White Privilege ~ to Make Mistakes and Not Be Killed For Them

Black Lives Matter Protest in Bloomington
Copyright: shutterbreakerli

I saw the body cam footage from the Rayshard Brooks incident.

Upon viewing it, I became certain about something I already suspected.

The video shows an officer approach Brooks’ car, where he’d fallen asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through line. The officer directs him to park the car, which Brooks does. When another officer arrives, they administer a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer; they determine he is indeed drunk.

Throughout the 20-minute interaction, Brooks is cooperative and friendly toward the officers, cordially submitting to the tests. He admits he’s been drinking. He’s in town to visit his mother’s grave, he says, in the course of the conversation. He offers to leave his car where it is and walk to the house where he is staying.

The officers ask him to put his hands behind his back, and that’s when Brooks begins to resist. He wrestles a taser from one of the officers and runs away. The cop who chases him points a taser at him, and Brooks points his stolen one back at the officer. It is at this point, one of the police officers shoots Brooks in the back two times. He died later of his injuries.

This was not just one man’s life. It was his family’s life as well. He had a father, siblings, a spouse and three kids. The day he was killed, his daughter had had her eighth birthday party. According to his family, he was a “loving husband and caring brother.” He adored his children. His niece said, “He was silly, had the biggest smile and the brightest heart,” and yet he was “shot and killed like trash for falling asleep at a drive-through.”

I have another story to tell you. There is no video footage or press coverage of it.

Two women in their mid-twenties stand on the street in downtown Austin next to a parked car. It’s around 2am. They are talking loudly and animatedly with one another when a police officer approaches them and asks if there’s a problem. They explain to the officer that they are both too drunk to drive their car home, but it’s in a space that will be tow-away come morning. They’ve secured a ride home from a sober friend. They are trying to decide which, if either of them, has the capacity to safely move the car to a nearby space where it will be legally parked.

The cop does not administer a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer. He does not ask them any questions. He would be well within the law to arrest them for public intoxication, but he doesn’t. He volunteers to move the car for them. He reparks the car, returns their keys, and they ride home with their friend and sleep safely in their own beds. Their parents, spouses and friends have the benefit of their presence to this day.

The police did not punish or even chastise the women for behaving somewhat irresponsibly; the police, in fact, facilitated their safe return home. Oh, did I mention? The women were both white. They were my sister and me.

It didn’t have to be this way.

What I suspected when I first heard about Rayshard Brooks’s murder was that it didn’t have to end in tragedy; it could have gone much the same way the incident with my sister and me did. What if, instead of trying to arrest him, they’d taken him up on his offer to walk home? What if they’d followed him in their car, or even driven him, to ensure he arrived safely and without incident? Without wasting taxpayer dollars on a purposeless arrest. What if that cop, even after Rayshard ran off with his taser, realized killing him would be a far worse outcome than the possibility he might escape?

But no, instead, Rayshard Brooks is dead, and his children will grow up without him. His penalty for a lapse in judgment, which we all have from time to time, was death.

Police aren’t trained to be helpful.

Sure, it happens sometimes, like with the officer that moved my sister’s car for us; there are cops who are reasonable and have a sense they are serving, not policing, the community, at least when it comes to white people. But how often are black people given that kind of understanding? How often, in the face of the police, is a black person allowed to make a mistake without dire, unjustifiable consequences?

If you take the militaristic methods by which police are trained and combine it with inherent bias and racism, you get the dangerously dysfunctional kind of policing we have now. You shouldn’t take my word for it, though; I’ve never been trained as a cop, but this guy has, and what he says about the toxic, racist, warlike atmosphere of police training is scary as hell.

Police officers are trained to expect conflict, to approach every person as if they are a mortally-dangerous enemy. The folks who get the worst of that mentality are marginalized groups like black people and people who are homeless or severely mentally ill.

White Privilege Redux

The point here is this: We white people need to realize that our rights are respected way more often than those of black people. And nothing is going to change by making officers attend a handful of “diversity education” classes. When you hear shouts of “defund the police” what people are really saying is “dismantle the police departments and reconstruct something better.”

