Archive | November 2011

Money Changes…

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, 1883
Many of us can trace our ancestry back to an immigrant who came through Ellis Island. Most of those immigrants were poor, uneducated and looking for a new start in a land that held great opportunity. The above sonnet is engraved on a plaque attached to the Statue of Liberty. It speaks of a nation willing to take those with little or no worldly wealth or status and offer them a chance for better, or for worse. A vast majority of Americans have immigrant ancestors who came to this land with nothing and worked to provide better for their families and posterity. Most of them did not become wealthy. Most of our stories we carry from them are not of rags to riches, but of unconquerable spirit.
     Times have changed as have the needs of our nation. The doors of immigration, once held wide open are narrowing and in many cases, closing tight, unless that is, you are well educated, skilled and wealthy. During a recent debate, both Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney discussed allowing educated and skilled immigrants a path towards citizenship . While both stopped short when pressed on allowing illegal immigrates who are educated or skilled this same path, the message is clear: If we can take advantage of your skills, if you make us look better, if you are already on the path to wealth, line up for your green card here.
     Also, certain lawmakers , Senators Mike Lee and Charles Schumer have come up with a clever idea to entice wealthy, high skilled laborers from other countries. Offer them Visas if they spend half a million on a home here in the United States.  Meanwhile, laws and threats meant to scare off migrant workers (from taking jobs that Americans seem to just LOVE), have lead to many crops rotting in the fields and fruit falling off trees and not enough workers are available to harvest them .
     Of course, blanket amnesty for eleven million estimated illegal immigrants is not the answer either. But I wonder what it says about our country when we are more than willing to change and create laws to bring in the best of the best, while working our hardest to construct barricades to keep out the poor? How terrible must it be where you live if you are willing to risk being shot, dying of dehydration or injury in the deserts of Arizona or Texas, just to have the slightest chance at feeding your family? I was shocked at that same GOP debate when it was Newt Gingrich who was the voice of reason. Though after some things I have read, I wonder if he was right in suggesting that Americans wouldn’t stand by while families, which have been in the United States for decades, are torn apart as the parents are here illegally. I am not sure many of us wouldn’t drive the paddy wagons right up to the door steps.
     It feels as if our selfishness, our fear that “what’s mine” will be taken from us by “them”, has become the driving force in every decision. Don’t tax the wealthy, because they worked so much harder than the rest of us for their money and how dare we think they can afford to pay more? Keep the dirty, poor, job stealing brown people out of our community because they surely just came here to drop a baby or get free health care or free schooling for their children. Punish the people who make the least at the expense of companies that continually get away with whatever illegal or immoral acts they want, because job creation is more important that people being able to stay in their homes (lucky for us, Senators Lee and and Schumer can sell the now vacant homes to other wealthy people).
     How did all of the problems in America come to be blamed on the poor? When did the soul of our nation turn from welcoming those who had nothing, to building fences and arming citizens to keep them at bay? There has to be a better solution, right?  It shouldn’t matter how much money or education you bring along when you try to immigrate. The process should be the same for everyone, right? That is the rule of law we claim to live by, claim to hold dear. But that is naive thinking on my part. Money changes everything, always has, always will.

Thursday Night at the Gap

In the dressing room with three blouses, two pants of the same style, different color, you stand with your back to me, quickly remove your shirt revealing one fashionably tiny maroon bra.  Reaching back you hand me the shirt to hold. Still carrying the warmth of your body, slightly pungent smell of the day, your sweat and coffee, I fight the urge to press it to my face and breathe.

“The red one first,” you say. An unsubtle color, but one you often wear on your lips, a party dress, that cleverly thick headband. Arms over your head I can count ribs and scars, then feel the bulk of my body, covered in this winter coat. I slide it off and hang it next to yours, making the room feel smaller. I sit back down on the bench and you look at me, red shirt on, arms out with a what do you think smile in your eyes. “Swell” I say, “but I think I would prefer the black,” and you nod . ” Now the jeans.”

I have traced your hips with my eyes, fingers, lips. I know them as I know most of your body, most of your heart. Yet in this room, with too bright lights and the left behind residue of so many people, so many lives, they become brand new.  I reach out to touch you, but pull back, wondering if I still fit, if we still fit. You are still you, standing in worn, yellow cotton underwear, trying to decide on the darker or lighter wash, the former always fitting tighter, but I feel changed.

