You Get What You Need

Mini mobile characters by Alexander Calder. He made this small figures for his wife and gifted them in a wooden box. There is an amazing exhibit at the National Gallery in DC. You should go see it.

I was reading an article written by a mom who became newly enlightened on an important topic. So enlightened that she thought her lesson needed to be shared. And so enlightening that her post was passed on. It was in my newsfeed. Clickbait. God knows that’s the only way I read mommy bloggers. Click.

I’m not in their demographic. The mommy blogger demographic, that is. My kids are grown. I am without extant parenting angst. I did not take courses in hipster in graduate school. My idea of having it all was getting my kids to school on time and making it to my 8:30 a.m. meeting no later than 8:35 a.m. Bonus would be bringing my lunch–leftovers in a tupperware–and no coffee stains on my shirt. This scenario may have occurred twice. Maybe only once. If we skipped the lunch, the tally would rise to maybe five or six.

My failure was early, right at step one. We were usually–read every day–late for school. I’d get salty when they called me out on it. Having it all had nothing to do with homemade cupcakes with two types of icing for a school party, mani-pedis, mimosas and brunch, flexible workdays, antibiotic-free organic milk, educational screen time, choruses of Let It Go followed by all purchases emblazoned with characters from Frozen, finishing emails to my boss via Siri in my hybrid on the way to a practice, training and running a half-marathon or “me” time. Who the hell is “me,” anyway?

So, I’m reading this post that promises a great discovery. (Also, damn you clickbait. Damn you all to hell. Fake news is nothing compared to fake importance.)

I’m waiting to get to the punch line, because like with this here post, it’s all in the building of anticipation. Are you hanging on by your fingertips yet, Loyal Reader? Breath sped up a bit? Pulse quickened? Wondering, “What could it be?!?”

Yeah, well Prince and Princess, get used to disappointment. Her amazing parenting discovery was that it was better when she didn’t make her kids share.

That’s it. No forced sharing.

Now work with me for a minute. What the hell is compulsory sharing? Sounds like a simple and totalitarian redistribution of goods to me. Where is the agency in sharing when it’s a commandment. Sharing? Sounds more like stealing. From me to you via our mom.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I intervened more than once when a fleetingly beloved object became the impetus for a round of ultimate mixed martial arts–aka kicking, punching and biting. But my intercessions were both limited and clear. If you all can’t figure this out, I’m removing the object of the communal desire. Seriously, do I look like Solomon to you?  No I look like a stone totem. See my avatar.

There was a little girl at pre-school who had this warped idea of sharing down. She’d walk up to another kid and, like a cornerback forcing a fumble, grab the toy out of their hands all the while glaring and saying the word SHARE! She was learning English, but she had the idea that share was a synonym for mine.

So this mommy blogger had been divvying out the spoils between her kids based on who sounded the most put out. She would tell the older, usually, to share with the younger. She trained the younger to complain in order to extract the prize. This was not her intention.

My intention was to avoid the petty disputes between my kids. Maybe even squeeze in a nap. Just kidding!

My intention was to get them to learn to work things out. And, my intention was to encourage them to share from their hearts versus from a script, written by me. You see, sometimes you don’t get what you want. And sometimes you don’t have to give up what you want. And sometimes you find out that what you want isn’t a thing in your hands as much as something that you can’t hold–built from compromise and close quarters–and that is what you want to hold on to.

Electoral Collage

Hiding behind his ballot in the gym.
Hiding behind his secret. Ballot, that is.

A hot mess. That’s what Washington D.C. is today, this day before the 2016 presidential election. A complete, stressed out, finger biting, hair twirling, obsessively pen clicking, twitter refreshing, hot mess.

It seems that people are leaning on their car horns more today. Folks are walking into quick eat restaurants, standing in line for a minute, swiveling their heads around and leaving. If they stumbled into the dark relief of a bar, they might sit. I heard FBI director Comey was seen in a Tex Mex joint with a huge margarita. I hope it didn’t leak.

