Thursday, November 17, 2016

Did Racism and Hate Really Win the Election?

Remember how the internet went crazy changing profile pictures to French flags after... I don't remember, I think something happened in France? And remember all of those hashtags of support when those school girls from somewhere had something bad happen to them? Well, apparently it's time to jump on the newest bandwagon of slacktivism.

In the wake of what for many Americans was a rather upsetting presidential election, people are doing something about it, at least doing something that requires little time or involvement or inconvenience. All over college campuses and on subways in big cities, people are donning safety pins. It's a small simple gesture, but it's trending on social media, so it must be important.

In the wake of what has been a divisive political campaign season, many people are declaring themselves allies to America's marginalized groups. Donning a simple safety pin is claimed to be an act of unity and solidarity, a way to show that the pinned individual is "safe" for the teeming masses of the country's demeaned, deprecated, and criticized.

While the gesture may have begun as a display of kindness, it seems to have run rampant, becoming a way for the left to offer themselves a hearty pat on the back, a way to wear their self-righteousness on their sleeve... or at least on their lapel.

The kinds of marginalized people that make the acceptable list for safety-pin wearing slacktivists are women, blacks, latinos, muslims, and anyone who slaps a gender non-conforming label on themselves. But in their fervor to be helpful and inclusive and peaceful and sunshiny, they are forgetting a very important group of marginalized citizens.

I live in small town eastern North Carolina (I didn't vote for Trump, so don't come looking for me), in a county that has 25.3 percent of its citizens living in poverty. This is a rural county. Most people don't come to visit, it's just a necessary evil you drive through on the way to the beach. But if you had taken the time to pull off the highway, enjoy our scenic byways lined with cotton fields and hog farms, you would have seen quite a few Trump/Pence yard signs.

Earlier this fall, well before the election, my family took a weekend trip to the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. While winding through rural places where you can almost hear banjo music if you listen real hard, we saw even more Trump/Pence signs, some of them billboard-sized. They were planted in rocky unkempt yards next to rusty old pickups, plastic lawn furniture, and free-roaming poultry.

While the results from November 8th left a lot of people baffled and confused, if you take a good look at the county-by-county election map, you'll see an obvious trend. Places with large concentrations of population, i.e. large cities, almost unanimously voted for Hillary Clinton, very small pockets of blue when compared to the red that stretched across the country like a spreading bloodstain. Rural America showed up to vote for Donald Trump in uncharacteristic droves.

Progressive minds are pointing fingers from their pity parties and safe spaces, blaming Trump's surprising win on racism, ignorance, and closed-minded country bumpkins. You know, the rednecks who lack culture and education and intelligence? That's the only logical reason that someone so evil and despicable and inhumanly orange could possibly have won the presidency, right?

Wrong.

By and large, it wasn't racism that voted for Donald Trump. It wasn't hate, either. It was desperation.

If you have a few minutes on your next drive to the beach, pull off the highway and take the backroads. Drive through small town America. Take a look at the boarded up storefronts and the empty factories. Rural America is on its death bed.

Poverty isn't only an inner city problem. Those redneck country bumpkins that the left disdains actually suffer from higher rates of poverty than urban areas. They are also more likely to live in extreme poverty, to suffer from it longer, and to have limited access to services such as clinics and hospitals and social services and even soup kitchens. Maybe that's why rural Americans have a lower life expectancy and suffer from higher rates of depression.  While the scenery is sometimes nice, life in rural America is no metaphorical walk in the park. Life is hard and only getting harder. All while rural America has largely been forgotten.

In mid October, Donald Trump held a rally in Fletcher, North Carolina. Fletcher, NC isn't the kind of bustling political hub that tends to generate a lot of interest from presidential candidates. The town only has a population of 7,243 people. I've never been to Fletcher, but I hear they have at least one stop light. Thousands of people packed the agricultural center there to hear him speak. That's thousands of people, perhaps more people than actually live in Fletcher.

While the other side was busy framing the average rural voter as hateful, useless, or "Deplorable", Trump was reaching out to rural America. Trump spoke about jobs leaving the country and moving overseas, a subject that has been felt intensely by people in towns filled with boarded up buildings and brownfields.

For ill or for better, Trump seemed to reach a hand out to rural America and promise to help them.

While celebrities and politicians and college campuses have hugged and welcomed and fought for the rights of blacks and hispanics, women and muslims, and everyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, rural America has been actively marginalized by them. With large paintbrushes of progressive thought, rural Americans have been trivialized as hateful, illiterate, frightening, useless. Their votes shouldn't even count. They have been silenced, told repeatedly that they were nothing more than intolerant racists and misogynists.

And even now, after they sent their voices screaming in bright red from the voting booths, the self-satisfying safety pin wearing left, who claim tolerance and acceptance, are circulating petitions bent on upsetting the electoral college in their favor, ultimately silencing millions of desperate voting voices once and for all. For the good of the country, of course.

For good or for ill, millions of Americans voted for Trump. It was an urgent cry for change, a plea to be heard, an attempt to matter to the powers that be. Instead of trying to silence them, perhaps we should be listening. Maybe they aren't ignorant. Maybe they actually have something to say. Does your safety pin include them?

If you aren't a safe place for them, stop claiming to be a safe place for the marginalized. Because I contend there is no part of the population more criticized and disparaged than the backwoods, small town, hard-working citizens of this country. Their lives matter, too. Even if it isn't catchy or politically correct.

No one likes to be ignored. How many times do you slap a dog before that dog lunges at you with a vicious backlash? Unfortunately, this time the vicious backlash came in the form of Donald Trump.

Maybe we should have listened sooner.

Now stop being smug and condescending. It isn't helping. It isn't helping at all.

And take off that damned safety pin. You look ridiculous.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is Armageddon - College Students Cry and Why We're All Doomed

The presidential election is finally over, for better or for worse. I'd like to say that I'm relieved because my life could use a lot fewer political advertisements. By Tuesday afternoon I had a stack of political mail fliers that would put the old Sears and Roebuck catalogue to shame. My youngest had memorized most of the television ads and could recite them with frightening accuracy, including facial expressions and voice inflection. She's a scary kid.

