Friday, December 19, 2014

Ben Franklin and the War on Christmas

I had intended to write about at least a couple quotes this week and just didn't get the chance. I came across this one by Ben Franklin and it said so much in so few words.

"How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, his precepts!"

Masterful.

I have to wonder what he'd say if he was here observing our society today, not just about Christmas, but about so much.

I am fairly certain that he'd scoff at the alleged war on Christmas, that he'd laugh it off as yet another manufactured battle created for television ratings. It's easy to get people riled up by pitting them against each other these days, and there are entire networks that exist for that sole purpose. 

Those who claim there is a war on Christmas are so wrapped up in the preservation of their own traditions, in the insistence that the rest of society cowers to them, that they can't understand that the requirement that other people be permitted to observe as they choose has no impact on them. Truly.

Just because someone else does something different than you do doesn't affect how you live your life. Honest.

As much as some people seem to believe it, this nation was not founded as a Christian one. We do not have a state religion. Our founders didn't ever intend to dictate from above that one religion was superior to the others, in fact they bent over backwards to do just the opposite. 

Religious freedom does not equal religious oppression, even if the talking heads on television want you to convince you of it. There isn't some giant conspiracy wrapped up in the words Happy Holidays.

If Ben Franklin were here today, I think he'd have something to say about this alleged war on Christmas, and this quote is a hint. 

I think he'd tell people to stop being so worried about being offended, about focusing on who is doing what or using which words. I think he'd be a little shocked at how commercialized the holiday season has become, but more so I think he'd be taken aback by how much some of those who cling outwardly to the Christian faith fail to abide by the lessons it teaches.

We live in a nation where "good Christian" politicians routinely talk about stripping families of their food stamps, where immigrant children are seen as a vile threat to our way of life. They talk and talk and talk about the importance of hard work as though that is all that is ever required in a society as complex as ours. They don't want to see their privilege because admitting it exists at all would shake their foundation to its core. 

I'm fairly certain that Jesus wouldn't have wanted rich people arguing on his behalf on television about their "right" to say Merry Christmas and then demanding that complete strangers not only reply in the same words but express gratitude to them for uttering them in the first place. 

I'm fairly certain that Jesus would want them all to stop talking for a moment and listen to his lessons instead. Live the example instead of seeing who can yell the loudest about their beliefs. 

Humility, kindness, charity, these are the true lessons of Christianity, not judgement and entitlement.

There isn't a war on Christmas. 

Some people celebrate Santa. Some people celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some people celebrate winter solstice. Some people celebrate Hanukkah. Some people celebrate Kwanzaa. Some people celebrate Festivus. Some people don't celebrate anything. Why does what someone else celebrates or doesn't celebrate have to have anything to do with you?

OH WAIT. IT DOESN'T.

I say Happy Holidays because I love everyone and because I'm not about to impose my beliefs on anyone else.

You do your thing, I'll do mine. Can't we just smile and wish other people well instead of questioning why they believe what they do and insisting that whatever we believe is the only right belief? 

No one is assaulting Christmas. Laws and court rulings that mean that other religions must be permitted to display in public spaces as well don't infringe on your Christmas rights. They just mean you have to scoot over a little and make some damn room for the other people.

You know, like a loving your neighbor thing.

Who said that, again?

Jesus.

I could talk about how all those claiming that their Christmas rights are being offended seem to have missed almost all of Jesus' teachings. I can promise you that he would have been way more concerned with feeding the starving and helping the ill and taking care of poor children than he ever would have been with whether first world people 2,000 years later got to celebrate his birthday as loudly as they want. This article does a fantastic job of that and you should go read it.

I could talk about how Jesus wasn't born on December 25th and not even in the winter at all. I could talk about how Christmas was banned for years in colonial America. I could talk about how Christmas trees are actually pagan. I could talk about how the celebration originated more as a winter solstice thing. I could talk about how St. Nicholas didn't really have much to do with Jesus. I could talk about how elves are a recent addition to the lore of Christmas. I could tell you that Santa could be purple and kids wouldn't give a shit as long as he brought gifts...and then tell you that basing Santa's whiteness on Jesus' whiteness is a flawed freaking argument because Jesus wasn't white. I could talk about how Jesus probably wouldn't care about your exterior illumination problems and would probably ask if you've donated to charity instead.

