Posted by: Tina M | 2 June , 2014

The Courage of Honesty

Photo by Tina M.

Photo by Tina M.

As I sit to write what has begun to stew in my mind all morning, I feel a genuine dread. It’s interesting to me that this comes up because I generally feel like I know who I am and speak with confidence. When it comes to the written word, I feel a sense of permanence that makes me question a little harder if I’m willing to stick by my thoughts and feelings for eternity.  (Not that you can’t change your mind, but even being able to own an opinion at any point in time is just as scary for me) and that’s what I’m here to talk about. The courage of Honesty.

I’ve always thought simply that honesty was the absence of lies, but as I’ve grown older it has become far more complicated. Truth has become an ideal rather than a fact, beginning to understand that perspectives may align but there is no way to truly understand a larger “TRUTH” (that doesn’t rely on some context/relativity.)  So instead I’ve begun to think of it as a spectrum that on one end holds self-awareness, accountability, and communication; the other end holds “lies” that have slivers of truth engrained in them, or “lies” that are simply flaws in logic, attributing correlation and causation, and yes sometimes they have malice intended but more often than not I believe it’s the prior.  I have and do move from both ends of the spectrum throughout each day of my life, whether I intend to or not. And that’s hard to own up to.

For me, honesty is a challenging tension between genuinely wanting to be aware of my limitations and having deeply ingrained beliefs about how my limitations will eventually lead to my own demise. It may sound dramatic, but after a series of important people in my life have disappointed me, rejected me, and eventually removed me from their lives; I had to rationalize somehow and it translated into the simplest belief that if I can be good enough, people won’t leave me. 

If I can be good enough, people won’t leave me. = when people leave, it was my fault for not being “better”

and then here comes the trick about honesty. It feels like each time I am honest about my shortcomings, I feel the terror of wondering if that will be the final piece that leads to a relationship being dissolved. Even as I’ve begun to understand the workings of how this thought process came to be, it feels like just another trap. I can become deeply aware of my own process, but am still lacking when it comes to seeing how this process interacts with those around me and thus my behaviors still often reinforce this process.

I want understanding of why constructive feedback would lead to defensiveness, fear, and sometimes breakdowns. I need space to experience the cycle of fear

“I’m not perfect” > “How could I have thought I was perfect”> “What if I can’t change?” > “Will they leave me?” > “They haven’t left yet, so maybe there’s hope” . . . and it goes on and on.  

What I’m not making space for though in that process, is the need of that other person delivering the feedback. The bravery it took to offer the vulnerability of sharing feedback is lost when I immediately break down and position myself in a place of wanting reassurance.  I don’t want to do it, but it’s my learned behavior and it’s a struggle to learn new reactions.

I have a hard time of wholly accepting that no one is perfect, in no way better than anyone else, and that not everyone is compatible.

I can talk about it constantly. That we need to be more compassionate to people around their addictions, mental health, coping (sometimes negative) strategies, choices in relationships, etc. But in my heart and personal life, I have had a difficult time seeing it through this lens. I take it personally that I can’t do “better” and that those I care about “aren’t interested” in or “don’t care enough to” make changes I need. I forget immediately that as complex and overwhelming my experience might be, that those around me have the same alternate universe in their mind and heart that they are having to experience. I struggle with letting my fear down long enough to remember that they are scared too. I forget that the same vulnerability that can be painful can also be healing and restorative when genuinely shared.

So I’m trying to own things; truly believe in my being and actions.

Sometimes things don’t work out, and though it’s painful, there is not necessarily fault. (Conflicting needs can lead to compromise, dissatisfaction, or the end of the relationship. No outcome is better than the next, just which is possible/chosen by the parties involved)

My actions and behaviors can and do overwhelm those around me. It may lead to them leaving. No one is “bad” because of this.

Relationships don’t work out just because they are supposed to. Courageous honesty means acknowledging when it’s no longer beneficial. 

Even though a relationship may end, it does not mean that it wasn’t a beautiful, genuine, important experience in your life.  

