Hope and Love Last Longer

rainbowhands

Some days the madness in this world takes my breath away.  And some days it simply breaks my heart.  After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, to say that my heart is broken feels like an understatement.  But more than sadness, there is anger – and an almost desperate need to take action.  To create change.  To promote healing.

But I’ve struggled with what to say or if I should say anything at all.  There’s too much and anything that I have to say is not enough.

Do I focus on drawing attention to the victims?  Young men and women gunned down, many of whom were just at the beginning of their lives.  What could they have accomplished?  What have we missed out on because they were taken from us too soon?  Take a moment to listen to the names of those who were senselessly murdered.  (Anderson Cooper, CNN.)

Should I talk about the attack on the LGBT community?  A community that I feel so personally connected to and yet I sometimes forget how dangerous it is for my friends and loved ones.  I forget how brave you have to be, even in 2016, to be out, to be proud and to still choose love in the face of hate. (Kevin Chorlins, Facebook post)

Is now the time to remind everyone that your words matter?  Every time you marginalize the LGBT community, you feed the hate. Every time you sneer at affection between same sex couples.  Every time you insist that the Bible tells you that someone else’s love in invalid. Every time you use the words faggot or dyke.  Every time you equate homosexuals or transgender individuals with pedophiles and sexual predators.  Maybe you are just joking.  Maybe you are just uncomfortable.  Maybe you think you are doing the right thing.  You wouldn’t pick up a gun and shoot someone you don’t understand, so why are your words important? Your words are seeds that get planted in the fertile soil of someone looking for a reason to hate and to act on it.  Choose them carefully.

Do I get angry and lash out at those who insist on placing blame?  Was religion a factor?  Was the shooter a IS sympathizer?  Is right-wing Christianity as much to blame for the persecution of the LGBT community?  Was the gunman mentally ill? Does any of that even fucking matter?  Call it terrorism.  Call it a hate crime.  It is both.  Blame society, but we are all “society” and if we aren’t working to be a part of the solution, then we are, indeed, a part of the problem.

Is it too soon to pull out the soapbox and talk about gun control? I see the Facebook posts about how President Obama (the Democrats, the Liberals…whoever) want to take away the guns from law abiding citizens as a reaction to this violence.  That is complete bullshit and perpetuating that myth keeps us from making any real progress.  There’s a real debate to be had about reasonable gun control and how we protect the second amendment, but we can’t have it until the lies coming from special interest groups are taken out of the discourse.  (PBS Newshour, President Barack Obama to gun owners.)

Can I bring myself to put all of the negative aside and ask you to choose love?  Is it naive to have hope, even now, that that world can change for the better?  Now, more than ever, we need to remember that “hope and love last longer”. (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tonys acceptance sonnet)

Even if you can’t relate to my challenges, perhaps you might relate to the struggle.

I'm still here!I haven’t written a real blog post in over six months. It isn’t that there hasn’t been anything going on with me. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say. Figuring out how to say it, however, has been a challenge that I’m only just now even attempting to meet.

I recently wrote something for another venue where I talked about my passion for creating safe space for others to share their personal challenges and triumphs. While I think that this safe space is often something very intimate – one-on-one conversations with a friend – I also believe that sharing my own imperfect journey via social media is a way of opening up some safe space, albeit in a far less intimate way. Even if you can’t relate to my specific challenges, perhaps you might be able to relate to the idea of struggle.

After having to say goodbye to the most amazing therapist (due to her move to another state), I am happy to say that I have found another, similarly wonderful person with whom I can continue to learn. With her, I am addressing two of my personal addictions – shopping and food – in a way that I have never done before, and quite frankly, with mixed success. Now very conscious of my previously unconscious thoughts, I find myself putting an extraordinary amount of energy into recognizing, acknowledging and redirecting my thoughts. It is exhausting and has made me more irritable and difficult than normal. But I’m noticing changes in my thought patterns already, which is just enough to keep me going forward.

I am also trying to understand and address some lost relationships that I’ve experienced over the past year. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t understand why these ties dissolved, but what I don’t understand is why I allowed it to happen. Some of the most important relationships in my life have been frozen this year, and I have not taken the steps that would be necessary to restore them. It’s a failure that I am deeply ashamed of, but I do still feel stuck in inactivity.

