To Green or Not to Green?

My first web job was on the web team at a company called Green Mountain Energy Company in Vermont. It was a startup created to sell renewable energy in deregulated states — at that time there were two, with a third in the works, and none of them were Vermont. Unlike the ways most large companies segmented their customer base for the sake of marketing, Green Mountain* tiered their customers not by income or neighborhood, but by dedication to environmental preservation.

If they were True Blues, they recycled (in the days before there was a recycling truck and bins on your driveway), they gave money to environmental causes, they belonged to the Sierra Club, they liked to go hiking, they volunteered for local causes, they believed we should save the whales…you get the picture. Dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists, who would be willing to spend the money on pure wind and solar energy, even if it meant giving up their fair trade coffee. (They didn’t yet fully realize the issues with wind energy and birds.)

Greenback Greens, on the other hand, had a good heart but were more interested in using their cash to assuage environmental guilt than in taking the time to separate their trash or writing a letter to their congressional representative. Greenback Greens might go wind & solar, but more realistically we’d expect them to opt for the broader package, which included hydro and biomass — cleaner than fossil fuels for sure, but not without their own issues. But clean enough to make them feel good and for us to show that there was demand for energy choice.

There were a few more color levels going down from there, mostly describing people who would not become our customers for various reasons. This was 1998-1999.

This election season has had me thinking back to that time, and to the time before when I lived in Portland and used to go door to door for a number of causes and candidates. In 1992 I canvassed for Clinton (his first term) and Ron Wyden (then in Congress, now a senator). I got involved because I was working for Greenpeace (my actual barely-paying job) and running a table at a No on 9 benefit concert featuring Nirvana and Helmet at the racetrack (Jello Biafra was the emcee). During Nirvana, my co-tabler was in the mosh pit (where he would would lose a tooth and return with a bloody mouth and nose), and I started trying to get the people working the other tables to sign petitions and write letters. I think we were trying to get a ban on ocean driftnets and close the Trojan nuclear power plant. At the Clinton/Gore table, the guy working said he’d contribute to my cause if I’d contribute to his. Since I had no money, my side of the trade wound up being in canvassing hours.

From there I started paying attention to and occasionally volunteering for local candidates, including Joe Keating in 1996. Keating was running under the Pacific Party (it was the Green party, but hadn’t added Green to the name yet). His gimmick was something I loved — toilet dams handed over with the slogan “Joe Keating gives a damn!” Hey: If you have a regular toilet and you haven’t installed a dam (or the even easier DIY version of a milk jug filled with water), you are wasting a LOT of water. Google it, and do it. Save money, and save water!

Anyway, if I consider myself a True Blue, and I was supporting Green candidates as far back as 1996, why the heck am I not supporting Jill Stein?

No, seriously, why aren’t I? She’s a woman, she’s not in the pocket of Wall Street, she cares about issues I care about like the environment and reproductive rights, and given that I have a history of choosing who to support based on sometimes seemingly arbitrary emotional criteria, it would probably seem like I would. But I really don’t.

Here’s why.

One: Too Late

She entered my awareness very late in the game… basically when Bernie lost his race and some people I knew started retweeting her. I followed her on Twitter and checked out her website, and had some early, “Hmm, well, maybe?” thoughts, but they were quickly extinguished. If I was only just hearing about her, then probably people like my mom were not hearing about her at all yet. And if we were 6 months from the general election, that didn’t sound like enough time for Stein to get to know the country and make them want to vote for her.

Two: Lack of Experience

Where is her government experience? What other elected offices has she held? Oh. Though she has run for State (MA) Secretary, MA Governor, US Congress, and US President, the only election she has ever won was for a Town Meeting seat in the town of Lexington. If she can’t even win a congressional seat in her home state, why on earth would anyone expect her to win the US Presidency? Which brings me to number 3.

Three: Disingenuous

It seems like she is a very intelligent woman. I mean, magna cum laude from Harvard, then Harvard Medical, and eventually teaching at Harvard Med? Yes, I believe Jill Stein is extremely bright. And with her non-profit/activist background, I believe she really cares about the issues on her platform. What I don’t believe is that she cares about winning the election and actually being the President to enact change from the executive branch of government.

I think she’s a disruptor. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good disruptor (and past employers have called me one more than once), but come on. If you have never worked in a manufacturing plant, you don’t get hired to run the floor. If you’ve been a gardener and have worked with local restaurants to get them to use your organic produce, you don’t get hired to run the busiest dining room in town if you’ve never worked as a cook, bartender, or waitress.

Side note: I was a waitress for many years, and I’m not ashamed of it. I do not prefer the gender-neutral term server, as to me it sounds like servant. Which technically is accurate when you’re waiting on someone, but I can remember being a little girl and really wanting to be a waitress. Saying waiter for everyone (like actor) or waitron is fine, but I just really liked being a waitress. So I still use that word.

So if Stein is intelligent, which I’m taking as a given, then she knows this, too. And if she knows this, and is still running (vs the Green Party nominating someone who’s at least won a state election before), then she’s doing it as a disruption. And if she’s deliberately doing it as a disruption, and not because she really thinks she could win, then she is being disingenuous and is hurting this particular race.

Raising awareness for the Green Party? Sure. Reminding people that the two-party system is a giant suckfest? Hopefully. But actually getting anything done? Doesn’t seem like it. Get seats in Congress and the Senate and start changing laws, or start an actual revolution with some actual overthrowing going on (give me a position, show me where the ammunition is). Complaining that everyone else is corrupt and that you’re not getting a chance is not moving the needle.

Four: Twitter and Tone

Tone policing is a Thing. I’ve been tone policed, and been accused of tone policing. It’s one of those things (like the term public shaming) where I often feel like some people don’t really get the point of intention/protection/activism and think terms like tone policing and public shaming are really just socially acceptable ways of saying, “You said something I don’t like, and now I get to tell you you’re a bad person.” So I don’t want to tone police Jill Stein (or rather, the staff who are manning the social media accounts), but I will say that her tone has been pretty darn inconsistent and  at least one of those social media staffers has done a good job of alienating me.

