Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Would Jesus Do? The Opposite of What You're Doing

So Obama called the Philadelphia Eagles owner to talk about two random things: greening the stadium and Michael Vick’s second chance. And, in the words of one blogger, all hell broke loose.

This is what I think about second chances: we all deserve them.

But he killed dogs!
Henry Kissinger was instrumental in the death of thousands of southeast Asians, and yet, he is considered an elder statesman of US diplomacy.

But he killed dogs!
This country voted for Geoge W. Bush (twice) and now he’s earning millions on his book and speaking tour - after starting two wars, crashing our economy and tanking civil rights in this country all in the name of fighting terror.

But he killed dogs!

Yeah, he did. So did this guy.

Because he killed dogs, now Michael Vick is a black man with a prison record. His nifty NFL contract is the only variable separating him from the fate of hundreds of thousands of other black men with prison records.  Perhaps it’s the rarity of second chances for these men that makes Obama’s recognition and commendation of second chances so startling and impolitic for the rest of us.

So who deserves a second chance? Who deserves an opportunity for redemption and repentance?

Unlike Tucker Carlson, whose grasp of the Golden Rule and Christian love/forbearance is rather shaky, my father shows me what it means to give someone a real second chance. As part of his ministry he has mentored black men from all paths: gangbangers, ex-cons, drug dealers, alcoholics, burnouts, and probably one or two men with pasts so violent and abhorrent we would run away from them. While it exasperates me (as it exasperated my mother) to watch him make such an exhausting effort for so little return, I have a feeling that I am missing the point.

The results may be few and far between to most of us but the effort is what matters; my father is doing something no one else in the world seems to want to do: love and help black men.

My sister and I came home from school one day to find some strange man washing dad’s car in the driveway. In the kitchen, mom was watching from a window and we asked her who that man was. She sighed.

‘It’s another of your father’s men,’ she said. ‘He came to bible study and now he won’t leave. He has a metal plate in his head where he was shot by police for drug dealing. What is the point?!’ Another big sigh. My mother could only see wasted effort.

My sister and I, however, were fascinated that a man could have a metal plate in his head.

I’m happy to say my mother was wrong. That man with the metal plate built a construction business, has a wife, three sons he’s fighting to keep alive, a house in the Valley, and is one of my father’s best friends. When my mother died, with his big construction hands, he lovingly wrapped all the little Christmas village houses my mother had collected and took them home because he said they reminded him of Lucy.

And right this very minute, my father is boarding a young man with obvious emotional and mental issues from Indiana. This man had heard my father’s sermons, contacted him and drove to California to escape whatever personal hell had been pursuing him in his hometown. Like a black Boo Radley, he lives in my father’s house and silently endures the squinty-eyed side-glances from me and my sister when we visit.

What does he want? Is he trying to take advantage of my dad? What if he’s crazy?

‘Lock your door, dad,’ I said to my father on the phone one night. ‘If he goes nuts, make it hard for him to kill you.’

‘Little girl, you need to stop. He’s just trying to get back on his feet.’

‘Well, when will he?? He’s been there for months! Why’s it taking him so damn long? Why can’t he find a roommate on Craigslist? Why does it have to be you?’ I know I sounded like my dead mother but I couldn’t help it.

My father sighed.

‘You girls have never understood this. Not even your mother. It has to be me because no one else will do it. You don’t understand. No one loves the black man. We’re beaten and ashamed and neglected and put away. No one loves us. No one. And so if I don’t, who will? Who will show this young man he’s a creature of God? If it’s not me, who will do it? The county? The welfare system? Who, dammit, who?’

(I am actually tearing up remembering this conversation.)

My father loves the black man and cares about what happens to him when it’s not politic to do so. His ministry to black men is not necessarily about finding someone a job or keeping him from the law. His effort, and hopefully Obama’s call, is about showing these men that they have a second opportunity to become, and be seen as, a full human being again.

It’s the point that everyone is missing – even the well-meaning dog lovers, feminists, Maddows, Ezra Kleins and asshats like Tucker Carlson.

So who deserves a chance to be regarded a full human being again? Michael Vick does. And every black man like him.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Moore and Me

I just stepped on my own post, but I just saw this poem here and had to reprint it because it cuts to the very heart of why women are upset with Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann right now:
 
Rape Poem
by Marge Piercy

There is no difference between being raped
And being pushed down a flight of cement steps
Except that the wounds also bleed inside. There is no difference between being raped
And being run over by a truck
Except that afterward men ask if you enjoyed it.
There is no difference between being raped
And being bit on the ankle by a rattlesnake
Except that people ask if your skirt was short
And why you were out anyhow.
There is no difference between being raped
And going head first through a windshield
Except that afterward you are afraid not of cars,
But half the human race.
The rapist is your boyfriend’s brother.
He sits beside you in the movies eating popcorn.
Rape fattens on the fantasies of the “normal” male
Like a maggot in garbage.
Fear of rape is a cold wind blowing
All of the time on a woman’s hunched back.
Never to stroll alone on a sand road through pine woods,
Never to climb a trail across a bald
Without that aluminum in the mouth
When I see a man climbing toward me.
Never to open the door to a knock
Without that razor just grazing the throat.
The fear of the dark side of the hedges,
The back seat of the car, the empty house
Rattling keys like a snake’s warning
The fear of the smiling man
in whose pocket is a knife.
The fear of the serious man
In whose fist is locked with hatred.
All it takes to cast a rapist is seeing your body
As jackhammer, as blowtorch, as machine gun.
All it takes is hating that body
Your own, your self, your muscle that softens to flab.
All it takes is to push what you hate,
What you fear onto the soft alien flesh.
To bucket out invincible as a tank
Armoured with treads without senses
To possess and punish in one act,
To rip up pleasure, to murder those who dare
Live in the leafy flesh open to love. The fear of the smiling man
In whose pocket is a knife.

norridge rhymes with porridge - for a reason.

On Saturday, I stood on the corner of Cumberland and Lawrence, the freezing wind tearing through my leggings, making my thighs numb. Norridge, I thought. Frak you, Norridge!

I had arranged to meet M- at the comic book store he works at on the weekends for their holiday party and, apparently, I had not paid much attention to him the night before when he gave me directions.

Norridge is ugly. It is a placed cursed with squat homes and strip malls. Like LA but colder and uglier. So I wasn't in the best mood to start with. Not knowing where I was going, and unable to tell where I was on my GPS (frak you, GPS!), I walked all four corners of the intersection, even buttonholing old guys at the gas station. I walked up this block, up that block, down that street and back again. No frakking comic book store.

By this time, it was dark, the temperature had fallen to 16 (but the windchill made it feel like 8) and I stumbled to the McDonalds to nurse my frostbitten fingers and numb ass.

I texted M-:

'Dude. Your store apparently has an anti-girl force field covering it because I can't find it. So I'm at the McDonalds until my frostbite goes away. When you're done, you should come see me.'

I listened to the piped in Jesus music for a few minutes, grumbling about how I love this dude but man, the burbs suck, I can't feel my fingers, he better be glad I'm his girlfriend...grumble, grumble.

He called.
'Where are you? Did you just ignore everything I said last night?'
'Hey! No! Well, maybe. I got the intersection right!'
'You are right across the street from us!'

Pause.  I turned around to look out the window.
'I don't see you.'

In a very patient voice he said, 'Go back outside. Walk toward the gas station. Look for the Italian restaurant. Then Edible Arrangements. We are right there.'

'I'm not going back outside! It's 8 degrees!'
'Then you're ok hanging out at the McDonalds for over an hour?!'
 There went my thoughts about rescue.
'SIGH. NO. Fine. I'll finish my coffee and go outside.'

Grumbling all the while, I went back into the freezing Norridge night - and found it where he said I'd find it.  I had walked past this place THREE frakking times!

When I went inside, all the comic book boys cheered and I felt like an idiot but at least the story made them laugh. And I hope it showed how dedicated a girlfriend I fucking am.

Note: M- later revealed that after he hung up, he'd said to the shop owner, 'I'd go and rescue the damsel in distress but she's a feminist!!'

Note to dudes everywhere: Feminism is officially put on hold when it's effing 8 degrees outside.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I swear the holiday season is another war on women's self esteem.
I'm 10 days out from christmas and haven't done ANY of my shopping yet. For anyone. Not sis, dad, boyfriend, best friend or bitchy niece and nephew.

And don't even ask if I've gone to church for any advent services. Guh. I'm a bad person AND a bad church lady.

I need a break from Christmas, please.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My sister's mediation is tomorrow and I called her tonight to see how she was doing.

I'm so proud of my little sister. She finally called the lawyer my friend found for her and had a good consultation - but realized that she needed to be more proactive with her own case.

(Note to little sisters everywhere: Big sisters know what we're talking about!)

I also find myself giving her advice from my own professional field: if you're not framing the narrative then tell your story strategically to build will and get people engaged on your behalf.

Yeah, it sounds like PR and it is. MABIL has spent the whole year turning his friends and family against her (while hiding his tendency to treat marriage like a gilded cage) so now's the time to start turning that against him.

I thought she'd resist when I said that it's sometimes useful to strategically share some vulnerability to get people on your side but she got my point. MABIL's family and friends are a lost audience. Never message to an audience that you don't have.

