Think Like an Abolitionist

Donovan Lewis, Age 20

A tragedy happened in Columbus this week: Police officer Ricky Anderson fired one bullet, killing 20-year-old Donovan Lewis. Police entered Donovan’s home, hunted him down with dogs, and murdered him. Such awful events are all too common. According to the Washington Post Fatal Force Database, 690 people have been shot and killed by the police so far in 2022 (as of August 31st). As a comparison, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 456 people have been killed in a mass shooting so far in 2022 (as of August 31st). Rationally, as Americans, we should be more afraid of being killed by the police than in a mass shooting—especially if we’re poor, Black, or brown.

This is a primary reason I am an abolitionist. I believe that the United States Police Force should be abolished. We cannot simply abolish mass shootings (though we could ban assault weapons), and so that makes lessening the harm from mass shootings more challenging. But when it comes to reducing the number of people murdered by police officers each year, there is one obvious solution: get rid of police officers. But I digress; my goal is not to argue for this position here. I’m working on a book about that, though, so stay tuned.

Instead, today, I want to give you an inside peek into how I think. As an abolitionist learning about the latest fatal police shooting, here’s what goes through my mind. Whenever I consider stories about the police, FBI raids, judge and jury verdicts, or other functions of the United States Justice System through the lens of someone who wants to abolish all of it, I recall a famous quotation from Albert Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

A central tenant of my abolitionist view is answering this call to widen my circle of compassion. It provides the framework for me to expand my awareness with curiosity, primarily through asking questions, imagining situations from multiple perspectives, and hopefully increasing the size and number of my spheres of concern to include more awareness for more creatures. Once my awareness is expanded, compassion soon follows, but it takes practice and gratitude to get there. I invite you on the journey.

Sphere One

In the smallest sphere of compassion, where you’re restricted to thoughts of yourself and your loved ones, you might have the following thought: thank goodness my loved ones are safe. Learning about a fellow parent’s loss can encourage us to take stock and to hug our children a little tighter. That is surely a good thing. Out of curiosity, how could we take that seed of gratitude and expand it, just a bit?

Sphere Two

In the next sphere, we might feel compassion for folks affected by the tragedy with whom we identify in some way. Mothers instinctively think of Donovan’s grieving mother. Young Black men think of Donovan’s fear and pain. Police officers think of Ricky. I invite you to embody each of these perspectives. How would it feel if you are a police officer to think of Donovan’s grieving mother? If you’re white, how might you feel if you were a Black man living in Columbus, OH in the aftermath of this tragedy? Considering these different perspectives and imagining how others might be feeling right now is one way to expand the diameter of this sphere.

Check in with yourself. Is there a perspective you’re not willing to consider? Is there a person affected by the tragedy you’re unable to identify with or you refuse to even consider because you deem them unworthy of your care and affection? This is a growth opportunity. Try to find one, small thing you might be able to have some awareness of. Notice I said awareness, not compassion. Start with simply acknowledging that something might be difficult for this person; you don’t need to go all in on empathy in a growth moment. For example, I have a difficult time taking the perspective of the police officer because it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine ever choosing that profession in the first place. Nonetheless, I have never taken someone’s life before. I do not know whether Ricky has ever taken a life in his thirty years as a police officer, but I can imagine that coming to terms with this fact (as well as being on administrative leave and enduring the media attention and upcoming investigation) is putting stress and strain on him and his loved ones. That would be a difficult situation for anyone to endure.

If you find yourself saying “fuck him” to Ricky, then again, I invite you to sit with that feeling and imagine a different perspective. Other folks in this arena might be unable or unwilling to take the perspective of Donovan—a “criminal.” They think that if you don’t do anything wrong, then you won’t be shot by police. From what I’ve read, the arrest warrant for Donavon was for domestic abuse, assault, and the improper handling of a gun. And while we must remember that under the current American Justice System Donovan would be innocent until proven guilty, these are still very serious charges. As someone who has endured domestic abuse in the past, I tend to believe women (I’m making the statistically probable assumption here that the domestic partner in this case is a woman, but I’m open to new information proving me wrong about that), and so while the burden of proof is on the state, I tend to believe women when they say men beat them. Someone else—maybe a Ricky supporter—who believes that Donovan is a “wife beater who hid from police instead of opening the door when they first knocked,” may find themselves similarly saying “fuck him.” Both are genuine human responses. You do not need to conceptually align yourself with a perspective to see it.

While awareness of these different perspectives helps us to expand our spheres of compassion, I would never ask victims to identify with oppressors as that may cause significant harm. For instance, I would never ask Black men today to have compassion for cops. I will always draw a line at giving away so much compassion that it diminishes your own power. Stand in your power today. Leave that work to others and practice some community and self-care instead. You deserve it.

Sphere Three

In the next sphere, we might grow the number of people we consider affected by the tragedy. Who else is struggling today? I can imagine that the woman who reported Donovan to the police is having some conflicting feelings. While she may have been trying to keep herself safe, I can imagine she did not mean to start a process that ended with Donovan dead. That’s got to be very difficult to manage, emotionally.

I believe that the Chief of Police in Columbus, Elaine Bryant, a Black woman with children, likely feels stuck between a rock and a hard place. I imagine she feels a sense of loyalty and duty to her police force and to her Black community, and she’s trying to thread that needle. I don’t know much more about her or Ricky’s history on the force, but I feel for her, and I know she does NOT want her police officers out on the street murdering Black men.

What about the other two men in the apartment who were taken into custody? Why didn’t they answer the door for ten minutes? Were they afraid for their lives, having police banging around outside at two o’clock in the morning? Were they protecting their friend, Donovan? Did they also do something against the law (maybe they were high?) that they didn’t want to be caught for? They were handcuffed and taken to police headquarters. I’m not sure if they’re still there but spending a night or more in jail must be very difficult, regardless of the reasons.

Finally, we might expand further to include Mayor Ginther, the City Council and others who might be involved in the upcoming investigation, the brave and dedicated protestors who will come out in droves this weekend, the police officers who will face off with their dissenters, the other police officers at Donovan’s house that night who witnessed him being shot, the paramedics who initially treated Donovan, the Emergency Department doctors who declared him dead, and the friends and families of all the people mentioned so far. The more we understand our communities, the people involved in horrific events such as this, and how they all operate, the greater we can expand our awareness of the difficulties they face. The more we practice awareness and openness to their experiences, the more compassion will grow inside us.

