In which I tell you some things about me and set some ground rules.
Welcome, welcome, welcome to my corner of the internet, my room of one’s own, the place where I can write what I like, nerd out about stuff that really matters to me, and hang out with all of you!
If one thing became clear to me in the apocalypse that was 2020 it was that I don’t have to wait around for third-party permission or endorsement to write exactly what I want to write. I am my own authority.
Of course, with authority comes responsibility— to be focused, consistent, reliable, and offer the best of myself to this endeavor. I promise, hand to God.
Some have suggested that I should use this first post to lay out exactly what is going to happen here, a manifesto of sorts, but I already did that on the About page, so you should maybe go read that first. I’ll wait…
You back? Great! Onward.
Where it all started
This question of integrity— what it is and why it’s so important to cultivate— has been at the center of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. But if I had to point to one moment where the fire really got lit under me we’d have to go back to 1979.
In 1979 I was seven years old and my parents decided it was time for us to make a pilgrimage. My parents had become Quakers in their twenties and had all the zeal of the converted, so they decided the whole family (my two older brothers, my grandmother, my parents, and me) needed to go visit “Quaker country” in England.
For those who aren’t in the know about Quakers, I’m not going to give you a very complete history. Suffice to say, Quakers emerged in England in the 1600s in response to what founder George Fox and his followers believed were the problems with the Church of England. Specifically, Fox took issue with the hierarchy of the Church and society. He also condemned what he saw as the hypocrisy of church-goers, who went to church on Sunday and talked about living rightly but then did whatever the hell they wanted the other six days of the week.
Quakers believed that true people of faith must testify to their faith in every word and deed. You can imagine they were not fun at parties. They also believed that everyone carries that of God within them and so can preach, even women. This flew in the face of the teachings of the Church, and since the Church was the state religion, also the government. As a result, early Quakers, including many Quaker women, spent a LOT of time in jail.
Now, back to 1979. Remember, I am seven years old. I am in second grade. So that you can better imagine the scene, here is a photo I dug up of me in 1979.
The Dorothy Hamill hairdo was a thing then, what can I say?
As part of our pilgrimage, my parents took us to a museum in what had been a jail where many Quakers were imprisoned. In that cold stone room, in a glass box on a plinth at seven-year-old eye level, was this horrific contraption.
This is a “scold’s bridle”. It’s an iron cage that encases a person’s head. The iron bar inserts into their mouth to hold their tongue down so they cannot speak, or barely swallow. My mother informed me that this torture was specifically inflicted on Quaker women for having the audacity to speak their truth in public. The women were left in these monstrosities for days at a time.
My reflection in the glass put my head in the middle of that cage, and three hard truths lodged themselves firmly in my seven-year-old heart. One, men in power are not messing around. They will go to extraordinary lengths to shut women up who dare to speak truth to power. Two, if speaking truth to power didn’t matter so much they would not fight it so hard, and three, these were my people, and someday it would be my turn to speak up.
I was a very intense little kid. I also wasn’t wrong.
Speaking up against injustice and inequity was at the center of our public life as a family and community. We went to all the big marches. We picketed the South African embassy to protest apartheid. We worked in soup kitchens. Even the structure of our family, since both my older brothers were adopted and black, seemed designed to be a stand against the powers-that-be.
And yet in private, we weren’t so righteous. My family, and many of the families I knew, were riddled with addiction, abuse, and violence. We espoused pacifism, but I watched my father spank my brother with a wooden spoon. I watched one brother put the other’s head through a window. I was terrorized by one brother, and belittled by the other. At five, in a sudden fit of rage, I grazed one brother’s throat with a table knife. The dissonances accumulated yet were never discussed, ever.
As an adult, I pursued Leftist politics further and encountered more of the same dissonance. Men who were lauded as so radical, but treated the women in their lives like nothing but shit to be wiped with disgust off their shoe. White folks who decried racism, but silenced and then pushed out the people of color in their organizations.
I came to believe above all other things, not unlike George Fox, that if you can’t walk your talk even when no one is looking, even when the stakes seem small and private, then your talk is empty. If you cannot find integrity when the stakes seem small and private, you will have no strength to stand with integrity when the stakes are large.
I also came to understand that living our beliefs is hard, often humbling, constant work. It requires deep self-investigation and accountability— to yourself, your loved ones, and whatever Higher Power you bow down to. It also cannot be achieved without mercy and compassion, because you will not always behave in the way you believe you should, nor does anyone else. Humor and the ability to laugh at yourself also help; generous laughter is an antidote to shame.
I was raised with an enduring sense of responsibility to live with integrity but wasn’t taught how to actually do the necessary work with honesty and love. I had to figure that out on my own, and I am still, and always, learning. It is my great hope that here we can learn together.
My Party, My Rules
There are only two non-negotiable rules here at Let Your Life Speak.
You do not have to be religious, or believe in God, or have any spiritual practice whatsoever to hang out here. Everyone is welcome. But I am a person of faith with all sorts of mystical tendencies. I use tarot cards and the I Ching. I am a trained astrologer. Some have called me a witch. If you take issue with any of that, or ever feel the desire to inform me that any or all of that is hogwash, this is not the party for you. Don’t let the door hit ‘ya.
Doing the work to show up with integrity necessarily involves vulnerability. I will be vulnerable. Other people will be vulnerable. I hope that you will be kind to me and each other, but at the very least, don’t be an asshole.
The End (almost)
That’s enough for today. I’ll be back with personal essays every other Monday. On the other Mondays, I’ll be sharing interviews with fascinating folks talking about how they show up in their integrity. Wednesdays you can still, and always, read my column on Medium. Fridays I’ll send out a weekly list of resources— articles, book recommendations, videos, poems— that help me show up and hopefully will help you, too.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming. Please subscribe and join me on this journey! If you also want to share this to invite friends or family to join us that would be an amazing gift.