Skip to main content

Dancing with the Storm

This week, it feels like the world is consumed by fire and floods. There are the literal ones. And all over America, hate crimes are on the rise. To illustrate the doom, here is an article posted by a conservative news outlet acknowledging the unprecedented spike in hate crimes this year--and also wrongfully placing blame upon the nonviolent Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring white supremacists to join hate groups and commit acts of violence. It ends by asserting that there is no hope, and domestic terrorism is the new normal for America. [Edit: Here is a way more interesting story about an interview with that guy with the flamethrower.]

Oh, and that's not all.

I'm not just seeing this hatred in the news. It's here, in my own backyard. A local LGBTQ activist's house was set on fire last week, killing her pets. I've heard reports of Nazi propaganda flyers going up in nearby neighborhoods, with razor blades taped to the back for people who reach out to tear them down.

A few days ago, I demonstrated peacefully with a group of church ladies for Black Lives Matter, and we were harassed and verbally assaulted by white supremacists who happened to find us there--not lawn-ornament-wielding losers bused in from all over the nation for that purpose but chance passersby, on foot and in a car, who happened to see us and got incensed that we were undermining their white power.

In the moment, standing there with my sign felt good. The louder they screamed, the higher I held my declaration. I stood my ground peacefully until my arms ached, and nobody stopped me. I resisted the temptation to punch a Nazi and felt proud of that, because I truly believe that when the assault has not gone physical, a nonviolent response is more effective. Maybe not as emotionally gratifying, maybe not as impressive to others or street-cred-earning, but more effective. I felt proud of myself for doing what I felt was right instead of doing what I felt like doing.

But things escalated anyway. People were endangered. No acts of physical violence occurred that morning, but the whole chain of events shook my confidence in how we were operating the demonstrations. We immediately had a few meetings to start developing safety plans, particularly with children and people of color in mind. We came up with a few adjustments right away and are still consulting with various experts and local leaders on how we should move forward as things develop.

Meanwhile, this whole thing set off a 36-hour acute anxiety episode for me in which I could not sleep, eat, or breathe properly. I dreaded the possibility of being asked to give a statement to police, unsure whether that would put certain people in more or less danger, in light of the widely varying opinions and feelings among officers about the BLM movement and what it stands for. My anxious spiral of questions and fears brought up a series of conflicting snippets of advice I'd read on the internet. I brought up my worries and questions to leaders and experts and left the decisions up to them, but it was hard for me to let go and stop questioning myself and stewing over whether I could have said or done, or not said or done, something different.

I want to know better and do better. But I can't learn things or act effectively in the middle of an anxiety episode. Learning requires the power to focus--without panic--on questions, criticisms, and challenges from trusted sources.

For me, that requires less time obsessing over conflicting, impersonal online advice (which has oft steered me wrong) and more real time with trusted humans, face to face. I've found that the best way to get grounded in reality, revitalize, and grow in wisdom is through direct human interaction.

This extends to my writing practice. Online communities for writers can be very useful, but they can also go completely toxic, stifling creativity and dialog.

There's a lot of jealousy, shame, and just plain maliciousness that drives certain people to attack others online. There are always those who seek to appear righteous or superior by lobbing accusations or insults. I believe that honest criticism is a good thing, that no work of art is perfect, that everyone has something to learn, and that we should continue to raise the bar and hold each other accountable.

But sometimes those values are being hijacked by people who wish to express their negative emotions inappropriately. This is happening now in the young adult novel community. A virtual mob of white adults is attacking YA authors who write about racism and/or diverse characters, sometimes even before a book is published. Ironically, the people who don't believe white authors should write about nonwhite experiences are mostly white people ranting about what's good for nonwhite people, or which racial topics should be avoided in books for young people.

I think it's just another way that some white people are working out shame. Everyone wants to punch a Nazi right now. And if there isn't one available or punching a real Nazi is too scary, some folks will invent a Nazi and punch them from behind a computer screen.

All this reminds me of my goal to process my own shame, fear, and rage productively.  

