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For real, last night resistbot actually texted me on its own to remind me this Cassidy-Graham horror show is still on the horizon. On the upside, I’ve used it enough to have unlocked the ability to actually specify which congress person I want to send to. That means I no longer have to try to come up with something that expresses my ire without making it sound like I think poor Bill Nelson has supported the garbage pile of this perpetual repeal attempt. Here was last night’s first Rubio-only fax:

I faxed yesterday, but then I wandered by your official Twitter feed, where your staff wanted us all to see just how supportive and giving you are of the victims of Irma.

I cannot fathom how you can claim sympathy and support for Americans suffering from the force of nature which is a hurricane, but spare none of those emotions for Americans suffering similarly inescapable tragedies such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, or (to bring us back around) long term medical requirements due to injuries sustained in this hurricane and its aftermath.

The Cassidy-Graham legislation on deck to decimate the ACA is the exact opposite of the support you’ve pledged to aid your fellow Americans. Whether it’s removing pre-existing condition protections outright, or encouraging insurance companies to price people with them out of reach, the result is the same: robbing some of the most vulnerable Americans of the help they need to survive.

Please, stop posturing about empathy and unity and start doing something to actually create empathy and unity.

Vote NO on the Cassidy-Graham repeal legislation. Stop engaging in partisan power plays and reach across the aisle to make actual improvements to the ACA. Build, don’t destroy.

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Some day I’ll sit down and actually talk substantially about the sorts of things I find overwhelming re: anxiety, but let’s just start with the fact that talking on the phone, especially confrontation on the phone, leaves me quite literally breathless. I’m a writer for a reason: my brain works a whole lot better (or at least feels a whole lot better, which I recognize may not be the same thing) when I can compose, consider, revise.

Which is why I’ve been in love with resistbot. Disclaimer: I am well aware of the fact that phone calls have a more sizable impact than pretty much every other kind of contact with a legislator. I also realize that faxes are still doing more than staring at my phone incapable of hitting the “dial” button.

In any case, my faxes aren’t what you’d call short. When I said I like to compose, I meant it. So I decided maybe I’d share them here, in case anyone else is (1) considering Senate contact (if you are and are capable, I cannot encourage you enough) and (2) under the notion that seeing someone else’s ideas and objections might help solidify their own. Here’s my latest (actual fax was preceded by my name and location to prove constituency):

While Floridians and Texans are trying to piece together their lives after the destructive forces of Harvey and Irma, Senate Republicans are trying to rob people of their access to healthcare with the current Graham Cassidy legislation. Again. Still.

I cannot believe I am contacting my senators again about the same horrific, partisan, power-before-people legislative choices. Correction: I believe it, I just cannot properly express just how disappointed I am in the basic lack of humanity shown by the Republican Party.

As before, as ever, I cannot express strongly enough my complete and total opposition to the Graham Cassidy monstrosity which once again threatens the most vulnerable among us.

In the wake of natural disasters, as we have all seen how precious and fragile life is, I urge you to vote for the nation that came together in support of their fellow Americans, that redistributed its resources to help those in dire need.

Vote NO on Graham Cassidy, urge your fellow senators to work on ACTUAL improvements to the ACA, and to abandon this phyrric war which puts showing power at all costs above using power to HELP our fellow Americans.

I continue to watch, and will be sure to use my voice and put my vote to work based on what I see.

That Word. I Think It Both Does and Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Doing or saying or thinking a racist thing does not make you a cross-burning, hood-wearing, swastika-sporting Racist. I think that’s important to articulate because, much the same way people seem to get confused by marriage the secular set of rights vs marriage the religious institution, the resonance of the same word applied to different circumstances makes it difficult to parse on an emotional level. It’s vital that people are able to identify racism in themselves without feeling that any such identification makes them some villainous terror.

However, and just as important to articulate, is that doing or saying or thinking a racist thing is also not entirely divorced from cross burning and hood wearing and swastika sporting. It’s not a straight line, certainly, but on one level that’s how systemic abuse works. It makes “tiny things” easy to hand wave off. It requires people to “have a sense of humor” about said tiny things. And, in isolation, perhaps that off-color joke or that tension in our shoulders or the way we whisper certain colors or tell someone they don’t act like one or more stereotype are small.

Except they aren’t in isolation, and it doesn’t matter how small something is if there’s enough of it. It doesn’t even matter how little of it comes at a time if it never stops coming. A handful of sand each day is meaningless, if we sweep it up and throw it away.

But if we leave it, if we groan at the people who ask us to clean up after ourselves, if we argue it’s not our fault the dust bin is already overflowing, if we say ‘it’s just a little sand what’s the big deal?’ Then it’s not just a handful of sand each day. It’s a handful of sand every day, and soon enough, there’s a great big beautiful sandbox for the people who like playing in the dirt to take advantage of, and guess who’s buried underneath?