You lower yourself to my lap, facing me. As usual I look at your mouth, always impressed by its unintentionally seductive nature. You speak words but I am not listening,  just waiting for something I cannot yet make sense of, anything to break through this heaviness weighing everything down. You wrap your arms around my neck, pressing me to your chest, my lips at your sternum. I feel you kiss the top of my head. I love you for trying.

 

Privacy and Choice

I am often surprised by people who get upset at their privacy being ignored or invaded while using social networking sites.  Without fail, every time sites like Facebook or twitter change their formats, add or remove features, make a policy change, several thousand users complain about usability, aesthetics, and mostly privacy. A few people have posted humorous responses like “if Facebook were to change its format to the original interface, we would still complain we liked the old Facebook better”.

People should be wary of social networking sites when it comes to protecting their privacy and Facebook is notorious for not really pointing out what their privacy policy is, or giving clear updates when it is changed. This being said, ultimately it is the user who is to blame when privacy is breached.

I was not an early adopter of the Internet. Not until the late 90’s did I have an email address (and that was an AOL handle). I did not engage much or contribute anything to the Web early on. I did use chat rooms a great deal and created alter egos that I would use while in a given chat. That was what the Internet was to me when I was in my late 20’s. It was a place to play make-believe. It was easy to remain anonymous and hidden in that environment. Very few users had the tools available to them to invade much of anything, let alone my private profiles or accounts.  I used the internet to schedule classes for school, follow sports, and play pretend with other pretenders in chat rooms.

That World Wide Web does not exist any longer. Being anonymous on the web takes effort now. Many things users are not even aware of are accessible by almost anyone with a basic search engine and some creativity. Being worried about account numbers, personal information and the deep dark secret someone is carrying  is perfectly normal and makes sense. Worrying about what is posted on a social networking site is a bit ridiculous.

I was an early adopter of social networking. I was apart of several fan sites that had message boards and profile pages. I have had accounts on most of the early sites like Freindster, Myspace, and now Facebook, Twitter and career sites like LinkedIn.  If I have learned anything, it is that any privacy setting can be overcome and that anything on those sites is publicly available. They are meant to be that way. Yes, you should be able to have some say in what is visible to who, but any information on a social networking site is most often placed there by you or someone you personally know.  If you do not want a certain picture out for public view, do not post it. If a friend posts it, ask them to remove it or get better friends. Any words you do not want as public record, follow the same rule you would in speaking, keep them to yourself or  keep them off the site. Of all the places on the Web where you actually have control of what gets seen, social networks are  the most obvious.

You cannot control what others say about you, but that has nothing to do with privacy policy or invasion of privacy on the part of the website.  Posting to Facebook and asking for privacy is very much like standing in a room full of millions of people and shouting, hoping that one person hears while another does not.

The Third Thing About Marnie

The third thing to remember about Marnie: She is a map of discovery.

When she was in seventh grade, Marnie discovered the four tiny lumps in the shape of an S, starting just below her right shoulder blade. It was after gym class. Forty girls huddled around lockers, towels wrapped tight as they made their way from the rows of metal cages down towards the shower room. Each of them walking past the teacher, clip board in hand, marking off the names as they went in, checking for wet hair, wet arms, wet legs as they went out.  Marnie took her turn, hurried up to the shower head and turned on the water. Making sure she was facing away from everyone, she quickly opened her towel and stepped forward. The cold water smashing into her chest and stomach, then equally as fast, she closed the towel and stepped back.

As she hurriedly wrapped up, tucking an edge tight under her right arm, she felt them. Four tiny bumps, each a distinct shape. She stopped and ran her fingers over them again. One was larger, more raised and oval shaped. A second felt near flat and she could not quite make out its edges. The third seemed perfectly round, a tiny bubble, like a blister. The fourth she could barely reach but it seemed tear drop shaped, wider near the top and decreasing as it descended, like it was pointing at something down her back.

In the mirror over the sink, she turned to get a clearer view. Putting her fingers over them, she could feel each one clearly, but removing her hand she could not see them in her reflection. Back at her locker she found her glasses and went again to see if she could see the marks. Still nothing. They were completely transparent, her skin appearing smooth to the sight.  But they were there. She could feel them.

Later than night at home in the dark of her room, she removed her nightshirt and again traced the marks.  Without the fear of becoming exposed to the  girls in gym class, she could reach them with ease. The fourth extended farther than she thought. The tail extending like a path. Instead of inspiring fear in her, these invisible things brought her new found strength. They made her unique in a way she enjoyed.

