Best Girlfriends

I keep seeing annoying articles about how having best girlfriends will help a woman live longer. The posts are usually accompanied by a picture of a group of women in tiny outfits with drinks in their hands.

best friends

My best girlfriends and I don’t live as close together as we once did. We aren’t as skinny as we once were. We don’t get to see each other as often as we would like. We don’t wear maxi dresses. We don’t post pictures on Facebook or Instagram of us going out with our nails painted. We don’t visit L.A., New York, or Las Vegas. We have rarely gone on any vacations together in our adult lives.

My best girlfriends and I have been friends for more than 20 years. My best girlfriends are my people. They are my heart. My best girlfriends and I love each other. We look out for each other. We worry about each other. We talk to each other. We talk about each other. All of us would go to battle for one another in a heartbeat, even if we knew ahead of time that we would face defeat. We are sisters and that’s infallible.

Also, we are adults. My best girlfriends and I, for the most part, grew up together. But mostly, we grew up.

We have jobs. We have hobbies. We have classes. We have debts. We have to pay our rent or our mortgages. We have to pay our bills.

Some of us have children and we have to think about childcare or babysitting. Some of us have husbands or wives and we consider our partners in our plans. Some of us are dating. Some of us have more than one job or more than two jobs or more than three jobs. Some of us are struggling with money or depression or both.

Some of us have lost family members. Some of us have aging parents. Some of us have family members who are struggling and take up our time. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck and are trying to get by.  Some of us are working on our Master’s Degree. Some of us would rather work in the garden than check email. We all have different lives.

For the last six months I have tried to make plans with my best friends. Sometimes the plans work out.  Most of the time something comes up and we have to reschedule.

Never once have I wondered if my best friends have forgotten me. I don’t need a trip to Vegas or a fancy manicure or a medical study or a cheesy stock photo to give credence to a relationship that is obviously sustaining and precious.

I love my best girlfriends. I know that regardless of what life brings us, we will always have each other.

If having best girlfriends will help a woman live longer, I’m excited to live forever.

Just Be Nicer

Last Tuesday morning I pulled into the parking lot of my local veterinarian’s office to pick up some flea medicine and dry food for my cats.  Some guy had backed his large pickup truck into the parking lot.  His truck was parked slightly slanted, with the bed of the truck facing the door to the vet’s office.  The truck was taking up residence in more than one of the parking spaces.  I decided to pull up next to the truck and park as straight and as close as possible just to make a point about what good parking looks like.

I went in and paid for my cat food and flea medicine.  I talked to the folks behind the counter for a while.  I was there for about ten minutes and then left to get back in my car.

As I loaded my bag of cat food into my back seat, the owner of the pickup truck came out.  He was a big guy in jeans and a flannel shirt.  He had a head full of messy blond hair and a pair of tough looking boots on his feet.  He ran up to the gate of his truck and pulled it down quickly.  He stood next to the bed of his truck and looked back toward the vet’s office expectantly.  His face was pink and his eyes were red.

I quietly realized that he had been crying.

golden

The door to the vet’s office opened and a small family of people came out together carrying a dog bed like a stretcher, heavy and woolen.  The bed was filled with a golden-colored lifeless dog.  Each of the grievers had tear-stained faces and puffy eyes.  I realized that one of the people in the party was our regular vet, also with a tear-stained face.

The family and our vet lifted the dog into the back of the truck.  I heard a few of their exchanges.  They planned to bury the dog in their yard, next to the other animals that the dog had spent his life with—a cat, a few goats, and a bunny.  I watched the man with the boots hop down from the bed of his truck and put his arm around a young girl that was probably his daughter.  She tucked her face into his chest and started to sob.  The man with the boots followed suit, unabashedly crying into her hair.

I felt like a voyeur as I put my car in reverse.  The man and the girl continued to cry.

The man who parked like an asshole, wasn’t an asshole.  He was probably just trying to save his dog’s life.  He probably pulled into the parking lot with his family, the family dog in a fit of emergency.  All of them were probably hoping for a miracle.  Or course the man driving didn’t make it into the lines of his parking space.  It just wasn’t important.

We don’t always know what people are dealing with.

It was unfortunate for me to think that someone had just casually pulled into my veterinarian’s office with no concept of parking spaces.  That wasn’t it at all.  A man and his family were about to lose their family dog and they parked in the best way that they could manage.

We don’t always know what’s going on for people.  We don’t always know what has happened. We are often quick to judge.

Maybe we should just be nicer.

How We Grieve in the 21st Century: Grief, Death, and Pop Culture

“When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

-William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

 

The first weeks of 2016 have been heartbreaking for anyone who cares, even peripherally, about art, creation, and trend-setting.  We are 30 days into 2016 and things are looking very grim for this calendar year.  We still have eleven months left to contend with, plus an extra day because 2016 is a leap year.

Francisco X. Alarcon died a couple weeks ago.  His was the third reverberating and heart-wrenching death for me in what has been a very short year so far.  He was a poet and a very nice man.  His death came after a few weeks of bad news and at a time when I didn’t think things could get worse.  Since I started working on this piece, there have been more names to add, like Glenn Frey.

I am 35 years old and I find myself trying to be very brave these days. I’m trying to be okay with the next new experience, in the same way I had to be brave when I was a little girl starting kindergarten.  I’m finding that I’m not very good at being brave.

When I posted my hopes for 2016, I was very clear.  I didn’t realize that, four weeks later, several of the people I consider dear friends would be gone.

star of david

When my grandfather died three years ago, his youngest daughter, my Aunt, emailed the family to let us know he was gone.  Given the circumstances, it was probably the best form of communication.  He was 93 years old and had been ailing for some time.  We knew the hours were few and we knew that she had gone to say goodbye.  The email came across around dinner time.  I didn’t make any calls.  I didn’t reach out.  I responded to my aunt’s email and copied the family members that had been included in the original email.

I wrote, “Thank you.  I love you all very much.”

