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Kindness Is Free

Ordinarily at this time of year I throw a fit about Thanksgiving Day shopping. It probably won’t come as an overwhelming surprise to you that I’m not a fan–it takes all my concentration to deal with the concept of Black Friday (I’m down with the sales, but think 4:00 AM is too early to be doing anything and people getting into fistfights over a television is exactly what’s wrong with the world today), but starting the Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself is just beyond the pale. It is one day–one day–when the idea is to spend time with people you love, expressing gratitude for the things you already have. And apparently that’s too much somehow; apparently being grateful is just a thing to check off the list on our way to our next bout of relentless consumer frenzy.

I digress.

I usually throw a fit around this time of year about the whole Thanksgiving Day Shopstravaganza, encouraging people to opt out and stay home and remember that 10% off towels is no excuse for taking people away from their own families to come open a cash register for you. And every year I get howled down by the legions of dedicated Turkey Day Shoppers–interesting how this phenomenon has only been happening for a few years, and already there are people who cannot bear the thought of going without the opportunity to carb-load then grab a shopping cart–so this year I’m giving up. I surrender. Behold my white flag.

Instead I’ll say just this: if you’re going to shop on Thanksgiving Day (the advice applies to Black Friday shoppers, too), please be unbelievably kind.

Not like “say thank you to the cashier” kindness, or “minimize the number of people you kick in the face over a Lego set” kindness. No, we’re talking about “go out of your way to be the nicest person in the history of niceness”-level behavior here. Be so kind that you become a legend among the store employees who interact with you. Be so incredibly, spectacularly, overwhelmingly, relentlessly, unfailingly kind that everyone around you gets a little kinder just by association.

Here’s the thing:

A frequent argument for Why It Is Our Civic Duty to Shop on a Federal Holiday is that some store workers are getting paid overtime for working that day, so they sign up voluntarily to work for the extra pay. Even overlooking the fact that it’s a little sad that we live in a first-world nation where there are still people struggling so hard that they will surrender holiday time with their families for a few extra bucks, there’s also the fact that many companies have a rule that for every X employees who are working, there must be Y number of management on-site as well. There must be Z number of janitorial staff, or maintenance crew, etc. There must be W number of folks at the customer service desk, or the customer support call center. I can guarantee you with 99.999% certainty that not all of them are there voluntarily–somewhere in that chain is a person who is only there because corporate policy requires it and their choices are either to show up or to lose their job right in the middle of the holiday season. So since you have, in your undeniable need to save 30% on linens, forced someone to give up time with their family so you can come pick out new pillowcases, then the absolute least you can do is be supremely pleasant.

And in addition to the employees you’ll meet, the fact that you exist in the world and are out and about means that emergency personnel must be on duty. Someone has to be there to resuscitate your slap-happy self when you get all loopy on your DEALS DEALS DEALS and wrap your car around a parking meter. Someone has to hose down the toy aisle when you find the PERFECT GIFT OMG NOW THEY WILL FINALLY LOVE ME and spontaneously combust in the middle of the Barbie section. Someone has to come break it up when you get into a full-tilt West Side Story-style rumble in the parking lot over who gets the space closest to the door. So since all of those people also have to be away from their families to come save you from yourself, the absolute least you can do is be conscientious of that and behave accordingly.

And remember, we’re not just talking about throwing people the barest crumb of human politeness here. We’re not going to stop at doing the obligatory mumbled “thank you” or “happy whateverdays”. No, we’re going out of our dang minds with graciousness.

For example:

You can park at the whee lordy end of the parking lot and hike. It’s good for your health, and completely eliminates the parking lot rage aspect of your day; plus it lets someone else get a really good spot, which means they’re in a slightly better mood going in.

You can wipe down the sink in the restroom after you wash your hands. You don’t have to steal a bottle of Lysol from housewares and scrub the place down, but we all know how irritating it can be to have no place to set your purse because the counters all look like they’ve just emerged from the bottom of the sea. Take two seconds and give ’em a little dry-off.

You can try generally to avoid your phone, or at least get off your calls as quickly as possible; sure you may need to check a size or something, and we get that, but be done by the time you hit the cash register and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t be the person wandering aimlessly down the middles of the aisles, chatting away about their personal medical history while inexplicably cart-blocking every single thing anyone else in the store could possibly want.

