Thursday, January 15, 2015

A White Woman Runs Her Mouth about Racism (In the category of Mean What You Say.)

You would think I have more sense than to write about race, “privileged” white woman that I am, but it’s Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday, and the movie about him, Selma, just got snubbed by the (mostly old, white, male) Oscar nominating committee in all the actor categories as well as the Best Director category, although it was nominated for Best Picture. (I guess it directed itself.) I live in Virginia, one of the first colonies to bring Africans to the new world and enslave them out of greed, callousness, and an utter disregard for human life and dignity, and tomorrow, workers for the Commonwealth will be given a paid holiday to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Southern heroes of the “War of Northern Aggression” (I’m being facetious here, but they actually still call it that in Savannah, Georgia) because the former capital of the Confederacy just can’t get its racist head out of its bigoted ass.

And lately, the recent murders (not being facetious here) of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men taken down by white police officers for various illegalities concerning tobacco products, have me doing a lot of soul-searching about race relations in America; who with a heart and a mind hasn’t been? It’s bullshit. America was supposed to be better than this by now. I can clearly recall the elation I felt when Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. My sister called me just as the world was learning what the Commonwealth of Virginia had done — we had voted blue, we had voted for Barack Obama, and for the first time in my voting life, the candidate for whom I had cast a ballot had actually won the Old Dominion. Sis and I wept joyful tears together. Finally, we said, maybe, our country and our Commonwealth were shedding the manacles of racism that have bruised every moment of American history — happy thoughts; the audacity of hope.

But if the past six years have shown me anything, they have shown that racism is alive and well and as insidious as ever. The 113th Congress did everything in its power to thwart the success of a POTUS of color right up to shutting down the country, an economically disastrous gambit that hurt everyone everywhere except for members of the House of Representatives. On a state level, voting rights have been attacked in the name of preventing voter fraud, which zero studies can show is a problem. Voting districts are being redrawn in shapes that resemble the Jim Crow era, and even the Supreme Court refused to uphold the Voting Rights Act. On a local level, too many of our police forces – now nearly as well equipped as our armed forces – act as though they have redefined their role in the community from “protect and serve” to “shoot first, ask later,” as poor Tamir Rice’s family learned the hard way. At the very least we could hope for justice – some semblance that the lives of all citizens matter to law enforcement, but when the use of a banned chokehold still won’t get a police officer charged with a wrongful death, it’s hard to stay naive.

Mostly, I feel hopeless though. I know we need to get past this racist bullshit in America, but I don’t know how. It doesn’t feel proactive to simply wait for all the old white bigots to die and hope the next generation won’t hold the same biases and fears. It’s important to me because if we can solve our problems with race, then maybe we can move onto solving other issues, like gender equality. Dare I say, perhaps we could even elect a female POTUS. It seems like a logical next step, and anyway, all the cool countries are getting female leaders. Why can’t we have one too?

But imagine, gentle reader, as I have begun to: what sorts of laws will Congress write to discriminate against women if one of them has the audacity to win a legal election? Can she expect to earn less than a man as the leader of the free world? And how will it affect the rest of us women? Will state politicians go after our rights to vote? They are already maneuvering to regain control of our reproductive rights; will they next target our right to choose who we marry? And what about the laws they won’t pass, just to spite a female POTUS? The right to ensure equal pay has recently been denied us (again). I’m betting we could forget about any laws that take guns away from men who assault women or legislation that incentivizes companies to offer affordable childcare to single working mothers. Sure as God made little green apples, where a black man in the Oval Office angered those who uphold the status quo, a woman of any color will absolutely terrify them.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Smoking Dream (In the category of Be Where You Are.)

I was trying to edit in less-than-ideal conditions when this show called Booze Traveler came on TV (like I said, less-than-ideal conditions). Cute Dude and his crew were in Spain, land of my birth, so instead of focusing on the one act play that I need to rework, I watched Cute Dude knock back a combination of red wine and Coca-Cola, which offers a heady blend of alcohol and caffeine, a local favorite in Barcelona according to the Spanish lady showing Cute Dude around town. As they walked, she smoked, and it reminded me of a dream I had the other night. In this dream, this time, I didn’t actually light the cigarette; instead I told my dream self, “I don’t need this now.”

But I didn’t toss the cigarette either; I wiped the smooth sides clean of the bits of tobacco leaf that cling to the paper when one slides a smoke out of a fresh pack. I laid the cigarette on the table where I sat, placing it beside an orange Bic lighter (I dream in color) to save it for later. As I looked up, I realized I sat in the conference room at the company where I worked right out of college. Several engineers, men, sat with me at the table working on schematics and puffing away. A mushroom tobacco cloud filled the conference room, and I thought to myself, no need to light another cigarette in here – just breathe deeply. Then my alarm clock went off, and the shame of what I dreamt swept over me.

Smoking dreams go like that – longing, restraint, mortification, and disgust all combine into a powerful reminder of why I quit. I awoke feeling off-balance and grumpy, the hangover of some unfulfilled nicotine fit that only my brain experienced. The dream felt like backsliding, even though I remain a former smoker. I think it is a metaphor for all the other things that I once had a handle on that now feel slippery and uncertain: goals, friendships, raison d’ĂȘtres. I miss the clarity. I miss feeling, if not relevant, at least not frivolous. I’ve lost confidence; my muse is sick of my shit; the words are in my head, but my head sees no need to bother my fingers with the drivel.

I should be editing the one act or figuring out where I was on the unfinished novel. I should be working out every day; I could sleep less, focus more, so much to do, seeds to plant, stories to tell. But other stuff has gotten into my head – disappointments, frustrations, realizations of fruitlessness, relationships I valued falling apart*, the gut-wrenching process that comes with accepting that no matter how many lumps of sugar one spoons in, one will not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea.

The wet blanket weight of it has smothered my creative fire. In its ash, a gritty mean voice inside my head has taken shape, recalling for me in vivid detail all of my prior failures and embarrassments – all the foolish things I wanted and arrogantly believed I could have and all the ways those things were denied or taken away from me. I’m trying to silence this mental monster, but so far, only clichĂ©s and pop songs come to mind: shake it off, let it go, carry on, carry on. I still have no sense that any energy I invest on any front will be well-spent, which makes it challenging to muster motivation. 

It will pass, this feeling. I'm pretty sure -- it always has before.  But it scares me worse than a smoking dream.

*My relationship with G. is not among them.