Our Privilege is Showing, White People

The Stand Up to Racism march through central London
Copyright: Ben Gingell

I scrolled through my Facebook feed today, and god, it made me so damned sad. Coronavirus stats, cops killing people, riots, looting, journalists assaulted by police and protesters alike. With the Trump administration as the backdrop for all of this, it’s starting to feel like end of days, end of times, end of…something.

Harkening Back to a Previous Era of Violence

But this is not new. George Floyd’s murder called to mind another time police officers committed violence against an unarmed black man already in custody. In 1991, police officers beat Rodney King, leaving the man with skull fractures, multiple broken bones, and permanent brain damage. Those cops were acquitted in the spring of 1992, despite what most thought was damning video evidence. A matter of hours after the verdict, rioting broke out in Los Angeles. The rioting and looting were so pervasive and violent, the National Guard was called in. Mail delivery stopped, stores closed, and people could not go to work or school.

The indignation and anger were not only for the cops who went free; it was the boiling point for tensions that had been simmering in what was then called South Central LA for years. Unemployment, gang activity and a drug epidemic were rampant, and occupants of the area were not only unprotected by police but targeted and harassed.

I was going on seventeen years old, and I was shocked the perpetrating officers were acquitted. I saw the video, and the acquittal made no sense. My surprise was part of the problem. I could not fathom someone’s rights being so egregiously trodden upon by people of authority as were Rodney King’s and with no consequence. But the people of South Central LA knew. It was happening long before, by chance, someone caught those four cops on video.

Just a White Kid from the ‘Burbs

I was a white kid living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. I grew up in a place and with a face that meant people gave me the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t notice my privilege because I viewed that benefit, the assumption that I had a benign reason for walking down the street at night, as part of my natural right as a human being.

When I was in high school, two friends and I would sneak out of our houses at night. Sometimes we’d walk up to the all-night gas station and buy candy. Once, as we were walking down an alley behind the store, eagerly gobbling up melty Reese’s cups, a police car pulled up, lights and siren blaring. We were petrified. One cop got out, shined his flashlight at us and asked who we were. We gave our names and told him where we’d been. He said they were looking for someone who’d shoplifted at that same gas station. He told us to be careful and left. We were two white girls and an Indian girl.

In my twenties, I once got into an actual bar fight. These guys were being aggressively douchy, and I had just enough liquor in me to feel invincible. I got in the ring leader’s face and yelled I was going to kick his ass. A bouncer broke it up. The guys were kicked out, and my group left voluntarily, even getting our cover charge back for our trouble. The cops weren’t called; no one was arrested. We were a group of white girls, and the boys were white, too.

I remember college parties where cops arrived to find rampant underage drinking and possibly drugging, and no one even got arrested. “Keep the noise down,” was all they’d say. The party attendees were always, mostly, in appearance at least, white.

These are examples (and I can think of more) in which my white privilege — being given the benefit of the doubt even when I was acting less than admirably — showed. At the time, I didn’t notice.

I can’t tell you that the specific people in these stories — the cops, the bouncer –  would have behaved differently if we’d been black. But I do know that black people routinely have a very different experience with authority than I did in these instances.

Same Oppression, Different Day

Today, here we are in a similar boat as we were in 1992; it’s leaking, it’s on fire and the crew are fighting each other. People are rioting and looting; people are violent. We don’t have to condone it, but we do need to understand it. The black people of our country have been talking, shouting, working for change for generations, and the same thing is still happening: black people are dying at the hands of the authorities who are supposed to protect them. If you are not heard, if your fundamental rights get trod upon in both large and small ways every day, is it really so shocking that one day you grab that authority by the face and make them listen?

Trevor Noah says society is a social contract — rules we all agree to abide by for the common good. When police and people in power break that contract by killing unarmed black people, when that kind of grotesque display of hypocrisy is repeated again and again, why should anyone else abide by that contract? It’s not new: violence begets violence.

