My wife

My wife, Tiffany, is hav­ing a birth­day today. It’s been a hell of a year, for a lot of rea­sons, most­ly good, but you know how rea­sons are, lots of gray in with the black and white. So on the occa­sion of her birth­day, I want­ed to remind her that I love her.

She is my best friend, the one I tell all the secrets to. We share the looks that mean this, the tilt of the head that means that, the ancient jokes, the life­time friends, the his­to­ry, the tears, the uncon­trol­lable gig­gling, the cold nights, the despair, and the heights of joy. We have the first house we owned togeth­er. We have the first dog we loved togeth­er. We have reams of old emails, and years of old texts. We have the books we love togeth­er, and too many sea­sons of guilty plea­sure TV. We have those things that we have knit togeth­er into our life, togeth­er. She is my lover. I know her, until I find new depths to won­der at, new resolve to envy, new whim­sy to dance with, and then I want to get to know her all over again. I am amazed by her, her strength even when she doubts, her love even when she hurts, her com­pas­sion even when she is tired. There is noth­ing I desire that she does not embody. There is no oth­er dance part­ner I fit. I am drawn to her, as to noth­ing else.

She is my part­ner. When I floun­der, she is there for me, some­times with a ten­der ges­ture, some­times with a kick in the ass. When there’s blood, she han­dles it. When some­thing smells bad, I return the favor. When I need to work, she shoul­ders the load. When she has one of those days, I want noth­ing more than to take it from her, that she can just enjoy what she loves. I would not have lived this life as well with­out her. I would not be who I am were she not here. I am in her debt, for all that she has made me.

She is the moth­er of my chil­dren. There is noth­ing more fright­en­ing than pluck­ing your heart out and watch­ing it walk around, play soc­cer, surf the inter­net, make friends, laugh, and cry. She is there for them, she is their friend, their part­ner, their love, their guide, their teacher. They would have half a life, if she were not there for them. I am a bet­ter father for her being their moth­er.

She is her­self. Incred­i­bly strong, but not with­out doubts. Con­fi­dent­ly com­pe­tent, but not with­out mis­takes. Com­pas­sion­ate­ly lov­ing, but not with­out needs. Curi­ous, but stead­fast. Com­plex, but forth­right. Beau­ti­ful, but intri­cate. Fun­ny, but sen­si­tive. Crass, but gen­tle. She is her­self, and noth­ing else.

She makes me cry when I think about her too much, because she is my every­thing.

Sweet­ie, I love you.

In the face of despair

Mon­day morn­ing I woke up feel­ing the most despon­dent I have yet since elec­tion night. Well, since after elec­tion night. That night was pret­ty bad.

But I’ve had a sort of ener­gy since then, maybe a bit man­ic, that may have been prop­ping me up. Yes­ter­day, I woke up and read the news as I usu­al­ly do, and it hit me. We are in for four years of unmit­i­gat­ed crap. I don’t like this feel­ing, so I’m set­ting about to fig­ure out what I can do to, yes, make myself feel bet­ter. Here are the prob­lems I see, in big wide gen­er­al­iza­tions that sure­ly don’t address all of the impor­tant issues. And here is what I am doing about them, per­son­al­ly, local­ly, and nation­al­ly.

  • Trump’s cam­paign, whether inci­den­tal­ly, demon­stra­bly, or even inten­tion­al­ly, has made it okay to be a misog­y­nist, racist homo­phobe.

What am I doing about that? Per­son­al­ly, I’m wear­ing a safe­ty pin, both to pro­vide out­ward evi­dence that not every­one is an ass­hole, but also to remind myself to be more inten­tion­al in my inter­ac­tion with folks who might feel tar­get­ed. I live in Kansas, and I don’t run into many mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple, which makes it all the more shame­ful that I have not reached out.

There are any num­ber of good groups, local­ly, I am sure, to which I could give mon­ey, or ener­gy. There’s a Social Jus­tice com­mit­tee at my church, and I am hop­ing they will help me iden­ti­fy places I can give my time. Our church does a great job with hunger issues and Islam­ic out­reach. That’s a start.

Since the elec­tion, Tiffany and I have become month­ly givers to the South­ern Pover­ty Law Can­ter and Planned Par­ent­hood. SPLC coun­ters and pro­tects those who are sin­gled out and attacked in hate crimes. Planned Par­ent­hood pro­vides ongo­ing health ser­vices and sup­port for women and poor fam­i­lies through­out their lives.

  •  Trump’s Pres­i­den­cy will roll back much of the progress we achieved under Bill Clin­ton and Barack Oba­ma. The trend­ing of the nation’s vot­ing coun­ties towards the right will lead to more chal­lenges for real people’s lives. The econ­o­my will pro­vide less for more. The influ­ence of Trump’s white suprema­cist friends, his oli­garch cronies, and the oppor­tunis­tic extreme right will turn actu­al, real free­doms upside down.

In a nut­shell, he has the full pow­er of the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment, for at least two years, prob­a­bly four, to enact the agen­das of his friends and sup­port­ers.

What can I do about this? I can stay active in pol­i­tics. I work in state lev­el pol­i­tics in Kansas, where we actu­al­ly had a retreat from con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions this elec­tion. We’ve seen the destruc­tive results of unfet­tered extrem­ist ide­ol­o­gy here, and Kansans have cho­sen change direc­tion. There’s much more work to be done, espe­cial­ly to make this a last­ing change, and I will keep work­ing at it.

We’ve also opened up our pock­et­book on this issue, becom­ing first-time month­ly sup­port­ers of the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union and the Nat­ur­al Resources Defense Coun­cil. The ACLU works to pro­tect civ­il lib­er­ties at the local lev­el with an eye towards nation­al influ­ence. The NRDC pro­tects the envi­ron­ment, among oth­er ways, by fight­ing laws and reg­u­la­tions that affect our future on the plan­et.

  • In two and four years, the coun­try will vote again. The chance that we could con­tin­ue down this path is fright­en­ing, and must be pre­vent­ed.

Per­son­al­ly, while I’m not cut out to actu­al­ly run for office, I have skills and expe­ri­ence that would be use­ful to those who are. I will con­tin­ue to be active in pol­i­tics, in get out the vote efforts, in sup­port­ing can­di­dates who will change this direc­tion. I’m well versed in local issues (and the max­im that all pol­i­tics is local is unques­tion­ably true) and yet I will work to explore issues I don’t know much about.

I plan to learn more about how the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty works nation­al­ly, what can be done to sup­port those local Repub­li­cans who are on the right side of the issues I care about (remem­ber, I live in Kansas), and how I can encour­age more peo­ple, espe­cial­ly women, to step up to pub­lic ser­vice. Is there any­thing more awe­some than Tam­my Duckworth’s smile?

I’m encour­aged by the num­ber of peo­ple who are look­ing to get involved, and the num­ber of groups step­ping up to offer them an avenue, from estab­lished groups to new ones.

This is how it starts. That’s how you defeat despair. You do some­thing.

You’re safe with me (now with added thoughts)

Earring and safety pin

Yeah, it’s a safe­ty pin.

I’ve got a new piece of jew­el­ry. On my bed­side table, next to the ear­ring I wear every day, I now keep a safe­ty pin. In the morn­ing, when I get dressed, I pin it on where it can be seen. I do this to let peo­ple who see it know that if they feel threat­ened, scared, sad, or dis­placed, I will do what I can to help.

It’s an action that was tak­en in the U.K. after Brex­it, when immi­grants and oth­ers sud­den­ly found them­selves unset­tled in their own com­mu­ni­ties. It took hold here after the elec­tion.

