Thursday, December 26, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

On Friday, December 20, 2013 a federally appointed district judge named Robert J. Shelby (in office since September 2012, endorsed by both Utah Republican Senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee) issued a ruling that found the State of Utah's Constitutional Amendment 3 (proclaiming marriage to be only between one man and one woman) to be unconstitutional.

Friday began as a fairly laid-back day. K and I had both taken the day off work, so that we could have plenty of time to cook & bake in preparation for our Winter Solstice celebration with family and friends, planned for Saturday the 21st.

Since we hadn't spent much time with my teenaged brother recently, we decided to invite him over to shop & cook & play games with us for the day. I picked him up at about 9 in the morning, while K cooked a delightful breakfast for us all. We ate apple-spice bacon and maple-blueberry sausages from Whole Foods, toast from Trader Joe's with fresh peach jam from Liberty Heights Fresh, fried eggs from our Mom's chickens, and orange juice (Western Family, from Harmon's - not even organic, but delish!).

We played with the cats, my brother helped us wash tons of dishes, and at about 11:15 I drove him over to the Unitarian Church, where he was helping the other teens in his church group set up tables & chairs for that evening's Solstice program -- a fundraiser for him and his peers to travel for a service learning trip. While he was helping out there for a while, K and I ran around Sugarhouse to Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Barns & Noble, finding last-minute holiday gifts for co-workers and friends.

We picked up my brother again at about 1:30, and had a couple more errands to run - Trader Joe's for veggies, and the Wine Store (I had signed up to bring a bottle to the Solstice Fundraiser). Walking out of Trader Joe's, K handed me her phone, where I read a text message a co-worker had just sent to her -- stating that Judge Shelby had just released his 53-page ruling, overturning Amendment 3!

I had known that 3 Utah couples had recently sued the state, and even that the Judge hearing their arguments a couple of weeks before had set a self-imposed deadline of January 7 (my birthday) by which we would know his ruling. But to hear the ruling so soon was a shock -- both of us had chills and butterflies reading the news.

Since we were hanging out with my brother, though, we didn't have our noses attached to our phones, and so we didn't see or hear about the consequent run on the Salt Lake County Offices by same-sex couples within the hours to come . . . we finished our jaunt to the Wine Store, then once we were back home, my brother and I settled into a game of Monopoly while K studiously began filling out an application that her work had opened for the promotion she will be receiving soon.

It wasn't until 4:10, when my Step-dad called my phone, that we realized this wasn't going to be the normal, laid-back day we had thought -- the conversation went something like this:

G: "Are you meeting us at the courthouse?"

Elaine: *sighs, rolls eyes, laughs, rolls dice for Monopoly turn* "Everyone keeps calling us and saying we should go down for the Press Conference at 4, I know the Pride Center set up an event to celebrate the ruling . . ."

G: "I will pay for your Marriage License! Your Mom and I have food in the oven, but we will do anything we can to meet you down there as soon as possible!"

Elaine to Kristen: "G says he'll pay for our Marriage License! Hmm, I guess I better take a shower."

Elaine to G: "Okay, okay! I'll jump in the shower, and we'll meet you at the courthouse, well, the county offices, the marriage license office is on 2100 S and State, that's where the Pride Center's event is."

G: "Alright, call us back when you're on your way!"

Elaine: *laughing* "Really, you and Mom will meet us there? It's already 4:15, the thing will have already started . . ."

G: *pppfffttt* "Will I meet you down there!? I will crawl on my hands and knees over broken glass if I have to! *sounds like he's getting teary-eyed*

Elaine: "Awww, you're a sweetheart. Okay, I'll call back when we're heading out."

Now at this point, I actually did not know that the County was issuing licenses to same-sex couples. I thought the Pride Center was planning a nice, feel-good, celebratory press conference. But after my five-minute shower and once K, my brother, and I were in the car -- I pulled out my phone.

