Category Archives: News

Don’t You Dare Tell Me How To Feel

get-over-itI admit my emotions are still raw after Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States on Tuesday night. And yes, I’ve cycled through the stages of grief: disbelief to sadness to anger to acceptance then back to anger.

And then more anger.

I’m not angry with people who voted for Trump. Even though they voted for a man who used hate to garner much of his support, I understand they had various reasons for voting for him.

I’m angry because I am forced to accept their vote while most Trump supporters have shown absolutely no interest in understanding why I’m completely heartbroken for an America I thought existed. I truly believed that Americans could value the common good over money, dogma, single issues, self-interest and even the truth. And I was wrong.

I’m even more angry that I’ve been told to “just get over it,” “find something else to occupy your thoughts,” “accept God’s will,” and “stop being a tool of the liberal media,”

During my entire life, I have never, ever told anyone who was grieving to “suck it up and just get over it.”

Grief isn’t just about losing someone you love. It’s about losing something that you value and hold close to your heart. It’s about trying to get through a day in a fog when other people are acting as if nothing has changed. It’s about having to re-wire your brain to live in a different reality.  Worst of all, grief harshly rips open old wounds and scars that some of us have spent decades trying to forget.

Which is why I was in tears this week when a friend asked the six women in the room “How many of us have been groped by a man we didn’t want?” Five of the six of us raised our hands. I was not the fortunate woman who didn’t raise her hand. I was the adolescent girl who had never even kissed a boy but was groped by a middle-aged man at church. I was wearing my favorite sweater on the Sunday when he grabbed my breast and told me I was developing nicely. I shoved that sweater to the back of closet and never wore it again.

That old scar tore open the day I heard the now infamous recording of Trump talking about “grabbing pussy.”

But grief isn’t just about the past, it’s also about losing hopes and dreams for the future. On Tuesday night, my hope for the future dimmed the second I received a text that my son, a college freshman, sent to his dad and me.

“Guys,” it read, “I’m terrified.”

And I knew exactly what he meant.

My son is a journalism major following in the footsteps of journalists on both sides of his family tree. His dad is a journalist. My mom was a journalist. His great-grandfather published a newspaper. And yet, my son’s professional aspirations were belittled and threatened by the future president of the United States. My son recognized this threat when, on the day his father and I visited the National Press Club, Donald Trump banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign.

Like me, my son completely understands that some media sources, both liberal and conservative, are truly biased. But he also knows that many journalists have dedicated their lives to uncovering and reporting the truth – whether or not they like or agree with it. All of their hard work is being completely disregarded and even threatened by a significant percentage of the American population. And he is scared.

I completely understand his fear.

A week before the election, I finished reading two books. The first, Lilac Girls, a historical novel by Martha Hall Kelly. Although it’s a work of fiction, the book follows real events, real people and the real tragedy of World War II when too many people were willing to blame, ridicule, persecute and ultimately kill people of a different faith because they believed in a leader who told them to hate.

In the second book, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, a French Catholic girl is sent to a concentration camp because she has Jewish blood. Despite her prayers, her entire family is killed, and she begins to doubt the power of prayer.

That story is so fresh and so painful that I can’t believe this election is “God’s will” any more than I can believe the rise of Hitler was “God’s will.”

I will never believe that God favors one group of people or one set of beliefs over another. The God I know encourages love and acceptance.

And if you tell me I’m wrong, I’m going to get angry. Just like I’m going to get angry when you tell me that I simply need to “get over” this election.

I won’t hate. I won’t belittle. I won’t even tell people they are misguided or wrong.

But I won’t get over my anger.

And don’t you dare tell me I should.

How to Stay Sane Until November 8

2016-electionI’ve felt myself slowly sliding closer and closer to that proverbial deep end.

I made the mistake of reading social media posts from people who, for whatever reason, are incredibly afraid of the truth and therefore ignore facts, denounce credible news sources and cite dubious and/or biased sources to justify their own skewed beliefs. I’ve observed so-called Christians claiming that their version of Christianity is the only legitimate religion in the world. And I saw pictures of women making light of sexual assault.