Just because someone can’t be around you, doesn’t mean they don’t like, love, or admire you. 

I make mistakes, hurt people, and can’t always show up for them in the ways they want me to. 

And so does everyone else. Sometimes I’m the one that’s being hurt, or being told my needs are too much for them. 

Saying these things out loud doesn’t necessarily make them easier to believe, or less painful to sit with. My hope is that I continue to challenge myself to reflect on my shortcomings and that I soften to myself as well as all those around me. I hope to reach a place of understanding where I can love both the bright and shining parts of myself as well as the shadows.

It takes courage to be honest. To whatever degree, appreciate the steps you are taking to be an active participant in your life and relationships.  Be forgiving to those who you feel aren’t being honest to you- perhaps they don’t know yet themselves, or perhaps the truth you are looking for is too painful for them to face in that moment. Love what honest pieces are shown to you and eventually we will all feel comfortable to open up to the world around us and ourselves.

Posted by: Tina M | 16 April , 2014

A farewell for Grandpa

When I think of my Grandpa, I think of grapefruits. It’s strange, to imagine the soft yellow and pink skins lined up neatly in wooden crates in his basement. Plucking two each morning as breakfast for him and my grandma. I remember this as one of the rituals when I visited as a small child. I can still remember sitting on one of the carpeted steps of the interior of their 3 story Ohio home- working on a sticker book my parents had given me to keep me occupied. I remember as I watched them neatly scoop up the pulpy core of the fruit, I felt the satisfaction of plucking the stickers from their pages and neatly arranging them in their destined spot. It was such a comfort to have completed something- it helped me to feel as if I was neat and orderly too. 

I never felt much like i fit in, being one of the grandkids that lived furthest away- what was meant to be a warm and safe environment was stiffly proper and made me feel like I had to perform differently than the rest of the areas of my life.  The fancy dinners with the whole family- different than with my Mom’s side of the family, instead of being gathered around a kitchen table in one of our cramped houses it was at one of the clubs he belonged to. The Italian club, the Knights of Columbus, etc. there was always white zinfindel, spimoni ice cream, and those lottery tickets that unfolded to reveal your prize. I don’t remember much about my grandparents.  

It’s hard to admit but i don’t remember much about my Grandma at all- except she seemed fragile, with her pale skin and bright red hair. I remember she painted- and I still aspire to her talent. She died when I was young, and I remember hearing in the years ensuing that my Grandpa wasn’t the same. As is the classic story, when an older person loses their partner, they don’t thrive in the way they once had.  Unfortunately, I lost touch when I stepped back from my father (who always acted as a gateway to that side of my family). I reached out once but heard no response. 

I heard today that my grandpa has passed away. all opportunities to reconnect have passed, and the grief that once was for the relationship I wish I could’ve had has turned into a grief for losing that strand of my history. I loved my grandpa, even in his stoicism. The pieces that stay with me are a mosaic of random senses.  I remember tall coiled edges of cigar ash trays that stood around their house, a sign of his former habit. I remember the plaid golf pants, that would inevitably be sported off the course and earn the laughter of the family.  I remember his pocket protector- making me feel worldly for knowing that they were more than a nerd joke, but in fact an accessory.  I will remember him as a piece of the tapestry that is my life. I’m sad it’s not a larger portion, but I feel stronger for having him woven in my childhood and heart. 

Posted by: Tina M | 31 July , 2013

Reflections from my Evening Stroll in Four Photos

Joy looks like goofinessPeople aren't as prickly as they may seem.near-skunk disaster


Yummy yummy yummy

Posted by: Tina M | 15 July , 2013

Four Ways to Fix a broken Legal System

Great thoughts on how to make the legal system something useful again.

I had the opportunity to watch

Philip K. Howard on TEDtalks

describe the reality of our present day legal system and describe some ways to “fix” it. What I found most interesting was the way that our legal system has become so complicated that it actually slows progress. (You’d think as someone who works in Foster Care this would have been painfully obvious already).