Only to find out, in astonishment, that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, pansexual (etc!) friends of mine were currently getting married! In Salt Lake City, Utah! That officiants were there, marrying people as soon as they filled out their paperwork!

When I pulled open the news article that stated that, within hours of the ruling, a Salt Lake City official had announced he saw no reason for County Clerks to deny licenses to same-sex couples, our quick car ride down to the county offices suddenly became a race against time.

The offices close at 5! There's probably a line! Maybe if we're in line by 5:00, they'll stay open for a while and let us get our license! There's no way Utah won't appeal this immediately! We might be on our way to actually get married, right now, tonight!

K said that if we had a sunroof, we would have been standing up, holding a sign outside it, "We're late to our WEDDING!!!" while honking to get through traffic.

Our best friend called, having just gotten off work because she was super sick:

L: "Oh my god! Are you on your way to the Courthouse!?"

Elaine: "YES!!! Can you believe this!?"

L: "I am on my way to the Courthouse too!!! Don't you dare get married before I get there! I mean, hurry up and get in there, but please wait for me!"

E: "Wait, don't you have dinner plans!?"

L: "Yes but I'm as sick as a dog and just left work early, but I can't miss this no matter how sick I am!!!"

All of us were laughing, crying, trying not to cry, and screaming at traffic lights. We pulled into the parking lot at 4:45, all three of us jumping out and running, laughing, up to the building. As we passed reporters and other same-sex couples also walking briskly toward the building, we smiled and waved shyly, continuing our run.

As we approached the lobby inside, on the main floor of the building, we noticed that every 30 to 60 seconds or so, huge celebratory cheers and applause were erupting in the growing crowd -- each time a wedding officiant proclaimed a couple "husband and husband," or "wife and wife."

We jumped into the elevator, jumped out at the second floor, and joined the back of the line -- about 40 or 50 couples in front of us were wrapping around the corner wall from the County Clerk's office. We tightly hugged our teary-eyed friends, all of us grinning in amazement from ear to ear -- those who were in line ahead of us already, and those who came later and passed us, heading toward the back of the line.

As volunteers & County Clerk workers began handing out applications & pens, telling us they would do their best to accommodate everyone in line with a completed application before 5:00, we raced to fill out all the information in the next 10 minutes. Not minding a bit who heard, and to the great amusement of my parents & siblings around us, I started pelting questions: What's your Social Security Number!? What year were you born!?  (You don't know my birthday!?) You were born in Ohio, right!? (Of course I was, you already knew that!) What was your mother's maiden name!? I've never met your mother! Oh my goodness you don't know where your mother was born? You'd better call your Dad!

We took camera-phone photos with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. We took photos for the lesbian couple behind us who had been together for 17 years, and were here in line just the two of them, in town from Moab, visiting family for the holidays. G left to take my brother to the Solstice event at the church (we forgot about his bag in our car, and the wine we had bought for the fundraiser -- I hope they had enough others bring drinks) and brought back my little sister to be there with us all.

We let a couple in line ahead of us, when Security officers began cutting off the line around 5:45. We had met one of them when we all helped each other to organize the Join The Impact Rally & March at the City & County Building downtown in November 2008, right after Proposition 8 passed in California. This day, only 5 years later, had felt back then like it would never come in our lifetimes, as we gathered to mourn after receiving that news in 2008.

They let another couple in line in front of us a few minutes later, and we couldn't find it in us to be upset or annoyed, because this couple had two or three little kids there with them to celebrate their parents' marriage.  Possibly, these couples we let in line ahead of us would receive their licenses while we may be turned away . . . but they had children, they needed the recognition more! They shared mint chocolate squares with us. The clock was ticking, and the marriage officiants had moved upstairs to start marrying couples right as they left the office holding their certificate, so they wouldn't even have to go downstairs to get married. The news cameras were everywhere.

