Take your shot

I’ve seen a lot of people lamenting that they never did enough to prevent the rise of Trump and Trumpism and white supremacy, and now they think it’s too late.

It’s not too late. We are resisting. And even if they do a lot of damage, we need to make it as difficult for them as possible. Wear them down. Make it cost them.

That means everyone needs to take their shot, whenever their shot shows up. Everyone doesn’t have the same access and opportunities, so work with what you have. There are a few politicians who are taking their shots by doing everything the power of their positions allows them to do to block Trump. Some of us have skills and professions that let us obstruct more than others do. For some of us, the shot is raising children to be critical-thinking freedom fighters. For some of us, the most we can do is call and send letters. Some of us write, paint, draw, make music as our shot. Whatever it is that you can do, do it.

Your shot is your shot. Whether it comes once, or every day.

I’m going to ask you specifically to consider running for office in 2017 or 2018. Is your local school system protecting kids who are being targeted now by the white supremacists? If you were on the school board, you could affect that. Is your town or city a sanctuary city for immigrants and people of color? If you were on city council you could affect that. Written and enforced HOA policies might have saved Trayvon Martin’s life. Who’s on your HOA board? Is your state passing hideous bills during this lame-duck session? If you were a state representative or senator, you could change that.

Take your shot whenever it comes. The rest of the time, rest and heal.

All my love,


A project to unite us

I’ve been thinking about unity of thought and feeling, so here’s a project for those of us of good will:

Every day at 9 am, noon, and 6 pm your time, will you say one of the following passages? One is a prayer (for people who believe in an external force that guides you–Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, etc.) and one is a blessing (for people who believe in an internal force or no force–atheists, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics, etc.).

The prayer:
Creator of us all, save us from the forces of evil who try to harm us. Turn us toward you and toward each other, and send us your protection from all harm. Help us love one another and work for justice together.

The blessing:
May we respond to the suffering of ourselves and the world with wisdom and compassion. May our good actions be unobstructed, and may we be at ease and peace as we work together for justice.

If you’re in, set your alarms for 9, noon, and 6, and copy and paste in whichever one you’ll do into the alarm reminder or your notepad. Then when your reminder alarm goes off, stop and pray or bless for the fifteen seconds it takes.

Special thanks to the clergy and laypeople I ran the prayer past, and to Rev Jay Rinsen Weik from the Buddhist Temple of Toledo for the blessing.

It’s ok to be calm

“Your healing is the world’s healing. Allow it.” —Randi Buckley

I know a lot of us are feeling constantly disrupted because of this election and the aftermath, and who are still feeling panicked and unsafe. After awhile that feeling becomes almost an addiction, and it feels like we’re betraying other people and the world if we can find calm and comfort.

If you’re someone who’s been traumatized in the past, you already know this cycle of anxiety and alarm, and how terrifying it is when you stop feeling anxiety and alarm, and how that feels like something even worse is going to happen if the anxiety isn’t there.


You deserve to feel peaceful within the situation you’re in. Peace is power. It allows you to live the life you are capable of living, to be the advocate for the kids in your life that you can be, and to take joy in being alive.

Realistically, you are going to have to live the next four and eight and twenty years the best you can. Working and loving, with the most you can bring to both of those. Trump and his acolytes and the white supremacists and the oil companies don’t get to steal your life from you any more than any of the structures of our racist misogynist society get to. You have been living through our system already. You can live through these new changes and resist them at the same time and be at peace and heal from trauma every day.

And you have to. That’s not up for debate. As Randi says, “Allow it.”

First, triage. For when your chest gets too tight and your stomach clenches and you wake up with a start or you can’t fall asleep:

Assess your situation. Are you safe? Is your body ok? How is your breathing? If you have children, are they safe? If you are safe and as whole as is normal for you right now, start thinking about your breathing. Be intentional about breathing in and breathing out, paying attention to how that feels. Draw your focus to your toes and then slowly up your entire body, assuring yourself that you’re still here and you’re still the way you normally are. You are still here, still resisting.

If you are not safe, do whatever it takes to become safe, whether that’s leaving your location or asking someone else for help.

Breathe and think about the parts of you body that are ok. Think about the items on the to-do list I posted yesterday. Once you have worked your way through that list, you can put it aside and know that it’s taking care of itself, and you can focus on your real life and handling whatever comes up in your view as it comes.

