Some Thoughts on Ferguson and Race in America

So…

It seems there are two types of people in America right now – those who know that what is happening in Ferguson, MO is fecking awful and has EVERYTHING to do with race relations in America, and those who think that some *ahem, black* 18 year olds “deserve” to be executed on the street for jaywalking. (Please remember that EVERYTHING else about Michael Brown – the alleged robbery, the potential marijuana in the bloodstream, etc. ALL of that came out after the teen was dead on the street and NONE of it was known or even suspected by the officer who shot and killed an unarmed youth. In fact, none of it is KNOWN now, these are still just allegations from a police department desperately trying to cover its own ass.)

This ties in to the promised – and not yet delivered – posts on gun culture in America, the need to reform the “justice” system and the “correctional” system in America – starting with addressing racial disparity in judicial outcomes and demilitarizing our police forces…

But in the meantime, while I take care of myself for a few days and collect my thoughts and try not to get swallowed by the GRRRRRR… A friend of mine, Jessica McDonald, wrote this and I think it’s worth a read. (Note, emphasis was added by me, as was the link at the bottom to a site for people who want to support Mike Brown’s family or offer aid or support to the people of Ferguson, MO.)

I know my regular readers are awesome and thoughtful commenters. If you’re new here, play nice in my sandbox – you are free to disagree, we like intelligent conversation that challenges our assumptions. However, asshats, trolls and rude people will be nuked. I have no tolerance right now for that kind of shenanigan.

A Quick Word About Mike Brown, Ferguson & Race in America:

By Jessica McDonald

I haven’t said much about Mike Brown and Ferguson. Partially because I just haven’t been online much, and partially because I have had a hard time collecting my thoughts. But I’ve been watching, and reading, and the things I’ve seen and read have made me by turns enraged, ashamed, shocked, and so depressed I want to crawl in a hole.

I’ve heard people say things like, “I wouldn’t want to be a cop in the inner-city.” I’ve heard people call the victim a thug, and all but flat-out say he deserved to be killed. I’ve heard these things from otherwise intelligent and progressive people. It leaves me reeling and deeply misanthropic.

I don’t care if he stole cigars. I don’t care if he lipped off at the cop. It doesn’t matter. IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. He was 18-years-old, and nothing he did warranted being shot. Consider for a moment that the Aurora theater shooter–who KILLED twelve people, injured 70, and rigged his apartment with the intention of harming both civilians and officers–is alive to stand trial. Police took him down without killing him, without roughing him up afterward, without beating him. Consider that this is common when a shooter is white–if they end up dead, most of the time it’s by their own hand.

Consider also we live in a country that instituted a media blackout in Ferguson, that barricaded the city, that has officers removing their IDs and badges so that they can’t be identified. Consider that the United States has now been condemned by Amnesty International. Consider that if this were happening in another country, we’d call it a gross violation of freedom and democracy.

Consider that there are only two real positions here. Either you think the police were justified, in which case, if you’re arguing there was no racial angle, you have to believe that lethal force is a tenable solution to teenage stupidity, or you don’t. If you honestly believe the police are justified in all of their actions since August 9th, consider what that says about the kind of country you’d like America to be. Consider that we have fought *wars* to prevent that kind of behavior abroad.

Consider also that if you are white, you will never experience this world the way people of color do. That’s not an attack; it’s the truth. An uncomfortable truth, maybe, but that doesn’t change its nature.

So when I say that it doesn’t matter what Mike Brown did or did not do, those are my reasons why. He wasn’t an isolated victim. We have a problem with race in this country that festers beneath the surface, because we Americans have never been good at facing the ugly side of our culture and history. This is the outcome of that willful ignorance. It’s dead teenagers in the street and people blaming the victims for their own deaths. It has to stop. We, as a country, have to stop pretending that everyone is equal, that everyone is treated the same, that privilege doesn’t exist and that somehow racism just disappeared with the election of Barack Obama.

Stop and *listen* to the people who deal with this every day. Consider what you would do if the tables were turned. Consider *why* you are so eager to place the blame on the victim, why the issue of race makes you so uncomfortable, why you are so willing to relegate an entire group of your fellow citizens to a second-class life.

It doesn’t matter what Mike Brown did.

It matters how we respond to his death.

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Retreating toward happiness

It’s been a fuck of a summer.

