It’s Raining in Colorado

It is my birthday and it is raining, which is a fine thing.  I moved to Colorado 14 years ago, not knowing that it does not rain on the Front Range between October and April.  Not a drop.  One year it rained for 10 minutes in February and people got out of their cars and looked at the sky and then checked the calendars on their iWatches.

When Cathy began teaching here, she got a blank stare from her third graders when she said, “April showers bring May flowers.”  They thought she might be slightly deranged.  I mean, her New York accent had already thrown them off.  “Wait, Mrs. Williams, how do you eat an ahrange?  What is an ahrange?  And there are no April showers.  There are April snowstorms.”

Two weeks ago it snowed 24 inches.  I had to use my industrial sized Mac truck of a snowblower, the one that warms the earth two degrees every time you fire it up.  Then lo and behold, just 15 days later I pulled out my Honda lawnmower to give my lawn its first cut of the season.  For the 12th straight year, it started on the first pull.  (That’s why you pay twice as much for a Honda.)

I needed the lawnmower not because of April showers, but because 24 inches of wet melting snow wakes up a sleeping lawn.  When I mowed the lawn yesterday, the lawn had no idea the coronavirus was going on.  It was yawning and wiping the dandelions from its eyes and grateful for the haircut.  It didn’t hear me muttering under my breath, “Yeah, you get a haircut, while my hair looks like I’ve been manning a remote outpost on a Pacific atoll since WWII.”

But back to this morning’s rain.  Colorado gets 300 days of sunshine a year.  And when I say sunshine, I don’t mean like Dublin, where they say, “Did you see that?  Over there?  The clouds parted for five seconds.  It was glorious!”  No, in Colorado we see the sun all day, 300 days a year.  When the rains finally arrive in May, we rush outside and watch the foothills turn green before our eyes.  The prairie grasses get all happy and  prairie dogs run around the fields hanging from lampposts, holding their little umbrellas.  It’s really cute.

You can’t see the mountains, but you know they are there because of those 300 days when you see them reaching out to touch the sky.  So, when the rains come, you take comfort in the mountains and their unseen stability.  Today is one of those days when I need that unseen stability.

The fox showed up in the backyard this morning, the red one.  He drank from my water feature because the water is fresh for a change, instead of the recirculated stale stuff that’s usually there.  He looked up longingly at the doves on the birdfeeder, then stared through the window as if to say, “You know, you could have put that birdfeeder closer to the ground.  Just sayin…”  Ever since we’ve all been quarantined, the fox talks to me a lot.  He’s lonely too.  Just the other day he was telling me about being chased by a mountain lion the night before.  I did not have much sympathy.  I said, “Well, now you know how the chickens feel.”  But I digress.

Today’s rain is misty, the kind I liked to run in when I lived on the south shore of Long Island.  It feels good on your face and breeds contentment in your bones.  Unlike a cold, hard rain, the mist quenches your soul’s thirst for all that is close in and nurturing and good.  These are hard times, with attacks coming from unseen forces, like viruses.  You protect yourself and trust in the truth of things.  You pull in and wrap yourself in a wool sweater and let the cool mist fill your lungs and pretend you are back in Dublin in an earlier time, before viruses and losses and such.

The doves left the birdfeeder and the robins returned, and I went out in the mist to refill the feeders and take a quick picture of the misty view to the southwest where the hidden mountains beckon.  When I got back in the house a Lazuli Bunting was eating at the feeder.  No, I’m not a birdwatcher.  I know exactly two Colorado bird species by name.  Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are here all the time, along with the Tanager family.  They all seem to get along well.  I think they vacation together.

Then I came back inside for my second cup of tea.  I’m drinking from the blue Cath Kidston mug a kind person sent me after my first one shattered on the kitchen floor.  The broken one is carefully gathered on a dinner plate that sits on my bedroom dresser.  I was going to glue it back together, but I actually prefer it sitting there broken into a thousand tiny pieces.  It reminds me you can be shattered and still be a thing of beauty.

I am going to go out running in a while, but I want the mist to be just right, Long Island consistency, drops large enough to kiss your face but not cause you to inhale any viruses.  Because, well, you know.

And so it goes.

 

 

Happy Spring!

I was doing pretty well during this time of isolation until it snowed 12 inches Sunday here in Boulder County.  The snow melted quickly, and by Wednesday afternoon most of it was gone.  Then Thursday it snowed another 12 inches, 24 inches in five days.  Boulder has had 151 inches of snow this season, breaking the all-time record for snowiest winter.

I spend most of my days writing my book.  The first draft is due to my editor in two weeks.  I’m getting close.  I’ve saved the most difficult chapters for last, because that’s what you do.  But I can’t write all day.  In fact, if I’m lucky, I can write five or six hours a day before my brain turns to mush.

I used to surf the New York Times and Washington Post during my breaks from writing, but I only let myself do that once a day now.  More than that is too much.  My first and third TED talks have been doing well of late, so in-between writing sessions, I sometimes check their views.  I know.  It’s pretty pathetic.  “Hey, I wonder how many people have looked at my red sweater and blue scarf and thought to themselves, ‘Really, she wore that in front of thousands of people.’”  I mean, what else am I supposed to do?  I live alone and there’s 12 inches of snow on the ground and it’s 26 degrees outside.  The highlight of my day is catching up on this season’s This Is Us episodes, which I do every night at 10:00, when what I want is a good cry.  It always delivers.  I’m spreading the episodes out.  I only have three left.

The newer TEDx talk is up to 175,000 views, which is nice, but it’s slowing down.  The first talk is inching close to three million views, though it is also slowing down.  It may be a few more weeks before it hits that milestone.  That’s a lot of views for a TEDx talk.  Views tend to rise and fall with the moods of the algorithm gods, but it feels pretty good to have both videos doing well.  That is, until I compare them with other videos.

The number one cat video on the Internet has had 174 million views, 58 times the number of views my first TED talk has had.  There is a great white shark with a GPS monitor on her fin who has over 130,000 Twitter followers.  Her name is Mary Lee.  I have like 12 Twitter followers.  Yeah, I think I’ll stop checking my TED talk counts.

I made a video today for Colby Martin’s new book Shift, about the difficult journey from condemning theology to generous theology.  I was excited.  It meant I could take a shower after riding my stationary bike in the basement.  Showers are when you get inside a glass box and water comes out in droplets all over your body.  It feels very good.  I used to take showers, in another life.  Then I put on make-up and sent a Marco Polo to my friend, who has been watching Marco Polo’s of me all week in which I am not wearing make-up.  I look like the “before” picture from a face cream ad.

Anyway, I put on light blue spring jumpsuit with a white spring sweater so I could make the video look like spring, even though the neighbor kids are sledding outside.  I’m going to keep it on all day because it’s spring, dammit.  So even though I have to get virtually naked every time I go the bathroom, I’m going to stay in the jumper.  Tomorrow I am going to wear stiff pants, the extremely tight ones you wear outside that are made of denim.  I am going to wear them just because I want to wear them.  Actually, I want to make sure they still fit because, you know, those M&Ms did arrive.

I want the snow to melt so I can go mountain biking.  But with the amount of snow we’ve had, the trail won’t open until, I dunno, August.  It’ll be way too muddy.  If I have to ride my stationary bike in the basement one more day, I might start screaming.  But that’ll be fine, because there is no one around to hear.  If a woman screams in her basement and no one is around to hear, does the scream make a sound?

Right now I can see three golden eagles outside my office window, circling high over the ridge just south of me.  They are riding the thermals up, then circling slowly down until they catch the next updraft.  The eagles came to remind me that there is nothing new under the sun, and this too shall pass.

Hang in there, friends.  Try on the stiff pants once every couple of weeks, check in on your neighbors, call the people who live alone, and trust in the hope of spring.

And so it goes.

I Think It’s Thursday

I think it’s Thursday.  I put the garbage out and a couple of other neighbors put their garbage out at the same time, and we all looked like we hadn’t been out of sweats or leggings in a week.  My hair looked worse than everybody else.  My hair always looks worse than everybody else.  Sigh.

Then I came back in and sprayed my homemade hand sanitizer on a paper towel to see if the stuff I put in the bottle last night to mask the smell of the alcohol had worked.  It hadn’t.  But at least now I’m ready to head to the corner store, even though after I get home, my steering wheel, door handles, and hands will smell like rubbing alcohol masked with a little bit of Poo Pourri spray.  I mean, what are you gonna do?

I keep trying to work on my book, but I get distracted by the news headlines on the Internet screaming that I am going to die, or I am going to be penniless because my retirement accounts are down to zero.  Then there’s the ad that keeps popping up on Safari that says, “If you snap your jaw like this every morning, it will remove sagging skin.”  And I think, “Why, exactly, am I getting this ad?  I really don’t care whether or not my skin is sagging.  We’re in the middle of a pandemic, people!  Sagging skin is not my first concern.  It’s no higher than, I dunno, four or five on the list, right after when those M&Ms I ordered from Amazon are going to arrive.

In my endless surfing I have noticed my two TEDxMileHigh talks are popular again on the Internet.  The first one has close to 2.9 million views.  I get message requests every day on Facebook from people who took the time to look me up and say nice things about the talk.  Apparently, it is the kind of feel-good talk people like to see in these times.  It’s had 10,000 views in the last 24 hours.  My newer talk, on the other hand, is up to about 155,000 views, though it is only getting about 3,000 views a day.  While the thumbs up/down ratio for the first talk is about 8 to 1, on the second talk it is 4 to 1.  The newer talk is not as popular as the old, but it is getting three times the comments.  The newer one is not a feel-good talk.  I’d see what’s going on with the comments, except, you know, you don’t ever read comments.

