Gaining Perspective: A Slow Moving Train

trainWhen I was at Occidental College doing my Masters’ work for my CLAD (Cross-Cultural Language and Academic) Teaching Credential, I took a race and ethnicity class. Oxy was an extremely progressive institution unlike any I had experienced in my prior education. The R&E class was that times 100.

I was the only white student. That disturbed me. Why weren’t more white people interested in learning about different cultures and races? I soon discovered why. There were many difficult conversations in that class that always came back to white right and the suppression of other cultures throughout time by white people.

But not me. That’s not how I thought. I didn’t want to be the poster child for that. I understood the perspectives shared in the class. I wondered if they could see past the hurt and pain to understand mine. This was especially true of the professor who just seemed angry I was in her class. I tried to work out the unnamed issue in her office hours. I tried to participate in class. She just didn’t like me. Was it because I was white?

I still don’t know the answer to that question to this day, but I decided that the class was a great opportunity for me to understand new perspectives. From the teacher. From the students. From the raw, honest feedback. My goal was not to be liked or even understood. It was to understand where others were coming from. Their experiences, both good and bad.

We studied history like I hadn’t studied it before. We looked at the native perspective instead of the pilgrim perspective. We studied matriarchal cultures instead of the traditional patriarchal one I found myself living in each day. We pulled out the pain that people feel because of the race/ethnicity/gender they were born into and took a good look at what it all meant. Emotion soup.nativeplay

Tonight, that all came flashing back. At my son’s rehearsal for a play which retells history in Shasta County (and many places, really) from an indigenous viewpoint, those feelings filled the room with the first run through on the script.  The play tells the story we didn’t hear in grammar school. It tells the story from the perspective of the native. The play is called “Undamming History” and will play at the historical Cascade Theater on Saturday, October 22. It is a project put together by the Shasta Historical Society and includes indigenous tribal leaders from the area.

During one scene, it all came rushing back. The heated talks in R&E at Oxy. The crap way I felt after each class, not only because of my own white guilt, but because of the hurt and pain of so many others who had been treated a particular way because of the way they look. In this scene, a woman had to read lines about how the explorers cut the natives’ hair and force them to assimilate. Explorers said the long hair went against the their religion, their perspective of what was good and right. As she read the lines, her voice cracked…her pain tangible and audible. Just reading the lines brought up so many feelings. Though this is not a new idea, and one I have seen before, watching the emotion of someone who experienced such treatment hurt my heart.

I felt the pain bubble to the surface. The long hair symbolized spirituality the natives felt. They were told it was wrong. How confusing for the children in school, the children who were teased. My son plays a bully in this play. In real life, he is the child who defends anybody who is underrepresented. It was hard for me to watch those words come out. I know it’s acting, but it was still hard watching how kids treat other kids. When I was teaching, I started developing communication skills in my students on Day 1 so they wouldn’t interact like this. Still, they do. To see the truth of how people treat those who are different than them, and to realize this is still so true today, puzzles me.

Why is it so threatening to be around people who are different than we are? Why do we feel the need to convert them to our viewpoints, be they religious, political, or other? Why can’t we celebrate the beautiful aspects of varying cultures and ways of being in the world without feeling we need to make them line up with our own?

I think we can. It’s plays like this one in a conservative town that give me hope. It’s themes like “Women in Filmmaking” that ran through the local Fire Reel Film Festival last weekend I find progressive and promising. Sometimes it might feel like it’s a slow moving train, but I do fancy it’s moving.

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Resilience in the Face of Suicide and Trauma

liveI have had a powerful week of taking in stories of resilience for my new documentary project. The hottest pain point I can imagine in dealing with children’s mental health is losing a child so desperate to relieve the pain of mental illness they kill themselves.

Surviving that. How does one do it? I learned sometimes people don’t. There is a high correlation between people who lose children to suicide and then complete suicide themselves. I learned that it is more compassionate to say complete suicide instead of commit suicide, because “commit” implies a crime, as in “he committed a murder.” I learned that there are incredible people helping other people through the pain that surrounds suicide in powerful ways.

All this I was able to learn because people were willing to share their stories openly with me. I see these stories as anecdotes of inspiration and strength.  I’ve listened and marveled at the strength of the human spirit. Two women I spoke to had lost children to completed suicides. One of those children was just fourteen years old. The other child was 26 and left behind a 5 year old child. Out of those tragedies came this: a bond with each other that is tangible to an outsider. An understanding of the suffering like nobody on the outside could possibly get. A resilience to take these tragedies out into the wide open and transform that event into an inspirational strength to help others. What better gift?

