Five Years, What a Surprise

The opening track of David Bowie’s 1972 seminal masterpiece, Ziggy Stardust is an eery dystopian ballad, “Five Years.” In short, the song is about how the earth finds out it only has five more years left to live.

High school came up for me a couple weeks ago when I was writing to a friend. I told her it would take “a barstool, an attendant bartender, and copious amounts of good wine” to begin to explain what went wrong with my high school experience around the time we were rocking out to Mr. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

One thing that’s easy to explain is what we had in common in that email thread. We were conversing about our shared interest in domestic abuse. Today, she consults with one of her favorite clients who happens to be in the Midwest where I was writing to her, and I of course, can’t seem to stop working on this.

Five Years to Change the World?

I always loved Bowie’s song, “Five Years.” Today, I’m going to turn the tables on it and instead of interpreting that song to be five years until the end of the world, I’ll rewrite the story to become five years to… change the world for the better.

This week, I sat in on a webinar of well-intentioned professionals who were joking about how those with mental health challenges oftentimes have “unrealistic expectations.” I was saddened a bit by this, mostly because of the othering, but primarily because those of us who embrace our mad identities are often capable of delivering some fairly amazing accomplishments. The evidence is everywhere.

For instance, when I launched The 2.0 Adoption Council or Change Agents Worldwide, all I had was a vision of what could be. A dream. An idea about the end state. That vision caught on and hundreds, literally hundreds, of people bought into it, and paid good money to be a part of it, and eventually for it. Crazy? Maybe. Riffing on Forrest’s loving Mom, Crazy is as crazy does.

By Far, My Toughest Challenge

It was an insane and dangerous idea to take on domestic abuse and violence against women. I had no credentials, no formal education, no field training, no power relationships, no funding, no nothing– except my lived experience and a desire to make a difference.

Every connection was hard-earned. Every project was a risk.

Nevertheless I persisted.

I’m proud to say, after five years, that hard work has paid off. An award-winning investigative journalist was researching domestic violence for years, and she came across my writing. She discovered the case study that I helped bring to life in a film.* She included the case study in her new book that is flying off the shelves in the Australian market. A U.S. version is in the works. The case study, the High Point model, is saving lives every day. More people are learning about the success of the High Point model than ever before.

In my small way, starting from nothing, I changed the world for the better several times, but this time, and in this way, I think even Mr. Bowie would be singing my praises.**

*The film unfortunately never got finished, even though I put six figures into it. It is available, however, as a training film for private audiences.

**A little mad humor. Once when I was quoted top of the fold in the WSJ, I sent the clip to my shrink with this note: “It’s hard to be a recovering manic when your delusions of grandeur keep coming true.” (He laughed.)

Poetic Justice

Summer is coming to an end here on the Plains. Farmers are getting jittery about the upcoming harvest. As a wandering observer, I take in every majestic, breathtaking view with awe. I notice when something changes.

Recently these beautiful little yellow wildflowers have started popping up in the fields and on the roadside.

They’re Black-eyed Susans.

I arrived here in June, a few weeks into the beginning of summer, not knowing what to expect. Not sure if I was running away or to something, I came to South Dakota to listen to the sky, the fields, to commune with God and nature. To search my soul and tap my spirit for some direction– a sign. I kept telling my friends, “I’m in a liminal space.”

All summer I’ve been treated to a luxurious bounty of natural, scenic wonder. I’ve tried to capture the quiet, lush expanse of the vast South Dakota landscape with my camera lens. It calls to my inner artist and I long to draw and paint it. I’ve tried to understand the generations of people who make this area of the country their home: their warmth, their sense of community, family, and fellowship. It is exactly like the storybooks we’ve read, films we’ve seen about growing up in the Midwest.

I understand completely why my brother and sister love it here. Everything in South Dakota fills the vacuum, the deep cavity in our hearts we endured as children growing up in the chaos and pain of a dysfunctional family home. The love and tranquility pours in with every sunrise. The shock of bright stars at night against the pitch black sky illuminates the smallness of our place in the infinite universe. Yet, this state holds you close. It tells you reassuringly – you matter. You are special. You are loved.

That’s when it dawned on me about those little flowers. Years ago, I was a black-eyed Susan, and it was not beautiful, in fact it was terrible, ugly, and frightening.

But not anymore.

Today, I’m as free as a beautiful band of yellow wildflowers springing up in crazy bunches along the roadside in the South Dakota sun.

As I pondered the visual metaphor of those Black-eyed Susans on a long drive out to Sioux Falls yesterday, I realized I only read two books cover-to-cover this summer: Rachel Snyder’s, “No Visible Bruises” and Jess Hill’s, “See What You Made Me Do.” They’re both excellent new nonfiction picks addressing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.

In short, it’s become obvious, I can’t stop working on violence against women and all forms of coercive control men impose on women. It has settled under my skin and there is so much more work to do.

I’m thankful for this time I’ve had with the good people of South Dakota, the beauty of this generous state, and I look forward to how I can make a difference for the women who have yet to reinvent themselves into flowers dancing in the sun.

ALERT: Community Response Required NOW

Last week, we finished our interviews and filming for our documentary about High Point, NC.  While we were there, a woman (and mother) was murdered by her abuser. This was the first instance of a Domestic Violence homicide in High Point where the offender had been notified, and was on the watch list.

We always knew it would happen one day. Domestic Violence is with us like a disease. There is no “cure.”  But there are steps we can take to inoculate the public against widespread serious injury and homicide.  This is what they’ve done in High Point.  This philosophy and approach is the thesis and social commentary that drives our film. Considering this is the FIRST homicide among known offenders in 5 years, the results have been impressive.  Even life-changing.

But, #EVERYDVVICTIMMATTERS.  In High Point, they recognize domestic violence is a public safety issue.  Domestic Violence (a.k.a. Intimate Partner Violence) crosses race, income, gender, geography – every known variable you can track.

The system is not perfect in High Point, but it’s the best there is that I’ve seen after nearly three years of working full-time on this horrific, devastating social epidemic.

This morning, I saw an alert that went out to the entire community:

ALERT:

“I was just asked by HPPD to rally all concerned HPCAV Associates and others who are concerned about our violence in HP to come to ElmTowers at 2pm today (7/21/17) for a Domestic Homicide Response to share with residents and our community that such violence is wrong and cannot be tolerated

…  We are saddened by such loss of life..  It is VITAL that we gather to show our care, our love, our concern and our outrage against such violence.”

– Jim Summey, High Point Community Against Violence

It takes a village to address domestic violence. Imagine if the community rallied in your town every time a woman was murdered?  I don’t mean with vigils, galas, and 5Ks.  I mean with outrage and a call for action to end the violence.  And a plan to make that happen.

Here in Central Florida, a woman (another mother) was murdered by her abuser, and it was just a blip on the nightly news.  When a cop identified the perpetrator weeks later and tried to bring him in, he shot and killed her too.

Only then, the town turned upside down in a nationally televised manhunt.

What kind of message does that send?  When will every community issue a mandate for zero tolerance for domestic violence?  I can only hope it comes sooner, rather than later. It’s unconscionable to think it may never come.

Update: 75 people showed up for this meeting.