Marching for equality in 2017

This weekend, I’m heading to the Women’s March on Washington. I could have chosen to attend a march in my home city of Pittsburgh, but as soon as the march was announced, I knew I wanted to be in Washington.

logo for the Women's March on Washington

Logo copyright the Women’s March on Washington.

My budget is tight right now, and attending the march will definitely put a strain on finances. But I can go, so I feel I must go. Not only for myself, but for those who can’t go—because they can’t afford the bus ticket, because they can’t get childcare, because they can’t get off work.

The March has not been without some squabbling over intersectionality, but to paraphrase Roxanne Gay, I’d rather have an imperfect feminist protest of our incoming Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief than none at all. I march knowing full well that I am preceded by men and women who had to deal with—and who still deal with—more hate and prejudice than I likely ever will, even considering the incoming administration. I have a lot to learn, and I hope to do those men and women honor on Saturday.

After the election, I fell into a pretty deep depression. I thought about self-harm for the first time in nearly a decade. How can we go on, I thought? How can I go on in this world that clearly doesn’t value or respect me?

I picked fights with people when I should have known better, had an extraordinarily hard time getting any words out of my brain and onto the page, and only managed to avoid hurting myself by relying heavily on my support network and using every single coping mechanism I’ve ever learned.

To be clear, I wasn’t depressed because the candidate I voted for didn’t win the election and I’m some spoiled whiny brat millennial or whatever. I’ve lost and failed and lost some more, and I will again (probably before the day is over). I was depressed because I went to sleep in a wold where a woman had a chance of becoming president for the first time in US history, and woke up in a world that had reinforced the existence of that glass ceiling and—implicitly or explicitly—condoned sexual assault, or at best refused to stand up against it.

Unfortunately for the world’s misogynists, my bout of depression has condensed itself wholly into anger and outrage. I will march on Saturday and every day from this one until the day I march straight into my grave if that’s what it takes to end oppression and violence against women.

Whether you are able to make it to D.C. or not, I invite you to march with me.

 

Yuppies

Perhaps it’s the writer in me, perhaps it’s my mother’s nosiness, but when I eat at restaurants, I can’t help but observe the diners sitting around me.

On a recent trip to Buffalo, New York, for the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, my husband and I ate dinner at a local vegetarian-friendly restaurant called Merge.

There was nothing pretentious about the place. It was decorated like someone’s living room, with plenty of live house plants, odds and ends with character (nothing so new as to be shiny or squeaky), and festive lights. Even the tables and chairs were charmingly mismatched.

And the food, oh my goddess, the food. I had a beet salad and shrimp risotto. I love beets. But I had no idea beets could be so delicious. They were served on top of a bed of mixed greens, with fennel, candied walnuts, and a vinaigrette. I will definitely try to recreate that at home.

This isn’t a post about good food, though. It’s a post about class. (Not that the two aren’t intimately related, but that’s another post.)

A family—father, mother, grandfather, three kids—sat at the table behind us. I didn’t notice them until I heard the father say, “We’ve got theater tickets for 7:30, so we need to be quick about this.”

It was 6:30. Something about his tone, demanding and so self-assured there wasn’t space for doubt, got my hackles up. I looked over. They were all appropriately dressed for a show, with slacks and dress shirts and sweaters.

Over the course of their meal, I watched this family interact with each other. They chatted about school and the menu, and the father repeatedly exercised his fatherly authority over his children. I hardly heard a peep from the mother. And it was this—the constant insistence of “I’m your father, and I’m in charge”—as much as the impression of easy money that had me gritting my teeth.

But I did get an impression that they had enough money that the didn’t have to worry about their finances beyond whether their retirement investments were simply doing well or outperforming the market by 10 percentage points.

Of course, that’s where my own biases come in. I grew up directly across the street from a steel mill. We never had to worry about enough food, but we had to worry about union strikes and debt, about growing gang violence in our town, about my dad being called up from the reserves to fight in Iraq, about the car breaking down (again).

Things were secure, but they weren’t that secure. I remember sitting in my parents’ bedroom while my dad packed his Navy duffel bag, and the air was so tense with anxiety and excitement I didn’t know how to feel.

Thankfully, my dad didn’t wind up going to Iraq. And I know no family, no childhood, no life, is perfect. Money doesn’t make you happy, but not having enough of it can surely make you miserable. Even as a (mostly happy) child, I was acutely aware of this fact.

The kids sitting at that table in Merge? I’d bet they had no idea. In a way, that’s good. Kids should have the freedom to be kids without worrying about their next meal. But in other ways, it’s not so good. It creates a false sense of security, a sense that everything will work out for you no matter what, a sense that you have some power and control over your life, or the expectation that your parents will always fix your problems for you.

A bit of stress and worry is good for you. It creates resilience. Without it, sometimes you start thinking you’re better than the people who have to worry about the next meal, or, in this case, that you’re better than the people serving you the next meal.

I don’t really know anything about that family. Dad could have been having a bad day, or they could have planned to be at the restaurant at 5:30 and gotten held up by something out of their control.

Ultimately, that’s irrelevant. My point is that class is a huge issue, even divorced from the issue of race. The media and politicians reinforce the ideas that the rich have somehow earned the right to be rich and the working class and the poor should just try harder if they want to get ahead.

And clueless upper middle class people help perpetuate the problem by ignoring what’s going on around them and breezing through life and climbing the corporate ladder and sending their kids to excellent, expensive colleges as if all these things were a given.

For most of the population in the United States, none of those things are a given.

If someone gave me a large sum of money and told me they had the power to send me back in time so that I could grow up in a 100% financially secure household where my parents worked because otherwise they’d be bored and not because they needed the money, I’d say, “No thanks.”

I’m grateful for the uncertainty I experienced growing up. Yes, I’m also grateful that the uncertainty didn’t extend so far as to affect my ability to eat, but I am glad that I learned early on that nothing is a given, and getting what you want requires a lot of hard work and dedication—and that achievement for the sake of achievement or for impressing other people isn’t valuable.

Basic kindness is what’s truly valuable in our interactions with each other. I can’t solve class issues in America, but I can be kind to everyone I meet, regardless of what they look like, how much money they make, or what they believe (unless they believe in genocide or denying basic human rights, in which case I might not be kind, but I’m not going to be mean, either, because that doesn’t solve any problems)*.

And yes, that extends even to the family of yuppies who inspired this post.

*This is, obviously, a work in progress.

Jazz! Poetry! Jazz Poetry 2015!

Instead of my normal #FridayReads post, I thought I’d do a run-down of one of my favorite annual Pittsburgh events: City of Asylum Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert.

This is a concert that gathers some of the top jazz musicians and top poets and writers from around the world and brings them together for a unique collaboration.

I always, always, always come away from this event with a new favorite band or musician and writers that I can no longer live without.

The Vijay Iyer Trio played this year, and let me tell you, I am smitten. Head over heels falling in love.

Here’s why:

I know, right?

And then we had the poetry. This year COA went above and beyond and combined not only music and words, but graphics and sign language as well. Amanda Fadigan performed a Heather McHugh poem in ASL, and it was beautiful.

Like this:

For the first time, I believe, the event featured a graphic novelist. Seeing the actual panels of the graphic novel while the author read in her native language and someone else read the translation was a multi-layered experience. I’d love to watch that reading again so I can parse more meaning from it.

That’s another thing about Jazz Poetry. You get to hear literature in many languages (and this year, see one in sign language!). Hearing the original, what it sounds like, is a different kind of music, and one I enjoy greatly.

And then, of course, there’s the finale: