Fish Tank!!

This is going to be the place I put pictures, completely self indulgent and RIDICULOUS ones … of me new hobby: Aquariums. Because why be a nerd, when I could be an ubernerdo? ūüėÄ

It’s No Fun Anymore

So, we tried to watch Rent last night on Fox.

It was cute, the first half that I saw. I did not mind too much that they showed a prerecorded dress rehearsal since that happened because an actor broke something and could not dance. SIDE NOTE… am I overly sensitive to feel it’s pretty stupid and ableist to not just have the guy do the singing and action from a chair? Maybe he’s in pain, I don’t know.

But what I came here to say is that the show made me sad. The studio audience kept cheering on the actors as if it were a concert. One celebrating life and the joy of being young and cute. But this was RENT. A show about AIDS, poverty, and queer alienation.

Before “Life Support” there is a traditional reading about statistics about HIV. It mentions the number of deaths and contagion. It even mentions the single drug AZT, the keystone of a three drug cocktail now used in a single pill a day formulation for most HIV cases. BUT those numbers are out of date, old. And AZT, the once hopeful magic bullet, has be proven to be far more effective that we hoped, when taken with two companions.

And I found myself sadly disappointed that Fox had in no way updated the statistics or turned that moment into an opportunity. Yeah, I know, that’s not what these live on television musicals are going for. This is not an afterschool special.

But I spent three years watching people struggle to live because they were balancing the cost of that magic daily pill and rent. I have talked to literally dozens of African American young men in Atlanta who KNOW their chance of becoming positive are 1 in 2 but who cannot even dream of affording the copays for Truvada (aka PrEP).

And honestly, Rent is no fun if have to pretend that we’re looking backward at a historical issue, a solved problem we can ignore in 2019. Because Jeff still doesn’t have access to PrEP. Larry walks around preaching abstinence because he is so mad at himself for becoming positive.

Stigma is not past. AIDS is not past. AND RENT? it’s not about the mid-90s. It’s about today. Skyrocketing rents, and a shortfall of jobs. A lack of respect for people in the comfort and sex trades. Racism faced in the interview room, the doctor’s office and the subway.

Rent isn’t fun anymore, but it’s so much more powerful than it ever was. And if that’s what it takes for Gilead to put/get an ad for Truvada in prime time, then I think I’m ok with it.

But please, let’s not pretend it’s just a fun musical. This is a celebration of life, not because it feels good to be young, but in the face of death. A DEMAND for life when the universe withholds everything good. That’s what it means to be queer in 2019, to be a Democrat, or a scientist, or a woman. We know that our lives really ARE threatened, and in the face of that shit, we are going to sing, and fuck, and resist, and LIVE.

Hey, GOP, Now What?

–I found this draft in my folder from August on 2016.  Twenty nine months later, it feels even more tragic than it did then.  During the campaign, I remember thinking that policial *rhetoric* had died.  Now, it seems the great art of statesmanship itself has been discarded in favor of strongman autocracy. I do not know where we go from here, and I genuinely hate that it seems our constitutional government requires what will be very aggressive accountability.  Can a system so corrupt be restored? what sacrifices will that require? Where do we start? — 

I remember reading the articles in 2004.  John Kerry was not a popular presidential candidate and upon his nomination and subsequent loss, the pundits called the Democratic party unfocused, a shamble, and generally were ready to write the whole thing off.  The progressive movement had stalled and it seemed as if we were entering a time of renewed “family values” a re-normalizing of racism, sexism and militarism as the foundations of our country.

However, Kerry was simply uninspiring. He didn’t motivate the “fringe left” and was considered too centrist for many.  Apathy was the biggest threat.  A lack of passion and turn out.  That year, George Lakoff wrote a book “Don’t Think of an Elephant”  and challenged progressives to “reframe” the conversation. This wasn’t new, and Lakoff wasn’t the first.  But his simple book equipped community organizers, pastors, thinkers, and a great rising president all to begin to ask what could unify the diverse coalitions that compose the American left.

So in 2016, we watched two conventions, and the second was not reactionary. In fact, it was Trump’s reaction to the DNC convention that probably created the most enduring story of either convention.  One eloquent Muslim American, Harvard-trained lawyer, father spoke of his son, a solider who died while serving in the U.S. Army.   He looked at screen and offered Trump a pocket copy of the Constitution.

(Draft ended, conclusion from 2018) 

Later we learned that Khizr Khan often carries these in his pocket.  Khan so loves the established rule of law that he carries a copy of our by-laws in his pocket. Khan, whose trust is not in ONE person but the many: our collective agreement to live together and create a common good which is overall greater than what any one could achieve alone. 