But that still leaves teachers, other parents, old neighbors, and casual mutual acquantances to win over.

She said, "I don't like putting my business out there. It has nothing to do with them."

"True. But since your kid has said out loud that she hates you, and bursts into tears every time you come to pick her up, you really don't need her teacher looking at you like you're the bad guy. 

"All you need to say is something like 'Thanks so much for being patient with Sally lately. Her father and I are going through a difficult separation and divorce; the whole thing has been tough on her --on all of us. Thanks for being so understanding.'"

I said. "Just say it in that squinty parent voice people have and the teacher will be on your side -- or at least less likely to look at you like you're Mommy Dearest."

Ah, strategic communications. Good even for divorce.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

cheap shots: chicaco mayoral race

So Rahm Emanual balked at the idea of sending his kids to Chicago Public Schools -- and, predictably, his opponents pounced and the media, magpies that they are, went after the bright shiny thing of the moment.

Have you seen the stats on Chicago Public Schools? (This is an explanation of their methodology, of sorts.)
How many of these schools are on probation?

There is the rare school that is excellent, I grant you, but would you want to send your kids to the average Chicago public school, in the current state the system is in? I wouldn't -- and I'm from a public school system. (Whoo! Go, LAUSD!)

Asking a candidate if they'd send their kids to CPS, when everyone knows most of the schools in CPS are problematic as hell, is a cheap and unworthy shot. It does nothing except box in the candidate and remove any chance of actually addressing what is deeply wrong with public education in this city. Whatever answer he gives will either alienate him from the unions or piss off those who think CPS is in the crapper and hate pandering. It also limits the discourse of the opponent so that they're dumbing down to react to a stupid question instead of showing off how smart they are (or aren't); and, ultimately, the public loses out on an opportunity to actually talk about a real problem and real solutions because the media can't handle anything heavier than stupid 'gotcha' questions.

So, good job, media. Way to support democracy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

it's only tuesday

Yesterday, we sang in the office. I hate singing in the office.

Then my boss asked me to go with her to a meeting with a GOP legislative leader - with my 'fro all poofed out and crazy looking, in leggings, boots and a big wooly peacoat, I looked like a crazy homeless woman sneaking into the Thompson Center.

And I discover certain black legislators are giving my org shade because they see philanthropy as keepers of the status quo and our policy agenda a threat to their communities. Shit. Guess how hard it's going to be to message through that??

And, to top it all off, it's freaking two degrees in Chicago and my face is cracking off.

Freaking love December. /sarcasm

Monday, November 29, 2010

how times have changed

Is she really going out with him? - Curtis Sittenfeld - Salon.com:

Back in 2004, when this Salon piece first came out, I and my friends thought it was hilariously true. We read it, commented on it and bemoaned being saddled with a fabulous girlfriend (or gay friend) who was wearing a dud boyfriend around his or her neck. I remember coolly assessing various couples I knew and dismissing them with the coldness of a Mean Girl hanging out in The Grove.

I scoffed and (as recently as two years ago) said that I would rather experience a full body waxing than be half of an Unevenly Cool Couple. If I couldn't have guy who could fit into the Algonquin Roundtable of my social set, then frak him!

How insufferably bitchy, shallow and vain.

Maybe I feel this way now because I'm with M- and what links us together isn't readily apparent to most folks. Yesterday, I dragged my ass out of bed and headed to his place for lunch. I hadn't seen him since Wednesday and I missed him. A lot. So, we bundled up, took a walk up and down Irving Park, holding hands in the cold and then ate a massive Mexican lunch. I got tipsy on a couple of margaritas, ate too many beans and took a nap on his couch while he went to a memorial dinner for a friend who passed last year.

Over lunch he told me about a dinner party he attended on Friday. A friend of a friend had brought his Japanese girlfriend from California with him.

'Did you ask her about internment camps?' I said.

'Of course!'

I opened my mouth to launch into a lecture about racial insensitivity and profiling and all the typical knee jerk liberal bullshit. But I didn't. I guffawed. He made me laugh a lot over lunch.

'We had a pretty good conversation,' he said. 'She told me about her parents, what it was like growing up in Hawaii, how everyone always asks what she is. You shoulda seen their faces; they were horrified I brought it up. But we had a good talk. '

'I don't know why they were horrified. The camps exist; they're a fact. And people were put there. Most of the Crenshaw neighborhood used to be Japanese until the war. Then it became German. Funny, huh? If we're ever on the west coast again, we should drive out to one of them. A lot of my Japanese friends from school had grandparents who met in the camps.'

He said, 'That would be a good road trip. Eat somewhere along the way.'

I said, 'We should do that.'

And that's my guy.

We probably are an unevenly cool couple (who's cool? depends on who you ask) but I don't give a fuck.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

a marriage only dimmesdale would love

I have to give a huge thumbs up for non traditional family holidays. No long hours cooking, overly crowded house, a formal dining table, a wrecked kitchen or screaming children.

The holiday I spent in Los Angeles was a lovely combination of brunches, lunches, pedicures, dim sum, cocktails and visits.

Of course it was painful hearing my sister call her soon to be ex-husband to tell her children Happy Thanksgiving and overhear the eldest girl snipe and bitch at my sister in the best imitation of a bitchy 10 year old.

"Why is she even calling at all," my niece said to her father. "I don't want to speak to her." It will probably take years for my sister and her daughter to repair their relationship.

But the conflict is nearing a close; my sister and MABIL have a court date in January. As predicted, he is seeking full custody of both children, and she is seeking joint. I am praying my sister succeeds and her lawyer will smash MABIL's petition into the dust.

When I hear of MABIL's particular stream of crazy, I feel sad, humored and angry all at once. I don't think I've ever really known a man who steadfastly refuses to recognize reality. (Other than my father.) While he tries to project the image of a wounded, caring father, he has told their children their mother is gay and is abandoing them to marry her lesbian girlfriend and have sex; he interviews them on tape while they cry and plead for their mother to come back; and he tells them that gay people are sinful and are going to hell.

In other words, 'Your mother is going to hell.'  Is it any wonder the kids are terrified about their mother?

Is this really what a good parent does? These kids are 8 and 10 years old! My stressed out nephew tells my sister, "I don't like it when daddy talks to me about this every day. I don't want to talk about this anymore." My niece is seeing a counselor but who knows what effect that's having since she practically boils with hate toward my sister. In the face of all this, my sister is quiet, calm and forbearing. I honestly don't know how she does it. I wouldn't have the patience to be so...strong-minded.

And a hilariously pathetic picture of MABIL's view of relationships is growing clearer.

According to MABIL, love is:
...Not about pleasing one another.
...Not about being in love with the other person (because love eventually dies) but about loving what the person represents. (Thereby erasing the agency and subjectivity of the partner completely.)
...Not about personal happiness, either for yourself or your partner.
...About structure and community. (Which sounds about as appealing as catechism.)
...Never talked about, reflected upon or tended to.  (It's apparently just a misshapen troll huddled in a corner you ignore for years.)

MABIL's picture of love is the opposite of any lesson found in Corinthians; it is a vision of repression, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and duty to others at the expense of the individual. Despite his obvious anger, he even has the nerve to say that he will forgive my sister and 'take her back.' I shudder to think of being forced to live with someone for any extended period of time who believes these things.

(And don't get me started on MABIL's views about the body, sex and pleasure. Let's just say that he and Christine McDonnell have a lot in common. The man should have been a priest rather than a husband.)

My sister is one step closer to her liberation and I can see her sloughing off the remnants of her wrecked marriage; this weekend showed me a sister who wasn't tense, silent, cautious, or angry. She was her old self: funny, affectionate, present, smart and loving.

Is having my sister back an even trade for the past year? Perhaps.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It takes three days to thaw a frozen turkey properly.

What a colossal misuse of time.

So I'm at the office instead of thawing a turkey, and girding my loins for the ordeal at O'Hare. I have this fantasy of grabbing a TSA officer's naughty bits in response to the overly-thorough pat down, but I suspect they'll interpret that as assault. I have no desire to be in airport jail.

So I'll cave to authority and go through the body scanner, hoping I don't get cancer and not caring one bit that my blobby naked bits will be seen onscreen by some stranger. Ten years ago, I had sex in a DJ box in Boystown; what's an airport scanner compared to that?

I'll be in Los Angeles for the holiday so y'all behave; eat moderately and try not to lose your mind during Black Friday.  I will be missing M-, missing my girls, meeting family members' various girlfriends, guzzling champagne as a coping mechanism, and perhaps getting in touch with a couple of friends I haven't seen since grad school.

Safe travels!

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Me, It's Not You: Pt. 2

This weekend, M- brought tears to my eyes. In a good way!

We were having pints with some friends after dinner and catching a few minutes alone (if you can be alone in the middle of a crowded bar.) Over dinner I had told one of M-'s coupled friends that he and I were thinking about their neighborhood for a house rental. The guy gave me a look and said, "Yeah, I think our neighborhood is a good compromise for you but not for M-. It's not downmarket enough."

"Really?"

"Yeah; he feels a little uncomfortable in places that aren't working class enough." I don't know if he said this because we had just walked through my neighborhood and they got a gander at all the new condos and the gentrification in Ukrainian Village, but it made me take a mental pause and added another mental brick to the pile in my brain.