And while those things are addressing the negative energy, there is a lot of positive, as well.   I believe that I’ve finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m pursuing a path that feels right in a way that nothing really has before. And while I’m not yet ready to discuss the details, I will be sharing more in months to come.

I swore I would never move again.

I swore I would never move again.

With all of that happening, I am also preparing to sell my house and buy a house with my parents. I am certain that this will spawn many blog posts to come, as preparing to live together again is challenging, exciting and a tiny bit terrifying. We’re still six months away from any actual move, but preparing two houses for sale, planning to consolidate into a single house again, and mentally preparing for everything involved in selling, buying and moving… The stress of such a move starts early.

I do plan and hope to return to blogging more often in the months to come. I suspect that my posts may become more personal—more about myself and less about the world at large. I have no doubt that I will return to social activism from time to time, and hopefully in a bigger way in the future, but for now, I am giving myself permission to focus on my own world.

The Story of Charlie

(Not my normal blog post fare.  In fact, I’m not sure what this.  Inspired by art therapy night and a desire to cheer up a friend having a bad day.)

cat stories

Charlie is a major diva, but it wasn’t always that way. As a kitten, having one tan paw was a constant source of embarrassment. Other kittens would tease. “Gnarly Charlie” became the most common nickname. Uninspired, perhaps, but effective in making Charlie feel like a misfit.

As Charlie got bigger, however, that one tan paw caught the attention of whoever had the pleasure of meeting hir. (Charlie also decided around this time that zie didn’t want to conform to gender stereotypes. As a house cat, that was remarkably unremarkable.) Charlie’s human (a girl who was happy to conform to gender stereotypes, oddly enough) took photos of Charlie all the time.

Like all good ugly duckling stories, Charlie blossomed into a swan. Not literally. Charlie was still a cat. But the most fabulous pussycat that ever existed.

When Charlie’s human bought the first pussycat hat for hir, both Charlie and hir human were not sure how it was going to go. Cats were notoriously persnickety, and Charlie was the persnickety-est. But the moment Charlie felt that elastic band snap under hir chin, Charlie knew that zie had found hirself.   From that moment, Charlie dedicated hir life to being fabulous.

Charlie dreamed of being famous. Instagram-famous! Tumblr-famous! Charlie aspired to Grumpy Cat levels of fame. And with a change of wardrobe, a vigorous fur fluffing and some fabulous pussycat accessories, Charlie started hir meteoric rise.

Fan letters started to pour in. Instagram followers hit 2 million. Memes appeared all over the internet. And that’s when it happened. “Gnarly Charlie” started to appear in the comments. Internet trolls made fun of Charlie’s one tan paw. Transphobic hate groups started “anti-Charlie” groups on Facebook.   Internet fame had an ugly side, and it had reached Charlie.

But this story has a happy ending. Charlie is a cat. Charlie can’t read. Charlie has no idea that the haters exist. And so Charlie lived fabulously ever after.

The moral of this story is that life is better if you can’t read comments on the internet.

A is for…

asexuality, labelsWhether or not we like labels, we all have them. Sometimes we celebrate them. Sometimes we despise them. Sometimes we just try to avoid them altogether. Some labels are innocuous, like “female”. Some labels are bound to inspire judgment, like “feminist”. And others labels are impossible to shake, so we focus on owning them, like “fat”.

Ultimately, labels can’t define us, however they do help us to connect with others like us and find commonalities with people who seem so different. Within just the past year, I have had beautiful experiences connecting with individuals who share my experiences of being “fat and fabulous”, a feminist, an atheist, and a liberal.

But when it comes to one label, I still feel like the odd duck. I am asexual.

Talking about sexuality has lost much of its taboo. Without minimizing the still-pervasive prejudice (and sometimes violence) suffered by those identifying as homosexual or bisexual, it is still possible to acknowledge that being homosexual is generally understood as an accepted state of being.  Being asexual? Not so much.

Not even sure what asexuality is? (Click here for more from the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.)  Asexual individuals do not experience sexual attraction. There are a lot of subtleties and degrees of asexuality. In addition to being asexual, I would consider myself also aromantic, indicating a lack of romantic attraction. As far as any other details of my sexuality, you aren’t getting any. (My dad reads this blog, for pete’s sake!)

