Toppled Statues: US and Germany, side by side (why true history matters)

I came across a post the other day that said, “Over 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz and it still stands 72 years later. Why? Because Jews who survived wanted it preserved, as it is a reminder to never let the evil that was Nazism ever happen again. Never tear down memorials!” This seems to be a common refrain and comparison in the debate on Confederate statues that have taken up residence in the US. Those who wish to keep these monuments in place state that tearing down these statues is a revisionist attempt to erase an entire period of our history. Now, I have a few issues with this argument, and I think it’s important to dissect these sentiments if we are ever going to get to the heart of the issue. For starters: there is a distinct line between keeping historical sites that intend to educate people about our history, and keeping a memorial statue that glorifies a group that shouldn’t be glorified.

Comparisons to Germany

I’m going to start here with comparisons to Germany because- well, it’s pretty quick. What the author of the quote above fails to mention is that Germany did not maintain Nazi memorials after the war. Granted, there are many sites and museums dedicated to the Holocaust and the atrocities that took place on their lands, and Auschwitz does still stand as a vocal reminder of what humans are capable of. But the intent of these sites is the key difference: they disavow Nazism and are brutally honest about the horrendous things this regime did. A Confederate statue in a community park does not bear witness to the pain and atrocities of slavery or the systems that they created to marginalize an entire group of people for generations to come.

Whenever a regime is toppled, they generally don’t get to decide if the memorials they erected get to stand- often they don’t. This is a common refrain throughout history. In Germany libraries were immediately stripped of all Nazi books, newspapers that touted Nazi propaganda were shuttered. Statues and monuments were systematically destroyed by the government. You will not find a statue of Hitler existing in Germany today because any form of Nazi memorial that venerated or glorified the war or Nazi ideals was banned and criminalized. Some structures (admittedly, not all) were razed to the ground; and in a few instances, museums were erected in their place. In 1949 the display of the swastika was criminalized and the symbol was scraped, and occasionally blown off of buildings with explosives.

The German people themselves were not immune to the dismantling of the Nazi party and the way it’s ideals were ripped out at the roots. Participants in Nazi activities were prosecuted, and executed in some instances. Many of those who were executed were buried in mass unmarked graves to ensure that their final resting places would not become Nazi shrines. It was crucial to Germany as a whole that the ideals of the Nazi party were disavowed to ensure that the horrors of the holocaust would not happen again. This idea even went a step farther and major Nazi strongholds that held the risk of being used as glorified monuments were intentionally tainted with anti-war activities. For example, Nuremberg was considered to be at the heart of Nazism, it was the location where anti-Jewish laws were enacted and the major rallies took place. The famous photos of Hitler talking to large swaths of Nazi soldiers were taken here- it was an iconic location deeply tied to the Nazi movement. To ensure that this location didn’t become a beacon for any simmering Nazi ideals, it was specifically chosen by the Allies to hold the post-war trials of the Nazi leaders.

Now, this didn’t mean that the ideas planted by the Nazi party didn’t survive into future generations. It took decades for the German population to fully recognize their role in the war and come to terms with the atrocities inflicted upon others. It was a long process before this portion of their history was ever even taught in school. But eventually, that happened. And if you look at Germany today, you will see a nonmilitary state that has attempted to atone for their crimes and be a warning to others. Now, this piece right here is going to come into play later. But first, I think it’s important for us to dive into the actual history of the confederate monuments in order to make a full circle.

The History of Confederate Memorials

What most people don’t seem to fully realize is that most of the Confederate Statues existing in the United States today were not created until after the confederacy fell. That’s right, they didn’t even belong to the time period that many are ‘trying to protect.’ To be fair: there were a few ‘original’ monuments that were erected during, or immediately after, the war. However, those were almost exclusively memorials commemorating lost soldiers and were placed in the graveyards where they were buried.

Most of the statues existing today are of a different nature. They were erected in direct response to an uptick in civil rights activity, and they primarily focused on glorifying Confederate leaders and the role of southern participants. They were not built strictly within the confines of the 11 states that attempted to secede from the union; in fact, they can be easily located in 31 different states, as well as the District of Columbia. Now, the point that I really want to drive home is the timing that these statues were erected, because I find that to be particularly telling when we get to the issue of intent and context. If you look at the list of monuments and the dates they were established, you will see two large spikes along the timeline, and both of them have a very similar thread running through them.

The first spike in statues and memorials came about around the turn of the 20th century when two things were happening simultaneously. First, there was a political push to rebrand southern states as noble patriots, and not as “rebels,” which was the preferred moniker during the war. The rebranding was an attempt to recreate the narrative (a revisionist narrative, you may ponder); to reclassify southern men as innocents who were simply intent on protecting their culture and livelihood against the overwhelming military might of the north. This was actually a pretty successful push, which is evident in the fact that somehow confederate flags are considered patriotic, even though they actively fought to separate themselves from the red, white and blue.

The second thing that happened during this time period, which is by far the overriding event: there was a noticeable upswing in civil rights activity related to the Jim Crow Laws established after the war. This was a period marked by resistance, with activists such as Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Isaiah Montgomery, to name a few. An increase in violence and murder of the black community led to a responsive increase in race riots, to include the ‘red summer’ of 1919. I don’t find it coincidental that this increase in racial strife coincided with an uptick in confederate monuments put on display in public areas, such as city centers and parks. To me personally, this seems to be a pretty overt way of sending a message, of displaying a moral and social ideal.

The second spike in confederate monuments happened during the mid 1950s and 1960s. That’s right: at the height of the civil rights movement itself. This was the time of Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, Woolworth’s lunch counter, the freedom riders, MLK, Malcolm X, the march on Washington, Bloody Sunday; and the key legal battles of Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act and more. The increase in Confederate monuments appears to be in direct response to the civil rights movement itself, and a not-so-subtle push towards the idea of white supremacy at a time when that group felt as though they were losing political ground. The creation of these statues was not made with southern pride at it’s heart, it was a direct and racist response to a society that was attempting to push forward.

Why it Matters

The context and intent of these monuments matters. The point of view and ideals that they portray are extremely important. In Germany you will find monuments that have been dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, not the perpetrators. In fact, the German government has been extremely careful to ensure that Nazi sites don’t “call to” the wrong people. There was major concern when the bunker Hitler committed suicide in was uncovered. The fear was that this site would be used as a shrine of sorts for those still following the Nazi ideology. There were attempts made to destroy the bunker, though it proved pretty sturdy. What remains of it was sealed, and an intentionally low-key informational board was placed nearby; although there was much debate on even giving it that much attention. The site is currently used as a parking lot. The German government and population made specific decision to ensure that those who inflicted pain on others would not be glorified in the eyes of future generations.

The fact that many of the Confederate monuments were raised years after the war, coinciding with key moments in the civil rights movement: that matters. In a country that has struggled with overt, insidious, and systemic racism for it’s entire existence, having these statues on our soil and displayed prominently in public areas: that matters. Taking down the monuments isn’t about revising history, it is about acknowledging the full depth and breadth of what happened here: just like Germany had to do. It is about proving what our true ideals and intentions are. Can you imagine the outcry if Germany had waited a few decades after the war and then raised Nazi statutes, claiming it was about honoring their history and showing German Pride? Can you imagine car races taking place where the Nazi flag with it’s notorious swastika were prominently displayed next to the country’s flag, and it was characterized as ‘pride?’ How exactly would the German Jewish population feel? Don’t you think their thoughts and feelings on the issue should be taken into account? How is this any different?

We tend to have a bad habit of ignoring the pieces of our own past that we do not want to accept. We ignore the stories of those we oppressed as a nation, we don’t educate or provide prominent monuments for the Native Americans that were displaced and killed, or the Japanese citizens who were placed in internment camps, or the countless souls who were brought here in chains by those in power. You cannot venerate the perpetrators of violence and still try to tell their victims that you still care about them and their role within our mutual society.