A lot of peo­ple have tak­en umbrage at these safe­ty pins. At first the elec­tion “win­ners” called it a sym­bol of hate. They said it was divi­sive. They said that it sup­ports a cul­ture of per­pet­u­al fear. Soon after, some on this side decried it as a bland, feel-good ges­ture that is inef­fec­tive, insin­cere, and fleet­ing. A nice­ty meant for white peo­ple to assuage their guilt.

I gen­tly say to them, bull­shit.

I’m not doing this out of shame. I’m not putting it on to look good to my friends. I’m not wear­ing it to claim some high­er moral ground. I’m not belit­tling the fears of white peo­ple. I’m not pre­tend­ing a safe­ty pin will mag­i­cal­ly make black lives mat­ter. This isn’t a sym­bol.

It’s an action.

It’s an offer of res­cue, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and solace.

If you feel unsafe, or alone, or afraid, because you’re white, black, brown or anoth­er shade of human­i­ty, because you have an accent or a drawl, because you wear cer­tain clothes, because you work with your hands, or you despair over num­bers at the din­ner table, because you dare not walk alone at night, or you lie awake wor­ry­ing about what will hap­pen tomor­row… you deserve bet­ter. You deserve safe­ty, com­mu­ni­ty, and secu­ri­ty.

I will work to meet peo­ple where their needs are. I will engage in my com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize these inequal­i­ties and make some dif­fer­ence. But I can’t always be doing that. I have a fam­i­ly, kids, the mil­lion things we all have that take away our best inten­tions in favor of just get­ting through the day.

So I wear the pin because I want you to know, even if I’m just out get­ting gro­ceries, or going back to my car in a park­ing lot, or wait­ing in some line with you, that you’re safe with me.

I may not look like you. Or maybe I do. But you’ll know me by the safe­ty pin. And by the way I won’t turn my back if you need me.

Added: There’s a lot of back­lash to the safe­ty pins, and a lot of back­lash to that back­lash. The arti­cle that start­ed it, “Dear White Peo­ple, Your Safe­ty Pins Are Embar­rass­ing,” has been repost­ed to Medi­um and Huff­post, which means it’s most­ly click bait now. (His orig­i­nal sto­ry at his own site is swamped, and he has a sec­ond, more con­struc­tive post up now.) The com­ments, and I’ve read a cou­ple hun­dred, most­ly con­sti­tute a back­lash of their own. Here are the impor­tant points:

  • Some mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple are grate­ful for the safe­ty pins.
  • Many mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple are not giv­ing it much thought, one way or the oth­er.
  • No, the white nation­al­ist move­ment is not co-opt­ing it en masse, what­ev­er one trolling graph­ic pre­tends to imply. 
  • Yes, you def­i­nite­ly need to do more than put on a safe­ty pin and pre­tend you fixed it.

For me, wear­ing it yes­ter­day, it made me think. It made me uncom­fort­able, prob­a­bly in the right ways. More present in the world I was walk­ing through. Aware of what the black woman at the radio sta­tion might be think­ing.

Final­ly, my bit above was not meant to encour­age any­one else to wear a safe­ty pin. It was explain­ing why I am. 

I am eager to hear why you might wear one, or won’t wear one, or what you think about it.

How I’m doing: 2016 election edition

It’s been a hell of a week, I won’t kid you. I spent the entire elec­tion sea­son being pret­ty con­fi­dent in Hillary Clinton’s vic­to­ry. I guess, I fell into the trap of believ­ing my expe­ri­ence of the world was shared by every­one. Clear­ly, I was wrong. And intel­lec­tu­al­ly, it seems stu­pid of me now.

But I believed she’d win, she’d be the first female Pres­i­dent, and that much of the progress we’d made under Oba­ma would con­tin­ue. Because, you know, the alter­na­tive was too unbe­liev­able to imag­ine. But on elec­tion day, with no real rea­son, I began to get ner­vous. By evening, as the polls were clos­ing, I couldn’t stop think­ing about elec­tion night in 2000, when we were at a bar watch­ing the returns, and some­one looked up at the TV and asked, “Hey, where did Flori­da go?”

