Freedom, You Are Arriving

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
~ Nelson Mandela

In an audio meditation series that accompanies her book Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg reflects on the title subject. The urge to be happy is rightful, she says, but sometimes we fail to understand where it is found.

Fuzzy terms we all believe we intrinsically understand but can’t readily define tend to trip us up.

In America the closest thing we have to a sacred term is freedom but you don’t have to go far for proof that we readily conflate freedom of speech and freedom from consequence. Our fuzzy term confusions have been amplified recently as Trump and his most passionate followers have celebrated violent, divisive, crude, and belittling language with something of a religious fervor.

Time after time, you hear ardent supporters say that they like that Trump because he isn’t bound by social convention, by politeness. What they love about him is that he says whatever is on his mind. I suspect that what these supporters actually love is that Trump says what is on their minds: a much darker issue.

Bragging about sexual conquests fueled by fame, deriding whole nations and religions, dodging taxes, threatening to jail opponents for revenge, disrespecting the media for doing their jobs — this is not freedom. This is acting like an asshole.

If this appeals to you, then I suggest you look in the mirror. Decouple that attraction from lofty notions of freedom and begin to do the hard work of understanding why you envy those words. Trust me, it’s grueling and ugly work but ultimately the only thing that can set you free.

I heard a priest say that the best definition he’s ever heard of freedom is the opportunity to do the right thing. Next time you look at your broad striped and bright stars or bumper sticker magnet, think about what you will do with today’s opportunity to do the right thing.

In that vein, here is one of my favorite poems to kick off the weekend. It’s gray outside my window now but the slant and tilt of fall fading into winter brings us a lot of opportunity for great skies.

The Journey
~David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

20161123_072646
Recent Great Sky, as seen from my driveway

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving.

Doing

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
~ William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Peaking out from my bomb shelter, here is a little myth busting for you.

untitled

 

I don’t know if Trump tweets are a bread and circuses move or if he’s truly got thin skin and an impulse control problem. We need good, strong journalism to hold him accountable. Trump’s tweets insulting the cast of Hamilton served as a convenient misdirection from his $25M fraud lawsuit settlement. There are no shortage of potential scandals coming our way and we need our 4th estate.

We all need to pay attention here because one of the greatest risks we are facing is normalizing extremism.

I believe we need to realize that good journalism is expensive. If you want free content, you’re going to get what you paid for.

Subscribe, folks. Read. Speak up.

It might be too late to stop this train wreck, but it’s not too late bend the curve of the tracks.

Redoing

My old tagline in the Uneasy Pink days was “making meaning out of chaos” but I’m struggling to make any meaning these days that isn’t rimmed with disgust.

Everywhere I’ve gone in the last week: Kroger, church, social gatherings, Kroger again a few more times, I keep returning to the same thoughts.

These people voted for a guy who bragged about sexually assaulting women. A guy accused of sexually assaulting women. A guy without a lick of experience. A guy facing lawsuits for shady business practices. A guy who called immigrants rapists and murderers. A guy who wants to ban people of certain faiths. A guy who gets into twitter battles with Cher. A guy who believes in torture. A guy who didn’t campaign on realistic proposals. A huckster. A reality television star.

A guy who made an alt right white nationalist superstar a senior advisor.

And why?

Because his opponent has been in public service for decades. She, to quote my friend Mary Pierce Brosmer, tried to do big things and therefore made big mistakes. A woman who has been under attack since the 1990s, who has been the subject of flimsy accusations that have never amounted to anything but sound and fury. A woman whose obscure mistakes regarding an email server can’t be forgiven, even while her opponent claimed that he could walk out on 5th Street, shoot someone and still not lose voters.

A woman.

And how?

We’re still unpacking it, but I believe a decades-long, intense campaign of misinformation paid off. I believe we live in a country still so stuck in the dark ages that many of us can’t get behind a female change agent. Yes, parts of our country felt unheard and wanted to upend the status quo, but Trump managed to wrap that status quo bogeyman in ways that touched deeply held, unexamined, bigoted stereotypes.

