Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

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Shakespeare and Leadership: The Power of Art

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**A belated post about a wonderful day that has evolved into an incredible blessing and opportunity in my life.**

One Friday in August I walked into my house with a huge smile on my face, excited to tell my husband all about my day at the American Shakespeare Center One-Day Leadership Program.  If a handful of my favorite things, including The Taming of the Shrew, could all be tossed into a “day creator”, that was that Friday.

It started by opening one of the ASC’s e-blasts (I learned months ago that it is beneficial to open theirs) back in July.  They announced the program, along with two scholarships being offered by the Community Foundation of the Blue Ridge.  I applied and found out the Monday before (also my first day of my seventh round of chemo shot treatments) that they had awarded one to me!

I was elated!  One of the burdens I’ve felt while fighting and recovering from cancer is the gap that it inevitably places on my resume.  This was an opportunity to stay relevant and learn about leadership in the workplace through the arts (an ideal hybridization)!  My one problem was navigating how to get my chemo shot and not miss the workshops, if possible.  After some conversations, and a wonderfully obliging nurse and pharmacist, we came up with a plan and it went like clockwork–I missed nothing!

The entire day, from start to finish, was amazing.  During the first session I considered how different professional development events are in 2018 compared to, say, the 90s.  For instance, we began our first workshop with a conversation about awareness of our bodies and meditation, which was followed by a body scan meditation.  In my opinion, workplaces that acknowledge and understand the importance of whole-person well-being are light years ahead of those that ignore it.

Moving throughout the day, we had the opportunity to hear excerpts from Shakespeare and discuss the way speech and body posture can communicate so much in any environment, but especially a professional one, where you want to be conscientious about what you convey to your colleagues.

One of the biggest components was preparing our statements based on something pertinent to our jobs/lives.  There was clear improvement from our first-draft presentations to our final presentations, after being critiqued by members of the education staff/ASC actors.  While only one day, I was able to see marked improvement in my fellow participants, and one even said he could see himself enjoying acting, though he had never before considered it.

Of course, my favorite part of the day (and the most unexpected) was getting to perform a short scene from The Taming of the Shrew.  One of, if not, my favorite play, it was a dream-come-true (that I didn’t know I had) to work on staging the scene and performing it on the Blackfriars’ stage.  We did not memorize the lines, but read from scripts prepared the way Shakespeare would have passed them out–with cue lines and then our specific lines, but not everyone’s.  This required unique collaboration, because we had to see what each person’s lines said to see what kind of stage direction we were given for acting and interacting with each other.  It is a complex and detailed process that only raises my respect for the actors at the American Shakespeare Center who work so hard to bring such incredible performances to their audiences.

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When it was all said and done, I was exhausted—but I made it, learned immensely, and felt more alive than I had in…months, at least.  I can’t get over how lucky I am to live in a town with such a powerhouse in the theatre world.  I mean, within walking distance from my house is the only replica of The Globe Theatre in the world—that’s pretty amazing.

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Being an enthusiastic, all-in kind of person, I immediately inquired about volunteering.  They said yes.  And, now I get to work on the most amazing project that is letting me use skill sets that have sat idle too long.  It feels wonderful to have a project to work on outside of my home, to contribute to something meaningful, that I care about, and from which I am genuinely learning, too.  (I’ll share more about that another time…maybe.)

I am grateful.  Though less than pleasant circumstances brought me to live in Staunton, it is a wonderful town with so much to offer in the way of arts and culture.

Now, because I can’t talk about all this Shakespeare and not share…PLEASE watch the video below and discover the brilliance and hilarity of Upstart Crow.  If you are a Shakespeare lover, you’ll find this series right up your alley.

First watch this…

Then watch this…

Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

Art As A Weapon

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I was browsing a site that sells art this evening.  At the top of a page, there was a description of modern art’s color blocking that emerged in the mid-twentieth century.  I remember wanting to spend significant time discussing and attempting to understand modern art during my art history class in college.  I found the subject frustrating—starting with Duchamp’s Fountain.  Now, when I see images from that era, or artists attempting to continue the genre, I sit back, annoyed that I ever gave it the time of day.

You see, earlier this summer, my husband and I watched a four-part documentary series filmed in the 90s.  One of the segments shared that the modern art movement was really a CIA propaganda move to combat the rise of the Soviet Union.  Essentially, it was a war of the arts to prove who could produce higher culture.

Tonight I watched the movie Florence Foster Jenkins.  I won’t bother with the synopsis (because you should go watch it), but she is a well to-do woman who can afford to sponsor her own music career—while funding the career of her own pianist.  Her husband protects her from negative criticism because…well, you’ll just have to watch the movie.  But, while watching it, I realized how the arts can be a healing force.

I’m married to a musician, but I am not one.  I love music—certain kinds of music.  It makes me feel so many emotions.  I rise and fall with it.  Art does not only belong to the rich.  It belongs to all of us.  In our home we are so fortunate to be surrounded by art almost entirely created by people we know.  None of them paint or draw for a living.  For most, it’s a hobby.  Different techniques.  All bring me pleasure.

