What we talkin about when we talk about

messages lie in words …. But it’s metamessages that have clout, because they stir emotions, and emotions are the currency of relationships.

So said Deborah Tannen on page 10 of I only say this because I love you (2001).

Tannen wrote “those closest to us have front-row seats to view our faults” yet they also have the proximity to our attributes, gifts but we perpetuate a culture that does not appreciate as much as it deprecates.

A decade ago, I remember how bringing an assets based approach was a welcome salve in the nonprofit/civic sector rather than the continued fixation with being motivated by what was missing or lacking in a place and wanting to be the problem solvers by confronting those things that were missing. But a few workshops in a year full of meetings results in a low concentration. And that short lived attempt to embrace what a place had was challenging to sustain when being critical is easy and familiar and a way that we have been told to treat one another in school, at work, in public spaces, and at home.

Now, I have made it a fixture of naming appreciations for the people i am with on a daily basis, at the end of most of the webinars that I design. And still it is difficult for people to begin with what they like.

Tannen elaborated no messages and metamessages by saying:

  • message: the meaning of the words and sentences spoken, what anyone with a dictionary and a grammar book could figure out.
  • metamessage: “the meaning that is not said, what we glean from every aspect of context: the way something is said, who is saying it, or that fact that it is said at all.

Or using another metaphor that “message is the word meaning while metamessage is the heart meaning.” Tanner elaborated by saying how metamessages are implicit and difficult to pinpoint as they are about relationships. Her early suggestion is to distinguish metamessage from message and one way of doing so is metacommunicating or talking about communication, which I suppose is using words to describe the implicit heart emotions.

Wanted: roommate

As I lay down for a second round of snuggles before bedtime, the five year old said:

“Poppa, I have always wanted you to be my roommate.”

I replied by smiling in the dark. I basked in the glow of this sentence as I looked out the window at the silhouette of the trees in the twilight. Then I said:

“I will always have your back. I will always love you even when I’m frustrated, sad, or angry. I will never leave you. You will live with Momma and me until your an adult and you decide where you want to live.”

It was a dignifying for me. I’m moved by the always of five years because these five years have been so enormous and consequential and so quick. And that some facets from a few months ago have been long forgotten. So always is so long.

And, it was a statement of right now. At times, she has the ability to recall some detail or moment or specific from months ago that has not been named and she can bring it up and remember some thing that I forgot. And throughout the day, a five year old can offer immediate feedback about how things are in any exact moment. And that’s what being told that I’m a roommate who has been wanted forever feels like some special love as a father finding my way in these unknowns.

Martial, in a sentence

From a dictionary listing:

Martial [mahr-shuhl] adjective

  1. inclined or disposed to war; warlike: The ancient Romans were a martial people.
  2. of, suitable for, or associated with war or the armed forces: martial music.
  3. characteristic of or befitting a warrior: a martial stride.

Please use martial in a sentence —

  • The martial schools have metal detectors upon entry, are surrounded like a fortress, and train students and teachers how to respond to an active shooter.
  • Men’s bodies are revered for ingesting protein shakes or steroids that transform a figure into a martial shape like Robocop or a superhero.
  • His martial communication skills valued domination and subservience.

Animals by Stephen

Wisdom’s door we pay attention to placing oneself in the position of others. (xix)

When leaping, incorporate rather than exceed (be better than and separate from). (4)

Kindness evolves to (becomes) mercy. (4)

