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Interview: 10 questions for historian Austin McCoy

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All photos courtesy Austin McCoy

I’m lucky enough to have a handful of academics as friends in my Facebook feed. As the post-election noise gets ever more urgent and confusing, I’ve turned to these friends for article links, books to read as I scramble to get a more careful background on some of these issues, or calm, reasoned takes on what is happening now and what we can do in the future.

With the scourge of fake news stories and the normalization of prejudice-through-language happening in non-fake news sources, I’m overwhelmed. I guess I’m craving to see where we are through the lens of education and history, because those are where I’m convinced the path to truth and answers can be found.

Apropos, then, that I turn to Austin McCoy, a very well-educated historian.

I originally messaged him to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement. I focused my questions on how white people like me, and most of you readers, can be participants and how can we educate ourselves to be better advocates for equality.

I think the most obvious thing we can do is listen to minority experiences and then, with compassionate self-criticism, ask how we, especially white liberals, act out our own systemic bias. Because we do. I do, too.

The racism, straight-up not stirred, hurled at Austin on Twitter recently has been outrageous. I’m always in awe at how gracefully Austin handles the hatred, amazed at his ability to peel the leeches off and stay standing, fighting for what he believes in in a way that is underpinned by the calm, compassion and consideration he encourages his opponents to employ. That resilient courage is inspiring, which is probably why he’s become a strong voice in the organizing he leads.

He’s a role model for me and many.

Today, Austin brings that thoughtful, powerful presence here. Following are Austin’s thoughts on post-election America as well educating ourselves on the African American experience, which seems particularly poignant after this weekend’s big news stories about racial disparity in the New York parole system, the jury in the Walter Scott shooting and the alarming story of Joe McKnight’s murder.

As for me, I’ll be heading to the library after work today to pick up one of his book recommendations. And I look forward to soon buying his own book.

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Tell us about your background and the work you do now.

I study 20th Century U.S. history, particularly African American history, social movements, and labor and political economy. Currently, I am working on a book project that examines the progressive left in the Midwest and their movements around the 1960s uprisings, police brutality, the war in Southeast Asia, and economic justice. I serve as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.

My background inspired my research. I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, which is a small deindustrialized city. Initially, I was interested in how progressives responded to factory shutdowns because so many closed in Mansfield. The Mansfield area lost twelve manufacturing plants, including the Mansfield-Ontario General Motors factory, since 1971. I am a son of the black working class. My grandfather, father, mother, uncle, and aunt worked in factories in Mansfield. I was also an activist looking for guidance in how to organize for racial and economic justice.

I did some organizing work as an undergraduate student at The Ohio State University, Mansfield. I focused mainly on issues of race and diversity. I was one of a very few African American students on campus. I barely saw any other black students on campus and was typically the only one in my classes. Some of us also organized and started a little leftist magazine—we called it Spirit of the Nation. Since I have been at the University of Michigan, I have organized around issues of racial justice on campus, police killings (“Black Lives Matter”), and now against white supremacists, or whom some in the media have called the “alt-right.” I helped organize an all-night teach-in to support black undergraduate students at Michigan seeking racial justice. I also participated in Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Cleveland, and Chicago.

When and how did your family first talk to you about race?

I cannot recall the first time my parents first spoke to me about race. I remember my mom would talk to me about always having to be careful because black men were becoming an “endangered species.” This was probably during the late-1980s or early-1990s. I was really young, maybe around ten- or eleven-years-old. My mother worried about me because she believed that I would be a target, or a fall guy, if I got into a bad situation while hanging around white and non-black folks. She talked to me more about how to interact with police and other authority figures as I entered my teenage years. This “endangered species” discourse circulated among other black folks too. I always tell people that one of the primary examples of this is in hip hop. Ice Cube and Chuck D recorded a song together that appeared on Cube’s first album, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, called “Endangered Species.” This was a gendered phenomenon, obviously. My parents were protective of my sister, but mom never spoke as if she was in imminent danger.

What makes you proud to be a black man?

