Thursday, February 27, 2020

How to Show Up for Your Friends When All You Really Care About is Tacos RN

Being a good friend is hard, especially as an adult. We have so many demands on our time and attention: spouses, homes, children, jobs, and--especially--tacos.

Back in high school or college, your friends were probably your top priority. You had more time to really sit down with your friends and shove tacos in your face at all hours of the day and night, but now you have to carve out the time to be a good listener and really show up, which is hard to do when all you can think about is the carne asada tacos you're going to eat later, as soon as you're done listening to your friend describe her child's experience of being bullied on the school bus, maybe also with guacamole, though that can get messy.

What does it mean to really show up for your friends? Without thinking about tacos? 

Well, it's hard to explain, but you know it when you see it: maybe you send them a handwritten note, or a care package. Maybe you call them on the phone, instead of just texting or liking one of their posts on social media, just to let them know you're thinking about them and not exclusively about fried halibut tacos with a mango slaw and a tiny bit of sour cream. 

Maybe it means trying to make them feel seen, to validate their experiences and to listen without judgment. You should strive to truly BE in any given moment with your friends, even though it's hard to be present when you can't decide if you prefer hard shell or soft shell corn tortillas, and even then, whether you prefer the soft shell ones fried in oil and sprinkled with cojita cheese as opposed to simply warmed up in the microwave because that's faster and easier.

Think about what brings you peace and joy: Maybe it's your tribe. Maybe it's your village. Maybe it's being savage (when called for). Maybe it's your spirit animal. Actually maybe it's recognizing that loosely throwing around any and all of those terms is deeply problematic if you're not indigenous. So if you aren't, maybe don't do that?

Also maybe try to put yourself in the other person's shoes: how would you feel if you were telling your friend about your mom's hysterectomy and she was staring off into the middle distance, and when you asked her if she'd ever had an ovarian cyst she said "Huh, what? Oh sorry, I was just daydreaming about pico de gallo with extra cilantro and how weird it is that some people think cilantro tastes like soap when it is obviously an herb of the gods. Can you repeat the question?"

That would suck, amirite?

One strategy you might try is to eat tacos before you go to an important event like a wedding, graduation, or funeral. That way, you're thinking a little bit less about how great tacos are going to taste a few hours from now, and instead focusing more on trying to stay awake because you're in a taco-induced coma.  

The point is, be gentle with yourself. It's a heavy lift, but it's actually possible to be a good friend and also only really care about tacos.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

No, YOU’RE The Jesus!

I haven't watched much of the Democratic debates for several reasons: (1) I don't think elections should be treated like the Super Bowl, and the debates are even more boring than football; (2) I have always preferred Elizabeth Warren and don't want to argue about why; (3) I am a registered undeclared voter, do not belong to a political party, and despise the two-party system; (4) I plan to vote against Trump in the general election even if the alternative is a turd sandwich or a Hydroflask (save the turtles!)

But last night and the followup was fucking amazing, if only because of the relatability of--as the Jewish magazine The Forward puts it--"two old Jews arguing about whose arteries are worse."

As a secular ethnic atheist New York City-born and raised Jew, I have substantial experience with just this type of argument around the dinner table among aunts, uncles, and others who try to win arguments by yelling the loudest and gesticulating the most dramatically. For example, one of my relatives (who shall remain nameless) would respond to sassy teenage exhortations of "JESUS CHRIST, [MOM/DAD/AUNT/UNCLE]!" with 


Last night's argument between secular ethnic atheist east coast-born and raised Jews Mike Bloomberg (MA) and Bernie Sanders (NYC) over income inequality had a serious ring of the familiar. It was like watching a cross between balcony muppets Waldorf and Stattler and my relatives get into it over Thanksgiving dinner or Passover. 

Let's take a simple example of how I imagine a dinner table conversation would go between Bernie and Bloomberg (also substitute any of my relatives) about their health. (picture all of this in yelling):

BLOOMBERG: So, uh, did you ever talk to my guy at Columbia?
BERNIE: What guy at Columbia?
BLOOMBERG: The CARDIOLOGIST, Goldstein! He's Shirley Sokoloff's son-in-law, very bright. Very bright kid. Graduated Stanford cum laude. One of the best in the City.
BERNIE: What with the cardiologist? I don't need a cardiologist.
BLOOMBERG: You don't see a cardiologist? You're trying to kill yourself now? My guy at NYU said I had the heart of a 29 year-old.
BERNIE: My ass a 29 year-old! You have a stent! What 29 year-old has a stent? Show me ONE 29 year-old with a stent!
BLOOMBERG: No stent! NO STENT! I just had the plaques removed!
BERNIE: Ugh, plaques schmaques, there was just a study about the plaques in the Times.
BLOOMBERG: They stopped delivering, I don't get the paper version now for some reason, I can't figure out what happened.
BERNIE: So what? Get the online version! The subscription!
BLOOMBERG: What with the subscription? Now I need to pay for the internet?
BERNIE: Whatsamattah, you can't afford $5 a month for the Times
BLOOMBERG: Ach, fuhgettabout it, it's a whole production with the passwords. I can never remember the goddamned passwords.

