MADE VISIBLE

h/t to my former student, Cliff Mason II of www.masonreport.com

h/t to my former student, Cliff Mason II of http://www.masonreport.com

This past week, my husband and I have been like two ships passing in the night. I had spent 3 days out of state doing equity and inclusion training in Vermont, and my husband has been busy with end-of-year, late night school events. But, last night, we finally sat down and talked. When we do sit down to talk, our conversations usually include something about the latest television show about zombies or science fiction that he loves (and that I, as he knows, would likely hate); a project that one of us is working on; or a ridiculous conversation that we had or overheard one of the children saying.

And, far too often, including last night, we have been talking about tragedies in our country that have continued to render people of color — most specifically people who are Black — as less than human, less than equal, and less than valued.

But, c’mon people, this is not a new pattern. Not a new behavior. Not a new mentality in our country. It’s just that I’m tired — fatigued — from the same shit happening again and again with no change.

Oftentimes, I am asked to facilitate trainings, workshops and dialogues around the country. Whenever I do the pre-consultation with the organizers, I always ask, “What is it that you want to get out of this? What are your outcomes?”

Nearly every time, the answer is “Tell us what to do to be better” or “We only have an hour so, you know, whatever you want to do is fine.” That’s usually when I answer, “I’m probably not the person for you. What I do is about understanding our personal connections to oppression and how it influences our work/job/lives.”

To fulfill those 1-hour workshops or delivering a “to do” list like that simply means that I am collecting a paycheck. Sure, I can tell you what to do, but it won’t actually make any change in your organization, department, behaviors, and lives. And, as above, me telling you doesn’t equal you understanding.

And, understanding takes time. Like, real time. Like, active, engaged, difficult, ugly, painful, raw, terrifying time. My process involves asking you about what you believe and how you got there. My process involves asking you to think about your identities and how they influence who you are, how you treat people, and how you see people even before you see people. My process involves asking you what parts of your identity serve as barriers to engagement and what parts bring you closer to engagement. And, if it feels $hitty and horrible and ugly and terrifying, then it’s likely worth doing.

One of the most brave things that I have seen came from my friend Emily (read her beautiful blog here). This morning, after many articles circulated social media calling for allies who identify as White to stop listening and start doing, Emily posted publicly on my Facebook wall. She published with intentionality, knowing that she couldn’t possibly be the only person who was struggling with how to move from listening to doing in a way that made sense. And, given the number of likes and comments, Emily is not alone.

Emily, like many of my socially-just minded friends, identifies as an ally, has active conversations with her children, openly challenges race and racism among friends and family, and shares posts about race and justice on social media.

Does this sound like you, too?

If so, then you’re likely one of the ones struggling, too. Struggling with how to go deeper, move further, and engage more actively.

This is for you. It’s not comprehensive. And, I’m actually writing this with a particular group in mind — a group of people who live in racially White homogenous communities; who go to school along side and who play soccer/swim/neighborhood tag in communities that are homogeneously racially White; and who aren’t going to uproot the family and move to a racially diverse community for lots of very valid logistical reasons (note: living in a racially diverse community doesn’t mean that positive racial interactions happen, either. I live in a racially diverse city and still manage to, every single day, hear racist comments and witness racist behaviors).

What do I (because, I don’t speak for all people of color) need you to do?

I need you to make your commitment visible. 

I am quite confident that people know where I fall on certain issues. Even given my identity as a practicing and faithful Catholic; even given my identity as a heterosexual woman; even give my identity as a cisgender woman; even given my identity as an Asian American who neither benefits from White privilege nor who experiences violence as people in the Black community experience; even given my identity as an emerging scholar; even given my identity as a practitioner; even given my identity as mother/wife/parent — it’s pretty clear and visible what my views are on just about every social issue.

I have made my commitment visible.

I have made my mistakes visible.

I have made my questions, my struggles, my journey visible.

I have publicly interrogated my own beliefs and values about nearly every issue from race to gender to sexual orientation to gender identity to class to education to activism to injustice to service to parenting … and so on. I have moved beyond listening, which I still do intently, and have made my journey visible.

