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Where To Read Me

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Press And Writing

You can read posts here, though I mostly post on Facebook or my meandering at The Rest Of It, or you can also find my poetry over here at Words I Write. Posts on this site will have more to do with politics, activism, community, and consulting. Posts everywhere else? Well..that’s the rest of it.

Rogue Valley Messenger

Julie Gillis Gay Place Blogs

Good Vibes Blog

Good Men Project

Getting Cocky On Campus Carry

The Texas Observer Rabble Rouser Round-Up

Amplify The Women’s Community Center!

Everyday Feminism: The Healthy Sex Talk

Settlers Of Caftan, The Good Eye,

Women’s Community Center of Central Texas New Development Director

KXAN Women’s Community Center To Empower Women

Over The Rainbow The WCC, The Horn

Julie Gillis At Nerd Nite

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New Year, New Chapter

craigsunter

craigsunter

It’s a new year and all around me I see proof of it online and off. Mostly, it’s in the “New Year/New You” posts on magazines, ads, CNN reports-everywhere! Lose weight, change your face, get a new job, join the gym, be someone new! Resolutions focused on changing the “you” of you into a new person, don’t work, and frankly that usually leaves most of us who try it feeling like failures by February.

And think about it. In order to be a new you, that means have to give up who you currently are and who you used to be. That’s not only impossible, it’s kind of mean!

You are exactly who you need to be.

The thing is, we don’t need a new us, we just need to work on the next chapter of the story of our lives. It’s always your story, and you are always the lead character. Why not think of the new year in terms turning the page and seeing what adventures you can create?

I’ve fallen prey to the same resolution listing and I’ve certainly tried to avoid being me by being a whole new person-boy have I and Lordy how that didn’t work out. But over the past few years, I’ve discovered some core truths about myself in the world, the skills I offer, and the next chapters I myself want to set out (in print or otherwise).

Your story matters and I want to help you tell it.

Whether you are working on transitions in the story of your life, if you are needing strategic production support in creating a powerful event, or if you are seeking someone to speak or emcee an event I would love to work with you.

I have a handy little page on the blog with info on what I offer-from personal story coaching to social media management to events, and I’d love to talk and find out if I can be of help. I offer competitive rates, as well as a sliding scale for my services, and always offer a free complimentary session for us to get to know each other to see if the relationship is a match.

These are just a few of the services I can provide. Let me know if you’d like to connect. And Happy New Year. You are going to be amazing.

Personal Consultation: The Story Of Your Life

What’s your story? Experiencing big changes or transitions in your personal narrative? I’m highly intuitive about finding the heart of the life-issue or artistic vision you are working on, helping you plan and set goals, all while providing compassionate support along the way.

Promotion and Media: Your Story Online

Need support with social media campaigns? Know that you need them but are not sure where to start? I am well versed in finding the narrative you want to share and condensing it to 140 characters, fun posts, captivating images. Social media is a powerful and necessary part of any business, non-profit, or event, so make sure your story is told online as well as face to face. A plus? I collaborate with Tilton Rivers Films so can serve as a one shop stop for media needs.

Producing Events: Your Story On Stage

Events are stories on a bigger scale, with the power to create a shared experience. With over 20 years experience in theater and event management, producing small evening events as well as festivals and conferences, I can manage the event for you, offer services from consulting to crowdfunding, from strategic planning to volunteer management.

Public Speaking: Stories For Change

Sometimes we need to hear stories as much as tell them. Whether you need an emcee to help spice up your event, or need a workshop presenter on the topics on Public Speaking, The Power Of Play, Transformational Storytelling, Sexuality, Spirit, And Shame, or Improvising Your Relationships, I’d love to work with you.

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Year Behind/Year Ahead

flickr groume

flickr groume

Today is the last day of 2015. Tomorrow begins the month of January, named after the Roman God Janus. He had two faces one which looked at the past, and the other looked towards the future.

My 2015 has been very full, very busy, and very educational. I’ve performed or spoken at 26 events. I’ve been a facilitator or trainer at 12, and the productions I’ve worked on numbers about 15. I’ve begun additional free-lance production and consulting for some incredible and visionary folks, and am focused more on story than ever.

