Life with Coronovirus: Come Together, Stay Apart

Sure you’ve seen every virus movie known to man, but now its time to truly prepare for the new normal

In the matter of a few short weeks, life, as we know it, has ground to a halt, the world is going into lockdown, markets have flipped from bull to bear as mother nature issues her own correction in the form of Covid 19.  Millions of Americans are stuck in the house binge-eating, binge-watching and trying not to kill family–Like an endless Thanksgiving without the turkey and colonization.

Welcome to the apocalypse.  Yup, you are officially here–though for readers of this blog we know the signs of the times have been on full display for quite a while.  That doesn’t mean its time to dig your Mad Max uniform out of the trunk and ride out.  Apocalypse comes from the Greek, translating loosely to an unveiling.  It is the end of the illusion, not the end of time. Apocalypses are the moments where the truth of our world is revealed beneath the shiny bullshit veneer of the simulation we’ve been living in.  Welcome to the desert of the real.

The Covid crisis is revealing the limitations of capitalism to sustain people in a world increasingly marked by crisis, just a single symptom of climate change.  In a matter of months, a virus has shown us what we have willfully ignored for too long:  we are one, a human organism connected globally, a mass of cells moving in solidarity whether we want to or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. Your latte-drinking lash-wearing tik tok dancing life has been rendered obsolete.  There is no star status that will protect you from the virus, but we see too, that our systems of inequality are already making the crisis worse.  Unequal distribution of resources and racism, xenophobia, and sexism will mean those traditionally marginalized will be the hardest hit.

How can you shelter in place if you have no shelter?  How can you call your health care provider if you don’t have one? When we have to choose who gets what they need and who doesn’t who will stand up for those without a seat at the table?

But before we can parse the dissembling power structures, we have to survive the collapse. Now this, my Apocalyptic America fans, is something we have been preparing for.  Time for all the lessons of all those movies of the end time to guide your pandemic plays.  Let’s start with these to get you through the weekend:

 No Gas, All Break

Daily White House Press briefings are important sources of news, but if you’re not careful you might forget that this is the president with over 15,000 recorded lies during his time in office.  Avoid the gaslighting that everything is okay, nothing to see here. Gaslighting is a real and dangerous communication dynamic.  After months of the Trump Administration telling us that truth isn’t truth, you may find your ability to trust your own sense of what is real is not as strong as the pandemic coverage requires.  Trust scientists.  Trust the data.  Err on the side of caution.

Take regular news breaks with credible sources.  The New York Times has comprehensive and well-researched coverage, and have removed their paywall, giving everyone access to their up to date reporting.  The Washington Post, likewise, is using its big newsroom resources to provide coverage.  Local press is likely to be telling the stories no one else is and to give you the skinny on what is happening in your area. Check out your hometown paper and look for independent reporting on twitter and online.  Spread your news sources around, but avoid opinion pieces that lack evidence and conspiracy posts with fear-inducing clickbait titles.  As always, snopes.com and factcheck.org are good places to vet what you’re reading before you decide to share.

Pace Your Panic

Okay, you have enough toilet paper. With over a week of panic shopping behind us, its time to stop freaking out and settle in for the long haul.  Early reports that prepared us for just a couple of weeks without school are giving way to warnings that this pandemic could lead to 12 to 18 months of disruption.  Even when the threat of the virus passes, we know that we will be returning to an economy in shambles, and many people in dire need of support. You cannot keep up toilet-paper-hoarding levels of panic for months: your mental and physical health simply cannot sustain that.  We need you healthy for the recovery, so please, pace your panic.  Yes, shit is scary as fuck so set aside a little time to let it all in so you are rooted in the seriousness of the moment. Balance that awareness with healthy levels of self-care, seclusion, and emotional management.  Read- draw- create- play- eat- move- drink- dance- this mess around on the daily, and keep your mind sharp and body ready for the long term challenges ahead.

Connect Without Commerce

Shelter in place orders and social distancing mean stores, bars, restaurants, and other public gathering spots are closed. Don’t let capitalism’s pause keep you from getting the social connection you need so much in this stressful time.   This is a chance for us to make space in our lives for connection without commerce.  This is the time when we can leverage the very best of social media to bring us together, lift us up, and find new ways of spending time together apart.  Internet–do you meme thing to keep us laughing; video chat apps, time to show us the lovely faces of our people in virtual family visits, work yoga groups, happy hour hangouts for singles, or mommy homeschool wine and support groups; Text, talk, post and crosspost to build a net of connection across the physical distance between us.

Since everything–or nearly everything–is closed, many of us suddenly have the time we haven’t been able to give to our loved ones.  Yeah, your kids may be yelling or your spouse underfoot or your dog barking nonstop, but if they are driving you crazy, that means they are still here, and that is a blessing you will be all too grateful for in the days ahead. Schedules are a little clearer, our time together more dear than ever.  Have that conversation you’ve been meaning to have.  Reach out and tell those you love what they mean to you.   We will need more love than facemasks or hospital beds, so make love in every way you can-in cookies and games and hugs and words and kisses and kisses and kisses if you are lucky enough to have your loved one in your containment zone.

We will survive as an organism but not without damage to the very fabric of our lives.  Things will not be the same, and that may be okay.  It is time to build a new world anyways. Hunker down for the hard road ahead. Build your resilience to support your people and your community. Connect, connect, connect.  Now more than ever, it is solidarity or nothing.

Black History, Black Present

I.

I am in the New South in a building that was once used as the cotton warehouse for the local plantations.  The host tells us that in the 1840s farmers brought cotton here to be sold and shipped.  I wonder what the enslaved who farmed the cotton would have thought of this benign title–farmers.  I wonder where in this town they were brought to be sold and shipped.

There is healing happening.  Young and old people are coming together to face the racism that persists in the schools.  They are swapping stories, trying to piece together a picture of the place they live in. Verbal violence and exclusion, rules about which door you could use and texts in the group chat about killing niggers. They struggle with making meaning of the broken things, of the silences and the southern hospitality.

What is this? Are the jagged edges of my world racist? Is my suspicion correct? Is my pain justified?

“Sure we had segregation, but that doesn’t mean it was racism.” That’s a quote.

We are a circle of black folk asking if the violence and oppression we experience is racism in a room where they stored cotton picked by our enslaved ancestors. 

That night I see a story on the local news.  A white boy uses an iPhone app to make whipping noises at a black classmate. They are not friends.

The year is 2020.

II.

The lesson Black History has to teach an America trembling on the edge of dictatorship is that history is not over.  The same white supremacy battled by all the heroes and sheroes of black history still burns hot at the heart of America.

It is both original sin and existential threat.

The last person who toiled in antebellum slavery died in my lifetime.  The last person likely to be caught in the school to prison pipeline hasn’t been born yet.

Not past, but a continuous line that leads to me, to you, and to our current state of affairs.

III.

Trump rolls out a line of hats and t-shirts for Black Trump supporters.  The word WOKE is stitched in huge black letters across the front of a white hat.  The man who rode a wave of racism into office and installed known white supremacists as his close advisors is taking the word used to describe the increased consciousness of racism and the need to fight for black liberation as his slogan to attract black people to support his election.

I used to end my blog posts with stay woke.  It was a whisper, a call to action, a reminder to look closely at the levers of power working around you.

He took my words.

IV.

Power never rests. Black history can attest to the kind of work needed to change systemic racism. Pull the chain of Black history and you will find a long line of people who remained unbowed under the behemoth system of racism designed to break them.  Those people still live today amongst us.  Malcolm’s fire burns in Alicia Garza.  Rosa sat, Colin knelt, and the conversation has changed little in the meantime. Those people are us. On the streets of Ferguson and dozens of other cities, hundreds of young people picked up history’s chain to move it forward into political office and sustained action.  Pick a day and hit twitter to see still people calling out the Oscars, the Democratic leadership and all the Karens of the world. Resistance takes sustained coordinated effort in the big and small places, hammering at the levers of power. And time. Like, glacial time.

V.

I am in the liberal north, black and free and buying expensive dog food on a Sunday.  A large black Ford F450 has parked next to me, the kind of truck that makes me feel like a rabbit seeing a hound.  He has backed into this spot and we come face to face as I get in my little truck.  I call my mini-SUV Panther because it is black and small and fierce and fast. His window is open and I can hear LL Cool J bumping out of his stereo.  I relax a little, I make eye contact and smile, laughing at my own stereotyping of him.

He scowls and winds up his window.

