Diversity on my mind

Diversity and acceptance is on my mind a good bit these days. In the middle of one of the most contentious elections in recent memory, diversity and inclusiveness is a big component of deciding who to vote for. Listening to the radio today, there was a quote that caught my attention. Diversity isn’t just about including what you believe, it’s about including what others believe. Good and bad.

The power in the American Experiment comes not from pushing groups out, but from working to find ways to blend those opinions into a cohesive agreement. When you read about the actual Constitutional Convention, it’s quickly clear that there were MAJOR disagreements about what the direction for the government should be. While we wouldn’t consider the group diverse today, at the time, you can safely say the opinions were very diverse.  There were delegates who attended the convention who ended up not signing the final document. Heck, the whole state of Rhode Island refused to send delegates. There was no magical 100% agreement. The Bill of Rights was an add on, and the negotiations on slavery lead to a war less than 100 years later.

The Constitution was and is about compromise. It was about understanding that everyone can’t get what they want right this second. Sometimes you have to build things out over time in order to get a functioning society.

We’ve forgotten this lesson today. People insist that their way is right, and damn anyone else. Anything short of perfection is unacceptable. You’re Catholic and anti-abortion? You are obviously a horrible human being, even though you are pushing hard for social welfare changes, universal health care, and are working as a public defender. You’re transgender? You’re an abomination, it doesn’t matter that you volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate 20% of your income to your church, and that you vote conservative on a variety of issues. We get so focused on purity of purpose, we forget that the middle ground is where compromise begins.

You can learn a ton from people who don’t think the way you do. I learn daily from a friend in Missouri who’s struggling to build a small business. I learn a ton about discrimination from friends who are white, who are struggling with how to raise black children they’ve adopted. I learn about parenting from watching friends as they try to balance their morals and ethics with the changing world that allows kids to access things using tech in ways we’ve never seen. I learn from public defenders as they rant about the way the system is stacked against their clients. (As an aside, all the PDs I’m friends with are Republicans. Chew on that a bit).

I’ll never agree fully with some of my friends on the Israel/Palestine issue. I won’t agree with friends who insist that you can’t be part of organized religion and still be a good, non judgmental person. I’ll struggle with how to find balance between religious belief and public interactions. I’ll struggle with how we balance law and order with racial injustice.

And that’s the key. I’ll struggle. I won’t assume that there’s an easy answer. Because I know too many good people on both sides. I won’t say that friend X has more value than friend Y. I’ll be like the Founders and say, we need to find a compromise. It won’t always be a good one. But for true diversity to flourish, all sides need a chance to come to the table and work things out.

I will remember, and forget

On 9/11, the words reverberate across the internet.

“Never forget”.

We splash memes, personal memories, and pictures across social media, and for a moment come together an remember a moment that seems indelible. Who can forget where they were that day? Who doesn’t remember the fear, the horror, the gut clenching nausea? Who doesn’t feel that little tug of nostalgia, that desire to go back to a moment where we simultaneously felt pulled apart, yet pulled together? How could you ever forget that moment?

Stop and think a moment. Look hard at your memories. Drift back and try to feel for the sharp edges. Chances are, those edges aren’t as sharp. Time blunts memories for most of us. You don’t have the same knot in your stomach in year 15 that you had in year 2. The emotion fades from bright colors to muted tones. You remember lost friends, or near misses. The hurt isn’t quite the same. Time moves in one direction- forward. With that progression, year in and year out, you lose small pieces of those memories.

That’s how humans work. Our memories only hold so much detail, for so long. Time gradually erases the details. We can remember the dates, an the broad strokes, but the details fade out. This is how life works. It’s a natural part of moving forward from any event. With time, the memories are relegated to a few. The rest of us are stuck with the words in history books and stories that were passed on.

You will forget the details. As memory goes, only the sharpest, clearest details will stand out in your mind. (Sitting on a bench outside a movie theater in Ottawa, tears dripping down my face. I can see that. I can’t see the movie I walked into as an attempt at distraction.) Your kids won’t remember at all. They weren’t old enough, and will only have your stories.

You will forget. That’s okay. You can let go of those moments. It doesn’t mean you don’t honor the moment, or those who were lost. You find a new way to remember. You remember by working to change the world, and make things better. You remember by sharing stories, and encouraging others to be good people. You remember the past by keeping lessons in mind, but still moving forward.

The world doesn’t stop spinning, and time never truly stands still. You will forget. It doesn’t mean you don’t remember.

 

 

Remembering

Today is National Suicide Awareness Day. It also marks the two year anniversary of the death of my cat Georgia. In one of those horrible cosmic twisty, timey-whimey moments, the two events overlap. My friend Brittany was the one to drive Georgia and I to the vet for that last visit. The following year, Brittany looked into the abyss and couldn’t walk away. The hurt was too much, and she killed herself.

Both losses were devastating in different ways. I miss both of them every day, and both of them have left lasting marks on my life. Two lessons are on my mind today.

  1. Don’t be afraid to love, full throttle, with both arms wrapped around that love. It doesn’t matter if it’s animal or human. Love hard, and love without the fear of being hurt. It’s amazingly worth it.
  2. Never be afraid to let someone know how much they mean to you. I made sure to tell Brittany how much I valued her friendship and presence in my life regularly. Suicide is complicated, and the reasons why someone decides to end things are varied. Once the decision is made, those around the suicide victim live with the lingering questions, the what ifs. I am eternally glad that my what if’s with Britt don’t include wondering if she knew that I loved her. In that moment, she may have not seen it, but I know I did everything I could to make sure she knew. That’s all I can do and I did my best.

Life isn’t lived in memes, tweets, or soundbites. Its a heck of a lot messier and harder on all of us. Don’t be afraid to get messy along the way.

I swear I lived

“With every broken bone, I swear I lived.” –One Republic

Why blow off two weeks of paying work to go to Europe with my mother? I was asked about this more than once over the last few months. Folks have opinions, and in this day and age we aren’t shy about sharing them. Most folks thought it was silly to take that long of a trip when I didn’t have paid vacation time. In a lot of ways, they were right. I mean it means several weeks of working harder to catch up. It means some sleepless nights. I means stress.

So what? I won’t be on my death bed saying I should have worked harder or skipped out on time with people I care about. I won’t regret patiently extending my arm for Mom to grab as we navigated the cobbles of Venice. I wont regret seeing her face light up as we explored a new church, and looked at works of art that you can normally only see in text books. I won’t regret watching her absolute joy at seeing the exchange student who made a profound impact on her life. I won’t regret those moments.

She has always done her best to live a life with minimal regrets. She’s helped to pass that legacy along to me. She learned the lesson from her friend Rusty.

Rusty Mitchell was a fixture of my life over the years. She was friends with my mother through work at the local newspaper. Rusty was a character. She visited Mexico multiple times in her retirement, and drove a black Ford Mustang. She climbed the steps of Machu Pichu in her 60s. She lived an amazing life. In in her later years, Mom has helped care for Rusty as she slowly declined.

On Tuesday of this week, Rusty Mitchell of Colorado Springs passed away in her sleep. She was 92. Here’s to a life lived.

All Souls Day

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Folks don’t realize that “Day of the Dead” is actually a three day long series of observances. It evolved from a fusion of Mexican traditional rituals with Catholic Church practices. It’s a vigil on October 31, the recognition and remembrance of saints on November 1, and remembrance of all souls on November 2.

Last year on November 1 I marked the day with a picture of a little ofrenda to remember Georgia and CancerCat. This year it was a LOT more crowded. This was a brutal year. Some loss was foreseen, much of it wasn’t. If I dig, I can point to all the learning and personal growth that the year since last November 2 has brought me. It’s all learning that sucks.

We fear death, and after the last year I can see why people feel that way. The rollercoaster of emotions isn’t fun. For people who thrive on control, I imagine it’s even worse. I end the night with a prayer to those who’ve passed on, and those who still walk with us. Here is hoping that the next 365 days are a little gentler on all of us.

Why film? A return to old school

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I had a camera in my hand on and off starting at age 4. Mom loved photography, and was very good about handing the old 110 camera over to me when I asked for it. There are hundreds of bad pictures scattered through the family picture collection. Most of them come from the hands of the two youngest members of the family. In high school, I jumped at the chance to take a “real” photography class.

I struggled through learning the various techniques, through learning how to compose a compelling image, and how to translate the cool thing my brain saw into an image others would enjoy. My favorite part was always the darkroom. Dinking around with rolls of film, the quiet and solitude of standing around in the dark, waiting patiently to see if something good showed up…this was the best part of the day.

After college, I eventually graduated to the world of digital. It was a great way to get back into photography after a layoff, without the expense of film. I built up a pretty impressive library over the past 15 years or so.

Recently, I stumbled across an article on stand developing. This got me interested in doing some of my own black and white developing again. So I picked up a few cheap rolls of film, jammed them into a camera, and started shooting. I’ve also started to develop some old rolls of film that I had kicking around from when I lived in DC.

Doing your own processing requires a little more focus. Stand developing is pretty forgiving of mistakes. But the process of getting your film ready for processing is much less forgiving. I’ve got old school metal reels, and they push you to be patient and use good technique. Poor technique means a bad load, and then bad, blotchy developing.

I’m having to force myself to slow down, and not cut corners. It’s by turns irritating, and incredibly useful. It’s making me work through a problem, not just throw up my hands and walk away.

I’ll start posting some of the experiments. I’m aiming to get at least 1 roll of something shot, and developed each week. It’s not a hard plan, more of an elective kind of idea. The biggest thing is I’m not pressing myself for perfect. I’m not going to get perfect with this technique. I’m learning to accept things as they are, not as I want them to be.

Writing as a friend

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I’ve done a lot of writing that I just keep refusing to hit the publish button on. The reasons vary, but the underlying issue is one of perfection. I’ve gotten backed into an uncomfortable mental corner where I feel that every word has to be just right. Every sentence has to be grammar school perfect. Every thought has to be full and complete. Yet that’s often not how my best writing comes forth. My best stuff comes when I start tossing ideas out, then let others interact with them, helping me find ways to refine the thoughts.

Stream of consciousness writing isn’t polished and sparkly, but it’s the fuel that leads to that polished, sparkly stuff. So for now, it’s time to push some of the less sparkly bits out into the world, and see what I get. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It does need a little time to breathe so that I can get comfortable with it again. Writing is work, but for me it’s also been a long time friend. When I can’t view it as that friend, then I lose interest and the overall tenor and quality drops.

Like most friends, you go through phases. The relationship goes up and down. I’ve been in a bit of a down phase. It’s time to push it back up.

Looking for steady ground

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A few months ago, the world turned sideways. A dear friend killed herself.

It was unexpected, unthinkable, and knocked my legs right out from under me. I’ve done hospice and medical fostering for several years. So loss isn’t a foreign concept to me. I’ve lost friends and lovers along the way. I’ve lost communities I value, and people who’s opinions I deeply respected.

This was the first close friend I’ve lost. She was the first friend I’ve lost to suicide. You can know in your head all the logical things about death, loss, and suicide. You can experience some of it on the edges of your life, and understand a little bit. You can’t quite wrap your head around it. You hope you’ll never have to.

I can wrap my head around it now. I wish I couldn’t. There are life lessons I am more than happy to never experience. This is very much one of them.

I keep looking for steady ground. I can’t quite find it yet.

Miss you Brit.

Last Christmas light

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There’s that beautiful moment where the last light of the day, mixes with the lights of your Christmas tree and the room just glows. There’s a beautiful mix of promise and warmth in that light. So many people cut Christmas off abruptly on the 26th. Others wait for the 1st of January. I always wait through the full 12 days of Christmas.

As the Feast of the Ephihany approaches, the light on Christmas slowly goes out. It’s important to enjoy those last moments.

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