Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jeff's search for meaning (or, the year that was)

I recently met and became friends with a 29-year-old widow. It's been a really good thing. As another widow friend of mine (someone significantly older than me but still quite young to have become widowed) said, it's great to talk to someone who "gets it."

After we had talked for a while, my new friend told me that my approach to life made her think of a book called Man's Search For Meaning. I decided to read the book, and after doing so found myself quite flattered that she had said that. Man's Search For Meaning was written by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Holocaust concentration camps. The first half of the book tells of his experiences in the camps, while the second half lays out his formulation of logotherapy, an approach to psychotherapy based on the idea that the most important desire of humans is not to seek pleasure, but to find meaning in life (the form that this meaning takes can vary from person to person). Frankl wrote of how some people in the camps were able to persevere the horrors that surrounded them by finding meaning in their existence. For some, simply enduring suffering could provide meaning.

A brief aside: writings about the Holocaust seem distressingly timely right now.

I realized that, although I had not previously thought of it in such terms, a lot of what I do in how I choose to live my life, and perhaps especially in my writing, is an attempt to make sure that the lives of both Cara and myself have been and will continue to be meaningful.

Another friend posted today on Facebook asking if people had a blog and if so, "What does having a blog do for you?" With the book I had recently read in mind, I replied, "Helps me search for meaning in this very strange, terrible and wonderful thing called life." (Being honest, I added, "Also, gratification from people complimenting my writing.")

I have always had a strong interest in staying in touch with the history of my life. This interest was strengthened by Cara's death, but it was there long before that. My mom has told me, "You save everything," commenting on the fact that I have a drawer full of things I wrote or made when I was in elementary and middle school and that I also have basically every computer file of mine that I've created since the early '90s. As I've written before, it is a really wonderful thing for me that among those computer files are included all the electronic conversations Cara and I had from when we were first getting to know each other (a time at which the vast majority of our conversations were electronic in nature) all the way up to the last weeks of her life.

The world is a scary place right now, and it seems that this has strengthened even more my desire to connect with the past. When I was at my parents' house for Christmas, I went for a walk around Grandview Heights, the suburb of Columbus in which I grew up. This is something I've done many times over the years, but on this particular walk something was different. I had this strong urge to connect with my childhood in a way that I had never felt before. I went to McKinley Field, where I played youth baseball while in elementary school. I sat for a moment on the bench in the dugout, then walked out onto the field. I stood in the batter's box. I stood on the pitcher's mound. I ran around the bases. All the while I was trying to conjure up memories of doing those same things some 25 years ago. Later in the walk, I went by my old schools. From kindergarten through twelfth grade, all of my schooling happened within the same city block (very conveniently located just a half-mile or so from my parents' house). Kindergarten and first grade were in a little building called the "Annex" located across the playground from the building that housed the elementary and middle schools.

When I was in kindergarten and first grade, that playground was not there; instead, there was a street that now dead-ends on either side of the playground. Those changes had been made by the time I got through middle school. I know this because I have a specific memory from a recess on that playground during middle school. There was a kid, a football player, who liked to bully me and would often try to steal my lunch bag. One time he had my lunch bag and I (at least as skinny back then as I am today) charged across the playground and knocked him to the ground. We both got in trouble (an extreme rarity for me!) and had to sit down on a curb next to the playground for the rest of that recess. More changes have occurred since then. The Annex is no longer used to hold classes, and the elementary/middle school building is now entirely a middle school with the elementary school on the other side of town.

Anyway, although I've walked past those buildings countless times over the years, I can't remember ever before feeling the urge to look into the classroom in which I attended kindergarten. But on this walk, something drew me to that little building, and I peered in through the window into the depths of my past.

The truth is, I retain very few specific, episodic memories from when I was in kindergarten. They've mostly faded away with time. But I very much remember being in that room. The sight of it was a very familiar one.