Once again, like Germany, there is a change of mentality that is required here. It took decades for some of the German population to disavow the ideals set fourth by the Nazi party. It took an entirely new generation coming of age to begin asking the difficult questions and coming to terms with their role in a part of history that they wish didn’t happen. Even after the statues and swastikas were removed, there was still a battle of ideals that had to take place. Just removing the Confederate monuments will not end racism. But what it does is prove that dedicated steps are being taken to reach that goal. It proves that we, as a society, want to do better. It proves that we recognize the harm inflicted over the course of our history.

Removing icons won’t fix the flaws in our society. But it will provide space for new stories that deserve to be told and other parts of our history that deserve time in the light. Being dishonest with ourselves about the intent and purpose of these monuments only compounds the harm that they can cause. It’s time for us to finally face our role within our own history and vow to do better.

Side Quest, Week 2: Take a Picture, it’ll Last Longer

So last week I started playing around with creative side quests to go with our “Rescue the Muse Challenge.” For anyone who saw the fruits of that labor, you are by now well acquainted with the fact that I am no artist. But being ‘great’ wasn’t the purpose: nope, I am posting my less-than-stellar drawings as a way of overcoming my inner critic, fighting against my desire for perfection, and as a way to just have fun in the moments I’m creating.

Last week I made the startling realization that I don’t have to be ‘good’ at a particular type of creative medium in order to feel the overwhelming strength of emotions that the arts inspire. I have always known how to ride the emotional wave of words; that has been my venue of choice for as long as I can remember. I have always been able to feel very deeply when patching syllables together. I believed that my soul was written, it was stitched together with paragraphs and epitaphs. I had no idea that creating a bad pencil-drawn sketch could translate a portion of my heart in the same way that a page of words could. I discovered that my soul is not just written; it is doodled, painted and knit together. We are more than one thing; we are more that the one thing that we are ‘good’ at.

My personal success last week inspired me to add a new layer to this little parfait. While I am going to continue on with my daily art challenges (perhaps eventually I’ll add some structure to them, but right now- they’re mainly going to be doodles and thoughts), I wanted to up the ante a little bit and see what else I can learn about myself. Stepping into the world of photography seemed like the perfect segue.

With both writing and art, perspective and a point of view are vitally important. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to categorize the things that we see and stick a generic label on them: house, building, tree, forest, bird. It’s a time-saving technique that we evolved to help us spot and communicate danger. It has helped us make sense of the world around us without getting overwhelmed by the details. This week: I want to swim in the nitty-gritty, overwhelming world of details. I want to notice all of the things that we tend to take for granted; I want to see my usual surroundings with fresh eyes and and a crooked perspective.

When was the last time I actually saw the scene outside my front window? Not just looked at it, but truly saw it? How long since I noticed the arching branches of the tree in my yard? Or the gnarled bark that the squirrels cling so easily to? When was the last time I payed attention to the divot in the pavement in front of my driveway, or the oversized plastic owl perched on the fence of my neighbor’s garden?

It’s important to slow down and take the time to notice the little details that we have grown numb to. Every now and then you need to walk through your neighborhood as though you just moved in. Or wander around your backyard like an alien trying to sort out the flora and fauna of this new world. On occasion you should wander your own house and truly look at the details that make up your home. You need to run your fingers over the scratches on the doorframe from that time you tried to move the couch. Or eyeball the texture of your ceiling and imagine what it would be like if the world flipped upside down that was suddenly your floor.

Perhaps the easiest way to notice these things: take pictures of them in unusual way. Get up so close to your lamp that you can’t tell what it is and snap that shot. Zoom in on the bark of the tree with the intent of sketching it out later. Capture a photo of the precious nose-art your little critter left on the front window when they were waiting for you to come home (or staring suspiciously at the mailman). Peer into the distorted reflection that shines back from your coffee pot or toaster while your yummy things are warming up (bonus points if you draw these images with their sausage fingers and point pin-heads). Zoom in on the knit of your favorite quilt or the stitches that make up your winter hat.

Try to look at the world from a new angle, take pictures upside down, toy with the lighting- make creepy shadows crawl across your living room floor and capture them. Explore the world and acknowledge how it can make you feel like a larger-than-life giant or a tiny and insignificant little creature.

Take pictures of the everyday moments that seem so routine: a snapshot of your breakfast as it sits alone on the counter, steam rising from scrambled eggs. Walk downtown and note the graffiti and stickers plastered to the back of the stop signs. Throw your face masks in a pile and snap shots of them from different angles; hang them from an impromptu clothesline in your backyard and watch the wind dance with them. Take a photo of something unmistakably modern and don it in a black and white filter for contrast. Set up your figurines into odd poses and start snapping shots like you’re directing their next movie. Play with the pictures. Try to see all of the things that you never noticed, and if you feel brave: sketch them out to see what happens.

As a side note:

While these weekly challenges are directly related to our Rescuing the Muse Quest, I’ve started separating them in the posts simply because I was worried they would drag on a little too long if I kept them all bunched up together. For anyone who has been following along with the Muse storyline, please let me know how you feel about this. I love getting new suggestions on how to make all of this run smoothly, because lets face it: I still feel pretty new to the whole thing, even though I’ve been blogging on and off for years.

Shadow Monsters (Rescuing the Muse, Part 7)

When I wake, I have the sense that it is morning, though I can’t see much light beyond the distant canopy of trees. Everything is covered in that twilight gloom that makes it difficult to gather much detail from your surroundings. I peer awkwardly around me as I sit by the cold embers of my fire and wait for the world to grow brighter as I nibble on a measly breakfast. I am already hungry, but I know I must be careful with my supplies.

The longer I wait, the more the heavy realization sinks in that the world won’t be getting much brighter today. I sigh and sling my pack over my shoulder as I carefully make my way farther down the dirt path. This will have to do for today. I set a decent pace as I wander along the trail, forcing my mind to stay on the task at hand. It isn’t until late morning when the hairs on the back of my neck start to stand on end and I get that needling feeling that someone is watching me. I cast my eyes into the woods surrounding me, hoping I can catch a glimpse of my hidden companion. But the trees remain still, and my stalker stays hidden in the shadows.

There is a whisper about me, though when I stop to listen I cannot make out any words. Is it the wind? Is my mind playing tricks on me? I have only been away from the village for a short time, surely I am not already imagining things. Is that the secret of these treacherous woods that the locals would not tell me: does everyone who steps foot in here go mad?

“What makes you think the woods have anything to do with it? Surely all those people were mad before they set foot in these lands,” a voice whispered in my ear, stretching out the s’s like a snake. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I turned in a quick circle, arm outstretched to catch my foe. But nothing was there, my fingers passed through mere air. A soft chuckle met my ears as I stood frozen in place.

“Oh, my dear child, tut, tut, there is no catching what you cannot see. Surely you know that by now,” it crowed from my left. I stared intently at the spot, waiting for something, anything- a flash of movement. But there was only a shadow across the path, a dark and murky splotch of air in the empty void between myself and the distant trees.

My blood turned to ice with dawning realization. I had heard of these phantoms before, these dangerous creatures that pass through the world unseen. They were the Shadows that sang songs of despair and disdain int our ears. They reveled in self-loathing, luxuriated in anxiety and hate. They were the monsters that were impossible to fight, the ones that found a crumb of weakness within the soul and held tightly to it. They were the worst nightmares and the most hidden of fears.

The shadow cackled softly, a low growling sound, “Ah, so I see you have heard of me,” he responded, though I had never uttered a word. These creatures were dangerous for this very fact: you could not fool them because they could instinctively feel the nature of your thoughts, could read the quickening pulse of your heart. They could taste your fear, and knew your sadness. They could become as much a part of you as your big toe.

“You, my sweet adventurer are an apple ripe for the picking. So brave of you to wander willingly into my home. Tell me, young fly, what is it like to finally meet a spider? Can you feel my web ensnaring you?” Every syllable dripped with barely concealed mirth as he gloated.

How do you fight a monster that can see inside your soul? How do you combat something that knows every secret you harbor in your heart? How do you move forward when the fear they inspire leaves your muscles rigid and unmoving? “You can’t,” the shadow whispered, closer now.

