My Jane Austen Life

The prospects of Mr. Bennet’s five charming daughters, destined to be destitute upon their father’s death given the patriarchy of British law, improve considerably when the wealthy bachelor, Mr. Bingley, rents Netherfield estate in rural Herefordshire and invites them to a country ball. Sparks fly between Mr. Bennet’s eldest, Jane, and Mr. Bingley; while second daughter Elizabeth is quite put off by Mr. Bingley’s closest friend, the considerably wealthier Mr. Darcy. When Mr. Bingley’s sisters, Caroline and Louisa, invite Jane to Netherfield for dinner with intentions beyond dessert, Jane is caught in a rain shower, develops a bad cold, and is forced to remain at Netherfield. Dutiful Elizabeth makes a recuperative visit where she meets the aloof Mr. Darcy once again, thereby establishing the particulars under which the events of Pride and Prejudice unfold.

In the twenty-first century, any self-respecting publishing house would toss aside a novel whose plot hinges on such a flimsy device. Why would a young woman, regardless how severe her cold, remain at the home of a relative stranger for several days, when her own home, warm bed, loving sisters, and eccentric parents are only three miles away? That’s right: the distance between Longbourne and Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice is a mere three miles.

Most of us, in and out of our cars all day, don’t give traveling three miles a second thought. Our vehicles take us, effortlessly, to work, to the grocery store, to the gym. I have a friend who drives five miles to simply reach the park in which he subsequently takes a walk.

However, three miles in 1813 rural England, before motor vehicles or paved roads, was a sizable distance. Although the Bingley’s might have delivered Jane back to her family in a carriage, nursing a sick neighbor in situ was both chivalrous and a welcome diversion in a world that hadn’t gotten around to inventing movies and Instagram.

I often marvel upon the delights of Pride and Prejudice, predicated by a measly three miles, as I go about my own life. As a man without a car, the distances I travel are significantly abbreviated compared to motorized folk. Under my own power, transit times run long, and weather is a factor.

The ride to my boyfriend Dave’s house takes me through beautiful New England drumlins and forests, past ponds, through quaint towns. But it takes four or five hours for me to pedal there. I do it in daylight, since bicycling at night outside the Cambridge/Somerville/Boston triangle feels dangerous, no matter how many lights I wear. I endure the prevailing wind, though I try to avoid rain, and always steer clear of snow. Of course, it is no hardship to go the distance for my special someone. Yet, back in the days before pandemic, when friends invited friends to dinner, I would often bunk on a suburban sofa rather than pedal home in the dark.

Why do I choose to put this restriction on my ability to travel through the world? I know how to drive. I can afford to own a car. There are the faux-noble reasons: that traveling within the world is a richer experience than traveling through it; that cycling is meditative; that it’s sustainable; that I’ve integrated fitness into the fabric of my life. But there are also the ignoble reasons: an antsy temperament that chafes behind the wheel; a guy with lots of time thumbing a world that worships busyness; an individualist temperament that’s borderline peculiar. There’s no mystery as to why I had to go much, much further than three miles to find a boyfriend.

Ultimately, I love how traveling by bicycle slows me down and sets me apart from a world that, as far as I’m concerned, is frantic for no reason beyond infatuation with speed.

We love Pride and Prejudice because we admire Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery independence and Mr. Darcy’s quiet generosity. We mirror ourselves—our better selves—in these substantial people of substantial character. So I can be excused for organizing my life to be a bit more like theirs as I take my sweet time in getting from here to there. My head fantasizes as my legs spin in pursuit, however slowly, of my Jane Austen life.

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HOW I BECAME A 23-YEAR-OLD WOMAN

Greetings Readers. This week’s post is written by an engaging author and good friend, Chuck Latovich. Chuck recently published his novel, The Girl in the Boston Box, a ‘Mystery Times Two.’ Any lover of history, Boston, or thrillers will enjoy it. I asked Chuck to share with Awkward Pose readers his challenges in writing the book. Please enjoy his perspective on a middle-aged gay male author creating a young straight female protagonist.