I’ve done three live video conferences in the last week, one with TEDxCincinnati, one with a church in Minneapolis, and one at Left Hand Church.  We did that last one live and in the flesh at a church that allowed us to use their building, where it was guaranteed we could stay six feet apart.  That one has had 4,000 views in five days, which is kinda interesting, since we are a church of 100 people.  You can find it on Facebook by looking up Left Hand Church.  I’m doing another church service this Sunday, and I’ll be preaching at Left Hand again on April 18.  I am grateful to be found useful at times like these.

I’m hearing from a lot of folks who have Zoom fatigue.  They are realizing video conferencing is hard work.  You do not have the full-body three-dimensional views to which you are accustomed.  You cannot read the room, or check body language.  All of your discernment has to be two-dimensional.  And that is hard work, trying to figure out all the dynamics of the meeting.  Then there is always that person who doesn’t mute, even though the host says, “It’d be great if you all could mute yourselves.”  I just want the host to say, “Hey Ralph, you idiot, you’re the one who is not on mute.  We don’t want to hear your dog bark at the mailman.  Get with the program!” But the hosts are always too nice, so we all suffer Ralph’s dog.

I “see” pastoral counseling clients via video.  It is not ideal, but we make it work.  Maybe I should send my clients a picture of the office, so they feel more like they are sitting on the comfy couch, looking out the window at the mountains.  I miss seeing clients in the office.  Since I have been speaking so much, I have kept my pastoral counseling practice small.  While we are all stuck at home, I think I am going to open it up to allow a few new clients.  I enjoy helping people remove the obstacles to finding their own answers.  If you can get to a person’s core, he or she pretty much always knows what to do.  The problem is removing the obstacles that prohibit them from getting to their core.

Oops, speaking of clients, it’s time to go.  My prayers are with you all.

 

Writing a Book in the Middle of a Pandemic

On March 8, I returned home from New York.  I said hello to Alisha at the Admiral’s Club in New York, visited a bit with Pam at the club in Charlotte, and stopped by at the club in Denver to say hi to Rick while I was waiting for my ride home.  We all felt the tension in the air, but none of us had any idea what was coming.

How many times have you heard that phrase in the last couple of weeks, “I had no idea what was coming?”  We didn’t get private briefings that allowed us to remove millions from the stock market.  We hadn’t fully grasped the unprecedented virtual shutdown that was on the horizon.  We were just living our privileged American lives, unaware of the storm fast approaching.

Yeah, well, not now.  Other than to go running or biking in the beautiful village where I live, I haven’t been out of the house in a week.  I have seen almost all of my counseling clients via tele-therapy.  I have spoken to my children by phone, that ancient communication device that preceded texting, Marco Polo and TikTok.  They seem amazed to discover you can have a conversation in real time.  I have spoken for one video conference and one podcast, and have calls today to prepare for two more video presentations.  I have incessantly scrolled between the New York Times and Washington Post to read the latest news.  I have asked Alexa (interrupting her important work spying on me) to play the local NPR station, and I have studiously avoided briefings from the White House, unless Dr. Fauci is speaking.

I get up and look in the refrigerator at the rapidly dwindling supply of staples, then peek in the pantry to make sure there are still M&Ms on the candy shelf (Yes, I have a candy shelf.  Don’t judge me.)  If it’s morning I make a cup of tea.  If it’s afternoon I pour a glass of iced tea and look in the refrigerator again to figure out which frozen dinner I am going to eat for my evening meal (Again, no judging.)  In the evening I switch back and forth between Maine Cabin Masters on the DIY channel and old reruns of Bonanza stretched wide to fill the screen, which makes Hoss’s face look three times as wide as it really was.

At 9:00 I watch Brian Williams on MSNBC and marvel at an interviewer who knows how to ask the right questions and then get out of the way.  I read a section of Wendell Berry’s Andy Catlett: Early Travels, or Colin Woodard’s American Nations, and turn out the light.  I stare at the tiny blinking light on the smoke detector and tell myself, “Tomorrow you need to change all the batteries,” which I know with great certainty I am not going to do until one of the 59 smoke detectors in my house starts beeping.

A few seconds later it occurs to me that I am supposed to be writing a memoir, and I never actually opened a single file related to the book all day.  I did think about it before I went on Amazon to order a giant tub of animal crackers.  (Need I say it?) I thought about it again when I was in the middle of my bike ride on Apple Valley Road.  I even thought about it while I was waiting for my Marie Callender’s turkey dinner to heat up in the microwave.  But I never actually opened any file related to the book.

I almost opened one of the files around 7:00, but that was when I thought, “Wait a minute, is that a heaviness in my chest?  Am I developing a cough?  Do I have a headache that’s different from my normal tension headache?”  Then I spent the next hour obsessing that I might actually have the virus and I live alone and nobody but Kristie and Christy and Cathy and David check in on me very often, and what if I really am sick.

Writing a memoir requires creative juices to flow.  I don’t know about you, but nowadays, not many creative juices are flowing.  I do actually force myself to write two or three hours a day, but it is not easy.  I have an easier time editing what has been written than I do writing new material.  What makes it more difficult is that I am writing chronologically, and I am up to the most difficult years surrounding my transition, leaving one macro-crisis in real time to focus on my own past micro-crisis.  There’s not much inspiration in that.