In 2016, the contrast was too easily obscured.  The strong man candidate claimed to care about factory jobs in the rust belt.  The Republican campaign claimed to be obsessed with holding someone accountable for what turns out to have been an inconsequential violation of federal email security policy.  Appealing to claims of order and security, blatant racism and sexism were dismissed a personal foibles which would not become policy. 

But one of the first acts of this administration was to attempt to ban immigration from six middle eastern and Mediterranean countries with predominantly Muslim populations. There was nothing trivial, inconsequential, or personal about the racism enthroned in 2016. 

And in hindsight, we realize that using the tactic of creating stronger bonds by establishing a common enemy is not only fundamentally lazy but also fundamentally evil. Progressives cannot both be progressive and choose a common enemy – if the enemy is a group of people. 

So, let’s start here: by reaffirming what we stand for. 

BUT we can define things we are for, and against, clearly.  We are against racism. Progressives are against corruption: in it’s many forms, including the status quo of the current federal budgeting system. We oppose the military industrial complex and the resulting government funded corporations – and that is what it has become, a lot of supposedly private, profit making corporations whose profits are tax dollar spending on expensive weapons of war.   I support a budget which prioritizes bridges and roads over bombers and submarines. 

We oppose hunger, ignorance, homelessness, and failing infrastructure.  I support farm bills and international trade policy which ensures sufficient food for every human.

We oppose ignorance, racism, and homelessness; therefore, progressives support well funded, expensive, radically staffed schools.  Schools with free lunches for all, buses, social workers, sports, music, libraries, and tutoring after school at no cost. 

Finally, progressives stand for democracy.  I mean at it’s fundamental level, progressives believe that together, we make better decisions than an individual or small group ever could.  Therefore, we stand for fair elections, transparent government processes, simple representative districts, and access to elections for all.  We support campaign finance regulations, because limiting the power of money makes running for election more accessible to people with fewer dollars.  (Because we do NOT believe that our current economy is fair; therefore, having lots of dollars is not necessarily a reflection of someone’s capacity to solve problems). 

They are telling stories

I have noticed that they are willing to tell stories about the people they hurt. Falsehoods are much easier than facing the truth.  The truth would require them to face the harm they did. Hurt people hurt people and sometimes grow into a furious adder hissing and biting anyone who comes near. But pain is no excuse for a consistent pattern of calculated, craven, cruel abuse which is exquisitely designed to lessen and silence people.

After all I experienced, this dishonesty is easy to spot. Weapon words jump off the page, their sharp edges blunted by one’s ability to name them for what they are. In this clarity is freedom and power; I can dodge the assaults and avoid the worst pain.¬† So, I want to share with you some of the forms of emotional abuse which have become so common.¬† Like any pathological behavior, in small doses and forms these may merely be abrasive, or simply annoying, but they can also be abusive, even in small doses.1

But when these are the daily, repeatedly behaviors of a person or group who seeks their own self worth at the cost of others. Who actively chose to act in disrespectful, abusive ways:

  • Demanding respect because they are powerful, not because they are worthy
  • Refusing to accept responsibility for their behavior
  • Ignoring or actively denying power differentials
  • Weaponizing race, class, gender, ability, and age
  • Sharing regularly about personal things but never asking about others’ lives
  • Nuclear-weaponizing race or gender using post-racial liberal ideas
  • Failing to acknowledge assistants/underlings2 who put in marathon levels of work
  • Telling others they are trustworthy in the same breath as easily disprovable lies
  • Withholding tools and then punishing people for failing to achieve already unreasonable goals
  • Indiscriminately expressing emotions while demanding calm
  • Repeatedly interrupting and never listening
  • Never volunteering or following up on implementation
  • Complaining that nothing has been accomplished
  • Giving nothing but uninformed opinions
  • Expecting thanks for anything they want to give, regardless of actual utility or value
  • Demanding extensive gratitude from people who put in tremendous effort to make good out of those gifts, ever though what they give was not what they needed
  • Taking for granted any extensive efforts of other people
  • Thinking they can leverage your position into personal acclaim or a job
  • Stating they are not motivated by personal acclaim or benefit
  • Controlling other people in order to manage their own anxieties
  • Attacking other people for ignorance of their field while refusing to acknowledge others’ areas of expertise
  • Expecting everyone in the room to know their intentions in whatever way they like to talk, listen, or communicate
  • Expecting those same people in the same room to tailor communication to make them comfortable
  • Valorizing, devaluing, and discarding*

You are not the problem.  You do not have to take this behavior, and with help, you can find alternative responses when people abuse you.   It will not be easy, not at  first. But over time, you can walk away, stop taking the bait, and chose not to feel the way they want you to feel Рsmall, stupid, and helpless.

But if you are still trapped, let me say it again.

You are strong.

You do not deserve this.

You did nothing wrong to elicit this abuse.

