The Word of the Day is Lament

I haven’t written much about my experiences or feelings navigating the last four or five months. I still have a lot to work through before I feel clear enough to discuss my thoughts regarding the traumatic closure of my business, my scramble to keep afloat, the uprisings all over the country and the way our mainstream political discourse has changed. I’m still struggling daily. Every crack and flaw in our feeble system has finally been exposed. Watching and living that reality through sober eyes has been an experience. It will continue to be for some time. Accepting that new reality is where I currently reside on my grief journey.

In the face of challenge or trauma I place myself in a constant state of motion. I’ve learned this through years of writing and a year of weekly therapy. Moving fast helps me to feel productive, like I’m in total control, which I understand is rooted in a deep history of societal ideology promoting capitalism and individualistic bootstrap culture in this country. The guilt I feel is constant; it’s enough to make me sick to my stomach at the thought of possibility of failure. It is with me daily. Were my parent’s sacrifices for nothing? If I’m not producing something, I feel worthless. I would be lying if I said that being Mexican / American – the daughter and granddaughter of people who worked hard and sacrificed everything to give me a better life – hasn’t influenced my relationship with work and my value. With production and permission to exist. It has. The extent to which I feel these things is something I’m working through now. And it’s tough.

I’ve gone through months of feeling unpredictable and intense emotions. And months of trying my best to stay busy and channel them into something tangible and useful. But for the last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling something different. Something that I couldn’t name until earlier this week when I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast episode “We Hung Our Harps” on The Robcast.

I listened to it three times.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and

wept

when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked us for

songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of

joy;

they said, “Sing us one of the songs

of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord

while in a foreign land?”

-Psalm 137

Although I was raised in a strictly Christian household, I am not religious. I fall somewhere on the scale between atheist and agnostic beliefs. What I appreciate about Rob Bell is how effective he is at using the bible to teach lessons that make sense no matter what your religious beliefs may be. However problematic, these words spoke to me, on a symbolic level. They helped me to begin processing that emptiness I started to feel a few weeks after being back to work. I feel disconnected from everything that was taken from me so easily. From my job, from my business, from my relationship with work and to the part I play as a cog in a larger broken capitalist system in this country – that does not care if I succeed or fail.

Bell made two specific points in regards to the Psalm above that gave meaning to my feelings of emptiness and disappointment. The first is that we are on the cusp of a great, collective “lament.” We, as a country, had the opportunity to make something great. To use our privilege in this world for good, and we largely did not. We blew it. And now we’re here. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.” We’re mourning many of our privileges, but also mourning our fantasies. The ones we had about who we were as a country and “how far we’d come.” I feel like the first stage of this lament began for many of us, after Donald Trump was elected. Bell acknowledges that even those of us that are critical of our country and it’s flawed systems still, on some level, believed at least something about what our place in this world was. What the United States could stand for, what goodness we could pull together to do if we used all that power in the right ways. We were capable of so much good. But the reality of what’s happening doesn’t reflect those beliefs. I had this personal moment of reckoning when I was thinking about the Muslims currently in internment camps in China. My immediate though was: “How can we help anyone else when we can’t even help ourselves?” I had never felt that way before. Before, I could either be proud of our country or disappointed in our country. Helplessness was an emotion, as an American with white privilege, I haden’t spent much time feeling. “There, on the poplars, we hung our harps.”

A great lament. A mourning for what we had, and what we thought we had.

An acceptance of our painful failures.

The second point that Bell made was in regards to exile. Exile can be a literal, physical banishment from one’s country or home. Or it can be an emotional expulsion. The anxiety I feel knowing that as a US citizen, the mobility and “freedom” that we’re used to owning has been largely curtailed, is intense. What a privilege we had. But the emotional exile is something interesting. A feeling of banishment, of loneliness, of losing the little faith I had in this country to keep us safe. The safety net I thought I had just doesn’t exist and that, more than anything, feels like abandonment.

I’m not bringing up these points to focus only on the negative, or to wallow in self pity. I bring these up to hopefully help others recognize that that sadness and grief for what we had, and thought we had, is real. And it will likely get worse and more intense before the upturn. But that’s the beauty about a lament – a loss, a grief process – once you allow yourself to feel it, you can move through it. With a clear head and a stronger heart you have the freedom to create something better, something new and previously assumed to be impossible. My hope, for all of us who make it to this next chapter in United States history, is that we have the courage to mourn what’s lost, let it go, and build something compassionate and new.

