Monopoly

Monopoly board

The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle cost $42 million. Meghan’s dress cost $508,000. I suppose that is just the price of a fairy tale. I can’t help but think of all the little girls around the world who watched Meghan—now a real princess—walk down the aisle, or at least saw pictures, and thought about how beautiful she looked, especially the little girls who are starving.

Even just the two million children in the United Kingdom who live in poverty must have been so in awe by this elaborate display. My mum has to work two jobs and we have rats in our flat, but look at Princess Beatrice’s fascinator! A family could likely eat for a year just from the cost of one of those hats. That is how fairy tales work, though. One person is plucked from the masses to live in luxury. All the other townspeople, teacups, step sisters, the other two members of Destiny’s Child—they are all left in the village to continue toiling.

Maybe this is why people seem so willing to accept vast discrepancies in wealth, especially here in America. Fairytales about princesses were the stories I grew up with, even though I did not live in a village with a large castle looming off in the distance. Perhaps because we replaced being ruled by a wealthy monarch with a market-based system kick started by violence and oppression, and a fairy tale set on the lawn of a plantation is less palatable. Oh wait.

We no longer have a king, but we have a small percentage of people who hold the most wealth and they still got that way by screwing the rest of us over. I recently watched a documentary series on HBO titled McMillions. The show details how this one guy stole the winning McDonalds Monopoly game pieces before they ended up in the fast food restaurants, and he gave them to friends and family in exchange for a percentage of the prize. The FBI was very upset about this. So was McDonalds. Customers are being tricked to think that they can buy a hamburger and win one million dollars and these scoundrels are robbing the McDonalds customer of this chance. It is not fair to the people!

At first, I was drawn into this thought experiment. Then I remembered that I do not give a shit about anyone robbing from McDonalds. Also, I do not know anyone who actually thought they were going to win a million dollars. One of the recipients of a stolen winning game piece was a struggling single mom. I think it is a crime that she felt like she had to choose to take the winning game piece—from her mafia wife friend. And then give half the money back to the ring leader. I was thinking, wow, I wish she got more money. McDonalds corporation has a net worth of $170 billion and they earn this money by underpaying employees, outsourcing to franchisees, and preying on the pocketbooks and blood pressure of the rest of us. This elaborate scheme amounted to stealing $24 million, which is a lot—less than a royal wedding—but still a chunk of change. Of course, it is only 0.32% of McDonalds total net worth.

By the final episode of the documentary—no spoilers—I started to imagine the exact same documentary but instead of McDonalds monopoly winners, the FBI was going after real criminals, like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, or the Walton family. On the first episode, the fast talking FBI rookie would not get a post-it note that read, “McDonalds Monopoly scam?” but instead one that reads, “Walmart entire business a scam?”

The agency would start by investigating how a company starts with prices so low and with so much inventory that they put a myriad of other local businesses out of business, not just the local hardware store, but the groceries, the clothes shops, the mechanics, the tire stores, the fabric stores, toy stores, electronics stores, Christmas shoppes, pharmacies.

Then it gets really good. Now with a newly expanded market of poor people, shopping at Walmart becomes a necessity not a choice. Walmart then further maintains these low prices by underpaying employees (more customers, cha-ching!) and then subsequently arguing that if they paid their beloved employees more then they would have to hire less employees or raise prices and you don’t want that, do you? Can you really afford to buy your diapers anywhere else?

Cut to the sharp FBI agent, leaned back in his chair explaining how he opened an investigation to look into the Walton family. The FBI is outraged! Because of Walmart, all industries are forced to compete with low prices and low wages and underemployment as way to keep benefit costs down and profits up. It is part of a nationwide, systemic increase in poverty. Parents are working overnight shifts and still unable to afford their kids medicine. What if the Waltons are pocketing like a million dollars each off this scam?

Picks up phone. Holds up finger to the camera for a pause. They have hoarded how much money? $163.2 BILLION? But they give to charity, right? $530 million donated from their family foundation in 2017. But that is only 0.32% of their net worth. That’s less than people are supposed to give annually to their church. Puts down phone. Ahem.

Okay, now I am outraged. This is not fair to the people.

The most expensive part of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was for security. Supposedly they spent about $36 million for added measures of protection, but who were they protecting themselves from? The people they serve, right? Who else? Bad people perhaps. People who do not understand boundaries. But it is still the people. I don’t think they were protecting themselves from rabid dogs or locusts. They spent a thousand times the salary of the average British household to keep British citizens from crashing their wedding.

