Amanda Quraishi writes...

Break Room

The desk phone trilled, waking Janie out of her reverie. She’d been staring at the baby pictures pinned to the wall of her cubicle, wondering how Avery was doing at daycare. It was Janie’s first week back to work from her maternity leave and she was miserable.

The caller ID told her the call was coming from her boss, Mark Trevor. Mark was ten years younger than Janie, and completely clueless. She had no idea how he’d landed a Director position at twenty-nine.

“Fucking capitalism,” she grumbled, before picking up the receiver.

“Hey!” said Mark’s annoyingly cheerful voice on the other end of the line. “Got a sec?” He wanted urgent help with some data analysis.

“I guess so,” Janie answered without enthusiasm. “Let me go grab a cup of tea and I’ll head to your office.”

“Great!” Mark said brightly, “Bring me a cup of coffee?”

She hung up the phone and glowered at it for a minute before collecting her mug and her laptop.

In the break room, Janie found Bill Peterson, the oldest employee at the company. No matter what day it was, Bill wore the same thing: a short-sleeve button down shirt and a hopelessly unfashionable necktie. Still, he was a nice guy and always friendly to Janie.

The coffee machine was brewing a fresh pot and Bill was standing in front of it, observing it with the focus of a scientist in a laboratory.

“Hey Bill!” Janie greeted him.

“Oh hi Janie!” Bill smiled. “I didn’t realize you were back! How’s the little one?”

“Oh she’s so precious, Bill. Come by my cube so I can so you the photos we had done.”

Janie moved next to him so she could fill her teacup with hot water. She watched him pour himself a cup of fresh coffee at the same time. 

Once Bill moved over, Janie reached up in the cupboard and got a new mug out to pour a cup of coffee for Mark.

“Who’s that for?” Bill asked.

“Oh, Mark.” Janie said rolling her eyes. “I have a meeting with him now and he said to bring him a cup of coffee.”

Bill looked from the cup in her hand to her face. Wordlessly he reached out his hand, took the cup, and deftly brought it up to his mouth. He let a small wad of saliva escape his lips and land in the steaming cup. The spit disappeared into the depths as Bill handed it back to her.

“There you go,” he said evenly. “That’s just the way he likes it.”

He turned, grabbed his laptop off the table and left without another word.

Janie stood motionless staring at the cup. She looked to the door, then around the break room. It was empty. Silent but for the hum of the refrigerator.

She grabbed her laptop, her teacup and Mark’s adulterated coffee and walked down the hall toward his office with her short heels clip-clopping merrily as she went.

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As of January 31, 2023, I'm (once again) unemployed. Rather than forcing myself back into yet another job that I hate (or that hates me), I’ve decided to give myself some space to figure out exactly why I’ve spent so many years doing jobs that don't really meet my needs.

Which is not to say that I haven’t been able to make enough money. The jobs I’ve held in the last ten years have paid me excellent salaries, and perhaps I should just shut the fuck up and be happy with that. Find another 'good job', earn some ‘good money’ and dream of retirement. But the idea of jumping back into the workforce right now feels soul-crushing.

I know that being able to take a pause from work to figure my shit out is an enormous privilege from the perspective of the majority of people on earth living hand-to-mouth. And yet. Forcing myself to suffer simply because other people are suffering doesn’t really make sense to me. Instead, using my current socio-economic comfort to make space for figuring out how I can be a better person and thereby help other people is probably the most ideal use of privilege there is.

To be able to unwind and analyze the life I’ve built with my family, and then determine where and how to move soundly and earnestly into middle age is a gift. I am grateful for it. Unlike past periods of unemployment where I was obsessed with finding more work, this unexpected midlife pause in earning has caused me to question my priorities and the values of our society; and to ask myself the question, “When is it ever enough?”

We talk about poverty in America, but America is the 1% of the global population. Even our poorest poor people have infinitely more access and resources than those in other parts of the world.

I grew up very poor in this society and still got a basic education, stayed fed, read books constantly (thanks to the public library) and was eventually able to climb my way up to the middle class propelled by my mom’s insistance that we were just as good as anyone else and had every right to be counted; and, of course, with the help of my stalwart, hard-working immigrant spouse.

This is not to say that I don’t have hangups and trauma around the poverty of my youth. Poverty is a bitch and it fucks you up in all kinds of ways that can take a lifetime to work out. The point I’m making, however, is that even in our poverty we almost always had enough. Sometimes it was ‘just enough’ or ‘barely enough.’ And yes, there were even a few times when we didn’t have enough and we were literally hungry and worried and afraid, dependent on charity and the begrudging assistance of a society that thinks poverty is a result of moral failing  - but those times were, thankfully, rare. Compared to parts of the world where shoes are considered a luxury and child labor is an ugly necessity, I had it good.

As I write these lines I’m sitting in the living room of a modest middle-class house in Austin, Texas. I have a spouse who earns well and two kids in college who get our support. We have health insurance. I don’t have to stick to a tight budget when I go to the grocery store. My life is good. Still, I find myself anxious about not having enough.

Then I look at people who have so much more than we do (and this goes beyond income). I think about how unfair it is that they have so many things I will never have. Opportunities. Degrees. Big Houses. Magazine Covers. Millions of Dollars to start a business or run a charity. I resent my late start in life, and having to play catch up for decades just to be in the middle class.

Then, I look back at where I came from, and at the millions of other people who have only a fraction of what I currently have and I realize…

It will never be enough.

Years ago I went to a fancy dinner party in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Austin. A sprawling house atop a hill, filled with wealthy people talking about their businesses and vacations and other boring party topics. In the corner, I saw an older couple who were quietly observing the crowd. Being a natural introvert, I made my way over to them in the hopes I could sit quietly alongside and pass the time.

They were the parents of one of other guests and were just visiting Austin. Both were doctors and had spent the last several years in Africa working in villages to provide medical services. They were genteel, calm and polite.

I asked them about their time in Africa and they loosened up, regaling me with stories about the hardships, the long days and the scope of the issues they were facing there.

“It must be nice to be back,” I said, assuming they were happy to be getting some respite from their life of material martyrdom.

At that point they both rushed to correct me.

“No, no,” said the woman. “There’s a lot of problems there, to be sure. The poverty is shocking. But the people are are so happy and full of life. Everyone here is miserable all the time. We can’t wait to go back!”

There’s a lot of talk in America these days about how terrible billionaires are, and how evil capitalism is, but I think there’s something very important missing from that conversation. Billionaires aren’t some other species. Capitalism isn’t just some economic system imposed on us. The economic engine of this country is us, and we love to consume.

We, The (vast majority of the) People of these United States, who are addicted to comparing ourselves only to those who have more than we do. We, whose homes each have at least one room where we can go inside and take a hot shower in clean water, in private, any day of the week. We, who throw billions of dollars every year at for shit we (let us be honest) really, truly do not need.