I had been throttled at the moment I received the email, even though I knew that news of my grandfather’s death was inevitable and on its way.  Still, I felt crumpled and paper-thin.  I just wanted to curl into ball. And yet, I didn’t call my cousins.  I didn’t even call my mother. I just suffered in the silence of incredible and private mourning.  I might have made myself tea.  I might have crawled into bed with my grief.  I don’t honestly remember what I said to my wife at that moment, who had never met grandfather.  I remember feeling so helpless and sad.  But I also remember doing absolutely nothing.  I remember not understanding what to do.  I remember that nothing felt somehow reasonable.

 

When David Bowie died, I had been up late writing.  I had put my phone on silent and had shut down all access to the internet.  When I laid down to go to sleep, I pulled up the browser on my phone to look something up and I saw the news of Bowie’s passing on my Facebook feed.  I shook my wife awake and told her what had happened. It seemed okay to wake her. I was sad and the person who had died was famous. She was still half-asleep and didn’t totally understand.  She could tell I was upset and put her arms around me.  I immediately felt bad for waking her because she had to get up for work just a few hours later.

After she had fallen back to sleep, I untangled myself from her arms and got out of bed to put myself in front of my computer to write my Bowie Heartbreak Blog.

At around two in the morning I saw that one of my dearest friends posted something on Facebook about Bowie’s passing. I sent her a text message at 2:23am that said, “I’m still up. If you just need to cry about it. Because I kind of need that too.”  The phone rang within seconds.

My friend and I spent the next two hours on the phone sobbing honestly and horrifically about David Bowie’s death.  We didn’t hold anything back.  We cried.  We cried loudly.  We cried ugly.  We coughed and choked between crying.  We said things about god and the universe that we didn’t mean.  We said things about music.  We talked about justice.  We concluded that the world is horrible and unfair.

It was honest and exhausting and I couldn’t get out of bed the next day.

Four days later, after I had started to recover a bit, after I had decided to put on a brave face, I awoke to a group text message between friends who had waited in line for Harry Potter’s Book 7. “Alan Rickman died. My heart hurts.”

I immediately fell back into a child-like and socially-unacceptable petulance.  Famous people, iconic people had died.  I was sad.  Several other people were also sad.  I sat awake in bed holding my copy of The Half-Blood Prince.

 

My generation may be the first generation where so much of our culture and familial identity is fiction.  And yet, our fiction is so vast and stretching that it is indeed real and tangible, soul crushing and penetrating.

If I try to say to a coworker, “My grandfather died.” I’m likely to be met with something like, “Dude that sucks.”  It’s an understanding but it’s a calculated response.

But if I say, “David Bowie died,” my friends and acquaintances might actually understand what I’m saying.  They might actually accept that what I’m expressing is about grieving and common interests, and human intersection.  Because that’s what pop culture is.  Popular and Cultural.  Meaning, all of us feel it and noticed its merit.  Even if weird. Or different. Or incomprehensible at the time.

It’s really hard for me to admit that my heart is broken and that I’m still hurting.  I don’t think of myself as star struck.

But, as we lose so many incredible people whose talents have touched us so wholly, I realize that my generation may be the first generation growing up in the way that I grew up.  My generation may be the first generation where so much of our culture is vast and stretching yet real and tangible, soul crushing and penetrating.  We have so much love for our well-known heroes.

 

But when it comes to our closest people, when it comes to those that matter so much, we have no protocol.  We have very little support.

grandma and grandpa

I wish I could look at random strangers with tears in my eyes and say, “My grandpa, Doc Morasch, was an amazing man and I miss him very much.”  And I wish that, in response, those strangers would put their arms around me and say, “I know.  He was a great man and great grandfather.  He played a mean clarinet and his sandwiches were out of this world.” I wish that were real.  I wish that every person who felt grief for someone they love could feel that kind of honest connection and response.

And I think that our connection for our fallen pop soldiers is our way of translating our grief. It‘s our way of making sense of something we need desperately.   If I say to friend that, “’Five years’ on vinyl was brilliant,” and they say, “I know.” It means we somehow understand each other.  It means that we have love in common.

We need to know that the people we love mattered.  And we all need to know that our love in this world matters.  Maybe our collective grief for our artists and heroes is our way of knowing.

How To Be A Terrible House Guest

The holidays aren’t easy.  This season is filled with chasms of disappointment and stress.  If you are taking up quarters with a friend or loved one, there is really no point in trying to make this time of year easier. Don’t bother picking up after yourself or offering to help with household chores.  If you are staying with a friend or family member any time soon, just make yourself comfortable and let your hostess deal with everything.

1950s

Here is a list of things you can incorporate as a part of your stay in order to make your stay as excruciating as possible for everyone around you:

