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I haven’t been on this blog in quite some time. Simply put, I’ve focused my writing efforts towards publication in literary journals and other media outlets. (If you’d like to see what I’ve been up to, check out my portfolio at http://clippings.me/whittierstrong .) But sometimes you need to say something public for which all other options available to you are inadequate, so here I am.
By nature, I’m not one to cause a ruckus. I’m a sensitive person who craves peace and quiet. So I haven’t been much of one this year to broadcast my politics. And, more importantly, I know there’s not a damn thing I can say to sway anyone’s presidential vote; the undecided voter is foreign to my sphere of influence.
But I think that, at last, on the day of the election, after I have cast my vote, I must say something, however small and however cowardly in its delay, regarding the two candidates. (Yes, I know there are more, but the system is rigged against them, and until laws change, which is unlikely to happen, this is probably how it is, as much as I don’t like it.)
One candidate is singularly incompetent and unqualified, and foments hatred, violence, anger, and oppression. I hope on all that is good that he does not become our president.
So I voted for Clinton, but with an asterisk. Because, although she is eminently qualified and there is much I like about her, she is a warmonger (not that her opponent isn’t.) And this is the true tragedy in the United States: Only a warmonger will be elected president. And I hate that. But war is endemic to the American identity, it is woven so deep that it seems impossible for us to collectively conceive of anything else. We were founded by European invaders waging war on the indigenous people of this continent. We built our economy and culture on war. Our global influence is primarily the result of war.
And so I vote holding my nose (in the French tradition, and only metaphorically.) It is unfortunate that I cannot fathom an American presidential candidate who craves peace, but I know my country and culture too well.
All that said, I must nonetheless put myself on the record for voting for Clinton. Because, if the worst comes about tomorrow and Trump is elected president, things might become grave indeed. He desires that my friends be beat up, lose their emancipation, or even be evicted from the country. He harbors dictatorial ambitions. He’s almost itching for nuclear war. And, though this bit of my brain is probably shared far too late, I do not wish to join the silent millions who never spoke out against past tyrannies. I hope that it won’t come to that, but at this point in the day, nothing is yet sure.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a little story for this blog called “God Rest Ye, Murray Hendelman”. It was, admittedly, an imperfect little thing. I didn’t give it the kind of time and attention I would normally give a story I was planning to submit to an actual publication — if I had, it would have finished it probably around Easter. But I had this vision, this little world in my mind, that I wanted to share.
There’s something that’s been bugging me lately about that story, something that some of my readers may not have noticed at all, and that some may have been pissed off by. Without divulging too much — you might still want to read the story — there are three characters, an African American family, who don’t get names.
And that is a tragic error. In essence, I used these characters as props instead of people. And that was wrong, a mistake born of my own whiteness, and my having grown up in a white-dominated society.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve grown more aware of the deep racial issues in our society. I’ve come to understand that the freedom on which the United States was founded was a freedom for whites, paid for by the subjugation and elimination of other races. And I recognize now that we are hardly the multi-culti paradise that Sesame Street promised me. If anything, some things have been getting worse.
One thing that I’ve learnt to do as a writer is, whenever I am writing about race, to have a writer of the race about which I’m writing to review my work. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s one way through the racism that can’t help but blind me to mistakes I make in my writing.
So, my gift to you, a gift delayed: The father’s name is Richard. The mother’s name is Tanya. The daughter’s name is Amari.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I belatedly announce the publication of three flash-fiction stories in the latest edition of Jonathan. This set of stories offers my twisted but loving take on motherhood.
I find myself terribly depressed right now. There are a few triggers specifically associated with summer — the lack of structure that school provides, the lack of nighttime in Alaska (which I won’t see for about two more months.) It’s a struggle just to get out of bed, or to shower, or to dress, or to make myself something to eat or drink. I’m trying to be kind to myself, trying to find some way to help me out of this funk. But nothing is working so far. Many days I can only accomplish the tasks that require the least mental work, because even my brain is fatigued. In fact, I’m having to write this relatively short blog post in several sessions because that’s all the brain power I have today. But I couldn’t not write this post, so here I am.
Anyway. My laptop is an easy distraction for my depression. I can run a marathon of some sitcom I’ve seen before on Netflix with little effort of my brain. I can play a simple game of Boggle or Bejeweled. And, perhaps most importantly, Facebook gives me the ability to talk with those most dear to me about what I’m going through.
But Facebook is a double-edged sword Read the rest of this entry
So nearly a whole month has blown by since my last post. Forgive me; I’ve been understandably busy, moving 2,500 miles away and settling down in Fairbanks, Alaska.
I’m still in awe of this place. But I feel right at home.
More to come, to be sure.
I like baseball. I can’t say I’m the perfect fan – I don’t follow it the best in the world, and I don’t understand the finer points of the game. But I enjoy watching a game, especially live. As an American of a certain age, I think it was unavoidable that I would have some connection to baseball. I remember when I was two or three, my mom bought me a little plastic Baltimore Orioles helmet (although I thought the logo was of Chilly Willy).
