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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Day 934: Racism, Whiteness, Me and Us

I grew up believing that everyone is equal, and that equality is impermeable. It’s protected. A given. Your sexual orientation, skin color, country of origin, family situation, gender, how much money your parents have… none of those things make you any better or worse than anyone else, or affect your chances of success. You have complete control of your destiny, and America is an amazing place because of that.

And that attitude has served me incredibly well. I’m a confident, passionate and curious person who generally doesn’t find anything off-limits. If I see an opportunity, I take it. And there are many open to me. People are nice to me. I trust law enforcement to protect me. I feel safe almost all the time. I’m white.

And while I know, know that all human beings are equal, and retain a fundamental right to be treated equally, I now understand that we aren’t all playing the same game, on the same field, with the same umps. My chances of hitting a home run are fundamentally better than many others’ chances (even if I totally stink at baseball, as it were).

The depth of racial inequality in this country I truly love is something I’m still learning about, and a conversation I want to participate in. I want to make this better. I want to be a white ally and understand what that means. I want to hear about and recognize what’s wrong, and help dismantle systematic racism.

This is a sensitive topic for much of white America. I recently read a post by John Metta about why – as a black man – he doesn’t talk about race with white people, because he often finds it futile. You should read the whole thing, but here are a couple of points I found salient:

“White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals… They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.”

This is an important point, because it digs into why white people tend to find accusations of racism so offensive. If you are thinking as an individual instead of as one member of a much larger society – one that incidentally has enjoyed a historic position of power – the question of whether or not systematic racism is real and pervasive becomes personal. And from a personal point of view, it’s combatable.

Simply, if I am not racist, racism doesn’t exist.

“A white person smoking pot is a “Hippie” and a Black person doing it is a “criminal.” 

When you begin even a cursory study into how language is used in concert with race, there’s an undeniable, if sometimes subtle, difference between how black and white subjects are treated. White killers are shooters, black killers are killers. And while I have to believe the majority of language discrepancies are unintentional, un-intention is kind of the point. If you don’t have to think about those nuances, it’s because the system benefits you already.

“White people are good as a whole, and only act badly as individuals.”

This insight really gets to me, because I’m starting to notice it more and more. As a different angle on the group/individual point above, it means that when one or two or 100 black people do something wrong, it reinforces that the entire community is bad, with individual good exceptions (likely, the people you know and love). But when one or two or 100 white people do something wrong, as a media/social community we’re embarrassed and devastated, but only briefly. The bad seeds are the exceptions. As individuals, they just had bad upbringings, or bad brain chemistry. It’s not a race of bad people.

And while it’s intellectually obvious that a handful of people could never represent a full community, we only arrive there when we’re thinking with intention. Given a snap input, we make snap judgments, and slowly but surely reinforce the very attitudes we abhor.

It can be hard to push past the sense that maybe, just maybe, there’s more you or I could be doing than being open-minded, “colorblind,” equality-loving people. Blindness is a cop-out for not doing the observational work. And it hasn’t proven itself to be a very good solution so far.

To wrap this up, I’m not trying to chide the white people in my life who are compassionate and intelligent, and find the racism discussion frustrating or uncomfortable. I get it. But it doesn’t hurt to pay closer attention and be open to new conclusions – in fact, it’s a necessity. If more of us ask questions, listen harder and work to fix the system, we CAN end racism. We just have to believe it exists.

Day 880: Swings, Songs and Advice for New Moms

Almost three years ago, one of my favorite friends and mentors had a baby boy. His name is Colin, and he has always been one cool cat, even at seven months old when I first blogged about him.

Because it’s been a few years (no idea how that happened), I asked Colleen if I could interview her again – this time, about about motherhood, wifehood, babyhood, toddlerhood, and what she would say to a new mother who receives the same diagnosis for their baby that was given to Colin.

