Sorry I’ve Been A Shitty Friend: A Multiple Choice Form Letter

Dear (fill in name of friend here),

How are you? It’s been way too long, I know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of you and then said to myself, I should really (call/write/at least click like on your vacation photos) but I’m sure you know how it goes. No matter how organized I am, it seems like (life/the news/a hangover) is always getting in the way. It’s so true what they say. Time sure does have a habit of flying when you’re (procrastinating/bemoaning the state of humanity/binge watching Better Call Saul), doesn’t it?

Funny thing is, your name came up just the other day. Someone asked me, “Hey, how’s (fill in name of friend here)? (He’s/She’s) got to be almost (ready to move/ready to have a baby/done with school), right? And it really drove home how long it’s been since I (emailed/tweeted/tagged you in a photo)!

I’m so sorry I missed your (birthday/anniversary/relative’s funeral), I really have no excuse other than the fact that I am spending far too much time (arguing with strangers on the internet/drowning my sorrows in Pinot Noir/in the midst of an existential breakdown). Most days it seems all of my time is taken up by (numb shock/carpooling/debating the continued existence of humankind). I keep thinking things are going to settle down in the next few months, at least enough to (stop refreshing Twitter incessantly/clean my house/remember my kids birthdays), but who knows? Crazy world we live in, right??

And here we are half way through the year already! It seems like yesterday (the world was normal/school started/you moved). Time really does go by quickly. Did I say that already? Lol. Oh, God. I really have to stop using (texting/Snapchat/emoji) abbreviations before I lose all ability to (speak/reason/write) coherently!

But hey, (fill in name of friend), listen. You should know that despite how bad I’ve been at keeping in touch, I’m totally (stalking you on Instagram/following your exploits on FaceBook/relying on what my mom tells me). But it’s nice to get a (letter/email/social media comment longer than 140 characters) sometimes, isn’t it? Despite my (radio silence/passive aggressive comments/emoji reduction correspondence) I do think of you often and wonder how everyone’s doing.

So, in case you’re wondering, it’s not you! It’s (me/Brexit/Trump/Camus level existentialism). I really do feel bad about not keeping in touch, though. Honest!

Anyway, hope you’re all (well/sane/not contemplating the meaning of life from a ledge). Please keep me up to date. And let’s not let this long go by again!

All the best!

(Fill in your name here)

A Word to Progressives

There’s a story I’ve been telling recently I think bears repeating.

A year or two before my son started school, there was a buzz. Word on the playground was that a momentum was building. A group of neighborhood parents, priced out of NYC private schools and frustrated at the lackluster performance of the local public schools, were starting to mobilize. Fantastic, right? These parents started getting involved, going to town halls and attending district and zone meetings. They organized and advocated. They had binders full great ideas that would benefit not only their own kids, but everyone’s kids. Win/win.

In their passion to improve what was already there they neglected one important thing: the people who already called that school home. And those folks were understandably wary and resentful of a group of newcomers rushing in demanding change while liberally pointing out fault and failure.

I’m watching the same thing happen now with the progressive movement in the US. A fired-up grass-roots movement which wants to overhaul the Democratic Party for the betterment of all. Fantastic, right? But as I’m watching, I’m shaking my head. Because many are making the same mistake those neighborhood parents made: they’re not taking into account the people who actually make up the Democratic party.

The Democrats lost the last election. Bigly. They’ve lost countless seats and governorships in the last few election years. We can autopsy the whys until we’re covered in the gore of yesterday. We can place blame from here until Tuesday. None of that changes the fact that when you march into someone else’s school–or house, or political party–expecting to radically change the structure, you must take into account the needs, wants, and desires of the people who actually live there. Or, as the case may be, vote there.

Even if your ideas are great. Even if your ideas will help the people already there.

No one likes to be told they’re doing things wrong. No one likes to be told if only. Never mind if you’re right or not. Everyone’s well-versed in hindsight and its eagle-eyed vision. Would you march into someone else’s house and start shouting “You chose the wrong carpet! Your decor sucks! What were you thinking? Oh by the way, can I come stay with you for a while until I get my own place?”

If you expect them to say “Well sure, here are the keys!”, I want some of what you’re smoking.

What are they likely to do? The same thing any human being does when told they’re wrong, or stupid, or not good enough. They bristle. They resent the hell out of you. And they probably try to block every single attempt to change because hey, maybe the school/house/party is failing, but damn if it’s not our school and who are you to tell us how to do things? 

It makes my heart swell to see millions striving to make the world a more equitable place. But….you need to remember that there are millions of Democrats who’ve been living in their blue house for decades. Maybe it is falling down around them (and that point is arguable in and of itself). But remember, even if it is, it’s their damn house and they’ve been paying the mortgage on it for years. And despite what you may think, they’ve had a lot of good times in that house. There are some good memories there. They’re not going to let someone they don’t know come in and start tearing up the linoleum to see if there’s hardwood underneath, all the while berating them for every decorating choice they’ve made since 1960.

