TOWOIT #245: Big water. Ocean water.

September 30, 2017… Day 254

I’ve been writing here less, so now I have to type into Google, “Number of days since January 20” so I know how to start off the blog post.

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I’ve just been thinking about Puerto Rico every day. I don’t even know what to say about Trump. Still finding new lows. We just have to pray that we figure out how to come back from this. His comments about the San Juan mayor this morning, just… I really don’t even know what to say. Lin-Manuel Miranda — basically the sweetest, most positive light on the Internet — told Trump he was going straight to hell this morning.

The whiteness of this country is rotten to its very core. I’m not trying to be all white-guilty, it’s just really hard to know how else to react when Donald Trump is slapping us in the face with toxic whiteness every day. It really feels like being whomped upside the head by a slimy dead fish with every tweet and every statement. An actual dead fish. Like, you have sea lice in your hair afterward.

I started the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, but only got twenty minutes in so far. That was enough to get a refresher course on French colonialism. The moral grossness of colonialism was made pretty obvious. That was on my mind when watching the news coverage of Puerto Rico reeling from the hurricane and the disastrously slow and disorganized federal recovery efforts.

A recent poll showed that half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. I appreciate people like Rachel Maddow harping on the fact that Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are part of the U.S. On the other side of that, we have to also remember and acknowledge that the U.S. is, has been, and will be colonial towards these islands. God.

This led to a note to self: find out more about the Duwamish people. When I think about the Duwamish, I tend to think about the river as a geographical body that has this whole industrial and ecological history. I like knowing about that stuff. The man I’m writing a book about built a boat in a Duwamish river shipyard in 1909.

But at several protests since the election, the organizers have begun by acknowledging that we were on Duwamish land, and that we were protesting with the blessing of Duwamish leaders. The women’s march in Seattle began with indigenous women. I don’t want this to be only lip service, or us non-Native women patting ourselves on the back for virtue signaling. But stating that we are on Duwamish land is one of those obvious, necessary statements like “Black Lives Matter.” We need those kinds of statements more than ever now. I am sorry that I glossed over them before, because they were badly needed before too.

The U.S. is colonial toward its entire underlying landmass. It’s the kind of thing you know, but comfortably ignore, because you are comfortable. That’s all part of whiteness: the gift that keeps on giving.

So when I say, “I hope we can come back from this” about Trump, I realize that we have a lot more than Trump to come back from.

That’s all I have for right now.

Don’t say we aren’t doing:

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Don’t forget this moment:

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TOWOIT #244

September 26, 2017… Day 250

This morning I had my earbuds in and was listening to a long news story about North Korea, the start of the Korean war, and what could happen to South Korea. A few times, I glanced over at my coworker, who I sort of treat as a little brother but also lean on emotionally sometimes. He came from South Korea with his mom when he was 6. His grandpa, who still lives in Seoul, grew up in North Korea until he was a teenager, when he moved south and was separated from his family.

I was interrupted from my listening and thinking when another coworker popped up at my side and said in a stage whisper, “Have you been watching Ken Burns’s Vietnam documentary on PBS?” I hadn’t been, but was meaning to. I’ll have to now. Sissi, wide-eyed, dropped an unusual amount of personal vulnerability on me in a short amount of time this morning at my desk.

Her parents and older sister left Vietnam by boat in 1975 and after spending time in a refugee camp in Guam, were sponsored by Lutherans in Washington State (where she was born). She and her parents had never talked about Vietnam or the war. Her parents had come down from the north to the south when they were young. Sissi said she was 36 years old and learning so much for the first time from the documentary. When she was growing up with white kids in Olympia, she hadn’t wanted to know anything. She didn’t want to be different. And it was the attitude of her parents too—this is a new beginning, the past is painful, don’t look back. But now Sissi thought she’d sit down with her mom and ask her questions, and she’d record the conversation if her mom would let her. Her eyes got glassy and mine did too, just listening to her and thinking about mothers and daughters.

I thought about some of my friends’ dads back home, and how we didn’t learn much about that war either. It seemed like a fresh wound. It felt like we actively weren’t talking about it, but it was still present. Later I learned that Alaska has the highest number of Vietnam vets per capita—a desire for space and peace, was the conjectured reason. In high school we did have some WWII sailors come in to our classroom to talk about the war—the grandfathers of my friends. Afterward, their grown baby boomer children were startled to hear how much their fathers would say out loud to the high school kids that they had never said before. And how much they hadn’t known about their dads and the war.

