Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dispatches from a Recovering Bleeding Heart*: The Case Against Gay Marriage

Via Ta-Nehisi Coates, you've just gotta read this argument against gay marriage at The Weekly Standard.  It's far better than the absurd and offensive argument recently made -- apparently with a straight face (no pun intended) at the blog Secular Right -- that gay folk shouldn't be allowed to marry because it will further deteriorate the breakdown of the Black family (because all of those deadbeat Black dads are gonna really run away from marriage if they think it's, you know, queer).  But I have to grant that Sam Shulman's argument that "The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage [is that] It Isn't Going to Work" has, at the very least, some intellectual honesty.  You really should go read the piece for yourself, but in a nutshell, here is his argument:  Gay marriage is not so much offensive or immoral as it is irrelevant because it cannot, by definition, accomplish the four main purposes of marriage, all of which have to do with creating and enforcing a system of kinship.  Those four purposes are:

1.  Controlling women's sexuality and reproductive lives;
2.  Enforcing incest taboos;
3.  Keeping extra-marital sex illicit;
4.  Creating male bonds (such as hunting and business) between fathers and their sons-in-law, and female bonds (such as conspiring to control the men-folk) between mothers and their daughters-in-law.

Now, while I am glad to grant Mr. Shulman props for intellectual honesty, I would probably give him a D+ at best for his analytical skill.  If I were grading his paper, I might note, for example,  that #3 and #4 are really just subsets of #1, and that #2 is a total non-sequitur.  But for intellectual honesty, I give Mr. Shulman a B+, because what he's really saying (and I would give him an A+ if he'd just come out and say it already) is that The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage [is that] It Will Undermine Patriarchy.  And you know what? He's right about that. And if you think patriarchy is a Really Neat Thing, and you're a smart (thrice married) boy like Mr. Shulman, gay marriage is definitely something to be worried about.

In other gay marriage news, lots of good folks are keenly disappointed in the California Supreme Court today, but I am choosing to look on the bright side.  I have not read the whole opinion (it's really long), but it strikes me that 1) the argument the plaintiffs were making was creative, but a bit of a stretch and that 2) the Court's opinion is reasoned and reasonable, even if reasonable minds can disagree.  The issue in the case (upon which, in the fine tradition of law students everywhere, I feel perfectly qualified to opine, despite the fact that I have not read the entire case) is whether Proposition 8 -- which restricts the equal protection provided under the California Constitution to same-sex couples by eliminating their previously-existing right to marry -- whether that Proposition constitutes a revision or an amendment to the California Constitution.  In a nutshell, a revision constitutes a "kind of wholesale or fundamental alteration of the constitutional structure," and can be undertaken only through a constitutional convention, whereas an amendment is a more discrete change to the Constitution, and may be undertaken through a ballot measure, such as Prop 8.  There is apparently a lot of law in California distinguishing the two, and it seems the Court interpreted that law somewhat conservatively, rather than expansively and creatively as the plaintiffs had hoped.  This is certainly disappointing if you like expansive and creative constitutional interpretations in the cause of justice (and I have been known to like them; for example, Roe vs. Wade is such an expansive and creative interpretation that I have on occasion vigorously defended against the argument that it may be good policy but it's bad law).  But it is not, as some are quite understandably in their disappointment suggesting, a grave miscarriage of justice. And don't forget this good news:  the Court upheld the same-sex marriages that have already been granted in California.

Indeed, at the end of the day, I continue to believe, as I have since I spent a lot time thinking about such things in law school, that political solutions are generally better than legal ones. Which is not to say that legal strategies are always misguided, because they are not; indeed, a legal strategy must often precede a political one, because it primes the pump.  In the case of gay marriage, Massachusetts and Connecticut served that purpose, but Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire are the true victories (you know, those activist legislators legislating from the legislature, as one dear friend put it -- kinda hard to argue they are thwarting the will of the people).  And we could have had the same victory in California, but for, by most accounts, a totally inept and botched campaign against Prop 8.  A well-run campaign some years down the road is very likely going to bring us the victory we all wished for in November, and again today, and it will be all the sweeter for being a political victory, the voice of the people, the will of the majority.   I would say that it's time to take a long view, but then I remember that only a few years ago, the long view put marriage equality sometime in my grandchildren's lifetime, maybe with luck in my children's, but most certainly not in mine.  It's good to be impatient with injustice, but it's not good to let that impatience steal our hope.  