I am working at a social justice nonprofit, volunteering to teach children's classes on social topics, mothering a child, lending a hand to others in my community of real people, and writing a novel about cultures that are not my own--or anyone else's, because they existed a thousand years ago. I have to face the storm with all of my strength and creativity, because there is no hiding from it in the life I have designed for myself.

The descendants of the people I'm writing about, when known at all, currently speak different languages, wear different clothes, practice different religions, live under different laws and social norms, and have different values and life experiences than their ancestors who exist today. The process of researching these cultures is prompting me to think deeply about humanity, as is attempting to write from their perspectives. Later on, I'll gather feedback from as many beta and sensitivity readers as wish to read it and respond.

I welcome this kind of criticism. It helps ground me in reality and drown out the paranoid voices in my head. Real talk between real people about a real, specific thing helps clarify what I actually need to work on. When a beta reader points out mistakes, wrongful assumptions, or other potentially embarrassing flaws in my work, I feel gratitude and relief--like when a helpful friend tells you you have spinach in your teeth. The more criticism I take in on a piece, the more confident I feel about moving forward. If I get a second and third and fourth and fifth opinion that all basically agree, it reduces my dread of getting it wrong in a way that unintentionally hurts someone. I seek to avoid that as much as possible and to collect information that could help me sort out, later, valid criticism from garden variety trolling.

Meanwhile, my daughter is my muse. Nux Gallica is only six years old. She can't give me much in the way of advice on social action or creative writing. And that is just fine. I am overjoyed that she does not seem to have inherited my anxiety disorder; rather, she is more like her father: a big-hearted, direct, salt-of-the-earth type with an expansive sense of humor and a knack for living in the moment.

Nux Gallica loves direct, all-encompassing experiences. Stormy days are her favorites. "Dark clouds make my heart happy," she says. Thunder and lightning make her squeal with excitement. Wind fills her sails. Rain is a beloved playmate.

She is learning how to follow reasonable rules of safety during a storm without learning to fear the storm.

Because we can't stop it and we can't hide from it. But we can prepare, learn from the lessons it offers, and accept the opportunity to deepen our roots.


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

Ich Liebe Rammstein: Richard

Richard Z. Kruspe
Richard Zven Kruspe is Rammstein's founding father, lead guitarist, and natural frontman.

***IMPORTANT UPDATE, 2018***: Richard has immortalized his lifelong bromance with Till in a tender duet about their friendship, "Let's Go" by Richard's side band Emigrate. Till sings words such as "Zwei Herzen in mir schlagen" with sincerity and I think I am now deceased.

He's gregarious, well-spoken in both German and English, a professional showman, and an enthusiastic promoter for the band. In German, his name is pronounced "REE-kard," and in Germanglish, "Reeshard," or "Reesh" for short. Richard is sexy, and he knows it. To many Rammstein fans, he is the cuuuuuuute one. His Facebook page would have you believe it.

Legend has it that Richard has a lovechild with lead singer Till Lindeman. The myth is based in complicated facts and figures, including one unconventional love triangle. Circa 1990, Richard and Till …

A Bad Romance Starring Till Lindemann, Sophia Thomalla, Gavin Rossdale, Simone Thomalla, Sven Martinek, Andy LaPlegua, and Leila Lowfire

November 2018 Update: Sophia is settled in with Gavin a young soccer player (like mother like daughter) now, I guess, and Till is spending time with 36-year-old (hell yeah, thank you, sir) Ukrainian singer Svetlana Loboda. He is either her latest babydaddy or doing her the favor of bearding as such (not that he's great with beards, but we don't mind--we know how much he loves pregnant and lactating ladies) to help her keep some distance from her crazy ex who cuts his wrists over her. The juice continues...

To misquote Gaga, "I don't speak German, but I can look at foreign tabloids and guess what's going on if you like."

I guess it would be more professional and ladylike for me to be above this sordid celebrity gossip, but I'm not. I'm so not.

So let's see if I've got this straight. From what I gather...

Metalgod Till Lindemann, 54, and model Sophia Thomalla, 27 (upper left) recently exited a five-year, on-off, opennish relationship, which bega…