Have you made art today?

Love

I’ve been asking myself this question daily as of late. In part, because it reminds me that I am an artist – something I’ve only recently embraced. And in part, because it spurs me to action if the answer is no.

There’s a lot going on these days. It seems some of us have become caught in a cycle of  seeking and finding the worst in each other. Of creating solutions that perpetuate vengeance and violence rather than compassion or healing.

When reality is ugly, brutal, far from utopia and idealism, art shows us beauty and possibility. It encourages. Resonates. Reminds. It gives us new questions and new ideas. It pushes. Heals. Helps us to expand. Art is activism.

Whether you paint or dance or cook or sew or write or act or sing or whittle or sculpt or compose or love or…

Have you made art today?

The institutions of human society treat us as parts of a machine. They assign us ranks and place considerable pressure upon us to fulfill defined roles. We need something to help us restore our lost and distorted humanity. Each of us has feelings that have been suppressed and have built up inside. There is a voiceless cry resting in the depths of our souls, waiting for expression. Art gives the soul’s feelings voice and form.

~Daisaku Ikeda

The Four Agreements

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April, Love, Spirituality

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk had been on my mind earlier this week, and The Four Agreements have now taken up residence in its stead.

I’ve been actively working on unblocking by committing to write, so I’ll take these little bells as encouragement to keep going.

Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a short book, based on Toltec Wisdom. In it, he elucidates four agreements, or practices, we can implement daily to enjoy a more fulfilling life.

I’m very consistent on agreements #3 and #4, and I easily redirect myself #2. But I must admit, I abandon the very first one when I’m not careful. That’s the one I’m revisiting  now.

It would be a good exercise to (re)read the book and do some extended writing on each of the four principles. But for now, I’m posting them in their simplest form as a gentle reminder to myself:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

 

 

Probability, Possibility and Change

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April, Love

I believe in the potential for change. Change is, after all, one of the few constants in life. Even at the cellular level, there is always change. Birth, aging, sickness, death. Rebirth. Change.

I’m speaking about it in grand terms, but what I’m really talking about is the potential for individuals to evolve. To shift in attitudes, ways of thinking, and behaviors. To learn new things and be affected by them.

Ultimately, I believe in the potential of humans to be human.

…humans are always evolving (Freire). Not in the sense that humans are some how deficient, but rather that they, like plants, continue to seed and bloom and remake themselves. To live is to grow. Stagnation is, in effect, death. 
~Nicole D. Collier, In Defense of Inquiry

Earlier today someone mentioned in an offhand manner that grown people don’t change. Moreover, an attitude a man held five or six years ago would still be his attitude now.

You could make the case this is likely true. But as someone committed to developing my potential and helping others realize and develop theirs, I’m not so stuck on probability. I invite you to embrace possibility.

If we all stuck to what was probable, inventions we take for granted today would never have been birthed. If we dismissed things based merely on probability, who would ever take risks? What would be the purpose of ever dreaming beyond the present moment? There would be no bucket lists. No Nobel Prizes. No late blooming ballerinas. No manned missions to space. What use would anyone ever have for toiling or exploration?

When we are quick to write off the very possibility of human change, it becomes easy to write off those who have made poor choices in the past. Because they’ll “never amount to anything,” we expel kids from school without a second thought. Because “they’re worthless,” we allow people to die slow deaths in cages. And those who get out alive can scarcely live because, “they’re criminals anyway,” so they’ve proven they can’t handle voting, making an honest living, or {insert thing “good” people can do}.

I’m not arguing that we should ignore current evidence of ideas and attitudes people hold. After all, it’s sage advice to believe people when they show you who they are. But they’re showing you who they are at a given moment. Not who they were at birth. Not who they’ll be at death. Life shaped us to be who we are right now. Are you satisfied that this is the final version of you the world will ever see?

