Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Is Being Privileged A Bad Thing?

  So many of my clients, listeners, and readers are horrified to discover something I have known about myself for a long, long time--that they, like me, are...gasp...PRIVILEGED!

The common response to such a charged bit of information is often "what do you mean I'm privileged?

 I have struggled too, after all. I grew up poor/had an abusive relationship/abusive parent/etc." followed by "how dare anyone say I'm privileged?!" followed by the stages of grief, as laid out to such wonderful effect by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, to describe the grief of a loved one after someone important to them has died. 

 The stages of grief are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and, this tends to be the program that privileged folks follow when they've come nose to nose with an unpleasant fact. First, it's "I can't be privileged," then it's "but I've struggled! How dare anyone call me privileged?" then it's "but I donate my time to charities/volunteer/help the needy, so how can I possibly be privileged?" oft followed by "I guess I'll just go away since no one wants to hear from me," and then, finally, "well maybe I'm privileged, but..."

 Anyone who has been through these stages of grief themselves can identify them in someone else, and certainly, those of us who fall into the non-cis, non-hetero, non-white, non-male, non-wealthy categories can see these stages from miles away when folks who have never been forced to confront their own privileges start experiencing them firsthand. 

 The natural tendency when someone is incredibly privileged and this privilege is not something they are comfortable having pointed out is to simply get snarky, deflect or even deny their privilege altogether. But that in and of itself IS a form of privilege!

 And you know what? It's okay to be privileged.

 Did you hear that?

I said it's okay.

No one is telling you you're not deserving of love, affection, attention, an opinion, a vote, a choice, a voice, or anything else humans are entitled to via human rights. 

Are you with me?

Okay, now that that's settled, let's talk about the nuances of what IS in fact being said when someone has pointed out to you that you are privileged.

Firstly, let's acknowledge something. That pain you're feeling; that anger; that resentment; that guilt; that rage...that IS privilege rearing its head. That's your entitlement telling you that you're entitled to have your privilege go unnoticed--to go without being called out. That's your ego telling you that having an advantage doesn't matter--that having a performance-enhancing edge doesn't change the game at all, and that rather than looking at the performance enhancement you've been using (even if you've thus far been using it without being fully conscious of it--without owning it) shouldn't matter, and that people should JUST look at your performance, without looking at the fact that you've been given performance enhancements. But that argument is fallacious. Having been given a performance enhancement of any kind, while not negating any good you have done or are doing, does matter, and it should be looked at. Lance Armstrong didn't win the Tour de France on his own, right? He did it using performance-enhancing drugs. And if you agree that that isn't fair and that it should be looked at, then maybe, just maybe, you also agree that a frank acknowledgment of game-changing privilege (and, in case you were wondering, all privilege is game-changing) is in order.  

Secondly, let's take a look at the emotional component of being called out on your privilege. So often, we look at being called out as a bad thing, when really it's an opportunity--an opportunity for learning, for building relationships, for acknowledging something important that may aid us and others in our development as human beings. And that emotion you're feeling--that feeling of righteous indignation--of anger--of hurt? Well, that's a good jumping-off point to start the aforementioned learning and growing. That reaction is the best way that I know for others to be able to identify with you, and for you to be able to, in turn, identify with others. That reaction is something that lgbtqi+ folks, black folks, brown folks, other non-white and mixed people feel every time a white person, cis person, wealthy person, or a man cuts in front of us in line, takes our seat on the bus, explains something to us that we already know as if we were slow, developmentally deficient kindergartners--every time someone gets a raise or a promotion we were on track for, every time our pain is shrugged off at the doctor's office, every time we get a higher bill for education or medical care than a white person or a man gets, every time we are pulled over and harassed while driving, stopped while walking, every time the police are called on us because we dared to exist in a public space. When you feel those feelings of anger and outrage, you begin to have a small window of opportunity to feel a portion of what we feel on a daily basis. You have an opportunity here. That is a good thing.

 I realize that it can be upsetting and jarring to learn that you may be privileged, with all of the connotations which go along with that loaded term, and I'm sure that takes some time and space to process--some allowance for the engagement of critical thought. We can't expect you to have the reaction that suits us, right off the bat, but not learning--not self-correcting--well that's a real loss. It's not a loss for us. We of the black and brown and mixed skin, of the textured hair, of the gender which doesn't fit your norms--we of the lgbtqi+ persuasion--we already know your privilege. We get it. We just hope you will too because that's when we can really start working together to do some good.

