Monday, January 09, 2017

Intersectional Privilege: Check it (out), or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Diversity"

Okay, I know it's a buzzword. “Check your privilege!” The rallying cry of liberal arts students everywhere! Not to be disparaging…it’s my rallying cry, too. But I’m learning that not everyone has the same clear idea of what “check your privilege” even means. I know this because anytime the word privilege comes up in conversation or a Facebook debate, inevitably someone will eventually say something like, "But you don't know what I've been through!" So I want to define some things here.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A SOCIAL SCIENTIST. There are plenty of people who know much more about this stuff than I do. I relied heavily on two resources when writing this blog, and I encourage you to check them out: John Hopkins University Diversity Wheel, and "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. This blog just contains the thoughtful thoughts of a thinky thinker with a blog. Okay. Here goes.

Less Accurate: Boxes of Privilege
We tend to think of privilege like this:

Either you’re in the privileged box, or you’re not. And when your life has been really difficult, it can suck really badly to have someone say, "You're in the privileged box!" That hurts, and it feels like that person is ignoring everything about the challenges you've experienced. But the truth is that privilege is much more complicated than that. The truth is that privilege is "intersectional." That's another fancy buzzword that just means that there are entire categories of who we are that all intersect to create our identity. Each of us have some privilege in some areas, and not as much privilege in other areas.

More Accurate: The Mighty Wheel of Privilege
So it's probably actually better to think about privilege like this:



I came up with these categories based on a ton of articles on the topic, and on the input of a few other smart folks I know. In the center of the wheel are things that can be changed, but it takes some doing. And sometimes it takes privilege in one area to improve your privilege in another. (For example, you often need a higher income level in order to make changes to your appearance.) The outer ring of the wheel are things that can't be changed or controlled. (Note: chromosomal sex refers to male/female/intersex...what your DNA says. Gender identity is in the brain, and refers to being either cisgender or transgender or gendered in some other way.)

What is privilege? 
I guess we should get specific. In social terms, privilege is not something "extra" given to you by society. It's not something that lets you cut to the front of the line, or makes your life easier than it is, or means you have no struggles. No one is saying, "Oh! You are a straight, white, heterosexual male--you get 15% off at the register today!" Privilege is in the things you don't have to worry about. It's not in extra things you get because of your circumstances, it's the things you get because of your circumstances that other people don't get because of theirs. 

Think of it this way. Think of a group that you are part of, just because of your circumstances, whether it's race or sexual orientation or gender. Ask yourself the following questions:


If the answer to the majority of those questions is "yes," then you have privilege as a member of that group.

For example, let's take gender and answer these questions. I'm a woman.
1. Are the majority of people in your area a part of your group? KIND OF--IT'S PRETTY EVEN.
2. Are the people portrayed in film, music, magazines, ads, and other media a part of your group? KIND OF. THERE ARE FEWER WOMEN, AND THEY ARE OFTEN OBJECTIFIED. 
3. Can you do things without them being seen as a representation of your entire group, for good or bad? NOT REALLY. IF I WERE SUCCESSFUL IN POLITICS OR ACADEMIA, IT MAY BE QUESTIONED BECAUSE OF DIVERSITY INCENTIVES. IF I DO SOMETHING BAD, I'M MORE LIKELY TO HAVE GENDERED INSULTS THROWN MY WAY.
4. Are public facilities set up to accommodate you? YES.
5. Are people in your group in positions of power? IN VERY SMALL PROPORTIONS.
6. Are you statistically less likely to be a victim of harassment from strangers or law enforcement? NO. WOMEN ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE HARASSED, ESPECIALLY SEXUALLY.
7. Are you statistically less likely to be targeted by laws of your land? NO. HEALTHCARE LAWS IN THE UNITED STATES, PAID LEAVE, AND OTHER EMPLOYMENT LAWS TEND TO HURT WOMEN.
8. Are issues specific to your group taken seriously? NOT ENOUGH.

So based on these questions, women have a little bit of privilege, but not very much. If we need a clean-cut answer, the answer is no, women don't have privilege.

But, hey! Wanna know who has privilege in each of the categories of the wheel? I did some of the leg-work for you! You may not agree with this, but based on my reading and talking with others, here's a handy kind of short-cut guide to who has privilege in the United States.




