Just another day

When you’re feeling helpless, help someone.

That’s the whole premise of this blog, and that is the only solution I can think of for… well… everything.

Today is just any other day in America. We’ve barely removed the crime scene tape from the site of one mass shooting when another has been reported (14 dead in San Bernardino, and an active shooting in Savannah now). I’ve spent the better part of the day reading article after article about gun control, election reform, mental health, and any number of other issues that combined – could justmaybepossibly reduce the number of gun deaths in this country. And as my mind wanders I start to think about Wayne LaPierre, and what kind of morally bankrupt person would continue to get out of bed in the morning to try to protect a Constitutional Amendment that has been responsible for the deaths of so many US citizens. I can’t believe the Founding Fathers wanted that.

Speaking of whom, didn’t they themselves believe in an evolving government. Didn’t Thomas Jefferson himself say “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Then I think about repealing the Second Amendment, and what that would require. I think about all the politicians who would have to sack up and risk losing elections to stand up to – not only the gun lobby – but to their constituency who – let’s be honest – is full of people who are too navel-gazing to consider that their Constitutionally held right is at least partially responsible for mass carnage EVERY. GODDAMN. DAY.

I think about the hypocrisy of people who support gun ownership in the morning, and picket Planned Parenthood in the afternoon. I read status updates on Facebook written by Republican friends and my heart starts pounding in my ears and I start thinking thoughts like “Wouldn’t it be great if some nutjob rolled into a gun show/NRA meeting/Republican convention and started shooting up the place? I wonder how many good guys with guns it would take to bring him down?”

There.

That’s it.

That’s the moment I realized that none of my reading, my Facebook ranting, my calls/emails to my Senators mattered. What we as a nation (and a world quite fucking frankly) are suffering from isn’t a legislative problem. It’s a sickness in the soul. The fact that this situation has driven me – a very peaceful person – to even consider that the solution to mass shootings is another mass shooting, it means that something within me is broken. I don’t know what it is, but I HAVE TO work on finding out and becoming a better person. Why? Because WE. ARE. NEVER. GOING. TO. SOLVE. THIS. PROBLEM.

Our children are.

They’re going to solve it by growing up in a world where mass shootings are commonplace. But more important than the shootings is the response. If our response to shootings is anger, fear, blame, and violence, then that is what our children will learn. And they will grow up learning to respond to injustice and violence with more injustice and violence. I can no longer allow myself to get upset when this shit happens. All I can do – all any of us can do – is wake up, try to be a better person than we were the day before, and do good deeds. That’s it. That’s the ballgame. Because we can’t change other people – politicians, potential gunmen, law abiding gun carrying citizens. We CAN, however, influence the next generation to want to create a world where they love their neighbors, not fear them. Where the mentally ill are cared for, not shunned. Where they not only have no need for guns, they have no desire either. And where no matter what horrible thing happens, their instinct isn’t to solve it with another horrible thing.

Advertisements

I have no black friends

I have no black friends.

I just wanted to dive right in with that confession. It’s not that I never did have any or that I don’t have any black acquaintances. But if I were to pick up my phone right now and make plans this weekend with a friend – any friend – none of them would be black.

It wasn’t always this way. I was blessed between the ages of 11-19 to belong to a wonderful YMCA youth group where I spent countless hours with people of all different races, creeds, orientations, and identities. And we didn’t just play dodgeball or do arts and crafts – we spent hours in deep conversation ABOUT race, religion, social responsibility, and a host of other important topics. I’ve lost touch with those friends, although through the power of Facebook I’ve been able to congratulate them on their degrees, their careers, and their beautiful families.

But I got older, and my world became smaller. I went to a predominately white college. I worked for predominately white companies. Now I’m self employed and I have exactly ZERO coworkers or colleagues that I see more than once a year. It’s not that I’ve become completely myopic, it’s just that there is less to see in my field of vision entirely. Was that my fault? Totally. Could I have chosen a different school, or tried to work for a different company? Absolutely. But the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? And my problem is that it gets much more difficult to make and keep friends the older that you get, and the ones I’ve made or kept seem to all be white.

I recently read an article that Philadelphia has a huge problem with the number of youth (age 16-24) who are both not in school and not employed. They found that this problem was most prevalent in cities that were largely segregated. I certainly can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but I am a white person living in a city that has as many black people as white people and I have no black friends.

So when HORRIBLE FUCKING TRAGEDIES like (insert recent horrible, racially motivated tragedy) happen, I want to do something but I have no idea where to begin.

