Words Worth Reading

53h

image via Gratisography

For days I was eager to get back to my laptop to finally be able to write again. Really write. And here I am with a little time and peace and I feel empty rather than full. At the same time I do have a need and desire to share a few helpful/useful/peace-bringing reads which have made this challenging political moment a little less dim, a bit more manageable.

Tressie has become a trusted source of wisdom, clarity and wit. In this post-election essay, she explains how so many “professionally smart people” completely misread the signs and signals that the Republican candidate could win. Understanding how she arrives at hopelessness as a point of departure requires more of the reader than surface comprehension, it demands empathy.

My hopelessness is faith in things yet seen and works yet done. Hopelessness is necessary for the hard work of resisting tyranny and fascism. It is the precondition for sustained social movements because history isn’t a straight line. It is a spinning top that eventually moves forward but also always goes round and round as it does.

I love this conversation because it’s probably the only way I can “be in the same room with” these people I so deeply admire.

I described this essay on place and identity as a “gentle and exquisite read”.

“We live in a world where love of land, love of place, love of home, means very little. We might value it in literature, but if a place must be sacrificed for a higher use, meaning a use that generates money, then love will not save it. That doesn’t make the love any less real.”

This article is the most uplifting yet practical piece I’ve read since the election. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones while resisting political bankruptcy is a tall order for long stretch. The article shares how to do both.

Our first task, then, is to get ready to resist in ways small and quiet, and large and loud…

Much of the progress in the coming years will happen locally—in cities and neighborhoods, and sometimes statewide. Cities are locally accountable and far less gridlocked by partisanship, and they have some latitude to get things done, even with a hostile federal government. City leaders understand the need for living wages, they value their immigrant populations, and they see firsthand the impacts of climate change. Change is still possible in our communities.

This collection of White House photos of the first family are, well, a little bit of comfort in stormy times.

By the way, The New Yorker has had some outstanding cartoons out these last few weeks. go treat yourself to some well crafted humor.

Be well, everyone. We have work to do and we have each other.

 

 

Still Not Funny – On not giving in to humorlessness

I’ve been moved by a number of things I’ve read in these last few days. Blog posts, Twitter threads, news analysis and more. I’m listening. I’m processing and wondering.

I work with children during the day. I insist that we work to be fair to each other and kind and respectful; that we play our games safely and involve everyone. If I raise my voice, I have told them, it probably is because I have a concern about safety. I’m afraid someone might be hurt. They understand this even if it may surprise them in the moment. We have a relationship and trust each other.

My 9 year old and I were talking at the dinner table. He has a gift for the dramatic and was applying it while assembling his hamburger fixings. When I mentioned his tendency to dramatize, he responded: “You didn’t raise me to be humorless.”

Humorless is a interesting word choice for a 9 year old.

It’s true and he’s right, I haven’t raised him or his older brother to be humorless. On the contrary, humor is central to our relationships. This is good to remember as I feel my humor running low these days.

I’m frustrated by a lot of what I see in mainstream media, particularly in its highly conciliatory coverage of the US President-elect. There is so much focus on what he says when we know after a nearly 2 year campaign that he fabricates, lies and denies on a regular basis. His word is never his bond.

The unbelievable rush to generate clicks overrides every design to report with integrity. The examples are far too many and egregious to list. Painting neo Nazis as young, stylish folks, actually discussing if Jews are human on CNN, raising the question if the Vice President-elect was “harassed” by the cast members of Hamilton…and on and on. I keep shaking my head –  although disbelief is not an option I’ve told myself already.

I cannot laugh. I keep wondering – where are those helpers that Fred Rogers’ mom always told him to look out for? Where are the opposition leaders among our elected representatives? Because the catastrophe is upon us and just getting started.

So I’ve made my peace with the fact that there will be no saviors. I feel like many of us are experiencing a crisis of expectation. We keep believing that things will happen differently: it won’t be so bad, it’s only four years, that he won’t be all bad… Our false and completely inaccurate expectations – based on convention, level of privilege, and/or ignorance are leading us down a path towards our own destruction – and we’re walking it. Perhaps there’s a little apprehension in our step but because so many of us want to believe – That we’ll be alright, that they don’t really mean us any harm – we follow like the children behind the pied piper – oh how we fall in line.

If the New York Times or Washington Post aren’t  bent out of shape at the proposed cabinet members or the recent convention of white nationalists in Washington, DC praising the incoming President complete with Nazi salutes, well then, it can’t be so bad, can it? But precisely this must be our cue. The sign that something is very rotten, not in Denmark but in these divided United States.

Even as I am overwhelmed with anger, disappointment and frustration – my sons have not raised me to be humorless. On the contrary.  As I find my own way to resist the spectacle of the current developments, I will need to hold on to my capacity for humor, laughter and fun. To my sons and my students, I owe them at least that much.

Special thanks to Eric Spreng for his wonderful essay on why we need to write ourselves free from despair which helped me write this post in the midst of my confusion.

 

Faking it has made it

205h

This will likely be a short and quick post*. I am

  • amazed
  • devastated
  • appalled
  • mystified
  • overwhelmed
  • astounded

at the position we as a world find ourselves in currently. I say “world”because although I refer to the current governance developments taking shape in the no-longer-quite United States, we as a world are bound to pay the price on more levels than we can perhaps appreciate right now.

I hold US citizenship but live in Europe. I am far away from the full on day-to-day media saturation trumpeting news of the president elect and his cabinet under construction. That said, even at this distance, my anxieties and fears are being confirmed and inflamed regarding the direction public (and soon-to-be private) affairs are headed, for vulnerable and marginalized populations in particular.