Most people don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. Even when that change is going to benefit them. The reasons why so many old school Democrats are committed now to a resistance movement is that the change is threatening to go too far in one direction. But remember, for millions of Democrats–the people who have been living in that house, the ones who have been showing up and voting–change too far in the other direction is just as frightening. And they’ll fight it just as much.

Right now, Progressives need to rent some room in the Democrat’s house. Sure, you could declare it condemned. You could burn it and build something new. You could find another house on another street. But that all takes time, and by the time all is said and done, it could be too late.

Or…you could work with the people already living there. And, chances are, when you start looking around, you’re going to find a pretty decent bone structure to work with. In fact, the place may not be in as much disarray as you thought it was when you dragged your sleeping bag in looking for a place to squat.

Smart Progressives will approach coalition building with courtesy, caution, and yes, compromise. Maybe you reach an agreement to live together until your own house is ready. Great! After all, help with the bills is always welcomed. Until it’s ready it would be wise to remember that if you need a place to stay, it’s probably not the smartest move to go around  knocking holes in the walls and incessantly bringing up that time in 1992 when they let the pipes freeze. Or else you may just find your ass on the street. Noble intentions, passion, and good ideas go a long way, but when there’s a hurricane bearing down upon you, and there’s a big old blue house on the corner inviting you in, it would be dumb not to take shelter. Even if the roof is leaky and it stinks like mothballs. 

Eventually the new parents in my Brooklyn hood worked with the long-time neighborhood residents, wisely realizing that even if the school wasn’t winning any awards, it wasn’t really their school to criticize. The need for underlying change and improvement hadn’t gone away, but any forward motion had to take the old into account as well as the new.

Resistance is necessary. But the last thing a resistance movement needs is resistance within itself.

At Home on the Death Star

I think I might be a wee bit broken. A life spent increasingly online has done something to me, something that no stream of Distractify quizzes or compilation of cute kittens is able to fix right now.

It’s like I got sucked up by a tractor beam into the wake of the Death Star.

I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist. But I think I was fooling myself. Sure, there were spirals into depression and Woody Allen style NYC neurosis, but underneath it all, under the goth makeup and bad poetry of my youth, the self-deprecating gallows humor of my twenties, even now, amid the swirling eddy of my forty-something rage, was a belief in the goodness of the human raceThe belief that despite a never-ending string of Vaders parading across the world’s stage, the Jedis always win. Sometimes it takes a few prequels to get the schematics and come up with a plan, but the good guys prevail.

I’m beginning to think I was wrong.

Or at least that’s what a life spent online is causing me to think. And this cycle of uncertainty and questioning has a force choke on my sense of self.

In my quest to put my voice out there–as a flare, a guidepost, a way of joining with others to increase the volume, I may have gone too far, gotten lost in too many comment threads, traveled down too many rabbit holes.

It’s pretty dank and dismal down there. If the internet has become my own personal Death Star, right now I’m stuck in the trash compactor, walls closing in, stinking of shit.

Light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong. Which way do we fall on the scales? Sometimes after half a bottle of wine my husband humors me and we have a buzzy debate about the nature of man. Are we inherently bad, kept in check by some complicated contraption of rules and law held together with duct tape and a prayer? Or are we inherently good, mostly Yoda with a few Emperor Palpatines popping up along the way?

I keep insisting we are good. And besides, the nature of man is just that, I argue. Man. Everything’s been tried, my husband says, and it always devolves along the same pattern. No, no, I insist, not everything. And we pour more wine and debate some more until he tells me my allotted time for serious topics is up and there is a football match on television.

But lately my time online has made me doubt my faith in the Rebel Alliances of the world. That, in and of itself is a sad thing. And it is only made sadder because it’s something I brought upon myself.

In my own desire to be part of something, to be seen, heard, in the vain hope that a lone voice could add something to the conversation, my online life has become a pyramid–both an outsize monument and a scheme. I got invited onto the Death Star and I went. And now, after much wandering around, I’m feeling pretty comfy.

I don’t want to live my life with the bitter aftertaste I’m left with after any time spent online these days. I don’t want feel dirty, spent, laying awake at night trying to figure out if my online activities are an exercise in support or if it’s merely feeding my own ego. In reality, it’s probably a mixture of both, but the feeling of accomplishment–a reader reaching out, a civilized debate, conversing with like-minded people– is competing with darker forces.

I am living my own Empire/Rebel Alliance in my life online. The escape pod is in my line of sight: Log off, delete my accounts, go on my merry way.

Yet I don’t. That’s where the ego comes in, I guess. Building the pyramid. I mean, the Death Star was really nothing more than a galactic pyramid if you think about it.

How long can you roam around the halls of the Death Star without starting to feel like one of the troops, before a little bit of the darkness rubs off on you? What happens when the idea of blowing it up becomes hard to imagine because, hey, you’re just getting to know your way around.

