dear mr. trump: it’s not what you did, it’s how you did it

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Protests at Los Angeles International Airport, Sunday January 29

Ever hear that phrase, It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it? I got that a lot growing up. I think I had a problem with tone (as in, I only had one, and it was what we call, “snotty”). Or have you ever seen that State Farm commercial about two ladies talking about a couch one just had to have, and then seeing two thieves in her house saying the exact same thing about the couch, only they’re talking about stealing it?

Who you are on the inside, often gives a lot of meaning to your words, the intent of your actions on the outside. In which case, Trump is sort of screwed. (Which also makes me think of another phrase: You made your bed, and you’ll have to lie in it. You led quite the campaign, sir.)

You can try to justify the executive order to restrict travel from the chosen predominantly Muslim countries if it makes you feel better about your chosen president and the country you live in. But you can’t deny his desire for, “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Because, I mean, I can replay it for you if I must. Trump loves an audience.

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This is what America looks like, DIA. Photo Cred: Jeff Short

You can say, but, but Obama did it! (not exactly). But if you still insist that it’s the same thing, why didn’t these widespread airports protests happen back then? Because we liked our president? I mean, I didn’t even vote for Obama second term. That’s right folks, I also vote Republican, and damn, Mitt Romney lookin’ reeeeal good right ’bout now. You too, McCain, you too. Single tear emoji. The reaction wasn’t the same, because it’s not the same thing. Two decent comparisons worth reading: FactCheck.org and Snopes

You can pretend that detaining a seven-year-old child at an airport for hours, keeping him from his mother is a great example of extreme vetting (it’s not). You can pretend that legal permanent U.S. residents weren’t detained at airports (they were). You can pretend that the President of the United States of America mocking someone’s emotions is a presidential thing to do (um, no, not even if they are fake). You don’t get to mock people, Mr. President. This isn’t the Apprentice. Get with the program, or get out (see what I did there?)

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I was trying to secretly get his photo, but he caught me and smiled. I said I liked his sign. He said thanks, and held up his hand, like a high-five, but he squeezed my hand in a way that felt more personal than any touch I’ve felt in a long time.

You can believe Trump when he says, “This is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion (it is when you give preference to Christian refugees) – this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” But if you believe him, you should ask yourself why certain countries, you know, like Saudi Arabia, weren’t on that list. I mean, that’s where the 9/11 attackers came from…right? Wasn’t that like, the ultimate attack on America? Maybe it’s just a coincidence he has business ties to the “scary” countries not on the ban list? And if it’s because he just “used those same countries Obama listed,” somebody he thought was weak on terrorism, we should note 2017 is not the same as 2011 and as President it’s time to do some of your own legwork. Not to mention, none of the countries on the ban list have killed any American on U.S soil?  But hey man, thanks for keeping me safe here in America. Not totally convinced you helped my safety in traveling anywhere outside of the States, but fuck it, America first, amiright? Who gives a shit about learning other cultures, experiencing other lands, understanding there’s more than just us in this great big world? USA! USA! (For the record, I will continue to travel abroad, maybe even more intensely, if only to make sure everyone knows, Trump is NOT America.)

You can even believe Trump when he blames an airline glitch for the disorder at international airports across the country. But for the past decade, I’ve spend almost two full days a week hanging out in airports or up in the air. I’ve been victim of countless “airline glitches,” just survived another United one two weeks ago. Which is why I feel qualified to tell you what I witnessed in LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal on Sunday was NOT the result of an airline glitch. It was a large organized group of people, from all races and religions, standing up for their Muslim brothers and sisters in unity. It was the group of attorneys, ready to take cases, provide counsel for any person who needed it. The disorder and fear came from real people, even those legal with permission to be in America, being told, “Uh, hey, yeah, we don’t know why exactly, but you aren’t welcome here…anymore. As of like, a few hours ago…soooo…BRB.” Also, I can’t remember the last time police in riot gear showed up for an airline glitch. But shoot, maybe I’m the one not paying attention.

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We’re standing outside LAX. Behind the “No Humans Are Illegal” is a group of the police in riot gear.

But let’s put aside this thing he did for a second. And let’s talk about how he did it.

If we can agree on anything: this executive order wasn’t well executed. People were confused, man. Airport officials were confused. Families were confused. Government officials were confused. Pretty much EVERYONE was like, “Umm, sooooo, yeah…I feel like I should know this…and this might sound stupid…but like, what is happening again?”

There was absolutely no evidence that something like this needed to be done quickly. We were under no immediate threat. GOP lawmakers said their offices had no hand in drafting the order and received no briefings from the White House on how it should work. Even Newt Gingrich conceded that coordination could have been better. It did not appear to have gone through the Department of Justice or any of the people who actually know a thing or two about constitutional law, or you know, government. It didn’t appear to go through anyone really, aside from Trump’s inner circle of friends. Even the Defense Secretary and Homeland Security Secretary claim to have not been aware of the details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officers were left in the dark. Basically, everyone knows it could have been done better. Like…way, way better.

In other words, some pretty key folks weren’t abreast of the situation. (Yes, I love using the word abreast. I picture informed chickens with boobs and it makes me laugh. And I seriously need to laugh right now.) Meanwhile, Trump is knighting Bannon, as the newest member of the National Security Council’s principals committee and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Oh goodie. As a reminder of Steve Bannon’s credentials: former naval officer, former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories and is a platform for the alt-right movement, which espouses white nationalism. Oh man, if that don’t make me feel secure, I don’t know what will.

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We’re all immigrants here.

It’s times like these I need to remind myself, we still have the other government branches!! (for now) (don’t we?) (oh shit). As a reminder of why we have branches, please read this excerpt from my absolute favorite political website, Congress For Kids:

Delegates at the Constitutional Convention also wanted to divide power within the federal government. They did not want these powers to be controlled by just one man or one group. The delegates were afraid that if a small group received too much power, the United States would wind up under the rule of another dictator or tyrant. (gulp)

To avoid the risk of dictatorship or tyranny, the group divided the new government into three parts, or branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Imagine a triangle. At the top is the Executive Branch. The two bottom corners are the Judicial Branch and the Legislative Branch – also called Congress. Each part of the government is connected to the other. Each has its own responsibilities and powers. A system of checks and balances prevents one branch from gaining too much power.

The Muslim ban/restriction/whateverwordyoufindappropriate did not scare me. It wasn’t the only reason I was out there protesting at LAX. Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do, and I never doubted him for a minute. I expected this. It’s not so much what he is doing, but how he’s doing it, that is concerning. Without important and necessary council. Without any input. Without a second thought (and if he knows what he is doing, even more terrifying). But, Mr. Trump, you’re President now. Before signing pieces of paper, you actually have to think about what your signature means, hint: it’s not for adoring fans. You have to look ahead, around all of the corners. I know it’s hard, I spend my life paralyzed by decisions because I look so far forward, I drive myself crazy.

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This land was made for you and me.

You can tell me not to spread hysteria, and give him a chance, but how many chances must we give him? He’s exactly who he said he was. Trump voters reassured me again and again, “Don’t be dramatic, he’s just saying that to get elected. He’s not really going to do it.” Well folks, he’s really doing it. Banning people he perceives as terrorists, building walls, threatening the free press, jeopardizing our national parks, forgetting science is a real thing, ALTERNATIVE FACTS!?!, using his trademark “You’re fired!” to absolutely anyone who disagrees with him, ignoring the cries of the majority of America (please don’t tell me you still think he won the popular vote) and simply doing whatever the heck he wants. His administration doesn’t regret not mentioning Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day originally established specifically because so many countries (Russia, Iran, Poland) choose not to acknowledge the specific plight of the Jews during the Holocaust, because ALL LIVES MATTER? Has he forgotten Hitler was specifically trying to exterminate the Jewish people? Or does he consider history fake news too?  Tell me, when is it appropriate to be concerned?

#NotMyPresident, is not a cute hashtag people are using to resist the election results. He is, very literally, pretending we (the new forgotten America?) do not exist. Refusing to acknowledge the Women’s Marches across the world, for what they were. Blaming airport chaos on anything but a direct result of his actions. Calling all news fake news if it doesn’t report him in a positive light. Telling people on the White House staff the should quit if they disagree. Yeah, I’ll acknowledge him as my President as soon as he acknowledges me as his constituent.

