Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Shortest Day

My shoulders slumped a little as I walked out of the salon last Thursday.  I didn't like my hair cut. The blonde fell in smooth strands, a little bang whisked across my brow.  I couldn't put a finger on what I didn't like.  But when I got home that evening my tween daughter put it in simple terms.  "Mom, it's a bob."  She squinted her eyes a little and elaborated.  "Actually, its a little bit shorter than usual.  It's not just a bob--it's a mom-bob."  Of course it was.  I was a mom with a smooth blown out bob, a mom-bob is what I had for hair.  I didn't love it, but was mildly resigned to it.  Something about me with a mom-bob made sense, not to my internal story of myself, mind you, but to my understanding of the world beyond me, to the people who look at me and think of me in a certain way.  I think to them I am a mostly a mom, and for me to have a mom-bob would make a certain kind of sense.

Because I'm a mom of a certain age, who still has blonde hair, a haircut does not finish it off for me.  The next day I had my second hair appointment of the month--for the color.  By last Friday my roots were showing about an inch and a half, damning evidence that I had missed the previous appointment.  My colorist hates it when I do this.  It makes her job of making my hair look natural more difficult.  I've spent the last three years or so threatening to give up the color, but pretty much everyone I know--my kids, my hairdresser, my colorist, everyone, is staunchly against my going gray--and in the end, I suppose for now I'm with them.  I'm not that interested in looking older these days, which must be some kind of sign that I've grown up, because I can remember the days of wanting to look older than I actually was.  And beyond all that I've not been able to calculate the logistics of letting it go gray.  Do I cut it off and then grow it out?  Do I tough out the year of hair half gray half blonde?  That's usually where my thoughts on gray stop and I book the next three hour appointment.

For the first time at this particular appointment, I ran into a male friend getting his color done.  Do you acknowledge this?  Is it outing him somehow to say hello?  For years friends have streamed through the salon during the three hour appointment, and we've covered, children, marriage, the state of the nation, all with our hair foiled up into wild looking techno manes.  But the men had never joined us here.  So that was a new.  I decided on texting him to let him know I was there, so when we ended up sitting next to each other in the blow dry line it was a little less awkward, I like to think.

While I sat next to my guy friend, a twenty-something male stylist with blue ear plugs and black doc martens blew out my freshly blonded mom-bob.  Smooth, straight, pretty.  It was a haircut that was hard to argue with, because it didn't look bad.  But in the course of the three hours in the chair, not only had I seen my first male friend come in an cover up his gray, but I had also read Megan Mayhew Bergman's essay, The Long and Pretty Goodbye.  In it she catalogued some of the most effective elegiac writing of the year, including an article about the sudden thinning of the giraffe population in Africa.  In thirty years the giraffe population has fallen from 157,000 to 97,000, slipping from the list of animals around which there is little concern into the list of species vulnerable to extinction.  

Learning about the declining giraffe population pierced me in a new way, as if there had not in the last few months been enough disillusion and disappointment.  Eloise, our almost seven year old, is a self-proclaimed giraffe-girl.  In a family where gender is fluid and up for discussion, Eloise claims giraffe-middle as her gender essence.  It's about the eyes for her, and I can't argue.  Both she and giraffes share a fringed wide-eyedness that makes an undeniable impression, and she claims the kindred spirit any way that she can.  It is not uncommon for me to pick her up from first grade to find her wearing her giraffe horn head band.  She draws giraffes.  She dreams of giraffes.  She has decorated her room with giraffe artwork and a collection of giraffe stuffies that range in size from over five feet tall to four inches short.  Each has it's own gender-middle name:  Jingles, Beau, Sparkle, and on and on. I cannot hold the full catalog in my head.  Eloise asks me almost every week, "When can I visit the giraffes in Africa?"  

