Franny and Zooey, and Jesus, and Me.

“But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew–knew–that we’re carrying the kingdom of heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?” –J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey.

When I was seventeen, my family took our yearly summer vacation down to the hot, dry, almost completely vacant haven that is Palm Springs in August. It is a tradition in our family that on long car rides, my dad will read books, articles, or scripture out loud to us for a few hours along the way. On this particular trip he brought a small, paperback book that I had never heard of, and frankly had little interest on. It was called Franny and Zooey. Despite my lack of interest, I was hooked within pages. There was something so honest and true about the dialogue-heavy story that made me listen attentively and want more long after the book had ended.

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That fall I convinced my mom to let me read a selection of Salinger’s other works as part of my schoolwork. I read Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters. There are portions of Nine Stories that I now have almost memorized because I often carry it with me in my purse and reread it when I am bored. However, I never reread Franny and Zooey. Until this weekend, when, in an effort to center myself and direct my thoughts in a purposeful way, I reached for the nearest Salinger book, which happened to be none other than Franny and Zooey.

After a few minutes I came across a line that made me get up and find a highlighter. One of the main characters, Franny Glass, is trying to explain to her boyfriend the meaning of this book that she just can’t get off of her mind. The book in question is The Way of a Pilgrim and what Franny is stuck on is the concept of praying without ceasing which the main character in the book masters and shares with people he meets on his travels.

“–you only have to just do it with your lips at first–then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don’t know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person’s heartbeats, and then you’re actually praying without ceasing.”

Like Franny, I am very attracted to the idea of this centering heartbeat. The idea of having a sense of peace and belovedness that is so deep that you are constantly connected with the greater power of the universe, is something that I feel pulls at the very core of my being. However, I often struggle, like Franny does, to balance how I feel about my real life with how I feel about this otherworldly pull on my heart. The belief that it is because I am defective that I cannot attain this level of centeredness and clarity, is one that I often find myself fighting. I’ll think that if I was really good, and committed, and if I just worked hard enough, I could live in a constant state of peace, unconditional love, and a ceaseless sense of connection to God and the world around me. Alas, as both Franny and I seem to forget, that isn’t really how being a human works. You can strive for all the right things and deny your own desires, but still fall short of perfection. And to be honest, I think that a great deal of my and Franny’s shortsightedness comes from an inability to accept what is right in front of us–the truth about ourselves.

In the book, Franny puts her life on hold, allowing herself to become obsessed with the idea that if she prays this prayer she will find peace. She fears that, by doing anything else, she will fall prey to the egotism and materialism that she feels is consuming her peers. While remaining humble and unattached to possessions are worthy goals, Franny uses the prayer to distance herself from not only her own passions, but also her fellow human beings. Here the parallels between Franny and I breakdown somewhat. My criticism is more likely exercised on myself than on others, but the effects of my fears and unbalanced thought-patterns are often similar. They lead me to feel isolated, disconnected, unfocused, and un-accepting of myself. Pretty much the exact opposite of a centering heartbeat.

In Salinger’s novel, the counterargument to Franny’s desperate self denial and feelings of isolation is presented in the form of her debatably insufferable, but somehow also wise older brother, Zooey. Although a complete mess himself, Zooey is able to speak a jarring amount of truth into Franny’s predicament. In a conversation that had me reaching for my highlighter every three of four lines, he forces Franny to examine her beliefs and thought process more close, specifically pointing out that if she is praying the Jesus prayer in hopes of finding peace and to isolate herself from the difficulties and evils of life, then she doesn’t really understand Jesus. Zooey argues that a Jesus who flipped over tables and loves even the most egotistical and frustrating of humankind, isn’t a Jesus that is looking for detachment. He argues that what sets Jesus apart from other profits and philosophers was that he didn’t need to “keep in touch” with God, that he simply knew that there is no separation from God, whether we recognize it or not. Which brings us to the quote at the beginning of this post–a quote that has been running through my mind incessantly for the past couple of days.

“But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew–knew–that we’re carrying the kingdom of heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?”

