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.
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.
Fruit & Almond Tart
So that was 2 months ago. I'm never very productive around the holidays. Excuses, excuses... Moving on.
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.
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
Stories are important and we feel them deeply.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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...)
(steadfastly ignoring really interesting Charlie Rose interview in the Living Room)
Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat - Lemon Echinacea
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
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.
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!"
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.
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