Monday, January 30, 2017

The Moment of the Story

Mix Bakeshop
Decaf Americano
Morning Bun

Four years and a day ago, I began this blog, just days after another exhausting election.  But it was nothing like this.  Consolidating these blogs into a book wasn't supposed to take this long.  The process is all but finished, but the final formatting and whatnot has been postponed while family matters, and health issues and the like, have been at the fore.  I did consider my last blog to be my last blog, but so much of what I have been writing about has been feeding into this moment.  All the myths surrounding economics, health, feminism, race, religion, empathy, and finally, the bubbles that keep us from understanding each other.

Consider this an epiblog.

I was expecting that, the day after the election, I would be frazzled and exhausted but I'd feel done.  Somewhat shell-shocked, for lack of a better term, but I thought it would be over.  Instead, we got another popular vote - electoral college split.

Bush versus Gore was the first presidential election I voted in.  I keenly remember the drawn-out drama, the appalling court rulings, and the last-ditch hopes that the Electoral College would switch just a few votes and side with the popular vote.  They are legally able to do so.  I don't hold out any hope there will be any vote switching this time, if there wasn't any then, when there was a clear indication that the complete count would likely have flipped the outcome, and that there was clear partisan efforts to suppress the count.

But this fraud is a different case.  People had different reasons for their supporting him.  Some were happy to support his racism and xenophobia, while some were fiercely rationalizing it away so they could cast a vote for their team, or against the other team, the other allegedly corrupt candidate.  Or they were desperate for some much needed help.  Those folks were not wrong in their assessment that they have been failed, but they were woefully mistaken in thinking this conman was the one to help them.  As I've said before - right angst, wrong resolution.

Mix Bakeshop
Rooibos Tea
Fruit & Almond Tart

So that was 2 months ago.  I'm never very productive around the holidays.  Excuses, excuses...  Moving on.

I know that many people who voted for Trump bristle at the accusation that their vote makes them racist.  As I said, some are overtly and pridefully so.  But make no mistake that he made racist statements, even if sometimes only implied, dog-whistle coded language.  But many times, open, and not to be dismissed.  A policy proposal to "ban all Muslims"?  How can any American, in good conscience, vote for someone who even imagined such an idea? even flippantly threw it out there amidst a stream of consciousness?  The core principles of America, that we are born equal and to be treated as such under the law, that we are free to pursue our own intellectual and spiritual paths, are anathema to such a proposal.

A registry?  It's one thing to stick your fingers in your ears when people point out that the no-fly list is a de facto registry, one structured by racism.  But to rationalize the government tracking people for their religious beliefs or heritage is to bury your head so far in the sand you come out the other side of the Earth and plant your feet in a different country.

You may not like it, it may not have been your motivation, but voting for Trump made you complicit in a reprehensible ideology.  There have been more than enough think-pieces about the topic that break this down, point-by-point, one statement after another, so I am going to leave it there.  My only hope is that, over the next four years, things don't turn out as bad as they could.

But back to the title of this epiblog: the Story.  This past year was a testament to the power of stories.  We saw how deeply affected we were with the loss of so many beloved storytellers - from Prince to Princess.  Far too many names to recognize in these few words.  Sometimes it was the stories they told that shaped our lives.  Sometimes they, themselves, embodied the stories that changed us, that ignited our passions, that freed our identities, that let us live as ourselves without shame and stigma.  It hurt when we lost these strangers because they were a part of our selves, part of our stories.

Stories are important and we feel them deeply.

But this year was not just about the storytellers we lost, it was about the stories being told.  It was about the stories not being told, too, or not until far too late.  It was about the consequences of knowing and not knowing, believing and not believing.

When this perspective on the year started taking shape in my mind, I thought of calling this blog "2016: His name was Robert Paulson..."  If you read the book or saw the movie Fight Club, then you're familiar with the scene.  This group had moved from a secret club of manly aggression turned inward, to a secret group of disruptive mayhem turned outward on society.  And when its leader recoils in horror at the deadly consequence that has befallen one anonymous member and tries to shake up the group, to reinstate the identity and importance of the individual, the members adapt his rationale to fit their story and maintain their sense of purpose.  The leader no longer had control of the story he began.