Sphere Four

Can we expand further? I think we can reach out into the domain of societal institutions, higher than any particular individuals. We can ask deep, fundamental questions about how we created a structure that landed us in the midst of this tragedy. The central question for me is: why were armed police officers in Donovan’s home in the first place? Is this necessary to successfully “protect and serve?” You can see from the body cam footage that police officers outside have their weapons pulled, in hand, ready at the waiting. They’re anxiously moving from one foot to another, from one stance to another, clearly full of adrenaline as they pound the door, demanding entrance. It’s worth noting again that it’s two o’clock in the morning. Why are adrenaline-fueled, armed police officers banging on Donovan’s apartment door in the middle of the night? Is this the first line of action? Has he been notified in any other way that there is a warrant out for his arrest? Is there another time or place where police could arrest Donovan?

After the first two young men answer the door and are taken into custody, police officers on the scene decide to call for additional back-up from the K-9 unit. What changed to make the situation so dangerous as to request back-up? And the big question: if the person being arrested was a rich, white, middle-aged man living in Upper Arlington, how would this situation be different? I can tell you that the police would not be knocking in the middle of the night! They’d approach in broad daylight rather than under the cloak of darkness. They surely wouldn’t even think to call for K-9 backup. And I know they wouldn’t be so quick to conclude a vape was a gun. There is a deep bias in the minds of police that being on Sullivant Ave at two o’clock in the morning arresting a Black man is automatically dangerous, and that makes them more likely to take more severe action, thus increasing the probability of lethal force. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Sphere Five

We can expand this societal thought even further: does arresting, trying, and imprisoning one person make anyone else safer? But I’ll leave that thought for another day.

The Abolitionist’s Future

Finally, what happens next? There will be an investigation, and many people will be rooting for justice, which in their minds means that Officer Anderson will be found guilty of murder and sentenced to prison. As an abolitionist, I wholeheartedly want an investigation, especially one that could answer some important questions about this event. What caused officers to go to Donovan’s apartment at two o’clock in the morning and what could we do differently next time? What caused officers to call for a K-9 backup unit? How does bias of location, the nature of the arrest warrant, and race factor into this decision? Why did Officer Anderson—dog in his left hand—fire his weapon so quickly without nearly enough time to make a good judgment? Why do officers need to be carrying weapons at all? An investigation is helpful because answering these questions might help us prevent future Donovan’s from being murdered, lives cut far too short.

As an abolitionist, however, I cannot root for Ricky to go to prison. I understand and have empathy for those who are suffering today, and this suffering may lead us down a path of wanting Ricky to pay for what he’s done. We are human, after all. But we must also realize there’s no way for Ricky to pay his debt. Nothing will bring Donovan back. Nothing could ever happen to Ricky that is as bad as what he did to Donovan, and in my heart of hearts, embodying my highest self, I cannot wish for such horrors to happen to any living being. I believe that transformation comes when we focus on what we could do differently in the future to prevent such senseless tragedies rather than spending even an ounce of energy on backward-looking retribution (or revenge). Healing and prevention are the mantras of abolition.

I mourn with the community today, and I pledge allegiance to doing whatever I can to contribute to a future free from such deep wounds. In solidarity, sending light and love to all.

I’m Writing a Book!

Working Title: The End of Ethics

The Buck Moon by Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

I’ve been writing for some time about my yearly meditations, where I pick a word of the year to guide me. My first word was narratives in 2016, followed by boundaries in 2017, and then authenticity twice, once in 2018 and again in 2019; my 2020 and 2021 words are yet to come, so stay tuned for that. I’ve written about how each of those words led to massive changes in my life, changes I never thought could arise from simply thinking about one word for 365 days. This practice has deepened my relationships with others, enriched my understanding of myself, and improved my intuitive abilities. I highly recommend you give it a try. There’s no better time than now, under the magnificent super buck moon.

In addition to recounting past words, I’m posting about my journey through my current word of the year, voice. My hope is that you can see in real-time how I open myself up to the ways the word works through my life. I believe the openness to the word, the curiosity, the willingness to see where it leads all give enormous power to this meditation. It pulls us out of our heads, disrupts our typical patterns, and invites us to leave our safe spaces and explore. I think I’ve felt silenced for many years, and so choosing voice this year has encouraged me to express myself again. It’s helping me lift my inner voice with passion and stamina. Ultimately, it’s led me to writing a book. How exciting!

I had an epiphany a few months ago—more like a visceral flight of ideas—and ever since, I’ve been obsessively researching, planning, and discussing this new book I’m writing. Quite literally, I was sitting at a local restaurant’s bar, enjoying a glass of wine, and reading Philippa Foot’s beautiful book, Natural Goodness. I’m sort of known for reading in bars these days, ha. Anyway, I’ve been reading this one, tiny-but-mighty work of philosophical genius for nearly twenty years. It has notations in the margins I no longer comprehend, vestiges of my undergraduate honors thesis. I love this book. As I read it through new eyes, however, I felt a sudden rush of excitement. My heart began to race. My cheeks flushed. Suddenly it all made sense. Everything I’d struggled to understand as an undergraduate philosophy major, the parts of my dissertation that never quite sat right, and strange experiences teaching my own undergraduate students all came together in one, unifying conclusion: we’ve made a crucial mistake spending thousands of years trying to make sense of morality. It’s time to abandon the project. Instead, let’s set a new agenda for understanding human behavior that might be more fruitful. Here’s my working abstract, which is continually evolving:

What if the framework for evaluating some actions as right and some actions as wrong never existed? That’s my big question: what if we went back far enough in hypothetical time, before anyone ever judged an action as wrong, and instead of judging actions as right or wrong, we did something entirely different? Throughout the history of philosophy, we have assumed morality needed elucidation. We built complex theories of what moral terms mean, where morality comes from, what moral reasons are, the nature of moral facts in relation to natural facts, and normative theories justifying why particular actions are right or wrong. None of these theories is without devastating flaw. I will argue we need to start in a different place, and if we start anywhere but “I will provide a moral theory,” we will never get to a moral theory. If we stop assuming morality from the outset, we’ll discover there is no reason for it.

I will start with a pragmatic argument for abolishing punishment in the home and throughout society. A few surprising things will follow. Most importantly, morality won’t follow. Then I’ll argue that instead of acting on moral reasons, human beings more simply express their various mental states, including beliefs, desires, values, emotions, needs, and appetites. If we want to build a better society, our focus should be on proactively improving and enriching our mental states for success as a species rather than judging, evaluating, and punishing each other after the fact through the limited, flawed, and divisive lens of morality.  