Anger, I understand, and don’t begrudge. Name-calling, unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing, and spewing vitriolic meanness, on the other hand, I don’t want in a President. Diplomacy is part of the job! If it’s one of the things that makes me not like Donald Trump, it won’t endear someone else to me, even if I agree with them that public college being free would be amazing (completely free is not practical IMO, but that’s another story).

Calling Sanders an actual traitor for endorsing Clinton instead of joining Stein in the Green Party not only pissed me off, it showed how huge a difference there was between Bernie and Jill, though on paper many of their policy proposals aligned. When Bernie lost the nomination, he did the thing that would have the biggest impact toward his goals rather than choosing to focus on himself, and basically traded an endorsement of Clinton for some policy shifts on the Democratic platform. Why? Because he’s been in politics forever, and he knows how things get done.

And I’ll admit, if he’d decided to run as the Green Party candidate, or as an independent write-in candidate, I’d have voted for him, campaigned for him, and been super excited that my favorite candidate was with the party most closely aligned with my values. I wouldn’t have worried about splitting the vote, or wasting my vote, because I’d have believed he had a chance to win, and that he was capable of doing a great job. I don’t have that confidence with Jill Stein.

Five: Bernie Bros

I loved Bernie Sanders. LOVED, as a recent post laid out. Gave money, went to meetings, blah blah blah. What I HATED about the Sanders campaign was that he didn’t do more (or anything of substance, really) to denounce the language and actions of the Bernie Bros. A daily “not in my name” would have been a start. But since the current structure and format of politics means that I generally think all politicians are at least a little corrupt if they’re able to get anything done, there’s a baby/bathwater thing that requires us to choose candidates who present the best of the available options, rather than expecting any candidate to be our ideal person.

It’s one thing to decide not to put your energy into denouncing a contingent of jackasses. It’s another to court that contingent. Jill Stein’s actions during the DNC re recruiting the disaffected Bernie Bros has had my stomach turning. “Stop!” yells my stomach. “Please don’t add to the entitlement of those jerks and give them a platform!” At one point my stomach was yelling so loud I was forced to silence it with frozen mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.

This is not to say that I am happy with how things went down. I’m not. I think the existence of superdelegates is a straight up privilege/power structure meant to devalue the popular vote. I feel the same way about the whole electoral college system, truth be told. And you know what? At any point during his tenure in the house or the senate, Sanders could have introduced legislation to change the way the electoral college worked. He didn’t. He could have lobbied to change how the Democratic Party delegate system works — but wait. He was an Independent, not a Democrat, and didn’t have any leverage to change the Democrats. He was never a Democrat; he only joined their party so that if he could beat Clinton in the primary, he’d have Democrat money behind him in the general election. I loved that he sought out $15 donations from individuals vs Clinton’s $10,000/plate private fundraising dinners, but you know what? Even that’s not worth pinning anything on, because if Bernie had won the primary, he’d have taken all that Democratic Party money to fund the campaign against Trump without the blink of an eye. Including the money Clinton could raise on his behalf.

So the DNC walkouts and protests by Sanders supporters and Jill Stein’s contingent? Certainly their right, but kind of bullshit. The minute Bernie decided to run as a Democrat, he agreed to play by the existing Democratic Party policies. And he knew what those were — he’s been representing Vermont in DC for 35 years!! — even if many of his supporters did not. Bernie supporters walking out of the Democratic convention will do nothing to change the fact that Bernie didn’t win, and it won’t change policies. Deals and legislation will change policies. Jill Stein trying to get all the former Bernie supporters to not only join her but protest the DNC? Ugh. So wasteful. Anyone who really thought Bernie Sanders was the best person for the job should probably respect his opinion about who the next best choice is more than the opinion of a retired doctor who has never been elected to a statewide office, much less a national one.

Again, this comes down to the goals of our actions. When we protest (and I do love a good protest), in theory our goal is to change something, and the form of the protest is based on what will create change in the fastest, least harmful, and most sustainable fashion. Jill Stein’s campaign at this point, doesn’t live up to those things.

  • Fastest: Being elected President, if she could pull it off, would not be fast because the Congress and Senate make the laws, and she’d just get to sign or veto. Without strong connections in both parts of the legislature, she could not accomplish any of her grand plans. Bernie had those connections. Clinton has those connections. Stein does not, and Trump does not.
  • Least Harmful: Her lack of experience could cause harm. In my teens and early twenties I used to say things like, “If only mothers were allowed to be world leaders, there would be no war, ” or “If all world leaders were forced to get a full-body massage during international negotiations, there would be no war, because they would be so relaxed, how could they want to kill anyone?” What can I say, I thought the world had a lot of potential for peace and I had a lot of naive idealism. The fact is, the military is a beast, and if you don’t understand it, good luck leading it. Good luck with foreign leaders who think you’re a rube. Good luck making decisions that are completely outside your frame of reference. This is an important job, and experience is needed. When the job is cutting hair, if the worst thing that could happen is that your bangs are crooked, it’s not that big a deal — yet you still need a cosmetology degree to apply for the job. When we are talking about running/representing one of the most powerful nations in the world…well. Stein was a doctor. Would she have let someone who had belonged to a number of parent advocacy groups but had never gone to medical school step into the operating room to open up her patients?
  • Most Sustainable: The most sustainable things would be to kill the two-party system, enact ranked choice voting, and basically rewrite the rules of the electoral system. The President doesn’t get to do that. No matter what Jefferson sings in Hamilton (“You know what? We can change that! You know why? Because I’m the President.”), changes to the electoral process start in the legislature. So the most sustainable thing would be for the Green Party to run viable candidates in all the congressional and senate races and get a bunch of seats before focusing on the presidency, and start changing the rules.