He describes the culture shift that legal uncertainty has created when he says “People no longer feel free to act on their own best judgment”  (4:28) I can understand the obvious negative repercussions of making everyone second guess themselves (especially when put in positions of leadership), but I also have to beg the question of what harm comes when we do apply a “one size fits all” approach to legal problem solving. It seems like this is a trap that will always privilege the group in power over those they’d like to oppress. I think that’s where the specifics began to emerge, when identity groups and special interest groups began to carve out legislation to protect themselves. So what happens when we throw those things out in the interest of simplicity?

Well, I think that I’d like to dream of a place where simple legislation has to do with equity and respect, and that it will be enforced equitably.  Because as it is, there seems to be enough loop-holes to allow those with the power and knowledge to still do as they please. It’s hard to track the number of successes when we all see the daily failures of the systems we’ve built around us.

He talks about a “corrosion of authority” and again I wonder how we’ve managed to bring down all types of oppressive authoritarians (bad leaders, managers, teachers, doctors, professionals) without drafting an idea of who should have authority and how they should wield it.  This unfortunately left us with everyone on unsure footing, which does not lead to people’s best efforts. He describes the failure of law is the worst of both worlds, you can be sued for almost anything (any old idiot can sue you) AND the law is far too detailed for anyone to understand. Again, the parallels in the Foster Care system are clear- all the parties in these cases are clearly under-resourced and then asked to navigate a complicated and oppressive system. Four ways to fix

“For law to be a platform for freedom people have to trust it”

“We’ve become a system with bad values”

“You can’t run a society by the lowest common denominator”

I realize whatever doubts I had about his four point plan were the cause of my inability to imagine a world without oppression. It’s a beautiful dream to imagine laws that are simple enough for everyone to understand them and internalize them. So that every person could act with confidence that they knew what the consequences of their actions would be. Each person would have equal parts freedom and responsibility (and thus would’ve been taught to shoulder that responsibility). It would be filled with trust in each other, ourselves, and in the system that we’ve built.

I’m not sure how to get there, to unlearn all that is clouding our good judgments. But perhaps the first step is to have a clear vision of where we want to go (and what we’ll do when we get there!).

Trayvon Martin

Art by Shepard Fairey for Ebony Magazine.

1.  Acknowledge the person he was and the spirit that still is of a young man that is more than a high profile death.

2. Acknowledge the impacts of his case and verdict on myself and my community

3. Feel and express grief for the loss of a caring family, girlfriend, community, and world.

4.  Step back and complicate the “bad guy” – as over simplified monsters tend to lead to over-simplified solutions

5.  Live my life fully, with gratitude, love and peace.

1.  Trayvon Martin: A real story of a young black man.

Trayvon's sweet smile

A picture of Trayvon smiling.

It can be easy to turn a young man into an icon, and while it’s made him quite famous without him being around to “set the record straight” it can be quite easy for his spirit and person was something before he was murdered in an act of overt racist violence born of fear and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it’s too early for his public image to get lost in the fuzziness of ideal, as it’s still under attack by the parties who would like you to believe he “deserved” his own death. Luckily, his family has provided some insights into who this young man was. I challenge that we spend time honoring who he was fully before acting “in his name” in a way that could really disrespect the values that he held.

2.  It’s a dangerous time to be Black.

Historically, this has been the case (For a long time at least), but it continues to transform into new and uglier manifestations that need to be looked at. I think as a White Ally, the best thing I can do is to listen. To listen to the folks who are most impacted by this, Communities of Color.  It’s so easy to be reactive and take up lots of space, but until I’m instructed to by those who will be most affected by my actions, I think that’s just another extension of privilege. It feels good to vent. But you need to figure out the spaces that are appropriate, where you won’t be adding to the weight on our friends and family’s shoulders, where you actually help to support them as they recover from this blow to their sense of safety in their own country. I think there was a great post earlier that captures a huge portion of this reality.

