In defense of “not all.”

The words “not all” are having something of a moment. Not necessarily the kind of moment they might want to have, but it sure is a moment.

All across the internet – on Twitter (of course), but also well-known and less-known blogs, among cartoonists and meme producers, at Jezebel and Vox and even at Time magazine – activists of all stripes are decrying and/or mocking the whininess of people who announce (often quite loudly) that Not All men/white people/straight folks/what-have-you are “like that” – whatever the “that” might be. Racist assholes. Misogynist jerkwads. Homophobic douche-nozzles. And the like.

And I see the point, I genuinely do. Oppression and bigotry are daily, often deadly struggles, and the idea that we need to watch out for the delicate emotional states of people who (consciously or unknowingly) benefit from the fruits of oppression and bigotry can be flat-out ridiculous, not to mention adding insult to literal injury.

But look. I’ve been a social justice activist my whole life, around issues that tend to make people very angry, in particular gender violence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trust me when I say that I have more than a little experience with people saying truly horrible things, and expecting me to explain away the horrible things that other people say or do. I’ve been mansplained, Jewsplained, Arabsplained, Gentilesplained, OppressionOlympicssplained, and then mansplained again for good measure, ad nauseum. And yet I am forever producing some version of “not all.” Even if through gritted teeth.

To read the rest of this, please go to xoJane.

What is normal? On the changing of American social discourse.

I was reminded of this post today and decided to re-up it. Because why not?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away – tchink, tchink, tchink – at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  – tchink, tchink, tchink – at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

The wilderness of life.

Anna Clark tweet 29 Oct 13

I’ve often said that there’s nothing more punk than love, but I think Columbia Journalism Review’s Anna Clark has me beat in the punk department.

The stories we choose.

pencilI just got back from a walk (a thing I have almost literally [in the literal sense of "literally"] not been able to do for the better part of six weeks) and here is what I found myself thinking about: The narratives we construct about ourselves and our lives.

When we think about our past, our family, the day through which we are currently muddling, we always make choices about the narrative. Maybe our ancestors came from eight different places, but our family keeps the traditions of one. Maybe we remember our success (or failure) in one year of school more than the others. Maybe I tripped and fell, but the people who helped me were so kind — do I talk about (think about) my sense of humiliation, the blood on my knee, or the kindness?

The choices that we make have an impact that is literally incalculable (because who’s ever going to figure out a way to calculate that?) on our lives. How I choose to remember my grandmother — the parts I hold on to, as well as the parts I allow to fall away — have a daily impact on how I think of myself, how I use my time, how I talk to my kids (and again, I mean that quite literally. Anyone who knew my grandmothers will know what I mean).

I don’t believe, as many self-help guides would suggest, that we necessarily choose our suffering. First of all, if (for instance) you’re living in chronic, generational poverty and can’t get your clinical depression treated, you haven’t chosen your suffering. But there’s a lot else that we don’t choose. My father died when I was a baby, for example, and my family has had alcoholism wash through it in waves for generations — the suffering those facts have caused me is real. That suffering is a fact, not a choice. There is no way that I can “choose” any of that away. I also can’t choose to upend social stigma or expectations, or decades of socialization, or, I don’t know, natural disasters. Or the government shutdown. Attitude can only take you so far.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a force. What narrative do I want? Even if I can’t upend social stigma — do I at least want to know that I tried? How do I deal, at age 49, with the loss of my father in way that is meaningful? How do I focus on kindness, rather than on bloody knees? The knee won’t un-bloody. But I want the kindness to matter, too.

A big part of why I’ve had so little time over the past two months is because I’ve been teaching a course on politics and the mass media, and the idea of “framing” the news is one we’ve talked a lot about. Though I’m not a huge fan of our text, one line leapt off the page and has remained lodged in my brain: “We live in terms of the stories we tell.”

The text goes on to say “We live in terms of the stories we tell, stories about what things exist, stories about how things work, and stories about what to do” — and that is all true, but unnecessary. It’s all right there in the first nine words. We live in terms of the stories we tell.

What stories do I want to spend my life telling?

Too much information running through my brain.

It feels like there is everything and nothing to write about.

Everywhere, everyone is talking about the government shutdown – I don’t want to talk about that. It frightens me and makes me sad, and then it infuriates me. Of course, some are talking about the possibility that the House GOP, not content with damaging the country once this month, will do so a second time by forcing us to default on our national debt – I don’t want to talk about that either. It frightens me more, and makes me leap straight over sad into rage.

I was at the J Street conference last week – it was great, really fabulous, to spend two and a half solid days doing nothing but talking about and meeting people who talk about the very ideas that consume roughly 67% of my head space (see what I did there?). It was like getting to talk in my real language for a time. It was lovely. It was also exhausting, and hard to explain, though, so that’s all I have to say about that. (Well not entirely. I wrote something for Open Zion; I’ll crosspost it here tomorrow).

The holidays have come, been, and gone. Thank heavens. I don’t want to talk about that again until next fall. Yes, the first night of Hanukkah is on Thanksgiving Eve this year, a once-in-humanity occurrence. Beyond saying that, though, what else is there to say about that?

