Saturday, January 21, 2017

On Missing the March

Today was a big day for women across America. For men, too, but today was about women. I watched as loads of my friends trucked to Washington, D.C. - some in pink hats, others with homemade signs, still others with the names of women sharpied on their palm who were not able to make the journey. I constantly refreshed my Facebook feed to see rivers of women jamming the subway to join the sea of women already marching. And that's all I got to do. Watch.

I watched with a little bit of envy and a whole heap of sadness because I also wasn't marching.

Eventually, I was so overcome with what I can only describe as grief that, instead of working on my novel (which is my standard Saturday morning appointment), I turned on a Will and Grace marathon and tried to laugh myself into forgetting. But here I am at 7 PM, still unable to rid myself of the knot in my stomach, and feeling I must put this grief into words. Words that won't, most likely, be received with much enthusiasm. And will, even more likely, be just another voice in the cacophony of voices already sounding. But here I am. And here it goes.

Today I was watching, not because I was unable to attend. I didn't have a previous engagement (apart from my novel - who would have been enormously understanding if I cancelled). I could have easily made the 2 hour drive to get to our great nation's capital.

I watched today because I was not welcome.

When first I heard about the Women's March, I was pumped. I wanted to see what it was all about. I went onto the website and read through their Unity Principles. Human Rights. Check. Ending Violence. Check. Reproductive Rights. Che—wait. What? I read further. "We believe in Reproductive Freedom . . . This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion. . ." Evidently if you have any qualms about abortion, you aren't invited to the party. 

Because of my faith and my belief that every single human life matters - even the unborn - I don't get to participate in a movement that I care deeply about. Abortion, I believe, is a human rights violation that stems from women's rights violations.

Okay, maybe I could overlook this. Maybe I could still participate. Then I read this:

So if anyone who does not support abortion wants to be involved, it causes harm and prompts horror? It seems this march isn't for all women. Inclusivity is actually exclusive. As reported by Emma Green in The Atlantic, the Women's March organization stated, "The Women's March platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one." So today's march is evidently only for women that agree on certain points. 

Quite honestly, I'm not interested in arguing the points of pro-choice vs. pro-life. Mostly I'm not interested in arguing because arguing has never changed a mind or built a bridge. (Though it's destroyed a bunch.) I'm interested in the fact that a march promoting tolerance and unity and peace and equality has categorically alienated millions of women in this country. 

What a collosal missed opportunity.

A few years ago I spent time with a friend who had chosen to have an abortion. She told me, "I felt trapped. Like I had no other choice." I believe that's how most women feel when they choose abortion, trapped. 

But what if their job allowed for paid maternity leave.

What if there was a safe place for a woman in an unsafe situation to go so that she could actually raise her child.

What if a woman was paid the same wages as her male-counterparts so that she could provide for a growing family.

What if a woman had access to decent, affordable healthcare. (I realize this opens the contraception can of worms. I also am not interested in going there and arguing either. Because it's beside the point.)

The point is: if we could address the other Unity Principals stated on the Women's March page, abortion could potentially become a non-issue. These other women's rights violations (in the workplace, in government, in immigration, in the breakdown of civil rights) create a human rights violation (abortion). Call me optimistic (I've never pretended to be otherwise), but I'm convinced that together we can affect change that surpasses what those who marched today and those who watched could even imagine.

Would it be easy? Absolutely not. The road to anything worth having is never easy, simple, clear-cut, or even distinguishable at first. But it's a road from which we need to cut back the overgrowth blocking the entrance and start to travel. 

Because we are women. We know how to play together without bullying someone out of the sandbox. We are all of us strong. powerful. passionate. worthy. And we are capable of greatness together.

Just imagine for a minute the force we women would be if we joined together. Imagine the inundation of women our capital and our new President would have seen if this hadn't been an exclusive march. 

So now, instead of grief, I'm actually feeling angry. Because our fight for women's rights could have been so much bigger. Millions of women sitting at home and watching could have been marching alongside our sisters. Because, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, social class, or political persuasion, we all want the same thing. We are all looking for better. 

Right now I'm sitting at my kitchen counter writing this. Next to me are my 2 youngest daughters playing with paper dolls. And the only thought in my head is that I want more for them. I want better for them than a country full of women that tells them they have to fit a mold for their convictions to matter. That they have to agree to the enclosed checklist to be allowed to participate. 

All of us want to raise our daughters in a country that values them as much as their brothers, offers them the same opportunity, grants them the same freedoms and privileges, and recognizes their contributions, thoughts, words, dreams, and, yes, even their bodies as valid, worthy, and beautiful.

We want to live in a country where inclusivity is, in fact, just that. 

You may not agree with me. That is completely okay. That's the beauty of it all. We can still be friends even if we disagree. And I have many friends marching today who don't agree with me. And I love them fiercely, just as they love me (or so they tell me). And I am hopeful that one day I too will get to march alongside them.