You can observe the people around you, and take little opportunities to do things to make their lives easier. Move your cart if it’s between them and the toy they’re eyeing. Pick up the mitten their toddler gleefully threw down. Offer to let the guy carrying a 10-lb sack of potatoes at Target cut ahead of you in line–he’s probably on a WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T GET POTATOES YOU SOLVE IT OR I WILL MURDER YOU RIGHT NOW mission, and your cart full of stocking stuffers can wait.

Be kind, is what I’m saying, and then be a little kinder. Start being holiday festive now–if you can start your holiday shopping now, you can also start your holiday cheer. Be so full of peace on earth and goodwill to all that it makes people around you stand a little taller. Be the person who is so ludicrously kind and sweet that you leave a trail of kindness behind you wherever you go.

Be the loving, gracious, glorious you that I know you can be, gang. I’d prefer that you not shop at all on Thanksgiving Day, but if you absolutely must, please be so amazing that the stores you visit send you a thank-you note and a personal invitation to come back and shop again next year.

You’re amazing and we both know it; now get out there and show it. Kindness is free, gang. Go fling it around like you’re in a little one-person shopping parade.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely

Have a Seat at My Table

First a little background information: I used to work in childcare. Specifically, I was the lead teacher in an after-school classroom; my kids ranged from kindergarten to 12 years old, so while they were generally past the “how to function at a survival level” stage (how to eat, use the restroom etc), they were firmly in the middle of the “how to be human” stage. You remember what elementary school was like: half dumping in facts and data, the other half figuring out how to interact without too much bloodshed.

As a result, most of the disciplinary incidents could be resolved with a brief rules reminder or a bit of clarification–“walking feet, please”, or “we keep the cars on the carpet so people walking past don’t trip. Please take that one back onto the rug”. But every once in a while someone would have a super-rough day and need a break; you could call it “time out” if you want, but really the goal was something less punitive and more just removing the kiddo from the situation until they could cool off. The table nearest my supplies cupboard worked best for that–it was farthest from everything else in the room–so when someone was Hulking out, they were instructed to go “have a seat at my table” until I could clean up the calamity, stop any bleeding, console anyone left weeping, and come see what had set off the shenanigans.

Now here’s why I told you all that: yesterday some truly awful things happened in Paris. You’ve probably heard about them, and folks around the world are responding admirably and beautifully. But as with any truly awful thing, there are also some staggeringly insensitive responses coming from people who should absolutely know better (can you pick your own words to form a sentence? Then you can pick better ones and make better sentences. Try again, jerkfaces).

And initially, this post was going to be a full Buffalo Tantrum about that. I was going to scream and holler about people making racist statements, refusing to fact-check, lumping together groups of people who are literally on exact opposite sides of the problem, and so forth; and my rallying cry was going to be “All of you may have a seat at my table”.

But then I stopped and listened to those words: all of you may have a seat at my table.

And it occurred to me that I was about >this< close to committing the same sins I was railing against–lumping people together, refusing to hear where other people were coming from, declaring that any viewpoint other than my own was automatically wrong–when the truth of the matter is that I actually don’t understand what’s causing folks to say some of these things. At a guess there’s no small amount of fear at the bottom of it; but I don’t know backstories, don’t know histories, don’t know whether they (for example) lost someone on 9/11 and are now deeply scarred and reactionary about these sorts of things.

But perhaps if we have a seat at my table and talk about it, we can sort some of it out. We can brainstorm different solutions. We can look for similarities among the differences. We can pass the cookies and juice, and figure out why we’re using such angry words and whether there’s a better way to express the things we truly need.

Look, I’m not saying all responses are appropriate to share right out there in front of god and everybody. I’m not saying there aren’t people floating around who are just plain racist, just plain hateful, just plain malicious, just plain trolls. But I am saying it’s unfair of me to assume that everyone who has expressed an opinion that made me grate my teeth is automatically a bad person.

So maybe I should invite them to have a seat at my table. Maybe I should be willing to dialogue with people instead of dismissing them out-of-hand because of something they said during a frightened moment. Maybe I can insist on a model where my table is for cooling off and talking, not for sending people to sit in time-out until I’m tired of being mad at them.

And for the folks who have a seat at my table, and we talk, and I find out that they’re the sort of vitriolic hate-mongering fear-mongering jerks who will never be part of the solution?