Our family tucked in tight on election night. I spent the night stress drinking and wallowing in despair. My son checked the kitchen to be certain we were well stocked with milk and bread. "This is a shitstorm, not a snowstorm!" my oldest daughter fussed as she rolled her eyes in typical teen exasperation.

My youngest daughter was the only one who felt anything akin to excitement. She had a coloring sheet of the United States so she could fill in all the electoral votes as the results were announced. At thirteen, she is currently disappointed in her lack of opportunities to use crayons, so her coloring sheet was a thrilling chance to put her long-neglected red and blue Crayolas to use.

My oldest made a phone call home after jumping from airplanes and doing other badass military stuff. "Do we have a new supreme overlord yet?" "No... not yet," I told him.

At 1:30 in the morning I finally said, "Enough is enough!" (referring to the election coverage, not my wine consumption) and sent everyone to bed. It was starting to look like my greatest fear was coming to fruition. One of these two candidates was actually going to win the election.

And win one of them did. I'm sorry for the spoiler if you haven't been keeping up with the final season of America... but Trump won. (I know... I was shocked, too.)

I checked the kitchen to make certain we had plenty of bread and milk on hand for the ensuing political apocalypse. I wasn't certain what Armageddon would actually look like, but I figured bread and milk might be somehow important. But surprisingly, Armageddon looked like a fairly normal day. People went to work, dropped the kids off at daycare, folded laundry. The world didn't stop turning after all.

That is... unless you are a college student.

Many universities across the country cancelled classes on Wednesday and offered counseling to help their students cope with the trauma of the election results. Exams were postponed or made optional. Not only that, but therapy dogs, playdough, and crayons were made available in attempts to make the precious snowflakes feel better. And Cornell University actually hosted a "cry-in" to mourn election results, complete with staff handing out tissues and hot chocolate.

I understand that the results of this election have produced a lot of feelings of misery, discouragement, and out-right fear for the future. I totally acknowledge the gloom that has settled over portions of the population like yesterday's misty weather (Totally appropriate Armageddon weather. Thanks, Mother Nature). I get that things may seem bleak and confusing and frightening. I'm confused, too. I don't know whether to be ridiculously happy that Clinton didn't win or angrily upset that Trump did. Things are complicated right now.

But the images of despondent young adults weeping hopelessly while curled on the floor in the fetal position is too much. These are our future leaders we're talking about here. Are they just going to roll over, weep, and take whatever the government decides to dish out? If so, there truly is no hope for us.

Here's the deal, weepy tantrum-throwing young people. You are too old to behave this way. You're basically adults now. You don't get to scream and cry when you don't get your way. That's what two year-olds do, not the future of America. If you don't like the country you're inheriting, you get up off the floor, wipe the snot off your face, put on your big-girl panties, or grow a pair, or whatever gender-inclusive euphemism you choose, and you do something about it.

Sure, Trump might be the most disgusting incarnation of evil you could imagine. But Hillary was no sunshiny cupcake either. Stop calling your neighbors nasty names and accusing them of being hateful bigots. Most people left the voting booth (regardless of which candidate's name they marked with an X) feeling a mixture of guilt and shame, like they had just been complicit in spreading some nasty venereal disease. Very few people emerged feeling full of hope and progress and optimism. Keep that in mind while you're screaming and ranting at friends and family and members of your community who may have voted differently than you.

Besides, if Trump does turn out to be the tyrant you fear him to be, we're all going to need to work together to make things right again. So stop alienating your potential allies. Most people are basically good human beings with good intentions doing the best with what they've got in the moment. Just because they disagree with you, doesn't make them thoroughly wicked or vile... and it doesn't mean they hate you, either.

Perhaps all of these tears and whining and unwillingness to cope are because of too many years of soccer and t-ball, where trophies were handed out for just showing up and no one kept score. Maybe that's why you feel like maybe you should get the president you want because you voted. You showed up. You participated. That's not how the real world works. People lose. Teams lose. Sometimes even when it seems like they deserved to win.

But you know what you do when you lose? Sure, you can go cry in the locker room or run off pouting or angrily take your ball and leave, but what does that accomplish? If you want to be successful, you have to work so hard that you ache. You have to be tired and sore and you have to get dirty. If you want things to change, you have to make them change.

If you don't like where this country is headed, then do something about it. And you don't even have to wait four years to vote for it. We don't have to be victims of our government, even the one we've elected. There's more to social change than stepping into a polling booth. That's just one aspect. I promise you aren't helpless babies, no matter how our institutions of higher learning may be treating you. The fastest way out of despair is action.

Trump is only one person, although a person who will soon be handed a large amount of power. If we are this afraid of the wrong person being president, that is a hint that maybe the president . . . any president . . .even if it's the person you voted for, has way too much power. No one should have that much capacity for destruction, oppression, or domination, even if they have a pen and a phone.

Do you know what your forebears did when faced with cruelty and heinous evil? Do you know what they did when they confronted tyranny? They stormed the beaches of Normandy. They wielded bayonets at Yorktown. They waded through rice paddies in Vietnam. They didn't waste time coloring mandalas or squishing playdough or crying inconsolably on the floor. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You come from better stock.

I'm not saying it's time to take up literal arms, but even virtual arms or symbolic arms or metaphorical arms would be better than this pansy-ass whimpering wuss fest happening on campuses of higher learning. Your parents are paying too much for your education to waste it on skipping class to do coloring sheets, even if you are feeling despondent.

Remember, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Even when it seems really, really dark.

And speaking of dark... it's okay to do your crying there. But let's show the world a braver face, shall we?



Monday, October 31, 2016

10 Easy Ways For Lazy People to Make the World a Better Place

It's just over a week until doomsday, or as more optimistic people call it "election day." The past few weeks have been a swarm of negative political ads and cyber screamfests as both candidates' camps attempt to convince me that the only hope we have as a country is for their opponent to lose. No messages of real hope or promise or optimism are being offered. Instead, we're hearing about the doom and death and destruction that will commence the minute the other guy (I sincerely mean "guy" in its gender neutral form) is elected.

Everyone is too busy trying to persuade the undecided, exasperated, and generally demoralized voter that their candidate is at least slightly less evil than their opponent. No one seems concerned with the fact that their own candidate is, in fact, evil themselves. The only chance for this country's survival, and perhaps the world's, is for everyone to not vote for the other candidate. South Park had it right, this election is basically average citizens deciding between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

Y'all... I'm frightened. I'm frightened that one of these people is actually going to win this election.

