New Pompeii

“Now, now, let’s be reasonable.”

That’s the most common response I’ve seen from men to my piece on women’s anger. Which wasn’t meant to be a “piece”, by the way – it was my last thought before falling asleep on Thursday night. I thought of women’s anger and other unstoppable things which led me to lava – its terrible destructiveness and its intractability – and I thought, “Hm, that’s something we have in common.” Evidently, some other women agreed.

So right on cue, here come the men. #Notallmen, of course, which we must be careful to say, lest a single, solitary bench-sitter who might have understood but instead got his one feeling – pride – hurt and decided to close ranks with ALL THE OTHER MEN.

“We have to be reasonable about this.”

No, we don’t. There is no reasonable response to the kind of abuse marginalized people suffer. Women, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ – there is no reasonable response to having your rights and dignity stripped in public and private. There is no reasonable response to having your safety and security daily threatened. There is no reasonable response to rape. To violence. To the denial of your existence.

“You’re being completely irrational.”

Kindly fuck off with your offers of reasonable discourse. Unless, of course, you’d like to set the example by arguing your position from a physically threatening and mentally traumatic position. I’ll leave exactly what up to your imagination, but make sure it’s designed around the thing that most informs your identity. So, ignorance, maybe, or your precious testicles. Y’know, whatever works FOR YOU. Also, do this thing for centuries. Life span not up to the task? Recruit your ancestors and descendants! Make sure you’re being reasonable through every example of abuse anyone can bring up – which they will, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. We wouldn’t want to overlook any tiny example which would invalidate your entire response.

“Too much anger.”

Not enough anger, actually. Are you a sports fan? How about if, just before the start of the game, the rival team walked onto the field, punched out the refs, stomped over to 12 inches from the goal line and said, “Okay everybody! Starting now, play by the rules!” Which is a shitty analogy, because in reality it’s more like NOBODY WAS PLAYING A GAME AND SOME ASSHOLES JUST ASSAULTED PEOPLE THEN DEMANDED NOBODY BE MAD ABOUT IT.

The reality is you’re afraid. Men are afraid that women’s sense of justice will require retribution. It’s what men would want, after all. And I suppose that having your very existence erased through scorching the earth with a layer of lava seems pretty retributive. But the powerless know better. Anyone who has had their life burned to ash through oppression, trauma, or violence knows what it takes to rise from those ashes. We’ve been doing it for our entire lives, while those in power never have. We have the tools, the knowledge, and more importantly the courage to both rise from and withstand immolation.

“Calm down.”

We are not required to modulate our response to trauma for your comfort.  You can’t handle it and you expect our pity? Our sympathy for your discomfort?? Our anger is justified because it is the only justice we’ll see. You can run from the lava – I’m riding it straight to freedom.

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21st Century Children’s Crusade

It seems prescient that I re-posted my defense of “kids these days” just before the March For Our Lives this weekend. I’ve seen more than a few strong, passionate, erudite defenses since then. Way better than mine.

I’ve also been a weepy mess. Part of it is that I’m stuck in a depression spiral right now. The Nothing is kicking my ass, and it’s ugly. But the other part is that I simply can’t disengage from the crushing shame that these kids have to shoulder a burden like this. Not just that they have to, but that they’re so raw and honest and goddamn successful at it.

As a former parentified child, I have strong feelings about what kids should or shouldn’t  be responsible for. And, if I do say so myself, I successfully protected my own child from that fate. She’s a marvelous adult, but she got there in her own time, and I’m relieved about that. But I still project all over these smart, engaged, determined kids and I have hours – no, years of film to unspool. There is a furious, resentful child within me still railing at the unfairness of having to save the grown-ups, only now she wears the armor of a full grown woman ready to slash and burn in her defense.

When we watched Emma Gonzalez stand in silence on the stage after her brief words, the silence of the crowd was deeply unsettling. You could see the steel of her straight spine, the resolve in her eyes as she forced everyone to wrestle with themselves in the barren sound field. I’ve always been a defender of common sense gun laws, so that’s not what I wrestled with. Instead, I had to fight the shame that I didn’t do more personally to protect her. That my generation, long accused of apathy and cynicism, absolutely earned those criticisms. That I, a parent and advocate for children, somehow failed to spare this girl, younger than my daughter, from having to watch her friends die, then make the adults around her sorry for it.