Well, I guess they can go back to playing with the other kids, and I can keep on watching ’em like a hawk and praying that their grownups will come pick them up soon.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely, Share the Toys

Buffalo Tantrum: Imma Let You Finish

Ok, look.

Last week SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality (if you hadn’t heard that yet, spoiler alert: last week SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality. Also, I’m sorry you’ve been entirely cut off from the news recently), and I. Am. Miffed.

Not about the marriage equality itself–I was actually one of the folks who got all sniffly when the news came down, who fought off the urge to send congratulatory messages to everyone I knew whom this would personally impact. I danced around the house. I changed my Facebook profile picture to the one with Moon Man and me grinning like fools with George Takei (yep, the George Takei. There aren’t a lot of people I’ll pay money to meet, but he was/is absolutely one of them, and those were dollars well spent). I had fun conversations with people about Where We Were When History Was Made, and how excited we are that our kids will someday say to us, “Mom? Were you really alive when gay people couldn’t get married?” and we’ll say “Yes, honey, I was, and I was so proud on the day when that changed”. I was elated, because by god, love wins.

And since going to social media about these things is what we do nowadays, I went to social media to celebrate with the rest of the world. People changed their profile pictures to have a rainbow overlaid on ’em. People used hashtags in excited ways. People posted videos and articles and links. People were thrilled, and rightfully so.

But then there were the outliers. Not the ones who were opposed to marriage equality: I actually don’t have a beef with them, because we’re allowed to disagree. I prefer it when the discourse stays civil and respectful, but I get it that some emotions were running high that day and people are allowed to express opinions. This was a ruling that hurt some people’s hearts, and I get that. That’s ok. Play nicely and share the toys, and y’all can disagree all you want.

No, the people on my short list right now–and the reason I’ve finally come back to blogging after just ages and ages–are the ones whose response was various shades of “Wow, marriage equality is a thing! That’s great, but here are all these other problems that still exist. Should we really be celebrating this thing when there are still issues to solve?”

*blink blink*

YOU’RE DARN TOOTIN’ WE SHOULD BE CELEBRATING THIS THING.

Here’s the thing, kids: yes, there are still problems to solve. Racism is still a thing. Gender issues are still a thing. Climate change is still a thing. I live in Brownbackistan; so my life is a more-or-less constant state of mild disgust. There are still kids who don’t know when their next meal will be, models are still getting Photoshopped into physically impossible shapes, the wage gap is real, and people are still eating shark fin soup.

But on this one day, an amazing, historic thing happened. On this one day we declared that love is love regardless of the swimsuit areas of the people involved. On this day we made progress–yes, progress that will still need work so it actually functions, but progress of any sort.

And some of y’all want to ignore that because your pet topic wasn’t the one that got the momentum?

Let me put this differently: all y’all who did the “yay marriage equality but OMG WHAT ABOUT THIS OTHER THING” posts are like that parent whose kid has been flunking all their classes for the last two years, is this close to getting thrown out of school, who got a tutor and worked his tuckus off all semester long and quit hanging out with his friends and gave away his Xbox and finally–finally–got his math grade up to a C and brought home his report card all glowing and happy and you said “well, that’s better, but you’re still only getting a D in chemistry and let’s not even get started on this English grade”.

You’re the kid whose parents scrimped and saved and worked overtime to get you the iPhone for Christmas, and you threw it across the room because it wasn’t the color you wanted.

You’re Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech.

Look, I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to have things that you care about. Please do; and in many cases, that’s a big part of why I love you.

But what I am saying is that people stop inviting you to their birthday parties when you’re the guest who comes, looks around, and declares that the party is fine and all, but your own birthday is coming up so maybe people should be starting to shop for your present instead of spending quite so much time on today’s birthday girl.

Why can’t we just have today, is what I’m getting at. Why can’t we celebrate a big, joyous, important moment? These other issues will still be there tomorrow. And no, I’m not trying to say your Issues Of Choice should be swept under the rug; I’m saying that the new baby doesn’t mean we love you any less. I’m saying you’re allowed to be happy when something good happens, full stop, and that you can go back to your righteous indignation tomorrow.

I’m saying that a lot of folks had waited a very long time for their relationships to become legally recognized, and some of y’all came to the party and Kanye-d all over their wedding toasts.

