Word for the year: Amplify

I know I’m a little late for the word of the year business, but I’ve been using every spare minute to launch the project I alluded to in my last post. It’s got everything to do with my word for this year:


My word for last year was “voice”–and let me tell you, I’ve just gotta say that the previous 12 months made me a believer in the power of choosing a word. I’ll admit I was a skeptic. Choosing a word seemed like a twee, precious kinda thing for people who clearly have a sort of privilege most don’t. Maybe it is, but it made a powerful difference in my year, and I’d like to think that it made at least a small difference for some other folks, too.

Because my word was voice, I made the decision to audition for Listen to Your Mother. There, I got way out of my comfort zone, where I found wonderful new friends. I shared a piece that others told me helped them with their own struggles. I was not really pleased with my performance, but I’m pleased that I did it. And then later in the year I took a writing class from one of those new friends, and learned a new way to use my voice.

Because my word was voice, I entered into the political fray in ways I never have. It started with this post, but it didn’t end there. I began talking with others in different ways, about different things. As the year’s political events unfolded, I talked more and more. It was hard! I know some people don’t like what I’ve been saying, and for someone with decades of people-pleasing as her go-to strategy for getting along in the world, well…that doesn’t feel very comfortable. However, just as using my voice on stage brought me new relationships, using my voice in social media has done the same. I’ve found I’m connecting to some in different ways, and some in deeper ways. I may have lost some relationships, but I have more of the right ones. Using my voice more truthfully and more often has given me that.

Because I got myself more involved in political conversation and started to feel more comfortable using my voice, I made the decision to enter a program to learn how to be a leader for equity. And that has changed everything for me. My view of the world has changed. It has been hard. Really hard. Uncomfortable. Painful. I got to participate in some difficult conversations. They are on-going. I am finding myself tested to use my voice in ways I never considered using it. This is all very much a work in progress, and I know I’m in the early stages of it. Although it’s challenging and often doesn’t feel good, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. My life–and the world in which I live it–has become richer than I ever knew it could be. Voice has given me that.

Using my voice has also brought gains in my personal life. I haven’t written much about that in a long time because it was a hard, hard year. Using our voices doesn’t mean that we don’t still get to make choices about where we’ll use them or what we’ll talk about. Cane and I have been dealt some pretty crappy cards in the past 3 years, and they are hands we needed to play out mostly privately. I think the only reason we’re still in the game is that I finally learned how to speak more honestly. I learned how to express hard truths that need to be said. That people-pleasing thing is a relationship killer and all kinds of ass-backwards conditioning. You do it thinking it’s making things better, but it really isn’t. It just send problems underground, where they fester and eventually emerge in destructive ways. We’ve still got hard road to travel. We’re still living separately half the time. But it is finally feeling as if we’ve turned a corner toward some light.

But that was all last year!

I will admit that I didn’t go through the same word-choosing process this year. Because:  The end of 2016 was brutal. I got personally gobsmacked by things I didn’t know in late October, and while I was still reeling from that, November 8th ran over me like a bus. I was feeling slammed on all fronts by giant truths I’d been blind to, and I couldn’t get my bearings. For most of November and December, nothing felt solid under my feet.

In the past few weeks, though, I thought about the word thing off and on. I considered “no.” And then I considered “yes.” I considered “resist” and “resistance.” And then one day the word just came to me, and as soon as it did I knew it was the right one:  Amplify.

2016 was about finding and using my own voice, and  2017 is going to be about turning up the volume. It’s not so much about broadcasting my own voice, though, as it is about lifting up the voices of others. If you’re my Facebook friend, you know that mostly what I do there is share things I think are important for people to see. That’s one way of amplifying.

Another way of amplifying is to create a stage and invite others onto it. As I stumbled around on that shifting ground in the last months of 2016, I spent a lot of time wondering what my response to our unfolding events should be. So many things are so pressing. It’s hard to know how to best use limited time and money and energy. I watched others leaping into immediate action, and I wanted to be like that, too. I did some things, but none of them felt like the best things for me.

