Oh, that our hearts may be pricked and our prejudices challenged and our fingers worked to the bone from calling and calling and calling as we live our lives while children are being treated like someone’s wretched refuse; the heaviness and weight of their sleeping forms being rocked and cherished by no one in particular.Read More
Whether you agree with the style of protest or not, this is a great opportunity for us to engage with and learn more about an issue that is obviously affecting a community to the point that the rich and famous among that demographic are willing to trade their money and power, and likely give up on a dream they’ve had since childhood, simply to shed light on this issue.Read More
In my freshman history class in Decatur, Alabama, one of our weekly assignments was to bring in a news clipping from the paper to discuss. It’s not an unusual assignment, but this was an unusual day because I actually remember the clipping I brought in. It was a headline about our then-Supreme Court Justice, Roy Moore, and how he’d managed to move a monument of the Ten Commandments into the rotunda of the judicial building in the dead of night. It wasn’t just any old monument - this was 2.64 tons of a monument. No small feat. This was in 2001, when I was 14 years old. I remember thinking that this was embarrassing behavior for an elected official, for a grown man. Nearly 16 years later, Judge Moore is now a very likely candidate to win the election for United States Senate.
Typing that last sentence makes me feel really weird and gross, neither of which are particularly professional or shiny journalistic terms, but both of which accurately describe where I am. In these moments of emotional yuck, I like to deep-dive and ask myself: what’s the root of this problem?
A few weeks ago, Sarah Silverman, in a clip from her new show I Love You, America, spoke out about her longtime friend Louis C.K. in light of the allegations that had surfaced against him:
“It's a real mindf-ck, you know, because I love Louis. But Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, ‘Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?’ ...So I hope it's OK if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and also sad, because he's my friend.”
I found myself choking up a little watching this clip, and, because it wasn’t a particularly emotional one, was confused as to why (please feel free to blame it on the fact that I am, as I type this, 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant). As I looked inward, it occurred to me that the reason her words were so striking is that we don’t often hear grace and compassion alongside a harsh rebuke. This sort of duality of sentiment is not of our time.
It is decidedly safe to be unambiguous, even fundamentalist in one’s beliefs. It is much easier to take what we’re handed and stuff it into our collective back pockets as a given than it is to scrutinize, to carefully overturn, to discover just where the breaks are and where water is beginning to leak out.
This is precisely how we ended up with a President whose behavior disappoints many of us on a day-to-day basis. We stopped asking hard questions of ourselves because we got tired. We said, “The Access Hollywood recording is bad, but it isn’t as bad as voting for a liberal.” We became lazy and frustrated and weary of being asked to parse through the fine print of analyzing people’s character, gave up, and voted red straight down a ticket so that we could sleep at night knowing we didn’t promote a pro-choice candidate.
This era of American culture loves social media for the reason of mindless allegiance. We shuffle around the Internet, aligning ourselves with groups who mostly share our beliefs, even if they express them in ways we wouldn’t. Even if they are cruel and unrelenting. Even if they don’t account for the fact that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul who hasn’t uttered a racist remark, whose iCloud hasn’t housed a lewd photo, whose fraternity brothers haven’t witnessed an act of hazing, whose heart doesn’t burn with shame at the memory of a misdeed. We are, all of us, guilty. But how much simpler is it to stand in the coliseum, pointing down at the thing we certainly are not, than it is to sit silently, deciding what it is we are?
To close, as I opened, with a pop culture reference: this dichotomy - the easy stance versus the nuanced one - is everywhere. As my husband and I finished up How the Grinch Stole Christmas last night, I found myself relating to Jim Carrey’s fuzzy green villain-turned-hero as he stands atop Mount Crumpit wondering how the hell those Whos, these simple-minded people who deserved no joy or gifts at all, could still be enjoying Christmas despite his best attempts:
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!"
