A rant about the January 6th insurrection in Washington, DC
I think everything that needs saying is being said by those whose voices need to be raised. I’ve been active on Twitter, trying to make sure the right information and the right perspectives are passed on. If you want to know where I’m at with the protests, the police violence, and then the fires and looting, find me there.
In the meantime, here’s a link of organizations that currently need support. Minnesota Freedom Fund and Black Visions Collective are both pointing folks who want to donate to these links as they aren’t getting the same level of exposure right now. So if you’re looking for a cause to support in Minnesota today, use these: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yLWGTQIe3967hdc9RSxBq5s6KKZHe-3_mWp5oemd7OA/preview?pru=AAABcpTi6i0*9FFWa8rhVq21iWql-vfD-A
Otherwise? The only thing that matters right now is:
There’s a show my wife and I watch in reruns now that it’s been over a few years called “The Closer.” We loved it on its first run, as well as the spin-off “Major Crimes” that carried the story after the departure of the lead character. This weekend, they were running the second season finale, which has in it a speech made by a character who is former CIA and is now a deputy chief of police. From the first time I heard it, it rang false to me in a way I couldn’t quite identify. But this weekend, I finally was able to wrap my head around where I disagree.
Here’s the quote:
I remember once hearing a speech about what it meant to be on officer of the CIA, and the man who gave this speech talked about the struggle to control civilization and how we’re always fighting the same fight and he used the Dark Ages as an example. And he talked about how on one side you had the pragmatic king who was greedy and power hungry and basically took advantage of people whenever he could. And on the other side you had the idealistic church, forcing everyone to follow the same rules, have the same beliefs and all that. Neither the king or the church was ever completely right or wrong, both sides ended up doing terrible things to get what they wanted. Really terrible things. But the point of the story was this: that this struggle from the Dark Ages had been going on forever, and the church and the king might take on different forms and philosophies, but they would always fight each other, pragmatist and idealist, and that most times you’re better off standing on the sidelines and letting them duke it out. But every once in a while one side or the other decides it might be better to just blow up the whole world just to get its own way, and when that happens you can’t stand on the sidelines anymore. You have to pick a team. And so for tonight, anyway, we’re serving the king.
I agree that you can see a lot of Western political history as a constant struggle between government rule and religious influence. Going back a long way before the Dark Ages, that was the struggle for control, authority, and power. Far wiser people than I can distill European history into the constant cycle of politicking between church and state. And those echoes exist today, ported into the US by the exact same forces. When you’re dealing with the US, it isn’t all one religious camp and one US government camp — the argument and the conflict is fractured and, if anything, the worse for it. But it’s there.
The struggle for civilization in many ways can be summed up by the struggle for power and control, either by the beliefs which live in the minds of the people, or the laws which govern their lives.
The problem, as I see it, with this particular analogy is the idea that the king represents pragmatism while the church represents idealism. Truly, they’re two sides of the same thing. Both are authorities warring for control, and both will do what they need to do to win. In that way, they’re equally pragmatic, just fighting from different ends of the equation.
But there’s no real representation of idealism here, because both sides are operating under the same underlying assumption — that the ends justify the means.
Pragmatism and idealism are opposites, but they just can’t be neatly aligned to church and state. Not in a historical context and not in a hypothetical one. In the end, both sides of church and state are looking for the same thing — power, control, influence, and the ability to command the present and rewrite the future to their dictates. And because of that, they will both, as the character says, do “really terrible things” because that end state of power and influence is worth the sacrifices made along the way.
But are they? Are they really?
In college, I was a political science and international relations major with an unofficial minor (called a concentration) in political philosophy. I’ve always appreciated thinking about systems and people, whether it’s the set of cultural biases that inform interpersonal relationships or the broader worldviews that impact diplomatic (or lack thereof) negotiations. To the uninitiated, political science sometimes sounds and feels like reducing human action and emotion and intent to a series of predictable equations. That’s the part of it I always hated. But there’s truth to it, if you look at it in a more nuanced way. It’s not saying “You’re X, Y, and Z, so you vote ABC.” It’s tracking the minute intersections of people and where they touch the world. Like a spider in a web, it’s knowing which strand to pull that sets you free and which one gets you eaten.
When you get to talking about the underlying philosophies of rule, however, you run into the “hawk” and “dove” divide — mostly for the context of war, but it applies to other things as well. Basically, would you rather commit X in order to attempt to assure Y, or is the act of X too reprehensible to make Y worthwhile? Hawks are those who would prefer to go to war to ensure national security, or to weaken an enemy, or whatever is needed. Doves agree that national security is important, and the enemy is a problem, but argue that to go to war does more harm than it is worth. The hawk argument is a pragmatic one; the dove argument is an idealist one.