Human revolution cannot be pinned down to one specific thing. It is any action that leads to positive change or improvement in the inner realm of a person’s life. It is an ongoing process. The important question to ask yourself is whether you are on a path of continuous personal growth. ~Daisaku Ikeda

If we’ve not bothered to investigate – to engage another in a conversation, to see if evidence warrants new opinions, we’ve denied another human being the chance to be human.

Transformative learning occurs when one makes meaning of her life experiences. It often happens after a disorienting event. Something knocks you off balance and you are thrown into emotional vertigo.

Someone you love dies unexpectedly and you question the meaning of life. You travel abroad and confront culture in previously unimagined ways. You experience a profound betrayal. You read a book or watch a movie that elucidates a deeply resonant truth.

Whatever the event, you’re suddenly off-kilter and you must fight to reorient your life. Sometimes this reorientation means revisiting images of the past and reframing them. Or discarding them completely.

But the point is, you change. Your perspective changes. You release long-held beliefs. You alter your behavior. You’re different. You do what humans have the capacity to do. You learn and grow. You evolve.

It can happen at any point to any one of us. Even you…

We mustn’t discard possibility.

Impossible is nothing

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April, Love

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The White Queen, Alice in Wonderland

What impossible things do you believe in?

I believe in the power of telekinesis. I just haven’t mastered yet.

I also believe I can levitate under the right circumstances.

I believe a well-written work – be it essay, play, poem, and so on – can change your whole life. It can cause you to think differently, pay attention to something you’ve never noticed, open your closed heart, or take action. It can cause you to dance, cry, or be a better person.

I believe in the transformative power of love to change a family, a community and a society. People can treat each other better: use more loving language, choose more loving actions, advocate more loving policies. Loving shifts can make a huge difference in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Love can render greed obsolete.

Difficult, maybe.

Slow, yes.

Impossible? Nah!

The deeper business of being beautiful inside.

Love, Politics, News & Notable

Blue and I saw 12 Years a Slave as soon as it was released in Atlanta.

The film was stunning.

We dined afterward and talked for hours about the the movie and the myriad topics it inspired: slavery, racism, privilege, wealth, the power of story, literacy, critical literacy and public schooling. We discussed the stories that get told or lost. We noted, with a healthy dose of cynicism, who “history” deems worthy of remembrance.

We retold scenes to each other. Relived predictions, twists. What made us look away, hold our breath, or more tightly to the other’s hand.

The writing, directing and performances were brilliant. And yet as moved as I was during and after, it was Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey who brought me to tears:

At some point I want to truly express what Patsey meant to me, but this post is about Lupita.

I’m overjoyed she has received accolades during this awards season, including the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She is being honored for being herself. Not a shrinking violet of herself, but a lantern. A ray of sunshine in what can sometimes be the the darkness of Hollywood. She overcame a childhood of self loathing to become someone who, quite literally, puts herself on stage, on screen, on view, for all the world to see.

Lupita relates her story in a loving response to a young woman drawn to her light. Watch it below:

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. ~Lupita Nyong’o

Restoration in CPS

Abolition & Justice, Education, Love

I’ve been reading, writing, thinking about schools as sites of love. Nationwide, districts are moving toward less punitive and more restorative approaches to school discipline. This shift comes at a time when the civil rights arms of the Department of Education and Department of Justice released guidance to districts about minimizing discriminatory and exclusionary discipline policies.

I’ve read comments complaining that humane approaches to discipline means ignoring misbehavior and allowing classrooms to deteriorate into chaos. This does not reflect the reality of schools that work to improve their climates nor the students and communities who are positively impacted by the changes.

Moving away from zero tolerance and other harsh discipline codes requires a multi-pronged approach including:

  • supporting teachers with classroom management,
  • helping faculty and staff unpack racial and ethnic stereotypes,
  • eliminating zero-tolerance policies which by definition ignore context and mediation,
  • regularly reviewing discipline policies for alignment with student achievement goals and common sense
  • reviewing discipline records for consistent application of policies
  • decriminalizing simple student misbehavior
  • devising thoughtful approaches to correct and redirect unwanted behaviors

Late last week, the Chicago Tribune published this piece about Chicago Public Schools (CPS) working toward restoration.