This summer, Julie and I and our two children are going to Iowa (Iowa!) where we will be married.   Less than a generation ago -- indeed, since I have been an out lesbian -- that was inconceivable to me and most other queer folk.  The California decision notwithstanding, I remain full of hope.

*I realize in retrospect that my open letter to Andrew Sullivan was the first in my newest series, Dispatches from a Recovering Bleeding Heart.  I meant to write a witty piece here at the end explaining what I mean by that, but I am tired, and so you will have to wait.  Bet you're all holding your breath in anticipation, huh?

Book Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001)[*****].  I heard Andrew Solomon speaking about depression recently on the NPR radio program Speaking of Faith, and he struck me as thoughtful and eloquent, so I got his book.  I was not disappointed.  Broken into twelve chapters -- Depression, Breakdowns, Treatments, Alternatives, Populations, Addiction, Suicide, History, Poverty, Politics, Evolution and Hope -- this book lays out just about everything one could ever want to know about depression.  Each chapter weaves careful research, moving yet unsentimental stories from Solomon's interviews and correspondence with people who suffer from depression, as well as many candid and compelling stories of Solomon's own battles with depression.   I especially appreciated the chapter on poverty, and was easily persuaded that basic, and often highly treatable, depression is both a cause and an effect of poverty, and that any effort to end poverty must include aggressive mental health outreach.  I was also very moved by the many personal stories, in particular in the first three chapters.  I was heartened to learn of pretty effective treatments now available, including several "alternative" treatments that Solomon investigates with exceptional openness.  Some of the science felt a tiny bit above my head, and the history chapter dragged a little bit for me, but overall The Noonday Demon is very nicely written and quite accessible.   Anyone who suffers from depression, or loves someone who does -- which includes most of us -- will find this eye-opening and compelling.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Cost and Joy of Discipleship: Now THAT Was Church!

When Trixie was born, I had not yet joined the church; indeed, I wasn't even so much thinking of joining the church.  Old First was a community I loved -- Julie had been a part of it since she was a volunteer there in college, and she joined immediately upon our move to Philadelphia, five years before Trixie's birth.  I loved the people, loved working at the homeless shelter (where we were known as "the ice cream ladies"), but I was actually exploring Judaism at the time, and was pretty sure that wherever I landed, it would not be as a member of a mainline protestant church.  

As it turns out, Old First worked its way into my heart and soul, and through that community, I found myself casting my lot with Jesus and his wacky band of disciples.  If conversion is a "turning around," I've always thought of mine as a 360, rather than a 180, degree turn; my dad, the born-again atheist, lives the most Christ-like life of anyone I know, and my conversion to Christianity has simply given life and community and rhythm and story to the values of simplicity and hospitality and love and stewardship that are my birthright and my family's lifeblood.  So on the one hand, my conversion was simple and easy; but on the other hand, it was oh-so-difficult, and it was precisely baptism that was the stumbling block.

I was not baptized as an infant, much to the chagrin of my staunch Episcopalian Grandma Rose. My parents held firm though; their baby would not go through what felt to them like a meaningless ritual simply to appease the grandparents.  As it turns out, I am forever grateful for their choice on my behalf, because their choice not to baptize me meant that I had to very actively and consciously choose the church, rather than just falling into it.   Had I been baptized as an infant, I could have quietly joined Old First without having to think very hard about it. But baptism! Wow, that felt really big.  How would I know when I was really ready?  
How would I know if I really was a Christian? What if all those lingering doubts just made me a big old fraud?   It was my friend Donna (there she is, taking some of these pictures) who finally distilled my dilemma for me:  "Marta," she said, "It sounds like it's time to shit or get off the pot."  Yup! On the day of my baptism, though, I did not feel like a new-born child of God. Mostly I was in a really grumpy mood, and wished everyone would stop asking me how I felt, implying that I was supposed to feel something in particular which I most decidedly did not, confirming my own secret fears that I was, indeed, nothing but a big poser.  

