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Category — activism

(Still) staying sane

The way we begin each session of the writers’ group I have been running at the Oregon State Penitentiary for going on three years is with a five-minute writing prompt. Every two weeks I come up with another prompt, generally a single word – trust, hope, friendship, power, dreams – that invites the guys to write about what they know and how they feel. Sometimes we do lists: 10 pieces of advice I’d offer to a new inmate; 10 things I’d do if I were prison superintendent for a day (an all-time favorite).

A while back I had them write a list of 10 things that keep them sane, that allow them to wake up every morning, morning after morning, year after year – some of them for more than 30 years – and keep on keeping on. The answers ranged from finding a sense of purpose to listening to music, from spiritual practice to indulging in Skittles. Faith. Will power. The knowledge that others have it worse. Books. Visitors. And, of course: WRITING.

I write along with them. They want me to, and I want to. This isn’t a class. It’s a group of people trying to make sense of the world and themselves through writing.

So I wrote my list, in full realization that it is infinitely easier to stay sane if you are me, healthy and free. Still, there is enough out here in the “free world” to make you run out into the streets screaming, to bring you to your knees sobbing. I offer my list below in hopes that you, dear reader, will write in with yours. We all need to expand our keeping-sane repertoire.

1. Writing. Always, since those first leatherette diaries with locks that didn’t lock, I have used writing to make sense of my world, to capture experience so I can learn from it, to try to understand others, to talk sense to myself.

2. Reading. Since I read my first chapter book (My Friend Flicka) and disappeared into someone else’s world, reading has been for me both an intense exploration of and immersion in the other and the most glorious of escapes.

3. My stubborn belief that most people are kind.

4. The clear-eyed compassion, kindness, toughness and perseverance I see in those who work to make a difference, and who serve as a model for my own behavior.

5. Lists. I make them. They bring order to chaos. They calm me.

6. Sweaty, full-on, challenging physical activity: long-distance biking, running, hiking, ballet, barre, holding two-minute planks, mini-triathlons. Without exercise, my mood plummets. I can be awash in negativity.

7. Simon, the cat. Sonny, the cat. Tenderberry, the cat. Sally, the cat. For cat-lovers, I need say no more. For others, you wouldn’t understand.

8. Solitude.

9. The heart-stopping physical beauty of the place I call home. Plus clouds, from every angle, especially looking down from 30,000 feet.

10.My family. I put them last in recognition of the fact that they are also sometimes the cause of my temporary insanity.

Now your turn.

April 4, 2018   6 Comments

Why I am not a cynic

I am not a cynic…

because so many people before me have done powerful and important things, have fought for and won freedom, have discovered stars and cured diseases, built libraries and written books, grown food and fed the hungry, made art and created music, raised kind and loving children.

because underneath the ugliness there is such beauty, such astonishing beauty, and it is always there—the clouds making pictures in the sky, the soft hiss of rain, a ripe peach. And the ugliness is temporary, and the beauty is forever.

because awareness of the ugliness and evil, the cruelty, inequality and pain is not the road to despair. It is the road to action.

because I have seen that great change is possible, that the unloved can love, that the greedy can be generous, that people who do terrible things can remake themselves into good people.

because I believe not in pie-in-the-sky optimism, not in the glass-is-half-full optimism. I believe in self-efficacy. I believe that sometimes the glass is half-empty. And sometimes it is completely empty. But I believe I have the power to refill it. That we have the power to refill it.

That we are, at this moment, refilling it.

Wait! Stay around for this history lesson:
Cynicism was a school of thought in ancient Greece. For the Cynics, the purpose of life was to live virtuously by rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead simple lives free from all possessions. Cynicism gradually declined and finally disappeared in the late 5th century. By the 19th century, an emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy (that is, what was being rejected rather than what was being embraced) led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others. It is the attitude and mindset promoted and encouraged by the man who sits in the Oval Office. Distrust of everyone and everything, distrust of scientists and artists, educators and philanthropists, inventors and activists creates powerlessness and despair. It is easy to rule a powerless people.

March 28, 2018   2 Comments

Donald’s Death Penalty

Among the unending litany of deeply ignorant pronouncements uttered and/ or tweeted by the quasi-human who currently inhabits the White House is this:

Instituting the Death Penalty for drug traffickers.

Because this is a way to solve the opioid crisis.

Let’s put aside the moral argument against executing fellow citizens for wrongdoing. Let’s put aside the moral argument against the government of a twenty-first century “leader of the free world” country endorsing execution. Let’s ignore the fact that such exemplar countries as China, Myanmar as Iran have death penalties for drug traffickers—and none of our “comparator nations” do. Let’s pay no attention to the extensive research on drug use and addiction—why and how people get addicted, how and why the market is created for the manufacture and sale of drugs.