It was 6:00, and we were nearing the clerk's counter inside the glass doors. Our friend who had offered to officiate for us came back by us in line, to tell us that Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was here to marry people, and had just announced he would stay there all night if he had to, in support of all of us! Our friend said he wouldn't be offended if we would rather be married by the Mayor, so of course we hugged & thanked him, and wrote in Mayor Becker's name on our application, next to: Name of Person to Officiate.

The couple from Moab in line behind us wondered aloud, who will we have marry us? I turned around to ask them, would you like me to do it? I've been a Certified Humanist Minister since 2011, and would be honored to officiate for you! They nodded eagerly, and I wrote in my name on their application.

We made it inside the glass doors and to the counter at 6:22! This was really happening! Two of our dearest friends, K & M, were already walking out with their forms as we were approaching the counter! Our best friend's boyfriend joined her, and they and my Mom sat inside the clerk's office with us, while G waited right outside the doors with my little sister, all of them taking photos and videos of us waiting in line, approaching the counter, holding each other as we watched the official document be typed onto the computer screen, paying our application fee, and receiving our forms.

The photo our friend M captured right as we left the glass doors with our forms in hand was published two days later in the Salt Lake Tribune. She was also there in 2008, helping us to plan the Rally & March protesting Prop 8. We cut out the article to save & frame it.

We gathered my Mom and G to be Mary Elizabeth & Leta's witnesses, I performed a brief & tearful ceremony for them, and while we were all signing their papers, K was next in line for us to be married by Mayor Becker! After quick final hugs, photos & best wishes, I dashed over to K just in time to hand Mayor Becker's assistant our paperwork, and in front of our Mom, Step-dad, little sister, and four best friends, we were legally married by the Mayor of Salt Lake City at about a quarter to 7 p.m.

I'll post tomorrow about what the following week has been like for us newly-weds. But I hope that our experience can be shared with many, across the state of Utah and the country, because the personal experiences of those of us who were in line with our friends & family members that night, speak volumes about this so-called political issue of same-sex marriage. This moment in history is truly about the families that were recognized and expanded that day and in the days to follow. It's about the hugs, smiles, tears, and photos that were shared as all of us were able to join in love and excitement together.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Liberty & Justice for All

Yesterday, July 26, 2013 the Supreme Court of The United States of America ruled that The Defense of Marriage Act - a discriminatory 1996 federal law that declared that individual states had the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states - was unconstitutional.

No kidding.

You know, our country's founders were rabble-rousers. They were heretics and rebels. They were black sheep - going against the grain. They believed in something new, something fair and beautiful. Those men fought to enshrine freedom as well as democracy in our floundering little republic. They didn't have everything right - at that time only white, male land-owners were thought to deserve justice, equality, and the freedom to live their lives as they chose. But as our country has continued to progress from that time forward, we have continually returned to that one, hopeful, idealistic premise that we are all equal.

Contrary to revisionist-history stories we may hear from conservative pundits, those men who believed in America, fought the Revolutionary War, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and signed our nation's Constitution . . . they were the liberals, the hopefuls, the visionaries and progressives. They weren't interested in "conservative values" (read: staying loyal to the British Crown) - they were interested in moving forward, creating justice and equality for all. They wrote that no one religious ideology (such as Protestant Christianity) could be dictated from the state or federal level so that everyone would be forced to behave similarly. They wrote that we should all be free to live according to the dictates of our own consciences!

We were not founded on conservative religious values of believing in one god who created us all a certain way - we were founded on progressive, humanistic values of believing that all human beings deserve to worship & live free! Let us never forget what it must have felt like to be a woman dying in the Revolutionary war so the privileged white men around her might one day be free. Or to be a Native American, continually forced off the lands of your ancestors so these white people spouting their ideals of freedom could live there instead. Or to be a black soldier in the Civil War, fighting for the North for little to no pay, volunteering on the sheer glimmer of hope that one day you would no longer be considered only 3/5ths of a human being.

If you had been one of those Revolutionary War Heroines in the 1700's, would you have ever believed that one day, in the year 1920, your great-great-great granddaughters would receive full voting rights in this new democratic republic?