They say that for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must wrap itself up tightly in a cocoon and come completely undone. It dissolves it’s very cells so that it can reorganize them into a new form. This transformation cannot be easy, and it certainly doesn’t sound pain free. It is not the quiet little nap we envision; but change never is. There is action roiling below the surface that many could never even fathom with a cursory glance. I often wonder if the caterpillar knows what is in store for it when it feels that urge to wrap itself up tightly in the safe confines of its cocoon. When it enters that darkness, does it know what it will being undoing? Does it know what it will become?

Every single one of us carries a shadow self: the darkness within our cocoon that we must learn to embrace and work through if we ever wish to grow into something more than what we are. It is one of the hardest battles we will ever wage, primarily because we often don’t recognize what we are fighting. These shadow voices are so deeply ingrained in who we are that we often can’t differentiate their voices from our own. To fight these shadows we must recognize them and pull them into the light. We must scrape away at the years of detritus until we are able to unearth the core of their existence. At the heart of every shadow is a seed, a core belief that we have struggled with repeatedly over the years until they grew far too complex for us to simply manage.

It is far easier to recognize the symptoms of our monster than to acknowledge what it truly is. For me, my monster tended to present itself in stuttering steps and lack of follow-through. It was found in good intentions that were never acted upon or not fully invested in. It was the big dreams that I shied away from when action was required. It was the career I feel into thirteen years ago and never left, even though the passion started to ebb. It was the promotions I applied for and got, even though I knew they were a mistake- but I thought I was supposed to want them. It was the schooling I put on pause when I was dealing with medical issue, but never returned to after they resolved. It’s the novels I never sent to publishers, the way I still hide my computer screen from my partner, even though I’ll send these words out into the ether. It’s the way I cling to a 9 to 5 job because it feels secure, even though my heart pulls me somewhere else. It’s in the way I shrug my shoulders and say “I’ll go back to school when I know what I want to do with my life,” when the truth is: I’ve known my direction for a long time, I just never feel comfortable saying it out loud. Over and over again I have battled with these inner demons without realized that they are all the same monster, just wearing different masks.

The core of my shadow is a lack of confidence in my own abilities, it is a fear of failing. I have never once taken the risk of betting on myself, even though I will go all-in for anyone else. I care too much what other people think, and I always have. I question my instincts and my dreams over and over again until I talk myself out of them. I was a girl with goals and hopes that were larger than life. And in theory I believed in them; at least, I thought I believed in them. But when it came to action, I shied away. I turned down a different road that was paved and well-lit even though I could feel the winds calling me across that other field and through the brambles. I knew I wasn’t living my authentic life, I was settling for a safe life. I convinced myself that the life I was living was good enough; and on those days when it wasn’t, I told myself that it was okay- this was only temporary, and I would figure it out. But I knew all along that those were just words with no backbone.

I don’t know where this fear came from. I’m sure a really good therapist could help me figure it out, but alas- that is another step that I have always hesitated to take (even though I strongly encourage everyone to see one because mental health is important). It’s like I’m afraid of confirming my worst fears. If don’t try, then I can keep dreaming and I don’t have to face the fact that I’m not good enough. I don’t have to worry that I quit a great job to follow a dream that died and left me…where? What is the worst that could happen? What am I afraid of?

For once let’s be honest. I am not weak. No, every time my back has been pushed to the wall, I have proven that I could fight. I am capable of pushing myself beyond the limits I thought I had. When my world cracked and swallowed me whole, I climbed back out all on my own. I kept living when every fiber inside of me demanded to know why I should even bother. I walked through my own personal hell and came out the other side carrying buckets of water for those still engulfed in the flames. I am afraid of failing, and yet every time I was forced to give it my all: I succeeded. When my world crumbled below my feet, I rebuilt beautiful things in that rubble. This fear that I have: this fear of not being good enough, of not being strong enough: it’s unfounded. It’s a lie. It’s a whisper that the shadows desperately want me to believe because it’s the only foothold they have.

To confront your shadow, you must name it. You must stare it straight in the eyes and do whatever it is warning you against. If it’s telling you not to create because you might not be any good- do it anyway. And even if it is awful: stick that work in a frame and place it on your desk with pride. Because it is not just your lopsided attempt of a hedgehog drawing: no, it’s the proverbial sword that you used to slay your monster.

The shadow will not go away overnight. It will be with you for days, weeks, perhaps years. But it will not always control you if you continue to push back against every inch of ground it tries to take. Sometimes all you will gain are tiny steps: actually, it is pretty much always tiny steps. You are going to fight the shadow with a matchstick and not a flamethrower, but my dear, you will win if you are persistent. You will shine that light on every square inch of the monster until he has no where else he can hide.

My matches? They’re small- but they’re working. I started my silly art challenge last week. I am drawing not-so-stellar pictures that I am sharing with you right here on the internet where literally anyone can find them for the rest of eternity. And as cavalier as I like I to act when doing this- it is absolutely terrifying to share a vulnerability, to give you a piece of me that feels weak and unprepared. But it makes me stronger. It erases that fear. Because what is the worst that has happened since I started sharing them? Nothing. No one has even said an unkind word. And even if they did- so what? That speaks more about them than it does about me. Who cares when I’ve found something I enjoy doing in my spare time? And hey- I can always get better. This is just a start.

My other matches? This blog, for one. I’ve started and restarted it for years, but this feels different somehow. My mentality towards my work has shifted. And it feels so damn good to be writing again, and to be so brutally honest with myself while doing so. And even if no one else reads another word I write: that’s okay. Because this is something I’ve always done for me, and this is something I will continue to do simply because I want to.

I’ve spent time refocusing on the things that I enjoy. I’ve reevaluated what I like and don’t like about my job. I’ve researched new learning opportunities and degree programs that could help me move forward with my life. I’ve begun making the financial arrangements required for a future shift. I’ve admitted my fears and my lack of direction. I’ve opened up with those close to me about the things I really want to do with my life and my fears surrounding them. And I’m finally doing something about it. My scrappy side is coming out, and she is one tough little cookie. I’m working on changing my inner dialog so that I stop telling myself I can’t do the things that I love. Perhaps these dreams won’t turn out exactly as I hoped, but that doesn’t mean they won’t lead me somewhere even better; that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a place in my story.

This week I’ll continue on that path. I’ll write awkward sentences and draw some abstract art. I’ll drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods to feed my brain. I’ll spend more time with my motivational self-help books and career guides, and I’ll consider new paths that I never truly let myself examine before. I’ll light one little matchstick after another until the shadow is a memory. That’s the only way to fight this little war.

I could feel the icy grip of tentacles closing around me, hear the whispered shouts and screams of his former victims as he pulled at me, trying to suck me into his realm, to sap the life right out of me. There was no one here to rescue me, not a soul who would know where to look. My Muse would stay locked in that tower forever, thinking I had given up on her.

No, this couldn’t be how it ended. The good guys are supposed to win, they are supposed to climb the mountain, reach the summit, be the hero of their own story. They aren’t supposed to die on an anonymous path in the middle of the woods. This is not how the story goes. I slowly reached for my pack, fighting against the fog that was clouding my brain. The shadow was too focused on his imminent success to even notice the subtle shift in my thoughts, the hardening edge of determination creeping into my mind. I reached for the tiny splinter of wood and struck the match.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Side Quest, Week 1 Recap: Art Challenge (an epiphany in pencils)

Last week I made a little creative side-quest to go along with my “Rescue the Muse” challenge. It was really pretty simple: draw something every single day. It didn’t matter what the subject matter was, what items were used, how technical the piece was or even how “pretty” it came out. The whole purpose was to get out of my own head and start playing again in a medium that I don’t find myself particularly skilled in. All of this was done in an effort to overcome my fixation with perfection. I have a bad habit of dropping ideas when I don’t think I can live up to my personal standard- so bad drawings sounded like a pretty fun way to toy with my inner critic. (We will be dealing with these inner monsters a little bit more this week as we continue on our Muse-Saving Quest).