I wrote my senior thesis on the morality of espionage as a tool of nations, looking at the historical and philosophical reasons for espionage and comparing them to the real-world experiences of various retired spies, heads of the CIA, etc. (It was a lot of reading.) And what I found was an almost universal answer across my sources —
Philosophically, historically, pragmatically, the agreement was entirely on the side of espionage as not just being valuable, but being necessary in protecting the state from harmful acts or threats by other nations or organizations. But the people themselves writing about their lives, their jobs, their sacrifices — every single one of them found the practice of espionage to be morally and ethically wrong. They did it anyway, because it was necessary. But they could not say that it was “good” that they had done so. Even when the results literally saved thousands of lives or kept a nation from falling.
These people, these brave, dedicated people had sacrificed everything — their families, their wellbeing, their chances as a normal life — to serve the pragmatic king. And they were not sorry for doing so. But they still could not believe that the ends inherently justify the means.
They ended their service as pragmatists in action, and idealists at heart.
As a person, that’s a bit where I’ve ended, too. I’ve been a pure pragmatist, focused on making sure things turn out okay regardless of the cost, and you know what? It’s poisonous. For me, I have no pride in the things I did thinking that way, even if they ended up just fine. Because I can’t see the happy ending — only the careless harm I could have done along the way.
And yet I still cannot let myself be a pure idealist. The ends may not justify the means, but sometimes if you don’t fight for the ends you want, you get a result that you can’t live with, either. Sometimes to get what you need, what you can’t live without, you have to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do given any choice at all — because sometimes the world doesn’t give us choices. And then we have to live with whichever path we took.
There aren’t nearly enough examples in history of someone who found a way to get to the ends they needed without employing means that cheapened the victory. Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr is the quickest example I can think of. And even that isn’t simple at all. Nonviolence as a philosophy to force change is certainly more ethically sound than violence, but the change MLK won didn’t only come through nonviolence. It also came through politicking, through the actions of others who weren’t totally nonviolent, through concessions and bartering — and there’s a strong argument to be made that it hasn’t even entirely worked. We don’t live in a post-racist society. Hell, we live in a VERY racist society.
But recent protest movements are making the point that the means DO matter, not just the ends. If we are rightly protesting police violence on people of color, committing violence not only is unethical, but inflames the violence and it cycles back tenfold on the people we are trying to protect. On the other hand, simply standing on the side of the road with a sign may be utterly unoffensive, but without giving at least a little offense, how could it create change? It’s the point made regularly about the correctly maligned “thoughts and prayers” — if thoughts and prayers could change the world, it would have been changed long ago.
Control of civilization is always up in the air, and you can divide by state versus church, but you can also divide it by autocratic powers and the decentralized populace. The autocratic powers almost always act pragmatically, even when there are doves in seats of power, because ultimately, they have a responsibility to preserve their power and continue to expand it — otherwise, they fail to exist. The people, on the other hand, have a choice. They can riot, fight back, support violent insurrection, or they can vote, protest quietly, and go home at the end of the day no matter the results. And every possible shade and nuance in between.
For me, I wish I could live in a world where anyone who wanted to be a pure idealist could. Where people could embrace true pacifism, true integrity, and never be forced to choose between making war or being obliterated. I wish I could live in a world where it was safe to choose the path of doing the right and ethical and moral thing even if it wasn’t going to work because the result wouldn’t be all that bad.
But I really don’t.
I live in this world.
So, yeah, I vote, and I protest, and I donate money to causes and organizations that champion what I believe in. But when it comes down to the ends and the means, if the ends is truly an end to human decency, to human rights, to equality, justice, liberty — then, I’ll do what I have to.
If, going back to the original analogy, one side decides to blow up the whole world, or deny the dignity of a class of people, I’ll throw idealism out the window just like the subjects of my senior thesis did. Because as much as my idealism means to me, personally, it can never be as important as the actual life and safety of another human being.
I can be an idealist — right up until the world demands I be a pragmatist in order to defend and support others. Because in one very particular way, the ends DO justify the means.
If it means creating a better world for others, then to hell with what I have to give up of my pretty philosophies. I’d rather live in the world and never be comfortable with the choices I made if the world that came out of them is better than this one.
That’s the only king I could ever find worth serving.
I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday. We were talking about how each of us is doing, how we’re holding together through a rough patch, and we rounded to the topic of spoons per the Spoon Theory. It’s an analogy coined by Christine Miserandino, if you don’t know it, and it helps illustrate the effort that it takes to get through the day with limited energy or health or pain tolerance or illness. Healthy, fully-able-bodied people don’t have to count their spoons because they don’t have to think about the energy expenditures of “everyday” activities. But for those with a chronic illness, or mental illness, or an autoimmune disorder, or a disability, even tasks that might be described as “normal” simply aren’t.
I’ve been close to running out of spoons a lot lately as this downswing chews up my energy and ability to cope. Half the world feels like it’s uphill, or at the top of a flight of stairs, and while I *can* make the climb, it takes something out of me to do it, something I don’t get back easily or quickly.
This literally was my situation this weekend at a choir concert where we had to go up and down several flights of metal stairs and my knee chose not to work without pain and a brace.