While all this has been going on, I’ve been enjoying a lovely life with a wonderful husband (20 years!) and madcap children (already in middle and high school!), and I am so grateful to have dear and valued friends.

On top of that there has been a real re-emergence from the past two years of grieving the death of my mother. While I’ve been present and happy on the surface, there was a whole lot of Orpheus in the Underworld about my inner life since she passed. Or Eurydice. One or the other, not sure, possibly I lost some of myself there and was finding out how much I could bring back. Regardless, I’ve done a lot with my time and from looking back over the year I can see how it was leading me to where I am now.

Sometimes being busy is a good thing. It’s certainly valued by our culture, right? Being too busy to sleep or go see friends, or even book a massage because you are so stressed from being so busy! As the NYT said, it’s a bit of a trap. But sometimes it’s a way of avoiding stopping and reflecting on one’s life. If you (or say I) are so focused on externals rather than what really needs to be addressed internally, well then cycles occur and they aren’t always good.

Or if some things are working in your life, but other more structural things are not, you might (or I might) be very tempted to pay attention to the workable things and ignore the things that are harder. And, even with the good things happening, you may find that you (or well, maybe me) can’t really get over the hump of it all to affect some real change that would make a BIG difference.

It’s a little like being stuck in an eddy. Even if the scenery is nice, you need to get your ass downstream because the river is flowing, and you are supposed to flow too. Something. Mixing all my metaphors.

All this to say, I found myself at the end of 2015 with a new awareness of boundaries, of self care, of respect for systems and my role in them, and of family.

With that knowledge, I’m very much looking forward to well, looking forward into 2016. I wish you a thoughtful look back and a Happy New Year ahead!

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Archives Exiting The Mobius

From My Archives Exiting The Mobius

nosha creative commons flickr

nosha creative commons flickr

I watch my Twitter feed, my Facebook timeline. I see a winding stream of posts, typed and sent through the ether, human voices posting about inhuman things. Inhuman circumstances created by humans in systems built by humans; perhaps the systems are inhuman because we can’t live up to our promise, or perhaps the systems kill our spirit leading us to act in inhuman ways.

Syria.

There are people trying to reach safe havens risking everything, and losing everything, their most precious loves, their children. Who made this happen? Why is there no salve for this? Where can these people go? Can we sit and watch?

We need to help. We need to help always and every day. This is a tough life, being human because the helping, the need for the help, never seems to end; indeed we may be causing the need for help even as we may try to fix it. Humans seem to me to be a mobius monster of cause and effect, good and evil, help and harm.

Still, the harm is here and we need to help. Many will offer some brief respite, money, goods or services to help those refugees from a man-mad war, from terror, from death and destruction.

As the article states, these are practical ways you can help, I can help, at least in the short term.

Make a donation, and volunteer, and petition the countries you live in to act. It may seem like a small thing, just doing even one of the items on the very long lists. The impact of a small thing feels, well, small when compared to the situation at hand. I don’t know that it’s comprehensible, the terror and pain people must be in to escape and leave their homes. It’s happening though, and if every one of us did something that would have an inestimable impact. At least I think it would.

Perhaps it would be help in the short term, but what’s the impractical way to help, the radical way, the way that stops this from happening again? How can we act practically when what is happening is irrational and a rip across the soul? That’s not addressed except in snippets on my feed. Sometimes I scroll social media looking for clues and keys.

Meanwhile, I’d like to also mention that this same pain and fear is in our backyard here in Texas. There are many people escaping difficult lives, war, poverty and coming to the US where they risk everything, can lose everything that is precious.

We have families in detention centers here in our state. It’s a kind of torture to be so isolated. Again, I don’t know that people comprehend what is really going on there, perhaps they can’t because to open up their minds to what is really occurring to human beings, is to risk a kind of madness of awakening. But it’s also madness to keep our eyes closed.

Dilley. Karnes. Hutto.