And without a doubt, I think there was a successful strategy to exploit the electoral college system to upend the popular vote.

(NOTE: I’m still researching the turnout issue I mentioned in my last post. I might revise what I said about the turnout being depressed on the Democratic side because that might not be true)

Most depressingly, I realized this week that I just don’t live in the country I thought I lived it.

That’s a deeply wounding thought, not a golly gee my team lost the championship level of disappointment.

My neighbors are not who I thought they were.

They were willing to overlook the serious flaws of this man.

Again, Why?

I don’t care right now, because no answer is going to make sense to me right now. I just know I’m done arguing about it. I’m done with the crazy upside down world that keeps yelling at me that black is white.

I’m in a discernment phase now. Will I become more politically involved? Less? Stand and fight? Pass the baton? Sell my house in red-land and move to blue-land? Sell it and move to the middle of nowhere? Something else I haven’t dreamed up yet?

I’m shrinking my presence online for now, starting with the that infected petri dish known as Facebook. More on that decision to come, but as of right now at least, you can still find me here and on Twitter @uneasykt.

Undoing

Ok, the Green Day song was a little harsh. It was fueled by serious lack of sleep and what felt like a punch in the gut. It is simply inconceivable to me that we just elected Donald Trump as President of the United States. I’m not going to begin to recount the litany of his disgusting statements and actions but I will tell you how my kids reacted.

demagogue-franz-poster-fnl-revised-01-600x800
Shepard Fairey

My 16-year-old daughter recounted seeing people at her all-girl school celebrating his victory, while others cried watching Hillary’s concession speech. “How can anyone be excited about him? He thinks he can grab us by the …”

My 14-year-old boy said, “It’s sad that you don’t even have to be special to be president. You just have to be a bully and push your way in.”

This is what we’ve taught the kids.

I don’t want my kids be scared and cynical, so I looked for ways to help them make sense of it all.

I started with numbers. There was no Trump insurgency; there was a suppressed turnout on the Democratic side. Trump got fewer votes than Romney, but it was enough to overcome the deficit on the other side. Predictably, the GOP is trying to spin this is as a “mandate” and one thing I’ve learned this election cycle is that a lie, repeated often and loudly, has become indistinguishable from the truth. We need to know the truth. We need to speak it.

So first lesson for the kids – there wasn’t a great roaring tidal wave of change that swept him into office. It was a less-bad-than-the-other-side kind of whimper.

Second lesson – Clinton won the popular vote. I’ve been able to tell them with absolute confidence that the majority of people in this country reject his dark vision of our nation.

Third — and for me, hardest — lesson – I told them that I believe the overwhelming number of people who voted for him didn’t do so because they believe women deserve to be grabbed by the genitals, or that Mexicans are rapists, or that Muslims should be kicked out of the country. I believe people have legitimate concerns about rising inequality, ineffective political leadership, and greed and corruption of the rich and powerful. People feel disenfranchised; they’re angry and they’re scared. They voted to upend the system because no one has been listening to them.

I told my kids, and I hope it’s true, that Trump said a lot of bad crap just to get elected. He knew he could exploit their negative feelings. However, he’s not actually going to do these things he promised/threatened. For starters, our government has checks and balances to stop any one person from wreaking that sort of havoc.

And I assured them that if those systems don’t work we’ll stop him ourselves.

That’s where you come in.

If you voted for Trump and found yourself nodding vigorously while reading the Third Lesson, hear this next part loud and clear.

I hold you personally accountable.

I do not give you a pass on voting for Trump. You decided it was OK for him to be President, not me. You voted for all of him – the promise for change; the bigoted statements; the lies, slander, and violent language; the pending lawsuits; the evasive financials; the crude sexual comments. And yes, that includes the bevy of White Nationalists who have found their voice in him.