Your New Boyfriend Is an Asshole, and You Know It: a Fable

Here’s the thing: your friends warned you when you started dating this new guy that he was bad news. They told you stories about the stuff he’d done to mutual friends. They told you the kinds of things he was saying about them. But he promised he was going to take care of you and give you nice things and how important you were to him. So you told your friends they just didn’t understand. He had a different sense of humor. He was a little blunt, sure, but they were blowing everything out of proportion.

You continued to believe it when he went to court to force the Sanchez family to tear down the pool they always let you use so he could build that eyesore of a fence between you. When he blew off taking Gran to her heart transplant surgical consult because his friend Josh needed to have a corn removed. RSVP’d “no” with a Bible verse to both Lance and Henry’s wedding *and* little Hannah Goldman’s bat mitzvah.

You told Fatima she was totally over-reacting when he made that comment about wanting her to take a few laps around the block before coming in so she wouldn’t stink up the place. And while you and he were the only ones who knew where Celia and her son moved, there’s no way he told her abusive ex how to find her — even if her ex is an investor in the firm.

Yes, out of town clients got wasted when they came over, but it’s not *his* fault they retaliated against the Johnsons’ noise complaint by vandalizing their house.

No, you aren’t your new boyfriend. And he may be sweet as all get out when you’re alone. But at this point, it’s time to stop pretending you don’t understand why the Johnsons turned their noses up at your basket of apology muffins. Why the Sanchez family won’t answer the door even though their cars are in the drive. Why Lance and Henry returned your wedding gift and they and the Goldmans and Celia and Fatima aren’t returning your calls. You know why, just like you know why Gran gets a “tone” when you use unpaid time off to take her to the doctor.

Apparently It Isn’t Woolf They’re Actually Afraid Of

I’m still reeling a bit about a recent decision by the estate of Edward Albee re: a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:

According to sources, the estate of the late playwright, Edward Albee, demanded that a theatre company in Oregon, The Complete Works Project, who was producing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, fire the black actor playing the role of “Nick” and be replaced by a white actor or they would rescind the rights to the show.

I don’t know which wrongheaded defense to tackle first, not least of all because of the conflation of multiple arguments. So how about I break the arguments apart first, since my answers to some of them are different than my answers to others:

1) The Rights of the Albee Estate

I’m seeing defenses of this which cast this argument as one about the legal rights of the Albee estate. They assert the rights attached to production of the work, assert the law, and so completely miss the point that it’s no longer a point, but rather a round blunt object.

No one, including the theatre which complained about the decision, claims the Albee estate isn’t invested with the legal power to exert its rights.

Rather, people are following the standard trajectory of free speech: the Albee estate is fully entitled to make fucked up, racist decisions. And everyone else, likewise, is fully entitled to call out just how fucked up and racist those decisions are. You would think that anyone running the estate of a man whose work is rife with people calling each other to the mat might be able to recognize that pattern outside of a three act structure.

2) The Importance of Authorial Intent

As a writer, obviously I have a soft spot for authorial intent. When I write something, I’m attempting to evoke some range of emotions and thoughts in my audience.

However, I’m also well aware that what I want as a writer and what the audience of my work will take away from it aren’t the same thing. If it’s co-opted by a group whose ideology I find abhorrent, and if that co-opting happens in clear breach of my copyright, I have legal recourse to remove it from their use. I can’t, however, control what they think about my work, what they take away from it. The only art which isn’t a conversation is art which has no audience in the first place.

This is especially true in collaborative arts. Yes, the playwright is important. I’d go so far as to say they’re essential. They are not, however, the only aspect of their art. Again, unless a playwright is writing work which they never want to see performed, the nature of their work is to be adapted and interpreted through the lens of those other artists (actors, directors, designers) who attach themselves to it.

And unlike, say, film or television, live theatre is in constant intepretive flux. Hell, something as small as an actor’s mood on a given night can drastically shift a performance. Live theatre is at its core alive. That means it changes, it grows. If it doesn’t, it no longer serves a purpose.

Shakespeare wrote all of his work to be performed by exclusively male casts. He wouldn’t, at the time he wrote his plays, have even conceived of a performance where his female Ophelia was actually played by a woman. Nor would he, for that matter, have imagined the panoply of temporal and environmental backgrounds future theatres might use as the setting for his stories. Last I heard, however, no one’s spending much time grousing that Shakespeare’s intent has been bastardized by contemporary artists bringing new and different influences to bear.

Rather, the response by many is to praise Shakespeare for providing a template which continues to resonate and inspire, which ebbs and flows in a way that allows it to remain relevant, rather than proving itself a hidebound cultural dinosaur.

