Comfort foods sought

It has been an evening of breadmaking, washing dishes and leftovers. I am venturing out by cooking one of the staples of comfort food by cooking hash browns after seeing a friend mention them for months. In the midst of the death of two on this Sunday, I seek comfort food tonight. In addition to the comforts of the kitchen, the internet becomes another salve for me. Similar to the Margaret Mead quote that “each of us is unique, just like everybody else” I turn to the quiet abyss of the internet, trusting that the privacy of my words will be encountered by someone similarly alone, quiet and in front of a screen.

Do we gravitate towards comfort food during times of duress, loss, doubt because it is an acknowledgement that any meal may well be our last meal? I have inquired about the possibilities and proximity of death for some fifteen years, mostly in the inner depths of my own soul. The moment that kicked the consciousness of death doorway wide open was when I was a few hundred meters from coastline with my parents — the three of our heads bobbing up and down in rough waves. As a young man, I had barely embraced the idea that my parents were no longer the infinitely powerful beings that I had known them as throughout my first two decades. As we doggy paddled awaiting a dinghy that never came, I reckoned with the mortality of myself, and feared how long their fifty-something, smoking bodies could endure the turbulence within sight of land. It was then clear to me that my parents were no longer invincible.

###

I still recall the light of an overcast day as it passed through the red of my fleece sweatshirt in the fourth grade. It was a day or two after the news of my grandma’s death had come courtesy of the telephone line, news carried from two countries away. Unable to cry at home or in the presence of others in my family in the days afterwards, I finally found the space and solitude to bawl during lunch as i hid (or shielded) my face from all the other students who had the same lunch period. I had no idea whether anyone else saw me that day, which didn’t matter to me as I was unable to come to terms with being alone in such an unfamiliar way. It was fortunate to not have to deal with anyone else at school, just as it had been at home. Rather than being in Colorado, it happened while in the surroundings of a new school with none of my three siblings anywhere around. It was the first death of a family member in my decade’s old life, my grandma who loved me, tickled me and treated me with the fawning adoration befitting of a grandparent to a grandkid.

In the two decades since then, attending to unfinished business, expressions of love, another home cooked meal (that can be either beautifully simple or elaborate) are some of the simple moments that I appreciate in this moment. Rather than subject myself to a tailspin of regret, second guessing and remorse, there is an unparalleled freedom when I readily acknowledged that death is with us all the time. It is all around, and rather than continue to participate in the delusion, avoidance, skirting over or skirting past, I prefer to notice it.

I don’t know that I am befriending it, but choosing to not neglect it feels like a path less traveled.

living history through primary sources

There have been some incredible pieces of historical documents written and distributed in the last month. Three that jump to the forefront of my mind are:

 

 

today, @umairh goes off on the economy + politics

Earlier today on Twitter, @umairh “Economist. author. slayer of zombies” stated:

I’m going to do five quick points on politics + the economy. This is gonna hurt. Enjoy!! |
1. The question is: how long will average incomes in the US decline? Another 25 years? Forever?
2. There is no reason to believe average incomes in the US will reverse their long run trend and rise anytime soon.
3. There is every reason to believe average incomes in the US will stick to their long run trend. And decline. For a long time.
4. The big problem in America is simple. The rich are getting richer, for no good reason. And everyone else is getting poorer.
5. Without major political reform — a system which can give the middle class basic rights — the US middle class is toast.
6. The US has a social model that has failed. It is working for thousands of people. It’s not working for millions.

… I don’t know how to stress this to you guys enough. This is deep shit. We’re going to come of age in a failing society.
Ok. Am I scaring you, telling you what you already konw, or you just don’t care?
Our leaders don’t give a shit. That’s exactly why you should.
Jail the bankers, stop the wars, restore rights, save the middle class, end poverty, invest in the young. It’s not rocket science.