First, I’m proud because of my family—my parents, my sister, my brothers, my grandparents—especially the struggles we have endured. Second, I’m proud of our extremely complex history. It seems cliché, but since I went to college and started studying history, I became more inspired. Black folks destabilized the slave system and overturned Jim Crow in the South and simultaneously challenged racism in the North and West. Hip hop culture also instilled a pride in my racial identity. I would name some specific artists, but there are too many to name. Nas, Public Enemy, X-Clan, Dead Prez, Ice Cube, Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Wu-Tang Clan are at the top of my list, though. Obviously, black history and hip hop culture are also crooked vessels. They are not perfect and can perpetuate problematic views of gender and sexuality. But, my point is that I had to learn how to hold what inspired me in tension with those problems.

What inspires you to do the work you do and face the hate you do on a daily basis?

Sometimes I do not know what motivates me besides the obvious—a desire to address and eradicate various forms of oppression and inequalities. I have been doing some sort of organizing work for a long time, so I often pull water from that well, and it runs deep. What keeps me going is knowing that the causes I believe in are just. But I also know that I do not have the luxury to be a bystander, especially now. In the last couple months, I have encountered racism more on social media since I have a presence. What also drives me now is the desire to help people organize themselves to change the world around them. I want to help anyone who wants to organize to be, well, better organizers than I. Watching folks develop the capacity to organize and resist is also inspirational.

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How did these election results make you feel?

I felt terrible. I felt on-edge and on the verge of crying. I also felt physically sick. The thing that some Trump supporters clearly did not understand was that some of our feelings about the outcome of the contest actually transcended the election, itself. Many of us were, and are, not sad because a Republican won. Many of us are fearful because we have taken Trump at his word—about Muslims, undocumented folks, women, and Black Lives Matter.

Beyond the racist rhetoric and actions Trump has emboldened, are there any policies or actions the Trump campaign has promised that should have us on high alert?

The real question is where to start—the proposed Muslim registry, mass deportation, Trump’s demonization of Black Lives Matter and support for a national “stop and frisk” law (which would not be constitutional)? As I write this, social media and news outlets are reeling at Trump’s latest tweet suggesting that those who burn the American flag should lose their citizenship and/or be jailed. White nationalists and white supremacists see Trump as an inspiration and an opportunity to mainstream their ideas and influence policy. Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened many of these folks to harass people like myself on Twitter and social media, and, even more disturbingly, to commit hate crimes. Donald Trump and white nationalists are a threat to what little democracy we may have. What is good is that we are not sure what he will actually do, but we are wise to take him at his word, or tweet.

How is All Lives Matter counter-productive? What you say to people who come at you with that?

The counter-slogan, “All Lives Matter,” misses the point and is really a distraction from the problem that many people of color, particularly black people, face—disproportionate state violence. All African Americans, trans people of color, and Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police. Residential segregation, the poverty concentrated in these spaces, mass incarceration, and an unwillingness for Democrats and Republicans to devise policies that could address inequalities show a disregard for black bodies. Black folks, as well as many poor people, have become more disposable as inequalities have widened. So, the easy answer is there is no need for a black lives matter movement if all lives truly mattered. If all lives mattered, then there would never be a time when the state would circumscribe black folks’ civil liberties. We wouldn’t be criminalized by laws. We wouldn’t be racially profiled. We would not have to contend with negative racial stereotypes that suggests we are criminal, either due to biology, behavior, or geography. Our families would not have to contend with the negative racial stereotypes when loved ones are killed by the police. We would not be blamed for our own criminalization nor our own deaths.

What can white people who want to be agents of change do to help, especially in this oncoming environment of a Trump presidency?

First, white folks need to support the Movement for Black Lives’s platform. This needs to be a point of conversation among white folks. White and non-black folks should consider supporting and organizing around a political platform that doesn’t totally center on their own preferences, or what they consider a “universal” political vision. Then, as white folks voice their support for the Movement for Black Lives’s platform, they can continue to find ways to educate themselves about the history of structural racism, patriarchy, settler colonialism, Islamophobia, economic exploitation, and xenophobia. All of these phenomena are connected. These are the phenomena that obstruct unity, democracy, liberty, and equality. White folks, as well as all of us, have to think of the ways in which we are complicit individually and collectively.

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Do you have any book or reading or even movie/ documentary recommendations for people who want to learn more about racial injustice? Where are good starting points for people who might not be educated on the complex history of racial injustice in America?

This is a tough question for an historian because there are so many!

Martin Luther King, Jr’s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? has been formative in my understanding the challenge of attaining racial justice after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. In this text, Dr. King is extremely critical of white liberals and those who thought the movement had realized racial equality. He also offers his thoughts on the Poor People’s Movement and the prospects for democratic socialism in the U.S.

Toni Cade Bambara’s The Black Woman: An Anthology is one of the first collections about intersectionality edited by a black woman. This text, published in 1970, provided necessary critiques of white liberal feminism, black power, and racist and sexist views of the black family and black womanhood. One cannot understand the history of the women’s liberation movement and black feminism without consulting this collection.

Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and Jordan Camp’s and Christina Heatherton’s Policing the Planet:  Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter are great resources for understanding the historical context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Taylor offers a concise radical interpretation of race, racism, black politics, and policing after the 1960s. Camp’s and Heatherton’s book is a collection of essays and interviews by intellectuals and activists. It examines the issue of policing and state violence from various points of view. I am teaching a class on resisting state violence next semester and I plan on assigning all of parts of both texts.

I would also suggest Robin Kelley’s Black Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, and Michael Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left because they provide the hope we need.

Movies and Documentaries:  I love HBO’s Boycott because it offers a great insider account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution resonates with our contemporary moment.

Can you offer any words of wisdom or hope to people and especially minorities who feel threatened by this new president?

There is not anything I can tell minorities, or folks marginalized in our society, something they do not already know. I think Trump supporters should try harder to understand why marginalized folks feel threatened. I am confident that the real defenders of democracy—justice-seeking students, community organizers, intellectuals, teachers, journalists, cultural critics, comedians, artists, and librarians—will challenge this new regime and make the president-elect feel uncomfortable with pursuing his program each day he is in office. My hope continues to lay in all of my friends, accomplices, and the folks that I don’t know, and their willingness to organize at the drop of a dime and put their bodies on the line. I do not have any words because there is no hope without us working and struggling together.

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If you could invite three people to a dinner party, living or dead, who would they be and why?

Three people? Wow. I am going to name five — Frederick Douglass, community organizer Ella Baker, author Toni Cade Bambara, historian Howard Zinn, and Martin Luther King. I would want to talk to all of them about how we can resist the new administration. I work best with a large team.

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Inspo: Gift giving, Joan Didion, and Words on the Street

Christmas gifts

I love the holidays! Any holiday, really.

Christmas is second only to Halloween in my book. It’s so sparkly! The best part, though, is the gift giving, which has become infinitely more fun since I became an aunt.

Right now my niece and nephews are in the sweet spot, that cusp of kid-ness, where they’re young enough to want things that are completely ridiculous but adorable and not self-serving or angsty.

Ie., I shelled out big time this year to buy my third-grader nephew a fluffy blue dragon toy he keeps talking about that animatronically blows fake fire to toast a fake plastic marshmallow on a fake plastic stick. Heavy duty batteries not included.

How many more years will he want something so innocent, so sweet, so dumb? How many more years will I be able to afford pricey Christmas gifts for the growing number of babies on my Christmas list?

Not long. So I have no shame. I love their little faces when they see they got what they wanted. The world will kick ‘em around a bit and forever soon enough.

My niece is into glitter and guts, which I adore. She wanted a doll that is a scientist, so of course I obliged. My sister teamed up with Santa to get the doll accompanying accoutrements for when Dr. Doll decides she wants to have it all.

Ie., baby stroller and party outfits.

To go with her science doll (which also came with a robot so it was hard to top), I got her this book by illustrator Rachel Ingotofsky.