In her mind they became islands, real places to be explored.  They were her secrets. She knew they were there. They could be felt through her clothes and she often touched them during school or when she felt nervous or afraid.  They were there to comfort her, inspire her. She shared them with no one until the day someone else noticed them, until someone else looked at her with surprise as they discovered what could only be felt, never seen. Someone else who understood.

Something Missing

After the events of the past few weeks where armed police in riot gear used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to clear out unarmed protesters, I have been wanting to get on my soap box and rant away.

I almost wrote a curse filled, didactic epistle immediately after the incident at UC Davis. Regardless of your political leanings, your agreeing or disagreeing with the OWS protests, Spraying large amounts of bright red pepper spray in the faces of students sitting on the ground, arms linked, cannot be viewed as anything but barbaric and wrong.  I am still angry, still want to pretend I don’t carry my own hypocrisy around and shout at the top of my lungs in raw emotion.

I guess getting older, being wrong over and over again has taught me at least this: Never argue or speak out of anger. You will nearly always end up regretting what you say, having to apologize or admit one or more errors in logic or fact.

I have been reflecting, thinking, stewing and pondering how best to approach this topic and I think I know what it is I want to say. Where has our compassion for each other gone? Did we ever have any to begin with? Are we only able to show concern for those we know? Those we love? Do they even get the benefit of our attempts at empathy (which is another topic for another day, empathy)?

I do not excuse myself from this. When the Tea Party were out, wandering the streets, waving signs and guns, I found it easy to dismiss them, their message as I did not agree with it. I admit to being frightened by their violent rhetoric (though that is all it was, I have yet to find incidents of actual violence), and their ease at which they would speak in anger and make reference to violent revolution.  I found it very easy to mock them, make fun of their poorly spelled signs, the sexual innuendo regarding tea bagging. I let any understanding or compassion I had fly right out the window.

When I hear or read people say or write how these college kids, the people in Oakland, deserved what they got, I have to wonder, what have we become and more terrifying, where are we going?

I was not born in 1968 when, during the Democratic National Convention, when the police cleared Grant Park under the guise of protecting the leaders of the nation from assassination. But I had hoped we as a country were beyond this type of violence towards our own.

The current political climate of shifting spectrum, from left to right, then back is partially to blame. But I see this as a matter of perception. Nothing has really changed in the last 20 years. We elect a democrat and the republicans block everything, blame all the issues on failure of the left to act or see the world the way they see it, then the elections come and we shift. Now it is the Republicans who are invective, picking on the poor while catering to the rich. But this is all deception. These politicians have the same agenda, spend the same money from the same large corporations (who are now people, according to the Supreme Court), are part of the wealthy that have run this nation from the beginning.  We fight among  ourselves, blaming the government, blaming the corporations, forgetting they are one in the same. I am guilty of putting too much trust in government and I know plenty who trust capitalism too much.

Is this fixable? Perhaps. I wonder if it is a sense of compassion for our fellow humans that has been dulled to the point that what we as individuals believe and want is the only concern we allow.  I am interested in what you think.

And sorry for the moments of preaching. In the end I am still me.

Wilco-Radio Cure – YouTube

Wilco-Radio Cure – YouTube. Something about this song sticks with me. “Distance has no way of making love understandable”. There is a longing and sadness in this song that I find tangible. It feels like it starts in the middle  and ends in the middle. Not easy to pull off.

Finding Passion

For the majority of my life, I have enjoyed sports. Some of them I was reasonably good at, though I never practiced much or put much effort into trying to hone my skills or improve my weaknesses. The sport that comes to mind is basketball.  As a young boy, I was often taller and quicker than most of my friends, which allowed me to win most of my one on one basketball games. This continued until I was in my early teens when I found myself in my first gym class in junior high. Naturally competitive, I thought I could easily dominate the majority of kids I would encounter as I had through my childhood. I was mistaken. Most of the other kids were either better or meaner than I was. Being under 100 pounds and very fearful of physical confrontations, the aggressive kids sucked the fire right out of me. I began to be afraid of my opponents for the first time in my life. In fact, for most of seventh and eighth grade, I hated playing basketball at school. Rather than use this new challenge as motivation to get better, be stronger, I allowed it to crush my spirit and relegate me to mediocrity.

Still, I had some talent for the sport and as I grew older, the desire to play moved from something that I did after school or on weekends towards something I could not stop thinking about. I played every chance I got, watched every game I could and it began to matter to me that I was fearful of better players.  That being said, I didn’t really practice. I just played. That was enough to make me better at some things, but when I played, I used my speed and quickness to get lay-ups rather than improving what I was weak at, namely defense and outside shooting.

