A couple of weeks ago, I stood in a parking lot and typed a comment that was the written equivalent of a howl of anguish. I wasn’t anguished by the post itself, but by (1) how it fit within a broader societal context and (2) the identity of its poster. Afterward, the poster and I exchanged emails.
I thought about our exchange for a day or so. As I always do when I don’t immediately have the right words, I sat down and wrote to find them. The original post had been made private, so I included a poor synopsis of it based on memory.
I saved it as a draft and sat on it.
After I saved the post as a draft, I continued to think about that email exchange. I devoured a couple more political books, the better to understand, express myself, and prepare to organize against a system frightful long before #45 inherited chunks of it.
Importantly, I had a couple illuminating conversations that made me much, much less frustrated with individual people and more resolute about working to shape a better system. I saw humanity.
To post or not to post? I wondered. It’s already kinda outdated now. An exchange yesterday inspired me to post it; it is part of my journey of learning to speak Politics, after all. Still, I wanted to share the link here with a preface.
Going into summer last year, I’d barely ever tried speaking Politics. It wasn’t my bag.
Last summer, I realized I’d done myself a disservice by never really trying. I’d deprived myself of a vocabulary … and left the business of politics to people I didn’t really want speaking for, well, anyone.
I began practicing. I committed to being okay with making mistakes, and hoped others would be inspired when they saw the earth not swallowing me whole when I spoke ineloquently or incorrectly. Eventually, I realized that this meant I needed to also be gracious with others new to “speaking Politics.”
Inexperience has made this easier said than done, but I’m already much better now than I was last summer. I’ve had dozens of face-to-face conversations improved by the learning I’ve done here. I’ve improved my skill at having discussions online, too, but have found it easier to be aggravated online by not-so-individual quirks I now recognize as reflections of systems.
My steepest learning curve has been the last couple weeks. Please bear that in mind if you choose to read “In Politics, Silence Isn’t Neutrality.”
Tomorrow, I’ll post something more reflective of where I am now: oriented toward both action and building common ground. Today, I hope you’ll consider engaging in political conversation or (better yet!) action. This will probably feel uncomfortable at first; as with building racial stamina, the discomfort means you’re growing.
I have a helluva lot to learn, and, man. I’m excited to learn it all in such good company.
“as ordinary people, our fates are tied together,
and … one group’s liberation is dependent on
the liberation of all the oppressed and exploited.”
— Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor in The Anti-Inauguration
I see you. I see some of the hundred difficult situations you’re juggling. I see how you berate yourself when you drop any one ball for even a second.
In case it helps lighten your load, I want to share a little of what I see.
Faced with some challenging parental situations, you are facing them right back. You’re not minimizing or deflecting them, but doing everything you can, despite exhaustion, to usher your kids into a future that will be good to them.
You work hard, smart, and kind. You understand when you need to adapt and you do the work, undaunted by complexity or hurdles.
Your enormous heart finds ways to give and share every day. I mean this: every day. You are always looking out for the people around you, sometimes to your own detriment. You deserve your own compassion at least as much as the people around you do.
You make people laugh. You have great insights and perspectives, which brighten conversations and, heck, entire days.
You’re candid. You show what’s good and what’s bad, making it less lonely to be human in a world so full of illusions of perfection.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Think of it as a (lunch break) start!
Please step out into the sunshine, lift your face to the sun, and take a second to marvel at everything beautiful you do and are. It’s a lot.
I see you, and you are magnificent.
I hope you see it, too.
P.S. Think of the ponies!
Jane and I are old friends. When we talked on the phone yesterday, she described a post she was writing for Facebook. I loved what she was saying, and asked if she’d like to share the post here. I’m grateful she said “yes.”
The Privilege of Surprise
I paint my toenails every week. It’s a routine I got into when I was burning out of a classroom teaching job and I needed some ritual, some regular application of gentleness to myself, to keep me from collapse. The crisis is over, but the ritual has stuck.
