Thursday, May 04, 2017

So many questions

So, here's the thing. The AHCA bill that was passed today is not actually going to become law; it has to go through the Senate and will, at worst, be tempered. Probably.

But, this whole fiasco has opened up some really ugly questions that I feel we as a nation need to, at a minimum, recognize. Ideally, talk about and solve.

First, the House voted on a bill before it could be analyzed and scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO, the non-partisan organization that provides analysis to Congress). Basically, they voted on and passed this without any idea about the effect of the bill, without doing any sort of cost-benefit analysis.

Now, "cost-benefit analysis" sounds a lot like intellectual-elite business-school jargon, but it's really not. Funny story: when my son was about 10 years old, he asked me when he could curse in front of me. My answer was, "When you're ready for my reaction." What I meant, of course, was that the older he got the less I would react, and the less he would care; when those two slopes crossed, he could curse! But what I was actually teaching him was how to do a cost-benefit analysis: when does the benefit (the release of cursing) outweigh the cost (Mom's reaction). And we all do these every single day, when we decide to have the Snickers bar, or to keep our mouths shut about our spouses hair, or whatever. It's not only a fairly simple concept, it's also an important one, particularly if we want to stay happily married. But the House didn't feel it was necessary.

So, first question: have we really elected a body of Representatives who are so insistent on doing, or in this case undoing, something that they simply don't care what the cost is? And if so, what does that say about us as a country? Will we hold them accountable? Or do we not care about the cost either?

Next, the House created and passed a bill that allows for the dismantling of the 10 essential health benefits guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare); protections for women, for those with disabilities, for those with pre-existing conditions, wellness visits, chronic condition management, and so on.Poll after poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans actually like these benefits. So, why on earth would the House pass this bill? My own cynical view is that they did because they knew the Senate would not, and this allows them the best of both worlds; they can claim to have dismantled Obamacare, without having to actually deal with their constituents' resulting loss of coverage. But, if they, and by extension America, are not actually opposed to the provisions in Obamacare, then what is it they are opposed to? Well, again, there are a number of polls, both before and after the 2016 election, that indicate that when called the Affordable Care Act, people reacted positively towards the provisions. When called Obamacare, they reacted negatively.

It seems that what those who opposed it don't like is the fact that Obama created it.

Now, we can argue and discuss all day about whether this was because he's a Democrat, or because he's black. I certainly have my opinion, I'm sure you have yours. Honestly, they're probably both true, to an extent and in certain circumstances. But is either any better than the other?

So, second group of questions: have we become a country that is so partisan that if the other side has a good idea, we'll attack it simply because someone else came up with it? Are we still so racist, consciously or unconsciously, that we can't allow a black man to be successful, even if sabotaging him hurts us? Or are we so determined to pretend that racism is only in the past that we won't call out those who are racist?

Finally, the actual effect that this bill, were it to be passed by the Senate as is, would have. There are a couple of ways to look at this. Some people would simply die. Not because they have incurable diseases, not because they live somewhere without adequate health care. They would die because they couldn't afford to pay for treatment. Others would struggle with conditions that could be easily managed...if they had the insurance to cover it. But they don't, so they wind up going to Emergency Rooms when they're in acute distress. In the latter situation, we all wind up bearing the cost, because of increased overall healthcare costs; in the former...well, someone dies who doesn't need to.

So, my final set of questions. Are we really that crass? Are we really that uncaring? Are we really willing to see costs rise overall because we won't ensure that all can be insured? Are we really OK with people dying? Could you really look a parent in the eye and tell them that their child can't be treated? Could you tell a child that their parent has to die?

These are not easy questions. They'll make us squirm. They'll make us confront and think about some very ugly possibilities. This is not storming the beaches at Normandy, or racing to the moon. This is petty, and crass, and ugly. This is every mean-spirited thought we've ever had, taken to the Nth degree.

But, just to go all Dumbledore on you, while it may take courage to stand up to our enemies, it takes even more to stand up to our friends. And, I would hold, it takes the most courage to stand up and admit our own failings.

I believe are better than this. I believe than many of us in this country do have the courage to think about these questions, and to wrestle with them. Even when it's hard. Even when it makes us guilty, or uncomfortable. Even when it's scary.

I hope I'm right. Because if I'm wrong, I fear that this country will not survive.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wait, it's not October?

Every year, since 1988, October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It's also my niece's birthday, so a shoutout to her (and, I suppose, my sister), to being progressive and prescient enough to be born on that day in 1982.

Of course, coming out, whether to one's family, employer, friends, or self, does not have to be done on a particular day. But, having a National Coming Out Day does draw attention to the LGBTQ+ community, their allies, and the notion that visibility does, indeed, matter. To quote the Human Rights Commision website:
"Coming out - whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied - STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ+, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other."
Coming out, though, is still, for too many people, fraught with danger. Danger of being fired. Danger of being rejected by family or friends. Danger of being kicked out of your home.

It occurs to me that awhile back, I came out as an ally, and as a family member of someone in the LGBTQ+ community. It was in this blog post that I came out, not just as an ally, but as the mom of a lesbian child. 

Now, for anyone who follows my Facebook feed with any sort of regularity, this cannot come as a surprise. Certainly not the ally part, and probably not the family member part. A confirmation, perhaps, but not a surprise. But, I know that there are people who can't, or won't, see what's in front of them, so sometimes one needs to be blunt.

My daughter is a cis-gendered, homosexual, homo-romantic young woman. 

For those of you who may not be up on the various terms, that means she both has two X chromosomes and identifies as female, is sexually attracted to females, and is romantically attracted to females.

She is also a junior in high school, loves theatre, is a little scared about college, is sometimes unsure of herself, at other times thinks she is invincible, and frequently thinks her mother is a goober. Typical 16 year old stuff.

I am incredibly proud of my girl. And I am also incredibly protective of her. And the inherent conflict between those two, of course, leads me to the bulk of this post.

Visibility matters. Knowledge matters. Understanding matters. 

I grew up in a very rural, small town. I had a friend who used the N-word repeatedly, and claimed to hate "N-words". Except....she was good friends with an African-American who was in the class behind us. When I asked (OK, confronted) her about this once, her response was, "Oh, but he's different, I know him!"

What she was actually scared of was the unknown. So, yes, I get it. By being open, by being herself, my daughter may make any number of people rethink their biases. They may have that, "Oh, but I know her!" moment that makes them think long enough to realize that, if she's not so scary, then maybe other members of the LGBTQ+ community aren't, either.

But then I think of Orlando. Or of Matthew Shepard. Or of the day, towards the end of last December, when my brave, strong, daughter came home in tears because someone told her she didn't matter, and was going to burn in hell anyway, and while she had heard that before from strangers at Pride marches, this was in class, from someone she's known since elementary school.

So, yes, if you pay attention to my words, and my posts, and my girl, and you wind up opening your mind and your heart a little, yay. As the Mirandized George III would say, "Awesome! Wow!!" I'm happy, really.

But, damn, folks, you are asking one hell of a price for me and my family to pay for your enlightenment. You are asking me to let my daughter go out into the world and declare herself among the nations of the hated. The reviled. To put herself at risk of emotional and physical harm.

And here's the thing: you don't need to. You're using my kid as the easy out, so that you don't have to recognize the LGBTQ+ person in your office. Or on the Board of Directors with you. Or in your Sunday School class. Or on your kid's soccer team, or in their band, or choir, or Scout Troop, or study group, or youth group.

Or sitting across the dinner table from you, telling you about their day, and the math test they took.

You don't need my daughter. Trust me on this one, she is NOT the only LGBTQ+ person you've encountered in your world. And this matters, a lot.

