Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should I have engaged "The Silent Majority"?

It was a lovely October evening. I was on the subway coming home from work. I was on the sixth avenue line which meant I travelled under Rockefeller Center, where the group of people got on and talked loudly, totally upsetting my commute. These people didn't know where they were going or how to get there, but they didn't stop to find a map. They loudly complained that the trains weren't labelled well.
Their accents sounded different, rather, they sounded neither like working class New Yorkers nor teenagers who are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize they are upsetting the commute for everyone else. Yes, most New Yorkers hold public conversations at a level that can be ignored, because to do otherwise is to encourage interruption or interference, connection. I'm not sure why, but I do know that after taking subways to and from work for almost 20 years, we spend a quality amount of time trying to ignore one another.
Why is this? I think it's because we can't possibly acknowledge everyone, and we also know that we don't want to. I don't know everyone and my commute is time for me that I steal out of the day. At the worst all I can do is contemplate the day. If I'm lucky I can lose myself in whatever I'm reading.

But not that day. That evening these people got on and when I realized they broke the social barrier of the Mass Transit system of New York City (we ignore you because we can; if we can't, you're being rude) I looked up to see who they were.
They were holding signs. They had just come from a march or a protest, but before I could feel a sense of comaraderie, I realized their signs said "Make America Great Again."

I returned to my book. I don't want to know these people. They're going to lose the election and then they will spend 4 years bitching and moaning about it, I thought to myself.
Thankfully, they got off at Rockefeller Center, with a boisterous clamor as they did so. One of them, probably a son, given the range of ages in the group, held his small "Make American Great Again" sign for us to see as they climbed the stairs to the exit.
There was a young woman sitting next to me, probably my junior by about 8 years. She and I looked at each other with relief as silence returned to the train, and smiled.

"Idiots," she said to me, at the right volume for strangers talking to each other, and I smiled my agreement and nodded.
We did not say anything else to each other. She was reading a magazine. I was reading a book. We were relieved when the comforting sounds of the subway returned to drown our lives.

I wondered that evening, after they got off the train. If I should have talked to them, found out what they thought and why they thought it. We certainly hadn't had enough time to have a meaningful discussion, but I could have said something.
The problem is, that something I would have said, on that day, as I returned home from my job as a public librarian, AKA a civil servant who depends upon tax revenue for her job and the institution for which I work, to continue, probably would have been
"You do realize that as soon as Rump gets into office, you're going to be thrown under the bus, right?"

That is not a way to build alliances, even I know that.
But what could I have said to them? Given that all I wanted to say was "you're being rude because we are all trying our best to ignore each other, and you are PREVENTING that from happening." what good would that have done? Perhaps they came from a part of the world where strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, though I don't imagine walking up to a friend and saying "there are more of us than there are of you and you are going to lose," is a way of making friends. Should I have approached them and asked where they were from? How long they were in New York for? How humiliating would it have been for me if I learned they came from Nassau County and found the city as foreign a place as Timbuktu?

Every story has a perspective. Everyone brings their own story to whatever story they hear, and to whatever facts they encounter. How can we do otherwise? Someone once told me that he was the product of his experiences, and eventually I found that tiresome, because all he was saying was "I have my story and the facts I gather are fit into that storyline so that it continues to make sense;" in this context, it was "all women are fucking me over and I assume that every woman I meet will eventually start lying to me," and of course he didn't trust women at all because he was waiting for each of them to fuck him over, eventually to disappoint him to badly that it was better not to try to trust any of them.

This is why we need to learn about other perspectives as we encounter the world, particularly when we meet people who (we believe) should share our perspective but don't. A coworker once described people as crazy, and it took some time for me to realize that she just meant she didn't understand how they could think the way they did. I imagine she didn't try to understand their perspective, because she couldn't imagine a different one from her own.


I am a great believer in the power of story. The stories we tell ourselves inform our lives and shape how we interact with people. That's why The Rug won, because he told people who felt that they were losing the American Dream not only that they were, but that they were losing because of them, the illegal immigrants, and the elites.
Can we understand one another better if we actually listen to what the other side is saying? Perhaps but not if our first response is "what you think is completely stupid and you must understand why what I think is the right way.
The conversation that would follow would certainly last longer than 3 stops on the sixth avenue line.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tax Day March Crashing

I was excited about the Tax Day March. I went with a group called the March Chorus and I am happy that my contribution was a round based on Frere Jacques "Show your taxes. Show your taxes. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Just what are you hiding? Just what are you hiding? Show them now. Show them now." It's an easy tune, everyone knows it, and the words are easy to catch. Only the third line is a little hard to copy. Divide your peeps into four groups and figure out which one starts first.

