Hugs 101

Physical support like hugging can sustain us through the long haul – but touch can be very tricky and sometimes oppressive.  We are learning this in our society more and more.  I can’t shake the image of that creepy young guy in the Access Hollywood tapes telling the young actress “How about a hug for the Donald?”  Hugs aren’t always innocent.

This talk that I gave at Jubilee last Sunday outlines three principles for keeping them sweet and safe.

I gotta (swing) dance – and change the world.

Social activism is continual empowerment training.  Said another way, we are continually encountering the hopelessness that has accumulated in us through the years.

  • “The deck is stacked: the military-industrial complex has all the money and all the power.”
  • “The Republicans have both houses of Congress and the Executive Branch – and they are packing the judiciary.”
  • “The Republican congress is in the hip pocket of the NRA, which is too powerful and too rich for them to resist.”

So what do we do?  Lay down and die?

We could line up the counter-arguments:

  • The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas students and the gun control movement they are building
  • All the Democrats who are winning in previously red districts (Conor Lamb yesterday in Philadelphia)

    Conor Lamb
    Conor Lamb, Pittsburgh’s boy next door.  No great progressive, but the right profile to elect a Democrat in his red district – and maybe Democrat enough to do some good.
  • In November we take back the House and impeach Trump.
  • In 2020 more gains for Democrats
  • The Mueller probe!

But even more than comparing the pluses with the negatives, we can learn to not despair.  We can practice holding on to hope in the face of difficulty.

It can really help to practice this hope process in some life area that is less heavy than gun violence.  I pick swing dancing.

14 years ago, I took my first and only (before tonight) swing dance lesson.  I came away in total despair: “I will never learn how to do this.”  And that’s where I have stayed for 14 years.  “I can do free-form improv dancing – with some grace and a lot of enthusiasm – but I cannot learn steps.”

So why am I out here tonight attempting again to learn swing dancing?  Because my friend Whitney Moore – one of the very best vocalists in Asheville – has a new band that plays swing music, playing here tonight.  Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers – video of three sweet tracks. Because “here” is THE BLOCK off biltmore – the sweetest bar in town, owned by Cam MacQueen, one of the sweetest women in town, a long time fierce progressive who (with her club) supports all manner of progressive causes.

THE BLOCK off biltmore – one sweet club, where progressives hang out

Oh, and something more: some part of me can no longer deny that I have always found (from the sidelines) swing dancing to be very sweet and have always really wished I knew how to do it.

swing dancing
Swing dancing: West Coast swing? the Lindy hop? I dunno.

At the club tonight, there are two one-hour swing lessons before the band plays.  I put down my money for both lessons and the band.  An hour later, I stagger out from the back room – where the dancing happens – having had a few magic moments at the first lesson where some basic moves fell into place… and many more moments where the inner sound track ran “I told you you can never learn this, fool – leave and never come back.”

I didn’t leave.  I decided to sit out the second lesson, because my brain is spent.  Out in the bar, Cam tells me that the first lesson – the one I just took – was actually an intermediate lesson, so I rush back into the back room to try the “beginners” lesson, but still can’t do it and quickly come back out.

Now the band is playing, Whitney is gorgeous and brilliant, her musicians are smokin’.  The dancers are fabulous – some very accomplished, some beginners trying out their few new steps.  They all look beautiful and very alive.  I could almost be out there – someday.  Right now I literally know nothing.  But some day.

I will come back.  I will take one and maybe some weeks two lessons. I will learn from YouTube in between Tuesday nights: the Lindy hop, apparently also called the 8-count swing.  I will stare down my despair: for 14 years I have been telling myself I can’t do this, but maybe that’s been a cruel hoax – no longer true.

Oh, and I also want gun control.  For so long it has looked like the NRA has all the power.  But what if things have changed?  What if this moment belongs to the Parkland kids – and high school kids all over the country, who are today walking out of their classes to protest for gun control?

student gun control school walkouts today
Student gun control school walkout today!

And their parents and all of us who believe that something new can happen.

Maybe if we dance enough.

Gun control and swing dancing

Last night I wrote a blog post about gun control, in which I listed three different actions you could take to push for gun control – none of which were swing dancing, or any kind of dancing.  What an oversight!  Alice Walker wrote “Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.”

Yesterday, in addition to my blog post, I put up two Facebook posts – one promoting the blog post and one promoting a weekly swing dance session at a local club.  Why didn’t I put the two together?  The swing dance will feature a much beloved local vocalist, in a much beloved local club that continually supports progressive causes (e.g. the after-party for the Women’s March). I, who have until yesterday compulsively said that I only can do free-form improv dancing (which I love), am acknowledging that I’ve in my heart always wanted to learn swing dancing.  And I have an intuition that – especially by promoting this and bringing out a lot of my friends – this could be a magical weekly experience.