According to a chart on the CDC website, in 2014 suicide was the second leading cause of death for the age ranges 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34. According to the Trevor Project, the rate of suicide attempts for LGB and questioning youths are between 2 and 4 times the attempts of straight youth. These attempts are also more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment by a clinician than the attempts by straight kids.

So, yeah, in short, simple, words, our kids are killing themselves, and most of the ones who do, or who try to, are LGBTQ+ or questioning. One of the things that is most likely to keep an LGBTQ+ teen from attempting suicide? Knowing that they have an accepting support system. Hopefully family, but teachers, coaches, mentors, and so on will do in a pinch.

Here's one of the other things you need to know about my girl. At the end of her 8th grade year, she was hospitalized for about 3 weeks for depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. Thankfully, this was not related to her sexuality; I say thankfully because sexuality can't be changed, so at least we weren't working against that. But still. My not-yet-14 year old was so depressed that she thought of taking her own life.

Here's what happens when your child is suicidal. First, you go spend a lot of time (like, 36+ hours, if you're lucky) in the behavioral section of the local emergency room, because there are never enough beds. While your child is there, you can stay with them. Eventually, though, a bed opens up in the psych ward, and your child is admitted, and at that point, you're limited to a maximum of three visits a day, for no more than an hour. Only family. Can't go out of the ward.

Eventually, hopefully, your child improves, and you start talking about going home, and then the real fun starts. You see, before your child can come home, you need to be able to convince the hospital that they'll be safe once they do. Which means getting rid of anything they might use to harm themselves. Anything.

What that means, if you're me, anyway, is you go buy a cabinet that locks, and into it you put:
  • Knives/razors/X-actoes
  • Any medication anyone in your family takes, whether OTC or prescription.
  • Matches
  • Scissors
  • Needles
  • Anything else you can possibly think of that might be used to hurt oneself.
And then you clean your kid's room. You go under the bed, in the drawers, between mattress and box-springs, through the closets. You take down the posters and pictures to look behind them.  If you're like me, and don't let your kids use poster putty because it puts grease spots on the walls, you don't put the posters back up, because the only other way to hang them are push pins, which are sharp, and could be used to cut. You wonder how worried you should be about bed sheets. You wonder if you should put something on the windows. And, at the end, you make the room as safe as it can possibly be. But in doing so, you've erased your child's personality from it.

And then, for the next few months, this is how you live. You unlock the cabinet every night when you need a knife to cook. Or before bed when your kid needs her meds. Or when you need to take your allergy medicine. Or when someone has a headache. You monitor your child's psych meds, because she has to take them, but you've got to make sure she doesn't take too many. You unlock the cabinet if someone has a birthday so you can light the candles.

At some point, you have to go back to work. And you spend an inordinate time worrying about what your child is up to when you're not there. But you text them. And if they don't reply in what you think is a reasonable time (for me, about 3 minutes), you panic. Because, you see, you've heard you child say that they just didn't care if they lived or died. So you text her brothers. And you freak out until one of them answers you and says, "yeah, she's in her room, she's just napping".  And sometimes, God help you, when they do answer, you scream at them because they took all of 90 seconds to get back to you, and don't they realize that you're picturing your baby lying dead and cold in her room because you didn't check on her?

Yeah. Fun times.

But you know what? I'm lucky. In a godawful, twisted, horrible way, I'm lucky. Because I got to buy that cabinet, and lock everything up, and make those texts, and yell at those boys (God, boys, I'm so sorry, but bless y'all for sticking with me). 

I didn't have to bury my child.

So, yes, if reading my Facebook posts, and my blog, makes any of you out there realize that you DO know someone in the LGBTQ+ community, great.

But what about those kids you already know? What about the ones in the Scout troop, or the choir, or the band, or the team, or the class? What about the ones who are too damn scared to tell their parents who they really are? What about the ones who are looking for someone, anyone, who they can depend on to love them, and support them, and accept them, no matter what? 

What about those kids? They need you. They need you right now. They need you before they wind up in the hospital. They need you so that their parents get one last chance to make it right and accept their child.

My kid is OK. Way before she came out, she knew it would be a non-issue for me, her Dad, her step-dad, her siblings, and her extended family. She lives in a town that is accepting and caring. She has teachers who support her, and who watch out for homophobic slurs.

Can you say the same for the LGBTQ+ kids in your life? And if not, what the hell are you waiting for? They're out there. They need you. Are you going to hide behind my daughter as your token LGBTQ+? Or are you going to step out of your comfort zone to make sure you help the other ones in your life?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The imaginary conversation

“Pardon me, are you Richard Burr, sir?”

“That depends, who’s asking?”

“Oh, sure, sir. I’m a constituent, a voter.
I need your service, sir, I have been waiting for it.”

“I’m getting nervous...”

“Sir, I’ve seen your name in roll calls,
I’ve been seeking out your record, how you voted, bsir.
But  I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours,
I don’t support her. She’s a scourge, sir.
She’s in charge of Education?”

“Betsy DeVos? Her?”

“Yes. I cannot believe what she says,
Decimate the schools, then bring the privat’zation?
She thinks that we need guns 'cause bears, what? We’re not stupid.
So why’d you do it? Why’d you confirm her cray ass?”

“It was my donors’ latest wish, they gave me cash!”

“She’s got money! Of course! 
I’m a voter. God, I wish there was a way
That we could show that votes are worth more

Than anyone’s piece of gold.”

You are the worst, Burr. Also, lie less, care more.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Bumpity-bump-bump-bump

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my Dad's death. It's a tough day for me. I loved my Dad dearly and I miss him desperately, but by the same token, I am, in a twisted sort of way, eternally glad that my siblings and I were there at the end of his life (ish, anyway). I will, however, drink my symbolically dirty martini tomorrow, and remember my Dad, and the sweet will outweigh the bitter.

I hope, anyway.

My Dad was a fantastic father and grandfather. He raised his three kids at a time when it was assumed that a single dad just....wasn't. His patience and time with his grandchildren was astounding, whether it was telling my niece stories about "The good Adrianne and the bad Adrianne," watching Dora brave the "foooooooky [spooky] forest" with Grace, or letting Peter kick his... well, you know, in putt-putt.

He taught us to cook eggs over medium, make eggnog, drink gin, and that love was forever. He loved to tell stories, to his kids and his grandkids, and about his kids and grandkids. One of the best things about having him close by is that, whenever he kept one of his grandbabies, the parents got a day's (or weekend's) worth of stories when they got the kids back.

Hence, bumpity-bump-bump-bump.

When Peter was a little boy, he was riding in the car with my Dad and my sister. They were either in a neighborhood or a parking lot; regardless, there was a speed bump, and as my sister drove over it, my Dad, in his Dad-way, said, "Bumpity-bump-bump-bump!" To which Peter (who was a very somber and serious little boy, and also had trouble with hard G sounds, so Granddaddy became Dranddaddy) said, "Bumpity-bump-bump-bump? Drandaddy, I don't know THAT word!"

Needless to say, my Dad LOVED this. I think Peter was probably about 3 or 4 at this point; my Dad told this story every chance he got (going over speed bumps, someone saying "bump", someone talking about Peter as a young boy, etc.) for YEARS. And, yes, I say "bumpity-bump-bump-bump" to this day going over speed bumps, and I think about my little boy and my dad.

Until today.

Today, sadly, when I think of my Dad and the sound of bumpity-bump-bump-bump, it's the sound of him turning in his....well, box, since we've not dealt with his ashes yet (which is utterly my fault, don't blame my sibs!).

I can't stand to think of what my Dad would think of Betsy DeVos.

