Going Nuclear.

I saw tweets this morning about Donald Trump and nuclear weapons and my defensive antennae perked up. Yes, his campaign has denied that Trump asked repeatedly in a briefing why we don’t use the nuclear weapons in our arsenal, but after reading the transcript of his interview with the Washington Post, I’m not as inclined to believe his spokespeople. Regardless, this is not something I take lightly, having grown up in the shadow of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

I remember going to the beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to see missile launches leave trails of whipped-cream smoke in the blue sky. I don’t think these were nuclear missiles, but at my young age, I didn’t know the difference. I knew Daddy had missile patches on his flight suits and bomber jacket, and the Strategic Air Command logo–a metal-clad fist squeezing lightning rods that looked like missiles to me–was more familiar than the Golden Arches of McDonald’s.

I remember moving to Nebraska at 8 years old and the other Air Force kids at school telling me that our base and city was #2 on the U.S.S.R.’s nuke list. Why? Because of SAC underground–a giant missile control facility housed stories beneath the Nebraska prairie. Fun fact: my dad worked in the SAC underground, so the kids at school unwittingly gifted me with years of terror, wondering if my dad would survive a Russian nuclear attack safe underground while my mom and siblings vaporized into nothingness.

I was ten years old when, in a creative writing class, I had to identify my greatest fear. “Nuclear war,” I wrote, and pasted a bright orange mushroom cloud cut from a magazine next to the words. I was ten. At various times, I’ve asked my nieces and nephews when they’ve been around ten years old what they are afraid of. The high dive. Bees. Squirrels. Human extinction never made their lists. And I credit that to the work of my dad and countless other men and women who pulled alerts in various missile silos all over the United States. My dad spent his entire Air Force career “keeping the world safe for democracy”–a phrase he often said light-heartedly–a phrase that now, in the face of Trump’s complete lack of understanding of nuclear deterrence, is quite grave.

An adviser to Jeb Bush sent out a threaded tweet today about nuclear deterrence theory and what Trump does not understand. Start with this one, and read upthread until you hit #20. As I read his tweets, pictures of my dad in his flight suit flashed in my head. Memories of events he missed because he was pulling alerts crossed my mind. Stories he only recently started to tell me–because of legit national security reasons–flooded my brain.

I get that people hate Hillary with the fires of Mount Doom. I get that people are sick of establishment politics (which to them I say, STOP REELECTING THE SAME TWITS TO CONGRESS). I get that this election is like none other we have witnessed in our lifetime. But seriously. Consider the cost. My dad did not spend his Air Force career holed up in missile silos or in SAC Underground or on the National Emergency Airborne Command Post  so that a twitchy lunatic could, 20 years later, undo all the work my dad and his squadrons spent decades doing.

I’ve been incredulous at and mocking of Trump’s behavior for the past year. Today is the first time I’m absolutely terrified and incensed.

Civic Engagement.

Last week, I got an email from Senator Ben Sasse (R) inviting me to a town hall at a local library. If this election has done nothing else for my political ideology, it’s shown me that listening, truly listening, to the other side is vital is we are to survive. So I decided I would go.

It was quite the experience.

First of all, I was the youngest person in the room, save for interns. Everyone else had at least 20-30 years on me. Second, the room was packed. I counted over 50 people in the main room, and they set up a satellite room with extra chairs as well. That was somewhat encouraging, except for the fact that young constituents weren’t there. That bothered me, as far as a harbinger of November is concerned. Young voters must learn how to show up.

Second, the man next to me and I had a lovely conversation, just about life experiences, nothing political. I was glad for this kind interaction with another human being, because it tempered my opinion of him later: as the senator was speaking, my neighbor said loudly, “This is bullshit. This isn’t what we came for.”If I hadn’t had a humanizing conversation with him earlier, my brain would’ve jumped into all kinds of assumptions.

(Props to the senator for not losing it. I walked away incredibly impressed with Sasse’s composure in front of a hostile audience–because it was quite hostile.)

