Category Archives: Me!

I Did a Thing

I was a last-minute substitution to the 20 x 2 show last night in Chicago, where 20 of us took two minutes to answer the questions: What Are You Waiting For?

It was fun and the other performers were an interesting assortment of talent and ideas. A couple of them were even friends of mine! The front row of the audience was super-enthusiastic, too.

I am very glad to have been included.

I have my notes of where I went wrong (surprising how much peril lurks in 2:15–I ran slightly long), but mostly, I very much enjoyed the chance to do a thing of the sort I have not done since college. Not just to do my own little bit but also to mingle with others doing their bit and spend some time around the Let’s Put on a Show vibe that I enjoyed before law school.

I have a lovely circle of friends and a great social network here but–well, I have more thoughts to tweeze out here about a community of being and supporting versus a community of doing and facilitating. Thoughts I did not realize I was having. I am about to spend some time at the beach with not much to do, perhaps the thoughts will come together.

In the meantime, this is what I said in response to the 20×2 question: “What Are You Waiting For?”:

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I am never relaxed.  Comfortable? Possibly. Confident? Where appropriate. Calm? As necessary. But I Never Not Ever Relax.

So you might guess that I’m waiting for the blow. Bracing for impact. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Catch. The Hitch. The Gotcha.

Except I’m not. I not waiting at all. For anything.

Because there is no need. There’s no next. No resolution. No finale. No Bang. No whisper.

Just each moment. Just each action. Each thought. And then the next. Then the next. The next and the next. And the none at all. So you might say that I’m waiting for nothing.

Which is not to say I’m waiting for death. Just that I’m not—so far as I know—waiting for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not enlightenment. No carpe diem moment of zen. I put plenty of things off. And I have no more patience than your average middle-aged public interest attorney working in an unjust world.

But waiting? For what? For change? For justice? For the world to catch up with itself? I think not. I’ll wait for the elevator. I’ll wait for the toaster. (I’ll wait for the bus) But I’ve learned not to wait for humanity—I’m already anxious enough.

You see, change happens after you work for it your whole life. So you musn’t wait for it. To wait for it is to drive yourself mad. It torments your hope. Betrays your belief and hobbles you.

I don’t wait. And I never relax.

But in this I find belief in the value of each moment which follows each thought without ever actually displaying this Good we’re waiting for.

Just laying it down. In thin imperceptible layers of progress. Each of us. Each moment. One thought at a time.

 

From every mountainside, let freedom ring

You may have seen this going around: From an essay titled Is Patriotism a Virtue? by Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:

I understand the story of my life in such a way that it is part of the history of my family or of this farm or of this university or of this countryside; and I understand the story of the lives of other individuals around me as embedded in the same larger stories, so that I and they share a common stake in the outcome of that story and in what sort of story it both is and is to be: tragic, heroic, comic. A central contention of the morality of patriotism is that I will obliterate and lose a central dimension of the moral life if I do not understand the enacted narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country. For if I do not understand it I will not understand what I owe to others or what others owe to me, for what crimes of my nation I am bound to make reparation, for what benefits to my nation I am bound to feel gratitude.

That last line–that is why I have been marching and protesting and calling the legislatures weekly since November. What I owe others, and what others owe to me, that is community, that is country, that is home. The measure of me and my life is what I do with those debts.

“. . . I will obliterate and lose a central dimension of the moral life if I do not understand the enacted narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country.” Modern intersectionalists might describe the latter part of this sentence and the next as “privilege”–that we must view our individual lives within in the structure of the larger life of society. What benefits have we accrued from being born white or being born a citizen of a influential rich democracy? That’s the awareness you need to check your privilege. That’s also the awareness you need in order to do good.

In this tiny excerpt, MacIntyre is tying that awareness into the question of why we consider it a virtue to be patriotic and answering that the national context of our personal benefits commands us to nurture those benefits for the larger national community through acts of patriotism: informed voting, paying your taxes, respecting your national parks, war service.

I read it that way, anyway. It follows with a belief I’ve expressed here many times: that our primary duty as human beings is to share the excess we have with those that have less. Not because God commands it but because each human is part of every other human and we express that through society.

The desire to share with your society in that manner–and the ability to recognize your excess as well as apply it meaningfully–comes from a studied awareness of your community and your surroundings. Careful patriotism leads us to question both the goals and the methods of legislators and executive, dogcatchers and registrars. It brings us to examine the qualifications, desires and manner of the people who lead us. It commands us to protest and shout when those people and their character reflect badly upon ourselves and our shared story.

When those entrusted with enacting the narrative of my own individual life as embedded in the history of my country forsake what is owed to others, they have forsaken what is owed to me.

Happy Independence Day. May we create the nation worthy of a larger story.

