What Difference Does it Make?

p213624_2aMy lifelong habit of reading the news every morning, especially the political news, has become a real issue for me. What are you supposed to do when every single day brings multiple stories that shock, depress or terrify you? I used to find some distraction in the entertainment news… but now that Hollywood has started exposing and confronting its bullies and predators (e.g. all the executives and half the actors), that’s out too. These days I look at the news the way you might check out a terrible breakfast buffet: lift the cover, shudder and put it back quick, move down the line, and finally give up. I’ll just have coffee, thanks.

In calmer and more reflective moments, I think maybe we need this, that it’s a necessary purging. The shock of 2016 was realizing how wide and deep the racism and sexism run in our society, the horror of discovering that your benign-looking neighbors and friends might be raging bigots, anti-Semites, homophobes or god knows what. Probably everybody who wasn’t a straight white dude had already figured this out, but I hadn’t. Now in 2017 it’s been like we’re turning over all the rocks and the vermin have been slithering out into plain sight. Nazis? What the fuck? I didn’t plan on dealing with Nazis as I entered my so-called golden years.

And really, what is up with all the hate? Well you know what’s up with it, because you feel it yourself. Your own tendency to notice differences, and to use them to make yourself feel better. To judge people, as a handy way to stop having to think about them, consider their perspectives, and accommodate them a little bit. Put them in a box, and you’re not only done with them but you get to feel superior at the same time. At least I’m not a [fill in the blank]. We all do it, and what’s really crazy is that women can be sexists, gays can be homophobes, people of color can be the worst racists of all.

Think of the bitchy, snarky, nasty comments you hear when anybody is trying to climb out of the box they’ve been put in. Oh, look at her. Who does she think she is? The friendly fire from your own tribe is the most painful of all, because it’s a reflection of your own self doubt and self loathing. Right, who am I to think I could get that job, or go to college, or cross a gender line, or just stand up proudly in public with my real face showing? I’ll just crawl back to safety and join the others taking shots at the people in the arena who are sweating and bleeding and potentially looking vulnerable.

Indeed, that’s what you see in the Comments section of virtually any article foolish enough to allow comments. The sniping, the tearing down, the trash talk. It’s the absolute worst of human nature. It’s also embodied by our current *president, who is a walking talking Comments section. In fact if a Comments section had a face, it would have that face: fat, pasty, perpetually scowling, and slathered in poorly applied bronzer. And again, once you could just ignore the comments, but what do you do when the Comments section has a megaphone and the power of the state behind it?

You “Be the Change,” that’s what. I am noticing some things about my own reactions this past year. On the one hand, I’m listening more. I find myself stopping and considering other points of view that I might have steamrolled past. I’m letting other people have their say, and trying to understand. I’m trying to see where I might be asserting privilege, at least unearned privilege. And sometimes I step back. But on the other hand, I have some earned privilege, and I’m getting very comfortable with that. I’ve been speaking up more: confronting bullying, openly promoting what I believe, being an unapologetic voice for my own views. Lately I find myself with zero tolerance for bad behavior. And you don’t have to be a bully in return; sometimes a quiet, assertive change in topic or tone is enough.

I run an arts event in Orlando and for the past couple of years, I’ve been using it with more intention. I’ve put speakers on the stage who strongly advocate for the things I care about: tolerance, equality, justice, conservation, everything that’s under attack at the moment. Sometimes I think, well I have a very tiny voice and what difference does it make? But as my friend Aquanza put it, each of us is an instrument and if we express ourselves in harmony with those around us, the accumulated sound can be very powerful. I felt especially powerless after Pulse last year, when I was 3,000 miles from home and my people were attacked. And I thought over and over, “what can I do?” until I realized: I can do my work. That’s what I can do. And the event we put on a few weeks later was the Anti-Pulse: a bullet of inclusion and pure love to the heart of Orlando.

So yeah, we’re living through an ugly moment. A roiling and tumultuous time, and something tells me there might be worse to come. But hasn’t it always been this way? Hasn’t humanity always been in a battle with itself against its own worst impulses? Haven’t people always had to suffer and sweat and even die to conquer hate and oppression? Is it so bad to be in this fight, especially when you know you’re on the right side of it? I happened on a quote from Franklin Roosevelt yesterday: “Calm seas never made a skilled sailor.” In my best moments over the past couple of years, I haven’t cursed my bad luck at having to live through this shitstorm. I’ve seen the light through the darkness, and to me the light is as simple as this: Just show up. Speak up. And don’t give up.

PechaKucha Night Orlando v12

Mofo-PechaKucha FEB. V12-Final-Choice-L

We will be “showing Orlando some love” a week before Valentine’s Day with a great lineup of presenters:

David Alecock: Being Present for Love

Emily Empel: The Futurist’s Paradise

Max Jackson: Love and the Human Brain

Kristen Walmsley-Manieri: A Yearning Curve

Carolyn Moor: A Modern Love Story

Susan Rienzo: Color Sings to Me

Joe Tankersley: Data Love

Thomas Thorspecken: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Orlando

Mike Van den Abbeel: Would You Please Sign this Petition?

In addition, we’ll have entrees from Tamale Co., cupcakes from Yum Yum, coffee from Lineage Roasting, and beer/wine from Shipyard!

Complete event information is available here:

http://www.pechakucha.org/cities/orlando/events/52418687dbdd203f71000001

How Not to Write a PR Statement

Chris Christie

By now you’re heard about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his “Bridge-gate” scandal. It broke yesterday morning when New Jersey and New York news outlets released emails that indicated Christie’s closest aides orchestrated four days of traffic jams in Ft. Lee, as retribution for that town’s Democratic mayor declining to endorse Christie’s bid for reelection. When the story broke yesterday, Christie canceled a public appearance. Eight hours later, his office released this statement:

“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

Somebody needs to be fired: the person or persons who assembled (“wrote” is too generous) that statement. Hard to believe it actually took eight hours to create it. In fact if you picked out one of every two citizens of New Jersey at random, put a gun to their head, and said “Talk!” this is probably what would come out… blustery accusation that sounds like toughness but actually blames somebody, anybody else and takes no accountability.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable.” Now there’s a sentence. It casts away everything — context, explanation, setup — in a mad dash to get to the key point that Christie never saw the emails and knew nothing about them. And the mad dash ends in a Splat! ending on the lame, pseudo-censorious word “unacceptable.”

The next sentence is even worse. Grammatically, it breaks down like this:

“I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that A) not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but B) this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”

In other words, “I am [adjective] to learn that this [adjective] conduct was made without my knowledge.” How do you learn that something was done without your knowledge? The Governor is using his second sentence to repeat, in pretzel-like doubled-up fashion, that he had no knowledge of the thing he said in his first sentence he had no knowledge about. That, my friend, is a whole lot of no knowledge.

Oh, and he was “misled by a member of my staff.” Finally, we get to somebody specific to blame. Well, not specific, but you know. Heading in the direction of specificity.

And more adjectives: this completely “inappropriate” and “unsanctioned” conduct. “Inappropriate” is almost as pseudo-censorious as “unacceptable,” and of course you know what “unsanctioned” means… it means he had no knowledge about it.

“One thing is clear.” Well, thank goodness for that. Because nothing has been clear so far, at least in this sorry excuse for a paragraph. What is this one thing that’s so clear?

“This type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Whoa. Think you already said that. Unacceptable, right.

“…and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.” Okay, well that’s two things that are clear, but who’s counting?

Again, let’s break it down. This is the only reason you won’t tolerate this kind of behavior? The reason you object to snarling up traffic for days at one of the only exits from the island of Manhattan to settle a petty political score is that people in one state (you screwed over New Yorkers, too, but let it pass) “deserve better”? Your staff caused thousands of people to be inconvenienced or worse for days. This is “behavior”?

Okay, well, let’s move on, because as a communications professional, as a former resident of New Jersey, as a human being… I’m losing patience with you.

“This behavior [again with the behavior] is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

Now we get to the real problem for the first time: the fact that the worst part of this scandal is that it seems wholly representative of the Governor and his administration. It’s what Hemingway called the objective correlative, the specific detail that suggests the entire big picture. That’s what is so damaging about this story — it gets right at the thing people don’t like about Christie (they think he’s a bully), and makes it clear and relatable.

And finally, “people will be held responsible for their actions.” This is a cop-out in three ways at once: the use of the passive voice (who is the actor in this sentence? who will be holding these people responsible? nobody, it seems) — the use of the vague “people” — and the fact that this accountability will happen in some distant future. This triple backing away from actual responsibility gives the lie to all the other attempts to make Christie sound like a decisive leader. There is no leader present in this statement; there is only an injured and frightened ego.

“People will be held responsible for their actions.” Does the Governor still not know who is responsible? He had eight hours in which to ask some very direct questions, eight hours in which to get some answers, eight hours in which to fire these unnamed and apparently unknowable people… assuming the entire eight hours wasn’t spent crafting this pathetic, inadequate paragraph.