Sunday, December 28, 2014

A love letter from the bell to the air

I shared this poem this morning at church, along with the little mini-reflection before it.  I've been asked to post it here it is (with names taken out for anonymity).  The service was about bells, and the prompt I received was "write something about bells."  This is what I got.

The challenge in writing about bells, I discovered, is that I have more to say about what comes after the sound than I do about the physical bell or about the sound itself.   The magic, for me, is in that wonderful moment that comes after the ring: the quiet that fills the space slowly as the ringing fades away.  The way the air seems to clear for whatever may come next. The stillness that fills the space in the clearing.  We hear it every week when our ministers ring the bell that prepares us to worship.  Have you ever really let yourself be carried into that quiet moment that follows the ringing?  Haven't you also felt the excitement, or anticipation, or stillness, or peace, or power of that moment as we settle into our time together?

Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet I admire, has a series of poems that are love letters between inanimate objects -- for example, a love letter between a toothbrush and a bicycle tire.  As I sat, wondering how to write about the moment of stillness following the sound of the bell, this concept - the concept of a love letter - kept coming to mind.  What better way to convey that relationship, I thought.  The relationship between the bell and the air and silence surrounding it -- that has to be a relationship of love.  How else could it make something so beautiful?

I realize this is a little strange.  I realize that there are probably few people who would consider the quality of the relationship between a bell and the air, much less decide to write a poem about it.  But I have learned to take inspiration in any if you'll indulge me, I'll share with you a poem - a love letter, if you will-- between the bell and the air. 

A love letter from the bell to the air

They told me my job was to move through you.
To crash my sides with peals and ringing,
to throw my essence from my edges
cast my sounds upon the wind,
to announce my presence to the quiet spaces,
disrupt the silence by cutting through you and move
as far away as possible.

They said to chime with strength and dignity.
My job was to move, and move, and move,
to the recesses of every space.
To fill all the corners with my presence,
announcing peace, or justice,
or hope, or magic, or angels,
or God, or war as though
I was the only thing that mattered.

But they never mentioned the way you would carry me.
That you would move me as ocean moves sand -
together -
you pull me ever forward.
A vessel of hope and greater promise
you wrap yourself around my solid frame
warm against my vibration
hold my trembling
and carry me through the empty spaces:
a magic carpet bringing pieces of me into
a whole new world.

Who knew the things we would see there?
Who knew what adventures lay before us as we soared
in every direction;
sometimes stopping at an eardrum to be received
as a moment of grace
or meditation, or annoyance
or peace or liberation or warning...
how many purposes we serve.
What meaning we bring together --
me, with my rough and clanging metal, and you
the soft quiet that completes me.
I love that about us.

But my favorite - my favorite is when I ring
and you carry me out and out and out forever and nothing stops us until
I grow faint, and you grow weary,
and together we land, gently,
on the prairie grass
or high atop a mountain
or on rooftops of sleeping people
and we sit there, waiting and silent,
witnessing our aftermath
and the space we create in the empty wholeness that follows.

We look over the peaceful,
or hurting,
or joyous,
or war-torn world and know
this next moment will be different
if only because of what we created:
you carried me
and we held one another
to the very end.


On a 1-10 scale of suck to awesome in terms of quality and style, I'd give this poem a 3.

On a 1-10 scale of suck to awesome in terms of making me feel good for having written it, I'd give it an 8.

That makes it somewhat of a win.

Holidays are hard, you know?  Family is hard sometimes, for many reasons.  Christmas means I see family that I see once a year for Christmas, and also see grandparents -- which is frequently challenging.  For some reason, even though I am 29 years old, the only topic of conversation I can reliably count on is everyone (a) commenting on my how much my sisters and I look alike, (b) analyzing which of our parents each of us look most like; (c) commenting on my clothing and my body.  Growing up with a sister with an eating disorder, I have always been hyper attuned to the body-talk.  Growing up with grandparents that commented on and made suggestions about my clothing, my weight, my acne, and my fingernails (I'm not even kidding), I was always extremely aware and, often, self-conscious.  Even close family friends - it was all they could talk about.  I remember one long conversation with my grandmother's friend who told me I have beautiful ears.  I constantly felt like every part of my body was being scrutinized.  Growing up with a grandfather who often made very inappropriate comments about my changing and growing body, I often felt a sense of shame - although it has taken many years to name these comments for what they were, and to name that feeling as shame.

Regardless, finally, at age 29, I get it.  So when I showed up to Christmas this year, and everyone commented on how much my sisters and I look alike, and which one of my parents I look most like, and commented on my clothing and my body and how good or not-good I look, I. Was. Pissed.  PISSED, I tell you, because I came away feeling like my body was torn apart and judged and picked to pieces.  I felt like the message was that, somehow, other people own my body.  Like this space that I take up is not my own.  As if we don't get that message from everywhere else enough already.

For me, the most powerful line here is this: "this body is not yours to love."  

When you have people commenting on every part of your body from your fingernails to your ears, and expressing judgment about every part of your body, as far back as you can come to evaluate your body, and your attractiveness and worth (because, you know, of course those things are one and the same...*groan*) based on what others tell you.  "Well Bubby likes my hair...and Aunt Betty likes my ears...and Grandmother says I have nice ankles..."  I think I came to associate my body's worth based on others' appreciation of it (and its lack of worth based on others' comments).  It's easier, though, to reject others' criticism of your body than to reject their compliments.  But both are worthless, I'm realizing, because this body is mine.  It is mine to love, in the way that I see fit, in the way that works for me, in the ways that I can.  This body?  It is not yours to love.


After 29 years, the debate still rages:
do I look more like my mother? Or my father?
To whom can I attribute my coloring?  My nose? My facial structure?
The color of my hair, the size of my bones, my height, my weight, my smile
are all up for grabs.
Depending on the day and who is present
one side or the other will claim the pieces of me they decide
are most desirable.
Like vultures clamoring over the pieces and parts
they never stop to acknowledge my breathing -
just claim each piece as their own as though
it was the highest form of compliment.
I am nothing more than a pieced together statue of left-overs
waiting to be critiqued
by her makers.

They say it all comes down to genetics.
But Mendel didn't ask the peas to claim their offspring's shells.
Didn't tell the male he owned his child's shade of green,
never asked the female to claim the shape of her little shoots' pod.
He didn't make the children trace genograms in their tendrils
didn't force them to be nothing but a sum of their parts
collected into the outline
of a family tree.

