Sunday, March 12, 2017

#Resist by Listening: Three Podcasts for Activists

With so much fake news flying around out there on social media, and with *real* news being so freaking devastating, activists can easily get burnt out just trying to stay informed. Plus, you know, girls gotta make dinner. Enter podcasts! I've found podcasts are an awesome way to stay current and informed during this administration, and they have the added benefit of being multitask-friendly. I listen to podcasts while I cook, fold laundry, ride public transit -- basically all day long. Plus my 10-week-old son happily coos along thinking there's someone in the room when I have to duck out and hit the loo. I suspect this won't work once he gets to be more of a toddler, but I'm soaking it up for now.

There are three podcasts I'm listening to right now that have been especially informative and also fun. I think my listening skills are improving too because long-form audio really allows podcasters to delve deep into issues and personal stories. So, without further ado here are my three fave activist-friendly podcasts of the moment:

West Wing Weekly: Fans of early aughts TV drama West Wing might already be fans of this amazing podcast. Hosted by composer-musician Hrishikesh Hirway and actor Joshua Malina who played Will Bailey on West Wing, this podcast is a must-listen for both fans of the show and newcomers. They break down every episode from each of their unique perspectives, they've had pretty much everyone who's been on West Wing as a guest on the show including Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford,  Dulé Hill, and Janel Moloney. There's a lot of dorky riffing going on, but also fascintingly in-depth discussions on topics such as veterans, American history, sexism in television and politics, racism, and anti-Antisemitism (Malina is Jewish and invited a rabbi on the show a couple times, so I've learned a lot about Judaism). Plus, an added bonus for literary-types: these two guys are incredibly intelligent word nerds and they love inventing goofy terms specific to the podcast (there's a glossary on their FAQ page). If you've never seen West Wing, it's on Netflix so you could have fun listening while you watch (though it's hard not to binge-watch). Definitely subscribe!
Suggest First Listen: 1.10: In Excelsis Deo with Richard Schiff, who breaks down thinking about how moving the story for this episode was.

Pod Save America: I've only listened to a few of episodes of this podcast, mostly because it's more straight current events and I find I need a little pop culture with my news. However, podcasters Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor do make this an informational and passionate listen. Their mission, as describved on their website reads, "We couldn’t find a place to talk about politics the way actual human beings talk. So we decided to create one." While they are three white guys talking about politics, they make a point to bring on more marginalized voices, such as the first episode when they interview Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, the two architects of the Women's March on Washington. This podcast is a great example of white folks using their privilege to elevate the voices of minorities. They were inspired to start this podcasts after DT won the election and they realized that it's hard to find good, solid reporting out there right now. They do a great job of being fair and balanced and demonstrating ways to thinking critically about how you take in media under a fascist regime.
Suggested First Listen: Start at the beginning to get some context about what inspired them to start this podcast in the first place.

Still Processing: This podcast is my everything right now. Produced by the New York Times, Still Processing is described as a "culture conversation with Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham," both of whom are NYT columnists and really funny cool people. They are also Black and they speak to current events through that lens. They discuss pretty much everything from Beyoncé to Trump to the Oscars to Ru Paul's Drag Race, all from their perspectives and experiences as People of Color. This podcast has made me think about why it is so hard to have discussions about race in America. I grew up in a really white part of Pittsburgh. When I moved to San Francisco, I expected to make more friends with people of all backgrounds because it's supposed to be super-diverse and one of the least-segregated cities in America. That hasn't happened, so I still have very few close friends who are Black. (Part of that is my fault for not seeking them out in Black spaces, and part of that is how institutional racism works: keeping Black folks and white folks living in separate neighborhoods leads to more cultural misunderstandings, prejudice, and discrimination.) I am learning so much about Black culture because Wortham and Morris intelligently and lovingly share their personal experiences being Black. If you want to be an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, add this podcast to your rotation.
Suggested First Listen: It's a tie! I love love love episode 3 "Identity Is a Hoax, People!" where they interview RuPaul about identity politics. I also love love love episode 5 "Our Journey to the ‘Blacksonian’". Seriously, this episode honestly healed a little bit of white guilt for me. Listen, right now.

I hope you enjoy these podcasts! Tell me what you think in the comments and feel free to share the podcasts that are helping you #resist.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Nourishes Us

My therapist dumped me a couple of years ago.

It sucked and I mention it only because it's important to realize that when getting help with our mental health, sometimes people aren't a good fit. For a long time, I felt like it was "my fault" that she stopped treating me, but looking back I realize that she wasn't capable of helping me. I needed a different kind of help, more support to help with my chronic forgetfulness, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. She couldn't do that for me.

However, she did give me one piece of advice that stuck with me. We were discussing how regular exercise and healthy eating habits could positively affect my mental health. I balked, getting defensive, saying that I've never been good at taking care of myself that way, and that I'd never be good at it.

She paused and said to me, "Laura, it's like you don't believe you deserve to take in what nourishes you."

The poetry of this sentiment floored me. My mind began sifting through the layers of meaning as the tears began building. I felt seen and vulnerable and scared. What did it mean that I didn't believe I deserved to be nourished? Why did I run myself down without refueling? Why did I take in the crap of the world and expect to keep going?

Since then I've found a new therapist who has really helped me dig into some of these issues. For me the reasons I didn't want to nourish myself stemmed trauma caused by a sexual assault, my experiences with religion, realizing I'm queer, and some other things. I still struggle with these issues along with perfectionism and negative self-talk. Not only did I not believe I deserved to eat healthily, I also didn't believe I deserved kindness, forgiveness, and even love. But I do. We all do. I learned/am still learning that.

