Allegiance

Today, I sort of tripped over history.

Last week, a friend posted on facebook about a Fathom Events cinematic showing of the Broadway musical Allegiance, and I thought “Huh. I should go see that.” I’d missed seeing it on the actual Broadway. I follow George Takei on twitter, and he’s delightful. Funny and poignant and unabashedly liberal. I have fond memories of him in Star Trek, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you anything else I’ve seen him in. But Allegiance was his brainchild, and I knew it was about the internment of Japanese-Americans, and I’d heard it was good. So I bought a ticket. I literally didn’t give it any more thought than that. I completely missed the symbolism of this show being shown on this day, February 19.

See, Mr. Takei was one of approximately 120,000 Americans who were interred in camps after the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II. I don’t remember much about this moment from my American history classes, other than what I just wrote. I know we learned that it happened, and it was bad, but beyond that…

So, on this unseasonably sunny day, I set out for the mall to catch a Broadway show. I arrived about an hour early (oops, got my times wrong), so had the entire theater to myself for a while. Scrolling facebook on my phone, I stopped, stunned, at a post from a friend with Japanese-American heritage:

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-8-08-17-pm

I set my phone down and stared at the empty theater, gobsmacked.

No clue. I had no clue this was the anniversary of the executive order. Heck, I didn’t even know it was an executive order. I picked my phone back and up and read the order. Shook my head, frowned, then read it again. And I felt a chill; there was nowhere in that order that mentioned “Japanese-American” people. The words were colder. The words basically said that the US military could designate zones, whenever and wherever they wanted, “from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.”

In a horrifying nutshell, the military had authority to exclude anyone they wanted from anywhere they wanted, and could force those people to move to other locations where, if the military felt so inclined, they would be fed and clothed and housed…maybe.

This was America. 1942. One stroke of a pen from the President. A Democratic president, it’s worth mentioning.

Shaken, I sat silently as the theater began to fill with people. I had only a few minutes to wrestle with the parallels between then and now before the show began. As it did, I idly noted some production flaws (the syncing of music and film was a little off at times), but within a few moments, I was completely enmeshed in the lives of the people I was seeing on screen.

I spent pretty much the entire show either on the verge of tears or with them dripping down my face. For a change, I wasn’t thinking about the structure of the show, or if that musical number belonged, or if that lighting cue could have been better. I was fully immersed in a beautiful and tragic story of warm, flawed, stoic, and loving people trying to survive.

Bubbling under my appreciation for music and choreography and costumes that touched my heart was fury and anger that my country could do this, and then sweep it under the rug. That’s the most basic of emotions. But I also ached at the duality the show revealed, as these earnest, patriotic, fiercely loyal people wrestled with how to respond to the outrage being foisted upon them. Some chose to enlist in the military, the same military that was interning them, out of a heart-breaking belief that if they proved themselves by dying for their country, it would help their families trapped in camps/prisons. Others sought resistance, through burning draft cards (yes, we DRAFTED people we’d put in internment camps) and smuggling letters out of the camp so other Americans could see/hear what was happening.

These two different responses to the internments tore the family apart in the most heart-wrenching of ways, and I was struck at how close we are to this reality today. Most decent people don’t think that rounding up people based on religion or ethnicity is good. Most decent people believe that something like the internments would never happen again.

But fear does funny things to decent people. And it’s in the response, in the ways we choose to react to such horrors, that the danger lives for those of us not immediately impacted. We can double down on patriotism, hope our loyalty is rewarded, and risk the guilt of staying quiet in the name of “not rocking the boat.” Or we can actively resist, risk being branded as naive and reactionary, and potentially widen the fractures in our own families. Maybe there’s a middle ground, I don’t know.

But we’d be foolish…heck we ARE foolish…to overlook history. Yes, the show I saw was a dramatization. But this chapter in our history HAPPENED. And I am fiercely ashamed of how quickly we forgot about it.

As the show ended, our theater burst into applause, even though the actors on the screen couldn’t hear us. I slowly tuned in to the sniffles around me and realized I wasn’t alone in being affected by this story. As I walked back to my car, I reflected on conversations I’ve had, as I try to figure out how to respond to today’s political reality, about how tired some Americans are of “apologizing”, whether for slavery, or wiping out our indigenous tribes, or dropping a nuclear bomb (twice), or spewing poisonous gases into the air, or even just being white and privileged. I get it. It’s tough to be “the greatest nation on earth” and have such blemishes on our history.

How do we show allegiance to our country, while also acknowledging its failures?

I was always taught, from elementary school through business school, that the strongest people admit their mistakes and learn from them. Granted, as a society we often don’t follow through on that lofty ideal, but I refuse to accept that we should stop trying.

Allegiance is just one story about an incredibly shameful time in America’s history. I wish our current leaders could watch and it and be moved, but I doubt they will, or would. But if you out there reading this have a chance to see it, please do. You might react differently than I did, and that’s ok. But I think you’ll fall in love with the people portrayed, as I did, and will maybe learn something, as I did. I think learning and re-learning things might be our only hope.

What matters

I finally figured it out.

FINALLY.

After starting 20 blog posts, and then not hitting publish because they felt trite, or stupid, or wrong, or badly written…

After the inauguration…

And the peaceful marches that followed…

I finally know what I want to say.

As I’ve wrestled with how to react to the fact that the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans with an agenda that I disagree with, and that an inexperienced reality TV star now has the keys to our nuclear arsenal, I’ve been seized with this sense of…IMMOBILITY.

Like I can’t speak, or move, or have an opinion, because a) What does it matter? and b) Someone will tell me that I am brainwashed by the media, or that what I care about doesn’t matter in the “real America”.

Which leaves me with nothing more to do than commiserate with my like-minded friends (and thank god for them) and studiously, fastidiously avoid any conversation with anyone on the other side.

And that pretty much sucks.

But two days ago, I finally figured it out. It was lunch time, and I dared to get on Facebook as the President was giving his inaugural speech. (I didn’t listen. But I did read it in its entirely later). I was thinking about my work, what I was doing at that very moment.

I was building a website to help give grants to young classical musicians who want to use music to make their communities better.

And I realized something important. I have spent the last year (nay, probably most of my adult life) fretting that maybe I have it wrong. That maybe I am naive and brainwashed like the right claims I am. That maybe the fundamental things I believe in are wrong. After all, someone has to be wrong, right? 😉

But as I was watching my friends react to the President’s words, and rumors started to swirl that the Republicans were going to put the NEA, the NEH, and the CPB on the chopping block, and the words “climate change” were erased from the whitehouse.gov website…I realized something.

I realized that I will never, ever, ever, let our President, or the Republicans in Congress, or some right-wing media engine/engineer convince me that the arts don’t matter.

Or that trying to take care of our planet doesn’t matter.

Or that learning and studying different ideas and views doesn’t matter.

Or that trying to help people who need help doesn’t matter.

Because if we don’t care about such things, we have no right to claim to be great at anything. And we will never make the world better for all the people who need us to try.

And here’s the thing. HERE’S THE THING!!!

I can believe these things, and my believing them doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s belief. Just because I believe these things doesn’t mean what you believe, which might be different, isn’t important. This is not a zero-sum game. There is room for all of us. Heck, most of us aren’t that far apart – but there’s no drama when we’re not fighting, and drama gets clicks.

There you have it. I will not throw away all that I learned in school and college and life, simply because a bunch of people voted differently than me. I will accept that we will differ on policy, on solutions, on the role of government. It’s entirely possible that I am wrong about many things. But I will no longer be made to feel guilty, or naive, or clueless, about the fundamentals of what I believe. I will try not to do the same to the other side. If we can debate how to fix healthcare, without implying that we each are spawns of the devil, let’s do it. Heck, we can even debate the merits of the National Endowment for the Arts, if you don’t imply that I’m a loser for caring.

So there. I’m ready. Let’s do this.

Lunchtime Notes: Hidden Figures

This post was written in approximately 15 minutes during my lunch hour. Please forgive typos and rambling and disconnected thoughts. 

I was sitting next to my sister-in-law, a badass Naval officer, during the previews for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. The previews were odd – lots of loud, extremely violent graphic novel adaptations, and I was perplexed.

Then, a preview popped up for a movie about the space program, and I perked up. I LOVE SPACE, and by association, the space program. I’ve read a bunch of stuff about it; Apollo 13 is one of my all-time favorite movies. John Glenn died recently, and I joined the parade of tweeters expressing my respect for his contributions.

I sat up in my chair as the trailer for Hidden Figures played, and sent an incredulous glance over to my sister-in-law, who smiled knowingly at me. She, it seems, knew about this movie. I had no clue.

It’s a story about 3 African-American women who worked behind-the-scenes to get Colonel Glenn into, and safely home from, space.

I haven’t seen it yet, FYI.

My first thought, as I watched it, was “If it doesn’t suck, this movie will be my new Apollo 13.”

My second thought was “HOW THE HELL HAVE I NEVER HEARD THIS STORY BEFORE?”

Apollo 13 happened to be on TV later that week, and I watched it with joy, as I always do. But I also saw what I’d always casually noted, but never really reflected on; there were no women in rooms where the behind-the-scenes drama played out. We saw women at home waiting anxiously by the TV, and the occasional female reporter. There were no people of color in the rooms, either. We saw one, in the press room.

Millions of white kids like me grew up idolizing the space program, and we never knew there were a bunch of women, and women of color, behind the scenes. Of course there were. Of COURSE we should have known about them. We should have learned about them in school. Barring that, we should have ASKED about them. But of course we didn’t.

If you want evidence of institutionalized discrimination and patriarchy, this is it, folks.

I can’t wait to see this film. I hope it lives up to my expectations as a movie, so I can be sure it’s one of those movies my niece is forced to watch with me when it comes on TV in 10 years. 🙂

Resolution blues

Hi, friends. Not a lot of words on this blog recently. That’s because I don’t have much to say.

Well, that’s only partially true. I don’t have much to say that is hopeful or clever or even a little bit witty.

See, I’m still pretty pissed that the highest position of power in our country is about to be assumed by Donald Trump. It’s really getting me down, mostly on a societal/philosophical level, because…jeez. This is my country, too, and I love it, and what Trump represents…well…it makes me sad and angry and…so many other feelings, none of them good. And enough has been written, by better writers than I, about that, so I’ll pipe down.

Maybe I’m just in a funk. That is possible, and normal, and I’m not ashamed of it. Yes, I know I need to get over it. Thanks.

But it’s now January 2nd, and since I always blog for the New Year, I’ve decided to write a blog post for those out there who are feeling like I am.

This post is for all of you who can’t bring yourselves to go through the “In 2017 I vow to _________” game again. Because every year, we vow to become skinny, which will somehow make us more happy. Or we vow to be more organized, which will somehow make us more productive. Or we vow to focus on our relationships more, which will somehow make us less lonely.

And every year, it feels like we fail. Note I said it “feels like” we fail. I don’t believe we ACTUALLY fail (except me, on the getting skinny part, but I’m used to that by now). We accomplish a lot, actually. We get through each day, we travel, we cook, we do our best to support our friends/family, we try to exercise, we try to do good for our fellow man. That’s not nothing, folks. But sometimes, it feels like nothing.

I get you, my people. I’m feeling it, too. I see happy facebook posts of colorful scripted hashtags about #kindness and #intention and #purpose and I want to scratch over them with a magic marker (I refrain, because my I-Phone is worth more than my car at this point), because for crying out loud, do you really expect me to think about only ONE word for an entire year? And why isn’t that word #chocolate or #bagels or something real?

I know how it feels to feel like everyone else is content in their lives, while we flounder, looking for the place that we fit, wondering “is this it?”, and if we will always be just slightly on the edge of what’s comfortable and normal.

I also know the guilt we feel after having such thoughts, because, after all, we’re healthy and employed and have a warm roof over our heads. How dare we not be grateful and happy and appreciative of all we have?

I get it, my friends. And I don’t have any magical way to solve it. I guess giving it some time, giving less time to social media, changing a routine, or maybe even, despite how false and fake and silly it feels, setting a goal or two for 2017?

I can’t quite get there yet, but maybe I will soon. New Year’s resolutions are a false construct, a symbol, something we’ve made up, so if you can’t get in to them, don’t add that to the list of things making you feel like New Year’s Scrooge. As Neil Degrasse Tyson tweeted today, there is absolutely no astrological significance to this time of year. So if you’re not feeling it, that’s ok. Maybe we’ll feel it on some random January or February day. Maybe not.

Whatever happens, 2017 is here, and, resolutions or not, I hope it’s a good year for all of you.

PS: Here’s one thing we can do, even if it feels hard; support our friends who have found a resolution they want to achieve. It might wind up feeling pretty good, and bonus – it’s a nice thing to do.

 

Three tips for all of us after the election

This is my third attempted blog post in three days. The first two, which I thankfully didn’t publish, were full of hope and optimism and excitement about the days ahead. In my pantsuit-nation-fueled, out-of-touch brain, I was looking ahead to a day when a woman would have finally broken that highest of barriers, when we might have some hope of taking better care of our planet, and when SCOTUS might not be overwhelmingly conservative for the foreseeable future.

Whoops.

Today, I SO wanted to write a blog post that starts like this:

Well, that happened. A reality-tv star will soon control our nuclear arsenal. Good night and good luck, America. 

