Studying People Through Creative Endeavors.


Trees, Forests, and Families

I think the idea of the family tree is flawed. I understand that it’s nice transition and metaphor for visually demonstrating family history in diagrams. It’s also nice for demonstration how we all connect as a unit, but it’s not so great for showing the bigger picture, for recognizing who we are as individuals.

In reality, families are not joined at the hip or by branches tethering us together. People come and go, branches break off and acorns leave and start families of our own. There are no guarantees people will stay, that storms won’t blow the acorns away. Sometimes we land far away, so far that we can’t grew up under the shade and protection of the big tree that let us go. Sometimes the little seedling that grows beneath the big pine turns out to be an oak tree instead, and the forest doesn’t mind. Sometimes lightening splits the big tree in half and new trees have to grow from its halves. And the pines and the oaks and the redwoods all grow together in the forest. They protect each other from harsh winds and suffer through the same fires, floods, and droughts. They are the same in so many ways, but they are all different. And that’s ok.

We all have to “find our families,” find our forest. Sometimes finding your family means being blown to a new forest were the sunshine is brighter and your roots can take hold in richer soil. Other times it means looking deeper, pulling back the bark on the trees we already know. And this hurts, this is hard. It means our sap slips out from us, it means peeling back the layers and seeing the rings beneath. It means showing who we all are at our core.

A tree is one being, because it only has one core. It’s complex, it has many faces and leaves and thoughts that all shoot off into different branches and roots. It’s a forest that makes a family, because they have their own souls but their roots cross over, hold hands underneath. These relationships are complicated too; roots twist and turn around each other, sometimes knotted fiercely, other times they escape to the surface for air. But it’s the ones that stay tight, hold hands tightly that keep the trees standing
when the storms hit.

We don’t like to admit that we’re not all one tree because it’s scary to think we’re not as alike as we’d like, but we’re not. We’re not the same. But isn’t it more interesting to walk through a forest and see all the different kinds of trees – big small, tall, thick, thin, evergreen and the hardly green, all working together to keep their forest alive?

Life isn’t so perfect that we can just throw everything into an organized diagram because we want it to look nice; the other trees aren’t going to change where they land or how they grow just to make things seem organized. No two trees and no two forests ever look the same, but every tree, every forest gives our plant oxygen, lives our planet life. Just by existing.



On the Death of Alan Rickman

“Do not pity the dead Harry, pity the living, and above all, pity those who live without love.” Did Rowling mean those who live unloved, or those who live without loving others?

Snape said, “Always.”

He “always” loved her, but did that love that drove him to do some good, absolve him of the terrible prejudice things he said about the woman he supposedly loved? Did it free him of the years of unprovoked bullying he gave Neville and Harry? I don’t think so, but I think the bad deeds also did not take away the good that he did either. The good still happened. It didn’t take away the trust, loyalty, and bravery he served Dumbledore with, even though he hated every moment of it. It didn’t take away the actions that saved thousands, maybe millions of innocent lives. In many ways, I think Snape was more trusting and obedient to Dumbledore’s cause than even Harry was. Rowling made it clear that the war would not have been won without him.

The character helped me to understand what a tortured world extreme racists like him grow up in; bullied by parents, peers, and constantly fighting their own hypocrisy and maybe even falling in love with the people they thought they were supposed to hate. The burden of hatred, the confusion, living the rest of your life in misery trying to absolve yourself of crimes most the world will never forgive you for.

While suffering and even good deeds do not wipe away what Snape did or absolve him of his prejudice, it does shine a light on the fact that people are not black and white. Snape reaffirmed for me how complicated people are, and solidified for me the idea that really, there are no such things as good or bad people, just good or bad actions. People are just people. Infinitely complicated. For better or worse, real people like the fictional character of Snape do exist, and their life has worth whether or not we want to admit it.

Alan Rickman did not write the character of Snape, but he brought him to life for generations of Harry Potter viewers, and I think it’s clear that no one else could have played this character. Of all the actors cast for the Harry Potter series, no one was better suited for their role than Alan Rickman as Severus. He understood and accepted his character for who he was, both the good and the bad. I think that’s really saying something, to accept someone like that when so many people cannot even accept themselves, let alone a bitter, prejudice, fictional character. He was able to recognize and respect Snape’s importance in a way that we all better understood why Severus mattered.

