Thursday, March 2, 2017

I got woke a little bit more at "Get Out."

Yesterday, I paid cash money to watch a horror film. This was the first time in my life that I’ve done that, and I surprised myself when I handed over the dough. But I really like Jordan Peele, and I’d heard good things about “Get Out” from people whose opinions I respect, so I took the leap.

Let me preface by saying I not only don’t like horror, I don’t much care for violence in movies, especially gratuitous violence. And even though I’m not a student of the genre, gratuitous violence kinda seems like the point to a horror film.

A crisp 103 minutes later, I was very pleased I’d gone to see it—particularly in the theater, rather than at home. Partly, that was because the audience, familiar with the tropes, warned me to shut my eyes right before something bad happened. Thanks, people at the 3:15 showing at the 34th St. Loews! 

But watching a movie that’s actually a very clear-eyed take on race with a largely black audience reminded me again of how I can never view the world in the same way a black person can.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to, of course. I just can’t. That was brought home to me again during a critical point in the movie when the protagonist(s) (no spoilers!) were in the soup and a police car rolled up. 

Yeah! The cavalry had arrived! But the audience let out a collective, weary sigh, clearly signaling they agreed “they’re screwed now.” That hit me like a slap. 

Of course I’m very aware of the way people of color are often singled out for increased scrutiny/harassment/violence from security personnel of all types. But being aware isn’t the same as having the experience. I will always be a person who’s treated with a certain amount of deference by security guards and peace officers. And many, if not most, black and brown people will not be. 

Given the issue didn’t get better in any measurable way during eight years of a president and two attorneys general who I believe truly wanted to change this fact, I’m very disheartened. But that doesn’t give me permission to just throw up my hands and write this off as a lost cause.

Those of us with privilege have to use it to try to hold our leaders responsible for this state of affairs. Obviously, this would be easier to do if all of the people who were targets of unfair treatment voted. We’re going to be a minority majority country soon, and if every member of a minority group fought for their rights, they’d be able to make some significant changes. 

But it’s hard to convince people to take part in a game they’re convinced is rigged. Again, that doesn’t mean we get a pass to ignore the issue. 

I’ve been cheered by President Obama and former A.G. Eric Holder working together to make some progress on doing away with gerrymandering, which keeps minority populations from being able to win more legislative seats. But that’s just a very preliminary step on the long road we have to cover.

We have so many critical issues to care about right now, with our current government seemingly intent on taking away every bit of progress we’ve made over the last few decades. But we’ve got to keep this issue at the top of the list. Over a hundred and fifty years after the purported end of slavery, it’s long past time to treat all of our citizens with the same level of dignity and respect.

As a GIF I saw yesterday reminded me, "Equal rights are not like pie. There's plenty for everyone."


P.S. One last thing—until 3-9-17, PBS is providing free access to a very compelling Independent Lens documentary on The Birth Of A Nation, called Birth Of  A Movement. It’s only an hour long, and well worth your time. Unless you’re a very keen student of the history of the early 20th century, you’ll learn something. And even if you are, it was nice to have a little additional light put onto this dark piece of film history. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March

Since November the eighth, I've woken with anywhere from a moderate to a severe sense of dread. Many days I labor under a pervasive sense of doom that I've been unable to shake.

I still work, but my work has been pretty lackluster. I still see friends, but nearly all of them are as upset as I am, so we try to ignore our collective ennui and have fun. But that dark shadow doesn't truly go away. It lurks around the edges, taking the shine off otherwise enriching encounters.

I long to talk about how I feel, but it has become a tail-chasing experience. No matter how many times you run around that circle, you never quite catch it.

When I first heard about the Women's March, I was pleased to learn that at least one group of people were getting off their sofas to do something positive. But I never seriously thought of going to Washington, even though it's a pretty easy trip for me. My main worry was that DC would be filled with supporters of the incoming president, and there would be far too many opportunities for me to flap my trap at provocateurs. I have bat ears, and every snide remark can goad me into responding. This isn't good for my mental health, so I try to avoid situations that might be too loaded.