Colin

Colin is a measured performer and a quick study. He can figure out what makes you laugh and then milk the situation before you even know what’s going on. I asked Colleen what Colin’s personality is developing into, and what she sees in Colin of herself and her husband, Chris.

“Reading and entertaining rank high for Colin. Book was his first word. I think he would spend the entire afternoon being read to, if he could. And while you are reading to him, he will inevitably make a funny face, snort or try to get you to smile – that’s the entertainer in him.

He’s a huge fan of Louis Armstrong. And he loves to swing, be surprised,” [Interjection from me: it’s true – he loves to be surprised. Whereas I’d probably cry and pee my pants a little, he just laughs.], “sing along to any number of songs, and play ball. He throws better than I do.

Colin Swinging Down Syndrome

Case in point.

He has Chris’ sense of perfection. Before he was walking, he would practice pulling himself up in hiding before he did it in person. We would watch him on the baby monitor. He has the persistence to keep trying something over and over until he is happy with it.”

As a nearly three-year-old, Colin walks, runs and takes exuberant leaps off one of the chairs in the living room (which has since been turned around to face the wall as a preventative measure). He’s also one of about 400,000 people in the U.S. living with Down Syndrome.

Advice

The original diagnosis was an admittedly scary and difficult one for Chris and Colleen. They received it moments after Colin was born, and they weren’t sure how to react. True to form, they made it through the initial tumbling and came out smiling on the other end.

“I knew Chris would be a good dad, but there is a whole other level of falling in love with your partner when you see them as a loving parent. I couldn’t really understand what that looked like until I saw it firsthand.”

Knowing what she and Chris know now, I asked Colleen what she would say to new parents of a baby with Down Syndrome. 

“Recently I read something that really rings true, so I’m going to steal the thought. If you were to go to a new parent and tell them all the things that would go wrong in their child’s life – like, when they are six months old they’ll get really sick and you will be up with them for nights on end trying to figure out what’s wrong. Or at seven, they’ll fracture their arm jumping off the bed. Or their best friend won’t be their friend anymore when they’re 11, and it will really hurt their feelings – If you told a new parent all the bad things that would happen in the future, instead of helping them be overjoyed with their new child, they would be scared to death. How can a mom protect her kid from that? But that’s not how it happens for most new mothers, thank God.

We were told (or read on the Internet) all the things that could/might happen to Colin throughout every stage of his life. But the truth is, some might happen and some might not. So I would tell a new parent to throw all the opinions, presumptions and thoughts aside and know that someday very soon, you will not see your child as any different.”

Colin Selfie Down Syndrome

Colin’s first selfie. JK, mom took it.

She also offered some incredibly sage advice to all the new mothers of all the babies, regardless of their situations:

  1. “Go easy on yourself. In the beginning you can become delusional due to lack of sleep. Everyone will say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’ If you can do that, great. If not, then do what you can do to relax. I couldn’t sleep when he slept, and I beat myself up for it over and over.
  2. Find a small group of people you trust, who will listen and talk with you. Thankfully, I had a handful of people who would answer the phone or text me back at 3 am. Remember that someday these people are going to need you to return the favor.
  3. If you don’t have a doctor (or occupational therapist or physical therapist) you trust, then get out of your current relationship and find a new one as soon as possible. And don’t be embarrassed to do it.
  4. Take time to allow yourself to welcome this little one into your home. This baby needs the same things from you any other child would need.
  5. Surround yourself with the people who look at your child the way you want the world to look at your child.
  6. Remember that people mean well. Really. I’m sure I said some stupid things to new parents when I didn’t really know what being a new parent meant. (They either forgave me or were so tired they weren’t even listening.) People will have opinions about your child and what you are doing/should be doing/shouldn’t be doing, and so on. That’s ok. They want to support you any way they know how, and they probably have no clue what is going on in your life. So listen, say thank you, and then call someone in the group from #2 to talk about it.
  7. For the proud new mamas of a child with Down Syndrome, you may want to run and hide right now, and it doesn’t feel fair. But once you come to terms with reality, just know that the child in front of you will blow your mind someday soon. Their capacity to reach their goals is the same as any other child when given opportunities and support.
  8. Remember that your child will be their own person even if they share the same diagnosis as someone else. People will make generalizations, like, ‘Oh, those Downs kids are so stubborn/sweet/easy/loving, etc.’ Is that true of Colin? Sure, sometimes. It reminds me of when people used to assume I played basketball because I’m tall. My son and your kid will be different from each other. Will they share similar characteristics? Sure. Do I share similar characteristics with some WNBA players? Sure.”