From my seat in the salon I foresee a slow train wreck of heartbreak that I could not prevent.  With zero hope in my heart, I sign up, from the salon chair, to become a member of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.  I don't research or dig deeper to find out if it's a good organization.  I just plug my credit card in one more time, because it is the only thing I can do, not to ward off disaster, but to ward off a kind of personal shutdown, a way of not allowing myself to give in to the helpless feeling that lingers at the edge of everyday these days.  As the sad feeling descends once again, this time weighted down even heavier by the visceral feel of my daughter's heartbreak alongside my own, I force myself to also understand it as the seed of hope, to see the wide view that these feelings of sadness as the underside of our love for so much that is both within and beyond our grasp.

The last time I felt sadness like this was when my friend Brett was in a biking accident and almost died.  The doctors did not think he would live and they predicted that if he did he would not come close to a full recovery.  He had been biking across country and ended up in a hospital in Joplin, Missouri.  His wife, his children and a few close friends flew out to be with him and make their hope manifest in person which seems almost always to be the most important thing.  I was not at the inner circle of this tragedy, but at the next rim.  I was very sad and would find myself crying at odd times and in odd places, feeling sort of stuck and helpless in Palo Alto.  But eventually I came to the idea that my sadness would help nothing.  That though I felt sad, that sad feeling had to serve as a call to notice what it felt like to be alive and well, to be able to walk, to be able to hug my kids, it had to be a call to joy of some kind, since I myself was not debilitated.  This was hard to remember, so I streaked my hair with pink as a reminder.  Every time I looked in the mirror I was reminded of a certain basic joy of just being, the kind of joy that is often easy for me to overlook.

Similarly, I decided just feeling despair about the giraffes, and the election, and the single sex bathrooms in North Carolina would not help anything, and that I had no room in my life for resignation to things that did not suit me--like that mom-bob.  So  I texted with my hairdresser to say that the cut was good looking enough, but wasn't working for me.  He texted me back to say, "Let's make it fierce,"  which felt just about right.  As he snipped away years of hair, my one fear was for what the girls would say.  

People who have known me a long time, know that the short-haired feminist is always on hand, even if you can't see her.  But the girls had never seen me that way before.  Chloe had told me a dozen times when I had thought about cutting my hair short before that she did not like the idea, that to her mind, "You won't look like my mother anymore."  I also realized that the whole world that has grown up around these daughters of mine has only ever seen me with long blonde hair.  It was strange to realize, since I know myself in so many other ways, but this group of people I love, this group of people who are my everyday, has only ever known me with long hair.



For me, short hair is a sign that a new adventure is starting.  I had my hair short when I left for summer camp for the first time, when I started boarding school, and when I moved to California.  These were all the most formative moments of my life.  It seems just right to me that as I start my MFA, at this particular moment in time, that another adventure is beginning.  In each adventure, I can see that a set of questions was rising to the top--beginning with:  who am I and who is my tribe, and then who am I and how will I take care of myself, and now as I head to writing school the question is a little bit who am i (though so much less than in school and upon arriving in California) combined with how can I help?  Though there is likely nothing more practically useless than an art degree, I am becoming a student again to ask the question, how can my writing help.  

And just as a final note in the darkest time of the year, I offer these couple of quotes that have helped me this month.  Because though writing is impractical in so many senses, other people's writing, more than almost anything else, has been my lifelong solace.  To all the writers out there who are doing their thing to offer their best effort, I am grateful.  And to Rebecca Solnit, I know I am not alone in gratitude for Hope in the Dark, a book that found me the day before the election and which I read cover to cover in just a few hours.

"Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.  You hope for results but you don't depend on them."

"Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism.  And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection."

And to Lidia Yuknavich thank you for the continuing encouragement to "Try everything."  

Happy New Year everyone.  May the return of the light stoke your joy.

With love,
Cristina








Monday, November 14, 2016

The hard work of tolerance

On Friday November 11th the San Jose Mercury News reported that Frank Navarro had been removed from his history classroom for making a comparison between Trump's rhetoric and Hitler's.  