People continue to die horrible deaths in Syria. Slightly-less back-channel-y diplomacy continues with Iran (even as the Iranian government continues to oppress its people, because let’s pause for an honesty break here). The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks apparently continue, but no one’s allowed to say anything about them, so who knows what’s going on there? I don’t want to talk about any of that either. Almost all I’ve done for the last several weeks was essentially talk about that.

I’ve read some good books. I’m catching up on TV (a little). Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I should finally get around to watching Deep Space 9 (I know…). I have friends coming to visit this week, and one kid’s parent-teacher conference to attend and another to schedule. I’m literally months behind on matters like annual check-ups and cleaning my heating/cooling system’s filters. I bought a great, bright red cardigan at a resale shop.

This blog has seen a sudden, huuuuge upswing in readership in the past two days, and I’m so happy to have y’all here that I really want to write something. But there are too many, and too few, choices today. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow. In the meantime, thank you for being here! Here are some puppies hugging, to make you smile:

puppy hug

Resolved: It’s ok for creative people to not be consumed with self-loathing.

Typewriter keyboardI am, rather famously (for some, very limited values of “famously”), a writer.

I’ve considered myself a writer since somewhere around late-junior-high, and for a sizeable chunk of my life, I’ve attempted to make some kind of living from being a writer. I am at heart an essayist, but I’m also comfortable with reviews, features, research papers, straight-up reporting, pretty much any non-fiction thing you might toss at me. Poetry and make-believe, not so much, but everything else? I’m on it. In the past, I would occasionally feel that if I were more serious, I would write fiction. And then I realized that I don’t want to write fiction. So I got over myself.

That’s the extent of my writer’s angst — the whole, entire enchilada. I used to kinda think maybe I should try my hand at fiction, and then I went: Nah.

But existing in a world of writers, as I do — and more broadly in a world of creatives of all types — I’m forever hearing (reading) a sort of ritualistic expression of self-loathing, often embracing the idea that if you’re ever genuinely satisfied with what you’ve created, your muse has died. DIED.

What the hell is up with that?

No, seriously. What the hell? Sure, we should all strive to improve. There’s always room for “better.” The top is never truly achieved, because in reaching it, the next mountain is created and if you want to grow in your field, you have to climb it, too. I am absolutely down with all of that.

And there is also such a thing as shitty work. There’s such a thing as work-produced-when-young-and-inexperienced. There’s such a thing as wishing now that you had done something differently then. No doubt.

But I am here today to propose an apparently world-shattering idea: It’s ok to think you’re good at your job. Even if you’re an artist.

There is nothing inherently noble to thinking that you suck, or that all your past work is unreadable, or that every true turn of phrase can only be born of blood, sweat, and dark nights of the tormented soul. Nothing.

I mean, if that’s your bag – if that’s how you produce your work and you really can’t do it any other way – well, ok. I suppose we all have to have our process, and if that’s yours, you do you. It sounds painful, but honestly (really): Who am I to judge?

But can the rest of us just stop acting like that’s the way it has to be? That if you’re a Real Writer (painter, poet, circus clown), you know nothing but dark nights of the tormented soul? We don’t expect brain surgeons, teachers, or software engineers to doubt their every step — why do we expect it of each other?

I’m a good writer. I’ve always been a pretty good writer. This is my gift — my one, single, solitary gift, the only thing I actually know how to do. I won’t deny it, and I refuse to treat self-doubt as a sign of purity. I strive to improve, and on one dark night when I believed I’d never write under my own by-line again, tears streamed down my face as I told my husband that now I’d never get a chance to be as good as I might be able to be. And yes, when I look back and discover work that doesn’t hold together like I thought it did at the time, I cringe. I’ll bet surgeons and teachers, et al, do the same. I may never be great — very few people are — but I’m good at my job.

If you’re a creative, I challenge you to consider that you, too, might be good at your job.

And that maybe less self-loathing and fewer dark nights might allow us to achieve even greater things.

The End.

Who gets to decide what’s normal?

whatisnormalI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away — tchink, tchink, tchink – at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  — tchink, tchink, tchink – at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

And I had to walk uphill both ways.

Reupping this from two years ago, almost to the daybecause it’s all true all over again!!1!

/passes out

sunI don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s been hot.

Hot in the Middle West, hot in the South, hot in the East, hot for the Hottentots, no doubt. I think even the Pacific Northwest — where in 2011, they apparently had 78 minutes of summer by mid-July (according to actual scientists) — is getting it in the neck this week.

Once upon a time, I lived in a city where this kind of hot was de rigueur at this time of year. Every year. Every day. From June 30 to September 10, give or take (with an inevitable resurgence just in time for Yom Kippur, when those who fast may not have so much as a sip of water) — heat just like this.

It doesn’t cool down on summer evenings in Tel Aviv, and the humidity could fairly easily be cut with a knife. You could make little tofu-like cubes of the humidity, and stir-fry them on the sidewalk, at midnight, is what I’m saying.

