Tuesday, June 19, 2018

silence is privilege

You were silent when he called immigrants rapists.

You were silent when he used vile terms to describe women and bragged about sexual assault.

You were silent when he insulted Gold Star families and John McCain.

You were silent when he said about Nazis "Some are good people."

You were silent when he tried to ban Muslim refugees and legal immigrants.

You were silent as teachers of your own children protested in the streets and at state capitals across the country.

You were silent when his supporters said teachers should be armed.

You were silent as his appointees worked against public schools, shrunk public lands, got rid of regulations against banks that caused the most recent economic meltdown and removed regulations for clean air and water.

You were silent as words like "climate change" and "reproductive rights" were removed from official government web sites.

You were silent as the news broke that parents and children are separated at the border and that there is NO system at all for reuniting parents with children.

You say you don't comment because "politics is just so exhausting" and "I'm so busy with my kids" and "I don't want to upset anyone."

Your silence is privilege.

Your silence is also approval of what's happening now.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Travel, food and pain

I've got two May episodes of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown recorded on my DVR. I record most of them and we watch them as we can over several weeks, sometimes months. One is for Uruguay. One is for West Virginia.

But, of course, none will be as great as the moment Bourdain finally discovered The Waffle House.

Yes, I'm a fan. I have been since No Reservations. Stefan and I discovered him together, and were thrilled to find someone who travels and eats like we like to - but without the motorcycle. And his observations, his phrasing - for someone that wasn't a trained writer, he was an amazing writer. And as for his humor - I'd have to pause the show frequently to laugh (I didn't want to miss anything).

I am talking about Anthony Bourdain in the past tense. Because as of this morning, that's how we talk about Anthony Bourdain.

Back in 2014 or so, I was in Kentucky at my Mom's house. My Mom and I were in her kitchen. She was sitting at the table and I was walking around doing something and blabbling. I don't remember what we were talking about, but at some point, I mentioned Anthony Bourdain. And my Mom got a wicked grin on her face, shook her had, looked away from me and said softly, "Oh, that Anthony Bourdain..." Her girl crush was OBVIOUS. It's one of my favorite stories about my now 80 year-old mother.

Right there with ya, Mom.

I always dreamed of a "Parts Unknown" featuring Anthony Bourdain sampling Kentucky burgoo, country ham, BBQ and bourbon. He could have gone to Metzger's for the famous bean soup, and to Louisville for a hot brown and for Derby pie. This all should have happened.

I had my conversation all planned for when I met Anthony Bourdain: I was going to thank him for his show in Congo. I loved that episode because it sums up what I've found so often when traveling abroad to places I have sometimes dubbed "Crapistan": finding a lot of people are still trying to be their best selves, trying to be dignified and worthy of respect. As this site put it, in this episode Bourdain found "Railway workers that show up to work without pay to keep the railway ready for action, library staff that organize and clean a long-forgotten collection, and a society that would buy soap over a sandwich to stay clean."

Don't get me wrong: I don't think all people, at their core, are good, and I don't think Anthony Bourdain did either. I think this world is filled with millions of shitty people who aren't kind, will never be kind, hurt others without a second thought and would take absolutely everything I love and value without any regrets whatsoever - or just don't really care. And so much goes wrong in this episode, and at the end, Bourdain starts contemplating if, in fact, some things were better under colonial rule, and feeling conflicted about that and, again, I totally get it: it's a conversation my husband and I have had in countries formally controlled by another country, or a dictator, or when we've viewed the horrific conditions in a museum in a country demanding the return of ancient artifacts now housed, safely, beautifully, somewhere else. When you're a leftie dedicated to democracy and self-rule and cultural respect, it's a stark reminder that applying values to life ain't simple.

But I also believe there are millions of really good people in the world, in every part of the world, and in some of the poorest, most violent parts of the world, they are just trying to do the best they can. And often, they do some really beautiful things. And prepare some really delicious food. And even if the food isn't delicious, they are often really excited that you're eating it.