On this election day, my Alabamian sisters and brothers, I urge you to look inward. Don’t let this age of zero tolerance get the better of you, no matter how much it wants to. Don’t be fooled by falling into line with people who excuse a candidate who not only stands accused by multiple women of child molestation, but who boasts a hefty professional history of bigotry, religious discrimination, and thwarting the law of the land while serving as a judge, simply to say that they voted Republican. Please don’t stay home. Please don’t write someone in who can’t win. If you are a Roy Moore supporter and a person of faith, and it’s likely that you are, then you, too, can employ the art of nuance in the same way that Sarah Silverman did: you can love him, and pray for him, and you can still not vote for him because he has no place in the United States Senate.
If voting for a Democrat sets your teeth on edge for reasons of Supreme Court picks or abortion law, I encourage you to read this brilliant piece written by my evangelical Christian and Republican friend Dana Hall McCain, who lays it out more beautifully than I ever could.
Nuance is hard and groupthink is easy. But there are lives and livelihoods at stake. There are freshmen all over the state who are expecting better of us, and we can’t afford to phone it in. Not again. Not after the year we’ve had. Maybe we all need some time to puzzle, our feet cold in what was a miraculously unusual Alabama snow, and who knows? If we step away from the crowd atop our own Mount Crumpit, we may find out that our opinions weren’t always right after all. We might feel our hearts grow three sizes.
Even better, we might just follow them.
This has been an exhausting week in terms of keeping up with the world. Lots has happened. Lots has been really sad, disappointing, upsetting, and tough. I've felt a lot of anxiety around trying to inform myself about current events without allowing myself to become anxious or overwhelmed, which is not an easy combination. Here are some things that have helped me.
1. Stay off/limiting social media.
As much as it kills me to say, I have a Facebook problem. Many (most) of my friends have moved past this stage, but Facebook is still the website that I go to when I don't have anything else to do. Because of that, I find myself mindlessly scrolling through status after status - people's complaints, the products people are selling, photos of engagements and babies being born, etc. It's not all bad! But it is a LOT of input for one brain, especially when most of it is white noise. Reading about how the person who sat behind me in Algebra feels about the transgender ban in the military is not, in my opinion, a helpful way to process how I feel about it.
Twitter is another danger zone. This week, I found myself all spun up about John McCain's decision to vote "Yes" on the proposed healthcare legislation, only to find later that what he voted "Yes" to was to open the floor to debate the plan - not the plan itself (in fact, he voted "No" on the plan last night, so, ya know.). I am still unsupportive of this choice, but a series of fifteen angry tweets by my peers led me to believe that something more catastrophic had happened than had actually happened. This happens to me A LOT - allowing the opinions of others to work me up into a froth. Had I done my own research, I would've figured out what was really going on and saved myself the embarrassment of tweeting something dumb.
2. Seek out credible news sources, and, even then, limit what you choose to read.
If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you've probably heard me rave about theSkimm, which is a daily e-mail consolidating all the important sound bytes and news items of the day into a digestible, easy-to-read, ten-minute experience.
But theSkimm is far from the only platform offering services like this: The New York Times has launched its own capsule daily news, as has NPR. Whatever news source you enjoy, it's likely that they'll start offering something similar.
The reason this has been so effective for me is because I can't mentally and emotionally process a constant, day-long stream of opinions and updates about the world. Doing so makes me unproductive, depressed, and often keeps me from holding valuable perspective about what's going on vs. how big a deal it's being made into. Processing my information at once, every day, in the mornings, has made me able to retain more information and feel more confident, informed, and stable. I've stopped watching cable news completely and GOSH does that make a difference.
3. Talk about it.
Something about talking through tough issues with my peers or parents is helpful to me. I think being able to just verbally dump all my concerns on the people I love and then have them help me sort through it makes me feel like the walls aren't collapsing in on me. It's probably because I'm a verbal/written processor. I know that shocks you!
