better than this

I wrote this post last night, in a blur of exhaustion and anger. My emotions and thoughts about it continue to grow and evolve hourly. None of this is uncomplicated.

Today I led a program called Outdoor Ed Days for fifth graders in a large native prairie. When I wasn’t teaching, I had twenty-minute chunks in which I wandered a mowed path, observing the other presenters, taking photos, making sure everyone was safe and accounted for.

I did the same thing on Tuesday and I was focused, I was on top of everything. Today, though, I felt unsettled. I kept walking to a midpoint on the path, a limbo space between educational stations where I was hidden by the over-my-head golden grasses and purple asters, out of sight of the students and teachers. There, I crouched with my back to the bee-buzzing, still-strong plants to pull out my phone. And I looked at the news.

The inimitable, the brave Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate today. So did Brett Kavanaugh. Also there was a lot of news about Trump spouting nonsense and purposeful lies and downright evil shit about women at his UN speech and later press conference. And meanwhile, a lot of strong, smart, loving women I know were posting online about how fucking hard this all is, because it forced them to re-live and remember the fucking awful shit they’ve lived through, the people that haven’t listened to them, the things they’ve had to make a call not to say out loud.

I haven’t read it all. I’m not all caught up. There’s more research and article-reading to be done, and some accounts of long testimony to wade through – but I can’t stop thinking about all of this shit, so I write to process.

Last weekend I was out with some very dear, very smart friends. We started talking about Keith Ellison (our democratic rep, an African-American Muslim, someone I’ve previously been a big fan of) and Karen Monahan, the woman who has accused him of domestic violence. The conversation spread, as it will, to also be about Dr. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh; and Jim Knoblach (the republican MN representative who just dropped his re-election bid) and Laura Knoblach, his daughter, who finally got someone to listen to her about how her dad abused her for years; and Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden.

And – just last Saturday – I said that I wasn’t sure about Keith Ellison. I admitted that while I wanted to believe Karen Monahan, a part of me did not. (“Where’s the video then? Why did she bring it up right before the election?” You know, all the stuff the men’s rights dudes would be saying.) And I also said that, while Kavanaugh is a horrible, racist, self-centered, small-minded human who would be an insane and terrifying addition to the Supreme Court, I wasn’t sure if something shitty he did as a teenager should prevent his nomination to the Court. My justification there was that “probably every other fucking dude on the Court, and most of the others in the world while we’re at it, have done something equally bad or worse, so it does feel political or like a double-standard to draw the line now.”

I wanted to be all rational about it – utilitarian. But tonight I’m processing with my emotions instead.

Since that conversation, as the news keeps unfolding, I can’t stop thinking about it all. Driving to work. Sitting at work. Lying in bed at night.

I’m thinking about which would be worse – if Karen’s telling the truth, and no one believes her, or if she’s lying and no one believes Keith. And in the first scenario, she is hurt and scared and both literally and emotionally scarred and finally decides to take a breath and tell the world – and she’s called a liar and manipulative and nothing happens and nothing changes. And where does she go from there? The thought of this terrifies me, and it breaks my heart. Or, say it’s the second scenario – well, Keith just secured the nomination in the primaries, after her accusations. It’s hard for me to even imagine a scenario in which this man’s life is truly ruined because of an accusation like this. (He has now called for a full investigation into the claims, however, which is something – I am a scientist, and I also want to believe in a world where we can respect accusers by verifying their claims.)

And Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh. How did things get so bad that I’m seriously throwing in the towel, saying, well fuck it, if we’re going to have men in office, then we’re going to have rapists in office, what’re you gonna do.

A few months ago, when the accusations against Franken and Keillor came out, I literally broke into tears. Okay, that’s it, I thought. I can’t trust any of these guys. They are all hiding darkness. What do I do with that?

I keep thinking about that 15-year-old girl, Christine. Attacked at a party, thought she was going to be raped and killed by suffocation, lived with that fear for decades, tried to move on – and one fucking day she finds out that that asshole, that entitled, violent, self-involved guy, is about to be appointed to literally the highest fucking court in the land. He has done something horrible and he’s about to be one of the nine people who our country supposedly holds up as the pinnacle of ethics and good judgment. And some people just think she’s somehow making it all up. And some people – like me, like me last weekend – are feeling like somehow we just accept this now. “Ah well, he was young; Does sexual assault necessarily preclude someone from doing their job in office?; Okay, so this happened, but you know, where is he on this whole continuum of sexual violence among lawmakers we’re all becoming familiar with these days?”