Everyone in town is doing their own personal Nate Silvering. They’re making state electoral count combinations and recombinations–moving states pink to red or purple to light blue–with dispatch and false authority that would wipe the smirk off that smirky Chuck Todd from NBC. This is the guy who’s been having intimate relations with the colors on the map since before there were two actual candidates.

Some are walking the streets, catatonic. Some because they think their candidate is going to lose. Others because they think the other candidate is going to win. There’s some serious negotiations with the political gods going on behind their deadened eyes.

Other levels of disbelief or worry or even hubris are worked out via chatter. Some are chirpy assessments of turnout and lines and campaign stop strategy. Why is he and she going to Michigan? Is it close? Naw, it’s because none of them voted yet. I heard from this friend, super liberal democrat guy, real good guy…

Some are just piling their worries in the laps of their companions. Some are wondering what they can do. Some are actually doing something, signing up and making last minute calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote.

A group of people said they aren’t watching any more TV. They’ve sworn themselves off social media. You can tell since they are using social media to make that known. You don’t really quit in D.C. Not really.

But tomorrow, maybe as early as 10 p.m., eastern time, maybe much later, there will be some people in Washington that will feel as if they were kicked in the stomach. The blood will drain from their faces. Tears will well in some eyes. Fists will pound tables. Garments will be rend. Teeth will be gnashed. Profane words will be spoken. Loudly. And repeatedly.

And then, but not until then, we will know not just who will be President of the United States, but the status of our democratic system.

The peaceful transfer of power. I have confidence in my fellow Americans. And my prayers are stuck on us.

VOTE!

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

Dr. Seuss's dilemma fish. I don't think it's from a book, but it expresses the roiling seas I'm feeling.

I’ve been quite grumpy today. And I am using grumpy quite euphemistically here.

I think it’s because of this election season. To be truthful, and I work deliberately to be intellectually honest, I think this part of the presidential election cycle always throw off my balance. Although within these current throes, it seems qualitatively different.

I don’t remember an election that I so fully did not (1) understand why anyone would vote for one of the candidates, and also did not (2) understand why people who I love would vote for one of the candidates (the one I am not supporting).

The second part there is the root of what troubles me. Not about the people I love, because I love them. Yet I’m struck by how good people support the unsupportable.

I wonder if they think that my choice is deplorable. This wraps me in pretzels and crimps my fine gold chain and makes me feel like the inside out alien pig that was a transporter fail in Galaxy Quest. Ir was gross. It squealed. It exploded.

It makes me ask: If my candidate was as bad as theirs, would I leave my political party behind? Would I accept my candidate’s crimes and misdemeanors because they serve my greater political purpose? Especially if my political goals were tightly aligned with my moral and ethical beliefs?

And, if my answer is “Yes,” and my candidate is an awful human who endangers not only our democracy but also the foundation of our country–these self-evident truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness–am I just twisting my core beliefs for greasy political expediency? I use the word greasy on purpose. Yuck.

Last, is my political negative, the ones who I love, asking the same questions about me?

Dear lord, I sure hope so.

First Affirmative, Second Negative

varsityletter

I debated in high school. I was better than decent but not excellent. Debate was the activity that best prepared me for a competitive school.

When I got to campus, I discovered that my classmates–from fancy eastern boarding schools and superlative public schools in Shaker Heights–already had college credits. I was all like, “Whuh? You can do that?”

Who knew you could take some tests and walk in a semester ahead? Not me. There were plenty of things I didn’t know. Nobody in my family had been to sleep away college.

But I did place out of freshman comp, unlike 93% of my classmates. Because I debated. The frosh comp graders looked for clear structure and organization. I knew how to quickly form an argument, create an outline of support and evidence and deliver a conclusion that summed up.

Traditional high school debate is all about ideas. It works like this.

  1. Somebody #1 makes a case of ideas using a bunch of evidence that they cite, chapter and verse.
  2. Somebody #2, in the opposition, directly responds to the ideas of the first somebody. #2 answers #1’s ideas directly. All of them. Each of them. If they don’t directly respond to an idea, they lose that point. Evidence is key here, as well.
  3. Somebody #3 presents a case that fixes the issues that Somebody #1 identified at the start. Backed up with evidence. This evidence thing keeps coming up.
  4. Somebody #4 tears the case down. More evidence.
  5. They rebut the case and the case for the case in the same order. And they have to at least mention all the prior arguments. If not, Somebody #4 comes up and says to the judge, “The First Affirmative did not address the ideas of my partner so they all carry for us.” That’s always cool. You can totally win on that. We did. More than once.