(I should add that if your disagreement turns to mean or disrespectful comments on my blog page, they're going to disappear. Because I believe I made it clear that I have no interest in arguing. And we are bigger than insults. Thank you, friends.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

An Open Letter to Our President-Elect

Dear President-Elect Trump,

It is finally over, and it has just begun. After months and months of an ugly, beleaguering election race, you have achieved your goal. You are our 45th President. Half of our country's citizens are happy, relieved, euphoric and share in your victory. The other half are shocked, angry, and grieving at the news of your ascent to the White House. So much so that they are rioting, signing petitions, and marching the streets in protest of your election. All of these things I'm sure you know.

Here's what I know: 100% of America - and much of the world - is watching you. Some are scrutinizing you in hopes of catching any slip or flub or flaw. Others are smiling, applauding, and eager for the fulfillment of all the promises you made. But most of us are silent and watching. We are watching to see what kind of leader emerges once the media shuts up, the riots quell, the confetti is cleared away, the Facebook rants die down, and the champagne goes flat. What kind of leader will you be?

As any leader knows, to lead one must know those whom you are leading. Here are some things you should know about us.

Your presidency is inheriting an angry people. The fact that you won the election so soundly is a reflection of a silent, angry multitude in this nation that is done with career politicians, manipulative soundbites, quid pro quo, and the blind eye and deaf ear of Washington. Those who did not vote for you are also angry - angry that they lost, angry that you won, angry at a president-elect they believe to be a threat to their values and their security. However, the root of all of this anger is fear.

Your presidency is inheriting a fearful people. People fear the unknown; more so, they fear what they don't understand. Our country has watched kindergartners being shot in their classrooms, people in a night club and members of a church being murdered. We've listened to terrorist organizations threatening us, wishing to wipe America from the face of the earth. (Many of us, yourself included, witnessed that threat enacted on our own soil on September 11th.) We've watched family members die of cancer and veterans take their own lives. We've dealt with depression and anxiety and mental illness. We've said goodbye to neighbors who have lost their livelihoods and their homes to bankruptcy. We've watched the body of a child - only a baby - laying dead on a beach because it was better for his family to flee to a new land than to stay in their own. Every person in this country has been touched by some kind of tragedy, pricked by the ache of helplessness, paralyzed by ineffable fear. People are asking what do we do? How can we mend a world coming undone?

So far, Washington has been relatively ineffectual, and at times silent, in answering these questions. And it's no surprise; our government is so divided amongst itself with its god-forsaken party lines that the people seem to exist to serve the politician, rather than the the other way around. Do not manipulate our fear and anger for your own ends, Mr. President-Elect. (If you recall, a young man in Germany did just that many decades ago, and it ended in the deaths of millions.) Instead, we ask you to listen. Listen to us. Then when you're tempted to speak or to defend yourself or to argue your point, stop. And listen some more. Listen to those that oppose you. Listen to those that support you. Listen to those that are different than you. Listen to those that do not, as of yet, have a voice. Listen to your country. Listen to understand, not to speak. Understand our anger, our fear.

And there's something else you need to understand.

President-Elect Trump, if all you were inheriting is an angry and a fearful people, then I wouldn't even bother writing this letter to you. But you're not. This is what else you need to understand:

Your presidency is inheriting a strong and courageous people. The formation of the United States was a miracle forged by the grace of God and the bravery of men and women - a small army in the freezing mud - who refused to bow to tyranny. And our relatively short history proves that we don't cower when challenges arise or when bullies come swinging. We are willing to fight for things that matter to us; this country matters to us.

While there are some who will burn the American flag, there are more who will fight to keep that flag flying (which means we also fight to provide the freedom for those protesters to burn that flag). Our flag is a representative of us, just as you are a representative of us. Lead us. Not as a father-figure leading children who require hand-holding, catering, superficial explanations, and the old "because I said so" justification. Lead us as our Commander-In-Chief: a confident, clear-headed, disciplined leader at the head of a strong and courageous people.

Your presidency is inheriting a compassionate people. Despite the fear-mongering media depicting the hatred and violence happening around the country, I know that this hatred is not the rule, but the exception. I have experienced the kind and compassionate interactions of republicans and democrats, of liberals and conservatives, of Christians and Muslims, of heterosexuals and homosexuals, of blacks and whites. These interactions give me effusive hope. We are a nation who is well aware of our differences, and we are continuing to learn what it means to accept differences without judgment or fear. To show kindness regardless of race, creed, orientation, or gender. And this is accomplished when we look each other in the face and see ourselves reflected back to us. Everyone is us. Lead us, Mr. President-Elect, with the understanding that every person matters. Every single one.

With all that said, there's only one other thing you need to understand.

You don't make us; we make us. Just as we make you.

While you may have invested millions of dollars into your campaign, you are our President-Elect because the votes of the people put you there. You are our president. (This is not the great American tragedy as some have recently stated. It is the democratic process in action, which is what makes our country what it is.) And as our president, we ask you to lead us with dignity, with discernment, and with discipline. And while you're listening and leading, meeting and negotiating in Washington, we are going to live our lives. Yes, we are watching, but we are also getting back to work. Because at the end of the day, we make our country what it is.