You can also help here, right now. End Family Detention has a number of ways to help, both pragmatic and personal. Their links on how to be of service are invaluable, but you need to feel, as well, the Visions From Inside, the pain and the needs and the words of those in detention centers because they would be erased, forgotten, invisibled if not for End Family Detention and volunteers who stand up for humanity in inhuman systems.

Practical and pragmatic ways to help are good, at least they are far better than nothing. I am never satisfied with that, not even in my dreams at night. Why? Why this circular winding, back and forth of beauty and degradation, of humans and inhumanity, of pain and relief, peace and chaos? How to drop out of that mobius to find the deepest places of change?

Is it possible? What would it take to really help? Photos? Stories? Water over stones over time over souls? How do we exit this loop or is it part and parcel of what it means to be human?

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Grief

flickr thomaspics

flickr thomaspics

On Monday, December 21, I have the honor of reading at Grief Rites. This is an amazing reading series in Portland, Oregon which focuses on that which waits for us all. Death.

From their site

memento vivere ~ memento mori
remember to live ~ remember you will die

We are afraid of death and grief. We are afraid to talk about it and think about it. The only way to end the fear is to talk about it openly and honestly. We are ALL going to die. We all know someone who has died. We all know people who will die. We may even have the honor of being with someone when they die.

Let’s work together to help end the stigma. Talk about it. Sing about it. Write about it. Make art about it. Embrace conscious and compassionate death. Live until you die, and then keep living.

Grief Rites will bring you information about how to talk about grief (and how not to!). Information about home funerals, green burials. Articles, poetry, essays, quotes. Inspiration. Consolation. No bullshit. The real truth.

I’ll be reading a piece about letting go of ghosts (even though they are always with you) which yes, does involve a little bit of sex because what would a piece from me be without sex? Sex and Death are closely related, you know?

We need to talk about the hard stuff because that’s what makes us all connected, human.

So if you are in Portland, come on out and see the show and say hi if we haven’t already met. I’d love to say hello!

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Exiting The Mobius

nosha creative commons flickr

nosha creative commons flickr

I watch my Twitter feed, my Facebook timeline. I see a winding stream of posts, typed and sent through the ether, human voices posting about inhuman things. Inhuman circumstances created by humans in systems built by humans; perhaps the systems are inhuman because we can’t live up to our promise, or perhaps the systems kill our spirit leading us to act in inhuman ways.

Syria.

There are people trying to reach safe havens risking everything, and losing everything, their most precious loves, their children. Who made this happen? Why is there no salve for this? Where can these people go? Can we sit and watch?

We need to help. We need to help always and every day. This is a tough life, being human because the helping, the need for the help, never seems to end; indeed we may be causing the need for help even as we may try to fix it. Humans seem to me to be a mobius monster of cause and effect, good and evil, help and harm.

Still, the harm is here and we need to help. Many will offer some brief respite, money, goods or services to help those refugees from a man-mad war, from terror, from death and destruction.

As the article states, these are practical ways you can help, I can help, at least in the short term.

Make a donation, and volunteer, and petition the countries you live in to act. It may seem like a small thing, just doing even one of the items on the very long lists. The impact of a small thing feels, well, small when compared to the situation at hand. I don’t know that it’s comprehensible, the terror and pain people must be in to escape and leave their homes. It’s happening though, and if every one of us did something that would have an inestimable impact. At least I think it would.

Perhaps it would be help in the short term, but what’s the impractical way to help, the radical way, the way that stops this from happening again? How can we act practically when what is happening is irrational and a rip across the soul? That’s not addressed except in snippets on my feed. Sometimes I scroll social media looking for clues and keys.

Meanwhile, I’d like to also mention that this same pain and fear is in our backyard here in Texas. There are many people escaping difficult lives, war, poverty and coming to the US where they risk everything, can lose everything that is precious.

We have families in detention centers here in our state. It’s a kind of torture to be so isolated. Again, I don’t know that people comprehend what is really going on there, perhaps they can’t because to open up their minds to what is really occurring to human beings, is to risk a kind of madness of awakening. But it’s also madness to keep our eyes closed.

Dilley. Karnes. Hutto.