Fast forward a few minutes and M- suddenly says to me, "You know, we don't have to do this until you're ready. I know you've been talking about this alot but ... you're not ready, yet." And he gave me his wry, Dad-look.

I said, "But I am! Really!" Totally lying.

And this is when he made me tear up. He cupped my face and said, "You're not. But if you insist you are going to break us up. We'll move in, you'll try to please me instead of thinking of what it is you want and then we'll break up and I'll be stuck with a goddamn house. I want us to do this because it's right for both of us at the same time."

I was quiet for a bit. "I thought I was hiding this better. I've been a little tense and anxious about this --"

"I know, babe," he said. "But when you're anxious, it makes me anxious and I can't take the stress. Ever since I was a little kid, I've been sensitive to other people's moods like this. When there's a problem, it makes me feel bad -- literally. I get sick when I feel that you're feeling all weird about us. So we don't have to do this now."

"And I get anxious when things move too fast. I just wanted you to know I'm committed to us, this thing we have."

"That's great to know you're willing to do this for me, but I don't need that big a sacrifice from you," he said. "You like living alone, you like doing your own thing and I like seeing you when I see you. Sure, I want to wake up with you. Sure, I wish we lived closer to one another. But don't worry about making ME feel good - I'm in this for the long haul. So when you're ready, we'll do this and it'll be good."

So we kissed, had more beers and went home for a rambunctious frolic and then some mutually disruptive snoring.

The upshot of all this cohabitation navel-gazing: I don't think I've felt more for this guy than during this conversation. How can any woman resist a guy who will wait for her?

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Me, It's Not You

When it comes to things between me and M- I would say that those things are going pretty well. Right now, we're juggling my increased work schedule (I now have business meetings, dinners and trips!) and I'm struggling just to wash the dishes in my sink.

I wouldn't say things are totally ok, though.  Conversations about moving in together have stepped up and are triggering GirlFriend Separation Anxiety (GFSA) and Boys Are Messy and Gross Anxiety (BAMGA), which is also related to Boys Hog the TV Remote Irritation (BHTVRI).  A friend who recently moved in with, and married, her boyfriend has struggled sharing her condo with him, his duffel bag collection, his sports gear, his records and his snoring.

She said to me today, 'Oh, that irritation and anxiety is real. It is not all in your head. Do not underestimate that.'

And what is interesting about this to me is how my anxiety bucks the female nesting stereotype. The image of the woman who can't wait to get her hands on some man's space and fill his drawers with her bras and panties is blown to pieces.  I don't want my hands on his space. That's his space. And this is mine!

The other night I actually paused while brushing my teeth thinking about how we will probably need an armoire and what if he hates going to Ikea to get one and what if I don't have enough closet space and what if his things clash with my things? And what if we can't find a place with at least two bathrooms? And I walked to my cramped bedroom where my bras, socks and various sundries were all  helter skelter, and felt a little sad.

Goodbye, girl space.

Of course, this is my Libra/Capricorn tendency to over-think.

I think I'll handle everything ok if I just keep myself grounded. And think of how my other coupled friends balance their together/apart time and how, generally, change is always good and moving in with a guy does not mean that I will never see my girls but that I'll have to be more intentional about seeing them on a regular basis, and that I've had two roommates before and living with them well always came down to open communication.

Then again, maybe I'll need to start seeing a therapist again once a month.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

There is so much on my plate right now, I feel it should be Thanksgiving already.

So I am taking this opportunity right now to say that the month of December will be the month I say NO to EVERYONE.

Really. I can't take anymore obligations right now. NO.
Not another meeting, lunch, event, whatever.

In December, I want to crawl into a dark hole, watch movies, have sex and drink a lot of champagne.

Do Not Disturb.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

My father is observing the same things in my sister's situation but he's looking at them in a very different way.

I look at MABIL's actions and see the desperation of a man fighting to keep what he's already lost; I see him flailing, desperately trying to hold onto the illusion of his masculine control and patriarchal authority.

My father, on the other hand, buys into the fear MABIL tries to drum up. He believes a man's moral anger will naturally supercede a woman's legal defense. I think that's interesting.

It's as if the world these men imagine is more real than the world actually in front of them. In the real world, California statute and practice limits what MABIL can do; but does he realize that? No. He thinks that the weight of his moral outrage and disapproval will be all it takes to punish my sister and keep his family the way he wants it. My father believes, to some extent, the same thing - that the wrong done to MABIL will necessarily require some sacrifice from my sister.

But that's not the way the world works.  In the real world, marriages fall apart and people walk away from one another all the time. No one is punished; no one is sacrificed. They pick up, go to therapy and move on. Or maybe they pick up a hobby, learn how to be civil, and then they move on.

In the real world, bad actors get away with their bad acts all the time.

There's even a real possibility that MABIL will get away with his bad acts, performed in retaliation for my sister's, whose own acts were created by the sinkhole of her own marriage and the immediate death of intimacy between them. So in this daisy chain of bad acts, intentional and otherwise, who deserves punishment?

Oh, what do I know about marriage and bad acts? M- won't introduce me to his family until my last remaining ambivalence about our relationship evaporates.

And, yet the very tiny pull and tug going on between me and M- (and my acknowledgment that he has a right to set his own limits and boundaries, even if it creates some pressure for me) seems more honest and realistic than creating an ideal world where everyone is set up for failure.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

the patriarch has no vision

In the vivid fantasy in my brain, I am dressed in a well-fitted black suit with marvelous shoes and my asshat brother in law is being ripped apart in family court by my keen legal mind as my sister looks on, joint custody about to be given. As I lead him down a path that will expose him for the evil homophobic asshat that he is, I am cool, unrelenting and when I'm finished, not only does my sister have joint custody, the judge has recommended my asshat brother in law (MABIL) undergo serious psychological counseling for his anger issues and reliance on 17th century catholic codes of behavior.

In reality, I'm sourcing queer family custody lawyers for my sister, gritting my teeth, and refraining from sending MABIL the most incendiary email in the history of the interwebs.

Because what is a big sister supposed to do when a man is trying to make your sister look mentally unstable, counting on the hope that the world is still so sexist and woman-hating that a court would strip her of her ability to mother her children; when a man is hating your sister so much he'll stand in front of their children and slowly taunt her with, 'You are soooo craaaazy, you're craaaaaazy,' full well knowing my sister can't fight back or he'll use it against her?

So since I can't fly to Los Angeles and punch MABIL in his testicles and superglue his fingers up his ass, I will do everything I can - call every well-connected friend, find a pro bono queer lawyer, read up on California statute - to prepare my sister for the custody fight of her life.

After years of being a very distant big sister perhaps I should take this opportunity to thank MABIL for bringing us closer than we have ever been; for the first time, without her so-called perfect marriage sitting between us like a stinking turd to intimidate me and oppress her, we speak about real things and treat the other like a real person. There is real intimacy between us. I love her more than I ever have. And now we actually say it.

(Though she needs to get off her high horse about having a drivers license. I will have one -- soon! You'll see!)

As a feminist I have to chuckle at reading MABIL's 'plan' so clearly. Oh, I don't underestimate it. I know that our culture can easily strip a gay woman (or any woman) of her rights as a parent simply because she has a life that somehow doesn't match a 1950s stereotype. But I sneer at his puny thinking.  A man's word does not carry the legal weight it used to.  Thank god. What a man wants is no longer what a man gets, necessarily. The frustration and anger MABIL feels in the face of my sister's rebellion is the product of feminism and I couldn't be more pleased.

Feel that hot rush of heat to your face every time you see my sister at the soccer game trying to cheer on her kids even though you won't let her near them, MABIL?

Welcome to women's lib, asshat.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

spending a rainy sunday night making a bolognese sauce (from scratch and from memory), finishing up a powerpoint for work and drinking a glass of italian white wine.

the only thing missing is my guy which is a very bizarre thing to think about right now, considering we spent all weekend together at weddings and usually sunday nights find me making some mental room for my self.

so, that's really different.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Believe it or not, I have another wedding on Friday!
What is going on??

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm home. We're home.

And we're tired.

Weddings are exhausting, you know?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

update: the road less traveled, iowa edition

I may have been harsher than I needed to be with M-. On the road yesterday, our crankiness got to such a level we inadvertently caused a beef with a waiter in a bad Mexican restaurant and went to bed huffy and tired.

When we slow down to talk, and listen, we can have complementary strengths. I pay attention to certain details and he to others. I could not have the patience for DJing a wedding and taking care of set up, logistics and whatever. This has been on his mind for weeks and it should be; it's a huuge favor for a good friend. If he screws up, he's ruined a wedding for everyone.

So he's had more than one thought in his head. He just hasn't had the thoughts in his head that are in mine.

But, to a larger point that was mentioned in comments below, there is Work that a lot of women do that goes unacknowledged. Especially married and mothering women - the work these women perform to keep a household running is largeley ignored, uncompensated and devalued. 

Since I must bring everything to the personal or memoir level, I'll think about my father.

As much as my father loved my mom, I don't think he really considered the amount of work my mother contributed to the smooth running of his home. Every morning, my sister and I were clothed, fed, prepared for school or church, food was on the table, clothes were clean and everyone was on schedule.