I suppose I’m trying to explain that I feel cheated by the government for manipulating the world with art.  Would Pollock be famous without the CIA?  I know the great artists were funded by patrons—often the Catholic church.  I’m struggling with the idea that what I’ve grown up admiring is not pure, but rather is tainted by the souls of those who sold themselves out to governments that do not work for the good of the people, but for their own self-interests.

How Do You Say “I Care And You’re Wrong”?

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You know the words you say when talking about dealing with people who disagree with you?  That you can still have a relationship with those people who post racist, bigoted, intolerant statuses, because you want to be open and facilitate and participate in constructive conversations?  You know what I’m talking about.

Well, today I found out that a man I’ve known most of my life, who is well known in a small, rural, Virginia community, posted something blatantly racist on a live broadcast of former President Obama speaking while in Africa (at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, no less).  The way I found out was that a black friend of mine posted a screenshot of it in an (understandable) outrage.  In my shock I did the only thing I could think of: I apologized to her for his words.

I looked up the individual’s Facebook page and saw that he’d posted a live apology for his statement.  He blamed it on his political stance, reiterating repeatedly that he was in no way, shape, or form racist, and that he has many friends who are people of color and of different nationalities—because we all know that means you aren’t racist, after you’ve said something very racist.

Here’s the question that this situation provoked: how should I plan to interact with this man in the future?  And even more than that, how should I plan to interact with people I care about more deeply who say or do something racist?

Closing myself off is not an option, because if I do that there is no chance for meaningful conversations and possible change.  If I let it slide and remain close, then I am choosing silence and allowing myself to become part of something I abhor.  Addressing it every.single.time runs the risk of the argument being tuned out, and thus “casting my pearls before swine.”

Typically, I try to point out when things are inappropriate—whether about race or anything else.  Usually, I’m ignored or laughed at (one time I was temporarily blocked…by a family member…and then left unfriended because the person never communicated they didn’t want me to keep commenting).  Sometimes there is a lot of feedback, and on the rare occasion, it’s actually a constructive conversation.  The BEST interactions, though, are the ones that occur over time and in person—like in the office.  Those people who get to see you juggle a million things, struggle with crappy bosses and absurd deadlines and workloads…they pause to consider what you say during that much needed coffee break.  And a year later?  You find out some of your soap-box-speeches made an impact.

So yes, in person is ALWAYS better.  And that’s what I’m really getting at—how do you choose to interact with people who not only disagree with you but who are morally wrong in their belief?  And deny it?  So far, the conversation is working with people with whom I have a relationship, but the people who are only acquaintances?  It brings out a whole different reaction.

I could always write a letter…to the editor.  (I really like writing letters when I don’t like something.  I’ve written to Miss America Organization, NBC, authors who didn’t answer the questions they created in their book, op-eds, letters to the editor…if nothing else, it feels good to get it out!)

What are your thoughts on these issues?

Time to Wake Up!


It’s one of those days where I woke up, started scanning Facebook, and hit the share button at a much higher rate than usual.  It was a good news day to post articles about everything that needs to change.  But, at the end of the day, I am angry and grieved by the blindness I see in so many—particularly in many Republican/Conservative circles, and even more specifically, among many “Christians.”

Today (and most days), I share, I post, I talk, I do what I can to spread the urgency of the need to fight for equality for all people, for our environment, for our country, for our world, for the oppressed and suffering.  There is no room to sit back and wait for someone else to advocate for change.  Women are assaulted over and over by men who never meet justice, polluted air is closing schools in Delhi because it is so potent, and the sitting president of the United States admitted to not knowing how many countries there are (or even a rough estimate) upon becoming president…because he didn’t have political experience (his words, not mine).

We have no choice but to stand up and fight for people who cannot fight for themselves.  We have to speak out for the health of our planet, because if it is not healthy, we will not be healthy.  It is time to look beyond our immediate spheres of influence and see that our individual experiences are not everyone’s experiences.  Therefore, if something unjust is happening to someone somewhere, we must speak out and advocate on their behalf.

High school and college peeps: Women’s March announced they are starting chapters!  Check it out if you are interested!

Most of all: wake up!
Rant over.

The Importance of Engaging Even When You Don’t Agree

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When I am in the car, I love listening to NPR.  Sometimes, like during one business trip, I listen to the news for so long I start to go a little crazy with all the awful and frustrating things happening (that I want to change) and have to turn it off in order to process.  Other times, there are interviews and stories that keep me flipping the radio to keep up with the changing NPR station as I travel through different regions.  The latter was me on Monday.