            __________

THE GIRL IN THE BOSTON BOX is available on Amazon, IndieBound, Apple Books, and other channels.

            __________

When I start to write a novel, I have goals in mind, over and above the simple objective of getting to “The End.” With my mystery, The Girl in the Boston Box, I wanted to expand my technical repertoire and compose a third-person narrative. Eventually, I chose a structure for the book that was a combination of techniques. The novel’s subtitle is “A Mystery Times Two” because I have two storylines that compliment and enlarge one another (and eventually converge). One of my narratives is in the first person, with a main character not too different from me: a middle-aged man, gay, single. Easy to write, and a style I’ve employed before. The other narrative, told in third person, is that from the viewpoint of a young woman in her early twenties.

Those parts of the book were my biggest challenge since, obviously, I’m not a young woman, and the character was a major part of the book. To make her believable, I began with external details, like choosing a name popular for those in her generation, (“Caitlyn”), and identifying some of her cultural touchstones (Harry Potter). Concrete items, and all fine and good.

As for her inner life, I started by giving her a personality that will propel the plot (she’s a snoop, of sorts). Moreover, so I could be in her head with some kind of comfort, she has experiences akin to mine. Caitlyn walks where I have walked, lives where I have lived, uses with technology that I have used. She occasionally meets people with characteristics similar to people I know. Therefore, she feels what I have felt, and I hope that provides some verisimilitude.

As for deeper aspects of her psyche, I imbued Caitlyn with a few of my hang-ups and habits. For example, I projected my Catholic upbringing onto her. In one sequence, after her second sexual encounter in a week, she ponders questions about morality while she rides the subway. Could other passengers sense that had just had sex? Is sleeping with two different men over the course of the week irresponsible or immoral? I’ve had those thoughts. After a while, Caitlyn brushes them away, but the fact that she ponders them at all tells us about her earliest values and morals, and I hope deepens her.


These traits are the ones that I was aware of. I’ve wondered, however, if someday in the future, I will reread the book and, with some distance, realize that other quirks of mine were made part of her personality almost unconsciously. Writing a novel is a fascinating exercise in self-revelation and self-discovery; a story becomes a key to understanding a writer in ways that they may not recognize while they are in the process of creation. Of all the books I could have produced (in theory), The Girl in the Boston Box is the one that’s emerged. Sigmond Freud could have a field day interpreting it: my creative dream. What might Caitlyn reveal about me that I might not have realized as—occasionally inspired and typing so fast—I wrote her?

To protect a surprise in the book, I won’t share here the impact of one formative event in Caitlyn’s life (unveiled at the end of Part One), but I eventually grasped that it connected obliquely to something from my own past. With time and distance, it’s likely that I will identify other commonalities. It’s an interesting prospect for me, but although I can imagine an insight happening, it’s premature to speculate too much about what it might be. Maybe I will look at Caitlyn’s interest in hidden rooms and think, as I do now, “That’s a device.” All front and center. But maybe, instead, I will find something more revelatory, or symbolic, in her fascination.

I’ve concluded that using the third person for Caitlyn may be symptomatic of being just a little removed from her inner life, but in light of our differences (hers and mine), that seems appropriate. Third-person narration made me more comfortable in my pretense. And while I can already appreciate the technical lessons Caitlyn has taught me, it’s possible that in a few years, I will have the ability to dig deeper and appreciate what she teaches me about myself.

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STATS USA

More than 330 million people live in the United States (link)

Who are these people, over whom our next President will preside? Consider this random, though vetted, assortment of statistics about our country. (Note: * indicates that I adjusted a statistic by one percent—never more—for consistency in this listicle.)