Let me make an analogy. If my neighbor’s house burned down in a fire, I would want to do something. I acknowledge that my neighbor is the victim of the fire, not me. And the first responders are primarily responsible for actually SAVING my neighbor. So I might organize a bake sale to raise money or I may bring over a collection of blankets and canned goods, but unless I know for certain that my neighbor NEEDS money, blankets, or canned goods, I’m just doing something for the sake of doing SOMETHING. It’s not my house and I’m not the one who can put the fire out.

I want to do SOMETHING, but I don’t know what to do. And I realized that I don’t have a single black friend who I could turn to and say “Hey, do you NEED blankets and canned goods, or something else?”

I would imagine that there are other people like me. People who understand – at a fundamental level – that all humans are created equal. People who understand that the racial divide in this country is deep and will not go away without effort on the part of the citizens who enjoy unparalleled white privilege. And people who – for one reason or the other – live a very whitewashed life and either run the risk of trying to be the “white savior” or just end up doing nothing at all. So while it might be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for me to take stock of things and admit that I have unintentionally self-segregated my life, it’s even more uncomfortable to keep my mouth shut and continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.

So here’s the punchline. Fuck it. Did I literally tag every black friend I had on Facebook when I published this post? Yes. Why? Because I am opening up – not just my heart – but my house. Let’s get drinks. Or catch up on the phone. Or just consider this an open invitation to tell me what I can actually do to help. Maybe we can host a book club at my house or organize a collection for the Emanuel A.M.E. Church. I don’t know what I can do, but sitting by and sharing articles in solidarity on Facebook doesn’t cut it anymore. I don’t want a pat on the back or an electronic “thumbs up,” I want a To Do list.

Vaccine Education Center

Screen shot 2015-01-25 at 3.16.54 PM

Earlier this week, I inadvertently (advertently?) stepped into the vaccine debate landmine on Facebook. I baited my friends’ list to see if I had an anti-vaxxers lurking, only to discover that I, indeed, did have at least one friend who is anti-vaccine.

Now, I’m sure I don’t agree with 100% of my friends on 100% of major topics, but generally speaking my friends are pro-science, pro-public health, pro-choice, and pro-equality so I don’t have to vehemently disagree with them on things I feel strongly about. What I discovered, though, was a need to be more introspective about respectfully, but passionately debating. Especially when someone who I otherwise respect has a contrary opinion on something I don’t think ANYONE should have a contrary opinion about.

It reminded me of an experience I had my sophomore year in college. The school decided to start a public access TV channel, and one of their first ideas was to host a “Crossfire”-style debate series. And for kicks, they launched the program with a debate on same sex marriage. On one side of the table was the president of the local chapter of the Young Republicans and the leader of the campus Newman Society (who also happened to be my freshmen year roommate). On the other side of the table was my friend Chaz (an upperclass poli sci major and the show’s only homosexual) and myself (a theatre major? Not really sure what my credentials were other than being an ally who could speak in public).

We were tasked with debating the merits of same sex marriage, most of which went like this: “Equal rights, survivor benefits, more two-parent households, government recognition, common sense, common sense, common sense.” And the opposing argument was “Bible, Bible Bible. Well, then why don’t we just let convicted pedophiles marry little boys and grown women marry dogs.” Chaz and I did our best to respond to every obnoxious question with a reasoned answer, but I distinctly recall being completely sans response when my former roommate (and then Resident Advisor) suggested that gay marriage was the same as letting people marry inanimate objects.

Now, all I wanted to do at that moment was tear into this girl with a round of “Are you fucking kidding me, you ignorant bigot?! I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian! I ALSO can’t believe that you and I are attending the same school and that somehow you managed to talk yourself into a top tier liberal arts college when you can’t see the difference between a TREE and a HUMAN BEING, you righteous moron!?” BUT… I didn’t because she was living with my best friend at the time, she was my next door neighbor, and I’ve never experienced ANYONE changing their mind about ANYTHING when they’re being attacked. If my end goal was to somehow convince a single-minded person like her that her opinion on an important matter was misguided, it wasn’t going to be by screaming at her.

So, back to present day. I’ve opened up a can of worms on Facebook and I have a friend who is being bombarded with pro-vaccine facts. And more than a few personal jabs from complete strangers. And while I wholeheartedly agree with the pro-vaccine group, I know it’s not going to do a lick of good at convincing my anti-vaccine friend to change her mind. I think that’s a shame, but I’m not in this life to convince everyone to come around to my way of thinking.