Now, I anticipated that I would have some fun with this challenge, and I knew going into it that my artistic abilities wouldn’t suddenly be morphing into anything grand or amazing. Don’t believe me? Look at Exhibit A: (virtually slaps sheet of paper onto the screen)

Hehe- I added the photo of Link to give you an idea of what I was attemtping to draw in the middle of the sketch on the left. Lucky for me, Link is an unconditional-love kind of dog, and not much of an art critic. He was just tickled to be included.

While I was anticipating that this challenge would be solely about learning to draw and playing around with circles and lines- I wasn’t prepared for the epiphanies that came with the meandering lines and overworked erasers. I’m not sharing the above sketch with you to show you the kinds of “skills” I’m working with- I’m sharing it because it is the perfect example of what art morphed into. You see, I started this random assortment of drawings by playing with things that I enjoy: my dog, Star Wars (which turned into a very sad baby yoda), the mountains, chairs (apparently I’m a big fan of sitting- honestly, I don’t really know why that one is there). As I was drawing I could feel my insecurities building, I could hear that little voice start to whisper that I wasn’t any good and should just quit. Instead of listening to it, I started drawing a little anxiety monster in the upper right-hand corner (based off of the Mental Illness Monsters created by Toby Allen- look them up, he is phenomenal).

As I finished drawing my little monster I decided to scrawl out the words bouncing around in my brain- don’t worry, it’s written by a lefty in cursive, so I don’t expect anyone to be able to read it. But it says “What does it say about me when I am far better at creating monsters than the things I love?” And below baby yoda, I wiggled out my own reply after a moment’s hesitation, “My sweet, who ever said you shouldn’t love the monsters too?” It was a strange, yet peaceful moment to acknowledge my internal monsters without trying to shove them back into the dark. It was powerful in a way I didn’t expect. I ventured away from the usual cartoons I like to draw, and wound up uncovering an inner-truth I’ve been struggling with.

And here is the real epiphany I never expected when starting on this little journey: art in any form is emotional. That’s what makes it so damn beautiful. It captures truths we didn’t know were inside of us- and even if you can’t ‘read’ it in the artwork, the artist can feel it. As a writer, I have always experienced this moment with words: my words are my lifeblood, they are my link to the world, and they tether me to the things that are important. I am accustomed to the emotions that roil below the surface when I am writing. I never expected to feel that same energy channeled into my random little sketches. Which leads me to believe that it is the act of creation itself that makes us more connected to who we are in this vast world; and not just the particular form we thought we were good at. Art and emotions are intrinsically tied together; you cannot have one without the other.

So I got brave with my pieces after that. I decided to tap into this well that I’ve struggled with. I decided to embrace the emotions that were coursing through me, and allow them to lead me to my next piece. I was able to channel these emotions that I haven’t even been able to adequately write about- instead, they came out in sweeping lines of colored pencil. And while the picture itself isn’t anything grand or spectacular: it has turned into something pivotal for me, a piece of my soul that has been liberated and can now float freely into the world.

The backstory here is pretty important to the outcome. As I have shared before on this blog, at the beginning of 2019 I experienced my first pregnancy loss while in my second trimester. What most people don’t know is that seven months later I lost my second at eight weeks. 2019 was a year of painful transformation for me; I not only had to deal with the pain of the losses themselves, but also the loss of security in a dream I always carried. I was left unmoored in the world, unsure of what a future would look like for me. It’s been a struggle- there’s no nice way to get around that. And I have found it exceedingly difficult because this was the first time in my life that my words failed me. I couldn’t adequately portray the roiling ocean I had tearing me up inside. I didn’t have the words. And that was terrifying in so many ways because my words are all I ever really depended on. Without my voice, I lose who I am as a person. I’ve had these images and feelings buried inside all of this time without the relief of releasing them into the world.

So I started tapping into that well, and I let those silly colored pencils dance across the sheet. And when I was done I found myself staring at the picture I haven’t been able to speak into existence. It is a sketch of a promise lost: two sweet little boys (I always picture them as two little boys) running around the grass together, counting stars, and existing in this beautiful place with one another- a place that I can’t go to yet. And in my head, I see them sitting together, staring at the same moon I look at from my bedroom window as I ask the question I ask them every single night, “Can you feel me when I think of you?”

It was powerful and therapeutic, and so damn good for my soul to see the picture I’ve carried inside all this time. Even in its childlike imperfection: it speaks the truth I couldn’t verbalize, the one that was too large to be ensnared in syllables. But here it was, on a piece of paper that I could hold and touch. It existed somewhere outside of me for the first time in nearly a year.

It reminded me of the importance of this work; these creative endeavors that we take on. Sometimes the tools you have in your kit aren’t adequate for the job that you need done. Sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone and try something you aren’t very good at- because it will help you grow in so many more ways than you anticipated. Sometimes you need to put down your words in order to speak your truth.

Daily Art Challenge (finding a spark)

When we are small we carry ten thousand little sparks within us: these are tiny flares of passion that have the potential to ignite if we care for them properly. We instinctively know how to fan the flames until they roar with life and crackle with promise. Yes, when we are small we are fire keepers. We don’t have words for this; it is a feeling, an action, an unnamed something- but we know it is special.

As we grow we learn the language of man and all that it entails. We stop speaking to the flames as we christen ourselves their masters. Like Pandora opening a box, we suddenly discover rigid definitions that we plaster to objects without a care. We lose the mystery of the unknown because we don’t have to make up stories to explain things to ourselves anymore. And perhaps, what is the worst ‘gift’ adulthood brings us: the idea of perfection, the concept that things are not ‘good’ simply because they exist. We create these strict rules that must be lived by, and we smother the sparks that gave us life.

I don’t know when I decided I “couldn’t” anymore. One day I was drawing tornado people, decorating cookies, skinning my knees sliding into home plate, creating math-codes that spelled out words, and dancing to the tiny boom box that was my pride and joy. And then suddenly I had these ideas in my head of what made those things ‘good’ and ‘beautiful,’ and I decided that I couldn’t live up to those standards. I decided that I couldn’t cook, or decorate, or play baseball, or do math, or paint, or draw, or dance. My chicken usually came out dry, my wiggling body inspired laughter instead of admiration, my drawings always had cartoon hands and bad proportions, and I never could knock that ball out of the park. It was easier to save myself the embarrassment of not being good enough and simply shake my head as I whispered, “Sorry, I’m no good at that. Sorry, I can’t dance. I’ll set off the smoke alarm if I try making eggs. Nope, I don’t draw, don’t sing- not gifted that way.” It was easier to turn these former passions into self-depreciating jokes; because, hey, humor’s fun and insecurities suck. And just like that- ten thousand sparks lost their light.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of perfection; to get frustrated when the ideas you have in your head don’t translate into the physical world. It’s easy to forget how to speak to the embers and give them life. It’s so damn easy to forget how to whisper to your own soul and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

So here is the challenge: stop lying to yourself and to everyone else. Stop saying you “can’t” do something when the truth is that you “won’t.” This was a hard pill for me to swallow: to accept the fact that I have spent years standing in my own way and keeping myself from things that I could love with every fiber of my being. I have spent so much effort building up walls and planting them in my own way. And why? Because I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough, that someone would giggle when I danced at the wedding. But so what if they do? If I’m having fun, why does it matter if I’m not any good at it?

Because here’s the thing: no one is naturally gifted at something, they just decided to invest in it. I am not a sculptor or an artist in any way, shape or form. But then one day I bought a little bit of fondant and decided to play around with some store-bought cake mix. I didn’t view it as art; it was just something to play with. And I liked it. So I kept playing. And then one day I was getting paid to make tasty treats for birthday parties. Not an ounce of talent in my blood- but I fed the spark and it ignited.