One of the moms has invited others to walk with her towards an open conversation about children’s mental health. Her daughter had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was younger and had struggled with managing the illness. Transitional youth (18-24) in this country are tragically ignored in many ways, but especially in the area of mental health. Because of privacy rights that have taken a left turn, transitional youth with a brain illness like Bipolar Disorder are left with a brain misfiring, often telling them not to tell their parents. Suicide ideation is common. Their parents can not get information on their child because of the rights (but are certainly expected to pay for any outstanding bills the child incurs along the way.) Often unaware of the pain their child is in, they are unable to guide their child to treatment options. It’s not uncommon for that child to wind up homeless, addicted, in prison, or dead.  Listening to these stories reminded me as a culture we must do better.

I’m struck by the strength that comes from sharing these stories. It’s the thing that people point to as their support. God is often mentioned as key. One woman, whose story will be shown on 9/10 (this Saturday on Lifetime), was abducted as a teenager. She was held in captivity by a man and his wife who tortured her for seven years until she escaped. They kept her in a box. Colleen’s story, “Girl in a Box,” will be followed by a documentary on the Northern California events. Colleen openly shares her story to help others on their life path.

I talked to many people in my own circles last week that were having a hard week. It usually centers around too much to do and not enough time to do it or unexpected life changes. But when I meet people who have gone through experiences like surviving suicide and torture, it reminds me about what’s important. We are here to help each other. We are here to listen to others, even when we are sucked into our own dramas. We are here to take our traumas and transform them to good that can help other people.

We are here to remember why we are here.




Posted in belief systems, bipolar disorder, Inspiration, mental health, mental health and children, resilience | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Falling in Love


“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”  Albert Camus

I love this time of year in Nor-Nor Cal. The 110 degree days slip away slowly, sheepishly sliding into the 90s. The oaks let go of their first fall leaves. The crisp leaves dance through the air before gathering in piles on the ground.  The liquid ambers tinge just slightly on the leaf edge. Reds, oranges, yellows dappled with green. The light changes in the sky. It’s a softer, gentler light that doesn’t demand 7:00 a.m. sunglasses. The geese fly so low overhead I hear the whir of their wings before they make any sound. I look up and notice the phenomenal V-collaboration. I feel I can reach up my hand and touch their soft, powerful wings–and fly.

One of my favorite things is to sit out back on the loungers with my husband Sunday mornings sipping coffee while our adolescent lab runs around peeing on plants and chewing sticks.  This morning we did that. I felt the fall moving in closer and closer. I heard the rooster in the background. I heard the train pulling through town even though it was miles away. Sound travels in the country. Sounds of birds talking amongst themselves, fallthe donkey braying in the distance, the hummingbird pulling nectar from nearby flowers and fluttering its wings so quickly we hear it 50 feet away. The cool morning air felt like a friend I hadn’t visited in way too long.

It’s in this moment I find my connection with the Creator of all things. This lounge chair is my pew. This canopy of oaks under the blue sky where the hawk glides around and around is my chapel. The seasons, especially fall, show the cycles of life so vividly. Such bright colors. It’s a time for such reflection. It’s a time to just sit and soak up the beauty that is this life. Not to rush anywhere or do anything. Just to celebrate “being.”


All my babies were born in the fall. They, like the season itself, are my daily teachers and editors. For that, I am filled with deep appreciation and gratitude. My life is so full because of them and I have evolved with them more than I ever could dream of doing without them. They are the colors of my world. They are the sounds in the distance and in the fore. They are my roots.

They’ll tell me it’s not fall yet because the calendar doesn’t claim the date. But I know better. I know because the signs are all here. My heart is bursting open. I’m falling in love.


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Looking Through a New Lens


I spent the first 18 years of my life in Shasta County before moving to Westwood to attend college at UCLA. My town of Cottonwood was small in numbers, but wide in space. Many houses came with spacious land and it was nearly impossible to rent. People owned their houses and were there to stay. Nothing new ever seemed to happen.

When I moved to Southern California, I stayed for 30 years. I loved the diversity and culture. Everything was always changing.  As a young person, renting was the norm as houses were too pricy to buy in the areas I wanted to live. People were in constant flux and I moved 28 times during those early years. When I married and we bought a house, we stayed there 15 years, cloistered away in a beach city gated community where there was less coming and going.  We needed to think about schools and stability of space. Finding a home base was key to surviving the swirl for our kids.

When we moved back to Northern California in 2008, I saw the area through new eyes. Physically, it looked mostly the same. Front Street was still lined with historic buildings that looked like they were about to fall over. The old barn on Gas Point, the town icon, was barely hanging on, tattered by decades of 110 degree summers and stormy winters. It was still hard to drive any place without passing an animal, often lazing near the side of the road. My favorite neighborhood watch alert was, “Hey. Anybody missing two horses? They’re in my yard.”

