It’s on us

What is left to say? What hasn’t already been said countless times? How many arguments have been left hanging in the open space between those who fear losing their precious guns and those who fear losing their children or their spouse or anyone they happen to love? What have we become?

My 16-year-old son confesses he is afraid to go to school. He thinks about what he would do, how he would survive if an angry young white man walked into the building with an arsenal of weapons and a grudge. Because, yes, it happens here. It happens in small peaceful communities across these divided states. It happens at an alarming rate. It happens so often that the nation barely blinks.

We have become our worst nightmare. We are not safe from each other. People have lost their fucking minds. Make America great again? How’s that working out for you? Do you feel proud to be an American?

I am so angry. I don’t know how to fix what is so incredibly broken. Because as much as it is about sensible gun control, it’s really only about money — the money that wins elections and flows into our political system in such a way as to encourage corruption and greed and blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life. Oh, these politicians, these scum who take blood money from the hands of the NRA and giant corporations, here’s what they have to offer us: thoughts and prayers. Cheap, easy, ridiculous words that mean nothing and demand nothing and require nothing. Thoughts and prayers. And what do we do? We scream, we cry, we push back against the insanity of it all on Facebook. And twitter. And Instagram. And here, on our blogs. Big deal. No one is listening. It’s not enough. It’s never enough. We love our social media. But seriously? How is all this armchair activism even making a difference at this point?

We are not safe. And that’s on all of us.

They play us against each other. They tell us it’s the people who don’t look like us or worship like us, the people who are “illegal” or black or brown or red — they tell us a wall will make us safe. And some of us believe them. But I don’t. Not for one minute. I call bullshit on all of it. We are so broken, and the truth is, we did this to ourselves. All of us. The blame for this does not fall on one side or the other. It falls on the shoulders of every politician who hasn’t take a strong and aggressive stand against gun violence (and yes, liberals are just as guilty here as conservatives). But it also falls on the shoulders of every citizen who continues to vote these despicable humans into office.

I dare any one of you to read the frantic text messages these students in Florida sent to their parents and not feel something. I am in tears, imagining my son staring into the face of that terror, imagining my dear friends who dedicate their lives to teaching, cowering behind a locked door, ready to put their own body between a gunman and the children they are trying to protect. Is this the America you want to live in? Is this any less important than your fucking right to bear arms? I don’t think so.

There’s always only been one way out of this. Pay attention to where the money is coming from. Accept nothing at face value. Do your goddamn homework. Find out where your senator or your congressman gets his money. And then vote. Vote as if your life depends upon it. Because, guess what? It actually does.

“They” are never going to fix this. It’s on us.

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The open space of the unknown

I’ve spent the first few weeks of the new year looking for comfort in the uncertainty. It’s not possible, really, to find your footing when so much is unknown and so many decisions loom ahead. From the mundane to the monumental, I feel the weight of things that will soon need to be resolved.

There is a shifting in the ground underfoot. What I have known is becoming less true. The earth feels soft, less certain, harder now to navigate.

I think all families come to this, a natural winding down of a routine that has been constant for years. A change in job status, a child going off to college, a death, an aging family member in need of attention and care; there is something familiar, at least, about the worries that catch my breath.

And because I can’t — at least not now — find a way to prioritize and plan, I let my mind wander and I remind myself to simply breathe. For someone who needs to control and resolve things, this is maybe the hardest part, this sitting in the open space of the unknown.

I have an idea for a new novel. It’s embryonic, but I think there’s something there. I see it as a young adult story, a coming of age piece, and because I live with two experts in the subject matter, I ran it by my husband and son. They both approved.

I learned many important lessons in the aftermath of writing my first novel. I learned that I can write, that my words move people, but the harder lesson to learn was that the writing matters almost not at all if there isn’t a story to tell. I didn’t get far with my first attempt. The story fell apart, the narrative had too many holes, I couldn’t put the puzzle together. It sits now in a folder on a flash drive tucked away in a fireproof box in the attic.

My approach this time will be different. A loose outline to start; something I resisted in the past. For the next few days (and maybe weeks) I will simply try to sit with it, to run the story like a film in my head until I know it by heart.

I will imagine the possibility, and hold it in the open space of the unknown.

