Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Homework Assignment Doubling as Personal Missive

Last Spring I heard of a website that offered free online college courses on a number of topics, As soon as I checked it out, I was hooked. One of my strongest character strengths is a love of learning. I signed up for a basicchemistry class and a class about systems biology, which I dropped when I realized how far over my head it was. The cool thing is there is no "drop by" date or penalties for dropping or even getting a low grade. It can only work for you--high grades can be used on resumes, for example, or in my case, mostly for personal satisfaction.

I was both stressed out over the summer from a household crisis, and traveling a lot, so I took a break from online classes. I started up again at the end of August, and got a little carried away. I now have eight active classes in subjects as diverse as biology, music, and philosophy. All the start and stop dates overlap with each other, so there is a continual cycle of new classes opening as old ones wrap up.

One of the shorter classes, which I thought would be easy, was called "Learning How to Learn." It claimed it could help me improve in subjects I have difficulty with. I thought it would be interesting and simple, only four weeks long. It was fairly simple, but it was a class that definitely took itself seriously, with actual quizzes and a final assignment to share what we have learned and how we are applying it to our lives with the wider world in some format. Hence, this blog.

I suffer from chronic procrastination, and need continual reminders to stay focused on my actual priorities. Nothing ever seems to stick. While I think there is a half life to any anti-procrastination skill I learn, I appreciate them for as long as they last. One thing they mentioned in this class is called the Pomodoro technique, which is a fancy way of saying "set a timer and work for 25 minutes" that someone patented. I had been introduced to this practice before when I was taking NVC business classes with Francois Beausoleil He called it "chunking time." (This was actually a bit confusing because in this class 'chunking' referred to something else, a way of remembering information.)

I also read an inspiring article encouraging inspired people to procrastinate on the unimportant things, and focus on our passions. It asked the questions, "What is the most important thing you could be working on, and if you aren't, why not?" I started asking myself what the most important thing I could be working on was, and what kept coming to mind was an article I'd been dreaming of writing for months. With this clarity and the focus of the 25 minute sessions, I managed to finish and submit my article in a matter of days. (I will be sure to share links if and when it is accepted and published!) The full article can be found at

Pretty quickly into my college career, I gave up on taking notes. I noticed that it just wasted paper, distracted my attention from listening to everything the professor said as I tried to finish the previous sentence, and didn't impact my test scores at all when I stopped, because I'd never reviewed them anyway. I could always review the book if needed. I think this worked because of a number of factors, mainly that I was at a less-than-rigorous community college that did not challenge me to expand on my natural giftedness in the social sciences, which is what I was studying (psychology, anthropology, religion). I became contemptuous of fellow students who filled up notebooks and did laborious review sessions. I scoffed at them, saying that, "If you stop wasting your time in class taking notes and just pay attention in class, you'll do fine on tests without studying." My approach to learning was to be a very effective sponge, but only in certain areas. Other subjects I didn't seem to absorb so easily.

The Learning How to Learn class has encouraged me to be more of an active participant to incorporate subjects I do not naturally excel at--for example, music. I am taking a musicianship class that involves learning and practicing scales, intervals, triads, and chord progressions (so far). There is a big focus in the learning class on which types of studying techniques foster long-term memory. Highlighting, re-reading, and concept mapping are shown to be ineffective. Simply closing your eyes and trying to recall what you've read, however, works really well.

A more nuanced version of recall is called memory palace, which involved associating what you are trying to learn with physical spaces. I applied this by going for a walk in my neighborhood. I worked out what notes are in a C chord, moving my fingers in front of me as if on a piano. They are CEG. I then attached them to a pinwheel in someone's yard, and made up a story about why--the letters C and G are rounded like a pinwheel, and the E is like the pinwheel's spokes. I continued to do this with the notes for F and G chords, attaching them to other yard accessories, such as a flag and a windchime. Later, on another walk, I went in the other direction, and associated the G notes (GBD) with a large oak tree, the F notes (FAC) with a loquat tree, and the C notes (CEG) with some roses. This made sense because in the C chord progression, G is the dominant chord, F is subdominant (these both correlate to sizes of the trees), and C is the tonic--and you can make a tonic from rosebuds! I learned this kind of technique as a kid under the term 'mneumonic device," so it comes somewhat naturally to make these associations now. They seem random and weird, but they really stick in my mind--and give me the added benefit of getting to know my neighborhood better. I know where to find loquats next June!