But at closer look, things had changed. There seemed to be a new appreciation for the arts. Schools had gone up to support the arts. There were art hops in various places through town. There were strong theater programs for kids outside of school. Everybody I talked to was either a writer, a painter, an actor, a performer, a poet–or wanted to be.  I wondered if it had been this way before and I just didn’t see it from my young perspective. After all, my mom was quite a painter when I was growing up. It never occurred to me that there were others out there.

But a weird thing happens when you have space around you filled with nature. When we moved to Cottonwood, my writing world opened up. I wrote a second novel and multiple shorter children’s books. I became more interested in painting and philosophy. I felt myself opening to the flow of the Creator creating through me. I could feel the flow more clearly. All art modalities were fair game.

Most recently, that flow has taken me to the world of the performing arts, an area I didn’t have much interest in 5 years ago. I’ve always loved to go to movies, and loved my early job working at the Gateway Cinema in Anderson. Still, I never felt a draw to make a film. But in staying open to the flow, and listening to the call of my intuition, I can say with certainty this is my next playground to creatively express what I believe wants to be created.

In my process of setting up a film company and entering pre-production on a documentary film, I have had the joy of discovering the Shasta County Arts Council and Performing Arts Society. On Friday night, I shadowed kind Mike Flanagan. I wasn’t even sure what we were filming until I showed up. It turned out to be a poetry reading with one of my past writing partners reading. I saw other writers there. Poems were read with passion covering diverse topics.

The Old City Hall, where the event took place, is a historic pleasure. Checkered tile floors and palatial curtains set the tone. Fifty years ago, drunk men were thrown in the black iron jail cells downstairs, one of which still remains as a storage unit. With no air, and 110 degree days, that was punishment at its best.

Setting up to film this event was full of the chaos of production. As people showed up early and milled about, frantic set up ensued. I learned from the film class I taught this seems to be the nature of the beast. We were shooting from two cameras and a gazillion wires weaving in and out of pathways and to a variety of laptops and screens. There’s so many things to consider. There wasn’t much time for tutorial, so I jumped in pushing buttons trying to figure out the camera. (Turns out, I have an uncanny skill for finding menus on the camera nobody has ever seen without leaving any clear breadcrumbs on how to get back.) Mike patiently signaled me (though I was not at all clear on the signals as this was my first day), so he would then need to come over and whisper what the signal meant.  He insisted I was helpful, but I’m pretty sure he was just being kind.

Standing for three hours in hypervigilance turns out to be a tough gig. Camera people have a tough job! That was the best lesson for me to learn. There were other takeaways as well. Things I’d learned in my beta film class, like turn the fans off, came up. What wasn’t covered was how you turn the fans off if they’re locked in plastic covers and you don’t have the keys? I learned that filming hazards are more a norm than an exception and how it’s important not to walk in front of your camera when it’s live. Yep. I did that.

As I reimagine my role as filmmaker, I realize it’s so much more collaborative than that of a writer. Writing can be collaborative to an extent as you move back and forth between editor (writing partner, writing group, your mother) incorporating changes.  However, it is not the simultaneous collaboration that making a film calls for. Not even close. That dynamic is more like a dance where all parties are moving together simultaneously. There are so many balls to juggle, boxes to check, personalities to play with all in a shared moment.film2

I looked through the Canon lens and felt I was looking at the place within myself where I was most comfortable. Writing poetry in the quiet of my own space. Maybe stepping out to read it to others. Then, returning to my own quiet space to write more. That is certainly my comfort zone.

But I have never been one to cling to my comfort zone too long, especially if I feel called to stretch. I just think it’s really interesting I had to return home to a place I felt I’d never grow in order to do it.


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Team Dream

dreamcircle2Do you ever have an experience that gives you so much hope and inspiration about what humanity could pull off if it only focused on what’s important? Three days ago I had just that experience.

Since I was very young, I’ve place high value on dreams and what they have to offer if you work with them. I had very clear, precognitive dreams where future scenarios would play out in my dreams before they happened in the daylight. I thought everybody did this. I quickly learned, by the way people would look at me when I said “I dreamed this,” that not only didn’t everybody do that, but they also look at you like you’re a freak if you say this.

In an effort to fit in, I stopped talking about dreams with most people. I quietly studied any books I could get my hands on about how dreams had played out through history. I learned that many, many cultures put high value on what happens in the dream state. I saw how others knew what I had come to know: the gift of dreaming is one of those treasure maps we’ve been given to not only prosper in our personal lives, but also thrive communally and globally.