And back when I lived there, in the 80s and 90s, nobody but the rich had air-conditioning.

I was not, as you may have surmised by now, counted among the rich.

Here, though, in the gentle exile of American suburbia, I have air-conditioning up the wazoo! And if I keep certain windows shaded morning to night, it doesn’t even have to work all that hard to counteract the blast furnace with which we and the Hottentots must now grapple.

All of which means that I do not have to do any of the following semi-crazy things that I used to do, just to cool down, in Tel Aviv:

  1. Take upwards of three showers a day; allow my hair to drip down my back for as long as possible. Then wet my hair again.
  2. Sleep upside down, so that the fan could be right at my face.
  3. Dampen a sheet, and wrap myself in it at bedtime.
  4. Go to Jerusalem.
  5. Stick my head in the freezer.

Of these five activities, clearly #4 represented the nadir of my misery. Because, dude: Jerusalem is awful.

But for two glorious months of the year, when the sun had set and the breeze had returned, leaving Tel Aviv for the chaotic, dirty capital actually made sense.

One time, I remember, I even had to put on a sweater.

PS Just for the record: I really did used to stick my head in the freezer. You know: Now and then. If I happened to be passing. But I’m kind of short, so it would only last for a few seconds.

I have not forgotten you + pretty pictures.

It occurs to me that it has been some time since I posted what I think of as a “real” post at this blog, that is: not something crossposted from Open Zion, not something reupped from the archives, and not something that is, or amounts to, a funny picture. There’s been a lot going on.

There was the trip to Israel that was hella-busy and action-packed, including a stay in a Druze village, a visit to the Bahai gardens, one lovely, long evening at a beach restaurant in Yafo (a restaurant about which apparently Time Magazine had something to say), as many friends and as many days in Tel Aviv as we could muster, and way more work than I anticipated doing (it seems that when I was actually in Israel/Palestine, I found I had even more than usual to say about Israel/Palestine).

Then there was the flight home that got delayed and delayed again and again, so that we didn’t get to our beds before 2 am last Monday morning. Then there was the trying to get our lives back into a rhythm despite our exhaustion, and then the politics-into-the-night of the Wendy Davis filibuster, then the huge & lightening-quick storm on Thursday that knocked out half the town’s electricity as well as knocking over a three-story-tall pine in our backyard. Then there was all the aftermath of that (including many phone calls that started “I’ve never had to do anything like this before in my life, so you’ll have to walk me through it.”) Then there was yesterday, when we celebrated the husband’s birthday a few days late, because it actually fell on Monday, and as noted, Monday was kind of a wash.

And none of that is the least bit interesting (well, maybe some of the Israel stuff is), but it does at least serve the purpose of helping me clarify for myself why I’ve been so lax!

Anyway, here are the pictures I promised (I lied. Some are of our sad tree).

The girl on the beach at that restaurant in Yafo.

The girl on the beach at that restaurant in Yafo.

*

The Bahai Gardens in Haifa - far more lovely than they even look, & containing 700 steps down. Down all of which we walked.

The Bahai Gardens in Haifa (Mediterranean Sea as backdrop) – far more lovely than they even look, & containing 700 steps. Down all of which we walked.

*

The Shrine at the gravesite of the Bab,  the Prophet-Herald of the Bahai faith, near the bottom of the gardens.

The Shrine over the grave site of the Bab (the Prophet-Herald of the Bahai faith), near the bottom of the gardens.

*

The roots of our poor, departed, upended tree.

The roots of our poor, departed, upended tree.

*

Clearing the tree on Saturday morning (after spending all of Friday chasing down someone available to do it - there were a LOT of trees down in town).

Clearing the tree on Saturday morning (after spending all of Friday chasing down someone available to do it – there were a LOT of trees down in town). At one point there were eight men in our tiny back yard. At my request, they saved us a slice of the tree’s trunk.

*

And just for fun, here's a Dachshund named Otis who we met at a street fair in Chicago yesterday. He was very sweet & looks as if someone sewed together patches of both of the dogs with which I grew up, one a black-and-tan Dachshund, the other an English Setter with big black markings.

And just for fun, here’s a Dachshund named Otis who we met at a street fair in Chicago yesterday. He was very sweet & looks as if someone sewed together patches of both of the dogs with whom I grew up, one a black-and-tan Dachshund, the other an English Setter with big black markings.

My brain, the weasel.

In a wild and woolly happenstance, The Bloggess (who, if you’re unfamiliar, is kind of a Big Deal on The Internet as well as Among Geeks) wrote essentially the same post I wrote yesterday. Only her’s was funny. I highly recommend that you click here to read it, because really, how much earnestness are you going to let me dish out to you?

Also, her’s had the following video, which she posited is an accurate representation of herself, trying to get work done (aka: the cat) battling her brain (aka: the weasel). And it’s totally about me, too!!1! So, yeah, The Bloggess and me? Totes twin-like! I’m just as cool as she is! (I am so!)

So anyway. Watch this. It’s very funny.

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