to vote and

Yesterday afternoon, my sister shared with me a video that gave me words. In doing so, it took a load off both mind and heart.

Before I tell you about the video, I must first tell you about the load …
about which it will, I’ll caution you, likely be unpleasant to read.

— the load —

I’d begun the morning reflecting how completely I abhor the private corporation that is the Democrats—not those who vote Democrat, no, but the Democratic machine itself. By this I mean those with the power to draft its platforms;
those who routinely take actions that benefit people with massive power while further depriving the economically powerless any prospect for structural dignity;
those who call themselves the good guys while epsteining as a way of life.

As I’ve been clear about here, I grew up in deep poverty. That poverty paved the way for predation; as members of the vast U.S. underclass, my siblings and I were preyed upon by numerous predators. As I wrote in one post on my old blog, “The poor mom who cannot afford to feed her children cannot possibly afford an attorney,” a fact on which predators gleefully act.

Coupling my childhood learning with ample book learning the last four years, I am crystal clear on the many ways that machine has long acted to increase the suffering of those already suffering most. Continue reading “to vote and”

to become learned

One of the formative experiences of my life—testifying, as a child, feet away from a home-wrecking pedophile—taught me a great many things. The most important thing it taught me was:

You’ll only be believed if you behave, and speak, exactly right.

Four years ago, I realized I could state what I believed, but that I’d never be believed without cold, hard facts.

Maybe, I contemplated, I’d be believable with them?

I started reading. I read more than a hundred books annually to learn not only the cold, hard facts, but also to learn their contexts: the very specific histories in which they were birthed.

Continue reading “to become learned”

possible

Early yesterday morning, I took my sons for drive-through hot chocolate. Rather than heading straight home afterward, I drove surface streets for a few minutes before hopping on the freeway.

Even for a Friday morning in pandemic times, traffic was unbelievably light. For a few miles, then, we got to do one of my favorite things in the world: unhindered by bumper-to-bumper traffic, fly down the freeway in SoCal sunlight.

My heart soared, despite the outward mundanity of the act.

I grinned as I told my kids how much I loved the feeling. I’d only just voiced curiosity about the source of this feeling when I found my answer, which I shared with my kids. Continue reading “possible”

with passion for liberation

I recently bought Ibrahim X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist.

I haven’t read very far. And yet, only a few pages in, I’m so grateful to have–thanks to Kendi–added the word “antiracist” to my vocabulary.

For years, I fumbled for words to explain to some white friends that their being quietly “color-blind” wasn’t really a kindness to people of color. The closest I could come, over and over again, was saying variations of, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train. Being quietly ‘color-blind’ doesn’t stop that hurtful train from rolling right over people.”

So many conversations. So many hours. So many words.

Finding the word “antiracist” brought me a sigh of relief: Silence is a vote for racism, while speaking up, with a passion for justice for all, is its opposite, antiracism.

Having the word “antiracist” helped me troubleshoot a related flaw in my own thinking elsewhere recently.

I got to thinking about how it’s obviously obvious to anyone who meets me for even three seconds that I wholeheartedly support equal rights for LGBTQI people–doesn’t almost everyone by now?!–when I caught myself mid-thought, flashed to Kendi, and went, Continue reading “with passion for liberation”

to karen (2), or: “small fires”

A small fire is hard to see but it’s easy to put out; a large fire is easy to see but very difficult to put out.

– Dr. Mike Ryan, on COVID-19

When I began writing “to karen (1),” I was already personally clear that “Karen,”
while a problem, is not The Problem.

I’d begun to identify The Problem for myself, but did not yet have words
to begin describing it.

I don’t yet have great words, but you know what?

It’s by writing that I find those words, and also

build them into muscle memory.

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb has guided how I assess the problem of “Karen.” For me, having read Taleb, karening involved what I described as “a transference of skin in the game.”

“To karen,” I decided, means to “take acts that decrease one’s anxiety—to increase one’s subjective sense of well being—by transferring (or attempting to transfer) objective risks and costs to someone else.”

Having read Taleb, the problem with this definition was almost immediately clear to me: The woman-on-the-street engaged in karening has a very limited reach. The individuals with whom she comes in touch may be imperiled by her urgent need to reduce her anxiety at someone else’s expense, but …

From a societal perspective, any individual “Karen” causes qualitatively large but quantitatively small harm.

The much greater danger to life and liberty wouldn’t be one Karen-in-the-park, but people enabled to sacrifice numerous lives and livelihoods all at once:

People who could put not only one or two people’s skin in the game,

but put in thousands, or millions, all at once.