I can say the same thing for my cooking, and my writing, and my dancing (which is still atrocious by societal standards). But who cares how well I wiggle when I’m dancing around my living room playing keep-away with the dog, or waiting for the chicken to cook (and not burn, might I add- getting better). Who cares if I’m good at it when I’m doing it because I find it fun? The trick to lighting the fire: do something because you like it, and eventually you will start getting better at it. And even if you don’t: you are still having the time of your life, and that will always be beautiful.

My challenge to you: pick something, absolutely anything that you think you will enjoy but routinely say “I’m not good at that, I can’t do that.” Perhaps it’s dancing, or cooking, or art, or building rockets: this is your show, my friend, the sky is the limit. Pick that spark- and for one week give it life. Every single day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes: invest in that spark and see what happens.

For me: that spark is art. I used to love drawing when I was younger, but I was never very good. So this week I am challenging myself to draw something every single day. I am treating it a bit like a diary: doodles, how-to lessons, thoughts and images that pop into my head- nothing is off limits. And the goal isn’t to improve: the goal is to enjoy, to explore, to play. Now, that doesn’t mean that online tutorials are out of the question- sometimes those are the best way to dip your toes in. Remember what it’s like to do something for it’s own enjoyment; it’s pretty damn invigorating to play like you did when you were in the single-digits.

Throw perfection out the window and wiggle around the kitchen. Go outside with a bat and an oversized ball and make up your own commentary as you run around the invisible plates. Burn that spaghetti and enjoy every bite. Crochet a lumpy green scarf and wear it every winter. Create, love it, live it, breathe it in. And who knows, you might surprise yourself with what new skills you actually acquire when you were too busy having fun to realize you were learning all along. And even if you don’t: you are still learning how to speak to the flames again. So dance on, Fire Keeper- and never let go of that child-like magic.

Lost in the Trees (Rescuing the Muse, Part 6)

As soon as I set foot under the canopy of trees, it felt like the sound had been muted on the world. Even the dripping of the rain was muffled by the umbrella of branches stretching out above me. It seemed a bit lackluster for the start of an adventure, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I had been expecting. I followed the meandering trail further into the growing gloom, steady in my stride. After all of the tales I had heard about these woods, I had expected a goblin or ghost to charge at me from the underbrush. But all was quiet. Was it perhaps too quiet? I kept moving, uneasy in my surroundings, wishing that I were back at the inn with it’s cracking fire and roasting meats. And yet I continued on, putting one foot in front of the other as my mind wandered between the place I had left and where I intended to go.

The thing that no ever tells you about the beginning of a grand quest: you seldom run into monsters right out of the gate. No, the first stages are usually a bit more tedious; you’re marching to a mountain, you’re discovering the mystery behind the gemstone you found, you’re laying under a blanket in a hut on a rock until a giant knocks your door down and tells you that you are a wizard. You’re going about your business while building up new routines to create lifelong habits. The beginning of an adventure is often boring and a bit uncomfortable because you are existing in a life that you are beginning to outgrow. It’s no different than planning that grand international vacation you’ve always dreamed of. First you have to slog through saving money, buying tickets, researching what to do. And then you have to sit on that 10 hour flight in those tiny cramped seats before your feet ever hit the ground in a new land. It’s tempting to pretend that the adventure starts the moment you get there, but the truth is you were on that road long before your metal bird touched down. This quest we are on right now: this is no different.

At the moment we are slogging through a forest. We are feeling muscles ache, we are cold, hungry, and unsure if we are headed in the right direction as we listen to the chirping of distant birds. And yet we still put one foot in front of another for hours on end. At times this can be the most difficult part because at this stage you aren’t seeing results yet. You are fighting your bad habits, you are itching to pick up your phone and scroll through social media one more time, you are dying to watch that last episode of that one show you can’t get enough of. You are learning how to build yourself up so that you can fight the monsters and save the world later.

The surrounding gloom was slowly darkening; I could only assume that night was beginning to creep in over the land, though I hadn’t seen the sun itself in ages. I knew I wouldn’t be through this forest in a day, but I was still uneasy with staying the night here. After finding a small clearing in the trees I set up my tiny tent and lit a wisp of a fire. This wasn’t what I had been expecting at all.

“Pleasant evening to you, young adventurer,” a voice burbled near a rock at the distant corner of my patch of earth. I squinted my eyes in concentration towards the sound, but couldn’t see anything at first.

“Where are you?” I whispered uneasily, clenching the strap of my pack that lay at my feet.

There was a rustle of sound from the rock as a small creature hopped up onto it’s surface, it’s back legs scurrying as it pushed it’s round little body up within view. He turned his large eyes at me and blinked. I had never seen anything like him before: he resembled a frog, with a wide-set mouth and strong back legs obviously meant for hopping. But his skin was a deep purple and appeared to be covered in shiny diamond-like scales; a miniature suite of armor. I blinked back at him, unsure of what his sudden appearance could mean. “Hello,” I finally breathed, a bit of me was relieved at his small stature, though I knew I should be wary of everything in these woods.

“And what kind of quest would you be upon, youngling?” the creature asked conversationally. He gurgled a laugh at my startled expression, “Everyone who sets foot this far into the woods is in search of something. These trees are not for the whimsical explorer. So what are you after?”

“M-my Muse,” I stutter before clearing my throat, “My Muse was taken from me. She is hidden away in a dragon-guarded tower far to the north. I am going to rescue her.”

He croaked a bellowing laughter, “Why on earth would you want to find a Muse for? Life can be lived perfectly fine without one. Why, look at me, I haven’t had a Muse a single day of my life and I’ve done quite well for myself. I have a beautiful bog, a sweet wife, a couple of spry little tadpoles. Life is quite grand without dealing in pesky adventures and Muses,” he scoffed.

I shrugged, “I just need mine, is all. I can’t live the life I want without her. She helps give me purpose. My Muse is my heart and soul,” I glance down to the creature, “Not that you need one to live a good life. It’s just- it’s a different kind of life I want.” I didn’t want to offend my visitor, I still had no idea what he truly was.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like you’ve really tried to live without a Muse, have you? All that business with creating and thinking- it sounds quite tedious if you ask me. No, why don’t you come with me to the bog and just see how you like it. Many people live without a fabled Muse whispering into their ears all the cursed day. It would probably be a relief to you,” he gestured back to the woods, attempting to coax me away. I shook my head, but before I could say a single word, he launched back into his speech, “Oh come now, youngling, you don’t even know if you’ll actually succeed in this quest. What if you fail? What if you do all of this work and you don’t find her? Or you find her and she winds up not being as amazing as you expected? What if you two don’t create this grand future you seem to have envisioned?”

I shrug my shoulders as I pick up a stick to prod the fire with. Embers fly into the sky and die on the air before our eyes. “I need to know that I tried, at least. And even if we don’t create something grand- that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be beautiful to me. I just need to try.”

The tiny creature grumbled as he stiffly slid off his rock. He hopped over to a tree and spit on the bark; the sticky substance that landed glowed a brilliant shade of purple. “If you ever wise up and change your mind, or if you fail,” he eyed me seriously, “Think about coming back and trying my way for a change. Just come back to these woods and look for this mark- go straight in, walk for about 20 minutes and you’ll find my bog.” He started hopping back into the gloom before pausing, “Good luck, youngling, I’ll see you soon.” And with that, he was gone.

The biggest risk you will come across in this forest is getting lost within it’s twisting branches. Distractions and side-quests pepper the ground like pine cones. There are hares that you will want to chase into the dense underbrush and hobgoblins that will attempt to entice you off of the path you have chosen. Your old habits and comfortable thoughts will whisper to you, play into your weaknesses, tell you that it’s too hard, you won’t succeed, and what you had was never that bad to begin with. The truth is, they don’t want you to leave this forest. This road can be a lonely one, and at times it can become quite monotonous. You are at the stage of hard-work and little reward; what you may not realize is that within these trees your mettle is truly being tested. If you can push through the mundane and keep your eyes on that distant goal, then you stand a real chance of discovering the inspiration you carry within. Do not forget these shuffling steps that started you off. Do not ignore the internal monsters you are battling while walking this road. There is no quick solution for this stage. I don’t have magical words that will transport you to the end of the game with all of those good habits pre-filled into your routine- this is a fantasy quest, not sci-fi; Scottie can’t beam us up from here.