I could.

But then I'd probably offend someone.


I'm pretty sure Ben Franklin would be in total agreement with me.

Happy Festivus.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Nation Loses its Fearless Leader

The very last episode ever of The Colbert Report will air tonight. Stephen Colbert will be taking over for David Letterman on The Late Show next year. Although he will still be a nightly presence on television, it just won't be the same. I will be the first to admit that I'm more than a little bit emotional about this.

I've loved Stephen Colbert since his first moments on another one of my favorites, The Daily Show. Back then, he was a correspondent on the comedy news show, one who had an uncanny ability to deadpan the audience.

David Shankbone/Wikipedia
It worked so well that he got his own show, The Colbert Report. The premise of the show has always been a satirical one, with him at the forefront playing a faux conservative host. It amazed me that throughout the show's nine year run, he managed to get people to come on the show who obviously hadn't gotten the memo that he was playing a character.

His interviews with some of the politicians are just priceless.

I mean, seriously....how can they not know that he's just screwing with them?!?!?! Don't these people have handlers? Do they not understand the show airs on Comedy Central? 

Some of them, far too many of them, thought that the character he was playing was real. And it was awesome to watch.

How he always managed to keep a straight face, I don't know.

Using the show, he's been able to analyze the current events of nearly a decade through this twisted and warped lens, unveiling the hypocrisy of how the political machine often works in this country.

Calling his fans affectionately by the name Nation, he even ran for President twice.

Hell, I'd vote for him, character or otherwise.

I know that he'll still be around, but any performance by him on The Late Show will necessarily be different. First of all, he won't be playing a character anymore. He's been in character for so long that it seems like it is impossible to separate the real him from the fake him. Second, the platform is so vastly different in late night on the major networks. Hosts on those shows have to appeal to a larger audience, be a little tamer, be a little more generic, a little more middle of the road.

I like him on the edge.

I have always adored the show, one different than The Daily Show. The Daily Show has always been a comedic take on the news, yes, but something about the slant of The Colbert Report made it even funnier at its core.

I'm excited to see what he brings to The Late Show, though it will force me to use my DVR for yet another time slot. I'm pretty handily committed to Fallon on The Tonight Show right now, who came in and breathed fresh new life into a show that was so tense and stale that it had become unwatchable under Leno.

Plus, The Roots are the best band in the business right now. Hands down.

Finally, there will be two competing shows in late night that have a decent shot at a ratings war. Finally.

It's just too bad that it had to come at the expense of The Colbert Report. 

In the past week as we've been watching the last shows, I've sighed at the end of each one. My husband laughs at me, but it really is getting to me. It's getting to me because in this day and age, we need more shows like this one, shows that are willing to hold the politicians accountable for their decisions, for their choices, for their votes, for their backers. We need people behind shiny glass desks that will unveil the sordid relationships between corporations and the government, who will tell us the ugly truths, who will point out the gleaming hypocrisy.

We need more shows like this one, not less.

It's a disturbing reflection on the state of journalism in this country when a satirical comedy news show can be more relied on for accuracy in reporting than the major networks.

As a current events junkie, as someone always tuned into the state of affairs, as someone who has dabbled in reporting myself, I'm sad to see this show come to an end.

At least we still have The Daily Show. If Jon Stewart ever leaves that desk, I just don't know what I'll do with myself.

An era ends tonight.

The tears I'll probably shed won't be faux. They'll be real ones, for sure.

Nation, we will soon be losing our fearless leader, but we must go on.

Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger.

Jogs off set, waving wildly to the audience....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All I Want For Christmas Is This Stuff...

It's time for my annual Christmas list.

Because I'm five.

This is a thing around here, and if you're so inclined, you can read the lists from prior years here:

2013
2012
2011
2010
2009


Holy cow, is this really the sixth year I have done this?!?!

Anyway, sorry that I'm writing this so late this year. Usually I try to get it done in time so that it could actually be of real use to people who want to get me something....not that most of the things I ever wish for are things...

1. I want the people who live in my house to do things without me having to become a nag. I hate the sound of my own voice, I hate being annoying...but that is quite literally the only way shit's getting done around here. Well, not true....I could just do it all, but that's not gonna happen. I'm supposed to be teaching my children life skills. I'm supposed to be teaching my children life skills. I'm supposed to be teaching my children life skills.

2. I want more patience. I try, I try SO HARD to hold it together when I'm dealing with my most difficult child. Really, I do. But goddamn. There are days every once in a while that I just can't handle any more interactions with this one. I need more patience. Or shorter days. Or an earlier bedtime. Or something. Serenity now.

3. I want more room on my DVR. Yes, we already upgraded and got the one with a ton of storage, but it just isn't enough. We need to record ALL THE SHOWS!

4. I want the bridges fixed. Seriously, the flood was over a year ago. Let's get on that, city.

5. While we're at it, I want the pool that was destroyed rebuilt. Pronto. I've got another baby who would like to play at the pool this summer, so hurry.

6. I still want a pair of thigh high red patent leather platform boots. A girl can dream, right?

7. I want a tattoo. Well, three actually. Okay, fine. More than three. But there are three that I know I want for sure. I got money for a tattoo from my inlaws for Christmas last year (because clearly, they are the most kickass inlaws in the history of time, amiright?!?!), but then I ended up pregnant right after New Years and had to use the cash for maternity clothes, which aren't very much like a tattoo at all. Unless we're talking about new stretch marks...

8. I want to get back to writing my books. I've neglected them for a while, intentionally. The thing about the books I am working on is that they are tremendously draining, emotionally, to write. I didn't want to go there while I was pregnant for health reasons. Now that the baby is living on the outside, I could theoretically get back to it. Of course, he has to cooperate, and that hasn't happened yet. I keep telling myself the books will always be there, but he'll only be a newborn once. Sometimes I have to repeat it on an endless loop.

9. I want the Batman v. Superman movie to not suck. I especially want Gal Gadot to kick ass as Wonder Woman so that she can get her own movie.

10. I want a dancing Baby Groot. A real one.

11. I want a money tree to take root in my backyard immediately. The Oldest is such a joiner, and all the things he wants to do cost so damn much money.

12. I want the time and energy to repaint the main floor of my house. I have the paint. I just need a cooperative child (hahahaha) and the motivation.

13. I want my basement organized. It's seriously scary down there. I need a week, uninterrupted, and a dumpster. For the love.

14. I want this ring. It's actually pretty cheap. It has seven strands, like the now seven members of my family. It's silver, which I prefer, and the stones are CZs, which I actually prefer too. Diamonds are overrated, not to mention the whole conflict diamond issue. But yeah. This one.


Hey, while we're at it, you can buy it here....just don't pay full price. Wait for a sale or a good code. Size 7. Hint, hint.

15. I want a new crockpot. The lid for the smaller one that I've had since we got married has vanished. I have no idea how something that big can just disappear, but it has. Gone. Totally gone. Everyone in the house has looked for it. Weird. Someone knows what happened, and nobody is talking.

16. I want to sleep. Right now, that's really what I want. Just being honest.

17. I want a do-over on Little Asskicker's birth. I know that's not possible unless someone invents time travel, but there has to be someone working on a real life Tardis, right? I'd totally go back and change how that all went down. Grumble grumble.

18. I want to take a shower without having to play a game of 20 questions with at least one of my children.

19. I want world peace, an end to hunger, freedom for all, true equality and for Citizens United to be overturned. I want Ginsburg to stay on the Supreme Court forever, and I want her replaced with someone as feisty and left leaning as she is when she retires.

20. I want Daryl Dixon sitting under my Christmas tree with his motorcycle and crossbow. Claimed.

Oh, and just in case you think that the things on my list are crazy and ridiculous, they are...but they aren't nearly as unrealistic as I thought. There was this one thing I'd been secretly wishing for...


Sometimes wishes do come true. xo

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - The FFS edition

Maybe it's a good thing that this year is almost over. Maybe it's a good thing because next year is 2015, the year we were promised hoverboards in Back to the Future. While hoverboards may not fix any of the things wrong with the world, they would be a fabulous distraction.

Wait.

Back to the Future isn't real.

Dammit.

It's not a good week to watch the news...
Just this morning, the Taliban is claiming responsibility for the deaths of over 100 students between the ages of 12-16 in Pakistan. They've said that the school, an army school, was chosen for the attack because the government is targeting them. They were told specifically to shoot only the older students, all of whom were innocent and had nothing to do with the harms the Taliban claims have been perpetrated upon them.

The hostage situation in Sydney finally ended this morning after two of the hostages were killed, leaving people to wonder how the man responsible was missed by the system for as long as he was.

Then there is the huge manhunt going on in Pennsylvania today after 6 family members of Bradley William Stone were discovered killed in three different crime scenes yesterday. People locally have been receiving reverse 911 and shelter in place calls, the authorities trying desperately to locate him before anyone else is hurt.

...and those are just the major stories this morning.

Amal Alamuddin is the most fascinating person of 2014, so says Barbara Walters
As she has done every year since the dawn of civilization (okay, fine, she isn't that old...), Walters ran her end of the year special profiling the most interesting people of the year from her perspective. Amal Alamuddin was chosen as the most fascinating, but the reasons should make you bang your head on the wall a little bit.

For those who don't know, Amal is the woman who just married George Clooney, which is mostly why she was chosen. Prior to that, she wasn't flying high on the public radar. Now, though, she's fascinating simply because she landed one of the most persistent bachelors in the free world.

Whaaaaaat.

Nevermind the fact that Amal is one of the most high profile attorneys in the world with a client list that includes Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. She clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor while she was in law school and previously worked on the investigations of Enron and Arthur Andersen. She's been involved with international war crimes cases too. I could write and write about all the amazing things she has done....but somehow the fact that she married an actor is deemed the most interesting thing about her.

No. Just no.

The Cosbys. Ugh.
By now, most of the world seems pretty handily convinced that Bill Cosby is a creeper. As more and more women come forward, the picture it paints of him isn't a flattering one at all. Though there have been some people assuming that the women now speaking up are solely doing it for some kind of financial incentive, this is too big and too gross for that simplified kind of explanation.

There isn't a huge "make Cosby look like a predator" conspiracy.

He is one, though, or so it seems.

I was talking to someone about how there's even potentially a case to be made for criminal charges surrounding the incidents that may have happened a long time ago, even though the statute of limitations would have long ago expired. In cases where there is a deliberate deception and/or hiding of the fact that a crime may have been perpetrated, the statute of limitations can be found to be frozen, arrested. The clock doesn't start ticking on it until the victim reasonably would have known that a crime occurred.

Here, the women were systematically abused then told they'd gone along with it. As more of them have started to come forward, it reframes the way that others see the interactions they had with Cosby. It's entirely possible that some of them didn't even realize they'd actually been raped until now.

In these cases, since he seems to have drugged most of the women then convinced them that whatever happened was consensual when it wasn't, there is at least a theoretical argument to be made that he could face criminal charges. I highly doubt that will happen, but it's a possibility if there is a really creative person working in the DA's office and wants to try it.

What I'm having trouble believing this morning, though, is his wife's defense of him. She said this, "None of us will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim," she wrote. "But the question should be asked -- who is the victim?" The man the media has been talking about of late doesn't sound to her like the man she married.

Well, yeah. That sure as hell doesn't mean that all these women are lying, though.

$81 Million Torture Handbook
There are pieces of the CIA report that I can't bear to stomach. The rectal hydration, the waterboarding, the leaving men on the floor to die of hypothermia.

For fucks sake.

Whoops. I let out the swears. 

We should be so ashamed of ourselves. The fact that the government paid two contractors $81 MILLION dollars to develop the torture procedures used is sickening.

I can't say much about this better than Jon Stewart and Senator John McCain did, so I'll just let them do it.


There is a line of reasonableness, a line where interrogation becomes torture, a line past which nothing is defensible or justified.

We were so fast past that line that we cannot defend our actions. Period. If anyone would know about torture, it's John McCain. Maybe we should listen to him.

In the YAY department
There was one small shining beacon of good news this week that I wanted to share. Dr. Vivek Murthy was norminated for Surgeon General over a year and a half ago, but hadn't been confirmed until this week.

These are your tax dollars at work, friends. 

He wasn't confirmed, even during the early days of the Ebola crisis, for a reason. It's a good one. Are you ready to know what that reason is???

He has said that the number of gun deaths in the country is a public health crisis, WHICH IT IS.

But you can't just go around and willy nilly say things like that without pissing off the NRA and all the gun rights groups. I mean, suuuuuure...we'll ignore the statistics on gun deaths and just pretend like there aren't more people that die from guns than a very long list of diseases...

Right.

His confirmation was delayed this long because of the gun lobby's opposition to him. The Senate finally told the gun lobby to suck it, and confirmed him. 

Score 1 for humanity. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Luxurious Grief

Earlier this week, I was scanning my newsfeed on Facebook while I was trapped beneath a softly snoring infant. I came across a blog post shared by a friend, one that discussed the new Reese Witherspoon film Wild in a way that I hadn't considered.

I've heard buzz about the movie, for sure, though far too much of it seems to be banter for the shallow surface dwellers of the world. Discussions about whether or not she was wearing makeup during filming and whether that was something to be considered brave. Musing about her age and whether she'd taken a risk by foregoing being made up.

If that is all you can honestly think of when you are introduced to the story she tells in the film, I for one will call you lucky. I'll call you lucky because it translates to the fact that you mustn't have encountered that kind of reality yet, endured that kind of loss and the seemingly bottomless hole that comes with it.

There is more to this story than discussions about vanity, for sure.

The film, one based on the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, centers on Reese's portrayal of Cheryl Strayed. Strayed wrote of her journey in the wake of the loss of her mother and other personal devastation, including drug use and the end of her marriage.

I haven't yet read the book, so I'm in no position to comment on that. I haven't obviously seen the film yet either, but the post that I read this week about it made me think that perhaps I shouldn't. Not yet anyway.

Maybe someday, but I'm not there yet.


That post, this one by Veronica Arreola on The Broad Side, it struck a nerve, one that hasn't stopped twitching since I read her words. It reached into the deepest darkest parts of my psyche, to the places where I stuff things away, slam the door and hope they stay hidden. It hit there.

It is a phenomenal piece, and I encourage you all to read it for yourselves. She talks about how she can't relate much at all to the journey that Strayed took in the wake of the loss of her mother even though she too lost her mother at a young age. She couldn't for a simple reason, she was about to give birth to a child. She couldn't just take off on some self discovery grief journey. She couldn't.

Something about her words, the eerie similarities of pieces of her mother's story and my mother's story, it brought me to tears. And I understood her.

I also began to understand a piece of this grief journey that I myself have been on, one that I hadn't even realized was there before.

It is this.

The type of grief in the story, the one that involves this level of self discovery, it is a luxury, and one that I wasn't afforded.

Some of us don't have the chance to wander.

It seems strange to think of any type of grief as luxurious, I am sure, just as I am sure that those words placed beside one another may bother some of my readers. It's not to say that one grief is bigger than another, that losses should be compared, that one person's experience is better or worse than another's necessarily, but they are indeed quite different.

And I just hadn't realized this piece of it before I read her words.

I see it now. There have been times, god have there been so many times, in the past four or so years when I would have given anything to run away. Nothing would have been so enticing or delicious as isolating myself away from all the noise, fully immersed in the grief that I felt. I could have thought things out, worked through what was going on in my mind so much easier if I'd had that opportunity.

I could have backpacked alone for as long as I needed, sat alongside the rivers and lakes and streams and oceans until it all made sense. I could have done anything I needed to in order to get to a good place, if I'd only had the time and ability.

I could have, in some imaginary world where the luxury of that kind of grief exists.

I do not dwell in that world.

When my father died, I had to take care of my children, and I had to take care of someone else far more needy and demanding - my mother.

When I lost so much in the months after his death, there was nowhere for me to find that peace and solitude. I couldn't go off and find myself, draw on that inner strength in the middle of a river somewhere. I couldn't do it because I had too many obligations here. I had those children to care for, that mother to attempt to care for.

When she died last year, after far too many tragedies, far too many heartbreaks, far too much conflict and the creation of far too many new wounds, I had to wrap my mind around the fact that I now occupied a world not just without my father and without the other things that I had lost, but I was now without her too.

And I had to do it all between 9:30-11am because it was the only time I was ever alone.

The harshness of grief doesn't comply with our rules and desires. It doesn't say to us that it will cooperate and only come when it is convenient for us. It comes when it wants, often without warning. It is whole and heavy, the weight of it oppressive at times.

In the wake of her death, though there was pain and sadness, there was relief too. In that relief, a guilt. A confusing reality. A shame. The questioning of what could have been, what should have been. The certainty that it will never be.

So many feelings, so much depth and complication, each feeling leading endlessly to another.

And I was supposed to get it all processed in that short time frame because I was too busy. I had too many obligations. I didn't have the luxury of grieving the way I necessarily wanted or needed.

I still don't.

I suppose that there is an argument to be made that I could. I could have left, taken off at any time. There is nothing physically holding me here. There wasn't then and there isn't now. I could have just announced that I needed time to sort all my demons out, time to work through these losses and how they changed me or didn't or whatever. I could have.

Sure.

But then I'd be failing them, the innocents in my life, the ones who had nothing to do with the losses I've endured. My children. And I couldn't go.

I couldn't do that to them.

I wouldn't do that to them.

I wonder sometimes what it must be like, to not have anyone else to really worry about, to not be needed, to truly have time to oneself, to possess the ability to just walk away and allow oneself all the time in the world to process.

Then I stop wondering because there's no utility in it.

Besides, I'm too busy.

I'm intrigued by Strayed's story. I'm absolutely certain that there will be parts that I relate to, parts that resonate so deeply and that only the other parentless children in the world can fully understand.

I'm also certain that there will be a piece of me that will be envious of her in a twisted and bizarre way, that will envy how she was able to walk away until she found herself.

Then there is the deep dark part of the envy that I fear the most, the piece where she could just mourn the loss of her mother. I wasn't given that luxury either, because sadness wasn't all I felt when she died.

There was relief too, peace that it was over, that she couldn't hurt me any more.

Having a complicated, troubled relationship makes the grief more complicated and troubled. I envy those who can just embrace the grief without hesitation, without qualification.

Perhaps this inability to own my grief the way I feel like I should is what has made it last as long as it has. Perhaps.

Perhaps the reality that I needed to stay strong and grounded and present and stable is the very thing that led to my development of PTSD. I refused to allow myself to deal with the pain when it was new, because I couldn't, because I didn't have time, because someone had soccer practice or needed a snack or was sick. In refusing it, in disallowing it, in suppressing all of it, perhaps I created more demons.

Perhaps.

I'll never really know.

What I do know is this: not every adventure that needs traveled is, not everyone is granted the time they need to find themselves, not all of us have the luxury of this grief.

~~~~~~~~~
My sincerest gratitude to Veronica for opening my eyes, and to Aliza for introducing me to her. May we find peace on the journeys we walk, even if they aren't what they might otherwise be. xo

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