So if you’re one of those folks, I reckon this would be a good time to go sit in a chair someplace and think about your life choices. It’s Monday now and the marriage equality news is no longer quite so immediate, so by all means, go back to Fighting the Good Fight for whatever you’re fighting for, and I’ll go back to supporting you in your endeavors…but first, maybe you’ve got an apology or two to offer, for spitting in the rainbow punch because somebody else was being the center of attention at their own party.

Just don’t be surprised if you’re not invited to the party at all next time.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There

Resolute

Confession: I am not so big on the New Year’s Resolution.

It’s a–well, I’m gonna go with “charming and utterly lovable quirk”–of my personality that I start strong but am a little shaky on the finish. I get super-ramped about a new project, then come back three months later to put its component parts in a box (this is why I’m a huge fan of things I can tackle in less than an hour). I concoct complicated and minutely planned schemes for That Next Amazing Thing I’m Going to Do, then the fun wears off by the end of the plan and the actual doing never quite materializes.

I write a blog, then let it sit for three months (ahem).

I leave the last load of laundry in the dryer. When Moon Man strangles me for that, it’ll be totally justifiable.

So every December 31st, I think about things I should Really Truly For Realsies This Time Do in the Coming Year: I should focus on losing weight, eating healthy, doing for-the-love-of-god any exercise at all; I should take up a new skill/hobby/academic pursuit; I should decide what I want to be when I grow up; I should spend more quality time with the dustrag. I should teach the dogs to do some actual tricks beyond “lie there” and “be a lump” and “beg for whatever I’m cooking at the moment”. I should teach the cats some manners. Heck, I should teach myself some manners (/eyes the pile of as-yet-unwritten thank-you notes from Christmas).

And this year it’s no different: it’s December 31st, and here I am brainstorming the things I should Really Fo’ Shizzles Get Around to Doing. But we all know the punchline to this joke, so I’m executively deciding to skip the What To Do step and going straight to the How To Do It:

ALL things. 100% of the things.

ALL things. 100% of the things.

Look, y’all, I can’t even begin to pretend to predict what I’m going to get around to doing this year. I’ve got some plans on the table–we’re fixin’ to head to Alaska to watch my friend start the Iditarod, for instance–and I’ve kinda-sorta set some things in motion, like having lost nearly 40 pounds so far. But who knows? Maybe we’ll win the lottery this year and Plan A (sell the house, find something we love more) will turn into Plan B (…on our own private island). Maybe something catastrophic will happen (Zombiepocalypse) that makes both Plans A and B a little obsolete. Maybe we’ll just keep on keepin’ on, like we always do, with dust on the shelves and a whole lot of good intent in our hearts.

But the one thing I am absolutely planning on, beyond all others, is doing everything I do with love. Everything. Literally every thing.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a friend who came to visit; we hadn’t seen each other in a while, and he came in, looked around, and said “this place feels like a home“. So I’ll start there: I will do all things inside this house with love. I will dust (when I actually get around to that) with the intent that it’s nice for guests to be able to come visit without sneezing, and it’s a loving gesture to make one’s home welcoming to guests. I will cook food that nourishes the body and soul, and make sure there’s always enough for an extra person should one drop by (if no one comes, there’s leftovers for hubby’s lunch the next day). I will try to keep things tidy enough that people feel comfortable coming in, kicking off their shoes without fear of stepping in anything unsettling, grabbing a beverage from the kitchen without having to wash a cup first, and settling in on the sofa without having to move anything that’s not independently sentient (what can I say, the cats do love playing “I was here first; you go sit over there”).

I will wash clothes not because it’s a Chore That Needs Doing, but because Moon Man doesn’t always hear me when I tell him he’s attractive–but we all have those outfits that make us feel a little extra swagger-y, like we know we’re dang cute, and I can help his confidence by making sure those outfits are clean and ready to wear on a day when he needs a boost. And that he doesn’t have to think about underpants before coffee.

When I leave the house, I will choose a parking space that leaves something close open for someone who needs it more. I will take a cart from the corral outside, so the attendant has one less cart to chase down and drag inside. I will return the cart to the store instead of the corral when possible, and I will continue my habit of sorting the carts inside the corral (when I’m President of the World, people who put the little short carts in with the full-size carts so they don’t stack right anymore will be summarily executed). I will buy a little something extra to toss into the food bank donation bin. I will use my turn signal. I will not text and drive.

