A Pain of 1,000 Cuts

I’ve been away from blogging since Christmas for a simple reason; I just haven’t had the time and my focus is now on what it should’ve been on all along…. MY ART!

Certainly there has been plenty to write about and comment on, but my time this past Spring Semester was consumed with teaching, packing, planning, moving, and taking an online business course for artists.  I felt that one of my recent breakthroughs in my course work just needed to be shared here.  This week I revisited one of my earlier assignments where I had to explore my emotions.  I suddenly realized that one of my unexplored pains is critical to my artwork and my mission as an artist, so I did a bit more digging.  My “ah-ha” moment will also (hopefully) shine a light on some of the hateful, hurtful, and belittling rhetoric that seems to be so prevalent and tolerated by many in today’s society.

For anyone who does not know me personally, I am 4′ 10″.

People calling me shorty, shrimp, pee-wee, tiny tot, smurf, little-one, or any number of demeaning terms that point out the obvious in a hurtful way is painful and unwelcome.  This hurtful behavior didn’t just happen once or twice as a child or even just once or twice as an adult.  This is what I call a “pain of 1,000 cuts and jabs.”  It happens on a regular basis, almost weekly, and it still goes on.  And, no, folks!  It’s not ok, and it’s not funny!  [Sorry, Randy Newman, no matter what your intention the lyric “short people got no reason to live” is not satirical, it’s sick & offensive!  Love your work; hate this song!]

Sure, I’ve developed a thick skin about it, and I’m even guilty of making the jokes first to avoid the onslaught that I anticipate to be inevitable in many situations.  I’ve always figured that if I can make the best “short jokes” first, then I won’t have to listen to the lamest short jokes from anyone else.  Well, that attitude & practice stops today!

Part of who I’ve become as both a person and an artist is because of my tiny stature.  At 4’10” I’ve often been teased and been made to feel unimportant, overlooked, insignificant, and ignored.  This has made me feel a bit angry & defiant, too.  In most cases, however, my anger has been channeled into something positive.  My anger & defiance has led me to feel strongly about injustices in our world which then leads me to advocate for others and change the way people see these injustices.  It is this feeling of insignificance that makes me notice the little things in our fragile world, and then paint them in important, noticeable, and unusual ways.

This breakthrough may indeed be the very essence of my mission as an artist, but for now I am concerned about what this means for our common humanity.

Bottom line:  Please, stop and think before saying something that may hurt another person.  It’s not that hard.  Just walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you verbalize that thought that just flashed across your mind, and then ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone said this to me while I was feeling vulnerable?”

No matter what makes us unique, I believe that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  And (my favorite!) “I praise you [God], because I am wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) pretty much sums it all up for me.


Learning Lessons from Political Saints?

With the Election just days away I find myself asking the question, “Why does it seem like everyone expects politicians to be saints?”  I mean, they are not running for Pope or Dalai Lama, so why do people act surprised when scandalous skeletons are exposed in the media (Especially the same old skeletons, just in a different suit, and so close to election day.)?  And do we really think the candidates that we support are perfect? More to the point, are we so saintly that we think we don’t have a few skeletons in our own closets?
At the Conspire 2016 conference I’m told that Christena Cleveland said that “even people we don’t like have something of value to teach us; even Donald Trump.”  I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have heard it in context.  Nonetheless, this idea has stuck in my mind ever since.  Even Donald Trump?  Even Hillary Clinton?  Even that bigot I work with?  Even that racist, hot-head that lives down the street?

Although….  I think there is something deeper to be learned from disagreeable people such as Donald Trump.  In a blog post from March of this year, Christena says:

Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different.  This makes us feel better.***

Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men. 

Trump’s xenophobic and racist political platform provides the “prejudice buffer” that many white men need in order to find relief from the pain of vulnerability. Given the changing racial dynamics in the U.S., it is no surprise that so many white men have gravitated toward Trump. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order to white male supremacy.   

So, maybe the thing to be valued here is not some random redeeming quality like “they love their family,” or “they give to the poor.”  Perhaps the lesson to be learned is simply a lesson that teaches us about our own fears, failings, and prejudices.  Hopefully some of us will consider Christena’s words, and find a way through our pride to the humble shores where everything & everyone belongs, and no one is excluded.  I know I’m struggling to get there.

