Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Until a week or so ago, I had never heard of Trayvon Martin.  Trayvon was a 17 year old boy who was shot and killed by a man named George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch group, and he began to follow Trayvon back to his father's house in that same neighborhood because he thought Trayvon looked 'suspicious'.  There is a 911 recording of the incident, an account by a friend of Trayvon's that was talking with him on the phone when Zimmerman was following him, and other eyewitness accounts.  Zimmerman says it was self defense, but all other evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  But, weeks after the shooting, Zimmerman still has not been investigated of any wrongdoing, much less arrested.
There has been a huge social media following of this case, and this is really my only knowledge of the incident.  I haven't watched Fox News or Jon Stewart, or listened to NPR for any reports, but if Facebook is any indication, the outrage over the lack of police follow up into this shooting is not about the die down any time soon--and it shouldn't.  I think it is sad and very telling that so much of the outrage is from people whose skin is a darker skin tone than mine is.  You see, Trayvon Martin was black, and the sad fact is that if it was a white kid who was shot by a black man in the same circumstances, the pursuit of justice would look a lot different.  People can sugar coat it or try to spin it however they want, but that is the truth.
I have been trying to articulate my thoughts about this whole situation all week, but just haven't been able to get it down in writing.  Then, today, I found this post by a man named Michael Skolnik, called 'White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin!', and I think he absolutely nailed it.  Normally, I would just link back up to his post, but I wanted to include the entire post here.  I don't know if anyone will ever even read this, or even agree with it, but I think it is an important enough issue that I would want my boys to know where I stand on it all if they stumble upon this one day.
Here is Mr. Skolnik's post.  You can read the original post here.
I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers fact, that is what I wore yesterday...I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won't have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can "run my plates."  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get "stopped and frisked."  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.
I was born white.  It was the card I was dealt.  No choice in the matter.  Just the card handed out by the dealer. I have lived my whole life privileged. Privileged to be born without a glass ceiling. Privileged to grow up in the richest country in the world.  Privileged to never look suspicious.  I have no guilt for the color of my skin or the privilege that I have.  Remember, it was just the next card that came out of the deck.  But, I have choices.  I got choices on how I play the hand I was dealt.  I got a lot of options.  The ball is in my court.  
So, today I decided to hit the ball.  Making a choice.  A choice to stand up for Trayvon Martin. 17 years old. black. innocent. murdered with a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea in his hands. "Suspicious." that is what the guy who killed him said he looked like cause he had on a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers.  But, remember I had on that same outfit yesterday.  And yes my Air Force Ones were "brand-new" clean.  After all, I was raised in hip-hop...part of our dress code.  I digress.  Back to Trayvon and the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting his father.
I got a lot of emails about Trayvon.  I have read a lot of articles.  I have seen a lot of television segments.  The message is consistent.  Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree.  Something went wrong.  Trayvon was murdered.  Racially profiled. Race. America's elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn't sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude.  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.
We've heard the 911 calls. We seen the 13 year old witness.  We've read the letter from the alleged killer's father.  We listened to the anger of the family's attorney.  We've felt the pain of Trayvon's mother.  For heaven's sake, for 24 hours he was a deceased John Doe at the hospital because even the police couldn't believe that maybe he LIVES in the community.   There are still some facts to figure out. There are still some questions to be answered.  But, let's be clear.  Let's be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following him against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher.  Before any altercation.  Before any self-defense claim.  Before Travyon's cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes.  Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest.  Before all of this.  He was suspicious.  He was suspicious. suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn't because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers.  Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood.  It was because of one thing and one thing only.  Trayvon is black.
So I've made the choice today to tell my white friends that the rights I take for granted are only valid if I fight to give those same rights to others.  The taxi cab. The purse. The meal. The police car. The police. These are all things I've taken for granted.  
So, I fight for Trayvon Martin.  I fight for Amadou Diallo.  I fight for Rodney King.  I fight for every young black man who looks "suspicious" to someone who thinks they have the right to take away their freedom to walk through their own neighborhood.  I fight against my own stereotypes and my own suspicions. I fight for people whose ancestors built this country, literally, and who are still treated like second class citizens.  Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long.
And that is it.  I read it and was nodding my head the whole time.  Then, I got to the comments section, and people were writing all kinds of mean comments about Mr. Skolnik and his article.  I guess some people will think the same thing about this post, but I really feel it is important for me to put out there.
"Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long".

