What to do with Outrage

Outrage

I keep a little list of things I want to blog about tucked into my folder. There are titles for stories, representing key development moments from my past or amusing little anecdotes with my children, there are inspiring topics about human progress, and there are things that inspire me about the world. I’ve stopped blogging about whatever book I’m reading, or whatever little historical nugget I’m learning about, and instead focus on what is in my soul as I sit down to write. This is why I need to make time to blog, I need time with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and an open computer screen, so my fingers can channel the things that my spirit wants to convey. When I sit down, I then can choose a topic off the list, pick which story I want to tell. Sometimes, though, I don’t end up taking one of these topics, and instead I write from wherever my head is at, from whatever is most relevant in my brain and heart at that moment. (The discipline of writing, for me, is equal parts dedication, healing, and heart. It fulfills me in a way nothing else can).

And that brings us to today.

My older blogs contained a lot of my intellectual thoughts, and a lot about my thoughts on politics. During the Trump/Clinton election, I can see several blogs in a row that convey my outrage and pain at the very idea of Trump being the candidate we were considering, given all he represented to me. Then after he was elected, I climbed within a hole within myself, because talking about it hadn’t seemed to do any good. I processed my pain quietly, instead of publicly, and grew determined instead to focus on change with me, my friends, my kids, my clients, the places that I can have a positive impact.

I keep hoping that we, as Americans, hell as a human species, will come around. We will stop repeating our greatest atrocities and instead learn to love our world and ourselves. I keep picturing the weaving plot lines in Game of Thrones, where all the egotistic murderous rulers battle through politics and warfare for moments of power while the threat to them all looms just over the borders. We are squabbling over Democrat versus Republic, all while war is raging, people are starving, racism and sexism run the world, animal habitats are being wiped out, and the ice keeps melting as the temperature raises.  And even now, it seems my country is the one withdrawing from the ones trying to make positive change in the world, and instead is forming bonds with the tyrants and warmongers, and I don’t know how to process that. I’m having a crisis of faith.

I am exhausted from remaining silent. I am so weary of this temporary outrage culture I’m living in, where whatever is most currently in the news becomes the thing that the entire world rages over, but only until the next headline, when the outrage moves on to something else and the last thing is forgotten, filed away on an unmanageable list.

But the stakes feel so high! The transgender military ban, the Muslim ban, black men being kicked out of Starbucks, the Parkland shooting, the Las Vegas country concert massacre, the Pulse shooting, the gay wedding cake debate, police brutality against black civilians, overstocked for-profit prisons, the latest celebrity accused of sexual assault, the United States pulling out of the Paris Accords, the arrests of Trump’s allies, collusion and obstruction, private Email servers used in public positions, government employees spending fortunes on furniture, the G-7 summit, the North Korea leader meetings, Obamacare, the porn star pay-offs, the floods, the wars, the corruption.

And now, we rage over these children being removed from parents at the border, and the debate turns to border security, family trauma, war crime victims, asylum, criminal prosecution, human decency. And it hurts me, deeply.

But then I realize I will only be outraged about this for as long as these headlines are there, and then it will be on to something else. Lately, I’m almost constantly outraged. Ignoring it doesn’t help, avoiding it doesn’t either, but neither does publicly screaming about it.

Even now, I could scroll through my Facebook feed. Most of my social media contacts are liberally minded, so I will see the same god-damn scream of outrage, cry for validation, over and over again. It’s a constant barrage.

“I am so angry/furious/outraged/horrified/baffled by the forced separation of kids from their families/the Pulse nightclub shooting/the callous murder of Trayvon Martin/the Bill Cosby rape scandal/the Michael Cohen porn star payoff! We need better gun control laws/more women in government/environmental policies/voter security systems! And if you disagree with me/voted for Trump/blame women for their own rapes/don’t support equality, then unfriend me and get out of my life right now! I’m serious! I mean it! I’m moving to Canada!”

Here’s the thing, though. I feel all of this outrage. It physically hurts me. I hate it. And yet, participation in it doesn’t help. Screaming into the air doesn’t make me feel any more validated. Arguing with people I love with endless paragraphs in the form of a comment on social media posts doesn’t help. It doesn’t take my pain away. And I fully realize, when I remove myself from the box and look at the system from the outside, that I’m being manipulated by media machines, by campaigns and ads. I become aware of human trauma, crying children, and insane atrocities, and…

my life doesn’t change. At all.