I continue to love learning, but am trying to give myself a break and not sign up for anymore classes right now unless they are extremely compelling. I'm also limiting myself to classes not taught by white men, again unless they are on extremely compelling subjects. I want to learn from people with perspectives of less privilege. However, I would love for you to join me for any of the classes I'm taking in the future--I'm starting two in January: "Buddhist Meditation in the Modern World" and  "Beauty, Form, and Function: An Exploration of Symmestry." It would be great to have you in class with me and compare (nonexistent) notes!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trans...cending Gender

I present myself in the world, and am easily perceived, as a female person, which is who I was socialized to be.  I face many challenges as a female in this world, but for the most part, do not struggle with the challenges transgender and genderqueer folk face. As I start to unravel what gender construction means to me, I want to be clear that in this facet of oppression, I am on the privileged end of things. I find it tolerable, even enjoyable sometimes, and in harmony with my essence, to embody some of the expectations put on me by social gender constructs. As someone who has considered what gender means to me, I think I bring a unique perspective to the conversation about breaking down the gender binary, especially why this radical project is beneficial to those of us who didn't really think to question it until someone else brought the subject up.

This story could start in two places: in a teepee at the rainbow gathering in Utah this July, or with my newly acquired habit of introducing myself as, "My name is Meagan, and I like 'she' pronouns." I'll come back to the teepee. To most folks, saying what pronoun I prefer lands like a foreign language. Some people ignore it completely, even though it is an implicit (maybe passive-aggressive?) invitation for them to tell me their preferred pronoun as well--though I haven't been asking.

Not long ago, I would not have started a conversation in this way. I'm pretty sure I would have thought that it was an inauthentic act of solidarity intended to a) help transgendered persons in a group feel safe, and b) encourage trans-awareness, with the cost of alienating me from the large majority of binaried people in the world. As someone who facilitates workshops and leads groups, I feared that using those spaces to advocate for trans-awareness would be seen as a distraction from the intention of the meeting (often to learn and practice Nonviolent Communication), and negatively affect my reputation as a teacher/facilitator.

Now, I think that saying I like she pronouns enhances my contrbution to any group I am in. I see the whole pronoun thing completely differently now, no longer as something that is only relevant to a minority of people. I have realized the power of saying that I prefer she pronouns. The power is that I chose. I continue to choose. I am not just accepting on blind faith what was handed down to me from the doctor's check mark on a birth certificate. If and when a different pronoun resonates more strongly with my soul, I can choose that too. I want everyone to feel the power of this intentionality, whether the conclusion they come to fits with social expectations or not.

What if this were a normal part of growing up? What if every adolescent were invited to question whether the pronoun given to them at birth really fits them, just as some people change their names? It would accomplish the two goals stated above in a) and b), as well as c): Give all people a chance to truly explore our most basic assumptions about who we are, delving deeply into our psyches and coming out wiser for the self-knowledge, whether or not we can accept and live with the binary gender system. (I imagine if we all did this kind of inner searching, a lot of binaries would break down--not just gender.)

Coming back to the teepee I mentioned earlier, it was a workshop/ritual called Sister Circle, Brother Circle. The idea is this: the women all sit in an inner circle, with the men in an outer circle. The women go around and share about "the beauty and struggle of being a woman" while the men listen silently. Then we switch and do the same thing, with women listening to the beauty and struggle of being a man. 

I want to be clear that I think this process was invaluable, and I am eternally grateful for the elders who held this space and have been doing so for almost 30 years. Genderqueer activists may think of it as an oppressive/unwelcoming approach, but I feel strongly that there is an immense amount of healing that longs to happen in and across the gender binary, even as we also transcend it. In fact what I came away from the teepee with is a much clearer understanding of how harmful binary gender construction is. In that space, when the women spoke about our beauty and struggles, the only things that rang true for me were the struggles--and I felt them deeply. It isn't that I didn't resonate with some of the beauty named, but all of those things seemed like human characteristics, rather than uniquely female.