It is a horrifying prospect that you can tell someone the truth to their face, reveal how you did the trick, and still have them insist on the illusion.  But when hate crimes increase after someone makes broad, inflammatory statements about whole groups of people, the storyteller does not get to take no responsibility.  You are responsible for your words, and must be aware that all kinds of listeners are present.  Basing stories on group biases - about races, nationalities, economic groups, political or activist groups, sports teams and clubs, religious and other affiliations - no matter how benign the comment, these us/them, in-group/out-group stories all travel towards violence, division, and misery.  The words "something must be done" about "these people" is a death knell when pealed to the wrong ears.

For the record, so that there is never any misunderstanding, if anyone ever takes something I have written or said and concludes, based on that, that they should cause harm to another person - any other person - then they have not heard anything I've said.  That shit comes straight from their own ass.

I find I resist speaking flippantly, now, and turn away from using any hyperbolic examples, lest someone hear it.  Because, no mater how absurd and obviously false, for every story, there is a believer.  Some believers are inspiring and transcendent and shape the course of history.  Some believers are fucking scary, and... unfortunately... shape the course of history.

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
Soy Cappuccino
Veggie Breakfast

 I can't get anything done!  Anyway, I have about 45 minutes - let's see what I can do.

Aw... Louis Armstrong is singing "As Time Goes By" overhead.  "It's still the same old story..."

Yes, it is.

Greg and I got into an argument last week.  He wasn't there for most of it.  I worked it out in my journal, mostly, and in my head, having one of those prolonged car fights where one of you is making a masterful argument and the other one is offering no substantial defense, in that they are obliviously at work helping customers with their problems, thinking you were finished talking about all this an hour ago, or rather, not thinking about it at all, because you were done talking about this an hour ago.

The argument was over a vacuum.  But bear with me, it's relevant.

Of course, it was about a hell of a lot more than a vacuum.  It embodied the central grievance - my central grievance - in our marriage, and the greatest existential core problem humanity faces.  Okay, one of the greatest.

We had lent our old vacuum to one of our young neighbors who was moving out and trying to get something of their deposit back.  The next time I went to use the vacuum after it had been returned, it was broken.  Literally, a chunk of plastic fell out.  I was not heartbroken about the loss.  We had gotten it used and for free, years ago, and it was so loud it sounded like it was opening a portal to some circle of Hell.  Henry has been terrified of it since he was a little baby.  I couldn't even vacuum in another room with the door closed without him having a minor panic attack.  So, fine, we'll get a new one.

The timing sucked.  Our sink had just backed up and flooded a portion of the kitchen (I was not too kind leaving that voicemail for the property managers, especially since our rent went up - again - this month).  We've been sick, we've had snow day after snow day, so the kitchen was full of holiday boxes and other leftover tasks that needed doing. The whole place is in chaos, I'm not writing, not getting anything done, and I'm freaking out about money, so the last thing I want to deal with is tracking down another vacuum.  And that's where the argument comes in.

We found our last vacuum online for free.  It served us for many years, even if it sucked.  No pun intended.  But it was replacing another sucky (again, not punning) vacuum.  And we are stuck in this loop of getting stuff cheap, usually used, and having it not really be what's needed, and having it break anyway, leaving us in need of another cheap, insufficient replacement.

So, damn it, I don't want to put energy into another bad solution.  I want a new one.  Nothing fancy, but something that won't break or have the same problems.  Yes, it'll hurt.  Even a cheap new vacuum is a painful purchase.  But refund season is nearly here, and it needs to get done.  After waffling for a week, I inform Greg over the phone that I'm going to stop by Target, bite the bullet, and get one.

He has already informed me that he would rather get one from WalMart because WalMart's cheaper and it's the same brand name on the vacuums, anyway.  I have already made clear that I have strong moral objections to WalMart, because of their negative impact on wages, workers' rights, safety, the environment, society as a whole, and that even the same name brands will use different factories to supply WalMart over other retailers to allow those factories to cut corners to meet WalMart's low-ball prices.  I've made clear that I don't think they're the only bad actor out there, just that they lead the way.  (Also, they have guns in the store, and I, frankly, don't want to knowingly be around guns if I can help it.)

Greg's argument is that all business are evil, so it doesn't matter where I go.