3) The Slippery Slope

Otherwise known as “Good God! Next you’ll say you want women playing men” and … probably?

Look. I am just the wrong audience for this kind of thing because I’m not seeing the problem here. Aside from my previous point re: Shakespeare, honestly, even if your show is explicitly “about” men, I still can’t think of a lot of instances where there isn’t something interesting an artist might bring to the work through variable gender casting, not least of all interrogating the notion of Man.

Also, let’s be honest, there are still painfully few acting roles for women with the same richness and variety as exist for men. Ditto actors of color and other marginalized identities. If it takes women in traditionally male roles and ethnic minorities in traditionally white roles for audiences and playwrights (or their estates) to stop making lazy, default cultural narrative choices about what constitutes a character of a given gender expression or a character of color or a character of disability or a character of a given sexuality or, or, or? Then I say re-cast the hell out of that shit.

4) “Historical Accuracy”

I’m sorry. I can’t even write that phrase without the scare quotes.

It took me a hot minute after entering “African-American professors 1962” in Google to have third party verification of what I shouldn’t have to prove to reasonably well-educated people: not only did African-American professors in the US exist in mixed race settings, but they’d been around for over a century already:

1849: Charles L. Reason is named professor of belles-lettres, Greek, Latin and French at New York Central College in McGrawville, New York. He appears to be the first African American to teach at a mixed race institution of higher education in the U.S.

That Albee couldn’t conceive of a scenario in the 1960s where such a character could exist without hopelessly straining credulity says a metric ton more about institutional erasure and the success of privileged narratives than it does about verifiable historical reality.

That those caring for Albee’s estate continue to be unable to imagine such a scenario in 2017, especially in a play where every other damn thing the characters say has two or three meanings and / or is elaborate fiction meant to stymie genuine interaction — where the primary actors go so far as to invent people who don’t actually exist but apparently it’s too difficult for the rights holder to imagine people who do — borders on intellectual failure of the sort that, come to think of it, deserves Albee-style disdain and mockery.

I’m Only Afraid That Your Offense Is Fabricated (by a 12-year-old)

One of the perennial memes that crosses my screen goes like this:

When I was a kid, we did X, but now kids can’t do X because people are afraid of offending someone.

There follows the usual “share if you…” blah blah nonsense which is the lifeblood of social media, but that’s an entirely separate issue, so I’ll stop the quote there.

X, of course, changes depending on the specific meme, but since the structure and the sentiment are pretty uniform, and seemingly omnipresent, I decided I should just respond in one place so I can link it and stop wasting time fuming. The other reason for “X” is that, honestly, the problem is never whatever the hell X happens to stand for, it’s with the compounded levels of wrongheaded put together in this sorry excuse for an argument.

The live action The Sound of Music may have scarred us all, but we can still agree that Maria was right in asking us to start at the beginning, so let’s:

When I Was a Kid

I still watch cartoons and collect comics. Hell, I still have my Lion Voltron and a box full of He-Man figures. I absolutely understand holding on to treasured things from when we were kids. There’s nothing wrong with looking back fondly on one’s childhood when possible.

That said, when I was a kid, I thought my Flash underoos could make me run at super speed. I thought you could swing high enough to wrap yourself around the swingset. I thought every guy I was in school with was straight.

All of those are as accurate as the likelihood I can once again fit into a child’s large t-shirt (which I also did “when I was a kid”), so you may see why I’m a bit incredulous of when I was a kid as the primary support for your position.

Let’s also acknowledge that when I was a kid is a way of wrapping nostalgia around a this is how it’s always been and how dare things change argument. To which: people used to believe that heat rose because the top layer of the world was made of fire, that the sun circled the earth, that the uterus was the primary source of mental illness in women, that certain people were property, and that only witches floated in water.

I’m kind of hoping no one reading this is on board with pushing for a return to any of that just because it’s the way things were when someone was a kid.

People Are Afraid

People ascribe motives all the time. Is that guy who cut me off in traffic rushing to the hospital to check on a relative whose health has taken a turn for the worse, or is he just being an asshole? It’s exactly what’s happening with this construction which presumes that the only possible reason for a change in X is fear.

Parents aren’t afraid of their children when they put a bandaid on a scraped elbow and hug them until they stop crying. Or when they lift them to the sink to wash their hands. I’m not afraid of a stranger with an armload of packages when I hold the door for her. Or when I invite someone to sit with me at a party when I notice them wandering a bit aimlessly.

We see people who are hurt, or struggling, or encumbered, or just plain unnoticed, and we reach out. I call that empathy. I think it’s sad as fucking hell if you call it fear, and it says more about you than about “them.”

Also, I hope I’m never running from a serial killer with you around, because it kind of sounds like I can expect to be tripped so you’ll have time to escape.

