“Pain should not be wasted”— Deep Gratitude to Three Parents Who Have Not Wasted Their Pain

Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard.

Holocaust survivor, Gerda Weissmann Klein said, “Pain should not be wasted.”

And I am deeply grateful to three parents who live that wisdom.

Karen Ball began the Sturge-Weber Foundation when her daughter, Kaelin, was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome accompanied by a significant facial port wine stain.

Because this Foundation was there when my son, Byron, was born with the same syndrome, we were not alone.

Karen continues to blaze trail after medical trail in service to others.

The Shepards of Casper, Wyoming

And then there are the Shepards.

Their son, Matthew, was murdered 20 years ago this month.

It was a hate crime for being gay.

Judy channeled her anger and pain and created good:  The Matthew Shepard Foundation.

And for two decades, she and her gentle husband, Dennis, have traveled the country and the world erasing hate, promoting tolerance, and heralding human rights for all.

“This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.” – Judy Shepard

We spent this week-end in their presence.

On October 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., a public celebration of Matthew’s life will precede his interment at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

His remains are still not safe in Wyoming.

And that is unimaginable.

The Shepards model both public anguish and resilience as they counter the injustice of Matthew’s death.

And though their service to humanity cannot be measured, award after award attempts to quantify the shift their work is creating.

As Judy said during the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice in Laramie last spring, “This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.”

And for me, a mother still fighting for me children — sometimes out of fear, occasionally from anger, and mostly out of love — I spill tears every time I’m close to the energy that swirls like tornados around Judy and Dennis.

Because beyond the LGBTQ community, the work they do emphasizes justice for all human life on the planet.

“Pain should not be wasted.”

And for Judy and Dennis and Karen it hasn’t been.

•  •  •

An excerpt from Dennis Shepard’s trial statement:

“You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone . . . First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time — one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming . . . And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind — the ever-present Wyoming wind — for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God.

“I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.”

Take Action!

•  Learn more at the Sturge-Weber Foundation

•  Help Erase Hate at the Matthew Shepard Foundation

•  Read about growing up in a moderately-tolerant town

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and has been practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy since 2013.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Spaces Filled with Possibilities Characterize Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Sessions

Stephanie Abramson, RCST,  visiting Wyoming.

When I enter Stephanie Abramson’s treatment room time shifts as I tuck in for a restorative session of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST).

When I receive BCST I experience safe and compassionate touch as well as a sense of being seen completely and accepted entirely.

It is fundamentally about being open to the stillness within us where all possibility resides.

This junction of liminal space is where growth, renewal and a return to the innate essence of our being can unfold.

Typical Session – Is There One?

During the first session, a client often completes an intake form, and a few minutes of conversation may follow.

“How are you feeling today?

“And where in your body do you experience health?

When I receive BCST I experience safe and compassionate touch as well as a sense of being seen completely and accepted entirely.

With my son son, Byron.

Before getting on the massage table fully clothed, the client may also be asked if there is an intention for the session.

And she may respond:

“I want to feel better.”

“I’d like to be more connected to my body.”

Or, “I really need rest.”

Being On the Table

When I’m the one on the table I often experience a sense of dropping deeply to a secure place where I am aware of but not focused on the therapist I’m with.

And while there, I often see images — numbers, furniture, people I don’t know.

These visions, though curious and entertaining, are only sometimes informative.

Some people sense heat or cold, see colors or have flashes of light.

Yet others may feel sensations in their bodies — tingling or movements that seem to come from nowhere.

And it’s just as likely the experience will be described simply as “restful.”

In this aliveness, anything is possible.

Since there is absolutely no “should” in BCST, whatever reaction one has is exactly right for the moment.

Sessions Can’t Be Structured

Sessions have no agenda; We don’t say, “Let’s work on your lower back today.”

While this is typical of massage and other modalities, that’s not how BCST works.

The therapist’s role is to witness the unfolding of the session rather than trying to steer the ship.

We pause in the stillness until the client’s intelligence gives us direction.

Byron often finds relief from the pain of scoliosis with BCST.

Then intuition guides the session.