My body is more than composition.
My face is not the outline.
My eyes are not subject
my nose, not object,
my hair is not adjective designed
to complement the shape of your pieces.
My breasts are not questions,
my hips do not rest in my body like punctuation,
my thighs are not adverbs inviting you softly,
this body is not meant to be diagrammed like a sentence.

My body is poetry-
it is living,
flawed and fluid,
I want to tell them:
I learned the pieces of you before I could choose.
I am learning the pieces of me by choice:
my body learns from the pieces
I have inherited
but arrives upon its own
new answers.

This body is not yours because you birthed it.
Is not yours because it resembles you.
Is not yours because you recognize its edges, its softness, its stretch.
This body's pieces are not yours because they appeal to your sense of beauty.
Its weight is not yours to notice, to touch, to review,
this body is not yours to know.
Not yours to define.
Not yours to comment on
to claim
to reject,
you do not get to name, or outline her boundaries.
This body is not yours to love.

After 29 years, the answer is simple:
my cells come undeniably from your lineage.
My eyes shine with the light of generations.
And even so -
I make it all

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On being a brave, promise-being of love

Here's the truth: I shouldn't be writing this right now.  I got a concussion in the middle of last week, and given the enduring headache and nausea, I think my brain is still pissed about it.

Here's the other truth: if I don't write this, I am going to lose my mind.  So I'm writing it.

The truth is that I am overwhelmed.  I am angry, and I am overwhelmed. 

I'm angry at my body for not protecting me better from the concussion.  I'm angry at my brain for not healing itself fast enough.  I'm angry that I get angry about this, and I am angry that my body taking care of herself always feels something like a betrayal.  I'm angry that I need to admit that my body is fallible.   

I'm angry because, right now, our world just feels like a fucking awful place to live.  I'm angry about too many injustices to name, and I'm angry most about people's passivity.  I would love for everyone to choose the side that I think is right, but mostly, I am angry about inaction, and about passivity.  Choose a side, dammit, and believe in it, fight for it, do SOMETHING, and do it with conviction. 

With that said, I'm also pissed about my own passivity, and my feeling as though I am unable to make actual change.  I am pissed off that I can't take ALL THE STARFISH and throw them back into the sea.  I know it matters to the one I threw in...but god damn.  There are so many dead and dying starfish, and that's not even getting into the little crabs and minnows and conch and sea anemone that are washed up between the starfish.  That's not even getting into the fact that no one has even written a parable about those creatures, and the fact that their lives matter, too. 

I think about that, and then about the fact that yesterday I went to a meeting and ran one errand...and came home and had to sleep for 3 hours...that just makes me more frustrated.  Damn me with my human brain, and my human body, living this very human existence amongst other fallible humans.  Damn it all to hell.

That said, I'm also aware that it is December 14th, and that I am nearing the end of my year of "bravery."  I'm thinking about all of the writing I have done about bravery, and about where I sit on this concept of bravery now.  I'm thinking about where I go from here, and what it will mean to let go of this nagging, chronic, pain-in-the-ass intention this year.  I'm thinking about what comes next.

As I was...ahem..."resting my brain"...earlier this week, I rested my brain on several podcasts.  One in particular had this piece that stood out to me -- it was from "On Being" with Krista Tippett, interviewing singer/song-writer Carrie Newcomer.  They were talking about some of her music and about song-writing, and Ms. Newcomer said:

Well, it's courageous to hope, because when you do choose to hope, eventually at some point your heart will be broken, and you will be disappointed. And then you get up and you do it again. But I think courage has nothing to do with being fearless. I think courage has everything to do with loving something or someone so much that you will brave it with solid feet or shaky knees because you love it that much....We hope, because we love it that much. It's worth the risk.

I long ago rejected the idea that bravery means the absence of fear.  But until hearing this, I had not yet articulated so clearly that bravery is about love. Why else would we dare it?  Why else would we go through the heartache and the fear and the tears and anger?  Because we believe it's worth the risk.  Because we love the outcome, and more importantly, because the outcome is love.

At the beginning of the year, I defined bravery like this:

Bravery is not about the absence of fear, or the absence of emotions.  Bravery is about feeling the fear, or the sorrow, or the heartache or loss, and making the choice to do the thing that is right.  It is the choice to do the thing that needs to be done.

And that's right.  Of course it is.  But there's more to that story that I have learned over this year.  As Ellen Bass says in her poem, "The Thing Is," think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you.
I will love you again.

And this is also right.  Every act of bravery is an act of holding life like a face in the palms of your hands, and telling it, "I am going to love the hell out of you."  Or perhaps, "I am going to love the Hell out of you," because any act of bravery worth doing, not matter how small, is an act of loving the Hell out of this world, isn't it?

For the past several weeks, I've also had the last several lines of a poem entitled "Anxiety Group" by Catalina Ferro going through my head:

You can't be this afraid of losing everything
if you don't love everything first.
Because you have to have a soul-crushing hope that things will get better
to be this afraid
of missing it. 

I fully admit that, more often than not, I am anxious.  There are many, many times that I am afraid.  I have spent a year thinking about, challenging myself, and engaging in acts of bravery.  It doesn't get easier.  I will be the first to admit that I am not a brave person. 

But I have done brave things, and I will continue to do brave things, because I love.  Because I have this "soul-crushing hope that things will get better."  I love this fucked up world in a way that makes my eyes spill over.  I love this world in a visceral, full-to-the-brim, bursting-out-of-the-seams sort of way.  I love the people of this world in a way that makes my heart feel too big to contain everything inside my body -- I can literally feel something I can only name "love" pushing at my skin from the inside out as I write these words.  In this human form, with inadequate words and language that can never say enough, I do not know how to convey it other than to say that I love.  I love, I love, I love in this way that is whole-hearted, but not naive.  I love in a way that is not complicit, or accepting, or passive.  I love this fucked up place, with its fucked up people, with all of its brokenness and devastation in a way that does not feel like love as much as it feels like ferocity and promise that goes beyond what even those words hold. 

And isn't that love?  Isn't that bravery?  Ferocity, and promise, and bravery, and intensity...and fear and anger and passion and brokenness...and whole-heartedness that envelops the entirety of me and my fallible body....what word do we have that is big enough for that but love? 

Why else would I do anything?  Why else would I be angry?  Why else would I try so damn hard to be brave, when I know that one starfish is just one starfish.  When I know that any good that I do is miniscule, and temporary, and insignificant at best.  When I know that writing bravely, or acting bravely, or trusting bravely makes a difference to no one but me, or perhaps to the 2-3 people who witness this act.  Why do I do it?  Why bother?

