The Curious Incident of the Toe in the Coffee Shop

I am now home early with my leg propped up on three pillows because of The Curious Incident of The Toe at the Coffee Shop. I shall explain.

First off, I am a firm believer that every coffee shop needs a kooky punk girl to add character–and I am that girl. I have taken the purple ombre hair and run with it. Full-on black liquid liner and wild red lips are my thing, today with tight buns on each side of the top of my head. It goes with the black uniform, it’s a good look for me, and whenever high school acquaintances come through the line, it totally camouflages the fact that I am a 35 year old nearly-phd’d writer serving coffee in her hometown.

I wore makeup I bought in Brooklyn, New York, and shoes I took with me to the Amazon jungle. I carry my travels—my life in the world—with me always.

Today, carrying recycling boxes, I managed to split my toenail open kicking the shop door. It bled everywhere; my sandal looked like a prop from a zombie film. The first aid-kit, however, was well stocked, and I fixed it. My boss worried over my injury, like I was an actual human. I assured her I was fine.

Somehow, I feel like a kid again. Maybe it’s the purple hair, or the fact that I’ve always wanted to work in a coffee shop, or the fact that I am earning money from a community hub, doing work that makes people happy, instead of slaving away for indentured servant wages in the academic gulag. But I am free.

I played a video game tonight, with money earned from tips. It was silly, frivolous. But it made me HAPPY. The endorphins were pumping. The colors and dazzling stars and movement did their job—way to go, programmers! And as I sit here with my toe split in half, healing after being propped up all day, in my high school bedroom, with my pink lava lamp on, I realize. This is actually pretty good.

The best part? I didn’t have to go corporate: I get to be a writer.

I have always wanted to work in a coffee shop—not a Starbucks, but a weird little place with its own drinks and a community. Today felt like a scene from Mystic Pizza. Three girls, in a little shop with an owner who cares about her product and her people, filing orders. Granted, one was in high school, one was in her twenties, and I’m the 35-year-old, purple-haired writer. But there was a camaraderie untainted by competition. Working beside each other, earning our keep, laughing and sharing makeup tips (and tip money), I realize: there is a whole world out there where your coworkers aren’t at each other’s throats. Small businesses are fun. Not only are they a brave last stand against corporate America, but they’re the heart of communities—from the Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant to the coffee shop in a tiny town, population 2,192 (or so I last I heard from the mayor, via Daddy).

The academic gulag isn’t like that. You compete with your best friends for the same national fellowships—and the same company-store-wage, resume-line, in-house indentures. Why? All to earn another resume bullet, so you can win more fellowships, get your credentials stamped, and continue competing with the same winners for the same jobs. Academia is a tiny world.

But the real world is huge.

And there is better coffee.

Take heart, have faith, and create the life you want. Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

the mesmerizing magic of self-care

I took the Sunday. To actually rest. I lazed about in my pajamas and binge watched and wrote and recharged my batteries. I yoga’d some kinks out of my shoulders and I ate chocolate chips and kettle-cooked potato chips together with coffee.

Supreme laziness? Maybe that’s what it looks like. But it’s more like the hummingbird image in this puddle of rain and oil and tricks of the light: junk food and yoga and rest and cuddling my dog and deep breaths and Netflix were more than the sum of their parts, and I feel ready to take on the week and soar, for the first time in a long time, I’m EXCITED about Monday.

The best part is: I DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR CHILLING. There were a million things I could have been doing (I’m pointedly not saying “should have” here). But I needed to recharge my batteries so I can begin the week fresh, ready to take on all the challenges and adventures that come.

The more we value our time, resources, energy–ourselves–the better we can complete the tasks set before us and accomplish our goals. But it’s true.

And I’ll start my week with excitement.

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

A Handbook for Processing Cultural and Personal Trauma

Many people are emotionally reeling right now. In addition to the turmoil in the world, we all have our own stuff. My great-uncle passed away this weekend, and I loved him dearly. He was a hero of the Korean War, beloved by all, full of laughter and light and stories—and love. All he had seen, all he had experienced, made him more loving, more empathetic, and more compassionate. He cared deeply for all life. With my emotional red alert raised already by the refugee crisis, my uncle’s death was harder to process. This is normal; we’ve all got our “stuff.” And in times like these, what might have felt like ordinary obstacles can become full-on roadblocks, and traumas seemingly insurmountable.

Seeing refugee children torn from their parents’ arms and placed in cages and tent cities is terrifying. Perhaps it is even more frightening seeing people we know (or thought we knew) supporting this horrific violation of human rights.

