What Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance Meant to Me

I wasn’t at Beychella (sadly), but I am still feeling so inspired by Beyoncé’s two performances at Coachella over the past two weekends. I am still listening to the Beychella2018 playlist on Spotify and imagining that I am there, dancing along with her (with a lot fewer of the steps memorized and a LOT more winded— actually, if it’s just dreaming, maybe I can do all the steps).

I have been to multiple Beyoncé concerts. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to be in a small area in the stage called the “Beyhive” during her Lemonade Tour. It was a life-changing evening.  Watching from close by as Beyonce danced for hours at a break-neck pace, sang beautifully, and put her increasingly personal lyrics on display threw me for a loop.  It wasn’t until two days later that I felt that I had fully come back to Earth (and it was, frankly, a bit of a letdown, because life in Beyoncé’s orbit seems much, much better than regular life).

Beyoncé owns her power in a way that is incredibly inspiring. I once heard a choreographer who works with Beyonce say that every dance move she makes is meant to convey women’s power, and I think you can feel that (although I would not have been able to put it to words until hearing that statement).  

In this performance Beyoncé owned and celebrated her Blackness in a way that seemed even more complete than in her previous incarnations.  All the musicians and dancers were Black, her costumes were derived from Egyptian inspiration as well as inspiration from the marching bands and stepping troupes of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  As Jenna Wortham said on the Still Processing podcast episode about Beychella, it was like she was saying in the most obvious terms “our [Black] lives matter.”  

In the context of so much terror reigning down on people of color in the United States right now (in the form of unnecessary arrests of Black people waiting at Starbucks for a friend, in the form of the highest number of deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of police in our country’s history, in the form of our President going out of his way to never utter the names of Black people killed by mass shootings. . . ) Beyoncé’s celebration of Blackness was both timely and especially evocative.  

Beyoncé’s own mother, Tina Lawson, took to social media to say that she had been nervous about this overt display of Blackness that she thought the Coachella audience (largely comprised of young white people) might not understand.  She said that Beyoncé’s response humbled her.  Beyoncé responded that she had worked long and hard to be able to have a “true voice,” and that she had “a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.”

I am so inspired by how Beyoncé is unapologetically herself. I think that is what so many respond to, beyond her incredible talent and artistry. Beyoncé shows us what she is capable of, which leads us to feel like we might be capable of more, ourselves.

So much of her performance is filled with joy and exuberance as well, that it reminded me of the saying by Toi Dericottethat “joy is an act of resistance.”

And by using her voice to show what she truly cares about she exposes us (her non-African American fans), educates us, elevates us, celebrates where she is from and who she is, and shows us what a world looks like where the power and culture of historically denigrated groups rises to prominence.

Beyoncé is a seemingly bottomless source of inspiration.

Is It Supposed to Be Like This?

We had a crazy plane ride yesterday as we began our son’s Spring Break.  The kind of flight that feels like it’s shaving years off your life, if you even make it that long.

The plane was jumping and jerking in the air, and our stomachs were in our throats.  The view outside the windows was bobbing and dipping.  It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, which you can tell by the look on my daughter’s face in the picture above. We were laughing and shrieking, holding hands, and throwing each other silent looks that said with unnaturally wide eyes, “Is it supposed to be like this?”

I was pretty sure, but not certain, that we were not going to die.  I don’t love that feeling, to be honest.  I much prefer being able to tell that everything is fine when on a plane.  But this was not one of those rides.

During this episode, my son was so engrossed in his iPad that he didn’t even seem to notice that the rest of us were contemplating our wills.  If this is not proof of the dangers of technology, I don’t know what is.  But I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to interrupt his reverie to point out our proximity to our mortality.

As we approached landing, I was still extremely nervous.  I was trying to convince my daughter that our flight of fear was about to end, but I was worrying to myself that it might not end well.  How would the wheels hit the ground when we had spent the whole flight at weird angles?

“Ten, nine, eight, seven. . . . ” I counted down to Gabby as we neared the ground, praying to myself that when we touched down we did so the way plane manufacturers intended.

My breath caught in my throat as I reached my final countdown.   It took a few moments before I could tell that we were going to land properly.  But we did.

I am always grateful when a plane lands successfully.  I don’t remember ever being as grateful as I was when that plane landed yesterday.

We got in our car and headed straight to dinner.  I also don’t remember drinking a glass of wine faster than I did last night.  I think wine might have been invented for occasions such as these.

