Sunday Reflection

Sunday Reflection – When the Artist Fails Us

With everything going on right now, J.K. Rowling revealing herself to be at Orson Scott Card levels of “terrible person who wrote a good thing” may not be on a great many people’s radars. I try to follow a number of creators who are from different backgrounds than myself, and this includes queer, transgender, and nonbinary folks. They’ve given me a window to the pain that many of them are feeling right now, as a series that they loved and derived meaning from has suddenly been ripped apart by the shallow words of a narcissistic woman. 

To be sure, the truth about Rowling has been written on the wall for some time now. Instead of openly admitting she could have written the Potter universe to be more diverse, she tried to retroactively cram in diversity (“Dumbledore was super gay the whole time, I swear!”). Instead of engaging with different world cultures in appropriate ways to expand her universe, she used stereotypes and appropriated culturally sensitive subjects to her own use. And for some time now, she’s been giving indications of being yet another white “feminist” who centers her own victimhood over the horrific way that transgender and nonbinary people are treated in our society.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into how ridiculous her Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism is, although I encourage everyone to read more about it for themselves. (This article has some good background on why TERFism has become so prominent in the U.K. in particular).

But this has all caused me to once again reflect on the separation of art and the artist. It’s a big gray muddled mess of an issue, one with no clear answer. I’ve always loved Hitchcock films, and discovering that he was a complete bastard is hard. Yet I do occasionally still watch them, consoling myself that the man is dead, and no longer profiting. I still think Ender’s Game is an amazing book, despite Card being the human equivalent of toe fungus. Sean Connery famously gave an interview about how it was totally fair to hit women, yet I still laugh at his portrayal of Henry Jones Sr. 

On the other hand, I can’t look at anything with Kevin Spacey or Woody Allen in it right now. Seeing the word Weinstein on a film’s introductory credits makes me cringe. Famous artists, like Picasso, who were excused for being predatory jerks because of their so-called “genius”, have made me reevaluate what supposedly makes their art so great in the first place. 

And now we have Rowling. I have all her Potter books still, and had intended to reread for some time. Yet with every new story about her, I grow less and less inclined to pick them back up. She already has my money, so it doesn’t make much difference, but there’s a part of me that just doubts I can enjoy them. I’m guessing I’ll pick up on many more subtle prejudices than I did when I first read them. I’ll notice how almost everyone is white, and celebrates Christmas. I’ll pick up the coded language about the goblins and werewolves. I’ll see her descriptions of Nagini the snake, and remember that she decided it was a good idea to use the most recent films to insert the fiction that an Asian woman was trapped in that body, to then have her head cut off in a “heroic” moment of the final book. 

I have no answers here. I think this is a choice we all have to make for ourselves. What feels right, what we can live with. 

In the meantime, I know a number of people still struggle with the idea of transgenderism. We grow up in a society that is very focused on the binary, and most of us never went beyond our high school science class understanding of sex and gender (talk to or read some actual scientists, it is way more complicated than you think). Yet I would remind everyone, including myself, that if you’ve learned anything during these most recent protests, I would hope it would be that you need to take the time to learn about things that you don’t understand or that make you uncomfortable. If you have never felt uncomfortable with your gender role, or are really glad to be the sex you are, you are privileged. And privilege comes with responsibility. Listen to transgender people, it will teach you a great deal. 

Sunday Reflection – Listening, Not Lecturing

Yesterday I was on Facebook, and happened to see a post by the moderator of an animal adoption group that spoke of Martin Luther King Jr, and saying that he “burned nothing, and changed the world”.

Ironically, this moderator has always made a big deal about no political posts, and yet they felt comfortable posting a meme that misused the image of MLK to promote the idea that there is a “right” way for people of color to advocate for themselves.

White people – don’t do this.

Beyond the fact that white people who usually quote or meme MLK actually know very little about his actual beliefs, and just love to promote the white ideal of what he was, posting things like this show an utter lack of understanding of why Black people are angry, and the fact that they have every right to be.

I’ve talked before on this blog about how those in positions of superiority will gatekeep emotions to keep others in check. Once again, there are people who are insisting there is a “correct” way to fight back against a society that dehumanizes and punishes people for their skin color, gender, and sexuality.

