Clear The Way! (A Culture-Making Tool.)
Written by Kelly Diels
This is your Sunday Love Letter.
In 2017, after spending nine months in Trinidad & Tobago, I came back to Canada with my two daughters. (The details were urgent and trying and let’s just skip over them for now). I spent a few months in hotels and Air BnBs in Surrey (an hour east of Vancouver) and then, just before Christmas, I rented a house in a city called Chilliwack, which is almost 2 hours east of Vancouver.
And it snows in Chilliwack.
That’s so new to me that it needed a separate line.
Although it’s only an hour or two further east of where I’ve usually lived, the climate is different enough that I’m surprised by everything. Over Christmas, it snowed for five days and my street didn’t get plowed until 4 days after that. I was legit snowed in.
I have a fifty foot driveway at my new house that I had to shovel.
I have never shovelled a driveway in my life. I broke two shovels. I do not entirely believe it was entirely operator error. It turns out that plastic snow shovels are pure stupid encoded into a product.
With my two broken plastic shovels, across two days, I managed to clear two trenches in the driveway, for part of the driveway. I looked at that and thought, well, I can get the car running in those trenches, hit the gas hard, and power through the rest of the snow to the end of the driveway. That would clear the way.
Oh, the naiveté. Forgive me. I didn’t understand snow.
Naturally, I got the car good and stuck half-way down the driveway. Overnight, it snowed some more and then rain-snowed and the car froze in place.
So now in addition to shovelling the rest of the driveway, I had to unthaw the car and dig it out, too.
That took another half day. I finally had to swallow my pride (and my embarrassment at my own lack of common sense) and call my cousin who lives in Chilliwack to help me. He has a short driveway and a big truck. And metal snow shovels.
He came over and together with non-stupid, unbreakable metal shovels. We dug out the car and the rest of the driveway and he even used his truck on the street to clear the way past my driveway and the end result was that after 40 minutes of team work with good tools I GOT FREE.
By that I mean I was no longer locked in place in my own damned driveway.
It’s a mundane thing that felt pretty spectacular. The driveway was clear and I could finally leave the house.
Oh, milk and bread. Oh, happy day.
Right after that — like still sweating from it — I had a call with Kat Kim. She’s a spiritual teacher and coach. She teaches the spiritual and personal skills we need to create a new world. She’s NOT one of those spiritual bypassers who tell us transformation is strictly an inside job and don’t worry about the news or other people — she actually attends to our internal landscape AND systemic injustice and social conditions. Her perspective is that in order to personally self-actualize, we need to be spiritually employed in creating cultural change.
She talks a lot about clearing the way.
And still sweaty from clearing the snowy driveway, listening to her talk about clearing the way, I had an epiphany.
What I did with the car and the driveway is what I do in my life.
I am like that car. I am built to go. When I’m fueled up, I have the power to go and all I need is for the way to be clear.
But I rarely (ok, never) pause to clear the way. I’ve got all this ability and capacity and fuel and I try to power through.
And I get stuck. Frozen in place, spinning my wheels. Frustrated and questioning my own design, power, strength.
But there was nothing wrong with my car. It has 4 tires, a good engine, and a full tank. It was built to move, to carry passengers, to go.
Me, too. I have everything I need to get where I want to go.
I just don’t pause to clear the way.
I’m so glad I had to shovel that driveway for days and finally got it cleared right before that call with Kat. I might not have physically, viscerally understood what she was trying to share with me until I had that tangible experience.
And without her insight and her holding the bigger picture, I wouldn’t have turned that experience into wisdom and applied it.
I have more resolve and faith in myself now. The reason I get stuck is not because I’m lacking in ability or power. It’s because I haven’t cleared the way or collaborated with right people or got ahold of the right tools to clear the way.
Clearing the way is WAY EASIER to do than getting a new brain or turning myself into a whole new person.
So now, because of this experience, I’m on the lookout in my life and my business for opportunities to clear the way for myself and others.
Not to change myself.
Grow my skills, yes. Unlearn my social conditioning, yes.
But that’s part of clearing the way. Those internalized limits and biases are exactlythe stuff that blocks collective justice and personal power.