The therapist’s and client’s nervous systems come into sync as they balance and ground together.

And quite often that time of alignment is noted by a pronounced out breath – something like a sigh.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first or even first few times a client and practitioner are together as degrees of trust vary from person to person.

Other times quietude may present itself simply in anticipation of the session.

While there are lists of conditions for which BCST may be helpful, I don’t make promises.

My pledge is to be fully present as the client’s essence reveals what it wants me to see.

In Stephanie’s presence, I trust that the guidance she receives is just what I need, whether I share an awareness of it or not.

So I sink deeply and enjoy feeling fully alive.

And in that aliveness, anything is possible.

_  _  _

Take Action in Celebration of International Craniosacral Week October 15-21, 2018!

• Write Ellen for a free Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy appointment on Thursday, October 18, 2018:  EllenSynakowski@icloud.com This is in celebration of International Craniosacral Week.

•  Make an appointment with Stephanie Abramson when traveling to Washington, DC.  ‭(240) 418-5459

•  Read From My Hands and Heart:  Achieving Health and Balance with Craniosacral Therapy, by Kate’ MacKinnon.

•  Find a registered therapist near you through the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA).

•  Read The Breath of Life: An Introduction to Craniosacral Biodynamics by Cherionna Menzam Sills.

•   Read the summary and conclusion to the research article, The use of CranioSacral therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders: Benefits from the viewpoints of parents, clients, and therapists, by Kratz, Kerr and Porter, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapist, vol21(1), 1/2017, pages 19-29.

•  Watch Helen Robbins’ annimated Introduction to Craniosacral.

•  Read the summary and conclusion  to the research article, A systematic review to evaluate the clinical benefits of craniosacral therapy,  by Jakel and Hauenschild, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol20(6), 12/12, pages 456-465.

•  Watch the the British Craniosacral Therapy Association’s video,  What is Craniosacral Therapy?

•  See how Biodynamic Craniosacral is a model of Peace as Learned and Teachable Skills.

•  Consider how nonviolence toward women impacts one’s life in Alan Turgeon, Thank You For Your Decency.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and has been practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy since 2013.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Allan Turgeon, Thank You for Your Decency*

My husband, Ed.

I don’t believe it.

And I won’t stay silent when people say, “Boys will be boys.”

My husband isn’t and never was like that.

Nor is my son.

My son, Byron.

And I’m certain my father never passed through an abusive phase on his way to becoming a fine man.

And neither did Allan Turgeon.

Decency in College

As with most of my 40+ year-old memories, what I recall of Allan is a little fuzzy.

Allan as a young frat guy.

When I was a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, he was a senior.

Or was I a sophomore?

Both of us were part of the business school, and each of us grew up in Maine.

And for some reason I can’t recall, one week-end we drove to New York City  —  Allan, me, and his classmate and friend, Joey Nocero.

When we arrived in the wee hours they permitted me to stand between them like Debbie Reynolds flanked by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

Then we danced down Broadway in the rain.

That memory is clear.

I won’t stay silent when people say,
“Boys will be boys.”

And the other thing that remains vivid is the hotel room we shared with its solitary, double bed.

When I first saw the layout, I didn’t experience fear or panic so much as a rush of concern.

But the feeling didn’t last.

Allan and Joey said the bed was mine as the two of them grabbed pillows and slept on the floor.

True Colors

The next time Allan showed his true colors was at the end of his last semester.

He invited me to a fraternity dance, and I joined him there wearing an outfit I’d sewn in high school along with stilt-height wedge heels.

But memories of the party itself are unclear.

I know it was crowded and loud.

Thank you, Allan. Your decency helped ensure that I experience life without lugging around heavy scars.

And I’m sure alcohol was a dominant feature.

By the end of the party I was ready to crash in Allan’s room and call it a night.

But he refused.

“You’re not staying here.

“You can’t be around these drunk guys,” he said.

So he drove me to my dorm where I sleepily, if innocently, said good night.

In Hindsight a Gift

I am one of the two-out-of-three women in this country who has been spared sexual assault.

Yet I know the anxiety that accompanies fear of violation.

What woman doesn’t?

