When There’s No “Feel-Good,” We Grieve Together

When There’s No “Feel-Good,” We Grieve Together

If you live in America, and if you haven’t been living under a rock, any type of “feel-good” has been difficult — if not out of the question — this week.

Our country has been wracked by yet another school shooting, and many feel perplexed and helpless due to the stubborn, selfish rhetoric perpetuated by a corrupt and greedy industry. (Go on, ask me what I really think about the NRA.)

So, in light of this week’s horrific act of violence and its aftermath, I’m pausing this Friday’s regularly scheduled program of heartwarming news stories. In lieu of these updates, I’m choosing instead to pay my respect to the victims and survivors of the attack in Parkland, Florida.

Yes, there’s still good in the world. Yes, there are still helpers. Yes, these stories deserve to be told. But the joyous miracles of everyday life simply can’t eclipse the life-altering heartbreak experienced by those who have had to endure the unnecessary tragedy of a mass shooting.

Today, tomorrow, the next day, the next, and the next, and so on will be haunted by the souls we have lost due to our own neglect and our own cowardice. Our generation is and will continue to be punished by the guilt that results from our complicity. And the younger generation is standing up to put us in our place, to show us how we have wronged them and to demonstrate how we can make things right. We do not deserve the children who are rising up to change our world, but we can certainly join them.

There is no feel-good this week. Instead, we grieve together, we shake our fists together, and we will demand change — together.


Reclaiming Love in the Face of Tragedy

Reclaiming Love in the Face of Tragedy

Today is Valentine’s Day. And yet, talking about love feels trite right now.

It’s been just hours since the U.S.’s 29th mass shooting and the 12th school shooting of 2018. All while I get to look into the blooms of a dozen roses and wonder what I did to deserve the drawing of the metaphoric card this morning that said, “You get to live another day.”

Earlier this week, I wrote about filmmaker and activist Valarie Kaur’s TED Talk: 3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage. (If you’re not familiar with it, I invite you to watch Ms. Kaur’s speech — it may be one of the most powerful talks you’ll ever see.)

She spoke of her innocent family friend who was gunned down in a hateful act of violence, shot outside his business by a white man with a vendetta against brown people. This was a racist act of rage, but an act of rage nonetheless, not unlike today’s tragedy.


Today, however, the lessons of which she spoke — lessons of revolutionary love — are especially difficult for me to grasp, let alone practice. In the aftermath of tragedy, the definition of love seems more complex somehow, particularly when in the midst of its stepbrothers: loss, grief, and, yes, rage. Any act of reclaiming love feels impossible.

But in my most feeble act of resistance against rage, I’m going to try.

Today, this is what reclaiming love looks like to me.

It looks less like obligatory gifts and more like heartfelt expressions of commitment and affection. It’s arguing less over trivialities and instead appreciating the people who have stuck around (so you can argue with them in the first place). It’s less expectation, more intent. It’s holding our loved ones close and being thankful for yet another day. And it looks like forgiveness and grace in the face of rage.

There are many practical, big-picture ways to give and receive love — which don’t involve buying guilt-induced presents, feeding the corporate machine, or denying the hatred and rage that exist in this world. Here are a few acts of love to consider.

Send a girl to school for a year.

For $58, the International Rescue Committee is able to send a young woman to school for a year — providing her with tuition, books, supplies, and a chance for a better life. Learn more about the program here.

Leave a message of love for a survivor of abuse.

Notes: Messages of Love and Hope is an opportunity to share words of support with abuse survivors via either an online submission form or at one of the typewriters the program will place at locations around the U.S.

Speak up. Get involved.

Using our voices to speak out against injustice is one of the most impactful expressions of our love for humanity. Learn about sham legislation that corrupt politicians are trying to pass — while they assume hapless community members will look the other way. Write letters to your legislators, or better yet, call their offices — show them they will be held accountable for decisions they make while in public office. Learn more about the incredible work Moms Demand Action is doing in our communities to protect all of us from gun violence. And, for the love of our children, stop saying it’s not the right time to have difficult conversations.

Join the #LoveArmy.

For Valentine’s Day, Valarie Kaur (mentioned at the outset) put out a call to action on behalf of the Revolutionary Love Project: share stories via social media about how each of us plans to #ReclaimLove as a force for social justice. You’re invited to use the hashtag and post your pictures, videos, music, stories, and art — anything that reinforces the message to “deepen our practice of the ethic of love — love for others, our opponents, and ourselves.”

As Kaur mentioned in her TED Talk, the act of revolutionary love is a choice. But it’s the most worthwhile choice we can make during times of darkness.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. And may you reclaim love while holding your own loved ones close.