Allowing other people into your head means you aren't alone in there. Holy hell, my head is a scary place sometimes. I bet yours is, too. Don't get trapped in there by yourself. Talk to your people. If your people are good ones, they'll help you make sense of it all. Things aren't as scary with a community around you. It's tribe mentality, and boy, does it work.
4. Call your legislators.
Oh, the instant joy that comes with hanging up after calling a legislator and leaving a voicemail for his or her aids to listen to later. Not impolite ones. Just normal, "Hey, this is how I feel, can ya let my boy/girl know?" sort of things.
Y'all, people are passionate, but I'll tell you what does almost nothing: e-mails to your legislators. Facebook posts. Twitter rants. I'm not knocking these outlets on their own - often, you can get a lot of relief from either reading one or penning one of your own - but those things by themselves produce nothing but a momentary laugh, nod, or grimace from readers. It is so rare for a piece of writing to galvanize anyone to action without follow up of some sort.
Calling your legislators and letting them know how you feel isn't just a way to blow off steam - it's actually part of our duty as citizens of this country. It digs way down to the bones of what makes America America. No march, no rant, no article, no 140 characters can do anything by itself. Keep calling, keep calling, keep calling.
5. Remember that the 24-hour news cycle requires news.
It wasn't so long ago that there were four channels and a hard stop to broadcasting every night that concluded with the national anthem. Since then, the monster of the 24-hour news cycle has been created. And it is HUNGRY.
The mere fact of this neverending parade of news means that there has to be content to fill it, whether that content is meaningful or not. That might mean bringing so-and-so's ex-boyfriend's dog sitter on to offer her analysis of a situation, of bastardizing a truly tragic news story (like Charlie Gard), or reporting on content that no one is sure about yet for the sake of having something to put on TV. News media, it seems, cares less and less about credible sources and more and more about ratings.
Fake News isn't just a thing that happens by clicking suspicious links your aunt posts on Facebook. I'd like to submit that Fake News can also mean stories about real events, but that those stories are inflamed and beaten to death to a degree that they mislead the public. It's just not responsible, and it's a product of the current need for news to be ALL THE TIME.
So. Take a breath and step away from the computer if ya need to (I do). It's our job as consumers to CHOOSE what we listen to. I am terrible about having something "on" just for the sake of having noise in the background - I'm not even listening to it. Turn on some instrumental music. Sit in silence. If that's too much, flip on a white noise machine. But do SOMETHING to allow yourself a decompression every day, away from the noise of the world. Re-set. Otherwise, your brain might just become its own never ending newsfeed of anxiety-producing material that you just can't seem to get on top of.
Growing up in the Decatur, Alabama, "patriotism" meant a bunch of loud, drunk folks at the annual Spirit of America Festival in jean cutoffs scream-singing "Proud to be an American" and crushing beers, hollering about how America was the best place, how everybody else was wrong and ignorant and backwards.
Not the loveliest.
No one in my family was military, and I never really felt the sense of American-ness that everyone else seemed to get. To me as a child, we were often a nation of arrogant, ungrateful, over-indulgent, culture-less hillbillies in one of the newest, yet most powerful, nations in the world.
When I moved to York, Alabama (population 1,800), I inherited a classroom without any supplies. No chalkboard. No markers. No paper. Barely any textbooks. Mouse droppings on the floor and God-knows-what on the windows. I ended up eventually receiving a projector through the kindness of the people I knew. Before we received it, though, my personal laptop was all I had, and kids crowded around the computer as I lectured from an 8 x 14 screen on a kitchen stool in the front of my room.
The reason I mention the projector is because I'll never forget the day it arrived. It was September 11, 2011, and I'd put together a tribute of videos, both informational and gut-wrenching, about the day to show to my students. This was a history course, after all, and they needed to know. What I wasn't anticipating is that my middle schoolers had very little idea what September 11th signified. The closest answer I heard was, "Wasn't that when somebody bombed a building?"
And so my job that day became different. Instead of reminding them in a mini-lesson about a day that none of us should allow ourselves to forget, I actually watched my students, all of whom were 2 and 3 in 2001, witness this event for the first time.