I will go out of my way to tell people that I love them, I appreciate them, and I am glad that they’re in my life. I will do the little things that make them smile, just because it’s nice to make people smile. When I pay bills I will congratulate myself on helping the folks who work at the various utilities keep their jobs, rather than grumbling about the price of cable these days. I will sometimes take cookies to the fire department.

And I will direct this love inward, as well. I will speak to myself in the same way I would speak to someone else. I will not work to lose weight because I’m somehow unacceptable the way I am, but because I’m an awesome human being who deserves to have a long life full of adventures, and I’m building a body that supports that in the same way that a person who wants to be a soapbox derby racer builds a soapbox derby car. I will congratulate myself on learning from my mistakes when I inevitably make them. I will celebrate my victories.

Basically, I am committing to spending 2015 increasing the amount of love in the world by exactly one person. It’s all I can ever be asked to do–I can’t control anyone else–so it’s what I’ll do. And I’ll do that, even that, with love.

Happy New Year, ‘Tracters. I love you, and wish you the best, brightest, laughing-est, great-story-building-est, succeeding-at-what-matters-most-to-you-est, singing-and-swinging-and-getting-merry-like-Christmas-est, loving-est year yet.

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Filed under General Musings and Meanderings

That’s How We Roll

Ahh, Kansas. One of these days we’ll stop doing the little things that make us look bad to all the neighbors, and I’ll be so shocked I’ll have to sit down for a spell.

But that day is not today. Well, not a week or so ago, anyway; because it was about a week ago when the story came out that Leawood, one of the towns in the Kansas City metro area, was making a resident take down their Little Free Library. For the record, the little free Leawood librarian is nine years old.

/sigh

A little free library, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, is basically the “have a penny, leave a penny, need a penny, take a penny” of books–they’re boxes, built to withstand weather, usually shaped like adorable wee houses, and inside are free books. Want one? Come get it. Got some books you’re not reading anymore? Leave ’em inside, and the magical library fairies will pick them up and add them to the rotation. There’s a certain amount of work and upkeep involved–culling books that nobody ever takes home, keeping new and interesting titles coming out fairly regularly so people don’t give up on ever finding anything they want there, making sure the box itself stays sound, etc–so it’s a labor of love for folks who want to run one, but the word on the street is that it’s a hoot and a half, because you end up getting to connect people with free books and have wonderful book chats with your neighbors.

There are plans out there for building your own, but you can also buy premade Little Free Libraries through the organization's site. How adorable is this one?

There are plans out there for building your own, but you can also buy premade Little Free Libraries through the organization’s site. How adorable is this one?

Leawood’s argument against the kiddo who’s trying to run one is that these charming little boxes are prohibited by city regulation, as they’re free-standing structures unattached to the house–and those are banned, because they’re eyesores that bring down property values.

Please scroll back up, look again at the picture of the adorable blue bookhouse, and tell me how that’s an eyesore that brings down property values. /eyeroll

So you had to know that all of this was going to kick my Damn-the-Man/Hulk-Smash/Ain’t-Nobody-Got-Time-For-That self into overdrive. I mean, c’mon. It’s books.

So I looked into the bylaws of our own Homeowners Association (I have strong thoughts about even having an HOA, let alone what their bylaws say, but that’s a topic for another time), thinking that perhaps I should set up a nice solidarity Little Free Library in my own yard, and lo and behold–we also are prohibited from having any free-standing structures. Especially storage structures–they make a huge point out of that bit–so I’m guessing this won’t fly here either.

So, y’know, I did a bit of table-flipping and tantrum-throwing and generally making myself a nuisance to our critters, who were just trying to nap. And over the weekend we went to visit my BFF, and I vented about the whole ridiculous thing to her for a bit.

And as I was talking with her–about how perhaps I could still set up a Little Free Library and just, y’know, move it every day, bring it inside at night, put it in a different spot on the lawn every afternoon, etc–I stumbled upon what I’m reasonably sure is one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had.

Are you ready for this? Hold onto your hat.

