An Open Letter to My Fellow Nice White Ladies

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Nice white ladies, I write to you as a fellow wintery pale, liberal, and #resistant Democrat.

I am proud of your marching. I am proud of your good intentions. I am proud of your zealous, renewed calls for inclusivity.

But I must say, I watched a lot of you turn argumentative and unkind on Facebook this election cycle. I saw a lot of “If you’re voting for Trump, unfriend me” statuses crop up.

So now, in the aftermath of the Women’s March, that great day of sisterhood, I figure it’s time to ask: whatever happened to your relationships with those who disagreed with you? Are you still friends with them on Facebook? In real life?

You may still think they’re idiots. You may still think they’re wrong. Your blood pressure might hit a high when you see their posts in your newsfeed. And that’s okay. Disagreements, anger, and frustration are okay, as long as those channels of communication are still open.

But if you made a habit early on of shutting out those fellow nice white ladies who voted for Trump, and if you also marched last week for all women’s rights, then I’ve got to ask: Inclusivity? Is that really our strong suit?

Don’t get me wrong, there are other legitimate ways to #resist that aren’t necessarily inclusive. But inclusivity was the fight I saw championed on my Facebook feed last weekend.

The thing is, my fellow nice white ladies, we’re often selective of when, exactly, we join this fight. And those times tend to, coincidentally, overlap with when our own issues are affected.

Nice white ladies, we have reputation among our fellow ladies of color as being flaky allies…and it ain’t hard to see how we got it.

Fellow nice white ladies, women of color did not ask to be our pet causes, and they are not our filler material. I know we feel vulnerable and scared because Trump’s anti-woman agenda affects us, too. But be careful how you word your protests. Be careful about proclaiming, “I stand up for all women!” when you really mean you stand up for yourself.

Do not assume everyone else agrees with you and wants what you want just because they have also been marginalized.

So fellow nice white ladies, it’s important we know how to bring the nice white ladies we disagree with into our self-professed inclusive conversations.

Women of color are no more monolithic than we are, and if we cannot work together with those who share our race but have different political, economic, and religious beliefs, then why should women of color take us seriously when we claim to care about them…even though they, too, have different political, economic, and religious beliefs?

When their viewpoints don’t align with our causes, will we exclude them as we have our fellow nice white ladies?

Standing beside your more-liberal or more-conservative white lady counterparts can be frustrating, teeth-gnashing, Advil-popping hard work. But finding a way to communicate among this disagreement is vital, especially when you claim to ally yourself with those who are different than you.

Fellow nice white ladies, I believe in us. I believe we really can be a force for change, for inclusion. But if other people are going to trust us, then we’re going to have to start with each other.

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Beyond Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

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One of my friends checking into the women’s rally mentioned how proud she was to be marching as a woman of faith, as a pro-lifer who understands that “life” encompasses the full breadth of living, from personal freedoms to advocacy to healthcare.

Her mother commented on her Facebook status, expressing disappointment that pro-life groups were dropped as partners from these rallies…rallies that proclaimed themselves inclusive champions of women’s rights.

As our country grapples with the hypocrisies borne from the division between what we are and what we want to be, I think it’s time we scrap the polarizing “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels. They are not helping us further the conversation on women’s rights and reproductive freedoms. In fact, rather than clarifying, they create a false “you’re either with us or against us” dichotomy that is downright harmful.

What we don’t realize about each other

As my friend discussed, pro-lifers often have a more holistic approach to life than raging clinic protestors or trite “save the babies!” campaigns would have you believe.

And pro-choicers, for all of our talk about individual rights, can fall suddenly silent when it comes to supporting choices they may not personally consider. But wanting to raise a child, even an unplanned for one, is a fair choice. Aspiring to be a stay-at-home mom is a fair choice. Believing life begins at conception is a fair choice.

Each camp, at its core, also has roots in the other. Pro-lifers should push for access to family planning, birth control, all of these services that render abortion unnecessary. And pro-choicers should be clear that we are not pro-abortion; we believe it’s a viable worst-case scenario option, but abortion is not a goal. Healthy women and wanted children are.

“But what about women who forgo birth control and think, ‘I’ll just have an abortion’?”

This question comes up sometimes in arguments against abortion access. Someone who takes no preventative measures and figures “I’ll just have an abortion” is gambling on chance, not making a choice. This is not only an unfair representation of pro-choicers’ work, but also insensitive to women who have miscarried or had an abortion after due consideration.

I ask my pro-life friends not to paint pro-choicers with such flippant strokes. In turn, we will not paint you with strokes of ignorance and callousness. Do not call us “baby killers,” and we will not call you “woman haters.”

