In Memoriam – Lee Billings

I met Lee Billings sometime in 2001, in the Cranky Editors group on LiveJournal. Lee was well-spoken, intelligent, and assertive; she was also friendly and genuinely cared about her friends, and while optimistic she was also a realist. She knew what was possible and what it took to make things happen. She was also unashamed to be a feminist, and didn’t care if people thought she was “outspoken.” She was also one of the few people I knew who would hold firm to her beliefs, but was willing to assess and adjust her beliefs when she had new information. She was definitely not rigid in her ideals, but she held firm to what she knew was right and just.

We met in person at some point that year and she invited me to the Sunday lunch group she attended, also known as “Bagels.” What struck me most about Lee was that she wasn’t afraid to be loud and to make her opinions known. I was accustomed to dancing around difficult subjects, hiding my opinions, and preferring to “be nice” instead. Where I was afraid of being seen as “too aggressive,” Lee was afraid of being seen as a pushover and having people trample her beliefs.

Lee was a positive example in my life when I needed one. She was always willing to give me good advice and listen to me, even when I didn’t want advice or didn’t think I needed it. Lee was practical in advising me through difficult situations, and was never one to merely say, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We shared common backgrounds in family life, and she understood where I was coming from, and where I needed to be if I wanted to move my life forward and become my own person. Lee was one of the friends I needed the most, even when I was afraid to need people.

I looked up to Lee as a friend and a mentor, and I appreciated her advice. But I also appreciated her giving me a space to sit and unclench my jaw, relax my shoulders, unfurrow my brow. I expanded my circle of friends when I joined Bagels, I started being a little more open, I ventured out a little more. I started being more assertive and letting my opinions be known, even though I was still afraid of being “too aggressive,” but I wasn’t afraid of success and of reaching out for what I wanted and where I wanted to be. Life never turns out exactly the way you want it to, but I saw Lee and always thought to myself that I could change what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be, without worrying about what other people thought about me.

Lee had been a programmer by profession, but she was also a musician, a singer, and a dancer. She made jewelry when her programming specialty dried up and was replaced by a newer coding model, and turned it into her profession. She and her partner, Russ, went around the con circuit selling shirts and bumper stickers aimed at nerds, geeks, pagans, and anyone else who didn’t feel like they fit into the mainstream. I still wear jewelry I bought from her. I still have the Volde-Mart tote bag they gave me. Lee was a regular in the filk and contradance communities. She had friends everywhere, and it seemed like every person I met would say, “Oh, you know Lee? She’s great. I know her from….”

Lee had been diagnosed with and beaten breast cancer before. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I figured she would beat this as well. Lee was strong-willed and independent. I suppose I always thought she could beat back any ailment or injury through sheer force of will. Lee passed away this year, on November 22. I don’t know that I can truly quantify the impact she had on my life, or that she had on other peoples’ lives. I do know that I am forever grateful for her friendship, and my life was better for having had her as a friend.

On Wanting to Serve

A little over 18 years ago, I enlisted in the US Navy. After 3 years of ROTC in high school, I was ready to go into the Armed Forces and serve my country. I loved ROTC. I loved everything about it, from the PT (well, maybe – I was kinda fat and it wasn’t the best part of ROTC), to the uniforms, formation, even the paperwork. (Wait, a future CPA loved paperwork? No way!) I even won the Daughters of the American Revolution medal for outstanding military service in ROTC. I was pumped for the military. My dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on it, though, and even having my recruiter come over and talk through it with him didn’t convince him. He wanted me to go to college, get a degree, and then enlist as an officer. I wanted to work my way up the old fashioned way.

So I signed up for the Delayed Entry Program and waited for my 18th birthday. In June of 2000, I flew to Great Lakes, IL to start my career. This was it – my chance to prove my worth, to be strong, independent, part of a team. I was going to learn a practical trade (Advanced Computers and Electronics), and be part of something bigger than myself. And thanks to three years of Army ROTC, I was going to start as an E-2 (my instructor recommended E-3, but the Navy was going to offer E-2).

One week (two weeks? a week and a half? I don’t recall as clearly now) in, at PT-0, I was tired and dehydrated and collapsed not quite at the finish line of a mile and a half run. I was devastated. How could I have let this happen? Two weeks later, I was developing an upper respiratory infection, but I ignored it because I wanted to tough it out and push through. I quickly developed a UTI after ignoring dehydration and trying to push through pain. I got a cold pack with cough drops to get me through the cough. Two weeks after that, the day my shipmates were getting their crisp Navy Whites, I was being handed paperwork on a medical discharge, and a bottle of antibiotics that looked like horse pills to treat the high fever that resulted from a sinus infection on top of a bronchial infection on top of a UTI that was threatening to turn into a kidney infection. A nice, well-meaning psychologist at the med center had suggested I needed to go home and get better. She asked me, “Are you sad? Are you feeling kind of depressed?” I said yes and she put “Major Depressive Disorder” in my chart, sent me to her superior officer where, in tears, I said, “Of course I’m depressed! How could this happen to me?” I went back to my barracks, gathered my things in the duffel bag they’d issued, and got a ride to SEPS (the separations facility), where I was sent home on a plane a few weeks later. It was devastating.

At some point in the process, I had given up on myself. Basic Training is more than physical training, it’s a mental training as well. That first incident was a crushing blow to my self esteem. I was so ready to be on my own, to prove myself, that I started to lose faith in myself and my goal. If you want to succeed in the military, you can’t do that. You’re part of a team, and Basic is there to break you down, to build you up as an individual and as a team. Your squad mates depend on you, and each other, to make things work. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t believe in your team.

Every now and then (usually on Veterans Day), I pull out my enlistment paperwork and wonder what I could have been, what I could have done. The kid in that paperwork was going to go places, do things, help people. That kid had dreams and goals, but they didn’t pan out. I’ve been beating myself up about that for 18 years – I considered myself a failure, and everything I did was tainted with that voice in the back of my mind, “But you couldn’t even make it through boot camp….” I could have tried harder, I could have done more, I could have fought my discharge and tried the Army or Air Force or gone back to the Navy. But I can’t change any of that now. I came home, I went to college, and now, a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees later, I’m a CPA with a family and my own home.

I’m not sure why Veterans Day hit me so hard this year – maybe the feelings of failure had built up to the point that I couldn’t hold them back any longer, or maybe it’s listening to my friends and family talk about their own military experiences. I pulled out my paperwork and started giving myself the same negative speech I give myself every time I look at those papers. “How could you do that? Why did you squander your future like that? What happened to you?” I realized quickly that I’ve been living in the “What if…?” of the past. I was feeling sorry for myself, when I could have been feeling proud of myself for dedicating three years of my life to ROTC and trying to serve my country in the Navy. I could have been thinking about the hard work and effort I put through to make something of myself afterwards. But all these years, the only words I could muster up when I thought about it were, “You’re a failure….”

ROTC taught me a lot of things – how to work as a team, how to support my squad mates, how to lead a group (even if I sucked at marching a platoon – I once marched my platoon right into a dumpster because my commands were off…). I learned the importance of hard work and dedication. The pride of wearing a uniform. It sure as shit didn’t teach me to feel sorry for myself.

So this year, I thought about what I wanted for myself. Whether I wanted to look back in sadness and feel sorry for myself for another 18 years, or if I wanted to feel proud of myself for what I’ve done with my life thus far. I decided that I wanted to stop looking at this paperwork and living in the past, to stop thinking of my efforts as a huge failure, to quit giving myself negative talks. I also decided that it was time to say goodbye to the paperwork. I kept my military training certificate, but I shredded the rest. I decided that I can’t move on, be proud of my friends and family who have served in the past, or who are currently serving, if I was going to keep hanging on to this paperwork and pulling it out to feel sorry for myself.

I also gave myself a different talk.

Dear 18-year-old self,

I can’t tell you that it would have been better, or that you could have tried harder and it would have worked out. I know you wanted this so bad. You tried – maybe it would have been different in the Army or the Air Force, or maybe it would have just been a different kind of bad experience. But you did what you thought was right for you, and that’s important. Your worth as a person is not contingent on whether or not you made it through boot camp. Your lack of service does not make you a lesser citizen or unworthy of respect. Your success is not tainted by what you think is a catastrophic failure.