My disgust hasn’t been limited to social media. My daily perusal of the Washington Post has provided regular reminders of the vitriol, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, disrespect and overall embarrassment of the 2016 presidential campaign.

I’ve wanted to close my eyes, put a finger in each of my ears and loudly yell, “La la la la la la la! Stop it! I’m not listening!” at the top of my lungs.

But I haven’t because I can’t. Of the billions of people on earth, I was lucky enough to be born in the United States and enjoy the rights provided to me in the 19th amendment (even though some avid Trump supporters are now in favor of repealing those rights).

So, despite how incredibly scary this election is or how history will some day portray it, I have a responsibility to use my rights (as they currently exist) to speak out.

But I can’t do that if I lose my sanity, so I must find a way to keep my grasp on it.

And to date, I have thanks to some bright moments as our nation faces such dark times.

For example:

  • Staying up to watch Saturday Night Live has once again become worthwhile. Donald Trump can actually make me smile – when he’s played by Alec Baldwin that is.
  • I’m rarely the smartest person in the room. I am surrounded by intelligent, well-educated  people who amaze me with their breadth of knowledge and keen insights. As a plus, not only are they smart, but they are also very open-minded.
  • Even though my man Jon Stewart is no longer on the Daily Show, my favorite acerbic political comedy hits the mark every single time. Each morning, I watch the first ten minutes from the previous night and am filled with appreciation that other people really do “get it.”
  • The headlines about sexual assault and sexual harassment are increasing awareness of and support for survivors.
  • There are a lot of men who are raising their voices in support of women and against white male privilege. I’ve loved spying on my son’s social media accounts, and, I have to say, I’m so proud of his acceptance of people of all genders, sexual orientation, race, religion and backgrounds (as long as they aren’t bullies and jerks of course.)
  • Despite all the hate rhetoric, we ARE making progress toward being a more inclusive nation. On the day I was born, there was only one woman in the U.S. Senate and only eight in the House of Representatives. When I was a year old, Martin Luther King Jr. was slain. Just a year later,  the Stonewall riot occurred in New York City, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement. Today, our president is a black man who has spent eight years in the oval office, gay couples have the right to marry, 104 women sit in Congress, and a woman is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
  • History shows that good ALWAYS rises from the ashes. ALWAYS.  No matter how horrible the circumstances, there will always be heroes and people who make history with their ability to not only rise above the fray but to make the world better for others.

And that is what I’m counting on to maintain my sanity after this election too.

 

 

Beyond Appearances

if-only-our-eyes-saw-souls-instead-of-bodies-how-vMonths ago, I swore I wouldn’t get too emotionally or otherwise invested in this year’s presidential election.

In 2012,  I wrote and ranted and worried. I wanted to ensure that everyone knew exactly what I thought about the candidates and why my opinion was justified.

In retrospect, I doubt anything I wrote had much, if any, influence on anyone.

People who agreed with me, well, agreed with me.

People who disagreed with me either ignored me, posted negative comments, unfriended me or unfollowed me.

America re-elected Obama, politics continued to divide us, and America has continued to be torn apart by issues of race, equality and social justice.

And this presidential campaign has devolved into a completely horrifying spectacle.

Yet up until now, I’ve refrained from writing about it.

Maybe I’ve just become too cynical and convinced that some people’s brains simply can’t separate facts from propaganda and can only spout ridiculous rhetoric.

But something happened to my self-imposed reticence after watching the first of three scheduled presidential debates on Monday night.

I realized the hypocrisy of my temptation to make light of Donald Trump’s hair, his weird orange complexion, his constant sniffing and his absurd facial expressions.

Because in doing so, I’ve lowered myself to his standards of valuing, or devaluing, someone based solely on appearance. This is, after all, a man who discussed the potential size of his toddler daughter’s breasts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w2T1owSV0U, has used physical attributes as a qualification for employment http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-trump-women, and, the night after the debate, defended hurtful comments about a beauty queen’s weight http://www.npr.org/2016/09/27/495611105/in-post-debate-interview-trump-again-criticizes-pageant-winners-weight,

As a country, we  have to be better than this.