1% of us controls 29% of our nation’s wealth: over $25 trillion (link)

2% of us live in some form of public housing (link)

3% of us are undocumented (link)

4% of the entire world’s population lives in the United States (link)

5% of us worked from home before the pandemic (link)

6% of planet’s land area is within the United States (link)

7% of us are either agnostic or atheist (link)

8% of adults are officially unemployed (link)

9% of us over the age of 12 have used an illicit drug in the past month (link)

10% of us never use the Internet (link)

11% of us, among LGBT, are married (link) *

12% of us live beneath the poverty line (link)

13% of American adults hold Master’s, Doctorate’s or other advanced degrees (link)

14% of Americans smoke cigarettes (link)

15% of us pay more than 50% of our income for housing (link)

16% of us take three or more prescription drugs every day (link) *

17% of American workers are employed by local, state, or federal government (link)

18% of children aged 25-34 live with their parents (link)

19% of the world’s oil is produced in the United States (link)

20% of us live in multi-generational households (link)

21% of Americans are covered by Medicaid (link)

22% of us attend church every week (link) *

23% of us get the CDC suggested level of exercise (link)

24% of the world’s total energy is consumed in the United States (link)

25% of American households own a cat (link)

26% of us are enrolled in some form of school (link)

27% of American adults live alone (link) *

28% of workers use all of our vacation time; the rest of us leave some on the table (link)

29% of us never attend church (link)

30% of the world’s wealth is controlled by Americans (link)

31% of us die at home—a sharp increase over the past generation (link)

32% of our children live in single-parent households (link)

33% of registered voters are Democrats; 29% are Republican, 34% are independent (link)

34% of American adults hold a college degree (link)

35% of us shopped on Black Friday last year (link) *

36% of American workers have not taken a vacation in the past two years (link)

37% of us are prime working age 18-44. (16% are over 65, 24% are under 18) (link)

38% of American households own a dog (link)

39% of us live within fifty miles of an ocean (link)

40% of us are working from home during the pandemic (link)

41% of us have a friend or relative who identifies as LGBT (link)

42% of American adults are obese (link)

43% of us live in a household with a gun (link)

44% of us are considered ‘low wage earners’ with median annual income of $17,950 (link)

45% of us eat out at least once a week (link)

46% of us, among Black males, are arrested before age 23 (link)

47% of our families have only one child (link)

48% of American adults have heart disease (link)

49% of American adults are married (half of those will get divorced) (link) *

50% of Americans control a mere 2% of our nation’s wealth (link)

51% of us subscribe to Netflix (link)

52% of American adults have smoked marijuana (link)

53% of adult Americans have a job (link)

54% of us skip breakfast at least once a week (link) *

55% of us do not know how to swim (link) *

56% of us own stock (link) *

57% of us are NFL fans (link)

58% of us have less than $1000 in savings (link)

59% of us enjoyed Coca-Cola during the last month (link)

60% of everything we buy is made overseas (link)

61% of us take a summer vacation (link) *

62% of American households subscribe to Amazon Prime (link)

63% of us drink alcohol (link) Cheers!

64% of us have never traveled outside the United States (link)

65% of American adults own their home (link)

66% of American adults use at least one prescription drug (link)

67% of eligible Americans are registered to vote (link)

68% of Americans do not have a will (link)

69% of us have sex by the time we are nineteen. (link)

70% of us consider ourselves Christian (link)

71% of Americans are financially struggling, or worse (link)

72% of Americans with college degrees get a full night’s sleep; the amount of sleep decreases according to level of education (link)

73% of Americans access You Tube, more than Facebook (69%) or Twitter (22%) (link)

74% of us have read a book in the past year (link)

75% of us wake to an alarm clock, and 57% of those hit snooze at least once (link)

76% of Americans own some kind of pet (link)

77% of American households put up a Christmas tree (82% of them are artificial) (link)

78% of us speak English as our primary language (link)

79% of us work in service industries (20% manufacturing, 1% agriculture) (link)

80% of American households own a washing machine (link)

81% is the proportion of a man’s wages that a woman earns to do the same job (link)

82% of us eat chocolate on a regular basis (link)

83% of us live in urban areas (link)

84% of American adults have a high school degree (link)

85% of us, among adult women, bear a child during our life (link) *

86% of us have Internet access in our homes (link)

87% of us have air conditioning (link)

88% of us have flown in an airplane (link)

89% of us get our news online (link)

90% of us eat ice cream (link)

91% of us do not get the CDC recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day (link)

92% of us have health insurance (link)

93% of us have never served in the military (link)

94% of Americans have access to a car (link) *

95% of us have some form of bank account (link)

96% of us own a cellphone (link)

97% of us eat meat (link)

98% of Americans have had sex before age 44; 95% of us do it before marriage (link) *

99% of us have indoor plumbing (link)

100% of us deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and equity.