The focus on our capacity to create life was a particular turn off for me, for two main and equally significant reasons: One is that I do not plan to ever be a biological mother, and in this day and age of overpopulation, I dislike the glorification of procreation and pregnancy as a reclaiming of Goddess power. It gives me the sense that women in the New Age community will never respect me as an adult if I don't have biological children, and that they aren't holding other species and our ecosphere with the care I long for. I am positive there are ways to call in Goddess energy that respect choice and reverence for other forms of life, which brings me to the other point: by claiming nurturing a creation as a female characteristic, we deny men and other nonfemale genders access to the exact qualities they need to cultivate to restore peace on the planet.

Men may not carry babies in a physical womb, but they definitely contribute to the physical process, and are a necessary element without high tech, expensive technology. Beyond sperm, men can support a partner by holding an energetic womb of care during pregnancy and beyond. And all people, regardless of their bodies, have a metaphysical womb--the ability to conceive of an idea, vision, project, and, sometimes, nurture it to fruition. This is the type of creation and motherhood I intend to participate in in my life, and I would like to be seen that this contribution is as sacred and in many instances more responsible than making yet another homo sapien

In the teepee, when we switched to the men speaking, it was as bad as when the women spoke. None of them even knew what it meant to be a man, despite having been told to be one their whole lives. The few positive qualities listed--strength, resourcefulness, protection, making things happen--again seemed contrived and are actually human qualities available to all people to cultivate and develop. So here's what I walked away from the teepee convinced of, because my consciousness had been so altered by that experience:

     If we didn't have gender construction, all humans could have free and equal access to any quality and characteristic they are naturally called to embody, leaving our individual lives and collective culture much richer.

When I have shared this with friends, they usually assume it means I want to abolish all reference to differences between men, women, and anyone else. I don't. There are physical differences between people that can be divided into imprecise categories. And, there are many real psychological differences between people rooted in gender socialization. These are not going to disappear overnight, and I want to acknowledge them and work with them, including inside the binary.

I am not interested in debating which specific things are innate versus socialized, because most of them we can't know for sure. But I bet that a large majority of gendered qualities are based extensively in socialization, and that by focusing on embodying the full range of humanity--or at least the parts we are naturally drawn to--we can blow away the chaff of arbitrary, obligatory social behaviors (such as limiting how we dress), getting closer to expressing our individual essences more truthfully, which will make our society more mature and beautiful.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Deficit of Life-Enrichment

A while back I was co-teaching a Nonviolent Communication Foundations class, and I drew a diagram on the board of "positive feelings" and "negative feelings." A participant said that she didn't like to think of some feelings as negative because she wants to embrace all her feelings. This statement was challenging for me to respond to because I found myself in complete and joyful agreement with her in principle, but not in application.

Using the term "negative feelings" seems clear to me, and doesn't have the connotation of something bad. How I understand it myself is mathematical. Unfortunately the participant didn't connect with this explanation--maybe I didn't fully give her a sense of being understood for how much she wants to value and honor all feelings first. Maybe you will connect to it though and find some use for it outside of the traditional "negative=bad' framework of thinking.

In math, a positive number means you have something, while a negative number means you "owe" something. If my bank account statement says $64, than I can celebrate that I have enough to pay my utilities and internet this month! Similarly in NVC, "positive" feelings indicate the presence of something--a need, such as love. We then say that we can celebrate that need being met.

On the other hand, if my bank account says -$8.64, the bank wants that amount from me. Although I might not be happy to see that number on the screen of my online banking, it does tell me important information. It tells me where there is an emptiness of something. With the bank account, the emptiness is money, but when it comes to feelings, they tell us about other kinds of emptiness. Hunger tells us about our empty bellies, while depression may tell us that about an emptiness related to belonging or meaning.

Another way to look at this is that of the photographic negative. When we are full, we experience one aspect of food. When we hunger, we experience the shadow side--food inverted. When we are connected, we experience one side of relationships, while when we are lonely, we experience the shadow of friendship.

Emptiness is not always bad. There can be a sweetness to the sorrow of being with emptiness. Sometimes when I have been lonely (the emptiness of companionship), I have simultaneously felt sad and also more attuned to the cosmos, more present to my experience because of this emptiness. I think this is an example of what that participant was referring to when she said she didn't think of any feelings as negative--she was thinking of negative as bad.