Privilege is, as I mentioned before, not inherently bad. Nobody is asking you to hate yourself because you happen to be privileged. After all, we all exist within some sort of a paradigm of privilege--a personal reality affected by things we were born into. Nobody wants you to publicly whip yourself in the town square. We do not expect your personal apology for the existence of racism, sexism, bigotry, misogyny or hate. What we do want is for you--for us--for everyone to acknowledge our own inherent privileges--those things we were born with which give us a leg up on those who were born without them. We want you, the white man, to stop explaining our jobs and our collective place in society to us, we want you, the white woman to stop speaking for us rather than using your white voice to allow us to step up and use ours. We, the people with privilege and without, want to encourage everyone to do what those of us who have long acknowledged our personal privilege have been doing, and to signal boost for those who do not have the platform you have because of your privilege. We don't need financially privileged cis, hetero, white folks to tell us to think differently or to just be positive and things will change. We also don't need those same people standing in for us to tell others how important our rights and our causes are. We don't want you to acknowledge your privilege to save face--we want you to acknowledge your privilege to save soul--yours, to be exact. 

 The uncomfortable but nonetheless true fact is that those of us with privilege (and I include myself, broadly at least, in that statement) owe it to ourselves and to those without the privilege we have to actively work against that privilege and the damage it has done (and yes, my friend, it has done and does continue to do damage, no matter what good works you do, particularly when your privilege goes unacknowledged), and the damage it continues to do. Doing good things is important, but doing them mindfully is better by far.

 But how? You might ask.

 Well, next time you come off of your plane stressed and ready to do nothing but check into your hotel, go to the pool and relax with a drink, yet you are faced with the choice of checking into that hotel before the black or brown person or the gay or lesbian couple ahead of you who have clearly been waiting a longer time to be served because the white hospitality agent recognizes you first, you can speak up and politely let that hospitality service worker know that you notice that the people ahead of you in line have been waiting for quite some time. Better yet, you could even simply ask the people in front of you if they'd like to go ahead and check-in first. 

 Next time you're in line behind that disabled person in a wheelchair at Starbucks and the barista notices you first and calls you to the register, you can ask the person in the wheelchair if they'd like to go ahead.

 Next time you're out with a group of friends and someone makes a joke that's racist in front of your black, brown, or mixed friends, you can let them know that you'd like to make sure they're comfortable in this discussion and ask them whether they are. 

 Next time that guy at work (you know the guy, so I'll spare you the description) sounds off on building "the wall," you can speak up, or, better yet, if one of your black or brown or mixed ethnicity colleagues happens to speak on the subject, you can support them and make sure they have an opportunity to make the point they need to make.

 A good rule of thumb to use when considering whether you might bear the burden of privilege personally is the following checklist, which is eloquently laid out in the 1986 piece "White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Napsack," written by Peggy McIntosh, which I'll enumerate below:

Per Ms. McIntosh:

"I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions which I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can see, my African American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and line of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
  1. I can if I wish [to] arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
  19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
  22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
  23. I can choose public accommodations without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
  26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more [or] less match my skin.
I repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own."

 Do any of these checklist items apply to you? Some of them apply to me. And that's okay. What we must realize, however, is that those unearned privileges with which we are born also come with a high cost and an added level of responsibility to boot. We weren't selected for those privileges based on merit, they were awarded to us through luck and chance. The responsibility we hold includes acknowledgment--but not JUST acknowledgment. Self-hate on behalf of the privileged is, on the other hand, neither required, nor wished for, nor is it helpful. 

 The sum of all parts of this particular social equation is simple. A rising tide lifts all boats. All humans deserve basic human rights. The fact that groups of people who are marginalized culturally, societally and systemically who are rightfully looking for their own rights and freedoms to be supported and upheld is not a challenge to those whose rights are not under attack. However, the shadow side of this equation is that while we acknowledge that certain groups of people are marginalized, we must also acknowledge that other groups of people are, conversely, overly privileged. There are people in our society who are, due solely to inborn, unearned privilege (see the checklist above), granted MORE rights. This is the very definition of privileges that are unearned. Acknowledgment of this fact is essential to moving forward on the path toward equality. 

 I recognize that equality won't happen overnight. Complete equality may never happen, but that doesn't mean that we should stop working toward it, and step one on that path is radical honesty and radical self-knowledge.

The 9/11 Series: Part 1: My 9/11 Story

 On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was a new college student. I had just graduated high school that spring and had had my 19th birthday five days prior to the morning in question. I remember 2001 acutely and specifically, due to the life-changing importance of the events which occurred in and after September of that year.

 Let me start you off by introducing myself--no, I don't mean introducing myself to you as a fully grown adult, author, radio personality and accomplished musician--I mean me at 18-19 years of age--me as a mess of a human being--someone who was cookies; still baking--or cookie dough, in the immortal words of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

 At 18, I had barely graduated high school--not because I lacked intelligence or motivation, but because I was a confused, emotionally and physically abused teenager with some serious and painful health issues who had to fight tooth and nail through my years as a student to graduate. I had to fight illness, fatigue and extreme pain, it's true, but I also had to fight other-ism, sexism, and bigotry like the dickens just to keep my head above water, despite having an off the charts IQ and being a beautiful and talented young woman, albeit a troubled one.