Obviously the person inhabiting the White House has ignored all this.

Apparently, he also doesn’t know that a recent study (University of Colorado) found that 88% of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

Apparently, no one told him about the compelling research that says the swiftness and certainty of punishment (not the severity) are the best deterrents.

Apparently, he is unaware that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time spent on death row before execution is currently about 16 years and climbing – and that more than half of all death row sentences are eventually overturned.

Apparently he doesn’t know that cases seeking the death penalty cost an average of $1.26 million to prosecute, and that maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.

This is a persistently, proudly, loudly ignorant man. Please don’t laugh at his antics. What he says, and what he can do, has the power to ruin lives. Is ruining lives.

(archival photo is of the 1936 execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, accused of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby.)

March 21, 2018   1 Comment

We, the People

We are not the Resistance. We are not a small band of fighters, hunkered down, defeated, sending signals to the outer galaxy looking for help to arrive. We are, as my friend Shan Anderson wrote in a powerful New year’s Day “manifesto,” THE RESPONSIBLE MAJORITY.

Sit with that for a moment, folks: We are the majority.

Let us remind ourselves, as 2018 begins, that 74 percent of eligible voters did not vote for the man who currently inhabits the Oval Office. (This is not just to reiterate that the current president lost the popular vote but also to remind ourselves that in our much-vaunted democracy, half of those eligible to vote to do vote, even in a heated presidential election.) Also note that, although Democratic senators are in the minority right now, they represent the MAJORITY (53 percent) of American citizens.

And here is what we, THE MAJORITY, believe:

* 70 percent of Americans support women’s right to choose, the highest percent since Roe v wade was enacted. (Pew, January 2017)

* 64 percent of Americans approve of same sex marriage. This approval rating has been on the rise for years. (Gallop, May 2017)

* 73 percent of Americans aged 18-49, and 65 percent of all Americans favor alternative/ renewable energy over gas and oil. (Pew, January 2017).

* 68 percent of Americans believe humans are causing climate change. (Gallup, March 2017)

* 54 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, this after a concerted and sustained onslaught of negative, mis- and dis-information. (Kaiser Family Foundation, August 2017)

* 60 percent of Americans are against building a border wall between the US and Mexico. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 55 percent of Americans oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion—three guesses which religion we’re talking about. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 89 percent of Americans believe all races should be treated equally. (Ipsos poll, September 2017) Yes, that number should be 100 percent.

Let’s stop licking our wounds. Let’s embrace our MAJORITY standing. Let’s use the power of our numbers. We are the people.

January 3, 2018   2 Comments

The Power of Place

I am about to head off to my regular Wednesday shift at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room, a restaurant-style (as opposed to soup-kitchen style) facility that feeds up to 300 people a day. The people who come – many but not all are unhoused – sit at tables set with silverware and cloth napkins and are served hot meals by a volunteer wait staff who takes their order (meat or vegetarian? Full plate or—my least favorite request—no vegetables? Food allergies?), brings condiments, serves coffee and dessert. There is almost always live music.

I’ve been volunteering for close to four years now, and during that time I’ve thought a lot about the power of place. But until today I’ve thought only about the power of The Dining Room in the lives of the diners, the momentary oasis provided by this calm, warm, friendly, non-soup-kitchen place and the effect this has on those who sit and eat.

There is the blessed experience of sitting in a warm place on a cold day, sitting in a dry place on a wet day. There is the immeasurably enriching experience of being acknowledged not avoided, being looked at not looked away from. There is being asked what you would like. There is being told yes. There is being served. There is the comfort of a full stomach. There is the experience of being in a place suffused with politeness and respect.

Today I am thinking about the other side of this power of place: The power of The Dining Room in my life. This is a place where I get to work along side good people, not “do-gooders” who are oh-so-proud of themselves for their little volunteer gig, but upbeat, hard-working, good-humored people who care about other people, who care about their community, who transform compassion into action, who are in it for the long haul.

It raises my spirits, however low they may be — and they have been lower this year than ever before – to spend time in this place. It nurtures my belief in my fellow humans. Being surrounded by good people makes me a better person.

 

December 27, 2017   2 Comments

#NotMe

Well, yes, of course, my ass has been goosed by strangers on the IRT. (Whose hasn’t?) And I once worked with a guy (now a big-shot lawyer, then neither) who made eye contact only with my chest when we talked. (I countered by staring only at his crotch. This made him uncomfortable. Our conversations became infrequent.) But in all my years of working in mostly male-dominated workplaces with (except for three years) male bosses, I have never been sexually harassed. I have never been groped, pawed or touched anywhere questionable. It has never been suggested that I perform any acts other than the ones I was hired to perform.