And so it is with great dismay and shock that I come to terms with this notion of “post-truth,” although I already alerted friends to call me out if I publicly register disbelief at the emerging state of affairs.

What I am struggling with is the notion of how hard we will all have to work to separate lies from truth, particularly those coming from “official” sources. I like to fancy myself a fan of critical thought, of deeper than surface level research and exposition – but really, if I need to become a full time investigator for every.single.claim. that comes out of the White House and all related agencies – I am sunk.

With each new morsel of “news” we literally have to ask ourselves: Is this real? Because the possibility, no, likelihood that it is fake has never been higher. Fake news is at an all time high in popularity both for generators as well as for consumers. It creates profit! Which means that it is here to stay. And members of the incoming US leadership are high rollers in the fake news market.

Let that sink in. We can never assume that anyone with any bit of significant authority in the highest levels of US government is telling the truth. About anything. We cannot rely on traditional media to have done (or to do) their due diligence in reporting (because faster gets more clicks; viral makes money).

Christine Xu writes about the spread of rumors in China in support of the then Republican candidate for President and suggests:

The spread of small falsehoods and uncertainty is murkier, more organic, and much harder to undo. The distortions of reality come in layers, each more surreal than the last. Fighting it requires more than just pointing out the facts; it requires restoring faith in a shared understanding of the truth. This is the lesson Americans need to learn, and fast.

As the election fallout becomes denser and less readily navigable, this information uncertainty arises like an unexpected plague – a virus we struggle to diagnose, let alone treat. This is what I was not prepared for: having to fight for the truth, a genuine truth.

In my own world, I’m still a fan of integrity – in individuals and groups, in institutions. I see now that I can add this to my list of ‘things to fight for’.

Here’s the opening to a Twitter thread that helped my thinking mainly by sounding the alarm bells:

And this thread left a similar mark covering the same maneuver.

Part of the lesson here for me is to stop being surprised. Rather, I am charged with being cautious and vigilant. The deeper, more serious challenge becomes one of remaining open to trust: of my neighbors, my colleagues, acquaintances and friends.

So let us all pause, take a deep breath and realize where we are and what this means. I suspect those of you who have been reading dystopian sci-fi are feeling less aghast than others of us. Help us out. Be patient.

Let’s cull and curate our sources carefully. Which means we may need to slow down to do it.

 

* I may have believed this when I started writing but it is no longer the case. Not short, not quick, not the truth. It was in fact, unlikely. #fulldisclosure

I Notice

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I notice that the US President elect seems particularly fascinating to adolescent boys of privilege. His bad boy, break-all-the-rules-and-still-win example strikes a chord with many. While none of them would claim to want to grow up to become a nasty and morally reprehensible character ( I don’t think), for now it’s enough to know that a certain brand of misogynist swagger is all in style nowadays.

I notice that there were some people who knew and described exactly that the Republican candidate would succeed and how it would happen. But those were not the voices I was tuned into. I waited with the benevolent believers who thought our hopes would be enough to carry a woman into the position of President of the United States.

I notice that the voices of reconciliation and unity resonate briefly with me because society and a particular kind of upbringing tell me they should. For now they are more like echoes in an empty hall. I hear them but am neither moved nor especially attentive to their call. Instead, I listen for the messiness in people’s reactions. I make space for the anger, resentment and the need to lay blame. These are part and parcel of the human condition. To move along without grieving, without acknowledging the weight of our emotions is to fail the test of humanity. Be all of it and then consider what’s next. We don’t have to have those answers today. But we can work to know ourselves a little better, a little more deeply than before.

I notice how my teaching the presence of children grounds me like no other experience. My students’ multifaceted needs to be seen, recognized, comforted, and praised override my momentary preoccupations with myself. And I feel grateful to them for calling me back to my purpose: to be a guide and example for them. With them I remember that I can be whole even if I am feeling undercut by forces beyond their control.

I notice how I read and respond in these first strange days. In a vital conversation with fellow bloggers of color, I asserted that my active voicing of social justice themes in my writing is still relatively new in my life. I am a beginner in many respects. I suggested that I’m not even sure I could call myself “woke.” “Waking up” feels much more accurate if I’m being honest with myself and the world. So in my reading, I seek out connection more than content. I identify with stories more than analysis. Few, or better, no think pieces for now. Because all my thinking is in pieces I am not yet ready to stitch together.

These are what I am noticing as I feel my way through these first odd days. Some words I have read and heard which help me develop context, perspective, breathing space:

From my octagenarian uncle in Seattle: “remember, racism is in the water supply.”

From Audrey Watters in “Trumped Up Data”:

I don’t believe that answers are found in “data” (that is, in “data” as this pure objective essence of “fact” or “truth”). Rather, I believe answers – muddier and more mutable and not really answers at all – live in stories.

These questions from Bill Fitzgerald, “How Do We Support Each Other As We Do The Work?”

  • What does it mean to create a safe space for learning for black and brown kids when the leader of the country considers people that look like them to be terrorists, rapists, or drug dealers who should be kicked out of the country?
  • What does it mean to stand up against bullying when we have a leader who incorporated abusive behavior as a campaign strategy?
  • What does it mean to encourage honesty when we have a leader who actively ignores the truth?
  • What does it mean to educate women when we have a leader who consistently demeans women based on their physical appearance, and who brags of sexual assault?

And this tweet:

Notice. For now this is what I can do.