Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2016-09-23

REALITY Storytellers: Lili, My New Inspiration for Joy-Filled Femmeceeing

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I am Femmecee identified. This term, coined by Rachael in Atlanta, is for me a way in which I use my gender as a mechanism for hosting. This often means on a mic, doing what a traditional emcee does, but sometimes it is just hostessing at a party, holding court and/or introducing people and keeping an eye on folks who aren’t participating and finding subtle ways to include them.

bevinfemmeceeingbyjenacumboMe Femmeceeing the first Dollypalooza. Los Angeles come out October 29th for Dollyween: An Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton! Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice (check out more pics here!).

Gender doesn’t need to play a role in the way we host things, but for me it does. This feminine flamboyance is easiest to spot in my appearance, but there’s a steady streak of matriarchal and maternal energy that flows in me that I think comes out a lot when I am hosting. 

At our first meal in Israel, I encountered a woman who is now among my role models for effervescent, enthusiastic and graceful hostessing.

We had just finished shepherding and doing a group go around, we then piled back on the bus to drive about a half hour to Tel Aviv. We got to the restaurant a little after 10PM and I was already fantasizing about getting into bed. I had no idea what time my body knew it to be and only had middle seat airplane sleep in the previous 2 days. I felt like a washed out version of myself but was trying to rally for dinner.

We walked about five minutes through tiny streets and made it to Racha, a family-owned Georgian style restaurant. I was immediately dying over the plates and decor. The aesthetic of mismatched but it really all deeply coordinates on a stylistic level is my favorite, so are tiny roses on porcelain plates and ornate light colored frames of family photos and mismatched chairs. I had to strategically choose seating, long tables close together are difficult to navigate as a fat or tall person, especially when there’s a crowd. I ended up with a seat at the end of one of the long tables.

plates

The food and wine started coming out. I don’t drink but I do enjoy a sip (literally a sip) of wine now and then. It’s hard to communicate even without a language barrier that you only want a splash of wine in your glass, especially when the inclination of the servers is to keep the glass full. This was also the first of many Israeli restaurants that would not have unsweetened iced tea.

After the first course this beautiful woman walked into the room. I say beautiful to describe her essence not conventional good looks, though she is a total babe. I believe an expansive definition of beauty liberates us from what the media tells us is beautiful. Lili, our host for the evening, was robust in her generosity of spirit and it glowed from within her.

liliandoakA lot of Lili’s hostessing enthusiasm involved clapping. Photo by Fabien Levy.

I noticed her long before she took center stage between our tables, partially because I was right next to where she kept her glass of White Zin (the drink of choice for my family’s matriarchs) and the ipod from which Georgian music was flowing. I watched her curating the whole experience, checking the playlists, checking in with servers and managing the feast. I recognized her work because that is work I do.

She stood between the tables and introduced herself. I love a meal with a story and history (as my friend Erin O’Brien says about her performance art sausage company, taking storytelling to the plate). We heard about their family from the Racha region of Georgia and the history of the restaurant. They had recently moved the restaurant from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for reasons I couldn’t hear from my seat.

maggieandbillMaggie and Bill.

We had the next round of food and Lili came by my seat and sweetly scolded me for not having anything on my plate. Mind you, I had already eaten plenty of appetizers and had a couple of bites of meat but it was a new group to me and I tend to hold back among new people. Even something as simple as “pass the whatever” can be a social challenge for me in a new situation. But her urging was really helpful, and along with verbal urging she kind of just leaned over and put stuff on my plate.

nicholasandrick

Nicholas and Rick Sorkin.

Now, it’s not the most body autonomous thing to insist on people eating, and I often encourage people to mind their own business about food. However, because of the roles women have been required to play in our societies for millennia, matriarchal expressions of love and connection often come through preparing food and feeding people. Herstorically, feasts are a creation of women.

I received her nudging to eat meat very appreciatively, in the celebratory inclusive way it was intended. I continued to wish I was dressed for celebration instead of still in my travel and now kind of sheep smelling clothes.

After the “meat course” Lili nominated a person to be the tamada, to lead a series of blessings over a horn of wine that they then drink in one gulp. She picked Oak and I would have, too. Oak is a hunk and I mean that in both the conventional Magic Mike sense and in the radiant, wonderful kind, deep, hilarious human sense that I would come to know.

Oak gave the most sincere and beautiful blessing (I wish I had it on video!) and we went around the room giving more blessings and then he drank it all. I was so glad to not have been chosen both because I don’t drink and because I don’t know how he didn’t get sick from drinking an entire horn of wine on a very full stomach.