Sincerely,
36-year-old self

Maybe putting the past through the shredder was unnecessary, or maybe I could have tried turning those papers into a positive memory. Maybe I could have kept the papers and tried to turn this into pride, but it seemed like an empty kind of pride when I compared it to the people who made it through Basic, and through their enlistment. Regardless, I had to say goodbye to the past and my negative self-talk. I could be proud of my efforts and be proud of what I’ve done thus far, or I could continue to mope about it. I chose the former.

Post-Election Thoughts

It’s now the day after election day and current Democratic losses seem kinda grim if you’re looking at Texas – we didn’t flip a senate seat, we didn’t get governor or lieutenant governor, and we didn’t flip the whole state blue. Last night my Facebook feed was pretty bleak, with people feeling defeated and ready to call it quits. By “quits” I mean they felt that they had failed and lost, that there seemed to be no point to their efforts since the “Blue Wave” wasn’t as big as desired or expected.

My main concern now is that Democrats and first-time midterm voters are going to see losses, be demoralized, and throw their hands up and never vote again. Republicans rally around their party like the world will come to an end if they don’t vote Republican. What I’ve seen time and again is Democrats, Independents, and Liberals of one form or another vote, lose a race, and then say voting doesn’t matter and not only do they proclaim they’ll never vote again, but they tell other people to never vote because it doesn’t matter. (Sitting through political diatribes when you’re just trying to shelve books in the History section gets old, but at least I got to hear from actual people about these things.) This is a gross generalization, but almost a decade in college (with an undergrad and two graduate degrees) and several years working in a book store gave me insight into what people were thinking; my stint as a political blogger helped as well, but listening to people bemoan that they lost the presidential election meant that voting was meaningless gave me more insight than reading comments about how I was a GOP shill or a Liberal cunt (don’t miss those days at all. AT. ALL.).

My point is that politics is full of winning and losing, ups and downs. You don’t win if you decide that a lost race means everything hopeless. The gains made by Democrats last night are significant – Texas Democrats flipped several House seats, and Harris County elected several Democrats to flip the county to majority Democratic control. Of course, we also sent Ken Paxton (currently indicted for criminal securities fraud and failure to register as an investment adviser) and George P. Bush (aka That Guy Who’s Trying To Ruin The Alamo) back as AG and Land Commissioner, respectively. Why? Maybe Texans love felons and hate the Alamo, but I suspect it’s more that there was a huge push to Keep Texas Red.

Fresh eyes and minds keep things moving in the right direction. Keeping incumbents to “Keep State/District/etc. red (or whatever)” is a terrible idea and only fosters poor decision making and the worst in political BS. The idea that single-party control is best for the country and voters is short-sighed and foolhardy – the idea that yours is the only opinion that matters makes it difficult to effect real change, but I suppose that’s the point when the status quo is so comfortable. But if that’s the case, why campaign on changing? Why say you’re going to Make America Great Again and then do the same old thing over and over because being in power is more important to you than anything else? Running on obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism is another problem I have – there are things that must be obstructed (fascism, injustice, corruption), but running on a platform of obstruction because you don’t like that your party didn’t win the White House, or because you don’t like Democrats in general, isn’t sustainable in the long term. What happens when you fail to live up to peoples’ expectations? or when they start having expectations beyond just “sticking it to the Libtards”?

Anyway, I’m happy with the net gains made this time around, even if every incumbent wasn’t defeated. Giving up only tells your opponent that you don’t care and they can continue doing whatever the shit they want to do with no regard to opposing opinions. If you’re upset and disappointed today, turn it around and stay involved at the local level. National politicians always start local and work their way up, and if you want to influence the country on the national stage you have to start from the ground up. Get involved, vote in Primaries, and support your local politicians. They’re the ones you’ll be sending to Governor’s offices, the House and Senate, and the White House.

