The shutdown, and kindness

This past weekend brought us DC’s most substantial snowfall in years. We got nearly a foot, and it was so beautiful and such fun. I made it to the Open Discussion Project meeting but on my way home, things were getting dicey. Monday was a snow day and the boys delighted in hours of sledding and snowball fights and hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, the Trump shutdown continues; it’s now, on day 26, the longest in history. Federal workers received paychecks for $0.00 last week. Can you imagine the gall of pulling the rug from people suddenly, not paying them, and then reminding them of that by paying to send zero balance check stubs? Furloughed people are pawning jewelry and other belongs, selling their kids’ toys and household items, and being sent notices of pending eviction. They are responsible for nothing and everything while McConnell is hiding, Graham sounds rabid, and Trump is feeding young athletic champions lukewarm fast food.

I am so deeply ashamed and furious beyond compare.

Although I’m not a believer, I adhere completely to the tenet that we are each other’s keepers. One of Quakerism’s main pillars is that of community stewardship. Actually, community and stewardship are distinct Quaker values but if you tend and nurture community, you are a steward of it, so I’m going with the compound right now. For the past eight-and-a-half years, I have been a part of a Quaker community because my sons attend a Friends school. I feel gratitude pretty much daily for this gift, imperfect as it sometimes is. Communal stewardship seems especially crucial right now, and what’s keeping me heartened right now is just how much of it I’m seeing around here.

José Andrés, the chef and restaurateur and World Central Kitchen head who has been feeding Puerto Rico since Maria slammed it, has just opened a WCK in downtown DC. #ChefsForFeds gave out 4,400 gorgeous, free meals today -double what they anticipated- and will be open from 11a-6p until the shutdown ends. I am volunteering in their kitchen on Friday and cannot wait to serve. If you’re local and would like to try and snag a shift, you can do that here. If you aren’t in the area, but would like to support Chef Andrés’ work, please donate to WCK.

The veterinary group that saved Nutmeg after he was hit last year, Friendship Hospital for Animals, is waiving emergency exam fees and offering deferred/extended payment options for furloughed Federal employees. Local bookstores, salons, wellness centers, and restaurants are offering discounts to furloughed workers, and folks in need of diabetic supplies can message @Alt US Press Secty on Twitter.

A dear friend in Minnesota’s twin cities area works for a homeless youth organization. Many of the people it serves need access to WIC -the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children- to help feed their families. Due to the shutdown however, WIC is closed, and neither taking new clients nor able to provide benefits to those on their rolls. My friend set up an amazon wishlist for baby formula to meet her organization’s interim needs, spread the word on social media, and by this evening, she had what she needed.

Earlier today, a friend was near the National Zoo waiting for her daughter to finish an appointment. The Zoo is closed because of the shutdown, but my friend saw caretakers heading in to feed animals and clean their habitats. They aren’t getting paid. It was really cold today, so my friend walked into a tiny shop, Baked by Yael, to get a coffee. I’d like to share this exchange she overheard between Yael and a man who seemed to be a higher-up at the zoo.

He said, “I heard about how generous you have been with our employees and I came to thank you. Some of our younger employees can’t afford to feed their families and you have saved them.” The owner replied, “of course, I can’t imagine not helping them; we were lucky to get donations so now we are able to give them not only free pastries but free soups and sandwiches too.”

Amidst a temper tantrum of epic proportion by people elected to serve us, regular folks are stepping up to ease hardship and keep the wheels on the bus. It is so moving but also so worrisome and sad. Please, in any way you can, be and do good. This isn’t just a DC issue. 800,000 federal works didn’t get paychecks last week. They live all across this country and come from all backgrounds. They are members of the coast guard and the TSA, they are caretakers of our national parks and the wildlife and safety features within, they work for the IRS, they run shelters for victims of domestic violence. This shutdown hurts all of us, especially those who aren’t being paid.

This coming Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. If your area is anything like mine, service opportunities will be aplenty. Find a place to get involved- the boys and I are going to the service day at school; one friend is hosting a sandwich-making party at her house for an area shelter.

