On this day 36 years ago my life changed in a way it would take decades to fully appreciate. I welcomed a second little sister into my family who happened to be one of those “leap year babies”. As with any new sibling, reception is mixed and it takes time to see the good in it. My sister had a new compatriot, which gave me occasional respite from her iron will. And I gained an ally against that iron will when it got out of hand (which it often did).
One of the truths of being a leap year baby is that birthdays are a pain. For all the great uniqueness that comes with it in years when the day occurred, also comes a hollowness to celebrations in years when it doesn’t. We’d always make the jokes about it (her only being a quarter of her actual age, not being able to drive being “only 4”, etc.) as humor was a common way to skirt reality in our household. But as much as most of us used that humor as a salve, for my sister growing up in it, it was real. She was a soul of delight and mischief who rarely went down the dark path – always a paragon of hope and optimism.
But then at the ripe age of 4 ¼ (17 in real years), darkness found her. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor – one that was nearly impossible to treat and even harder to remove. In spite of this turn of events, she remained bright and hopeful. She coerced her biopsy surgeon to do minimal shaving so that she could cover her scar with an updo for her senior prom mere days later. She happily moved in with me and my wife in our inarguably shittiest apartment ever so she could have an easier commute to her regular radiation treatments. Even at her lowest – having the swiss cheese memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient, she still made jokes and kept us hopeful for her state of mind and recovery.
And despite a bleak prognosis as a teenager, she made it to her 5th and then her 6th “real” birthdays, fighting the good fight all the way. At 24, while she was reliant on a battery of medications to replace every regulatory hormone her body stopped managing (she lost her pituitary gland with the radiation) and had double knee replacements due to the compound effect of her body failing to take care of her own joints or metabolism, she stole the show at her own sister’s wedding by walking down the aisle unassisted.
Twelve years later I still think of that day. And the day that came a month later when she passed.
I think of her in those times bucking every odd stacked against her. It’s easy to look back and feel sorrow for the years lost – both those she half-lost fighting her ailments and those she lost in losing the fight. It’s easy to feel saddened that we can’t still have her presence in the world. It’s easy to look at the day she left us and feel its loss.
But her light wasn’t lost: that light she showed on her prom night, at our sister’s wedding and so many other times in between. There is hope and optimism in me that I don’t think would be there if not for her. There is hope and levity and light that I pass on to my children (without the spectre of being about misdirection and avoidance, but rather about acceptance and joy of life) that I don’t know that I’d have in me if not for seeing it in her.
As much as I miss her, there are some truths that are more important about my relationship with my littlest sister: for the time I had with her in my life, I am better, I am stronger, I am bolder, and I am happier because she existed however briefly. I am a better person than I would have been if the world never had that leap year baby. And I may well be a better person in spite of the loss of her. There are so many things in this world that remind me of her and remind me that I miss her. But in that absence I know better than to regret it or be subsumed by it – she taught me that.
I’m sure not a leap day will pass in my life that I won’t be thinking of her. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ll admit that I led a fairly sheltered childhood. I grew up in a small, semi-rural town in a small, semi-introverted family. We had small circles of friends and family that was distant. And in turn my own circles of friends have always been small and close-knit. I don’t consider myself a close-minded person by any stretch, but my experiences at least in my youth were limited. As a result, relating to the experiences of others has never been my strong suit. What I did have going for me is that I had no perceptual baggage and luckily very few inherited biases. So while I grew up in a fairly culturally uniform area, I absorbed no prejudices from it. But having had limited exposure, I avoid positing positions on cultural issues not my own. It’s not my place.
Through college and work experiences and just life, I’ve been immersed in a more diverse world. And still I’ve avoided picking up too many prejudices or preconceived notions. If anything, many of such notions I hear about often baffled me. So as I became comfortable, I’d challenge such assumptions with my fellows (at least with those I felt I was close enough to) … but not the world at large. It’s not my place.