As I read about all the women (and girls) out there who have experienced sexual harassment in its various awful and disturbing forms, I’ve had these reactions.

ONE: Jesusfuckingchristohmighty, isn’t life tough enough without going out of your way to be an asshole? Are there really these many men who lack basic decency, civility and respect? Are there really these many men who believe they are entitled to manipulate, belittle, demean, harass and violate women?

TWO: What would their mothers say? Or their sisters? (I’m not including “wives” because I don’t want to imagine that these men, after doing what they do, after saying what they say, actually come home and show their faces to a female human. Or a male human. Or their dog.

THREE: Wow am I ever lucky! I rejoice that I have had the great good fortune to have worked with non-harassers. As if this is “good fortune” rather than what should be normal, everyday life. As if simply not being a victim is a reason to rejoice. Yay! I went out into the world today, and no one masturbated in front of me or pressured me to carry their baby in my womb! Life is sweet.

And, I am so very sorry about this one, FOUR: The full weight of the sexist culture crashes down on me and I actually think, if only for a moment: What, I wasn’t pretty, sexy, alluring enough to attract this repulsive behavior? What’s wrong with me? Unbelievable, right? The flipside of I was raped because my skirt was too short.

So I guess, after all #metoo.

December 13, 2017   3 Comments

Becoming inVISIBLE

A few nights ago I suffered through one of those seemingly interminable, low-level stress dreams that sometimes afflict me. This one was about losing my purse. I was standing at a counter picking up tickets for a performance of (you guessed it!) The Nutcracker. I placed my purse on the counter and momentarily forgot about it while involved in the ticket transaction. When I looked over, it was gone. Thus ensued a long, boring, stressful search for purse. After watching me hunt high and low, an employee told me he removed the purse from the counter and put it under a desk. Great, I said. Thanks.

But the employee did not want to give me back my purse until I “proved” it was mine. I had to detail for him, quite precisely, various items in the purse. I would tell him one thing—my key chain—and he’d then ask for another. My Snap Fitness entry card. My packet of g.u.m soft-piks. My ear buds (What brand? he asked. I didn’t know. He frowned.) My Swiss Army knife. What else? What else? This went on for a long time. Finally he let me have my purse. End of dream.

I thought about the dream a lot during the day. It could be just a generic stress dream. But the more I thought about how it felt to have to prove that what was mine was mine, the less generic and more meaningful the dream became.

The meaning? Here goes:

It seems to me that I am now at a point in my life when I shouldn’t be required (or forced) to “prove” my identity, or prove my own worth to others (like the guy in the dream). I have grown into who I am. I have spent a number of decades growing and learning and doing what I do. When I was younger, a bright young penny who knew so little, who understood so little, I was noticed, and the light shone down upon me. Now, knowing so much more, having done and lived and learned so much more, I join the ranks of the Invisible and the Overlooked, the ones — we “older” women — who have to prove we still have it. About whom it is assumed that we have settled into complacency, that we do not burn with creativity and passion, that we are not ignited by new ideas, that we are no longer vital and vibrant and alive.

Guess what, you overlookers, you nay-sayers who put up barriers, you sexist ageist assholes (and especially those who pretend they aren’t)? You couldn’t be more wrong.

And also: FUCK YOU.

December 6, 2017   4 Comments

We are not the worse of us.
We are the best of us.

Amid the rancor and fear, the bitterness and contempt, the unleashed anger and ginned-up anxieties, the harassment, the hate speech, the disrespect, the deplorable choices and dishonorable actions, the violence, the amorality, I want — I need — to remind you, to remind me, there is goodness and generosity in us. There is compassion and good will. There is understanding and empathy. There is kindness.

For the past two and a half years, I have been facilitating a writing group in prison. The writers are all serving life sentences. They all did terrible things. In writing about their lives, their experiences, what they have learned, how they have changed, what they hope for, they tell me, almost with one voice: I do not want to be known only for the worst thing I ever did.

And that’s how I feel about my country right now. I do not want us to be known only for this hate-filled moment, for this resurgence of bigotry, for this mockery of values, for this worst thing.

I want us — you and me, our communities, the millions of our compatriots — to be known for our best instincts and our best intentions, for the everyday lives of inclusion and kindness we live, the rich, diverse, multicultural communities we foster and inhabit, for what we teach our children, for those actions that speak louder than words: the shelters and clinics and food banks we support, the legislation we fight for, the way we stand up for who we are, the rights and reforms we dedicate ourselves to, the deep and enduring connections we forge with each other, with The Other.