Globally, locally, domestically, it’s been – well, let’s just say the last few days I’ve cranked up my tunes, hid in the garden and kitchen and “fiddled while ‘Rome’ burned.”

lindsey sterling elements

Lindsey Sterling knows.

It seemed like the right thing to do. Or, rather, it seemed like the only thing I could do if I wanted to live and remain even close to sane.

I’ve checked in on the world here and there – twitter, news programs online and on the radio… And, the  world is still burning.

It was seriously bumming me out and making me a not so good mom or wife or friend or person… So I did a little experiment, I stopped caring for a couple of days. Not all the way, because, well, I’m me and not caring isn’t really how I roll, but I took a few GIANT steps back and took some time to breathe and take care of myself and… I stumbled into happiness.

See, it turns out that most of what I was all worked up about was stuff I couldn’t change, stuff so far away and so big and so not about me that all I could do was watch and wring my hands and rage in vain. Nothing I did, no action I took, no petition I signed, no march I joined was going to push the needle even a little.

Some things really are outside of our control and getting all worked up about them doesn’t help anyone. And it really, really doesn’t help us.

*Waves and winks at my friend who is reading this and nodding and thinking, “I told you so.” VERY loudly. Hi Mike.*

self-care

Rule #1.

Anyway, today I celebrated the first day of school by taking the dorkalope for a hike and going to the library and getting some books to help me sort out how to preserve my summer garden bounty. Those of you who follow me on twitter or facebook have seen the daily harvest pictures. It’s, um, a lot.

harvest time

One Week’s Harvest.
Help!

Tomorrow I’ve got big plans to heat up the kitchen and turn a few hours of sweat into months of great eating.

And… I’m breathing again. It’s a nice feeling.

The world is still spinning, and the people who can help in places like Ferguson, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, and everywhere else that is on fucking fire right now – they’re there, they’re doing what they can. And yeah, there are some assholes who are making it harder than it needs to be, and who might just fuck everything up irreparably, but me getting angry about it won’t change that.

A couple of months ago it all came to a head for me when I read an article about the roads in Yellowstone National Park melting from the geothermal heat. There was speculation that it was a sign that the super-volcano under the park was getting ready to blow. There was further speculation that if it happened, we were looking at an extinction level event.

My first thought was, “That could be a good thing.”

So you know, I was in a dark place. My brain traveled down all the other non-man-made ways that we might all go out – and while this sounds like a morbid and depressing exercise, I’m not normal, and so for me it was actually kind of empowering and uplifting because it brought me back around to that Buddhist truth of impermanence.

I don’t know when, or how, or by what means – but I do know that some day we will all be gone. Not just everyone alive today, but people.

Yes, we could all kill ourselves with global warming, or nuclear war, or a million other stupid, preventable, dumb fuck things. Or, Yellowstone could erupt.

In the end, it won’t matter.

In the end – all we have is RIGHT NOW.

And I was wasting it. I was wasting my right now by being angry and frustrated with things I couldn’t change.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not giving up on the world entirely. There are LOTS of things that I CAN make a difference in.

Tomorrow I can spend *another* day in the garden and the kitchen preserving 10 pounds of yellow squash, 10 pounds of cucumbers, 2 pounds of beans, 5 pounds of zucchini, a metric shit ton of tomatoes, etc. and make sure that my family has awesome food (and low grocery bills) all winter long!

good eats

Good food = love.

On Wednesday I can go down to the local sexual & reproductive health center and help them with their “Get out the word” campaign to make sure that people in my area know of this awesome place and the incredible services they offer. So that’s rad – and doable – and helpful.

I can keep working on my governor and state to regulate fracking and work on separating the organization that is tasked with promoting oil and gas development from the organization tasked with regulating the industry…

I can work to make sure that all students in my district receive age appropriate sexual health education, as required by Colorado law.

I can make sure that people know that Colorado’s Amendment 67 is a horrible, horrible idea and to vote against it in November, at the same time they vote against Cory Gardner for Senator (He’s been my district’s representative since I moved here, so I am not saying this based on ads or political BS, but on actual interactions with him and based on his voting record on issues I care about.)

I can work every day to make my life, my family, my neighborhood, my town, my school district, my state a little better.

And… I can get back to that novel I finished 2 years ago and finally finish those revisions, and work on some picture books I’ve been talking about for ages, and tell stories that open hearts and minds and create more room for more people to find their path to happiness.

But it starts with remembering to breathe. Remembering to take care of myself. Remembering to tickle my kids and kiss my one in particular every chance I get. It starts with walking the dorkalope so he stops eating my damn shoes. It starts with turning off the news, and disconnecting from the rage filled people on twitter – not that there isn’t plenty to be outraged about, it’s just that… It’s too easy to get caught up in the GRRRR and forget to check in with the things that make us smile.

And at the end of the day, if I’m just another rage-bot – I’m not helping the problem, I’m adding to it.

What if tomorrow we all woke up and acted as if it was our last day on earth? What would we do differently? I know I would spend more time hugging and laughing and saying thank you – and a whole lot less time being mad at people.

What if tomorrow we all woke up and practiced compassion and forgiveness. Cut off in traffic? Maybe that person really does have somewhere more important to be… Someone is rude to you? Maybe they’re having a shitty day too… We can’t know where other people are coming from, so what if for one day, we tried giving them the benefit of the doubt first.

What if, for one day, we only saw the good in the world…

I know it seems like the world is burning, and some of us are in places where we can help put those fires out, but for the rest of us, maybe the best thing we can do is stop adding fuel to the fires, maybe the best thing we can do is practice peace.

My peace is in the garden, in the tipi, in the kitchen, and in the stories that are sighing impatiently in the back of my mind, waiting for me to stop raging and start listening…

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Challenging the Roots of Violence

Just a quickie before I dash out the door -

I’m on my way to an interview that has me thinking about violence – a lot. (Again.)

So often in our society we react to violence – we pick up the pieces, we console the victims, we incarcerate the perpetrators. But we rarely talk about or implement policy, or take action to really address the root causes of violence – to actually work to bring the number of violent crimes down.

When I think about the conversations I’ve had on this topic, so often I’m told that there are just violent people in the world, there’s nothing I, or anyone else, can do. This is why so often the onus for prevention falls to the victims themselves. Or why we are told that if we are scared we should get a gun so we can escalate the violence in our favor

But, while I was getting ready for this interview I was thinking about what I understand are the root causes of most violence – a desire for control coupled with a fear of loss of that control. (Read that advice about getting a gun in order to escalate violence in your favor again – it is driven by a desire to control the situation and a fear of what will happen if control is lost.)

That’s a really simplified break down, clearly – but if you look at most conflicts – that’s what it boils down to. Hamas vs Israel – both want control of land and the people in it – both fear the loss of that control, and the subsequent loss of their people.

My kids arguing in the backyard – both of them want control over the same swing, both fear that losing control will mean they won’t get to do their trick before I call them in for dinner.

Then I think back to my childhood. During my early childhood my dad has some serious anger management issues. He had what you might call an explosive temper – most often taken out on toys, pillows and the occasional wall. We spent tax season tiptoeing on eggshells. We learned to feel the energy in the air and tiptoe away when it started getting volatile.

One day my dad crossed the line, he got physical with my sister. It scared her more than it hurt her, but my mom drew a hard-line in the sand – he had exactly zero seconds to figure his shit out or she was done. If he couldn’t learn to control and/or express his anger in healthier ways he would NEVER see her or us again.

You kinda don’t want to fuck with my mom.

But here’s the thing – it worked. My dad realized that he was letting his anger win, and that by doing so he was risking losing the people he cared most about.

He took a long walk, and he got his shit together.

He learned to sense when he was getting “hot” and to take a step back, to go for a walk, to go for a bike ride, to go work in the garden… He also learned that sometimes the best thing to do with his anger was to point and laugh, to see the crazy humorous side of whatever was making him mad. He learned that it was okay to cry. There was no shame in that.

I have some things in common with my dad. I feel my anger in a very physical, visceral way. My blood rages, my vision clouds, my ears thrum with static, my breath catches, my fists clench…

I too had to learn more productive ways of managing those feelings that seemed too strong for my body to contain.

Yes, I’m making Hulk analogies because they are apt.

Like the Hulk, my dad and I – and many people like us – have the ability to go full rage machine, and to do real damage in the process.

But, like Bruce Banner, we spent time away with our anger and our emotions and we learned how to feel them coming, we learned how to sense when our triggers were being pulled, we learned how to blow off steam in healthier ways than with fists or knives or guns – or even explosively hurtful words (most of the time).

