshy one, said, “saying ‘silence equals violence’ is bullshit!” He said that. He said “bullshit” in a Rotary meeting. He reminded me how offensive it was to say Black lives matter, because, again, “we have law enforcement here!” One man said that all those problems they have in cities just don’t exist here in La Grande. “I mean, who’s to say they stopped George Floyd because he was Black? Some might say it was because he was a criminal.” Then the club treasurer spoke up. “This isn’t any different than what they were all saying in the sixties,” he noted. I nodded emphatically in agreement. “So what makes us think we can do anything different now?” I guess his point was that racial injustice had been around for such a long time, we should just give up on it? The Black guy, who had literally been walking back and forth across the whole picnic area, finally cut in. “I’m not going to get preached at by some fourteen year old white kid about white privilege,” he said angrily. ‘Well, why not?’ I wondered. Plus, why is it that when someone who speaks from a different view point, it was considered “lecturing” or “preaching” or “pushing an agenda”? How many ways we humans have invented to block our ears from information we find uncomfortable!
I decided that I wouldn’t be intimidated or scared away. Before the following week’s meeting, it was announced that the Black Rotarian would be speaking; I’ll call him Mike. I attended the meeting and listened to Mike’s story. He talked about his time in the military, befriending his white supremacist roommate. He talked about his racist neighbor in La Grande who ended up forging a relationship with his (the neighbor’s) own mixed-race grandchild after forging a relationship with him, Mike. He talked about being racially profiled by a member of La Grande law enforcement (who happened to be in attendance at that very meeting) years prior; he had been driving home from work when he noticed a police car behind him, so he started zig zagging through the neighborhoods. The cop followed him, so he eventually drove to the grocery store. When he got out of his car and started toward the entrance, the cop called out on his megaphone “Halt! Return to your vehicle!” Mike gritted his teeth as he told the story, and I was indignant and humiliated for him and with him. He continued: “Officer X was like ‘I’m sorry to have to do this, but… can I search your vehicle.’ And I said ‘no,’ and that was that.” I think Mike was trying to protect the cop, to tell the story in a way that ensured he wasn’t making it the cop’s fault, but I couldn’t help but think: ‘exactly! This is exactly what we need to be talking about!’
I reached out to Mike after the meeting to thank him for sharing. He responded kindly and said we can learn a lot if we’re only willing to listen to each other. ‘Bingo,’ I thought. ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to do for over a year.’ I asked him if he wanted to be a panelist on an amateur Youtube show I was putting together called “Is It Racist?” where people could submit anonymous questions and have people of color answer those questions. It was my attempt at creating a safe space for people to learn how to become better anti-racists. Mike took a pass. “You can’t push it down people’s throats,” he said. “I’m more about education and outreach.” ‘Me, too,’ I thought, shaking my head.
I was on tenuous ground with Rotary, but committed to remaining a member. ‘They can expel me from their Republican meetings,’ I thought, ‘but they can’t expel me from Rotary.’ I arrived late to our first indoor meeting since Covid hit; it was in a large school gym and everyone was sitting at least six feet apart. And yet… nobody was wearing a mask! Rotarians are not a young group, in general, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! When my dear friend Marshall died in 2016, I remember feeling like I would do ANYTHING I could to prevent him from dying. And here we were in 2020, with an opportunity to do SOMETHING, and we weren’t doing it! Later, the Rotarians would claim that they were eating lunch and that everyone was wearing a mask when they weren’t eating. But I’ll tell you: I didn’t see a single bite being raised to anyone’s mouth, and there were only two or three people in the back wearing masks.
“I’m really not comfortable staying,” I said to Tucker as I handed him a house warming present.
“I hear you,” he said, rushing to put his mask back on. “You’re welcome to say something to the group. It’s hard, you know, telling people what to do. I think it will be good coming from the members.”
‘But that’s what leaders do,’ I thought, even as I nodded.
I went home and posted a video on Youtube about how shocked I was at entering a room full of maskless octogenarians. “Do you not value your LIFE?” I asked. “Or MINE?” In the video, I retrieved my giant sugar skull and introduced her to the audience. “This is Maestra, a giant piece of art I carry around. Nobody in Rotary has ever asked me about it, and that’s fine, you guys don’t have to be curious about my life. But I carry my death on my shoulder. I think about death a lot. I don’t welcome it, but I accept its inevitability. And also, I do everything within my power to delay it! And wearing a mask is something within my power! I just don’t understand why you would risk it. Even if you don’t wear masks and nobody dies… is that a risk you’re willing to take? Why can’t we just protect each other?”