The Power of [Revolutionary] Love

The Power of [Revolutionary] Love

“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb?”

In December 2016, activist, lawyer, and Sikh American Valarie Kaur asked the above question during a powerful speech that has since gone viral. Then, at TEDWomen 2017, she brought the audience to their feet with one of the most emotionally stirring talks I’ve ever seen: 3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage. You can watch it here:

She opens with an account of her son’s birth, when her mother whispers a Sikh prayer that means, “The hot winds cannot touch you. You are brave. You are brave.”

In the years leading up to that moment, Kaur became “part of a generation of advocates” — working with communities of color to fight hate in America after September 11th.

She recalls the first person killed in a hate crime post 9/11 was her family friend, a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi, a man she called uncle. When Kaur grieved with his widow, she asked, “What would you like to tell the people of America?” She expected blame, but her friend replied, “Tell them, ‘Thank you.’ Three thousand Americans came to my husband’s memorial. They did not know me, but they wept with me. Tell them, ‘Thank you.'”

Today, with hate crimes the highest they’ve been since 9/11, right-wing nationalist movements on the rise across the globe, and white supremacists marching in the streets, there seems to be no better time for activism, but love? Kaur insists yes — she has now come to see love as a force for social justice, and founded the Revolutionary Love Project.

Here are several moving excerpts from her speech:

I am an American civil rights activist who has labored with communities of color since September 11th, fighting unjust policies by the state and acts of hate in the street. And in our most painful moments, in the face of the fires of injustice, I have seen labors of love deliver us.

In this era of enormous rage, when the fires are burning all around us, I believe that revolutionary love is the call of our times.

Stories can create the wonder that turns strangers into sisters and brothers. This was my first lesson in revolutionary love — that stories can help us see no stranger.

When we are free from hate, we see the ones who hurt us, not as monsters, but as people who themselves are wounded, who themselves feel threatened, who don’t know what else to do with their insecurity but to hurt us, to pull the trigger, or cast the vote, or pass the policy aimed at us. But if some of us begin to wonder about them, listen to even their stories, we learn that participation in oppression comes at a cost. It cuts them off from their own capacity to love.

I have to reckon with the fact that my son is growing up in a country more dangerous for him than the one I was given. And there will be moments when I cannot protect him when he is seen as a terrorist… just as black people in America are still seen as criminal. Brown people, illegal. Queer and trans people, immoral. Indigenous people, savage. Women and girls as property. And when they fail to see our bodies as some mother’s child, it becomes easier to ban us, detain us, deport us, imprison us, sacrifice us for the illusion of security.

We love our opponents when we tend the wound in them. Tending to the wound is not healing them — only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents: the terrorist, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.

For too long have women and women of color been told to suppress their rage, suppress their grief in the name of love and forgiveness. But when we suppress our rage, that’s when it hardens into hate directed outward, but usually directed inward.

Our joy is an act of moral resistance. How are you protecting your joy each day? Because in joy we see even darkness with new eyes.

Revolutionary love is the choice to enter into labor — for others who do not look like us, for our opponents who hurt us, and for ourselves.

According to Kaur, love must be practiced in these last three directions in order to be revolutionary: love for others (training our eyes to look upon strangers and see them as an aunt, uncle, sister, or brother), love for our opponents (seeing the wound in the ones who hurt you), and love for ourselves (this happens when we breathe through the fire of pain and refuse to let it harden into hate.

That’s all easier said than done for most of us, but Kaur reminds us why we strive for revolutionary love.

“Love is more than a rush of feeling that happens to us if we’re lucky,” she says. “Love is sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life-giving. A choice we make over and over again.”

The Miracle Man

Sixty years ago today, a dark-haired baby boy was born—typical, I’m sure, in the way he screamed shrilly upon entering the world.

But within a few short years, this tiny human’s life became anything but typical. By age three, his very survival was deemed a miracle, and he would later grow up to father two daughters, one of them me.


If it seems a little ridiculous to portray one’s parent as a walking miracle, I get it. After all, the word “miracle” is a descriptor often reserved for children—the “miracle” of childbirth, the “miracle” of life, etc.

But I know one thing: if bringing life into this world is nothing short of a miracle, then so too is the act of sustaining it.

After all, having an active father figure, a dad willing to participate in his child’s upbringing, is somewhat of a rarity. And fathers who love their daughters unconditionally? Fathers who can’t be disappointed, despite their children’s biggest screw-ups?

That seems to be quite the miracle, if you ask me.