Our Black Friday sales are violent. Our children take on immoral levels of debt to go to college to become ‘good earners.’ Our social media feeds are a barrage of crap that has no real value, marketed to us with a silver-plated spoon — and we click, and we order. TikTok made me buy it.

We consume and consume even when it's unnecessary and then to assuage our guilt, we scream sanctimoniously about capitalism as if it were not actually being fueled by our consumption. We really and truly seem to believe that if we got rid of billionaires, we wouldn’t keep making more of them. Ultimately, we want our billionaire bad guys; our glamorous, diamond-encrusted celebs; and our privileged academic and political elites who pay big money to masquerade as meritocratic. If we didn't want them, we wouldn't be so goddamn eager to support them with our money, attention and votes.

I’ve come to realize that no matter how hard I work at the things that are important to me, I will never get to ‘make a difference’ in America because my values are different from those held by the people in our society who have the most money and power; and our society – like every other society in the history of the world – is made in the image of the powerful, the wealthy.

That’s ok.

Because in the end, nothing can save us from the exact same fate that befalls every other human being — past, present or foreseeable future. Nothing that we can earn or own is going to fulfill us and make us love ourselves and the people around us any better. No amount of achievements, awards or recognition will be important to us as we meet and embrace the ends of our lives.

It will always be about the humans we live with and planet we live on that determines whether we’ve lived well.

In reality, human beings need relatively very little to live well. And maybe some folks have figured this out already, but as I ponder what I want to do with the rest of my life (I just turned 49 this month), I am taking an inventory of what my needs actually are, and how I want to live out the time I have left.

What the world (and America specifically) needs right now is a whole lot of introspection. No one will ever declare, “I have enough already!” It’s not in our nature. (That’s why even in socialist and communist societies people hoard resources, engage in nepotism and prioritize themselves and their tribal affiliations over all others.) What each of us must do now is ask ourselves: “When will I have enough?”

For my part, I’m now deeply aware that I have enough. And yet, I still find myself wanting more. I want to be able to landscape my yard, visit Japan, write stories that get published, and make creative contributions that allow people to remember me when I’m gone. But do I need these things to be happy? Are these things a measure of my worth? What if I never get them? And how much time and energy and vitality am I willing to sacrifice in service of my habits of consumption?

Ultimately, I must learn to value myself and appreciate my life without those external acquisitions, because I'm now very clear that even if I achieve these things, I'll find something else to chase after. These days I'm spending enormous effort to “reprogram” myself and overhaul my list of priorities. Right now the most valuable asset I have is time, and I’m going to use it as wisely as possible.

More than anything, I want to make my decisions based on what is intrinsically important to me, not according to the fucked up values of a society that cannot reckon with a cancerous collective materialism that is destroying the planet and diminishing our humanity.

Enough is enough.

There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude: Ko-Fi Patreon

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The Ladder

The front door of Stinson’s hardware shop opened with the tinkling of a bell. The old man was sorting a box of loose nails by their sizes when he looked up to see who’d entered the shop.

As he raised his eyes up to meet those of his customer, Stinson realized that he was looking at the largest man he’d ever seen in his life. Six foot seven, by his estimation, broad and muscular. The man had a mane of long, red hair and a substantial but well-groomed beard.

So impressive was the man’s stature that it took Stinson a full minute to notice his companion — a petite Black woman, barely five feet tall with cropped hair and graceful arms. She reminded Stinson of a little bird. The two of them made quite a pair.

The couple, who were used to this kind of reaction, waited patiently for Stinson to find his words.

Finally Stinson said, “Good morning, how can I help y’all?”

The woman spoke up with a high, sweet voice.

“We’re looking for a ladder,” she said. “Just a step ladder.”

“Well,” said Stinson, “I’ve got thissin’ right here. But it has a weight load capacity of two hundred pounds.” He eyed the large man, attempting to guess his weight without appearing rude.

“Ok that’s ok,” said the woman. “It’s for me.”

“Well this ought to work just fine for you, ma’am,” Stinson said. “It’s thirty-five dollars.”

“Does it come in any other color?” the woman asked. The ladder was bright red.

“No, no,” he responded. “That’s why it’s on sale. Last one.”

“Well, can I test it out here before I buy it?” she asked.

“You mean you want to try to stand on it?” Simpson responded, holding out the ladder. “Sure! What are you gonna use it for, anyway?”

The woman grasped the ladder, opened it up, and set it down gingerly next to her partner.

“Oh, its for a wedding,” the woman responded.

“Well that’s nice,” Stinson remarked, “who’s gettin’ married?”

Wordlessly, the woman stepped onto the ladder and faced the man. The two of them were now eye-to-eye and they gazed at each other for a moment before she leaned in and kissed him passionately on the lips. The kiss lasted several seconds and Stinson averted his eyes. Finally, the two pulled apart and smiled at one another.

Turning her head back to Stinson, the woman grinned at him. “We are,” she said. “And this’ll do just fine.”

Climbing down she took out her wallet and laid two twenty-dollar bills on the counter. Then Stinson noticed the sparkly ring glinting on her delicate hands. He took the money and gave her the change.

“Thanks for your help,” she smiled. The tall man at her side smiled, too.

Stinson nodded, “Come on back if you need anything else.”

The couple left the store and Stinson went back to sorting nails, grinning at no one in particular.

There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude: Ko-Fi Patreon

And if you're looking for a nice place to hang out on the internet, consider joining me on the RealSocial.Life federated community.

A couple weeks ago I started reading a new book by Rick Rubin called The Creative Act: A Way of Being. It's a fantastic read so far, and even though my son has taken my copy before I could finish it, I'm going to go ahead and recommend that you read it. Rubin talks in-depth about living a creative life and the need for us to remove our ego from the process so that we're fully tapped in to what he calls 'the source' – an unending supply of creative power to which every person alive has access. He breaks down the myth that creative people have innate, special abilities that make them more capable of creative genius than the rest of us.

As a creative person and a believer in the radical idea that all people have equal value and the potential to grow, change and contribute to the world until our last breath is drawn, this jibes nicely with my world view. I've written about the creative process and our need to get out of our own way when it comes to channeling our creativity here and here, so I'm already aligned with many of these ideas.

When I bring up the topic of creativity with friends, I find that we often land one of two themes:

First, we tend focus on the product(s) of creativity, or on the creators themselves (in an upsettingly idolatrous way, I think). This is often an attempt for most people to justify why they themselves aren't creating. After all, how can they, a humble software developer or a mid-level bureaucrat be expected to create art with the likes of Beyoncé or Vincent Van Gogh setting the creative bar?

