You can hear me engage in multiple long winded soap box diatribes over at the “Race Haven” podcast today and in perpetuity . Check it out here.
My daughter’s third grade class is reading a book with the N-word in it. I am mostly happy about this. She is old enough to learn and think about right vs. wrong and how complicated these things get when humans interact. I am only mostly, and not completely, happy about this book and subject because I know how teachers of small people usually deal with America’s history of racism and Martin Luther King Jr. and the way they, or really we, teach this subject is incomplete and is in large part why our current state of negative race relations is so hard to eradicate.
My children were taught in school that back in MLK’s time black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. We were forced to be separate and MLK didn’t think that was right. So he organized a speech and a march and got the laws changed. That is the gist of it. Now today, we have a day of service where in King’s name we do kind things for the community.
I like that general message but it isn’t really how it happened and our children need to know a more accurate truth. They need to know because “those days” weren’t so long ago that all of those people are gone. And by “those people” I don’t just mean activists and freedom riders like John Lewis, I mean “those people” like the man who hit John Lewis in the face with a club.
You see, Jim Crow wasn’t really just “how things were”. No, people made it that way intentionally. They made it that way to preserve political power, to gain wealth, and to maintain an hierarchy with white people on top. And when people tried to pry some freedom and rights out of this intentionally created system, those in power reacted with violence. And those people in power were very much white.
In discussing the dangers faced by black people, who weren’t just fighting for a seat on a bus, but for the basic rights to be an American, she asked me if this struggle was dangerous for white people too. She assumed there would be white people helping because that is her experience. I told her about Jonathan Daniels and how he was shot in broad daylight by a deputy for trying to help black people vote. I explained to her that this deputy went to trial and was acquitted. She doesn’t know the word acquitted so I explained this means he didn’t get in trouble. She was appalled.
But she has learned these stories and she is okay. She has learned the truth that just like bullies are real people on the playground, that historical bullies aren’t really just “how things were”. There were bullies who made it that way and heroes that forced the bullies to change and if we want things to be good, if we want to get to the place MLK dreamed of, we have to face reality.
She is almost nine. Nine-year-olds are smart enough to know that bullies can change. She is smart enough and old enough to know that white people, not some ambiguous “they”, are the ones who created this whole back of the bus thing. She is smart enough to know that this truth doesn’t mean all white people are bad. She is smart enough to know the truth… unless we teach her to be otherwise.
I fear that we as a whole are not smart enough to get this lesson. At least our schools, the news, our policy, and the whole state of Arizona don’t think any of us are old enough to learn the truth. There can be no perpetrators in America’s racist past, only loving heros. As if teaching this fallacy in some way better prepares us for today’s challenges.
It does not. So today, I will not argue that John Lewis is a perfect man or perfect politician, but I will remember that a cop hit John Lewis in the face with a club because he wanted to be an American.
I love people.
A lot. They are my favorite.
This love leads to heartbreak, disappointment, fulfillment, and joy. Parents nurture and cripple. Siblings support and undermine. Friends enhance, detract, come, go; some endure. Enemies. Allies. Strangers. Acquaintances. People are horrible. People are wonderful. People with all of our yin and yang are by far, and I mean this with every bit of bombastic verbosity I can muster, the most important thing in existence.Period!
I believe in this human preeminence, past the point of feeling, over into the realm of knowing. It is at the heart of my narcissistic self-centeredness. Because I am a person I love me, but it also feeds my selflessness, because you are a person too. I am an I, as well as a we. With people lies the power to create, destroy, uplift and oppress. Humans are the creators and curators of art, music, architecture, civilization, and war. It is and will always be above all else, us.
Nature does not grow out of itself and mechanize, then choose to return to itself. People do, have, and will. Animals with all of their anthropomorphic wonder, for better or worse, often consume each other but do not commoditize or domesticate each other. They express and communicate but there is no literature. Wind, fire, water, and earth often destroy mankind, but none of those things consider themselves. Some of us do.
I believe we should consider each other more often and deeper.
I see people over there and sometimes I wonder but more often I move on. But they are still over there and whether or not I want it, they matter. They, you, we, affect each other all the time. Humans do not exist in vacuums metaphorically or in reality. We humans are capable of pretending and often do so when considering ourselves and the roles we play in society when we would be better served to embrace each other.But embracing is risky and hurt is real and regular. We are in fact dangerous.
So is gravity.
Let’s get to know each other. Please? All of us.
Let’s be in each other’s homes, eat together, live, share, and grow. All of us. If we do, some of us may be hurt- in every way possible. That possibility is inherent.
But if we ignore each other that possibility moves on to likely and then becomes inevitable.
When my first child was old enough to understand words and look at pictures, I began showing her images of Hawaii and calling them Disneyland. I did this in hopes that when her peers and surrounding adults would inevitably begin celebrating and pushing this fabled “land”, she would be under the impression they loved Honolulu and that she would imagine herself there… not Anaheim.
Because I would rather spend all of my money taking my child to the North Shore than some manufactured place with people dressed up as cartoon characters. I figure both places are about as equally expensive (truth), so I might as well trick my children into making me happy.