 When I finally graduated high school, I was unbelievably proud. I was relieved. I looked forward to limitless possibilities with my name hovering on a stamp just above them, waiting to be pressed. I knew that, in the words of the famous song, "happy days [were] here again, the skies were blue and clear again." I finally felt like I could focus on being the person I had always known I was but had been unable to make pop on paper. I could do anything--nothing--whatever I needed, and I'd have no one but time, myself and natural consequences to answer to. To me, this was a feeling I always knew I would have. I figured, in my still so childlike mind, that all adults felt this all the time--even adults who were wedged into societal corners by things like poverty, racism, abuse or lack of healthcare--and finally, I was able to join the ranks of such adults. I was able to be the person I knew I was on the inside with no fear of judgment.

 I had just enrolled in college, just gotten a new job at an integrated preschool program and had just received an immediate raise, promotion and some excellent feedback about what a fantastic worker I was. I was living at home and commuting to school to save money. My Dad had just taken a job downstate and I stayed at home to fill in and help around the house (though I realize now that, as any 18-19-year-old would be, I was likely more of a hindrance than an actual help) and had committed to living down there during the week, while my Mom kept her upper management job at the local library (she was head of circulation services--a very important job in its own right, and one which she ended up working until she was almost 70, because she loved it so much and was in turn so well-loved and respected by her staff and her manager alike).

 My parents were very independent and thoughtful people. They didn't have time for helicopter parenting, even when I was young, and they always trusted me to act appropriately and maturely and to be an autonomous individual, and, as someone who, while being a smidge over the line into the extrovert zone in Myers-Briggs terminology, enjoyed keeping my own company, I didn't mind at all. I was always popular with my friends, but didn't have any interest in being the leader of a specific group, nor was I interested in following anyone who did, which made for rather a strange brew of being well-liked, but not particularly caring whether or not I continued to be. I had, by the time I graduated high school, sadly, been in a highly physically and emotionally abusive relationship with a young narcissistic, sociopathic man who, like me, possessed an IQ well into the genius zone, and who, unfortunately, unlike me, possessed the EQ and the emotional maturity of a cracked and poorly varnished teacup. In short, my young life was already quite full of duality--of extremes, and by the time I turned 19, just before the events of 9/11, I had been in this abusive relationship for nearly two years. I thought I could handle the worst life had to offer...then came Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.

 On that morning, my alarm clock was set to go off at 10am, since I wasn't working and I only had one class that day. I remember waking up to my bedroom tv on, my Mom standing in my doorway, urgently telling me to wake up while the sun streamed in on a gorgeous summer day in Chicago, birds singing, hardly a cloud in the bright sky. After a few moments, my Mom left my TV on and went back to her room without another word, so she could turn on her bedside radio. I followed her into her room to ask her what was wrong, and she hushed me as we listened to the radio announcer on WBBM Chicago telling us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City.

 I was startled and shaken and, at the same time, wondering how anyone could possibly think this was anything other than a tragic accident. My Mom and I returned to my bedroom to watch Good Morning America on ABC, transitioning back forth between ABC and CNN, in search of more up to date facts, while the normally consummate professionals, Diane Sawyer, and Peter Jennings struggled to digest what had just happened--what would continue to happen throughout that fateful morning--live; on air. That's when the second plane hit. We quickly got dressed and went downstairs to continue watching the news.

 Reports began coming in that this was, in fact, a deliberate attack on American soil. We heard the Pentagon had been attacked and, later on, that a plane had crashed in Shanksville, PA. Then, as I was at the gym, glued to the tv with the rest of the members who had come to work out and stayed to stand, staring and crying at the tv in shock and horror, the South tower fell.

 I drove to school in a haze. The entire college campus had been shut down, and, upon walking back to my car, I heard the sonic booms of fighter jets overhead. My heart dropped into my stomach. Then I heard the news--the North tower had fallen. America was under attack, and we didn't know what target would be next.

 I called my abusive boyfriend, who for once had nothing negative to say. We told each other to stay away from downtown Chicago. I called my best friends, my family, I called my Dad. I called all of my loved ones. All said the same--stay out of downtown--stay away from crowded places, stay at home. I cannot overemphasize the fact that in that moment--that day, even--none of us knew what was next. The vice president had been moved to an undisclosed location, the president was stopped in the middle of reading a book to school children and eventually taken on board Airforce One. Commercial and passenger planes were grounded. Everything was quite actually up in the air. Nothing like this had ever happened on American soil before. We were under attack.