Targeted vs. Underprivileged
There's also the important idea of members of certain groups being "targeted." Often, these are groups that lack privilege. But sometimes it gets a little more complicated than that. Let's say you've got an American community that's 55% Christian, 5% Muslim, 20% atheist, 10% Hindu, and 10% Jewish. The Christians may have the most privilege in this community, since they're the majority. The sayings on our legal documents and money reflect their beliefs, for example. So on the surface, it looks like Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and Jews are all underprivileged. But in recent years, Muslims have been targeted as victims of hate crimes or harassment, more so than Hindus or Jews or atheists. So members of the Muslim community may need more protection, or at least more attention.

Privileged vs. Valued 
There are also some groups that are more highly valued than others, but that aren't necessarily "privileged." Being valued by society means that you'll get more respect for being in a certain group...and it may come with some of those "extras" that we mistake for "privilege." The questions listed above (the ones we used to measure privilege) don't quite apply, but life is easier for the people in these categories. Here are some examples of valued groups:


So what?! 
Here’s why I think this is important. Because it helps us get on the same page when we’re talking about social issues. It acknowledges the fact that even if you have gender privilege, you may lack economic privilege. It answers the point “But you don’t know how hard my life has been!” It’s true. I don’t. And sometime, we should talk about the ways that your lack of privilege in certain areas has affected you. But right now, we’re talking about this specific area of privilege where you have more than me, and I’m telling you how you can help. And then you can tell me how I can help in areas where I have more privilege than you do.

Because until we acknowledge these things, many of our conversations about social issues are going to devolve into “My life has been harder!” and “Privilege isn’t a real thing!” And that doesn't help anyone.

Let's look at an imaginary situation. We've got two people here: Imaginary Person A and Imaginary Person B. The X's represent areas where the person lacks privilege, and the checkmarks represent ares where the person HAS privilege.


Person A is a rich, college-educated, middle-Eastern, heterosexual, cisgender, Muslim woman, who is disability and disease-free, has an average appearance, and has been bullied. Let's call her Amira.

Person B is a poor, college-educated, white, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian man, who is disability and disease-free, has an average appearance, and has been bullied. Let's call him John.

Let's say Amira posts an article on Facebook about discrimination against women wearing hijab in the workplace, and then this happens in the comments...

JOHN: Why don't you just pick somewhere else to work?
AMIRA: That's really unfair. I shouldn't be limited in where I work because of my religious beliefs.
JOHN: You're asking for special treatment! That's the definition of unfair!
AMIRA: Dude, how is it special treatment to want the exact same thing other people want--being able to work someplace?
JOHN: Look, I don't want to sound like a jerk, but it's WAY easier for you to find a job someplace than it is for me. I had to scrape my way through college, and I've got huge student loan debt. I can't afford to be picky, so you should just be grateful for any job you can find! Some of us don't have it that easy.
AMIRA: Just because my parents were rich doesn't mean my life was easy. My childhood was really difficult. You're a white, straight, Christian male, and I really don't want to hear you complain about your privilege.
JOHN: That's BS. I'm so sick of people telling me to "check my privilege" when they don't know anything about me. Did you go to school hungry? Did you have to buy all of your clothes second-hand? Did you have to take out huge loans to go to school? Did you get beat up every day of high school? So don't tell me to check my privilege.

Sound familiar? So here's where I think having a "Wheel of Privilege" paradigm would be helpful. At this point in the conversation, both Amira and John could take a step back and examine their own personal wheels of privilege. Then maybe, just maybe, something like this could happen:

AMIRA: John, I hear you. I know your life has not been easy. Being a white, straight, Christian male doesn't automatically equal an easy life. I shouldn't have implied that. But we're talking specifically about women wearing hijab in the workplace, and that's a game you don't really have skin in, if that makes sense. It feels crappy to have you dismiss my very real struggles when you don't know what it's like to experience them.
JOHN: Fair enough. But will you at least acknowledge that being rich does make things easier for you?
AMIRA: Fair enough.
(conversation continues, remaining focused on the issue at hand)



You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I don't imagine (see what I did there?) that I can single-handedly shift the world's paradigm when it comes to thinking and talking about privilege. But maybe it will help a little. If anything, this gives me a handy link to paste into the comments section of the next Facebook debate about privilege. Feel free to do the same.


Friday, January 06, 2017

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Mourning


We made it into 2017, everyone!

There’s been a lot of talk about how 2016 was kind of the worst year ever. And I know that’s purely subjective. There were definitely years in human history that were worse, and there were definitely really awesome things about 2016. I think the insanity of the U.S. election sort of colored everything else that happened—we were all seeing the world through these terrible red/blue-tinted glasses that made everything ELSE feel terrible. (I don’t think red/blue-tinted glasses are always terrible, but they sure felt that way this year.) There’s something to be said for a positive attitude, but even I have to admit that 2016 was a rough year.