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Full disclosure: I am friends with several “voluntaryists” and I’ve known many who don’t vote for religious reasons (“in the world, not of the world,” is their primary reason). I’m not speaking of them. I’m talking about people who get fired up and then decide that a loss means they should never try again. Another disclosure: I’ve historically voted as a Moderate Independent (neither Democrat nor Republican, but voting either one, or Libertarian, as I find candidates who seemed to be fit for the job). This year, I made the distinct choice to not vote Republican at all – the first election I’ve done that. My personal view is that too many Republicans either supported, sought support from, or were indifferent to problematic and harmful white nationalist ideologies and people that I couldn’t, in good faith, support the party as a whole. As Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station said, “I didn’t leave the Republican party. The Republican party left me.”

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Edit 1: An additional thought is that we have a system of checks and balances built into the governmental structure in the US – the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are supposed to work together and provide a check to the other’s power. The other form of checks and balances comes from multiple parties and ideas working together. If you’re eliminating other parties from involvement, then there’s no effective check to power or corruption, no balance of ideas or power to keep the party on track. And if voters are incentivized only to Keep The State Red, rather than voting on a variety of issues and considerations, then it seems as though there’s no effective voter checks to poor decisions either.

Maybe Everything Isn’t Terrible

Checking in with social media recently, specifically Facebook and Twitter, has made me feel like maybe everything really IS terrible. Maybe we really are only 20 years away from the sudden and inevitable collapse of the environment. Maybe we’re on the cusp of an imminent thermonuclear war. Maybe Jesus has spurned us for the second coming and we’re all just going straight to Hell for all eternity.

So I was thinking on the way home that I really miss the days growing up before social media, when we could choose to ignore the whackadoodle ravings on AM radio, where Neo-Nazis were just a group of weirdos largely relegated to a few rallies in rural areas and Jerry Springer episodes, and the only thing I worried about was whether or not I’d get to watch cartoons after school. (Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were life, y’all.) The 24-hour news cycle and the incessant coverage of every minor thing ruined me for current events. I loved reading books on political theory and history and culture, and I even blogged for the Houston Chronicle for a while as one of the only (or maybe the only) moderate bloggers – mine was the one that had a dozen or more footnotes and links to sources, because you can take the blogger out of academia but you can’t take the academics out of my blogging.

But as social media became more social, and we traded our MySpace pages for Facebook and then Twitter, every damn conspiracy theory and minute incident got hours and hours of coverage online. Most of it fizzles into nothing and we never hear about it, but the internet is forever and every now and then the dreaded Necrothread rears it’s ugly head to resurrect some old issue and it’s argued again like it happened yesterday. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because it means that when people claim they never had any dealings with a foreign government we can just pull up old Tweets or blog posts evidencing otherwise. (And man, some of those Tweets do NOT age well.) But most of the time it just leads to people arguing over and over again about the thing and it still never gets solved.

I try to cultivate my social media so that I keep in touch with friends and family, but also so that I’m not in a bubble where I miss out on things that are going on around me. I don’t like being blissfully unaware of current events, but the nature of social media means that between the sarcastic memes and dog pictures I’m getting inundated with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news, and being a concerned citizen I want to do all the things and solve all the problems and be involved in local politics so that I can prevent Armageddon. But being just one person I’m probably not going to do all the things – realistically there are probably one or two things I can do and I should work on those. And even though I’m a realist and I (mostly) know my limitations, I still feel powerless and overwhelmed. I feel like I’m not contributing meaningfully, that I’m not doing enough, that taking any kind of break is tantamount to failure because EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE!!!!

Except everything is probably not terrible. I can list several things right now that are not terrible: I have a good job with health insurance, my kiddo is in Girl Scouts and is super excited about doing outdoors stuff, I found a ton of cool new books to read, and I have a supportive group of friends and family. I’m doing pretty good at winning at life – probably don’t have the high score, but that’s okay. It’s probably also okay if I don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems, because a) I can’t, b) I shouldn’t try, and c) no, really, I can’t. It’s probably definitely also okay if I step back and do self care, like spending 2,000 hours playing Skyrim (haha, just kidding, that’s totally not a thing I did…), or reading my ever-growing To Be Read list or turning off notifications on my phone and stop reading social media for a few days.

