Monday, December 28, 2015

Conversations kill

Mix Bakeshop
Decaf Americano
Almond Croissant

After Roseburg, my sister sent me a message asking how I was doing.  I told her that it hurts every time, more when it's close.  Roseburg is only a little bit north of here.  One of the survivors from UCC was here, yesterday, lighting the menorah on the town plaza for the first day of Hanukkah, and speaking about peace and bringing more light to the world.

Planned Parenthood - been there for each of my pregnancies, getting the confirmation I needed to apply for assistance to raise each child.

And just a few days ago, San Bernardino - even closer to home.  I've driven those roads.  I know those landmarks.  The shooters lived in Redlands.  I grew up there.  I was up late into the night scanning Facebook for any mentions of family or friends killed or hurt.  One of the names of the victims is similar to an old classmate's.  Her little sister, maybe?

And the rest of the walls of social media are papered with their usual fluff.  Life continues amidst such horrors, and it always seems perverse and strange to those close to the hurt.  But I don't feel any resentment.  This is just the moment for lolcats.  This is the moment the Kardashians fulfill their social purpose.  I have zero interest in them, personally, but I don't hate them.  The Kardashians, and all the other celebrities under the media's relentless gaze, are there for those who care to care about them... when you need a mental palate cleansing, especially after being overwhelmed by all the distress of the world.

It's okay to be interested in other people's stories.  It's very human, and it's actually very important.

After Paris, many people pointed out the huge amount of media attention that terrible act of carnage received compared to the terror attacks in Beirut, just the day before.  It occurred to me that, for Americans, Paris is close.  Paris is a place many Americans have traveled to, and for the rest, Paris is a celebrity, that familiar stranger from a multitude of stories that have become part of our lives.  From the vantage of the stories of our lives, Beirut might as well be the North Pole.  But even the North Pole get's more press these days...

This is exactly why the lack of diversity in our stories and our news of the world allows horrors to repeat, again and again, without a blip in our newsfeed.

Mix Bakeshop
Caramel Cider
Morning Bun

And now it's the 22nd, and almost closing time.  Much has happened in the last couple weeks.  So much of it the expected noise, but I am remain concerned.  So much free-floating hate...  It's expected that a salesman would try to exploit a market.  The great blustering moron would obviously try to stoke the fear and propose something as monstrously unAmerican and deeply dangerous as a religious registry and a ban on any incoming Muslims.  "Until we can figure out what's going on here."  You fucking asshat.  We KNOW!  The grown-ups have been having the earnest conversations about how these different groups have evolved, what ideologies they accept or reject, and, mostly, what NOT to do about it.  There are many people in many areas, from government to military to academia and journalism, who know a great deal about "what's going on here."  And they know that Islam is not the fucking problem.

But the used car salesman is still not worse than the tragic number of people willing to buy that bullshit.

In case anyone who happens to be reading this is inclined to point to San Bernardino as validation of their mistaken notion that Islam is inherently violent and nothing like Christianity, you have been lied to.  The fearmongers have made their case, made it sound very convincing, and it is tragic that you have cut yourself off from anyone who could counter that hate.  That is not the world as it is.  First, all these religions are religions of peace.  I can find you the quotes.  Also, these religions are guilty of long histories of violence and oppression.  I can find quotes for you of some really, not subjectively, terrible stuff in the Bible that I guarantee many Christians have never committed to memory.

It really doesn't matter the name of the group, or the policies they are supposed to obey - people are people.  Terrorism, hate, violence - they are not the domain of any religion or people or ideology.  They are a reflex of the human mind.  They are age-old.  They have been with us a long time and have been brought out of us and directed toward anyone of any convenient label.

But alongside the history of our violence is the history of our love and compassion for others.  Within any of these religions you can find the tension between the teachers who compel you to embrace the Other and those who demand you "purge" the Other.  That is where the hazard of religion lies.  If you start from a premise that there is a divine authority behind these teachings, it makes it difficult to refuse to do what one of these teachers says.  Which one of these teachers do you follow?  Questioning can be deadly, so choose wisely...

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Fireside Spice Latte
Berry Muffin

And here we are on the 28th.  I'm never very productive around the holidays...

This season, friends and family celebrated their traditions in their own ways.  One friend observed the winter solstice by keeping a fire lit through the longest night, for friends to come and go, share food and stories, reflect on the past year and look forward into the next year with positive intention.  Another friend mentioned his Muslim family had matzah ball soup for Christmas.  And some of my Jewish friends donned their obnoxious Hanukkah sweaters and watched the new Star Wars flick (again).

We observed our Christmas morning traditions, as well.  Beneath a living pagan wreath, beneath a miniature wrought-iron Saturnalia tree, beneath cards of well-wishing from family and friends, our little family gathered and exchanged gifts and sweet treats.  The first, the Santa Gift.  The one gift we give to remember the importance of kinetic lovingkindness, given in the name of a bishop, a teacher of the kindness of Jesus.  Though the bishop has come to bear more resemblance to the myth of Odin with his flying eight-legged horse.  So sayeth Wikipedia.  The point - the reason he's worth remembering - is the kindness.  No matter what religion or tradition you keep, no matter what land or people you hail from, kindness and compassion are found everywhere, and, in the end, they are the only things that can save us.

That sounds like an airy-fairy platitude.  Right up there with, "Love is all you need."  Tell someone without food or shelter that all they need is "love."  Tell someone who has just been mugged that "kindness" is their best defense.  And yet... if we turn to anger, or fear, or hate after we have suffered, if we put that into the world... how can we expect to have someone open their doors to shelter us, feed us, and share stories through the darkest nights of our lives?

I've decided I don't believe in retribution.  I don't think there is such a thing, because we can never go back and "correct" a grievance.  Our actions only go forward.  If we want peace in the future, we have to act in peace now.  Be kind.  Now.

When I began writing this weeks ago, I chose the title from a line from a Stone Temple Pilots' song, in remembrance of the passing of their front-man, Scott Weiland.  I see, in these acts of violence, the conversations behind them.  The conversations we are having, and those we are not.  We are hearing so much conversation about who to hate, not how to stop hate.  It's that human reflex again, fear being twitched, repeatedly, until the hate muscles spasm violently.

I have a cousin I haven't seen in years.  When I catch his Facebook posts, they almost always break my heart.  One particularly virulent anti-Muslim post actually caused me to rest my head in my hand and weep.  All I could think of was how my uncle was probably the kindest man I have ever known.  But my cousin was robbed of his voice, from a young age.  I can not believe, if my uncle had been around to counter this nonsense with his compassionate voice, that my cousin could have gone so far down a path of hate and unreason.

I chose not to comment on my cousin's post, not wanting to throw down the Dead Dad Card.  I should have said something, though.  There has to be pushback, if only to remind our loved ones that the ideologies they are being sold are not universal.  At the time, I felt weary and overwhelmed, because the walls between my cousin and I, the walls between real conversation taking place, are brutally fortified.  But leaving the conversations as they are, those turning victims into villains, and villains into martyrs, that's what gets people killed.  Even the casual verbal violence, stereotypes, repeated falsehoods - they promote the Us versus Them mentality.  That leads to "good" people making bad policy, and to crazy people finding a violent purpose.

I worry for Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my gay friends, my black friends, my female friends...  I worry less for my white Christian friends (no matter what Starbucks is putting on their cups), but that doesn't mean I somehow don't care about them.  I worry less about their safety (except my friends who live too near to tornadoes... or blizzards... or wildfires), but I worry about those who embrace their skin color or religion as a group identity.  I worry about those who embrace these false distinctions, or who trivialize or dismiss the wrongs other people have suffered, who think they're whining or playing martyrs.  I worry about my gun-owner friends who do not fight for better gun regulations.  There are so many obvious fixes, so much data we can discuss...  I worry about anyone who wants to keep our conversations separate.

If you disagree with any of this... come sit with me by the fire.  We can share food.  We can share the stories that show how our different names and skins, religions and opinions, are the same story of our different journeys bringing us together today.

Time to wrap it up.

Please, enjoy your holy days... and in your every days, may you give kindness and find kindness given back to you.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Millennials: These are not the assholes you are looking for...

Caramel Apple Spice
Egg Salad Sandwich

Okay, I'm going free-rant today.  As in, I am uncharacteristically under-read on this subject, so I'm going to draw on my experience being a "Gen Xer" and just BS straight from the gut.  So...

To everyone over-analyzing and over-criticizing the Millennial generation: please shut the fuck up.

I am right at the tail-end of the previous generation which, depending on who you're asking, extends to anyone born under any president from Kennedy to Carter.  I distinctly remember all the angst over my generation, all the generic criticisms of the older generation against this younger, wilder - different - generation.  We were called everything - lost, free, apathetic, self-centered, chaotic, idiotic, juvenile - almost none of it was flattering.  There was a lot of trying to figure out what we were all about, what we valued, what the hell was wrong about us, and finally, what we were going to buy.

All the chatter about Millennials sounds about the same.  Some of the features - the memes - are different.  But it's all just a bunch of the old generation trying to figure out the kids today; and, again, trying to figure out what they're going to buy.