Now that social media has changed the way we communicate with each other and the world, the opinions and views that I find myself exposed to are too numerous and contrasting to keep track of. And while I hold to the belief that most things fall into the gray, there are some ideas and practices I see in the world that are clearly in the wrong. And while I’ll stand by my fellow person’s rights and liberties, I don’t actively crusade against the wrong-headed idealists of the world. It isn’t my style, or my place.
But now I have children: young budding human beings who cannot possibly live as sheltered a life as I had or avoid the wrong-headedness that is (and really always has been) rampant. While I can teach them the right ideals and principles, good judgment and good values, it isn’t enough. I have to do more. As a parent, this is my place.
And unfortunately part of that job is to teach my kids hard lessons like: to be strong enough not to use violence and negative words against others, to be confident enough to stand by their ideas regardless of whether they are different, to be brave enough to call out others for hurtful or prejudicial behavior. I have to teach my daughter to strive for no less than she wants and deserves even though there are many forces that seem to be working against her simply for being a girl. I have to teach my son to be better than the baser instincts that are so easy to fall slave to and hold to principals of respect and fairness and equality. It will not be an easy road, but it is my place.
But this job has taught me something more – it IS my place to confront the demons of the world. If I can steer my children to a higher standard, why not others? Why not my friends, my family, my peers, my elders? We are living in a world with too much darkness, too much violence, too much victimization and not enough respect and individual responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we can make it better. We can stop tolerating the injustice and petulance of the lesser among us and start holding them to a higher standard. To live and let live. To take personal responsibility for one’s own words, actions, and station in life. To treat each any every one of us as equals regardless of gender, race, religion, body type, or capabilities. I think we can bring those values to this place called Earth and this race called humanity … if we can’t, then maybe this is not my place.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
To most it should be self-evident, but this is the opening paragraph of this nation’s Constitution – a document forged over 200 years ago by an array of men from various walks of life and differing and often contentious opinions. It was written by these men over a a period of years of deliberation and revision and I have no doubt with a great degree of argument. Back then there were semblances of party lines, but not in the form we are familiar with. The most common delineation was between Federalists (those who were in favor of a strong central government) and the Democratic-Republicans (those who were in favor of leaving the majority of governing in the hands of the states). It would be difficult to paint either of these parties as either strictly conservative or strictly liberal. What could be said about them though, is this – these individuals who came together to form this nation and then later make effort to govern it clearly had a common and clear agenda: to successfully establish and maintain a nation of, for, and by the people that could serve those people fairly and justly and that they could be proud of.
I don’t believe they would be proud today.
While certainly the recent government shutdown was a strong inspiration to my writing today, it was certainly neither the first nor the last catalyst to my discontent. I’ve long held the somewhat cynical belief that to a degree our representative government, however flawed, is in fact representative of us as a nation – that their faults are our own faults and that the only real catalyst for change would be when enough people simply said “enough” with their words, with their votes, maybe even with their wallets. But certain events have led me to believe that perhaps ‘we the people’ may not even have that sway anymore, at least not fairly or as readily as we should.
So I need to do more than just speak with my vote. Small ripples aren’t enough anymore. I’m saying “Enough!” as firmly and loudly as I can, and I hope that doing so inspires others to do so as well.