Man, I’m just glad I had a mom who gave me the realness from a young age. I can remember thinking she was so stuck in the past for telling me that I couldn’t do or say or wear certain things, that I could not stay out as late as my white friends could, that I could not “experiment” with any of the things my white friends did. I struggled so much with her for trying to impress upon me the fact that I was different. Because I’m supposed to be. I lived in a nice house, spoke more than one language, was well educated and well socialized and I did not understand why I needed to constantly act in a manner designed to disarm another person’s suspicions about me. 

But wow, I get it now. Every black kid has that moment where he has to decide to accept the armor that his parents present to him to get through life as an American black male, or walk around naked. And the crazy part is, it’s probably something most people outside of the black community never see. I can remember my mom talking to me over and over and over again about what to do and who to call if I was ever picked up by a police officer. She made sure I knew that I needed to declare that I was exercising my Miranda rights rather simply evoke them without notice. If you were in JNJ your mom probably made you take a WHOLE FREAKING CLASS on how to deal with police officers and other people who were perceived to be threatening. 

And I say that to say that as scary as people think black males are, black males are conditioned to be ten times more afraid of everyone else. We’re conditioned to be afraid of goin to certain parts of the country, afraid of people with certain political view, afraid of police officers, and sometimes even afraid of other black and latino males. The most sickening thing about this whole trial has been the deliberate campaign to rob Trayvon of his right to be afraid. I know I would have been. 

And I owe her the deepest of apologies for all of the times that I accused her of overacting or impressing a vision of a society long since passed on the one that exists today. 

It doesn’t matter how well traveled you are or how many languages you speak or who where you went to school. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how much good you’ve done in the world. From afar we are all the same. 

It used to hurt when my mother would tell me I couldn’t put my hood up or that I couldn’t stay out as late as my white friends. She told me I was a young black male and I couldn’t afford these things and I figured she never knew how much it hurt for be to know that she did not have faith that I could transcend the many stereotypes that swirl around me and be seen as an individual. 

But when I think about my own mother having to come down the police station, and Identify my naked body and come home and go in my room that would feel strangely empty. She would have to walk past my favorite custom built aquarium and the framed boards my class in japan made for me on my last day of study abroad, she would have to open my closet and go through all of the clothes I would never wear again and find my favorite suit and then walk out of a room where every object holds a memory. 

She would have to go on interviews and meet with lawyers and try to be strong in the face of unimaginable tragedy. While people picked apart my character and found every facebook status where I cursed or every stupid picture I was ever captured in. She would have to sit in court and dignify people who sought to put me in the ground with not a shred of justice with her presence and her silence. And then on top of that, after a year of pain, to hear from 6 other mothers that my life meant nothing……..

And the thought that after 24 hours of labor, thousands of dollars on tuition and extra curriculars and trips and summer activties, and millions of tiny sacrifices that she could be left with the dust of my memory and the guilt of having not prepared me for this thing called America. 

I joke about it, but I know how much I mean to her. Before I go parasailing I think about her, and before I jump in the ocean I think about her, and when I had tigers crawling all over me and licking my face I was thinking about her. But I did those things because I knew that even if I got poisoned by a cobra or mauled by a tiger, I know it would have been hard…….but she would have derived comfort from knowing that I died pursuing happiness, adventure, and experiences that are worth their risks. 

But I know that she would never ever be able to recover from knowing that I died the way that Trayvon died. And so I understand so well why she taught me to think about the world in the way that I do. To remember how to love life, be open to others, but to always remember who I am and to be so secure in who I am, that I accept that I must constantly think and behave with consideration for that one person who might think they already know. 

I have fought with my mom, dad, and stepdad about what it means to be a young black man in 2013. And I have at times been annoyed at all of them for presenting me with my constraints. But I am so lucky to have been armed with the truth at such and early age. The world can be so confusing for us. So much kindness, and so much cruelty. We’ve all accused our parents of over estimating the dangers out there. But they managed to teach us not to allow this country to fill us with fear, while simultaneously not allowing it to rob us of our vigilance. Shout-out to all of the parents out there, giving that extra course on how to keep your children from being victimized in a society that does not believe that they can be victims. 