The thought surprised even me! I’ve been a believer in moral objectivism—the idea that there are moral facts independent of human beliefs—my whole (philosophical) life. As I sat at the bar astounded that I could even think this thought, I began to outline my argument. I wrote it all out in my notebook with my palms sweating and my forehead pressed into my left hand, seeing my way through the maze that had mystified me for decades, as if I suddenly had access to the bird’s eye view. I packed up my books and scooped my heart off the floor, then moved to another venue, my favorite local jazz bar. I pulled out my notebook, turned the page, and wrote the argument again, just to see if I still had it. And I did. I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack. I decided to put the notebook away and wait until the next day to re-write it on my computer, just to see if I could. And I did again. I almost passed out from the thought of it. I simultaneously thought “this is genius” and “this is absolute nonsense.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the physical joy and chaos of a new idea, but it is overwhelming. How can my body know the truth before I do? The feeling of reaching both hands in the air, snapping a few times as you smile from ear to ear, then clap once or twice before pounding the desk, “that’s it!” It’s surreal. John Stuart Mill might’ve been right; intellectual pleasures might be of the highest kind. It reminded me of a familiar feeling, sitting in seminar or during a Friday talk, when suddenly I could feel in my chest I knew the problem, the crux of the issue, the Achilles heal. My body told me when I was onto something, and I trusted that feeling implicitly. I’d try to see where to wedge my way in, and the pricked skin and racing heart always confirmed when I was on the right track.

Since writing the abstract, an introduction, and working my way through an outline, I began researching what other, recent philosophical thought had been published on the theme of abolishing morality. I found some very interesting threads! There was a special edition of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice in 2007 dedicated to the work of J. L. Mackie, who famously argued for what’s called “moral error theory.” Error theory basically says that since there are no objective moral facts, all moral judgments are false. That is, whenever anyone says, “killing is wrong” or “keeping your promises is right,” they are saying something intelligible, but strictly speaking, such sentences are all false because there’s no such thing as wrong or right in the world. Error theory is often used as an objection in philosophy more than a viable theory (like the way relativism is used), and so this resurgence of adherents is remarkable.

The part of this thread I felt in my body, reassuring me I was on the right track, though? This special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice features a paper titled “Abolishing Morality” from Richard Garner, who was professor emeritus at Ohio State, where I got my PhD! We even overlapped a bit. I had been his graduate TA for one metaethics course back in 2006 or so. Then he went on to edit a follow-up book titled The End of Morality in 2019. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2020 from COVID-19, at age 84. Not only am I connected to one of the main champions of the modern idea of abolishing morality, but he also serves as an inspiration to me. He was doing this important work in his seventies and eighties, after a long career in academic philosophy. He gives me great hope that good ideas can come from anywhere, at any age, in any circumstance.

A final thread. Dick Garner’s friend and collaborator, Joel Marks, featured in both the Ethical Theory and Moral Practice special issue and in The End of Morality, argues that morality should be replaced with what he calls “Desirism.” In a nutshell, Marks advocates for a view like my own expressed in the Authenticity posts that we should do whatever we want to do. There are differences that will be worth fruitful philosophical analysis, but the thread is there, which is very exciting to me. It’s always better to be connected to an existing literature than to be an island. I can’t wait to pull all these threads together.

As I stare at the glorious super moon this evening, I want to set an intention. I’m sharing it with you to hold me to it. This is the moon of power, and I want to harness it on this special day. I plan to keep posting bits and pieces of the book, working them out, testing out theories, begging for feedback. If you read anything here that piques your interest, reach out! Let’s get coffee or a drink and chat about it. Please also make all the recommendations. Is there something I should be reading? Tell me! Is there someone I should be following or a cool podcast I should listen to? Please send me all the links! Thanks for your support, friends. It means the world.

Silence or Death

Finding my Voice, even though I am afraid.

Content warning: description of rape

As I continue exploring the depths of my Voice, my current Word of the Year, I think it’s time to tell a story. Voice is finding the courage to speak my truth, to be vulnerable, to contribute to the collective experience of being human, in all its painful richness. To whisper into the void, “this happened to me” with hopes of a hand reaching back “that happened to me, too.” We’re not alone, after all.  

When I was seventeen years old, I was raped by two men. I will tell you what happened, to say it all out loud, but in some sense, the real story is the silence. Why was I silent about the rape? Why has it taken me twenty-four years to find my voice? Why do so few rape victims tell their stories? It is a privilege, after all, to have a Voice without risking everything for it.   

Background

I was seeing a boy in secret for several years. We met because he and his friends were calling random local numbers and asking whoever answered, “may I speak to your daughter?” as a prank. I answered my phone and said “oh, I am the daughter” as if that one silly sentence wouldn’t change the entire course of my life. I was maybe thirteen at the time, on my see-through, light-up, landline. He lived one town over, and so no one I knew knew him. We started chatting that day and continued doing so for years. Once we were old enough to drive, we started sneaking out and sneaking in together. Eventually, I lost my virginity to him. Ironically, that decision felt safe precisely because no one I knew knew him. Reputation was everything, I was taught.  

One night, he picked me up as usual—he found a ladder by the neighborhood pool, leaned it up against my house, and I climbed down from my second story window. I got in his car “where to?” 

“I have this great place we can go for some privacy.”

He must’ve made 15 turns between my house and this place of privacy. I had no idea where we were. It was about 2:30 in the morning when we pulled into a generic house, in a generic neighborhood. 

“We’re here.”

There were two men—clearly older than high school—maybe 25?—sitting on the couch playing video games. On the coffee table was a pile of white powder (cocaine? meth?) and a black handgun. Here I was. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea who those men were. I had no idea what drugs they were on. I had no idea what that gun was for. I gotta keep my wits about me, I thought.

The boy took my hand and led me to a bedroom. I knew we’d come here to have sex, so we did.

After he was done, he got up to throw the condom away and pee, I suppose. I remember lying there feeling free; I felt like a badass. I could do whatever I wanted to do, anytime I wanted to do it. No one could stop me. And no one knew what I was doing or who I was doing it with or where I was doing it. And that felt liberating. Is this what it feels like to be empowered? To be in control of one’s own sexuality? To be a feminist goddess, I thought, confidently. It was the nineties, after all.

Occasional apprehension seeped into those thoughts, too. Hmmm—no one knows where I am. Not even me. And soon, no one would know who I was doing it with. Not even me.

The Rape

The door opens again, light streaming from the hallway. The boy ushers in the two men from the couch, and I sit up. “Wait—what’s going on?”

“It’s okay, I told my friends it’s their turn,” says the boy.

“Wait, what? I—I don’t want to do that.”

“Lindsey, it’s their turn. I promised them they’d have a turn.”

One man approaches the bed. He begins to pull his pants off.

“Hold on a second. I don’t want to do this. I only came here to hang out with him tonight,” I tell them, pleading. I fully expected he’d pull his pants back up, with maybe a breathy, high “whatever man” and walk away.  And then I’d put my clothes back on and make the boy drive me home. End of story.