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Agenda: 11/4/2020

“Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory”

New York Times front-page headline, November 4, 2008.

How’s that working for the 105 Black and Brown people killed by police since Obama was first elected?

“Clinton has the Edge One Day Before Election”

USA Today front-page headline, November 7, 2016.

How’s that working out for those who dreamed of crashing through the glass ceiling?

We might know who won the Presidential election this time tomorrow. We might not know for weeks or months. Regardless whether the winner is Red or Blue, my agenda for tomorrow will be the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the two Presidential candidates are very different. Joe Biden represents a return to established political norms, an atmosphere of civility, maybe even empathy. If we give Donald Trump four more years, what little democracy this country has left will be so thoroughly gutted this could well be our last Presidential election. The choice for anyone who values the messy chaos and inclusivity of democracy is clear.

Yet whoever wins, or if we embark on perilous post-election confusion, our agenda for 11/4 and beyond remains the same because neither of these candidates will take us where we need to go on sustainability, equity, and justice. These are, after all, eternal goals, never fully attained.

The outcome of today’s election will inform our tactics, but the election of one candidate or another will not permanently recast our political landscape. Any more than electing Obama ended racism. Or that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy leveled the playing field for women.

So don’t stay up all night watching returns. Get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, ready to carry on the November 4 Agenda:

Balance our Planet. Work to minimize the environmental destruction human activity creates on mother earth.

Balance our Humanity. Work to distribute our physical, economic, cultural and political resources equitably among all people.

Be kind. We are all imperfect, yet we are all here, and we have to learn how to get along.

Happy Election Day!

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Victor Frankl’s Meaning in the Moment

The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. – Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl was a twentieth century Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor, and founder of the logotherapy—healing through meaning—school of psychotherapy. Dr. Frankl wrote 39 books. His most influential, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a memoir/manifesto of his time in a German concentration camp.

Why am I pondering this Jewish intellectual during the final push of our Presidential election? Because I need to take a breath from the daily rancor and consider the bigger picture of the society we have created.

Back in 2015-2016, traversing America on my bicycle, two observations about Donald Trump were abundantly clear:

First. The media made the man. Sure, Trump loves to cry ‘fake news’ and protest against the media. But each time he does, Donald Trump ensures his position as top news story. The master of consuming all the oxygen in the room—and in our country—is genius at maintaining his spot as headline of the day. The media is not President Trump’s enemy: it’s his accomplice. Actually, it’s his benefactor.

Second. The country ate up the Donald because he provided a rush of adrenalin excitement missing from most of our lives. President Trump claims credit for many things, but I’m convinced his most important leading role is: Drama-in-Chief. The man literally provides the populace a reason to get in the morning just to see what craziness he’s tweeted overnight.

The United States might be excused, in 2016, for electing continual soap-opera drama. Things were pumping along pretty well and government didn’t seem all that important to a citizenry increasingly smitten with the diversions that Amazon, Google, Walmart, and Facebook delivered. A buffoonish President would provide droll amusement. But the aftermath of our complacency is all around us: over 200,000 coronavirus deaths; shattered international stature; expanding economic inequality; and state-sponsored brutality against pesky citizens who refuse to remain silent to injustice.

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i.e. a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. – Victor Frankl

Since the end of World War II, the mantra of American corporations and government has been “Take it easy.” Their purpose, to woo us into a tensionless state. Relaxed folks make for docile, pliable, complacent citizens. The elemental idea of a consumer society is to turn human beings into passive resource receptables, while in truth, the healthiest humans are the most active. Not just with physical movement, but with purpose.

