Table for 7 Billion, Please

An NGO Representative from New Zealand at the March for Gender Equality

I want to write about the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), but I am terribly under-qualified. (When friends ask what I do when I go to the United Nations each March, I say that I’m a CSW groupie.)

10801818_10153197336543746_7724713443508530632_n-1Still, I get to wear one of those official badges with my photo, so I feel pretty cool.

I love the UN. The flags themselves thrill me.
My first visit was in the 7th grade.
For me it was like a candy store of all things international.

A colleague of mine, who IS qualified to write about CSW, and actually worked at the United Nations, says that she got chills every time she turned the corner and saw the flags. For three years, Jennifer she said to herself: “I work here!”

I wish I wanted to work there. It was my grandmother Lila’s dream. She studied French and Chinese at Rutgers in the early forties just before the UN was chartered; but motherhood and marriage interrupted her ambitions.

My colleague Jennifer IS a mother and a wife, and she even has a puppy. Times have changed. May they keep on changing!

WOMEN.

That’s what I love about CSW–thousands of WOMEN from every part of the globe.

This year, I found myself particularly wowed by women officials.

They’ve pursued years of education, contributed to hundreds of meetings, poured over thousands of documents…

I have so much gratitude.

Take the Minister for Gender Equality from Poland. Note her amazing hair!

H.E. Prof. Malgorzata Fuszara, Minister of Gender Equality of the Republic of Poland

I scribbled pages of notes from her presentation, but what I remember most is how she emphasized that there are three parts to ensuring gender equality:

  1. legal
  2. governmental
  3. consciousness

Suddenly, I understood where I fit in: Consciousness!

Now is as good as a time as any to say that everyone at CSW is speaking ENGLISH:

Professor Fusazara of Poland.
All the members of the Permanent Mission of Japan–who co-hosted this side event.
And all those women–from around the globe–who addressed this panel with probing questions–some of which I couldn’t follow–in my native tongue.

There are dozens of meetings, events, talks, briefings, presentations and panels happening at the same time–morning, noon & night–during the two week stretch of the Commission on the Status of Women–with representatives from Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs)–from all regions of the world.

There are men at CSW too, but they are a striking minority. My 19 year old was among them. Lloyd volunteered last fall with international NGO that I represent here (Federation EIL–the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living); and since he is majoring in development, he was eager to accompany me.

We attended the NGO opening reception together–which is even more female-dominated that the CSW meetings at the UN.) Another man was quickly drawn to Lloyd’s side as we waited in line. Rana was from Bangladesh and he went out of his way to compliment me for something I hadn’t considered before:

Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.
Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.

“Business men bring their sons when they do business,” he said. “Those in development need to bring their sons too. Well done.”

Neither Rana or I had daughters, but we both had work that we referred to in the feminine. Rana came to CSW on behalf of his “daughter”–Udbastu–an NGO he formed to protect the environment of his homeland.

“Udbastu means refuge in Sanskrit,” he explained.

Rana’s passion helped bring mine into clearer focus: I came to CSW for my grandmother, Lila, and for her namesake, my work–the divine lila–the play of consciousness.

Play was a theme I heard echoed at CSW, which was surprising, given the serious nature of activism and advocacy. “Your commitment is sustained when it comes from the heart and when you make it fun,” said Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen at her event: The Indomitable Spirit in Activists and the Archetype of Artemis.

My son teased me about the events I chose to attend during our time at the UN. My choices were based on “feel” and “sense”–a favorite country, a cool angle, a rare connection; while his were shaped around region, policy and planning.

10980741_794971027263036_8760038397497121086_nAnother event that caught my eye was: Cool Feminism–Exploring Ideas from the North, hosted by the country of Iceland.

The women of Iceland certainly know how to have fun with their activism. When their protest against the Champagne Clubs (that popped around Reykjavík  after the 2010 law prohibiting strip clubs) was met by silence from the media and city officials, they got creative.

“We didn’t just whine around the kitchen table,” said Guðrún Jónsdóttir, Founder of Stígamót, a woman’s right organization. “Stígamót opened its own Champagne Club, as a parody.”

They sent invitations to the mayor, to the police commissioner, the ministers, members of parliament, city counselors, and the media.

82 year old Jónsdóttir acted as the club owner and offered to dance. Others offered to sing, tell stories about rape, read the Declaration of Human Rights, and even teach customers how to knit.

Shortly afterward, the Champagne Clubs were shut down and criminal prosecutions ensued.

In her presentation, The Indomitable Spirit in Activists, Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen focused on this capacity that women have–how it grows–over time–and how women learn–from each other. She highlighted the difference between the male and female brain–how women have more connective fibers between the left (analytical) and the right (creative) hemispheres.

