What now?

52448907_sThe reality of a President-Elect Donald Trump has not yet fully sunk in.  At the same time, I seem to be consumed with the thought of nothing else.  I am grateful and humbled for those of you who have given me your trust and a platform to express those thoughts.

It might sound like a cliche by now–the election of Donald Trump is a wake-up call.  This campaign should have been a wake-up call, but many just did not believe that his message resonated as strongly as it did.  Coming from a county that ultimately had 71% of voters casting their vote for Trump, I can tell you that the support is strong.

What I and many others are struggling with is why voters chose Trump.  Many on the left will say that it is a vote for racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.  For some Trump supporters, I have no doubt that this was the reason that they voted for him.  But for many others–and I’m personally counting on it being most of his supporters–it was something else.  

I’m hearing the voices of my Liberal friends who are thinking, “Maybe that’s not why they voted for him, but his sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia is going to have a huge impact on his administration and presidency, and ultimately our lives.”  I agree.  And it scares me.  But as crazy as this sounds, that’s not what I want to focus on right now.  If that is your focus and the advocacy route that you are taking, I support you.

I have deliberately been focusing on staying positive–not positive in the sense that there aren’t serious, potentially catastrophic, concerns about a Trump presidency, but positive in that I am focusing on the things that I can do and on the best ways that I know to impact change.   For now, my focus is on these things:

  • What are the factors that have led us to this place?  What is it that makes Trump’s message so compelling and why have Democrats failed to engage many of the very people that they (we) purport to fight for?
  • What do supporters of President-Elect Trump really believe on critical social issues, like LGBTQ rights, civil rights, police brutality and the need for improved training, gun control, healthcare and welfare?  How can Democrats (or me, personally) engage with those moderate, reasoned Trump supporters to advocate for these critical social issues that lift up all Americans?
  • How can we (I) encourage reasoned conversation that comes from a place of kindness and friendship, and minimize the hate and anger that is lying under the national conversation right now?
  • How we we (I) encourage every individual to get involved at all levels of government and engage with their local, state and national representatives?  How do we ALL go back to a system of government that allowed elected officials to represent their entire constituency and make decisions that they felt morally good about, rather than a two-party system that doesn’t allow for deviations from the party line?

I’m honored that so many of you have trusted me and given me a platform to try to make sense of some of this for all of us, and I’m going to do my best to live up to that trust.

I took out the trash tonight.

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I took the trash out to the curb tonight.  Six large garbage bags of trash.  And when I came into the house, I got a little bit emotional because I was proud of myself.

You see, I haven’t taken the trash out in weeks.  Every week, trash day would come and go, and I wouldn’t do anything.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I would give myself pep talks. I would berate myself for being lazy and a slob.  But every week I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t care enough.

Everyone who suffers from depression suffers differently.  For me, the clearest sign is my trash.  For the past few months, I’ve been battling a bout of depression and I am just getting to the other side of it.  It took me awhile to recognize it for what it was, and then it took me a little while longer to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  And then it took a couple more weeks for the new medication to start working.  And every week, the trash piled up.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or attention.  I’m sharing because talking about depression is really hard.  It’s virtually impossible to do when you are suffering from it, and when you get past it, you really don’t want to dwell on it.  For some, admitting that you are taking medication for it feels like weakness.  For others, you are just too afraid of the judgment that comes with mental illness of any kind.  For anyone, talking about depression is hugely vulnerable.

So maybe I can shine a little bit of light into someone’s darkness.  If you haven’t taken out the trash in weeks (or whatever that represents in your life), it CAN get better.  If it feels like you are living under a blanket that you just can’t shake off, there are people who want to help. Maybe medication isn’t the right step for you, but talking to someone almost always is.

If it helps, that someone can be me.

Original Intent, the Second Amendment and my nerdy love for James Madison

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison Memorial, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

James Madison, father of the United States Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers, once said in a letter to Judge Roane (Virginia judge and member of the Virginia House of Delegates),

It could not but happen, and was foreseen at the birth of the Constitution, that difficulties and differences of opinion might occasionally arise in expounding terms and phrases necessarily used in such a charter . . . and that it might require a regular course of practice to liquidate and settle the meaning of some of them.

Or to put it in current, less founding father-y language: The US Constitution is necessarily vague and will need to be continuously interpreted throughout history.

Madison knew from the outset that anything that was written in the Constitution would have to be interpreted through the lens of the current period in history.  While I know better than to speak for the “founding fathers” as though they were of one unified opinion, in this they were mostly in agreement.  The Constitution would need to be a living document.

Of course, that idea is still the source of much debate.  (Interestingly similar to the debate about how literally we should take the Bible, really.)  But let’s assume for a moment that we SHOULD interpret the Constitution using original intent.  (We shouldn’t.  But let’s do it anyway.)