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have means but no meaning… The truth is, man does not live by welfare alone. – Victor Frankl

It is particularly difficult to feel engaged and purposeful when almost all of our interactions are filtered by a screen, when autumn’s chill beckons us to hygge, when it’s always easier in the moment to watch something rather than create something. In hunter/gatherer days and agrarian days, we did not have to search for meaning: the imperative to survive thrust meaning upon us. But today, when our capacity to provide the essential components of life are more easily met, the most fortunate of us are in the awkward position to have to seek out meaning in life. We have to choose the hard stuff, both in physical exertion and social interaction. We have to actively extend ourselves in a society that constantly preaches us to remain cocooned.

Please, struggle against this entropy. Shake up your mind. Shake up your body. Get out do something meaningful. Engage with somebody new. A good way to start: walk to the polls and cast a well-considered ballot.

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Vote Yes on 2

The Awkward Poser does not stump for any particular candidate; my politics are too idealistic to descend into that fray. But I am a strong advocate for anything that strengthens the underlying principles of democracy: civic participation and robust, informed voting. In that spirit I hope that all Americans will vote this November 3—and that everyone in Massachusetts will vote ‘Yes’ on Question 2: Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting is exactly as it sounds: instead of voting for only one candidate running for a particular office, each voter has the opportunity to rank as many choices as she wants (first, second, third). If no one in a multi-candidate election receives a clear majority of number 1’s: the number of 2’s, 3’s, etc. are proportionately accounted such that the person with the highest total ‘ranked choice’ is the winner.

Advocates of ranked choice voting claim that it helps curb the influence of special interests, enables greater participation of independent candidates, and helps to elect candidates who best represent the full populace. Detractors say it is overly complicated and confusing.

I fall firmly in the first camp for one simple reason. For over thirty years I have lived in a city that uses a form of ranked choice (proportional representation) and have witnessed the benefits of living in a community where people are invested in electing their officials.

Across the United States, 45 percent of all local and state elected officials run unopposed. The percent of competition in primaries, where voter turnout can tally below 4%., is miniscule. Cambridge, Massachusetts presents quite a different picture. In 2019, twenty-one candidates ran for nine City Council seats; eleven people ran to be on the six-member School Committee. Aspirants run active campaigns, videotape pleas on local CCTV, and plant yard signs galore. One local political junkie hosts a build-your-own-ballot website (cambridgecouncilcandidates.com) that enables voters to find the cocktail of candidates that most closely fit their personal agenda.

As a longtime Cambridge resident, I am accustomed to the guffaws of practically everyone who resides beyond the seven square miles of our People’s Republic. It’s easy to poke fun at our immense public education budget, our Smokey Bear attired park rangers, our Peace Commissioner. The place is certainly guilty of being precious. Yet, how many cities of 105,000 residents can boast of having over 130,000 jobs? A median family income north of $125,000 per year? A pre-pandemic unemployment rate below 2%? And not one, but two of the world’s most prestigious universities? It must be easy, you say, to have honest and generous government under such fantasy conditions.

But what if we flip that argument on its head? What if the bubble of benefits that constitutes life in Cambridge is due, at least in part, from having an electoral system that challenges and engages our citizens? A system that leads to fair elections, in which people feel heard, and elect local officials whom we believe represent.

Cambridge does not have sound government because it is such a nice place to live. It is a nice place to live because it has sound government.

Let’s extend that logic to our entire state. Massachusetts voters are fully capable of understanding and executing ranked choice voting. Once we begin to realize the benefits of this fairer electoral system, I am confident that we will see participation among voters—and candidates—increase. That may not be in the best interests of today’s vested politicians. But it is in the best interest of democracy.

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The Beauty of the Breakup Album

My husband’s girlfriend’s husband just called me up.

How messed up is that.

Everyone over the age of sixty should have a pair of Millennial children. Even if it requires you to adopt late in life. Just to keep a tiny bit informed.

When my daughter Abby told me to buy the Dixie Chicks latest CD, Gaslighter. I did as told. (Abby knows I don’t do Spotify or Apple music or whatever—I still have actual discs that I insert in a player.) Two days later I received my CD, which has the word ‘Dixie’ emblazoned on the cover, though the progressive country feminists have since dropped that politically dubious adjective, and are now officially The Chicks. I’m not sure that moniker is totally liberating either.