It’s important to do things that bring joy to your life, to remind yourself that everything is NOT terrible, to lift yourself up. If you don’t, the crushing weight of the world’s problems will consume you and you’ll shrivel into a hollow shambling husk and honestly shambling husks do not enjoy life at all. It’s okay to do something fun once in a while and not spend all day worrying about terrible things. And it’s definitely okay to stop following every news organization and political figure on Facebook and Twitter and follow all the dog and otter and cat accounts instead. Dog Twitter is 100% more enjoyable anyway.

“I Didn’t Know It Was A Problem” and other problems

I’ve been thinking a lot about Aziz Ansari, and the undercurrent of social training that enables men (and sometimes women) to sail past social cues and into the territory of violating another person’s space, or their bodies. Emma Gray writes, “I believe that Ansari didn’t realize in the moment that he was ignoring Grace’s cues, nonverbal or otherwise.” And it’s true – many men I’ve worked with, been friends with, or encountered in social spaces, have no idea they’re ignoring my cues to reject their advances. Many of them ignored straightforward rejections of their advances, and believed they had a right to say and do whatever they wanted to get my attention and achieve their goal of getting sex (either from me, an available target, or another woman).

There is a dynamic at play here, where many woman – most women, I think – are told that they have to care about other people’s feelings, that they are responsible for ensuring other people are happy and comfortable. They’re taught to be pleasers, to not say No, to be agreeable. It was certainly ingrained in my own upbringing, not just by parents, but also by teachers, religious leaders, other parents, coaches. Many women have a problem outright rejecting someone, and when they do they’re met with complaints that they’re bitchy, or catty, that they’re assholes. “Why can’t you be nice? Why are you so mean? I’m just trying to be nice!”

To be fair, Aziz Ansari apologized sincerely, and claimed he misread the situation. That’s all well and good, but the problem is that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong, that he was violating this woman’s space, that he should have stopped. Most men I know aren’t cued in to nonverbal cues to begin with, so when I read about this encounter all I could think was, “Well of course. Men just don’t know how to work around nonverbal cues, and some verbal cues are just confusing.” And that’s about when I stopped myself and asked, sincerely, “Why shouldn’t they? Why should men ignore nonverbal cues, much less verbal ones, because they’re too hard to work with? And why is this so generalized, as though men are just dumb about this kind of thing?” (It’s like those stupid laundry detergent commercials that indicate men are just helpless about housework and somehow the entire house would explode if they tried to do laundry without their wives stepping in.)

Gray’s article points to research that indicates men and women can and do understand verbal and non-verbal cues (Just say No?; If a Girl Doesn’t Say ‘no’…; Mythcommunication). It’s not impossible, and it’s not “a guy thing” that men don’t understand it if women say, “I guess I’m not into it,” or “I’m not ready for this,” or some other form of indirect verbal cues. It’s a cop-out, and claiming that men are somehow intellectually incapable of understanding such indirectness does them a disservice. It says that men are too dumb to understand their environments, and that women are incapable of communicating. Some women are afraid of making people mad at them, or they’re genuinely afraid for their lives in some cases, and they indicate their discomfort in indirect ways, in nonverbal ways. I’ve done so several times, and had male friends “rescue” me from people that ran the gamut from merely annoying customers to scary stalkers and ex-boyfriends.

To say that “men just don’t get it” is not just asinine, it’s dangerous. It gives predators a pass to say, “I just didn’t understand what she was saying. She wasn’t clear.” It does a disservice to boys who grow up thinking they don’t have to understand their social environments. Men can and should learn how to interpret indirect and nonverbal communication, just as much as women should learn the confidence to be forthright and direct. Many women will tell stories of men who were violent in their rejection, who beat, raped, or killed a woman who said, “No.”  Those encounters are extremely important, and they should be told, and we should be aware of them and work to stop them. But encounters like “Grace” and Ansari need to be told as well, because the non-violent violations are no less damaging than the violent ones.

On Regret

I’ve been thinking about regret lately, and how much regret I have and how it stems from deep-set shame over all kinds of things. I’ve managed to rack up regrets over every aspect of my life – how I walk, how I talk, how I eat, smile, laugh; everything I do is up for scrutiny and a certain sense of shame. At this point in my life, I’m not sure WHY I’m hanging on to so much shame and regret, but I doggedly cling to it like a bizarre life raft thinking that it will somehow keep me afloat.