Finding out Anthony Bourdain was a movie fan sent me over the moon. He drank them up and studied him the way I do. TCM is like a drug to me, especially when they choose some not-so-obvious theme: a day of anti-fascist movies. An evening of 1950s Latino cinema. I exasperate my husband with the comment "Oh my God, look at that camera angle!" during joint TV watching.

Here's a Bourdain quote from an interview in The Daily Grindhouse last year:

The crew and I used to sit down on No Reservations (and now Parts Unknown) and talk long before we got to the location, or even planned the shoot, about film references, cinematography, editing style, and music. I’m such a film nerd and I’m constantly saying, ‘I want this episode to look like…” and I’ll mention some obscure film and chances are they haven’t seen it. But it’s like, you went to film school for fuck’s sake.

I knew Bourdain had a dark side, but I didn't go there. I didn't want to know. Speaking to The Guardian in January 2017, Bourdain said he had finally "put aside my psychotic rage, after many years being awful to line cooks, abusive to waiters, bullying to dishwashers." He added: "I was an unhappy soul, with a huge heroin and then crack problem. I hurt, disappointed and offended many, many, many people and I regret a lot. It's a shame I have to live with."

Maybe he couldn't live with it.

My father killed himself in 1996. He hung himself. I still feel profound sympathy for the people who had to experience the trauma of finding him and cutting him down. The coroner was also our family physician, and he said, "That one got to me. That one was hard." He was traumatized too. So many traumatized people - not just my grandmother, my mother or my siblings. So many, many others.

When people ask me why my father killed himself, I never know what to say. It's like asking, "Why did so-and-so get cancer?" There are a range of environmental, emotional and biological reasons anyone kills themselves - there's rarely just one thing, just like with cancer. Because that's what suicide is: it's when the cancer of the soul wins. I learned that through sitting through more than a year of Survivors of Suicide meetings and hearing the stories of oh-so-many left-behind family members. I also learned that suicide is rarely spontaneous - for most people, it's been thought about and planned for, even if the date keeps changing over years - I read doctors who say it's usually a spontaneous act, but dig deeper, and you find out the person had purchased that rope a year ago, or saved up those pain pills for months, or didn't buy an electric car because, eventually, they might want to fill their garage with toxic fumes, or got all their insurance policies in order a year ago - the option, the possibility, of suicide, is thought about often, and that it might be an option, eventually, gives people strength over weeks and months - even years. I also learned that the majority of people - maybe a slight majority, maybe an overwhelming majority - who commit suicide suffer from physical pain brought on by a chronic illness: everything from chronic pain from a car wreck years ago to addiction, even if they aren't using anymore, to migraines to chronic indigestion.

Don't ask why someone kills themselves unless you are ready to dig deep and explore the reasons for months, even years, and ultimately never get a simple explanation.

My heart breaks for Bourdain's daughter, whom he so obviously adored, his wife, and every person who ever loved him - watching one of the CNN anchors be unable to speak this morning was absolutely heart-breaking. But it's his daughter who dominates my thoughts. She needs to be surrounded by love and support and concern for many years to come.

Of the many horrific consequences of a person's suicide is that it increases the likelihood of the person's family and friends and colleagues - even acquaintances - to commit suicide. That's what I worry about most - not just family, but people all over the world, learning of this, and who might now think suicide is a good choice for themselves as well. In the USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. I hope anyone contemplating suicide will call that number. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I'm sad. But I'm also angry. And I get to be angry. Don't chastise people for being angry over this. They get to feel it. They get to express it. There are moments denied and memories now tainted and pain left behind and that is permanent and a tremendous amount to deal with for those left behind- and it's perfectly normal and natural and appropriate to feel anger, even betrayal, when this happens. Peter Sagal wrote a series of tweets that were compiled into an essay, about his own plans for eventual suicide and battles with depression, and he paraphrases someone else who lost a loved one to suicide, who said "that you might think suicide ends your pain, but it just shifts and magnifies it to everyone else. You’re taking your agony and handing it to your family, your friends, wrecking their lives as you end your own." And that's where my anger comes from, where many other people's anger comes from. When you lose someone to suicide, you might understand if you don't now.