 

I listened to the album several times through, the way a person must to absorb an album into their fascia. I texted Abby, “It’s terrific.” She responded, “I love breakup albums.” I considered whether that was a distant, personal call for parental help and decided: no. Then I listened to Gaslighter a few more times.

After the pounding title track (Gaslighter / Denier / Doing anything to get your ass farther…), the second track, “Sleep at Night” could be a lullaby. Not. Midway into the first stanza I’m hit by “My husband’s girlfriend’s husband just called me up / How messed up is that.” And though I know I’m supposed to be mad at the jerk, I flash a knowing smile. Because, once upon a time, a bizarre variation on that quadrilateral confusion happened to me.

May 1996. Less than six months since the judge gaveled us divorced, I receive a call from my ex-wife. “Shorty,” (Yes, she still called me ‘Shorty.’ Yes, she still does.) “I was wondering if you would like to go to the gay pride parade with the children and me.”

 

Now it’s important to know a few things about my marriage and divorce. We were a solid couple, happy, driven—until we weren’t. That I realized I’m gay, thirteen years in, may not have been the sole reason for our demise, but it made for a definitive coffin-nailing, camel-back breaking, cliché ending. By May of 1996 our every-other weekend child care groove was well worn; I was openly gay and—as far as I knew—my ex-wife was straight. Therefore, an invitation to join her and our children (on her designated weekend) elicited from me the only logical reply.

“May I ask why you and the children are going to the gay pride parade?”

“We’re going with Jim.”

I’d heard of Jim, Lisa’s new boyfriend, though never met him. Seemed to me, if she had wanted to date a guy who went to gay pride parades, it would have been a whole lot easier to stick with the man she’d already married, rather than dump me for a different one. But I struggled not to raise old wounds.

“May I ask why Jim is going to the gay pride parade?”

“His former wife Nancy will be there, with her partner Alene.”

“I see. You’re asking me to go to the gay pride parade with your new boyfriend, his former wife, and his former wife’s lesbian lover.”

“Jim’s two children will be there.”

“Ours as well.”

My mind flooded with United Nations images: all stripes of people holding hands and singing in harmony. I realized how nicely my presence would fit into that tableau. Even better if I had a boyfriend (no dice in that department, for sure).

 

I understood Lisa’s overture was a benevolent one; however peculiar the rapprochement. I could have kicked my response down the calendar, say I’d let her know. But I didn’t need any time. “Sorry, I’m just not that liberated.” Sad, perhaps, yet an honest truth.

I never went to the gay pride parade again, not by myself, or with my children, or even my ex-wife. Or even my ex-wife’s boyfriend’s ex-wife. It’s not that I lack gay pride. It’s just that, although coming out can change many things about a person, it doesn’t guarantee he likes parades.

“Sleep at Night” is definitely my favorite song on the new Dixie Chicks CD. Except maybe for “Gaslighter” itself. Except definitely for “Juliana Calm Down.” Except maybe…I don’t have to choose. A favorite. The point of a break up album is to scream “F-you!” to the world in general and one person in particular. And then move on boldly, proudly. Which I did. Even if I missed the parade.

Thank you, Dixie Chicks, for turning that bizarre time of my life into an almost, sort of, happy memory.

 

 

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Salve November’s Guilty Conscience: NOW

“I just don’t know what I’ll do if I wake up on November 4 and Donald Trump’s won.”

“I’ll die if Trump wins the election. Then move to Canada.”

Thus are the refrains I hear from friends who, in a moment of sympathy-seeking, forget that I am concrete enough—and blunt enough—to earn a diagnosis on the spectrum. Anyone pleading impending guilt finds no safe harbor with me. I simply respond:

“If you think you’ll have a guilty conscience then, you ought to be doing more now.”

They look at me with sheepish disdain. Shrug their shoulders. Protest that, being from Massachusetts, there’s little we can do to save the rest of the country from this nightmare.

