Monday, September 26, 2016

The Day I Met John Lewis!!!

Over the summer, I felt like Congressman John Lewis was one of the people taking care of me. Reading parts one and two of March gave me a deeper perspective on the Civil Rights Movement and a wider lens on what’s at stake in the current election. During the time of pain, fear, and frustration that followed Orlando, the sit-in on the congress floor gave me reassurance that someone cared, that someone was fighting for both LGBT safety and gun control improvements. John Lewis was at the center, giving me a sense of purpose and forward motion in what could easily feel like a brutal and broken world.
So when I heard that he would be stopping by our local Philly for Hillary office, I very nearly swooned. I was grateful that I happened to be in the office for a canvass when they found out, or I might have missed it—one of the synchronicities that always keep me just a little bit mystical about things. I couldn’t believe I would have a chance to thank him, and thank him, and thank him again for how much he’d done for all of us all of his work and pain and sacrifice to try and help our nation live up to the democratic, egalitarian place it is supposed to be.
Amy found me a copy of March Book Three to get signed. I wore my favorite blue-flowered Democrat dress and left the bookstore early so I could get in a little phonebanking before the big event. We were out on the back patio calling because it was too loud and crowded inside. It was a hazy, warm morning and everything was a little damp. Lots of the people I was calling were getting their second call of the day because of multiple event invitations, I guess, and they didn’t even mind, that’s how hardcore our local Democrats are. One woman told me that she was setting up a voter registration table outside of her house. Another asked me how she could work the polls on Election Day. Even though I was being a pain and calling people while they were a work, they often very kindly gave me a time to call back later. I love Democrats, that’s one thing I know for sure.
I got through a LOT of call sheets while we were waiting for the congressman to arrive. The phonebankers were antsy that we might miss out, but our organizers assured us they’d bring him to us first. I was on a call when he came through the back door, and I had to hastily say “I have to let you go now, John Lewis just got here!” to the nice voter on the phone.
I was shaking as I took March out of my purse for him to sign. I was afraid to monopolize him and didn’t know how to approach him even though he was right there, on the back patio of the what used to be the coffee shop where I hosted poetry reading way back when. Luckily for my hero-struck self, my new favorite organizer said “Let me introduce you to your biggest fan!” and brought him right to me.
So far this year, I’ve shaken the hand of a former president, our god-help-us-if-she’s-not-the-next president, and the president of Planned Parenthood, but shaking John Lewis’s hand was by far the warmest, deepest, and most meaningful. People snapped pictures as he signed my book, and I blithered on and on, saying many, many, thank yous and trying not to fall down. I got to tell him that his books inspire me every day. The local paper took a picture of us with the book and I would really, really like to have that photo.
One of the most humbling and awe-filled moments of this fraught year came when he thanked me for my work—the man who fought and suffered and worked harder for good than almost anyone was thanking me for a few cozy calls, a few sunny days of knocking on doors. I felt tiny and universal all at once.
After he was done thanking phone-bankers, he went inside the packed headquarters and gave a rousing speech about how he cried when Barack Obama won Pennsylvania, and then again when he was inaugurated, and how he plans to cry when we inaugurate our first woman president. He led the headquarters in a chant of “Yes we can!” before he was quickly spirited out the back door and on his way.
I turned to the woman next to me, who was looking as awed and joyed as I was, and said “That was a big moment.” and she said “Yes it was.” And we were together in it then, in the strength of unity and progress. I could feel the project of justice moving forward, even though it is almost always maddeningly slow.

Sometimes it feels crazy to believe in progress. The systems and blindnesses that oppress and brutalize America are so massive and entrenched, sometimes it feels stupid and hopeless to fight. Though sometimes I’ve felt lonely and lost, meeting John Lewis reminded me that if we keep going, we can be a little piece of progress every day. It galvanized my heart to keep working for racial justice, for gender equality, and for LGBT rights because there is such a powerful wave of good history and work behind us, pushing us forward like a wave. The warmth of his hand let me let go of my failures and really touch the little bits of good I can accomplish in this life. I will never, never stop saying thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

“She’s Not Doing Enough” and Other Things to Not Say to Me

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I work three jobs. All three of them are superpleasant and I even enjoy my commute, but by the eleventh hour of the day, I’m tired. During that time, there’s this man. He’s on our side and has been friendly and supportive all throughout the election season, until recently. Now, as I head out the door, he always makes the same assertion: that Hillary didn’t do enough over the summer, that she was “Just chilling and letting Trump do his thing.”

