Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nobody Likes a Cheater. Or Do We?

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of ambivalent is "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action." I did not need to look up cheat.  Unlike Armstrong, I was already quite certain of the definition.  I really hope I never find myself searching for a semantic loophole to slip through in that definition.

I am not very passionate about sports. I can't say there has ever been an athlete I looked up to the way it seems people seem to worship (worshipped?) Lance Armstrong.  Perhaps Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias. Babe never doped. At the time of her death at the age of 45, from cancer, she was the top-ranked female golfer.  If you would like to delouse yourself from this Lance Armstrong thing, read about Babe, read about Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, read about Jesse Owens. Read how the Basque Steeple Chase runner alerted the Kenya runner that he had mistaken the finish line and was not actually finished the race. Google it. I have never been an athlete but I have always known that "sport" is more about spirit than framed jerseys or endorsements.

I usually have opinions about things - ill-conceived or too rooted in emotion they may often be. There are few topics I was more ambivalent about than Lance Armstrong. Then I watched the Oprah interview and saw the 60 Minutes Sports piece.  People have been worshipping a bully.  A narcissistic, remorseless bully. It's not the cheating, it's the threats and intimidation that are chilling.

When I was in my 20s I worked for a man who was lying about everything. His education, his certifications, his work history - he even claimed to have played for a professional hockey team.  He too was a bully and loved to threaten people. As the corporate powers that be closed in on his charade he became uglier and uglier.  Being within arm's length of such a desperate person is something I hope I never experience again.  In a very tiny way I can relate to what Emma O'Reilly and Betsy Andreu experienced - a very tiny way.  Desperate people are dangerous. His actions toward innocent people are unforgivable.

I can't think of a longer, harder, more deserving fall from grace.  So many people seem to be at a loss for what to do now that the source of their inspiration was a mere mirage. Ah but that's just it isn't it? It's always a mirage.  All we ever see in other people is what we choose to see.  People are our mirror.  When we see good things in them, we are seeing the good things we see in ourselves. When we vilify someone we recognize something in them with which we (would rather not) identify.

I am not sure what the future holds for Lance Armstrong.  But this I do know.  Personally, what I love more than a victor is a Phoenix that rises from the ashes. So...we shall see.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Truth is Often the First Casualty of Outrage

As much as I tried to resist it I have to admit that my experiences on Twitter have been incredibly rewarding.  As an aspiring "writer" there is no greater exercise for the mind than to be forced to make your point in 140 characters or less.  And let's be honest, those opinions, at least for me, are never about the weather.  They are about the big things - or at least I think they are big things.  The election.  The economy. A murdered teen in Sanford, FL. A massacre in an elementary school. A brutal rape in Steubenville.

The downside of communicating in such short, impassioned spurts is we can become snappy, jumpy, punchy.  I recently had a disagreement with a coworker via email and as I typed my response I realized (before hitting send, thankfully) that my response closely resembled one of my biting responses to a right wing troll accusing the President of being a perpetually vacationing Communist.  Yikes.

Take a breath, take a step back and think before you type, genius.  Easier said than done when you get caught in the wave of (mis) information.  Add in the shameful need to be retweeted - to gain followers.  Since nothing feels better sometimes than kudos for your 140 character weigh-in on the crisis du jour.

I don't tweet about what I am eating or what I am wearing.  I like being in the middle of the fire storm.  It is just social media of course and the best way I can describe Twitter is an enormous circle jerk.  There is a circle jerk going on among those on the left and there is another one going on among those on the right.  Lots of words - lots.  With some isolated examples there really is little to no action.  But along the way we do learn something despite the 140 character limit.

The crisis in Steubenville is a prime example.  I just had an exchange with someone (from, God help me) who seems to be trying to counter a lot of misinformation.  The exchange made a light go on.  The volume on this case has been turned up - way up.  The involvement of the Anonymous movement has pushed this case into the spotlight - that's a good thing and perhaps a bad thing.  The video. That video.  It's almost impossible to watch.  If Sandy Hook was our gun crisis wake up call - the Steubenville video could very well be the light we needed to shine on our culture of violence against women.

Is the video horrific? Without a doubt.  Is it evidence of guilt?  That really can't be determined. Certainly not by non-lawyer me or social media.  So here is the risk.  If the details of this case are blown out of proportion the real case, the real truth, will be dismissed and forgotten.  "Wait, you mean she wasn't in the next room when that video was made?" "The guys that made the video may have had no contact with her?" And the crime that was committed, and the victim, will be pushed aside. Somehow if the most outrageous details prove to be misleading then it will be like the whole thing never happened. That is the risk. It wasn't as bad as we thought so it must have been just dandy.

Everyone knows that the danger in the old "rush to judgment" is that someone will be wrongly accused, or worse, convicted. But the overlooked danger of a rush to judgment and blowing things out of proportion is that the real horror of what happened could be lost.

Something horrible happened in Steubenville. How bad does it need to be to keep our attention?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This Thing Called New Year's

I have never been a big fan of the dreaded "New Year's resolution."  Too much pressure. Too much judgment.  Too much expectation to be extra-ordinary - not with the veracity of the follow through, necessarily - just with the content of the resolution itself.  A "mine is better than yours" childish pissing contest that I tend to tire of very easily - no matter the subject matter.

I remember being mocked by someone for my response to the inane "what's your New Year's resolution?" question.  Like anyone that ever asked that gave a crap what the answer was.  Especially this particular time.  I was working for a small PR firm and an insufferable colleague of my equally insufferable boss asked me what my New Year's resolution was.  So I replied with what I felt was a very sincere response - much too personal for the complete tool I was talking to but I was feeling magnanimous.  "I don't actually believe in New Year's resolutions.  I believe if you want to make a significant change in your life - do it - regardless of the date on the calendar."  His tiny brain had trouble grasping this but I frankly didn't care.  I took the ridicule from him as I had on several other occasions - as part of the crappy $6 an hour job.

I still feel the same way.  Don't wait for January 1st to change the tide of your life. Don't think because January has come and gone that the window to start your own personal revolution has closed.  We really only get to do this once.  Live the life you'd go see if it were a movie, or read if it were a book.  After all you are the author.

Do great things....

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fix the Guard Rail

When you are formulating the solution to a problem you need to ask yourself:

Am I simply putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff or am I actually fixing the broken guard rail?

In light of today's horrific shooting at Sandy Hook, I can't help but think about this question.  I hate guns.  I have never held one in my hands.   I simply can't relate to this fascination, our national obsession.  So, I admit, regulating the damn things sounds like a good idea to me.  Then I ask the question - does it fix the guard rail?

Bowling for Columbine is one of the best documentaries ever made. Regardless of your opions about Michael Moore, he methodically tries to figure out why there are so many more gun deaths per capita in the US than there are anywhere else in the world.  Getting to the heart of that reason is truly fixing the guard rail.  Gun control might simply be putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff (please excuse the harshness of that metaphor.)

The ideal solution to any problem does both - it puts ambulances in place until the guard rail is fixed.  In my opinion that is what gun control is - ambulances at the bottom of the cliff - until we fix ourselves - get to root of our violence, our mental health crisis. But those ambulances are needed, several and quickly, because I am starting to think that the guard rail is not broken - it just isn't even there.

No more prayers, no more" hearts going out."  Pretend these are random terrorist attacks - because they are.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It's Just Stuff

The recent images flooding in from Hurricane Sandy have brought back some rough memories.  Please understand, I can only relate in part to what the victims of this disaster are feeling but I think I have had some of the very same feelings myself.

My stuff.  It's gone.  It is a very strange feeling.  To go to the place where you kept your things to find them no longer there.  Or it's all there but it's, well, gone. Destroyed. Never to belong to you again. Never the same.

It's funny how our things can define us.  I don't mean in terms of status, although we all know that's true.  But slowly, over time, we assign memories, emotions to things.  Our things.  "See this?  We got this that time we went to that place and Uncle So and So laughed so hard milk came out of his nose? Remember?"

My freshman year of college I lost everything I had in the world to a dorm fire.  The fire started in the room next door in the middle of the night.  The fire alarm system did not work and we were all saved by a fast-acting security guard.

Once we were able to return a couple hours later it was the eeriest feeling I have ever had.  To look at my bed, now black like charcoal, with the sheets pulled back like I had just gotten out.  My pillow looking like my head had just been on it. The alarm clock inches from where my head was melted flat to the table.  It was all there and yet none of it, except for a few things, was salvageable.

I cannot describe the feeling. It is the loneliest most desperate feeling.  In that moment you feel like nothing will ever be the same. You will never own anything again.  All of your memories are gone -all of your things are destroyed. All I could say was, "This was everything."

And yet even as I stood there with this horrible pit in my stomach I knew my mother was en route from just a couple hours away to come take me back, well, home. I still had a home to go to.  A roof over my head to have - parents that were at the ready to prepare the insurance claim and take me shopping to begin replacing my things.  And just for the record it is not the "shopping spree" that one dreams of - there was nothing fun about it. "What do you think of this sweater?" "Sure I'll take one in each color. What's next on the list?"

The only thing I can offer someone that has or ever will "lose everything" is this.  It really is just stuff.  That experience made me less sentimental about things but more reflective about the passage of time.  That brush with death has, over the years, slowly crept in to my consciousness and has made me realize that it really can all change in an instant and all this stuff we surround ourselves with just weighs us down.

So it is only in this small way that I can relate to the victims of this tragedy.  No. You no longer have the thing you got at that place.  But nothing can change the fact that Uncle So and So laughed so hard milk came out of his nose.  So, just, remember.  It will take some time but you will get there.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What my 4 year old thinks of Mitt Romney and flying...

I spent a good chunk of my weekend cleaning out my children's play room.  Three piles - one for donation, one for  trash, and one for recycling.  I do this on a pretty regular basis - I am a bit OCD about keeping that room organized. It is amazing how many match box cars, coloring books, and lenticular puzzles these two little boys have.  And crayons.  Oh the crayons. 

At some point along the way we acquired a pretty cool replica of Air Force One.  It's about eight inches long and pretty heavy.  This clearly went into the "keep pile."  What was placed in the trash pile was a small plastic plane with no doors or windows and a broken propeller.  "This is Brock Omama's plane," Julian said as he flew the Air Force One through the air.  "And this," he said as he held up the Wright Brothers' reject ,"is Mitt Romney's plane."

True story.

Friday, September 21, 2012

President Jimmy Carter

I have always had a soft spot for the peanut farmer from Georgia.  I find his gentle southern drawl soothing and his steady way reassuring.  I also associate him with one of my earliest, most vivid memories.

I was sitting in art class with my friend Lisa.  We were both born in January so we would have been 7 in the fall of 1979.  Lisa asked, "Who do you want to be President? Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan."  Before I had a chance to answer (typical Republican) she blurted, "I think Ronald Reagan should be President - he's rich and he's from Hollywood so he knows a lot of famous people."  Even at seven this seemed odd to me.  "Well," I said - almost afraid to disagree with my friend - after all it could very well have been my first experience with having a real opinion, "I think Jimmy Carter should be our President.  He has a little girl so I know he would never want to start a war."

And there you have it. The reason, if I am going to be honest, that I perhaps still vote for anyone.  Not that they never would - but that, at their core, they do not desire conflict.

Much like President Clinton, President Carter has had an exemplary post-White House life.  He and Rosalyn have been involved with Habitat for Humanity since 1984.  The Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project is one of the most high profile aspects of the organization - its focal point is an annual build blitz - one week of this blitz frequently results in the completion over 100 homes - from the Gulf Coast to the Mekong to West Philadelphia.

Many years ago, the Work Project brought President Carter to a home on Stiles Street where my mother grew up.  My mother's cousin stood with President Carter in the basement of her childhood home and told him stories of how my Great-Grandfather used the basement for wine making.

I have always hated the way people have spoken about President Carter.  You can say what you will about the Carter Administration, the Carter years.  They were what they were and, no, perhaps they were not very good.  But when the criticisms of the administration turn to insults and treat Jimmy Carter like a punch line that's when I get my back up.  At the most basic level - the difference between Jimmy Carter's helicopter crash and Barack Obama's Black Hawk crash?  Seal Team Six had a back up helicopter.

Romney has practically made disrespecting a living President a hobby.  Maybe not anymore.  Not only is revenge a dish best served cold but it is also best served by your grandson.  Just ask James Carter IV. People are praising him - but he simply did what any of us would have done to protect our loved ones from bullies.  Regardless, we should thank him - I thank him, and his grandfather.

Hey Mitt, like the best spokesman for truth and peace warned, Instant Karma's gonna get you.