The No Complaining Ride

In my first 12 hours in NYC I went through quite a little challenge to myself in the realm of “no complaining” so I thought I’d share it all of you.

Last night I arrived in New York just in time to catch up with friends who were going out dancing to celebrate a birthday. We went to an upscale nightclub in Manhattan. Beautiful place. Our group was dancing and drinking and goofing around. I’ve rarely laughed so much out in club like that.

I was using my iPhone to snap photos and stashed it in the front pocket of my jeans. At some point it started to annoy me, feeling like it was in the way of my dancing so I switched it to my back pocket. We were all dancing as a group and I had my back to the main part of the room. Suddenly I felt my iPhone lift out of my pocket in a quick smooth motion. I immediately knew someone swiped it. I turned quickly but the crowd was too dense and I couldn’t see the phone. I caught a waiter who was passing by and told him my phone was stolen. We looked around the floor just in case it fell instead of getting stolen, but no such luck. He then called over a security guard and the manager so I could report it. That was about all that could be done. I turned so I could return to my group, but I was in no mood to just jump back in to the dancing and laughing.

I started to wonder what I should do. I was upset and angry but also couldn’t do anything more. The phone was gone and I didn’t want to dwell in my upset – the night had been so much fun. I also didn’t want to damper the group on a birthday night. I vented to one friend who asked what we had been looking for and felt better that someone knew, but it felt kind of incomplete because I didn’t fully release any anger and I was grappling with the realization that I still couldn’t actually change the situation. I could hear my own teachings in my head and didn’t want to start telling the story over and over again but it also felt fake to just ignore it. I decided to get away from the group for a moment and just be quiet.

I got centered and started to think my way through the situation bit by bit. I wanted to enjoy the evening. I couldn’t make the phone be un-stolen. In the morning I could go get a new iPhone (an upgrade!). I didn’t have to reach anyone that night. I had backed up before I got on the plane so there was no data loss. The phone was locked and I could erase it remotely so I wasn’t really at risk of having my identity or passwords stolen.

In short, there was nothing to do until the morning. I took a deep breath and gave myself permission to wait until the morning to think about it. I returned to the group and pretty quickly was feeling playful and laughing again.

At the end of the evening I told my other friends what had happened and also that I was ok, I’d get a new phone in the morning. I still wasn’t all the way through my upset but I was feeling settled.

In the morning, I woke up thinking about it again. I also wanted to be fully done with the negative feelings so I wouldn’t keep thinking about them. I replayed everything and then suddenly it struck me: Buying a new iPhone was an option! I was flooded with feelings of gratitude. Not long ago I would have not have had enough money to be able to just walk into an Apple store and buy a phone. I had been struggling financially, cutting every expense down to the bone. I had to carefully plan out how to pay for all meals, even choosing some days not to have three in order to make my cash last. And today I had enough money saved to go get a phone. It was an amazing feeling.

As soon as this thought hit me, I felt completely released from the upset and anger of the night before. I was clear that if I had my preference, none of this would have happened. But none of the feelings associated with the theft had any power over me any more. I felt lighter, grateful for all the things that have happened in the last few months to turn my finances around, and appreciating myself for what I did to make them stick.

It was quite a ride – and I’m glad I held on until the end.

Movements Then and Now

Last night I gave a talk about my history in activism. I started with a description of coming out as bisexual back in 1985 and what it was like to try to organize a national network in 1990.

I was presenting at Stanford and I felt the need to point out to the young people in the room that this was all before the Web. I painted a picture of standing in room with people from all over the country and feeling the pressure to get a decision out of them before everyone boarded their planes that evening because once they were gone they were gone.

I talked about becoming a pointperson for the movement because I was the one left holding the literal key – the one that unlocked our P.O. Box where letters written by hand would start to pour in from around the country. I spent the next two years writing back (also by hand) to people coming out in rural towns, suburbs, and cities, to reassure them that yes, there were others out there.

It’s hard to remember sometimes what it was like before we all used the Internet. Back then, I had never met or even heard the story of a bisexual before I came out. The people I wrote to hadn’t seen any videos reassuring them it was going to get better. None of us had seen comments on articles written by people like us that let us know others were thinking about similar things.

Nearly all means of mass communication were still in the hands of large companies. Communication between individuals was largely invisible to the wider universe. I used the phone and mail to collect articles from around the country for a newsletter I assembled and then photocopied to mail out. Finding out who was talking about what and how to reach each other was a difficult and somewhat random process.

It was not a better world. It was not a worse world. It was just the world as it was and it’s a different world now.

I am thinking about this as I read what is happening in the Occupy movements. I get updates and see photos within minutes from people who are there and read commentary from around the world. I read the stories and send my support to other activists in all corners of the globe and their updates come to me in real time via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

We are just learning how to use these tools effectively. The power is clear and has already been realized in more than one situation. It’s exciting and wonderful to see how these tools are used to get information out and to coordinate actions online and off.