I was very pleased when I heard the march was going to have local branches. Since fewer than 6% of Manhattan voted for the current president, I knew I'd be with my peeps. Perhaps that's not the ideal way to be. It would probably be better to go to Wyoming, where over 70% of the population voted for the current president. Showing up for the 2,000 women marching in Cheyenne might have been helpful, or had a bigger impact. But we can only do what we feel capable of. Self-care shouldn't be something to be ashamed of.

Armed with the knowledge that I'd be among friends, I took off from the wilds of New Jersey for the long ride into the city. Immediately, I was cheered to see that at least twenty percent of the passengers were going to the march, with pink pussy hats, pink scarves, buttons, and signs. Like breast cancer awareness month, but with an angry edge.

As we left Penn Station, a woman rode by on a bicycle, with a sign strapped to her basket, homemade pink hat in lieu of a helmet. My mood continued to brighten. As we walked, we encountered more and more women clearly headed our way. Then we noticed a lot of men in the group. That surprised me, but I was pleased. If you love women, marching for their freedom makes perfect sense.

Nearing Fifth Avenue, I heard one of those ear-splitting police cruiser horns, the kind that rattle your bones. But it wasn't a horn. It was a roar of people, their collective voices echoing off the buildings, a canyon full of outrage.

We slid into the group, immediately surrounded by surprisingly buoyant people. The roar we'd heard was almost like a wave, starting here or there and building strength as it traveled. But there were no words spoken. It wasn't a chant. I'd describe it more as a howl. Then it passed, with everyone smiling.

That's when it really hit me. We'd all been in roughly the same mental space for the past two months. This was our first time to join a group, throw our heads back, and let out a primal scream. It was incredibly heartening! You could feel peoples' moods lighten. Not because we thought anything would change in that moment. More that we we cheered to see how many of us were willing to stand up and be counted. When the president cares only about optics, it's vital to show there's a sizable group of people who disagree with his agenda, and the plans of his cabinet appointees. That's why my favorite chant of the day was "This is what democracy looks like. This is what America looks like."

This is what America looks like: all ages, all races, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, all the points on the socio-economic strata.  

This is what democracy looks like, and the march reminded me that the work of keeping democracy alive isn't done by sitting on the sidelines while a bunch of billionaires dismantles it.

I believe we've gotten lazy. Democrats have let themselves fall into the trap of believing in demographics. We see the country is slowly becoming more diverse, and we've assumed those black and brown people will logically vote Democratic. But that's a lazy way to look at it. We need to do what the Tea Party has been spectacularly successful at--starting small and working their way up.

That's why I recommend getting involved on your local level. There's a group called Indivisible, formed by former Congressional staffers, that's working to do just that.

They have branches throughout the country, focused on clawing back our state legislatures. That's what we have to focus on. We have to do something. Things won't change tomorrow. We're going to lose a LOT of rights we thought we'd locked up. So we have to be ready to yank them back. Given I'm not an anarchist, I believe the way to do that is to organize and vote. 

We screwed up in November. Now we have to use that defeat as a motivator to swear to ourselves we won't let that happen again. We might lose a skirmish, but we can't afford to lose the war. Our lives depend upon it.

I'm facing this day with a new attitude. It's not over. In fact, the fight has just begun.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Further reflections on election day and beyond

I’ve had some time to digest the events of this week, and I’m feeling better. Not good, of course, but better. Here’s why:

I’ve decided to limit my consumption of “news” and “analysis.” No organization is very good at either, and I don’t need more stimulation of my reptilian brain. I do very well at making myself a nervous wreck. The last thing I need is help.