But the concert required me to give up spoons in more important ways, too.
It was a collaboration between the TCWC and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. The concert was called “Rise Up!” and was a call to action for social justice. It was fun to be invited, of course, and to share the stage with the ever-outstanding TCGMC. It gave us a chance to sing a few songs we’ll be performing in May, to really work towards something early in the season.
But, most importantly, the concert MATTERED.
This wasn’t a concert for singing “Kumbaya” and telling child-friendly versions of the world we hope to live in someday. This wasn’t a night of celebrating our shared humanity and looking into that potential with optimism and hope.
This was, in many ways, a brutal reckoning of the world as it exists today. And I choose the word “brutal” very deliberately.
We did sing songs about rising up together, about the brave people in whose footsteps we walk, about speaking out for those in need.
But we also sang songs about rape and about murder.
The TCWC will be performing “Quiet” by MILCK in May — it’s a powerful piece that was written to be performed at the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 and relates to the silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence, and even depression. You can find it here.
After two months of practice, I could mostly sing the song with strength and defiance and not feel the biting of my own ways of identifying with it. I was prepared for that much.
I wasn’t truly prepared for “Til It Happens To You” and the heart-breaking story that accompanied it as told by by a strong, brave man willing to share his rape experience with a room of a thousand strangers.
And on the heels of that, I was even less ready for “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”
I wish I could tell you that you don’t really have to listen to them, that you can accept that these songs exist without needing to engrave them on your heart. I wish I could tell you that our world is a better place than this, that the pain of people who are suffering, who are being hurt, who are being killed — I wish it was the exception.
If I’ve ever hated anything in my life, I hate that this is the norm.
I hate that this is what our world is, hate that I can’t say it’s a new thing, hate that I can’t pretend I didn’t know it was this bad. I did know. I’ve seen it everywhere, from the day my eyes opened. Even if I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was there.
I hate that in this world where we are capable of so much beauty, so much art, so much love and kindness and wonder and wisdom, that we are just as culpable of such harm and hate and evil.
And I hate that it cost me spoons to be a part of that concert, to stand and sing those songs, to hear them sung, to know their painful, inhumane truth — when all I had to endure was singing. If it cost me spoons to be a part of a call to action, what does it cost those for whom the action is most necessary just to live?
It isn’t my fault that I’m a white cis-woman. That I don’t have to live under the same kinds of fears of people of color, or people who are trans. It isn’t my fault that I am able-bodied and I don’t have to live in a world that constantly mistreats disabilities. It’s also not my fault that I am a woman who married a woman — and sometimes we both have to live in a world which can be frightfully cruel and punishing just for that fact.
We are all exactly what we are, and we all have our own challenges. I remind people (and myself) sometimes that pain is relative. For example, I’ve never broken an arm, so if I did, I imagine that would be the worst pain in my life. But someone who has been shot, or stabbed, might think that a broken arm is nothing in comparison. And they’re right. Every person only knows as much pain — or as much joy — as they’ve ever experienced. And you can’t compare my pain to yours, only show empathy and respect for both.
But I know, as a woman married to a woman I actually do know, that the pain of being a part of a concert which was important, which was necessary, which was needed, is absolutely nothing to suffering under the reasons WHY it was important and necessary and needed. To be reminded of the horrors is nothing to living them.
Even so, I still had trouble with my spoons. The number you get at any given moment doesn’t neatly correspond to the number you need, and it isn’t constant from day to day or even minute to minute. Some days, I don’t have to count them. But right now, in this downswing, I do. And right now, in this downswing, I handed them over to be a part of something painful, something necessary.
And it can never be enough. It’s like the thing about “thoughts and prayers.” If giving up all my spoons would make the world better, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just pray and hope that somehow the world will spontaneously improve. The only actions that work are *actions.* Protesting, voting, having difficult conversations, donating, raising awareness, calling out cruelty where it happens — we have to put boots on the ground, hands in the air, votes in the boxes, dollars in the hands of those with the right power, and words in the minds of people who need to hear them.
This concert was not an *empty* call to action, after all. And I have work to do. We ALL have work to do.
But right now? I still don’t have the spoons. My bipolar brain can only do so much, and today it can’t even do that.
So, for now, I’m going to keep hunting for spoons. I’m going to dig them up, find them in shadows and tucked-away corners. I’m going to hoard them like a dragon with its treasures. I’m going to find as many as I can, to get me through until I don’t need to count anymore.
And then I’ll trade the spoons for another round of actions.
Because it is a privilege that I can choose to do so — and all I can do is make it count.
In college, I took an entire course on the political philosophy and thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. I have so many copies of speeches and letters and articles, excerpts from books and the books themselves, and, of course, the very famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963. But to honor this man, his work, and the dream he stood for — the dream we are still chasing even today — what I would like to highlight are some passages from his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964 (as provided by the Nobel Foundation online, reproduced verbatim).
