I Heart Beams and Struts: A Eulogy

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What is your relationship to completion? It’s a question I’ve become quite intimate with over the past few years because it’s one I explore a lot in my work. As an Integral Coach, with each client, as we approach the end of their program, we explore this together. Being awake to how we relate to endings can enable us to complete as consciously as possible. It helps the client to further embody what they’ve been developing over our time together by catching on to the habitual ways they relate to and behave around endings and offers the opportunity to close our work in a new way. This exploration is always a trip for me because I get to see myself being lured into my own habits around completion and the overarching theme is that I want to be asleep for it and get on with things already.

trainMy mind tells me that because I explore this so regularly, I’m totally awake to my habits and ways of being around endings. I want them to be quick. I feel relief around them. I feel no need to get sentimental. I’m a starter, that’s where the energy is, when things end I’m onto the next thing before the sound of the closing door’s click echoes in my ear. As I become aware of this, I’m able to slow down and drop in and bring reverence to where we’ve been. I can sit in the death openheartedly. This is where is gets funny, or ironic, or annoying, or absurdly human. Because I’m intimate with this habit, I tell myself that I’m present and use my awareness of the past as evidence that I’m doing the work of conscious completion and when I do that, it becomes a tactic, a mental game I use to go unconscious and lift up and out of the experience.

I catch myself doing this over and over and over.

We’ve been moving towards completion and closure here at Beams and Struts for a few months. Together we explored how things like this often end. A group of people start a project. It goes for a while. It works. Or it doesn’t work. Eventually it comes to an end. Exactly how that end comes about and plays out is a little foggy. Why it’s foggy is because endings aren’t as publicly explored as the building or creating of things. Projects that once were, are no longer and the death of them are usually not navigated intentionally or purposefully.

At different points in this project, there’ve been varying degrees of shared vision. At times we were all pointing in the same direction, sharing a purposeful compass. At other times it’s felt like we’re all walking down our own separate streets in the same busy city, carrying our own heavy loads. It was exciting to me when we came to the decision to close publication, and to do this consciously, mostly because it felt so good to have a shared purpose that we’re working towards together. Close. Close well. Be aware for death. Be awake in death. Honour this life by honouring its death.

tunnelBut the intention to be awake in death and the reality of what that takes are different beasts. I was so excited to write this article at first, excited to tell you all about what this project has meant to me, how it’s shaped me as a human and as a writer. But I put it off. I don’t want to touch the end. I just want it to be over. I don’t want any more Beams threads in my inbox, I don’t want any more Beams related actions scribbled on my to-do list. I want the sweet relief of the exhale. I want the space, the emptiness that holds the moment after death. I don’t want to feel the dying. Telling you how awake we’re being in this ending is a way to step out of the feeling of the ending. We may not be as awake as we intended. We may not be working as consciously as we could be. We’re not really operating as a collective. We’re not grieving together or celebrating together. That’s not to say we won’t. But right now it seems, we’re all just getting through it, and mostly doing that on our own. And isn’t that how many of us deal with death? Quietly, achingly, distractedly, independently, cornering off aspects of our experience. And as I write this, I am aware that I can’t speak for the experience of the others. And that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not intimate with their experiences. The collective experience isn’t one that’s currently being collectively pointed to and shared.

Our email threads are pretty silent these days, many not chiming in, ideas that were put forth with enthusiasm have been dropped, loose ends blowing wildly in the winds of our minds. I don’t share this with you as a judgment of this being good or bad, I have no problem with how things are going or not going. The content of how we’re ending this project does not cause me pain. it’s in the loss itself where the pain is. I share this because as these words fall before you, this is my own practice with death. Can I be awake to reality and not to the fantasy of how things are going? Can I bring awareness to this ending and invite all of us into awareness around how we’re impacted by completion? How do we show up or not show up? And as we explore that, as we consider it here, can this be training, however small, for death?

 

Beams: A Love Story

I heart Beams and Struts because I can start an article off like that and not come across as a total weirdo. I heart Beams and Struts because it’s a project that’s had me practicing on my edge in how I write, how I relate, how I lead and how I receive. This is my Eulogy. 

real heartI want to honour this project by touching on the ways in which it has been its own live system and which aspects of that system have been the most transformative for me. In the fore are the relationships, how they’ve made a writer out of me, helped me to create community, step into leadership and who I am as a woman. (yep, a bunch of men helped me be more of a woman- we’ll get there.)

I’m pretty relational. I can get heady too. I like to riff on ideas and have spent a lot of time doing that with these folks over the past couple of years but for me it’s always been more about the relationships than about the content of the ideas. I’m most interested in how our ways of relating give rise to these ideas and how they evolve through the collective space.