But there is hope for this country. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, which may be a tad bit uncharacteristic of me, but I don't think its too late. I think there are plenty of ways to make this world a better place, and none of them even involve voting for evil. Actually, none of them involve voting at all. In fact, they all require very little effort. There are real things even lazy people can do.

Maybe it doesn't take politicians and public policy to save the world. Maybe it takes average everyday people deciding to be decent human beings to save us in the end.

Here are a few easy ways to make this dirt ball we're spinning around on a better place. This isn't difficult, people. Let's try it. It certainly can't make things any worse than they already are.

This is a list for lazy people, feel free to try harder if you feel motivated to do so.

1. Hold the door. Just be nice and hold the door for the person rushing in behind you. Whether you're at the bank or the convenience store, church or the local porn shop, it doesn't matter. This may be the easiest way to be nice to our fellow human beings. Don't expect anything in return. Don't get angry if that rushing person doesn't acknowledge your act of kindness. Do it anyway. Bonus points if you smile and make eye contact.

2. Say Thank You. When someone holds the door for you, just give them a simple "thank you." It's what decent human beings do. Try to be at least superficially grateful. It's not going to kill you to show a little kindness and gratitude when someone else is doing the same. Bonus points if you smile and make eye contact.

3. Return your shopping cart. The road to Hell is paved with abandoned shopping carts. It isn't going to kill you to walk a few extra steps to push the cart into the cart return. Leaving it in the parking lot is just evil, and aren't we voting for enough of that? The thing has wheels so it's not like it takes a lot of physical effort. Leaving a stranded cart blocking the only available parking space within 150 yards of the door is not only rude, it's also pretty un-American.

4. Don't let your kids run wild.  I'm all for allowing kids to be kids, but standing on the table Irish dancing at Golden Corral or knocking down innocent shoppers while playing a one man game of hide-and-seek in the racks at Target is a little extreme.  Expecting kids to behave in socially appropriate ways in public is the first step in ensuring they become adults who behave in socially appropriate ways in public. I'm guessing some of our presidential candidates could have used a little more home training.

5. Look up from your cell phone. I mean, especially when you are ordering a meal or checking out at the grocery store or really anywhere that you are encountering a human being. I realize that your text messages and twitter accounts and funny cat memes are oh-so-very important, but just look up from your electronic tether and actually make eye contact with that human being who is serving you. They are offering you their time and attention (even if their employer is buying it for super cheap), the least you can do is offer them yours.  I promise that it is more than okay for you to treat human beings in the customer service field as actual people. Bonus points if you actually smile.

6. Use your turn signal. Maybe you're bopping along to your favorite song cranked up loud on your car stereo, too distracted to remember that there are other drivers around.  Or maybe you're busy with the cell phone call from your best friend while she complains about the hooker shoes So-And-So wore to the club last night. But it only takes a couple of extra synaptic sparks to hit that handy lever on your steering column and communicate to surrounding drivers and pedestrians your intentions to maneuver your 4,000 pound speeding metal death machine.  Most of us haven't mastered the art of telepathic communication, and body language is lost on us when it is masked behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  So the turn signal is a super polite way to communicate with your fellow drivers and cut down on incidents of road rage.  To not signal before a turn or lane change is just plain rude. Besides, I bet the personal drivers of presidential candidates don't use turn signals. Do you want to be like a Giant Douche or a Turd Sandwich? I didn't think so.

7. Compliment someone. It's easy to be mean and confrontational when the people who are supposed to be role models are doing it, but we don't have to be like the presidential candidates. Tell someone how much you like their haircut, or the shoes their wearing, or how they aren't pestering you about who you're going to vote for in the election. It's okay to make it random, but make it sincere. Take a cue from Canada and say something nice.

8. Shop local. If you're feeling grumpy about corporate greed and how big business owns our politicians, do something about it. Skip the big box retailers and shop with the little guy. When you purchase goods and services from a local business, you aren't lining the pockets of multi-million dollar companies who care little about you but still spend your money to influence public policy in their favor. When you buy local, you're paying for someone's kid's braces or guitar lessons or new soccer cleats. It's a beautiful thing to invest in the lives of people you call neighbors.

9. Turn off the TV. Think of all the extra political ad-free time you'll have to do something productive (or not productive... I won't judge). The world needs people who can think for themselves. It's hard to be that kind of person when there is a constant stream of programming telling you what to think, who to be, and who to be mad at. Besides, what better way to stick it to the two evil candidates than to NOT watch all of the political ads they spent tons of money on just to call each other names and point fingers? We don't have to be their audience.

10. Give stuff away. I'm not talking about free college tuition or political favors, either. That stuff that's just laying around your house not being used, someone else could probably use it. Go through your closet, box up anything that you haven't used in over a year (especially your clothes), anything that doesn't have sentimental value, and just give it to someone. You can donate it to charity or give it to a friend, it doesn't matter. You'll feel freer without the clutter and someone else will be putting something that was just taking up space to good use.

Let's do this, people! A little bit more action like this from little people like you and me, and it won't matter who comes out on top on November 8.

At least that's what I have to keep telling myself to maintain some semblance of sanity.

Monday, October 17, 2016

After the Flood - What is Normal for the Ants?

(This is Part 2 of my account of the flooding of our small town after Hurricane Matthew. You can read Part 1 here.)

It's been more than a week since Hurricane Matthew skimmed the coast of North Carolina. Just a few days ago, a reporter broadcasting live from the bridge between small town Tarboro and even smaller Princeville, with a look of possibly mock concern on her face, informed the local viewing area that more than 80 percent of the buildings in Princeville were under the Tar River.

Until then, we had only been allowed to speculate what life looked like on the other side of the bridge. The town of Princeville had ordered a mandatory evacuation on Sunday in anticipation of flood waters rising. The bridge closed to vehicle traffic Monday evening. We had been able to watch the river rise from the bridge until the river began brushing the bottom, then the National Guard stepped in with armored vehicles and uniformed soldiers to keep foot traffic from possibly plummeting into the swirling water. We had heard that the water had rushed around the protective levy, filling the town up like a fish bowl.