I’ve going to divert my attention to things that make me feel better. I fully realize that The Affordable Healthcare Act is doomed. That Planned Parenthood will lose its federal funding. That services for the poor and the marginalized will be cut. That tax breaks for those who don’t need them will skyrocket, and that those who can least afford to pay more will be forced to. But…I can’t make those certainties not happen. Watching carefully as everything I care about is gleefully dismantled is something I have no stomach for. 

Instead, I’m going to take the money I gain from having my taxes lowered and give it to organizations that I support. Organizations that are true to the values I hold dear. I’ve just got to find a way to give without having them know who I am, as they’ll start covering me with emails telling me the sky is falling. It’s already fallen.

Longer term, I’m going to try to find and support organizations that work to reach people who feel their votes don’t matter/don’t count. People like Colin Kaepernick. People who are profoundly unhappy with America, yet won’t take a half hour to cast a ballot. I don’t believe these folks are lazy. I believe they’ve lost all hope of change and firmly believe the system I believe in is a Potemkin Village. We’ve got to find a way to reach these people if we ever want a Democratic majority again.

I’m going to continue to limit my consumption of social media. I need to work on being optimistic, and reading how unhappy everyone is isn’t in my best interests.

Lastly, I’m going to acknowledge that someone I intensely dislike is my president. I believe in democracy—even when my side doesn’t win.

This Veterans Day, we should not only acknowledge the sacrifices so many men and women have made to keep this country safe and whole. We should remember that as a nation we’ve survived some very dark times. It’s going to be a very tough few years, but I believe we’ll make it if we as individuals support and care for each other—even if the government tries to cull those who most need its help.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Mortem

I hope this is just a post-mortem on the election and not our system of government. I'll try to be optimistic, and say it's the former.

I don't think I have anything to say that others have not said better and more clearly. But I feel better when I force my thoughts to coalesce and put them on virtual paper. So stick with me if you're so inclined.

I'm surprisingly not angry at the orange-tinted pile of oily rags we just elected our forty-fifth president. I can't stand the sight of him, and hope to never have to listen to his voice, but I can't say he tricked his way into the job. He said exactly what his unfiltered ego told him to say and it worked! He was the right person for a portion of the electorate at exactly the right time. Add to that his ability to excite the reptilian brains of his followers, then stroke their fear and loathing, and you've got a perfect storm.

In my mind, his voters come in three main buckets: 

One is the large number of white men who used to run the place, or at least be guaranteed a decent, stable job. Obviously, it's upsetting to have once had control of the sandbox then have other kids come in and want to share. The problem is that it wasn't your sandbox. You'd just figured out ways to control it exclusively. 

Over time, your control lessened and you're pissed. Really pissed. You want to go back to the time when every able bodied white man could slack off and quit high school yet still get a good job in a factory, have your wife stay home with the kids, and be fairly sure your kids would have more opportunities than you did. Your wife had your dinner on the table at six, you lived in an all white neighborhood, and everyone spoke English. Bliss!

I don't have a lot of sympathy for these people. They've run the place for over two hundred years and it's time to start sharing. But I have some sympathy for them, only because I know what it's like to have people wrest control from your hands.

The second bucket is the bad guys. Really bad guys. The racists, misogynists, Islamaphobes, anti-immigrants, nativists, fascists, white supremacists, and other creeps who lurk at the bottom of the internet. There aren't tens of millions of them, but it seems like there are. They are now emboldened by the new president of the United States to hold their hate-filled views and express them with pride.

I have nothing but antipathy for these people. They don't deserve to have an audience. With time, they might slither back into their lairs, but that's not going to happen without decent people rejecting their message.

The third bucket is the group I'm most angry with. Those are the well-educated, fairly open-minded, socially liberal people who vote republican just so they pay less in taxes, and hope for less government regulation. These are people who have friends of different races, a gay brother-in-law, a niece who's married to a Muslim, all of whom they get along with just fine. But they don't truly care about anyone or anything but their own finances. They're beyond my contempt because they're smart enough to know better. They think some adults will come in and control the new president. That congress and the courts will stop him from doing anything too crazy. Good luck with that. Thanks for putting democracy at risk on the off-chance that someone can stop us from going over a cliff.

