DNC scenes

This summer, I got to help run the photography team at the Democratic National Convention. It was one of the most interesting, fun, and exhilarating experiences of my life. I got to work with some extremely talented young photographers, help get their work seen, and work with the DNC social media team to get images posted in real time on their platforms and in other publications. 

Long story short, I would go back and do it again tomorrow. 

This is a NaBloPlaceHolder

I have the strong desire to write and no idea what to say, but I'm stating the intention to participate in this month of daily posting. Maybe I'll even follow through. 

I'm so unable to engage in the final week election hysteria that maybe if I channel some gratitude—a literal "Thanks Obama"—that I captured at the Democratic National Convention this summer, it'll help. Maybe I'll just make this thing work with a photo a day. That, at least, seems doable.

See you tomorrow. Maybe. 

On teaching and the murder of Alton Sterling

I don't talk about teaching these days because I'm not doing it right now. Thinking about it this morning, though. I miss it.

The first semester I taught English composition, I had a student propose "police brutality" for his final research topic. After we did the typical "That is far too broad. What is your claim? What is your focus? What do you really feel to be true that you can research and prove?" dance, he stated his premise that as a young African American man, if he and his peers remained polite and compliant, that they would escape physical harm at the hands of law enforcement officers.

This is the world where we live. This is what the kids I taught are thinking about, first of all. I didn't refute his proposal, because that is not my job, although in my flawed grown-up human mind, I wasn't at all confident that he'd find the research to support his claim, which is depressing as hell right off the top. I simply asked him to begin, because that is my job when I guide people in telling a researched story: to give them the tools to begin.

I wanted him to find something to support his claim. I can't tell you how much I did.

He returned to me for his meeting the following week, and told me that he had to change his topic. He told me he had found too many examples in a number of sources that contradicted his claim. He told me he wasn't so sure anymore that he was correct, never mind one isolated incident in high school in which his peers had acted out, per his report, and he had not, and it had ended better for him. He changed his topic to the effect of body cameras on police officers on the rate of violence between officers and civilians.

I have never before cried in a meeting with a student. I was a little embarrassed that I did, but those were my feelings on my face, and I think he deserved to see some tears and compassion and some baseline assistance in using his words from me. It is honestly the very least I can do for any of these kids, when I have their attention and their desire for a passing grade so they can move on. I told him that I was very sorry that he had found what he did, and that I wanted a better place for him where what he believed to be true was so.

A look at his necessary topic shift will show what he found in his research, without us having to go out and do it. His annotated bibliography is a record of our sad shared experience at this cultural moment, and more importantly, the shared experience of African American people who do not feel safe in their country. As a white person, I can't share that experience, even if, as a woman, I have my own version. It is not the same. The terror of black parents for their sons is to be honored and responded to better than it is and better than it has been, which is to say, at all. The hopelessness of young black men and women, who see their peers all over the country shot on whims is to be honored. It is not dismissible.

I'm tired of names that become hashtags because they were murdered. I'm tired of people having to prove the worth of their lives, and people having no chance to do so from underneath someone's boot or at the other end of their gun. I'm tired of lunatics like George Zimmerman and the Mother Emmanuel church murderer and the Texas cop who beat the young girl at the pool party and the men yesterday in Baton Rouge.

And let me say clearly and out loud that I am sorry for the murder of Alton Sterling. I would like to speak specifically to all black people who are grieving this loss today, like so many others, and who are processing the anger, fear, and despair, to name a few emotions, that must be repeatedly dealt with around violence and murder acted specifically upon people of color. If you are not black, I encourage you to listen to what they say, as they are able to say it, without layering your own reaction and your own experience onto it. This is, by far, the best teaching and, more importantly, learning tool I have. It isn't about me. It is around me, and of people I care about, and of the world I live in, but it is not specifically about me. I can concede many more important things-that is the bare minimum-but it appears it often bears repeating. 

I would like to give all kids like those who passed through my classrooms better, but all I had for awhile was a platform to help them find their voices. It's likely the best and most useful one I've ever had, and I should be looking for opportunities to do it from the outside, wherever I can find them, in the years I have left, in this time that I'm living that feels so insane, while at the same time allegedly more progressed than ever. I think it would benefit us all, particularly those of us who have lived in the privilege of relative safety at traffic stops, on curbs outside stores, riding our bikes, wherever, to do that, if we want to make the difference that so many of us always say that we want to make.