And maybe… maybe I’m a little jealous, too. Jealous that she has the strength to stand up to real power, while I quietly excused the adults who betrayed me for… my entire life, basically. So as tears streamed down her face while she shoved silence down the throat of the country, maybe I was being drawn and quartered by jealousy and shame. I don’t say that to garner sympathy. On the contrary, I deserve it. I’m mad that there are people out there celebrating her as a hero instead of wrestling with their own shame. Yet, at the same time, she is a hero and deserves to be celebrated. It’s complicated.

I remember reading about the 13th century Children’s Crusade as a young person. Though now considered largely apocryphal, the tale was nevertheless framed as a tragic tale of idealistic, courageous children and their proud and weeping parents. I never once thought to myself that those kids were brave and amazing. I thought, Where the fuck are their parents?? Who let them do this? Why isn’t every adult waving handkerchiefs as children march through the streets rushing out there to snatch them back? What the shit is wrong with these people?? Joan of Arc – same story. I thought, She’s fourteen you sorry motherfuckers! Why does she have to lead your pathetic, useless army?!  Not that children are incapable of these things – I knew with a profound certainty that they absolutely were capable. But the injustice of adults watching, encouraging them to do it was nauseating.

This feels much the same. Except worse, because I know now what abnormal amounts of stress and responsibility do to immature brains. I know what sort of lifetime conditions these kids are going to have to battle that, on top of the PTSD they likely suffer, will snake into every aspect of their lives and create storms and struggles they didn’t earn. I know that some of them, statistically, won’t survive. It’s terrifying. If it doesn’t terrify you, you probably don’t get it. Lucky you, I guess.

I don’t know how to reconcile any of this. I thought maybe writing it out would help, but it doesn’t. I thought maybe I could find a way to escape the conclusion that I – even inadvertently – did to these kids what was done to me. All I can do is beg you, myself, anyone who listens, to not let them fight alone. Don’t wave handkerchiefs or have parades or share their pictures without standing in front of them first. They’re literally in the line of fire. We owe them the protection of whatever is left of our integrity.

nbc march
photo credit: NBCNews, Shawn Thew / EPA

Not doomed to repeat it – doomed to never escape it.

I had occasion today to reflect that we may well be into the most turbulent and divisive times this country has seen since the 60s. And I think I meant the 1960s, but it’s possible it will get worse before it gets better and I might end up meaning the 1860s. That’s not hyperbole, that’s me paying attention.

First, I have only to pay close attention to my own situation: the most precarious I’ve ever been in, including my stint as a single mother working for just over minimum wage in the 1990s. At the time, I lived in California and there was both a state sponsored social safety net and my nearby family to help me out. (I availed myself of both at different times.) Now I have neither of those things. I am middle aged, uninsured and suffering from untreated health conditions, in the midst of retraining for a relevant career that at best will garner me lower-middle class wages for the rest of my life (at a student loan rate that, thanks to last night’s Senate vote, I’ll be unable to claim tax shelter from), and scraping together the money to pay my bills each month by virtue of a limited divorce settlement, selling my plasma and relying on my adult daughter to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, I and many of my peers wait for access to unfettered internet to expire and watch our government pass laws to both keep us in poverty and destroy the environment around us.

And I have it pretty good. I eat regularly, I can get out of bed unassisted, all five senses are in working order, I just got a part time job and enrolled in classes for spring semester. I have friends, heat, a working vehicle, and a computer. There are people I care about who can’t claim any of those things.

Those are just the personal stories. Every day I watch the government and my neighbors tear each other apart over disagreements about human dignity and as much as I see it happening in real time I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. The aging population – the ones who stuck daisies in gun barrels and marched for civil rights and sent men to the moon and brought them back from war and created art and literature that changed the world – have become scared of their own shadow. They, and in some instances their children, when faced with video evidence of police brutality and an avalanche of numbers about corporate greed, lash out at victims and claim that evidence is “fake news”. They rewrote history books to call the transatlantic slave trade “immigration” and they put spikes on benches to keep the homeless on the ground – or in it. They stand in pulpits and preach hate, then hide behind their god and cry persecution when contradicted. They steal future and resources from their grandchildren and blame iPhones.

We tend to look back and history and see what progress was made. That’s called survivor’s bias. Some people didn’t survive the 60s. And I don’t mean the graves that we keep sacrosanct or the bank holidays we use to sleep in. I mean plain, simple, everyday people didn’t survive. They starved to death. They died from abscessed teeth. They asphyxiated in garages. They slid off roads with no guard rails. They drank until their liver gave up. They got cancer from lead paint. And before they died, they suffered. Their families suffered. Some daughter, somewhere, watched her daddy get a toothache, be unable to afford or access a dentist, watched his face get puffier and puffier, until one day he got a fever, fell asleep and never woke up.