The more you pay attention to them, the more they give you to pay attention to. I know this general universal law. What you appreciate, appreciates. I committed to paying attention. I started a dream journaling process. I keep one journal by my bed with a light and pen. I jot down my dreams, and then type them into my official dream journal during my morning routine. My dream journal now sits at 70,000 words and offers me a peek into my psyche, world events, the overall collective. It’s a fascinating glance.

My dreams seem to shift to new levels which I can tell by the landscapes. I never have recurring dreams. My theory is that because I pay attention to the story my dream is trying to tell, it can move on to new material without having to show reruns. I’ve learned my dream symbols which are more reliable than the dream dictionaries or other people’s ideas of my symbols. For example, I dream about being on campuses frequently. When I have a campus dream, I know that means I’m in a higher learning period spiritually and a series of that landscape will also be followed by a peaceful, snow landscape dream which means I have learned the spiritual lesson I needed to know.

Still, all this dream exploration was happening in the isolation of my space. The only person who I really shared occasional dreams with was my husband and he’s not really into dreams. Intuitively, I knew this material was meant to be shared. Three years ago, I set out to decipher what that looked like. I spoke out my intention in a philosophy class. One person slipped me a note and told me she was interested and had done some advanced work in the area. We started to meet. Another joined. In this small laboratory, my intuitions were confirmed. Dreams are meant to be shared and examined as a collective. They are a treasure map for possibility.

I continued to study, read, watch documentaries, attend a 4 day Dream Tending workshop at Pacifica in Southern California. I joined an online dream group and followed the World Dream Initiative, meant to show the collective flow of dreams across the world. Still, something was missing. In the online dream group, many of the dreamers were Pacifica students meeting live. I knew the live element was somehow key. Something about the indigenous influence of tribes pouring out of their villages each morning and sharing space needed to flow into the circle somehow.

Lingering in the back of my mind was that if I just kept paying attention to the dreams, and how they wanted to work with humans, a circle would come. I started laying the intention. I would stay open and wait until the timing was perfect. Three days ago, that time came.

I set a time and place to have the dream circle. I knew at least a few people were interested and that would be enough to start seeing the possibilities. We went through some very basic dream recording tips and programmed a dream for this circle with this prompt: Show me exactly what I need to know right now for my dream group, myself, and my world? 

As the nature of a dream circle is centered on confidentiality of that sacred circle, I won’t share specifics. Suffice it to say, twelve people showed up to this special, sacred space, and the connections were pure magic. The synchronicities throughout dreams confirmed what my intuition has always known: there are very different types of dreamers who bring unique gifts that are meant to be shared together for the benefit of the individual growth, the tribe and the world.

I think the reason it has taken over 50 years for me to find this circle is because the timing is now perfect. This is a group committed to expanding their consciousness (and that of others) in a way that feels clear of hidden agenda. In the unlikely venue of conservative Nor-Nor Cal, I couldn’t have predicted it.  It just goes to show–all in perfect time and geography is, so often, only a perceived barrier.

I’m grateful, inspired, and enthusiastic about sharing space and time with these amazing beings, their pure intentions, and their dreams.


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Standardized Tests as Birth Control?

act2Last week, my 17-year-0ld, Jordan, headed east to stay with my oldest son, Abe (28) and Kelly, my oldest son’s partner. Both Kelly and Abe are professors at University of Arizona. Both are highly capable, intelligent, and organized doctoral prodigies.

The task at hand for this reality show: help Jordan launch the Common App, the application many universities use for admittance. Also on their plate: begin the ACT Prep Course (live online) and AP Spanish summer work. They had 8 days to complete their mission. It was a tall order. The most challenging part for everybody, hands down, was starting the ACT course.

The reason we need ACT Prep is this. Times are not like they were when I took the SAT. My prep was walking into the room and sitting at the desk. Because I’m an overachiever, I brought FOUR No. 2 pencils. That got me into UCLA somehow. I don’t remember my scores, but I don’t think they were particularly impressive. Today, universities won’t even look at scores under a certain level. UCLA had the highest number of applications last year (206,000 applicants) battling for 6,000 positions. Despite top grades and well-rounded activities which show perseverance, low scores can block a student from the four year school they hope to attend.

Furthermore, we live in a small, rural area that doesn’t hold high expectations for students to go to a four year university. Because of that, the SAT/ACT gets little attention at the school or in the area. There are no good live prep classes. There are no “test taking skills” classes. This is a huge disadvantage to rural students and many get discouraged. They give up on school and college altogether. The most commonly taught strategy for college entrance exams is showing students how to avoid them by starting out at a junior college. The problem there is that many students fall into a black hole and never make it to the next step.

There are online “free” courses in some cases for standardized tests, but they aren’t user friendly and further frustrate many learners. After extensive research, and asking everybody I know, we finally landed a live online prep course that seemed good. Jordan would start the August sessions in Arizona and take the ACT in September.