Our Privilege is Showing

As white people, we need to try to understand that the advantages we enjoy, the ones we are so accustomed to we don’t even notice them, are not available to everyone. Sarah Grimke, an early feminist activist, once said and was quoted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I ask no favor…All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Your white privilege isn’t so much privilege as it is your unassailable right not to be held down — socially, economically, even literally, as we all saw as that police officer held his knee to a handcuffed and docile George Floyd’s neck until he was dead.

Jody David Armour, a USC professor and author of a book on the civil unrest of LA in the early 90s, refers to it as “the 1992 uprising.” While the word “riot” focuses on the criminal elements, he says, an uprising is defined as “the perceived failure of the criminal justice system to fairly serve all people.” We decry protesters’ violence while ignoring the systemic violence that spurred it. When American colonists, citizens of Brittain, willfully destroyed valuable private property during the nationally-revered Boston Tea Party, we called it a protest of unfair taxation, a rebellion against a tyrannical government. It also fits the definition of a riot.

A Sign of the Times

You don’t have to decide rioting, looting, participating in an uprising is bad or good. But no matter what we choose to call it, it is a sign that something is very wrong with our country and has been for a long time. In 2017, three years before George Floyd would have the knee of a police officer crush the life out of him, Armour said, “Ain’t nothing changed but the year it is.” And now, sadly, it would seem he is still right.

But maybe this is, at long last, the catalyst we need. Perhaps, with corporate giants like Twitter, Facebook and Nike taking a stand, and the greater public finally taking notice, we can cut out the core of racism in our country and fill that void with egalitarian systems that serve and protect ALL citizens. IF that is, those companies put their money and efforts where their mouths are, and IF we don’t forget George Floyd as soon as the next news cycle starts. Maybe we can finally begin to remedy our past transgressions as a nation. Maybe it is end of times. End of racist times. We can not only hope, we can help make it happen.

Novel Coronavirus Transmission: Keeping Our Cooties to Ourselves

Disease Spread
Copyright: lightwise

“I feel like crap,” I said matter-of-factly. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with Jason, who was lying in it. We were discussing logistics. He had just gotten off the phone with his parents and was planning an impromptu trip to Houston. His father was having surgery.

It was Tuesday, February 18th, and we had just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York the day before — stayed with my sister, saw a Lumineers concert at Barclay Center, went to The Met, saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway in a tightly-packed theater. Flew in and out of JFK. Opened a lot of doors, touched a lot of stuff.

Jason traveled to Houston, where he stayed with his sister and her husband and daughter. He went to MD Anderson for his father’s surgery, walked the halls, was there to support his mom. I stayed in Austin and drove the soccer carpool with our oldest and four of his buddies. The youngest and I ate pasta at an Italian restaurant while we waited for practice to be over. Wednesday morning, Jason texted me and asked how I felt.

“Not great,” I said. A full-blooming oak season in Central Texas was upon us, and I had worse congestion than most years.

“I don’t feel good, either,” he texted. I’m coming home.”

He didn’t go to the hospital that morning, because he was starting to feel really sick. He didn’t want to expose anyone at MD Anderson to his illness. He sped back to Austin down the highway, through Katy, La Grange, and Bastrop. He may have stopped at a gas station or two. He got home before he started feeling really terrible.

“It’s so weird,” he said. “My body aches all over.”

“You have the flu,” I said. He’d never had the flu.

“If you go to the doctor now,” I said, “You can get Tamiflu, and it might help.”

He glared at me and did not go. Our insurance isn’t great, and it would have cost a small fortune.

Over the next ten days, he ran a fever. He stayed in bed. He developed a bad cough. At the end, his ears were stopped up and painful, and we thought they might be infected.

During that time, I went to a PTA board meeting and took notes. I attended a school STEAM night, noting conversationally how bad my allergies were to the principal who commiserated with me. At the event, I helped my youngest kid create circuits, handing him the plastic and metal pieces that were configured and reconfigured all evening by many sets of hands, big and small. A day or two later, I sat in a coffee shop with friends and noticed my back hurt in a weird way that suggested something other than muscular issues. I hugged both of them before we parted ways.