Rowling said that Harry’s naming of his son was in part, an acceptance and forgiveness of an apology he never received from his professor. When it is my place and my turn to forgive, I will. Because of J.K. Rowling, and because of Alan Rickman, I will remember and forgive…


Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and the World

I worried right away when I heard of the tragedy that the resulting backlash would be racism. I know people would make claims about being “merciless.” That the USA would take it as a sign to be even more xenophobic, but I also knew that at this time, it would be pointless to tell people that. When people are terrified and grieving, they are emotionally compromised (and for a good reason, their brains are trying to protect them). Nevertheless, many of the posts are correct, there is a lack of carying in countries were people are brown-skinned and especially if the city is considered war-torn. We believe their culture to be “violent” and cast it aside as “hopeless.” In this way, they are absolutely correct, it is racist. Our society considers itself superior and the Middle East especially to be “primitive.” I heard that word used multiple times from supposedly educated T.V. anchors and I hear it all the time in various forms in personal conversations. Here is one such example:


People were afraid for France and not for Africans or Middle Easterners because they consider France to be powerful, and because we see them as being “more like us.” All of those are racist things that have been normalized to us since the time we were little, growing up hearing NPR or any news station say things like “even more tragedy/bloodshed/violence in the Middle East today.” Yes, it’s true there is violence, but the way it is phrased or reported on as if “oh it’s raining again today” and you live in Seattle is something that cannot be helped, and it’s not worth it to cry over. It was said as if whose lives lost are not worth mourning.

I admit, I was one of the people who felt frightened by the Paris attacks, and not by the news about Beirut or Baghdad (partly because it was not well reported, but also because I wasn’t listening), but I am not offended by posts calling for justice and equality. They are right. The lives lost are less valued and more easily forgotten, and that is not just. I took it as an important and powerful reminder that I need to pay more attention, and refuse to give up on those countries I have been normalize to believe are a lost cause. They are not a lost cause. They are intelligent people whose lives are valuable to this world.

So no, I did not change my Facebook profile picture. I was worried that doing so would 1) Garner more anger against Muslims and Syrian refugees in general, the majority of which are peaceful people who will now pay the price for a few extremist’s actions. 2) That I could not possible fit all the flags of the people who are constantly being oppressed and murdered in mass numbers daily on my profile page. I felt so overwhelmed with the sadness and injustice that I took little action. Writing this was about all I could manage.

However, all that being said, I cannot justify berating people who do choose to change their profile pictures to reflect the Paris flag. They are grieving for their own reasons and are afraid. Now would be a very bad time to approach them when they are emotionally compromised. Realistically, these people need time to grieve and recover their feelings of safety in order to have a rational conversation. They feel extremely defensive right now. Yes, people in the Middle East are dying right now and it is wrong that they have been ignored. I would also never tell those people to be quiet or that their cries of prejudice are unwarranted, yes, even at this time. If I was afraid for my life or the lives of my loved ones, I would demand immediate attention too.

However, it is possible to make your point and allow people to grieve at the same time. When the 9/11 attacks happened, multiple planes went down and more than one location was devastated right? Did we say that people were not allowed to be more upset over one than the other (like the twin towers verses the pentagon) or that we could not grieve for all at once? Of course not, all those lives lost were equally valid. But for someone who lost a spouse or family member in one versus another, they are very likely going to feel the loss of that one more acutely than the others. When something feels more personal to you, everything else, all the other pains tend to fall to the wayside (especially if elements of racism come into play). Even if it’s not right, it is human.

I cannot help my feelings of fear for Paris. I recognize that my fear and sadness for those white lives lost over those in, what to me, a more foreign country is most definitely the result of normalized racism and it is wrong. It is also irrational. But in this moment, in this time, I cannot help those feelings, sometimes feelings are not rational even if you are consciously aware of it. It will take me and billions of others time and constant exposure to elicit a different response. It requires a re-writing of my brain to do so. To ask me to immediately flip a switch and not feel these feelings is impossible. It will take even longer to help our whole society to form a different perspective and attitude, to grow up believing that those lives are possible to save and are worth saving. But I do promise to try, and I encourage those who pointed out the racism and their calls for more empathy to continue to remind us that you are there and your lives matter too. I know I will screw it up, but I will continue to make efforts to make room for more empathy, to be more inclusive, most especially to people and ideas most foreign to mine.