The sad part is that we use words like philanthropic to describe rich people who spend money like there are not more than 800 million hungry people in the world and give away very small percentages of their wealth to help those in need. And in most cases rich people got rich off the hard work of people who can barely afford to keep their lights on. Most Americans likely give a larger percentage of their own net worth than our richest citizens. If you think about the money you paid to your PTA, the money you put towards that GoFundMe so a child could get a prosthetic leg, the money you donated—although it wasn’t much but it was something—to help families who lost their homes in a local fire, the dollars you handed to a man on the side of the road, the time you paid for the coffee for the person behind you in line, you have likely donated a larger portion of your income to charity. The rich are not more charitable than we are. They could give billions and billions more.

Even visiting poor and ravaged areas of the world and coordinating aid—although it is admirable—is still a privilege. And not enough. If I went up to my local Walmart, I am sure I could find multiple employees who would leave their positions immediately to fly on a private jet to Africa to visit schools and hospitals. It will be hot and there are lots of bugs. Walmart employee chuckles. But wait, how do you feel about walking through landmines? Been doing that my whole life. Holding babies whose mothers died from AIDS? With open arms. Infectious disease? Do the seats on the jet fully recline?

 

 

Homeschool

I have never had any illusions that I would be capable of homeschooling my children. I have enough difficulty just getting my kids to school – the waking up, getting dressed, getting them into the car, and then out of the car (a clutch part of the process) – keeps me completely maxed out on parenting. I can barely get my kids to brush their teeth, so I have never considered that I might be able to get them to graph equations or to log into Google Classroom and just do the welcome video. After I gave birth to my first kid, and we brought him home and realized all that was involved with that situation, my kids’ father quickly mapped out a timeline counting down the days until they started school. T-minus 35,000 hours.

I have often struggled to relate to homeschool parents. For starters, they choose to spend time with their kids when there is help out there for free, in most places the school will even come pick your kid up from right near your house. I have thought that maybe, okay, if I live on a prairie or on some kind of ranch and the closest school is 50 miles away, well then, I guess I will be driving 100 miles per day to take them to that school.

I lash out at the idea of homeschooling because I am projecting my own shame about how these parents can actually get their kids to sit at a table and do work for more than thirty minutes, and it is probably because the parents have some sort of discipline of their own. They can also sit at a table and work for more than 30 minutes. Perhaps these are the types of parents who actually completed their science fair projects. Even if I got some bread to grow mold (or just found some in the pantry), completing the backboard in addition to that was just too many steps. One year I completely forgot about the science fair until I got to school and saw all these kids and parents toting large backdrops, papier-mâché volcanoes, and glass jars of crystals. Oh shit. I told my teacher I tried to hatch baby chicks but they all died.

I am also assuming homeschool parents do not enable their kids with electronics like its crack so they can have time to themselves for recreational activities like folding laundry or doing the dishes. I have been a single parent since my youngest started kindergarten – I guess the marriage was also part of the timeline – so I often make parenting choices that are based on making my life easier. I use electronics as baby sitters, and I am not ashamed. Now my kids are in middle school and they are still alive, so I feel like the evidence is there that this is completely fine.

My daughter spends most of her time watching feminist videos, so that at age eleven she notices things like gender bias in school dress codes, and she recites lines she memorized from spoken word poetry videos, “Somewhere in America a child is holding a copy of Cather in the Rye in one hand and a gun in the other and only one of those things is banned by his state government.” My son spits out facts about World War II like he is a boomer with a pipe in a walnut library. He makes references to events happening in the Middle East that I do not understand. Of course, also, my kids go to school.

Or they used to. Now they are stuck at home with me. Their teachers are still preparing all the assignments and doing all the grading. I am not homeschooling. I am just in charge of making sure they have access to Wi-Fi and they get their assignments done. We are failing at that by the way. The Wi-Fi isn’t the problem. It is definitely human error. My best skill in this new role of running an entire school, except that I am not doing any of the actual curriculum preparation or assessment, is as the lunch lady. I am great at making lunch. For two kids.

I have never questioned the value of our educators. I cannot do what they do. All of the teachers we have had also know this. My parent teacher conferences usually involve teachers using a lot of sentences that start with, “Well, have you tried . . . ?“  At some point we will look back at this and my kids will laugh about when mom had to try to (not even actually) homeschool them. Unfortunately, they will not be able to use this hardship for their college entrance essays because every kid in America is in the same situation, so they will have to dig deep to find some other obstacle to write about. I think they will be able to come up with something.

Homeschool

None of my students have shown up yet.

Supermarket Survivor

In these troubling times, our local grocers are making important efforts to protect shoppers as they leave their homes for essential items like milk and arugula. One of the best solutions that has been implemented is placing arrows throughout the store so shoppers can only travel in one direction because it is impossible to catch COVID-19 from behind—at least that’s what my boyfriend tells me.

This is Supermarket Survivor. There are way more than ten contestants competing for a chance to pay for their own groceries, risking endangering their families and entire communities, or worse being featured in a viral video showing them using gloves wrong. Here is the play-by-play of my last challenge at the local grocery store:

And we are off!