So much more to say... here's a great blog by Rachel Zimmerman that says much of what I'm thinking.

So much left undone. No more new insights from Anthony Bourdain. The world is a sadder place for his passing, but a much better place for him having been here.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Taking up space

So as my patient apologized to me for the inches of her waist and the heaviness of her breasts and the jiggle of her arms, I thought of all the ways that we humans socialized as females are taught to take up less.

Don't talk too loud.

Don't be too right.

Don't firmly state your opinion, instead precede it with an apology and a deferential "this is just something I've been thinking", Lest in a moment of being strong and deft of mind we be renamed Bitch.

Don't show too strong an emotion, for fear of labels like "Crazy", or --gasp-- "hysterical", a condition named after what is apparently our defining organ??

From an incredible essay by a friend of a friend. The entire essay is so worth reading.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Frenemies & tall poppies

Among the many, many things I haven't figured out in my 50 plus years on Earth is the whole frenemy thing. It takes me months, sometimes a few years, to figure out that a friend isn't really a friend. Have you?

My first frenemies were my first childhood neighborhood friends, two girls who, individually, were lots of fun, but when it was the three of us, suddenly, things changed: they would look at each other and eye roll over something I said, particularly something honest and important to me, like a book or movie character. Something one of them enjoyed with me, like watching and laughing hysterically over The Wizard of Oz, became something to deride and deny just days later when the three of us came together - "I don't watch movies for babies. I can't believe you made me watch that." I'll never forget their delight in telling me their new nickname for me: "The Big Word Mama": they thought my vocabulary was too big. Yes, really. So I quit talking around them about the books I was reading, and for a while, kept pretending playing with Barbies was fun - until Star Wars came out and I realized movies were, indeed, infinitely more fun than those two.

Thankfully, it's been really easy to find all sorts of wonderful friends since then, and over many years. I've no idea what happened to those first to frenemies. And I don't really care. Except that versions of them do keep showing up every few years and I never seem to recognize them early enough.

I talk a lot. A LOT. About politics, travel, movies, books, my dog, my cat, my yard, my drug-dealing neighbors, a dream I had this week... whew, it's a LOT. And that's who I am. And I'm okay with it, and I'm okay with people who discover it and slowly walk away because it's too much for them. I'm not everyone's cup of tea. I'm often not my own cup of tea.

But I also listen. I actively listen. I ask questions about whatever a friend, in that moment, thinks is important: their family problems, their job problems, their neighbor problems, their dreams, their own travels, whatever. I could tell you a great deal about everyone I have ever called friend. I am genuinely interested in the lives of my friends. That's why they are my friends: I find them interesting.

I might start to realize all is not as it seems in a friendship when the interruptions start, those little aside, "just kidding" digs. I start to tell a story and hear a not-so-quiet, "Here she goes..." - not said to me, but to someone else, yet most certainly meant for me to hear. And then, if I do stop look over for an explanation, I hear "Oh, I'm just kidding!" Or I say how much fun I've just had on an incredible camping trip and as I'm waxing poetic, hear a decisive "I hate camping." I stop. Because the comment is made so I'll stop. Why was it necessary to say, specifically and solely in response to a person's love for something, that you hate it? It's a power thing. "Your opinion is invalid... even stupid." When someone is enthusing about a movie or book they love that I hate, I usually clam up, because I know how weird it can feel to be so enthusiastic about something and have someone throw cold water on it. I won't share my opinion in those situations, where someone or a group talking about how much they loved some movie I hated, until I'm asked, "What did you think?" And, being who I am, I usually apologize for not liking said movie or book and will say all sorts of qualifying things like, "But I totally understand why people like it..."

At the time I hear that little insult comment, I never think, "Frenemy! Run!" I should, but I don't. I never realize that obvious sign that the person dislikes me, and that many of our outings together, outings I've enjoyed, have been followed by a rant to another friend later about how arrogant I am, how "she thinks she knows everything," or whatever the criticism. I find out only when the person spectacularly unfriends me in an email or phone call or as I'm passing by their yard, walking my dog. I've never needed Facebook for that attempt at frenemy humiliation - it happened long before the Interwebs. I just wish I could see it coming and start distancing myself instead of getting blind-sided.