Now in a town like my hometown, a lot of white (and Native, and Filipino) people are upset about football players kneeling to protest racism and police brutality. I have been fuming for days about people wearing patriotism like a mask over their anti-black racism and not being self-aware enough to even know they are doing it. But I think their feelings about the flag and the anthem are sincere, too. I think their patriotism and their discomfort at black men protesting are so intertwined that it will take a delicate surgery to separate them. I don’t know how many of them will volunteer for a procedure like that. Maybe they will just wrap themselves up in the flag because it feels better.

I hope some of those people are watching Ken Burns’s documentary on the Vietnam War. I think it will have cross-over appeal for Republicans and Democrats, as a work of military history. I hope it brings up some conversations in white homes the way it looks like it will for my friend Sissi. I don’t know if it is too presumptuous for me to hope this, as someone who is not a combat vet, but I hope somehow through conversation and storytelling and reflection that there is some sort of catharsis that allows greater self-awareness.

A Facebook friend from home who often bridges the gap between left and right — she is from a logging family, loves guns, is often not politically correct — has been standing up for the players who kneel. She also posed this question on Facebook: What will people who are boycotting the NFL now do with all of that extra time and money? Will they work to end veteran homelessness? A few women took her up on her gambit and said why yes, maybe they would do just that. That was not a bad idea at all, they said.

When you think of all the time, money, and energy that people put into football—it could be a strange, unexpected gift to have it back for something else. Maybe people who really do stay away will feel empty without the tribalism and camaraderie and suspense of the game. And maybe they will find something else and maybe that something will be healing.

TOWOIT #243: Taking the Knee

September 25, 2017… Day 249

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(NBC’s Hallie Jackson to Sarah Huckabee Sanders today)

I just heard that Susan Collins is the third Republican no vote (along with McCain and Paul) on the latest attempt at repealing the ACA. This is a huge relief. I still hold out hope for Lisa Murkowski to declare herself a no, because I like to believe that Alaskan women are pragmatic and non-craven, even when they are Republicans. Not you, Sarah.

Puerto Rico is in bad shape and I’m keeping that in mind even as I join the collective groan/whoop/eyeroll/head-shake/knee-taking/soliloquizing/solidarity of the NFL and NBA and other sports organizations after Trump sniped wildly at them for his own racist purposes all weekend.

I am still in disbelief that this man is president. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s repeated vociferous defense of his comments on protesters (sons of bitches) is just as amazing.

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Questions they asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders about taking the knee today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #243: Taking the Knee

TOWOIT #240

September 19, 2017… Day 243

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I caught snatches of Trump’s UN speech as I was walking through rooms. The fact that I didn’t go out of my way to dedicate a chunk of time to watching it makes me feel like I’m growing as a person. My favorite politically aware bartender grandpa Facebook friend posted in dismay. I saw the photo of John Kelly’s face-palm on Twitter. And I fully co-sign this from Lauren Duca:

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I started a memoir-writing class. I’m re-writing a manuscript from my early 20s. It’s also going to have to be hacked down a lot. The existing manuscript is 90,000 words and it’s a tight 8th draft. It leans more toward a work of reporting than a memoir, but it’s a bit confused about its narrator (moi) and its structure and its themes. I’m re-framing it as a memoir in which young me trotted about as a wannabe reporter. I’ve thought about this… no one wants to read 350 pages about me. Even I don’t want that. Boiling things down is so important. I’m going to have to re-name my class, “Darling Murder 417” (Not 101, because I’m an advanced darling-killer already).

I’m also hoping this year-long class will teach me how to turn around and help other people write their stories. That’s what’s really interesting to me in the long-term.

Cognitive dissonance: the word long-term, spending time writing a book, prioritizing clipping fingernails and flossing, wanting to lose weight, being happy about your relationship and loosely planning a future together where you do things like go to the movies or grow plants for fun and not for survival. Thinking every happy person is like in-love Bronwyn from How Green Was My Valley, ignoring the slag heap. That novel might be more than 50% responsible for how romantic and declensionist my personality turned out to be.