We’ve had a great time chitchatting about the election, so much so that I even brought him a poster from the convention and thanked him for all of his support, but I can see how a summer of the misogynist, Trump-drunk news has skewed his view of the proceedings. He keeps saying she never talks about her platform, though many of us can recite it by heart by now. She’s been telling you, I keep wanting to say, but you’re not listening.

As far as I know, this friendly critic isn’t putting in any volunteer hours for the campaign, he’s just sitting back and second-guessing a woman who LITERALLY worked herself sick. I get through these moments with as much grace as possible, but I drive home FUMING over both the personal and political implications. I’m deeply frightened by the way that the news turned him against his own candidate, and VASTLY irritated that I have to hear this feedback in the midst of a long workday.

What makes me the maddest is that he and so many others have been so utterly poisoned by gender restrictions that they can’t see or hear her, no matter how hard she works, no matter what she says or does. Part of our disagreement might be media-choice based, because I get my information from social media, from the campaigns themselves, and from direct experience and he only gets it from the news, but there’s a deeper problem here—it feels like they can’t see or hear her/us no matter what we do because for millennia we’ve been taken for granted, our work has been invisible.

My sister, a full-time mother of five and one of the hardest working people I know, told me this story—she was at a kids’ birthday party and something got spilled, prompting a friend of hers to remark, “Oh, I heard you’re really good at laundry.” Kate was justifiably annoyed—she would probably rather be known for her photography skills or for her Harry Potter Trivia prowess, but it really gave me a chance to appreciate the undervalued work that has been going on behind the scenes throughout all of human civilization. Where would any of us be without people who are good at laundry?

In the public sphere, women run the risk of being just as overlooked. Recently we all learned that the women of President Obama’s administration had to invent a special strategy in order to be heard:

Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” –“Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard”  By Claire Landsbaum

Which is cool that they banded together and shine-theoried it up, but WHY ON EARTH should they have had to come up with a scheme to get our arguably-first-feminist-president to call on them? Men, why can’t you just hear us? (The most recent episode of Call Your Girlfriend makes this point so much better:

One of the things that the “she doesn’t do enough” man in my workday doesn’t see is campaign headquarters, where the volunteers are almost exclusively women. We work our multiple jobs, some of us take care of families, and then we head back out to do the political laundry in hopes of getting rid of the smelliest sweatsock of them all, Trump. We’re not paid to do it, and though phone banking and canvassing is sometimes fun, it is work, and we’re doing it for free, to keep things afloat the way women always have. So don’t ever tell me that Hillary isn’t doing enough, or that any woman isn’t. There are only fifty days left until the election and it’s past time for men to get up off their asses and help us with the chores.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Was it a Year of More?

Following the advice of happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, I chose a theme for myself last year on my birthday. I was dating someone at the time so I might have been thinking more snuggles, more connection, more being taken out for steak. In that respect, I’d call the year an absolute flop-o-rama, but in so many unexpected ways, it was a year of more.

Last September when I stood on the Port-A-Potty lined Parkway feeling oppressed by the preparations for the Pope’s visit, I vowed to de-colonize my body as much as possible, and that was a lightning-strike change that felt, paradoxically, like a religious experience. I wanted to liberate all of the hoo-has and saw the world in a more radical way. At first it was alarming and terrifying but eventually I figured out that I have the power to change things for the better.

It was a loss. I lost my Unitarian church, my circle of friends, and my underlying idea that if I was well-behaved, I’d be loved and welcomed in the world. I’ve lost (I think) the ability to be what any man expects of me. And though I experienced a drastic reduction of fucks that I had to give, it was still a painful process. But as I lost the just-take-a-deep-breath-and-be-accepting-of-your oppressor Unitarians from my life, I gained something too—the realization that we all can be more than religion and society reduces us to. I realized that while women and LGBTQ+ people are always asked to make ourselves smaller for others’ comfort, I didn’t have to anymore, and more importantly, I could put myself to work trying to reduce those limitations for others.