Let me be clear – I am not suffering. In fact, I’m tempted to delete everything up above there and start over, because this all sounds so dramatic. My life is amazing. I would not change a thing. And that is, in fact, my point. There’s nothing wrong with me.

asexuality

I have maybe used the word “asexual” out loud in conversation (in a serious way) maybe twice. It’s not something I talk about. Why? Because there is an assumption that a lack of sexual or romantic desire is the result of some medical or psychological issue. I can’t say this enough – there is nothing wrong with me.

I have never been abused. I do not have a medical condition that impacts my sex drive. I am not – and this is the most pervasive and most offensive assumption – insecure because of my weight. It is not because I simply “don’t know what I’m missing”. I’m not a late bloomer. I’m not afraid of sex. I’m not just waiting for the right person to come along and change my mind. I’m not, as it turns out, missing out on any of the wonderful things life has to offer. My life is amazing. And there is nothing wrong with me.

There is a downside, though. Asexuality is not the standard state of being; the world caters to a sexual and romantic society. I’m not necessarily suggesting that it should be different, but I do find myself wishing for more acknowledgment and understanding. It occurs to me, however, that acknowledgment and understanding can’t happen with open and honest conversation.  So this is me, being honest and starting the conversation.

Valley Forge: Bravery, Perseverance, History and Frisbee*

IMG_5836There were no battles fought at Valley Forge, but the location is the site of some of the bravest actions of the Revolutionary War. Thousands of men suffered through months of starvation and disease, many without shoes, blankets or complete sets of clothing – because they believed in the cause of American freedom. It is where a shift happened from a poorly pieced together citizen army of militiamen to a (relatively) well-trained, cohesive American army. At Valley Forge, the character of General George Washington was tested and triumphed by keeping his men together through unimaginable difficulties.

The Revolutionary War was not won (or even actually fought) at Valley Forge, but it’s one of those miracles of history that the war wasn’t lost here. The strength of character and leadership (Washington, von Steuben, Greene, Knox, Lafayette) came together in a miraculous way to keep the Revolution and its fighting men alive.

IMG_5865To me, Valley Forge represents sacred ground. There are few, if any, soldiers known to be buried here (the sick were most often shipped to off-site hospitals in neighboring communities), but the sacrifice that occurred and the bravery required to survive represents one of the greatest moments in our early history.

Valley Forge National Historical Park is a beautiful place. Historical structures are beautifully preserved or recreated, monuments are well cared for, and the encampment sites are well marked. The driving tour takes you through about 10 miles of the park – sometimes into forested, almost untouched areas, and others around newly reconstructed sites of historical buildings.

It’s beautiful, inspiring, and … recreational?

Valley Forge National Historical Park is, in addition to being a historical landmark, also a massive community park tucked into the middle of what are now vast suburbs of Philadelphia. Two miles away is the King of Prussia mall. From the site of the reconstructed cabins of the Muhlenberg Brigade, you can look out over a view of the Valley Forge Casino.

canoodlersAt the base of a large monument to General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a group of college kids played frisbee. In the shade of the trees around the National Memorial Arch, a group had planted camp chairs, a cooler and a full picnic. Early Sunday morning, the trails were full of runners, dog walkers, bicyclists and the occasional skateboarder (taking a chance that they wouldn’t get caught, because that’s actually not permitted). While taking a photo with General Baron von Steuben, I apologized to the young couple snuggled up on the nearby bench and promised that I wasn’t going to get them in my photo.

In other words, the surrounding community takes advantage of this huge expanse of grass, woods, and trails in exactly the way that you’d expect them to.   I suspect General Washington would love to know that this area is now a well-loved recreation area. General von Steuben would have gotten a kick out of young couples making out in his shadow. I like to think, however, that Lieutenant (later Secretary of Treasury) Alexander Hamilton would be (like I was) put off by the frisbee playing, bench canoodling, and macaroni salad eating park visitors that seem oblivious to the shadow of greatness under which they frolic.

* Subtitled: A crotchety old woman screams “Get off (America’s) lawn!”

The Confederacy, Racism and the Legacy of a Flag

confederate_flagDoes the Confederate Flag represent racism?  Are we denying a part of our country the opportunity to celebrate their heritage by removing the Confederate Flag from public buildings?  Are we making too much of this whole debate?

To answer that question, we need to first clarify two things: 1.) Why was the Civil War actually fought?, and 2.) What are the roots and meaning of the Confederate Flag?

