Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainbow Flags and Neil Gaiman

I've been listening to a lot of audio books on my commute to and from work.

It's pretty perfect. About 35 minutes each way and I feel like a literary genius. I've been at my newish job for 10 months know and I wish I would have tracked everything I have listened to. (Author's Note: I just decided to do this).

There have been three highlights to this process for 3 very different reasons.

  1. Brene Brown. I am in charge of my college's summer reading program and people are constantly suggesting books to me. I have actually listened to 9 or 10 of these things and it is stuff I never would have made time for before. So it's making me better at my job.|
  2. Elmore Leonard. Good god that guy could write a story. If you've only seen Justified or Get Shorty or Out of Sight, dive into any of his books. There is a formula and they shouldn't work, but they work so well and it will make you want to be so much cooler than you are. It has made me want to be so much cooler than I am at least.

    Stories are good. Stories are important.
  3. Neil Gaiman's voice. Whoa baby. I had read American Gods a couple of times a few years
    Pictured: Neil Gaiman's face
    ago. Actually read it with my eyes, rather than my ears. It's fantastic. Everything about it. At this point I think I've read 7 of his books or collections, or he's read them to me to be more specific. Let me tell you, the four people reading this, god damn that man has the greatest fictional reading voice in the whole world. (President Obama wins for non-fiction... this is not a debate, this is truth. Nick Offerman is a close runner up in the fiction category).

    Besides his voice is his message. He writes for anyone and everyone and he talks about writing and reading a lot. I believe one of the reasons he has been so successful and stuck with so many people is because of his lack of assumptions and his honesty. Gaiman says things like, "No one has ever farmed on Pluto before. Well, maybe they have, but I haven't heard of it happening." That is probably a terrible example, but it shows my point. He doesn't make the assumption of knowing or understanding everything. He is constantly learning and simply living in the world around him, taking it in and hoping for the best from everyone without establishing expectations.
So this is my jump off to talking about my neighborhood a little bit. I've been thinking about expectations, how we create our own narratives in every situation, both good and bad (mostly bad), and general understanding. It's easy to find the negative in basically anything. It's easy, but it's also really boring. This is not a high horse conversation, I can get as negative as the next guy and I write my own internal narratives that convince me I'm ruining something, or someone hates me or everything is all my fault. Sometimes it's true, most of the time it isn't. 

Challenging these narratives, like Neil Gaiman and his angel voice naturally does, isn't necessarily
Pictured: Stupid Good
difficult, but it doesn't come naturally to many people. One of the books I just finished reading with my ears is "Rising Strong" by Brene Brown (It's stupid good). Many of these thoughts have come directly as a response to that book, even thought I'm not putting it at the forefront of this post. I'm still processing a lot of it. Processing is good.

The main lesson to steal from Brown and that book for the sake of this one sided conversation is that everything changes when we assume everyone is doing their best. 

This is hard. It is important.

Important things are hard.

Let's bring this all back together

I was walking back from the playground with my kids last night. I was pushing the double stroller and we were listening to "Say It Aint So" by Weezer blaring out of my phone. On each side of the street their was a rainbow pride flag hung. This is a big thing on my block. In the last year at least 1 has been burnt and 4 others have been stolen or ripped down in the night. There was a rally about it that was attended by hundreds of people on very short notice.

I started counting as I walked and listened to my kids singing along to some of my favorite songs that I've forced into their brains. In the two blocks on the way back to our house there were 9 rainbow flags, 7 American flags and 1 Blue Lives Matter flag. 

Listening to other people's thought and ideas, fiction, research, interviews, essays, whatever it is, forces your brain to listen to another perspective. We're constantly writing our understanding of our personal stories, even if they never leave our frontal lobes (I know nothing about science, so I don't know if the frontal lobe is where this level of thinking actually takes place). We can look at a series of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes as a tragedy and snap shot of the shit world we live in. Or we can look at the rally and the fact that at least 5 of the pride flags hug on my block are hung by families of allies who are raising their children to believe in love above all else. 

Responding to hate with love. Just like Gaiman responds to the unknown with the possibility over certainty. Just like Leonard let's you assume the best in criminals while they're committing a crime. Just like taking the time to listen to someone read to you allows you to question your world with wonder rather than scrutiny.

