Category Archives: Things I’ve Learned

What I learned at Occupy Seattle

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The Occupy movement in the United States  has been the subject of lavish praise and the most severe criticism, yet it’s everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago, as I weeble-wobbled to my yoga class near Westlake,  Seattle, I inadvertently walked right through what a few moments later be billed as one of the most iconic movements in the Occupy movement.   Just a few minutes after I walked past a small group of people huddled in the middle the Pike and 5th intersection and surrounded by bike cops,  a priest, an 84-year old woman and  a pregnant teen would be famously pepper sprayed by the Seattle Police.   Images would be seen around the world.   In the meantime, I was curled up in my first child’s pose of my practice in the warmth and comfort of my slightly upscale yoga studio.

Sure, I flung around opinions about the movement in little sound bytes and plagiarized mainstream-medial catchphrases, but I really hadn’t done too much homework on it.  So last weekend, I decided to do some real homework.   I went down to the Occupy camp at Seattle Central Community College and, encouraged  and accompanied by  Nick,  to talk to people and take some pics.

The camp was surprisingly well organized and clean.   No noxious smells or obvious grime reported in other cities.  No druggies or used condoms.  The tent city boasted a makeshift library and activity center with an organized itinerary of community activities.    As we walked through, we noticed a small group of around 20-30 people circling up.   A man was explaining a plan to march to an abandoned house and then “occupy”  the space.  As they set off down the street, yelling “Get out of your tents and onto the streets,” we decided to walk in their general direction and learn more.

Contrary to what many cities reported, the Occupy Seattle participants looked like a group of ordinary, concerned citizens…not drug addicts, hoodlams, and drifters portrayed as participants in other cities.   Some of them carried homemade signs, others professionally printed signs.   They went through a number of different chants,  “______, we don’t need em’! all we want is! total freedom,”  “whose streets? OUR STREETS!”    “We! Are! The 99%”  “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”   “Revolution has to come!  Everything for Everyone!” Sometimes, they just chatted among themselves.

The march collected people as it went along, and only a few blocks in,  a Seattle Police car started tailing a hundred feet or so away from the marchers, headlights on,  effectively preventing the marchers from getting run over, whatever else their purpose.  The group erupted into a chant of “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Police Brutality’s Gotta Go!” and occasionally an individual lobbed an insult at the police car.  (“Hey!  You’re a tool!”)   The tensions, just a few days after the famous Westlake confrontation, were understandable.   But whatever SPD’s reasons for tailing the protesters, at no time on that day did  I see SPD interfere or do anything but shield the marchers from oncoming traffic, effectively protecting their right to effectively protest.

As we marched, an occasional marcher would stop and lyrically chant bit of history, or policy.  One man explained that the term “skid row” originated from the working classes skidding logs down Yesler Way.    One woman encouraged people to think of the youths (this precipitated a detour to a youth detention center and chanting “Our Passion! For Freedom!  Is stronger than your prison!”  until the youths started pounding on the windows.)

On the road we talked to a retired  older man who lived with family members and wished his food stamps would buy him a pizza and that he could have a cell phone to call his brother, who lived and worked nearby.   One bright, articulate young woman railed against the inability of privileged white men to understand the plight of minorities.  Two older women whispered amongst themselves about what their big-law employers would think about their participation.   A few well dressed young people stood at the outskirts of the march, looking on in approval.

On the road, we  talked to a gorgeous elderly woman who watched the march from an intersection, and in very broken English asked what the ruckus was about.   We tried to explain in a dozen different ways.  Finally, her face lit up and she said “they want make better government?”  We said yes, and she left, looking hopeful.   Another woman came out of her home and told us that after her husband’s death, she discovered that they had had an adjustable-rate mortgage and was stuck with an exorbitant monthly mortgage payment.  A foreclosure soon followed, and she was left  valiantly adjusting to widowhood and raising two grandchildren in transitional housing.

After a long uphill climb, the marchers reached an abandoned, half-built home.  (Presumably, the house had been foreclosed on before construction was complete.)  Some of the younger marchers rushed into the abandoned house, ran up the stairs, and clambered out the windows and  onto the roof,  cheering and chanting.

After the marchers had settled into the property,  some crowding on the sidewalk outside (avoiding the potential crime of trespassing), and some sitting on the eaves and the roof or hanging out the windows,  a lull settled.   Some made spoke about occupying the house and using it as a youth center or homeless shelter.   A young man wrote “OCCUPY IS HERE” on a piece of cardboard,  put it on the old, derelict, long-fallen  for-sale signpost, and secured it outside where it  could be seen from the road.   The police shift changed, with a seamless swap from one patrol car parked half a block away to another.