This thing he did, it sucks. And we’re slowly working through it. And it may have (debatable) minimal consequences for me or for many of you, but please know, some things you can’t just work through after the chaos dies down. You can’t always rebuild bridges burned, especially after you’ve sold the land. You can’t rebuild mountains, put ice back on the glaciers. You can’t un-blow up countries, take back that nuclear missile fired, or bring dead people back to life. Trump signed that order because he wanted to, and that’s it. Nobody else was really involved. Acting like Joffrey Lannister, he pointed at something to destroy, and giggled as he watched it fall. He could give two shits about what happened next, because damn, look at all these photographers taking my photo. Don’t my John Hancock look nice here on this important page?

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Protestors in Denver International Airport. Photo cred: Jeff Short

Also, I’ll just leave this right here:

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Check, check, check, check, CHECK, CHECK, oh shit, CHECK, CHECK, WTF, AHHHHHH!!!

to the women who didn’t march

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Women’s March on Madison, Jan 21 2017

Imagine being home alone in the middle of the night, waking up to a loud thunk. Someone is in your house. You hear footsteps. They stop. They come closer. Close enough you can hear heavy breathing. You roll off and under the bed, fumbling with your phone. Your chest tightens. You can’t breathe. You dial 911. The operator answers. “911, what’s your emergency?” You tell her there is a stranger in your house and you feel you are in danger. After the operator hears your story, she says, “Okay ma’am. See, the thing is, I don’t feel threatened, so I am going to have to ask you to call back when there’s a real emergency. Like one that affects me.” Click.

That’s sort of how I feel about some of the responses floating around about the Women’s Marches this past weekend.

“I am a woman and I didn’t march because…
I do not feel threatened
I do not feel my voice is “not heard”
I do not feel I am not provided opportunities
I do not feel I don’t have control of my body or choices
I do not feel I am “not respected or undermined”**

To the women who feel this way, I think that is fantastic. You really don’t know how lucky you are. It must be nice to have no fears, to see the world as a safe place, to not have a single thing holding you back from everything you want. To know that you can take care of yourself, no matter what the world throws at you. I imagine it’s the most freeing feeling in the world. You are no doubt, a strong woman. I respect you. But I ask you, just for a minute, to consider those who don’t feel that way. To consider those who didn’t have the same opportunities you had, who aren’t equipped with the same skills to handle life as you are. Who had different experiences, who walk a different path, down a different street in a different neighborhood. Us women, we’re not all the same.

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One strong woman, and one very strong little lady. We don’t march out of weakness. We march because we’re stronger together.

To the women who did not march because you do not feel disrespected or undermined, I used to be you. I remember defiantly arguing with a female co-worker about how I don’t feel I am treated less than a man. I’m not owed any more than what I work my ass off for. I surrounded myself with respectful male friends, could always hold my own (or more) when around them. I considered myself a strong, independent, intelligent, woman (still do) and somewhat of a badass. Then I woke up one night with a total stranger’s hand up my vagina and I was like, wait a minute, I’m not sure this is what respect is supposed to feel like. And now we have a President that thinks that’s okay, and we’re debating whether it’s locker room talk or not. I don’t give a shit what kind of talk it was. If he had any respect for women, that debate wouldn’t be necessary. You can’t debate the meaning of words unspoken.

And to the women who say quit whining and speak on the real injustices that affect women in foreign countries that do not have that opportunity or means to have their voices heard.**

Haven’t you heard? We ARE those foreign countries. We’re the great big melting pot. Where else do you think our nation came from? Many American women have been there, and they ain’t going back. Why do you think millions of women from all over the world stood up and marched in solidarity with us? This was our collective voice, speaking out, speaking to each to other, lone wolves howling into the night, letting each other know we’re out there, and we will not be silenced. America is a strong country, Americans are strong people, we help pave the way. Women all over the globe are watching us, counting on us. I was marching for them, not just myself. Because even if I do not feel threatened, I know others do. And like most things in life, this is not just about me.

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I carried this little lady on my shoulders the entire march up to the capitol, until near the end she said she wanted to walk. She was probably just tired of me squeezing onto her legs so tight, but it was so damn symbolic in my head, and I was like yesssssss…..go! March on! You are ready!

To the women who say they did not march because:**

I can make my own choices: But what if that choice is to marry another woman? A few years ago, I actually couldn’t make that choice, my own choice. I marched for that right too.

I can speak and be heard: But what if that voice is saying, I am a boy trapped in a girl’s body? Can that voice be heard? Will you listen?

I can vote: Yeah…now. But how do you think you got that right? Maybe you were born with it, but other women were not. They had to march, they had to fight to give YOU that right. That did that for YOU.

I can work if I want: That’s really great, but some of us don’t have that choice. We have to work to eat, to support our families. And what if we want to be paid the same amount for doing the same job as a man? What if you were still told your place was barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Somebody paved your way, they gave you that choice to work, you know, if you want.

I control my body: Guuurrrrl, me too. And since I have control over my body and I can make my own choices (what a concept!), I can choose to get an abortion. Because, you know, my body, my choice.

Do you see now? If, like you, I actually could make my own choices and control my own body, maybe I wouldn’t be out here marching in these streets either. These are freedoms you take for granted because your choices are different choices than mine; what I do with my body may not be what you choose to do with your body. But if you have the right to control your body, speak and make your voice heard, make your own choices…tell me, why can’t I have those same rights?

Because all of these freedoms that you say you have, I feel are threatened. People I love are speaking but no one listens, because you don’t like what they are saying. I can’t make my own choices, because you don’t like what my choices are. I can’t control my body because you don’t approve of what I want to do with it.

Funny how that works.

Just kidding. That’s not funny at all.

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So proud of my city, Madison, Wisconsin. While the largest cities had the largest turnouts, numbers show it was the second largest march outside of D.C. when looked at as a proportion of population.

**These words are taken from something Judge Jeanine Pirro allegedly posted. You never can be too sure these days.

the man in the mirror

Santa Barbara, California
Beach reflection #1 Santa Barbara, California

Have you ever had one of those days where you see yourself reflected in everything? Not in a narcissistic way, but more in a way you can understand, relate to, because of who you are now, or who you once were. Like you see pieces of your Sometimes Self in other drivers, your Past Self in passengers waiting to board a plane, Current Self in patrons in a bar, little whispers of yourself all around you. Sometimes the reflections bring back fond memories of beautiful moments, other times you cringe at the thoughts that cross your mind, slightly horrified of the person you used to be. The worst is when the reflection resembles a realization of yourself today, and it’s one you’re not that thrilled to be seeing. Like walking into one of those fun houses where all of the images the mirrors throw back at you are distorted and weird and not that fun at all, but that person you see is definitely you, because no one else is around (unless you’re in a budget horror movie…then someone else is definitely around).

I kicked off 2017 with one of those not-so-fun fun house Reflections.

After a rather uneventful New Year’s Evening, I joined the Dinndorfs at Shamrock, a local gay establishment with some excellent dining opportunities. The food is delicious and the drinks will get you blackout drunk before you know it. It’s the kind of place you come for brunch and stay for dinner, the kind of place that basically stapled my 20s together. When the Dinndorfs voyaged home like responsible parents to take care of their children, I decided to stick around and ride the New Year’s wave, see where the day took me.

Holidazzle Fireworks, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Holidazzle Firework reflection, Minneapolis, Minnesota

As a woman, there’s a certain freedom that comes with conversing with strangers in a predominately male gay bar, the kind that’s void of all sexual tension, expectation, desire or need. It’s a freedom I’ve regularly immersed myself in since I discovered it existed, a dynamic I respect and cherish. I chatted with a gentleman who had been married to a woman for 35 years. He looked 40 but admitted he was in his 60s. Gay looked real good on him. I met a fun couple who owned a funky little shop near my house. I talked extensively to another man with an aunt on Nantucket, which inspired me to reach out to my friends on Nantucket (because who doesn’t have friends who live on Nantucket?) Here’s to you, Tim and Santi! Then my long-lost friend Scott waltzed into the bar, resulting in (a few too many) celebratory drinks (shots?). Twenty-seventeen was feeling pretty good.

I don’t know exactly when it all went wrong. I don’t know if my brain started processing information differently, or my ears began picking up things they had previously just left on the ground, but as the day progressed, I became hyper-aware of the negative language used to label other people, to describe current situations, to predict life in 2017. My new year. Your new year. Our new year. 

And I strongly felt the need to slow everybody’s roll.

As in, I literally put both my hands up in the stop position, and said whoa, whoa, whoa, pushing my hands forward with every whoa. Sort of like how I dance.