Allan near the end of college.**

And whether that alarm bell is taught or acquired, I can’t say.

I didn’t have it growing up, and it’s not part of life now.

But in between, worrisome moments were frequent.

So thank you, Allan.

Your decency helped ensure that I experience life without lugging around heavy scars.

And while I understand that feeling safe in the world isn’t shared by all humans, it’s only recently I’ve come to appreciate how rare my reality may be.

Take Action!

•  Thank someone who made your life easier or better.

•  And read about the simple lessons Mr. Rogers exposed us to.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

This post was written in beleaguered anticipation of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court vote.

** Allan Turgeon still lives in Maine. He has been married 37 years, has two sons, two very young grandchildren, and, I imagine, he’s still doing the right things.

Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care Sees Far Beyond Medical Needs

Abigail Strube, WFCC Executive Director, with her mom, Cathy.

Last year Abigail Strube’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

And that’s when they both came to know volunteers from the Angels Care Cancer Program, a Casper-based organization that’s part of the Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care (WFCC).

In fact, it was an Angel who suggested Abigail apply for her current job.

“WFCC is all about reducing the burden of cancer,” Abigail said.

And that translates to helping patients and families with non-medical needs that accompany treatment.

Help Beyond Medical Care

“We sometimes pay utility bills.

“We’ve even made mortgage payments,” Abigail said.

“We give gas cards, and this past summer a patient who needed to travel for a much-needed surgery had unsafe tires, so we just bought new ones for her.”

A large portion of WFCC’s budget goes to paying hotel bills.

Because of vast distances between Wyoming towns, people seeking cancer treatment must often travel hours for care.

It’s is all about reducing the burden of cancer.

WFCC Board of Directors includes (front row) Abigail Strube (ad hoc), Kara Frizell; (back row): Angie VanHouten, Michele Nash, Dr. Robert Tobin, and Sam Carrick (ad hoc)

More than 12 years ago staff at Rocky Mountain Oncology in the mid-state city of Casper saw patients struggling at home with non-medical needs.

So they considered how best to help.

The result was a grass roots organization as an arm of the large Tennessee based eplus Cancer Care foundation.

Then in 2018 WFCC received its own 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Until recently funding came 100% from community donations and grants from individuals.

And now as they extend their reach to more of Wyoming and are eligible for federal grants, efforts are underway to grow the current $50,000 budget.

It’s about supporting patients and families with the non-medical needs that accompany treatment.

In 2017 more than 206 people state wide were served, and this year 176 patients have already been helped.

And the only eligibility requirements are that applicants be Wyoming patients currently undergoing treatment.

Partnering with Hands-On Care

When WFCC merged with the Angels Cancer Care Program more ways to offer non-medical support were possible.

That’s because many of the volunteers have, themselves, gone through cancer treatment.

“They know how to help make the stress of chemo more bearable,” Abigail said.

“Volunteers may sit with patients going through treatment, assemble cancer care kits, and drive patients to appointments.

“They have even put together teams to do house cleaning,” she said.

“In Wyoming we are proud to take care of our own.

“We believe in the spirit of the west and supporting cancer patients in our communities who are in need,” she said.

As for her mom, Abigail reports, “She’s 10 months out of treatment and doing really well.”

Take Action!

•  Read more about Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care

•  Donate to WFCC. Every small donation has a big impact.

•  Review Preventing Alzheimer’s and Slowing ALS: The Focus of Jackson Hole Medical Non Profit.

• Read Climb Wyoming where efforts to end the cycle of single-mom poverty in Wyoming are effecting change.

•  Read about a daughter who helped her mom live fully to the end of her life.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

 

Preventing Alzheimer’s and Slowing ALS: The Focus of Jackson Hole Medical Research Non-Profit

Brain Chemistry Labs is breaking rules and shattering the mold of how medical research is done.

And they’re doing it solely with small grants and private donations.

Dr. Sandra Banack, senior scientist at Brain Chemistry Labs.

What began as work focused on the motor neuron disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has been led by research to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“I think we can change the world,” said Sandra Banack, senior scientist and ethnobotanist.

“What we’re doing takes a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” she said.