As with most preconceived notions of parenting, my plan failed.
Upon realizing that in large part due to current proximity, my children and spouse would full-on demand a Disneyland visit, I full-on planned to send them along without me. Yes I love my family and truly enjoy watching them be happy, but I am not sure my being there to see it is worth $200.
Do you know how much prosciutto I can buy for $200?
I understand that the things I have typed so far, already qualify me for some sort of firing squad. I do not intend to be sacrilegious, seditious, or even traitorous, I just don’t want to spend $800 for my family to see someone dressed up as Snow White.
Everyone tells me it isn’t just that. But it is in fact also that.
Let me attempt to be objective about this. I will admit that:
The production value of everything they do is far above and beyond whatever “par” is.
The rides, especially roller coasters, are fun.
There is at any given time and in any given place, something to do or see.
The crowd management systems and procedures are surprisingly effective, and do in fact minimize the horrors of waiting forever behind hordes of everyone to do something fun for a brief moment.
The food while not being cheap, is not bad.
My wife and children loved the place almost more than they love me. They might strike the word almost. I added it to make myself feel better.
So, having admitted all of that let me list what Disney is not:
Near the beach.
An actual kingdom.
As good as Six Flags.
Solvang is a little town in Southern California that pretends to be in Denmark. It was founded around 1900 by Danish immigrants who liked sunshine more than snow, but apparently still wanted windmills, wooden shoes, and Hans Christian Andersen.This is made “apparent” because if you go there today what you will find is windmills, wooden shoes, and Hans Christian Andersen.
Most people would describe it as cute more than quaint, and in concept it is simply odd- but in execution it is surprising in its level of commitment to a theme. It isn’t like there is just a main street with similar facade, the imitation game goes multiple blocks long and deep.They have bakeries and gift shops, a town square with a scaled reproduction of Copenhagen’s round tower, a mermaid statue, and a museum dedicated to Mr. Christensen and his fairy tales.
All of that is fine. Very nice. Whatever.
Th real reason to go there is because this place called the Succulent Cafe has hands down the best charcuterie and cheese platter I have ever experienced.
Go there. Eat it. Wear some clogs, have two blonde braids, read about a princess and a pea, or show up on a Harley, any of those things… just make sure you have what they call the 4+4 for $44. (four cheeses, four meats, and a whole bunch of great little nuts, peppers, spreads, jams, olives, etc.)
The first thing I saw when I walked in the doors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was a giant portrait of a guy wearing a kilt. The little plaque at the bottom said the subject shared my last name which obviously required me to like it.
But it wasn’t my favorite.
I gravitate toward American artists, like the Eakins they had there, but at LACMA this was also not my favorite. Nor the Rembrandt. Not even the Picasso exhibition which came complete with a guard who tells you to stop taking pictures, even though the painting were picture worthy- still not my favorite.
I think LACMA had squeakier floors, more construction, and just plain more wear and tear than most of the museums I have been too, definitely more than the Broad or the Barnes, but what made up for it, what became my favorite, was the people.
It wasn’t quite like some other places where you go inside and the only people there are retirees wearing clothing from the gift shop and bus loads full of middle-schoolers on field trips. No. This was more like if all those people who run up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, then proceeded inside the museum. No one in Philly actually goes inside that place, in LA, they do.
I will not forward that the art is better, or that the patrons appreciate it more, just that there were more of the folks you see out on the streets- inside.
People of all sorts are always my favorite.
But aside from them, what LACMA did best, at least in my Philistine opinion, is what California has always done best.
The Eames duo were not LA natives, but no one is. But those chairs go with those paintings, which work in those normally awful (shall we say severe) buildings, and they then find themselves in LACMA.
Yeah… they have other stuff there too:
A broad “thank you” is in order.
I am generally skeptical of the sincerity of anything posted on social media, especially Fakebook. It is the home of the humble-brag, desperate calls for attention, and every narcissist’s second favorite venue for self aggrandizement (2nd to twitter). It is like the digital age’s version of a perpetual high school social dynamic with all of its posturing, superficiality and huge doses of TMI.
Then came my birthday.
This year I chose, for the first time, to allow my birthday to be public. I have seen long scrolling lists of people wishing other people happy birthday, and the snarky voice inside my head thought that really they were a bunch of people who wanted to bee seen wishing happy birthday rather than really wanting to celebrate any certain person, so I was not really surprised that many people sent me online well wishes, but I was a little bit surprised at how it felt.
It made me happy. It felt good.
People said some nice things. It was a bit like when the Grinch stole Christmas but the Whos still sang and hearing it made his heart grew bigger. My cynical inner Grinch told me that “happy birthday” from someone I never talk to means nothing and drawing satisfaction from such shallow offerings makes me the emotional equivalent of a toddler. But then some people PM’d me, a couple even called, others just said Happy Birthday on my wall and kicking and screaming my inner Grinch gave way to simple gratitude and appreciation. It was nice.
Sometimes people are just plain and nice and when they (you) are, it makes a difference. It matters.
I appreciated the well wishes. I learned from it.
So- thank you.