For me negative in the context of feelings means emptiness of needs. It is neither good nor bad. It may be painful, and it may be bittersweet. It is always informative. At times it is inspiring, as many of us go to artistic or literary expression when we encounter this emptiness.

If you would like to have more understanding and compassion for people, here is an exercise you can try. The next time you are around someone and think that they are being negative, imagine what the emptiness is inside them. What are they calling out for to fill that negative space? You can also do this for yourself, asking the same question about your own "negativity." This is embodied compassion and equanimity, moving past good and bad and into honoring of all aspects of life. With this type of compassion, perhaps all of our deficits--of love, community, food, meaning, connection, respect, and much, much more--will be a little more bearable. And when we are in the positive, together, we can celebrate!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Offended by Requests

Hitchhiking is a radical practice in living the gift economy. Asking people for a ride without offering anything in return, practicing nonattachment to whether or not someone stops, all while being present to the feelings of despair, impatience, and resentment with compassionate presence--these are the ingredients a gift economy is made of. But there is more to the practice of hitchhiking than shifting our economic transactions.

Many people I encounter while hitchhiking are uncomfortable with this request for a gifted ride. If I ask around at gas stations ("Are you going north?"), I am sometimes asked to leave by the owners, because they think their patrons are bothered. This both conflicts with my sense of entitlement to free speech, and confuses me. Why are people so uncomfortable being asked something when it's not a demand? Is it because they feel obligated?

Sometimes people lie or make up excuses, saying they aren't going a certain way when they are. Most of my fellow citizens aren't self-connected and confident enough to assertively say, "I'm not comfortable bringing you in my car," and leaving it at that. In non-consensual/rape culture it's not OK to have personal boundaries unless you have a good reason, which is why people lie. Compare this to a woman at a bar being asked to dance. If she just says, "I'm not interested," she will likely be harassed as often as not. However, if she makes an excuse, even an untrue one ("I have a boyfriend" or "I'm about to leave") she'll be left alone.

There are many other times when someone making a request stimulates discomfort. I was at a truck stop in Sparks, NV, while hitchhiking this summer. Numerous truckers indicated interest in paying me for sex, one coming up to my traveling companion and current lover and asking if we needed "spending money." We initially thought he was just offering to give us some cash out of generosity or concern, but then he admitted that what he really wanted was for me to "spend some time in [his] truck." I felt disgusted but responded with only a "No, thank you." Even as I feel disgusted still, I also am aware that this man probably has a chronic lack of intimate touch in his life.

Even though he was respectful in the since of leaving us alone as soon as I said no, I still needed a good few minutes to shake off the icky feeling I got from being asked. Why was I so offended? My companion told me to not make it about the man, but to take it as a compliment on my beauty and attractiveness. I was not receptive to this perspective at all. Sure, I'm attractive, but yuck.

Part of my discomfort stemmed from how the question was asked--always indirectly. Other than the guy who asked, most of the truckers who made propositions that night used insinuating comments like, "I'll take her for a ride without the guy." I read this as containing tones of nonconsensuality--they wanted an opportunity to assault me when he wasn't there to interfere/protect. (This also ties in to the idea that women are property of men, and that other men are more concerned about damaging someone's property than respecting any woman as an individual--but I'm trying not to digress too much.)

The man who did ask somewhat directly still did so in a roundabout way, trying to catch our interest with the idea of "spending money." It might have landed differently if he had said, "Please say no if you're uncomfortable, but I am really longing for some sexual expression right now, and am wondering if you'd like to help me with that in exchange for some cash?"  It could certainly be finetuned even more (honestly I think prostitution should be legal and we should do it like in the show Firefly with the Companion's Guild, where people apply through video shorts), but this is a step in the direction of 'speaking plainly,' as the Quakers say.

So, is there a way to hitchhike or solicit for sex that is not offensive, or less so? Assuring people that 'no' is a perfectly acceptable answer is an important component of this. One way to start any sensitive request is a pre-request that goes, "Are you open to being asked for...[a ride] [sex]?" This is hard to convey with a thumb, but could it be consolidated into a short phrase on a cardboard sign? "Stop if you're feeling generous" looks potentally guilt trippy to my eyes. Maybe, "Stop if you want to!"