Despite the task in front of him, and the future of his brother’s dreams in his hand, Abe managed to balance work and fun with precision. I remembered sitting down on Abe’s bedroom floor when he was in third grade, teaching him time management for 4 hours against his protests that this was not school work. (Side rant: in the education reform effort, can we please make this schoolwork and teach kids this life skill so they can be successful?) I felt so proud that Abe had learned his lessons so well over the years and was now able to help his brother learn this skill by modeling it. By the time Jordan came home, Abe handed over a detailed report of all that had been completed, along with an Excel spreadsheet of deadlines and dates. Computer folders were all set up for applications and scholarships. Jordan’s personal statement, which was so clearly all Jordan, had undergone several drafts. Just to reiterate: hands down, the hardest part of the week was the ACT prep.

After the arduous online weekend classes, homework was assigned. “ACT homework is hard!” was Abe’s text response. Luckily, Kelly had retained early math and was able to help act1navigate there. In the end, they decided prepping for standardized tests is exhausting. It’s not because Jordan doesn’t know the material because he does. The problem is figuring out what the standardized test maker is asking, and how said writer is construing the question. It’ not about intelligence, but rather about being able to get into the head of the question writer. The only place this skill is really relevant is on standardized tests, and one takes those probably less than five times in life. Is this clearinghouse really the best we can do?

When I was getting my Masters in Teaching the mantra was this: don’t teach to the test. That, they said, is very bad. Yet, when I was teaching second grade, and it was testing time, the school made a big deal about calling homes and telling the kids to eat breakfast (as if that’s not important the rest of the year.) They set the stress level up so high around standardized testing that 7 year olds would cry and throw up from parent/teacher pressure to perform. I did everything I could to lessen that pressure for the kids. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. The experience throws the kids on the anxiety spectrum over the line. The whole swirl is counter to authentic learning.

After the tests are taken comes the next wave of dysfunction. If the student does poorly, she starts to think she’s dumb (and often so does her parents if they are not educated about the tests.) They lower expectations. In reality, the clearer measure of a student’s ability to succeed is so much wider in scope. It rests solidly in consistent classroom performance and ability to balance activities with schoolwork independently. Whether or not students get high standardized test scores should simply not be the gate that allows them to pass through to higher education.

On a school level, the administration used to use those scores to evaluate the teachers’ performances–a travesty. (I do hope this dinosaur has moved out, but somehow I doubt it.) Even people in the highest ranks of educational policy don’t seem to understand the problem with using these tests as accountability measures, probably because they don’t understand pinks and blues (so binary!) and how classrooms are set up.

The Ps & Bs process goes like this. At the end of each year, there is great discussion of how classes will be stacked the following year. A teacher’s strengths are looked at, as well as their weaknesses. If the teacher is more patient, they will get more special needs children. If the teacher is better with teaching advanced, outside-the-box thinking, they’ll get more “gifted” students. Everybody gets even boys and girls for the most part, and everybody gets a child with a reputation for being “challenging.”  This was, at least, how it worked at the elementary school I taught at, which was one of the top 100 schools in the US.

Come spring, when the kids are tested, their scores reflect the general demographics of the class, and that’s really the luck of the draw despite the best efforts on pink and blue day. Every good teacher I’ve ever met dreads testing. It’s stressful for everybody. Because of the high stakes put on tests results, I’ve even known teachers who have erased student scores to make them higher so that their class totals would look better. That’s how much pressure the teachers feel because of the system structure. That pressure is in direct ratio to great teachers leaving the profession. You can see under this model that high scores DO NOT reflect better teaching, but only a ridiculous system that culminates later on in undergraduate/graduate exams, and professional entry exams.

Which brings us back to college entrance exams. Between my husband and I, and my son and his partner, we have over ten undergrad/grad degrees. Still, the ACT is hard! I find my stomach clenching over complicated percentage questions. As a team, we might be able to address every section on the test, but even for a very educated adult, it’s hard. The very good prep instructor (an Ivy League Mechanical Engineer) also found himself stumped on a science problem he was helping students navigate through. The specifics, like calculating a small arc on a circle, or exploring all archaic uses of the semicolon, are confusingly irrelevant and feel a lot like hazing to me.

And what about the more global concern? What happens to the kids that would be great college students, but don’t have a support team in their home? What about kids whose parents speak another language and haven’t gone through this gatekeeper? Should they be eliminated because we can’t figure out any other way to assess our students’ readiness?

I kept trying to look for the positive aspects of standardized testing, and other than the business side for the testing people or the ease for the universities in the admissions process to deal with high application pools, I couldn’t find the sunny side. Then, with the help of my oldest son/teacher, I saw it. In the thick of the ACT Prep, Abe texted, “I have a new respect for you as a parent and have solidified my desire to never do it!”

