“The Politics of Trauma” by Staci K. Haines

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Subtitle: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Recommended to me by: Darryl C.

This book rang true to me from beginning to end. Staci Haines combines embodied trauma work with social justice, and everything she says fits with what I already know and takes it further.

Many healing modalities view trauma and abuse as individual problems. Instead, Haines puts trauma and abuse in the context of our abusive social structures that put individuals in harm’s way. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and environmental destruction divide us from one another and keep us from learning the skills we need to treat each other with care. They keep us divided from ourselves as we try to heal.

Safety, belonging, and dignity are core needs that should be met together for everyone. Traumatic and abusive situations put one in conflict with another – we can choose either safety or dignity, either dignity or belonging. Our bodies deeply learn traumatized ways of responding to the world.

We can form declarations and commitments: statements about our core beliefs and goals that guide our healing. For example, “I am a commitment to be in my skin without apology.” (Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo) We can discover what commitments and declarations we have unconsciously adopted or had imposed upon us. Declarations can be personal or community-oriented or both.

We can find what supports us and practice resilience, reminding ourselves to come out of trauma mode. Social justice organizations can also collectively practice resilience. We can rebuild safety and trust at the embodied, physical level. We can relearn boundaries and requests.

To help someone heal, we blend with the patterns that are already true for them, and help them notice what the pattern has been taking care of for them. As the body is supported and honored, the underlying physical and emotional memories and holding patterns can be released. We can help someone feel allied with, exactly as their body needs to feel it.

For example, make a fist with one hand. With the other hand, try to pry it open. How does that feel? Instead, let your other hand support the fist with curiosity and kindness. How does that feel? What happens with your fist? With the rest of your body?

Trauma is held in the body through bands of tension, or absent slackness. A healthy body has relaxed presence. Somatic opening is encouraged by blending with what is there and allowing it to release and transform. While emotions often arise during a release, cathartic emotion is not the goal.

We can discern what shame is ours and what belongs to others. We can blend with shame, hearing its messages, and look underneath to what it is hiding or protecting. Often shame is preferable to feeling powerless, helpless, or abandoned. We can learn to take centered accountability rather than being over- or under-accountable for our actions. We can sit with the complex questions around our responsibilities. We can learn about forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness. “Even if … [shameful act or belief], I am forgivable.”

We can learn to be present with ourselves and with others at the same time. We can learn to hold contradictions and conflict. We can learn how to have generative rather than destructive conflicts.

Personal healing and social justice organizing can support and serve each other.

I loved this quote at the beginning.

The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
—Eduardo Galeano, from “Window on the Body”

Highly recommended for activists and healers!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez

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Subtitle: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Recommended to me by: Dave C

This is an engagingly written, data-driven compilation of all the ways women are left out of important scientific and civic decisions, to our serious detriment. Often data isn’t even collected in a way that shows relevant differences between men and women. Men are considered the default, “typical,” “normal” person, while women (51% of the population) are the atypical awkward exceptions. It includes language (does “Man” mean everyone, or not?), budgeting decisions, bathrooms, safety equipment design and size, public transit, cleaning chemicals, medical treatments, political expectations and judgments, etc.

Despite its calm, matter-of-fact tone, it is infuriating to read.

I usually don’t add books here that I haven’t read in full, but I want to keep track of this one as a reference and highly recommend it even though I don’t have the emotional stamina to read it now.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Minor Feelings” by Cathy Park Hong

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Subtitle: An Asian American Reckoning

Recommended to me by: Jesse-the-k

Cathy Park Hong describes minor feelings as “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.”

In this frank memoir, she describes growing up in LA’s Koreatown in a Korean immigrant family, complex friendships in college, and finding her voice as an artist in conversation with other artists, interwoven with Asian American experiences of racism.

Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.

Cathy Park Hong pulls off that tricky feat, asserting her own reality and showing us her life while also explaining what it’s like to be Korean in America for clueless white folks. Highly recommended!

Random House Books summary

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Outside the Charmed Circle” by Misha Magdalene

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Subtitle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice

Recommended to me by: Sam L-G

Misha Magdalene (they/them pronouns) asserts that magic is queer. In writing by turns academic and conversational, they explore viewing magic through the lenses of gender and sexuality.