… There are 47 million people living in poverty in America. While the 6 Walmart heirs are worth more than the bottom 150 million.
That, folks, is what a broken social model looks like.

… So those of us who’ve suggested the economy’s broken for years now have been proven right? And the pundits wrong? Surprise.
This economy could hardly be more broken. And that it’s taken the establishment a decade to get it is precisely why.
What should really concern us is that there is nothing on the horizong that’s going to reverse any of the problems in the economy.

A 5280 Family Reunion

20130804-143340.jpg

35 members of five generations of family who range in age from 7 weeks to a few weeks shy of 93 assemble in Denver and Aurora this weekend. Select moments of storytelling have been:
• two consecutive days of pool with my niece and nephew, including a 10-minute clinic on grips, how to place their left hands on the pool table, and steadying the cue on the padding between a thumb and forefinger. Last night, Diego said “thanks for showing me, Uncle Chad. I wasn’t this good at pool before.”
• telling Ms. Gayles, Aunt Barbara and Grandmother about ten years of vegetables and the proliferation of CSAs, community gardens and urban farms. It’s amazing when a diabetic says, “I had no idea that young people, your age, were so into their food like that,” as we talked about jobs, health, diets, fish chromosomes in tomatoes, the proliferation of and popular resistance to GMOs, and the future.
• stories of Count, Candy and GoGo, who were George’s three Dobermans in Dallas. Count, who was a guard dog, walked Sherry down the street one day causing a neighbor, who could recognize any Doberman, called George to tell him where his daughter and dog were.

Shocks to the system after systems failure

For months, an acute pain has arisen in the fleshy palm of my left hand. The swelling in a capillary bloats stands of tissue that reside beneath my epidermis. Skin over a swollen, small vein is sensitive to touch in a way that other skin is not.
Last month, the shooting, throbbing pain on less than a square inch had company. I noticed tightness in some strands of tissue on my inner bicep. A tightness that I could mistake for muscle tautness, except that there is no similar strand in the bicep of my dominant, right arm. This self-noticing, which was palpable to the touch of my external hand, led me to trace my right hand further over the adjacent muscles of my chest, shoulder, and back that form my physical body. As my fingertips investigated, I noted lines of tightness spewing from my armpit in two directions: across my chest, and a band of muscles down my back.
My intuitive sense revealed that these were interwoven symptoms of muscles beholden to a particular tension. What minutes earlier was only a throb in my palm was showing itself now that I was seeing with the fingers of my right hand and listening with my right hand. This is what sensing looks (feels, tastes and soothes) like in the body.
I sat with the discomfort, which now tasted slightly different thanks to my recent curiosity. I was unsure of what to make of it. I pulled my thumb to “pop” the joint (or pop the knuckle, although I see the uniqueness of the thumb give this joint a different name rather than be one of five knuckles) for momentary relief. “Popping my knuckles” has been a way to realign, reconfigure and redesign the spaces in between my skeleton I learned how to contort my fingers to make an audible adjustment. I pop knuckles considerably less as an adult than I did as a child, though I “pop” or open up space between vertebrae in my lower back, mid-back and neck daily. I open up spaces surrounding my sternum by spreading my shoulders back and apart in such a way on most mornings that I can hear the reconfiguration within my chest.
But this popping of my thumb has been different. The realignment of my joint provides some relief to the tissues that are two inches away. However, after the energy moves, the pain returns soon after.
Then last Monday, I placed my hands underneath my shoulders while laying on my back. Knees bent. Soles of my feet on the floor. A position called wheel pose, when I use my hands and feet to push my body up off of the floor and out. I could stay up briefly. And came crashing town to the ground once or twice.
The sensations of coaxing a throb began soon after. Previously, I had begun and ended multiple yoga classes by rubbing the flesh of my palm or yanking on my left thumb (frantically). This morning was the first time that I could feel the tightness dissipating as blood flowed through my palm, my thumb, my bicep, my armpit, my pectoral and my back.
____