 

After the fall

These are strange days, and not just in the larger sense of what is going on in the world, but in the local this is my life sense. My uncle is dying. He and my aunt, my mother’s sister, recently moved from Orange County, California to northwest Montana to be close to their eldest son. And maybe because he had always been an avid outdoorsman, my uncle was settling in and doing really well in their new home. But he took a spill on the ice, hit his head, and things started to go bad quickly. He is 90 years old, but still, it is easy to see how he might have had a few years ahead of him out there in God’s country. Extreme weather is no joke.

But sometimes people just fall. On Christmas Eve in California, James tripped over a sidewalk grate steps from my mother’s driveway. He’s still achy and bruised. It was 85 degrees when he fell. His wrists took the brunt of the fall, and I feel so grateful that he didn’t bang his head or break a bone.

Last night we walked to a local restaurant to celebrate my birthday — which was a few days ago. Maybe not the best plan considering how much snow is on the ground. Most of the sidewalks had a small, narrow path cleared, but on either side of us, the snow was at least knee (and sometimes hip) high. As we carefully navigated our way, bundled to our eyeballs against the windchill and near zero temperatures, I couldn’t help but think that a foot slipping on the ice could change our lives forever.

When we are young, we don’t think about those things. We don’t worry about storms or ice, hitting our heads or breaking a bone. I wonder if this is the threshold I’ve crossed. Is this the difference between 55 (which feels like the far side of old age) and 56 (which is very much the near side). Am I now the one who frets every time someone I love steps away from me?

Life is unspeakably hard at times. My uncle is taking with him a piece of my childhood. Memories of camping, speed boats, and water-skiing at lake Havasu; dirt bikes in the desert. There were fireworks on the 4th of July, sledding down the hills in Mission Viejo on cardboard boxes (before housing developments claimed all that land), and endless summer days with my cousins.

Nothing is forever. Soon the snow here will melt. I keep telling myself that life will go back to normal soon, but I’m not even sure what that means anymore. Things are changing, whether I like it or not. The world keeps spinning, we all get older. Nothing to do but keep moving, even though I might fall.

IMG_3391My uncle with two of his boys mid-1960s

edit note: My uncle passed away this morning, 1/6/18. I had no idea when I wrote this. Feeling heartbroken beyond words.

Beyond the darkness

I don’t know when I stopped being mindful. There must have been a moment; a pause, a subtle shift. I have lost sight of my gratitude, and I wonder whether choosing, as I did, not to get the word tattooed on the inside of my wrist two summers ago was a mistake; a letting go of that which should never be let go of. Maybe the visual reminder is the thing that would have held me to it.

The last year has been difficult. Not every day, not every moment, but challenging in a way I never could have predicted. I don’t think I can sustain this level of outrage and anger, or this burning desire to be the change. I am almost entirely an armchair activist, my forays out into the political arena few and far between. And yet I’ve joined political groups, attended meetings, walked petitions, campaigned, donated, written letters, texted and called. I’ve worked hard to understand the issues and to find my voice, to know where I stand, where I want to stand. And through it all, over the course of this last year, I have watched the unthinkable unfold.

Today a friend dropped by with a thoughtful gift. Her kindness reminded me that there is great meaning in small gestures. It’s an easy thing to forget, how a random act of kindness can change things. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be anymore. So much has been lost, so many touchstones that once felt like they were mine to keep.

I don’t know where the coming year will lead us. I feel the weight of lost hope; I hear it in the voices of my resister sisters. We are exhausted, worn down; unsure how — or even if — we can keep moving forward. I am ready now to go home, to put it all aside and find myself again.

Beyond the darkness, there is light. I know that to be true. And I know I will eventually make my way back there, but for now, for this moment, I will simply close my eyes and remember to breath.

Thank you for reading, for offering kind words, for standing by my virtual side. I hope this finds you in the warmth of the light, and feeling, perhaps, a little more hopeful than I am on this winter’s eve. Merry Christmas, my friends.

 

Nothing but the truth

The rumor on the street is that the man in the Oval is going to fire the special prosecutor this week. Merry Christmas.

Facebook is buzzing with posts calling for people to drop everything and take to the streets in a massive protest should that happen. Make sure your shopping and errands are done by Monday, warns one of the activists I follow.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone thinks pulling the plug on the Russia investigation is a good idea. Don’t we want to know the truth? This is the piece of it all I keep coming back to: when did the truth lose its value? I worry that this alone will be our undoing, this general belief that facts as they lead to the truth don’t matter.