Luckily, it was an election year, and I had the chance to hit the streets for women and fight for hoo-ha freedom in very concrete ways. Primaries gave me the chance to clear hundreds of sexists from my friend feed and stand up for the bullied-feeling handful of pals that were feeling the weight of oh-no-we-have-to-keep-a-man-in-charge scary groupthink.

Being loyal to Hillary helped me to be loyal to myself. One night, fired up after the debate and scrolling through facebook, I ended up accidentally standing up to one of the biggest bullies in my life, someone I’d somehow thought was a little bit in charge of me. Watching Hillary take decades of smear campaigns and bushels of hate-Tweets and still do so much good in the world made me realize that being hated wouldn’t necessarily make me less awesome. Recently I stood up to another of my life’s me-appointed Svengalis and was surprised to see that my world did not come crashing down. It’s given me the courage to realize that what seems an immovable force can actually be dislodged, either easily or incrementally—I’m not helpless and don’t need to be in anyone’s thrall.

Paradoxically, shifting to a positive lens on the world and trying to work for change has been somewhat alienating. I’m still dragging behind me the heavy wagon of disapproval that I can’t quite seem to let go of—they say you can, so maybe someday soon I’ll be able to let all of the baggage slide Grinch-sled-style down the mountain. Either way, I can see the world as a place where we can and should make a real impact. I’ve shaken off a little fraction of the learned helplessness that comes from having a depressed brain and from just living in the world.

Professionally, it’s definitely been a year of more—I branched out into tutoring, which is one of the greatest joys of my life.

It was a lonely year, but I really got a chance to hear myself think and retrace my steps to the connections that mean the most to me. I made a TON of art and got the habit of stapling it onto phone poles around the neighborhood. I FINISHED A BOOK! I did my best to find an agent and publisher but that didn’t pan out, so I’m left with an incomplete feeling that means I need to figure out what’s next.
After the election is over, I’ll need ways to refresh and renew myself. That’s why my theme for age 42 is “Plant the Seeds.” I need time to cultivate, to rest, read, take walks, watch things I haven’t seen before. I want to fill myself up with inspiration so that good work will be able to germinate and grow. I want more time in the woods, at the beach, with the people I love, with kind friends. I want to make this a year of creative and personal indulgence, of sunlight and breeze and rain, of treats for the muses. I’m satisfied with serious 41, and now I’m ready to bloom and play.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Life-Changing Summer, Part Three

I want to note that as I write these cheery posts, the death toll of the summer is sticking with me and I am seriously considering taking anti-depressants for the first time in my life. The best way through still seems to be acknowledging the magic parts, though.

The Room Where it Happens! I was there when Bernie Sanders moved to nominate Hillary Clinton for our FIRST FEMALE MAJOR PARTY NOMINEE! Well, I was outside eating a salad because Amy was having a leg cramp and we couldn’t find a chair inside, but still.

The most moving moment of the convention for me, though, was when the Mothers of the Movement spoke. Their courage puts every single other thing in perspective. To experience the worst loss, the worst injustice, and still have the hope and power to get on stage and fight for change—how do they do it?! The entire convention broke out into a chant of “Black Live Matter.” I couldn’t see the stage from the entrance we were guarding, but I peeked behind the curtain and watched the crowd chant. It was one of the most galvanizing things I’ve experienced. Our country and our party has a long way to go toward being as inclusive, fair, and humane as I’d prefer, but to me that day looked like concrete evidence that progress had been made.
And although, during other parts of the day, I was irritated by the boo-y Bernie delegates, I can’t help but take comfort in the fact that they were chanting for peace, even as we disagreed on the best ways to get peace. When I was fourteen and the first Gulf War started, I ached to have been alive for the peace protests of the Sixties. I’m sure there were protests, but from where I stood it was flags and yellow ribbons as far as the eye could see. I wore a white ribbon for peace and refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance at school, cried when I was called anti-American. My mom was so awesome because she marched through the suburban streets with me, two of my friends, and a boombox playing Beatles songs. My friend Lynn even knocked on a few doors. Now, in 2016, delegates are chanting for peace and I can join a march every day if I wanted to. So much better than my teenage dream of the 60s.

My Brother’s Wedding: I thought it might be sad to go to a wedding with my ex-wife as my plus-one, but this was an unequivocally joyful day, an oasis of beauty and peace that showed me just how far my family has come. Plus, this happened:


The Disarm Hate Rally: It seemed pretty crazy to drive down to D.C. in the middle of a heat wave. It was one. Billion. Degrees. on August 13, but I thought it was important to have a positive catharsis about the truly alarming parts of the summer, so we packed up all of the water and went.