Beach hiking, California
Sunbeam reflection, California

Okay. I get it. I do. I have so, so many of the same thoughts and feelings and convictions as you do. But what you put out into this world is a direct reflection of who you are. Words matter. What you say matters. How you behave matters. And if you think of yourself as a good person and wish others to see you as a good person, you actually have to be a good person. It sounds simple and it shouldn’t have to be something that is said, yet, in those afternoon hours at the Shamrock, I slowly began to hear people all around me talking passionately about what they believe in, how love is love and how much better they are because they accept all people, yet in the very next sentence, hate and judgement for everyone with a different viewpoint tumbled effortlessly out of their mouths.

In my personal pump-me-up anthem (okay, I have three), the late, great Michael Jackson wisely notes, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change, you gotta get it right while you got the time, cause when you close your heart, then you close your mind,” followed by a bunch of fist-pumping, car-dancing, yell-singing (at least that’s what I follow it with). Declaring your awesomeness while simultaneously putting down everyone who doesn’t think like you, doesn’t see the world like you do, can’t be the best way to make the world a better place; your world maybe, but not the world.

Sun reflections, Pismo Beach, California
Sunset reflections, Pismo Beach, California

I learned a valuable lesson from one of my new friends, who I unfortunately don’t think would consider our friendship mutual. We were having a semi-decent conversation (I am always a bit disappointed when “more money” is declared the biggest goal for any year, especially when you seem to have enough money to waste away all day at the Sham, and especially when the reason you want more money is to buy more things) when his words turned a bit harsh, super negative and blanket statementy, and just a giant bit judgmental about the election aftermath. I found myself suprisingly offended by his language, protective of the very real but absent targets of his speech, those not able to speak up for themselves.

So I asked him if he:

  1. Personally knew anyone who voted opposite of him (no)
  2. Ever tried to understand where the other side was coming from (no)
  3. Intended to have a real conversation with those with opposing thoughts (def no)

He looked at me like I was crazy, “Um, No. I don’t have to. They are all horrible people, who are full of absolute hate.”

This is where I whoa, whoa whoa’ed my hands. Because, as everyone in a family knows (I mean, those yo’ mama jokes are only funny when it ain’t yo’ mama they’re talking about), I can talk shit about my family, but excuse me, what’s that you just said?

I know he wasn’t specifically talking about my family, but at the same time, that’s exactly what he was doing. When you lump millions of people together, judge them based on one collective action without knowing anything about them, you also strip an entire group of people of their individuality, of their unique traits that make them human, of their potential to be anything else. And that’s not cool.

Beach reflections, California
Beach reflections #2, California

Not all people who voted Republican are horrible and full of hate; not all people who voted Democrat are angels full of love. We just see the world in a different way. We have different priorities, different #1’s on our lists of what needs to get done today / in the world ever. Just because my priority #1 is your priority #4, doesn’t automatically make you the devil who wants to eat my soul.

And so many of us fall somewhere in-between. We just go about our lives without those priority lists and can’t quite figure out what’s really going on out there, can’t quite grasp why everyone can’t just live their lives by extending the same level of decency we’ve been granted, aka, the Golden Rule (that’s the category I used to fall into. I didn’t fall too far out of it).

And as I listened to this boy/kid/man/whatever you call someone who has a freakishly higher ratio of opinions than life experience lived, tell me that he was particularly affected by this election as a gay Arabic man, I all of a sudden felt like I was transported to the other side (wherever that is). I listened to him in awe, someone technically from my own “side” who didn’t know a thing about me, and didn’t feel like he had to, to throw, “Well, you’re just a straight white woman,” in my face as an insult. And I listened to him tell me how I didn’t know anything. How I had no idea what it was like.

Man. Is this what I sounded like to people on the other side? Is this really the message we are sending? He didn’t know me, yet he felt perfectly qualified to tell me exactly who I was. Would it be better if I were a gay white woman? No? A gay black woman?  A black straight Arabic man with two dads? Please, tell me, exactly which combination gives me the ability to have empathy? Is it gay, 23 year-old Arabic man, born in Madison, WI, admittedly privileged and lucky, who has personally never suffered any discrimination, hate crimes, or financial setbacks?

Belittling someone else’s plight while magnifying your own is never a good look. You don’t get to do that. No matter how much you feel slighted, you don’t get to do that. That makes you no better than them, and makes “us” a hell of lot worse.

Stairway to a better world, maybe.
Stairway to a better world, maybe.

And I saw. I saw how we could be seen, how they could easily see us on a pedestal talking about how the world should be, yet emulating something entirely different. Like a morbidly obese life coach preaching how everyone else should be on a diet while he continues to eat deep-fried pizza and ice cream for every meal.

And yes, one could argue that the Shamrock is a safe place to talk like that, a place you go where everybody knows your name, basically the gay version of Cheers. But these echo chambers are sort of the problem. If we all just keep hiding out in dark holes, talking about how the world has let us down, how will the world ever hear us? How can we fix what’s broken out there, from all the way in here?

I’m totally for marching to the beat of a different drum, but sometimes that drum just becomes pounding without rhythm, noise without harmony. If you just keep beating on it without checking in on the world around you, it’s easy to lose sight of the message you started marching for in the first place. Sometimes, if you really want to make beautiful music, you gotta join the band (or at least find a mandolin), or else risk sounding like a pretentious asshole who has no idea how terrible he is at the drums.

We are born and none of us have a choice in the matter. You are not better or worse because you are a certain combination of adjectives. You don’t deserve more or less because you are a certain combination of adjectives. The world doesn’t owe one tiny baby more than any other tiny baby. You are just you. Like I am just me. Using adjectives people are born into (straight, white, gay, black, Muslim, Mexican, woman) as insults instead of words to describe their place in this world, isn’t the path I plan on taking to make this world a better place. My FunHouse experience was necessary. And MJ was right; no message could have been any clearer.

We need to stop treating each other like the monster before the real monster eats us all.

(Now go to the nearest image reflector, turn up Man in the Mirror and loud as it goes, and yell-sing to yourself until you mean it.)

Reflections from a Marriott. It's hard to see the rest of the world when you keep the curtain closed. Just saying'.
Reflections from a Marriott. It’s hard to see the rest of the world when you keep the curtain closed. Just sayin’.

may your 2017 faucet flow freely

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Meet Elliot and Elsa

I have two cats. Sometimes (often) I despise them. Like when Elsa walks up and down my used-to-be-sleeping body in the middle of the night, her pointy paws digging into the weird parts of my body no one ever touches, and after 15 minutes of body pacing, settles on my neck, her face one centimeter from my face, her long ass whiskers tickling my skin and I just count the seconds until she…yep, there it is, that rough tongue licking my chin, and the only way to avoid it once she’s reached the licking part of the evening is to cover my face with pillows which she then proceeds to sleep on top of, essentially attempting murder by suffocation.

Or when Elliot hops onto the bed or couch or any surface really, and I give him a congratulatory pat (I feel it’s important to celebrate when he makes it anywhere off the floor, I can only imagine what a feat it is to get that giant body airborn) and he happily waddles around, so proud of himself, but I’m overwhelmed by the smell of dried shit stuck on his butt hairs because he forgot to wipe again, and I have to don a plastic glove to clean his cathole.

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Come on, you know you’d clean his cathole too.

But sometimes, I adore them. I especially love how accepting they are when I make an extreme commitment to laziness. I binge watched all five seasons of Girls this past weekend and not once did they look at me with those puppy dog eyes, beg me to go out or whimper for my attention. Cats are like the best stoner friends you’ve ever had, luring you into the folds of the couch, so happy to see you, to be next to you, to share a slice of guilt-free no-judgement lazy pie with you. You’re just going to lay on the couch all day? Cool man, cool, those were my plans too. 

Do I enjoy layering myself with cats before I go to bed? I won’t say no. When Elsa drapes herself across my midsection and Elliot snuggles his massive body hard against my feet in the winter, I’m happier than a tater tot, letting their loving warmth purr me to sleep.

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Master of Cuddle

Over the course of my seemingly never-ending time with them, they’ve taught me at least one valuable life lesson per year. While that’s better than no valuable life lessons per year, I’m still not totally convinced it’s worth the gallons of cat vomit I scrape off the bed, floor, carpet, the pounds of cat poop I shovel out of their plastic toilets, or enduring Elsa’s loud mournful meows in the middle of the night, riddled with anxiety and the general stress of being a cat (I keep telling her, you eat and poop and sleep and then we cuddle. Don’t think about it too much. Contemplating your existence and purpose in this world will drive you insane.)

