Out of step

I have this post I’m working on about corporate responsibility and ethical consumerism that I meant to post last week, and then this week, but so much shit has been going on it just got away from me.

But hey! I learned something new! Who wants to know about shingles now? Shingles– which I’ve decided to call zombie chickenpox, because why not– is this incredibly, viciously painful skin rash that (apparently) feels a little bit like when your foot tingles really bad after you’ve been sitting on it for a while, and a little bit like dipping ones’ nerve endings in hot oil before continuing about the days business with every raw, burnt fiber exposed and trembling in agony. 

It’s caused by a prior chickenpox infection: basically, if you’ve ever had chickenpox, then shingles (aka zombie chickenpox) lurks within you, a time bomb of misery and pain waiting to explode. 

However, if you were lucky enough to get the varicella vaccine, then congrats! That shit protects against both chickenpox and it’s zombified return from the dead.

Soooo, yeah. It’s also been spring break, so busy on that front, too. 

 

Drowning

I used to be confident that, if nothing else, I had a way with words. I thought I was a writer. I thought …

I don’t know.

I’m tired. I can’t say anything right. I can’t get the words to line up right.

If I can’t convey meaning in my own life; if I can’t navigate basic conversations within interpersonal relationships, how can I possibly write a book? 

Isn’t that the pinnacle of hubris, to think I can convey ideas, thought, and meaning to an audience of thousands–to move them emotionally and connect with them– when I can’t even cross a solitary communication divide?

I’ve been lying to myself. 

I have nothing. 

I am nothing.

on the misrepresentation of artistic suffering

I strongly object to the kind of romanticization of creativity and/or genius associated with mental illness seen in this NAMI post

While I understand the desire to highlight positive aspects of a life altering condition, it’s a bit like saying, “This anorexia is fantastic for helping me lose weight!” or, “Yay, cancer! Now I can smoke weed!” It’s just irresponsible and, on a social/ representation level, dismissive of the very real devastation caused by the symptoms of untreated/ unmanaged illnesses. 

I hate, too, when films/ TV shows come out with leads or villains whose “superpower” is a one-dimensional representation of mental illness; like in payment for the suffering, it grants those afflicted with talents beyond mere mortals. Most people with mental health issues are just ordinary people, dealing with the same problems as everyone else in addition to the weight of their symptoms. 

It is a disservice to suggest the illness is a conduit to creative success or genius, because the logical conclusion is that by eschewing treatment, one cultivates creativity/ genius and therefore success. I have lost far too many loved ones among my friends and family to this dangerous mythology.

I think it’s interesting, too, because of the class myth about the starving artist, which is often unconsciously referenced in justifying the payment of artists in “exposure” or “experience,” neither of which can pay the bills. 

Both of these myths serve to create a link between creativity and suffering; creativity as the natural result of pain — and while perhaps an argument can be made in that regard, it does not then follow that all creators must suffer for their work to be valid, and it certainly doesn’t follow that the best work comes from instability and suffering. 

The best creative work results from access to resources, time, support, and the artist’s emotional/ physical health allowing consistent practice of their craft, which leads to growth and regular productivity. All of this requires a modicum of financial security, emotional stability, and reasonably good physical health.

An starving artist working two shifts just to pay the bills will be hard pressed to find funds for materials, let alone energy or time to create.

An untreated mentally ill artist who chases flights of hypomanic or manic creativity for inspiration will find their output sporadic, disconnected, and unreliable — which doesn’t pay the bills, resulting in stress and spiraling despair. It doesn’t matter how talented a bipolar, schizophrenic, etc. you are; if you are homeless and lacking resources for treatment or artistic creation, those flights of “creative inspiration” are merely symptoms of the illness.

A physically ill artist lacking the financial resources to access good healthcare resources or caretakers, who must expend what little energy is available to them navigating complex healthcare systems, appointments, treatments, and specialists with little to no assistance is unlikely to have the emotional or mental energy for creative output.  

The notion that suffering equates to creativity is a dangerous and, frankly, classist myth. Only wealthy artists or those with financial benefactors/ networks can actually afford to risk their livelihoods by chasing sporadic manic daydreams of creativity.

In defence of ‘worthless’ pretty things

I like flowers.

There. I’ll admit it.

It is not a popular opinion among my peers to like flowers. To want a bouquet of cut flowers on the table. But I do.

I like the brightness of them, the pretty freshness.

A waste of money,” sniff my friends disdainfully. “I’d rather have a garden, or potted plants.

I would not. I’ve never had a talent for plants. I always manage to kill them. My heart droops when I’m gifted with one, or entrusted with the care of one. It terrifies me and stresses me out.

I like cut flowers. I cannot kill that which is already dead.

Why do we give the mutilated sexual organs of plants as a love token, anyway? It’s just stupid Hallmark marketing,” a fellow feminist wittily jokes, rolling her eyes at the idea. I smile uncomfortably, quietly signaling an agreement I don’t feel.

It’s not Hallmark marketing. Flowers have been a token of affection, of friendship, of regard, of love, for centuries. Hallmark is a pretty new company on the historical timeline. Maybe there’s an argument for the romance marketing of it, but know what? Don’t care.

They’re pretty. They’re bright. They say, “Hey, I saw these and thought of you.” 