I had lunch with a Badass Friend the other day.  We were talking about bravery, and about trust, and about being badass, and she asked me something along the lines of, "How do you smile so much when you believe the world is such shit?"

I don't remember the answer I gave her, but here it is: I smile because it is the only way I know to hold that ferocity, promise, devastation, and bravery.  I smile because that ferocity, and promise, and devastation, and bravery coalesces into a whole-hearted love that is so strong in its intensity and beauty and anger and brokenness that I don't have a choice. 

I smile, and I write, and I speak, and I act when I can because I love. 

Because they are the only ways I know how to hold a mirror to the fucked-up face of this world and keep walking. 

Because I believe in promise and ferocity. 

Because I believe in whole-heartedness. 

Because I believe in bravery.

Because I am a ferocious, broken, fallible, devastated, brave, promise-being of love.

I think we all are. 

So may it be.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Trust Fall

Sometimes I write poems, and my process goes like this:  "Oh hey," I think, "I think I'll write a poem."  And then I sit down and I write a poem, and I say, "one day down the road, I think I might actually like this poem."

Other times, my process goes like this: "Oh hey," I think.  "That's a good line for a poem.  I think I'll write that."  And then I sit down and I start and stop and erase for a while, and I obsess over one word for a period of time, and then eventually I say, "one day down the road, I think I might actually like this poem."

Other times, the process is like the one I just went through.  It goes like this: "Crap.  I'm tired, and I'm angsty, and I don't know what to do with myself, and I can't figure out what's happening in my brain and my heart, and I'm going to write."  And then, for a good long while, writing goes like this: ".................." 

 And then, maybe I yell at the dog because he keeps putting his nose on the caps lock key and interrupting my stream of not writing.  Or maybe I go clean the bathroom, or maybe I decide I'm never writing anything ever again, or maybe I antagonize the cat.  But once I've started, my brain doesn't quit, and I have to finish it.  I HAVE to finish it.  Even if the only thing I have is "......." or "I fucking hate writing" or "I don't know what to write," or "if only I would be so lucky as to have a shitty first draft."  Eventually, hours later, typically in the wee hours of the morning, there is a poem on the paper.  A wholly unsatisfactory poem that I don't like, that I am not even sure if I will like one day down the road.  But there is a poem on the paper...and my heart feels better.

Trust Fall

My power lies in saying yes.
In grasping every opportunity before me
I have run so far on yes alone.
I have been this brave
and healing person,
I invite you in and make you comfortable.
Create myself from the pieces you hand me,
build a version of me I have not yet met,
I am piecing myself together
with only the pieces that are offered me:
I am a glued-together statue of shatters that were taken
and then handed back as gifts.
Forgive me
if I sometimes forget to say thank you.

What I mean to say is this:
there are times I swallow lies and wear them as truth.
Work my way to yes so I make them fit
hold my breath, refuse to breathe,
bite my nails,

No is a trust fall.
As my mouth forms the words, I cross my arms
close my eyes, and
lean myself backwards as my muscles tremble
anticipating the ways they can be broken or pulled from my skin,
"no" has been the knock on the door,
bruises that were hidden,
thinly veiled threats.
"No" was pushed back in my throat
every time I let it escape,
my no is the red flag before the bull, it was
only ever asking for trouble.
You tell me you're not worried.
You tell me I am stronger than this.
That I know better than to believe the lies.
That I am not that type of person.
That I wasn't really hurt.
When I tell you I can't trust my world,
you laugh and say
"of course you do."
And then I hit the ground.

What I'm trying to say is that
every time I tell my story without crying
I am lying by omission.
Creating a space of "yes" around me
leading you to believe I don't feel the wound so deeply,
I practice smiling in the dark
shrink into the holes saved for lost pieces of me,
no, there are no longer bruises you can see.
I bury the ache behind the yes
leave breathing room for you to answer the question before it's asked
watch you sink into that space as you exhale.
What I'm trying to say
is that no one ever had to ask me if I was okay:
I am a gutted cathedral of my own creation
worshiping the power of yes.

You tell me that trust can only be built through trusting.
What I'm trying to say is that
you can't mend a broken bone through practice:
the cast around my heart is there for a reason
and it's not to keep you from coming in.
It's to heal what's broken inside,
to align those shattered ends,
you tell me healing will happen
that it's only a matter of time,
but have you ever asked the riverbank what time has done to her edges?
has been eroded from my vocabulary, so yes
I keep fighting
but survival has never been equivalent to trust.
My survival kit is full
of weapons of self-protection
but the hunter doesn't trust the lion
just because he packed his gun.

What I'm trying to say is this:
Don't let them convince you your no can tame the wild out.
That you're strong.
That it's just a lion.
You have your gun if you need it.
Just be brave.
They'll ask you
what makes you think he won't
leave you alone if you say 'stop?'

What I'm trying to say is that
there is privilege in the question.

What I'm trying to say is that
I can't understand how they're
honestly expecting
an answer.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bravery (Now)

I can't sleep.

This isn't unusual, and there are only 450,329 reasons why I can't sleep...but that's not important.

The important thing is that I can't sleep, and I'm tired of grading papers.  So tired of grading papers.  Effing papers.

So...I graded 20 papers tonight.  I have 8 more in this round.  28 is a lot of students.  Next time, I'm going with Scantron.  Or hiring an official Grading Assistant.  Except nobody would ever want that job, because grading sucks.

When I can't sleep and I stop grading, my mind gets Busy.  This is the result of the Busy mind tonight.  It is decidedly not a kickass poem, and pieces are borrowed from something I wrote before...but it's about the fact that I've decided that one can overstep ones capacity for bravery.  I think I've done that lately.  (Or perhaps life has overstepped my capacity for bravery).  (Or maybe both).  Or maybe, even as I'm 11 months in, I'm still doing this bravery thing wrong.

Or maybe I just hate it.  Maybe it's been 11 months, and in spite of repeated exposure and practice, I still just hate being brave.

Or maybe I hate it at 1:45AM after a string of Hard Days.  Maybe just that.

Stupid bravery.  I'm so over you.  January (and my new intention for the year) can't get here soon enough.  I'm about to leave bravery in the dust.