“Lay down” the man said. The boy left the room, closing the door, and the light, behind him. My heart began to race; my eyes darted all over the dark room. The second man stepped closer to the bed. There I was, naked, my clothes across the room. There they both were, naked from the waist down, erect, leering at me, chuckling. 

The first man crawled on top of me, put in his penis—no condom—and began thrusting. He came inside of me, quickly. Second man, same as the first.   

I remember turning my head to avoid looking into their eyes, staring at the wall, repeating silently “Drugs and guns. Drugs and guns. Drugs and guns.” I didn’t drive here on my own. If I ran out right now and stole the boy’s car, I wouldn’t even know how to get home (this was before we had GPS in our pockets). I didn’t know where his keys were, and I was sure they’d get to me before I found them. If I fought back—dug in my nails, kicked them in the balls, gouged their eyes out, pulled and squeezed their penis, bit them in the neck—then it would be three against one. And there was a gun I’d lost track of. The odds were not in my favor. I made a decision, the only rational decision I could make: I took it. 

The First Silence

I decided to keep quiet and take it because being raped was better than being murdered.

When they were finished and comfortably seated in front of their video games and drugs and guns again, I crawled out of bed and put my clothes on. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t let myself break down. I had to focus—”get out of here alive” I told myself. I sucked it up. I pretended like everything was fine as I walked into the living the room. I quietly asked the boy if we could leave “because I was tired.”     

We drove home without saying a word. I knew I couldn’t talk without losing it. Once home safe, I practically leapt from the car. I never spoke to or saw the boy again. 

The Second Silence

I decided not to tell anyone because being blamed for being raped is worse than being raped.

I didn’t tell anyone for years. During that time, the boy who I met randomly on my see-through light-up landline, who I lost my virginity to, who facilitated my rape—this boy decided to PUNISH me for kicking him out of my life and not returning his phone calls. (I don’t know that he knows he facilitated my rape.) He proceeded to terrorize my mother, my brother (pre-school aged at the time), and myself by breaking into our home and cars multiple times, stealing thousands of dollars, pilfering medications, and taking away any sense of security we pretended to have. He was finally arrested with my mother’s checkbook in a Walmart parking lot. I’m not sure if he ever went to jail. I still didn’t tell anyone.

I became so depressed, I stopped going to school. I was attending a local college for my senior year of high school, and I failed all my classes. My mother pulled some strings to get me into a six-week English class at the local alternative school (I only needed the one English credit to graduate from high school). I walked into the classroom on the first day, and there was the boy, sitting in the back of the room, as though he was placed there by the Devil himself, destined to ruin my entire fucking life. I never went back, and I still didn’t tell anyone.  

I did eventually graduate from high school (in August) after completing eight long weeks of humiliating summer school. I had been at the top of my class with an exceedingly bright future, which crumbled. I eventually got some version of that future; I couldn’t let the boy and his two men ruin me completely. But they still haunt me, occasionally. The experience itself was traumatic, of course. How could it not be? And it took something from me that I’ll never get back. But I’m not really haunted by that anymore (thankfully). Instead, the piece that continues to stick in my craw is this: why didn’t I tell anyone?

Finding My Voice

I don’t want to be silent anymore. I won’t take responsibility for being raped anymore. For vulnerable people all over the world, to use our voices is to risk death, and death is worse than silence. We make the calculated decision to survive instead of speaking. It is not a decision made lightly, but it is still fighting.

So much has been buried in this hallowed flesh for fear of death. For hope of survival.

I’m not saying I won’t be afraid anymore. There are real dangers for a woman with a voice, and fear is an appropriate response to those dangers—one I would never judge anyone else for feeling or acting on in keeping quiet. Very often, it’s the only thing that keeps us alive to fight another day.

I want to find my voice even though I am afraid

I was raped by two men when I was seventeen. I am not ashamed of that anymore. I will speak of it now. My silence will no longer haunt me, as my Voice continues to take shape.

Year 4: Authenticity (Again)

Become who you are.

Thoughts of Authenticity often conflate two different questions: (1) the impersonal, “what is the meaning of Self?” and (2) the more personal, “what is the meaning of myself?” The first suggests universality, the concept of Self that applies to everyone. The second suggests particularity, inviting each of us to consider our unique selves. I’ll say a bit about the universal self and follow up with some discussion of what I learned about myself in the second yearly meditation on Authenticity (check out Year 3: Authenticity).

The Universal Self

Two broad theories of the universal Self have been offered by philosophers: that of self-discovery, often referred to as essentialism, and that of self-creation, often referred to as existentialism. Typically, essentialism and existentialism are presented as opposing views, contradicting one another. I’ll argue that both are required for understanding ourselves. A metaphor will be helpful. Imagine that an acorn represents essentialism whereas an oak tree represents existentialism.

We search for the acorn. We dig around, look under leaves, peel back layers of earth, and if we’re lucky, we find it. We discover it directly, hold it in our hands, and examine it carefully. The acorn is static, unchanging. It remains the same no matter how long we look at it or how many different angles we analyze it from. But we can also plant the acorn. Planting the seed is necessary for the tree to grow.

Discover the acorn to unlock your potential.

We create the oak tree indirectly. Not by continuing to focus on the acorn or even the tree but by cultivating good soil, watering the appropriate amounts, and providing ample sunlight. The oak tree sprouts and changes as a dynamic, living thing. It simultaneously grows upward toward the sun and downward into the interconnected mycelium. It feels the seasons, ebbing and flowing with the environment. Cells being destroyed and created each second. There’s nothing necessary about the oak tree; it is pure possibility. Maybe it never grows. Maybe it’s the tallest tree in the forest. Each limb, each shred of bark, each ring, each leaf creating the tree’s new form each day, each minute.

Create the oak tree by nurturing its environment.

Returning to the universal concept of Self, which best captures authenticity: the acorn or the oak tree? In my Year 3: Authenticity post, I concluded that you become your authentic self by removing the shoulds imposed on you by yourself and others and by tuning into what you really want. Digging out from under the shoulds to discover what you really want sounds a lot like self-discovery or essentialism. You’re trying to find your acorn, which represents your unique set of desires.

It’s incredible how good we are at hiding our deepest desires from ourselves. A crucial task of authenticity is unlocking your acorns. Examples of hidden acorns might be uncovering repressed sexual or gender identity, realizing a new talent or admitting you hate doing the thing you’ve got talent for, discovering that your current career path/relationship/hobby is not what you really want or finding out that what you really want is something else entirely, like becoming a parent. Some of us have more hidden acorns than others.

Does this mean I am committed to essentialism? I’m afraid so. I believe that to live authentically, we must discover our acorns–what we really want in our heart-of-hearts. And that’s not always clear to us, and so we must dig and search and seek and listen and tune in and tune out until we find ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the self-discovery hurts the people we love, and that’s hard.

