Call it privilege

I decided to finally come up for air in a week that has felt more like a month and a half.

So it is in this wild version of reality we’re living that I have eighty five things to think and write about.

The one that has me most interested is our current, collective reaction to our President’s ongoing misogyny and complete refusal to comply with even the lowest acceptable standards of propriety and respect.

While I understand the source of reflections like “I don’t want to raise my son or daughter in a world where that guy has power and influence because of the terrible example he sets” I think it falls short of what we’re capable of, and what would be truly powerful, and transformative in this ever disturbing moment in history.

Instead of shielding our children from the president’s commentary (and others like it) or condemning it for how it fails, morally and otherwise, we have an opportunity to call out and name what makes it possible that a man who speaks and acts like that holds the highest office in all the land.

It’s called privilege, and chances are good, if you have the resources and insight and motivation to want to shield your kids from the president, you (and your kids) have it too.

The biggest, most important reason president trump continues to get away with his juvenile, erratic, disrespectful, bigoted, autocratic, ignorant behavior is his privilege. Race. Gender. Class. Privilege. He is a man who has lived his entire adult life doing, saying and acting any way he wanted, pretty much without consequence. He has done so because he’s white, and male, and rich.

The signifier of privilege is anything in your identity that you don’t think about in your daily life. For me, my race and class and education are invisible aspects of who I am that play a critical role in how I experience the world, but of which I’m rarely aware. My gender, on the other hand, is something I think about constantly. I think about it when I’m in an elevator, alone with a man, especially late at night, while I’m traveling by myself for work. I think about when I’m working on the retail floor and someone makes a comment about my body. I think about it when my family shows enthusiastic interest in my dating life and almost none in my career.

Part of the problem with privilege is those of us with the most are least aware of it.

I still remember two years ago when I was traveling on crutches and got dropped by a cab driver, with my luggage, 400 yards from the door of my hotel. I’d gotten out of a cab at least that far from my destination countless times before, but only considered it a problem when the limitation of my ability made a significant impact on how I experienced a familiar situation.

We can keep feeling horrified and frustrated by the president or we can take the opportunity to learn one of the many lessons his presidency is trying to teach us. We can teach little boys to say only nice things about women and hope to raise good, young men, or we can talk about what it means to be born a male in this world and maybe transform the future of masculinity altogether.

We can keep condemning the problematic actions of others or we can turn to ourselves and seek a solution.

I for one, am a woman of action.

My commitment is to be more conscious of my own privilege especially in my every day life, and to help others do the same. I’m going to figure out how to talk to my nephews about their privilege and help my friends talk to their kids about theirs.

Those of us with the most privilege own the biggest responsibility for how it does or does not continue to impact who we are for each other.

I believe we can make a big impact, together.

What we do repeatedly

 

“You are what you repeatedly do.”

I was a couple of years into my yoga practice the first time I heard one of my teachers say that now familiar phrase. Likely it wasn’t the first time somebody said it, just the first time I was open to receive it.

Over the next couple of years I thought a lot about the things I repeatedly do and how they’d shaped the person I’d become. Judgment, skepticism, criticism. Saying no way more often than saying yes. Believing the worst of people, or situations, and seeking evidence to confirm that belief.

I felt sad and lonely. I worried that the impression I had left on people I didn’t know well was intimidating, sassy and abrasive. I worried the legacy I was leaving in the world was a reflection, and expression, of those adjectives.

I set out to change who I was by changing how I acted. The things I changed were simple, and easy and small. My focus for an entire year was just to be nice. To everyone. No matter what.

I know it had an impact because the people I knew before and the people I knew after would describe me differently. I used to imagine two such people meeting each other in real life and determining the katie little each of them remembered, and shared about, couldn’t possibly be the same person.

We are, what we repeatedly do.

I’ve been thinking this week about who WE are, and what we do repeatedly. I’ve never been patriotic or particularly connected to my identity as a U.S citizen. I’m realizing, more and more, that’s largely because my race and class and sexuality and ability privileges allow me to live that way.

We are, what we do repeatedly.

If we legislate to enhance power and wealth for the already powerful and wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized we can not claim to be a culture of equality, or freedom or possibility. If we continue to allow young black men to be slaughtered, with impunity, we cannot claim to be one nation, with justice for all. If we limit access to medical care for pregnant women, we cannot claim to be a country that protects and cares for kids. If we keep turning away from mass gun violence, as if it’s the unfortunate and rare casualty of a single bad actor making a single bad decision, we cannot claim to value the safety of our citizens.

We cannot claim anything that we don’t repeatedly do.

In my own life, I’m examining how I’m complicit with all of the ways we’re collectively failing to live up to our claims. How I speak and who I share space with and how, and where I spend my time and money. All of the ways I avoid confronting the things that make me angry, and frustrated. An avoidance that’s a luxury for me, but not for people, and communities, most impacted by those things.

It’s not enough to read and write and feel engaged. I, you, we, have to do something, many things, repeatedly.

Complete

 

I wrote us a love story. On a cold weekend morning in March, in Michigan, I made a list of the important moments, occasions and exchanges that shape my memories of you. All of the places and conversations that defined our relationship. All of the times I wondered what you were thinking or why you wouldn’t say what I thought you were thinking out loud.

5, nearly 6 years of wondering. Wondering over dinner dates and hometown latte meetups and the type of lengthy, rambling phone calls most people our age haven’t been on since high school. Plans and dreams and futures we mapped out together.Plans and dreams along life paths that sometimes sounded intersecting and other times seemed infinitely parallel in the same direction. An image of possibly converging lines, the uncertainty of their meeting point blurred when they disappeared into the unknown horizon.

The more of it I wrote, the more I realized I’d been writing it all along.

I wrote in the romance and the mystery and the do they or don’t they subtext of our every interaction. I wrote in the plans and dreams. The parallel lines and the intersecting ones. I wrote the whole thing.

When I’d written nine of the maybe fifty stories I’d brainstormed, I stopped writing. I got distracted by the occasional sunshine in Detroit and my commitment to keep showing up at soccer even though I was pretty bad at it and nobody on the team was my friend.

It was only when I stopped writing that I realized how much I’d already written.

3 years ago last February I called from Landmark in San Francisco and got your voicemail. Ever an A student, I diligently followed our Landmark leader’s direction by following up with you every time we had a break. Five weeks passed before you returned my call. I’d left the forum feeling like my confrontation with your avoidance was as close as I’d ever get to “completing” our relationship. So when you unexpectedly got back in touch with me, our completion unraveled into a beginning. Again.

And so it would be, for the next couple of years. One or two long phone calls of catching up followed by weeks or months of radio silence. An open-ended absence of expectations. I never knew whether the next time we’d talk you’d admit you loved me, or you’d be asking for my address to invite me to your wedding.

Meanwhile, I kept writing.

I wrote both of those endings and countless more. I wrote the banter and the conflict and the resolution. I wrote compelling story arcs and potential screen plays. I wrote happy, hopeful lines, tragic and ironic ones, and everything in between.

And then, I stopped writing.

The exact definition or purpose is foggy now but “getting complete” at Landmark meant something similar to what I knew about “closure” from romantic comedies. Landmark has a formula for it. Or the initial conversation at least. There were no guidelines for what happens after the completion, especially if there’s more to say, or in my case, write.

Today, I learned from Facebook that you’re moving to New York city. A dramatic life change that under ordinary circumstances of best friendship I would be, at minimum, consulted on before the final decision-making stage. But ours has never been a traditional friendship and over the years its ever-evolving ambiguity had made it even less so. I read your post looking for apartments in Manhattan and waited for a predictable sensation to wash over me. It’s somewhere between a twinge in my stomach and an accelerated heartbeat. Not quite heated, but elevated, from my normal state. A acute, but hard to define mix of nervous, anxious and uncomfortable. I pulled up my text message ready to put my reactions to words for my (real) best friend.

And before my fingers touched the key pad, I set down my phone. I breathed in, held it for a moment and let it out. I dropped my shoulder blades down my back. I pressed the weight of my body into the back of my chair. I breathed, slowly again, in and out.

In the moment, I had nothing to say.

 

I wrote this post over six months ago and then picked it up again last weekend. I’ve been trying to get back into writing and I used the drafts folder in my blog to propel me forward. I published all nine chapters of the book I started. Then I dove back in to complete my completion.

This morning, over breakfast when my text message beeps three times in a row I assume it’s my mom or someone who works for me. By the time I see the phone screen only the last in the series is visible.

P.S. I miss you.

I feel the pace of my heart quicken the way it does when I feel turbulence on an airplane. It’s a distinct sensation of uncertainty, and loss of control. I open up the entire thread with increasing curiosity, and worry, and excitement. I think about this entry, in this blog, still unfinished, so many months after I started it.

I think about our story, still without an ending.

Maybe, possibly, not quite complete.