Video by Fabien Levy.

Lili then began the dancing portion of the feast. Grabbing people from their chairs and inspiring them into a circle dance. I knew I could easily stay in the back and fade from the jumping and dancing I was too tired for, but I also was seized with inspiration from Lili’s joyful spirit and a dose of YOLO and dove in. I kind of didn’t care that I felt foolish and was just trying for the joy of it.

When we left the restaurant I took time to give Lili a sincere thank you and a thoughtful compliment about her hosting. Honestly, I will be sincerely working to replicate her level of thoughtful joy-filled hosting at all of my events for the rest of time. Among the many things I want to do in Israel when I return is hang with Lili and interview her about the mechanics of throwing a great party. And take a lot more photos in the restaurant of the homey decor, I loved it so much.

After a dreamy walk lit by yellow street lamps through tiny Tel Aviv streets to the waiting bus, we only had a few minutes until we arrived at our first hotel. I was delighted to note it was on the beach! I had no idea we were going to be beachside in Tel Aviv and it was so rad. Checking in 50 people is no joke but they had our room keys waiting for us in envelopes with our names on them and iced tea! I was so delighted I drank a whole glass without thinking to ask what kind it was (I was assuming a citrus mint). Turns out, it was green tea!!!! Green tea, for those who don’t know, has caffeine in it. And when you’re very sensitive to caffeine because you gave up coffee to address a chronic digestive disorder, and you drink green tea at 12:30AM, it doesn’t bode well for sleep.

greenteaMy Find Your Chill tea would have been the perfect iced tea to welcome folks to sleep. Chamomile, lavender, a little bit of cat nip (has a soothing effect on people) and citrus. Instead, I slept fitfully all night.

However, my roommate assignment boded well for a great experience! Megan is such a fun person and a heavy sleeper. That first night we were excited because we had already met, hung out (bonding over our middle seat angst for the flight over) and liked each other. I’m so grateful for the roommate experience of the trip because I think it enhanced everything for me to have someone to debrief with and to support and check up on each other. She was also vital to my success with some of the very confusing Israeli double shower head situations.

The Carlton in Tel Aviv is a beautiful hotel and we had a cute terrace with no time to linger on it because we were getting to bed at 1AM and having to be finished with breakfast and ready for our day at 8AM. I barely slept, thanks to the green tea and not thinking about taking a benadryl until it was way too late. By Day 3 of the trip, though, I was just popping benadryl whenever to preserve what sleep hours I could.

Next up on my trip diary, The Baller Breakfast Buffets of Israel.

14040164_10153587081925882_2258022564314620652_n-1Me and Megan above the valley where David met Goliath.

2016-09-15

REALITY Storytellers: International Travel and Sheepherding

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

Once I got to the airport I did all the things I needed to do to feel okay about a first 6 hour flight and then a 9 hour flight. It starts with iced tea, a to go sandwich and it moves to an impulse buy of Bible Charts, Maps and Timelines which I thought might be helpful to read on the flight as my Bible knowledge is very small compared to those who were raised with Christian or Jewish religious schooling. I had no idea about how great our tour guide would be and how he beyond obviated a need for supplemental education.

You guys I was really nervous. I was going on a trip with no one I knew and I didn’t know what to expect. Rick, the facilitator meeting us at the gate, gave us a time to meet and told us to look for the Schusterman folder. I reminded myself I was doing this in the spirit of life begins at the end of your comfort zone and how I do all the brave things I do to keep on growing and I walked up to a group of strangers and introduced myself.

abhrahamstent2I don’t have any pictures from the airport but here’s the first meet and greet in a replica of Abraham’s tent at Neot Kedumim Park, a Biblical Nature preserve.

And then I got to forget the scared feelings and just focus on remembering names, a great task when you’re having a social freak out, give yourself something to focus on and get good at it. There were two Ricks, a Natalie, a Sophia, a Liz, H. Alan and more. I think I created a pneumonic chant and throughout the whole first 24 hours of the trip I was pretty great at remembering names because I was channelling nervous energy into name recognition.