Lastly, for those like me who are trying so hard to care about the whole world at once while admitting you are imperfect: it is ok to feel overwhelmed by tragedy. I think people often put up that wall by saying or thinking “No, I cannot feel for ever more people. I just cannot do or feel or think about all those things at once.”It is a fear of fear. Like Remus Lupin says, “What you fear most is fear itself.” Feeling grief, or even guilt, even for many at once will not kill you. Do your best to stay open-minded to the calls for justice and do not become defensive even though you are afraid. Remember that no matter what happens, even evil must pass. The only constant is change. Be apart of the positive change, the goodness in the world, and do it by keeping your mind and heart open. Even and especially when tragedy strikes. I know that is when it is most difficult to do so, but that is when so many people will also be struggling. Your open-mindedness will put you ahead of the curve.

Message for the Queer, the Pope, and Everyone Else

A short message to the Transgender, Gay, and Queer youth of the World:

You a unique, worthy, and important human being. You have so much to see and give to this world, but there are many who will lie to you and tell you that you’re not. There will be many people who openly condemn you and religious world leaders who will pretend to support you with unclear messages of indifference and apathy. They will claim to love you while visiting the people who openly suppress you and pray for them and tell them to “stay strong.” These leaders will not visit you, unless to pray for your soul that doesn’t need saving. They won’t come see you when your parents or guardians may have have beaten you, kicked you out of your homes, or while you contemplate killing yourself. They will not give you the clear message that being queer is ok and they will pat the backs of those who persecute you, when you previously believed their false words of hope, ripping it ruthlessly away from you. All this while saying they “tolerate” you, claiming they walk in the ways of acceptance. However, there is still hope to be found. These people are not the men of Gods you envision them to be. Run from these people as far and as fast as you can. Find people who love you and accept you for the things you cannot control and even more for the loving actions you can and should commit. You do deserve fulfillment, safety, and happiness in who you are.

This might be a good way to start:

A short message for the Pope:

“Who am I to judge?,” you claim while quietly failing to admit you believe your God still does not support queerness.

Stop being vague about were your support truly lies. A lie, even one by omission, is not becoming a world leader. Stop visiting the bigots and hateful before you visit the innocent and suffering outcasts they have condemned. Openly admit, with clarity that there is nothing wrong with queerness and that being true to whom you are inside is living in truth and is beautiful, and then help our people to live those truths to their fullest extent. Lastly, apologize for the hideous things the church has said and done in the name of a false God to queer people.

A short message for everyone else:

The man whom claims to be so loving and tolerant is the snake in the garden. His words are the poisonous fruit that grow on the trees of hatred you know better than to touch. Do not eat his fruit. Do not believe his lies. He promises knowledge, wisdom, happiness – but it is all a lie. Stop praising this man as a progressive, loving hero. Progressive prejudice is still prejudice, why are we rewarding it and putting it on a pedestal for the world to see as an example? Is this the way you really want people to behave? He is the abuser of many and the enabler of many other evils. He does not apologize for the destruction of what is done, either by himself or his minions. Do not be the sheep in his flock he promises to be the shepherd of, he will lead you to the wolves. His mouth plays a beautiful tune but his hands are soaked with the blood of the innocent for which he has taken no accountability.

A progressive bigot, but a bigot nonetheless.