‘When the masculine is the only one holding power,” she said, “There can be a lack of empathy and imagination.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, spoke to this imbalance when she addressed the the rally at the March for Gender Equality at the opening of CSW on International Women’s Day:

Right now the world is functioning like a person trying to see the whole picture with one eye covered. That person is bound to miss some very important details.

Up until this time, I often viewed feminism through the lens of fairness and relational politics so I was a little taken aback when I heard Gertrud Åström, President of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, at the Cool Feminism event, say: Sharing housework is a feminist issue.

But then I got it.

When women’s voices are kept from the conversation–political, corporate, cultural–there are serious human rights ramifications.

Suddenly, issues like equal pay, domestic violence and female leadership came into sharper focus for me–as global and moral imperatives.

Even in a place like Iceland, where gender equality tops the charts, there are outrageous gaps in rights that eclipse the voice of the feminine.

These gaps were brought into stark relief by the speakers at a CSW evening celebration at the Manhattan Center. The Hammerstein Ballroom was packed–floor to ceiling–with representatives, dignitaries and delegates from NGOS around the world.

The beloved UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed the audience of 2,000,  followed by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; and soon after, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson.

Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, then took the stage, crediting Johnson’s leadership for stemming the tide of the Ebola epidemic in her country, and then shared information from the Clinton Foundation initiative, Not There Yeta data driven analysis of gender equality.

Clinton was followed by actress Meghan Markel, the UN Women’s Advocate for Women’s Leadership & Political Participation.

The statistics Meghan shared silenced the room:

At the current rate, the elimination of gender INequality will not be possible until 2095. And when it comes to women’s political participation and leadership – the percentage of female parliamentarians globally has only increased by 11% since 1995. 11 percent in 20 years.

But it was Markel’s personal story of how she “accidentally” became a women’s advocate–at the age of 11–that revealed a deeper truth about gender inequality to me.

There in the balcony, I found myself inexplicably brought to tears when she shared a tagline from a nineties television commercial:

 Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.

Markel drove home a bias that was punctuated at CSW: Gender inequality is often dismissed as a cultural issue, while in fact it is form of deep discrimination.

“Women make up more than half of the world’s population and potential so it is neither just nor practical for their voices, for OUR voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making,” said Markel. “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table.”

1100 organizations and 11,000 individuals participated in the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations this month, on behalf of the 7+ billion women, men and children–around the world.

I was honored to take a seat among them.

(Click here for more on CSW59 from the UN Women.)

2016 Update: I’d be honored to serve as your ears & eyes & voice at this year’s gathering. Sponsor at tweet for $11. Or a blog post for $111.11 Or something in between. Click here to find out more.

country mouse

Upper West Side Backyards, Joergen Geerds, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Saturday is a softer day to arrive in the city.
Less honking, less sirens, less helicopters circling, less rushing, less children whining.

And yet, almost immediately, I feel engulfed by the enormity of the population here, lives stacked upon lives, in high rise after high rise, while my closest neighbor in the Vermont is a pond or a hill or several acres away.

My thoughts go to trash.
And water.

At how travel is a muscle.

At how I must come to the city more often before my aging awareness becomes brittle with fear.

I’ve traveled to cities on four continents, including this one, several times before, but something about this trip, just past 50, with a growing awareness of the future–beyond me–leaves me feeling hopeless.

I crawl into an unfamiliar bed before dark, feeling crowded, and alone; intruded upon and abandoned; seriously homesick; until a familiar friend greets me high in the sky out this fourth story window.

Even here, hundreds of miles away from my mountain home, the moon’s glow soothes me to sleep.

Sunday is a sweet day to wake in the city. So much coffee. So many bagels and newspapers. So many kind, traveling faces. Such a slowing of the hustle and bustle.

I cross Central Park. I cruise the Impressionist Wing at the MET. I register at the United Nations. I march in a parade for International Women’s Day. I buy crusty bread and cheese. I ride the subway and think: Look at ALL these people living harmoniously together.

I stay up too late.
I crawl into bed excited for a new day of exploration.

Just before I drift off, I look out my fourth story to window to see not one, but two moons in the sky, until someone turns out her lights in the high rise across the street.

(for country mouse II, click here)

“Ready to die”

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-v1_at_8001.jpgMy son returns to college this weekend so I’m thinking about death.
Mainly my own.
How everything good ends.
And how life is such a trickster.
Sucking us in by love, disarming us of our defenses, distracting us with the infinity of doing, and then VOILA–death! Ending. Finality.

