Tuesday, November 27, 2018

where liberal is a dirty word for change

where liberal is a dirty word for change
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
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A few weeks ago, in barre class, I overheard a woman mention she was going home to Mississippi for the holidays.

I blurted out, “I’m from Mississippi too! Which part are you from?”


I smiled. “Oh, I love Oxford. I go there because my dad is an MSU fan…”

The woman snorted. “Yeah, my husband is an MSU fan. I feel your pain.”

We laughed together, enjoying the understanding that only those who grew up around the deep-seated rivalry of Mississippi football could fully comprehend.

I didn’t pursue the conversation further, however. I knew if we talked more, I’d learn we had nothing more in common other than our place of birth and the desire to reshape our flat, white asses. I could almost picture the prayer requests that she probably had plastered on her Facebook wall, and photos of her family decked out in camouflage, smiling above the decapitated head of a deer, along with the caption, “First kill of the season!”

Maybe I was wrong. My dad always said, “For a liberal, you’re the most judgmental person I know.” He’s probably right. Maybe the woman had left Mississippi for the same reason I did—because she didn’t belong.

Still, the South has a way of sleeping in Southerners long after they have left it…in some more than others.

“liberal” was a dirty word

I, too, went back to Mississippi for Thanksgiving.

I spent the first evening sitting with my dad across the TV as he nodded off to sleep every few minutes.

The attack ads came on every commercial break, like clockwork.

Cindy Hyde-Smith is a disaster for Mississippi.

Mike Espy was indicted on fraud charges while serving as Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary.

Cindy Hyde-Smith voted for junk insurance policies.

Mike Espy ordered a salad at Panera Bread and asked for extra croutons.

And so on.

I did the math while my dad snored beside me. There were 49 Democrats in the Senate. 50 Republicans. If Espy pulled this off…

I flinched. Did I, in my Beto shirt, really have the nerve to hope? Especially in Mississippi, where “liberal” was a dirty word?

Liberal. That’s the trigger word in the attack ads against Espy. He’s being funded by liberal money. He’s tight with out-of-state liberals. Espy, liberal, Espy, liberal, liberal, liberal.

I know what their use of "liberal" really implies, though:

“White Mississippians! Vote liberal, and all those white flight neighborhoods you moved to, the private schools where you send your children, the churches and shopping malls that you build in the suburbs to replace the ones in the city overtaken by blacks, will all be for naught! Dear white people of Mississippi, be afraid. Be very afraid. Voting liberal means voting for change!

But it really doesn’t, I thought. Liberal doesn’t stand for change, but embracing change. It means welcoming change with open arms instead of clenched fists. It means acknowledging that everyone deserves a slice of the American pie.

Because change is coming, whether they liked it or not. One day, they’ll run out of suburbs to hide in. The only place they’ll have to flee is across the state lines, but change will be waiting for them there too. Then what will they do?

“When you choose love, everyone wins,” I said aloud.

My dad stirred awake at the sound of my voice and looked at the TV, grimacing. “Another damn campaign ad. I’ll be so glad when this election is over,” he said, and he fell back to sleep.

you can still see the bloodstains of the wounded and dying

There’s a church in Raymond that the Confederacy turned into a makeshift hospital during the Civil War, after the Battle of Raymond went on for days. If you look at the wood floors real close, you can still see the bloodstains of the wounded and dying.

A block away from those bloodstains, I sat by a fire and placed the last pieces of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle into place. My son stood nearby, using a wire hanger to roast marshmallows over the flames. “This feels nice,” my son said. “Nice and cozy.”

“It does,” I agreed. “Makes me wish we were back in the time before electricity, when we had to sit by a fire to keep warm.”

My son scrunched up his nose. “I don’t think I would like that very much. People who weren’t white didn’t get treated very well back then.”

They’re not treated well now, I wanted to say, but stopped myself. Liberals liked to choke the sentiment out a statement until the words couldn’t breathe; to hell with the good intention underneath. Let empathy win tonight, I thought. My son had the rest of life to understand his privilege.

a bit flustered

The next day, I slipped on my Beto shirt and snuck away to Oxford with my mom and kids.

We ate lunch at City Grocery, a swanky restaurant in the square that served southern-style cuisine with a showy flare. The moment we entered, my daughter said, “Wow, I feel like I’m at a Trump rally.” I knew what she meant. Almost 40% of Mississippi’s population was African-American, but none of them were eating lunch that day at City Grocery in Oxford.