When I was older, I watched baseball on TV. Indiana doesn’t have its own major-league ball club, so we split our loyalties among the closest teams: the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, and the Cincinnati Reds. Our local TV station aired the Reds, so that’s who I followed. Later, the station switched affiliations to the Cubs, and though Harry Caray was fun to listen to, I couldn’t really get into the Cubs. Read the rest of this entry
I have a conflicted relationship with Independence Day (or the Fourth of July, as it has been branded for so long). Patriotism doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The idea is that you’re supposed to be proud of the country you’re born in. But I didn’t have any control over what country I was born in. I just happened to fall out of a woman in 1974 at roughly 39°N 85°W. I didn’t do anything for that. And if you tweak any of those factors slightly, relative to the size of the world and the scope of history, suddenly I’m not born in the United States anymore.
There are, of course, plenty of people who choose to move to the United States, just as there are plenty of people who choose to move to other countries, and, given the incredible obstacles that have been established to prevent someone from moving from one country to the next, one could take pride in having accomplished such a move. And I know people whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents made such a move, and the narrative of that move has been passed down to them, so there is a kind of pride by proxy, and I can get that. But I don’t have that narrative in my family. Most of my ancestors arrived on this continent as colonists, before there was a United States. They were always citizens of another country even though they lived here. The rest of my ancestors were dragged here against their will on slave ships. Read the rest of this entry
I think it was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. My youth pastor had the idea of taking us to a nearby park for our youth group meetings that summer. As we were in Indiana, he imagined the basketball courts would be a natural draw for attendance. I didn’t play basketball. I had the hand-eye coordination of a rock. So I would just sit off to the side and talk with the girls until youth group officially started.
One evening, after our youth pastor beckoned us from the basketball courts, he opened up the evening’s discussion. He asked us to raise our hands if we believed in capital punishment. Hands shot up all around me. Then he asked us who didn’t believe in capital punishment. I was the only one to raise my hand.
The next hour was spent engaged in a relentless onslaught. Youth pastor, group sponsors, fellow students, taking every tactic they knew to change my mind. Of course, the first line of offense was to quote Bible verses. But that wasn’t enough to sustain the argument. They talked about how life imprisonment was a drain on taxes. One of the sponsors explained that capital punishment was more humane than life imprisonment, because the guillotine was invented to make death swift. I struggled to see how an instrument that was no longer used was essential to the discussion.
No one backed me up. And I am not one to engage in heated argument. I couldn’t get two words out without someone firing a volley back at me.
What could I do? I was just a fifteen-year-old kid. I was no expert in public policy or theology. I wasn’t an expert in anything. So, at the end of the hour-long onslaught, I relented with a “maybe you’re right”. I didn’t honestly think they were right, but what could I do? I would see them all again, the next week and the week after and the week after. I had to live with them.
Of course, I could have chosen not to live with them. I wasn’t forced to go to church – in fact, at that point, I was the only one who attended. The rest of my family quit going because they were tired of being bullied – my siblings for having learning disabilities and my mom for being poor and having a handful of disabilities.
But I attended because I was loved. Or, I was told I was loved. In truth, I was mocked and bullied much of the time. But the youth pastor told me that the other kids in youth group mocked and bullied me because they loved me. And, of course, I believed him.
But I think back. What was the point of the discussion that evening? What relevance did a specific view on capital punishment have on the spiritual development of teenagers? None, that I can think of. As I look back, it seemed to have much more to do with grooming us to vote for a specific party.
Now, in the United States, churches aren’t supposed to campaign to their parishioners in favor of a specific party or politician. To do so jeopardizes their tax-exempt status. But the pressure doesn’t have to come in an official channel, through the pulpit or the front of the classroom, in order to be effective. My congregation at that time was lock-step Republican. They could tell me how to vote – three years before I could – over pitch-in dinners and post-service conversation. And at my church, a number of peers and adults constantly pressured me to change my political outlook, because, heaven forbid, I sounded like a Democrat, and everyone knows that Democrats are really Communists, and Communists are against God.
And I look back on it all in astonishment. For people who were supposed to be focused on eternity and on a kingdom that was spiritual in nature, they were awfully wrapped up in political parties and countries and other things that are bound to come to an end and thus have nothing whatsoever to do with eternity.
I think we would have all benefited that night in the park from a lesson in love, or compassion, or grace, or any of a zillion other things that, not only are more important to the message they claimed to profess, but also are of greater permanence and importance to the human species.
So if you’re wondering where I’ve been, let me tell you. The hinge on my laptop fell apart on February 24. And it has been in repair limbo ever since. What ostensibly was supposed to be a simple replacement of a part has turned into a customer service… well, not nightmare, more like one of those bad dreams you get from eating too many nachos.
So I’ve been stuck with scattershot computer access from libraries and at work. I can’t just compute whenever I want, as long as I want. And some of my posts require quite a while for me to write. So I’ve been forced into an unintended hiatus until I can get it back.
I will try to catch you up on my life here. I received six graduate-school acceptances altogether. As the funding scenarios fall into place, I close in on my choice, which I will post here in the next few weeks. (A certain degree of discretion is critical in these sorts of negotiations, not so much for the schools as it is a courtesy to other applicants.)