A desperate attempt to get to the liquor store.
I suppose we had hoped for the best while expecting the worst. We knew what things looked like on this side of the bridge; entire neighborhoods underwater, our middle school completely surrounded, roads impassible as rushing creeks swelled banks and flooded into the streets. And, horror of horrors, the town's only liquor store sitting underwater at Hendrick's Creek.

It was probably that sweet, perky newscaster's first visit to Tarboro, so she didn't know. But I threatened a trip to the bridge to chat with her when she uttered the words, "Meanwhile, on this side of the bridge in Tarboro, things are pretty much back to normal."

What?

I suppose things are normal if you consider that public schools are closed for the eighth day in a row. All of the county and town offices are closed. The county courthouse is closed while gallons of water are being pumped from the basement. One of our schools is an island, while two more are crammed with hundreds of floodwater refugees. Most of our side streets were completely underwater until yesterday. And god knows when we'll be able to buy liquor again. The constant sound of machines pumping water and news station helicopters humming as they circle overhead isn't something we had thought was normal.

This is not normal.

Even now that the water has mostly receded, and families are facing a different kind of devastation as they sort through muddied possessions and family memories, life still isn't normal.

The view from my front porch just a few days ago.
The water didn't quite reach my home. At its highest, it came within inches of my front porch, wrapping around the house, flooding the driveway and the back yard. I am thankful that dear Nora Jenkins when she built this house in 1908, thought enough to perch it on the slightest of hills. The water table did rise up through our basement, flooding the hot water heater, making the sump pump work so hard that it finally couldn't handle it, giving up in an agonizing gurgle of foul water. My husband and son bailed out the basement with cups and buckets.

As the flood waters slowly retreated, they left behind a sense of immense gratitude, but also an aching sense of survivor's guilt, thick like the black mud that the river left behind in the streets. I walked through that mud yesterday, thinking about it clinging to the insides of my neighbor's houses, sticking to the walls and furniture and family pictures. I thought, "We need a good rain to wash all of this away." And then I caught myself. The last thing we need right now is rain.

When the river was highest, and we had nothing to do but watch the water, we saw some amazing things. There were dozens of islands of ants floating in the water. Fire ants will make a ball of themselves to protect the colony in high water. They cling to each other and buoy each other in the floodwaters. It's how they survive catastrophes like Hurricane Matthew, by clinging to one another, supporting one another, helping one another. No single ant is alone.

And that's another way that life isn't normal here. I've seen everyone roll up their sleeves. Skin color doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Princeville is a town of almost entirely black citizens or that East Tarboro (where the flooding on this side of the river was highest and most destructive) is somewhere people like me wouldn't walk at night. The imaginary lines that we've drawn on a normal day were washed away in the flood waters. All I see now are neighbors helping neighbors. People feeding people who are hungry. People offering comfort to those who are hurting. People offering clean clothes and toiletries and hot showers. People sharing hugs and tears. People clinging to one another, supporting one another, helping one another. No single person is alone.

That's what community is. There are no boundaries of skin color or income or social status. Sometimes it takes a major flood to wash away the boundaries we put up, to see just how superficial those lines are. The circling helicopters can't tell us apart from their vantage point. Afterall, if you step back far enough, we all just look like a bunch of ants.

Maybe the perky blonde reporter did have it right. Maybe this is what normal is supposed to look like. I'd like to think so.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Watching the Ants at the Water's Edge

On Saturday, Hurricane Matthew ripped its way up the Atlantic Coast, dumping gallons of water across the Eastern United States, from Florida to Virginia. Here in my little corner of the world, small town Tarboro, North Carolina, 12 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, bringing new meaning to the word "torrential." At times it felt like we were under the thundering deluge of a waterfall. The rain actually roared.

We were "lucky." Hurricane Matthew didn't actually come crashing ashore in North Carolina. In what must have been a show of mercy on a state that had already seen more early autumn rainfall than usual, Matthew headed out into the Atlantic, just skirting the Outer Banks. It could have been much worse. Which really is small consolation for those whose lives are upside down.

After a tenuous night full of flash flooding and leaking roofs, falling trees and lost power, my neighbors and I awoke to beautiful Carolina Blue skies. Sunday morning was clear in a way we haven't seen yet this season. Bright and crisp, the weather was gorgeous. The sunshine was almost blinding and it gave everything an edge, the corners of everything seemed sharp, like you could almost cut yourself if you weren't careful. Everyone emerged blinking from the holes we had crawled into, nestled overnight with family in soft candlelight glows, hunkering down to ride out the worst, while the chaos of the storm thundered just outside our windows.

But it wasn't the worst. Not yet.

It's hard to imagine with the sun shining bright white brilliance, the world so perfectly clear, the sky so blindingly blue, that Hurricane Matthew wasn't quite finished with Eastern North Carolina. The children and I ambled down to the river. On Sunday morning it still seemed rather harmless. River Road was closed. My youngest stood on the lowest rung of the road gate, right next to the "Road Closed" sign. We could see the water's edge still some fifty yards down the road.

"Where will the deer go?" she wondered aloud, thinking of the deer we sometimes spook in the evenings when we walk down River Road. They snort and flick white tails when they see us before bounding to the safety of wooded edges.

"I don't know." An honest answer.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the bridge that heads east out of our small town. We passed a family steadily hauling belongings from their home. They stuffed lamps and boxes and wadded up clumps of clothing into the back seat of their car, working steadily but not frantically. At the bridge we counted the vehicles leaving the low lying town of Princeville, our neighbors just across the river, their rear windows obscured with hastily packed belongings. They followed each other like a train of conestoga wagons headed for better days. They reminded me of ants streaming along the sidewalk in single file lines.

Transfer of information is fast these days. With the town basically shut down there wasn't much to do. We scrolled through pictures, assessing other people's storm damage, hearing through internet gossip that roads had been washed away, that dams were breaking. We gawked at the pictures from flooded Lumberton and the stories of rooftop rescues out of Fayetteville.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
By Sunday evening we were tired of the news stories and the flashing cyberspace pictures of people who had lost everything. We made our way back to the banks of the swelling Tar River. The flood waters were rising. We were informed of a mandatory evacuation of Princeville. We could no longer walk to the gate at River Road, the "Road Closed" sign was only half visible. We stared at the water that seemed almost still at the edges. We could actually see it creeping its way up the asphalt, like it came clinging to each tiny stone, crawling toward family homes and small businesses. If we stared we could see the water's edge moving, the river widening as streams and drainage dumped thousands more gallons, the water making its way through our tiny town on its way to the ocean some 95 miles downstream.