I was in my own seventh grade history class when the planes hit the Towers. And, ten years later, I was teaching it to 95 seventh and eighth graders. I watched it happen on their faces. In their tears. I watched heads turn away and eyes shut, unable to take in what they were seeing. And then I listened to them ask what they could do to help. Students who, in many cases, weren't guaranteed a bed or a meal that night, were asking how they could help.
So they wrote letters to the family of a man whose last words they'd heard in one of our videos that day - a guy named Kevin Cosgrove who died in the South Tower. I remember sitting at my desk at the end of that day, sunlight streaming through the windows, desks empty, the quiet of a child-less classroom sweeping over me, overtaken by the depth of these precious words on paper written by my students - words of comfort, of thanks, of healing - to Kevin's wife and children. People they didn't know.
It was then that I understood what the true spirit of America is. I felt like the Grinch. It broke my heart wide open. Turns out, it's not the "God Bless America and No One Else" philosophy that I mistook it for - people wore that and claimed it as patriotism, but that's not what it really means. Whatever turmoil, economic, political, or otherwise; whatever unrest, whatever trial, I am a deep believer in the triumph of the human spirit. And that's what patriotism is all about: a belief in the power of uniting and validating all the human spirits in this country.
Now, watching fireworks on the Fourth always makes me cry. I get it now. I am humbled to tears by the weight of the sacrifice it took to start this scrappy country; of the people who work hard every day to protect us; of the hearts of those who still don't feel protected. I love the chest-filling pride that comes with believing in us. I believe in us because of my kids. I believe there is a potential for greatness in America that's realized every day when a person does someone else a kindness. I believe in the power of a country that asks "What if?" I also believe in the power of saying that what we're doing isn't good enough. And I think that today, more so than most days, is one to think about where we are as individuals in the fabric of a country with so much potential. How we can say, "No," to the policies and ideas that are hurtful to our brothers and sisters. How we can throw our arms around the things that frighten us about each other. How we as a country are more than one man, or one set of legislators - the fabric, the messy, often not-so-pretty guts of the United States - that's us. It's on us. It's in us. For better or for worse. For liberty and justice.
And, maybe most importantly, for all.
The question I've been asking myself for a couple of days in a row with regard to the happenings of our country.
Listen, here's the thing. Whatever your politics, we all need to be informed (objectively, fairly, factually) about the goings-on around us, especially when things are taking place that people have opinions about. Nothing is worse than picking up false information from someone who thinks they know what they're talking about, or having to sit in a group and not contribute to the conversation because you feel uninformed. I've certainly been there.
Linked throughout this post are articles that you can read to get more up-to-speed, if you so choose. I've read them and they were really helpful for me! And, as always, I'm going to plug theSkimm (a one-page, daily newsletter that informs you on the bare-bones, unbiased facts of the news cycle and allows you to get all you need in less than 5 minutes).
The two major things that are happening:
1. FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump yesterday. This is significant because of a couple of reasons:
-Director Comey is only the second FBI Director to be fired in American history. Usually, the person who holds this position serves 10 years, through multiple (and often bipartisan) administrations.
- Comey was leading the investigation into Trump's relationship with Russia, so there are lots of folks who feel the timing is suspicious.
2. The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimonies about Michael Flynn, a man Trump hired as national security adviser and then fired after it came to light that he had been lying about his own relationship and communication with Russia. This is significant because:
- It is now coming to light that people (including then-President Obama) definitively warned President Trump about Flynn, even going so far as to say he shouldn't be hired.
- Flynn's dishonesty about his relationship with a country people already have suspicions about while he was working in the White House is leading people to believe that there is lots we don't know about Trump's own relationship with Russia, who, it's been proven, interfered in the election to help Trump win.
Read up. We've got lots of informing ourselves to do and we can't get lazy, because this sh*t is important.
Hope your Hump Days are all fabulous.