Trump’s America

Donald Trump – business tycoon, reality TV star, President-elect of these “united” states. Are you surprised? America stands for opportunity, right, the American dream – and, if we’re calling the American dream building a billion-dollar empire, Trump is the embodiment of it. In America, we seem to value money over character, pride over empathy, appearing authentic over knowing and embracing our true selves. And the new leader of our country is perfectly in line with these values.

And yet – people don’t seem okay with this. Anti-Trump rallies are breaking out across the country, citizens have started wearing safety pins on their clothing to designate themselves as “hate-free” – a safe space for people to be different. Really, we now feel a need to let people know that we’re not all bigots. Since Trump has become president, friends have told me about black men being shoved to the tune of, “Obama can’t protect you now,” and half-eaten McDonald’s hamburgers being thrown at unsuspecting trans people. Is this what we want – a culture of hate and anger? Is this what America has become? Or is it what America has always been?

For united states, I’m not sure how united we’ve ever been. That is – what is it that unites us? Economic freedom, capitalism, imports and exports? Or personal, spiritual freedom, fresh starts, a chance to be anybody and achieve anything – freedom to be ourselves? Enough people united on the former to select a president that falls in line with our monetary values, our obsession over appearance and decadence – regardless of morality or tolerance.

But what was America founded on? Both? Men came here to plunder, to get rich; families moved here for religious freedom; convicts moved here to start fresh; slaves were shipped here against their wills to serve the white men in their plundering; Irish immigrants escaped famine, Jews discrimination, Mexicans poverty, Muslims kidnapping and the hatred of the world. My ancestors are Irish criminals and Jewish heretics – will you hold this against me? Do my ancestors, the people whose heritage I share, define me? The Statue of Liberty still stands in Hudson Bay, supposedly welcoming all who wish to enter, inviting the “tired, poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” In this poem inscribed at its base, Lazarus calls the statue “Mother of Exiles.” Trump himself is the son of German and Scottish immigrants – at what point do we close our doors? Build a wall, and we might as well knock down the Statue of Liberty – the statue called Liberty Enlightening the World when it was erected for our Constitution’s centennial. I’m not sure we deserve it anymore.

Once upon a time, character was valued over wealth. War heroes like George Washington chose to return to farming instead of accepting the money and power offered to them; presidents and politicians were respected – people to emulate, paragons of virtue. Politics aren’t meant to be a full-time job or a business – public servants really were servants at one point, working for the good of the common man because they sincerely cared about their country. Sure, there have always been exceptions to this, but when did money take the place of character and humanity? These are opposite ends of a spectrum, and over the years the poles have grown further and further apart. But when did we become so superficial? Think about that, please, because based on our nation’s current values, the pervasive myth that, “I’ll be happy when…”, our misunderstanding of love, our delusion that we should all like certain movies or pop stars or buy certain shoes or cars because it’s what cool, because it’s what everyone else is doing – based on all that and so much more, we picked the right president. Whether you voted for him or not, by participating in this culture – by watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, spending more time on Instagram than on yourself, chasing raises and promotions like rats in cages – harsh, I know, but it makes each and every one of us culpable. Emerson got it right in 1844 – “The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual.” Until we start valuing authenticity over conformity, love over fear, personal growth over external status, until we find some balance between money and joy – until then, Trump is the perfect president for these United States.

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Birthing a New Nation

I read recently that what really defined the fall of man, in the beginning, was gaining awareness. The knowledge we gained was the knowledge that we existed on this planet. Instead of simply living blindly, allowing events and circumstances to unfold as they may, we started thinking about it, started plotting, started making plans and strategies for how to live – something that, as far as anyone knows, we’d never thought to do before. Because we didn’t know any better.

But, in the societies that followed this awakening, many groups were excluded from living in the light this knowledge provided. Women and people with darker skin tones or different religions were excluded from the greater plan that straight white men conceived and subsequently enforced. It’s taken hundreds of years and countless atrocities to get to where we are today. Damage has been done, but we are making progress. Think about when this country – America – was originally founded. White men who thought they ran the world came in on their ships; they plundered, exploited, and enslaved entire native civilizations. Our country – and others – were founded on practices of slavery, of cruelty, of subjugation.