The day the Electoral College voted, I drove in terrible weather for more than hour, alone, to my state capital for a protest. I knew no one, and the turnout was small. I stood at the edges of the crowd, wondering what to do. People were chanting, but I’ve never been a good chanter. (It always reminds me of the Hitler rallies they showed us when I was in school.) It was really damn cold, and, honestly, it felt a bit pointless to me. My state’s electors weren’t going to be casting votes for Trump, and it occurred to me that there were probably much better ways for me to spend my energy that day. After 15 minutes, I got back in my car and drove home, thinking about what I could do.

During the drive, I felt a calm settle over me. I think I needed that day to finally accept that the unacceptable was going to happen. Our president is going to be a lying, manipulative, impulsive, self-serving, ignorant jackass who threatens things I once believed could never be destroyed, and he is supported by huge numbers of people who don’t believe and/or care about factual truth. His presidency might bring the kinds of things I once thought would exist for us only in dystopian novels. It will definitely hurt people I care about. Somehow, paradoxically, these truths allowed me to stop feeling frantic about doing something rightnowrightnowrightnow and accept that we all need to adjust ourselves for a long, most-likely painful haul. I realized that what we are facing is a marathon, not a sprint.

I started thinking about what I can maintain over the long distance of four or more years. I realized that what we all need to do is find those things that are best suited to the talents and skills and resources we have and trust that others will do the things we’re not able to do. That’s been hard for me, as mine don’t feel like the ones that might be most essential right now. I’ll be honest:  I wish I had some different ones. But we’ve all got to work with what we’ve got.

What I am is an educator, a librarian, a writer, and a reader. I’ve got time in the evenings, but not much during the work day. I thought long and hard about what it is that created change in me over the past year, what pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a place where I can more clearly see how injustice and oppression works in my country. I realized that it was story and information and discussion–things that an educator/librarian/writer/reader is pretty much wonderfully equipped to support.

And so that’s what I’m planning to do in the coming 12 months. With my daughter, I’m starting a new project, The Year of Reading Dangerously, which you can find in a different site, right here. That’s a place where weI hope to amplify the voices of the writers and readers. It won’t be as much about my voice as about the voices of everyone in the community. While it is not the only work I’ll be doing to resist the degradation of our democracy, it’s work that I know I can do. It alone can’t save the world, but it’s a pebble I can drop into the vast pond we all share, with faith that the ripples will touch others in ways I’ll likely never know about.

I really hope you’ll join me there. I’ll still be writing here, toggling back and forth between both places. I can’t not write, and I value the community here more than I can say. At the beginning of 2016, I dared the year to give me whatever it wanted, thinking it couldn’t be much worse than 2015. Honestly, it was nearly as bad. The lifting up I’ve gotten from those of you who join me here made all the difference in the world to me. Thank you for reading, writing, and slogging through the challenge of being human with me.

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer Flickr via Compfight cc

14 thoughts on “Word for the year: Amplify

  1. Kathy says:

    Your dangerous project sounds intriguing. I’m in. I filled out the surgery. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

    And I so hope that 2017 is at least better for you personally, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you–and Kate let me know there was a problem with the survey. You should have been able to check multiple boxes in each group, but some were set to multiple choice. Please let me know if you want to change some choices.

  2. Kate says:

    I just wanted to let you know that some of your book groups would only let you pick one book per group. I was excited to look through them – there are some that I’ve already read and enjoyed, but I’m excited to add others to my list. I guess that means I’m in. 😉

    I love your word for this year and how you’ve used voice in 2016. I’m excited to see how you use amplify to shape your 2017. I hope that it will be better than ’15 and ’16.

    And I agree with you that this is a marathon. I think it’s natural to want to do something big and drastic when something drastic and horrible happens, but I’m hoping that continued small acts will add up too (perhaps because I’m not really equipped to do drastic but I want to be aware and vigilant and an ally). I recently read a blog talking about how all the “liberal special snowflakes” when added together can make an avalanche of social change and I loved that idea.

    Looking forward to following along here and there!
    Kate recently posted…Picking a WordMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you so much! I’ve fixed the survey. If you want to change your choices, I think you can. Let me know if you want to. I’m so excited to have you in. I know what a thoughtful reader you are. I’m excited, also, to see which ones we end up with. I’ve read some, but most I haven’t. We had a really hard time narrowing it down! Had to let go of some that I really would’ve loved to include.

      And yeah on the marathon and yeah on being OK with small actions. And super-yeah on avalanches. Because, what choice do we have? I’m really grateful for those people who have stepped up in a big way. I just know I don’t have the capacity to be one of them right now. Finding my way to OK with that.