  1. In the planning process for your stay, try to be as vague as possible. Don’t bother to consider the hostess and her schedule.  Suggest no definite dates and instead give an approximate time frame about when you might show up and when you might leave.  Plan to stay for at least a week.  When you finally report on an approximate arrival date, arrive two days early so that whatever the hostess had planned for those two days has to be cancelled.
  2. Bring far more bags than you need for your stay. When you arrive, bring one or two bags into the house on your own but then demand help after that.  After the hostess has shown you where you will stay, express exasperation and the need for help with the rest of your baggage.  When the hostess begins to help, direct her as to where you wish your stuff to go.
  3. Once your ample bags have been removed from the car, strew them all over the room you are staying in so that it is impossible to access any closets. If the hostess offers cubbies or a dresser for you to put your stuff away, ignore her wholeheartedly and leave your stuff in bags on the floor for the duration of your stay. While you are at it, go ahead and leave stuff in the kitchen and in other rooms of the house as well.  As an added insult, bring extra boxes from your car that you won’t need during your stay and add them to your mess.  Further, if you are related to the person and will see them in the future, bring extra boxes of miscellany and ask the hostess to store them for you for an indeterminate amount of time.
  4. Bring your dog or other family pet. To really foster misery, bring a cat if the household you are visiting has a dog, or bring a dog if the household has cats. Set the pet’s bed in the kitchen or dining room, somewhere very intrusive.  When other guests wonder about your pet, ask if they knit and then demand that they make little sweaters for your animal.
  5. When things start to settle and people seem to accept your rudeness for idiosyncratic eccentricities, set up elaborate and messy art projects in common areas of the house. If possible, choose an art project that requires many colors of paint or glitter.  To be particularly awful, set up your art supplies at the kitchen table just before dinner.
  6. For the entire duration of your stay, do not do any dishes. Don’t do any chores at all.  If the hostess asks you to please excuse her as she tries to take out the garbage or completes another household chore in front of you, shoot her a dirty look for interrupting you (and your art project).
  7. Ask the hostess to do your laundry for you. When she makes your bed every day for the entirety of your stay, neglect to thank her.
  8. Never ever offer to contribute to a household meal. Snack while the hostess is clearly slaving away in the kitchen.  Complain about the food when it is served.
  9. Ignore most of the conversations provided by the other people in the house. While other members of the household sit at the table talking jovially, bring out a board game, set it up, and commence playing by yourself. Don’t ask if anyone wants to play.  Set up the game as if everyone at the table volunteered to play.  When they show no interest, roll for each person until they finally give in and start playing.
  10. When bored, rearrange the household décor. Take tchotchkes from one shelf and move them across the room.  Hide mementos and family heirlooms without saying anything so that when you finally leave the hostess wonders if you stole them.
  11. Disengage from the normal household conversation. Don’t bother to try and contribute to on-going conversations.  Instead, take out your iPad or phone and ignore everyone until you shout about various things you’ve seen on Facebook. Shout things like, “This cat is on a goat!” or, “I love the new Pope.”  Interrupt everyone.  When things seem calm and quiet, start directing everyone about what they should be doing but never get up from the table.
  12. If the hostess expresses frustration with some of your inconsideration, remind the hostess about something you paid for in order to shut her up.

 

The holidays are hard.  Why bother trying to make them easier with goodwill or manners?  Go big or go home.

 

My Shelter Pet

I will never forget the day I met Sophie. I was having a really shitty day at work. By the time I took my lunch I wasn’t hungry anymore. It was the kind of day where I just couldn’t be around people any longer. When I left the office, I drove up the road in the opposite direction of my usual trajectory. I drove away from the cafes and restaurants and toward a more rural part of Sacramento County. I drove along a road bordered by telephone poles and dotted with manufacturing warehouses, in between unkempt fields of dry grass and awkwardly placed parking lots. I drove until I found a parking lot that I could turn into and turn around.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter. There was a woman in her truck in the parking spot next to mine and she was crying into her hands. I got out of my car. I thought about knocking on the window and offering her a tissue but, as I approached her car, she looked up at me and she shook her head slightly. It was the kind of crying that demanded solitude. I could tell that she had come to her vehicle to be alone. I felt so intrusive about pulling into the spot next to hers and getting out of the car that I decided to walk around.

I had never been to the Sacramento County Animal Shelter before. It looked like a prison. There were chain-link fences surrounding the building and I could hear various-sized dogs barking from the inside. I think I walked in the front door only because there was no other place to go.

There was a long line of people in the lobby and there were large binders with volumes of missing animals on a table in the back. I started thumbing through the binders. They were excruciating to go through. One of the posters read, “Family dog of five years-missing. Our children are heartbroken.” There was another flyer about a cat that needed medication to survive. Each poster was terrible and sad in its own right.

The staff at the shelter was doing all they could do to help the line move along. It was a difficult sight. There were people looking for lost pets. There was a man surrendering a pit bull mix, choking back tears as he met with an animal control officer. There were kids running around the lobby and screaming. There were a few of us just standing around, meandering. At one point, a young, boisterous black man boomed over the crowd announcing, “If you are here to look at the adoptable animals, the puppies and cats are through this door and the larger breed dogs are down the hall.”

I walked through the door.

The puppies were cute. All the dogs were cute. There were puppies and there were smaller breed dogs as well. Some of them were quite older. They barked and yapped and tried to get my attention. There were fluffy dogs and wire-haired terriers. There were white ones and black ones. There were mopey dogs and dogs that were excited. Some came right up to the cage fence next to the hall and stuck their noses through the fencing, almost as though they were begging to get out. Mostly, there were a lot of Chihuahuas, some of which were standing in the far corner of the shelter cages, just shaking and looking at the wall.

The kennels and bedding looked clean but the kennels smelled like shit and bleach. It was an outstanding smell, something that could hardly be washed away. There was a clear smell that indicated an attempt at cleaning and it made the overall smell choking and terrible.

I moved past the small dogs and into the cat kennels. As a cat owner I was surprised that the stench was quite a bit more tolerable. I had expected the tin-like smell of cat pee. Instead it smelled like medicine and plastic. It was almost minty, like someone had been burning a scented Christmas candle. There were cats in cages four-cages high and maybe nine-cages across. Every cage was full. There was every kind of cat that a person could imagine. There was even one of those hairless cats, wide-eyed with giant ears, all wrapped up in shelter towels and shivering.

At the end of the hall there were two little girls meeting with an “adoption specialist.” There was a dad standing along the wall, watching with a satisfying grin at their joy. Both of the little girls had fluffy kittens in their arms. The adoption specialist kept asking the dad, “Are you sure?” He kept nodding.

The cat section had its own little folding table with two mid-forties female volunteers. Both women were likely lesbians. They had short hair and wore printed vacation tee-shirts with cargo pants and thick sandals. They had a lot of clipboards in front of them at the table and several small stacks of paperwork. One volunteer shuffled paperwork as the other one tried to manage the kitten girls.

I continued to browse the “cats available for adoption.” It was a mostly quiet endeavor, except for one black-and-white, short-haired tabby who kept crying and putting his paws through the bars. I put my hand out and let him grab one of my fingers and mew. “It’s okay,” I said. “You are very cute. Your time here will be short.” He looked at me hopefully. I wasn’t in the market.