Their work examines what is happening to people and what can be done about it.

“We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”    – Dr. Rachael Dunlop

Research shows that chronic exposure to the neurotoxin BMAA (β-Methylamino-L-alanine) found in cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae and most often pointed out by someone in my family as “that green stuff” on lakes and ponds) is a potential risk for neurodegenerative illnesses.

So they are testing and working with an amino acid called L-Serine that may counter BMAA and appears to be neuroprotective in its own right.

BMAA Surrounds Us

“We know that human health is related to environmental health,” Dr. Banack said.

People come into contact with BMAA through contaminated seafood and freshwater fish — possibly grains if they are watered by contaminated water.

And it can be in the air we breathe.

“Found in habitats ranging from the hot pools of Yellowstone to the deserts of the middle east to the middle of the oceans, cyanobacteria are nearly ubiquitous on the earth’s surface.” – Brain Chemistry Labs’ website

“This is like a slow toxin and a silent killer in a sense because we don’t know that it’s in the water that we’re drinking.

“We don’t know that it’s in the food that we’re eating.

“But we do know that it can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said senior research fellow, Rachael Dunlop, in the film Toxic Puzzle.

But hope is on the horizon.

“I think we can change the world,”  – Dr. Banack

Can L-Serine Forestall Alzheimer’s?

What’s already been shown in Phase I clinical trials is that L-Serine is safe for ALS patients to take at doses as high as 30 grams per day.

The data suggest that L-Serine can slow down the progression of ALS by as much as 85%.

“Our research also suggests that L-Serine may be able to push off the onset of Alzheimer’s, but there are still many experiments to do,” Dr. Banack said.

Currently L-Serine is accessible as an inexpensive and safe supplement.

And it is found in abundance in foods like sweet potatoes and soy products.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members, so the swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters.

Because of the positive results shown in Phase I clinical trials, the FDA has fast tracked L-Serine into Phase II Alzheimer’s trials.

The swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters greatly.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members.

And for ALS patients any slow down in progression translates to hope.

Once diagnosed, life expectancy averages 2.5 years.

The urgency is understood in Jackson where the time from research to clinical trials has only taken about five years.

That nimbleness is more than surprising to those of us who know the legend of drug development exceeding decades and costing billions of dollars.

Non-Profit Medical Research

Drs. Sandra Banack and Rachael Dunlop

The lean research team has fewer meetings and less bureaucracy, and that’s appealing to the scientists who work and answer the phones at Brain Chemistry Labs.

To join the research team, Sandra Banack gave up tenure-for-life in the California State University system.

And similarly, Dr. Dunlop left a Sydney, Australia university position and moved to Jackson.

“The possibilities were too big to turn down,” Dr. Banack said.

“We’re not beholden to stock holders or the stock exchange.

“It’s a different model from anything else that’s been done,” she said.

“We owe it to society to give something back,” Dr. Dunlop said.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems.”
– Dr. Sandra Banack

Yet the work isn’t limited to this small group in northwestern Wyoming.

The Jackson team collaborates with more than 50 scientists in 28 disciplines worldwide.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems,” Dr. Banack said.

Dr. Dunlop said, “We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”

Asked if what they’ve learned has changed their eating habits, Dr. Banack said, “I don’t eat seafood anymore.”

And Dr. Dunlop has increased her intake of soy — edamame, in particular — that she said is loaded with L-Serine.

My first order of the supplement should be here any day.

Take Action!

•  Donate to Brain Chemistry Labs.

•  Absolutely watch the 80-minute documentary, Toxic Puzzle, about BMAA, L-Serine, research and the founder of Brain Chemistry Labs, Paul Cox.

•  View Brain Chemistry Labs’ website.

•  Read a number of newspaper articles about this work.

•  See Paul Cox’s, TedX talk.

•  Read related research articles:

“Mapping amyotrophic lateral sclerosis lake risk factors across northern New England,” Nathan Torbick et al, International Journal of Health Geographics, 2014; 13: 1, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922844/?report=classic#).

“Phase I clinical trial of safety of L-serine for ALS patients,” T.D. Levine, et al., Feb 18, 2017, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27589995#).