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TOWOIT #239

September 18, 2017… Day 242

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I went to hear Pramila Jayapal speak tonight. She wore a deep pink kurta. She was funny and frank and personable. It was a relatively small gathering, so she was only across the room from me. She’s smaller and prettier in real life. She talked about Don Young calling her young lady, and how he had to apologize. It made me grin because I grew up in Alaska with Don Young as my representative. He’s been there forever. We called him Yawn Dung.

It was fun to see the Congresswoman in person, and it was fun the way she would casually refer to Maxine, and Nancy, and Gloria by first name. It made me feel like the women of the world were one great continuum and I was included.

It was also chilling though, to hear how far we are from regular order in the House of Representatives and how hellbent the Republicans are on rolling back Obama’s policies and shifting wealth up toward the top income brackets. I’ll never understand why really rich people are interested in getting richer, when they are already so rich that it is an abstraction to begin with. For people in the lower income brackets, nothing is an abstraction!

It had been a while since I had a startle moment — you know, when you realize in the middle of the day that Donald Trump really is president, and you feel sick with the surprise of it. It happened though, listening to Pramila Jayapal speak. She’s so close to the action.

I wanted to ask her about DACA protesters shutting down Nancy Pelosi’s press conference. Yelling at her that she’s a liar.

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But I didn’t ask.

This week we have to be calling our representatives over health care. I haven’t done mine yet but I’m going to. I struggle with a great reluctance to participate in any kind of activism at all. Even after listening to Pramila tell us exactly what to do! I know having this blog might make me seem engaged. But whenever I do something — make phone calls, go to rallies, go to meetings — I have to fight against a lot of inertia every inch of the way. I worry that too many other people are like me. I seem like a bad sign to myself. A lot of the time, this administration makes me feel like I’m lying under a heavy mattress with a headache. I have the headache, not the mattress. The only things that come naturally to me are reading, writing, editing, being a good listener, and sending money. I’m also good at taking notes. I know this is privilege, but even when it’s on a matter that cuts right close to home, I still feel kind of numb.

I’d better keep reading Hillary Clinton’s book so some of her Methodist can-do spirit can rub off on me!

 

 

 

 

TOWOIT #237

September 16, 2017… Day 240

Hillary’s book has sent me off in a little backwater eddy of reflection, but this here’s what has also been going on all week: JEMELE HILL.

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She’s been railed against for mentioning on ESPN that Trump has emboldened white supremacists. And she’s not backing down. I didn’t know about her because I’m not sporty, but I love her now.

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TOWOIT #236

September 15, 2017… Day 239

I’ve been candid a few times since Monday’s Effective Candor workshop at the office. None of those times did I stop and consider a single thing from the workshop — but that’s how it’s been with me and lessons lately. Maybe it’s that I was standing up for myself, and I think it’s better to just do it than to laboriously figure out how best to do it.

In a team meeting yesterday we were asked for feedback about whether we felt aware of what our potential career paths were at the firm. I said that I felt like as “support staff” there was just a general assumption that I must not care much about my career path. I was reminded that I was lucky to be where I was and had it pretty good.

Then today I told a man I worked with that he was being sexist. He said to me — a calm, professional person listening to him with a neutral facial expression, a person prepared to collaborate — “I don’t want to stress you out.” He says this all the time, prefacing statements and requests with, “I don’t want to make you anxious” or “I don’t want you to get flustered.”

I said, “Please don’t get meta about my feelings in conversation with me. I was sitting here completely calm, but now you’ve made me angry. Angry. That’s different than stressed out. You’ve done this several times and I’ve never said anything. Now I’m telling you that it’s sexist and I don’t like it.”

He quickly said, “Ok, I didn’t realize that, and now I understand and I won’t do it anymore.” Forty-five minutes later, I happened to see his phone lying somewhere, and I took it into his office and handed it to him. He said to the other guy in the room, “See what good care she takes of me?” 

This man is younger than me and has been at the firm half as long.

As I was leaving for the day, my boss said to me, “You get an F in effective candor for this week.” 

When I got home a bit ago, I sat cross-legged in a sunny patch of dead grass outside my apartment complex, reading What Happened. I had tears streaming down my face from a particularly tender part where Hillary talks about her mother.

“Oh, I see you got Hillary’s book!” a man’s voice said. I looked up to see a 70-year old white man standing there looking down on me.

It felt like the whole thing could go any which way, but I decided to enter the conversation in good faith.