“Chicago Public Schools has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates and the disproportionate use of suspensions,” {District chief} Byrd-Bennett said. “We are going to reverse that trend.”

Efforts are underway to collaborate with the privately run charter schools within the district, but challenges may be ahead:

The city’s charter schools have been criticized for pushing out troubled children with harsh discipline policies and fines. Charter leaders have maintained that tougher discipline has led to safer schools.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools said in a written statement that it takes “very seriously” the use of appropriate discipline, and looks forward to collaborating with CPS to examine the issue. 

“Chicago charter public schools have a history of adopting proven and innovative approaches to creating a school culture that works to avoid the most punitive responses to behavior issues,” the statement said.

As I read this, I’m wondering about the relationship between “tougher discipline” and “innovative approaches” that “avoid the most punitive responses to behavior issues.” Tough is associated with punitive and retributive, not restorative.

Read the piece in full here.

The undoing of schools as prisons

Abolition & Justice, Education, Love

I have a post in draft form that pulls together a couple of recent articles related to schools as sites of love, but I didn’t want to let the day pass without sharing this piece from the Atlantic.

Last year I wrote for The Atlantic about a notorious North Philadelphia junior high school known for years as the “Jones Jail.” Its rambunctious students wreaked such terror on the neighborhood that the police put the streets surrounding the school on lockdown every day at dismissal. Nearby shop-keepers locked their doors and porches as 800 of the city’s poorest kids streamed out the doors, often reportedly climbing over parked cars in their unruly rush to get out of school. When the John Paul Jones Middle School was taken charter and reopened as the Memphis Street Academy, the new administration decided, to the mystified dismay of the police department , that they would strip the school of metal detectors and window gratings, get rid of the security guards, and instead utilize nonviolence based restorative practices.

The number of violent incidents dropped 90 percent in a single year.

Since Memphis Street Academy initiated restorative practices, the police department says they no longer need to send the 11 patrol officers they used to send every day to oversee the hectic and potentially explosive dismissal time.

The writer, a social worker with experience in schools and criminal justice, makes the case that punitive measures sans restoration can serve more harm than good. Restorative practices, which are designed to repair harm rather than cause it, are mentioned in new guidelines released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice (.pdf). I’m excited to read them and I’ll share my findings here. My goal is not simply to report on schools as sites of love, but also to advocate for their creation.

Read the rest of Jeff’s piece here. Don’t miss his original piece on “Jones Jail,” the Philadelphia school that bet on restoration over retribution, and won.

Schools as sites of love

Abolition & Justice, Education, Love

Love is one of my favorite topics. Especially love as it plays out in society. Since it’s something I speak about and highlight often, even without provocation, I’ve decided to write more about it this year.

Love is a broad idea, so I’ve been brainstorming ways to approach it in meaningful slices. Given my professional background, it seems a good place to start would be schools as sites of love (or not). With my concurrent interests in prison abolition, the school to prison pipeline, and restorative justice, love is perhaps a natural lens through which to consider those intersections.

To that end, I’d like to share this piece from yesterday’s Washington Post. School leaders in Alexandria agreed to implement a restorative justice program this school year. The school year is halfway over, and the program has yet to begin. Students are upset. They believe school is a place of learning.

“I think school can be a place where you learn from your mistakes,” said Ana Diaz, 16, a junior at T.C. Williams. “We should be taught how to be a better person and how to do things better. [It should not be] a place where you did something wrong and so you got kicked out.”

Restorative programs focus on healing and repairing harm done. They provide an opportunity for all involved in a given incident – the offender, the victim and the community – to participate in justice. Everyone can learn. Everyone can grow. This premise, that students and teachers are human and may benefit from healing rather than payback or vengeance, is loving.