You can also help here, right now. End Family Detention has a number of ways to help, both pragmatic and personal. Their links on how to be of service are invaluable, but you need to feel, as well, the Visions From Inside, the pain and the needs and the words of those in detention centers because they would be erased, forgotten, invisibled if not for End Family Detention and volunteers who stand up for humanity in inhuman systems.

Practical and pragmatic ways to help are good, at least they are far better than nothing. I am never satisfied with that, not even in my dreams at night. Why? Why this circular winding, back and forth of beauty and degradation, of humans and inhumanity, of pain and relief, peace and chaos? How to drop out of that mobius to find the deepest places of change?

Is it possible? What would it take to really help? Photos? Stories? Water over stones over time over souls? How do we exit this loop or is it part and parcel of what it means to be human?

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Weight: At (un)Spoken

—–

I used to have a world class clavicle.

Memory 1: I am 13 or 14. My dance teacher reports that my body is wrong for ballet – too large of butt, too stocky of thigh. I am sad and I cry as I tell my mother. She says offhandedly as if issuing a casual curse, “Well you do have a full behind. Don’t ever gain weight because you’ll never lose it.”

I grew up a slender child, but puberty was not entirely fair. I got aforementioned full backside and strong thighs but no breasts whatsoever. I was, much to my mother’s happiness, thin in most of the ways that appealed to her. No boobs, but I figured I could make up for it in other ways.

In my 30’s, I used to use the coy phrase, “I have a world class clavicle.” I liked this description because I could comment on my body in a sexy, yet, non sexual way. I figured it would attract a person who might be curious about what exactly that meant.

And what it meant was the space between bone and shoulder was hollowed out enough to fit a little champagne cup in. I could pose like the models, you know, enough bone to prove I was thin even if I wasn’t traditionally sexy. The Dior New Look. My clavicle, singular, as if that was the only body part I could recommend. I got lovely compliments about the path from clavicle to gentle cleavage. I enjoyed that.

Caveat 1: This piece is not a fishing expedition. This is not self pity. This story, if you stick with it, has a different purpose.

Memory 2: I am in my first college play. The production is Grease. still committed to dancing, I’ve been aged for the “Rydell High reunion” wearing wrinkles and an unflattering costume. Afterward I seek out my mother for praise. She hugs me and says, “Your butt looked pretty big in that costume, better watch it.” I wasn’t shocked by this at this time, a comment like that. It became a pattern with us, this fusion combined with distance as if the only love she could give was sideways, on the sly.

I did watch it for a damn long time and things were fine until a few years ago when my clavicle went AWOL. So I did what I always did. You know the drill, cut your intake, increase your output. I took up running. Gained weight. Did paleo. Gained weight. Went back veggie. Gained weight. Got plantar fasciitis and couldn’t walk/run. Gained weight. Little bits, over time that stubborn weight stayed on. I got my thyroid checked and checked again. I asked various and sundry doctors and heard repeatedly “you are just getting older.” Older sure, but I was doing the work. And when you do the work and get no response it feels like treachery to me.

This may seem silly to you, a woman of hard work, good productions, supportive of activism, worrying about something seemingly trivial, so unfeminist…. I know. It seems trivial to me as well. I mean, it is trivial. And complaints very ill placed in the big picture. But missing my clavicle, was like misplacing a magical charm that secured my identity as desirable and in control.

It’s amazing what we hold as a magic symbol, yes? Literal and figurative we hold these powers over each other, against each other, and create magical thinking about who we are based on beliefs rooted in our observations and our family histories. Our mirrors are intricate and layered.

Memory 3: Even in her 60’s my mother smokes and eats quite little to keep her body small. The rest of her family is bigger boned and heavier than she. Her difference is the only currency she has, the only way to win some kind of invisible unheard argument between siblings. It is her magic spell.

After college, we are the same height and size. But she has more length in her legs. She holds this inch of femur over me. Every time I visit, or we drive in the same car, she notes it “Oh I have to push the seat back, my legs are so much longer than yours.” and so forth- her length, thus her herself, superior. I come to expect her commentary and welcome it if only to get it over with. She may have legs, but I do have my clavicle.