But I want to talk specifically about the celebrity deaths of 2016. And why it’s 100% valid to mourn them in whatever way you need to.

During this past week, I overheard a conversation that went something like this:

“I’m really sad about Carrie Fisher.”
“But you didn’t know Carrie Fisher.”
“But I’m still going to miss her.”
“But you didn’t know her!”

The general sentiment is that it doesn’t make sense to mourn the deaths of celebrities we don’t know. Other arguments against mourning celebrity deaths include the fact that we should be mourning the deaths of soldiers/civilians/children/animals/etc, that you’re just mourning because everyone else is and you’re not even a real fan, or that their contributions weren’t valuable.

I’m calling BS. On all of that.

Of course most of us didn’t personally know Carrie Fisher. Most of us don’t personally know any of the celebrities whose deaths we are mourning. But many of these people invited us in to know them by living a public life, or by creating works of music and writing. I know that a public life and a private life are often two very different things. But the public life can still be inspiring.

Regarding the deaths of soldiers and civilians and children and the many other thousands of humans that have died this year: OF COURSE THAT SUCKS. Death just sucks. It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience, but it still sucks. Each life lost should be mourned. But I think the difference is that my own personal life wasn’t as deeply or directly affected by the deaths of many of those others. Yes, I understand that a soldier giving up their life in the line of duty often helps maintain the freedom I sometimes take for granted. And I am grateful for the sacrifices made on my behalf. I ache for the families of those who have lost loved ones to war, to cancer, to poverty, to disease. I ache for that loss of life. But my mourning the death of a celebrity doesn’t have to diminish the meaning of someone else’s death.

And I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a horrible person, but the truth is that Edward Albee’s life and work personally and directly affected my life in a different way than the death of a nameless soldier. I mourn the loss of Edward Albee more than the loss of other strangers simply because I know exactly how he changed my life. I will feel it more personally and more often. It’s more measurable.

If we were to truly mourn every death, we’d all end up in padded rooms somewhere. It’s too much to process that much loss. The human psyche can only take so much. I think sometimes the sorrow we feel for celebrity deaths also includes sorrow for all of the nameless…like we channel some of the despair of the world into the black armbands we wear for the singers and actors and writers who leave us.

And the whole “you’re just mourning because everyone else is and you weren’t really a fan” thing? IT DOESN’T MATTER. Let people mourn, even if you think they’re faking. Let people connect over stuff. Your sorrow doesn’t have to be more legitimate than anyone else’s—this is not a competition. I didn't know much about Prince before he died. But I was deeply inspired by everything I learned about him in the aftermath of his death, and it made me sad we won't have more of him.

As for whether or not the contributions of a celebrity are valuable, that’s in the eye of the beholder. There were some celebrity deaths this year that didn’t affect me very deeply. But there were others that did. I think each human being brings something utterly unique to this earth, and sometimes their contributions get to be widely shared. And when those contributions are meaningful to you or me, their loss is something to mourn. I’m still sad about Ray Bradbury—there will never be another like him. There will never be another story written by that man, in his voice, from his imagination. That’s a loss I still ache to think of, and it’s been almost five years. His dedication and imagination have been a huge part of why I’ve done NaNoWriMo, why I’m doing an MFA in Creative Writing. His books and stories allowed me to escape when I needed to. I know I didn’t personally know Ray Bradbury, and I know he didn’t sacrifice his life for my freedom. But I mourn the fact that the world, and my own life, will no longer read new words penned by his hand.

Many of the celebrity deaths I have mourned this year have left lasting contributions. And I can thank them for those things even as I mourn the fact that they have left us—that there’s a cap on what they brought to the world. So I mourn them.

David Bowie and Prince, thank you for rejecting toxic masculinity. Thank you for being fiercely yourselves, for blazing trails in music. Bowie, thank you for your prolific and ever-shifting career. Prince, thank you for your musical mastery and for being a delightful and enigmatic human.

Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder, thank you for the honesty and humor with which you approached your work. Thank you for Galaxy Quest and Willy Wonka and Severus Snape and Young Frankenstein. Thank you for your passion and dedication.

John Glenn, thank you for being brave enough to put on that suit, climb into that metal contraption and allow yourself to be shot into space. Almost infinite horizons have opened to the entire human race because of your work.

Harper Lee, thank you for “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and the simple lessons it has taught for generations. And thank you, too, for “Go Set A Watchman,” and the harsher, more complicated lessons it teaches. I hope we learn that it’s not as simple as Atticus made it seem.

