how to have (and give) a goodenough valentines day

valentine’s day is here. why not embrace it this year? there is no need to panic. no cards to make or flowers to purchase. you already have all that is required to honor those you encounter today. all you need now is courage and creativity plus a few ordinary household objects like paper, a writing utensil, and, possibly, some tape. 

in short order, here are some ideas.

1 pay no attention to conventional norms. the observance of valentines day does not need to be limited to lovers. you can find something to love in just about everyone if you try and expressing this care is important both for your own growth as well as for theirs.

2 put aside fears of rejection and ridicule in order to make space for the empathic care of others. your own personal discomfort won’t seem so bad when it’s placed beside the joy another might feel as a result of your meager efforts. you can handle awkward. trust me. you can.

3 get your resilient flexibility on. not everyone is comfortable accepting recognition, kindness, and love externally. internally, however, almost everyone feels caught off guard in the best of ways by being seen and treated with genuine care. if you are brave enough to take the risk to honor someone, very likely they will feel deeply blessed. they just might not show it. be prepared for this so you aren’t stopped in your tracks by a lack of gratitude.

4 carry a “packet” of a few basic supplies. mine includes side walk chalk, lipstick, and pre-printed slips of paper that say “i love you because” with room to add some reasons. yours, however, might simply include paper, pen, and tape. sticky notes are a plus. some kind of little candy or trinket that you can distribute throughout the day might be fun. nothing needs to be fancy. you yourself are your best supply. all the rest is just frosting on the cake.

5 set out on your day with a sense of awareness. look for opportunities to thank people, to recognize the efforts of others, and to express respect and care for those you meet or those who are behind the scenes at the places you visit. people who are cleaning public restrooms, stocking the shelves at the market, making your meal, doing your dry cleaning, washing your dishes at a restaurant, responding to your customer service call/email, delivering your mail, seeing you at the after hours/weekend clinic,  or taking your ticket at the theater are perfect “targets.” they do their work almost invisibly and are rarely thanked. prepare your mind and heart to notice these dedicated people today and determine to recognize them in whatever way you can.

6 if a face to face, eye to eye thank you or “i appreciate you” isn’t possible, leave a note. it doesn’t need to be fancy or well written. it can be scribbled on a napkin and sent to the dishwasher on a dirty plate. it can be written on a sticky note and left on the mirror. it can be sidewalk chalked outside an establishment (or lip printed on someones rear view mirror). it doesn’t matter how you do it but let someone (or someones) know that you notice them, that they matter, that you care.

7 if you feel disappointed because you feel slighted, overlooked, or alone today, person up and either do something wonderful and fitting for yourself or ask those that love you for what you want/wish for/need. just like walking into a restaurant does not ensure you will get the food you want, living in relationship does not secure a fulfillment of your wishes. asking for what you want and need is healthy, mature, and helpful to those around you. it’s hard. it’s worth it. so is buying yourself the massage, meal, flowers, candy, or video game you hoped that someone knew you wanted.

8 treat yourself with love and it’ll pour out of you to those around you. treat others with love and it’ll come back to you. practice today with the intention of letting it spill out to tomorrow. embodied relational living (beginning with a genuine and healthy love of self) is worth all of the work it takes to achieve. just go giveget it...


50 shades of awareness

on valentines day, which has long been my favorite holiday, the world will be treated to the film version of the best selling book, 50 shades of grey. if you’ve read the book, fine. if you plan to see the film, o.k. (as if it’s up to me to affirm or permit). if you’ve thought, studied, struggled, and come to a considered and positive position regarding bdsm i will absolutely listen. if, however, you are ready to queue up for the midnight showing of 50 shades just because you need some spice in your life or are curious about the hype, i’d love to talk. this conversation is, in no way, an exploration or review of the bdsm movement. it is, instead, about how we, in america, vote passively with our time, money, and energy and how much of our days are spent in mindless consumption of ideas and information. it’s about what we see and describe as “escapist.”

my vocation involves journeying with people through all kinds of life dramas and my personhood is such that i can’t help but love nearly everyone i encounter. i embrace valentines day because it gives me an opportunity to surprise people with loving gestures. i acknowledge that it is a “made up” holiday and that it has been hijacked by retailers attempting to capitalize on our collective sense of obligation. it is for this exact reason that i take a counter cultural approach to the day and celebrate everyone i encounter rather than only those i already know and love. i am aware of many others who take this same approach to many days in a variety of ways.

too often, however, we just go with the flow. we pick up the book or see the movie without really thinking. we contribute our presence, the pattern of our thoughts and actions, and our $12 admission fee to a cultural voting system that communicates “this is what i care about” to statisticians and content creators. we hear the ads for the 50 shades of grey/christian grey teddy bear never actually considering what is being advertised (“contains small parts. not suited for children”). we buy the kids meal with the bratz doll or halo toy never considering the age of the child it is given to. this mindless consumption matters.

the information and images that we consume make a difference in the way in which we live. children, raised on a constant diet of photoshopped images, grow to harbor unrealistic and hurtful body ideals (click here for research). movie goers and game players subjecting themselves to hyper-violent imagery are prone to develop calloused views and demonstrate exaggerated amounts of relational aggression (click here for research). these researched trends lead me to believe that there is no way that the messages we consume about sex are benign.

late last year an extremely popular media personality was let go from his post when 3 women brought sexual assault charges against him which included one charge of “overcoming resistance by choking.” a month later three additional women came forward with similar charges. and this is just one story. there are so many others.

i am perplexed by my own culture’s tendency to create entertainment that romanticizes abuses of power and violence of all kinds. exposing these abuses in order to invite critical thought and examination...brilliant. presenting them as mindless entertainment...in my book, not so much.

i frequently wonder if the clamoring that happens around these “spicy” themes has to do with a lack of excitement in our own embodied lives. the more we are presented with stories, movie and song recommendations, and clickable links drawn from the algorithms that our own digital histories create, the less we are presented with information that entices us. the brain is constantly looking for information that excites it. most basically, that is information that is new. while the internet brings with it the promise of farther reaching frontiers, i find that few of us set out to find them. we mostly stick with what is presented to us. 

we live similarly in our embodied spaces, preferring the familiar to the new. choosing the comfortable over the potentially awkward. this makes our lives bland. it makes us crave something tasty, complex, and different. movies, video games, even books are more than happy to provide us with an in vivo taste of the new without much “real” risk. or so we think.

there are so many ways to spend your time, energy, and money this weekend. what might it look like to invest intentionally? how might it feel to match every seemingly “escapist” form of entertainment with a mind building one? to take time and effort to consider the balance of your physical, intellectual, and emotional diet? to promote the power and beauty of the real life people all around you and to celebrate them. dominating and submitting are one thing...celebrating complexity, sharing power, and co-creating experiences are another altogether.