Town Hall

My Congressional district is the Illinois 10th.  We seem to identify as Moderates, which has us sending the following people to Congress:

2010:  Robert Dold – R

2012:  Brad Schneider – D

2014:  Robert Dold – R

2016:  Brad Schneider – D

There was redistricting in the middle of that, too.

Since the election, I have been rather more engaged with my elected officials, and I have listened in on recent town hall conference calls with both Brad Schneider and my state Senator.  In both cases, a short introduction was made with a summary of some current events and then there was Q&A.  I remember hanging up with two feelings:

  1. People aren’t asking questions – they are putting their opinions out there in the form of questions.  And Ugh – who wants to listen to that?
  2. I appreciate hearing what my representative has to say and am glad that no one is being nasty.  Wait.  Are the questions being vetted before they are asked?  There have been no follow ups, are people being cut off?

Huh.

Well.  Today, I decided to show up to one in person.  I arrived..perhaps 20 minutes early, and was the fourth person to sit.  The staff was friendly, thanking us for coming and asking us to sign in.  Rep. Schneider arrived, with apologies for being late (I hadn’t noticed.  He said that his staff made him get a haircut.) and then dove right in to his talking points about the congressional committees on which he serves.  This included a side note that the Judiciary Committee is where Articles of Impeachment happen.  Smooth.

Then to the Q&A.  A guy from Arlington Heights went first, with one of those multiple-part questions about health care.  I stopped listening about halfway through when he said, “And how do you expect to do that without the doctors in the room?!”  I might have tweeted something snarky at that point.  Several questions were like that.

Nothing was particularly contentious or confrontational.  Wait, there was one guy that tried to challenge Schneider’s “flip-flop” on the Iran agreement.  I think I heard him ask if the congressman had even read it.  I almost snorted.

I was keeping mental notes on how many men as opposed to women were given the opportunity to speak – and where in the district each speaker lived.  Eight men and three women was my count.  None of the women were asking five part questions, either.

The first woman exclaimed, “We are losing our rights!  What are the Democrats doing about it?!”  I have a Republican friend that would have dismissed her as an hysterical liberal, but the question, “What are Democrats doing?” is perfectly valid and, in my opinion, led to the only small bit of tap-dancing that Schneider did.

The second woman was rather long-winded, but asked what was being done about the hyper-partisanship in Congress right now.  Schneider answered that negotiations are happening, but always behind closed doors.  Apparently, some Republicans need the cover of darkness to reach across the aisle.  (OK, maybe some Democrats, too.)

The third woman asked about the erosion of Voting Rights, which I thought was a great question because that is something we take for granted in our part of Illinois.  Schneider noted that in some rural areas, the offices to obtain the official state identification needed to vote are prohibitively far away.  He noted the rural poor in Alabama, in particular, just have no way to get to those offices in person.

Overall,  I appreciated the meeting.  I wish that more women were given the microphone, and that’s on the staff, not on Rep. Schneider.  I will stipulate that women were somewhat more tentative in raising their hands, but there was absolutely no shortage of women looking for a chance to speak.  I wrote up a comment card on the way out.

Scattered Thoughts that are Sorta Year in Review

More than once over the past weeks, the writer John Scalzi has noted that what makes 2016 a particular flaming trash heap (or is it just “dumpster fire”..is there a consensus on the term yet?) is that it all started out very hopeful.

True.

Personally, I’d been feeling a bit stuck for awhile, but hopeful that I was breaking out of it. And 2016 was a lesson about quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

That’s an exaggeration. I haven’t been sinking. I’ve been struggling with the idea that I’m Not Doing Enough. And the more I Do, the more I see there Is to Do and I am just not satisfied.  It is a very bad trap and The Election made it worse.

Side Note: If this really is the end of the world as we know it, this past election will be The Election the same way 1986 was The Super Bowl.

Meet more people. Learn (and relearn) the issues. Get out into the community. Do more to earn my paycheck. Support more causes.