We have fundamental disagreements…

There are certain points upon which we may never agree, the most unyielding being the debate over the moment at which life begins. If you believe that God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb, but I believe that life only begins after birth, then our worldviews are oppositional. We may never find common ground here. 

…But we also have common goals.

But despite fundamental differences, we have important work that we can do together. Again, “pro-choice” doesn’t mean “pro-abortion,” and “pro-life” doesn’t mean “pro-birth-and-nothing-else.”

If you are “pro-life”

I urge you to consider what that really means. You do not need to support abortion services in order to support women. How are you teaching our children about reproduction, consent, intimacy, bodily responsibility? What forms of birth control would you encourage your daughter to use? “Just buy condoms” isn’t enough; condoms place the onus on men and do not encourage women to protect themselves or understand their own bodies. You do not have to support abortion access, but you cannot be squeamish about sex.

Also, examine your attitude toward women who do support abortion access. Jesus had a lot to say on how to treat your sister, but in no verse does “thou shalt scream ‘baby killer!’ instead of considering their humanity” appear. Again, you don’t have to agree with or approve of their choices, but you do have to walk compassionately among difference.

If you are “pro-choice”

You have a responsibility to treat your sisters kindly. If you claim to support the rights and choices of all women, know that this stance obligates you to work respectfully with those who believe differently. Do not shut “pro-lifers” out of the conversation. Stop mocking those who desire motherhood, housewifery, those “traditional” roles we think are now beneath us. People recognize their full potential in different ways. A traditional role, willingly desired, is not oppressive. So make room for the full spectrum of that diversity you claim to tout.

Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers want women to feel in control of their lives and for children to be wanted and loved. We may have some hard differences to discuss in our worldviews, but our goals are the same.

It’s time for us to stop letting distinctions of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” drive us apart.

It’s time for us to embrace each other and each other’s best interests.

It’s time for all of us to be “pro-women.”

Coney Dogs and Dadscoveries

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Conversations with my father involve extended non sequiturs I like to call “Dadscoveries.” In these Dadscoveries, my father can go from discussing country music to his ex-wife to the chores he needs to get done with nary a transition between topics.

So I wasn’t surprised when he recently stopped a rousing discussion of my brother’s love life to interject, “You know, people didn’t start protesting the Vietnam War until the draft.”

Our shiny new political discussion continued for a couple minutes until it, too, was replaced by a more pressing one about how he wanted Coney dogs for dinner.

Our Tin Soldiers

But as inauguration day draws nearer, I keep coming back to my dad’s remark. As we in 2017 begin a renewed era of protest, I ask all of us to know why we are doing so.

For many of us—and I speak particularly to my white middle-class peers—Donald Trump is our draft: an obvious and unapologetic symbol of our country’s deep ugliness. (He may well be what we find looming at the bottom of the swamp he intends to drain.)

However, as of January 20, Donald Trump is also in a position to affect our own lives. His agenda is not new, or even particularly original. But it has blown up in the face of our white middle-class lives, so we have something to say about it.

And y’all, that’s good. Paying attention, standing up for yourself, being skeptical of the people in charge: these are powerful qualities. Use them.

But ask yourselves, too: why start now?

My honest and shameful answer? Because now I’m affected.

If I were really protesting because I predominately cared about the rights of others, then I would have started years ago. I expect I’m not alone in this.

What Do We Do?

Fellow well-meaning white people, we’ve got a lot of catch up to do. That catch up involves supporting other people instead of making everything about us. It involves education, which involves admitting ignorance and being wrong sometimes. It involves difficult conversations.

While some of these difficult conversations need to happen with flesh-and-blood people from the groups we love to champion but aren’t really a part of, these conversations also need to happen with those we disagree with: the “oppressors,” or at least those who voted for them.

I know we don’t want to. I know we don’t want to talk to them because they are selfish and ignorant. They have put their needs before ours.

But in our own ways, we have also been selfish and ignorant. We have also waited until we were affected before assuming the mantle of self-righteousness and crying, “Justice for all!”

Our problems are deeply human ones, as well as deeply American ones. We’re never going to fully fix them, but we’re certainly not going to make any headway if we’re not on speaking terms with 46% of the population.

I’m not suggesting a round of Kumbaya. I’m not even suggesting apologizing to “them” or putting ourselves in “their” shoes.

But regardless of what side you’re on, nobody is blameless and nobody is isolated. So interact. Repeatedly. Talk, and then listen, even if you don’t expect your opinion to change. Stay active and angry and woke (or whatever the kids are calling it these days), but also get out of your echo chamber and figure out where your voice fits in the larger scheme of things.