Mix Bakeshop
Rooibos Tea
Carrot Cake

Okay, I'm not happy that this is the forever blog, but this is really tasty carrot cake. (It's my birthday next week, so that's going to be my excuse.)

So... did you catch what set me off yet?  Like so many times before, Greg said "all" of them.  All of these companies are evil.  It doesn't matter which them he's talking about, it's the same problem.  He thinks he has some moral high-ground because he's not racist and supports equal rights for women, and all that.  And yet, he will make blanket moral judgements against CEOs and politicians and lawyers, not to mention Republicans and anyone who lives in the South, because they're all racist, and he can say that because he lived there, and I'm just an naive, idealistic hippy.  I have told him he's disregarding all of the people who contradict those biases, and that he's a racist, just not about race.

People always try to rationalize their particular prejudice.  They'll call it a "culture of..." whatever disparaging characteristics that allow them to condemn whatever group.  Like, apparently, a "culture of laziness" encouraged by too generous government "hand-outs" is what keeps people (usually followed with "in our inner cities") from discovering the "dignity of work."  That's one way to frame it.  That's one story that has been encouraged and retold, with the end result being support for policies that would cut social programs, and feeling only an over-inflated righteousness doing so.  Or worse, feeling contempt, hatred, anger towards those who would so undeservedly "take your money."  Worse than bad policy befalls those who are seen as morally unfit, and all because of a story about why people are poor.

The other story, one that I can attest to from years of experience and abundant data, is that people are poor because of math.  Because labor is an inelastic good and social programs fall deathly short of what is needed to bridge the shortfall of our wages, especially when they are being continually hacked at.  But I've said all of this before.

But it gets back to why I was so angry over Greg's easy hatred of faceless mega-companies.  I was really damn angry.  So much so that I stewed over what he had said.  I, fortunately, had a journal and a pen and was able to start unpacking it.  And after my parking spot's time expired and I headed north towards Targets home goods department, I continued to stew.  It's an annoying marital conflict, but one I am annoyingly familiar with, at this point.  It is an important principled stance for me, but why was I so affected by his contempt for these unknown people?

Just before I reached Exit 30, I got it.  It's because I recognized that what he was doing had hurt me when other people had done it.

I was the poor kid, a Welfare Kid at a Rich Kid school.  And there was a story for poor kids.  There was a time when the story of the poor was a sympathetic one.  Not then.  One big story that covered the poor, as a whole group, or "most of them" because people always make carve-outs for those personal contradictions that they meet and like before they know to dismiss them, but "most" is really "all" no matter how many times people say they don't mean you.

So I was hurt by the believers of that story.  I was hurt emotionally, by words, day in and day out.  I was wrecked and left less a person than I could have been.  We were hurt as a family, by the insufficiency of the help, by the cuts to that paltry amount, by all the various regulations that kept us from getting back on our feet.  As an adult, I was hurt by the poverty myths that kept education unattainable, that kept wages down - "they need to be hungry or they'll get complacent and never leave their minimum wage jobs" - that kept me from ever being able to get stable, to get out of debt.  I was hurt more than I will ever be able to express when I chose to end my first pregnancy, knowing that the believers of that Lazy Poor People story would keep cutting, and cutting, at my ability to be okay.

I was hurt... and I was angry.

And yes, I know all that personal choices and accountability crap - it's a given.  Don't get distracted.  Because for all my anger and the lies about me and my family and my life, I will not use the word "Republican" as a pejorative.  Yes, the Lazy Poor People story is a Republican narrative.  Yes, this leads to terrible policies that cause real harm.  I still won't use the word with contempt.  Because Republicans are my family, too.  They're people and they come to identify themselves with that party for different reasons.  They come to believe that story - or not - for different reasons.  They're just human beings, and right now, in this country, there are only two major parties that dominate the political story.  That's not a lot to represent all the different ways of thinking and being in this place.

And trust me, I have plenty of criticisms for the Democrats.  Don't think because I criticize the one that means I'm all sunshine and roses about the other.  It's not either/or... and that's the whole damn point.

If I infuse hatred into a word that describes someone else, not only will I have a harder time reaching them and undoing some of that false narrative, I will also be denying them some of their humanity.  I will be denying myself that reality, too.  This only leads to bad places.  You can be critical - you can fight like hell against the lies and stories and the actions that cause harm.  But you can do it without creating monsters out of family.  I will not chastise anyone for speaking out, but be mindful of the words you chose to do it.