– Wesley Hall
Key Messages for White Allies:
Be mindful of the spaces you may put your friends of color in danger that you take for granted.
Work actively to fight racism in your daily life; have those hard conversations
Listen. Listen. Listen.

3.  Feelings

Have them.  Icon for Video

4. It’s never as simple as we’d like to think. 

I’ve been doing “REAL” work for a while now and I’ve seen that a bad guy is usually a sum of his or her experiences. Working in child welfare I see time and time again that everyone has a long and intricate life story that has molded them to be as awesome or as frightening as we can imagine. I’m not going to try and say that he was a good guy that just got triggered and acted too hastily. I think Zimmerman’s record speaks for itself.  It is complicated though. He wasn’t as white as most folks would like to have it seem. He experienced racism as well in his daily life- and while his skin privilege may have provided him more advantages, the reality is that this man was and probably is AFRAID. He had internalized messages that anything that seems different must be wrong and dangerous, especially young black men. This sort of internalized racism has ugly effects on the person holding these beliefs, so I pause to consider the hell that Zimmerman may be living in daily.

And, let’s be real. He did something that has been happening for centuries. He exerted his will on another and took away someone’s basic right to life. He deemed his sense of security as more important than the young man’s life and presence that seemed to threaten him.  And as ugly as it is, it’s not uncommon. And while it’s horrific and disturbing, the verdict isn’t that uncommon either. But it hurts, when all eyes are on your actions, that a Judge and Jury would rule him not guilty. In the eyes of the Florida judicial system the perceived threat of one of it’s citizens justifies the murder of an innocent young man. It also hurts that the issue of race has not been addressed sufficiently in any of the proceedings. Of course it’s difficult to know how best to approach the topic, but there needs to be some stronger punishment for Hate Crimes- and while he may not have known Trayvon personally, I think his actions show that he hated what he represented as a young Black Man.

5. We must continue

We must reflect, we must take care of ourselves and move forward intentionally. I believe that sometimes the best I can do is live my life to the fullest and not take for granted all those gifts that I receive by virtue of my skin color, by virtue of my able-bodied privilege, my ability to live in the Bay Area, and by the grace of God.

Today, it was reflecting on the Bay, taking in the vast beauty of mother nature. The larger over-arching story of loss and miracles. We are so small through the lens of a global reality. The more we can connect with this the more each of us can recognize the fleeting reality of this life, and the importance of embracing it fully and honestly.

Beautiful waves and the Bridge in the distance

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. West Oakland

Paths and skyline of San Francisco

Posted by: Tina M | 6 March , 2013

Bandit loves his Daddy

I recently finished a painting for a co-worker. Since it has been given and happily received, I thought it was an appropriate time to share.


Posted by: Tina M | 21 December , 2012

Holiday spirit: a gift for a coworker



I did a painting for one of my coworkers named Tara- she’s an amazing advocate and resilient person and she’s also involved in Buddhist communities. When I went to do some research I found that’s the name of a major deity- a protector and compassionate force. So I did the above painting and she got it today. She cried when she found out I’d painted it myself. It felt so good.

Can’t wait to post more pics once the presents have been opened!

Posted by: Tina M | 30 July , 2012

The Vibrations of Judgment

I’m feeling stirred. I think that’s the best way to describe it. It’s the feeling of holding something in but not knowing how to name it. Most of healing is done through storytelling (in my experience) and with the work that I’m engaged in there are two concerns with doing the sort of daily debriefing that I need to feel sane. The first is confidentiality. I try not to share details about the people I work with training on sensitive topics and thus need to create a space where folks can share whatever they need to without fear of being judged and then publicly ridiculed. The second issue is that of vicarious trauma. Being a victim to it (experiencing trauma through working with folks that directly experience trauma in their own life) I have become keenly aware of the ways that I too play into the cycle of vomiting emotional thoughts and conversation on people without their consent.

So, I tried to find comfort with two very close family members of mine and though they both brought me closer to feeling ok, I left feeling unable to really open up to them. So, in my attempt to avoid both faux pas I am going to write letters to some of the people that touched my day.