I’m not sure what my role is here, or even if there is a role to fill. Life online has brought me joy, and it has connected me with amazing people I wouldn’t otherwise know. It has expanded my tribe and brought me success. It’s brought me laughter and it keeps me informed. But it has also brought me into contact with a dark side of human nature I wasn’t prepared for. Am I better for knowing it exists? Philosophically, yes. In reality? It’s like eating cotton candy and going to bed without brushing your teeth. You feel kind of gross and when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you taste is the very thing that made you feel sick.

Leia would keep looking for new ways to figure it all out. Old man Luke chucked it all in to go live on a craggy rock and do some soul-searching.

Do or do not, there is no try, right?

I’ll let you know. Unless I’m on an uninhabited rock somewhere, you know, without WiFi.

 

Fake Out

newsboy-ned-parfett-announcing-the-sinking-of-the-titanic-english-schoolEvery so often, a word or a phrase insinuates itself into everyday speech. Like a parasite, it worms its way through our conversations, it hooks itself into our lexicon, camps out in  our slang until it’s legitimate enough to find itself plonk in the middle of Merriam-Webster. Sometimes they’re words we’ve been using forever and it’s just the way we use it that changes.

Like fake.

Until recently a fake, was some one or thing which was or assumed to be demonstrably false. Nails, tans, breasts. The guy who gives you a business card pretending to be a modeling scout to get into your knickers. Handbags sold in Chinatown, silk flowers in your Nana’s bathroom, gold watches that tarnish in the rain. Suddenly fake appears to be a word we use whenever any one or thing doesn’t fit within the frame of our personal or communal narrative.

Like fake news.

Fake news–that is news that has no basis in reality, no provable facts, no corroborated sources, is damaging enough. Tandem it with a global word of mouth tool like the internet, and well, forget Bob being your Uncle, Trump’s your President. Real Fake News is an oxymoron waiting to happen. More damaging is the way the phrase is bandied without merit, and with complete disregard for the–to borrow one of 45’s greatest hits–carnage– it’s doing.

One of the things we possess as human beings, in addition to opposable thumbs, is the ability to reason. When every click means more advertising revenue, when every comment means a bump in the social media stakes, news sources want you to read their stories. This is nothing new. Think of the newsboys in those cute caps selling papers by the headline. What is new is that readers are neglecting to use what we hide under those cute caps. Our brains.

news-boy-2

I got into a–let’s call it a debate–on FaceBook the other evening over whether or not an article was fake news. (This particular article was about a draft memo which toyed with the idea of using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants). The headline was sensationalized, all the better to get you to click on it, my dear. But the article, if you bothered to read it, made it abundantly clear that it was a draft memo which never crossed the president’s desk and was, according to the administration, never seriously considered. The article quoted sources, was written by a legitimate news source (i.e. not Brietbart or a Huffington Post ‘contributor’). It also made clear that reporters reached out for comments from the administration and the administration declined to do so. All of that information was within the body of the article.

But you had to actually read it. Which I did, but not before I had to get through the cries of fake news. In ALL CAPS.

Eh…

Contrast this with another article which detailed the Obama’s plans to have tax payers foot the bill for their vacations in perpetuity while they are in Kenya awaiting re-entry into the US. No sources, no evidence, no verifiable documentation.

One is demonstrably false, no sources, easily disproven (hell, social media was fairly exploding with pictures of President Obama wind surfing in the Caribbean with Richard Branson). The other states the existence of a legitimate memo which exists (or did exist) as a verifiable document, makes clear it was a draft, and leaves the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Sensationalized? Absolutely. Fake? Nope.

The danger of course is that we will start overusing the phrase ‘fake news’ the way we overused the word bully, until it means less and less, until people start to ignore it or roll their eyes. The danger is that it lessens the damage real fake news brings in its wake, the same way we lessened the pain of those suffering from bullying behavior by insisting that every toddler in the sandbox was a ‘bully’. We become immune to it, we stop caring about it, it becomes meaningless because it means less.

For all the talk of personal accountability, there seems to be little accountability when it comes to reading, and critically assessing the news. As always, we’re quick to throw out the blame. The media for their sensationalized headlines. Social media for providing a vehicle. Teenagers in Macedonia churning out false articles. Perhaps the blame should rest squarely on the quality of education or the laziness of the person reading–or not reading–the article, or the inability to verify information.

There is too much at stake to simply base our opinions and facts on headlines or tweets or soundbites edited for impact. Right now we’re so ready to believe the worst of each other that of course it’s comforting to see a headline and think, “See!! I knew it!” and leave it at that. If it fits our world view, we’re happy to bathe in our partisan outrage with nothing more than a bold face headline to back us up.

And every time the headline goes against what we like, it becomes fake.

news-boyWhen it’s really not.

If this were the Star Wars universe Yoda would be imploring you. Judiciously you must read.Wisely and widely.

Be like Yoda. You have opposable thumbs. Use them to turn the pages of a newspaper. You have a brain. Use it to think. You have the ability to reason and discern. Don’t cry “Wolf!” so much that no one believes you when the wolf is actually staring down your door with gleaming teeth bared.

All the better to eat you with, my dear.