I will get back to the book, probably as soon as I complete this blog post and finish memorizing my sermon for Saturday.  I have an April 30 deadline for a first draft of the book and say what you will about me, I do not miss deadlines.

I’ve thought a lot this morning about Alisha, Pam and Rick, at LGA, CLT and DEN, friendships I have developed because of my travels.  I wonder if Alisha’s son got home from Europe, where he’s been playing basketball.  Has Pam talked to Kim lately, and if so, how is Kim’s mom?  Is Rick’s husband doing well?  Are they all staying healthy?  And what about Christy, working as a labor and delivery nurse, or Kristie, serving with the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center, or Cathy, swamped with terrified counseling clients, or David, who just lost his father?

I am pretty sure it is more important to think about these people than it is to write a book right now.  Because when I think about them my thoughts turn into prayers, offered for their safety and well-being.  The book can wait.  Good will toward all cannot.

 

Staying Occupied During Unusual Times

Who needs movies and television when you can watch people?  As a veteran traveler, I have always enjoyed watching people at the airport.  Now that airport travel is out of the question, I have taken to watching people walk their dogs.  There are a lot of dogs in Colorado.

On Long Island, I remember only three dog owners on our entire block.  Here I believe there are only three of us on the block who do not own dogs.  I’ve gone running every day since the COVID-19 crisis began.  My routine has been simple and yes, boring.  I get up and fix breakfast, then I look at the news, which includes seeing how many hundreds of thousands of dollars I have lost in my 403b account.  Then I work for a few hours on my book.  The first draft is about 55 or 60 percent done.  Then I head out for a long run.

Since people are working from home, there are a lot of folks out walking and running.  Two-thirds of them are with their dogs.  It is the interaction between owner and dog that has gotten my attention.  Yesterday I ran past the Lyons, Colorado dog park, and saw more people than are there on a summer Sunday.  On the way to and from the dog park, there were dozens more.

Contrary to popular opinion, I do not think most people look like their dogs.  Skinny people have fat dogs and skinny dogs have fat people.  Runners have lazy dogs and energetic dogs have lazy owners.  What does seem consistent is that most people know little to nothing about training their dog.  Dogs are pack animals, very aware of rank in the pack.  I’ve seen a lot of dogs that believe they are the alpha of the family and act accordingly.  As the dog lunges at you when you run past, the owner shrugs as if to say, “What can I do?”  Okay, I see who is in charge.

People here in Colorado have more of a tendency to allow their dogs off leash than what I see back east.  You are running down the road and a giant dog runs toward you and jumps up with his feet on your crotch and the owner says, “It’s okay, he’s friendly.”  Actually, I did not ask if your dog is friendly.  I do not care if your dog is friendly.  I do care that your dog’s feet are on my crotch.

Though I have owned a golden retriever and a golden/border collie mix, I would not classify myself as a dog lover.  I am a dog tolerator.  I will pay some attention to your dog, depending on my mood and the dog’s mood.  Lilly, the golden/border collie mix, was different.  (She is the dog pictured above.  And yes, we spelled her name with two ls.)  She was the best dog in the history of mankind and when she died nine years ago, I vowed I was done.  I have kept my word.

One of my best friends has a beagle mix who is quite well-trained, but then again, she is a beagle, and well-trained for a beagle looks a bit different than well-trained for any other breed.   I run with the beagle occasionally, and she is quite well-behaved, even when she is off leash.  Well, most of the time when she is off leash.  If she finds a dead baby snake in the grass, all bets are off.  She will roll her entire body over it, then put it in her mouth and carry it around, looking like she has a handlebar mustache.  If you have a treat and call her, she might come back, or she might not.  If she does return, she has a dilemma.  To take the treat, she would have to drop the snake.  The treat wins – and the run continues.  Much as I say I only tolerate dogs, I have developed a certain affection for the beagle.

While I was out running yesterday, I was thinking about the kind of a person that uses a dog leash that extends a quarter mile.  These people are not runners, of that I can assure you.  Runners spend half their running lives avoiding extended dog leashes that cross the sidewalk and two-thirds of the street.  As you run by, adding 100 yards to your run just to get around the leash, the dog starts chasing you and you find out the leash is actually a half mile long.  The better owner offers a quick “I’m sorry.”  The jerk owner is angry you would dare to run in his dog’s space, which with the retractable leash, is about two square miles.

It really is amazing how badly most dogs are trained.  I’ve trained two dogs.  It’s not all that hard.  But then again, one was a golden and the other a golden mix.  They are pretty easy to train.  I figure people are about as good at training their dogs as they are at giving their children appropriate boundaries.  Watching people with their dogs yesterday did not bode well for the behavior of any children they might choose to have.

I love when I’m running, and someone sees me coming and looks down at their dog and gives a single command and the dog immediately obeys.  I want to stop and fall at the owner’s feet and call them blessed.  I figure they also have well-behaved kids.

I must admit, I do prefer the Long Island dog-to-family ratio to the Colorado dog-to-family ratio.  I mean, there are a lot of barking dogs in our neighborhood.  A lot. Fortunately, there is only one house next to mine, and that neighbor does not own a dog.  I have thought about paying them to make sure it stays that way.

And so it goes.

Well, That Was an Experience!

I had an interesting experience recently, jumping into the world of politics.  Last year I was asked to consider becoming a member of our town council here in Colorado, but at the last minute I decided against having my name considered.  Local politics can be brutal, particularly for a transgender person, and I was not convinced it would be good for me or the church I served.

In February I was contacted by the Mike Bloomberg campaign to ask if I would be willing to serve as one of 11 members of his LGBTQ leadership committee.  I said yes and a few weeks later was asked if I would be one of the co-chairs of his Women for Mike leadership committee.  Again, I said yes.

I was skeptical when Bloomberg first became New York City’s mayor.  I was aware of many of the crude comments he had made about women and transgender people, but I also saw that his policies in New York were different from his actions with his company, where his misogyny was little in doubt.  In New York, he blew it with stop and frisk, but he apologized for that mistake and supported policies that helped minorities.

When it comes to the fall election, I am a pragmatist.  I believe another four years of Donald Trump will threaten our democracy.  The Republican Party has proven to be spineless in the face of Trump’s tirades, and Mitch McConnell’s actions, beginning with his refusal to bring Merrick Garland’s name before the Senate, have been reprehensible.  It is time to vote out of office those who threaten our nation’s survival.

After the early unforced errors of Joe Biden’s campaign, I agreed with those who believed we needed an alternate voice who could actually defeat Donald Trump in the fall.  Therefore, when Bloomberg’s campaign came calling, I joined.  I found his campaign to be extremely well run.  They involved me in ways appropriate to my skillset and circle of influence, and I loved working with the staff assigned to the two committees with which I served.

What I was not prepared for was the anger from my friends on the far left, most of which are dedicated and tireless workers for the oppressed.  Not only were they angry, their rhetoric was caustic.  They exhibited the same lack of tolerance for an opposing view that I have seen far too often from the far right.  I appreciate their idealism, but I am old enough to know that idealism is not what brings down tyrants.  It is the general election I am worried about, and the unfair electoral college that served us poorly in 2016.  I am now a supporter of Joe Biden because I believe he has the best chance to defeat Donald Trump in November.

This past Saturday I gave a keynote presentation at the Mark Leadership Conference at Rutgers University.  I was impressed with the dedicated students who crowded into the sold-out conference to listen to ideas about how to lead our world toward greater justice for all.  I loved their enthusiasm and commitment.

What set this conference apart was that I heard no polarizing rhetoric, no cancel culture, no denigration of those on the right.  The extremely diverse group of students were coalescing around a message of dignity and hope, the kind of enthusiasm that can reverse the polarizing rhetoric we hear too often.

In addition to my keynote address, I presented a workshop on gender equity.  The workshop attendees were thoughtful, expressive, and open to all sides of the issue.  Some of the women thought I had been too tough on men, and it’s possible they are right.  The men in attendance were open-minded and desirous of recognizing their male privilege.  The whole day was quite a contrast to my experience with those who attacked my involvement with the Bloomberg campaign.  It gave me hope that we can bring people together instead of driving them further apart, allow for divergent opinions without vitriolic rhetoric, and make progress pulling our nation together.

I am currently reading Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations, in which he writes about the 11 distinct cultures that have made their mark in our US experiment in democracy.  The book has reminded me that we have never been a melting pot, but a stew pot, with each region and people maintaining their own distinct identities.  That we have managed to last 244 years is a testament to people like the Rutgers students, committed to unity – not uniformity, equity – not equality, and respect for all.

After transitioning and going through the massive rejection I experienced from the church, I have developed a pretty tough skin.  But I don’t think I want to make any more forays into the realm of politics, at least not in the near future.  I’ve faced enough poison arrows from the far right.  I don’t need any more from the far left.  The wounds accumulate and you get weary.  I would like to live in relative peace for a while, at least until my memoir comes out.  But then I’m pretty sure I left relative peace behind when I transitioned.  It’s one of the prices you pay for believing the call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good.

I’m Writing a Memoir…

I’m writing a book, a memoir to be exact.  I am extremely fortunate to have a contract with Simon & Schuster, one of the world’s premier publishing companies.  But I also have a May 31 deadline to get the completed manuscript to my editor.  And yes, I did say a May 31 deadline.  And that’d be why you haven’t heard much from me lately.  Because it’s a May 31 deadline, for a whole book, like you know, 85,000 words – due May 31.

I’ve been writing in 800-word snippets for two decades.  I attended the Folio Show for magazine editors back when I was the editor-at-large for a magazine and I remember the editor of Rolling Stone saying, “If it can’t be said in 800 words, in today’s world of short attention spans, you may as well not say it at all.”  I’m not sure if anybody from the New Yorker was there.  If so, I kinda doubt they were in agreement, given their propensity for publishing articles that require a short vacation to finish reading.  But 800 words sounded good to me.