They describe their experience with growing up queer, as well as their gradual introduction to magical practice, including the whisper networks that say, “Avoid this established teacher, he’s creepy.” Of course Misha went and found out for themselves, fortunately without being harmed.

They talk about consent, and how important it is in matters both sexual and magical, and definitely in the mix of both. As a practitioner of the Feri tradition, they directly address some of the deep issues with consent in that tradition.

They list some gender-queer and non-heterosexual gods and goddesses in various flavors of paganism.

In the end, magic is queer because it is non-mainstream, not the default religion, outside a lot of people’s lived experiences.

The book includes practical writing and magical exercises to explore the covered topics.

Highly recommended as an interesting, eclectic, and principled exploration of gender, sexuality, and magical practice.

Misha Magdalene’s blog at Patheos, Outside the Charmed Circle explores some of the same ideas. There are posts that forthrightly challenge the pagan community to address its problems with racism, homophobia, and lack of consent, sexual predation and abuse.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Turn This World Inside Out” by Nora Samaran

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Subtitle: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran’s online essay The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

This book contains three of Nora Samaran’s powerful essays (also available on her blog) and dialogues with other writers that expand on the themes of nurturance, attachment, shame, gaslighting, gendered violence, and repairing harm.

It is a short book that can be read quickly, and at the same time there are a lot of chewy ideas to take in over time. There are also references to more reading on these topics by people who are one or more of trans, Indigenous, and Black who have developed skills of sustainable, relational living. The book holds the question: how do we best move forward from and heal from white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

What would it be like to live in a culture where we all could be socially embraced in this way, where we could speak up about harm, could say not to it, without fear, because we know without question that no one in our community will dehumanize another?

I admire Nora Samaran’s insights, and I long for the kinds of communities and relationships she describes. This book brings in more voices to deepen and expand the conversation. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bicycle/Race” by Adonia E. Lugo, Phd

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Subtitle: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue

Adonia Lugo gives us both a warm memoir and a carefully researched overview of her anthropological study of racism in bicycling activism. She shares her background as a half-Mexican, half-white girl growing up in San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, her joyful involvement with bicycling as transportation while studying in Portland, and her direct experiences of racism and resistance as she pursued her PhD research. As part of it, she helped create the first cicLAvia in LA, where streets are closed to cars and opened to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Race and mobility are intertwined because we designed segregation into our built environments and how we police them, and racial equity in the distribution of public money isn’t a metaphor or a goal you opt into; it’s a legal obligation, thanks to the civil rights movement. I wasn’t pointing to the culture of white supremacy embedded in bike advocacy, policy, and planning because I wanted to cause trouble; it was about fulfilling the promise of our shared democracy.

She writes about the successive waves of colonization and conquest that shaped Southern California, the role of racism in people’s preference for private cars, selective police enforcement against people of color, and the reinforcement of white supremacy in the networks of people who set public policy. She writes about how her family’s loving support gave her the confidence to try to create change, and how she realized that entrenched systems were resisting her efforts.

Highly recommended! I read it a chapter or two at a time, with pauses to digest the information about the racist underpinnings of US culture and transportation.

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

“Bikequity” edited by Elly Blue

book coverSubtitle: Money, Class, and Bicycling

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue at Microcosm Publishing bookstore

A collection of close to twenty articles about the intersection of biking, class, race, and social inequity from a variety of viewpoints. Each article was clear and engaging. Since I bike for transportation and care about social justice, this zine/small book felt comforting and inclusive to read. Recommended!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

book coverI commented to Elly that I was starting to notice judgment about biking around as I near age 50, and she also recommended a smaller zine, “Pedal by Pedal, a zine about women over 40 who ride bicycles,” edited by Julie Brooks.  Also inclusive and comforting to read.  There are more women like me out there!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

“The Fated Sky” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Sequel to The Calculating Stars

Elma York goes to Mars. Like in The Calculating Stars, the characters in this book do not flinch from talking about racism and sexism in a system and society they can’t fight or escape.