I shared the link with my Rotary group, and there was a flurry of responses. “Rotary is about doing good work in the community,” wrote one retired doctor. “Now it seems like we’re just being held hostage to one persons’ beliefs and opinions.” The fleshy man, always one for confrontation, spoke up. “Nothing I saw in that room today bothered me. I’ll wear a mask if someone asks me, but I won’t be shamed into anything.” Holy moly pants. I was talking about death and he was talking about shame.
“I’m sure this will come as a relief to many of you,” I wrote at 5 am the next morning. “But I’ll no longer be part of La Grande Rotary.” I felt like I’d done everything I knew how to do to reach across the aisle to the community members who were different than I was, and it hadn’t worked. I felt hopeless.
Tucker never responded. He still hasn’t. That’s what La Grande Rotary leadership looks like.
Would I do things differently if I had the chance? Yes. I would have sent Tucker’s response to my inquiry on the white-privilege speaker, along with my commentary, to the Rotary group instead of to the world at large. I would have taken a breath after the maskless meeting and, with love in my heart, written a strongly-worded letter to my fellow Rotarians. But I did the best I knew how each step of the way. Including this one.
In the end, I’m writing this essay because I feel heartbroken for my community and for my world. I got run out of Rotary on a pole, and they see ME as the intolerant one. How are we ever going to make this world a better place, which had always been my goal in joining Rotary, if this is how we respond to those who challenge our belief systems? Because the truth is we will NEVER be able to expel the people who are different than we are. Rotarians expelled me from their club, but I’m still here in their town. Human history is full of people trying to divide and separate by category, but it has NEVER worked. Even when we "succeed," we end up finding NEW ways to divide. (I'm looking at YOU, Christianity!) Dear reader, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but we are all imprisoned on this little blue planet together. We are basically married to each other, and divorce is not an option. And if we are more invested in the fantasy of how great our lives would be if only THEY weren’t NEAR me (which is DISTINCT from the truth of how great our lives would be if only they weren’t KILLING me), if we are more invested in expelling the other than we are in figuring out how to mutually survival, well, outlook not good on mutual survival. I guess the question, as always, is what do we really want: do we want to be happy? Do we want to be right? Do we want to keep fighting? Do we want to listen to each other? Do we want to survive?
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to offer $100 to Shelter From the Storm, our local women’s shelter, a non-partisan non-profit, as an incentive for having (a socially-distant) dinner with a Democrat. If you live in La Grande and you are a Republican, let’s have dinner! I'll order take-out from whatever local restaurant you choose and we can meet at my house in a room that allows for 10 feet between us. Let’s find a way back to recognizing the humanity in the other. We may disagree, but we are not enemies! We are NEIGHBORS! We don’t even have to talk about politics over dinner. In fact, I’d rather we didn’t. But if you’re exhausted from this constant state of fighting and if learning how to live side by side sounds like a relief to you, send me a message. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Rotarians are welcome to apply.
(WARNING: This article is intended for those of the age of sexual consent. If you're too young for sex stuff... you should stop reading now!)
IN DEFENSE OF JEFFREY TOOBIN
Let's start with the basics:
1. Humans are animals. I don't care how you feel about this. Truth is truth, even if it hurts your feelings.
2. Sex feels good. Surely we can ALL agree to this? If not... tell me more! Do you think sex doesn't feel good? If so, there are DEFINITELY some things we should talk about.
Now to the matter of Mr. Toobin, whose recent behavior has been covered as if it were criminal. And it's true that poor Mr. Toobin has been caught red-handed in the act of sexual gratification in front of his colleagues, which is unequivocally not cool. But let's take a minute now to acknowledge that sexual gratification, in an of itself, is not a crime. It's not like Mr. Toobin stabbed a guy in front of his unwitting Zoom witnesses. See the difference? If not, try opening your eyes, then looking again.
I would agree that the setting for his masturbation session was inappropriate. He obviously thinks so, too, and has issued fervent apologies for his "stupid mistake." The fact that he thought his camera was off and that his colleagues couldn't see him over Zoom doesn't negate the fact that sexual pleasure and online business meetings do not mix, but that same fact also assures us that he wasn't intentionally exposing himself. It was an accident. And accidents happen. I myself recently forgot that I was drying a cast iron pan on the stove, only to come to the kitchen five minutes later to find it nearly smoking. If I had been thinking properly, I would have set the timer like I usually do; if Mr. Toobin had been thinking properly, he would have (a) double-checked his camera setting was off and (b) maybe waited until after the meeting was over to beat off, like a normal person.