Spiritual practices are the flying spirit propelling itself or stimuli. (5)

~~~

These are a few of the insights in the first fifteen or so pages of Stephen Levine’s Animal Sutras: Animal Spirit Stories (2019, Monkfish Book Publishing Co.).

Separating seeing and speaking

Paulo Coelho writes on page 93 of The Spy that:

“For millions of years, [humans] spoke only to what [they] could see. Suddenly, in one decade, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ have been separated. We think we’re used to it, yet we don’t realize the immense impact it’s had on our reflexes. Our bodies are simply not used to it.

“Frankly, the result is that, when we talk on the phone, we enter a state that is similar to certain magical trances; we can discover other things about ourselves.”

This in a story set in Paris in the 1914 — after the Exposition Universelle (nee World’s Fair) of 1889 and before World War One.

A few, notable passages from previous pages include:

“A nice cup of coffee will salvage the rest of your day.”

And

“Maybe you’re looking for things you haven’t yet found…. And suddenly life turns into utter boredom.”

We all are precarious and fragile every day

A dear friend was in the emergency room twice and made a call to 911 yesterday. Enabled by corporate health insurance as we wade and drown through a medical peonage system that tars and feathers and sullies us all when we seek to live. Or in the proximity of the ER, seek and hope and pray to stay alive. Or at least, those who love us and we are in touch with to know of an episodic venture to and fro a hospital and brinks of death.

I learned of these medical immersions a day after we exchanged words about the joys and bizarre inane of fatherhood with two children. Becoming a parent is more than double the fun. More than double the work. Double the pee, doubled the poops to supervise and scrutinize when not cleaning derrières and scraping diapers.

Fitting that poop thoughts leads me to how we live so precariously, always a few steps or select circumstances, largely unseen, from death. We are fragile like an eggshell and salad greens and fragile like the bud that becomes the flower that morphs into the unripened fruit that becomes the fruit that will perish by spoiling in short order. Fruit may be furthest from death when it is hard and unripened, which makes me wonder if we are furthest from death when our bones are more pliable and bodies are limber in some span of the early years of childhood. We are such fragile beings walking and waking and eating and defecating upon the Earth’s crust.

I don’t take for granted that I will see friends and family members when I travel away from them or they travel away from here. Rather, I cannot hold the probabilities of all who will live and who will die in the window of some unknown amount of time — be it months or years — before I see them again.

From more than 3,000 miles and three hours separated by the international time zones, I offered some ceremony later today once I am home. I don’t know what combination this ceremony will be. One certainty will be to name some blessings and gratitudes before dinner. One option will be to pull out one of our favorite books at home, Byrd Baylor’s I’m in Charge of Celebrations (ISBN: 0689806205), illustrated by Peter Parnall and published in 1995 by Aladdin Books. For all the baking and recipe swapping that I’ve done with this friend, I ought to bake, if not tonight, then something sweet and delicious in the next four days. And to find some laughter and be in charge of such laughter so I know that I’m doing so ceremoniously.

It is not just the proximity of his death, but the tender, vulnerability of all of these living things that constitute this plane and this world and this word as I know it through my current belief systems that i am reminded to celebrate and offer love and truth to today.

When facing racism, undercut and expose

I wrote an email on Wednesday with a subject of: “About Black hair & portrayals of Blackness” to the mother of another child in the 3 and 4 year old class. What propelled, if not compelled, me to do so was having read a helpful article on microagressions by Ruth Terry in the October 2019 YES magazine a few weeks prior. In it, Terry describes how Derald Wong Sue responds to microaggressions with:

 By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.

Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.

I had to name the thing for myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberate about writing how this other parent’s behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft of what it is to be Black in the United States; though, I could have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race before Wednesday’s email.

I made a clear request for corrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they would definitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the husband saying two things: that the corrective action had been done and that I should not (maybe it said never) contact them again.

I was not looking to make friends with the other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.

BLM blog roll for 7/1

So much wisdom, so much prescience at this time of lynching, and this time of liberation:

James Cone, interviewed by Bill Moyers (11/23/2007)
http://billmoyers.com/content/james-cone-on-the-cross-and-the-lynching-tree/

The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning, Claudia Rankine in NYT (6/22/2015)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/magazine/the-condition-of-black-life-is-one-of-mourning.html

Bryan Stevenson, interviewed by Corey Johnson on Marshall Project (6/24/2105)