 That night, we heard that Al Qaeda, a small group of terrorists in Afghanistan, led by Osama bin Laden, black sheep of the ultra-wealthy, broadly philanthropic bin Laden family was claiming responsibility. Was this true, or was this small-time terrorist with big-time ambitions simply seizing an opportunity to claim fame for his group of radicals?

 As the week unfolded, I began to fear that this would lead us to an ill-advised war with a country which, while run by a psychopathic dictator, was in no way responsible for this heinous attack. Facts and figures were cast aside in favor of emotion, opinion and conjecture, all while the person who had claimed responsibility for the attack seemed to be only a secondary concern to those in charge. It felt to me like there would be no closure--no healing of the wounds which were inflicted on my soul--on the collective soul of the nation that September day.

 Living through September 11th and having it come at a time in my life which was so formative and so crucial was arresting. My world changed. My sense of safety was taken away. It never returned. I doubt that it ever will...

 I did, however, come to the realization that when we all grieved together--when we all acted together to respond to the worst things humanity has to offer, that we could, collectively and individually, make things just a little bit brighter, and that through concerted effort and continued action, we could rebuild and re-emerge a stronger, more empathetic, compassionate and intelligent people with a lasting bond that transcended belief, opinion or personal experience. That day, we as Americans lived through something together, and while our experiences were individual and unique in their pain, their awe and their scope, they were also collective. This sense of collective experience is what I aim to capture, both by telling my story and by reaching out to all of you to collect yours. I believe something happened that day, aside from, yet irrevocably connected to the tragedy of the attacks which took place from New York City to Washington, D.C. to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I believe we experienced something profound together, and that we have been acting on that collective experience ever since.

 I'd be honored to tell your stories in the segments of this blog post series to follow. Please feel free to reach out to me here in the comments section or privately via the Dominique Does Life Facebook page, and subscribe right here to the Dominique Does Life blog.

 Together, we rise.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Teaching Through Improv

Something re-occurred to me today. This thing...this elusive idea which clicked back on inside the crowded confines of my personal gray matter was about teaching--but it wasn't just about teaching, it was about comedy and improv--but it wasn't just about comedy and improv, it was about kids and how to relate to them. This is how my chaotic brain works, but I'm an adult with fully developed intelligence and sense of self, and this idea...this errant was about something a bit different. It was about minds less developed, less synchronistic, less cohesive, but somehow more important. You may have guessed by now that the brains I am describing are those of children.  

 There is an incalculably important aspect of child development which is, sadly, widely overlooked and underestimated. I am talking, of course, about humor. Humor is a touchstone--a lighthouse along the path to the development of the core concepts of empathy and compassion. Humor allows one to look at things both critically and creatively. It allows us to step back from the ego and to move away from the unfortunate and blatantly false development of our own deeply serious person mythologies, which so often handicap us and trip us up on the path to success and the pursuit of happiness. 

 Because the appreciation of humor and the ability to be funny are governed by different parts of the brain, while empathy is governed by yet another, however, humor and empathy are quite actually governed by portions of the human brain that touch. 

 You see, children’s brains are malleable. New neural pathways are constantly forming and re-forming. Kids begin learning well before they ever develop a solid sense of self.  It strikes me that during this formative period, children are incredibly empathetic. Empathy and compassion are deeply important aspects of the human condition. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they might be the single most important part of the human experience. And this ability to step outside of the subjective experience that is the “self” is somehow miraculously formed before any sense of “self” takes hold. 
Children are sponges. It is to our own detriment as well as theirs when we saturate them with only the worst life has to offer. But alas, many of us do just that. It is my belief that the American school systems provide a good portion of the quantity and quality of what our kids are exposed to while their brains are in this critical stage of development.  The formation of a solid foundation for the personality and sense of self a child will experience for the rest of their lives starts at 8 years of age. Imagine what damage—or what opportunities for beautiful, bountiful growth and a world of endless possibilities could be opened within the mind of a child at this tender age. 

I am of the firm belief that while our country’s teachers absolutely and unequivocally deserve excellent pay and compensation, and while there are some truly excellent teachers out there, changing American kids’ lives for the better (shout out to Mr. Kingston over at Crystal Lake Central High School for cultivating an environment wherein a young woman with an invisible illness and the ‘wrong’ genes in her family tree felt for the first time ever like her writing voice was worthy of being heard.), we are, by and large, missing the mark.  Many countries have surpassed the United States by leaps and bounds with regard to how they are educating their kids.Shame on us for doing our kids the disservice of failing to follow in those countries’  progressive footsteps with regard to education.   One of the lessons the American educational system seems to willfully refuse to learn is that quality and quantity are two utterly separate concepts. 
Kids, like adults, learn, in large part, through humor, through hands-on experience, and through play.  If you’re beginning to wonder whether I am a student of Piaget right now, let me tell you—I am. However, I am also a fan of firm boundaries and of being (and teaching our kids to be) assertive and authoritative, rather than dominant, authoritarian, passive-aggressive or passive.  