Here’s to a busy four years.

What it Means to be an Ally: Also, My Two Darkest Secrets

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Hello, fair people of the Internet. I’m back. Still clicking along in a Microsoft Word document trying to repair this crazy country with spit and chewing gum and words. Let me tell you, despite my best efforts, it’s not going great.

But, for right now, let’s take up another piece of that puzzle.

There’s been a lot of talk this week about safety pins and safe spaces and resources and allies. Almost all of that discussion is great discussion, but we need to hash out a definition or two before we really get the ball rolling on social justice.

So let me propose two criteria that haven’t come up much in all of the Facebook posts and news articles and conversation that I’ve been hearing:

  1. Being an ally means you’re in it for the long haul.
  1. Being an ally should not be a reactive step.

Now, before we get into all this heaviness of responsibility and compassion and fighting-the-good-fight, I promised you I’d reveal my two darkest secrets on the Internet. Right here. Right now.

Because therapy, apparently, is not as good a strategy as ripping open your soul for your friends, family, your friends’ family, and that one troll named Fukk-u-nobama123 to see.

So here we go.

My first deep dark secret: I have neither seen nor listened to Hamilton. I’m not even entirely sure what it’s about, outside of…well, probably Alexander Hamilton.

I have been doing theater for the past eight years at six separate theaters in three different states. I think I’m actually two degrees from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. But my Hamilton knowledge? Nada. All the revolutionary memes that have been going around Facebook lately? I don’t get them.

And I’m sorry. For any readers who haven’t already disgustedly closed out of this article and gone back to Buzzfeed, I do hope you’ll still hear me out. But be aware, as I give advice, that I really don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. I don’t even know anything about Hamilton. I’m taking my best guesses, but they are not all going to be correct.

And now, my faithful readers, for surviving the first of my dreadful secrets, your reward is my second one:

I was looking forward to doing nothing.

And wow. That one hurts. But it’s been lurking in the back of my mind since Wednesday morning at 3 am, and I think it’s time I own up to it.

Because all of you posting about your safety pins and safe spaces and support for the ‘other’? I’m with you, guys. But if I’m going to do what the world demands we’ve got to do now, then I first have to admit: I was looking forward to not having to do it.

On Tuesday night, I was looking forward to celebrating Hillary’s victory. I was looking forward to tears of joy over our first female president. I was looking forward to dancing across the shards of that glass ceiling. And I was really, really looking forward to considering the battle won and going back to not caring about politics again until midterm elections.

This election cycle was draining and disheartening. I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I couldn’t wait until we got our next wave of progress: first a black man! Now a woman! And after that win was announced, I fully intended to hibernate until the next go ‘round, when I would gamely re-assume the mantle of informed citizenry and vote again, as per my civic duty.

Yeah, guys. I voted. I followed this election cycle. I did everything that is expected of a good, decent Democrat. And I couldn’t wait to not have to feel that responsibility any more.

So suffice it to say that in past five days, I’ve aged about fifty years.

For the last eight years, Democrats and our sense of progress have held power. And during this election cycle, when we saw that Hillary’s big competition was Donald Trump, most of us failed to read the writing on the wall and laughed instead, figuring that the next four years would also be ours to claim.

And oh boy, did we call that one wrong. So in part, we own that loss. We’d taken up walk-on roles in our march towards social progress, showing up to vote or protest when the need emerged, then receding back to our daily lives after the moment passed. For a long time, we’ve had a government sympathetic to our wants; we’ve been able to kick our problems upstairs, paying lip service to our disgruntlement but rarely having to do much more.

I’m no fortuneteller, but my guess is, come January, we’re not going to be able to do that any longer.

And in the meantime, in our relative absence, a storm has been brewing. Now those who have taken umbrage with the last eight years will take their turns. Many of us, who felt progress was finally being made on the issues we supported, now feel rightfully threatened. But despite those fears, one opportunity has presented itself: we have a new charge to create those changes that need to happen and protect those groups that need defending, instead of waiting for the higher ups to legislate it. Because this time, they’re not going to.

Let’s circle back around to the ally issue.

I’m white, straight, female, Jewish, and economically comfortable. Even considering the “Jewish female” part, I have caring, strong, feminist, and (hell, it doesn’t hurt to say it) handsome male friends in my life. And while anti-Semitism is alive and kicking, the cultural target has largely shifted from my back to my Muslim neighbor’s. All things considered, I’m pretty lucky.

Pre-election, I would have still considered myself an ally to those who needed one: after all, I thought the right thoughts, smiled at the right strangers, supported the right issues. But now, with Trump’s America looming around the corner, I recognize that these good intentions just aren’t going to cut it.