We tucked ourselves into bed, watched the livestream of the evening news broadcast from flooding towns up and down rivers all over eastern North Carolina. County schools were closed for Monday, and probably the rest of the week. Princeville was deserted in anticipation of the river climbing the levy.

Today, we woke again to see the world all bright and clear. Matthew is long gone. So are the residents of Princeville. So is the homeless man who lives under the Princeville bridge. At River Road there's no sign of the gate. Or the road.

Around the water's edge there are a million ants, pacing back and forth, worrying, stranded from their homes.They seem lost. Confused. I watch them scramble, switch directions, dance right up to the water's edge like they might dive in, then shuffle away again. It's fascinating watching them. I don't exactly know why.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
The Princeville bridge is closed. So are most of the roads into and out of Tarboro. We are left here, waterlocked like an island, isolated, just watching, waiting to see what the river will do with us. We gather on the bridge, watching the water rise inch by slow inch. There is almost a party atmosphere as neighbors greet neighbors and compare stories. We haven't seen this kind of flooding since Hurricane Floyd. That was only seventeen short years ago, not the five hundred the meteorologists and environmental scientists and climatologists promised us.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
There are so many news vans and helicopters circling overhead. They are watching us like I watched the ants. Like I watched the stream of refugees from Princeville. Like I gawked as I scrolled through pictures posted of flood waters and submerged houses in nearby towns. We are all tourists to other people's tragedy. We don't really want to visit. We don't want to walk a mile in their rubber galoshes. Humans are funny like that, gaping at misfortune, peddling it on the evening news.


Tonight the roads are closed as the water still creeps its way into neighborhoods, silent and steady in the dark, the river bubbling up through street drains in low areas, forming still pools in the middle of the street. The sun will rise tomorrow on higher water, but how high? I wonder if it will be tragedy enough for the news vans.

What happens to the ants when nobody's watching?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Frightening Things at the Local Laundromat

My washing machine has died. It didn't go peacefully either. No, it was rather violent and savage. In the middle of a spin cycle, the drum came loose from whatever magic of mechanical engineering keeps that thing from flying free and causing wreckage. It screamed in agony as it went, too. Horrible death. Very tragic.

My dryer followed soon after, like a widow who can't bear life without her companion. They were a pair, after all. Unlike her partner, the dryer slipped away quietly. We didn't even know she had left us until a good three days later when the stench of the mildewed clothes that we had trusted her to dry came wafting out of the laundry room.

We are a family in mourning. Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated, but please don't send flowers. Instead, make your donations of sympathy in the form of quarters, because laundry must now be hauled by the truckload to the local laundromat, at least until we find suitable replacements, which is hard, because we were rather attached to the ones that left us so suddenly and without warning.

Laundromats are interesting places. Lots of quirky people hang out there. Like the older woman who sings gospel music at the top of her lungs as she folds her unmentionables, and the middle-aged man who meticulously lines up all of the rolling laundry carts, or the weird guy who doesn't actually have laundry, but comes in just to watch his soaps on the big screen TV.

Laundromats are a great place to people watch (and I'm not talking about watching the people on the Soaps). There's nothing else to do while your laundry tumbles, and if you've forgotten a book to hold your attention, there's nothing else to really do. I find myself listening in on other people's conversations with intense interest similar to that of the NSA. I actually think I've learned most of the lyrics to the old lady's favorite hymns.

This week, while lamenting my lack of reading material and debating an impulse purchase of junk food from the vending machine, I zeroed in on a rather disturbing conversation. A young, overly-tattooed mother, complete with wobbling curious toddler (who was also contemplating the vending machine) was having a passionate discussion with another woman who barely spoke English. They were talking about clowns.

Oh, God!
I don't mean the fun birthday party clowns who twist balloon animals and juggle hacky sacks. These women were all up in arms about the recent creepy clown sighting in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

A few weeks ago, several children reported that a clown with a red nose and bushy hair tried to lure them into the woods of a Winston-Salem neighborhood. He apparently offered them treats if they would follow him. An adult claims to have heard the clown, but didn't see him. A few days later, the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office received an anonymous call claiming there was a clown lurking outside of an elementary school. Turns out the report was false.

These two women were visibly shaken. There was real and serious fear as they both yammered back and forth about how dangerous the world was becoming, how they needed to keep their children indoors at all costs, how they weren't going to let their babies be abducted by clowns who would do god knows what to them.

I can understand why they were so concerned. I mean, Winston-Salem is at least 3 hours away from our small town (two and half hours if you drive like my husband). And no one was actually stupid enough to follow a strange clown into the woods. But we all know children are very reliable sources, especially children who've heard a rash of creepy clown sightings in other states. After all, everyone knows children these days have no imagination. It's been completely squashed by public school and helicopter parenting and mindless video games. And just because no one with credibility actually saw that clown outside of that elementary school, half a state away, doesn't mean it wasn't actually there and didn't have nefarious plans.

I get that clowns are pretty terrifying. I've had my fair share of clown-inspired nightmares. No one should trust a dude with over-size shoes and questionable fashion sense. And anyone who's seen Clownhouse or Killer Clowns from Outerspace is going to be a little wary of trusting anyone in pasty white makeup. But locking your kids away, hovering more protectively than usual, because some vague reports of clowns in wooded areas is trending on Facebook is rather extreme.

There have been reports of clowns terrorizing people in more than ten states now. But if you read the actual news stories instead of trusting the dramatic over-reactions of mothers at the local laundromat, it is easily apparent that the threat isn't very real. Almost none of the sightings were confirmed by police. Most of the clowns didn't attempt to harm anyone. Most were only staring at people. Almost none were armed (excluding the two clowns armed with explosives that robbed a Memphis bank on September 28). There have been large numbers of threats on Facebook, but most of them have been since shut down. Several of those were discovered to be school kids attempting to scare other school kids. You can read the full list of recent creepy clown sightings HERE.

