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.

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.

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.

The unintended red herring

File under, “Lessons learned while writing.” I have a tendency to throw details into a story that explain a problem in my head, but are not meant to go further than that. But a reader, who is not in my head, reads that detail as crucial, and chases it down the rabbit hole until they realize it is just a dead end. Frustrating. And no tiny doors to climb through at the bottom.

For example. A new character shows up out of the blue, and announces that he is here to investigate an old death that he believes is murder most foul. Murder? How unexpected! How juicy! Who died, and why? Who is this murder investigator? Tell me more!

But the investigator is really here for some other reason. He made up the murder investigation as a cover. I move on with his real motivation, and ignore the murder, because, what murder? Boring!

But the reader is intrigued, then confused, then lost, then maybe disappointed and angry. And when they emerge from the other end of the stages of grief, they have missed all the good stuff I was doing in the meantime.

Must avoid the unintended red herring.

Blistering barnacles!

I’m not much one for New Year’s resolutions. After all, I am resolving to do things differently better all the time, not just once a year. Last month I resolved to write more, and a few days before that, I resolved to stop beating myself up about not writing more.

But I know it’s a significant arbitrary date, and a lot of people use the first of the year to set new goals. To lose weight, to work better, to be happier. Apparently a significant number of people pick a word to define their hopes for a new year. “Focus,” or “Publish,” or “Beardify.” That seems like a lot of pressure for one word, on one date.

Some time ago, I hit upon a New Year’s resolution that seemed cheeky enough to be fun, but had a kernel of actual self-improvement within, and I have gone with that one every year since.

I resolve (once again) to curse more.

Until this year, I just meant that I should use colorful language more, in conversation mostly, but also in my writing. I should cuss and curse and use the full breadth that English allows, to make my points. After all, if you don’t overuse it, cursing can be a very effective accent to what you’re trying to say. Even cursing a blue streak has its uses.

But this year it occurred to me that really, I could change it up by resolving to curse more something. After all, as it turns out, I’ve been resolving to curse more frequently, right?

I could also resolve to curse more eloquently. Or creatively. I could repurpose the non-cursing lexicon for creative cursing, like Captain Haddock (“Blistering barnacles!”) or Sylvester (“Suffering succotash!”). Or I could make up words that sound like bad words, like the writers of Battlestar Galactica did with the not-so-popular-anymore “Frack!”

And then of course, there’s the actual cursing. Hexing. Spiting. Eye of newt. I could do some of that. There are a lot of very creative and fun ways to actually curse people, though I’d recommend sticking to wordy curses, and keeping the hair gathering to a minimum. The trick to wordy cursing (and bad-word cursing, too) is to do it in the flow of circumstance, not five minutes later, when nobody but your momma cares. Years ago I conceptualized a context-aware device I called the Portable Noel Coward that would spit out timely rejoinders right when you needed them. Cursing might need a similar thing.

Or I might just need practice. Like a crossword puzzle regimen for my wit.

So. I resolve to exercise my mind, to leave my comfort zone, to push myself. I resolve to curse more, and may your warts grow warts if you don’t like it.

Thinking about talking about churching

A strange thing has happened to me.

Ever since joining our hippy-go-liberal UU church, I find myself mentioning it in casual conversation. For forty-odd years I haven’t ever talked about church, except when asked, and then only to indicate that no, I don’t really attend any church.

But since joining SMUUCh, I find myself talking about church. I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t bring it up out of the blue. Usually it’s something relevant to the conversation, like about heckling Rep. Yoder at the 4th of July parade, or about the story the minister told at dinner with age-alike church folk. Once or maybe twice I have crowed about something the church does, like about their coming of age program (like Confirmation, except hippy-go-liberal). But usually it’s just about something I heard on Sunday, or something the church did, or something they might do.

And it feels weird to hear myself saying, “At church the other day,” or “My church is going to…” But good, too. I like talking about it. I don’t feel I need to hide that I go, or what it is they espouse. I used to dread conversations about church, I guess because I felt I had to play down my beliefs. My lack of belief? My certainty that humans can achieve spiritual greatness without a Guiding Hand. I didn’t want to get into it. But being a member of a church, a big church with lots of members, it lends legitimacy to my beliefs. It makes me want to talk about how awesome they are.

Which leads me to recognize that I could come across a little smug (my church is better than your church!). But mostly I think I am just proud to be a member of this inclusive little denomination that thinks like I do and makes me want to be better than I am.

It’s crazy, but I think this must be how other people feel about their church, right?

Huh.

Part of a community they are proud of, and want everyone to know about?

Makes me think I should, at the very least, respect people of other religions, despite my disagreement with their attitudes about race, gender, sexual orientation or whether I am going to Hell.

Everyone deserves respect. Even when my church is better than theirs. :)

Zoey’s new life

It’s been a bit over a week now since Mason died. In that time, our other dog, Zoey, has gone from convalescent nurse to full-fledged companion animal. We got her four years ago to hang with Mason, to make his old age a little better. We did not expect him to live nearly as long as he did, and as a result, Zoey’s life was maybe not as good as it could have been. She was always with Mason, and when he couldn’t go anywhere (the park on a hot day, with the family on vacation, camping) then she couldn’t go, either.

Since Mason died, her life has gotten better. In this last week she’s gone with us in the car on errands, been to the drive-in movies with us, and gone on long rambling walks. I’m pretty sure she misses him, too, but she seems to be doing okay.

Here’s a picture of her (the best picture I think I’ve taken of her) in the back of the minivan at the drive-in.

Zoey at the drive-in

Zoey at the drive-in