I Definitely Need to Get Out More

Last night, thanks to my sister and the Chicago Humanities Festival, I went to a reading by Roxane Gay. It was great. She’s just as sharp and interesting in person as she is in carefully drafted written work.

After she read, she took questions from the audience. One woman asked for expansion on a comment Ms. Gay had made about allies and allyship (in another context–I don’t recall the context, but here is apiece at Elle which makes a similar point. I believe) and Ms. Gay asked all of us how many of us had had a conversation yesterday about Charleena Lyles. Or Nabra Hassanen.

I have had a conversation this week about Charleena Lyles. But it was a conversation among people who all agree, first about the unvarnished tragedy of her death. A pregnant woman who had called the police for help, asked for assurances that she would not be harmed, and then was shot to death in her home with three children at home. Nothing here is justified.

It was a conversation, second, about the absolute failure of police training, of police procedure, of police recruitment & hiring, of individual police officers in the United States. Among people who all believe these failures to be true.

It was a conversation, third, about the examined and unacknowledged racism that still pervades American institutions. Among people who try to learn about and see the unalloyed racism at the root of our structures.

I am certain that’s not the conversation Ms. Gay was talking about.

She was talking about me having that conversation with a person who would defend two police officers shooting a small women who called the officers to her home for help because they thought she was concealing a knife. Or with someone who does not think it was inappropriate to respond to a call for help prepared to shoot the woman who called. Or with someone who thinks de-escalation was not the proper choice in the situation.

Or with someone who thinks police are under siege. Or with someone who believes police not subject to bias, whether conscious or not. Or someone who does not believe there is a pattern of police violence against people of color.

Or with someone who is offended at the suggestion racism permeates all our official structures.

I know those people. I know who some of those people that I know are. But I know I do not know who some of those people are. I find myself wondering: which is the more useful conversation? I’ll admit straight up that I avoid the first one. I know I’ll be angry and I worry that, especially now, I won’t be able to temper myself.

Nearly ten years ago, I pushed back in a conversation with a woman roughly my mother’s age. I had said something offhand about the exorbitant phone rates for calls to and from inmates in Illinois prisons (Chicago Reporter story) (Recent legislation on the issue). She had reflexively said something about not feeling sorry for them and prison not being about fun and who cares. I tried to gently point out that people in prison very rarely stay there their whole lives. That the come back to the cities and towns they left. And isn’t it better that they be able to stay in touch with their families while they’re gone? So that the relationships remain intact so they have something to go home to? Somewhere they can be while they readjust? And isn’t it better to not further burden the finances of the families who are trying to get by without whatever income or household support the prisoner once provided? I don’t know how successful I was, but I remember I remained calm. I remember I did not embarrass myself. I remember I did not make anyone visibly angry.

I really don’t think those things would happen if I tried to confront the unexamined racism of the people I know. In fact, only a few short years later, I was inarticulate and angry at someone who made a disrespectful comment about Eric Garner. And I was ashamed at their callousness and ashamed at my inability to speak calmly and persuasively about their error. And I have not tried to engage since. Either with the people I know are not working on their personal relationship with America’s racism or the people I don’t know are not working on it.

Which may have been part of Ms. Gay’s point. How useless my own work toward understanding is if I only share it with people who are already undertaking that work themselves. And so she’s right.

 

==

I don’t recall the comment about allyship Ms. Gay had been asked about. A short internet search pulled up this essay at Marie Claire which seems about right.

Think.

The unspoken word in “Black lives matter” is not “only”–it is not “more”. If there is an implicit modifier in the phrase, it is “also“. If, when you hear the words “black lives matter”, you also assume an unspoken word, such as “more” or “only”, it’s a good idea to ask yourself why.

Please, sit quietly, nonconfrontationally, and completely honestly with yourself and walk through why this is your reaction. Bluntly, and knowing no-one is going to hear your thoughts or judge you for them, honestly learn why you respond to the statement “Black lives matter” as though it were “only Black lives matter” or “Black lives matter more”.

If you get no further than “BUT all lives matter, that’s why ‘black lives matter’ has an unspoken ‘more’ in it”; or if you can’t come up with a better explanation than “I’m not included in the statement ‘black lives matter’, so it must mean ‘only’ “, I’d suggest you need to keep thinking.

“Think”–the strongest admonishment I grew up with. “Why aren’t you thinking?” And “this is not about you”–the best advice I grew up with. These are your guides here, when you ask yourself why you think “Black lives matter” is a threat or an insult to you or why you dismiss it as something that does not concern everyone.

 

Another New Year

I was joking the other day about how I was planning to send new year’s cards with a “what happened in 2015”  letter that basically said “Nothing, really, thank god.” We had a calm, comfortable uneventful year.  The kitchen window is still uninstalled; the back of the house is still leaking water in heavy rains, but we’re all still here, with no wolves at the door. And I enjoyed myself.