I use cheap drugstore polish. It doesn’t have to last long. I have neons and deeps and darks and brights and glitters and pastels. Most weeks I just pick a color I’m feeling. In the last few months, though, I’ve increasingly been choosing colors that mean something. There is a pale blue that makes me feel the ocean. I wear that one when I need comfort. There is a bright orange-y pink that reminds me of my sister.
On Election Night, I wore red, white, and blue. I called them hopeful toes.
After Election Night, I wore black.
I have not felt like wearing bright since Donald Trump was elected. It’s been two months now, and I am just starting to realize that I lost big, deep things on that day and I may not get them back. I lost faith in my government. I lost trust that the police will keep me safe. I lost my sense that we are fundamentally okay here, that nothing that bad will happen.
I am a straight white cis woman who has never been poor. What I lost? Many people in this country have never had those things. I am only now starting to realize what a privilege it was ever to have them, and how little sense of what the world is really like for people of color, trans people, Muslims, immigrants, I have ever had.
I should have known this all along. Black people have been telling me. Queer people have been telling me. The people around me have been telling me, this is not okay, we are not safe, this country is killing us, and I have given it lip service, but I have had the luxury my entire life of looking the other way.
And I still can, if I choose to. Many of my fellow privileged Dems are ready to throw identity politics out with the bathwater. It doesn’t work, we’re saying. It’s too divisive. We can’t win elections and talk about bathrooms at the same time.
Y’all, listen. Bathrooms are not a fringe issue. Black Lives Matter is not a fringe issue. Fringes are on the outside of things, and so are margins; if the issues that most directly affect groups of people are relegated to the fringes, then we have marginalized those groups ourselves. We are reproducing the power structures that are killing our brothers and sisters and siblings right here in our own party.
Identity politics are politics. They are my politics. I care about the Affordable Healthcare Act and I care about public education and I care about the mass incarceration of Black Americans, and these are all connected. They all belong in the center.
As I noticed my surprise that I haven’t regained the things I lost—I still feel, two months later, like I was punched in the stomach by the Electoral College—I realized that even being surprised is a privilege. I have never before experienced disillusionment that doesn’t go away.
I’m ashamed to admit what a revelation this has been.
Today I painted my toenails bright. I don’t feel like bright yet. I don’t know when I will feel like bright again. But I no longer believe we have time to wait until we feel like it before we make the phone calls, paint the signs, and have the terrible conversations with the people we love who are saying broken things.
We do not have time to wait until we feel like it. We have to act.
I met Elsha, then-girlfriend of my husband’s best friend, on September 27, 2009.
I was lying on a couch when she walked into my apartment with a blanket she’d made for my soon-to-be-born baby.
I said something to her. I couldn’t tell you what, though I think it included the words “thank you.” I was nine months pregnant and had an enormous freakin’ headache that wouldn’t go away.
A couple hours later, my then-partner, Anthony, drove me to the hospital to be induced. My blood pressure was high enough to put me and my baby at risk.
Over several coffee dates a few years later, Elsha would tell me about her best friend, Broceny. Broceny sounded pretty damn rad. Still, I somehow managed never to meet her.
(Life with two little kids is like that.)
In early 2016, my siblings made me question whether Hillary Clinton was really the more practical choice of the Democratic primary candidates.
Since then, I’ve walked the locally-lonely road of being 100% Bernie … and more for Bernie with every single article I read about U.S. politics.
My husband emailed lonely me a Facebook post last Wednesday. He prefaced the pasted text with the message:
So, I think that you and Elsha’s friend Broceny should get together soon and chat..
…you need local friends with similar agendas 🙂
I read his forwarded message and barely kept from squealing.
Broceny was my people!
As I stood in line to vote for my district’s Democratic delegates on Saturday, Broceny and I exchanged many texts. She, having been part of the local progressive scene long before I even knew “progressives” were a thing, had lots of insights to share.