To make it through the forest, you must learn to fully invest in yourself so that you have the the strength to keep walking, even when you aren’t entirely sure you are headed in the right direction. You must learn to acknowledge the goblins that creep across your path, shining their light and whispering sweet nothings to tempt you away from your goal. Right now your main pursuit is to find your route, learn what a workable lifestyle is for you. If you are struggling, dig a little deeper to find out why. Are your obligations overwhelming you, are you lacking support, are you lacking confidence in yourself and your dream? You will never walk out of this forest until you face the demons you carry around with you. Take care of yourself so that you can nurture those dreams nestled within. And always, always: be patient with your process. This is not a sprint to the mountain- so take your time and keep putting one step in front of the other.

The Shuffling Steps of the Past Week:

It’s okay if your steps this week were smaller than anticipated; every single one of them is worth celebrating. My week was not particularly linear, I had great days, and then some not-super great days. I was waylaid by goblins on a few occasions (mine tend to wear a mask of motivation, which I struggle to overcome). But I kept trying. My feet continued to move, even if it was only a shuffle. While I missed the mark on my daily goals, I did still accomplish some pretty awesome things. I managed to cook a few meals without recipes (and they were even edible, though the pictures are bit lackluster), edited a few chapters of an old Fan Fiction I want to have done by the end of June. I wrote in my journal, cleaned up the blog and some old WIPs, did some creative computering at work (still counts), 3 days of an art challenge (woohoo!), I made a hat for my Dobby and researched some new projects while I was at it.

But there are some major improvements that need to be made still. I need to come up with a daily routine that will prioritize my creative projects. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet. I had a few days where I fell into old bad habits and I noticed a marked downturn in my mood when those days popped up. To be perfectly honest, those days wound up being more depressing than anything, and they took a bit of effort to climb out of.

The Challenges for Next Week:

  • Daily art challenge:
    • create one piece of art/drawing every single day. Doesn’t matter if it’s something you see, imagine, or are feeling- it doesn’t have to be pretty, skill is not a component. Think of it like an art diary that will act as a time capsule for what you were thinking about this year.
  • Clean up and reorganize my areas so they reflect my goals better
    • The desk is a mess, clean it up, and hang up all of those things that make you happy.
    • Do the household chores early: you’ll feel less stress when it’s time to create
  • Finish editing Fan Fiction piece
  • Nail down the Self-Care for Creativity Routine
    • 70 oz of water a day
    • healthy eating
    • 30 minutes of movement per day
  • 3 blog posts because you have promised and fallen short every week

Good luck with those Goblins, my friends, I know they can be quite convincing at times.

Carving out Goals (pretty bold for 2020)

Gee willikers, Radioactive Man, we are already halfway through 2020. While I am tempted to sit and wallow in my little pit of denial a bit longer, I suspect I have a better way to deal with this mini-existential-crisis-in-the-making. While it’s true that this year holds the record for worst played game of Jumanji in recent history, there’s still six months stretching out before us. Now, granted; there is the distinct possibility that next month a well-intentioned scientist will bring back tyrannosaurus rex (but with longer arms and an insatiable taste for human flesh), or not-so-friendly aliens in search of their next home world will invade (and they won’t be susceptible to water or the common cold), or we will discover that those monsters in Tremors have finally woken up from a long hibernation (and they are pissed). In spite of the possibilities, I would still like to hold out hope that this dumpster fire of a year might be turning around. Ha- I know, I may have just jinxed the entire human race. My bad.

Let’s not be too harsh, this was literally a couple of how-to-draw youtube videos cobbled together in about 20 minutes by a girl who has never been known for her artistic abilities. But still- kind of fun to play with. Creativity Challenge: check! (side note: that is supposed to be the Space Needle, although it kind of gives the impression that it’s a sandwich being offered to the aliens on a very large platter. Be that as it may, I stand by my work. yay for beginners!) Side-side note: I have named the alien Snoot-Snoot, and our T-Rex is Terry.

The point that I’m very slowly meandering towards (sorry, it was way too fun coming up with different end-of-the-world scenarios) is that the past six months have made for an extraordinarily painful year for the vast majority of people. But here’s the silver lining: oftentimes the painful moments lead to the most growth. We’ve been given a glimpse of a future we don’t want to continue towards. We’ve been given a time out to reevaluate what we want from our lives, our employers, our neighbors, and our countries. I could go down the political rabbit hole right now, but I’m going to pump the brakes on that one for today. Right now my focus is going to be narrowed considerably. I think most of us have come to a impasse where change is going to be a requirement moving forward. We want to change society as a whole and the systems we live our lives within, we want to change the working environment that has not prioritized us as human beings. We want to change our role in the spaces in inhabit. But change starts with us before it can ripple out and take over the rest of the world.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any in-depth goal planning for my life. Primarily because when the world hits the proverbial pause button and you don’t know what your new normal will look like a week from now, it’s difficult to plan much farther than ‘today.’ But at the moment, I can see my personal trajectory a little bit better (and also: I’ve become a black belt in the art of pivoting when life throws a punch, so bring it June, I’m ready for ya) so I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable with this whole ‘planning’ thing. Which leads me back down an old path: monthly goal planning sessions- that’s right, time to get pumped.

It’s become abundantly clear to me that I am not particularly happy with my day-to-day routine. While I work in a field that I enjoy, the actual tasks in my wheelhouse are not things that I find rewarding. The pandemic has changed some of that; I’ve delved into creative problem-solving that will have a long-term impact on my organization, and I am very proud of that. But I know that once the dust settles, I’ll be given a thank you and shooed back to regularly scheduled programing. I think it might be time to start winding down this clock and looking for opportunities that will allow me to be a better person than I am right now. I’m worried that I’m getting jaded, and I don’t want to be that snarly woman who is afraid of change. So what now? What can I do this month that will allow me to walk into the apocalypse with a clear mind?

For starters: it’s time to make arrangements to get back to school. I need to wind down my work hours so that I can accommodate night classes again. I need to save up enough money and register for a realistic course load. This is a road I have been down before, and it’s time to finish what I started. Bonus: most campuses are focusing on e-learning, which is something I am actually pretty good at, so that’s awesome.

Next: double down on the things I love because maybe, just maybe, I can turn them into something. I need to figure out why I don’t have faith in some of my dreams. Why don’t I believe my career goals are worth anything if they don’t include a 9 to 5 and a desk I’ll repeatedly bang my shin on. So perhaps this summer is the chance I need to reinvest in myself and my creative endeavors. Furthermore, even if these passions of mine never strike gold- I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am a better person when I invest in them. They light a fire in my soul that is not easy to quench.

It’s a given that I will keep pursuing my Creativity Challenge, but I can take it one step farther. We live in a unique time where you can do just about anything if you have a decent internet connection and some drive. So for June I will challenge myself to create, to dig deep and push harder with my writing, with my arts, with my creative endeavors (see silly pencil drawing above). Because who knows if this was the key all along and I was too scared to trust it. The goal is to stop being afraid of imperfection in your art, in your creations: hence why I am going to post the beautiful right next to the ugly. You never know embers are going to catch until you let them fly.

I’ve always been a pretty liberal thinker, and I have never shied away from sharing my opinions with those in my life. That being said, I tend to avoid certain topics on this blog, and I don’t really have a reason why. But I think enough is enough. I can’t be honest with my work if I’m not fully open as well. So June is going to be a time to amplify the causes I care about. And if I offend anyone…well, then that happens. I’m not really at a place where I am willing to apologize for that anymore.