So, here I am, more than 40 years after my first frenemy experience, and I'm having exactly the same experience. It's mind-blowing. There's even a new Star Wars movie out right now. It's pretty good, by the way...

Part of the reason I'm so frequently blind-sided by frenemies is because I walk around in life convinced no one talks about me because, really, who cares what I do or what I am or what I think? I'm nobody special, I do nothing worth talking about, not really. It may sound sad but, in fact, it's freeing: I don't think I'm worth talking about and, so, I usually don't worry what other people think. My general, constant feeling of unimportance in relation to others and what they spend their time thinking about has made me the greatest ex-girlfriend ever, because whenever I got dumped over the years - and I got dumped a LOT - I would just slink away with no attempt at a scene, no attempt to hang on nor punish. Friends would encourage me to do the late-night-drive-by-the-apartment, or the call-and-hangup or let's-go-where-you-know-he-will-be, and I would refuse: it's over, and I shall be under this rock until further notice. I sat through Fatal Attraction absolutely appalled, horrified and bewildered - why is she doing this?!?

But, of course, I hear people criticize other people, often people that are supposed to be our mutual friends, friends that we had a great time with just a few days before. They criticize how they raise their kids, they criticize how they spend money, they criticize their ideas, they criticize their relationships, they criticize their life choices, and on and on. And if they talk so much about other people, about our mutual friends, that means they talk about me. Which, again, I ask, really, why? There are SO many more interesting things to discuss... but also, why do I never see that frenemy warning sign early enough?

The big tell in the frenemy character is their utterance of a particular criticism.

I don't like her. There's just something about her I don't like.

That's it. No explanation. I ask, but I don't get details. I used to think, well, I guess she reminds them of a teacher that was really mean or a neighbor that was rude or the girl some boyfriend dumped them for. But I've realized that's not it. They don't say why because they don't want to admit what it is that they don't like about them, because they know it's a ridiculous reason, like jealousy: they hate that person's success, or their intelligence, or their terrific body, or their wealth, or their perceived privilege. Maybe they know that and just won't say it. Or maybe they just aren't willing to really think about the why.

And then there's that reason for disliking someone that has always confused me:

She thinks she's so smart / better than everyone / so special so perfect.

My response is usually, "Does she? How?" And I don't get told something like, "She believes in an aristocratic hierarchy and she's at the top" or "She believes she's genetically superior to everyone because of her DNA", both explanations of which I would find repulsive but a good source for the label. No, the response is something like, "She just acts like it."

It's an insult that says much more about the person saying it than the subject of the insult.

Why aren't women allowed to be confident? Self-assured? Ambitious? Why is a woman with knowledge and expertise and ideas expected to keep all of it to herself, or to reveal such gently, in a non-threatening way? Why are men allowed to be openly opinionated and to enjoy debates and spout ideas while women who do these things get branded as She thinks she's so smart / better than everyone / so special so perfect?

There's an aspect of many cultures that, in the English-speaking world, is called the tall poppy syndrome: in a field of poppies, it will be the tallest poppy that gets cut down, because it stands above the others - not because it really is superior, but because it dares to be taller, to be noticed. Tall poppy syndrome is the desire by people to cut down a person they are jealous of or feel threatened by because of that person's abilities or achievements.

That statement, She thinks she's so smart / better than everyone / so special so perfect, is a perfect example of tall poppy syndrome. So what if she thinks she's smart? How in the world does that affect you, personally? As long as confidence or expertise doesn't keep someone from seeing something or being aware of something that they really should be seeing, or doesn't encourage them to engage in destructive behavior, who cares?

Some version of you think you are smarter than me has been the insult of choice by friends unfriending me. And I've no idea what to say in response.

Even up to the moment someone dumps me as a friend, I still think that person is smart - often smarter than me. And interesting - I think of my friends as very interesting, even the ones that decide they don't like me. That's why they are/were my friends: they have interesting insights. They are windows into worlds I don't experience: parenthood, small business ownership, teaching, being able to produce something by hand, and on and on. As I said, I could say so much about every friend, even the frenemies, about their dreams, their insecurities, their interests, their frustrations, their families. I really do listen.