We must do better than this.

We have to raise our expectations and our standards.

And, most importantly, we have to make the voice of human dignity louder than anything money can buy.

An Overdose of Reality

shep pointingLast Monday night, family and friends celebrated as my son and 255 of his classmates received their high school diplomas

A week later, one of those students died.

My daughter was told about the death at school. My son found out via social media. My husband learned of it from my son. And I received  a text message telling me the Spring Mills High School class of 2016 had already lost a member.

Within a few hours, the rumors were swirling through the neighborhood and on the internet. But there was element that never changed: the culprit was heroin

And while many are simply shocked that a kid with so much potential died from a drug overdose, I’m dealing with a range of emotions.

I’m saddened, and my heart breaks for my son’s classmates who are struggling to understand what happened. I’m overwhelmed with how this drug continues to gain strength in my community. And I’m frustrated with the  political posturing that’s preventing real solutions to this horrible epidemic.

But, most of all, I’m angry.

I’m angry that so many people are expressing surprise that an athlete with decent grades could die from an overdose. This has been happening for years across the country, and pretending it couldn’t happen at our school was ridiculous.

I’m angry that my community has experienced dozens of overdose deaths since the beginning of 2016 and yet so many people want to blame the victims and their families instead of work toward a solution.

And most of all, I’m angry that drug dealing is yet another example of how money has become more important than human lives.

Nobody in the Class of 2016 can rewind the clock a week and get a do-over, and there is still plenty more heartache to come for everyone involved in this situation.

I can only hope that the members of my son’s graduating class, as well as the underclassmen who will follow in their footsteps, recognize that some of life’s most important lessons don’t happen in the classroom. Even more importantly, I hope they understand that those lessons mean nothing if they don’t use that knowledge in a meaningful way.

In a situation like this, turning those lessons into action is a matter of life and death.

Donald Trump and the Gritters

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“Gritter.” It was such a completely foreign and wrong word, yet it was also very powerful.

Until I moved to West Virginia as an awkward adolescent, I never knew such words even existed. I was aware that some people used negative words to describe different races, but I didn’t know that there were also words to describe people by their social status. I had certainly witnessed my share of ridicule of the poor and outcast, but I didn’t know there were actual labels for such individuals.

What I did know was that associating with people who wore such labels was social suicide and defending them could be just as dangerous.

I was already teetering on the edge of not belonging, and I was worried that even the slightest mistake would send me hurtling over the edge. I was already considered weird because I had transferred from a state that was thousands of miles away. Then I had made a near fatal error of  comparing my old life to my new one. In other words, in the eyes of my peers, I thought I was better than they were.

Nothing was farther from the truth. Maybe, if we hadn’t all been so wrapped up in the complexity of adolescence, my classmates might have recognized how completely alone and alien I felt.

But, they didn’t. Or, if they did, they didn’t care.

And so, I felt a complete urgency to assimilate into a new culture and to adopt a new language, even when it went in the face of everything in which I believed.

I made the mistake of trying out my newly acquired word “gritter” on my family during dinner.

“What does that mean?” my mom asked

I tried my best to explain about the kids on the bus that were gritters and how they wore the same clothes over and over again, lived in the mobile home park and were generally unacceptable.

My parents got really, really angry.

More than 30 years later, I don’t remember much of what my parents said, but I do remember the look on my dad’s face when he said that he would have been a “gritter” in high school. And I remember my ambivalence.

To the depths of my soul, I knew how wrong judging and labeling other people was. But I also knew that I had absolutely no social footing, so standing up against what was a social norm would just further alienate me. My peers had a pecking order, and I wasn’t about to question it.

Until this past week, I’d completely forgotten all about gritters and my parents complete outrage at the ease with which I had used the word.

But then the West Virginia primary election brought it all back.