That’s a pretty low bar to cover, frankly. But the world feels so chaotic and poised for such terrible things that I’ll take it.

In the spirit of keeping the bar low, I don’t make new year’s resolutions, either. Last year, I saw this article at Vox, about how people are bad at conceptualizing their future selves as themself. We don’t properly steward our lives to protect the person we will be in a few years because we literally view that person as a stranger with no connection to us. That’s ridiculous, after all, there is no person more deeply related to us than the person we will be in a few years, but it also makes sense because it mirrors my experience of living. So, last year, I intended to make choices aimed at better preparing the way for my future self. I failed at all of them. Although I was pretty good at managing my money better and I worked at being a better friend, I did not go to the gym as regularly as intended and did not make my pro bono work more of a routine. I hope to be better in 2016.

But I did hold my tongue more often and I think managed to be kinder for it. I practiced saying “please” and “thank you”–a thing it only took me most of my adult life to realize I’m bad at doing. I stuck to my physical therapy exercises; tried to be tidy, productive, measured.

My generous friend Dave set up a schedule for volunteering at RMDH and all of my friends took part in #GivingTuesday (with many of them donating to my organization). I took time to be grateful for these wonderful people in my life.

There I things I hope for 2016 are nearly all under my control. Some travel, more enjoyment of the things Chicago has to offer, more focused work on my personal projects, going out to my parents’ house more often. Eating less, doing more yoga, using up the fabric in my stash before I buy more. Being more generous, more patient.

Primarily I’d like to keep on this slowly getting better route I’m on and be more mindful of the stranger than will be me in five years.

Things to Remember

I count the two years (more or less) that I lived in Alabama to be the most consistently miserable years of my life. Teachers modeling startling ignorance and unsurpassed bad judgment. Classmates openly and emphatically displaying the sort of racism and fear of the future responsible for stereotypes about “the South”. Strangers showing disgust and impatience for anything not 100 years local. I had never before, nor since, felt so alien and confused as to how I was to relate to the people around me.

So I was very glad to read this today, in reference to the Supreme Court refusal to stay enforcement of the Federal Court order requiring probate judges to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples:

Some judges don’t seem to find it a very difficult question at all:

“At the end of the day, it’s still a very simple legal analysis: You’ve got a federal court order,” said Judge Alan L. King of Jefferson County, who added: “This is a happy day for all of these couples, and if you can’t be happy for people, then I’m sorry. If someone can’t understand the joy and happiness of others, then I don’t know what else I can say.”

I feel like Roy Moore’s behavior confirms all of my worst stereotypes about Alabama, so it’s important to me to remember that all of the couples getting married, as well as people like Judge King, are just as much Alabamans as he is.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:15 PM on February 9 [40 favorites −] [!]

Because it’s true. And I need to be reminded of it.

Loud voices are not the only voices. While you can always find confirmation for a negative image you have–or a repeat of bad behavior that formed that image, you need to notice the evidence against it, as well.

Congratulations, Alabama! And best wishes to all the lovely couples who get the external validation that their commitment to each other has meaning in our society. Also, just hooray for love!

Ala

Part of Something

A month or so ago, I tweeted:

Twitter

It was in reference to a Kickstarter for the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”–which was successfully funded and is now enjoying a good theatrical run.

I am thrilled they raised their money and always excited when I see good press about the finished film.

But I still have not seen the finished film and that makes me feel left out, unappreciated and sad.

The documentary makers have done everything right. By all available accounts, they made an excellent film, so right there, I got what I paid for. They post regular updates (they are getting a lot of screenings) and they have explained why those of us who paid for DVDs and downloads (I backed at the digital download level) have not gotten them yet. The delay in distributing reward copies of the whole film was part of the necessary negotiation in getting a theatrical release deal.

I’m an attorney–I understand how that works.  I am a practical person–I know that it was the right choice to delay backer rewards for wider distribution and a better chance at success. I’m also not completely foolish; I know what my role was here and I recognize that my position accurately reflects that.

The filmmakers are apologetic about the delay; they remain in contact with their Kickstarter supporters; they are also backing other projects. Again, they are doing everything right.

But the model of Kickstarter, which is selling the idea of being part of something, cannot deliver the reality of being part of something. Those of us who backed this project are getting exactly what we were literally promised: satisfaction at helping the creation of a work that seems value to us (as well as some material rewards, eventually). Nothing more.

Suddenly, it’s all less like a barn raising and more like paying $20 for an autographed promo photo at a convention.

So it looks like I’m going to pay again to see the film (one week only screening in March at the Music Box) . In many ways, that’s not a problem for me, as I like supporting the Music Box. Also, I’m excited to have a date certain when I can see the film. I won’t be sorry; just a little wistful and foolishly feeling left out.