To regulate yourself and get yourself out of the loop of fear, I’m giving you three assignments to do today and every day:

  1. Move your body rhythmically for 30 minutes. If you can walk outside, walk outside. Jog or run or swim or bike or row or step dance or jump rope if you like that better. Or put on music you like and dance for 30 minutes. It is better if you work up a sweat doing this, but I’ll take anything you give to it. If you can’t do 30 minutes today, start with however many you can do, even if that’s 1 minute, and work up to 30. You’ve got all the time in the world. Spend it on your body.
  2. Do something with your hands that involves rhythm and repetition (if you can move your hands). Knit or crochet or embroider or latch hook or carve wood or soap, or do cat’s cradle or origami, or knead bread dough or make meatballs or stuff dumplings or chop carrots, or do connect the dots or coloring books, or do rhythmic hand games with a kid you know, or Spirograph, or (air) drum along to some loud music, or something that keeps your hands moving in predictable ways. The goal is 20 minutes every day, but I’ll take 10.
  3. Spend some deliberate time snuggling with at least one other mammal today. (If you’re a bird or lizard snuggler, ok, and I don’t actually get it, but if it works for you, go for it.) If you live with other humans, make sure that you give each one of them a long, tight hug that gives them energy when you first see them in the morning, and when you last see them at night. If there’s someone at work that it’s not creepy to hug, hug them, or seek out a friend every day to hug. Spend time petting your pets. Make an effort to have some skin-to-skin or skin-to-fur time, even if it’s just your cheek against their cheek.

Make an effort to do these three things today and tomorrow and the next day. Making the effort for each one counts. Progress, not perfection. Eventually, once you’re more healed from a lifetime of trauma, these activities will keep you regulated on a daily basis. Start now.

All my love,


Sign, seal, deliver

This is part 1 of easing your mind enough to be able to live through each day without fear and anxiety. If you didn’t read my post about the long game from last week, go read it now and then come back. Assuming that we are all committed to resist Trumpism and teach critical thinking, it’s time to get things in place for the struggle ahead. Here’s a list of actions to plan and take:

1. Figure out how much direct action you can take and then sign up for one of the action emails that tells you a short, manageable list of things to do to resist. A weekly one is Wall Of Us, and you can sign up here: https://www.wall-of-us.org/subscribe/  A daily one is Raise Your Hand If You’re Gonna Fight and you can sign up here: http://tinyletter.com/resist Sign up for ONE of them. (You can manage one. More than one will increase your anxiety.) And then when it comes, do what it tells you to do, every week/day. Even if you’re afraid of the phone. I’m afraid of the phone, too, and I have a flat Midwestern accent and a slight lisp and I am making these calls and if I can do it, you can do it.

2. Decide how you’re going to handle it if you witness a hate attack. These white supremacists are coming out from under the refrigerator to attack people of color, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and anyone they perceive as being less than they are. I am asking you to consider stepping in physically to help someone and stop these neo-Nazis. I am practicing and running scenarios to be able to step in physically if I’m alone or am with my children. I told my teenager (who is the size of a big man) yesterday that he needed to know that if something happened in my presence I was going to step in and I needed him to keep himself and his brother safe and call for help. I’m using the same procedure we’ve been rehearsing since they were little and we lived in NYC, but without the complication of being underground on the subway: I tell them I’m stepping in and call for help from other adults in the vicinity, hand them my phone unless they have their phones out, I step in, they call for help. If you rehearse it and talk about it enough, when it happens you’ll just do it without hesitation.

3. If you’re afraid of what will happen to you and your family personally (financially, socially, educationally, etc.) under the Trump regime, shore up as many gaps as you can so you have fewer things to worry about specifically. You may have been thinking “How bad is it going to get?” and the only answer I have for that is “Trust Jesus, but lock your car.” You won’t regret protecting yourself, if only because that frees up more energy to fight for others.

4. Reach out to the people around you to find out what they’re afraid of happening, and help them protect themselves. Do you have neighbors or friends who are going to be especially vulnerable to these criminal vultures and their policies? Help them with paperwork and planning, and help them with resources and support so they’re embedded even more in resilient communities. Immigrants, religious minorities, single parents who are just scraping by financially, kids who seem to get in trouble in school a lot and their parents, neighbors who might be in danger of losing their houses or not being able to keep the heat on. They are probably not going to ask you for help, so get quiet and start watching carefully to see what you can do to help them become more stable.