I think he expected it to happen naturally because that's what the gender roles dictated. But the actual details of that work escaped him and went completely unacknowledged, which made my mother fester. Now that mom is gone, I think he's had some time to think about it but during those years, at the height of his ministry, he had no idea.

He would plan dinners, invite people over, volunteer mom's time and it would be done without a thought. 'Oh, of course, Lucy won't mind making a huge Sunday dinner for 9 people; she is such a good cook!' As if her talent automatically translated into consent.

It reminds me of episodes of Undercover Boss. The CEO, or COO, walks briefly in the shoes of his frontline staff and he is astounded at the sheer amount of herculean tasks put in front of him - vaguely realizing that this labor represents a fraction of the work hundreds of people contribute to his bottom line. I wonder if most husbands are like that. (Though it's problematic to see wives as 'staff.')

M- and I don't live together; we don't have a shared household. We're still in the early part of our relationship so I'm not going to fly a huge red flag. Being present means you deal with what's in front of you, not spin out into fantasies of future disaster.

But it's something for us to think about as we take our baby steps toward living together. It means we have to consciously talk about expectations and division of labor - especially what we learned from our parents and what those triggers are.

Here's to having a great party and drinking lots of champers!

Friday, October 15, 2010

the road less traveled: iowa

Yesterday, I sent a message to my office: 'Delia will be on the road tomorrow to Iowa for a barn wedding. See you all on Monday!'

In other offices, my message would get some kind of snarky response: 'say hi to the corn for me!' or something like that.

This new office? Suddenly it's all 'Ooh! How fabulous! Bring back pics from the sustainable farm tour!'

So that's different.
...
When I think about how M- and I divide the labor of our relationship I think of two captains jockeying to steer a ship. He's used to steering his ship and I'm used to steering mine; together, we're in the wheelhouse, scuffling for control.

Like my dad, M- is convinced his way is always right. And, sometimes he's right. Except when it comes to wedding planning - even if it's a friend's wedding.

When it comes to that, I think of details that he hasn't: are there enough rooms in the hotel block? Are we really guaranteed a room (for some reason he thought we were but had never confirmed that)? What's the deadline for hotel reservations? What time is check in? What's their late check in policy? And what time is the wedding on Saturday? What are the events that we're invited to and not? (This is really important!)

I bet he's had one question in his head: am I going to be able to set up my DJ equipment on time and will the gig go well?

Once, I tried to ask these questions and he said, 'Don't worry about these things, baby. Everything will work out.'

And it's infuriating to hear because I instantly flash back to my mom and dad, standing in a restaurant lobby being told they can't be seated because Dad didn't make a reservation and my mom is humiliated and angry. All he had to do was think about How Things Are Done and make the damn reservation.  But no. He thought his manly brain exluded him from certain rules and expectations. And so we go back to the car, drive to Carl's Jr. and eat our burgers in silence.

So, I waited for everything to work out. And I was right. We weren't guaranteed a room, the main hotel was full and now we had to look for a room at a frakking Super 8 Motel. So I quickly made the reservations, paid for it and sent him the confirmation.

No 'told you so's'. No blame.

But goddammit. Next time, frak being nice and doing the 'managing up' crap. I'm just going to go ahead and make the plans because dudes may be able to move carriers around the globe but can't interpret a frakking wedding invitation correctly. I understand my role this weekend is to be the Pretty Girlfriend. I get that. I'm so brain dead, that's fine. But I really hate it when dudes ignore what I'm saying.

This mouth isn't just for giving blow jobs.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

a straight ally roll call

Monday was National Coming Out Day and I missed it here.

But I didn't want to miss this chance to recognize some of the people who have gently, and not so gently, schooled me about my straight privilege and shown me how to be a better straight friend.

George - I have no idea where you are now, but introducing you to my family was a first for me and you were gracious, graceful and kind in the face of my father's blustery fundamentalism.

James - I remember sitting in Espresso Royale while you sternly pointed out to me that straight people asking gays and lesbians to not be 'too' gay or lesbian, or to ask why gays and lesbians couldn't be more like other people, was the height of homophobia and cultural ignorance. And you closed your books, got up, walked away and I knew I wouldn't be talking to you again until I apologized - and not just apologized but, in a way, repented. And so I did. That was when I got what it meant to be your friend. It was also when I understood that it wasn't enough to 'be ok' with gays and lesbians but to shut the hell up and listen.

The Michigan Crew: You all know who you are. You showed me a world of diverse thought, opinion, culture and patience! Oh, the patience. And some of you also publicly called me out when I said the most horrible things. And thanks for that. I remember leaving a GEO meeting after scorning some students who weren't as active as the rest of us and I used a word that was derogatory. Halfway home, a woman stopped me and told me she was offended by the word I'd used in the meeting and she explained why it was homophobic, damaging and wrong. I was abashed. Ashamed.

When I presume to get on my high horse to tell the gay community what they need to do in order to be accepted by us, I remember this moment. And I swallow my presumption.

(And thanks for the cocktails! Oh, the cocktails!)

Miguel and Fernando; James and Tomas - seeing you become parents has been awesome. Your hearts are so big; you have opened your homes to children who need to be loved, cared for and nurtured. I won't ever be a parent but I'm glad you four are.

John - the Boystown legal aid lawyer who did me a solid and kept me from being evicted when I first moved to Chicago and was awful with money.


(That was sort of a big deal, man.)


Sara and Elizabeth - whose wedding and marriage makes me wonder how people could say their relationship is any less valid than mine or anyone else's.

Aunt D-, dad and L- - you all have shown me that life is a journey.

We all deserve to live honestly, freely and equally.
One day, that ideal will be reality.

Friday, October 08, 2010

if only men read women's literature

[Note: These opinions are my own. I don't consult with others before having them and I don't ask permission before sharing them. This is my prerogative as the owner and writer of this space. Do I really need to say this?]

If only more men read more feminist literature the vast unknown-ness of their wives would be laid bare and life would be less confusing.

During the various ups and downs of watching my family 'find themselves' I'm struck at how hard it is for a woman to break free of social expectations. Like Lucy Honeychurch, my sister is bucking all the expectations of her class, gender, mothering status and perceived orientation and, in the process, making everyone around her freak out. Even I am stunned, watching my sister go through a process that makes me think of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own or Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

Her defiant refusal to remain in her marriage has apparently broken the rules of her little social community. In this community obligation to family (including friends) and church supercedes anything else, no matter if you're dying inside. But now, suddenly, relationships and identities are thrown into upheaval, children are endangered and all of morality has been upended and requires defense. Justifications must be made, core motivations must be plumbed and Someone needs to give a public accounting of how one has Betrayed Everyone.

Certainly, there was a betrayal. But which comes first? The betrayal of vows, or the desperate scramble for air that prompts the betrayal of vows? My brother in law asked me if I thought it was 'ok' that my sister did what she did. But I don't think in those terms. I try to put myself in her shoes and imagine what could have been done to facilitate the most immediate break in a marriage, deliver the greatest shock and bring things to an inevitable, and irreparable, conclusion. And then my sister's actions make sense.

But it doesn't make sense to the male members of her community. Their reactions are interesting. I think hysteria is accurate. There's also a degree of anger, seen especially in their demand for my sister to 'explain herself.'

All because a woman decided she wasn't happy.

What happens when men aren't happy? They can pull a Tiger, flaming out in a collection of hostesses and sleazy text messages. Or they can pull a Pastor C-, pushing everything down, only to release the unhappiness in bursts of furtive vacations. What do women do? We suck it up. We swallow our unhappiness until it turns us into the woman from The Yellow Wallpaper. Or we kill ourselves like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary.

Again, I don't think men read a lot of 19th century domestic fiction. If they did, women's unhappiness would make a lot more sense.

A patriarchal society always inhibits a woman's autonomy and refuses to see her as an agent with a value system of her own. Her freedom, her independence doesn't exist unless some man authorizes it. And this is what I see. Men (very nice ones) demanding that my sister give an accounting of her actions because they're not satisfied with any of the answers they've received. These aren't bad men - they're just men. In defense of one of their own, they want to reassert control of a situation that she has set in motion.

For this, her journals have been secretly dissected, in an effort to find these answers when the woman herself is standing in front of them, repeating, "I wasn't happy. This wasn't me. I lied from the start. I never wanted any of this - wife, marriage. I was only that other person for everyone else."

Let's go back to literature (where all answers can be found, actually. At least humanist ones.) At the end of A Room With a View, Lucy Honeychurch is living in Florence with George Emerson, isolated from her family, even from her staunchest supporters like Rev. Beebe, because that is the price a woman pays when she betrays all expectations of her.

When a woman has defined for herself what her freedom entails, and she dares to take it, she finds herself cast outside of the castle walls. Imagine the Disney castle gone dark and quiet. The moat is filled and the drawbridge pulled up.

The only thing she has in front of her is the open world.

And it's worth it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Eddie Long, the boogie man

I look at Eddie Long and I worry about my father. Greased, slick, and bloated with cash and power, Long is a cautionary tale. No, he’s more like a boogie man. He is what happens when the real essence of a person is pushed so far down, it bursts out in the most predatory, or harmful, of ways.



Over the summer, Mike and I visited my dad in Los Angeles. We shared a beer, pet the dog, talked about my sister’s divorce and, in the process, gave Mike one of the weirdest introductions to my family ever given to a suitor.