So, let's get something straight... Millennials are not just a bunch of entitled, over-sharing, little twerps.  What you're picking up on are the featured assholes of this particular generation.

There are trends particular to each generation, not just in fashion or technology, but in thinking, as well.  There are larger forces faced by each generation - wars, debts, climate, and other cataclysms - that influence their thinking and behavior.  And changes in all aspects of life have been increasing exponentially over the last several generations, which can make each successive generation feel further and further from the previous one's understanding.

But we're all still the same people we've always been.  We are complex and varied.  We're raised steeping in the values of our parents' generation.  We still tend to come out a lot like them.  Or we fight to be nothing like them.  Either way, we are more heavily influenced by them than they seem to want to accept.  There's no need to feel anxious or estranged from each other just because we don't get each other's pop culture references.  We probably get more than we think, and could understand even more about each other if we stopped acting like the proverbial old man shaking his selfie stick at the trains.

Let's not forget that many of these "Generations" are still living and evolving side-by-side.  There's a lot of overlap in behaviors and influences.  It's not only Millennials that are getting tattoos and smartphones and driving less.  Any values or behaviors ascribed to them are neither exclusive to them, nor universal among them.  So stop saying things like, "Millennials are..." whatever disparaging adjective you feel like sticking in there.  And, for the love of humanity, stop fretting over what Millennials are going to buy.  If that's part of your job description, just ask yourself what any person under these structural forces is likely to do, and you'll be a lot closer to a useful answer than trying to divine how the inner angst of these kids today might manifest in the financial markets.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's go Bizarro

Bloomsbury Coffeehouse
Soy Cappuccino
Chai Spice Biscotti

I just came from the physical therapist today.  Yep, going through that again.  This time, however, they might actually approve the referral.  I'm still trying to squeeze in as many appointments as I can, just in case, since I won't get billed for any treatments prior to the official denial.  Nonetheless, I have been assured that the insurance has changed their policies regarding pain management so there shouldn't be any problem getting this approved.

So they say.

I have been through this so many times, I have a conditioned dread of seeking help.  Towards the end of my first appointment, I almost started crying (catchphrase!) in front of the therapist, worrying that I wasn't broken enough, or hadn't described all the pain or in the right way, to get the insurance to approve it this time.  Again, they tell me it's going to be different this time.  But there was another deeper emotion mixed in that was driving the feeling of break down: body-hate.  I just hate my body right now.  Loathe it.

I have been fantasizing lately about Bizarro Chandra - the super-healthy, super-well-adjusted version of me from another incarnation of the universe.  Bizarro Chandra doesn't have these pain problems.  She never gained too much weight - she eats right, she does yoga.  She finished school and got a real job - she's probably your favorite math professor - so she has real health insurance, which she almost never has to use because she's so super-healthy and awesome like that.  She still doesn't wear make-up but she's still a super-hottie.  And crying at inopportune moments is not her catchphrase, because she has her shit together.  She is my most positive visualization of myself.

In short, Bizarro Chandra is my evil fucking nemesis.

And lately, I can't stop beating myself up with the image of this person I can never be.  No matter how much I can improve in this real-world version of myself, I will never be like that.  Too much damage has been done.  Even if I lose this extra weight that is such a burden to carry, and recover the functionality and strength in my body, I will still be left with a sack of extra skin hanging off me.  I already look like a half-deflated windsock and I've got at least another 30 pounds to relieve myself of to feel healthy and functional.  I fantasize about this mythical post-weightloss head-to-toe plastic surgery - so I wouldn't feel like a walking Savini gunk-dissolve - but I can't fathom ever paying for it.  I've priced it out and it would probably cost as much as we earned last year.  And even if we had an extra year of pay, and, miraculously, no bills to put it towards, I still could not justify spending that much money, no matter what it would cost me mentally to keep carrying that baggage - forever.

It has become abundantly clear that we're never getting out of this financial state.  Whatever changes will not be enough - it's not mathematically possible.  So whatever resources we have will have to be put towards making sure the boys are okay and have an education with as little financial burden as possible.  Retirement is not going to be an option for us, so we have to keep ourselves healthy enough for as long as we can to keep ourselves in the workforce - for as long as we can literally stand it.  So, costly indulgences like having a less cumbersome body that I don't have to think about are totally off the table.

So this is the Is!  I fucked up along the way and this is the body I have and I have to deal with it.  There are still things I can do to make it work better.  They may be much harder to do than other people think they ought to be, but they can still be done.  And my body doesn't really matter so much anyway, right?  I need it to function for my sake - and my family's sake, so I can take care of them - but in the grand scheme of things, who gives shit, right?  What I have to say and do and and who I am as a human being, is far more important to the world than what my body looks like.  Right?  And it's not like I'm in the dating scene anyway, so what do I care?

Yeah, all true, but I fucking care.  It's not just that my body hurts, it's that my mind hurts to think about my body... especially naked.  I'm angry at my physical pain because I feel like it's yet another way I have failed, failing to somehow take care of myself in spite of the obvious obstacles.  And I'm angry at my reflection because, even though I have known so many men - even particularly gorgeous men - who can love and be attracted to women of all physical states (including this women), I still feel undesirable - unlovable.  I even feel a sick pang of embarrassment at noticing an attractive celebrity.  As if I can metaphysically feel his disgust, or pity, and rejection of my attraction.  Like I'm a damn teenager again.

Perhaps, it's some deep-seated fear that, even though I've become strong enough (sometimes) to accept that I can be desirable to some mere mortal, if that same hottie were famous and had other options, I wouldn't stand a chance of being loved by him.  And I'm married!  I'm not looking for anyone else but the man who does love me.  But still, emotionally, I am always seeking that validation.  It's something primal, I guess.  Acceptance, not just by the Group, but by the Alpha Group.

I am aware of just how much of a downer this useless blog is.  But I guess it can't be useless if I needed to write it.  I know I am not alone.  I know that body-hate isn't just for fat chicks.  And sometimes I can inhabit that Bizarro Chandra mindset and love my own body, or at least not give a shit whether anyone else does or not.  But that's for me to work out.  What I would really like to see is a little more Bizarro from the outside world.

I would love to see an art project, a photobook or some such, of those rarefied A-list, Sexiest Men Alive types in intimate couplings with Hollywood's rejects.  All those people denied representation in the cultural consciousness - from my fellow fatties to the gay-lesbian-trans folks to any person of non-white color to the wide array of people with disabilities of one kind or other - being shown loved by their fellow human beings who already reside in that elite space.  It is not about being validated because of some beautiful person's interest in you - to make you feel better.  The power of it would come from seeing the people you identify with being fully accepted and integrated into this highest abstract ideal of our society.  After all, the absence of these real-life truths from our cultural vision can be absolutely devastating.

And we self-haters are fully capable of dismissing even this gesture.  We can tell ourselves that these rich, beautiful people want to be seen doing something nice, but they couldn't actually be interested in us in real life.  So, I would make it a part of the design of such a project that anyone approached as a participant has to actually believe they could, under the right circumstances (as in, if they weren't already married to another rich and beautiful person, etc) be in a relationship with the person they were ultimately paired up with.  Like a preliminary hypothetical dating service pre-screening.  Because the truth is that such couples do happen in real life.  Not everyone is stuck with Hollywood's narrow and superficial tastes.  Plenty are that bad, but plenty more prefer to live a little Bizarro.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

On doing your job

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
Iced Americano
Vegan Pumpkin Bread

There have been a number of "Do your job"-themed memes lately directed at county clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  And while some of them are genuinely amusing (I particularly liked the "Clerks" one), I get a little uneasy with the message.  I do believe that she should be doing what her job requires here, but I feel the need to clarify and expand that conclusion a little bit.

The reason I get squirmy here is that "do your job" is too simplistic and, in other contexts, is the absolute wrong thing to do.  When officers of the government, be they in military or in law enforcement, are told to do something that violates the constitution or international law, they are obligated to refuse to do so or they can, and should, be held accountable.  They can't say, "I was just doing my job," when their job entails torture or unlawful detention or other violations.  They are responsible for carrying out the order.  Further, they are supposed to be protected when they speak out and refuse to carry out what they believe to be an unlawful command.  Obviously, there are a great many people who did their job when they should have refused and were never held accountable (though I wouldn't necessarily go after them more than the ones issuing the orders).  Likewise, there are some who did refuse to be complicit in the illegalities, some who should have been protected as whistle-blowers, and were punished anyway.

But what about when something has been deemed legal, by the legislature or even the judiciary, that someone believes should be illegal?  What are their obligations then?  This is not as clear-cut an answer.

We all want to believe that we would have been running the Underground Railroad if we were living back in the day, that we would have defied any law requiring us to comply with slavery.  Clearly, some of us wouldn't have, had we been born and raised under that zeitgeist.  Nonetheless, we generally agree, today, that the abolitionists were in the right, and posthumously support any instance of their defiance.  We would surely not have said, "Do your job," to any government grunt involved in returning an escaped slave to their "owner."

