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Hearts of Darkness: What has happened to our humanity?

I just read an article about an Idaho school whose teachers dressed up as Trump’s Border Wall. Another group from the same school dressed as Mexicans, complete with sombreros and mustaches and maracas.

As a citizen, my lip curled. As an educator, my gore rose. As a human, my wrath raged. This is totally and completely unacceptable.

What has happened to our humanity?

What has happened to us? The land of the free and the home of the brave? The land that welcomes the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

I guess we don’t anymore.

Trump is promising an executive order to abolish birthright citizenship. This president whose father was an immigrant. (Could he abolish his own citizenship, I wonder?) This president whose wife — actually TWO of his wives (Ivana and Melania) — are immigrants. (Could he likewise abolish Ivanka and Barron and Don Jr and Eric’s citizenships???)

The poetic justice just might be worth the insult to humanity!!!

But, no. No it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be worth the insult to humanity (tempting though it may be…) and it wouldn’t abolish their citizenship. Because let’s face it… they’re the immigrants and anchor babies of acceptable color. They aren’t Latino or Black or Middle Eastern.

And that’s what this “illegal alien” war he’s waging is really all about. Trump spouts his pie-in-the-sky Space Force rhetoric all the time; the reality and irony is his “space force” exists already — and is waging war right here on planet earth against “illegal aliens” whom he and his followers are all too ready to demonize. “Aliens” who are entirely human.

And those who side with Trump — they are not. They have lost all semblance of humanity.

Those teachers who dressed like Trump’s Wall…  those citizens turning a blind eye to the ongoing disaster of immigrant children separated from their parents at the border… those fellow Americans casting their ballots in the midterms because they don’t want minorities in their land or in their governing bodies…

They have lost all semblance of humanity.

 

I will not Hush My Mouth

To the person who dressed me down today for my dissatisfaction with and absolute disgust of the current POTUS:

Whew! I’m glad you got that off your chest. I wouldn’t want to cause you any pain by perhaps encouraging you to try to see the other side of things. The side that isn’t white and male and in control of policies and procedures and pretty much anything and everything you ever take for granted because you resemble that establishment.

You see, I’ll respect that man when he respects my gender. He shows me no respect so why should I give him mine?  Oh, that’s right, he thinks because he’s big and powerful and rich he can just take it. Grab me by the pussy and demand it.

And let’s talk a bit more about respect, shall we? I believe he shows absolutely no respect for the office of the presidency.. He parades himself around like he’s the cat that swallowed the canary. And we the people are the canary. He is dangerous. Deadly, even. I respect the danger he represents. I do respect that.

You say I should remain quiet. I should not voice my opinion. The way I see it, that is exactly the way Hitler grew into the powerful monster that he became. By spreading his “Fake News” and terrorizing anyone who spoke out against him. Too many kept their mouths closed until it was way, way, too late. I will not stay silent.

I owe him no loyalty. I am not a sworn member of the military. I have the ability to speak against him in public if I so choose. It is my right. And as I see it, it is my responsibility. I hail from a place of extreme oppression. A place where men told me when to be seen and when to be heard and how to behave. Where education was wasted on women because our place was barefoot in the kitchen with a baby in the oven and a roast on the stovetop. And I’ll be damned if I’m going back to that place.

You worry about my students. You worry that by speaking my mind I am teaching young minds to disrespect authority. Here’s the thing. First off, I don’t prosthelytize in my classroom, if that’s what you’re implying.  I don’t talk politics in my classroom – or at least not partisan politics. I remain neutral when it comes to right vs left, republican vs democrat. But we do look at all sides. We deal with a lot of themes in the novels that we explore – themes related to man’s inhumanity toward man: prejudice and hate and dominance and greed and violence and bitterness and war. A lot of these naturally lend themselves to discussions about the political climate of our world, of our nation. But I do my absolute best to speak for both sides. And in the South, most kids hear nothing but one side. They know that side well. I encourage them to do research, to educate themselves, to question everything and then decide for themselves what they think and believe. Not their parents. Not their teachers. Not their preachers. Not their classmates. Themselves. THAT is what education is for: building critical thinking skills.

As far as friending my students on Facebook, that’s pretty much frowned upon in this profession of mine and it doesn’t happen — nor would it if it could. That’s just weird and that’s just wrong. But when my students have graduated, when they are ADULTS then they can friend request me. Not before then. And just like you, they can block me if they don’t like what I have to say. Or they can choose to engage. Or they can choose to scroll right on past. You say as a teacher I hold sway and influence over young minds. I hope that is true. I hope my influence is in showing them how to think — not WHAT to think, HOW to think. How to research and analyze, explore and question, sift and weigh all the options.  If I ever try to tell them WHAT to think, then I have crossed a line. I have become my own worst enemy. I have become HIM.

I love my students dearly. I only want the very best for them. And them using their minds to form their opinions, rather than having opinions spoon-fed to them by the establishment is ultimately what is best for them. That is not teaching them to disrespect authority. That is teaching them to think for themselves. The two are not synonymous.