But, I have not attended a march. I did not get on one of the many buses from Boston to Selma to walk the bridge. I did not carry a sign at a rally. I have not chanted and demanded justice by protesting in front of a store or a business. I have not participated in a die-in nor a walk-out. But, every ounce of me has wanted to, emotionally, but it’s just not authentic for me.  I am thankful for my many brothers and sisters for whom this avenue of activism is authentic. I have watched you from afar, wept openly at your commitment, and prayed for your protection from harm.

I have been visible in other ways.

The way that I have understood is authentic for me is through written word. I showed up in my news feed and in the news feed of others. I made my beliefs and struggles visible when I blogged, tweeted, or updated my status. I engaged in public conversations and private conversations. And, when I am feeling brave and willing to risk being criticized, I have shouted.

I spoke quietly, firmly, and honestly to my children. I made visible the reality of our world so that they can create their own authentic responses.

I cried on a couch with my co-worker.

I sat in silence, in a community circle, and listened to the breathing of others as paid attention to the Light within.

I broke bread with a friend and talked well above a whisper about identity and Blackness and discourse of performing identity while at a public restaurant.

I pinned a rainbow heart on my bag, my lunchbox, and my backpack in addition to having the only outward-facing rainbow flag on an office window at the Catholic college where I worked.

I ask people for their preferred pronoun(s) and smile when they look at me confused, mostly because they have had the privilege of never being asked.

I openly and regularly use language like “partner” or “parent/guardian/support system” or “place you consider home”.

I use people-first language and both role model and correct others when they do not.

For a while, I tied a black string around my wrist whenever there was violence perpetrated against someone who was Black. People asked me what it was. I told them. And then, soon after, I ran out of string.

I am the first one to bring up race in a conversation, making it visible before there is time to diffuse or shift it to something else.

Sometimes, when I believe that it might matter, I challenge a comment someone writes that may be classist or sexist or heteronormative or racist or veiled notions of all of the above. Sometimes, I stay with the conversation and we both grow. Most times, yes, even in my own friend group, I end up being attacked and marginalized and told that I “have offended someone by implying they are racist.” Then I remember how deep, pervasive, and well-oiled the machine of Privilege and racism is, and how that successful operation has made it possible for them to be offended.

On days when I have more energy, when my heart is less broken, and when my soul is less weary, I do more than “share” an article. I comment, I highlight, and I interpret and interrogate it in my own lens. Hitting “share” is too easy. Actually articulating why I’m sharing it is making my journey visible.

And, yes, none of this is possible unless you listen. I do listen. I listen with my whole being. I begin listening with this one statement that I repeat over and over to myself: “For this person, this is true.” I believe in their truth. I believe that their truth is informed by their life. And, if I am given the gift of this testimony, I take it with me and hold on to it tightly.

But, it is time to move beyond listening. It is time to stop calling ourselves allies and, instead, ask ourselves what it means to ally.

I’ll write that again.

I don’t need you to BE an ally. I need you TO ally.

In the world of my children, I have heard them say time and again, “So-and-so is my friend.” My follow up question is usually, “Oh, that’s great. Well, what makes that person a friend? What does that person do to show you she/he is your friend? What has that person done to demonstrate what it means to be a friend?” 

It’s the same thing here, Allies.

I need you to understand what it means to ally. I need you to understand it for yourself. I need you to figure out how you can make yourself visible. I need you to figure out how to make your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, struggles and journey visible for others to see in a way that is authentic for you. I need you to be brave. I need you to move into spaces that are uncomfortable so that you aren’t just listening but you are participating.

If I asked any one of your friends what YOUR opinion, stance, belief, or value was about any of the social issues you say you privately care deeply about, would they know what it is? Would they know where you stand? Would they know what you believe?

What will they say you have done?

In true definition, we do not individually claim Ally. Rather, a community claims you as an ally. The community with whom you are working towards solidarity says you are an ally.

If you call yourself an ally to the Black community, would the Black community — people who are Black — say you are?  Would they say you show up? Would they say you make visible your commitment to them and to issues impacting the Black community?

Would they say anything about you at all?

If not, then what will you do?

It’s time to do some real soul searching. It’s time to ally. 

Peace, love and using my strength in the service of my vision*,

Liza

*”When I use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  — Audre Lorde

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FOR A LIVING

“My friend is mad at me.”

Usually when my daughter comes home from school, she ignores me or, at best, answers me in one-word sentences. I knew to run quickly into this open door.

“What happened?” I asked, anticipating her middle-school answers of “She thinks I like this other person” or “I wouldn’t sit with her at lunch” or “We wore the same sweatpants and people thought we matched on purpose.”

“She’s mad at me because I think people who are transgender are normal.”

I wasn’t expecting that. Yes! sang my inner activist-Mom-soul.

“Tell me more,” as I swung the door of conversational opportunity wide open.

“Well, she asked me what you did for a living. I told her you do diversity stuff. She asked what that meant. So, I said that you try to end racism and sexism. I said that you talk to people about privilege and that you try to make the world more fair for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

This is awesome. Why? Because when my other daughter was 5-years old, she told people that I did aerobics for a living. I have no idea…

“So my friend said that she thinks transgender people .. and I corrected her and said ‘people who are transgender’ … but anyways, she said that she thinks it’s disgusting and against God.”

“She said it was against God?” I asked. I, myself, had just come from church that afternoon, and that comment hit me in a particular way. “Okay, that sounds interesting. What was your response back to her?”

“Well, I told her that everyone has a right to their religion, but that I was taught that God made us and chose us for a journey that we were meant to have.”

“Wait, wait,” I interrupted. “Can I film this? Because, for real, I think you’re about to drop some serious knowledge and I want other people to see and hear you say this. Can I?”

“No.” There’s the one-word answer I was looking for.

Damn. 

“So, she then said that God doesn’t make mistakes and so if God made you a man you should stay a man.”

I held my breath. I couldn’t believe my 11-year old was having this conversation at lunch.

So, I told her that when I was in your belly, that God gave me cancer. And, when I came out of your belly, I had cancer. And, when I was two years old and finally realized I had cancer, I had to do something or I was going to die. I had to take out my entire eye — an eye that God gave me — so that I could live. If I stayed the way God made me, I would be dead.”

I began to cry. She’s eleven. 

And, I told her about how many young people who are gay have killed themselves because they felt that God made them and that they shouldn’t be gay. And they weren’t accepted by their families. And, they died. If I didn’t change the body that God gave me, I would be dead, too.”

I can’t even….

She continued, “If someone is born in a body that God gave them, but that body isn’t right. Then they might make a choice to change something about their bodies so that they can stay alive. That’s what I had to do. If someone is transgender and they need to be in a different body, then they should do it.”

Okay, then what happened?”

“She said, ‘No. They should just deal with it.’ She got really mad at me and then she walked away. I wasn’t mad at her, but I know I had offended her.”

I couldn’t speak. I was overwhelmed. My heart, my soul, and my spirit were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by her sadness. Overwhelmed by her compassion. Overwhelmed by how readily she could articulate faith, gender, acceptance, and understanding.

“I’m really sad that she’s mad at me, Mom. I’m sad that she’s mad about me not agreeing with her. I know that you do this kind of stuff for a living, but I am going to do it for my life.”

That’s exactly why I do it, too, Joli.

Peace, love, and brave conversations,

Liza

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MAKE ROOM FOR FABULOUS

Donate. Keep. Throw. 

Twice a year, I go through my closet and drawers (for the record, I have 1 small closet and no real drawers — just two small cubby shelves) and switch out my wool pants/sweaters for cotton tank tops/shorts. And so it goes in New England. We go from freezing cold to hot and humid.

Each time, though I have good intentions, I hold on to so many clothes that don’t fit; clothes that don’t look great on me; and clothes that I don’t even like but have some sort of sentimental value to them.

Maybe it’s that I just left my job of 11 years. Maybe it’s that I’m in a weird limbo phase of consulting gigs and workshops. Maybe it’s that I’m eager to start my new job.

But, I decided to do a real clean sweep of my clothing.

My criteria?

Only keep items that make me FEEL fabulous TODAY.

To do this, I asked myself two questions:

1) If I put this on right now, could I wear this anywhere?

AND

2) If I put this on right now, would I feel like a rockstar? A confident, badass, fantastic rockstar?

If the answer was “No” to either, it went into the donation pile.

This included the shirt that still had the tags on it from 3 years ago that, when I cleaned out my closets last year, I swore, “Oh, I’m totally going to wear this sometime this year.” It included the soft cotton shirt that had the tiny hole in the armpit (c’mon, admit it, you have one of those shirts, too!).