“Traditional Food Items in Ogimi, Okinawa: l-Serine Content and the Potential for Neuroprotection,” Paul Cox and James Metcalf, Current Nutrition Reports, 2017; 6(1): 24–31, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343079/).

•  Previous posts of interest: Civility Leads Climate Discussion and  Charity and Social Justice:  “Distinct but Complimentary”

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Peace as Learned and Teachable Skills: UN International Day of Peace September 21, 2018

 

HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein Jordan reading Article 1 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (click photo to be taken to her reading)

Every year the United Nations presents the International Day of Peace.

And this year is especially notable because it marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But the how to of peace can be elusive.

Over time, though, I’ve found three portals to equanimity.

And for me they overlap.

All three, it seems, know that as sentient beings we yearn for and move toward emotional and physical health.

And I choose to think peace fits in there, too.

Master of the Heart and HeartMath

Through personal, social and global coherence of HeartMath® I’ve learned to regulate my emotions.

All the while I am changing my heart rate variablility (HRV).

And HRV is a predictor of longevity, health and one’s emotional state.

Surprising to many,  coherence can be attained in the midst and moments of life’s challenges.

When I achieve coherence I am deeply content with my life.

The good news is that HeartMath tools can be taught to just about anyone at any age.

And with practice these skills lead to consistent, internal peace, regardless of external conditions.

I took my first HeartMath® class in 2009 from a master of the heart, David McArther.

And over time I learned to intentionally shift my physiology.

At will I can bring into balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of my nervous system.

That is peace.

The Connection Practice

“Before directing the lightening in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.”

From The Connection Practice I know that world peace, family peace — any peace — is futile without internal peace.

It is in the motto.

“Before directing the lightening in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.”

The Connection Practice uses elements of HeartMath and Nonviolent Communication.

And these gentle starting places inform the Practice’s life-affirming skills.

From Nonviolent Communication we offer respectful empathy to ourselves and others.

Through HeartMath we access insight.

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy

The third part of my profession and personal practice is biodynamic craniosacral therapy.

It is described as a “. . . a gentle, sensitive form of a hands-on approach to health.”

And it is truly magical.

After completing a session I am rested and deeply peaceful.

And that is true if I am receiving or facilitating.

As a practitioner I sense the rhythms within another’s nervous system — the breathe of life.

I set out to do nothing more.

In this way the practitioner is a mirror rather than a mechanic.

.  .  .

The United Nations International Day of Peace is an idea; it’s a chance to pause.

And perhaps in that pause you’ll ask if now is the right time to experience more peace in your life.

Take Action!

•  Books I recommend:  David McArthur – Your Spiritual Heart; HeartMath – The HeartMath Solution; Nonviolent Communication – Nonviolent Communication; The Connection Practice – Completely Connected, by Rita Marie Johnson; Cherionna Menzam-Sills – The Breath of Life.

•   Learn about HeartMath research and professional training.

•  Find a HeartMath professional in your area.

•  Read about The Connection Practice.

•  Find a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist in your area.

Previous Posts Related to Peace

•  Connecting:  When Needs are Met in a Simple Thank You

•  Connection Amid Political Chaos:  Impossible You Say?

•  Creating a Dignified Transition: A Daughter’s Gift to Her Mother

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Take Two: Why the Singular, Non-Binary “They” Pronoun is Darned Difficult to Master

If you read no further, delight in watching John E. McIntyre’s Baltimore Sun video on the indisputable appropriateness of the singular, epicene, pronoun “they.”

The third-person, singular “they” he talks about was the 2015 American Dialect Society Word of the Year.

Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries agree.

And the Washington Post style guide, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style do, too.

So why is speaking “they” when we’re referring to one person so difficult to master?

Even — and especially — if someone has told us “he” or “she” just isn’t who they are.

Logic says this should be easier.

Most of us have lived through a few language changes in our time.

Think no further than “groovy.”

We used it, then shuttered and moved on.

Yet tell me that they/them/their are your pronouns, and I’ll stumble, fall, get up, and do it again.

“As shorthand for any thing or concept, pronouns are used so often and so unconsciously that they are more like hardware.