So there is a structure and points and usually a definite winner and loser. Reputable evidence is key. Sometimes you’d win a point over a “fact and citation battle.” (I know, exciting, right? We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.) One year I had an evidence card that cited the NE Journal of Medicine. It was during a year with a law enforcement topic. Nobody else went to a medical journal. I won maybe five matches on that one highly destructive fact from a legit source. Boom!

This is not how presidential debates work. There are questions, but the answers don’t address the questions. There are right-turn pivots to a point the candidate would prefer to talk about. Dropped arguments litter the stage, nobody picks them up. Well, maybe the sad moderator tries to put them back in play. It’s futile.

And evidence? Definitely not required. And definitely not required to be sourced. Say what you want. Say it again. Interrupt. Make your same point. Be aggressive in the face of a contradiction. Introduce non-sequitur, ad hominem attacks on your opponent. Light the dumpster on fire.

I wish they would chose another name. It confuses me. This is not a discussion about ideas. This is not a debate. But there are winners and losers.

 

Et Tu?

President Obama and Laura Bush watch first lady Michelle Obama embracing president George W. Bush at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Who are the Americans in this picture?

“I, too, am America,” said the president. The President of the United States of America, that is.

He didn’t just say it once. He said it twice, but it seemed like I heard it at least four times. How ridiculous that the democratically elected leader of the free world would say it even once.

But that’s because since he became president, some have been trying to delegitimize him. To say he wasn’t American. That he is other.

I can’t tell you why. I don’t doubt that there are multiple reasons, and I’m sure that different people have different justifications and different combinations of pretext.

But thinking about it, when folks see people as other what does that mean? If they are other, are they not people? Are they animal? vegetable? mineral? monster? Does that make it easier to dismiss that other? To strip from them their humanity, their fears and struggles, their dreams and loves?

It’s pretty easy to be an American, though. In fact, we’ve welcomed people who are tired or poor. We’ve embraced huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve provided refuge to the wretched from another country’s teeming shore. We’ve provided a future to the homeless and those tossed by tempest.

America has work to do in order to live her ideals when it comes to people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, people who have different abilities, people who are poor, people who don’t fit heteronormative beliefs, people of different backgrounds.

But who is that “America?” Is it other? Is it not her people?

I, too, am America.

Ouch.

Expiration Date

Expired milk, dated February 5, 13

We all have an expiration date. It’s not public like those on milk, meat or medicine.  We don’t know what that date is, and, despite a few exceptions, there aren’t many clues.

We can look at mortality tables and sort for age, income, race, education, hereditary risk factors, geography, smoking status, BMI, you name it. You can see gross patterns, but that doesn’t give you an idea about an individual.

You know, the obese, diabetic smoker who had two heart attacks and continues to cantor at her church into her late seventies? Or that amazing teen baller with an undiagnosed heart hiccup–undiagnosed until he dies on the court that is.

Even people with what have been considered death diagnoses can beat their odds. See, for example, Stephen Hawking. See also, for the converse, Iron Man Lou Gehrig who played every game for 17 years with the Yankees before succumbing to ALS at 37.

We know of non-smokers dying of lung cancer and heavy smokers living a long life. A brain aneurysm can strike at anytime, and don’t get me started on accidents.

30,000 people will die in a fall. 33,000 in a vehicle. 38,000 will be accidentally poisoned. Some people will get hit by a bus. Some will be caught in the crossfire from a shooting. Some will simply not wake up. Nobody knows why. And nobody knows who. Or when.

Like in finance, past performance does not necessarily predict future results. Bottom line, we’re all going, we just don’t know when.