5. Think about the things that you’re afraid of being taken away, and how those structures are already too limiting and harmful to a lot of people. A lot of these structures are already systematically racist and misogynist–defending them just because they’re all we’ve got is a whole lot of energy to stay in the same place. Since Trumpists are trying to harm us, it makes exactly zero sense to merely defend. We need to attack and push for more equitable structures and more justice than we currently have. Getting along, seeing the other side, waiting and seeing–none of that is going to save us. There is no amount we can compromise that will make them stop pushing. So don’t compromise. Push back HARD into their territory and take what we need. Part of this is contacting your local politicians and demanding that they make your city a sanctuary city. Send your clergy people this story and ask them to become part of this movement. Put your money where your values are and divest of structures that reinforce an unjust system. Don’t support white-only institutions. Support institutions and groups that are fighting back. Meet up online and in real life to take collective action to demand more than we have now. Listen to the people who need the most change and do what they say.

6. Unplug. Knowing exactly what Crybaby Don and his criminal band of appointees say exactly when they say it isn’t going to change anything, and it harms you emotionally and physically. Set limits on the amount of time you spend reading and watching the latest ridiculous crap. Spend that time instead reading or writing fiction or poetry, cooking, doing things with your hands, exercising, making art or music, laughing with other people. They don’t get to make you jump every time they do or say something. You are still you and you deserve to feel good, in spite of it.

All my love,


(For anyone with depression, my friend Shannon and I write the Advent Calendar For Depressed People and it might help you know you’re not alone.)

The long game

Loveys, I’ve been struggling with writing a post to tell you how to stop being scared and what to do to quell the panic. I have a list of things but they aren’t hanging together yet in any way that feels helpful to anyone.

But then I was driving my 9th grader to school this morning and an Elton John song came on the radio and I launched into one of my cultural literacy lectures, about Elton John and Bernie Taupin and how they were such a strange combo because all of Elton John’s songs sound so natural, like they were written by one person and the lyrics and music just came to him together, but instead the lyrics were written by Taupin and the music by John and how do those songs hang together so well when the parts were created by different people? And how in the world does Taupin write lyrics from John’s point of view so brilliantly? I told my son about “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” about Elton John being engaged to a woman and being suicidal about that, and a friend talking him out of doing the socially acceptable thing by marrying her so that he could be true to himself instead. And how by writing those beautiful, nuanced lyrics for Elton John to sing, Bernie Taupin has saved more lives than he could ever know.

And then I started crying, in the car on the highway, because it hit me that my child has been trying to communicate since the beginning (when he was 3 days old my mom said, “He’s trying to talk to us” and she was right), and words and language are important to him, and he’s developing into a nuanced and powerful writer. So then I got fierce in that way that embarrasses the crap out of him even when we’re alone, and told him that he HAD to keep writing. That the words he put together were important, whether they were jokes or song lyrics or short stories or impassioned treatises about the moral danger of homework. And that his critical brain needed to keep working. And KEEP WRITING. Because he had no idea whose life he was going to save, literally or metaphorically, with something he wrote.

Then he changed the subject and I stopped crying and we got to school and he told me he loved me and got out of the car.

This is what I have for you today: This is going to be a long, slow ugly fight. Bad things are going to happen. Many bad things that we literally can’t do anything about, and a lot of bad things that we’ll almost prevent but not quite. And we are going to keep losing things we never thought could be lost. But. As long as we keep teaching the children in our lives to think critically and create things that connect with other people, we (humans) win.

If there are kids in your life in any capacity, spend time with them. Take them seriously and nurture their skills. Apprentice them into critical thinking. Invite them to look behind the curtain. Talk about race and sex and gender and how those things affect how people are treated and how they intersect with our systems and institutions. Encourage them to do a critical examination of media they consume and look for the mechanisms and motivations of the messages that are sent (and the ones they receive). Raise your children to be critical thinkers who can’t be fooled and enticed by demagogues and public narcissists. That’s the long game here–creating more humans who use their brains for justice and joy.

Now that this is off my chest, I think I can write these lists of how to regain your balance. Stay tuned.



Thanksgiving thoughts

This hit me hard this morning:

“White Mountain” by Vievee Francis

There’s a wind here so strong it shakes this stone house.
A howl from pain and cold, a particular anguish–
not a foot in a trap, but a foot in a trap and the snow
getting deeper. I look out under the leafless beech,
which I’d take for dead if I didn’t believe in spring’s coming.
I walk around the property thinking I might happen upon
the source of the sound. How could that cry be wind alone?
Something has snapped in two. Something has been lost
that won’t return in this life. I want to find the source.
I’m stumbling in a thin coat that flaps at my sides. It seems
as if I might ride the beast that haunts me if I could just let go.
Let it take me up easily as this gale is lifting me now.

From her stunning book Forest Primeval.