I like to think that baptism, like conversion, is something we grow into, forever, and not something that happens and then it's done.  I had clearly come to the point in my conversion where I needed to continue my journey inside the church, so it was time to "get washed up." But I'm always glad to have the chance to renew my baptismal vows, as we do at St. Vincent's at Easter Vigil, where older children and adults are baptized -- with lots and
lots and lots of water!  I've been going to Easter Vigil (with Pat, Trixie's confirmation mentor and our dear dear friend) for years at St. Vincent's, the Catholic church in my neighborhood where I also sometimes attend the mid-day Mass.  And I've always loved all the water, big copper urns of it, poured over the heads of the kneeling candidates.  My own church's tradition is sort of a desert version; water is apparently scarce in the UCC, so just a few drops must do.  That was my own baptism, but I wanted something different for Trixie.

It felt important to both me and Julie that our children have a choice, especially since, when Trixie was born, my own spiritual quest had not yet landed me in the Christian faith, so Trixie and Micah were both dedicated as infants, but not baptized.  As it turns out, we did not give Trixie so much of a choice; she has been very much raised in the Christian church (so much so, that once as a toddler, when we pulled into our church's parking lot, Trixie declared, "We're home!"  It occurred to us then that perhaps we were spending too much time at the corner of Fourth and Race.)  But whether or not we have really given her a true choice, her baptism is something that she has been able to actively and fully embrace as part of her year of exploring her faith in anticipation of Confirmation, and I am glad for that. Normally, she would be quickly baptized, with a few drops of water, prior to the confirmation ceremony (scheduled for Pentecost, on the 31st), but she, Julie and I all wanted something more special, and with LOTS MORE WATER.

Lucky for us, our dear ones Woody and Joey have a heated pool, which, if you're in need, is now full of a whole lotta holy water!  This seemed an especially perfect place as Woody played John the Baptist in Old First's production of Godspell a couple of years ago. And Trixie is an avid swimmer, so a plan was hatched, and a wonderful service and pool party followed.  In the words of our friend Wanda, who co-officiated with Julie's father at the service:  "Now THAT was church!"  Indeed.

I will leave you with the lovely Prayer of Baptism from the UCC Book of Worship's baptism liturgy, which I have always loved:

We thank you, God,
for the gift of creation
called forth by your saving Word.
Before the world had shape and form,
your Spirit moved over the waters.
Out of the waters of the deep,
you formed the firmament
and brought forth the earth
to sustain all life.

In the time of Noah, 
you washed the earth
with the waters of the flood,
and your ark of salvation bore a new beginning.

In the time of Moses,
your people Israel passed
through the Red Sea waters
from slavery to freedom
and crossed the flowing Jordan
to enter the promised land.

In the fullness of time,
you sent Jesus Christ,
who was nurtured 
in the water of Mary's womb.

Jesus was baptized by John
in the water of the Jordan,
became living water to a woman
at the Samaritan well,
washed the feet of the disciples,
and sent them forth
to baptize all the nations
by water and the Holy Spirit.
Bless by your Holy Spirit,
gracious God, this water.
By your Holy Spirit
save those who confess
the name of Jesus Christ
that sin may have not power over them.
Create new life in Trixie
baptized this day
that she may rise in Christ.
Glory to you, eternal God,
the one who was, and is, and shall always be,
world without end.

