Hope and tragedy are not mutually-exclusive. We’re seeing this now in literally every state in the union. But the thing about hope is that you can’t just have it. It’s not going to knock on your door. It’s something you have to actively make and seek out.
Change isn’t going to happen all on its own and it’s not some else’s job. It’s everyone’s job. We can’t just say we’re watching the news and crying over the pain and heartache we’re seeing. Yes, cry but then get a tissue and get to work.
Yes we need to vote but voting isn’t enough either. This has to go far beyond politics, elections, and the ballot box. We need more activism.
Yesterday, I took more action. I signed up for a policy working group with Campaign Zero and made a donation to their work. I signed up for and made a donation to Color Of Change which creates opportunities for online activism to fight racism and advocate for the civil rights of Black people. I went to a webinar hosted by Facing History and Ourselves titled Working for Justice, Equity and Civic Agency in Our Schools: A Conversation with Clint Smith. Facing History provides resources and training to history educators. The event was fantastic. I made a donation and signed up for more of their events. You can do all these things right from your home. I also donated to the First Nations Development Institute to help native tribes on whose homes we all live—a donation that is long overdue. The five largest hotspots for COVID are all tribal lands. New York would be number six behind all of them.
Some people say they feel powerless in these times, that they don’t know where to start. We’re not powerless. We’re never powerless. But we’ve got to have the will to do more.
We can’t just look away. We have to show up and do something whether that’s in-person or online. There are millions of Black people who live this terrifying reality every day and have for centuries. Look at these protesters. So many of them have no safety and no security of any kind in any part of their lives. All they’ve got is their presence and so that’s what they’re giving. If they can give so much while having so little, then there’s something we can all do.
Anger, rage, and grief are powerful tools. Don’t bury them. Use them.
Some bright spots in the world, and a tense moment of my own with a neighbor:
– Hello and congratulations to new Mayor Ella Jones, the first Black mayor and first woman mayor in Ferguson, Missouri. More about Ella Jones here: https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/local/ferguson/ferguson-first-black-mayor-ella-jones-james-knowles/63-cc55d3eb-3703-4c8f-a29b-16120a7865da
– Iowa’s Republican voters told Republican Congressman Steve King his services would not be welcomed for a 10th term as he lost his state’s primary. He is infamous for his racist actions and views.
– Most of the protests in NYC were extremely peaceful yesterday. There were some tense scary moments that were terrifying (for example, a standoff on the Manhattan Bridge and in the South Bronx) though dissipated without violence
– COVID numbers keep dropping here, and I’m hoping mass gatherings don’t cause any spikes.
And a tense moment of my own:
– At 11pm last night, a neighbor yelled in my face that my mask wasn’t necessary while I walked Phin because COVID’s over, European virologists say the virus has weakened, and the US totally overreacted. (PS – not one word of that is true.) I mentioned to her that over 100,000 people have died from it, one being my uncle, and that number is still climbing. Her response: “Yeah in a country 3 times the size of Germany.” Science-illiterate, ignorant white privilege from a senior citizen who doesn’t have to work and lives in a rent-controlled apartment that I subsidize with my market-rate rent. The work we have to do is literally all around us.
I keep reminding myself that the brightest lights shine during the darkest times. I’m working hard to be that light and to recognize that light in others.
Tonight in NYC is the first night of the 8pm curfew. People are marching uptown, downtown, and across the boroughs, pleading for change. Some shops in my neighborhood started to board up their windows. We don’t know what life will bring moment to moment and so we’re living in the present as best we can.
We are standing on a ledge where anything is possible now. I constantly ask myself, “and then what happens?” as I run through different scenarios in my mind of what life will be like in an hour, tomorrow, or next week. I just don’t know. No one does.
A lot of people have given up believing that any change is possible. I understand why they feel that way. I have my moments of hopelessness, too. Most of the time, I’m still hopeful. I’m here and I’m listening. I’m committed to healing and improving my city.