It's Our Song, But I Don't Know You Yet

one love

I was driving last week when "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" came up on shuffle on Spotify. The 1970s rule of law decrees that I cannot turn off an Andy Gibb song, and also that I need to sing with enough energy that my six-year-old self wouldn't throw crayons at me. As I mentally traced over the familiar territory—he was one of my first concerts when I was in elementary school, how sad that he died, I wonder what a 60-year-old Andy Gibb would look or sound like or BE—I  took in the music and the lyrics and determined that should I ever wander into a relationship with another human being again, I was taking this song with me. "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" would be our song, mine and that unicorn's. 

Picking out "our songs" before I ever meet a significant other might make it redundant to add that I've been single for a long time. Countries have changed their names and people I know have gotten married and divorced and questionably shacked up again since I had a consistent plus-one to anything. Marriage equality for LGBT people passed, first in my state and then in my country, and I've cried over courthouse weddings and backyard weddings and full-blown mega-deal church weddings of people both gay and straight, where  if I'm there in person I'm always on high alert to avoid the "All the Single Ladies" call to bouquet toss action. 

Singleness isn't embarrassing or sad to me as much as it is just the truth. I've been miserable in relationships and happy alone, and vice versa. We all draw different cards in this game, and single has been mine for this (really sort of objectively) long period of time. Sometimes it makes me wistful and feel a loneliness I can only tag to not having another person designated as my person, but I have felt those things with the wrong partner, too. I see people living it with their wrong people. I don't want any more of that. No more wrong, if I can help it. 

I had some stuff to work out to make that a strong possibility; I had to regroup. The energy it took me first to live a life dependent on alcohol and then to claw my way out of that left none behind to appropriately give to another person, not before I stopped and not really since I got busy getting better. In the words of John Bender, there's nothing to do when you're locked in a vacancy, either of compulsive self-medication and the inevitable wreckage of that, or of focused healing. They're extreme points on the same continuum. I was lucky to get free at all, and since I did it's taken time to rewire, to sift back over the years of choices made when life always seemed to be in disarray, or at least not lived fully conscious of where point A and point B were, much less how to get between them. Always looking to fill something up I couldn't identify or reach on my own, like that place in the middle of my back, I needed too much from people, and mostly landed with good souls who still couldn't give even close to it, because the target kept moving, and who really can or should take on being someone's everything if the person is running on fumes and means that everything thing literally? 

Looking backwards mindfully can have the effect of making a person—at least this one—absolutely unwilling to actively, knowingly participate in any further train wrecks, self-inflicted or otherwise. I know people who date in early recovery, with resulting success and total disaster, but even drinking they may have been less awkward or more socially confident than I am. Honest to god, that bar is super, super low. The limbo champion of the world would lose trying to get under it. I'm a socially anxious person who passes for an extrovert because of a tendency towards extreme nervous talking, and the nervousness and fear I had in dating while drinking are now fully on display—at least between my ears—except now they're not numbed out. I can hear myself entirely and track all of my movements. Nothing slips by me now. It's horrifying.  The huge bonus, though, besides having a shot at a real conversation and potential connection based in real personalities and not the aftermath of happy hour, is having total control over my electronic communications. Do you know what a kick it  is to wake up in the morning and know that if I sent an ill-advised text or e-mail, that I already know about it? That I knew I was being an asshole while it was happening and maybe already addressed it somehow? This is a solid gold good life. This is a decent foundation, even if it is taking what feels like dog years to build it. 

Anyway. The bit at the stoplight with Andy Gibb and the song, it's a good sign. It's hopeful, and that's an improvement. It means that I'm ready to even briefly consider that me and someone have been finding each other for so long, even if in the next breath I shut that idea down with years of negative data and some difficulty changing the tape. When I'm honest I can admit that I'm in a better position to give a little more than I ask for now, and maybe someday, in spite of myself, I'll have a chance to try it out. The song is already all picked out. 

To celebrate love this year, I made a  Spotify Valentines playlist. It includes songs that have had various meanings to me over the years where love and relationships are concerned. Some of them other people knew about, and others they absolutely did not. There are so many songs on here already, and yet there are so many more that aren't, because they didn't pop up in my mind when I was making this, or they're not available on Spotify. (Note, for instance, that I couldn't include "Diamonds and Pearls' because Prince is in a complicated relationship with the internet.) Love, man. It's where it's at. 

Please visit my other pals in this Valentine's Day "Songs to get you in the mood" series. They are some of my favorite people, and you will be glad you dropped by.  


Midlife Mixtape

Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

Laurie White


Mrs. TDJ