I turned the corner to the “big dogs” hall. There was an isolated section of cat cages on my left that I didn’t pay much attention to. I could hear the big dogs even before I went through the doors.

The big dogs were a difficult sight. Many were losing hair and pacing. Some were howling at the ceiling. There were a lot of Shepherds and Pit bulls. There was a Black Labrador that had just been admitted on a call. I could tell that he was lost and missing his family terribly. There was a lot of Animal Control Officer activity in the large dog room and I just wasn’t comfortable. I headed back to the cat room.

As I walked into the hall, I noticed the section of cages that had been roped off. There were about forty cages but only three of the cages had cats in them. The rope had been set aside and there was a young female animal attendant looking at empty cages in the corner. The attendant didn’t notice me. I looked more closely at the quarantined kitties.

That’s when I saw Sophie.

She was sleeping. She didn’t see me. Not at first. But I saw her. She was tucked all the way in the back of her cage. She looked like a chocolate-faced, fluffy, milk-colored rug. And then she opened her eyes.

IMG_6881

I believe in love at first sight, but in very limited circumstances.

I don’t think that love-at-first-sight can completely exist between humans. For humans, love is a verb. It is a commitment that takes action and time. It may start with a feeling or an attraction, but love cannot be sustained without constant attention.

This is not true with humans and their animal companions. I have heard more love-at-first-sight stories between humans and their pets than from any other source. Sometimes you just know.

For Sophie and I, it was undoubtedly love at first sight.  When her blue eyes met mine, there was no turning back.

I met Sophie ten years ago. She was a little older than a kitten but was still very small. I looked up at the attendant wistfully and said, “I’d like to adopt this cat.”

She replied, “You can’t be in this section. These cats aren’t up for adoption.”

I planted my feet equally apart. I said firmly to the attendant, “I need to adopt this cat.”

The attendant explained that my cat had been left on the porch of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter in the middle of the night in a shoebox with the lid taped shut. Because she had been surrendered anonymously, the shelter had to keep her for three days in case someone came to claim her. After three days, the cat could be adopted.

The attendant could tell that I was horrified. I can’t remember if I was more horrified that my cat had been left in a shoe box on a porch or that she might be taken home by another family. The attendant leaned to me and whispered, “She was probably dropped off by a breeder. She looks like a pure bred Himalayan but she is pretty runty and she has something wrong with one of her eyes.”

I came back that afternoon and stayed with Sophie until the shelter closed for the night. I came back the next two lunch hours and afternoons. I ignored the ropes in the roped-off area and walked directly to the cage. I petted Sophie with two fingers through the bars. The animal officers and volunteers could tell that there was nothing that they could say to me that would convince me to leave so they just pretended that I was another volunteer.

The volunteers told me that adoption was first-come-first-served so I got up at 4am on the third day and drove to the shelter to wait outside until it opened. I was the first person there.

By the time the shelter opened, there were about 20 people lined up outside. I walked quickly to my cat. I walked directly to the cage that she had been in for the past three days. She wasn’t there. I turned around and searched the other cages. I panicked.

When I found her there was a family looking at her. A little girl was poking her fingers through the cage as a little boy squealed loudly, “I don’t want a stupid cat.” I grabbed the clipboard on her cage and took it to the two women the in thick-strapped sandals at the folding table. I handed them the clipboard and said, “This is my cat. I’m ready to adopt her.” They smiled. They had seen me those past few days.

I filled out several pieces of paperwork. I answered questions about indoor/outdoor cats. I vowed never to declaw a cat. (Of course.) They asked about children and dogs. (None.) At the end of the survey, I handed over my answers. I stood nervously. I shifted my weight to each foot as I watched them judge me. The two women reviewed my questionnaire and smiled. They looked up at me.

“She is already fixed. You can take her home today.” One of the women said.

“Now?” I asked.

“Now.”

They put Sophie in a cardboard carrier and I walked past the small dogs out to the shelter lobby to stand in line. There were already several people in line and the lobby wasn’t much different from my first impression. There were people thumbing through the binders. There were kids running around. There were people with dogs on leashes waiting in line. It was loud and smelly.

I didn’t care. I had my cat.

I stood in line waiting to pay the adoption fee for my cat when I noticed the woman in front of me. She had a beagle on a leash sitting next to her sitting and wagging its tail across the linoleum and looking guilty. She intermittently smiled at the beagle and occasionally threw the beagle a dirty look. I remembered her long brown hair. I mostly remembered her eyes. It was the woman from the truck in the parking lot.

“Is this your dog?” I asked gleefully.

She looked at me and remembered me.

“Yes. This is the asshole who ran away from the dog park.” She smiled in a way that kept her from crying. “This is my damn dog.” She laughed. I laughed too.

She asked, “What’s in the box?”

“My new cat.” I said. She winked at me.

When it was my turn, I put my cardboard box on the counter and handed over my paperwork. That day, I paid $75 to adopt my best friend.

The Lion, The Bitch, and the Whole World

I have three cats at home.  They are not big cats.  They are house cats.  Each cat has its own personality and I live for each of them every single day.  They bring me joy and comfort.  I tell them about my day and they meow at me.  They are my very best friends.  (I am a lesbian with no children so this is not an understatement.)

IMG_5922

I care about animals and I’m sad that Cecil the Lion was murdered. I have seen the outpouring and I have been heartened by the outcry. I’m glad that the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion had to shut down his practice and go into hiding.  The killing of animals for sport is senseless and terrible. People should be upset and outraged.  Jimmy Kimmel’s heart-felt commentary felt right and accurate.

Jimmy Kimmel

But then I saw the backlash. I saw the backlash from many of my black friends and I was surprised by it. In a way, I felt hurt. I saw people or color posting poignant and painful admonishments about how some folks get upset about the killing of an animal but don’t seem to notice or speak up about the killing of black people in this country and worldwide.

A good friend of mine reposted the following commentary from the Facebook page “Son of Baldwin”.  (For people who care about issues of race and equality in this country, please, read this blog in its entirety and don’t skim.)