Disengage.  Don’t act nervous. Is he getting out? Don’t turn around. He’s behind me. I put my dog food in the back next to my big dog. He is waiting for me.  The dog, and the man.

I have to close my door to let him pass. For a moment we stand next to each other.

We appraise each other.

He is wearing a camo Baseball cap and a sweatshirt emblazoned with Trump 2020 The Sequel Make Liberals Cry Again.  I am wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt and a Dashiki jacket with a pair of shiny white Adidas. Wrapped in ideology ordered from online t-shirt shops we don’t have to say a word. We exchange a million ideas in a single glare. 

Fuck your LL Cool J listening Trump-supporting self.

If I had to guess he probably only thought one word. And it ended with an er.

We go our separate ways; it is dinnertime and we have hungry dogs to feed.

#OscarsSoWhite (Again)

The Oscars are here: another year, another chance at a handful of firsts for diversity in the 92-year-old institution.  Parasite could be the first film to win both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film; Cynthia Erivo, star of Harriet, could be the youngest person to ever win an EGOT; and in a double first the first black president and forever-in-our-hearts-President Obama may be the first President to win an Oscar for the documentary American Factory.image.jpg

It seems odd that we should still be having firsts in an institution that started in the last century’s roaring ’20’s. The Oscars have been dragged for years now over their lack of diversity.  #Oscarssowhite has become an annual trending tag, highlighting the continued need for diversity in the Academy and in Hollywood writ large. The hackneyed excuses that there aren’t enough actors of color, movies featuring stories focused on people of color, or female directors can no longer deflect criticism: the stories and the talent are in evidence everywhere.

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The Academy has put a number of programs in place to increase diversity in nominees and awardees.  Since the creation of #OscarsSoWhite by April Reign in 2015, the Academy has invited hundreds of new members across underrepresented groups of race, gender and nationality into the voting body. Even so, the Academy membership is still overwhelmingly made up of white males.  Only 31% of Academy members are women and 16% minorities.

Efforts to diversify the voting body notwithstanding, the whiteness of Oscar has not changed much in 92 years.  Despite a wealth of amazing work by women and creators of color, the winners’ circle has remained largely the same—white males acting in stories that center white narratives. Last year’s top picture prize went to Green Book, a white savior movie a-la The Help with less pie, over cultural touchstone Black Panther or quietly powerful Roma.

We can’t go back to a time when diversity can totally be ignored by movie studios—people of color and women make up a significant portion of the ticket-buying public—but movies can try to transport us back to manifest American’s mythical destiny, letting the less-than-woke rest a little longer in Lala land. This year’s most likely winners represent an America that might be comfortable in a red hat, stories of white men from the twentieth century where they are untouched by today’s cultural complexity. These stories evoke nostalgia for a time when the voices of the oppressed and othered didn’t get heard, a dog-whistle to people who long to silence today’s resistance.

The Oscars are not the only awards show with diversity issues. This award season there has been plenty of criticism all around: the Golden Globes snubbed Ava DuVernay’s powerful When They See Us, and women directors have been shut out of Best Director awards. Even the Joker had to call out the unbearable whiteness of the awards. Joaquin Phoenix, widely hailed for his role as a white man in white face acting out his white rage with no accountability had to pause to ask for less racism in Hollywood during his BAFTA acceptance speech.

It’s tempting to just write off award shows altogether—who cares what trophies the rich and famous give to each other?  Movies, remember, are both art and investment vehicle. Studios spend big to promote Oscar-nominated movies in the hopes of earning box office revenue and clout for future productions. Prestigious awards can have an impact on the kind of stories we are likely to see in the future. Continuing to award only stories that center white men exercising their privilege and power works against the efforts to create robust diverse representation. 

In order to really move the needle in diversity in media, we need to do more than crack open the door for diverse voices.  We need to uplift stories that weave a new world—a place where black people win on and off the screen. Here’s looking forward to the first #OscarsSoDiverseForReal.

Ricky Was Right

Ricky Gervais delivered on the promise of a no holds barred takedown of Hollywood in his opening monologue for the Golden Globes but one joke got the most attention.

The left called him out for being another white man silencing the voices of people trying to make change.  The right loved him for calling out the hypocrisy of Hollywood (without, of course, addressing their own hypocrisy on the right).