Lots more photos on Facebook (Margaret? Marjorie? I'm just sayin')

Friday, May 15, 2009

Diary of a Mad Housewife: Gratitude in the Garden

On Mother's Day, Julie took the kids to church and then to visit her Auntie, who lives in a nursing home about an hour away, and I had the whole day to work in the garden.  It was cool and sunny, a perfect day.  When I arrived in the garden, though, I realized that the wheelbarrow -- the bright yellow, new, very expensive wheelbarrow -- was missing.  The night before, Micah had been done with the garden, so I sent him ahead with the keys.  I planned to follow minutes later, when I realized I couldn't lock up the shed because the padlock doesn't work without the key.  So with every intention of returning, I left the wheelbarrow full of weeds in the middle of the garden and went home to attend to the squirrelly six year old.  Upon my arrival at home, I was felled by an allergy attack of epic proportions, the sort that only sleep-inducing antihistamines will allay.  And I forgot all about the wheelbarrow.

When I arrived in the garden on Mother's Day, I immediately noticed it was missing.  I also immediately noticed that Mrs. Meadowland was standing on her front steps, talking to someone and shooting the evil eye at the garden.  My rational mind knew that she had nothing to do with the missing wheelbarrow, but I wasn't feeling particularly rational just then.  I burst into tears.

Another neighbor, a very dear man named Vlad, happened to be walking by just then and asked after me.  I poured out all my venom at Mrs. Meadowland to poor
Vlad, who used every single one of his considerable 12-step counseling skills to talk me down.  He could not have been more kind.  He went to get me his wheelbarrow, and said he'd be back in a couple of hours to fetch it.  He also recounted a story of a particularly difficult, bitter relationship he'd had, and how he decided to pray, for two solid weeks, that his adversary would get everything he needed. Vlad said that relationship was transformed, and there was nothing else he could attribute the transformation to.  He also observed that I really need to figure out a way to let go of the specter of the Meadowlands, which always feels looming when I'm working in the garden, so that I can really enjoy myself there.  "She's a small, bitter woman.  Imagine being her," he said. I felt so very very cared for.

While I moved mounds of compost around in Vlad's old, beat-up wheelbarrow, I thought about what I wished for from the Meadowlands.  All I want, I realized, is to have a cordial, polite, neighborly relationship.
A "Hey, how you doin?" sort of relationship.  That's all.  And I realized I could have that sort of relationship, even if they refuse to reciprocate.  Maybe an hour later, Mr. Meadowland pulled up, parked in front of their house, and began walking to the front door. 

"Good morning, Mr. Meadowland!" I called, in my most neighborly voice, but without stopping my work.  

"Hi! How are you?" he called back.  But I'm pretty sure he didn't see me, or know who had called out to him.  Still, I felt better.

I will admit that when Mrs. Meadowland came out a little later, I couldn't screw up the courage to call out to her, but I'm working on it.

Later in the day, my neighbor Tom, who is helping me build a fence (okay, let's be real:  I'm helping him build a fence; he's a master carpenter, and I can follow simple directions if he speaks slowly and clearly), stopped by, and apologized for not bringing the wheelbarrow back.  He had taken it with him and a whole load of weeds that he was dumping at a worksite where they needed landfill.
And I knew that.  I had completely forgotten.

I don't really believe that things happen for a reason, I really don't.  But I was feeling pretty grateful by the end of the day.  It was, as at least half a dozen young men passing by said to me that day, a "Happy Mother's Day."  

Photos, again, from my dear Donna.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Open Letter to Andrew Sullivan

In the fall of 2008 I began reading Andrew Sullivan's blog The Daily Dish, and was so taken with him that I immediately bought and read his book The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom and the Future of the Right, which I reviewed here.  At the time I also sent Sullivan an email detailing my delight in, and my critique of, the book.  The man receives hundreds if not thousands of emails a day; I'm not at all surprised that I never heard back from him.  But an interesting post and thread of comments over at Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog got me thinking about this again, and I dug up my letter and decided to publish it here.  