The reality that the little boy who sat in that classroom some 28 years ago would become the person peering through that window some 28 years later, and in fact is the same person but separated and molded by that passage of time, is so surreal for me to ponder.

Why was I so drawn to those spots from my childhood - my old ballfield, my old school buildings - on this particular visit to my hometown? I'm pretty sure it's because the world today feels like a totally different place than it did just two months ago. And not in a good way. So I cling even more tightly to the past, nostalgically yearning for the happy innocence of my youth. Yet knowing I can never have it back.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is without a doubt one of the worst things that has ever happened in my life. The fact that he was selected by only a minority of voters softens the blow a little bit, but the fact that someone who is an open and unapologetic racist and misogynist, and a serial sexual predator (and, let's not forget, completely unqualified for the job), could be elected the leader of the most powerful country in the world is absolutely horrifying. And yes, some will say, people voted for Trump for other reasons, in spite of his racism and misogyny, not because of it.

That doesn't make it okay.

If you're willing to overlook how your candidate utterly dehumanizes vast sections of the population, that's not a whole lot better than being openly supportive of that dehumanization.

And let's not be naive. There are a lot of people - I won't try to estimate what percentage, but a lot - who were drawn to Trump in large part because of the racism and sexism.

As 2016 draws to a close, it's become a cliche to remark on how horrible a year it was. Trump's election being a large part of that, but for many other reasons as well. So it's kind of funny for me, while fully recognizing and acknowledging the reasons that 2016 was horrible, to realize that 2016 - on a personal level - was overall one of the best years of my entire life. Why?

Fittingly for New Year's Eve, I'll count down the top ten reasons.

10. I got to spend a lot of great time with friends and family, and made a lot of new friends along the way!

9. I was adopted by this very crazy but very adorable little fellow!

Gavroche joins my two lady kitties Eponine and Mitters, and I'm very glad to have all three in my household. I especially cherish all the time I have with Mitters, who was Cara's cat long before I knew Cara, and who will be 19 years old in less than two months.

8. I took up a new hobby in mountain biking and totally fell in love with it! Riding the trails is something I'm missing a lot during these winter months.

7. I've greatly enjoyed playing pickup basketball at the fitness center at work, and over the course of the year I've gone from being pretty good at rebounding but pretty bad at everything else to being able to hold my own in most aspects of the game (while still being best known as a ferocious rebounder - opposing players who are guarding me and aren't familiar with my game are often warned by their teammates, "You have to box him out.").

6. I had a really wonderful family vacation in the Adirondacks, and best of all, I finally climbed the highest peak there, Mt. Marcy, something I'd hoped to someday do for most of my life. It was probably my favorite hike ever!

5. I also had an amazing time visiting my aunt Jeri and cousins Chelsea and Calyn in California! It was especially great that I got to spend so much time with Chelsea and, despite us having spent very little time together in the past (they are actually blood relatives to Cara, not to me, and plus they live across the country), it instantly felt like Chelsea and I had been great friends our whole lives! And I also got to meet my online friend Deana, a lovely person who first befriended Cara through the online lung cancer social media community.

4. Anyone who knows me knows that going to concerts is a huge part of my life, and 2016 was undoubtedly the best year for concerts of my whole life! Some of the top highlights were Florence + the Machine, Temple of the Dog, Daughter, Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River, Nada Surf, Lucius, Bruce Springsteen, and Madi Diaz, and there were so many other great shows too!

3. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship after coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the greatest regular season team of all time in the Finals, ending Cleveland's 52-year title drought in one of the most dramatic events in sports history, and I was in downtown Cleveland with my good friend Fiona when it happened! One of the best days of my life!

2. Shelli Snyder is still with us and is making great strides in her long road to recovery.

Enough said.

Well, I guess I should add that the events surrounding Shelli's crash are another example of how good things can follow from a tragedy. Just as I learned so much about life from watching my wife live with and then die from cancer, I made and strengthened many friendships and was drawn much more into the wonderful Cleveland cycling community by that horrible incident some three months ago in Montana.