On Sunday I attended a group gathering that was called an Election Shiva, because, as has been pointed out, many of us are in grief.  The topic of Frank Navarro's removal came up.  And the group looked at one another and asked, what do we do about that?  It does not feel right?  But should schools take a political perspective?  What should we do?  Everyone looked at one another.  I wanted to say something, but at that time didn't.  It seemed that what I had to say felt complicated, or that if I opened my mouth I might say it with too much emotion so that it could arouse more emotion, and I did not want that.  But here is what I wanted to say.  It is my response to the silencing of a teacher.

We are all in difficult times right now and emotions are running high.  No matter who we voted for, there is hurt all around.  The stories of bigotry, of who is and is not a bigot, are swirling.  That our republic suffers the vestiges of slavery cannot be denied.  That some Americans are learning for the first time that the American Dream is not equally distributed is also true, though many among us have known this for generations.  Many bodies are suddenly less safe than they were last week.

Hurt and fear threaten to close the aperture for conversation or in some cases, like in my own family, have closed it already.  However, contact is important, however painful it may be.  And by contact I do not necessarily mean agreement and I am aware that even this, contact, may be something that not everybody is ready for.  Yet, at school especially, our communities must cling to first principles of democracy, one of them being, freedom of speech.  No voice may be silenced.

Tolerance in an environment in which everyone agrees does not test the principle of tolerance.  It is when there are multiple perspectives that the practice of tolerance is forged.  It is not easy work.  In this case, organizations, like schools, owe it to their communities to be clear about their values of inclusion and freedom of expression.  All bodies must feel safe.  That is, in a tolerant community it is not permissible for someone to fear physical harm because of their perspective or their identity.  Similarly, all voices have a place.  No voice may be silenced and no individual voice may be amplified to drown out other voices.

With respect to a teacher, that voice already has power associated with it.  I believe the responsibility of the school is to guarantee safe space for its students, and in the case of history, to provide the appropriate resources for history students to grapple with the known facts of the past, knowing, of course, that those facts are always delivered from a point of view.  This is part of the study of history--to learn that who gets to tell the story has a big impact on the story that is told.  

In a tolerant community I think it is normalization of silencing to remove a teacher from their post for presenting historical facts from a particular point of view.  It is urgent that we resist this kind of silencing at this time.  Instead, it is preferable in a tolerant community to invite other voices into a conversation, to empower students to grapple with varying points of view.  This is the study of history.  Removing a teacher from their post is silencing.  They are very different approaches.

Similarly, I was impressed this week by John Palfrey, Head of School at Andover who, on Wednesday delivered an excellent All School Meeting Address in response to the election and with regard to what is expected of the Andover community, knowing that diversity is a cornerstone of that school's mission.  In response to his address, a trustee offered an alternate perspective that he would have given as the community address.  And here's the thing, Palfrey, though he respectfully disagreed with the trustee's position, he distributed  the perspective to the Andover community as well.  Offering alternative perspectives, respectful listening, and maintaining contact even in the midst of fierce disagreement is difficult work.  But defending the ability to do so is urgent work for maintaining the fabric of our republic.

Follow up.  School districts have the right to restrict what is being taught in their schools.  Public school teachers' rights to freedom of speech are shaped by their role as employees of the school district.  In this case it is the Superintendent's duty to oversee the school's curriculum.  The Superintendent has the power to declare what is and is not an appropriate presentation to a high school history class post-election.  Knowing this, it is our job to implore our school leadership to make clear their commitment to teaching tolerance as part of our public school curriculum.  Here is the ACLU information that details the public speech rights of public school teachers:

ACLU information regarding teachers right to speech.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What does it mean today?

Last night I dreamt that I was caught in a train station during war time.  It was night, and I was trying to buy five tickets to get out.  A long armed robot was in the station picking people off, it caught a whiff of me and because I smelled like vanilla it chased me down into a corner.  It was going to kill me, but it did not because I offered it a vanilla cookie I had made.

Many of you have now read my most recent essay, "I'm Not Really a Waitress" over at the Roar Sessions.  Most of you have been exposed to me giving Trump Tower the finger.  And if you read the piece, you know that I was p*&$y grabbed on the subway, and until I heard that this had happened to others, anger eluded me, only to erupt when I woke up to the fact that this kind of behavior is widespread.  In the piece I grapple with my anger and its expression.  I behave rudely in public for the first time in my life, and then struggle with violent thoughts in the privacy of my own writing space.  

I ended the piece with no easy answers.  There was no wrapping it up cleanly.  It was published on November 7th.

Since writing the piece I have continued to think about why my anger laid fallow for so long, and one thought I have had was this.  Diminishing its meaning, filing the experience as an odd-one off that took nothing from me was a survival strategy.  It was a way of keeping the reality of my vulnerability as a woman on the streets of New York City at bay. 

Because the other side of my anger, I understand there to be grief and fear regarding the primal vulnerability of my body, which, in the end, is the primal vulnerability of all bodies.  To have acknowledged that in my twenties would have been difficult, near impossible really wth living in the city and needing to make my way as a young woman.  And in part was possible because while my body is in its way vulnerable, it's less vulnerable than most. 

In my essay I go on to share with readers a disturbing rage fantasy, which I included because I felt it said something important about a universal violent impulse that lives in consciousness as a primitive reaction to realized vulnerability.  When you encounter folks in grief after the election, it is grief over this primal vulnerability, especially of black bodies, brown bodies, bodies of women and others who have mostly skirted on the fringes of power over the course of history, and the accompanying fear that these bodies are now more vulnerable than ever.

Anger is a healthy response to the violation of bodies, but what I want to refine and commit to continue to refine here on my blog and in all my writing, is the process of being with anger, such that it becomes a workable force that bends the arc of history toward justice, especially in the forms of safety and inclusion for a diverse community of people.  I do not regret my anger, but also understand it to be powerful and if confused with hate to be dangerous.  I vow to harness it to become ever more useful in fulfilling the promise of our democracy and the requirements of our planetary interconnectedness.

My mother is a Jungian analyst.  I have been raised to believe that dreams come to us to aid us toward our health and growth.  They are poems, riddles that may suggest uncanny solutions to problems, not that there are easy solutions to any of the large challenges we face as a planet or a nation.  In my dream last night, a vanilla cookie kept the monster at bay.  I did not perish.  I lived to see another day.  In a sense, the vanilla cookie is the solution the dream offers the dreamer.  

I've tried lots of different interpretations on in this paragraph today.  None of them feel quite right. But what I cannot help but point out, and want others to understand, is that the white cookie keeps me safe.  My privilege keeps me safe.  Many bodies are much more at risk than they were before Tuesday night.  Those who walk safely among us have an obligation to use our privilege in whatever form we experience it to protect the more vulnerable and to protect the principles of democracy.  

Whatever it means, I plan bring my very most sincere effort to the work and I hope you will join me.

Take good care.  With love and commitment.
Cristina




Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Summer of Hamilton

Two hour Hamilton sing along on the road to Hana

There is so much I could say about the past six months, about how we gave up an idealized version of family life in favor of a doable version of family life, about how the pedestrian pressures of Palo Alto exhausted me to the point I thought I might be clinically depressed, about how it came to my attention that Graham and I often find ourselves in over our heads raising three children, or about how frequently and humbly I've needed to ask for help and then ask for help again.  That all has been true, and it is also true that things are much better now (PHEW).  The biggest impact has come from finding help and support, but I must say, the Spencers have also been lifted up by Hamilton, the musical.  2016 will definitely go down as the summer of Hamilton.

It started with an image that seemed at once typical and a bit worrisome from a parent’s perspective.  Gwendolyn, on the verge of turning twelve, was on her phone a lot.  At the beach she sat in the shade, earbuds plugged in place, those white plastic threads skimming her shoulders as they tethered her to some unknown elsewhere.  For hours.  Everyday.  In all fairness, she was not totally hypnotized, she produced many drawings while she was attached to her phone, but since she is my first child, the child who will break me into raising a teenager, I kept an overly vigilant watch.  The phone seemed a likely pitfall, and in other ways was already proving itself to be. 