Edward Albee, thank you for giving so much to the world of theatre—for your fierce and life-changing words. Leonard Cohen, thank you for the music. Debbie Reynolds, you have inspired generations of singers and dancers. I spent hours in my garage and in dance studios and in my living room, learning the steps you danced on that silver screen. You were the lucky star for so many.

And Carrie Fisher. You intelligent, talented, brave, funny, honest woman. Thank you for showing the world that a woman can be both a princess and a war general. Thank you for teaching Hollywood to make the women smarter. Thank you for your honesty in dealing with mental illness and addiction. Thank you for reminding us that good looks are happy accidents of time and genetics and nothing more. Thank you for not giving any f***s.

And there are others that I felt pangs about, even if their lives weren’t inspiring to me in the same ways. Kenny Baker. Muhammed Ali. Elie Wiesel. Ron Glass.

(Ugh, it was awful to make this list.)

I am so so so grateful that I get to live in a world where the works of talented and brave and smart individuals can be spread far and wide. I'm grateful for the lives these men and women led, and I am better for what they brought into the world. So mourn them with me, if you need to. Or don't, if you don't need to. But know that it's perfectly valid to be sad that their lives are over.

photo via

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The myth of progress

Listen, children. I've had a revelation. And I want to share it here.

I've been working on being a "professional actress" for a little over two years. In those two years, I've had some incredible opportunities. (This is going to sound very Gilderoy Lockhart-ish of me, so I apologize, but there's a point to this, so stick with me...) I've been on sets with Rob Reiner and Cary Elwes, I've acted opposite Michael Cerveris under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, I've done one local commercial, and I'm currently in rehearsal for my sixth stage production since moving to Utah. Which is all so so so amazing.

But there have been (and continue to be) plenty of "no's" along the way. And there's something particularly painful about "no's" that come after having success. You start to think awful things like, "I've played a lead in a Hale West Valley show, and now I'm ensemble?!" Isn't that awful? It's awful. It doesn't feel good. It isn't good. It's snobby and prideful and self-serving. So then you swing to the opposite and start thinking things like, "Those times I was cast were just a fluke. I'm not actually good. I'll never actually 'make it.' I truly deeply suck." Which also doesn't feel good. Both of those philosophies distract from doing the actual work of acting.

So here's my realization. I've been thinking of acting in this "linear progress" kind of way. Something kind of like this:

(Don't judge my hasty clip art illustration.)

And it makes total sense that I would think that way. There are plenty of forces at work to put this idea in my head. Darwin, for one. This is the subject of a Master's thesis, so I won't go into details, but there's this weird idea that people seemed to take from the theory of evolution, and that is that everyone and everything is working towards becoming more "advanced." And it's all tangled up with fairly recent ideas of imperialism, too...that some societies are more civilized than others, and that they can bring civilization to the primitive peoples of the world.

Not only is Darwin and imperialism at work, but all of the mythos of the American dream centers on the same idea of progress, of slowly rising to the top, out of your own hard work. And this is how most other industries work. You slowly get promoted until you're at the top. If you don't get to the top, well then, you didn't deserve to be there, or you didn't want to be there.

But for acting (or a lot of other industries, actually), I don't think it's quite an accurate way of looking at things. And I don't think it's quite as healthy a way of looking at things, either. There are a few accurate things about it, but I think it's mostly problematic. It allows for both pride ("I'm at the top!") and self-loathing ("I'm at the bottom!"), and it creates a world in which we set people up as "better" than others. It oversimplifies things, and ignores all of the other factors that go into casting. It doesn't leave much room for complexity. It also doesn't actually reflect reality. You don't move steadily up that green arrow. But when we think of acting in this way, we're filled with resentment when we feel we've moved "down." Because "that's not how it's supposed to work! I'm supposed to work hard, get better, keep getting bigger and better roles, and then I'll make it!"

So, maybe it's better to look at progress in acting in a more "cyclical" way. Something like this:

(More clip art action.)

If you think of acting this way, there's less feeling of "I'm not making progress." There's less resentment when you get a smaller role than you think you "deserved" or when you don't get cast. You take the incredible opportunities that come to you without thinking they're owed to you. You can't think of yourself as above someone else on some march of progress to the "top" when they're just across from you, or next to you. And if you keep your own acting goals in the center, then everything you do can be seen as moving towards that somehow.