Yes, sometimes my emotions get the better of me on Facebook. Sometimes I react to the man in the oval office’s tantrums or his 3 A.M. rants or his pompous, smug face or his endless strings of lies. And you’ve got me thinking… Yes, you speak the truth. I guess when I react to him, when I vent on social media, I am mirroring his small-mindedness. That is shameful and it discredits me and I need to do better. So for that, I appreciate the note. I appreciate the heads up. I will try to do better.

But as for my speaking out against him — as for my statements and beliefs about the sorry excuse for a president we have in the oval office, that will not stop. I realize my opinions are not to your liking. I get that. I am not, however, sorry for them.

This nation gives us all the freedom to speak. When we stop speaking, we run the risk of turning into an oppressive, dogmatic dictatorship, much like the one in which I was raised. A place where only those in power have any say whatsoever. Where individuals become slaves to the whims and whips of an elite few. A few who believe they are the chosen ones. (Chosen ones as in belief in manifest destiny and God-ordained right and all that jazz and bullshit, not general election chosen one, btw. I can see you jumping all over on that term…)

No, I do not believe in people who believe they are the chosen ones. That’s just entirely too dangerous for my liking. And for the rest of my life, I will fight and I will speak out and I will not ever give up. I’ve been silenced before. But like I said in that blog I wrote back in November of 2016, I’ll be damned before I go back to that hell again.

Thanks for hearing me out…

 

My Experience with Undocumented Students: Why I Love our Dreamers

I’ll never forget my student who explained to me how he came to America for an education.  He raised his hand politely when we were discussing the negativity in our hallways following Trump’s election. He had overheard students chanting “Build that Wall.” He overheard students telling other students to go back where they came from. He overheard one student boldly hold up her head and explain that she wasn’t Mexican and she wasn’t illegal. My student walked quickly past. He was both.

Back in my classroom, he felt safer. He felt braver. He explained to me and to his classmates that he had come from Mexico ten years prior with his father and his uncle while the rest of his family had stayed behind. He missed them all terribly, but the entire reason for coming to this country was so he could get a quality education. Back home, he explained, that was not possible. There were classrooms without electricity. There were schools without running water. If you wanted math skills beyond a fourth-grade level, he explained, you had to pay for private school. His family didn’t have that kind of money.

So he and his father and uncle came to America. He studied and he learned. He struggled – sometimes with the material, but most times with the hate. He just wanted people to understand.

He is one of the kindest-hearted, hardest-working students I’ve ever taught. He is exceptional, but he is not an exception. I’ve taught many students like him. Students who know and understand the value of education. Students who come to America to come to school, to sit quietly, to do their work, and to soak up any and all knowledge they possibly can. I wish I had more students like them. I would gladly fill my classroom with dozens of these young men and women. They know and understand what the world looks like without access to education.

It looks like poverty. It looks like violence. It looks like drug cartels and narcotic trafficking. It looks like where they came from. And they want change. For themselves, for their families, for their country.

So they work. Hard. They learn. Well. They are respectful and teachable, and tough. They don’t whine when they don’t get an A. They work harder. They come for tutoring. They ask for remediation. They never ask for a grade. They work for one.

The same can’t be said for perhaps seventy percent of my natural-born students. There has been a drastic shift in the mentality of parents and students in the United States in the seventeen years I’ve been a teacher. Parents call and email regularly these days with complaints. They aren’t happy with little Johnny or Jill’s grade They gripe and complain and bellyache that we aren’t fair, we’re too tough, we’re on power trips, we aren’t accommodating enough. Their children gripe and complain and bellyache, as well. Parental attitudes passed down like genetics, multiplying like a cancer.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of the American Dream has gotten soft and fuzzy. We used to have a Puritan work ethic, a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that built our nation into the powerhouse it used to be. These days, our work ethic is pitiful, not Puritan.  Folks seem to believe they can sleep walk through their lives and simply reap the benefits of being American: good education, good jobs, good pay, good living conditions.

I see it in my classroom every day. Kids who want everything handed to them: the notes, the answers, the grades.

And this lazy philosophy, this twisted version of the American Dream, is currently on display in our oval office: a spoiled rotten and ranting adult-sized child who’s never worked an honest day in his life and who finds fault in anyone and everyone but himself.

Our American Dream has mutated into an American Nightmare.

Yesterday, Trump destroyed the authentic dreams of thousands of young adults like my student, individuals who understand and embody the true nature and characteristics of the American Dream — hard work and sacrifice — better than most of their American counterparts. Their only fault is they aren’t American.

Then again, didn’t our forefathers house the exact same fault? Didn’t they arrive on America’s shores searching for a better life as strangers in a strange land?

The decision to end DACA has tremendous repercussions on honest, hard-working, deeply committed individuals who have the potential to improve the world in immeasurable quantities if only they are allowed access to the ways and means to do so: education.  Individuals like my precious student.

