Monthly Resource Collection: August 2020

Hello Readers!

This month flew by. Between going camping for my husband’s birthday (a nice break with absolutely no cell phone reception) and what seems like an endless list of work responsibilities since resuming operations, I simply haven’t consumed as much information. I found myself reading more as a quiet method of active meditation, and watching less. Sometimes the noise of the world becomes too much for me, and I just need extensive periods of quiet time or immersive time in a good book. I’m learning to be okay with that.

I also hosted my first unlearning.is.rad book club meeting, through Zoom of course. Because I redirected my book club to social justice themes, I will include our selections in monthly resource blogs.

I hope you will continue to find these posts useful, and inspiring.

-Liz, The Real Life Vegan Wife

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Books:

  • Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood, Trevor Noah

Born A Crime is without question one of my favorite books ever. This wonderfully written memoir chronicles the early life of Trevor Noah – now the host of The Daily Show – during the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. Noah tells much of the story through his mother’s experiences, which forms a more intersectional and personal narrative around topics of racial segregation, poverty, colorism, and sexism. “The personal is political” is woven throughout each chapter as systems clearly help to shape personal outcomes. I haven’t laughed or cried harder reading a book, probably ever, and I think everyone should read this.

  • So you want to talk about race, Ijeoma Oluo

*Book Club Pick

So you want to talk about race is an accessible introduction to topics like privilege, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, microaggressions, police brutality, and the school to prison pipeline. Oluo outlines effective ways to engage in difficult conversations about these topics, while also emphasizing the importance of presenting facts and explaining the real-world implications of incidents that many would consider isolated personal events, but are in fact symptoms of a greater and more complex racist system.

  • The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Cornejo Villavicencio beautifully wrote this book to tell stories about people. People who have immigrated to the United States, people who are undocumented, people who cannot be simply defined as one dimensional “workers,” or “dreamers.” People who’s worth should not be tied to the word “workers” to make their existence more palatable, or to justify their existence as a human being. They are complex and emotional and flawed; they experience joy and sadness, grief and happiness. They live their lives, sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane, but these people are defined by more than what they can produce for a country that renders them invisible.

Bookstores to Support:

https://keybookstore.com

https://www.semicolonchi.com

https://eurekabookshop.com

https://bookshop.org/shop/Elizabeths

Notable Podcast Episodes:

  • America Did What?! W/ Blair Imani & Kate Robards, “Episode 1: Redlining and the GI Bill.” 7/3/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/america-did-what/id1519365900?i=1000485381107

This episode explains exactly what the GI Bill entailed and why many Black Americans were excluded from it’s benefits because of practices like “redlining,” and the far reaching implications of this systematic denial of government provided services.

  • The Robcast, “We Hung Our Harps.” 7/21/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-robcast/id956742638?i=1000485667858

This sermon-style talk helps name the feelings of grief and disillusionment many Americans are currently feeling as we strive for a better way of being and let go of what we thought we had.

*For an in-depth analysis of my feelings around this topic, see my post The Word of the Day is Lament: https://thereallifeveganwife.com/2020/08/08/the-word-of-the-day-is-lament/

Must Read Articles:

“Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era.”

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.

How to Move Forward When Your “Metrics of Success Have Been Blasted to Shreds.”

A story inspired by Rob Bell.

I grew up in a born-again Christian household, in a largely born-again Christian town. Church on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, youth group on Wednesday. Church camp, Vacation Bible School and field trips during the summer. No Harry Potter, no Sabrina the Teenage Witch – no dressing up “like anything scary” on Halloween. I remember church and all of it’s functions being a time to socialize with friends, but little to nothing else. Even as a small child attending Sunday school I was always aware that every teaching should be taken with a grain of salt. Not to be interpreted literally, akin to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales on my shelf, or my favorite Aesop’s Fables. Useful stories and cautionary tales. Written by men and usually not very feminist.