He said, “It looks like you’re about 40% of the way through–what do you think so far?”

The sun was blazing at me from over his shoulder and I had to crane my neck way up to see his face. There were still wet tears all over my face. It was awkward, but I was committed to giving my review of the book, and to just hope for the best. After all, we’d been chastised for hiding in secret Facebook groups.

I said, “On the one hand it’s like a big cutaway diagram of a presidential campaign, which is fascinating. On the other hand, it’s also a very human memoir — which I love.”

He said, “Yeah, I was a Hillary supporter in 2008 and 2016, but I just don’t know. I don’t know if we need to be re-hashing last year, and I’m not happy with how she ran the campaign.”

I said, “Well, I understand that. But the book is both broader than last year, and much more intimate than just the campaign. I think it’s ok if not everyone is ready for this book right now, but in five or ten years we’ll be glad it exists.”

He said, “I don’t know.”

I said, “Another thing is, I’m enjoying it because it has a lot of relatable insights for professional women.”

He said, “Maybe.”

I said, “No, not maybe. I’m telling you that the wisdom is in there and I am receiving it.”

So that’s the real-life exchange I had with a man who was a two-time Hillary supporter.

I still can’t believe he said “Maybe.” 

 

 

Questions for General H.R. McMaster, Nikki Haley and Sarah Huckabee Sanders today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #236

TOWOIT #233: What Happened Day

September 12, 2017… Day 236

Today, they arrived: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Unbelievable, by Katy Tur (who covered the Trump campaign for NBC).

In the under-the-radar, “actually-I’m-not-that-crazy-about-Bernie” corners of the leftwing Internet, there’s a buzz of energy surrounding the release of What Happened. What people don’t understand about the women and men who supported Hillary is that the book’s release has turbocharged their commitment to what they were already committed to and talking about. Most immediately, with everybody’s eyes on 2018, those topics are voting rights, voter enfranchisement, voter registration, and voter turnout. Because they are about that action.

I have a deliberate schedule to follow for the next year to maintain my work, classwork, writing, sanity and health. There’s sleep hygiene involved, there’s deliverable dates for finishing book chapters. There are final exams and there are important dates when the big boss is in town. There’s family stuff too. And a boyfriend. But now I know I need to work activism back in more than it has been, because when the election happened I considered every marginalized young person as my young person and I felt responsibility to do my best on their behalf. And I still have to do that.

I also know though, that I have to write like hell. Even when I’m tired and I don’t feel like it. Because I said yes to writing in order to run headlong in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. Activism and organizing are not in the direction of my innate abilities and inclinations. They’re the opposite, and I’m going to do some of that stuff anyway. But saying yes to writing will curb my time and energy for activism. So all writing has to be Hell Yes writing. There can be no dilly-dallying in this matter. No dawdling. No equivocating.

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(this decaf Americano is having a dangerous placebo effect on me)

I have barely begun to look at either of these books, but I’m already energized.

Hillary Clinton’s and Katy Tur’s author’s notes start out similarly. In What Happened, Hillary writes, “This is my story of what happened.” In Unbelievable, Katy writes, “This is a true story. It is also my story, which makes it a work of memory.”

Flip to the beginning of the next section a few pages later, and Hillary writes, “Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs.” It is Trump’s inauguration day, January 20, 2017.

Flip a couple pages to the beginning of Katy’s next section, and she writes, “I’m about to throw up.” It’s late on election night — November 8, 2016 — and a fellow reporter has just told her that Trump is going to continue to do rallies. Victory rallies.

These women felt it in their bodies. That’s the way I felt it — a lot of us did. It was a body blow. We were holding our breaths, waiting for an abuser-figure to finally fade away after a long year of Trump on television, Trump on the radio, Trump invading our nightmares. And instead we knew he would be everywhere, in everything. For years. And not just on television. He would be fucking with our very worlds.

And that’s why I want to hear what Hillary Clinton and Katy Tur have to say about what happened last year.

TOWOIT #232

September 11, 2017… Day 235

This day always gets me, even if I think it won’t.

I am still really out of the loop on politics, by my new standards. Found out this morning that my cousin did ok in Plant City, Florida over night. The hurricane had weakened enough by that point. Listened to some political podcasts at work, and the talk of Jared, Don Jr., and Russia just swirled into background noise. When you step out of the flow of the news cycle for a few days it’s like double-dutch, a little hard to get back in. I didn’t even look at the Gallup approval ratings. Mostly I noticed headlines for op-eds bashing Hillary for writing a book.