      Here’s to a new year!

  3. Deborah says:

    Thank you so much for an as-ever really interesting and inspiring post. Inspiring because unlike me over here in the UK, this is (terrifyingly) your president to be and your country he and his cronies will be laying waste to., but you have somehow summoned up the courage and strength to determine to oppose him in ways that work for you.
    I completely agree with you about the need to take our time to figure out what is right and possible for us as individuals, and taking the longer view.
    I’m still learning and figuring out how to respond and act to resist and counter what is happening with us on the fallout from our disastrous referendum, on top of years of the Tories dismantling our previous strong state provision in all sorts of civic arenas. I don’t discount the importance and effectiveness of small actions, particularly when many of us participate and collectively they become massive acts.
    I hesitate to wish anyone a happy new year right now, as if feels a little hollow, and yet of course I do wish that for you and for us all – even if ‘only’ on a personal level .
    Kindest regards
    Deborah recently posted…Starting as we mean to go onMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for your kind words and regards. I feel such a sense of guilt/shame when I think about how this situation might impact people in other countries. I know that what is happening is not isolated to us (why I really welcome readers/voices from other countries, even though I kept all the stories American ones–had to find some way to narrow it). There are global forces at play here. When Brexit passed, I knew a Trump presidency was definitely possible. Happy new year doesn’t feel quite right to me, either. But I hope we can find happiness in it, all the same.

  4. Marian says:

    “Amplify” — that seems so fitting for you right now, and follows so naturally from last year’s “voice”. I wish you well with this, Rita.

    I love that you and Grace are working together on The Year of Reading Dangerously. (Both because reading to/alongside my kids has been/continues to be such a huge and meaningful part of my life, and because I, too, believe that story is powerful and can be life-changing.) I’ve looked at the books and am mostly in, although I haven’t yet completed the survey. (I say “mostly” because I want to be upfront and honest, and there are some books there that — for the sake of my mental health — I know I will not be able to read. And yes, I know that’s a cop-out and goes directly against what you’re trying to do here, and I would explain, but I feel like my word of the year should be brevity…)

    • Rita says:

      Marian, I don’t think that’s a cop-out at all. I will admit that I did not watch Trump’s press conference this morning (even though we are home on a snow day) because he just triggers me. He communicates in the ways that emotional abusers do, and dealing with the aftermath of that kind of experience is something I’m still working through. One of my challenges is figuring out how to remain engaged/informed and stay healthy. This project is part of my answer to that question. It allows me to do good and support others in doing the kind of good I might not personally be able to do. In terms of keeping up with all the distressing things happening, I mostly do–but sometimes I need to give myself a break. I know that will be necessary to stay in for the long haul. I don’t think any of us should ever apologize for doing what we need to do to be OK, and that’s not counter at all to what we hope to accomplish. We want greater understanding and less judgement. I think we should all work real hard not to judge others for what they don’t do; we can never really know how hard something is for someone else. We’ve all got different histories and different wiring; what is traumatic for me might not be traumatic for you (and vice versa). I would love to have you in this project, to whatever extent you feel willing/able to participate. I want it to be a welcoming and supportive thing for everyone. Might not always be comfortable, but should always be supportive. And FWIW, I hope your word isn’t brevity. I always appreciate all your words. <3

  5. Stephenie says:

    Rita, I love what you are doing here. It is so difficult not to get mired in the negativity, and in a sense of resigned hopelessness and indeed helplessness. We wonder how we can make any impact at all on what is happening in the world, from our own little insular worlds. “Be kind” is something we practice every day but obviously that is not enough to combat the astronomical levels of “unkind” that seem to be rising to the surface these days. I love that you and your daughter have found a way to use what you know to work together to make impacts in your own way. Kudos!!
    Stephenie recently posted…I resolve never to make resolutionsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Stephenie. Trying really hard not to become resigned to hopelessness and helplessness, and I’m with you on believing that kindness alone isn’t enough. I used to, but not now. Also trying to have faith in small actions–that seems pretty essential to the not becoming hopeless.

  6. Lisa C says:

    Amplify is a great word. I’m looking forward to the Year of Reading Dangerously! I think it is a great way of using your skills, and I’m excited to broaden my horizons.

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