As I climbed onto my barstool next to my hubby at B-side on Friday, I could smell the talc of the barber shop from his fresh haircut. I laid my leg across his lap so he could examine my foot and see my blue toes. It was a guilty pleasure to have a warm cream and stone massage with pedi after a really long week.
Beer and burgers are the best way I know finish a hectic schedule, so I joined him to look at the menu for our favorites. We like to sit at the bar so we can engage the bartender and sometimes converse with other patrons. Tonight we had a hipster, minus a beard, with a wrinkled plaid shirt that lifted to show a dingy white undershirt and the edge of his skinny chinos every time he reached for a bottle or glass. We are big craft beer fans and enjoy a sample before committing to a pint. After my third taste and no winners, I told Andrew,
“I’m not feeling it. Tomorrow we are headed to a sour beer fest, and I think I will just have some booze this evening. Can you mix me a drink, please?”
He perked up. “Where are you headed? I”m a big sour fan.”
“Denizens, over in Silver Spring.”
He scratched his chin, looked puzzled, and said, “I don’t know that one.”
Being the huge fans we are, we proceeded to tell him all about our favorite Denizens flagship beers, a Southside Rye IPA and Oud Boy (a Flanders Sour), and how they made special batches for the Make it Funky Festival, plus host lots of guest brewers. Then I paused and it hit me why none of the male brewers or bartenders seem to know Denizen’s beers: They have boobs, they are a woman-owned brewery!
“Do you think they don’t get any traction with the other breweries and craft bars because they are women? I blurted out loud.
“Totally,” Andrew responded. “It’s definitely a male-dominated arena.”
It blew my mind. I sipped on my lemon, black pepper, and basil cocktail while my husband wisely was quiet. After a moment I turned to him.
“You know, everywhere we have traveled, from Richmond to Rochester, Santa Rosa to Philadelphia, all the small breweries tell you about their friends in the business. I mean, they refer you to other breweries who are really their competitors. They even go as far as to share which are the particularly good beers someone should try. I guess they don’t share the beer-bromance with the female owned breweries. Wow, that stinks!”
He said, “You are just realizing this now?”
I glared at him. “I mean, no, but really?! I thought we’d got past this and it was all about the quality of the product.”
He sat up straighter. “You know I’ve been thinking, your next blog needs to be about translating.”
“I don’t get it, what do you mean?”
“What you really need to write about is the huge gulf between different groups of people, like men and women brewers, or in the workplace with technical teams and creative teams. There are huge gaps of communication that need to be bridged by someone…” he trailed off.
I looked at him and waited for him to explain further.
“Folks who can translate what one group is saying into terms the other group can understand are really important. It’s like a foreign language or different cultures are dividing people these days, even when they are from the same country,’” he added.
“The inability to communicate is keeping us from functioning. Everything is broken down, politically, economically, inter-personally…”
It was food for thought.
The morning dawned clear and the sun promised to warm things up to the 70s. We headed to Denizens on Saturday afternoon for the festival. We got in early with VIP tickets, so the beer garden was populated but still quiet. Before the crush, we ran into Emily (one of the co-owners) and chatted her up. She was glad to see us.
“How’re things going? Business been hopping?” I asked.
“Steadily growing things,” Emily responded.
“We loved celebrating our 15th anniversary here for Empowered Women International. It was a great turn out; thanks again for hosting!”
“Our pleasure, we like to support the community,” Emily said.
Then I remembered our conversation with Andrew the night before. I wondered about his comments.
“Emily, do you think it matters that you are a woman-owned brewery in terms of growing and collaborating with other beer makers? Do you find the field dominated by men?”
She laughed. “Big time! Even with my brother-in-law Jeff brewing, we have a hard time networking in the community… he isn’t really good with guy talk.”
My hubby looked at me and raised his eyebrows… “Translator,” he mouthed.
“Geesh, that’s really frustrating to still be facing that divide. We tell everyone we meet to come taste your beer or that they should have a line of your product when they are serving.”
She smiled. “Thanks for the support. Go enjoy the day ‘cause there are lots of good beers to taste!”
He didn’t say, “I told you,” so we started to wander and taste. One of the first tents held the folks from Black Narrows. They make beer on Chincoteague Island, VA. Their approach was very unique—the brewer’s parents described how they fermented oysters in their base to get their unique taste. They also shared that they hadn’t even opened a locale to serve beer, yet their beer was amazing.
There were the always consistent, bigger, more established breweries too, like Allagash and Avery. Then we tripped over Graft Cider from New York who were making a sour cider-like beer, Shared Universe (in conjunction with Charm City Meadworks in Baltimore). It was divine. Sarah, one of the business owners, was there and was really knowledgeable. Other than Emily, she was the only other female we met, other than servers, who seemed involved with the business of making beer. There were at least 50 breweries represented at the festival.
But the fun wasn’t over, and you are probably wondering where I’m going with this. I was equally surprised as the theme of communication and the need for translators was driven home again.
On Sunday I had a non-profit volunteer board meeting that lasted for three good hours, with engaged volunteers who were all mission-driven—easy stuff. Then we headed to my son’s football match and enjoy more of the beautiful fall weather. To top off the entire weekend, we went downtown to a sold-out book talk by Brené Brown, PhD Social Work.
Damn, she’s funny. She’s colorful, loves to cuss, and with her third-generation Texan accent, tells a mean story about her extensive research. Guess what she was talking about?
That we have a global “spiritual crisis of disconnection”. How we have become a nation of the “sorted.” That we have built balkanized communities of people similar to ourselves who are against everyone else. A collection of people who view others as outsiders while they are trying to find belonging, and in the end find themselves lonely behind self-constructed bunkers. That by not talking to people who have differing views, we have disabled communication totally. That there is a difference between hate speech (it’s destructive, hides fear, and is de-humanizing) and freedom of speech (guaranteed by the first amendment and crucial for democracy to flourish).
Brené was talking about the same thing my husband and I had started out with earlier: that unless we have a translator, a connector, or something drastic to bridge the gap between us (all people), we will continue to be disconnected. Human beings as a species are social and crave true connection to thrive. If we could only be vulnerable, look beyond the hatred that often masks pain or fear, and engage those who are different from us, Brené said, and if we do it with genuine, curiosity, and civility, we might survive.
She had started the discussion with a quote from one of her favorite writer/poets, Maya Angelou (Bill Moyers Interview 1973):
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
Brené challenged us to show up and join her in “Braving the Wilderness” (Her latest book that just made the bestseller list) where by being true to our individual selves, we can lower our barriers and reconnect with others—both those who are like us and those who are different from us. We can open communication and find that we are more alike than different. We have to start somewhere to repair the world—both professionally and personally.
Good beer making doesn’t require a specific gender or orientation. Neither does remembering to pull our neighbors (regardless of who they voted for) into the boat when the flood hits, or digging through the rubble for survivors (regardless if they are rich or poor) when the earthquake strikes, or rescuing survivors and mourning the dead (while trying to empathize with the perpetrator) when a gun-toting man fires his semi-automatic into a crowd of country music lovers. Here’s to the translators and connectors in the world. Please help bridge the gap, one human being to another.