Election Season in Hell: How to deal

In my relatively nascent understanding of Buddhism as a Westerner, this is hell. We’re living in a hell realm. The United States is in utter chaos and its residents live in fear and disharmony. You never realize how good you had it until it’s very obviously not good. What’s more: the biennial national agony is upon us — election season. And I happen to be working — and moderating social media — for a political campaign.

This hits my own special snowflake self in at a particularly brutal angle because I’m an empath (a person who is sensitive to others’ energy to the point that it feels like their own). An empath who has degrees in political science, international relations and works in journalism. Color me livid. I’m reminded of the week in 2008 when I was working as a financial journalist in New York City and a major bank failed overnight every day for a week. People were still hurrying along the sidewalks to work, ordering coffee and typing furiously into their Blackberries. Do they not understand? I wondered, with my mid-20s mind. Shit is falling apart and the general public is barely responding!? Before too long, I realized that macroeconomics and fiscal policy were beyond the grasp of most Americans, especially those in the legislature trying to create emergency policy around it.

But this time around, things are different. People understand. It’s hitting home. We’re seeing — literally — our loved ones attacked for simply being who or where they are. We’re seeing years and decades of institutional protection for marginalized groups and the environment disbanded for little to no conscienable purpose. And we’re all connected in a digital world where voices and opinions outnumber original, useful thoughts and ideas. In addition, this digital world can function as a distraction from the real, tangible world in front of us.

For me, self care is vital. After the Supreme Court hearings and the brave testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I had to tune out for my health. I felt myself slipping down that dark slope of depression in light of the ongoing dehumanization of women. It felt like a loved one had died, when it was actually the expiration of my illusion. Still, I clocked out of news and social media for a few weeks — a luxury, I’m well aware — until this week, when I heard 45 was attacking trans people. So I tiptoed back into social media, largely to show my support for trans folks and reach out to my trans/non-gender-conforming/non-binary friends. I also caught part of a news brief on the car radio yesterday and after about 15 seconds, changed the channel because the sound of 45’s voice and the evil drivel it emitted sent a wave of dread through my being. I still feel a little sick from it. It can’t be just me. So, here are some self-care thoughts and tips for navigating this hell realm. They’re nothing new, but a little reminder can go a long way.

Also! If you’re not inspired to do this on your own behalf, maybe doing it for the benefit of others will motivate you. Sometimes, that’s what it takes for me to be good to myself. Bad vibes spread easily, so keeping yourself in a good state is a contribution to your community and the world. Hugs!

GET TF OFF OF SOCIAL
Even for awhile. Like a day, a week, etc. We’re so connected to this never-ending news cycle of shit and badness that our psyches start to crave it. This is not healthy. Please step away from the screen in general. You’ll feel the difference.

GO OUTSIDE
Be around trees and birds and squirrels, if you can. Walk, run, jog, bike. Gaze at the leaves on that tree and the flowers in those gardens.

TAKE A BATH
You stink! Well, maybe. Stink vibes? A warm (not hot!) bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts (which is actually magnesium, which relaxes your muscles), 1 cup of baking soda and a few drops of a relaxing essential oil like lavender can be very helpful. I like to listen to a guided meditation or practice mindful breathing in the tub. If I’m not too distracted by my gushing bathroom radiator.

MEDITATE
You don’t have to sit in lotus position and chant OM to meditate. You can sit or lie down and simply notice your breath and your body as it breathes. Following this action rather than your normal, crazy monkey brain is super relaxing for your mind and body. Do it for one minute, 10 minutes or an hour. But definitely don’t stress about it. Your mind’s function is to wander. To be mindful is to notice it wondering and say, “Hey buddy, wanna come back here and hang out with me?”

GUIDED MEDITATION
Maybe you need more than a few deep breaths. Someone guiding your mind to a chiller space can go a long way. I like the Insight Meditation App. There are meditations for any outcome your heart desires. Insight also has talks and cool, chill music. The variety is astounding.

FOCUS ON YOUR HEART
This is a big one for me. When I get anxious, I notice that a lot of energy is swirling around in my head and my brain goes into overdrive. When I notice this happening, I try to take a few deep breaths with my hands over my heart. This is where I want my energy to be centered — in love. When I think and act from my heart, I know I’m coming from the right place.

DANCE!
“Free your ass and your mind will follow” is a quote I’ve heard attributed to George Clinton himself. And I concur. Shake your groove thing in your kitchen, living room, local club, park or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, local ecstatic dance group.

YOGA
If you’re super stressed, check out some yin yoga practice, which is meant to calm the parasympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Find some on YouTube, at a local studio or on subscription yoga-streaming services like YogaGlo.

GET ARTY
You know you wanna pull out some scissors and magazines and create a collage! Or dust off that easel and paint it up. Art puts your brain in a different state. Try to do it for at least 45 minutes for max results. You’re an artiste!

CHILL TUNES
I know all to well the realness of the temptation to just blare Pantera’s “The Great Southern Trendkill” and rage out at this bullshit going on. (And now, I’m questioning the counter-ideological implications of that record choice.) But guess what? That’s just a feedback look of aggression. Try some chill, ambient vibes or nature sounds. Spotify has a ton of cool “Mood” channels to fit your fancy, even it’s just old Weezer or something upbeat. I like Ambient Chill. *Avoid excessive minor keys and distortion* I know it can be hard, but your brain will thank you.

Free-flowing ideas

Stage-displaced-horizons-10252018“Displaced Horizons” is a multimedia work based on a fascination with water

Robert Lundberg wants to give us the opportunity to think differently about water.