One pose stretches my wrist and calls upon the needed force of select muscles to hold my body up in a new and different way. Holding me in a certain position for a matter of seconds, yet rippling throughout my day.
The vein in my left palm palpates now. Rarely it is visible to my eye. Yet, I am learning my own body. Learning how the sorenss of my left thumb cascades up into my chest and back. Similarly, I am learning how new poses and new stretches are like math problems, spelling contests and reading comprehension. New assignments and new challenges are needed in order for me to keep on learning. My body self-organizes the programming of my DNA and the coding of my musculature in this moment-by-moment school of learning.

Recalling Sophisticated Lady from Charleston to Tuskegee at 92

I called my grandmother, Jane Draine (nee Jackson, Jones), yesterday. At 92, I could hear the surprise and delight that I had called her at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning.

At one point, she used a sentence of appreciation that I had called, signaling that she was wrapping up our call. In those few minutes, Grandmother told me about her health, had humored herself and me about the quality of food that institutions serve our elders and grandparents and remarked about her memory and my mobility. But, I wasn’t done talking since I had more questions for her. I had called to hear her voice as well as pose select questions to her. The mastery of asking questions is increasingly become a tool from the abyss of my soul where I forge history and family.

I asked her about the time and her and Grandfather Hooks’ decisions revolving around my father in the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. In 1960, my grandparents moved from Denver back to Tuskegee. I asked how much Emmett Till factored into her thoughts, heart and soul as she readied to move from integrated Colorado to Jim Crow Alabama. I have been reading about Emmett Louis Till in James H. Cone’s “The Cross and The Lynching Tree” (published by Orbis Books in 2011) this week. When Cone reminded me of Till’s barbaric mutilation and how his mother’s choice to “not let her baby die in vain” was an inflection point for Black America. As Cone says himself, and quotes John Lewis as saying, Emmett Till made them and countless other black boys realize “it could have been me.” It was 1955, when my father would have just turned 12 years old. It turns out that my dad and Emmett share the same birthday, Till born two years earlier.

In 1960, my dad would be 17 when his parents moved to Tuskegee. I read Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Sons” a month ago, which reminded me on the barbarism of lynching, schooled me on sharecropping, and illustrated how widespread the brutality pushing Blacks out of the South was. Wilkerson makes the case that the Great Migration of six million African Americans between 1910-1970 was one of the (if not the) greatest historical events of the 20th Century US. This was a tide that my grandparents went against as they returned in 1960.

As Grandmother recounted to me over the phone, she and Grandfather chose to send my dad to Charleston, West Virginia, during his senior year to live with Buddy and Grandad Jackson, his maternal grandparents. Grandmother mentioned how the people at the Tuskegee Institute advised them that the high school was not as good.

53 years later, I cannot know how much of it was the pull of better educational options in Charleston or the push of the possibility of lynching and Jim Crow reality. My father would have been young, black and on the verge of manhood. Perceived as a young adult, yet carrying the simple not-knowingness of childhood in a body that was getting bigger and stronger. He would have been coming into a culture, setting and interpersonal dynamics of Tuskegee far different from the Denver he knew as a youth and teenager.

I asked more questions, about decades earlier when Grandmother’s parents hosted Duke whenever he came to Charleston, WV. She said how they held “all of the social activities” whenever he was in town. I asked her if that meant any meals and down time that Duke and his band were not performing. Yes, she said.

Grandmother mentioned how he began writing “Sophisticated Lady” one time he was in their home. Duke first came when she was 7, 8 or 9 years old. She cannot remember when it was the last time she saw him (as he passed in May 1974), though it was in New York. Grandfather approached “Duke” to let him know that they were there and how Duke affectionately recalled “Janie” from Charleston.

I asked her if she was excited during his visits, which she seemed nonchalant about when he was there. Yet, Grandmother recalled how she attempted to learn some of Duke’s songs, including Sophisticated Lady, on a few instruments she had as a child.