It’s supremacist BS. Any group the only does the “correct” means of fighting back, wouldn’t be fighting back at all. Which is, of course, what the supremacists want, even if it’s at a subconscious level.

This is where the listening comes in.

It’s understandable to find riots scary. But fear is no excuse not to listen. It’s no excuse not to educate ourselves, learn what the systemic issues are that have led us to this point, and to understand that constant oppression has a cost for everyone.

So, white people – start listening. You want people to believe you’re not racist? Then you have to be actively anti-racist. Stop clutching your pearls, and really listen.

For a good start, here’s a moving video by Trevor Noah that speaks to how we’ve gotten here, based on recent events.

Sunday Reflection – The Gift of Hindsight

I was talking to my mom this weekend about my last blog post. I talk to my parents frequently, and they often were my major source of comfort for some of the events at work that left me so frustrated.

But despite that, when we were talking about the post, my mom said, “I had no idea it was that bad”.

Which is exactly the point. Neither did I.

When you’re in the midst of an experience, you can’t see the big picture. You can feel what you’re feeling at the time, you maybe can add context if you have some history, but it’s still a very narrow focus.

And frankly, most of the time I was just too darn tired to even be capable of thinking about it in broad terms.

It wasn’t until I was no longer in that environment that I could step back, look at my cumulative experiences, and make connections.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between a few big terrible actions, and a lot of small terrible ones. Whenever films or TV portray something like domestic violence, they like to go for the big, intense, shattering kind of representation. Broken furniture, physical violence, calls to 911. Which does happen, and is utterly horrible for the victims.

But what we never see represented are the small insidious abuses, often emotional or mental. The kind of thing where if you complain about it, people will shrug, and say you’re probably overacting. And if it only happened once, maybe you would be. But it doesn’t happen once. It happens over and over again, little bit by little bit, until you’ve spent twenty years with someone hurting you, and you haven’t even realized it.

Managers who break things and shout curses are getting pretty rare these days. Because it’s a behavior that can get them in trouble.

But gradually devaluing people you don’t care for? So much harder to point a finger at. Even for the people you’re doing it too.

Until they have a chance to stop, and look back.

I don’t know what my point is exactly. Maybe just that I hope people give themselves grace for not seeing the big picture sooner. I hope we all get better at acknowledging the small things that are not ok. That we understand we do not owe it to anyone to keep excusing behavior just because it’s not as bad as something else. And that we can draw the line in the sand, anytime we’re ready.

What’s something you saw with perfect clarity, only with hindsight?

In hindsight, pants would have been really nice.

Sunday Reflection – Success is a Spectrum

I’m not tech savvy enough to know exactly how computer algorithms work, but I do know my phone (and hence Google) pay a great deal of attention to every link I click. So I’ve started to see a number of recommended articles surrounding workplace culture and personal development. Which fits. I don’t love that I’m being stalked by a tech company, but in this case, they are at least somewhat accurate, and I do occasionally get some good recommendations out of it.

However, this past week the algorithm failed greatly when it suggested an article called “Why Most People Will Never Be Successful“. I’ve linked it here, because I try to be open about my sources, but I honestly don’t recommend it.

It essentially breaks down to, “I have a very narrow definition of success, everyone needs to be exactly this same way in their own lives, and if you waste time on anything not deemed hugely important by others, it’s your own fault for not having everything you want”.

I probably don’t have to specify the author’s demographics here. You already know.

At one point, I was tempted to write a line by line reason for why this article was so off the mark, but then I realized this gives it too much importance.

So some blowhard thinks he’s got special insight into success. So it just happens to fit with the way he lives his life. There’s a million more like him. Our society as a whole has a very narrow definition of what success is. It’s a extremely biased definition, that ignores real world challenges and difficulties for those not born at the pinnacle of privilege.

It’s frustrating, and yet it’s also tiresome to go ranting and raving about the obvious inanities of trying to define something as nebulous as success for the billions of humans in existence.

So for today, as one of those humans, who is trying, day by day, to dismantle all of the internal insecurities foisted on me by the culture in which I live, I just want to say this.

I believe that our success is up to us. I believe that you, and I, have inherent value that is completely separate from what we produce. I believe that a person being a good friend puts more value in the world than someone inventing an app that makes millions. I believe that others will always try to bring you down because they’re scared of their own inability to measure up. And I believe that there will come a day where we learn to drown out those voices and just enjoy being who we are, without tearing ourselves apart over who we one day could be.