Fame and fortune and success are strange, often impermanent things. John Travolta was nominated for two Academy Awards. He also made multiple talking baby movies...between Oscar nominations. If you think of acting progress in that linear way, those are steps backwards and jumps forwards...the momentum is exhausting.

Of course, it can also be exhausting to move around the circle above, too. Especially if you spend a lot of time in the "not being cast" portion of it. That's hard. And the only thing you can do is be patient and keep trying. I have a friend who recently moved to New York to pursue acting. She said that when she's talked to people, they all say, "You've got to work steadily at this for ten years. If you can stick with this for ten years, you can make this your full-time job." But most people only give it a year or so. A year isn't long enough. You've got to keep yelling "F*** you, Matt Damon!" until you're where you want to be.

There's also the very real possibility that doing this relentlessly for ten years will take too great a toll on you. It could be that the exhaustion of moving around that circle of progress is greater than the reward. It's a scary thing to realize--that you might need to take a step back, adjust your goals. There are two kinds of dread when it comes to doing that: the dread that you're giving up too easily, or the dread that comes from giving up a dream you've held onto for so long, even if it doesn't fit you any more. What will people think? Who will you be if you don't hold this dream? But you will suffer less if you listen to your own intuition, try not to give a damn about what other people think, and make the choices that will make you happy and whole.

I'm still trying to shift my own paradigm here. But this change in thinking has already helped me find peace, helped me live in the moment, helped me do better work onstage and be a better person offstage. I hope it can do the same for you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What It Means

In the week following the election, I had this strange kind of "reactive mutism." I couldn't figure out how to say what I was thinking or feeling, so I just didn't really say anything for a little while.
I tried to write about the election when it first happened. That blog entry is a jumbled, emotional mess, so I left it in drafts while I processed everything. I'm still processing, and this is the best I could do when it comes to organizing my thoughts.

As an American, as a Christian, as the granddaughter of immigrants, as a survivor of sexual assault, as an environmentalist, and yes, as a woman, I cried myself to sleep over the election results.

Electing leaders is a matter of evaluating both character, experience, and policy. Trump's character is mercurial, narcissistic, unpredictable, dishonest, and thoughtless. He has no political experience, and his experience as a businessman has been fraught with bankruptcies and failure to pay the people he has hired. His policies are marginalizing and harmful to people who have been marginalized and harmed for decades.

Clinton's character is level-headed, thoughtful, and intelligent. The email "scandal" is the result of technological ineptitude, not criminal intent. She has spent a lifetime in civil service. Her policies are well-researched, and do the most good for the most people. 

And America chose Trump. A reality-television "star" who has used fear as one of his main campaign weapons. And even if something happens and Trump is impeached or resigns, Mike Pence will be in office, and he worries me, too.

 Everything feels wrong, and it feels like nothing will fix it.

A friend said that she woke up the morning  after the election, it was like waking up after a really bad breakup. You have a few moments of peace before remembering what happened and then it hits you again...all the heartbreak. It's like a bad dream that you can't wake up from.

 There's a part of me that hears the faint strains of a fiddle being played while the country burns.

And before anyone accuses me of whining because my candidate didn't win, let's get something out of the way right now. This is more than just partisanship. I have been disappointed in elections before. I've been sad when people whose policies I disagree with are elected to office. But this is different. This was the first female nominee who has a lifetime of civil service vs. a man who has zero political or military experience. You may have been disappointed when Obama took office, because maybe you disagreed with his economic policies or his healthcare plan or his budget recommendations. I'm disappointed that both Congress and the Presidency will be Republican, since I'm a Democrat.

But never before has the President-elect: made so many false claims during his campaign, advocated war crimes, said women should be punished for abortions, urged violence at rallies, mocked a reporter's physical disability, called for a ban on members of an entire religion entering the U.S., described climate change as a hoax perpetuated by China, called Mexican immigrants rapists, disparaged someone's military service because they were captured, praised the poor treatment of Japanese-Americans in America during WW2, praised a North Korean dictator, not paid his bills as a businessman, bragged about sexual assault, been praised by multiple white supremacy groups, discussed the size of his penis in a Presidential debate, lied about charitable donations, said that "laziness is a trait in blacks," been a plaintiff in almost 2,000 lawsuits, been accused of sexual assault, made multiple disparaging remarks about women (pumping breastmilk, menstruation, looks), and more. Any one of those things should have been an end to it. Any one of those things should have shut the whole thing down. Even if he's apologized or recanted, the thing about words is that once they're said, they're said. Do not compare the dismay I'm feeling to disappointment at losing.