I wasn’t one of the founders of this site. I came on as a core contributor later in the game, after the first year. And I came to it through relationship.

I’ve known Trevor Malkinson since I was 16. We worked in a restaurant together and he introduced me to philosophy. He was the first person I’d ever met who could feed my hungry brain in dialogue. Worlds I’d only imagined became vibrant through the roads he led me down.

I’ve known Scott Payne since I was 13. He was my big brother’s friend’s big brother. Older, wiser, funny as hell.

Trevor introduced me to Juma Wood when I was 22. Juma introduced me to Integral Theory and it changed my world, altered how I was running my business and stirred up how I approached my development in very important ways. I met Chris Dierkes around that time too, more in passing, but that’s only significant because we’ve become so close years later.

I’d heard about Andrew Baxter for a decade before finally meeting him. TJ Dawe’s name was around as well, brilliant actor, brilliant writer. It was my girlfriends, not the guys, who first told me about how rad Bergen Vermette is, which shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve ever met the guy. He turned out to be my twin.

I remember the first time I heard about Beams and Struts, it was an idea in the making that Trevor was so stoked to share about it. As he told me about who was involved and that they wanted to create this network of ideas and perspectives and press into the world of integral theory and bust it open with a deep exploration of what it means to actually live this stuff, to grapple with it on the ground of our evolving culture, to meet the street and burn the map to light the way on that ledge over there, it made so much sense that this group of men was coming together to create something like this. Trevor planted the seed that perhaps I’d want to contribute. In all honesty, I’d spent a good number of years feeling pretty intellectually intimidated by these characters, so that seed was left unattended for some time.  

forlornMy first Ken Wilber book was a grind to get through and it was only a bite sized one, The Marriage of Sense and Soul. I was like, what the FUCK do these words mean? So I’d read it with a dictionary next to me and was even looking up the definitions of words that were in the definitions of the words that were in that book. So, yeah, maybe I’ll participate in some way Trevor, if like I don’t have to cite a bunch of theory or argue a bunch of concepts or think very hard.

After the project had been going for a while, I was invited to contribute with more push. Trevor was really looking at the partiality of the site, the all male voices. He thought I could bring in other perspectives. That’s part of what we’ve always been trying to do here, create a platform for diversity, bringing together voices and ideas that didn’t yet have a platform. Bring more and more and more perspectives, have those perspectives come together, dance together, smash into one another, push, pull, create and evolve, take new shape and form on behalf of what may be possible for our world.

I felt really scared to write something for Beams and Struts.

A group of men jerking off all over a theoretical map can be both off-putting and daunting. I’m not saying that’s what’s been going on around these parts (though such an assertion would be partial wouldn’t it?) But for someone who identifies as more creative or relationally focused, when a bunch of academics start a website with the tagline: An integral inquiry into post-post modern age, you might make some assumptions and get to thinking that it’s not be the kind of party you could hold your own at.

So finally I decided to go for it and as one who tends not to tip toe, I wrote a several thousand word article about vaginas. Primarily from my own experience and collection of perspectives, it was neither academic nor masculine and apparently just what was wanted at the site. I was told about the editing process for articles. I’d written articles for print publications before and the editing was primarily for grammar. But it was in going through the editing process, whereby three of the core team edited not only for grammar but also fleshed out ideas, challenged perspectives and pushed me to go further and deeper, that I started to get really curious about what was going on here, started to see what this experiment in collective intelligence is all about.

I remember taking two days to even open my edits on that first piece. I was scared. I was scared of the feedback, I was afraid of being criticized. I was scared to find out that I was a shitty writer, or that my seeing is so partial that what I have to offer is superficial or banal. Instead, those edits gave me the permission I’d been waiting for my whole life.

 

Becoming a writer

I identified as a writer before I could read. In every hike in the forest I’ve ever been on since I was a little girl, when there’s silence, my mind is writing. It was my writing that kept my GPA up in high school, my writing that won me awards in English, my writing that connected me to my deepest angst and expressed what I truly felt in relationship. Years ago, my partner at the time said he learned more about what was really going on for me by reading my blog than in our relating. My writing has helped me communicate effectively in my work and my articles are now better than marketing copy when it comes to building and expanding my business. But in all those years, from those first few books that swept me away when I realized I could do this- I have to do this, I always said I want to be a writer. I want to be a writer is very different than I am a writer.

writerI became a writer at Beams and Struts. This is the part of the eulogy where if we were in a room together, I’d become all verklempt and have to take a moment to collect myself.