But Kim Davis is no abolitionist, and she's certainly no persecuted Christian martyr.

Where we can clearly see that a once-legal institution that deprived people of life, liberty, and any chance in Hell of pursuing happiness, could not persist as being consistent with the founding principles of the Constitution, and should therefore be defied, we can't say that about everything we disagree with.  Slavery killed people.  Slavery stole their liberty.  That's pretty clear and reasonable criteria for disobeying the laws that upheld it.  But look at the defiance of laws that gave freedom to those once-enslaved.  For some people, it was evident that enfranchisement of these "obviously inferior" people was damaging to society as a whole, so they used whatever means they saw fit to prevent these laws from being implemented.  Some even quoted their deeply held religious beliefs to justify that defiance and obstruction.  "God's law" was ever superior to man's law, and that gave them the right to break man's law.

Sound familiar?

It's easy to vilify segregationists after the fact, but we should never doubt their sincerity.  So many monstrous things are done by people who fully believe they are doing what is morally right.  Some people know they are evil bastards.  Most seem to think they are destined for statues or sainthood.  Frankly, Kim Davis might be as much as a footnote someday, no matter how much of a political prop she is at the moment.

And I want to take a moment to say that I don't repeat her name to vilify her or call her a bigot, no matter what her actions show her to be.  My sense is that she is another one of those people who doesn't necessarily carry around a hateful heart, but whose actions are hateful and cause a great deal of harm to people who have been made to suffer too much already.  I think she is what happens to those otherwise good people who try to make their worldview conform to someone else's interpretations of someone else's stories about someone else's supposed actions, all of which occurred in an entirely different time, place, and context.  She is fortunate that those interpretations have changed already, otherwise she would not have been able to be divorced three times, nor to speak in public about religious matters, nor to be elected to public office.  Among other things.

To get back to disobeying the law...  It's hard to set a definitive criteria.  We can generally agree that laws that go against the basics - life, liberty, etc - should be defied in some way or other.  And we do have the right to peaceful protest, to petition the government for a redress of grievances, all that, without the risk of losing our own life or liberty or job (so long as we follow the established protocol, get our proper permits, and whatnot).  Beyond that, if we deem the laws to be so egregious that they require greater acts of civil disobedience, there may well be consequence.  That's Thoreau's Dilemma - do I pay my war taxes or go to jail?  But that remains between you and the State to square.  The problem comes when your act of conscience infringes on another citizen's rights.

When a Muslim airline attendant discovered that she was expressly forbidden by her religion, not just from imbibing alcohol, but from selling it, she approached her employer about reaching some kind of compromise.  Since other attendants were available to serve alcohol, they agreed that she would not be required to do so as part of her job.  However, a coworker decided to complain that this wasn't fair.  The company decided to fire the Muslim woman and she is now suing.  I believe the law is on her side, because her inability to serve alcohol, 1) could have been successfully accommodated without causing an unreasonable increase or change in the duties of any other employee, 2) was an act she was expressly forbidden from performing, 3) was not directed at any customer through discriminatory bias, and 4) would not have impacted the rights of any customer to receive equal accommodations from the airline.

Here's why the same is not true of county clerks or bakers.  The Muslim woman above was prohibited from performing a particular act - serving alcohol, which was only one task she was expected to perform as a flight attendant, and, thus, easy to work around.  Had she been a bartender who had then converted, she wouldn't really have a case.  Serving alcohol is the whole job, so not serving alcohol cannot be accommodated.  Bakers are not prohibited from baking cakes, under any religious doctrine.  They are prohibited from establishing a public business, then refusing to serve members of the public cake because they are feeling all judgey because those people wear make-up and don't cover their hair and the baker's sincerely held religious beliefs say that that is wrong.  Too bad.  If you serve the public, you serve the public.  Conformity to your religious values is not a requisite for service.  It doesn't matter if the customer plans to use the icing for eye-shadow, you don't get to single them out because you think your god doesn't like them.  The law is there to protect them from that kind of discrimination, just as it would protect you from whatever their religious beliefs might be.

As for the county clerk, you don't get to pull the Religion card either.  Issuing a marriage license is civil act, not a personal or religious endorsement.  A clerk is acting on behalf of the government and carrying out the laws of that government.  They are simply acknowledging that the petitioners have met the criteria set forth by the government to form a legal marriage.  The clerk's beliefs are not involved in that act.  Nor is the act of processing paperwork expressly forbidden in any Bible I can think of.  It doesn't matter that what the government considers to be a valid marriage isn't what the individual clerk considers to be a valid marriage in the eyes of their religion, their god.  That's between the couple and who- or whatever is there to meet them in the afterlife.  The clerk simply has to acknowledge that we live in a country where everyone has a right to their own beliefs and, as she wants her country to protect her right to each of her marriages - to not question their religious consistency with the written texts, or their conformity to the beliefs of the clerk who happens to be issuing her documents - if she is acting in the capacity of representing the government, she must protect the rights of every citizen to their own marriage.

If she believed that same-sex marriages were inherently unconstitutional for some legal inconsistency, she would be protected in holding protest signs and writing letters and petitioning for change.  If she refused to issue those marriage licenses, however, that's an act of obstruction and not simply protest, and, thus, not protected.  And since the act of issuing a marriage license does not cause the clerk to deprive someone of their life, liberty, or ability to pursue happiness, there's no moral case to be made, either.  Refusing to issue the license, however, does cause real harm, both mentally and financially, at least.

If Kim Davis can't get past the erroneous conclusion that allowing other people to have their own legal protections somehow makes her complicit in their perceived moral trespasses, then she has to leave her job.  Her beliefs cannot be accommodated here, nor should they be.  Her Oath of Office requires her to uphold the law - man's law - and uphold it equally, without discrimination.  She is failing to uphold her Oath of Office, selectively, based on a religious prohibition which does not exist and couldn't legally be accommodated anyway.  If she doesn't get that and continues to break the law, then there should be some kind of legal process to remove her from her office.  She is breaking the law, and obstructing others from exercising a right that harms no one.

As an ordained Methodist minister, my late grandfather officiated many marriages.  He managed to get most of the family, though he had to get my dad the second time around since my parents eloped as youngsters.  He also performed my marriage five years ago, despite the fact that my husband and I are both agnostic.  We discussed it all beforehand.  My grandfather felt that his authority to perform the ceremony came from the church, but we felt it would be disingenuous to make our vows in the name of a deity we didn't believe in.  So he found the language that we all felt satisfied our beliefs, consistent with the spirit of, well, the Spirit.  He still blessed us with a prayer, and we took no offense to the benediction, but God was not invoked in the actual vows.

During his visit here, my grandfather, the reverend, also made a point of informing us that he totally supported legalizing gay marriage.  And he couldn't understand why his church had to waste three days of their convention talking about how much they didn't support it - oy!

This whole thing is a pretty clear case of "render unto Caesar" because, even if you don't agree with gay marriage, it causes no one harm on this earthly plain, and allowing it to exist, unobstructed, alongside other marriages does not make you a party to it.  And, remember, if God is going to damn someone to Hell for any particular offense, that's His prerogative.  If I remember correctly, "Vengeance is Mine," says the Lord.  And, chances are, God is not so prejudiced as the people claiming to act on His behalf.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A permissive culture

Mix Bakeshop
12oz Soy Mocha
Veggie Tartine-thingy?

My boys are 3 and 5 years-old.  We were coloring once, and I grabbed my 3 year-old's paper to show him how he could draw something with white crayon, then use a colored crayon to reveal the image.  He kept saying, "No Mommy, that's my paper!"  I kept saying, "I'm just going to show you something cool..."  He kept saying "No!" but I did it anyway.  When I was done, he looked at me with furious, weepy eyes and said, "I'm so mad at you, Mommy!  You did not have my consent to color on my paper!"  Though I did not intend to teach them this lesson this way, this is how I learned that, not only did they know the word "consent," they knew exactly what it meant.

I took the moment, then, to acknowledge that he was absolutely right, that I should have respected the "No."  We use this phrase a lot now - "Respect the No" - and refer back to this incident whenever they need to be reminded about respecting boundaries.  I also make a point of not using the word "consent" interchangeably with "permission."  For example, if they were trying to use their gadgets when it wasn't Gadget Time, I would say that they did not have permission to use their gadgets, because their gadgets belong to them (under parental regulations), not to me.  But if they wanted to use my phone, I might grant them my consent to use my phone - under the terms I specify - because the phone is mine, first and foremost.

I offer up a lot of vocabulary that I don't expect them to understand right away or to remember.  (Last night, I asked Ovi to say the word "ergo" because he was demonstrating such a sound use of deductive reasoning as to why Mommy had to tuck him in instead of Daddy).  Some would argue that they are too young and that I'm just going to make them feel bad about themselves for not understanding these big words and ideas, which could end up being counter-productive.  But if I never gave them the opportunity to learn these things, I would never know that they had the ability to understand them.