On the way to going, people get sick. Could be a cold, hypertension, zillions of different infections, heart disease (the #1 cause of death), auto-immune diseases, cancer, muscular degenerative diseases, I dunno, look it up. Lots of ways to get sick.

And when people get sick, they are not necessarily debilitated. People can have cancer and undergo treatment while minding their families and being productive at work. One colleague went through weekly chemo treatments for breast cancer for months and only she and our boss knew. She soldiered on. And anyway, being sick–even a very serious or a chronic condition–doesn’t equate with mental incapacity.

So, I’m wondering, why does anyone need to know intimate details about a President’s health? We do know that the sickly Franklin Roosevelt died in office, during his FOURTH TERM, after leading us through the Great Depression and a pretty big War. And did the maladies of John Kennedy make him a lousy president? Would we have landed on the moon if people had a copy of his physical? I don’t think that the Constitution requires our president to wrestle bears or chop wood or ride horses to be leader of the free world. Really they just need to be 35 and born in the U.S.

Journalists, and others, have been hankering for more information from current presidential candidates about their health. But stepping back, what does that tell us about their policies or decision making? Pretty much nothing. It’s a snapshot in time. It doesn’t stop a heart attack. [Ask former one heartbeat away from the presidency VEEP Dick Cheney.]  It doesn’t stop a bullet. It doesn’t stop the effects of Alzheimer’s before it’s detected. See also President Reagan who was reelected after being shot.

The out of proportion focus on medical records is ultimately an ableist point of view. It doesn’t recognize that people with different abilities, different health profiles and different health risk factors can be effective leaders, too. I think it’s a huge stretch to argue that someone so sick that they wouldn’t be able to perform the duties of the presidency would pursue that responsibility.

But even if they did, we have an entire process to manage it. It’s called the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. It clarifies all sorts of presidential succession issues and even allows that if the VP and the Cabinet believe the president is losing it, the VP can temporarily take over as Acting President. If they have a fight, because the president disagrees, Congress makes the final call.

So we got it covered. It’s all good. Move along. There’s nothing to see here. Just a bunch of much noise about nothing.

P.S. I’m looking at the data from CDC, turns out that 57,000 people in the U.S. will die of the flu and pneumonia each year. Get your flu shot. It just might help.

Abetting the Deplorable

A rain spattered windshield at DCA. You can see the tower.

I hate taking cabs. Really I hate taking cabs by myself. Really I don’t like a stranger driving me home.

The stranger that picks me up at the airport after a late flight. The stranger that is surprised that a nice Doc like me lives in my neighborhood and wonders if I don’t feel scared and asks how do I like living as a minority?

This is the script that more than one white cab driver recited. I get in the cab, tell them my address and the quickest way there and then they start talking some racist shit like I’m in their bigoted white people club just waiting for the safety of their cab to go all KKK with them.

And I just look out the window while trying not to respond in a way that will either encourage him or insult him. The former because I want him to stop. The latter because he is driving me home and it’s dark and I don’t want to be dumped. This was especially terrifying before we had cell phones. I felt vulnerable. Oh hell, I was scared that he’d force me out on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery on Lincoln Road. I’d be a ways from home without much chance of another cab coming by. They didn’t want to take me home, to my nice middle-class neighborhood, in the first place. And don’t call me ridiculous because anyone who easily and safely spouts dehumanizing and vile comments could just be bilious enough to do something else hateful.

So I wouldn’t say anything to offend the racist in his rant. And I likely made it seem that I, at least, didn’t disagree with him. But I did. And when he pulled up in front of my house, the blue one with the white picket fence that was even brighter under the reflection of the street lamp in front, I would get out of the car as fast as I could. I learned to keep my roller bag small and next to me in the back seat so I didn’t have to wait for the intolerant asshat to open his trunk. I wanted to be away from him and his ilk as fast as I could.

I always felt complicit, though. I felt like I should have told him that I wasn’t a member of his intolerant club. That his racist insinuations–or sometimes a full rant–were deplorable. Instead, I learned to interrupt him as soon as he brought up his surprise at my address. I’d tell him how lucky I was to live in such a wonderful neighborhood with such terrific neighbors.

We are the company that we keep.