Does this commitment to essentialism mean there’s no place for the oak tree? Certainly not! The Self is more than the Authentic Self. Any viable concept of the universal Self must make room for the Evolving Self. Discovering the acorn is necessary for creating the oak tree. We must unlock our deepest desires—who we truly are separate from others’ expectations of us—before we can nurture the Evolving Self. Without a seed, the tree will never grow to its fullest potential (or, like, at all).

And yet, to nurture the Evolving Self we must focus on everything but ourselves. Staring at the acorn as though it holds the key to unlocking all of us amounts to nothing more than naval gazing. No matter how many different angles we view the acorn from, it will remain the same. Stagnant. We must plant the seed underground—out of sight, out of mind—and turn to the sky instead. Will the seed get enough sunlight here? Examine the quality of the soil. Does it have the right balance of nutrients and minerals? Assess nearby water sources. Turn to the environment to nurture the budding tree.

The universal Self is comprised of two things: the Authentic Self and the Evolving Self. While we must unlock the Authentic Self to see the potential of the Evolving Self, once that’s done, authenticity simply flows through each emotion, action, experience, and decision we make. Without thought, without focusing on “am I being authentic?” we are able to live authentically while growing and changing.

What About Myself?

The real surprise of my second year spent with Authenticity was that, at the end of the day, authenticity doesn’t matter all that much (after you’ve discovered your acorn). It’s a one and done sort of activity in many cases, and the more we choose to focus on it, the less energy we can put into nurturing our environments and community for mutual growth.

To be fair, if you haven’t found your acorn yet, the search (or the cover-up) can be all-consuming. If you’re living your life under all those shoulds or if you’re in denial about an essential part of yourself or if you just don’t know what’s going on but something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s nearly impossible to focus, in a deep and connected way, on nurturing much of anything. I get it. I was there.

In my second year of Authenticity, I came out as queer, ended a 10-year relationship with my (cis, hetero, male) partner, and built a “broken” home for our kiddo. While that admission of queerness and the subsequent fallout was terribly painful, it made room for me to become who I am today. And today, I’m well on my way to fabulous. Join me?

Tarot Time!

I pulled The Moon card, and the first line in my guidebook says, “The full moon brings out the weirdos.” Oh, fuck yes. My nickname in middle school was “the weird girl,” and boy am I getting in touch with my roots. Hold on tight—shit’s about to get wild and weird and wonderful. Love to you all.

Authenticity + Voice

The Year 3: Authenticity post has so much nuance to it, I got very excited about using my actual voice to share it with you. I also thought it would be a fun exploration of my current Word of the Year, Voice, to record myself in a dramatic reading of my first Authenticity post. It is very dramatic. I hope you enjoy!

I’ll sometimes post various attempts at understanding where my current Word of the Year takes me, like this. In this case, I’m literally using my voice for a dramatic reading, which feels vulnerable and exposing. I like it nonetheless. It feels more real, more me. I’ve been told I have a lovely speaking voice, and if you want to tell me that, too, please feel free. I’m here for it.

van Gogh’s Imperfections

Art is a balm for my metaphorical soul.

I finally made it out to the van Gogh exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art Thursday. I wanted to go for some time, and it did not disappoint. I was delighted—and stunned—to turn the corner and come face-to-face with Hokusai’s The Great Wave. Holy shit—I had no idea it would be part of the exhibit! Van Gogh was enormously influenced by 19th century Japanese art, and the exhibit did a superb job of connecting those dots.

This post might look like a detour from my current “Word of the Year” series. It is not. As I meandered through the exhibit, absorbing the beauty, I began leaning in for closer looks. Art books and other media images don’t do most art justice, and this is the power of museums, but something particularly special is lost with 2-D renditions of van Gogh’s paint globs and rich texture. (I do not pretend to be an expert, hence terms like “globs”; I’m merely expressing how I felt seeing them, and how it connects to my own ongoing project.)

I spent quite a bit of time with van Gogh’s painting, Tarascon Stagecoach (1888), which I had never seen before in a book or a museum. As I approached the work with complete novice and utter curiosity, I was struck by how ugly parts of it were. Take this small section, about 2 inches by 2 inches, zoomed in:

Ew, right? As I stared at this one section of the painting, I was amazed by how hideous it was. The darker brown paint had not been entirely washed off the brush and was mixing into the yellow in a disgustingly poop-like way. The brush strokes are irregular—globs of paint piling here and there—without any rhyme or reason. There’s a small spot of green that’s out of place, drifted from the shutters, accidentally, presumably. You can see raw canvas peeking through, uncovered, ignored, left alone.

What kind of person looks at this 2×2 square inch of painting and thinks yeah, this part’s done? Who would honestly be satisfied with those globs, with the stray paint colors, drifting, with the naked canvas peeking through? How can a person be capable of coming face-to-face with such imperfection and not try to fix it, even a little? I cannot imagine. I am not that person. I have much more Mondrian in me than van Gogh, evidently (love that structure!). It is a perspective on being to which I apparently have very little access.

However, I’m striving to embrace the van Gogh. He trusted. He let go of 2×2 square inch imperfection and embraced the awe of stepping back and seeing the whole masterpiece, a whole which was infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, a whole which, because of its greatness, conferred greatness on the oft-celebrated paint globs and other hideous parts. Here is the full painting:

It’s stunning. All those little imperfections work together to create a masterpiece. It’s impossible to see the masterpiece when you’re zoomed in on 2×2 square inches. Even as I process my yearly meditations, I’m reporting on those experiences from up to six years into the future. I could not have been so perceptive in the moment, up close, so to speak. In the moment, it often feels poop-like, a dull brown stain ruining everything. My trip to the museum reminded me that it’s all a state of mind. Accept the imperfections of the moment, keep painting, and one day, hope to look back at a masterpiece.

Year 3: Authenticity

Do whatever you want loves

Preface: I have written, struggled, deleted, and re-written this post on Authenticity for too long. I chose the word Authenticity because I had no idea where mine was. No clue. Totally lost. I spent two years on this meditation, blew up my life because of it, and I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. This one’s all about sifting through the inner muck only to find more muck. The best I can do today is say a bit about why I chose the word in the first place, and vaguely nod toward what I think Authenticity is, even though I’m still very far from living authentically. I would love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences. It would be a great comfort to know I haven’t been down in this muck all by myself, friends. Okay, end of preface.

Why did I choose Authenticity for my 2018 word? Well, I felt like I was performing my life rather than living it. While not often conscious, the little things I would say and do weren’t quite right. I didn’t sit well with me anymore. As I worked in previous years to unpack the Narrative understanding of myself and set healthy Boundaries, I quickly figured out that piled under all that baggage was more baggage. I felt like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag: I kept pulling shit out, but I could never get to the bottom of it.