We had help doing this. My dad had my mom, who after informing him of the consequences of his actions, stood by him while he learned new ways to process and express his emotions. I had both my mom and my dad who helped by validating my emotions while steering me toward non-destructive, or at least non-harmful outlets. (Destroying bubble wrap, balloons and other things that make good loud noises can be super cathartic while also being non-harmful. Sometimes we “need” to squeeze/hit/scream – there are healthy ways to do that.)

I think about the violent criminals who are in jail right now – and yes, some of them are psychotic, sociopathic, sadistic individuals – but many more, I think, just didn’t know how to handle what they were feeling in that critical moment.

I think if we want to prevent violence, instead of just cleaning up the pieces after someone loses it, we need to start by teaching kids how to name and express their emotions. I know that a lot of this work is being done in some schools, many of the preschools my daughters went to worked on this sort of thing. But it needs to continue beyond pre-school and keep going through high school.

I was at a training this past week for Askable Adults, the last segment of the training came from two groups working to stop teen dating violence. They had some really powerful educational tools that helped break down what violence looks like, what the warning signs are and what the triggers are, so that victims and potential victims could identify if they were in a harmful or potentially harmful relationship and create a safety plan to get out – but that still leaves the onus of prevention on the victim.

Those same tools could be used to educate perpetrators and potential perpetrators – people at high risk of becoming violent. They could start a conversation about that need to control, and those fears of what will happen if they lose control. They could lead into great conversations about alternatives to violence, ways of calming that rush of RED HOT energy that starts pumping through you.

I know that education won’t reach all people, I know that some people have genuine psychological and mental disorders that genuinely make them resistant to non-violence. But I truly believe that there are far more people out there like my dad who just need to be taught better, healthier, safer ways of managing those crazy strong emotions. And I think if we can reach people when they are young, and teach them early and give them opportunities to practice, we’d see a whole lot less people “losing it” and hurting people they love. I got lucky, I learned these skills in my youth, I still consciously practice them today.

I think too often we write off violent offenders as “monsters” or paint them as hopeless. We lock them up, but we don’t ever really help them address what caused their violence. Then, a few years down the road, we let them out and… somehow we’re surprised when they bounce right back into the system. But the system hasn’t given them any tools for change. Our prison system isn’t about rehabilitation, it’s about punishment – doing your time to pay for your crime.

I listened to this news piece on NPR this morning about a liberal and a Republican coming together in Alabama to reform the prison system and reduce the prison population. The Republican Senator Cam Ward mentioned that many of the prisoners in Alabama have mental illnesses and drug addiction going in to the system, and that prison is not set up to address those issues, so when those people are released, those underlying issues are still there and, as he says, the public is no safer than before.

I would say that reforming our justice system to address mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, lack of education and other underlying causes of crime would do wonders not just to lower prison populations, but to make society stronger. As part of this, every prison should have a violence prevention and education program to address those root causes of violence and teach real alternatives.

But then again, I’m a naive idealist. I really do think that most people want to be “good” people, most people don’t want to hurt others – but there’s that fear and that feeling of being out of control and needing control, of something, anything. And too often violence feels like control, even if only for that second.

I think we can change that conversation though. I’ve seen it work. I’ve lived that change. I know it’s possible. I’m hoping to begin working toward creating that change on a larger scale. I’d love it if some of you wanted to join that conversation.

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Representation Matters

So here we are, and it’s been nearly a month since I last blogged and I’m starving, so I’ll try to keep this short, except it isn’t short, it’s really, really long. But I’ll try. (Mostly I’ll just hit publish before I clean up the typos. Sorry. Hungry.)

For those who don’t trust my skills of brevity (because I don’t have any) my friend recently posted this to his facebook feed and it’s a good summary of the problem.

representation in film

So basically we’re seeing a lot of able-bodied cis, straight, white dudes and their stories.

Now – this chart is just for the sci-fi/fantasy genre, granted – but I can assure you if you do your googling, you’ll see that this chart could be used for just about any media form and genre. We have a HUGE lack-of-diversity problem.

I read a quote from some (sorry, but I have to describe the speaker) straight, white, cis, male writer where he basically said, “What is everyone whining about? Either you’re saying that white guys can’t accurately write stories about other types of people, or you’re saying that people can only write about people similar to them story so if we let you in, then what will happen to all the stories about guys like me?”