When I taught the Holocaust, my students would ask me, “How could this happen?” There is no simple answer. Indifference, fear, hatred, and bigotry are the big ones. But the choice to be a bystander is in itself a choice. Do you look, and face the darkness, or do you turn away, barbecue something on the grill, change the tv channel? Do you believe the propaganda, because it’s easier than facing the darkness and then having to make the choice about actually doing something about it? Or do you find a way to stay kind, to stay aware, to stay good, and somehow remain sane despite all the madness around you?

These are hard questions. And I’ve thought about them for seventeen years. As a scholar of war and human rights, watching or reading the news is never simple.

Anxiety is running rampant in these dark times.

But there are some strategies I learned in my years studying the Holocaust, slavery, and genocide, that help me to stay sane.

The first is the most important. It’s about perspective. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu heard hundreds of hours of accounts of the worst violence, torture, and cruelty—what Victor Frankl described after the Holocaust as “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Oprah (yes, Oprah, legit!) asked Tutu years ago how he handled it. Tutu said that most people are like vacuum cleaners; they suck all of horrible things they see inside of them and it just stays there. Tutu said that we have to be dishwashers: to witness, to help others be seen, to process their stories, and to clean them.

It’s hard to be a dishwasher. Reading concentration camp memoirs and stories from the Warsaw Ghetto and U.S. State Department documents turning refugees away, such as the story of the SS. St. Louis, in which refugees from the Holocaust were literally on the coast of the USA, yards away from safety, but were turned away. They died.

I fell into a deep depression the first time I was studying these things, and understandably so. But I had to learn that the act of witnessing, of listening, of not turning away, is itself a good deed. It’s the right thing to do. When we don’t turn away, we can educate others.

When we don’t turn away, we have to process the grief and the horror and the compassion fatigue. It’s hard, but it can be done.

MEMOIRS

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Reading memoirs of trauma and violence can be overwhelming. But they can also be sources of hope—many authors stand out in this category, transmuting their experiences into stories that can uplift us after they make us cry. Organized by going backward in time, here are a few to get you started:

  • Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom (Mandela’s memoir of Apartheid)
  • Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage (on surviving the Warsaw Ghetto in the Holocaust)
  • Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography (American slavery and freedom from the perspective of escaped slave—and greatest orator of the nineteenth century—Douglass)

HISTORY

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And reading books that explain how ordinary people either let terrible things happen—or how they chose to fight them—is also helpful. Alphabetically, these are excellent:

SELF-CARE

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It’s also important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself!

  • Go outside and look at nature, whether that means visiting the flowers in a park a few blocks away, or out your backdoor at the Chesapeake Bay, just DO it! Here’s more on “Why Connecting with Nature Elevates Your Mental Health.”
  • Read a favorite book, one you already know and love. (Check out my Goodreads here!)
  • Watch an old comedy that always makes you laugh. Lifehack has a great list of 10 Movies You Should Watch to Boost Your Mood and Energy. An IMDB user made a comedy list of movies that cheer you up.
  • And seriously, laugh! No, really. Even fake laughter releases endorphins that are very real for your body. If you can’t make yourself laugh, take a gander at “laughter yoga.Call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a long time.
  • Call the people you love and tell them how much you love them.
  • Send snail mail along the same lines.
  • Look at beautiful pictures—faerie eyries, mountains, the beach, puppies–to destress. There are ACTUAL STUDIES on this.
  • Make yourself a special mocktail (here’s my mocktail recipe board).
  • Order your favorite meal.
  • Take a hot bath. Use candles. Add bath salts. Music helps too. Go wild. Add a boat like Chandler Bing from Friends if you need to make it feel more manly. (Actually, here’s a whole fun thread about Friends!)
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  • Listen to slow, soft music that slows down your brain. Here’s Peaceful Piano on Spotify!
  • Take deeeeeeep breaths. In to the count of three, out for the count of five. This gets your body out of fight or flight mode, and lets it normalize itself. Let the Berkeley scientists teach you mindful breathing here.
  • Play: pick up an instrument, lift weights, play video games with your kids or friends, toss a ball for your dog, annoy your cat by removing them from whatever box they are currently sitting in and cuddle.
  • Exercise—just 20 minutes of cardio releases seratonin in a big way. The Runner’s High is REAL, folks.
  • Get in touch with the Higher Power of your understanding and ask for help.
  • Work on mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh is my favorite writer on this topic, and this is my favorite book of his. He even has a great quote on the magic of washing the dishes:

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

OTHER RESOURCES

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And please remember: it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out. Ask your loved ones for a little extra TLC or a hug. Talk to a trauma therapist. Send up a flare. Let someone see you, really see you—so they can know.