Way back when, when I was in journalism school, facts were the thing we lived and died by. Reporting had no place for opinion or speculation (those were saved for the editorial pages), and if we couldn’t attribute the words to a credible source, we couldn’t use them. For a time in college, I was obsessed with journalism law and ethics. I thought I might pursue it with a graduate degree. But life has a way of stepping in and a summer internship quickly turned into a job that put me as far away from graduate school as possible and smack dab in the center of writing and reporting about the business of fashion — of all things. And yet, even in the world of leather and lace, facts mattered.

Last week the White House gave notice to the CDC that is it prohibited from using a list of seven words in official reports being prepared for next year’s budget. Seven words. How does this even make sense? Two of the words are “evidence-based” and “science-based”. Think about that. The White House is eliminating words that help us define and put parameters around truth.

Early last year, when we were all adjusting to this new normal, a FB acquaintance put a lot of time and effort into arguing with me. She believed facts could be disputed based on perspective, based on life experience, and based on what we know and don’t know about a situation. And while I believe she was arguing just for the sake of arguing, she was laying out a scenario that supported the notion of alternative facts.

We do not live in a black and white world. And yes, there is a difference between facts (which cannot be disputed) and the truth (which actually is subject to perspective). We tend to use the words interchangeably, and while they are intricately related, they are not the same. But a series of facts leads us to the truth. Facts are the walls and foundation, truth is the cathedral they build. There is no arguing the connection. If there aren’t enough facts, everything falls apart — the cathedral cannot stand.

So the special prosecutor is methodically building his case; he’s gathering his facts. And while I believe that every American, regardless of party affiliation, age or income, or any of the labels we wear, should welcome the ability to analyze and evaluate the facts for themselves, I know there are those who would prefer not to know, to remain in the dark, blindly following the word and the questionable leadership of an administration that has the audacity to ban words. Words that define the thing that matters the most.

How did we get here? The next generation — should our planet actually survive this mess — will debate this question for years to come. What I know right now, the one thing I know to be true, is that the facts — regardless of where they may lead — have never mattered more than they do now.

 

A one woman riot

Today I am thinking of family and friends, golden light on orange leaves, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the warmth of the home I love. But I am also thinking of what has been lost.

In the last year, I have lost my ability to pretend it doesn’t matter, to somehow be okay with those who want to whitewash who we are and fall in line behind vindictive and discriminatory agendas. There is a difference between having a different point of view, and having an immoral point of view. It’s absolutely okay to want smaller government, tax reform, better and more affordable healthcare, stronger immigration policies, and countless other conservative ideals. But it’s not okay to want those things at the expense of our neighbors, or the less fortunate among us.

It’s not okay to condone — either through silence or deflection — men who prey on children, or treat women as their possessions. It’s not okay to think “terrorist” or “criminal” when a person of color crosses your path. And it’s not okay to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the lies and hypocrisy of those in power. This is not about belonging to a political party. It’s about belonging to humanity. If we are to be citizens of the world, we cannot simply fall in step. It is our responsibility to question, to probe, to strive for greater understanding. To demand better of ourselves.

I have lost more than my innocence in the last year. I have lost friends, too. It’s not been an easy thing to come to terms with. I still mourn the relationships that have been unable to survive the trying times in which we live. But if I’ve learned anything about myself in the last 365+ days, I’ve learned that I cannot be silent. I will use my voice to honor my truth. I will not be quiet. And neither should you.

Against this backdrop of what has been lost, I clearly see what has been gained. I have so much to be thankful for; so many blessings. I am grateful for those who stand with me, who seek and follow their own truth. To my mom for always giving me a safe place to land, my husband for his unconditional love, my son for his impeccable moral compass. To my resister sisters (you know who you are) and the countless new friends and brave acquaintances who are working tirelessly to change our world at the grassroots level, to all the strong and capable candidates in our community who ran for office (or are tossing their hat into the ring), you have my undying gratitude.

There is so much good in our world. So much love, so much hope. I believe we are better for the hardships we face. This last year has made us stronger. We can never go back to our complacent past. And for that, above all else, I am grateful.

Today, I will give thanks for this fragile democracy, this fragile peace, this incredibly complex and beautiful world we live in. I will mourn what is lost, but I will turn my face toward the light.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Karma

This morning my son excitedly explained to me (as if I didn’t already know) how amazing it was that in so many elections on Tuesday, seats were flipped by candidates who were the philosophical opposite of their opponents. “I just love that,” he said. “Karma is a dish best served cold.”