The plot is more action-driven than the first book. Some characters grow and change in surprising ways. Grief is included as a major emotional force, rather than being glossed over as happens in many books.

The subject is brought up directly in the book, but there is still a big hand-wave on the impracticality of evacuating even a small percentage of the earth’s population to another planet, and how the resources required for that would take away from resources to address problems on earth. Of course the usual biases would affect who stays, who goes, who gets help and who doesn’t.

I still love that Elma’s Judaism weaves through the book with an ongoing cascade of familiar details. I love the conscious inclusiveness of Black characters, a Muslim character, a relationship between men, (minor) characters with disabilities.

I can’t imagine that an organization would put people with known major relational stresses on a 3 year mission together in a small ship. I can’t imagine that people would be able to manage that. Makes me wonder how sailors handle it on long trips.

My suspension of disbelief wobbled on this book. The contrast between doing calculations by hand and making a colonizing mission to Mars was too big. Still a fun read!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Choosing Gentleness” by Robyn L. Posin, Ph.D.

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Subtitle: Opening Our Hearts to All the Ways We Feel and Are in Every Moment

Recommended to me by: reading Robyn Posin’s website for the last 15+ years. Also I was an advance reviewer for this book.

This is a collection of line drawings and wise words that have appeared on Robyn Posin’s website over the years, along with some more recent essays. It was lovely to see the vibrant drawings of dancing, struggling, resting women and the encouraging words gathered in one place.

Robyn Posin’s work has been a big inspiration and support over the years. Most of her messages resonate powerfully for me. At the same time, I’m still arguing with a few of them.

The idea that our love-starved little ones inside can only get love from us, not from anyone outside us now that we are no longer children makes a lot of sense, and I still have a “Yes, but…” response. What about adult attachment? What about friendship, and care? I’m not saying she’s wrong, but something in me is still hoping.

I love the parts about accepting all our feelings, not just the warm fuzzy ones, and the firm rejection of the idea that acknowledging our anger just brings more of the same into our lives. Feelings are meant to live and move through, not be shoved down and frozen in place.

In this book, I found a message that I had remembered all this time, but not been able to find again on her website: “It does not matter whether how we are in the moment is born from our woundings or our wholeness.” What a revolutionary, liberating message! Even if we are “broken” in some way because of abuse or trauma, that’s how it is. We still have to exist in the world, with both our damage and our wholeness.

Living in the thinnest slice of now and trusting that my future self will be able to handle my future circumstances has also been a liberating idea.

Another idea I struggle with is that the Grandmothers (or other higher/deeper powers) are guiding my life. I’d love to feel so cherished and protected, but life seems too random, and too catastrophic for a lot of people, to believe that someone is in charge of what happens to each individual.

Highly recommended as a comforting and thought-provoking compilation of Robyn Posin’s many years of healing and helping others heal.

Available at Amazon.

“The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

Elma York is a math whiz with a Ph.D. in math and physics now working as a computer (as in, one who computes) for the space program in the US in the 1950’s. She deals with run-of-the-mill, life-is-just-like-that sexism, and also I’m-out-to-get-you intentional harassment. By the way she’s also a crack pilot who can land a plane after the motor goes out.

She’s also married to the lead engineer of the program, and they have a lovely supportive passionate relationship. She has a supportive relationship with her brother, too. I find myself reading for supportive relationships these days.

Also they are both Jewish, and the book addresses both the positive details and the negative anti-semitism that arises from that. Also they stay with an African-American couple, and they learn to recognize their racist biases and notice when a group “just happens” to be all white.

This book is both old-time spaceflight science fiction, and modern inclusive science fiction, which means it grapples with all the ways that women and people of color are kept out, and still manage to succeed despite that. It addresses global warming and the lack of political will to do something about it. It addresses anxiety as an illness that deserves compassion and treatment. The world-building details are satisfyingly solid.

I was also a Jewish younger female student who was really good at math. (Not as good as Elma!) It feels good to see myself reflected in a book like this, even if I responded differently to the stresses of the situation and took a different turning in my life.

Recommended as a quick, exciting read that’s both heart-warming and heart-rending in the ways it reflects minority and marginalized experiences.

Available at Powell’s Books.