 

A Special Wednesday

This week I had the opportunity to read to my son’s First Grade class.  This is exciting to me for a number of reasons, one of them being how much I love books (another being that in First Grade, as opposed to Kindergarten, parents at my son’s school aren’t allowed to be as ever-present.  So any chance to be in the classroom and see what’s going on in there is a cause for celebration in my book.).

But I really love reading to the kids.  The last time I had the chance to read to them, I’d gone for laughs.  My son had come home talking about how hilarious the book was that another parent had read, so being a bit competitive, I felt like I’d try to go the same route (and, hopefully, deliver similar results).  It had been fine, and fun, but this time I decided to go a different route.

My son mentioned the possibility of reading a new book we had bought about Frida Kahlo.  I loved that idea and realized we had a second book from the same series about Maya Angelou.  When I discovered that it happened to be Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday that day, it felt like something of a sign from the book gods.  So I went in with those two books, each from my favorite genre– biography, and about rad women.

Neither book is funny, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the First Graders.  But they were so lovely, so into these stories.  They loved that the stories were about real people (and real people who overcome great difficulty to make great art and become well-known).  Their teacher had done a great job of showing the kids the similarities between themselves and Maya Angelou, who, she pointed out, was a writer like them (as they are writing their own books and poetry in class this year).

They sat in rapt attention and asked great questions after each book.  The whole experiende made me swoon inside. Watching the kids loving books and getting to share the experience of loving these books with them felt so special.

It was just another Wednesday.  But it was a special one for me.

By the way, the books I read are from an awesome series called Little People, Big Dreams, and each book I’ve read from series has been wonderful.

Dotted With a Heart

I came home yesterday to a large white envelope that didn’t look like a bill. I love snail mail, so I eagerly ripped into it, but what was inside surprised me and left me momentarily speechless.

Inside were several brightly colored letters written in pencil on lined looseleaf paper. They were covered in stickers and written in lovely childlike handwriting, some of the i’s dotted with hearts. They were from a 5th grade class that I had donated books to through the organization Donor’s Choose. Donor’s Choose lets you pick among requests from teachers in your area who need various supplies for their classrooms and donate money toward fulfilling those needs. I had given money to fund this 5th grade class’s need for books in their classroom.

To be honest, I had forgotten about the donation. I love Donor’s Choose and try to made several donations to them throughout the year, but I had forgotten about this fifth grade class and their books. Thanks to those letters, I’ll never forget them now.

The class wrote about how much they loved the books and which ones were their favorites. Many of the children wrote that The Babysitter’s Club books were their favorite. When I saw that, my breath caught in my throat, because those had been my favorite books growing up.

One girl ended her letter P.S. I love reading. ❤

My heart melted for that girl, because I was that girl. I always loved reading and still do. To see that these children are loving reading and to know I had a small part in helping to foster that love made my day. I pinned her letter up on the bulletin board next to my desk and have smiled each time I’ve glanced up at it.

If you want to feel great, donate to Donor’s Choose. You will help a teacher and their students, and it might make your own day.

What Are You Celebrating Today?


When my yoga teacher first asked me the question, it made me pause, almost disoriented. But I loved the question and wanted to think about it.

“What are you celebrating today,” Peter inquired. He said he and his husband made a point of asking each other this question on a regular basis. I love the idea of celebrating big and small things in life, and so the idea of asking this question each day sounded like a great way of finding even more to celebrate in life.

So I started asking my kids. On the car ride to school in the morning, I’d ask them what they were celebrating that day. At first, I had to give examples of what they might be celebrating. But quickly they caught on. And I loved hearing about what they were excited about or felt was worth celebrating in their everyday lives.

Some days it was something big, like my son’s football team being in the Super Bowl. But often it was something much smaller. Like winning a game at recess. Or looking forward to a friend being back in school that day. Or that it was Pizza Day at lunch. Or Daddy coming home from a work trip.

After they answered the question, my kids would ask me what I was celebrating. I’d pause and think, trying to will my coffee to kick in so I could think of the thing I felt most like celebrating that day. It was usually something like the sun being back out after many days of rain or looking forward to a plan I had later that day. But the idea of having something worth celebrating made the beginning of this new day feel more exciting (and worthy of celebration).