Further, these kinds of concepts make a difference, right now, in how they play with other kids.  We were at a play area at a McDonald's yesterday (McDonald's: who could give as many fucks about vegetarians as they give itty-bitty cherry tomatoes in their " garden salad"), and we might as well have been the only parents in there, given the way the other kids behaved.  I'm all for hanging back and seeing if the kids can work things out on their own, but just about every other parent in there was completely checked out.  And it showed.  Older kids shrieked (and it fucking echoed!) and jumped around dangerously on the equipment.  They ran into smaller kids, intimidated them off of things they were playing with, showed zero concern for anyone.  And they were never called on it, even at the times the parents actually looked up from their cheeseburgers or their smartphones.

Let it be known that, if your child has become a hazard, I will intervene.  I can't change all the effects of your lack of parenting - not your laissez faire parenting style, but your lack of basic intervention on behalf of your child and others - but I will inform your child that their behavior is not okay.  Somebody has to.  Because what kind of person is your child going to grow up to be if they never receive any kind of push-back?  How old will they be when you decide they're old enough to understand that they should respect other people?  How effective will that message be, by then?  And how well will they understand that concept of "consent" in their sexual relationships, down the road, if they are never taught to respect other people at the most basic level, from the very beginning?

I wrote, a long time ago, in my "Know Your Audience" blog, that the most attractive thing to a predator is opportunity.  And opportunity is not just a dark alley or an unattended drink.  Opportunity is a permissive culture.  A permissive culture is one that does not hold aggressors accountable for their actions.  A permissive culture ignores, denies, or diminishes the magnitude of the crime, or blames the victim of the crime for being a victim.

A little boy knocks over a little girl's blocks.  "Boys will be boys."  No punishment.  No lesson on boundaries.  No questions to the boy like, how do you think that feels? how would you feel if they were your blocks?

A big boy is acquitted of raping a big girl.  "She was a big girl - she should have done a better job of making it clear that she didn't want to get raped."  No punishment.  No lessons learned.  Save, don't be a girl.

A person of color is stopped by police because __________ and is killed by police because __________.  "They must have been doing something or they wouldn't have been stopped, the officer wouldn't have shot."  Innocence of the officer is presumed.  Guilt, by the dead, is assumed.  No consequence for the shooter.  No other cause sought.  No lesson learned.

A non-white person, American or not, is detained - stolen, disappeared - for the entire life of their child, from infancy to graduation... or is killed... by an American soldier.  "They must have been a terrorist, or helping terrorists."  I have read the entire Declaration of Human Rights.  If any country but America had perpetrated indefinite detention and invasion of a sovereign nation without clear, demonstrable cause, they would have been held accountable.

No.  Lessons.  Learned.

This is what a permissive culture does.  Even in the face of innumerable and obvious wrongs, it will not even say that something might not be right.  And that is how it creates the monsters out of the innocents.  I don't think every soldier or police officer or college guy, or even the thoughtless little boys of the world, are evil.  I deeply respect the sacrifice, and the dangers, that our soldiers and our officers take on.  But we can't afford to pretend that there isn't a strong trend of race-driven violence and abuse being perpetrated or protected by our heroes, our champions.  And we can't pretend that sex-based stereotypes don't lead to the subjugation and abuse of women, and the LGBT community.

And don't think that those Lone Gunmen - our very real and present American terrorists - are actually alone.  In his ear - in his, almost categorically, white, male ear - are words of fear.  Every scared, white male, warning about the dirty "other" or the "liberated" woman or the black helicopter government, and bemoaning his loss of security and dominance.  And in his hand, is the fear-mongering gun lobby.  No matter how many gun owners support reasonable reform, they are somehow drowned out by the most loud and fearful and moneyed.  And the crime is permitted to go on.

It is not only the victims who have been wronged by this culture of permissiveness, though they have, unarguably, suffered most because of it.  It is also these wayward villains who have been wronged.  Some people are just fucked up, I'm not going to sugar-coat it.  And every one of them, who has perpetrated any of these many abuses, must be held accountable.  But we have to be held accountable for our contribution to these crimes.  We must let ourselves be uncomfortable and face what Is.  And in every instance, when we see even the smallest infractions, we must push back.

Even when we're not sure what to say, even when we're a little scared and we don't want to antagonize someone, even when we don't think it's our place, even when it's not our racist uncle, even when it's not our kid - we have to say, "That's not okay."  Somebody has to, or they will never learn how not to be the monster.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A cry for help, or a case of the Mondays?

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Morning Bun

A friend wrote a very personal blog about her struggles with depression over her lifetime and her fatigue with the "positivity police."  She is, rightfully, sick of everyone trying to fly in to fix her any time she talks about her emotional state.  The comments she received were loving and appreciative of her words, revelatory for some.  I, of course, was the asshole who couldn't help but drop in words of advice.  She gave me the gentle, 'love you, too, but shut the fuck up' that I deserved.

I had almost resisted the reflex and not said anything more than the "totally agree" that was warranted.  Instead, I let it happen and tried to preface it that my motivation was not an attempt to change her fundamental state.  But I have that Fix It reflex.  It's born of my personal story, my struggles to deal with depression, among other stuff.  And there's also a fear, whenever we see or hear someone drop the d-word, we are afraid they're going to follow it up with the s-act.  I wasn't expecting my friend to harm herself, but the motivation is born of all the people we've seen pass without our ever knowing how bad things were.

So, advice is largely selfish.  As much as we think we say these things because we don't want our friends to suffer, it may be more that we don't want to wake up and find out our friend is not there anymore.  And, mostly, that we don't want to live with the guilt of wondering if we could have said just the right thing that would have kept them from doing it.

So what's a friend to do?

Well, step one is learning to evaluate whether a comment from your friend is an actual cry for help or just someone with a heavy burden trying to deal with it by venting a little.  Musically speaking, singing the blues is a coping method, not a request for relationship counseling.  Similarly, bitching that I have gained more weight and must now go shopping for larger clothing, does not mean I want you to send me diet advice or "encouragement" that I can be skinny if I just get off my fat ass and work for it.  Maybe I don't give a shit what my size is; maybe I just hate shopping and spending money I don't have.  And maybe I do want to be a healthier weight, but your tactics and your timing do more harm than good.

If a friend with a painful chronic condition says something dramatic like, "Had to go to the ER again.  This shit is killing me!" that's probably more a Case of the Mondays than a request for you to send them motivational, spiritual mantras.  Like you're going to chant away Crohn's Disease.  Studies might show positivity to be really beneficial but who wants to be told to think positive when it feels like your insides are stabbing you?  That's not what your friend needs from you that moment.  As my friend repeatedly made clear in her blog, it's not your job to fix the disease.  No matter what your own experiences may have been, it's not your condition - it's not your life.  It is for you to accept that it's there and that it is your friend's battle to handle as they see fit.  It is not your problem to solve.

One of the worst things my husband has ever said to motivate me to be happier is, "You only get what you want."  As in, if you're not happy it's because you don't really want to be happy and you'd rather do the self-destructive things that you say you hate.  This was advice that worked for him.  All it did for me was make me want to punch him in the face.  Tell that to someone who has had something horrible happen to them, or who is battling medical problems.  That shit is outside their control and nothing they would ask for.  And framing your unhappiness as something you want... head-desk.  Specifically, his head slammed against a desk.

Now, was that there a red flag that I'm going to assault my husband?  Not today.  That's just me venting.

So what do you do about the real red flags?  As a friend, aren't you supposed to do something? let them know that they're worth being around? that they're not alone?  Yes, that's fine.  When it's obviously warranted.

If you're not sure, send a direct message to your friend and ask... "Hey, it sounds like you're in a really bad state - do you want to talk?  Is there anything I can do?"  Even if you have nothing useful to say, no remedy or past experiences to relate, just engaging someone and letting them get things off their chest might be enough.  And if they are clearly at a crisis point, do what you can to get them to seek professional help.  Even if they are willing to talk to you, if someone is that much in distress, you do not want to take on the job of trying to help them - they need a trained professional.  But you can offer to help them make the call, be their voice for them if they break down or have a panic attack when they try to speak.  You can go with them to their appointment and be in the waiting room when they come out on the other side.

It's tough if it's a faraway friend, as are almost all of my social media friends and family.  Social media can be both a lifeline connection and completely alienating.  Just listen to what your friend is saying and do what is in your power to help.  If they actually want it.  It would be so much easier if all these social media sites had a "Commiserate" option, instead of just "Like" and "Favorite" and such like that.  For now, we have to settle for typing out that we love our friends and are thinking of them.

Look at me, giving fucking advice again.  I'll shut up now.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Extra Feels

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Breakfast Burrito

Okay, I'm a little fucking grumpy this morning, so I'm going to start by ripping on my husband a bit.  This is what he gets for not reading my blog.

My husband is a racist, just not about race.  I have informed him of this before when he has been railing about politicians and lawyers and such.  This came up again after I read Amanda Palmer's recent article for The New Statesman.  It was a wonderful article about empathy and being open to understanding even the most monstrous of people as human beings who also have human experiences.  I thought it was wonderful, anyway.  When I brought it up as something my husband might want to check out, not as something he would necessarily agree with, but something he might want to ponder since I have tried to say the same things in my own way, the conversation devolved quickly.  So did I.

