Two Weeks In

In a Facebook thread about whether Lady Gaga’s halftime performance made a political statement, a couple of high school classmates chimed in.  Scattered geographically and, it seems, politically, one woman wrote something along the lines of: “The way forward requires finding common ground.” I think she’s right. So, here it is: my ground--a description where I am standing today.

I am outraged. Hats off, boys: the depth of your bag of tricks designed to shock and the shallowness of your souls are truly a notable combination. So, yes, outrage. But I’m starting to (try to) back away from my fury and frustration because I think they stoke it, knowing that white hot anger is exhausting. Too much noise, and people tune out. Too much outrage, and people get exhausted. Either way leads to an acceptance of normal that which would have resulted in impeachment or prison or even righteous indignation just a few weeks prior. So, to borrow my friend Kelly’s phrase, I am trying to bear witness with less anger.  

I am scared. Not of Muslims. Irreparable damage to the earth, air and water, however, keeps me up at night. Corporations free to externalize their negative costs terrify. Crackdowns on freedom of speech and religion scare me. People who don’t read scare me. People who don’t follow the money scare me. Disaffected teens and bigots with semiautomatic weapons scare me. Valuing profits over people scares me. I’m scared, too, of state-sponsored violence on our soil. It seems clear that it is coming.

Mostly, though, I’m sad. I love my country. I am a believer in the ideals espoused in the Constitution. I stand up when veterans or the color guard march by in the Fourth of July parade and prod those around me to their feet, too. Admittedly, I grew up privileged, able to believe in America’s promises. That love of country stayed with me even as I learned more about the darker parts of our history, the violence, racism, sexism, and corporate influence. Despite knowing America often didn’t live up to her ideals, I still believed that most of us wanted her to.

I’m not sure any more. When I see the vulgarity that won (and the sexism and the racism, and the . . . ) when I see blatant lies met with shrugs and “what’re ya gonna do?” from both his supporters and from the people who were too principled to vote for him or for her, it seems that what I thought were American ideals have proven to be not so common after all. And that guts me.

Outrage’s outlet is humor and exercise. Fear motivates me to volunteer and to donate and to call. But I don’t know what to do with my homesickness for the country I thought I lived in, and I think that’s why I wrote all this.
What does your ground look like?


My Facebook feed is schizophrenic: a sweet baby born--those chubby cheeks! Announcements about the Town Meeting, where bylaws and budgets are still passed by the citizenry with a "aye" or "nay" vote. Someone asks who to call about building a fence. And Baltimore burns, fueled by rage over injustices cultivated centuries ago. The CVS in my friend's neighborhood is looted. "This is not my city," he posts.

But it's simmering in every city, I think.

I don't know what to do, but fulfilling my civic duty seems appropriate. So, I go to my first annual Town Meeting. I file into the high school gym, a Unitarian minister offers a non-sectarian dedication, we pledge our allegiance to the flag, and the moderator begins reading the budget, line by line.

I sit by the exit in case things run long, and look around. I'm definitely one of the younger attendees. Plenty of empty seats. Of course, there aren't any hugely contested items this year--like whether the high school should install lights on the football field for night games, an issue that reportedly filled both the gym and the cafeteria a few years back with young and old citizens concerned about the possible glare in their backyard.

There is a murmur of shock when a woman dramatically accuses the Historical Commission of illegally taking her historical gazebo, but the chain of custody is eventually sorted. Everything in the warrant passes, and we adjourn in fewer than three hours. "Well, that was a snoozer," one lady laughs on her way out the door.

At home, flames fill the TV screen. My Facebook feed blips: a lost tooth! A friend wins a professional award. More about local fence companies. A former classmate, in Baltimore, posts that his neighborhood is okay. The whole city is not on fire. Baltimore will recover.

It will, of course. But if all we do is analyze mayoral missteps, criticize the sensationalistic 24-hour news cycle, and decry the stupidity of violence and destruction, it will happen again. I'm not condoning any of those things, but I do believe the anger over abuse of power is legitimate. I'm just not sure what this white girl from the suburbs can do about it right now, other than to recognize white privilege on and off my Facebook feed, and to heed the stories of those who aren't surrounded by it.

Summer House of Cards

Ah, summer vacation.  Freedom, swimming until we pruned, and playing hide-n-seek 'till the lightening bugs lit up the yard.  My philosophy of summer was solidified in suburban Chicago, in the late 70's and 80's, and also includes Deep Woods Off, Jarts, and riding one's bike to the pool sans parents.

Here in 2015, however, I am on a seven-year-long wait list for a beach permit.  The neighborhood kids and school pals are booked solid with camps, lessons, trips and tutors.  Handing my kids Jarts or DEET would probably get me arrested.  And, let's be honest: after a winter full of snow days with zero programming, my opposition to over-scheduled children has crumpled.  

Unlike the Midwest, where everything from the roads to park districts seem to be governed by an overarching organizational structure, my new Northeastern town has about 78 distinct, little, private organizations offering lessons and activities.  True to their Puritan roots, most of these entities shun any sort of self-promotion, including making information about dates and enrollment available to the public.  Information is shared among close friends in tight huddles--"Miss Larkin teaches ceramics, surfing and dressage--she's a hidden treasure, and all the children love her.  Here's her number."  (I suspect these disclosures occur at the beach, but I won't know for 7 years. )

After two years in town wondering how to sign up Buzzy for decent swimming lessons, I've become more aggressive about stalking the town treasures until they add me to their email distribution lists, and about shaking down other moms about their kids' summer plans. The smart parents enroll their kids in one or two camps that cover most of the summer and call it done.  (These are also the admirable families whose vacations are booked.)  The rest of us juggle the 78 options (or the 6 of which we are aware)--all of which publish what little information they offer at different times--trying to coordinate multiple kids' preferences and possibly even the preferences of friends whose parents may be carpool allies.  When one child's plan changes, an entire carefully crafted summer can come crashing down.  Buzzy's friend's neighbor's decision NOT to attend nature camp resulted in a flurry of activity up and down her street.  We came through relatively unscathed, with just two activities to rebook.  

Now, I exaggerate--but just a little (and, sadly, not about the length of the wait list for the beach). And I do realize that even in the glorious hometown of my youth with the gridded streets and central park district, everything has changed.  Planning kids' summers requires spreadsheets in most places. But, sometimes, I catch a whiff of Deep Woods Off, and miss those endless summer days.  I may even resolve to keep Buzzy's and Rosie's summers a little bit open. . . .  especially since Miss Larkin won't return my calls.