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It’s a charming, colorful and robust ode to the ladies who have made big impacts in science and engineering, like Jocelyn here.

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I heard about the book watching this Broad and High episode that featured Rachel. Makes me want to get myself InDesign and Illustrator for Christmas… Hmm…

Joan Didion on self-respect and a notebook

This presidential election’s results were pretty brutal, and I tend to close myself off when I’m angry, thus, I’ve been in a state of introspection the past few weeks. Finding a way to lose with power led me to this essay by Joan Didion.

I’ve always been a fan of her writing, and this essay is one just one example of her capability to transform a new idea fresh, waving us over to look at it from her new-found vantage point. She wrote “On Self-Respect” for Vogue in 1961. Another Vogue writer who was supposed to cover the same topic flaked last minute so Joan wrote this to an exact character count.

I’m so glad she took the opportunity to save the space from being converted from editorial to ad. Decades later we’re still reading it. Here are some gems:

People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in a access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named corespondent. If they choose to forego their work—say it is screenwriting—in favor of sitting around the Algonquin bar, they do not then wonder bitterly why the Hacketts, and not they, did Anne Frank.

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent.

To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out—since our self-image is untenable—their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gift for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course we will play Francesca to Paolo, Brett Ashley to Jake, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we can not but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the necessity of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.

Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook” is another one of my favorites. Rediscovering her work has led me to dust off the old habit of recording things I see every day in a notebook. I can do whatever I want with it, since notebooks are not a precious thing, like diaries or journals. Throw it out or laugh at it or use it in later days as a resource for story ideas, plot twists or character traits.

You can read it and get inspired to start your own here.

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My notebook. Page 1. I love that Didion has always been her own woman.

Words on the street 

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As seen on my walk home. A greeting from the door of Four Sided in Chicago.

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At Mariano’s. “Clash of the Pot Pie-tins.” The scenes this phrase led my imagination toward made grocery shopping much less terrible.

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I’ve seen more and more branding in bathrooms this past year or so. This little reminder at the Cards Against Humanity office in Chicago proves words are never a waste of space.

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Notes-ish: Thanks for the pie

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Apple pie. There’s nothing I craft that makes me feel more rooted to the past. So rich is the story of the apple. Juicy too. From Eve and her temptation to Johnny and his journey to Martha Stewart and her perfect display.

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“Of all the delicates which Britons try

To please the palate of delight the eye,

Of all the sev’ral kings of sumptuous far,

There is none that can with applepie compare.”

To William King’s doughy poetry in 1713. The apple pie of his apple-shaped eye.

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I’m always amazed at how easy it is to make. How few ingredients it really takes to make something so beloved and iconic. You’d think something that evokes this much lore and longing requires flecks of gold and the tooth of a troll.

Everything now is so complicated.

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But this? Sugar. Apples. Lemon, the secret ingredient. That’s all. Mostly.

And a flaky crust, but that’s something that people are scared of until they make their first one and realize how ridiculously easy it is. Like driving a stick. Or reverse parking. Or calling your grandmother just to say hi.

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Crumble top. Even easier. Unless you don’t have a blender and have to slice through the butter with two butter knives. But it’s manageable. The recipe should say, “Slice the butter in the flour and sugar with the butter knives until desired crumbly consistency is reached. Usually the length of two Al Green songs. To bake, restart the whole album and listen once through.”

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When you’re done making one you can look at it for a long time. It takes hours to cool enough to tickle the tips of waiting tongues. You can say, “I made that.” And write a poem about it like William. Promise to plant seeds more like Johnny. Present it flawlessly like Martha.

Or eat it. Like Eve.

Essay-ish: This is dedicated to the car I love

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There comes a time in every man’s life that he must decide whether he is a victim or not. So goes the old saying.

For women, per usual, navigating to the answer of that question has a unique set of complications. One can seemingly be being walked on while really playing the long game in which she is crowned victor, not victim. Women can get away with a few more negotiating tactics than men, but I also think it’s a disposition we’re more inclined to — whether by nature or by nurture — not to be confrontational.