Which brings me back to those parental complaints a few paragraphs back, I tend to agree with them. We aren’t fair; we are on power trips; we are not nearly accommodating enough — to those who are willing to work for the American Dream and understand its potential the most: our young, undocumented immigrant students.

Contact your representatives. Let them know you stand with DACA and our undocumented immigrant students. Please.

Old Times Here shouldn’t be Forgotten: But they shouldn’t be Celebrated Either

I spent the good part of my week trying to decide how I feel about the proposed removal of confederate monuments.  I was raised under their shadow, and they were touted as the good old days, back when modern day inconveniences and turmoil didn’t exist.  An impressionist painting of perfection.

I grew up in a small Southern town. It had giant magnolias, columned front porches, and an annual spring pilgrimage where visitors toured antebellum houses amidst blooming azaeleas and sweeping hoop skirts.

It was all nostalgia and watercolor sunsets and giant oak silhouettes. It was the land of cotton where old times are not forgotten. I was a ten-year-old with a mad crush on Scarlett O’Hara, and it all looked so pretty to me. It felt pretty to me. It was pretty perfect to me.

Frankly, my dear, I was wrong as fuck.

‘cuz it ain’t just whistling dixie we’re talking about here, folks.

It’s hate wrapped up in a pretty plantation package with a taffeta bow. And yes, people love to paint that heritage and history soft-focus picture of the gallant South. Love to talk about those good old days of prosperity and tobacco and cotton fields as far as the eye can see. To look back to the days of fine gentlemen in gray who knew how to act like fine gentlemen and lovely ladies in lace who knew how to act like lovely ladies.

But the problem with soft focus is, it’s fuzzy, y’all. The clarity’s not there. Sure, it shows the barbecue parties at Twelve Oaks and grand, double staircases. It shows the gallant young men marching their way into battle to defend their women and their land. It shows the rolling, red clay hills newly plowed with cash crops aplenty.  It shows all that highly-touted history and heritage.

Which is why they demand that these statues remain. They want to honor these outstanding generals who fought to protect the South’s genteel way of life. That genteel, civilized way of life where the fuzzy brush strokes sweep right past the whipping of the field hands and the raping of the house slaves and the selling of “darkie” children for the price of a spirited roan stallion. Where infant slave children were used as gator bait. Where an entire population (or at least those who survived) was raped, broken, beaten, maimed, and sold like chattel

Yet they continue their chant of history and heritage. Not hate. Never hate.

It’s history, yes. But it is also totally and absolutely hate.

So I say take them down. Take down all the Robert E Lees and Stonewall Jacksons, the Nathan Bedford Forrests and the Jefferson Davises. Put them in a museum somewhere.

They need to exist. They do. Because they need to remind us to never repeat such a heinous system of government again. Because that’s what it was: heinous.

Take them out of our town squares. Out of our city centers. Definitely out of our hearts.

Put in their place empathy, compassion, love.

And then put yourself in the place of descendants of slaves. Imagine yourself in their shoes, with whole histories of manacled and murdered ancestors lost and forgotten beneath that marbled pedestal of pride and privilege.

Imagine yourself a descendant of an untraceable ancestry, split, broken, drawn and quartered at the whim of the white man– husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, infants, siblings all lost. Where are the monuments to them? To their sacrifice? For sacrificed, they were — readily and continuously to maintain that sweet southern way of life.

No, the only monuments their descendants will see in nearly every southern square around, all honor the men who led the campaign to maintain the status quo — the dismemberment and death of their people.

If you still think those statues should remain where they are, I am ashamed to call you my neighbor. And you should be ashamed of yourself, too. It’s disgraceful.

And the South has seen enough disgrace. It disgraced itself when it seceded from the union. It disgraced itself with its Jim Crow laws. It disgraced itself with the incorporation of rebel flags into state flags.

For the love of all that is holy, let’s do something right this time around. Take the damn things down and put them somewhere where we’ll remember not to celebrate them, where we’ll remember that all that is gone with the wind needs to STAY gone with the wind.

 

 

 

Choice Cuts in Education: Discrimination is Alive and Well in the State of Georgia

In the state of Georgia, discrimination is alive and well and driving our school systems. And it’s not what you think.  Schools don’t discriminate against students based upon race, creed, color, economic status, or national origin. But they do, however, quite openly discriminate based upon course load.

You see, Friday afternoon, I opened an email from the State Department of Education and what I read blew my mind and hurt my Humanities heart. I am outraged and appalled.

The email states, and I quote, “In the past, funding has been provided by the legislature Tfor one AP exam for all low-income students enrolled in Georgia public schools.  Recent legislation redirected this funding to support only STEM related AP exams for all students regardless of economic status.  Hopefully, this notice will provide time for you and your administrators to explore other funding sources to support your non-STEM, low-income AP student exams.”

Wait, what?  “Recent legislation redirected […] funding to support only STEM related AP exams[…] regardless of economic status?” Excuse me?