Such approaches are not quick fixes. They are not “off-the-shelf” programs one can just disseminate in a school. They do require research and professional development. According to officials, this is the cause of the delay this year:

Kelly Alexander, a spokeswoman for Alexandria schools, said officials agree with the principles of restorative justice and are committed to introducing it at the high school. “We are attempting to gather good information before we take the next steps,” she said.

Read the article in full here. Beware of the comments.

Pondering love.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Feminist Thought, Love

Love has been on my mind a lot in recent years. Romantic love, sure, but most often I’m mulling societal love. See, I have a theory: much of what ails society is rooted in distrust and competition. The way we go about healing is rooted in love.

Love is as love does. Love is an act of will – namely,
both an intention and an action.
Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.
~M. Scott Peck as quoted by bell hooks

From where I stand, it seems a lot of what transpires in daily life is a deliberate choice to avoid love. It’s like we go out of our way to be cold and closed off or simply mean. All day in schools we yell at children who were yelled at or ignored at home the night before, and we wonder why they aren’t more “civilized.” We criminalize any behavior we think is the least bit out of bounds, and put forth little effort into prevention in the first place, or rehabilitation in the second. We sue folks for trying to come to our aid, so people live in fear of being helpful. We do any and everything but love.

And that’s why love is a revolutionary act – because there isn’t enough of the doing of love these days. There’s more than enough talk about finding a mate, or keeping one. But it’s a might too quiet on the love thy neighbor front. It’s sad really, and ultimately dangerous. A loveless society can only create more of the same, no? Physical and mental abuse are not born of love. Wars are not initiated by people who are acting from love. Fear. Domination. Revenge. Power. But not love.

We are taught to believe love just happens. And you fall in it, or as the creatives now say, you rise in it. In any case, allegedly love happens to you, and then you respond. But let’s consider that maybe love is something you do, rather than something that shows up out of the clear blue sky. Then we can be more intentional in our actions, as M. Scott Peck suggests. Think of an active participation in love, rather than a passive one. So what, then, might doing love entail?

To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients
care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust,
as well as honest and open communication.
~bell hooks

The affection part is what we know and feel most readily, but what of the rest? Caring for something or someone takes effort. Think about house plants or your pet. When you care for them, you’re doing something – feeding, nurturing, soothing, what have you. You’re not just feeling affection; you’re acting.

And what of recognition? If we would engage the effort to recognize one another for who we really are, rather than who we imagine, what a loving act that would be. How often do you feel seen, truly seen, recognized, for who you are? What would it take to be recognized? Honest communication is certainly a start. And I would go so far as to say that communication must happen within oneself as surely as it must happen between ourselves and others. In other words, our responsibility to societal love is grounded, in part, in our responsibility to care for, recognize, respect, and trust ourselves.

Let’s spend more time pondering a theory of love. And then more time still practicing love with ourselves and those around us. Your time and attention to love moves us all closer to healing.

Abiding Love

Love, Personal Narrative

Some years are made for themes. They begin with declarations, resolutions, bucket lists, big bangs, and the like. Two years ago I opened 2011 fierce, bold, courageous.

As if 3.5 years of grad school weren’t enough, in 2011 I found myself desirous of more profound and personal challenges. I wanted to face things that scared me. Push myself beyond self-imposed limitations.

Despite the steps I took to face seeming fears out there, I soon discovered the real fears were within. Towering at times. Moments of clarity and honesty produced tools for dismantling and dissolving. I chiseled and chipped and melted fears after hours of prayers, reflection, and tearful storytelling. Truth-telling to the one I lied most often: me.

2012 did not open with a declaration. And throughout the year I sought the theme retroactively. Eventually I figured out that I never really concluded the learning, pushing and fear facing of 2011. And so not one, but two years were about fear and overcoming it.

Now a new year has dawned, and to fear and fearlessness I say, “thank you.” Fear and the efforts to win over it, are great teachers. The most important lesson, the most beautiful gift, was love.

I am no longer interested in the framing, facing or challenging of fear. Instead I seek, welcome, embrace and share love.

2013 is the Year of Abiding Love. 

And so it is.