This day is incredibly difficult for so many of us, and this year there’s an added layer of heartbreak and reckoning. Your priorities are: being kind to yourself, protecting the children in your life, and getting through the day with as much energy and balance as you can manage. You don’t have to be good.

I hope that everyone will remember the water protectors today, and everything they’re doing for all of us. Please send them something, if you can, either from their wish list or a direct donation to one of the groups on this list.

We can all do this together.

All my love,


Kids and Thanksgiving and possible confrontations

(I have comments turned off specifically so I don’t have to deal with the fake Russian accounts or people trying to get me to tell them they’re not racist because they have non-white friends. If you’re an actual reader and you want to talk to me you can totally use the ways in the About section.)

Yesterday I talked about deciding how to approach Thanksgiving when you’re going to have to be there with people who voted for Trump. If you have kids, your decision is going to involve your kids, so it’s important to talk about how to talk about your decision to them.

Here’s my agenda: To encourage you to build in to your kids the gut instinct to protect their own boundaries so that when they get hurt they can heal and not stay in a bad position with people who are harming them, and give them the perspective to understand that others hurting them isn’t their fault. You can’t protect them from ever being hurt, but you can give them the bone-deep knowledge that they’re worth listening to and that their health and safety matters, and that they need to defend and help others, too. It would be nice if they got good at seeing through harmful institutions at a young age so they could get a running start on dismantling them.

To that end, I think you have to first think about what your decision about Thanksgiving is actually going to mean to your kids. Especially if they’re really little, they might not even notice or care. If that’s the case, then just do whatever makes the most sense, and keep being good to your children.

If your kids are old enough to understand this in a nuanced way (from maybe 11 or 12 on up for neurotypical kids), then tell them the truth and what you need from them in the situation. “We’re not going to Uncle Jimmy’s for Thanksgiving because I know he’s going to gloat about Trump winning and it’s going to make me feel horrible. That means you’re not going to get to see your cousins. I’m sorry about that, and I’m going to see if we can schedule a time for you to see each other without the adults having to be involved.” “I want to spend Thanksgiving with your grandmother and have it be a pleasant day for her, so if anyone mentions that guy or voting for him or anything, switch the conversation immediately to the football game on Saturday and who they think is going to win.” “Can we bring your ukelele along on Thursday and have you play before dinner so no one gets a chance to start anything about Trump?” “If your aunt and I get into it, we need to be prepared to leave, so don’t spread out too much while we’re there.”

Whatever you decide, when you tell your older kids what to expect and that they can play a part in it, you’re giving them a model of self-protection in spite of risk and accurately assessing risk.

(Also, I wouldn’t let your kids be the deciders here, but if they have been following this story a lot and have already expressed anger or dismay at family members having fallen for Trump, you might want to let them be part of the process of working through how to manage Thanksgiving.)

If your kids are old enough to know and understand what’s going on at Thanksgiving but not old enough to be straight with the way you are with teenagers, you have to figure out how to tell them the truth in a way that doesn’t put them at risk for being manipulated by the people you’re trying to navigate. You don’t want them to end up in a situation in which they are being lectured by someone else about what they should feel, or in which the other person is badmouthing you or your feelings to them, or in which they have to listen to all kinds of contortions of logic. And you don’t want them walking in and announcing, “Mom says I should stay away from Cousin Barb because she voted for Donald Trump” even if it’s true, because you don’t want to put them in that position.

So it makes sense to tell an edited version of the truth, in which you set expectations for the day, including expectations of a shorter visit or no visit. If you’re going, you can’t really tell them to stay away from anyone, because a) it’ll ruin the day for them, and b) they won’t be able to not mention it. So if you’re going, go. And then stay close to them to make sure no conversations are starting that you don’t want them to be part of or worry about.

If you have any allies at the place you’ll be, talk to them ahead of time about not wanting your kids to have to be subject to confrontations or manipulation, and ask if they’ll help you keep an eye on the kids so nothing happens.

Keep in mind the goal to protect your kids from worrying, but keep them in the loop on differences of opinion and standing up for what’s right.

If you’re spending Thanksgiving with other non-Trump voters, be sure to explain that and what it means to you to your kids before you go. And let them help with whatever your project is, such as letter-writing at dessert and/or other service projects.

You can make it through this week!

All my love,



Thanksgiving and what you want to do about it

I’m seeing a lot of guides to talking at Thanksgiving to your relatives who voted for Trump, and I love that people are putting these together, but I want to back up a bit to help you figure out if you even want to be in that position.