I had to read the email twice. And then I had to seek confirmation from my principal to make sure I was indeed seeing what I was pretty damn certain I was seeing? Because it seemed impossible. Impossible to believe that our state would take away funding from our worthiest and neediest students. Students who have been diligently bettering themselves, year after year, through education. Students who have been climbing their way out of the darkness of poverty by taking challenging AP classes (and yes, many of these students take STEM classes, but not all) just to have the final rung on their ladder toward success removed: the ability to test, receive college credit, and get out of the vicious cycle.

And just what is so special about STEM anyway, that it supersedes all other course work? STEM — that educational juggernaut that harnesses the four horsemen of accomplishment: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. Those subject areas that in recent years equate to the Holy Grail of education, warranting such teacher and student incentives as signing bonuses, higher salaries, excess funding, partnerships, scholarships and now, apparently, AP exam exemption status.

Believe it or not, high levels of rigor exist outside STEM classrooms, ladies and gentlemen: critical thinking skills, advanced problem solving, the ability to gather and evaluate evidence, interpret and apply that evidence. These skills occur in other subject areas, too.

Yes, STEM is vital. I get it. It drives innovation and industry and helps keep the United States at the top of the global leaders. But STEM is not the only thing that keeps us there.

The Humanities and the Arts teach us what it means to be global citizens. Courses in history, literature, music, philosophy, language, rhetoric, and art provide instruction in civility, altruism, ethics, reflection, adaptability, etc. They strengthen our ability to communicate – with ourselves and with other nations. They keep us balanced. Without these valuable tools, we quite likely would become a nation fueled by xenophobia and driven entirely by rationality.

And what could possibly be wrong with a nation that looks out for its own best interest, driven entirely by the bottom line, you ask? A lot.

Read Jonathan Swift and you’ll find some answers. He warned us over and over of the harm that can befall mankind if we only use the rational parts of our brains.  Read “A Modest Proposal,” where he pens a brilliant, satiric remedy for an over-populated Ireland by suggesting the Irish Catholics breed children (something they are already so naturally good at) for the soup pot and barbecue joint and monetary gain. Completely rational and cost-effective, mind you.

Read Gulliver’s Travels. Within its pages, there are multiple accounts of societies driven by — and completely destroyed by – the pursuit of science and technology and ice-cold rationality.

Read: it’s fundamental — and as a humanities course, it’s a dying skill.

Not all of us are STEM people, nor should we be.

And I’m not a STEM hater. Far from it. Some of my best friends are STEM people. So is my daddy. Hell, so is my daughter. But I’m here to tell you we need balance. Humanities and the Arts deserve a place at the table too, folks.

And, to bring it all back to Advanced Placement, where my argument began, our state legislature and DOE have taken Humanities and the Arts off the table for our economically disadvantaged students. They will be force-fed STEM or they will not eat. And that is wrong.

These exams are not cheap ($93 each), and while there are reduced costs in place for students who qualify through the Free and Reduced Lunch program, the biggest incentive – one free exam for each economically disadvantaged student testing – is no longer available thanks to our state’s new STEM reallocation.

I’m sorry, but STEM is not the Be-All and End-All of education. It should not be funded at the expense of other disciplines. Nor at the expense of our economically disadvantaged students.

 

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy, Just Don’t Call me a Crazy Bitch: Why I Teach Feminism

A dear friend of mine just brought to my attention a scholarly article called, Hysteria, Witches, and The Wandering Uterus: A Brief History: or, Why I Teach ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ by Terri Kapsalis, a professor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Among other things, Kapsalis discusses the Victorian diagnosis of hysteria – or the belief in a “wandering uterus” being the cause for basically any, and all, female physical ailments. If a patient was full of phlegm, or suffering from depression, or had a migraine — no matter what the issue — it was surmised that her wild and wanton womb had been creeping around where it didn’t belong again. Not kidding here.

And what, pray tell, was the reason it wandered? Why, it was hankering for a heaping helping of man juice, of course.

Of course. The God-designed purpose of the uterus. To receive man-seed and bring forth life. The only sure way to cure a “hysterical” woman was to keep her barefoot and pregnant. Jizz a day keeps the doctor away.

Such beliefs and diagnoses invalidated legitimate medical complaints of women from Ancient Egypt all the way up to the modern era. Everything was chalked up to hormones. And while diagnostic medicine has moved away from such ridiculous notions, public opinions about the psychological state of womanhood has not.

When we women get too big for our proverbial britches, when we become too intellectual, too political, too competitive, too driven, when we dare to do something beyond the roles society has deemed appropriate for our “kind” – you know, wives, mothers, maybe teachers or nurses – then we are seen as a threat. We are dangerous. So we are called deranged, out of control, hysterical.

And we are slammed right back into that whole wandering womb pigeon hole again. Obviously, we need to sip some more from that whole cult of domesticity Kool Aid again to get us back to our proper place – back on the path of the straight and narrow.

Look at Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, even Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Palin. They’ve all been called crazy bitches. Hysterical females. Because, as the article so wisely notes, “hysteria is a bipartisan weapon.” A powerful woman is a dangerous woman, no matter the party. I, myself, have been guilty of labeling a couple of these women with the same blasphemous insults that have been used against my favorites. It’s an easy trap to fall into. And every time I trip up, I empower the status quo.