Having a family is the worse (or is it “worst.”) Simply because it seems so permanent. Particularly in the trenches. Like the diapers and the feedings and the messes will never end. And when they did, I was HAPPY.

But now, I’m 51. With a second foot into the decade that took the lives of my beloved mother and the grandmother I adored.

Plus it’s winter. A particularly hard and cold and frozen week of January in Vermont. The darkest time of year. And in Paris, a bunch of people were butchered.

“We’re ready to die,” said the terrorists.

A friend relays that he had a moment on his mat this week where he felt that it was okay to die. Really okay.

I had that once too. On my knees. In the garden. Rain soaked. My hands in dirt.

What if we woke every day with this aim?

Without saving any love or expression “for later.”

To be ready TO DIE in each moment.

But not like this:

answers to the: 11 questions to ask while shaping a memoir

Holly Sierra
Holly Sierra
  1. Why am I writing this story?

    Because it asked to be written.

  2. Why am I compelled to share it?

    Because I saw a gold-leafed binding.
    Because I like to be helpful.
    Because I want to alleviate suffering, mine and others.

  3. What is the message in the telling?

    Life transcends story. Life is steeped in story.
    The story is both personal and divine play.

  4. What shapes the story?

    My personal loss. Our common heart.

  5. Who are the readers?

    Those interested in the story and the transcendence of it.

  6. How does this work align with my life purpose?

    To explore, speak, shape & celebrate the truth in the story and beyond it.

  7. How does this work transcend any measure of outer success?

    Damn it. I don’t like this question.
    Truth serves truth, I suppose.

  8. What is rare about this offering?

    It is my singular dance with all that is.

  9. What justifies the amount of time I have devoted to the work?

    I don’t like this question either.
    Truth, art, expression–the dance.

  10. Who am I in this story?

    A seeker. A child of God. A motherless child. A princess. A queen. A woman.
    Myself. In communion with the Divine Feminine.

  11.  Where will you begin and end?

    With the Divine Feminine:
    At the moment of my deepest loss (at 14);
    and in the moment of sweet self-compassion/revelation (on the eve of my 50th birthday.)

~The Yoga of Lila

11 questions to ask while shaping a memoir

  1. Holly Sierra
    Holly Sierra

    Why am I writing this story?

  2. Why am I compelled to share it?
  3. What is the message in the telling?
  4. What shapes the story?
  5. Who are the readers?
  6. How does this work align with my life purpose?
  7. How does this work transcend any measure of outer success?
  8. What is rare about this offering?
  9. What justifies the amount of time I have devoted to the work?
  10. Who am I in this story?
  11. (What questions do you ask yourself?)

My father hates me…

jen_norton_797_FathersDayIn my dream, my mother slaps me.

My father hates me.

I feel his volatility bubbling under the surface, ready to explode,
joining the mythology of the ages–Fathers taking the lives of children;
Sons killing mothers.

I must write to my father so that he understands.
How he has misunderstood his mother.

How she failed to differentiate her role from her love…

A mother doesn’t kick a child out, she puts the necessary wind beneath his wings.

She fought with him, cursed him, demeaned him; because she could not face the excruciating loss of him.

No doubt the anger she felt toward her own husband (in the absence of fidelity)
and toward her own father (in the absence of affection)
were played out with her first born–
the one whose love was most pure and absolute, but never meant to last,
in form.

My father hates me.

Every look of kindness from a stranger or friend melts my anguish, threatening a flood of tears.

My father hates me.

When I warn my teenager not to put product in his hair and then try to floss, like I did, with slippery hands,
He says, “You’re adorable.”

and with that simple douse of filial affection,
I am healed.

My father hates me.

All my life I’ve worked to maintain his attention…
Beauty. Thin-ness. Intelligence. Performance. Success.
Illness. Urgency. Neediness. Audacity. Disinterest.
Nothing. Works.

My father hates me.

He has never been a mother, never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are carrying.
Never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are birthing.
Never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are nurturing,
through your own body,
in unity,
with the One.

Never allowed himself to feel the tearing dissolution of that Union.

Because I have,
felt it all,
it is unfathomable to me
that he feel anything but
love.

Anything
but devotion.

Anything
but protection
and provision
and pain
for the life he brought into this world.

My father hates me.

My life has been blessed by men.
Loved by them. Adored. Sought after.
Appreciated. Looked toward.

They in turn have abused me, mocked me,
objectified me, dismissed me, coddled me,
patronized me, sexualized me, abandoned me,
denied me.

The absence of my father’s love has kept me tender.

Tenderness is how I stay alive.

Tenderness is how I love

and Tenderness
is why
I write.