But, hey, crying at inopportune moments is my catchphrase.

It's strange that someone like me, who was born with extra feels, could end up with someone who doesn't share this level of open-mindedness.  Though we generally reach the same conclusions about politics and religion and such, we seem to reach these points from very different paths.  This does not mean he is without compassion or deep feelings of his own (he loves to get his cry on watching YouTube videos of surprise soldier homecomings).  He's just lazy about applying his empathy. 

For instance, when I express grievances about economic inequality favoring the so-called 1%, I am clear that my problem is with economic policies that bring about this situation.  I do not presuppose anything about any individual person or their motives.  I do not even generalize about "most of them."  My husband, on the other hand, is convinced that there is no such thing as a businessman who is both moral and successful.  He makes sweeping generalizations about the morality and/or intelligence of many groups of people.  He was even dumb enough to make certain generalizations about women.

"Honey, if 'all women' want to marry rich, attractive men with fancy cars, how do you explain me marrying you?"

"You're weird."

And that's the problem.  Yeah, I am weird.  But that's not why I don't value wealth and other material expressions of virility.  I'm not a deviation from "all women."  That presumption is just a stereotype.  Can you find examples of it?  Of course!  How common is it to see a beautiful young woman on the arm of a wrinkledy old rich guy?  But seeing that doesn't validate the stereotype about how "all women" are in reality.  The truth is that women are just as complex as men in their desires and values.  But there are comparatively few rich old men, so it is not difficult for them to find at least a few women willing and available to confirm that bias.  And the stereotype persists because of overexpression in media and repetition by society at large.  As in, people like my husband being idiots, who take television as the broad reality and real-world example as aberration.

This might sound like the rantings of a grumpy wife.  These are such rantings, but they are also true.  It's also all so much more important - and dangerous - than it might seem.

Every time we frame our opinions, even our humor, in stereotypes and generalizations, we dehumanize people.  We take away someone's right to be seen and understood as an individual.  Even if it's not someone in front of you at the moment, there is a cumulative cultural effect.

Gender stereotypes engender a "benign sexism," which can be an inconvenience, at best, or a worse economic disadvantage.  But that background sexism accumulates in some as outright misogyny, and frequently results in physical and mental violence against women.  Men, too, suffer because of gender stereotypes.  But no one wants to equate their comment that women just aren't as good at math, or their rantings about their "touchy" girlfriend, to rape culture.  They aren't bad guys - they'd never do something like that!  But the stereotypes are where the violence starts.

The same is true for racist comments.  Even when you're telling a joke among friends, even friends of that race, who know you are not in the least bit racist, if the joke involves race-based stereotypes, it still promotes harm.  I'm not talking about satirical use of stereotypes to call them out as ridiculous and invalid, though this is not exactly risk-free.  I'm talking about, say, following the news that the new employee is Mexican, making a joke that there will finally be someone to mow the lawn... and it's funny because everyone knows that you're totally not racist and the new guy is actually an engineering major.

But as much as you don't want to see yourself as the bad guy because you are not causing the harm directly, you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that you are still harming people.  Your "totally cool with it" friend may not be as cool with the joke as you think they are, or maybe it's over the long run that it's going to take its toll.  But even the other "some of my best friends..." people present are affected by the repetition of the stereotype.  They are primed for that example to come along and confirm the bias.  And someday, when the person who reflects the object of the joke finally speaks up about the harm and dehumanization they have experienced, that would-be ally is more likely to feel detached rather than empathetic, and to deflect or minimize this other human being's experience.

I can feel my older brother rolling his eyes at me.  See?  This is why he doesn't tell those jokes around me.  I have no sense of humor.  I'm too sensitive.  Deflect, deflect.

Really, how dare he say I have no sense of humor!  I heard a great joke the other day:

What did one condom say to the other as they walked by a gay bar?
"Wanna go in and get shit-faced?"

Was that a gay joke?  Yes.  Did it involve stereotypes or subjective values about gay people?  Nope.

There is no doubt that I am sensitive.  That is nobody's fault.  I was born that way.  Cultural stereotypes would have you believe that it's because I'm a girl.  But you know who else is super-sensitive in my family?  My older brother.  Not that brother, the other one.  But, growing up, while my crying was "weak" and "girly," his throwing the gameboard was just "being a sore loser."  And that's where it starts

All these cultural sicknesses, these abuses of gender or race or creed, they all start from that first act of generalization, thus, detachment, thus, the other-ing and dehumanization needed to make abusive acts, major or minor, acceptable in polite society.

Sorry, if my being aware of that infringes on your punchline.


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And I'm back for round 4!  (Yes, it has taken me four weeks to finish this ever-changing blog).  But let's just wrap this puppy up...

Amanda Palmer and I aren't the only ones on this empathy wavelength.  Wil Wheaton (who reminds me a bit of my older brother... not that one... the other idiot) also blogged about a seeming cultural shift online toward widespread bullying and hostility.  Not that it hasn't been present before.  His concern is that the younger generation seems to have incorporated wanton snark and vitriol as part of their cultural identity and is now saturating the internet, among other parts of society, with it.

The internet is a peculiar and particular place, and I think we're still a long way from figuring out how to handle it.  But we of the extra feels are still here.  Even if there are trends in thinking - trends like racist thinking, sexist or xenophobic thinking, isolationist, myopic, self-righteous, self-involved, what have you - they are only trends and are never all-encompassing.  Bell-bottoms were a trend.  Many people thought bell-bottoms were a really, good idea.  But bell-bottoms were never a fundamentally true expression of human aesthetics and we, thankfully, evolved.  If we can get over bell-bottoms, and if we can elect a black president, and if we can handle women becoming astronauts and leading successful movie franchises, then we can overcome this trend of apathy and anti-empathy.

We of the extra feels are not naive or weak.  We have been born more sensitive and aware and that has immense value.  And I assure you, we are many.  We must take strength in each other's presence and pay no mind to our inopportune catchphrases (just me?).  And, as hard as it is, don't lose faith in change.  People can change their trends in thinking.  It's not a guarantee, but it's a possibility.  No matter how monstrous.  Or how annoying.  They are still human, and for most people, there is still plenty of love within them.  And we are primed to show them the way back to it.

Time to head home.  My loving, misguided partner in crime awaits me.  Peace.

No, seriously, motherfuckers.  Peace.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Of Food Stamps and Smartphones - part 2

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All editing and no blogging makes Chandra a something something...  I'm just not right in the head unless I'm writing.  Which is saying something sad about my standards for being "right in the head."

Okay, firstly - fuck you Kansas.  Sorry - fuck you Kansas government.  Fuck you on behalf of the people of Kansas and economically disadvantaged people everywhere.

So much for my policy of speaking kindly and open-heartedly to others.  And so much for my policy of not using excessive profanity lest I turn away potential listeners.  Well, they're more "goals" than "policies" anyway.

What are far worse policies, of course, are the new policies just passed in Kansas regarding public assistance.  If you have not heard already, new restrictions were approved that would prohibit people receiving public assistance from using that money on cruises (wait, what?), at movie theaters, nail salons, concert venues, and the like.  They have also taken the extra measure of restricting the amount of money Kansans can withdraw from an ATM per day to $25 so they cannot circumvent these prohibitions.


I first found out about this because I have (statistical smarty-pants people) on my Twitter feed, and they did a break-down of what these restrictions mean.  First, there's a $1 fee for every ATM transaction use.  So that $25 per day goes down to $24 per day of actual assistance.  Second, there's a good chance that the person with the card doesn't have a checking account, meaning they don't have a bank.  And if it's not your bank, then the bank that owns that ATM will almost certainly charge a greater fee on top of that first dollar.  The average bank fee (they referenced the Government Accountability Office here) is $2.10, bringing the actual amount of assistance received down to $21.90.  So, if you don't have a bank (and it's very common for low-income people to not have a checking account), and you're going to have to pay your landlord in cash, they calculate that it would take 28 days of making the maximum withdrawal to pay your $600 rent.

They also show that the maximum monthly benefits for a family of 4 is $497, so they'd only have to make 20 withdrawals to extract all the available assistance.  They'd also lose $62 in the process.  (And we're assuming magical ATMs here that dispense both singles and coins).  So... a family of 4 has to give up an electric bill every month (a spring electric bill, mind you, when the weather is nice and electric usage is way down) so that they don't go to the movies...?

The truth is, poor families don't go to the movies that often, if ever.  They cannot afford to divert a cent from all the numerous worries they have to grapple with every day.  They don't have $62 to spare - period.  And remember that it costs more to be poor, from those extra bank fees and extortionist payday lenders, to the simple inability to buy the bulk pack of toilet paper because you just can't seem to save up enough at one time to buy more than the 4-roll pack.  And after all, those food stamp cards don't actually pay for all the food you need for a month (neither do they pay for any sized pack of toilet paper), so you're going to have to dip into that "wild money" the government doles out.

What bullshit.