“So dad, why don’t you just say you’re gay and get it over with?’ I said. My father had been hinting he had an announcement to make to the family and, so far, no announcement had been made. So I thought I’d give a, um, nudge.

“Because I’m not gay!”

My boyfriend tried to play devil's advocate. “Yeah, just because a guy has one experience with another man doesn’t mean he’s gay.”

“Thanks, man!” my dad said. “You want another beer?”

I said, “It wasn’t one experience. It was an affair. Over a period of time.”

My dad turned to Mike. “People have always thought I was gay. I was married to her mother and we had a great family! Why are folks so into labels?”

I said, “I’m not into labels, but if this is who you are, maybe there wouldn’t be so much …. Bifurcation. And, besides, it’s not like the gay gene isn’t already running rampant through our family. Aunt D-, my sister and you! Maybe even Uncle B-. We are a very gay family!”

My father had turned musing. “I wouldn’t say I was gay but there was this time when I was 17…” And he went on to tell us a story that made me exchange a look with my boyfriend who was forcing his face into a studiously pondering expression.

Mike said, ‘Well, Pastor C-…we experiment a lot when we’re teens…’

“So that’s 2 experiences!,” I said.

“I’m not gay, Delia,” my dad said. “Sometimes I think that I just like certain things that …well, that your mother couldn’t appreciate. This is why I go to Las Vegas.”

Apparently, my father doesn’t really stick to the proscription ‘What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas’ because he went on to relate, rather opaquely, some of his vacation experiences.

And Mike, trouper that he is, said, “Well, by my count that’s at least 3, if not 4 or 5, experiences right there.’

When we were hugging on the porch, I said to my father, “I love you and only want you to be happy. And healthy. Please be safe. Please.’

On the way to meet my recently out, divorcing sister for a beer, Mike and I drove silently for a few minutes. Then he said, “That was awesome.”

“Thanks for not thinking my family is crazy.” I leaned over and kissed him.

“I think it’s sad that my dad can only feel free if he’s away from his home,” I said. “What if he was able to have a happy, stable, loving relationship with another man here instead of feeling he had to go to Las Vegas?”

And I wonder the same thing about Eddie Long.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Worrying Beads

I wonder if I will ever get to a place in my life where I can just relax and take a breath.

For the most part, my life has been about getting somewhere.
In grade school, it was about making it to junior high.
In junior high, I had my first anxieties about getting into college (a situation that was thrown into doubt because I failed a math test.)
And in high school, I worried about...everything. Even taxes.

(I remember standing in the hallway watching my father shave and, out of the random worry in my head, I asked him, 'Who will teach me how to do my taxes?? Or, will I naturally know how to do my taxes when I'm in college? Who taught you how to do taxes?'

And he said something like, 'Your mother.')
I've even managed to hit some benchmarks along the way: Grad school, degrees, corp job, moving to Chicago, living in Chicago, finally finding love, and having a grown up job at last.

Despite that, I feel like all the happiness I'm feeling can be taken away suddenly, as if to teach me a lesson.

You ever feel like that?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Gradual Fall of an Independent Woman

Satuday night, randomly, Moving In Together popped up again. I like having my own space and doing my own thing (and being in control of my own finances) so I don't take moving in together lightly. We were at a local bar with a friend when I very very casually mentioned it.

'But I'd need a few things first,' I said. 'I want to be in a safe neighborhood, I don't want to be sooo far from my friends and there need to be things in the neighborhood to do.'

'Ok,' M- said. 'I want a few things: parking, enough room for us and our stuff, and a safe neighborhood for you so I don't worry about you.'

'Aww. Ok, one more thing. A cleaning lady. This is non-negotiable. I'd want a cleaning lady.'

He gave me a look that I took to mean 'Ok, my girlfriend is a snooty bitch' and I said, 'I've had one before and she'd only need to come once a month for a maintenance clean, so things don't get out of control. And it's not that expensive.' I named a price.

'Holy shit. That's it?? We should have her every week!'

So, sold on the cleaning lady.

When we were brushing our teeth, more 'must-haves' popped up.

'Babe, I need more towels. If we move in together, I want enough towels so we only use them once a day,' he said.

'Uh, that's a lot of laundry.' I imagined becoming a slave to laundry like my mother and sister. 'Ok, then I'd need an apt with an in-unit washer/dryer.'

In bed, before drowsing off, he said, 'We can move in together whenever you're ready. You like doing your own thing so if you want to keep your apartment a while longer, that's cool.'

'You're ok with the way things are going?'

'Yes. I love spending time with you whenever I can. I love you. So when you're ready, we'll do it.'  He flopped over. 'The only thing I hate is your mattress. When we move in together the first thing we're doing is getting a new bed.'

I kept my love for my mattress to myself. Choosing battles is important.

Our relationship has lasted a little over 18 months and I'm still waiting for this man to turn into a psycho and he hasn't. I might have to finally put my trust and intimacy crap to bed and embrace that M- is a normal, loving guy who only wants to be happy with me and for me.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Onward and upward

I'm moving on.

Last week I resigned from my position with the Large Women's NonProfit to join the Large Statewide Philanthropic Organization.

What am I feeling?  Relief

Relief that I'm no longer behind the Illinois state budget 8-ball, working for a direct service organization.  I know my coworkers are looking for some signs of sadness but I can't help it if indecorous spurts of glee leak out of me.

Relief that I networked my ass off, lined up my champions, searched strategically and interviewed smartly (after that initial phone interview that caught me unawares. Preparation, always preparation!)

Relief that I bumped my salary by $11k and can perhaps afford a new couch to replace the secondhand Ikea couch with the big dent in it, where my butt busted the springs after a frolic with M-.

Relief that, in such a tough competitive environment, I bore down, concentrated and won what I wanted. Did I do this alone? Nope. I had a whole team of people supporting me: my boss, my COO, my mentor, my contacts, my friends, my M-, and I thank God for all of them.  But ultimately I'm proud of what I did and how I did it. 

I'm so relieved it's over.  Maybe I can breathe now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 1 of vacay and I'm doing my favorite thing: hanging out in a cafe before a business lunch.
Best thing?
I still fit in my Italy bathing suit!
Let's take that as an omen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who is Our Neighbor?: on American faith, floods and community centers

"Dear God, We thank you for being kind to us./Help us to think of other people./We hope we will be kind to everyone/All through the years." - a prayer written in the Anshai Emeth Temple
"Did pakistan help us after 911 or after the string of hurricanes that hit new orleans? NO you say. Then screw em. we have our own problems right here." - Facebook

"O...... HELL NO....! How in the world can you suggest that we send money to Pakistan when when we have long term unemployed that are suffering. We have been kicked under a bus and forgotten." - Facebook

"LET THEM FLOAT" - Facebook

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. - Matthew 23:27, ASV


This morning, I checked my Facebook feed and the White House had posted a story about establishing a flood relief fund for Pakistan. The misguided vitriol this post unleashed was predictable but also sad. The political angle can be covered by someone else; I'm interested in what this reaction to millions of flood victims says about the conflicted ways we Americans declare our Christian faith, especially in light of the widespread hysteria over Cordoba House.

In the New Testament, the easiest lessons to be taught are about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  We see this message repeated in the Beatitudes, in questions about who one's neighbor really is, in parables about good Samaritans and encountering strange women at wells in the middle of the afternoon. It is at the center of Christ's caution to 'him that is without sin, cast the first stone.'

Repeatedly, through Christ's ministry, we are reminded that we are all neighbors, even to those who spitefully use us; this lesson culminates in Christ's ultimate sacrifice, creating grace and forgiveness (and salvation) for all of us, even those who crucified him. The simplest reading of Christianity asks us to model Christ's sacrifice as well as his ability to love (through thought and action) his enemies.

For me, more than sticking to dogma or doctrine (which are often distractions against loving one's neighbor), learning to love my neighbor is a constant struggle. My neighbor is the rabid racist; the homophobe; the war-mongering, woman-hating Republican. And I am called to be like Christ and to love them, instead of punching them in their pie-hole, the way I really want.

(Like I said, it's a daily struggle and I ask for forgiveness often.)

And, apparently, it is a lesson that most American Christians will never really learn.

When given the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be Christian, instead of reaching out to our neighbors, we march against Islamic community centers, refuse to help flood victims and justify it with a mealy-mouthed whine about 'us':

'What about us? What about my pain? My suffering? What about my losses?'

Well, what about them?

If we bothered to read our Bibles, we'd know that we are never promised prosperity and safety; what makes us think our pain means anything? It is our condition to experience pain and loss. Holding the pain and fear of 9/11 like a talisman turns it into an idol, an object to worship, rather than using our faith to overcome our pain and fear. By holding such pain close we also reject God's ability to ease our pain and suffering. Why such little faith in what God can do?

It saddens me to see how little faith American so-called Christians have in our faith. It's sad that the most basic of Sunday School lessons is lost in our fiery desire to see others suffer to assauge our own suffering. But, as an old school Baptist preacher's daughter, I'm also worried. Because if the Bible has taught me anything, it's that God has a healthy sense of 'what goes around, comes around.'

If I was one of these Christians breaking the Golden Rule, I'd be a little concerned about that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

will i ever write about politics, again?

Have you wanted something so badly, you're almost afraid to get it?

