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Look for the Helpers

I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers as a kid. He always kind of gave me the creeps. I had never encountered anybody that was that kind all of the time, and I doubted his sincerity. And now I need to add that to the list of things I should bring up with my therapist. Regardless, as an adult I have come to love and, in times of trial, cling to a quote of his: “Look for the helpers.”

helpers

There will always be helpers. There will always be hope. There will always be a way. I am still at a loss to fully express myself after the election. I sat down to witness history, and I did. Just not the history I had anticipated. I watched as an oft ignored part of our country declared in one loud, red voice that they would not be ignored any longer. That they would not let their way of life go quietly into that good night. They raged, and we all listened in disbelief.

To the rural Americans who feel disenfranchised because their America has been slipping away from them, I am sorry. I am sorry that we didn’t listen, that we didn’t care. I am sorry that we didn’t hear your cries and that even though everyone says you’re privileged you don’t feel that way living at the poverty line. I am sorry that it has come to this, and I hope that in the years to come your situation will improve. I truly do. We are listening now.

However, we need you to listen too. As evidenced by how close this election was, we are a country divided. A deep chasm exists separating one side from the other and because of that chasm neither side can hear the hopes, dreams, fears and wants from the other. And if we can’t hear each other, we have no hope of understanding or empathizing with each other. This is a problem. This country is big enough for all of us to exist together, but only if we can understand each other. The only way for that to happen is to truly listen and appreciate where the opposite side is coming from.

get-ahaed

I hold strongly to the belief that you don’t have to push others down in order to rise yourself, which is in direct conflict to the rhetoric of our new president. I respect the decision of our country to elect him, but I do not respect him or his hateful disparagements and I will not sit quietly by while they are said. I will not sit quietly by and watch rights being taken away from American citizens simply because they are different. There is room for all of us, and we can all rise together if we are willing to listen and try. And while we learn to do that, we need to have each other’s backs.

 

To the LGBTQ+ communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the people of color in this nation – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the women who seek equality and autonomy of their bodies – I am one of you, I am your advocate.

To the non-Christian religious communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

 

Now is the time for tolerance and acceptance. Now is the time for love. Now is the time for the helpers.

candle

 

This is a good resource talking about what to do if you witness or experience racism specifically, but the information can be expanded to other scenarios as well.

This is a good strategy to use if you witness Islamaphobic harassment. Again the technique can be used in other scenarios as well.

If you are LGBTQ and need a friendly forum to express your concerns or you need someone to talk to click here for an established community who are there to help.

If you feel that your rights are being infringed upon, please check out the ACLU.

If it all feels like too much and you are considering suicide, please now that you matter, and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for help – 1-800-273-8255.

Saying No to the Dreams of Others, In Order to Build My Own

I have been approached twice in the past month about stepping into a substantial role of an artistic endeavor. I was incredibly flattered by both and they both spoke to an inherent interest of mine. Not something that I am actively pursuing right now, but something that I have in the past and could see myself involved in again in the future. Needless to say, these offers were very tempting carrots dangled in front of me. The first one I went after, interviewed for, but in the end didn’t get the position. What surprised me, was that I was relieved that they had decided to go with someone else.

Deep down, I did not want this great opportunity and at first I couldn’t figure out why. What was wrong with me? True, there was very minimal money up front, but stake in all future earnings and plenty of perks immediately. Which is pretty much par for the course with artistic endeavors, unfortunately. At first I thought it was the money thing. Then I realized that my relief had nothing to do with that. It came from the fact, that while this would be a step up, it wasn’t a step in the direction I am going right now. It would do nothing to fuel and build my current endeavors and reach my current goals and dreams. Progress, but progress in the wrong direction.

wrong-direction

I think for the first time, I truly understand that not all forward momentum is good. This great opportunity was to help someone else with their pet project. To help them achieve their dreams. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I would have to put my own dreams on hold to work on theirs. Where’s the sense in that? For a long time I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I worked toward other people’s dreams. I grabbed onto anything that came my way. I thought that any opportunity was a step in the right direction, never realizing that I was running around in circles.