And the status quo is white and male and always eager to see women fail. Sexism is a bullshit topic, according to them. Made up. And feminism is a dirty word.That’s definitely the mentality in certain branches of my family. And in certain corners of my classroom.

Not with AP students, at least not most of them. Most of them love to explore social and political movements. They find counter culture stimulating. They yearn for wider understanding than simply their daddy’s dictums, their pastor’s politics or their Uncle Johns’ world views. They long to balance and counterbalance their minds. To glean understanding from all walks of life. To broaden their understanding and to embrace empathy. They want to absorb, not only with their minds, but with their hearts and souls, too.

But in my general education classrooms, feminism receives eye-rolls. Books with female heroines get groans and barely touched assignments. We don’t want to read a book about a girl, they say. Sexism is imagined, they say. Glass ceilings are made up. Rape statistics are exaggerated. Sexual discrimination is the hashtag of the moment.

And as a teacher, I ask myself how in the world can I change such mindsets? Such opinions? Such blatant denials and refusals? Is it even possible to help someone overcome a prejudice they don’t believe exists? How do you help someone see when they refuse to open their eyes?

Now usually it is the white males in my classroom who refuse to explore the possibilities of inequality — of any kind, but especially sexism. But sometimes it’s the females, too. And that blows my mind even more.

But then, it also gives me hope. Hope that maybe these young women don’t understand that discrimination exists because maybe for them, it hasn’t. Because their fathers and grandfathers and churches haven’t preached weakness in women the way I had it preached to me. They didn’t grow up the way I did. And that gives me so much hope. Hope that the times, they are a changing.

But most of the young women in my classroom, they get it. They know the discrimination. Because they’ve seen it with their own eyes and they’ve felt it in their own skin – not necessarily in terms of business and politics, not yet. They are still young. But when we talk about their bodies, about body shaming and slut shaming and the shame that comes with sexual assault – the floodgates are opened. These girls have seen this. They know this.

And I know without a doubt that every single time I bring up that infamous 1-in-4 statistic, that someone in my class has been there. Odds are more than one someone in my class. These numbers, sadly, don’t lie. And as teenage girls soon to go off to college or careers or military service, my students are squarely in the demographic most at risk. They could become – or already have been – part of that statistic.

I know because I have received private notes from students who were victimized by family members, or by neighbors, or by so-called friends, or even by teachers. I have had students stay after class to say it aloud for the very first time. I have had students bravely tell their stories in class to everyone present. As a teacher, I have read about incidents of sexual abuse. I have heard about incidents of sexual abuse. And I have reported incidents of sexual abuse.

So, yes, even though the topic of feminism gets eye rolls and zeros in the grade book from students who refuse to learn about or acknowledge that sexism exists, I will continue to broach the subject. I will continue to present and discuss literature like “The Yellow Wallpaper” and The Handmaid’s Tale. I will continue to wander off the path of the straight and white and narrow-minded. I do it because of those students who have been touched by sexism. And for those students who deny it exists. I do it for them, too. Call me crazy, but I believe I am helping empower women and eradicate sexism one book, one student, one semester at a time.

So go ahead, call me crazy. But don’t you dare call me a crazy bitch.

 

Donald the POTUS: faithfully executing the office of the president

I just saw an article that I felt certain was satire.  It simply had to be. One worthy of SNL or “The Onion” notoriety. But no, it was no joke. It was the Real Deal. A sad, ironic dick move by the Trump White House kind of deal. But what should the public (or public television) expect from the twisted, perverted Art of the Deal master himself?

His White House, in all its rank insensitivity — or blatant ignorance (or both) has asked Sesame Street characters to appear at the annual White House Egg Roll — in keeping with previous years when Big Bird and Elmo and other beloved Sesame Street characters have been in attendance. It should be an appearance they relish… interacting with the children who adore them and learn so much from their counting and alphabet skits, their sing-a-longs, and their sensitive, educational interactions with every type of people from every walk of life.  Why, then, does this story smack of irony?

Could it be because the Trump White House asked the darling Muppets of PBS fame… as in public television… as in the network that falls under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting… as in one of those Endowment for the Arts recipients which Trump has argued should no longer receive federal funding… Because who needs public television?

Well, apparently Donald J. Trump, the orange, tiny-handed, strangely Muppet-like president himself needs public television. At least for the weekend — to do his bidding and render up services, like so many others he has callously bagged and then tossed aside.

So, hey, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster… all you others with your necks currently stretched precariously thin awaiting the government gallows… would you mind climbing down for a second or two to help out your bloody executioner? He needs you to win over the crowds. It’s a great photo op. For him. Not you. You have marginal worth and are expendable. But he — he could really use you to help him with the rolling of the eggs. Then he’ll get back to the rolling of your heads.