That's how I feel about this new opportunity. I made it through the interview, the strategic comms writing sample tests (which were harder than I thought, though very very useful), and now I've submitted my salary requirements (which could be a teensy bit higher), and am about to enter Round Two. I'm so close I can taste it. I want it and, yet...

Though I've complained since January about the circle of hell work has become (for various external reasons, not the least of which has been the fiscal instability of the human services sector in Illinois) I've only recently realized that I need this change because I think I'm ready for a more permanent life.  This new opportunity represents my stake in my adulthood, at last. If you take a peek into my life, you'll see temporary second-hand furniture, books left over from grad school, habits hanging out since Boystown, nostalgia for the Lost Tart Years. I have lived like a woman on the lam.

Wonder of wonders, I think I am ready to put down stakes.

Oh, I'm not saying I'm about to capitulate to the expectations of standard womanhood. Traditional marriage and bearing children are not in my plan, and I don't really anticipate that changing. But the urge to say definitively what it is I need (rather than what I don't), and then create the structure to support my need, has grown stronger.

I need stability.
I need love and companionship (which it looks like I'm on the road to achieve.)
I want professional success and longevity.
I want a fully functioning, whole life.

If this opportunity doesn't come through, the urge to live a full life won't go away. My desire to live a real, grounded life won't be derailed.

Just delayed a little.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the search continues

To say I have a lot riding on the success of tomorrow is an understatement.

I have an afternoon presentation to a group of corporate giving types about the need for public engagement on our state budget issues (grant makers are notoriously hard to move into advocacy mode.) Then I have a, um, rather important meeting with an organization in the afternoon about their strategic direction and where I might fit in. 

Who's attending my presentation? The woman I'm meeting with later in the afternoon.
Not only does my presentation need to avoid being lame, it needs to 'enhance my brand.'
No pressure.

And on top of that, it's going to be one of the hottest days of the week and the humidity will be outrageous.  Tomorrow is not the time to look like a round, moist, tropical princess.

I need to look professional, dammit. And that means no sweat. Or curly 'fro.

Wish I had time to comment on the backlash against FLOTUS' holiday in Spain (and why, once again, black women need to be Jesus) but I don't. 

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

'Is this our issue?'

In my job, I hear this question a lot. 'Delia Christina, should we respond to this? Is this our issue?'

Most of the time, an issue is 'ours.'  Whether the issue is about women, violence, assault, child care, or economic stability, it could definitely find itself in our sweet spot and we'll talk about it.  But what about Prop 8? What about the move to alter the 14th Amendment? Would these be issues in our organizational sweet spot?

Absolutely.  Those issues give us an opportunity to share our values. Because we're an organization with a history, vision and mission statement that puts racial, gender and social justice front and center (they're on our business cards, for Pete's sake) then yes, civil rights and equal protection for all is 'our' issue.

I understand organizations are leery of mission drift. One minute you're a hard core youth violence organization and then the next you're advocating for green grocers in the neighborhood - your board, staff and supporters are confused. But if being a voice for better health outcomes in under-resourced neighborhoods through better access to local produce is a reflection of your deep set desire to transform local communities and the people in them, then what's the problem? 

They may not be what you do, but your values should reflect what you stand for.

Years ago, after the reelection of George W. Bush, I was in a strategy meeting with some Chicago area bloggers and advocates; a leading progressive blogger was there to flog his book and he said the problem with the left at that time was that it failed to 'lead with its values.' His words stuck with me. And when I look at the Right, I have to agree. No matter the issue (immigration, mammograms, paid family leave, gay marriage or contraception), they lead with their values. They don't care about the issue. That's a silly little detail.

What matters is using the issue to talk about what you believe in and your transformative wish for the world.

Of course, I am assuming an organization is comfortable with the values it says it has.  I have to admit that I have a problem when I sense that people in an organization want to shy away from an issue because it makes them afraid.  I'm not saying that one shouldn't be pragmatic about the reality of oppositional word of mouth. When anti-choicers framed American Girl's support for a girls' empowerment program as 'pro-abortion', my organization (also a girls' empowerment org) became nervous. As well we should have been; some attention is just not worth it, especially when it's ... less than rational. 

But if you're willing to tout your work back in the 60s as a social justice organization then you better be comfortable today speaking truth to power and pointing out when social justice has been kicked to the curb. You can't suddenly rear back and say, 'Well...'

That's cowardly.  Which is a value! 
But is that the value you want to have associated with your organization?

Monday, August 02, 2010

everyone needs a public strategy

Even foundations.

I am a hard core evangelist about organizations developing a public strategy. I believe it works, I think it brings value and I know it can transform a sluggish organization into one that breaks barriers and moves quickly, fluidly and proactively.

The key word is 'strategy.'  Strategy isn't passive or accidental. It requires purposeful, directed thought and planning.  If an organization is strategic, it doesn't 'rest' on its laurels. The work is never sufficient to speak for itself. If left to its own devices, your work can often be misconstrued or misunderstood. Leaving the work to 'speak for itself' assumes your audience knows what your work is saying. 

Do they?  Do you even know who your audience is?

The organization I'm working for now was basically the best kept secret in Chicago. No one knew its mission or vision. Sure, they knew *some* of the work we did.  But they never had the whole picture.  If we let the 'work' speak for itself, we'd still be a best kept secret in Chicago. People would still think we had pools and residences.

What do they know about us now? That we're the largest provider of comprehensive sexual assault services in Illinois; that we've proven experts in the field of early childhood services; that we are an emerging voice for women's economic stability and empowerment. They know we're an organization that fosters women's leadership and an organization that looks ahead and anticipates socio-cultural shifts in order to deliver services faster and better.

How do they know it? They've heard our story in newspapers, blogs, and on tv.  They've heard legislators repeat our story in Springfield; they've read our story in Crain's and other private sector publications. Our board members and high level volunteers repeat our story wherever they go. Our staff, the main disseminators of our brand identity, are on message and can tell our story in whatever elevator they find themselves in.

In a word, that's my job.

How I'm Getting Through a 'New Normal' Job Search, pt 1.

I have begun a very quiet job search.
(Though, how quiet is it when I'm talking about it on my blog?)

This is the first time I've begun a search while in a current position and it feels different; rather than feel relaxed and carefree, there is an urgency that didn't exist before. Before, my job search had always been precipitated by a monstrous external event like a lay off; back then, I'd reconnect with a recruiter (this was when I was in admin) and within a month or two, I'd have a handful of interviews and then have a job.

This time, I'm searching in anticipation of a monstrous external event.  To be honest, if anyone is working in direct service non profit, I think now is the time to start translating your non profit experience into a private enterprise context where you can.  (Especially if you live in a state with a horrific state budget and the human services sector is looking at big cuts, like California or Illinois.) In Illinois, at my Large Women's Non Profit, we are anticipating at least another 10-20% budget reduction, if not higher. In my position, I represent pure overhead - I am on the bubble.

So I need to get ahead of that, if I can.

Job searching while panicked is never pretty - or effective. Currently, the average length of a successful search is 9 months. My self-imposed deadline is much tighter than that. To hold off the panic as long as possible, I've begun to apply some of same techniques of my job to my current search:

Landscape Assessment - Who do I know? What opportunities are out there? What opportunites aren't out there, yet, but I need to be positioned for? Where do I want to go? How long do I realistically have for this search?

Qualifying/Cultivating Targets - What is the quality of my network? Which is the faster, most efficient path toward a new opportunity? Who are the people who will give me needed guidance and/or leads, or other information? Who will I need to 'tickle' in order to let them know I'm out here, and what will these conversations need to sound/look like? What do my targeted orgs lack that I'm willing to contribute?

Making the Ask - What exactly do I need to ask my network? More than contacts (or referealls to other contacts), what information do I need to adk for in order to make my search more targeted? What is my messaging?

I don't pretend that being well-prepared is all one needs. By no means.  But the hardest thing about job searching is the mental game. It is so easy to become dispirited and filled with disappointment, and being organized (for me) is a way to keep the search focused, measurable and targeted.  I do not want to reach the place where I'm sending my resume everywhere.

Other things I've done to be organized and systematic about my approach:
On Google Docs, I've created spreadsheets, contact sheets, strategic relationship maps.
And I'm constantly revising my resume. 

The most important thing I'm doing (it's a constant process of navel gazing):
Really asking myself what I want my professional future to become.  Who do I want to be now?
What is the stretch opportunity?
What are the values I want this next move to embody?

More on that later, though.

How are you handling the 'New Normal' Job Search?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

where i channel glenn beck

What's Hard to Look At - TIME

The TIME cover features a young woman who had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban for escaping an abusive husband. She is the reason, TIME says, we are fighting in Afghanistan and the reason why we must continue to do so. Maybe, maybe not.

There is no doubt that Afghani women and girls are under enormous threat by a horrific, patriarchal and oppressive society. But I'm also pretty sure that global women's rights have never been a big driver in US foreign policy. (Or we'd have ratified CEDAW by now, at least.)

But we can't ignore women and girls like Aisha. We can't ignore that they are deliberately kept uneducated; they are deliberately physically and sexually assaulted; they are terrorized by a socio-political crisis, one that is fostered and perpetuated by men - U.S men, Afghan men. other men. Men.

What to do for these women?