At first, anyway.

For example, one time I got my car washed and paid an extra $20 to have the mats steam cleaned. I never ponied up for little indulgences like this, so it was a big deal.

That’s why I was so let down that when my car made it to the end of the line, sudsy and steaming, and the gentlemen cleaners were whispering anxiously to one another, taking turns looking awkwardly inside.

“Miss,” they informed me. “We messed up.”

Instead of putting my newly crisp-as-that-$20-bill-I-paid-for-them mats in my Honda Civic, they’d put them in the Jetta that just jetted off. So sorry.

I’d typically decline to call these guys idiots straight out the gate, but with the way the story unfolded, I now hold no shame in giving them a walloping, judgmental, stinkiest-of-stink-eyes stink eye three years after the fact.

Instead of offering me an immediate refund, the head gentleman cleaner got my phone number and said they’d call me as soon as the guy in the Jetta brought back my mats. Because he would. There’s no way he wouldn’t notice those mats weren’t his.

Which, in hindsight, should have been the line of thinking that raised the first red flag. If it was that easy to tell they didn’t belong in the Jetta, how could his team have placed them in there in the first place?

What happened next was a five-month battle with this car wash company. After two weeks of not hearing anything from them, I called and inquired about my mats. No one knew what I was talking about. They took down my number and said they’d call me back.

They didn’t. I tried two more times to be polite with my followup. By the fourth or fifth call, though, I was mad. I felt taken advantage of. They didn’t take me seriously because I was being nice about it.

Clearly they were blowing me off, hoping I’d forget about the mats or just buy my own so as not to deal with them.

Clearly they didn’t know the desperate stubbornness of a 26-year-old living paycheck to paycheck.

I stopped being polite and tried a new tactic. I explained to the owner/manager that I had worked really, really hard to buy this car by myself. Getting my mats steamed was a treat for my hard work. I just wanted this thing I worked so hard for to be a complete set. This will definitely work, I thought. If anyone can empathize with the need to protect one’s small fruits of labor, it’s a small business owner.

Yeah, yeah, OK, he said. He didn’t call back.

A few weeks passed. I’m boiling by this point… this was your fuck up, not mine, and you owe me a refund and my mats… That’s the angry line of reasoning I hammered him with a few weeks later after he continued to ignore me. He yelled back at me, saying his family had been going through something or something and I should be more understanding. I might have, I said, if this hadn’t have happened five months ago and if I hadn’t have been put off this whole time like some annoying fly you needed to scrape off the radiator.

Also, wait what?! I thought I was the customer?! Why am I helping YOU feel better about this?

I killed him with kindness. That didn’t work.

I threatened him with a lawyer. That didn’t work.

I called the Better Business Bureau. There you go, girl.

Two days later after making a formal complaint, the prick “suddenly” found a supplier for my mats. Imagine that! They didn’t fit right, of course, but at least they were mine. I got my refund. My car, my symbol of independence, was shabby but whole.

My white steed defended!

Every time I drove by that car wash from then on, I stuck my middle finger out of the window, rain or shine. I also evil-eyed the inside of any black Jetta I happened upon, looking for ill–fitting floor mats.

They say cars teach you responsibility—how to take care of something. Mine taught me some people are just rotten, only looking out for themselves. But there are ways to fight them.

I just wish I had fought sooner. On a lot of things.

But mostly this car has brought me very happy memories. It made a lifestyle possible in my twenties that was full of family visits, journalism assignments, friend vacations and simple errand running that happens as I came to define my adult self. It was my physical transportation as I tried to figure out the messy internal traveling to figure out where exactly I belonged.

And it had a loud radio that was perfect for singing along to the oldies, which is probably what I did most in it.

I sold this baby, my car, this weekend and am still kind of sad about it.

I think it was too, because it gave me a funny little goodbye—a reminder to pay attention, even when singing at the top of my lungs.

I got the car detailed right before I sold it. A few days afterward I pulled the mats out of the trunk to put them back in the now-dry car.

Guess what was missing?