I think it's important to remind ourselves that popularity is not a measure of quality. By this I mean that people who “Make it Big” in the kinds of industries that surround the arts are very lucky. Yes, they have talent, and yes they work hard. But there are millions of people who are as talented as so-called “stars” that exist all around us, and they work hard, too. To “win” at the business of making art requires a unique alchemy of being in the right place and the right time with the right people. I think it's also worth noting that the industries that support pop culture as a business invest millions of dollars into creating an illusion of greatness that we buy into because, once again, humans need idols (a topic for another time).

Furthermore, using revenue as the sole-indicator of quality or success obscures the truly valuable part of creativity - the process.

For, it is the process that keeps us creators coming back to do the work, even when we're not on bestseller lists or walking red carpets. It's the process that brings us the release we need – the scratch to an itch that compels us to express ourselves in all manner of unique and beautiful ways. It's the process that makes it possible for us to know ourselves and our world, a journey of self-discovery of which the byproduct is art. The process is what happens when the artist (and I use this as a general term for anyone engaged in the creative process) peels away the ego, opens their heart to possibility, and allows themselves to be the instrument through which creative power does its work.

The second theme where we tend to default when discussing creativity is the esoteric and spiritual nature of the creative process. Make no mistake, there is something wildly metaphysical about creation as an activity. Whether you're writing a novel, coding software, inventing a new cake recipe, or designing the landscaping of your front yard, at some point you must have experienced flow - the feeling of being 'in the zone' not even thinking, just doing what comes to you and executing flawlessly. When one finishes working like this, there's a sense of awe and fullness that can't be replicated in any other way. Ninety percent of our time as artists is spent preparing ourselves for our creativity to take hold. The other ten percent of the time we are holding on for dear life as we surrender to it, working as hard and as fast as we can in service to this higher power.

That said, our creativity isn't just some abstract concept. For our creativity to impact the world, it has to be paired with a real commitment to manifesting it outside of our own bodies and minds. This demands consistent effort, discipline, time, energy, patience and humility to keep learning. Treating creativity simply as a metaphysical impulse keeps many a creator procrastinating; waiting for the day when the Muse will visit them in a dream, and they awaken with magical powers and a fully formed award-winning project in their cupped hands. But successful artists of all stripes will tell you, there's no substitute for just showing up, sitting down, and doing the goddamn work.

Our society has strange ideas about creativity: If you're not one of the very few people on earth deemed to be 'an artist' and/or you're not making money with your creative efforts, then you shouldn't really bother. I mean, yes, you can do some crafting and shit, but that's a hobby and not to be taken too seriously.

To this I say, bullshit.

Everyone is an authentic creator. We all work with different mediums, and our respective art forms may or may not see the light of day or be credited publicly; but we are innate creators by virtue of being born human, whether or not we actively choose to exercise these abilities or develop them in a conscious way.

For the world to change – for us to evolve as a species - we need to engage the creative thinking of every human. I believe every single person on earth should be actively developing some kind of artistic or creative facet in themselves, regardless of their age, gender, or occupation. We can't leave it up to a handful of 'celebrity' artists or some special subset of humanity that we think have special abilities.

This month I'm starting my first writing class ever. I've been writing for most of my life, just winging my way through it without any formal education or training. But I realized at some point last year that if I'm not writing, I'm dying. This is an essential activity for me, and not only do I want it to be part of my life – I want to do it well. So, I'm investing in my creative self, and I hope you'll follow along on my blog as I hone my craft.

Anyway, the point is – if you've stepped away from your art (or other creative endeavor) for a while, I hope you'll take this as a sign to pick it back up again. If you have felt a creative urge but aren't really sure what to do with it, I suggest experimenting! There are no rules here, I promise. Buy some cheap art supplies and get messy. Sign up for a poetry class. Don't think about it. Creative power supersedes our thinking mind, so go with your gut. Give yourself permission to try anything that sounds fun. Then, with the enthusiasm of a kindergartner, jump in and just do it. Don't worry about if it's good. (Every artist cringes when they revisit work they did early on. Sucking is a rite of passage! Embrace it good-naturedly.)

Just keep going.

Make stuff, have fun, be human.

There's no greater honor for a writer that the time and attention of a thoughtful reader. If you've enjoyed your visit here and would like to support my work, please know that anything you offer is accepted with gratitude: Ko-Fi Patreon

And if you're looking for a nice place to hang out on the internet, consider joining me on the RealSocial.Life federated community.

I’m turning the ripe old age of forty-nine next month.

I share this because I know that birthdays provoke anxiety in many people, but friends, I’m not one of them. The catalyst for these thoughts/feelings about aging occurred years ago, though I will admit the tension around this topic has certainly been increasing for me of late. Especially over the last five years, and particularly after the loss of my beloved mother-in-law in 2020.

Here’s the deal. I’ve gone through a midlife awakening (it’s only a crisis if you don’t know what’s happening) and am now reborn into a state of maturity that allows me to see with unprecedented clarity the nature of womanhood, the limits under which I’ve labored since my birth, and the realization that very little has changed or will change regarding women’s power during my lifetime.

So, yeah. I’ve been pissed off for a while.

I’ll start this essay, then, by telling you the very first thing that pisses me off (since it’s likely already popped into your head):

It’s. Not. The. Motherfucking. Hormones.

Every goddamn time I bring up the rage of the middle aged woman (middle rage?) both women and men launch into an uninvited discussion about hormones, peri/menopause, and all the various ways medical literature documents a woman’s life being disrupted by “The Change”.

Even the kindest portrayal of menopause paints it as that fabled time when a woman realizes her womb is no longer her greatest asset and thus begins to withdraw into glorious crone-hood; wizened, silvery, and re-virginalized to the communal eye (i.e., no one wants to think about middle-aged or older women having sex, so we just pretend it’s not a thing in the popular culture).

I have an auto-immune disorder known as premature ovarian failure,  I was completely finished with menopause by the age of thirty-six. And yes, it was the pits – there were hot flashes, night-sweats, emotional outbursts and other discomforts which I bore with whatever grace I could muster while raising young children. It sucked, but guess what? It wasn’t the end of the world and shit got done. I currently have the hormones of an 80-year-old woman and I have for more than a decade.

So when I tell you I have experienced a powerful rage that comes from my middle-aged awakening, I’m going to ask that you not try to blame my body. That’s what all this talk about hormones is, right? Put the blame on your own body (as usual) if you’re feeling discontented. Our stupid womanly bodies and our stupid cursed hormones.

It can’t possibly be the resulting fury that comes from being raised in a fucked up system of patriarchy – historic marginalization of women in literally every realm of human endeavor, religious indoctrination about gender roles, a sickening power imbalance between genders in our cultures and communities, and the fact that I’m now old enough to no longer be considered fuckable – that has brought me clarity and righteous rage about how shitty women still have it on planet earth, now can it?