If you had been a member of one of the Native American tribes being pushed perpetually west, could you have ever imagined that one day, perhaps, this "new" country would finally fully recognize and compensate your great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren for the many losses your people had suffered at their hands? (This has most certainly not happened yet).

If you had been, in the 1860's, one of the brave 170,000 black men serving in the Union Army, or 19,000 serving in the Union Navy, could you ever have believed that one day, in 2008, a black man would be elected Commander in Chief of this nation?

Our nation's history is not all freedom, peace, justice, and equality. We still have so much work to do to "arrive" at that - truly, for all - but we are getting there. We are still fighting a Revolution - let us not stop until we do have Liberty & Justice for All.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Creating Peace

Future Steps

The next "step up" in life I mused over today reads as follows:

Climbing mountains, building bridges, letting go, learning to forgive, loving deeply, developing and expanding skills, learning new skills, falling repeatedly, standing up repeatedly, finding my voice

One of my favorite quotations fits in nicely here. I found it on a bookmark (which I bought and still have) at a College Bookstore sale on my first day at the University of Utah. I bought it because it summed up the previous five years of my life so perfectly. It read, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall - Confucious."

I had literally failed multiple classes at Salt Lake Community College, during difficult times of financial or emotional stress. I would then proceed to return later semesters, sign up for the classes again, and keep plowing through as best I could. I re-took Statistics and earned a B the second time, one of my best mathematics grades of all time. But how could I have known I was capable of that at the end of the semester I failed at it?

I worked many part-time jobs, and bumbled through relationship troubles, family drama, and religious turmoil. Yet somehow, four years following my high school graduation, I found myself on the peaceful, serenely quiet U of U campus, enrolled in Intro to Linguistics and enjoying the beautiful month of May. It was the ultimate symbolic moment of my life up to that point.

I had failed and fallen so many times over those past four years, and yet here I was! Graduated with a two-year Associate Degree and enrolled in a University program I was passionate about, ready to learn, ready to take on the world.

But mostly, I had learned enough up to that point to know that I would fall again. That this peace wouldn't last, and that I would possibly have to re-take classes here too. I knew it wouldn't be smooth, easy sailing.

But I had proven to myself that no matter how hard I fell, or how convincingly I told myself I was a failure, there was a stubborn streak in me that would continue to pick myself back up. I knew I would cry and move on. That life would continue to be hard, but would also periodically provide me moments of pristine joy and hope, just like this breezy, spectacular summer day. I earned my first (and only) 4.0 that summer semester - taking one single Intro to Linguistics course and focusing entirely on my studies for those three months.

2007 was also when I became a youth mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and began my path of volunteerism by becoming involved in student groups (starting a few of my own) and truly starting to find my voice.

The next step up I see is:

Speaking up and coming out against injustice and apathy; crying; healing; laughing; running; finding release and relaxation alongside healthy doses of striving toward happiness

These are now aspirations, goals, and hopes in my life today . . . they aren't steps I've necessarily "taken," or places at which I think I have "arrived." I have begun to speak up and come out against injustice, but I will be continually learning how to do that effectively for the rest of my life! Just like for the rest of my life I will be crying, healing, laughing, running, releasing, relaxing, and striving. But the steps as I see them continue:

Recognizing happiness as peace rather than striving; solidifying learned work ethic, skills, and relationships into security and stability

This is, I believe, the real leaf I feel has been turned by being offered and accepting this full-time position this week. Suddenly, my life work is solidifying into something financially secure. But, sort of like I knew that day in May at the University of Utah that I would probably fall again and have to pick myself back up . . . I feel that 10 years from now, I will likely look back at my 28-year-old musings and laugh: "Ha! I thought that full-time benefited position was a solidifying of my work ethic and skills into security and stability?? Actually the job and family I have now are the true measure of all that. I didn't know what I was talking about at all!"