As Occupy encampments are getting cleared out around this country, I maintain hope that they have sparked a dialogue that is still gaining momentum. I hope that the energy becomes simply relocated, not stalled.

In the past it was hard to gain momentum because communication tools were slow. This time the momentum picked up swiftly and has been reacted to just as fast, but it’s not clear what’s happening next. Even the challenge of this question and the confusion of responses is happening quickly.

Past movements had only physical presence to convey a message. The current movements have that plus online tools that can weave us together and involve many more than those who are able and willing to put their bodies on the line.

This has been called a leaderless movement. I beg to differ. It strikes me as a movement that calls on each of us to bring out our own leadership and creativity to create a world that believes in the rights of individuals and the collective good. If everyone does a part, there will be no limit to what we can achieve.

I Get Creative

Last night I did something I haven’t done for years: I shared a piece of my creative writing. While I do a lot of writing just about every day, I had taken a loooong break from writing the poetry and experimental short fiction that once flowed freely out of my pen.

But it was a friend’s birthday, a friend who was quite pivotal at a particular moment of my journey exploring identity, self, and creativity. In his honor I decided to resurrect this piece and rework it. I read it aloud at his celebration.

And now I present it to you.

This is dedicated to all the mixed-race, alt-sexual, gender blurry people, & everyone else who finds that “check only one box” doesn’t work for them.

1.41421…

After years of dichotomous choices
leading into an adulthood surrounded by pairs,
I begin to identify with the square root of 2. 

Beyond the visible
Between what is whole
On stone tablets and papyrus
it arises 

A secret so unsettling it warrants murder
proof

it is irrational
uncountable
frankly: unwelcome
but  

real

My own
ethnicitysexualitygenderrole
triggers
murder
legislation
demands for proof

My own
ethnicitysexualitygenderrole
only fully encompassed by the square root of 2
more than 1
a numerical quirk
which multiplied unto itself is the perfect sum of my parents’ love.

On my own:
a conundrum which cannot be entered into a census’ computer
fouling up the simple and harmonious duality of an endless
0 1 0 1 0 1 on off yes no either or black white
make a decision
declare yourself

my self tumbling along the square root of 2’s digital extensions
ever changing and ever endless
slipping like a ribbon between whole numbers
elusive but flirtatious enough to maintain interest
a mathematician’s dark-haired mistress 

I am at home in the space between integers
an orienteer given a compass of genetic codes with endless variation
following the decimal point of my birth
without discernible patterns
coyly evading resolution.

Now I see I will never be fully content or at peace.
No, that’s not it. 

I will never be done.

and
the square root of 2
and I
will hold a place in the rational world nonetheless.

——————–

If you want to know more about the history of the square root of two, read the Wikipedia entry

Complaints Choirs

Recently I learned about Complaints Choirs. The first was a choir in Birmingham, England, created by two artists who wanted to “transform the huge energy that people put into complaining into something else… something powerful.”

They were inspired by a Finnish expression “complaints choir,” a group of people complaining simultaneously. (Sidebar: I love this expression and think I’m going to start using it.)

I don’t know how I feel about these choirs, whether they’re elevating or transforming or helping to eliminate complaining. But whatever the effect, it’s pretty striking to listen to a performance of commonly heard daily complaints.

Loving What’s Here and Still Wanting Change

A friend asked how it’s possible to want change for someone without making them wrong for how they are now? Does loving someone exactly how they are mean giving up wanting change? Does seeing a different possible future automatically mean that right now is not ok? How can you stay on the path of personal development while simultaneously being fully accepting of how things are now?

My friend was asking me for guidance because she’s really struggling with this one. She catches herself shaming herself for where she is, and that feeling gets worse the clearer she gets on the changes she wants to make. I’ve certainly caught myself doing this. In some kind of cosmic cruelty, this feeling gets worse the more you learn because your understanding of what is possible increases and becomes more clear while the ability to make the change happens far more slowly.

I could see that she perceives right now as “bad” and the possible future as “good.” This makes her anxious about how she is now and impatient to make changes. She sees these changes as required and urgent. This makes it nearly impossible for her to feel love for herself right now as she is since she sees herself as a problem that needs to be fixed. All this is causing her deep suffering.

I shared that the ideal is to be able to love yourself right now without requiring any changes AND hold a vision for future possibilities, to see right now as “good” and the possible future as “better.”