One of those god damn mats.

🙁

: \

🙂

Of course.

Inspo: Atlanta the TV show, a new book, and Leonard Cohen

Coconut Crunchos

I’ve been watching Donald Glover’s TV show for FX, “Atlanta,” through our Roku’s Crackle app, and I’m hooked. Donald Glover’s funny but it’s always been clear he’s also an artist, and “Atlanta” is a testament to his creative powers and their show-stopping ability to play with the topic of race. The first season’s one-off episode of commercial and radio parodies was my favorite. This Coconut Crunchos commercial brilliantly takes on the abuse of power and racial double standards in this country. It had my jaw on the floor. 

“A Man Called Ove” takes a train ride

On a scale of one to already bought a conductor hat, how excited am I to know train rides are a thing?

Choo mother fucking choo!

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I knew Amtrak existed and you could ride the train places. But hot damn I didn’t not realize how fun it was and how many places you could travel to with a beautiful view along the way!

I’d like to just live on a train now, please.

Justin and I were coming back to Chicago from Lafayette. We rode the Hoosier State Train. Tickets were cheap, the white tablecloth breakfast was delicious, and I got to imagine I was a sassy little lass in a wool peacoat and matching cloche hat heading somewhere out west to take care of a sick, mysterious great aunt but, unbeknownst to me, was embarking on the adventure and romance of a lifetime, and also was someone just murdered in the caboose?!

AT LEAST THE GREAT HERCULE POIROT AND HIS SILLY LITTLE MUSTACHE ARE ON BOARD!

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So, what I’m saying is, really, everyone won.

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It was the perfect setting to dig further into the new book I’m reading, “A Man Called Ove,” by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.

I have a feeling Ove wold have loved this Sunday morning train ride, though he never would have admitted it.

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The story is about a suicidal old grouch, his new neighbors, a tough cat, and redemption.

I’m about halfway through and my favorite part about the book has been Backman’s writing style. It’s brief and funny with paragraphs like these sprinkled throughout. His way of writing about love and anger feel new to me, but they’re so right. That’s always what makes reading so fun.

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Leonard Cohen

Bird on the Wire

Like a bird on the wire,

like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free.

Like a worm on a hook,

like a knight from some old fashioned book

I have saved all my ribbons for thee.

If I, if I have been unkind,

I hope that you can just let it go by.

If I, if I have been untrue

I hope you know it was never to you.

Oh, so sad to see so many brilliant artists move on. You know it’s gotta happen sometime, but it still hurts. Leonard Cohen was such a wonderful introvert and I am so grateful he occasionally came out of his hard shell to share his lonely, soft inner world. May he rest in peace — finally. And may you listen to one of his last interviews with the New Yorker.

Notes-ish: Making the bed

I was having one of those weeks where everything felt big except me.

I’d come home from work. Heat up some food. Pull out a TV tray. Eat. Lay in bed. Sleep.

I was adjusting, like so many, to a grimmer awareness of the world. It was like someone mowed the grass and I’m daunted to have discovered how many snakes were there all along as I sunbathed in cheery progressing warmth.

I’m also adjusting to a new living situation.

That pairing of words, “living situation,” politely implies that something heated and grotesque is boiling under a tepid surface — cohabitation out of necessity — but that’s not the case here.

We’re just settling in, Justin and I.

But, that week at least, it was too much for me. Too much changing. Too much not knowing. I needed to sleep.

On night three of 12+ plus hours of sleep, Justin asks what is wrong.

“I’m sick maybe.”

“Or you are sad.”

I am sad, so this comment makes me pull my mind’s curtain’s tighter with white knuckle anger.

“I want a couch. More furniture. All I have to lay on is this stupid bed that doesn’t even have a bed frame and so of course I fall asleep by 7 pm. I want to feel like a woman! How can I do that in this place?! What are we even doing with our lives?!”

What I’m really saying is that I feel powerless. He knows, and shields himself from my fire breathing with his knowing.

The next evening I come home from work and Justin is on the living room floor, screwing together a bed frame.