I don’t regret any of it, it gave me something to do and I learned a lot along the way. However, now that I have dreams and projects of my own, I need to stop putting my work on hold to help someone else with theirs. That’s why I was relieved, when I didn’t get the position. Yes, it was a great opportunity, but for me right now, it would have been a step in the wrong direction. So when offer number two came around, I said no. It was a hell of a lot harder to turn that down then I thought it would be, and it took a couple of days for me to wrap my head around turning down work. But now that I have, the relief is here again. No more dedicating myself to other people’s dreams, until I’ve achieved my own.

dreams

On a Scale of 10 . . . I’m at 2-3

I am not what you would call an overly empathetic person. I’m not a narcissist or sociopath or anything, I do have some empathy, but it is nowhere near my top ten strongest skills. Because of this, I am never the one that people come to for advice on the little things, or if they just need to whine. Chances are, I’ll just tell ‘em to “Suck it up camper,” or look at them with a blank stare until they assume I’ve fallen into a coma and walk away. It is truly amazing how long some people will continue talking once you’ve adopted this look.

internally-screaming

It’s not that I’m intentionally trying to be rude, I do try to pay attention and care. It’s just that more often than not, I lack the capacity to give a shit, and there is nothing more disingenuous than someone trying to care about something that they don’t. There is a silver lining to this though, I’m the one that people come to when there is a major decision that needs to be made. When they know that they’re going to get emotional talking about it, and need an unemotional response. I’m that person, because I can sit and watch the person in front of me getting really upset about something and still tell them without hesitation that they fucked up and here’s what they need to do to fix it. Or that the situation is fucked up, that sucks, here’s what you need to do to fix it. I have taken friends, coworkers and strangers alike from brink-of-hysteria to focused-with-a-plan. This is what I do with my lack of empathy.

This used to really worry me, and I even brought it up with my therapist thinking that something was really wrong with me. She assured me that I had plenty of things wrong with me, but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, this was quite possibly the coping mechanism that allowed me to survive a childhood with a disabled and abusive mother. However, if I really was concerned, a sure fire way to increase one’s ability to empathize was to read fiction and memoirs. What????? Apparently when reading, you are so immersed in another world that you become accustomed to viewing and feeling things as someone else, which makes you able to see other people’s perspectives in real life, and therefore more empathetic. Or something to that effect.

empathy

As I had been reading fiction for years, and it clearly hadn’t helped, I decided that wasn’t the way to go. I have also read a lot of nonfiction history about people and events. While this has definitely made me more liberal, it hasn’t made me more empathetic. Seriously, it’s crazy, the more I study history the more liberal I become. In all of the history that I read, it is the people who are willing to look beyond what is traditional, the people who are willing to fight for the benefit of others, and the people who work the hardest to bring others along with them as they succeed that I admire most. The more I read the less I have time/energy/patience for people who are intolerant and work to subjugate people who are different. Which I guess is a form of empathy, so studying history has worked some.

All that was left, was memoirs, so I’m giving that a try. So far I’ve read about a boy soldier in Africa, a Jew during WWII, a US Iraqi war Veteran, a black boy growing up in the inner city, a holocaust survivor and I just started one about hillbillies. None of these books have made me lose sleep or in all honesty have really even affected me all that much. Empathy level is still clocking in at a steady two – three on a ten point scale. At this point, I’ve kind of given up on increasing my empathy, and look at is as more of a study of human motivation. In that sense, I am fascinated. Seeing how circumstance and background come together to influence the choices that people make and the behaviors that they exhibit. What from the outside looks completely asinine, actually makes perfect sense when looking at the microcosm of their life. As a writer, I can’t get enough. To play off the old saying, give me everybody’s shoes, I want to take them for a walk.

What started out as an experiment in emotion has turned into an intellectual study of human nature. I love it! Therefore, I am officially open to recommendations of good memoirs. No teenage girls though, I got enough whining to last me a while from Anne Frank. Yep. Holding steady at 2-3.

never-change

 

 

Don’t Call Me Beautiful

Like most all single people in this day and age, I have tried online dating. I have tried just about every platform there is out there. I’ve done the monthly membership ones and the free ones. Which one is my favorite? None of them. They all annoy me. But as the thought of going and hanging out at bars or clubs to meet people is even less appealing, online dating is a means to an end. So I’m on one of these sites now, and I’ve come to realize that the majority of guys who send messages start out their message with, “Hi beautiful,” or “Hi gorgeous,” or the one I got today, “Hello gorgeous. I wanted to send you a quick message because I think you are incredibly attractive.” And there’s little to no other substance included. Now this seems fairly innocuous, and maybe I should be flattered, or enjoy the compliments. But the truth of the matter is that it drives me frickin’ nuts! It is quite honestly my biggest pet peeve with online dating, and I think I finally figured out why.