Truly the headline on this joke should have read Gervais Compares Disney to ISIS, but our celebrity-obsessed culture, we were more concerned with arguing over who should talk and who shouldn’t talk to get the meta-joke that was more shocking and important than another round in who’s speech matters. Because whose speech can matter when large corporations are not listening to the cries of people for equality and justice, no matter how beautiful that voice for change may be?

Beyonce-JAY-Z-golden-globes

Even the most powerful producers and brightest stars in Hollywood, even Bey and Jay are beholden to large corporations who regularly deplete the environment and abuse human rights to get into the black on their books.  There is a through-line from children mining Colton to your iPhone to the Apple TV+ platform where your favorite star is employed.  There is a direct connection between Disney and the propagation of racism, antisemitism, and sexism that can’t be disconnected from The Lion King or Queen Bey.

is-dumbo-racist.jpgAnd you.   Nestled in between the mining of Cobalt and the mining of profit is you–your eyeballs turn the mining of Cobalt into the mining of cash. Your eyeballs are part of that chain of production.

Yes, stars have amazing lives of privilege and pleasure secluded from the daily reality of most people, and they too live within the systems that you do. Powerful celebrities are also negatively affected by the systems we live in, even if in profoundly different ways from the most harmed. Despite having the power and platform to address issues they care about, they still are not free from drinking at the trough of global capitalism.

No matter how luminous your favorite star looks in that pricey Haute Coture, even they have a hand that signs their checks.  Their freedom to meaningfully engage in real systemic change is hampered by the very corporations that pay them the money they donate.  In this way, like gossip, mags like to proclaim: stars are just like us!

Who holds the power to attack headless snakes, organizations where the power is concentrated but the blame is diffused?  There is not King of the North, no Thanos to vanquish.  All our superhero stories, funded by corporations that are not people, don’t teach us how to dismantle complex and powerful systems.  Infinity stones won’t help us, but neither, Rickey, will telling people to shut up.

We need, instead, solidarity.  We need to acknowledge that systems of power and privilege don’t grant full freedom even to the privileged.  Using privilege to attack the system that confers it won’t save the rich when we come to eat them.  From the most marginalized to the lionized we need to dismantle the systems of power and privilege that keep all of us silenced in a burning world.

 

 

 

Beware the Fog of War-talk

The 2010s were the decade of the lie. Even though 2020 is shorthand for clear vision, so far this decade is shaping up to be the same as the old one. The life spring of the most consequential lies these days is, of course, our liar in chief.  Trump finished out 2019 topping over 15000 lies during his time in office, or an average of 13 times a day, ranging from the sublime art of election manipulation to the ridiculous claims about windmills. We’ve gotten used to his lying at best, and come to accept it from sheer exhaustion at worst.

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Now comes real trouble: war with Iran looms. Mobilized troops have yet to land but the half-truths are already doing major battle on the airwaves.  Wars rise or fall on their PR campaigns.  Shaping public perception of who and why you’re fighting is essential to maintaining support for war. 

The death count of American soldiers that played on the news during the dinner hour soured American appetite for war with Viet Nam.  Lesson learned, officials in the Gulf wars carefully constrained access to the war for journalists, “embedding” reporters in a move that looked like transparency but that allowed the brass the ability to control where journalists went and what they saw. Even as the war in Afghanistan drags on into another decade, American audiences don’t see flag-draped coffins or the tiny shoes of noncombatants killed on the ground, so there is little energy around stopping a war few of us even remember is happening.

Manufacturing consent—getting people to support your fuckery—is major keys for governments in a time of war.  Wars are won not only with bodies on the battlefield but more importantly with hearts and minds. Think about the powerful imagery from World War 1 or 2: Nazi propaganda was one of their greatest weapons, shaping the perception of Germans, while at home wartime propaganda created powerful American iconography that still stands strong to communicate American values today. 

During the Gulf War soldiers tossed Frisbees and candy from tanks to win over Iraqi residents, and at home, they tossed red meat phrases like Operation Iraqi freedom to American’s making us believe we were hero’s swooping not rescue.  Only later was the careful campaign of lies used to make the case for the Iraq War exposed when it was too late to take back the bombs that killed thousands of innocent non-combatants.

Already we can see the shape that Trump’s story: we didn’t start a war, we stopped a war; the phrases ‘imminent attack’ and ‘worlds greatest terrorist,’ and the claim that they saved hundreds, possibly “thousands of American lives”. These all sound like powerful reasons to support a preemptive attack and stir up the fear of Middle East terrorism that had us in the grip of fear much of this millennia. Is this real talk or more Trumpisms?