Third, the perceived “bullshit” was basically a failure of most in attendance to read. In the email I received, it clearly stated it was a constituent services event. Sasse and his staff wanted the people in attendance to know what they could do, what kinds of direct change and actions they are capable of. The email also explicitly stated he would not use the event to discuss the election. Unfortunately, most of the people did not read that part, because when they started grumbling about why he wouldn’t endorse Trump, another man said loudly, “This is a waste of my time. I don’t even know why I came.” But then he proceeded to sit through the rest of the meeting. People, man.

Fourth, the senator wanted to know who in the room had accessed his office to “get things done.” A man spoke about a convoluted law regarding veterans’ spouses that the Senator and Congressman Brad Ashford were able to fix and arrange the needed care. No one else offered any stories about services they’ve used from the senator–I didn’t even know myself about what a senator’s staff is capable of doing until today. For that, I am glad I went.

I am also glad I went so I could hear the following, because if I hadn’t been there myself I wouldn’t believe it. A woman who appeared to be in her 70s raised her hand: “I have a women’s health care question. Why aren’t we hearing the truth about what is happening in Germany right now, with terrorists taking women and cutting off the clitoris? When will we hear about that, and if we let those people in, how are the women in the room safe?”

I’ll just let you sit with that one for a moment. (Yeah, not a health care question, m’dear.)

Senator Sasse ended the Q&A after addressing her concerns (in which he made a great point about our national security policy not really addressing non-state actors), and then excused himself to go outside and meet with the protesters–a small group of people advocating for stricter gun control laws stayed outside during his presentation. I stayed behind to talk with a staffer about education policy for a quick minute, and then left. As I left, Sasse wasn’t talking with protesters, because he was surrounded by the angry people from inside who wanted him to endorse Trump. I don’t know if he did.

I was silent during the meeting, and I only  bristled at one comment: Senator Sasse said that we aren’t teaching children the First Amendment. I spend an entire day explicitly teaching it, and an entire year reinforcing it. It’s what I do as a journalism teacher. So he challenged the audience to name the five freedoms in the First Amendment, and he seemed pleased (it not a bit surprised) when from the back I said, “Speech, press, religion, assembly and petition the government.” That was a nice moment for me.

I do not agree with Ben Sasse on probably 95% of his politics. But let me tell you how I got an email from his office about the event today: during the senate filibuster a month or so ago, I saw that he asked a question. Senators asking questions during filibusters prolongs the filibuster. He took it on the chin from his Twitter followers (he is a great follow, by the way), because they saw it as him supporting the filibuster. He said he supports debate on tough issues. On hearing other sides. I sent his office a thank you email for asking the question, and expressed my own feelings on gun control. Now I get emails from his office about events.

One of the best ways to figure out how you feel on any topic is to look at another person’s perspective of the same topic, trying so hard to reserve judgment until the end. Here’s what I learned about Ben Sasse from today’s meeting:

I don’t agree with him on everything.

I do believe that he and his staffers want to serve the people of Nebraska.

I also believe that if we continue to sit in our own echo chambers, surrounded by people who agree with us, and we remain recalcitrant to any kind of compromise, that will be our downfall. I think that was part of what the senator was trying to do today in front of a crowd that was upset at his refusal to endorse Donald Trump for president, was to find some common middle ground and remind them of the role of the legislative branch. Unfortunately, the more vocal people in attendance did not appear interested in that.

We have to start showing up. We have to start bringing our young adults. But above all else, we have to start listening with open minds and hearts if we have any hope of healing the damage this presidential campaign has done to our psyche.

Last Year’s Birthday Writing.

Timing is funny. Last year, I published a rather optimistic piece about my birthday because the piece I intended to publish just felt too dark. Maybe last year, the timing wasn’t right for tens of readers to see it, but this year, something feels different. I’ve made a couple of small tweaks, but it’s mostly in its original state. 

I’m getting better with the birthday angst–this year it didn’t hit me until last week, as opposed to years past when I start being upset about my birthday in May. Sometimes April.