Once, we considered that kind of suffering beneath human dignity – both his, and our own. I guess we don’t feel that way any more. I wonder if I’m destined for an end as undignified. If any of my friends are. I fear it’s quite possible.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people. In some cases, the argument isn’t that there is a large segment of our population that doesn’t care, but that they aren’t even willing to admit that their actions effect other people.  They are so concerned with protecting themselves – from injury, insult, or intelligence – that they will pull out an endless chain of excuses as to why “others” deserve what they get, but “I” is a protected class. They are so isolated by their fear of change, their fear of losing their privilege, that they have developed an entire system of blindness to the indignity of their fellow humans. And then they elected people who capitalize on it.

I used to be interested in history. I used to wonder about the mindset of people who went to public executions. I don’t wonder anymore, and I realize that this is history – right now.

Drinking Beers and Smashing Bottles

Where does one draw the line between reasonable conversation and the end of compromise?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently ended contact with some people who’d been in my life a long time because I had reached the end of compromise on certain issues. But then I turned around on social media and advocated for diplomatic solutions to diametrically opposed political and social stances. How do these thoughts coexist? Can they?

My answer is yes, but with caveats that require unpacking privilege and identifying context.

In defense of bad advertisements

Social beverages, like soft drinks and beers, have recently decided to enter into the public conversation of social discourse, with mixed results. Pepsi and Heineken have both received a lot of free publicity by both enraging and encouraging the consuming public with recent advertisements. Pepsi with a cringe-worthy, tone-deaf, white-washed ad of stunning incompetence meant solely to cash in on the lives of victims. It was universally regarded as awful. Heineken followed suit with an ad that ostensibly posed the question about whether or not people with diametrically opposed political views could enjoy a beer and talk about their differences. While met with different responses, it has been (rightfully, in my view, but more on that later) criticized for also being tone deaf and irresponsible towards victims.

Full disclosure: I liked the Heineken advert. It spoke to that place within me that yearns for diplomatic responses to seemingly insurmountable differences and wishes very much I could be the kind of person who engages people in reasonable conversation and (if I’m being honest) emerges the hero by changing minds with my wit and charm and ability to connect with other humans.

It’s important to note, however, that I’m not particularly victimized by opposition to my ideological stances. I’m a white, middle-aged, straight, (nearly) middle-class, able-bodied, (mostly) neurotypical, English speaking, American cisgender woman. I mentioned in my original analysis on the commercial that people who are victimized or even marginalized by their social/economic/biological position are under no obligations to respond diplomatically to their oppressors. I believe that strongly. As a woman who has been silenced most of her life by patriarchal views on my “place” in society, I am in favor lashing out when backed into a corner.

On wielding a sword 

In my personal life, I recently reached the end of my rope trying to deal with relatives who hold opposing ideological views and insist that we share reasonable and “respectful” conversations about it. I’d had about as many quiet, diplomatic conversations as I could have with someone who used those conversations as a tool to further their agenda without actually listening to mine. Who brow-beat me with the idea of “respect” where respect meant I couldn’t express my anger or hurt or disappointment that they would espouse – and more importantly vote – for policies that actively threatened my loved ones.

So I got angry. I yelled (or at least used the caps-lock equivalent), I stopped validating their perspective, and I definitely stopped sandwiching my criticism between affirmations and compromise. I pulled out my firebrand persona and let loose with the sort of vitriol that I felt was absolutely called for when facing viewpoints that maintained a status quo of oppression and bigotry. In the end, they offered to never communicate with me again, and I gratefully accepted. I was and am convinced of both the rightness and appropriateness of my response. A response that is about as far from discussing our problems over a friendly beer as one can get.

The cognitive dissonance dance

The most conspicuous criticism I’ve seen against the Heineken ad was that the premise gave equal credence to unequal premises. In other words, the sort of false neutrality that the alt-right is famous for advocating, and, not coincidentally, why I recently cut off family members.

So, why did I advocate for representation of a diplomatic response? And a clumsy, ill equipped one, at that? Context, for one answer, and privilege, for another:

I’m not disadvantaged in the way that so many of my friends and family are. I’m not going to be immediately, physically threatened by the presence of an anti-trans bigot, or a climate change denier. Given my numerous other privileges, I’m not even particularly threatened by an anti-feminist blow hard. When I superimpose myself onto those positions by giving in to the manipulations of a 3 minute advertisement, it creates a context that makes it easier to imagine being able to talk about it.  It lightens my burden of self-examination and transports me to setting where real danger isn’t happening to real people.

