Thursday, June 11, 2020

7 birthday takes


I had a birthday on the 7th. Not much notable; it's only 34, not a red-letter birthday. But I did get some nice presents, and we had cake in a friend's yard, each family on a different blanket a distance apart. Jackie has finally stopped crying about the birthday song and participated happily, but then melted down because there were no candles for me to blow out. Sorry, kid, expectorating aerosols all over something we're all gonna eat just doesn't appeal anymore. I wonder if that tradition is gone for good.


Black lives matter, right?

I about had steam coming out my ears today when I read a blog post where someone explained why she wasn't obligated to do an anti-racism post "just because it's in vogue right now." This is true. Nobody needs to say something right at this exact second. Hopefully, one has already said something, so that there's no doubt where they stand. You don't have to jump on the bandwagon if you were already on it.

But yeah, you do at some point, as a white person in America, have to "come out" as anti-racist. Because there are a lot of racists still in this country, and they rely on the rest of us to be quiet and not say anything, maybe get quietly flabbergasted if they're too blatant, but to look the other way so long as they're subtle about it. I want racists to notice that allll their friends have a problem with that behavior. I want them to feel uncomfortable at my parties the way I feel uncomfortable at their parties. I want them to wonder if maybe they're wrong. And if they don't get that far, I want them to realize the consensus is so far against them that they can't just spew bigotry all over the place.

I feel like nobody is in any doubt about my views, but I'm vehemently anti-racist and in favor of those protesting police brutality. The latter is a subject I've been following since my libertarian days, first because I was shocked that officers of the state would act that way, and later because I realized there is also a racial bias in who is getting targeted for this behavior. (I haven't noticed the All Lives Matter folks actually doing what I did in those early days, and vocally objecting to police brutality when it's visited on a white person. But I have seen Black Lives Matter people with pictures of white victims on their sighs. Funny, that. Reminds me, more than anything, of people who dismiss COVID with "the flu is worse" but didn't get their flu shot.)

The longer I've followed the issue, the more ugly stuff I've uncovered. Lynching, redlining, massive resistance, Tulsa massacre, MOVE bombing. The history is chilling, and there's no golden moment you can point to when racism suddenly ended. It's still with us.

I think a lot of white people grew up thinking racism was over. Just something people used to think, back in the olden days when people were inexplicably stupid, and is now gone and we are all equal and friends. I sure did. So when you notice how unequal the outcomes are -- and you'd have to be oblivious not to notice the difference in wages, net worth, rates of incarceration, etc. -- the automatic assumption is that Black people are inferior. That they're just not as smart as we are, not as virtuous, not as good at raising their kids. You don't say that out loud, because you know that's rude to say, but deep down you think there must be something about it. If, after all, the opportunities are all equal now.

Well, these days people are saying it out loud a lot more. And the rest of us have had to take a long, hard look and ask: are the opportunities as equal as I thought? And they are not; they are emphatically not. They're not equal when a Black person looks for a job, when they apply for a mortgage, when they are under suspicion by police, when they have their day in court. None of this is equal in any way. And if you take as given that a black person is your equal in every interior way, you have to admit this. Equality of opportunity was promised, but it has not arrived. And that means that the things you strove for and achieved, a Black person just like you strove for just as hard and could not achieve.

It's hard to accept that. Especially when you had such a shining vision of America, where everything was free and fair. And I see why people turn away from it and try to come up with another explanation. But the right thing to do is to open your eyes and look. Even when it hurts.


To that end, we went to the BLM march in our town. OUR town. You know, the itty bitty, kinda racist one? We actually had a march!

I wasn't really meaning to go, on account of coronavirus, but I figured a few spaced-out people, outdoors, in masks, should be fine.

Well, actually it was enormous. Over a thousand people came. I have never seen a crowd like that in my town, not for a fair or a concert or anything. There were Black people, there were white people, there were Republicans! There were Catholics that I knew. There were cops marching along. I just . . . I was deeply, deeply moved. So often I feel alone, living here, as if the whole town was one big redneck monolith. And it is not. Not only is it not all rednecks (there were people with purple hair! there were Episcopalian women ministers! there were people with rainbow shirts!) but the rednecks are often as anti-racist as the purple-haired ladies. Everyone was there. Everyone cared. It meant so much.

Ahead of the event, there were warnings on facebook that there would be armed counterprotesters, or that people had threatened to drive into the crowd. That did not happen. There was one suspicious truck with Confederate flags that drove around nearby, but the road was blocked by police cars, and if they had any bad intent, they didn't carry it out. Also when we marched by a diner, three bored-looking young men idly booed. I don't know if they were counterprotesters or just obnoxious.

The boys were not enthused about being there, so they just held my hand and walked along. Miriam was very excited and held her sign up high and did all the chants. The next day she was still running around the house hollering "No Justice, No Peace!"