To be born a woman means to learn from infancy how to anticipate and prioritize others’ needs. Which is not to say that you’re supposed to be miserable, darlin’. You can live a happy and fulfilled life as long as everything is done and everyone else is happy. Once you clean the house; reassure everyone around you that they’re the most important person in the world; give up anything that someone might find offensive or unattractive; settle into your necessarily modest ambitions; and make sure you fuck and nurse and feed and comfort whoever has a right to you; THEN you can go to the ball, Cinderella.

This role of cleaner / hostess / helper / supporter / nurturer / follower isn’t merely implied socially, religiously or politically. If you come from where I come from, it’s stated explicitly and often backed up by The Very Words of God ™. This sounds odious (which it is) but at least it’s the honest approach. I’ve also attended to plenty of community in modernized, “progressive” social, religious and political circles where they would never state this kind of misogynistic bullshit outright so you just have to divine it by watching communal dynamics. But at this point I’ve been in as many progressive spaces as conservative ones and I can promise you, it’s still always women in the kitchen at every goddamn function.

Which is not to say that women don’t have, or can’t have influence in their individual lives, relationships and communities – but I’m talking about real power here – the kind that you have even over the people who don’t like you. The kind men hold.

It’s incredibly rare to find women who have power of their own — women who aren’t “known” or “influential” because of who their husbands are; or because some other man has bestowed it upon them (usually to suit their own purposes). For women in our society, and in the majority of societies around the world, success still largely depends on which man with power is willing to elevate you and/or put you on his arm.

Again, this is true – and women suffer for it – even if their individual circumstances and relationships seem ideal. Even if they are partnered with someone kind and sensitive who believes women are equal. This is true in feminist circles. In progressive circles. In both ivory towers and dive bars across the land. It is systemic, and it’s far bigger and much older than America.


Like most things about being a woman, our sexuality is a blessing and a curse. Only within the last hundred years or so has it been possible in some places for a woman to express her sexuality without immediately causing other people to consider her immoral and a threat to the sanctity and fidelity of good society. That said, there are still plenty of spaces where this repressive attitude is still the norm. Even in America. Can confirm.

Now, thanks to the sexual revolution, some women in some parts of the world can publicly talk about things like orgasms and periods and with whom they might like to have sex.

Not all women, though. Only the pretty ones.

If you’re lucky enough to have the genetic advantage of beauty, you’re entered into The Great Lottery. Congratulations, you are a candidate for tokenization! You’ll still have to fight / beg for it, of course. The competition is steep, but at least if you’re pretty you’ll get your shot. If you’re not beautiful and willing to do whatever is asked of you, then the reality is that you and your ambitions will likely never see the light of day. Sorry, sweetheart, not sorry. There are just only so many spots available to become a visible woman in America. But hey – at least we let you vote!

The truth is, society simply doesn’t want to hear from women about sex (or anything, really) unless we are young, fit, and heteronormatively attractive. AGAIN, this isn’t about individual appreciation or having a partner that sees you as equal. It’s about what we see around us as representative of our sex in society at large. It’s true, great strides have been made on a superficial level to use traditionally “non-ideal” women’s bodies – older models, fat models, black and brown models – to sell things (because even if they don’t want us in power, they want our money).

Still, it’s something.

Isn’t that enough?

Why aren’t you grateful?

You’re so hard to please.

What the hell do you even want?


Well I can’t speak for all of womankind but I’ll tell you what I want:

I want nothing less than to be able to reach my full potential as a human-godddamn-being without subjecting myself to superficial, fickle standards that demand cruel distortions; fantastical, engineered beauty; and subservience of spirit.

I want all you old men who think you are entitled to share your annoying opinions with me and have them respected to extend me the same respect, or stfu.

I want to ask questions of powerful men like, “what gives you the right to demand the sacrifice of my children to your cause?” and, “what makes your power-drunk self-delusion something on which to build nations?” without being silenced so goddamn easily.

Is that too much to ask?

Because I want more.

I want men to sit down and shut up for a while in churches, mosques and synagogues.

I want men to cook and do the fucking dishes at the next potluck.

I want decentralization of power  – communal and societal – so that the human race can evolve organically, not under the thumb of your various male-centric regimes modeled on patriarchal-tribal affiliations, parading as nation states that respect the rights of all humans. As if.

I want women to be safe at any age.

I want women to be in charge of more things. Half the things. More than half the things.

I want a woman to be heard without having a man repeat what she’s said.

I want her to be admired, appreciated and adored on her merits without having to perform beautification rituals or appease male egos.

I want all women to be valued for all their contributions in every corner of the world.

Oh and? I fucking want women… to be fucking paid… for their motherfucking labor.


Now. It’s come to this:

I could spend the rest of my life bitter and angry about this state of affairs. I could allow myself to feel a sense of shame that I am not satisfied with my life, as it was presented to me; and that I haven’t come to peace with what has been kept from me.

I could dissolve in a pool of acidic hate over the idiot men who have been deemed ‘leaders’ – particularly in spaces where they can do spiritual damage – and told that my discontent is an affront to God’s Natural Laws. I could lament my body betraying me by becoming less desirable by the standards of men

But I’ll tell you a little secret: I’ve given up… and it feels great.

Not given up on myself, oh mercy, no.

On the world, as it is.

You see, I’ve finally accepted that I can’t fight the patriarchy. It’s too strong (thanks largely to unbothered men who are comfortable in it, and women who prop it up with their ridiculous defenses and continued subservience to it). Hell, even the people who claim to be fighting the patriarchy are comfortable recreating the same kind of dynamics and spaces in their communities. I want none of it.

Instead, I’m taking a lifetime of Knowing that comes from watching other people and learning to anticipate/navigate their needs and desires, and I’m going to put it to good use for myself. I’m rejecting the definitions for what I should be, and treating my body as a friend; a co-conspirator. Shame has no power here. My desires need no justification.

Yes, my body has changed. But I’m not worn out, I’m worn in. Like the softest bedsheets; like a quiet path to a secret place that you visit when you need to be still next to the water.

Now, I bestow my submission only on that which has helped me reclaim my body after the world has used it for all it thinks I’m worth.

The less they see me, the clearer I become.


On October 5, 2020, I went out of the house late in the afternoon to get some exercise. My mother-in-law had been staying with us for weeks, recovering from heart surgery. Our whole family was working/attending school from home, and caring for Ammi was stressful, so I decided to take a couple hours outside to burn off some steam. My daughter, (who was 17 at the time) stayed home with her.

About an hour into my workout my daughter called.