Is it just me, or is that a stunningly poignant statement to find in a book that consists entirely of conversations between rich, dysfunctional New Yorkers in the 1950s? (I could go on and on about the literary genius of Salinger for hours, but that is not the point of this blogpost, so I’ll refrain.)

My best self (that is, who I am when I feel confident and connected to something bigger than myself) understands Zooey’s argument completely. My best self is excited and moved by the prospect of discovering how to bring the kingdom of heaven that I carry inside of myself out into the world. But the line between that life-giving excitement and an irrational belief that I should be something beyond the realms of humanity can be dangerously thin. Franny too, seems to struggle with reconciling even her most noble human desires with her compulsion to detach herself wholly from worldly things. I often feel that I shouldn’t want anything. Even things that are good and make me a better person. I shouldn’t want to work a fulfilling job, I shouldn’t want to find a life partner, I shouldn’t want to feel loved and wanted by people in my life. But, as Zooey seems to argue (I say “seems” because Zooey is not the most straight-forward of talkers), it is our desires that make us human. We can’t get rid of them. We can decide how much we allow them to rule us, we can decide how we use them, but whether we acknowledge them or not, they are part of us. Living out our desires for love, fulfillment, and connection in a healthy, God-conscious way, is one of the most important things we can do to honor our Creator. (Note: when Zooey makes this point he speaks very metaphorically, so this is more interpretation than paraphrase on my part.)

The fact that I will never be more than human, may seem really obvious to most of you. But accepting all of the imperfections of humanity, while still appreciating the incredible beauty and responsibility of carrying the kingdom of heaven, is seriously challenging for me, to say the least. Sometimes I can feel it all at once and it’s completely overwhelming. However, every so often I catch glimpses of what balance might look like, and I am driven to learn to internalize and believe the truth that as flawed as humans are, we are infinitely more loved.

*if you have never read Franny and Zooey, please go do so and enjoy it for yourself instead of relying on my crummy (and highly selective) summarization.

Time-out

“I need to stop ignoring my passions in favor of ‘succeeding’ in college.” File under: things I probably should have been able to articulate and realize a long time ago.

This fall marks the beginning of my fourth year in college, which means another chapter in my ever-tempestuous relationship with secondary education. Before the semester began I was excited. For the first time in my entire college career I spent the final weeks leading up to the first day of classes actually looking forward to them, instead of contemplating dropping out of school entirely. This was a big deal for me and the energy of it kept me content for the first three or four weeks of school. Then I began to realize that the classes I was most excited about felt boring, the challenges of the more difficult classes felt discouraging instead of motivating, and the newness of my new job had me feeling insecure and unsure of myself. Not to mention, my ongoing struggle to find a sense of community and support among my peers had seemingly hit a wall.

Unfortunately, when I hit roadblocks like this my tendency (which somehow always seems like a good idea at the time) is to throw myself entirely into one thing with blind determination, high expectations, and very little tolerance for my own feelings and needs. Usually that thing is school because it feels like one area in which I have control over how well I do. I fall into a thought pattern that revolves around the idea that school and my ability to perform well in it are the most important things about me. Once in this mindset it is only a matter of time before the behavioral pattern it produces becomes apparent. Fear not, I will save you the pain of reading the carefully written out description of this pattern that I wrote while I was journalling this morning. But I will tell you that it leads to rampant self-criticism, exhaustion, and eventually these really fun emotional breakdowns that sometimes result in cool adventures like crying in bathroom stalls on campus.

I spent the passed two weeks in this final phase of the pattern. Although this isn’t the first time I’ve been through this cycle, this time is different… maybe because I went through it more quickly, or maybe I was able to recognize what was going on more this time. I am not entirely sure, but this weekend I was able to take a bit of a time-out to deal with it. Between time with friends (a form of self care for my little extraverted heart) and reflections brought on by journalling and Salinger (the product of finally having a few spare hours in my life), I have had the space and energy to think more clearly. And today it’s just hit me really hard, that the value I place on my academic achievement is up to me. But my value as a person is inherent and not dependent on what grades I get, or my levels of productivity, or on my inability to meet my own ridiculous standards. As simple as that all sounds, there are a lot of voices in my head working to tear down that truth. So I am taking a couple approaches in my counter attack.