I sat next to Sophia and Liz on our flight from LAX to EWR and learned that Sophia is a Christian journalist for a Christian magazine. There were a lot more Christian origin folks on the trip than I thought there would be. Sophia also gave me an amazing list of Korean restaurants to try and I’m excited to go do that with her! She fell asleep in the middle seat pretty quickly after take off and I watched movies instead of reading my book. United apparently has all sorts of free on demand new releases now and I enjoyed a bunch of them. Also I enjoyed what I call “God TV” when we flew past a ton of thunder storms at dusk along the East Coast.

mesophiabillMe, Sophia and Bill at a rest stop in Israel.

I felt a lot of weird feelings flying into the New York City metro area for the first time since I moved away in late December. It felt like I was getting home but I don’t live there anymore. Our layover was a total opportunity to hang with folks from the trip but I couldn’t find anyone so I just roamed the terminal alone and texted friends. We couldn’t go to our gate because they have another extra security check point that doesn’t open until the flight is near boarding. I found out later everyone was in the bar but I don’t drink so it didn’t occur to me to check!

I met Megan in line for the next security check point and bonded over really really not wanting a middle seat. She runs a youth media and filmmaking education program and asked me what I do and somehow I started talking about all of my jobs and overwhelmed even myself. Sometimes I remember that I could nail my audio logo in thirty seconds and could figure out how to translate the what do you do question into talking about the business I’m working on but I’m still kind of clumsy at that and just talk about what comes to mind. Whatever, working for a sex worker’s rights non-profit and a body positive activist and all the other gigs makes for really interesting conversation.

After waiting in line for the second security check they had us put our bags on a table and then did some kind of sensor thing and told me they were looking for narcotics. I said a silent thank you prayer that I had so diligently sorted through everything I packed so I didn’t accidentally bring some “California meds” with me in my purse or carry on.

Megan and I tried so hard to get window seats but the gate agent had nothing for us. It was a good bonding experience for us to try to fight that battle together. I feel grateful that I have this really baller Cabeau memory foam neck pillow that cinches and holds my head upright which saves me from accidentally sleeping on the person next to me and I was really hoping to sleep a lot on the 9 hour flight.

joedanhalansheepherdingDan, Joe and H. Alan surveying the Biblical landscape and watching other people herd sheep and goats. It’s so weird that I’m friends with them now but this photo was just as we were meeting!

Unlike our flight from CA I sat next to no one from our trip, and I could hear everyone excitedly chattering near me but the men sharing my row weren’t so effervescent as nervous excited REALITY Storytellers. The lucky guy with the window seat next to me fell asleep immediately and stayed asleep the entire flight, never once going to the bathroom so I kind of felt grateful to have easier access to walking around.

My friend Michael passed away after getting blood clots from a long flight to Hawaii. Fat people and women are socialized to prioritize other people’s needs over our own and walking around on a long flight is actually super important to preventing blood clots. So even if I feel like I want to not bother people while experiencing all the triggers of being fat on a plane, I use Michael to inspire me to prioritize my health, rise above the shame, stigma and discomfort in asking someone to move out of their aisle seat so I can go use the restroom. I also found a tiny place behind a row of seats to do some yoga while most of the flight was still asleep.

What was surprising about the flight was the meal service, we got dinner and breakfast. I haven’t experienced meal service on a flight in years. Also particular for Israeli travel was that forty-five minutes until we landed we weren’t allowed to walk around on the plane.

I was way in the back of this huge plane so when we finally landed it took me a long time to deplane, and I really only recognized about six people from our trip, all of whom were already on their way to baggage claim presumably. I was nervous about losing the group in a foreign country where I had no cell service but I also really needed to use the restroom and freshen up a bit. On the packing list they had suggested packing an extra outfit in your carry on and I assumed we would have another opportunity to change and put on make-up. This was the only opportunity folks, and I missed it.

I realized quickly as I hustled to baggage claim and through the passport check point that since sun hats were on our packing list almost all the Storytellers had on hats! I started following people in hats. And luckily, this and many times to come, I found Rick Sorkin and Bill in line because they are like 6’5” and easy to spot in a crowd.

bevinsheepherdingI just look at all of my selfies with the herd and wish I was wearing more muppety make-up but it’s fine my gender presentation doesn’t have to be perfect for me to have an amazing time.

I almost blew it in the passport line. Since I had surrendered all trip obsessiveness, I didn’t have any idea what hotels we were staying in and other than a few highlights didn’t know much about where we were going. The passport woman was giving me so much side eye and I was trying to explain “I’m on this leadership development high energy journey through Israel, I’m with all these other…” but none of the Storytellers were left and it was just me.