Being an ally is not passive work. Posting on Facebook, wearing safety pins, proclaiming that you are there for anyone who needs it…don’t get me wrong, all of these gestures are kind. But they all place the impetus on the person in need to make the first real step. Few people are going to come out of the woodwork to speak to a stranger wearing a safety pin, however good that wearer may be. Perhaps the person in need might appreciate the gesture, but he or she has no guarantee that these pinned people are the resources they claim to be.

As for safety pin bearers intervening in situations of harassment…there’s both no guarantee that those bystanders will actually come across a situation that needs their help, and no guarantee that they will actually intervene.

So if you want to be the best ally you can be, then you have to be proactive about it. Seek out a group that defends the rights of those in need. Visit a local mosque. Donate money to the ACLU. Volunteer with Planned Parenthood. Organizations that are committed to helping the groups that will be threatened under Donald Trump’s administration already exist, and they have always needed your help. Now is the time to give it to them.

The other factor to keep in mind is that emotions are running high right now. Both now and in January, there will be a lot of backlash against Donald Trump. We will fill ourselves with our righteous fury and seek out ways to fortify our communities against him.

But there are several weeks between now and January and four long years after his inauguration. As righteously furious as we may be during these times, we will also have to do our taxes and shop for groceries and take care of our families and get our work done. Life will go back to normal.

Therefore I charge you: remember these feelings of upset and panic. Remember how disenfranchised you felt when the election results first came in. As life starts to slip back into its usual patterns, remember your worries and fears. Remember that not everyone is in a position to let those worries go over time. For those of us who are not allies, who are, in fact, in vulnerable groups, we are not going to forget. We are not going to find “normal.”

So if you stand with those who need your support, then don’t allow yourself to find “normal,” either. Pay attention to Trump’s presidency. Keep his administration accountable. Commit yourself to a monthly donation to an organization that needs it. Establish a volunteer relationship with an organization that extends farther than a one-time project. Forge connections with those who are different from you. Keep them a part of your life so their concerns are always at the forefront of your mind, even as our own routines come back and our own worlds settle down.

I was looking forward to doing nothing. Now nothing I do seems like enough. Even writing doesn’t seem like enough…which is unfortunate since, outside of telling dirty jokes and eating a lot of bread, it’s really the only thing I’m good at.

But now also isn’t the time to limit your own power. When you despair, you disenfranchise yourself, and that will slip you back into complacency.

We’ve lost a battle, but we have time to regroup, strategize, and put our strengths to work. Let’s not lose the war.

Get strong. Get smart. Get feisty.

Find the people whom you respect and who have influence. Tap them on the shoulder. Take them out for coffee. And find the people who need your help. Get behind them, immediately, and stay there for the long haul.

I have no idea if we can do this. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try.

To My Friends Who Voted for Donald Trump

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Hello there. I didn’t block you on Facebook.

I’ve been watching what you’ve been up to, watching as your feelings progressed in this election cycle.

I’ve watched you support your favored Republican and then, often begrudgingly, switch your choice around as the race narrowed and our country’s divide widened. Many of you voted for Donald Trump. Many of you cast that vote half-willingly and posted about it afterwards, as if you owed the world an explanation…or else, defiantly, since you knew your liberal friends would look at you with paranoid eyes.

“I voted for Donald Trump. He doesn’t align with my views perfectly, but he matches them in most ways.”

“I voted for Donald Trump, but I’m not a racist.”

“I voted for Donald Trump, but I’m not stupid and I’m not a bigot.”

I’ve seen more than a few posts like that today. And you know what?

I believe you.

And you know what else?

I owe you guys an apology. I think many liberals do.

I have to admit, I’ve known you were voting for Trump for awhile. I’ve watched you on my newsfeed, and from time to time, I’ve shot you some serious Internet side eye.

I never really went out of my way to engage with you, though. I figured –pretentious sniff—that it was your right, of course, to vote however you want. I mean, it’s not like I was stopping you.

I don’t like Donald Trump. I don’t trust him, I don’t condone him, I don’t approve of him one bit. I don’t like the racism, fearmongering, scapegoating, and xenophobia that I believe the Trump campaign represents.

However, when I look at my friends who voted Trump, I by and large don’t see any of those qualities. I do see people whose beliefs, admittedly, lean more conservatively than my own, but these people are not Trump’s strongest supporters. Most are just making the best of a lackluster Republican ticket, as many Bernie supporters did by later endorsing Hillary.

“So why didn’t they vote Democrat, just this once?”

My goodness—and I say this as a card-carrying Democrat—who can blame them?