While wrapping up “to karen (1),” I tried finding the Taleb passages I sought in his Skin in the Game. Continue reading “to karen (2), or: “small fires””

to be: healed

In late April, I read about an ER doctor in Manhattan who had committed suicide. Her father said, “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”

I tweeted a link to the New York Times article with the below text:

The MD BIL who persuaded me to pursue #publichealth instead of social work told me #moralinjury could kill me:
being deprived, systemically, of the ability to do the right thing.

This doctor was—IS—a hero.
Had we better systems,
she could have remained a *living* hero.

I followed up that

The one person still in my life since I was born is a nurse. She told me she’s trying to survive these days without serious trauma.

I told her it sounded like she was describing trying to survive moral injury. She said that was exactly it.

Today, I saw on Twitter that the doctor about whom I read in April had been profiled in the New York Times. I read the article with aching heart, after which I tweeted a link with the words:

“Still, when the casualties of the coronavirus are tallied, Dr. Breen’s family believes she should be counted among them.” After reading this, I agree. Completely.

I followed up that

Recently texted dear family friends, married nurses, on being reminded “once again, how much care and fortitude are involved in nursing. I am so grateful for you & so absolutely livid that you are, it feels, being punished for your caring. You deserve better.” Dr. Breen did, too.

What’s funny about my April post is that I called Dr. Breen “a hero.”

I don’t believe in heroes. As I wrote three years ago, I believe in hero-ing. That’s to say, I believe in “hero” as a verb, not a noun. I wrote about this last month:

“hero” not as a binary trait attainable by a few
but a verb achievable
every day, by
everyone
still
living.

When I wrote these words in June, I wasn’t thinking about the dangers to so-called “heroes” of using “hero” as a noun. I just loathed how hero-as-noun deprived most of humanity, unjustly and potentially catastrophically, the opportunity to hero out of the blue today or tomorrow, should such opportunity arise.

(Does humanity benefit more from heroes, or from everyone understanding they may be called upon, and may choose to, hero today, no matter what they did every other day before today?)

Today, I began to see the personal dangers of doctor-hero-as-noun thanks to one in a thread of tweets inspired by the NYT’s piece on Dr. Breen. Wrote Dr. Esther Choo:

I think the “hero” rhetoric, as well intentioned as it was (seriously, we appreciated the compliment) also makes it harder to admit feelings of despair, defeat, and fatigue.

I still haven’t quite worked out my definition of what it means to hero. I think it comes down to being willing to improve someone’s life at potential expense of one’s own, but that’s a very, very tentative working definition.

I don’t believe in heroes. I do, however, believe that some people might be particularly inclined to hero. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that, while not denying anyone else the joy and privilege of heroing.

And so, when I think of Dr. Breen today, I think, “Man, did she know how to hero!”

I just wish … we had systems that had enabled her to hero on her own behalf.

If we did, she might be alive to hero again today, and tomorrow.

If we want to enable more heroing, we need better systems:

systems that enable people to acknowledge, without punishment, when they are hurting,

to hero twenty times one day and then barely be able to crawl out of bed the next fifty,

to love and appreciate people whether or not they ever,

one single time,

are able

to hero.

When we acknowledge that everyone, everywhere is capable of hero-ing,
we take a load off those we currently expect to be “heroes”—
by evidencing understanding that being human is messy,
and hard, and hurt-filled, and confusing
(on the best of days),
and giving everyone a chance to not only hurt
but to be the inspiration
for hurts, at long last,
finally, given a chance
to be:
healed.

how we (get to) remember

Twitter has often been an unhealthy place for me.

That’s changed recently, and it’s changed because:
I now mostly check list filled with doctors and public health experts
who sometimes despair at the odds they’re up against,
but keep fighting, with data and love, anyway.

Now, when I check Twitter, I tend to stick to these lists,
which means I leave not with a depleted heart,
but a fuller one:

These people LIVE IN MY WORLD!

They inspire me, and I am
so glad to know (about) them.

If you’ve read more than two posts here, you know that Nassim Nicholas Taleb is my favorite author. His early words about the threat of COVID shifted me from thinking, “What’s the big deal?” to, “Oh, boy, we’ve just entered Extremistan, haven’t we?” Continue reading “how we (get to) remember”

keep on asking!

My ten-year-old, Li’l D, and I have many times discussed the difference between “knowing” and “knowing-about.”

As human beings, it can be far too easy to confuse knowing-about with deep knowing, as I first demonstrated to Li’l D—years ago!—with elephants.

While I can’t recall how that conversation started, it began with Li’l D being confident in his elephant expertise. He remained confident until I started asking him nuanced questions about elephants: Continue reading “keep on asking!”