When I see those flags I think of rewriting my narrative. Choosing language that helps and encourages others to rewrite theirs. Finding the positive and focusing on that while I move forward. Assume the best in people, even the shitbags, and consider the possibility that they are doing their best, even if their best isn't all that great. I might not have been able to do that so easily or actively without the sweet sweet voice of Neil Gaiman.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Hopeful Fear In America

I can typically walk down the street with my kids without being scared.
I don't need to warn my kids about how to act around anyone besides strangers.
I am privileged and I'm still scared.
Larry Whitmore said, while talking about the absolutely unnecessary death of #AltonSterling, "Thank God for cellphones." Some are still scared and making excuses, but the world can finally see systematic oppression, even if they choose to deny it.
I have a lot of great friends who are great people trying to understand this situation and offering support, condolences, thoughts, prayers or even evidence to make sure more people open their eyes. None of us want to, but we should all be scared.
This fear is how almost half of Americans feel every day. 
This fear has a moronic bigot on the ballot to become President of the United States of America.
This fear has parents warning their children about how to act around police officers. 
This fear has police officers, good and bad, jumpy, protective and insecure. And let's not pretend there aren't bad police officers. When a doctor messes up a surgery and kills someone due to negligence, they are removed from the field and held accountable for their actions. They aren't necessarily bad people, but they made a grave mistake and need to be held accountable for it. Something we rarely question. But when a police officer murders a person on camera, most of our media and half of Facebook blame the person for a criminal background or for not complying. The Bundy militia had loaded guns pointed at officers during their standoff and they had weeks of patience and discussion. But when a black teenager is playing in a park and a bad cop suspects he might have a gun, he's acquitted after shooting him dead.  
#PhilandoCastile was murdered by a bad cop. Maybe he was a good person who made a mistake, but that makes him unfit to wear a badge that is sworn to serve and protect. 
Good cops know this. Good people know this.
If there wasn't such an outcry to protect these bad cops and make fucking ridiculous excuses for them maybe there wouldn't be such a growing divide. Their body cameras didn't both accidentally fall off right before they shot who was pinned on the ground four times, that's an obvious lie, stop lying.
Stop lying.
Own your privilege if you're lucky enough to have it and support those around you. I can't explain it as well as this guy (please read this if you haven't already) but I'll paraphrase his sentiment uncouthly:
No shit all lives matter.
If you feel disregarded by the phrase Black Lives Matter, then you have probably never had to live in fear of your society. I bet that Stanford swimmer rapist asshole thinks All Lives Matter. Black Lives also matter. We should be angry and scared for the black community. We should try to understand how they are oppressed and vilified and how they are American citizens who just want to live in peace and raise their families.
We aren't all the same. Some of us want to be, but we're not. Personally, I don't want to be all the same. I wish we our system treated people the same and offered the same protection and opportunities, but that doesn't mean the same things as "we're all humans, we're all the same." We are all humans, but we all have a history, different families, different levels of education, different skin colors, different friend groups. It would be great if we could celebrate these differences, but we don't really. We typically hide behind them.
Things that are different are scary. Fear isolates.
I'm a middle class educated white guy and I'm scared for the world my kids are going to grow up in. I'm scared because I want them to have the opportunity to play with and learn from people who don't look like us and who weren't raised by us. I want them to give back to their community and spread love through their smiles and interactions.
 Before I get what I want I have to explain why we're different and why we're lucky and why that's so fucked up.
Between the time I started writing this and finished five cops were murdered at a peaceful rally in Dallas. Random cops. Probably good cops. I am already sick at the thought of the blame game and lack of accountability. Their lives were senselessly taken, just like the lives of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and so many others. The former were killed because they were police officers. The latter were killed because they were black men in America. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - A really smart guy you've probably heard of and quote once a year on Facebook.
I always try to leave something hopeful in my writing because I'm a generally hopeful person who wants to live a positive life and leave a legacy of love. The only thing I am hopeful for is that more and more people will start to get it. Nobody questions that Blue Lives Matter or that All Lives Matter, so why do we question that Black Lives Matter? That's not a segregationist statement, it is unifying. 
A lot of people are scared of a revolution of some sort, or they don't think it's possible. I think it's necessary. I'm not talking about battles in the streets, but you know damn well those are coming just like in Ferguson, Missouri. I'm talking about neighborhoods, communities, towns, standing together to make changes that make lives better for everyone. Supporting each other by electing officials who care about people more than money. Looking at the broken systems like prisons, elections, drugs, justice and calling for change because it's the right thing to do. 
Morally. Economically. Socially. Patriotically, the right thing to do.
You can be angry and scared and you should be. But look outwardly. Be angry for the victims. Be scared for black men and women and police officers.
But be hopeful. Be supportive. Become educated and demand change.
Open your eyes.
Stop lying.
Light and Love.