I began to suspect it was not allergies. I developed a cough that kept me awake at night, one that could only be quelled by falling asleep with a cough drop in my mouth. I suspect I had a mild fever. I felt weepy. I wrote and edited things from my couch, alternating between working and napping. I was so very tired.

It seemed to take forever, for two people who are rarely sick, for Jason and me to feel better — not days but weeks. My energy slowly came back, but the sleep-disrupting cough lingered. Jason became hard to live with when he was well enough to be irritable about not feeling well. His ears still haven’t completely recovered.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I keep thinking I feel better, then it hits me all over again, and I have to go lie down.”

The kids didn’t get sick. We were grateful.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic. And as I read people’s accounts of their symptoms — those confirmed cases who had recovered — I began to suspect. Our symptoms were eerily similar. Other facts:

  • A woman I met with for work on Wednesday, February 26, said she had been sick and was having ear problems identical to Jason’s. She was concerned it would be problematic on her impending flight to Colorado.
  • One of the friends I had coffee with subsequently got sick, mistaking her symptoms at first, as I did, for allergies.
  • Two days ago, our youngest child said he didn’t feel well. His eyes were red and irritated, so I gave him some allergy medicine. Then, his right eye got really goopy. I thought, pink-eye. But when I took his temperature because he was lying on the couch listlessly and felt hot, the kid who never has a fever was running 100.3. I wondered where he could’ve gotten whatever he had since we’ve hardly been around anyone but each other for the past two weeks. Now, his fever his gone, but he’s got a snotty nose, a cough and a sore throat. And he says everything tastes weird.

I’ve been on the internet a lot lately, and here’s what I have learned:

  1. Several reports indicate that conjunctivitis (pink-eye) is a Covid-19 symptom in some people.
  2. Symptoms can appear up to 14 days after exposure to the virus, most commonly, though, around 5 days.
  3. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms.
  4. There are reports of people experiencing loss of taste or smell who later tested positive for coronavirus.
  5. Coronavirus can survive on a hard surface for up to three days.
  6. Children’s symptoms tend to be mild and cold-like — fever, runny nose, cough — with some reports of diarrhea and vomiting.

I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but even if I were, I couldn’t tell you without a test, for sure, whether or not all these sick family and friends had Covid-19. Whether the mild virus that swept through some of my sons’ friends the week before spring break was novel coronavirus before we thought it was here or something else. But it’s not at all far-fetched to think that it could have been. I’d even venture a “probably” in some instances.

This virus has likely been insidiously working its way through our communities for longer than we’ve been aware, with people mistaking milder cases for colds, allergies, flu. People who, like me, went about their daily lives, traveling, going to the store, attending social events, before Covid-19 was on anybody’s radar in the United States.

I’m betting MANY more people are currently infected or recovered from it than our official reported “confirmed cases” numbers. Don’t assume you don’t have it just because you are asymptomatic or because you haven’t been around anyone “confirmed” to have had it. Preventing the spread of the disease to protect our vulnerable populations and keep our medical facilities from being overwhelmed is not just the responsibility of healthcare workers or those who are elderly or immune-compromised. It is ALL of our jobs to do what we can, and for most of us, that simply means staying home. No matter who you are or where you have or haven’t been lately, this is the time to keep your cooties to yourself.

Pandemic Thoughts: If You’re Not Okay, That’s Okay

Businesswoman hiding behind plant wearing disguise
Copyright: Shannon Fagan

Idea Overload

I quit social media again today. Okay, so “quit” may be a strong word since I’m posting this, but I am definitely dialing back. I do this periodically when it starts making me feel like a failure in my own life. And since the response to Covid-19 has ramped up, I definitely feel like I’m falling short.

The internet is saturated with ideas for those of us fortunate enough to be healthy but also stuck at home.

  • Make a schedule!
  • Go for a walk!
  • Have a family game night!
  • Read these 18 self-care tips to stay happy and healthy at home!
  • Do these 47 education crafts!
  • Here are some video links to free yoga! Free online classes! Free footage of California Condors doing the congo!