But my anti-vaccine friend made the comment “No matter what, neither of us is going to convince the other of anything so it’s a wasted effort,” and she’s totally right. If there is anything social media, regular ol’ media, and Congress has taught me, it’s that once most people formulate an opinion – whether it’s backed up by good, factual information or not – they’re sticking with it. There are, however, three pieces of good news:

1. I think some of my Facebook friends who followed along with that discussion actually learned something.

2. The people who were pro-vaccine spanned a WIDE spectrum of political beliefs. I saw “Likes” from people who I definitely don’t agree with anything else about, so here’s a tip for all you politicians out there. If you want to find a bipartisan issue that both sides can agree about, it’s VACCINES.

3. My anti-vaccine friend was greatly outnumbered. Which is what we call herd-immunity against bad ideas.

Now, I’m not here to bust this debate wide open again (there IS no debate, anyway. Vaccinate your goddamn kids, people.) But what I AM doing is donating $10 to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and their Vaccine Education Center. Because they clearly have a long road ahead of them still.

Feminist

I feel physically ill every time I read an article about another prominent female celebrity who says “I hate the word feminist.”  Not because I disagree with her, but because her reasoning is always just a hair’s width away from the actual problem. They always say something ignorant like “Feminist is just another way to say man-hater,” or “Feminists want to be manly and I want to embrace being a woman.”  It ends up coming across as “I like the color pink and wearing skirts so there’s no way I can be a feminist.” The major problem with that argument is that the most commonly agreed upon definition of feminist is “one who believes in equality across the entire gender spectrum” so no matter your clothing preference, gender, sexual orientation, tax bracket, or any other goddamned construct – you, too, can be a feminist!

But here’s the rub. I hate the word feminist. My problem isn’t that I like wearing skirts (I do), but it’s my problem with the relationship between the word “feminist” and other, rhyming words.  Racist. Sexist. Classist. My problem isn’t with the “fem,” but with the “ist.” Simply put, it’s just a problematic, fucking word. The suffix “-ist” covers too wide a definition.  It can mean someone who is performing an action (“Cyclist”), someone working in a given field (“scientist”), someone who believes in a specific doctrine (“communist”), someone characterized by a certain trait (“optimist”), or someone who is prejudiced against a certain thing (“ageist”).

Obviously, feminist doesn’t mean “someone who is prejudiced against females,” but which of these “ist” definitions best fits a feminist? I suppose the answer is “someone who believes in a specific doctrine,” that being the doctrine of equality across all genders.  That being the case, then the word isn’t terribly inclusive.  “Fem” is a feminine prefix, so to be inclusive of all genders we would need to change the word. “Equalist” is a more accurate word, but to change the word is to downplay the systemic sexism that the word historically fought – and still does fight – against.

So the punchline is this – there is a literal* definition of feminist (One who believes in female equality) and the contemporary definition (One who believes in all gender equality) and, generally speaking, those who believe in one also believe in the other. But many still have a problem with the word – not because they have a problem with the doctrine – but because they are being too exclusive with their definition. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the entire tragic ending could easily be changed if the fool got to the punchline just one minute sooner. So one fool putting the right words in the right order at the right time would change the entire narrative. So let me put it into my foolish words… The WORD “feminist” sucks, but sexism sucks worse.

*and yes, I know the word “literal” doesn’t even mean “literal” anymore.

NAACP

a73a31273662f860e9_vwm6b8zpwThe last couple weeks have been rough.  Between commercial airliners being shot down over war zones, Israel and Palestine trading atrocities, and your everyday general violent shitshow on American soil, I have not been very optimistic about the state of affairs in the world.  And then Robin Williams committed suicide and it felt like more than just the sad and tragic end to a talented and generous artist.  It felt like the obvious conclusion to the last couple of weeks.  “The world is falling apart, and the funniest man in it can’t take it anymore.”

But, there is ONE standalone outrage that I was honestly having a hard time wrapping my mind around – the shooting of Michael Brown.

A friend posted this link on Facebook earlier today.  I clicked on it immediately because the headline – “Becoming a White Ally…” – resonated more with me than any other headline I’d read about the incident.  I think the LGBT community has done a wonderful job engaging their straight allies – so much so that when I hear the word “ally,” I immediately attribute it to that community (and my role in it as an ally).  So reading that headline made me feel, for the first time since Michael Brown’s murder, like there might actually be something I can do about it.