Standardized exams as birth control! I knew they were good for something.





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The Space Between Stories


We will abide for a time in the space between stories. …

Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

Lissa Rankin is one of my spiritual mentors, but I have yet to meet her in person. (I will this Fall and I can’t wait!)  I resonate with so much of what she says. She skims off the collective in a way I know is real and true, and I listen with that ear behind the ear when she speaks through her work. I also listen to works she refers and Charles Eisenstein’s body of work is an example of that.

One idea Lissa has talked about in the past few months is Eisenstein’s space between stories so many of us find ourselves in right now. It’s that feeling you get when you finish a book and you haven’t found another that captures your heart. Or you finish a Netflix series and haven’t found another to take its place and panic sets in. (It’s possible this is just happening at our house.)

On a more intense level, it’s that uncomfortable span of space where your life as you knew it is no more and something new is unfolding. This is true both globally and individually. Globally, all systems are shifting. Individually, this space can be brought on by the end of a career and start of retirement, the end of a relationship, losing a job, a death, a birth, the flying of children from the nest, inspiration, desperation, confusion, infusion. Many triggers catapult us into this between-space and quite often, heave us into a disorienting murky pond upside down. Sometimes it takes awhile to see clearly.

And it happens at every age. I see my youngest son in his space, finishing up the education phase he was forced into and moving into the education phase he gets to mold however he chooses. I watch my oldest son and his partner, both college professors, preparing to figure out their next steps in their approaching 30, Saturn return futures. Two years they all will be living a much different story than they are now. Two years from now, with the upcoming fall elections in the USA, so will the rest of the world.

It’s tempting to fill the space. I see myself doing this. Knowing my youngest son will be leaving to go to college next Fall, I have two big projects lined up. Having parenting as a top priority for the past 30 years, I feel like that story is taking on a new, less demanding theme. One of those projects is to get my Spiritual Practitioner license that I’ve been working towards the past four years and dedicate some service time to my local spiritual center. Another is to make a documentary film on shifting the landscape of how we view and treat children’s mental health. These are parts of the new story. The question is how much time I will be willing to grant the in-between part.

My guess is just a little. I think it’s because the in between space is so unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I struggle with non-productivity. When I finish writing a book, and have rewritten it until my eyes bug out, I put it away for a period of time. I don’t start another one physically in the name of the space, but start “pre-writing” different stories in my mind. I tell my story maker inside to chill, but she doesn’t listen. She just starts scribbling on the whiteboard of my brain with all her color-coded markers and wants to get out of the bug soup phase as quickly as she possibly can…in the name of efficiency. She really won’t let me be until I use the physical white board and markers and storyboard a plan.

Still, the older I get, the more I value this space between stories. I like to listen to and witness other people’s space between stories. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s celebratory and exciting. Always, it’s to be greatly valued as the birth canal of infinite possibility.

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Beyond the Classroom

j2Yesterday my youngest son returned from his first trip outside the United States. He went to Europe with his AP History teacher and 25 classmates. He stood in the concentration camps in Germany, a deeply powerful experience he wasn’t sure he wanted to repeat. He stood above the clouds in the Swiss Alps, closer to the edge than “I would have approved.” He took waltzing lessons in Vienna, of which I definitely approved. He walked through castles, soaked up ancient architecture unlike what we have here on the baby West Coast of California, and bonded with new friends from his high school he may have never gotten to know on domestic soil.

During the period of time he was gone, 85 people were blown up in France (where his group had a plane change) and a coup went down in Turkey which left nearly 200 people dead. Now I know Europe is a big place, but when your baby is abroad for the first time and you really sucked in geography and aren’t sure what’s where, these turn of events can make a momma’s stomach turn. On the day before he was set to fly home, an axe-wielding man attacked and killed train passengers in a nearby town in Germany near where he was staying. It’s enough to make a parent never let their babies out of their room again.

Nevertheless, when my children are in new lands, I work very hard to keep my thoughts filled with a knowing that they are having a tremendous education and experience they could never get in the safety and security of their own backyard. I chat with their guardian angels–a lot. I hold a space of love and protection around them, and strong gratitude that they have adventurous spirits that lead them to explore a world that really, really needs their gifts.

While my son was traveling, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who has been a friend since our early high school days. He mentioned his son (12) was on Safari in Africa with a friend and his oldest daughter (19) had just returned from Panama where she worked a stint as a translator in a group called Floating doctors, a nonprofit that delivers healthcare to remote areas. We talked about how when we were in high school we barely saw the back end of a plane. Our kids, on the other hand, are the world’s children. They are adventurous, collaborative, heart-centered beings who I believe, given the right opportunities and encouragement, can evolve our world as it needs to be evolved.