It got darker and colder, and eventually, we walked away, leaving a group of shushed, cold people huddled in a wooden frame of a house.

I learned a lot from my day tailing the Occupy Seattle movement.  Here were my takeaways:

1) There is nothing more American than the 1st Amendment.   The rights of Americans to assemble & speak freely should be treasured and protected as one of our most important national values.   Having lived in not-as-free countries,  scenes like Occupy Seattle, whatever its flaws, are especially moving to me.

2) Understanding some of the movement participants’ aversion to hierarchy, it’s clear that a lack of strong leadership and a unified message in the movement prevents a clear, strong message from reaching those that need to hear it, and an inability to ensure that all participants demonstrate in a peaceful and respectful manner.   The result of these factors is reduced credibility for the movement.  Contrast with the strong leadership of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, who was able to encourage the majority to adopt a strong, simple message and embrace peaceful, meaningful, relevant, demonstration and  civil disobedience in the face of circumstances that would have otherwise provoked widespread violence.   Leadership and a message would probably dispel the myth that only “hippies, the chronically unemployed, druggies and anarchists wish for positive change in society and would encourage more people from more strata of society to get on board with producing change.

3) Based on the many economic and social ills affecting people in the U.S. & around the world today,  I am shocked that more people aren’t on board with the Occupy movement.   But then again, see #2, above.

Did I miss anything?  Have you been part of an Occupy movement?

* All photos mine & Nick’s 

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Everything I needed to know in life I learned from improv class.

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Jollity Theatre

This fall I signed up for Improv 100, one of the classes available from the Seattle improv group Unexpected Productions.   It was one of the most enriching and entertaining things I’ve ever done.   Every Tuesday night, I could count on bonding with complete strangers, laughing till I cried (I think I got abs from laughing so hard at this class), and having at least  three Oprah-style “aha moments” about art and story and life.   Improv class is both a playground for adults and a high-velocity lab where you can see truths about life and creativity unfolding and developing before your eyes.

Danielle LaPorte once said that taking an improv class “could teach you more about innovation, relationships, success, and sexuality than any therapist or self help book.”  After having duly experimented, I conclude that she’s right.  Everything you need to know in life you can learn from an improv class:

Be present. If you listen, you don’t have to think so hard.   Never underestimate instinct.  But you do have to be totally present, grounded, and ready for that  killer instinct to kick in.

It’s always better to be told to scale it down than scale it up.  Start by giving  things 100% energy & enthusiasm, the best, boldest, brightest you have.   You can always chill the eff out later.

Say yes, and…to other people’s ideas. Don’t block them.  One of the fundamental rules in improv is to say yes…and!  If someone in a scene says, “hey, let’s steal this car!,” you’re not supposed to say,  “No, you idiot, that’s a terrible idea.  Let’s go to the movies instead.”  That makes for a boring & negative scene.  What you’re supposed to say is “YES!  And let’s break all the windows and hot-wire it!”

Your life experience is an incredibly rich source of imagination rocket fuel.  Nobody has a boring life.  I thought I did, then I realized how based on the little I’ve seen and experienced, I had a bottomless source of off the cuff ideas.   And so did my classmates.   I realized I never have to be afraid of running out of ideas.

You don’t always have to be the star of the show.   Sometimes, you need to be a supporting character.  Sometimes, you need to be a tree. 

Learn all the rules first, then break them.   But just because you’re gonna break the rules doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn them first.  How are you going to know what rules to break (or why, or how) if you don’t know them?

Have you taken an improv class before?   If you haven’t  what are you waiting for?   If you have, I’d love to know what you thought of it & what you learned.

The Power of Asking Well

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Ask and you shall receive.   Uncontrovertibly true, but also hard.   Why?  Because as children, we’re taught that asking is wrong.  Don’t be greedy.  Be self-sufficient. Good girls don’t want things.  Real men don’t need help.  Don’t inconvenience people.  We don’t take charity in this family.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world.   You don’t want to owe anyone anything.  If you ask for things, people to think you’re weak or needy.   Did you grow up with any of these beliefs?  (I did.)  Do you still believe these things?  (I do, sometimes.)

The first problem with these beliefs is that they keep you from asking for what you want and need.   That’s bad because  if you don’t ask, you don’t get.   

The second problem with these beliefs is that when you believe that you are unworthy or wrong or out of line in asking for something,  you tend to make a sorry, ineffective mess of that request.  You grovel, apologize,  avoid eye contact,  or don’t ask for things directly.