And if I want to stay alive as an activist I’ve got to have fun!  I’ve got to dance!

Come on out on Tuesday nights!  Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers play this week. 

Queen Bee FB Event page

Or find some other dance in Asheville or in your town!

Women’s Power

I’ve heard that some right-wingers have complained that the most recent Star Wars movie (#8 – The Last Jedi) “has too many women”.  There sure are lots of powerful, skillful, heroic women on board – probably more than in any previous Star Wars movie.  They include:

  • the seasoned, wise Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher regrettably in her last movie role), now grown into General Organa Carrie Fisher 2
  • Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) – grounded, powerful, wise, heroicLaura Dern
  • Rey (Daisy Ridley) – the young woman, the rise of the new generation of Jedi.Daisy Ridley 2

The time is right for this movie – we need women’s power more than ever. Another recent movie character. the quintessentially evil Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon) in The Shape of Water, demonstrates what awfulness can happen when unbalanced white male patterns run out of control – unchecked by women’s power.  (See the movie if you can – preferably on the big screen, it’s so beautiful – to see how this works out. It will probably be around until the Oscars,)  We have examples all around us of this out-of-balance men’s power: Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, John Kelly, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein.  The list goes on and on.

We need women’s power and wisdom to get us as a society back into balance.  We also obviously need courageous and wise male leaders like Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, John McCain (on a good day).  But we especially need leaders like Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama
The new official portraits of Barack and Michelle

Elizabeth Warren2012 Massachusetts Democratic Endorsing ConventionOprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey Kamala Harriskamala harrisand Ellen DeGeneresellen 2to name a few – people who do not carry our out-of-balance male conditioning.

My non-denominational church has for 25 years been led by two white men.  They have done fabulous things – have been heroic leaders in their own right, have created a very beautiful spiritual community and kept it vibrant for 25 years.  But I believe that the leadership that will take us into our next chapter is going to need to be female.

Our regular minister is on sabbatical right now and last week our service was led by two amazing young women:

Cathryn and Lauren

  • The radiant, adorable, extremely funny Lauren Fortuna (on your left) as celebrant
  • The brilliant, powerful Cathryn Zommer doing the preaching.

Give yourself 60 minutes to feast on the attached audio, in one sitting if you can, it will be more coherent – but that’s not necessary.  Listen while you are walking the dog or on the treadmill, while you are cooking dinner, etc.  Enjoy.

Jubilee 2/11/18

Liberation among co-workers

Today, at a rare slow moment in the store, three of us grocery workers were kibbitzing at the front desk.  I had actually missed the first part of the conversation, but as I came up one of the workers who I really admire was saying, “The company may treat us like shit, but we love each other.”

I sometimes think it’s a good company and sometimes less so, but it is clear to me that my co-worker relationships make my experience what it is.  My customer relationships too, but the co-workers is the real base.  And, blessedly, in our store we mostly love each other.

The obvious topic here is “Power to the People” – and I will go into that in some depth in another post – but here I want to follow up on my last post about men and women to look at men and women working together.

Tom and Bob
Tom with his dying brother Bob, who passed a couple of weeks ago.  Tom was devoted to Bob, who taught him a lot about dancing and performing with people who have huge physical and speech limitations.
with Tom
At my 71st birthday party.  Tom is one of the best and least homophobic friends I have known.

My friend Tom Kilby likes to talk about “creepy old guys”, which we agree we both are, him 60 and me 70 working with a lot of attractive young women.  Each of us has horniness, each of us is susceptible to sexual thoughts and feelings about co-workers – and here we are working in close proximity to each other, bumping into each other, exchanging sometimes extended hugs.  What to do with all this?  What keeps it from crossing into a toxic zone?

Four things I have learned from Tom:

  1. He sees women’s inner beauty.  He has described women as beautiful that I would not have thought of this way – but I then started to after he said it.
  2. He loves to use the word “brilliant” to describe a person or something they did or something that happened.  He frequently will describe a female co-worker as brilliant.  He affirms them.  He sees their intelligence.  He admires them.
  3. He wants to know more about them – he craves opportunities to learn more about them.  He soaks up everything he can in little two-minute encounters in the grocery aisles. He will leap at any opportunity to go watch them perform (many of our co-workers are poets or musicians or dancers or artists).
  4. He is the least homophobic straight guy I know.  The creep factor is kept tamped down because he is as interested in guys as women.  He wants to know about us, wants to play as we work together, wants to support our art.

Oh, there’s so much more to learn about us working together, men and women. I don’t want to stop writing about this yet, but I think it actually is a good place to stop.  I love Sherri Lynn and Pierce and Kelly and Sepi and so many more.  I think there will probably be several more blog posts about this.

Oh now, working and being friends with transgender colleagues – of which we have several at work, just the ones I know about…there’s a learning edge for me.  Let’s save a blog post for that :).