It’s tempting to hold them close, to “small town” the hell out of them and encourage them to stay close to home and never leave. I understand this cycle and this temptation, as I grew up in a small town and now have moved back to that small town. There are many family compounds here built over generations of folks who have never left. There is much fear of the big, bad unknown. For example, my son was driving with his friend’s mom and told her of his plans to attend a university following high school. To this she said, “You need to be really careful in college because it’s really dangerous. 85% of the people there have venereal disease.”

Yah. That happened.

But the vision that comes from seeing lands, people, and places different than you is huge. If we let fear make that world too small, coddled in the arms of familiarity and perceived safety, we will not let our children heal the world to the extent they have come here to do. They have come, not just to tour humanity, but to immerse in it–to promote collaboration and defy ignorance. They have eyes that see the common-love through line that pulls through diverse people, cultures, and places.

My son made the comment, “It seems like people are more sophisticated here in Europe.” Then he added, “And they eat too much coffee and cake.” From the mouths of teens.

The insights gained in a few weeks touring new lands, far from the safety of his family and domestic protection, will continue to unfold. The moments that came from standing in and on new lands will mean so much more as facts pour forth from textbooks. The fact that he was with his classmates made this world curriculum so much more poignant than had he traveled with us.

This is true for each of us. We don’t have to board a plane to Vienna to step into the unfamiliar and open our eyes to a new way of thinking. Try something new that might jack up our anxiety. In doing this, we really live and start to see what an incredibly rich world lies before us waiting to be explored.


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There Are No Others: Thoughts on Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the Dallas Police Officers

lovehateWhat will it take to believe it?

On weeks like this one that just passed, I feel emotionally raw. The killing. All of it. Being against being. It fills me with pain. For Alton’s family. For Philando’s family. For all the Dallas officers’ families. For their communities. For all of us, as we are all connected.

“JR, you’ve always been color blind and you always will be,” my white, Texan-rooted rancher Dad used to say. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. But when my Berkeley-in-the-60s educated civil rights lawyer stepdad moved in, this poster went up. It read the blind are also color blind. That resonated with me, even at 6 years old. I didn’t know why exactly, but I like the picture. One human loving another.colorblind

This was not the thinking of the collective in the town I grew up in. It was a white, conservative, Bible-beltish town where my Sunday school teacher (doubling as the town seamstress) used to call my mom and tell her I was going to hell when I missed Sunday school. Tolerance wasn’t a huge value. I watched my friends buy into it, but I never did. It just didn’t sit right.

When I moved to Westwood to attend UCLA, and there were many different types of cultures and races, all I wanted to do was talk to every last person and hear their stories–where they were from, how they grew up, what they believed. Those stories were so interesting to me. During my senior year as a Bruin, I married my college sweetheart, a black man from Long Island, NY. Nothing like an interracial marriage to uncover racist tendencies.

Discrimination came from all directions and all races. People had a hard time conceiving of how two people from different races could come together and fall in love. Hell, at that time it was still illegal in some states. Walking down the street, people would roll down their windows and yell racial slurs (at best) and provoke a physical fight (at worse.) Even family members who I thought would have been happy for me were not pleased at all let alone happy. It cost me long time relationships.

Two years later, when I gave birth to my first child, my awareness of underlying racism and stereotypes awakened even more as I watched how people looked at me and my child, trying to reconcile our skin differences. Adopted? From Africa? What gives? The things people say are mind boggling and it really showed me how pervasive this force is in our culture. The protective momma bear wanted to pound them any time they looked sideways at my baby. It was my job to protect and protect I would.

My child is now a 28-year-old college professor who shops at Whole Foods. He is educated, the most polite 20-something I know, funny, and has the most giving heart for service on the planet. People are constantly telling me how much they love him. Still, because his skin is brown, he is consistently followed by the Whole Foods secret police as if he’s going to steal some sea salt when no one is looking. Two months ago, on the same day a nice white police officer helped me turn my car around in Ashland (I was going the wrong way down a one way street) and sent me on my way with a smile and no ticket, my son was followed by a police officer for no apparent reason after leaving the market. He was tracked 15 minutes to his home.

The thing is, this is not unusual. I have never been pulled over and asked to sit on a curb and handcuffed in my life. This happened to my son while he was attending an undergraduate university in Southern California before he was 19. This was not the only incident.

As his mom, this hurts so much. I have a hard time reconciling the behavior. I have a hard time feeling I can convincingly say to him law enforcement is here to serve and protect you when FOR HIM this has been untrue so many times. For him, police are scary and could do serious harm if they chose. The scene in the movie “Crash” where Terrence Howard is pulled over after winning an award and his wife felt up by Matt Dillon’s character (a racist cop) is sadly a very real scene for many people of “other”.