Right now, this very moment, we are in a truly precarious place in history.  We have worse than a conman, a liar, at the helm of the government - we have a gaslighter.  George W. Bush lied.  He lied and took us to war and thousands died in that fight.  Hundreds of thousands more have died in all the destablization that followed that fight.  He lied about what was known by the only people who could know it.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, lies about what people can know and see for themselves.  What on Earth will he say about the things we cannot see?

Before the election, there was a side-by-side video somebody put together that showed Donald Trump describing something that happened at a rally where Obama was speaking.  There were no cutaways, just Trump describing what happened next to a video of what actually happened.  It should be needless to say it, but they didn't match up.  Not exaggeration or one interpretation of what happened.  He flat-out lied.  It was right there - there and provable and he still lied.  And I said then, "This is all you need to know to understand why he can never be president."

And yet, here we are!

("We" are also at home now, since the coffee shop closes early this time of year.  Can't wait for Shakespeare and tourism to start up again, next month.  Bring on the thespians!  Any-hoo...)

Kitchen Table
(steadfastly ignoring really interesting Charlie Rose interview in the Living Room)
Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat - Lemon Echinacea
Graham Crackers

As I write this, it is just a few days since the "temporary ban" executive order thing was signed.  Which led massive protest.  Which led to some 3000 or more lawyers offering their services pro bono to the detained visa holders (And how does that square with your "all lawyers are evil" story, honey pie?).  Which also led to more than one court order demanding that said lawyers be allowed to meet with their detained clients.  And that has led to Customs and Border Protection officials saying "no" to the court orders.  And that has led to lawyers going back to seek a "contempt of court" ruling, and, frankly, that's all I know, because I haven't caught up to the news as of this moment because this is all happening so damn fast. 

This is scary.

This is not about keeping America safe, either, although that is how the story is being sold to those willing to believe it.  All the acts of terror committed on US soil since 9/11 have been committed by people who don't come from any of the countries included in this ban.  So this restriction would not have "kept America safe" in any of those instances.  Not one life saved.  But this ban will absolutely kill some of those seeking refuge who must now wait, or be turned back - after they've already been vetted!

But worse, this is another verse for a deadly story, told to would-be recruits...  See?  The Evil Empire hates Muslims (these were majority Muslim nations, after all, with specific carve-outs for minority religions over Muslims).  It's a holy war.  It's a war for your homeland.  They came before, they'll do it again.  Look at all the horrible things they've done...  And in the White House, right now, sit believers in the flip-side of that story.  People who actually believe that Islam, itself, is inherently evil - ignoring all the evil shit and hypocrisy in the Bible - and who are only too willing to bring their righteously unholy war.  Holy war is, in their eyes, inevitable.

For every story, there is a believer.

So what are the rest of us to do?  Believe in the better story that doesn't end in people dying, for a start.  Be skeptical when you are told anything - seriously anything - by this current administration.  Seek accurate information, and be wary of your trusted sources.  Challenge your own ideas for bias.  Over the next four years, you will need moments for self-care and check-ins and check-outs, but don't throw your hands up, altogether.  As Mad-Eye Moody would say, "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"

I have no idea where we go from here, what the next few years will be like.  If the tagline for 2016 was "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", a story of suspicion and turning against your neighbors to make way for alien invaders to take over, I feel like the tagline for 2017 is "That gum you like is going to come back in style."  It's a line from Twin Peaks, which is returning this year.  It's troubling for me because, while it was an awesome show and I'm looking forward to seeing the new series, it was also a pretty messed up story.  Does it portend old cycles arising of humanity at its worst?  Fascism, war, terrorism?  Or will it be a time of nostalgia - of the good kind?  A kind of second wave of global community and defiant optimism? perhaps with somewhat angrier hippies... (*waves*)

When it comes to terrorism, the precursor is the story - not the country, not the skin, not even the religion.  You cannot bomb away a story.  All you can do is offer a better story - one that seeks truth and tries to literally love the Hell out of your fellow humankind.

Humanity arrived at this moment in the Story gliding in on half a wing.  If we can just survive ourselves at this moment, imagine how, one day, we could soar.