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
– George Santayana
While our nation’s history may only be measured in centuries, humanity’s is in millennia. And over that time there have been numerous nations, kingdoms, and empires that have risen and fallen. And while few may have launched under the idyllic pretense that ours was, there were certainly common goals. Given the history of nation’s whose wealth disparity has been great, I am left with great fear for our own nation’s fate. While I’m not about to advocate Communism, there is something to be said for wage equity. And if the following video is as true as it claims to be, then gender-based pay equality seems like the least of our concerns:
What this video doesn’t speak to is how we as a nation arrived at this point. I am certainly not an economist, but there have been trends and shifts in recent decades that I believe had played a part in this shift to make the “middle class” far from solidly in the middle. What I DO know about economist is this – for every winner, there is a loser. Every dollar gained in the market is a dollar spent by someone else. In recent history the stock market has felt more like a casino than an engine for business promotion and investment. And we all know with casinos the house always wins. In the case of the financial sector, they won with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, they won with the bailouts, and they continue to win our hard-earned dollars day by day without culpability for any economic instability they may cause in the process.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of 1%-ers who do take the high road – people such as Bill & Melinda Gates who are literally putting billions of dollars into charitable good. But there are plenty of faceless members of this upper class that would more readily use their wealth to reward their puppet Congressmen for creating such a press field-day as the recent government shutdown. They won’t be the ones to feel the ripples of such actions, and they seem perfectly content letting those of us who will be awash in them. John Stewart recently compared the actions of the House Tea Party to the movie The Jerk, but I feel there is another 80’s movie analogy that feels more apropos – Trading Places: where the likes of the Koch brothers are the Duke brothers, and the Tea Party is Billy Ray Valentine.
The point is this: between campaign finance insanity, repeal of key voting equality legislation, and bizarre redistricting, our nation is barely within our hands – a fact that is brutally apparent when we have a government with a 10% approval rating and a 90% incumbency rate. It is clear that our approval is moot, and if our voice is moot, then our government is no longer representative. While it is still technically of the people, it is no longer by the people or for the people. And it’s time we take it back before we no longer have the power to do so.
We the people have had enough, and we want our nation back!
There are many steps in this road. One is to speak up to the government we have. I’ve already started by submitting one petition to our President (see here) and signed on to a number of others. Feel free to sign or right some as you see fit. If you do, let me know and perhaps I’ll add my name to other worthy causes.
Being a fan of various shows and movies in the Star Trek franchise, especially it’s more recent phoenix-like rebirth, it would be an understatement to say I was eager to see the latest installment in J.J. Abrams treatment of the movie series. I attempted to rally the family around it (my wife and daughter were already on board, but my son seemed to need some persuasion), but when my son (probably wisely) proved too reluctant to endure the sound and fury of the theater despite how exciting the trailer looked. So my wife opted out to stay with Grasshopper while just Cricket and I made a go of it. While the movie left us with warm feelings of contentment, our post-movie conversation left me alone with a cold quiver down my spine.
As any parent can appreciate, drawing a detailed opinion out of a child (at least when it is wanted) is like drawing blood from a stone with ADD. So I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions than simple “What did you think of the movie?” Today’s Q&A went something like this:
Me: So which character did you like the best?
Her: Uhh…that’s hard to say…
Me: Okay, if you could be any character from the movie, who would you be?
Her: OH! I’d be Spock!
Me: Okay, how about if you could go out to dinner and spend time with any character from the movie, who would it be?
Her: You mean if none of the drama and stuff was happening?
Me: Yeah, just you and that person hanging out, no drama.
Her: Ooh – definitely the bad guy!
Me: Why the bad guy??
Her: I don’t know. I just like the idea of going out with the bad guy.
I had trouble coming up with any more questions after that.
My daughter has impressed me on numerous occasions with the characters that she has opted to adhere to in the media she watches. For instance last fall when we opted to go spend some of her allowance at the comic book store (her choice), she ended up deliberating at length between two POP! bobble-head hero toys. Her top choices were Nick Fury and Robin. She settled on Nick Fury and when I asked her afterward why those characters, it was because she saw them as leaders – Fury of the Avengers and Robin of the Young Justice team (based on watching the Young Justice cartoon that we until recently enjoyed watching on Cartoon Network). In this instance, it seemed no different with regard to the first question – she saw Spock as a logical and heroic character unafraid to take charge and act intelligently.
As for the second question, that one just felt too much like the kind of foreshadowing that I could easily have lived without. I love Cricket and enjoy that so far at her young age of 9 boy-related issues are limited to fleeting crushes. And I’ve told myself since she was a baby that I would try my best to be open and accepting of what teenagehood would one day bring. But there have already been touches of temperamental behavior that I can only assume will be exacerbated by puberty. So if there is also the possibility that she will also be a bad-boy chaser, I’m worried for my own resolve in the years to come.