Shame and regret can be useful tools. Humans and other animals learn from doing things wrong – if you never make mistakes, learning how to cope with challenges, and learning new skills will be difficult. (I have a pair of socks that say, “Screwing Up Is Part Of The Protocol” to remind me that making mistakes is part of the normal course of business of being human.) Being ashamed of or regretting something can be a useful reminder that what we’ve done is wrong, but shame and regret can also go too far and consume us.

On any given day, I probably think about a dozen or more things that I regret and I wish I had done differently or that had never happened. If I’m having a bad anxiety day, those thoughts might consume my thinking for most of the day, and my productivity and well-being. In the past (before I decided to seek help from a psychiatrist), I had severe panic attacks from thinking about something that happened 10 or 20 years ago and being consumed by the shame of my actions. It was a sense of regret that spiraled down into debilitating feelings of unworthiness, guilt, inferiority. Why? I took it for granted in the past, assumed I was supposed to feel that way, that the sense of shame and regret I felt was good and natural and that I SHOULD feel that way. But what does that actually do for me?

When I get consumed by those feelings, I don’t feel like I’m actually learning anything new, that I’m growing as a person. I realized in the last year or so that what I’m doing is beating myself down, that these self-conscious feelings are destructive. I don’t think I realized how negatively these exercises in regret impacted my life until recently, when I connected my internal “fantasy” life (mainly the fantasy of being able to navigate personal and professional situations without saying or doing the wrong thing, without being goofy or weird) with the feelings of shame and regret. Normally, an episode of being consumed by regret would be followed by episodes of escapism – here’s how this would have turned out if I was better at social situations, or if I wasn’t as awkward, or if I was more self-assured.

I still can’t answer why I regret so much, and I know logically it serves no purpose other than to further fuel my anxiety and give it something to latch onto. I started (re-started, really) meditating with the Headspace app and I noticed that even during meditation my mind naturally gravitates to something I did wrong and starts to focus on that. The meditation does help me push those thoughts away (the method is called “noting,” whereby you acknowledge the thought or feeling and move on), but I can’t answer why I should keep clinging to this consumption, other than that it’s a habit and I’ve lived so long like this that I don’t know how to live any other way.

I’m not one for resolutions, but I started thinking at the end of the year that I wanted to change this about myself. I want to stop pre-shaming myself and worrying about what I might do wrong or how I might fuck things up. I want to stop shaming myself during and after an event and picking apart everything I do. But mostly, I want to let go of all the regrets I have in my life. The burden of shame is great, and it can lead to a host of other negative behaviors (rage, anger, fear), and that it can be contagious in those around you. So this year, instead of having a resolution that I’ll forget about in a few weeks, I’m committing to letting go of this destructive shame and regret, to breaking a habit that’s become self-destructive.

Tiny Buddha has an article that provides a good starting point. But as with any project, breaking a bad habit requires a support system, not just will and determination, so the second part of this exercise is going to be remembering that I have a support system and actually using it. No one walks through life entirely alone.

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  – John Donne, Meditation XVII

The alternative is continuing a destructive cycle, which will undermine all the other aspects of my life. I don’t want my life to be consumed by something so worthless as regret over things I can no longer control or change, when I could be working on literally anything else of value in my life.

Unwanted Advances

Congress has joined several industries with the dubious honor of being rife with sexual misconduct (sexual assault, inappropriate advances, harassment, et al.) and, as with the tech industry and the entertainment industry, women (and men) are coming out of the woodwork to lay bare what’s happened to them. Some of the accusations are surprising – et tu, Al Franken? George Takei? Some of them are not. Many of the responses are typical retorts of, “Not my guy!” Some are just depressing – Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, is voting for Roy Moore because being a Republican is the most important thing to her and she can look past the allegations of sexual impropriety against him.