As we walked across the field near the Lincoln Memorial, it felt like crossing the dessert. A few people were standing in front of the stage and many others huddling in cooling tents. A couple of handsome young men came over and gave us Hillary stickers. Code Pink was there being right about gun control and super-bummer-youth-voter-suppression-wrong about the election. (It’s a weird year when I feel at odds with Code Pink.)

It seemed like synchronicity that a group of teenage poets from my neighborhood spoke just after we arrived. The family next to us had rainbow signs quoting The Lorax:

I was given a sign to wear that said this:

And I’m doing my best to believe it.

We met Gays Against Guns and signed a poster to Orlando from the Newtown Alliance. Pro-gun control groups have been such a source of inspiration and strength for me this summer, and I hope to work more closely with them in the coming years.

After wards, we walked to the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King memorial:

I thought a lot about why these edifices are there. What we are really trying to accomplish as a nation, what America is truly supposed to be—I don’t know. If, as Lin-Manuel Miranda would have us believe, history has its eyes on us, how are we doing?

Pokémon Go: It saved my life. No really. At the beginning of the summer, I was afraid to cross the street. The world was full of bloodthirsty cars and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get back to my usual taking-long-walks self. But then the Pokéstops went in and I forgot to be scared. Since the day I was hit by a car, people have not-so-helpfully reminded me to be careful crossing the street, but I had more than enough (maybe way too much) vigilance in my life BEFORE the accident—I wasn’t interested in forming new fear-patterns in my brain. Collecting Pokémons tricked the fear into not becoming permanent, and it got me moving again. Plus, there are few things more happy-making than strolling down to the neighborhood gym and chitchatting with strangers about really ridiculous things. The perfect counterpoint to a way-too serious life.

Now the air smells like turning leaves and the morning glories are blooming. I can feel my body relaxing into fall, ready for kids and mums and art projects and WINNING THE DAMN ELECTION already. Thanks, life-changing summer—I hope to keep planting those seeds.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Things That Made 2016 a Life-Changing Summer: Part Two

The Fourth of July! I didn’t get to do much in June, and with the broken-arm grief it sometimes felt like all was lost, but when we drove up to my sister’s for Independence Day, summer started to light up the way it’s supposed to. Watching the Oswego parade with my sister and niece and nephews gave me such a feeling of childhood joy combined with grown-up patriotism and progress—the parade even included a giant rainbow flag and ladies dressed as suffragettes!

In between fireworks, (both the mom-lit and city-provided varieties) swimming, and red-white- and-blue “Patriotic!” cookies, my nephews asked a million political questions and I showed them how to use the candidates’ issues pages so they could learn all the points themselves. Holden really hates fracking and Kieran told me that whenever he has a substitute teacher, the class asks who he or she is voting for. My niece is the youngest person in her school’s Acceptance Coalition, so they give me more hope for the future than anything else.

Helping Open the Neighborhood’s PA Democrats’ Office! This is where I felt the most at home this summer. Whether I was calling to ask people to volunteer, making art to hang on the walls, or hearing the entire headquarters sing “Happy Birthday” to Amy, I felt a sense of love, inclusion, and purpose—I felt most welcome to be myself. There are only (thank goodness!) 71 days to go ‘til election day, but I’m hoping to serve Planned Parenthood in some way after this, so hopefully the love will keep inspiring me.

The Filibuster and Sit-In! After Orlando, it was hard to deal with the fact that friends and family didn’t always see the personal nature of the tragedy, the implications of such a large-scale massacre of LGBT people. When Chris Murphy, John Lewis, and Nancy Pelosi lead our lawmakers to really take a stand for gun control, it felt like such a relief, like oh, thank goodness, someone sees us. After decades of being ignored and/or vilified by my own government,  I’m grateful that public opinion and grassroots activism has given Washington the push and the permission to take a stand for LGBT people in so many ways, even if there’s still a long way to go. Also, sending thank-you tweets to the sit-inners and tweeting vigil pictures at Paul Ryan was pretty fun.