Right? Sit with that advice from my wise friend and pass it along to the people in your life who need it. And if you want to learn more and support people with Down Syndrome, check out these great organizations:

Ruby’s Rainbow
Changing the Face of Beauty
Think College

Day 815: Like Taking Candy

So, I was clearing out some blog drafts and I came upon this one from August 28, which was about two months after I started dating Joe.

A few things have changed since then. I’m 32 now. I have bangs. Joe and I have met each other’s families and made each other meals and agreed that we want to share the same balcony from the same apartment. But for the most part, this draft still holds true.

I’m publishing it today as an ode to a balanced, imperfect relationship. One that I want to keep.

Warning: it’s a little gushy and it’s totally something I would have hated (secretly loved?) reading when I was single.

File this one under the category, “Things people say to you and you roll your eyes, but then later you realize they were right.”

At 31, I’ve had a good number of dating experiences. I’ve had a long-term, loving relationship that just didn’t work out, and a series of shorter-term relationships that have ranged from from fun to serious, to confusing to honestly-I-can’t-believe-you-thought-I’d-like-that-movie.

But the key marker in my adventures is that they’ve all been complicated in their own ways. However compelling, there’s been a problem to be solved.

My friends and family have been relentlessly supportive of whatever and whomever I chose, but often with the gentle sighing caveat, “You know, I really think it should be easier.”

It should be easier.

That’s a particularly easy statement to ignore, because it can be intellectually overridden with facts about why it’s hard now but will get easier later, or snorts that maybe not everyone gets to glide down easy street in the beginning of a relationship. It just sounded too simple, and I truthfully figured that “easiness” just wasn’t in my nature. I enjoy complicated tasks – things that need to be untangled and wrangled and sorted out.

But that was before I met Joe.

I’m telling you, there’s something to this easy thing. We like each other, we tell each other we like each other and we have easy conversations about complicated topics.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. His cheap, black socks leave little fuzzies all over my apartment, and I swear they look like dirty spiders and it drives me freaking crazy. And my work life often bleeds into my after-work life, and I know I have a hard time disengaging when I’m focused on a project.

But. It’s easy. We like each other. He’ll buy new socks and I’ll turn off email notifications. He’ll teach me how to love cycling and I’ll teach him how to think performance art is beautiful (some of it, at least).

I’m not writing this to say that something’s wrong if your relationship looks or sounds different. If it doesn’t seem easy, it’s still okay. You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you.

But from one logical justifier to another, it’s been SO worth trying for easy.

Also, we met on Tinder.

Zeus Jones Holiday Party

The only photo of us from my work holiday party.
Captured by Colleen at 2nd Truth Photography.

Day 739: The Year of Using Your Brain

Last year, I wrote a checklist in lieu of a list of resolutions. I figured checking stuff off everyday would be easier than resolving, failing, resolving again, etc.

I’m happy to say I did a pretty good job getting through the list each day. (“Pretty good” may be a generous assessment, but I took some liberties with number 10.)

The act of writing the checklist in January helped me remember that it even existed partway through the year, which seemed useful in and of itself. So this year, I’m doing the same thing – but this time, my daily checklist only has one item on it:

  1. Learn something new.

Learning something new about just one topic seems claustrophobic and way too logical, but since I don’t want to make a totally bogus checklist, I picked some interest areas to focus on:

  • Food access and agriculture
  • Neuroplasticity and aging
  • Creativity and mental health

(Imagining the three areas was a fun exercise – if you decide to make your own one-item checklist, I’d recommend taking a minute to think about what you’re actually interested in knowing.)