People joined in. They heard a bit of the first line and wanted to sing along! And this WAS the high point of my day. Somebody thought it should become a standard!

I need the positive affirmation. There's nothing wrong with that.















But then I wake up on Easter Sunday, remembering (again!) something my father told me about Easter being the Holy Day of the Christian religion ("Christmas is when Jesus was born," he once wrote me. "Well, all God's chilluns gets born. But getting crucified and resurrected? Now that is some holy business.") and I don't know how much good it did. The march in New York City got NO coverage in the New York Times, but the Mar A Lago rally did, presumably because the Rug saw it and it pissed him off.

I was unsure what to do today. Do I try to come up with a new round to sing at the March for Science next week? To share with the March Chorus before the rally? Do I write letters or postcards to elected officials?

Do I try to finish the pussy hat I promised someone?

Do I try not to sink into blue because my father would have turned 75 next Thursday, had he lived?

No, taking a day to relax and come down after the positive feelings after the march yesterday is necessary. I can only do so much, and we all need to be at our best now. Self-care is necessary. So is finishing the things I said I would, even (or particularly) if finishing them will require you to calm down and do something you enjoy.

Happy bunny day. I must drown peeps in hot chocolate.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fighting Tyranny

I've been reading On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder and it's bothering me. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I suggest that what is happening in the United States is different from what's happened before. We've never seriously considered that a foreign government has interfered in our elections -- either through propaganda or messing with the voting technology. It's important to obey Douglas Adams' advice; DON'T PANIC!!! But it's also imperative to know when we're just letting ourselves be boiled alive, like the frog who doesn't realize that the water is being heated slowly. The frog being boiled a live is a great metaphor, and right now I don't care that Wikipedia tells me it's wrong, because history tells me that people will slowly adapt to changes, and accept things that they would not have found acceptable earlier. Tell us we're under attack and we need to give up our privacy, we'll do it. Some of us will fight back, but a lot of us will obey authority. We're taught to obey authority, and we are NOT taught to question authority at every turn. And perhaps in normal times, that is good advice.

I don't know what normal times look like anymore.

Because the Facebook posts (or chain email messages, for us old folk) that we saw in the long ago, preaching time nostalgia, were bullshit. Yes, John Waters, your childhood was wonderful. You were young when the sex was free and not nearly as dangerous as it is now, and the music was fabulous. But you also know that your generation had to fight for the Civil Rights Movement (you made a musical and a big Broadway Hit about it), and frankly, while the world is a better place than it 60 years ago in many ways, the world still needs work. One big problem is to raise children who know how to fight the good fight without raising children who turn out to be rampant smart alecks without any actual moral framework.

My mother has a pin that I remember her wearing when I was very young. Question Authority it said. She meant it.

But she did mean to question authority in the sense of "why are you an authority?" not "why should I do what you tell me to?" They don't mean the same thing. Questioning the presence of authority, how it gains its power and how it maintains power.

Life is scary right now in the United States. The Ego in the White House knows no bounds, and doesn't understand checks and balances. He also doesn't understand the word "no!" means something he doesn't want it to mean.

We must remember that being patriotic means loving our country and what it stands for. Our country is a democracy and we must fight to protect the weak and the voiceless. Scapegoats are not actually the people responsible for our problems. Scapegoats are what the people in power, the people who are responsible for maintaining a system that denigrates us, want us to keep looking at. Scapegoats are the magic trick politicians use to distract us when the politicians are keeping their masters fed.

Democracy is a fragile flower, and we must feed it regularly with water and nutrition by staying informed and holding our democratically elected leaders accountable. Staying informed means understanding that the American Care Act IS Obamacare, and the magicians who told you they were repealing Obamacare were taking away that health insurance you got to help pay your child's medical bills.

Yes I do sound condescending. People are letting their emotions, or hatred, feed their minds. We have to stop doing that.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Why CAN'T an essay be a story? Essay #13

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is when I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.  In the first place, that stuff bores me. . . . I'm not going to tell you my whole autobiography or anything.  I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas." And this is how The Catcher in the Ryestarts; Holden Caulfield tells us what his story is about. ;He's not interested in his entire life, and he doesn't think you are, either, but these weird things happened to him when he got kicked out of school last Christmas and he thinks somebody should know about it.

It's a classic essay story, the classic essay story about a disaffected teenager. A Separate Peace is also an essay story, about how a school hasn't changed at all, but Gene has totally changed and he is disturbed by how much the rest of the world stays the same despite the awful events that he instigated.