Here’s what happens to me as I scroll through all of those helpful posts (sooo much help): I start to feel pressured. I begin to feel like I am falling short, like I am not enough. I haven’t hand-sewn any face masks for healthcare workers, I haven’t made my kids do any school work yet, I have availed myself of zero free YouTube workout videos. We are basically acting like it’s summer vacation around here, sans day camps.

The Good

We’ve been on some hikes and some walks. We are making the kids do housework, and we are discovering some new shows to watch. I am enjoying our lax schedule and the idea of distance learning as a fun social experiment. It will be interesting to see what we learn as a society from all this, what will change permanently. <— See! Positive attitude!

I have also learned that even when you do chores, go running, read a book, play a board game and make everyone rake leaves, there is still a LOT of time left in the day to binge-play video games.

The Not So Great

Here’s what else has happened in our house since social distancing began: Jason yelled and threw things because (not really because) he lost at a video game. The kids have gotten in fights. I have cried in my morning coffee because I don’t have a job. Ou dog is driving us all nuts with her constant scratching because her foot thumps on the floor, and when she does it upstairs, it’s like a seventy-pound Thumper from Bambi is sounding the alarm for approaching doom. Our very own pandemic herald.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay

You can do all the “right” things. You can meditate, make schedules and mentally list everything you have to be grateful for, and still have a hard time. This IS a hard time. Whether your stress is derived from health issues, financial worries, being cooped up in the house with your family or a combination thereof, it is okay if you’re not totally okay.

We all feel better when we take good care of ourselves and our families. I’m not suggesting everyone spend the next several weeks wallowing alone in dark bedrooms with nothing but Netflix for company. Not the entirety of it, anyway. But there’s nothing wrong with you if all those helpful suggestions don’t make the anger, worry or fear disappear.

The big stressors are there in the background, so if you still grind your teeth, get irritable and yell at someone or close your bedroom door and cry, congratulations! You’re having a normal human reaction to things that are stressing out the entire damned globe. No amount of family game night is going to fix the downward-sliding economy, make a sick loved one well or get us back to our normal lives any faster. It just might make it a bit more tolerable, that’s all. Those big things will take time; we can’t repair them with essential oils or apple cider vinegar.

“These Uncertain Times”

I have a hard time answering when people ask me how we’re doing in these “uncertain times” as the media like to put it. We’re doing pretty good. We’re not too stir crazy or bored, and we all still like each other. With more free time, we’ve been getting outside a lot and spending some actual quality family time together. And also, Jason and I are worried about our finances and the medical vulnerability of some of our relatives. Sometimes that leaks out as irritation and anger. But at least we’re talking about it.

I’ve only got one suggestion to go with the mountains of advice you’ve read lately: If you are scrolling through your newsfeed, and you start to feel bad about the way you’re handling the Covid-19 crisis, close the app and social distance yourself from social media, just a little. Hell, you don’t even have to put your phone down; go play Words with Friends or something. Call a real-live friend and vent to them everything that’s pissing you off lately.

Bottom line, at our house, we’re okay, but we’re not totally okay, and as I remind myself daily, eventually, all of this will be okay. If you’re not totally okay, either, that’s okay. Don’t make not being okay even less okay by feeling not okay about feeling not okay. Okay?

 

‘Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit my Job.

b96498332c7ea933964ec615ce0fab85
This probably isn’t the week to try to quit anything, except going out.

I quit my job with Neighbors of Four Points magazine several weeks ago. I was just ramping up the search for a new position when the coronavirus smashed everyone’s plans on the whole planet to bits and caused the cancellation of pretty much everything but healthcare.

On the one hand, I don’t have to deal with trying to work from home while the kids are not in school for what is currently going to be three weeks. My freelance client has even put projects on hold. As an introvert, nothing pleases me more than being on my own, whimsical schedule. And we are all healthy and not immune-compromised at our house. There’s a lot to appreciate, not the least of which is Texas Governor Abbott giving the okay for restaurants to deliver alcohol during this time of crisis.