https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/24/bryan-stevenson-on-charleston-and-our-real-problem-with-race

The Long History of Southern Terror, by Heather Cox Richardson, in Jacobin Magazine (6/21/2015)
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/reconstruction-civil-war-ame-dylann-roof/

The Debt, by FiveFifths, on SevenScribes.com (6/10/2015)
http://sevenscribes.com/the-debt/

What This Cruel War was Over, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, on The Atlantic (6/22/2015)
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

We Were Never Meant to Survive: A Response to the Attack in Charleston (6/19/2015)
http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31465-we-were-never-meant-to-survive-a-response-to-the-attack-in-charleston

Stop Trying to Be Good, Be Black, by Jamilah Lemeiux, on Mic.com (6/30/2015)
mic.com/articles/121508/stop-trying-to-be-good-be-black

What qualifies as amazing

A friend asked me about “three things that you find amazing” and I replied with:

First thing that is amazing to me is the possibility that there is enough fresh water on this planet for all of us, just as there is enough sunlight and solar rays for all energy needs. We’ve been socialized to believe that there are finite resources and that they must be fought over, hoarded and controlled. I just said possibility, it may be more fitting to say notion or reality.
Second amazing thing is how I am allowing more and more of the illogical to pervade. I am in a new phase, the post-intellect, that is more aptly returning to how we as humans and nature fundamentally are. This is a condition that gives rise to the recent curiosity about freshwater.
Third amazing thing are the new experiences, new challenges and new learnings in my lived experiences. I have been baking one loaf of sourdough bread a week for much of this calendar year. I began taking a six-week, fiction writing class at the community college this week where I was exuberant as I walked the hallways towards room 571 and after the inaugural class. I learn, read and ruminate the animal totems that I encounter around me. This week alone, they have included magpie, praying mantis (a white, albino one), and deer.

Prompts can tremendously help me out. Amazing is enticing.

Word choice

“These are crimes of domination and violence.” A quote from Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) related to her efforts to pass a bipartisan bill removing sexual assault reporting from the military chain-of-command. This is after the bill failed in the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee.

Domination and violence. These are a few of my least favorite things. These are two products of centuries of masculinity festering in the New World. Subjugation and genocide.

These are actions that cut through the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual; or as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, the four dimensions of being human.

Somehow, in this society, we have created notions that real men don’t have emotions. If you cannot show nor share your feelings for fear of ridicule, reprimand or other denigration, then you might as well have little or no feelings at all.

Something has happened in the collective souls of men. Harry Potter referred to horcruxes, as objects that captured part of someone’s soul. In order for some fraction of a soul to be removed from a being, it had to fragment.

A new form of masculinity is urgently needed in the 21st Century. One where one man’s dignity does not depend on the oppression of some woman, child or other man. Where one man’s power does not correlate to his prowess or cunning, but on his gentleness, patience and trusting of others; particularly, in trusting other men.

The military brass do not trust some other entity to supervise. They don’t know how to trust some other entity. They have created such vast walls to isolate themselves, and the culture of rape and sexual assault that plagues the armed forces, that they fear what will happen by a law mandating that some external force be responsible for establishing protocols and consequences needed to create a new culture, new forms of safety in the day-to-day of being in the military.

By opposing such a change, the military commanders want to maintain an imbalance of power. They want to continue to have the discretion to grant immunity or a get-out-of-jail free card to a private or an officer who rapes, assaults or abuses a woman or another man.

Our political system is still fumbling with gender, masculinity, entitlement, male privilege and patriarchy. Last year, I realized how the term rape entered the public debate due to the shameful statements of two Republican candidates who are well on their way to being elected until they spoke about rape. Suddenly, rape was in the headlines and on tv. The R-word had become okay to say for the first time in my life whereas abortion has been in the public debate and a fixture in U.S. politics for most of my life. There were choices made back in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to talk about the A-word, but refrain from mentioning the R-word. The men who led both parties in a two-party political system were complicit in the everyday use of the A-word and countless derivatives like “partial birth” and “abortion clinic.”

This is why it has fallen to a woman on the Senate Armed Forces Committee to rectify a culture of assault that has compounded a failed system for far too long. Fortunately, there is one tireless advocate who refuses to be cowed by custom and the way things have been. A new era is here for the military’s endemic patterns of coercion and rape.