And the top reason why 2016 was a good year for me...

1. The first three months of the year were pretty bad for me. Quite bad, in fact. For the reasons why, feel free to refer to this post from last December. But then things began to improve. Improve a lot. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pain-free and probably never will be, but for the majority of the year I've been at a point where chronic pain is not preventing me from enjoying life. There have been plenty of other times in all my years with chronic pain that that has also been true, but this is the first time ever that my seeking out of health care actually directly led to an improvement in my condition, rather than it failing to help and then things eventually changing for reasons that often seemed largely random. As a consequence, I feel more in control of my life than I have at any point in more than a decade!

There are a lot of good reasons for the world at large to look at 2016 as a bad year, but the sad reality is that there's a good chance things are going to get a lot worse, and in the future we'll look back on 2016 nostalgically. Whether or not this is true, it's important for us to always cherish the good things we do have, and the friends and family who play such a large part in making life worth living.

One way to find meaning in life is to work to make the world a better place. That's something you can find meaning in whether or not that work is successful. Unfortunately, there are times when we have to work really hard simply to try to prevent things from getting worse. Now is one such time. There are a lot of scary things on the horizon. One ties directly to my number one reason that 2016 was good. I was able to receive health care that resulted in my life going from basically terrible to pretty darn good. Being able to receive needed health care is so, so important and is something that should be denied to no one in any prosperous society. We have made a lot of progress in expanding access to health care, and although there are still enormous flaws in our health care system, more people have access to health care now than ever before.

Efforts are underway to reverse that. Because Republicans in Congress value giving bigger tax breaks to Donald Trump literally over people's lives. We all have to do everything we can to stop that from happening.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


As it is for me, writing was an important part of Cara's life. She kept a number of different blogs over the years. The last of these was Mets SUCK! (The story of a girl with metastatic lung cancer.) Prior to that was A Girl About Cleveland, a blog that Cara started shortly after she moved to Cleveland in 2008 (having decided that if our relationship was going to continue to progress, it could no longer be a long-distance one) and that mostly focused on food but also contained various tidbits about Cara's life in her new city.

On November 24, 2013, Cara posted on her Girl About Cleveland blog for the first time in over half a year, a post that would be the final one on that blog, titled simply Thankful. She wrote:
This summer started out wonderfully. I logged over 1000 miles on my bicycle and had great fun with friends and family. At the end of August however, I was diagnosed with ALK+ adenocarcinoma of the lung. Needless to say, that has kept me busy. I spent a week in the hospital after diagnosis and ended up going back about two weeks later for a related medical complication (for another week). 
Treatment is going well though, and my prognosis actually looks good. As we approach Thanksgiving, I truly have a lot to be thankful for. I may not be at 100% healthwise, but I'm here and all things considered...I feel pretty good. I am surrounded by friends and family who care tremendously for me, and I'm in the capable hands of the staff at one of Cleveland's best cancer hospitals. 
I have so many stories to tell all of you - even though chemotherapy has changed my palate and appetite some, I've been able to eat and drink some amazing things. I'm hoping to get a blog or two under my belt during the holidays (no Black Friday shopping for me!) so I can tell you all about them. 
I wanted to share a recipe that Cleveland's own Chris Hodgson posted on Dim and Den Sum's Facebook page back in November 2011. This cranberry sauce is the perfect combination of tart, sweet and spiced. It's a hit with my family. Make enough to share (and enough to put on your turkey sandwiches in the days following Thanksgiving)!
(She finished the post with the cranberry sauce recipe.)

Before continuing this story, I want to pause for a moment to point out that Cara was completely incorrect when she wrote, "my prognosis actually looks good." And I knew that she was incorrect. However, no one told her this, and it's an interesting ethical question.