I had so much more to say about the Girl Scouts (for grown-ups) weekend, and the thoughts it gave me about the cultural programming that girls get. It’s not all good, but the good parts are just amazing. I’m grateful for the warmth, openness, intimate platonic friendships, empathy, sensitivity, and concern for others.

However, I still do have to stomp around and forget people’s birthdays and refuse to unload the dishwasher, in order to avoid being The Office Mom.

Today we had to do a workshop called “Effective Candor” on how to give and receive criticism, and my friend was laughing into his sleeve at me all through it. We were supposed to confront a fictional character named “Jess” about how his bad attitude was really dragging morale down for the whole team. And I was just like, “Well maybe Jess is right. I mean, maybe it IS a dumb project. Jess has got a lot going on right now. People should just get off his back and deal with their own shit.”

Apparently it was a little too obvious that I AM JESS.

I wasn’t that excited about Hillary Clinton’s book until people kept telling her she shouldn’t publish it. It’s just like how I saw her with new eyes after she was flinty during the Benghazi hearings.

Katy Tur’s book comes out tomorrow too.

 

TOWOIT #231

September 8, 2017… Day 232

Yesterday I experienced something that was like this for me: I was reading a deliciously well-written essay on my phone, while standing at a busy bus stop, and then suddenly a friend of mine, who is a black man, was standing RIGHT in front of me, inside my personal bubble, nostrils flared, sort of sputtering, and I was just like “What happened?” But then his bus came and he walked away and got on the bus, making an angry dismissive gesture with his arms.

What HE experienced was that he received a bunch of racist guff at the bus stop, that I had no idea was happening because I was looking at my phone and tuning everything else out.

The next day he filled me in. He said that it was loud and prolonged and he could not BELIEVE that I didn’t pick up on any of it. He got out of a car next to the bus stop and some white guys started yelling at him that it was a “bus only” lane. He was like, “Yeah, but there are no buses here right now, so what’s your problem?” And everyone else was just standing around either looking at him blankly and/or joining in on giving him attitude. Meanwhile, a white uber driver came up and dropped off white uber passengers at the same exact place and the people still hassling my friend didn’t say anything to the uber people.

I apologized for being physically there but not THERE for him. After venting for a while longer, he said, “I mean, I know, I know, I’m the one who is the fish out of water here in Seattle, I’m supposed to adapt–” and I said, “No! What happened is bullshit and your feelings are valid!” I don’t know, that’s all I could think of to say. That, and I’d do better next time.

Shortly after that convo, I left for a weekend of “glamping” at a Girl Scouts campground with mostly white women, mostly from Seattle. It was a fundraiser for the Girl Scouts and I went with my book club. It’s a feminist group, and I thought maybe we’d talk about sexism out there. My head had been all abuzz about misogyny all week, maybe because everyone is working over time again to tell Hillary Clinton to sit down and shut up. And people on the left AND the right are starting to give Kamala Harris the Hillary Clinton treatment, just in case she gets any BIG IDEAS about 2020. And Betsy DeVos is making it easier to be a rapist on campus again. And sexism is everywhere in my every day life, confronting me and needling me.

But no. Once I was out in the woods with all of these liberal Seattle (pre-dominantly) white women, NO ONE was talking about sexism or Hillary Clinton, because all that anyone wanted to talk about was racism. If they did talk about feminism, it was painstakingly intersectional. Ta-nehisi Coates and Ijeoma Oluo were the names on everyone’s lips. DACA was a top concern. Everyone was onto themselves and their own latent prejudices. Everyone was trying to figure out what more they could do to fight racism. It felt strikingly different than similar pre-election gatherings would have been.

There’s still lots of room to criticize us white women as a demographic group. We have problems. We have blind spots and ways we’re obnoxious and entitled and clueless and privileged. We didn’t just stop being all those things. I’m not mad when black people talk about how white women voted Trump in and why white women are culpable. I’m just mad when white men pick that up from them and use it against us too. Which they do. All the time. Anything they can get their hands on, it seems.

Hillary Clinton’s book arrives in the mail on the 12th (I hope! It better!) and so does Katy Tur’s.