Oh, well, eventually, I hope I'm going to get this right and not be blindsided by a frenemy. But if not, so be it. I guess giving someone something to talk about brings joy on some level. Hope it helps.

Meanwhile, the next Star Wars movie comes out in 2019.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Just say no to RT and mysterious "grass roots" progressive groups

It's fun to mock folks that get all their information from Fox News - I've certainly done it and delighted in doing so.

But finding out so many friends are getting their info from RT, a channel controlled by the Russian government, has been a real wakeup call for me. Too many on the progressive left are doing the same things as folks on the right: looking for "news" outlets that say what makes us feel good, that buttress our beliefs - and what we want to believe. And that means we are falling for misinformation and repeating it. 

This "news" organization is set up to justify things like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia's mistreatment of Muslims there, chemical weapons use in Syria, the rolling back of human rights in Russia (like decriminalizing spousal abuse and criminalizing speech by people who are gay), and on and on. RT is all about amplifying stories to make citizens mistrust their government - in the USA, in Sweden and across Europe Why are some of my friends watching RT and sharing its status updates on Facebook? Because of RT's aggressive anti-Hillary Clinton coverage, its amplification of stories like Wikileaks data dump of Democratic Party emails - highly altered though they were - and any story that makes us want to doubt our institutions.

Bloomberg News put it best:

RT America’s coverage of issues such as mass incarceration and domestic surveillance wouldn’t have been out of place on Al Jazeera America or MSNBC. But the overarching aim of making the U.S. look unstable or undemocratic gave the productions a hyped-up, amateurish quality. Republicans and Democrats alike were portrayed as corporatist tools; during the 2012 election, RT America rallied behind Ron Paul.

Also see this excellent article in the Daily Beast which details just how close Jill Stein and RT have been in the past and other ways RT works to appeal to both the extreme right and the far left.

Are you triangulating everything you read before you believe it and share it? Are you looking at who is saying whatever it is that has your blood boiling? I'm trying really hard myself - and it is really hard. But I don't post anything without actually reading the article, without clicking on the links, without looking at the source and without finding another source confirming the information or quote - gads, especially the quotes. We have got to demand transparency from everyone, including news sources and political groups we like.

In May, we had a primary here in Oregon. I was looking over the web page for one of the candidates I supported and saw that she had been endorsed by a group called The Criminal Justice League of Washington County. I'd never heard of them, but I was intrigued by the name - certainly sounds like something I should support! So I looked it up. Much of what is said on its oh-so-slickly-designed web site I agree with. But there's no information about who this "League" is. When was it founded? Who makes up the "League"? How did they create their list of candidates to support? Who paid for the web site? None of this information is on the site. I sent an email via the web site and got a response - it turned out someone I have met face-to-face in a non-political setting is one of the members of the "League." She said they were new and would put more information up "soon." But she didn't answer any of my questions, and as of the time I'm posting this blog, the web site remains vague about who is behind it.

I'm going to continue to demand the same transparency from groups I agree with that I want for groups I don't. I'm going to keep sending out these questioning emails. It's only a matter of time before I get accused of being a right wing troll. 

Every time we post something that turns out to be false, it undermines our credibility. Every time we blindly click "like" or just assume a group is a grassroots group because of the name, it undermines our credibility. We're going to lose in November 2018 if we don't do better. And even worse, we're going to lose in November 2020. And that will be a catastrophe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Solo

I had planned to go to an inter-faith Iftar in Beaverton... but the new Han Solo Star Wars movie premiered the same night, and, Star Wars always wins over, well, everything.

Of course Harrison Ford is Han Solo. Period. But I was still willing to give a new actor and a prequel a go.

I avoid news about movies being filmed as much as possible - I hate spoilers. But I did know that the original directors had been fired and there was MUCH reshooting and editing. Many said it was a sign the film would be a mess. But, hey, remember that the original Star Wars, A New Hope, was also edited into a film far different than what George Lucas originally filmed, and it was FOR THE BETTER. In other words, I tried to go in with as open of a mind as possible.