Dear Andrew:

I'm a fairly new reader of your blog, and a huge fan.  As a life-long liberal who sometimes questions whether liberalism (at least ideological, Democratic Party style liberalism) accurately describes what I believe, I hoped your book The Conservative Soul would help me understand another perspective better.  I just finished it, and it very much has.  It is smart, beautifully written, and very clear even for someone like me who is not at all well-versed in political philosophy.  As a Christian, I find your explication of fundamentalism especially insightful, and your description of the experience of the Catholic Mass quite moving.  Your lyrical description of the conservative temperament as being rooted in loss struck a chord, describing quite well myself and many other liberals I know (indeed, one of my critiques of your book is that I am not at all convinced a conservative political philosophy as you later describe it necessarily flows from such a temperament).  

The first few pages of the book (which I thought were so lovely, I had to read them out loud to my partner Julie) got me thinking about what is at the core of a liberal temperament.  If conservatism is rooted in loss, I would say liberalism is rooted in abundance, and in a sense of satiety in the face of abundance that leads to an impulse toward hospitality.  It's the satisfied feeling you have when you get home from the market, and the larder is full, and you just want to cook something and have folks over for a meal.  And if conservatism suggests (quite correctly, I think) that we are ultimately all alone and unknowable to one another, then liberalism suggests that in our isolation, we nonetheless have no choice but to reach out to one another. We are unknowable to one another, but we are also unknowable to ourselves without each other.  Being left alone, I would argue, is not all we need to be free.

So, thank you for this lovely and thoughtful book.  Not surprisingly, I have some questions.  I'm not interested necessarily in being convinced or converted, merely in understanding.  I also recognize that you must get scads of emails every day, and the chances of your even reading this one, much less having time to answer my questions, is slim.  Still, it has been a useful exercise for me to write this all down.  Here are my main questions/critiques:

1.  You argue, correctly I believe, that maintaining a monopoly on force and securing the physical safety of its citizens is the first and most fundamental role of government:  "Without such security, it is impossible to have the peace necessary to cultivate virtue, apart from the virtue of courage.  Without security, we are all forced to bludgeon human personality into the uniform mold of physical strength or cunning.  Without security, we cannot even afford the luxury of questioning whether we need security.  We are too busy trying to stay alive and intact."  (pp 232-33)  My experience of working with youth in the ghetto in Philadelphia is that the government is utterly failing in this fundamental role.  In my experience, "law and order" conservatives 1) blame this lawlessness on the criminals and thugs, and 2) push for more cops, more guns, stricter laws, fiercer punishments and more prisons.  Perhaps the greatest insight I gained reading your book was that both of these responses are not conservative ones.  If THE first and most fundamental role of government is to gain an effective monopoly on violence in order to secure the safety of its citizens precisely because some people are bad and will behave badly if left alone -- well then, the fact that some people really are bad and really do behave badly cannot become the excuse for the failure of government to secure the safety of large swaths of our cities. Moreover, to propose more cops, more guns, stricter laws, fiercer punishments and more prisons -- when none of those things is currently working -- seems to me the sort of thing conservatives love to accuse liberals of -- throwing more money at the same failed schemes with no accountability.  

Poverty in this country is not primarily an issue of material lack -- most poor people in this country are not starving, are not freezing, are not without basic material resources.  Materially speaking, most poverty in this country looks like vast wealth to the majority of the world's poor.  Rather, poverty in this country is more a poverty of opportunity, beginning with a fundamental poverty of basic safety and security.  Many of the children I have worked with have decent enough homes, enough to eat, clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet; what they don't have is any sense of being part of civil society, any sense that there is something more powerful than the law of the street, which begins and ends with physical strength, cunning, and courage.  They don't even question whether something else could or should exist -- as you put it, they don't have the luxury of questioning whether they need security, because they are just trying to keep themselves alive according to the rules as they know them.  This lack of security which so circumscribes their lives is not first and foremost a failure of culture or of parenting (although their plight may also stem from those failures), but a massive failure on the part of government to do its most fundamental job in any sort of meaningful way.  It seems to me that a truly conservative response would be to seek any and all possible means of securing the safety of all, strict accountability for those charged with getting the job done, and the jettisoning of all schemes that don't work (starting, I would suggest, with the "war on drugs.")   You say that enduring a dictatorship is "life lived as trauma," (p235), and I would argue that life lived in America's ghettos is likewise life lived as trauma -- that's exactly how these kids experience it.