Two years ago I was not feeling all that jazzed about another year of life.
And I should clarify–it’s not actual life that I lament every July. It’s two things, really. First, that year to year, not much changes in my life. In fact, it feels like for about fifteen years now, not much has changed. Some people are happy with a static life; I’m still not quite there.

Second, I lament what it means to have a birthday every year and be alone. And before Deanne and Jennie and my mom or anyone else starts in with “But you have us!” let me just stop you right there: it’s. not. the. same. At this point in my life, I have spent birthdays entirely alone. Two years ago, no one was available to spend any time with me, and at some point I ended up on the phone with Deanne, sobbing about the fact that even my own parents didn’t cancel their plans to do something with me on my birthday.

(Though being my age and having your parents take you to a pity birthday dinner wouldn’t have been all that great, either.)

I’ve long since made peace with all major holidays and being alone. Christmas doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, and New Years’ Eve has turned into a working holiday for me–one in which I’m asleep long before the ball drops.

But my birthday is the one tricky day that I still can’t quite employ enough cognitive dissonance to make it just another day on the calendar, like I have with those winter holidays. Maybe I need to plan resort trips to Hawaii or France, but that doesn’t help with this year.

Until I was 18, birthdays were handled mostly by my parents. And they were a big deal. Even when I didn’t get a party (with four kids, parties were expensive so we only got them on certain age milestones), at the very least I got a special dinner at a restaurant of my choice, followed by cake and time with my siblings. I always had cards from my grandparents. And in my teen years, friends planned picnics or barbecues or dinners at restaurants they knew I liked.

As an adult, my birthday is unhappy mostly because no one plans anything for me. It’s a day when I feel like I have lots of acquaintances but no actual friends, and the harsh, harsh truths that I haven’t had a boyfriend in forever coupled with decades of rejection remind me that I will, quite literally, die alone.

When you get to be my age, birthday plans are supposed to be handled by a spouse or significant other or even a gaggle of friends. That’s how my parents planned their parties, that’s how my friends’ parties, or dinners out are planned. But if I want to be with people on my birthday, I have to plan it. Part of that is the timing of my birthday, I know this. When I was a kid, I resented my summer birthday because I couldn’t bask in a constant stream of “Happy Birthdays” in my classrooms and hallways. As an adult, I resent my summer birthday because people are squeezing in summer vacations or hosting out of town guests. I don’t fit with their plans.

In my entire adult existence, no one has taken the responsibility of birthday party planning from me. Plus, there’s something in my American Puritanical DNA that screams “You can’t plan your own birthday–that’s so arrogant. And how much of a loser are you anyway that no one even wants to plan a birthday outing for you? Or even with you?!”

And all of this could be an indictment of my own personality traits: keeping people at a bit of a distance, being as self-reliant as possible, never needing or asking for help for fear of interrupting others’ lives, all traits that might discourage friends from taking the birthday reins. All traits that–let’s be real–I’ve had to develop because I am single.

Quite the catch-22, n’est-ce pas?

And at my age, it becomes even more complicated as my pool of single friends is more like a raindrop splash on a windshield. Most of my friends are married, and they have their own family obligations to manage. Coddling me on my birthday doesn’t quite fit into their lives, and I get that. I do. But I’m also a bit weary of having to pretend it’s really not a big deal that I don’t make the cut.  Some years it’s not a big deal. Some years it is.

When I turned 40, I tried to plan my own birthday celebration with friends. Two people showed up. Two. Suddenly, I wasn’t 40 anymore–I was 10 years old being picked last for teams in P.E.

I learned from that year, so now I plan nothing. People ask what I’m doing for my birthday. The question is never “What would you like to do for your birthday this year?” The assumption is that someone has already planned to celebrate that I exist in this world. When I tell them “I’m not doing anything,” often the response is, “Good for you! Take a day and relax! Spend time with yourself!”

As if I haven’t been doing that for the past two months since school got out. Or as if I don’t spend time with myself the 364 other days of the year.