I tried out for the high school team as a freshmen and a sophomore, with improving results. Cut after the first day as a freshmen, I lasted three days as a sophomore, but fell apart as the competition got more difficult and the drills we were running were completely new to me. In my junior year, relying on quickness, speed, and a coach that saw those things and (in retrospect) saw someone that could be held up as a surprise pick, making sure the notion of a pre-selected team could be debunked, I made the team. I played three minutes of varsity that year. I averaged 1.8 points per game and .5 rebounds in Jr. varsity games. Though, for the first time in my life I spent time trying to get better. I shot all the time, worked on shooting from various places, continuing to shoot from one spot until I made three in a row. I tried to improve my footwork and my movement on defense. I could feel myself getting better, understanding the game more. Unfortunately for me, this improvement was not enough to stay on the team as a senior, even though I knew I was twice the player I had been the year before.

After getting cut, I started to leave basketball behind. I slowly lost the passion for it and now, while I still enjoy the sport, I have not played competitive games in years. I think it would shock my younger self to see this. Though I think all of our younger selves would have a hard time with what most of us have become. I don’t regret letting basketball slip from my life. I filled that spot with many more things and people that mean just as much or more. I do regret not working harder. Like most people, I wish I could have had a different perspective on things, on the transitory nature of being a teenager, being able to understand how short of a time that really is. I have no illusions that I was skilled enough to be a professional athlete, but I should have been a better high school player.

In my 40’s I have found something I am passionate about again. I have fallen in love with cycling. For the first time in my life I understand what runners talk about when they say they crave running. I always despised running and  never worked to get good enough at it to experience a second wind, or a perfect groove where feet and arms and lungs found that soothing rhythmic pace.  I do though, finally know what that feels like on a bike. I practice it, push myself, work to be better and stronger, faster than I was the week before. Now I need to be clear, I am not great at riding. I often get passed by better riders and I will never be a great cyclist, but it matters to me that I never quit a hill, that once I start a ride, I am going to finish the ride I set out for myself. This surprises me immensely. It was always easy for me to just quit something if it got hard. If I was tired, I rested. If my lungs hurt or burned, I would slow down, stop, resign myself to failure.

This September as I rode the Heber Valley Century Ride, I experienced what I am seeing as my defining moment in cycling. I had ridden close to 85 miles of the ride. My legs were tired, I was low on water and low on energy.  I came through an area of rolling hills, using the downhill to recover. I then remembered I still had to climb the mountain up towards the Jordanelle  reservoir overlook before completing the ride. The back side is not as steep as the way up, but it is longer. Also, when you have been riding difficult terrain all day, another three miles of straight climbing can be deflating. I looked ahead and saw the line of cyclists climbing up the first stretch of the hill and thought I was done. I didn’t see how I could manage the climb the way I was feeling. Still, I had to go up and over, even if that meant I would allow myself breaks to recover.

I started to climb and my legs tired very quickly. The usual burn of acid build up was replaced by a heavy numbness, almost as if my legs were asleep. I was pedaling hard, however, and in the first 500 yards, found myself passing five or six riders. At that point I had to shift to an easier gear, and slow down. I could hear my pulse and feel my breathing but I rode on. I went by three more riders and reached a spot where the road leveled off a bit. Almost out of energy and really riding on will alone, I continued to climb. I wanted to stop. I needed to stop. I could hear my brain saying, “no one will know, no one will even care,” but I knew I would know. This moment was what all the other rides, all the other training had been working towards. I had climbed canyons that made my heart hurt, I had ridden for miles, my rear end sore and my body dehydrated and sunburned just so I could be ready for this moment, when I would either do what I always did, and fold, or try something new- push through, ignore my pain and previous failures and succeed!  I put all the pain and tiredness right in front of me. I did not try to hide it. I embraced it instead and kept going. One mile turned to two and then three. I was rounding the overlook and heading down the other side. The last ten miles flew by. I was elated.  When I finished the ride, I stood by my car, alone and let the thrill of completion wash over me. I don’t want to compare riding 100 miles to running a marathon because running 26 miles is MUCH harder than riding 100. But I do feel a huge sense of pride in completing it.  I rode two century rides this past summer. Next year the goal is three official and one that I plan and ride on my own.  I want to be stronger and better next year. Who is with me?