Although these are uncomfortable subjects to deal with, it is exciting to explore the frontiers of human communication through such humbling experiences as being "stranded" in a truck stop or by the side of a desert highway for hours. I believe that such instances of making myself vulnerable to the forces of social behavior are a rare opportunity for transformation and connection between demographics of people who would never otherwise connect.

Coming soon: The Sequel to this post, "When Asking Is Awkward", an essay focused on the asking side more than the receiving side. What makes it so hard to ask for what we want? What happens when we are too scared or ashamed to do so? Please share any pre-post input on this topic here, as well as your response to the above content. I promise to respond to you!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Perfecting the Art of Being Lost

The second ever post I made on this blog was about being lost. Now it is time to write another one, and in fact this may become the theme of more of my writing, because for a while now it has been a theme in my life.

I don't like the word 'lost' per se. Someone described me with the word random in June, and that captures something poignant. I have inherited this quality from my dad (who is essentially a stranger to me). For the short time I was forced to be in his life, I saw him go through numerous hobbies: golfing, fishing, sailboating, gardening, building a boat...and drop projects before he finished them, or quit exploring a skill long before he mastered it. This quality always annoyed me, in part because I want to trust that when someone says they are going to do something, they will. I like consistency.

This is all the more reason that I annoy myself for my own lack of follow through. When I did Girl Scouts for a few years, they had a book of badges. At the beginning of each category was a badge called a Dabbler. This was a way to gently explore the subject matter, and then later badges would go more in depth with subcategories. So there would be a nature dabbler, an art dabbler, etc. These interested me more than anything else in the whole book. I wanted to explore everything, to be the master of all subjects. I still do.

This translates into all aspects of my life. What ends up happening is I skim the surface of everything, and wind up with all this information from a variety of disciplines, academic and spiritual and...whatever else you can think of. I'm not an expert at any one field, but I see the connections in the world. In college, I studied religions, psychology, sustainability, and art. In my spiritual explorations, I've played with most of the well-known Eastern philosophies, New Age beliefs, and am mostly settled in a Reclaiming-style Paganism with a side of Quakerism. This all after leaving the more mainstream Christianity I was born into.

Sometimes I have encountered judgements, from within and without, that I am undisciplined, weak-willed, never getting good at anything, unable to commit. I've never stayed with a spiritual practice such as meditation, yoga, art therapy, or nature connections for more than a few consecutive months. I change. I lose interest and focus in the material. It stops being meaningful to me. Which makes absolute, total sense, because life is always changing and is an ever-unfolding process. But when I was dating a committed Buddhist meditator, I heard his voice echoing the thousands of books and articles I'd read, telling me I would never reach enlightenment this way. I'm ruled by my wild senses, unable to control them--the Hindu form of sin.

And rebelling against that line of thinking with Pagan justifications of being a free animal in harmony with Earth isn't totally satisfying either. There is something about being human that can be seriously enhanced by cultivated presence. Ultimately this presence is handy in life's daily activities, as Thich Nhat Hahn writes about. It is easier to practice, like all things, in a contained environment.

On the other hand, when it comes to transcending duality and being one with the cosmos, Bill Plotkin says in one of my all-time favorite books (Nature and the Human Soul) that those are naturally emerging qualities gained in elderhood, after living a full life of going through all the stages of being a maturing human. Most of those stages involve participation with life, rather than renunciation. The one other stage that comes closest to this, because it is a time of turning inward, is known as the Cocoon.

The characteristics of the Cocoon describe my life starting in my mid-teens, and increasing as time went on. Because those characteristics have been a part of my life for so long, I am impatent to move on with life. The way Plotkin writes, he makes it sound like the survival of Earth is dependent on humans progressing through the stages of development, instead of stalling out at adolescence, as most of Western culture has done. The difference between the Cocoon and the next stage, the Wellspring, is that the first is about focusing on yourself and you own psychic depths, whlie the Wellspring is about giving your gifts to your community.

I thought I had progressed to the Wellspring as of a year ago. I thought I knew what I wanted to do to serve my community and make the most of this life. I had a vision, and I made some efforts to follow through with it. But that vision has since petered out, and at this moment, I again feel directionless.