 My strategy for co-creating learning experiences with children centers largely around humor—and not just humor in the broad sense, but specifically around the art of improv. Facilitating lessons through improvisation and play allows us, as the adults, to be rather a senior partner in the 60/40 partnership of getting children off to a good head start in life.  Below I will describe an instance I recently experienced while out shopping, which reminded me of the importance of empathetic improvisation and play in developing good relationships and good foundations for future learning with our children (and make no mistake—it does take a village to show a kid what the world is like. Kids get enough bad, upsetting and scary input as is, so it is up to us as fully capable and mentally and emotionally developed adults to create opportunities for true empathetic and compassionate learning about themselves, the world around them, and those in it, for the children in out communities and in our country).

My Mom and I were at Homegoods today. We saw this little kid who was using a grabber as a laser gun. No one was playing along and he looked sad, so I walked up and was like "pew-pew AHHH! You got me! I'm shot! Argh!"  He was SO happy someone actually played along. My Mom went to the back to use the restroom, and I was standing in one of the aisles while this kid and his family were leaving, and he legit did not want to leave the store. He kept going "but she's my friend! She's my friend!"  He just needed someone to act like they were hit by his invisible laser gun and play along with him. His whole face lit up.  I love doing bits and improv and yes and games. They're really great for kids' brain development, and the beautiful thing is that kids remember the adults who play along and join in the fun.  It becomes a way for them to address problem-solving and to learn through play. Kids have an instinctive sense for comedy too. They are hilarious--and not nearly as often by accident as they are on purpose. If you don't believe me, Google the police officer who plays Barbie's with the kids on his beat. Kids learn through play. Their brains do not function the way ours do. Countries like Denmark, Iceland and Germany know this, as their school curriculums consist mainly of play and only last for a couple of hours a day. Shame on is for not following their lead. Shame on us for forgetting about the plethora of opportunities gifted to us through the simple innocence of childhood. Shame on us for trying to force our kids to be little adults or carbon copies of the idealized versions of ourselves. Shame on us...Shame on us for forgetting to laugh at the silly things... I say laugh with your kids, play along, take things to their logical extreme--even for discipline. I was a teacher in a former life. I took a whole extra course load in college to supplement my psychology education so that I could become a qualified, bonafide, highly credentialed teacher of kindergarten and pre-k. 
One of the most important things you can do with kids—not just your own, but all kids you interact with—is to laugh, to play, and to facilitate lessons learned through play. For instance, when a kid in my class saw a classmate take their favorite toy or classroom pencil and throw themselves on the ground crying and wailing and howling like a dying animal, pretending to be grievously wounded both emotionally and physically, I would stop the entire class, throw down whatever I was working on and yell just as loudly as the screaming kid "OH MY GOD! IT MUST BE A COMPLETE EMERGENCY! EVERYONE STOP EVERYTHING THEY ARE DOING RIGHT NOW SO WE CAN ALL FREAK OUT!" Sometimes I’d get really silly and turn in circles or roll around on the ground like Chris Farley in a particularly high energy take of an episode of Saturday Night Live. 
If this didn't do the trick and get everyone laughing, I would continue the bit and get the kid who was crying in on it (making sure that everyone held onto the understanding that we were laughing WITH and not AT one another). I'd say something like "are you okay? Do you think you'll live?!? Can you hear me?! DON’T GO INTO THE LIGHT!" At which point I'd pretend to check them over for mortal wounds and perhaps even ask if I should call for an ambulance.  This would always get the entire class laughing--especially the kid who was so upset about the crayon, toy or pencil. The thought of their minor upset over the pencil or toy or crayon would be obliterated by my histrionics, and even if they were trying super hard to hold onto that façade of anger and not crack a smile, they could never last more than a few seconds. In fact, oftentimes, the child in question would have only to look at me before they cracked up laughing.  

To take things down a few notches, I'd start a discussion that would go something like this:  "Kimberley*, I wonder how you felt when Lucas* took your favorite pencil. How did that make you feel?"  Then Kimberley would tell me how she felt. I would ask her if since the pencil meant a lot to her in this moment, she thought it might be kind to share with Lucas for a while and in the interest of fairness, to make a deal that she’ll switch with Lucas when he’s finished drawing this last picture and that if Lucas chose not to keep his word and switch up with Kimberley, I would step in. I would often allow my kids to come to these decisions on their own, simply prompting them to formulate their own solutions via trial and error and open-ended questions. 

