65 Days Until President Trump
A while back, Captain America became a Nazi.
The change was due to a time-manipulating girl/doohickey named Kobik, and of course the Red Skull. They essentially rewrote history to give Steve Rogers Nazi sympathies, turning him into the ultimate sleeper agent.
Comic booooooooks!Read More
66 Days Until President Trump
I’ve been a huge fan of Captain America since I was a kid. He’s had a huge influence on me over the years - pretty much the greatest role model I can imagine.
I’m also a writer, and so sometimes I get story ideas in my head. Before Rick Remender’s run on the book (in which Steve Rogers de facto adopts a child), I’d had an idea for a storyline entitled, “The End of Captain America”. It was about Steve Rogers and his longtime love Sharon Carter having a baby. (The Red Skull was also involved, because comic booooooooooks!) The crux of the conflict in my story was that Captain America has to be fundamentally selfless, but a parent has to be fundamentally protective of their child. Captain America has to put the entire world ahead of his own needs. A parent has to put his child ahead of the world. In my story, when Steve Rogers became a father, he would be forced to realize that he could no longer be Captain America, because he had to choose: the world, or my son?
And for a parent, that’s no choice.
That brings me to the safety pins that we’ve been seeing all over social media lately. If somehow you aren’t in the know, the safety pin has been adopted from Brexit survivors to show that the wearer is an ally: if you’re getting harassed or assaulted or are just having a bad time all of a sudden with the reality of a Trump Presidency, then the wearer is someone that you can count on to help you out. It’s a mark of solidarity, but it’s also a promise: When you’re with me, you are safe.
I read a fantastic piece about the safety pin yesterday. It goes into a lot, but the bottom line is that the safety pin is a responsibility. It’s a promise to stand up and defend. And you have to ask yourself what that means. How will you protect? What will you do when the time comes?
If it comes to it, will you engage in violence to protect others from violence?
And, hoo, boy, did that one keep me up last night. I haven’t thought about being in a fight since high school, twenty years ago. I found myself asking, “do I need to bring a weapon with me when I’m out?”
I’m a white, rapidly-approaching-middle-aged father of three. Wondering if I need to bring a weapon with me when I go walk around town. With my kids. I was wondering if I needed to teach them to take video of me if I’m ever in a confrontation with someone. And then I started wondering what would happen if I got into a confrontation in front of my kids who were taking video, and it went bad, and then the other guy realized that one of my children had a camera, and then he went after my kids while I was down…
Yeah, I didn’t sleep real well last night.
I’m a parent. If I’m forced to choose between my children, and the world, that’s no choice at all.
But my kids also have to live in this world: it’s their world, too. They have to deal with its bullshit when I’m not around. So it’s not just a choice between my kids and the world. It’s a tightrope act where I balance their safety and security on one side, and social justice on the other. What’s safe, and what’s right.
If either side drops, so do we.
For the record, I’m not planning to go out Kick Ass-style and start teaching my kids to be ninjas. I’m also not planning to go looking for a fight. It’s extremely unlikely that I’d find myself in that situation, and I don’t want to scare them with ghosts of what will never be. If, somehow, I do find myself watching someone get shoved around and become the victim of violence, I have a phone that dials 911 very nicely, and I have lungs that can shout for help until it arrives. I won’t put my kids in the middle of that.
But I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get to make that choice. I get to decide about my commitment to confronting prejudice. I’m asking these questions because I’m signing up to ask these questions. I’m putting on a pin. I can also take it off.
Black people can’t take off their skin. Muslim women can take off the hijab, but not if they are being true to themselves. Immigrants can try to earn citizenship, but it takes years - and they’ll always be immigrants, even once they become citizens.
I can take the pin off. They can’t. They are what they are. We’ve already pinned them down.
Trump is hurting me right in my privilege. Not that he’s taking it away: he’s forcing me to face it. He’s forcing me to think about the things that my neighbors think about every day. Will I be safe when I go outside? Will I get harassed? Is it safe to shout back? What will I do with my kids if they come for me?
I wish I didn’t have to ask these questions. No one should. I put the pin on, and I mean to live it until we like the answers.
Not everybody can be Captain America. But we can all work for justice.
67 Days Until President Trump
A couple of days in and I’m still having trouble with the outcome of this election.
I mean, obviously I’m having a problem with Trump, because… obviously. That part is terrible.
And it’s terrible that sixty million of my fellow citizens either were down with that, or were willing to overlook it in order to shake things up.
I mean, good grief, how the hell do you overlook that?
But I overlooked something, too. I’m also having that “ah-ha” moment when I realize that the Hillary Clinton who I know is not the same Hillary Clinton that most Americans know. That’s because most Americans didn’t do a shit ton of research into her politics and her history - as I did - which would have led them to conclude - as I did - that about 95% of the public perception of Hillary Clinton was the kind of garbage that even a raccoon won’t touch.