(And before anyone accuses me of media bias, some of the links I provided are through media companies, but the primary sources are not hard to find, nor do they refute any of the things reported. It's not my job to do your research for you. I'm just providing jumping off points.)

I know that a lot of Americans are in a really tough place right now. For example, Detroit got completely screwed by the auto industry. The closing of coal mines and manufacturing plants throughout the U.S. have put a lot of people in a desperate place. Trump talked a lot about rising crime rates, even though he was completely wrong about them. Donald Trump offers hope and policy that speaks to people who feel afraid or disenfranchised, even if he might not be able to follow through. Cracked had a great article that explained the appeal of Trump for so many people. But all of that stuff? That's not a good enough excuse. Because your economic situation is a result of your circumstances. They can be changed, even if it's really difficult. Being Muslim, being black, identifying as a woman--those things can't be changed. For some of you who voted for Trump, it looks for all the world like you traded the safety and value of Muslims, people of color, and women...for a job.

All of this means we haven't come as far as I thought we'd come. I know that not all Trump voters are racist, xenophobic, or sexist. But even if they aren't, they were willing to overlook those things in their nominee, and that's just as big of a problem. Which means the country I love is not as thoughtful or kind as I believed.


Liberal vs. conservative is rarely about "right" vs. "wrong"...it's more often a question of what people value more. And I'm dismayed to learn that fewer people than I realized value diversity and equity and kindness. Or at least, it seems like they don't value those things as much as I thought people did. 

I'm always wary of hyperbolic or highly emotional posts about politics. I try to counter my emotional reactions with rational thought. But I am disturbed in both mind and heart. I am deeply troubled that the majority of the people in this country are willing to risk the lives and safety of so many others for what they want. I know there are still tens of thousands of kind, thoughtful, good people. (And I'm sure that many Trump supporters are also kind, and thoughtful, and good.) But it's heartbreaking and terrifying that there are so many who were willing to put a demagogue in power--someone who has not demonstrated kindness or thoughtfulness or goodness.

My mom sent me this inspiring email on the morning of the election, about what it means to her personally that we have a woman on the ballot for President. Before the election results came in, I sat at my desk at work and cried at the beauty of what it means to have a woman President. I cried for Susan B. Anthony and for the Equal Rights Amendment and for the generations of women who weren't encouraged to have a career. I agreed with Hillary Clinton's policies and trusted her character, which are the main reasons I voted for her. But I also couldn't escape the beautiful symbolism of her candidacy.

Listen, I know things will be "fine." I am inspired by the messages of hope and love and yes, anger and disappointment. That anger and disappointment assures me that there are still so many good people in the world, and the hope and love they're willing to share reminds me to be better and kinder and to not let my sorrow make evil of me. I know that America will recover from whatever possible disaster happens over the next four years. That's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about the COST. I'm worried not about the ultimate fate of this country. I'm worried about the casualties.

I'm worried about Planned Parenthood. I'm worried about the Environmental Protection Agency. I'm worried about health insurance. I'm worried about foreign relations with Cuba, with Russia, with Mexico, with the Middle East. I'm worried about race relations in America. I'm worried about the Dakota Access Pipeline. I'm worried about the Muslims in our country and throughout the world. I'm worried about survivors of sexual harassment and assault--if they see what our President could "get away with," it sends the message that they won't be listened to and that perpetrators won't suffer consequences.

People always say, "It could never happen here" when they talk about political disasters. But I'm sure that's what ancient Rome said. I'm sure that's what Germany said. And while America does have legal and cultural checks in place to prevent our own self-destruction, we did put over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps less than 100 years ago. There are people alive today who were interred by their own government simply for being Japanese.

I don't know how we'll explain to our children what happened. I don't want to be a fear monger. But I also don't want to ignore what are potentially really really really big problems. Don't tell me we need to come together. I know we do. But I refuse to ignore the real problems of people of color and women and Muslims in this country.

I deeply admire those who are patient and forgiving of those who spread hate and fear and ignorance, even while fighting it. I'm not there yet. I'm working on it. This is why I haven't spoken a lot about the election during the last week--I'm still hurting too much, and I don't know how to be patient and forgiving without feeling like I'm abandoning my principles of standing up for those who need defending. When I say "I forgive those who spread hate and fear and ignorance," it feels a lot like I'm saying that what they did or said is okay. And it's not. I've got plans for how to deal with it when I witness harassment. I'll continue to participate in marches and rallies and protests. Right now, I'm just concentrating on letting my anger/hurt/disappointment take the Martin Luther King, Jr. route, instead of the Malcom X route. Because I know that ultimately, letting feelings make decisions is what got us into this mess.