I’ve thought about Christena’s words and this election a lot and have concluded that for all the distasteful comments, actions, and skeletons, I do admire both candidates for having the courage and conviction to enter this race. It takes courage and a thick skin to throw your hat into the ring of this crazy USA system of elections.  Not only does the political machine grind each candidate and their family into sausage, but the news media, and social media are merciless in their tireless efforts to belittle the opposition while making a case for sainthood for their favorite candidate.

With All Saints Day just this past week, I know we are all called to be saints, but let’s get real.  Neither Hillary or Donald are saints, but then again, neither are we (YET!).  We’re all just trying to do our best with what we have.  That’s a big enough job.

Giving-up on New Year Resolutions

I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, the end of the year lends itself quite easily to reflection on the important events, milestones, successes and failures, improvements and shortcomings of the year, but I take a different approach to resolutions.  Reflection, or contemplation, should be something we do throughout the year.  Kinda like that sentiment “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.”  Why wait until the end of the year to consider improving some aspect of our lives?  Being a long time procrastinator I began to see the “New Year’s Resolution” phenomenon as just another gimmick imposed upon us by our consumer driven society.  It’s been about 20 years since I resolved to give-up making New Year’s Resolutions for Lent!

Yep.  You guessed it:  I don’t “give-up” anything for Lent, either!  It’s the same thing.  We vow to give-up something, only to fall into the same old ways or habits a few weeks or months later.  My parish priest often says that giving up something like smoking for Lent is certainly noble, but it often makes one cranky.  And then when Easter rolls around they buy a carton & smoke up a storm!  Not exactly the right message, and there’s no real change.  How many times do we make resolutions only to break them or fail to complete them?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t need new reasons to feel defeated & inadequate at the beginning of a New Year!  Why torture myself?

Instead, I try to reflect on my life as it happens.  If something isn’t working in my life, I reflect on it right then & there, whether it’s January 1st or August 27th!  I think it’s human nature to look at what to “cut” from our lives, but oftentimes we forget to consider what to “add” to our lives to make them fuller, richer, and more meaningful.  And, I don’t mean that in a self-centered way, but in a more connected way.  How does my life impact the lives of others?  How can I become a more positive, loving, peaceful, mindful being? How do my behaviors, attitudes, and understandings need to grow or change?

Recently I created a list of 10 Things To Do To Improve the Environment to be shared with my Adrian Dominican Community.  Not surprisingly, there are many top-10 style lists out there on the topic of Climate Change, Global Warming, and Carbon Footprint.  What caught my eye today is a new top-14 list from the FoodTank, a Food Think Tank.  There are lots of good suggestions out there for those of us who still need to make New Year’s Resolutions and are looking for something more connected than the customary “exercise more” or “clean out the garage” (yeah, mine’s a mess & I probably do need to do more sit-ups!).

Happy New Year, everyone!

So, here’s my list with a few good links:

(And Minimize Your Carbon Footprint)