Growing up where I did and attending the school I attended, I wasn’t in the company of many people of color (or of anything other than Polish, Italian, German, and Irish) for most of my young life.  In fact, I had one good friend that my grandmother (God rest her soul, but she grew up in poor Appalachia and just did NOT understand racial sensitivity) referred to as my “black friend.”  Because, yes, I only HAD one.  When I was 12 I joined the YMCA Teen Leaders and was almost immediately introduced to an incredibly diverse group of teens and adults.  From the age of 12 until 19 when I left Leaders, I had more than a few friends who were black.  And then I went to a largely homogenous college and my life has since become much more whitewashed.  While I maintain Facebook friendships with a lot of my friends growing up and have obviously met other wonderful people of color since then, I don’t have the kind of close friendships where I’d feel comfortable bringing up race relations and trying to start a dialogue (in fact, I feel actual anxiety even typing the words “people of color” in my blog that hardly anybody has ever read because I’m worried it’s not the agreed upon term to use).  I’ll admit it – I’m white and I don’t have the first idea how to fix the 400 year old systemic racism in this country.

Except that I find what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri to be an affront to anyone with a heart or soul, regardless of race.

I would love to think that a year from now, a month from now, or even a week from now I’ll still be advocating for racial equality.  But Lord knows that there are many issues, inequalities and horrors to be addressed.  So for now, all I can do is give my $5 to the NAACP and post this link to Facebook because, as the author of that great article pointed out, “a lot of white people aren’t speaking out publicly against the killing of Michael Brown because they don’t see a space for themselves to engage meaningfully in the conversation so that they can move to action against racism.”  So here I am.

I’m Just a Girl

Screen shot 2014-07-02 at 5.57.14 PMRegarding my absence from posting for a year and a half… If there was a non-profit that could cure “inconsistency,” I would give them all my money.  Being inconsistent (in paying bills on time, exercising and eating right, visiting doctors/dentists) is the self-inflicted plague I have to deal with on a daily basis (or not “daily” because I could never do anything except breathe on an actual regular basis).

When I was in high school, I was enrolled part-time in some college courses (I was just super smart, NBD).  I took a few poetry classes, some French, some IT class where they basically taught us how to use search engines and Powerpoint (it was 2000).  I also took a sociology course on gender, race, and class.  Now, it’s been a cool 14 years since I took this one class so my memory is a little foggy, but I distinctly remember being asked to write a paper on how I would identify as a minority.  It wasn’t easy, especially since even at the time I was pretty aware of my privilege, but I managed to crank out 3 double-spaced pages about how alienating it could be as a middle-class white girl.  I lamented having to shop for summer camp clothes at Walmart (but DID I acknowledge that my parents paid for me to go to summer camp?).  I talked about my parents’ addiction and how choosing to be a teetotaler in high school was tantamount to being a pariah.  But the one thing I DON’T remember is which experience I singled out about my identity as a woman.  Is this because as an 18-year old I hadn’t yet experienced the systemic sexism that runs rampant in our culture (nope), or because it’s SO engrained in my life that whatever I wrote in my paper is simply unmemorable.

A few weeks ago, some asshole shot up a sorority house and the surrounding neighborhood in Isla Vista, CA.  In response, the hashtag #YesAllWomen popped up on social media for women to identify all the MANY, MANY uncomfortable events or ways they have had to modify their appearances and behavior to feel appropriate, acceptable, and – in many cases – safe in this male-centric world.  I didn’t hop on board at first, maybe because I worried about how small of a gesture this is, maybe because I didn’t know where to begin.

Do I begin with the fact that I no longer pump gas at night when I’m alone because of the time a strange man tried to get into my car at the gas station?

Or that I used to end up on “accidental dates” by accepting invitations to hang out with male friends, only to have them assume I was romantically interested in them?  (One of these accidental dates happened after a security guard at the store I worked at asked me to “hang out” while watching me on closed circuit TV.  When I dropped the pen I was holding, he called me on the store phone to tell me to pick it up.)

Or that I had a male high school teacher call me a bitch in front of the whole class after asking him to explain something I didn’t understand?

Or that I attended a networking event where a male entrepreneur explained (to a room of mostly men) that his unique selling proposition was that he could “handle your woman” while helping select a paint color?

Or that I haven’t worn shorts in over a decade because my high school crush said I had big legs?