Bravery (Now)

Thinking it was time
she ripped off the band-aid of a security blanket.
Believing it would hurt less sooner,
rather than later,
she told herself this later was already late,
turned her head, held her breath
pulled it fast and hard with no hint of tenderness.
Gentle is for the weak.

There was a sting.  A tremor.  A moment when her body went still,
turned cold, colder, coldest;
then boiled hot, hotter, hottest
pulsing blood scalding her veins,
she smiled.  Pulled her body straighter to hide the trembling,
laughed, even,
believing sooner could not be too soon:
she left no choice but for better
to be now.

She hid the wound in a smile, so no one would suspect.
Mascara removed mistrust burned into her eyes,
her feet ached with the knowledge
that she could need to escape sooner,
rather than later,
but she ignored the burning, the aching, the trembling,
breathed deeply, knowing
every cell was in uniform
waiting for the order
to fire.

There is a glance.  A bump.  An unintentional touch.
An unfamiliar face.  A sound. A knock on the door
and the wound is ripped open from the inside out.
All cells unload their ammunition and reload as she stands, smiling:
no one can know that this later
was still too soon.

Hours later, she closes her eyes
heart-wounded and battle-scared
she drains the wound without words or tears
buries her burning in the blanket that envelops her
and waits again for the strength to believe
that sooner or later,
better will come.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Complicated Gratitude: These little lights of mine

This is not your grateful, happy, holiday post.  If you’re looking for inspiration, for something to make you feel good, for something to make your family seem a little less crazy, or for a piece of writing that will make you step back and say “wow,” this is not the post for you.  There are plenty of those sorts of posts out there this time of year, and plenty of real bloggers able to set aside their hurt or frustration or anger or pain to write something inspirational that will make you feel jolly.  If you look, you can find post after blessed post designed to bring awareness to the fact that there are people in the world who are REALLY hurting, and you’re not one of them.  There are tons of folks wiser than myself who are able to bring it all home and give you warm tinglies as you read their magical wisdom-filled words of love and gratitude and blessings.   
But here’s what I’ve got today instead: I am really struggling with gratitude.  I am tired.  My heart hurts.  My fight drive is moving steadily in the direction of flight, and everything in me just wants to curl up with a big fuzzy blanket and sleep.  Animals have it right, you know?  Hibernation should totally be a thing. 
I’ve talked myself through this before.  I’ve talked myself through this gratitude struggle before, and I have come out on the other side.  I can tell you with complete sincerity and certainty that I am exceptionally blessed.  I am grateful for family and health and friends and pets and love and all those things we all pull out this time of year when we sit around the Thanksgiving table or post on Facebook.  It’s not that those things aren’t real, or wonderful and meaningful, or that they don’t matter… because of course they do.  Of course it’s important that we express gratitude for them, even if it’s just once a year, and even if that gratitude occurs around the mumbled curses, sighs, and eye rolls that inevitably happen when family gathers together.  There is meaning in ritual.  There is meaning in finding those moments of gratitude.  There is meaning in the gathering, and in the cursing, and in the eye rolls.  There must be.  Why else would we continue to do it?
But here’s the thing: even as I can say that I am grateful for all those things, and even as I feel that gratitude, I’m not really feeling it.  I am paying lip service to gratitude, and that actually feels kinda shitty, you know?  I believe there can be a certain power in going through the motions.  Making statements of gratitude, even when I don’t feel them, has been important for me in the past.  Finding the tiny pieces – the little twinkle lights of gratitude – that was a challenge I lived and loved for a few years.

But much like the twinkle lights on the Christmas trees, there are times when the whole damn string goes out for no apparent reason.  One tiny little bulb in that whole long string of lights decides it’s going to crap out, and BAM.  No more twinkle lights.  Sure, you can push and squeeze and twist every damn twinkle light on that string, but it’s done, and pretty soon you find yourself in line at Wal-Mart with the hordes of other people buying twinkle lights, all desperate to purchase something that will light up the darkness. 

Because that’s what we’re doing, isn’t it?  We’re all searching for something that will light up the dark that extends around us as far as we can see.  Aren’t we all hungry for those little things that will light the way?  Aren’t we all always searching for those little beacons of hope?  Perhaps that’s all gratitude is – a way of desperately hanging on to twinkle lights, attempting to convince ourselves that if we stare at them long enough, they might be something more.  If you’ve ever spent time looking at a Christmas tree, you know that you can stare at the lights in such a way that they grow into large balls of light before your eyes – and you also know that it’s still that tiny little bulb, hanging to a string that is so interconnected to the other lights that if one goes out – they all go out together. 

I guess the thing is that I feel beat up by the world.  I’ve tried all the positive reframes I can manage, and the truth of the matter is still this: today, I feel beat up.  I’m tired, and my heart just hurts, and I’m NOT grateful.  If I’m honest, the truth of the matter is that I feel like the defective twinkle light.  I feel like I am the twinkle light on that string of twinkles that is about to have twinkled its last twink.  I feel like I’m about to be the one that kills the whole chain of lights – because something must have happened to that one light, right?  That one light was the one that got tired.  That one light was the one that got stepped on.  That one light was the one that hit the ground first when the cat ripped the lights out of the tree, or the one that was just a little defective from the start, or the one that’s positioned unfortunately, such that it gets knocked again and again until the thing finally just craps out.  Who can blame it?

For the past few years, I’ve felt like the lone twinkle light.  There’s not much to be done with a single twinkle light, and I don’t know that anyone would purchase a solo twinkle, honestly…but that was what I thought I needed.  For a time, I think it was what I needed.  I’m learning that this doesn’t work forever.
I’m not sure why it happened, or how it happened, or how the mechanics or the electrical wiring of this worked, but I suddenly find myself on a big string – an ever-expanding string – of twinkle lights.  Sometime a few months ago, I found myself in the middle of these beautiful lights.  Not on the end.  Not barely hanging on somewhere.  Smack in the middle, connected just as strongly as all the rest to the next light, and the next light, and to all of those lights down the string.

I know that this is where I should say, “…and I’m really really grateful for this, and it’s awesome and amazing.”

And I am grateful, in a way that transcends the word grateful.  And it is awesome, and it is amazing.  Truly.  In every sense of every one of those adjectives.  Every time I feel my light dwindling, someone along that chain sends a little extra twinkle down that string of lights, and I somehow stay lit.  Every single time I feel like I’m going to burn out, there’s this little boost from someone on that string, and I keep burning.