And yet! I stand in defense of Mr. Toobin, whose important work at The New Yorker and CNN is not somehow nullified by the slip-up of inappropriately-timed sexual pleasure. Get over it, guys. Sex feels good and we all like it. Even journalists. Even everyone. Even YOU. And that's great news, really! It's how mother nature designed it. Sex feels good and that's on purpose. As for the issue of Mr. Toobin's marriage: (1) the sexual habits and agreements of anyone I am not in a relationship with is NONE OF MY BUSINESS and (2) mother nature wasn't like "okay this is going to be the BEST thing in the world... but only if you're doing it with your wife."
Enough with the outrage at human sexuality. It's just another way for humans to incorrectly put themselves in an ascending order of better to worse, and now that you know the events of Mr. Toobin's Zoom call, you get to think that you are better than he. But you aren't. Not because you've necessarily done anything similar, but because no human is better than another human. This is another dose of truth that won't ever be untrue, even if you won't believe it.
So, Mr. Toobin, I am sorry that you're dealing with America's inconsistent sexual attitudes, where we don't bat an eye at using sex in the name of selling products but where we call FOUL immediately, as soon as any real sexual encounter is documented. You are a sexual being (like all the rest of us) and this does not somehow invalidate your professional, intellectual, and important contributions to this world. Of course, I would recommend waiting until you've fully logged off Zoom next time you need to get your rocks off. And while we're on the topic of obvious advice, I also recommend setting a timer if you're going to dry a cast iron pan on your stove top.
In peace, as always,
Dear Big Sean -
I cannot claim to be your number one fan. I do not know all your lyrics by heart, and sometimes when there are multiple lyricists on a track, I’m not even sure which one is you. (Except for the content clue… I can usually distinguish you by what you choose to say.) This is all to say: I’m a novice in the land of BIG SEAN. In fact, I must admit I hadn’t heard your music before I heard “Deep Reverence.” Correction: of course I’d heard your music. Nobody hadn’t heard it. But I had never reverberated with your lyrics… and if someone had asked me “who sings… [one of your hits]” I would have had to google it.
For context, it’s not personal: I’m terrible at knowing who sings what. But I’m working to improve on this, which is why when a song comes up on a playlist that I particularly identify with, I’ll take a homescreen screenshot of the song title and artist so I can go back later and actually learn something about myself and my tastes. I took three such screenshots over a week or so recently: two out of three, chosen by no conscious mechanism of mine, were “Deep Reverence.” The universe funneled you directly to me, and I wasn’t going to ignore the signs.
So I’ve been doing my homework and listening to your music. And it’s glorious, glory us, GLORIOUS. It doesn’t surprise me that the books you recommend are mostly spiritual in nature. When I put on the playlist that you curated and heard your earlier stuff, I thought ‘you’ve come a long way, baby!’ When I heard “Light,” I started crying. Then I watched the video and I was slayed (ditto for the "Deep Reverence" video). PREACH, Big Sean, preach! It’s clear you’re jesusing pretty hard, my friend, and I say that from a non-denominational standpoint. Because my light = your light = Nippsey’s light (may he rest in power) = Jesus’ light = (sigh) 45’s light = all light. When one of us suffers at the hands of another, we all suffer: the victim, the perpetrator, and all the rest of us connected, indivisible, all-one. And yet… even deeper than that… deeper than all the unnecessary suffering… there is that un-dimmable light. You’re exactly right, Big Sean, the boy’s that bright.
As I put the final touches on my book (an explosive debut memoir about death, divorce-without-the-douchery, spiritual trust falls, unconditional love, and, oh yeah, a sex club or two) I am feeling expansive. I feel like I just jumped out of a plane and the space that would have taken ages to traverse bipedally simply flashes past me in the blink of an eye. I don’t have a parachute, but I’m not scared, because I KNOW I can fly. When my friends ask me how I’m doing and I tell them this story of spiritual expansion, they mostly shake their heads and tell me they love me, weirdo that I am. ((UPDATE: I SWEAR ON MY HONOR I WROTE THIS LETTER BEFORE HEARING "DEEP")) But you know what I mean. Of course, it’s hard to explain limitlessness to a person who lives with limits, especially in these moments before I’ve busted through the ceiling. But I’ve seen the future, and bust through the ceiling I will/ I have/ I am. This is why it was particularly refreshing for me to hear your music at this juncture in my own journey. (For the record, I’m grateful I didn’t discover you earlier. If I had heard your songs before writing my book, I probably would have given up before I even started. Parallel-universe me: “Nope, everything I have to say has already been said by Big Sean. And he said it BETTER.”)
This letter is me ringing a bell in time: here, now, before we’ve ever met, I’m saying thank you for taking the time and spending the energy to see truth, know truth, and sing/ rap truth. You dropped into my life right when I needed you, right on cue (big up, universe!), and your words have been the spiritual and creative lifeline I was particularly thirsty for.
