It Takes a Village: The Courage to Ask for Help

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

August 17, 2015 - I was raised by a village. When I was 6 years old, my dad moved back to Trinidad and my mom raised me as a single parent. That was the same year we joined The Community Church of New York, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Previously we attended The Riverside Church where I was also baptized. To explain what UU is...it’s basically the everything bagel of religions. We have Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics - everyone is welcome. Each UU congregation is different - some are more traditionally religious than others. Mine was very liberal and progressive but I wouldn’t describe it as radical. Located in Murray Hill, it’s still a great, diverse place to raise your kids. The main Hall of Worship is very traditional with cushioned seats bolted to the floor in set pews with a stage at the front where ministers make announcements and preach and are flanked by busts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Sanger, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi as well as banners representing major religions from around the world. 

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

When I was 13, it was time for me to go through my Coming-Of-Age ceremony. Although I had attended church school (and other activities and outings) regularly from the age of 6, I was the only 13-year-old at my church so I went up to Fourth Unitarian Universalist Society, near Central Park. I knew about this “Society” because I was in middle school with one of member’s sons, J, who was also good friends with my mom. Later we discovered a photo of us at around age 3 or 4 at church school at Riverside Church before our moms had met. At Fourth UU, the pews were moveable and often placed in a circle for worship. It was a smaller congregation and had a homier vibe. Other non-UU kids were excited to be able to play basketball there and other fun things not typically associated with church.

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

Our Coming-Of-Age group had 2, sometimes 3 girls and 3 boys. We had two group leaders, and every Sunday we would all meet to talk about our belief system and other religions and white privilege and all the sorts of things a “hippie church” would have you discuss as you enter “adulthood.” Sometimes we met at Fourth UU, sometimes at All Souls (a really God-centric, traditional, large and diverse UU church even further uptown). Throughout the year we went on "Cons," mini sleep-away conferences for Teen UUs in NJ and Upstate NY. Typically everyone smoked cigarettes except for those kids from NYC. We also each had a personal mentor we met with to discuss our belief system/credo. Mine was Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley who became my friend and even gave me her bible from seminary which I have yet to read. At the end of the year, the boys and girls were split up for our rite of passage ceremonies. These were created by us, our mentors and our families. The boys stayed at Fourth UU and did things like get their feet washed by their mentors. The girls, on the other hand, had what felt like a real adventure.

Maine, Summer 1996

Maine, Summer 1996

We went Upstate (or somewhere in "the country"), and it was beautiful. It was me and E, our mothers, her mentor (mine couldn’t make it) as well as one of the boy’s moms who was going to lead us in a Wiccan ceremony. It was so green and lovely and there was a wandering cow roaming about. At night, we all sat around a fire and made clay sculptures of our fears and later went to the pond and symbolically and literally threw them away. We also danced around a fire to the moon and the goddess. The moon was so big that night. In our separate tents, E and I were to write our feelings, hopes and dreams. I wrote, "When I am faced with a problem, I either react in two different ways. Depending on the challenge, I may prove that I am fearless and dispose of the problem. Other times I will look for someone else (my mother) to get rid of the problem." (My Coming-Of-Age Journal, 6/1/96) I was by myself a good long while until I found a tick and got my mom to get rid of it. When we got back to the city, there was a party, full of women, at the boy’s mom’s apartment where we were given gifts and were celebrated. I remember always wishing that I had gotten the “Clueless” DVD gift instead of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Later on we each wrote up and read our Credos to our congregations during a special church service. 

There are many other instances of my UU community village raising me on overnight nature retreats, Special Friend Sundays, marches, parties, church school activities and play dates outside of church. They are actually too numerous to list!

Little Lentil Landscapes II: The Shame of Womanhood, Watercolor, 12" x 16"  May 2014

After I had the miscarriage last April, although at first I was ashamed, at the first sight of the blood, that D and I had told over 100 people we were pregnant at 8 weeks and then lost the baby at 10 weeks, I was relieved. From the email I sent out, people wrote back their condolences. For those that wrote those 7 key words - Let me know how I can help - I wrote back. We sat a radical Shiva for the next two weeks. Friends brought groceries and dinner and sat with me in groups, one on one. I shared variations of my radical miscarriage story and they in turn would share theirs, if they had one. Some had many. Others knew they just wanted to feel with me and be with me even if they couldn’t personally relate to having a pregnancy loss. Friends appreciated being told how they could help and that there was something they could actually do to provide the support that I wanted. The months that followed, when the visits stopped, were particularly difficult as I fell into a postpartum depression until the end of November when I found out I was pregnant with V. Even though I was pregnant with our Rainbow Baby, feelings and emotions are complicated.