The first of these is simply reminding myself of my inherent value even when I don’t believe it, so that it eventually because a thought pattern. (These are the kind of solutions you come to when you were raised by a guy who studied applied psych, thanks, dad.)

And the second is that I am challenging myself to make time to do things that I am passionate about, even if it means letting go of my goals of academic perfection a little bit. Before college I always had a rich life outside of schoolwork, and I feel like I have lost that a bit, so I am challenging myself to create it again. I am not sure what that will look like yet, but I am excited and energized by thinking about it, and I want to hold onto that.

Blogging About Blogging (a.k.a “Why haven’t you written in so long, Hailey?”)

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I have a terrible tendency to lose motivation for doing things if they don’t feel meaningful and impactful. And by that I mean that I often feel selfish or unproductive if I do not feel like I am contributing something of value to the world. Which is why a lot of drafted posts never make it on my blog, and why I have a complicated relationship with my college career (however, that’s a post for another time).

As you might be aware from at least three other posts I have written, I am a chronic perfectionist. I rarely write anything that I feel would benefit anyone other than myself. While I love the idea of sharing my thoughts with the world, when it comes down to it I don’t feel at all confident that my thoughts are meaningful or helpful to others. Additionally, I tend to write chiefly about the things that I do NOT have figured out. I rarely have solutions to offer or suggestions to make, and when I do I feel like I must be too young and inexperienced for those suggestions to be valid.

I am still trying to decide how and why I want to continue with this blog. Should I continue to use it as a platform for self-discovery and vulnerability no matter how much that makes me cringe and worry that I am being uselessly self-indulgent? Do I shift to using it to make commentary on current events and topical conversations that I feel passionate about? Do I scrap it until I am a little older, and, hopefully, a little wiser?

I don’t want this post to just be me feeling angsty and conflicted about my writing. That would be pointless. I am honestly asking for input, I know only a handful of people keep up with my blog but if those of you who do could tell me what I’ve done best in the past, I would really appreciate it.

The Irritation of Inspiration

Something I have become increasingly aware of over the past few years is that inspiration and passion are often accompanied by a great deal of frustration. Late last night I arrived home after spending the weekend at Wild Goose festival in North Carolina. Wild Goose, as I have mentioned before, is a yearly faith, arts and justice gathering; for me it is a hotbed of inspiration filled with incredibly passionate people from diverse walks of life all in differing points on their journeys. It’s fantastic. As you may know, it’s been difficult for me to find faith-oriented spaces that feel authentic and comfortable for me, so once a year Wild Goose gives me the opportunity to bask in a sense of community and shared values with all kinds of amazing people! Then I come home to find a surprising number of emotions and reflections waiting to be unpacked. So, here is this year’s bout of reflection-induced word vomit.

This year I was given the opportunity to speak, alongside my dad, twice at the festival. Although I have years of stage experience, speaking in a context where I admire so many of the other speakers was exciting, but also made me pretty nervous. I was surprised when, after our first talk, people came up to talk to me (something I have watched happen to my dad for years) to ask my advice on the topics we’d addressed in our interview-style presentation lead by the amazing Mickey ScottBey Jones. We had discussed intentional living in the context of engaging with issues of race, poverty, and injustice in our neighborhood as people with great privilege. Specifically, we shared our journeys in becoming awakened to issues that primarily affect our neighbors of color in ways we hadn’t even realized. Figuring out how to engage with and love my neighborhood is something I have thought about and grappled with extensively. I wrestle a lot with questions like, “How do I do this while I am busy with the commitments of being a college student?” and “How do I find ways to engage with those around me that feel safe? How do I take into consideration that I am a young woman and can’t necessarily interact with everyone the same way my dad does, while still trying to live into a sense of overall safety and provision?” It’s hard to admit, when asked for advice by people who have just spent an hour listening to me and my dad talk, that I haven’t really found the answers yet.