I have hope, but I'm exhausted just thinking about the next four years. SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Sunday, November 06, 2016

A resignation



Liz Chapman
123 Address Place
Salt Lake City, UT 11111

Sunday, November 6, 2016

National Novel Writing Month
123 The Internet Blvd.
The Internet, The World 00000

Dear Sir or Madam:

This letter is to regretfully inform you that I have chosen to tender my resignation from this year's NaNoWriMo. Please know that it is very likely that I will participate in future years, and that your organization still has my full and enthusiastic support.

I am very grateful for the inspiration and guidance you have given me in past years. I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2012, with a manuscript I did not complete that year, but which has since been finished, and which never would have existed without your group. I have completed a novel every November since then, and now have three full novel manuscripts. Through my participation in NaNoWriMo, I have learned discipline, how to overcome writer's block, the value of writing continually in order to improve, and have gained enormous confidence in my ability to create work. I am eternally grateful to your organization for all of the things you have given me.

In order that you may have a deeper understanding of my resignation, allow me to present my reasons:

I am currently pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing from an online university program. This semester, I am taking a class in ekphrastic poetry and a playwrighting class. Both of these courses demand that I complete weekly writing assignments, and in a few weeks, I will begin work on a full-length play manuscript. To add a 50,000-word novel to my to-do list gives me a sense of diluting my creativity...it forces me to focus on breadth instead of depth. I am not able to give any of my writing projects my full attention, especially with other demands like working as an actress and keeping a day job. Normally, I would reject "I'm spread too thin" as an excuse. I feel you must make writing a priority in order to be good at it. But with my MFA program, it's ALREADY a priority. It doesn't make sense to add a secondary writing priority. Doing so makes me less able to do meaningful work in either place.

This MFA program forces me to write regularly, which is one of the great strengths of NaNoWriMo. If that need is being met through homework assignments, I don't have as strong of a need to participate in writing a novel during November.

For me, NaNoWriMo is also a yearly reminder of the value of just creating, and that I am capable of writing, despite frustration or fatigue. But after 3 years, it's a lesson I feel I carry with me more permanently. I have less of a need for that reminder this year, though I'm sure the time will come when I need it again.

I have been worried that my resignation will be a disappointment to friends who have watched me on my yearly NaNoWriMo journey. I even set up a support group on Facebook for those who are participating this year. I regret stepping away from my novel, and worry about what it will mean for those friends who I began with. But ultimately, I knew this resignation was the best choice for me. I will still be available to offer moral support to my fellow WriMos, and I look forward to finishing my novel in the future. This resignation was not a decision made out of fatigue or frustration with my story or a lack of confidence. It was a thoughtful decision based on what my long-term and short-term goals are, and whether or not NaNoWriMo this year was helping me meet those goals.

Thank you for everything you do. You have inspired and continue to inspire generations of writers. I look forward to working with you again in the future.

Sincerely,

Liz Chapman

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Safety vs. hurt feelings


Listen up, guys.

I sat at a restaurant in town today, by myself. I do this a lot--go out to eat alone. I do a lot of writing and reading at restaurants by myself. But today's experience was marred by an overly attentive waiter. Normally, I wouldn't write about that, but the specific kind of attention I received from this waiter was not okay in my book. The problem is that it wasn't okay, but it also wasn't the kind of thing I can complain to the manager about.

It's the kind of thing I can blog about, though. Because I think it represents a larger problem in our society, the problem of respecting the personal boundaries of women, especially when they are alone.

(Disclaimer: I know nothing about this waiter. He could be on the Autism Spectrum and have a hard time picking up social cues. He could be an introvert who hates his job and compensates by being overly friendly. I don't know. But I wish society as a whole would have taught him how to respect my boundaries as a woman ALONE in a restaurant. He may not have been intentionally threatening. But the entire reason I'm writing this is to help the men around me understand when their actions ARE threatening and how to avoid that.)

So I sit down in a booth. Waiter comes by, probably in his early twenties, and takes my order. Comments on what I order, telling me I made a good choice, normal friendly waiter stuff. He walks away. I pull out my book and start reading. A few minutes later, the waiter comes by again.

"What are you reading?" he asks.

Okay. This is how you can tell a reader from a non-reader. Non-readers think they're making friendly conversation with this question. Readers understand that you're READING and would prefer not to be interrupted. So I'm already annoyed at being interrupted.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," I reply.

