To Fight Fascism, We Must Risk Delight

I stopped dreaming wide open things after this election. I woke up in worry, and I didn’t like that, so – along with my subscriptions to various newspapers, I also subscribed to poetry and literary magazines. I know the worry is warranted, this is not normal. But I can’t live in worry, and I refuse to wake up there. So, for the last several months, I have been waking up and instead of looking at my phone or the news, I’ve been reading poetry with my morning coffee.

Today, I read this line in a Poetry Magazine from April of 2014 that I bought at a used book store:

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world” – Jack Gilbert

And I’ve been thinking about that stubbornness, about risking delight. I’ve been thinking about how in times of great peril allowing ourselves to feel delight and gladness feels like we are betraying the worry and pain in the world. Often, when we feel good during times of great stress and fear, we worry that by not diligently tending to our fear, our feal will become invalid in some way, that we will somehow laugh ourselves into denying anything is wrong at all.

So, when we feel good, we guilt ourselves into feeling terrible again. We don’t let the light in. We don’t risk delight. But I think, hobbling our emotional guidance system in order to match the chaos and destruction around us is akin to working for the enemy. Especially if the enemy is counting on us to be afraid and play small.

I’ve been working on approaching this world as a love object, a beautiful place to nurture and be nurtured in (as opposed to a frightening and isolating place to exist).  I’ve been wondering about how to unite with people against the fascism we see unfolding within our government. I’m trying to understand how to come to this fight with a mindset that risks delight.

When thinking about our government’s move toward fascism I think about anti-intellectualism. How our current government is at war with science and the press. And I think this specific brand of anti-intellectualism has roots in hyper-masculinity. Intellectuals that embrace the complicated and interdependent nature of our modern world are considered sissies and not “real men.”

I am beginning to understand that this regime and its supporters are operating from a fear of becoming feminine. No matter how they dress up what they are doing, that is the base fear… because the “feminine” is a complicated system of relationships. It is not simple or single point transactional. It is not easily predicted or controlled.

Thinking about the rise of systems after WWII, about how quickly we complicated the world of men with machines and global relationships. How frightening this was to so many people that were not part of building those complicated systems.

When our regime’s rallying cry of “make America great again” is invoked, the great they cling to is a simpler less complicated ideology that no longer works for our time. So what they are doing, is trying to brute force reset our country to before these complicated systems were put in place. Why? Because they are afraid of being forgotten, of being left behind, of losing their identity. The are afraid, so they build walls.

I don’t want to be afraid.

So this morning I am trying to find my balance between resisting our current administration and knowing that what is needed is a revolution of the heart. Punching nazis and making room to pull the silent majority over their walls and out of their fear.

And I feel like, maybe by pinpointing where our culture evolved from the simpleness of climbing decision trees to the complex way we fly through possibility clouds it will help me understand how to do this.

I am working on keeping my mind, my eyes, my hands, and the throttle to my heart wide open… on understanding fear without succumbing to it.
If we succumb to fear, we become like the current regime. Stuck, unable to evolve, resorting to brute force resetting the world to a walled-in identity that no longer serves us but we’re too afraid to abandon.

So what I’m proposing is we put it all on the line. We risk delight. We fight, but we “care bear stare” the shit out of those motherfuckers – with open hearts that are unafraid.

Not Quite Dating but Certainly a Mugging

[This piece was written and performed for a live audience in 2013 – I found it written out on a folded piece of paper in my coat pocket]

 

Eduardo and I had been going steady for about two months. Well, maybe not going steady, and you really couldn’t call it dating because we never really went on any dates, and we didn’t actually know each each other that well. I don’t know what you’d call it, it was more like… I would hang out at his coffee shop during the day, and by the night’s end, he’d be in my bed. He never really stayed there though, he lived across the balcony and would go home to sleep. What do you call it when you aren’t quite dating your neighbor/Latin lover? I guess it doesn’t matter. We did go on a walk once though.

After locking up the cafe late one summer night we decided to take a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan, I remember the breeze felt good on my face. Eduardo and I attempted to hold hands, but that wasn’t really who we were together, so we just talked, hands in our pockets.

What we realized then was that we didn’t even speak the same language. I mean, we both spoke English marginally well, I just mean, I spoke… still speak… like the world is held together with glitter and spiderweb silk; and well, Eduardo, he was a pragmatist.

Low on conversation and not even remotely in love, we did that one thing that we knew best; We made out, in the dark, on the shore, with the breeze against our backs; It was glorious. There was another couple maybe twenty feet away that looked to be doing the same, occasionally one of their heads would pop up like a prairie dog and look in our direction, then they’d lay back down and roll together with the waves. Chicago summer nights are enchantingly weird that way.

We were closing in on midnight when we decided to leave the beach. Walking back to my car we passed the couple who were next to us on the shore, two men in black hoodies. I got a chill up my spine, only this chill wasn’t the kind that’s an ode’ to love on a strange Chicago night, this chill was straight up fear. The couple turned around and followed us just moments after we passed them.

That’s when I felt what I would later come to realize was the chilly steel barrel of a 9mm against my temple. It really is cold, it’s the first thing you notice before you start to panic. We were being held up, not only that, we were being held up by a couple of dudes that a few moments earlier had been watching Eduardo and I all hot and heavy on the beach. My cheeks burned with embarrassment and my heart raced. Holy shit. Were we really being mugged by the prairie dog couple?

I don’t remember everything, but I remember they sounded scared, I picked up on that and it confused me. THEY were the ones with guns. I remember they pulled on the hem of my shirt and demanded everything in my pockets. I was infuriated with them. I actually yelled at them “You have guns, you don’t have to pull on my clothes to get me to do what you want, back off!” – and they did. Then they took my car keys, my cell phone, my drivers license, and my bank card. From Eduardo, they took $600 cash.

With the gun still on my temple, they asked me to take off my shoes, turn around, and run into the trees. You think facing a gun is unnerving, take a few minutes to think about knowing it’s there pointing at the back of your head and not seeing what was happening on the other end. Will I live? Will I die? Will a bullet get lodged into my brain? Are they planning on hurting me? Will the prairie dog guys kill my neighbor/Latin lover that I’m technically not dating? Why did they take my shoes?

Eduardo ran into the thicket and then I did, the grass was cool against my feet. We waited for what felt like hours. Then he whispered “Melissa, I think they ran away” and I swear to you that sounded better than any admission of love I’d ever heard before or since.

We walked the two miles home barefoot and in shock. We laid in my bed and tried to sort out what came next. To be honest, that’s not true, we didn’t actually sort anything. When we got back to my place we had incredible adrenaline fueled “we could have been killed” sex. It was the first and only time that Eduardo stayed all night in my bed.

In the morning I realized my bank card was FDIC insured and whatever the muggers had taken I could get back, so I called the police. They sent an officer over to take my statement, annoyed I hadn’t called them right after the crime. Eduardo wanted no part of it, I don’t know why – maybe he had a criminal history, maybe he was in the country illegally, maybe he just wanted a shower. Like I said, I didn’t really know him that well.

What if I’m Just Here to Pour Your Coffee

Yesterday I found myself listing all the things I’ve made and done over the last 7 years. I started this list not because I was particularly proud, or couldn’t keep track (although it IS getting harder to do.) I listed them because I was terrified they wouldn’t be enough. It’s a real fear, now that my children are all finally in school. I am terrified that I am going back to the same space I was in 7 years ago.

7 years ago I was waitressing, 7 years ago I was pouring your coffee. 7 years ago Chicago was the purgatory between my previous life as a cubical slave and my future life of big adventure. I’m equally terrified and feel incredibly guilty when it seems that taking the time to stay at home with my children was not the adventure, but just what I did while I waited for it. What if my children have begun their autonomous lives, and I’m still just… waiting.

I tell myself that this is irrational, that this feeling of panic over my own autonomy is normal if slightly unjustified. After all, I’ve done so much in these past 7 years. I tell myself all stay at home parents go through this when their kids go to school, my children are not leaving for good, they’re just leaving for 7hrs a day, 5 days a week… But this month, these last few weeks, have felt like a slow motion free fall. No longer anchored to playgrounds and playdates,  I am left struggling to make sense of the silence.

I have kept myself busy. I marketed and produced a conference and community, I’m days away from launching Where are the Women with Marian, I’m in a hotel room in Portland preparing to speak at an entrepreneur conference, I’m planning another RVSX excursion, and planning new classes and events for the CWDevs community. Despite all this, I feel like I’m standing still. Without the normal constraints on my time, without the tug on my sleeve or demand for a sandwich while I take phone calls, all this action feels like atrophy.