So that's why I think this happened. Those three groups got together--even though their goals are very divergent. The candidate convinced them he heard and understood them. He didn't and he doesn't, but they wanted to believe, so they jumped on board.

Against this, Hillary had to overcome systemic misogyny, thirty years of biased news reporting against her, and her own inability to promise people in Trump's three groups anything they wanted. 

I can understand why she had a tough time doing that. To appeal to them would have eroded her own base. But her base screwed her in the end. Women let her down. Black people let her down. Latin people let her down. Young people let her down. Well, technically, they let themselves down. But each of those voting blocks gave her less support than they gave to Obama. My guess is that many of them just didn't bother to vote. She didn't excite them. She didn't speak to them in a way they could relate to. So they convinced themselves that it didn't really matter. That there wasn't much difference between an old, rich, white woman and an old, rich, white man. I fear they are tragically wrong.

My only thread of hope is that the natural allies of a liberal, social-consious democracy will see that it does matter who holds the oval office and that they never take it for granted again. That's not much to go on, given that the republicans now hold most statehouses, the Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, but it's all I've got.

Even though we're outnumbered, those numbers can change. We have to do a better job in 2018. We simply have to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Italian Earthquake

Like many of you, my heart goes out to the people affected by the devastating earthquake that hit central Italy this morning. The damage spans several regions, with Umbria and Lazio looking like they've sustained the most deaths.

I'm no expert on Italy, but I've visited several times, including one extended vacation to a hill town in Umbria close to Perugia, the epicenter of today's quake. We stayed in an apartment that was built in the 1500s, with several big holes cut into the remarkably thick walls that allowed for plumbing and electricity to be added centuries later. That little town, Todi, was very much like the towns stricken today: a blend of very old and current, with infrastructure a patchwork of modern placed over or alongside ancient.

The hill towns of central Italy have been racked by earthquakes since they were settled, and every few years one or two towns are basically obliterated. That's just a fact, albeit a sad one, and one Italians are always aware of.

It's clear that the affected towns need an awful lot of help, and I urge you to do what you can to aid in their survival. In my experience, there is a lot of international help offered while the dust is still settling, help that an individual can't do much to enhance. When you need earth-moving equipment and jackhammers to rescue people, you need them right now. But the flurry of concern will die down as soon as the rubble is cleared. That's when I think it's more important to find a way to help.

Each of these towns will have building projects to repair their historic churches, landmarks, and piazzas, and they'll need all the funds they can get. If you're the type of person who will forget about this in six months, by all means--give now. But if you can remember to check back on the affected towns in six months or a year, I'm sure your contributions will more likely go to a specific project--rather than the general operations of a rescue organization. There's nothing wrong with keeping the Red Cross going, of course. But if you've been moved by a 12th century church that's lost its campanile, check back and see if you can direct your financial help to that specific spot.

I'm going to try to keep on top of this, and I'll post an update in a few months, suggesting appeals I've learned of. Having lived in Southern California, I'm very aware of how long it takes for the abject fear to settle down after a significant quake. Having to live with a low level of panic for months while having the very soul of your historic city lying in ruins around you must be an awful combination. Let's hope all of the survivors are rescued as quickly as possible, and let's do our best to help these small, significant towns survive.

Forza e coraggio!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Last Word On The 2016 Election

Despite my earlier vow to myself to limit my immersion in this shit-show of an election, I keep being pulled back in. So now I'm going to publicly sign off for the season, hoping I have too much pride to go back on my word.

I hate to insult those of you who've fallen under the spell of the Republican nominee, but I have to face reality. If the things he's said and done haven't convinced you that he would harm our republic, you're beyond my reach. 

If you're going to vote for HRC, you don't need my encouragement, and if you're not, I'm sure I can't change your mind. That leaves us to state and re-state the same things to like-minded people, like dogs chasing our own tails. I'm officially dizzy.