My father has been dead for 1 year, three months, and 2 days. I still want to yell at somebody about it. It's the awful thing about death; One of the first stages of grief is anger, and death usually takes anger well. Death shrugs, walking off while you're still yelling, "I'm talking to you!" Death takes the loved one with her while she's at it. My father has lost his hearing, or he can't answer the phone, but he's not there where I can talk to him about the silly things that piss me off. I could blame him, actually. My father made a conscious choice to stop cancer treatment. He got to a point in his life where his life was not worth the trouble it took to maintain it, and I respect that choice, but I wish he'd told me who I was going to have to talk to when I was upset about something stupid.

We internalize the ones we love. Take comfort in this. Once they're dead, it is no longer important to worry whether what you love about your relatives is who they really were, or just what you remember.  What I miss right now about my Dad might just be what I would have wanted him to say if I called him on the way home, not what he would have actually said, and perhaps that's OK. Veracity is an overrated quality in memory.

On a cold spring morning, when I was eagerly awaiting my 8th birthday, my father and I were sitting on the couch. Correction, my father was sitting on the couch, I was barefoot and sprawled on the couch, sitting with my legs spread out in front of me. I was probably wondering if they were growing while I was watching them. My father saw my toes and contemplated them before talking.
"I wonder when you toes will start falling off," he mused, more to himself it sounded.
"What?" I asked, not sure whether to be terrified or start laughing.
"Your baby toes, honey. When you grow up, your baby toes fall off and you grow big ones. You see?" he reached out to grab my right foot and wiggled two of my toes, "they're already quite loose already."
And I stared at him, sure that he was lying to me, but who knows? I mean, I had older kid friends who should have passed this along to me, if only to terrify me themselves, and not leave it to the grownups to fill me in. I breathed in, and wiggled my toes. I think I was too terrified to pull up my legs and play with my toes the way my tongue had begun playing with loose teeth in my mouth.

It did not occur to me to wiggle the grownup teeth. I don't think I'd realized quite what was permanent and what wasn't, which my father was depending upon for his joke to work.  Why wouldn't my baby toes fall off?  Were they growing like the rest of me, or weren't they?

This set in motion a whole set of stories my father would tell me that were not true. I developed a mind-set that suggested alternate endings, the possibility that what you could make up might be a better story than what actually happened, and perhaps you should go with the better story, when reality was letting you down.
Why couldn't I remember to go with better stories during my adolesence? Why did I have to be so devoted to MY version of the truth, that people scorned me and made fun of me? Why couldn't I start believing in alternative realities then? (When I was 5 my father would tell me that he and Linda Rondstadt were going out for the afternoon, a fact that I never believed.) Perhaps because I figured that believing in alternative realities that made me cool as a teenager were not actually a successful means to becoming cool (which would have been accurate, nothing fails so much as pretending you're something everyone can see you're not). Perhaps I thought that alternative realities were things grownups can do, but they are not welcomed in people who are also unable to purchase alcohol.

And now my father is dead and all I can remember is the stories he told me, the way I wish his story had ended, and the conviction he had that his story was over.  The last two weeks of his life, he told his wife that he felt his life had become a movie and he wanted to end it and cry “Cut!” but he couldn’t.

Nobody was up to telling Dad that the correct call would have been “That’s a wrap!” because everyone in Hollywood knows that when anyone cries that out in the hospital, the machines return to the one solid tone, the lights go down, and the camera stops.

Nobody wants to disappoint a dying man.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What I have to do

I couldn't finish an essay this week (this was started in March).  Why?  Because I couldn't just sit down and write one, basically.  I had time to finish reading the mediocre book (Murder at Rough Point) that I'd gotten as an Advanced Readers' Copy at a Conference;  a mystery/romance about a young woman who wants to be a newspaper reporter, when her parents want her to just get married to the right man.  I had time to do that, but I didn't enjoy it.

I couldn't finish an essay because most of what I'm writing feel more like journal entries than essays.  They feel like I'm writing down what I want to tell myself, not what I necessarily want anyone else to hear.  I'm writing into the void and I'm not sure why anyone would care about the details, and I can't come up with anything meaningful (socially relevant, or historical) enough that's worth pushing on anyone else.

Why would I think that this essay is pushing ANYTHING onto somebody else?   No one is forced to read my blog.  The only way somebody knows it's there is if I mention it to them personally or they see it on Facebook at 52essays2017.  Anyone else who finds it somehow went looking for it.