Little Landscape I, Watercolor, 11" x 14" May 2014

I knew with this birth/labor/postpartum I would need help. I made an announcement at rehearsal, my radical community village, which I’m so blessed to have and be apart of, requesting help. I started to make a list of people who I felt comfortable with coming and helping out as well as the kinds of food I’d like to eat. The three godparents, D, A & J went above and beyond! Not only did they help us to purge and make this into a home and me, to finally feel like a human being at home, they organized and hosted the baby shower. After D (the papa bear), they were the first ones to arrive and help me labor, feed me, give me sips of coconut water and then take care of all three of us after the birth by making us meals, washing the dishes, sweeping, cleaning up the kitchen and eating areas, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and folding the laundry besides entertaining us with songs, music and friendship. D (papa bear) was also doing so many of these things and was in charge of my placenta smoothies (which I miss so much). They stayed from Thursday when I went into the "early" labor until Monday morning (V was born Friday morning).

Little Lentil Landscapes III, Watercolor, 12" x 16" May 2014

A has been in charge of a (short) list of some friends to help us out and created a schedule for visits, food drop offs, etc. The last few days (and week) have made me see that I need to tap into my Courage Reserves and put this Big Ask out there: Hello Village, will you please help us? Someday we will need babysitters but right now, if you live in NYC and are willing and available, are you able to: drop a meal off, do a load of laundry or pick up some light groceries? If you can do one or more things either one time or on a weekly or monthly basis, please send me an email and let me know (I’ll also put you in touch with A. to add you to the roster of helpers). If you’d rather buy us something, our registry is going to be open indefinitely with things that we need and would be so appreciated.

dawn@dslookkin.com

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

xo

The Face Box

I moved my art supplies and a makeshift desk into the baby's room so that I can paint while the baby nurses because...

I moved my art supplies and a makeshift desk into the baby's room so that I can paint while the baby nurses because...

Yesterday I woke up and in a sleepy ramble, told D I wanted to watch The Social Network and that I wanted to “friend” Jesse Eisenberg, the actor that plays founder Mark Zuckerberg. You’re weird he said. Did I dream this? Or maybe it’s because I’ve been on the Face Box every single day, all day long since giving birth and before, and a decade before I even met D.

+++

...this is what my actual art desk looks like! The Messy Desk + cat! 

...this is what my actual art desk looks like! The Messy Desk + cat! 

I attended Smith College, one of the original Seven Sisters all women’s colleges, from Summer of 2001 to Spring of 2005. I was accepted into the pre-orientation program, Bridge, for Women of Color before they started allowing caucasian students to be in it. This changed my senior year, the same year I was a Bridge leader/mentor. When I first visited Smith in 2000, they didn’t allow Asian students to be in this program, let alone hapa/multi-racial/multicultural students so things keep changing. If it weren't for Bridge, I'd only have a handful of Smithie friends that are Students of Color because there are that many white students there. As it turned out, the majority of my friends were Jewish. I majored in Studio Art and Women’s Studies and sang with the Glee Club, The Chambers Singers and Groove, the a capella group, of which I'm one of the original members.

I often say that Smith is an institution of complete privilege and luxury but that the students come from all different backgrounds. I was able to attend because I had a very generous financial aid package since I was raised by a single mother, who at times worked three jobs to send me to my various elite private schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. I also received annual art scholarships from the Unitarian Universalist Association and an annual scholarship from Green Point Bank as well as others. At the same time, although I didn’t have a lot of money, as didn't a lot of Smithies, once you are accepted and enroll at Smith you enter a special club (although we had no sororities). Even if you are a Student of Color and are the token student in class and deal with some form of bigotry every day, we all received some benefit from being enrolled at one of the top women’s colleges in the country with a long history of powerful and influential graduates from Gloria Steinem to Julia Child to Sylvia Plath. So despite all kinds of wonderful and horrible experiences one might have at Smith, you leave with a degree and a network of women all around the world who always have your back.