It occurred to me at the bar on NYE that “drink more vodka” somehow hadn’t made the cut in 2016.

The most frustrating conversation I had with a Trump voter was while talking about Chicago and Springfield. When I said, “OK, so what is the answer? What do we do?” He said, “There isn’t anything we can do. So I’m taking care of my own family and that’s it.”  I can’t live with that.

Grateful.  Purposeful.  Kind.  Inclusive.  I’m not doing anything particularly well because I’ve spread myself thin.  I am reminded of a conversation I once had where a friend noted that he thinks he wants time alone but is actually happiest when he is busy and I laughed because I think I want to GoGoGo but am really happiest when I am drinking coffee and reading.

The thing is, Election Day was a game changer.  I don’t have the answers but I know I can’t be sitting out the next rounds.  I’m going to have to work on balance.  Scott Smith, who is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, had a great thought (the second one..I still can’t make this Embed Twitter thing work properly):

“We’ve got this,” is going to be my 2017 mantra.

Singleton Travel

I am a single woman and I like to travel.  Nothing too exotic so far, just the usual places on everyone’s bucket list.  Because the world is big and I only have so much vacation time (and there are several places I return to again and again), the decision factors are Cost and Safety.  Tour groups are great for safety if you are going someplace for the first time, but the “single supplement” often makes it cost prohibitive.  The hospitality industry has made great strides in catering to singletons, but it is still easier to manage travel in pairs.  In fact, there are a couple of tour groups that were created to solve this problem – they manage guided tours for women and will hook you up with a traveling partner.  I still might do that someday.

Last winter, my friend K posted a question on Facebook:

Can a single woman go to the Caribbean for Spring Break and feel safe without spending a fortune?  There was a really good discussion thread that concluded..not really.  I lamented that she is on a school district schedule, or I’d invite her to winter vacation with me.  But late February is as long as I can wait before getting cabin fever in Chicago.

This past Spring, I decided to plan a trip to Europe and I immediately thought of K.  We went to high school together, and I can’t say we were particularly tight; “inside school friends” as opposed to “neighborhood friends”.  But I’ve always liked her and she has the same problem I have and she lives in the next town over and why in hell haven’t I seen her in 20 years?

So I sent her a message with my thinking and asked if she wanted to have coffee and talk it over.  She agreed and we met on a Sunday at the coffee shop in our hometown.

We didn’t shut up for three hours.

Then we traded messages about places we thought we’d want to go and found plenty of common ground.  We found flights and hotels and sketched out an itinerary.  We’re going to do this.

I really love Facebook.

 

Discussing Gun Control and Other Important Matters

At a conference last week, I walked in to the hospitality suite to find a group watching Fox News. I almost turned around and left. Somehow, I landed in a discussion about gun control that led to my feverishly Googling for statistics on my phone while my friend Tim did the same on his. I couldn’t find the chart I wanted, so I asked Facebook.

The immediate response from my friends was Get. Out. Of that. Discussion. But Bill found it for me:

 

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Then my friend Steve, a conservative and a scholar, asked me to consider this one:

 

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Which, of course, did not help my argument.

I went several rounds with Tim that night over statistics and several more with Steve the next day on a topic where people are unbelievably entrenched. With Tim, I had to concede that you can generally find statistics to prove anything you want. With Steve, I had to concede that statistics generally don’t prove Cause and Effect. But I left both of those discussions feeling good and believing that there are plenty of people on the other side of this issue that are also trying to be thoughtful and realistic and engaged. Here are my conclusions:

  1. We should all do a better job of doing our homework and considering different points of view.  This isn’t going to get resolved in one conversation, or with one new law. It’s going to take lots of conversations to hash out.  It is going to take some compromise.  And there might be unintended consequences to address.
  2. We will only be able to do that if we believe that we are all in this together.  Acting in good faith.

Sometime online, during the election primaries, I was on a thread about how the world is not going to end if “the other one” is elected.  No one is really moving to Canada and Texas isn’t actually going to secede from the Union.  We’d better find a way to work things out.