I then gave her one of my favorite ways of testing how I’m treating myself: I imagine talking to a three-year-old child. I hate the idea of talking with a child and blaming her for not knowing something, making my love for her conditional upon her learning “how to be better.” What I want for that three-year-old is the feeling of being loved exactly as she is right now, with all her mistakes and lack of comprehension, with all the moods and resistance. And all the while I would still be holding a vision for a future into which she can grow, a future filled with greater understanding and deeper enjoyment of what life has to offer. I would be loving her now and in the future.

I know from experience that treating a child with conditional love only makes them rebellious and resentful. I know the adult me would be resistent if someone were to say that they would love me only once I changed to fit their vision, that I’m not worthy of love unless I comply. It makes no sense for me to think that my inner critic is going to have any more success with this approach. Better just to focus on seeing myself right now as good. And know that doing so does not mean giving up on the future, that doing so is actually the most loving thing I can do.

Contemplating the Pet Peeve

A “pet peeve” is defined as a minor annoyance, something that irritates you but often doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. It also refers to an annoyance that occurs frequently or repeatedly.

For instance, I have a friend who gets really annoyed when drawers are left open – something I’m quite guilty of doing. This same friend is impervious to one of my pet peeves: people who take bites of their food mid-sentence and then continue to talk while chewing.

We don’t consider pet peeves to be the same as complaints. This difference further illustrates how we use complaints as a way of either garnering sympathy or of bonding with others.  Since pet peeves are so minor, we expect we won’t get sympathy. And because they’re so personal, we half-expect someone wouldn’t even understand why we were annoyed in the first place.

But all this doesn’t quite capture another funny quality of the pet peeve: there’s something almost desirable about it. I love the Dictionary.com definition: “personal bugbear.” It’s as if our pet peeves express something about who we are, something that we’re a little bit proud of. I think we use pet peeves as an indirect, complainy way to declare what is important to us.

The next time you’re mentioning a pet peeve, try flipping it around to recognize what it is you’re valuing. For example, my pet peeve partially echoes what I learned about good manners. Mostly, though, it’s an expression of how much I value being conscious of what we’re eating while we’re eating it. So the next time someone takes a bite in the middle of a sentence, instead of noting my annoyance, I can mentally acknowledge how much I appreciate taking the time to taste my food.

This post is excerpted from my upcoming book, The NoCo Plan: No Complaining in 30 Days. Get on my mailing list to stay up to date on its progress & get advance notice of the release.

Feeling Community on 9/11

In September 2001 I was counting down the final days until San Francisco’s first Lindy Exchange, three days of near-nonstop swing dancing. I was totally immersed in the event, coordinating volunteers for work shifts, juggling the collection of registration fees to cover venue deposits, and answering an overwhelming stream of calls and emails from people across the country and beyond. I was the point person for all the legal/contractual paperwork and for much of the communication with the venues, the team leads, and the attendees.

In the very early morning of September 11 my phone rang. In a tearful voice my aunt told me to turn on the TV. Something was happening in New York.

I saw the smoke coming out of the tower and heard the confusion in the announcer’s voice. I couldn’t understand what was happening, so I jumped online and logged in to the bulletin board of Yehoodi, my direct line to the dancers I knew in NY.

One woman started a thread entitled something like “there’s a hole in the World Trade Center.” She was looking out her window to the towers and told us what she saw. That bulletin board was a lifeline of personal connection and an anchor. As the day unfolded, more personal stories flowed in. Dancers in DC filled us in on what was happening there. Others got online to tell us who had and hadn’t been accounted for.

I remember feeling devastated and also conflicted. The exchange was just 10 days away and I started to wonder if it was going to happen. I didn’t even know if it should. I felt petty for worrying about it, and yet desperately afraid of the financial implications of last-minute cancellations. A couple days later, I voiced my concerns to the community cautiously and asked if people were still planning on coming, despite the fear around travel and the airport closures and everything.

Some people were deciding against it, but mostly I heard back a resounding YES! One guy from DC wrote that he saw the plane hit the pentagon, lost friends, and would have to go to a different city to get on a plane – and was 100% sure that the exchange should happen and that he would be there. He put out a rallying cry for all of us to see each other in person, to connect, to live. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember who he was. I won’t forget what he wrote, though, and how he reminded us of why we were coming together and of what mattered.

And so on September 21 over 500 dancers from all around the country and around the world gathered in San Francisco. We shared stories, food, hugs, dances. It was healing to be together. It was clear that we were so much more than a collection of dancers. We were connected. We were a community.

Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11 I am reminded of that amazing feeling. I felt so blessed to have a solid source of love and support while the world whirled around us in confusion and fear. Without forgetting the tears, we also allowed in laughter. I felt part of a community that was committed to celebrating each other and to living fully. I am forever honored that I could help bring people together at that time.

Thank you to all dancers for allowing me to experience connection again and again. I have a wish that everyone could feel that. I think the world would be a better place.