Rubbish. In the era of COVID-19, everyone has either got money or time. Money, if we’re still working (and have no place to spend it). Or time, if we’re not working. So we can contribute money: to candidates, to advocacy groups, to get-out-the-vote organizations. Or we can contribute time: calling swing-state voters, writing post cards, pestering that tiny percentage of people who are still undecided. (Though, it’s inconceivable to me that anyone whose even half-awake is still undecided. I suspect anyone taking refuge in that category is being a mischievous disrupter.) If you are not fully committed to being either Blue or Red, there are non-partisan, non-profit groups who need volunteers to help explain the intricacies of completing a legitimate absentee ballot: not as easy as it might appear. Anyone, in any state, can go to iwillvote.com and learn how to navigate their state’s rules. Better yet, help someone else while you’re at it.

Not everyone will be good at everything. I am an atrocious phone banker, so awkward that everyone I speak with claims to be the wrong person, who by the way has moved. I’m equally dismal at postcards: damaged nerves and mangled wrists from two bicycle accidents have rendered my handwriting spooky. But I encourage voters in person, and here. Fortunately, I also have the resources to support folks who have better penmanship and savvier telephone voices. And, of course, I will vote on November 3. Even though I’m from Massachusetts, a state that will likely never earn the moniker ‘swing.’

But the system is rigged, you proclaim. The electoral college veers right. Voter suppression is real. And what about the Russians? I cannot argue the reality that the United States has, perhaps the weirdest electoral system of any place that dare call itself a democracy. What other nation has fifty different sets of rules for a single Federal election? I have advocated for change it in the past, and will in the future. But over the next month, we have to navigate the current system, however warped.

The Russians, the Electoral College, the lack of drop-off boxes in Texas, the shuttered urban polling places in Georgia, even the heavy hand of the Supreme Court may play a role in determining the outcome of this election. But they won’t determine whether you feel guilty. Any guilt you feel on November 4, will be inversely proportional to how much, or how little, action you take now.

You may not single-handedly determine the outcome of this election, but the guilt is within your control. If you wake up the morning after with a guilty conscience, you’ll know that you didn’t do enough.

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Referee Whistle: How to Broadcast the Presidential Debates

The dominant feeling that flushed over me at the end of last nights’ debate was: I am embarrassed to be an American.

This is the state of our democracy. A mediocre moderator unable to guide a fork-tongued crank and a genial befuddler through any meaningful discourse beyond the overriding message that we are clearly in deep trouble.

For worse or worser, these two old white men intent upon atrocious teenage behavior are the two options between which the United States’ electorate must choose to be President. Since they refuse to act with the dignity the office deserves, it is incumbent upon the Commission on Presidential Debates and the broadcast networks, to present the debates in a manner that might offer us voters at least some modicum of useful information. Not changes to the rules (which had already been agreed to by both sides, and then rampaged over in real time). Two simple changes in how the debates themselves are transmitted to viewers:

  1. Silence everyone’s microphone except during his designated airtime. Silence both candidates while a question is being asked. Silence the opposition candidate during one person’s two-minute response, then flip for the rebuttal. The only time that the viewing audience should hear both candidates at the same time is when both candidates are ‘supposed’ to be allowed to talk at, over, and through each other.
  2. Show on screen only the person who is speaking. During each candidate’s designated time, show only that candidate. And vice-versa. This will save the folks at home the excruciating facial antics of the candidate who is supposed to be silent. Use the ‘split-screen’ only during time when both candidates are allowed to be speaking.

Are these changes petty and adolescent? You bet. But for those of us who look to the debates as a way to measure each man and his positions so that we can execute our responsibility and vote as informed citizens, these changes might provide us more actual substance with less of the inflated, interruptive rancor we witnessed last night.

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The Patriotism of Isolation

This week’s post is penned by my niece, Caroline Bringenberg, an LA-based Millennial activist who challenges me to think about the world I am leaving the next generation.

Growing up I remember hearing stories, at home and in history class, about America during WWII. We learned about the victory gardens, where families were encouraged to grow and eat their own food to conserve goods in the supply chain for our allies. We learned about women like Rosie the Riveter who stepped into the workplace, many for the first time, to keep industry afloat while the men were overseas. These are only two examples of the many ways that the U.S. government encouraged Americans to do their part by making sacrifices and altering their behavior for the greater good – defeating Nazi Germany.

