finding my voice

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in response to my viewing of the movie Shut Up and Sing, the documentary about the Dixie Chicks, and the fallout that came after their lead singer made an anti-war comment during a concert in March of 2003.

In that post, I made this comment:

Those were darker times, all too recently, when public expression of dissent was equated with treason. It was chilling to see how violently people reacted to a few fairly innocuous words. It was a time when many people, including me, were uncomfortable about speaking out in public about political issues, especially criticism of the president and objection to the war.

I’ve been wanting to write more about that, because as time passes, my memory clouds. Recently, the tides of public opinion have turned and the political climate is different. It almost seems ridiculous for me to say that I had been uncomfortable expressing dissent publicly. I mean, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Well, it was and it wasn’t. And to some extent, this was geographically based. In Boston, talking to my like-minded friends, I could express my objections to the war, my disgust with the administration, without fear. My friends and I could express our dissent in public, though I feel like we did so in fairly hushed voices when out in public.

But closer to home, only 50 miles away towards more rural Massachusetts, it was a different story. In my town, virtually every house had their American flag flying. Virtually every car had a flag decal or a bumper sticker saying something like “these colors don’t run.” Many people went the step of flying actual flags from their cars, sometimes absurdly large ones. And while the symbolism may not have been the same for every person that displayed the Stars and Stripes, for most, for me, the flag was a symbol of not only “Patriotism,” but support of the President, support of the war. It was about self-righteousness. Anger. The desire for revenge over the events of September 11th. When I went grocery shopping in a neighboring town, I was startled to see that some particularly zealous flag-waver had gone the extra step of painting their pick-up truck with clumsily executed images of the twin towers, flags, and the words “Septemeber 11th” and “never forget, never forgive.”

Most Americans at that time actually believed that the war in Iraq was a response to the events of September 11th. That Iraq had been directly responsible for those attacks. And many felt, along with the president, that those who objected to the war were supporting terrorists. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

In the weeks leading up to the start of the war in Iraq, many around the country dissented. Voiced loud (and not so loud) objections. There were TV interviews, news stories. Dissenting bumper stickers a signs. Anti-war buttons and t-shirts. (But these were also times when you heard of people getting kicked out malls for wearing such things.)

There were also protests. I proudly attended a peace march in Boston in March 2003:

March 29, 2003
In Boston, Massachusetts 50,000 people attended the largest rally in the city since the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of people blocked Boylston Street in a die-in along the Boston Common. A handful of arrests were made.

While the Wikipedia entry talks about the large size of this protest, it actually felt surpisingly small to me. But I was still buoyed by the group voicing of dissent.

Then, just a few days later, I got an email from a friend from a nearby town. While we hadn’t really talked about politics, I knew we had differing opinions. That we’d voted differently in the last election, if indeed she voted at all. I knew she was one who proudly displayed a flag on her car. But I hadn’t realized how differently we felt. This is what I got from her by email, written by someone out there in cyberspace and apparently making the rounds by email and on blogs:

With all of this talk of war, many of us encounter “Peace Activists” who try and convince us that we must refrain from retaliating against the ones who terrorized us all on September 11, 2001, and those who support terror. These activists may be alone or in a gathering…..most of us don’t know how to react to them. When you come upon one of these people, or one of their rallies, here are the proper rules of etiquette:

1. Listen politely while this person explains their views. Strike up a conversation if necessary and look very interested in their ideas. They will tell you how revenge is immoral, and that by attacking the people who did this to us, we will only bring on more violence. They will probably use many arguments, ranging from political to religious to humanitarian.
2. In the middle of their remarks, without any warning, punch them in the nose, hard.
3. When the person gets up off of the ground, they will be very angry and they may try to hit you, so be careful.
4. Very quickly and calmly remind the person that violence only brings about more violence and remind them of their stand on this matter. Tell them if they are really committed to a nonviolent approach to undeserved attacks, they will turn the other cheek and negotiate a solution. Tell them they must lead by example if they really believe what they are saying.
5. Most of them will think for a moment and then agree that you are correct.
6. As soon as they do that, hit them again. Only this time hit them much harder. Square in the nose.
7. Repeat steps 2-5 until the desired results are obtained and the idiot realizes how stupid of an argument he/she is making.

There is no difference in an individual attacking an unsuspecting victim or a group of terrorists attacking a nation of people. It is unacceptable and must be dealt with. Perhaps at a high cost. We owe our military a huge debt for what they are about to do for us and our children.

We must support them and our leaders at times like these. We have no choice.

We either strike back, VERY HARD, or we will keep getting hit in the nose.

Lesson over, class dismissed .

I got this email from my friend on April 2nd. She also sent it to others that we knew in common. I wanted to respond to my friend, tell her the other side of the story. I didn’t really fear that she’d actually hit me in the face. I’m sure she just found the “lesson” funny, and didn’t realize that I was one of those “peace activists,” a humanitarian “idiot.” But the email did effectively knock me over. I never found my voice. I just avoided her for a while, whether consciously or not. Didn’t go back to the activities we shared for a while. I was busy anyhow.

The truth is, I didn’t have the energy to find my voice. To speak out about things I feel so strongly about. Not because I lacked conviction. But because I feared confrontation. Because I feared offending others, even when I felt deeply offended myself. And then I feared being ostracized, and making myself a target for attacks, even if only verbal ones. It sickened me to realize that my friend, and others who received that email, would take my silence as assent, agreement. But every time I tried to compose a response, plan a discussion with my friend, I would find excuses not to.

I’ve been working on speaking out about things that are important to me, writing about issues that I feel strongly about. I struggle with the fear of confrontation. I worry about the risk of offending others. Plus I struggle with the idea that others say things better than I can, so that I should leave the speaking to them. It’s hard for me to speak out so publicly, to open myself up for criticism. But I know that speaking out is an important step. That if we don’t exercise our right to free speech, we may lose it. We all need to add our voices to the discussion, or only the loudest will be heard.

If I want to play my part in making the world a better place, I need to learn to use my voice.

actions speak louder through words

Since I may not have time to post much myself, I just wanted to send a pointer to some cool posting that’s going on elsewhere. There are a couple of bloggers who are organizing an ongoing project of collecting posts from their blogging community written about social causes. On the 10th of each month, the anniversary of a group wedding of minds, they have promised to post links to other posts written during the previous month. This month’s list can be found now on their respective blogs.

I’ve only had a chance to read a few of the posts so far, but the ones I’ve looked at treat a diverse range of issues including universal healthcare, climate change/global warming, racism, and excessive consumerism.

I’m hoping to be inspired and motivated to, at least periodically, post something of redeeming social value. But I can at least resolve to read what others have written. And reading counts. Awareness matters.

You think you know someone…

As I mentioned recently, John and I have been together for quite a while. Over 15 years, to be specific. So you’d think I’d know John pretty well. But he does find ways to surprise me.

John has a background in math and computer science. He’s been working in the computer industry since before we met, and in the years since I’ve known him, has become an expert in his subfield of the industry. John also is a technophile. He likes the cool toys, and has a weakness for electronics. So when John bought his first impressive digital camera, it didn’t surprise me. And when John started learning the ropes of photography technique and digital image processing, that didn’t surprise me, either. What did surprise me is that over the last couple of years, John has been taking some really beautiful photos. I didn’t know I’d married an artist.

Anyhow, I’m happy to say that John has started posting some of his photos on his blog. Three posts so far. Hopefully more to come.

I’ve been thinking that one of my new resolutions in the realm of blogging, once I get around to acknowledging the new year and writing them, should be to post more pictures on my blog. So I’ll take this opportunity to post some pictures. Below is one of John’s, of an abandoned mill in the town next to ours.

millshackfront.jpg

The lines of the structure actually reminded me a bit of a Shinto shrine. The vertical supports of the wall and the slightly curving horizontal edge of the roof suggest the shape of a gate to me. I was particularly reminded of a picture I took of a street-corner shrine I came across in Nara, Japan when I was there for a conference in 2004. Here’s a photo of it.

shrine1

And here’s another one, showing a bit more of the street.

shrine2

New Year’s resolutions for 2006

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve made a list of New Year’s resolutions. And here it is, the beginning of another new year, and it seems like a wonderful opportunity to set some goals. Having a new baby can lead to difficulties in getting many things done, so I’ve decided to set some goals that I know can be achieved. Namely, some that I’ve already reached.

A New Mother’s Retroactive Resolutions for 2006

  1. Personal appearance: Lose 10 pounds
    Physical appearance is important to so many people, and I think weight loss often tops people’s New Year’s resolution lists. I can honestly boast that I lost at least 10 pounds in a single night! While the process wasn’t exactly painless, it sure was quicker than dieting.
  2. Health and fitness: Exercise more
    Another common goal is to improve one’s fitness levels. And I did indeed “exercise more” in 2006. The trick to this one is to take advantage of the inherent ambiguity of the term more. Since it is necessarily a relative or comparative term (i.e. something can be/have/do/etc. more XXX than some other thing), I choose to leave out the specifics of the comparison. For example, if I wanted to say “I plan to exercise more than I have been exercising” my resolution would have failed. However, if I consider my resolution to mean something like “I plan to exercise more than various people who are a) comatose b) dead or c) of a more extreme couch potato nature than even myself,” I have achieved this goal in spades.
  3. Fine arts: Write a song
    Let’s not leave out creative and artistic growth. I actually wrote several original compositions, complete with lyrics. My greatest hits include “The Diaper Song” (We’re changing the diaper, and we’ll put a new diaper on…put a new, put a new, put a new, put a new diaper on.) and “The Bouncy Song” (I have a little girl, her name is Phoebe Lenore, and she likes to bouncy bouncy…bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy Phoebe…)
  4. Feeding the mind: Read some books
    It’s always important to strive for intellectual breadth and depth. I’m happy to say that I’ve read quite a few books this year. Many of them quite thick ones. Well, with thick pages, at least. And I’ve even gone as far as to nearly memorize several of them, including: Goodnight Moon (Brown), Bear Snores On (Wilson), The Foot Book (Seuss), Quiet Loud (Patricelli) and The Going to Bed Book (Boynton).
  5. Home improvements: redecorate the house
    Let’s not forget the home. I can quite honestly say that there have been many changes to the appearance of our home. Not a single room looks the same. The new look is definitely more colorful than ever! The new palette includes a shift from earthy tones (mostly muted browns and grays, typically represented by wood and stone) to an array of chartreuse, tangerine, fuchsia, cerulean and lemon yellow. Mostly represented in plastic and some plush.
  6. Productivity and daily routine: Wake up earlier in the morning
    Who doesn’t want to feel more productive? I used to frequently waste the day away by sleeping until 8:00 a.m., or even snoozing in past 10:00 on weekends. I now always wake up before 7:00 a.m. There are even many days when I wake up before dawn: by 6:00, or 5:00, and sometimes even 4:00! And I don’t even need to set the alarm clock.
  7. Etiquette: write and mail thank you notes in a timely manner
    This one is for real, actually. Though the interpretation of “timely manner” may be subject to my own somewhat lax standards. I determined that I should finish writing thank you notes for the presents given for my daughter’s birth (in February 2006) within the same calendar year as her birth. I am bound and determined to achieve this goal. (Don’t quibble with me over today’s date. I will have those letters written in 2006.)
    1. our new living room decor
      Our new living room decor.

blogbrain

Here it is. January 1, 2007. After 11:00 p.m. And I really should be going to bed. But the compulsion…compels. It’s this damn blog a-callin’ to me. Now I’ve discovered a new toy I need to get for it: a real site meter. (I’m apparently missing out on all sorts of fun potential for…knowledge.) Plus I’ve got several posts in progress that I’d like to finish, some of them in my kick-ass women project. I even have more to say on the subject of pants. And then the idea has come up a couple of times that this is a time of year when people write resolutions. Hey, I could write resolutions. (That sounds like a list, and I love lists.)

But I’ve told myself I shouldn’t work on this blog until I’ve finished a particular task. Namely, to finish writing those thank you notes. “Wow,” you may be thinking. “She’s so organized to be already almost finished with her thank you notes.” But I’m not talking about thank you notes from this past big holiday. I’m talking about thank you notes for presents people gave for Phoebe’s birth. Um. That was more than 10 months ago. I’m not sure what the etiquette is in this matter. It’s a question I’d rather not find the answer to. But I’ve made up an answer: finish the notes in the same calendar year as her birth. As of yesterday, I had 25 notes left to go. I’ve managed to get through 10 of them. And I’ve decided to flub the date on the last few, as long as I can get them mailed by tomorrow. Which strikes a bit like a retroactive resolution. I think perhaps this type of resolution may be easier to achieve than the ones for the future. Perhaps that is what I’ll do instead of a list of 2007 resolutions. I’ll make a list of resolutions for 2006. Carefully selected to make me feel like I’ve accomplished some goals.

Okay. I really must get back to those letters. 15 left to go. (Does it count if I just write the date on the top of each of them?) I told myself I wouldn’t post until I finished writing them. (This one doesn’t count, does it?)