During the election, I found myself feeling how I did before: strung out, fearful, completely drained of energy and motivation. When Trump was elected, I feared I would fall into an even deeper depression. Being pregnant forced me to confront these feelings right away; I couldn't risk falling back into the deep depression I felt before. It wasn't just me on the line now. I wasn't just nourishing myself. I'm so grateful that my experience of motherhood has helped me realize I need to take care of myself too. I feel like the opposite is often true for many parents, especially mothers.

Spending time with these guys feeds my spirit!
When I scroll through my Facebook feed or talk to friends or to Sal, I recognize this look of burnout, of fear, of building depression and near-constant anxiety. It started me thinking about nourishment again.

Then I read an article on Medium entitled "How to #StayOutraged" Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for The Resistance" by lawyer and feminist Mirah Curzer. In this piece, Cruzer discusses how important self-care is as an activist. Getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, seeing a therapist, being in nature, and spending time with people we love are all incredibly important acts that must be included in your activism:
"...this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government. You need a strong foundation from which to fight, so take care of the basics."
Healthy snacks = Activism!
I must point out that these "basics" are not so basic to everyone. Having the time to take care of oneself is a privilege. I'm grateful every day that I can afford healthy food, have time to go for a walk, have good health insurance, and have a great therapist. But rather than feeling guilty because so many people don't have the ability to do this kind of self-care, I do it anyway. That's how we leverage our privilege, whatever it may be.

Consider your own privilege when taking care of yourself and feel grateful when you do. Gratitude is how we fight off the guilt of privilege. Make it a part of your activism. Radically love yourself. Radically nourish yourself.

So, what are some things you can do to take care of yourself? This is simple. Regular hygiene, a good night's sleep, and eating your vegetables is a great start. Also, praise yourself when you do these things. Why? Because we make ourselves feel like shit when we don't, so why not do the opposite and pat ourselves on the back when we do?

You can also do little things like listen to music that feeds our souls, read poetry and novels that inspire us, take a few minutes to do a mindfulness exercise, or complement ourselves. These are all big parts of self-care.

Need some more specific examples? Here's what I've been doing:

  • Cooking healthy & delicious meals for myself and Sal
  • Drinking half-caff coffee so I can sleep well at night
  • Taking my medications and seeing my therapist
  • Reaching out to friends and family for social interaction
  • Spending time just playing with my son
  • Going to a support group for new moms
  • Keeping my home clean and organized so I feel sane
  • Reading poetry about motherhood
  • Reading Senator John Lewis' autobiographical trilogy March

That last one is truly inspiring. Looking at the adversity that Black Americans faced for centuries and learning more about the Civil Rights Movement really fed my spirit. They literally faced death when they marched. Many people today still face death when they march. My privilege very much insulates from these dangers, but that just makes me more grateful and inspired. I think we can all learn from and be inspired by our Civil Rights Leaders, leaders in the fight for LGBT rights, Workers' Rights - whatever speaks to you.

So what are you doing to take care of yourself? Or what do you want to be doing? What do you aspire to do?  What nourishes you? Start with the basics and build from there. Let's crowdsource a list of self-care ideas and inspire one another!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Last 599 Days

I haven't updated my blog in 1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks, and 5 days. So much has happened—in the world and in my world—since then.

When you haven't spoken to a friend in a while, it makes it more difficult to call them. It's a strange paradox that you have more to say to someone you talk to all the time, but it's true. The difference is context: someone you talk to every day knows what is going on in your life. They ask questions about the book you are reading and how your kid's piano recital went, and vice versa.

Last year I had a number of personal and health problems. I only posted three times last year, so let's play catch-up real quick. Here's a list of things that have happened since my last post:

  • I lost several large freelance writing & teaching contracts.
  • I suffered from severe depression and anxiety including a suicidal period last January & February.
  • I finished a skills class in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • I finished a partial hospitalization program (PHP) last March.
  • I finished an intensive outpatient program (IOP) last April & May.
  • It took 8 months of trying, but I got pregnant last April. 
  • I worked my ass off over the summer to get mentally and physically healthier. 
  • I got gestational diabetes in October 2016. 
  • I gave birth to a son in December 2016. His online name is Jello. 
  • Jello was born with fluid in his lungs, which meant he had to stay in the NICU for 4 days including Christmas Day. He is fine now.
  • Sal and I have been holed up for all of January 2017 keeping Jello alive and learning how to be parents.

Looking back at this list it's no wonder I only updated this blog three times. 2016 has been a fucking hard year. The political climate toward the end of 2016 also took a toll on my mental health, but thankfully the pregnancy forced me to take better care of myself than I would have otherwise.

So basically I've spent the better part of the last year learning and practicing life skills and coping skills to manage my anxiety. I'm on new medication that keeps me from going off the deep end and enables me to actually use the skills rather than just be stuck in bed all day.

We don't like to talk about mental health in this country. However, with the election of Donald Trump to office, many people have begun to feel the kind of intense anxiety that I have dealt with on a daily basis most of my life. It occurred to me last night that I have skills that might help people deal with their anxiety. That's why I'm back.

I'm also back because writing is what saves me.

I have a lot of ideas on how to use this space for #TheResistance as well. I hope to start an interview series on the intersection of art and activism. I might feature guest posts by other writers, artists, and activists who are helping us #resist the current administration. I will write like a motherfucker for you. That is my goal.

My son has been sleeping for two hours. I have a few thank you notes to send. There is a bowl of cottage cheese and pineapple on my coffee table waiting for me to eat it. Life calls. More soon.