 Then, all the kids would feel heard, we would all have learned a lesson and had a laugh, and I’d try to help them to establish context by asking them if, while it can be so upsetting when our neighbor uses the pencil (or toy, or crayon, etc.) we planned on using and REALLY REALLY wanted to use, if there was anything else Lucas, Kimberley, and class could think of that might also be upsetting—perhaps equally or more upsetting than the pencil situation, or perhaps a reason why a friend or neighbor in our classroom might really need to use the item we originally wanted to use.  I’d have the class take turns with a talking feather or just raising their hands and I’d facilitate a discussion with them about things that hurt our own and others’ feelings, and what each student could plan on doing if such a situation occurred. 
Often times, our discussions would get really silly, and everyone would get to laughing (which is WAY better than crying, screaming and rolling around like we’re on fire as may have been done initially by the upset student), but I’d always try to bring things back around to acknowledging our own and each other’s feelings and boundaries, and to engaging our problem-solving skills.   I think every story should end with something silly that will cement the lesson in place. Play around with those logical extremes. Kids are great partners for that.  Do everyday improv.  I used to do this with the kids in my classroom when I was teaching Pre-K and Kindergarten. I would even challenge my kids to do over the top impressions of me when someone else in the class misbehaved (making certain that we were always learning together and laughing with one another and not at one another). Everyone would end up laughing, no one got angry and no one had hurt feelings--and the lessons stuck.  

 My kindergartners would get time toward the end of the day to do impressions of Ms. Dominique for prizes, high fives, laughs and video game time. I would start them off with something silly and then have them decide how I might react (somehow it almost always ended with a neck roll, hands on the hips and the death stare--see what I mean? Kids pick up on things--especially through humor!). And then, something happened. My classrooms began disciplining themselves. My kids began regulating their own behavior and even working together to find solutions to problems they might otherwise not have felt empowered to solve. So... Try it. Put my expensive education in psychology, early childhood education and philosophy to work for you at no cost, today! 😂And remember, we were all kids once. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Hating The Twilight Saga Is A Mistake: Change My Mind

*If you're looking for pure lust or pure action, then this might not be the series for you, but if you're looking for a coming of age story about a girl finding out where she fits in the world and how she relates to her friends and family, and how those relationships bolster or hurt her in terms of how she interacts with the outside world, then you might just find some value here.*

 The Twilight Saga is a coming of age story told from the unique perspective of a blank slate protagonist. It has some lovely and truly historically accurate information on the Pacific Northwest and on the Quileute Tribe (who happen to be the tribe responsible for the enduring myth of the thunderbird and whale, as well as many other allegories, which Meyer touches on really beautifully in her own imaginative way in these books). Yes, there are also highly fictionalized aspects of this story, but one would hope that readers of vampire stories would come into the reading process with an understanding of same.

 To that end, to understand why Twilight is a good series, I think it is important to also understand why it is so widely disliked. The Twilight Saga movies, while some of the casting decisions were absolutely brilliant, suffered from lackluster writing and poor editing, likely from a budget which was spent mainly on hiring the acting talent. People seem to equate the Twilight Saga movies and books as interchangeable and indistinct. That, in and of itself, is quite odd since many fans of series' of books which have subsequently been made into movies seem quite happy making sure that all and sundry know which portions of which narrative are "canon" and which are not. I don't think I've ever seen this before in modern storytelling. Fans of the Southern Vampire Mysteries didn't mistake True Blood for canon. Fans of the Star Wars movies don't mistake the Star Wars-verse novels for canon. I don't know of any other series of books made into movies that seem to be discussed as interchangeably as the Twilight Saga books and the Twilight Saga movies are.

 I also think that one of the reasons it's so en vogue to hate Twilight, whether we're talking about the books or the movies, is simple misogyny—and I don't just mean by men—I mean the type of internalized misogyny embraced by women. Anything "girly" (having to do with a teenaged female protagonist who is in touch with her feelings in this case) is frowned upon, culturally speaking. We're moving away from that cultural paradigm bit by bit, but the stigma from back in 2005–2013 when the Twilight Saga was at its peak still seeps into how we look back at it today. Along those same lines, I happen to believe that there's a certain r/notlikeothergirls level of foolishness at play here. Women are taught from a young age, and we begin to reinforce and teach each other, that being in deep contact with our feelings, being emotionally connected and raw are undesirable traits.

 These traits are linked in an over-exaggerated, hyperbolic way to teenaged girls (see above), despite teenaged boys and teens of all genders and both sexes being equally emotional and equally without a filter at that age, due to the specific way the human brain develops. We are taught that when young women are emotional, they're being "overly dramatic" or "silly." Hence the vogue of relating to Bella in a critical way—with an eye roll and a shrug, all with that pungent and distinct odor of "well I'm not like other girls." I say there's nothing wrong with being like other girls. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with being like other people in general. Sharing the human experience is a beautiful thing. Admitting to it only shows that you are indeed human. That, to my mind, is something we can all relate to.