I like that.

I like the idea that during the course of a day, someone saw a bright bouquet of golden roses, or cheerful wildflowers, and was reminded of me. I like the idea of being associated with something so inherently happy. 

I secretly envy people who get flowers often.

Ugh, what a waste of money,” kvetch the practical-minded of my peers, when such purchases come under discussion. “Useless and dying! Who would even want a gift like that?

Yeah. Exactly. They’re temporary — a gift that doesn’t clutter; something I don’t have to store or display forever or dust or remember to wear on special occasions.

They’re just there, brightening my life for a span of time, wordlessly saying, ‘hey, someone loves you,’ with a splash of color … and then they’re gone. 

As ephemeral, brief, and delightful as spring. A beautiful memory, captured in a photograph and a warm smile.

I am practical, and a feminist, and not known for being particularly feminine. I like dresses, but find pants more practical for most activities. I prefer boots to high heels. I’d rather spend money on books than makeup, or motorcycle gear than expensive jewelry, but … flowers, I like.

I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty about it.

collections of words

As I write this, it’s 9:21 in the morning. I woke at 7:30 am, and all morning I’ve been thinking, Maybe I could write … 

I always hear about parent writers/ authors who “wrote the book in the morning, while everyone was sleeping,” or “wrote at night, while everyone slept.”

It must be nice to have a household with such reliable sleep schedules. I’ve never been a morning person, but it’s a trait I might cultivate if there was any guaruntee of sunrise privacy … alas, there is not. I am by nature a night owl, who’s given in wholesale to the wide-eyed exhausting temptations of nightlong creative binges — but I am no longer the only night owl in the house, and insomnia fueled nights no longer have the upside of hushed shadows cultivating creativity.

I wonder if those writers had an office, or like a sort of private room the rest of the family didn’t really intrude into even if they did wake?

I’m not writing because my son has been awake since 7:45, and every 15- 20 minutes pops out of his room to rifle noisily through the kitchen pantry before checking in on me with another joke or quip. I think the timing might have something to do with matches in his computer game? Also, any minute now my husband will wake up and come out to turn on the tv. 

Just now, as I was thinking, its been two hours … husband isn’t coming out anytime soon to turn on the tv … and then Son swanned out of his room with a shit-eating grin, blasting the Jurassic Park theme from his phone in triumphant accompaniment, and declared, “I’m alive!”

Obvious statement made, he and his musical accompaniment returned to his room.

It is precisely these kinds of unpredictable interruptions that make writing around family so difficult, and why if they’re home — even asleep, even in another room — I find myself too tense, too on guard, too suspicious of interruption. 

The worst/ best part is if I do cave, and I do write, once I sink into it, I’m lost. The words, the concentration of it, the beauty and rythym of language — I lose track of time, of other people, of everything. So in the past, my husband has come seeking me, or son come swanning in with a joke, and beckoned, I swim up through the gauzy layers of another world to focus my irritated gaze on them and snap, “What?”

Of course I see the hurt, the rejection that causes. So it’s easier just to … not. To wait until no one’s home, so no one can interrupt, and no one can feel rejected because they interrupted.

Bleh.

I meant to write about ECCC. It was fun. Son and I enjoyed slightly different things, but I think we both had a good time. It ended up being a long, exhausting day, and if we go again next year I plan on bringing my husband and possibly getting tickets for two days so we can spread our activities out. I was really happy about meeting Kristen Britain, who I got a picture with and who answered some of my questions about her books. She also autographed my Nook cover and a copy of my SIL’s book. I wanted to buy a copy of her new release for her to autograph, but they were sold out.

I had an epiphany on the way home, spurred in part by a sense of intense maternal guilt about my desire to attend the writers panels and author signing with Kristen Britain, which conflicted with my son’s desire to not listen to people talk about books.

I realized I don’t really get to talk about books/ writing/ publishing much in my everyday life, and certainly not in my preferred way — dissecting plotting pace, foreshadowing, characterization choices, character arcs, effectiveness of set and setting, language/ description/ wordplay choices, and so on. I don’t get to talk about writing struggles very often with people who relate–drafts and edits and trying to craft a sentence just so, and trying to find critics who give better critique than, “It’s good, I like it,” or copyedit (which is useful and all, but not exactly helpful for pacing/ characterization), and don’t fall into the type of in depth critiques which are basically recommending changes to make the writing more like theirs, eg, “Add more romance,” from a romance writer, or, “Take out the sci-fi, make it magic,” from a fantasy writer, or, “I don’t understand why she’s a girl? Soldiers are usually boys, so it would make more sense if she’s a boy. Add more action language and gunfights. Less tech,” from another sci fi writer.

So I realized the reason I love these sorts of oppurtunities to listen to author panels and talk to writers and published authors afterward is because it’s so nice to talk to people who speak my language. Who care about the things I care about. Who have more to say about a book than, “It was nice. I liked it.”

It feeds something deep in my soul, like rain in a desert, and it felt a little selfish to go to the author panel when my son wasn’t interested … but it was also irresistible when I won’t have this opportunity again until October, and that’s no guarantee.

Squeeeee

Yesterday was the release date for Firebrand, the 6th book in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain. Which means that aaaallllllll day, I’ve been seeing posts like this in my feed:

And I am like unhhfhkfhh I waaaaant. 