 

With zero edits or interjections, from Son of Baldwin:

  1. A white man slaughters a Lion in Zimbabwe. The man, Walter Palmer, a dentist, of course, denies his part in it. Using his Whiteness to the fullest of its capabilities, Palmer claims that the black Zimbabweans he paid off tricked him and he had no idea what he was doing, that the slow and painful death he caused the Lion is black people’s fault not his. (http://www.cnn.com/…/zimbabwe-cecil-the-Lion-kil…/index.html)

White people around the world are absolutely outraged over the Lion’s inhumane slaughter. They want Palmer convicted. They haven’t said anything yet about Palmer’s Whiteness evocation, however.

  1. Black cisgender women are turning up dead in prisons (http://thinkprogress.org/…/fourth-black-woman-found-dead-j…/). Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynetta Turner; five black women that we know of. (This number expands if we include non-black women.) In these cases, the outrage from most white people is muted, replaced by averted gazes, exasperated sighs, lips curled with skepticism. They want the cops protected. They start online campaigns to raise money for the cops’ defense.

By reflex, they seek reasons to justify the murders and strip black people of our humanity. They mock both our pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances they need to confirm that their plans are working.

They attempt make our murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of black lives seem like our own fault.

  1. Black transgender women are being slaughtered in the streets (http://janetmock.com/…/02/16/six-trans-women-killed-this-y…/). Islan Nettles, India Clarke, London Chanel, Penny Proud, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard–to only scratch the surface. (This number multiplies if we expand it to include non-black women.) In these cases, most white people and most black people find common ground. We say they “tricked” people and we sympathize/empathize with the murderers.

Collectively, we recite the anthem of viciousness reserved for those who we believe have no discernible humanity; or, at least, no humanity that our own inhumanity allows us to recognize:

“That’s what they get!”

By reflex, we seek reasons to justify the murders and strip transgender people of their humanity. We mock both their pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances we need to confirm that our plans are working.

We attempt make their murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white and black Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of transgender lives seem like their own fault.

  1. The American Lesson: White people > Wild animals > Black cisgender people > Black transgender people.

There is enough implication to go around.

 

lion

I was hurt because I’m one of the people who speak up. I’m not always great at speaking up. I don’t always know the right thing to say. But I frequently speak up. I try. The commentary drawing conclusions about Cecil the Lion and #blacklivesmatter seemed really unfair. I’m an activist and I hold my activism close. I felt hurt that I was being accused of somehow being insensitive about black lives because I’m a white person who cares about animals and a specific lion.

I’m also a queer person and I care about transgender lives.  I care about all the issues listed in the commentary above and I cared about those issues before the mainstream media found a poster child to make it cool and host a reality show about it.

I give a shit.  I have always given a shit.  I have been very loud about giving a shit.  I have never been ashamed about the fact that I give a shit. You can call me a bitch but I still give a shit.  I give a shit about the things worth giving a shit for.

This whole lion thing, and the subsequent intricacies, really caught me by surprise. Lions, animals, and the injustice perpetrated against endangered animals should be a totally non-controversial, legitimate thing to fight for.  Caring about Cecil and publically voicing my opinion should be a social-justice no-brainer. Right?

No.  Not so much.

I initially felt really defensive.  I was mad.  I am a shit-giving activist and I try to consider everyone.  All the time.  Always.

But then I realized something.

Most white people, or folks of privilege, do not understand that worrying about the death of a lion is a privilege. Worrying about something other than yourself is a privilege.  Room to worry about a dentist and the animal he killed is room to worry. Room to worry is a privilege. Room to worry is a privilege that people of color do not have.

People of color have their worry filled up. Filled to the brim. With their families, children, neighbors, themselves. They worry about being pulled over. They worry about being shot at by police officers. People of color worry about being pulled from their vehicles.  They worry about dying in jail. They worry about being murdered by those who are sworn to protect the law. They worry about the law.  They worry about the laws of this land. They worry about history and gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. They worry every second of every moment. They worry deeply when their children are out of their sight, especially if said child is a young man of color. They worry in a very real way and for several very real reasons.

For white people, and other people of privilege, being an activist for Cecil the Lion, or for people of color, or for LGBTIQ people, or for others who are disenfranchised, seems like the right thing to do. White folks have the time and the privilege to decide when it’s time to worry. We have the privilege to pick our battles. We can decide about Cecil the Lion.  We can decide on our issues and which issues need address.

For white people, it seems like the issues we pick are separate and deliberate.  It seems that our issues are mutually exclusive. They’re just issues.  When white people become activists, we decide what matters; we pick our battles.  We decide on Cecil the Lion. Or we decide on Sandra Bland.  Or we decide on Michael Brown.  Or we decide on Green Peace.  Or we decide on Relay for Life.  We decide to feed the hungry or to build a garden or to donate to National Public Radio.  We decide where to give our time and money.

For white people, and people of privilege, we can separate our issues and decide how to spend our time and our “activist moments.”

People of color do not have the same luxury.

Terrorism, Racism, and the Bullshit We Tell Ourselves

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”        -Desmond Tutu

In March of 2003 I remember staring at my television in disbelief. I kept flipping through the major news channels in hopes that something would change. One of the major news stations had a countdown clock ticking off the seconds of George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein; Saddam and his sons were to leave their country by a certain time or the United States would invade Iraq. 57, 56, 55, 54… The clock counted down.

When the clock got to zero I turned white and collapsed to the floor. I felt frantic. I laid on the wooden floor of my Sacramento apartment and sobbed. I cried like a child who couldn’t find her blanket. I wailed and gulped between gasps for breath. Looking back, it seems a reasonable reaction. We were at war.

The protests lasted for months. The coverage of the protests lasted for a few days. I still have the sign that I carried as a testament to the anti-war effort.

In the months that followed, our country pretended that we weren’t at war. Less than two months after the countdown, on May 1st, 2003, George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared “Mission Accomplished.” It was an incredible lie and a ridiculous sham. There are still American soldiers in Iraq today, more than a decade later.