 There is also a tendency to be hyper-critical of female characters in literature and fiction. For some reason (perhaps at least partially because of some of the reasons I've explored above) young female protagonists seem to be looked at strictly through the lens of whether they're a "good role model" or not. Folks, this is fiction. This is allegory.

 This is modern myth. It isn't meant to be looked at as if everything a character says or does is a sweeping endorsement for real people to go ahead and start behaving like their fictional counterparts do. There are lots of examples of male and female characters in fiction doing really stupid things or really dangerous things on their hero journeys/journeys to self-discovery. That doesn't mean that the author wants their readers to go out and do these things.

To this day, I hear people (mainly other women, but men too, now and again) complaining about how Edward doesn't behave like a realistic, healthy boyfriend to a real young woman and that readers might be moved to begin unhealthy relationships because of this. Folks—I'm an author and I'll be the first to tell you—if you're using fictional characters and the actions they take in fictional books to base your lifestyle and decisions on, you may well have other problems which transcend the bounds of what sorts of fictional books [or movies] you enjoy. That's the way that personality disordered people behave. Real, healthy people who are complete and whole are, thankfully, quite well able to make decisions in life which are not based on what fictional characters do or don’t do.

 Also, I highly doubt that real boyfriends are going around living for hundreds of years and drinking the blood of the innocent, so why we should hold such fictional characters to real-world standards is beyond me. But because this series of books [and movies] is about a young woman, the purity police and the “not like other girls” crowd tend to come out in full force, pitchforks in hand.

 I happen to think that Bella is a unique and engaging character. And while Edward’s behavior isn’t what real, healthy, well adjusted human boys should or would do, it isn’t meant to be. Edward is a vampire, thus, he behaves like a vampire. I happen to think it’s interesting that Stephenie Meyer came out with such an intriguing twist on a rather dated mythological archetype.

 She has created a rich and multi-textured world where ancient, diamond skinned immortals roam both the world of day and night; where ancient vampire families and clans feud both from medieval European castles and from modern, Western mansions vie against shape-shifters, half-bloods, werewolves and others for control of the supernatural world—and sometimes the humans in it.
I think that the idea that Edward’s, Billy’s, the various nomads’ and the Volturi’s dualistic worldview of black and white; good and evil; light and dark are challenged and eventually shaken up by characters like Bella, Jacob, and Carlisle who introduce some really unique and beautifully multilayered shades of gray is quite a thought-provoking narrative.

 I like that love, living authentically and making the choices that are right, despite what tradition or culture mandates are the predominant themes within this series. Despite being the rarest sort of protagonist in all of literature, what we call a blank-slate protagonist--a protagonist designed for the express purpose of allowing for the presence of enough unique traits to make the character interesting and enough globally archetypal, familiar and shared traits to make the blank-slate protagonist relatable, Bella doesn’t back down. She doesn’t compromise her own integrity or her right to seek happiness and contentment by acquiescing to the wishes of those around her, as well-meaning as they may be. Bella is strong. She owns her own emotions, and she literally molds herself into the woman she wants to become, cutting a path for herself and her family that is unheard of and completely revolutionary in the world in which she lives.

 I also hear a lot about Jacob being a “Nice Guy” and Edward being an abusive boyfriend. I simply don’t think that either Jacob or Edward are either of those things. Jacob is very upfront with Bella about his feelings for her as they develop. Sure he makes mistakes and is going through his own crises and his own personal development, but he’s not a Nice Guy (see: r/niceguys). And Edward agonizes over Bella’s safety, making it priority A number one, and letting Bella know upfront what’s going on, where he stands and how he feels, leaving Bella room to figure out what she thinks and how she feels about all of that.

 There’s a lot of talk about how creepy it is that Edward watches Bella sleep at night. Look, folks, with all due respect, he’s a freakin’ vampire. This is a vampire novel. Did Nosferatu or Angel or Spike or Stefan or Damon ever say "umm hey, can I have your consent to go ahead and do scary vampire things to you?" No. They did not. That would be ludicrous. Edward is not supposed to be 100% cute and cuddly. The differences between him and Bella personally and the vampire and human species at large need to be made clear, and that is one consistent way that Stephenie Meyer has been sure to do that.

Savvy readers will pick up on the fact that Edward is quite upfront and honest about all of this with Bella, even letting her know that if she would prefer private time at night, she is welcome to signal that to him by keeping her window closed and that if she does so, he will respect her wishes and leave her alone. He’s always very careful to make sure that Bella has a say in what’s going on. He doesn’t force himself on her and he doesn’t manipulate her (except when he foolishly tries to convince her of an emotional lie for her own safety in one of the books in the series—an action he comes to regret deeply and apologize for profusely, working through the issue with Bella in the next few books).