Now, he was not a fan of over-testing (ironic, since I spent a lot of my childhood letting Ed. majors learn to test on me). But I will guarantee you that he could spend a solid half-hour, at a minimum, talking about the difference between growth and proficiency, and when either might be important. And I am certain that he never, even the semester that he taught in Wyoming (when he had to deal with skunks and rattlesnakes and any number of critters), felt that he needed to be armed in case of grizzly bear attack. And while he was, at times, both spiritual and religious, he would never, ever, have consented to have state-supported religion as part of a public school.

He would be appalled.

He would be horrified.

He would, in fact, be going bumpity-bump-bump-bump.

I don't know what's going to happen in the next four years. I was terrified on November 9th, and then I convinced myself it wouldn't be that bad.

I was wrong. It's worse.

We are attacking the only things that can keep this country strong - our brains, our schools, and our children.

May God have mercy on our souls.


Monday, February 06, 2017

Compassionate Leave, or Leave your Compassion

I got into a Facebook discussion the other day with a friend, and a friend of a friend. I think, and hope, it was civil on all sides; I know that they raised points that have made me think a lot the past couple of days.

The basic premise of the discussion is that the Democratic Party needs to get off its collective ass and fight to get back the vote of blue-collar, rural, (possibly) lower SES voters. The two sides were: a. that the Dems have taken too much for granted, and have given the impression of an elitist power-cell that doesn't care about the little guy; and b. that the Dems are the only party that speaks the "truth", and how are they to fight against the liars who say that coal/mining/steel/ jobs are going to come back, or that gays are evil, or that women need to subvert their will.

It's a tough call.

I will admit, I was on the, "OMG, are you kidding me? Trump doesn't actually give a DAMN about the little guy" side of the argument. But, I also know that Clinton, and the Democratic party, took an awful lot for granted this election. They assumed that they would carry certain states and demographics, didn't campaign the way they should've, and then lost those states and demographics. And I don't know what to do, because I do, truly, feel that much of what cost Clinton the election was a smear campaign in those areas...But she didn't fight against it.

Regardless, at some point in the discussion, the word "compassion" came up.

To me, as a woman, that word is fraught with double meanings. Hidden meanings. It is, in fact, one of those nasty back-handed, code word "compliments".

I hope that I am compassionate. I was raised in an area where many of my friends' parents worked whatever jobs they could to make ends meet. Where high schoolers occasionally suffered debilitating, and sometimes fatal, accidents because they were working to help their families. I've known high schoolers who logged to make ends meet, and who were injured while they were working. I've known young men who worked construction to pay for college, and were killed on the job. I've known people whose parents had to start thinking of Christmas in June or July or August, so they could put the presents on layaway. I hope that knowing these folks, who are good and kind and honest and who struggle in a way that I have never had to, has, in fact, increased my compassion.

But compassion can be an epithet, as well. Or a weapon.

On more than one occasion in my career I've been treated as if "compassion" is a negative. A downside. A trait that one has to work against. And, honestly, Clinton, and many other female politicians, have worked against this as well. When she was Secretary of State, there were those that wondered if she would be "tough" enough, or if she would be too "soft". Too "compassionate". If she would be strong enough. If she would, in fact, have the "cajones" to do what needed to be done. As if the only prerequisite to being strong, or tough, is a Y chromosome, and as if compassion is inherently soft or weak.

And she's not alone. I don't think it's just me who has felt at times that we have to fight against the notion of females as the "weaker" gender, or against some archaic notion of what actually constitutes weakness.

"Oh, you want to lead this project? It'll take late nights, are you sure your kids will be OK?" Yeah, I've been asked that, sometimes in so many words, sometimes a little more subtly. And, yes, thankyouverymuch, I know it's illegal, at least in the spirit of the law. Would you run to HR if it happened to you? Or would you just assure your boss that, yes, you know it'll take late nights, and it's OK, you'll deal with it.

I've seen bosses not give me assignments or projects out of a misguided sense of "compassion". Because they know that "I want to be there for my kids". Or whatever. So, yeah, I learned to not talk about the times I had to leave work to go to the doctor's appointments. Or made sure that the times I volunteered in the Science Lab coincided with my lunch hour (even though I'm an exempt employee, and don't, technically, have a lunch hour). Or made sure to mention how many times my spouse might've stayed home recently, making THIS time "my" turn.

And I did all of this regardless of the fact that, when I had a doctor's appointment I needed to take a kid to, or had signed up for Science Day, I either took time off, or worked early and late to make up the time.

And then the flip side is when I hear a boss praise a male colleague because he "does such a great job with his kids". Or because he's "helping his wife out."

Now, I was raised by my Dad. I have no illusions that women have the monopoly on nurturing, compassion, parenting, or anything else. From the age of 8, my Dad was the one who comforted me, raised me, taught me. He saw me through sickness, he saw me through puberty, he saw me through high school and off to college, and after I was a parent myself, he was there to keep my kids when daycare wasn't open, or when they were sick. He could make soup, and tea, and milk-toast, and cuddle, and sing, and watch Barney and Dora (God help him), and, honestly, love, with the best of them.

I have no illusions that compassion is a "female" trait.

But I do know that there are times when compassion is a double-edged sword for women. If we're compassionate, we're soft. If we're tough, we're not womanly. And either way, males are (frequently) praised for doing things that we are dinged for doing.

So, yes, I'm all for compassion. I frequently wish I had more of it. I know that there are times when I fall back on logic, or analysis, and rely too much on facts. And facts are, frequently, unkind and implacable things.

But, dammit, you can't turn compassion against me. You can't tell me to be tough, and then ding me because I'm tough. You can't tell me that soft is bad, and then ding me because I'm not womanly. You can't ding Clinton, saying she wasn't compassionate enough, without acknowledging all the times that she had to fight against that same adjective.

Sure, the Democratic Party misjudged a lot. They were possibly arrogant, certainly unaware.

But I don't think that a lack of compassion was the complete story.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

My little island

Nah, I haven't won the lottery, allowing me to start looking for my own private island. Or even Idaho.

But I do live in Chapel Hill, an area that could be described as an island, or a bubble. Actually, I'm pretty much in bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. I actually live in Carrboro, which is kind of a bubble of liberalism even within the Chapel Hill area. Then there's Chapel Hill, which Jesse Helms famously wanted to build a wall around (though, he didn't threaten to make us pay for it!). And, the greater Triangle are is pretty bubble like itself, with its museums, arts, universities, jobs, and so on.

But today my little bubble is more like an island. A desert island, actually. Surrounded by water, with not a drop to drink.

Thursday evening, our city water system had an accidental overdose of fluoride. Not a huge deal, they discovered it quickly, arranged to borrow water from Durham, and asked people to conserve water. Okeydoke.

But then Friday, a water main broke. It, too, was fixed quickly, but it dropped the water levels to the point that they're afraid of contamination in the system. So, since about noon yesterday we've been on a do not use order. No water use, for any purpose (yes, that includes flushing).

It's just the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, which is why I feel a little island like. Everybody around us is getting up, showering, flushing, etc. and we're looking at the various sources of water we were able to scrounge yesterday and prioritizing. Eating breakfast foods that aren't going to require a plate to be rinsed, using the "if it's yellow let it mellow" rule for flushing, etc. Hopefully we'll be able to use city water again before Monday, and this weekend will wind up making the list of funny family stories.

But that brings up the other island-like quality about my life. We have all, at times, said we want to just go live on our own little island where we are insulated from the world (or maybe that's just me!).

Well, I am insulated from the worlds that many have to deal with.