Despite the horrors of the Second World War, this era and the following post-war period is often romanticized in American history. It wasn’t a perfect time—sexism and misogyny were rampant, racism went completely unchecked under Jim Crow—but Americans nonetheless abided by the idea that it was a priority to stand up to challenges united together as a nation, and that patriotism and loyalty to country transcended our differences.

Over the last six months, I’ve found myself reflecting on my understanding of the WWII era often. I feel very similarly about my role in the Coronavirus pandemic as I imagine those during WWII may have felt as they planted seeds in their victory gardens. I’m a middle class, white, millennial woman. I work in digital media, which means that my transition to remote work was simple and I likely won’t ever go back to a traditional office. My husband, an insurance underwriter, has also transitioned to permanent work-from-home. We don’t have children to care for, which means we’ve been lucky to avoid the stress around remote learning. Aside from our general anxieties around the state of the world, concerns about the future of the economy, and occasional double-booked Zoom meetings (which take a bit of coordinating, since we live in a small one-bedroom), the pandemic has been manageable for us to navigate.

As we know, this isn’t the case for millions of individuals and families in the U.S. Estimates show that 30 million Americans are facing joblessness, some of whom are close friends and peers. Those who are still employed are navigating remote learning for their children while also, in many cases, adjusting to a work-from-home schedule for the first time themselves. Eviction protections are running out in many states meaning that we are barreling towards an unprecedented housing crisis. We’re sending the lowest paid workers in our economy, like grocery store employees, teachers, factory workers, into the most at-risk environments with little more than a pat on the back.

American inequality is nothing new, especially along racial lines, though our income inequality has grown exceptionally stark in the past three decades. The Coronavirus pandemic has laid to bare the worst of these inequalities—those who were already struggling to get by are hanging by a thread, and those who were already doing well are doing better than ever before.

So what can those of us in the middle, like myself, do? We can take a page out of our history books. We can take it upon ourselves to do our part – make sacrifices and change our behavior for the greater good – even when the going gets tough. If we have the privilege of retaining employment while working remotely, we have a responsibility to our fellow Americans who don’t have those privileges to, at minimum, stay home and to wear a mask when out for essential activities. Even when it can feel isolating or boring – even when we feel gaslighted by those in other cities and states attending large events, or by our President telling us the virus is fake news.

What scares me is that staying home and wearing a mask is the minimum we should do, and yet we are divided over it. Every day when I open my Instagram page I’m flooded with images of my peers taking vacations to Mexico, gathering in groups, or posting maskless photos. If we can’t agree as a collective to do the minimum, how can we expect to get through this moment as a nation? Masks and social distancing shouldn’t be up for debate. We should expect more from each other—we should be participating in advocacy work to pressure the federal government on a sweeping stimulus bill that would aid frontline workers and keep renters afloat. We should be donating what we can to organizations helping families who lack home internet to make sure their children can attend classes. We should be educating ourselves on the ways that the virus is disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities and find ways to uplift these communities. We should be getting involved in our neighborhoods, meeting our neighbors, and asking how we can help those around us make ends meet. We should stay up-to-date on the latest science and practice media literacy in filtering out the fake news and the noise. We should dedicate our time, our energy, and our empathy to the cause in the same way our ancestors uprooted their lives for men overseas they had never met. To forego these temporary behavior changes while others suffer all around us is categorically un-American.

We’ve progressed as a country in many ways since WWII, but we’ve lost the collectivist patriotism along the way. This pandemic, six months in (and likely, unfortunately, six months from now, at the rate we’re going) requires us to look out for our fellow Americans—our grocery store clerks, the people we pass on the street, the person who delivers our mail—with a collective conscience. Not because we know them, not because we agree with them, but because we have to do our part through our empathy for all.

If you’re able, do the brave and patriotic thing: plant your victory garden seeds in the safe haven of your home. We can do it!

 

 

 

 

 

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