“Yeah, and I’m sure everyone here has been to a rally,” I said.

We were walking to our table when a woman suddenly waved at me. “I love your Beto shirt!” she said, giving me the thumbs-up.

“Thanks,” I said, a bit flustered, and for the first time, I regretted turning my back on the woman in my barre class.

I was Emmett Till’s killer. I was the ink on Faulkner’s page.

After lunch, we drove to William Faulkner’s house and walked the paths behind Rowan Oak. The air was cold, not like the icy cold they had up north, but a chilling, shiftless cold that spread across the red clay forests like a lost traveler searching, searching for a way home.

My son left my side and darted down a hill until he came to a dried-up riverbed. His hands gripped a tree branch, and he lifted himself up and began swinging in the air, his legs flying into a dusty sky where trees trembled and leaves of burnt orange and blood red rained down around him.

I watched until a gust of wind wrapped my hair around my eyes and roared in my ears, and for a moment,(the South has a way of sleeping in Southerners) I was no longer in Mississippi (long after they have left it. I was Mississippi (in some more than others).

I was Emmett Till’s killer. I was the ink on Faulkner’s page. I was the broken wheel on a pioneer caravan traveling down the Natchez Trace. I was the gun driving the Choctaw brave west. I was Hurricane Camille grinding her teeth into the coast, ripping houses from the homed and streets from the homeless. I was the blood stains on the church floors that never went away and the ghosts of war that marched up and down the highway, holding signs that said, it’s about heritage, not hate. I was the driver who saw the signs and looked away. I was my father asleep and my children awaking. I was my son’s shaky legs swinging upward into the silvery sky and falling back among the changing leaves, and like the leaves, I was changing and Mississippi was changing too—morphing from color to color, every hue more beautiful and holier than the last.
Monday, November 5, 2018

November 5, 2018

November 5, 2018
Monday, November 5, 2018
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In the past two years, how many of you have…

Donated when you didn’t have money?

Volunteered when you didn’t have time?

Drove across county lines?

Hitched your wagon to another state’s campaign?

Pounded pavement in the rain?

Had uncomfortable conversations with strangers?

Text/phone-banked in the free hours of your existence?

Took the path of most resistance?

Marched when it was too hot or too cold?

Marched sick or when you were in pain?

Stuck a sign in your yard, to hell what the neighbors say?

Called your representatives when you were afraid,

butterflies in your stomach?

How many of you never gave up,

despite the poll results,

despite the pundits’ thoughts,

despite “lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate”

scrawled on every voting booth

in every town redder than Mars,

despite the new wounds and the old scars –

how many of you saw this war as your lone peace,

at night when the beast was asleep,

and the only sound was a nation crying?

Whatever happens tomorrow, you are the sea to shining to sea.

You are the brave knight. You are the Valkyrie.
Monday, October 29, 2018

I’m writing this before election day in case it goes poorly

I’m writing this before election day in case it goes poorly
Monday, October 29, 2018
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I. Every Morning

I see it every morning—people holding up signs on the overpass above 360 and Mopac.

When drivers honk their approval, the sign holders wave frantically at them, slicing the wide, open sky with enthusiasm that’s electric and contagious even at a distance.

I always honk, even though I barely notice the signs these days. I have already memorized what they say.

Beto for U.S. Senate 2018

Repeal and Replace Senator Ted Cruz

II. Lost Travelers Like Myself

I first saw him at Mount Sinai church in North Austin, sometime at the end of August. Hundreds of people spilled out from the pews; many stood against the wall and others sat in the choir section, every soul looking out with expectant but anxious gazes. They were lost travelers like myself.

He began, “If you’re a Democrat, you’re welcome here. If you’re a Republican, you’re welcome here. If you’re an Independent, you’re welcome here…”

I came home with four yard signs. I hammered one into my lawn, then posted in my neighborhood Facebook group: “I got three extra Beto signs if you want them.”

They were claimed within minutes.

III. Betomania

It became a trend that summer: Beto here, Beto there, Beto, Beto everywhere.

It started with the signs; Beto signs staked to yards from Hyde Park and Tarrytown mansions to the residential developments at Mueller, up to the Great Hills and Lakeline neighborhoods and all the way down to the dated neighborhoods at Slaughter and William Cannon.

Next came the stickers; Beto stickers on the fenders of cars or plastered on windshields.

Then the shirts–Beto’s signature midnight blue and white mixed into crowds of pedestrians and flying past on the backs of college kids on scooters, or joggers around Zilker park.

Then came the murals of the man himself. Large murals painted on the side of buildings on the east side and in SoCo, lifelike but oversized, humble but triumphant, as if to show Beto was one of us, and at the same time, not.

Finally, as the deadline to register to vote drew closer, my doorbell began to ring daily at all hours.

Always the same type of visitor.

“Hiiii,” they’d begin. “Are you a registered voter?”

IV. Willie, or won't he?

On September 29, my family and I ubered to Auditorium Shores where Willie Nelson was headlining a free concert and rally for Beto.

We weaved our way through wet grass dotted with the unmoving limbs of resting bodies and water bottles drunk and bags open and rifled through—an explosion of humanity charged up but waiting for their leader’s command.

My family and I finally set up our lawn chairs on a spot not even marginally close to the stage (despite arriving three hours early).

The crowd tripled with the moonlight. I waited in line one and half hours for a grilled cheese and didn’t complain because my goodness, this crowd was all potential voters.

Volunteers walked around carrying tablets with signs posted on their backs, “Register to vote here”

Opening acts began to play. Violins and banjos; the random local politician wandering on stage long enough to wave and endorse Beto for Senate.

The twinkling lights of downtown Austin framed Beto as he stood at the edge of the stage and pointed at the crowd, switching between English and Spanish, the crowd cheering before him, fists rising in the air, and even in the distance I could hear the city halt and listen and smile with motherly approval.

Many got emotional. I was fine for most of it. It wasn’t until he said, “Weapons of war belong on the battlefield, not in our schools,” that my hand reached out to grasp my son’s shoulder and I began to cry.

V. “We can no longer live as rats; we know too much.”

Austin was already known for being a blue flame in a sea of red lava, but over the summer, Betomania pushed Texas’s capital even closer to its left-leaning roots.

It woke us.

We signed up to canvas, phonebank, drive voters to polls or paint rocks with “Beto” and leave them in random places within the city.

Our faith fed us; our desire helped us dream.

We watched the polls end poorly, but we chose not to believe them.

We voted and we got our friends to vote.

We got strangers to vote. We woke up the neighbors.

We texted people we hadn’t talked to in years.

We remembered last year when Doug Jones won in Alabama. We thought, if the crimson tide could do it…

So we stood back and watched the numbers changing.

400,000 Texans needed to vote differently than they did in 2016.

Either that or the new voters (millennials) needed to step up en masse.

Either that or half of Tarrant County needed to blow away. (It is hurricane season, I heard an optimist say.)

It was a vicious thought, but we were hungry and hunger made us vicious.

We were hungry and vicious and unafraid.

We were Violet Beauregarde chewing blueberry pie for the first time; we were fat with blue righteousness, ripe and taking up more space; our hope expanding to damn near explosion.

IV. If This Ends Poorly

And if you’re reading this now because it ended poorly, I want you to know: it has not ended.

It has just begun.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Mississippi Blues

Mississippi Blues
Sunday, October 7, 2018
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blur, branches, foliage

There’s an odd pain that stays with you long into adulthood when you grow up in a place that is the exact opposite of everything you represent.

There’s jealousy too, I think. Last March when I was back in Jackson, my dad and I went to the famous St Paddy’s Day parade. Rows and rows of white women in their college sweatshirts and fake Mardi Gras beads laughing with friends and yelling at their children with twice the syllables that need to be (“John” is “Joooohaaaaan” in the Deep South). I could have been one of them, I thought, walking past. if only I hadn’t wanted more. If only I hadn’t asked so many questions in Sunday school. If only I hadn’t reached my hand across the expanse of racial lines. If only I hadn’t winced walking into a room with mounted deer heads. I could have stayed in MS, married a lawyer from Ole Miss, started a family in a white flight neighborhood, made banana pudding for tailgating at football games, went to church every Sunday, stayed unwoke and unaware of the sufferings of the world around me Bc my world was jus’ fiiiine, praise the Lord. — maybe then those plastic shamrock cups with warm beer would taste like mother’s milk. And I would be happy and content and not a fuming mess waiting for Mango Dumptruck’s next tweet, waiting for the ground beneath to shake, for the familiar outrage to swell and take my breath away. 

I loved you, Mississippi. But you could never accept me. I didn’t fit into your mold. That’s why I had to go.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

An Activist Delayed

An Activist Delayed
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
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Many years ago, a pious and well-meaning friend tried to introduce me to God. Without God, life has no meaning, she argued. I replied, “Then my life shall remain meaningless.”
Fortunately, it didn’t.
It’s almost cliché for a mother to write about the birth of her child as the miracle of her existence, the fons et origo, the event that cut a line down the spine of her life, dissecting her very existence into two separate but unequal halves.
Nevertheless, I echo these sentiments. I still remember the moment my eyes gazed upon the slimy, wiggling bundle of fat being transferred from the drop site between my legs to the clear plastic bassinet a few feet away.
“London,” I called to her, and her face jerked in my direction, her dark eyes searching the room before finding and resting on mine. She knew her mother’s voice. A cry escaped her lips, and my heart expanded.
I remember thinking, I did not know, I did not know… I did not know I was so empty, to be so full. My life took shape. Let others claim God, I thought; London was my meaning.
Not that my life completely lacked meaning before motherhood. In college, my philanthropist interests broadened and took off running, never stopping long at one cause. Every day, a different protest.
 Han Sen Must Step Down!
 Stop Bombing Innocent Serbian Children!
 Give Peas a Chance!
I held my signs high and shouted with the crowd—most of the time, anyway.
But if I’m being honest, the protests were more of a pastime than a serious consideration. They were thrown in between parties, scattered and stuffed between concerts and day drinking and boys.
The world’s needy and hungry, the suffering, the martyred, the refugee children weeping and weary and scarred by the face of war—they existed merely in the peripheral, acknowledged only when their plight peaked my interest and when the time and place to protest aligned comfortably within the confines of my convenience.
These days when I’m not working with other activists, I work on my own. I swap my protest sign for two thumbs and a cell phone. Representatives Lamar Smith and Roger Williams; Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn—I have those pasty, prehistoric shitbags on speed dial.
Is there a bill in Congress attempting to limit women’s health? They can expect a call.
Is there a bill in Congress that will negatively impact minorities or my brothers and sisters of a different faith or sexual orientation? They can expect a call.
Is there a bill trying to hammer another stake in the planet’s coffin? They can expect a call.
Sometimes I get my kids in on the action. I’ve taken London with me to protests organized by Planned Parenthood at the Capitol Building. I’ve watched with pride as she held her Women’s rights are human rights sign higher than anyone else.
My son Kaya called John McCain when Obamacare was on the chopping block. “Please, Senator McCain, you were a hero in World War II. Please be a hero again.” (It didn’t occur to me until after my son hung up that he had cited the wrong war. Oh well, the intention was good.)
Before, activism was a pastime. Now, it is my way of life. I don’t know if my kids—particularly my daughter—were the catalysts for igniting this defiance in me (I know plenty of childless Americans who are passionate and proud activists), but I do know that during every protest, march, or with every call I make or letter I sign—every time I raise my fist to the sky—it is their faces I see. My daughter, my son.
It is their lives I hope to save, their dreams I hope to salvage from the wrecking ball of the current administration—for they are my purpose, and without them, life has no meaning.

First featured in  https://ourepicblog.com.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Father's Day

Father's Day
Monday, June 18, 2018
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He made me pick him up early from his friend’s house so we could buy you a Father’s Day gift

—you, the “noob” who arrived in his world when he was six.

Often you get upset because he doesn’t talk to you, or he only replies in one-word answers.

I never thought to question his curt; I was always taught men don’t say much because they don’t have much to say (you are an anomaly)

But you take his aloofness as not caring much.

And here I thought all Y chromosomes were shaped the same.

But you should have seen him picking out your tie.

We must have stopped in every shop.

He picked up one after the other,

examining each pattern for the correct answer,

not unlike you reviewing his math homework, every check-off a silent declaration of love.

Maybe that’s how men talk–soundless to the ear but amplified to the eye.

You should have seen him pick out your tie.

He asked the cashier if they had a box.

He carried the box throughout the mall and to the car,

I had never seen a head held so high

And when I dropped him off, he said don’t forget to give it to Doug and said I won’t.

You should have seen the way he smiled.
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