Posts Tagged ‘politics’

I had plans for this weekend, things I was so sure I was going to get done. Such good plans. And here it is, my long weekend on the wane, and I’ve done next to nothing. It’s shameful, actually, such complete shirking of my duties.

But at the same time, how can I be expected to get anything done from my mundane to-do list when I am so busy keeping a laser focus on Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! I mean, when you think about what happened the other night, about how they’re having problems like they never thought possible … how can you really, truly focus on anything the fuck-all else?

So I’ve given myself a pass, forgiven myself for my inability to pull my thoughts away from Sweden.

When people listen to THOTUS¹, how do they decide to believe him? How do they turn on the news and hear him talking about “what happened last night in Sweden,” and know they haven’t heard anything about Sweden. And they go online and there’s nothing about Sweden except the thousand articles trying to suss out what the hell THOTUS was talking about. How do folks do all of that and still decide to believe him, still decide to listen attentively when he speaks? How do folks do all of that and not come out the other end convinced that he is a pathological liar, that he makes up stories just because, makes up stories when he doesn’t need a story. He could talk only about Paris and have enough material to sway you. He could talk about Brussels and have enough. He’d have more than enough if he talked about Turkey, but he wouldn’t do that because … well … Turkey.

My point is that he doesn’t need the story. There are enough real stories already. He doesn’t need to throw another country into the mix. And yet he went in with Sweden. And not as a casual throwaway, tacking it onto the end of a list. No, he goes on a bit: “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Really, just why in the all-encompassing fuck does he need to do this?

I taught basic composition classes at a community college for years. The course was prep for a very rigid test for which students would be expected to write a specific kind of essay. It was a test they had already failed at least once by the time they landed in my class. The essay prompts offered up two topics, students picked a side … and then had to have something to say about the random issue they chose.

Students would often ask me if they could just invent some “evidence,” tell a story that illustrated the point they wanted to make even if the story was constructed out of whole cloth on the spot. And I can see why making up a story feels like a good answer. You can craft the story to fit your point perfectly, and what better “proof” is there than the this-really-happened argument?

But I always warned students again storytelling. I would tell them that, if they really wanted to make up a story, they should first assess themselves: how well could they lie? Because good storytelling is about lying, as Mother Zora taught is in her folktale research. So I’d ask my students how often they told lies. Did people always believe their lies? Were they good at not caving in or getting confused and giving pieces of the story away? Were they able to lie and stay calm and focused or did the lying make them flushed and nervous or excited — not good for concentrating on getting an essay written.

I asked them a bunch of questions … and then told them that unless they were consummate liars, making up a story was a bad idea. I had a few receipts, stories of students I’d taught who had chosen not to listen to my warning, who decided that telling a story was the right option for them. And how dramatically they crashed and burned on their way to a lousy score on the exam.

Clearly, no one has told THOTUS that telling stories isn’t going to help him pass this exam. What’s more, it’s just too easy to turn the stories on their heads and fill the empty spaces with the truth. He tells lies — and his people tell lies — that would work if we didn’t live in 2017 in a country with stable internet access and a solid corps of investigative journalists. It’s so outrageous to me, it’s actually hard to fathom what he could be thinking.

Maybe THOTUS is all muddled by what happened the other night in Sweden. Perhaps he needs a nice sauna followed by a romp in the snow. Or perhaps he just needs to admit that this job isn’t the right fit for him, that he was wrong to believe all of Vladimir’s pep talks about how he could so be president.

I understand THOTUS’ issue, though. I told my students not to make up stories unless they were spectacularly good liars. And for the most part, they were able to see themselves clearly enough to know that they weren’t good enough liars. They could think back to times when their lying was detected and the results were distressing at best. But THOTUS doesn’t have this history to evaluate. He surrounds himself with genuflecting toadies. He distorts all facts until they say what he wants to hear. When he looks back at his past, he doesn’t see times when lying tripped him up. He’s already revised those stories into examples of “so much winning!” The end result? He may actually believe he’s a good liar. So he keeps diving in and telling his team to dive in alongside him.

It’s up to us — the people for whom he works — to call out his lies and call him out as a liar. This is all part of not normalizing what we’re seeing, not letting anyone convince us that any of this is okay.

As for me, I’m annoyed to know that I spent my whole weekend worried about the state of affairs in Sweden, where Sweden is doing quite well and not in need of my worry.

My students who lied on their essays failed the writing exam. It was sad for them, but not catastrophic. THOTUS failing in his job could be cataclysmic. Do I wish he didn’t have that Pennsylvania Avenue job? Sure, but he does, and I’d like him to not get us all killed before we have the chance to vote him back to civilian life. Getting him to stop lying every time he opens his mouth might be a step in the right direction.


¹ Titular Head oThese United States


In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
It’s not too late to join! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

Also? It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!

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This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

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And now you’ll all know the truth: that, while I don’t post here very often, I’m running my mouth in other spaces. I’m cross-posting a piece from Just No More that grew out of some early-morning FB writing:

Brave New World Indeed

I suspect this is just the first in a 4-year-long series of posts. We’ll see.

In solidarity and struggle,


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The Undoing Racism training I’m attending is two and a half days. Ours will also have a day-long follow-up session next month. It’s been really interesting so far. In part, because the information and the way it’s shared is great. In part, because the facilitators are strong. In part, because I’ve met people I’ll definitely want to keep knowing after tomorrow’s session ends. In part, because some of those people are people I’ll get to work with, and it’s great to know they’ll have the same anti-racist foundation/vocabulary I have as we work on policy and programs. And in part, because two of the group members have had the courage to open themselves and be vulnerable in front of the group.

There’s the brave honesty of one of the white men in the group who is struggling with much of what he’s been hearing. I’m impressed with this man because I think other people reacting as strongly as he is would already have left the room. But he stays. He gets red in the face, and he’s having a hard time, but he stays.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not giving this man some kind of approval cookie for sharing his anger/pain/guilt-manifesting-as-frustration/whatever. I have no cookies — other than the snickerdoodles I bought for the group this afternoon. This man will have to deal with his feelings — or not — on his own. He’s clearly challenged and uncomfortable, and he’ll have to work out what to do about that.

No. I have no cookies, but I so appreciate him because, with his decision to be open in his resistance to the training, he gives the rest of us so much to talk about. There are other people in the group who seem equally challenged — a young white woman who has shut further and further down in her inability to express her discomfort, a biracial man (European and Asian) who seems conflicted about claiming an identity — but they are much more quiet in their struggles.

When I mentioned this training Tuesday, I said I was afraid that I’d walk into the room and see only people of color. I’m quite happy that didn’t happen. Yesterday we were a group of about 30, split almost equally, POC and white. We lost a couple of people today, but were still pretty evenly split. And maybe the evenness of that split makes talking up easier for that struggling man. I don’t know.

Our second brave one is a Black woman who talked about recognizing herself yesterday as a person who protects white people, who soothes and reassures them so they will feel comfortable, so that they can know we’re not (heaven’s forfend!) talking about them when we say all this stuff about implicit bias and white privilege.

I appreciate her for her own sake but also for mine, for the fact that I recognized myself as a protector, too, but chose to process that in my head and not aloud. While it’s true that I haven’t been much of a protector of late, the pull is still there. As soon as I hear the hurt in someone’s response to what I’ve said or written, I want to reach out and let them know how great I think they, individually, are. I’ve mostly been able to refrain from doing that. And hearing the facilitators talk directly about that yesterday was a harsh spotlight for me. And a necessary one.

I knew before I’d gone through a full hour of yesterday’s session that I would want to take this training again. Today cemented that knowledge. People often take it more than once — one of the men in our group has been six times already! — but I hadn’t expected to be ready to re-up so quickly. There’s a lot to learn about how to have these kinds of conversations from watching the ways our facilitators guide conversations and push people out of their comfort zones. And the conversations change each time because, even though the training stays the same, the facilitators and groups change each time.

So curious to see what tomorrow’s work will be. And what our one-month-later session will be in April.

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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My brain hasn’t entirely left Detroit.  There are still many, many things that my not-even-a-full-week’s visit left me to think about.  And many of those things are serious and solemn.  But then there the rest of what’s in my head.  Even on the bus tour that drove me to despair, there were distractions.  As if I could have forgotten what Detroit is famous for, we stopped at a light and in my face out the window was this:


And then there was the fabulous confusion of knowing that when I looked south out of my hotel room at the Renaissance Center, I was looking at Canada:

There was also this wonderful Cesar Chavez mosaic outside LA SED:


(LA SED is Latin Americans for Social and Economic Justice … and “thirst” all at once, which I love.)  I’ve forgotten how many tiles are in there, but each square in the mosaic is a mosaic and the tiles are super tiny.  It’s an amazing piece of work.