Last night I came home from a much needed dinner conversation date with my friend Alex, who has been helping Stella get her groove back since 2001, and I walked into my Cat Life Lesson of 2016. And I was just beginning to worry they would teach me nothing this year.

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Christmas Cats

Both of my cats spend an unreasonable amount of time in the bathroom (the human bathroom, not their litter box). And both of my cats love running water. Elliot races into the bathroom after I shower, eager to suck up the last drips from the tub faucet. I’ll wait to push the shower knob down until he gets there, so he can enjoy an extra treat. After work, I’ll often come home to find him sitting in the tub, staring eagerly at the faucet, just waiting. He regularly naps in there, like a hunter in a tree stand, hoping to catch the elusive beast.

He has no idea how the water turns on, he has never tried to turn it on (based on my hours of observation), he just knows that sometimes it’s dripping and it’s a wonderful miracle and he waits and waits for that time to come again. Hoping, wishing, wanting. I catch him all of the time, just staring.

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All day. Every day.

Elsa is a bit different. She decided she wasn’t going to rely on someone else to make the water run. She would learn to make it run herself. She doesn’t wait for things to happen, she makes them happen. So she watched me. She observed. And then she tried. And failed. And tried. And eventually learned how to turn on the sink faucet with some calculated head nudges and body placement. Sometimes she got too much water, sometimes too little. Sometimes the water got too hot, sometimes it was just right. But she always got water.

After too many days of coming home to hot running water, I bound the faucet with a rubber band. She then learned just how far she could stretch it to make the water flow. She learned how hard to she had to push it back until it was no longer tight enough to stop the handle. She learned how to chew it off, knowing it was preventing her from getting what she wanted. I know this because I watch her do all of this, I watched her little kitty brain figure it out, I watched her succeed, again and again.

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Get it, girl.

Of course, she doesn’t quite understand the concept of waste, conservation, or water bills, so I am now forced to close the bathroom door when I leave on work trips, putting an end to both Elliot’s hopeful stares at the tub faucet, waiting for the goodness to flow, and Elsa’s driven spirit to find a way to get what she wants.

Last night I came home to the familiar sound of the sink faucet trickling into the drain. I forgot to shut the bathroom door. I walked upstairs and saw Elsa curled up happily on my bed, belly full of hard-earned water, the sink faucet long ago running hot, and Elliot in the tub, staring at the dry spout, not a drip in sight. Even with water flowing freely two feet away from him, he kept his eye on the tub, bound by expectation of the past, holding out hope for something that would never come, not without outside intervention.

I sat down on the toilet, turned on the tub and sadly watched him blissfully drink in his ignorance, super aware of the Cat Life Lesson of 2016 materializing in my bathroom.

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Pondering life.

2016’s been tough on me, but 2016 isn’t my problem. I am. Because lately I’ve found myself approaching life more like Elliot than Elsa. Fully knowing there are so many good things out there, even knowing how to find them, where they come from, but still putting forth little to no effort to make them happen. I’ve spent most of 2016 just sort of…waiting. Waiting for the next big thing, waiting for things to get better, for something to happen, for time to pass, for that faucet to drip. Not without hope, not totally unhappy, but void of any real motivation, drive and inspiration.

And that makes me sad. Nothing against Elliot, he’s a cat, he can do whatever he wants. He actually exceeds my pet cat expectations. But I don’t want him to be the cat I resemble. I don’t want to sit around, hoping for the best, waiting for my faucet to drip when faucets are running all around me.

I want to make the water happen.

Happy New Year, kitty cats. May your 2017 Faucet, flow freely.

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Smooches.

for all of the dogs, and all those who love them

This is exactly how Usvatanssin Kennel (Finnish for “mist dance”) got it’s name. “When they run in the twilight on cold winter days, the beauty of their synchronized paces is like a dance which flows in the sparkling mist of the powder snow.” One of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced in life. (February 2015)

We lost a lot of great things in 2016: Prince, Bowie, relationships, Muhammad Ali, human decency, Leonard Cohen, Alan Thicke, the meaning of words, Nancy Reagan, America, Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel, foresight, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, forward progress, Merle Haggard.

But two “things” that probably only made a few people’s list, namely, the wonderful volunteers of Usvatanssin Kennel and the beautiful family who runs it: Jahken and Ivan.

Jahken left us this spring and Ivan, just a few days ago. Is it silly to mourn the lives of dogs you lived with for just a few months, years ago, from halfway across the world? I don’t know, but my heart hurts just the same. Ivan hit me particularly hard, as I am sure his death hit a lot volunteers (and the Näsi family) particularly hard.

He was one of the first dogs my hand touched after I stepped off the bus in Tiainen, Finland (along with my Iinna, who basically takes up all the room I have in my heart for dogs, but dogs are good squishers, so it’s so weird how I can always find room for more). At the time I arrived, Iinna was staying indoors with the volunteers, recovering from a physical injury, while Ivan was indoors recovering from a less physical one.

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My bunkmates, Iinna and Ivan. (March 2014)

Something was off. He had stopped eating, stopped getting excited to run. His wife Flame, and sons Liekki and Loiste are three of the best sled dogs around, part of the Dream Team, but he just wasn’t feeling it. At Usvatanssin, there is always a place for you (seriously), no matter how you’re feeling, so hoping it would help cheer his spirits, Ivan started sleeping with the volunteers in the cabin at night. And by sleeping with, I mean sleeping on, next to, on-top-of, in-your-face, snuggled-up-stretched-out-ALL-over, in your tiny twin bed, with.

And we loved every second of it.

My favorite part of the day quickly became walking out to the kennel into the pitch-dark arctic night, after all the chores were done, after you had your time with your family, to find you waiting patiently by the kennel door. You knew exactly what time it was. And if we came early, eager for your company, and caught you off-guard still snuggling in your house, all we had to do was softly say your name and you’d gracefully leap out of bed. But if you saw us first, your stealthiness was admirable.

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Casa de Flame and Ivan. In 2014, their sons still lived at home.

And you’d calmly sit there, while we’d try to let (slightly at this point) injured Iinna escape the tiny door space without letting Iisku out (which was the second favorite part of my day), unfazed by the crazy howls from all your doggy friends, egging them on. You’d proudly waltz to the cabin, not all crazy-Iinna like, but with confidence and pride, like you’d been there before, just like every step you ever took.

And as soon as we’d walk in the door of the cabin, you made yourself at home, because it was your home. On the couch, on the floor, on our beds. You never acted like the other dogs we invited as our indoor nighttime guests (thinking we were doing them a favor – hint: Siberian Huskies LOVE the outdoors). You never got your head stuck in the garbage bin trying to get at scraps of food, or knocked over tables in excitement, or barked at the VHS on TV like crazy, or went bonkers over the reflections in the windows. Any time someone would sit even remotely near you, you’d reach out that friendly paw of yours to touch them, just to say, hey man, I’m here for you.

Wherever you were was where you belonged. And what’s more, you made us feel like we belonged, no matter where we were from.

Remember when we Facetime’d my sister and you yawned real big and showed all your teeth and she was like…aren’t you sort of afraid of them? Looking back, your head must have looked really big and your teeth really sharp, like it probably could eat my whole head, but I just laughed at the idea and snuggled your giant face. Ivan? The Poet? The Gentle Giant? Sweet, sweet Ivan? Nah. I’ve seen you when you sleep. Even your snore is adorable.

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No one else I’d rather share my bed with.

And that last time I was in Finland, when you decided it was time to come out of retirement? It warmed my heart to see you so excited to run. I had heard you had it in you, but I had yet to see it for myself. I wanted to cry, so honored to be on an adventure with you, pulled by your willpower, your drive. I am so, so thankful to have seen you in your true light.

I’ve been planning to return to Finland, my center, my reset button for many months now. It was my first place, it was the place I went before hiking the Appalachian Trial, it is the place I will return to before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And after all the black holes of 2016, I can’t think of anything better to fill it with, than the loveliest dogs in the world. But when I thought of returning, you were definitely a part of my itinerary, that warm spot in my heart that in this crazy unpredictable world, the one you know will always be the same. And for that, I am sad. But I am so much more happy that I know you existed.

Please, don’t ever tell someone, “but…it’s just a dog.” Ivan was just a dog. But he was just a dog who influenced my life more positively than a whole lot of people ever did. Don’t downplay the love someone has for a dog because it’s a dog. Don’t try to assign  value to another person’s love, well, ever. Love…is love…so they say. So let it be.

I know dogs don’t live forever. I know I’m in for several years of heartbreak of dogs who have touched my heart. I know all dogs go to heaven. But it’s still sad as hell to see them go.