What if, after all this time, I can’t function without the freneticness? What if my hustle was just a way of keeping sane through the routines of parenting small children? What if breaking my day into those tiny pieces of attention was exactly what my creative brain needed? When I mention this confusion of time and pace, my friends tell me to slow down, take a breather… but these are my childless friends, my friends that haven’t been waiting 7 years for their lives to be even remotely their own. These are friends that don’t understand that the constraints of full time motherhood that made my accomplishments seem extraordinary last year, are no longer there, and I may just be ordinary, after all. What if I slow down and find I’m just “waitress”, what if this last 7 years of waiting didn’t count, what if I’m just here to pour your coffee?

Doing Brilliant Things You Suck at Doing

Two years ago I came up with an idea, as I am inclined to do when I have ideas, I immediately bought some domain names to add to my ever growing list of domain names.  I knew it was a brilliant idea because it was all about filling a need I desperately wanted not to suck at, Pitching. I was going to start a conference and online forum all about learning to pitch my ideas without shaking like a leaf, about learning to give the kind of keynote that gets a standing ovation at a conference, about negotiating a contract, or knowing how to talk to my clients, or writing a press release that actually got talked about by the press. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but knew I needed to get it done.

I’m a doer, I’m a maker, I’m a conversationalist, and being a maker and a doer (admirable skills that have certainly gotten me far) I love making and doing things that are useful to my friends, and I am great at telling my friends about it because of that. But talking to audiences, the media, or handeling myself in a normal business presentation situation… not so much… I suck. I’m not a business person, I never trained to be one. I’m a doing and making person, and it shows.

“Sucking,”  is of course, the layman’s term for “failing”, and failure – the fear of failure – is some scary shit. I know there is a “Fail fast, fail often” mantra out there (at least in the tech entrepreneurial world,) but I didn’t set out intending to fail, and that mantra is one of the dumbest entrepreneurial phrases I’ve ever heard. Starting something is not about failing, it’s about doing cool shit the best you can, it’s about making something that doesn’t suck, no matter how badly you suck at doing it, or in my case, saying it. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how badly you suck, you’re probably way ahead of the game, you are better than the scads of people too afraid to even try and build something.

I vacillate from roaring like a lion, to leaning on the stereotype that women are horrible at pitching themselves and their own projects and accomplishments. I get gun-shy if I’m doing too much talking. I have been conditioned to blend in, be a good girl, and not rock the boat, no matter how much success boat rocking has gotten me in the past. The compulsion to sit back and let my projects get “discovered” like models in a shopping mall is overwhelmingly prevalent. The fear of failure coupled with the fear of doing something I have been conditioned not to do my entire life is sometimes paralyzing, and I won’t lie, I have from time to time fallen into the role of the stereotypically meek woman, because it’s an easy, well trodden path. It’s always been a struggle to put myself out there.

My brilliant idea, Pitch Refinery, is scheduled to take place in just a few weeks (Sept 22nd and 23rd.) The speakers are stellar, the venue is paid for, the volunteers are ready, but the audience… lets just say they’re all going to have front row seats if I don’t figure out how to do all the things I built Pitch Refinery to teach me to do… it’s truly the most redonkulous catch-22 ever, but I’m going to do my best, even if my best totally sucks. My speakers say not to worry, people will show up, and I have to have faith that they’re right, because they’ve “been there, done that”  – they are all very smart business owners, they’ve been on TED stages, written their own books, made their own money and write regularly for publications like INC., Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review – but I’m still nervous that this super cool thing that I’m doing, the thing that will teach me to operate way outside of my comfort zone, the thing that all my entrepreneurial and freelancing friends said they need to go to,  is something I’m going to totally suck at pulling off.

I have a feeling that they say “fail fast, fail often” so they can pretend that being sucky is what they were aiming for in the first place, but I can’t subscribe to that. I’m building something amazing, and no matter how much I suck at telling the world about it, failure is not what I’m aiming for. You can learn to not screw it up right along side me at Pitch Refinery, get yourself a 20% off ticket, I’ll save you a seat, just in case you want to sit in the front row.