While you create policy and you appoint justices and you do all-things-presidential, we teach our children to be kind. We educate our students to think bigger and dig deeper. We involve ourselves in respectful civic discourse. We study history so as not to repeat it. We invite our neighbors who are different from us over for dinner. We see someone in need and we help. We look those we pass on the street in the eye and smile. We hold the door for others. We speak up when we see injustice. We say "I'm sorry" when we hurt someone. We laugh at ourselves when we make a mistake. We answer softly when harsh words are spoken. No policy or president can make our country a better, brighter, kinder place. That's up to us, and that's a responsibility we will earnestly undertake.

It has just begun. We are for you, Mr. President-Elect, because your success is our success. And we look forward to working with you in the days ahead.

With hope and expectation,


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Deaf Beauty

About 2 years ago I was a guest writer on a blog asking me to talk about one of my happiest moments. The moment of "happy" I conveyed was of my experience singing with a chorale Beethoven's Ninth in college at a theater in Chattanooga, TN. (Unfortunately, I believe the link to my post no longer exists, thus I am unable to connect you to that post. Sorry!) That college experience prompted my curiosity in the person of Beethoven, a "mad genius" in some people's minds who created some incredible music. What I find even more incredible is that he wrote his Ninth symphony when he was, it is believed, completely deaf. (He went deaf in 1816. He wrote the Ninth Symphony in 1824.) How did he manage it? He sawed off the legs of his piano, placing it on the floor, and with his ear pressed to the floorboards, he "heard" the vibrations of the music he was working to compose. It is also understood that Beethoven experienced a difficult childhood as a result of his father (a court musician with an alcohol addiction) driving young Ludwig to be perfect in his practice and performances.

It makes me sad to think of Beethoven as a child being treated so badly, driven so relentlessly.

However, as so often happens, great art springs from great difficulty. Would we have Beethoven's Ninth if Beethoven's childhood had been happy? Would he have persisted and fought to overcome his deafness had he not fought early in life to overcome the cruelty of his father? Perhaps Beethoven was eccentric and flirted often with the line between madness and genius. But I'm not sure that any of that matters now. What matters is what was created out of all of that. What we are left with is, in my humble opinion, some of the most beautiful and impassioned music the world has ever encountered.

Beethoven himself hopefully serves as a reminder that no experience--however painful--needs to be wasted. No scars we receive condemn us to future scarring. We are who we are as a result of all we experience, and it's precisely that which informs what we create.

So, as National Poetry Month winds down, I want to share a poem about Beethoven - his childhood, his music, his genius, his persistence. It's a Spoken Word poem by Shane Koyczan, so it's supposed to be heard rather than read. However, it's always helpful for me to see the words in addition to hearing them. So the poem and a video of Shane performing his piece is below.

I hope you enjoy:

By: Shane Koyczan

his father
made a habit
out of hitting him
some men drink
some men yell
some men hit their children
this man
did it all
because I guess all men
want their boys
to be geniuses
little boy
living in a house
where a name meant nothing
living in a house
where mercy had to be earned
through each perfect note
tumbling up through the roof
to tickle the toes of angels
whose harps
couldn't hold half the passion
that was held in the hands
of a young boy
who was hard of hearing
who heard
his father's anthem
every time he put finger
to ivory
it was not good enough
so he played slowly
not good enough
so he played softly
not good enough
so he played strongly
and when he could play no more
when his fingers cramped up
into the gnarled roots of tree trunks
it was 
not good enough
a musician
without his most precious tool
his eardrums
could no longer pound out rhythms
for the symphonies playing in his mind
he couldn't hear the audiences clapping
couldn't hear the people loving him
couldn't hear the women in the front row whispering
as they let the music
invade their nervous system
like an armada marching through
firing cannonballs
detonating every molecule in their bodies
into explosions of heavenly sensation
each note
leaving track marks
over every inch of their bodies
making them ache
for one more hit
he was an addiction
and kings/queens
it didn't matter
the man got down on his knees
for no one
but amputated the legs of his piano
so he could feel the vibrations
through the floor
the man got down on his knees
for music
and when the orchestra played his symphonies
it was the echoes of his father's anthems
repeating itself
like a brok-broken recor-brok-broken record
it was
not good enough
so they played slowly
not good enough
so they played softly
not good enough
so they played strongly
not good enough
so they tried to mock the man
make fun of the madness
by mimicking the movements
holding their bows
a quarter of an inch above the strings
not making a sound
it was
the deaf have an intimacy with silence
it's there in their drams
and the musicians turned to one another
not knowing what to make of the man
trying to calculate
the distance between madness and genius
realizing that Beethoven's musical measurements
could take you to distances
reaching past the towers of Babylon
turning solar systems into symbols
that crashed together
causing comets to collide
creating crescendos that were so loud
they shook the constellations
until the stars began to fall from the sky
and it looked like the
entire universe
had begun to cry
distance must be an illusion
the man must be
a genius
his thoughts moving at
the speed of sound
transforming emotion into music
and for a moment
it was like joy
was a tangible thing
like you could touch it
like for the first time
we could watch love and 
hate dance together
in a waltz of such precision and beauty
that we finally understood
the history wasn't important
to know the man
all we ever had to do was