I wrote a weekly back-page column for the  magazine for 12 years, roughly 600 columns, all somewhere between 375 and 475 words.  Since I started my blog, most of my posts have been in the 800-1000 word range.  It seems I’ve gotten verbose.

It is not easy moving from writing in short bursts to writing long form.  I have written a first draft of seven chapters of the book, and honestly, I’m not sure much of any of it will survive.  My last TEDxMileHigh talk, completed in November (and probably headed to YouTube very soon) had 36 edits.  About a month before the talk, Briar, the head TED coach, suggested I start with a blank page.  I saw her at a party last night.  She said, “But I said it to you in the nicest of ways.”  Briar says everything in a really nice way.  I don’t know what I’d do without her.  I don’t respond well to people who say hard things in a mean way.

A TED talk is fewer than 1800 words, or to put it in perspective, one 47th of a memoir.  My blog posts are about one 100th of a memoir.  Do you see my problem?  It’s like asking a gardener to take care of a 160-acre farm.  I might be in a bit of trouble.

All of this to say I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be able to keep to my weekly schedule for blog posts, or maybe not even the every-other-week schedule I’ve been holding to since I began writing the book.  I’m sorry about that.  I can assure you I’ll be back to a weekly schedule by July.  I have to write.  It’s air to me.  I’ve been writing a weekly magazine column or blog post since 2003.  I’m not gonna stop now.  But for a while at least, you won’t see as much of my writing.  You’ll have to wait until sometime in 2021 for the book to be published.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate a few prayers for the writing process.  Writing a memoir is like pulling out your own teeth with a pair of pliers.  You go into it hoping it’ll be cathartic, but at this point, it just hurts.  You’re constantly riding that D. H. Lawrence line, “A writer sheds his sickness in his writing.”  You want inspire your reader, not depress them.  You want the pain that leads to redemption, not the pain that leads to drinking.  You’re always walking that ridgeline between triumph and disaster.  I feel pretty good about the introduction, and chapter one.  Well, maybe chapter one.  And maybe chapter three.  Maybe.

In addition to my excellent editor, I have a few readers who are honest but kind.  With their help, maybe I’ll find the right tone for the memoir.  We’ll see.

If I ever say I want to write another book, please give me a call and talk me out of it.  I’ll be greatly appreciative.

Five Traits We Need Today

I spoke this week at a corporation in Washington, D.C.  I have spoken there before and I love the CEO, CPO and many of the employees I have met.  In my opinion the company is way ahead of most in the areas of gender equity, and they’re working hard on racial equity as well.  But when I finished my time there, I felt the same unease I have felt after several of my recent engagements.  In this particular case, I didn’t feel I was at my best for the presentation, which was frustrating, but that was only a part of what made me uncomfortable.

When I am speaking on issues of LGBTQ acceptance and religious tolerance, I know what the problems are, and I know the solutions.  And the best part is that I see change on the horizon.  When it comes to gender equity, I do not have the same confidence.  As forward thinking as this company is, I’m not sure I have the words to effectively communicate the urgency of the need for gender equity.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult for men to truly understand the magnitude of the problem.  I find that well-educated liberal white males are some of the last to realize their significant ongoing contribution to gender inequity.  Just today a friend told me of a non-profit CEO who told his employees that his replacement would be a man of color.  He missed the fact that he is not the one who gets to make that decision.  It is the board that will choose his successor.  Even when white men believe they are doing what is right, they often do not see their own inappropriate influence.  They have been “woke,” so they believe, and they feel they have already addressed the problem.  I think of the infamous words of Donald Trump, “I am the least prejudiced person you’ll ever meet.”  Uh, huh.

If “woke” men had adequately addressed the problem, we would not still have women paid 79 cents on the dollar of what men are paid.  We would have more than 5.5 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 6 percent of Silicon Valley companies led by women.  At the rate America is going, it will be 100 years before we have pay equity, let alone any other kind of equity.

When it comes to living as a female, I am a novice.  I lived decades as an entitled male, and I have only lived six years as a female.  But that does not mean I do not see my power diminishing.  My words are not weighted as heavily as a man’s.  I am not judged on the aggregate body of my work, but only on my most recent offering.  I am constantly having to prove my abilities.  I am more often interrupted when I speak, and when it comes to being hired or booked for an event, there is a much higher bar for me than for men with the same level of expertise.

Recently I made a recommendation to a nonprofit that was on the whole, rejected.  In my previous work I had made very similar recommendations dozens of times.  Not once, ever, were the recommendations rejected.  Were they accepted in the past because the recommendations were sound, or because I was the long-term CEO of the organization overseeing the nonprofit, or because I was a powerful white male?  More than likely it was all three.