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Ivan, our third roommate. Thanks for being you <3. Photo cred: Amy Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

intertribal dialogue

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary

As some of you may have noticed, I fell knee-deep into the internet aftermath of the election shit storm. Before November, I blogged a total of 12 times. I wrote eight posts in the month of November alone. Lots of comments, lots of feelings, lots of words.

I’m not usually in the habit of feeding the trolls, but lately I just have so much food on my hands. Please note, I am not calling any one particular group of people trolls. Refer back to my Instagram experience for a good idea of what I mean. Trolls come from all different sides in all shapes and sizes and colors (especially hair) and some even have jewels for belly buttons! And they often say the craziest things, which might cause you to stop and think…wait…are they actually being serious right now?

Noticing my increased presence on Facebook, one of my friends poked a little fun at me for feeding the trolls, but also agreed that in real life, this is exactly what needs to happen: intertribal dialogue. The phrase spread warmly through my body like that first sip of Laphroaig. He had lived and worked in Kenyan villages and said this whole election reminded him a lot of Africa.

“I came away thinking they are not culturally ready for democracy, because people just voted for their tribe, no matter what the actual candidate said, did, or stood for. My mistake was thinking we were any better. When Trump said he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and not lose support, that’s when I knew our tribal moment had arrived.”

Before you get immediately offended by that statement, just take a moment to think about that statement, not about who said what or why.

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Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA. I’ve always had a thing for bridges. I think it’s more symbolic than physical, how they connect things that would otherwise be unconnected.

Intertribal dialogue is necessary for progress, for growth, for discovering common ground. We need to talk to each other, try to understand each other’s perspective. We need to remove ourselves from our echo chambers, cross that imaginary, but very real line at the school sock hop and ask a boy to dance, even if we’ve been told he has cooties. We need to put real faces to words and ideas, make the connection between real people and real experiences, keep reminding ourselves that the fact we don’t see eye to eye doesn’t make us less human. Some might argue it makes us more so.

That’s sort of what I attempted to do via internet. When I saw people make comments I did not understand, I asked clarifying questions to seek understanding. Sure, I know how I interpreted their words, but maybe that’s not exactly what they meant. When I saw people share fake news, agreeing feverishly with it, I had this overwhelming desire to discuss the content, parse out what their exact takeaway was. Depending on your viewpoint, it is very possible to read the same thing, and come away with two totally different truths. Many of my own blog posts were addressed to “you,” which wasn’t necessarily code for a particular person, but more like how “Uncle Sam Wants YOU” whoever you are. If you read my words and felt they were directed at you, we’re probably in different tribes. If you read my words and found yourself saying, “Yes, yes, yes, all of the yes,” we’re very likely in the same tribe.

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Liberty Bridge over the River Danube. Without bridges, we’d have Buda and we’d have Pest, but we’d have no Budapest.

My attempts at internet intertribal dialogue didn’t always work out so well for me. Many people from outside my tribe just didn’t seem to be interested in having a conversation. My old roommate in college, and now apparently ex-friend, posted one of those maps of the country showing the red and the blue, stating something about how the people have spoken, and clearly more people feel red. I asked her if she considered that space on a map does not necessarily represent the number of people who live in those spaces, but just space on a map. Normally I try to make sure I include the exact details of my interactions and try not to paraphrase, but I can’t for this example, because she not only deleted her post of the map, but de-friended AND blocked me. Dialogue denied.

And then of course, there’s the comments on my own blog. I want nothing more to talk about my posts with people who disagree or think different. That’s how I learn. That’s how I see my viewpoint isn’t the only viewpoint. That’s the foundation of bridge building. But comments like this, don’t help.

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This will get us nowhere. Also, it’s nice to know people actually want to kick people out of America for thinking different. Which is exactly WHY successful intertribal dialogue is so very necessary.

And then there is the endless string of unknown identities, who anonymously state their point, but don’t care to have a two-way conversation. I have an issue with Anonymous people on the internet, hiding behind a computer screen, holding no one accountable for words expressed. Own your words, always.

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This was a start. I appreciate being called out when I am wrong, especially in my posts. It’s harder in person, though something I work on every day. I put a LOT of time into my writing to not spread misinformation. I am more careful with it than I am the spoken word. But Anonymous never helped me see what I got factually wrong. Just told me I was. End of discussion (though it never really began).

So yeah, maybe the internet isn’t the easiest or best place to start. Perhaps talking with people you know, people you regularly converse with, or just any real live person who embodies different thoughts and feelings might be a better first step.

And what an excellent opportunity if you have friends and family who think different from you! I mean, really, who better than your inner circle, the folks who understand you, love and respect you? The people you choose to surround yourself with and under ordinary circumstances, with whom you share so many commonalities? Because if you can’t talk with your family and closest friends about the stuff that really matters, we’re in trouble. Those bridges are going to be a lot more difficult to build than I thought.

But there is one tiny problem with my logic: unfortunately, way too often, family forgets to lend you the same respect they might lend a stranger in conversation of importance. I mean, they know you, don’t they? They already have their view of who you are, in fact, they made up their mind a long time ago. You’ll always be the party girl or the goody-two-shoes or the jock or the weaselly middle child. Often it’s difficult to keep an open mind while having a real conversation with immediate family, because you’ve already reached all the conclusions before any words are even exchanged.

And that sucks. Because people change. They grow. I mean, I sure as hell hope I am not the same person I was when I was 18. And you want to know the craziest thing? You do most of your growing and changing after you leave home. After you leave your family. You often discover who you are, become who you are, realize your full potential when you’re out on your own. Only by then, it’s too late. You’ve already been given an identity, even if you grew out of that yourself years ago.

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Without bridges, the concept of Amsterdam wouldn’t really work.

I was fortunate enough to have two verbal face-to-face intertribal dialogues over Thanksgiving. One went fairly well, one sort of crashed and burned. One was with a friend’s family, one was with immediate family. Take your guess as to which was which.

Aside from alcohol being a terrible ingredient to any intelligent conversation of worth, I noticed one major difference between sensitive discussions with immediate family and discussions with my friend’s family: one more closely followed the LARA principles and one did not: Listen, Affirm, Respond, Add. It’s a method of constructive conflict resolution, one that I’ve found to be pretty effective when put into practice. The following descriptions of LARA are taken from the University of Michigan’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution.

Listen with an intent to understand. Listen for underlying principles, cultural values, emotions, and issues behind what is being said. Listen for commonalities. Observe body language and tone of voice which may provide additional meaning. Listen for inherent needs and interests, not just what is said.

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Bridges of Prague, Czech Republic

With my family, this is sort of tossed out the window immediately. I have a public blog where I regularly share my thoughts and feelings. They had been reading my words from afar for a while. They already had their impressions, their interpretation, their understanding. They had their responses queued up. They did not need to need to hear what I had to say at the moment; it was their turn to talk, to respond to everything. I get it, but at the same time, that’s pretty unfair. I can control what I write, but I can’t control how people interpret my words, or how my words make them feel. And without a proper discussion, it’s hard to know the level of understanding that occurred.

Too often, close families forget to be active listeners. We all just wait for the person to be done talking so we can talk. We resort to name-calling more quickly and tend to make things personal more often. We know where to hit each other where it hurts, aren’t afraid to do so and things can get ugly unnecessarily fast. Sometimes you treat the ones you love the most, the worst.

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Without bridges, there would have been A LOT of swimming on the Appalachian Trail.

Affirm the principles or issues in what was said, or simply the feelings or emotions that were expressed (“you care strong about this”). Affirming is not agreeing, it’s acknowledging or recognizing what is shared. This can be done by simply repeating or rephrasing what was said.

This step is skipped A LOT, one I learned the true value of over a decade of working with doctors and nurses, trying to bridge the gap between the medical and information technology fields. It’s not enough to listen. You have to comprehend what they are saying.

Respond to the issues that were raised and the underlying needs behind them. Ask questions about what was said.

This is an important step, and it only really works if you get here by completing step one and two. Otherwise you’re just an asshole. It also seems to often be the most difficult for people standing on the other side of the bridge to hear. Because when someone makes it to step three, that means the other person has to be in step one. Breathe. You can’t respond without affirming and you can’t affirm unless you listen. You’ll get to step three soon enough.

Add information to the conversation. After seeking to understand, seek to be understood.

Now that you both understand each other, you can talk about where to go from there. About what this means. Maybe you’ll reach a resolution, maybe you won’t. But at least you gave it the ol’ college try.