To be clear: My agenda is helping you decide how best to preserve your emotional and physical health. No one will defend your healthy boundaries but you. No one will defend your kids’ healthy boundaries and teach them to defend their own healthy boundaries but you.

I’m going to plug my Christmas workbook again right now because it’s a very clear, very step-by-step guide to isolating which expectations belong to you and which ones belong to other people, and how to figure out when it’s more worth not doing things that other people want you to do, and when it’s more worth going along with other people’s ideas (and how to maintain your emotional health when you do go along with someone else’s plan). It’s focused around Christmas because Christmas is ubiquitous in the US, but a friend used it to plan Ramadan, so there’s that.

If you are facing having to see people at Thanksgiving who voted to harm you and your family and friends (and possibly themselves!), please know that this isn’t a situation of “disagreeing” about politics. That idea assumes that both “sides” are valid and there’s the possibility to either agree and find common ground, or to just decide not to talk about things and ignore this difference of opinion.

In contrast, this situation is you having been harmed by someone who voted for a candidate who wants to harm you and is actively appointing evil into the government to harm anyone who doesn’t comply with their racist vision. Your relative may not have realized at the time that they were voting to harm you. But that doesn’t actually matter here. I’ve said it before: If someone is carrying scissors and trips and stabs you with them, you have still been stabbed and need to be healed. Their not intending harm doesn’t mean that you haven’t been harmed. And that makes this an inherently unequal situation because their intention doesn’t matter, only the effect on you matters.

The upshot of that is that you are not under any obligation to “consider their side” or “come together” or “try to understand” what they were thinking. If they want to repair the harm they’ve caused you, they need to do work to do that. It’s up to you to decide what that work should be. I described what it would take for someone to repair the harm to me in this post, if that helps you get ideas.

So I’m suggesting that you approach Thanksgiving in a very functional way and ask yourself two questions:
1. What do I want out of this day?
2. What do I want from each of the Trump voters I will see on this day?

What do you want out of the day? Maybe you want to not be triggered by people who won’t be kind to you. Maybe you want to see your grandmother. Maybe you want your kids to see their cousins. Maybe you really secretly just want to sleep and order in pizza. You are actually allowed to do anything you want to do, as long as you are willing to trade for whatever the repercussion is of doing that.

Let’s say you really want to spend Thanksgiving at home with your cats, instead of going to a relative’s house and having to navigate your brother. What will be the repercussion of staying home? What’s the repercussion if you tell them why you’re staying home? What if you develop explosive diarrhea that morning and just can’t come? Are you willing to deal with the range of repercussions? If yes, then stay home. If no, then go but work on some strategies for how to minimize the damage to yourself from going.

Calculating the damage you sustain by going requires considering the second question about what you want from each of the Trump voters you’ll see. Maybe with someone you really want to have a discussion about it but don’t care if you agree. That’s easy, if the other person is willing to discuss it. Maybe you want an apology from someone. That only works if the other person is willing to apologize. Think carefully about whether that will really happen and what you’ll do and how you’ll feel if it doesn’t. Maybe you really just want to not have to speak to someone but just sit there together and make it through the afternoon to be able to spend time with someone else. In that case, you might lay out that expectation for the person. (“I’m not interested in talking about the election and would just like to have a nice meal with Aunt Hana. Are you willing to not bring up anything about the election?”)

Think about what you want from each person and whether you think you might be able to get that from them. If you don’t, is it worth it to go?

Basically, here are your possibilities:

  • Don’t go, and tell them exactly why you’re not going.
  • Don’t go, and fake a reason for not going that doesn’t confront the issue (work, projectile diarrhea, migraine, etc.).
  • Go but only get there in time to eat and then leave at the end of the meal, and don’t answer any questions from anyone about anything. (Basically, you’re checking the “Thanksgiving” box but not really participating.)
  • Go but don’t talk about it with anyone and leave the room if anyone brings it up.
  • Go and stick like glue to anyone you know didn’t vote against you and don’t talk to anyone else.
  • Go and bring all sorts of stuff to distract people so no one can talk about any of it.
  • Go and engage people thoughtfully in conversation about it without agreeing to “wait and see” or “all get along.” If this is what you choose to do, the NYT did a nice little set of questions you can ask people here. And Showing Up for Racial Justice has a huge wonderful resource for you here including thoughtful factual responses to a lot of justifications. (They even have a text helpline!)
  • Go and say, “I’d prefer not to talk about it” as many times as you need to.
  • Go and say, “I’d prefer you not mention that in front of me/my kids/the dog.”
  • Go and any time anyone brings it up, change the topic IMMEDIATELY and abruptly.
  • Go and be ready for a fight and to stand your ground. (Be prepared to leave if you need to–and to lose people–if this is the course you take.)