Eventually I found something saved on my phone that seemed to satisfy her and I got my sticker for entry but it was a freaky moment. I also know I have a lot of privilege as a White person from the US and it might not have been so easy for me if I wasn’t. I also know now to study my itinerary and know it well when I go through a passport check point. I have a lot of feelings about borders in general that have come up for me on this trip I’ll discuss in a later post.

I got to baggage claim and luckily my bag was waiting for me but sadly for three of my fellow travelers they were chasing after United for days. So disheartening. I learned from Sarah Hurowitz on this trip that in her extensive business travel knowledge that if “it isn’t in your possession you might as well never see it again.”

I kept trying to figure out who was on our trip and meeting people and being good with names. We proceeded in a few clumps towards the exit and our waiting tour bus. It must have been so hard for the staff on the trip to figure out who everyone was and that we actually had everyone. As a participant on this trip in many parts you are completely shielded from logistics and in some ways it was an amazing break from real life so we could focus on the experience.

As soon as we got on the tour bus we had our first lecture from our tour guide Michael Bauer (as of this point we had no idea how good we were getting it) about the differences we might find about Israeli culture from American culture and the size and scope of Israel. Then we were off to our first adventure, a sheepherding experience at a Biblical nature preserve. I’m obsessed with animals and feel a strong connection to them, so this was an ideal activity for me. It was not an ideal activity for the strappy sandals I wore on the plane and was struggling with through rocky “Biblical” terrain.

biblicalnaturepreserve

Our group of fifty was split in two. We spent a few minutes learning about what our task was, moving the mixed herd of sheep and goats through several points in a giant pen. While the first half of our sub group was taking a turn at sheepherding our group spent time strategizing, identifying a leader in our subgroup who had experience sheepherding and I pumped the facilitator for more information about sheep and goats that might help us. First of all, in a mixed herd, the natural leader in the herd is a female goat. Second of all, in our herd there was only one breed of animal that may have existed in Biblical times and that was the Syrian goat, who was the leader of our herd.

It was pretty bananas trying to herd animals with a bunch of people you only just met. Our strategy was to create a semi-circle and move the herd that way. It kind of worked, we were ultimately successful. I only got hit by a ram in my leg a couple of times and only got scratched up by Biblical thorny plants a little bit, but I barely noticed because it was so thrilling to get to hang out with animals.

sheepandgoats

The debrief had a lot of good nuggets about leadership. Learning from the group you’re trying to lead about the best way to lead them. Leading from behind so that they take their own initiative. Sometimes groups need a gentle but firm push in the rump to get moving.

After the sunset and sheepherding we moved our group to a replica of Abraham’s tent for snacks, our nametags, swag bags with the printed program in them and the first group go around. I was legit disappointed that with a replica of Abraham’s tent there was no replica of a Red Tent (you’ll remember it if you read the awesome novel by the same name)! It’s my favorite woman-centered activity from Biblical times, a special tent for the women of the tribe to bleed during the Full moon because that’s when people were more moon-focused and bled together.

It was nearing 9PM and even though there were snacks out we were still going to get dinner in Tel Aviv. I had no idea how many hours it had been since I left home. It was only the first indicator of the fast pace of this trip.

storytellerssheepherdingIf you could hear sound in this photo you’d hear some guns going off in the military training ground off to the right.

2016-09-08

REALITY Storytellers: Flying While Fat and Preparing for My First International Trip

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I’m a Capricorn. In short, that means I like to be in charge. As anyone who has traveled in a group with me can attest, I love an itinerary and I love to be prepared. Before my trip to the Florida Keys I was obsessively watching tourist videos about the area and crowd-sourcing my Facebook so that I could curate the coolest and best trip possible. 

bevinbikinitoastFatkini and Toast. Photo by Dara.

Faced with a trip to a country I’d never been, and not speaking more than a couple of words of Hebrew or Arabic, I would have normally spent six months preparing. Because the trip is planned and curated entirely by the Foundation, I did the opposite of my inclination and entirely surrendered to it, which was not super hard because life has gotten so hustle bustle. It’s been a practice for me to learn let go and let things happen.

I read the suggested preview articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (here, here and here), but I didn’t read any of the books. (My reading list is LONG, I’m a slow reader, I select books judiciously.) Based on what the other REALITY Storytellers have reported about the suggested books, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is now in my to-read list. 