I’m pondering all this due to the timing of the recent holiday: people all over the world again celebrated their fathers on the third Sunday of June this year. While the day may be over and people’s thoughts have shifted to workweek monotonies and familial responsibilities, I’m still thinking about my Dad—and a few words he said to me (on Father’s Day, no less):

“You’ve never done anything that’s made me not be proud of you.”

Here Sunday, June 21st was supposed to be all about the “world’s best dad(s)”, but to a young woman whose self-worth has always been as ephemeral as the shedding of cottonwood seeds—my father’s words were a gift I will take with me to my grave.

Some might view his statement as blind acceptance. But I think it’s something everyone deserves to hear from a parent at least once in one’s lifetime. The sad truth is, however, this kind of unconditional love isn’t common. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle—at least it is in my world.

In the same conversation, we reminisced. We talked of his childhood and of mine, and I couldn’t help but think of the tiny miracles that had shaped his life and impacted my own.

We talked of his mother (my grandmother). We talked of when she suffered a debilitating stroke that should’ve killed her—but instead left her partially paralyzed.

She recovered, and lived her last few years happier, kinder, and more affectionate than ever.


When my stepmom was diagnosed with cancer not once, not twice, but three times, my dad was there by her side to offer his support, even when the disease that ravaged her body and almost killed her—nearly broke him, too.

But she fought and survived, and she is stronger and more beautiful than ever.


And perhaps most significantly, my dad’s life is, in and of itself, miraculous. I learned only a week ago that he almost didn’t live past the age of three. While a relative was babysitting, a certain oblivious but curious toddler reached up and pulled a pan from the stove—a pan filled with boiling hot oil that immediately burned 95 percent of his body.

The doctors said my father likely wouldn’t survive his severe second- and third-degree burns. And even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to grow hair anywhere on his body and he would be covered in scars for the rest of his life.

But despite days—followed by weeks—of horror for his family and what must have been excruciating pain, he did survive. In fact, the story goes that the mouths of doctors and family dropped when they entered his hospital room one random day several weeks later, only to see a little boy covered in head-to-toe bandages—literally running in circles inside his crib.

In the months and years to come, he made a full recovery and there was little to no permanent scarring. It was no surprise to me to learn that his community referred to him as “the miracle baby” from that point forward.

I’m sure there are many more miraculous moments that have characterized my father’s life. But the one that has affected me most significantly is how my dad has helped me see my life as the beautiful miracle it is—just by being the person he is.

In recent years, my father and I have gotten closer than ever.

Today, when we get together, we talk about everything from business and technology to mountain biking and his days of motorcycle racing. And I see him for what he really is: an incredible person with a love for so many things—fast cars and bikes, affectionate animals, and, most importantly, the ladies in his life: his wife, his mother, and his daughters. Sure, he’s made mistakes (which he admits humbly), but he has one of the kindest hearts a man could have.


I realize that Moms may literally bring their children into this world, but any capable dad plays just as big a role in helping them navigate it. And I realize how lucky I am to have the presence of such an incredible person in my life to help me find my way when I feel lost. I also realize how silly I was to not spend more time with him when I was younger (even though divorce, shared custody, and blended families make these bonds all the more complex).

Because I despise the exclusivity of “best Dad in the world” claims, I could never make that assertion. But I will say that having this human in my life is nothing short of a miracle.

I love you, Dad—60 looks great on you.



Just Another 2015 Manifesto

As much as I try to avoid resolution hype around January 1st, something didn’t feel right about kicking off the new year without some introspection. (After all, here I am typing away at 1:14 a.m. the morning of January 2nd.)

autumn leafFortunately for my tired brain, I recently participated in a writer’s workshop facilitated by Elizabeth Sharp McKetta, an incredibly brilliant writer (among other things) who was as gracious and warm as she was inspiring.

During the event, she provided several prompts from her new book, one of which was to write a manifesto. Apparently, that was all I needed to clarify what I want in my life, both in 2015 and beyond, because in ten short minutes, I had myself a manifesto—and something (hopefully) worth sharing.

I highly recommend you write your own, but here is mine, in case you find anything juicy enough to steal.

Be present.

Speaking of presents (presence), give the gift of your time, attention, and love to those who will appreciate and reciprocate.

Daydream. But don’t just dream away your days. Put some plans in motion.

Travel somewhere new once a year (at least), experiencing time and place as an innocent, wide-eyed, and curious child.

Ask for help when you need it.

Same goes for hugs (and you need them even more regularly).

Forgive others liberally—not for their benefit, but for your own.

Spoil yourself with simple but sensory pleasures—strong tea, a riveting novel, a hike during sunrise.

Eat food straight from the source whenever possible.

Smell flowers that grow abundantly in gardens.