Note that I’m not mentioning any option that makes you have to listen to anyone’s justifications and agree that they were right to support Crybaby Don just to keep the peace. Part of the next four years is going to be affirming and protecting yourself, and not rolling over just because people expect you to. You are worth being cared for and about. They can’t hurt you and then make you apologize for it. You can listen to their justifications and then change the subject, but don’t bless them because you think you should. That’s not honoring yourself and anyone else who is being hurt by this, especially people of color, people with disabilities, LBGTQ people, and Muslims.

Now, for anyone who isn’t going to be in the belly of the beast at Thanksgiving because you’ll be only with people who are also targets and non-Trump voters, you’re still going to have extra energy and worry. Why not put that to good use together by writing hard copy letters to your elected officials together? And what if you decided as a family to do a community-strengthening service project together in December? There are all kinds of things you could do, from collecting food or diapers for food banks to helping out with a community program that helps children of single parents make presents for their parents for Christmas and Hanukkah to volunteering at an animal shelter. Use this time and your energy and high emotion to work together to help each other and other people.

Tomorrow I’ll talk a little about how to frame this all for your kids, once you make a decision about how you want to do Thanksgiving.

All my love,




Caring for you, specifically

I’m going to break down some reactions you may be having depending on different aspects of your personality, and help you put that together with others you live with so you can all get what you need. First, though, I’m going to say this:

Don’t go to Thanksgiving if you can’t see the people you’re supposed to be with.

You are an adult and it is your job to protect yourself and your kids, if any. You aren’t required to participate in your own harm and then have to smile through it.

(Having said that, if you do decide to go, I’ll talk about some strategies tomorrow for dealing with it. Also, if this idea of not going just because you always have is new to you, check out the book I wrote about creating a Christmas season you can live with (whether you celebrate or not). I had no idea when I wrote it how serious it would eventually be.)

There are a couple of dimensions I’m going to talk about to help you figure out how to heal and stay healthy: tension releaser vs increaser, introvert vs extrovert (which I’m not sure I really believe anymore), intensive vs expansive, and love languages. Figure out which of all of these you are, and you know how to heal. Figure out which of these your loved ones (partners, kids, friends, siblings) are, and you know both how to help them heal themselves AND why their efforts to help you can grate and why your efforts to help them can grate on them.

Tension Releaser vs. Tension Increaser: This is my own theory, based on having heard from hundreds of parents with hundreds of babies and toddlers, and observing my own kids. The idea is that some people release energy by crying, and some increase energy by crying. You see this in babies: a tension releaser will cry for 3 or 10 minutes to shut down at the end of the day and tap off tension to relax, and will then fall asleep. Often they can’t fall asleep unless they’re allowed to cry–it’s like creating white noise for them. As they get older, they need to tantrum in some way to work through their feelings so the feelings can go away. You can’t interrupt them to stop a tantrum, but you can accelerate one and when it’s over, they’re happy again. As adults, they need to connect with and externalize emotion about something to be able to get past it by blowing up physically (yelling, hand gestures, punching pillows, crying, etc), but then once they get the emotion out, it’s over. If you need to “have a good cry” before you can get past something, you’re a tension releaser.

In contrast, people who increase tension get overloaded by expressing the emotion, so that just makes them more upset. Babies who are tension increasers will cry and cry for hours until they vomit or fall asleep from exhaustion, and crying makes them really unhappy and they need to be comforted. The way to stop them from crying is to comfort them as soon as you can so they never work up into a full cry. As adults, they can talk about their feelings verbally, but letting the emotion get too big and take over their bodies feels horrible and they just get more upset. (I’m a tension increaser and if I start crying, I will cry for two hours uncontrollably, and after the first five minutes I’ll be crying because I’m crying and can’t stop. It’s horrible.) If “having a good cry” sounds like misery to you, you’re a tension increaser. Often, the way to get lasting negative emotions out is to work out really hard or do something that presses you to the border of physical pain, and the emotions get released that way.

Since the election, tension increasers are probably keeping their feelings internal and instead talking about logistics and facts instead of letting the feelings take over, so they don’t drown in the feelings. (This is why your tension increaser partner isn’t raging.) Tension releasers are crying and raging to get those emotions out, so they can reset to feel ok. (This is why your tension releaser partner is crying and screaming and punching things.)