I’ve Always Loved Two Things: The Written Word and Beauty

As a teenager I would look through the magazine section at our local grocery store on a regular basis – I’d hold the glossy pages in my hands and take it all in. Her outfits, her makeup, her hairstyles, the ads. As I thumbed through Vogue and Vanity Fair I realized I was less interested in the words, something that was unusual for me, but the beauty was something to sit in awe of. Looking back on it now, I’m sometimes surprised to think that the poor, small, rural town I’m from even had these little creative windows available for us to buy. Sometimes I’d even spend the five dollars to own one – an escape from reality, 1,000 suggestions on how you (a woman) should look, props to collect dust in the salon, someone telling you what to buy to be her. For some reason, I didn’t care about any of that. It was just art to me. That lifestyle was so inaccessible in my world that I couldn’t even focus on what I didn’t have – the thought never even crossed my mind to want what they had. Because creating art is free.

As a young adult, getting a degree in news / editorial journalism, waiting to graduate to start my career in beauty, I thought I might “grow up” to get that job everyone in movies seems to want: beauty editor of some major magazine. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist, so logically the simplest choice of career path would be to become the makeup artist version of Carrie Bradshaw. No problem. Grow up to be The Devil Wears Prada version of Meryl Streep; again no problem.

Step one: go to journalism school. As a journalism student I was required to pick up three newspapers a day before classes began to review them for major news. The two local daily papers (yes this is unusual, and since then one has folded) and the San Francisco Chronicle. We’d have to show up to class ready to talk about anything and everything that was in those three papers – we’d almost always be quizzed on something too. This is before smart phones. Last minute googling of who died this morning or what weather event was printed above the fold on the Chronicle wasn’t an option. You had to know it. You had the physical copy in your backpack. You spent at least thirty minutes prior to that first class skimming and picking out anything that seemed to be important news, just in case. Then we’d write about it, and we’d be timed. I loved it.

In my “free time” I’d see my less serious woman on the side: magazines. I worked in the mall, and on my breaks I’d walk over to Borders, a now defunct bookstore chain, to spend an entire hour’s wages on a caramel latte and a Vogue. Back then I never subscribed to anything – I loved going in person, drinking my coffee and touching the pages. It’s amazing how nostalgic that feels writing this now, in a world where we can’t touch anything, where bookstores are a dying breed. You’d open it and smell the perfume samples; ads would fall out; back then Keira Knightley would be staring back at you wearing something that engulfed her, her giant smokey eyes vacant but beautiful. That signature pouty lip, her boney shoulders. And all I could think about was going home to recreate that makeup look with whatever products I could scrape together.

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in that type of art because reality set in and it became harder and harder for me to see those photos as isolated innocent projects. They became small pieces of a bigger system. A beauty politic problem. A body politic problem. A capitalist, racist problem.

However, I was a resourceful person – I worked at Victoria’s Secret so I could “afford” the glamorous fashion, and I got myself my first makeup job at an Estee Lauder counter where I made decent enough commissions to earn almost all the makeup I could ever want or use. Step two: become a beauty professional. I’ve worked in beauty ever since. Up the chain. Practicing. Now for myself. Now more clearly understanding the framework we all participate in to maintain these systems of power. Understanding it’s evils while participating in them to survive. The reality of needing to work selling makeup for several hours to buy one mascara from the brand I worked for wasn’t lost on me. Now I work one hour and can buy at least ten mascaras. The reality that if I were to graduate and actually become a writer at our local newspaper I would be paying off my student loans into my forties, was also not lost on me. Instead, I could become a makeup artist and pay them off a decade sooner. I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to play the system, positioning myself in a world I was priced out of, until someday I could afford it. Sometimes I feel like that’s business, sometimes I feel like there’s more to it than that.

So I graduated from journalism school, and beauty school and took a decade-long detour away from magazines and newspapers, toward entrepreneurship and learning. But I miss it. The art part. The simplicity. The ease and joy of turning the pages and just looking.

A year ago I started a “digital declutter” experiment and as part of my efforts to minimize online time, I subscribed to print publications. Beauty magazines weren’t even on my list of options. The stories about “how to please your man” are just as disappointing as the half-hearted articles on “how to please yourself.” The “You go girl!” and “Girl power!” undertones are just different sides of the same misogynistic, patriarchal coin. Sometimes a decent story is thrown in but mostly, it’s all just what you should buy, simple content, abysmal representation. Perpetuation of stereotypes, norms and capitalist “culture.” So instead I decided to subscribe to The New York Times, Veg News Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Esquire. I feel like the stories and interviews in Esquire are extremely well written and the ads are almost entirely for men, so I can enjoy them without thinking too much about it. The others are obviously for news, some pop culture, and food. But I still missed makeup, and hairstyling, fashion and stories about women. Where women are the center.

