Things You Can Do When You’ve Finished Grad School

After three years, a lot of academic crap, and some very, very intense times, apparently I am now permitted to say I have a master’s degree. (The actual degree is meant to be mailed to me in July, but I have the nice folder thingy they give out to master’s degree recipients at commencement and my unofficial transcript as evidence of things not seen.)

So now that that’s over, I have been struck time and time again by the things I am suddenly able to do, just free as I please. To wit:

  1. Breathe regular
  2. Read for fun. Take no notes.
  3. Buy too many books to read for fun; immediately become overwhelmed by sense of obligation to read for fun due to muscle memory of last three years (OMG, I have to read 100 pages tonight after work…)
  4. Fold laundry
  5. Clean the house
  6. Stare at a wall
  7. Navel-gaze (Sigh… I did not miss this…)
  8. Date
  9. Grow despondent (select topic)
  10. Watch television. Complain that there’s nothing on.
  11. Write for fun
  12. Go out. Do things. With other people, even.
  13. Say yes
  14. Have mild anxiety attacks about having too much free time
  15. Go grocery shopping when needed (no more meals made entirely of condiments!)
  16. Suddenly sit straight up, thinking, I have to find research articles for…! Wait, no, I don’t. Sit back. Return biometrics to resting levels.
  17. Stop constantly mentally reviewing schedule (Okay, if I leave work and sit in the parking lot for an hour before rehearsal, I can study during that time, and then if I get home from rehearsal before 10:30, I can probably read an article and get those notes done…)
  18. Spend an entire Saturday on the internet. Wrestle with self-loathing re: same.
  19. Google “large Victorian house on private beach wraparound porch free rent.” Fantasize accordingly.
  20. Resist propensity for in-text citation




Memo to the Moderate Voter

First, an understanding: The moderate conservative is not the same as the moderate liberal is not the same as the independent. Please know that I’m not taking a side here. This essay isn’t about me. It’s about you.

You must be exhausted.

This presidential election has been a shining study in how to alienate the middle ground. It doesn’t seem to make sense: shoving aside what was long revered as the most significant voting portion of the American population. The middle class is verifiably vanishing, and it feels for all the world like the moderate voter is, too.

It’s no surprise, then, that moderates would feel like a dying breed. Where is your candidate? Are you no longer a vote to be prized, a favor to be curried? As the population’s income seems pushed to the low and high margins, so too are we to be governed by extremes?

To me, that’s the most telling—and most disconcerting—sign to emerge from this election cycle.

When you have no one to vote for, you either don’t vote or you have to choose an extreme you don’t like, thereby contributing to its growth. Either choice makes you a fang in the mouth of a snake that’s eating itself.

The false dichotomy of the election constructs an equally false narrative of the country and forces it in one of two directions that I’m still pretty sure most voters don’t want to go in—a choice that seems, for moderates, to be the ultimate devil vs. deep blue sea. As someone who lived in his Congressional district years ago, and who has close friends in Ohio, trust me: when John Kasich appears moderate, you know it’s trouble. Meanwhile, a former first lady and a Jewish, self-proclaimed socialist are vying for the White House with no other competition from their party. No matter what you think of either of them, that should be holy-Christ quality stuff on any number of levels. Instead, the circus of the GOP makes the Democrats seem dull.

That’s a problem. It’s terminal velocity, the phenomenon in which, no matter how far above the speed limit you’re going, at some point, you get so used to the recklessness and so confident in your ability to handle it that it doesn’t seem like too big a deal to push the needle a little farther, until you lose control.

I’m not saying the candidates on either side are reckless—though I think some of them are. I’m saying that while both sides have found candidates who ignite and engage a part of the electorate that has never felt so well-represented before, that galvanizing force, played out over and over again in media, makes everyone who isn’t that extreme feel like they’re either unrecognized or missing the boat. It’s a recipe for disenfranchisement, and disenfranchisement is why you stop voting, and that’s how you get ignored. The fascination at the political process has been replaced by a frenzy over the maddest parts of it—so much so that the nation seems to have forgotten completely that these people will have to actually govern if we put them in the White House.

The presidency has become a cult of personality  and a receptacle for derision that has reduced it, effectively, to nothing more than a figurehead position. Technically, this can be “blamed” on CBS News and the Washington Post with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal… but who could blame Walter Cronkite for telling the nation what he saw, and who could blame Woodward & Berntsein for exposing what their dogged reporting uncovered? Still, those two significantly historic moments in a time of an increasingly global mass media were the beginning of the end for president-worship. Scholars, historians, and journalists generally agree that this was when the presidency was demystified, when the people came to see the humanity of the office and the fallibility of the office-holder.

In the American political system, Congress is where the true power is. When Congress is the only place where things can get done, and the president is a person who a large percentage of Congress will not abide, intractability is sure to follow. Regardless of the positions of the presidential candidates I’m about to name, If you think the last seven years have been bad, you don’t want to see four under Trump, Cruz, Rubio or Sanders. If you think the rest represent the status quo, you almost can’t bear to see the next four under anyone but one of those four, because it seems like the only way anything will change at all is if the highest elected official in the country forces it to happen.