But I believe in good men. I know good men, many of them. I want to, I have to believe it’s possible, and I sure as fucking hell hope we all want to be governed and led by people who are not scum. People who have not done nightmarish things to other people. I’ve been distraught and on the verge of tears today, staring at those photos of Christine on the stand, and it leads me to this – I have lost my fucking standards and I need them back.

I will vote for men once extremely vetted, and sure as hell not if a woman has come forward against them. And I will vote for women.

This has been affecting all of us. I feel almost uncomfortable admitting how upset and uneasy I’ve felt, because I’m lucky. I know I’m lucky. I mean, sure sure sure, I’ve woken up to a guy I’d just met earlier that night, who’d followed me into a closed bedroom where I was sleeping, pressing his tongue down my throat and reaching under the covers until I shoved him away, bleary with sleep, got up and left; sure dudes have come up to me and immediately stuck their hands down my pants at clubs, or called to me on dark streets, or said shitty things on light rail cars before touching the bare skin of my shoulder, or reacted with eruptions of anger when I didn’t reciprocate their desires. You know. Women, we all know. But I have been lucky, and I know that. I write this all from a place without a nightmare that thrums in my skull.

And still it scares me to be in a world where it can just not matter that someone has attacked someone, where people aren’t listened to or respected. I am furious and terrified. I’m angry at myself, angry at everyone. I am on edge and unsure of my footing. I am crouched in tall prairie grasses, hitting refresh on my phone. I am trying to remember that we can be better than this.

Next morning edit: Coffee in hand, some of my emotions are running lower this morning, and my old friend pragmatism is here with me. Another good friend said some very smart things to me after reading this post. Living in the real world, with lots of complicating factors to consider, and gray areas of what is best in the long run, means that I can’t always draw a line this strong in the sand – on only voting for un-accused, seriously vetted men, I mean. (There are some people, of course, who will never get my vote.) We do not live in a world of two extremes and no middle ground. We do live in a world that is all about continuums and complexity, where critical thought is vital. This is a long road, a complicated space, and there’s a lot of work to do.

As my friend said, and I am paraphrasing and adapting, we need to figure out how to create a society that supports victims of violence and gives them a safe and truly heard way to come forward. We also need a just justice system that is grounded in facts, respect, consideration of juveniles versus adults, rights for the accused and accuser, and sometimes a continuum of punishments for a continuum of crimes. We are nowhere near either right now, but it’s not a reason not to work for it. We can be better than this.

I bet I’ll have more thoughts on it all later. We’re all in this together, processing. The original post stands above, even though it was written while exhausted and angry and deeply upset which isn’t always a recipe for the best writing, because remembering those emotions and feeling those emotions is important – and my rational scientist brain that always takes over needs to remember it.

And most of all, I’m sending love to the people in the world who need it right now. 

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2 thoughts on “better than this

  1. My Dear Granddaughter: Yes…we can be better than this. It will take us, primarily women and young people to bail the country out. In 2016 the country elected a man who represents the worse in us. The dynamics of which you write about are the effects of this vile man…they have infected the country like a debilitating cancer. We have ourselves to blame. If we continue to be the most uninformed society on the planet and continue to boycott elections this will continue. Hitler was elected and he had a strong base. There are parallels here. We have to out base Trump’s base and old white men are not going to do it. The young and women are going to have to turn this around. The Kavanaugh hearing was a humiliation. He is guilty as hell…this beer-drinking, partying, preppy jock gave a response that could have been written by Trump…to which it was addressed. He is a Trump clone. Perhaps this will motivate the young and women to get to the polls in five weeks and being the cleansing process. We remain a democracy…it’s messy and challenging but its all we got. I end this by restating we can be better but it’s up to us. Keep the faith…I had similar feelings over 40 years ago during Watergate and Nixon who I despised too.

    Love, Grandpa

    PS – Why am I not on your email list?

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