On the other hand, as a person who needs a job, the current situation doesn’t bode well. Hiring copywriters isn’t a priority right now. A lot of people assume that because my husband has a fulltime job, I don’t need to work; I just do it for personal edification or shits and giggles and to keep from being bored. These people don’t know me very well; I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself with a stack of books, puzzles and some wine without anyone paying me. We need my income. And while we can keep ourselves in food, clothing and shelter for now, my being unemployed for who-knows-how-long is stressful.

It’s a weird time. My kids are happy the state testing they dread every year has been canceled, and I am enjoying the change in routine, but I know it’s going to be challenging after three weeks. Despite the fact that I taught school for ten years prior to having my own children (or perhaps because of it) I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling. And I know I need to get a job. And I know there are immune-compromised people suffering from coronavirus or from anxiety about contracting it and a bunch of other people irrationally hoarding things and making it harder on everyone. My 68-year-old mom is still going to work in the lab at the hospital every day, and my sister is still stalking the streets of New York City providing necessary health care to those who live there. There is a lot going on and virtually nothing going on all at the same time.

This is going to be the thing our kids remember. Like we remember where we were when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center was hit. Like our parents recall their exact location when John F. Kennedy was shot. But this one is global; it’s an experience youth around the world share. Twenty years from now, my kids might run into someone from Italy, Australia or China, and they’ll ask each other, “What happened where you were during the coronavirus pandemic?” Since this is not an acute event but a lengthy pandemic virus, they will have a lot to talk about. And what will they remember about how the adults in their lives handled this challenge?

Dickens Was Right, Damnit

92808719_s
Copyright: Paul Rushton

Dickens, be damned.

My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.

We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.

I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?

I hate it when he’s right.

BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.

My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho

It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.

My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.

The best of times weren’t that good.

I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.

It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) —  I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.

There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Why didn’t you just say so?

So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.

And also…

“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)

Coffee Pods, Banana Peels, and Impending Doom

Jenny Lawson, You Are HereI ordered a book the other day, and then I forgot I ordered it because it took longer than the customary speed-of-light Amazon delivery. Then I remembered yesterday and thought, Where is that book? It was in the mailbox this morning, and it showed up exactly when I needed it.

They’re building a new shopping center down the road from us. I don’t know what will be in it, but it nicely complements the half-empty one less than a mile from it. I read a blog the other day about consumerism and how advertising is always trying to convince us we need stuff, pointing out our supposed flaws so they can sell us eye creme, Spanx, and protein shakes. I would’ve been pumping my fist in solidarity if it hadn’t been for the pop-up ads on the post making me wonder if the hypocrisy was totally lost on the author.

There is so much shit wrong with this world politically, socially, environmentally. It seems capitalism is failing us, as businesses act with self-interest — build more stuff, sell more stuff, convince people they need more stuff — instead of what is in the interest of the greater good. Sometimes it is clothed in a disguise of altruism, which is either intentional misdirection on their part or self-delusion and rationalization, but it always results in the making and buying of stuff.

I look at all of this, and I have a feeling of despair, of helplessness. I can clean out coffee pods to recycle them all day long, I can compost every last banana peel we make, I can avoid driving to reduce our carbon emissions. But what real difference is that going to make when industries, the biggest purveyors of environmental pollution of all kinds, aren’t following suit? Because it’s more expensive or a pain in the ass or people just don’t like change, they aren’t going to do it. Because industry is self-serving, and I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say they don’t give a shit about the future of our planet or humankind. They *might* care on an individual person level, or they might give lip service to it, but those who could implement real change through business policy aren’t going to.

And then I get You Are Here in the mail, and I read these lines:

You send out needed ripples of greatness and kindness in unexpected and accidental ways. You won’t always see the wonderful ways in which you shift the world. They may be invisible to you. But I promise you they are real.

IMG_1350This isn’t empty platitude from a self-help guru or motivational speaker. It’s an honest accounting by the author, Jenny Lawson, who suffers from anxiety, depression, and autoimmune disease. Most of the things she writes are darkly humorous accounts of her childhood and her struggles with illness. Coming from her, it reads less like someone trying to cheer me up and more like a sister in suffering giving me a hug, shoring me up, and telling me to keep the faith.