Saturday, March 24, 2012


There is a strange reality about cancer.  After the initial diagnosis and round of tests, there is a period of time where you blindly follow the doctor's lead of treatment options for a certain amount of time, and then you are re-tested at some point to see if the poison/burning has actually done any good.  We are not at that point yet--Harrison still has 2 more rounds of chemo before his next round of scans and surgery before we know if the chemo is working or if the cancer has spread.  We are in treatment mode, and not in hopeful/dread mode.  For now--we know that our time is coming in the next few weeks.

But for 3 new cancer friends of mine, this was the BIG week.  They have finished one of their big steps of treatment, and have been scanned, or x-rayed, or prodded.  Only one has gotten their results back, and for now, things look good.  He has leukemia, which is an automatic 3 year protocol, with several stages that must get the good report along the way.  But for him and his family, this is obviously a great relief.  Several less injections and pills he has to take for a while.

Two of my other friends had their scans at the end of the week, and both were supposed to get the results ASAP.  They still haven't heard anything.  It is a Saturday now, so of course nothing will be known until at least Monday morning.  Over six months of waiting to get to this point, and now they wait a little longer because someone didn't read their scans before they got off work on Friday.  Obviously, that person has never had to wait by the phone on pins and needles to get that report of their own, or they would be sitting by that scan machine waiting to pass on that news in real time.  My heart goes out to these folks, and hope they get their own 'all clear' quickly-ish.

Then there is my bloggy friend who has finished up her treatment, but her doctor doesn't recommend any scans for a while.  Wow--I can't imagine that either.  After going through months of chemo and radiation, now she waits.  I am sure that doctor knows what he is doing, and maybe ignorance is the best mindset to have right now.  She will go on living with the assumption that she is also all clear, and hopefully live 50+ more cancer free years.

Every person and family with cancer has their own stories, of both good reports and bad reports.  The sad, sad fact is that sometimes, the best treatment in the world doesn't stop its relentless spread.  But sometimes it does.

We are hoping and praying for a good report when our time comes.  For now, we do what we can, and we wait..

And while we are waiting, we just keep on living.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Laissez bon Velveeta roulez - or, Why I went home to watch the Super Bowl

This was not a good week to be a Saints fan.  Due to penalties imposed by the NFL for a 'bounty' program (paying defensive players to injure players on the other team), the Saints face some pretty stiff consequences.  Not the least of which is the one year suspension of the Saints head coach, Sean Payton.  If you aren't a Saints fan, then you probably don't care about any of this.  But for those of us who are, this is just sad--on so many levels.  

I came across this old note on Facebook that I wrote the week before the Saints went to the Super Bowl and won.  That was a great night.  I was just a couple of months post knee(s) injury, and had to make the trek home with much geriatric equipment in the trunk of the car, but I was there.  The sentiments I wrote about remain true, especially the part about the Saints being their own worst enemy.

So, for any other die hard Saints fans, this post is for you.

There has always been something special about going home for me. I’m one of only a handful of my friends whose parents still live in the house they grew up in. It doesn’t matter what my mom calls it now, that last bedroom on the right will always be MY room, not the guest bedroom. It is a house full of happy memories, and it remains one of my favorite places to be.

In the spring and summer, we were almost always out waterskiing or hanging out at the beach. But come fall, even if we did an early morning ski run and then went to church, every Sunday afternoon was dedicated to football. And in our house, that meant watching the Saints.