I believe in liberal ideals—acceptance, enfranchisement, diversity—which I believe my conservative peers would also champion, though we might describe them in different ways. I also believe in the liberal issues—LGBTQ+ rights, gun restrictions, pro-choice, etc.—which is where we draw far more differences.

But I have grown increasingly disappointed with the liberal way of engaging with our conservative peers: by treating them with, at best, condescension, and at worst, as a joke.

Many of the liberal issues are, really, not “issues” at all: they’re natural and long-needed extensions upon our basic human rights. I think this bandwagon, which at its heart encompasses the best compassion and inclusion we have to offer, is well worth jumping onto.

But people jump on at various points and for various reasons. And if someone is wary of that bandwagon, be it because of differing moral world views or personal experiences or cultures or educations, then I think it is both wrong to condescendingly refer to that person as someone who “just doesn’t get it” or, especially, to push them under the tracks and label them as an incorrigible bigot.

“Why didn’t you vote Democrat, just this once?”

Maybe because how in the world could you feel welcomed by a party whose members, by and large, view you as uneducated, out of touch, or bigoted because of your stances or belief systems? Hey, we probably won’t come out and tell you we think that because we’re tolerant and inclusive, but you know. Of course you know.

I know I was thinking it.

My friends who voted for Trump, I never asked you why. I made some assumptions; I shook my fist at my screens and sighed dramatically for The State of Our Civilization. But I never treated your opinions or values with the respect you deserved by the pure virtue of being human, of being my friend. Few, if any, of us did.

If more of us had, then maybe this election would have gone differently.

If you’d felt like the Democratic party had, if not aligned exactly with your opinions, at least respected your right to have them and valued your input on our larger discussions, then perhaps you would have switched your vote.

After all, from what I’m hearing from you, most of you didn’t vote for Trump because he aligned perfectly with your values, either. But at least you felt accepted and heard on that side of the party line.

Because liberals did not give you the respect you deserved, we have failed you.

I’m sorry.

And I’m sorry, too, that people are protesting Trump’s victory. Because those people aren’t really protesting Trump; they’re protesting the people who elected him. Which is you. Which is us. Our differences have still brought us to this same point, and it’s a painful juncture. Not many people feel great about this outcome, regardless of if their candidate won.

This is not the time to protest. It’s the time to apologize, to understand that we have failed to understand each other, and that now, more than ever, is the time to finally start extending forgiveness and respect across that divide.

We have to work with what we’ve got. The good news is, that’s each other.

A rallying call to the good people of my generation:

Look, y’all. As a generation, we’ve had to face some crappy shit. Fortunately, in America, we don’t have slavery, women can vote. Nations aren’t waging an out and out frontline warfare against us. Many of us are middle class and very comparatively comfortable. We have parents who lived through the shit of Vietnam and Civil Rights and World War II and all this other stuff and who are hell bent on making sure we have a better life than they did. They have suffered so we don’t have to.

Except, of course, life in 2016 brings suffering of its own. Globally, domestically, individually. Our parents did the best they could, but they weren’t perfect either. And their leaders, certainly, weren’t perfect, and all things considered, a lot of what happened was that certain bad things got buried, not eradicated. Not at all. So those problems are back to haunt us as well as all the ones that we have or will create ourselves. No one has discovered the secret to perfectly happy living yet, or, if they have, probably part of the secret is to keep it far from the rest of us so we don’t systematically fuck it up.

The Information Age, they call this. And while most of that access to information has, by and large, made the world much better, it also breeds confusion, broadcasts suffering, gives us easier access to and a forum for anger and hate. As a generation, we are confused as shit, to speak poetically. We don’t want to become our parents…and, for the first time, we really don’t have to. We don’t have to get married, or if we do, we don’t have terrible restrictions on what race or gender or class or family we have to stick to. We don’t have to have kids, or if we do, women don’t have to freeze their personal lives to focus only on the responsibility of raising them. Equity is a value, if not always a practice. Higher education is not 100% across the board accessible, but it is more so than ever. The career fields we have are more numerous, and we’re allowed to try things out and switch careers and change our minds. Again, a great blessing, but it breeds its own challenges. Our economy still values some fields higher than others. And that search for fulfillment in a career? Maybe that puts a whole lotta eggs in one very specific basket. No wonder those of us on the job hunt are tired or jaded or stressed out. Our parents did subsistence living, but we…we’re supposed to do PASSION. But get paid for it. And be the BEST at it. And be 23. Whether or not we come from families who put that type of pressure on us, that mentality is at least built into the culture of our schools and peers and media, so it is there and it is powerful.