This is where the frustration of inspiration and passion comes into play. I was excited to speak. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity. I hope that I was able to provide some insight or encouragement that was helpful to the people who heard me… But when it’s all over I almost feel a bit fraudulent. Being fairly idealistic and very verbal I am great at talking the talk. I can discuss matters of justice for hours and feel passionate and engaged with the subject and the people I am talking with. However, at this point in my life, the walk that I am trying to walk to live out my convictions isn’t very exciting and doesn’t involve grand actions or ongoing integral involvement with certain movements or organizations. My actions are personal–a series of individual choices I am making about how I live that may not even be perceivable from the outside. It doesn’t feel like enough, but from what I know of myself, nothing will ever feel like enough until I am able to shift my understanding of what “enough” is. This will likely involve me learning not to compare myself with others, as well as convincing myself that it’s okay to be a work in progress and not have it all figured out yet (oof, that’s gonna be a lot of work).

I want to encourage others who may be in a similar position as I feel myself to be, especially students and young adults that it’s okay if you’re not in the position to become a professional activist (or the whatever equivalent for your passions is) in your 20s. If you are, that’s fantastic, good for you, keep fighting the good fight! However, caring deeply about issues of justice, but not being able to drop everything and become an activist or community organizer or movement leader doesn’t make you a hypocrite. That is probably really obvious to some of you, but I have to constantly remind myself that there are lots of ways in which I am making personal decisions that reflect my values and that are setting me up to do the thing that I believe are most important.

A quick (but not that quick, let’s be real, brevity is not one of my strengths) example of where I am currently feeling this tension most acutely is in the job I recently got working at Peet’s coffee. As someone who has only ever worked for nonprofit organizations until now, and who is passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing, working at a large, corporate coffee shop (that only sells one fair trade blend) isn’t ideal and is something I struggle to feel okay about. However, I am also very committed to be able to pay my share of my college tuition and graduate without debt so that I have the freedom to do work that is meaningful to me without the impending doom of college loans. Not to mention, being able to take courses on topics like the history of race relations in the US and getting to study inspiring activists from history has been incredible formative and valuable in shaping my views and understanding on lots of issues I am passionate about.

So, does the value of my education and the ways in which I believe my education will allow me to engage with the world and help others balance out the questions I have about working for a company I don’t wholly agree with? I am not actually sure. I am trying to remember that it matters that I am putting time and thought and energy into living in a way that resonates with my values and sense of purpose. I am trying to remember that I am working hard in school, in my relationships, in my daily practices  , to become the kind of person who will do the right thing and take the big leaps of faith for what is true and what is right when the times comes. And no, that doesn’t feel like I am doing enough. But maybe that’s okay? Maybe that’s what will keep me striving for better. IMG_6783

When Loving Your Neighbors Means Marching

On Friday night I had the honor of participating in a vigil and march in memory of our neighbor Amilcar Lopez-Perez. It being only my third march, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To be completely honest I was a little nervous because I knew that the autopsy report released earlier yesterday had rightly angered many people. However, I was humbled by how beautiful and powerful the evening was.

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We started at the place of the killing, right around the corner from my house and marched to the local police station where we had a die-in and left candles along with the names of our brothers and sisters lost to police violence written in chalk. At both locations we had interfaith memorial and prayer time, including moving rituals performed by a local first nations group, Danzantes Xitlali, and prayers lead by local clergy. The legal team also revealed the autopsy report which went public earlier friday proving that Amilcar  was shot six times in the back as he fled for his life from the plain-clothes officers who accosted him. After our stop at the police station we continued our march to a local church where we were offered free dinner and spent some time talking and eating in community.

The wonderful community leaders and clergy who organized the vigil and march did an amazing job setting the tone for a peaceful, sincere, passionate protest and I am so grateful to them for their hard work. I am proud of my dad who has gotten really involved in this and has earnestly sought to support our black and brown neighbors in protesting this issue that so disproportionately affects them.