But here’s the thing: The last seven years have shown us that, no matter what we think of what he tried to force, the highest elected official in the country could not make it happen. If we liked him, we believed he was trying to do what was right for the country and was thwarted at every turn. If we didn’t like him, we believed he was creating a national nightmare like nothing we had ever seen, and we were relieved it didn’t go any farther than it had managed to go, which was still too far for us.

Think about the candidates right now and whether there’s a single one of them who won’t match that same description in four years.

Here’s part of what’s doing moderates wrong: “Moderate” has been conflated with “establishment,” creating another false narrative. What does “moderate” mean? Middle. Not extreme. Relatively reasonable, but generally dispassionate. What does “establishment” mean? Old Guard, right? The same people doing the same things, not taking us anywhere. It’s assigned without regard to reason or passion. It’s just normative. Well, Sanders has been a senator for 16 years. He’s more establishment than literally anybody in the GOP field except Kasich. He’s more establishment than Obama. By some definitions, he’s more establishment than Clinton. It’s not necessarily that the majority of American citizens don’t want reasonable individuals in government. It’s that they’re tired of us getting nowhere because the definition of insanity keeps playing itself out in Washington. So, from a purely academic perspective, Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio are legitimate anti-establishment and un-moderate candidates. Sanders is just un-moderate. Jeb! is anti-establishment from a federal government perspective (despite being related to the establishment). Clinton is probably more moderate than we think, and her establishmentism is harder to parse.

You might be able to tell at this point that I believe that if there’s a presidential candidate who truly represents what you want to see happening in the country, what’s required for you to see the change you want is to see it represented in a significant percentage in Congress. Right now, that doesn’t exist for most of the candidates we’re considering.

But there is good news for you, Moderate Voter. You’re still at an advantage. Most of Congress—the quiet section—is still moderate. The intractability of the last seven years was because both parties were houses divided, and the Tea Party took everyone hostage (including John Boehner). They were loud and organized, and they sucked voters in. But there aren’t that many of them. There are about 63, or 11 percent of Congress. The reason someone like Bernie Sanders wouldn’t get his plans through Congress isn’t because the Tea Party will shout him down, although they will. Rather, it’s because there aren’t enough people in Congress who are as far left as his ideas are. But if Sanders supporters get organized at a more local level and find candidates that can generate support, Congress will shift, just like the Tea Party made it do.

It’s easy to blame media for this. To some extent, it’s their fault; entertainment value is part of what they need and go after. But they go after it for you, because you consume it. Being a moderate has always seemed to mean appearing not just reasonable, but rather ho-hum… not reality TV, not opera. You don’t like candidates you find to be insipid panderers and you don’t those you find to be elitists. There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with the in-between. It’s just that the passions are higher on the margins, and people who are passionate and who feel like they’re gaining ground are a powerful audience—for media and for candidates. Both are there only because there’s an active, engaged, demonstrable audience for them. We know the newly long-suffered complaint that the mainstream media tell us what to think, but they show what they show because it’s what you watch. No matter how low the score is, there’s still a high score in the face-off. Sure, there are fewer and fewer people watching television as it happens. More people are nixing it altogether or going with Hulu, Roku, Netflix, Apple TV. But there’s still a No. 1 station. It’s the same way with voting, or worse, uninformed voting. Sure, there may be fewer votes, or fewer votes from less-educated people. But there’s still a winner.

In an era in which all the information you can want is literally at your fingertips, it comes down to three things: your ability to access it (a significant disadvantage for the poor), your tendency to critically analyze it (lower in apathetic and less-informed people), and your willingness to take more of what you feel is crap. The Tea Party came up in 2010 and grew in the Congressional elections that followed because the people who align with them were not willing to take any more of what they felt was crap. They kept track, they held grudges, and they organized around it. They got mad, and then they set about getting even.

You, moderates, aren’t mad enough yet.  Maybe it’s because you’re… well… moderate. Not willing to make a scene. Not interested in a fight. Tired of the mayhem to which you’d feel you were contributing if you stood up and shouted.

I guess that’s sort of par for the course.

Still, moderates are so bad at actively finding candidates these days.

It’s probably too late for 2016, but here’s what has to happen in the next elections, both in 2018 and in 2020, if moderates want to reclaim ground:

Speak up.  Demand someone else. Organize. Find candidates and actively support them from the beginning of their campaigns, beyond social media—but for the love of God, splatter them all over social media. Give them money. Give them time. Volunteer for them. Generate momentum.

And find a conflict to put moderate candidates in.

It seems antithetical for moderates to find conflict, but it’s the only way to get attention. Conflict is what media of all platforms cover. I swear to God, they don’t care who wins the conflict. There’s always going to be more conflict, no matter who wins, because the winner will go on to conflict with someone else. The only thing that’s interesting is the conflict itself. It’s why Jeb Bush has been poking Marco Rubio with a stick since the beginning of the race. He was betting Rubio would emerge as a better option when the Trump/Cruz Show started to fray at the seams. He was trying to create conflict to get attention. (He’s just dull and bad at conflict, bless him.)