With all of this access, all of this possibility, and very little in the way of trustworthy roadmap (for if I show you a roadmap, you can just as easily Google the counter to it and be equally as right), there’s a lot to weed through. And these competing voices aren’t saying, “Please consider me as an option.” They’re screaming, “I’M RIGHT! I’M RIGHT! NO OTHER OPTION IS VIABLE. YOUR HAPPINESS LIES HERE. YOU WILL CHOOSE CORRECTLY NOW OR NEVER AGAIN.” And while obviously we do have time, and we could try again, these messages speak in immediate extremes.

So we internalize some of these extremes, too, and we become obsessed about figuring out not who we are, but what type of person we are. We pick sides, we pull labels, we craft an identity from the options that we find available, and we try our best to follow the vague path that we think a person of that nature should walk. We try our best to eliminate contradictions within ourselves, even though human nature is inherently chock full of these contradictions. And any fault that we do find—inevitably, we’ll find many—is not a project to be worked upon or even examined, but it is a FAULT. A FAILURE. And we accept those shortcomings as our destinies.

So eventually, with all of this confusion and options mixed in with extremism, we start leaving what should be a life for great challenge and opportunity up to fate. Life happens to us. We stop happening to life. We’re smart people, so we recognize the unfairness of the world. We have a pretty good concept of the difficulty required to get anything positive done. But we stop working towards that goodness because it’s too damn hard and we’re so damn flawed and what does it really, truly matter anyway because maybe there’s a god who cares or maybe God’s abdicated, too, or maybe we started as dust and we’ll return to dust but there ain’t no bigger picture than that. So why try?

Because y’all, trying is the right thing to do. Fighting is the right thing to do. Taking responsibility for your own responsibility toward both yourself and the world is the right thing to do. And I can do a quick search and find a thousand studies that agree with me. And you can do a quick search that finds a thousand more that think I’m totally cracked and wrong, but the point is, studies are extra information. The ones that you agree with only reinforce what you’ve already been feeling in your bones. And so this is my truth.

We can’t always do much in this world. We aren’t kids anymore, but most of us aren’t powerful or wealthy or influential or even listened to. Hardly any of us even have the sense yet to listen to ourselves. We’re at that funky crossroads where we know those in charge often fail us, but we’re not quite sure how we’d do a better job yet. And that’s okay. We are where we are, and that’s where we need to be. There is still agency in that position, limited though it can sometimes be.

What we shouldn’t do, however, is abdicate our own small thrones. Take that influence where you have it, and use it, USE IT, PEOPLE. Your problems are valid problems, your worries are valid worries, your fear, your sadness…all very legit. But the flip side to those negatives are responsibility and perspective and rights and power that you do still have.

On Tuesday, a very scary man is running for high office against a woman who is, granted, a little concerning, but who will at least not run our nation into the ground. She may not be the ideal candidate, but she is at least not internationally embarrassing, flagrantly xenophobic, racist, sexist, blustering, fear-mongering, and orange. She’s been in the business, y’all, and while that comes with some of the corruption that the business brings, she knows better than to entirely fuck shit up. That orange guy…not so sure about that.

So vote, my dears. Your vote won’t decide the whole kit and caboodle of this crazy shit show of an election. Your vote doesn’t do EVERYTHING. But it is YOUR vote, and it represents some tangible, forceful action that says a whole lot more about your character than your bitchy Facebook posts or late night drunken complaints to your mother. (Both of which I’ve admittedly done anyways. What can I say, I’M NOT PERFECT EITHER.)

If you’re not voting on Tuesday, then I don’t want to hear your complaints after this point. I don’t want to listen to capable people who are voluntarily throwing away even the easiest of chances to put their rights and responsibilities towards this world to work. I don’t want to hear from y’all again until you find a way to redeem yourselves by taking some stand and volunteering your talents towards some higher purpose. So basically, vote on Tuesday or join the Peace Corps or at least stop talking about how much you hate how the world as going as you sit around not doing a damn thing to change it.

And if you must vote for the orange, I will not be personally happy with your decision, and I would certainly like to hear what I’m sure will be a very good reason why, young man, but I will respect that you at least had the balls to believe something and act upon it. And we can probably still even be friends. Or at least family because wow y’all, I have a surprising amount of orange people in my family, but I’m still going to love them at Thanksgiving, you know? Because people are complex and confusing but still capable of general decency, I promise.

Also guys, local elections are important, too! Even if you’ve got bullshit presidential opinions, still vote. Michigan could use more public transport, and your vote can actually do a lot of direct work towards that. Use all of your powers. And use them wisely.

See you at the polls. (JK, I voted absentee. But it sounded nice.)