2.  The necessity of government in securing our physical safety is obvious to me, but I don't understand why securing personal property and wealth ought necessarily to be an end of a limited government.  Your conservative philosophy, as I understand it, does not recognize a God-given or "natural" right to private property.  Indeed, it seems to me that if we accept the government's monopoly on coercive violence, there is no "right" to private property outside of the government's ability to enforce that "right."  The conservative notion that government should "leave us alone" to "do what we want" with our property seems to me to miss the fact that any government with a monopoly on coercive violence is always exerting its power over our property, which is, after all, only "our" property because the government agrees that it is and is willing to enforce it.  But under a limited government which, you argue, should be concerned with few and only the most fundamental of ends, why should protecting your property and wealth necessarily be among them?  Owning property is not intrinsic to being human, and I would argue that after a fairly limited baseline of basic needs is secured, there is no positive correlation whatsoever between owning property and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So why should the government not redistribute your property as a means to ends which might be more fundamental to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  For example, I would argue that there is a far stronger correlation between life/liberty/the pursuit of happiness and one's health than there is with one's property.  Similarly, I would argue that a life of the mind -- supported by a sound education -- is also more fundamental to those pursuits.  So why shouldn't the government use its power over your property to secure universal and effective health care and education, rather than using its power over your property to secure it merely for your personal use?

3.  Somewhat remarkably, in my estimation, you utterly fail to address our government's most fundamental failure to secure its citizens' freedom to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and then to leave them alone except in the most limited ways absolutely necessary for the common good.  That most fundamental failure is NOT the New Deal, or progressive taxation, or any other liberal scheme; rather, that failure is, of course, slavery and its institutionalized legacy which was, inarguably, actively enforced by our government through its monopoly on coercive violence until just a couple of generations ago.  The failure of conservatism to adequately address slavery and its legacy is so baffling to me precisely because everything about slavery and institutionalized racism is so antithetical to conservatism, at least as you describe it.  I'm very open to the possibility that liberals have not come up with adequate ways of addressing this legacy, even open to the possibility that many liberal policies have been well-meaning but misguided and have done as much harm as good.  But the conservative response -- which, it seems to me, boils down to deep denial masquerading as "color blindness" -- is just, well, baffling.  The conservative philosophy of limited government, the only real ends of which are to secure our freedom and liberty and then leave us alone -- that's lovely, but it does not seem to me to be rooted in any sort of reality for African Americans.  The government not only did not secure the safety, liberty and freedom of African Americans and then leave them alone, but in fact it actively used its monopoly on coercive violence to enslave African Americans for a century, and then after emancipation to effectively enslave them for another century.  As I understand your version of conservatism, this is a profoundly un-conservative history.  But in the face of this reality, to call the modern conservative response -- or rather non-response -- merely naive seems way too charitable.  Do conservatives really believe that every generation we simply wipe the slate clean when it comes to freedom and opportunity?  Do conservatives really believe that it is primarily the arguably misguided efforts of liberals to address this legacy, and not the legacy itself, that is the primary problem when it comes to race in this country?  Again, I am quite willing to put all the liberal policies -- affirmative action, welfare, AFDC, etc. etc. -- on the table in any honest effort to unstitch this legacy from the very fabric of our government and society.  But conservative denial that the legacy of slavery and institutional racism have any relevance today -- I just don't get it.

Take good care, Andrew.  You're a good egg.



Friday, May 8, 2009

Diary of a Mad Housewife: Micah at Six

On Sunday, Micah went to Zaire's birthday party, with, as it turns out, his favorite little skateboard keychain hidden in the gift bag with Zaire's gift.  Micah is not allowed to take little toys like that out of the house, because he will lose them -- he does lose them -- but that doesn't stop him from trying.  

"But Josh brought a Webkinz to church last week -- I want to show him mine!"  

"But I want to play Bakugon with my friend outside!"  