So, what did I think of Solo: A Star Wars Story?

Here be spoilers - please don't read if you haven't seen it, because the reveals are most of the fun.

I liked it. I enjoyed it. Here's what I liked:
  • I accepted a different actor as Han Solo far better than I thought I would 
  • I LOVED seeing Chewbacca fight (OMG - we've waited way too long for this)
  • Han shot first (YES)
  • Donald Glover was PERFECT
  • gorgeous production design
  • Woody fit right in
  • loved the sassy robot and the robot rebellion 
  • loved the battle bots tribute
  • *loved* the reveal of who the marauders are 

Downsides:
  • the story felt hodgepodge and disjointed
  • I never was moved to really want to have any strong emotion
  • the other Wookies looked like the costumes came from a cut-rate store, especially their faces
  • I do not accept a space octopus. That was a physics-rule-bending too far. Do not talk to me of a space slug - I can believe an atmosphere on an asteroid, but not this. 
  • And, most of all, the female lead was so FLAT and BORING. I don't know if it was the actress or the character but BLAH. Every Star Wars female lead has been so compelling and interesting until this wet rag. No fire, nothing intriguing. WHY would Solo be attracted to her at all? There was no chemistry between them. None. By the time of the big reveal at the end, all I could think was, who cares?  

And two more things:

These days, I only watch official Star Wars movies - I didn't watch Clone Wars on TV or Forces of Destiny wherever that was shown and I don't read any of the MANY affiliated novels or comics around now, so a lot of references in the new movies people are getting excited about mean nothing to me. But back in the day, a million years ago, I read the ONLY four movie-affiliated Star Wars novels that existed: Splinter of the Mind's Eye and Brian Daley's Han Solo prequel trilogy: Han Solo at Stars' End, Han Solo's Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy. I have to admit I was a wee bit disappointed that none of Daley's ideas about Solo's origins were used at all in the new film. Yeah, I know - I am so #oldschool...

I shoot firstAnd, finally, there has to be some acknowledgment that the reason the TV show Firefly was so awesome and beloved is because so many of us were all thinking of Mal as Han Solo. We totally were.

And when this new Solo movie ended, I thought, "Man, I HATE that they canceled Firefly!" Yeah, I really did.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Senior

I got invited to the local senior center. Not because some organization I support was having an event there, or because the center was having a workshop on backpacking through Eastern Europe. Nope, I was invited because it's a SENIOR center, and I'm now, apparently, a senior. I'm 52 - I thought I wasn't a senior until 55, but I guess I look 55. Or older. The local senior center has free meals and bingo. That's what they think people 55 and over want to do. That's what this person thought I want to do.

It was a great day, truly.

I was angry at being thought of as a senior, it's true. I know I'm not young, but I don't feel ready for that label. But I was also angry that this person thought this is what I'm ready for: free meals and bingo.

Here's what I'd love instead: an energetic community center where adults of all ages come together and intentionally nurture trust and empathy through activities that allow us to interact with each other. A YMCA would be best, but since there's no money for sports courts or a pool, how about a place that has Tai Chi, yoga, Zumba, drumming, classes on investing, computer classes, bicycle safety classes, bocci, corn hole, pool, language classes, presentations by people that have traveled somewhere fascinating or returning Peace Corps volunteers, gardening workshops, cooking classes and a movie night? A place where I could sign up to go, as a group, to music programs in the larger city next door, or all the way to Portland for a professional touring theater show, or a canoeing trip. Even though I don't do either, have a knitting, crochet and/or quilting club.

Are there no nonprofits they could partner with so that they could host even some of those activities?

I'm not young anymore, but I'm not ready for free meals and bingo. I'm trying to improve my off-road motorcycle riding skills. The average age of a motorcycle owner is 48. 39% of motorcycle owners in the US are between the ages of 51-69. Those are my "seniors."

So, no thanks to the senior center. I'll check back in when I'm 80, but just so you know, I see me still listening to the Violent Femmes, not Perry Como.