Or that when I was an 11-year old kid at summer camp, an older male camper got mad at me for not returning his affection and threatened me with bodily harm?

I had almost forgotten that last one, but it came back to me right away since it gets right to the heart of the Isla Vista shooting.  The shooter (whose name I’m not typing because I’m hoping to forget it – he doesn’t deserve a place in my longterm memory) expected sex from women and used his frustration as an excuse to go on a spree killing.  When I was 11, I hung out with the older kids and counselors.  As an only child, I was always closer to the adults than the kids, but that doesn’t change the fact that I. was. 11.  An older Counselor In Training developed a crush on me (nothing statutory – he was probably only 15).  He was kinda weird, had stringy blonde hair and only wore Kurt Cobain teeshirts (the summer of 1994 was tough on him).  I wasn’t really looking for a serious relationship because I was really focused on my 6th grade career.  I remember him calling me (on my parents’ house phone because cell phones didn’t exist yet) and serenading me with “Come As You Are” on his acoustic guitar.  (Had he only known that a decade later, an acoustic guitar serenade would be all it took!)  Jokes aside, when I finally let him down, he got violently angry and threatened to hurt me.  I was a smart kid, so I told an adult and a couple of my favorite counselors took him down to the pond and threatened to kick the shit out of him if he touched me.  I’m not really sure that was the YMCA-approved protocol for dealing with a difficult camper, but it WAS effective.

I’m not really old enough to use the phrase “back in my day,” but back in my day we didn’t live in constant fear of mass, public shootings.  It wasn’t common for suburban schools to have metal detectors or armed guards.  If that was the 1994 I grew up in, would I have have felt safe from the mopey, rejected teenager?  And worse, if I have a daughter someday, is she STILL going to have to put up with this misogynistic bullshit?  Why did I, as a pre-teen, owe this boy reciprocal romantic interest?

And now this week the Supreme Court has given corporations the legal precedent to refuse to cover certain contraception if they object on religious grounds.  Many more intelligent and eloquent people than I have tackled this topic, but it is just so obvious to me that this is one more way to deny basic personhood to women.  The fact that there are women who think this is a victory because it happens to narrowly intersect with their own religious beliefs just makes me sad.  I believe in freedom of religion, but it doesn’t seem like that has anything to do with this.  As it’s been pointed out, the biggest name in the suit, Hobby Lobby, invests company 401k money in funds that profit from the same contraception that they refuse to cover on the employee benefits end.  If it were really about religion, they would be pickier about where their company’s money way made, not just how it was spent (it makes me almost want to applaud the mouth-breathers who refused to sell wedding cakes to gay couples.  At least they’re not hypocrites).  What this suit was about – plain and simple –  is a misogynist-dominated company throwing their female, low-wage employees under the bus to save a few pennies on each one.

Again, I’m too angry and too tired to wrap my mind around what I can do to actually change things, so I will give $5 each to Womens Way and Planned Parenthood because non-profits have to pick up the slack where the government and corporations fail to protect the basic rights of their women.

 

Pennsylvania SPCA

logo (3)Today is my 30th birthday.  I’ve been afraid of this birthday for a while now – not because of the number (because, as I would like to point out, my 30th birthday signifies the END of my 30th year of life.  I’m cooking up 31 now.) – but rather because I’ve had friends who went totally insane on their 30th.  Something about getting older, one foot in the grave, yada yada.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions (no one likes to fail THAT often), and I don’t have a great track record with goal setting either.  But I DID make a promise to myself that this year I was going to spend more time with friends and family, and I’m already well on my way to success.  In fact, I think I’ve spent more time with my loved ones in the first 18 days of 2013 than all of 2012 combined.

So for my 30th birthday, I’m making a donation in my mother’s and father’s name.  As has been pointed out to me on several occasions, my parents want to celebrate my birthday as much, if not more, than I do.  All I did on my birthday was get born.  They made life.  (You win this round, MOM.*)  So I called my Pops and asked where he’d like a donation made.  He selected the PSPCA.  As an only child, my family’s furry companions were the closest thing I ever had to siblings, so I come from a long line of animal lovers.

So thanks for the last 30 years. Today I’m happy to honor my mother and father in this small way.  After all, they did give me literally everything.

*This is a disclaimer in case my mother reads this.  Mom, you will ask me why I said “You win this round,” as if my life were some sort of contest that I’m trying to win.  It was a joke.  Please don’t make me explain it.  I love you.