 

At Times Like These

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I had a dream last night that my grandmother and I were at Walgreens when a fight broke out and someone opened fire. As the dream turned nightmare, I woke up in a cold sweat at 5 am.

Three hours earlier, for those at Pulse, that nightmare was no dream. I heard the story this morning. I have no words. Nothing that someone else hasn’t said. Nothing to add to what we said about Paris, Aurora, Umpqua. We’re as lost as we’ve ever been, and for as many tiny steps as we’ve made, all it takes is one man with hatred and means to leave us wondering if we’ve made any progress at all.

We are failing each other. We are failing ourselves.

I have a hard time balancing on days like these. I have a hard time enjoying sunshine, eating breakfast, calling my parents, when I’m all too aware that this is someone else’s worst day.

I have a hard time working at a summer theater, playing at creation, when I know that destruction will always be the favored route of some.

I have a hard time believing that any of us will ever feel safe, ever be safe.

And I don’t know what to do about any of it. Taking care of myself, of those around me, is all I can really do well, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

And I’m furious, too. What gives anyone the right?

Kindness seems so limited. Horror moves more swiftly and brutally than love ever will. And so love, at times like these, doesn’t seem like enough. Prayer seems rote. Hope seems blind.

So what do we do? What can we do that we haven’t tried? What laws could matter? What hearts can change? What control can we reclaim?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Against the Extraordinary Ordinary: A Graduation Reflection

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Rochester College’s commencement ceremony didn’t feature a talked-up speaker, or vague promises about the future, or our earth-shaking potential as graduates. There were no quotes from Oh, The Places You’ll Go!.

Instead, RC’s president gave a kindly, if somewhat dry, speech about what may be called “the extraordinary ordinary.” He preached on the merits of an ordinary man who marries an ordinary woman, raises an ordinary family, and becomes a good citizen.

This speech, though it didn’t exactly make you want to throw your cap and grab life by the horns, was a familiar refrain. In some form or another, I’d listened to this speech for four years.

The closest Rochester College comes to being an Ivy League school is that it sometimes gets mistaken for the University of Rochester. RC has successful graduates, smart graduates, and goodhearted graduates. However, no one from RC’s fledgling ranks has yet made it bigger than that. We are a school largely comprised of extraordinary ordinariness. Family, service, and friendship are our highest values.

During my time there, I’d often sit in chapel and listen to alumni speak on the value of an RC education. These alumni found community at Rochester. They kept in touch. They found good careers, doting spouses, and happy lives.

On some days, particularly during my rocky weeks, where I felt least sure of the future, I’d listen to these speakers and want to sink into that warm bath of a life. Stability and contentment go a long way. Both, as a student at Rochester, had been placed upon my horizon.

However, in a couple weeks, I’m leaving Michigan for a year to work two entry-level jobs in two different states, which will culminate in…some sort of direction, maybe?

Boldness and adventure can be, at best, unintuitive, and at worst, a little stupid. I’m taking a gamble that seems fun, sure, but also unnecessary. I have a great life here. I have family, friends, a boy, and opportunity for local work. To leave in favor of a vague “challenge” or “chance to grow” goes against everything survival of the fittest, the evolution of society, and Dr. Tyson’s commencement speech has taught me.

But for many of us embarking on our post-grad lives, these opportunities are exactly what drive us. We know—just as we know we need food, water, and air—that we need to run around. When we lie back at night in our comfy beds in our cozy homes, a brightness within us switches on, shaking us awake and reminding us that we are destined for different things.

Sometimes at school, I’d traverse the well-worn trails of RC’s postage stamp campus and feel the familiarity slipping away. Suddenly, campus felt like a city street or a hotel lobby: one more stop on a longer journey. A rest, but not a home.

Leaving, even if it’s not forever, is tough. I don’t want to dismantle any of the relationships I’ve built. My job, for the moment, is to hold together a heart that is on the verge of splintering in fifty directions.

But staying because I don’t want to leave anyone is also wrong. The people we love are not our crutches. They deserve more than to become excuses for fear. Instead, as David Eggers once noted, friendships are more like snowshoes. We bind ourselves together, but we also stretch into a network, together holding the group aloft.

So I don’t want to leave because I’m ungrateful. I don’t want to travel because I’m discontented. I don’t want to jump ship on my friends and family and start over elsewhere.

I simply want to weave my web across the distance, holding tight to the threads I already have while also spreading that connectivity a little farther.

I want to push toward this end until the world feels like home.

Until these strangers feel like family.

Until those I love feel as familiar as a doting husband.

Until I stand, an ordinary woman, in the midst of it all.