The co-sleeper/baby stuff caddy and where I nurse - so glamorous I know! 

The co-sleeper/baby stuff caddy and where I nurse - so glamorous I know! 

Why am I writing about my alma mater like this because seriously who cares? Well it goes back to Facebook...the first time I saw “The Social Network” it was surreal. Almost everything they talked about in the movie had happened in real time for me since Zuckerberg’s first beginnings for Facebook started in the Fall of 2003. That was when I started my Junior Year Study Abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka, Japan. For the rest of my time at Smith, including my Senior year, I lived in a “house” called Chapin House in the center of campus, a really nice dorm with beautiful views of the pond, a large living room with a TV and a grand piano, it’s own laundry room, dining room and it’s own kitchen and housekeeping staff. For my work study, I chose to assist the housekeeper which led me to the discovery that with showers and bathrooms, gender, class and ethnicity didn't dictate how gross and dirty you can be. I'm not sure how I ended up in this House - I requested Tyler House where I completed my Smith Summer Science Program when I was thirteen. Chapin was known to be a "nice" (read: white, mostly affluent) house and those that lived here were early acceptance students. I applied to too many colleges because I didn't know who would give me the best financial aid package and got my final decision certified by the midnight deadline (it was between Smith and Hampshire College). Before dropping out, Margaret Mitchell lived at Chapin and the staircase inspired the one in the book and the film “Gone With the Wind” (a little misleading as the staircase was not fancy at all but whatever - HOLLYWOOD!). I too had a LiveJournal and would update the interwebs on my love life and Feelings. I remember “Hot or Not” and even clicked through rating people’s appearance because that’s what you did at 3 in the morning in college. I had active MySpace and Friendster accounts. After Harvard and the other Ivy League schools, Smith also got the exclusive membership to Facebook. I remember when you had to be enrolled at a private college to get invited. And then any college. And then anyone.

These things help: drying rack, changing table, garbage pail. 

These things help: drying rack, changing table, garbage pail. 

Things just get so metta. If it weren’t for Facebook, would you even be reading these words right now? This social network machine is bizarre and twisted and a really false sense of self and how we interact with one another. Besides Candy Crush, Farmville and other evils of the internet, it does connect us. Last year when I made my first post for My Radical Miscarriage Blog, so many people wrote me with their stories of heartbreak surrounding their miscarriage, their stillbirth, their abortion, getting raped and how, sometimes, I was the only one they confided in because I had the courage to share my story.

My plant babies all grown up. 

My plant babies all grown up. 

It was emotionally overwhelming for me to read these stories, some from people from high school who I never talked to before and others from my closest friends. Sharing what I was going through with my pregnancy loss felt so intuitive to me, like an obsessive storytelling regurgitation that I didn’t see it as being brave or courageous but that’s what it was and that’s what it is. I can embrace that because my story is my truth.

So to Mark Zuckerberg I simultaneously say fuck you and thank you for making us so dependent on this evil thing called Facebook and for bringing together radical communities to bridge injustices and experiences and truly change this world into the one we want and know it can be.

xo

(*Editor's note* I take back what I said about Mark Zuckerberg - I just read that he and his wife had 3 miscarriages so I'm feeling a lot of compassion towards him today. Also, I "friended" Jesse Eisenberg.) 

Therapy Tuesdays and the 12th Anniversary of my Father's Death

Dad as mattress with Dawn, Orleans, Cape Cod, early '84

Dad as mattress with Dawn, Orleans, Cape Cod, early '84

For the past 6 weeks, Danny and I have been attending a bereavement group for pregnancy loss. Although it was my idea to attend, going every week has been so difficult for me and I'm relieved that today is the last day of the program. Tuesdays is also when I have my own personal therapy. And today is also the 12th anniversary of my father's death.

July has been a strange and difficult month for me despite all the fun things that have happened. I celebrated turning 32 with a party, something I haven't done in a decade, went on camping trips and to friends' birthday parties. I go to these gatherings, these fun things and I say hello to people, to my friends, but I don't feel like myself. I'm a numbed version of me. I say I'm ok but I'm not. I've been feeling the pain of death.