I still get up every morning, brew my coffee, see my clients, exercise, take care of my children, try to improve the world around me. And that is the privilege talking, because other people don’t get that same luxury. And that fuels my outrage even more.

So I’m a solution finder. I don’t like to just complain about problems. I want to find clear paths forward, and that is what I help my clients do as well. And my solution, for me? I need to do something with this outrage. I want to stay informed, not by drowning in manipulative media, but by being aware of the world around me, and then I want to do what I can to make a difference.

I can support businesses that share my standards, and especially those that are run by or employ women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT people, and who give more opportunities to women. I can go out of my way to better the world around me with handshakes, hugs, love, and support. I can drive less and recycle more. I can avoid eating meat, and purchase food and goods that come from ethical businesses. I can vote for officials who support an ethical and fair world. I can instill ethics and values in my children that teach them to be themselves, to love everyone, and to live healthy lives. I can donate money to worthy causes and charity. I can write.

And just typing that last paragraph shifted my energy from one of pain and anxiety (what I feel when I focus on the problems) to a space of calm, healing, and hope (what I feel when I focus on the solutions). I choose to use my outrage to create a better world around me. Losing sleep, pulling out my hair, giving myself ulcers, and screaming into the social media void about the terribleness of the world will not help. Teaching my sons about equality and justice, seeing my clients through their pain, and being good to the Earth will.

So come on, outrage. Come join me, and let’s go make a difference in this world.

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Trump Lessons

 

I will be the first to admit, the election of Donald Trump as President was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. Honestly. 

C’mon, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was an election just like any other election. It just didn’t go the way you wanted it to. 

No, it was more than that. I mean, go back just a bit. Gay marriage had just passed. President Obama acknowledged LGBT people for the first time openly. There was a black man and a black woman in the White House. People who have spent their entire lives feeling like ‘the other’ or ‘the outcast’, the people in the shadows had started to feel safe and come up for air for the first time. They were finding a place at the table. And then Trump was elected. In my therapy office, I swear every one of my clients was having trauma reactions to the election. 

It’s just an election, though! He’s just another president you don’t like. I didn’t like Obama. I still don’t. I hate Hillary. I didn’t like Gore or Clinton. You didn’t like Bush or Mitt Romney. It’s just the normal political lines. 

It might be that was for many people, but it wasn’t that way for me. You might not believe me, but although I didn’t agree with all of the politics of Romney or Bush, I had respect for them. I even respect Mike Pence. And I don’t agree with everything Obama and Hillary did either, not every ounce of it. But it’s not just that I don’t like or trust Trump, I don’t respect him either. He is a reprehensible person, who is surrounding himself with the people who represent the very worst parts of our country. I know you don’t agree, and that is okay, because I respect you as well. 

Thank you for that, at least. I’m so tired of the ‘you voted for Trump so you are disowned by me!’ thing that I’m getting from all of the liberals in my life. It’s exhausting. No one is willing to keep an open mind, like, at all. 

So here is me with an open mind. Why did you vote for Trump?

Honestly, I know you don’t like Trump, but Hillary represents everything to me that Trump represents to you. Corrupt politics, rich corporate agendas, dishonesty. I feel like she is a slimy criminal who only got away with Benghazi and the Email scandal because she is so good at evading and getting away with things. I know you respect her, but I don’t. At all. And I know Trump is a bit unhinged, and everyone wants him to just stop Tweeting once and for all, but he is listening to people who were feeling forgotten and he’s pushing a new agenda for our country. The way politics was going wasn’t working anymore, and he’s trying something different. If he steps on some toes along the way, then does that matter that much if he gets the job done?

But what about you, personally? How did he appeal to you? Not your politics, but you?

The main issue for me was Obamacare. I work my ass off and I saw people at a lower wage than I get getting easier access to health care. I saw my own wages getting cut. A system that I didn’t want was basically forced on me and it made it harder for me to live. I voted for someone who listened to me, and someone who shares a lot of my values. I really struggle in this country seeing people who don’t work hard get free handouts, and those who shouldn’t even be here receiving support while I have to scrimp and save to pay even my basic bills. My credit cards are maxed out and I can hardly afford my own power bill. 

I hear you. I do, really. But you have to recognize that there are millions in this country who have zero access to health care, like, at all. No insurance options, nothing. What Obama was trying to do was address the wider system. It did put an unfair advantage on some in order to help others. 

I understand the concept. But it didn’t work. I want to feel protected, like my work is valid. It didn’t work. It broke me further. But again, all of my values tend to fall on the side of the Republican party, just like your values fall on the side of the Democrats and liberals. 

All right. I get it. 

You aren’t going to try to change my mind, to tell me how great Hillary is and how evil Trump is? I mean, this is why you and I stopped talking during the election. 

No. I don’t want to change your mind. I’d rather understand each other than disagree. 

You have to admit that Trump is amazing when it comes to North Korea. And he is right about the news media often being fake. You have to admit those things are good. 

Okay, I’m going to go into my most generous headspace. My instinct is to rant about how terrible Trump is and to give a tirade about respecting women, and the transgender military ban, and the DACA Dreamers, and the Mexico wall thing. But I’m going to go to my rational brain. I will admit that Trump is capable of accomplishing some things in Washington. His tactics may yield some positive results. But I don’t think he can be solely cited with the North Korea results, nor do we know how all that will end. And while there is definitely a problem with some ‘fake news’ in our country, he only uses that to discredit news he disagrees with. I prefer Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity, and CNN to Fox News, but they all have some problems, and it’s awful to just shame some of them. 

That’s fair. 

Still, at my heart of hearts, Trump represents almost everything that I hate. He’s erratic, narcissistic, and unpredictable. He calls people names. He rants in public. He at worst lies and at best constantly changes his mind. He’s under indictment, and he surrounds himself with some of the seediest, most under qualified people our government has ever seen. 

The Russia thing! They have found no proof of collusion OR obstruction! It’s been over a year! And Hillary has been under indictment! Twice!

Okay, again, I’m going to rational space. Listen, the politics of it aside, look at facts. Perhaps Hillary was slimy, and maybe she got away with it, but she fully participated in the Benghazi and the Email investigations. And yes, I know she deleted and wiped things illegally, I get it. But at the end of it all, no charges were filed and there were zero indictments. The investigations lasted 4 years for one, and 2 years for the other. Zero indictments, with full participation. 

The Mueller investigation has been going for 14 months. And there have been over 20 indictments. Trump may never have a single thing lodged against him, and there might ultimately be zero proof of collusion or obstruction. But there has been a lot discovered about illegal and unethical activity in many of his closest associates. And the part where I really struggle is, he changes his story constantly. You can’t argue with that part. If he isn’t hiding anything, then why is he lying? But that isn’t for me to decide. We do have to have a system in which the investigation is allowed to happen, though. 

But Mueller is totally biased against him! He fired James Comey, so what! Comey deserved to be fired! And so what if he slept with Stormy Daniels years ago! Bill Clinton did it while in office with Monica Lewinsky and he lied about it, that was the difference!

I agree, Comey was baffling. But the American people have the right to ask hard questions. If he was fired for unethical reasons, if there was collusion, if there was obstruction. An investigation needs to be allowed. Clinton was investigated for lying, and we need to be able to hold Trump to the same standard. And there should be checks and balances on Mueller to make sure the investigation itself is ethical. But he has to be allowed time to do so. Anything else is unjust and if we start deleting those checks and balances, then democracy itself unravels. 

I respect you, Chad. You give me a lot to think about. And I feel like you’re the only liberal person I know that I could have this conversation with and not feel like we hate each other afterwards. 

I respect you, too. And to be honest, Trump’s election, more than anything, has taught me that it is a complicated world with no easy answers. Liberals can’t just should ‘racist’ or ‘homophobe’ or ‘misogynist’ every time they sense disrespect, and conservatives can’t just site immigration or abortion or ‘fake news’  when they do. At the end of the day, we agree on much more than we disagree, when we take time to talk it out. 

Agreed. But can we change the topic now? This makes me tired. 

Yes! Please! Waiter, two margaritas, stat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brattleboro: Coffee and the Meringue Queen

merigne

The view from the coffee shop window was perfect: a gentle, sloping, wide river lazily flowing between a set of old railroad tracks and a moderate hilltop covered in the greens, browns, and oranges of fall. I found myself hoping, almost desperately, that a train would go by and shake the building so that I could count the boxcars as they went by, the way I did as a child.

“In high school, everything is going to change. Even junior high is much more intense than middle school. I mean, when I was younger, I could just have fun, but now I have to get really serious about my studies. I either want to go into international relationships or one of the sciences, depending on how a few things go this year. I’m only in eighth grade, but my mother tells me that this is the time to get ready for the rest of my life. She feels like girls are the future. My dad agrees.”