Since there’s no time like the present (and I already read more Game of  Thrones than I can handle over the holidays), I dove right in with food access and agriculture by watching five episodes of Food Forward by PBS yesterday. There are some cheesy moments, but the series is generally interesting, smart, accessible and surprising. I didn’t know, for example, that seed libraries are actually a thing. You can borrow seeds at the beginning of a season, and then donate new seeds back once you harvest your garden or farm. It’s a great way to preserve local agricultural biodiversity.

Seed library information online seems a little paltry after a brief search, but there are still plenty of folks out there trying to show you where to participate, if you’re interested. (If you’re already familiar with this system and have some better resources, please leave them in the comments.)

seed library

Photo of a seed library by Mike Teegarden and borrowed from this article

In the name of New Year aspirations, I like the idea of feeding the planet (or at least myself) off my patio, so the show + my checklist also inspired me to sign up for a local gardening class that will teach me how to grow edible stuff in pots. The class doesn’t meet until March, so I have a couple of months to learn more new things first (and a check-point in case I start lagging). Here’s hoping the thirst for knowledge never dries up.

Happy New Year to you, and happy checklist-making!

Day 701: Time to Be Gentle

It’s fall – a gorgeous fall – and it’s a sad, sweet season. Things are slowing down, dying, preparing to fold into themselves and hunker down for winter. People (like me) are mirroring nature – we’re going to bed earlier and sleeping later. Waiting until the last possible moment to slip sideways out of bed, hoping the sun has gotten up, too.

In Ayurveda, a system of traditional Hindu medicine – often cited as the sister science to the philosophy of yoga – the dry, windy, cool and somewhat erratic nature of fall is easily reflected and amplified in the body. And if we’re not paying attention, we can get knocked off balance by this subtle season.

Taking a step sideways, the Ayurvedic view is that all systems of nature are bound and balanced by three primal energies, or doshas – vata, pitta and kapha.

Vata contains ether and air, pita is fire, and kapha is dominated by earth and water. Everyone has a mixture of these energies, or biological types. Vata types are typically thin and airy, with cold hands and feet. They can be creative and carefree, but also restless and emotional. Pita types are energetic and muscular, with an aversion to heat and a propensity for high intelligence, competition and aggression. Kapha types are typically heavier and stable. They tend to be serene and thoughtful, and may not seek excitement or activity.

(I’m summarizing fairly complex concepts, but if you’re interested in finding out what dosha may be most prominent in you, here is one of many online dosha quizes.)

Fall is the vata season. Dry leaves become dry skin, short days become short spans of energy, windy days become upset stomachs, etc. Instead of swinging too far into the vata energy of fall and becoming increasingly anxious and scattered (especially if your constitution is already primarily vata), you can cultivate the opposite energy to create stability and balance.

So if you’re like me, and are feeling a little too swept up the season, here are some tips:

  • Drink warm beverages with lemon and fresh ginger.
  • Use warming herbs when cooking, like ginger, cardamom, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, vanilla and oregano.
  • Wear soft and warm clothing, and cover your ears when the wind is cool.
  • Exercise consistently, at a slow and steady pace, as opposed to in quick bursts.
  • Spend time in silence, and breathe deeply while you’re there.
  • Eat oily, nourishing foods – like cooked vegetables, grains, soups and stews.
  • Avoid cold foods and iced drinks.
  • Wear reds, yellows, oranges and whites.
  • Regulate your cycles – go to bed and wake up at consistent times.
  • Focus on grounding down and rooting, particularly with yoga.
  • Be gentle to yourself and with others.
  • Quietly pay attention. Notice things. It’s hard to come down when you’re already too far up in the air.

October

Fall leaves, from my walk to work yesterday.