Recently I’ve shifted my thinking from a strictly atheist perspective to more of an agnostic outlook. I used to take comfort in the simplicity of believing in what you can see. In science, in practicality, in the fact that when I die all that happens is my own decomposition. Back to the earth. I haven’t quite decided what I believe in now, but what I do know is that the universe is far too complex to believe any of our senses are producing the “truth” because our scope of understanding is simply too small. I do believe that each of us is a tiny part of one larger piece – the earth, plants and animals, and that is why our joy and our suffering is so intrinsically connected. So while I do not believe in god or a creator, I do believe in purpose, in connectedness, in energy, and ultimately in the simple fact that at the fringes of what we like to believe are “scientific facts” are actually whimsical and largely unexplained phenomena that all lead back to the same theme: We can’t believe what we think we know, because at this time our lens is not advanced enough to see what lies beyond our comprehension. There is so much more that we are blind to. When my body goes back to the earth, what really is it feeding? Isn’t that exchange somehow a form of magic?

My entire life I’ve been drawn toward a sense of connectedness. To plants, to animals, and to a feeling of belonging that I can’t quite explain. It’s not a nostalgia for my past or a wish for an ideal future, but a peace I feel on certain days when the smell of wet leaves and dirt sends me off to a place where I truly belong, but haven’t been yet. Crisp air, the sound of wind chimes, and white garden roses losing their petals, my husband and our animals – it’s magic. I feel like every choice I’ve made is leading me down this path, but I’m not sure where it goes, I just know it’s right, and when I get closer, I feel it. I’ve always been good at following my heart. Until this point I’ve always chased tangible dreams. College, business, career. And then one day I realized that all of these successes are amazing, but haven’t led me toward that feeling – to that place I’ve haphazardly been traveling to since the beginning. Toward that connection to something my soul feels but my senses can’t describe or articulate. To the unknown future that I know is there for me to discover. So for the first time I’m sitting with an open heart – trusting the universe to show me why I’m being pulled toward a feeling and a life that by all accounts can’t be measured by traditional metrics of success.

I recently discovered Rob Bell, a pastor and speaker who’s sermon-like podcasts on the Robcast often shed light on feelings or dilemmas that many of us can relate to. I’ve found that when strict religious underpinnings are removed from teachings like his, I love listening to smart and relatable sermons, and often use the time to learn, reflect, and meditate on the ideas. One of his latest episodes “A Hymn For the Curve” is about those of us that are drawn to do things differently, who know things can be better so we change our behavior accordingly. For those of us that simply aren’t sure why we’re drawn to be different, but we are. We take the path less traveled and are often misunderstood. Maybe we’re ahead of the curve, maybe we see something that others can’t yet see. Maybe if everyone saw it then the change wouldn’t be needed. But it is.

_____

He shared a version of this story:

There are a group of people living in a village near a river. One day they notice a body coming down the river so they jump in to pull it out. Then they notice another, and another, and another. The bodies start coming down the river so fast that the people can’t pull them out fast enough.

Another group of people living nearby observe the problem and decide to help, so they build a dam to help catch the bodies. The bodies begin piling up, but their method makes it easier for them to catch more to pull out at a time. The bodies keep coming down the river at a rapid rate, and eventually the dam will break under the weight because it will become impossible for the people to keep up, even with the dam.

A third group observes both methods, and after watching for a while, they turn their backs on the other villagers and begin walking upstream.

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What we know is that the third group is going exploring. To the other villagers they appear to be dismissive. They seem uncaring and unwilling to help. But in reality, they’re traveling into the unknown to discover where the bodies are coming from and why they’re coming down the river to begin with. They are seeing what the others couldn’t see so that hopefully they can change behaviors and therefore, change the outcome.

Maybe when we’re drawn to something we can’t explain, it’s the universe leading us to the magic. Our minds just haven’t caught up yet.

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Photo: Amanda Lankila Photography