But I'm cautious, because what I ate for breakfast isn't meaningful.  I want to write an essay comparing Why I am not a feminist by Jenna Crispin (don't yell at me, I'm copying her capitalization, and I think she did it that way on purpose) and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie but I don't think that's a personal essay and isn't that what this exercise is for?  Or is it just to keep writing?  To make sure we are working on something while our lives toddle away?

I started THIS essay a few weeks ago, and vacation ensured that I was 2 weeks behind schedule when I returned;  so I wrote an essay for the week I got back, and decided that I would post 2 essays the 2 following weeks, rather than try to write 3 essays in one week when I was still suffering jet lag.

This sounds more and more like it's a journal entry, but many of them do.  And we are told not to worry, to just keep writing.  So OK.

What I have to do this week is different than what I had to do the week I started this particular entry (whenever THAT was) but it's not too different.  I have a different book I'm trying to read, and it's not grabbing me (yet) as much as writing will, so perhaps this essay will have better luck than it did whenever I started it.

And now I have returned from the vacation I was anticipating when I started this essay last month.  I have returned from the vacation and have written an essay about it.  The essay is not quite the essay the friend I was visiting wanted me to write, but it's a start for that essay.   My friend wants me to write an essay to help promote the festival she has developed.  I'm not sure if the essay I wrote is exactly what she wants.

I don't think there's anything wrong pointing out that I am doing the best I can;  that I missed two weeks because I was on the other side of the world, going to a New Age Festival that I might have scorned in the past, but am looking forward to going to again next year (if Julia schedules it for the two weeks that I have off.  Please!  Please!)

And fortunately I return from vacation to learn that I have to order new travel guides.  This is fun and an enjoyable way of prolonging an experience, I think.  I get to continue to look at books that might spark interest of new places I could go, things to do.

And the point of this essay and this whole exercise is to keep writing.  So what I have to do is remind myself that this process, like NaNoWriMo, is about quantity more than quality, because perhaps if I keep at it, the quality will improve on its own.  I'm not sure if that works, but we're giving it a try.

So I have to finish writing this essay, finish updating the travel section, get myself to the gym and MAYBE I'll be able to make the movie this evening.  Either way, I will continue reading Viking Economics, How the Scandinavians Got It Right-And How We Can To by George Lakey.  And then, once Lakey has educated me, I can start writing letters to 45, the rug in the White House, telling him all about what we're doing wrong in great detail, and nothing will ever come of THAT, but I'll feel better about doing something (like I did in January).



Balispirit Festival (Part 1?)

  You are not the person who believes in hypnotism.  You did notice while talking to yourself, that when you were tired, what you said tended to suprise you.  Maybe there's something to the idea that the conscious mind works to suppress what you don't want to know you actually believe.  But that somebody with appropriate credentials can induce this state by asking questions of you when you can't see her?  Just because you're laying down in a similar to sleep position?  No, that is not reasonable.

But that's in your normal life.  The one in New York City where your stuff keeps you safe from things that go bump in the psyche.  Where your therapist declared you well almost 20 years ago.  Come to Bali, an out of the way island, where the food and music styles are unfamiliar.  Even the friend you made 40 years ago has changed...or has she just remained more precisely herself, while everyone else has grown older, compromised their dreams, or realized that the ever elusive green light was not worth the wait and settled for the familiar.

Se you go to the Balispirit Festival, a week long festival of yoga classes, and music performances, and sound experiences.  Your father's recent death has freed you from his side-eye, he's not there to remind you that you think all of this is bullshit.  The Balispirit Festival, started a year or two after the Bali Bombing, was intended to help bring tourism back to tourism, and it's become a haven for the spiritual minded people, who believe in alternative medicine, or that's what you learn from afar.  From the safety of your first world apartment, your traditional job, your life.  You can stay, or rather retain a certain distance, from what you are suspicious of, from new age individuals who are the result of what capitalism did to the hope of the 60s, what happened when the hippies failed.

At least, you think this is bullshit in your normal life.
But surrounded by people who believe a better way is possible, it seems almost likely that change is possible, because you know that it  must be.  Hell, with (t)Rump in office, change is necessary by now.

You have always wondered if Julie created the writers' festival so you would go there and find my own community.  Hell, given Julie's mother's preference for your choices, you've always suspected that Julie wanted me to drop everything and move to paradise, if only to give Julie's choices more legitimacy.  Julie moved to Bali long before Elizabeth Gilbert made it cool.

Every evening, in the background at the concert hall, there is a video reminding you how the forests in Bali have been eviscerated by the paper industry, and you vow to start using hankerchiefs.  Staying in a hotel where the toilets can't handle anything more serious than actual human waste -- feces and urine -- and the toilet paper is tossed into a trash can next to the toilet, where it waits for the room to be cleared, reminds you again of our throwaway culture, and what it costs not only our civilization, but all civilizations, all species, our planet.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;  indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  Margaret Mead once said.