I am not model, or Hollywood starlet gorgeous. I wouldn’t even classify myself as a classic beauty. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I pull out the stops I can turn heads with the best of them. I’m also incredibly photogenic so it’s easy for me to get a great picture. But 99% of the time, I rock the quirky best friend look. I rarely wear makeup, my “uniform” is jeans and a t-shirt, and before I cut my hair short, I wore it in a ponytail most of the time. Quirky best friend. I am not only good at rocking this look, it is my preference.

quirky-best-friend

As the quirky best friend, I’m known as the writer, the goofball, the friend, the organizer, the puggle mama, the Shakespeare nut, the girl who’s allergic to everything but can still throw awesome dinner parties. I’m known as the Civil War expert, the biographer of dead broads and the children’s book author. I am known for my personality, my strengths and my accomplishments, and I LOVE that. The reason that I have never put forth the effort and the time to highlight my physical appearance is because I so prefer to be known as all of these other things.

We're even both named Kat!

We’re even both named Kat!

So in all honesty, when I read these messages my first thought is,

“I don’t care if you think I’m beautiful.”

I already know that I am beautiful, so I don’t need someone else to tell me. And if that is the only thing out of my entire profile that interested you, then I’m gonna pass. I want to know that the lame joke I told in my profile made you chuckle. Or that we have a similar interest, or that you too have played life-sized Jenga. I couldn’t care less that these men find me physically attractive, it’s actually a bit of a turn-off when that’s all they see. Maybe I should just put that in my profile. Don’t call me beautiful.

 

 

Shout-Out Sunday!

Today’s shout out is for some very fun books that either just came out, or are coming out next week! #KidLit fans, these are for you.

mj

The latest in the MJ and Friends series by award-winning author Hana Rogers came out earlier this month. It’s called MJ and the Dream and it’s all about MJ learning that screen time is not all it’s cracked up to be, when he wakes up one morning to discover that his head has magically turned into a tablet.

 

ocean

Jaclyn Friedlander just released book three in her Friends with Fins series, called Goodnight Midnight Ocean. She also does a really cool video series where she talks about ocean conservation and different underwater creatures.

 

rejected

Last, but certainly not least we have Jason Porath, the creator of Rejected Princesses. He has his first book coming out on the 25th of this month. As a fellow historian of women, I love his work and cannot wait to read about the 100 women whose stories are just a little too risqué and/or badass to ever make the princess story cut. You can pre-order yours now.

idabwells-560x792

I’m excited to check these out!

 

 

Do Good

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote from Abraham Lincoln that really resonated with me. Okay, some argue that he didn’t say it at all, while others say that he was repeating what he had heard someone else say, and wasn’t actually speaking for himself. The semantics of its origin don’t really interest me, because for me it isn’t the speaker that makes the words powerful, it’s the sentiment behind them. So Abraham Lincoln or Joe Blow on the corner, or whoever else, I still like the quote.

do-good

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.” How true are those words? They’ve really stuck with me. Then the other day I was in a bad mood, and just generally feeling emotionally crappy, when I realized that it had all stemmed from one thing. A couple of months ago we had this series of passive aggressive notes left in the restroom at work. They cracked me up, I wrote a blog post about it. Shortly thereafter, the notes stopped. Until last week, when a new one cropped up. The tone of said note, basically accused the women on my floor of not knowing how to properly flush toilets and leaving messes behind for those who came after.