We talked a couple years ago about how Moon Man and I had started going to a nearby beach (by which I mean “lake”–we don’t so much have “beaches” here in the middle of the continent). This quickly became our Official Sunday Afternoon Activity, and as you probably know, these sorts of outings tend to come with a pretty good pile of accessories, towels and blankets and coolers and books and sunscreen and such. And since the parking area for our favorite beach is a good quarter-mile away from the beach itself, we soon grew weary of hauling everything via straps and handles and backpacks and things. I mean, c’mon, this is supposed to be relaxing.

So we went and got ourselves a wagon.

This wagon.

This wagon.

I bet you see where this is headed.

It occurred to me, as I was talking with BFF, that free-standing unattached storage structures are prohibited in our subdivision…but ain’t nobody got any problems with wagons. Besides, if I’m ever going to go on a dogsledding adventure (more on that another time–it’s been a while since we talked, so we’ll have some catching-up to do), I really do need to start getting into shape. Training for it, if you will. By, oh, I dunno, walking.

Around the neighborhood.

With, say, a wagon.

Full of books.

/grin

So there we have it: the birth of the idea of the Little Free Bookmobile. I still need to go through my bookshelves and pick out the first round of inventory, and I should really see if anyone I know can make me a nifty sign for it (I feel like a hand-lettered posterboard sign simply will not do for this endeavor); but once that’s done, Operation Circumvent Your Ridiculous Bylaws can commence.

I mean, really, I reckon somebody has to do something to balance out Kansas’s shenanigans, and this time it may as well be me. Watch for me, then come on out and borrow a book–or bring some of yours to drop off! If I’m on the big hill at the end of the neighborhood, the break will be especially welcome.

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Filed under General Musings and Meanderings, Share the Toys, The Bibliophilic Buffalo

Faux-lanthropy

Ok, look.

/climbs onto soapbox, tests microphone

I (/kick) have had it (/punch) up to here (/stomp) with “being charitable” (/smash) as a marketing ploy (/tableflip). Got it? I’m sick of it. Sick. Of. It.

Please start by taking a moment to read this letter from the owner of the Washington Redskins. I’ll wait.

/straightens table

/polishes kickin’ boots

…Do you see what he did there? Do you see it? For those of you who were unable to access the letter–maybe you’re at work and your company is not so big on people going to sports teams’ websites–here’s the summary in handy numbered-list format:

1. We hear that people might not like the name “Redskins”, on account of how it’s all racist and stuff. So we talked to some Real Live Indians(TM) about it, and learned that many of them are busy trying to do things like “not freeze to death” or “not starve to death” or “keep our youth from committing suicide” and not spending much time thinking about our team name.

2. Therefore, we’re keeping the name, because hey, look, the Real Live Indians(TM) themselves said it’s not keeping them up at night! Yayyyyy, no rebranding for us!

3. Also, suck it, liberals.

4. However, since some of you are just bound and determined to keep raising a stink about all this, we’ve set up a Charitable Organization for Giving Stuff to Real Live Indians(TM). See? We’re good people, y’all. You can tell by how we’re giving away some of our hard-earned dollars. Just giving it away! They don’t even have to do anything! We’re just giving it to them! So they can buy things–like for instance the Omaha nation in Nebraska bought a backhoe so they can bury their dead even when the ground is frozen. Like civilized people! No, no, no need to erect monuments to our generosity. Seeing these poor little brown people with coats on (did I tell you we bought some coats? We totally did) is thanks enough.

5. P.S., Still not changing the name.

Now, to be fair, I may have been a bit liberal (pun only sort of intended) with the paraphrasing there. Maybe he didn’t mean to come across as smug and entitled and weaselly as he did. Maybe he really does think he’s doing a good thing.

…Yeah, who am I kidding? No he doesn’t. He can’t possibly. I flatly refuse to believe in that level of obliviousness. If he is that clueless, I need him to stop being in charge of anything more complicated than the toaster immediately.

/flips table again

Here’s the thing, y’all. We see this sort of [rude word] all the time. Not interested in talking about the racism and privilege inherent in the use of the word “Redskins” (PS, that’s akin to calling your team “the Blackies” or “the Slant-Eyes”, guys. It’s a word used to group people based on race. Not cool.)? That’s ok. We can talk about something else.