But, I hope I can take this next step:

Striving to bring that security and stability to others; teaching; learning; growing

Those are the verbs I never want to stop doing. And these:

Climbing; falling; belaying; trusting

What is the verb for being supported by someone who is belaying you? Being supported, I guess . . . because through all of these "steps" I've been mulling over today, you may notice I say something about "others" and "relationships" quite often. And that seems to be the key thread through everything I'm learning as I'm growing up. It all seems to lead here:

Seeking arrival at "success" only to learn that success is relative and fleeting; embracing change; creating simplicity, happiness, and peace.

Creating Peace Part Deux

Actually it's not a ladder! It's stairs.

I am going to save this scrap paper, because it's so funny to look at it hours later with fresh eyes and see what I was actually drawing. In my mind, I was using the rungs of a ladder to describe what I was feeling about the steps upward/forward I feel I've taken over the years. But of course I don't have any idea how to draw a ladder, so I was really just writing and drawing lines around each section I wrote. Slanted edges, then straight edges, then slanted, then straight, up and up until what I actually drew was a staircase. Love.

The next step I drew reads:

Overcoming anger, bitterness, and life obstacles; learning from mistakes; mentoring/teaching youth and peers; solidifying life skills and relationships; beginning to thrive rather than survive; living simply with compassion, hope, and gratitude for possibilities

As you may imagine, it took me a great number of years from 17 to arrive anywhere close to that step. Continuing on with my tale of my growing up years . . . around the age of 18:

I was accumulating student debt within only a month of leaving for college (and here I was back at the base of the staircase - accumulating debt and financial instability). Despite my long summer work weeks, dedicated savings, and even with a half-tuition scholarship to the little state college I chose, I could not pay for my basic living expenses without loans.

I even relied on heavily discounted rent, thanks to my kind-hearted grandparents' willingness to welcome a know-it-all-yet-actually-knows-nothing teenager into their home. But it was still very difficult to find a small-town college job. After a couple months of daily hunting, I finally landed pizza-delivery work at the now-no-longer Hub City Pizza in Mt. Pleasant, Utah.

If that Volvo hadn't been made predominantly of very tough steel (or if my parents had tried to send me down in any other car but that tank) I wouldn't be alive today. It had over 100,000 miles on it and I gave it at least another 100,000 over the next 9 months. I crossed paths (dangerously) that winter with a great deal of roadkill, trenches, fences, curbs, even temple flower beds . . . but luckily never hit people or other moving vehicles. I had to sit on a pillow to even see over the wheel, and could have most certainly died on many occasions.

But driving around delivering pizzas to townspeople in Sanpete, Juab, Emery and Millard counties was the only work I could find. And 9 months was the longest poor Kenmore (the refrigerator on wheels) could survive my terrifying lack of driving skill. I withdrew from my second semester at college with only 12 completed credits, packed up the Volvo that would cost more to repair and pass state inspection than it was any longer worth, and moved back up north. I knew that with access to public transportation, I could save up enough to continue my studies at Salt Lake Community College.

I moved with my best friend to her grandparents' basement in West Jordan, again for quite discounted rent, and set out to submit job applications to every store-front within one mile in every direction of this place.

I walked an hour round trip to the nearest library once a week to spend only one allotted hour checking and responding to e-mails, my only contact with family or distant friends since I had no phone. Thinking back, I must have talked to myself constantly. I can't imagine not having a phone.

I also spent nearly half a day walking to and from my LDS ward house every Sunday, because I belonged to a religion that split people into ward boundaries and assigned them to church houses that were not necessarily the closest LDS building to them. There was an LDS ward house literally across my street, but the one I was assigned to attend was at least two miles away.

I stubbornly refused a charity ride to and from the building, instead choosing to wake at 6 a.m. to leave at 7:30 a.m. to arrive prior to the 9 a.m. services. Following the three hours of meetings, I would stay behind quietly reading for at least an hour before taking the walk back, determined to avoid any churchgoers who might offer me a ride. I enjoyed those Sundays immensely, though. Looking back on that tells me just how much I've always loved walking, the outdoors, and connecting with my own spirituality.