Though my first article was published in a newspaper, which I got paid for, almost ten years ago, I was no writer. I was aspiring and sometimes I’d even write. Sometimes not. I self-published some poetry, started a couple of blogs, chipped away at a novel with my baby at my breast. But none of this made me a writer, it all just fueled my longing to be a writer, my longing for legitimacy.

My voice as a writer was found here, shared here, heard here. The editing process called me out. It called me out in my talent, in my awareness and in my limitations. It brought me to my edge over and over again, it gave me confidence and shoved me, it gave me extra eyes and hearts to see and feel what I couldn’t or back up what I could.

Everyone on this team has been so important to me in so many ways. TJ Dawe and Bergen Vermette have been two of the greatest influences when it’s come to owning being a writer. TJ Dawe is a professional. TJ taught me to shut the fuck up and write, to get over it and promote my shit already. TJ didn’t just tell me, he showed me what it means to take yourself seriously as an artist. He taught me what it means to show up for your work and he taught me that, not only through disciplined practice and through getting us all in a room to write together, but by sharing his own interior world of what happens through the creative process. When I stopped believing in what I was writing, when I started thinking that I make no sense or have nothing of value to offer, he validated that this is totally normal, that this is part of what happens when we’re creating and that it doesn’t matter. Keep writing. He taught me not to indulge the pettiness that wants to keep me holed up and avoiding the page, that being a writer, rather than wanting to be a writer, means writing. Then publishing. Over and over and over.

Bergen Vermette has edited most of my articles and has been in my corner in all the dramatic ways that I try to get away from showing up. He’s pointed out, over and over, the subtle ways that I would dilute the power of what I was offering. This feedback in his edits helped me to shape and build my voice, to step up and step in and say what I actually mean and that what I have to say is wanted, even needed. And that’s important to feel as an artist.

And so as my writing got more attention on this site, it started to spread to other sites. People started to contact me and ask to publish my work. I started contributing to Integral Chicks and The Huffington Post, I started writing a lot more often on my own site and was picked up as a regular contributor for personal development blogs. This is not a hobby. This is one vein of my life’s work, one way in which my own sense of purpose gets to be expressed in the world. And as soon as that started to happen, the desire, the impulse to expand that outward to others became fierce.

 

Building a Community

Many people found their voices here at Beams. Not just the creators but the contributors. Not just the contributors but so many who joined the discussions.

cute noteNot only did I become a writer here, I became an editor. What amazing training that’s been in being a writer and in becoming more intimate with the craft and with other brilliant minds. I was blessed to go from editing articles of the core team’s, to editing articles that had been submitted, to soliciting submissions, to creating themes for publication and approaching both established and first time writers to contribute and then edited most of them.

Because I am a writer, I know how vulnerable and important it is to craft just the right sentence, to get just the right tone, to convey exactly this and none of that. Helping others to bring that forward has been deeply fulfilling for me and watching the way in which this project grew into a platform for new voices, the way it blew open doors for so many makes me weep in awe and gratitude. Seriously.

Check out this article of appreciation from our contributors. Time and time again we’d hear how Beams and Struts helped to build confidence, share something that caught on, start a writing career or spread an idea. Our comment sections were more than a place to share a perspective, they became neighbourhoods where people could gather and explore with and challenge one another.

After closing publication, we’re building archives such that all of our work may be better organized and searched. This community will remain alive, these articles that have had so much intension and commitment put into getting them out in the world will continue to be available.

And as each of us move on to our next areas of focus, our next projects, we’ve got a community that’s been built. Some of my most important relationships have been formed here, not only with this core team, but with many who’ve contributed at this site.

 

Taking My Seat

I’m going to take a sharp left here and talk about gender, you still with me?

Would it surprise you if I told you that sometimes I’d hold back sharing an opinion amongst the team here because I’m just a girl? Well, that surprised me too.

I wasn’t raised with much awareness of being in a patriarchal soup. My parents were pretty post-modern and encouraged my brother and me to play with the same toys in an attempt to slay stereotypical gender conditioning. I received no messages from my family that opportunities or expectations would be different for me than for my bro. I thought that inequality was a thing of the past and have never had much of a radar go off around this being a ‘man’s world’.

men at tableMy experience as a core contributor at Beams and Struts really helped to bring this more fully into my awareness. I realize that my own orientation as a woman in society was not what I thought it was. All this time I thought that I was pretty unaffected by the patriarchy and now I realize why that is, I’ve tended to just direct my own lifestyle compass towards places where I wouldn’t have to face or confront ‘just being a girl’. I’ve always been self-employed and the industries I played in were female dominated. I’ve never really needed to hold my own or carve my place anywhere that’s been male dominated.