Soon – my thoughts about alternative responses, resistance, and maintaining your sense of self in the face of an abusive snake.


1 Many of the books and articles I found on these topics begin (in the titles even) with pathology or diagnosis of the abuser as a narcissist or psychopath.  I chose an alternative strategy by intentionally avoiding putting labels on people.  Many of these behaviors are narcissistic and psychopathic (structured, organized, lacking empathy and egocentric).  However, I find that lumping all the abusers into this category runs the risk of unintentionally implying to a victim that their experience must match a certain level of intensity or terribleness in order to matter.  This is not true.  In fact, even mild iterations of these behaviors can be damaging, and your experience counts.   

2 In this context “assistants/underlings” stands in as code for for anyone whose position is defined as less prestigious or less important in an organizational or cultural way. E.G. a VP who dismisses the associates, a general dismissing soldiers…

Self Indulgent Dreams

Did you ever wonder if maybe this
Is the dystopia of which we are afraid?
This land of physical comfort and spiritual

A time when the greedy run amok
Treating those who accomplish tasks as less than
Those who sit around and think them up.

Where hard work gets you almost enough to afford the many things which stand between me and a days worth of bread.
When shelter means an energy bill, and phone, and water, and something called insurance
Which they tell us will cover our losses
If they happen to be caused by this
But not that
Or that
Or that.

I’m tired of pretending
That the color or fabric
of my shirt indicates something
That avoiding rips or stains makes me, what?
A person whose clothes conform to some bizarre
Cultural definition of

Fuck that.
Your system sucks.
It turns children into
Contractual obligations.

Let’s try this.
We work together.
I give up something. Maybe my precious sense of being right.
Maybe my privacy.
Or the lie that I’ll be happier if you’re sadder.
Or the illusion of control.
You give up that upgrade. The illusion of better.
The need to compare yourself.
In exchange, we get something new.
Something old.
A social contract.
Less stifling ozone
More life
Less stuff.

But not in a silly way.
No aesthetic minimalism
No moralizing asceticism

more buses
fewer cars
less meat
canned tomatoes, not fresh
seasonal produce, what an anachronism

more sea turtles

beluga whales
types of flies

Their Feelings? Not Your Problem

Inside my heart, I hate telling people no or that I do not want to do the thing they request. I avoid telling people no and ensure that my nos are as gentle and diplomatic as humanly possible.  Fundamentally, I feel guilty any time I set a boundary that carries any possibility of making someone else feel rejected, disappointed, or otherwise negative.  For me, boundaries pose difficult and stomach-churning quandaries. They are difficult to figure out and comprehend.  In addition, complicated cultural, family, and personal influences make boundary setting unpleasant, for many of us.

But, last night, an acquaintance called to invite me to attend a support group of which I have some familiarity and no interest.¬† After a few minutes of talking about how much the program has done for him, he continued in the script, asking me a very open ended question along the lines of, “what matters the most to you?”

In that moment, I knew what was happening and that I needed to firmly but gently establish a boundary. The recruitment script has been exquisitely designed to generate a sense of trust and welcome.  The pointed question served as a grammatical invitation (imperative) from the speaker to the responder to accept a premise and engage more deeply in the conversation.  Therefore, common politeness requires us to answer questions, not deflect them. I was very tempted to choose the *polite* and *nice* route of responding to the question asked. I immediately felt guilty for NOT responding even though I had no interested in sharing deeply personal feelings with someone I, frankly, hardly knew at all!

In that moment, a quite, powerful voice from my childhood spoke up. In my family of origin’s¬†family system, a woman who sets boundaries is a b#$%!. We are to share when asked, restrain ourselves from imposing too much, and ensure that what we share is pleasant or helpful to those who deign to pay attention to us.¬† If asked to help, we are to do so eagerly, and gratefully for the opportunity to be of service.¬† If asked to retreat, we are to be shamed for having imposed upon other people.

This pattern is the center of my own struggle with internalized sexism.¬† It was invisible to me until late in 20’s when I asked my mom about her interest in our genealogy.¬†One afternoon, I asked my mom to draw the basic family tree and tell me more about her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and influences. At least three times, she got to a woman and took a breath before summing her up this way,

“Yeah, she was a bitch.”¬† After several repeats, I realized I was hearing a pattern, so¬† I asked,

“Mom, when you say that, what do you really mean?”

Then, she started telling hilarious stories. In each one, the woman in question had done nothing more harsh than refuse to be bullied, stood up for herself, chose based on integrity, or simply ignored popular opinion.¬† One of my great-grandmothers sold her house and moved out of own in the middle of night, literally.¬† She had rejected the neighbors’ hatred and sold to the first Jewish family to live in her exclusive suburb of New York City. Evidently the entire neighborhood called her names for years after, and the family story¬†claimed she only sold to *that* family because they were willing to overpay to get into a *good* (read: WASP) neighborhood.