Then I found CRWNMAG on instagram, and their feed was everything I love about beauty without the over simplification and lack of representation. I ordered every issue they have available on their website and could not be more thrilled to finally be bringing editorial-style print beauty back into my life and regular rotation. The about section on their website explains that CRWNMAG

“exists to create a progressive dialogue around natural hair and the women who wear it. We’re reaching beyond trendy clickbait and #BlackGirlMagic to address the whole Black woman; a woman who is more educated, well-traveled and sophisticated than ever before – largely because generations before her have fought to ensure her seat at the table. Through beautiful content, thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration and resources; we’re telling the world the truth about Black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty – and documenting our story in tangible, premium print form.”

The magazines themselves are amazing quality, thick and durable like a book. The pages are matte and have that library book smell – that good paper smell. But inside, the content is more than I expected. Because I respect the creators, writers, and artists featured, I will not share specific examples of articles or projects but I will say that although I am not a Black woman, I have an appreciation for a print magazine that centers women and issues that mainstream beauty magazines ignore or barely include. The ads are different, the art is different, and the stories and interviews take a more analytical and intersectional approach to reporting. I feel like I can actually enjoy the magazine because it isn’t ignoring the things mainstream beauty ignores, if that makes sense. It’s like opening my VegNews and realizing every ad is for vegan food. I don’t have to look at ads for meat or dairy, I can just enjoy the content and it actually applies to me. Not that every article or editorial piece in CRWNMAG applies to me, but I appreciate the beauty and the perspectives and feel like I can actually learn something. It’s time to bring that beauty magazine ritual back.

______

@crwnmag

https://shop.crwnmag.com

The First Monthly Resource Collection! July 2020

Hello Readers!

As promised, my plan moving forward is to dedicate the last Saturday of every month to rounding up many of the useful resources I consumed each month. I will include a brief description of what to expect from each, a photo, and a link when applicable, but my intention is not to summarize them for you. Rather, I hope these posts can be a spring board that sends you on your own unlearning journey and encourages you to do your own research.

Enjoy! I can’t wait to hear your feedback.

PS: I read A LOT of articles. If something you’re interested in is pictured but not listed, please comment below and I’ll send you a link.

-Liz, The Real Life Vegan Wife

_____

Books:

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law explains how the United States federal government, and individual state governments used (and continue to use) housing policy to create racial segregation. Many of us assume that the racial makeup of neighborhoods and cities are a product of “de facto” segregation when in fact it is a result of “de jure” or direct and lawful housing policy.

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow argues that since its founding, America has gone through several institutional forms of racial control, one simply evolving into the next to reflect society in that present moment. Beginning with chattel slavery, evolving into Jim Crow segregation, and currently resulting in mass incarceration, Alexander explains that each institution accomplishes the same end: the disenfranchisement and criminalization of Black people and Non-Black People of Color, resulting in a racial “underclass.”

  • Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is an excellent and accessible analysis of systems of privilege and oppression through the lens of intersectional feminism. Kendall explains that issues such as housing access, food security, and gun violence (among many others) disproportionately affect Black Women and Women of Color and have therefore been ignored by mainstream white feminism. She argues that these issues are feminist issues and that without addressing them collectively, patriarchy will continue to subjugate all women.

Bookstores to Support:

https://keybookstore.com

https://www.semicolonchi.com

https://eurekabookshop.com

https://bookshop.org/shop/Elizabeths

Notable Podcast Episodes:

  • Code Switch, “Why Now White People?” 6/16/20

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/878963732/why-now-white-people

This episode talks about the sudden surge of support from white people for the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd.

  • The Rich Roll Podcast, Episode 529, “John Lewis & John Salley Are Black In America.” 6/29/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?i=1000480111209

In this podcast episode, Rich Roll interviews John Salley, a long-time vegan and the first basketball player in history to win four NBA championships with three different teams, and John Lewis, aka The Badass Vegan, a vegan activist, athlete, and co-director of the new documentary They’re Trying to Kill Us.

  • American History Tellers, Season 13, Episodes 1-5, “Tulsa Race Massacre.”

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tulsa-race-massacre-the-promised-land/id1313596069?i=1000440022243

In this five-episode series, learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and the destruction of the Greenwood neighborhood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” by a racist white mob and a complicit police force.

Movies:

  • 13th

This documentary is available on Netflix and focuses on the meaning of the 13th Amendment, racial inequality in the United States, and why Black and Non Black People of Color make up a disproportionately high number of incarcerated individuals in this country.

  • The Hate U Give

This film tells the story of Starr Carter, a Black teenage girl learning to find her voice while constantly switching worlds and personalities between the Black community she calls home and the predominantly wealthy white prep school she attends.

Based on the novel by Angie Thomas

  • Dark Waters

Dark Waters tells the true story of how the DuPont corporation knowingly poisoned waterways, soil, animals and people in West Virginia with PFOA, a chemical commonly found in Teflon products.

Based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.