We got a draft of the trip itinerary but that was also long and said DRAFT all over it and maybe I just have DRAFT training to barely pay attention until I have a final version. I was kind of worried I would get attached to outcomes and if things were canceled or moved around it would discombobulate me so in my mind I was going to wait until we got the final itinerary and look at it on the plane. (We ended up getting it when we had already done one of the leadership development exercises in Israel.)

I regret not reading that draft. I would have understood a lot more what we were up to and it turned out our draft itinerary only changed slightly. Once I realized that the itinerary not only had timelines but writing and articles about each adventure I would try to cram them before each stop but there was never enough time. The itinerary for the trip is the size of a novella.

The size of that final printed itinerary is the first of a series of realizations that “there’s obviously a lot of work, passion and thought that goes into curating the REALITY trips.”

Dara is so go with the flow about her travel that she is a great counterpoint to my overpreparedness. She did a lot of eye rolling during my obsessive research about the Keys. When she went on REALITY Global last summer she totally surrendered to the trip and I don’t think she read her itinerary the whole time. She just let the bus take her wherever and experienced it. I think that different ways of being in the world are totally valid.

REALITY sent a suggested packing list and I remember last year going through it with Dara and regendering it for her because masculine presenting women, feminine presenting men or genderfluid people don’t fit neatly in “For men you should pack two pairs of slacks” kind of lists. Since we didn’t know exactly what she was doing we guessed at what she wears that could work for the packing list and hoped for the best.

img_20160903_180448956-animationPhoto of me and Ryan, half of the duo that created the photo booth at Dollypalooza NYC by Shoog McDaniel. Check out the photo booth in real life at Dollypalooza LA October 29th at Los Globos.

I don’t fit neatly into suggested packing lists either. My gender is flamboyant not binary. My only shorts are these tiny denim things with big ol’ fringe on the side and I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant by shorts for hiking.  I just wear dresses all the time, even when hiking. I know how to dress “modestly” when asked  (for two stops on our trip we were asked to prepare for modesty). I think I did a pretty okay job packing. I have a couple of “In hindsight I would have worn this other thing” moments I’ll describe when I get to those parts of the trip story but I felt comfortable subbing “dress” for pretty much everything they mentioned in the packing list.

My friend Jenn came over to hang out the day before I left and it was great to have her company as I meticulously went through everything before I packed it. I travel so much that I have a lot of systems in place to make it easy for me. I have a “go pack” of toiletries that has an easy in and out pouch if I don’t anticipate washing my hair or taking a real shower. I have a second set of make-up for travel. That kind of stuff.

I wanted to make extra sure I was packing as light as possible knowing that we were going to go from hotel to hotel often. I harbored the idea I could pack as light as my friend Vera did when she went to Vietnam earlier this year for two weeks with only a daypack. She said her secret was travel cubes and not caring how her hair looked. I got cute travel cubes and aspired to getting it all in a carry on size suitcase but changed my mind last minute because it was going to be way easier for me to pack quickly each morning with a bigger suitcase. That was a kind choice I made for myself. This was the first time I ever had checked luggage weigh in at less than 32 pounds! So my meticulousness was worth it in the end, it made life easier to not have a ton of extra stuff and I wore everything at least once. 

I was nervous, which is why I spent so much time working on packing. I had never been out of North America, never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I had never used my passport. In fact, I let my passport expire in 2013 and didn’t renew it because forking out $100 for an aspirational passport renewal hadn’t been in my budget so being accepted on the trip required me to do it. Since Israel doesn’t stamp passports I still don’t have any stamps. (By the way, they just redesigned the US Passport. If you don’t count Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, there are only two people represented in it, both White men, one a farmer and one a cowboy. The graphic design is beautiful but the representation of actual US diversity is wildly lacking.)

During the Desiree Alliance conference I co-facilitated the fat caucus with the fabulous Joëlle Ruby-Ryan. During it one of the participants talked about asking for priority boarding as an accommodation and it empowered me to think about what accommodations I might need while flying to Israel. It’s a long flight, six hours on the first leg and nine on the second. (Longer still on the way home.)

joellebevinMe and Joëlle at the Fat Caucus.

Being fat on an airplane is a nightmare. There are plenty of places fat people go that remind us that the world is built for people who are small, even though in the US the average size is 14 and considered “fat.” Those tiny airplane seats with the arm rests are awful. The leg room doesn’t allow for tall people and the seat belts are not at all consistently sized. I can be on the same airline with two legs to a flight and one flight the seatbelt will fit me fine and on another I’ll need an extender. Same exact body, inconsistent seat belts.