The most well meaning of us have done wrong. We have said yes when we should have said no. We have said no when we should have said yes. We have remained silent when we should have spoken. We have self-medicated rather than face our own shit. And worse. There are those who do not mean well at all, and the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict to individuals, to families, to communities, to our country is so scary, so painful, so disheartening that it is easy to give up hope. But we are not the worst of us. We are the best of us. This is what I am giving thanks for on Thanksgiving 2018.

November 22, 2017   2 Comments

One year later: Fear. Hope.

I wrote (and posted) this one year ago. Our fears–including some we didn’t know we had a year ago–have been realized. BUT SO HAVE OUR HOPES.

I am afraid.

I am afraid of what he will do, a man full of anger and ego, a man who lashes out, who mocks and bullies, a man who respects no one, a man who has never served our country in any capacity.

I am afraid that he deeply deeply misunderstands what being “great” means.

I am afraid of the damage he can easily inflict, and has promised for the last 18 months that he will: the obliteration of the Affordable Care Act; the nomination of a Supreme Court justice – undoubtedly two, maybe even three – that could make the overturning of Roe v Wade a reality; a retreat from any attempts to deal with climate change, which he has publicly declared is a Chinese scam to weaken us; the passage of xenophobic, Draconian immigration policies that destroy the heart and soul of what does, in fact, make American great. And I could go on.

He is a bombast, a loose cannon, a cheater who has gotten away with it, who has in fact become a billionaire doing it, and has now become the next President of the United States doing it.

But more than anything else, I am afraid of us, of my fellow Americans, the millions and millions of people who voted for this man, who listened to him make fun of the disabled and brag about his sexual exploits and call Mexicans rapists and crooks and promised to close our borders to all followers of Islam, a man who embodies the worst of us, the most fearful, selfish, angry worst of us.

And yet, at the same time, I trust my tribe, my millions-member, cross-continental, multi-generational, multi-cultural tribe of forward-looking, diversity-embracing, open-hearted women and men who will do what we do, what we know how to do, what we have been doing, what we must now do with greater commitment: Work with rekindled energy and overarching kindness to make our communities safe and welcoming, help those who need help, protect those who need protection, embrace and learn from those who want to be a part of us and add to the richness and texture of our culture. I trust my tribe who believe in and live the precepts of social justice. I trust that, after we have absorbed this shock, after we have cried and hugged each other and talked through our fears, we will carry on, with renewed vigor, with fierce love, with unshakeable commitment. Because this is what makes America great.

November 9, 2017   1 Comment

We’re #1…in something

What’s with this latest hoopla about the U.S. being in danger of forfeiting its position as The World Leader, the Head Honcho, The Big Kahuna. I don’t get it. “Trump’s G20 performance indicates U.S. decline as world power” was the headline coming out of last week’s meeting in Europe.

I don’t get it.

Decline? From what lofty heights? Let’s take a moment to look at who actually leads the world in what:

#1 in Gross Domestic product (purchasing power parity): China
#1 Most innovative: Switzerland
#1 Most technologically advanced: Japan
#1 in use of renewable energy: Sweden
#1 Cleanest environment: Finland
#1 Highest worker productivity: Germany
#1 Highest median family income: Norway
#1 Healthiest: Italy
#1 Safest: Singapore
#1 Lowest Infant mortality: Luxembourg
#1 Best healthcare system: Luxembourg
#1 Longest life expectancy: Monaco
#1 Most educated: Singapore
#1 Highest literacy rate (100%) Andorra, Luxembourg, Greenland, Norway
#1 Narrowest gender gap: Iceland
#1 Most LGBGTQ-friendly: The Netherlands
#1 Happiest: Norway

What exactly does America lead the world in??

#1 Most men and women behind bars
#1 Biggest military budget

I know this sounds like unadulterated lefty criticism. Sure it is that. (And I’ll take that as a compliment.) But it is also a simple reality check. Regardless of the breast-beating and the flag-waving and the rhetoric, America is not the leader in much of anything.

And it is not unpatriotic to say so. In fact, it is the act of a patriot to be realistic about the shortcomings and flaws of her country, to believe in her country (and it citizens) in the face of these flaws, to nurture hopes for the future, and to work with energy and commitment toward that future. To me this means we should shut up, quit boasting, consider adopting that most un-American of character traits – humility — and start learning from those who have managed to create safer, cleaner, healthier, more functional, more equitable societies for their citizens.

America: If you love it (and I do), see the country for what it is, admit the flaws.

And fix it.

July 12, 2017   2 Comments