Open letter to my representative about the current budget debate in Congress

In case your attention has been elsewhere, there’s been some major drama on Capitol Hill about the Federal Budget. Worst case scenario is worse than the government shutdown of the 1990s. It would actually give the U.S. government the same kind of credit rating I had a year after my layoff back in 2002.

To sum up the debate, Democrats think we should raise taxes and cut some social programs. Republicans think we should just cut social programs. Because, you know, rich people create jobs. It’s magic!

Some background from more objective sources here:
New York Times: Federal Budget 2011 and 2012

Boehner and Obama Nearing Budget Deal, Leaders Told (New York Times, July 21, 2011)

Did Obama Walk out on Republicans? (Gawker)

Income Gap Between Rich, Poor the Widest Ever (CBS)

The Great Overpaid CEO Debate (CNET)

Dear Rep. Markey:

I wanted to thank you for signing the letter from the Progressive Caucus saying you will vote NO on any bill that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

I’ve seen the pie charts of the federal budget and realize that entitlements make up a substantial chunk. I’m more realistic than some folks and doubt that we will be able to get through the current economic crisis without at least some cuts to social programs. But doing so while the richest among us continue to enjoy tax cuts given to them during the Bush administration isn’t just unfair or unjust: it’s downright disgusting.

As a native of Boston, I’m sure you’re familiar with the statues erected in honor of the Irish who suffered through the potato famine of 1847 — you may even have ancestors who arrived on these shores as a result of it. The memorial on the Cambridge Common includes the inscription, “Never again should a people starve in a land of plenty.” Recently I noticed a piece of graffiti written under it saying “and yet they still do.” And it’s true — there are people going hungry right here in the Boston metro area, in spite of our exemplary social programs.

I thank you for standing up to the interests of the large corporations and rich individuals who find it so easy to access our country’s leaders. Your recent speech about the GOP’s “Deficit Attention Disorder” made me particularly proud to have you as my representative in Congress.

Sincerely,

Frances Donovan

A juicier, more personal kind of history

My freshman year of high school, I came up against the first class where I couldn’t break a C average. I was used to sailing through school on a cloud of As and Bs (well, except for that one F in Algebra in 8th grade, but that was clearly the teacher’s fault). But when I confronted my history teacher with his obvious mistake, he just replied “I just don’t think you’re doing more than C work.”

That’s because history was, to me, largely a matter of things men did. Things men built, countries men sailed to, wars men fought, gods men prayed to. In my relatively short life, I’d had yet to meet a man who was worth that much time and effort. Men were mostly things to be avoided or tolerated, so I wasn’t really all that interested.

Years later in my 20s, I discovered the work of feminist historians and archaeologists like Marija Gimbutas who would challenge this very male-centric approach to history. But it wasn’t what they taught at my high school — and certainly not what my mustachioed, L-7 professor had on offer.

I can still remember one class in the autumn of that year, after the leaves had begun to fall but before they’d left nothing but the bare grey skeletons of the trees. I sat in the far-right row, three desks back from the front. We were probably still studying the ancient tribes of mesopotamia and the Middle East — a subject that fascinates me today. But back in 1987, the official textbooks didn’t mention Inaana’s Descent into the Underworld, domain of her dark sister Ereshkigal. They talked about tribes and territories. They showed pictures of bones and relics in dry, brown places.

That morning, I made the conscious decision to check out of class all together. It probably wasn’t the first time I’d zoned out during, but it was the first time I remember making the conscious decision to do so. I flipped my notebook to a new page and started writing a poem about a story and a conflict much closer to my heart: whether I should go ahead and have sex with my bad-boy boyfriend, or whether I should be a good little Catholic girl and keep my hymen intact.

My story was far more interesting than history. My story was pounding in my throat, grabbing me and shaking me and shaking me. My story was mythic and juicy and all brand new. Like all teenagers, I thought I’d invented sex. Like all teenagers, I was intensely self-involved and utterly convinced that no one had ever felt this way before. I had a jungle between my ears and between my legs. I had no time for dry bones and relics.

There were moments, though, when the wild and juicy realities of the people who had lived so long ago glimmered through their dry bones. Most of those moments happened in English class: the child run down by the indifferent Marquis in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities; mad Hamlet and his tragic girlfriend; Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed love.

Perhaps it was because those stories were so much more personal, or perhaps it was because of the language. Ever since my mother first read me the Madeline books, I’ve responded to the language of a story as much as its content. Perhaps one of the reasons I hated history is because so many history textbooks are written in a dry, prosaic style that squeezes all the life out of its subjects. The official version of the story might be written in such a way as to not offend anyone, but it’s also boring as dry white toast.

As a young girl, I was more interested in form: in the well-written word, in the well-turned phrase. Sure, they told me that any good writer needed to have life experiences in order to live, but the point, the purpose, and the whole of the journey wasn’t really about the story. It was about how you told the story: form over content.

As I’ve lived longer and suffered more, what I’ve come to realize about history (and herstory) is that it is ALL about the lives of people just like me. I mean, circumstances may be different, but there is some common thread that runs through the lives of all the different people on the planet. It’s hard to name that common thread without sounding preachy or clichéd, but that common thread exists. The Buddhists have a very succinct way of summing it up, but it’s not one that I’d really care to repeat right now, in part because I’m feeling the exact opposite of a paragon of spiritual fulfillment right now — Buddhist or otherwise. The one cliche I will acquiesce to, though, is that the unexpected gift of suffering is compassion. In the depths of suffering — whether it’s due to grief or trauma or loss or addiction or not getting that toy you really really wanted when you were five — we cry out “why?” But after many years of suffering and recovery from same, I really have come face to face with that unexpected gift. It’s the ability to connect to another person when they are in the depths of their suffering, and to bring them hope.

Of course, in order to bring that hope, the connection has to be a real one. The roots of the word compassion (com – with; pati — suffering, bearing, being acted upon) denote that sense of strong (passionated) emotion. It’s a heart connection, not a head connection. And perhaps this is why so many people feel failed by social workers, preachers, therapists, and other people in the helping professions. Because no matter how much training you have — perhaps no matter how much real-world experience you have, either — you won’t always be able to call forth a sympathetic emotional state. Sure, there are things you can do to increase the chances. But institutions concerned with objective standards like numbers and outcomes aren’t always great at creating the best circumstances for compassionate interactions. And in general, our society knows how to pay attention to numbers and outcomes more than it does airy-fairy things like feelings.

Even the whole notion of form versus content comes from that rational mindset. I excelled in institutions that leaned on the rational mindset, until my own inability to recognize and take care of my own emotions put my health and my life in jeopardy. And through the suffering that resulted — that still results from time to time — I was given that unexpected gift of compassion. Which enables me to connect with the stories and tragedies of people whose lives look far different than my own. I do it imperfectly, and the form of the story still impacts how I connect to its content, but I can see how emotional realities transcend prosaic details. And if I choose to — if I practice at it — I can connect to the juicy, personal, emotional story that underlies the prosaic details.

Dear NOW: This Is Why I’m Not Giving You Any Money

Dear NOW:

I wanted to explain to you why I am not sending a contribution in response to your recent U.S. mail solicitation to me. I have three primary reasons for not wishing to send you my dollars:

1) As a queer woman, I am uneasy about supporting an organization that has a history of marginalizing “the lavendar menace” from the feminist movement.

2) The overt fear-mongering tone of your letter (“Do you want animals and clowns teaching your children about sex?) bore a marked resemblance to the emails I get from the Family Research Council. I believe strongly that hope and compassion conquer fear and loathing. Nixon’s campaign back in the middle of the last century appears to have had far-reaching consequences in the realm of national and local politics. One of the reasons Obama was so refreshing as a candidate, and why people rejoiced in his election, was because he ran on a platform of positive change rather than the fear and paranoia that marked the Bush administration. I expect the organizations I support to deliver the same sort of message.