Having said that, there are many wonderful police officers. And we can go ahead and replace those words police officers with “black people, white people, asian people, mentally ill people, gay people, straight people, transgender people, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhists–you name it.” We run the gamut.  There are people operating from hate and those operating from love–it all depends on how evolved the person is…how conscious. If the person is not entirely asleep, that person will understand we are all connected and what happens to one affects us all.  That’s why this eye for an eye shit is so ridiculously stupid. It’s like little kids on the playground whining: But he started it!


My only thinking is if everyone is blind, then won’t we be color blind? That’s a thought.

We got the first splattering of drama porn on Instagram when my youngest son spotted it unfolding. Though white, he sees the injustice in the way people of “other” are treated. When something like this saturates the news, I can only dip my toe in, or it becomes too consuming emotionally. I feel the feelings of all the players on every side of the issue. The loss of the people they love. The injustice. The pain which they now must tread in the aftermath, struggling to keep their heads above it all and not drown in hate.

As for me, I’m going to continue to love. Even when it’s hard. Even when people are ridiculous. Even when I want to take my boots and stomp somebody. Won’t you join me?

Love just makes so much more freaking sense.





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Jordan Weil Goes to Boys State 2016

jordan2015libraryWhen Jordan was invited by his high school to apply for the 2016 Boys State, we had never heard of this program. We soon learned it is put on by The American Legion. After sitting through the Inaugural Ceremony Awards last Friday night at Cal State Sacramento, we are now ambassadors.

We learned Boys State has been going on for many years, since 1935 to be exact. Everyone, old and young, is excited to be there. The energy in the room pushed mania at closing ceremonies. It really is a state that belongs to these young men.  This is clear when they cheer for each other’s success and their individual cities and counties on the last evening with earth-shattering hoots and hollers, fists flying high in the air.

During the ending Ceremony we had the honor of hearing Dick Tarble, now 96 years old, talk about his attendance at the first ever California Boys State. That’s how enthusiastic alum are to be in what they often referred to as a prestigious fraternity. We also met a sophomore from UCLA who missed the experience so much he returned to volunteer. Here’s Mr. Tarble who received a standing ovation from all 1,000 boys (and the few parents who were able to make it in the back two rows.)oldguy

If you’re like us, and don’t know what Boys State is, this from their website:

American Legion Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students. A participatory program in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government… 

Some famous Boys Staters include: Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton, Neil Armstrong, Phil Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Jordan, Dick Cheney, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ebert, Jon Bon Jovie, Tom Brokaw and a bunch of others.

Each junior boy is sponsored by the local American Legion chapter and selected by his high school to represent that area at the state meeting. Boys are transported from all over the state, some traveling all night by bus to show up at Sacramento State. They are assigned cities and counties for the week. Jordan’s city just happened to be Redding and his county was Chambers.redding

In the opening ceremony, the announcer told the boys to look around at each other because they just very well may sitting next to the next astronaut or President of the United States. Indeed, Jordan said he had never been around a group of such smart, funny, together kinda guys. All 1,000 of them. He met Anthony (from his home town of Torrance) who we will definitely see again. He met Dominic, who sat next to him during Awards and looked at him with huge eyes when he won the Samsung Scholarship Award which he didn’t anticipate getting. He met this team of three that were hard to leave. Jordan’s room apparently became the gathering room according to this group (and a group of others who had already loaded on the bus).friends

During the week, the boys were all supposed to work in their cities and counties to achieve certain tasks. As in any city, they needed officials, judges, lawyers (who had to pass a bar), negotiators–you name it. They had meetings long into the night to work out certain logistics. Group work at its finest. During the Awards Ceremony, model cities and counters were awarded places. Chambers won third top County so I guess they completed their tasks. What a great time to understand the political system since many of these boys, including Jordan, will vote in this whacked out election as their first ever election. The American Legion coordinators emphasized the importance of voting, of using your voice whatever that is, whenever you have an opportunity to do that at the polling place.

With work, comes play. During the late afternoons, boys were allowed to choose from a huge array of sport offerings: football, basketball, softball, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball. The City of Redding won first place in the Volleyball competition. The best part of sports it seemed to me was the way it broke up the mental tasks with 1,000 friends to hit the balls around and just plain brah out.

We talked to some other parents. It was clear to me some had known about Boys State and had strived to be included in the honor. We, on the other hand, we’re just trying to figure the whole thing out as we went. Still, I’m so thankful it happened for us the way it did and that Jordan was honored in this way to have such an unforgettable experience. The highlight for him are the relationships he’s built. He said this was one of the best experiences he ever had and he’ll never forget it.

The moments that take your breath away…


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