The Church of the (Not for Your)self

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I’ve never been a regular churchgoer. In my defense, most nice Jewish girls aren’t. I’ve been TO church before—more often than not, to impress a nice Christian boy—but I’ve never turned to church as a place to seek the divine.

I was, however, raised as a regular synagogue-goer. All through my childhood, my mother was adamant that I attend Friday night Shabbat services. When I went through what I now consider my obligatory atheist phase, I asked my mother what the point of going to services was. God, in my mind, didn’t exist; no one was keeping a heavenly attendance record, so why sit in an empty classroom?

“We go because Shabbat makes us feel good,” she said, and I wasn’t allowed to argue further.

Young Jean Lee, I suspect, would hate this answer. Just as Reverend Jose rails against pointless “masturbation rage,” so might his author hate “masturbation joy.” The divine, in Lee’s writing, is wrapped up in action: an end to injustice, kindness between humans. Any outward, selfless action cuts it.

Still, feeling good, in my mind, isn’t sin. Life is a long enough and rough enough slog that finding some delight is the least we can do for ourselves. Sure, all traditions have a spiritual elite who rail against this luxury—monks, nuns, and the like—but for most of us, attaining this level of selflessness is unlikely at best, impossible at worst.

I’m a fan of gentler treatment, to myself as well as (hopefully, hopefully, oh on my best days) to others. I believe in securing my own oxygen mask before assisting my seatmate. I believe that martyrdom is impressive but certainly not for me. I believe that small kindnesses, while not earth-shaking, are at least sustainable.

My mother, in addition to being a devout synagogue-goer, also believes in ghosts. She thinks that the dead contact her in dreams. She thinks angels watch over us. She watches The Long Island Medium with more conviction than a reasonable person should have.

Religion and spirituality help my mother cope. Through losses and cancers, depressions and struggles, this particular brand of self-help has guided her through.

Reaching out to God, to the divine whatever, helps us feel good, and this is not sinful. We owe it to ourselves to reconnect. But we also owe it to others to focus on interpersonal reconnections.

I watched Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Church and thought, “If real church services were like this, maybe I’d attend.” At the few services to which I’ve been, I’ve resented the moralizing, sure, but I’ve also felt uncomfortable by the earnest, constant reassurance that Jesus loves ME, individually and specially. I’m all about filling up my cup, but a cuddlefest with my Heavenly Father goes too far. I’d feel better if Jesus redirected the energy he spends loving me toward a suffering person who needs it more.

We don’t need to feel special. We need to feel centered, but that is all. The mission of Lee’s Church reaches outwards, a worship conducted by giving, not by singing and assuring everyone that God loves them. “God is love” is a great mantra, but it too easily gets twisted into “God loves me.”

God, I think, is more likely to appear when I love others, and when I trust myself to do so well.

An Open Letter to Muslim Congregations

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To My Local Muslim Congregations,

I’ve woken up the past few mornings with a deep, gnawing fear of Donald Trump in my stomach. Sometimes, I am just so tired of living in this exhausting world that contains so much cruelty.

The weakest point of American discourse is that we allow hate to scream, but we only allow kindness to whisper. And I am tired of this disparity, tired of feeling powerless.

I’m torn up at the thought of what Muslims in America must be going through right now. Donald Trump is no longer a political buffoon. He’s poisonous. And his own remarks and beliefs are only part of the harm. What’s worse is that leaders like him—who openly endorse bigotry, fear, and hate—grant the general public permission to treat each other terribly.

I worry about the insensitive, coldhearted remarks Trump has made about Muslims, but I worry more about the smaller news stories I’ve heard about Muslim children being bullied in school. I worry more about the way it must feel to hear your faith torn apart and smeared on network television. I worry about a society that allows these acts of discrimination and hatred to become routine.

As a Jewish person, I feel obligated to speak out against these actions and this mentality. Jews in America still face anti-Semitism, but our treatment is different. We have the Holocaust as a vivid and horrible collective memory, so “Never again,” says society. “Never again will we treat Jews so badly.”

But protecting one group is not good enough. Seeds of that initial hatred have not been destroyed. It is not enough for society to cherry pick which discriminations we will speak out against. All forms of xenophobia, scapegoating, and fear mongering must be stopped. All people must be defended and cared for so that injustices are not simply moved from one group to the next.

But this fight is such a big task, and love is so much quieter than hate. I may mean well, but I can’t repair damages. I can’t heal wounds. I can’t throw Trump out of the election.

I can only sit and empathize and hurt along with everyone else in this broken world. I can only write to you and guarantee you a neighbor and a friend. I can only show you my support and love, even though I know that this small peace is not enough.

A’Salaam Alaykum and Shalom.