I’ve always liked men and felt at ease amongst them. Perhaps it’s from having an older brother, but I’ve probably felt more longing to belong in the boys club than anywhere else and by the very nature of being female I don’t get to do that. But I’ve always had close male friends and my delight for vulgarity seemed earn me a free pass into some conversations that left me wondering if soon they’d remember there was a woman present and shut their mouths.

It didn’t occur to me, when starting to work with an all male team, that my femaleness would be so glaring to me. What started happening within my experience, I found shocking and strange. I’ve always been outspoken and confident. I’ve generally been successful in whatever direction I’ve decided to go. While I’ve certainly had a lot of interior doubt or anxiety or fear, I’ve rarely questioned my right to be here. But I could feel that in meetings, I could feel that with these guys. I noticed that for the first time in my life, I felt that I did have an unconscious operating belief system that I, as a woman, am inferior to men. I could feel the pull to adapt in this room of men by being more like them and less like me. I could feel what other women have talked about, the nagging feeling that the only way to carve your place amongst a group of men is to be more male.

And yet, didn’t they say they wanted to a female perspective? Didn’t I get supported and encouraged to write these pieces that were more personal narrative, more feminine than the masculine manner in which ideas and inquiry can often be laid out? Didn’t they welcome my emphasis on care and appreciation and relationship? Didn’t they smile sweetly when, once again, I’d cry in a meeting from being emotionally moved by something that was happening?

My own femininity or womanly orientation wasn’t negated, invalidated or gaslit, it was welcomed. After a while I stared to actually feel what I could contribute to the space, just by the fact that I don’t have balls, that couldn’t be created by anyone else here. My experience of my own value as a woman got stronger for me in being in this group, by them being open and receptive to what I had to uniquely contribute. Over time I’d feel the ways in which I’d actually intentionally bring more emotional current into the space for the sake of deepening what was happening between us.

Through the subtle shifts that occurred for me around who I am as a woman, that I can bring all my intellect and perspectives and opinions to the table but that I don’t have to do that in a masculine way, expanded my comfort in holding my own with deep authenticity in any setting, particularly at an all man table.

While it seems to my rational mind like it should be crazy to feel that my gender would automatically negate the validity of my offering with a group of men, particularly if what I’m offering isn’t sexual, that’s exactly what was running in the background for me, that I either need to be one of the boys or be fucking one of the boys in order to be of value and that is a pretty gross piece of my existence that I’m happy to let die.

 

This is the End

pensilAnd so this is the end. I notice now that I don’t want to just get through it or lift up and out of it. I don’t want this to end. I want to linger here and savor its sweetness. I’m sure going to miss the boisterous meetings with all the ideas that won’t get implemented now. I’m going to miss the never ending email threads that digress into all sorts or ridiculousness. I am going to miss TJ telling me to use more contractions.  I’m going to miss the steadiness that Chris Dierkes brought herding all of us cats. Didn’t we seem to have our shit together? Publishing articles every Monday and Wednesday and being super consistent. That was Chris, chiming in no matter where we’d all stray with what was coming and what was due when and where is that article at that you said you’d complete? When I grow up, I want to be like Chris.

Helping to create, build, expand and produce Beams and Struts hasn’t just been transformative; it’s been a right of passage. I’ve received far more than I’ve given and I’ve barely read most of the articles on our site. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but c’mon, have you seen how much we’ve been publishing? Who can keep up with that? (Besides the astounding Trevor, who heroically combs every word here.) It strikes me as I feel into just how much of this site I’ve not even touched, or been touched by that as time goes on, as I peruse the archives, the full impact of what’s been created here may not settle in for some time. Like an actual death, the impact the life's had on us will continue to make its grooves. How lucky we are.

Beams and Struts thank you for feeding my hungry brain and quenching my thirsty soul. 

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2 comments

  • Comment Link Chloe Dierkes Tuesday, 26 February 2013 21:07 posted by Chloe Dierkes

    This is beautiful Chela, it brought me to tears. Thank you for all your wonderful writing on Beams and Struts!

  • Comment Link Karen Kristjanson Saturday, 02 March 2013 22:14 posted by Karen Kristjanson

    Chela, your willingness to look unflinchingly inside, and then articulate that reality in the world, inspires and amazes me. I have been there - a woman in a room of men, outraged that this leftover mode of belief is still in there inside ME. As for the journey of the writer - you are way ahead of me there, and it's great to catch glimpses of your passages. thank-you.

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