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“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”      -Soren Kierkegaard

We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We are great at telling stories. America is famous for its stories. We invented the Hollywood picture, the Animated Feature, and the Broadway Musical. Our stories may be what make us quintessentially American.

Many of our stories make us great. In many ways, stories can make us feel human. They bind us with universal narratives and colorful language. Stories can give us give us comfort in our skin and validation to our souls.

But stories can also painfully mislead us.

For too long in this country we have made our stories a reality.  We have pretended so many things in order to get by.

We have pretended that our elected officials have had our best interests in mind. We have pretended that our mainstream media is a reasonable source of unbiased information. We have pretended that processed foods aren’t making us sick. We have pretended that the Star Wars prequels didn’t totally suck.

Some of the lies we have continued to tell ourselves are harmless. Many of the lies we tell ourselves in this country are killing innocent people.

We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves and others. We have to stop pretending that the “War on Terrorism” isn’t racist. And we have to stop pretending that the long history of racism in this country is something of the past.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”         –Proverbs 12:18

I watched a lot of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show during the early years of the Iraq War. It was the only thing that kept me sane. I know that there is a line to be drawn between the unnamed war that we are fighting in this country against people of color and the many wars we think that we understand abroad. I haven’t been able to form a sentence with regard to what happened in South Carolina. So, instead, I’ll share with you some of Jon Stewart’s observations:

“What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think that people who are foreign are going to kill us and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic Terrorism, it would have fit into our… We invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries…all to keep Americans safe. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We’ve got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church? What about that?

“This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emmanuel Church of South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100+ years. It has been attacked viciously many times as many black churches have, and to pretend…I heard someone on the news saying, “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was racist. This [incident] was black and white. There is no nuance here…

“Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.”

We have to stop. We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves about the reality of this country. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be honest with each other. We have to be honest so that we can start doing something. We have to start doing something.

We have to start doing something.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”  –Howard Zinn

What do you say at a moment like this? There are no words.

So don’t use words. Use actions. Use acts of kindness. Use acts of kindness that are so significant they change the status quo.

Lesbian Proposes Signed Authorization for Viagra in Response to Marriage Discrimination

The issue of marriage equality found its way back to the Supreme Court last week and this one could be the big one.

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The outcome of the latest Supreme Court hearing about gay marriage could dictate that all states in the United States have to recognize same-sex marriage contracts. This pending decision has more than a few people riding the crazy train.

I support religious freedom. This blogger supports a person’s right to have a religious marriage. I think that if a person believes that their religion prevents them from supporting same-sex marriages then they should opt for a religion-only marriage.

A simple religious ceremony for marriage requires nothing more than two people showing up to a place of worship and practicing whatever religious rites transmit in the context of a marriage ceremony as it applies to a particular religion. Forget the license. Forget city hall. The government should stay out of religious freedom. If what is important is a religious marriage, then have a religious marriage and keep the government out of it.

Of course, a religion-only, non-government marriage prevents the married spouses from receiving all of the legal benefits that a marriage license provides married people.

Wait wait wait. There are legal benefits to marriage?

Hell yeah there are.

Contrary to the delusional belief that marriage is a stream-lined religious construct, and something that God dictated, marriage is actually a legal contract sanctioned by the government and enforced based on the laws of the land. If a marriage were simply between two people and their God, no one would have to pay city hall or their church for a “license” to get married.

But people pay for a license (even when getting married in a church) because they want all the legal benefits of marriage.

Duh. The legal benefits of marriages are hella sweet.

There are tax breaks and discounts on insurance. There are inheritance rights, and parental rights, and spousal rights. There are lower interest rates and waived financial penalties. There are all kinds of benefits from being legally married.

According to Federal Law, there are 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections provided on the basis of marital status. They include practical family financial allowances such as Social Security benefits and survivor benefits. They apply to health benefits and state sales tax. They apply to spousal sponsorship as it applies to immigration law. The list goes on and on.

Marriage isn’t about religion. It’s just not. Even outside of the United States, in most countries all over the world, marriage is a social and societal construct. Within the United States, it’s a government racket. Single people, and those not wanting to get married, or who can’t get married, like priests, should be far more outraged about the legal implications of marriage than one man and one woman who believe in God’s laws.

But marriage is what it is in in the United States today. That is to say, marriage is a legal protection providing legal benefits that should be extended to all consenting adults who agree to enter into the loving and legal contract of marriage.

Based on the 14th amendment, (which was “written by god himself” according to Tom Delay), it is unlawful for states to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. Basically, because marriage provides protections under its legal contract, two people willingly entering said contract, should be afforded the same protections as anyone else. That protection extends to same-sex couples.

But hey. I can ride the crazy train too. If Pastor John Stephen Piper wants to adhere to the idea that marriage is for making children, I can get on board. Rather than taking the legal construct of marriage and trying to use it to discriminate against loving same-sex couples, an idea that just won’t work in America’s legal system, why don’t we try something new?

Let’s attack something that doesn’t already have a legal precedent affording rights to a privileged class. Let’s target flaccid, floppy penises. Hanging dangles are ugly and they have no place in America. They are a stain on God’s intention and any remedy or mainstreaming of this terrible affliction should be highly scrutinized.  I propose that we require anyone seeking a prescription for Viagra to get a signed authorization from their legal wife, who must be an adult, fertile woman of child-bearing age, and who can give specific details about the use of Viagra within a marriage to produce children.

Let’s stop the unnecessary inclusion of broken dicks into society! Who is with me?

Why Starbucks Can’t Fix Racism

Why did Starbucks think the #racetogether campaign was a good idea?