What do you believe about success?

Sunday Reflection – Breaking the Illusion

I was scrolling on Twitter today (a bad habit, I know), and came across a few threads being written by artists. They were talking about how there tends to be this myth in art that using references (such as painting over photos, etc) is a form of “cheating”, and that “real” artists supposedly draw only from memory.

For more details on this myth, Arnie Fenner does a much better explanation of the issue and how it may have originated in his post Cheating.

These artists on Twitter were pointing out that reference use is actually really common, really helpful in creating art, and in fact, for some artists with disabilities, is a necessity.

And I suddenly felt incredibly sad. Because I remembered something.

When I was a teenager, I played around with drawing a little bit. I love all kinds of arts and crafts, and love learning to do new things. So I was practicing drawing, but doing it from reference – looking at other sketches, of flowers and plants, and trying to recreate them.

But somehow, without knowing it, I had internalized this idiotic message. I couldn’t even tell you where it came from or how I picked it up. But I completely dismissed what I did as “ok, but not real.” I didn’t keep doing it. I didn’t believe myself capable of the “real” thing, i.e. drawing from memory alone. Which I’m not, but turns out most people aren’t. It’s all an illusion.

I think what makes me sad is to realize that no matter how old I get, there’s always going to be more illusions I need to break through. More feelings of my own inadequacy that only come about because someone, somewhere, decided they needed to feel superior, and the way to do that was promote a false ideal.

Anyway, I’m going to go do some art now.


Sunday Reflection – What Makes Us Happy

There have been a lot of heavy moments recently. Well, to be honest, over the last few years. We all want to make an impact and fight for something better, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s still ok to play and laugh and find a way to focus on the small delights, to be in the moment.

And I think most of us know at this point that happiness isn’t a constant state or a feeling that can be forced into being, but rather occasional moments where we get to tap into something deeper and just feel…good.

So here are a few of my current small delights.


Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. There’s something about leaving the heat of summer, while still getting beautiful weather (mostly), seeing the flocks of migrating geese flying overhead, and most of all, watching the natural beauty of green fading into vibrant oranges and reds. This is the tree right outside my window, and in the shining sun, the leaves look like stained glass. Seeing this makes me happy.

A Community of Creativity

When you begin to embark on creative pursuits, you start to notice two kinds of people. Those who want to gatekeep, who think that writing or painting or dancing need to be done in a very strict and particular way to be legitimate. And then there are those who say, let’s throw these doors open, and welcome all who want to come in.

I want to be a door open kind of woman. And I like that I have friends who think the same way too. Today a friend posted the below online, and it was a reminder that I needed. Because it’s taken me time to get here, but I can call myself a writer. Because I write. It doesn’t matter if I get paid or not. It doesn’t matter how many views I get. I’m a writer.

Knowing that I can create, and that I have friends who support me unconditionally in doing so, makes me happy.

Other People’s Creativity

Confession – I’ve watched Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse three times in the last month. Partly because I’m a huge geek, and it’s a great superhero story with a great lead character, but in truth, it’s just such a beautiful movie. I just love looking at it. I love the thought that goes into each frame.

The below clip has over 9 million views on YouTube, and I’m not surprised. Each moment – Miles building himself up for the jump, the glass breaking due to his tension, and most of all, that breath-holding moment where the camera flips and you see him rise into his new life as he falls – it just blows me away.

It took hundreds of people working together to make this art. It’s amazing. And it makes me happy.

What moments make you happy? What are your small delights?

Sunday Reflection – Looking in the Mirror

Recently I had an epiphany about something in my personal life. It’s not something I’m ready to share, but it was a good reminder about how important it is to engage in self-reflection. I talk a lot about self-reflection in terms of leadership, and it is a vital component of any effective leader, but it’s also critical for all of us, in any dimension of our life.

We live in a very overwhelming world, and it’s often so easy to fall into the pattern of acting on impulse. And part of what can make self-reflection feel daunting is the idea that it takes a great deal of time and intention.

But the great thing about self-reflection is that it doesn’t actually take very much at all. Just a willingness to engage your own mind. A willingness to look at your own actions and behaviors, as well as the actions and behaviors of those around you. A willingness to let thoughts stream through your mind, without directing their flow.