Gather leaves from trees.

Make snow angels.

Let people love you.

Love many, trust few.

Understand that your footprint in this world may be small, but it can make a huge impact.

Breathe fresh air, walk barefoot in the grass, put your hands in the dirt (when seasonally appropriate).

Observe children and how they experience the world. And don’t be ashamed to live like them.

Be kind to yourself.

Move your body, feed it regularly, give it rest. Listen when it tells you what it needs.

Tell yourself kind things.

Write love letters, most importantly, ones addressed to yourself.

Make things.

Use your hands.

Use your heart.

Be love.

Fall in love—even when it’s scary.

Learn to heal your broken heart when it doesn’t work out.

Put as much effort into being beautiful on the inside as you try to be on the outside.

Do not judge others; bad behavior is simply an indication of pain or ignorance.

Be compassionate.

Call your mom.

Say I love you.

Cuddle with the cat.

Use your words. They are your power.

Be honest with others, but most importantly with yourself.

Bake cookies.

Give gifts.

Send thank you cards.

Live a life that inspires others.

Try new things.

Ride your bike.

Discover new trails.

Don’t allow small people to make you feel small.

Be confident, be bold. You are more capable than you think you are.

Don’t allow others’ opinions to define you.

Be your own soft place to fall. Be that for others, too.

Make music.

Love yourself more than you love anyone else.

Be true to your deepest desires.

Discover something you love to do—and do it forever.

Infinite Jest and the Beauty of Unfinished Business


Or, more directly put: With all due respect, Mr. David Foster Wallace, your 1,079-page-long “philosophical quest” is complete and utter shite.


When my dear literary-minded friend suggested Infinite Jest as our next book club read, I should’ve realized that the title itself portends a comical, meandering foray into the creative mind of Mr. Wallace.

While many others in my circle of well-read women and men have extolled the virtues of the author, and myself having fallen under the spell of his iconic Water speech and several of his essays, I thought this would be an easy read. Hell (pun intended), I’ve read the bible from beginning to end several times in my young life, how hard could it be to complete this particular work of modern fiction?

My self-confidence couldn’t have been more misplaced.

In terms of its scriptural equivalent, I made it about as far as Jacob’s quarrel with Laban of Syria—or, to be exact, page 55—before I realized that, dammit, this book is just not working for me.

Worse: I loathe it.

I’m pretty sure it didn’t help that I awoke at 4 a.m. this morning to the sound of the kitty barfing up her not-so-cheap cat food on my freshly laundered comforter, only to immediately thereafter see this monstrosity of a book, so far from completion, mere inches from my face—all only seconds after being jarred from a peaceful sleep.

Now, I realize that, as a writer, I may come under intense scrutiny for my intense hatred for this “encyclopedic novel” (as the work is now categorized). In all fairness, however, after learning a bit more about the history of Infinite Jest and how it came to be, I was not at all surprised to learn that the writer himself struggled to bring it to life: he began writing several beginnings of the manuscript between the years of 1986 and 1989, after which he abandoned the work until 1991-1992, when he finally completed it.

That said, my intent is not to decry its literary value or even to insult this fine author’s skill or impact upon the reading world. After all, I do indeed own a collection of World Book Encyclopedias, in their glorious, tangible form. I appreciate the educational and cultural role they play in my life and in the world at large. But will I sit down to read A through C? Nope.

I will admit that I probably spend too much time online to have patience for a book that weighs more than my laptop. Maybe Elephant Journal articles and Elizabeth Gilbert books are more my style. Maybe that makes me a lazy millennial, maybe it makes me a child of the revolution, or maybe it just means I’m not in a place in my life where tackling one of Wallace’s greater works is among my most burning desires. In my defense, I have read thousands of books (many of them wonderful, some of them mediocre, and a few of them downright terrible), and I have, almost obsessively, insisted upon seeing each one of them through to completion, even when I don’t always enjoy the process of consumption. Having read works of similar depth and caliber, I have nothing to prove.

So, being the over-thinker that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder about the bigger reason as to why I suddenly decided to remove my bookmark, list the thing on half.com, and say “to hell with this!” After all, there is usually an epiphany on the heels of most 4 a.m. wake-up calls, and since the idea of quitting a book midway to completion is so foreign to me, I knew there was something significant I had to consider.

And here it is.

If a person’s life is one great big library, then the books on its shelves are relationships and all the infinite pages therein are our precious days. Further, what we choose to read implies whom we choose to spend our time with, and how we choose to spend it. And, in retrospect, while I don’t ever regret the books I read, I certainly wonder if I would’ve expanded my literary vocabulary or cultural contribution to this planet if I might’ve just been a little more selective.