When UNC's dining halls closed, my son called me and I picked him (and his girlfriend) up and fed her lunch. Once my husband got home, we went on Open Table, made reservations at a restaurant in Durham, and had some lovely tapas, rather than trying to cook at home. This morning, when our coffee and breakfasts have settled, my husband and I are going to go to the Cary branch of the gym we belong to, where we'll work out and then shower. Between the two of us, we brought home about $100 worth of water in various forms (fun fact, ice is water, so when they're out of gallon jugs....), without having to worry about what using that money for water does to our monthly budget.

That, my friends, is privilege. I know some people don't like the word privilege; for many people, myself included, growing up the word "privilege" was associated with "wealth". So, I understand the semantic discussion around the current use of that word.

But I don't care what you call it. Call it fortune, privilege, whatever. What I described above is what it IS, regardless of what word you use.

We're not going to miss a utility payment because of this. We're not going to miss a rent payment. We can crack jokes about it. We're annoyed because we, OMG, will have to balance doing laundry with our work schedules next week! We're worried about how we're going to cook our wings and nachos for the super bowl!

A friend posted on Facebook this morning a list of places where we can get free water (incidentally, free water is nice and all, but in a town where the median income is over $64,000, also an example of privilege) and showers, and also reminded us that this is not suffering at the level of Syria, or Iraq, or many of the other places that our banned refugees are trying to get out of.

And it's not. But it's also not suffering at the level of Flint, Michigan, or any of the many communities in this country that have water issues. There are communities where sewage from houses still is dumped in the creek, because when the water treatment plant was built, those houses were grandfathered. There are communities where a spill upstream keeps them from using their water for weeks.

"Oh," some will say, "But this isn't privilege! You've worked hard to get to the place where you can live in this kind of city! " Well, yes, I have and do work hard. And my parents worked hard before me, and you only have to go back to my grandparents to get to a blue-collar, paycheck to paycheck existence. But I've also had, literally, thousands of dollars in my savings accounts since my parents opened the first one for me. My entire life I have had a safety net.

Yeah, I've had to make choices. And there have been times when I was significantly less well-off than I am today. And, yes, I've worked hard. But I have not had to decide whether to pay rent or buy water. I have not had to walk home carrying that water (and therefore buying less) because I can't afford a car. Or can't afford to fix the car I have. I haven't had to look at my sick kid, wondering if they look well enough to go to school so I can get at least a few hours of work in, because I'm hourly, and if I don't work, I don't get paid.

So, yes, this little water crisis is a pain. But the fact that it's going to become a family story is privilege. The fact that I can afford to buy the water, and have a car to carry the water, and can go eat out, and have a gym membership... all of that is privilege.

And, just maybe, we should keep that in mind as we're incessantly checking to see when we can turn the taps on again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

You break it, you buy it

With Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill Antonin Scalia's Garland Merrick's Supreme Court seat, lots of questions are coming out.

Yes, some of them are on his academic credentials (quite good, imo), and his political views (not as good, imo). 

But there are also the questions about how Democrats should react to this nomination. Should they filibuster the way Republicans did Obama's nominees? Should they take the high road and move forward? Should they use the same logic Republicans did? Trump has already taken the first step to file as a candidate for the 2020 election, so, technically, we are in the midst of an election cycle....

I will admit to being conflicted. I hated what the Republicans did, not just with the nomination of Garland Merrick, but with other Obama nominees, with the Affordable Care Act, with the shutdown(s), threatened or real, of our government. These were not the sort of actions that I think are viable in a democracy. I don't want to see my party stoop to that level. 

However, I am human, and there are times when I feel vindictive. My president was not allowed to fill a seat that he should have been able to. Why should "their" president get to? Whether you think of it as "do unto others as they've done unto you," "turn about is fair play," or "an eye for an eye," these notions and emotions are, in fact, human.

Further, I worry about the political slant the court will take. I've gone over these before, but to sum up, I am pro-choice, and support LGBTQ rights, am opposed to Citizens United, I support funding for the arts and a single payer health system. I am, in short, a liberal and a progressive. Gorsuch will set many of the rulings I care most about back decades.

But, as a good friend said, social issues will ebb and flow, and humanity does move forward. Most Americans support gay marriage. By a very small margin, to be sure, but they do. Most Americans support keeping abortion legal. Even if a more conservative court rolls back some of these rulings, I don't believe that they will stay rolled back.

But there is, to me, a larger issue.

The main "rational" I've heard out of the Republicans for why Democrats should not try to block Gorsuch's nomination is, essentially, "you said it was wrong when we did it to you, so you can't do it to us!"

Really? Are we six? 

Just imagine this scenario. You've got two kids. Suddenly you hear a shriek from the playroom, and you run in. One child is crying - you ask what's wrong, and he says that his sister punched him. You look at Child 2 and say "Is that true? Child 2 admits that she punched her brother, but says he punched HER first. You look back at Child 1 and say, "Is that true?" Child 1 says, "Well, yes, I did punch her first, but she didn't like it, so she shouldn't have punched me." At this point, after screaming, you'd probably tell both kids to quit punching each other, but (if you're like me), you'd also tell Child 1 to stop being a little brat. Possibly with nicer words, but still.

Here's the problem with the Republican notion. They know that what they did was wrong. They do not, in fact, want the Democrats to do it to them.

But they're damned if they're going to admit it.

They would have gone a long way towards reconciliation if they had confirmed Merrick. They have another chance, now.  Here's how it could go: 

Senator McConnell: "You know, guys, we screwed up the past year. We let our fears of Hillary Clinton get in the way of our democracy. We should've at least held hearings on Garland Merrick. We were wrong, Democrats; we were unfair and undemocratic. We sincerely hope that you will take the high road, and not continue this downward spiral."
Senator Schumer: "Mitch, thank you for that apology. You're right, this has been a difficult year. I can't promise that we can be best buddies immediately, but I appreciate your honesty, and hopefully we can move forward together."
Rep. Ryan: "Wow, Mitch, that didn't sound that hard. Maybe I'll try it!"
Rep. Pelosi: "Hey, Paul, let's go for drinks after work, and we can work on it together! I'll buy the first round of jello shots!"

Yeah, OK, so I got a little crazy there.

But my point is, if Republicans now want to say that filibustering, blocking, stalling, etc are wrong, and evidence of a broken system...well, they're going to have to take ownership of breaking it. Doesn't meant that I expect them to fix it over night, but if they want to have the luxury of being the bull in the china shop without the responsibility of helping to pay for the ensuing destruction, sorry, I'm not going to work with, get behind, come together, or reconcile with that.

Because unifying and reconciling requires work on both party's part. In a marriage, if there's a breach of trust, whether through gambling, adultery, or whatever, you don't just get to ask for forgiveness without making changes. Admitting the behavior, acknowledging the damage it caused, and pledging to move forward. And, yes, the aggrieved partner also has to work - they need to do the work of forgiveness, of relinquishing some control, etc. But if one party says, simply, "OK, my behavior is in the past, just forgive me and we'll move on," likely the relationship won't survive.

And this is not a marriage. This is not a friendship.

This is our country.

So, please, Republicans, consider accepting your responsibilities. Please consider not just telling Democrats that they can't now do what they complained about you doing. Please consider taking the next step, and say that Democrats shouldn't do what you did, because it's wrong. It was wrong when you did it, and it would be wrong now.

And then after you talk the talk, please walk the walk.

And then, we might all have a chance.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Letter to Rep. Michael Speciale

A friend posted this article today on Facebook. As a result, I wrote the following email to Rep. Speciale:

Representative Speciale, good afternoon.