I’m not sure how or why this happened, it just always was. Being a Saints fan was most definitely not for the faint of heart. Why? Well, for the most part, the Saints almost always beat themselves. This was particularly shameful because they had one of the best quarterbacks ever – Archie Manning. I remember watching him scramble out of an almost certain sacks and make amazingly accurate passes to supposedly good players like Chuck Muncie and Wes Chandler. Passes that they would miss or fumble away. Or, if they did catch it, the miraculous touchdown would be negated by some personal foul 60 yards up the field (a situation that continues to haunt the Saints to this day). 

The high point for many games was the cheese dip my mom would make right before halftime. She would heat up large quantities of Velveeta in a double boiler (before the age of microwaves) and we would eat the yummy goodness during halftime, holding out hope that the next 30 minutes of game play would be better than the first 30 minutes. It usually wasn’t. I don’t eat this dip anymore (I mean seriously, is there even a single real food ingredient in Velveeta?), but it will forever be associated with watching Saints games when I was growing up.

This wasn’t a one time or one season situation – it was continuous. Remember the Aints? I do. I happened to be at the Superdome for my birthday that year, watching Morten Anderson do his best to win a game for the Saints. He even kicked a 60 yard field goal. They still lost.

Each new season brought a glimmer of hope, mainly because the Saints got so many first round draft picks because of their horrible records the previous year. Folks like Bobby Hebert, Ricky Williams, George Rogers, Deuce McAlister, not to mention headline coaches like Mike Ditka. Big names, with little to show for it.

I can remember Monday mornings in the 5th and 6th grade, before school started, holding court with all the boys, discussing the games from the day before. Almost everyone else was a declared Cowboys fan, which was very convenient, given that they were the golden team of the late '70s. Only one other person, Steve, was a diehard Saints fan. We took a lot of flack for that. To loosely borrow a phrase from Barbara Mandrell, we were Saints fans, when Saints fans weren’t cool.

There is an excitement about the Saints going to the Super Bowl that many people just don’t understand. It is about finally receiving some validation after decades of being remaining hopeful and passionate about a team of losers. It is about being excited for our daddies who never thought they would live to see this day (or really missing the ones that didn’t quite make it). It is about so much more than a single game.

But. as any true Saints fan knows, there are definitely no guarantees. After all, the Saints are often their own worst enemies. That’s why you won’t hear too many of us talking smack about this game. We’re Saints fans. We know better. We would love for this to be one of those blowout games that other people call boring, but even if that doesn’t happen, we are still claiming bragging rights.

So, come Sunday at kickoff, I plan on being right where I spent so many years dreaming of this day – in my parent’s living room, watching the Saints play in their first Super Bowl ever. Will they win? Maybe not, but that’s not really the point. I’ll yell, and I’ll cheer, and I’m sure I will groan. I’ll even enjoy watching everyone else eating Velveeta cheese dip. I’m pretty sure I’ll occasionally think about Steve, knowing that wherever he is, we’ve both gotten some vindication. Sure, it has been over 30 years coming, but it is better late than never. Especially if you are a Saints fan.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Being Jealous of a Normal Sixteen Year Old

Sometimes, I really hate Facebook.

Remember when you only knew other people's 'stuff' if you actually saw them or talked to them on the phone?  Or, if it was sad/stupid/illegal enough, then someone else would call and tell you about it?  Now, there is a 24/7 bombardment of status updates and picture uploads to make even the most secure person feel discontent.

Disney cruise?  Check.
Perfectly coordinated family outfits and the on location photographer?  Check.
3 more pounds of weight lost this week, and a new outfit to celebrate?  Check.

To be honest, this does not normally bother me at all.  Seriously, I like looking at the pictures and am glad that someone else got to get away even if I didn't.  But last night, I saw some pictures that just made me mad--
some of Harrison's friends were on the coast for Spring Break.