She enters the store looking confident and quickly moving through bakery and produce, defying all arrows as if she does not even know they are there. The looks from other shoppers seem to be no deterrent for this erratic shopper.

Where is she?

There she is emerging from wine at a fast clip! Into meats! Still going the wrong way, right over the arrows!

Wait, a fellow shopper stops her and is pointing at the arrows.

She laughs and then looks like she might cry. She touches her face.

She turns her cart around. Twice. She is still going the same way!

She gets to the actual aisles. She is not ready.

She is looking up at the signs. There is a large X on a red sheet of paper printed out. She edges forward hesitantly, then she turns at the last second and goes the correct way down the next aisle!

She appears to have given up on frozen breakfast foods, but she is following the arrows!

Next, she is forced to go up the dog food aisle to get to the back of the store.
She is moving at record speed, then comes out at the back in dairy and wants to turn onto the international foods aisle but she can’t! Denied! It is the same way as dog food.

She hesitates. Looks at the wine in her cart. Almost loses it.

Then in a move nobody expected she swings all the way out to health and beauty, the instant replay footage reveals her giving a thumbs up to the ladies at the pharmacy as she speeds past, and now she is back to the front of the store and makes a sharp turn onto international foods.

This is the Hillary we saw in the Thanksgiving rush of 2016—the agility and speed that got her to this level.

She dodges a dad with a list, grabs both burrito size and soft taco size tortillas and runs the rest of the aisle with ease.

Now she finds herself in the back of the store, but she is clearly ready to check out. This could be a costly mistake. She jockeys her cart quickly around the Entenmann’s table and makes a run down the empty party supply aisle and pulls in at record time exactly six feet behind the man on register six.

Then out of nowhere, a cashier motions to her pointing to an empty register, so she swerves left and runs the final leg up to the checkout.

THE CROWD GOES WILD!

 

Quarantine Life

As someone who has worked part-time and mostly from home since 2016, I would like to share my tips for surviving this quarantine process. Not to brag, but I was also willfully underemployed throughout my twenties, so my experience goes back decades. For the brief periods when I did have an actual job working 40 hours a week in an office with people, I often sequestered myself by shutting my door and napping under my desk, reading books in my lap, or pretending to be on the phone, “I will drop everything and get you that spreadsheet by the end of the week, Sir!” I developed other important skills like always walking the longest route to the bathroom, perhaps taking a trip around the block or past the mall across town. I learned to carry supplies from the supply closet one at a time: in ten minutes I will go back for another staple.

I know how to get through two weeks accomplishing nothing. It is as if I have been preparing my whole life for this moment. This pandemic does present some additional challenges, like the fact that our children are also home. My kids are currently in middle school, so I do not have to incorporate them into my daily plan until after lunch and even then, I only see them for brief moments as they wander out of their rooms to forage for food.  It is very similar to the office environment. The microwave smells like popcorn and ramen all afternoon, and nobody makes any real efforts to clean because they just assume the magic janitor will get to it eventually.

If you have small children, under age 8 to 10 depending on the child, you may need to consider more drastic measures than I can offer here, perhaps opioids. For the older kids, I cannot offer any advice about home schooling because I am not doing that shit. What I can offer you is a plan to make it to a reasonable time each day when it seems acceptable to make a drink.

Before the pandemic, even if working from home, I had to get up early to get the kids to school. Now since I don’t have that built-in routine, I try to wake up early enough each morning to catch the news so I can start the day adequately panicked. It recreates the anxiety level I usually face getting middle schoolers to school on time and thus creates normalcy in my mental health. It is like a patch. Then I go to the kitchen and make coffee and do household chores, like checking Facebook. Then, it is almost time for lunch!

You will definitely need a laundry chair or couch. I usually have two large chairs going at all times. When you were a productive member of society, maybe you had a laundry day or perhaps you were one of those people who did laundry in the evenings like some kind of ironman, but now laundry just happens at all hours randomly. Right now, I have a load in the washer of one blanket from the couch, one oven mitt, two towels, and the hoodie my son has been wearing for the last 72 days, including the entire week we just spent at the beach.

There is no real reason to fold the laundry unless you are having guests over, so I just fold one piece randomly as I walk by or as I am grabbing the remote to click, “Yes. I AM still watching Arrested Development.” Sometimes, if timed exactly right, people will grab the things they need from the chair before they ever need to be folded. However, never underestimate a teen’s ability to ignore the existence of the laundry chair by resorting to wearing clothes from deep in the bowels of his drawer. My son, who now wears a men’s medium, came out last week in a Minecraft shirt from elementary school. He looked like Shania Twain.

Eventually, on some days, I actually have to check in and do some work. For me that means responding to students and grading papers or reading and writing for other projects. I usually do this while I am eating my lunch. I eat a giant salad every day while I work and then at some point look down and realize the salad is gone, and I don’t even remember taking a bite, so then I go to the pantry and eat half a box of Wheat Thins. Then the working portion of my day is complete! I close my computer and wander around the kitchen, eat a handful of multivitamins, empty half the dishwasher, maybe fold a t-shirt from the chair. It is all about pacing yourself.

One thing that helps me is that I like to go for long walks. I will walk for between one to two hours—more like walkabouts than exercise. I listen to podcasts and make phone calls that I have been procrastinating. I like to make my calls as I am walking uphill so I am out of breath, and the person on the other end is generally deeply concerned about me and willing to accommodate my concerns, like that I ordered the wrong size.

If you do not like walking, maybe watch a yoga video. Sometimes I watch yoga videos while emptying the rest of the dishwasher, occasionally dipping down to run through a sun salutation before stacking the bowls. I keep my yoga mat rolled out near a sunny window and some days I will stretch out on my back, put on mediation music, and mediate with my eyes closed for about an hour. If you do not have a yoga mat, the bed is a good substitute.

By this point, it is time to get dressed for the day. I like to take baths. At 3:00 p.m. I bring my phone with me so that I can catch up on my stories, on Facebook. Normally, during non-pandemic times, I have to leave to pick up my kids from school each afternoon. I do not currently have this strict deadline, but I am still requiring myself to get dressed for the day or at least to appear like I am dressed from a car window by 4:00 p.m. During the pandemic, I have been using the afternoon time to run essential errands like to go get more hummus.

After getting home from the afternoon errand, it is officially happy hour. Now, you just have to open a bottle of wine or pour a cocktail and work on making dinner, like a regular person. One of my favorite recipes, from even before the restaurants went to take out only, is to create a survey monkey of restaurant delivery choices and text it to my kids from across the house. We wait for the food to arrive, I drink more, then fold one pair of shorts, and watch Wheel of Fortune. After that it is time to put your feet up and relax because you have earned it.

I hope this is helpful. After the pandemic, you should go back to your productive lives and look forward to one day getting back to the quarantine life through a beautiful thing called retirement. You can visit me at Trader Joe’s after your afternoon baths because I will never be able to retire.

Laundry Chair

Generation X: They Fucking Forgot My Birthday

I am a member of Generation X. I had to look this up recently because I could not remember the name of my generation or if I even belonged to one at all. People my age don’t generally identify as Generation X, but maybe because when the term was first introduced—by boomers—it was as an insult. The idea was that we were slackers. Our best dance move was standing and nodding. We majored in English and art therapy. We read Salinger’s other books. We smoked weed and ate mushrooms. And it was like we didn’t even appreciate it, man. We are the middle children, doing, by all accounts, exactly what we are supposed to be doing with little to no credit.

There has been so much talk recently about how the Boomers are greedy assholes and the Millennials are awesome but super anxious about it, and I was thinking, wait, wasn’t I born, too? What is my problem? My research about Generation X yielded articles titled, “Why Generation Xers are so Forgettable” and “The Forgotten Generation: Let’s Talk About Generation X”. Even the term X is indicative of a placeholder, something you put into an equation until you find something better. The name certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of “Baby boomer”, nor does it have the metallic coating of “Millennial.”  My generation would simply let Joe Biden come in for a hug because we don’t want to be rude and our parents’ drunk friends have been doing that to us our whole lives. A millennial can just blink and be coated in the armor of backing up awkwardly but effectively.

Our oldest Xers are Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, and the late Chris Farley.  We are Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. We are three of the four women who broke the glass ceiling into Ghostbusting. We are three of the five women of Big Little Lies, notably not the one who actually pushes the abusive man to his death. We are Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Tupac and Biggie Smalls. We are the entire cast of 90210. Luke Perry’s death rattled our generation and our search engines as one of the first celebrity Xers to die of natural causes. I was guilty of searching for an explanation for how a man could be plucked from his youth, away from his wife and two grown children: Luke Perry + Cocaine. Luke Perry a smoker? Anything that made it seem like it could not happen to me. If I made a few minor changes.

I was born the same year as Chelsea Handler and Tiger Woods, which feels right. We are voted most likely to lose a sponsor. And to make a comeback. Our toxicology reports are complicated. As a girl, I was raised to believe that I could have a successful career, but also maybe I should put on some make-up and lose ten pounds just in case. Every night I watched my mom stationed at the kitchen sink, her hands dunked in the sudsy water. Gen X women were raised in a liminal space—it was like someone opened the cage door and we just stared at it. I admired powerful, working women on television, mostly fictional characters, like Murphy Brown, but the women I knew in my own life were working the double shift. I had no real-life model for what an independent working women looked like. Maybe this is why I work part-time, write for free, got divorced, and am never moving in with my boyfriend. It is like the collage of an actual life. I cut out the pictures that worked best for me.

Generation X deserves much more of the credit for the normalization and legalization of marijuana. The boomers are hot boxing their vacation homes and the millennials are easing their stomachaches, sadness, shyness, crippling debt, anxiety, stress, and insomnia so that they can make the world a better place for the rest of us. The massive failure of Nancy Reagan’s Say No to Drugs campaign? That was us. I thought the commercial with the fried egg representing my brain on drugs was just about marijuana. Partly because my dad smoked pot, so that made sense to me. Also, a cooked egg is not that much of a turnoff. My dad never tried to hide his reefer because he was a grown-ass man and it was none of my business what he did. My relationship with my kids is more complex. We have shared governance. They have not voted me out yet because I am the only one with a driver’s license.

Like many Gen Xers, I feel like I am playing the role of grown-up and not doing it all that well, like Tom Hanks in Big or one of the aliens on Third Rock. Our generation was expected to screw up, so we did. We would definitely drain the liquor cabinet if left unsupervised for a night or while mom was in the bathroom. We smoked in the car anyway. We were not actually at the library. We all had fake IDs. Now, I am a college professor with two kids and a home to manage. I have taken care of aging and dying parents. I am active in my community. I take the garbage out to the curb almost every week, yet I still feel like I live in the shadow of people who actually know how to be adults.

As a generation, we are doing quite well and have been deemed the “dark horse” generation. We are entrepreneurs and have the highest percentage of startup founders. Most polls show that Gen Xers identify as being happy and tend to have a good work/life balance. Some people suggest that it is because we were latch-key kids, so we learned how to entertain ourselves and make our own decisions at an early age. The decision I made was to come home from school and watch General Hospital and Donahue. Most Generation Xers were in shitty entry-level jobs when the internet arrived in the average American office, and we were the only ones who knew how to use it. You need help with that dial up? I got you, boss. Want to email someone? Scoot on over. Want to AIM chat with all your exes? I invented that.

Our generation might be best defined by the experience of spending our whole lives watching the rug get ripped out from under us and somehow still standing. Our parents got divorced. We did not know Rock Hudson was gay until we heard he died from AIDS. Our model of the perfect American family was The Cosby Show. We recently watched the Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings and thought, Fuuuuuuuuuck. Yes, me too. We were all at that party. Even if the party was in a different zip code, different demographics, girl or boy, we were all there. It made me reevaluate my entire young adulthood. Every touch, comment, coercion. Maybe this is why we were so into M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Generation Xers know how to adapt. When I graduated from high school we did not have a computer at our house. I did not have a mobile phone. I did not personally know anyone who identified as gay. Marlboro Lights were about two bucks. Bill Clinton was serving his first year as President. The twin towers were still standing. OJ Simpson had not murdered any people as far as we knew. Maybe that is why we are less vocal than the millennials; we are just going to order another round and try not to implode. We can out drink all of you. We are here, like the middle kid sitting on the hump, shielding the oldest and the youngest from each other as they reach across—he is touching me! I was going to end with that we will bite both your fucking fingers off, but we all know that is not true. We will ease the situation by making you both laugh. A perfectly timed fart will do it. Or singing lines from Rockstar by Nickelback pretending that we like it in an ironic way. I’ll have the quesadilla. 

marcia marcia marcia

 

 

 

 

Misguided

I have a voice and I will raise it now.

A truncated version of this Opinion was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on July 7, 2019.

Earlier this month, the parents of the youngest woman killed at Tallahassee Hot Yoga filed a lawsuit against the owner of the studio and the property owners for failing to provide adequate safety for patrons. I cannot possibly understand the pain that this family feels; therefore, it is incredibly difficult to judge their decisions. In addition, it must be agonizing for a family to experience such a heartbreaking loss without any sense of justice (although that word feels awkward and misplaced here in any circumstance). I would imagine there could be some sense of closure that comes from a family’s day in court, especially if that family is able to see the killer sentenced. In this case the killer even took that right from this grieving family.

This lawsuit, as Betton property spokesperson, Ron Sachs stated, is misguided. However, I do not think that we should mistake that reality with the suggestion that the gunman is the only one who bears responsibility for this tragedy.

The shooter purchased the gun he used to kill two innocent women in July of 2018. He purchased the gun at Central Florida Pawn in Orange City, not in some back alley. This is after arrests in 2012, 2014 and 2016 that all involved sexual misconduct towards women and also after being discharged from the Army in 2010 for inappropriate conduct with female soldiers. His arrests lead to no real consequences even though one of the incidents when he grabbed a woman’s butt was caught on video, playing out exactly as she described.

Not only was this man able to legally purchase a gun, he was hired by Leon County Schools in 2015 and by Volusia County Schools in 2017— after the discharge and a history of arrests.

He made his hatred for women public online and also described his interest in violence as a form of revenge. In 2018, a woman reported him to the FBI for the threatening content of his website and the FBI determined the tip to be “non-actionable”.

This man was a known threat to women. The shooting at the yoga studio was more aligned with murders that stem from domestic violence than with other mass shootings. He was motivated by hatred of, and powerlessness to, women. Instead of focusing his anger towards one woman, he held an entire gender accountable. Although he did not have a connection to these particular women, he had a history of threatening all women.

The federal government will put individuals on a no-fly list, deeming them dangerous to Americans for often unspecified reasons based on previous actions, public comments, suspicious travel and arrests. American citizens have a 1 in 45,808 chance of being killed by terrorism. We are more likely to be killed by an animal attack, a heatwave, a bicycle accident. Americans have a 1 in 358 chance of death from assault with a gun.

A man can threaten women physically, verbally, and publicly and still be able to legally buy a gun. He is still able to be hired to work in our schools, alone in a classroom with our children. Our no-fly list involves a coordinated effort between the federal government and state and local agencies to oversee and protect citizens. Why are we so afraid to be proactive and standardize practices to keep citizens safe against a much more perceivable threat?

If we deny all of the ways that could actually make our country safer and suggest instead that all businesses should be required to be prepared for the event of mass murder, then we have succumbed to the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” mentality.

Before the filing of this civil lawsuit, I did not speak publicly about guns or violence against women regarding this case. I mourned with my community, but I have a voice and I will raise it now. I do not want to see the owner of the studio further victimized. A lack of safe exits was not what caused this tragedy. This violent crime, by a disturbed man, was aided by a culture that repeatedly misses the mark on protecting women and refuses to hinder profits from gun sales.

Let Them Have Guns!

I had never considered giving our teachers guns because that seems a little North Korea-ish and also goes against everything we should have learned from Matilda, but this week it keeps coming up on my news feeds. Even the president mentioned it. Trump suggested that we could give teachers guns and also give them a little bit of a bonus for being armed, which would be “practically for free”, acknowledging that we pay teachers so little that a bonus on teacher pay standards is barely even noticeable in any type of realistic budget.

Anyone who thinks administrators want their teachers to have guns has no clue how the education system in this country actually works. Recently, there was a video circulating where an unarmed teacher was escorted out and handcuffed for questioning why the superintendent’s new contract included a $30,000 a year raise when teachers and other staff were not receiving raises. I am guessing that particular superintendent is not going to vote for arming his teachers. He doesn’t even want his teachers armed with a voice.

Teachers have been undervalued in both respect and compensation basically since teachers, so when I make the argument that teachers should not, under any circumstance, be armed, maybe I am being hasty. Teachers are amazing at multitasking, and I embrace the idea of considering our teachers as heroes, but imagining a teacher as she diagrams sentences on the board, with dry erase markers she bought with her own money, pulling a John Wayne as a troubled and maniacal killer bursts into the room is a bit of a stretch. For starters, the idea that the teacher is going to shoot someone who is most likely a current or former student, seems problematic. For ending the conversation entirely, it might be important to consider the liability issues.

I don’t think teachers should be armed in order to serve as low cost security guards, but perhaps since we keep suggesting it to them, teachers might be interested in having guns and taking advantage of their second amendment right. If any group of citizens in America has the need and the capacity to form a well-regulated militia, it is our teachers. What kind of group could emerge in our society that would have the motivation and capacity to join together and stand up in arms against tyranny? It would have to be a group of people who are not only dissatisfied with their current conditions, underpaid and over stressed, but also highly organized, educated and energetic.

Creating an ad hoc army would not be easy; it would require the type of people who are able to get twenty children who are ordinarily unable to sit still long enough to eat four chicken nuggets to sit at attention for eight hours. It would take the kind of people who can raise their hands like Moses and get a table of first graders to stand up in the lunchroom, gather all their dishes and trash, and exit out of the room single file. It would be people who can get our most unruly citizens to march in a straight line and then get them to fall silent with the simple motion of an index finger to the lips.

A citizen militia will be low on resources, so it will require the kind of people who know how to get by with almost no budget and are willing to put up their own money for the cause, people who have been taking no for an answer for decades and continue to show up, not for money but because they believe what they are doing each day makes our country a better place.  It will require people who know history and how to print legibly. It will definitely require custom t-shirts.

My point here is that maybe everything deserves at least minimal consideration. When I hear people talking about arming the teachers, my first thought is that it is an asinine idea and is an attempt to sidestep any real solution to America’s gun problem. But who am I to deny citizens their right to secure a free state? For some people, maybe that means having employers that pay for their pens—and not that Bic Ballpoint bullshit. Real pens with ink. Maybe it means demanding equitable pay and a reasonable level of value placed on doing a job that is vital to America’s future.

 

Dating Across Party Lines

In the spring of 2017, I went on a date with someone I met online. It was Bumble, the supposedly feminist dating app, which is different because men can’t message a woman unless she messages him first, so basically women are stuck with more of the work. I have been on many online dates since my divorce four years ago, and this one didn’t necessarily start out any different, but we had chemistry, and I was fairly confident we would see each other again. I wasn’t sure what would happen beyond that because we were somewhat different. We didn’t talk about it, but there were signs. I had recently marched in Washington, D.C. in protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump, and he drove a big white truck with a YETI sticker on the bumper.

If we met a few years ago, I may not have gone out with him again. I might have crafted a T-chart, with things like “wears cowboy boots” on one side and “makes me happy” on the other, as if those were equivalent in importance. Luckily, I had experience dating post-divorce and after many break ups and some good therapy sessions I learned that I should not plan my entire future with, or without, someone on the first date. Maybe instead I should just have fun and see what happens, which feels like driving down a dark, canopy road with no headlights. As someone who prefers to plan ahead, I want my dating endeavors to be like doing taxes with Turbotax, “You are now 75% done!”

With this particular person, I climbed up into his front seat and just went along for the ride. During the first several weeks, I was having too much fun to perform any kind of assessment, and I never felt insecure enough to freak out because he was different than most of the other guys I had dated, meaning that he was not a jerk, married, or dead inside. We did not discuss our political opinions at the beginning, and sometimes that was a bit of a cloud, leaving me wondering if it would eventually rain on our love parade.

As a writer, who writes about my personal life and opinions, it is difficult to keep my ideologies out of the public sphere. I am one quick Google search away from being an open book. One night leaned up against a railing staring at the Gulf of Mexico, we bridged the subject. He said he did not want to be with someone who was his mirror image. I agreed. I work with a radical feminist group in Tallahassee, and when I first mentioned that I was going to a meeting, I called it “a women’s group” as if we were gathering to talk about the new edition of our local cookbook and not working to topple the patriarchy. He was not fooled and told me he was proud that I fight for what I believe. With that moment, I metaphorically inched a little closer to him in the cab of his truck.

Now, I have space in a closet he cleared out for me at his house. He moved some suits that he never wears and a few jackets to make room, but left a half-dozen shotguns. Every time I slide open the closet door, I see them lined up between my row of strappy sandals and the ruffled hems of my sundresses. They are a reminder that life is most interesting when it offers up the unexpected. We do not often talk about politics when we are together. That is why I have a Twitter account. When an issue does come up, I am usually able to at least understand why he would feel that way, unless he mentions something about emails. What I have realized is that I love him more than I love being right, and I am not sure I could have felt that way in a relationship before my 40th decade. We probably won’t ever celebrate 50 years together, unless both of us make some serious lifestyle changes, like cryogenics, but I am thankful every day that I did not meet him a moment sooner.

 

Gaslight

bergman

The 1944 film Gaslight tells the story of a young woman named Paula (played beautifully by Ingrid Bergman) who is deceived by her new husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) into believing she is crazy. His manipulation starts small. He tells her that she has these little flaws and then makes them true through sleight of hand. He says, “You know you are inclined to lose things, Paula.”

“I didn’t realize that,” she responds because she has not been known to lose things and then he gives her a broach and when she loses it she thinks, oh shit maybe I do lose things! Of course, she didn’t lose it. He hid it from her because he is an evil murderer, but Paula does not realize this and the cycle continually repeats itself until she questions everything she understands about her own mind.

Gregory wants control and keeping someone in a state of heightened nerves is a great way to leverage power. He also wants money. He murdered Paula’s aunt and then tricked Paula into moving back into the house where the murder happened—a home conveniently owned solely by Paula until they married—so that he can spend his nights rummaging around in the attic looking for the family jewels because he doesn’t have any. He eventually finds them sewn into a gown, and I found this scene amusing and willed him through the screen, Gregory, please put on the dress. Sadly, he doesn’t put on the dress but he does grab the jewels and rub them around in his greedy little hands.

Meanwhile, Paula is held captive in her own house, like the madwoman in the attic or the young wife with her yellow wallpaper or modern day moms stuck cleaning with a cartoon bald man. Gregory tells her she is not well enough to go out and then fabricates events that make her believe he is right. What is most interesting about Paula is that she is not weak. Perhaps that is why he must go to such deceptive measures. He cannot control her transparently.

In the end with the help of a tall, handsome inspector from Scotland Yard, Paula realizes that she is being tricked. Each night Gregory leaves the house and walks to the back alley into an abandoned flat and climbs through a skylight into the attic. I like that the story involves him scurrying like a rat. There is no dignity in greed. When he gets to the attic he turns on the lights, thus using some of the home’s gas and causing the lights in the main house to dim. Paula notes that shortly after he leaves the lights dim and shortly before he returns, they brighten. She knows this change is real and that factor serves as a lighthouse to her sanity.

“You know who’s up there.”

She knows. Because she is not actually crazy. He distorted her reality. He controlled information. He made statements and then through manipulation made them come true. It is how most card tricks are done (spoiler alert!) He also places her in a spiral of fear and as her insecurity about the reliability of her own mind increases she must rely on Gregory to act as her compass. This gives him even more opportunity to manipulate her environment.

I was interested in this film to get a better understanding of the term gaslighting to condemn what Trump is doing by continually denouncing the legitimacy of the media. He is attempting to distort reality by telling the American people that we cannot trust the information we are receiving. And perhaps it started small, the same way Gregory started by simply telling Paula that she was forgetful, and now it has grown into daily poorly written reports and tweets that suggest the information we receive is fake. It is a tactic used to try to unsettle the public trust and make us question what we should believe.

Distorting someone’s perception of reality can be done by inserting a single, subtle word that invokes doubt, like “You look nice today,” which usually leaves me questioning what kind of trash heap I have looked like every other day. Or maybe something like, “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s entire slogan was a manipulation. He used two unstated assumptions. We don’t even have to get into this country’s history of oppression and discuss timelines of exactly which horrifying “again” he was aiming for, the point was that by accepting the slogan, followers had to swallow the ideas that America is not currently great and that there was a time in our history when things were better. Relying on assumptions is a bad magic trick.

Trump said the media can’t be trusted throughout his campaign because as any gaslighter knows, the seed must be planted early and often. In May of 2016 Trump told Sean Hannity that Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and current owner of The Washington Post was unfairly attacking him and using the prominent news source “as a toy” (interesting choice of words, is it all just a game?) Trump suggested that Bezos, who as owner must obviously have complete control of all reportage, did not want Trump in the White House because of his “huge anti-trust problem.”

Since his first day in office the constant lambasting of any news source that does not report the facts he wants to hear is an attempt to make the American people question what we know is real. All negative news is fake news! Coincidentally, that is what I tell anyone who has ever spoken to my ex-husband. Trump is like a controlling spouse, and unlike most controlling spouses who must go it alone Trump has a posse, like his Press Bitch, Sean Spicer, and his rotisserie chicken, Kellyanne Conway, who stand up to corroborate all his attempts at misdirection.

Trump uses Twitter as a means of supporting his own fabrications. Lies! It is as if he thinks that if he tweets it, then it must be true. Sadly, I am not sure Trump is as good at gaslighting as Gregory. He does not have the restraint. His constant tweeting of easily verifiable misrepresentations keeps the majority of the public’s sanity in check. And maybe it is his overuse of exclamation points, but I always picture his tweeting persona as a giant orange New Year’s baby with his thumbs pounding on the keys in tantrum.

Usually what a gaslighter wants is control. Trump wants fame, fortune, and to be right. His grand wizard Steve Bannon wants control and to be alt-right. Under Bannon’s leadership Brietbart News has become an active participant in glaslighting America through its outrageous commentary meant to fracture and leave Americans in a state of heightened fear. Breitbart uses media as instigation. By spinning stories in certain ways, the site enrages the public, for example a search of “black on black crime” on the Breitbart site retrieves five pages of articles with 20 stories on each page. That is 100 articles. The sensationalizing of these stories seeks to demonstrate that black citizens are inherently violent and therefore any disenfranchisement is due to their own behavior and not a product of systemic racial inequality. These stories serve as a tool of the oppressor and promote othering. Breitbart is bad fucking news and now we have let its leader scurry into the White House.

Breitbart has even politicized the Super Bowl, suggesting that the Patriots comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons was like election night all over again. There is an actual story that compares Brady and his football sorcery to Trump’s “win” on election night. They are both backed by evil slobs, so I can see that angle. Even the links to ads on Breitbart of other things “You Might Like” are charged, like the picture of Obama with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and the caption “Obama’s IQ will shock you!” which I felt compelled to click on but never found Obama’s IQ or Donald Trump’s, although I did learn that Hillary Clinton has the same estimated IQ as Kesha and both, of course, have higher IQs than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It is important to remember that before gaslighting became a verb it was not the dimming and brightening of the lights that incited the manipulation. In the original story, the lights are what help Paula keep reality in check. They are the clue that bring her back to her own sanity. Those of us who can clearly see what these puppeteers are trying to do to the American people, that they are attempting to keep people in a state of fear and to promote their own corrupt agendas through distortion and sleight of hand, must stand firmly as the lighthouse that can help this country and all her people come back to sanity.