There was also this Frida piñata, which was weird, but I liked it all the same.  I’m still not sure I like the idea of beating Frida with a stick, but no one was going to be using this piñata that way, so I guess I’m ok with it:

  The piñata and the mosaic photos came from the last two stops on that bus tour, two of the nice moments from that spin around and through the neighborhoods of the city’s southwest side.  Sadly, sandwiched in between those two lovely bits was being caught in slow traffic and having the unfortunate display of seemingly half the police force arrive en masse to apprehend a kid who looked young enough to be my grandchild, forcing him off his bike and holding him face down on the sidewalk, towering over him as they crowded around his very small, thin body.  No, I have no idea what that child was supposed to have done.  I will acknowledge that he could easily have been a) much older than he looked, b) much harder and tougher and more dangerous than he looked, and c) totally guilty of something.  I will say, however, that he was already subdued before the legion of officers arrived and there was no reason to mash him into the sidewalk like that.

Wait.  I’ve gone off track, back to the dark side.  This is supposed to be about some of the nicer bits of my trip.  And so …

Though I took no photos — too busy marveling at the wacky wonder of it — there are the tigers outside Comera Park (Tiger Stadium):


But my most favorite thing of all, even more wonderful than that crazy collection of tigers was the gorgeous and fabulous sculpture down the street from the hotel:

Yes, that’s right: Joe Louis’ fist.  Joe Louis’ fist!  It’s outstanding.  It’s ginormous.  It’s beautiful and strong and silently powerful and bizarrely moving.  I can’t  explain why I like it as much as I do, but I do, I do, I do.  And maybe you’re thinking, “Joe Louis.  Big deal.  Joe Louis.”  Sorry, people, but yes: big deal.  Go watch his knockout reel on YouTube if you honestly don’t get it.  Seriously.  And this sculpture had my heart from the first second that I saw it.  Can’t explain it.  Don’t feel the need to.  Simply stunning.

Had a really great conversation tonight with my coworker about Detroit, about the work we do, about the choices we’ve made in terms of where we live, what careers we’ve chosen, what it means to work in certain neighborhoods and not others, to look like the people you serve or to look nothing like them.  She’s from Detroit (the suburbs of, as she often quickly points out) and still struggles with the fact that she’s not there but here in Brooklyn.  It made me think about the things I’d written in my last post, reminded me that I’d never put up my photos of this magnificent sculpture, reminded me that I still have so much to think about, so many things to wrestle with.

Detroit. Still on my mind.

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The Air Above Our Tongues

We do not speak, afraid
of what might happen to us

the air above our tongues
prays for us to speak, afraid
of what might happen
if we don’t

— Ruth Forman


The air above my tongue has been frustrated for a long time now.  I’ve had a lot to say, but my computer has held me back.  But this time I mean it: my computer is fixed.  It’s been a long several weeks, but I think we’re finally back on track.  Or something.  I’m certainly not on track as far as my whole poem-a-day plan.  I’ve written a bunch, but not one every day.  And I’m not going to torture you by posting all of the ones I’ve written.  I’m only sad that I haven’t been able to give you a Ruth Forman poem every day.  You most definitely deserve that loveliness.  In lieu of being able to post here, I’ve been reading Ruth’s poems to people.  Seriously.  In the last few days, I’ve read poems to about half a dozen people.  Just because.  It’s been really nice to share poetry in that way.  I might just have to keep it up!

Today’s “lost SOL” is from last week.  I may still get around to the ones I couldn’t post in March.  Part of me wants to put up everything I’ve written since my computer went down, part of me wants to just let it go.  We’ll see what happens.


Today is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War (those first shots at Fort Sumter were fired on this day in 1861).  No, this isn’t going to be some patriotic or oh-so-grateful-to-be-free love letter.  Just some thinking.