Hopefully I’m reading too much into the statement and she just legitimately thought he would be the most interesting person to hang out with disregarding the potential evil streak. Perhaps like my wife she was captivated by his deep British voice that supposedly sounds like a jaguar trapped in a violin. Or maybe he seemed the safest bet as most of the rest of the characters had quite a handful of scrapes with death in the course of the movie – him comparatively the least often. Or perhaps I should just read less into the whimsical commentary of a 9-year-old and just continue to nurture the right skills and judgment in her until such fears either come to inevitable fruition or fizzle out as a vestige of an unrealized time-line.
It started with silence, empty air. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the radio in the car even though I still appreciate new music. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, so my morning and afternoon commutes became a vehicle to slake that thirst. I can certainly bore you with the details of my podcast consumption habits that formed from there, but that isn’t really the point of this story. The point is that with the recurring set of shows I had come to listen to, I had gotten ahead of my supply with plenty of road ahead of me. So, recalling hearing good things about The Nerdist from somewhere, I queued up the latest episode and was instantly hooked.
Two weeks later (late last week), I’m listening to Chris Hardwick chatting with this YouTube Rap/HipHop artist named Macklemore. It was a compellingly interesting episode, but without clips of his songs my curiosity was only mildly piqued. But over the weekend, on an evening after the kids were in bed, I sought out his supposed breakout hit, and here is what I found:
Say what you like, but this thing is hilarious, catchy, clearly not kid friendly (glad I listened after bedtime), fun and light, and also has a message nested in there.
Jump to today – there has been a bit of a Facebook movement where people are changing their profile pics to red squares with pink equal signs on them (or some variant thereof). This is in support of marriage equality and coincides with the Supreme Court’s initiation of hearing arguments about California’s Proposition 8. I’ve read the arguments that this is a weak move and that a stronger action would be to donate money to causes, etc. I don’t care – I partook and I stand by the sentiment that it stands for – we all deserve to live and love equally.
So this evening as I’ve relaxing (once again having gotten the kids settled for the night) and perusing the musings on Facebook when an inkling tickles the back of my brain from that Nerdist episode – Macklemore also spoke of another song he did that got some mixed reaction called Same Love:
I watched this and got goosebumps and nearly cried, emotions swelled – a mix of pride and hope as well as shame and sorrow. Watch it, and you will get it (or you won’t, you are entitled I guess). This is more than just a music video – it is a short film as well as an anthem for the marriage equality and gay rights movement. I immediately posted it to Facebook.
The point that I’m getting to here is this: I could sit here right now and write entire blog posts about each of these videos. And if I did, the Venn diagram of their traits would be a small sliver of awesome. The one – a serious and moving story and diatribe about the plight of a yet oppressed minority within our nation and world, the other – a light, pompous romp about making fashion gold out of Goodwill fare (with an unveiled jab at the fashion/consumerist establishment). Together, these songs (and many others) paint the picture of a complex, intelligent individual who has a decided talent for expression through verse – one whom I now have a great appreciation and respect for and had otherwise no knowledge of two weeks ago.
Am I about to start clothes shopping at thrift stores now? Not likely. Am I gearing up to march on Washington over political issues? Not this week, but I wouldn’t rule it out. What I’ve really learned from this is two things: First, never underestimate a medium – I was never a big fan of HipHop and mostly dismissed it as the messages were all gold, guns, and girls, but here I was proven wrong. Second, labels don’t always fit – Macklemore doesn’t get much radio airplay as he is unsigned and pretty much a YouTube artist. But Billboard is starting to get where the audience is, and as such, he made it on the charts AS an unsigned YouTube artist and has since been on SNL and various other gigs (again, I could likely do a whole blog post on this topic as well).
The bottom line is that if I can still have my mind opened further at the age of 37, we all can if we let it happen. If it’s from this, you’re welcome. If it is from something else, that’s great too. But the moment you close out new experiences you stop living in the world, and the world is a variegated and interesting place.