So I ask myself, Do I need to turn inward again? Is it possible that I am more of a be-er than a do-er, that my purpose is filled by my existence, without taking on grandose projects? Is it OK to have moments of feeling unmotivated, even if they last days, and that doesn't mean I'm completely off-track? Does my random-ness have a pattern I cannot see for being so close to it? Does yours, other lost souls?

Over the summer, a friend was telling me about how she doesn't know which of her visions to follow--becoming a traveling artist, have a professional studio, start some sort of center or non-profit--and I passionately told her that although those are all beautiful ideas and I'm sure they would be great additions to the world, that her value as a person is not defined by what she produces. That is the big fat lie capitalism has told us. Our value is defined by who we are. This advice is much harder to believe for myself than it was when telling it to someone else.

It is such a blessing to have the spaciousness to contemplate these big life questions. I am incredibly privileged to live in a place where there is so much abundance that I can live simply off the excess and mostly not worry about basic survival. These circumstances are what allow me to be so tormented, and yet so blessed.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Purring Prrroudly

I recently referenced something called the cat tribe in another blog, which a confused commenter asked me about. I had hoped that readers would be able to pick it up from context, but I can see how to non-cat tribe folks it would make no sense, and I'd like to clarify so I can keep referencing it in my writing.

So what is cat tribe? When I used that phrase in my other blog, I meant a broad selection of people I have encountered in my life, many of whom are good friends of mine, who strongly identify with the cat archetype and have feline characteristics. They way we move, think, act, and relate all show up in feline ways. We might walk right by someone we love and care about without acknowledging them if we are focused on something else. We might start walking to get food and change our minds to taking a bath on the way.

We also use cat language to explain things and meow at each other to communicate. For example, when I receive a text message from a cat tribe friend, I could say that they meowed me. Or if I was going to call her, I could say, I need to meow at so-and-so. In person we sometimes meow and purr and hiss to express our emotions, which is mutually understood. One time a friend put a bottle of juice in my fridge and wrote MEOW on the cap to indicate that it was hers.

As I was coming home from an otherworldly retreat last week (Witchcamp! More on that soon!) I was walking through the Safeway of the nearest city with two friends. After wandering down the ice cream aisle and losing them, I meowed to find them. This is a regular practice that I do with cat tribe friends, meowing to locate each other in a crowd. It is hard to mistake this for anything else, as might be possible with a name.

I was raised around a lot of cats and kittens, so I picked up many of my feline characteristics by immersion. I have been told, at as young as age 14, that I make sudden physical movements which are both graceful and awkward at the same time; they are cat-like. I like to rub up against people. I am an anarchist, as all cats are. Autonomy and freedom are very important to me. I don't do well with superimposed rules that I didn't agree to. Kittens are one of the most therapeutic beings for me to be around, and far, FAR, cuter than the strange chimp nymphs my own species replicates itself as.

Most of the cat folks I know identify as women, but thinking of my male cat friend as a tomcat really helps me understand where he is coming from and accept him more--as well as know how to relate and set boundaries. Queens don't hesitate to swipe a tom even as they are flirting, and toms don't seem to take it personally. On the other hand, gender construction is not a limitation for cats. Toms are just as sensual and erotic as any human woman is encouraged to be, and queens can be vicious, buff rat killers. It's very fluid for them--which is why we humans often have to look at their genitals before assigning a "correct" pronoun. Maybe they have a lot to teach us about how we think of gender.

Actually, cats have a lot to teach us about everything. I have a book called The Way of the Cat that basically suggests treating your cat(s) as your guru, and I think the author is spot on. If anyone can help me be more enlightened, it is probably my cats. They practice openheartness, playful presence, and nonattachment.

I hope this has clarified what the cat tribe is. If you are one of us, please add anything I have missed or that is different about your experience in the comments. Meee-Yow!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Celebrating Love, Being In Integrity

As I was sitting on the patio of a favorite downtown deli, my friend across the table from me said that someone she knows recently announced an engagement. My contempt for the current social conception of marriage came right out with no attempt at politeness.

"Why can't people just acknowledge weddings for what they are?" I scoffed. "It's not about a commitment--no one who gets married stays together for life anymore. It's a celebration of love in the moment."