You see, when we got the results of the genetic testing showing that Cara's lung adenocarcinoma was ALK-positive, Cara's doctor explained that this was good news, because it opened up more treatment options. There was a drug called crizotinib (brand name Xalkori) that had been developed in recent years to specifically target ALK-positive tumors, and for patients who had such tumors the response rate with crizotinib was much better than with traditional chemotherapy. When Cara wrote that post, she had been taking crizotinib for a little over two months, and was responding well based on how she was feeling and on her most recent scans. Therefore, she felt that her prognosis looked good.

Being a scientist, I had naturally looked up research articles about crizotinib, and had seen that, in the clinical trial, the median progression-free survival was about 8 months longer with crizotinib than with traditional chemotherapy. This meant that the typical outcome for someone taking crizotinib was that they would gain about 8 months in which their disease would be under control, but ultimately they would still die of lung cancer.

There is no cure for stage IV lung cancer. The hope was that the progression of research generating new treatments would outpace the progression of Cara's disease, so that her disease would continue to be controlled and perhaps, some day in the future, a novel treatment would come about that could completely eradicate it. Or that could turn it into a chronic condition that would not actually progress to lethality. This hope was not a totally unrealistic one. There are people who have been able, thanks to the development of new treatments, to live much, much longer with the disease than Cara did, some who are still alive and well more than a decade after diagnosis. Still, the most likely outcome was always that Cara would succumb to her disease.

Cara's doctor did not explain this. In fact, Cara's doctors never told Cara that she should expect to die of cancer until the last week of her life. Should she have been told? I don't really know the answer to that question. I lean toward thinking that in Cara's case, it was better not to directly tell her. I think it was good for her, and for me, that she had that optimism, and could try to live life as normally as possible. Of course, even if she had been told, "You're probably going to die of this," that's not the same as, "You're definitely going to die of this," and Cara would likely have been just as determined to beat those odds. Don't get me wrong, she was well aware that she had a life-threatening condition, just not fully aware of how the odds were stacked against her. I knew all along that Cara would probably die of cancer, but I still hoped that she wouldn't. I never told Cara that she would probably die of cancer. The first time I ever heard her express the sentiment herself wasn't until 2015 when she told her mother, as the three of us sat in a doctor's office, "You know, this is probably going to kill me some day," and as it turned out, "some day" would arrive just a few weeks later.

Returning to November 2013. The very next day after Cara posted her "Thankful" post, she messaged me from work to say, "Ugh. This cold weather sucks. My chest just aches!" She later told me one of her online friends was urging her to call the doctor, leading to this exchange:
Jeff McManus
It's still bad? 
Cara McManus
It sort of feels like someone's sitting on my chest 
Jeff McManus
That sounds unpleasant. 
Cara McManus
It kind of is.
I'm breathing okay but there's a definite weight on my chest
Feng isn't at Seidman today
So I don't know what I'd do.
I'm kind of worried but I don't want to be a complainer
I'm raspy and stuff 
Jeff McManus
Well, it wouldn't hurt to call. 
Cara McManus
Kinda busy right now
I mean, I don't have the time to have a conversation with a doctor right now
Am kinda concerned though
And still later that afternoon:
Cara McManus
I am really hoping this chest pain gets better. It is making me nervous. 
Jeff McManus
I hope so too! 
Cara McManus
It seriously feels like i'm missing half of my lung
This was something that happened several times during Cara's illness - Cara being reluctant to go to the doctor about serious symptoms she was experiencing because she didn't "want to be a complainer." I don't say this to be critical of my late wife, but it's an interesting insight into the mindset she had. The next morning when she was feeling no better I convinced her to call the doctor, which led to her being admitted to the hospital, and it turned out to be a very good thing that she didn't wait much longer because if she had there's a chance she could have died way back then.