The problem, of course, is obvious. And while the commercial may have been targeting people like me, it was speaking for people who are regularly victimized by their ideological opponents. The result was a statement on the irrelevancy of those victims, and it stung those who recognized it right away. It should have done the same for me. As a friend put it, a company with the economic resources of a multinational beer distributor had the ability to not make that statement (intentional or not) and should have done better. The fact that so many people find themselves analyzing the content (and, I dearly hope, their response to it) should be a strong indicator that if a company with that sort of reach wants to weigh in on social issues, it had better get it right the first time. The idea isn’t enough. The execution matters. Context matters. Privilege matters.

Speaking for myself only, I am privileged to be in a position where I can talk to dissenting people with a reasonable expectation of safety. A better context for Heineken’s intention would have been to put someone like me in a room with the anti-trans person and let us drink and talk. Those are ideological differences. An actual transperson or feminist woman of color is not going to feel safe in real life sitting across from someone who denies their right to exist and who is also diminishing their inhibitions with alcohol. (That part was weird to me from the start.)

I vehemently disagree with the assertion I’ve seen circulated that it’s “stupid” to like the Heineken ad. It’s not stupid to advocate for diplomatic solutions to ideological differences. It’s how politics work, it’s how we manage to not murder our neighbors, and how we keep from becoming totalitarian societies. Taking the ad at face value, however, is imperceptive at best, as I hope I’ve demonstrated here. Diplomacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Criticizing Heineken’s failure to acknowledge the real dangers inherent in some of our differences is appropriate and necessary, as is identifying the dangers of promoting solutions that begin on false equivalency. But since progressive liberals don’t seem poised to unleash a violent revolution, a framework for discussing tenable, peaceful solutions to resolving those differences also seems appropriate and necessary. At the very least, Heineken’s wishful thinking advertisement pointed out that the lack of such leaves a void many of us would like to see filled.

 

 

Things That I’m Over

An abbreviated list:

The idea that selfies are narcissistic, especially for women. Firstly, so what if they are? Like the mental masturbation that you do to feel superior isn’t? Secondly, no they aren’t. Women putting themselves front and center with their own agenda is simply weird because they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Welcome to the future. It has filters.

Purity progressives. Fuck those guys. Guess what? We’re nowhere near a revolution, guys. And policy making equals compromise since the founding fathers. Who were no saints, by the way, but it WAS their lives on line at the time. It’s so great that you can pontificate from metropolitan cities where your wi-fi is fast, your food is slow, and your activism is a giant circle jerk with other pasty white people who try on “bi-curious” for size. How’s the air up there? Some people do real work. You might want to try it some time.

Getting older. I pulled a muscle in my sleep the other night. How the fuck does that happen??

“Devil’s Advocates”. Shut up. Just shut up. The devil is his own best advocate, okay? He gets around making his argument JUST FINE all on his own. It’s called life. You’re not an advocate, you’re a stinky troll. Go back under your rock.

People who don’t understand privilege. Really? C’mon, it’s part of the vernacular now and if you still don’t get it, it’s because you don’t want to get it. Privilege does NOT equal wealth or fame. Privilege DOES equal certain unearned “free passes” from daily struggles not shared by everyone. Privilege does NOT mean you’ve never had it rough. Privilege DOES mean that you could’ve had it rougher. Privilege does not mean you can’t vent, privilege does mean you might not want to vent about Starbucks being out of your favorite flavor to a single working mom drinking yesterday’s Folgers. Use some sense. Then use your privilege to speak up for those who don’t share it.

Women’s clothing industry sizing. SERIOUSLY GET IT TOGETHER GUYS!! MY WAIST HAS A MEASUREMENT AND SO DOES MY INSEAM. YOUR “12” IS BULLSHIT AND SO IS YOUR METHOD FOR SEWING ON BUTTONS.

Commercials. I’ve lived so long without network television that I forget how offensive they can be. And then Pepsi invades my internet news feed.

Divorce. FML, I really, really want to be over this. Hurry up already.

Selling things on Facebook. Nope. People are entitled, pushy assholes. Over it.

Living in “rural America”. Where the church folk are terrorists and anti-intellectualism reigns supreme. Look, hillbillies and rednecks, I’m sorry you are constantly picked on and made fun of by “liberal elites”. MAYBE STOP GIVING THEM SO MUCH MATERIAL TO WORK WITH, MMMMKAY?