However, that’s snarky Jodi. And boy, does she want to come out, but guess what? She had her chance during the campaign, and she lost. I never really let her out, which I will always regret, but today, I’m eating some serious humble pie, so my attempts to make sense of our new reality will be, hopefully, a little nicer.

On the bus to work this morning, I reflected on how sad it made me that I couldn’t talk about my dismay and sorrow with my parents, who have always been my shoulders to cry on. Because, well, we disagree heartily on politics, and we just. don’t. talk. about. it. When I left the coffee shop this morning with my bad-for-me-but oh-so-necessary everything bagel, I felt like I might be able to pull it together and help my staff and colleagues process what had happened.

And then, I got to the office, and I saw everyone’s red-eyed, shell-shocked faces. Then I got emails from both of my parents telling me how much they love me and were proud of me, despite our disagreements. And yeah, well, the whole morning was basically me trying to do some work while watching Hillary’s (classy and brave – it was, even if you hate her) concession speech and fighting back tears.

In the raw aftermath of a hard, hard day, I realized a few things. Most of these I thought before the election, but I think they are worth saying now.

IT DOESN’T HELP TO DEMONIZE EVERYONE WHO VOTED FOR THEIR CANDIDATE

It may be too soon to say this, but I’ve been wanting to say it for months and didn’t have the guts. All the articles and commentary that have said “If you voted for Trump, you are a Nazi” or “If you voted for Hillary, you are a stupid libtard who hates America” aren’t the answer. To be crass, such simplicity won’t help us win the argument, and to be honest, it’s not true. We all have people in our lives who love us, who are good people, who care about each other, and who voted for the other side. I’m not sure we will ever be able to fully understand their decision, but they are still our people and we have to find other, more grown-up ways to express ourselves. Or, to accept that these people will no longer be in our lives.

IF YOU DID VOTE FOR TRUMP, PLEASE TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE FEAR THAT MANY ARE FEELING TODAY

Several of the Trump supporters in my life have expressed that the fear and despair that I and my friends are feeling today are the same emotions they have been feeling for the last 8 years.

It is really, really hard for me to accept this as true, because of what I see and what I know of the real-life, dangerous experiences of my LGBT, minority, and female friends and colleagues. But I am trying to accept it, and to recognize that fear is not a competition; it’s an emotion that rules without regard for context.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that the KKK is happy that Trump won the election. Let’s just sit with that for a moment. Trump has made public statements that directly insult, and in some cases directly threaten, entire swaths of America, putting people of diverse backgrounds into simplistic boxes for the sake of a tweet. While you may think, and it may be true, that the media blew such comments out of proportion, or that Trump “didn’t mean them”, the reality is that (just as an example) there are kids, right now, worrying if their parents will be taken away from them because of things Trump has said. Please, respect that such fears, even if you don’t share them, are very real today and probably will be for a while.

WE HAVE TO DO BETTER FOR EACH OTHER

One thing I did see today that gave me hope is a lot of people seeking and finding tangible ways to take action. I loved this (admittedly left-leaning) piece telling us to quit whining, recognize our failure, and get to work. And while I’m glad that many of us on the losing side are fired up, I also hope that those of you on the winning side are also fired up to do your part to try to repair the damage this campaign, and indeed the last few years, have wrought, on this country. It’s too simple to blame it on Fox News or the “mainstream” media. We are all complicit in the horror that we just put each other through, and what history tells us could happen if the cruelty continues. We clicked, we shared, we watched, we repeated the talking points, we allowed ourselves to be put into false boxes pitting Group A against Group B. I want to believe that we are better than who we were over the last few years.

Are we? I’m not sure. Time will tell. But in the meantime, I suggest we turn off the national debate for a while and work on making our own families, workplaces, and local communities better. We are not going to find too many role models of decency in our nation’s leaders, so let’s see if we can find them among each other. There is so much we can do, by serving those who need us, spending less time on social media, and being compassionate. It may be too late. The zombie apocalypse might be inevitable, and if so, well, I’m glad I have friends on well-stocked farms in Arkansas. But I’m not ready to give up yet.

And for what it’s worth, this doesn’t mean I’m not going to eat a whole pint of ice cream tonight. And perhaps wash it down with some wine and chocolate. And look at lots of dog videos. And read some escapist fiction. And well, mourn a little bit more. But, as we rise out of the fog of despair, or bask in the glow of victory, we can already see there is more work to be done, especially by those of us who have been sitting on the sidelines, thinking that voting is enough. It’s not. We just got a wake-up call. So let’s grab some coffee and get going.