I don't know what is so special about this moment, compared to other times a high-profile police killing sparked protests. But I do believe it's making a difference. More and more people who never said anything before are now starting to oppose racism and delve into the history of it. Towns are considering massive overhauls of their police departments. Even Congress is mulling over options. I think maybe some change is actually going to happen. But, of course, we can't let this be a one-moment thing. People are going to need to keep the pressure up, not just by marching in the streets but by every method open: voting, keeping tabs on whether our elected officials are keeping their promises, even running ourselves. People more deeply involved than I am could surely recommend a lot of ideas.

2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year, but this whole thing might be the bright spot. As horrible and terrifying as some of it has been. Peaceful protesters maced and beaten, an old man pushed over till he cracked his skull, a young woman tear-gassed to death, just now I read that cops are cutting people's wrists on purpose when they take their zip-ties off. It's sickening stuff. But I think the police are only proving the point that they can't be given unchecked authority like this. Nobody can.


Okay, moving on from that. Because most of my life has not been marching in protests, it's been staying at home every day with a passel of bored children.

Really, they're doing okay. Much better than previous summers, even without access to the pool and the park and their friends. We managed one outing to the national forest and waded in a creek, and we filled up the wading pool. I painted the back deck, like I've been meaning to do for about a year. We've played outside. Currently Marko is making up a collectible card game involving dinosaurs. Miriam and Jackie decided to learn sign language today. Some days Michael and Jackie pair off to build with blocks and Marko and Miriam play Star Wars in the yard. That's not a pairing that ever used to happen. That's the nice thing about having four kids, they resort themselves all the time so they're not getting annoyed with the same playmate all day.

School is over, and good riddance. I don't know what we're doing for school next year, because I don't know what the school is doing. My guess is that whatever they do will be chaotic, a compromise between not spreading germs and still educating in which both goals lose about half the time. So I may be homeschooling. I don't want to, but it may be the best of the available options. I'm also thinking that it may be a relief to the school not to have to deal with all of my kids, so they can focus on the kids whose parents aren't home to teach them all day, and the special needs kids who were actually getting something out of all that therapy. (Marko . . . has really not seemed to, lately.)


I started querying the novel I started last November, the solar sailing one. The last thing I did before sending it out was dive deep into the physics to figure out how fast my ship could go, how big the sails would have to be, and how exactly it all works. To my shock I found I had totally missed that sails can take you both away from and toward the sun, because you can set the sail at an angle and get enough thrust to degrade your orbit so you fall sunward. This messes with some plot details, but it also meant I got to add a lot more sailing bits to account for that.

Then I had so much fun with the math, including lots of diagrams and Excel charts and new physics formulas, that I thought, you know what I could be doing? More math!

So I'm trying to learn more math, but it's slow going. Somebody heard of teaching math on the internet and thought, what we'll do is VIDEOS. But I hate videos; they never go the speed I think. (The speed I think is 90 mph, freeze, glitch, 90 mph, wander sideways, wait, what is this video about?) Plus then the kids are like, "What is that? What's a percent? Why isn't that like the math I do?"

Someday, I think I would like to take some math and science courses. Christendom was sadly lacking in both. Science, I love for its own sake. Math, I mostly like for the sake of being able to do science with it, but algebra is pretty fun.


Oh, and on the topic of solar sails, I made a model. It's still not right. The sails should be bigger and shinier. Think ten feet across and shiny as a mirror. I'm not sure what materials I could use to make that happen. Heck, I'm not sure what my astronauts will use either. It's the future, let's assume they have figured some things out.


Things are slowly reopening, even though coronavirus is far from gone. I find this terrifying, even though I knew it was going to happen at some point. I mean, I find going out terrifying enough as it is. On any given outing, I could forget my purse, lose a kid in the store, get heckled by a stranger, burst into tears at the cash register, get lost on the way home, have to change a dirty child when I didn't bring any spare clothes, get a flat tire, get in a wreck, stammer, get pulled over, run into somebody I know and find they don't like me anymore . . . on and on. Now I get the added joy of worrying I will forget my mask, worrying I will touch my face, worrying I will cough, worrying I will forget to wash my hands when I get home, worrying the groceries are contaminated, worrying people are giving me the stink eye for wearing a mask, worrying they will think I am giving them the stink eye for not wearing one, worrying that people won't know I'm friendly if they can't see me smiling, worrying that people are mad at me because I can't see them smile, worrying people won't be able to understand me because my voice is muffled, worrying I misheard someone because their voice is muffled . . . .

Let's just say the social anxiety slash agoraphobia is worse than ever. And I don't even know if it's going to get better when all this is over, or whether this has scarred me so much I'll huddle at home for all of 2021 too.

John is back at work, and of course that worries me too. He's going to be doing hold pickups at the library, which means dealing with the public in a city that's been much harder hit by coronavirus so far than ours. He'll have a mask and precautions are being taken, but I still don't have to like it. However, I'm extremely thankful for our own local library's curbside pickups, so I can hardly begrudge the patrons John serves. I just hope they don't cough on him.

How are you all doing, in the Year of Chaos Twenty Twenty? 
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