I could get it on my Nook. Actually, I probably will, lol. But I was also planning on picking up a hard copy, and recently I learned the author herself is doing a panel and author signing at ECCC, which I just so happened to have bought tickets for as my son’s birthday gift! 

Sooooo I figured I’d just kinda delay on picking up the hard copy until I was at the author signing, bc its less stuff to haul around the entire day. I’m already bringing my Nook and a few books for the other author signings.

This birthday gift is really working out well for me, haha.

I’m so excited — I nerd out a little at the prospect of author panels. Love love love hearing writers talk craft. I didn’t know ECCC had a whole section for writers, and I kinda feel pissed/ like I’ve been missing out. 

I’ve only been to one other con — a Wizardcon in Portland a few years back. I was not impressed by the experience. 

See, I’d been to Wordstock (also in Portland), now the Literary Arts Fair. It’s this big, multi-day event all about, well, books. And writing. The first year I went, the door/ entry fee was like $10/day (free for students), and I think it’s $15/day now (but still free for students). With that entry free, attendees get a book coupon, entry to a bunch of author panels, and access to this awesome two-story book fair with tons of cool books, book-related merchandise, and literary arts activities (like poetry readings, typewriter free-write, finger painting, etc). It’s super fun, just for the basic entry fee, and you get to talk to all kinds of cool writers and authors and meet with indie publishers and stuff — but, if you’re willing to pay a bit more, it gets better (Is that possible?!? Yes! It is!) There are writing workshops, and they’re pretty good. I shelled out a little extra a few years back and took two. Worth it. That said, even just going and listening to the author panels can result in some incredibly insightful and helpful advice, so I strongly urge any aspiring writer to find a literary arts conference and go!

Anyway, I assumed Wizardcon would be like Wordstock, with the entry fee giving panel access and all the activities and free signings and things. But it was more like a swap meet with cool costumes that I paid $40 for the privilege to peruse the overpriced wares I had no intention of buying. Boooooring. I was like, “Wow, this is a con? What a con!” And just kinda wrote off all cons because I didn’t realize there are (apparently) huuuuuge differences between the different cons?

Anyway, my kid had waaay more fun at Wizardcon than me (he was at the age where drooling over Star Wars toys and staring wide-eyed at people wandering by in crazy costumes was entertainment enough), and has been begging to go ECCC ever since. The last two years the tickets were sold out by the time I remembered to check, but this year–ah ha ha, this year I mommed the hell out of it and got him those tickets. Boom, baby! So stoked.

Then I got their email with the day planning guide and was like whaaaaat is this? It’s more than a glorified nerd-targeted swap meet with costumed fans wandering the premises? There’s a gaming floor to try out new board games and VR and video games? There are panels about cosplay and gender roles in comics and content creators talking narrative in film, comics, and games? There are author panels with some of my favorite authors talking feminism, sci-covering and fantasy?!?? 

And these have been regular features?!? Like, annually? I could have been dropping my son and husband off on the gaming floor and spending the entire day in a blissed out haze of writer panels and author signings all these years?

I’m so excited. So so so excited. Possibly more excited than my kid at this point.

the nightmare mind

Depression is a familiar, yet strange nightmare. A shapeshifting demon I know too well, but always fail to recognize.

When I was little, I used to be afraid of the witches in the closet. At night, with the bedroom lights off, the moonlight cast shadows across the bright Sunday dresses and turned them into a rustling coven of witches. I would lie in bed staring at them, unable to sleep as my overactive imagination warred with my reasoning mind. Sleep. It’s just your dresses. No, no — see, it moved! Dresses don’t move! Eventually I would leap up, risking a spanking, and turn on the light to check. Magically, the witches would resolve into an inanimate garden of dresses, innocuous and cheerful — but as soon as the lights were off and shadows turned the colorful fabric dark, the witches would return with their whispers and rustles.

Insomnia and anxiety have been the long-time companions of depression in the war for my soul. By my teens I knew the necessity of girding myself against them to the best of my ability, but I was resistant to actually implementing any of the advice offered by my well-meaning parents, therapists, and counselors.

I am, by nature, a night owl. I prefer long walks in the moonlight, under the stars. I prefer the silence and emptiness of abandoned streets at 2 a.m. I prefer puttering quietly around the house when all are asleep, each careful movement calculated to preserve my precious solitude. My therapists kept telling me I had to resist it, that I couldn’t lean into it — that I had to at least try to sleep. I would smile tightly, a combination of irritation and frustration: didn’t they think I would sleep if I could? Did they think I liked staying up all hours until I dropped from the sheer, worn-out exhaustion of a 36 hour insomnia?

Then again back then, there were no real consequences when I ignored their well-meant advice. I had that special privilege of a secure childhood, with all the privileges of outsourced responsibilities. Dad used to wake me up for school, shaking my foot and singing the BYU fight song. Mom woIuld drive me if I missed the carpool, and pick me up after school. She set my medications out for me in an egg cup every morning, so I never forgot to take them — and that’s just on the micro level. On the macro level, my parents handled all the day-to-day of household management: income earning, budgeting, meal prep, laundry, shopping, and various errands.

