These Are The Days

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What She Will Become (Movie Review: Hidden Figures)

Have you seen the Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures”? I’ll jump to the end and tell you right off the bat that I loved this movie. We went a few weeks ago and brought our 12-year-old.  What an extraordinary history lesson for us all.

If you didn’t know already, this film is the true story of three black, female engineers who were vital to the space program in the 1960s. The three main characters worked with other female engineers and mathematicians in the “colored” facility of NASA. The racism of the time is portrayed in subtle ways that hit you in the gut when you least expected it.

When the extraordinary talents of one of the women, Katherine Johnson, were finally recognized, she was moved to the “white” part of NASA to work with the mostly male engineers. The white people were perplexed when she left her desk for long periods of time each day. It never occurred to them that there was no “colored” restroom for her to use. Turns out, once per day she would literally run a full mile and a half back to her old building to use the restroom – since there was no restroom for “colored” people in the “white” building. Gut punch.

In another scene, we see Katherine pour a cup of coffee from the office coffee pot. The white people looked on, in disbelief. How dare she pour from the same pot. The next morning she discovered someone had set up a pot just for her … and they were kind enough to label it so she would know it was hers: COLORED. Gut punch.

While there were many really great scenes, one in particular settled in my bones fairly early in the film. It took place in what appeared to be a school principal’s office.

A young Katherine Johnson and her parents sit opposite the principal, who tells them their daughter has been identified as gifted. The school strongly recommends she move to a more advanced school and, as the parents soak in this good news, the principal hands them an envelope filled with money. The other teachers took up a small collection to assist the family with tuition at the new school. At first, the parents are unsure whether they should accept the money, but the principal asserts, “You must consider sending her to another school. You have to find out who she will become.”

And to me, that is the crux of the movie. How many stories like this one have yet to be told? And worse, how many stories like this were never even possible so many years ago.  How many heroes never made it into the history books?

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When I was enrolled for a semester at what is now UMass Lowell, I took a history class as part of my full-time liberal studies curriculum. I don’t recall the exact name of the class, but I do remember the teacher. He was an older white man who I naively wrote off as ‘out of touch’ and a ‘curmudgeon.’

Couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Although he was kind of grumpy (at least on the days when he didn’t have a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup on his desk), he was one of my first teachers to teach beyond the history books. This was before the Internet (the dark ages, as my daughter would say) and so he relied on literature, poetry, and other kinds of cultural data. His passion? The American Indian. He walked us through the American History we thought we had learned in grades K-12 and filled in the missing pieces of how settlers treated Indians and the state of these groups today. There were tears in his eyes when he talked of broken promises, the struggling reservations, and the near-extinguishing of the language, culture, and traditions of Native Americans.

When I attended UCF, I had many terrific professors, but again, one stood out to me. Professor Jones was kind of hippie-ish. He brought his guitar to class once. And his teaching style was to leverage the power of storytelling. He was captivating and, as my UMass Lowell professor, he enlightened us about various groups that were essentially omitted from our standard K-12 history books.

I don’t remember thinking too much about it at the time, but in both instances I look back and wonder why I didn’t learn about these stories in middle school and high school? Why did my history books focus on the white man’s experience with little more than a glossed-over mention of Native Americans, slaves, women, Latinos and others? How many other stories have literally been white-washed out of our books and our standard curriculum? Why is white history the default history?

Looking back, I now see that the privileged kind of history I learned about in school was for the most part framed within the lens of what was possible for me and others like me. It was framed within the context and from the perspective of white, suburban, middle class folks. Of course, it was tipped to favor my male counterparts, as much of women’s history was omitted save for the notables like Betsy Ross and Susan B. Anthony. Yet in spite of the glossing over of most of women’s history, I never had much doubt about what I could become. About what was possible for me.

After learning about stories and experiences other than my own (like Hidden Figures, the story of Ruby Bridges, the stories from my teachers of Native Americans, the Inuit, Japanese-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and more),  I realize that the privilege of knowing what you could become doesn’t yet exist for everyone.

If you haven’t seen this movie, go. Bring your kids. Have a discussion. And don’t stop talking until every kid knows the possibility of what they could become.

Lessons From the March

16114913_10212584900320701_1699524673494432565_nIt’s been a week since the Women’s March on Washington and I’m still having trouble putting into words what I experienced that day.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to write … maybe that will help me organize and process everything anew.