I read an article in the Raleigh News and Observer today ( http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article129591629.html) that you felt that the various Women's Marches last weekend were jokes, and that the marches did not represent any women you know.  
That may very well be, but let me introduce myself to you.  
I'm 49 years old; I'll be turning 50 in April, and am having a little bit of trouble accepting that I'm that old! I have lived in North Carolina virtually all of my life; I was born in Durham, but my family moved to Delaware soon after I was born. We moved back to North Carolina when I was four, and except for 6 months in Orlando from 1989-90 and 18 months in New York from 1990-1991, I've lived here every since. While my time in other states was small, it has made me more aware of what a privilege it is to live in this state, where we have long had a strong economy, first class University system, and a breath-taking landscape. 
I was raised, predominately, by a single parent; in my case, though, it was my father who raised me. He taught me to value education, to be honest (oh, boy, do I regret the few times I lied to him!), and to do my best. He also taught me, through his example, that when there's a job to do, someone has to do it. Growing up, it didn't matter our gender; we were expected to chip in and help. We all washed clothes and cleaned bathrooms and cut grass and raked leaves and cooked and washed dishes. I will admit that I was usually the one who cleaned the gutters, but that's because I was the only one in the family who wasn't afraid of heights. 
I am a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, but did not take a direct route through college; after a few years, I was not taking it seriously, and dropped out. I returned in 1993 and finished my degree in History. At the time I finished my degree I was working as a database administrator at a company in Research Triangle Park. I understand how difficult it is to balance work and college, and how lucky I am to have had an employer who worked with me so I could finish my degree. 
I am currently married, but also separated and divorced from my first husband. We have an amicable relationship, and have co-parented our children well, in my opinion. I have two children from my first marriage, and also have three step-children. All five kids, when they were still living at home, lived primarily with my current husband and me. They all went through either the Wake County or Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems. The four oldest ones also either went to or are currently enrolled in UNC System colleges: one each at Western Carolina University, UNC-Asheville, NCSU, and UNC-Chapel Hill. The youngest is looking at UNC-A, App State, UNC-Greensboro, and the School of the Arts, so it's likely that by the time all is said and done, I will have had 5 children attend 5 different UNC System schools. I love this. 
I hope at this point that you feel you know me a little. I suppose I could add a few more details: I bleed Carolina Blue, though I'll cheer for NCSU as well. I believe that Eastern North Carolina barbecue is the best barbecue, though I love to try other region's specialties. I, of course, have favorite barbecue restaurants - growing up it was Cooper's in Raleigh; later Bullocks or Backyard Barbecue in Durham. When I travel, I love King's in Kinston; Doug Saul's in Rocky Mount, and Bill's Barbecue in Wilson (I actually found a NC Barbecue restaurant in Orlando when I lived there; the owner had trained under Bill!). I have two cats and two dogs, think that tea is, by default, sweetened and iced, and I make collards, black eyed peas, and ham every New Years Day.  I was taught to stand, cover my heart, and sing when our National Anthem is played, and to stand respectfully when another country's is. I'm Methodist, I sing alto, I love to ring handbells, I've just taught myself to knit, and have rediscovered a talent for sewing baby clothes. I used to run, and finished a 10 mile race last April, but have arthritis in my knees, so now I bike and swim. 
I also marched in Raleigh last Saturday. 

I marched because my son has a chronic illness that could cost more than $150,000 per year if he were denied insurance, or if he had a waiting period because of a pre-existing condition. Without the Affordable Care Act, he will be faced with having to cover that money immediately after college, in his first job. My first job (receptionist at the headquarters of a small regional coffee shop chain) certainly didn't allow me $150,000 in disposable income; for that matter my current job doesn't allow me that, and I don't expect his will be any different. President Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and while he promises there will be coverage; he's talked more about repeal than he has about his plan. Without details, I'm scared for my son. 
I marched because I have a daughter who is bisexual. The protections that went into effect under President Obama would protect her from being fired, would allow her to be at the side of a spouse, regardless of gender, should they be hospitalized, would allow her to, essentially, live her life without fear. President Trump ran on a campaign of hatred that included the LGBTQ community. I'm scared for my daughter. 
I marched because I have had men grope me. Not often, and I have never been raped, but from the time I was 10 years old I have had men or boys think that they could touch my breasts on the playground, pinch my rear at a concert, or rub up against me in the subway. President Trump has joked about sexual assault, and used it as a talking point to brag about how manly he is. I'm scared for all women. 
I marched because I hope to have grandchildren someday, and I hope to be able to take them to national parks, or to the beach, or to hike in the mountains. Climate change is real, and threatens our coast. Drilling for oil and logging threaten our national parks. President Trump makes fun of the experts, the scientists, who know this. He thinks that the direction our planet is going is funny, and that terrifies me. I'm scared for our planet and all who live on it. 
Representative Speciale, I suspect that there are more like me in your life than you realize. I know that there are Oriental residents who would be devastated by rising ocean levels. I suspect that there are residents of your district who have been sexually assaulted, and I feel certain that somewhere in your district there are people who identify as LGBTQ. Maybe they're scared to speak out, or maybe the conversation has just never happened. But I am certain that there are people who are similar to me in your district. 
I hope that your Facebook posts and the comments you gave to the News and Observer are an anomaly, or were made without thinking the matter through. God knows, I've made stupid comments before that I regret. However, I would also like to recommend a book to you: Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. It's the story of a family's life as their transgendered daughter comes out and transitions. I'd love for you to read it before you make disparaging comments again about "trannies". The transgendered are human, and they are people's sons and daughters. I know that it's an issue that is not always talked about, and in fact is difficult for many to talk about, but poking fun at other humans, whether it's a transgendered person or someone who disagrees with you, is not particularly nice. 
But most of all, I hope that you now cannot say, in good conscience, that none of the women you know were represented by the Women's Marches. I hope that, in some small way, you do feel that you know me, and understand both why I marched, and why I am frightened right now. 
Respectfully,
Meg Cohen
Chapel Hill, NC 
Wonder what sort of response I'll get? I'll post and let you know!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes

There were a number of pundits, armchair and otherwise, immediately after the election talking about "change". The election, apparently, was not about the Republican party's drift further and further towards the right, it was not about their sliding into bed with ultra-conservative "christians" who care more about a candidate's stance on abortion and homosexuality than fiscal policy. It was not about the implicit racism towards Barack Obama over the last 8 years. It was not about the implicit sexism towards Hillary Clinton in this election.

Nope, it was about change.

Here's the tricky part about claiming that - the word "change" in and of itself, has very little meaning. The Affordable Care Act was a massive change for this country, but apparently THAT'S not the change they were looking for. Allowing the LGBTQ communities to be more open without fear of harrasment was a change, too, but apparently that's not the "right" sort of change, either.

But the election was about change.

OK, so maybe corruption was the thing that needed changing. The problem with that is, the more corrupt candidate won. And has refused to divest himself of the very things that allow for greater and greater corruption.

Hmmm, guess corruption wasn't the issue after all. Must be another change they were looking for...

Well, here are some of the changes that have come about in the first 10 days of the new administration:

  • The EPA was told to freeze grant money.
  • And then told not to talk to anyone
  • Same with the National Park Service
  • The press were removed from the West Wing. Oh, except for the ones that Trump likes.
  • The term "alternate facts" made it's way into our national lexicon.
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was removed from the National Security Council. Because, you know, why would you want the leaders of our military to be aware of Nation Security issues. 
  • The presidential chief strategist, on the other hand, an admitted White Supremicist (except he calls it the alt-right, as if it's some kind of trendy '90s music genre. "Yeah, I'm not into alt-country, but man, that alt-right") was added to the NSC. 
  • The president refused daily intelligence briefings. To be fair, this happened prior to the inauguration, but I'll throw it in here, too, because: No. Other. President. Has. Done. This.
And then there's the whole executive order thing. To be honest, I don't have the issue with executive orders that some do. I think it's like a lot of things; the thing in and of itself is neither bad nor good, but it can be used to either harm or help.