Sure, the kids contributed to chores … but if we didn’t? If, say, I stayed up all night reading, or sneaking out for early-morning walks, or hyperfocusing on an art project, then collapsed in useless exhaustion just before dawn? Eh. Chores still got done. Meals were still made. Household still ran. wasn’t the key element there; my parents were. I mean, sure, I was utterly useless in school — barely functioning — but my parents made sure I still went. I can’t say my high school career was in any way, shape, or form a shining success, but in retrospect, I have to admit my poor showing it wasn’t due to my lack of ability or any lack of support from my family. It was solely because I didn’t give a shit, was bored by the system/ didn’t see the value in it, and was both overwhelmed and intimidated by the amount of personal responsibility required I was required to take on to succeed. It was easier to fail on my own terms than try to succeed and fail on someone else’s.

Maybe that’s the story of my life. Maybe that’s what I’m still doing.

 

When I became an adult/ partner/ parent, suddenly I was responsible. It sucked. It still sucks. I miss being irresponsible. I hate watching clocks and making lists and worrying about schedules. I miss being the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants girl. I miss being the spontaneous girl. I miss being the idgf girl. I miss being able to stay up all night and not having to worry about whether or not I’d be in any condition to wake up my kid and drive him to school in the morning. I miss being able to get in the car and go, and not having to worry about all the stupid adult responsibility-type things, like whether or not the stove was turned off and did we close the bedroom door so the cats wouldn’t piss on the bed and did we let the dogs out and did we bring snacks for the kid and do we have the insurance cards in the glove box and did we remember the documents for crossing the border and is the front door locked.

But the thing is, it’s inescapable, and I recognize this: it’s not “being a parent,” or “being a partner,” that forced responsibility onto me. It’s “being an adult.” This is adulthood. This is what it is not to have my parents taking care of things. These are the things they took care of when I was young, and now I have to take care of them. They aren’t here. Now it’s me and my partner–and if I wasn’t lucky enough to have a partner to help shoulder the load, it would just be me.

I learned, abruptly, how to manage my insomnia shortly after my son was born (when I say “shortly,” I mean within a year or so). All those tips my therapists had been telling me through my teens, it turns out, work. Lights and computers off, no electronics up to half an hour before bedtime, and when you think you’ve been lying there forever and clearly won’t sleep, don’t get up. Stay in bed and start counting backward from 100, or something equally boring to you (I tell myself overly-detailed stories).

I also thought I got my depression under control, but then I realized I didn’t have it under control at all: it shifts, and comes at me from different faces, masquerading as external stresses like post-partum depression, grief, outside stress and trauma. The old footsoldiers of anxiety and insomnia wear masks of introversion, self-doubt, and sleep debt, but they’re all the same old stories once lodged inside. Parasite nightmares.

I was so proud of myself for conquering my insomnia, but as the years slip by and my son grows up, I notice my sleep debt increasing. The sleepless nights shade inches longer, an the yawning abyss of daytime exhaustion increases a few days every year.

Sometimes I realize, with a creeping sense of dismay, that the only thing hinging me to a responsible sleep schedule is the necessity of waking up my son in the morning and driving him to school, and when that is no longer required, there is almost nothing beyond the thin thread of my self-control to prevent my worst insomniatic impulses.

I find myself, I lose myself.

I don’t know where I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was watching this ​Bill Maher episode, and he cracked a joke about how Trump can’t come after his weed because he needs to be stoned during, “these next four years,” and I’m sitting here going, “Dude, why does everyone keep saying four years?” 

Isn’t it eminently clear by now that’s not the goal? Bannon literally said at CPAC the cabinet selections were intentionally made with the goal to, “deconstruct the administrative state.” 

They have banned the press from the White House, thereby flouting the very first Constitutional Amendment. 

The NRA ran a commercial at CPAC calling on Trump supporters to take up arms for civil war. 

I mean … honestly, I think it’s just wishful thinking to say four years. Or hopeful thinking? Maybe denialism. It’s a way of trying to hang onto normalcy; to pretend the party in power respects the US constitution and democracy, that this is a phase, a dip, not the end of an era.

Mind you, it’s not just liberals who do this. Moderates/ independents and conservatives are also normalizing/ minimizing the situation by referencing term limits:

“I don’t know how I’ll survive four years of this!” – Liberals/ Progressives/ Moderates

“You’re overreacting; it’s only four years.” – Moderates/ Some Conservatives

“We survived eight years of Obama, you can survive eight years of Trump!” — Conservatives/ Trump supporters

Note, I don’t think most citizens (even conservatives or the majority of Trump supporters) are actually on board with the gutting of our Constitution and US democracy. I do think they’re in denial, because it’s a terrifying, unreal, and incomprehensible thing that’s happening.

I mean, it’s just easier to say, even if subconsciously, “Nah … it’s not that bad.  That’s a thing that happens in history books or documentaries or dystopias or apocalyptic TV shows or on the news in foreign countries. Not here. Not in our times. Not with our leaders.

When you think about it, in Western civilization, we have three mainstream touchstones that cross class and political boundaries to create a shared, generically American lens of what the fall of a democracy looks like:

  1. Historical docudramas, films, and documentaries; 
  2. Pop culture dystopian/ apocalyptic fiction and media
  3. News/ current events

Each of these representations of democratic downfalls/ rise of authoritarian regimes tends to focus on pageantry, violence against citizens, and the villain as recognizable “other”. 