I did my homework. I felt pretty comfortable in thinking that, if facts could be known about Hillary Clinton, I knew the important ones. I know that she’s not a liar - though she spins the truth in her favor. I know that she’s not a close political ally of corporate America - though she did accept speaking fees there, because, hey, even liberals like money! I know that she’s basically a progressive dreamboat - I literally had a blog post drafted, entitled, “Hillary Clinton: Progressive Dreamboat” about half-finished when the primary ended - but she ironically ran through a tough primary with one of literally maybe two other Senators who could be accused of being more progressive than she is. (I am here thinking also of Russ Feingold, because even though he’s no longer in office, they served together, and man is he progressive!)
But I got lazy. I never published my findings. I told a few people around me, but mostly they were people who were going to be Hillary supporters, anyway. The constant slew of people who were all, “I’m going to vote for Hillary, but I mean, I don’t like Hillary” - it should have set off alarm bells, right? But I was happy with their votes and I’m conflict-avoidant enough to not make waves.
Hillary Clinton has had Republican attack dogs writing some really amazing lies about her for thirty years. When the 2016 campaign got started, I had to do my homework because I couldn’t separate fact from fiction in my head. But not everyone did that, and I as a Hillary supporter did a terrible job of messaging to the world the truth that I'd found in a vast sea of spin and falsehood.
Sure, she’s a Beltway insider. But you want to talk about shaking things up? How about affordable childcare for all families? Because that’s kind of a big deal. If you’re struggling and trying to make ends meet, would an extra $10,000 a year make a difference for you, personally? Eight hundred bucks a month sounds pretty good to me. I don’t know about you, but I’d be okay if she were giving the reacharound to Wall Street if it also meant my wife and I didn’t have to keep having the discussion about whether or not we can afford for her to go back to work full time.
It’s stuff like this that makes me crazy when people start going off on “crooked Hillary” rants. I’m not asking her to babysit! I want her to go to the mattresses for me and my family! I want someone who has a decades-long history of demonstrably having my back! That’s who I want for President.
I was excited about Hillary. But I assumed that, because I knew my facts, that others did as well. I knew true things, and assumed that others knew them too, just because they were true.
As it turns out, Truth is more slippery than that.
Truth doesn’t set itself free. You’ve got to do that work. You have to shout it from the mountaintop. When you know true things that other people don’t know, you can’t leave them ignorant. Truth is more important than that.
This doesn’t mean just shouting them down. I think that the Trump Presidency is pretty fucking good evidence that people are tired of being talked down to. They voted for literally the one guy in politics who doesn't talk down to anybody, because he's already there. (Here may be a racist, xenophobic misogynist, but he isn't condescending about it!)
It's up to us as progressives to figure out how to speak the truth without sounding like assholes. Mansplaining is a real thing, but prog-splaining is, too, and we've got to cut that shit out. Nobody who's teetering on the edge of whether or not they can feed their kids gives a crap about high-minded ideals like "equality".
But they do care. I have to believe that. They care about nice Mr. Jones, the church organist and confirmed bachelor. If you asked them, most of them would say, "Sure, he deserves a shot at love. I don't know how I feel about gay marriage, but I'm with him, yeah."
We progressives are really good at seeing the big picture, and really lousy at seeing the individual people in it. We have to find a way to reveal that picture, that Truth, without ignoring the million little truths out there that are heartfelt and sincere. We can't keep talking down.
We have to get off the mountaintop and sing our Truth from the streets.
68 Days Until President Trump
It’s Saturday morning in occupied America.
OK, that’s total hyperbole. But it’s how it feels when you’re progressive and you’ve just realized that the vast majority of your country’s geography is home to people who mostly voted for Donald Trump.
I mean, look at that map. You’re surrounded.
The problem with “occupied America,” though, is that America is occupied by… Americans. We can certainly look at the Trump Presidency through the metaphor of war and enemy occupation, but we had one Civil War and it was bad news. Many progressives abhor the United States’ warlike posture abroad: the actual notion of taking up arms at home is ridiculous.
Also, let’s be real: we’re way outnumbered. And then there’s the issue of the fact that the enemy commander is also the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. Nobody wants to fight that with guns.
Hearts and minds, then. The conservatives derided it the last time we had this discussion, but it’s critical that we persist in this. We can talk tough, but the first part of the descent to war is the dehumanization of the enemy. Our enemies are our neighbors. We know their faces, their names. We don’t want them to die, and we don’t want them to suffer.
So hug a Trump voter whenever you get a chance. Maybe you hold your nose at first (metaphorically, please), but do it anyway. It’ll get easier. And it’s really hard to wage war when you’re hugging.
We believe in peace, so that’s what we’ll wage.
Donald Trump won his supporters’ hearts, and their votes came with. We can win them back.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t fight like hell in the war of ideas. Trickle-down economics belongs in the dung heap of history and we’ll sweat blood to keep it there. We can win the battle of minds! I mean, that’s one of the things that was a predictor of your vote, right? We’ve got this one.
But racism isn’t a theorem. Xenophobia isn’t a thought: it’s fear. It’s an emotion. So we have to fight them on their own terms. We will soothe fears, embrace friendships, and open our hearts to love. We’ve been wounded. We feel betrayed. But when we understand that our fellow patriots voted out of fear, it’s our duty as human beings to help them. Fear should not be their destiny, or ours. We shouldn’t be occupied by fear.
Let’s occupy America with love. Red’s a good color for that.
Image Credit By Ali Zifan, MB298, JayCoop, Presidentman - This file was derived from: USA Counties.svg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47804584
69 Days Until President Trump
I've written a couple of impassioned, motivational pieces in the last two days - and I've got more of that! A "Firefly" reference, even! But I'm feeling more thoughtful today.
I'm thinking about elections and surgery.Read More
70 Days Until President Trump
Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughters after the Trump victory has been making the rounds today. It’s worth a read, especially now that we’ve had a full twenty-four hours to digest the news and decide whether or not we’re moving to Canada.
We’re not. All our stuff is here. Canada is cold and friendly and full of plaid. Bacon is not round. Everyone knows that.
It would be easier for Trump if we’d go, which is reason enough to stay. Trump wants people out: he’s building a wall and deporting people and turning away refugees and putting a stop to Muslim immigration. His America is better if we’re not in it. If we start wearing suspenders while drinking maple syrup from the bottle, we’re just handing him another victory built on toupees and bile.Read More
“Yeah, but that could never happen here.”
It just did, America. We elected Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.
Sure, an actual majority of Americans rejected him. But we still elected him, and that’s all that matters.Read More
After giving the dog a bath today (hashtag awwmaaaaannnn), Kieran announces that “I need a towel to give my bike a wash.”
“Sure!” I say, picturing this:
I give him a towel, figuring he’ll give his bike an imaginary wash, and that’ll be the adorable end of it. Instead, a minute later, I hear
I can’t even be mad about it, really. He told me what he was planning…
I've seen a lot of talk recently about how horrible it is that Sony Pictures has canceled the release of "The Interview" in the wake of terrorist threats of violence against movie theaters that show it. What I haven't seen much of is talk of how this was a horrible movie to make in the first place. Let me be clear: I don't support terrorism. I think I can stand on a professional record of not liking it a whole bunch.
I also like freedom of speech. Yay, I'm writing stuff! Down with North Korean douchebags!
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about how this is a movie about the assassination of a foreign head of state at the hands of the U.S. Government. If this head of state had been, say Angela Merkel, probably there wouldn't have been terrorist threats and criminal hacking to prevent the movie from coming out. Because Germany isn't that kind of place, and yay for them. But also because who cares - nobody would have seen that movie in the first place. Nobody would have wanted to.
And this, from the country that gave us the Holocaust!
It's offensive, crass, tasteless... you name it, that's the premise here. If Bollywood came out with a snazzy dance number about knocking off Obama, you can bet we'd be up in arms. Hell, we'd probably be up in arms if they did it about assassinating former President Bush, because, well, that ain't cool, man.
Let's also add that this is even more illegal than torturing people, because no administration has attempted to redact the section of Reagan's Executive Order 12333 that prohibits the CIA from engaging in assassination. Torture is shitty and we should all know better, but when the President telling you that it's okay, it's easier to see how it happens. That hasn't happened with assassination.
One could carry a strong argument that the meaning of the word "assassination" may have been abused in order to allow for drone strikes, but "for political purposes" is pretty central to what Reagan was trying to do with EO 12333, and I can't think of a world in which the killing of a recognized head of state by another government isn't an "assassination". You can argue about whether waterboarding is "torture", but not whether it is "stress-inducing".
So "The Interview" is offensive and perpetuates myths that make America look even worse, internationally. I imagine it's funny - I definitely laughed at "Team America" - but is funny enough to justify it? There's a difference between an offensive portrayal of Kim Jong Il in "Team America" and the depicted assassination of Kim Jong Un in "The Interview": one's an ass-ination, the other's an assass-ination. Extra "ass" there, you see?
In other words, it's one thing to make a foreign head of state out to be an idiot. It's another to depict his murder as a good thing.
I'm not arguing that the movie doesn't have a right to exist. I may be arguing that it should never have been made, but not because it's something that should never be said or depicted.
What I am saying is that it's pretty fucked-up that we think that this is okay, and moreso that we think that this is entertaining. What does it say about us as a society when we are so totally comfortable with the first-degree murder of the figurehead of a - [cough]coincidentally[cough] - yellow-skinned nation that we find it humorous, but we balk at the nation's espionage agencies so much as tapping the phone of the head of a primarily white one?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that North Korea is not a nice place to live, and that Kim Jong Un is a huge part of that. I'm pretty sure that the people there could be doing a lot better than they are, but they happened to be born to be ground under the bootheel of a dictator and their lot in life is the suck. Guess what? There are a ton of places like that in this world. It's not okay.
But neither is it all right for us to make fun of them. Because that is what we are doing, when we say that it's all right to giggle over their Dear Leader getting blown to bits. We aren't doing it in solidarity with them, because we think that, yeah, he really is a bad guy who needs to die to make the world a better place. We're doing it because it's a joke. It's hilarious. We are telling them that the man who is so singularly responsible for their continued misery warrants nothing more from the United States than a Hollywood punchline.
How do we, generally moral and upstanding people, fall prey to this racist bullshit? How can we not sympathize with what it would be like to be in North Korea, despising our own leaders, and to know that this movie was coming out? It's because we've been told, over and over, that North Koreans are Other. And we believe it.
They live in a "closed-off society". They're part of the "axis of evil". They talk about their "Dear Leader" - aren't they funny! They're different from us!
We do this because we're human. We want there to be outsiders that we can disregard. We want to know who's ours and who's not. We want to know who we can laugh at, or who we can enslave, or who we can eradicate, without having to worry about it.
Consider "Inglorious Basterds". It's a movie about Jewish terrorism, torture, mutilation, and the political assassination of a head of state at the behest of the U.S. Government.
Buuuut... they're Nazis. Nazis are the ultimate Other. You can do whatever you want to a Nazi and nobody feels bad about it. Carve up his face? No problem. Scalp him? Ehh... go for it.
Now, Nazis do bad things. Really, really, really bad things. "Holocaust" is not a nice word and never was. We want to hate them. We want to turn our brains off and not think about them as people, because my god, how could people do that to other people?
By not thinking about them as people, that's how.
So don't succumb to otherism. Don't be an otherist. Don't side with morally corrupt moviemakers, even if they may appear to be the little guy being scared shitless by North Korean bad guys. They aren't the good guys, here. Nobody in this whole mess is worth your time, unless you happen to be an FBI cybercrime investigator.
Speaking of being scared, don't be terrorized. Spend sixty seconds thinking about what you'd have to do if you were a North Korean commando who wanted to commit an act of terrorism in the United States. First, you'd have to get here. Great, I'll just book a flight! Except I'm a North Korean who wants to come to the U.S., so no way am I getting a visa without an anal probe of an interview. Or you could get a fake passport that would get you through security... but you've gotta do that for every member of your team, because if anybody gets caught, the jig is up. Then you have to get here, and get weapons, and pick a target...
Nope. Not gonna happen. North Korea can't do it. Hell, the United States would have trouble doing it on our own soil in the month timeframe that the North Koreans have had since they knew the hack against Sony was successful. There's just no chance. It's an empty threat. There are reasons why we don't see a lot of terrorism on American soil: it's really, really hard to do.
So go see a movie. I hear "Big Hero 6" is good.
It’s not a good day to be a police officer in America.
Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Now Rumain Brisbon, and I’m almost certainly missing more names than I’d care to think about.
Too much death. Too much horror, tragedy, blood. You can’t help but get some on you, just by wearing the uniform. You didn’t kill anybody, but when you put it on, you’re not Bill or Jane or Tariq or Wei Lun: you’re a cop. And cops killed those people.
Most police officers are good people. They’re kind of dick-ish people, because the job attracts that sort and they’ve seen some real shit, man, and you’ve got to be emotionally tough and forceful to do the work. But they’re good. They want to help. They try their best to do a tough job. They believe in justice.
Many of them probably look at Darren Wilson and slowly shake their heads. Some of what’s rattling around in there is disbelief and condemnation. How could he have let this happen?
But some of it is sympathy, and rejection of what could all too easily be their own fate.
“Not me,” they pray. “Please, don’t let it ever be me.”
Police officers aren’t some different category of being from you or me. Tomorrow morning, one of us - if physically able - could go down to the police academy, apply, and join their ranks. We’d have the vest. We’d have the badge. We’d have the gun.
And we’d have the duty: to uphold the law, as best we could with the tools we’d been given.
I think about what tools I would want, if it were me. I’d walk out my door in the morning, wearing a target. My neighbors are pretty nice, so I don’t think they’d be gunning for me, but you never know when somebody’s having a bad day and all they see is the uniform. I’d definitely want the vest.
And then…? I’d spend the rest of my day confronting people, because when you’re wearing the badge, every question is an accusation. I’d want to know how to soften that, to know how not to be fighting, all day, every day, every time I opened my mouth. I’d want to be able to reassure people that I was there to help.
I'd want to know how to help them not be afraid.
I imagine the moment when words would not be enough. There are times when it's my job to take someone to jail, and there are no right words. My heart is racing; adrenaline is pumping. I’m ready for a fight, because it looks like that’s what’s coming. I don’t want to get hurt. I want to go home to my family tonight. I’ve got a wife, and three little kids. Doesn’t matter if the other person is six-four or four-six: if they’ve got a gun, I’m in mortal danger. And even if they didn't, because of the job, I brought a gun, so if we get into fisticuffs and they ring my bell, it's suddenly their gun. Just by showing up in uniform, I've escalated this to a possible life-or-death struggle.
Right now, Death is very close, running chill fingers through my hair, whispering, beckoning…
So I would want to be able to tell him to shut the hell up and go away. I would want to be able to face that fear and do my job and go home. Because my job is not to kill this person. It is my job not to kill this person. I am a police officer, not an executioner.
But things are bad, now. I am scared. I don’t have the luxury of waiting to make a choice, and my decision right now may mean that my kids never see me again.
I imagine this, and I just… I don’t know. I don’t know what I want, except never to be here. What tool helps me here? A taser? Pepper spray? Some option other than a bullet? You can’t ask me to die right now.
How do I trust that I will live through this, if I don’t shoot right this second?
That’s the tool I want. I want the answer to that question. I want to know how we can ask anyone to do this job, one that can be filled with existential terror at any moment, and expect them to make good choices. How to choose life, instead of death?
We are asking normal people, like you or me, to be in an impossible situation. To face death, but not to choose it. To know that there is an easy answer when they are truly afraid for their lives, but not to use it. To know that there is a way that promises their kids get to see them again, but to leave it in their holster.
That's what I'd need if I were a police officer: the knowledge of something better than fear, and the compassion to help others find the same. That's what we need more than body cameras: soothing voices. Patience. Kindness. Sympathy in the face of anger. And a system of support for police officers that helps mitigate their fear, that acknowledges their human weaknesses.
The good news is, it appears that we can give police officers the tools they need.
Witness the police department in Richmond, California, which hasn't killed anyone in their community of 100,000 people since 2007. It feels weird to write that like it's a huge accomplishment, but apparently it is. The police chief, Chris Magnus, has prioritized community policing and extensive training for his officers, and it's made a difference.
Police in Richmond are in their communities. They know the Michael Browns, the Tamir Rices. They also know that if they kill anybody, the chief is going to take it seriously. But more than fear of the chief and affection for their neighbors, they have the training - the constant, continued training - that teaches them how they can go into violence when they must and bring everyone out the other side.
I have been trying to write this story for a week now. Every time I sat down and read it again, I felt awful. Like a phony. Oh, the poor, terrified police officers with their guns and their vests and their legal system that tells them they do no wrong. Poor them! Their fear is a problem, yes, but it's not the problem. If I would have hit the publish button, all I would have been telling you would be the lies inside my own head. My own fears. My own hopelessness in the face of horror.
Because I got the story wrong, too. Just now, I took you with me, down the wrong path. I could have rewritten it all, but I wanted to let it stand.
It's not about taking away police officers' fear. It's about giving them something better to believe in. It's about investing them in life.
I should have known better. Stories are supposed to help us. They're supposed to teach us how to be better. They're supposed to help us find our happy endings. But they can trap you, not let you see your way out of them. They can blind you, just like they blinded Darren Wilson. But here's the point:
We can choose a new story. Always.
That's what Chris Magnus did in Richmond. He took the old story about a war on crime and he got rid of it. He told the story of the police officer who works for the people, not against them. He knew the fears that his people would face and he helped prepare them to face those fears, so that they could tell his story to their communities through word and deed. He didn't just fix the problem. He fixed the way that his officers and everyone in his city thought about the problem. He literally made history.
I'm not going to pretend like I've got anything to say about how. But I believe that the story can change. We can do more than just fix the problems in the justice system and the police force and in lower-income neighborhoods. We can change the narrative from problems to solutions, from conflict to community.
It will take courage. And maybe a few free hugs.
I'm no mechanic, but after having three kids I do know horrible smells. Burning coolant isn't a good one. My car had been doing a weird and scary thing a few weeks ago, where I'd be driving along, la-la-la, and then I'd look down and oh my holy shit poop I'm gonna die the thermostat would build from the midline to the redline over the course of six seconds and hover there for a second. Then, like a bubble bursting, the indicator would jump back down below the midline, and bob back up and down for a second before resetting on the midline.
This will make you crap your pants when you're doing seventy on the highway. I took it in to get it fixed as soon as possible, which was actually a week after it started happening, and so now you know I need underwear for Christmas.
My delightful mechanics, the Mr. Tire in University Heights, diagnosed the problem as a bubble in my cooling system (made sense) and a bad thermostat (ditto), and they fixed the problem for a couple hundred bucks, by which I mean they made the oh my stars and garters thing stop happening, and settled on leaving the thermostat on a nice cool "C" setting. Which was not scary, but it was cold, because the car was convinced that there wasn't any hot air in the engine and so the heater didn't work while it was 11 degrees outside.
Surprisingly, that also was not very popular with me, so I took it back 2 more times to get it fixed. Somewhere in there, I also noticed that there was this horrible burning smell. Before taking it in the first time, I'd managed to dump coolant all over the engine (I'm no mechanic), and this smelled just like that (I do know horrible smells). So the first time I took it back, I also mentioned the "burning coolant" smell.
Determined to provide good service, they ignored the problem and also didn't replace the thermostat until the third time I brought it in.
So finally after three mornings spent playing X-Com and Monument Valley on my iPhone, during which my wife was wrangling our three kids for two extra hours on top of her 10-hour wrangling days, when the thermostat dial stopped scaring/freezing the shit out of me, I decided that burning coolant couldn't be that bad for me, and let it go.
After a few weeks of periodically having to open the windows while driving because the fumes were so bad that my eyes were watering, I decided to pop the hood. Now, I'm no mechanic, but I read okay. I also am pretty used to seeing messes, because, kids.
As it turns out, in response to my complaint of engine overheating, the rocket surgeons at Mr. Tire in University Heights decided to fill the shit out of my coolant.
I mean, they didn't fill it. They drowned it. They filled the tank all the way to the top with coolant, about six inches above the hot-fill line. There's this little spigot off to the side, where the overflow coolant spits out. Somebody tells me there ought to be a drainage hose on it, so that if the coolant happens to overflow in the engine, it doesn't wind up splooshing hot coolant all over your much-hotter engine, sending toxic fumes up into the cabin.
The coolant level when hot is basically sitting right below the drainage point of this spigot. If I take a turn too hard, or if the engine heats up a little extra, the coolant gushes into the drainage point, then splatters all over my engine.
Remember the toxic fumes? The MSDS for my coolant describes "coughing and difficulty breathing . . . unconsciousness, increased lymphocyte count, and a rapid, jerky movement of the eyes in persons chronically exposed", as well as "liver abnormalities, kidney damage, lung damage and central nervous system damage". Which is pretty cool, because my 4-beer hangover tendencies lately really make me think that my liver needs a little extra trauma.
You know how to prevent all this? Not drowning my engine in coolant. I mean, reading, right? "FULL HOT" - it's not hard to figure out. Or subtle. Even with the way my eyes are jerking around, I can still see it pretty well.
My main solution at this point is siphoning off all that extra cancer juice and hoping that I do less swallowing of it than the last time I siphoned something (a waterbed). Also posting a self-indulgent, vent-y thing to the interwebs.
Also adding a safety helmet to my Christmas list. It'll go great with my new underpants.
The night after Elana’s company holiday party, I took the kids to make Christmas presents.
Not a good plan.
Understand two things: 1. I was mildly hung over. 2. I therefore forgot to tell them we were giving this stuff away.
I am a rocket scientist
There was… hammering. My mild, eensy-weensy hangover perked up.
Aha! An opportunity to turn into a throbbing mind-melter
The kids were super well-behaved, all things considered. They listened well, weren’t particularly wild, and did a good job of staying with me in the crowded throng.
We didnt so much follow the directions on how to assemble the bird feeder. See point #1.
I was basically miserable. For which I feel like a total shit of a parent, because aren’t you supposed to rejoice in this stuff? Bonding time with the earnest fruit of your loins, a chance to laugh and have fun and make something really cool together: memories.
Mine will be of being grumpy and slightly woozy. At one point during the making of hot chocolate mugs, I had Vievey on my shoulders in order to help make space for the line that was accumulating behind us, and I felt all the blood rush away from my head and was pretty sure I was going to fall over.
I put her down.
I’m supposed to cherish these times, but this was just not my scene. The hangover was a significant part of it, but I also worry that it isn’t just the leftovers from a slightly inebriated evening. Going out to do crafty things with the kids rarely sounds good to me. I know they need stimulation and enrichment and above all parental attention, but I’m a homebody at heart. I crave my own private time, or at least a few minutes to knock out some writing. As I write this, I’ve bounced girls in my lap, wrangled a toilet paper dispute, and sworn that the next child to put their fingers in their hot chocolate will find themselves watching me pour it down the sink.
In the comfort of my own home, I can do these things. Out and about, it’s all-in, one hundred percent go-time with the kids just to keep them alive. Most trips aren’t quite so painful as this one, but I’m realizing that, for my own sanity, I’ve gotta take care of number one before the semi-clones. It’s like when the air masks deploy: you can’t save your kids if you can’t breathe, yourself. I spend a lot of time these days fight to breathe.
I’ve thought and written a lot lately about the nature of stories, and as I write this, I wonder if it isn’t time to ditch the “plane crash” narrative in my life. It’s really not that, after all. I love my kids and my life. Sometimes they’re overwhelming, but there’s no trading them for anything. I can tell a better story than a plane crash about my life.
Like how lucky I am to get to share the magic of Christmas with wide-eyes munchkins. If I’d have told myself that story befortwe left this morning, I wouldn’t have had three screaming kids reverberating through my hangover as I tried to explain that, no, they didn’t get tokeep this stuff they’d just hammered about 700 times into existence. They were gifts. For other people.
Reeeeeally should’ve brought that up sooner.
So here’s my gift to myself: a lesson that all I need is a new story. It just might make all the difference.
I’ve been thinking about stories a lot lately. In part, that’s because I’m writing a book, and you can’t not think about storytelling when you’re doing that. (I can’t, anyway.) How to effectively and entertainingly communicate thoughts, ideas, and the nuance of human-ness: these aren’t as simple as putting words on the page. It takes thought and loving craftsmanship to get the words to say what you mean.
It’s more than storytelling, though. Stories themselves are a huge part of how we interact with the world. My post complaining of a lack of story in the recent Star Wars trailer has become the most popular thing I’ve ever put out on Google+. Whether you agree with me or not about the trailer, it seems that I’ve hit on something that helps people explain their ambivalence towards this hotly-anticipated cinema event. It’s just a tease: there’s nothing we can understand. There’s no story.
Swooping spaceships and lightsabers with quillions are cool to see, but they speak only to our sense of wonder. This is a magical feeling to be sure, and the creators of the film deserve applause for their dynamic cinematography and new ideas. But after the wonder fades, there’s nothing left. For those who truly care about the franchise, there is curiosity - also powerful! - but the trailer by itself doesn’t spark that curiosity. They are curious because they love the series already. They love not because of swooping spaceships, but because of the wonderful stories that came before.
Star Wars can afford to get lazy, because people already care, so they will be curious. But it’s laziness that produced that teaser trailer without telling us what any of it means. We already have a relationship with Star Wars, and that means we see everything through the lens of that relationship. Star Wars already has meaning, so the editors who cut that trailer apparently didn’t feel the need to do more than rest on the laurels of those who’d enchanted us before. They didn’t need to give us meaning. They didn’t need to tell a story.
We understand the world through stories. “Cop attacked without provocation by violent black youth; shoots in self defense” is a very different narrative than “cop provokes powerless teen into an altercation, panics when he meets unexpected resistance, executes the unarmed boy, and lies about it to cover his own ass.” Neither of these stories likely captures the whole truth of what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, but we’ve all told ourselves some variant on them. We need the story to make sense of the tragedy. It tells us about who was right and who was wrong, when all we can honestly say about the multitude of images with which we’ve been bombarded is who is dead and who is not. The story matters to us, because it gives meaning. If the demonstrators in Ferguson and elsewhere believed the first one, they’d stay home. If the prosecutor in Feguson believed the second one, Wilson would have been indicted.
Unless, of course, there was another narrative in play. Something like, “my beloved father, a police officer, was murdered by a black man in the line of duty, and it would dishonor his memory for me to take the side of another black man against a police officer.” That would be a hard narrative to ignore, no matter what Robert McCullough believed about the facts of the case. How could he stand with a morally-questionable stranger over his own father?
Just for a moment, let yourself think about that story. Think about what it would mean to you, if it had been your father. How that would have shaped your life. How that would have given a special meaning to every time you were able to show that a police officer was on the side of the angels - on your side - when he made the terrible decision to take another’s life. Every time, you’d be telling your dad one last time that you loved him.
What wouldn’t we do to get a chance to say that, just one last time, to someone we’d lost?
This doesn’t make it any less despicable, if McCullough did what it seems that he did, and gave special treatment to Wilson’s rather weak story. But it illustrates my point: stories matter. They can mean the difference between death (“young black men are violent and carry guns”) and life (“that white teen in a hoodie is a good kid at heart”). They can mean the difference between justice (“what story do I believe?”) and injustice (“what story do I want to believe?”). They can tell girls that the only thing in their lives that matters is whether or not they look like a supermodel, or they can tell boys that they don’t have to listen when she says she’s not interested, because if only you can make her understand how you feel, she will feel the same way. They can tell us that husbands are clueless idiots and that women should settle for bumbling fools, because it’s not like they will ever find a mate worthy of their affection before their physical charms fade, and at that point even the idiots won’t want them because all men are shallow.
Stories can really fuck us up, if we let them.
That’s why it matters to me when I see crap stories out there, clogging up our brains, and that’s why I’m disappointed when storytellers don’t even bother. Because the right story at the right time can give you a tale that you will love for the rest of your life, even if the prequels suck. The right story can tell you why lightning arcs down from the sky, or that the people you’ve lost are in a better place. The truth of a story helps us believe it, but truth isn’t what matters. Stories matter.
May the stories be with you.
The good news is, the sink in my mother-in-law's bathroom no longer leaks. Also, we now know that whatever is causing it to drain so slowly has nothing to do with the P-trap. Also, I can now remove and replace a P-trap without causing a sink to leak all over the place when it didn't before. The bad news is, the sink still drains every bit as slowly as it used to; if anything (and I hope this is just my imagination playing mean tricks on me because the alternative makes no sense), it's worse. Also, I wasted two hours of my life learning how to remove and replace a P-trap in a way that doesn't cause the sink to leak all over the place (namely, do it over and over and over and run back and forth to Home Depot and keep tightening shit until it stops leaking why won't it just stop leaking?), but I still don't know the phone number for the plumber, who is the person I am going to call when any plumbing-related issues come up again.
On the one hand, the philosophy of, "oh, that's got to be pretty easy" was what lead me to being fairly proficient with computers these days. It did so by way of, "oh, shit, I had better figure out how to fix that thing I just broke before mom and dad notice." (Mom, dad, that happened way more than you want to think about.) On the other hand, plumbing won't let you play Wolfenstein 3D if you just tweak it a little more, so there's about zero chance that I am going to devote the kind of time to getting good with plumbing that I did with computers.
As it turns out, my time with computers has taught me one valuable thing about plumbing. The next time I notice that my mother-in-law's sink is draining slowly, I will very carefully direct my web browser to www.angieslist.com and find someone who did whatever the equivalent of "kill demon-Hitler" is in plumbing.
If there wasn't meaning outside of work, I'd never have left the office. But I did, every day, even when shit was going down. Bad guy on a plane? "Do you really need me?" I'd ask. Nine times out of ten, the answer was no, and I'd bail. I worked hard while I was at work, so that I could make sure that when the work day ended, I could get back to what mattered. And that wasn't countering terrorism.Read More
Kieran woke up at 6am today to go pee on the potty. While a distinctly better alternative to peeing in bed, this also meant that he was up for the day at 6am. I foolishly did not realize this until some minutes later, when he was squirming and squealing and banging his hands on the wall. Suffice it to say, a short while later - actually, far too much hissing, "Kieran, BE QUIET" later - we are all awake and downstairs.
I'm feeling kinda grumpy about this. Elana is off running a race, so I'm on single parent duty. I'm not even grumpy about that. I really just wanted to sleep in this morning until at least 7. I don't think that was too much to ask for.
That is why we are having a Bill Cosby moment this morning, and are having cake for breakfast. It's quieter right now than it's been since we were all asleep. The sound of silent gnoshing is sweeter than the leftover apple cake. The coffee will be ready soon, and all won't be well with the world, but it'll be as right as you can get at this hour.
What's that, kiddo? Out of cake? Here you go...
You have moments that you don't realize, during which you say to yourself, "at least it can't get any worse." This happens. You don't realize it.
Until you're wrong.
Kieran had been making the poopy stance way too often while cleaning up Legos this afternoon. First, it should be noted that he was more or less actually cleaning up Legos, at a rate of one piece per minute or so. By the time he'd be old enough to go to college, he'd have finished the task, which was about perfect as far as I was concerned. In good news, he was also singing the "clean up song" he learned at preschool, or at least the relevant lyrics: "clean up, clean up... clean up, clean up... clean up, clean up", etc.
So there's that.
Then he informs us that he needs to pee on the potty. Bully for him. This is pretty normal, but by now he's also been making that poopy stance, so a quick undies check confirms that he hasn't already done his business. Again, awesomesauce. He's been farting up a storm, so slightly mild awesomesauce, but still.
He leaves. He gets to the stairs. He lingers on the stairs. This is a thing that no parent loves, and every parent deals with. I decide to check in.
This is when he informs me that he doesn't need to pee on the potty anymore. There he stands, in his underwear, coated in his own urine and standing in a pool of it.
[sound of record scratching]
This boy is potty trained. What. The. Fuck? I inform him that there are times that I don't kill him purely out of inertia, and send him upstairs to do the rest of his business, while I get the Urine-B-Gon and go to town on the stairs, grumbling to myself.
This is when it happened. That moment. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the "at least it can't get any worse" moment.
By now, astute readers, you are asking, "but where are your daughters, those beatific creatures who so regularly poop themselves?" That is because you are a genius, and I have the mental prowess of a lobotomized sea cucumber.
The girls have been "napping", a.k.a. sitting upstairs in their cribs and grumbling to one another. I head upstairs to check in on Kieran - he has this tendency of taking care of business and then taking care of his grandmother's entire makeup drawer - and discover that he is, in fact, taking a monster dump, the kind that looks like it hurts, and wants to talk about the sound it made when it plopped into the toilet. The girls are grumbling, and I head around the corner to make some promise about getting to them when oh. My. Gawd.
First, the smell coming out of the bathroom has nothing on this room. It smells like week-old gym socks filled with manure and set on fire. That's because Genevieve has managed to take off her diaper and is covered in something that looks like mustard gas pate and smells worse.
I admit, I scream a little. It probably sounds high-pitched and girly. I find some part of her that seems safe-ish to touch and spirit her past her defecating brother and straight into the bathtub, where I knock the big chunks off and then proceed to give her a bath on the spot. Out, towel dry, into our bedroom where there's a backup crib set up, diaper, into backup crib, get Zoe. Tub has drained, refill tub, off with diaper did you really, really think that wasn't going to end in tears? She, of course, is covered in more of the same, just compressed into the diaper area, so it's on there nice and firm.
I'm a little panicky at this point, and just start throwing toilet paper at her, hoping that some of it will stick. Which, obviously, it does.
Kieran, meanwhile, has grunted his way through it and I'm just shouting at him not to move, he's next. He rightly determines that daddy has lost his shit - maybe making out that it's because he found so much of other people's - and is maybe a half-step shy of axe murder. I see fight or flight in his eyes, but he correctly decides that flight would definitely lead to axe murder, and that's without us owning an axe. He freezes, and holds as still as a two-year-old can while I scrape the smears off of his sister with toilet paper, bathe her, drain the tub, and ready it for him.
I think I'm still a little breathless. They're presently all corralled in the spare crib, which is turning into a WWE-style brawl with the girls doing surprisingly well, but sometimes you just need to work through these things.
At least it can't get any worse.
https://vimeo.com/74285788 ... here's a video of my kids playing jump rope. Hee, hee!