"No, no, really, we're allowed to take toys to school as long as we leave them in our backpacks!"

On Sunday, apparently he knew we would say "No," so he didn't even ask.  He just slipped the keychain in the first convenient hiding place, which just happened to be Zaire's gift bag. Unfortunately for Micah, he forgot that he had hidden it there, and there it stayed (and can I just say "I told you not to take small toys out of the house!  This is the reason you're not allowed to -- you always lose them!  This is exactly what I was talking about!")

In fact, Micah forgot so completely that it wasn't until Wednesday at school, when Zaire brought his new toy -- you know, the one Micah gave him -- and why wouldn't he think that Micah had given it to him, after all, since it was in the gift bag!?-- it wasn't until then that Micah remembered.  At which point, to his credit, he confessed everything to his teacher -- that he isn't allowed to take small toys out of the house, that he hid the skateboard in Zaire's gift bag, that he forgot -- but now, he concluded, now that he remembered, he wanted his skateboard keychain back.  His skateboard, not Zaire's.  Of course Zaire saw it completely differently -- and why wouldn't he, what with the skateboard being in his gift bag?  Micah's teacher actually called me mid-morning to see if I had any idea how to negotiate this, since both boys were pretty adamant that the skateboard was rightfully theirs, and pretty upset at the prospect of losing it.  I told her to keep the skateboard, and to tell them the grown-ups would figure out a solution.  That seemed to mollify them for the time being, but in the meantime, there had apparently been a lot of crying and angst.

That afternoon, I talked to Micah about it, and he agreed (pretty reluctantly) that Zaire could keep the skateboard keychain, because after all, he did find it in his gift bag, and how would you feel if someone tried to take back one of your gifts? ("Sad.")  And that I would try to find Micah another one if I could.   Then I mentioned that his teacher said he was pretty upset in class, and was crying.

"Yeah," he said, "but it's okay, because Masai and my friends took care of me."

"Oh yeah?  That's so nice," I said.  "How did Masai take care of you?"

"He patted my back."  

How sweet is that?  Pretty darn sweet, huh?

It was wild mayhem in Fernhill Park after school today as a puppy pack of boys and three little girls celebrated Micah's sixth birthday.  There were scooters and bikes and skateboards, and while the moms sat in the grass discussing "benign neglect" as a parenting philosophy, the boys removed their shirts in the heat of the afternoon, and then cajoled us into letting them ride without helmets ("it's so hot!"), and then managed to scrape their knees and elbows and even their bellies, but, thank goodness (because we sure couldn't take any credit), there were no concussions.  One of the girls scootered with the best of them (but kept her shirt on); the
other two picked flowers.  Micah got great stuff, the kids gorged on a skateboard cake I spent the day making (and only just got cleaned up from at 10:00 p.m.), and which, if I do say so myself, was pretty darn cool.  My camera is broken, but a friend has photos, which I'll try to add when I get them.

The day ended with a passel of neighborhood kids taking turns on Micah's new skateboard ramps (he's not good enough yet on the board, but the boy is pretty awesome on a razor scooter), until Micah got so tired and hungry that he just melted down. Some take-out lo mien noodles and a quiet hour of TV with Mama Julie seemed to top off a near-perfect day, and the boy is now sound asleep, blissfully surrounded by Bakugon whatever-they-are, legos, and of course, his menagerie of Webkinz reptiles.  

Photos courtesy of the insanely talented "Dee."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Just Love These Guys: Andrew Sullivan and Ta-Nehisi Coates

Last fall I was obsessed with political blogs, but come on, who wasn't, right?  The domestic front at Chez Marta-Julie was turned upside down by a basement renovation; I was coping with depression and anxiety triggered in part by the chaos here at home, but mostly by escalating drama around programs for kids living in poverty sponsored by my church in which I had invested way too much myself (note to self: don't do that again) but which, despite my best efforts, were falling apart; and oh, yeah, Barack Obama was running for president!  So obsessively reading political blogs was not only a form of escape, but really, my duty as a citizen of this fine democracy, nu?