And I also hate it, because being part of that chain means trusting.  It means believing those lights aren’t going to suddenly decide that my piece of the chain isn’t worth the energy.  It means believing that my light and energy can support the light and energy of others, and that it will be accepted and valued.  It means that I have to allow others to support my energy, when I would much rather just do it myself (even as I acknowledge that I can’t).  It means I feel guilt, and shame, and frustration, and vulnerability and weakness alongside hope and love and joy and excitement and gratitude, because trust for me right now means all of those things.  It just does. 

Being part of this chain of beautiful twinkling means that I need to believe that I am worth the energy and light being shared with me along that string, and that, perhaps, is the hardest thing at the root of it all.  Believing that others want or value my light…that they want me to be part of this string of light…that’s hard, and it’s tiring.  My heart hurts as it tries to believe that I’m worthy, and as it tries to understand why I’m worthy, and as it tries to believe that I am worthy of both giving and receiving the light.   This chain is powered by a love I don’t understand that, quite frankly and irrationally, stresses me out.  It’s hard to articulate gratitude for something you are given that you can’t convince yourself you deserve, and that you feel sure is going to be taken from you as suddenly as it was given.  It’s hard to express gratitude for something you so desperately need and want, and feel so extremely fortunate to find…when you also feel as though it will be taken from you at any possible moment.  I know as absolute fact that I could wake up tomorrow and have been not only cut out of the string, but also smashed into a million non-twinkling pieces on the ground.  I know as absolute fact that I could put myself back together from that.  I know as absolute fact that I don’t want to. 

So here is what I’m doing: I’m holding off on the expressions of gratitude.  I’m acknowledging that I am cautiously grateful, and that I am scared of this gratitude, because gratitude means attachment and trust, and I am scared to allow myself either.  I’m allowing myself to withhold the trust and belief, because that’s what my heart needs if this is going to ever work at all.  I'm accepting that, right now, everything is complicated -- even gratitude.  I am grateful, and hurting, and working so hard to reach a place of peace. 

So I’m going to sit back, and let those lights twinkle, and I’m going to work like hell to believe that I have a light worth burning alongside them. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why Poetry Matters

I have had a weekend full of poetry.  I know that I have written time and time and time again about poetry and writing and words and their power.  I have quoted Audre Lorde more times than I can count: "Poetry is not a luxury," she says.  "It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change... Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought...  And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it.  Poetry is not only dream or vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives."

Lately, when I find myself talking about poetry (which is often), and when I find myself talking about my poetry in particular, I end up on the edge of an emotion I do not know how to name.  I feel my body filled up and bursting with an energy and a love and a power that I can't explain without my voice shaking.  My eyes sting and there is a lump in the base of my throat as I try to speak truth to this meaning, this emotion, this living thing that poetry is inside of me...and I can't, because it is too much.  It's too big.  It's too full and rich and powerful, and the only way I know how to write that is in poetry...but as of yet, a poem about the power of poetry has been a little too meta for my finite mind to grasp.

The sermon at church today was titled "Poetry Matters."  It was a moving service full of poetry and music, and why poetry matters in our world.  I came away from it, eyes stinging as I questioned why poetry matters for me.  Why is it that this -- this thing that is no more than letters strung together to form sounds that form words that form phrases and stanzas -- why is it that this is the thing that brings me home?  Why is this the thing, again and again, that saves me?  Why this?  Why not running, or travelling, or knitting, or roller derby?  What is it about this, about poetry, that makes me feel whole?

People say, "well, clearly it's because you're a good writer.  Clearly it's because you have a gift for writing."  And, sure, compliments feel nice and stroke my ego a bit, particularly as I know I can't judge my level of "good" or my level of "gift."  It's taken me 10 years to be able to say comfortably that I'm a writer - I'm a person who writes, sure, but feeling as though I deserved that title of "writer" took time.  I still get nervous when people read my writing.  Pressing "publish" on every blog post is an act of bravery; every comment feels like I'm waiting for criticism of my heart, and I continue to have a small panic attack when people mention reading my blog in person.  No joke.  The momentary look of terror that crosses my face when you say, "I read your last blog post"...that was real.  You didn't imagine it. 

I have always been a writer.  This I know for sure.  My mother transcribed my first poem when I was 3, and I never stopped.  There is some aspect of this that was born into me for reasons I will probably never know, but the necessity of writing...that's been recent.  The way poetry gets into my body and lives there...that's new.  The way I need poetry and words in a way that can't possibly be physiological, but feels as necessary as breathing?  That's been the past few years.  And why?  Why is it that poetry matters this much to me?

Last night, I did something ridiculously brave.  Capital B-Brave, even.  After attending a day long Unitarian Universalist conference on Racial Justice, I participated in a Poetry Slam.  As in, I legit participated.  As in, I actually competed in the damn thing.  I got up, in front of lots of people I didn't know (and two amazing souls I do know - and who I could not and would not have done it without), and I recited my words.  With a jazz band playing behind me.  I'm not even kidding.

I've read my words before -- and I'm terrified every single time -- but it's been in slightly different circumstances.  Never in a competition, first of all.  Never in a situation where presentation as a spoken word piece actually meant something.  Never with a freaking jazz band.  Never in front of that many people, never in front of a mixture I know and people I don't, never with a slew of other kickass poets.  Never without thinking about it for a LONG TIME and preparing SUPER HARD beforehand. 

And then when I was chosen as one of two winners to enter the "second round," I had to write a poem in 5 minutes to read aloud in front of everyone.  No time for perfection, for rehearsal, or questioning, for self-doubt, for "you're not good enough," for "you can't do this."  Just time to write it, to be nervous, to read it, and to let it go.  I got second place (and $50), if you're wondering.  But honestly, winning had nothing to do with it.  I'm not just being humble here -- winning really had nothing to do with it, and when I've told people about the experience today, winning second place just didn't even feel like a relevant detail.  

The important piece was bravery.  The important piece was truth -- my truth -- being spoken, by me, aloud, to a room of people.  The important piece was being heard.  The important piece was trusting myself and the world enough to believe that could happen.  The important piece is feeling like a total badass.  The important piece is this felt sense of mattering.  It is power.  It is feeling like I can create something from my mind and my heart - that I so often label as broken - and have it be a thing of power.  It is the knowledge that in those 4 minutes I was on that stage, I created something powerful that changed me and the little world around me.  It's not a big change - I'm not saving the world.  But something happened in that room that was purposeful, that was deliberate, that was beautiful and powerful.  It mattered.   I created something from my broken self, and it mattered.