I go to bed late and I wake up early to stay informed and stay active. I show up and I’m present. For equity, equality, support, community, solidarity, peace, and progress. I still believe in you and in us. I still believe we can be the change.
Goodnight from a tired city that has a long hard road ahead and will become better and stronger for having done the work that needs doing.
Synchronicity is beautiful and elusive. The threads in our lives seem disparate, sometimes for years. And then one day you realize you were building a tapestry all along. You just couldn’t see it until you took a few steps back. Today I took those steps. And it’s there. It was always there.
Maybe that’s the trick. Maybe every once in a while we have to pick our heads up, move away from our work, and look at it from another angle to really recognize and appreciate what we’ve got.
I can’t stop thinking about yesterday’s news out of Minneapolis and Central Park. I’m devastated for George Floyd, Christian Cooper, their friends and family, the entire black community, our country. White people, we cannot look away. These videos are heartbreaking and they are far from unique. This is not a black issue or a police issue. It’s a human issue.
Every racist thought, off-hand comment, joke, word, and act adds up to this. Imagine the outrage if this was a black officer putting his knee into a white man’s neck. Imagine if you were George Floyd or if he was your son, brother, husband, or friend. It’s an awful mental exercise to imagine that but this is the reality of black Americans.
We need more supports for the black community. We need more hate crime legislation. We need massive reforms in our city governments at every level and in every agency. We need more bias training in our society and schools. Each of us needs to take a long hard look at our own bias and correct it.
This weekend I spent some time looking through economic reports the way that I’ve looked through health reports in the past few weeks. Economics was one of my college majors and I have an MBA so I actually enjoy reading financial reports as much as I enjoy reading novels. I know this is yet another pastime that makes me an absolute weirdo, but hey, I gotta be me!
What the future of our economy looks like is as certain as the date when we’ll have a vaccine (aka – no one knows), I’m thinking about the following questions and ideas for my own future. I hope that they help you through this time of reflection as much as they’re helping me.
1.) What do I actually care about doing with my time?
2.) With a blank slate, what would I actually put into my life by choice? Not by momentum, not based upon my experience. Just me and the potential blank slate that’s our economy now. What would I do with that if I could do anything with it?
3.) If we may experience economic fits and starts for the next 5 years as some economists suggest, can I see that as something freeing? Can this be a reminder that the time will pass anyway, so I might as well do what matters most to me?
4.) The future is so uncertain now that how my life and career unfold from here is largely up to me and my actions. These days, as difficult as they are for so many reasons, really matter. They might matter more than any other days I’ve ever lived. Like it or not, this is a turning point for all of us so what do I want my life to turn into now and how do I make that a reality?
5.) I’ve had a few points in my life that clearly marked a then and a now. My father’s death. My apartment building fire. When I went into intensive therapy. Starting my own business. The publication of my novel. My education decisions. My life before and after each one of these events was radically different. They spurred meaning in my life that didn’t exist before, even if at the time they were tragedies. And now this virus has, too. It’s changed everything, and will continue to change everything. How do I direct that change as best I can to make it matter, to make it mean something?
On the surface these ideas might not look like economic thoughts, decisions, or ideas. They might look fluffy or contemplative or even spiritual. Here’s something that’s always stuck with me from my studies of economics: economic systems are not built on cold hard facts. They’re invented, by us. They’re largely driven by sentiment. And yes, that sentiment is usually created, at least in part, by data. But that’s not the whole story. The data is never perfect. It’s aways open to interpretation.
A lot of economics is gut, emotion, and prediction. A lot of it is fear, hope, uncertainty, and confidence (or lack there of). Economics is much more art than science, much more interpretation than unbiased facts. And like public health, it’s driven by our individual actions aggregated into collective actions. Deciding what role do we want to play now in how we build back may be the most important decision we ever make.
Yesterday I did something that boosted my mood: I accepted this masked, socially-distanced life for at least 2020 and into 2021. In all the reports and data I’ve read, I don’t have any confidence in this ending this year. If things improve sooner, the worst that will have happened is I’ll have over-reacted, stayed safe, and be happily surprised that it all worked out better than I expected. This decision is not about my personal comfort with risk. This is about science, data, and the fact that risks I take put everyone at risk. Public health is comprised of the individual health of everyone who is a part of the public.
I’m very lucky that I can work from home and that live in a city where just about anything and everything can be delivered. (And I make sure to tip well on all deliveries!) I understand my situation is a privilege and a responsibility to do everything I can to safely help and protect others. I woke up more optimistic than in recent weeks. This acceptance gave me a sense of peace.
This doesn’t mean I’m not sad at all—I miss my friends and family terribly. I needed to accept this new reality to prepare myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. Maybe there will be times when I can do very socially-distanced walks with friends who live nearby. Maybe I will at some point be able to take a test and if it’s negative I can rent a car to see my family for a short visit. It would be wonderful to do that; it’s just not something I’m expecting to be possible this year.
I understand that other people will make other choices. I wish they wouldn’t but I can’t stop them. All I can do is make choices for myself and let my choices be an example that others might consider. I’m not a lawmaker. I don’t have employees I’m responsible for. I’m not a parent (except to darling Phin who has been an absolute champ through all of this!) I’m just an individual who can decide how to live my life. And of course, I can and do make donations to nonprofits doing fantastic work, check in on people I love, and vote. That’s what I can do, and it matters.
So this weekend to kick off this new acceptance I’m doing a lot of self-care, consciously naming what I’m grateful for, and finding new ways to make a difference.
“When you write, you lay out a line of words…Soon you find yourself deep in new territory.” ~Annie Dillard
On Sunday I took an online nature writing class and we did an exercise I wanted to share with all of you. Not only is it helpful for science writing, but it can really help with any piece of writing—first draft to tenth draft! Here’s how it goes:
1.) Place a small item in the middle of a piece of paper. This can be anything – a leaf, an acorn, a shell, a coin, a photograph. Anything at all.
2.) Begin to map the ideas, associations, and memories that come to you observe and think about this item. Follow trains of thought for as long as you’d like, connecting the flow of ideas with arrows or lines to form a type of web or mind map if you’d like. There are no wrong answers. Take 10-15 minutes for this.
3.) Choose one point on the web that is outside of the center, a few steps removed from your item, and write for 5 minutes with that point as your starting place. (You don’t need to write directly about your item, but you certainly can!) Now choose a different point on the web and begin writing from there. (You can do this as many times as you’d like).
4.) Finally, spend 10-15 minutes writing a reflection that begins with the center of your web, with your natural item. Drawing both on your web and on your previous shorter writings, see where your imagination takes you.
My favorite times during my childhood were at my grandmother’s house in West Hartford, Connecticut. We’d go at least one weekend a month and during my summers growing up, I’d spend extra time there with my sister. My Uncle Joe, and all my aunts and uncles, were a part of those times. He and my Aunt Lorraine, his wife, took us to Mystic Seaport and it remains one of my favorite childhood memories. All the beautiful animals and lunch by the water giant ice cream cones. I remember his deep voice and laugh, his love for baseball, and how much he loved his family—especially his daughter and grandchildren, my cousins.
Uncle Joe was as kind and loving as he was brave, tough, and smart. He was in the Navy during World War II on a ship in the South Pacific. After he came home, he became an engineer and worked hard all his life. He could fix literally anything. He took such excellent care of my grandmother, who was his older sister. To be honest, I think he was her favorite person. He visited her several times a week every week during her whole life. Checked on her. Helped her with anything she needed. She loved having him visit. That was just the kind of person he was. He helped everyone, and everyone loved having him with them. He was a wonderful role model.
We lost him this week, the last member of his generation in our very tiny family. My grandmother’s birthday is this coming week. She would have been 101, and I miss her every day. I’d like to think that somewhere, for her birthday, she’s getting to be with her favorite person again. RIP, Uncle Joe.