The NY Times has a recent podcast discussing this recent spate of scandals, and it’s worth a listen. Unsurprisingly, none of this is news – harassment in Congress has been going on for decades, and everyone remembers the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal that came out of that. What IS new is that people feel emboldened to lay bare these problems and bring them to the forefront, yet we still see the same retorts of, “But it was so long ago,” and “How do we even know this is true?” Well, we’ll never be able to have an honest discussion about sexual assault or sexual harassment if we suppress victims when they make their accusations. “But what if they’re lying?” But what if they aren’t?

As described in the New York Times, the system in place to handle harassment claims in Congress is convoluted and serves to deter victims from coming forward.

“In more than 50 interviews, lawyers, lobbyists and former aides told The New York Times that sexual harassment has long been an occupational hazard for those operating in Washington politics, and victims on Capitol Hill are forced to go through far more burdensome avenues to seek redress than their counterparts in the private sector.

“Under federal law, complainants must undergo a confidential process, where co-workers who might be able to provide corroborating evidence are excluded. They often must wait about three months before submitting an official complaint, yet must file one no later than 180 days after the episode. Once filed, victims must submit to up to 30 days of mandatory counseling and complete another 30 days of mediation.”

If you do manage to get your complaint in, good luck getting it taken seriously or even resolved.

So far, 2017 has been the year that everyone finally realized that there are no hallowed halls, and all of our heroes are problematic. Everyone’s closet has a skeleton in it. So what do we do about it? I think Al Franken’s call to have an ethics investigation into himself was a good start, but it doesn’t hide the fact that what he did was wrong. (As with most investigations in Congress, it’s likely to go nowhere, and is mostly for show.) Mitch McConnell likewise calling for Roy Moore to be immediately investigated on election is also a good start. But we have to do more and expect more – we can’t sit back and say, “Well, all these things happened a long time ago so it’s not a problem and we can ignore it.” We have to make a stand and say, “We don’t do that here. We don’t allow those things to happen.”

Even if you don’t believe every accusation, it’s just good practice to stand against sexual assault or harassment of any sort, and to have a system in place to investigate accusations (to either prove them true and punish the accused, or to show them as false and punish the accuser). Ignoring them or claiming any accusation is false only enables and emboldens predators.

500 Years of Reformation

It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther inspired the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg (you can read them online here). The world endured centuries of violence and persecution, but for the past several years it seems as though there have been more calls for unity and reconciliation. (My prediction: both of those are unlikely. Highly unlikely.)

I read about the reformation in grad school, and as someone who was raised in a mixed-religious household I was intensely aware of the ramifications of the theological split. Holidays are REALLY awkward when one parent is Protestant and the other is not (you kids wanna hear about the origins of the Coptic Church, aka the original and best church?). Most of us these days really can’t relate and it all sounds like so much squabbling over details that don’t matter as much as the core gospels. And in an era of Mega-churches and Feel-Good-Nondenominationalism, who even remembers why the churches were arguing anyway? For me, as a kid, it came down to churches that had snacks during the service, and churches that didn’t. As I got older, Luther’s arguments became more important to me on a personal level – why should I only pray to God for wealth? Why should I look for grace in the mundane world? Why should I put my faith in imperfect people who claim that they alone can grant me entrance to heaven?

But does this really mean anything for us now? WaPo has an intriguing article – more of a brief set of interviews, really – on the reformation and what it means for us today. Most of the responses have a similar undercurrent – return to a love of neighbor, to forgiveness, to opening up our hearts rather than closing off. The statement by Cardinal Blase Cupich seemed particularly salient: “Authentic Christianity never closes in on itself. It always leaves its comfort zone to listen to others, especially those shunted to the margins of society.” And yet all we have to do is look at the latest headlines (or Twitter, or the comment section of literally any news article on the internet) to see that people would rather burrow in to their comfort zones in a kind of self-marginalization and closing off from new and different ideas that would pose challenges to ingrained beliefs. People don’t want to be challenged – it’s natural to resist challenges to the status quo and to resist change, because what’s known is comfortable, reassuring, and consistent. But change is inevitable, with or without wholesale reformation.

500 years later, we haven’t come up with any sort of unity, the Catholic Church hasn’t fallen to give way to a glorious age of Protestant theology, the Orthodox Churches still haven’t united with the other Churches, and Christianity as a whole seems even more divided than ever. But we do still feel the very real impact of the Reformation in the form of having access to our own Bibles, taking charge of our own spirituality, and, for better or worse, being able to choose where and how we worship (even if we choose to worship in the same arena that used to host Iron Maiden and basketball games).

Luther’s arguments against the Medieval Catholic Church were probably (definitely) valid – buying your way into Heaven with papal favors defeats the purpose of having God send His Divine Son down from Heaven to act as a final sacrifice for our sins. Certainly murdering heretics wasn’t the ideal response from either camp, but religious sects are still murdering each other, and they will likely continue to do so for as long as religion continues to exist. Likewise, political sects argue about the same kind of trivial details, arguing which details matter more or less and whether one detail is significant or not, and who gets to be in or out of the sect based on their belief pattern. Political thought, then, seems more like religious thought when you look at it. Perhaps we should start demanding more by nailing political theses to the doors of Congress or the State Legislature. Seems like we could use some political reformation these days.

Saturday Thoughts – Resiliency

We live in a society that places too much value on self-reliance, resilience, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s completely unrealistic and ignores the fact that humans are a social animal, that reliance on others is part of what creates and reinforces society. Humans live in groups and divide labor to achieve efficiencies – hunters,  bakers, fishers, cooks, blacksmiths, woodsmen, etc.

There’s too much insistence on playing it cool and brushing off our own frustration and anxiety. We’re humans living in a stressful world, and when you add trying to recover from storm damage on top of the usual stresses of life, it can make things overwhelming. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. Let yourself rely on other people.

Writing While Anxious

I’ve reached a point in my anxiety where I’m afraid of my art and my writing and I talk myself out of it. I don’t want to write because I’m afraid, not just of how other people will receive my writing, but how I’ll receive it myself. I’m afraid that what I create will be ugly, that it will be the same regurgitated crap I see all around me, that I won’t be able to adequately put down on paper (or on screen) what’s in my head.

I was in the habit for a while of writing every morning, essentially using the Morning Pages method of writing at least three pages every morning. It was an easy habit to make, and an easy habit to break when I was tired, or achy, or running late, or busy. Three pages of anything, every morning. I’ve managed to claim some lines of poetry from them, even some full poems, and a few lists of solid short-story ideas. But I’ve also dragged out memories and feelings from the darkest parts of my mind, and made myself uncomfortable, more anxious, less secure.

As a result, writing has started bringing me more anxiety, which causes writer’s block as soon as I set pen to paper, or sit in front of a blank screen. I can have words and ideas swirling in my mind all day and determine that I want to write them all down. And as soon as I sit in front of a screen with a blinking cursor and type a few words, I feel a familiar tingle across my face signaling the beginnings of an anxiety attack. A blank page will send me staring into the distance, my mind racing.

I want to sit down and set intentions, to let my mind wander in words, to put my ideas down on paper. I still get a feeling of excitement when I think about the idea of writing, when I imagine what writing was like when I was an undergrad and a grad student. But actually writing makes me feel like I shouldn’t – not just that I’m an impostor, that I gave up my creative side when I sold my soul to become a CPA, but that I’m stealing creativity from people who are legitimate writers. That I’m tapping into something that’s no longer mine.

Before you tell me that’s ridiculous and no one thinks that, I’m going to tell you that I’ve had people tell me to my face that I turned my back on creativity, on art and literature, the second I signed up for my first courses in my MSA program. That I had sold my soul, I was joining the legion of faceless, soulless office drones, and I would never be the same afterwards (also that I should be ashamed of myself, because. Further, that I had no business thereafter calling myself a writer, much less actually writing. I think about those conversations often, every time I think I want to write something. And I think that maybe I was an impostor all along and perhaps I was just really, really good at mimicking what “real” writers do. Or maybe the people who told me those things were insecure bastards who had no business policing the arts for people they felt were inferior.

Regardless, my writing is suffering, and I suppose a part of me is suffering as well (a different part of me, that is, other than the parts that are already suffering from chronic illness, anxiety, depression, and other various malaise). The pen is fire, and as badly as I want to be burned, I can’t even enjoy its warmth.