I was performing my life rather than living it.

I was also beginning this new management role at work, and in reading about quality leadership skills (yes, I’m a Virgo), the idea of showing up as your authentic self pops up everywhere. Seriously. Try to find a leadership book written in the last ten years that doesn’t mention authenticity at least once. I felt paralyzed. How could I be a good, authentic leader in the workplace if I couldn’t be authentic with those closest to me, much less myself? I felt like I was failing before I even started.

It wasn’t that I was hiding some secret part of me or intentionally trying to present myself as something I wasn’t. That was not (is not) my struggle with authenticity. It felt more like I was buried. I was buried underneath everyone else’s wants and needs: my kids, my partner, my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, my past selves, my adorable pets, my future self, my friends, my peers, my co-workers, my social media acquaintances, the laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the daily grind dropping one granule of dirt each minute, submerging me deeper and deeper underground. I was suffocating on obligation.  

I was performing what I thought I should do—for myself and everyone else. I should bring something to the dinner party. I shouldn’t wear these clothes to the event. I should be able to breastfeed instead of bottle feed. I should let the dog out. I should go to the softball game. I should send out those thank you cards. I should do more to motivate my employee who’s struggling to get the job done. I really should clean the inside of the kitchen cabinets with a toothbrush next time. And so on. Should, should, should running through my head, always more I should be doing. Never quite hitting the mark (spoiler: the mark is impossible to hit).

I was suffocating on obligation.

It dawned on me in the first Authenticity year that I had no idea what I wanted anymore. Our desires get so distorted as women in a patriarchal society. We are told that tidying up should spark joy, for fuck’s sake (yes, bold means I’m yelling. Well, screaming/crying from my primal center). We’re bombarded with smiling women gleefully cleaning their man’s urine off the toilet. The overwhelming lesson we’re taught is to be people pleasers, to be nurturing of others, to be helpful, to look nice, to sacrifice as Mother Mary did. We’re told modern women “Have it all,” and should be fortunate, but what they don’t say through the gritted teeth of a fake smile not a whisker in sight is that we don’t want all this (gestures wildly at everything).

To be a woman who desires is radical. It is an act of defiance to pick up your shovel and start digging, removing the shoulds one load at a time until all that remains are wants. That’s Authenticity. And, that’s why Authenticity is so fucking hard—particularly for women, particularly for mothers.

Authenticity = when all that remains are wants

I have been a mother since I was twenty years old. I missed my so-called “formative years,” the time when many folks forge their desires free from these mounting obligations. This makes sense for why Authenticity might have been more difficult for me. Nonetheless, I hope there’s something universal here, something helpful for you, too.

Ah, fuck. I’m doing it again. It’s hard to do things simply because you want to.

For year two of Authenticity, I’ll try to say more about desire from a philosophical point of view and how doing what you want to do is not selfish, which is a worry that my people will have already felt. In the meantime, do whatever you want to do loves.

Tarot Time: Queen of Fucking Wands

Tarot has given me such hope, as I pulled the Queen of Wands. Holy smokes! That’s so exciting to me. Here’s the guidebook description:

“The Queen is bursting with life and infectious energy, and you can’t help feeling like you could take on the world when you’re around her. Her confidence and get-to-it-ness is so powerful, she motivates you to DO shit. If you’re the Queen, life is giving it all to you right now: good luck, ideas, friends, promotions, so channel this bounty into confidence. You know your strengths and weaknesses and how to utilize all your skills to get what you want. So get it, girl.”

The power of the Queen is palpable, all because she knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Four years after beginning my Authenticity journey, I finally feel like I’m turning a corner. I’m discovering what I want, separate from what I should want. I am becoming the Queen.

Year 2: Boundaries

Boundaries are like guardrails that teach others how to treat us, reinforcing our own worth and encouraging self-love.

I won’t let you…

…a simple, yet powerful phrase I first learned in a parenting context. I follow a parenting philosophy that centers relationships with our children built on trust, connection, and mutual respect rather than authority, power, and punishment. The philosophy is not the same as attachment parenting, nor permissive parenting. We set firm boundaries and have high expectations for children based on what is developmentally appropriate, we honor the needs of parents and children living in community together, and we value modeling who we want our children to become over explicit lessons and teachings. Excellent sources for anyone interested in this parenting philosophy can be found through Visible Child, Aha Parenting, Teacher Tom, and Janet Lansbury.

Before I adopted “Boundaries” as my word of the year, my attempt to set boundaries looked more like begging and pleading only to eventually give in. When my oldest was a toddler, she was always trying to go into the street, even though it was “against the rules.” I would sit—15 feet away—on the stoop of our student family housing apartment, repeating over and over again “don’t go in the street.” She’d stare back at me with that knowing look, testing me. She’d put a toe in, then a foot, and I’d repeat, “if you go in the street, then we have to go inside.” Then she’d dart into the street like a bat out of hell! I’d chase her down, and we’d go inside for a bit, but then we’d eventually be right back in the same power struggle a few hours later.

She knew the rule. What she was trying to figure out was me. And I was so confusing! I kept telling her that going into the street was against the rules, but I also kept letting her go into the street. The pattern formed in her brain was a constant repeating of the word “street,” the thrill of running into the street, the attention of me scooping her up out of the street, and then the task of convincing me, yet again, we could go back outside and she wouldn’t go into the street again—all to see how I would respond at each phase of the “street game” we played for years.

As my son became a toddler during my “Boundaries” year, I decided to get serious about setting appropriate boundaries and making the effort to hold them. To set an appropriate boundary, I learned, requires three things: (1) it should be stated in the positive (what to do) rather than the negative (what not to do), (2) it should be developmentally possible for the child to do it, and (3) it should be motivated by keeping the child safe rather than exerting control over the child.

(1) One reason the street game with my daughter was so frustrating for both of us was the way the rule was stated. When I would sit, repeating “don’t go in the street,” my daughter’s brain latched onto the word ‘street’ instead of ‘don’t,’ as most of our brains would. She would repeat the word ‘street’ over and over until she felt compelled to step in. A more effective boundary would be “stay on the sidewalk.” That focuses the brain on where to stay—the sidewalk—rather than becoming obsessed with the street. It’s simply easier to follow.

(2) Ought implies can. If we expect that our children should do something, it must be developmentally possible that they can do it. Or as my Grandmama Teague used to say, “If I keep a child up past their bedtime, then any difficult behavior that results is my fault.” As parents, we have a responsibility to learn about child development at different stages so we can match our expectations to their capabilities.