The root of all beliefs about asking is the fear that we’re asking for something that we don’t deserve, or that we shouldn’t have.   I’m not going to tell you you deserve everything in the world because nobody does.   We don’t want to go around asking old ladies to give up their subway seat for you, or asking your parents to bail you out of gambling debt for the fifth time this month.   But these are not the kinds of requests we’re talking about.   It’s everything else;  a raise, a date, a small kindness, a military discount, an interview.  If you can look someone in the eye and ask for what you need with kindness, compassion, and  honestly,  and without  apologizing, then you don’t need to worry that your request is out of line,  or wrong, or an abuse of trust or relationship.    All you have to worry about is mustering up the courage to ask,  and asking well.

When you ask well—honestly, directly, kindly–two things will happen.   First, you’ll start trusting yourself when it comes to asking for things.    You’ll trust that those things you can ask for well are totally yours to ask for.  Second, people are a lot more likely to grant a direct, kind, unapologetic request than a babbling,  rambling, sorry one.   A win on both fronts!

Homework: 

This week, practice asking.  Practice asking well.   Ask the thrift store clerk for a discount because a button’s missing.   Ask someone you admire to mentor you.  Ask your spouse to make dinner tonight.   Ask your friends to donate for an upcoming charity race.    The first step is to practice having the courage to ask.   The second step is to practice asking well:

  • Look the person in the eye.
  • Smile.
  • Ask kindly
  • Ask  simply and directly.  Do not make the person read between the lines or guess what you mean.
  • Do not apologize.
  • Do not give the person an out  (e.g.,  I totally understand if you say no, but….)
  • Do not give excuses, stories, or white lies to elicit sympathy.   Trust me, this doesn’t work in your favor.
EXAMPLES: 

WRONG: (fidgeting and avoiding eye contact)  Sir,  excuse me, I’m sorry, I was thinking, maybe,  if possible,  I could, please,  next week, take a personal day , because (white lie) I have doctor’s appointments and to see my 90-year old grandma,  but if you can’t I totally understand, its ok.

RIGHT: (Eye contact).  I would like to take a vacation day on Wednesday, please.

WRONG:  I come home from a long day’s work and you’re sitting there picking your toes and reading a magazine  and expect me to serve you  dinner on a silver platter.   You haven’t made dinner in three days.  What the hell is wrong with you, you lazy turd?

RIGHT:  I would like you to cook dinner  tonight,  please.

Go forth and ask!   And then share what you asked for & how it went….

Lists in Action.

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Source: piccsy.com via Karin on Pinterest

 

Last week  Just a Titch had a post about doing a  morning pages ritual–writing a few pages first thing in the morning.   I loved that idea.   Being a list maker, I decided this week to make a few morning pages lists alongside my normal to-do lists.

Of course,  I don’t think we should limit ourselves to pages.  Some things need to be written in lipstick on mirrors or on sidewalks with brightly colored chalk, or tagged on overpasses or shouted from the rooftops.   But pages are a good place to start.

Here are some lists to put in action, however you choose to proclaim them.

1) 10 things you absolutely love about yourself.   I was inspired by  (a.k.a cribbed this from ) Tera Warner.  (Caveat:  nothing on the list can be about what what you own or what you do or who you love.   It’s what you love about you.   Your scars, your lion strength, your lightening wit and crooked teeth, legs that run marathons, inventive monkey minds and proud heritage and listening heart.   Not your husband or wife or job or car.)

2) 10 careers or life paths you would take if you had 10 lifetimes.  Ponder the fact that it is quite possible for you to do it all in the next fifty or sixty years or more.   Ponder the fact that if you don’t start anything because it is impossible to do it all, you will end up with zero items on your list completed as opposed to  one or two or four or six….

3) 10 people you could extend some kindness to in the next week.   A call to grandma.  A dollar to the homeless person across the street.  Lunch with the new girl.  Check the off as you do them.  Start over next week.

4) 10 touristy, unique, or cool things in your city you’ve not yet been to.   I  was the New York resident who never went to the Statute of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall or the Met.   Don’t let it happen to you.

5) 10 books that have changed your life.   Bonus points…make it a point to pass each book on to someone in your life that  needs it.

What’s on your list?

I have finally found my guru…

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Every once in awhile you hear some words that change your day…maybe your life.  I discovered Jeff Brown’s work’s today, by serendipitous accident.   I escaped from work in the middle of the day today feeling sick, achy, and frustrated and headed to yoga class.   Rushing into the studio, I dropped onto my mat, heart racing, mind doing cartwheels.  My yoga teacher  Jo opened the class with these words:

“I have finally found my guru- my toes, my feet, my hips, my hands, my heart. What a thing to imagine our guru as intrinsic to who we are rather than external to our embodied experience. If we really listen to the body, its truth aches will remind us when we are walking in the wrong direction, its truth chills will remind us when we are walking true-path. Thousands of years of knowing in our body temple, eternal wisdom as to directionality. No need to attach to anyone else’s knowing. We are living in a castle of awareness. The Body of God.”  —Jeff Brown

Strange & Wonderful Things, or Ghostly Seattle

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A couple of nights ago, I decided to walk down First Avenue from downtown to the Seattle Center.    It’s normally bustling, but tonight it was cold and clear and quiet.   I looked around and saw incredible things, things that most people never get to see. I love those lonely, beautiful things that can only be seen when you open your eyes and choose to see the city as if time is standing still and you’re the only one in it.