My West Wing Rewatch and Hamilton Obsession! Though I certainly favor either/or thinking that leans fully to the left, the West Wing has helped me to understand progress as a long game, and one that is peopled by public servants who, as Brené Brown would say, are doing the best they can. As much as I am a raging partisan, it heled me to see that even when Paul Ryan is forgetting what the fuck a gavel is for, is probably doing what he thinks is best for the public good. It feels healthier to me to believe that everyone, especially on the blue team, is really fighting hard to do the most possible good. I get that the West Wing is fiction, but it’s just such great counterpoint to my depression-brain.

Hamilton, besides providing the “How lucky we are to be alive right now!” of it all, (And another awesome way to bond with the niece and nephews!) helped me to understand why we HAVE partisan politics, why conflict and vehement disagreement are as much part of our values and freedom and inclusion are/should be.

I feel extremely dorky and sometimes freakish for believing in these things, but it’s just a nice way to see the world. If I didn’t believe that I could be a genuine part of progress, I don’t know how I’d ever get out from under the injustices I’ve seen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Things That Made 2016 a Life-Changing Summer, Part One

Things That Made 2016 a Life-Changing Summer, Part One

In some ways, I’m just beginning to process the fact that my summer began an intricate fracture and a harrowing surgery that coincided with forty-nine of my people being brutally murdered in a nightclub. But somehow, the magic of staying engaged and working for change kept me from seeing the world as a pile of bloody bones. It was a miracle summer that changed me in so many large and small ways. Hoping to honor the profound and ridiculous experiences that I’ve been blessed with, in no particular order.

1.      The way the world looked out for me when I was hurt. From the moment that I was hurt, passersby gathered to help. A pair of strangers called 911 and stayed with me. A passing friend-of-a-friend brought me ice and stayed to comfort me. My library friends came out and helped me to keep from passing out, helped me to get the driver’s information. The driver waited with me too. The EMTs and policemen were kind and helpful, keeping me calm in such a scary moment. Nearly every healthcare professional I encountered has been expert, thorough, and kind. 
      Most important, though, has been Amy. She has sacrificed so much time to help me get through recovery and to this place of near-health. Our original plan for the summer had been for me to cover the store as much as possible so that she could take a vacation and get some of her own medical stuff done, and I feel TERRIBLE that that didn’t happen—I hope that I get to make it up to her somehow, thought she certainly doesn’t expect me to. Every day I’m amazed that I pulled off the magic trick of being best friends with my ex-wife, and I’m so, so lucky.

2.      The Philly for Pulse Vigil. I’ve already written about it here, but that evening stayed with me. It made me so proud and grateful to be part of such a diverse and activist city, to keep that closeness with my fellow humans as we marched through the street and tried to remember the words to “Born This Way.”

3.      Marching for Black Lives.  After the murders of Philando Castile and Alton sterling, Amy and I decided to join one of the many marches happening around the city. The march we chose was in a cool Puerto Rican neighborhood I’d never visited before. There were metal palm trees decorating the street corners and golden murals like everywhere. As we marched, residents unfurled flags from their balcony like something you’d see on the news, like being in history. The gnashing events of the week found expression, everyone was rising up. I didn’t agree with everything the march leaders were saying, but why should I need to? It was grief and revolution and honesty. After the post-accident weeks I’d spent being afraid to cross the street, I was helping strangers shut down an intersection, awed to be a body for them. My own allyship has been fraught and deeply flawed, but it was a gift to be trying still, standing up for justice in such a clear and tangible way.

4.      Flowers and fireflies. While I was scared and stuck and concentrating on growing bones, while I couldn’t write or draw or drive, I made myself keep up on my walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes I was sad that I couldn’t go further, but the flowers on these few blocks were different every day. There was always something new to notice, and for the first half of the summer, there were always fireflies. Being separated from usual summer goals and preoccupations, I was able to look more closely at what was in front of me, to slow down and take more notice.

I originally meant to put all of the things in one post, but I got overwhelmed so I’ll have to space it out. So much to get to!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Happy Goals for an Activist Summer

This has been a different kind of summer. While my arm heals, I've been skittish about swimming, so the beach hasn't dominated my life the way it usually does. Luckily, it's a great time to find all kinds of meaning volunteering for the Democrats and marching/vigiling for all kinds of change. I wish there were a lot less vigiling, but I feel lucky to have a chance to stand up for people when I can.