Within a month I had found two part-time jobs, only 10-15 hours each, at a couple of nearby sandwich shops. I worked and lived in West Jordan for about six months, before moving to a tiny apartment in Salt Lake City where I was able to ride a bike and take one bus to and from Salt Lake Community College. I worked there as a Writing Tutor until 2007, when I transferred to the University of Utah to study for my Bachelor Degrees in French and Applied Linguistics.

I graduated with my second Bachelor Degree in May 2012 - nine years after my graduation from Murray High in 2003. If you had told me when I was 18 that I would have been a college student for that long, I would have cringed. I had expected to begin "contributing to society," by having a full-time job or becoming a stay-at-home mom, much sooner than the age of 28! And yet, as my life progressed in the real world, my dreams of "growing up" did become the reality of my early 20s. I learned from mistakes, mentored youth, and taught writing to my peers. And, I did begin to thrive.

It wasn't one certain step I took necessarily, but looking back on that time I can see that I was progressing during those years, even during the times I had to live paycheck to paycheck, depend on others for my welfare, just try to survive day to day, accumulate debt, and feel constant emotional and financial insecurity. Was I at the bottom of the staircase though, where I had started life? Of course not . . . I was slowly progressing toward bettering myself and my life.

Creating Peace

Pre-ladder and Rung 1

"Survival is not good enough when thriving is an option." - Emily

Today I was writing a list of groceries to pick up as I perused the pages of our Vegetarian Cooking Bible, when apparently my mind could no longer focus on the recipes and ingredients. After "sunflower oil" and "walnut oil," I turned over my scrap piece of paper and began to draw and write.

While I thought I had been thinking about food & cooking for the coming week, I was actually thinking of how completely changed my life suddenly is. Beginning tomorrow, I suddenly have a full-time salaried position - to be benefited come May, following a probationary 90-day period.

While drawing this ladder I feel I've just clambered another rung up, I jotted down some thoughts about what various times of my life have been like, that I decided I would like to share.

I would say that I was born into a lower-middle-class American family. While I was growing up, I was never able to have a dog, one of my fondest dreams, but I knew that someday I would save up enough money to live in a place of my own that would allow that dream to become a reality.

Now today I understand that there are millions of children - all over the world, yes, but even in America - whose fondest dreams are that one day, they won't be living in a war-ravaged town, in squalor in a refugee camp, or on the streets not knowing where their next meal will come from. Thanks to the incredible goodness and kindness of my family, friends, and even strangers, I have never worried where I would sleep one given night.

I have, however, experienced the following, which today I drew as the "base" on my paper. This is what life felt like before the ladder even appeared on my horizon:

Living paycheck to paycheck; depending on welfare from others; surviving; enduring cold, hunger, and unreliable transportation; accumulating debt; instability (financial and emotional)

I believe I began "climbing the ladder" by attending school. Because I had parents who not only knew the value of a k-12 education, but actually exuded a joy for life and learning that they passed on to their kids, and because I live in a country that makes a basic level of education affordable even for low-income families, I had the opportunity to learn to love to read and write.

I have kept a journal since I could write - and my mother & father kept one for me before I could read or write. Also, I have been a storyteller and make-believer since before I can remember. So, I was able to at least see that there was a ladder worth climbing from a pretty young age. I still grew up poor, but I grew up trying. This is my perception of how I tried to grab onto those first few rungs :

Studying; working at anything and everything to pay to survive; developing talents, skills, optimism, work ethic, resume, credentials, and relationships; helping others to give back for help received; bettering myself and my situations

Because of beginning at that base-line of poverty (though thankfully not in the sense of never having shelter or food) where there was no "extra" money for anything like extracurricular sports, private music lessons, or math tutoring, I wouldn't say I really grabbed a firm hold of the proverbial first rung of the ladder until I was about 17.