And heart. Lots and lots of heart.
I felt the way I did when I connected with like souls while blogging more than twenty years ago: overjoyed! The world was so much bigger and more full of possibility than what I saw in the mess immediately around me!
I cried. A few times.
Earlier today, Anthony shared another Facebook post from Broceny. After I read it with tear-filled eyes, I texted her, “Aaaaaaah. Anthony forwarded your post from FB. I love you! I haven’t even met you in person & I love you!!”
This might sound unbelievable to … anyone else. But I grew up surrounded by poverty and predators, and I know the difference between trusting because it feels good (temporarily) and trusting because it’s actually deserved.
Can I boil this trust down to some easily reproducible formula? No.
Can I tell you I’m grateful as hell for someone I’ve never met in person, but who’s no less vibrant in my heart for that?
Sure can! And will, because, man. I am already so damn glad to know Broceny.
She is my people, and I love her.
I talked with an old friend yesterday morning.
She had made coffee at 6:15 a.m. so she’d be ready to chat at 6:30 a.m.
As I drove to work, Jane and I talked on the phone about many things. One particular exchange stood out after we hung up after I reached my office.
“I’m trying to give myself breaks. I can’t really effect positive change from a place of constant distress, y’know?” I said.
“I’m writing that down,” she replied. She felt exactly what I meant.
I wanted to write down a lot of what we said, but I couldn’t.
Instead of marking the words, I marked the feeling: the feeling of safety that comes with having loved and quarreled with and come back to loving someone without reservation.
For the first time in what seemed like ages, my distress melted away. I was just Deb, chatting with a dear old friend and savoring every second of it.
I tried to return to the feeling of Jane-talking throughout the day. I’d find it in moments here and there, but it kept fleeing when I thought about all the change I wasn’t making happen right now!
Today was a little different.
I’d told Jane yesterday, “Rain is nice. When it’s sunny out, which is most the time here, I feel like I have to get things done. When it pours, the load is lightened. I feel so much more mellow, like, ‘You know what? Today would be a good day to do half as many things.'”
It poured today, as if to remind me.
After spending extra time in traffic this morning thanks to the glorious downpour, I stopped at a gas station and messaged my sister and a new, supportive Twitter friend, Michael, while filling my tank: “Wish I knew how to relax right now.”
Step away, Rache and Michael both told me. Take a social media break!
I smiled. I was grateful to have them looking out for me.
Soon after, I read with a little boy who asked, “Will you be coming back tomorrow?!” (“No,” I told him, “but I’ll see you again next month!”)
At work, we had our holiday party. I fought valiantly and won the only prize worth keeping: poop slippers, which I seized at the very last second.
And there was something else, too: I’d solved a riddle. Thanks to Jane’s candor, I was able to piece together some part of a truth it’s pissed me off to have perpetually just beyond my reach.
The joy from solving a riddle is directly proportional to the time and energy it takes to solve it …
… and whether a friend helps you solve it.
Same as always on Friday, I inched home slowly in Friday afternoon traffic.
Unlike always, I smiled all the way. Why? Well, wouldn’t you know:
I talked with an old friend yesterday morning.
When Ra and I had coffee a couple weeks ago, she mentioned that Green Embers would be helping her produce a spiffy new vlog. (I’m pretty sure she didn’t actually use the word “spiffy,” but that was the gist of it!)
As expected, Ra did marvelous work breaking down some difficult, charged subjects in friendly, easy to understand*, totally non-threatening ways. That’s a virtual miracle with topics like shame, discrimination, prejudice, and privilege, where it’s often hard not to instantly feel wary and exhausted just hearing the words.
Those words + Ra + spoons = totally approachable = yay.
Ra introduces the vlog as being about “kindness and people and how to people a little better.” I’d say that’s spot on.
* The fact that Littler J’s entire review was, “Could I get a green spoon?” is a better reflection of the fact he’s two than of the video. 🙂