As if by letting other people tell their stories, there won’t be room for stories about SWCMs. As if the ability of SWCMs to write believable characters of people different from them somehow means that we have no need to let non-SWCM people write and publish stories as well. Because clearly, SWCMs will think of those stories too, we just have to sit back and wait for them to decide to represent us.

A while ago I backed a kickstarter for Women Destroy Science Fiction – an anthology of, it turns out, AMAZING sci-fi stories all written by women in response to this year’s round of hand-wringing by the old guard that women can’t actually write hard sci-fi and that our presence as writers, fans and at cons is generally just mucking up the genre.

It’s a brilliant collection.

And it woke me up to why representation is SO important. Because while I do believe that all humans have many of the same innate characteristics and ultimately have more in common than not, the way we see and experience the world is shaped by the way the world sees and experiences us – it’s a constant feedback loop. The stories that I have are mine – and I can share them with you, but the chances of you coming up with the same story all on your own, slim to none. The chance of you actually fully understanding my world view, my lived experience, the way I move through the world, and the ways the world moves through me – slim to none unless I tell you.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says it best in her Ted talk about the dangers of a single story -

See, we need multiple stories in order to understand and be compassionate about the lives that others around us are living.

I saw a comment by another friend of mine on facebook recently that kind of blew me away in its lack of sympathy for people who did not have her advantages in life. I was further shocked when I learned that she would vote to deny other people access to the very same systems that allowed her a chance to earn her advantages.

It’s one of the reasons I love J.K. Rowling – She knows that YES, she worked her tail off to write some very successful stories, but she also, simultaneously knows that she got lucky. AND she never forgets that what allowed her to succeed at all was the support her country-people gave her in the form of their tax money being used to support her while she figured out how to be a single parent and a writer.

She consistently refuses to take her money offshore or accept any legal cheats on her taxes – she wants to pay back into the system that supported her and made her success possible.

Unlike this guy:

Meanwhile, as a white chick living in a colorful world, I want to see my world represented in the movies I watch. I want to see people who look like my friends, people who look like my daughter’s friends. I want to see their stories writ large on the big screen.

I want my world view expanded and challenged and to see people of all colors, and people of all genders, and people of all sexualities up there on the big screen – and in the pages of my books, their stories soaking into mine.

We rented a movie called The Great Debaters the other night – it was a really good movie about an all black debate team from Wiley College in Texas in 1935 and their struggle to challenge Harvard in the nationals. It is based on a true story – and it blew my mind, because it is too easy to forget those stories. It is too easy, as a white person in America, to white-wash our history and forget that CENTURY between the ending of the Civil War and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It is too easy to forget that the Civil Rights Act came out of decades of struggle and work and civil disobedience that started long before Martin Luther King Jr or Rosa Parks.

As a white person in SouthWest America, it is entirely too easy to forget how many Hispanic families were here first. When we stop a Hispanic person and ask them for their papers, there is every chance their family existed in this state, in this space for millenia before ours ever set foot on North American soil. The border crossed them first.

It is easy for white folk in America to think that we have moved past race, that we are “color-blind” when all we see are white stories.

I keep thinking about this book on my daughter’s bookshelf – Amazing Grace.

She can be anything - even Peter Pan!

She can be anything – even Peter Pan!

It’s about a girl who loves stories and when the time comes to try out for the play knows exactly what role she is trying out for – Peter Pan!

Of course, no one thinks a girl can be Peter Pan. But, maybe everyone is wrong.

This book, as well as a few conversations floating around about the inherent whiteness of certain fictional characters, has helped me to start questioning the casting decisions behind lots of roles and movies.

I would love to see Dead Poet’s Society re-cast with an all black cast. Or an all female cast. Or an all disabled cast. Or maybe just a diverse cast – what would that movie look like in a diverse high school? Because there are diverse high schools.

I love that movie, but there really isn’t any reason it has to by played by white guys. And too often when I bring this up people offer Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds as viable alternatives – but those movies portray people of color as hard-luck kids who, but for the grace of one good teacher, were headed straight for prison. But not all people of color live that story, and we have to stop pretending that’s the only path available to them. Just like not all white guys go to prep school where their greatest hardship is that Daddy expects them to work hard and get good grades.