Now, this intersects with the introvert vs extrovert concept in some interesting ways. I don’t really think people are either/or, but I think most of us have some sense of what we do when we’re in pain. If you turn out to other people to help you process your pain, you’re extrovertish. If you curl up to be alone to heal your own pain, you’re introvertish.

So think about how these things interact: If you’re introvertish and also a tension releaser, you just want to go someplace alone off in the woods to scream and cry and punch things. If you’re introvertish and a tension increaser, you just want hugs and maybe to talk about making some plans, with one person, and maybe writing things out will be helpful to work out your feelings over a few weeks. If you’re extrovertish and a tension releaser, you want to be with a bunch of people all ranting and crying together. If you’re extrovertish and a tension increaser, you start a trauma blog. (Not actually kidding.) You talk to other people in depth about the details and logistics and work through it together, but without letting the feelings take you over physically.

The next division is intensive vs expansive. This theory, created by Leela Sinha, is that intensives feel things more intensely and burn higher about most things in their lives, while expansives feel things less intensely and are focused on maintaining a regular rhythm. (Sinha theorizes that Trump and Sanders are intensives while Clinton is expansive, so people developed passion about Trump and Sanders but not as much about Clinton.) She has a chart on the front page of her website http://yourenottoomuch.com/ that helps you figure out which one you are. (Her book is illuminating, too, especially for people who have to work with the opposite type.)

The intensive vs expansive idea explains why some people are absolutely on fire about this election but others are focused hard on keeping things normal and moving on. It doesn’t mean the expansives don’t care as much, it’s just that they don’t experience their concerns as intensely. This is why your intensive partner is burning (almost literally–I think some of us have been running slight fevers since the night of the election) and can’t seem to settle back to pre-election normal. This is why your expansive partner is seemingly shaking it off and going back to work with what looks to you as if nothing is happening.

I bet a lot of you already know about the Love Languages concept. Developed by Gary Chapman, it’s the theory that everyone feels and gives love in one or two of five different ways. And if you can learn someone else’s love language, you know how to give them love in the way that feels meaningful to them, and if you figure out your own love language you can fill your own cup more easily (and tell others how to show love in a way you connect with). The five languages are: acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. People allegedly have a primary and a secondary, and there’s an idea that cis men have physical touch as one of theirs (although I wonder if that’s simply a result of how we socialize boys in our culture). There’s a quiz on the Love Language site to figure out which one(s) are yours, and you can use it to figure out your partner, kids, boss, etc. (Although I’m betting a lot of you can tell which one is yours just by reading the list.)

This explains why sometimes when you try to give love to someone they seem not to care, or even to get angry, because it’s not what they experience as love. And vice versa. Maybe you really need a hug, but someone tells you how great you are. Maybe you just want to hear that you did a wonderful job, but the other person gives you a present instead. Maybe the other person just needs a little present, and you plan an afternoon together. These mismatches cause problems all the time, and they’re easily remedied if you learn your own language and the one of the people you interact with most often.

SO. Let’s put this all together and figure out what you need to be doing for yourself, and how to create the right container for your loved ones to do for themselves.

1. Does it help you to get the bad feelings out physically by raging or crying before you can move on? Or do you need to prevent the emotions from taking you over physically and instead need to be calm to increase your calm?

2. Do you feel better processing with others or by yourself?

3. Do you get into things intensely or do you like to keep things on a steady, even keel?

4. What’s your love language?

Now that you know these, you know how to proceed. If you’re an extrovertish tension increaser intensive with the love languages acts of service and gifts like me, you’re going to do something for other people right away that involves connecting with other people, and crying won’t make you feel better so you don’t even bother, and you let yourself go deep into action plans or theory or whatever grabs your attention. Set timers to remember to eat and sleep. When someone makes you a cup of coffee or gives you something that reminded them of you, it makes you feel nourished. Anyone who wants to show love to you should do something for you or give you a present (even if it’s free) and make contact with you when you need to be around someone.

If you’re an introvertish tension releaser expansive with the love languages physical touch and acts of service, you’re going to go off alone to your cave (I hope you have a cave) and cry or rage and then get back to work as soon as possible to make yourself feel better, and as soon as you’re back from the raging and crying you need hugs and/or sex and then for things to just be normal daily work. Anyone who wants to show love to you should leave you alone and trust that you’re healing yourself, and then when you’re ready to be back with them they should do things for you and give you physical touch.