History-inspired Dramas

Let’s start with the ever-popular genre of “historically accurate” docudramas/ films. 

Whether looking at Ghenghis Khan, the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany, Stalin, Lenin, or Mao Zedong, these types of “reality based” history programs tend to focus ad nauseum on the pageantry, crowds, oratory, careless cruelty, bloodsport, and those now-recognizable symbolis of the murderous anti-democratic regimes. 

The casual brutality is one consistent feature: it’s obvious, and in-your-face, and bloody. Sometimes the dictator or his henchman performs the murders, with blood splashing in brilliant scarlet arcs across their face and clothes as chilling, orgasmic pleasure twists their features. Other times, they’re depicted as prissier, standing back and wrinkling their noses or twitching their boots away from the viscera of torture; or ordering a death and leaving the room as the screams begin. The message is clear: dictators not only condone murder, they are directly involved in it.

Then there’s the pageantry, the symbolism. We’re so familiar with them that once those distinctive emblems flash onsceen, the viewer thinks, “So obviously evil! How did they not know? It’s a freaking skull/ giant bloody knife/ severed head! I wouldn’t have been dumb enough to stick around.”

But a lot of the more “obviously evil” symbols like skulls and whatnot were informally adopted by smaller organizations within the regime, while the primary symbolic regalia adopted to represent the movement, such as swastikas, sickles, inverted crosses, or imperial eagles were innocuous or even positive at the time of their adoption and only imbued with dark meaning by time and association. 

So, considering that, it is a fallacy of our historical lens to assume the intent of a leader can be recognized by the symbols they co-opt to represent themselves: American symbols can be co-opted by evil men as easily as any other.

Failures of Democracy in Pop Culture

Now, there are genres of partisan dystopian fiction — progressive writers fear authoritarian theocracies or corporate dominance replacing US democracy and the resultant oppression and wealth inequality; while conservative dystopian writers fear the fallout of terrorism from EMPs/ ecohippies/ mad scientists/ jihadis, or envision the nightmare of feminist-imposed matriarchies, or how the Rapture will play out. Those aren’t the type of “failure of democracy” pop culture examples I’m referring to, though, because the targeted audience is limited. 

I’m actually thinking more in terms of the much more widely disseminated and consumed pop culture imagery, the stuff broadly accessible to and referenced by most Americans, regardless of political affiliation or social class. Things like, um, the movie Red Dawn (1980s or reboot), or the TV show the Walking Dead, or pretty much any superhero movie/ show — Batman, Men in Black, The Incredibles — which often depict the privacy and safety of unnamed civilians being regularly and casually violated, often by superheroes, secret government agents, or privately funded corporate agents, ‘for their own protection’.  — 

The latter normalizes the idea that the majority of citizens (to the viewer, ‘everyone else’) are easily panicked sheeple who must be “managed” or “handled” by a strong authoritarian decision maker — as the viewer, of course, we identify not with the nameless recipients of this questionable protection, but with the protagonists of the story, the heroes.

This is true of the former narrative, too, in which a hero or band of heroes navigates the unfamiliar landscape of society as we know it destroyed by invasion or unforeseen apocalyptic events. 

These types of pop culture narratives share other commonalities: an explosive/ recognizable inciting event (linking to the pageantry of the historical docudramas), an antagonist who is explicitly foreign or sympathetic/ loyal to foreign interests (British, German, Russian, Muslim, zombie, alien, supernatural, etc). Whatever they are, they either start out as not American, are revealed to be lying about their American origins, or are rendered not-American by infection/ transformation/ supernatural possession. 

The cumulative result is a shared cultural narrative that a failures of democracy will come loudly and through an obvious, external threat, that Americans unite under strong leadership, and that sometimes it’s necessary to lie to citizens for their own protection.

Current Events/ News Footage

Finally, there’s the news. CNN or Fox News, doesn’t matter; I’m not talking about opinions here. I’m talking about the visuals running in the background behind the talking head who may not be on mute on that TV at the restaurant or bar or gas station or doctor’s office when the average American is standing in line or checking out or sitting in the waiting room or eating their meal. 

You know the visual: if it’s a city, it’s in ruins, all bombed and shattered to a smoking rubble. It might be a village of thatched huts and straw cottages, though. Either way, its nothing like the view outside the window, where American buildings may be abandoned by industry, but aren’t bombed to rubble, and poverty may be on the rise, but at least from the outside, no one can tell that low income apartment complex hasn’t had running water or electricity in 5 years. Hey, it’s got a roof. It looks like every other building in the city — definitely not a thatched hut!

Onscreen, the viewer will see fires burning in the rubble as haunted-looking, dust-covered war refugees are herded from their homes, escorted by soldiers in military uniforms with distinctinctly un-American camoflauge patterns or colors. The names of far-covering cities and countries will flash onscreen, and the viewer might say, “Where’s that? China?”

“Nah, I think North Korea,” someone else might respond. They’re both wrong, but they’re not really interested anyway. The point of the question is, it’s not in a democracy. It’s not America, or Canada, or England, or Scotland, or Norway, or France, or any of the countries ranked subconsciously or consciously in our collective consciousness as “safe”. 