Offending Someone

The only thing better than ascribing motive is doubling down and ascribing it twice. Because, you see, anyone asking for a change in X is clearly offended.

By the time we get to it, offense loads everything down with a whole lot of ire you can’t for one moment assume. Wanting to exist isn’t offense. Wanting to have a seat at the table, a partner on the dance floor, these aren’t indicative of offense. They’re indicative of longing and attempts at community. And I fail to see why asking for them is by its very nature so aggressive as to be characterized as offense.

Even if there is offense, there seems to be a palpable lack of self-reflection here, since the tone of the whole damn meme makes the poster’s offense palpable, and something which needs to be soothed. For reasons I can’t fathom, however, the offense of others gets an immediate thumbs down.

You’re painting some zombie apocalypse scenario where there are “normal” people, and then some horde of Other: religions, ethnicities, sexualities, levels of ableness, gender identities. All of them, growling and reaching to take a bite out of your tender, pristine flesh.

I think you need to watch a little less Walking Dead, dear heart. Or consider that maybe the mindless, tooth-gnashing horde is on your side of the door.

This Isn’t About Uma Thurman

I’m not going to post a link, because first: it’s all over the place, and second: none of it deserves the three people I’d send it in traffic. “It” is another deluge of articles speculating on an actress’s purported plastic surgery. This time it’s Uma Thurman. The headlines range from relatively neutral (“Did She Have Plastic Surgery”) to vaguely supportive (“…Sports New Look”) to flat out mean (“What Happened to Her Face?”).

And, as it was with any number of actresses who’ve been the subject of this kind of thing before, despite liberally using images of Thurman, this story isn’t about her at all. It’s about the writers and the readers and the people tweeting and posting to Facebook.

There’s a lot of “why would she, she was beautiful before?” going around, I notice. Which infuriates me on a number of different levels. First of all, it’s rather willfully ignorant. Why would an actress in her forties, whom other people know in part for her “beauty” feel pressure to do things to maintain that? I’m pretty sure every single person posting those before and after jpegs has answered that question by asking it: you feel the way Uma Thurman looks, the extent to which she fits in your definition of beautiful, is significant. To her career. To her value to you as an actress and entertainer. To her, I guess, integrity as a human being.

That people are invested in how an actress looks, in how “beautiful” she is rather than how talented or eloquent or hard-working or devoted to her craft — you know, the parts that go into the act part of actress — and that this investment drives clicks and sells magazines, is exactly why an actress might feel pressure to undergo procedures to extend her ability to fit in that stupid box you’ve put her in. Every person who’s asking that asinine question is part of the problem.

The assumption, too, that Thurman has to spend time answering to people about her motivations as regards what she does with her own body doesn’t help. Thurman’s a grown up, folks. She’s sane and educated and independent. She can get a haircut or a new lipstick or a nose job or whatever the hell else she feels like doing. Do we really think the people asking will suddenly go whoops, my bad if she gives us a good answer? Why are we assuming a successful woman like Thurman wouldn’t have one? What the hell is a “good” answer, anyway? Whatever it might be, Thurman is obligated to disclose a grand total of zero reasons to us. Why should she?

It doesn’t help that this isn’t actually even about whether Thurman did or didn’t have surgery. It’s about the fact that she looks different in one picture than she does in another. That she isn’t maintaining whatever look it is We associate with her. A look, more importantly, of which this collective, judgmental We approves.

We have no reason to believe Thurman did or did not have “work done,” whether that’s an eye lift or a chemical peel or just a fucking fad diet and a personal trainer, prior to this. Until We noticed, no one gave two shits what the actress was or was not going through to look the way she looked. We approved of the results. We deigned to judge her beautiful, and so long as she maintained this, We didn’t ask.

Then something happened that We noticed, and she didn’t fit in the box We built for her. We no longer approved. Only then did Thurman’s life choices suddenly, supposedly, matter. Though even then, that’s just a Macguffin. It’s ultimately inconsequential if the change was due to surgery or a lack of eye makeup or just from the fact that people’s faces change as they age. Our picture got ruined because We saw change that struck us wrong.

People aren’t pictures, even if we take millions of pictures of them. They grow, they change. There is no scenario by which they don’t or won’t. So how about this: if the eternal immutability of Uma Thurman’s — or anyone else’s — face is so central to your life that you feel shame and fear and anger and doubt at the prospect of losing it, I suggest you take a picture. Any picture that makes you feel warm and safe with this person you don’t know and probably never met. Then you and that picture should go into a safe, dark room and lock yourselves away from time and external stimuli. I wish you a happy, healthy forever.

Just make sure you don’t look in a mirror with the light on. You might notice something different in your face, and we wouldn’t want you subject to any more of that kind of trauma.