As for splitting the vote, there are two ways to look at it. One is the Gore argument. That by introducing a second liberal choice for president, you split the liberal vote, and risk a right-wing extremist winning the office. I definitely remember what happened in 2000, and I remember that there were some things about the Florida election that were under hard scrutiny when 9/11 happened and then suddenly it was “unpatriotic” to question the election results anymore because we “needed to be united” under our sitting President (George W. Bush), regardless of the validity of the election that put him in that seat. A number of people have written about their choice to vote Nader in that election, and how if Gore had gotten those votes instead he’d have won. While there is no proof that that’s true —a lot of people didn’t like Gore, some of those Nader folks might have voted for Bush, some might have chosen not to vote at all, and in any case election fraud might have just declared a few more hanging chads — I know that the final numbers showed us that math is a real, provable thing. Nader’s votes were significantly more than the votes Gore lost by in states like NH and FL (winning either state would have changed the outcomes).

screenshot of 2000 Florida vote tallies screenshot showing 2000 US presidential election results for New Hampshire


I don’t want there to be even a microspeck of possibility that my choices contribute to a Trump presidency. And that means lining up behind the candidate that can beat him. Every vote will be important this time around. I don’t consider this “voting from a place of fear” as some people have started labeling it. I consider it understanding the system we have and making the choices most likely to contribute to the outcomes I want.

The other side of the splitting-the-vote argument is that no one is “owed” votes just because they are liberal or conservative, and that people should vote for the candidate they feel will do the best job. I do believe this. I just don’t believe Jill Stein would do the best job. I do believe she has beliefs that align most closely with mine, but I don’t think she has the experience or skills to turn those beliefs into reality through government action. Which is a bummer.

I’d love to vote for a Green presidential candidate, someone I’d have called a True Blue choice back in the day. But the truth is, if the presidency had a hiring process like regular jobs rather than being a popularity contest on par with the 9th grade yearbook votes for “Best Dressed,” Jill Stein wouldn’t even make it past the first resume screening.

It’s time for us to remember that the presidency is a job, not a yearbook contest. (This goes for Trump supporters, too, obviously!) The person who wins doesn’t just get bragging rights, they have to do a really hard, complicated, and specific job for the next four years. So vote for the person you’d hire if you were looking at applications with relevant work experience, professional references, and the ability to command respect from others on the team, not for the person you’d most like to have a drink with. That person? Just go ahead and have a drink with them. [Insert lyric about Burr’s approachability and grabbing a beer with him from “The Election of 1800” from Hamilton here.]

Hillary Clinton is, for many of the people who were hoping for a Bernie Sanders presidency, more of a Greenback Green choice. Just as biomass does create pollution and hydro does negatively impact fish and wildlife, a Clinton presidency has causes for concern if you care about things like who’s funding their election, relationships to big banks, international policies, trade deals, and all the things Sanders called her out on during the primaries. However, there’s a lot of solar in there, too. Protection for women’s health rights, LGBT folks (yes, I know she was late to the party, but she’s here now), disability rights, and a bunch of other issues that us lefties really care about. And not just us lefties. Support for autistic people and families rather than relentlessly searching for a cure. Making super-wealthy people (including herself!) pay a higher share of income tax and getting rid of corporate tax loopholes. Can she really do this? Only if we also win control the house and senate with lefties, so I hope so, but am not holding my breath. But I know that although I hate the status quo on a lot of things, I’d rather see the status quo continue than see Trump and the republicans REDUCE taxes on super-wealthy people and corporations (not to mention all the racist stuff, which I won’t even start on in this post). This is the case on a lot of her positions — she could only succeed with them if the legislature wanted to, but without her there is no chance they will succeed in the next four years.

So, no to the Green Party. Yes to the Greenback Green: Hillary Clinton has my vote.

Note: This post was going to only be about Jill Stein; I want to write about Hillary Clinton separately, but I just couldn’t declare “No Stein” without offering an alternate choice. 

* They would later drop the “Company” from the name and follow my old boss (a pinch hitter brought in from Tivoli, iirc)  to Austin. The Green Mountains are in Vermont, and that boss guy was tired of flying back and forth every week. They were afraid to try actual remote working. Some visionaries. Austin does not have Green Mountains, for the record. Bonus trivia: this same guy, the pinch hitter brought in to take over the web team, didn’t know what an information architect was, and decided a better, more descriptive title was Online Customer Advocate. It always made me think of being able to zap into internet space — like Thursday Next could enter bookspace — and sidle up to customers and take them into court appearances as their public defender. Cue Matlock-esque fantasy sequences. My brain is weird.
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Election Day, Primary Edition

Multnomah county primary nominating ballot with blue "Birdie" Bernie Sanders campaign sticker

It’s Oregon primary time, and today or maybe Monday I’m casting my ballot.

Multnomah county primary nominating ballot with blue "Birdie" Bernie Sanders campaign sticker

What? Isn’t the whole point of an Election Day that it’s one day, so it all happens at once and what happens earlier can’t influence what happens later?  To that I say, “Ha.” The primary in general is ridiculous — a traveling circus of states that lasts half a year!

From Iowa in February to California in June, it’s one long drawn out “what happened yesterday decides what needs to happen tomorrow” roadshow based on an era before we had such things as airplanes, cell phones (hell, phones at all!), and the internet. It doesn’t take 6 months to address the whole country these days, and there is no good reason for primary season to last this long. All the money that we spend on contributing to political campaigns, if put instead toward the programs the candidates promote, could fund a lot of  programs. About $350 million has been reported* in spending so far in 2016 (view by candidate). And primary season isn’t even over yet — then we start on the spending for a general election in November. In 2012, about $2.4 billion was spent on the race between Obama and Romney. Mark Jaquith wrote a post back then pitching how we could improve elections that I liked, though it wouldn’t solve it all. Anyway, we really need election reform. Which brings me to voting and to this tweet that I saw this morning:

Making Election Day a national holiday wouldn’t work. The people who don’t have enough schedule flexibility to vote on a single day currently are working class people — the same people who always have to work on Labor Day and other national holidays because they work in non-unionized service-based jobs and don’t actually get the day off. In fact, based on sales and tourism, many of these jobs get extra staff added on Labor Day (a cruel irony given the intent of a “workingmen’s holiday”).