If we make an honest assessment, our children are not in any real danger. Most of them have watched enough horror films to know not to follow random circus performers into the forest. To be honest, everyone dumb enough to don a clown costume this Halloween are the ones in real danger. Redneck vigilantes all over the South have already vowed to hunt down and control the creepy clown population good ol' boy style.

It's ridiculous really, that parents are wasting so much mental energy on a threat that may be disturbing, but isn't very real. Believe me, there are plenty of real threats to our children that don't stir up nearly the kind of laundromat or social media chatter they deserve.

For instance, the United States has suspended talks with Russia over Syria, while Russia expands bomber patrols near U.S. bases. And Russia is currently engaged in a large scale drill involving 40 million people that some think could be in preparation for dealing with a nuclear strike. A US war with Russia is a far greater threat to our children (and Russia's too) than vague reports of clowns hanging out in wooded areas.

Also, the United Nations has declared that the rise of "superbugs", or antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, are a major threat to modern medicine. They are, as England's chief medical officer described, "the greatest future threat to our civilisation." Moms, step away from the hand sanitizer.

And let's not forget the rising rates of childhood obesity. It's basically a public health crisis. As more and more children pack on extra pounds, they are developing adult illnesses like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. We are basically killing our children, no clowns necessary.

So all of you well-meaning mothers who are frightened for your kids by a few random reportings of circus clowns, you are a greater threat to them by locking them inside where exercise is nearly impossible and junk food abounds.

Besides, I've seen some of your precious babies. A few laps around the woods being chased by a balloon-wielding Bozo might actually do them some good.


Monday, September 26, 2016

20 Things I Would Rather Do Than Watch the Presidential Debate.

Tonight's the night. That's right, tonight is the first face-off debate between presidential hopefuls. I'm so excited I can hardly stay awake. I've heard rumors that hospital emergency room staff are on standby this evening, expecting a rush of alcohol poisoning cases due to presidential debate drinking games (I hear the rules are you must drink every time Hillary coughs or Trump yells about a wall... the light weights will be out before the opening remarks are finished). Although I suspect the most common cause will be overdrinking due to despair over the lack of decent candidates.

Who will go home with the championship belt? Pundits will analyse the heck of this to determine the winner of tonight's debate, unfortunately it won't be based on blood loss or armbars or even a good ground-and-pound.

But we already know who the losers are. That'd be us. The American people.

I know some of you are all on pins and needles with excitement about tonight's debate. I know some of you haven't made up your minds yet, that your decision (and the fate of this country) hangs on the outcome of this debate. But I may be busy. I just don't think my soul is up to the torture that watching and caring about tonight's debate would be. I don't think I can handle the lies and forced laughter and empty promises.

Here is a list of things I would rather do than actually watch tonight's presidential debate. Seriously this might be the highest level of torture there is... probably paving the way for the return of waterboarding, which is incredibly humane in comparison.

Well played, Mr. Trump . . .Well played.

1. Eat soup with chopsticks.

2. Walk across a bed of legos in my bare feet.

3. Get pushed down the stairs.

4. Watch 24 straight hours of Caillou.

5. Be Caillou's mother.

6. Juggle porcupines.

7. Have dinner with Hannibal Lecter.

8. Eat a live cockroach.

9. Scrub toilets with my toothbrush.

10. Paint my cat's toenails.

11. Wear barbed wire as jewelry.

12. Go to the grocery store naked.

13. Watch my children hand wash the good china.

14. Mow the lawn with fingernail clippers.

15. Receive acupuncture on my eyeballs.

16. Use poison ivy as toilet paper.

17. Eat the moldy leftovers in the back of the fridge.

18. Sleep on a bed of cactuses.

19. Wrestle an octopus.

20. Scream for hours into my pillow... Wait! I'll be doing that in November after the election. I have to remember to pencil that in on my calendar.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Are You Angry Yet? - How Big Business Bought Science

This week everyone has been pretty preoccupied with angry Colin Kaepernick memes, so I don't doubt you missed it. You know, one of the things we should all actually be angry about? Stuff that affects us more than football players?

I'm pretty sure most of us suspect that we are being lied to, by politicians and big corporations and our teenage children, but it isn't often that we get actual proof. Cold hard evidence that we are being lied to in big nasty ways hit the newsstands this week, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the current presidential race. This time it's our health. The testament of corruption and deceit was published in JAMA Internal Medicine in the form of a historical analysis of thousands of pages of correspondence and documents.

In the late 1960s, huge sugar industry trade group, The Sugar Research Foundation, struck a sweet deal with Harvard scientists to refute existing concerns about the harmful effects of sugar on the human body. What is the going rate to buy a Harvard scientist? It only cost The Sugar Research Foundation the equivalent of $48,000 in today's economy per scientist. What a sweet bargain!

It cost the rest of us a lot more.

The skewed findings of the purchased Harvard researchers was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.The link between high sugar intake and coronary heart disease was already known, but the Harvard scientists set up a smoke screen, suggesting dietary fat as the big nasty coronary culprit.

It was a diversion that derailed nutrition research for decades and likely profited the sugar industry billions of dollars. As a result of that "research", several generations of consumers have been urged by health officials to reduce fat intake in order to prevent heart disease. For many, this meant an increase in the consumption of low-fat high-sugar foods, contributing to this country's obesity epidemic... and increasing the risk of heart disease.

One of the bought-and-paid-for scientists, D. Mark Hegsted, actually became the head of nutrition for the United States Department of Agriculture where he helped draft the government's dietary guidelines, just in case you wondering how big or how far this thing goes.

This should make us question everything.

Up until this week, if guidelines or information or recommended health practices had come from Harvard research or if it was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, you would think that information was solid and reliable. That's a peer review journal. That's the serious stuff. Reliable. Trustworthy. Credible. You could take that information to the bank!

Now we have to wonder, "What other lies are we being fed for the sake of corporate profits?" Who else is lying to us? What information are we taking for granted as gospel truth that is just skewed research to push an agenda?

Vaccines?

Chemotherapy?

Mammograms?

Fluoride?

GMO safety?