And, indeed, who wouldn’t feel a sense of hope and glee that the author of an anti-transgender bathroom bill lost his seat to a transgender woman. Or that the elected official who mocked the Women’s March was ousted by a woman who took exception to his comments nearly a year ago and vowed to run against him.

There are so many instances of love and hope and acceptance stomping all over hate and exclusion. From New York and New Jersey to Montana, Washington State, and Virginia, we are stronger and wiser than we know. I feel good for the first time in nearly a year. I have woken up these last two mornings with a renewed sense of purpose. The Resistance is alive and well, and has almost nothing to do with the infighting and backstabbing going on in the Democratic party. It’s a grassroots, in the trenches movement. It’s concerned citizens and community leaders putting our muscle behind — not a party agenda — but strong, capable candidates. The media and the pundits can keep talking amongst themselves about the aftermath of the 2016 election, but the people have moved on. Whether the Democrats will choose to follow, remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s the Indivisible groups and the activists who are playing a leadership role.

And I don’t even give two hoots about what the man in the Oval Office is doing because I know, I know in my heart and soul, that we will rise up, again and again, and we will use the system as it’s meant to be used: We will elect smart, progressive people — citizens of our world — to lead us. And we will continue to flip our communities, seat by seat, with a message of inclusion and hope.

I never really understood the significance of local politics. But in the last year, I have watched as state attorneys general have stood up to the White House on everything from immigration to the environment to healthcare. I have watched governors and mayors refuse to back down. The people who lead our communities are our fist line of defense against policies that do nothing to unite us and everything to tear us apart. That is why it is so important that our local leaders share our values and our desire for a more perfect union.

But the real story behind all of this is all of us. We organized and mobilized and got the job done. In my own small county, we turned over two incredibly significant seats in a very tight race. We were engaged and motivated. We knocked doors, we manned phone banks, we mailed postcards, we talked to our neighbors, and we absolutely rocked the vote.

I can’t predict whether this wave will carry us to a better outcome in 2018 or 2020. But today, for the first time in nearly a year, I see a better future. I see a way out of this mess. I feel empowered.

And yes, karma is a bitch.

Love is a long road

I imagine he’ll look back and say, “The night before my 16th birthday, Tom Petty died. My dad played some of his records and my mom danced all around the living room.”

He may also look back and say, “Two nights before my 16th birthday, 59 people were killed and 500 were wounded in a mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip. They were at a concert listening to music when they died.”

I remember my 16th birthday. My mother gave me a piece of her jewelry that I still wear today, a necklace shaped like a heart. My favorite song was Only the Good Die Young. When my son was born, I started writing letters to him, letters that I thought — in my new mother naiveté — I would gift to him on his 16th birthday. But I’m not ready yet. And neither is he.

As I danced last night, jumped and twirled and let the music wash away my sadness, he rose from the couch and stood close, smiling, laughing, “Be careful,” he said. “Don’t fall.” And I reached for him, as I’ve done so many times since he learned to walk, only it was me who needed steadying. The room was filled with warmth and music, and the curtains were drawn against the dark night. Tom Petty was the soundtrack we needed to hear. I thought about how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and I hugged my just-about-16-year-old son for as long as he would let me.

And that is how I will remember that brief moment when 15 faded into 16. I’m choosing to let the rest fall away, and to cherish this boy, this man, this interesting, fun, fascinating, sweet, and empathetic young person. Love is a long road, and I am so blessed and honored to be his mom.

Fire

It’s almost impossible to process what is happening in America. For those of us who grew up asking few questions beyond what we were told in school, the shock of what we are living and experiencing today is kind of mind-blowing.

I didn’t realize that so much of what we were taught in school is the whitewashed version of the truth. And in some cases, outright lies. I often say that our democracy is a fragile beast, and yet I’m not sure that simple description can convey how truly close we have always been to losing it. My friend who teaches tells me that those who attempt to teach the truth are targeted — at least at the high school level — people want the heroes and holidays version of events. They want the story of an all great and all powerful America.