Pike Market, totally empty.

Under the bridge street art:



A desolate storefront with weird mannequin heads…
Blazing Western sunset.

Ghost Space needle:

Ghostlier fountain at the Intiman Theater

What strange & wonderful things have you found on your regular routes?

The LadyPants Guide to Surviving Crunch-Time

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Deadline

Despite your  best intentions, crunch time happens, whether you’re doing something you hate (billing 2500 hours a year at a soul-sucking biglaw factory) or something you love ( defending the defenseless, writing your first big magazine article, starting a surf-camp business in Costa Rica).   I define crunch time as anytime you need to put intense, sustained effort into an endeavor so that it takes over your life, whether it’s something that drains your soul or sparks your spirit.   The former is a lot more difficult,  but the latter carries its dangers too…you can easily get so excited about something that you crunch your way out of health, balance & sanity.

Last week,  I was getting ready for a major deadline, racing the clock,  putting in exhausting 18-hour days.  Not the first or the last time it’s happened to me, but like most things lately,  I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to suck. You can occasionally  do crunch time for a week or two and stay sane and healthy.

The number one way to combat the adverse effects of crunch time is to avoid it altogether.  E.g., try to get things done ahead of time.  But that doesn’t always work out, right?   Here’s my quick survival guide for those times 18-hour days are inevitable:

Plan your work before you start.  Figure out how long it’s going to take.   Plan to spend the most time on the important parts. Set time limits for things you tend to get stuck on or spend too much time on (excessive brainstorming or researching, for example).    Make an outline, do the research,  factor in plenty of time for revising and proofreading and getting feedback.

Do what you can to avoid catastrophe, but don’t dwell on it.  Save your work every time you step away, back it up on a thumb drive, and email it to yourself every couple of hours.   Factor in extra time in case the printer breaks, the internet goes down, or some other unforeseen or inevitable catastrophe happens.  But don’t sit around expecting things to go wrong.  Plan for the worst, and always, always, always, expect the best.

Prioritize sleep and exercise.   Everything else has to go (e.g. TV, internet, reading non-project materials, cooking, cleaning, shaving your legs–except sex, which counts as exercise).   You know how many hours of sleep you need for a week or two of sustained effort.  It’s probably around six, bare minimum.   For exercise,  prioritize doing the things that give you the most mental clarity, not necessarily sticking to your normal routine.  I get the most mentally from hot yoga or short, brisk runs.

Band together.   Crunch time is a lot more fun in the company of fellow crunch-ers.   Fellow students, co-workers & partners can be enlisted to make crunch time in to a memorable party…complete with popcorn and friendly competition.

Change the scenery.  Especially if you work under fluorescent lights.  Disappear to a cafe, or a beautiful public library for a few hours.  If it’s nice, go outside.   If you work in an office and it is getting late,  go home and slog on in your pajamas with your feet propped up & glass of champagne & music.

Pick your poison wisely.  If you’re going to slam caffeine, pick cleaner versions (like green tea or black coffee).  Don’t touch energy drinks or sugary sodas coffee concoctions.  Drink plenty of water.   Stay away from other stimulants. Even if they’re legal.  Even if they’re over the counter.  It’s just bad news.  Also, eat lots of fresh, healthy food.   Stock up on healthy deliciousness ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on pizza and takeout.

Take regular breaks.   To drink water, to take a few deep breaths, to watch the sunset, to eat a meal like a civilized person instead of inhaling it over your computer with crumbs falling into the keyboard.

Don’t expect to suffer.   Crunch time is intense, sustained effort. There is no requirement that crunch time equal suffering.

THE KICKER:  There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.   You have to either see the end in sight or get deep satisfaction from the outcome. When you’re studying for finals, you know you’re getting a break in a couple of weeks.  When you’re starting a business, or a charity, or writing a book,  you know you’ll soon see results–people benefitting from your blood, sweat, and tears.   If there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, if you look around and realize that this madness has become your life, like Groundhog Day, then you need to reexamine the path you’ve chosen.  It’s called crunch time, not crunch life.

How do you survive crunch time?