Linguistics May Hold the Answer

Why I slip up so often can, at least partially, be explained by linguistics.

John McWhorter, an English and literature professor at Columbia University, says we are flexible with changing nouns, verbs and adjectives, and it can even feel natural to add, subtract and revise them.

Like software, he said, we can adapt moderately easily to new versions of what’s called, “open class words.”

But other parts of language are different.

“Pronouns are closed class words,” he said.

“As shorthand for any thing or concept, pronouns are used so often and so unconsciously that they are more like hardware.

“A new object or practice is one thing — but a new “you” or a new “him” or “her”?

“It’s harder to wrap our minds around changing something so cognitively fundamental, just as one does not pop up with new prepositions.

“ . . . nouns and verbs are lightbulbs; prepositions are the wiring inside the walls.”

He said the origins of our language can be traced back 6,000 years.

And even then people spoke pronouns that sounded similar to “me,” “you,” and “we.”

“That’s how hardy pronouns are,” he said.

Comfort in Knowledge

So let’s drop some of the judgment we put on ourselves for making mistakes with “they.”

Slipping back into “he” or “she” when someone says their pronoun is “they” is what can happen when you have hard-wired parts of the brain.

And as a result, this is going to take time.

What we’re seeing is a rapid evolution in English.

But John McIntyre cautions against taking too long to adapt, “The tide is running against you, and it’s coming in,” he said.

“. . . Resistance is futile.”

Take Action!

•  Read  the CNN Opinion by John McWhorter, Goodbye to ‘he’ and ‘she’ and hello to ‘ze’?,” October 14, 2015.

Read  New York Times magazine article, “Who’s ‘They’? by Amanda Hess, March 29, 2016.

•  Watch John McIntyre’s Baltimore Sun video on singular ‘they.”

•  Read last week’s blog, The Evolving World of Pronouns, and My Struggle to Keep Up.

•  And You Might Enjoy  Growing Up in a Town Hospitable to Lesbians and Others with Non-Binary Lifestyles 

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

The Evolving World of Pronouns and My Struggle to Keep Up

October 17th is the first-ever International Pronouns Day.

That means that organizations and individuals are acknowledging and supporting — celebrating, even — nonbinary pronouns.

And I’ve already signed up.

What has been she/her/hers, he/him/his in me/mine/my language is expanding.

English pronouns are becoming they/them/their, ze/zim/zir, sie/sie/hir, ey/em/eir, ve/ver/vis, and more.

Other languages have far more pronouns than we do, so this change isn’t revolutionary, but it’s happening quickly, and it’s confusing to me.

Dizzying and disorienting better describes where I am with all this.

Last year my husband and I took lunch-time classes at the University of Wyoming to become better-informed LGBTQIA+ allies.

The topics were LGB 101, gender identity, and how to be a visible ally.

But even after being encouraged to ask people their pronouns, I couldn’t.

I haven’t been able to say to a single person, “Hi, I’m Ellen. My pronouns are she/her and hers.

“What about you?”

I fear I’ll anger some people while offending others.

My own history foreshadows the perils of good intentions.

At least once I called someone’s husband by her former husband’s name.

And then there’s the personal anguish of anonymity that I experienced with my chronically-sick child.

In hospitals I was seldom summoned by any name other than “mom.”

It was as if I didn’t exist.

And not being seen doesn’t feel good.

So I really do get that this pronoun upgrade is important.

But I don’t want to be shamed or humiliated or seen as disrespectful if I mess up.

Yet that’s exactly what recently happened.

An Email Exchange

Last week I wrote an email suggesting that when I don’t know someone personally I can ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?”

A swift reply arrived from my colleague, a self-described, non-binary human who uses the pronouns they/them/their.

My offenses were itemized.

First, they said, “Being trans is not a choice. One does not just choose to not be cis.

“In this vein, the pronoun that people use is not a ‘preferred’ pronoun . . .

“There is no preference here. I am not a woman, therefore they/them IS my pronoun — not a preference.”

So noted.

In the same email they said it’s impolite to ask a personal question about a relationship.

But wait a minute.