If we are going to understand the Starbucks attempt at creating a conversation about race relations in America, we really have to understand the Starbucks reality. On Tuesday, while waiting for my tea at 8:15am at a Starbucks in San Leandro, California, I heard a young, black woman talk about a fist fight between two girls at the high school the day before. I heard a 40-something white man in a suit and tie on his cell phone talking to his business partner about marketing. I heard a young, queer boy, dressed head to toe in green, talking to a giddy three-girl entourage about choir practice. At one point, a young black man started doing Tai Chi while he waited for his Latte. When I finally got my tea and walked back to my car, there was an older, black man in the parking lot who complemented my shapely booty and asked me if I could spare any food.

I thanked him for his compliment and I gave him an Odwalla Blueberry Bar that I had packed for the car ride but didn’t eat. He thanked me generously and promptly opened the wrapper and took a bite with a smile.

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I can completely understand why the Starbucks Company feels like it has the space and the need to facilitate a forum about race and discrimination. Where we gather should be a gathering place. And where we gather as Americans should be a place to talk about America and the many things that make us American. We should be able to talk about the many terrible downfalls that have hurt us as a society of Americans- racism, sexism, ableism, genderism, beautism- you name it. Unfortunately, the local Starbucks Coffee House probably isn’t that place.

But it isn’t Starbucks’ fault.

Many of us understand racism.  Many of us have friends, loved ones, coworkers, teammates etc that cross racial divides.  I think that most people want to be inclusive and respectful of others.  But our intentions are impeded by an incredible history of racism in this country.

Why was the #racetogether campaign received so poorly?

The current American thread work is probably one of the most complicated patterns of logic for rectifying a history and storyline that negotiates our society’s ideals and morals. In other words, our present-day narrative is a contradiction, at best.

We call ourselves an equal society but we have one of the starkest divides in the world between the rich and the poor. We love art but we don’t support it. We love literature but our libraries are underfunded and many are closing. We love learning but only the privileged have access to a decent education and only a very select few can go to college. We pride ourselves on equality but our people of color and are disenfranchised in a way that rivals the history of the slave trade in America. We say that women and men should have equal opportunities but a white woman makes 77 cents to every white man’s dollar and that divide becomes greater for women of color.  We give to starving mothers overseas but our government is a constant threat to food stamps at home, a.k.a. SNAP, a program that barely keeps people alive with underfunded nourishment. We value privacy but we are under constant surveillance. We pledge free-speech but most people can’t say a word against the government without being investigated. We have people on American soil who have been detained but not charged or tried or even given a level of basic contract afforded to them by our own constitution. We are a nation of promises that has a history of contradicting those promises.

It is no wonder that the Starbucks endeavor is failing.

You can’t expect the people on the ground to speak to a subject that is continually undermined by the people in power.

The conversation about race needs to be a bigger conversation. The conversation about race can’t happen at a local Starbucks. We already “love our neighbors.” We’ve done that already. All of us can stand about in a Starbucks and wait for a coffee. We know we can all drink from the same water fountain. Big deal.  That’s basic.

We aren’t looking for that kind change. We want real change. We want REAL change.

Real change isn’t happening. The people of Ferguson can tell you that with no equivocation. And starting a conversation at a coffee shop isn’t going to create real change.

The people of America want the kind of change that will ensure that young black men aren’t shot by cops or the neighborhood watch.  We want the kind of of change where the justice system is accountable for the disproportionate number of people of color in our jails.  The people of America want the kind of change where children get the same education and tools no matter what neighborhood they come from.  We want the kind of change that brings about true equality.

Change needs to be as systemic and calculating as discrimination has been systemic and calculating. Change needs to happen nationally and globally. It needs to be cutting and drastic. It needs to pertinent and poignant and potent.

The people that need to have the conversations need to have them on a national and global level. They can’t have them at Starbucks or any other coffee shop.

On Tuesday morning, in a Starbucks parking lot, it doesn’t matter that I gave a black man a granola bar. It matters that he is displaced. It matters that he is hungry. And it matters why.

The Dear John

My partner’s brother’s “Dear John Letter” didn’t come in the form of a letter. It came in the form of finding a Facebook chat message between his wife and another man. Three months ago, when he showed us the dialogue between his wife and the other man, it was unequivocal that she was being unfaithful.

When confronted, she denied it. She said something about “just flirting” and accused her husband of being controlling, untrusting, and a snoop. My brother-in-law, unwilling to believe what he didn’t want to believe, agreed to the story his wife fed him and, not being an idiot, installed key-stroke software on the computer, a type of computer program that tracks the strokes of the keyboard and makes all communication activity readable. Around Christmas, his wife wrote a message to a stranger about a Motel 6 and the backseat of a car. It left little to the imagination and nothing to be questioned.

My brother-in-law told his wife that he wanted a divorce. It took several weeks for her to leave, but, finally, last weekend, my brother-in-law’s wife moved out. When she did, she took almost all of the furniture and left my brother-in-law to sleep on the floor.

My brother-in-law, whom we’ll call “John,” has primary custody of his two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, my nieces. John’s soon-to-be ex-wife has a young daughter of her own. Together, the five of them lived in a two-bedroom apartment. It was a fairly small and modest place in a rather expensive but run-down area with a good school district. When John’s wife left last week, she left an unimaginable mess behind her. (Both emotionally and quite literally.)

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Last Sunday, our nieces called my wife and I on video-chat and showed us what their home had been turned into. It looked like they had been robbed, like a tornado had gone through the place. The 14-year-old did her best not to cry. The 13-year-old didn’t say more than a few words. I did my best not to throw up in my mouth.

My wife and I don’t usually have extra money because, for a long time, I was unemployed. Presently, we don’t have a lot of time because we both work hectic jobs. This weekend we had some time off and, for the first time in a very long time, we had a bit of extra money we could spare. We decided to go to John’s and help put things in order.

Being accustomed to frugality, we spent all of last week scrambling to find household items and furniture for free or low-cost. I asked friends to help out. I posted on a Freecycle group locally and explained the situation. I asked for stuff on swap-shop chat rooms. I accidentally crashed an Estate Sale one day early. (Don’t ever do that. They aren’t usually very nice about it.) Everyone was completely generous and kind. We ended up with more gifts than we could have imagined.