Really, what was our nation birthed on? On the one hand, we have strong principles of liberty, of freedom to pursue dreams. Supposedly, if you read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, we are a nation for the poor, the downtrodden, for people who are suffering in their homeland and need a fresh start. If only these things transcended the boundaries of race and class and religion and gender.

Nate Parker’s film – The Birth of a Nation – is necessary, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. If you don’t know, it’s using the same title as one of the first movies ever made in America, one that praised the KKK as a heroic force and showed black men as unintelligent sexual predators. One hundred years after the first try, Parker redeems the title, telling the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a rebellion that started this country on a path toward ending slavery.

Schools today are deficient in education about slavery – people like to brush over it, gloss over the filthy things that slave owners did. This movie no longer lets that slide. Jarring cruelty is shown, but it’s not simply to shock – it’s told in such a way that brings it home, that makes it real, that makes you as angry and as heartbroken as if these unspeakable things were being done to your own brother or wife. Because really, the people who live in this country with us are our brothers and sisters regardless of race or class or religion. The emotion is intense, and that’s exactly what this country needs. It’s what I needed, and I know I’m not the only one who is able to live in some kind of bubble because of the lack of melanin in my skin.

This movie works like hydrogen peroxide on a wound that has been festering, infected, never fully healing. It’s massive and dirty and awful, but this film, along with other movements and works of art, is cleaning it out. Healing will take some time and some pain. But pouring the hydrogen peroxide is a step forward. Acknowledging what happened can lead us toward progress. It can unite us as people under new empathies, new knowledge. We can express our concern by speaking up, by looking critically at what our nation was founded on, and by evaluating if that is still what we need.

Discrimination is dead. We can look to current news and politics to see that this is not yet true in practice, but I know enough people who believe that – that nothing is skin deep, that a person lives INSIDE a body, and any judgments should be suspended for conversation. I know this is easier said than done, but at least we’re talking about it. Let’s use our fallen trait – our awareness of living – let’s use it for good. Let’s stay woke about what’s going on, let’s practice love and kindness and inclusivity in our own lives. It starts small, with individual people, and when individual people all watch a movie like The Birth of a Nation – that does the world some good. And isn’t that what we all want?

Take care –

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How to Have Feelings

I don’t know about you, but America’s education system did not prepare me for real life. Emotions? Those aren’t mentioned in physical education or Spanish I. I spent my adolescence with a brick wall between my mind and my heart – I was emotionally ignorant. While I did just earn a college degree, what I actually learned during the past four years was how to feel. And I didn’t learn this in school.

You know how when you’re really happy, you physically go a little nuts? Whether you shout or dance or grab someone near you and shake them with joy, you move. Emotional energy has to move out of the body. Negative energy is no different from positive in this way. My reflex is to shut down and isolate myself, only to find that I’m more upset than ever and am burning with angst or something, but I have no clue what it is or why it’s happening.

I used to be so embarrassed that I had feelings. I saw it as a weakness, something to get rid of quietly. Movies show people acting out of raw emotions without thinking things through, without taking the time to feel before making decisions. Feeling and movement go hand in hand for me – they both clear my head. Whether it’s a run or boxing or lifting weights or yoga – when my body is busy, my heart can feel and my mind can think.

A good cry is scientifically proven to be the most efficient way to move the emotional energy out, but that doesn’t always come easy. Often, it comes on the heels of exercise. When I have something pent up inside, I find myself shedding tears as I’m punching a bag or breathing on my yoga mat. Then I finish my yoga, and I turn on the shower and let hot water run over me while I sob in the fetal position. It’s so cathartic, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I began with boxing. I’d been hurt by a lot of people [including myself] and didn’t know what to do with that, so I punched out my aggression. It’s okay to be pissed off, as long as you’re taking it out in a healthy way, a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Yoga, in many ways, saves me every day. Breathing air into all parts of the body, letting it circulate, it’s the freshness of spring cleaning every time you practice. It’s entirely free because it’s all over Youtube, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home, so no one cares if you look funny or if you fart, because you will. And the acceptance, the calm that comes with it makes you okay with that.