The key to any decent goal setting is actionable steps. If you have read a single self-help or motivational book, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Overarching ideas are pretty, but they don’t get the job done. So. Actions to be taken in June for this little bug:

  • Take care of yourself in order to take care of others
    • drink 70 oz of water a day
    • 30 minutes of movement a day
    • journal at least twice a week
    • daily gratitude: write it down, say it, scream it for the neighbors (actually, don’t to that, they wouldn’t like it)- spend 5 minutes listing out 10 things you are grateful for in that particular day
  • Career and Education
    • Make a back-to-school plan and budget for the fall
    • Complete one online course (Masterclass, Coursera, Udemy- there are a hundred)
    • Read 1,500 pages (audiobooks also acceptable): I’ll talk about reading lists later this week
  • Creating
    • Minimum of 3 new blog posts per week (reintroduce old segments, such as Lush-Us Lessons, Mimosa Musings, Reading Challenge Spotlights, add a weekly Signal Boost)
    • Creativity Challenge: pick a weekly theme and complete one small task every day, plus one larger challenge each week. (example: drawing/painting one week, needlework and sewing another week, plotting how to take over the world can be week 3)
    • Finish editing Fan Fiction piece and upload it at the end of the month
    • Work on WIP for 30 minutes every day (even when you don’t feel like it)
    • Plot for July Camp Nano

So, my bookish allies, raise your favorite beverage (or the one closest to you at the moment). Cheers to us, to this new adventure, to making plans at the end of the world. May the remainder of 2020 not be a dumpster fire, and may this year wind up becoming the most important one of all.

The Voices of the Unheard

Eric Garner, Samuel Dubose, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Terrance Crutcher, George Floyd. We whisper their names like a rosary, like a mantra, like a prayer. We scream them like a war cry as we raise our fists to the sky. These are just a few: just drops in a rainstorm. So many have gone uncounted, unknown, unrecognized for what they endured. Repeat their names over and over again until society has no choice but to listen, until they stand up in solidarity and shout back into the void “No more names, no more death, I can’t breath.”

I have struggled with writing this post: not because I am afraid to speak out for what I believe in, but because I believe my role in all of this is to be a tool, a megaphone to amplify the voices that need to be heard far more than mine does. But on that note, silence can be dangerous and disingenuous. So I stand in solidarity and attempt to allow enough space for those who need to speak safely and freely.

Perhaps I’m being naive, but this moment feels different than the ones that preceded it. The spark is catching and those who once looked away can’t take their eyes off the flames. The focus is finally shifting from ‘thoughts and prayers’ to action and debate. It is solid and unmoving as the crowds hold out their phones and show us what this fight is all about.

I keep hearing people say, “What happened is awful, but that’s no reason to go around destroying things. They should be peaceful.” I’ve heard it so many times, in fact, that it feel vitally important to address right off the top.

You cannot condemn the riots without recognizing your role in their creation. Martin Luther King once said that the riot is the language of the unheard. Attempts were made at peaceful: they didn’t work. Colin Kaepernick took a knee for the cause. He and many like him were ridiculed, threatened, and their careers were destroyed. His message was hijacked and twisted to be about the military and patriotism. His platform was ripped out from under him, and his voice was silenced by the crowd that didn’t want to hear his truth. No one wanted to listen, it was simpler to divert away from the real issue and pretend it was about something else. It was easier to cling to outrage over a nonexistent problem instead of addressing the inherent racism in our collective system. If we had heard his words then, maybe things wouldn’t be like this now.

When a person is more outraged by the destruction of property than by the violent death of a human being: that is where the problem is. When you make statements that minimize murder and refocus the conversation on property damage- you have to take a hard look at why. Is it because the topic of racism is too difficult? Talk about it anyway. You have an obligation to. Are you saying these things because this chaos scares you? Because it creeps a little bit closer to your happy sphere in the world? Good- that’s the point. Now imagine the fear that led to these actions. Think about the cause- and remember that this has been happening for centuries and we refused to listen. Some issues are too important to accept silence on.

I’m not saying that all civil servants or people in positions of power are bad, because I genuinely don’t believe that. But it’s also fair to say that we don’t invest in the type of education needed when dealing with humanity at its best and worst. Would it be too far-fetched to require a police officer to take the same courses expected of a social worker? I don’t think so.

We have an obligation to recognize the racism that has been built into every system we have. It goes back generations and is so engrained in the way that we function as a society that those who aren’t victims of it might not even realize that anything is amiss. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s pick a pretty recent example that allows for some compare and contrast.

Last month we saw a lot of Stay-Home protests where predominantly white groups showed up to government buildings with rifles strapped to their chests. There are pictures online of them standing nose to nose with the police screaming in their faces while holding guns. Can you imagine a world in which a black man or woman could do that without being killed?

I find it a bit terrifying when you have a group of people making a valid complaint about police brutality, and the best response that those in power can come up with is a further show of force. I have participated in protests before, I have been a part of a rally. I have marched while repeating the chant of my group as we stood up for a cause we believed in. But I have never faced an officer in riot gear. I have never feared that the baton they carried would aim for me. I have never dealt with pepper spray, tear gas, or rubber bullets. Because it seems to me that these tactics are far too often called upon when it’s black lives in the streets. When fear and oppression is the language of the powerful, how do you expect to find change? You demand a revolution.

Photo captured thousands laying across Burnside Bridge in Portland with their hands behind their backs in protest of police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

Remember the Past (Memorial Day Tribute)

Perhaps my family has been fortunate in the fact that the cost of war has not touched us deeply in several generations. The last member we lost on the battlefield was my great-grandpa’s brother during WWII. Now, I grew up right next door to my great-grandparents, and fell asleep to the twisted fairy tales my grandpa would create, so his generation was no mystery to me. But now that I am an adult, I regret that I didn’t ask him more questions about his life, his time in the war, and the brother he lost overseas.

We tend to look at our family history through the prism of distance. While we may share DNA, there is an otherness about the past that can be difficult to overcome. Truthfully, I never really put much thought into what life may have been like for my ancestors. I know where we emigrated from, but I can only guess as to why. I know what we did when we got here, but I don’t know if that was a part of the dream, or something we settled for. Where they happy accepting the farming life once again after crossing that vast ocean to get to the land of promise and plenty? Did they carry other dreams that were or were not fulfilled?

Recently I was searching through old military records and came across some files on my great-grandpa’s brother. He had been a tail-gunner in WWII, shot down over the Philippines. The plane he went down in was never recovered, and he was presumed dead for the remainder of the war. The internet tells me that his name is listed on a memorial they created on the island, but I’ve never seen it. These were all facts that I already knew, tales passed down through family lore. But it wasn’t until I came across a copy of his enlistment card that it all truly sank in. He was one of my own.

I stared at the handwriting that chicken scratched the same last name I’ve copied over onto a million papers. I couldn’t help but notice how the style looked so similar to my own, and I wondered if maybe he had been left-handed too. The enlistment form shows that he was tall like the rest of us, with the same red hair that was passed down to my sister. He had a scar on his left knee, and I desperately wish I knew the story behind it. He was still a teenager when he joined, and from what I know of my family, he probably spent most of his life on a farm, though this is purely conjecture. It’s these tiny, seemingly insignificant details that take the idea of a person and cement them into reality.

He was 22 years old when he, his pilot, and his plane disappeared over their target late in the day on February 12th in 1945. The war would be over in about 6 months, but he wouldn’t see the end of it. The military report indicates that the element leader flew back to the scene in search of the missing men or spot a debris field, but they didn’t find anything noteworthy before the setting sun forced them back to base. It was unknown exactly what happened to the two men on board. All troops on the island were put on alert, in hopes that the men would be found on the ground; and additional planes were sent out the next morning, but no one ever found a trace of them. They were gone, just like that, without any indication of what their final moments may have been like. Only 22 years old, and that was it.

As a writer, I take a particular interest in the inner workings of people. And I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain at the idea that this is all I will ever really know about a soldier who shared my name. Looking back now, I wish I had asked my great-grandpa more questions about his life and the brother he lost. I wish I knew how he responded when he heard the news. Did he ever secretly hope that his brother lived on somewhere? Did he ever struggle with the thought that he didn’t truly know how things had ended?