“I think we should call the doctor,” she said. “[Ammi] is really not feeling well. When are you coming back?”

I was slightly annoyed because I felt like I really needed a break, but something in my daughter’s voice alarmed me. Ammi had been complaining earlier about not feeling well, and she had barely eaten anything all day.

“I’ll come now,” I said. My daughter sounded relieved as she hung up.

I got in my car and headed to the edge of the parking lot. As I reached the street and prepared to pull out, I turned my head and was stunned see a woman walking up the sidewalk on my left side, completely naked.

She appeared to be about forty, with shoulder-length blonde hair and the kind of weathered-too-young face that instantly identifies someone as having lived a hard life. Her body was made of heavy curves, her skin pink and dry-looking. Her face streamed with tears, and she walked quickly with her head high, eyes focused on some point in the distance. She held her large, sagging breasts cradled in one arm and was covering her exposed vulva with the opposite hand.

It took me a long moment to even register what was happening. By that time she’d crossed over to the other side of the car, still plodding up the sidewalk, so I opened the window and called to her, “Are you ok?”

“Do I look ok?” she shouted at me through her tears, not slowing down.

There was a long moment when I didn’t know what to do. My mother-in-law was extremely unwell and my 17-year-old daughter was caring for her alone at home. They needed me there. This woman on the street was clearly in distress and I had nothing on me to give her – not a blanket or jacket or even a towel.

I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and called 911 to let them know where to find the woman who, by this point, a quarter of a mile up the road. Then I drove home, called the home healthcare service to schedule a visit, and tended to Ammi.

Later, at around three a.m. she woke us up. The nurse who had come over earlier in the evening had said everything looked fine, but Ammi was feeling bad enough that we decided to call an ambulance. They came and took her on a gurney out our front door into the night.

Two hours later, my husband called me from the hospital. Ammi had died.

I think about this series of events a lot because it feels like a snapshot of womanhood to me.

There was simply no way to win.


Listen to me, women.

The world doesn’t appreciate your sacrifices. They say they do, but talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding was long gone before you even got to sit your ass down at the table.

The world will use you up for all you’re worth, and then blame you for collapsing into a depleted heap after they toss you aside. If anything terrible does happen to you, they’ll find someone else to clean, cook, and do the menial shit that they don’t want to pay for without skipping a beat. They always do. Men will continue to sanctify their own lusts and shame you for no longer being able to gratify them. People will talk about you as you were – back when you were useful – even while you’re still sitting there, present in your old age, unfulfilled.

If you’re lucky like I am, you’ve found a solid group of humans of all genders who will continue to adore you as you age. But even some of these will step away once you’ve lost your usefulness. And make no mistake, you will lose your usefulness.

Fact is, there’s no one on earth who will give you what you really need, much less what you want. If you’re like me, you don’t even know what you want. Your life was never truly yours, and the choices you craved were never presented, so you stopped craving them.

You will die having never felt the adoration and respect reserved for those who made the world in their own image.

The rage of middle age is this realization – and it’s good, because it means you’re free. But, as the song goes, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose – so don’t stop there.

Don’t sit with the remains of the day as your prize.

It’s not too late. You’re not too old.

Own your life. Live fully into yourself without making excuses. Be exactly who you are, and laugh out loud at people who don’t like you. Become subversive. Become a witch. Fall in love with your body. Fall in love with your mind. Craft a life that will allow you to die without regrets. Insist on respect, and be willing to walk away from anyone or anything (or any god) that claims you don’t deserve it.

Don’t wait a moment longer.

You’ve waited long enough.

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The widespread adoption of digital technologies over the last two decades has ushered in a long-awaited and much-idealized era of democratized media. Certainly, having knowledge and information accessible to the greatest number of people at any time in history is a marvelous development for global human society. But along with our new media landscape have come challenges that were both unforeseeable, yet in retrospect, inevitable.

Today, the American public finds itself in an information crisis. The sheer volume of information we consume today is overwhelming, even for the most discriminating media consumer. News, opinion and entertainment is coming to us at light speed, giving us only seconds to react to ideas and stories – some of which have profound intellectual, spiritual or political implications for our collective. These “big” conversations are packaged together with all manner of inanity in our feeds, which can make us feel that everything is equally relevant; or even, perhaps, that nothing is. In the past, we may have spent time reflecting on these critical issues, but with the widespread adoption of social media, we are poised (and encouraged) to respond with emotion-infused knee-jerk reactions informed almost exclusively by our biases within seconds of consuming new information.

Furthermore, while we struggle to process this excess of information, the wisdom and expertise of professional journalists, teachers and intellectuals has been drowned out by a cacophony of self-proclaimed subject-matter experts and citizen journalists, none of whom have any professional or ethical obligation to preserve the integrity of the information they share. Individual users can now create media micro brands and influence public opinion that rivals those of long-standing institutions. In this murky environment, even terrorist organizations and criminal operations have been able to achieve a veneer of legitimacy.

While politicians argue about whether or not to even invest in our nation’s physical infrastructure, Americans have flooded the internet and are building and inhabiting a thriving online society that has no formal system of civics or governance. Might makes right, and, much like in our Wild West days, the fastest draw is the one left standing.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2022 Social Media and News Fact Sheet: about half of U.S. adults – 50% – get news on social media, and 17% do so “often.”

When it comes to where Americans regularly get news on social media, Facebook still outpaces all other social media sites. Roughly a third of U.S. adults (31%) say they regularly get news from Facebook.

A quarter of U.S. adults regularly get news from YouTube, while smaller shares get news from Twitter (14%), Instagram (13%), TikTok (10%) or Reddit (8%). Fewer Americans regularly get news from LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), Nextdoor (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

When looking at the proportion of each social media site’s users who regularly get news there, some sites stand out as having a greater portion of users turning to the site for news even if their total audience is relatively small. For example, while Twitter is used by about three-in-ten U.S. adults (27%), about half of its users (53%) turn to the site to regularly get news there. On the other hand, roughly the same share of adults (31%) use LinkedIn, but only 13% of its users regularly get news on the site.

What is most concerning about this trend is that many users of social media are unable to differentiate between authentic, verifiable information and what has now been dubbed “fake news.” The media site Buzzfeed did an analysis on the kind of news people were sharing on social media during the 2016 presidential election and found an alarming trend:

In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News…During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Propaganda, revenue-driven content marketing, mis/disinformation, and other forms of manipulative engagement on social media are having real world impact that we simply cannot afford to ignore. American society is now inundated with media, yet there is almost no effort to ensure the voting public has basic media literacy skills. Even if there were, it’s not clear that Americans believe they need help understanding their new reality. (Though they will readily agree that other people do.) 