Now don’t get me wrong, I hate walking into a stall and being confronted by the business of the last person that used it. Gross! However, the specific stall that this note was left in is a bit persnickety. If you don’t hold the handle down FOREVER it doesn’t flush completely. So if somebody doesn’t know this, it’s going to leave something behind. It has nothing to do with the person, it has to do with the toilet. For whatever reason, this note put a burr in my saddle, so I grabbed a pen and fixed the note so that it asked people to hold down the handle for several seconds instead of accusing full-grown women of not knowing how to flush. I may have been a little worked up and gotten a little snarky as well. I’ll admit it. Well this triggered somebody else (I don’t know if it was the original poster, or someone new) to respond back.

passive-aggressive

The next thing I know, I’m in a horrible mood, all because of this stupid note! Adding my own commentary to the note was out of character and I realized why it was out of character. That kind of passive aggressive bullshit makes me feel like crap. Which explains why my modus operandi is much more confrontational. When my neighbor’s set up a BBQ under my window and filled my apartment with smoke, I went downstairs and talked with them. When I heard through the grapevine that one of my coworkers was bitching to a supervisor about something that I did, I went to that coworker and asked him to please come to me if he had an issue with something that I had done. I don’t beat around the bush. If I want something I ask for it. If something bothers me, I bring it up. If I’m mad at you, trust me, you will know it because I will have told you that I am mad and why. That’s just how I work.

So sneaking around in a locked stall to leave a passive aggressive response on a passive aggressive note left me feeling like crap. Especially when I realized that there was nothing that I could do about it, short of leaving a note of apology to an unnamed person. While this thought did occur to me, I decided that I didn’t want to make myself a target to whomever had left the original note. So I didn’t do it, and just continued to sit and feel like crap for the rest of the day.

bad-mood

Now flash forward a couple of days, and I’m sitting at a bar waiting for my order and the bartender who helped me was swamped. She was running around like a crazy person. She had run out of things but was too busy to do a restock and the food orders for the customers around the bar kept coming out wrong. So she was swamped and a bunch of people were pissed at her. My food finally came out, and it was wrong. She apologized profusely and said that they would get it fixed ASAP. I told her no big deal, but then as she’s walking away, the guy next to me made a snide remark about the service. This poor woman’s entire body stiffened at this, because he had said it loud enough for her to hear, and the next time that she came over to our side of the bar, she had this obvious look of dread. I tried to catch her attention to smile, let her know that it was fine, but she just kept her head down, until the guy next to me left.

Which happened to coincide with my food coming back out, and being correct this time around. She was obviously relieved by this, and I started to chat with her whenever she came over by me to make a drink. By the time I left, I’d gotten her to laugh at a joke and actually smile. I felt great. I could have so easily been the guy next to me. I had stopped to get a quick bite to eat, so having to wait 10 minutes for them to remake my food was not in my plans. But instead of getting upset and expressing my displeasure to this women, I chose to sit back, watch the baseball game on TV and not worry about a 10 minute delay. I chose to do good, so I felt good. Go figure. Consider that a lesson learned . . . or reiterated I guess.

 

 

Ask Kat

When I first started my blog, it was really hard to stay motivated knowing that hardly anybody was reading it . . . I’m sure there were some days that no one was reading it. It totally bummed me out, because I was putting forth this effort for nobody but me. What I didn’t realize at the time, is that not having anybody pay attention is actually a really good thing. It means that you have time to figure out what you’re doing, get in the groove and make mistakes. Mistakes that only truly devoted explorers will ever see once you do get a following. It’s awesome!

I don’t think I realized what a blessing this was until I started something new a couple of months ago. I’ve discovered that people tend to come to me with questions, especially those that are historically based. These people could just as easily google the exact same question, but for whatever reason they will text me or message me via social media to ask me the question. I think my favorite reaction to this phenomena came when a friend texted me this: Biggest body count in a Civil War battle? My reaction went something like this:

“Why are you asking me? How in the hell would I kno . . . oh, wait, because I do know. Does she mean single day or entire campaign?”

It was at that moment that I stopped wondering why people sent their questions to me, and just started answering them. Some of which required a little bit of research, which I did happily because I actually enjoy doing research. So a couple of months ago, I decided to start an online audio blog called, Ask Kat. Basically I take some of these questions, answer them, then post it on SoundCloud. I have a degree in video production and in theater performance, recording and posting 5-10 minute sound clips should be a piece of cake! Right! Just like riding a bike. Right?

bike-crash

Yeah, there’s a bit of a learning curve to jump back in there. Which is when I had my realization that I am so GLAD that I have no followers on SoundCloud. That means that I can do my Ask Kat segments without having to worry about them being top notch at first. I get to ease into them, and learn how to make them better as I go. I’m averaging one a month, but as I get better I have feeling that number will go up. Until then, I am happy stumbling my way through at this pace. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, if you have any questions, send them my way! And if you want to check out the two that I’ve done so far, you can find them here. Episode 1 is about Richard III being the hide-and-seek champion of the world, and Episode 2 is about the origin of Halloween and trick-or-treating.

richard-iii

 

 

I Need Help with The Help!

I recently finished the book The Help. I definitely enjoyed it, but there’s one thing that bothered me that I can’t get out of my head. It obviously hasn’t colored my entire opinion of the book, but as it keeps coming back to me, I figured I would bring it up and see if anyone else had this issue, or can explain it to me. That being said, if you haven’t read the book and want to, I’d stop reading as the rest of this post will contain spoilers. I haven’t seen the movie, so I cannot attest as to whether this will give away a major part of the movie. I would assume so though. For all those, who have read the book or aren’t concerned about spoilers, please read on!

titanic

The big turning point in the book is the arrest of Yule Mae. If it weren’t for her arrest, chances are pretty high that Skeeter and Aibileen would not have gotten enough interviews to get their book published. So really, her arrest is what makes the rest of the book possible. It is this inciting incident that doesn’t quite sit right for me. It is in fact a legitimate arrest, as Yule Mae admits to stealing a ring from Hilly. However, her reason for stealing the ring doesn’t make sense to me. Yule Mae, has twin boys, and she and her husband have been setting aside money for years in order to send them both to college. They were $75 short. Yule Mae asked Hilly for a loan and was turned down, so Yule Mae stole the ring in the hopes that she could pawn it for the $75.

According to a 1963 Almanac, tuition for a year of college was anywhere from $100 a year at the University of Texas, up to $1520 for a year at Harvard. Tougaloo, the black college located north of Jackson, would have likely fallen at the lower end of the tuition spectrum, if not under $100 a year.  For the sake of our argument, let’s say that tuition is $100. Which means that to send two boys to that college for four years each, would be a total cost of $800. In the letter that Yule Mae writes to Skeeter, she says that her legal fees of $500 ate almost all of the college money. All of this adds up to tuition being right around $100 a year. They were $75 short, which means they had $725, which would be decimated by a $500 legal fee.

tuition

Here’s my problem. I have attended two different colleges and just about everybody I know also attended college. None of us had to pay for the whole thing up front. At my first school, I paid a semester at a time. At my second school, I paid a quarter at a time. Which means, that they had at least three years to save up $75. Now I realize that in 1962 that was a lot of money, especially for a black family being paid less than minimum wage. However, to get to the full amount needed before that last year of college started, they would have to save less than fifty cents a week. That’s a quarter per parent, or less than fifteen cents each if both boys got jobs. For reference, that would be the same as saving $4 per week today. For something that you really want, that’s doable.

That means there was no logical reason for Yule Mae to steal the ring, because she didn’t need that $75 for three years. Why would an educated women take that kind of risk – especially with a woman like Hilly – when she was capable of the same reasoning that I just employed? What am I missing? It can’t be that the boys were going into their senior year of college and they were $75 short, or they wouldn’t have had the money to pay the legal fees. The only way that she would have had the money to pay her legal fees, is if the boys had yet to start school. So why steal the ring? Did you have to pay for all four years up front back then? Did I miss something in the text? Are we supposed to believe that she was really that short-sighted? Or is this just a gaping hole in the plot? Somebody help me, this is driving me nuts!

 

 

A Bias Against Black Men

The first conversation I ever had with a black person, was at my college orientation. I was 18. Black people didn’t live where I lived, they weren’t in the books that I read or the shows that I watched unless they were the thugs getting arrested. With the exception of slaves, Harriet Tubman and MLK Jr, they weren’t part of my education.  For the first 18 years of my life, black people, (specifically men) were like the mountain lions in the forest around me. I’d never met one, but I knew they were there, and they scared me.

Here’s the thing, I don’t remember ever encountering or spending time with an overtly racist person. I can’t recall ever being told by a teacher or parent or friend that black men were dangerous. I didn’t personally know anybody who had been victimized by a black man. So why was I afraid? Where did I learn to fear black men?