Movement, getting in touch with my body, has served as one of the most effective tools of recovery for me. Finally feeling all the emotions that I’d pushed down with food or alcohol or whatever else has been purifying. It’s helped me dig out all the skeletons in my closet, and now they are all happily cremated and serving as fertilizer to the new growth in my soul. And, really, I don’t think any of that would have been possible without physically getting my feelings out of my body. Once they’re out, they lose their power, and you’re able to analyze them with a clear mind, to work through the causes instead of acting out of the effects. And, like every other form of self-care, it’s so worth it.

What do you think? How do you get your feels out?

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On [Lemonade] and America

If you haven’t read Part I – it’s not necessary. This focuses on general themes.

What I love about this album is its transcendence. On the surface, the obvious meaning is Beyoncé making lemonade with the lemons that Jay-Z gave her when he cheated on her. But this can represent so many other things – controversies and conflicts that are referenced throughout both the visual and auditory albums.

For one thing, on “Sandcastles,” Beyoncé is transcending herself. She sings “Every promise don’t work out that way,” referencing the ultimatum she had always set down that if he cheats she is gone. And then James Blake, in his chillingly angelic voice, sings – “Forward.” The lyrics of this songs make it sound, for one, that Beyoncé is suggesting an open relationship of some sort between her and Jay-Z, recognizing that the bond they have is greater than most, that the strength and multidimensionality of their connection is not worth throwing away over some becky. At the same time, these lyrics suggest a moving forward for America, an opening of minds to unity – an American identity.

I’ve heard people reference “white culture,” and I guess this is meant as mainstream America, but, honestly, I’ve always felt lost in this country because I can’t see a culture I identify with. My ancestry is mostly Jewish and Irish, but we’ve all been in this country so long that if I tried to join a Yiddish community in New York I’d feel interested, but certainly not at home, and while I might look Irish with my red hair and pale skin, I have no idea what kind of Irish communities exist in the U.S., and I’m not sure I care enough to find out. If I think of white culture, images of preppy kids on golf courses and in country clubs or California surfers come to mind. I don’t fit in either of those scenarios, but even they have some diversity. I don’t know what white culture is, but I don’t want to. What I want is American culture. And I want it to be more than what it is right now. And I think that can only come if we embrace each other, start being generous with our traditions and beliefs and strengths, and come together.

bell hooks, in her critique of Lemonade, wrote that Beyoncé neglected to really call out the patriarchy – that change must be mutual. This goes for intimate relationships, for patriarchy and feminism, and for people of all races. Change must be mutual.

There’s a Gandhi quote that’s used so often it’s likely lost its meaning for many – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want a world of love, acceptance, kindness – you don’t have to wait. In Beyoncé’s visual album, a woman’s voice speaks these words: “So how we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love.” Be love to everyone around you. People notice a positive example, even if you don’t get constant praise and recognition for it, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing, and, I promise, your actions will make a difference. Someone is always watching. Maybe not the world, but all progress begins on an individual level.

hooks also wrote that, while Beyoncé’s Lemonade focused primarily on the bitterness of the lemons, it’s actually a sweet, refreshing drink. We’ve all been through some shit, but true lemonade is made in “celebration of our moving beyond pain.”

So, Beyoncé, I love Lemonade for its celebration of black women and its transcendent messages. It’s a necessary work of art with words and images that the world need to see, to recognize its power, and to acknowledge and laud the strength of black women. Now – I know at least one white girl that can twerk (it’s me), and I’m sure some Asian and Native American and Mexican and racially ambiguous girls know how to get down to a beat, too, and I would love to see some racial inclusion in your future work – practicing your own message of moving forward. After all, we are American, and, more than anything, I want that to mean something. And I want it to be positive. AND I believe that’s possible.042015_0136_HowtoWinFri1.jpg