All of this family, legacy and lore in a sweet sixteen minutes on a Sunday morning.

board service: misunderstood, vitally important

I saw this article, Three Myths About Joining a Board, written by a founder of Taproot Foundation on LinkedIn earlier this week.

Taproot has an intriguing idea, but in a nation of 300 million across 50 states, it has big name recognition with sparse presence outside a few select tier one cities. The needs for more spaces that convene people who want to give their time on a nonprofit board and the people who need more board members are tremendous.

It is a shorter complement to writing that I did last month called the why board service matters.

My original writing is below.
—–

Why Board Service Matters

At 26 years of age, I joined a nonprofit board for the first time. I was honored to be asked, because I had never done so and i was so young. It was a national organization focusing on youth leadership how to harness our social capital and finances to contribute to social movements. Youth, in this case, being young adults between the ages of 18-35. It was a commitment that changed my life in ways that i could never have fathomed when I signed up in the spring of 2005.
Over the course of six years, i gained life changing experiences by walking through that doorway. I tumbled into a rabbit hole once inside. What began as stumbling by learning-by-doing, proceeded to be a full-fledged rabbit hole within 15 months.

****
In a little bit of math multiplication, I have served as a board member for 10.75 years over 7.5 years. I have been on two simultaneously for a few of those years. As an equation, that looks like: 6.5 + 4.25 + .5 = 10.75
Within two years, I anticipate that 10.75 will become 14.25 (i.e. 10.75 + 2 + 1.5). A numerical feat of years served over a nine year span. Gosh, I love math. How math defines, as well as provides a totally different paradigm of learning.
****

The three nonprofit boards that I have been on have been the best professional development that I have had in the 12 years of my working life. That is a criticism of a nonprofit sector that has done a dismal job of investing in its most important resource, the people who make up the workforce.
My economist self notes how the nonprofit labor market has scrounged, scrimped and neglected workers of all ages. At the organizations with sizable budgets, ageism has skewed professional development dollars to bosses in middle management and the top jobs. Oddly, the people who have received the highest salaries have been the recipients of the largest professional development line items, too. That is a failure of budgeting, which is a failure in part due to decisions made and approved by board leadership.
In spite of these systemic failings of the nonprofit industry’s inability to invest in people, I have found that being on boards is the spoon, pitcher, ice cubes and lemonade stand in a work life in a sector that had given me a bounty of lemons.
Board service has been my best professional development because of what I experienced. As a board member, I have had opportunities to pursue, challenges to learn, and crunch time to attempt, in ways that were unavailable to me through a day job or other voluntary roles. This has been especially true in the nonprofit sector, where there is a culture that tells 20- or early 30-somethings that we have to pay our dues before it is our time. This cultural idiocy is what’s deflated young people’s energy along with their fresh or innovative perspectives. Our cultural norms have become so skewed that people bristling with energy and lifeforce frequently get called “hyperactive” and we’ve established norms prescribing drugs as an attempt to tame or tamper young people who go against the grain.
I’ve had multiple instances in my work life where i’ve gone against the grain, and being on boards has provided me with a safety net of peers to catch me, support me and who I still get to collaborate with regardless of the tumultuous changes in my employment. Board relationships offer alternative bonds for me as a social being, replacing coworkers when I transitioned from one job to another. There have been select work colleagues that I have maintained connection to, because I have found people that I choose to forge a voluntary bond with as a board member, rather than people that I had been obligated to be around due to day jobs.
Now-a-days, i choose to work in jobs where I am surrounded by people that i want to be around. That is a result of being more deliberate of the choices that I make, and realizing that i have the ability to choose much more than i used to believe as I could not consciously see how other subconscious choices that I had made were limiting me. That those trappings are most often self-imposed by presuming that there is no other option, when in fact there is.
As a result, I see that i have opted to work in a field that compensates me with less money on an annual basis than if i worked in another industry where i might earn more money, but also have less freedom of my time.
Furthermore, serving as a board member required that I grapple with personnel matters, understand more about benefits packages and numerous other human resources (HR) matters. Boards require taking action, in a sector that has spent inordinate amounts of time dithering, processing, doubting, analyzing, talking about and navel gazing. If a board does not act and make decisions, then an organization will falter and cease to matter as a living organism. A living, thriving, healthy, changing, adapting organization requires that decisions be made.
One reason that I credit board service with being the best investment that I have made is that i may have left the sector otherwise. The triple headed hydra of inaction, inattention and fear that causes paralysis squashes life. I’ve encountered a lot of these three bickering heads over the last 13 years in the US.
In most organizational budgets, the travel, meals and other costs associated with holding board meetings, especially for national organizations composed of people who live in different states, would be listed under board, meetings or administration. It could not be listed under professional development — although that is what it has been for me.
I distill the significant attributes of being a nonprofit board member as:

  1. being visionary, then getting out of the way of staff and volunteers who need a board to hold the larger, the bigger, the abstract.
  2. fostering trust, as the highest functioning boards are those with deep levels of trust, mutuality and interdependence.
  3. grappling with the comings + goings of money, and being more responsible for the financing side, than the functioning side.
  4. brokering relationships with a wider cross-section of people.
  5. gaining a priceless return on investment, in a practice space where learning is far greater than compensation.
  6. being a generalist, by learning that it is not just $$ + access, not just organizing or programs.
  7. moving into positions of power, by setting policies, and practicing governance and democracy.

Here are more remarks on each of these seven attributes:

1: BEING VISIONARY, THEN GETTING OUT OF THE WAY
I was astonished when I realized that being a board member meant that I was supposed to think about the big picture and then leave it to others to implement and proceed. One of the joys of board service is meeting a few times — say two or three times — a year requires that there are 4 to 6 months between reconvening. As a result, others have to make things happen in that time.
At 25 years old, i realized how i was wanted for my cognitive abilities such as my ability to listen, ask questions and make decisions with the small group of people who i was on the board with. Over the last decade, I have learned that this dynamic works best when the board and staff act as teammates on the field, with distinct roles. By having a rare presence, boards have felt like special teams in football games — that can either win or lose games, and have a tremendous effect on position and strategy for all of the plays in between.

2: FOSTERING TRUST
A board is a different sort of entity. People serve voluntarily, there is a legal obligation as the entity responsible for oversight and legal responsibilities. Furthermore, there is a type of trust fostered when people choose to make time in their lives to attend meetings and participate in organization activities.
Board functionality requires that people cultivate individual relationships with one another. To not do so, is acting as if there is no shared interest or mutual benefit to relating to one another. As large and expansive people, we have many interests that go beyond the purview of the nonprofit. There is a chance to share passions, hobbies, learning topics or phases of life with the comrades and friends that we

3: GRAPPLING WITH THE COMINGS + GOINGS OF MONEY
I focused on systems issues in my first year as a board member. But, it was a luxury because there was a necessity to have the income exceed expenses each year. We live in capitalism, after all. Being a diligent board member means that there is a vision of how to raise (or earn) the money that will keep an organization running, people paid, and pay for the expenses and bills needed to operate.

4: RETURN IS PRICELESS
Great board experiences elicit emotions of pride and affirmation, for me. Similar to what i see parents exude with their children whether at a science fair, musical performance . It is also the tiny, private moments of tying a shoelace or pronouncing syllables and sounds as we learn how to read, and the experience of wonder and amazement in the presence of moonlight or the natural world.
These are sensations that have no money value. Feelings, rather than dollars. This is why the liberating, heart-opening instances as a board member can feel like.