And even if they shut down the whole country except for election booths (which would obviously be impossible, but let’s pretend just for the length of these couple of sentences), it still wouldn’t work. No one would run even a 5-question survey on the internet for just one day — across the board with surveys it’s a couple of weeks to ensure people have time to learn about it, to be reminded to do it, and to actually do it. Sure, you get the bulk of responses when you first open the voting, but the trail over the next couple of weeks, including the surge at the end before the deadline, makes up a significant chunk of responses. Now why is that okay? Because the results aren’t made public until the voting period closes. Ongoing publicized “returns” aren’t the norm, so as not to influence later votes. We can do this with voting.

With a vote by mail system like Oregon has, you get a ballot in the mail (this has some issues when it comes to the homeless population and to peripatetic wanderers, but those are solvable) and you have a couple of weeks to turn it back in, either by mail or in person. In this case, if I wanted to mail in the ballot, I would have needed to get it into the mail by yesterday, May 12, and since I didn’t, I’ll need to drop it off at any dropbox between now and election day. On election day, the dropbox location turns into a voting center for the day. Mine is the neighborhood branch library, located on a major street on a major busline, making it an easy stop for someone on their way to work at Fred Meyer (for example) if they didn’t get around to mailing it. I will say that I think the ballots should be no postage required… getting stamps is a hurdle for a lot of people.

But this system works. Sort of. For someone who wants to vote, it’s easy. You have enough time to research candidates if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s no long line or anxiety-causing crowd. You have a couple of weekends to do it. It’s about the least effort per vote there could be, short of making it an online survey someone could do on their phone. For people who don’t really care about voting, or who don’t open the mail because of anxiety, it’s less effective, but realistically those people probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to go to a voting booth — and in any case, they still have that option on election day. And they simply don’t reveal the votes until the end, just like with a survey. So you can vote at the beginning or you can vote at the end, and it makes no difference, since no one knows how each precinct is skewing along the way. You can even register online to track the mailed ballot to ensure they receive it. We should adopt this system nationally. Oregon has plenty of problems, not to mention a horrendously racist history, but it’s got the best voting system as far as I’m concerned. (Coincidentally, it was also the first state to adopt Labor Day as a holiday.)

So I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. I think Hillary Clinton is entirely capable — before Bernie entered the race I was planning to support her, and if she wins the nomination I will — but Bernie Sanders is just a lot closer to my values. He also doesn’t really have that politician flip-flop thing, which Clinton does. I loved him as my VT representative, and then as my VT senator, and he’s just the best. Pretty old, and a white guy, which gives me some Feelings that are less comfortable, but my gosh, of all the old white guys in the world that we could put in the white house, he is The One. You know, because Stephen Fry isn’t even American. :)

*Speaking of reporting money, if you haven’t heard of dark money, it’s worth a quick primer.

End of an Era (for me)

On Friday I’ll be leaving my job at Automattic, and my position in the WordPress community. I’ve poured my life into WordPress for 8 years, longer than I’ve ever stuck around at anything else, and it will be super weird to lose a job, a social circle, and an all-encompassing everything all at once. But while this wasn’t a change I had planned on (well, only planned for 3 weeks, anyway) I know that it will be better for me.

For the next month I am going to focus on getting my health in shape under my doctor’s care — it went to hell during my a8c tenure for various reasons — and figuring out what I need to do to go back and finish up the degree I was a month from obtaining before I walked away from it to work on the prototype that would become WordPress 2.7. Also, I’ll finally rip up the invasive plants in my yard and put in a garden and some native plants. And I’ll keep doing acupuncture. I’ll probably start writing again. Practice Spanish. Maybe re-learn how to play the guitar enough for a backyard singalong or two.

After that, we’ll see. Maybe a new ux or product challenge. Maybe something different. Maybe leave tech altogether. I’m not really going to think about it much until a month has passed, because I don’t want to jump into something else right away and perpetuate the same overwork patterns I developed over the last 8 years. Habits take time to break. I might take some of that time to write up some of the thoughts I never got around to publishing while I was on the job or to answer any questions that I get asked more than once. Or I might just sit outside feeding stray cats. Who knows?

My email address will not work anymore. If you want to reach me and don’t have my personal email address, you can use the contact form on this site or @jenmylo on Twitter. If you’re a “But I want proof we are connected!” person, I’m on LinkedIn. If you’re a Facebook junkie, I really don’t use it — it gets my Twitter feed but I don’t monitor comments on Facebook or anything like that. I should really just turn off the Twitter feed, probably. So many things to think about when everything changes! Hey, and now I can update my gravatar when my hair changes color, since I won’t be going to WordCamps where I want people to recognize me from online. Maybe I’ll do that next week. Maybe I should pick a new color first. Or go back to purple. So many decisions!

Anyway, to everyone in the WordPress community who enriched my life in some way over the past 8 years, thank you, and maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime. If you’re ever in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and want to get a chai or Ethiopian food or come feed a stray cat in the backyard, let me know!

Take Me to Church (Part I)

When the local radio station started playing Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” last year, I would hear it in the car, and I liked it. It seemed like a pretty simple song about the conflict between the spiritual experience of sex with someone you love and the rules against premarital sex by the singer’s religion. At some point around then I looked him up and saw an interview in which he described the meaning of the song as it pertained to conflict between religion and sexuality, and specifically related it to being gay and in the Catholic church. He seemed really genuine, and I liked both the song and the artist even more, even if I did think it was a little weird for a man to be singing about a “she” lover if he meant it be about being gay in the church. Then I watched the video — basically a short film about gay male lovers and what happens to them when they’re discovered in their religious town — and I saw how despite the lyrics sounding hetero, they could be applied to the gay couple depicted in the video.

The video is hard to watch because this kind of hateful violence isn’t a relic of a past — gay-bashing is still a real thing, despite the recent Supreme Court decision in the U.S. to uphold marriage as a right rather than a sexuality-based privilege — and for anyone who’s studied American history, the visual similarities to lynch mobs in the south will be stomach-turning, especially with all the racial violence going on in our country today. Still, it’s a powerful four minutes, and worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Then came the Grammy Awards this year, where he performed the song live and was joined at the end by Annie Lennox (who many said gave a better bluesy rendition, but I like them both). Unfortunately the official Grammy video seems to have been removed but I found a copy. Annie Lennox comes in just after the 2 minute mark, cued up here (and then goes into “I Put a Spell on You”):

When they were singing it, even though though it was past the part of the song where “she” and “her” are in the lyrics, it made me think about how it would sound for a woman to sing this song about another woman (or a man, using he/him instead of she/her).

And then I saw a live cover of the song by Demi Lovato. I couldn’t name you a single one of her songs, but wow. Not only does she sing it beautifully (though I think I like Hozier’s version better overall), it makes so much more sense to interpret as being about gay relationships vs religion when the song about a woman lover is sung by a woman!

You might be wondering why I’ve just posted three “Take Me to Church” videos. Yes, I like the song, but also, church is on my mind, and I’ll tell you why in the Part II post. Stay tuned.

Since 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Vermont without a tv, and was splitting my morning between working on a website I was building as a freelancer and working on a shooting schedule for an independent film I was getting ready to produce. I got a call from Melissa, a costume designer that I had become friends with and who was working on the film planning with me, and she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I was pretty sure she’d gotten it wrong — she had a tendency toward confusion — but a google search later I was heading to her house to watch.

19 hijackers killed 2,977 people. That number includes 343 fire fighters and 72 law enforcement officers.

We (and at this point it becomes a very loose “we” as I did not support the decision or wave a flag at the vigil in the square) went to war again on the other side of the world (where honestly we’d been hovering around without license for some time), and vowed to kill Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader we targeted as masterminding the attacks (he didn’t actually take credit for it until 2004). He was finally killed in 2011. I won’t get into all the other things that happened in the U.S. as a result of the attacks, like George Bush’s approval rating soaring to 90% and the declaration that the presidential ballot recount had to be abandoned, because in such a time of national trial, we couldn’t possibly handle a change in leadership, or like the Homeland Security Act that started the sneaky process of stripping us of freedoms.

By October we’d begun the (American) War in Afghanistan, with some troops working under the auspices of NATO and others acting under U.S. guidance only. We still have troops there, and 2,229 US military were killed in the conflict, with another 18,675 wounded. Numbers vary on how many Afghan civilians have been killed, with various non-profits putting the number anywhere from 21,000 to 107,000, with a significant portion killed by insurgents rather than invading military. Even assuming a 75% rate for kills by insurgents, that still puts us at anywhere from 5,250 – 42,500 Afghan civilians killed by invading forces.

Then we moved on to Iraq. I think most of us remember the rousing headlines as Bush declared it was necessary because they had Weapons of Mass Destruction including biological agents that fed our science fiction fears. And then the report saying that well, maybe not, and that they knew better, but the war was still righteous, right? I can’t even start listing the numbers of dead without getting stomach cramps. And it all stems back to that one morning, when 2,229 people were killed by a terrorist group — not a nation or a government, but a specific group of radicals.

This year alone, U.S. police have killed more than 800 people (not counting people killed after they’re in custody). In previous years, hundreds more (each year). We don’t have to go back more than  couple of years to see that U.S. police have killed more American citizens than the 9/11 attacks. But where is the war on the police status quo? Why is our government not responding to this clear sign of abuse of power, poor training, and racism (as an overwhelming number of the people being killed are African-American)? Why isn’t Obama getting up at his podium and instead of saying sad things about how awful this is and how it has to change, saying something like, “Y’all are DONE. Effective immediately, Homeland Security is amending its mission to focus on defending the rights and lives of citizens from unlawful acts including search and seizure, unlawful detainment, improper arrest, being beaten by police, and oh yeah — getting killed by the motherfucking cops. Until this change can be fully implemented and all police forces undergo a national review, specially trained National Guard members will be supplementing police forces and will have full authority to fire and arrest any officers or related officials such as medical examiners, sheriffs, DAs, etc. who’ve been abusing the trust and power granted them by the U.S. people. That goes for corrupt cops, too, y’all. Okay, now I have to go back to trying to figure out this Iran deal. Behave!” (In this little fantasy sequence, Obama says “y’all” a lot and admonishes everyone to behave, like a mother leaving her kids alone when she goes into the kitchen to make dinner.)

I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.

In the meantime, check out Campaign Zero. Follow some people on Twitter who are keeping up with this stuff and making it easy for you to be informed (and horrified) on a daily basis. When you hear someone responding to #BlackLivesMatter with racist rhetoric or an announcement that #AllLivesMatter, set those people straight about what is going on in our country, and let them know that although they are positive they aren’t racist because they have a black friend/girlfriend/spouse/etc, they’re wrong. Explain about privilege. Use yours to try and balance the scales where you see injustice, whether it’s race-related or not.

And yes, take a moment today to remember the people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and the soldiers who died fighting in the wars (they’re not the ones who decided we should go, after all). But take another moment to think about all the people we have killed in those wars since then (take a few moments, since the number is so much higher). And think about the people killed by the police right here at home, and their families, and the lost possibilities. Maybe today can just be a sad day, once you start adding up all those moments.

But tomorrow? Please start paying more attention (if you already do, great!), and speaking up, and doing what you can to effect change in your own way. When we don’t speak up when we see bad things happen or people saying something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/all-the-bad-isms, it implies we approve, and encourages the continuation of that behavior. It’s uncomfortable to bring up, for both the person pointing it out and the person on the receiving end (I’ve been in both positions), but it makes things better in the long run.

Of course with climate change it may all be irrelevant, but we might as well give it a shot just in case we live, right? :)

Folk Music Hopscotch

You know how you go to look something up online and you wind up on Wikipedia, and by the time you have clicked links from one article to another, hours have gone by? (If not: that happens to me more often than I’d like.) Yesterday through today has been a similar kind of one-to-another hopscotch, but this time with music on youtube. I used to be pretty into folk music in my late teens/early 20s, and this was a revisit that reminded my why I enjoyed it so much.

I started with Buffy Sainte Marie, because I’m taking a class on Urban Natives and being a better ally and in some of my research I came across a great interview with her in Vanity Fair. It mentioned that her new record includes a remix of a song from her first, which made me want to hear that original version again.