Isn’t asking about someone’s pronouns a really, really personal question?

They also told me to “refrain from using the word biological.”

“Assigned Female/Male at birth (AFAB, AMAB) is the word choice at the moment (these things change!!)”

And for me that’s the fulcrum of the problem; I feel the rules keep changing.

Being warned that changes are coming isn’t exactly the rally call I need to go forward with confidence.

So what I’m now trying to understand is if the comments I received are the reaction of a single person, or are the points they make typical of a wide range of people asserting rights to their own pronouns?

I Could Use Some Empathy

What they didn’t seem to consider [and here I’m using “they” as a personal pronoun for one individual] is that every single time I take a risk with the intention of being respectful and empathetic, I am leaping flat footed into vulnerability where criticism is poised to pounce.

But ok.

I accept the feedback and will learn from my errors, innocent as they may be.

I have another chance at success.

This time it’s a commitment to myself and a nod to Pronouns Day.

By October 17, 2018, I promise to look someone in his/her/their/zir/hir/eir/vis eyes and say, “Hi, I’m Ellen. My pronouns are she/her and hers.

“What about you?”

Take Action!

•  Sign Up to Support International Pronouns Day.

•  Read Lindy Westenhoff about and her simple ideas for updating language in college classes.

• Read my experience of growing up in a town friendly to multiple-gendered people.

•  Take free online LGBTQIA+ ally classes through the Safe Zone at the University of Wyoming.

•  Read “Understnding Non-Binary People: How to be Respectful and Supportive” on the Transequality.org website.

•  Read a CNN article by John McWhorter, “Say Goodbye to ‘he’ and ‘she’ and hello to ‘ze’?” .

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.

Positive Roadside Messages: Won’t You “PassItOn.com”?

I noticed a billboard on Interstate I-25 in Cheyenne, Wyoming with the then child Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai’s photo and quote, “Girls should learn history. And make it,” PassItOn.com

I saw it again in Laramie along I-80.

And a similar one a few miles away that featured a 13-year-old boy who started a nonprofit when he was 5.

Today in Tucson, Arizona I drove past a bus stop with a picture of Garth Brooks and lyrics from his song.

“When there’s only one race, and that’s mankind . . . We shall be free.”

And each billboard and post included, “PassItOn.com.”

The Foundation for a Better Life is the nonprofit that began in 2000 to promote positive values through public messages.

It is a 501(c)(3) that has, it says, “zero political or religious affiliations.”

They don’t accept financial contributions, and not a single thing is for sale on their website.

Rather, the Denver-based nonprofit that offers free billboard copy, radio and TV spots, posters and daily emails is funded entirely by Philip Anschutz through the Anschutz Family Foundation.

Its website says it “. . . exists solely to create and share uplifting messages . . .”

According to Variety, though, there has been significant criticism surrounding Philip Anschutz’s funding of conservative groups including pro-gun, anti-abortion and those touting anti-LBGT values.

A Gift to the Elton John AIDS Foundation

Yet earlier this year, Anschutz donated $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Isn’t passing it on what we human beings do really REALLY well?

He said, “My gift to the Elton John Foundation is intended to emphasize that we support freedom of all people to live their lives peacefully, without interference from others.”

Each passiton.com message includes a red rectangle identifying the value in its story.

Inclusion, inspiration, courage, service, soul, persistence, compassion, soul, optimism . . .

 

 

You could be driving across country on I-80 or getting on the same interstate to travel to the other side of Laramie.

It doesn’t matter.

Most of us can use a reminder now and again that we have it in us to do and be better.

As imperfect humans we look to one another for stories of encouragement and inspiration, even stories that fit on billboards.

And passing those stories on is something we do really REALLY well.

Take Action!

•  See someone — really  see someone with the eyes of appreciation, then tell them what you see.

 Access the entire passiton.com collection

 View Garth Brooks’ full We Shall Be Free video on Vimeo

•  Read about Rooted in Wyoming‘s efforts in Sheridan, Wyoming to bring people together through community gardening.

•  Get to know why Wyoming Untrapped‘s work to keep bobcats alive could be a tourist draw for the state.

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West