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