I Haven’t Written Lately Because Listicles

Celebrity Affair CollageIt’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. My paying work picked up its pace over the past several months and the kids are out of school. Something had to give, so I intentionally put blogging on the back burner, as much as it pained me to do it.

I love writing here, because I can write whatever I want, in whatever format I want and with whatever whimsical made-up words I favor. The only problem is, no one pays me to write my weird personal stuff.

I recently started writing for a parenting website that is committed to listicles (an article in list format – Jason says “listicle” sounds like male genitalia). The website has very specific requirements for word count, amongst other rules for achieving ideal SEO (search engine optimization.)

When I started, I found the restrictions…well, restricting, but now, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of creating an engaging list within the site’s parameters. And I like that I can create these articles with internet research alone and don’t have to talk to any real people or rely on them to send me information. (Introverts unite!…separately, in our own homes)

The real challenge, though, is choosing a topic. I get paid based on the number of times my listicles get clicked on, so it’s in my best interest to pick popular topics. Some of the most-read ones involve shaming celebrities and ideas that have no other value than to shock the reader and allow them to judge people. They’re the train wrecks of the internet. You know the type: Ten Shocking Celebrity Parents Who Don’t Raise Their Kids Right. Yeah, Homey don’t play that. And by “Homey,” I mean me. But…

I found I can dress up the meatloaf – meatloaf being my own preferred topics: women’s reproductive rights, body and fat positivity, and judge not, lest ye be judged. (Yes, the atheist just quoted the Bible.) I can take a topic like Eight Times Celebrities Messed Up Their Marriages – a potential train-wreck article – and give it value. I can turn it into a lesson on not judging others, even celebrities who are always, always in the public eye. I can use the shocking title to grab you and, now that I’ve got your attention, give you something that does more than entertain. I can feed you something that really makes you think and reflect. Example: I wrote this article, 12 Shocking Stories of Women Who Performed Their Own Abortions, and made it into an analysis of why they did it and how restrictive abortion laws can force a woman’s hand. (One of the things I love about the site is they don’t mind if I get political.)

So, in the vein of not judging, I have stopped judging listicle-type articles for their titles. I’m not the only writer out there trying to make people think instead of just gawking at disasters. Some listicles actually have substance. But, once I’ve read the content, make no mistake; I will be judging.

It’s Full of Stars

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Several years ago, I walked into a coffee shop. I had some time to kill before an appointment and a good book to read. As I approached the counter and inquired about decaffeinated options, the barista asked me, “What are you reading?” It was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. He hadn’t heard of it but commented that he liked to read but hadn’t read anything recently. I, in an uncharacteristic spurt of extroversion, asked, “What did you like to read?” Then, his eyes lit up, as he began to talk about quantum mechanics and string theory, subjects of which I have an extremely tentative understanding, but his passion for it was captivating. In the few minutes it took my coffee to brew, he explained to me how everything in the universe was made from the same source, if you believe the big bang theory, so the elements in our bodies are the same as those in stars millions of light years away. “We’re all star dust,” he said with child-like delight. Then, my coffee was ready.

The whole conversation lasted less than five minutes, but the star dust thing stuck with me, and I feel just as delighted by the fact as that barista seemed to be. It’s where poetry and science meet. It makes good, logical sense, AND it feels right. The idea that we are made of the same stuff as whatever is on the other side of the universe is calming and comforting to me, and I have integrated the idea into my spiritual contemplations.

It’s a cool idea, but what does it mean in everyday life, besides being fun to think about? As I look out my office window, I see a tree, the house across the street, a white SUV. The elements in all of these things are the same as what is in me. My neighbors who have different political views than I do are made of the same star dust as I am. People who are a different nationality, race, age, body shape, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity than I am  – same star dust. The idea that, at our cores, we are all made of the same stuff means there’s no reason for us not to help each other, show compassion towards one another and work together to fix what is broken with our current world.

If we are the same as stars so far away, we can only imagine their existence, it’s a no-brainer that we are the same as each other. We are all in this thing together, so let’s act like it.

Image by  ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1207a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27850385

Election

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I wrote this the day after the election but didn’t publish it. I was afraid I was still too close to give a fair, big-picture account of my feelings about it. Now, on inauguration day, I’ve re-read it, and I still believe it. Un-edited, here it is:

I know you’re probably sick of hearing about it, but I have a lot on my mind concerning what happened in the 2016 presidential election. Don’t worry; this isn’t a rant. I got my ranting out of my system yesterday morning in the bathroom, as Jason and I were getting dressed. He very graciously did not point out I was acting like a lunatic.

Watching Hilary Clinton lose Florida, and then all the other swing states, was like watching in horror as the Longhorns lose to Iowa State at home, only I didn’t have the reassurance, “it’s just a game.” The outcome of this “game” we have to live with for at least four years. I fell asleep on the couch after it became apparent Donald Trump would win. I awoke around 3am and checked the news on my phone, hoping against hope, but my fears were confirmed. Donald Trump, the man who was portrayed as America’s rock-bottom president in a prescient Simpsons episode in 2000, was the president elect.