Many people donated to help out and we collected everything we could: linens, towels, dishes, clothes, a microwave, a bookshelf, pots and pans, and several small household items. We didn’t ask for particulars. Beggars can’t be choosers. Still, we were gifted high-quality stuff. And, as luck would have it, all the kitchen stuff happened to match. (Apparently no one likes red for a kitchen.) It was a frivolous blessing.

My friend Jovi recently moved in with her fiance and had several pieces of furniture to give away. She gave us a couch, a chair, a coffee table, a tall bookcase, a queen-size bed with a mattress and boxspring, and a nightstand. (She was willing to give us a dresser as well but it wouldn’t fit in the Uhaul trailer we rented.)

On Friday afternoon, we drove 172 miles to my brother-in-law’s house with a midway stop to pick up Jovi’s furniture. We took the day off and we mostly packed up everything ourselves. When we got to Jovi’s old apartment, we had help from Judah, Jovi’s old roommate, and some of the buff and polite neighbors who helped us to get the furniture into the trailer. We drove at 50 miles per hour with a towering trailer of furniture. Thankfully I know a few sailor’s knots. It was quite a trip.

Our nieces were scheduled to go to their mom’s for the weekend on Friday so we didn’t get to spend much time with them when we visited. The youngest had walked home from school so she was at the apartment when we got there. She helped unload stuff from the car.

The 14-year-old still needed to be picked up from play practice so we unpacked the car at the apartment and my wife went and picked her up. The two of them did a quick shopping trip and rented a steam cleaner so we could clean the apartment floors. Our nieces left for the weekend with their mother shortly after we got there.

I had ignorantly underestimated how hard the weekend was going to be for John. In my mind, I thought we were there to help put his life back together for him and his two girls. We brought furniture and appliances and linens. We were there to clean and to organize. We were there to help him make a clean break and to help him move on. I underestimated his broken heart.

I’m pretty sure that John saw our intrusion as something equivalent to cutting off a limb. While we cleaned and put his ex-partner’s stuff into bags, he saw a separation and a closing that he hadn’t before considered or even fathomed. He saw the reality of his immediate family falling apart. He saw his sisters cleaning up after the wife that had cheated on him and left him with a disaster. He saw the end of the wife and family he wanted for the long-term. He saw his future crumbling into reality.

My partner and I continued to clean and furnish John’s apartment even though it was clear that he didn’t know what to do next.

Maybe we did the wrong thing. Maybe, instead of bringing furniture and appliances, we should have brought several bottles of red wine and an entire collection of Leonard Cohen CDs. Or the Once soundtrack. We could have just played “Round Here” by The Counting Crows on repeat or played everything Damien Rice has ever written. Maybe we should have just sat with our brother on the dirty floor of his apartment and cried with him. Because…fuck furniture. And fuck moving on. And fuck some sort of normal reality.

When your heart breaks, there is no normal reality. When your heart breaks, you don’t need furntiure. There is only, “fuck it, my heart hurts.” And what you need is hugs and music.

But we couldn’t really do that. We couldn’t really say “fuck it.” For one thing, we had to return the trailer to our home town nearly 200 miles away. And we couldn’t really return the furniture or anything else.

There is no such thing as “fuck it” for my brother because John is a parent. He has children he cares for. He doesn’t have the luxury of time for grief. He doesn’t have time for Leonard Cohen or red wine because he has report cards and play practice and dinners and a job.

John has two amazing daughters and they need something totally different from what he needs right now. They need love and constancy. They need to be fed. The need permission slips signed. They need rides to school. They are still young and they need assurance. They need a place to do homework. They need stability and something that they can count on.

So we didn’t put on any music. We just cleaned the carpets in silence and put the new stuff in the house. We cleaned the rooms. We moved furniture. We scrubbed the floors and surfaces. We did laundry. We packed what John’s life had left but planned to take. The process was nothing short of excruciating. For all of us.

While cleaning the kitchen, I bagged two full garbage bags of tupperware. There was “stuff” tucked into ever corner of every crevice. I found plastic spoons and bottle caps in every drawer in the kitchen. There were useless dishes, unclaimed lids, obscure and random appliance parts tucked into the back of each cupboard. I found three of the exact same serving-dish in three different cupboards. It was nearly a sick metaphor: John’s wife had forgotten what she had at home and just went out and got something new. It was exhausting and disgusting.

My wife and I had only planned to stay for one night but we decided to stay for the entire weekend. It seemed a safe bet that John’s ex wasn’t going to come back to clean her mess. So we stayed until the job was done. (Thank you to the wonderful friend who looked in on our cats!) We did 16 loads of laundry and folded every piece. Including the socks. We went through the entire house and bagged up all the shit John’s wife had left.

We spent as much of the weekend packing and bagging as we did cleaning. The headless dolls in the bathtub (just in the bathtub) filled one entire garbage bag. The stuff in the corner of the bedroom filled five garbage bags. The stuff in the drawers filled at least three garbage bags. We didn’t even get to the linen closets. We packed up everything we could find and put it in bags on the porch. We nearly filled the porch top to bottom and left to right.

My hands are raw with chemical burns from scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen floors with bleach and Ajax. (I don’t usually use chemicals but this weekend needed bleach,) My face is broken out like a teenager’s from all the dust and dirt in my pores. I haven’t been this zitty since I was 14. My joints hurt from squatting and cleaning this weekend. My back is messed up. I still have a weird smell of carpet cleaner in my nose. I’ve been sneezing like one of Snow White’s dwarves for almost 48 hours.

We moved the girls’ room into the larger bedroom. We put the queen-size bed in John’s new room along with new sheets. We put the couches in the living room and bought a new rug and a throw pillow to make it look nice. We even bought candles and a mail shelf to make it look thoughtfully decorated.

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We made the place look amazing and new. We did every chore that could be done. We left everything beautiful and in tact.

Except John’s heart. John’s heart is anything but in tact. And there isn’t a damn thing we can do about that.

Except wait and show him every day how much we love him.