Clearing the way means I’m looking for the daily road-blocks and friction in my personal life and clearing those — rather than trying to clear my personality and basic human make-up.
The two things blocking me on a daily basis, currently, are meal-prep and my email inbox.
Every day I felt like a failure because at 5pm I don’t know what to cook, I’m exhausted, we’re vegetarian(ish) and I’ve got to get this protein thing together, but I’m tired…
There was a lot of noise in my head. And friction every day about the most basic thing: food. Nourishment.
But when I held these two things in a clear-the-way frame, they were way more neutral. My empty cupboards and overflowing inbox aren’t character defects. They are driveways that need to be cleared.
That’s way more do-able than reinventing myself.
I’ve cleared the way on the food front by creating a food ecosystem in my house (totally different than meal-planning, which I’ve NEVER succeeded at.)
This was totally because of Marcie Goldman. She’s a feminist nutritionist and Her Wise Woman food lineage and influence on me has been life-altering. If she had showed me how to meal-plan specific dinners and recipes for the week, I would never have followed through. Instead, what she taught me was how to develop a food ecosystem where I spend 90 minutes once a week making basics like grains, vegetables, beans plus one sauce. As a result, I always have those basics in the fridge so I can assemble creative, impromptu meals on the fly every day. That’s been huge. Now I don’t have that 5pm spin-out every day and all the internal friction that goes with it. There’s more to her process and thinking and I’m not totally doing her justice, but again: this has been life-altering for me. Marcie made me see that in patriarchy (and capitalism), women eat last. If I want to personally interrupt that in my own life — and obviously I do — then I need to skill-build and create a personal food ecosystem so that I’m nourished and resourced. My nourishment and my family’s nourishment has to be a baseline and a starting point, not an after-thought.
Women do not eat last in my house.
Women do not eat last in the future I’m strategically imagining and trying to embody into reality.
I haven’t cleared the way on the inbox front — but it’s my next creative opportunity to shovel a driveway and clear the way.
One of the biggest results I’ve experienced in the last month, from that call with Kat Kim and building food skills and a food ecosystem with Marcie Goldman, is that the you’re-a terrible-human/you’re-not-effective voices in my head are getting a lot quieter.
It seems so wild and counterintuitive that figuring out snow and shovelling a driveway and developing food skills and a food ecosystem in my home would make me feel more powerful and capable and better resourced to do my culture-making work, but it has.
That’s because just like I needed my cousin to help me clear the driveway, I needed the Wise Women in my life — Marcie, Kat — to help me make sense of it all so that together we can clear the way for all of us.
We are born to be ourselves. We decide to answer the call and do the work we’re here to do. (Kat calls this our “spiritual birthright”.)
Just like my car, we are designed to go and we will…as long as the way is clear.
We do not have to redesign or rebuild ourselves. We just have to clear the way.Personally, professionally, collectively.
Where in your life can you clear a path? Where do you get blocked?
The answer in your own life, the places you have the most friction, might not be the usual productivity or how-to-be-successful topics.
I’ve not seen Steven Covey, for example, address meal planning– probably because someone was doing that for him. (In the book Self Help, Inc, Micki McGee has a chapter in her book called “Covey’s Daughter’s Dilemma” that talks about the patriarchal bias built into most productivity/success/self help narratives.)
My answers about where the blocks and friction are in my own life have been food, my relationship with my partner, my inbox. That’s where the friction is. So those are the places where I’m going to get the right tools (not plastic ones!) and the right collaborators and clear the way.
I’m not going to try to become a new person. I’m just going to make sure I’m making paths or helping others build paths so that we can be more of who we are and do more of what we’re here to do.
Because together we rise.
So let’s clear the way — in our lives, and in our culture.
love + justice,
I write, work and live on land that is the unceded territory of the Stó:lō Nations.
Important to note: just ‘cuz I mention someone’s work does not mean we know each other. It doesn’t mean they even know I exist nor does it mean that they like me or approve of my work. Nor does it mean I endorse them unequivocally or that they endorse me. It means that there’s a particular cultural thing that I’m trying to talk about and an idea or project of their’s is relevant and I want to give credit where credit is due.