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photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org

I also had the incredible honor of meeting and listening to the powerful words of pastor Michael McBride who eloquently encouraged and prayed beautifully over our protest in front of the police station. I admire pastor McBride very much both as an activist and a Christian, so getting to shake his hand and exchange a few words meant a lot to me. More importantly his presence at the protest was very powerful.

I don’t go to church. I rarely find myself engaged in shared spiritual experiences outside of my family, the majority of my God moments are things I experience and reflect upon within myself, even when those moments are a reaction to something outside of myself. However, I felt so many God moments at the protest last night. Listening to the words of pastor McBride and local priest, father Richard Smith, standing in unity with people of all creeds and backgrounds who are passionately seeking justice, truth, and love, and trying to understand the pain felt by the families of those who have been lost to police violence, some of whom were with us. All of these experiences (and others, I am sure, that I can’t describe) felt so real, so much bigger than all of us standing in front of the police station, and so connected to a larger story.

photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org
photo by Lydia Chávez via missionlocal.org

It was a powerful and spiritually moving evening and I am so thankful to have gotten to be a part of it, yet so sad that such protests are necessary. May we, through our actions and with our voices, help to bring about a world in which our children won’t have to march to protest the unnecessary killing of their brothers and sisters by those employed to protect them. May we one day see evidence that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice.

Mourning with my Neighbors

Last Saturday my dad, my brother, Isaiah, and I had the opportunity to march and mourn alongside our neighbors on the anniversary Alex Nieto’s death. Alex was shot 14 times by police on Bernal hill after a dogwalker called 911 and reported suspicious activity. Alex was a security guard at a nightclub in the city and carried his licensed taser at his hip. He was a practicing Buddhist, a pacifist, community college student, provider for his family, and, according to his best friend, dreamed of becoming a youth mentor at Juvenile Hall.

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The memorial service started at the site of the shooting with an inclusive, interfaith service, after which we marched procession style to Mission Cultural Center a few blocks away. Along the way we stopped at the sites of other young men’s deaths. Some were lost to peer violence; others, like Alex, were victims of police brutality. One of these victims, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, was killed only two weeks ago– shot six times just around the corner from my house. We stopped traffic along the way, marching down the middle of the street, calling out for justice in alternating Spanish and English. Amidst the tragedy of the situation it was beautiful and humbling to see neighbors of all backgrounds coming together to peacefully protest and remember. 18124_10152725397095671_5325542933247161693_n

Despite this unity it was still hard not to feel like an outsider. I didn’t know anyone except the people I came with; it’s hard to get to know people here. I hadn’t known Alex, but I felt compelled to be present and support those who had. As I’ve grown up I’ve come to realize that love is more an action than a feeling. I would like to find ways to know my neighbors better, but in the meantime I can still love them. This isn’t necessarily something I am very good at yet.

As I wrote in my last blog post, my neighborhood hasn’t always felt like a very safe place to be, especially as a young woman. I feel guilty knowing that I may have walked past Alex or Amilcar at some point and either ignored or actively avoided them–a response to young men on the street that quickly became second-nature to me after I hit puberty. It’s hard to love people when you’re afraid of them, and I don’t want to live in that fear, but I do want to be practical. The more I think about it, the more I realize that taking the action to love my neighborhood won’t be a simple process.

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I am thankful to the community organizers and activists who brought us together on Saturday to march for Alex, I am deeply saddened by the injustice of police brutality and the lack of atonement shown by our law enforcement. I recognize that this abuse of power disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. I want to know how to support my neighbors in their grief and fear, and how to stand up for what is right, especially in a context where I have so much privilege. (In case you hadn’t noticed, police don’t gun down young, white women with any comparable frequency.) However, I do know that my distance from the fear experienced by my (primarily) latin@ neighbors means that a large part of my role is to listen to them, mourn with them, and echo their experiences.

Further reading about Alex Nieto, the memorial, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez:

Justice for Alex Nieto: a page run by his friends and family.

Mission Local shares neighbor’s accounts of Amilcar’s shooting.

Mission Local article on Alex Nieto memorial.