I worried whenever I saw her on her phone.  Was this too much time?  Should I cut her off?  How much was normal?  Until one day in early July; it was hot and sunny.  We were in our bathing suits walking on a path toward the beach.   Gwendolyn said mom, “Listen to this.”  And then she started to play a song from Hamilton for me.  It was “Guns and Ships.”  I knew she liked the music from Hamilton, that her friend Gracie had introduced her to it, and even that she listened to it a lot. But because her phone life was such a private cocoon, I had no idea how much she was listening to the score.  

As Gwendolyn played me the song, she sang along to all of of the lyrics in “Guns and Ships.”  For those of you who haven’t heard the music from Hamilton yet, the words in “Guns and Ships,” spew like machine gun fire.  I’ve read that to perform the song, the singer must pronounce 6.3 words per second.  In general, the pace of word flow in Hamilton overall is so fast that if the show were to be performed at a typical pace for a musical it would play for over four hours, instead of the two and a half hours it normally runs.  Learning the lyrics to “Guns and Ships” was an impressive feat, evidence of passion and an inestimable amount of practice.  Hamilton.  The bulk of Gwendolyn’s phone time had been spent listening to Hamilton.

From that point on, Gwendolyn took charge of music during car rides.  We listened to “The Schuyler Sisters,” on repeat for the first few weeks.  Then “Helpless.”  We faked formality along with the cast as we learned “Farmer Refuted.”  None of us learned the lyrics to “Guns and Ships,” quite like Gwendolyn had, but we followed her lead, and after a spring during which the girls had been more at one another than ever, the sisterly tension shifted gears into friendly jousts over which Schuyler Sister would be the best to play when they all made it to Broadway.  Short answer—it’s not Peggy.

******

This is how I end up walking down Bryant street the other morning listening to “One Last Time.”  In this number George Washington takes a private moment with Hamilton to share the news that there has been a shift in power in his administration.  Jefferson, Hamilton’s nemesis, has resigned from the cabinet in order to run for President, and Washington will not oppose him.  The song plots the emotional journey Hamilton and Washington make together as they draft one last public address together. 

One last time.
Relax have a drink with me.
One last time. 
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye,
To say goodbye.
You and I.

In Palo Alto the sky is blue over head, and for the first time there is a bit of fall chill in the air.  Here I am, the person in the phone cocoon, earbuds plugged in place, Hamilton also my elsewhere.  Chris Jackson’s clear brass voice sings one last time, as I walk past the familiar homes in my neighborhood—the tan stucco, the tudor, the house with the giant briard whose barking always startles me, the white home with the terra-cotta roof.  When I pass this last one, I experience an unexpected wisp of grief, the living room window of the terracottas-roofed house is now empty.  It used to give view to a table decorated with a collection of model hands.  They were a bit gothic and odd and at the same time quite beautiful.  I had only recently learned that the house belonged to a hand surgeon and had started to think fondly of the home as one that belonged to a certain kind of artist, even though I had never met the owner in person.  This summer they moved and the house has been empty.  The hands and their owner passed out of my life without fanfare.  

Which might account for the fact of my tears.  Because it seemed for no reason, but on that block, as I listened to Chris Jackson play George Washington I cried.  I couldn’t place the reason, but looking back I wonder if the experience of a small loss was hinting at the imminence of more important losses to come.  The empty window.  My little girl disappearing.  The final months of a presidency that has both meant something to me and has felt inextricably linked to the arrival of my first child.

******

When I got home I looked up that final address that Washington and Hamilton wrote together.

It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness;  that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it, accustoming yourself to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

When Washington points out the “immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness,” I return to July 2004.  Gwendolyn is four weeks old.  The incision across my belly is a hard ridge.  I have been visited by the lactation specialist three times for a cracked nipple that won’t heal.  For the first time in my life, the television is on all day.  Everyday.  I’m embarrassed to admit, this is why I end up watching the Democratic National Convention for the first time in my life.  I am moved by the young senator from Illinois.  