Like the pink ribbon campaign, for instance. Did you know that Think Before You Pink is a thing? Basically, they’re an organization who encourages consumers to…well, do exactly what it says in the name (and I think it’s really telling that they exist at all). It’s oh-so-very fashionable these days to sport pink ribbons on as many things as possible–your shirt, your shoes, your lapel, your water bottle–but please stop telling yourself that your pink ribbon baseball cap is going to be the thing that leads to the cure. Seriously.

Because the companies that are shilling all these pink ribbon products? Yeah, they’re not in it for the health crusade. They’re in it for the sales. They’re in it to get you to “like” their Facebook page, so they can market to you directly in your newsfeed and so that you’ll buy more of their products because they’re “the good people who support breast cancer research”. Read the fine print–it’s unsettling how often you’ll find things like “Company X will donate up to $10,000 from the sale of these limited-edition Pink Ribbon nail polish stickers to an organization that supports breast cancer research”. Notice how they don’t tell you which organization you’re supporting, or how to tell whether they’ve already met the fundraising required to make that donation and now you’re just rewarding them for putting pink ribbons on things. That’s because they’re not in it to be good people. They’re in it to make a buck. Or several bucks. As many bucks as possible.

And don’t even get me started on the “post a selfie with no makeup to support something nebulous about breast cancer!” or “tee-hee, let’s all post a status like ‘I like it on the chair by the door’ which will sound dirty but we’re talking about where we like to keep our purses and the boys will never get it HAR HAR HAR we’re total sixth-graders and also BREAST CANCER, Y’ALL”. Or the “share this image to support the cause du jour”. Or–heaven help me–“one like = one respect!”.

/vomits

What it all comes down to is a raging case of what I’m calling “faux-lanthropy”. It’s no longer about actually doing things to try to make the world a better place–it’s about appearing to do these things. Why get your hands dirty when you can “increase awareness” from the comfort of your sofa? Why donate actual cash dollars when you can donate a piece of your Facebook wall to a photo of an attractive person doing something symbolic? Why write a letter to your government official (pop quiz: name any three of your elected representatives, at any level of government, and think about how you voted in the election in which they won their seat. If you can’t do that, you need to change that immediately) when you can write a context-free status that’s the moral equivalent of a chain letter?

Why be a philanthropist, when you can just look like one? I mean, to be fair, yes, some of these companies are in fact donating actual goods and services to various organizations–but when you’re forecasting $10 million in sales of your latest pink hat and planning to donate a whopping great $10,000 of it…I mean, c’mon. Nobody is impressed with that.

Ugh.

I don’t have answers, really, except to tell you to get up off your tuckus and do something. Mail a check to the organization of your choice (seriously, send it straight to them. Don’t go through a third party, lest you end up accidentally donating to the wrong charity). Host a fund drive, or a rally, or a -thon of some sort. Here at the Buffalo Moon Ranch, we’re hosting a tabletop gaming party (on International Tabletop Day, woohoo!) that’s doubling as a food drive for a local organization. See? It doesn’t have to be a big difficult thing–you can have a party and quietly collect donations in the corner. Easy-peasy.

But for the love of all that’s holy, can we please, please please please, as a favor to me, stop rewarding these [very rude word] people for their faux-lanthropy? Quit applauding them for what is actually just their latest marketing campaign, and start applauding them only when they do something decent for its own sake.

Oh, and tell the Redskins to change their name. Seriously. I cannot understand why we’re still having that conversation.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings

Thank You, Fred Phelps

Dear Reverend Phelps,

Word has spread that your health may be failing. I am in no position to offer you anything but sympathy and my prayers: if you are to recover, may your recovery be swift and simple; and if it is your time to leave this life, may your transition be smooth and peaceful. I hope that your nearest and dearest are keeping you good company, and that you are comfortable and well-cared-for, wherever you may be. Illness can be a frightening time, and I hope that yours passes quickly.

But since recovery gets harder as we get older (it happens to us all) and someday the fight will simply be too much for your body, I want to take this opportunity to thank you while there is still a chance that you will (somehow) stumble across and read this blog post.

Thank you, Reverend Phelps.

I don’t suppose you hear that all that much these days. It’s pretty “in vogue” to publicly rebuke you, to curse your name and to sling hate at you. If we’re going to be completely honest here, I’m sure you can understand–you haven’t exactly been known for your “free puppy kisses and lollipops for everyone” approach to spreading your message. But I believe strongly in the idea that everyone who enters our lives is a blessing in some way or another–even if it takes a bit of soul-searching to find the blessing buried at the bottom–and you are no exception to that rule.