My husband, who is loving and gracious and wise, pointed out once that the times I was the thinnest, were the times I was the most despairing.
—After a horrific breakup with first real love-my sexuality, going from girl to woman, undoing me into denying my body.
—After having my first child, I was in the grips of postpartum depression-motherhood literally consuming me.
—After moving my mother here with Azheimer’s. I was responsible for all her things, her life. I had two small children, a husband in school, and a mother to care for. I withered away alongside her. Her slimness from illness, mine? Not enough nurturing to go around.

Caveat 2: I am not judging anyone’s body but mine and in fact, the women I have loved and made love to were lush and full and powerfully bodied. They were present and comfortable in their flesh in a way I couldn’t be.

Memory 4: We are in Athens trying to get my Mom to see a doctor for a coloNOscopy. Besides the Alzheimer’s, something is wrong. She is rail thin and cannot eat without vomiting. She weighs 105 pounds and I tell her this. She smiles, prideful. I get on the scale later myself.

Years went by, Alzheimer’s and pneumonia finally overtook her and she died the summer of 2013. I was spent from years of caretaking, from grieving in slow motion. Mentally, I was all over the place, pouring manic emotional energy into activism and online work. Physically, though, I moved little: from couch to car to desk to car to bed as if I was using all my energy to hold off grief. I was building an emotional wall of WORK and PROJECTS and INVOLVEMENT which drained any other ability to move. I noticed my bones, once prominent, fading into a background of flesh.

When I went to picked up her ashes, I was stunned at their heft. A box filled up with a person – heavy, dark, a cube shaped black hole made up of my mother, absorbing my light and attempts to leave her orbit.

She sat on a shelf hidden in the back of a closet for a full year before I had the nerve to hold her memorial. Over that year, I pulled the box out occasionally, just to say hello, apologize, listen? I could feel her glare piercing through the cardboard at me. I’d glare back at her, then down at my body and compare. I’d hold her weight in my hands and allow my guilt to simmer. But only for a minute. Shut the closet door. Back to work.

I released her ashes in 2014. After, the memorial I thought that magically the my clavicle would become visible again. But instead, my lethargy persisted, deeper still, unyielding, a kind of depression that not many but those closest to me would be able to observe. I felt like the main character in the horror film Shutter, the murderer literally carrying his guilt, the ghost of the betrayed on his back bearing down, weighing on him in pain and pressure.

Memory 5: During the final stages of Alzheimer’s she eats with abandon and without restriction or guilt. Every meal, every day. Snacks even! She becomes fuller, heavier. She takes up space and is blissfully unaware of her size. If she had known, she would have been appalled, filled with loathing, and furious with me for letting it, any of it and all of it happen. “You let me get me fat,” she would have said, “You put me in a home.” Looking back, if I’m honest, I gained most of my weight during the same period.

Maybe it was a psychic penance, guilt I carried for not keeping her safe from Alzheimer’s or keeping her out of the nursing home. An undiscovered mirror neuron response, a quantum mechanical emotional umbilical cord never truly cut? Possibly it was a cry for acceptance manifesting in flesh- thin when she was thin or heavy when she was heavy, staying close to her in the only way I could, the only way she would allow, sideways and on the sly.

Caveat 3: I am not a physicist or psychic so what I just said is probably bullshit but it feels right.

I’m not sure what changed on the second anniversary of her death. Perhaps there is only so much burden a body could bear, or perhaps I just decided somewhere inside myself that I wasn’t guilty or responsible for her illness. Perhaps she decided to lift off and go and therefore removing the bulk of her expectations on me.

I felt different. I felt my body. I felt like moving and not for the purpose of slimming down to have my clavicle back. Still. I wondered about the path of it all. Sure, my gaining could be tied to aging and a slowing metabolism and peri menopause, but maybe something else too.

Maybe I needed the extra weight simply because I was carrying more on my shoulders.

Maybe I needed the muscle because I needed strength to hold myself up.

Maybe I needed the fat because I needed padding for comfort.

Memories aren’t straightforward, more like fragments spiraling round a mountain, or down into a cavern- and only at the end can we see the circuitous and winding path we’ve been on. There are parts of ourselves we hide from our own eyes. And in that way, we can avoid the truth until we are at the peak or in the pit, until we are ready to truly see.

It was a strange thing to realize that my clavicle was gone. Well, of course it was still there. It was just coated in body that had never been there before. That was about 5 years ago and I certainly felt the shame my mother would have wanted me to feel. Sometimes I still do, today even, yeah. I can admit that. At least this much has changed: I can look in the mirror and say, well, I may not have a world class clavicle, this body has served me well and still so far to go, right?

It’s my body after all. Not hers. It has to live and be able to love straight-forwards and direct. I’m thankful to begin seeing this that perhaps this body, mine and mine alone, knows far better than I do.

—–

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Charleston

Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GOLDMAN/AP

Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GOLDMAN/AP

Like many of you, I am deeply saddened and angered by the racist murders and crimes being committed against people of color in the US. The massacre in Charleston is an abomination, a grave and obscene moment in our nation’s history, but one that should not be considered out of character, unthinkable, surprising. Our nation’s history is filled with racism and violence and white people need to stand up, wake up, and say, “No more! Not in our names!” I’ve compiled all the articles and actions I can find, and will continue to add to the list as I find new information. Please leave links in the comments.

Many of the links below I have found on FB and Twitter. Ron Berry has generously compiled many on his FB page. I apologize for not linking every single person who has shared these.

Supporting AME Church and thank you Angeliska Polacheck for the links.

• You can make a donation to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund at any Wells Fargo branch across the USA.

• Send a check to Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, c/o City of Charleston, P.O. Box 304, Charleston, S.C. 29402.

• Text ‘prayforcharleston’ to 843-606-5995 or go to www.bidr.co/prayforcharleston to donate by credit card.

• Send a check to Lowcountry Ministries, a South Carolina nonprofit that also has established a fund to help Emanuel and support projects for youth and vulnerable populations, at Lowcountry Ministries — the Rev. Pinckney Fund, c/o The Palmetto Project, 6296 Rivers Ave. #100, North Charleston, S.C. 29406.

• Donate to the Pinckney Fund online at palmettoproject.org via major credit card or PayPal.

• Give directly to Emanuel AME Church. You can donate online via major credit card or PayPal.

Activists/Hashtags On Twitter

Deray McKesson, Matthew Fortner, #charlestonshooting, #standwithcharleston, #takedowntheflag

Reading Lists
Charleston Syllabus is a huge resources of current events, slavery in the US, southern history and more.

A great read-The Half Has Never Been Told Edward E. Baptist and on AutoStraddle #BlackLivesMatter Reading List.

Actions

Ferguson Response includes actions for Charleston around the country. You can add your own, or find one in your city.

Showing Up For Racial Justice is a great way for white allies and accomplices to get involved and learn.

A petition to remove the Confederate Flag from governmental places, Move On.

In Austin, a call to take down the Jefferson Statue.

UT Vigil for Charleston

Also in Austin, Undoing Racism Austin.

Articles and Commentary

Ta-nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic, Take Down The Confederate Flag-Now

Charles P. Pierce and his Esquire piece,
Charleston Shooting-Speaking The Unspeakable, Thinking The Unthinkable

T. Rees Shapiro at Washington Post Washington And Lee University To Remove Confederate Flags Following Protests.

Murders In Charleston Jelani Cobb for The New Yorker

What Is Whiteness by Nell Irvin Painter in the NY Times.

A South African Calls for Accountability, Not Forgiveness in Charleston by Xolela Mangcu in The Root.

The Huffington Post’s Ben Hallman
The Confederate Flag Is a Racist Symbol of a Failed Rebellion. It’s Not a Debate.

A white ally speaks, Marcy Taylor Rizzi at Luckygirl75.

White Terrorism Is As Old As America, by Brit Bennett in the NY Times

Medium’s John E. Price writes, Yes You’re A Racist…And A Traitor.

On Alternet, Dr. Robin Diangelo discusses 11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility For It’s Racism.

Baynard Woods writes at The Washington Post Only White People Can Save Themselves From Racism and White Supremacism.

Aaron Barksdale at Huffington Post shares 7 Was To Be A White Ally For Charleston And The Black Community.

