even so, or: “shoes”

This time last year, my husband introduced me to the 2006 music video “Shoes.”

When the video began playing, I couldn’t imagine why Anthony shared it. WTF was it, even?

By the end of the video, though, I was laughing. Hard. I couldn’t remember laughing that hard, or feeling so very-not-serious about anything, for years.

My kids and I ended up watching dozens of videos by the video’s maker, Kelly Liam Kyle Sullivan. Our favorites were “Muffins” and “Kelly’s Hollywood Meeting.”

When my late October birthday came around, my husband bought me two gifts: a Kelly shirt emblazoned with BETCH (Being En Total Control of Herself, natch), and another with the proprietor of Cunningham Muffins at her very wildest, muffin-loving best. Continue reading “even so, or: “shoes””

unexpected abundance

In my last post, I wrote about growing seeds, both literal and figurative.

As for the literal seeds, I wanted to report back for any other SoCal parents wondering how to keep their wee ones engaged in this physical world. Some of my family’s newly planted seeds are faring much, much better than others here in south Los Angeles County!

Within two weeks, we’ve witnessed growth as follows: Continue reading “unexpected abundance”

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.

to karen (1)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about concerns with Karens,

as well as concerns with my own use of the word “Karens” (noun) instead of karen-ing (verb).

I’ve been thinking about karen-ing a lot the last week or two:

What does it mean to karen?

Who is most likely, based on societal structures today,

to feel empowered to karen in public?

Do I karen? If so,

How do I adjust my life in ways that help me

karen less?

While the process of discovery as I’ve experienced it isn’t as linear as the nature of English and blogging may make it sound, the process really did begin with one question above all:

“What does it mean to karen?” What’s the definition as I’d write it?

To come to that definition, I had to first answer a different question:

Apart from the fact they’d been perpetrated by white women, what did all the acts of karening I’d witnessed on social media have in common?

In each case, a white woman felt subjectively threatened by the skin color and/or non-aggressive acts of a Black person, and then acted out that sense of threat in ways that increased possibility of harm to the Black person.

Thanks to author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I had words for what was happening in these moments of karening: Continue reading “to karen (1)”

drying in the sun

I moved to Japan in May 2004. While I took a lot from my time in Japan,

it’s the tiniest, most apparently innocuous piece of

my experience in Japan that’s

filled my heart

recently.

Growing up in profound trauma, I also grew up far outside my body:

Things happened to my body in the physical plane, but none of that mattered

to my mind, which subsisted on words and insights untouched by physical sensations.

While living in Japan, I found there was one activity that brought all of me together for a few minutes at a time: Continue reading “drying in the sun”

the illusion of health

You know that nightmare
where you have to take a Calculus final
even though you didn’t realize you were signed up for Calculus,
and didn’t attend a single class?

I had something like that, last night …
except, appropriately, it was about face masks.

I was perusing earrings in cozy, dimly lit second-hand collectives in San Francisco. I’d just found a beautiful pair of enormous red, yellow, and green earrings when I looked up and realized:

There were dozens of people in my vicinity, and no one was wearing a face mask! Not even me!

Panicked, I dropped the earrings and fled.

Then, I’m sitting on a bus, as I did so many times in both childhood and law school. Continue reading “the illusion of health”

Race & the willingness to see, or: “Don’t be Bob” 

In 2009, I was shocked to discover racism was still a “thing” in the United States. Yes, even in Los Angeles.

By 2013, I was no longer confused about the existence of racism here and now. Even so, it would be another couple years before I began really grasping how absolutely lethal is this racism in its many systemic forms.

Which is to say: In 2013, I hadn’t yet lost my sense of humor. I hadn’t yet begun to despair at my utter inability to help restructure systems to be less lethal. I could write a post like this one.

As you can see below, I hadn’t yet learned to capitalize the “b” in Black, or that even Bob (noun) doesn’t Bob (verb) all the time. But, hey! I did learn, eventually.

And the point here is: We all can learn, when we choose to listen. 🙂


Race & the willingness to see, or: “Don’t be Bob” 
Originally posted on TMiYC
July 19, 2013


“Racism is dead, folks. Move on!”

“Why are we still talking about race? I’ve never once seen an act of racism. It’s only people in backwater Arkansas who still think like that.”

“I don’t see color, and neither does anyone else these days. I don’t see why some people still want to live in the 1950s when racism was actually a problem.”

“My cat doesn’t see it, either. She’s above that.”

I’ve seen dozens of variations on these words in the past few days. I’d look for direct quotes, but honestly, I’d get so grumpy scanning through comments for the verbatim gems I’d end up devouring a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s instead of writing this blog. (And I don’t even eat dairy! Or added sugar!)

Aren’t I pasty white person? Yes, indeedy! But as the pasty white mama of a lovely mocha-colored cub, I’ve been inspired to research race and racism in a way I wasn’t before, back when I thought it didn’t exist save in backwater Arkansas.

Oh, yeah, I did. Continue reading “Race & the willingness to see, or: “Don’t be Bob” “

(un)becoming white

Yesterday, I heard my ten-year-old son, Li’l D, attempting “negotiations” with my six-year old son, Littler J.

I paused my laundry-folding to say, “How very big brother of you!” Hearing these words spoken, I added, “That’s lower-case ‘b,’ lower-case ‘b,’ to be clear.”

Despite Li’l D’s utter lack of interest in any clarification, I took the opportunity to clarify. “In 1984, author George Orwell described an overtly repressive, oppressive government represented by kindly sounding Big Brother—capital ‘B,’ capital ‘B.’”

Since Li’l D is already well acquainted with my love of author Neil Postman, I added a note about Postman’s take on Orwell. “There’s another author, Aldous Huxley, who wrote about a different version of a repressive government: one that represses–constrains the ranges of possibility–through pleasure and amusement that don’t require or permit critical thought. Postman thought Huxley’s Brave New World was closer to the world for which the foundation had been laid—that its repression was what we’d end up experiencing.”

My husband, Anthony, had first introduced me to Postman. He thus joined in the conversation—wait, no. More accurately, he helped me convert monologue to dialogue.

As we chatted, I thought about protests against police brutality currently sweeping the United States. At these protests, police have brutally attacked thousands of protestors (and even, repeatedly, reporters, medics, and legal observers), sometimes responding with shocking force to heckling and other times themselves wholly instigating any violence. This brutality has not gone unnoticed by USians: Members of communities from all fifty states are now taking to the streets daily. Continue reading “(un)becoming white”

“You’re in my threat radius, sweetheart.”

Once upon a (not-so-recent) time, I used to spend hours arguing with my husband, Anthony, about the dishes.

Specifically, I thought he should be doing the dishes a whole lot more often, and I made it my mission to bring this utopia to life.

More recently, perhaps a month ago, I asked Anthony not to do the dishes. Since being stuck at home due to COVID-19, I’m finding doing the dishes keeps me grounded in the here and now. Continue reading ““You’re in my threat radius, sweetheart.””