Words Are Things

Just so we don’t forget, here’s a portion of a Washington Post article (written almost a year ago) that include a sprinkling of bigoted moments from Trump. Of course, this doesn’t even include the past 10 months of added embarrassments. And I do mean just a sprinkling.

“Trump led the “birther” movement challenging President Obama’s standing as a natural-born American; used various vulgar expressions to refer to women; spoke of Mexico sending rapists and other criminals across the border; called for rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants; had high-profile spats with prominent Latino journalists and news outlets; mocked Asian accents; let stand a charge made in his presence that Obama is a Muslim and that Muslims are a “problem” in America; embraced the notion of forcing Muslims to register in a database; falsely claimed thousands of Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey; tweeted bogus statistics asserting that most killings of whites are done by blacks; approved of the roughing up of a black demonstrator at one of his events; and publicly mocked the movements of New York Times (and former Washington Post) journalist Serge Kovaleski, who has a chronic condition limiting mobility.” –Dana Milabank, Dec 1, 2015

I start with this because I never want anyone to forget what he said and did during his campaign (and before that). He repeatedly said at some point he would refrain from his impulsive tweets, but I hope they continue to come just so we can continually be reminded of who the Electoral College elected to be our President.

I have been thinking of an interview Oprah did with Maya Angelou in 1993 when she talked about how powerful negative language is (she was speaking of racist words specifically, but also negative language in general), and how she doesn’t stand for it.

“I believe that words are things…I think they stick on the walls, they go into the upholstery, they go into your clothes, and finally, into your very body.” Maya talks about kicking people out of her own home that use disparaging words. It has stuck with me.

In my drama classes, you would think, “Oh fun, they are putting on a play! How cute!” That’s rarely the process. When you take away the tables, chairs, books, papers, pencils & gather a group of 11 yr olds in an empty room to create, collaborate & make decisions–it is as difficult as it when you try to do the same with your coworkers. These youngsters are learning how to communicate with one another, to listen, to value opinions & to make decisions. Because of this, it’s imperative to create a safe space. Sometimes, students will violate the safe space.

For example, a student comes up to play a character onstage while other students are the audience. I see some students whispering to each other & say “how dumb” or “they are so weird,” rolling their eyes, intentionally looking for the student to fail. I am usually nice fun times teacher, but something in me cannot STAND it, & everything stops. I don’t follow any of the stuff I’ve learned about conflict resolution. I don’t try to understand the other side in these moments.

It’s hate, and I don’t stand for it. I say in my SERIOUS KRISTY look with my SERIOUS KRISTY voice,”That does not work in here. We do not do that in here.” (If I had a Maya Angelou voice, I would use that). The kids always look shocked, but I really do refuse that kind of bullying, that kind of negativity, that kind of judgment. It is the lowest of the low.

This is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a presidential candidate, and I will continue to be ashamed every time I see him on T.V. I will continue to be vocal against hate. I will continue not to let it seep inside my home, in my city, in my community, in my country.

From Red to Blue

I’m not going to try to write anything of massive importance here about the election. I just wanted to tell you my story of turning from red to blue, my dream of a female president and why my values dictate my reaction to the guy who calls women bimbos on twitter and is also the next President of the United States. These things will come out quite disjointed but hopefully in the end it makes some kind of sense.

I grew up in West Texas, where to my knowledge (which wasn’t much as a kid), we were all Republicans. I probably found out by asking my parents when I had to fill something out for school. I didn’t know why we were or what it meant, but if it was good enough for the family–good enough for me!I had a couple of brief “government” type classes in high school. They were terrible. I didn’t learn much, but I understood both parties. I appreciated that Republicans were fiscally conservative. So responsible! And I liked the idea of giving more rights to the states & keeping more control local. Made total sense. Of course I’m a Republican!

As far as social issues, I remember writing a seething report on abortion. I had never heard of anyone actually having one, but I was quite comfortable standing in front of my class and telling everyone how terrible it was that you could legally do such a thing. I also remember my first gay friend coming out to me when we were in middle school (thank you, Midland Community Theatre for helping me find the most progressive jr high friends!). I remember my big brother telling me that the church told him something about not shopping at GAP because they supported gay rights. I didn’t know how to process any of these things other than to know I would keep shopping at GAP. I tried to go to church more like my brother, but I was disappointed to find out they mostly did social things there & I was such a serious kid–I needed some deep bible study or something! Also, after one hand-bell performance where I lost my white gloves before show time & made my mom frantically stop by every store in Midland for a pair before church, I decided it was not the instrument for me.

Family values were created at a young age. Our family was our nucleus, and lucky enough for me–it included extended family. There really was a “village” of us. My main memory is all my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc coming over for BBQs while I forced my brother & cousin to put on shows for them (and charge our audience money to buy concessions–a Jr. Trump in the making!). With all of my family, I felt nothing but support, love, acceptance & a sense of belonging. I was a really shy kid, but around all this love–I felt a little more able to speak up & even go so far as to give FREE Dolly Parton impersonation concerts.

Back to politics. After high school, my ambivalence towards government lasted WAY too long. I admire college students today that are so invested in the country because all I can remember being invested in is who got cast in the play or where the big cast party was going to be next weekend. I remember “Rock the Vote,” but I can’t exactly remember rocking mine.

I got a job in Austin as an assistant manager of a 14 screen movie theater. I made $7.00 an hour. After a year of working almost full-time hours & getting an amazing review, I remember my shock at my $.07 raise. The other guy managers got triple that, which is literally still just pennies, but it did not sit well with me. They sat in the back room and ate nachos during their shift while I tossed trash bags of pickles and popcorn in the dumpster outside. It was the first of many times things would not “sit well with me” for similar reasons. I won’t offer a list of complaints, I’ll only say that the “boys club” was not exclusive to the movie theater management career path.

In college, many more of my friends came out to me (this happens in the life of a theater performer!). I met Chuck, who would be my best friend of a lifetime & also a gay black man. We hit it off right away because he made me feel exactly like my family did–like I fit in, like I was interesting to listen to, and when ever we sang “Islands in the Stream” together (which is way more often than you can probably imagine), he would graciously sing any of the verses that were too high for my limited range. When he would finally come out to his parents years later, they wanted nothing to do with his lifestyle. This is something in my life I still can’t fully compute. One of the kindest, most supportive, most loving people I have ever met is basically shunned by the people in his life that are supposed to love him the most. Someone who made me feel like family couldn’t be at home in his own.

I moved away from Texas a few months after college graduation. I’m not sure why I had to go–I wasn’t rebellious, I had great family and friends, etc. I was just curious about the world. I randomly chose Seattle. All my coworkers there were creative and drank coffee. It rained so much and was everything you would think Seattle would be.

I moved to Los Angeles and randomly ended up going to graduate school at Cal State LA. It was a shot in the dark, and it ended up being the highest quality education I would receive. What struck me immediately was the diversity–no one looked like one another, yet we all ended up being a solid community of learners. I loved hearing others’ opinions and experiences and I loved learning how to critically think. I had never really learned to do that in all my years of education. I am such a quiet person, but I tried to think of at least one thing to say in every class. Mostly, though, I listened.

I went to New York City for more schooling, and I do remember the election that year. I was struck with how extremely liberal everyone around me was. I was never some hard core Republican, but it was here I first felt a weird pull between my new NYC friends’ political beliefs and my family’s back at home in Texas. I realized that voting Republican wasn’t only about fiscal issues. Mostly, though, I was making great friends from all over the world. But did I mention winter here lasts like 6 months? I had to go.

In L.A., I spent over 15 years teaching youth in one way or another–the bulk of which (10+ years) at a place called Inner-City Arts. We work with kids from all over LAUSD–seeing multiple classes a year, making it possible to work with over 1,000 kids each year. In other words, I’ve met tons of kids that live in Los Angeles & don’t have access to the arts at their school.

As a drama teacher, I don’t worry about turning these kids into acting geniuses. My main purpose is to bring joy into their life, to help them see their brilliance, to be a space for fun and light & anything hokey you’ve ever heard about teaching. Most of all, I want them to feel comfortable voicing their ideas and opinions. I LISTEN to them. P.S., I got all my hokeyness from too many years of Oprah (who my mom kind of thinks brainwashed me, which I will totally admit to), and I don’t apologize for any of it.

Slowly over the years I fell in love with L.A., despite all the downsides of ridiculous rent prices, Hollywood types & massive time spent in traffic. I craved the diverse community I found while working at Inner-City Arts. I realized this is what I loved about all those big cities. I have met so many people with stories so different than my own. I made sure I really listened when they spoke about their lives, their history, their families, their traditions. I became a more tolerant, kind and understanding human being because of the diversity of people that surrounded me.

At some point during this time, I became the most bleeding heart liberal that you could ever meet. Well, I didn’t become one. I had always been one as a kid. I knew those less fortunate than me were there through no fault of their own. There but for the grace of God go I. I was taught by my parents through example, not through words, to treat everyone with respect, compassion and an open heart.

I’ve spent years learning from children under the age of 10 what overcoming adversity really looks like. What inequality really looks like. How some people start 100 miles behind the starting line and yet are expected to be competitive in the race. How it is now my patriotic duty to stand up for people who aren’t even old enough to stand up for their own rights.

One of the most disturbing and common things I’ve see in the classroom are rooms filled with silent girls–boys throwing their hands up, and a shyness and uncertainty that descends on the girls around 4th grade and up. I remember how shy I was, and still am sometimes, and I work my hardest to provide the girls a safe space where we insist on hearing their ideas & running with them.

My position on so many issues has been defined by all the diverse friends I have collected along the way and all the students I’ve had the privilege to teach. I have developed a greater sense of empathy for others, which whether you are conservative or liberal–believe me, an open mind is never a bad thing. A willingness to challenge your own belief system is a quality we should all celebrate.

As I looked at the detailed map of red and blue during election night, the different between rural and urban areas was nothing new. I thought about all the people crammed into these big cities, and for a moment missed the wide open spaces back home. People have actual space between their house and the next home! And parking lots of your dreams! I watched as Texas turned red, and as California turned blue.

Of course it disappointed me to see such division. I thought about the same struggle so many of us middle-class workers have, whether we’re in the city or in the country. Somehow the blue states get lumped into some “liberal elite Hollywood” crowd while the red ones are always the “uneducated white” ones. What a shame all of these ridiculous polls have done to make us seem so different. No one has ever asked me a question for the polls, by the way. Am I the only one?

The day after the election, I walked to my car and saw a few people carrying on with daily life. Walking their dog, going for a morning run, getting ready to take their kid to school while at the same time we wage a war on Facebook against the enemy–our “likes” being the easiest way to stick it to the other side without seeming too aggressively angry.

But also, California made me proud. I am proud to live in a state that is so unapologetic about being inclusive and progressive. I didn’t ever intend to stay out in L.A. for 15+ years, but I have found a second family here. One that allows for my sarcastic sense of humor, that allows me to be creative as a form of employment, that supports me in my dreams. It’s just like my family back in Texas, who, even from afar, fill me with the love I need to always keep getting up and trying to be the best I can be every day.

Now let’s turn to a subject that you are sick of by now: Hillary Clinton! I promise I will tie this all together somehow–there are so many layers. I’m so over the hatred of her. I was over it years ago, so it does nothing to me for you to throw her so-called “scandals” into my face as proof that she is some sort of crazy corrupted demon lady. The DECADES of service that she has done for all kinds of people–people like you!–to make this world a better place plenty outweigh any mistakes she has made along the way. The sexism that seeps from all this is so apparent and appalling at the same time, and the dozens of articles that come out saying, “This isn’t sexism” make it even more apparent to me. I think back to that movie theater experience. I worked harder than anyone at that place, put more sweat into it, built a true sense of team among employees & was rewarded by seeing some dudes eating nachos in the back room make more money than I did. They also were the only ones allowed to count the money at the end of the night. Foot note: they were fired soon after for stealing thousands of dollars while counting that money. I know, I know, it’s a silly analogy but it was the easiest for me to tell in one paragraph.

No one could argue that Hillary was the most qualified candidate. Oh, but people still did! More than that, they are “afraid” of her. Just like people are afraid of Beyonce–how dare she perform at a country music awards show! I mean, sure, let’s let Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood tell countless number of corny, unfunny jokes without much fuss–but a black pop star?!?! Unacceptable. Anyways, you can wrap Hillary up in some kind of present filled with tissue paper lies & a pretty corruption bow, but sexism is SO INGRAINED in our lives that we often don’t see it. That’s why it’s called a “glass” ceiling. That’s why it will take more time for our country to get used to the idea of a female running things. It’s not by chance that our government is only 20% female. So, I am sorry today for the state of the nation but optimistic that women can continue to build our seats in the government & claim a bigger seat at the table. I promise, our lives will all be better when our government actually represents the people of the country. Last time I checked, we’re not all old white dudes! No offense, old white dudes–I love you, too, but you are good.

And with the big finale, why I will never call that guy my president. For a minute, let’s let go of the hundreds of tweets, comments, interviews dripping with misogyny (I’ll get back to them later). Let’s look at his presidential campaign. It was built on Making America Great Again for people that are not immigrants, not Muslim, not women, not gay. Um, you can stop right there. Maybe that’s not why people voted for him, but it at least means voters can tolerate this open intolerance. You ask me NOW to come together in unity, lol? My co-worker at lunch yesterday was genuinely concerned that her work permit may not be extended–and yes, she has “stood in line” like you’re supposed to, has been standing in line since 2002. Do you know how long the line is? What would you do if your survival depended on fleeing your country? There but for the grace of God go I.

Now back to Trump himself. It’s not “rumors” we’ve heard about his bigoted, sexist, embarrassing behavior. It comes from he himself in such a visible, open, unapologetic way. I don’t stand for it, and it would go against everything I’ve been raised to believe about women, about race and about equality if I did. Nasty woman, pigs, bimbos–none of it I would ever accept in my classroom or my living room, and I’m certainly not getting behind it for the sake of patriotism. What a joke! I’ll support my country by making sure in 2018 we have more progressive Democrats in the Senate. I will support my country in continuing to vote in every local, state and national election. I will support my candidates with my money, my time & my voice. This is how I will show how American I am.

People I love voted for Trump–Dad, we’ll talk about this over Thanksgiving dinner–pass the potatoes! They are wonderful, kind, caring & loving people. They want the best for their friends and families. It’s not so much Trump they were seeking, but our not-uncommon wish for change after 8 years of one thing. Hillary, historically, was fighting an uphill battle for many reasons. Blue or red, we always have a belief that things SHOULD be better, even when things aren’t so bad. I don’t question it and won’t argue with it. What I will continue to be vocal about is equality for ALL human beings. I for the most part sit quietly on the sidelines, allowing Facebook as a space where people vent & share while I stick to pics of my dog or articles about Dolly Parton. I keep the peace by mostly writing about non-threatening issues like boring triathlon race reports on my blog. But today I thought maybe my shift from RED to BLUE was worth sharing, too. And maybe more posts like it in the future.