It was an extraordinary day.

Women and men from all walks of life convened in the nation’s capital to essentially say NOPE.

First observation? Solidarity is the coolest. Just when you think you’re the only one reeling about what’s happening in our country, it turns out a million of your closest friends around the world feel the same way.

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Exiting at L’enfant Plaza station

As we boarded the jam-packed subway that morning, I spotted three women. They were older than me. Perhaps in their 60s or 70s? One wore a rainbow-colored scarf. Another wore shiny peace sign earrings that spun and dangled down to her shoulders. And yet another wore LGBTQ buttons on her jacket. They were dressed in pink and all of them wore the famous “pussy hats.” They were excited to be there and their enthusiasm was contagious and inspiring. The subway train and the terminal at which we disembarked were filled with crowds so thick and deep that my only comparison was to the throngs of people I experienced at Walt Disney World – specifically when the Magic Kingdom is so beyond capacity that the gates to the backstage areas have to be opened to allow the multitudes to safely make their way to the park’s exit. Despite the crowds, everyone was peaceful, helpful, friendly, and ENERGIZED.

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Their sweatshirts read “Truth matters” and “We will not be silent.” He is wearing a Vietnam Vets hat and she, the popular pussy hat.

I had to take a picture of this couple because, to me, they defied stereotype. I hate it when I rush to judgment and stereotype people – but sometimes it’s hard to avoid slipping into old ways of thinking. But this couple? They took me off guard. I saw them when we first emerged from the subway station. They were a few paces ahead of me. I noticed their hats first and as I inched closer (stalker), I read their sweatshirts. I regretted not snapping a picture. But then, about a half hour later, I saw them again as we made our way toward the staging area. A second chance for a photo opp! I woud have pegged them as Trump supporters from a million miles away. Lesson learned – judge not, Kim.

We made our way toward the start of the march and the main stage. Somehow, we were able to edge through the crowds and the police and secure a spot right in front the National Museum of the American Indian. We were at such an angle that the line of sight to the stage was blocked. Fortunately, we stopped in front of a huge Jumbo Tron and thus were able to see the entire event up close.

First speaker: America Ferrara. She owned that stage. You could sense her passion as she shared her fears about this new administration and what it means for people that look like her. She said, “If Trump gets his way, we risk going from a country of immigrants to becoming a country of ignorance. ” Given the events of the last 24 hours, I’d say she was right.

We heard from Amanda Nguyen, founder of “Rise.” She helped helped draft the Sexual Assault Bill of Rights and she spoke intensely about how she turned her tragedy into advocacy and activism. And she inspired us all with the question: What will you do with your fire?

Van Jones challenged us all to live up to the “Love Trumps Hate” signs we were holding and tap into empathy and bridge-building rather than more hate-filled rhetoric. A lesson: don’t just hold a sign if you’re not willing to do the work behind the words.

16195849_10212583496885616_1136648660625175529_nAshley Judd was ON FIRE. She rapped a poem by 19 year old Nina Donovan. If you haven’t seen it, grab yourself some popcorn and a glass of bubbly and watch it RIGHT NOW.

And Sister Simone Campbell encouraged us all to “not be afraid” and to have “curiosity about our neighbors.” I loved her message. Another lesson – don’t pre-judge nuns. They can be pretty badass.

16143057_10212583499485681_1178057081633432843_nI have to admit, I had no idea Gloria Steinem would be there but when she walked on stage I nearly fainted. It was as though she carried the ghosts of marches past with her to inspire the women of 2017.

And the inspirations continued. California’s newest Senator Kamala Harris fights for the economy and healthcare because those *are* women’s issues.

New York’s pistol of a Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who fights for sensible gun reform and programs to address and reduce sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. (Let the record show, I predict she will the President or Vice President very soon.)

Alicia Keys, who not only sang, but delivered a powerful, spoken word poem about truth and justice. And then there was Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood. There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about the fact that Planned Parenthood was a sponsor of the Women’s March.

I have to say, I did see a small handful of people with “choose life” signs. Some news outlets reported violence toward pro-lifers, but that’s not what I witnessed. These folks marched alongside us, peacefully and respectfully. And honestly? That’s the way it should be. After all, if you’re pro-women’s rights, I believe that includes respecting the right to choose what’s best for you. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Personally, I am pro-life. But when I enter the voting booth, I support the pro-choice candidate. Because my personal beliefs aren’t to be imposed on anyone else. And vice versa.