1. Eliminate plastic from your life. Plastic is everywhere and it can be overwhelming when considering the number of products, household items, appliances, techno-devices, and everyday items that are made using plastics. Don’t despair! Check-out this link and do something each day, week, or month to start your journey to a “Plastic-free Life!” http://plasticfreeguide.com
2. Bring your own reusable bags. You know you should use them, but you always forget to bring them into the store. Here’s a tip: keep them on the front seat or in the trunk of the car. You’ve developed many other good habits, this is just one more. And don’t just bring them to the grocery store. Bring them when you shop for clothing, shoes, and other regular needs. This act alone will inspire others in the check-out line to do the same!
3. Bring your own containers. How often do you find yourself at a restaurant asking for a box for your unfinished meal? For me the answer is, “Always!” You know those bags for groceries you started keeping in the trunk? Keep reusable containers there, too. Styrofoam is equally as bad as plastic and you probably have more Tupperware than you know what to do with. Why not keep some in the trunk “just in case?”
4. Pack your lunch. This makes so much sense on many levels! Here’s just one link with some creative ideas from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/15-fresh-brown-bag-lunch-ideas. We’re all busy, but by preparing meals just once or twice a week you’ll not only save time & money, you’ll help the environment in many ways. No gas is used by you or the delivery person, no take-out packaging, and you probably won’t throw away any uneaten food.
5. Plan your trips. Until the transportation industry changes over to more sustainable & affordable vehicles, we’re stuck with cars that burn fossil fuels. Yuck! You can minimize your gas consumption by planning & limiting your daily or weekly trips. Here is a link to a site with even more tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint at home, work, when traveling, & more: http://www.carbonfund.org/reduce
6. Use cloth napkins. Make every meal a special occasion! You can even make your own napkins from cheap remnants at your local fabric store. It takes less water to wash that cloth napkin than it did to make that 500 count package of paper napkins (even if it is recycled paper). Also consider the plastic that those paper napkins are wrapped in!
7. Take back the tap! Food & Water Watch has everything you need to kick that bottled water habit! If you are in charge of planning meetings or events, consider using drinking glasses and pitchers of water instead of those wasteful & expensive water bottles. Do the math: We pay more for bottled water than we do for gasoline! http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/take-back-the-tap/
8. Open the windows, or close them. We live in a world of extreme weather and record-breaking temperatures, thanks in no small part to climate change. If you live in a home or apartment where you can open & close windows, you can cut your electric bill in half. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with a dad who was well known for shouting, “Close the door! We’re not heating the neighborhood!” And a mother who was fond of saying “If you’re cold, put on a sweater. If you’re hot, take it off!”
9. Eat & shop locally & seasonally. Find your local Farmers Market and make it your weekly trip for seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of the produce at the supermarket is shipped from other countries & is out of season for the region we may live in. By shopping locally and eating seasonally you are helping the local economy as well as the environment. It’s easy to buy large quantities of fruits and vegetables from your local farmer and freeze them or “put them up” like we used to do.
10. Shop with purpose. This last one addresses social justice issues as well as the environmental impact factor, and so it makes the list for many reasons. Read labels & know who makes your clothing! NPR’s “Planet Money” recently produced a story that tracked the production of a t-shirt. Not only does it address the very human side of our purchases, but it also shines a light on the environmental impact of the journey across continents and oceans that these goods make before landing in our shopping carts.

Drones, War, Peace, & American Democracy

I’ve just spent some time reading & reflecting on the endless supply of information, facts, fiction, opinions, & reality about the increased use of US drone missile attacks under the Obama Administration.  I am inspired by Pax Christi’s recent postings, especially the two articles by Shelley Douglass and Nick Mele in the Inter-community Peace & Justice quarterly edition of AMOS (A Matter of Spirit publication).  I am inspired, and yet I am still left with a feeling of hopelessness.  The more we make technological advances, the more our privacy & freedoms are placed on the chopping block.  We proclaim that we live in a free & democratic society (US), but clearly we do not.  Not by a long shot!  Not when our elected officials are making back-room-deals with lobbyists, corporations, or the highest bidder. Not when the president & congress change the rules or re-interpret the Constitution to suit their interests & then casually explain it away in the name of “national security” when their misdeeds are exposed.  I’m not paranoid, Verizon, Google, NSA, &/or POTUS.  I’m not!  BUT!  When you read this, please understand that I’m just an ordinary person who wants the same Human Rights that everyone else does.  Everyone means EVERYONE in the whole world, not just a hand-picked few!

I have heard horror stories on the radio, read about them on the internet and in magazines…. People who question their governments and the  “status quo”, people who work for peace & justice, and then suddenly find themselves threatened, out of a job, imprisoned, abducted, tortured, exiled, or simply silenced because they dare to speak truth to power.  But who really has the power?  The government? Homeland Security?  The CIA or the FBI?  We fool ourselves on both sides; those in government & we the people. You remember them, don’t you?  We…. The people?

While watching re-runs of old sit-coms the other night I was struck with an “Ah-ha!” moment.  The topics haven’t changed in 40 or 60 years (yes, I’m that old!).  Today’s sit-coms, soap-operas, & TV-dramas still tackle the same ol’ issues of politics, sex, religion, racism, & relationships.  The real difference is technology & the transparency of the issues.  Think about it.  40-60 years ago it took a whole lot of grassroots action & many brave ordinary citizens to stand up to the government to get Civil Rights passed into law.  It took a lot of angry mothers to stand up to government to win justice for families suffering from the effects of deadly contaminants at Love Canal.   Many of these movements remained active for many years before they saw the change that needed to happen.  Today all you need is YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, Move-On.org, & the “morning/late-night TV circuit” appearances for anything to go “viral.”  Then all you have to do is put down your Latte & click “sign the petition”!  No, the issues haven’t changed, just our means of communication & our “monkey-sphere” (funny perspective, but I have more faith in humanity than that).