Mr. Trump appears determined to harm. It's hard to say which executive orders have gotten the most attention, because each new one has a new action. But, the very first one pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, under which millions of Americans gained health insurance, and others gained the flexibility to not depend on employer provided health care.

From there we had The Wall. Supposedly Mexico will wind up paying for it, though when the order was signed, HOW Mexico would pay for it was undefined. Since then, Mr. Trump has said that American taxpayers will initially pay for it, but he will eventually impose a 20% import tax on Mexican goods to recover the cost. There are many problems with that notion (beyond that obvious one that the Mexican government says they will NOT pay for the wall). First is that import taxes tend to do a couple of things: cause the producer to raise their prices to offset the tax, or cause fewer imports. In the case of the former, those higher prices will be passed on to the (American) consumers, in the latter, American consumers will have fewer options (think, avocados, strawberries in January, and various other Mexican exports we've gotten used to). The second issue is that, even if the 20% import tax did, indeed, wind up allowing us to recover the cost, there was no mention of a tax rebate for American taxpayers. So, yeah, we're still out what we, as individuals, paid for it.

And then we have the "immigration" ban. If you haven't read the details, go do so, but the gist of it is Trump decreed that immigrants from certain countries were not allowed in the United States any more. Supposedly, this will make us safer from terrorism. The only problem is, it affected ALL immigrants, including those that had already been allowed in this country, but happened to be overseas at the time the edict was signed. Oh, and also, the countries that were banned? Well, turns out, no one from those countries has killed any Americans. There are some countries, like Saudi Arabia, who do have citizens who have killed Americans, but they were not included. Oddly enough, the countries that do have incidence of terrorism AND were left off the list all have ties to the Trump business empire. Oh, and just by the way, the Geneva Convention requires signatories to take in refugees. But, you know, we don't need to worry about that.

So, yeah, lots of changes. We've lost a hell of a lot of scientific knowledge, paved the way for people to lose their insurance, removed media access to our government, removed our military from discussions of national security, disparaged the notion of truth, ignored the Geneva convention...

And it's only been a week.

I don't know if these were the changes that Trump's voters wanted. I can't imagine that they actually want to lose their insurance, if they are indeed covered under the ACA. I can't imagine that they are willing to see tax monies used for a wall, and I feel fairly certain they don't actually want to either pay higher prices for Mexican imports, or lose buying options. And, I hope, I HOPE, that they don't actually want refugees to remain in war zones. I hope that they don't actually want to deport US residents, who have already gone through the vetting process, simply because they had the misfortune to leave the country. And I hope that they do actually want to allow Iraqis who translated for the US Army to come to this country.

So, yeah, I think, and believe, and hope, that the changes we've seen this week are not the ones that supposedly drove the election.

But in that case, what were the changes?

Well, honestly, a lot of the changes seemed to be to go back to a different time.

Repeatedly, when news outlets interviewed voters in the Rust Belt, or in coal country, they talked about jobs. But they were not necessarily interested in new jobs. They wanted the coal jobs back. The steel jobs back. That's the change they wanted: change us back to a time when those jobs were still here.

I don't know how to argue with that. Many of those jobs simply are not coming back, and not because liberals don't want them to. Coal is a finite resource - it will eventually run out. In West Virginia, they've already gone from digging for coal to lopping off the tops of mountains to get at the coal - it's being mined out. Even without concerns about global warming, coal's time is ending.

I admit, this is very easy for me to wax poetic about, sitting in my nice middle class home in my nice upper middle class neighborhood, with my white collar job, and my well educated family. I don't really know what it's like to see the only job you've ever held, the only job you've ever trained for, become obsolete. Even with the tech outsourcing in past years, there has always been a need for people "on the spot", and I've been lucky enough to be one of those.

But at some point, logic has to take hold. I cannot possibly be the only person who understands that the coal jobs are going to continue to decrease. The steel jobs are going to continue to decrease. The manufacturing jobs are probably going to continue to decrease. And, honestly, I don't think that the "jobs-voters" really care - they just want jobs.

So, why was the refrain so consistent? Bring back "those" jobs? Well, I think for a number of reasons. Mainly, though, because, every time someone says, "Those jobs are gone," someone else says, "No they're not!!!" Whether it's a mine owner or a politician, every time they're told that their lives will be better if only "those" jobs come back, they believe it. And who wouldn't?

But here's the thing. In trying to vote in that change, which is impossible, they voted for a dangerous, dangerous man. They voted for a man who's ego is so fragile that he can't cope with the notion of his inauguration not being the largest ever. Who claims standing ovations when he forgot to tell the audience to sit. Who lies, repeatedly and blatantly. Who is divisive. Who is unkind. Who wants absolute power, and who is already corrupt. Who is already doing those things that many of his supporters said were just talk, or jokes, or would change (that word again!) once he took office.

And, unfortunately, they need to own this. But they are not the only ones who do. Every person who downplayed the reports of ties to Russia, of corrupt business dealings, of assaults on women, of discrimination, and of ethical conflicts, has to own this too. Because those people made it easy to ignore all of those issues, and focus on the nebulous and undefined "change".

Now is the time. We are careening down a slope that we really don't want to be on. If this is not what you wanted, not what you expected, if you are horrified at what's happening in this country, now is the time to speak out. I don't care who you voted for, this is not what we need right now.

Because if we're not careful, this country is going to change more than any of us want.

Friday, January 27, 2017

If at first you don't succeed...

I have a friend who's very creative. She posted the following on her Facebook page today:

Hmmm... I always thought of myself as an artist, but after reading this quote from my class today... Maybe I'm a scientist?
"Science is the action or process of pursuing truth but not necessarily ever finding truth."

The quote in her post is from a nutrition class she's taking through eCornell, and it got me thinking about science vs. art, creativity vs. the scientific method, and various other weighty thoughts.

David has a t-shirt that says something to the effect of:
Experiment
Fail
Learn
Succeed
He got it at a Drum Corps International show in Charlotte; one of the reasons he loves it is that it can apply to both science and music. (For those of you who don't know, he's a career scientist, with a PhD in pharmacology and biophysics. For those of you who know me, I can pronounce pharmacology and biophysics.)  He would, however, amend it a little: he would add "Repeat" and an ellipse between "Learn" and "Succeed", because it actually takes more than one iteration, typically, to get to success.

But I digress.

I also love the sentiment, but I think it actually applies to everything.

We call it a rough draft in writing, we call it a hypothesis in science, we call it an early work in art or music, we call it JV or a D-league in sports, but really, it's all the same.

Experiment.
Fail.
Learn.
Repeat...
Succeed.

But, as with most things, there's a catch.

First of all, you need creativity. Yeah. That. I don't care if you're dream job is writing poetry in a cabin in the woods, discovering the cure for cancer, working for NASA, or painting the next Sistine Chapel, you need a good healthy dose of creativity, thinking outside the box, thinking around corners, or whatever you want to call it. If the only way you know is the way "we've always done it," you're not going to be able to experiment. If the only thing you want to learn is "how", you're not going to be able to experiment. Experimentation involves asking, "What if? Why? Why not?" without necessarily having an answer...yet

Next, and this is a biggie, you need a nice balance of humility and confidence. Wait, what? Do those two even balance? Well, yeah. They can. And you need both. Humility because you have to know you'll fail. And confidence because you have to believe you'll succeed. If we never fail, then we've never pushed our boundaries. But if you're willing to fail, it means you're willing to try.