Now according to PBS, they have agreed to send a Muppet. But only one. Only one will be appearing at the 138th egg roll. In previous years, many, many more have been. So. Who will it be?

I sincerely hope it’s Oscar the Grouch. Oh, please, please, PLEASE be Oscar the Grouch – the grumpy self-righteous guy who collects garbage and rages against humanity. Why, pray tell, would I want such an unsavory character lording over the White House and influencing easily manipulated, immature minds? Why, indeed, would any of us?

. . .

Oh, so you see it too… The fact that Oscar the Grouch is the puppet version of the newly elected puppet version of a POTUS.  Think about it. Oscar behaves (and even once looked, as I shall soon reveal) just like the current president.

Consider his character: He is disagreeable and argumentative and hates everything that is good and decent in life — and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He actively refuses to comply with rules and grumbles loudly when things don’t go his way. He is easily annoyed, but absolutely thrives on annoying others. He’s spiteful and casts blame whenever he’s in the hot seat — which he all the time. His reasoning is faulty, and he is unnaturally drawn to trash (consider his closest advisors). Finally, he is controlled by anger and a mysterious, behind-the-scenes puppeteer.

Add in the little-known fact that prior to his current mottled green manifestation, Oscar was once a dull, sickly orange, and you just can’t deny the similarities. (That color change, though, shows that Oscar the Grouch is capable of transformation, something of which I believe Donald the POTUS is incapable. Oscar can learn from his mistakes (even if grudgingly and only now and then…), but Donald the POTUS cannot.

And if all of the above still doesn’t convince you of their parallel personalities, consider the fact that twelve years ago, Sesame Street did a parody of Trump called Donald “Grump” about an angry, greedy son-of-a-beast who wants more, more, more — power and garbage.

donaldgrump

Now let’s talk garbage for a minute. Unlike Oscar the Grouch, Donald the POTUS is a bit unclear about what constitutes garbage and what doesn’t. What DOES NOT are arts and humanities programs such as PBS, NPR, poetry foundations, musical theater, and public libraries. Donald the POTUS is ready and willing to dispose of those. He’ll kick them soundly to the curb.

What DOES equate to garbage, though, are all the puffed and libertine bodies stinking up the Oval Office, piling up in the Cabinet, draped over the press secretary’s podium and filling  the “swamp” he promised so categorically to drain.

Now it is his job as president to faithfully execute the law – and indeed, we’ve seen him hacking away at it, doing his damnedest to destroy judicial checks and balances put in place by our founding fathers nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. He is also doing his damnedest to kill the arts, the environment, and the fundamental rights of millions of Americans. And the ignorant, unsuspecting masses are cheering him on.

Donald the POTUS also vowed to faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States. And he is doing that too, rapidly and methodically.  Soon he will have destroyed all that is good and sacred about that office.

So I am waiting with baited breath for Monday morning and the annual White House Egg Roll to see who PBS sends. Please let it be Oscar. Please! Of course, the irony would be lost on Donald. He would stare blankly at his Muppet doppleganger and completely miss the jab.

But the enlightened ones among us wouldn’t. We would know. And we would laugh bitterly. And on Monday morning, the day after Easter, at the tail-end of Passover, in this most blessed season of miracles, we would pray for a miracle for America.

We would pray for deliverance from the orange Muppet in president’s clothing that is systematically ruining our nation.

And hopefully our prayers would be answered.

An Inspirational Inaugural Weekend

womensmarch

 

My heart, such a blue, bruised, tight little ball in survival mode on Friday, has been warmed, replenished, and reopened this weekend by the outpouring of women’s voices and women’s marches — not just in our own nation’s capital, but the whole world over. Seeing my sisters spilling out of their homes and into the annals of history has been a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Women have always been my heroes and my leaders. I come from a matriarchal family, where the women are strong and outspoken and they get the job done. My aunts and grandmother showed me – after sixteen years of living beneath the shadow of misogyny and the dominance of patriarchy in a cult cut straight out of the cloth of the caveman days – that women are a pretty, big deal. They showed me that we can speak up and we can speak out. And what we say matters. And how we feel matters. And what we need matters. My matriarchs taught me that we can and should stand up against injustice – alone or together. Either way, we are a force to be reckoned with. On Saturday, that force rose together in tsunami fashion – a storm surge that flooded the streets of cities across the globe with a moral mission to preserve and advance the rights of women and other minorities whose voices are being threatened, whose rights are on the chopping block. I am so proud to be a woman.

I always have been. I’ve never, ever wished I were a man. Being female is the greatest. I love almost everything about it. I love dressing up. I love smelling good. I love putting on make-up and curling my hair. I love soft, fuzzy sweaters and soft, fuzzy kittens. I love carrying babies –  both in my arms and in my belly. I love chocolate kisses and passionate kisses, Disney princesses and the princes that come with them (although my favorites are definitely the most recent ones – where the princesses orchestrate their own rescues and the princes play supporting roles). I love the color pink and big, white wedding gowns. I love rainbows and unicorns, peace signs and freshly baked cookies. All of these things fill me with warm fuzzies, as do romantic comedies and super bowl commercials. I get all the feels almost all the time. I don’t see that as a character flaw or a genetic glitch. Just because I’m soft, doesn’t mean I’m soft. And just because I’m soft-spoken doesn’t mean my voice can’t or shouldn’t be heard.