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Without bridges, the Pacific Coast Highway would definitely not be as beautiful. Or exist.

Some people hate conflict. They want to sweep it under the rug, pretend it’s not happening, pretend it doesn’t exist. But it is happening, it does exist. And if you keep sweeping it under the rug, someone is going to notice that lumpy spot in the corner eventually, and your furniture won’t fit in the living room quite the way it did before.

Family isn’t just about having built-in friends with whom to share all the goodness of life. It’s for support and love and having someone in your corner when the world is beating you up, or bringing you down. If you can’t talk with your family, if you’re uninterested in the people who they truly are, and not just who you think they are or want them to be, if you don’t care about the things that matter most to them, if you don’t try to understand how you’re part of the same family, yet belong to very different tribes, your relationship will never progress. Worse, it might potentially reverse.

The easiest and most beautiful bridges to build are those you don’t have to build alone. And if you don’t try to build that understanding, if you have no interest in even visiting them on their end of the bridge during the holidays, well, that doesn’t really sound much like a family to me at all. That sounds more like a bunch of strangers from different tribes, uninterested in dialogue.

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Without bridges, no one would get to watch the locals jump from the Stari Most into the frigid blue waters of the Neretva River in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

all the good stuff is still there

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If wishes were trees / the trees would be falling / listen to reason / the reason is calling / Your feet are going to be on the ground / your head is there to move you around / so stand.

Recently, I’ve been feeling this feeling, where I want to throw up (No, I’m not pregnant) but nothing comes out. It’s like this permanent, imma’bout to throw up feeling. You know the one. You’ve all been through your 20s. It’s like every Sunday morning. But worse.

Because it just sits there. Like this impending doom. Like every horror story you’ve ever watched, where you’re all like, IDIOT! DON’T CHECK OUT THAT SOUND UPSTAIRS!! But you have to go upstairs because that’s where your bed is. And you get there, and you think, okay, okay, everything is fine. Then you wake up. And it’s still there. And you cry a little. Because, crying sometimes makes things better. But this time it doesn’t. And then you’re like…WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

But it’s Thanksgiving. So you tuck that weird-won’t-go-away-feeling into the largest pair of jeans you own because you’re going need them anyway, and you drive “home” for Thanksgiving. And on that long drive through the rain that should be snow, perhaps toward a family you barley recognize anymore, you think, “thankful, thankful, I am thankful, I am thankful,” but maybe you struggle to finish that thought, that of what you have to be thankful for this year.

It might be hard at first, but I assure you, all that good stuff is still there. I found mine. And with some boxed wine, a fat cat and some old cheese, you can find yours too.

This year, and every year, I am thankful I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin known in history books for welcoming refugees from Laos. I am thankful I grew up with faces that didn’t look exactly like my own. I am thankful I met my first real gay friend, my first real Jewish friend, and my first real Muslim friend, just a few hours south of where I grew up, at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. I am thankful to have dated a Mormon, a Catholic, a Protestant, to have shared romantic feelings (wink,wink) with skins of all colors, bodies of all shapes. I am thankful I was able to travel this world, to expand my mind to thoughts of the previously unknown. I am thankful I am able to see different ways of life, even those I do not want for myself. I am thankful I am able to see people as human beings, not as the labels assigned to them by society. Not as this, or that, but as men and women, who are just like me, with different thoughts, different ways, different backgrounds, different ideas, but still, just like me, if you really break it down. I am thankful to be able to expand my horizons beyond those right in front of me. I am thankful I was given the right to be thankful for these things, and anything. And everything.

I am thankful.

affirmation is not information

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Stacks. Minneapolis, MN

A couple of summers ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I enjoyed a little bit of fame. Instagram caught wind of my adventure, highlighted my journey on their blog and Facebook, and within hours I had 15,000 new best friends I’ll never meet.

The Instagram post was tiny, a less than 500 word write up, one they didn’t send me first. Or last, actually. I had no idea it was published. Editors took my words, answers in response to some questions via email, sort of pieced them together to fit their agenda (not mine) and sent it out into the world. Harmless, right?

Enter, The Trolls.

Some people read about my adventure escape from the real world and got real angry with their current life situation and took it out on me. Because that makes sense. Others labeled me a trust fund kid in my 20s or stated other ridiculously untrue “facts” about me. Still others thought the entire thing (aka my life) was a hoax. Many people judged my actions. Some people just used my happiness as an opportunity to express the hate in their own hearts. And let me tell you, it is weird watching a bunch of shit being said about you on the internet, with only you knowing the whole truth. You watch it spiral out of control, mean people feeding off meaner people in some crazy internet tornado that you have absolutely no power to stop. Even if you tried, confronted it head on, that tornado would whisk you off to Oz, and a little dog named Toto told me it’s tremendously hard to find your way back.

All of this, just over some no-name girl featured on Instagram for hiking a trail. I can’t imagine what it must be like for movie stars, public figures, people running for President.

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You couldn’t run a mile in Madison without running into a place to vote.

The internet is a scary place. It has essentially made all of us (rather terrible) journalists, all of us (preeeeety biased) new sources, and has given us a platform to express opinion that nobody asked for. And each of us has the ability to share whatever we want, ain’t no fact checking gonna hold us back. Most of us do not have to abide by some journalistic code, be held to certain level of conduct, respect ethics, or be afraid to lose our jobs because of the information we share, whether it’s fact or fiction.

A long, long time ago, I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. With the massive strides the internet has made since then, I can’t help but wonder how they’ve changed their course of instruction. But I will always be grateful for being taught how to ask meaningful questions, open my mind, dig deeper, see both sides, look for supporting facts. To understand the difference between an opinion piece and actual news. I’ve lately been reminded, that’s not how everyone does it.

As consumers of information, it has become harder than ever to learn the truth. People of the internet say ridiculous things, use shock statements to get people’s attention, exaggerate the truth, create absurd “news” titles containing absolutely zero supporting facts within the article. And even if you do the proper research and eventually debunk their words, by then it’s too late. Because once someone reads that garbage, the damage is done, it’s hard to un-read it. Everything begins to blend together and people forget what’s fact, what’s false.

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A bridge. Maybe even over troubles waters. Madison, WI

I know everyone has their own idea of mainstream media and the way it slants. But the answer is NOT to rely on far right or far left sites, who will only tell us exactly what we want to hear, things that support what we want to be true, regardless of fact.

Affirmation is not Information.

These sites are hardcore opinions and beliefs, and are certainly not held to the same standards as trained journalists (regardless of how wary you are of them, legit sources actually hold their people to the journalistic code of ethics). Same goes for only watching CNN or Fox News or whatever you feel the most left or right news channels are; just know that you are almost never getting the full story. And I think we owe it ourselves (and the late great U.S of A) to hear the full story.

The internet is capable of amazing things. I’ve seen it bring the world to remote lands, bring remote lands to the world. It allows me to keep in touch with friends across the globe, watch my puppies grow into sled dogs in Arctic Lapland, see my friend’s tiny baby grow into a little boy with dimples in Oaxaca, Mexico. Through the internet, I lived with Dave and Amy Freeman in the Boundary Waters for 365 days in their effort to ensure permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Wilderness from proposed sulfur-ore copper mining. Through the internet, The Freemans have been bringing their Wilderness Classroom adventures to Chicago Public Schools, outdoor adventures so many children may never experience otherwise.

The internet, if used appropriately, can help bridge the geographical gap. It can connect people from different countries, help people travel the world. It can bring the great outdoors to the inner city, the big city to the beautiful countryside. It can promote understanding for different ways of life, ways of thinking. And what an incredible thing. What a luxury to have at our fingertips. Because so many of us only know people like us. We only associate with people like us. We only know our way of life. Our mindset. Our struggles. Our fears. Whether we’re bound by time, money, or will, we’re all living in our own bubbles, whether we realize it or not.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

And if The Donald proved anything, the social media branch of the internet is one powerful tool. Video killed the Radio Star, Internet killed Print, Facebook killed Real News. Like it or not, this is how so many people communicate now. This is how people get involved. This is how people get informed.

But if we only read things that agree with our mindset, if we only associate with people like us on the internet, if we extend our geographical bubble to the empty space of the internet…what bridges are we building? What understanding are we promoting? How are we growing?

Personally, I find it to my advantage to know what sort of crazy news everyone is feeding on, especially now. Because I admit, this time, I definitely made the mistake of hopping in that crazy internet tornado. Weeeee-oooo, what a ride. Mostly, I just try to understand what people are getting out of the shocking headliners I see floating around the internet, try to understand what they are seeing, what I am not. So, I read the shocking title, read the article, read the comments…and ask questions.