We don’t say much about it, but I know this him building a better cocoon for me to hide in when I don’t want to look outside anymore.

I go to bed early that night again. But the next night I don’t. And the night after that I don’t either. Quietly, he’s lifted me back up to where it is bright.

Love is simple, mostly.

Let’s remember that as we start to get to the work of tying the snakes into bows.

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Story: Make the Atlantic Ocean great again!

Excerpt from Atlantic News Wire story, Nov. 14, 2016

“… It was president-elect Sharky McSharkface’s promises to restore the ocean to former economic glory that prompted so many of this sleepy, small sand town to vote for him.

‘Things just haven’t been the same here since the 1600s,’ said Finn Grey as he swam his 55 kids to school last Tuesday morning. ‘My grandpappy used to be able to bring home meals for a week in one hunt. Now, the opportunity for getting food at that rate is just not there.’

McSharkface’s opponent, Nuts Kraken, argued she agreed that the divide in economic opportunity between shark communities was an issue of great concern, but she attributed this shift on the dynamics of the pirate market.

‘Listen, the world is changing,’ said Kraken. ‘No one is being forced to walk the plank anymore! We have to adjust to this reality and find new solutions to our food crisis!’

President-elect McSharkface’s 100 day plan addresses this issue, however. According to his website, “We will build a wall of ships that have fun decorative planks that look like diving boards and all the humans will jump off into the water so we can eat them! And then, after they’re dead and in our tummies, we will make them pay for all the ships! It’s going to be great! Fantastic!’

‘Now, that’s a plan we can believe in,’ said Grey, who was suddenly wearing an ‘Eat these Nuts’ T-shirt, the popular look that portrayed Kracken being eaten by McSharkface. ‘That’s my guy.’

Will humans take the bait? Only time will tell.”

List-ish: Four things I will do to make this feel better immediately

Donate

Some worthy candidates:

American Civil Liberties Union

These are the people who will fight our battles in court.

Planned Parenthood

Being pro-choice is being pro-life. Donate in the name of Mike Pence if ya nasty.

Earth Justice

Everyone deserves clean water.

National Immigration Law Center

They’ve got their work cut out for them.

Artists (Buy art. Support artists. Kickstarter is a good place to start if you don’t have artists in your community.)

I just backed this documentary about the first artist ever convicted of obscenity. Knowledge is power. Free speech is everything.

Volunteer

To allay the fears of powerlessness, I vow to get more involved with my local community, to take care of my neighbors rather than merely proselytizing on social media and feeling like I’ve done something. Moreover, I will work to be more vigilant, more aware of what’s going on around me and practice nonviolent resistance whenever possible.

Much love to whoever made this.
Much love to whoever made this.

The only way to change the world is to change the one you’re directly living in each day.

Get off Facebook

I think we’ve outgrown Facebook. It was really important when it first started, and I think it’s responsible for the exponential growth of LGBTQI rights in the last decade. It showed neighbors, family and classmates living beautiful, loving lives as themselves. It normalized something that was once kept hidden.

But now it’s an echo chamber. We’re talking to ourselves. Just check out this Wall Street Journal comparison of Liberal versus Conservative feeds.

Unfriending and Unfollowing has made it too easy to plug our ears and close our eyes against things with which we don’t agree. There’s nothing brave about that.

If this divisive election has shown us anything it’s that we need to start talking to, listening to and educating the other side. I vow to read more news from a wealth of sources so I can change my tune when necessary or have a better idea what we’re up against.

I deleted Facebook from my phone. I’ll turn to the news instead.

Stop glorifying the American Dream

Yowza, am I ever guilty of this. It sets up the false notion that success through hard work is possible for everyone. It’s not.

Not yet. 

How do you do this? I don’t know. That’s complicated, just like our relationship to the idea of it. But, personally, I think it means no longer longing for something that’s not my life, longing for an old school version of it: family, meals together every night, home, car parked in a two-car garage.

My story, your story, is as American as they come. We’ve already made it. Now let’s focus on making it possible for everyone else.