So raise your hand if you experienced just a little bit of a post-election slump.  Okay, so I'm not alone? Good.  Anyway, yeah, my own private malaise continued apace, but somehow administration-building-in-the-midst-of-the-next-Great-Depression wasn't nearly as fun as OMG-it-looks-like-we-might-win-Indiana!!!  I finally called everyone's bluff and just quit everything at church (other than going to church, though even that felt excruciating at times), and made my world intentionally small.  Really, really small.  Really, really, cozily, love-a-ly, scrumptiously, stress-freely small.  Oh, and I started seeing my therapist too, which was super smart and helpful.  I even came this close to starting anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication, something I have not done yet, but will definitely do if I ever feel that bad again for any length of time. Fortunately, my depression lifted suddenly, just as I started reaching out for help, and life got better.  But in the meantime, I totally abandoned my political blogs, and stuck with a very small, cozy handful of domestic blogs I have been following for years.

Interestingly, the first to go of the political blogs were the far-left rags.  I was actually getting pretty annoyed with them even before the election, because they were so completely predictable and knee-jerk.  Yawn.  Among the last to go were two of my favorites, The Daily Dish, by Andrew Sullivan, who blogs for The Atlantic, and Ta-Nehisi Coate's self-named blog, also at The Atlantic.  Now that I am once again dipping my toes back into the political blogosphere, these two blogs (along with my homeboy, Radley, who blogs at The Agitator) are, not surprisingly, the ones I am reading these days.  

I love both Sullivan and Coates independently of each other, and I intend to do a full-length Blog Review of each of them some day.  But in a nutshell, I love them both because they are unpredictable and thought-provoking.  Sullivan is a self-avowed conservative, or as he more recently described himself, "a libertarian independent."  I reviewed his book The Conservative Soul here; I tend to sympathize with some of his detractors who question his conservative credentials (or maybe, heaven forbid, I'm becoming conservative myself??)  I do in fact disagree with him in principle about a few pretty fundamental things, but I agree with him way more often than not, and admire his integrity all the time, and even when I think his arguments are just plain silly, I find him so damn charming and sweet and earnest that I just have to shake my head like a doting sister.   Ta-Nehisi Coates, on the other hand, I feel like I'm just getting to know.  I also find him charming, especially in his willingness to jeopardize his street cred with his brazen geekiness.  I haven't found much to disagree with him about, but I think his unblinking honesty and thoughtful openness about the issues of race that he routinely and deftly tackles is just super refreshing.

So yeah, I love both of these guys independently of one another, but what I really really just love so much is the thoughtful, respectful interplay between them on their blogs.  I'm probably being completely sentimental, but there's just something about the obvious affection that this White gay man and this Black dude from Harlem (via the 'hood in Baltimore) have for one another. One of my two biggest critiques of Sullivan is that he has yet to incorporate a convincing analysis of race in America into his philosophy of conservatism (and it strikes me that once he does, the more silly parts of it will crumble), so I'm really glad that he's listening carefully to Coates.  It would be hard not to, since Coates is so passionately spot on when it comes to one of Sullivan's favorite issues, marriage equality for lesbians and gays.  I think we'd all be a lot better off if there were more forums for respectful discourse across the political spectrum; I'm glad that Andrew and Ta-Nehisi are providing at least one.

Here are a couple of their recent posts that so swelled my heart I had to write this little love letter to two of my favorite boys:

Sullivan on Maine's passage of marriage equality legislation (and I agree whole-heartedly with him that legislative strategies are far, far superior to court victories, though I'm not complaining about how Massachusetts got the ball rolling).

And because he was too spittin' mad to get it all out in just one post, another Coates post on Marion Berry and gay marriage.

In other news, life here is richly and happily full of birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, and end-of-the-school-year; and when not engaged in those delightful past-times, it's All Gardening All The Time.  So while my head is always teeming with things to write about, I'm not so sure how much time I will actually have to write in the coming weeks and months.  We'll see.