It can be easy to start the day worrying about all the things you need to accomplish or how you’re running late for the kids’ bus (which I feel like I am nearly every day lately). But focusing, instead, on something worthy of celebration is a great way of shifting your focus to the positive (and changing the outlook on your day).

Now, my daughter will often surprise me by asking me out of the blue what I’m celebrating in the morning. She is much more of a morning person than I am, and I love that this is now where her mind goes as we drive to her bus stop. It shows how powerful the questions are that we ask ourselves and how they train our minds to look for exactly what we’re asking.

So, I have to ask you— What are you celebrating today?

A Perfect Mess

I agreed to go to a glassblowing class with a friend a few years ago in Santa Barbara, and it turned into a big mess.  I had never thought of trying glassblowing before, but my friend was so excited to try it, that I agreed to sign up with her.  When I got there, chaos ensued.

I grew up feeling this weird pressure to be perfect. I think there are probably a lot of reasons I felt like this, one significant one being that this is often something our culture causes girls to feel.  We make them feel like they need to be perfect to be worthy. They need to have the perfect thing to say before they feel like they should speak out loud. They need to look perfect to feel good about who they are. They need to have perfect achievements to feel that their work is valuable.  Our culture tells everyone that mistakes are embarrassing, and super-sensitive kids like me took that notion to heart.

This is such a trap because we all know perfection is impossible. But it can get into our heads and holds us back from so many things.

I knew I had a serious problem when my friend and I got to the glassblowing class and I nearly had a panic attack because I was so afraid of not being perfect.  My heart was racing and I seriously wanted to get out of that room with all the glass-blowing equipment.  I was so sure I couldn’t be perfect at this new activity that I wanted to run and do something else that I wouldn’t embarrass myself at.

I could see that it was ridiculous (it was just me, and my friend, and the super-friendly guy teaching us— there was no one who was going to be judging me— except myself). And that was the problem. I have spent my whole life feeling that if I couldn’t be awesome at something, I didn’t even want to try. Which is a good way to stay in a rut and never do anything interesting.

My friend, on the other hand, was having the time of her life at this glassblowing class. She was so excited to try something new, so jazzed to see what she could make, so psyched about all the possible colors. She even laughed when she messed up. She was having so much fun, and I was seriously trying to fend off a panic attack. What was wrong with this picture??

I took a hard look at myself after that day. I was embarrassed by my own behavior, by my own limiting thoughts that took the joy out of that class for me. I knew I wanted to do things differently than I was.

In so many other areas of my life I was able to focus on the joy, to find the good and to lean into it. But I had found a place where I was so stressed about perfection that it held me back completely.

At the end of that glassblowing class, I had a cool mint green glass bowl to show for my efforts. Yes, the dude teaching us helped me a lot (who can be perfect at glassblowing the first time they do it?! There is a super-hot oven, all kinds of instruments you’ve never seen in any other context, and the blowing required in glassblowing takes what seems like a superhuman amount of lung strength.). But with his help, I’d made something really cool, and in hindsight, it had even been fun. (And funny— my near panic attack from a glassblowing class designed for tourists had to be a first.). Also- that bowl (in the photo above) looks cooler because it’s not perfect.  Its imperfections are truly what make it look interesting and different.  If it were a perfect bowl, no one would ever wonder or ask about it.  Because I, a first-time glassblower, made it, it is funky, and unusual, and dare I say, awesome.

My quest for perfection very nearly kept me from doing something cool. And it nearly ruined the whole experience. How could I do it differently next time? And how could I hold myself to a lighter standard that didn’t require any kind of perfection (particularly at something I’d never done before).

This is lifetime work, not something that can be overcome in a day. But it’s a worthwhile question, I think— how is a feeling that we need to be perfect holding us back? How can we enjoy things for the experience of them without holding ourselves to a standard that is unrealistic? How can we find joy- even in things we don’t know how to do- and not demand we be perfect at it right away?

In my case, every time I see that glass bowl on my table it makes me think about all these questions. It makes me chuckle at myself. Because, thanks to me and the unrealistic standard I had for myself, that glassblowing class really blew.

Seeing Beauty in New Places

This week Gerber (the baby food company) did something awesome. They chose Lucas,  the beautiful baby above, to be their Gerber Baby of 2018. Lucas is the first Gerber Baby to have Down Syndrome. In making this choice, Gerber helped revolutionize our standards of beauty.