A few weeks ago, watching a movie about the Iraq and Afghanistan war, my anger toward all war-mongering men on this planet reached such a point I think I became slightly insane.

Turning to my friend, I said, 'You know what we should do? We should just airlift all the women and children out of Afghanistan and leave that fucking country to implode. Build a virtual wall around it and let it die. Countries that treat their women like this don't get to have us. When you're a barbarian, raping, killing and torturing women like animals, you don't get to have mothers, sisters, or children! Afghanistan, Sudan, Darfur, Rwanda, wherever. You don't get to have women in your country when you kill them!'

When a country is on the edge of collapse, when infrastructure has been destroyed, when the effort to have an educated and modern society has failed, when it's clear that the crazies have taken control - don't we have an obligation to save those who are being oppressed by giving them an avenue for escape? Why trap these women there? Yes, yes, yes. It's their home. But their home is literally killing them.

I won't pretend that a gender-based diaspora is a viable foreign policy solution.
Nor is it very politically correct.
I'm also positive that there's a huge whiff of western imperialism inherent in the idea.

But as a woman - as a woman who sees her global sisters being massacred by MEN - I can't help but feel desperate anger. During slavery, we had the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists saved slaves by getting them away from the plantations. They didn't wait until the slave-owner miraculously changed their mind. Today, we are seeing a global crisis of violence against women - don't women require a similar and yet extraordinary rescue effort?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

a weirdly abrupt post on having a will of my own

A couple of weekends ago, M- and I had just escaped a horrendous hippie party and were in the mood for acoustic guitar-free pitchers of beer at one of my favorite dives in Old Town.  I hadn't had a loong night like that in ages; it felt really good to become one of an anonymous crowd.  But there was a brief exchange that stuck in my head.

We found ourselves sharing stories about When We Were Single and What We Were Looking For. The most recent example I'd had of being a wacky single was, of course, my liaison with LTF (aka, B-; aka, IncognitoLatino.) I didn't dwell on the details but said that while I was thrilled I was no longer connected to him, I could understand why some people make the wrong relationship choices they do.

Like a knight on a horse, M- comes to my own defense.
'Your mom died, babe. You weren't really in the right place.'
'I know. But that's not really the whole thing ...'
'You were all messed up.'

He was right. When I met LTF/B-/IncognitoLatino back in 2002, I was all messed up.
But my mother's death and my grief don't really account for the years 2006-2009. 

I had will and I exercised it.
I chose that situation with him. It was my decision to be there and experience LTF/B-'s bizarro world with him.  Sure. The foundation of my choice was boredom and a faint (very faint) curiosity, but it was still my choice.  If I'm going to own ending our liaison, I must also own staying in it for 7 years.  As much of a freak B- was, he didn't kidnap me, lure me or seduce me into making the weekly train ride to his shabby apartment in Uptown.

He wasn't a Svengali molding my vulnerable mind to his own nefarious or perverted ends. (In fact, if you cornered him in the dank corners of El Gato Negro, his version of the story paints me a manipulative bitch who ruined his life and crushed his soul. Potato, potahto.)

Most people don't recognize that women have will, I think.  (Don't misunderstand me; I am not making the argument that all women choose their individual situations - especially the bad situations - and that they are the masters of their own exploitation. I was not exploited or abused; I merely endured an emotionally unsatisfying affair with someone I didn't really care for that much.) I'm saying that, like men, women have agency. We make decisions; we make choices. I was not an object acted against; I was a subject.

It seems I'm too over-determined about this, but I think it's an important point to make about women in general and me, in particular.

Friday, July 23, 2010

i don't want to be your sacrificial lamb

This needs to be quoted in full: Shirley Sherrod’s victory: A teachable moment on talking race Race-Talk

But for now, I'll just leave you with this:

I watched David Gergen, whom I admire, talk yesterday about Ms. Sherrod’s “ascendant quality,” about her ability to rise above the legitimate racial pains of her past to help this white farmer. And then ironically my morning meditation was on Ephesians 4:8-9, a passage about Christ’s ascension and freeing of the captives. So it dawns on me: Americans want Black women to be Jesus. We are to be spit upon, mocked, discredited, and crucified, but at the end we are to forgive and remain gracious. As a strategy of personal living and transformation, that’s fine, but no one should have to be Jesus to do their job effectively.

...But I think those folks who think that eliminating racism starts with eliminating “race” are just plain wrong.

In fact, we’re trying that strategy now, and what it has led to is a vacuous rhetoric of colorblindness and racial transcendence, all the while hard-working Black women can lose their jobs on a whim, immigrants who’ve been working hard and shoring up the service economy in this country for decades are being deported, and young Black men and women continue to be murdered by the police. Deciding that “whiteness” and “blackness” shouldn’t matter when they clearly do matter is not the solution.
[bold emphasis mine]

Read the whole thing.
Hey. How about that instant design update? Huh?

summer hiatus

Clearly, my summer posting has been light.
Not that there hasn't been stuff to talk about (say, oh, the Shirley Sherrod 'accidental' firing) but I've been swamped. M-, work, life, finances, and then all of the summer lazing around - I've had other things on my plate.

But here's a list of things I wish I could write about if I had the time:
More about this 'rip off the mask' stage of the relationship
Being the object of a 'girl crush'
The quest for my professional sweet spot
More on my dissatisfaction with the human services business model (would I recommend anyone go into non profit work at this time, in Illinois? Hell, no.)
Why losing weight during the hottest summer on record is not happening

So until my life slows down or I can carve some time away from sitting in front of an oscillating fan, drinking sangria, Screed will be a little thin this summer.  If you want to see what's going on with me and M-, follow me on Twitter @DeliaC.  If you want your daily dose of political/cultural mini-screeds, Twitter me @DeliaChristina.

Hope your summers are awesome.

Monday, July 05, 2010

10 reasons to love the 4th of July:

1. It means 2 short work weeks and everyone is firmly in 'vacation' mode.
2. It's an excuse to drink excessively, eat to oblivion and pass out on a blanket - just like when you were 9 years old.
3. Everyone has left town and you can finally get a seat on the bus.
4. You immediately remember which of your friends have rooftop decks.
5. Everyone loves illegal fireworks!
6. You can finally eat ALL the barbecue and sausages you want!
7. You can unveil your unseemly love for Souza and The Battle Hymn of the Republic (which you remember uncannily.)
8. Did I mention rooftop decks, already?
9. Airconditioning becomes a reason to love being an American.
10. It is the only holiday that really feels like summer.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tips on Informational Interviewing with Delia Christina

Lately, I’ve been fielding calls from recent college grads (or their family friends) for informational interviews and I don’t quite know how to feel about it. Ambivalent about my own professional standing and trajectory, I don’t quite know what insights I’m supposed to give these young people. Sure, I have a solid list of contacts (not as fabulous as some, but it’s still a good one); but informational interviewing should be about more than just a polite way to demand names. I see it as a mini-mentoring opportunity.


And since I’m big on mentoring folks who look like me, I was doubly ambivalent when the two people I spoke with this week didn’t look like me. Their accumulated gender, race and class privilege outweighed any contacts or leads I could give them in a lifetime.

The bitchy thought crossed my mind, “Shit, why should I waste my time and so-called insight on these two when I could be giving them to another woman of color?”

But I tamped down my impatience and made the appointments with them – because that’s what you do when you’re a professional. You realize that the job search is a dance and these sorts of interviews are part of the choreography. Also, there was no way I was going to look bad in front of the people who referred them to me. So on Monday, I met with a very nice college grad who’s earnestly interested in women’s advocacy – or law school – and today I met with a guy who’s been interning at our org at a long-term research position.

The recent grad was a dream. She was prepared. She came with a list of orgs she was interested in; she had already met with a couple other advocates I knew and she had a couple of career trajectories in mind by the time she sat down with me. We spent 30 minutes talking about the non profit sector, women’s advocacy and why direct service in Illinois is not likely to be a good bet for the next 10 years. I gave her a few names of other women to reach out to and shook hands with her on the way out. What a nice girl, I thought.

Then I met with PolicyDude. Unprepared, vague about his plans, unable to say what he wanted or why, he made my head hurt.

“PolicyDude,” I said. “Here’s a tip. When someone asks you what you’re interested in, saying ‘social justice and progressive movements’ isn’t going to cut it. It’s too vague. That could mean anything and everything. You need to be specific enough so that I know how best to recommend you to someone.”

He scribbled in his pad.

“So…let me hear it. Give me your 5 minute pitch: why do you want to be in policy and where do you want to end up?”

“Um…is that really necessary?”

Tip Number 2: When you’re asking someone to help you find a job, don’t be bitchy.

“Ok…who has the job now that you envision having?” In the past, I had always found this exercise to be helpful in focusing me on my own professional ambitions; I thought this would work for him, too. But, no.

He looked at the ceiling. “Um, well….policy think tanks…social movements for women…maybe an international organization…”

Sigh. “What about title? Who has the title you want?”

“Um, well…maybe Director of …policy?” Never let it be said that men don’t dream big.

Tip Number 3: For the love of god, be prepared ... and brief.