They weren't unique pictures by any means.  It had the same location and same outfits that most of our friends are posting lately.  And I really like these particular kids.  Most of them have been in our house and even on vacation with us at various times.  I got angry because they are healthy and having fun.  They aren't pale or bald and can walk without crutches or a wheelchair.  Their clothes aren't falling off because they spend more time throwing up than they do eating.

I got angry because yesterday was a 'good day' for us.  Harrison was able to get up and roll through a 5K race to raise money for the children's hospital (the one he hates now).  He was able to visit with family and then go to a birthday party on crutches instead of his wheelchair.  Then he came back home and almost passed out from fatigue, forcing himself to eat and take his meds.  Yep, this was our good day, one that he will end by looking at those same Facebook photos that will make him feel....what?  Sad?  Angry?  Too tired to care?

I won't really know, because he won't want to talk about it, and I totally get that.  He is almost 16.  He should be walking and driving and eating us out of house and home, but he is not.  Hopefully that will not be the case when he is almost 17, but that is a lifetime away.  For now, we will just keep on keepin' on, making the most of the chemo free days that we have for a while.  If I could block out statuses and images of fun from my child, I would.  But I can't.

I didn't stay mad, but I was a little sad for a while.  Then I did a little attitude adjustment and began to mentally list the things I was truly grateful for--no vomiting blood, me being able to finish the 5K unscathed, having a husband that has my back and is a great dad (something the kids in those pictures don't have), extended family members that are stepping up and supporting us through all of this, running water and electricity.  Sometimes you just have to get basic with it all.

But sometimes, I really hate Facebook.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Now if I could just find that Yoda one...

I did some digging around, and found this scholarship essay (that I wrote about yesterday) from two years ago in one of my Notes on Facebook.  Remember those?  It was my go-to place for writing before I had my blog.  Sadly, I couldn't find any of the other essays, including the one that was just a flat out pity party plea about how I was a swamped stay at home mom that could never afford their conference but would be the most grateful recipient that would spend countless energy and hours sharing what I learned there with the masses if I could just once get their scholarship.  I know, I know--just plain sad.

This one didn't win, either, but I remain undeterred and optimistic (and most likely delusional).  I titled this one 'Happy Pi Day, or How 80s Music Really is Art'.

When I was in the second grade, everyone in my class had to make a poster with some sort of “Save the Earth” theme. Recycle, don’t pollute, plant a tree – that kind of thing. I was so excited because all week long I hadn’t heard anyone else talking about the idea I had, so I was pretty sure I would have the best, most unique, poster in my class. And I was right, if having the worst poster in the class made it unique. I know it was the worst one, because that is what my teacher told me. She said that she was disappointed because it was obvious that I had not put any time or effort into my poster, and that it was a good thing I was book smart because I would never be a good artist. 

Now, granted, my poster only had black lines of various sizes and shapes, but I was depicting the devastating effects of a forest fire, just like the ones Smokey the Bear wanted me to help prevent. There is not much color left after that. All the way to school that morning, I had told everyone on the bus about my amazing poster, but my teacher dashed all confidence I had in being an artist when she shook her heard and taped my poster in the far corner of the room near the floor, with all the other posters hung near the door. One particularly mean kid even called my masterpiece weird. 

For years after that, ‘art’ and ‘artist’ had a very limited frame of reference for me. Art was pretty paintings, and that was about it. This understanding expanded somewhat in college, when I was required to enroll in the Arts and Letters series every semester. I thought it would entail four boring years of viewing art exhibits, but was surprised to find out it included concerts, plays and literary readings. One lecturer even told us that 80’s music was a form of art. If that was the case, maybe I had some type of artist gene in me after all, because I was all about the music. 

One of the things I came to understand and love about art is that people can have very different reactions and experiences with it. They can range from complete indifference, to quiet joy, to anger. One person’s artistic junk is another one’s treasure, so to speak. It is a very real expression of how people are different and therefore view reality and beauty in different ways. Through art I have learned to appreciate differences even if I don’t understand or find them artistic or useful at all. ‘Weirdness’ becomes yet another creative expression, and not necessarily a cultural indictment. 