If you’re living with more than just you, I’d get serious about figuring this out, today, and actually write it down for yourself and everyone you live with, to give yourself a cheat sheet for the weeks and months (and, God help us, years) ahead. I’d divide it up into columns for tension releaser/increaser, introvertish/extrovertish, intensive/expansive, love languages, and then a “what to do” column and a “what not to do” column. Mine looks like this, for me and my kids:

Chart of three names down the left column, with columns across the top for categories of behavior preferences

Then start taking this seriously. Tell your people specifically what they can do to make you feel love. Do the things that make your people feel love. Protect each other’s uniqueness. Give your people space to be alone or to cry or talk or whatever they need. Ask them to give you the space you need to be able to do what you need.

Now, here’s an assignment for everyone for trauma recovery: Go outside into nature and walk for twenty minutes, if you can and it’s safe for you to do so. While you are walking, focus on making your breath even and pay attention to your exhales. Breathe in and then observe yourself breathing out. Find any pace that feels good. Just keep paying attention to that exhale. When you come back, get a glass of water and drink it slowly.

All my love,


Caring for kids in this middle-term period

It’s time to dig in with self care. I think most of us are out of the shock phase and are realizing that this is the next four years and we have to prioritize our emotional and physical health to be able to get through this and keep resisting. And that we have to ask for help from others and give others help, too. So I’m going to talk about figuring out what best to do for yourself tomorrow, but first we need to talk about the children.

It is absolutely crucial that we keep caring for the kids in our lives. (You can define “kids” how you want to.) They are so vulnerable to stress and trauma right now (and kids 14 and older were either in utero or little when 9/11 happened, so they’re getting another major national trauma dropped on them, and that’s a big deal for their young systems). We need to do everything we can to protect them from stress and fear and trauma, because the more hurt that happens to them now the more their systems will be set on high for the rest of their lives, and they’ll have emotional connection problems, attention and focus problems, and health issues.

To frame how to respond to your kids: They need to know that the world is an inherently safe place for them and that you will keep them safe. And that bad things happen, but they can be the helpers and other helpers will show up, too. They have a right and obligation to defend their own boundaries and health. Life goes on AND we keep working to make things better for others.

A list of what to do:
1. If they’re already in an unsafe or unstable situation, accelerate your plan to get them out of it. Unhealthy family dynamics, school that’s written them off, lack of physical safety–all these are rough on kids and you need to figure out how to protect them and get them out. If you can’t get them out, stay as close as possible and keep validating them.
2. If everything’s normally ok in their lives, keep everything as even and boring and normal as possible. Even if you’re not sleeping and feel like you’re in crisis mode, keep it together for your kids and keep interacting with them with humor and warmth.
3. Don’t let them see you worrying, and don’t rant about what could (is probably going to) happen in the next four years, or about what horrible people are coming into power.
4. Do let them see you pushing back on elected officials by calling their offices, going to protests, organizing. Talk to them about running for office (I’ve heard a few people saying you’d love to run for something but don’t want to take time from your kids–your kids need to see you working for the world, so float it to them and see what they say and I bet they’ll be in favor). Talk to them a lot about helping other people who are vulnerable and making connections with people who aren’t like you. Bring them along when you organize bridge-building groups in your house of worship or community groups. Talk about institutionalized racism and for-profit prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline and how they can refuse to be part of punitive systems that hurt other people. Talk specifically about race to help them build correct models in their heads instead of filling in gaps with what they pick up from the culture.
5. Ease up about their grades and behavior at school. They are worth so much more than those things.
6. Model and practice being helpers, so they see themselves as people who act, not people who are going to be hurt. You may already do some form of talking about and rehearsing what to do if there’s a fire in your living space and maybe about what to do if you encounter a car accident or some other kind of accident. Keep going with that but add in what to do if you see someone being attacked or harassed. We know that if you rehearse what you want to happen, you’ll be able to do it when it’s time to.
7. Model and talk about talking kindly about other kids AND standing up for kids who are being spoken to unkindly. So many of the parents I know are hurting because their children are scared for their friends at school, not themselves, so learning to defend friends effectively and consistently is important to empower them.
8. Hugs and hugs and hugs. Go run around outside until they’re sweaty and out of breath, if they can do that. Then more hugs.

Here’s a bonus assignment that is actually a little bit of self-care: Write a thank-you (note, email, Tweet, text) to someone who’s helped you in all of this. I just wrote one to my middle schooler’s teacher who said some really validating and calming stuff to her classes the day after the election.

Ok, tomorrow we’re going to talk about how different people need to process and care for themselves differently and how to figure out how to help yourself AND also how to help the other people you live with by figuring out what they need AND how to not butt heads and make things even worse with conflicting needs and expectations.

We can all do this.

All my love,