I hate to name something as banal as ‘society,’ but what else is there? I learned that fear from watching the nightly news with my parents. I learned that fear listening to talk radio hosts pontificating on the evils of gangs and the black men in them who killed each other and anybody else who happened to get in the way. Now I’m not saying that I am pro-gang and think that gang members and their violence should be talked about in loving terms. Far from it. The thing is, I never heard anybody talk about the black community positively. I learned fear because the black narrative was predominantly, at times exclusively, negative, and I had nothing in my real life to refute it. I had been conditioned to fear black men and think poorly of black people in general. I have no idea about anybody else from that little community, but that was the state in which I left.

naive

Subconsciously, I was aware of the conditioning and never fully bought into in. I’d love to give myself credit and say that I was a socially enlightened being from the get-go and this was a conscious choice, but that would be a bald-faced lie. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back and see that I fought against this conditioning. I had no idea what I was fighting, but I knew that I didn’t want to believe that an entire race of people could be bad or lazy or dangerous or any of the other descriptors used. I was well aware that not all white people were good. Some were great, some were crappy and some fell in between. The same had to exist in the black community. So when I met and talked with my first black person in college, I latched on to her and she became my first college friend. I LOVED that she dispelled ever stereotype that had been planted in my brain as fact. We talked about honor classes and stressed out over grades. When she talked about her dad, I heard, for probably the first time, about a successful and thriving black man.

That summer I worked for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival where I met and worked closely with a black actor. He was incredibly talented, kind, funny, generous with his time, and when the shit hit the fan toward the end of the summer, he had my back. To this day, I have nothing but respect for him and his work and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. I also met a woman who would later become one of the hardest and most demanding professors that I ever had. Yet despite this, she was able to instill a life-long love of Shakespeare in me and I eventually overcame my awe of her enough to become friends. Once more, nothing I was encountering in real life matched the narrative that I had been fed growing up.

Yet when I looked around, the same narrative continued. Only this time, I had something to refute it. Something to hold onto in order to fight the conditioning and keep it from settling back in. Eventually I stopped watching the news, and talk radio was definitely out. I didn’t want to live in that world anymore. So I didn’t, and I naively thought that I had outgrown . . . outwitted . . . out maneuvered . . . I don’t know exactly what to call it, but I felt as though I had moved beyond my biased conditioning. Ta-da! Pat myself on the back.

racist

Jump forward to me living Los Angeles, and it became abundantly clear that I hadn’t. No ta-da, no pat on the back. While Denver certainly had much more diversity than the tiny mountain town where I grew up, it is lily-white in comparison to Los Angeles. I have never seen so many cultures in one place in my entire life. For the record, I love it! I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

However, in this culture shock, albeit a good culture shock, my conditioning resurfaced. If I was out walking my dogs and saw a black man, I would get nervous. It could be the middle of the damn day and the appearance of a black man that I didn’t know would make me nervous. I didn’t even realize it at first. It was so rooted in my subconscious that a black men equaled danger, I didn’t even think about it, I just felt it down to my bones.

It finally hit me that this was occurring, when one of these so-called dangerous black men turned out to be a coworker. I hadn’t recognized him at first. I had prepped my purse in order to fend off his attack, and this made me feel so guilty, I almost apologized to him. I almost apologized for lumping him into the ‘dangerous’ black man category, instead of the ‘friend-of-mine-and-therefore-friendly’ black man category. That was my light bulb moment. My conditioning was still firmly in place. I had merely made exceptions to the rule to accommodate my friends and coworkers. Take away that exception and all that remained was fear.

anger

I don’t like to admit this, in fact this is the first time that I ever have, because it makes me feel like I am a racist. It makes me feel like I’m a huge racist, and I don’t like that feeling. In all honesty, I would get angry that I felt like a racist. Angry at who, I have no idea. I would hazard to guess, that I am not the only one who has gone through these emotions. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is where that whole white-guilt thing comes from. The guilt comes up, we bury down the feelings that caused it, ignore them and reassure ourselves that we are good people. For the next couple of days, we might even go out of our way to be nice to every black person we see, just to reassure ourselves that we aren’t racist. I know I’ve done this. I’ve stayed longer to hold a door open, or let someone cut in line at the grocery store specifically to reassure myself that I was not a racist. But here’s the thing, all of that is pointless because it doesn’t accomplish or change anything. The underlying thought-process that caused the first behavior is still there. And here’s the kicker, I’m not a racist, so why was I spending so much time concerning myself about it? Because I was confusing being a racist, with having a bias. There’s a difference, and yes it can be a fine line, but there is a difference. Since I’m a massive word-nerd, I looked up the definitions from Merriam Webster.