Furthermore, if the fight for a piece if the American Dream is what is causing good people to let racism and sexism slide, I want no part of that misleading nightmare.

White voters feel the American Dream is drifting out of reach for them, and they are angry because they believe minorities and immigrants have butted in line.

Washington Post

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Notes-ish: Love always wins

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because of the election but also because it’s Veteran’s Day.

I’m so lucky to have been able to speak to both of my grandpas about their service and the wars they fought and to thank them for their service in person.

I have such a deep pride and interest in my ancestry and the people whose blood became mine. I’ve been taught about them all from a young age, which I’m thankful for too.

Grandpa in Korea.
Grandpa in Korea.

I have stacks of books tracing my family’s lineage, struggles and successes on both sides. It’s wonderful. I cherish those pieces of my family history more than anything. It gives me a constant sense of belonging, of place and of love, wherever I am.

And I’m lucky to have them. A lot of families don’t.

A lot of families have been destroyed by hate and prejudice that has told them not to be proud of who they are and where and who they come from.

Or they have avoided their ethnicity and heritage to assimilate into a country that has proven once again they are not a priority here.

Or they haven’t had the time to do their genealogy because they were just struggling to survive.

Or they don’t know—because their ancestors were murdered, kidnapped, worse.

Or their stories and paperwork weren’t kept because they weren’t considered important to human history, their pedigree unremarkable.

Justin is part Guatemalan. He looks ethnically ambiguous—a brown-ish white-ish chameleon who can look like whatever you want him to.

But I’ve seen people side eye him.

I’ve heard him say this country doesn’t feel like it’s his.

When we first started dating, I asked about his ancestry, foolishly thinking he too would have a stack of books that showed where he came from in Poland and Guatemala. Which vessel his people came over on and why. What their name was at Ellis Island.

He doesn’t have those stories. Any children I have with him won’t have those stories. They’ll have a different kind of strength and memory in their bones.

This has been a really hard week. I feel irrevocably different about a lot of things.

But I have him.

And we have art and music and ice cream and tonight.

And we have a chance to live in a way that will give the future a different, better story.

I’m not done fighting. I know this is just beginning. We need to stop avoiding our truths because we don’t want to “get involved.” So many people don’t have the luxury of not getting involved.

I’ve cried a lot this week out of fear for my own rights and disappointment that progress wasn’t happening like I trusted it was, but also out of fear because I know what we’ll have to do next, how we will struggle to hold the line and push it forward against stronger forces.

I know I have to do more to make things right for people and places whose stories have been stolen. I’m ready to put my own boots on the ground.

But tonight Justin and I will dance and we’ll walk home and I’ll look at the moon and thank the people whose names I’ll never know that dotted the lines that led to him.

To me.

To us.

 

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List-ish: Why I’m wearing white on election day

Because color still matters in ways it shouldn’t.

Because the first time I read Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Solitude of Self,” I felt like I was anything but alone.

Because I am “the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe.” ECS, Solitude of Self

Because two young, poor female lawyers spent their own money and time doing painstaking research to put together the case that became Roe v. Wade, because no firm would touch it.

Because when Hillary Clinton started law school it was legal for a husband to rape his wife.

Because that didn’t start becoming illegal until 1975.

Because it’s my fucking body.

Because the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t ratified.

Because witch burning, dowries, honor killings, hymen reconstruction, hymen mutilation, rape as an act of war.

Because locker room talk.

Because Stanford.

Because Steubenville.

Because “boys will be boys.”

Because Monica Lewinsky was only 22 when she worked at the White House and her boss abused his power.

Because no paternity leave.

Because the vagina tax, 20 cents for every dollar — gone.

Because my grandpas fought wars.

Because my niece and nephews were born.

Because “Sir, everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote. Yours truly, Bertha Brewster.” Daily Telegraph, 1913

Because women and men deserve an equal footing from which to step off into finding their purpose.

Because black lives matter.

Because love is love is love is love.

Because poverty.

Because I can.

Because the suffragists did.

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