The words belong to a truly magnificent man. The emphasis is my own.
I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.
After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.
Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.
Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible – the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.
So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live – men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization – because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners – all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty – and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
For myself, I can only say that I wish with all my heart we had not lost him so soon, that I think ours would be a better world and a better society if we had been given more time with this man, with his wisdom and his integrity, and most of all his fierce courage.
And above all, I wish I could say we live now in the world he envisioned.
But I can promise to keep working towards it.
September 11th really gets under my skin.
September 11th means a lot of things to a lot of people. But at the moment, I can’t get my head out of what it means for me.
September 11th, 2001, was my second day at college. Instead of adjusting to a new schedule and thinking about new classes and friends and everything else, I woke up at 8:30ish CT to my dad calling the room. He told me he was okay – he was supposed to have been at the World Trade Center because he had a monthly trip out there for work, but because of driving me to Minnesota, it had been rescheduled. And he told me there had been an attack. I remember thinking it didn’t seem real.
I wandered down the hall of my dorm, still unfamiliar, still scary in its own right, to the lounge. There, the TV was on with the live coverage. One tower had already collapsed. I remember feeling so numb, so lost. I was already in a new place alone and adrift, and suddenly even reality didn’t seem real. I sat on the floor just inside the door and watched the second tower fall. I remember thinking I should have been crying and I remember not knowing why I wasn’t.
A junior who lived on the floor 2 or 3 doors down from me (and I remember his face and his voice but I’ve long since lost his name) sat beside me and asked if I was okay. And then he put me together with my door and realized it said there in big letters that I was from New York. And he realized I wasn’t okay. So he put an arm around me for a while.
Others came in from the floor, and a few from upstairs where I think the TV wasn’t working. There was a girl on the floor from NYC who was in her room trying to call her mom crying hysterically and her roommate asked the RA to come help. The kid from Iraq and the kid from Saudi Arabia came into the lounge and were horrified, but they retreated to their room soon after and people mentioned they might be scared. Already the news was making noise about Muslim terrorists, and the kid from Pakistan wouldn’t look at any of us.
I remember going to class with a new professor and he was cold. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t want to bring it into our freshman seminar. And I understand the value of going on with the day, but that…lack of empathy. I think now it must have been a coping mechanism, but I never forgave him while I was in that class for what felt so callous.
I remember the college called an emergency convocation and we crowded into the chapel together. I remember sitting with someone…but not who; I only knew a handful of people then. I remember still feeling so cold and numb and lost and I still didn’t cry even though I tried. Fuck, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry because I wanted someone to make it okay and there was no one. I wanted someone to pull out of their feelings so they could help me with my own because I had no understanding of how to handle what I was feeling.
What’s strange is that I don’t remember much more than that from that particular day. I remember checking the news – everyone was checking the news – and finding out about Flight 93. I remember feeling instantly grateful to be so far away from New York, as though that insulated me from the reality and my reaction. And I remember the rush of gratitude and pride that, even in the days and weeks afterwards, there was no backlash on my college’s campus against people from the Middle East or people who were Muslim or people who LOOKED Muslim. The backlash that happened in other places sickened me, and I was so, so glad to be around people who did not retaliate.
For most people, it was a day of tragedy and it led to a lot of ugly politics and a war and fear and many other things, but for me, it changed everything. Because I was a political science major and had been on that path since my junior year of high school. I was an international relations student and I wanted, I desperately wanted, to save the world. I arrived at a college especially chosen for its international relations program ready to march into a chaotic world and do some good.
And September 11th changed the very world I hoped to save.
I’ve long said that I chose not to continue into government work because of Sarah and the friends I had whom I didn’t want to leave, but I think that may only be fifty percent of the answer. The other fifty happened when the United States reacted to the attacks with war and hate and despicable rhetoric. The other fifty percent happened when September 11th scared me, both for what might happen to me out in the world if I served the US government, and for what the US government might do with me.
How could I lend my will and hope and talent to a government run by a warmonger who went into the wrong goddamn country just to appease what looked like latent daddy issues? How could I serve abroad when my very name and face and job could make me a target? How could I work in Washington DC and try to “protect” this country from a threat when that threat was defined by those in power as anyone whose skin and beliefs vaguely (and sometimes not even vaguely) resembled the hijackers’?
The world I wanted to save died on September 11th. Maybe not in reality, but certainly in me, it died. And I found I didn’t want to be a part of a system that killed civilians while arresting and detaining and torturing them. I found I didn’t want to be affiliated with the lies that my advisor debunked in class within days of the US presentation to the UN of the so-called WMDs in Iraq. I found I didn’t want to carry the United States like a badge into a part of the world we had rightly pissed off just because we were too stupid or too clumsy to tell the difference.
I saw the videos. I read the news. I followed the reactions. People worldwide started to view the United States as a racist, bigoted, violent, war-hungry nation because that is how we were acting. And I decided I didn’t want to help them do it.