And yet, lies always come back to take you down, to unravel the story you try to weave. Reading Howard Zinn and watching the PBS documentary on Vietnam has shattered my illusions. Here’s what I think: Our government has been gas-lighting us for centuries. Our current president is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There are, however, so many things I am grateful for, so many things that are a product of this democracy, of our uniquely American way of life — and these are the things I cling to desperately in my despair. I am grateful that I can speak my mind and not fear a midnight knock on the door. I am grateful that there are good people who run for public office, people who want to be the change for the rest of us. I am grateful that I live in a country where writers, like Zinn, are free to publish and make their books available to those who want to read them. I am grateful for having choices, and opportunities, even if some of those opportunities are theoretical and not actually attainable. I am grateful that our founding fathers had the presence of mind to go their own way, to choose a form of government that despite not being perfect, is better than tyranny and oppression.

I was roughly the same age as my son is today — a little younger, perhaps — during the strong push to end the Vietnam War. I remember watching the body counts on the nightly news. I remember Kent State, and Watergate, and though I was very young at the time, I remember watching Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train on the evening news. But I also remember watching a moon landing on a small black and white TV in my elementary school classroom. And going to a sit-in near the Griffith Park Carousel with my parents. I remember countless moments when the best of us came together to help those in need, when we stepped outside of our differences to actually make a difference.

Someone recently wrote that watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam is helping her to be brave. I get that. I keep thinking that as bad as it is today, as divided as we are, the divisions this country faced in the sixties and seventies were just as wide, if not more so. And yet, it is the fact that so many of those differences remain unresolved that has brought us to this point.

Our current president and his administration of billionaire bullies is what happens when people are so fed up they can’t help but reach for the extreme solution, even if that solution is to set themselves on fire.

 

Shelter from the storm

I don’t even know what to say anymore. As I scroll through my FB feed and see memes diminishing #takeaknee posted by people I used to know, or used to think I know, I am heartsick. I turn to James and ask how can we ever come back from this? He says, we can’t.

America fights about the meaning of respect while shrugging off decades of institutional racism and social injustice. Three devastating hurricanes, a game of chicken with North Korea, disability activists in wheelchairs literally dragged out of senate hearings, Russia’s quiet but hostile takeover of our social media feed, a new travel ban, and yes, everyone has an opinion, a gripe, a grievance, but to what end? We are not divided; this country has been fed through a shredder, the kind that makes cross-cuts and gleefully devours old credit cards.

I make no secret of where I stand. But I understand that it is so much easier to turn a blind eye. To pretend you don’t see. I’ve done it. We all do it. It would be easier too, not to deal with the issues and problems that bring us to cry out in senate chambers and march in the streets. If only those rabble rousers would be quiet and go home. Who really likes confrontation, anyway? We just want to live our lives, go to work, go to school, come home to a hot meal. If only it were that simple. The hard truth is, that life, whatever it was, is over.

Today was a hard day. It knocked me down.

We’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam. I don’t want my son to witness the horror of that war, but the way he cries out each time Westmoreland asks for more troops assures me that he sees what needs to be seen. I could say he is too young or too fragile to watch. I could say, when you are older. But there is no shelter from this storm. It seeps in. The despair, the fear, the anxiety. He watches as the bodies pile up, as the men tell their stories, and his shocked reactions strengthen my resolve. I can’t raise him to turn a blind eye. I can only raise him to know, and see, and understand.

Is it possible to love your country but hate what it does? What does it mean to be a patriot? McNamara knew he was wrong. He pushed Johnson to feed the general’s beast. And it is only by the grace of some god that we are here today, fighting amongst ourselves over flags and songs while Rome burns. We are never looking in the right direction.

I didn’t ask for this and yet I feel the weight of it heavy on my heart. I love my country but I am deeply afraid for its future.

I have been watching friends and families divide in my FB feed. Both sides believe they are on the side of patriotism. Honor the flag. Honor thy country. Honor what you know to be morally right. All men are created equal. All men. And just because you don’t like what I have to say doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to say it.

Where does this end? There is a madman at the helm and I have no faith, no trust in our humanity. We have done unspeakable things. Over and over again. And arguing over whether we stand or take a knee, who is a true patriot and who is not, does little more than provide cover for those who want to tear this democracy down.

There is no shelter from this storm. It seeps in. And as difficult and as painful as it is to watch, we cannot turn a blind eye. We have to see each other, and somehow see this through. Or we risk losing this fragile beast, this America we strive to become.