And so on. What a hoot.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Importance of Choosing to Fight Back

On November 18, 2016, less than ten days after Trump was elected president, Sarah Kendzior, PhD, a Missouri-based journalist and scholar of authoritarian regimes, published a column in the online Dutch magazine, De Correspondent, titled: "We're heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the age of Trump." 

I've shared this piece before; and if you don't follow Dr. Kendzior's work, I highly recommend it. It's eerily prescient. I keep returning to her words as sort of a guidepost for how best to withstand the pressure-test of our struggling constitutional democracy. One particular section of her column really stands out as a sort of barometer of conscience. She wrote:
We are heading into dark times, and you need to be your own light. Do not accept brutality and cruelty as normal even if it is sanctioned. Authoritarianism is not merely a matter of state control, it is something that eats away at who you are. It makes you afraid, and fear can make you cruel. It compels you to conform and to comply and accept things that you would never accept, to do things you never thought you would do.You do it because everyone else is doing it, because the institutions you trust are doing it and telling you to do it, because you are afraid of what will happen if you do not do it, and because the voice in your head crying out that something is wrong grows fainter and fainter until it dies. That voice is your conscience, your morals, your individuality. No one can take that from you unless you let them. They can take everything from you in material terms – your house, your job, your ability to speak and move freely. They cannot take away who you truly are. They can never truly know you, and that is your power. But to protect and wield this power, you need to know yourself – right now, before their methods permeate, before you accept the obscene and unthinkable as normal.
I was born in 1977, shortly after the Vietnam War ended, but before 9/11 and climate change set us on a course for the enormous and seemingly insurmountable challenges we face today. It was a relatively calm handful of years that I think gave people (especially white people) my age the false impression that domestic tranquility was the norm, when in fact a broad view of history tells the opposite story: that human civilization is just one long conflict, with small breaks in the storm for those privileged enough to enjoy them.

But I also grew up, as a Jewish person, in the shadow of the Holocaust, raised by a Holocaust survivor, given to understand that we had been divested of our property and livelihoods, hunted down, and killed by a white supremacist power structure, and that we probably would be again someday. We were to remain forever vigilant of this. Even and especially in America. We were not to be complacent. In retrospect, my grandmother's obsession with nose jobs was really about assimilation and self-preservation. Ever tactful, she would tell me, "you didn't get your mother's figure, but at least you got her nose!" Our little noses would never tell on us, and we didn't even have to pay a plastic surgeon to keep our secrets.

I guess that's why I have a really hard time accepting the "everyone has to make their own choices" logic about following government orders that are illegal, unconstitutional, or unethical. Yes, everyone has to "make their own choices." But we also have to own the consequences of those choices. We have to view our choices in a historical context. We have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and accept that sometimes our choices are the same ones authoritarian collaborators would once have made, when the stakes were much higher than they are today.

Choices, sometimes, are a matter of life and death, and even when they aren't, you can never really count on anyone to choose anything besides naked self-preservation. Everything else--our morals, our consciences-- is subsumed by that raw instinct.

We just watched this happen with Lisa Murkowski's decision to knowingly acquit a President of conduct she knows full well is impeachable. We've watched it since the beginning of the Dunleavy administration, with lawyers and commissioners bending themselves into Auntie Anne's soft pretzels of self-justification to justify the unjustifiable on behalf of venal and craven leadership. 

As Dr. Kendzior said, It's human nature to conform "because everyone else is doing it, because the institutions you trust are doing it and telling you to do it, because you are afraid of what will happen if you do not do it, and because the voice in your head crying out that something is wrong grows fainter and fainter until it dies."

Accepting that has been hard for me, but I am working on it. Everyone has to make their own choices. True enough. So I'm choosing to fight back and to not let my voice die. There is inherent value in that. Even in a David-and-Goliath battle where all you can do is brace for impact and go down swinging, (to mix at least three metaphors), it is worth making a record of your objections. There is inherent value in simply saying and acting in a manner that preserves for history that "this is not okay." There is inherent value in "being the change you wish to see" by taking care of yourself and others.

To do that effectively, though, you have to be inner-directed. You have to divorce yourself from outcomes. You have to treat every day as a self-contained vacuum in which--just for today--you continue to make the wrongness known. You have to abandon any expectations of company. It's a lonely fight, but the alternative is worse.

The alternative is abdicating your time and bartering your voice to purposes and causes that you know deep down are just plain wrong. It's easier to pretend it's not wrong. It's easier to tell yourself that you're the adult in the room. That you need this or that job. That this will all blow over. Really, it's easier to not care at all. And many people make that choice, I suppose. But it's not one that I am personally capable of making, and I guess that's just something I also am working on accepting about myself.

We can't just sit around waiting for things to get better, because they won't. If we care about our future as a society, about empathy, about compassion and ethics in our leadership, then we can't really afford to choose willful blindness and complacency.