No.

If I wasn’t willing to put it on today; and if it didn’t make me feel like a badass rockstar who could go from work to the baseball field, then it was going to someone else.

I filled 8 bags for donation.

Yes, there was still hesitation. More than once, one hand held the piece of clothing and the other hand held the red, plastic drawstring on the white garbage bag. “Well, I liked it when I bought it” or “I wore this red shirt when I met Alyssa Milano in LA!”.

No.

And, now, it’s done. My closet is filled with clothes that I like, that I wear, and that make me feel fabulous. And, I have plenty. No post-closet-clean-out shopping spree. If anything, getting rid of that much stuff made me confront the privilege I have of even owning so much. I sat on my bed, stared inside my closet, and gave thanks for the people who made it — and, I am well aware that many of those items were likely made by people who were not paid well and who worked in inhumane conditions. And, though I don’t need anything, I have set an intention that I will know where my next pair of clothing comes from.

Over the next 30 days, while I am living “in-between”, I am committed to clearing out more clutter in my home and in my life. In these next 30 days, I have no work email to check (because, I literally have no email work accounts); no work voicemails; and no work deadlines. It’s time to declutter other areas.

Because, it’s no secret that I’ve got to make more room for fabulous.

Peace, love, and making room,

Liza

I wasn't kidding about the red shirt :)

I wasn’t kidding about the red shirt :)

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MY SUNSHINE

In August 2005, my daughter Joli was just 2 years old. On August 17th, we found out Joli had cancer and had to have emergency surgery to remove her eye. Even though her surgery was surprisingly quick, the road to recovery would be long and difficult.

Just a few days after we came home from the hospital, I was driving around town getting prescription medication, bandages, gauze, and some other supplies for Joli post-surgery. My sister, Grace, was with me and we decided to go and grab some takeout from the local Thai restaurant.

We called ahead and Grace ran inside to get the food.

I remember that feeling of awesomeness — in all the hustle and bustle of our now cancer-lives, I hadn’t paid any attention to how I was feeling. I was in pure survivor mode. 

But, this was my treat. I was looking forward to my full plate of pad thai with the crunchy peanuts sprinkled over the top; the delicious spring rolls that I would dip in the sweet-and-sour chili sauce; and the Thai ice coffee that was my extra indulgence.

Grace walked towards the car with the large brown paper bag in one hand and my ice coffee in the other. Hurry up, I remember thinking. That’s my food! I could feel my saliva building up in my mouth.

As soon as Grace opened the door, she placed the food in the small space between our seats. YES! That smells so… so …. so… 

barf.

The watery saliva in my mouth that was preparing for the sweet, spicy, and tangy noodles became acidic and unbearable.

I felt my body sweat. My stomach turned. My heart began to race.

Liza, it’s the stress. You’ve been keeping this all in, said Grace. It’s true. I had been. I had been the rock that my family needed.

No. I’m pregnant, I told her. I know I am.

Sure enough, in the midst of my first born’s chemotherapy. Her enucleation. Her prosthetic fittings. And, her exams under anesthesia. I was pregnant. 

At first, I couldn’t believe this was happening. Wasn’t it enough that my daughter’s body was going through unbearable torture? Now, my own body was going to be distracted?

Throughout the months, as Joli’s head became more shiny and bald, my belly became more round and pronounced. As Joli threw up from chemotherapy, I threw up from morning sickness. Many times, we were both snuggled in her hospital bed.

My pregnancy brought me closer to Joli. But, it also kept me at a distance. When she needed her diaper changed, I had to suit up in a paper covering and double plastic gloves just to make sure none of the chemotherapy drugs passed from my skin to my growing baby. Eventually, my belly grew so big that I could no longer snuggle my sick child in the bed. The hospital pulled out a rolling cot for me.

Each month, when we returned for chemotherapy, the nurses on staff would comment about the baby and how big my belly was growing.

They watched me fight for one life and grow another. 

Joli finished chemotherapy in late February.

On April 22, 2006 — Earth Day — that growing baby decided to make her appearance.

Quickly, on that morning, Jada was born.

My sunshine.