I love this country. I have always loved this country. And to join in such actions and decisions felt like a betrayal to everything I love about the US, everything that makes it good. Everything that makes ANY nation good. I could not be a traitor to the ideals of justice and equal treatment and peace, not when those very ideals were coming second to ideas like “security” and “prevention.”
After September 11th, it’s possible the United States needed someone like me more than it ever had, but I just wasn’t strong enough to answer that call. I wasn’t strong enough to face down those men in power. I wrote my final senior thesis on the political philosophy behind espionage because it was the closest I could get to actually studying What The Hell Is The US Doing And Here Is What It Will Do To Us All without grief.
September 11th was a national and international tragedy and the beginning of many more. It was a day of death and sorrow and pain and fear, and it kicked off far more to come. What it is to the world cannot be understated.
It’s not remote to me now. I didn’t lose a friend or loved one in the Towers like my dad did. I didn’t breathe in the carcinogenic dust like the brave men and women who did their best to save lives.
But something in me died that day, and it is a pain that never goes away. Any time I see the NYC skyline, I ache for what is no longer there. Or in movies that haven’t been edited, I ache when I see the Towers stand. I ache because when they broke and fell, they took a piece of me with them. They took my future. Me the Diplomat-to-Be died that day, too. I hurt for the people of my nation and my state and my city (because NYC is MINE as much as it is anyone’s who has ever loved it, anyone’s who has ever walked its streets and felt strangely at home) and I will never stop hurting for them.
And I have never yet stopped hurting for myself, either.
September 11th, 2001 happened to me. It happened to me and it changed me, and while my suffering is nothing, NOTHING, like those who lost loved ones at Ground Zero or the Pentagon or in a field in Pennsylvania, it is no less real. And after it happened to me and it happened to the world, then the suffering went outwards in wars and bombings and retaliation and detainments and invasions. The cycle of violence and pain was exacerbated and spread to hundreds of thousands or millions of people who were just as innocent as those on the planes.
People forget what 9/11 began when they remember 9/11, but I never can. Because I remember my Iraqi floormate whose hometown was involved in fighting before we graduated. I remember my childhood friend and companion and protector, who was called to two tours in Iraq and for whom I was scared all the time.
It happened to me and then it happened to the world. And it KEEPS ON happening because we have learned NOTHING as a people. And maybe, maybe I should have found the courage and stood up and tried to be the change that is so needed. But I don’t have that kind of power.
And maybe that’s also why September 11th gets to me so much. Not only was it traumatic and tied up in the biggest period of upheaval in my life to date, and not only was it a defining moment for my future and choices and career, and not only was it outright horrific in every particular but for the selfless, wonderful heroes who ran into fire and ruin to save lives. But because I can’t forget all the people it happened to, people whose lives were never the same, people who have to live with it in their hearts even if they were nowhere near the attacks themselves. 9/11 isn’t just about the Towers and the Pentagon and Flight 93. It’s about Afghanistan. Iraq. Guantanamo. All that suffering, all those lives, all the weight of that terror and trauma in the world, and it happened to us all.
And there was nothing I could do to stop it, not any part of it. Not the hijackers. Not the invasion of Iraq. Not the prisoners STILL FUCKING HELD without their rights. I was just a little girl, 19 years old and without having grown any true courage yet. By the time I had courage enough, it was too late. The world had been broken and there was nothing I could do to fix it.
They say “Never forget.” But people do. People hoist flags and make speeches or just go, “Oh, it’s nine-eleven. That was so sad.” And they go on. They forget.
But September 11th is STILL HAPPENING to people. It’s still happening to me, too. I will never be able to honestly look at my life and know in my heart that it was all okay. Because September 11th scared me off a hill where I believed I was born to stand, and that future was lost.
I love my life. I love the people in my life. I am not usually sorry for the choices I made; indeed, being in this life has given me opportunities and friends and chances I never would have found otherwise and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. But on any September 11th, two painful days after my birthday, I can feel the difference. The difference of what I could have been. Of where I could have gone. Of the other work I could have done. Of a time I put my head down when I could have stood up. Because who knows what might have changed and whose lives might have been spared if I had been there?
On September 11th, 2001, heroes shone bright against hate and evil. And I was too busy being numb and shocked and scared and lost to join them. I didn’t hug anyone else. I didn’t help. And I went on to not help. I went on to evade the hard work of making things right rather than digging in. It took me several years to analyze that day and what I did right and wrong, so I could teach myself to do better next time. So that I can be one of the helpers, and not one of those needing the help in the moment of crisis.
But I also never forget that I went on to become what I am because I had that luxury. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t have that choice. It wasn’t just my perceptions of the world that died in the aftermath of that day; it was my perceptions of myself. And all of that is completely worthless compared to the lives lost worldwide. I may have my own memories and feelings to deal with, but I will never, ever forget that my feelings are NOTHING to the true harm that came to the world that day and every day since.