The day after the election, I couldn’t focus on work. I kept wondering why? Why, America, did you vote for a man who, according to all evidence, is racist, bigoted, misogynistic and narcissistic? I couldn’t fathom it, so I took to the radio. I listened to National Public Radio a lot of the day – election analysis by experts, thoughts on what a Trump presidency means for the U.S., interviews with Trump supporters, both politicians and average people. I had discussions with friends on both sides of the campaign.

This is what I discovered: overwhelmingly, those who voted for Trump were after change. They didn’t want another career politician influenced by special interest groups, moderating their views to keep everyone happy and not listening to what the people wanted – jobs and help for business owners. Though it is not clear they will actually get these things under Trump, they believe he is a better bet than Clinton.

While I see their point, and it is somewhat of a relief not to hear anyone saying they supported Trump because they think all the Mexicans need to go back to Mexico or because they think grabbing women by the pussy is acceptable behavior, I still don’t agree. While most Trump supporters are focused on shaking up Washington and what Trump might be able to do for businesses, I focus on his character, what he might do to the environment, what he might do to immigrants, and, scariest of all, who he might appoint to the Supreme Court. My heart hurts for all the people who are scared of being deported. Whether it can actually happen or not, living in fear is no way to live, especially for children.

Character is important. Online, I read a retort to those concerned about Trump’s personality: “People say all the time that their doctor or lawyer is an asshole, but they are a great doctor/lawyer. What does his character matter if he can get things done?” My response: he is not a doctor or lawyer. He is the president of the United States. He represents the American people, and he’s responsible for maintaining relations with other nations. I’d say decent character is a little important.

I understand the concern that Clinton won’t follow through with promises. She has outright contradicted her own positions at times, and the way her views became more adamantly leftist after beating out Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination smacked of political maneuvering – an effort to gather Sanders supporters to her side. I don’t quite trust Clinton, but I do think her heart is in the right place. She is striving to break that elusive glass ceiling, and she genuinely wants a more inclusive America. She has dedicated her life to making the changes she sees vital; I admire her for that. Politics is not for the faint-hearted. But does that lifetime of politics disallow her to see the forest for the trees? Is she so entrenched she doesn’t see what is really going on in our country with the average person? Does maneuvering for power to push her agenda cloud her vision of that agenda? Maybe. It doesn’t seem like any of us so much voted for one candidate as we did vote against the other.

Bottom line, I still think I’m right: while Clinton may not have been the shake-up Washington needed, she was a far better bet than Trump, whose hyperbolic, self-centered ways of thinking quite frankly scare me for our country. His acceptance speech was conciliatory and gracious – a relief to hear – but, as one New York protester said, “he can’t just erase all that other stuff he said.”

When my 8 year old asked me who won, and  I told him, he said glumly, “I guess everyone’s moving to Canada.” While I may have said that flippantly in the weeks before the election, I realized, that’s not where I stand. Now that Trump is president, and we’ve had our day of ranting, obsessing, mourning , commiserating with like-minded friends and contemplating, where do we go from here? The United States is my home, and there is no place I’d rather live on earth. I feel damned lucky to be here, and I have a strong sense of loyalty. The democratic process, imperfect as it is, needs to be protected. I don’t agree with the outcome, but the people have spoken. I have hope, though. I hope I’m wrong. I hope all the people who told me Trump won’t be able to set women’s rights back and build a wall are right. I hope everyone who said his dramatic campaign statements were only for the sake of media attention (much as I abhor the tactic) is correct.

I am still worried, but I hope, and I will be here, in my small and humble way, to hold Trump accountable. Bernie Sanders said several months ago, in a plea to his supporters, that we needed to vote for Hilary Clinton, even if we were concerned she wouldn’t follow through with her promises, because the Democratic party’s platform is good and solid. We needed to elect her and then hold her accountable, he said. Trump is not my choice, but he’s the one we’ve got. When we sign up to be Americans, which we all do by living here, we agree to abide by the democratic process. One of the best things about our country is that, even if we make that implicit agreement, we are free to shout as loudly as we want when we don’t agree with what’s going on. I urge you to do the same. Whether you voted for Trump or not, hold him accountable for what you know in your heart and head is right. Because, as divided as the nation may seem, we are all in this together. We will all reap the benefit or pay the price, and we must work together.

Trump is what we have to work with. I accept it, even if I don’t like it. I will do as Clinton suggested in her concession speech: I will give him the chance to lead. I will do my best to be open-minded and fair. I will pay closer attention than I ever have before to politics, I will hold him accountable, and I will be loud when I don’t agree. It’s a very American thing indeed to stand up for what’s right. I truly hope he means what he says, that he wants to be president for ALL Americans. I hope he means all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, ages and abilities. And I don’t mind saying that I hope, four years from now, the Democratic Party does a better job of getting some qualified person elected.

But, if all else fails, I’ll nurse my sorrow with some wine and Saturday Night Live…which is sure to be awesome for the next four years.

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