What was the original intent of the Second Amendment?

The text of the ratified version of the Second Amendment states,

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Most people understand this to mean that citizens should be permitted to arm themselves for their own protection.  We often think about the needs at the time of the ratification of the Constitution – protection against Native American attacks, protection against wildlife, the need to hunt for game, etc.  Many people understand, correctly, that this was also an intent to allow the citizens to protect themselves against tyranny, based on the phrase “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

What is misunderstood, however, is that the original intent of the Second Amendment was to appease the groups of Americans who opposed any sort of “standing” army.  A very large contingent of Americans believed that the United States should have no permanent, regular army or armed force.  They believed that protection of the new nation should be in the hands only of state-based, primarily volunteer, militia.  To many, an army that was funded by the central government was the very core of tyranny.

Madison wasn’t totally on board with that.  He knew that a central military that was funded by federal tax revenues would be necessary for viable protection of the country against foreign enemies, but like most US citizens until WWI, foresaw a very small, centralized force supported by volunteer corps when needed.  But to appease those who feared the central military, he included in the drafted Bill of Rights the specific rights for militia to continue to exist.

If you are going to go with original intent, you have to know what the original intent actually was.

I often hear arguments against any revision of gun control policy that point to the “original intent” of the Second Amendment, citing a citizen’s right bear arms in protection against tyranny.  Maybe that was true, but the original intent of the Second Amendment has been invalidated, unless you also prefer to also abolish or drastically minimize the US military.  Of course you don’t.  That’s insane.  Few US citizens today would argue for a smaller military.

I’m not in favor of abolishing the Second Amendment.  I think it has value and I think citizens do have a right to bear arms for protection.  (Yes, even “protection against tyranny”.)  I also believe, as James Madison did, that the US Constitution is necessarily a living document, requiring re-interpretation as the world evolves and changes.

 The world has certainly evolved and changed, and it is time for re-interpretation.

Hope and Love Last Longer

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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)

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*

 

(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.

 

* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!

 

Oh, Wendy.

For my non-Pittsburgh area friends, this blog post probably requires a little back story.

FB_WendyBellWendy Bell is (or was, until very recently) a very popular local news anchor.  Everyone knows Wendy, and through the magic of social media, we all know about her kids, her husband, and her take on family values. Lots of people love her, because they can relate to her.  And everything points to Wendy Bell being a Pittsburgh mom who loves her city, loves her family and genuinely cares about the people around her.

Wendy Bell is almost certainly not a Racist.

Recently, after a devastating mass shooting that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard BBQ, Wendy took to Facebook to try to make sense of the tragedy.  Read the original post here, along with more context.  A lot of people read her original post and did not think there was anything wrong with it.  (In fairness, even many Wendy supporters could easily see where she went wrong in that original post.)  If you are one of those who didn’t see any issue, though, let me try to summarize:

1.) Making an assumption (particularly one so firmly stated as fact) that the perpetrator of a crime was a young black man is a racist conclusion.  You’ll say that it is based on statistics and history, but that’s the thing about racism.  If we continue to allow it, it is self-perpetuating.  That’s what leads to the systemic nature of racism.

2.) Taking that a step further and making assumptions about that fictional young black man’s upbringing and back story – that he has siblings from multiple fathers, for example – is even more glaringly racist.

3.) Ending with an uplifting story about the young black man working at the restaurant and making something good of his life is not just generally condescending, but blatantly racist.  That young black man might have an IQ of 150, be a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the son of two wealthy professional parents.  Using one young black man as a comparison to another (let’s remember, fictional) young black man is racism.

This isn’t the first time that she’s posted something to Facebook or said something in a public forum that exposed her white privilege.  Her comments on the University of Missouri’s racial tensions made me cringe several months ago (and unfortunately her social media accounts are disabled and I was unable to find the text online).

Again, I don’t think Wendy Bell is a Racist, with a capital “R”.  However, I do think that she is a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  I am also a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  Sometimes I make assumptions and jump to conclusions in my mind that I’m ashamed of.  But I work hard with every thought, word and action to fight against that ingrained racism and white privilege, and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my days.  Based on Wendy’s readiness to share her thoughts with her immense audience via social media, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t recognize how that white privilege and ingrained racism impacts the way she sees the world.

I am happy to see that most Pittsburghers agree that her original post displayed (at the very least) an insensitivity to the subject of race.  The division now is – Should Wendy Bell have been fired from her job at WTAE?  Given that it isn’t the first time that she was forced to apologize and that this particular incident was related to one of the most horrific crimes that Pittsburgh has endured in recent memory, I don’t think the station had any other choice.  She’s become too divisive to remain on the air.

I wish the best for Wendy Bell.  My sincere hope is that she finds a project on race relations in Pittsburgh to which she can devote her admirable energy and share lessons on tolerance that are sorely needed in our city.