Fear and Loathing Online

The online communities where the majority of Americans are getting their news and information are intense hives of discussion where the loudest, strongest, often most vitriolic people set the tone and interpret the facts for others. There’s a sort of arms race of consumption and dissemination of information, rhetoric, and opinion that takes precedence over our shared humanity. As such, is not uncommon to see high-level conversations around the loftiest of subjects devolve into name-calling, personal attacks, and the lusty embrace of logical fallacies (often by people who really should know better). The intellectual bastions of critical thinking and thoughtful debate have been effaced by even those in historically austere leadership roles. It is not uncommon to find elected officials, academics and celebrities exchanging abuses online.

Interestingly, those who disparage the lack of civility on social media platforms display a lack of personal responsibility for contributing to an unhealthy online culture. A long-running poll titled “Civility in America” (Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research) found in 2016:

Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74 percent) saying civility has declined in the past few years and two-thirds (67 percent) saying it is a major problem today. In the online poll conducted among 1,005 adults 18 years and older from January 7 to 14, 70 percent also say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65 percent in 2014.

Asked to identify the groups contributing most to the lack of civility in society, both likely voters and the overall public cite politicians, the Internet/social media and the news media as the top three sources – each being named by more than half the respondents.

But… We Are The Media

Today, more people can make and disseminate media than at any other point in human history. At the same time, distrust in the media is at an unprecedented high. These two phenomena are not unrelated.

We blame The Media” for the lack of online civility, but we fail to recognize that because media has become democratized, we the people are “The Media”. No longer are we passive consumers. We all are making media every day through with our content and comments in digital spaces; not to mention that professional journalists have defaulted to ripping content directly from public online spaces and placing them on their news sites and broadcast programming as under the auspices of “reporting” the news.

It is true that social media platforms employ algorithms that make it more likely to see information that confirms our biases. This has been widely discussed and documented by communications experts and again speaks to the need for greater media literacy for the general public. (Media literacy meaning not just knowing how to identify good information, but how to actually use social media to our benefit, rather than passively consuming whatever is served up to us.)

However, many users knowingly self-select and construct their ideological bubbles because challenging our deeply held beliefs is hard. It’s a painful process, made even more difficult in a harsh environment where the opposition is free to be abusive. Any effort to truly understand opposing viewpoints online requires engaging with people who will say awful things about us and our ideals.

Today’s digital media landscape is a recipe for a total communication breakdown from which no society could be expected to survive. However, it is also an opportunity for real leadership to bring their knowledge and expertise to overwhelmed citizens who desperately need to make sense of the issues on which they are expected to contribute.

Yet, many of the brightest minds and most authentic thought leaders shy away from engaging online around the very subjects where they have real expertise. Part of the reason is that there is a lack of familiarity with the unique social environments and platforms where these conversations are taking place. But a large part of their aversion to social media engagement is because they see the extreme vitriol that has taken hold on public discourse in digital spaces–from which no one is immune. Why would a thoughtful, intelligent, and empathetic person willingly subject themselves to it?

A Leadership Vacuum

Efforts at building leadership in digital spaces (social, political, or otherwise) have focused almost exclusively on creating a few “power users” that wield influence over huge numbers of “followers.” Many of these “leaders” have succumbed to bad communication practices (either because they lack competencies that allow them to effectively use digital media for the greater good, or simply because they are culturally influenced by the hostile environment in which they find themselves online. Usually, both).

Today, online leadership spends much of its time reinforcing itself, building influence by prioritizing issues over people. Some of this influence is used for the common good (social justice activism or fundraising for causes), while others use it to market themselves and their ideas. Still other “leaders” use influence for more nefarious purposes like manipulating voters or reinforcing hierarchies that oppress. Regardless, influence of any kind online must take positions that are loud and polarizing (often with hyperbolic posturing) in order to win the fight for attention.

Witnessing the general lack of respect for fellow citizens, even those who have demonstrably made great contributions to our society, has caused many qualified voices to reject social media as a useful medium for sharing their ideas, knowledge and wisdom, leaving a vacuum that bad actors and unqualified pundits are happy to fill.

There is a desperate need for authentic, courageous digital leadership that is invested in humanizing the space and consistently reframing the conversation around our shared human experience.

We need Digital Civics.

Digital Civics is a framework for online spaces that positions leadership at the center of the diverse community of people to whom they are related. Digital civic leadership is defined by leadership that serves as guides, educators and facilitators—not only in their own areas of expertise–but in productive online engagement that employs emotional intelligence. This is a conscious effort by dedicated individuals to reshape the nature of public discourse to be productive, and to set high standards for digital communications across a broad range of subjects and issues.

What digital civic leadership does:

  • Builds and curates healthy digital community that is organic and non-hierarchical
  • Leads by example
  • Acts as a gracious host for community engagement
  • Facilitates healthy discussions and productive disagreements
  • Sets a clear standard for engagement in their community

What digital civic leadership does NOT do:

  • Builds consensus
  • Acts or speaks duplicitously
  • Try to please everyone
  • Ignores or shuts down disagreements
  • Marketing

We need leaders who know how to navigate digital spaces and harness the benefits of social media for real world impact. Leaders with strong identities rooted in the communities they represent and a calm, clear voice with which to manage online conflict. Leaders who are committed to lead by example, to master social listening so that they can speak to the real concerns of even their detractors. Leaders who are more interested in the realities of the people they claim to be helping than in self-promotion and vanity metrics.

This is not about getting more followers or building mass movements that can battle other mass movements. It is about transforming online culture by infusing humanity into digital spaces. Healthy online leadership means building influence through person-to-person engagement that honors pluralism and prioritizes education, truth and productive disagreement.

Authentic human communications are never easy, especially when conflict arises. It requires discipline, conscious decision-making and patience. It is the lack of these very things online that have brought American society to where we are today: conflicted, frustrated and unable to work together when we need to the most.

But How?

Healthy digital civics will not emerge on its own. It must be consciously cultivated and supported through a network of leaders who all agree on a set of principles to which they will hold themselves and one another accountable.

For a cultural shift to occur online, it must start with a small number of determined, passionate people willing to prioritize the greater good over their own selfish pursuits or the short term, superficial gains of web traffic, likes and media coverage.

We at the Institute for Digital Civic Culture, along with our colleagues who represent associated institutions, communities and programs, envision a national network of professionals, educators and subject-matter experts who agree on core principles of productive digital engagement, and who are committed to support one another as leaders in transforming digital culture into a place where intelligent conversation, healthy conflict and rigorous truth-seeking are valued.

We are seeking leaders in various fields who can bring both subject-matter expertise and emotional intelligence to digital spaces, so that we can provide them with the tools, training and community support they need to transform digital culture for the betterment of global society.

Join us as we explore our human potential on the internet; be part of a movement to discover ways that we can build and facilitate online community that actually makes the world a better place—for everyone.