The Year in Review – Sort Of

I have been a horrible blogger this year.  So horrible that when I sat down to write about my goals and whatever, I went back to read my post on reflections from 2013 and found that I hadn’t written one.

In a larger context, I rather think 2014 sucked in a “validating the title of my blog” way.  Yesterday, when news about the death of Mario Cuomo broke, someone linked to a clip of his address to the 1984 DNC.  And I thought, “Thirty years later and not a damn thing has changed in this country.”   Too many people still can’t make ends meet and even more feel hopeless, helpless, or otherwise disenfranchised.

For me personally, it has been a pretty good year.  I continue to be unreasonably lucky in my health, family, finances and opportunities.  I‘m afraid that I am becoming too comfortable.  It has been five years since I finished my Master’s Degree and I haven’t seriously considered any other major pursuits.  I continue to volunteer with the same places – doing good work – but hardly branching out.  I continue to work with the best employer ever, which has me placing my work above other priorities.  I’d planned to stop doing that.  I’ve said before that when one chooses to be child-free, the question of The Meaning of Life is not a no-brainer.  But we do know it is not to spend more time in meetings.

So maybe this year isn’t about how many books I am going to read or how many blankets I am going to make or how many volunteer hours I put in or how many visits to the gym.  Maybe it is about getting the hell outside my comfort zone and doing something different.

#YesAllWomen

Compared to most women over on Twitter right now, I have exceptionally little to complain about.   I have never been raped.  I don’t walk around with any serious fear for my physical safety.  I had kind of chalked it up to the fact that I was never all that pretty.  Guys only assault pretty girls, right?  (Rolls eyes at self.)

Even in college, at my absolute most attractive, I was more charming than pretty.  This weekend, Twitter has taught me that I have been lucky, because “charming” could very easily be mistaken for overt flirting which, it seems, can be taken as an open invitation to sexual assault.  But that isn’t what I want to tell you.  I want to tell you two stories – from work – that illustrate the extent to which I have adapted to male bullshit regarding women.

First.  It will surprise no one that in my seventeen years working in Human Resources, I have investigated one or two sexual harassment complaints.  I am happy to say that they have generally been matters of cluelessness rather than malicious intent and the “accused” have generally been genuinely sorry to have made someone uncomfortable and wanted to apologize more than anything else.  One case in particular struck me because I worked rather closely with the “accused”.  I was asked whether I ever felt like the guy was talking to my breasts.  I hadn’t noticed.  I’ve had people staring at my chest since I was 10 years old.  I stopped noticing sometime in high school.  I never once gave an “Eyes up here” or made a complaint or even offered a knowing glare.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to ignore that behavior as a general practice but, hell.   I don’t have the time or the energy to get upset about that stuff, let alone confront it all the time.  So I block it out.

I am not proud of this.  It is just how I have operated.  I am a bit ashamed, now that I am typing it out loud, that with my general confidence and competence and ability to confront people that I have been too lazy or weak to do so.  But there it is.

The second one is worse.  A few years ago a young lady in my own department told me that she had a troubling experience when she went to speak at a conference.  The weather had been bad and she’d gone to the bar to watch a game and get a burger for dinner.  Harassing experience ensues.  She wasn’t physically threatened, but felt way uncomfortable and the dude was, by extension, a client.  My first reaction, God forgive me, was “I wouldn’t have gone to the bar by myself to watch a game and have dinner.”

Seriously.

How m-f brainwashed am I that the thought even entered my head.  How brainwashed am I that I wouldn’t even consider watching a game by myself in a bar on the road over dinner?  I sit in bars by myself when I am waiting for people.  I eat dinner in restaurants by myself all the damn time.  I have stopped in front of random televisions in a thousand public places, by myself, to watch some sportsball item or another.  I have gone to sporting events by myself.