“It’s My Way” came out in 1964, right around the time the Beatles landed in the U.S. She’s 74 now, and in addition to making music in a bunch of genres, she has been an amazing activist.

From there I went on to Buffy Saint Marie’s appearance on Pete Seeger’s TV show Rainbow Quest in 1965, singing “Cindy” as a duet.

This made me start thinking about Pete Seeger (look how young he was!) and his amazing career, which also blended music with social justice work. Then I started thinking about Americana, bluegrass, and country music. This is country music to me; despite taking guilty pleasure in watching Nashville, most of that music seems more like indie stuff or pop of one stripe or another.

I got a copy of Rise Up Singing back in 1988 when it came out, the first summer I worked at the ADK Loj. I was 16 and had never been to the mountains, had never been to camp, had never really been around people with liberal politics (I was a Reagan supporter like the rest of my family then), and had never, well, just about anything. The illicit Winds of the People was used at campfire singalongs after work, and when Rise Up Singing came out we all bought copies to support the cause (and to have more copies of the songbook).

The first recording I had of Pete Seeger was on a mix tape the following summer, back at ADK Loj again. A mix tape for the kitchen crew contained “Darling Corey,” sandwiched between songs by Michelle Shocked and Tracy Chapman, iirc.

Thinking of Pete Seeger, I was reminded of his death last year, about 6 months after his wife Toshi. That made me pull up and play the memorial concert that was put on after his death, outside at Lincoln Center.

If you’ve ever seen A Mighty Wind, it’s kind of like that, but real, and more diverse, and with all the musicians really committed to social justice. Some of the singers have amazing vocal talents, while others warble a bit. Many have grown old, but the younger generations are there as well, because Pete and Toshi Seeger were basically like the glue of the folk/music for social change community.

Pete Seeger wrote way more songs that you’d recognize than you would ever guess.

The final performer in the memorial concert is Holly Near, who I first listened to in 1990 (yet another summer at ADK Loj). By that point I was ordering feminist folk music and other CDs by women from a newsprint catalog called Ladyslipper. Ladyslipper is how I came across Holly Near, Mercedes Sosa, Sweet Honey in the Rock, k.d. lang, Clannad (and Enya), Alix Dobkin, Ferron, Ani DiFranco, Joan Armatrading, Buffy Sainte Marie (!), Alison Krauss, Melissa Etheridge, Lucinda Williams, Phranc, and Sarah McLachlan. Also the excellent compilation Will the Circle be Unbroken Vol. II, which in turn introduced me to even more singers that walked the line between folk and country and bluegrass.

It’s weird to think about how different music discovery was then, how getting an album from a catalog sight unseen was so normal… these days I rarely buy anything without listening to a sample or two online. It’s also weird to think that if someone linked me to the Ladyslipper site today, I would be really unlikely to buy anything because it looks kind of cheesy/not up to date and doesn’t have any descriptions. My memories of getting the new Ladyslipper catalog are so much warmer — hand-drawn illustrations and oovy-groovy woman-positive imagery graced the pages packed the CD listings (now that I think about it, just as inexpertly as on the website, just a lot cooler), and I would devote an entire afternoon to leafing through it and placing an order when it arrived.

By the time the memorial concert was over I had cried at least 4 times. That got me thinking about the power of songs and lyrics and other music that was equally powerful, and I started thinking about Crosby, Stills & Nash. Also, since Judy Collins had opened the tribute, I wanted to hear Suite Judy Blue Eyes. I wound up on a live version from 2012, 43 years after they first released it.

That led to the 1991 concert they did as a tribute to Bill Graham in San Francisco.

Their lyrics are just amazing.

Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.

When I think about the lyrics in most of the indie pop/rock I have listened to the past 15 years or so, I have to wonder how much of it will hold up or be relevant in 40 years. Not so much, I think. I mean, I do give a fuck about an oxford comma,

but that sentiment isn’t exactly a timeless piece of universal truth, you know?

While on the amazing lyricist train, I had to play the concert in Central Park by Simon and Garfunkel from 1981.

Then I went back to the Pete Seeger memorial concert and listened to the part where  Peter Yarrow  led a singalong of Down by the Riverside and If I Had a Hammer.

Even if you never heard of Peter Yarrow, or Pete Seeger, or Kim & Reggie Harris, or Holly Near, or Judy Collins, or any of the rest of the performers, if that segment doesn’t touch you, you are made of ice. I think I’m going back to folk music.

Cell Phones, Engagement, & Disconnection

My cell phone runs out of juice all the time, and I don’t realize it until those moments when I need to call/text someone or when I need to hit up Google Authenticator for 2fa. When I’m out and about, I use it as a computer mostly for things like looking up something that came up in conversation that we can’t quite remember. I don’t have notifications set for all the sites and email accounts and slack channels and stuff that bombard me when I am on my laptop. I usually feel (because of the things people in the tech community say to me when they see me so blasé about mobile availability and my resistance to enabling all the push notifications) like a lone wolf luddite in a forest of cell-addicted people. When friends or colleagues constantly break eye contact to check their phones sitting on the tables in front of them I think it is super rude (though I also think it is an actual addiction and they don’t do it any more consciously than someone else might bite their nails). So I really loved this article today. I’m not a lone wolf luddite! :)

Go ahead and write off 20 percent of your day. You’re going to spend it gazing into your phone.

Even when we’re not actually using our phones, they still distract. A recent study found that performance on basic tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby.

“Engagement” is a common business goal for the design of so many websites, apps, and services. We lure people in and try to figure out how to get them to stay. We tell ourselves that our goal is to “delight” users, but I think we’ve lost the thread of what the word actually means. We seem to think it means keeping people distracted and busy. When you say “engagement,” I now hear “theft of attention.”

Read the full article: Connected // Disconnected.

This is Depressing: A Tale of Mental Health (or Not)

I tried to kill myself when I was 7.

Being 7, my options were limited, so I went with something I’d overheard some adults discussing (related to an distant family member) and thought jumping out of a window was the best plan, since I had access to a window. My bedroom was on the second floor, with a casement window right next to the Barbie townhouse with the string-operated elevator.