So, basically, in my family, bitch means a woman with boundaries.

From then on, mom and I claimed bitch as an endearing term of respect and a fundamentally good thing for a woman. However, knowing better does not entirely remove the influence of childhood teaching, even as it lessens its sting. Internalized sexism (i.e. my experience of gender expectations and how I impose them upon my behavior) often manifests and the most powerful of my influences.

I am not alone in this struggle. Our globalized but primarily western culture continues to teach and expect outsiders – anyone of lesser status in the traditional sense – to make the people around them comfortable. Feminism tells us that women are not responsible for men’s feelings, and this teaching exists because most girls were taught at young age to tend the feelings of (everyone, but especially) men and boys around them.¬† Honestly, I find this most real in hierarchical settings: people with more power or standing in a group reward the newer or less powerful people who make them feel good about themselves.

In fact, hospitality exists as the explicit counterpoint to this implicit cultural expectation: the insiders will make room for outsiders, as an act of benevolence and goodwill!  This virtue would not exist if the opposite assumptions of exclusion and tending the powerful were not embedded within how our culture trains each one to behave.

Again, it’s less true than it was for prior generations, but that does not eliminate the influence.¬† Women are trained to be hostesses in any space; girls are still encouraged to show their admiration by asking a boy about his interests rather than imposing her interests upon his time. This people pleasing is subtle, rarely direct or obvious.¬† Sometimes it means that I can choose my favorite option, but only if I attend to the feelings of the person who asked.¬† At other times, it means making a special effort to empathize with someone’s feelings, even if this person is not close to me or someone who would reciprocate support in any way.¬† The most nefarious examples occur when power disparities, privilege, or hierarchies come into play.¬† All of my childhood training tells me to ensure I am tending the feelings of a person who could make my life better or worse on a whim.

I can tell someone no, but only if  I do so in a way which makes them like me more, feel good about themselves, and attends to their potential feelings of disappointment.  If they react badly, I must have done a poor job setting my boundaries!

I’m writing all this internal struggle, not because I have an answer.¬† But because when I name the struggle, and consider the influences, I can determine how to respond rather than be controlled by them.

What conflicting influences make it more difficult for you to do simple things like say no, claim your own preferences, and tell others that they do not get to run over you for their own amusement or comfort?

Thank you for teaching me

Much of what I’ve learned in life I have learned by negation.

I thought I was an extrovert, until I lived with someone who would plan to be busy at least 6 evenings a week and felt deprived if she hadn’t talk to several good people during each and every single day. ¬†Then I thought I was an introvert until¬†I remembered the people I know who are happy to spend weeks¬†without serious social interaction.

I now believe I am¬†an ambivert (someone who likes some of both solitude and relationships, gets energy from a balance of internal and external processing, or simply tests near the middle of Myer Brigg’s scale from I to E).


So, I want to say thank you to those who have taught me so much.

To the executive director who trusted a board enough to depart without a clear succession plan but with a strong chair in place.  Thanks for teaching me that one strong leader is not enough to generate a sustainable committee.

To the¬†boss¬†who was too afraid¬†to confront power time and time again, thank you for showing me the consequences of not being true to myself. ¬†Your fear¬†showed me the alternative to the¬†consequences of speaking out and occasionally getting slapped back. ¬†I’d rather be my true self and¬†get things done than try and please people but¬†still get treated badly.

To the coworker who tried to smooth everything over with an underlying solution that “the boss gets his way,” Thank you for showing me what happens¬†to a person who chooses to support hierarchies.¬† When you cower while reducing harm you may be enabling the worst behaviors.¬† I’ve known two versions of this person, never makes waves, tries to make it a tiny bit better.¬† Thank you for teaching me not to wait to claim my power, that only working in my designated sphere of influence is too often indistinguishable from upholding the abusers.

To those who protected the abuser and made a thousand excuses.¬† Who believe that it didn’t really happen, or that the accuser is exaggerating or making it up. I have no words of conciliatory kindness. You are avoiding a difficult conversation, and have no excuse.¬† You are telling yourself that you have insufficient proof, or no responsibility.¬† You are saying, but we cannot rush to judgement. You are wrong. Step the fuck up. Do an investigation. Do not use confidentiality as an excuse for secrets and hiding the truth.¬† You are not protecting the abused by keeping the waves small.

Face the community and admit you made a mistake. That it happened, and you were wrong. That these are the steps which you will take to correct the error and remedy the past ills.¬† And maybe the community will tell you, it’s not enough.¬† If they do, go quietly. It is no shame to face, confess, and repent for years. The shame, what makes you a bad person, is when you do not even try, when you hide your errors and protect your buddies.¬† We can no longer tolerate your lies.