This isn’t even a conscious decision.  This is an “it would just never occur to me”.  Is it some great hardship?  No.  At the same time, it is only happening because I am female.

So.  Yeah, yeah.  Less than a First World Problem.  But if you are asking the question, “Really?  All women have been affected by a male culture of sexual dominance/violence/intimidation in this country?”

Yes.  We all have.

 

P.S.  I sorta want to delete that last post about guys in bars.  But I’m not going to.

At the Bar

To begin at the beginning my boss, G,  and I were at a conference in Boston last Spring.  One night, we went to dinner with some colleagues from our member companies and someone that was not me thought it would be cool to have a beer at the Cheers bar , which I swear used to be called something else.  There were about eight women along with G,  and a guy from Alabama that I will call..Alabama.

We were sitting around the corner of the bar and I was at the end, pretending to drink a beer, which I never do.  And a couple of drunk Virginians on their way back from Fenway sat down next to me.  I know they were drunk Virginians on their way back from Fenway because they told me that  a) they were from Virginia; b) they had just come from Fenway and..one of them was breathing on me.  Dude asked me twice if he could buy me a drink.

Now, I am not used to having drunk guys..breathing on me, because I am not Jennifer Aniston and because my Single Girl Stare of Death is extremely effective.  But I was with people!  I hadn’t charged it up!   I glanced over at G a couple of times, but he was oblivious to my plight.  So the end of the conversation went like this:

Dude #1:    Where are you from?

Me:               Chicago

Dude #1:      Chicago is great.  Can you guess where I’m from?

Me:                Virginia.

Dude #1:       Whoa!  How did you know that?!

Me:                 Because you told me five minutes ago.

Dude #1:        (turns redder)

Dude #2:        (falls off his chair laughing)  (literally)

When I say “literally”, I mean Literally and not Figuratively.  They finally left and my group left shortly thereafter.  I was trying to decide just how much shit to give G for leaving me all stranded when Alabama started laughing at me.  He had watched the entire thing and thought it was hilarious.  My head exploded.  (Figuratively).  He said that I obviously hadn’t needed help and he swore up and down that he would have jumped in if it had gotten ugly.  By then, the Single Girl Stare of Death was ready, but it was too dark outside for anyone to see it.

Fast forward to last weekend.  I was waiting for John in the bar next to his theatre when a..much older gentleman struck up a conversation.  Because he was so..old..my guard was down and I chatted a bit and the next thing I know he was..breathing on me and my Single Girl Stare of Death was totally not charged!  I got out of it somehow, which led me to tell John the story about Alabama in the Cheers bar.

The next morning, I flew out to the next conference and my first..assignment was to meet G and Alabama.  At the bar.  Here’s how it went:

Me:               I was talking about you last night.

Alabama:    Great.  What about?

Me:               About how I thought you were my friend until you let a couple of drunk Virginians breathe on me at the Cheers bar in Boston.

Alabama:     (laughing)  That was funny.

Me:                Not funny!  Mean!

Alabama:     Slightly mean.  And really funny.  But anyway, what was I supposed to do?

Me:                You were supposed to walk over, stand next to me, look at the guy and say, “She’s with me.”

Alabama:      (does a double take)  What am I supposed to say, that I’m your father?!

Me:                Wait, what?!  No!

Alabama:      Am I supposed to say that you’re my girlfriend?

Me:                No!  You just say “She’s with me”.  (turns to G)  Is that not the universally semi-polite way to tell a guy to back off of a girl?

G:                   Yes.

Alabama:      Ok, ok.  Lemme get this straight.  Any time we are together and some guy comes over and hits on you, I am supposed to step in and say, “She’s with me”?

Me:                 Yes.

Alabama:       (…)

Alabama:       I can do that.  But I’m tellinya right now – next time it is going to be the love of your life and you’re gonna be sorry.

As an aside, I clarified with G that if it happened to be Brian Urlacher that hit on me, that he was to stop any Alabama intervention.  G agreed.

You may all consider this a public service announcement.