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.  That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  That this is the true genius of American, a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm; that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution; and that our votes will be counted—or at least, most of the time.

When he finishes his speech, I think, I’d like to see this man run for President.  This might be the only substantive thought I hold in my head all summer.  That summer that I never left the house and watched television all day.

****

And so here we are together.  The single thought shared by so many, I’d like to see this man run for President, is a notion that has run its course.  My daughter is twelve, and it is time for this country to re-invent itself again.  Just like in 1796.  Just like in 2004 and 2008 and 2012.  I wonder how we will do it this time.  Gwendolyn is twelve, straddling her own epochs, the music from Hamilton humming in her blood.  What history is she about to witness?  

I'm not sure how to end this post, except to say, Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man was shot on September 16th walking to his stalled vehicle in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  If you haven't watched the videos, you must.
****



The notion of “elsewhere” was adapted from the essay, “On or About,” from the book Changing the Subject by Sven Birkerts.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

3 Fun Things


I thought you could use some plain old good news for a change.  So here are three small but, great things.

First,  I saw a 7 week old Jack Russell puppy this morning.  The picture doesn't really capture the total cuteness of this tiny mammal.  At about two hands long, and one hand high this guy's body is portable joy.  Do you think it is cheating on my 13 year old German Shepherd to have enjoyed this little encounter so much?  I'm not bringing home a puppy, so I think Chicca, my sweet old girl, will forgive me this little flirtation.

Second, this week, with the publication of my Roll Call post, my blog crossed 100,000 pageviews!  YAY!  Thank you so much for your time and attention.  For a young writer, having readers never stops being astonishing, I'm not kidding.  My heart hops into my throat and I squint back tears, when I think about it.   I have no idea what this number means in the world past my doorstep, whether it would be considered a lot or a little.  But I don't care.  It means a boatload to me, and I am doing a little teary, jig here at my lap top.  THANK YOU! THANK YOU!  THANK YOU!

And finally, I just wanted to circle back on my last post.  I said something in there that wasn't exactly accurate.  I said I didn't care who you will vote for.  The truth is I do, I deeply do, but what I don't care to do is argue about who you will vote for or to give any more attention than necessary to Hillary's opponent.  I have started to feel about the non-Hillary candidate the same way that the characters in Harry Potter feel about Voldemort.  To say the name is to risk conjuring the presence.  The non-Hilary candidate is getting plenty of attention in other places, and while I agree it is important for the news and the truth to keep coming, in this place, my blog of 100,000 pageviews, where I get to control the universe, I want to offer attention toward practical steps we can take towards sanity.

To that end, and this is my third good thing. I am celebrating that good citizens can take comfort in the democratic work ahead.  In a non-partisan way, it does the heart and mind good to act on behalf of the things that matter most to us.  Today I went to www.hillaryclinton.com, clicked on ACT, then scrolled to California. I signed up to volunteer and then found the link to START CALLING (right here from my lap top, just an hour ago!).  After setting aside a short case of the jitters (cold calls can be so tough) I made my first three phone calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and on call number three I reached a woman in LA named Tracey.  She is a strong supporter, and so I got her signed up to volunteer for the campaign.  She will be traveling to Nevada and I hope to do the same.  WOOT!

Here is the direct link to the online phone bank (www.hillaryclinton.com/calls/).  Once I got past my nerves, calling was so easy and only took a couple of minutes.

I hope you all have a great Thursday!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Roll Call

Showing up for roll call, strong in generations


This week Jena Schwartz, a wonderful writing friend and teacher published a post she entitled Roll Call.