Since it was the kind commonly called an awning window, with the hinge on the top edge and the crank arm at the bottom right in the middle of the window opening (which wasn’t very big to begin with), a dramatic leap wasn’t an option.

This is the kind of window I’m talking about:

awning window, opened

An awning window with the same style crank arm and about the same opening as the window in this story. Photo from Greatland Windows.

I squeezed my skinny little body through the opening while holding on to the crank arm. But then instead of a fast leap to a quick and easy death as I’d imagined it, I found myself dangling from the crank arm. That was kind of scary, and I reconsidered for a minute or so. I was a champion at the arm hang back then, which came in handy in this instance, but the crank arm was digging into my hands and I eventually let go and fell to the ground.

Nothing happened. The house wasn’t all that tall, the 2nd story was really just a finished attic, and the window in question was at floor level, so the drop was probably only about 10 feet. For a moment I thought that as a consolation prize maybe I’d broken my leg or ankle and would get a cast out of it (a classmate had a cast around that time and everyone was signing it, which I thought was cool), but no. I limped — my ankle did kind of hurt from how I fell on it — over to the restaurant bar where my mother was working (we lived in the house directly behind, as she was the manager) and told her I’d fallen out the window. I was informed that if I was walking I was fine. She handed me the soda gun and said I could make a suicide (the combine-all-the-sodas drink that was in vogue with me and my brothers and friends) to make myself feel better. Ah, the unintended irony. I drank my Pepsi + 7-up + Root Beer + Orange + Dr. Pepper + Tonic and decided that maybe things weren’t so bad and I could stick it out a while longer.*

A few weeks later at my grandmother’s house I decided to try again. I went into the bathroom and read the labels on all the cleaning products in the cabinet. I chose the aerosol can of Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, aimed it at the back of my throat, and pressed the button. A tiny bit of mist came out, but the can was empty. I was aggravated for two reasons:

  1. Suicide denied.
  2. Who puts an empty container away instead of throwing it out?

After that I got a steak knife from her kitchen and went back to the bathroom and tried cutting my wrists (I watched a lot of soap operas with my grandmother, so I was sure this method would be effective). It was as I was sawing back and forth (my grandmother’s steak knives were, I now realize, exceptionally dull), having just barely broken the skin and gotten a drop or two of blood — from abrasion rather than opening an artery — that my grandmother caught me. Oh, was I in trouble.

  1. How did I think it would make her feel to discover my dead body? It would kill her! I don’t get to kill myself! I have to live! It’s not my right to hurt other people just because my life is hard!**
  2. Had I learned nothing from General Hospital? To slit your wrists you cut lengthwise on the artery, not crosswise, or it will clot up too fast for you to die from it. Come on!

This interaction is the reason that despite later occurrences of depression in my life, including several straight years recently of lying in bed thinking about how much easier it would be to be dead (thanks, depression brain!), I have never seriously considered taking that exit route despite its attractiveness (to the aforementioned depressed brain, not to my logical mind). For me, guilt is stronger than depression.

What does that have to do with my life now?

I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. For the past 10 years or so, I have suffered from severe chronic depression with anxiety. About 4 of the past five years that depression included constant suicidal ideation. The early trauma that made a 7-year-old — think about that, 7 years old — believe that life was not worth living because it all hurt too much laid groundwork in my brain that would punish me the rest of my life. Thanks, neurology!

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m sharing my story because knowing you are not alone helps.

In my late teens and 20s, I would have a major depressive episode every couple of years, each lasting 1-3 weeks. I’d hole up and hide from the world, and re-read all my favorite books until it passed, the same escape/coping mechanism I’d used as a child. It wasn’t enjoyable, but I was under the impression that it was normal, never having known anything different, and was just sort of used to it.

In between episodes, I was relatively shy/introverted, but generally happy and cheerful. I had left my hometown and the socio-economic tier of my childhood, and I felt pretty damn lucky and fortunate. I had tons of energy. Andrea (who’s known me for more than 20 years) and I sometimes compare the me of today to the me of when we met and struggle to understand how/why the brain does what it does. Back then, if our coworkers were sitting around looking bored I would just start jumping as high as I could, until everyone was jumping and laughing and having fun. These days, I need an external reason of some importance (an event, a meeting, an obligation that requires my presence) to get me to do much other than work from my bed. It basically sucks.

So, depression. To explain what it feels like, I tend to point to other people who’ve done a good job of explaining what I have felt. Reading/seeing/hearing their accounts has helped me tremendously in my own battle.

I identify with most of what they are all saying.

I’m not sad. I’m not bummed out. When I was 7? I was definitely sad, and definitely bummed out. Not to mention constantly in fear and pain with what felt like zero stability. Today? I have a life that objectively speaking is really pretty great. I don’t have a lot of things that deserve worry. I am, however, chock full of depression and anxiety. Because depression is a “mental illness,” there is a huge stigma around admitting to it, especially for  people who get a lot of their self-worth from being intelligent. The hazy lines between intelligence and emotions and matter-of-fact brain science make it difficult to discuss comfortably, especially once words with multiple meanings come into play. So, I’m depressed — severely, clinically, according to docs — but I’m not sad, or bummed out. My brain, in this specific way, doesn’t work the way it’s expected to work, not anymore. This post is scary to be writing and will be even scarier to publish, but being a little brave on my own behalf is probably good for me, and hopefully it might help someone else who is struggling.

What happened ten or so years ago that caused such an extended bout with depression? Who knows? There was the scooter accident that broke my face and gave me a concussion (concussion increases risk of depression). A couple of years later I moved back to the east coast, closer to my family. I went back to agency work, which required more hours and travel than my publishing job had. My metabolism changed and I started gaining weight despite going up and down the stairs to my fifth-floor walkup all the time. My stepfather got cancer and I helped to take care of him during his treatment even though he’d been an abusive drunk who destroyed my self-esteem during my adolescent and teen years, and then he died. My friend — oh wait. Yeah, that whole help-your-abuser-and-watch-him-die thing was probably the trigger. Damn brain.