That summer, I started an office internship (through a Boys and Girls Club program my Mom heard about) at the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, which enabled me to quit my part-time bagging job at the Smith's in Draper. I used to leave that place feeling physically ill at the dumpsters-full of waste of absolutely edible food and perfectly usable goods (perhaps in damaged packaging?) thrown away daily. I had a difficult time respecting authority, or understanding why I should follow certain rules like staying at a check-stand to bag (or not to bag during a lull) for specified periods of time, when I could be fetching milk from the back of the store for elderly customers, or otherwise providing actual customer service.

Once I realized, from my 3 months at the Chamber, that I had the writing ability and confidence to interview businesspeople in the community for bulletin newsletter articles, and the patience to spend hours filing or making please-can-we-update-your-contact-information calls, I think I started to believe I could do something more meaningful for pay than retail work. I also began to be convinced that I would go to college.

I didn't care that my parents couldn't afford to send me to any college. I didn't care how long it might take me to complete a Bachelor Degree, or that I would have to work multiple low-paying part-time jobs just to afford the rent & food costs of living on my own (all while trying to find the time and energy to study to pass my classes). I was 18, finishing high school, applying for scholarships, and determined to live on my own and continue my studies.

I worked 39-hour weeks at the Sandy Office Max for three months following graduation, then packed up the Volvo station wagon my parents bought me for one or two hundred bucks, moved in with my grandparents two and a half hours away, and set about signing up for classes and turning in applications to every storefront/business I could find in the little towns of Spring City, Mt. Pleasant, Moroni, Fairview, Ephraim, and Manti.

In my efforts to study, work at anything and everything, develop skills, and start giving back I truly tried to better myself and my life during this time. But Holy Hannah was I young! Far younger than I realized.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Letting Go

Well! Apparently I learned something from that Leadership Conference after all. Instead of blogging (and expending too much energy volunteering) all year, I focused instead on teaching, studying, and relaxing just as I learned I ought to do.

In 2012 I traveled to three large cities - Washington D.C., where I'd been once before when I was 17, and to Chicago and New York, where I was a first-time visitor. I traveled to D.C. for the HRC Leadership Conference, to Chicago for The Raiser's Edge Development Training for my new job at Make-A-Wish, and to New York to relax and share time with our niece as she celebrated her first birthday.

Also in 2012, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on exactly what it is that I am looking forward to in my future, about exactly what it is that drives me, and what I am working for. I've thought a lot about why I do the work I do, as I mentioned in my last blog in February, as well as why I don't do what I believe I should!

Perhaps I am philosophizing a bit much here, but I believe that quite simply, fear is the answer to what keeps us all from doing what we believe we should. And now getting even deeper into philosophy and linguistics, I'll point out a significant difference in language determining how French speakers and American speakers relate to this word, "fear." In French, one has fear, whereas in American English, one is afraid or one fears . . . making this an adjective (describing oneself) or a verb (an action one makes) in English. It's almost as if Americans are linguistically pre-determined to feel their fear s a part of themselves, or something they actively do to other things . . . I fear that bear! Versus the French, having fear of a bear. It's such a slight difference, and yet, which is more honest to your relationship with things you fear? Are they distanced from you, and you have fear of the dark, or are they closer and more intertwined in your being, and you are afraid of spiders?

I think that I have felt closer to my fears in the past - more convinced that they are a part of who I am. As in, I am afraid that I may never have children of my own. I am afraid that I may not be qualified for full-time work with health benefits. But, I am working on owning my fears instead, like the French . . . if I say that I have a fear of not bearing children of my own, it sort of seems like I can work with that. I can choose not to have that fear, like I can choose not to have meat in my diet. I can choose not to have a fear of not qualifying for full-time work with health benefits, and instead of "being afraid," and feeling that a part of my self and sense of identity, I can choose instead to have full-time work with health benefits! There are actions I can take to not have meat in my diet (learning more about vegetarianism, planning my meals so I have the myriad nutrients my body needs, taking B12 vitamins, etc.) and likewise, as I've learned this year, there are specific actions I can take to let go of my fears.

