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.