So, what is the point?  What is the actual point?  It does not save the Kansas government any money directly to impose these restrictions - the amount issued is the same, just the amount received by the people in need is directly diminished.  The theoretical argument is that people who are receiving assistance either will be discouraged by not being able to "indulge" on "the government's" money or will be more focused on spending their money more prudently enabling them to save(?!) enough and they will finally break their cycle of poverty and get back to work.  They also think people who are working or already eligible to receive benefits will see that they won't be able to abuse this free money system and will, therefore, decide to stay in their current job or suck it up and go get a job.  Thus, they will keep people off The Dole and make them productive tax-paying members of society.

The problem is this is a complete fantasy.  There is zero - ZERO - data to support any of these presumptions.  Poor people, as a rule, don't even receive enough to get by on government assistance, let alone indulge on it.  And if you subtract ANY money from an already inadequate amount, you only exacerbate the problems endemic to the cycle of poverty and make it more likely that the person STAYS ON WELFARE LONGER.

So why do this?  Firstly, the only ones sure to make money are the banks.  I'm not sure these stereotypes that lead to policies like this would exist if banks were unable to pay for the politicians who put this type of legislation forward.  If no one were allowed to make money off of poverty, my guess is we would have an economic structure that made sense and tried to eliminate poverty instead of stoke it.

That is not to say that many of these politicians - and bankers, for that matter - don't believe in these anti-poor people stereotypes.  They are in a willful denial about their own culpability into these circumstances - first they create the poverty, then they blame the people who experience it.  Poor people aren't poor because they failed - they're poor because they have succeeded in participating in our economy, just the wrong end of it.  Poverty in our country, in our time, is not exclusively the result of exceptional circumstances, as it should be, but the expected result of the design.

If you set minimum wage below the cost of living, you build poverty into the very structure of the economy.  And remember what the cost of living is.  It is not just your month to month cost, which, in almost every place I've lived, minimum wage won't cover for even a single person.  Your true cost of living includes savings.  We are supposed to be saving up enough money to cover down-payments (for apartments, vehicles, a house someday, right?), deductibles and co-payments, retirement (Ha!), clothing, furniture, our children's education (and down-payments and deductibles...), replacing all the things that wear out over time, and all those other eventualities - the S-sub-h in the equation of life: Shit-happening.

And did you know that, depending on where you live, to receive assistance, you might have to be in some kind of work program which may or, more likely, may not be good for your situation.  Or you have to pay back the government for the welfare or other kinds of assistance you received?  What asshole came up with that idea?  The only thing worse than poverty is debt.  Debt is one of the all-time best ways to ensure that someone never gets ahead.  Especially when there are no restrictions on the interest rates someone can be charged.  And since wages are so very inadequate, debt is pretty much a certainty.  Where is that in the Budget now that you're working again?

And what are the numbers for cancer rates in this country?  A quick Google search says 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer.  The cost, generally, is in the tens of thousands, even higher, and the patient, by design, should be paying some portion of that.  Those numbers are over a lifetime, of course, but there is no timer on cancer, no excluding by race or economic status (though there is a skew that follows race and economic status and your likelihood of recovery).  Where is that calculation in the overall equation?  And that's just cancer.  There are innumerable other ailments that can be permanently debilitating, or temporarily incapacitating.

And where are your dreams in the American financial budget?  The idea is that you work extra hard to achieve your dreams - save up enough to start a small business or buy some piece of equipment or tool you need to do something that becomes your life's passion (maybe buying a laptop on credit because you are infected with that crazy American optimism and you think you can actually become a writer).  You put in the extra hours of practice or study and you get the pay-off on that investment.  That's the sales pitch.  That's not the product we own.  The reality is that we have been robbed of our capital by people who probably don't even know they are the thieves.  Partly, by ourselves.

If our almighty American Work Ethic is our inherent capital to achieve our Dream, then we no longer have the ability to spend that capital on ourselves.  We have to work far more than one full-time minimum wage job just to get by in the here and now, and if the smallest stumble keeps you from achieving escape velocity (maybe you developed a mysterious chronic illness at 21 or decided to keep the baby at 30), then you are screwed in the long-run because these numbers are not out-runnable.  We cannot save the money to invest in ourselves, and we have no time left to invest in our skills-development, in our families, in our basic human happiness.

People who have personal social nets, people who can lend them money or a safe place to stay for a little while - and a little while is all you need when you have safety nets like that - and people who have already moved on from the lower economic levels, often have nothing but condescension for the people who aren't up there with them.  Because they don't know.  They honestly just don't know that things are not how they used to be, and maybe they weren't all that great back then.

I know I've said all this before.

Tuesday April 14, 2015
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Soy Cappuccino
Amaretto Bearclaw

So that was Sunday.  I cut my ranting short so we could take the boys to see a movie - their second ever at "the popcorn store."  It was a great experience (we saw "Home") except for the giant poster of the evil clown from the new "Poltergeist" movie which was staring at us  from all the way down at the end of the long, yellow hallway we had to walk down to get to our movie.  Poor Oliver was still sobbing in the theater, til Daddy got him some popcorn and they started the pre-show commercial reel.

(I say "reel" as if they use actual film anymore.  Sigh... I miss my theatre days sometimes.  I still have an old 3-minute trailer for "Pan's Labyrinth" in a box somewhere that I plan to, one day, unroll from the top of a very big hill.  Maybe some time when they have the downtown streets closed for a parade... Hmm...  Any-hoo!)

I went back and read one of my first posts ever, "Of Food Stamps and Smart Phones (Part 1?)".  I stand behind the premise of my argument, that bullying and shaming the poor is a far worse economic strategy than being supportive and encouraging of people who are struggling because of all the costs that bullying generates.  However, something I wrote bothered me a lot:

"If we were to rally around these people - and their smart phones and their bad choices - and encouraged them, instead of beating them down, then we would see a return on our investment..."

As if having a smartphone were indicative of poor decision-making.  That's not what I meant.  Granted, it was late and I was tired, and I am not one to go back and fix things much once the blog has been posted.  First, there are all kinds of reasons you might see someone with a food stamp card who also has a smartphone, or a nice car, or even a designer handbag.  Chances are, the nice thing was purchased prior to their economic hardships, was purchased cheaply (I have a friend who has to use food stamps because she is unable to work because of a work-related injury, and she actually did find a Prada bag at Goodwill for a dollar.  And, having a husband who takes donations at Goodwill, I can say it is totally believable that a less experienced employee failed to recognize it, put it behind glass, and price it accordingly.  Most of the time, however, the bag's a knock-off), or was purchased by someone else, maybe for work (because, yes, people on food stamps are more likely to be working than on Welfare) or maybe as a gift.  Maybe they inherited the decade-old Mercedes when their grandfather passed away.

And it's pretty damn likely that, unless Grandpa happened to live in town, they didn't get to say good-bye before he was gone, because taking time off during the holiday shopping season and traveling hundreds of miles to make sure you're children got to meet him at least once in their lifetimes - that's a luxury.  And if you're poor in Kansas, that's not a decision you can make for yourself anyway.

The bottom line is that nobody owes you a fucking explanation.  You don't own a person because you give them a paycheck, or because you happen to not be receiving some kind of government assistance and they are.  Chances are, they've been paying into taxes for years prior to whatever circumstances they are experiencing now.  Chances are, it won't be very long before they are back to putting money back into the Community Chest, if they aren't right now.  Chances are, you are going to be drawing on some kind of government fund or other before too long.  That's because that is how our economy is structured to function, and because there is no fundamental difference between who that person is and who you are.

And that's what I meant when I said we need to rally around these people and their bad decisions, because we are all people and we all make our own mistakes.  The only difference is that the poor have little to no margin of error and have to be careful to make fewer mistakes than most people.

When I lived with my old roommate in Silicon Valley, he paid more in taxes than I made gross.  He was very hard working and very intelligent and deserved his six-figure income.  And in some ways, he was more of a fuck-up than I was.  The difference was that our opportunities to recover from a mistake, or just a run-of-the-mill eventuality, were not equal.  When he got his car towed for unpaid parking tickets, it cost him hundreds of dollars (and one of my afternoons as I drove him from police station to DMV to impound lot), but he got his car back.  If I had been so careless (and all he had to do was bring the parking tickets to his employer and they would have paid them!) I would have lost my car and one of my jobs, which would have made it impossible to keep paying off the car loan for the next few years.  And the consequences just spiral from there...

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Mix Bakeshop
Decaf Soy Cappuccino

There's one more thing I have to cover before I post this rant of rants: the Fight for $15.

Last Monday, there were strikes across the country by fast food workers and others to rally for a pay increase to $15 an hour and for a union.  If you're one of those who think they don't deserve to make that much compared to people who make that much right now, I think you are generally right.  But you forget that the only thing keeping those who make $15 an hour now from making what they actually deserve is that those striking now do not make what they deserve.

The screwing of the poor screws the middle class.