The Gerber Baby has long been seen as the quintessentially beautiful baby. If someone wanted to say a baby looked like the cutest, most perfect baby there could possibly be they would say he or she “looks like the Gerber Baby!”

To choose a child with a disability as the Gerber Baby helps us all to see beauty in new ways. Our culture often has very narrow confines of what is considered beautiful. But there are so many ways to be beautiful. Sometimes we just need to see with new eyes. How advertising chooses to represent beauty can have an effect on what we see as beautiful.

As the mother of a beautiful child with special needs, it means so much to me that we as a culture come to see beauty in more expansive ways. I truly believe that when we open our eyes to all the beauty that surrounds us, we will be astounded.

It has made me wonder how can we all begin to see more beauty in this world? Where might it be hiding right in front of us (or inside of us)?

Finding Joy in the Winter

Sometimes it can feel as though finding joy in our everyday lives is easier in the summer. With the long, warm days, and the prevalence of vacations, it often feels as though joy comes to you in the summer without you needing to go look for it. Everything can feel easier when the sun shines day after day and when you can wear flip flops all the time, can’t it?

In the winter, when the days are shorter and colder, finding daily joys can feel like a bit more of a challenge. Even in Northern California, where we never have snow, winter can be very gray and rainy. After even a few days of rain, I can feel myself feeling kind of bummed.

So what can we do to find joy around us in the winter? Here are some ideas that I’ve honed over the years:

Enjoy the coziness that the winter months encourage. Even nature rests in the winter. Why don’t we take our cues from nature and hunker down a bit? Grab a warm blanket and hop on the couch with a good book or a favorite series.

When the sun does come out, enjoy it. Stop and notice a beautiful blue sky. Watch the birds fly across the winter sky. Stop and notice the formation of a flock flying overhead. It only takes a few seconds, but noticing the beauty can make a difference in how you approach what you do next. If it is snowing, stop and enjoy it. We tend to do this during the first snowfall, but by the tenth, we feel over it. What if this would be the last time you saw the snow? Or what if it was your first? Watching my son witness snow for the first time this winter was so magical. It’s like he couldn’t believe it was real. What if we treated snow and rain like this— with the wonder we felt the first time we saw it? Watch a toddler react to the rain and snow for some examples of what this looks like. Put your boots on and jump in a puddle. Or watch the snow hit your gloves and really look at the pattern in a snowflake.

Enjoy a daily tea or coffee ritual. Slow down and enjoy your hot beverage. Put it in a beautiful mug and appreciate the warmth it brings you. What do you notice when you’re not multitasking but instead enjoying this piping hot beverage? Maybe make yourself hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows) and be fully present for each sip of it.

Invest in a Happy Light. I have seen this small natural spectrum light therapy light make a difference for me this winter. When the grey skies become too much, I just turn on this light and somehow the bright sunny light makes me feel like I can make it through the winter.

Make lists of things you’re grateful for. Keeping a gratitude journal helps me to see how much joy is already around me, even on days that feel hard. Once you start looking for it, you’ll see how much joy is already around you. And it helps you to appreciate it more. Winter or summer.

Many of these ideas will help regardless of the season. Winter can be a great time to hone our joy-finding muscles. And, if all else fails, we can pin our hopes on the Groundhog!

Reflections on the Women’s March a Year Later

I had planned on flying to Washington, D.C. to witness Hillary Clinton’s Inauguration. So when I heard a Women’s March was being planned for the day following Trump’s Inauguration, it was an easy choice to go. My close friend Jillian and I made plans to meet in Washington (and stayed in the hotel room her parents had reserved for Hillary’s Inauguration). It was my birthday weekend, and it felt like the right thing to be doing at a time when the world seemed to have taken a quite unexpected turn.

As I boarded my plane in San Francisco, I noticed nearly every single passenger was a woman (many wearing the pink pussy hats that had become an impromptu symbol of the march). I did a double-take when I noticed that even Virgin Airlines had written on the screen behind the gate “Good Luck at the Women’s March.”

Our hotel room overlooked the White House, and it was surreal to see it, knowing that Donald Trump was spending his first night there as President. The White House was lit in the night sky, and, though I’d long been a fervent student of American government (it was even my college major), for the first time it made my heart hurt to look at it.