I remember my great-grandpa as the tough man who liked to poke at people until they snapped back. He got such a kick out of it, and respected anyone who held their ground against him. He was the same man who would greet us with “Well don’t you look all purdied up” every time we came over, even if we had ripped jeans and dirt on our faced. He’s the same man who would tell us a bedtime story of his own creation every time we stayed the night. My personal favorite was his own version of Jack and the Beanstalk, ending with the giant falling from the stalk and breaking his leg, forcing him to be kind to all of the tiny people who helped him get better. It never occurred to me as a child that there was more to his own story. I never thought to ask more questions.

So this Memorial Day, I take the time to remember the stories I know and think of the ones I was never told. I remember to ask more questions so these histories don’t die after the last breath is taken. This is the importance of stories; these truths and histories that we must be sure to carry with us into the next generation. Because the lives we live, the ones that came before us, and the ones that will follow: they matter. Even the tinies of details matters- like how a boy got a scar on his knee before he joined the war once upon a time.

The Journey Begins (Rescuing the Muse, Part 5)

The sun had barely crested the horizon when I pulled on my worn leather boots and slung my pack over my shoulder. I hadn’t told the innkeeper what time I would be leaving, I didn’t want her to be worried about seeing me off. She hadn’t wanted me to go to begin with. “Tis too dangerous out there for someone in your condition,” she had warned, “Orcs, dragons, the creatures of the forrest, the mages in the western lands; who knows what you will come across. You should just stay right here where it’s safe. I could use the extra help.” She knew her words were falling on deaf ears, that my mind was already made up. I had a Muse to rescue, and my heart would never sing again if she remained locked away in that tower.

I tiptoed past the rows of tables, making my way to the front door. “Thought you would go without me noticing, did you?” I jumped when I heard the voice from across the darkened room. She stood in the doorway to the kitchens, arms crossed over her chest, “You forget, my child, you are not the first adventurer to lay your head under my roof. I know what that spark in your eyes means, I knew you would be leaving in the next day or two.” She reached down to the table beside her and picked up a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied together with twine. “It isn’t much, but it should keep you from starving,” she waited for me to take the bundle and gently add it to my little pack.

Her eyes seemed distant when she spoke next, “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched walk out that door in search of adventure. Most of them don’t ever come back,” she watched me closely for a moment before continuing, “Do me a favor, if you can. Whatever it is that you are searching for- don’t give up on it until you find it. And once you do, I want you to come back here, sit in front of this very fire, and tell me your grand tale. I could use a good story to lighten my heart.” She nodded her head once before turning back towards the kitchen, busying herself with the morning chores. She refused to look back in my direction.

The village was swathed in shadows as I made my way outside. The pre-dawn sky was filled with roiling gray clouds that drizzled lazily over the landscape. A small shiver raced down my spine, though I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or sheer anticipation. The weather promised a storm would be soon to follow; perhaps not the best time to begin a grand adventure. But I knew if I waited another day, I would simply fade into the background of this place. It would be far too easy to ignore the voice that was calling me forward, and hide inside the inn with it’s crackling fire and lively conversations. No, it was now or never. Even if that meant I was walking straight into a hurricane; that was better than wasting away in the comfort of routine and expectation.

I took a deep breath and placed my foot on the cobbled bridge that led out of the village and towards the Forrest of Furies. There were rumors of fearsome beasts and midnight Whisps that delighted in confusing the wayward traveler. It was time I learn what truths this strange place carried. It was time start the journey.

What kind of tale would Bilbo have been able to tell if the path to the Lonely Mountain had been paved and well-traveled? It is all but a requirement that things will start out a bit rocky, and you will run into countless monsters. It is the tests that must be overcome and the burdens that must be carried that crystalize a character into their greatest version. So stand proud when you face the struggle, because by facing it you are becoming your very own hero.

This past week I made my first valiant attempt at rescuing my Muse. To be honest, I probably looked a bit more like Don Quixote rather than Geralt of Rivia as I charged into my personal battle. But the key here is: I still charged in. In spite of everything inside of me telling me to give myself a break and do it tomorrow- I tried. Did I fail? Oh, spectacularly. But I also stumbled across a few unexpected successes.

This past week I wound up working a lot more overtime than expected; I’m talking 12 hour days- grueling, to say the least. The primary reason: I’m a millennial, and according to everyone in my organization, that must mean that I am an expert in all things tech related. Why yes, you all caught me; my first language wasn’t English, it was C++, I built my own droid when I was six months old, and I can figure out what is wrong with an entire computer system just by whispering sweet nothings to the monitor. Sarcasm aside: I don’t consider myself particularly techy, but I guess it’s a relative term, since it was agreed that I’m good enough to be on the tech team (gulp- it consists of the only 3 millennial in our organization, funny, huh?). But I digress.

My point being: it required a lot of extra mental energy for me to problem-solve my way through the work day. By the time I got home, my brain felt like a shriveled little raisin. I was exhausted (and moody- sorry to every living being in my household, including the plants). To be honest, I felt completely defeated. Here I was straining all day long in the hopes that I could come home and work on the things that truly spark a passion in my soul. I wanted to write, to create, to draw, to make up my own dance moves in the kitchen while waiting for the chicken to cook. I wanted to live my best creative life, because, damn it, I promised myself I would. But real life has a way of slapping you in the face when you refuse to adjust your plans. And it can hit pretty hard.

So here’s the catch (you knew there would be one, didn’t you? I wouldn’t just drop you off in that dark defeated place and say ‘see ya, I gotta meet up with a guy to teach him how to rotate a PDF’). No, there was a stunning realization I made that changed my entire outlook on my creativity project and my work-life balance. I’ve always known that creativity isn’t just art: it isn’t only found between the pages of a book or hung up on a wall behind an ornate frame. No, true creativity is versatile, it’s found in everything that we do, it is something that truly makes us human and sparks a fire in our soul. I spent my evenings feeling awful that I didn’t have enough energy left to create. And yet, what was it that sapped every last ounce of brain juice I had left? It was a different type of creation- it was a form of creativity that I didn’t count as being ‘genuine’ because it wasn’t intentional on my part.

I spent my entire week assisting my team in building something clunky, unweildy, and kind of beautiful. I created this behemoth using a medium I don’t general dabble in. I assisted in making a system that would allow my organization to continue functioning in this new virtual world we are all trying to navigate in. I carved the “cogs” of this oversized machine as I painstakingly trained overwhelmed coworkers. I found a way to break it all up into bite-size pieces and compare to less-intimidating tasks they’ve already done. I spent hours putting out one fire after another; creating a patch solution that would get us through the morning until we could fix whatever hardware had malfunctioned. I was exhausted at the end of the day because it took every ounce of creativity to come up with those solutions. It took ingenuity and whole lot of luck- and that’s exactly what this ‘Rescue the Muse’ project is all about.

Would I prefer to learn how to paint something beautiful? Draw my very own comic book? Make the cosplay outfit of my dreams? Or finish one of a dozen stories hanging out there in limbo? Of course I would- those things have always been passions of mine. But there’s some merit to be found in creating a tool you didn’t know you needed, in finding a path that you can lead an entire organization down. Creativity does not just belong to the creative arts- it belongs to all of us in every field.

And I have to say, I think that’s a pretty damn good way to start an adventure: by realizing you had been on a path headed towards one for far longer than you thought. Truthfully, I’m still holding out hope that this coming week I’ll find more time for my ‘personal’ projects. I’m taking advantage of this long weekend and writing up a storm, researching some pretty awesome ideas, and building up the stamina I’ll need for the next week. Plus, I have some items in my fridge that really need to be used soon- items that would be perfect for an at-home version of Chopped. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to make someone else eat it. With any luck, I will be sharing storied and horrible drawings, and perhaps a few terrifyingly new recipes in the coming days; but we’ll see what awaits us beneath at canopy of trees up ahead.

Until next time, my brave adventurers- keep up the good fight, and don’t stop creating, even if those creations aren’t what you expected.