Often July 29th passes and I don't realize it has but this month I've thought about it almost every day. I wanted to make a ghost bike for my dad - paint a bike white in his memory and chain it near to where he was killed with a note, with flowers. I really thought I was going to do it this year. But once more it's not happening and I feel I've failed his memory again. I've been crying all day and yesterday too. Death is so hard. I don't know if I'll ever get the hang of it.

Last night when I was sitting in my hot shower, sobbing and letting go, I told myself, after the session tonight, I'm going to ride over to where he was killed on his bicycle, on 34th St and Dyer Avenue, killed by a city bus and a truck, and light candles for him, say something, do something. My hope is that after today I can find some release, at least for this year, at least for this summer. All this loss is ripping me apart and I feel so broken all the time. His death is apart of me. Little Lentil's death is apart of me and everyone else that I've ever lost. And I am still here. And I am still alive. How do you live after death? I ask myself so many questions and I tell myself, Yes today is going to be a hard day. That is the truth and it is my truth.

A quote that I have on the wall above my bed, that I remind myself frequently is this:

"Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles." - Charlie Chapman

Please remember my father, Victor Look Kin, on this sad day of remembrance.

Every day is a time for forgiveness

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

Last night after rehearsal, five of us walked, Jessica, Onome, Lizzie, Ashlie and myself, singing down the street. At the corner of 8th and Avenue C, we sang and we chanted, we improvised and supported each other, sang songs that we knew and made up the rest. This was a gift.

Every day takes courage for self love. And every day is an opportunity to be reborn. It's been a long while and today I had my Spirit Bath. While the hot bath was filling up, I smudged my whole home with sage, blessed with the friendship of birthday love, blessed with my living plant babies.

I rang bells in every room, to the closets, to the guitar. I came to the living room and realized I had created a space for creativity, a space to support myself. This is a space of courage. What is courage? Courage is asking for what you need. Courage is speaking your truth. Courage is owning your story. Courage is setting boundaries. Courage is reaching out for support (a quote from Brené Brown).

Last night I made three signs with this affirmation. One in orange craypas and then in permanent blank marker and then I painted it. This helps me to remember what courage is and believe that I am full of courage. Courage means being open to making "bad" art and "poor" writing and still wanting to share it with the world. Courage means making mistakes. Courage means allowing myself to be imperfect. Courage means embracing myself every day.

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by  Brené Brown ), 9" x 12", watercolor

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by Brené Brown), 9" x 12", watercolor

In my Spirit Bath I poured lavender Epsom Salts, my large and interesting shells already beneath the water and rang bells around me. I drank and drank my water. I asked myself what was the intention for this bath? I didn't know. In silence I got in and allowed my mind, myself to wander. I cried and cried. I forgave myself for misjudging old friends and new friends too. I forgave myself for misjudging myself. I thought about my father. July 29th will be the 12th anniversary of his death. I cried and cried. Is this Shadow Grief? It is my truth and it is my story. I thought about him and what I can do to honor him this year and honor my own grief. I want to make a ghost bike for him - paint a bike white, have a ceremony and lock it near where he was killed on 34th St. and Dyer Avenue. It's time.

I get out of the bath and notice some soot from my sage stick on the bathroom sink and I tell myself Every time I want to clean something or do something that is not apart of my new habits of living with Spirit Baths, singing, eating and painting and writing, I will take a moment to breathe. Ten deep breaths.

I find that I forget who I am or forget that I am loved. I can be so hard on myself. Every day is a time for forgiveness. And a time for singing. A time for swimming.

Spirit Bath

4.16.2014 Weds 9:57 AM

Without fail, my body wakes me up. Its/my/her/our need to empty myself of waste is powerful.

Morning Spirit Bath Candles + Incense

Morning Spirit Bath Candles + Incense

Last night at midnight I started a spirit bath. A spirit bath is a spirit walk to the other side of myself, where all is revealed. Often the information and epiphanies arrive too quickly for me to remember or to process. Often I have long conversations with myself. My Inner WISE SELF says And now this is what you’re going to do or This is what will be shared or revealed. All of it, even now, is a compulsion on my behalf. I am compelled to write. I am compelled to paint. I am compelled to share. I literally can’t help it - I keep it inside and it wants to come out. The desire becomes its own agency. I have no control and I have all of it. I am joyfully compelled. Does that make sense? I feel as if I’m looking so deep inside and that’s where the answers reside. They live there with truth, love, honesty, compassion, a place where being humble is embraced and there is a celebration of your inner super hero.