Be kind, give in all ways you can, hold your representatives accountable, and please, for the love of everything, vote the bad people out.

On the Basis of Sex and the Open Discussion Project

The boys returned to school on Monday, and today Oliver stayed home sick. He is the easiest, most darling sick kid ever, and as today was frigid, we enjoyed a roaring fire while reading for book club, doing homework, and so forth. I got a bit of work done, though not as much as I’d hoped or planned. I am lucky that that’s OK, but it can be hard to not feel disappointed at times- at the loss of time, of the quiet hours counted on but taken. Tom and I showed the kids The Pursuit of Happyness last weekend, in part because it’s such a good movie but also for perspective; how on the line so many people are constantly, and the stress in that. It’s excruciating.

I didn’t think about it all too much until we picked up Jack and a friend and, as everyone had finished homework, went to see On the Basis of Sex. I felt this intense determination to see it. Today. I bribed my children with candy; Jack’s pal said, “Oh, that sounds wonderful. I’d love to see that.” I swear to god sometimes being with other people’s kids makes you believe that while you may not always see your lessons coming to fruition in your own spawn, you can have some faith that they are and will. Interacting with other kids with good parents lets you see that they can and do apply their skills and loveliness when the time is right. I see this all the time in my students too. Ah, parenting.

Anyway, after plying the children with all manner of “food,” we settled in to our seats, and I exhaled deeply. I’ve felt fitsy all week- tired, and an unsavory blend of worried and furious. The shutdown continues, hurting and stressing so many Americans. It continues because of an ignorant, mean man and the craven, pitiful people who enable him. It continues because of a greedy desire for power, nothing more. This shutdown has nothing to do with protection, nothing to do with security. It is wasteful and rude and the wall is stupid and ineffective.

I mention that because on Sunday I begin participating in the Open Discussion Project. I am both thrilled and honored to have been selected to do so, and yet, as the time approaches, I find myself nervous. The ODP, a joint project of six American bookstores, including my beloved Politics & Prose here in DC, is an effort to talk over the chasm of polarization dividing our country. You can learn more about it here, but in short, it brings together groups of people from across the political spectrum to talk and read books about current events and discuss them. “The goal of this effort is not conversion but conversation and understanding.”

I applied as soon as I read about the opportunity. I exclaimed aloud when I was accepted. I have studiously read our assigned book, highlighting and making mental notes all the while. And yet, I am nervous. I’m nervous because I’m furious. I’m nervous because although I value emotion and fully believe it comes from places of feeling and love I also recognize that it can counter reason, inhibit objectivism, and cloud and fuck things up. Emotion has always been part Achilles heel for me, part gift. We have a skeptical relationship, I think it’s fair to say.

In any case, I admit to feeling extremely correct in my belief that our country is in seriously bad straits, and I am sick to death of racism, sexism, bigotry, religion, and exclusivist conservatism cornering the fucking market on “real” and “salt of the earth” Americans.

No.

I, too, am a real American. A patriot. I am an atheist, an active anti-racist who recognizes that I will always have work to do, a feminist, and a proud progressive. I do not want walls built, on our borders or in our society. And so I worry that I will be unable to hear arguments for the wall. I worry that I will react badly to support for this “president.” I will try to listen, try to understand, but I’m nervous.

Back to the movie. We all loved it, the 7th graders and me especially. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a boss. Incredible human. I cried at the end and found myself struggling not to cheer or retch aloud several times throughout.

“Please introduce yourselves and tell us why you deserve a spot that would otherwise have gone to a man.”
”You used to be pretty and so smart. Now you sound shrill and bitter.”
”You’re just not a fit. I mean, our firm is a family. The wives get jealous.”
”The natural order of things…Caretakers are women.”

Jesus christ. It’s enough to make me insane. Talk about rousing emotions. I was nearly apoplectic at times. And yet still, women carry the bulk of the familial load, the mental load, the emotional load, and so on. We manage the expectations of how to look, how to act, how to be. But most women can never actually win. Not really. Can never strive without seeming strident. Can never assert without seeming shrill. I mean, just look at “grab them by the pussy and take what you want” having zero consequence versus “I want to impeach that motherfucker” being talked about ad nauseum for days. (Trump, Tlaib, respectively.) Really?

I think I carry all this with me into the ODP. I am mad. And driven. And worried. And strong. But that leash of propriety is still around my neck, yanking me back at times. Into expectation or submission or appropriateness or whatever.

It’s infuriating and in instills fear, often simultaneously. And I’m white.

Goodbye 2018: thoughts as we bid it adieu

We returned home yesterday from Christmas with my family in Louisiana, and the trip, an unexpected 12+ hours, was utterly horrific. It involved everything from no available food to multiple missed flights, to gate agents closing the doors in my and the boys’ faces to a “customer service” representative behaving so badly that I ended up sobbing. We finally got home at midnight, and I slept fitfully.

Nonetheless, we are fortunate, and I hold that front and center. We’re home, safe, warm, and so loved. Several days ago, four generations of us played a spirited round of Hearts- Jack, Ol, me, my mom, my dad’s mom who turned 93 that very day. The next day, Mom and I brought flowers to Nanny’s grave. We rearranged the scattered rocks into the hearts shaped by Oliver years ago. Then I hugged my niece and nephew once more. We’re lucky.

As we close out 2018-Tom and I well-fed and Nutmeg purring next to us, the boys with our other nieces at my mother-in-law’s having the best time (they are such great cousins) and a slumber party- there is no way that I’ll make it to midnight. That’s fine.

I know I’ve not been in this space nearly as much this year as in past; I think that’s how things will remain, for a variety of reasons. In the meantime, I  thought I’d leave you with a few of my thoughts before one last episode of Killing Eve.

  1. Thank you. From oldest to newest, those I’ve met through and because of Em-i-lis continue to make me feel so lucky. Eli, Amanda, Christine, Elan, Monika, and on and on. I love knowing you. I’m glad you’re out there.

  2. Follow your heart and your inner voice. That sounds cheesy, especially this time of year, but what I mean is, trust yourself. If someone isn’t actually a good friend, leave or change the relationship. If you’ve always want to try something, do. If you want to meet someone or get to know them better, reach out. If you think some help might be positive, find it. Therapy is great.

  3. Consider the difference between healthy competition and its ugly kin, toxic one-upping. If you’re a parent, please keep in mind what messages you share with your children. Don’t make their worth contingent on diminishing other kids’ value. Don’t snitch, don’t try to out, don’t compare. It’s ugly, it’s sad, it invalidates everything your child might be or is. It makes them see others as competition versus colleagues. It makes you, well, you figure it out. There’s room for all of us. There really is. Be the good. Please.

  4. Politically, for those inclined, the fight is ahead of us. After Trump, we will need to heal. It will be hard and it’s going to take a very long time. Stand your ground but remain open. Relativism serves no one. If everything is offensive, nothing is. Some things are wrong. End of story. Others are based on perspective, worthy of discussion. For racism, for example, there is no room. It makes all of us less. For real, fact-based political discourse, there is all the room. It makes all of us better. Please consider your beliefs malleable. Those who act as drying concrete only serve to entrench polarization. Read. Be informed. Be willing to learn. Be willing to change if the facts suggest it worthy to do so. Stand for what is right.

  5. Be kind. Be generous. Give. Serve. In any way, in all ways you can. Your family, neighbors, strangers, animals, the earth, those in dire need. I promise you that generosity feels so good. I know that most if not all of you know that. I’m just thinking about how kindness really goes such a long way, and how much so many need some right now.

  6. Words matter. They impact and count, so be accurate, think before you speak, respond rather than react when you can. Try to steer clear of nuance’less thinking; little is black or white. 

Goodnight, be well, here’s to a 2019 that is truly better for all of us.