So on any September 11th, you’ll find I lapse silent throughout the day. I get melancholy. I have trouble laughing or relaxing. I retreat and stop reaching out. I have a small downswing into depression.
It’s the day so many, many lives were ruined forever, and not just in NYC or the Pentagon or on Flight 93.
It’s the day fear spread far more quickly than a wildfire, and it was followed by pain and violence that has never since let up.
And it’s the day my dreams died and were replaced with a profound awareness that nothing I ever did with my life, no matter how spectacular or mundane, would ever make the world right again.
Forget September 11th, 2001? How could I?
Its shadow still falls all over my life, even on the brightest days. And I’m just a nobody in the Midwest who DIDN’T lose limbs or liberty or loved ones.
So when you remember 9/11? Don’t just remember the towers and the planes. Remember the people in other countries whose lives have been torn up. Remember every person who ever looked up in the sky of NYC and felt like running and hiding. Remember every person in every country who felt like they would never be safe again because of their heritage or their religion or their culture. Because 9/11 happened to us all.
Never forget that.
In the great tradition of me being me, here’s me liveblogging the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics 2016. I’m not going to weigh in at this point on anything political surrounding the Olympics, not now, anyway. I just want to enjoy the opening ceremony as it is presented.
So, here we go!
How many words start with ‘C’ that Matt Lauer can squeeze into one opening line? Let’s find out!
Can’t even get through the opening monologue without referencing shit in the water. Going to be one of THOSE nights.
Running Jesus Tally (how many times have we seen the statue?) = 4
Commentary about the copy being read by whoever it is that should clearly be narrating a Nat Geo special on hippos and whales living in harmony or something.
Running Jesus Tally =
6 7 8
Eagle on your hat, huh? Way to represent, USA.
Michael Phelps is adorable. He just is. Also, ears.
Marina: I never watched Olympic swimming until he (Michael Phelps) made a splash.
Okay, photobombing the interviews is EXCELLENT. Good job, bored US athletes.
Running Jesus Tally = 9
Dude. Costas. What the fuck is on your table? Mutated ashtrays? A blue cabbage run amok? The fuck?
Kinda digging the song for the opening here. Though getting dizzy from all this top-down filming.
Running Jesus Tally = 10. Also, top-down Jesus looks a little phallic. Or a big phallic?
The metal sheets doing patterns are nifty. I don’t know what they are supposed to symbolize, but they’re neat. The costumes are probably murderously hot, though. Go dedicated volunteers.
I LOVE THE ANTHEM. HOLY CRAP. BEAUTIFUL.
But how many verses does it have? Just asking.
Also, I am NEVER watching the Olympics without being able to fast-forward the commercials ever again. Seriously.
The water…the sand…the music…the greatest puppet crab thing ever…I have no words. Beautiful.
Shiny green thing. Totally mesmerized.
First Nations performers. Wow.
Those ships are beautiful. But Sarah has to make a “Mysterious Cities of Gold” joke and ruins the gravitas of the moment. She’s good at that. So am I, if I’m being honest.
Portrayal of the slave trade gets me kind of choked up. The sound of the whip…yeah.
Also the transformation of the land. Scars on the soul, scars on the Earth.
But also blending. Building a new pattern out of different histories and cultures. And representing them in waves and sets and song. Gods we humans are a strange species. We invade and we destroy and then we also create new worlds from the pieces we put together in new ways. We can’t walk through the land without changing it, and then we change each other as we walk.
This is what happens when I’m left to this art and slightly psychedelic theater.
HOLY CRAP FORCED PERSPECTIVE. HO. LY. CRAP.
Choreographer from cirque du soleil. Yeah, that explains a lot.
Me: That is the steampunk-iest kite plane I’ve ever seen.
Sarah: It would fly.
Running Jesus Tally =
11 12 13 14
Honestly, the song outshines the supermodel.
Sarah: Can it be an Olympic sport to walk in those heels?
Geoff: No, it’s a super-power. That’s why they call them SUPERmodels.*Enter discussion of 400m races in heels*
DANCING. COLORS. IMPRESSIVE.
Tiny go-carts!!! I WANT ONE!!!
I like the passing back and forth of the music style. The guys look like they’re enjoying themselves and the dancers are keeping both styles together. And the lights keep…punching? Do lights punch? These ones on the floor do.
This visualization of the divide between people and the conflict within politics and society in Brazil is really, really apt. Chaotic and demarcated and always in motion.
Oh I don’t want to have to dance in that tinsel suit, though. Warm. And not cool.
During the dancing, we degenerate into a discussion of selfies during the ceremonies and the athletes entering which ends with a discussion of luge with a GoPro. Someday the Olympics will not be on NBC; it’ll just be a bunch of live feeds from people’s helmets.
Nice fireworks, team.
Me: Michael Phelps and the USA Pips is not a good team name.
Eric: But it might be a good band name.
Statement on climate change. HELL YES.
I’m having a very Wall-E moment here. And Eve is voiced by Judi Dench.