These may be current affairs, but they take place in locations foreign to the average Americans experience, and often involve populations dominated by people of color. Even when it occurs in white populations, the “otherness” of it is still marked by foreignness in their traditions and dress– hijabs, headscarves, or regional fashions strange to the American eye. 

It all combines in this subtle reassurance that authoritarian regimes are born in violence and noise, in foreign and unstable lands with poor leadership, and ushered in obviously via armed guard.

Cumulatively, you take all these narratives and apply them to the current moment, and no wonder so many people (of all political stripes) are referencing term limits near-constantly, whether in joking dismay or mocking dismissal of concerns.

Term limits are a talisman, a promise to a shared system of government. In a weird way, as our politics have grown more divided and partisan, term limits have almost come to function as a de facto treaty: Okay, fine. We’ll try it your screwed up way for a few years, but just you wait until it’s my turn! 

So even when our president and administration explicitly announce, “Hey. We are intentionally trying to destroy the government, and we’re ignoring the constitution to shut down free speech and free press, and we’re funded by wealthy corporate backers who support civil war on our behalf,” it’s so much easier and less frightening for everyone — liberals, moderates, conservatives — to refer with a knee-jerk regularly to presidential term limits when discussing the impact of this administration, as though invoking this cornerstone of US democracy breathes certitude into it and strengthens it.

The thing is — you gotta ask yourself, honestly speaking: Why would the guy who’s spent the two months since taking power undermining the judiciary branch of government, calling the patriotism of US intelligence agencies in doubt, flagrantly violating the first amendment; and intentionally dismantling the institutions of governance suddenly decide oh, term limits, yeah those are important. Can’t violate those. 

Really? Y’all think he’ll be totally comfortable trampling across the Constitution, ignoring the Emoluments Clause, enriching himself through his office,  and intentionally destroying the agencies and regulations comprising the actual government he’s been given charge of — but it’s a bridge too far to violate term limits?

 

Red Dawn: 2016

The more I think about it, the more I’m curious about why Comey did that press conference just before the election.

It’s weird how the timing of every leak throughout the primaries and presidential campaign benefited Trump, which is especially concerning given the amount of hacksscandalsquestionslawsuits, and investigations swirling around his people, and continuing to do so.

The DNC hack was in May 2016, and by June identified by three independent cyber security firms and a London professor of cyber security as Russian in origin. Identification was aided because such attacks were far from the first known hacks by Russia agents of foreign government servers (or US servers, of both parties), and the spring hacks were primarily unique due to the speed in which they were detected.

Apparently the RNC was also hacked, but chose not to report it because they were not concerned about a security breach. In Dec 2016 — eight months after the DNC hack, six months after the leak, and one month after Trump won — Trump’s chief propagandist, Sean Spicer, confirmed the RNC was also hacked, but claimed it was not relevant because a subsequent cyber security investigation showed the hackers only acquired out-of-date emails from a single former RNC employee (the implication being that RNC security was superior to DNC security).

The problem, of course, is that even if what they’re saying is true, it still doesn’t explain why they waited 8 months to confirm they were also hacked (whereas the DNC immediately notified the press), or the inexplicable difference in details/ openness between how the DNC and RNC have handled the investigations and examination of hacking data and cyber security reports in the fallout. (Hint: the DNC has been open with the code, investigations, and results; the RNC waited months, then stonewalled with assurances that an unnamed cyber security expert assured them they were not comprised.)

In May 2016, unconnected to Russia, Bernie Sanders was surging ahead in the primaries. He was hailed as the potential “people’s” presidential candidate. Numerous articles and polls indicated he was a stronger candidate than HRC against Trump.

When he began losing the primaries in June, those losses were accompanied by a growing sense of unfairness and accusations that the political process had been rigged — accusations of voter intimidation, voter suppression among revelations of voter purges and reduced polling locations led to grassroots attempts by some to demand recounts, while others filed local lawsuits in an attempt to nullify the state primary results and force a re-vote.

Given the intensity of the primaries, HRC was always going to have difficulty winning back a certain segment of the Sanders supporters. It didn’t help matters when — as June 2016 turned to July and Clinton’s victory was assured –HRC supporters appeared to respond to the outrage and accusations of voter suppression/ tampering by Sanders supporters as little more than bruised/ sensitive feelings and the whining of sir losers (or, more offensively, evidence of the lack of progressive credentials and/ or internalized sexism/ racism on the part of Sanders supporters for preferring a white male candidate over a white female candidate).

The message Sanders supporters were getting was, essentially, get over it and fall in line, because HRC was now “their” candidate. It was in this already non-ideal climate that HRC won the primary, as we all know.

I am not here to argue about whether or not her win was valid. Personally, I supported Sanders in the primary, but HRC in the presidential — but I’ll admit that it took me some time to come around, which is interesting because before the primary campaign I fully supported HRC as a candidate, based on her political, academic, and activist history.

In retrospect, I believe it took longer than it should have for me to recognize the clear fingerprints of emotional manipulation from the cumulative effect of this anti-HRC media blitz, due to the Julu DNC Convention Guccifer leak.

That leak validated the sense of injustice and outrage which dogged Sanders’ supporters in the final weeks of the primary, and was especially frustrating in states like mine, where Sanders won the primary vote overwhelmingly, but the electors announced they would be supporting HRC as the nominee.