I tried tuning out the loud voice behind me, turning back to my computer to focus n editing my novel. I’d finished my memoirs months before, but hadn’t taken any time to proofread and edit it down, and that was one of the major reasons I was here in Brattleboro, Vermont, taking a week in new spaces so that I could focus without distractions.

“I mean, look at everything happening in the world. There are so many terrible things! But that’s why girls have to step in and save the day. We make up half of the population and we simply have to step up and clean up the mess if we are going to save the future. First from this administration, then from the top down or the bottom up everywhere else. I think we can do it! And for me, it starts with my education. That’s why I wanted to meet with you. I’d like more female mentors to teach me along the way.”

Now I was intrigued. I turned me head to casually look at the table behind me. A young woman who looked about 20 years old (but who was only 14 by her own words) sat facing an older woman. The student with the loud voice was beautiful, blonde hair that hung to her shoulders, green sweater, gold necklace, no make-up. She looked like someone who would start in a Disney show for teens. The older woman had her back to me, but she had on a black felt hat and a black scarf, and she was hunched over a cup of steaming coffee. I turned away, eavesdropping a bit more. I couldn’t hear the older woman’s soft voice as she spoke, but I continued hearing the booming alto of the teenager.

“I love that you were a teacher. I love that you taught poetry! And I love that you were part of building this community out here. Maybe we could meet every other week or so and just talk? I would love to read your poetry and share mine with you and hear about your stories here. May I read one of my poems now?”

The girl then read a short poem about sweeping crumbs under a rug, then using the rug to cover an ancient stain on her floor, and then transitioned that into society’s mistakes being swept under the rug historically, finishing the thought that perhaps it is best to leave messes out in the open and try to clean them up instead of just hiding them. I was stunned. Suddenly a Garth Brooks’ song came on the radio, and I was distracted by the bizarre contract of his words with hers. “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Just because he doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean he don’t care.” That song now, during her impassioned speech about history, feminism, and owning mistakes? I couldn’t help but laugh as I turned my head, and the teen girl briefly made eye contact with me, clearly annoyed at my gaze. I turned back away, still smiling anyway.

The old woman spoke for a long while, and I got lost back in my book editing, but soon, the young woman was talking again, this time about her family.

“It’s me and my two brothers. I’m the oldest. My parents are really cool. We all contribute to meals. Like, my mom makes all the fish. Sockeye, bass, everything. I don’t like salmon much, but we do a lot of fish around the house. We use lots of vegetables, of course. Me, I’m the desert person. I love desserts. Always from scratch. I make French macaroons, and I use lots of berries. My favorite is meringue. I’m the meringue queen, I guess you could say. Did you know you could do meringue out of chick peas? It’s delicious.”

I looked across the table at my sister, who was sipping at her iced latte and reading a book. She attends an all girls’ college nearby, where her wife works in administration. A quarter of the all-female student population was international, and the school embraced transgender women as part of its student body. Hours before, we had checked into an Airbnb, where a female homeowner named Carol welcomed us, and we learned that she was a pastor at a local church. Next door to the coffee shop where I sat was a church with a giant rainbow banner proclaimed ‘God isn’t done speaking’. Just last night, I saw an online music video by Amanda Palmer that showcased incredible women saving the world through mothering, the final image of the video being Palmer herself pulling out a breast to feed a Donald Trump looking alike, soothing him to sleep as she took his phone and Twitter feed away. And behind me, a young feminist who loved poetry and meringue was seeking out a feminist mentor to learn the history of women.

As the two women behind me packed their bags to leave, I clicked on CNN to see the latest headlines. A tweet from Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault, shaming Al Franken for being accused of sexual assault. More allegations that all opposing news is “fake news”. More allegations against Roy Moore and Kevin Spacey. A massive oil spill. More Russian connections drawn toward Kushner and the Trump administration. Political revolution in Zimbabwe. A story about a homeless man posing with his wife’s corpse before dismembering her.

Literally every story about horrible men in power abusing that power and doing horrible things. I shuddered from exhaustion. Then I looked at my sister, then at the departing mentor and student, then back at the slowly flowing river, and I realized there is far more hope than the news headlines convey.

It would just make patience, trust, and a lot of strong voices working together.