Appreciating a woman’s appearance

(Why, in a post about women’s appearance, have I included no pictures – no images?  I think I am scared, nervous about this whole topic, a tad defensive.  But I love adding photos to my blog posts – they make the text come alive.  What might be a helpful image – non-oppressive, opening?  I’m going to search around.)

When, in a customer service role, is it appropriate – or even helpful – to validate a woman customer’s appearance? I think I’ll save co-workers, which has been the focus of so much national news, for a whole other post.  I think there are different dynamics here.

I know there are lots of women and probably some men who would answer this question with a very strong “Never!”  I’m not one of these.  I actually think that done with some thoughtfulness, subtlety – and even intuition – complimenting aspects of a woman’s appearance can be a valuable tool in my affirmation toolbox.

When I’m trying to ascertain what I should affirm about a person, I first reach for something meaningful, lean into that area.  Today, after driving into work rehearsing a somewhat defensive stance on this topic, I decided to more than ever lean into affirming something meaningful about women, rather than reaching for the low-hanging fruit of appearance – find something more significant to engage them with or to, by thoughtful questions, stretch out the conversation on that topic, maybe take it deeper.

Affirmation 1
So many ways to affirm a person – where to start?
  • “Talk to her about her art, not her hair!”
  • “Talk to her about her dancing, not her eyes!”
  • Go with her topic of the craziness of the EBT foodstamp program.
  • Talk to her about this blog or my grocery store blog, if the time seems right.
  • Talk to her about the plusses and minuses of coffee: she seemed to want to talk about this and validating her topic is a way of validating her.

But sometime they only have a few groceries and there just isn’t a chance to connect on a more real level and when I reach for “What shall I validate here?” what I come up with is:

  • “Your hair”, especially if they have done something unusual with it or if it’s very wavy or curly.  It’s a hit if they get to say “I did it” or also if “It’s totally natural – that’s just what it does.  I didn’t always like it, but now I love it.”
  • “Your glasses”, especially if it looks like like they might have stepped out of their comfort zone into some funky frames.  Again, lots of proud responses.
  • “Your sweater.”
  • “Your eyes” – clearly riskier here, but less risky if I can say something specific like “so big” or “so dark” or “so bright”.  If they try to shrug this off as just a body part, I like to say something like, “They’re the windows to the soul – they say a lot about you.” And if I know I am free of any seductiveness and it is simply given freely and lightly, it has only once ever not had a good effect – and that time I think I hit a nerve of some unhealed experience.
  • “Your beauty” – obviously way more risky, and I don’t teach it when I run my class on customer service, where I show the first five minutes of the Parking Attendant video.
    beautiful women
    What makes a woman beautiful?  Do I know how to see it?  Do I need to see my own beauty first?
    • I try to get really grounded before I appreciate a woman’s beauty, and listen to see if my inner voice says “Do it”.  If I get a “No” or just no answer, I leave it out.  I have a rich background of working male-female issues and being an ally for strong women.  And I’m an awesome communicator who can read very subtle body language and facial cues.  I want to wear a t-shirt for my male colleagues that says, “I’m a professional – don’t try this at home.”
    • I don’t do this with really model-style beautiful women, who already probably know it and may in fact often have been objectified about their appearance.  The only two times I have ever had a woman show a negative response to my appreciating her beauty – after probably a couple hundred times – it was a woman who, in fact, was classically beautiful.  I now leave them out.  I reach-reach-reach for something else – maybe “your glasses” – but if I can’t find something I just bless them and let them go.
    • The overwhelmingly positive response I get to these offerings – especially with women who may not be typically attractive or may not think about themselves as attractive – make me want to continue:
      • The woman the other day who said – obviously touched by me saying she was beautiful, “You know, as the mother of a young child and a baby, my day-to-day reality is sleep deprivation.  I never think that I might still be pretty – thank you for that.”
      • The woman who was quite overweight but also very pretty, who immediately welled up in tears and said, “You don’t know how much I needed to hear that today.”
      • The unusual-looking – and beautiful – woman who said, “Me? Well you just made my day – no, my month.”
      • If a woman says, “My momma gets all the credit for that”, I will often say something like, “To me, beauty is less about your physical features and more about what you do with those features – your facial expressions, your emotions, your attitudes.”  This usually provokes an attitude of thoughtfulness – “a new way to think about myself and my appearance.”

I know the Harvey Weinsteins of the world and the powerful and long overdue #MeToo movement have greatly – and necessarily – raised our sensitivities about male-female interactions.  One thing I have going for me in the grocery store checkout is that we both know the interaction is going to last 2-3 minutes max – there’s no real chance for it to go beyond the confines of the grocery store.

And I’m old, which definitely helps me to get away with stuff.  At 71, women just assume that I’m harmless and don’t mean anything by it.  And they’re right – I am and I don’t.

Now I want to write about male-female co-workers.