If you start minimum wage at the point that reflects the real cost of living, that incorporates the cost of human dignity, then those just getting by on their advanced degrees or privileged career choice (not all of us can or should have to be in tech support) would start to feel more than just a stressed-out "okay" but maybe really satisfied and secure.  And, yes, we can afford it.  And, yes, the wealthy do deserve to lose some of their money, not because they are inherently nefarious, ill-gotten gains, but because the system which produced that wealth is inherently unfair and skewed to their advantage.

You cannot say that anyone has earned their fair compensation when the economic cost is the health and happiness of millions of other people.


Seven years ago, I came back to Ashland to stay.  My future husband followed a few weeks later.  We cobbled together a few jobs between us and found the cheapest decent apartment we could manage.  As we lay in the darkness on our newly-bought $50 bed, I sang "Blue Skies" to him.  Because I love irony.  And because, deep-down, I am an optimist.  I promised him that, despite my panic attacks and forebodings, I would get better and we would be okay.  Together, we were going to make it.

After seven years... a lot of the time, I don't feel like I've lived up to that promise.  I cry a lot.  I spend way, way too much going to coffee shops.  But he knows it makes my head better somehow, so he encourages it.  And besides, we're not broke because of my coffee habit.  We're just going to be broke longer (unless I can make up for it by selling lots and lots of copies of this stuff I've been writing here... wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

Everybody needs something to make being alive worthwhile, to take the edge off life.  We are alive now.  We don't know how long a lifetime we're going to have, and we don't know how long we're going to be struggling to be okay.  You have to have those little bits of joy - whatever it is that gives a little lightness to your being, puts a smile on your lips or a fire in your belly - and you have to have that joy, even when it doesn't fit in your budget.  You have to have something or what the hell are we living for?  That's not a rationalization to indulge and be irresponsible.  But if you don't have something, you just aren't human.  We, the Poor, don't need to be taught how to be responsible with our meager income, wherever it's coming from.  We need to be trusted to make our own decisions and left alone and not asked to justify our entire life story, of which you have only had the merest glimpse.

Because we are grown-ups, asshat.

But on a day like today, when the skies are ridiculously blue... despite Henry having a meltdown because the doors at the shoe store were not closing properly, and stressing over whether or not we should use the credit card or see how much more we could fit on the debit card, and over how much is left on the food stamp card, and how this one blog has cost three coffee trips... I still feel like I can't complain.  Oh, the system is screwed - I'm not going to stop complaining about that.  But I have two beautiful, caring children, a faithful and resilient husband, a roof over our heads... and damn fine coffee.

Today, that's enough.  I'll keep speaking out.  I'll keep trying to be better, to make things better.  But I'm going to take today and keep it, too.  It's a good day.

But, still, fuck you Kansas.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Finishing the thought bracelets

Dobra Teahouse
Taste of Kashmir tea
Medicine Ball (dessert thingy... it has chocolate)

Let's see, quick update...

I've been sick.  I got the flu on Valentine's night.  It's alright.  Greg had already passed out on the couch while I was putting the boys down.  Yay, parenting!  I'm still recovering, though.  The active being sick part is pretty much done, but things have not cleared out and I'm all eeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhh...  Hopefully, tea will help.

I'm also plodding away with the book stuff when I can get time alone with the computer.  People often think that if you're a stay-at-home parent you get all this extra time to work on stuff.  Totally not true.  Maybe some people can do that, but I think it requires different kids.  Or different furniture.  And additional people.  At any rate, it's not good think time when I can actually sit in front of a screen uninterrupted.  It's still distracted time, because I'm still "on deck" ready to break up a fight or wipe a bottom or argue over whether or not it is actually snack time.

It's also a problem that I still don't have a computer - this is Greg's, and I have to pry him off of his own computer if I want to get any work done, and by then it's later than I should be up.  And that's how someone who "doesn't work" can only write for a couple of hours one day a week and get no sleep.  Ever.

But you still do it.  There's a Rumi quote that goes, "If all you can do is crawl, start crawling."  Which is a lot more poetic than my, "Go stand on your treadmill!"

Some explaining.

Once upon a time, I bought a used treadmill with my little tax refund.  And like most home treadmills, it mostly sat around and did nothing.  It was in the living room corner, and I would look at it and think, "I should be walking on that thing, but I really don't want to put on shoes... or real clothes.  I hurt.  I'm tired...  I don't wunna."  So I made a deal with myself: every day, I would just get up and stand on it.  Often with no shoes, no shirt (the curtains were closed).  But I would get up there and stand on it.  And if I got up there and stood on it, I'd probably start walking for a little bit.  And if I was going to walk, then I'd walk for five minutes.  And if I walked for five, I knew that I could walk for 12 minutes, because that was usually when my body would finally start to feel okay and I could walk for the 20 minutes I was supposed to walk.

So all I had to do to walk for 20 minutes was to stand on my treadmill.  All the work was done in the standing.

There are two kinds of energy I learned in school: potential and kinetic.  Potential - static, contained, waiting.  Kinetic - moving.  Energy in motion.  That's what I want myself to be.  No more waiting, no more same cycle repeating.  I want to be living.  And when it comes to friction - the force that opposes motion - static friction is the hardest to overcome.

And that brings me to tattoos!  I got some more.  While I was contemplating what words or quotes I wanted to finish the thought bracelets around my wrist, I gravitated towards three words I had tweeted for the new year in 2014: Peaceful. Kinetic. Wise.  But another word struck me and resonated: Lovingkindness.  It's actually a particular meditation for Buddhists, focusing on developing and practicing sincere love for all human beings.  So, also for the sake of spacing, I settled on "Kinetic~Lovingkindness" on my left wrist.  With a treble clef and an 8-point star (from an Eric Carle book) to divide it from the "Bliss in the Is..." phrase already there.

So what went on the right wrist?  The second sun from the Moby doodle (I also recolored the first sun), and Rumi.  Not the quote from above, but another one in Arabic script.  Why in Arabic?  First, space availability.  Second, it's lovely script.  Third, it deepens the meaning of the translation which is (I really hope, Google Translator), "Every story is us."

All of us have a unique story.  No matter how similar to another, it is always in some way different.  And that is why there is always some value in every single human story.  And yet, we are all human.  We are all made from the same star stuff.  Even though we cannot all live the same story, we all share in each other's story.  We are all born with our own unique genetic make-up, surrounded by the environment and people that will shape us.  So we can't say when you look at another person that you, as you were born, could have actually become that other person.  And yet, every other person on this earth, I consider to be another manifestation of myself.

No matter how grand and benevolent and peaceful and wise...  And no matter how brutal, how truly evil and inhuman...  In some way, they are mine.  Because a human being is a human being is a human being.  I happen to be this human, but the stuff that made me, made them, too.  And that's all very difficult, especially staring into the eyes of someone truly evil.  I don't want to own them.  But I feel that I have to.  I have to own their story, too, or I can't see them.  And if I can't see them, I can't understand.

My husband and I diverge on this point.  He, like many, was deeply affected by the September 11th attacks.  But he has no interest in understanding why someone would want to fly a plane into a building and slaughter innocents.  He just wants to see them gone.  Gone from the face of the earth so they can't hurt anyone else.  And if Hell exists, so much the better, because it's waiting for them.  He does not believe in changing minds, he does not believe it is possible.

I, on the other hand, think the most important thing we can do is understand why someone would fly a plane into a building.  Because we make ourselves monsters, and if we don't understand why, then we will simply keep making more.  I cannot imagine myself having the impulse to do something like that, but I have to try to think that this person who did this is also me.  What would it take to bring me to that place?  How could we un-make that monster?

Every story matters.  Every story of suffering, of tragedy, of success, of mediocrity... it all matters.  Truth, insight comes from anyone, anywhere, in every tongue.  Every story, every perspective... it all has value.  If we didn't think the stranger's story was about us, would we listen?

This may be easier for me because I am a very sensitive, empathetic person.  And I kinda thought everyone understood that we are all connected to each other.  But then I was reminded by a really terrible adaptation of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" that some people are not born with this understanding, or are talked away from it.  If Ayn Rand wasn't a biological sociopath, then her early childhood experiences certainly pushed her that way.  That woman had zero empathy, and also zero understanding of those who do.  It's not social control to say that we're all connected and cannot be wholly selfish beings.  She just swung way too far to the other end of the spectrum.

But even her story is mine.  She wasn't wrong about everything she wrote about, though I disagree with most of her stuff that is wielded like a cudgel against anyone who isn't a "successful entrepreneur" or whatever you want to call the  selfishly rich.  Not people who are rich.  Just the rich who believe in elitist thinking and the relative worth of human beings, and therefore manipulate the system to protect and increase their own wealth and influence.

Oh, what a bunch of poppycock.

Come, have tea with me, those of you who think I'm wrong, who think you know who I am... who do not know I am you, too.  I may not change your mind, but perhaps, you may just begin to see me, and to see yourself here, on the other side of the table.

Much love.  Hippy - out!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Discuss! Kindly...

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Mocha
Taos Mountain toasted coconut energy bar

I am trying not to blog at all so that I can focus on finishing up the book.  Hopefully, I will have actual book in hand when I journey south again with the boys in March.  But something has been on my mind, and I may well piss some people off, but I feel I have to put my two cents out there.