Some general guidelines:

  • When you see lot of question marks and explanation points the title of the article, this is highly unlikely to be real news.
  • When the author uses words like “infestation” to describe an entire group of people, or uses juvenile playground insults such as (but not limited to) crybabies, losers…actually any name calling at all? Not real news. Certainly not unbiased news.
  • When the headliners say things like “You’ll Never GUESS What She Did Now,” without telling you at all what She did (which turns out to be something like used mayo on her sandwich instead of miracle whip, which is disgusting, yes, but not wrong), this is clickbait, and also, not real news.

For example, there’s this Facebook page liked by 5,473,441 people called American News. Their handle is @ThePatriotReview and they are the official page of AmericanNews.com. I’ve already sent them a message asking them to change their name, since my extensive research has found the name to be quite misleading.

The page regularly compares Obama to Hitler (uh, what?) and refers to Michelle Obama, arguably the most elegant, respectable, graceful first lady we ‘eva gonna get, as Moochelle. Yes, you heard that right.

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The ugly, perverted truth revealed in the story? She invited black rappers to the White House.

Or, do you remember the time that Michelle Obama Furious After Melania Trump Outclasses Her on First Day as First Lady Um. Read it.

The site prefaces most of their articles with statements even more unpleasant than their “news” titles.

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11K likes?? Melissa. Melissa gives me hope.

Or “Race baiting Beyonce just got a taste of her own medicine. She needs to learn to keep her mouth shut. Do you think Beyonce should learn her place?” Linked to: Beyonce Gets Rude Wakeup Call after Disgusting Stunt She Pulled At the CMAs.

And “While everyone was focused on the election, Obama did this. Simply disgusting. He is a disgrace to our country. Who is worse, Obama or Hillary?” Linked to: On the Day of the Election Obama Quietly did THIS. Oh, the THIS was reveled as, campaigned for Hillary…is that not called extreme focus on an election?

They routinely hate on Beyonce, Kanye (okay, I get that one, he can come off as a prick) and Oprah with shocking titles with no supporting content. If you are starting to see a theme, you are not alone.

And yes, sometimes I settle down with my glass(es) of wine and get to work. Yes, I know it’s petty, but…the internet. PEOPLE ARE WATCHING.

One article they posted (and members of my family shared) was entitled Michelle Obama Claims Her Life is More Difficult Than A Soldier’s. Having listened to the FLOTUS for the past eight years, I was skeptical that she would make that claim. So I read it. And after careful processing of the words, I commented:

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50,ooo people liked this. This is a hope crusher. I hope you read the “news” article. 

Visit the site here. And please, tell them what you think. Because this is the kind of stuff that has to stop. That is not information. That is fuel. Gallons and gallons of fuel to fire the Hate.

I don’t know if Trump is actually a real life bigot, a racist, etc. I hope for our country that he isn’t, that he’s just playing a role. I do believe he knew exactly what to say to his target audience, to instill fear, to light the fire under those who might not have otherwise voted. He knew exactly what to say to the people who wanted to hear it. And that was smart. That got him votes. But after spending the past few weeks on Facebook and fake news sites, I am less afraid of what Trump can do than they way the minds of all of the people feeding on fake news work, and what that can grow into.

So please, friends, family, voters all over the country, people all over the world. Think about what you are reading. Digest the words. When you see articles talking about who is the best and who is the worst (with no actual stats to back that claim up), that is not fair and unbiased news. Or fact. When sites make fun of people, use a lot of exclamation points to prove a point, that’s not news, that’s opinion. Be smarter! Use your beautiful brain! I hear if you don’t use it, you lose it!! I can use exclamation points because I am a blogger!!! Choose your information wisely. Be the gatekeeper of material stored in your memory boxes.

You can tell the internet what you think. Just don’t let the internet tell you what to think.

 

hate and rage are not the same

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I took a walk with a leaf (and like, the entire Dinndorf family) one day. And then I took a lot of pictures of the leaf. I can’t explain why. It just felt right at the time.

Hi! Hello! Me again.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my last post. (And by read, I mean all the the way through and not just to the point where you got pissed and commented instead of reading the rest, and by reading, I mean attempted to comprehend the words I wrote instead of drawing your own conclusions from the title, thinking about how wrong I was, formulating your rebuttal before you finished. Like legit, hey, I will read this…then take some time to think about it…then respond. That is reading. It’s super fun, I love it.) I really appreciated all of the kind (and not so kind) messages.

To sum it up, I explained why people should stop telling me to get over it. It being, the idea that America values a man who believes you can get away with anything when you’re rich and famous, including sexually harass women, “grab them by the p*ssy, you can do anything,” wants to ban an entire religion from entering the United States, and has said “laziness is a quality in blacks.” There’s more, but you’ve heard it all. Or ignored it all. IN any case, whether or not The Donald actually believes the things he says, many of his supporters definitely do. And since the election, some have been acting out accordingly. And I provided some examples of these open display of hate. And the people of Facebook got a wee-bit upset that I did not pay equal attention to the horrible things people were doing to Trump supporters or mentioning the protests. And they were right, I did not. Should I have? Perhaps. It would have saved a lot of interesting back-and-forth commenting on the FB. (Pretty sure that’s my full time job now. No idea how I’ll get paid.)

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I had been working in California all October, and I think I was just happy Wisconsin still had color.

But here is why I didn’t.

Hating someone solely because of the color of their skin, their religion, their disability, where they were born, their gender, or who they love is NOT the same thing as being real f*cking angry with people who hate people for the color of their skin, their religion, their disability, where they were born, their gender, or who they love.

Here is an example of American citizens who got very angry, to the point of violence. Angry that America supports a man endorsed by the KKK, angry about being repeatedly told they are less than white peeps, being told they do not belong here, to GO BACK TO AFRICA. And yes, angry with people who support a man who fueled the hate. Whether or not these things were directly said to them, that they were said at all to anyone, hurts.

People deal with their emotions, their pain in different ways. Some of us write poetry. Some of us channel our pain into music. Others paint beautiful pictures or escape into nature. I deal with emotions by writing. Some of us deal with pain by acting out in anger. And though it is wrong, though no good can come from hurting someone else because you are in pain, sometimes…it feels like the only release; all that pain comes out and you can breathe again. But see, then the cycle inevitably starts over, and you find yourself in this never-ending loop. If it’s a healthy loop, like writing, like music, like nature,  you’ll be okay. If it’s a violent loop, you might have a problem. No matter how much pain you are in, it’s never appropriate to take it out on someone else in the form of violence.

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I mean…it was a pretty cool leaf.

So yes, a Trump supporter was attacked. I am sure he is not the only one. And that is not cool. And I’ve seen the sign calling for Melania’s rape at a protest, which is totally disgusting and uncalled for, and extremely contradictory for someone specifically protesting Trump, so I’m struggling to find the point that sign is actually trying to make. It’s truly awful, no excuses.

And, yes this also happened. (But we should talk about how the article starts out with describing Portland, Oregon a city infested with radical leftists. Like these human beings are a disease, a nasty insect, something to get rid of? But wait, there’s more. I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s a good one. So good, it might scare you.)

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. So, so many people are upset, are hurt, are trying to find their place in this America, one they thought they knew, and many areas disappointed, so, very, very angry that their country values someone who openly attacked immigrants, Black Lives Matters protesters, Muslims, and women, while tipping his hat to white nationalists. And when all that rage boils up and explodes, people can do some real stupid shit. No doubt. And yes. This IS unacceptable.

And it truly sucks. I can’t even imagine the pain someone must be feeling to act out like this, but it must be intense. Visceral.

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I showed the leaf places it’d never seen.

But I did not include those references in my original post, entitled, “why you need to stop telling me to get over it.” Why? Mostly because they did not support my statement. And as a trained journalist, that kind of stuff is actually important to me. The videos where students chanted “build a wall” and “white power”, put signs up that said go back to Africa, whites only, f*ck all porch monkeys, separated sinks for colored people, where people sprayed swastikas over windows, called someone retarded for being deaf?  They supported my statement.

Because those acts did not stem from pain. Or anger. They stemmed from HATE. From pure hate. These people who committed these acts were not in pain. Or fear. They weren’t afraid of being ripped from their families, or told to go back to their countries (which for most of them, IS AMERICA). They weren’t called racial slurs (though I would be insulted if I were called a Trump supporter, so I will give you that one). No! They weren’t in pain at all. Quite the opposite, actually. They were celebrating! They were happy to openly display their feelings! Their feelings of hate.