I took a trip to my hometown. I got to spend time with my nephew, who just turned seven and is a really cool kid. I got to spend time with my mom, who just turned seventy-five and is full of stories and I consider her stories the greatest gift she could give me. I got to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years.
Life is weird and wonderful.
I read in a Quora forum a little while back the responses to the question, “What surprised you about America as a foreign-born person when you first came here?” The answers were mostly unsurprising:
Everything in the United States is much bigger and more spread out than they could have possibly imagined.
Everything is far apart — no, you can’t really drive from New York to Los Angeles and still get a good visit to both in the same week.
The people were friendlier and more helpful than they had expected.
The public transit was abysmal.
The educational system, much ballyhooed by many folks here, offered broader opportunities to enter the career of their choice than many found in their home countries.
The architecture was dull and repetitive.
The opportunities were impressive.
The wealth disparities were shocking.
But something I hadn’t considered until I read the discussion was that people from abroad were surprised at how much the laws can change from one state to the next. I had made a false assumption that federalism elsewhere worked much like it does here. It hadn’t occurred to me just how independent each state in the United States really is.
It’s not that I’m ignorant of the fact. Living near the Minnesota-Wisconsin state border, I know that people buy their alcohol in Minnesota and their cigarettes in Wisconsin because of disparities in excise taxes. Labor-friendly laws give Minnesota workers an edge, but in Wisconsin it’s simpler to open a new business. And, of course, if you and your partner are of the same sex, you can get married in Minnesota but not in Wisconsin.
It’s to this last point that the variations in law from one state to the next are showing most prominently in the headlines. In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decisions regarding same-sex civil marriage, state laws opposing such contracts are falling under the scrutiny of the courts. And, state by state, more people are allowed to get married.
(Of course, if these newly wed couples change state boundaries, suddenly, they may not be considered married anymore. No heterosexual couple in the United States must undergo such considerations when making a move. This is how truly disjointed the states are with respect to each other.)
This shift in the law, though, is being met with great resistance in other parts of the country — two states of which, I must note, are north of the Mason-Dixon line. Of particular note this week are moves in three states — Idaho, Kansas, and Tennessee, to allow those who work in the public sector to deny services to LGBT services on the grounds of religious freedom.
However, this move is fraught with error on so many levels. Oh, where to begin…
First off, it declares discrimination as a religious freedom. Mind you, this is not the first time in American history we have heard this:
“I believe those blacks are the descendants of Ham and are therefore cursed by God; therefore, I stand by my religious freedom to refuse them service.”
“I believe those Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus; therefore, I stand by my religious freedom to refuse them service.”
On and on.
Such statements would not stand in a court of law today. (At least, I hope they wouldn’t. Heaven knows I have reason to avoid complete optimism in this regard.) Why aren’t we holding the same standard here?
Another thing: when a person chooses to enter a profession in which they will be serving the public, they don’t get to pick and choose who is the public. Once you cross the threshold of my business, it is my legal duty to render services to you. This is part of the social contract of entering such a profession — public means the whole public.
To those who would say otherwise, I would simply ask they move on to another profession. If you do not have the capacity to turn off your prejudices between clock-in and clock-out so that you can perform the baseline duties of your profession… well, in my experience and observation, if you can’t perform the baseline duties, you get fired.
This goes to the police officer who refuses to intercede in a domestic dispute because the parties are of the same sex.
To the emergency-room technician who won’t touch a patient because they are transgender.
To the mortician who won’t care for the deceased because their spouse is of the same sex.
There are plenty of other jobs where it’s permissible to pick and choose who you serve, and you’re more than welcome to take one of those.
Then there is the issue of freedom. I’m all for freedom. I’m all for religious freedom — and I am an atheist. But a freedom is only a freedom insofar as it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of another. When we start to presume otherwise, when we say that some have freedom but others do not, it is no longer freedom, but tyranny.
But there is something else buried in this issue. It’s this notion of painting everyone in a swath. If we make a law against “the gays”, what is that? It’s an abstraction. There is no face to it. It’s easy to legislate against an abstraction.
I say all this with the caveat that we can’t err the opposite direction, either. It was only through people openly identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender that legal progress was ever made in the first place. So there are good reasons for individuals identifying as such.
But that is not what I mean. I’m talking about creating this faceless group within your imagination so that you don’t have to deal with the individuals therein. (This of course applies to pretty much any group to which you don’t belong.)
But I have a face.
And I have a name.
And so, if you ever say to yourself or to someone else, “I don’t think the gays should marry,” drop that “the gays” and replace it with “Whittier”.
“I don’t think Whittier should marry.”
“I don’t think Whittier should eat at the restaurant of his choice.”
“I don’t think Whittier should receive equal service from emergency services.”
Don’t know me? Change the name to John.
Or anyone else you know.
And if you don’t think you know anyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, the statistics bear out otherwise. Perhaps they haven’t told you because you have said that “the gays” shouldn’t marry.
Fill it in with the name of anyone you know.
Because, here’s the thing: no matter whose name you put in, regardless of sex
or political affiliation
it should be clear that the statement falls. That it should fall.
This is what equality is about.
This is what freedom is about.