One of the after effects of trauma is a distinct feeling of powerlessness.  After I was sexually assaulted, I felt a huge loss of power...which was followed by a year of feeling unable to regain that power, unable to access help, and unable to advocate for myself and my needs, as hard as I tried, due to the multiple screwed-up systems that kept the crazy in place.  When you speak and aren't heard, and you are blamed, and shamed, and silenced for so long, you internalize it.  You just do.  As hard as you try not to, you are vulnerable, and you learn that you are broken.  That you don't matter.  That you cannot effect change on your world.

The night I was sexually assaulted, I heard these words: "You know what your problem is?  You don't have any confidence.  No one will ever love you if you don't get some confidence.  Now give me 150%." 

The night I was sexually assaulted, I heard these words: "Know what your problem is?  You.  You're fucking unlovable."

You internalize that.  You just do.  As hard as you try not to, that shit seeps into your pores and tries to live there.  I've been trying to wash it off, but it's been four years and I'm still not clean.

 A few months after my life fell apart, I started writing with a ferocity and a necessity I didn't know existed within me.  Gone were my nice poems of hope and love and goodwill toward were the poems with stanzas like:

...[he] went beyond my mind to the
spiritual realm I thought was
just mine.
He curled up in there
hissing in happiness
like some
perverted kitten.


If I told you poetry is
womanhood being about sisterhood and
kisses being about moonlight, passion, bliss,
would you think I had found
the real poem?
Would you think I had unleashed
the poet in me? Because
that’s not poetry dude, that’s

These poems have not been read by others, and yet they saved me.  On my bad days, I can look back at my chronology of poems from 2010 to 2014, and I can see my growth.  I can see my grief, I can see the shame, and the self-doubt, and the place my hope bottomed out.  It is, actually, a way of seeing the "skeleton architecture" of my life. 

Looking back at my writing, though, what I see most is my strength.  In my good moments, I see the ways I wrote myself out of the darkness again, and again, and again.  I see power.  When I write my truth, when I write my heart, I feel power.  As my world crumbled around me, I wrote these words:

Poetry is knowing when
all else is gone and I
am a shaking mess of broken worth and
frozen dignity, I am still
my words
and you
will never
silence me.

My words are the place my power lives.  Poetry is the thing that holds me together and tears me apart.  It is the place where I am in control to write myself whole and write myself broken.  With my words, I can "give name to the nameless so it can be thought."  I can write confidence.  I can write loveable.  I can write vulnerability, and ugly, and unworthy.  Through my words, I can be both, feel both, create both within me.  On paper, I have the power to erase unloveable.  Erase broken.  I have the power to be, and create, and tell all of the confusing truths I am living without them being questioned.  I can write all of my contradicting truths, and not one of them will become a lie.  This is necessity.  It is power.  It is the only way I know to hold myself in a container of worth and mattering.  It is, perhaps, the best way I know to practice loving myself again.

By sharing myself whole and sharing myself broken with my little corner of the world, I am reclaiming my voice and power.  I am reminding myself and the world that I am worth hearing, worth valuing, worth remembering.  By letting myself enter and embody my words last night, I became living proof that I am still here, still powerful.  When I share a poem with you, I am handing you my heart to hold.  I am trusting that you won't drop it, or squash it, or throw it away.  By reading a poem aloud, I am stripping myself bare before you, willing to claim that I am worthy, full of voice, and alive.  When we claim ourselves in that way, there is no way we will not be changed.  There is no way we are not changing our world.  There is no way that poetry can not matter. 

"Poetry is not a luxury."  It is power.  It is reclamation.  It is the necessity of embracing and embodying all the pieces of my worth I can muster to claim over and again as truth that I am still here, living and powerful in my words.  It is the proof that, in spite of it all, I am still speaking, and no one will ever silence me.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Opposite Day

When you were a kid, did you ever pretend it was "Opposite Day?"  Opposite Day, primarily, existed to annoy people, and in my household, it never lasted very long.  On Opposite Day, you did the opposite of everything that was said/asked.  Yes meant No, Up meant Down, In meant Out, On meant Off, and so on.  It was a fantastic little pretend world we created until my mother seethed through clenched teeth, "JUST GO UPSTAIRS AND PUT ON YOUR SHOES" in that scary way that meant Opposite Day was officially over.

The past week, and particularly the past 3 days, I feel like I'm living a string of Opposite Days.  Let me tell you -- Opposite Day was much more fun when the opposites were limited to up/down and on/off...and when it was my mother's nerves I was grating on. 

Opposite Day today started like this: I opened my eyes at 5:45AM and my brain said, "You're so stupid.  How could you have forgotten to clean the kitty litter box last night?  Your sister would be so mad that you're not taking good enough care of her cat."

I closed my eyes again.  I took a breath.  And I thought, "so this is how we're playing again today, huh?  Alright, Brain.  Give me a second.  Then it's on."  I took another breath as my brain began frantically chattering about how stupid I am, about the kitty litter box, about the email I hadn't yet responded to, the phone call I didn't return at work on Friday, about the fact that I am not good enough, smart enough, capable enough.  Thirty seconds in, my body started to panic -- and no wonder, right?  It's 5:45 on a Sunday, and I've already given myself enough grief to last me until Thursday.  I focus on taking another breath, let the dog lick my cheek as I roll over, let my brain tell me that I don't deserve a dog as wonderful as the Mo-Man, and I sit up, exhausted. 

"Okay," I say aloud.  "You've got this."

"Pfffft," says my brain.  "No you don't.  You so don't have this.  You're falling apart.  You didn't even clean the kitty litter box.  You never even made that phone call.  You haven't even gotten UP yet.  You're probably not even going to clean the litter box, are you?  You're not.   Why bother?  If you didn't do it last night, why even bother this morning?  It hardly matters."

And just to spite it, I got up, and I cleaned the hell out of that kitty litter box. 

And this is how it goes.  With everything. 

"Why are you going to church?" my brain asks.  "Nobody wants you to be there, anyway.  Nobody will miss you if you aren't there.  Don't go.  Stay here.  Right here.  Don't move.  You don't have anything to wear.  You look stupid.  And tired.  Nobody wants to see you looking stupid and tired.  Seriously, you're going to wear that?  What are you even thinking?"