How much of the information that we are being fed has been manufactured by Big Pharma or some other money-hungry organization?

It's a frightening prospect. I don't know who to trust anymore, because the bigger things get, the more corrupt they become. Scientific research isn't about integrity or transparency or honesty or the greater good of Society. It's about profits. How many Americans were sent to early graves because "scientists" were willing to sell their souls and their principles for a few grimy dollars?

I'm disgusted.

But mostly I'm frightened. It's getting harder and harder to discern Truth these days.

It's probably time to dust off my trusty (yet fashionable) tinfoil hat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Should Patriotic Hypocrites Just Sit Down and Shut Up?

I don't watch football.

To me, the thought of spending two hours of my life, glued to an electronic screen watching multi-millionaires chasing around an oddly shaped ball is as exciting and intriguing as undergoing eye surgery. My husband and younger son are fans, however, so sometimes the sport weasels its way into my life on Monday nights and Sunday afternoons. They yell at the TV. I roll my eyes and attempt to ignore them by reading a good book.

But even non-football fans have heard of Colin Kaepernick. He's the San Francisco 49ers second string quarterback. He's suddenly famous for refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. He says he's protesting racial oppression and inequality in the United States. (I hope the irony of this isn't lost. 68% of NFL players are black. I love nothing more than irony.)

Monday night, while my husband and son were forcing me to acknowledge the existence of football, I became acutely aware of this "movement" that Kaepernick has created. Prior to kickoff for the 49ers/Rams game, I stood in my own living room while the National Anthem played, not just out of a sense of patriotism. I also stood because the dog had stolen my spot on the couch, but mostly because I was transfixed by the spectacle the media was creating right before my very eyes.

While violinist Lindsey Stirling played the notes of our The Star Spangled Banner, the cameras panned back and forth focusing on the controversial displays by the players. Viewers didn't get to see Stirling's face as she poured herself out in her performance, not once beyond the first few notes did the camera focus on her. We didn't even have long enough to mock her questionable fashion decisions (Leggings under ripped jeans shorts? Lindsey Honey, you're playing the National Anthem.) before the camera swung around to focus on Kaepernick and some other football dude (Actually he's 49ers safety, Eric Reid.) taking a knee. The camera focuses in closeup on the two non-standing players and then panned to focus on several more players with fists raised in the air. Then the cameras focused back in on the kneeling players. Repeatedly. From different angles.

Kaepernick and the other demonstrators definitely had the spotlight. Not once did the camera really focus on our servicemen and women on the field holding a stadium-size ginormous American flag. Only briefly during 92 seconds Stirling played The Star Spangled Banner did we even get a glimpse of our nation's flag. The fighter jet flyover and bursts of fireworks were just background noise to Kaepernick's decisive inaction. I only know there were planes because I heard them. They certainly weren't shown on screen.

The cameras chose instead to focus, for almost the entire minute and a half, on the division, the players acting out (or not acting, because not standing is actually inaction). Because they knew that it would rile people up, wad up some panties, stir the pot. Television ratings thrive on that sort of thing.

What by intention is supposed to be maybe the most unifying act in the country, standing together while the National Anthem is played, has suddenly become the most divisive.

Some people are applauding Kaepernick for standing up for what he believes in. (Um... guys? He's not actually "standing".) While others are more than ready to slow roast Kaepernick over an open barbeque pit (Mmmmm... tailgating at it's finest.)

Some people think Colin Kaepernick is brave and bold and want to pin some sort of hero's medal on his football jersey. They think that more light needs to be shone into the dark places of racial tension in this country. (These people apparently don't watch the evening news, because I'm seeing an awful lot of light shining as violent protests and mothers of sons killed by "police brutality" are paraded again and again across the commercial media stage.) But we aren't even talking about the police or racism or inequality.  Instead Kaepernick has ignited a debate about how we should protest, whether we have the right. He has started dialogue about unconditional patriotism and forced conformity, not racism.

Other people are shouting and stomping and throwing generally unattractive temper tantrums about how disrespectful Colin Kaepernick is being toward the men and women who died defending his freedom. They are clamoring on about how he should just get out if he doesn't like this country. "Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Colin!" I hear them ranting. There's likely a long line of people ready to help him pack his bags.

But Kaepernick isn't disrespecting any soldier dead or alive. Those people signed up to protect his freedom to express himself and his discontent with this country. If you believe the patriotic hype, soldier's shed their life's blood to ensure that no government could force Kaepernick or any other overpaid athlete to stand when he doesn't want to. I don't think Kaepernick is disrespecting dead soldiers. If anything, he's honoring their sacrifice by standing up for what he believes is a grave injustice. They died defending that freedom. He's actually exercising that freedom. Whether you agree with his platform or not, Kaepernick sees something he wants to change, and he's making a statement about it, AND he's donating large portions of his multi-million dollar income to help make it happen.

That's pretty f*cking American when you think about it. In his own way, Kaepernick is ensuring that blood wasn't shed in vain. I say let him exercise his rights. (I don't agree with him, so please hold your hate mail. But I stand for his right to sit for whatever he wants to.)

Also, I don't mean to get all political, but remember, I love irony. I find it incredibly ironic that so many of the people who are willing to throw Kaepernick out of this country for expressing his displeasure with it are the same people claiming this is the greatest country in the world while simultaneously chanting "Make America Great Again".

Let that sink in for just a minute. They are shouting at Colin Kaepernick for his ingratitude and disrespect for this country, because it is "the greatest country in the world". Yet their current slogan du jour is "Make America Great Again". I'm getting patriotic whiplash over here.

And in an even greater display of irony, they are shouting about Kaepernick disrespecting veterans while sporting campaign hats and t-shirts promoting a candidate that disrespects POWs, insults gold star families, lies about donating to veteran charities, and insults veterans by claiming to have "more military training" than most of them who have actual military training.

Here's the thing, you can whine and cry and throw things at the television. You can boycott the whole freakin' NFL because Colin Kaepernick is disrespecting our veterans. Heck, the whole organization is obviously anti-American for not forcing him to stand up. But deep down, you're all just hypocrites.