We spent an hour trying to eke out what it was he really wanted. Did he want to stay in Chicago or go elsewhere? Did he want to try women’s advocacy or poverty work? Did he want to stay in non profit or had he thought about the private sector? (I gave him the name of a blue chip consulting firm in Chicago with a non profit practice and, swear to god – if he finds a job with them, I will lose my shit.) Which foundations or research orgs was he thinking about? Why was he interested in this work? What did he want to do? How could I refer him to anyone I knew (and foist this disaster on them) when he couldn’t answer any of these questions?

Before you chastise me for losing my patience, I have to say that this guy is a grownup and should know better – in his 30s with a solid academic background, married to a med school student, already thinking about raising kids. He had already done some little work in the field but basically expected me to open my contact list and read off a bunch of names and emails for him.

Tip Number 4: Don’t be so overtly greedy.

When I reviewed his resume, I discovered that this guy had never gone through a traditional job process. Through the kindness of teachers and friends, he’d jumped from this random post to that.

“So you’ve never formally interviewed for any job before? You’ve never had to compete for a job?”

“Not really. Isn’t it …um…all about who you know?” Somehow, he managed to maintain a puzzled look of cluelessness as he said this.

Tip Number 5: Don’t let your white male privilege hit your ass on your way out my office.

...
Note: Though I was mentally over this conversation halfway through, I stuck with it and gave him some tips on being a little more strategic about his interviewing: stop mumbling, rewrite your resume, have your pitch ready and ask your contact for more than who they know. I gave him some homework and we’ll talk again in two weeks. But jesus on the cross – really??

Note: What’s Tip Number 1? Don’t be lazy!
So my org was just featured in an article about succession planning and how the org empowers female leadership. Great! Yay!

But then, in a meeting yesterday, it was said that we have a policy of 'not providing food for staff.'

Irony, much?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for arranging things so that my field of work doesn't put me in direct contact with entitled, rich, white women anymore. They are crazy.

Yours,
Delia Christina

A friend at work is dealing with a very rich, very entitled white woman who answers every email but my friend's, makes threats about my friend's work and has tried at least once to make my friend look bad to her boss. (Thankfully, our boss is a very cool sort of woman and has been getting copied on every emailed interaction.) This entitled rich lady is a volunteer.

Where the hell do volunteers for an organization get off treating staff like their servants?

I think I've just found my new side hustle: rogue volunteer whisperer for stressed out non profit fundraising staff.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's new, pussycat?

Not much. In a funny twist of workplace irony, I was named a high performing ROCK star (don't ask me why it was capitalized thusly) on my team, which entails one personal day off. When Boss Lady told me I asked her if they were supposed to pick the team member who was closest to a nervous breakdown. She laughed. But really. I wondered.
...
If you follow my twitter you might have seen the photo of me and M- at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. What a fabulous day that was! Romantic, pretty, random...everything a wedding should be.  And we danced - to jazz! Sigh. (The fact that we fought for the lead for a few seconds is not important.) We should have more weekends like this but then we'd be broke.

All of that to say that M- and I are pretty good.
...
Our world is frakked. Every day I watch the BP disaster unfold and grow angrier and angrier. But who am I angry at the most?

At BP for being the epitome of a bad-acting corporation? (cutting corners on safety, not giving a shit about workers or safety, being more concerned about PR than actual problem solving or taking responsibility for their bad act....I could go on.)

At the general public for our blindness at our own complicity? (That oil was for us - literally. It was for the US market. If we're so upset about this and about all this offshore drilling, and we say we never want to see this happen again, we need to make some different choices. Choices that go waaaay beyond being 'green.' Choices that mean the infrastructure and flow of our society looks different. Are we even ready to contemplate what a society without fossil fuels looks like, acts like?)

At folks for having these wacko expectations of a President? (Really, you're mad that the President didn't come to your dock to speak to you personally about how this spill is affecting you? And he should do this for every single person in the Gulf region? To make YOU feel like YOU are being listened to? When did we become such babies?)

At the Obama administration for being well-meaning but sort of politically doofy? (What happened to all the savvy public strategy folks that got them through the elections? Where's that message discipline?)

The longer human beings are on this planet, the more we fuck it up.
When the flaming meteorite comes, I hope the end is quick.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

reality bites, indeed

I am not a radical.

As a bourgie brown woman, I acknowledge what little privilege I have and wish everyone had the advantages I've had. However, just because I'm a bourgie black woman does NOT mean that I don't give a shit about making a difference in women's lives. 

I'm in one of our chief executive's office this morning and throwing an idea out there that our legislative agenda next session needs be more cohesive. So we're talking about the benefits to it and somehow ending up on a potential issue area for us: domestic trafficking and prostituted women. And then began a depressing conversation about whether or not we're a feminist organization and what matters more: dollars or actually advocating to empower women? Clearly, dollars.

Know what I hate about working for an org that's over 100 years old in this funding environment?

I hate knowing that every future decision we make about policy is probably going to come from a place of fear: fear that we'll alienate a donor; fear that we'll make a politician angry; fear that our general constituency will back off from us; fear that the shiny white ladies from the burbs won't want to be sullied by the hard scrabble lives of women living on the south or west side.

I hate coming to the realization that, because of our age and our size, rather than use this time of uncertainty to be brave, we only TALK about being brave but then cavil and end up being mealy-mouthed and cowardly. Because that's what it means to back off from policies that mean life or death to women. It means you're chicken shit and you're not really serious about what you mean.

I'm sure I'm not the only policy/advocacy person in a human services non profit to come to that realization.

If I'm going to be this disillusioned, I should have stayed in corporate.
At least I'd be compensated for my cynicism.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

This is White Supremacy

So I'm getting ready to go to a wedding in Kenilworth (one of Chicago's closest 'sundown' towns, incidentally) when I read this article in my FB feed: Arizona public school is being forced to change little black and brown kids in a mural white because some assholes are offended by the mere visual reminder that not everyone is white.

So far reaction has been "Wow, those Arizonans are freaking crazy, with their racist thoughts and all."  Well, yes and no.

Yes, they are freaking crazy but this isn't racism. This is white supremacy.

When a state, by large unspoken agreement of its people, decides to ellide the very presence of the racial Other then we're beyond 'race bigotry' + power = Racism. We're into the land of: You are not white so therefore you are not worthy of citizenship (SB1070), a place in our history (see ethnic studies bans and textbook revisionism) or even artistic or public representation.  When the black and brown people are told their presence isn't wanted in public that's a strong statement of who IS welcomed: whites only.

To me, that means Jim Crow. And if we're all students of history, we all should recognize Jim Crow, or bullshit 'separate but equal' segregation, as a tool of white supremacy.

Disenfranchisement is more than just being treated differently - it means one has no public, legal or civil recourse to wrongs done to you. It means you have no right to participate in civic life - voting, for instance. When applied to ONLY people of color, it is a white supremacist method of social control.

So let's start calling the racists what they really are: Jim Crow apologists and white supremacists.  Because now we know what we're dealing with.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dad gets another lesson in feminism: on raising strong daughters

Talking with my dad allows me to say some things kids and parents normally don't have a chance to say to one another unless one of them is on a deathbed.  So today, I told him how his and mom's messages about our bodies basically created some of the issues my sister and I have with intimacy.  And his brain exploded.

"What did you expect, Dad?" I said. "We grew up in a religiously strict Baptist home, we were taught Satan was real, we were going to hell if we touched ourselves, our bodies were dirty, sex was bad and that boys were rapists. So, yeah - we're gonna have some issues with men when we grow up!"

"Ahhh, well. I don't know," he stammered. "I don't know if I agree with all of that. But we can talk about that later."

"Dad, L- and I still talk about how traumatized we were when you told us about sex. It was graphic!"

"I was just trying to protect you from the little knuckleheads down the street!"

"We were eight! Don't tell us about being snatched off the streets, thrown on a dirty mattress in a van and having some little boy put their fingers in our bodies! That was terrifying!"

"I was being a father! We lived in South Central - not some fairy land."

"Well, congratulations, Dad! You told us our bodies were fodder for rapists - who, apparently, lived down the street, went to school with us and walked the sidewalks! Nice going." I said. "We were EIGHT!  Dude, didn't anyone back then read books about child development? Didn't you guys have Good Touch/Bad Touch?"

"What's that mess?"

And so on.

Anyway, things are not going well with my sister's marriage; she has admitted to Dad that she has hated how men look at her, which has prompted Dad to ask where her attitude comes from.

"Are you kidding me?"

"I'm serious, Delia Christina. I don't understand it."

I tried to explain what it's like growing up a girl where you're taught that Bad Things will happen to you because of what's between your legs, how this reduces a girl to an object and tells her that SHE is the cause for a man's violence and perversion; but he didn't get it, quite.

So I said, "You raised us to be afraid, not strong. See the difference?"

My sister and I heard the same messages growing up. But I know what made the difference for me. Feminism. If that kind of awakening hadn't happened to me, I would still be struggling with my body, my value, my worth. I know that I've had a reputation for being a ball-busting man-hater, but I'd rather be a so-called man-hater than a woman afraid of her own body and desire.

But this, I think, is the conundrum of raising daughters. If you know that this patriarchal world is full of violence against women and girls (which it is, in horrible, horrific ways) then how do you prepare your daughter to face it? And then, how do you raise them to face it without making them afraid of themselves, of their bodies - how do you raise a daughter to be without shame?

Mothers and fathers raising daughters, I'd love to hear from you on this one.