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I remember the first time I tried to write by hand.

Another child who was slightly older than me had come over to our house to play and she’d brought a pad and pencil — one of those big pencils they used to give us as pre-schoolers. It had Snoopy on it or some such thing. The writing pad was one of those landscape-bound cheap pads made with inexpensive, grayish paper bearing rows of solid and dotted lines. I distinctly remember the older girl showing me how to write an ‘A’ and getting super fucking excited about it.

Even in preschool I’d already begun to understand the power of language. Like most children, I was first introduced to the written word through reading. My parents read out loud to me before I could talk. Unsurprisingly, then, I was an early reader and books became my constant companions throughout my life. At a tender age, I came to understand that printed words unlocked all kinds of awesome things in my brain, and that the world was filled with words just waiting to be discovered.

But writing was like a second revelation to me.

Taking a pencil in my untrained hand as a very little girl was the moment I discovered that I could actually make words myself. Immediately I begged my mom for my own writing pad. I was four, and I was ready to write.

As enthusiastic as I was about learning to write, however, I was definitely not enthusiastic about having someone teach me. I specifically remember being bummed out when I realized (only after getting a big pencil and notepad of my own) that I didn’t get to just write the letters any old way. I had to follow very specific instructions on how to draw each line and curve. It felt insulting that the authorities in my life would try to dictate in such detail the actual, visual manifestation of what I had to say. But they insisted.

I went along begrudgingly with the whole “proper handwriting” agenda until the fifth grade when I received a B- on my report card with a short note from my teacher about the deficiencies of my script.

For such a crime I was sentenced to months of daily handwriting practice at the kitchen table after school. I don’t even remember what I wrote. Just lines and lines. The content didn’t seem to matter. The form had been divorced from the function. I’d sit, perched over my paper, in a trance, watching my hand move for the sole purpose of making my words pretty.

This punishment of writing lines to improve my handwriting (which to this day I contend was judicially unfair), changed something in me. After that point, writing started to become something I did all the time, in all kinds of places. It was almost a compulsion. Wherever there was a scrap of paper I’d find it and start scribbling on it. It was soothing, and it helped me sit quietly and focus. After doing it repetitively for so long – first by punishment, then for the comfort it brought me – I began to find it pleasurable.

Many times I’d write unconsciously, in a trace, using word association – an exercise in limbering the mind and fine-tuning the hand-eye coordination. Sometimes I’d work on a story or poem. I’d practice writing my favorite words over and over again, just for the joy of seeing them appear on the page. I’d also make lists, journal, scribble notes and ideas, etc.


I realized a few years ago that I’d almost stopped handwriting completely. For more than a decade, if I did write anything by hand it usually related to some piece of mail, or an occasional birthday card. I still kept notebooks and stuff, I just wasn’t really using any of them on a regular basis.

But then two things happened:

Last year I was in one of the darkest depressive episodes of my life. I realized that I needed – needed – to pick up a pen again and write some things out of my head. A laptop wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to see what I had to say in my own hand. It was a holy compulsion, and for once in my goddamned life, I decided to trust myself and just go with my intuition.

Second, my friend Susan introduced me to a short-lived-but-has-crazy-cult-following television series based on the life of Anne Lister, a historical figure and ‘the first modern lesbian’ – who wrote a diary of around 5 million words over her lifetime. And she only lived to be forty-nine. The show is great and it totally deserves its cult following – but my big takeaway from that series was how Anne seemed to depend on her writing. She trusted it when she could trust no one else in her life with who she was. It made sense.

Anyway, when I started writing again last year, it was like riding a bike. It took a few weeks to get into a groove with it, but now, I’m back to handwriting all the time. (I will say, there was some initial discomfort with my right hand. I had to rebuild some of those muscles and so when I started writing daily I could only write for maybe five minutes at a time before stopping because my hand was hurting. I write pages now, no sweat.)

(Un?)fortunately, my renewed zest for writing by hand has come with a small liability. Perhaps it’s because the world is smaller and there are more things in it than ever before; perhaps because we didn’t have a lot of disposable income growing up. But I now understand the pure lust that may be evoked by a well-stocked stationery store.

How can I describe what it’s like — to enter a space filled with things that are designed to delight that weird little part of you, deep inside, where your creator lives? The colors and textures – infinite variations and combinations. Paper and notebooks and pens and ink. Stickers and watercolors, and tiny paperclips shaped like kittens. The air is cool and dry. The clerks and clientele? Appropriately funky.

To write by hand is a joy. To be able to write on a $15 journal made of smooth-as-silk Japanese paper when just a $.99 spiral notebook would serve the same purpose – well that, my friend, is what I call real luxury. (With regard to pens, I personally don’t think you need expensive pens. I mean, it’s nice to have some expensive fountain pen but it may not be your best for everyday writing. Find something you can buy by the box – stash them all over the place, especially in the goddamn car – and keep ‘em on auto-ship from

Aesthetics aside, what I’m realizing these days is that writing by hand has – dare I say it? – a mystical aspect to it. At least, it does for me. Sitting quietly with what amounts to a magic wand cradled between my fingers, taking dictation from my unconscious, has the effect of pulling things out of me that I keep hidden from even myself. It gives me the ability to think critically, dispassionately about my own thoughts. It provokes me to think creatively about everything in my life. It provides me with a sense of comfort and contentment; a silent morning with my notebook on my lap and a cup of fresh coffee is the very definition of peace. Writing by hand demands the kind of reflection that creates a foothold for honest, private, personal growth.

Also. It feels fucking amazing. It’s a delight to the senses. To see the abstract from inside my head spilling forth in Royal Blue, taking form at the end of my nib is to begin to understand the reality of self. It’s an affirmation that I am here, and real, and that I have things to say, and beautiful ways to say them. Watching the sheen of fresh ink in the lamplight, pausing to take in the wonder of language – the lifeblood of civilization – and feeling a sense of awe that I can make it appear, at will.

That’s some sacred shit.


When I’ve asked other people about their handwriting habits, most of them dismiss it as an inefficient and practically useless activity. I would argue that the inefficiency of writing by hand is actually its strongest selling point (not that I want to sell you on it). I’m no technophobe, but we’re becoming increasingly integrated with and dependent on digital technology, and it’s starting to impact our humanity. For real.

I’m not saying that writing by hand is *the* antidote to our culture of transactional engagements and ego-driven content-as-communication. But, like, anything that you can do to keep yourself here, grounded. On the earth. In your body. Do more of that.

Maybe handwriting ain’t your bag. But I hope something is. I hope there’s something that you do that helps you see yourself clearly, as a creator, in three-dimensional space. I hope you have a chance to take stuff out of your head – stuff that has been bothering you, stuff that has been waiting patiently for you – and look at it in black-and-white, in a private way, and then process it. And then grow.