For parents who need to discuss the shootings with their children, Britni writes at Fiending For Hope, Resources For White Parents On Talking To Kids About White Supremacy and Racism.

6 Ways White Supremacy Takes Its Toll On Black People’s Mental Health by Terrell Jermaine Starr at Salon

Two articles on mental health and illness (and how that’s not the trigger here) from Arthur Chu at Salon It’s Not About Mental Illness: The Big Lie That Always Follows Mass Shootings By White Males and from Julia Craven Racism Is Not A Mental Illness.

David Remnick from The New Yorker Charleston and the Age of Obama.

Joshua Dubois We Need To Talk About White Culture in The Daily Beast.

Reverend Broderick Greer in Philly.Com on Nothing Isolated About The Shooting.

Lydia Polgreen for the NY Times From Ferguson To Charleston And Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building.

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Thoughts on Sex and Dying

The inimitable Elizabeth Wood of Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance has written a compassionate and thoughtful piece looking at a challenging issue-sexuality in the last years of persons in nursing homes. She references a case in Iowa where a husband is now being charged for sexual assault for intimacy with his wife. There are no easy ways through this tangle and it’s a hard hard case to read. Elizabeth writes that:

Issues of sexuality in institutions like nursing homes are complex to begin with. Add mental impairment and family conflicts they get more complicated. Nothing I am about to write should be construed as oversimplifying complicated issues. Rather, in my comments on this specific prosecution, I want to add to the conversation about those complexities by suggesting specific ways of thinking about pleasure and danger for elderly people with memory or cognitive disorders.

She and I, and many others, discussed this at length on Facebook. I have a personal relationship to Alzheimer’s, as my mother died from it nearly two years ago. I wrote this a few months after she died while there was a terrible case happening in Texas regarding end of life decisions and pregnancy. The concept of choice and autonomy, consent and decision making…well, it’s difficult and challenging even on a good day. Try living through it with someone you love when they are dying, slowly, piece by piece.

Midway through 2013 my mother passed away after a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s. At the end, she couldn’t speak, couldn’t toilet or feed herself, and she didn’t know people. Had she been able to know of her circumstance, in a nursing home, (well kept and lovely, but a nursing home nonetheless), she would have been deeply angered as “ending up that way.”

She was clear, clear as glass, 15 years ago when we first talked about her end of life issues. “I’d kill myself first.” she’d say, when topics of nursing homes were brought up. “I want to die like my mother did, quick and it’s over.” She didn’t get that choice, as she began to show signs of the disease that would rob her of of her memory and her ability to move, her personality.

During the initial stages of the disease, she’d would often bring up suicide. As the disease progressed, and she was cruelly aware that she was losing herself and her autonomy, she would rage against me, accusing me of wanting her to be shut away, and that I’d find her dead the next morning. Of course, her memory wouldn’t allow her to remember she’d threatened it and I’d find her confused come morning, but happily settled so long as I was there.

She would have wanted to die on her own terms. It was not a choice.

I struggle with the Iowa case, even as I am very sure I’m missing crucial information regarding family dynamics, history, and more. I do know that love, touch, and intimacy are vital parts of our whole lives and I believe that our elder care support systems (and the children who are part of their parents’ lives) need to grapple with the topic of sexuality head on, honestly, and with honor and respect for the fullness that intimacy brings to our lives, no matter how old or ill.

Dementia is terrifying, to me at least, because it ventures into territory of reality. Who are we if not our memories? Our shared connections that dementia threatens to sever bit by bit, in strange and unpredictable stages? Is consent possible at 10 am but not at 5pm? Does the loss of short-term memory eradicate the need for intimacy? What if you don’t remember that you wanted it moments earlier? Should facilities go 180 degrees into keeping patients physically isolated? How does that help a person in any way? How do we begin to grapple with the loss, guilt, fear and pain family members go through? Spouses?

We all will age, and we will all die. We all forge connections and relationships and I personally think those are what help make our life (and our dying) bearable. Its imperative we talk about both sex and death so that the ends of our lives may be lived with as much joy and pleasure as consensually possible.

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