The more I learn about all of the events that brought this country to war, all of the varied plans that eventually ended in emancipation, the more I find it miraculous that the country managed to survive that war in some salvageable form, that emancipation managed to happen when it did.

The storyline I keep coming back to is one of Lincoln’s plans for solving the slave problem.  Of the many possible ideas — freedom not among them — he favored gathering up all the black people and shipping them out of the country to … you know, anywhere.  He tried hard to find another government willing to take us on.  That must have been an interesting sales pitch: “Hey, we have this enormous population that we’ve raped and beaten and kept uneducated.  Whatcha say we send them to you?” Yeah.

One of the countries he talked to?  Costa Rica.  Imagine it: the entire African population of the United States dumped on a country the size of West Virginia.  Because that would have made sense.  And how would the shipping orders have been decided?  Any black blood and you were out?  All the pretty octoroon girls the fancy gentlemen sought out for pleasure?  All the folks who were close to passing?  Everyone whose just-a-little-too-kinky hair spoke too loudly about their family history?  And what about free blacks?  Would they have to leave their homes, their jobs, their lives and head south o’ the border?

For such a famously smart man, you really have to wonder just how thoroughly Abe thought that one through.

I’ve written before about how the one clear upside to Lincoln’s otherwise ridiculous Costa Rica plan would be my fluent Spanish today, but that’s not really true.  Once Honest Abe had so totally thrown the world off course, all the little things that would have had to happen in order for me to happen would have been thrown off, too.  No slave owner to rape my great great grandmother and produce the woman who would lead down through time to my mom.  No shared work place in New York that let my parents meet.  No any of the things required for this version of who I am to be who I am.

So, 150 years ago, a wheel was set in motion.  And what a bumpy ride it’s been.

Sesquicentennial, 4/12/1861

Boys called from mothers’ laps to war
dreaming the glory, not the gore
waiting to take them by the hand,
suck them dry, leave them spent and gone,
dead, staring eyes dimming the dawn.
More lives lost than anyone planned.
Taught in school this was all for me,
the country’s price to set me free —
loosed on this world, this promised land.

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Yeah, I think that might be what Mr. My President said to General McChrystal when he gave him the heave-ho.

I’m so over General McChrystal.  Maybe he’s a good commander in war-time.  But there are other good war-time commanders.  Like General Petraeus, for example.  Maybe McChrystal knows how to lead soldiers.  What he clearly doesn’t know is how to accept that, even if his Commander-in-Chief is someone he might not like having to take orders from, he still has to take orders from him and still has to treat him as his superior (aye, there’s the rub, eh Stanley?).  This nonsense with Rolling Stone isn’t McChrystal’s first exercise in “poor judgement” in terms of talking about the President.  He’s made a bit of a habit of criticizing Obama, and I’d been wondering what it would take to finally see the back of him.

Well, now I know.  I was afraid Obama would be conciliatory, would accept some lame mea culpa from McChrystal and move on.  I was pleased to come home from work tonight and see that things had gone the other way.  I guess even Mr. Calm-and-Collected has a tipping point.  Good.

And I like that Obama talked about McChrystal as if his career had just ended.  Who knows if that will be true, but I kind of dug it, like the President was rubbing McChrystal’s nose in it a little, like: “Hey, Stanley.  See me over here?  You may not like me or the way I do business, but I can fire your ass and make sure some important doors close in your face.  How d’you like them apples?”

Of course Mr. My President is much cooler, kinder and more tactful than I am, so I’m sure that wasn’t what he was doing at all.

I don’t know what any of this will mean in terms of the war in Afghanistan.  Foolishly, I had thought we’d already be seeing the end of our involvement there.  Clearly not.  I don’t know anything about waging a war, but General Petraeus does seem to know how to do his job and is liked and respected by all sorts of people who can’t agree on much of anything else, so that’s promising.  And maybe in the long run, we’ll all look back and wish McChrystal had been allowed to keep running the ship.

But not me.

He needed to go.  I am done trying to pretend to have patience with these people who think they don’t need to show any respect to Mr. My President.  You don’t like the man.  Get. over. it.  Get the fuck over it.  The man is the leader of our country and you need to give him the respect his office demands.  End of story.  You spent eight years genuflecting before a dangerous moron.  You can’t bite your tongue during an interview?  Get. over. it.

And Stanley?  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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