I do believe things can change, but it is going to require both men and women to make adjustments.  Today I will write about the major shift we would see if men embraced personality traits more commonly associated with women.  For instance, deference is difficult for men.  Men equate deference with defeat.  But if men could learn the value of deference, we would get much closer to gender equity.  I realize a lot of men are allies of women.  But they don’t take the additional step of becoming accomplices.  An ally is still in charge of what he is doing.  He is the one who says, “Go get ’em!  I’m with you.”  But he’s doing it on his own terms.  An accomplice defers.  An accomplice says, “What do you want me to do to assist your cause.  You decide.”  Being an ally is not deferring.  Becoming an accomplice is deferring.

A second trait men should develop is learning to compromise.  Nowadays, compromise is seen as defeat.  Just a few decades ago we had politicians who knew compromise was a valuable art form signifying wisdom and maturity.  Not anymore.  Now men provide egregiously partisan quotes like Mitch McConnell’s infamous, “Winners make policy; losers go home.”

A third trait men could develop is the ability to truly listen.  Men interrupt women twice as often as they interrupt other men.  There are a lot of reasons there are more female psychotherapists than male psychotherapists, but I imagine one of the reasons is that there aren’t enough men willing to be quiet and listen for a full hour.  We could make major strides toward gender equity if men would not speak until every woman in the room has spoken and finished her thoughts.  It would also be wonderful if men would stop interrupters.  Nothing will change bad behavior more quickly than a well-placed, “I don’t believe she has finished talking yet.”

A fourth trait is something men complain about, incessantly.  Ever since #MeToo became a part of the American vocabulary, I hear men say, “I don’t know what I’m allowed to say and not say anymore.  It’s maddening!”  That is a good thing.  Women and minorities have to give up one or more parts of themselves when they go into a meeting dominated by white males.  They have to give up their language, accent, preferred form of dress and other parts of themselves, just to accommodate the desires of the dominant culture in the room, white males.  Now, for the first time ever, those men are having to give up some comfort.  Finally there is an opportunity for white men to feel appropriately self-conscious.

A fifth trait I’d love to see men develop is the understanding that power is not a zero-sum game.  In my most recent TED talk (which by the way, should be out on video in the next week or so), I had planned to finish the talk with the following lines:  “Men, we will not achieve gender equity when you give women more power.  We will achieve gender equity when you give women your power.”   When I tested the talk out a time or two, men bristled because they saw their power diminishing.  Before the TED event I changed the line to ensure the audience that power is not a zero-sum game.  I said, “Men, we will not achieve gender equity when you make sure women have more leadership opportunities.  We will achieve gender equity when you make sure women have your leadership opportunities.”

Will men hear what I am saying?  I don’t know.  When I was crafting my latest TED talk, I told Briar, my coach, and Helena, the curator, that I wasn’t sure I could create a talk that men would truly hear.  They didn’t let me off the hook.  They said, “You need to try.  This is important.”  And so it is.  Achieving gender equity is worth the effort.  We have a long way to go, but I do see a hope on the horizon.

Good Work on a Gray December Day

Over the last couple of years Jonathan and I have done several podcasts and a few television and radio shows.  Most of the time the hosts want to focus on how my transition affected my son and our family, with a secondary focus on how the churches we serve handled it all.  Jonathan is always articulate, honest and gracious.

In December we were interviewed for All the Wiser, a podcast featured by Apple Podcasts last week and listed as one of the top 50 social and cultural podcasts in the nation.  The host of the podcast is Kimi Culp, a former producer for NBC, ABC, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

On the day of the show the Denver sky was gray and the air felt more like a winter day in Seattle than a typical cold sunny day in Denver.  My mother had passed away two weeks earlier and I was fighting a terrible cold.  As we went into the studio where we would be connected to Kimi in LA, I was out of sorts, thinking more about the TEDxMileHigh event Jonathan and I would be leading that night than the 90-minute conversation we were headed into.

Jonathan and I sat across a table from each other, mouths close to the windscreens of our microphones, only our eyes visible to each other.  Kimi deftly switched back and forth between us with her probing and thoughtful questions.  I’d heard Jonathan answer most of the questions before.  On Red Table Talk I watched as both Jonathan and Jana articulately and emotionally spoke of the journey of the past six years.  That show has been viewed over 3.5 million times, our family story out there for the world to dissect and judge as each viewer sees fit.

On this particular December day I was emotionally exhausted.  When the interview was over I felt like my responses had been perfunctory at best.  Jonathan, as always, had been articulate and poised, honest and gracious.  While I know that telling our story is for the greater good, it is hard to hear over and over how your calling was someone else’s nightmare.  Of course, my calling was my nightmare too.  We virtually never experience a call as a moment of joy.  A call is always to a deeper and more difficult journey, more akin to a nightmare than a sweet story.  But as any Jungian therapist knows, nightmares are necessary.  They bring difficult subjects to the surface and demand that we pay them mind.  Telling and retelling our story is always exhausting, but it is also always cathartic.