Running Jesus Tally = 15
Looking at all the fruit, all I can think is the granadilla from Ecuador which we loved and I still miss. I would pay anybody anything for a crate of those. Seriously. The fruit looks like fish eyes and tastes like heaven. And I don’t believe in heaven. Except in the form of granadillas.
Time for cake.
Running Jesus Tally = 16
The US gymnastics ladies looked like they were having fun.
MORE COMMERCIALS. FAST FORWARD GO.
Parade of nations!
And first sign of a selfie stick.
Olympic glasses. WHY?
And I don’t know about those arrow people. Yes, it’s good for getting people going in the right direction, but…
Also, no egregious outfits so far. That won’t last.
Barbados has a cool flag.
Hey! I didn’t know Neil Patrick Harris was from Belarus!
The Benin outfits are nice, too. I love the style.
Bermuda shorts. Sigh. But not surprised.
I dunno what that thing is, but it looks like a huge cheese grater. Seriously. What’s it for?
What the HELL was that weird shot of icky things in somebody’s green glove? Looked like slugs or bird poop. The hell?
One of the Colombians looks like Bill Nye. Any other celebrities competing?
COSTA RICA YAY!
(I was an exchange student and lived in Costa Rica for a short time in high school. It’s in my bones now and always will be, I think.)
I wanna know what’s up with the umbrella full of hats. Seriously. It’s in the background. What is that thing? Why is it there? Are they confiscating hats?
Enter a heated debate about who will win gold when baseball is in the Olympics if the non-US players in the MLB played for their home countries. I know next to nothing about baseball so I’m not involved.
The Spain delegation is clearly having a blast. I’m glad.
New tune just before the US, huh? Here we come.
Learning javelin-throwing from YouTube? Yup, it’s a modern era.
Sarah: It looks like this is the year of fencing flag-bearers.
Geoff: I think some threats were made. At the point of something sharp.
Indonesia…the hats. Folded napkin things. I…hope they mean something specific to that nation. They don’t mean anything good to me.
The Italian flag-bearer has her birthday today. Sarah cheers for someone having her birthday.
Oh. Happy birthday, Sarah. BEST WIFE EVAR!
Back to the parade of nations.
The talk about the Japanese population in Brazil sends Sarah on a hunt for details about why there is such a large Japanese population there. This is how we fill up commercial breaks. Except that I can fast-forward. So I fast-forward and then pause. It’s not exactly efficient. But now we know about Japanese emigration to Brazil.
Mongolian flag-bearer uniform is super neat.
TIME TO SING THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD BY YAKKO.
FUCK. I got stuck at Madagascar AGAIN.
Good job on the uniforms, Pakistan. Norway, go learn from them.
And…cue the awkward silence as North Korea comes in. The announcers literally don’t want to say anything.
And…cue the even more awkward Russian entrance.
It starts so slowly. Now everybody has the ‘Nations of the World’ song in their heads and are very, very annoyed with me. 3 of the 4 people here have cursed at me in some capacity. Good thing I like them all.
Syria. Hell. There’s the teariness. We knew it wouldn’t take long.
Ah, that’s what those cheese graters are. They’re for the seeds people will be depositing. That makes slightly more sense.
Turkmenistan, that hat looks hot. I’m sorry, flag-bearer. Don’t die of heat, okay?
One of the things that matters most about the Olympics that has nothing to do with sports is the fact that we can come together as a single race of humanity regardless of our national origin and can celebrate that togetherness. We can march with peace and excitement and joy and we can stand in a room with those who are our political or social or religious opposites. We can face those we make war against and we can stand beside those we have failed. It matters. It’s just a symbol, but it’s also a truth. A hope. A future we may never reach but we must never stop trying to attain.
You can feel it if you close your eyes and let it find you. It doesn’t matter if you’re ten thousand miles from the torch — you can feel the unity. You can feel the hope. You can feel the pride. The tapestry of humanity at its shining best. You can feel it and you can share in it.
And this is why we must never lose it. We must never forget that we can come together and celebrate art and sport and diversity and effort and drive and courage. We must hang onto this.
Because here comes the refugee team. For them and for everyone like them. They deserve a world like this, a world of togetherness.
And to you, refugees. I am so sorry.
Okay, Brazil. Let’s get this show on the road.
They still look like cheese graters, guys. Or, as Geoff says, Daleks. Dalek refrigerators, maybe.
Yeah. You got me with the leafy rings thing. You got me.
Running Jesus Tally = 17
Time for the IOC speech. This guy is a lot more animated than the one 4 years ago. Though Sarah notes the funny mumbly thing he does. Hey, I’m not gonna judge. If it were me, I’d be shaking too hard to hold onto the podium.