Yes, I embrace all my girly girl traits, but just because I love being a girl doesn’t mean I love everything that comes with the territory. Period cramps and labor pains bite. And glitter and leopard prints can go back to the ridiculous drawing board that first designed them. High heels hoover and handbags are too high priced. But the thing I hate most about being a woman is the disrespect and condescension that is served up from people – male and female alike — who refuse to recognize and appreciate a woman’s worth as equal to a man’s. Which leads me to my most-despised term in the English language: Ladylike. Them’s just fighting words.

But this weekend, we brought our fighting herds, which is what I choose to focus on during this oh-so-inspirational inaugural weekend. Yes, inspirational.  And no, not due to an orange man in a white house. Nope. The inspiration comes from the outpouring of support by and for Womanhood, the subject that has most profoundly shaped who I am today, how I live today, how I love today and even why I am today.

I use the word SUBJECT here with absolute intent and purpose. As an English teacher, I teach sentence structure and semantics. I know the importance of word order and connotation. In grammar, the subjects are in control of their sentences. They are the ones doing and the ones being. They own and they control. For centuries and centuries – for entire histories – the subjects that are doing the doing, the owning and the controlling, have been men.

Objects – direct objects, indirect objects,…SEX objects – they are not in control. They are not doing and they are not being. For centuries and centuries – for entire histories – women have been the objects that were owned and controlled. We were wives or mistresses or prostitutes. We were the objects of sentences written by a patriarchy.

But we women have made tremendous progress in rewriting our destinies. We are currently at the highest point in our grammatical and sexual evolution. Not all of us, but many of us, are the subjects of our own sentences. We own and are in control of our options. Our decisions. Our bodies. Our lives. Our selves.

And this weekend, we poured onto the streets to protect and advance our rights. Do not doubt us. Do not denigrate us. Do not sandbag us, or coddle us or condescend us. Do not fault us or foul us or fabricate lies about us. Do not undermine us. Do not underestimate us. Because, as Maya Angelou prophesied in her poetic call to action:

Out of the huts of history’s shame, we rise…

up from a past that’s rooted in pain, we rise…

we are the black ocean, leaping and wide,

welling and swelling, we bring in the tide.

I am living in a heart-wrenching time to be a woman, but it is also a heartwarming time to be a woman. Yesterday, as Gloria Steinem said, we saw the upside of the downside. We saw women by the millions taking to the streets in support of autonomy and equality. In DC, in Austin, in L.A.; in Atlanta and Nashville and Chicago and Nome. In Berlin and Rome and Sydney; in London and Dublin and Ipanema — and even the Antarctic peninsula — we rose up and we roared.  673 marches across the globe, we rose in a sister solidarity to connect continents, challenge conventions, and change policy. And it won’t end there. We will continue to rise for as long as there is terror and fear and injustice and inequality.

For as long as these evils exist, We Will Continue to Rise.

 

A Tale of Two Mommies

Why does the world spawn so much violence? How is it that so many people house so much hatred in their hearts? I find it incomprehensible. It leaves me feeling overwhelmed and broken. Which is ridiculous when I consider the ones who literally are overwhelmed and broken.

I was planning on writing about all our Christmas plans for the upcoming week and the ensuing traditions that will unfold. But instead, watching the morning news and surfing my social media sites, I’m finding that such a blog post is entirely too saccharine, entirely too unpalatable amidst all the vitriol and violence technology has brought me this week.  The cyber bullying of a teenage boy; the terrorist attack in a Berlin Christmas market, the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, and, most heart-wrenching of all, the Aleppo refugees struggling to find safety and loved ones in a war-torn life.

I can’t even.

One of the first unfair, unjust developments of this holiday week hit me on Saturday morning when I became aware of the twitter tirade against our beloved Canes quarterback – a high school student and the top junior player in the nation. He’s just a kid, folks. And while he’s not, technically, still a babe in arms, he’s a baby with an arm and he should not have to brace himself against the nastiness spewing from computer screens and smart phones simply because he chose to go play football at a college that he believes will be the very best fit for his life and his future. Key word here: HIS.

Now I know he has the stature and statistics of a man. I know he’s the number one recruit for 2018. I know he’s been heavily touted and scouted since he came up from the eighth grade. I know he breaks records and slings laser beams. But in the end, he’s still just a kid. He loves sour patch kids and his baby sister. He can’t buy tobacco or drive after midnight. He should be dealing with group projects and impending Senioritis. NOT with cyber bullying on a global (or at least Southeastern Conference scale) just because he picked an ACC school.  He’s a KID, for goodness sake’s! Heck, he may even still believe in Santa Claus. And all of this hatred is being spewed over a GAME! A game designed to instill joy and an escape from reality on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons. My mother’s heart aches for him.

But if I’m being honest here, it aches the absolute most for his mama. Because when somebody attacks your baby – no matter how young or old – it tears a mama’s heart into brittle, jagged confetti. When my girls were growing up, I’d get all kinds of bent out of shape if anyone so much as looked at them sideways. I remember being ready to sucker punch a school bus bully when my baby girl was a kindergartner. I refrained. But I was ready. And just last year, an arrogant asshole of an attending said some hurtful things to my eldest, and I was ready to tear out his external carotid artery with my bare hands. But, again, I refrained. I don’t know how in the world I could refrain if there were basically thousands of ill-tempered SEC fans bad-mouthing my baby on social media for all the world to see. And it’s not limited to social media. Yesterday, while out and about town doing some Christmas shopping, my husband and I – proudly sporting our Canes championship shirts – had to listen to not one, but two negative nellies pontificate on our quarterback’s decision. I was thunderstruck. Really? Who are they to presume to know what’s best for him? All they had in their minds was what would benefit them and “their” team. (As if they truly had anything more than season tickets (maybe) and a college diploma (even more unlikely) and jersey purchases invested in those teams.) And that got me thinking — if WE had to listen to those zealous fans politic for their team, how many more have he and his poor family weathered over the last five days – and indeed the entire season? His mom’s grace is made of firmer stuff than mine, that’s for certain. I admire her poise and her polish. Her motherhood is paved on the high road, and I stand in awe.

So there’s that mama’s pain.For her, it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. But that mama’s pain pales in comparison to the anguish of the mama I saw on the nightly news this weekend. The mama who lost all her babies beneath the all-too-real onslaught of bombs and ensuing rubble in Aleppo. For her, it’s been the worst of the worst of the worst of times.

She was covered in dust, blood parting her swollen face like a Picasso portrait. She wandered aimlessly around a makeshift hospital crying in anguish. But still she finds the tenderness to comfort a toddler boy, hands and bare feet caked in chalk, forehead marked in blood. Both of them are marked in blood —  the blood of the scapegoat that their people have become. A people punished brutally for the sins of others who care nothing for them or their plight. This sweet toddler boy (a boy roughly the age of my own toddler boys) is devoid of tears, his pudgy face paralyzed. Almost. If you look closely, you’ll spy the tiniest, quivering lip. He bites it instantly. He’s learned early to hide the hurt. But the mother – the mother who is not his – she wails. Her tears trace through the dust and drip to the floor, a floor smattered and smeared with blood and grit. All of her babies, lost. All. And then, she’s joined by a young teenage boy (a boy roughly the age of our young quarterback), and he’s carrying his infant brother. A baby brother who did not survive. These three broken humans huddle together, searching for comfort that cannot possibly come. As the reporter proclaims, they are “exhausted beyond words by a life beyond description.”

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My mama’s heart agonizes for them. This Syrian mama, this mama whose pain is unreal to me. Cannot be fathomed by me. Pain that is the result of real weaponry, the result of deadly weaponry so far beyond the rantings and ravings of selfish cyber bullies that it seems ridiculous to discuss the two situations in the same blog. This young Syrian teen, this teen who, rather than throwing bombs into end zones, has been on the receiving end of bombs that have ended whole families. This precious toddler, who faces an existential lack and want and void that God-willing, our toddler boys will never, ever encounter. I cannot fathom the pain. My soul runs from the comprehension. It does not want to know. Does not want to understand. It would break me.

As a mother and an American, I feel guilty. Guilty for being so privileged by destiny that I live without such incomprehensible pain and loss. Guilty for uttering my previous, selfish, “God willing” statement. Guilty that I cannot do more than pledge a donation and remember these broken members of the human race in my prayers. Guilty that I am able to sit here, drafting this blog amidst my Christmas lights and wrapped presents, while making road trip preparations, drafting Christmas dinner grocery lists, and doing last-minute, on-line shopping. How can this world be simultaneously benign and oh-so-malignant?

A mother’s pain is a jagged, cutting pain. I have never felt pain like it before. And while I have felt a mother’s pain, I have never felt pain like either of these mothers’ currently feel – my football mama’s pain and our Aleppo mama’s pain. Both pains are torturous; but one is debilitating.

And I am helpless in the wake of their respective pains.

In this season where Christians celebrate a young virgin mother — a mother who also felt the pain of a world that turned against her son, a world that despised and destroyed him — I am saddened that we have not come very far and we have not learned very much. We are still doing terrible things to our sons. And to our daughters.To all fellow humans. We tear each other apart for our own selfish gains. And so often, we use God as the impetus. We destroy in the name of God the Father…  or the god of football. Which is the more ridiculous? I do not know.  I am disheartened.

But I am still hopeful. Because despite the fact that we are all inherently selfish, I know we are not all inherently cruel.

So I offer up words of kindness, words of prayer, and pledges of money and solidarity. It is all I know to do.

But I pray it will be enough. If enough of us do it.

 

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