You can wave your flags all you like, you can burn jerseys, you can piss red white and blue (although you might want to get that checked out by a physician) but none of that does anything to support the military. Standing up while some musical notes play does nothing for the 300,000 veterans who've died waiting for health care. Waving flags does nothing to support the 22 veterans who will commit suicide today. It's just a fucking football game. You aren't really doing anything. What have you done today to support our veterans? Wearing red, white, and blue or sporting a yellow ribbon sticker on your minivan doesn't count either.

You don't even understand what's going on.

Meanwhile you want to force him to stand or else leave the country. Could there be a stance any more UN-American?

Sit down and shut up, beer-swilling, flag-waving, overly outspoken patriots. You are full of symbolism over substance. You claim to care about this country. but most of you don't even vote. You kind of disgust me. Can't you see there are bigger fish to fry? And our veterans' issues are just the beginning.

Listen, I don't really understand why we feel a need to flex our military muscle with flyovers and active duty soldiers on sporting fields before football games. But I honestly don't care one tiny iota about whether or not some over-paid athletes sit, stand, or do cartwheels during the National Anthem.

 There are more important things to worry about.

While everyone was arguing about Colin Kaepernick, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles toward Japan. As I'm writing this, U.S. nuclear-capable B-1 Bombers are flying over South Korea in a show of force meant to cow North Korean aggression.

While all eyes were on Kaepernick, Native Americans were attacked on American soil by an oil company. While peacefully protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens sacred land and water quality, members of at least 100 Native American nations were assaulted by a private security firm which utilized tear gas and guard dogs. There's been almost no media coverage of the event.

While everyone was raging and distracted by insignificant football players, Global Justice Now released some disturbing figures. Multinational corporate behemoths like Shell, Apple, and Walmart rake in more revenue than a large number of the world's countries. Now corporations have more global power than many sovereign nations. "Everybody wants to rule the world." At least according to Tears for Fears. Hear that, North Korea? You don't need nuclear weapons.

And we're worried about a stupid, self-centered, second string NFL quarterback?

Please, people. Don't you realize this is all just bread and circuses?

Maybe you should all take Kaepernick's lead and just sit down and shut up. At least until you can figure out what's actually worth standing up for.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why is Back To School the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Most of the country's kids are back in school now. Parents everywhere seem to be celebrating the end of summer like it's the end of a summer long imprisonment. They've ushered their offspring to the bus stop while humming "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". With their kids stuck at school all day, parents seem to be celebrating the fact that life just got a whole lot easier.


I suppose when you aren't used to it, wrangling kids all summer long is kind of an energy suck. Those pesky children are underfoot, making noise, making messes, demanding to be fed. Their presence is just there cluttering up life, making it super difficult to run the simplest of errands or hear the latest episode of Dr. Phil over the clamor.

It's easier to just send them back where they belong, lock them up behind cinderblock walls while they breathe recirculated air and become someone else's problems for at least six hours a day. At least they won't be trashing the kitchen or requiring supervision or running with scissors through the neighborhood scaring little old ladies.

Life is much more peaceful and quiet when the kids are back in school.

I will admit that the neighborhood seems kind of like a ghost town now that all the kids, who were just days ago riding bikes and skateboards and creating a ruckus, are safely tucked away where we can't see them. I'm pretty sure I just saw a tumbleweed roll down the middle of my suburban street. I didn't even know we had tumbleweeds in North Carolina.



While life may indeed be quieter now all those school-aged kids are out of sight and out of mind, I'm not convinced that life is easier.

When my oldest child reached school age, I had just given birth to his baby brother. My mother was certain that my life would be easier once he was enrolled in government-funded kindergarten. I had my hands full with an active toddler and a nursing infant. She was convinced that one less child underfoot would be a huge blessing.

But all I could think about was how difficult life would be if I placed that child on a bus everyday. I thought about having to adjust my schedule and the schedule of a toddler and infant to the biddings of the public school calendar. That I would have to wake to an alarm, dress a tired child, make lunch, and get him off to school all before 7:30 AM while still managing the needs of his younger siblings. And then I would have to stop whatever I was doing when school was over, napping babies be damned, so that I could safely retrieve him from the bus stop. And then there was the possibility of homework. (And a very selfish part of me also realized that the one human being capable of helping me with the business of feeding and diapering and entertaining his small siblings was the school-aged son I would be putting on a bus to sit in circle time and learn colors and shapes and how to be quiet... things he already knew. Except the how to be quiet part. He still hasn't mastered that.)

It might have been the severe amount of sleep deprivation talking, but my brain wasn't convinced that sending my youngest to public school would make life easier for me.

There are so many mothers who, upon discovering that I homeschool, ask me how I handle it all day everyday. To be honest, I wonder how they can do it, sending their kids off, getting them ready, staying on top of things.

I love being with my children and don't mind sharing my days with them, but I also love the freedom that homeschooling affords. When all of my children were homeschooled, we could sleep late and not worry about lunch until we got hungry. We could take spontaneous trips and not have to wait for Fall Break or Christmas Vacation. As a homeschooling mom, I didn't have to worry about grades or teacher conferences or disciplinary records or school bullies. There wasn't any homework to oversee or double check or pester them to complete. I didn't have to keep track of school fundraisers or permission slips or after school activities. I didn't have to schedule my days around bus schedules and early dismissals.

Listen up jubilant moms singing the virtues of back to school, the idea that having your kids in school all day is "easier" is an illusion. You've just traded one set of hard work for a different set. While you're considering me some kind of half-crazed martyr, sacrificing my sanity to provide a decent education for my kids at home, I'm looking at you half asleep in the school drop-off line and thinking, "Thank God I don't have to do that." (I'm just kidding. I'm not really looking at you in the drop off line. I'm still asleep in my bed.) You're juggling your own life while making sure your kids get up at the right time, get dressed in the right clothes, have all the right school supplies, meet the bus at the right time, get off the bus at the right, finish all of their homework and get it turned in at the right time. That doesn't exactly sound easy.

Sending your kids to school isn't easy, I don't care how hard the back-to-school commercials are trying to convince us. I think you already know it isn't easy if you're being honest with yourself.

Just like having them around all the time isn't exactly easy either. But who ever said this parenting thing was supposed to be easy? There isn't a parenting easy button. I know because I've looked everywhere. Even under the couch.

We just have to decide which difficult road is really worth it.

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