"So it's a book to help people develop OCD?" he jokes. Cool, a joke about mental illness to someone you don't know. I give a courtesy laugh and attempt to return to my book. "Women," he says. I look up to see him shaking his head and smiling. "All women have OCD. They always want to tidy everything. Women, women, women." I feel vaguely annoyed that he's used my gender as the butt of a joke that isn't really funny, or true. But hell, I don't know this kid, and I don't want to be mean, so I give another non-smiling courtesy laugh and wait for him to go away.

A different waitress brings me my food and I can eat and read in peace for a few minutes before the waiter comes by again. "Everything all right, ma'am?" "Yes, thank you," I say. I don't look up. I'm still reading. I'm polite in my voice, but I'm trying to signal that I'd just like to be left alone with my book please. He keeps talking. "Well, I'll want a read aloud when I come back, okay?" Like, you want me to read to you? In what context? Here in this booth? In your car? What does that even mean? He winks. I conceal a shudder, because I don't KNOW you, dude.

I finish my meal, order a dessert. Again, another waitress brings it out. I'm two bites in when I hear the waiter's voice again. "Hey, where's MY spoon?" he asks, eyeing my dessert. I keep my eyes on my book. "Yeah, sorry, this is all for me," I reply.

He sits in the booth next to me.

Did you read that? He sits in the booth next to me. I am literally physically trapped in a corner. I am alone in this restaurant, in a corner booth, with a strange man blocking me in. For the men reading this, here's what you need to understand about this moment: This waiter is "Schrodinger's Rapist." This is a man who may or may not try to sexually assault me. I have no way of knowing what his intentions are. If you suggest I should give him the benefit of the doubt, then you are valuing his potentially hurt feelings over my personal physical and emotional safety. His potentially hurt feelings = a rough day. Me being sexually assaulted = a trauma that is also illegal. As Margaret Atwood once said, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

So I'm trapped in this booth, refusing to look up at this waiter who has invaded my personal space, and I don't have any way of knowing if he will next make a joke, or try to put his hand on my upper thigh. He doesn't do either; he places the check on the table and says he'll be back to pick it up again in a minute. He continues to sit next to me for a few more seconds. "So do you want this on a single check, or split...?" he asks. I don't think I even answer. "Yeah, I'm just kidding. Single check." Then he stands up and leaves, and I feel my shoulders relax a little bit.

I pay the bill and leave.

Here's the problem with all of this. All of these interactions are walking a fine line between friendly waiter banter and flirtation. In my professional opinion, you shouldn't flirt with your patrons at all if you're a waiter, but whatever. What you definitely SHOULDN'T do, however, is sit next to a strange woman who is sitting alone in a restaurant without an invitation. Especially if you're a waiter. Because you're in a position of slightly more power--I don't feel like I can call another waiter over and say, "Excuse me, this man is bothering me." I'd be saying, "Hey, your friend is a creep" and then everyone would be embarrassed.

But it's a moment that really sucked. Because in that moment, I did not feel flattered. I did not feel like I was getting positive romantic attention. I felt trapped. Because I WAS trapped. If he had attempted to touch me or assault me or harass me in any way, it would have been very very difficult for me to escape. So I'm left to assume one of two things: either he was aware of this, and decided that what he wanted was more important; OR he wasn't aware of this.

So I'm writing this blog entry for all those who aren't aware of this. Because you need to be aware of this. The article on "Schrodinger's Rapist" linked above is an excellent, more in depth version of this same lesson, and I highly recommend you read it, but here's the Reader's Digest version:

WHEN INTERACTING WITH STRANGE WOMEN, ASK YOURSELF, "IF I WERE DANGEROUS, WOULD THIS WOMAN BE SAFE IN THIS SITUATION WITH ME? Would she physically be able to escape? Does she have friends who can help her?" If the answer is NO, then change what you need to in order to create safety for this woman. Even if it means leaving her alone to read her book at a table in a restaurant. Because even though YOU know you're not dangerous, SHE doesn't know that. You can blame all the other skeazy men who have ruined things for the rest of you. But this is the world we live in. Many women spend time every single day calculating their risks. You men need to understand this, and do what you can to make it better for us. And you can do that not by approaching strange women and attempting to convince them that you're the good guy. You can do that by making sure that the women around you feel (and are) safe.

Women tend to respect the men who make them feel safe even more than they respect the men who make them feel admired.

"But Liz, come on! He was just trying to be nice! Give him the benefit of the doubt!" Have you not been reading? I'd really like to, but unfortunately, that's not a risk I can afford to take.