This year, my birthday will have a special level of suck: My birthday is on a Sunday, which means I will go to church and teach a Sunday School lesson, so I can’t sleep in. I can’t have a family dinner because of a scheduled choir rehearsal that I have to play for, in a building 30 minutes away, at the convenient start time of 6 p.m., and I can’t have family lunch, because of non-coordinating church meeting times. I can’t go out to lunch or see a movie or get a manicure. I can’t even have cake this year, because as part of the aging process, cake now makes me horribly sick.

And sure, I’m meeting a former student for breakfast on Saturday (we share a birthday), and I could do all kinds of birthday type things on Saturday, but it’s not the same. It never is.

I know that even for people who have a spouse or significant others, birthdays aren’t always a big deal. They’re often celebrated at home with each other and no big to-do is planned other than favorite foods and a cake. But they aren’t celebrating alone.

So my birthday wish–from someone who will never again have a birthday cake and will never have the opportunity for a birthday planned by a person who thinks I’m cool enough to live with–is that if you have a spouse or significant other, make his or her birthday something to remember, whatever that means in your relationship. Don’t take for granted that you have someone to pamper and celebrate another year of life with.

Because it sucks something awful to wake up every year on your birthday, confident that if Facebook wasn’t reminding 300 people it’s your birthday, no one probably would.

Some Ramblings.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to start giving in to my rants and writing about the things that bothered me. I’ve started half a dozen pieces about a variety of topics, and they just go nowhere.

Last Friday I went hiking. I don’t listen to music while hiking because I like to listen instead for things like bears and snakes and zombies. So I get a lot of thinking done when I hike, because I’m not forcing something else into my brain. I thought about all of these issues that worry me so much and why I wasn’t writing about them, and figured out why those pieces aren’t going anywhere.

Fear.

I’m afraid of my ignorance, that I’ll write something easily rebutted and expose me for knowing the surface of issues but not the depth. I’m afraid I’ll lose my job–I run into this more on Twitter than anything, afraid that if I make any kind of political statements students or parents will see and will ask for my resignation. And I’m afraid that whatever I write just ends up white noise in a landscape cluttered with people way more eloquent and smarter than me and writing about issues affects absolute zero change.

Today I’ve been reeling a bit. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have me questioning so many things, and at the top of the list is what can I possibly do? I honestly don’t know. I want to do something but I don’t want to assume myself as “white savior”. I want to say something but am not certain it’s my place.

I’ve spent the day checking my privilege–I’ve been to four different public venues today (museum, library, convenience store, restaurant) and never once felt uncomfortable or judged or really, even seen.  That’s a start, to acknowledge simple acts I take for granted every single day. At the library, I checked out some titles to help me understand how people of color experience America. I want to understand. I want to help. I want to stop this madness that is happening way too often. But I feel caught–what can I say and do that won’t get me fired? What can I say and do that won’t be seen as poor allyship? What can I say and do…what can I say and do…

I have zero answers. But I think the suggestions here are a good start.

 

What’s On Your Mind?

Some random thoughts as I have way too much (but sorely needed) down time this summer…

  1. I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “OJ: Made in America.” Compelling. Terrifying. Also made me feel a little bad for screaming at my uncle, post-verdict, when he agreed with the acquittal. Seeing the context of the entire case, the evidence, the systemic issues at play showed me the nuances that I was ignorant of 21 years ago. Although, 21 years ago, I was also pretty young and therefore, probably by default a bit ignorant in general.
  2. During last week’s filibuster in the senate, I tweeted about the minuscule renewed hope I felt watching senators doing something about gun-related deaths in this country. Some troll from Texas kindly asked me to leave the country. That was fun!
  3. I just now learned how to spell minuscule.
  4. And I just now learned that none of the proposed gun legislation from the senate passed. I’m discouraged. And disgusted.
  5. I really need to stick to the regimented schedule that I set for myself every Saturday. I plan an hour of writing time every day. I have yet to use it. It might help me with the discouragement and disgust.

What’s on your mind?