The day left me inspired and filled with a new purpose. Since the election, I’ve called my representatives on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis to express my concern for Cabinet appointees. Their numbers are pre-programmed in my phone. But now after the march, I realize that while calling and tweeting is all good, it’s not enough. This administration requires that we the people hold them accountable every single day. There is simply too much at stake.

The other thing I learned is that not all women were behind this march. It was definitely top-heavy with white women. And while it is comforting to know that we can show up in such numbers, it was also very sobering to remember that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. We own this now. All of us.

I also learned that my anger and my frustration – while relatively new to me – is not new to the millions of women of color. Their anger has lingered just below the surface for years. With every broken promise. Every unfair judgment. Every unfair stereotype. Every unfair law enacted to keep things the way they were…when everybody knew their place.

And finally, I realized that if I walk away from this march feeling good about myself, but unwilling to do the required work of what comes next, then it was really just a giant pep rally.

I’m ready to do some work.

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WOMENS MARCH

Post-script: here’s the fabulous sign made by my family to greet me when I got home. 

What She Once Held, She Carries

While others weep, a mother sits quietly in the clean, sterile hallway as others rush past her, and she remembers with specific detail the outfit she chose for her daughter that very morning. Pinks and purples, of course.

She recalls with slow-motion precision every moment of that morning.

The knot in her hair. The fruity smell of detangling spray, which she used to brush it all straight and smooth and then high atop her head into a ponytail, secured with an elastic band and a fancy ribbon.

The high-pitched squeaks and sounds of Disney cartoons in the background as she wiped the counters of their breakfast crumbs.

The minty smell of toothpaste as she stood over her, watching her brush her tiny little teeth, carefully up front. Not so good toward the back.

She remembers hastily emptying the pastel-colored backpack ~ discovering a sea of half-colored papers, one permission slip, and a Scholastic book order form ~ before filling the pack with today’s healthy snack and lunch (and one cookie).

She remembers her sweet ‘fresh from the bath’ smell, which she inhaled while wrapping her in her coat, hat, and mittens to prepare for the cold, winter morning. She kissed her tiny lips and stroked her cheek gently, remarking on how soft and still ‘baby-like’ her three-year old is. She held her tightly – breathing in that little-girl sweetness all the way through her nose and deep into her chest and lungs, so it can occupy a permanent spot in her memory. And in her heart. Holding, holding, holding.

And now, she replays it all in her mind. Wondering if she had just lingered a bit longer … just held her for a few more minutes, perhaps …

If she had let her watch another episode of her favorite TV show, maybe …

But, no.

How strange it will be to see her smiling face in her phone. On her computer. In a scrapbook. On a holiday card. In a frame on her walls and refrigerator. And on other people’s walls and refrigerators, too.

How strange it will be when the room has cleared and life has gone on for everyone else, to return home and see her new favorite doll from Santa sitting ready for a tea party, her still-damp toothbrush at the sink, her unmade bed with the pillow that cradled her dreams.

While others weep and offer heartfelt expressions, all she can do is remember what she once held. What she now will carry. The grief. The guilt. The memories. Waking up every morning from here on out feeling gut-punched as the reality seeps in that your baby girl is gone. The ache of knowing that this cruel turn of fate is also part of motherhood.

And her heart breaks.

Fierce Kindness (or Kind Fierceness)

As little girls, we’re taught to play nice, be good, be polite, mind your manners, and speak when spoken to. Are little boys taught the same things? Or are little boys taught to toughen up, don’t cry, ‘take it like a man’? Goodness. All kinds of negative gender stereotyping, right?

My husband and I teach our girls many of these things. But we also teach them to speak up for what’s right and to help others. We’re not teaching them to be good little girls — we’re trying to teach them to be kind people.

That’s hard to do sometimes, especially considering the state of our world and our country. In the days since the election, there have been protests in many cities across the country. Some are upset that their candidate didn’t win. I’ll admit to being upset. And also sad, disappointed, and heartbroken, especially given that she won the majority vote by such a large amount. But from what I can gather, the collective outrage so many now feel has little to do with who lost and everything to do with who and what won.

Kindness didn’t win this week.