3) I find that other organizations seem to be doing a better job of working for goals that I care about.

That being said, I am glad to see that you have joined the Web 2.0 revolution (hahaha) and will be following your actions via Facebook, Twitter, and email. I’m open to persuasion. So persuade me that your organization is still relevant and working toward the type of change that is in line with my own values.

Family Research Council: Hateful, Bigoted, Fearmongering Spam-house.

I joined the FRC mailing list about six years ago because I thought it might be a good idea to know what the other side was up to. You know: a little friendly political espionage. I forgot that hateful political discourse gives me wicked agita.

After at least three requests to be removed from their mailing list, I’m still on it. I know spamming is illegal — the startup I worked for back in 1998 had to hire someone just to straighten out their newsletter management system and keep from getting sued — but for the life of me I’m not sure which authority to complain to. The FCC? Any clues?

For those of you living in blessed ignorance, the Family Research Council is a very vocal, very conservative, very antifeminist, very homophobic, very bigoted organization that appears to speak for some Americans.

Most of its email alerts about efforts to thwart the homosexual agenda and keep women from killing babies (because we all know that homosexuals and women like nothing better than to work every day to tear down the very fabric of society as we know it).

This last unwanted missive from them, however, is all about the worst threat of all. What’s that, you ask? Nuclear annihilation? Global warming? Poverty and disenfranchisement that leads to terrorism? Why NO! It’s our very own elected officials’ eveeel attempt to stage a government takeover of health care!

The subject line of the email pretty much sums up FRC’s fearmongering rhetoric: “Frances, Your Liberty is at Stake.” Silly me. I thought that health care reform would actually help more Americans become free of preventable illnesses, economic anxiety, and an arbitrary system that grants some people access to awesome services with few out of pocket costs while forcing others to wait in long lines and navigate endless bureaucracies for crappy care. I see I was wrong. The government isn’t trying to help more people get access to some of the best doctors in the country. They’re trying to take our liberty! Clearly, this is just part of Obama’s plan to eventually hand over our country to the terrorists and force all men to grow long beards and pray to Allah five times a day. I suppose Tony Perkins wouldn’t mind it if women weren’t allowed to own property, work, or walk outside without a burqa, though.

If you, like me, would like your liberty taken away by a government takeover of the healthcare system and the inevitable rise of fascism that will follow, I encourage you to take a moment to contact your representatives in Congress to ask them pass this clearly horrific bill.

Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.

Sarah Palin and the Media Elite

Someone on my friends list posted a link to a Vanity Fair article that took a red pen to a transcript of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. The speech itself — and the woman delivering it — is definitely not going to go down in history as a marvel of oratory. Posting the copy-edited version of it seems a cheap shot, though. The ex-copy-editor in me can’t help but get a kick out of the fact that people are still using the shorthand I learned years ago, and which used to be my bread and butter. The left-leaning Democrat in me loves the schadenfreude that comes with seeing Palin made a fool of. But haven’t we made enough of a fool of her?

And in a way, it seems to me that mocking her lack of verbal skills is just feeding into the class and cultural divides that gave us Red States and Blue States. Dubya was notorious for his lack of oratory, and New Englanders loved to make fun of him for it. But it didn’t stop him from keeping the highest office in the land for not one but two terms.

We can’t assume that people make rational decisions when it comes to politics. It’s much easier to look at things in terms of Red States and Blue States than it is to look at individuals and their motivations. But which is really the more conscious way of viewing an issue?

In the end, I think we can all agree that Palin has about as much a chance of becoming the next POTUS as Dan Quayle does. But we also can’t dismiss her because her speeches don’t stand up to Obama’s. Actions matter — but so does marketing.

I Still Can’t Believe It

In my lifetime…

…a black man became President-Elect of the United States of America.

…same-sex couples are now legally married.

That is all I have to say. I want to just revel in the success for a while.

And both of them gifts. Requiring just the most minor amount of effort on my own part.

Both of them worthy of crying tears of joy.

Neither of them did I expect to see in my lifetime.