To this day, Jada holds a very special place in my heart. She was a gift in my darkest hours. She was a life force. Whenever I felt angry at the world during those months of treatment and surgeries, I felt Jada kick. It was like she was telling me to “Get a grip, Mom. Seriously.”

Outside of the womb, Jada still says that to me.

Jada is exactly who she was meant to be.

Her laugh lights up a room. Her smile brightens the darkest corners. Her brilliance shines beyond walls. She is feisty, sassy, and assertive.

Jada is the best of all of those difficult months.

I want to believe that all of the things we had to go through during 2005-2006 was to prepare me to be a strong mom, and to prepare Jada to be a strong human. She fights for what she believes in. She sees the good in all the bad. She is unafraid of speaking her mind.

Jada is my sunshine.

She is warmth, she is heat, she is light.

april 22 jada potato

Photo 57

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Happy birthday, Jada. Thank you for all the ways in which you were meant to be.

Love,

Mom

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Well, I THOUGHT I was taking it slow….

Alas, despite my best efforts to completely ease into walking and running, my “almost-40-year-old-knees” decided differently.

Yes, friends. I’ve been hit with patellar tendonitis, otherwise known as “jumpers knee”, otherwise known as “runners knee”, otherwise known as “#^@&$^#&@###$@#”.

Thanks to a couple of medical professionals in my family, the course of treatment is simply ibuprofen for the swelling, ice, and a whole bunch of strengthening exercises. You can check out a great resource from Mass General here.

I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty pathetic. When I told my brother that I was having a pain in my knee, he replied, “Well, just cut back on your mileage.” I laughed and said, “Well, that would just put me back on the couch.” After all, it’s hard to cut back on 1.0 miles ….

So, if you’re a new runner, and you’re feeling a bit achy and sore, well, join the club. But, I know well enough to rest and then to try again.

This is also the push I needed to get myself to the running store and get FITTED and buy new shoes (I’m a huge fan of getting fitted… no more “I think these might fit” days). My current shoes have hundreds of miles on them, and it’s time to get new ones. As soon as I can walk normally again, it’s ON!

If you want to still push ahead and follow the training plan, then here are the three gifts (aka workouts) this week:

1 mile total for distance (you might want to try walking .25 miles and then “walking faster” for .25 miles)

12 minute walk-walk faster (alternating every 1 minute)

15 minute walk-walk faster (alternative every 1 minute)

I might be a week behind as I wait for this knee to settle down. But, I hope you keep gifting yourself these workouts!

Peace, love and resting for now,

Liza

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10 Minute Walk/Walk Faster

Ever wanted to start running? Cool! Join me as I move from a very slow walking phase to a half-marathon in a few months. If you’ve been following me for a while (or if you’re new!), you know that I’m a full-sized (or plus-size, or awesome-size) woman committed to better health and stronger organs. 

I have run a few half-marathons, but the winter usually destroys all evidence. So, each spring, I start with a half-marathon goal. Join me as I start very slowly! Stay tuned and stay in touch!

To check out the official Day 1 workout (which was Day 4 of a “Liza, get off your butt” plan), check out this vlog here: http://youtu.be/7IAOehF23zg

Today’s workout was just a 10-minute phase of 1 minute walking and 1 minute “walking faster than you just did”. Alternate those until you get to 10-minutes. 

Coming up next: Walk/walk Faster for 12 minutes. You got this!

Peace and love,

Liza

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Long Spring Walk

If you lived above ground, you know that we New Englanders had kind of a rough winter. Thankfully, the weather seems to be turning and we are in Spring Season mode!

This week starts the official “half-marathon training.” But, rest assured, it starts off with a 10 minute run/walk. That’s right, once this week, just do a 1-minute walk and 1-minute jog (and you can define “jog” however you’d like). Do that rotation 5 times. Easy peasy. 10 minutes. That’s all. 

Because this weekend was just so beautiful, and because of some planning, I managed to gift myself a 5-mile walk. A slow, leisurely walk. The kind of walk where, if there were flowers, I would have stopped to smell them. But a walk none-the-less. 

You can check out the video here: https://youtu.be/QEXf5CuduCo

So, this week, try to get that 10 minute workout in. Think of it as a 10 minute gift to yourself! No stress!

Peace and love,

Liza 

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