Furthermore, the anti-HRC media blitz became toxically pervasive at such a gradual rate (at least in liberal/ progressive circles) that, from hindsight, it is difficult to pinpoint when verifiably fake news about HRC began circulating among Sanders supporters.

I know it did, because some of those stories were passed to me. Further research revealed some as the product of slanted information — a truth, half-told, but lacking the consideration or acknowledgment of valuable context/ extenuating circumstances — while others were outright lies.

So, back to the leaks: the timing of the July Guccifer leak was nearly 2 months after the DNC hack; meaning the “smoking gun” emails indicating the DNC engaged in preferential techniques to benefit HRC had been in the hackers possession throughout the messy contentioness of the primary … but they waited to release those emails (and did so via an intermediary to provide plausible deniability) until just before the Democratic National Convention.

Perfect timing, really: It was too late to actually challenge the DNC party nomination; but by leaking just before the formal declaration, it created a sense of false hope that because nothing had been formally been announced, it could still be challenged/overturned — a false hope fanned by unsubstantiated rumors Sanders was going to lodge a formal challenge (denied by his campaign).

HRC started her presidential campaign with her base in shambles, progessive/ Sanders supporting protesting the nomination, and a highly-publicized scourge of top DNC officials.

Throughout and after the presidential campaign, whenever former Sanders supporters talk about whatever method they did not vote HRC (Trump, third party, or abstaining), it was framed less as support for their chosen candidate/ action and more as a protest against the perceived corruption of HRC and the DNC: “Did you see the leaks?!”

I always find myself thinking, “And?!”

Okay, yes. The deal-making and internal corruption wasn’t great. But honestly? Also not unusual for either side.

We all know that. That’s what the whole appeal of Sanders was — not being beholden to money in politics. And after Sanders defeat; Trump (falsely) co-opted that appeal (it still baffles me people somehow think a billionaire CEO  — the literal embodiment of a business interest — who refuses to release his tax returns is preferable to a government employee who was funded by business interests. One of those situations you can address via legislation.)

But that leak — think of the timing! That wasn’t about altruistic information, or truth for the sake of an informed populace creating a stronger democracy!

If those were the goals, the emails would’ve been leaked shortly after the hack, in May 2016, when the results of the primaries could still be influenced. But Russia didn’t want to take the risk of a Sanders v. Trump presidential campaign; they wanted HRC as the nominee so they could cripple her presidential campaign with whispers and rumors from the outset. She was already being investigated for her email servers! All they needed to do was fan the flames of distrust — and boy howdy, did they.

Normally, a presidential candidate can rely on a significant proportion of their base turning out — even after a harsh primary — and spend the presidential campaign focusing on the swing/electoral college states.

A lot of post-election critique made much of how HRC ignored the states Trump won, but nobody really talked about why: I think it was a response to starting the presidential campaign with a deeply splintered voter base and the DNC purges. She was campaigning to win back her base; the votes she should have been able to rely on in a normal electoral season.

By the time the Russian-Guccifer link was confirmed, it was too late — the outrage of alienated progressives who supported Sanders felt validated, and trust in not only the candidate, but organized/ official institutions overall was severely undermined. Reports of HRCs innocence in the collision were met by too many with mockery and disbelief.

As a result of HRC’s campaign’s focus on winning back the base, they relied on social media/ TV/ debates to get her message out to the swing/ independent voters. Impossibly, this approach actually seemed to work — as election day approached, and it looked as though, against all odds, the HRC campaign had recovered, what happened?

Another devastatingly timed scandal headline, just days before the election. From James Comey, no less — top government official and known political opponent of HRC. The same man who had recently publicly exonerated her of wrongdoing in a highly publicized investigation; a statement which (arguably) went a long way to clearing her character and improving her chances of winning.

It also made Comey look good: fair and honest. A registered Republican for “most of his life,” who donated to the Romney and McCain campaigns, Comey had an investigation record known as careful, nonpartisan, and evidence-based. When he’d cleared HRC of wrongdoing in the server email scandal, it pissed off Republicans as much as it reassured everyone else.

So his sudden, unprecedented, unnecessary letter announcing new email-related developments — given his much-established character and credentials–was all the more damaging.

And, again, perfectly timed: explosive and headline grabbing; seeding doubt in voters just before the election deadline, yet so baseless it was already fizzling away to nothing by election day and disappeared completely by the end of the month.

But it was enough, with all the other whispers that dogged the HRC campaign, to erase any lead she may’ve had. Those swing voters and former Sanders supporters who might’ve gone out? They stayed home, or voted third party. Some of them, sadly, betrayed Sanders’ values and campaign altogether to vote Trump.

The thing that bothers me most is that all this meddling would have been for naught if it weren’t for the electoral college. She still won the popular vote. Russia literally leveraged our flawed democracy against us.

Everyone talks about the effect of false news inflaming the right wing voters so they went out and voted; but what about the demoralizing effect of the leaks on progressive voters?

Those leaks were timed to alienate the progressive base, in the hope HRCs campaign would be so occupied with winning back and consolidating her base, they would neglect the key swing states — and that is exactly what happened.