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We didn’t start a war. We stopped a war.

I mean this is catchy enough to embroider on a red hat, full of the punchiness with the balance of a great advertising motto.  I’m sure someone got props for writing this beautiful bite of rhetoric.  But what does that mean?  America was not at war when this assassination took place despite Iran’s aggressions. Iran’s steady stream of provocations over the many decades we’ve had beef has not resulted in all-out war—even during the Iran hostage crisis.  Now just a few days after the assassination, both America and Iran are signaling their willingness to get to fighting, each side boasting they already have targets picked out.  So actually, it is looking like they DID start a war. This handy catchphrase is about as true as any other Trump has trumpeted.

We killed the world’s greatest terrorist.

Was this General Soleimani a bad guy in Iran’s long-standing beef with Iran? Yup.  He certainly had his hand in thousands of deaths and was the architect of attacks on Americans.  But this was no Bin Laden, or Al-Baghdadi, no leader of a rogue terrorist group operating outside of the league of nations.  Soleimani was General and one that enjoyed some popularity among the Iranian people who are often at odds with the brutal behavior of their military. In fact, in Iran, one poll shows that Soliman enjoyed a 60% popularity rating in his home country of Iran as opposed to Trump’s own 38% polling in his home here in America.  While it is tempting to see us as Marvel-ready heroes that swoop in to stop bad guys, here in the real world we have rules for war.  Killing a duly appointed official on sovereign territory—in this case, our ally Iraq who did not get the heads up—is against the rules.  Imagine if someone from Iran killed one of the joint chiefs while he was traveling in England.  That’s a fight. If we are ever to win back any moral standing in the world, we can’t do it assassinating people at will.

We saved hundreds or thousands of lives.

How can you argue with protecting the lives of Americans? Anyone who did that could easily be branded a traitor, so it’s tricky to question this argument that can only be fact-checked by what doesn’t happen in the future.  With thousands of US troops shipping out, and Americans in Iran and Iraq evacuating the middle East it doesn’t sound like things are about to get safer there. 

Trump and his team assure us intelligence had then in the know. Except Trump has spent the better part of his presidency questioning the intelligence community, and ignoring the more reasoned advice of his own generals. Starting just a day after his inauguration and consistent throughout, Trump has derided the FBI, the CIA, and the State Department.  He has dismissed their dire warning about election interference, ignored their work around corruption in Ukraine, and denied their findings of his own shenanigans here at home. Trump is not known for taking his time with military briefings but pulled the trigger on the most extreme intervention with no input from Congress, not the Intelligence Committee or Committee on Foreign Affairs. In the few days since the assassination, already sources are sprinkling doubt on the strength of the story of an imminent threat, with one source saying it was a “normal Monday in the Middle East.”

And the impeachment isn’t even on anyone’s radar now.  Hmmm.

The drums of war tend to drown out more reasonable reasoning.  The importance of getting public opinion on your side means that words are your most powerful weapon at home. So how do you know what to believe? As always, you have to do your work to be informed and stay grounded. But beyond fact-checking, spend some time thinking about what you think about war and conflict. 

Don’t wait for one side or another to sell you a story you like—you can decide what you think in your own preemptive strike.  Do you think that assassinations make the world safer?  Do you cosign the killing of innocent people? Do you really honor our military when you send them to fight in a war of revenge? Do you truly believe killing each other solves international conflict?

You are the fact-checker of your own morality. As the fog of war roles in, you better get to work.

Coffee and Collapse

These last few months we have seen enormous erosion in the stability of our democracy as we descend into a roiling pit of racism and division ahead of the true start of the 2020 presidential campaign. I bought a coffee maker! This isn’t the first time I have used a little retail therapy to soothe emotional distress—you know how it goes, bad day, buy a cupcake, rough work news? New shoes.  For the current constitutional crisis, I thought a coffee pot would be just the ticket.