My mother’s guiding principle in life is to “leave things better than she found them.” Mine, I guess, is similar. I want to recognize what is real and raw, emotionally, for so many of us. I don’t need to offer mind-blowing advice or shout it from the mountain for all of humanity to hear. But if a few people read what I write and it makes them feel less alone, makes their lives just a tiny bit better, that’ll be enough, coffee pods and banana peels be damned. Thanks, Jenny, for reminding me.

Welcome to My Brain

fullsizeoutput_4440Sometimes I have the urge to write but not about any particular topic. It’s like when I was little and would say to my mom, “Let’s talk about.” She’d ask, “Talk about what?” Me: “Things!” I was in the mood for conversation about nothing specific.

Here I sit, typing away, stream-of-consciousness style. When I do this, sometimes something brilliant comes out. Sometimes it’s rambly drivel. Most often, though, it’s one or the other, I’m just not sure which.

Sometimes when I’m editing my own writing, I read it for so long, I lose sight of what is great and what is crap. I cease to be able to tell the difference. It makes sense, really, since it’s all subjective, and my moods can at times be less like a rollercoaster and more like the heart monitor line for a particularly erratic patient.

It’s cold outside right now. It’s early November in Austin, and it is like 30 degrees — highly unusual. Of course, Texas weather by nature is unpredictable, just like my moods or that suffering heart patient, so really “highly unusual” isn’t highly unusual at all. In two days, it could be 85 degrees, and we’d all be like, “yeah, pretty much.”

Our heat isn’t on yet, partially because of the aforementioned possibility of imminent summer weather and partly because when we turn it on for the first time each season, it smells musty, dries the air and clogs all of our sinuses. So I’m sitting here, cross-legged in my office chair, bundled in my robe and a scarf, drinking ginger tea mostly for the warmth of it.

I can see a gerbera daisy blooming outside my window. That’s how ridiculous the weather here is. A few days ago, it was warm enough for flowers to poke their heads up and bask in the sun. Now it’s cold enough to kill them.

There’s a squirrel sitting up in the tree over the shivering red daisy. It’s very still (for a squirrel), huddled for warmth, maybe munching one of the millions of acorns that cover our yard and driveway and force me to wear shoes so I don’t impale my feet.

So this is why I bother to free-write like this. I’ve just realized the metaphor between my ephemeral mood swings and the Texas weather — can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

I recently applied to a program that helps authors write, publish and promote their books. Some of the questions on the application asked what my motivation was for wanting to publish a book. The application was completed and submitted over a week ago, but it’s caused me to ponder the intricacies of my relationship with writing.

One of my favorite things is when someone tells me they read a post of mine and they connected with it. They thank me for writing it because it cheered them knowing other people have the same struggles as they do. Or just knowing that other people struggle at all. With social media, sometimes you feel like you’re the only one not going on fabulous vacations and getting your shit together.

That’s what I want. I want to connect people. I want people to realize they don’t have to play perfect; we can like and respect each other, warts and all. No matter our backgrounds or how different we may seem at a distance, up close we all have fears, weaknesses, confusion. And that’s not a negative thing; it’s part of life. What makes life good is that we can share our problems with others and find support and sympathy instead of judgment. That interconnectedness is what bolsters us to pick ourselves up and move forward after a fall.

No one is an island…or rather, no one thrives as an island. It’s not about our ability to make a lot of friends. Whether you have one close friend or twenty, it’s more about our ability to view other people as nuanced humans instead of one-dimensional labels. Woman, Liberal, Republican, Gay, Catholic, Transgendered. Those are infinitesimal pieces of an identity.

We are all humans who laugh and cry and worry and meander through daily existence no matter where we live. When we can see that human-ness in the forefront, before we see the labels, we can truly work together towards common goals that will make this world better for all of us. See, I told you this stream-of-consciousness thing turns out well sometimes.