Think of it this way: Why do you watch sports? Sure, you want your team to win, but isn’t a runaway victory kind of a bore? Who wants to watch that, really? It’s so much more exciting when there’s something at stake. So find something that’s at stake for your moderate candidate, stick them to it, and yell about it.

The middle class is vanishing. Don’t let moderates disappear, too. Be loud about being quiet. Don’t be milquetoast on issues; it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consider the issues brought up by the extremes. What does it tell us about where we are as a nation? What’s the moderate’s position on that place and where we should be as a nation? Find it. Be passionate. Defend your ground.

Get mad.

And then get even.



After the End

I remember the times that I lay awake in my bed since May 2, 2014, thinking about the fact that Amanda was going to die. I thought she had two years, but I was wrong. She had 13 months and three days from that day she called me, the day I stood in my kitchen, staring out the window as I held the phone to my ear, speechless, shaking my head as she talked and thinking, Dammit. This what she has always been afraid of… thinking, We are not old enough for this…we are too small, we have not done enough, as her words “it’s cancer” hung for just a second and a half in the almost imperceptible hum in my ear, the words “it’s some kind of cancer” she had spoken in her trademark lilt, as if she had just said, “Oh, look at that flower,” as if she had forgotten that I knew how much the very thought of it had terrified her for years.

Now I lie in my bed and think, She’s gone. She no longer exists. She does not exist, and it makes no kind of senseI see my ceiling fan and my recessed lighting and they are so solid, so real, and she is not, even though she used to be. Now everyone who never met her will never meet her, and she cannot be real to them, and it seems like such a ridiculously large proportion of humanity that will never know the gift of her. They will never know her wide-eyed, blinking expression of fake shock, or the way she threw her head back when she laughed sometimes, the way she could cover venom with her Southern drawl, the way she ferociously defended everyone who ever tried to do the right thing. They will never know the way she turned to stare, unblinking, at me as I took her pulse without wanting her to know I was taking her pulse, even while I thought, She knows I’m taking her pulse, as she lay in the hospice bed in the living room of the home she bought just six weeks before her diagnosis. They will not know her faint freckles, a bashful kind of Irishness that may have hidden beneath the English of her long-ago bloodline, before she’d been born to Carolina. They will not know the watercolor brown of her eyes. They won’t feel the coldness of her skin that I felt the day I walked into her condo one more time, to find her with her watercolor eyes still open, and to leave them that way.

I lie on my bed, staring at the ceiling fan and recessed lighting, remembering all the loved ones I lost before her, whose coffined bodies I had knelt beside on prié dieux, thinking through my prayers, willing myself through my aches, whose cold skin I feared to touch. For her I had hardly prayed, my faith a little shaken well before her illness took hold. But for her I did not hesitate to grant a kiss, to lay a hand.

She was 44.

“I don’t want to be one of those sad women who dies of cancer in her 40s,” she had said to me the summer before. I can still see her saying it, wide eyes searching for assurance, mouth trembling. I can still feel the sickening, mind-dulling anticipation of something that has now passed by, as though I am still dreading that it will happen.

It has been more than seven months since the day I walked in to find her cold, without surprise. More than seven months since the morning I woke up in my friends’ guest room to grab my phone as had become a habit, and this time to see a message from her brother: Give me a call when you wake up. To know what that meant. To call and hear his voice tell me, “I have bad news,” as though we had not been there by her side together for days, as though I had not known for 13 months what this news would be.

It seems like yesterday and it seems like a year ago. I can still feel that tachycardic pulse thrumming vivaciously and valiantly against the pads of my index and middle fingers (not the thumb – one feels one’s own pulse in one’s thumb) while my mind whirred with thoughts of when it would slow and why it was so fast: She’s hot. Fucking air conditioner. Breaking on the hottest day so far. Adjusting the sheet and fetching the wet towel from the refrigerator and the ice pack from the freezer, willing it to stay cool a while longer as she closed her eyes and sighed in relief when it covered her forehead. I can still feel that cold skin against my glossed lips at 9:40 in the morning on a Friday as the air conditioning repairmen, in what I hope was the worst job they ever took, worked in her bedroom and she lay there, gone, in the living room. It feels like yesterday, and it feels like a year ago. But it does not feel like real time.

The rest of our small clutch of close confidants in this crisis had thought she could have 10 years. Eventually I realized that not all of us had read the research and known the odds we implored Amanda not to find. They were not at the appointments where the doctors all first told her, “Yes, you could have a few years,” in tones of conciliation with expressions of agonized sympathy in their eyes. No, it’s not impossible. The relative swiftness of Amanda’s dying was as much a shock to them as it was to her.