It seems a small mer­cy now that Tues­day night’s returns were con­sis­tent­ly dis­ap­point­ing, with a long slow slide into a Trump vic­to­ry, no false hope moments to raise us up before dash­ing us back onto the rocks. (The Neva­da win was too late in the evening, at least for me.) But I felt numb, and kind of… blank. I was up until 1 am, just after John Podes­ta announced that Hillary would not be speak­ing. I went to bed know­ing the out­come, but when I woke up at 4:30 am, I checked any­way.

I work in pol­i­tics, albeit at the state lev­el, and I live in Kansas, so I’m pre­dis­posed to crap­py polit­i­cal news. I have spent the last few days read­ing and read­ing and read­ing, and think­ing, and talk­ing and think­ing some more. I think this immer­sion in the reac­tions of oth­ers, like a sort of shock ther­a­py, has replaced my mourn­ing peri­od. I’m not much of a mourn­er any­way (I’ll call it “wal­low­ing” when I’m pis­sy), and I just didn’t want to dwell on it.

Now I find myself itch­ing to do some­thing. I’m work­ing on under­stand­ing, and under­stand­ing will reveal the things that need to be done, I know. But until I get there, I need some­thing tan­gi­ble, some action, some dif­fer­ence to make. I feel, ener­gized.

It may all come crash­ing down, I sup­pose. Some day I’ll break down in the mid­dle of walk­ing the dog, or at the bus stop wait­ing for my kid. But there’s just so much to unpack, I think I’ve got some time.

Don’t get me wrong, if I sound blasé. This out­come is hor­ri­fy­ing to me, in every way. If I stop to con­sid­er the real con­se­quences, to peo­ple, to our coun­try, and to the world, I can feel the gib­ber­ing pan­ic creep­ing in at the edges of my vision. But these last cou­ple of days, I feel great. Like I have pur­pose, like I’m coiled and ready to spring. It’s weird. It’s inter­est­ing. And I intend to take full advan­tage of it.

September 11

Today is my birth­day. I share it with a nation­al tragedy. I like to acknowl­edge both. For the birth­day, I share it with my friends and fam­i­ly. For the oth­er, I share it here.

On the day I turned thir­ty-one, ter­ror­ists killed 3,000 peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. It was a hor­rif­ic moment of awak­en­ing for this coun­try, a moment that those of us who had grown up over­seas thought we under­stood. I grew up with car bombs on the news and in my city. It had only been a mat­ter of time, I thought, before the Unit­ed States would have had to face it. Amer­i­can head­lines screamed that “The World has Changed!” and I remem­ber think­ing that was a lot of hubris.

I did not account for what the Unit­ed States would do in response. This was a moment that could have touched off a world-shak­ing dri­ve for peace, com­pas­sion, and a bet­ter future. Instead, we launched a world-shear­ing assault on “ter­ror­ists,” which has, in most rea­son­able esti­mates, been respon­si­ble for the deaths of almost 5,000 US ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq alone, and between 100,000 and 1 mil­lion Iraqis. The issue is not as stark as these num­bers make it out to be, the world is a mud­dy mess, even at its best. But that is a lot of blood spilled in vengeance. The world did change after all. And our coun­try was the agent of that change.

I’m not ask­ing to com­pare the three thou­sand vic­tims of 9/11 to the hun­dreds of thou­sands of vic­tims of the Iraq War. That is a scale that will nev­er bal­ance. Instead, I am ask­ing us to put ALL the deaths on one side. What goes on the oth­er side then?

For my birth­day wish, I would like us to reflect on these scales, and do what we can to see them bal­ance.

SXSW 2014 Cover Art is Posted

I have just post­ed this year’s album art for SXSW, the Music fes­ti­val in Austin in eleven days.