I have lived in many different cities since college, with collective artistic views ranging from cultural inbreeding to over-the-top celebration of all things counter cultural. I have come to appreciate how my own view and artistic expression can coincide with people that are very different from me. I don’t have to fear or vilify, or even accept another person’s ideas as good or necessary, but I can co-exist and hopefully make my own contributions. It is kind of like being a parent to my teenager, because let me tell you – his artistic/music preferences are aggravating at best, but we still have to live together for the next few years. Peaceful co-existence would be most beneficial. Like so many others before him, his creative expressions provide the opportunity to make life better, more bearable, somehow. 

In the past few years, my understanding of what constitutes art has expanded to other areas, such as cooking and scrapbooking. Just this morning, I was able to listen to a radio program that dedicated an hour to interviewing several math scholars. Two of them made reference to the fact that math has many applications to art and music. I don’t think I would go so far as to personally think of math as a form of art, but I was pleasantly surprised when later on in the day, I logged on to Google and immediately knew that the image today (some type of blueprint with circles and equations) was in recognition of Pi Day, being celebrated by math people worldwide today. I doubt many other people would have known that if they hadn’t heard that program, and it made me feel smart for a few seconds. 

Maybe that second grade teacher was only partly right – in some circles I might be considered book smart, especially before my brain cells began to melt with each successive child I have had. But in other circles, I am also an artist – an 80’s singing, non-drawing kind of artist. And I’m OK with that. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Maybe This Will Be My Year

Many years ago BK (before kids), I had a real job as a social worker.  I don't practice any more, but I do keep my license current in anticipation of being paid again for what I do one day.  This means I have to get Continuing Education hours every year.  I have to pay for my own hours, which means I have to find free or very cheap seminars.  These tend to be tedious and boring, especially when I have been doing the same courses now for many years.

There is one conference offering that I have had my eye on now for over 15 years.  It is called Creativity and Madness, and they have the coolest sounding workshops ever.  Seminars about Johnny Cash and Self Destructive Tendencies, and Visions of Hope and Faith in Mark Twain's Early Writing.  It sure beats Ethical Record Keeping Strategies.  I have held onto my brochure every year, just in case some money magically shows up on my doorstep (it is an insanely expensive workshop), earmarked 'For CEU use only'.  Nothing yet, but a girl can dream...

Every year, they offer a full scholarship for one lucky recipient for all expenses plus spending money.  I try every year to win that scholarship, but nothing yet.  The criteria is always the same:  Write a short essay telling how art is important in your life.  Hmmm, simple enough, I suppose, but it does start to get a little redundant after a couple of times.  One year I wrote in third person, and another year in a Yoda/Elmo type of language.  No, I am not kidding.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was trying to make my essay stand out.  I am sure it just came across as weird and freaky, alerting them to someone they would rather not attend their conference.  Not one to be easily deterred, I have taken a stab at it again.  So, for this year's entry, here goes nothing:  (For some reason, the format on this has gotten all messed up and I can't figure out how to fix it.  I didn't send it in this way--that would probably just add to the tinge of crazy that I sure seeing my name again will trigger for the scholarship review folks).

       When I was fresh out of graduate school, I went to work as a hospital social worker. 
 Over time, I worked at three different hospitals, each with very different patient needs 
and physical settings.  The last one, and my favorite, was at an inpatient physical
 rehabilitation hospital.  I worked with brain injury and spinal cord injury patients that
 were in the early stages of their new reality.

          One of the renovation projects that occurred at this hospital during my tenure was
 the construction of an Atrium Mall.  Office space was gutted and an open space with
 fountains and sculptures and art was added.  A piano was placed in a strategic, roped off
 area, and someone was scheduled to perform for patients, families, and random passersby
 on a regular basis.  A gift shop was added that featured the creations of current and
 former patients, many of whom had never realized or explored their talents until they
 became injured.  I loved that gift shop, as well as all the other elements.  I loved the
 philosophy behind it—how art and music and beauty are an essential part of healing, on
 up there with physical therapy and re-learning to talk.  And as a social worker, it just
 made sense to view the situation and patients holistically.