Listicles. These things suck, don’t they??

Dr. Empathy – Or How I Stopped Judging and Learned to Love the Millennial.

I talk a lot of smack about people who dis millennials or “kids today”. My low opinion of that attitude is well documented. What I don’t talk about is if I sometimes struggle with my perception of youth or youth culture, and the answer is: I do.  “You little twerp” has crossed my mind on numerous occasions. In some instances it’s because I’ve interacted with a little twerp (being a kid doesn’t exempt one from being a jerk), but more often it’s because I have a set of expectations that aren’t being met. This is a story about one of those times.

Before I left my previous job, I made small bags of holiday candy and gave one to everybody. For the people who weren’t there, I just left it on their desk. They went over well – almost everybody said they enjoyed their treat, or thanked me for thinking of them. The gratification filled me with holiday cheer. Except that one kid, the senior college student who worked for the vice chancellor. I left his bag on his desk when he wasn’t there and that little shit never once even acknowledged that I gave him anything!

Ugh, rude! How dare he ignore my hand crafted gesture of holiday goodness! What a little twerp! Boy, if I was still going to be working here, I’d never give him anything again!

I had those thoughts for two days. The cognitive dissonance was really fucking with me. I couldn’t reconcile my affinity for millennials with the voice in my head that kept telling me he was rude and (Zeus help me) “entitled”. What follows is a transcript of the conversation I had with that Voice.

Voice: This is why people call millennials entitled, you know. He doesn’t even think he has to say thank you.

Me: I know! Although, maybe he wasn’t brought up to have those kind of manners.

V: So? He’s an adult living in the adult world and that shit is basic. Ignorance is not an excuse in adulthood.

Me: Exactly! It’s just basic good manners to say thank you.

V: Besides, we’ve heard him say it before – it’s not like he doesn’t know how. Remember when you brought donuts and hot cocoa? He thanked you twice!

Me: I remember. I made some kind of joke about bringing them and he was laughing and talking with the rest of us. Um, actually…

V: Right! Now here is, just ignoring you. So rude. He should be acknowledging your gift! That’s why you gave it to him!

Me: Wait, what? No, that’s not why…

V: But didn’t you feel awesome when everybody else specifically came to you and thanked you for your gift? Didn’t it make you feel all glowy and validated? Isn’t that why you gave them gifts??

Me: (whispering) Sort of?

V: Of course it is. So why don’t you just march right over there and take away his gift?

Me: Because that would be horrible! And rude! You don’t give gifts with the expectation that the recipient is going to make you feel good about it! You give gifts because you want the recipient to have it.

V: Are you sure? Because I bet you’re related to a lot of people who would disagree.

Me: This is not the time for that conversation. Look, hold up. The point here is that I gave him a gift and I feel bad that he didn’t make me feel better about giving it to him.

V: And you’re not taking it back because…?

Me: Because if it comes down to it and I can only have one or the other, I’d rather he have the gift than I have my thank you.

V: But that doesn’t excuse his behavior!

Me: Only if I’m operating on a very specific mode of social etiquette.

V: Everyone operates in that mode.

Me: No, they don’t. If I really wanted him to acknowledge my gift, I could go right over there and ask him if he likes it. Better still, I could have waited until he was present to offer it to him, instead of sneaking it onto his desk like a reverse thief. Santa leaves presents in the dark when nobody is looking and nobody thanks him! Maybe he’s respecting MY boundaries? Ever think of that?! Maybe he thought I left it for him because I didn’t WANT to interact. Otherwise, wouldn’t I have said something by now? You know, millennials are really sensitive to introversion and boundaries on personal interaction, it’s part of what makes them so great. Maybe all this time I’ve been listening to you call him rude, and from his perspective, he’s being super respectful!

Voice: (a little quieter now) It still feels rude.

Me: Yes, it does. Because I’m functioning on an unspoken set of rules of social interaction that date back to the Victorian era and I’m too full of myself to just go over there and talk to him about it. That’s my failing, not his.

And that’s when the voice shut up, my cognitive dissonance disappeared and I felt even better about giving gifts at work.

I’m not saying social niceties aren’t valuable or that we should all abandon expressions of gratitude. What I’m saying here is that sometimes empathy is hard work. Sometimes anger feels better than understanding, especially when that understanding only comes after a lengthy struggle. Sometimes overcoming social programming and what is “normal” is a lot of goddamn work and we don’t want to do it. I have found however, that it is nearly always worth it.leftridgepick-strangelove-650