I'm puzzled, dismayed, angry, and in a state of near-despair to see how many people have fallen for a bad man with bad ideas. It sickens me to see how proud so many are of their blatant prejudices. I want to weep at the joy I see in people's eyes who are finally given permission to unleash their hatred of the foreign born, minority groups of all stripes, and women. I am sure there are people who are voting Republican who aren't racists/sexists/xenophobes. But how can you be antagonistic to those beliefs yet vote for someone who personifies them? It's unconscionable.

I look back at 2012 and think of how critical I thought that election was. What a naive child I was! Mitt Romney would have rolled back a lot of progress we'd made, but he wasn't one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse! He seemed to believe in the first amendment, and having good relations with the rest of the world, and living up to the treaties we've signed and all sorts of things we've always assumed a president would automatically do. But all of that seems like a different time. A kinder, gentler time.

Being president is a difficult job, one that's getting tougher every single day. Personally, I think you have to be slightly mad to want the damn job. But someone has to do it, and I'd sleep better at night knowing that the person who has their finger on the button has experience, patience, intelligence and perspective. 

The worst traits for a president to have are narcissism, grandiosity, a thin-skin, grudge-holding and a lack of empathy. Those traits are the primary ones that make up the Republican nominee. Add in a deep lack of curiosity, an aversion to reading, a very short attention-span, and an explosive temper and you have a simmering brew that could do us irreparable harm.

I would do nearly anything to see Hillary Clinton win this race. But I'm not enough of a narcissist to believe I can influence the outcome. For my sanity--I'm out.


Monday, July 11, 2016

GCLS 2016

Thoughts on the Con:

In the past few months I've been whining about how little I hear from readers. I love praise--who doesn't--but that's not specifically what I seek. I simply want some interaction with the people who read my work. I love writing with all my heart, but it's isolating--especially when it's your full-time job and you work at home.

What I think I'd forgotten was that I haven't been to the GCLS conference for three years, and hadn't gotten my infusion of interaction/feedback/love that the Con provides. Having just returned from Washington, I feel like my tank is full once again, and, with luck, all of that interaction will power me for quite a few months. I'm not able to go to Women's Week in P'town this year, so it's going to have to last a full year, but I got so many good vibes that I think it might.

For those of you who haven't gone, I'd suggest making it a priority. Many, if not most, of the people who go are on the shy side, so don't use that as an excuse. Not having anyone to go with shouldn't stop you either. There's a great program for Con Virgins that will hook you up with a buddy, not to mention the built-in camaraderie from meeting the other first timers. Having limited economic resources shouldn't put a crimp in your plans, either. There are scholarships that can help or fully pay for your admission and there are always people ready, willing, and able to share a room.

In recent years, writers have begun to make up a larger and larger percentage of the attendees. In my opinion, we should do all we can to reverse that trend. Without readers, we're just writing for ourselves--a fine hobby, but not nearly as much fun as having an audience. In particular, I'd love to see the people who are relatively or completely isolated as lesbians/bisexual/trans women in their communities. I live in New York City, a place where you can't sneeze without hitting a gay person, yet I get a real high from being surrounded by women with whom I have one big thing in common. Well, two. Besides being gay, we all love reading and writing, or we love a woman who does.

I've been a member of GCLS since the beginning, and I will acknowledge that there have been some growing pains through the years. But the current board has learned from the mistakes of the past and seem to me to be committed to making this an inclusive, open-minded, fiscally sound group that's worthy of your support. But even if you don't care about the organization, I can guarantee some fun times after the official schedule is finished for the day. It's fun to take over the bar in a big hotel and let the female energy flow!

Next year's Con is in Chicago, a place I lived for much of my young adult life, and the place I met my wife. I'm very much looking forward to going, and if you need any convincing, drop me a note. I can be very persuasive .