So I do the Opposite.  I do exactly what my brain is telling me I can't/shouldn't/won't do.  I get up.  I get dressed.  I find something I feel good in, and I get in my car and I drive to church.  Even though my brain tells me not to talk to anyone, I find the people that I know will hug me and I hug them, because hugging releases happy brain chemicals and god knows I could use a few of those. 
And, for a while, sometimes, I can get my brain to be quiet.  Sometimes, for a few minutes, I get pulled into sunshine and conversation and friends, and I don't have to work so hard to always think the opposite of what my brain is telling me.  The difference, though, is this: when my brain isn't celebrating Opposite Day, those moments fill up my cup.  Even just a hug, or a smile, or a conversation, or a walk in the sunshine will fill up my cup a bit, and I can hold and savor and celebrate that water.  I can express gratitude for that water, and I can be so joyful that my cup is a quarter of the way, or halfway, or completely full. 

On Opposite Day, my cup doesn't hold any water.  The damn thing is so full of holes that, as soon as the water stops pouring, it's gone and splashed into a puddle at my feet.  Friends and hugs and puppy kisses and sunshine fill up that cup, but as soon as the sun goes down, or the friends go home, or the dog decides to lay on the floor, the cup is empty again and my brain convinces me it was never meant to be full.  That I was never deserving of that full cup in the first place. 

Mostly, I am so fucking stubborn that I can make it into an Opposites Game.  Your brain tells me one thing, I do the opposite.  You tell me I can't do something?  Watch me.  I'm not a competitive person with others, but if you tell me...or if I tell me...that something can't happen, or that I won't be able to do something?  It will get done.

I realize that I am painting myself here as something of a pinnacle of strength and determination.  I realize that anyone reading this who has these Opposite Days too, is going to say, "you think you know, but you have no idea."  It smells vaguely of the stench I associate with the "you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" lie.

But see, this -- this writing here -- this is part of the Opposite Game.  This is my brain telling me "you can't cope with this, you're so stupid, what makes you think anyone would find value in anything you have to say about this?"

And so I do the Opposite.   I write, even though what would feel good to my heart right now would be to curl up with my head under the covers.  But it's Opposite Day, remember?  And so I'm writing instead, because curling up would mean that the monster is winning.  I've worked too hard today to let that monster win.

Anyone who has these Opposite Days is going to call me a liar.  They're going to say, "but see, if you can play the Opposite Game, then you really don't know what it's like."  And they may be right.  I do not know what their Opposite Days are like.  I do know that there have been moments and nights and days and even weeks when playing the Opposite Game for those 5 minutes before I get out of bed feels like running a marathon.  I do know that there have been moments and nights and days and even weeks when I couldn't play the Opposite Game.  That's why I play it.  That's why I know its value.  That's why I work to become so damn good at it, because those moments when I can't scare the crap out of me. 

Vulnerability feels like a roller coaster drop to me on a good day, but on Opposite Days, it feels more like sky diving without a parachute.  One of the lies my brain likes to tell me is that it's not okay to be honest.  That I should shut down, close off, build back those walls I worked so hard to knock down.  My brain tells me to give up this stupid "bravery" business, that I can't be brave, that I should go back to the me who kept herself safe by closing her heart.

And this is my Opposite.  One of my Opposites.  This is vulnerability, and bravery, and honesty, and opening. 

So I write this because I need to hear it.  And - if I need to hear it - there must be more of us, right?  There must be many of us going through the day making bets with ourselves that start with "you're so stupid, of course you can't...", and doing the Things only because we don't think we can.  There must be more of us -- if only because my brain tells me that I am the only one, and I am choosing to believe the Opposite.  

So if you are living Opposite Days, this is for you.  This is your evidence that there are others of us out there living these Opposite Days, or Opposite Nights, or Opposite Weeks.  Even though we think we can't, we're living, and we're playing this ridiculous Opposite Game alone, together.

And you...yes, I'm talking to You.  You go right on playing, okay?  It doesn't matter how your Opposite Time came about, or if you feel you're just barely following the rules.  You're playing.  If you're reading this, you're still playing.  And we're going to go right on playing until we live into those Opposites and we get our brains back on our side.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween and Ableism: We can do better

Full disclosure: I have never liked Halloween.  When I was in second grade, I went through a "haunted house" at my elementary school and, while I don't remember the specifics, I remember coming out crying.  The same year, I went trick-or-treating with my family and was extremely frightened by the "big boys" from the back of the bus who wore extremely realistic and gorey masks.  I hated it all so much, I decided not to celebrate Halloween the following year.  I had an on-again-off-again relationship with Halloween for a while -- I honestly just hate being scared.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand the enjoyment most people seem to derive from that experience.

That said, I have a problem with the way we celebrate and sensationalize Halloween in this country.  If people want to be scared, I see no problem with monsters and ghosts, skeletons, spiders, and even a little gore.  I don't have an issue with scary stories, coffins, mummies, or costumes.  If you're into freaking yourself and others out, you go for it.  Seriously.  If that's your thing, more power to you.  I'll be home with a cup of tea, watching something that makes me laugh.

My concern is that Halloween has a distinctly, powerfully, ableist side.  Halloween is not, at its core, an ableist holiday, of course, but there are many, many issues with Halloween today that are inherently ableist...and these issues go completely unacknowledged.  In fact, if I bring up these issues, I'm essentially told that I'm "overthinking" it, or that I just need to lighten up and have fun.  "It's harmless," they say.

From Pinterest
But it's not.  It's not harmless.  We live in a culture that routinely stigmatizes, others, shames, and belittles people with disabilities and their history.  This culture hurts people with disabilities, and it hurts us.  All of us.  Bystanding to this sort of routine and socially accepted violence is unacceptable, and I believe we can do better.

Let's break this down.

Ableism, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the discrimination and marginalization of people with disabilities.  This includes physical disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis), developmental disabilities (e.g. autism, Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities), and also mental illness and psychiatric disabilities (e.g. bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addiction).  Our language is riddled with words that are or were once pejorative and hurtful.  For example: idiot, imbecile, and moron were once the categorization levels for intellectual disability (what we now know as mild, moderate, and severe intellectual disabilities).  Similarly, retard (or anything ending in -tard), simpleton, stupid, derp, and cretin all refer to people with intellectual disabilities.  Lame, spaz, crippled/crip are referencing people with physical disabilities.  Crazy, insane, loony, maniac, mad, mental, head case, psycho, and wacko all stem from words or phrases used to refer to people with mental illness or psychiatric disabilities. 