Spending more and more time with my younger siblings, nieces, and nephews lessens my fear that I may never have children of my own, because I know that I could spend a fulfilled and happy life caring for all the many children around me, even if I am unable to carry children of my own. And lessening the time I volunteer for projects and causes and organizations that actually take away from the time I could be spending developing my career has been a difficult balance to strike, but an increasingly beneficial one. I feel directly pulled away from those fears I've been having, because I see a clear path forward - a path of submitting applications, resumes, and cover letters when full-time positions arise; a path of developing professional, courteous relationships with mentors and supervisors who may be willing to provide positive references to future employers; a path of reading and studying (both of which feed my psyche) manuals, books, and other materials that train me to perform better at what I do that pays. Perhaps someday I will purchase private insurance, because I make enough on my own - by teaching privately, officiating at weddings & other ceremonies - to afford health care not tied to an employer.

2013 is about letting go for me. This year is about stripping my life of excess and waste - and fear! It's about empowerment, and continuing on my path to learn how to be myself, as the French say, to be comfortable in my own skin. Call me superstitious, but I don't want anything wonderful or amazing to happen in 2013 - it'll always be tainted by that supposedly unlucky number - rather, I want to look back at this "unlucky" year and remember everything I said goodbye to, everything I let go, everything I burned. I plan to burn weight by becoming vegetarian and letting go of meat, and perhaps that is symbolic for everything else I hope for this year! Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Leading by Being

Only a couple of short weeks ago, I spent four days in my nation's capitol, Washington, D.C., attending a Women's Leadership Conference hosted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The HRC fights to gain Equal Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans, and I have been on Utah's HRC Steering Committee for just over a year. I now have two tri-chairs helping me put on events such as this February 25th's Her HRC Brunch at Squatters, booths at Salt Lake City & Moab Prides, as well as Street Festivals - and possibly the State Fair!

Today, one of the other groups I work for, the Utah Coalition of Reason, is hosting Darwin Day at Utah's Hogle Zoo. This was put together with the most limited resources, marketing, and assistance imaginable, but the families and individuals who are attending seem to be making the most of today's uncannily warm February weather. I am deeply grateful to the Service Learning students at Salt Lake Community College who are tabling for the Coalition this Saturday, so that I can work on homework for my Linguistics courses.

The most eye-opening thing that I learned from the Leadership Conference two weeks ago was not that I try to do too much (I knew that all too well already), but that I have sacrificed my own sense of being for many of the causes I strive to support. It's no longer a question of if I am doing too much. Rather I have learned to ask myself the question of why I do too much? What, exactly, do I sacrifice, and is it worth it? Self-reflection, feedback, constructive criticism . . . reflect, act, evaluate . . .

What I do that I truly adore, that feeds me, is teach, study, and relax.

When I prepare lessons, teach lessons, and/or evaluate my students, whether privately or at the Salt Lake Arts Academy, I feel enriched, enlightened, inspired! By watching how they learn, I learn more about how I teach - more about who, and how, I am. And by evaluating their progress, I am able to track my own.

When I read, study, and/or assist teaching for my Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) courses at the University of Utah, I am further inspired to improve my teaching methodology - to improve who, and how, I am.

And when I relax - I am able to simply be. I find myself writing to try to convey the sense of wonder I experience by seeping my two favorite teas together. I write letters to Oregon Chai and Harney & Sons Fine Teas, sending my thoughts to various states, spreading my words across the inter-webs, weaving something much more related to who, and how, I am. I receive messages back, offering me tea products to sample, review, and promote. I realize that somehow, who I really am is a leader. I'll offer Oregon Chai tea giveaways to all 11 of my blog followers, and I'll continue allowing myself to learn that, as my father so wisely told me at 18, I don't need to be the President of the United States of America to make a difference in this world. I don't have to fight allowing myself to just be, because who I am when I simply am, is enough! Every single human being is a leader - of something, or someone - and I lead best simply by being ~ Elaine.