Mixed Feelings on 9/11

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” – Tolkien

9/11 is a day of many mixed feelings for me. Tolkien’s statement is a beautiful one, it is one I try to live up to, but it is also idealistic. It is human nature to judge, I think most people can say that at one time or another, they believed and felt that someone deserved to die or at least deserved death more than someone else. Religious and political extremists caused or at least contributed to not only the death of thousands of innocent U.S. civilians and government/public service office officials, but to thousands more innocent lives overseas. I’m more than sure that many people wished death and worse on the people they blame for what happened and anyone they associated with them. Comparatively speaking, there is a good deal more terrorism around the world that happens outside our country every day, some which is arguably caused by the U.S. itself. However, in terms of relatively, for many Americans it was the one of the most upsetting moments of their lives. We are used to feeling powerful, safe, blessed (maybe even entitled) because of the country we live in, but it was without warning ripped from underneath us like a carpet pulled beneath our feet. Terror, grief, and death surrounded many people all at once, and even those who were not near the area felt its earthshaking effects. In my opinion, this fear was manipulated by many shameless politicians to cause even more war, death, and prejudice. Already serious issues of racism grew alarmingly high against peaceful middle eastern peoples and faiths. For people today who are marginalized or feel their safety is threatened as a result of this devastating event, I completely support and encourage you to say so and be critical of the system that has hurt you.

That being said, with all this knowledge swimming in my head, it is difficult for me to know what to say on the anniversary of this terrible day, but I think it’s important that I try.

Many of you who know me well know that I am critical of some (what are in my opinion) very serious issues within our police force, but I believe it is very important to recognize outstanding acts of selfless bravery when it happens. Police officers are of course, human beings. From my opinion which based on the statistical evidence, video evidence, and hundreds of personal accounts I have read and heard, the police have a great deal more power and privilege than the average citizen (more than they should perhaps), and are sometimes racist, homophobic, and trans-phobic, particularly and especially to those minorities with darker skin. And yes, I do understand that not all police officers are, but it is the alarming high numbers in the statistics that I am referencing and am deeply concerned about.

However, these police officers also suffer, bleed, die, worry, love their families and friends, and feel underappreciated like all human beings do. Keeping a balanced perspective and noting the good acts, especially of those you are most critical of, is a healthy practice in love and tolerance.

The fact is, that on 9/11 some 343 firefighters (not counting paramedics) and 71 police officers died doing exactly what they were supposed to do: save lives and protect their community. They did it without wanting thanks, or regard for personal safety. In fact, I’m sure many of them ran, not walked, straight into what they knew was very likely to be their deaths. This was a day (several days) when I believe the police force was at their utmost best, simultaneously their most brilliant shining day and their darkest hour. I can only fathom the grief and scars that are left forever on both surviving service members and the surviving family members of service members who were lost – the lasting mental trauma, confusing mix of pride and devastation that for many will be triggered at the mere mention of their names. I personally believe they deserve to grieve and be proud of their loved ones who served us. It’s one of those days I was truly proud and grateful for the the way the police did their jobs. 

It has always been my personal belief that all life is valuable, and that I am imperfect in judging who deserves to live and who deserves death. The world isn’t made completely of two extremes, you can do bad things and still be a good person and you can do good things and still leave ugly scars on the world. I cannot help but form opinions about the way people chose to do their jobs or live their lives, or how they choose to die, much I wish I could. Nevertheless, I have formed the opinion that if you must die fighting, that it should be in immediate defense of the innocent and those who cannot protect themselves. Not as aggressors, but defenders of the innocent. This is the ideal of what I wish the system could strive to be like all the time, not just in times of disaster. That we all might be a team, fighting to save lives as we did on that day and not just when we are united by terror.

Thank you to the police who have died, thank you to the ones who served during the catastrophe and survived, and thank you to the ones who currently live up to these ideals already, and are ready to do exactly the same selfless thing should we ever be in need again, fates forbid. These are the police who truly did their job, on that day we call infamously call 9/11.

I am uncomfortable about what happened to Bernie Sanders, and that is the whole point.

When I heard about the black lives matter protesters who interrupted Sander’s attempt to speak at the Seattle rally, I felt shocked and then quickly conflicted. I felt shocked because I knew from personal research that Sanders has been a supporter of the black lives matter movement for quite some time and was a member of the civil rights movement as a young man. I thought, “They must be confused, or haven’t done their homework, this guy is on their side.” And I’m sure many people thought the same thing. But it wasn’t a mistake, they did it on purpose, one of the women even said that she didn’t actually aim to target one politician over another because she doesn’t believe in our electoral process at all, that historically it hasn’t worked for black people and that she only aimed to use his speech as a platform to further the cause.