Anyway, I stopped going out socially for the most part. I bought a tv for work (we had a lot of network clients and I had to be familiar with their shows during pitch meetings), and fell into the habit of lying in bed staring at the screen, watching DVD box sets I bought at the Virgin megastore on my way home from work. I put less energy into staying in touch with friends because I didn’t feel like I had anything valuable to contribute to my relationships (the friends I had were super cool and impressive, whereas I had devolved from similarly cool and impressive to worthless potato). When I had to go to a meeting or conference for work, I’d just remember how I used to be and feel and would try to act like that even though I didn’t feel that way.

Then I went to work for a distributed company, and lost the sole thing that forced me out of my apartment and to interact with people. I became a  hermit, mostly venturing out only for WordCamps, where I would again just try to remember what I used to be like in social situations and act like that. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I failed. Sometimes I had to bail because the depression and anxiety were unconquerable that day. 99% of my interactions were conducted in text online. Having stepped into a position that was contentious in some circles, I was abused by strangers online who had issues with my boss and saw me as an acceptable proxy. Every mean comment chopped away at my self-esteem, even when I knew logically that I was a symbol to them, not a real person. I was a woman in a mostly-male environment, with all that brings. I lost some of my niceness as I tried to protect myself more. The first few years I managed okay (or so I thought), with only an abrupt tone or  sometimes flarey temper to give me away. But.

Then I lost a relationship with one of my best friends. This person hadn’t told me along the way that I’d been changing or behaving unlike the me that was their friend, so when they said one day that they didn’t like me anymore and that I was unpleasant to be around, so we weren’t going to be good friends anymore because they’d been faking it for awhile (jeez, does this sound like an overdone breakup scene or what?) it more or less destroyed me.

The already severe chronic depression intensified, and I had a harder and harder time getting up in the morning. You know the lead aprons they put on you at the dentist when you get x-rays? I felt like I was wearing 3 or 4 full-body lead aprons all the time. It was physical, not just psychological or emotional anymore. It made it really hard to fight it with things that used to help — exercise, eating healthy food, etc. — because I didn’t have the energy to do those things. So I just stayed in bed most of the time working on my laptop, unless I was required to physically be somewhere.

During this time the death thoughts moved in. Not in a “I want to kill myself!” way; my grandmother’s guilt trip about what suicide does to the family was as deeply ingrained in my psyche as the early trauma that kept getting re-triggered. My variation of suicidal ideation was more like lying there and just thinking about how much nicer/easier it would be to not exist anymore. If I wasn’t concerned abut my mother and niece having to deal with my death, I’d have done something about it. The belief that being dead would be better than being alive with depression was so strong that when people I knew and admired killed themselves (attributed to depression) my gut reaction was “Good for them! They made it! I wish I was as brave as them!” I knew logically that their deaths were tragedies, that the world was a lesser place without them, all those things, but I didn’t have normal feelings anymore. My fish were dead.

I have skipped over a lot in this narrative. How I did a lot of emotional work  in my twenties to get past my childhood trauma. Unsuccessful (and frankly, re-traumatizing) attempts at getting help from doctors of western medicine. How the sudden appearance of anxiety caused me to fuck up tons of things, throw money away, and generally not make smart decisions. How the OCD that sprang up in the suicidal/bedridden years meant I was typing and mousing on a laptop for 12-18 hours a day sometimes, causing nerve damage in my arms/wrists/hands. More relationships that died because I wasn’t me anymore.

But there’s also good stuff. The people and things that really did help some during my time “in the pit” — especially the people willing to be true friends and confront me about how I was acting as I fell further and further in, rather than just bailing on our friendship and leaving me to continue being a miserable wreck. Finally finding some help that worked in the form of a naturopath who put me on some stuff that got rid of the suicidal ideation in about 2 days. Not 4-6 weeks — 2 days. Acupuncture helping to keep me on a more even keel. Starting a bluehackers chat room at work for support among co-workers dealing with similar issues. And more stuff.

But there you have it, the very personal, mostly embarrassing/humiliating story of how my brain — which I once loved as my greatest asset — has betrayed me over the years, how I’ve experienced depression, and how you, if you are dealing with this, are not alone.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you are considering suicide, please don’t do it. If you don’t have friends and family that can guilt you into staying alive, think about my grandmother! If you don’t have someone you can talk to, call the national suicide prevention lifeline. (When they start calling it a lifeline instead of a hotline? I am so old.)

If you work in open source/technology and suffer from depression, you might check out bluehackers. It’s awesome. If you attend conferences like OS Bridge or OSCON, look for BOF sessions to connect with others in similar straits.

Consider posting your own experiences to help fight the stigma. I’ve had a draft of this post in WordPress for two years. It is scary to tell your secrets, knowing that there are a lot of crappy people out there who will approach you with judgment rather than empathy. To those who are feeling pretty judgy right about now, I can only say that I didn’t choose this. No one does. And quite frankly, I’ve accomplished a fuckload of stuff in the past 10 years that has been beneficial to others, even if on a personal level I was the equivalent of a bitchy vegetable. So if anyone is judging me and other people who deal with this crap, they can take a hike, and they suck.

If you just want to say to someone, “This is crap and I’m dealing with it, too,” without getting into details, drop a comment here or shoot me an email. Connecting with others who deal with this stuff has been huge in helping me dig myself out of the patterns; maybe it will help you, too.

* I’ve told this story before, leaving out the suicidal intent, claiming I was after the cast. That wasn’t why I jumped from the window, it was an afterthought after I landed. Guess what? People don’t like to talk about how they tried to commit suicide or how they’re dealing with mental illness because then people look at you funny and treat you weird and you feel ashamed and embarrassed and you regret saying anything. Welcome to stigma!

** My grandmother’s brother blew his brains out with a gun. Even though she loved me and I’m sure her demands that I stay alive came from a good place — and they did keep me alive — I wonder how much of that reaction was a more selfish thing. Did seeing me with the steak knife trigger her and remind her of losing her brother? She’s dead, so I can’t ask, but I do wonder. Trauma affects so many people.