As you’ve probably heard, Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened” released last week.  I’ll be honest: I wasn’t planning on reading it.  I’m not interested in reading 512 pages of blaming and explaining…how, what, where, when, and why (especially when she and the DNC made it impossible for Bernie to get the nomination).  However, after seeing this post on Grok Nation, I’m more open.  Maybe not for all of the reasons listed, but because, despite all the reasons Hillary Clinton did not deserve the White House (issues for another post I may or may not write), she made history becoming the first woman nominated for president in a major party, has pushed through stereotypes and gender inequality during her career, and has inspired women to do more than they otherwise might have believed possible.  I can at least skim it to see where she is coming from (and try and figure out what’s genuine versus political bullsh*t).

**Before you all freak out on me, I am a feminist, I can’t wait for a woman to sit in the White House, but HRC did not deserve to make that particular piece of history.  Jill Stein on the other hand…she’s good.  But, in America we don’t believe in Green Parties.

Anyway, NPR released the interview they did with her (full transcript here) and it was amazing, because it covered many topics in a conversation style of speaking, rather than a speech.  My two favorite topics were (1) when she addressed Donald Trumps patriarchal misogyny towards her bathroom break during a debate and the implications that has for women everywhere and (2) the corporation allegedly pulling-the-strings behind several huge votes and elections in the world.

Hillary Clinton first addressed the time that Donald Trump ridiculed that she was late returning to stage during a debate for using the restroom.  She called out his misogynistic and objectifying view of women and that he did not hold back using degrading language, and implications, when speaking of her in similar terms that he spoke of Megyn Kelly.

We have to keep talking about and bringing attention to the issues of gender inequality and the harassment and abuse that women face.  As we all know, the powerful are often the ones who get away with the most (shall we talk about Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, not to mention Bill Clinton), but it happens everywhere, and we need to start  making changes (shout out to The Bold Type for using their platform with intention last week).

Clinton had this to say about Trump’s reactionary statement: “He sexualizes women. He objectifies women. He’s more than happy to comment on what women look like and whether they’re too thin or too fat or whatever his particular obsession might be.

But what about women who use restrooms? (Which is all of us.) What about women who give birth? (Which is many of us?) What about women who have all kinds of physical parts of their life? It said to me, ‘No, I can’t be bothered. I can’t even think about that. I want to see you in a low-cut dress. I want to see you in a bathing suit. I want to see whether you fit my standards.’ And I thought it was incredibly weird.”

Another issue that Clinton discussed was corporate backing by Cambridge Analytica and the Mercer family (who are directly connected with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway), including possible interference into various elections and votes around the globe (Kenya, Brexit, and even the USA). Now, granted, there are some statements in the following quote that make different red flags go off (like, how long have you really thought we needed to get rid of the electoral college?), but she draws attention to some situations that, I believe, require attention.  (Also, I love the French commentator’s remark, because I’ve had issues with the Electoral College since it was explained to me when I was nine years old.)

“You know, the Kenya election was just overturned and really what’s interesting about that — and I hope somebody writes about it, Terry — the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica, the data company owned by the Mercer family that was instrumental in the Brexit vote.

There’s now an investigation going on in the U.K., because of the use of data and the weaponization of information. They were involved in the Trump campaign after he got the nomination, and I think that part of what happened is Mercer said to Trump, ‘We’ll help you, but you have to take Bannon as your campaign chief. You’ve got to take Kellyanne Conway and these other people who are basically Mercer protégés.’

And so we know that there was this connection. So what happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and redo it. We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.

Now, I do believe we should abolish the Electoral College, because I was sitting listening to a report on the French election and the French political analyst said, ‘You know in our country the person with the most votes wins, unlike in yours.’ And I think that’s an anachronism. I’ve said that since 2000.”

A simple Google search reveals many details that should cause concern about these allegations.  As a journalist, the interview gave me names to research to find out who is benefiting from whom, and what negative impacts will happen as a result. These are important issues, because, as we all know, money talks.  The rich are the ones who make things happen by donating to people and groups who they want favor from at a later date.  It is unethical, and we must raise a voice.

As citizens of a country and the world, it is our responsibility to investigate, educate ourselves, and critically think so that we can tell the “shit from the shinola.”  Yes, there are many people in places of leadership that are not qualified or have done things to disqualify themselves.  However, we have a responsibility to provide qualified candidates so that people don’t find themselves faced with the (fallacy) of choosing between “the better of two evils.”  We also have to open ourselves to the idea of radical change…and choosing to not be afraid of words that we’ve been taught are scary (i.e. socialized/socialism).  If we allow fear to control us and keep us from new ideas in an ever-evolving world, we won’t get very far.

Have you ever wanted to make a change?  Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Start attending your local council meetings;
  • Find out who the leaders are, what the issues are, and educate yourself;
  • If you think, “I could do that,” run for office;
  • If you have a passion for leadership in government and want to help people, start looking bigger;
  • Consider parties that are not Republican and Democrat;
  • Get out there and volunteer (I’m hoping to find a way to register people to vote);
  • Oh, and make sure you register to vote—and don’t just wait for national elections.