(3) Boundaries are powerful tools, and so they should be used sparingly. Setting too many boundaries around things that maybe you don’t like, or grate on your nerves, or make messes you have to clean up, or trigger shame from your childhood, or protect your partner’s feelings, can create a stifling environment for your child. I would often ask myself, what’s the worst that could happen if I let him jump in this puddle/climb on this structure/scream in the store/refuse to hug Grandpa/sleep on the bathroom floor/put his finger in his nose/and so on to all the creative and disgusting things kids do. Like most things in life, it’s all about discovering your priorities and finding balance, then intentionally setting only those boundaries that are highest on the list and that you can manage to hold. Then let the rest go.

It’s one thing to set a boundary and quite another to hold it. Holding boundaries requires so much work! It often requires being right there to block the action before it happens. If I could go back to that stoop in Auburn, Alabama, I would have gotten up from my Adirondack chair. I would have placed my body in front of my daughter’s, and I would have physically prevented her from ever stepping foot in the street. I would instead repeat, “let me help you stay on the sidewalk.” If the street game continued, I would know I was expecting more than what she was developmentally capable of, and so we wouldn’t hang out in the front yard anymore until she was older. We’d only hang out in the back to avoid the game altogether. To hold boundaries always requires us to get up, to be present, and often to rearrange our lives.

Setting and holding boundaries with other adults is much more complicated, and it’s a journey I’m definitely still on. Figuring out which boundaries to set is difficult because our expectations of other adults are often unreasonable. In some sense, being an adult just means being “fully developed,” and yet childhood experiences, trauma, personality differences, disabilities, mental illness, privilege, support systems, and so many other factors distinguish our actual capabilities. If I expect that my partner or parent should respect my boundary, and they don’t, does that mean they couldn’t or just chose not to? If they just chose not to, what should I do next? If they literally can’t, should I be the one to change my expectations and set different boundaries? Messy business indeed.

Holding boundaries means sometimes being willing to rearrange our lives. With children, this means playing out back instead of out front or eating in for a few years as they develop the capability to eat at a restaurant. With the other adults in our lives, however, holding a boundary might be more expensive. It could even mean going no contact with someone, quitting a job, or ending relationships with romantic partners, friends, or family. Saying “I won’t let you,” might mean losing a person who continues to cross the boundary you’ve set for yourself. And that’s really hard to do.

My hope for you, dear reader, is that you realize your worth, which reveals the boundaries you must set and unleashes the courage to hold them, even when it means upheaval. In my own experience, the things we give up in order to prioritize ourselves and our values will, eventually, strengthen us and bring lasting joy.

Tarot Card: Four of Wands

I queried, “what am I missing about boundaries? What am I not considering?” Tarot answered with the celebratory, uplifting card, the Four of Wands. My tarot deck guidebook describes the card as:

“The garden is growing luxuriously, and these two have wandered away from their stress and planning to have a little fun. It might be a surprise, but you’ve got some good times on the horizon! Take a break from your hard work and put all your energy into treating yourself.”

Listen, I’m all for having fun, and I’m looking forward to these good times in the future, for sure. But I wasn’t quite sure how this card fit with Boundaries, explicitly. So I looked up the Four of Wands on Biddy Tarot as well, and this is when it hit me, with a sentence: “the Four of Wands represents the personal gratification of a job well done, a goal attained, and a vision beginning to be realised. You should be proud!”

Ah, I see! What I’m missing is pride in my accomplishments. I’m so focused—too focused—on moving onward and upward in this journey that I rarely, if ever, stop to see how far I’ve come. Yeah, that’s right, tarot, I’ve come a long way, and I’ve grown so much, and my relationships with others and myself are so much better now than they were before my Yearly Meditations. I’ve learned to set some mother fucking boundaries, and I’m really, really proud of that. I’m grateful for the reminder to take time to celebrate the wonderful progress I’ve made.

And always, hit me up if you want to have a little fun! It is my future, I suppose 😉

Year 1: Narratives

The stories we tell about ourselves come true.

We can change ourselves by changing the stories we tell. We are in control of our narrative. I began my Narrative “word of the year” journey by simply noticing the stories I most often repeated—ones where I was always the little sister, or a hopeless procrastinator, or an ignored middle child, or a heavy drinker, or a victim, sometimes a martyr. I would notice and think, “this is a story I tell about myself.” Change must begin with calling attention to the thoughts and behavior we think might need a tune-up.

Me – to – We

After I spent some time noticing and identifying the most common—and therefore most powerful—narratives ruling my life, I began slowly to re-write some stories to take the focus off myself. Instead of “I’m always the one to do the dishes,” (poor me) I would re-frame to “I do the dishes regularly to help my family function well in the kitchen” (family is important). Another common example for me in the year my baby was born were complaints about how my parents might’ve treated me as a child (poor me), which I spent much time re-writing with compassion, “they were doing the best they could with what they had” (parents are humans too). When you become a parent, your views on your own parents’ parenting often becomes quite complicated! I think I’ll stick to the narrative that we’re all doing our best with the resources we have.

The big surprise was that when I re-framed these narratives in my mind, I found I was much more capable of letting go and forgiving others in real life. The oft repeated stories took up precious space in my mind and sucked so much emotional energy out of me. When I decided to re-write them, it freed up more space for acceptance. That acceptance allowed me to let go of the past and move into the future as a different person. While terrifying, it’s essential for transformation. It’s shedding the identities, patterns, and narratives we’ve outgrown.

Toxic – to – Trying

Narratives can also be toxic to others and ourselves. The relatively common “I’m an asshole” self-proclamation just makes you more of an asshole. You’re giving yourself permission to be an asshole because you, what, think it’s cool? Do you think it excuses your behavior? You get to say whatever you want, hurt people’s feelings, and then just proclaim “I’m an asshole,” and it’s suddenly better? I call bullshit.

The even more common refrain, “I’m anxious,” can also be toxic to ourselves as spending so much time thinking about, talking about, and focusing on our own anxiety often makes us even more anxious. Let me be clear: I am not talking about someone with diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder or any other severe mental illness. I’m talking about the much more commonplace “I avoid this-or-that because it makes me anxious,” when we know (from science) that the more we avoid and make this-or-that a big deal in our minds, the more we reinforce our anxiety. I think this is similar as when we “lean into” other toxic traits and accept them because there have been so many funny memes. Examples here might include being a procrastinator, being messy, being a “wine mom,” being a yeller, being an over-sharer, being a bitch, being a player, or just generally being “problematic” in some other culturally acceptable way.