Yes, it may result in a slightly unhealthy addiction to stationery stores and a new desire to sit under trees and pour your heart out to no one but yourself on beautifully crafted notebooks – but there are worse addictions.

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I'm writing to you from the crossroads. I've arrived here after two years of arduous travel during which I have felt irretrievably lost for most of the time. Today I'm feeling relieved, and also, understandably exhausted from my journey.

It feels like the moments one experiences just after giving birth: joy at having survived something so harrowing, so intensely painful, combined with a tangible release as the body begins to reclaim itself and heal from the process. Underlining all of it is the holy knowledge that something has changed forever.

Before I started on this journey, I was in a prolonged state of discontent for several years. In retrospect I realize that it was because I’ve spent my entire life adhering to values, standards and ideals that don't actually belong to me. My jobs, relationships, even my choices about my personal appearance had always been dictated in large part by social norms that I had no input into creating. I took what was given, I tried to make it work. That was how I lived for four decades on this planet. It's not unusual.

Even if we want to build our lives in the way that best suits us, most of us aren't actually even sure who we are and what we really want. I certainly wasn't. I accepted the definitions and confines imposed on me by my social environments, moving (sometimes literally) from place to place trying to find acceptance by contorting myself into things I could never be. (The really shitty part is that I was good at it.) I didn't love myself enough to even find out what was important to me.

One of the downsides to being tribal creatures is that we don't give ourselves and others the space and resources to figure ourselves out; to determine exactly what makes us different, and to nurture the important parts of us that don't conform. Some of us will live our entire lives like this. Few of us welcome this urge in ourselves, or others.

I had a bit of an epiphany somewhere along the way: the shitty systems of the world run on our misdirected energies. For, if you know yourself – truly – then no one can exploit you, force you to submit, or demand from you the sacrifice of what makes you irreplaceably YOU.

Last summer my therapist asked me, “What do you want?”


Last year I learned how to embrace my own suck and make peace with being profoundly terrible at something. My journey to a blue sash in Tai Chi was nothing less than a battle of will against my own feelings of worthlessness and my reflexive desire to give up on things that don’t come easily to me. Spoiler alert: turns out sucking is a huge opportunity for personal growth.

I’d started taking Tai Chi classes in 2021 at school run by a husband and wife duo. Masters Joe and Sheryl Schaefer are black belts and they, along with their team of accomplished teachers, offer both Kung Fu and Tai Chi lessons. I quickly earned a white sash and then a yellow sash in Tai Chi, so when it was time to start on the next set of postures toward earning my blue sash I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to do it easily.

Something strange happened, though. Almost immediately after I started this next section I found myself falling behind in class. Weeks passed and I watched classmates who’d started at the same time I had earn their blue sashes and move on. I found myself struggling to remember the postures and getting confused, even regressing at times. At first I made light of it, but as weeks went by and my extremely slow progress began to be noticeable by everyone else, I became embarrassed. I started to question whether there was actually something wrong with me. Why was this so hard?

I thought about quitting. I looked for a good excuse but there was none to be found. I had committed to learning Tai Chi, and to showing up for my teachers and classmates. Besides, even with the challenges, it’s one of the few times each week I get out of the house, away from my devices, and focus on my physical self. I enjoy going, and I enjoy the people I’ve met there. I didn’t want to quit, it’s just… I didn’t want to suck.

I’ve spent most of my life ‘up in my head' and not really living in the moment; staring off into space, daydreaming or distracting myself with books, television and social media. I accumulate bruises that I cannot remember inflicting on myself. As a kid, my teachers were always calling me back from my imaginary worlds, scolding me for not paying attention. Recently, however, I’ve started to feel that getting to know my own body is important for my own wellbeing, now and in the future. Tai Chi is a gentle but powerful way to do this.

I’ve been at it for a year and a half now, and I still feel like a toddler when I go to class, struggling to control how I move. The coarse, red practice mats under the soft soles of my feet remind me to pay attention to all the points where they make contact. I consciously, painstakingly try to attune myself to the mechanics of my own body, and in turn, my own life as I go through the slow movements that require balance and breath.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve discovered during my time with Tai Chi is the importance (and also, my own lifelong lack) of balance. Balance is often mistaken for stillness, but that’s not what it is. Even my Zen meditation looks like someone sitting perfectly still. But there is no ‘set it and forget it’ in Tai Chi or Zazen. It is about maintaining an alert consciousness and being responsive to the external forces around you so that you can hold a posture. This looks like stillness (or extreme slowness), but in reality, it’s done through a million subtle micro-adjustments your body makes to keep you in the proper posture. Thousands of years of meditative and martial arts practices from around the world have taught us that without balance, there can be no peace – internally or externally. Peace, then, cannot exist in the world without a finely tuned, constant, disciplined control of the self – including mind and body.


When I was a little girl I used to get growing pains in my legs, usually in the middle of the night. My legs would ache so terribly that it would wake me up and I would cry out into the darkness. My mother would rouse herself out of her sleep and come sit next to me on the bed, massaging my legs and reassure me that this was normal and natural and that everything was going to be ok. She told me she’d had them when she was growing up, too.

Of course, neither her words, nor her touch could stop the pain. But they helped me relax into it, and eventually I would find some peace of mind and drift off, letting my small body do its important work of growing up and becoming stronger.

Right now, I see a lot of growing pains happening all around me. There is lot of psychic and emotional pain and discomfort on display. Our society is grappling with changes that need occur so that we can live up to our shared ideals and be strong, healthy and mature.

Some of the reactions to this pain are difficult to watch. I see people becoming listless and depressed. I see others losing their control, lashing out and becoming angry and aggressive. Still others dissolve into tears. And some are trying to numb the pain with all manner of distractions.

Growth — whether physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual — is not easy or fun. It takes energy. It takes determination. It takes patience with ourselves and others. It hurts.

I look back on those long nights of pain and discomfort now with a sweet heart. Not because I relish pain, but because those were moments when I felt my mother close to me. My relationship with her is built on a million small interactions like this over the years.

Imagine if she’d told me to just suck it up and stop crying. That I was too fragile and weak. That I deserve pain and should learn to deal with it because she’d suffered, too? Imagine what that would have done to a growing little girl, and my ability to help others who were in pain. Imagine how that would have impacted my relationship with my mother, forever.

I think what the world needs right now are people who come in and sit by us in the dark of night. Those who can’t and won’t remove the pain, but who will let us know we’re not alone. Who make it easier for us to process and find peace in the discomfort. Those who have experienced those pains in the past and can assure us that we’re going to be ok.

And in fact, we’re going to be better than ok.

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