I must admit, for a while, I just stopped watching the unfolding of our contemporary apocalypse. My eyes hurt, my brain hurt, and most of all, my heart was broken each day.  Unlike the news cycle that washes itself clean with the next big story, I was unable to forget the horrors of yesterday, last week, last year. Kids in cages, killer cops, deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, racist attacks, white nationalism. When reporting moves on, these situations continue to explode like strings of landmines left behind. Years after the Black Lives Matter movement’s moment has ceased to command top news status, cops that killed citizens are exonerated and justice is denied for the families and communities that have fought the respectable way through a justice system stacked against them. Boom. Gone are the riots in the streets and the mask-wearing protesters, gone the swing of national attention and concern.  Buried under the fold, at the bottom of the hour, a few sentences, a few seconds about the exonerated taking a  badge again, a second of dog-eared sympathy barely mustering a sigh before launching into celebrity news—Beyonce in Lion King—amazing! 

News wasn’t just depressing to watch, it felt like a daily push down a slippery slope. I felt less informed when I watched, felt like I was being spoon-fed just the hot sauce, just the frosting—the hot takes, shady snaps, and sweet endings that drive the most click-worthy content. Sure Trump is the master of distraction, but the opinion panels assembled to opine hours a day feed on the distraction even in their outrage. Like clockwork, Trump tweets outrageous bullshit Saturday evening, setting up the red herring all the Sunday shows will chase. The week is spent tweeting and subtweeting both on twitter and around the water cooler. We all compete for the hottest take, the sweetest rebuttal, and the most coveted prize of all—the best meme.

So time for a new morning ritual, one removed from the problems of the day. My coffee maker is small: I enjoy drinking coffee, but more than two or three cups a day has my heart racing like a racist Trump tweet. I figure I can save the environment by cutting back on styrofoam Dunk’s cups and straws. I pull a huge bag of beans out of the cabinet—super cheap due to the collapsing coffee market: what a bargain! Plus the ritual of grinding and making the coffee is a more soothing way to start the day than the latest headline about the crisis at the border. I have a small coffee grinder. It drowns out the sound of a Morning Joe segment on record heat waves. The coffee only takes a moment to brew, one Round-Up weed killer ad, one for pickup trucks. Coffee’s ready! Environment saved, I click on the a/c and hit my writing room.

I have a hard time writing about our current state of affairs without lapsing into hyperbole or tottering into fiction. I doubt my own understanding of what is happening on any given day. We’ve slid so far into the simulacrum that reality is not only relative but sometimes not even relevant. Multiple civil rights movements compete for headline space while the patriarchal white supremacy propaganda machine pumps out another generations’ worth of ignorance. Lost in the fog of our information war are the glacial gears grinding us all—capitalism, environmental collapse, technological determinism and a religious adherence to me-over-you on a tiny rock where it’s going to be all of us or none of us.

There is no neutral these days, though. Choosing sides is easy—drop into a social media circle where an algorithm feeds you only the kind of information you like. Not choosing is choosing too, to look away from what America is just now waking up to (again) is to sing its favorite lullaby. In every generation of America’s short life, black and brown people have battled to be free to live the American creed of equality and justice for all, and in every generation, the powerful machine of white supremacy that manufactured America has refused to produce a more equitable country. I am only the latest in a long line of people for whom this battle has always been, for whom it is always personal. So no there is no choosing, and no losing myself in endless self-care at the expense of my own responsibility to be informed.

I spend cup one pouring over the latest on the reparations debate. Some can barely understand why we should care about a debt so old and potentially overwhelming—in a country where millions are drowning in their own debt, the failure to flicker an eyebrow at life long debt seems not so out of pocket. Besides, how can we enjoy our best life if we’re always attending to the crushing debt we ignore like so many melting ice caps? Besides, no slave owner still lives. Though corporations—who of course are people per Citizen’s United, and in our hearts where our [brand] loyalty lies—that benefited from slavery can and do live on, fueled by the blood money of millions kidnapped and killed in the fields of early American capitalism.  Banking and insurance industries, shipping and trade found their foundations of success in trading humans. Some of those companies still exist, their books intact with the transactions that sold people like so many cattle plainly marked in fading ink. While individuals slave owners may be dead their capital lives one; trade of people created pools of generational wealth still tapped into today.