I want to preach the value of laughter yoga.  Even in my "normal" life, I am a great fan of laughter.  We know that laughter is good for you, and laughing for no reason at all seems necessary in the current environment.  Better yet, laughter is as contagious as the common cold, as transmittable as TB.  When two people start laughing, others will follow.  I don't know how you could prove it scientifically (actually, I do, measure the air content of someone before laughing, have them laugh for 20 minutes, measure again), but I'm not sure you should.  Do we really want our doctors proscribing "watch 2 hours of SNL, 1st season, twice weekly for a month."?  Would laughter yoga lose efficacy once it's required?

The Cacao festival leaves you uncertain.  You are told to touch third eyes with your neighbor and the woman next to you asks, "Are you ready for this?" she sounds hesitant.  You're not sure if you are,really, but you also can't imagine what being ready means.  You're about to touch foreheads with a stranger.  Hell, you've been in crowded subways before.  Sure you can do it.

And it's not until that spot, an inch above the bridge of your nose, is touching someone else, is touching somebody else in the same spot, and you are sharing air, voluntarily giving up the notion of personal space, THEN you realize how intimate this feels.
Her hand touches your waist.  Yours brushes her hip.  You are unsure as to whether you are touching her somewhere else to break the connection, not to feel like you're mimicking her, or to maintain that crucial distance, but later that evening, when she embraces you, you do feel accepted, and almost as friends, and you debate letting your guard down.

But you all turn, and swear allegiance to the Cacao spirit...
And she vanishes, swallowed up by the crowd that brought her to you.
You are not sure if you're relieved, or sorry at the missed opportunity...missed opportunity of what exactly?  You're not sure of that, either.

What happens when everyone goes home?
You don't know how to turn good intentions into actions.  Do you send a follow up to everyone who attended the festival, telling them about organizations where they could volunteer or give money.  The festival is too big, there are people from all over the world, so you'd have to find the appropriate international organizations, but you also suspect that the Festival was not intended to be an instrument for social change.
But you think that a conference that got this big a following should be put to good purpose.  That just sitting around and feeling good isn't enough, and so you start to plot.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Do you know your friends on FB? (and do you care?)

A drawback of being on Facebook is that people you meet and like ask, "Are you on Facebook?" and you say, "Of course!" and you promise to keep in touch that way, through Facebook;  because Facebook is SO much easier than writing actual email messages, and nobody writes LETTERS any more and Facebook is a casual means of maintaining a relationship.

Maintaining a relationship with someone via Facebook is riskier because we are more blunt when communicating electronically and often we say things that we wouldn't when talking to somebody IRL (there have been studies, and I'm sure I could find one online, but right now I want to refer you to None of the Old Rules Apply by Dave Eggers, pp 191-211 in What We Do Now, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians).  Over the past few months I have been tempted to "unfriend" people when I learn their politics differ from mine.  On Presidents' Day I changed my profile pic to a picture of President Obama and a friend disliked it.  Somebody asked her "why?" and she didn't respond.  We can only imagine that she didn't like looking at his face.  I'd posted as my status that I was going to do this on Presidents' Day, but she wanted to express unhappiness (which I actually registered as disgust) with my opinion.

I did not engage with this friend. Perhaps I should have.  But I don't really know her.  She was on a trip I took 6 years ago;  she was a grieving widow, and her daughter was taking her to a country she knew well.  We got along well enough on the trip, where everything was new and different, and we met a few months later when she came to New York to meet somebody who had flown in from Spain (one of the countries we visited).  We've never seen each other since, and I don't expect we ever shall.
So I didn't say anything.

A former coworker "liked" a post "Black Labs Matter" "All Labs Matter" and my stomach turned.  This woman should know better.  Maybe she just thought the picture of the Labrador Retriever was cute and was completely clueless to the political implications.  It's possible.

I thought about responding, but it was a post from somebody I didn't know, and....

Perhaps I am a coward.

I don't respond to conservative posts from Facebook friends, because I suspect that it is too easy for feelings to be hurt and for people to misread my comments, but perhaps I should respond.  Perhaps not responding just allows us all to continue to live in our bubbles, where everything is really awful right now because the world outside pushed through and ruined our illusions.

Also, not responding, not seeing is a privilege.  I can say "I don't think she really meant it that way," and walk on.  And perhaps it's time that we all stripped ourselves of that privilege.