We need more diverse story telling because otherwise we just keep reinforcing the same tired stereotypes over and over. We need to break out of having the person of color side-kick, the gay side-kick, the girl side-kick… We need to step away from assuming that the protagonist is always a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual male. We need to stop thinking that’s the most important story out of all the stories on that screen.

I would love to see more diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Because we’re talking about other worlds, other forms of intelligent and humanoid life, futures which science tells us will involve a whole lot more blending of races.

Diversity

Not to mention, apparently only white people write sci-fi/fantasy…

A few of my favorite YA novels have been optioned to become films, and in some of them the protagonists are clearly non-white – but I wonder if the casting director will honor that representation in their casting call, or if these books too will be white-washed the way Hunger Games was.

Our world is diverse – and we need more stories that accurately represent that diversity. We need to hear more stories from the point of view of diverse protagonists too, after all, I may be the protagonist of my own story, but you are the protagonist of yours. In your story, I’m the side-kick. Let’s accept that white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual people can be the side-kick to a person of color’s story, or to a gay person’s story, or to a trans* person’s story, or to a disabled person’s story… Because we are.

So – people in positions of power, and people whose works are optioned for film – let’s do this. Let’s stand up and fight for more diverse representation in our media. Let’s fight to hear more stories and include more people in our vision of the way the world is, and can be. Let’s fight to make a little more room – for everyone.

 

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A Let’s Make it Better App

So, there is a person that I follow on twitter. She’s been having a rough go of things lately. She’s not whining about it, or asking for favors because of it.

She is documenting it because her experiences are part of a larger social justice struggle. The things she experiences daily are things that I simply don’t have to deal with, things that I would guess the majority of my readers don’t have to deal with. But they are her daily lived reality. And they are the daily lived reality of many other people like her.

I was scrolling her feed the other day and trying to find ways to support her. There’s the easy and obvious, reply to her with words of encouragement. I did that, but I am a small voice in a sea of hate on her bad days. And – I’m a stranger. I follow her, but she does not follow me. We are not friends. We are simply fellow travelers, and I am eavesdropping on her conversation at the bar. I am an intruder in her space and my voice simply does not travel as far inside as that of a friend.

Now, at a regular bar if this happened, I could have my server, or the bartender, send over a drink or some food. Some small token from one human to another, “I see you, I hear you, I feel you. This too shall pass.”

But, on twitter… There is no way to do something that tangible.

I did send her a message and offered the usual – a shipment of chocolate or cookies, or even homemade jam. (Remarkably, yes, sometimes strangers do accept shipments of jam from me.) She didn’t reply. Again, I’m a stranger, and for me to send her anything she would have to trust me enough to give me her address – and she has no reason to do that.

And then I thought about other times that I have reached out to people on the internets to send them emergency chocolate, a box of cookies, coffee and tea gift baskets, a handwritten letter, and yes – jam.

And I thought about all the people I follow and interact with, people I have never met, probably never will meet, people who have absolutely no reason to give me their address (Have you seen the ranty shit I write!?! Would you trust me with your address?!?) and I had an ah-ha! moment.

I am not normally an app kinda gal, but… There should be an app for this.

There should be an app that allows someone like me to send a cookie gram, or chocolate gram, or flowergram or emergency teddy bear to someone on twitter or facebook or next-hip-social media space – even if their handle is the only thing I know about them.

Now – the first follow-up thought I had to this epiphany was – “Oh wait, the trolls!” Because many of the people who need this service most need it because they are receiving so much hate on the daily, fucking rivers of hate, tsunamis of hate, that the last thing they need is for trolls to be able to send them hateful messages wrapped up with flowers. Can you even imagine surviving *another* horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day only to come home to a doorstep filled with sugar-coated hate!?!

So – this app would need to work with known retailers, retailers who refuse to print hate filled messages on anything. Personally, in my magic app world – you would get to choose from a number of positive messages, no personalization options, and send only nice things. (No lumps of coal.)

Once someone like me signed up/signed in with my social handle, I could input the handle of the person I wanted to send something to and the social network that handle was associated with. The app would ping that person and let them know they had a gift pending. The person would have the option to accept or deny the gift. If they accepted they would sign in (if they were a member it could be a simple one click YES! or NOPE!) and put in their address, so the kindly stalker would never see it, and the worthy person would receive their gift. If they rejected their gift, or simply ignored the gift notice for more than 3 days, the giver wouldn’t be charged and no gift would be sent.