5: BECOMING A GENERALIST
I have seen many people step into nonprofit board roles hoping to do more of the programs and activities for the community organizations that they love. Similarly, I have seen countless people have the notion that a board member has to be a lawyer, banker or someone else who has a rolodex or cell phone full of the rich. That is not the case for many organizations, particularly those with budgets under $1M. Nor is serving on a board as simple as becoming a hyper-volunteer.

Instead, it is a combination of program and activities, noting the short-term while being mindful of the mid-range and long-term, it is an exercise in systems thinking as well as being able to hold complexity. And find a way to not be stuck, but be able to move, adapt, and be fluid.

Again, I get to feed my inner economist by nerding out over human resources, employment policies such as sabbatical policies and cash-out limits for departing employees that have not immersed my paid work. It has been through board roles that i have seen, learned and practiced the variety of ways to present cash flow, financial statements and budgets that have greatly improved how i work in my day job.

6: BROKERING RELATIONSHIPS WITH A WIDER CROSS-SECTION OF PEOPLE
In high school biology, I learned that evolution has happened as generations of plants and animals change by introducing new chromosones and traits rather than keeping a pure. I believe that boards full of miscegenating ideas, miscegenating people and miscegenating practices are more likely to evolve in order to live.
Boards that relied overwhelmingly on a single type are exposed to environmental threats that can cause the entire organism to perish. That can be the case if a board of directors consists entirely of organizers or social workers, overwhelmingly men, or if the board members depend on a single source to bring most of the information about the health and vitality of an organization. The prevalence of some characteristics bodes poorly for experimentation in the short term, as well as vitality in the long-term.

On three boards, I have met and collaborated with parents, financial advisors, designers, lawyers, anthropologists, doulas, entrepreneurs, artists, journalists, and researchers. Having such a broad array of peers has provided me with instruction, insight and connection to a much larger range of professions and areas of knowledge than i have had elsewhere.

7: RISING TO NEW LEVELS OF POWER
Characteristics of power can include responsibility, privilege, force, strength, texture. By the end of my first board meeting, my notions of what it meant to be a nonprofit staff member were radically altered. In the first two-day weekend meeting, I witnessed a board member reflexively oppose the request from a long-serving, long-standing and respected staff person just because it was a new way of operating. Furthermore, he was in a outdated mindset resisting the reality that the workplace was increasingly virtual and distributed. He wanted to resist a staff request for her work to align with changes in her work life. I appreciated the opportunity to see how important investing in people is, so that I did not defer to an elder but spoke clearly to support such a request. It was the first in hundreds of moments where behaviors and attitudes can be either life-giving or -depleting.

In a different year, I have been on boards when we established policies limiting how much vacation could be carried over from one year to the next after seeing the severe impacts that employee choices have made on an organization’s finances, as well as when designing sabbatical policies for workers who pass a five-year mark. Establishing policies have been instrumental about setting some buliding blocks in place for hte future. Choices that alleviate future generations of board members from being blindsided by entities with outdated ideas around comp time that adversely affect the organization in the long run, while exacerbating the behaviors of workaholics.

Establishing policies is vital to build a stronger foundation and establish core systems that support the vitality and expansion of a living, breathing being. For me, considering what the lingering impacts of today’s decisions has been a stepping stone to wielding power and carrying the responsibilities of governance. Such practice and learning are a training ground for people in civil society who will rise into roles of governance within our lifetimes.

Lanterns in the darkness

A friend described us as being “lanterns in the darkness.” A day later, I read the MLK quote:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Our two lanterns of love find their own way in what was once a land or sea of darkness. In the darkness, there was an abyss that delved far beyond a rabbit hole. I was freed from the trappings of logic, and encountered a greater freedom than I had ever known. A sense of freedom that was always there but required that I put down so much of what I had learned.

Instead, I have steadied myself in a place of slower life. Less frantic translates into more grounded, and better able to listen. To increasingly note when my attention wanders moments after active listening. I return to listening and being present just by noticing and letting go.