Unfortunately, she is right in may ways. The system, economic or otherwise, as never favored blacks. It was built to use blacks to build our economy up (remember slavery?) and when that eventually failed, it was used to keep blacks down while doing everything possible to continue to profit off of them. Right now, there sit in prison, millions of black prisoners, disproportionate to the number of whites, who work practically for free and have no voting privileges. Many are there for petty crimes like marijuana possession or because of disproportionately long criminal sentences in comparison to white who have committed the same crimes. You don’t have to take my word for it, google it. The stats are there.

Getting back to Sanders, I felt confused, but that is also because I am biased in many ways. While I haven’t had hope in a long time for any kind of candidate or had faith in the electoral process in a long time, I really liked Bernie Sanders (I still do), and I want to be able to say that at least I tried to use the system we had and voting for the better of the two evils. But I am in a privileged position to say that – the majority of people who have won elections are whites who represent, (you guessed it), the needs of whites, people like me. So occasionally, things were actually better for people like me, I could stand to dare to hope. Black people can’t say the same with only one black president who for the most part, stayed away from any issues concerning race.

I am also biased because of growing up in a white culture and as a communications major. As a communications major, I have been taught to value effective communication, and that means hearing what everyone has to say. As someone who grow up in white culture, I have had the privilege of being able to voice my opinion and be heard, even if people didn’t agree. I was also taught that if you like someone and respect them, the way to show that respect is by listening to them without interruption. That giving everyone the chance to speak is good form, even if that person wouldn’t give you the same courtesy. This is all biased however, because of my privilege. Blacks have been protesting peacefully about police brutality, the unfair economy, the lack of educational support – you name it, they have been ignored. Because whites don’t want to hear it, and because the media isn’t interested in peaceful protests, they only care about drama, and that’s why we didn’t hear anything until the black community grew to the point of desperation and police militarization prompted tension so high that riots and serious backlash happened.

As a white, I cannot imagine how terrifying and frustrating all that would feel, but still, I understood that it WAS nevertheless, and defended their actions – reminding people that not all the activists were violent and that many of them were violent because they were defending themselves or because we had wrongly ignored their very rightful cries for help for too long. That I and we had no place in condemning their actions, violent or not, when we haven’t had to live that experience. I read hours and hours of articles and watched several documentaries about it. I read the autopsy reports. I posted the facts I could find on social media. I got into serious arguments both on Facebook and that were face-to-face confrontations and that was extremely difficult for me as a person who hates confrontation and is very sensitive. And again, this all made me biased because it was much easier for me to feel bad for myself who really had suffered far less than that of someone who has lived their whole life as a black person. And I knew that, but it is a natural human instinct to want to preserve oneself, unfortunately. I am human and I am flawed. I also knew that when I did these things, I did them to feel morally right, to make myself feel good, and while I still believe I am on the right side of things, it is still a selfish act. I resigned myself a long time ago to the fact that everyone, even me, does things for selfish reasons. Even when I try to help someone, I am helping them because I want to feel good and not think poorly of myself, but at least I am helping someone in the process and not hurting. I just have to be careful to remember this fact, and not allow it to influence my decisions. If I chose to do something kind, I cannot just do it when it suits my purposes, I have to do it even if it’s uncomfortable and settle for the fact that maybe I’m doing it more so I can live with myself and not so that I’ll actually feel good. I should not be doing this for a pat on the back or just for when it’s convenient for me personally. I have to recognize that it is their right and that they are doing this for a good reason.

One of the good points that the articles I’ve read by black lives matter activists make, is that we’re happy as white progressives to have the black vote, but not nearly as quick to jump to the aid of blacks or do what is really right for them. People booed and were generally saying some pretty rude things to the activists who interrupted Sanders because they were inconvenienced and felt they and Sanders were unjustly silenced… something blacks deal with everyday.

Almost everything I was raised with begs me not to accept this behavior and makes me uncomfortable… but I think that is the point. I should feel interrupted and I should feel uncomfortable because it is challenging prejudice that I still have. I am not free of racism and it’s hard to admit because this is very humbling and embarrassing for me. But it is very necessary. Black lives are in danger, and if I am really an ally, I must accept this tactic as part of the movement and continue to support it while continuing to challenge my own perceptions of what is morally “right.”