Who knows? Maybe people are a bit like books, too. Maybe a page is torn out, maybe the subject matter is over one’s head, or maybe this character of David Wallace’s is, up to page 55, drowning in his dysfunction and crippled by his addiction and, hmm, sounds heartbreakingly familiar to someone I know in the flesh, and I’m not sure if I can do this anymore.

Sometimes you only get to someone’s page 55 before discovering that, dammit, this is just not working for me.

For me, there is never a good stopping point. I don’t quit books. I don’t quit people. But when there is no respectable reason to continue sacrificing time and mental energy in a heavy, depressing saga that, for one, doesn’t resonate with you; two, often makes you cry; and three, you know is going to leave you feeling depleted when you turn the last page, it’s time to close the book.

I may love many of the other writings of David Foster Wallace, but in this particular context, his Infinite Jest represents the 1079-pages of drama that I’ve been lugging around with me for far too long. It’s the book I’ve been fighting to finish; all because of my pride and because of my loyalty—a loyalty both to books and to their authors, but most of all to the belief that we are all just torn, ink-splashed pages of humanness; the ugliest of which only need a little understanding in order to be loved.

You, my friends, might be fans of this big beautiful book, but it is, at last, time for me to let it go for now. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later, but at this point, it only signifies dead weight, the difficult story to which I already know the painful ending. And, frankly, it belongs in someone else’s library.

19 and Holding

19 and Holding

Someone very special in my life turned 19 yesterday, a young woman I’ve viewed as a little sister since the day she was born. She’s been through a lot in the last year, losing both her mother and her aunt to death within a few short months of one another. But she is strong, she is beautiful, and she is tenacious, so she will be alright—better than alright, if I have anything to say about it.

Amber and Sadie campingMy lovely cousin and I are a full ten years apart in age, and, while I have no children of my own, I want a daughter just like her one day. In fact, so deeply does her life impact my own, it was her birthday that made me think deeply about the last ten years of my life, and my own follies have prompted a letter of advice both to my her and to my 19-year-old self.

If I could say a few things to each one of these precious girls, I would tell her to wait, just wait. Stop trying to move too fast. Grow up when you are ready, not when society tells you you must.

Related, don’t say yes to anything unless you are absolutely sure you’ve answered your own calling first.

I would tell this beautiful 19 year old to be brave. To not be afraid to be alone or to have her heart broken. To embrace independence over premature commitment. I would want her to know that her personal growth would occur in direct proportion to her commitment to herself, and that by doing so, she would avoid a mistaken commitment to someone unworthy of her love. I would tell her to trust herself enough to see the world through her own eyes rather than looking from behind someone else’s lenses.

I would also say this:

Your life will not progress in a manner consistent with your best-laid plans. Even the most finely tuned itinerary is subject to interruption. But try to go with the flow. Embrace spontaneity. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people and have a lot of great experiences that way.

Play an instrument. If you start now, you’ll have ten years of practice under your belt by the time you’re my age.

GET YO’SELF TO SCHOOL. You may have a high school diploma in your possession, but I promise you: Your college education will be the one thing you will never regret attaining, and one of the few things that no one can take away from you. Forget the hype that obtaining a degree will land you in a mountain of debt. It may, but so will the alternative. So choose your own adventure. Would you rather be temporarily indebted to an education that will serve you for a lifetime or owe a slew of corrupt creditors for a bunch of crap you don’t need?

Practice self-improvement rather than selfies. In ten years, you’ll have created a self worth living with, rather than simply a self worth looking at.

Sometimes it takes discovering whom you can’t be without before you know whom you want to be with.

Fight less, love more. And don’t argue with people or insult them via social media. It only makes you look the fool.

Understand the meaning of the word “toxic” not just in the literal sense, but as it relates to your habits, your relationships, and your social life. Then banish those things and people that are.

Remember: No one’s going to do it for you. Any of it.

If you have to drink it or smoke it to find energy, peace, or enlightenment, it’s not worth your money or your time.

Read a book, not just your Facebook news feed.

Life is too short to worry about someone else’s grammar, someone else’s lapse in judgment, or a difference of opinion. Let it go, you’ll live longer and be happier (since I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re shooting for).

When you hear that you, as a millennial, are lazy, entitled, and generally doomed to failure, ignore that, too. This lousy commentary comes from the pitiful sad sacks who are just bitter that they didn’t change the world. But there are plenty of people out there just like me who believe you hold a tremendous amount of promise. Believe us when we say you are our beautiful future.

Above all, sweep yourself off your own feet. Fall in love with you. Once you do, you’ll be able to spot the impostors.