In closing: I have no intention of meeting you non-consensually, so I want this next part to be heard in the right tone. I am grateful for your friendship, whether it remains as a fan through your music or as a friend face to face. And I suspect we will meet someday; I have seen it in my mind’s eye. You say your purpose in life is to inspire by doing what you were born to do; I say your purpose just overlapped my purpose, in that it inspired me to keep on keepin’ on with what EYE was born to do (emphasis mine), which in a way is also to inspire.
In peace and gratitude,
Have you ever heard someone say, or maybe even thought yourself, "I'd rather die than go blind"? I have. Heard someone say it, I mean. And if the person who said it hadn't been a hospice client diagnosed with dementia, I would have said:
"Do you know any blind people?" or
"Maybe you can make that decision if the decision ever presents itself," or
"I have a blind friend, and she wouldn't agree with you."
If you, dear reader, have wondered how it might feel to be alive as a blind person, or if you think you'd rather die than go blind, I HIGHLY recommend reading Outside Myself, by Kristen Witucki. Of course, the book isn't a one-trick pony. If you were ever bullied or witnessed bullying in grade school, I recommend Outside Myself by Kristen Witucki. (If the scene with Erin doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will.) Come to think of it, if you were raised by divorced parents or are raising children as a co-parent, I recommend Outside Myself by Kristen Witucki. If this book were ever optioned as a movie, the family scenes alone would win the Oscar for best screenplay.
This book! This book is for people who want a palpable tour through a seven-movement arrangement of music you may or may not have heard before.This book is for people who have questioned whose, if anyone's, religious rules you should live by. This book is for people who have become best friends with the person you couldn't stand at first.
For blindness awareness month, AND for the good of anyone reading this, please run out and get a copy of Outside Myself. Do it! (If you want to.)
Say you get what you want. Say if I get pregnant again, I MUST, legally have the baby and I am a law-breaking criminal if I want an abortion. Let's imagine that world, shall we?
Today I'm sending unconditional love to YOU, fifty-year Rotarian. Who encouraged me, with anger, to look at my own self and ask if maybe Rotary wasn't for me. And I like that you said that out loud. I appreciate that. Because you showed me your hurting heart. And I can see you squirm in the discomfort of your own reflection. I can see that you are made so uncomfortable that you don't even recognize it's your reflection. (Laughs.) "No way! That's not ME!" In any case, I'm sending you love, even through your anger, because I see through you! Because I know you. Because I am you.
🌟Rotary's Four Way Test🌟
1) Is it the truth?
2) Is it fair to all concerned?
3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Before my most recent Rotary meeting, the president approached me privately and asked if I'd like to say a few words. (I'd been making a respectful but vocal stink about Rotary's response/ lack of response to George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. You can read some of that exchange here.) So I did say a few words, and let's just say that feathers were RANKLED. I was interrupted many times, often to be told by the speaker that "I won't sit here and be preached to." And yet. I held my ground. I anchored to my palace of peace. I took deep, meditative breaths and would not sit down and shut up as they so clearly hoped I would do.
After the meeting, I had a group of anti-groupies waiting to speak with me.
One white man who had almost abandoned the meeting earlier from being so piping mad at me, said: “I’ve been in Rotary for fifty years, and it’s not for everyone. You should take a good look at yourself and ask if Rotary isn’t a good fit.” I asked if I could quote him on that and he agreed. The thing is: I ask myself who I want to be with every breath I take. With every sentence I utter. I made that promise to myself when Marshall died. I sure know who I am and I thought I knew what Rotary was about... but maybe there's an unwritten code? Maybe Rotary just says they are all about making the world a better place, but what they really mean is 'as long as you don't rock the boat'?
The next man, who also gave me permission to quote him, said he had some advice for me. This seemed odd, as I hadn’t requested his counsel, and yet, I listened. “If you want people to listen to you,” he said, “you can’t be so accusatory.” I asked him in what way I had been accusatory. He said “when you say ‘white privilege’ THAT is accusatory.”
Our district governor, who I’ve reached out to on multiple occasions, and who has only responded once, is slated to be our guest speaker at Rotary this upcoming week. The president of the club has explained to me that she’s not going to really “get into” the racial injustice stuff.
I’ve seen multiple futures in my crystal ball, but I would LOVE to know what YOU think of all this. Honestly, dear reader: what would YOU do? Comments are welcome, dissent is encouraged, meanness is NOT tolerated. In peace,
Rotary district 5100, Jo Crenshaw ,institutional racism, racism in rotary, is rotary racist, speaking truth to power, standing up for what is right, stand for something even if it means losing everything, antiracist, anti-racist, example of white privilege