We are all in this together. Keep fighting the good fight and take care of yourselves. And love each other. Love each other fiercely, because life is short. But hang in there, because together, we dishwashers can help heal ourselves, hold each other up, and continue the great work of doing good wherever we can, however we are able

And as always, Namaste, Darlings

—Maggie

we can only change ourselves

“In spite of our desires, changing others will never be an option, whereas changing ourselves takes only a decision and is a choice always available.” ― Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women Hazelden) 

We can only change ourselves! This is good news, though, because it frees us from the overwhelming burden of having to fix ALL THE THINGS for EVERYONE–as if we actually could…

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I love my 90s kid cultural references (and if you haven’t seen Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, you should, because it’s my favorite adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, like, ever).

But on a serious note, part of recovery is recognizing that the only part of our mental health equation we can control is ourselves. Our reactions, our choices, our outlook. We got this. God’s got this. And daily meditations like the one from THIS FABULOUS BOOK (quoted at the top of the post) help immensely.

May you find joy, and grace, and life today.

Namaste, Darlings!

-Maggie

Recovery in Troubled Times

So many folks in my recovery community are having a hard time with current political events. How do we stay sober while the world seems to be falling apart? The answer is simple, and complicated. The simple part is to keep doing the things that keep you sober in good times: keeping it in the day, giving the worry to your Higher Power, and making copious gratitude lists.

Harder right now, perhaps for those of us in recovery, the  more complicated part is not giving in to the societal disease of power and indifference that we see around us.

It helps me, as a scholar of people, war, and human rights (and, weirdly, alcohol), to remember that countless people went through terrible times before in human history. The AA Big Book talks about World War II soldiers who went through the war in recovery; their stories can be inspirational. But on a more macro level, human history has always been full of troubled times: wars, famines, plagues—and we’ve made it through.

Celebrate small victories; I can’t do much about foreign policy right now other than educate those in my circle on how it relates to the USA’s history, and write. So at times like these, its important to celebrate small victories. I managed, after weeks of working at it, to take our household garbage down to just one can (bin for my Brits!); a lot of work on compost, traditional recycling, and my recycled paper art made that happen. Calling wiser friends who may be able to offer perspective, staying tight with your sober people, and being grateful for the things we can do, even if it’s just raise awareness, stay sober, or donate a few dollars (or pounds) to a cause we love. Hold the hand (or paw!) of someone you love. These things matter.

In fact, the simple act of being grateful for what we do have, saying a prayer, making a gratitude list, calling an old friend, or spending some time in nature, is itself a form of resistance. It is looking the darkness in the eye and saying, as Arya Stark said to Death: NOT TODAY!

I was listening to the Tom Waits song “Hold On” just now, and sometimes, just holding on is enough.

We’ll get through this together. One day at a time.

May you be peaceful, may you love, and may you find grace today.

Namaste, Darlings.

—Maggie

“Everything Waiting to Grow”

I sat in my back yard looking and actually took the time to STOP and LOOK. What had just been a green space to step outside and take a breather from work became so much more when I let go and let myself become fully present in my garden moment.

I reflected on the changes from the cold winter, when I sat under the February Stars and watched the cold, naked tree limbs extent toward the inky blue sky. The world–my world–had transformed.

Now there are green leaves everywhere, wildflowers, grasses, soft moss. A squirrel was working in my favorite tree. A butterfly flitted by me, and a hummingbird hovered. A red robin looked for worms. Even the insects had come alive! But the winter didn’t show it.

One of my favorite songs is Catie Curtis’ “Everything Waiting to Grow,” about the beauty underneath the surface. In season, over time, after we work on it, our lives will sprout new growth.

It has been waiting, under the surface, for the spring to come.

Whatever season you are in, keep working, keep waiting. You will bloom in time.

Namaste, Darlings!💜

Simple Pleasures

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People are always talking about wanting to be the person their dog thinks they already are. But my dog has seen me at rock bottom, sat on my lap while I cried. He knows me. So instead, I’d like to work on being as happy with simple things as my beloved fluff ball is. Mister Winnie, right here, with a tennis ball on a beach towel–that’s my happiness life goal. To simply be.

Namaste, Darlings!