But In those overheated or overcooled doctors’ offices, in those moments when her comprehension switched off and mine sharpened, I learned. I heard a blunt force in the softened honesty of the medical oncologist, a woman whose decades of experience and expertise in this particular kind of cancer made her a researcher first and a treating physician second. Her manner reflected years of work at being warm, rather than a natural inclination. “Some women who come to me at this point have a few months,” she had said. “Others have a few years. Most are in-between.”

When I look back, searching for the moment when my gut told me the time, I think it was then. Six months later, when there was something strange in a scan, my gut knew that knew there wasn’t much time left. It knew that we should take her on a trip, that she should come to Beethoven’s Ninth when my choir sang it just two weeks later, so she could hear the soaring sounds she called transcendent. It knew there would never be another chance.

She hadn’t wanted to come.

And six months after that, the doctors had gathered in her hospital room and told her there was nothing more they could do and that hospice was next. She hadn’t been ready for that, hadn’t been completely cognizant thanks to inflammation in her brain from radiation. The radiation had been a last-ditch effort, one we later learned had been debated rather than easily concluded among her treating physicians. It helped to know that when their experience said it was over, something else had said, “Just try.” The research-focused medical oncologist came softer over the phone, “Amanda was the most wonderful patient I have ever had.”

Amanda had turned her head toward me after staring blankly at the wall at the foot of her bed. “Am I being weird about this?” I had told her that she couldn’t possibly be weird about it; there is no “weird about it” when the battle is over before putting down the sword and shield. I’d told her that if she wasn’t on top of a building with a flamethrower, she was doing fine. It had been my response for 12 months and 25 days.

“We always knew it was going to come down to this,” she had said to me.

She hadn’t accepted it until then. That moment. And it was just after that when she told her brother that she wanted him to take care of their mom, and when she told me she was worried our friends’ boys wouldn’t remember her.

I still see her in her last weeks. I can readily conjure times before her diagnosis, but when photos from then appear, they surprise me; in my older memories, I conflate her healthful body with her ill one. My immediate memories of her as sick, as wasting away, don’t spark heartache. That her nose took on the characteristic form of a dying cancer patient’s, that her skin turned so sallow that her pale freckles stood out, that her shape changed before my eyes, does not change her to me. They are facts, and facts to which I am humbled to have borne witness. I am grateful to have been there in those waning days. She was so loved that people flew across the country or drove hundreds of miles to spend an hour or two saying goodbye, and then came back for the service, just days later. That she asked me to be one of the few by her side all the time in her last year, that her final week filled my days, is an honor for which I cannot grant words, a kind of feeling that should have a color, a scent, a tangible weight. Her dying, her death, was tremendously real.

But her being dead is impossible to fathom.

Dying is an action. It is a role one plays. It was a thing she was doing. I can lie on my bed, staring at my ceiling fan, and think about when she was dying. I can think about who that dying woman was, how her voice and its trademark lilt may have quieted, but never changed. I can think about all of that and be fine, because it was a fact, a phase, a part she played with knowledge. Living and dying are acts. They take shape. They change. They advance and retreat.

Dead is an unmitigated state of being. There is no action in it. There is no agency.

My friend, my sweet friend, with whom I laughed for years, with whom I shared unspoken things, whose memories intertwined with mine, is dead, and I am not. We share nothing now. I am left without her to carry her life in my head and my heart and to speak of it to others. I am gifted with an unfolding promise of memory while I struggle to make real her life to those who never knew it.

It is the greatest and most terrible gift she ever gave me.

kind of day

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1’s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.

The Problem With Privilege

I can’t possibly have anything unique to say about pretty much anything relating to over-reactive police, racial tension, media, or  anything else that factors into the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week.  But in the constructs of American life, there is a certain element that we just can’t seem to see our way through.

I’ve read a lot of reports and opinions from professionals and amateurs; one of the great ironies of the Internet is that it gives everyone the same volume at which to speak, which means people who should probably just sit down and shut up get a megaphone that amplifies their voices just as loudly as those who know far more than anyone else about whatever topic is discussed. The result, often, is the wider dissemination of what is inflammatory rather than what is rational and measured, because inflammation is more visceral and therefore more instinctive. I believe that’s why demonstrations that begin with one goal end up a melange of goals and opinions, and things that start off peacefully end up sporadically disruptive.

In everything we’ve read and seen, it seems there is a lot of visceral reaction, natural and instinctive, that leads to accusation and defense—or defensiveness. Sometimes these are overt. Other times, less so. It’s when the accusations and defenses are less obvious that I think the most trouble arises, because it’s harder to know what just happened.

To me, one of the most interesting forms of inferred accusation and applied defensiveness centers on the concept of white privilege.

For the record: I’m white. So I can’t pretend to fully grasp the perspective a person of color would bring to this situation. But I also live in a dense urban area, in a city whose majority population is black. (And I use the term “black” deliberately; not all “black” people trace their heritage to Africa, which means they are not all African-American.) In my environment, to not acknowledge white privilege is to basically stay in my house and never look out the window or turn on the news. Which isn’t to say there aren’t people in my environment who don’t understand the construct.

I used to rebel a little against the idea of white privilege, because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t being blamed for something and I wasn’t being defined as better-off, necessarily. I’m not sure when I realized what it really was, but I think it was some time around when the stalker thing happened, because it had a lot to do with what motivated me to take activist action; I realized I could use my privilege to benefit other people, not as some great, benevolent white lady, but as someone the system automatically took more seriously and cared more about because I was white. (I also speak what people would categorize as proper English, with no discernable accent.) In all of my reading this week, I have come across a few essays and op-eds from white people who are upset about being assigned a kind of privilege, saying things like, “I refuse to apologize.” The content of their writing reveals that they just don’t know the definition of white privilege.

White privilege is simply about the fact that white people do not have to deal with the possibility of being underrepresented, mistreated, suspected or demeaned, as persons of color.

For example: If I walk down the street in the dark, no one is going to look at me sideways, unless he or she is concerned for my safety. But if a person of color – a black or latino person, in my community – walks down the street in the dark, someone is going to wonder, “What’s he up to? Where did he come from? Does he live here? Where is he going?”

If I get pulled over by a police officer, I will have no reason to wonder if it’s because of my race. (The only time I got pulled over and didn’t deserve it was when an officer thought I was talking on my cell phone, and all I had to say was, “Oh! No, I wasn’t.” That is literally all I had to say. He believed me even before I offered to let him see my phone’s call and text message logs, and he let me go without checking them. If I were a man of color, the odds would be much higher that he wouldn’t believe me, or that he would take me up on my offer to see my phone’s logs.)

In fact, getting pulled over after having done nothing in violation of the law is much less likely to happen to me than it is to a person of color, and my story is more likely to be believed.

When I go through airport security, no one thinks they should look in my bag; if it’s searched, it’s purely because of a randomized approach. But when my friend Adhira goes through airport security, there’s a greater chance that someone will think that because she is Pakistani (they might not know she’s Pakistani; they’ll just know she’s brown and looks Middle Eastern), they should search her bag.

And the chances of me, a white woman with no criminal record, being shot by a police officer are essentially zero. Whereas the chances of a person of color with no criminal record being shot by a police officer are higher. Statistically speaking, even if I was armed, even if I was threatening, the chances of me being shot by a police officer are still lower than if I were an unarmed person of color. Thirty-seven of 45 people shot by police in Oakland, California between 2004 and 2008 were black. None of them were white. In 40 percent of the cases, the person who was shot was unarmed. (No officers were charged. Other shows of force were not categorized in the data set.)

My whiteness means not only that I am presumed innocent more often, but also that I am presumed more innocent than a person of color. I am presumed to be a better person. Even when I have done something wrong, and even when a person of color has not.

That’s white privilege. It’s not my fault. It’s just a side effect of my having been born white. For persons of color, suspicion is a side effect of having been born something else.

You’d be irritated about it, too, after a while.

But here’s what dawned on me while reading an essay today written by a Princeton University student some months ago: white people tend to look at privilege differently. We think of it as socioeconomic. Of course we do; we’ve never faced discrimination—or incrimination—because of anything else. So we reflexively resent when someone seems to accuse us of having an advantage, because, if we’re socioeconomically comfortable and not trust fund babies, we probably did have to work to get where we are in life. Because we have never had to struggle to be considered equal in any other respect, our only understanding of privilege comes from the idea of money. But for people of color, the struggle to be seen as equal goes way beyond lines of credit and sizes of homes. It’s rather telling, isn’t it? We define everything by our own perspective…including our own privilege. Maybe if white people were better able to understand how other people define privilege, we’d be collectively more able to understand why so many people don’t have it.

Maybe then a lot of things would get better.

South American Border Policy

You know how I wind up falling for men I shouldn’t fall for? They say something sage about my personality and I get all, “Oh, he understands me!” Dammit. The Colombian is making resistance so difficult. I have this very well-established border and he keeps poking his fingers through it.

We were out to dinner last night, and then to drinks afterward, and then to my house for a nightcap. Apparently because I feel a need to project my issue with Jack (it’s indefatigable) onto him, and because of a not-insignificant amount of delicious chardonnay, I wound up bluntly stating – again – that he doesn’t love his girlfriend and just uses her, but this time went a step further and told him she loves him, which I know because if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have gotten upset about not being invited to Colombia.

That part was definitely the wine’s fault.

Somehow, this does not make him hate me. To my surprise, instead, he pivoted, and said, “Have you ever had a relationship that you learned nothing from and got nothing out of?” We wound up having a very long conversation about relationships, and he said something that completely shocked me: the last time he truly loved a woman (which he says takes him a while – he doesn’t fall easily) was from 2003 to 2007, and he learned, he says, absolutely nothing from that relationship. He said she had been through a lot of really awful things – “Like, everything bad that you can think of has happened to her” – and he kind of wanted to help her, but the relationship didn’t work out and he took nothing away from it.

So why is that so shocking? Well, besides the fact that I don’t think it’s possible to have a significant relationship and not take something away from it, I was shocked because I think he was referring to the ex-wife he doesn’t admit he has. Unless, somehow, his great, wasted love coincided directly with that marriage, but involved a different woman.

Thankfully, although I am a pushy broad at exactly the wrong times (see: ten minutes prior to this revelation), I managed not to call him out on that particular life event at that moment. He still doesn’t know I know about it, and It seemed unnecessarily cruel to trot that out on top of the mild tongue-lashing I’d given him about Lydia.

So then he said, “Can we talk about you now? Why are you still single?”

Ugh, I hate this question, right? But I didn’t in this context. I said I didn’t know, told him I don’t get asked out much (to which he responded, “I find that hard to believe,” which is, for some reason, everyone’s response), and asked for his perspective. And his answer (and this is one of the things I really like about Javier) was immediate and honest. He said, “Well, I think you can be intimidating to some guys… like, they might say something they think is really cute, but you think it’s stupid. And I think you need someone who will challenge you. And not everyone can do that.”

Holy shit.

So, the intimidation thing, that’s not so new, right? I’ve heard that before, though I made the observation to him that it was usually uttered by some married guy friend with no dog in the fight who just wants to know why I’m single. I, of course, took note of the fact that Javi himself is not intimidated by me. But what surprised me was that he said I need someone who will challenge me. While that’s absolutely true, only one person has ever said it, that I’m aware of: my friend Deb’s husband, Arnie, to her, in conversation about me, which she later shared. And I thought it was a brilliant observation, but not one that everyone would put in that way. I think most people would say, less precisely, than I’m difficult, or argumentative, or something about how “tough” I can be. It’s a nuanced word: “challenge.” And here’s a Colombian using it in exactly the right nuanced way to apply to my personality vis-a-vis my relationship status.

Honestly, the consistency with which I find adorable his excellent use of the English language is disturbingly racist, unless one considers the fact that I find most Americans terribly inept at the English language.

The thing is, at least from my perspective (and Arnie’s and Javier’s), setting aside the trust issues that make me a little hard, I’m not really difficult – I just really like debate and discussion. It’s how I get closer to people. The people I feel closest to in my life are the ones with whom I can have a good discussion. And here’s the kicker: it’s what I miss most about Jack. Now, that’s relative, since I try not to think in terms of what I miss about Jack, but when I look back at what I think I lost when that thing imploded, the most aching memory is the way we talked with each other, about all kinds of things, without arguing – just talking. I loved talking with him. And I don’t find that very often with men. Except Javi. In fact, Javier and I can debate things – which makes him think we disagree, and every time he says that, I point out that we actually usually agree, but debate fine points.

I find debate and discussion sexy.

Huh. Wonder if that’s why I like politics so much.


Anyway, he left at 1:45 (“Since I cannot stay here,” he said with an impish smile – and no, he cannot. BORDER POLICY.). And I woke up this morning and immediately felt bad about foisting my thoughts about his relationship with Lydia onto him at the bar. Suddenly it was very clear that, while I don’t particularly care for that relationship’s track on the basis of what it means about him (and I had told him I didn’t want him to be That Guy), the issue is really entirely mine. So I texted him an apology for the ambush and confessed that his relationship is really none of my business.

Because really… I just want him to ditch her and be a good boyfriend for me. Right? Because he’s not intimidated and he knows I need a challenging partner.

Shit. Call in the National Guard.

Chemistry and Reading

My heart is still beating, more or less in reliable fashion, and I don’t have Lyme Disease. Or any other disease found in a CBC, chem panel, iron/ferritin and two other types of blood tests I can’t really remember now. I’m fine, except for the daily calf swelling. In case anyone wondered, in my absence, what might be causing my absence. Really it’s just grad school + life. But huzzah! My final is tomorrow, and then I have six glorious weeks of nothing academic to do! I feel sure I will fritter them away in a not-at-all useful manner. Which will be awesome. 

I cheated and started early tonight when I sandwiched an Arbonne party between two chapters about political interest groups.  Are you guys familiar with Arbonne? You know, the skincare line that charges you $600 for six bottles of stuff measuring between one and four ounces? Sheeeiiit. I thought my Aveeno Positively Ageless was pricey! 

But there was sangria, so all’s well that ends well.

The Arbonne rep is a neighbor, so one never wants to alienate. Fortunately, she’s the no-pressure type, or so it seems. And that’s good, because don’t ask me to slather six layers of product on my very persnickety face and then ask me to buy something on the spot. I have to see who I’m going to look like tomorrow. Could be Hilary Duff… could be Muammar Qaddafi. Hard to say. And since I’ve just slathered six layers of stuff onto my face, it will also be difficult to determine exactly what caused the conversion.

PS I’m broke, I have two classes to sign up for, and my property taxes just went up 46 percent. Oh! And do you know how much a Holter monitor costs? Here’s a hint: $16,000.

Of course I don’t pay that. Apparently they write the whole thing off or something. Health care. Who understands it?

Now, during these upcoming Six Glorious Weeks, I plan to read some stuff for fun. This will be the only fun stuff I will get to read all year. As you may have noticed, this could include blogs. So, without shamelessly promoting your own book, please leave recommendations in the comments section, provided by our lovely WP hosts. Fiction, but no sci fi or bodice rippers, please. I’d love for it to be something I can’t put down… especially since I might need to hide my face. 


If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”


His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.



I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.

Random Observations As Re: Going Back To School In One’s 30s

So now that I’m expert at being in graduate school (read: I am exactly one week into my second term, taking two classes after having taken one class in the previous term—only 15 more weeks and then 11 more courses til I get my degree!), I’m beginning to realize some things about the unique challenges, rewards and like-such-as of this undertaking.

For example, I’m totally supposed to be reading some shit right now.

What? I read a chapter. I’m taking a break. I worked 11.5 hours today.

Observation #2 (because the thing about writing a blog post when I’m supposed to be reading an assignment was #1): Where am I supposed to do this homework, anyway?
In undergrad, we all sat on our beds. Because… where else? Now I can’t sit on my bed because my back will go out or I will lie down and go to sleep. It’s either the couch or the kitchen table, and neither of those seem to be particularly diligence-inducing locations. The kitchen table worked when I was eight. Not since.

Observation #3: I have forgotten how to outline. 
See the whole #1/#2 fiasco above as evidence. Be glad I can’t draw arrows on my blog post. That’s apparently what I do now when I want to elaborate on a point I’ve written down seven lines ago.

Observation #4: The best part about this whole graduate-school-in-my-30s thing? Drinking wine while reading the textbook.

Although I have been warned not to drink too much, or I’ll end up highlighting entire chapters. Since tonight’s reading was uploaded to an online educational server, I had to keep the marker tightly capped to avoid drawing on my computer screen.

Observation #5: It is much easier to get distracted now.
This seems like it shouldn’t be the case. I mean, there was a lot more streaking going on in undergrad, for one thing, and I lived across the street from the park for my upperclassman years. But now, instead of “I forgot to call mom,” “Why do I have to do this stupid paper?” “Instant mashed potatoes or mac & cheese for dinner?” “The fire alarm? Again?!” and “I’m so broke I can’t pay for the copies I have to make,” the distractions have multiplied to include: “What is that noise in the wall?” “Has that clock always ticked so loudly?” “Did I pay the mortgage?” “My hand hurts. Wait, do people still take notes?” “Reading while taking notes takes so much longer than I remember,” “I need gas,” “What time is my morning meeting?” “Did the boss say it’s not due tomorrow, or it is due tomorrow?” “I forgot to take out the trash,” “I forgot to call mom,” “I’m so broke I can’t even afford the copies I have to make,” “I can’t sit like this anymore; my back is going to kill me tomorrow,” and “I’m out of wine.”

Observation #6: No all-nighters. Ever. I have a job.
To be honest, I never pulled all-nighters in undergrad, either, but at least then I had the luxury of falling drooling-on-the-couch asleep in the middle of the day if I needed to.

Observation #7: Published academics need to get over themselves.
Here’s the thing about writing and editing for a living: it’s really, really hard to read academic works without wanting to ruthlessly slash their lengthy, innumerable paragraphs. I just read an entire paragraph of word salad that essentially boiled down to: No one understands exactly what this profession is. We’re going to talk about that for the next 600 pages. By the end, we will have affected exactly no change at all. We will have merely explained at length our thesis statement above. And this criticism is coming from someone who can write a damned lengthy blog post. But at least those make you shoot coffee out of your nose sometimes, amirite?

Observation #8: Can I even still write a 25-page research paper?
Alright, that’s more of a question. But you take my point. Sure, they’re double-spaced and include citations for reference, but still… writing papers now is very different from writing them as an undergrad. Aside from the fact that I was well-versed in it then, I also had little problem bullshitting my way through them and making them sound pretty great. Now? Bullshit capacity exceeded. Everything has to matter. 

Stupid paycheck-enforced accountability standards.

Out of curiosity, I pulled a 952-word blog post up, copied and pasted it into a Word doc and made it double-spaced. 

Not quite two pages.

Yep. I’m screwed.

Observation #9: I find research materials where?
Apparently I don’t have to go to the library anymore. The limitless expanse of the internet as a source of academic information is somehow terrifying. Oh look! Justin Bieber!

Observation #10: To Do has me done in.
I have a habit at work of spending the last minutes at my desk in the evening making a to-do list for the following day on a Post-It note and sticking it on the next day’s block of my desk calendar (yes, I have one of those). This is a habit that started—minus the desk calendar—in undergrad. Back then, I stuck the notes up on my shelf next to my bed. There were never fewer than two at a time, but it’s how I kept everything straight. Back then, the to-do list was always limited only to school. Now? Work to-do, house to-do, interpersonal human to-do and school to-do. Fuck.

(That one should be on a to-do list.)

Observation #11: I thought college kids were lazy. Turns out, I was way more motivated then. 
In undergrad, I don’t really remember feeling like I didn’t want to do something I had to do. I’m sure I felt like that. I just don’t remember it. Mostly it was really my only purpose in life, so I’d better get my ass to the library and find the microfiche I need for the research paper. Now, aside from apparently not even having to go to the library, I am overcome by what I can only imagine is Senioritis after 14 years dormant in my body. Back then I got up when I needed to (though I have been a snooze-slapper since God invented Snooze), traipsed around in all kinds of weather, did my full-time student thing, worked a part-time job and handled internships that often had me there for at least 25 hours a week. When I was a senior, between the job I got in my industry and the internship credit I was still able to earn, it was damn near 40 hours. How the hell did I do that?

This is the part of the post where I should go on, flesh out the theme, find a way to wrap it up… but I’m tired. Failing that, I should save it and finish it later, but I know I’m not going to be able to maintain the voice and the thought pattern. So you get this. 

Doesn’t bode well for those 25-page papers.

The Reach

I’m finally back in the chorus I hated to leave when I took my previous job, and the first challenge (aside from figuring out how to be a second soprano instead of a first) is a gut-wrenching piece called On the Transmigration of Souls. 

Transmigration is, for all intents and purposes, a 25-minute meditation on 9/11 in New York City. The New York Philharmonic asked John Adams (not that John Adams) to compose the piece. It involves a large orchestra, a mixed chorus, a children’s chorus, and a taped soundtrack of city noises and sirens and footsteps, and the voices of a young boy and a couple of adults saying things like “Missing” and reading snippets of the descriptions and names written on the fliers people put up all over New York City after 9/11. It’s dissonant and discordant, the time signature changes all over the place, it’s got doublets and triplets in weird spots. It’s oddly syncopated and counting the rhythm seems impossible. It’s full of chaos and disorientation and raw reactivity. It’s not hard to see why.

“People ask me what it is,” Adams told a radio host in 2008. “‘Is it a requiem?’ No. ‘Is it an oratorio?’ No. ‘Is it a choral symphony?’ No.

“I came up with the word ‘memory space,'” he went on. “Occasionally, when I’m in Europe, I’ll go into those great gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame or Chartres in France. And you go into this vast religious space, and people are very quiet. And you realize you’re in the presence of not only the living people that are there, but the ghosts, the souls of all the people that have been there in the past—this kind of spiritual memory space. And I wanted to create a musical analogy of that.”

He describes a particular passage of the piece where I think the most chaos and upheaval happens. He calls it

“a massive surge, a kind of tsunami of brass and strings that peaks with the chorus just literally shouting over and over again, ‘Light! Light! Light! Light!’ It’s not joyous. It’s almost a panic.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying. I just know that when the event happened it was so shocking that we don’t know what our emotions were. But there’s always this desire to transcend horror and look for something comforting, and I think that’s the sense that you get at this enormous orchestral and choral climax of the piece.”

Until I found this interview, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be trying to evoke at that point in the piece. It seemed frantic to me, not at all comforting or calming like we’d like to believe is the case when a departed soul finds light. I wondered: did Adams see the passing of souls as something less than peaceful? That made sense, particularly coming out of the event that caused it—like the souls of 9/11’s victims were clamoring to find somewhere else to go, fast, because where they were was no place for a soul. Maybe moving on to another energy is kind of frenzied. 

But with this explanation from Adams in his own voice, I started to understand what the piece really seems to say in those measures. Maybe what we’re hearing there isn’t the souls of the lost. Maybe it’s the souls of the living, struggling to find something—anything—to give themselves some kind of solace. Like the bad-in-emergencies parent when a child seems seriously hurt, madly saying over and over, “It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s okay!” not because it is, but because they want it to be.

“Light! Light! Light! Light! Day! Sky! Light! Day! Sky! Light!”

Please please please let this hellish anguish end! Please let him find light! Please let me find light! Please let it make some kind of sense! Please, if you can’t save him, save me… or let me go.

  I’m reaching with the last strength I have – please let there be something to reach for! 

It’s telling, to me, that this part comes after that tsunami of brass and strings Adams describes, which comes right after what I find to be the most emotionally difficult passage: a place where the lyrics quote a widow telling someone, “I wanted to dig him out… I wanted to dig him out… I know just where he is… I know just where he is… I KNOW JUST WHERE HE IS.” We’re yelling it, all 120 voices, yelling those words on dissonant pitches between awkward breaks like choked sobs. It makes me cry every time, but now it also makes me feel something else: desperation. It makes me imagine the feeling that widow must have had for however long it took to find her husband’s remains in that pile, or however long it took her to accept that they never would… that breaking-point howl when she teetered on the edge of grief-stricken insanity, just reaching for whatever she could find that once was him. I know just where he is! Let me get him! You won’t find him, you’re taking too long, let me find him, I need to know he’s found, I know just where he is… I need to find him! I’m the only one who knows where he is!

It’s after that howl that the cacophony erupts, clashing and banging and fighting for every breath and shrieking for light and sky and day.

And then it’s strangely quiet again.

The names of the missing are only barely heard.

But now, it’s in memoriam.

Now on my bookshelf: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green