If you’re a person with thin privilege feeling annoyed that a fat person is next to you on a flight, please know that the fat person is likely feeling 1,000 times worse. A whole myriad of feelings are possibly coming up. They are probably doing everything in their power to make themselves small, scrunch over to the side and get out of your way. They are possibly having a ton of shame triggers because a fatphobic society reminding you that you don’t fit in the world is just a current corporeal reality opening a pandora’s box of a lifetime of fat harassment and societal ridicule. They are maybe even totally checked out of their bodies because disembodiment is a response to trauma and it is traumatic to hold the level of oppression fat people have endured. If shame actually worked to cause weight loss there wouldn’t be a billion dollar diet industry because believe me, fat folks are conditioned to feel shame and beat themselves up way worse than the outside world does.

My fat experience on a plane is fairly average because I’m not super fat (a chosen self descriptor for a larger fat experience than mine) and I’m not an inbetweenie (a term to mean those folks between plus size and straight size). I prefer a window seat because in them I feel I’m the most out of the way, I can lean into the window away from the middle seat person and I don’t have my arm bumped every five minutes by flight attendant carts (my arms are fat, too). Some fat folks I know like to travel with a thin friend who can be in the seat next to them and therefore a buffer to other airline passengers. Plus you get to raise that arm rest that isn’t giving anyone any actual personal space. Folks will also travel with another fat friend and then split the cost of a third ticket so they get extra space with the empty middle seat. If you’re a fat person and interested in learning more about coping mechanisms for flying while fat, there’s a great Facebook group.

I had to actively check out from worrying about what my experience flying for so long would be like. As soon as the worry would pop up I would use tools I know to redirect my thoughts. Like repeating a mantra, or solving for the worst case scenario.

A lesson I’m working on learning is that I am valuable enough to ask for what I need. So I decided to ask for the accommodation I needed and I emailed the Schusterman Foundation (the folks sponsoring the trip) and said that as a person of size it would make my trip easier if I had a window seat. They were very nice about it and got in touch with the travel agent right away. I got a window seat for both cross country legs of the trip but unfortunately the travel agent couldn’t make it happen for the longer legs from Newark to Israel. I was stressed but decided to just do my best to make it work and ask at the ticket counter as she suggested.

bonvoyagebevinMy bon voyage photo at the airport where Macy would not cooperate. Photo by Dara.

With that, I was all packed up and had a friendly email and text message chain from the trip facilitator who would meet us at the gate to our LAX leg of the flight. It felt a lot like the first day of summer camp, not knowing anyone from the trip and being nervous about whether or not I was going to make friends.

After Dara dropped me off I had to do International travel things on my own. Checking in for an International flight is kind of the same but they tell you to be there 3 hours early, except if you have a domestic leg the first time then you just come the normal 2 hours early. Security was bananas but I think it was due to construction on the United terminal.

My first stop outside of security was Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for iced tea and I saw this really cute hip dude in a cool hat and jean jacket with lots of enamel pins including a Golden Girls and several Hillary pins. When I saw him again in front of me waiting for the water fountain I hoped that he would be on my trip.

halanbevin

It was the first time I ever saw H. Alan Scott, writer, comedian and co-host of Out on the Lanai, the Golden Girls podcast and he, in fact, was on my trip. When he showed me his Golden Girls tattoo during the layover that’s when I really knew it was going to be an amazing adventure.

More on my experience flying all that way and how the adventure immediately began on the ground in my next post!

halantattooH. Alan plans to add the banana leaf pattern from Blanche’s bedroom wallpaper to complete the sleeve and I can’t wait to see it!

2016-09-06

My REALITY Storytellers Journey to Israel

Last summer when Dara said she was applying to go on a trip to Israel with two of her best friends, I was super dubious. I declared many times, “This is totally a Zionist trip, there’s no way that for $300 you’ll be doing anything but being brainwashed about Israel.” The trip was for social entrepreneurs and Dara was a great candidate for it, due to her experience dropping her day job and living off her savings to start a global peace project, A Big Project.

I was kind of nervous to have Dara walking around in the Middle East and especially Israel. I grew up hearing about suicide bombers in night clubs and genuinely thought that Dara was in danger heading to Israel. But my friends Kieran and Shelly had just spent a year living there and came back in one piece, my Grandmother and Aunt had both visited Israel multiple times and were fine (and loved it). So I did what I do to feel okay about her choices and was grateful every time I heard from her.