Here’s what I mean:

1. You’ve taught me about respect. If this is your first visit to BuffaloTracts, you may want to stop at this post before your blood pressure shoots too high, but if you’ve been here before, you know that you and I don’t really have a whole lot of beliefs in common. That’s ok; we don’t all have to agree. But the process of writing this letter–more precisely, the process of deciding how to address this letter–has really underscored what I’ve learned about the difference between agreement and respect; i.e., I don’t have to agree with a single thing you say to respect that, for instance, you have earned the title of “Reverend”, at least within your own organization. Whether I would join your church or not is irrelevant; and whether you would have any title at all in a church I would join is irrelevant; “Reverend” is your title in the church you lead, and “Reverend” you shall be called. It’s a respectful thing to do, much like calling the Pope “Your Holiness”. Thank you for helping me pin that down.

2. You’ve taught me that a person should never, ever be judged by their parentage. I went to school with a couple of your grandkids; as I recall, they were actually pretty nice folks. I mean, sure, we had to steer clear of certain topics, but even that was a good learning point: that it’s absolutely possible for people with radically different beliefs to coexist peacefully, as long as they’re all willing to play nicely and share the toys. And since I came from a lineage that included a lot of blue-collar folks but went to school with a lot of doctors’ and lawyers’ kids, I came in primed to feel inferior based on my background–but you and your grandchildren helped me see past that and start learning to recognize people’s individual merits regardless of what family tree they grew from. It did great things for my self-esteem, frankly. Thank you for that.

3. You’ve taught me that wildly disparate people can absolutely work together to achieve common goals. I think the various counterprotests around the nation are excellent examples of this–there is no way anyone can possibly convince me that every single person in the human wall at Aurora, or the human wall at Texas A&M, or the human wall at the University of Missouri, or the human wall at Newtown, or the human wall members of Angel Action, or the other human walls that come up when you search for “human wall Westboro Baptist Church” (about 425,000 hits when I searched just now–wow, that’s a lot of object lessons!) all knew each other before they arrived to form their walls on those days. But there they all were, some of them arm-in-arm, some of them wearing huge angel wings that they’d built for the occasion, some carrying signs, some revving motorcycle engines to drown out your chants–there they were, united by a common purpose. Total strangers. Working together. It brings a tear to my eye every time. Thank you for that.

I suppose the bottom line here, Reverend, is this:

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I have (again with the honesty) absolutely not enjoyed the experience of interacting with you. We are not friends, and we are not particularly likely ever to be friends. I have not enjoyed seeing you on the streets of my childhood hometown, I have not enjoyed having your signs as part of the background scenery as I grew up, I have not enjoyed watching you gain a national stage, I have not enjoyed seeing Topeka’s private shame get international press, and I have not enjoyed witnessing the hurt and anger and fear your message has caused.

But I have learned to appreciate your existence for the lessons you have taught: about respecting someone despite fundamentally disagreeing with them; about basing your opinion of someone solely on that person’s own merits and actions; and about people’s abilities to overlook their differences in pursuit of a higher common goal. All those lessons, I think, were important in deepening my relationship with god. My god–not your God, because they are not the same entity at all.

If the role of a pastor is to bring people closer to the Divine, then by gosh, I reckon you’ve done it. For me, a woman whose sexuality and beliefs and politics would absolutely have inspired a garishly colored sign had you and I ever met in person.

Thank you for that, Reverend. You’ve done your work. Now rest comfortably, recover quickly if that is to be your fate, or transition gracefully if your time here is done. You’ll be in my prayers–whether you want to be or not.

Blessings to you,

Mama BW

 

Update, March 20, 2014: Fred Phelps has passed away. I hope his transition was peaceful and that he was surrounded by love as he left this life and entered the next stage of his soul’s grand adventure. I will continue to pray for his family’s peace during this difficult time for them–it is never easy to lose someone you love–and I trust that we will all take this opportunity to tell our own loved ones how much they mean to us. Remember, gang, today also happens to be Mr. Rogers’ birthday; let’s all be good neighbors and make careful choices about which Fred we want to be most like. Love you hooligans.

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Filed under Don't Make Me Come Down There, General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely, Share the Toys