But all is not well. SXSW has offered one track from each artist as a down­load (as a .tor­rent) since at least 2005. Accord­ing to the Unof­fi­cial SXSW Tor­rents site, while there are a small num­ber of tracks avail­able so far, SXSW has decid­ed to put the files up on Sound­cloud, instead. Sound­cloud works hard to pre­vent cap­ture of the music they play, which makes down­load­ing the tracks… dif­fi­cult.

Go to the cov­er art page to get this year’s art, and find out how to let SXSW know that you don’t like this.

SXSW Show­cas­ing Artist Cov­er Art

Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a lit­tle over a month since I have writ­ten any fic­tion. Not a word. But I am get­ting back on that prover­bial horse.

A lit­tle over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writ­ing words for a small, local, mod­er­ate polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It fits me polit­i­cal­ly pret­ty well (I’m an unabashed Lib­er­al, but a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can), and there is a des­per­ate need here in Kansas for any­one with a mod­icum of sense to speak out. I am encour­ag­ing peo­ple to be get­ting on that. I write for our social media prop­er­ties (see, jar­gon!) and also “craft” our mar­ket­ing mes­sage. And I’ll be blog­ging once we get our new web­site up.

So, you know, get­ting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t get­ting paid to write my fic­tion, I do get to put words togeth­er, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my mod­est but bet­ter-than-this pay­ing job to write fic­tion. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usu­al cock­tail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, per­son­al moti­va­tion issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ‘em. And it is five in the freakin’ morn­ing.

And I am writ­ing.

Ow

I am forty three years old. I have been bless­ed­ly healthy all those years, with nary a seri­ous ill­ness, a bro­ken bone, nor a hos­pi­tal stay. But yes­ter­day, I had the plea­sure of my first CT scan.

Let me back up.

Three morn­ings ago, I had a lit­tle back pain. Then the pain shift­ed around to the front, and became abdom­i­nal pain. Then it became very strong gas/bloating pain. And then I was writhing around on the guest bed, try­ing not to wake any­one up with my mewl­ing. I was retch­ing, and twist­ing, and curs­ing and in about as much pain as I have ever been. I final­ly woke my wife up, and not being in a hazy fog of agony, she sug­gest­ed med­i­cine. I took a gas thing, and the pain went away.

The rest of the day was fine. I had some plen­ti­ful but innocu­ous gas lat­er on, and I thought all was well. Yay, flat­u­lence!

Two morn­ings ago, I woke up fine, but my stom­ach mus­cles were a lit­tle sore. From all the retch­ing, sure­ly. After all, I’d giv­en the mus­cles a real work­out when I was busy dying the pre­vi­ous morn­ing. Then the gas came back, slow­ly, but sure­ly, and soon I was gri­mac­ing and stamp­ing about. At this point we decid­ed I was clear­ly in labor. Walk­ing felt bet­ter, breath­ing made it tol­er­a­ble, squat­ting relieved the pres­sure. Yay! A new baby! We laughed about that, I took more gas stuff and painkiller, and it went away.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, it was back. The Inter­nets had been con­sult­ed back on day one, and while abject mus­cle sur­ren­der and gas were still the num­ber one choice, appen­dici­tis start­ed to rise in the ranks of prob­a­bil­i­ty. I prac­ticed my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to curse more vio­lent­ly, and even the dog slunk away to hide.

And final­ly I decid­ed to see my doc­tor.

Turns out, I have a kid­ney stone.

Which is a great relief. Because, you know, peo­ple die from appen­dici­tis.

But I have to tell you, I antic­i­pate that there will be moments in the near future when I will beg for a nice hos­pi­tal stay and some surgery.

Plus, there’s a cer­tain cachet to appen­dici­tis. After all, there’s infec­tion, fever, surgery, maybe even an ambu­lance. It lends a very seri­ous aura to your suf­fer­ing. That is a mys­tique that kid­ney stones just don’t have, because, you know, “Ha ha! It hurts when you pee! Har!”

For the record, the CT scan showed this wee lit­tle rock to be six mil­lime­ters in diam­e­ter. Please find your­self a ruler and check that out. I have pain drugs, and I intend to use them.