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Nearing our final hour.

Beating someone up because they hate you because of the color of your skin, your religion, your disability, where you were born, your gender, or who you love, causing destruction and protesting in the streets against hate is called: pure, unbridled rage. Hardcore Rage. ALL OF THE RAGE. Mixed with confusion. Because like…why?

Hating someone purely because of the color of their skin, their religion, their disability, where they were born, their gender, or who they love is what we call: Racism. Bigotry. Hateful and seriously just plain awful, you should be ashamed of yourself. Xenophobic. Mysogynist. Homophobic. 

 

Yes, BOTH are terrible (thooooooough, if I had to choose which was worse, I totally could. I could. I mean, I will. It’s hate. Hate is worse.). BOTH need to stop.

And to be fair, Donald Trump did look into the camera and tell everyone to “Stop it.” That oughta do it.

But please, do not compare these two very different things. Do not compare acts fueled by Hate to acts fueled by Anger and Injustice. Do not compare racism and intolerance to fighting against racism and intolerance.

That is why I did not include those clips of rage in my post. Hate and Rage are not the same.

And my post was about Hate.

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The leafs final resting place.

here’s why you need to stop telling me to get over it

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America? America? Are you there? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOU??

I get it. You’re sick of seeing your Facebook feed fill up with people expressing their feelings. You think everyone should stop whining and go back to celebrating the Cubs World Series win, their babies and puppies, and all the stupid funny mindless shit that we all love and hate Facebook for. You want to go back to wasting your time scrolling through garbage instead of reading things that force you to think. I totally get it. I’m not happy about the state of Facebook either. I wish all I had to write about were picture frames and happy memories. But your apathetic stance is everything I fear. Your inability to see what is happening, why people are still talking, why people care, that is exactly what motivates me to write in the first place.

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Example post – to be fair, his was the MOST respectful one I saw.

This is one of those posts that I read and I get what he is trying to say, I do. The more we chatted, it became clear he was specifically referring to the less thoughtful posts, the ones that sort of feed into the hate. But maybe “whining” wasn’t the best choice of words. Throughout this election, I feel like words themselves have just lost meaning. Words are no longer chosen carefully, not by our peers, not by our President-Elect, not by people trying to have intelligent discussions, especially when they disagree. People just say whatever they want, expecting no consequence. As a lover of words, this hurts me. If we can’t say what we mean, and mean what we say, we’re doomed.

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Whine, defined

People speaking up for what is right, calling for change, expressing their disappointment in the character of our future President of the United States, that is not whining. People reaching out, telling their Muslim friends, their LGBTQ friends, their black friends, their lady friends, their friends, that they see them, that they care? That’s just free speech. And love. And words that need to be said. These are not feeble and petulant complaints. These are genuine, deep feelings. There is a difference. And as a woman who was speaking out (and loudly), I find this particular choice of words offensive.

Also, this was posted on Wednesday, less than 24 hours had passed since the face of America had changed. Maybe not so much for me, maybe not for you, and definitely not for every straight, white, male out there. But for a lot of people. I mean, what did you think you were going to find on Facebook the day after?

This is a big deal. People are protesting in droves against their President-Elect. People are legit fearful of their President-Elect. Does that mean anything to you? How many President-Elects before today have caused such a negative reaction, resulted in such fear and despair across the country? How many President-Elects have inspired so much open hate? This isn’t like your favorite team losing the World Series. This isn’t about which college football team deserves to play in the Rose Bowl, in the National Championship. This isn’t about my team losing. This isn’t about teams at all. It’s not about red or blue or left or right or any of the things that it seems so easy for some people to boil it down to.

Ryan is a friend, a military man, a neighbor, and a legit socially conscious dude. And we were actually able to talk about how his words affected me in a thoughtful, intelligent way. I was able to see what he was trying to say, he was able to see my point of view. Amazing how that works, eh? And for the record, he is NOT a Trump supporter.

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Or what? What is the alternative? I am glad you asked. NOT staying silent, NOT accepting what is happening in America. Speaking out, volunteering our time, donating money, calling your representatives, your congressmen, promoting love, advocating for change. Give me a call, let’s work together on my very, very long list of alternatives. 

But at the same time, this apathetic view of what is happening in the world around us is what scares me. This is NOT something to just accept and move on from, unless you are okay with a President-Elect who says he wants us to come together, but still has not addressed all of the hate crimes, open displays of violence as a result of his election. And please don’t send me videos of people bashing Trump supporters. I have seen them, and yes they are awful. I am not excusing their actions. Because I am talking about ALL OF THE VIOLENCE. All of the hate.

Including the words “Fuck N*ggers,” “Fuck All Porch Monkeys,”Whites Only” accompanied by the name of our noble Prez-Elect, smeared all over the locker of a student of color in Maple Grove, MN. Only they didn’t use a asterisk. They actually meant it.

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I will not “get over” this.

Including these signs posted in a Florida High School:

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I will not accept this.

Including these words spoken to a black man at a gas station:

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This is Real Life.

Including this chant of white power  by white students walking down the halls at York Tech High School in PA. Please watch this. It is horrifying.

Including men, LITTLE BOYS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, who think it’s okay to grab vaginas now. Little ears can hear what you are saying! They HEAR YOU.

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Many of these kids are learning from their parents. They hear what their parents are saying. And they are listening. Because their parents actually believe it IS okay. Parents of the world, it’s up to you to teach your little guys that this shit ain’t cool. To teach your little ladies to SPEAK OUT if this happens. To stand up for themselves. I do not envy your job.

Including students bringing deportation letters for their Latino classmates, making a human wall to not allow students to pass:

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As a former English teacher in a inner-city Milwaukee high school, where 95% of the students are black or Latino, where I tried to teach tolerance and acceptance, lead by example, my heart is breaking in a million pieces. For everyone.

Including a deaf woman who was told to take her “retarded self and go somewhere else now. Trump is president now.”

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For this, I have no words.

Including this message, painted over a sign expressing love and acceptance, essentially stating, yeah, we’re not interested in “coming together” to build YOUR version of a better tomorrow.

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This is the America we chose? I will fight for a better America. Will you?

Including the words “Seig Heil 2016,” that were spray painted across a South Philadelphia storefront window, along with a swastika. The vandalism was discovered on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. For those of you who don’t know what that word is, what  that word means, I urge you to look it up. Because it means so much more than the night of Nazi attacks on Jewish-owned businesses at the onset of the Holocaust. So.Much.More.

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As a descendant of Polish immigrants, as someone who has visited Auschwitz in person, as someone who found herself staring face to face with a Kowalski on a wall, a wall of the dead, of the murdered just for being Polish, this hits me particularly hard.

(There are unfortunately waaaay too many more examples, and for those of you who haven’t, I urge you to check out Shaun King’s Twitter page.)

You can say this is not Trump’s fault. Fine. You can say that.  But please ask yourself…was this happening before he was Prez-Elect? Why do you think it is happening now? Why do you think people think it’s okay to express such hate, such intolerance, such bigotry?

And don’t tell me, “But he addressed it during his acceptance speech. He said, we need to come together!” You can’t lead the campaign he did for over a year, filled with underlying, if not overtly racist messages of hate, bigotry, misogyny, preying on the xenophobic fears of Americans, and then say, “Hey man! I won! Let’s all be friends and come together now!” in a speech written by someone else, and consider it “addressing the issue.”

Oh, wait, The Donald did address this. Sort of.

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Also, a very mature post by our President-Elect.

But let’s give credit where credit is due…he did also Tweet this, after someone on his team mostly like slapped his hand a bit horrified and said, “Yo, you gotta do better now, you’re practically the President. It’s sort of your job to listen to the people. ALL OF THE PEOPLE. Not just your supporters.”

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DUDE. That’s like asking the court to strike something from the record in a murder trial and expecting the jury to pretend they never heard it. WE STILL HEARD YOU. But worse, your loyal followers got your message the first time.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Well said, Maya Angelou.

I am not willing to accept this as the America I live in. It is people like me, it is people like my friend Ryan, it is the Me’s and the You’s that need to be absolutely outraged by these hateful, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic (and yes, I will use these words in every single post until everyone figures out what they really mean, especially in today’s America), very public outbursts by our neighbors, by people that call themselves Americans. Because if THAT is what it means to be American, I no longer know what the hell I am. But it ain’t that.

So yeah. Stop telling me to get over it.

 

 

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