The app company could skim off the top of the charges, taking anywhere from 1-3% for their trouble (or charge the gift giver a standard service fee ala Fandango) and get the goodies delivered.

I am telling all of you about this idea in the hopes that one of you (or lots of you) are app developers or know app developers because that is not my skill set, but this is an app that I would pay for and use and would like to see in the world. So, if someone could make that happen and get back to me, that would be great.

There are a whole lot of people out there who could use some cookies and I’m just the lady to send them.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work

Expanding Humanity

I recently finished Marissa Meyer’s book Cress. It’s the third installment in her Lunar Chronicles series.

cress

Where does humanity stop and alien begin?

What follows here is less a review and more a discussion of something I realized when I finished this particular book, but which has been there all along, gently teasing at the edges of my mind and tugging at the corners of my heart…

There might be mild spoilers, but I don’t think so. All the same, if you’re worried, go out, buy Cinder, Scarlet and Cress (and pre-order Fairest) and get reading and then come back and join the conversation.

Okay, disclaimers over – diving in.

I fell in love with Cinder the moment I saw the cover. It’s brilliant, and it describes the book perfectly.

Then I read it and I loved it even harder. The writing is brilliant, the characters are true, the story is mind-blowing. I became an instant “Lunartic.”

Scarlet upped the ante again, adding whole new layers of depth and intrigue to the story, enriching the world Marissa Meyer has created. It provided another 36 hour reading marathon and a book hangover so heavy it appears I forgot to review it.

And now Cress. This is by far and away the best book in the series to date.

I read it strictly for pleasure, no sticky notes in hand, no intention to review or discuss it. But this one – stuck with me. In a way that the others didn’t. (The others stuck, but just as fun books I can’t wait to foist on every person I know who is over the age of 12, and a few who are younger…)

Perhaps it is just the timing of this one, but I realized as I read Cress that it was challenging some important notions, pushing some important boundaries, encouraging some important discourse. I’ve read a few reviews to see if anyone else is talking about this, I couldn’t find anything. And I don’t know if this was intentional on the part of the author, or just me imposing my political views on these books – but… There is a deep brilliance in these books.

As I read Cress it hit me.

Marissa Meyer is challenging us to re-examine our definition of “human” of “citizen” of “us.”

I suppose in a way this is a common theme in sci-fi, where there are all sorts of sentient beings co-existing and we are challenged to find the “human” within the alien. Honestly, that has always been one of the strongest draws for me to sci-fi and speculative fiction – this expansion of what counts as humanoid.

But there is something deeper and more direct going on in the Lunar Chronicles. The Lunar Chronicles directly challenge our narrow definition of “human” in ways that many other stories do not. In much sci-fi, the aliens are still aliens. Sure we may parlay with them, work with them, coexist with them – they are humanoid, but they are not human. We may grant them the same rights, responsibilities and privileges as humans, but there is a subtle undercurrent that says we can revoke that decision at any time.

We have leveled the playing field, but we reserve the right to pull the aliens out of the game if we perceive them as a threat to us winning. Like the USA did to Japanese Americans during World War II.

And this is how things begin in the Lunar Chronicles. There are various us/them groups and splits and divisions. There are the Earthens – humans. But within that group there are also cyborgs (Hello Cinder!) who while still technically human, are legally “less than” to compensate for being mentally & physically “more than.” Not to mention the androids, who are just AI machines, or is Iko more than that?

And then there are the Lunars – and within the Lunars there are subgroups such as “shells” – Lunars with no powers, Lunars who may as well be Earthen – but who are actually more powerful than Earthens because they are immune to the power of other Lunars. Then there are the queen’s wolves, genetically enhanced killers programmed to do the Lunar queen’s bidding. And the Thaumaturges – the powerful leaders of the queen’s army.

In Cinder and Scarlet as all of these groups were introduced, we were encouraged to see the differences, we were encouraged to understand the strife keeping them all apart. But in Cress, as the “tower” (a satellite) falls, so too does the illusion of separateness begin to crumble.

We begin to see, and understand, and feel the innate humanness of all of these groups. We are challenged to break down the mental barriers that have been built up and see past the prejudices to the deeper truth.

Lunars began as humans. Despite a despotic ruler, Lunars are human still. Just as Japanese Americans were still Americans, whether we could bring ourselves to see it or not.