Yesterday Kimi sent me the link to the podcast. It went live earlier this week. http://bit.ly/ATW_PaulaJonathanWilliams  I had no intention of listening to it last night but decided to listen to the first minute or two to see if I sounded as tired as I was that day.  Before I knew it, I had listened to the entire podcast.

Kimi asks questions as one acquainted with pain, unafraid of delving into its depths, whether it be in her own life or the lives of those she interviews.  Her questions were compassionate and thoughtful.  When it ended I thought, “All the people on that podcast were trying to get it right, to tell the truth as they understood it, clearly, succinctly, and redemptively.”

I closed the podcast and turned to one of the books I am currently reading, Living an Examined Life, by James Hollis.  I opened to page 61, where I had stopped earlier in the day, and immediately read these words:

“There is no going forward without a death of some kind:  a death of who we thought we were and were supposed to be; a death of a map of the world we thought worthy of our trust and investment; a death of expectations that by choosing rightly we could avoid suffering, experience the love and approval of those around us, and achieve a sense of peace, satisfaction, arrival home.  But life has other plans it seems; indeed, our own souls have other plans.  And there is a terrible price to pay for ignoring or fleeing those intimations and summons to depth.”

Just before that paragraph Hollis said, “If there is such a thing as the soul, then it is the soul that ultimately tips the balance toward change, toward a more authentic stance in the world.

Every day we must decide whether or not to move forward, whether or not to encounter life as it meets us and make the most of it.  At the end of the podcast Kimi asked my favorite quote.  I did not hesitate.  It is a quote from Dag Hammarskjold.  “For all that has been, thanks.  For all that shall be, yes.”

Always Forward, Through the Desert

William Butler Yeats said, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”  Years ago I borrowed the quote and exchanged “Being Irish” for “Being a Mets fan.”  If you look up “longsuffering” in the dictionary, you will find there are no words defining it, just a picture of a group of Mets fans.  The Yeats quote still resonates.  Nowadays I might say, “Being human, she had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained her through temporary periods of joy.”  Life is good, but it is not easy.

James Hollis suggests that the two great existential threats faced by humans are overwhelmment and abandonment.  The first arrives in childhood and reminds us of our relative powerlessness in this capricious world.  While that feeling never fully dissipates, our capacity to deal with life’s capriciousness increases with age and maturity, though it is an easier journey for white males who unknowingly enter a world tilted in their favor.  Women and minorities have a tougher time.

Regardless of race or gender, we all struggle with the fear of abandonment.  It causes us to chase after achievement so we can experience the reassurance that comes from the accolades of others. The fear of abandonment is also why people remain within the confines of fundamentalism.  We hold onto outdated theologies in ways in which we would never hold on to outdated medical procedures.  We acquiesce to all of those primitive rules and prejudices because we want the security the tribe provides.  In the process we might be selling our intellectual integrity, but at least we won’t be abandoned.

For many who remain in fundamentalism, intellectual freedom is not worth the price of abandonment.  I understand.  Having been abandoned by my religious tribe (though not by all the individuals within that tribe), I know the psychological, spiritual and emotional toll of having been abandoned.  It reenforces that abiding sense of tragedy Yeats was talking about.

The fear of abandonment can cause us to stay loyal to that which we have outgrown.  We only move beyond those boundaries when something beyond the need for security  demands our attention.  We move beyond those boundaries when we finally realize we have been called to something larger and that if we ignore that call, it will be at our own peril.

We cannot answer the call to authenticity without a death of some kind.  We have to leave behind the world that has become too small for us.  We must abandon the maps that lead to decisions that diminish our lives and develop new maps that lead to decisions that enhance our lives.

It is paradoxical that even though we may really, really want to grow, we are still reluctant to abandon those old maps.  They no longer work and leave us stuck, but they are our maps dammit, and we cling to them.  That is why as much as we might want to grow, usually we do not move forward until our old maps are taken from us through an unwanted divorce, or being fired from a job, or forced out of a career.  Even though we know it is past time to abandon them, those maps have to be ripped from our hands by a force greater than our own egos.

No one changes maps without spending time in the desert.  While those of us who really want to grow might willingly undertake a few brief forays into the desert, we will always return to the land we know until returning is no longer an option.   An old adage says suffering is the fastest course to completion.  Authentic suffering forces you forward, through the desert.  No wonder it is a journey we resist, given the virtual guarantee of overwhelmment and abandonment.

If you read this blog, there is a good chance you are a person who has said yes to the desert.  In the desert I sometimes awaken with a feeling of overwhelmment and the abiding sense of tragedy Yeats wrote about.  But as the sun rises over the ridge east of my house and slowly makes it way to the mountains of Roosevelt National Forest, I am reminded just how sacred and holy this journey is.  And as I so often say, it is for the greater good.

Living authentically is the best gift we can give our children and grandchildren and the generations still to come.  It is courage and endurance that allows us to make our way forward, through the desert, in the direction of the warm and life-giving sun.  And yes, we will experience tragedy on the journey, but I dare say that if we are willing to go through the tragedy, we will discover that it is joy that truly abides.