Book group/Support group/Same same

Two weeks ago, while our president was tactically separating parents from their kids at the border, and a city in Oman sweated under a new record for the highest low temperature ever recorded–109° F, my friend J put out this call on Facebook:

“I ask for your advice, and support… a suffocating sense of powerlessness to help solve the world’s problems… it’s been hard to find…the energy for giving back to my community which adds to my sense of uselessness… With so much to…break our hearts in the news these days I welcome practical ideas. Because terror in my name is not ok.”

Me too. So, what do we do about it?

I am politically active; I enjoy being part of a small group in Gustavus called AK Standing Up. We host progressive political candidates who want to visit our little town, we participate in national marches, and we made some timely bumper stickers:

I also act as the liaison between that group and the Tongass Democrats, who meet monthly in Juneau, Alaska.

These are small things, but they are also big, because shared events and ideas give us a collective voice, one loud enough to be heard.

Locally focussed groups of 5-15 people have the ability to turn non-active citizens into powerful agents for change.

Small, autonomous groups acting locally organized the resistance against fascism during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and Indivisible.org recommends this model for resisting Trump’s agenda.

Turning me into we, connecting and organizing people, enables groups to shape our world in a way that individuals just can’t.

When AK Standing Up meets, and I see familiar faces gathered for a good cause, it adds spark to my own momentum and energy. And it’s fun, because I love these people, and I love spending time with them.

But there’s another need right now, beyond translating anger into activism: We need conversations to help us process who we are as people alive at this crazy time. As citizens of the United States, and the world, we need to help each other digest the news, and all of these graphs where quality of life on Earth ends in the year 2100. Without action, this scary information stays stuck in our throats along with high-pitched emotions, and anxiety becomes the great unifier of our time.

We need to build the collective emotional strength to accept the miles racking up on our odometers every week, and the pile of single-use plastics filling our trash cans now that China has stopped buying America’s recyclables. These impacts, multiplied by all of us, are hard to swallow.

As a place to start such a conversation, someone suggested J read this book-

Mary Pipher’s The Green Boat: Reviving ourselves in our capsized culture. I also reached out to J, and now I find myself in a book group/support group with her and another woman, D.

The copy I read came from the 303.4 section at the library, which I would describe as “Hopeful books about moments when real people changed the outcome of history, at least for themselves.” I checked out some other books from this section too.

The green boat was difficult to begin but great for emotional processing. Mary Pipher does us all a favor and skips the glaze-your-eyes-over science of climate change and cuts right to what matters: how we feel about it, and what the hell are we supposed to do with that? As she says, Emotions, not facts, are what energize people to act. It’s a book that drives those emotions home, forcing one to sit still, read, and feel for a couple hundred pages.

Without flickering lights and Hollywood camera action, a book provides little escape via the senses. There is nothing to jolt one out of the body and into the sensation-loving mind. It’s a slow, simmering soup and readers will sit there and stew. The first day I felt so much anxiety that I quit drinking coffee again.

But the second day Pipher’s words lifted and loosened the anxiety somewhat from my body. I read the rest of the book straight through, eager to find out how I would feel at the end.

The finish is smooth, heartwarming, and helpful: Nobody knows what will happen to the planet, she writes, but we do know what makes humans stronger, healthier, and more resilient. That is facing the truth, dealing with it emotionally, and transforming it. Regardless of the results of our work, when we are doing our best, we feel happier and less alone.

Our book group has met twice now to discuss, both times late on a Sunday afternoon over pints of stout and Belgian ale. We talk about intentions, action items, what helps us cope. I’m still not sure what our group will become, but I like it, and I look forward to our meetings.

Facebook gave me a survey question a little while ago: Is Facebook good for the world? I let my response be colored by all the crap – the weird, deluded messages that people sling that they would never say face to face, the teenaged bullying, and the constant pressure for perfect-self portrayals – “No!” I said. But then there’s also our book group, and countless fun barbecues and other good connections, that come out of Facebook too. I’d like to publicly rescind my answer. Like any platform, Facebook is a stage for the whole human drama – comedy, or tragedy. It has the same potential to harm or heal as we have ourselves.

Imagine all the people

I remember the first time I saw this sign at the library for the University of Southeast Alaska in Juneau. I was nervous to go in. Would I see anyone of ambiguous gender? Would there be men? Would there be anything unsettling about the experience ? But then there were just some stalls, I washed my hands, and that was it. I walked out feeling very hip.

Alaska can be slow to arrive at hip; also slow to shed what is unhip (ie. last week my husband suggested I take up rollerblading = $&@%*!?!), so I’ve been impressed with this new idea of how to be a bathroom. Here are some more good signs:

This walk-on-in bathroom movement has been helpful for fathers with daughters, moms with sons, and parents of disabled children, but the root of the idea comes from the transgender community.

Let’s all take a minute to imagine what we think it is like to be a transgender person. Or if that’s an easy one for you, pick something else: beauty pageant winner (you’ve trained your whole life for this?), professional clown (what twisted path led you here?), rocket scientist (so, what do you do for fun?). This, imagining what it is to be someone we don’t understand, is empathy.

Do it now.

As part of this empathy project I also searched for posts about being transgender (use the internet for good!). I encourage you to click below; the images aren’t inappropriate, but they might make you uncomfortable. Your choice (or maybe you’re curious about investment bankers, or tiger veterinarians, or paintball champions…?)

This is what I learned: Transgender includes anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned based on their genitalia at birth. Some “girls” eventually get facial hair and deeper voices. Some “boys” develop very real breasts, or become beautifully feminine. Sometimes the outer expression of a person’s gender is different from what is between their legs.

Which damn bathroom are they supposed to use?

On April 3rd Anchorage will vote on how we/they think transgender people should pee, or at least, in which bathroom.

A no-vote on proposition 1 upholds the current anti-discrimination laws that support the uni-sex bathrooms and the idea that each of us knows best which bathroom we belong in. Leave it at that.

Vote yes if you’d like the legal right to ask a person, in a bathroom, to see proof of their gender as assigned at birth. Because we all carry our birth certificates and enjoy bizarre conflicts with strangers in bathrooms ($&@%*!?!).

I do these mental empathy exercises a lot; there are a lot of people I don’t understand. The only time I falter, and basically can’t get there, is when I try to picture having very little empathy, e.g. some people feel so uncomfortable about the idea of sharing a public bathroom with a transgender person that they’d rather not share it at all. That level of discomfort must feel terrible, but I have a very hard time identifying because don’t you think it’s way tougher to go through life being transgender?

That, and I just hate when I gotta go, and can’t find a bathroom.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.

– John Lennon