I say this as someone who seen many friends marry and divorce, with anywhere from two to twenty years in between. I have also thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with all the serious partners I've had. And part of me still does. In a natural setting, the cultural context humans are evolved to be in, we would be around our lovers our whole lives, regardless of whether or not we marry them, because we'd all be in the same tribe, working together for our physical well-being on a daily basis.

However, in these modern times, as Miki Kashtan would say, the fabric of humanity has been torn. So we lose our lovers in a big way when we lose them. They may move out of state or disconnect completely, because we aren't from the same or even neighboring tribes. The whole reality of modern tribes as I understand them is that they are much more fluid than they were historically (and are still in some parts of the world).

Believing that til death do us part is unrealistic and quite possibly even unattainable (as well as potentially very unhealthy) I turned a while ago to the pagan practice of hand-fasting for a temporary period of time, e.g. a year and a day. I learned not to trust this either. I made a three-year commitment with a long-term partner, and within a few months he was saying he couldn't keep it. Of course, we didn't hold a community ritual, which is problematic in itself, but nevertheless my takeaway from that experience and others is that agreements are only ever intentions, at best. You can't count on them. So making vows to a partner seems like being somehow out of the loop of reality for me at this point.

Circling back to weddings, I am not saying that because I think marriage is essentially dead that we shouldn't celebrate love. Far from it! Let's celebrate it more often. Let's throw a party every time two people (or more) feel affection and appreciation for each other. It's beautiful, and we can always use an excuse to barbecue veggie kabobs and eat Kettle chips. Or maybe raw chocolate fondue if that's more your thing. Either way, I am super up for love parties all the time.

And if lovers happen to still be with each other a year later, or three months, or seven years and two days, or whenever the heck they feel like it, have another party. Each time the celebration will get bigger. I imagine sharing the love, turning from my beloved(s) at the moment to hug everyone, so that we can all bask in a radiant puddle of oxytocin. If weddings were like this, no one would have to feel the shame of a divorce, as if you failed because the connection between you and another person no longer opens a portal to the divine. As if the nature of the universe isn't that of constant change, while your intimate partnerships are supposed to be static.

So how about it? Who wants to invite me to a love party? Do you know who you'd celebrate with?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Trusting Humanity On Rainbow Road

I'm walking through the desert, along the train tracks, with a traveling companion who doesn't have anything that can properly be called shoes, doing something I haven't done since I was a kid, which is look for a McDonald's sign. This strikes me as amusing and gives me cognitive dissonance, because for so long I have rejected McDonald's completely and done my best to ignore their advertisements. I am not looking for a plastic burger though, I am seeking the highway on-ramp at the end of Fernley, Nevada, so that we can hitchhike east on I-80 without being harassed by police. This strategy was suggested by a local sign-flyer at the Pilot gas station, where we'd been dropped off by a poor, sweet trucker who had just been ticketed for giving us an unauthorized ride (for only a few miles before he was interrupted).

After a few miles of slow-going progress, complete with goat-heads and a cloud of dust from behind a four-wheeler on the trail, a big yellow 'M' comes into view, and soon afterwards, a Starbucks--not somewhere I usually frequent either, but a reliable source of WiFi for my iPod touch that serves as a phone.

It's crowded inside with desert-dwellers seeking air-conditioned refuge from the heat. At first there is no available plug for charging my iPod. I buy the smallest and most palatable item I can find to justify my presence there (a package of Justin's organic peanut butter cups) and ask a young man to trade seats with me so I can access an outlet while catching up on texts. I've been meowed by my cat-tribe friend in Arcata whom I was just visiting and get to gleefully announce to her that I made it over the Sierras in one morning.

The state of Nevada only has three Craigslist sites: Reno, Elko, and Las Vegas. The Reno rideshare listings are all from stuck rainbow-goers. One sounds eerily like me, asking for folks to message or come pick up at a specific on-ramp because they will have irregular access to the internet--probably through an iPod touch, I imagine. I wonder if the locals are sick of what must seem to them like a caravan of bums passing through.