We see Cinder’s existence challenge Prince Kai’s notion of humanity – can she still be fully human as a cyborg? As a Lunar? Can he still love her?

We see Wolf challenge everyone’s notion of humanity, including his own – he’s not only a Lunar, he’s also genetically altered and enhanced to be a killer. Can his core human override his animal programming? (An analogy to The Hulk would not be out-of-place here.)

What about Cress? She is Lunar, yes, but she is a shell – her own people were supposed to have killed her as an infant. She is feared by them for her ability to resist their control, and feared by Earthens because of her birth place. But inside, is she really so different? Is she any less worthy of human dignity, human respect, human rights?

When I look at the world Marissa Meyer is building, I see the parallels on our own world – the divisions of “us” and “them”, the ideas that the strong must be limited to protect the weak, but in a weird contradiction – that the weak are also somehow simultaneously less worthy of the full set of rights, responsibilities and privileges that come with full citizenship. I see the same lines being drawn around different groups, trying to define them, designate them, shield them from others and others from them.

But, in Cress, I see the beginning of hope – the beginning of a better way, the start of understanding and compassion.

And it begins on a personal level. It begins with people willing (or forced through sheer dumb luck and rabid desperation) to engage “the enemy,” to extend the smallest amount of wary, guarded trust… And I see it build out from there.

This is something that I see here in our world too. Yes, there are many people who have created bubble-wrapped echo chambers, online, in social media, in personal interactions, in the news they watch and read – selecting only those sources that reinforce their world view and tell them they are right and the others are Others – strange, incomprehensible & scary.

But more and more, I am seeing a brave few break down their own walls and start following, reading, engaging “Others” only to discover that they are more alike than anyone ever told them.

I remember the last time I got arrested in China. (For those who don’t know, I was arrested in China 3 times in a 3 month period with my parents. Long story.) We had finally made it to Beijing, we had just gotten our hotel room for the night. We thought we were in the clear. And then the police knocked on our door. To be fair, it was the nicest interrogation we had on our journey. The captain took us out to a restaurant and asked us about our trip, where we went, who we talked to, what our purpose was in going places we weren’t allowed to be, whether we took any pictures, etc. The interrogation took long enough that his officers had plenty of time to ransack our room, make copies of our journals, run background checks using our passports, etc. and determine that we were probably not spies.

At the end of the interrogation, I remember the police captain offered his hand to my father and then pulled him in for a hug. There were genuine tears in his eyes when they pulled apart. “I have been told my whole life that you are the enemy. That America is evil and corrupt. That you are poisoning the world. But now I have met you, and I see that we are not so different at all. We both want our children to be healthy and get good educations. We both want good food for our families, and to be able to provide shelter and clothing for them. We want to live our lives in peace. I think maybe that all over the world, this is true. I think maybe people are all the same, we all want the same things. I think maybe my government, and your government are wrong. I think maybe they should have dinner together and talk and maybe they will see this too.”

And then he walked us back to our hotel room, talking and laughing and crying some more with us.

When I travel, that is why I travel – yes to see the different ways that people express their humanity, but also to remind myself that at the end of the day, we are all far more alike than we are different. We are all striving for the same goals. We all want the same basic things – to take care of ourselves and the people we love. While we might live under different governments and different faiths – at the end of the day we’re all citizens of this planet, and we are all equally deserving of the same basic human rights and the same compassion. When we allow ourselves to drop our shields and engage “the enemy” with an open mind, we often discover that we’re standing on the same common ground, striving to reach the same common goal – we’re just taking a different path to get there.

Cress pushes this idea of expanded humanity, expanded citizenship even wider – challenging us to take off our “us” and “them” lenses and see past our divisions and our prejudices to look for and hold dear the common humanity that we all share and begin to build a better world based on that.

 

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Filed under Books, Naive idealism, Things that work

Still me, but with less swearing

I am hoping to make it back to TBT today to either post part 2 of the Guns in America conversation, or perhaps another detour about ethics, morality & money.

In the meantime, and in case I don’t make it back – My first article for Everyday Feminism just went live, so you can read about parenting in a post-feminist world over there -

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/make-room-for-bigger-truths

The article is a positive action based piece on helping kids break open their gender boxes a little bit to make room for more of their truth to shine.

Feel free to drop a comment. I’ll be bouncing over periodically to join the conversation.

Cheers.

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work