Let me tell you about today... 

One of my favorite coffee shops was vandalized over the weekend, so I am working from here in solidarity.  Before coming here, we took the boys to get caught up on their last vaccination (chickenpox - which the school system is battling in our area).  Before sending Henry to his class, I had to make sure to wipe the peanut butter off his face because the school has asked that parents not only avoid bringing nuts to school, but also scrupulously clean the hands and faces of their children so that there are no traces of any nuts on them when they arrived to play with their classmates.  Today also happens to be the 20th anniversary of me ending my virginity.

What does all that have in common?  Let me start in reverse order.

When I realized that this was the 20th anniversary of me deflowering a Jehovah's Witness, I started tweeting some reflections with the hashtag "20yrsofnookie".  One of those central reflections was that even smart people will do very stupid things under the influence of sexual arousal.  I could add to that people will do very stupid things when the consequences are distant and abstract.

Stupid things like not wearing a condom and risking premature parenting and worse.  Things like smashing the window of a small business to get to a trivial amount of money left in the cash register.  Things like not taking care of the environment, or not supporting measures to slow the human impact on the climate.  Things like not supporting a living wage and cutting social programs (as I have bitched about extensively already).  Things like not vaccinating yourself or your kids.

And that is why, I would like to ask all my pro-vaccination friends to stop being so hostile for a bit.  I'm not asking you to not feel angry.  I'm not asking you to shut up.  But even I, who obviously support vaccination, cannot stomach the barrage of snark and contempt that is clogging up my social media right now.  If your goal is to get people to change their mind and get their kids vaccinated, then you are (mostly) going about it the wrong way.

I admit that I have been flippant about some things, and a little hostile, even.  But most of the time, I hope I do not come across like that.  I try to reign it in enough to show that I am open to hearing the other side.  When you throw around contempt and condescension, all you do is get people's backs up and shut down their willingness to listen.  You drive them further into their corners instead of bringing them to your side.

We have a cultural problem where all topics seem to get driven into this binary positioning of either for or against.  And people are encouraged to take it personal, whatever their position is.  Many years ago, I was in a relationship with a former debate team champion.  Meanwhile, I was the math/science major.  When we argued (which was a lot) these two backgrounds became really apparent.  The object of my arguing was to employ logic and listening reach a mutual understanding.  His objective was to win the argument by whatever means worked, including logic, yes, but also tactics like interrupting or flustering your "opponent" by provoking emotional responses.

I confess, after we had been in an escalating argument where I had been successfully keeping a cool stream of point-by-point logic in the face his erratic, inflammatory statements, I did end up chucking a water bottle at him after he called me irrational.  Not my best moment.

My point is just that "debates" try to win the audience, while "discussions" try to win the people taking part in them.  It's hard when you have a righteous anger, but it's important to try to extend your compassion to the person making you angry.  Try.  Try to remember that the person across from you made their decision for any number of reasons, including their love for the people most precious to them.  Challenge them, yes.  Ask them to go back to the reasons that brought them there, to listen to the responses to their concerns, to consider things from other perspectives.  Remember that they have a mind and it can be changed.  Offer to embrace them as an equal instead of battling them into submission, and you are more likely to see them move out of their corners and listen.

I understand that some people think that giving people the chance to opt out of vaccinations is coddling paranoia, and is now too dangerous to be allowed.  I understand that view.  I understand that their choice presents enough of a risk that unvaccinated kids may have to be kept out of the regular school system.  Someone else posted something like, 'If my kid can't bring peanut butter to school, your kid can't bring preventable diseases.'  I still don't believe that the choice should be taken away from them.

Just imagine that it's not some anti-conformist, hippy parent you're arguing with.  Imagine it's an anti-government, open-carry, Bundy-Rancher type parent who doesn't want to get their kid vaccinated.  How do think a mandatory vaccination edict would go over with them?

I've written before that scientists are not infallible, and there have been terrible mistakes in public health over the years, from Thalidomide to lead paint to lobotomies and hysterectomies as mental health treatments to the whole process of hospital childbirth in the first half of the last century (look it up - oh my god).  And there have been some terrible things done by governments, including this government, like forced sterilizations of black Americans, also in the first half of the last century.  So, it is not wholly irrational that people could find reason to not do something that would benefit their child, especially, as I said before, when the consequences are distant and abstract.

However, the consequences are becoming tangible now... tangible and tragic.  But this is a winnable argument.  Maybe it's going to take PSAs and even health classes in the schools and seminars for the parents.  But the preponderance of the evidence shows clearly that it is much safer - for everyone - to vaccinate.  I have also said before that there is a middle ground to this discussion, but "middle" was a wrong choice of word.  There is room for discussion, more that we could know about the production process and such that could make people more comfortable with the choice.  But until then, as parents we gotta go with what we got.

The boys have arrived to pick me up.  Time to go!  No time for edits.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Black and Blue Dramedy Tour

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
Vegan Pumpkin Bread

This past December 31st, my grandfather past away.  We had known he was sick, and we've been planning a long-haul trip with the boys down to SoCal in March so they could meet him while there was still time.  There was supposed to be more time.  But there was a secondary infection that was found too late and we lost him.  He was 88 years-old and he lived an amazing, full life.  It's hard to complain, to say he should have had more time, but still, we wished he'd had more.

So, we were able to wrangle a few extra days off at the last minute so that I could fly down for the service this past weekend.  (This was decided before I remembered, Oh, yeah, I'm terrified of flying.)  If you read the "Recalculating..." post from last year, when I did a long, crazy drive down to SoCal to attend my step-grandmother's memorial service, you'll know what I mean when I say this trip was in much the same spirit.  I overpacked again - and since everything I threw in had to be a possible candidate for funeral-ware, I ended up with a suitcase full of exclusively black and blue clothing.  Hence, I dubbed this trip from the outset The Black and Blue Dramedy Tour.

I almost didn't get the rental car - I shouldn't have, but I was able to walk that fine line with the managers when I was appealing my case: respectful, somewhat stricken and definitely stranded, but with enough supporting arguments and documentation to convince them - very reluctantly - to go through with the reservation.  Fortunately, this time around, I didn't get the car towed.  And I finally made it to Griffith Observatory - but not without paying a price for the detour (p.s. fuck you, 210 freeway - fuck you).

I arrived about 2 minutes before the start of the service the next day.

Every time I head anywhere near the town where I grew up, I get Steely Dan stuck in my head: "And I'm never going back to my old school..."  Weirdly enough, someone from my old school found me after the service.  And I saw family I haven't seen in years, including my father (who instilled in me a love of Steely Dan).  Inside the church, I had sat behind him with my stepmom and had had that horrible insight that someday I would be in the front pew with my siblings and I would have to go through this for him.  I suppose every child must have that same thought under the same circumstances.

And then I remembered how annoyingly healthy my father is and I reassured myself that he's going to outlive the cockroaches and there's no need to think about that right now.


When my mother turned sixty a few years ago, I called her up and asked, gently, "So... how are you doing?"  She was taking it fine, though I found out that my brother had called her up and asked outright if she had cried.  When my father turned sixty a little later, I called him and asked how he felt to be sixty.  He said he felt twenty-five.  Damn it, I said.  "I didn't feel 25 when I was 25."

But that's my dad.  The brilliant, unconventional thinker who looks like the long-lost lovechild of Leonard Nimoy and Alan Alda and who will outlive the apocalypse.  I hope.

Anyway.  I eventually found my way back to my grandparent's house - the house I had grown up in, though they had not been living there with us for most of that time.

I made it back there by muscle memory past changed facades and new construction.  I didn't know Caterpillar Canyon could fit so much salable real estate.  The mountains across the valley are the same, though there's too many damn hedges now to call it the same view.  And I remember more snow on the peaks, especially in January.  Though I had been so unhappy in that house when I was young, it feels completely benign now.  Warm, even.  But it hasn't been my house in a long time.

Going back is wonderful and completely sucks.  I was reminded of how much love is available if I just reach out for it, even if it dwells in hearts hundreds or thousands of miles away.  But I was reminded, too, of how different I thought I would be by now.  I had feared getting stuck, but I didn't think I would feel this destroyed.

I think it's easy to forget how much potential and how much worth we possess when we look around and see only where we are.

My grandfather was a tremendous person, with a booming laugh that embarrassed his children in movie theaters.  He was a bass section unto himself in the church choir.  He took me to see my first concerts at the L.A. Philharmonic, and I ache at the thought that I can never sing with him now.  He had an insatiable thirst for learning and continued to accumulate professional credentials, in psychology and in religion, throughout his life.  So many people stood to tell stories of his compassion and acceptance and encouragement, whether he touched their lives through the ministry or psychodrama or his crossword troupe.

It feels daunting to imagine trying to live up to such an amazing person.  I feel so far from that right now, though if I can track my time by his lifeline, I've got a good 52 years to catch up.  What gives me some solace is the thought that, with all the lives he touched, there should be more than enough of us to each contribute some small measure of goodness to the world, and, altogether, we might just amend for his absence.

With love, and gratitude...