The whole time she was in Israel we talked a half dozen times and every communication was about how little sleep they were getting and that the food was great. I laughed because one of Dara’s greatest pet peeves is less than 8 hours of sleep. I was surprised to hear afterward that the trip was “extremely nuanced” and that they were given a lot of perspectives about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.* (See my footnote for a discussion of how “extremely nuanced” played out in my perspective, but that was the verbatim description Dara gave me when she got back from her trip.)

oakbevinmeganMe, Oak and Megan from my trip. I made some really deep amazing connections with incredible artists and innovators.

“The whole point of being an artist or making a statement is to learn about yourself.”—Robert Mapplethorpe

Dara has a complicated relationship with her Judaism yet came home wanting to have Shabbat dinners. She wrote for a grant to do our Epic Seder this past Spring from the foundation who runs the trips, the Schusterman Foundation. I knew there was a component of the curation that developed an intimacy with Jewish culture that was special enough that Dara, with all her complications, felt a connection to it.

I went to a couple of reunion events with Dara while we were still living in New York and really enjoyed the people I met there. Everyone she’s introduced me to from her REALITY Global trip is totally awesome and it intrigued me. They are curating a trip with really amazing people who can make connections with each other to enact social good. It was clear that there was more to this trip than just a tour of Israel, it’s a powerful network of change makers.

Along the lines of meeting great people, Dara hung out with a friend in Washington, DC from her REALITY Global trip. The friend happens to be Michelle Obama’s speechwriter and that Milania plagiarized speech was written by Sarah early in her work with the Obamas. (You HAVE to read this amazing Washington Post article about Sarah, but also know Sarah is a kind, smart and dynamic person apart from her extraordinary speechwriting.)

bevinandsarahHMe and Sarah at the final meal of the trip.

Anyway, Sarah told Dara that she was going to be a facilitator on the inaugural REALITY Storytellers trip and that I should apply.

I considered it. A funded trip might be the only chance I would get to visit Israel ever and my Grandfather is buried in the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He is descended from the Tribe of Levi, he just barely escaped the German Holocaust and his brother Kurt ended up moving to Israel after Israel’s declaration of independence. It was super important to Kurt that Grandfather be buried in the Mount of Olives. (Check out my Lesbian Tea Basket episode with my Grandmother to hear about his escape and just a bit about his extraordinary life.)

I also have never previously left the country other than Canada. I do a lot of domestic travel but haven’t had the funds or family resources to travel internationally. It felt exciting to open up to a new opportunity and learn more about the world. I mean, I would LOVE to be a world traveler so here’s the chance to do something new and cool.

Knowing the trip had helped Dara get more in touch with her Judaism I was excited to get more exposure to it, since it was important to her father that I help continue that legacy in the Barlin family. 

I knew that I might be stepping into some shit in my community because radical queers tend to default to supporting the boycott of Israel. I don’t want to support a government that oppresses people and creates an apartheid state, which was all I had heard about the West Bank. I didn’t know the terms of the boycott but I remember my roommate’s then girlfriend having a lot of Feelings about violating the boycott by buying her a Soda Stream.

If a boycott is against a whole country, that’s something that is hard for me to get behind. I’m a person who doesn’t agree with the actions of my government. Here in the US the legacies of slavery and colonialism are alive and well. The mass-incarceration of people of color, the prison industrial complex, the execution of unarmed Black men by our police force, Guantanamo Bay. Literally all of US real estate is stolen from Native Americans. Would I want someone to make a judgement about me as a person based on my government? Especially when a Bush was in office? It felt hard for me to want to support a boycott of a people when it’s the government and not all of the people who are propagating the policies I don’t agree with.

I learned from Dara’s global peace building work that in the era of social media there have been a lot of cross-border political collaborations and art projects. I wanted to meet the folks who made up that Israel. Who are the radical queers in Israel and what are they up to? What do they believe is a viable peace solution in a volatile region?

moonriseoversyriaThis is the view of the moon rising from Mt. Bental overlooking the Golan Heights and into Syria. We could hear bombing. At the top of this mountain I lead us in a prayer for peace. I still pray that we can use our connections and what we learned as fertile ground for social change and peace building.

Since I understood the trip to was NOT a dogmatic zionist approach to Israel, I thought it would be a powerful way to learn more about the conflict and develop my own opinions rather than fall lock-step with what other people tell me to think about things. A friend of mine went on a different curated trip to Israel and the West Bank and came back full of political ammunition against the Israeli government. Remembering his writing after that trip I knew no matter what I learned about the conflict after the trip I would do a lot of learning and developing by choosing to go.