Donald Trump easily won West Virginia’s nod for President of the United States. While this wasn’t a surprise, the political pundits immediately began analyzing how one of the nation’s poorest states could engage in a love affair with a man who has nothing in common with the people, the culture and, of course, the lack of resources.

And even though I’m personally frustrated by the whole situation, I kind of get it.

West Virginians have been ridiculed for decades. The entire population is often stereotyped as poor, uneducated hillbillies whose culture is defined as being on par with the dueling banjos in the movie Deliverance. 

No one wants to be called the equivalent of a gritter. We want people to believe we are better than that, even if that means we point our fingers at other people and blame them, not ourselves, for our problems.

That is Donald Trump’s schtick.

He builds himself up while tearing others down – the poor, the undocumented, women, people with disabilities, people with accents, etc. Basically, he has taken license to belittle anyone who isn’t exactly like him.

No wonder West Virginians are buying it. If elected, they will have a leader who gives them license to call their neighbors gritters and blame others for their problems.

I am only grateful that I am no longer that awkward adolescent that was afraid to speak out or embrace the wisdom of her parents. Now, I’m willing to yell at the top of my lungs “Putting other people down doesn’t make you a leader or a better person. In fact, it does the exact opposite.”

Maybe Donald Trump will never hear me, but at least I know someone will.

And that’s a start.

 

In the Bathroom

public-bathroom-signI am a worrier.

I worry about my kids, the decisions they make and if they are happy.

I worry about having enough money to meet my family budget and having enough money to meet my office budget.

I worry about whom our country will select for our next president.

I worry about drugs and crime in our community, individuals who are homeless and people are being abused by a family member or by the system.

And I worry about people who are too self-centered or narrow-minded to care about anything or anyone but themselves and their own self-righteous and generally misguided opinions.

But I have never once worried about the person in the bathroom stall next to me.

Until this year, I never even considered that a birth certificate could prove or disprove whether that person in the next stall posed a risk to me or my children.

Birth certificates are just pieces of paper that capture information provided during one single moment in time and reflect societal norms of the past.

Heck, my own birth certificate isn’t even accurate. My mother’s name is misspelled. Apparently, in the excitement of my arrival, she didn’t put her professional proof reading skills to use.

Even worse, my birth certificate lists my mother’s profession as a housewife. My mother was never married to a house. Neither did she spend the majority of her adult life staying at home cleaning, cooking and caring for kids. She was an extension agent, a Peace Corps volunteer, a substitute teacher, a journalist, an editor and even a librarian.

But, at that time I was born, she was not an earning an income outside the home. At that ONE point in time.bathroom stallsSo, even though my birth certificate states my mother was married to a house, which I find a frightening thought, I can’t find any information on my birth certificate that indicates whether or not I pose a danger to others. The information on my birth certificate is so irrelevant that I’ve never even considered carrying it with me.

In the past 30 years, the only time I’ve even taken it out of a safe deposit box was when I needed it for proof of identification. If I ever need it to get into a public restroom, I’m out of luck because it stays locked away in a box that won’t burn.

This whole debate over which sex can use which public bathroom seems as ridiculous as the dress code a former employer tried to implement years ago. The man was getting ready to retire and was trying, for one last time, to impose his prehistoric beliefs  on those who would be left behind.

(This is the same man who insisted I should never be put in a position of authority because I breastfed during a work-related meeting. He never considered that I attended the meeting while on maternity leave because I was just that committed to my job.)

To provide some perspective about just how prehistoric his dress code was, it required women wear hose with skirts or dresses. It also required women wear appropriate underwear and noted that thongs were not appropriate undergarments for the workplace.

When I read the dress code (which, by the way, I fought against and eventually had overturned) , my first question was how it would be monitored and enforced.

I feel exactly the same about a law that require people to use the public restroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

It is, in two words, absolutely ridiculous.

The Greatest Tragedy

My family had just celebrated my son’s first birthday when the nation’s attention focused on a high school in Colorado where two students killed 13 people.

My daughter was less than a month old when terrorists struck the Twin Towers .

I’ve been a mom for 17 years, and I have absolutely no concept how it feels like to know my children are safe.

I  can only hope the odds that they are more likely to graduate than they are to be the victims of horrific crimes.

My children grew up in a world where violence is a constant. They’ve seen news footage of shootings in elementary schools, high schools, colleges and movie theaters. They only know a life in which such events are just another blip in an ongoing story about how unhappy, angry and unstable people resort to horrible acts to express their feelings. Phrases such as gun control and school shootings are a part of their every day vocabulary.

But despite practicing school lockdowns and opening their bags for inspection everywhere they go, my kids don’t focus on what others might do to them. My son is concerned about his SAT scores and my daughter is trying to decide what song she should sing for an upcoming audition. The threat of violence is just the constant white noise that constitutes the background of their lives.

But not so much for their parents.

On the same day that a television reporter and cameraman were shot during a live newscast, my son wore a blazer to school.

He is part of the morning news crew at his school television station, and he was going to be on air.

He left the house at about 6:45 preparing for a live broadcast while at the exact same time, another live newscast had just ended in violence.

White noise for him, another reason to worry for his parent, and another opportunity for pundits, politicians and every day people to argue about how to prevent another such incident.

By the end of the day, my Facebook feed was full of posts from people arguing for and against gun control and pontificating about mental illness and violence.

And I said nothing because I’ve come to realize my words wouldn’t matter.

People argued after Columbine. People argued after Virginia Tech. People argued after Sandy Hook.

And despite all that arguing, the shootings and violence continues.

I’m not writing this because I have a brilliant idea how to prevent such events.

I’m writing this because when my kids left for school this morning, the white noise in their lives was louder than usual and my concern for their safety was heightened.

I am writing this because I am tired of everyone talking at each other, disagreeing with each other and embracing their hatred and anger toward anyone who doesn’t think like they do.

And I am writing this because my children have grown up with such behavior and have come to accept it.

And that is the greatest tragedy of all.

The Language of Our Fathers

The first time I truly understood why I had married my husband, we had already celebrated more than 15 wedding anniversaries.

The moment of my realization wasn’t romantic nor was it private.

In fact, we were surrounded by others at a neighborhood Halloween party.

mlk 1The dads were standing in a small circle talking, and I just happened to be nearby when one of them pulled out his phone and read a joke to the other dads. I can’t recall the punchline, but it had something to do with President Obama being black. As the other dads laughed, my husband turned his back on them and started to walk away.

“What’s wrong?” one of the other dads asked. “Do you support Obama?”

“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I support him or not. That was a racist joke and laughing at it was racist behavior.”

After their initial silence, they mumbled excuses mixed with denials.

My husband walked away anyway.

That is the exact moment when I realized why I decided he was “the one” all those years ago.

Despite our extreme personality differences, he speaks my language.

It is a language that embraces differences and dismisses labels. It’s a language that appreciates the incredible beauty of being unique and despises the use of violence.

Most of all, it is a language that conveys the perils of remaining silent at even the smallest acts of bigotry.

I was thinking of this lansilence of our enemiesguage when I woke up Thursday morning to the news that nine people had been slaughtered at a historical African-American church in Charleston South Carolina because of the color of their skin.

I couldn’t help but wonder if their killer had told racist jokes and if people who claim they are not racist had laughed at them.

My gut told me they had.

Apathy can be as dangerous as a gun, and yet it is something many of us use on a regular basis to help us “get along” and “not make waves.

It is also something that can be broken with only a few words, like those my husband spoke at a Halloween party years ago

On Father’s Day, as most of us take time to thank our dads for all they’ve done, I want to thank my husband for teaching my children his language.

It is  a beautiful language because it is also full of hope. When all the voices who speak it join together, maybe, just maybe, they can begin to change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minimize This

Last week, WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.00 an hour in 2015 and to $8.75 in 2016.

Opponents of the new law have had multiple complaints:

Teenagers working part-time jobs will be making more money than they really need;

The amount employers will be forced to pay for overtime will increase significantly;

When minimum wage increases, everyone else’s income is worth a little less.