And then there's intelligence. Without intelligence, our failures are simply failures. With intelligence, they become experience. Incidentally, I don't necessarily mean education when I say intelligence (though I'm all in favor of educating oneself as much as possible). But what I do mean is the ability to think critically. To weigh options. To be open to different perspectives. Going down the same path endlessly may be comforting, but it doesn't really get you anywhere.

Finally, you need perseverance. Because failure happens. And then it happens again. And again. And sometimes, just for kicks, it happens again. And if the only thing you're worried about is not failing, well, you'll stop. But if what you're concerned with is learning, or creating, well, then, you'll keep on. Until you succeed.

The damnable thing, though, is you may never succeed. Your assistant may finish your work. Your symphony may not receive critical or popular acclaim in your lifetime. You may spend a lifetime experimenting, and never find the cure for cancer...but your work may enable someone else to a generation later.

And that, really is the point. So, yes, artists and scientists (and teachers, and historians, and, please God, politicians) have more in common than we might think. When you play, when you experiment, when you push boundaries, when you make others (and yourself) uncomfortable, when you ask the difficult questions, when you look for your own truth, even knowing that you may not get there, well, that's when we transcend ourselves, and move forward into a nobler place.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Indivisible?

There is, obviously, a large amount of angst in our country right now. Despite his best attempts at doublespeak and spin, Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating of any recent president upon inauguration. Congress's approval ratings are even lower. Those who voted for Trump are, many of them, having a bit of buyer's remorse. Or, if not full out buyer's remorse, at least a fair amount of concern about what they've wrought.

And, honestly, they should. Sorry to offend, and all that, but if you voted for Trump, you SHOULD be worried. Since the election it's become obvious that at least one, probably two (Putin and Assange) foreign nationals deliberately interfered in our electoral process. That's abominable. Yes, I suspect some Trump voters voted for him merely to keep Clinton out of the White House, or to keep Republicans in power. But some believed in him; those people were scammed. They should be angry, and I hope they are.

But, you know, liberals need to do a fair amount of soul searching, too. We LOVE to talk about how we're inclusive, and enlightened.

Except, we're not always so much. And our outrage at the moment proves that we're not quite as enlightened and aware as we might like to think we are.

This article, from the New York Times, states it way more eloquently than I can. We liberals are shocked by what's happening in our country right now, but sadly, for many, this is the norm. Oh, you're shocked that we might register Muslims and put mosques under surveillance? Hmm. Guess no one's ever stepped away from you when you walk into an elevator. Or crossed the street when they saw you coming. Feel like you're a stranger in this country suddenly? Well, you know, let me (or, actually, someone who really knows) tell you about this thing called the Trail of Tears. Or Little Big Horn. Or DAPL.

I marched in Raleigh last Saturday, and I loved it. I felt better afterwards than I have in three months. And, yes, I've tried to continue that good mojo. I've called. I've written. I've spoken.

But all of that, truly, doesn't mean crap if I can't at least acknowledge the fact that there are people who have been fighting for what I take for granted, for centuries.

Last year, there was outrage when a Texas social studies textbook hit the internet, because they talked about the "immigrants" from Africa who helped make America great. That's idiotic. Unless you're talking about someone who came here VERY recently, no one from Africa was an immigrant. They were slaves. They were kidnapped, thrown into ships where they were treated as less than animals, sold, and beaten. They were treated as property.

Think about that for a moment. No, really. Think about that. These were human beings that were treated as property. They could be sold. They could be disposed of. They could be inherited. They. Were. Property. No whitewashing (pun very definitely intended), no talk of "good" masters, can take away the fact that they were property.

I don't know if it's worse to be African-American or Native American. One involves being kidnapped from your home, another involves being driven from your home. I can't judge that, because I've never been either. Yes, I'm female in a world that doesn't really care that much...but I'm a white female. And, sadly, that distinction may make all the difference.

So, what do we do? I can't stop being white. And, honestly, I don't feel like anyone is asking me to.

But they are asking me to listen. REALLY listen. That means I don't jump in with my own stories, as if my piddly little, "oh, I didn't get to play football when I was 8" is the same as being told to go to the back of the line. Or moved from my land. Or told that I don't matter, at all, ever. It means I recognize that there are people who have been fighting this fight since 1972, and 1968, and 1954, and 1948, and, yes, 1919, and 1860, and 1776, and 1492. It means that I acknowledge that my white skin, as well as my middle class up-bringing, has given me opportunities that others haven't had. It means that, even if it makes me uncomfortable, even if it doesn't fit with my "oh, but I'm a LIBERAL" image of myself, I need to acknowledge when I jump to conclusions. It means I need to recognize that there may be biases, racial or otherwise, that I'm completely unaware of...and when someone tells me about them, I need to think rather than deny.

I don't mean this to be an indictment of white, middle class liberals. I actually think that we may be at a turning point where, amazingly, many of the left-wing, liberal, whatevers may be able to band together to move our country forward to a place where more of us are empowered and enfranchised.

But, oh, my sweeties - we can't do it if we're scared to look at ourselves in the mirror and confront our shortcomings.

One nation, indivisible? Yes. I believe that with all my heart. We CAN get there... but not as long as we're scared of the others who make up this complicated, conflicted, country.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Just a friendly little post

We are coming out of a very disruptive and divisive time in our country; not only the election, but the eight years before it.

I've lost friends because of this. Sometimes because I've chosen to distance myself, either physically or electronically; sometimes because they have.

There's a meme going around the internet right now showing two stick figures. The caption is something along the lines of "Jane and Sally are friends. Jane voted for Trump and Sally voted for Clinton, but Jane and Sally are adults, so they're still friends. Be like Jane and Sally."

The thing is, I'm not always able to be like Jane and Sally.

I strongly believe that we are all entitled to our opinions, and our votes. But, you know, opinions are things like, "Murmur was REM's best album," not things like, "Obama is not a US citizen," or "Obama is a Muslim," or "Climate change isn't real". It is a fact that President Obama is a citizen. It is a fact that he's Christian (for that matter, it's a fact that he could be President if he were Muslim, Budist, Hindu, Jewish, Bahai, Wiccan, athiest, Secular Humanist, or followed the Force). Climate change, and humans' role in it, is accepted fact by the vast majority of scientists - you know, those people who have actually spent their lives studying this stuff, as opposed to the rest of us who need it broken down into tiny little words to understand it.

So, yes, we all have a right to our opinions, our votes, and our political views.

But that doesn't mean I have to like yours. And, honestly, it doesn't mean that I always have to like you (or you me!).

Friendship is based on a multitude of things, and can shift and change over time. I have friends that I've known since I was four, or 18, or 30, or 49. I have friends who are my age, and friends that are significantly older or younger than me. But friendship is also based on shared values. Not utterly, or completely; we are, after all, individuals, and it's doubtful that any two people will share all their values.

But values matter.

President Trump campaigned on hatred and divisiveness. He did. There is no way around that. He called Mexicans rapists and murderers and drug dealers, though he did acknowledge that there were probably some nice ones. He made horrible comments about women, and not only the comments from several years ago. He called women pigs, and implied that their only worth is through their appearance, or that menstruation made them incompetent. He made jokes about sexual assault. He spent eight years perpetuating lies about President Obama. He has a history of shady business dealings, discrimination, and narcissism.

And all of this was brought out before the election. And many people voted for him anyway.

I don't need to know who any of my friends voted for. Votes are private for many reasons, and they should be. And even if I knew, I would not drop a friend because they voted differently than me. I might not necessarily even drop a friend if they voted for Trump.

But, I would take it into account. I would use it as information, along with many other things, to judge if that person shares my core values. A vote, in and of itself, does not make a person. But, it can be looked at in combination with other actions (or inaction), with other comments, with other information.