“It’s something I’ve become totally obsessed with over the last eight years or so,” says Lundberg, co-composer and video director for Displaced Horizons, an upcoming multimedia performance and exhibition taking place at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 27, in Gallery 7 of the UW-Madison Humanities Building. Displaced Horizons includes five channels of video; a 90-minute score performed live; and printed materials including maps, the musical score and a program of text and images. Read more at Isthmus.com.

Madison shouldn’t welcome back men like Aziz Ansari so easily

A few weeks ago, I checked my email and got instantly psyched. The Comedy Club on State announced that Aziz Ansari was playing a few shows the next night, August 19. The cute, clever man who gave us Tom Haverford from Parks And Rec, created and starred in Master Of None, and wrote Modern Romance (which I didn’t read because I had it on good advice that it wasn’t worth it)!

Then I remembered the gross news from awhile back that he coerced a woman into some sexual contact that she says she was not 100 percent into. Which was Alanis Morissette ironic, because Ansari actively promotes himself pretty hard as a feminist.

I internally shuddered and deleted the email. Read more at Tone Madison.

Full Circle

Stage-StoweZak-crJeffKlawes-09062018Shunned by his church and college, Zak Stowe finds a home directing “Southern Baptist Sissies”

Five years ago, Zak Stowe was being raked over the coals for trying to stage a play that his conservative Lutheran college considered anti-Christian. Now in Madison, Stowe is making his directorial debut with StageQ’s Southern Baptist Sissies, the story of young gay men finding themselves in Texas. Read more at Isthmus.com.

I had to quit my job to continue my work

Growing up on a farm in Central Illinois, art was not a career choice. It was risky. Something people in cities and on TV and magazines could do. An after school job was necessary and more important than extracurriculars. My identity was the work I did, so I should be responsible and build stability.

So when I started college in 2001, I opted for journalism over creative writing. You know, because I wanted to make some money and understood nothing outside of the southern Midwest. By busting my ass and cultivating my fondness for communication, I built a pretty solid career in college at the school newspaper. But working 1–2 part-time jobs in addition to an editorial position and summer internships left me little time to play music with my friends, write, collage or sew. I found work that was definitely going to pay me and allowed for a modicum of creativity. On that model, I overextended myself throughout my 20s, using my energy to make money for other people while trying to live another life — my own life — in my free time. I convinced myself it was ok. Everyone does this, I told myself. It’s just late capitalism!

All the while, I became more enthralled by what I think of as “the shadow side.” The mystery. That which we can’t grasp completely, but that we can learn from if we try to. Things like meditation, yoga, massage, astrology. Non-rational things. Non-profitable things. The things that helped balance out my over-stimulating, analytic, imposter lifestyle. During the financial crisis, in a railroad apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I practiced yoga in a dim space before going in to work as a reporter at Dow Jones Newswires. Gazing down in dancer’s pose at the heavy faux-rugged rope carpet, I thought, at age 24, I want to own a yoga studio someday.

Someday.

I recently turned 35. If someday doesn’t start today, when will it?

Someday started just short of my Aug. 10 anniversary of moving to Madison. I was in the first class of a two-year craniosacral therapy training in Evanston. My head hurt, my chest was pounding — as it had been off and on for the last 6 months or so. I couldn’t muster my attention toward the subtle body work that helped save my sanity a year and a half before and has contributed to my well-being ever since. I was anxious about work at an organization that had been in a tumult since I got there 2 years ago. My current job was presently and directly preventing the future I wanted. So, at lunch, I called my partner, emailed a resignation to my boss and thanked the college friend I was staying with in Logan Square for reminding me that I’m a badass and I don’t need this bullshit.

I was terrified for about 3 minutes afterwards. I’m thisclose to to paying off a credit card that’s been with me since New York. I’m about to break even. I had tried so hard to wait just a few more months. But it wasn’t worth it. My life had to start right. freaking. now.

Since I can remember, I’d been operating as a variation on a theme, trying to fit myself into a socially acceptable mold. It was taking all of my energy — energy I could be expending on art, fighting the revolution and just generally being happy and healthy. I need people, things to learn and to share. I cannot sit at a computer all day. Now I have more time to explore what that looks like for me.

I’m starting a communications consulting business that works with non-profits in the education, public service and research spaces. I just got a job editing a book (my third), which I love. I’m writing for local publications. Everything’s comin’ up Holly!

So here I am. Regrouping. Playing guitar, writing, collaging a birthday card for a friend, spending time in nature, getting back into a yoga and meditation routine. Because I only get one life and it’s not getting any longer. From the data I’ve gathered, the best contribution I can make to society is to be authentic myself. I can find ways to pay the bills. But my real “work” is an ongoing magnum opus. My life is my masterpiece. And it’s not for sale.

Unequal displays of public nudity

When you bike nude around Madison, people are overjoyed to see you. They stop to smile, wave, laugh, cheer and take photos and videos. The mid-June World Naked Bike Ride, a 400-strong parade of merry pranksters, smeared with sunscreen and body paint, rang bike bells and shouted body-positive encouragement like “You’re beautiful!” to stunned and delighted bystanders. Do note that this cycle gang was 75 percent male and 98 percent white.

Madison’s political forays into public nudity are growing. The pro-body positivity, anti-oil-dependence fun cruise of Madison’s ninth edition of the World Naked Bike Ride this year presented a noticeable contrast to the experiences women in Madison have had participating in annual nipple-equality events like the upcoming Nipple Empowerment 2018-Rally For RCC. The former is not technically legal, while the latter is 100% on the books in Madison. In the gap between the two events is a lot of what we need to change about how society treats people who aren’t white men. Read more at Tone Madison.