"This morning in one the writing groups I facilitate, I essentially asked for a show of hands — a virtual roll call. Are you here? I asked. One by one, people came and said yes and yo. They wrote half-mast and no but I want to be. There was no wrong answer. Are you here? Are you here? Am I here?
We are here, and we are not leaving."
She was writing about her morning writing group, but she was also writing about the politics of our times, in particular, some of the more disturbing aspects of the Republican platform.  For those of you who know me, it will be no surprise that there are many, many aspects of the current Republican platform with which I disagree.  The bigger surprise may be that I have written so little in the past few months.
The truth of my quiet is that I have been in a state of waiting.  Of I don't know what I'm meant to do here.  Last summer I picked up Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I read it while on a long stretch at the beach with my family.  Halfway through the book, I found myself walloped with despair.  I told Graham I needed sometime alone.  I rented a small hotel room, finished the book, and spent the rest of the day in a state that I can best describe as mourning.  I cried for how much more work there is to be done, and for my absolute sense of not knowing what, personally, I could do.  
Writing was always a possibility, but there was a part of me that did not want to add to the mayhem.  With the political and racial climate plummeting, it can feel like the air itself is lace with vitriol. I also have bouts of anger, but have not wanted to add to the heat of the moment.  And yet, it feels important, also to speak up, respond to my friend Jena's roll call, to say I'm here, count me in.  
In particular, I want to share with you the issues that matter to me as a way of presenting myself without anger or heat to say, count on me for these issues.  These are not the only issues I care about, but I feel each of them deeply, and struggle with feeling paralyzed in the face of their scope.  I don't know what it means to ask you to count on me for these, or what I will be able to do to back my beliefs up.  This not knowing has kept me quiet for a long time.  Putting what I believe into words in public feels so meager, and honestly, not knowing what action to take makes me feel ashamed--and that more than meagerness has probably been the thing that has kept me so silent.  What is more annoying than a person with strong convictions and not enough action?  But you know what, forget that--these things take time, they take all of us, and it will take all of us putting our fears and shame aside to plunge forward.  I believe saying what we care about matters, in ways that maybe we don't understand or can't understand in the moment of their saying.  
So here it goes...yo' Jena, I'm here for roll call.
I believe in equity, inclusion, and in a democracy that is grounded in robust participation.  I am troubled by Citizens United, the power that super PACs have in our electoral process, and the current legislation around campaign finance.
I believe that income inequality is polarizing American culture and society, and that the disappearance of the middle class instills fear and anxiety in all of our citizens.
I believe that as a country, we have yet to account for the exodus of women from the role of care taking.  We have undervalued the role that care taking plays in a compassionate society and our lack of attention keeps structures in place that reinforce the cycle of poverty and the the shape of American work life.  The dominant culture of work and social life encourages citizens to cover their differences in order to participate in our economy and other systems. 
I believe that our country has profited off the bodies of black men and women, since our founding days, and that our current privatized prison system is a re-incarnation of slavery.  To read more about this topic read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  I don't think that we will come close to addressing racism in our midst until we address this and other structured injustices.
I believe that media has de-sensitized us to sensationalism, drama, and aggression--it makes it difficult to distinguish between news and entertainment.  Though we can never go back to pre-Watergate days, in which the media and the government shared a gentlemen's reporting agreement with regard to the news, we need more journalism that is designed as a public service to preserve our democracy, not drive profit.
I believe that compassionate people have a role to play in reducing anger and increasing sanity.  We need heroes and scripts and models for creating unity in an insane climate.  We could do with far fewer guns in our public life, and deeper structural change in the geography that drives racism and injustice and the systemized concentration of wealth.  We need to acknowledge that our thoughts and reactions are shaped by the geography and structures in which we live.  None of us will be able to think or act freely for as long as groups of individuals are systemically disadvantaged.  
These are not the only issues that trouble me, but they are the ones I feel intensely right now.  This week I will take active measures to support Hilary Clinton.  I don't care whether she is your candidate or not, but I do care about having skin in the game--yours, mine, everyone's.  Unless we are all in it together, we risk losing what generations of Americans have made possible (um, sure, I've probably been listening to too much Hamilton, but honestly, it's an uplifting soundtrack for summer of 2016, which is serving up so much sadness, violence and disappointment).
If you're inclined, I would love to read your roll call.  What do you care about?  Where do you want to be counted, even if you don't know how to go about showing up?