“We are living in a world of…mistrust, uncertainties. Here is our Olympic answer…living peacefully together, sharing their meals and their emotions. In this Olympic world, there is one universal law. We are all equal…we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us.” (As close as I could get typing along with sniffling)
“Dear refugee athletes. You are sending a message of hope to all the millions of refugees around the world…You had to flee because of violence, hunger, or just because you were different…You are making a great contribution to society…We do not just tolerate diversity. In this Olympic world, we welcome you as an enrichment to our unity in diversity.”
“We came into this world with nothing. We will leave this world with nothing. All we need is peace, love, and unity.” — Kip Kano
If you had any doubts about what really matters…well, now you know.
I feel like I should know the Olympic song words, but they never stay with me. That children’s choir was great, though.
Well…those are some dancing things. Squid? Uh…seaweed? I just…I have no idea. What am I even looking at? Some kind of foam Teletubbies that met up with the wrong end of a lawnmower?
Aw, who cares? Dancing!
And the flame. There’s magic in that, you know. The fire carried from so far away that does not go out. And yeah, I know that sometimes the touring torch goes out, but they bring a backup so that they can relight it from the source. There’s power there. And unity. And continuity. Eternity. Even in something as fleeting as one small flame.
And here it is.
AND THAT SCULPTURE IS FUCKING AWESOME. FUCKING BEAUTIFUL.
Running Jesus Tally = 18
Sarah says we have to close with the Jesus tally and fireworks. Sounds like a good deal to me.
Good night all, and may the light and flame be with you always.
I Who Did Nothing: A Hypothetical
Morning. One foot out of bed, I scroll through Twitter for updates. My radio app plays news while I brush my teeth and think about whether to drink coffee or tea today.
“Remember to vote today!”
Oh, yeah. That’s today. I’ll go later.
Maria’s on Instagram in a big way today, and Facebook is blowing up with the ridiculously bigoted thing some guy said in Texas. Lunchtime comes.
I forget to go vote. It’s okay. The polls are open late.
It’s retro day on Pintrest and I look back at all the memories from childhood, the stories I loved. Harry Potter – the Boy Who Lived, the one with the power to fight. Hey, Bill Nye! I think we watched him in elementary school. Still trying to get people to do something about climate change. Good for him. I never got into any of the Power Rangers, but I remember the t-shirts. Bob’s still obsessed. Some things never change. Lots of superheroes, too, from anime to comics. Teams of friends who kick evil’s ass. Now that I can get behind.
People don’t have to have powers to be heroes. Everybody has something to offer and everybody can change the world. Everybody has the potential to be anything they want. Everybody working together always means we come out on top.
Aisha wants to meet for dinner after she goes to vote. Right. I still need to do that.
Exit polls say it’s close. Twitter is blowing up with pictures of people with their “I Voted” stickers.
This one cool guy I follow has a new commentary video up. It’s long, but I’ve got time if I vote after dinner and I could use a laugh. The news has been so depressing lately.
Aisha looks upset. “I’m so worried. The only ones voting while I was there looked like they came straight out of the comments section. What if they win?”
“It’ll be fine,” I tell her. “You know everybody’s on our side.”
“Yeah. But it doesn’t matter if they don’t vote. Did you?”
“Uh, not yet. I’ll go as soon as we’re done. I had to watch this clip. Hang on, I’ll show you.”
She yells it out the door when the Uber car drops me off. “Don’t forget to vote!”
Right. Where’s my polling place?
Why is it there? Can’t I do this online?
Seriously? I have to go stand in a line in some weird building I’ve never been to with everybody else? God, that’s weird. No wonder people don’t vote.
Aw, fuck it. We’ll win. They don’t need me.
My one vote won’t count anyway, not in this district. Not with my neighbors.
My side will win.
My side didn’t win.
I tweet “OMG! How did this happen?” Everybody I know is tweeting the same thing.
These people that won…what are they gonna do?
My friends. Will they be okay?
I text Aisha. “Are you okay?”
She sends a crying face.
“What can I do?”
“Did you vote?”
Oh shit. I send “Sorry.”
“Then this is your fault.”
What? No? I didn’t do this! We were supposed to win!
She texts again. “You did this. You let it happen. You.”
I didn’t want it to happen.
I didn’t want this.
Quick. Google “How to get out of the country.” Text Aisha. “I’ll help you get out before it happens.”
“It’s already happened. And it’s your fault. Don’t ever forget.”
“What do you mean?”
Aisha never replies.
**Note, I am not attempting to blame ANYONE for the recent events of Brexit. But there is truth to the point that it takes EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US to keep the “impossible” evil from happening. I don’t care how busy or disaffected you are or how repugnant you find your “lesser of two evils” choice. As Chuck Wendig said today: “Even if you think this is a contest of two lesser evils — well, I’d submit that a punch to the gut is better than BEING REPEATEDLY DUNKED IN A TANK OF ANGRY, SPHINCTER-SEEKING SCORPIONS.” And I, personally, am not in favor of scorpions. So please vote.
Quotation by the always-excellent Chuck Wending from: terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/you-want-trump-this-is-how-you-get-trump/