definitions

I don’t believe that race has anything to do with human traits and capabilities, or that one race is superior over another. I never have and never will. That is the entire definition! If I disagree with the entire definition, then it is clearly not describing me. However, the third definition of the word bias is another story. ‘Inclination of temperament or outlook’ and ‘unreasoned judgement’ sound pretty spot on. I have no logical reason to judge black men poorly, other than what was fed to me through society. I think we as a people, need to step back and really examine our biases. Are all people on welfare lazy drug-addicts, or is that merely what we’ve been led to believe by people who oppose the program? I can tell you that when I was on welfare, I was neither lazy, nor on drugs. Yet that was a bias that definitely took up space in my head until I stepped into that world myself.

Here’s the thing, having biases doesn’t make us bad people. It’s human nature, everyone has biases that play into everyday of their lives. There’s a reason that I bought a Chevy instead of a Ford – I have a distinct bias against Fords. My grandfather worked for Chevy, and so did my aunt. Therefore they MUST be better cars. Does that make any sense? No. Yet I drove a Chevy into work this morning. In the grand scheme of things, this bias is inconsequential. So I’m going to ignore it and probably go on avoiding Fords for the rest of my life and nobody will care one way or the other.

ford

However, the bias against the black community, and black men specifically, is a problem and has been around since the founding of this country. In the grand scheme of things, this is a huge problem and it effects thousands of people all over the US who are spending their lives in jail and getting killed. I’m not saying that there aren’t black men that deserve to be in jail, I’m sure there are. What I’m saying, is that when you look for trouble and the majority of the attention is focused on one group of people, you’re going to find trouble. Not because it only exists there, but because that’s where you are looking. And if you don’t see any, yet keep looking, seemingly innocuous behavior will begin to look suspect. I’ve heard my parent friends talk about sneaking up on their kids to catch them in one act of wrong-doing or another, only to be surprised that what seemed nefarious was actually innocent. If you expect trouble, you will eventually get trouble whether it’s real or manufactured.

A recent study done by Yale showed that the bias against black males starts as early as kindergarten. They had teachers watch a video to look for signs of challenging behavior among four children – one black girl, one black boy, one white girl, and one white boy. Despite the fact that none of the children were exhibiting challenging behavior, the teachers reported that the black boy needed the more attention then anybody else. After reading that, it makes a little more sense why for many young black men, school is a direct pipeline to jail. Maybe it’s just me, but if I get wrongly accused of misbehaving enough, I start misbehaving. If I’m going to be accused of it anyway, I might as well get the pleasure from doing the misdeed.

I’m sure there are people who don’t have this bias, and I applaud them. But with the history of this country, and if we’re all being completely honest with ourselves, I would guess that number is low. The good news, is that if we can acknowledge that this bias exists, if we can swallow our frickin’ pride and admit that we do this, we can reverse it. I really hope the teachers that participated in that study are now looking at their classrooms with a different perspective. It won’t happen overnight, but we can retrain our brains to come up with new conclusions, and expect different outcomes.

It took me about four years. Now, when I’m out walking my dogs and I see a black man, my conditioning goes to ‘dude-I-don’t-know’ instead of ‘dangerous-black-man.’ If it’s night, that conditioning goes to ‘potential rapist,’ but to be fair that’s my conditioned reaction for any man I see at night regardless of race. When outside by myself at night, all men make me equally nervous. Which is an issue all by itself but as long as the rape culture persists it’s warranted. Don’t get me wrong, I have every faith that my dogs would defend me if I was attacked, however, they are puggles, not German Shepherds. I’m fairly certain that the worst they could do is give someone a permanent limp. So I keep my eyes open. However, for the first time in my life, my heart doesn’t speed up more at the sight of a black man then it does at the sight of a white man. And I consider that progress.