I applied for the trip. I wrote my essays focusing on my art and activism in the body positive and queer communities. I talked about my ties to and interest in Judaism. I managed to make an only 90 second (the limit) introductory video. And I got accepted.

The trip itself was a fifty-person tour group made up mostly of participants, who came from many walks of life. There were way more Christians with no ties to Judaism on the trip than I thought there would be. (I would be considered “strong ties to Judaism” because of my partner and my Grandfather.) It was roughly third Jewish folks, a third strong ties and a third no ties. The Storytellers were from all types of Storytelling, political speechwriters, broadway performers, actors, social media managers, TV and movie producers, journalists, novelists and more. And a queer body liberation blogger (that’s me).

In addition to the 40ish participants we had our facilitators who had been on previous trips, three to five staff members from the Foundation plus more that popped on and off the bus, our tour guide, our bodyguard, our bus driver and sometimes a photographer. Our schedule was packed early morning to late night with activities. Sometimes lectures at the hotel but more often out and about seeing things and hearing about them from our tour guide. We had a panel of journalists, tons of leadership development activities, tours of villages and went all over Israel from the Golan Heights to the Dead Sea, a big ol’ crater in the desert to Jerusalem, Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

I feel like I got a Master’s degree level immersive coursework about Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, the war in Syria. Old and New Testament Bible stories come to life. Israel was nothing like I expected and the trip completely blew me away, creatively, emotionally, politically, and left me more curious than ever. I have way more questions than I came with.

smallintheenormityTo say I feel small against the enormity of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an understatement. A Democratic state that is trying to adhere to a specific religious and cultural identity in a modern world and all of the other difficulties bridging human diversity in the Middle East is mind boggling.

I’m always pretty obsessed with the moon from an astrological and energetic standpoint. The moon was full while we were there. It was an Aquarius Full Moon, flooding the collective with humanitarian energies. I thought that was auspicious for the work we as Storytellers could do to create bridges for peace.

I kept thinking that if this was a masters program and I did need to write a thesis, what would I talk about? I was listening to Antony and the Johnsons when I got home and in Future Feminism, an off the cuff stage banter piece from her album Cut the World, she starts out talking about the moon. I remembered about how we were collectively obsessed with the moon in Israel. In Future Feminisms she talks about shifting the world towards matrilineal systems of governance, religion and corporate leadership. I realized that if I were writing a masters thesis, I would apply the concept proposed in Future Feminism to Israel. What would a matrilineal system do to affect the peace process and protection of all humans in and around that region.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m a woman with a lot of complexities, I at once feel small and powerless but take my role as a person who is a Storyteller seriously. It’s scary to talk about something that is controversial and I know will make some of my friends mad at me. But I also know I won’t do anything to work towards peace by staying quiet. I am pro human rights and pro solutions and I don’t think solutions come from shutting down conversation. I’m interested in learning more and having more interactions with folks who want to find peace. So in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, here goes a whole series of blog posts about my trip and what I learned.

When I bought my Type-H electric adaptors for the trip, I could only get a set of 4 and I was already thinking about reselling them when I got home. But now I’m going to hold onto them because I’m pretty sure I’m somehow going back.

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I’m excited to write more about this trip, about what I learned and experienced about myself, the people, the conflict and the role of Storytellers as social change in subsequent blog posts.

“I’m someone who’s looking for a reason to hope, and for me hope looks like feminine systems of governance being instated in, like, the major religious institutions and throughout corporate and civil life. And it might sound far-fetched, but if you look at your own beliefs, just imagine how quickly you accepted the idea that the ocean is rising and the ecology of our world is collapsing. We can actually imagine that more readily than we can imagine a switch from patriarchal to matriarchal systems of governance — a subtle shift in the way our society works.”–Antony and the Johnsons

*I’ll say that the idea that it was “nuanced” was interesting to me and my experience of how the nuance played out was that the folks giving us presentations (most often our incredible tour guide Michael) would tell us a story and say, “I am going to contradict myself” and would tell us a another side of it. I learned immediately that, as in other conflict situations I’ve been in, it is reductive to say “sides” as thought there are only two. Often we would here two, three or four perspectives. I’m not sure if other trips to Israel give as much detail or have as much information and perspective as we were given access to. I also know there’s always more information than what we are given and that curiosity will bring more.

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