What was most upsetting to me was that I felt that Sanders has always been an outspoken supporter of the movement, and he is, but the truth is that everyone can improve. If there was really nothing better that he could have done, then the more explicit platform in support of the movement would not have surfaced just a few hours later on his website. I was forced to admit that the tactic worked, he responded with more than what he had already done.

While I still do not at all agree that calling him or the crowd “white supremacists” was accurate or necessary, it is true that he, like everyone else, does have prejudices he is unaware of and his support could always be better shown. He can always become a better ally and so can I, so can we (whites).

It also occurred to me that while he may have been targeted because he has far less security than opponents like Hillary or anyone in the GOP, he is also the one with the most potential. Hillary, nice as she is, is always late to the civil rights game. Not just with black rights, but it has been a pattern for her to be late in supporting gay rights (supported her husband’s signing of DOMA), and even many feminist issues. Sanders has been a supporter however, for decades and since he is running for President, we must assume or at least hope for his own sake that he has thick skin (as my friend wisely pointed out to me). If anyone would respond to this activism appropriately, it would be him. And it appears that he did (so far at least). I hope he continues to bump up that support for the movement and allows some of the activists to speak, further empowering themselves, as he graciously allowed the two women who interrupted him to do. He didn’t fight them on it, but stood back and then moved on when it was clear they didn’t plan to give the microphone back. I think that given his surprise, that was probably the best thing he could have done. And I hope in the future he actually invites more of them to speak out.

I also hope that even though this is still hard for me to accept as an appropriate reaction from a marginalized people, I get better at accepting that it is not for me to say what is appropriate for their cause as I am a white person with privilege. I am not black, but I do know as a gay person and as a woman what it feels like to be judged by people who are not affected on the outside of the issue – who say my judgments or behavior are unwarranted when they don’t know what it feels like or haven’t seen that other activist tactics were already tried and failed. I hope that experience will keep me open-minded when other people who are oppressed in ways I am not, challenge me in the future. This was a successful attempt on their part, it made me uncomfortable, and it challenged me to think more about it.

It made me uncomfortable, and that is the whole point: It often takes shock to make you realize what you are over-looking in your judgments. While it is a natural reaction to dislike it, it doesn’t mean it’s not good for me and more importantly for the black lives matter movement.

For now, I will say I support the movement and begrudgingly, I support the actions of the two women who made excellent points. My uncomfortableness is not a good excuse and is evidence that I need to promise to keep trying to be a better ally.


Math as a Language

It suddenly occurred to me, that math is actually just another language. Math is an effort to simplify, condense and explain to ourselves what something is, to make it tangible and more easily manipulatable, and to more easily communicate to others an idea, with symbols and names like “seven.”

It would follow then, that like our english language, there’s lots of nouns, ideas, or things we have no name for, or that our language is incapable of explaining to us or doesn’t have the words/phrases for. There’s many examples of words existing in other languages that do not really have a correct word or translation in english (same can be said across/between any two languages).

I was taught in linguistics, that because languages have different grammatical structures and patterns, that it actually changes the way your brain thinks about information or solves problems. In fact, people who are bilingual (or speak multiple languages) have an advantage in problem-solving because they are able to think about said problem from multiple viewpoints. Their brains process the information differently, and if they have many structures/processes at their disposal, it would make sense that if it was hard to understand though one particular process, that they would have another at their disposal to try it out on. If that process make the problem more tangible, than that person would have an edge over someone who does not have that ability.

Does this mean that there exists somewhere in a universe, another society of intellectuals who may have created another language for math that can explain things in a way that ours cannot? Or that there’s more than one way of personifying math? Making it tangible and manipulable in our minds?

I know that there are sometimes math examples within our own system that have more than one correct or plausible answer. I also understand that when applied to physics, people are coming up with new theorems that no one thought of because no one could see it in the same light previously…What if there are civilizations that are totally ahead of us in mathematics because they have created a language, a system that makes things so much clearer than our own?

I always thought that even if mathematical numbers did not look like 1,2,3,4 or weren’t called “one, two, three, and four” that it would nevertheless, easily translate and still would hold the values of 1,2,3, and 4. In that way, math seemed “universal” to me…but…what if it’s not? What if there’s another way?

My head hurts.

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