I think social media is an important tool in addressing social justice issues, but it still needs to be linked to actions.  Most of us have become “arm-chair-activist” who spend time pointing & clicking & forwarding petitions & links, which is good & totally necessary, but we need to do more, and I believe most of us have the capacity to care about more than just 150 other people (or monkeys).  So, “We the people” ultimately have the power, we just forget about that every so often.  We forget that democracy was built on the belief in certain unalienable rights, and when we forget, we relinquish our freedoms, our rights, our security, and our power.  We forget that our elected officials derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  In other words, they work for us!

We give consent without thinking about it in today’s technology saturated environment, and then we’re outraged by what our government is doing when someone leaks something to the press about an infringement of our rights, freedoms, or privacy.  In today’s instant world of media & technology, nothing much is private anymore, but that doesn’t mean we should relinquish our freedoms and our privacy.  We just maybe have to rethink & reevaluate what  our expectations are & determine if they are realistic or not.

“Culture of Death” is Not a Culture I Want To Be a Part Of

It usually takes me a day or more (or several) to absorb, contemplate, and respond to the kind of violence we in the US have experienced yet again with the horrific and overwhelming massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The mandatory Facebook rants, reTweets, and petitions for immediate action have all been read and responded to, or ignored. Of course the customary & predictable political statements continue to be featured in the news, and now the NRA has finally made its incredibly senseless statement in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Personally I have run the gambit of emotions this week & I’m drained. For years we’ve all heard the term “culture of death” thrown around, but what does it really mean & how do we respond to it? As a woman of faith and a woman of art I can honestly say that this so-called “culture of death & violence” is not culture at all & I want no part of it!

Lately I find that people in “advanced” western society are more concerned with their “rights” and “privileges” than with something as primitive & common as “culture.” What do these words really mean? How do we define “rights”, and what is “culture”. I’m very fond of the dictionary. As my college Philosophy Professor John Ellsworth Winter, III used to say, “the dictionary is your toolbox”, and as Hawkeye Pierce once said, “If marooned on a desert island, the one book I would want is the dictionary. I figure all the other books are in it.” With that in mind, I opened up my toolbox looking for a bit of culture, and this is what I found: “The training, development, and refinement of mind, morals, and taste.” And (my favorite!): “6. Anthropol. The sum total of the attainments and learned behavior patterns of any specific period, race, or people, regarded as expressing a traditional way of life subject to gradual but continuous modification by succeeding generations.” Well, there you have it!

What I continue to see in our society is a pattern of accelerated regression of our minds, our morals, and our taste in art and expression. For the most part, the very things that help to define culture are not being improved upon; music, art, academia, social norms, government, and basic human rights. Where is our “advanced” sensibility when Hollywood, the arts, and the media glamorize violence? What makes our government so great when our laws show the world that we care more about “gun rights” than we do about “human rights”, our nation’s children, or the healthcare and safety of our citizens? If this is our culture, then I want no part of it.

The definition of “rights” is quite telling as well. The dictionary mentions justice, morals, standards, and truth. Pope Paul VI is quoted as having said “If you want peace, work for justice.” I believe this to be true, for without justice, there is no peace. Just ask any parent who has lost a child to gun violence. Ask anyone who has ever experienced helplessness, fear, anxiety, or anger. This “culture of death” society has made death & violence sexy. This creates a sub-standard, amoral, unjust society. And that’s the sad truth. Again: No culture here.

The United Nations “Declaration of Human Rights” uses words like “freedom, justice, and peace” in the first line of its Preamble. Throughout the 30 Articles of this document I am reminded of just how much more work we have yet to accomplish if we, all of Humanity, want to continue to modify in a positive way this thing we call Culture. Articles 29 & 30 are worth reading as they proclaim that we all have duties or responsibilities to the community, and in exercising our rights and freedoms we do not disregard the rights and general welfare of others. Although Article 3 is familiar to most US citizens (life, liberty, and security of person), I seriously doubt that our nation’s founding father’s or those who drafted this UN document had automatic weapons in mind when speaking about a person’s security.

I want to be a part of a culture of life and joy, and so do many people I know. To change our patterns of behavior we all have a responsibility to work for peace and justice every day. Like so many others I’ve talked to or listened to, I don’t have any answers. I only know that I am deeply saddened by the deadly violence that occurred in Connecticut last week, and I am troubled by all violence, war, and injustice. I will continue doing whatever I can to promote peace and justice, and I will continue to hope & pray that one day we will again be a society where our culture reflects our love & respect for all life.