 I think the Twilight Saga is a fun, entertaining, beautifully written modern story. It has such a rich tapestry of characters and plot points and historical fiction woven into historical fact. If you don’t read it, that's obviously up to you, but you may be missing out. And if you're refusing to read it because of all of the conjecture you're aware of around the story itself, you may be quite pleasantly surprised once you do.

 The Twilight Saga is much more than just a teenage love story, though there would certainly be nothing wrong with it if it were just that—a teenage love story. After all, Romeo and Juliet was a teenage love story. Tristan and Isolde was a teenage love story. Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are all teenage love stories. The teenage love story is not something new within the zeitgeist, thought up by trashy romance novelists wishing to rake in the dough. It is a tried and true trope which works for a reason--that reason being that we were all teenagers at one time or another. We all came of age. We were all faced with a choice at some point during that time where we had to decide between who we are and who others wanted us to be. That is a uniquely human story, and it resonates for a reason.

 I give the Twilight Saga [books] as a whole a 5/5 on plot, character development, setting and narrative, and a 4/5 for some relatively minor editing mistakes which may or may not lie with the publishing company, rather than Stephenie Meyer herself. I also highly suggest reading the anniversary edition of “Twilight,” [the first book in the Twilight Saga]. It has some extended, never-before-read interactions between Edward and Bella, and it contains a beautiful gender-bending re-telling of the story, from the perspective of a young man called Beau Swan and an immortal vampire named Edythe Cullen. There is also a fantastic little vignette in the Twilight series, called “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,” which happens to be about a particularly intriguing background character from Eclipse (book three of the Twilight Saga). It is a charming and heartbreaking story that I was absolutely fascinated to read! I won't spoil it for you, but I do suggest checking it out.

And once you have read the book series, I'd also suggest opening your YouTube app and searching Twilight Storytellers. Comment below, once you have, and let me know what you think. As always, we're going to keep any and all discussions on the matter both topically relevant and civil. Thanks for reading!

Below are a few of my favorite Twilight Storytellers films. They may contain spoilers, so you might want to read the books before watching.

                                                           Benjamin's story:

Carlisle and Esme's story:

Alice's Story:

The Art And Science Of Being An Uncompromising Bitch/Six Easy Steps To A Bitchier You

The Art And Science Of Being An Uncompromising Bitch

Step 1:

Forget about what people think

Notice that I said “forget,” rather than neglect to perceive…sometimes considering someone else’s point of view is essential. Fortunately when it comes to being true to yourself, what others think is rarely any of our own personal business.

Step 2:

Acknowledge that there WILL be people out there who dislike—even hate you. 

This is beyond your control. While evaluating your own behavior to ensure that it is appropriate and that it jibes with who you are at your core and the values you hold, it is not your job to mitigate other people’s feelings, thoughts or reactions, which are almost always based on their own self esteem, life experiences or lack thereof. This is beyond your control. If you’re a decent human being with compassion, empathy, and authenticity, anyone with a decent sense of self and a moral compass will see you for who and what you are.

Step 3:

Move past step 3. 

All of that WILL happen, but so will so much else. You will find a natural respect for yourself emerging which means more than any outside regard ever could or should.

Step 4:

Never compromise your values or your integrity.

When you’re really starting to follow these steps, the true bitch emerges, but don’t let that feeling of power catch you slippin’. You know that moment when you’re really feeling yourself and you know everyone is watching you walk like a supermodel, with the wind in your hair? Well, that’s the moment when you know you’re about to secretly find a wad of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. That’s that moment when you’re about to trip down the stairs and fall face-first into the concrete. What I’m saying is…

Step 5:

Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

The moment you do, you cease to be the right kind of bitch. It's scientifically proven. Plus, the major upside to not taking yourself too seriously is that you can’t take the shit other people try to put on you anywhere near even minutely seriously. 

Step 6:

Be kind.

I know—you’re sitting there reading this going ‘what does kind have to do with being a bitch?’ But stay with me. Kind has everything to do with being a bitch. Kindness is key. You see, a real bitch is kind when kindness is needed—she’s kind when kindness is in short supply. After all, bitches have a namesake to live up to, because what is a bitch but a mother? And what are mothers but loving and kind? We bitches take our namesake from man’s best friend. Dogs are fierce; loyal—especially mothers. They protecc AND attac, but most of all, they don’t lie about who or what they are. 

So that’s it! Six easy steps to a bitchier you! Use them wisely.

First Question [podcast] Belle Gunness short show notes

​ Listen to THIS episode of First Question here! Born as Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth Belle Gunness, nee Paulsen was born in Christiania, ...