And of course there are things that help. Solitude helps. Nature helps. Writing helps. Talking to trusted people helps. But none of these things are required. Just you, and the willingness to look in the mirror.

Sunday Reflection – Little Boxes

Recently, an actor promoting a TV show was asked about being in a Marvel movie, and he said he saw those films as being “for grown male nerd childs”. And when some Marvel fans got upset, he proceeded to double down and claim that is was just his “belief”.

Now, on one hand, this particular person is known for playing up the role of cynic for his career, and this is probably part of that.

On the other hand, I can’t help thinking about someone promoting the idea that it’s possible to believe that a certain kind of story or narrative is only “for” a certain group of people. Because to me that’s not really a belief.

You can believe that the stories in Marvel movies are underwritten, or juvenile, or silly. But can you really believe who an audience is?

This is something that’s a bit sensitive for me, as a woman who has long loved things that are considered to be in the male domain. And the truth is that women have always been interested in things like video games and action movies. But we were always told that it wasn’t “for” us.

I was catching up on Twitter and someone posted a fabulous story about introducing her 75 year old grandmother to playing Dungeons and Dragons. For those of you who are unfamiliar, DnD is a type of table-top role-playing game where a DM (Dungeon Master) plays the role of narrator and guides players through a collaborative make-believe scenario. It’s traditionally seen as part of the domain of the geeky and the young.

The granddaughter was marveling at how easily and quickly her traditional, non-English speaking grandmother took to role-playing, and how fully and happily she embodied her character of a forest-loving little gnome.

All of this is to say that I think anyone should be able to like anything that they want to like. That you can absolutely believe that something isn’t for you, but it’s a small-minded thing to believe that you can decipher who it is for. That you can see the inner workings of all people to know who is drawn to what.

It’s so easy to fall into stereotypes in this world, but we all should know better by now. A grandmother can like playing role-playing games, a Black woman can write comics, a gay man can direct an action movie, and a non-suffering artist can create a masterpiece.

Art is for whoever wants it. It’s not for the rest of us to decide.

Sunday Reflection – Gratitude Check-In

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude this week. Last weekend, I was struggling to tap into my feelings of gratitude, so it was interesting timing to see this interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert. Both men have experienced a great deal of loss in their lives, and engage in a really fascinating discussion on suffering, faith, and humanity. I highly recommend watching the whole thing, but here’s a clip of what Colbert has to say about gratitude.

I can’t say that I completely agree with Colbert on the idea of being grateful for everything. In some ways that feels like a bit of a privileged position. However, I do really admire his perspective on finding the gift in what has been lost. It’s an objectively terrible thing to lose someone you love, and yet, it does enable us to tap into a deeper aspect of humanity. We can empathize and support one another if we understand that we are not the only one who suffers.

So today, I am grateful for conversations like this. I am grateful for people who are vulnerable and open. I am grateful for people who choose empathy and who use their empathy as a power for the greater good. And I am grateful for all of my experiences, good and bad, that have made me the person I am today.

Sunday Reflection – Finding the Balance

I haven’t done a gratitude post in a while, and I started to write one. But I got stuck.

Normally it’s a quick and easy post to write. I have so much to be grateful for in my life, and I do believe that gratitude is an important tool in dealing with the challenges of our current world.

And yet, today, I just couldn’t find the words.

A long time ago, I read a great book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It was around the same time that I first started experiencing serious anxiety, where the feelings would hit out of the blue. My natural inclination was to always push back at how I was feeling, to talk to myself about how ridiculous I was being. And it was this book where I first came across the idea that you didn’t have to fight your bad feelings. That pushing back just made the fight last longer. That you could acknowledge, accept, and just let them pass through. And it for me it works.

I do still forget, often, and need to remind myself to practice this. Even today, I was trying to force myself to write something about gratitude. I was telling myself to push through the hesitation. But like all feelings, I think having a day where I just don’t feel like being grateful is ok.

So often we minimize feelings to good and bad, but it’s really about degrees. About balance. All feelings have validity, and all feelings can be taken to extremes. But pretending they’re not there doesn’t help.

So today I got a gentle reminder that my feelings are ok. I’m accepting where I am, I’m letting the feelings pass through, and maybe next weekend, I’ll be ready for that gratitude.

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