So, yes, I'm all for unity. I'm all for moving forward. But you don't get to vote for a demagogue and then three months later expect me to be happy. If you voted for him and regret it, say so. Show support for causes like Planned Parenthood, or the Sierra Club, or the Trevor Project, or the National Endowment for the Arts, or any of the many, many organizations that will suffer through the next four years. Speak up when his press secretary lies. Call out his racist or sexist comments. If you want me to believe that your vote for him was not a vote for racism and sexism, show it through your words and actions over the next four years.

Because those of use who did not vote for President Trump are watching.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Resolved; or, perhaps, not.

I know people who love New Year's Day. The whole notion of a fresh, shiny, New Year stretching out ahead of them, with all the opportunities that that implies.

Me, not so much. It's not that I don't like it, it's more that it's kinda just another day. Yeah, I get that the calendar changes and all that, and I like watching the ball (or acorn, or pickle, or possum) drop, but I don't know that January 1st is any better or worse than any other first of the month for beginning new projects.

To make it worse, there's the whole notion of resolutions, and what they imply. Are we resolved for ourselves, or for others? There's an interesting article in this week's New York Times that talks about the implications of knee-jerk resolutions for women, primarily, though I believe that all of us suffer from this.

We should be fitter. We should do more. We should be better. Kinder. More balanced in our work-life balance. Feed our children better snacks, limit their screen time more, have more substantive talks with our spouses. Read the right books (has ANYONE ever finished an Umberto Eco book other than Name of the Rose?).

I fall victim to this as much as the next person, and the older I get, the harder it gets. 2017 is a milestone year for me: I just hit a 20th work anniversary, and I will turn 50 in April. On the one hand, this is somewhat liberating. If I really wanted to, I could take an early retirement (fun fact: I don't want to, and even if I did, with 3 kids under 20, it would not be realistic).

But on the other hand, this is a little scary. I have a limited number of years left to do something with my life. I have limited years to take up photography, learn to play the piano, buy a loom, or any of the myriad things I've thought "oooh, that'd be fun" about over the years. I'm at a point in my life that, realistically, some of these won't ever happen. And, probably more importantly, many of them I will decide I simply don't care about any more. I've been assigned Moby Dick twice in my academic career, and have tried to read it at least three other times. I've never, ever finished it. At this point, I'm OK with that. However, I'm a little regretful that I've not read as much Wolfe as I would've liked. Hopefully, it all balances out.

I am, however, going to make some resolutions for this year. I think they're all attainable; more to the point, they are ones that are meaningful to me, regardless of what "society" thinks I should be resolving as I finish my first half century.

To keep myself honest, here they are, in no particular order:

  • Swim more. 2016 was both a high and a low in my running career: I finished a 10 mile road race in April, the furthest I've ever run, but then pretty immediately began having issues with my knees. Turns out I have arthritis in both kneecaps. I'm not sure at this point if I will run again; but there are these cool open water swims. I plan on doing at least one this summer.
  • Write more. There was a fantastic comic in the 1980/90s called For Better or For Worse. At one point one of the kids in the series was writing in his journal; his sister asked him if that helped him figure out the answers. He replied, "No, but it helps me understand the questions." 2017 is going to be a tough year, my friends, and I'm afraid that 2018, '19, and '20 will be as well, with questions that many of us never thought we'd need to understand. I don't pretend to be a world renowned pundit, but writing does help me find balance. So, expect more of these musings as the year progresses. My goal is to miss no more than one day in a row.
  • Spend better. I'm not necessarily talking boycotts, though I'm not opposed to that. But, money talks. I am in the enviable position of being able to, within reason, spend money on what I wish to. Which means, donations to causes that will, hopefully, protect our nation and our planet. Or my children. 
  • Do what I like. Yeah, I've never gotten through Focault's Pendulum. Yeah, when I'm stressed, I re-read Harry Potter, or Dorothy Sayers, or LOTR. Sue me. It makes me happy. 
  • Not be quiet. This is, without a doubt, the hardest for me. I do not have the gift of an icy temper - when I get upset, you know it. Speaking up is scary, and I frequently do it badly. But it's important.
And, yes, I will probably try to exercise more, weigh less, etc. Can't help it, I'm human. But hopefully, by this time next year I will feel less regret at the ice cream I've eaten (or the martinis I've drunk), and rather be proud of the things I have done throughout the year.

Happy New Year, my friends.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

In my mind, or, Thanks a lot, Pandora.

Music has a power that is, for me, anyway, beyond all other art forms. Other bards and scribes, from Shakespeare to Dumbledore, have commented on this as well, and usually far better than I.

For me, it's two-fold. A good piece of instrumental music can evoke emotions without words; by the same token, a good piece of writing can hit at the heartstrings without need for a background score. But put them together, and the right song, at the right time, can turn me into a blubbering mess.

We know this, all of us. It's why we make mix tapes for our friends, it's why we turn the radio up for certain songs, it's why we have our happy music and our angry music, our falling-in-love music and our break-up music.

I stream Pandora when I'm at work, typically (fun fact, cube farms are highly distracting, even for those of us who work well in chaos). I also, in a previous work-life, used to write software, and periodically when a user would ask for feature that would call for the computer to be a mind-reader, we'd joke that the neural transmitters would be in version 7.

Well, I think Pandora has developed the neural transmitters, and worked with Sony to implement them.

For many of us, our college years are somewhat golden. It's the first taste of independence; it's frequently when we're exposed to people and ideas that may be very different. It's when we are free to protest, experiment, and do things for the sheer hell of it. It's when many of us meet our best friends or our soul-mates.

And most of us have a College Soundtrack. Mine includes such lovelies as The Violent Femmes, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Connells, and, of course, REM.

But the song that most brings back college for me is Carolina in My Mind. And, no, South Carolina, you don't get that one - Mr. Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill, and he did NOT mean South Carolina, Columbia, or the University of South Carolina when he wrote that one!

It's been nearly 31 years since I made the drive from Cullowhee to Chapel Hill with my Dad, my sister, and my niece. 31 years since we madly threw all of my belongings into my dorm room so that we could scamper across campus with my sleeping bag and pillow to the Campus Y, where I and about 200 other freshman would spend a couple of days at Camp New Hope. Freshman Camp gave us an entry into the larger Carolina world; we were taught the cheers, the fight songs, Hark the Sound, and, of course, Carolina in My Mind.

In 8 days, I will get up early, so that I can be at Koury dorm by 7 am, so that we can madly throw all of my son's belongings into his dorm room, before scampering across campus with his sleeping bag and pillow to the Campus Y, where he and about 200 other freshman will spend a couple of days at Camp New Hope, where he will meet friends, learn cheers, and sing Carolina in My Mind over, and over, and over.

There are a few differences. It's Carolina Kickoff now, not Freshman Camp. There's slightly more time for move-in, so hopefully I can have time to make up his bed (for whatever reason, that's my moment of closure with all of the kids. I just need that last act of mothering!). I live in Chapel Hill, so I have a plot to park on Franklin Street and walk him to the Campus Y, rather than just stopping long enough for him to get out of the car, as my Dad had to do with me!

Of course, the biggest difference is that it's 31 years later, and I'm the parent. And as much as I think I'm coping, that, my friends, is a HUGE difference, and a very tender one.

And, dammit, if Pandora is not pushing my buttons this week! I kid you not, Carolina in My Mind has come up on my stream at least once a day for the past week. I've gone months before without hearing that song, but somehow, it's everywhere this week. Neural transmitters is the only explanation.

So, for the next week or so, please excuse me; there are signs that might be omens that I'll be gone to Carolina; 31 years ago in my mind, but right here and now with my son.