You own it all.

7c0dccea2a0b5a4551fdaadd8b2e083a
Shepard Fairey

The first time this man steps out of line, you are in charge of fixing him.

You cannot look the other way because you really want an “R” in office. That’s the big source of my own anger right now, that you may have compromised your own values in order to get an “R” in the White House. You have to answer to your own conscience for that.

But this gamble you’ve made that his rhetoric was blow-hard empty bully talk, I’m now bound to live by that and you didn’t have my permission. So if it all goes sideways it’s your responsibility to correct it.

Right now, I’m busy trying to undo the damage you’ve done to my family.

Like trying to convince my daughter that she is valuable and not a commodity. I’d like for you to come sit at my kitchen table, look her in the eye and explain why ‘locker room talk’ is any excuse for anything but in the interest of time I’ll handle that part.

And I’m trying to convince my son that bullies don’t win in the long run.

I’m teaching them both that no one can stop them from being kind and compassionate or from standing up for what’s right.

You can bet that I’m heartbroken and scared. But I’m not defeated. I’m watching. I’m planning. This isn’t over.

Stay Woke

There is much I could say about what I’ve learned from this election season, but most of it doesn’t pass my test.

44ebf2bba2c24c563e5ed02b39245020

Here’s what made it past the censors.

  • It seems like we are not just losing the ability to see other people’s points of view, but we have lost a common set of facts from which to work.
  • Long after the race ends, I believe we are going to figure out that the worst effect was how we expanded our definition of normal to include some very abhorrent behavior.
  • I knew there was ugliness lurking in our dark corners, I had no idea how much. I also have no idea where that’s going to go on 11/9.
  • The unity talk has already started. We have to put aside our differences and move forward together. I might feel that way eventually, but I don’t right now. I’m harboring bitterness toward some of my neighbors and as of right now, believe my world is better off without them. I’m not proud of that and I will work on it. However, until I get to the other side, I’m not going to pretend I have.

On the other hand, these words absolutely improve on the silence.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other
by William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Ribbons Like a Taunt

The war had hurt me. I wanted the country to feel some of that hurt. Part of me needed to see that, to remind me that the war had been real, not just something I saw when I closed my eyes. I needed to know that the experience had meaning and that the death I had seen really mattered. What I saw instead was people commuting to work and going to the mall, the gym, and the health food store, making their bodies perfect, exactly as they had before. The yellow ribbons I saw seemed almost like a taunt, a challenge to all the horror I’d witnessed.

(Excerpt from Introduction, The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by David J. Morris)

Another sentiment I can relate to, particularly coming off this month of pink ribbons. With all due respect to Morris and his careful definition of PTSD, I don’t think I could have described my feelings about the all the pink hoopla any more accurately or precisely. My experience with cancer has been one of pain, of extended illness, of disfigurement, of psychological wounds, of lingering side effects, of grief for my friends who died. But I’m supposed to be grateful to people who wear “I heart boobies” bracelets because it’s for the “cause.”

As I’ve heard more than once: Hey, at least I’m doing something.

tumblr_m5gm41tv351r8sqxxo1_400Until the awareness campaigns become tethered to real awareness of what this disease actually is, I’d say that doing nothing is a far more honorable choice than doing something.

Want to understand the disease? Ask one of us for our story. We know so freaking much about cancer, it will make your head spin. Listen to us.

Want to really make an impact? Read up on it. Start at the Breast Cancer Consortium. Pick up a copy of Pink Ribbon Blues.

Want to make a difference? Paint a cancer patient’s garage. And if you find yourself feeling defensive in response to this post, I challenge you to ask yourself why.

If you don’t want to get paint on your beloved Female Boobie Inspector t-shirt, I suggest that your cause has nothing to do with me. Or for anyone affected by this disease.

We want to be taken seriously. We want breast cancer to be taken seriously.