We don't hear about violence against people with disabilities much in the news....but it happens.  A lot.  You can read my post (and lots of links) about two such (older) incidents here and here.  People aren't talking about ableism the way they talk about racism, and sexism, and homophobia...but it's just as real, and it's hurting valuable and important people in our society.  How good can a society be that marginalizes, mistreats, and devalues some of its most vulnerable and amazing citizens?

From Ebay
Halloween (and many, many television shows) instill fear around disability, and particularly surrounding mental illness and psychiatric disabilities.  For example, if you think about any given crime show, the murderer/rapist/"bad guy" almost always gets thrown a label: psychopath, insane, schizophrenic, lunatic.  In the news, when something bad happens, diagnoses are thrown about until one sticks: crazy, autistic, bipolar.  Now think about this: ever seen a positive story about someone with mental illness?  Can you think of a single time when a psychiatric disability was presented positively in the news?  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 17 experience a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder...and these numbers don't include the fact that roughly 20% of 13-18 year olds will experience mental illness.   The media would have us believe that it's a wonder any of us survive with all this "craziness" and "insanity" around, right?  (Ugh...typing that makes me feel gross).

Halloween is a time for scary things.  It's a time for supernatural, paranormal creatures and, apparently, a time for ableism to run rampant.  Think about it: how many costumes for "crazy" or "insane" or "mad" people/things do you see?  Let's think about costumes of straightjackets.  Mental patients.  Mad scientists.  Psychos. 

The thing that really gets me, though, is the "haunted asylums." 

Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania (I will not link to the website, because I find the video that plays both infuriating and upsetting) is touted as one of "America's scariest attractions," and there are several other such attractions across the US.  In fact, I think the "asylum" idea can probably be found in multiple haunted houses/haunted attractions: one need only Google "Halloween asylum" to find a link to a website selling products entirely for creating your own haunted asylum ( Demented Products for Demented Minds), Halloween asylum party ideas on Pinterest, and an entire page of items to purchase from Party City (including handcuffs, and pictures which read "no one gets out!" in red "blood"). 

Here's the thing, though.  When we talk about skeletons, and coffins, and zombies and monsters and ghosts, no matter how gorey and gross and bloody and violent they get, they are pretend.  They aren't real.  There are not real people behind those stories, not real faces, and real lives that we are exploiting for "entertainment."

Props you can buy from Party City for your very own "asylum"
When we talk about asylums, we're talking about institutions that housed people with disabilities, and in which real people, with real stories and real faces often times suffered horrific neglect and abuse.  We're talking about eugenics.  We're talking about people with disabilities of varying degrees being locked up for their entire lives, never receiving any education or real stimulation, and never being given the opportunity to move out into the world.  We're talking about the fact that this didn't even really to change until the 1960s.  It wasn't until 1972 that people with disabilities were granted the right to live in the least restrictive environment, deeming confinement in institutions unnecessary for the majority of the institutions' inhabitants.  It wasn't until the 1970s that people with disabilities were given the constitutional right to due process, and protected from things like involuntary servitude and involuntary steralization. 

For those who live near me, "Pennhurst Asylum" in Pennsylvania is not so very far from home.  Per its website, Pennhurst was a "state school" that was closed in 1986 due to repeated allegations of abuse.  Apparently, upon release from the institution, a former resident filed a complaint that the conditions were unsanitary, inhumane, dangerous, and that the staff used cruel and unusual punishments.  After investigation, the site was deemed dangerous due to the physical and mental abuse, inadequate care, and the fact that the patients' wellbeing had deteriorated while in the care of staff at Pennhurst.
And this shit was happening all across the country.  In my lifetime, this sort of shit was happening.  We're talking about electric shock therapy.  Surgery without anesthesia.  Restraints.  Isolation.  This is an actual excerpt from the website, which details their excitement about finding the remains of this institution and turning it into a haunted attraction:
 "We have really strived to mix fact with fiction, folklore with fear, to come up with some of our unique room designs. There have been accounts of an old dentist chair that was located in the deep recesses of Mayflower, one of the more notorious dorms at Pennhurst. This chair is a little different than the ones you and I are used too; it has restraining straps attached to the arms, legs and headrest. This chair was reportedly used to remove the teeth of patients that were prone to biting the staff here. Imagine yourself being strapped into this device and having all your teeth ripped out without any kind of medication. This is just one more example of how unique this location is." 
Can I remind you that we are talking about real people...and real lives...and real pain that is now being sensationalized and marketed as an attraction?  Can I remind you that the people who lived at Pennhurst, or any number of other institutions -- they may still be alive and working to live lives in the community after living for 5, or 25, or 40 years in this environment?  What must it be like for them -- or for their families -- to see their lives, their histories exploited in this way?  
I get really worked up about this issue.  This topic can make me angry to the point of tears, and here's why: I have worked with people who lived in these institutions.  In graduate school, I had a side job conducting assessments for each resident's
From Pinterest
yearly habilitation plan at one of the remaining "institutions."  I have read their stories.  I have seen their faces.  I have seen the neglect they withstood, and I have seen the incredible loss and burden they carry with them.  I have seen what people look like after receiving no intervention, too much medication, no socialization, and little engagement for decades.  If you haven't seen what this looks like, if you haven't heard these stories, there is no way you can possibly imagine it.  I carry these people and these stories with me in my heart.
What a privilege it is to be able to erase and sensationalize an entire population's recent history.  What privilege is afforded to us that we are able to ignore the very real and very human pain behind this entertainment, and believe that we can enjoy it as an evening of innocent fun.  What privilege we must have to be able to bypass this dark chapter of our past without a thought as to who we may be hurting. 
And yet...people say, "it's harmless."  People say it's no big deal.  People say it's just scary fun, and all in the name of Halloween. 
But it's not.  This is violence.  Dressing up in a straightjacket, sexy or not, is colluding with history in a way that perpetuates the fear of disability.  Making asylum decorations from Pinterest may seem fun and harmless, but what are you really saying?  Are you, unintentionally, perpetuating the stigma of disability and/or mental illness as something scary, or "freaky," or dangerous?   
So here's what I ask of you this Halloween: just pay attention.  How many times do you see the word crazy or insane?  Ask yourself if the activity you are participating in could potentially be shaming, or othering, or aggressive towards another group.  
People with disabilities deserve to be heard, and seen, and respected as whole beings with inherent worth and dignity.  By using stereotypes about them as costume fodder, and by twisting some of their history into frightening holiday entertainment, we are denying their wholeness, worth, and humanity.
Quite frankly, we just have to do better.