Noticing our own stories that hurt us rather than heal us is not easy. It’s even harder to let go of them, flip the script, and try a different narrative that focuses on how we’re trying—key word—to change. It’s not about succeeding in no longer being an asshole or a wine mom. It’s not about simply stopping all anxiety because you notice and acknowledge the anxiety. It’s about trying and telling the story of your efforts: I’m trying to do things even though it makes me anxious; I’m trying to tidy just a bit every day; I’m trying to be on time. Telling the story of yourself as someone who is trying—surprise!—really helps you become that new person in real life. It gets rid of the excuse we so often cling to because, honestly, we’re afraid to try—to really try. Because, ultimately, we’re afraid to fail.

Past – to – Future

Speaking of failure…here’s the story I told about failing to become/giving up on/breaking free from/what other narrative might I tell about transitioning out of academic philosophy, which had been my dream for a long time. For those who might not know, I received my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Auburn University in 2005, and then I earned my Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Ohio State University in 2013. Currently, I am the Director of Faculty Services at a university, an administrative role, and I teach one Philosophy course a semester in addition to running our online program. Follow me on LinkedIn!

Part of me was devastated when I transitioned out of academia. Sometimes what we’re really doing when we re-write a story is grieving a past identity that doesn’t fit anymore, an identity forged by a million small stories we told ourselves and others. In the year of “Narratives,” I knew I was working full-time as a philosopher for the last time of my life. I knew I’d be looking for a non-teaching job soon that could offer stability and benefits for my growing family. I was shedding the narrative identity of Philosophy Professor, which had been with me for twelve long years. I was confronting the loss of a part of myself, and it felt like grief. I was grieving the loss of a storyline—not the whole of me, but a significant arc.

In confronting my grief, it helped to know I could control the narrative. I am the narrator, after all! I wasn’t going to let it be that I failed at becoming a tenure-track professor or even that I failed at the job market or that I failed to publish while teaching a million undergraduate students. Instead, I wrote the story I wanted to tell, which was that being an adjunct at three different universities, teaching seven classes a semester, traveling all over central Ohio, and spending every weekend grading was not what I wanted to do anymore. I was not willing (nor able) to uproot my family, move across the country (or globe) for a one-year position, just to do it again for another one-year position, just to maybe, hopefully work my way up to a tenure-track position even further away from extended family and friends. This massive disruption is exceedingly common for Ph.D.’s as they seek a job as a professor—particularly in the humanities. And we often end up in remote, nightmare towns. None of this felt like a reward anymore.

I cannot underestimate how much the stability of a nine-to-five job with free time on the weekends, paid sick/vacation, and benefits has improved my physical and mental health! I let go of the Philosophy Professor identity without creating a bitter, self-loathing narrative of failure and blame in its place, which opened up space to find the joy in structure and mundane work—something I fought hard against previously. I firmly believe that leaving philosophy enabled me to provide a much more stable home for my daughter to finish out high school in one place, which led her to a full ride at Duke University, something I doubt could have happened if she was switching schools and states every year.

If I had clung to the past, failure narrative—thinking that just because I stopped doing something that meant I failed to achieve my dreams—I would not have ended up quitting. I would have continued the hustle because I cannot stand to fail (another narrative of “high achiever” I should probably work on). Re-writing my story as one that looks toward the future instead of wallowing in past failures laid the foundation for where I am today—I have a very rewarding job making the lives of adjunct faculty better, improving equitable access to higher education, and designing a new logic class that starts Monday. I’ve found the best of both worlds using the power of storytelling.

Narratives Tarot Card: Knight of Cups

It has been a challenge to return to my thinking from 6+ years ago. I am not the person today that I was when I first undertook the “word of the year” project and adopted “Narratives” as my inaugural word. I’m also very interested in Tarot these days, and I’ve had some significant insights. So, for each of these yearly entries, when I think I’m done, I will pull one Tarot card and ask what I’ve missed, misunderstood, or what still needs further clarification. I’m committed to life-long learning and introspection, after all.

I pulled the Knight of Cups. The thing that struck me as most poignant about the Knight of Cups was that she is focused entirely on the cup. She may be a charming, confident storyteller, but this serves as a nice reminder to me that the goal is to change ourselves by changing the stories we tell about ourselves. We cannot lose sight of that ultimate goal by focusing too much of our energy and time on crafting the perfect, Instagram-worthy story, and thinking that’s all we need. The stories serve us, not the other way around. Thank you for this lesson, Tarot.

Again, feel free to share how your own narratives have shaped your lives and how you’ve been able to re-write them to construct a brighter future. If you’re pursuing a different word of the year, share it in the comments! I’d love to hear about it.

Yearly Meditations

Choosing a word of the year to transform a lifetime.

It's me, Linds
It’s me, Linds 🙂

We have the power to change ourselves. We don’t have to be the way that we are. Is it hard? Yes. Does it take time? A lifetime. Can we do it all on our own? Certainly not. Just because we cannot do it all at once and all on our own doesn’t mean we cannot make real, incremental changes. We can always start.

If you’re like me, starting is the hardest part. We get comfortable with our status quo. We find security in how we currently imagine ourselves, I’m a procrastinator; I’m an endearingly messy person; I have a lot of anxiety, which conveniently excuses us from transforming ourselves. Starting means ridding ourselves—at times—of what feels like part of our identity. But what if our identity is the thing holding us back? We cling to it because it is comfortable; and yet, comfort is the enemy of growth.

My advice? Ease in slowly. If lofty New Year’s Resolutions feel daunting and only end in disappointment, well, aim lower. It’s easy to see when we’ve failed at accomplishing a concrete goal, and that shame often serves to reinforce all the negative pieces of our identities. It quickly becomes a flogging cycle. How to break free? Lower your expectations. Pursue something smaller and less measurable than a concrete action or goal. Seek openness and curiosity and flow instead of ends. Start with a word instead.

In lieu of lofty resolutions and subsequent shame cycles, I choose a modest “word of the year.” That’s it. I pick a word, and I think about that word for an entire year. I notice the word in my day-to-day life. I share the word with others. I am open to where the word takes me. I might pick an activity or a mantra or a mentor to contemplate the word with—to find its shape, limits, and impact. Sometimes the word gets refined throughout the year. And that’s okay, too. Flow has no rules.

Seems pretty easy, no? Choosing a word is certainly simpler than committing to an action. I cannot underestimate how transformative this “word of the year” practice has been in the past six years, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you here. I’ll soon post “Year 1: Narratives,” shortly followed by my other yearly meditations: Boundaries, Authenticity (twice), Self-advocacy, and Care. My word this year is Voice, and I’ll report back periodically on my journey to speak up—starting with this series!

Narratives • Boundaries • Authenticity • Self-advocacy • Care • Voice

My hope is that we can continue the conversation together. I’d love to know your words of the year, how you’re practicing openness to where the word takes you, the experiences gained, lessons learned, transformations earned, unseen influences uncovered, and hidden potential discovered. Feel free to share in the comments or on my socials (Instagram and Facebook). I look forward to connecting!