I’m not an economist nor am I a labor expert, so I really can’t disagree with any of these statements.

What I can do is provide a little bit of perspective.

Currently, a full-time minimum-wage employee making $7.25 earns $15,080 annually.

The poverty threshold in the United States for a single person is $11,670 annually. According to that, a person making minimum wage is rolling in the dough since he/she makes $3,410, or nearly 23%, above poverty guidelines. Never mind that this threshold is so low that most social service agencies use guidelines such as 138% or 150% of the poverty level to determine eligibility for services and emergency assistance.

Who couldn’t afford housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, medical bills and clothing with all that extra money? Granted, if there are two people in the household, the poverty guidelines increase to $15,730 a year. That means both people would have to work to keep the family above the poverty line, and one would only have to work part time at minimum wage to do so. Of course, if that household is comprised of one adult and one child, living above the poverty line becomes a bit more tricky.

In my job, I encounter people trying to navigate that tricky situation every day when they are seeking help keeping the electricity on or paying their rent.Minimum Wage Cartoon

But here’s something you may not realize: you probably encounter them every day too.

They are the people providing services for you behind cash registers and brooms. They are the people caring for your children and you parents. And they are the people who are working long hours for the lowest legal pay and are still often called lazy when they can’t pay their bills.

During the recent debate over the minimum wage in West Virginia, I was reading arguments for and against the increase, and one exchange struck me more than any other.

An individual in favor of the increase stated that he was working two jobs to support his family and that the increase would help.

In response, someone else stated that this person wouldn’t have to work two jobs if he had gotten an education.

As a very educated person, I can personally attest to the fact that an education is not a ticket to a good salary. But even if I hadn’t had to personally struggle with low-paying jobs, I’ve still had many advantages.

I was blessed with a childhood during which my parents cared about my brain development and supported me in school. I was  blessed by people who encouraged me when I pursued a higher education. And I’ve been blessed with circumstances that didn’t require me to support others when I was getting that education.

Not everyone has the opportunity or the aptitude to get an education. And even if they did,  there would never be enough decent-paying jobs to support everyone who meets the educational requirements.

Besides, many of us depend on people who are willing to work for minimum wage to do the tasks that make our lives easier.

Instead of condemning them, we should thank them.

And a slight increase in their pay is just a start.

 

A Sense of Power

government-shutdown-cartoon-darkow-495x389

John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune

My junior high social studies teacher, Mr. Bice, once stated, “The two most important jobs in the world don’t require a license: being a parent and being a citizen.”

No truer words were ever said.

Being a parent and being a citizen both require a great deal of responsibility: the responsibility to be knowledgeable and educated; the responsibility to hold others accountable and the responsibility to behave in a way that we want our children to behave.

Even though most American say they are fed up with our elected officials in Washington, I can’t say we are being particularly responsible citizens. And if members of the House of Representatives were in school rather than in Congress, the principal would already have made phone calls to their parents.

Unfortunately, the American public hasn’t been acting like good parents either.

Good parents don’t tolerate bullying and name calling.

Good parents don’t tolerate individuals putting their own wants and desires above those of others.

And most of all, good parents don’t teach their children that money and power are more important than being caring, compassionate and trustworthy.

But that is exactly what is happening. We are letting Corporate America buy politicians and public opinion. Take, for example, Citizens United,  which legalized the concept that corporations have the same rights as people. That’s like the school’s giving their business partners the same status as parents.

Unfortunately, too many people equate money with power and power with being important. If we want to change politics, we have to change that perception. I don’t know why that is so difficult as I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that most important people in my life never bought my respect. They earned it by giving their time to help others. They earned it by giving up something they wanted so someone else who needed it more.  And they earned it by making choices that weren’t self serving.

None of that requires money, but it does require a sense of being powerful.

There are those who would argue that we lose power when we give something away. But I, for one, am not buying that. I’m not buying it at all. I’m more than willing to give my vote to someone who stands up for what I believe and not for what they think will meet their own desires.