The hack and fake news are made much of, but I think it’s important not to forget the influence of the paid human trolls from Russia, or discount the real possibility they inflamed the internecine conflict of the DNC primaries.

It is true DNC preferred HRC as a candidate. Traditional politics is once again infused and corrupted by corporate/ big bank finances. This is a situation which has historically recurred in the US political system, and been addressed not by outsiders with no working understanding of governance but career politicians (some despicable).

It could have been addressed again, in our own house. By a politician at the very least rigged in our system, as opposed to implemented by the interference of outside manipulation. We have a Manikin President, a stooge whose failure upward was machinated not by a foreign power who seeks to control him — no, I do not think that’s Russia’s endgame at all.

They wanted Trump as the US president because he’s a fool who knows nothing of politics, and rather than serve US interests, his policies and mishandling of governance will undermine and devastate US standing on the world stage.

At this point, Russia doesn’t need to do anything else. From here on out, all the failures of this administration will be their own doing.

HRC would have been the status quo, or slow change. The leaked emails which indicted her campaign, while inflammatory, were not the outright smoking gun of illegal and amor action many claimed them to be.

I suspect for maximum effect, the Russian trolls (defined as Russian citizens who represented themselves as US citizens in social media and discussed the election with the intent of sowing dissent) amplified the simmering sense of injustice by:

  1. Posing as HRC supporters and insulting Bernie supporters/ encouraging actual HRC supporters to insult Bernie supporters, and
  2. Signal-boosting each lawsuit and failed attempt to verify primary election results, which cast more doubt on the validity of HRC’s nomination.

I just wish we could somehow get the election results discounted because of Russian interference and have the winner of the popular vote take office.

I have heard rumors HRC is thinking of running in 2020. I really hope not. She is one of those politicians who is, no doubt, extremely skilled, but she lacks a certain je nais se quoi, and it cripples her in national campaigns. I do not think this is anything as reductive as sexism, btw — I’m not denying sexism exists, and plays a strong role in how she is perceived. I’m just saying, whatever it is that makes her such an appealing candidate off-season seems to evaporate once the actual campaigning starts, and I can’t stand to watch it again.

I think I’d prefer Elizabeth Warren, or Kshama Sawant, or Pramila Jayapal. Michelle Obama would be amazing, obviously, if she had any interest in running — but she doesn’t, so I kinda feel like people should stop with the daydream.

“I don’t want to hear about it” 

My first day of Journalism 101, the professor asked each student how often they read the news, and what kind– actual news articles, by established journalistic organizations, blogger news, or viral posts in their social media feeds?

A surprising amount of the (presumably) aspiring journalists and reporters in the class confessed they did not actually read news articles. When pressed, the general consensus of the class was that the news is depressing and scary. One classmate asked why they can’t cover “nice” stories, like kittens or puppies or something.

Paraphrasing a bit here, because it’s been a few years, but essentially my professor said, “Take comfort in knowing that puppies are so commplace, their mere existence doesn’t merit headlines.”

Basically, no matter how frequent protests and riots and earthquakes and corruption and crime may seem in the news, there’s a reason they make headlines. On a planet with 7.4 billion people and counting, events such as these are remarkably out of the ordinary for large segments of the population. 

Tragedy is not ordinary, like puppies and kittens and joyful things are. Cruelty and selfishness are not expected as the default interaction, the way we expect civility, kindness, charity, love, and acceptance to be. 

If cruelty and bigotry were expected as the default mode of human interaction, we would not be so outraged by their presence. We would not be shocked into stunned silence, or driven to passionate outcry. 

And were it not for our expectation of civility, there would not be those among us who are so exhausted by the vicious and depressing weight of the news who sigh and say, “It’s just too much; I don’t like to talk about it.”

I can understand the impulse to hide; to bury ones head under the covers and hope the monsters have gone away by the time you come out.

But we are not children any more. And ignorance, though bliss, never solved anything. All it did was delay the moment of reckoning and–too often–prevent those who could have acted from doing so in a timely manner.

“But what can I do? It’s so depressing, and I don’t have enough money or power to make a difference.”

Well, the first step is staying informed–which means reading the news, and not just from sources you agree with. A broad cross-section of sources, both local and international, to get a nuanced and realistic sense of the issues.

And the second step is recognizing the power of organization. In Newsies, there’s a moment when Davey asks Cowboy how he’s going to get the heads of the biggest, wealthiest newspapers in New York to listen to the demands of a couple of street kids with no money. Cowboy replies, “We’ll go on strike!” 

“How?” Davey demands. “We’ve got no money, no union.”

“Well, if we go on strike, then we are a union,” reasons Cowboy.

And though Davey scoffs, at the core of it, Cowboy’s right. That musical may be a Disney-fied version of a historical event, but as far as the core message goes? It’s kind of spot on. 

One ordinary voice against the corrupt institutions of the powerful and wealthy isn’t going to change anything. But if you add another, and another, until that voice becomes a hundred voices and those become a thousand, and then a million–that is where our power is. 

Not in turning our eyes away with an unhappy sigh and plugging our ears to the cacophony of news in order to focus on tending to our own gardens, but in solidarity. In raising our voices in common cause to demand better for our neighbors, our communities, our coworkers — ourselves.

So listen. Be informed. Make your voice heard. And get involved in your community.