I’ve always had (at least) one super human power: taking my body - or my body taking me - into the coldest water, any water, and feeling Home.

Water worship is the only one I can follow. I am my own religion. Gaia. Every time I step a toe into that steamy, hot bath with Epsom salts, meditation shells and candles (always at least 3 - that is significant), I see that I’ve created a protective chain of six all around me: four candles, incense and pumice stone. I also have small towels to keep me warm in the bath to give the sensation of seaweed, wrapped and trapped under water, an oceanic comfort, the comforts of home. A womb? An umbilical cord? A galaxy?

A blank canvas is beautiful because it is full of possibility.

A blank canvas is beautiful because it is full of possibility.

And that 4th candle, the purple one, I bought it with J at Stick, Stone & Bone. The orange one was for Joy, and I discovered, was for little lentil. We got those healing tools and didn’t even know that I was already pregnant. I also purchased a hematite ring + rock crystal that I’m always losing - I don’t even know where it is right now! But I always find it, eventually.

That 4th candle, I don’t know what you are, what is your purpose, I misplaced the instructions, but to me you represent mystery, the complete mystery that is life + living.

Every time I come back to this moment, My Spirit Bath, my spirit walk, I tell myself, This is my only church and my only religion. And this time, even though I fell asleep and it’s so late and only hours passed since I dreamt, my body is on her new schedule and up I go for the compulsory shitting and even despite having a cold, sore throat, runny nose from talking + laughing + singing too much over the weekend, I remember everything and I write it down here, in my Dream Journal.

Compelled to paint, the following morning after my Spirit Bath and Spirit Walk + Talk, after my self care (shitting, journaling - this journal entry in fact - bathing, spirit bath, eating), I put all the water color sketch books I have onto the center of the floor. Some were my grandfather's who was an artist and painter. This is the beginning.

Compelled to paint, the following morning after my Spirit Bath and Spirit Walk + Talk, after my self care (shitting, journaling - this journal entry in fact - bathing, spirit bath, eating), I put all the water color sketch books I have onto the center of the floor. Some were my grandfather's who was an artist and painter. This is the beginning.

Dear little lentil

4.15.2014 Tuesday 1:48 am

I was going through my thank you cards I had been compiling - I wanted to write special thank you cards to everyone who has shared their incredible kindness with me. At times I’m overcome and crying, overwhelmed with my friends-family’s deep generosity of spirit and am moved.

I keep buying more dollar beautiful thank you cards and in looking at them in my small plastic drawer, I find one that is pink and green and white, like a woodcut of a floral still life but is so alive and majestic. It is this card I had originally purchased for little lentil. It is this card that I was going to write to the baby. But I had also asked myself if I would write a love letter to myself instead. I still have yet to write the thank you cards, but I sat down and wrote this:

4.8.2014 Tues 10:26pm

Dear little lentil,

I didn’t know if this card was going to be for you or a love letter to myself but I guess they are both since your whole celestial existence was inside of my body and it’s difficult to separate me from you.

You told me what to eat + when to sleep + how to feel. You are my inner self, the voice that guides + talks with me. Is that why this has been so difficult? Because you dying was me dying too?

You, little lentil, feel like a dream. I feel like I’ve had to accept that you have gone very quickly. I was still in denial, but I knew.

I loved you so much. Even though I was angry + afraid + disappointed when I first found out I was pregnant, it took me only four days to fall in love. There were many days where I had to make adjustments but I was so happy + so looking forward to meeting you some day. I couldn’t + can’t wait to become a mother - that’s what you taught me. Part of me wants to say I would give up everything to have you alive inside me again but that’s not possible. I can’t change what happened though I am changed. You changed me. I changed when you grew inside of me. And I changed when you died inside of me. You help me to deepen my sense of life and love and how important that is to me. You taught me to love my body and all living things. We are all children of the universe + if there was no dying, there would be no living. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be alive + to be a living creature (among) the cosmos.

Love your mama xoxoxo