Loving my Neighborhood as it Changes

As anyone who has ever asked me about my city or my neighborhood knows, I love the place I live with a passion. My mom often tries to come up with scenarios in which I could be persuaded to move elsewhere and I am unfailingly stubborn in my loyalty to my city. I have lived in the house I live in now since I was four years old. However what it means to live here has changed vastly since then.

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7-year-old Hailey at a neighborhood art show

 

When we moved here, I thought I was the only blonde girl in all of San Francisco because I rarely saw other white kids in our primarily Latin neighborhood. Growing up, I soon learned that other people were scared of my neighborhood. And there were scary things. People got shot a lot in my neighborhood. Things got stolen; no hipster would have dreamed of leaving their fixie bike chained to a parking meter on 24th street when I was little. As a kid and young teenager I saw cars get stolen, drug deals go down, women threatened at knife point, all from my bedroom window.

My parents encouraged us to love our neighbors and our neighborhood not only in spite of its scariness, but because the scary things meant our neighbors needed the love. We picked up trash around the park on a regular basis, for a while we made pancakes with our homeless neighbors under the freeway once a week, we went swimming at the rec center and we played at the neighborhood parks with other kids who lived nearby. There were lots of things my brothers and I loved about our neighborhood. We could walk to the library, the corner store sold Now and Laters candy for only 25 cents a pack and we could buy sweet Mexican pastries from any number of panaderias. The hill by our house was perfect for adventures and by the time I was ten or eleven we could walk all over it by ourselves.

Between the scariness of frequent shootings and richness of culture and variety of places to eat, learn, and play, my neighborhood and I developed a very close bond. It’s safe to say that this is the only place in the world that feels like home to me.However, as I have gotten older and my neighborhood has shifted with the tech boom and influx of new people, new businesses and new culture, I have realized that there is a disconnect between how I feel about my neighborhood and how I am seen in it. Although many of my neighbors recognize me from the almost two decades I have lived here, others don’t and from some of them I feel the resentment towards the hipster “gentrifier” they perceive me as. Sometimes this resentment is verbalized, other times it manifests in stormy glares or refusal to give right of way when I am walking. The thing is, I completely understand it. This is not a post about gentrification, I would need more time to write on such a complicated issue, but I do know that the changes being brought to my neighborhood create tension between the “locals” and the “gentrifiers”, “hipsters” and “techies”. Everyone here knows someone who had to move because it’s getting too expensive, even though many of us (my family included) moved to this part of the city because it was the part we could afford to live in. I catch myself glaring at the google bus and the new, hip pop-up boutiques. I worry that when I move out of my parents house I will no longer be able to live in my neighborhood, which breaks my heart because this is the only place that will ever feel like this for me.

The neighborhood and I have changed alongside one another as I’ve grown up. We’ve been through tough times together and we’ve celebrated together, we’ve mourned and marched and worked together to make this a safe community. When I was seven I wrote to the mayor and chief of police; our car had been broken into and I felt upset and rattled. Police rarely ventured into our neighborhood at that time. If we called to report a shooting or a drug transaction taking place on our front steps it took them far too long to get here and often they were too late to do anything. I wrote, pleading to the leaders of the city to make my neighborhood, my home, safer. We saw an upswing of positive police presence that year and it gave little Hailey hope and a sense of empowerment to see that change effected. Fourteen years later, I’ve marched to protest the police brutality that has been increasingly common in my neighborhood. I still long to see change and peace in my community. I long to help make it a safe place for the people who live here to get to know each other and flourish together. I want to have the same hopefulness that seven-year-old Hailey had about bringing people together, but I also recognize that to many I appear to be an outsider. I may not be perceived as belonging here, but nowhere else is home either.

I am still trying to figure out how to love my ever-shifting community through the tensions and challenges it faces. I want to take on new actions to love my neighbors, but as a college student with an ever-shifting schedule as well as limited time and money, I am not sure how that looks yet. I am excited to experiment with intentionality in this area of my life, however, so this won’t be the last time you hear about this.