 

 

Sometimes You Get a Reminder

I think it’s good, every so often, to get a reminder of why we do the things we love. I had one last week, and it’s gotten me thinking. There wasn’t a lot of theater around where I grew up. Plenty of nature as we were five miles from the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, but cultural things were pretty few and far between. Sometime in middle or high school I became aware, I don’t know how long they had actually been around, of a repertory theater that would put on a few shows every summer. They were pretty good, but that was it. Therefore, it wasn’t until after I had been in a theater production of my own, that I was introduced to Broadway-caliber theater. We had just done a production of “Annie,” and since it was touring through Denver shortly thereafter, we all made the two hour trek to see a matinee.

This production opened my eyes to the fact that the exact same material can be interpreted in multiple ways. My interest was piqued. After this, I somehow, I have no idea how, convinced dad to take us back to see “Les Miserables” and then “Miss Saigon.” My life was irrevocably changed. These pieces blew my mind. They were provocative, and engulfed me into another world, and made me feel as if these people I just met were my best friends and worst foes. I had no idea it was possible to illicit that kind of a reaction from a person, and sitting there in the audience, I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to do that someday. It wasn’t a want, it was a visceral need. I needed to experience the exhilaration of creating a completely different world for people to get lost in. I needed to create, to build and subsequently to grow.

finding-your-purpose

I think anybody that has ever gone into the arts, has a similar experience.  Some moment that was so profound, that they knew there was no other life they could lead. “Les Mis” started me down that road, but when they lowered a helicopter, a frickin’ helicopter, onto the stage, my fate was sealed. I hung on every moment from then to the end. Lea Salonga, as Kim, was mesmerizing, and I cried like a baby at the end. I couldn’t get to my feet fast enough at the curtain call.

I wanted to be Lea Salonga. I mean she got to be Eponine and she was Kim, and she was . . . that’s all I knew, but it was enough. I sang her songs constantly and I idolized the way that her voice could transport me. Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg were like my gods. Someday my work would be as good as theirs. In a screenplay I wrote, I even named one of my main characters, Claude and the other Michel. It wasn’t until later that I learned Claude-Michel was a French name, which was a problem as my characters were German. In my defense, Michel is spelled the same as my last name, and my family is of German descent. So I think I was totally justified in not recognizing that as a French name.

ethnicity

At any rate, in college I had the opportunity to see “Les Miserables” again. However, this time around I was disappointed. By this point I had seen a lot more theater and so had more to compare it to. I had also done more theater, I had taken classes and like most juniors in college, I of course knew everything. So instead of sitting in the audience blown away, I was re-blocking the scenes in my head to make them more engaging. Due to the contracts, the production had to still use the staging from the original production, which when it opened was innovative. By this point, everybody and their brother were using these conventions so it appeared stale.

I was crushed. One of my absolute best memories from my childhood had just been ruined. So after that, I vowed that I would never see “Miss Saigon” ever again because I didn’t want to ruin that memory too. Fast forward to last week, and I still had not seen another production of “Miss Saigon,” but I was about to break my vow. A friend invited me to go see a screening, at a movie theater, of the 25th Anniversary Performance, and I figured it was about time. After all, I saw a production of “Les Miserables” a couple of years ago, that completely redeemed that memory, so I felt pretty good about it.

Obviously since this was performed with the intent of filming it and making a DVD, there were film aspects to it. It was actually a really nice blending of theater and film. They also tweaked the script in places and straight up swapped out one song for a new one – for the record I like the old one better. But just like the first time I saw it, all of those sweepingly epic songs sent chills running up my arms and down my spine. The love song between Chris and Kim just killed me and pretty much for the entirety of the second act, any time Kim came on the stage I started crying because I knew what was coming at the end.

duet

Then at the end, since it was the 25th anniversary, they brought out the original cast of “Miss Saigon, starting with Lea Salonga who sang several of her old songs. She did a duet with one of the new cast members and then they brought out the original Chris and they sang a song. There was my hero singing the songs that won my heart over and made me want to be a storyteller. I was transported back to the wide-eyed naive kid all over again. I sat there and watched her, knowing in my heart of hearts that the path I chose so many years ago, is still right today.