For the record, you can believe whatever you want about whether or not the other candidate is kind. That’s your opinion and you’re certainly entitled to it. But let me just say (in a nod to an Everybody Loves Raymond episode), that Hillary Clinton could set fire to an orphanage on Christmas Eve and still be a better person than him, in my book.

Whatever you may think, the candidate who won has proven with his words and his actions that he is, in fact, not kind. Bannon for Chief Strategist, anyone?

In fact, his most ardent supporters seem to view the results of the election as a sort of mandate – a free pass, if you will – to disrespect, disregard, and dehumanize those that are already considered on the margins of society.

Just this week alone we’ve seen:

Swastikas in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

White children chanting “build that wall!” to Hispanic students at schools in Michigan and Orlando.

A rash of hate crimes against Muslims and black Americans at the University of Pennsylvania and in Syracuse.

And a child in Minnesota, born in South Korea and adopted by their forever family, wondering if they’ll be sent back where they came from. (No link here. This one’s a personal and heartbreaking truth for a friend of mine.)

This isn’t the America I want to live in. Nor is it the country I want for my children.

We must do better.

Yesterday was World Kindness Day. And yes, I’m a little late with this post. Everyone is spreading memes and messages about how we need to come together and work together and not root for the next president to fail. I get that. And I agree! But while I am certainly not rooting for his failure, it is with enormous skepticism that I look forward to the next four years. (God forbid, eight.)

Yes, like it or not, he is everyone’s president-elect.

But his words and actions during this campaign season are reaping what they have sown in towns and cities across the country. As a result, I can’t help but feel a personal responsibility to call out racist, misogynistic, or hateful behavior when I see it or when I experience it. For instance, when there’s a noose hanging on a tree in my neighborhood – Halloween, be damned. (Interesting footnote to that story: Turns out, I was reported to the people who run our little community blog and my comments were flagged for being “inappropriate.” I sort of wear that as a badge of honor.)

I’m just not always sure I have the courage to do it. Why? Because I was taught to be the good girl. Don’t ruffle feathers. PLAY NICE.

I’ve always been interested in politics, but I’ve never really gotten involved with politics. Volunteering. Canvasing. Making phone calls. Lobbying. I respect those that do, but I regret never having made time to do this before. Hillary’s campaign was the first in which I actively made campaign calls in key states across the country and donated to a campaign. It wasn’t much, but I like to think it did some good.

I also became involved in Twitter campaigns, “secret” Facebook groups, and blogging for a cause. Again, small potatoes compared to what others do, but I appreciated the people I got to know and how very much I learned about policies, ideology, voting issues, and the candidates themselves.

I think the safety-pin thing trending all over the place is a good start, but this kind of symbolic gesture without any real action behind it seems a little glib. And a wee bit condescending. A safety-pin alone isn’t going to do much to help people who are scared of what a Trump presidency may mean for them. To paraphrase my online friend, blogger, and artist extraordinaire, A’driane Nieves, black and brown people (or anyone on the margins of society) don’t want or need to be saved by white people – we just need you to dismantle the oppressive system you created.

No saviors needed. Just warriors side by side.

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One final thought – the Saturday Night Live sketch this weekend about white people finally realizing this country is racist, when black and brown folks have been telling us this all along was brilliant. As I was posting my feelings of heartbreak and disappointment all over social media in the hours and days after the election, a dear friend of mine commented on one of my posts and actually offered me words of encouragement and comfort. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. My friend is a beautiful black woman. We’ve known her and her husband for more than 20 years. As I was ranting about how disgusted I was that we just elected a racist to the highest office in the land, she comforted me.

She.       Comforted.       Me.

I was surprised by the election. She wasn’t. In fact, she said she was sad and disappointed – but not surprised. Why? Because this has always been her reality.

We can do better than this, America. Here are some practical things – some action items – that we can all do to make our voices heard whether it’s about the Bannon appointment or any other questionable policy. We can reach out to our Senators and implore them to hold this president-elect accountable. TIP: I read that phone calls work better than traditional letters or email when it comes to reaching out to members of Congress!

And so I’m rolling up my sleeves. In my little corner of the world, whether it ruffles feathers or pisses people off. I’m not concerned with being good. I’m focused on being kind. Fiercely kind. Because I sincerely believe standing up for what’s right, really listening when people say they’re hurting and frightened, and standing up for and beside others both literally and figuratively is the kindest thing we can do.