I considered editing out all of the free-associative stuff at the beginning of this post, since the meat of it doesn’t start till halfway down the page, but I decided I kind of like it. It reminds me of writing a letter to a friend, where you touch on topics from the mundane to the mystical. I’m all about being real and real isn’t always a neat little post with nice transitions and perfectly-related sentences. My real brain is much messier than most of my writing. Don’t worry, though. I won’t let it go to my head.

 

Can You Be Pro-Life AND Pro-Choice?

 

46684592 - diversity people crowd friends communication concept
Work together, people!

I’ve always thought of the pro-life/pro-choice issue as polarizing, and in today’s political discussion, it sure feels that way. Recently, however, I realized something: it doesn’t have to be.

When I was in high school, I used to roll my eyes as my guy friends argued and postured with each other. Their classic argument:

Guy 1: I’m stronger.

Guy 2: No, I can swim faster.

Guy 1: No, I’m stronger.

Guy 2: But I can swim faster!

They thought they were in disagreement when they weren’t even expressing two opposing viewpoints. It was ridiculous; they were defensive and insecure and/or just liked to argue.

Similarly, the pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints don’t have to be diametrically opposite from each other. You can believe that life is sacred and still believe in a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion. But really, whatever you believe about the legality of abortion, I bet there are a few things — vitally important things — most of us on both sides of the issue can agree on.

No one is like, “Yeah, abortions are awesome. SO much fun!” Even those of us who believe they ought to be legal see it as a last resort. What I’d much prefer is that we dispense with arguing with each other and start talking about what we can do to support women during their reproductive years to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancy — something we can do through improved health care; more robust, consistent sex education; and access to birth control. What would happen if we took all the energy we spend shouting, “Get your laws off my body,” and, “Abortion is murder,” and used it to solve those issues?

We can all stand around with our signs, our chants, and our self-righteous rhetoric, or we can talk to each other like rational adults and actually DO something to improve outcomes for women of all races, religions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses. We are all in this thing together, and I do mean ALL of us — not just white people or women or straight people or able-bodied people — every last person on this earth. Let’s finally act like it.

Politics, Ugh. But Still…

quarrel
I’m feeling a little bummed. I’ve spent probably an ill-advised amount of energy debating other people on Facebook over the past few days. I normally stay out of social media arguments. They have a tendency to devolve into name-calling, personal attacks and a lot of unnecessary exclamation points. But recently, I’ve come across a handful of people online who are willing to have civilized intellectual conversations, even though our politics don’t agree.

It’s mentally exhausting.

It wore me out supporting my point of view with informed commentary and research, and it was good for me. It’s easy to engage in e-shouting and spouting violent solutions to get rid of the opposition. It’s much harder to have an actual dialogue involving a well-thought-out exchange of ideas, where you are forced to take a look at your own beliefs and why you have them.

It’s no secret I lean liberal.

And it’s easy and comforting to submerge myself in my liberal compatriots, where we all like each others’ posts and it’s a big love fest. Comeraderie is great, for sure, but the challenge of those who don’t agree is too.  During the online conversations I chose to participate in over the weekend, I learned why some of my conservative friends think the way they do, and I was prodded into putting a critical eye to my own beliefs.

I didn’t change my mind; neither did they. But we (or at least I) came away with a better understanding of people. Most of us want to do what we think is right; we just don’t all agree on what that is. Talk about the American way. And those that are willing to open their minds and hearts enough to have honest conversations with those on the other side of the issue, those are the people we need working for us.

Vice puts it this way:

Political discussions seem to go one of three ways, whether online or off:

  1. Everyone agrees with each other because we’ve built social circles that don’t include anyone who doesn’t share the same views as the rest of the group.
  2. People get very angry.
  3. People with opposing beliefs speak to each other in a way that is productive. Each explains his or her viewpoint, and both walk away understanding the other side a little bit more, even if they haven’t changed their minds.

It rarely goes the third way.

I’ve seen politicians and the general public alike resort to yelling threats and personal attacks at each other. I get the frustration; it’s human. But…

if we can take our egos out of it for just one conversation, imagine what we could do together.

Image credit:  Lorenzo Rossi