I like my coffee sweet, so today I, too, enjoy my legacy from the slave trade. Sugar, like another early staple cotton, fueled a boom so big it built the richest nation in the history of the world. On the one hand, it seems ludicrous that a product as prolific as sugar would be the basis of so insidious a trade, and yet it was because this trade was so prolific that sugar is the sweeter that sits on every countertop. Four hundred years ago only the rich could afford what was an exotic sweetener newly arrived on the tables of Europe. Now sugar is in practically every edible product but salt. Perhaps it is fitting then that America struggles with an obesity epidemic as we keep feeding on the fruit of our most toxic tree.   

Cup two and it’s on to news of massive ICE arrests just days after a domestic terrorist targeted Latinos first in his manifesto using words borrowed from a Trump stump speech and later with bullets in a Walmart as parents and kids shopped for bulletproof backpacks and crayons for back-to-school. Crying children are left homeless and parentless, registering a weak tick on the sympathy chart. Kids in cages, kids shot by police, kids molested, kids shot in school. Showing sympathy for kids being crushed by the systems we adults create and execute is becoming a full-time job. Better to turn the page, perhaps another cup. Good coffee, grown in Guatemala. The picture on the package shows green mountains—with no sign of the struggle so many are seeking asylum from—must be lovely this time of year!

Cup three is always a push, leaves me feeling a bit jumpy—too aware of all that I need to ignore to get through a workday. But it tastes so good I drain the cup, feeling myself tilt like a patron on a sinking ship. Is it the coffee or is the world tilting? At the back of my mind the strains of nearer my god to thee sound a titanic tune for going down. From my precarious perch on the edge of cup three, I can see too much. I watch a week of mass shooting coverage like I am reading tarot cards. 

I notice the newscasters’ eyes shine where the breaking news is hot and fresh. Wolf Blitzer appeared suited and booted in CNN’s headquarters in under an hour of the El Paso shooting, claiming the news desk from the second-string Saturday anchor to get that juicy coverage airtime. Twenty-four hours after the El Paso shooting, bodies still lay in the aisles of Walmart but we had already moved past them to take up familiar positions: gun control, mental health, Trump, Trump, Trump.

There is a breathless excitement at the traumas of the day. There is little information beyond soundbites—many newsrooms were long ago gutted by cutbacks and media consolidation. Each news story is a sip of bitter and sweet, hits of content like a drip of a drug where the high has long been replaced by addiction to the ride itself—shock and horror, followed by thoughts and prayers topped with a dose of the viral good vibe of the day to keep you coming back. Delicious! A little sugar has always sweetened this country’s bitterest chapters.

We are too busy turning our crumbling world into killer content to think clearly about what is happening.  We are deconstructing reality to build the inter-webs of our fantasies with nary a glance at what we are becoming. There are too many likes to be had to do the boring grunt work in, say, door-knocking or book-reading, or critical thinking. I see the crisis clearly—headlines and think pieces abound for you to see too, in case you haven’t heard of our imminent collapse. And yet I feel deeply the chasm between the world we are narrating and the world we live in. Like you, I wring my hands and wonder what can we do; I try not to focus too much on Trump, on the individual slights…but I like my steak in the matrix, too.

Even as I write these words I sip on the seeds that planted all this catastrophe. My coffee and sugar, my SUV and my lawn care, my a/c and my social media rants—my life is not separate from the systems that are wreaking havoc on our nation. It is easy to focus on where the news cycle tells us to, but harder to acknowledge the ways the fabric of our own life is used to build the world.  It’s not just the leader of the legislature it is all the ways that we structure power. The world created by those structures gave rise to what we see now. It is in our daily rituals, our common habits, snaking throughout our whole culture.

One day if all continues, Trump won’t be president, and we will still be America, addicted to consumption and clinging to our sacred individuality. No tweet-able position will right this ship, only a return, a rethinking, and rebuilding can make us seaworthy enough to travel towards our better stars. Beyond the clickbait is a longer and more difficult conversation about who were are to become that we need to have.  We don’t have to wait for things to get better—or worse, more likely—before we begin in our own sphere of influence, wherever that is, to build a new world

Let’s practice every day. Let’s talk outside of talking points. Let’s think and read and learn beyond the story of the day. You have a responsibility to be informed about the world you live in and the impact your choices can have in that world. You can do that with the same internet connection that brings you our beloved memes. You can do that today, wherever you are, and talk about what you learn with whoever you see.

Let’s think about what really matters—and live our lives that way. Just because our country is out of whack that’s no excuse to throw your own code to the wind. Make connections between your own behavior and the systems we seek to change. Act in ways that align with your beliefs.  Do what you are good at—knit for resistance or bike to end hunger—to encourage others to do the same

Let’s get real about the problems of our nation and let’s bear careful witnesses to the daily injustices so that we may stop them. Let’s call a thing a thing and stop letting the propaganda machine redefine what it means to be free. Stop checking out and show up. Talk, donate, act, join, walk, shelter, feed, and manufacture with your words and deeds a reality that we might live in a world that is more than a house of cards against the wind.

I’m off the sugar.  I’m paying attention. I am writing this to me as much as to you. This is a daily practice. This is a grueling workout. Yes, it will wear you out but I’m here to tell you that you—yes, you— are alive at this moment for this very purpose. 

If you read this far, you are a champ! Thank you! -sxj

Game of Thrones: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Life

Game of Thrones is back this Sunday and all the attention is on figuring out who’s going to die, but what about how GOT teaches you to live?  If you feel like you’re in a battle for your own Iron throne in the office or at home, the women of GoT can be your guide to ruling all you see.  Which Game of Thrones character is your spirit sister?

Daenerys Targaryen

Nothing says power like commanding a few fire breathing dragons.  It might be nice to fry your competition to a crisp as you climb the corporate ladder but that’s not going to play well with HR.  Instead, if you want to rule like Daenerys, remember her commitment to making the world a more just place for the marginalized.  Her advising team is diverse and her platform is freedom for everyone.  Try collaboration and teamwork to make your dream work. 

Quote:

A Dragon is not a slave.

Channel your dragon energy and don’t forget she had to be reborn before she was ready to spread her wings. 

Arya Stark

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Nimble and clever, fearless and lethal, Arya Stark keeps her eyes on the prize and her hand on her sword.  If you wrong her, you get cut.  If you mess with her people, she’s coming for you. When dealing with toxic friends and partners, channel your inner Arya.  Keep it moving when things go bad rather than hanging around waiting to be rescued. Cut people off fearlessly when you see the first red flag. Be loyal to the end to those you love, but don’t tolerate toxic traitors for a second. Master the art of staying on mission and off the radar of the haters.

Quote:

Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.

Don’t let the wolves of negativity hunt in your kingdom.  Put toxic people on your list and cut them out of your world.

Cersie Lannister

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Sure Cersie is a villain, and you definitely don’t want to follow a role model who had kids with her brother, but there is a lesson in the way Cersie never bows her head, no matter how much people try to shame her.  Everybody knows her business, but you’ll never catch her caring about what other people think.  It can be hard to rule a nation—or a slack channel, even harder still to be In a power position if you’re a woman.  Like Cersie, your smarts and determination can help force a way into the boys’ club. Always believe that you’re born to be the best. If only she would use her cunning for good.  Skip the greed and incest, but keep your head up as you pull up a seat at the table.

Quote: Tears aren’t women’s only weapon.

The is the age of powerful women. Be one.

Sansa Stark

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Look, maybe she was pretty naive, coasting on a princess fairytale for way too long, but times got hard and Sansa grew up.  Sansa is not the same person that she was, and she’s trying to find a way to have an impact, to take her new knowledge and contribute to the fight for justice. Like a lot of us, getting woke can be a challenge, but the growth that follows can be transformative. Accepting that life isn’t a fairytale is the first step to being a part of building a future for yourself and your family. Then, like Sansa, roll up your sleeves and get to work, even if you’re not sure what you’re doing yet.

Quote: If I’m going to die, let it happen while there’s still some left of me.

Don’t forget on the other side of the fairy tales and hard times is growth and transformation.  Keep going.

Brienne of Tarth

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Not everybody is a princess, but everybody matters.  Brianna is the dream team member, loyal and hard working, ready to go the extra thousand miles to do her duty.  She may never climb the Iron Throne but there’s honor, and success in her journey.  You don’t have to rule the world, just do your part to make the people around you feel loved and valued.  Find a purpose that is your own and your own personal path to greatness will open up.

Quote: You need trust to have a truce.

Collaboration crosses interesting lines in GoT and in real life. Love all, serve a few.

Whether your plan is to take over the world or you just want to be the queen of your own castle, ditch the Disney princesses and look to these modern women.  You’ll have to tune in to the final season to see who’s approach wins in the end, and then decide how to play your own Game of Thrones