        Fast forward to a couple of years ago.  As a result of a car accident, I found myself
 as a patient at this very hospital for a very long month.   Therapy was exhausting, and I
 spent almost every spare minute in my room.  There were a couple of times that I was
 wheeled down to the Atrium Mall, and although I loved being there, it was more of a
 passing thing that didn’t inspire me as much as I had hoped.  I still thought it was a nice
 concept, but I really just wanted to get back in my bed upstairs.

         I was in that same Atrium Mall just last week, not as an employee or as a patient,
 but as a mom.  My son is a newly diagnosed cancer patient at the Children’s Hospital that
 is connected to the Rehab Hospital.  If all goes according to schedule, he will be an
 inpatient for at least 31 weeks this year.  My husband and I are taking turns providing
 round the clock coverage in his room, and on this particular morning I had gone to buy us
 some snacks and water at that same gift shop I had gone into on its opening day so many
 ago, when my now chemo boy was just a baby.

        As I took a couple of precious minutes to look around that small shop, I saw the
 paintings and the ceramics and the beadwork items that other people had crafted out of
 their own tragedies.  In some way that I can’t even understand, I felt a connection, and
 was ministered to, just by seeing the items there.  Then, as I was leaving that shop, I
 heard the piano playing.  No one was standing around or seeming to pay attention, but for
 me, it was a sound of beauty in direct contrast with that red bag of poison hooked on to
my child’s IV pole just about a hundred yards away.

        I took an extra minute to listen to that music, and looking out over the fountain, it hit
 me.  THIS is what the architects of this space had in mind.  THIS is the importance of art
 and music and beauty.  They help bring healing and comfort in a place of pain and
 uncertainty.  Art doesn’t necessarily make things better or provide answers, but it can
 ease that pain.
       This is no longer theoretical or a warm fuzzy concept for me.  I hope to steal many
 more such moments over the course of this year.  I have a feeling that they could make all
 the difference as I face a new reality of my own.

Tune in next year for my next desperate attempt.  Maybe I should try writing in Pig Latin.  Or Ubby-Dubby.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thank You, Dr. Seuss

We went and did a normal thing yesterday.  We went to see a movie, The Lorax.

I grew up with Dr. Seuss.  Among my favorite books are Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?, And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, and Green Eggs and Ham.  They were always such fun books, and I still have my personal copies of a few of his books from back in the day.  However, I had never even heard of The Lorax until about 10 years ago, when we were new to Netflix and were looking for something different to order.

The Lorax was a cartoon made in typical 70s animation style, with quirky music and funky colors. I liked the story well enough, and it fit in well with our newly adopted vegan lifestyle.  The main line of dialogue that The Lorax had was, "I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees".  Harrison had just dressed up as a tree hugger (yes, I am serious) for Halloween, so he would run around the house spouting that line.  We eventually hunted down the book at the library, and enjoyed the story that way as well.

It turns out that the book caused something of a controversy when it was published in 1971.  It was taken to be an anti-capitalist/environmentalism propaganda piece aimed at hippie children and marketed to newly integrated school systems to 'further break down the moral fabric of society'.  It had pre-Fox News commentary written all over it.  I don't know how much it influenced kids of that time, seeing as how I am one of them and had never even heard of it.

With it being released on the big screen, I guess there is the probability of more and more kids knowing about it now.  Going into the theater with a little understanding of the backstory, I can definitely see those influences there, and if I had either the time or the inclination, I would probably write about the societal implications embedded in the messages, both good and bad.  But I don't have either, so I guess I'll just say this--

The Lorax--good, original story.  Very good animation.  Everyone liked it, Capitalists included.

The ticket - $5.50
3-D added price - $3.00 (I know, I know--insane)
Doing something normal before headed back in for chemo tomorrow - priceless