Standing up for what’s right isn’t always pretty but it can always be kind.

Kind

Pantsuits Are Intimidating

14962706_938600109579614_5226886694669994924_nAs I was talking to my daughters today about the significance of voting for a woman for President for the first time in the history of this country, a story floated back to the forefront of my mind. I’d nearly forgotten about it.

Back when I was a wee young professional trying to climb the ranks of the Disney company in Florida, I interviewed for a job at the prestigious Disney University. Back then, it was the home to seminars and corporate training for clients worldwide who wanted to emulate the Disney service standards. I was a Disney trainer, a leader, and a VIP tour guide. I spoke French semi-fluently and I met all of the requirements for the job.

I was nervous. Back then, there was no Internet or even an InTRAnet so finding out about jobs meant you relied on other people or on the “Eyes and Ears” newsletter, which was circulated to the 40,000+ cast members with our paychecks every Thursday. I forget exactly how I learned of the position, but I remember my “lead” (assistant front-line supervisor) encouraging me to apply. He knew I was a decent speaker and I had held my own as a lead in Guest Relations.

I reviewed the qualifications, prepared my resume, and hand-delivered it to the Disney University offices. This would be a great opportunity to move to a coveted leadership role backstage. I was ready for this next step in my professional career.

Since I was an “onstage” cast member, I wore a costume every day. Are you ready for this haute couture ensemble?

I wore a beige wrap-around skirt (which was super see-through and thus required nude hose and nude underwear) and matching boring beige button down blouse (short or long-sleeved! – also see-through….so a nude bra), with a red plaid vest (SEXY), a navy blue tie BOW TIE, and matching navy blazer (like what the rental car companies wear) was my uniform du jour. In fact, it was my uniform every ‘du jour.’

The point, is I had no professional clothes in my closet. So off to Orlando Fashion Square Mall I trotted. Little did I know, about a decade later I would be the Marketing Director at said mall…but I’m jumping ahead.

I perused the racks at Burdines, passing lovely dresses and skirt suits. Nothing was jumping out at me. I wanted something that said ‘confident’ and ‘please give me the job.’ Then I landed on a navy and white pin-striped pantsuit.

(There’s a pretty funny side story about this exact same pant suit. Give me a minute.)

Anywho – I tried it on and it fit perfectly. It had a pre-sewn white dickie attached to the jacket, which buttoned into a sleek, flattering v-neck. It also gathered slightly at the waist, which I loved. The pants fit perfectly as well. I was in the petite section so hooray for no hems needed! I bought some matching navy shoes – pumps – and tried the whole thing on.

I felt sure of myself. Confident. Ready for the interview.

And then I was sitting in the conference room being interviewed by a panel of Disney leaders. They asked me the typical questions and then one person – a woman, if you can believe it – asked me this question. “Why did you choose to wear a pantsuit to the interview today?”

I froze. What did she just ask me? I had all my notes committed to memory. My qualifications, my desires for this job, my references. What the hell did my outfit have to do with my qualifications and ability to do this job?

I blinked my eyes a few times to try to process the question and formulate a semi-coherent answer. I muttered something about being comfortable in a professional pantsuit because it would enable me to get on and off the tour buses with greater ease than a dress or skirt (the job required hosting bus tours, among other things). But the whole conversation felt … weird.

Why was this relevant? Was wearing a pantsuit such an abomination?

So, believe it or not – with a smile on my face – I asked them. They sort of brushed it off and said that the women on their team wore dresses and the men wore suits and that’s sort of the way they’ve always done it.

And I didn’t get the job.

Sitting here watching the election returns (and chewing off every available nail I have), I just watched ABC news run a clip of an interview with a Trump voter. They asked him a question about what he thought of a possible Clinton presidency. His response? “A woman doesn’t have what it takes to be president.”

And there it is.

I remain hopeful as these returns slowly come in. But I’m worried. The sexism, racism, xenophobia, hatred, and fear we’ve seen and heard these last several months have unleashed a fury of rage that’s been almost too much to bear. And the fact that this race is currently as close as it is, is a stunning indictment on the state of our society.

It is sad that we still aren’t able to see people for what’s in their hearts instead of what’s in their pants.

I so desperately want to be able to say Madam President, tomorrow. I will keep believing, because I’m with her. Pantsuits and all.

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