Why was the US Civil War actually fought?

There’s a natural tendency to view history in a way that makes us feel better about the truth.  The truth is that the Civil War was fought over slavery.  Any other explanation is revisionist at best, and plain lies at worst.  There is a strong tendency to say that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights”, which is only true in that the right the states were fighting over was the right to have slaves.  (Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession is a clear example of the true cause of the Civil War.)

That’s not to say that the fight over slavery was as simple as we’d like to believe.  There wasn’t a line in the sand where everyone north of the line believed slavery had to be abolished and everyone south of the line wanted to keep it.  In fact, the South seceded not because slavery was going to be abolished (there were no immediate, active federal plans to do so), but because the expansion of slavery into new territories was at stake.  There were plenty of people in the northern states who would have been perfectly okay with the continued existence of slavery, and even many who were okay with its expansion into new territories.  There were plenty of individuals in the South who were morally opposed to slavery and would have preferred to see it abolished.

Even at the start of the Civil War, President Lincoln, while morally opposed to slavery, was not actively planning for emancipation of slaves in the existing slave holding states.  That decision came later, and the timing of the decision was made in part because of a need for increased troops to fight the war.

It’s also important to note that the end of the war and the treatment of the Confederate army after the war was, and this is an understatement, unusual.  Pardons and immunity from prosecution for treason was offered to virtually all Confederate soldiers.  President Lincoln initiated the lenient view, while President Johnson took that amnesty even further.  Eventually even Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the seceded Confederate States, was pardoned.

That lenient view has led to 150+ years of a confusing Confederate legacy.  Public monuments have been built to honor Confederate leaders.  Streets, parks and buildings are named in honor of Confederate generals.  We’ve created an environment that permits-even encourages-pride in the Confederate cause.

What are the roots and meaning of the Confederate Flag?

The Confederate Flag as we know it today was a battle flag, originally flown at the Battle of Bull Run by Confederate General Beauregard’s troops.  After the Civil War, it saw limited use in the South, often flown at events memorializing fallen Confederate soldiers.  Small controversies over the flag arose throughout the 19th century over whether captured battle flags should be returned to the South by the federal government (virtually unprecedented in any other civil war throughout global history).

It wasn’t until the 1948 presidential campaign of Senator Strom Thurmond that the Confederate Flag began to be universally recognized as a symbol of segregation and racism.  Senator Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform, and used the flag as a symbol of that campaign.

In the 1960’s the flag was raised above the South Carolina Statehouse, ostensibly in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.  However, at the same time, South Carolina lawmakers were resisting the adoption of Civil Rights measures – and the flag remained over the Statehouse as a symbol of the protest against Civil Rights.

(AP Photo/Eric Draper)

(AP Photo/Eric Draper)

So is the Confederate Flag the problem?

Flags are symbols that are given meaning by the people who adopt them.  Is the flag the problem?  No.  But the problem is what the flag has been used to represent – and to allow the flag to continue to fly over the state capital building in South Carolina IS a problem.  (South Carolina has voted to remove the flag, and their debate to do so highlighted many of these points.)

If we look to recent history, allowing the flag to remain on the capital building is problematic because it was left there in the 1960’s to represent a protest against Civil Rights.  If we take a longer view of history and go back to the original meaning of the flag, allowing a flag that represents secession and treason to fly over a state capital is misguided at best.

I am not advocating that we should ban the Confederate Flag.  It certainly should exist in museums and should be understood in the context of history – the good, the bad and the ugly.  (Although let’s agree that most of its history is bad and ugly.)  I believe that you should be allowed to wear a t-shirt with the Confederate Flag, fly it on the back of your pick-up truck and put it out on your front lawn; because I believe in your 1st Amendment Right to free speech.  (I have a right to assume that by flying the Confederate Flag, you are either racist or uneducated.)  I think every retail store has a right to decide for themselves whether they choose to sell Confederate Flag merchandise, just like I have a right to decide whether or not I choose to shop at those establishments.

So many sources…
I’ve waited to wade into the debate on the Confederate Flag until I had an opportunity to do some research.  I have, like everyone else, immediate, visceral reactions to current events – but before it hits my blog, I’ve vetted those reactions through more than one source of information.  There are a lot of sources for me to mention, and I’m sure I’ll miss some.  This list includes only the online sources, and not the books I’ve read over the last year: