Get off my lawn

Growing up in the 80s, I got my ass handed to me a million times as I struggled to find my way. I was a shitty dancer, never earning trophies. I lost more than one speech competition because I went over time and got disqualified. I tried out for volleyball and I didn’t make the team because the other girls who tried out were better.

Guess what? Not making the team did not ruin my life. Losing competitions did not crush my fragile soul. Has my adult life been adversely affected by having grown-ups tell my kid-self I wasn’t good enough and should find something different to try? It has not.

In high school, I wanted the lead in a play. I did not get the lead. I got a supporting role where I learned that memorizing lines is hard, acting is sweaty, and though I loved the stage, I wanted to try something different. So I wrote a play. And that led me to write short stories. And novels. And boom, here we are.

What is my point? My point is that learning to fail is what taught me to succeed.

And I wonder if some of these Bernie-or-Bust supporters have ever had that experience in their lives. What must it be like to be young and privileged and earnest and to have grown up in a world where every little league player gets a trophy and no one keeps score? What must it be like to navigate the ugly real world now when all you’ve known is that there were 35 cheerleaders on the squad because if you didn’t make the squad your parents threatened to sue? What is it like to always hear that you’re special, and to never hear the word no? It must be really, really hard to be an adult and to learn these lessons for the first time.

It’s not that I’m advocating destroying the hearts and minds of children in order to make them toughened adults, it’s that I’m sighing deeply over “progressive” adult humans having multi-day temper tantrums because they did not get their way. I’m sighing deeply over weeping white boys with duct tape over their mouths that reads “silenced.” I’m driving in disbelief as I listen to NPR interviews with young women who say, “I see your basic point, but it’s, like, the principle of the thing?” when the interviewer points out that a protest vote for Trump actually endorses pretty much everything Bernie stands against.

Most of the time, losing sucks. Having someone tell you No sucks, too. Finding out there were dirty shenanigans behind the scenes really, really sucks. You’re pissed. You’re sad. You totally get to be those things. Feel the feelings, baby. Roll around in them. But then, grow the fuck up.

You know what happens after someone tells you No? You learn from it. You grow. You affect change. Understand that your temper tantrums do not affect change. Taking your anger to every single election in the next four years, the next eight years, the next twelve years, THAT affects change. Rallying people to start from the ground-up and revamp a shitty system, THAT affects change. Just because it feels like you lost this round doesn’t mean that you pitch a fit and boo public speakers and stick out your lower lip and refuse to vote. You know what it does mean? It means you feel like you lost, but take a deep breath and look around you. The party platform includes things it never would have included if you hadn’t made your voice heard. Bernie Sanders – who is not actually a Democrat, you know – has his arm elbow-deep in the muck of the Democratic party and he’s swirling it around. He’s frothing up that muck, y’all. He’s getting down and dirty, making allies, and jamming his foot in the fucking door.

Bernie is not the nominee, but his words have made a difference. His policy is already affecting change. Don’t you see that, Crying Children At The Convention? Don’t you see the leaps and bounds that have already occurred? And don’t you understand YOU WILL LOSE ALL OF THIS if Donald Trump is elected president? Everything you worked so hard for is going down in a flaming pile of shit if you abstain from voting, or if you vote third-party. You WANT the system to be ready for a third-party revolution. The system is not ready. What the system IS primed and ready for is a demagogue to rise to power on the backs of whiny baby special snowflakes who don’t know how to turn the word No into the word Change.

So buck up, buttercups. Feel your feelings. And then take your medicine, vote for Hillary, protect your loved ones from a world where hate and racism and bigotry are all state-sanctioned, and then vote, vote, vote in every local and state election until the assholes are gone.

And the best part about channeling your earnestness into down-in-the-local-trenches civic duty? You get a sticker every time you vote. EVERYONE GETS A STICKER! EVERY TIME!

Bernie didn’t get the nomination. It sucks, and it doesn’t feel fair because you wanted it to happen. You really, really wanted it and you didn’t get what you want, and you are lost.  But now is the time to learn what you should have learned when you were eight. Now is the time to realize your lack of a trophy at this very instant doesn’t mean you will never have that trophy. It means you are going to have to work for it. It means you take this failure to fuel future success. You do not take this failure to fuel future flaming shit piles. Shit piles governed by fascists do not offer very many trophy opportunities.

You hear me? Good.

Now get off my lawn.

 

 

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What can we do?

What happens when voices are silenced?
What happens when-even worse-voices are never even heard to begin with?
What happens when children don’t see themselves in the books they read, in the media they consume?
What happens when the news cycle never ends, when talking heads search and destroy as they grasp to find something, anything to keep talktalktalking about?
What happens when it is discovered that fear creates more ratings than joy?
What happens when the majority of people feel afraid, targeted, misunderstood, and isolated?
What happens when bite-sized, news-bubble fear-mongering becomes so popular, so comfortable it runs the legitimate news business into the ground?
What happens when facts are replaced with “facts”?
What happens when empathy is replaced by fear?
What happens when kindness is replaced by entitlement?
What happens when institutional racism just gets a head shake and a sigh?
What happens when institutional sexism just gets a joke and some memes?
What happens when an entire group of people experiences state-sponsored discrimination?
What happens when another group of people experiences this?
And then another?
And then another?
What happens?

I am not a sociologist. I am not a psychologist. I am not a statistician. I am not an anthropologist or a historian. I have no expertise in politics or economics. But I am a human. I am a human who is very good at watching other humans. I am a human who sees stories from miles away. And I am a human who never stops asking questions.

“Well what good is that?” You ask. “We are obviously a society in pain. We are obviously at some kind of crossroads. Who cares if you’re good at watching people? Who cares if you ask questions? We need answers. We need people to act. We need people to fight back. We don’t need watchers. We need doers.”

And how could I argue with you, really? Complacency is complicity. But do you know what is the opposite of complicity and complacency? Empathy and education. I don’t mean school everyday, then college kind of education. I mean education of the world at large. I mean getting out in it, seeing, meeting, befriending people who are different than you are. I mean learning how to have a conversation with a person who has different ideological beliefs than you, and not spiraling into name-calling. I mean being educated as a human being.

This crazy thing happens when you meet other people, when you go outside of your bubble and you talk to other humans, when you hear their personal stories. You learn that they are people just like you. You discover they are not just caricatures, they are not unfamiliar faces in a sea of more unfamiliar faces. Strangers are not strangers. Strangers are us. You learn that just because someone speaks another language he is not stupid. You learn that because a woman covers her head, she is not weak. You learn that two women kissing is not anathema, it is universal love. You learn everyone loves someone. And everyone is loved by someone.

Complacency is complicity and education is empathy.

And this is where our expertise as artists come into play. There’s a reason that when society begins to crumble the artists are some of the first people rounded up and silenced. It’s because artists tell the hard truth. Artists give voices to those who are not heard, are ignored, are unseen, are abandoned, are scary, are terrifying reminders of what life could be.

Artists allow those who cannot go out into the world to do it anyway. They bring you to city streets. They bring you behind shuttered windows of ticky-tacky houses. They put you in a car with a gun pointed at you. They put weapons in your own hands. They show you consequences without putting you jeopardy. They give YOU a voice. They give you validation. They prove you are not alone. They give you answers when no one else can.

A child might not be able to go out into the world to see how others live. It might be difficult for her to even get to school in the mornings, much less strike up a conversation at the bus stop. A teen might be ashamed, afraid or too stuck in his or her own head to be able to reach out — the feeling of isolation so overwhelming that they know in their bones no one else could have ever felt the same way. An adult might feel too much fear to be kind. So what happens then?

I’ll tell you what happens.

We put books in their hands.
We open library doors.
We fill schools with stories about everyone. Everyone.
We provide outlets for the angry and confused by giving them characters who are angry and confused — and yet these characters still find a way to clarity.
We stop being afraid that children will read books where gay people are equals.
We stop saying that books containing people of color “won’t sell.”
We stop sanitizing our shelves, afraid that kids will learn the ugliness of the world too early. (Newsflash: the world is ugly, and children bear the brunt of it)
We teach children empathy through storytelling.
We encourage everyone to learn about people different from themselves, through books, through music, through art, through conversation.
We tell the hard stories.
We offer them up.
We ask questions.
We answer questions – not with dogma, but with thoughtfulness.
We put books in their hands.
We put books in their hands.
We put books in their hands.

And maybe by doing this, the next generation will be better than we are at empathy and kindness. Maybe our legacy will simply be: learn more, do more, be more, read more. Maybe that will be enough. Maybe it’s not too late.