The next morning, Jillian and I walked to the location of the March. We had heard they were expecting a lot of people at the March, but no one knew how many people would be there. As we got closer to the location, it became more and more clear that it was an unbelievably huge crowd. It was a bigger crowd than I had ever been a part of, and my heart surged as I saw how many people there were from every walk of life, ever color, and, judging by the signs and placards they were carrying, with a zillion different issues on their minds. There were mostly women, of course, but I was impressed by the numbers of men and children who were also marching.

But the thing that impressed me the most was the mood of the crowd— it was upbeat and resolute and joyful. And incredibly peaceful. Despite there being many hundreds of thousands of people there crowded into a relatively small space (estimates range from 800,000 to 1.2 million— a park ranger on that day estimated the crowd for us at 1.2 million), I didn’t notice one instance of violence, or pushing, or even impatience. This despite the fact that there was barely room to move while we listened to the speakers who the March had organized— a group that was more diverse in every way than I could have imagined ahead of time. And despite the fact that, when it came time to March, an impromptu plan had to be devised because marchers filled the entire march route before we’d moved an inch!

In many ways we went to Washington to march because of the fear of what the future held. But you never would have guessed that from the crowd that day. Instead, the feeling I felt as I saw the enormous crowd and talked to people from around the country gathered there was that of hope, and togetherness, and principled resolve. Being part of that crowd that day made me feel that, if we kept working together, we would be okay.

The crowd was so big that I couldn’t get any internet access, which was just as well, because I wanted to soak in everything that was happening— the speakers, the marchers, the awesomely creative signs people had made.
After a long day powered on joy and peaceful protest, Jillian and I returned to our hotel room. Only then did we discover that millions of people around the globe had joined in Women’s Marches of their own. That realization brought tears to my eyes.

The energy of that day carried me for quite a long time— it’s still carrying me in many ways. Seeing what a group of committed, peaceful, caring citizens are capable of was life-affirming and caused me to feel so much joy and hope in our country, in our world, and in what we are capable of doing when we work together.

I’ll never forget that day, as long as I live.

* There are Women’s Marches planned across the country for the Anniversary of the Women’s March this Sunday, January 21, 2018. Find out more about it at: https://www.womensmarch.com

The Smallest Things Can Mean the Most

This blog is called Beacon & Joy because I lived at the intersection of Beacon and Joy Streets in Boston, and I always loved the name of that place. But it’s also called Beacon & Joy because I am always looking for beacons of light in otherwise dark times and because I have trained my eyes to focus on joy. This is the best way I’ve found to move through my own life. I also hope to offer a beacon and some joy to others. It makes me happy to share the things that make me happiest. It’s why I started blogging in the first place.

Over the past year, I have watched my own reactions to cruel and heartless things uttered by our President. I’ve had days when I was undone by them, when I spent the entire day trying to make sense of why someone would say something like that, much less the President.

He did it again yesterday. And this time I watched my own reaction.

I still felt the heartbreak that has come to feel familiar. But while my heart was aching, I thought about what I could say or do to make even the smallest bit of difference in my own small world.
This is what I said, on Facebook:

I believe part of the reason we are all here together is to lift each other up.
All of us. Not just the President. But I miss having a President who tried
to do this— to inspire and to life people up. And who saw it as part of his job.

We are all in this together. And all of us can probably remember a time when
a kind word or a thoughtful gesture made all the difference. Let’s fill the gap
where our President is so lacking. We are all One.

 

These beliefs are central to who I am. They are what I’ve believed for decades, but these beliefs have only been reinforced by the challenges life has sent my way and only deepened in the past few years, as I have watched with heartbreak as I have watched the Presidency reduced to the feather in the cap of a man for whom ego is everything.

I cannot change the President right now. That’s not a power I have, though I have fantasized of possibilities for doing so. But what I can do is step out into my day with the intention of finding beacons and joys, and of being a beacon and a joy.

Has it ever happened to you that you’re having what seems like the worst day ever and then someone is unexpectedly kind to you, and it changes everything? Me too. In fact, it happened just a few weeks ago. And in those moments I am flooded with gratitude and reminded of how big small actions can be. A smile. A kindness. A hug when you really needed one.

So when I feel this heartbreak, I’m heading out into the world armed with the things I do have at my disposal— my smiles, my kindnesses, my hugs. I know they can make all the difference.

Join me, will you? Let’s make this day a beautiful one, where we extend kindness and love to others, even in the smallest of ways.

The effect can be incredibly powerful. And you will be an antidote to the things that make our hearts ache. You will be a beacon and a joy. As you are.