Having exhausted any rideshare possibilities (and without much gas money anyway), my companion and I continue on our way to the Interstate, and lo and behold, there is a cardboard sign with 'Utah' written on it on the ground! This means someone else DID get a ride from here! Encouragement comes in small doses when hitchhiking, but is potent--a smile or wave from a packed car, a resounding honk from a trucker, a grin from a motorcyclist, all contribute to the resilience it takes to offer oneself patiently to the generosity of strangers. This sign is part of that, so I pick it up and flash it at passing cars.

A couple hundred feet up the freeway, a hitchhiker much dirtier than us is thumbing it too. He's "tourng the 48" and warns us that there's not another city for 60 miles, and nothing but desert between here and there. He clearly thinks we're crazy to continue walking away from a reliable source of water and food, if needed, but I am antsy and want to continue in the right direction. We have enough water to last us for at least a day, and I'd rather sleep in the wild sagebrush if needed than near a settlement of people averse to travelers. Soon we come to an overpass that provides much-needed shade. It also reduces visibility for cars passing through, so I have to step out into the sun when there is traffic (still on the safer side of the holy white line of the shoulder, of course).

A law enforcement truck passes us without stopping, which is a relief. Apparently Nevada has decided to stop enforcing it's anti-hitchhiking laws, at least strictly. Two different cops we talked to elsewhere have already told us they don't mind hitchhiking, even though it's technically illegal. They probably are glad to see us getting out of their jurisdiction.

One of the odd things about my choice to travel in this manner is that I am voluntarily putting myself in the position of being seen as 'lesser'. The story I tell myself about hitchhiking is that it's fun, economical, more ecological (spontaneous carpooling), an adventure, a spiritual practice of surrendering to life in the moment, a way to meet people I wouldn't talk to otherwise... but I am very aware of other stories that can be told: hitchhikers are bums, who in turn are selfish, lazy, dirty, unwanted, criminals, not real citizens, leeches on society; it goes on and on. It is painful to be seen through this lens, but transformational to love the people seeing me this way and empathize with their existence.

Another story is that, as a young woman, I must be in trouble to be in this situation, and/or I am naive to be putting myself into such dangerous situations where I could be raped. This is exactly the line that a female trucker took at Sierra Sid's casino and truck stop the night before. I definitely went into defensiveness immediately, but was also grateful to have some clarity on how I wanted to respond, a gift from other feminist thinkers and writers of our time. I challenged her assumption that it is my responsibility to prevent someone from raping me, and asked why she wasn't talking to the truckers she claimed were so dangerous, telling them to treat women with basic respect, instead of telling me to avoid them. Socialized into rape culture as she is, she countered that it would be pointless, because OF COURSE sexual assault is just inevitable.

This is easily seen for its falseness by the fact that most men do NOT sexually assault women, at least not on purpose (many assaults do happen because consent was not gained, but having not been educated in gaining verbal consent or recognizing nonverbal cues, men in this culture don't realize they violated someone). I have been on dozens of hitchhiking trips, taken probably well over a hundred rides from strangers at this point, and have never been sexually assaulted in someone's car while hitching. There have been what I thought were close calls, people I was sketched out by and wanted to reach for my knife just in case. But nothing ever happened.

I have, however, been raped and assaulted in numerous other contexts, including in places of residence, and with people I was attracted to and wanted to explore consensual touch with. This all goes to show that rape is never the victim's fault; it is unpredictable, and telling a woman not to put herself into a "dangerous situation" only perpetuates victim-blaming. This is actually a significant and meaningful part of my choice to hitchhike, oftentimes alone--it is my way of both saying, "Look, the world is a lot safer and kinder than isolation culture would have you believe!" (and plenty of my experiences attest to that) and of saying that even if I am raped while hitching, it still isn't my fault, I am not stupid for doing so, but the person who assaulted me has serious issues that stem from how our culture socializes people into horrifically tragic and unhealthy sexuality.

So despite all the warnings that people are dangerous, selfish, and won't pick up two hippies in the desert heat, there we were, on the I-80 east of Fernley, when a guy in a large truck hauling some massive trailers pulled over. He was only headed up the road though, and we needed to get past Lovelock and the hitchhiking prohibited zone (near the prison where OJ Simpson lives). Almost immediately after the truck pulled away, leaving a skid mark behind, disappointment turned to relief and excitement when another car pulled over and a guy in a tie dye shirt stepped out. Here was our ride the rest of the way to the rainbow gathering!