To the Father

Your story sank into me as I identified with your daughter. The weight of a primary caregiver’s opinions, especially when steeped in the bitterness of resentment about your absence, can definitely color a child’s perception. I can understand the road that led you here to my office. And yet, I have a hard time letting go of the sad response that you’ve received as you’ve moved forward. If my father reached out to me, in any act of kindness and reconciliation, I would run into his arms. I hate to admit it but if after all this time I saw real emotion in his eyes I would break down at a primal level and run to my daddy. I understand mistakes and I’m sure I only know part of the picture; but you deserve love. You deserve an abundance of community. You deserve second, third, and fourth chances. Even if policy gets in the way of you being a part of my organizations work, I want you to know that you have so much power to change the world around you.

To the Righteous

In the moments of your true expression I am unable to feel because I know the fallibility of emotion when it comes to rigid thinking.  I never meant to put you on the spot- however, when you say things in certainty; geralizations about oppressed communities most of the time. It is important that I engage you in critical thinking around that. But until you’ve met all of the characters in the diverse story of our community, you can’t begin to understand the complexity of people’s everyday lives. To imagine you sitting with a young woman who tells you about her desire to get pregnant; and knowing that you might scowl in disgust and immediately respond that they are too young, too immature, too unhealthy to have a baby successfully. It hurts me in honor of my friends and community that have chosen/stumbled down this path and are loving every day of it whether it’s a struggle or not. I can acknowledge the concerns you may have and the experiences you’ve travelled to get to your wisdom- but in the end you must support people’s choices so that they make the best choices they can. I feel the anger that fuels your arguments and I wonder where it comes from. I fear it may flash at any time.

To myself

It’s just right now. Things change and I will feel better soon.

Posted by: Tina M | 24 July , 2012

Space and Time: Reality Checks

I found myself at a two day training in Sacramento at the beginning of this week and while it’s not THAT far from my home, it’s cheaper to stay the night then pay for all that gas. So I had the opportunity to get away and be to myself, something I feel doesn’t often happen. I was sans husband and while I was with co-workers at a work event I felt free from a lot of pressure about representing or taking care of the people around me.  It was a brief breath of fresh air but there were some themes that emerged in my time with myself.

1.  I am feeling RESTLESS. Something needs to change, because it feels like my wheels are just spinning. Part of it is that I haven’t quit picked my destination so it’s hard to track progress, and the frustration of trying to choose keeps me waiting, for what, I’m not sure.

2.  I miss my family.  I’ve been having severe bouts of nostalgia taking me back to all sorts of strange childhood moments I thought I’d forgotten. Out of sight out of mind – in a sense, but they are never out of my heart. I’m constantly aching for the safety and security inherent in the presence of my family members.

3. Work isn’t working. There are some issues that are haunting me- and while I’m actively working to adjust/make changes already; I feel a certain urgency about it now. It’s so easy to get swept up in the day to day responsibilities and not check in on with the bigger picture of both my life and the work that I’m attempting to do.

I know that each of the above topics is food for much thought, but having just returned home I needed to brain dump.

Posted by: Tina M | 5 July , 2012

Peace of Mind Painting

I was inspired for my latest painting by a recent visit to my favorite walking spot, the Berkeley pier.  Day or night, it’s always a place that I can find peace and comfort. I realized the other night, as I pressed my face between the planks boarding up the end of the pier, that I could get lost in the hypnotic patterns of the waves. I always find myself standing there- leaning out as far as I can over the water, dreaming as if I’m floating on the surface of the waves. And my favorite part is the decaying remains of the other 2/3 of the pier that extended out into the water 3 miles before collapsing. There’s something dreamlike about it’s bony carcass.


So the other night, it was gorgeous out. Well lit from a bright big moon, yet foggy on the surface of the water to the extent that the city was obscured by clouds. It added to the illusion of an endless body of water that you could drift in for weeks.

So here is the painting:


Older Posts »