When Cara was in the ER, this exchange occurred:
Jeff McManus
What have they told you? 
Cara McManus
I stopped responding to Xalkori 
Jeff McManus
Well, that's not what I wanted to hear :( 
Cara McManus
You and me both
Haven't talked to Feng since she first came in though
I assume i'll do the other drug
I hate that doctor in the ER 
Jeff McManus
Why's that? 
Cara McManus
I don't feel like typing that much
I'll tell you when I see you
The reason that Cara told me she hated that doctor in the ER was that an ER doctor, someone who had no relationship with Cara and had never seen her before, had offered Cara the completely unsolicited opinion that there was no shame in considering hospice care. Needless to say, this was extremely upsetting to Cara, especially since when it happened she was alone in the ER, with no family or friends present. Cara's doctor (Dr. Feng) was also extremely upset at hearing of this incident. That conversation, if it were to come up, would be one for Cara's personal doctor to have with Cara. An ER doctor who did not know Cara had no place bringing it up. And that doctor had no idea about the different treatment options that Cara might have available. It would have been a terrible mistake to go to hospice care at that point in time, and I shudder to think how someone in a similar position but without Cara's strength of will or her strong support system might have taken that advice.

Cara was certainly in a grave state health-wise. We learned that that feeling of a weight on her chest was due to the fact that her pericardium, the sac that contains the heart, had filled up with 800 milliliters of fluid. That's a lot. (In September, after she had been diagnosed but before she started taking crizotinib, a similar incident had occurred when Cara's breathing worsened fairly rapidly over a couple days and after admission to the hospital we learned she had a whopping three liters of fluid in her chest cavity - but the pericardium is a much smaller space, so this time the situation may have been even more urgent.) She would have to have surgery to drain the fluid and to create a pericardial window - a hole in the pericardium so that additional fluid would not be stuck there. The surgery was scheduled for December 2. I don't remember all the details of that week or why it was exactly that the surgery was a week after Cara was admitted, but I'm sure there were good reasons. So while waiting for that surgery to take place, we spent Thanksgiving not in Columbus as we normally did, but in the ICU at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

Cara's parents came up from Columbus to spend Thanksgiving with us. At my and Cara's apartment, the three of us (her father Trent doing the majority of the cooking) prepared a Thanksgiving dinner to take to the hospital. I personally made the same applesauce that I have made for family Thanksgivings for many years, as well as the cranberry sauce that Cara had posted the recipe for on her blog and had made in the past. Making that cranberry sauce has become my thing as well - I've done it every year since, including 2014, when Cara was well enough that she made rolls and a dessert for our family gathering. It's a really delicious recipe.

Having Thanksgiving in the ICU was definitely not what we wanted, Cara most of all. But it was good that we still had a Thanksgiving, and good that Cara's parents could join us. The day after Thanksgiving was the last Friday of the month, meaning it was the day of the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, and Critical Mass rode to the hospital in honor of Cara.

The location of her room did not allow us to see them, but Cara was so moved that her friends did this for her. "Happy tears tonight. Cleveland Critical Mass FOREVER. All of you give me so much hope," she posted on Facebook.

The following day Cara was able to be moved out of the ICU and to a room in Seidman Cancer Center, which was very good because she hated being in the ICU.

There are several conversations over the course of the almost two weeks Cara ended up staying in the hospital that stick with me. I don't remember the exact order in which they occurred. I do know the first was with Dr. Feng. I was very worried about the fact that Cara's condition had worsened so dramatically in such a short period of time. She told me that sometimes when cancer became resistant to a treatment like crizotinib, there was a sort of rebound effect resulting in rapid progression. I asked her what the next step would be. She told me that she hoped to enroll Cara in a clinical trial for a newer ALK inhibitor drug, alectinib.

I was very stressed out and feeling very distraught throughout that first week. I remember going to the pharmacy at Target to pick up a prescription. I remember hoping that a young pharmacy tech named Ally who Cara and I had met recently would be there. The way we met Ally was quite remarkable. While picking up a prescription for blood-thinner medication, Ally asked Cara, if she didn't mind telling, why she had to take that drug. Cara explained why, and we were startled to learn that Ally's fiancé (now husband, and yes, he is still alive and well) Matt had been diagnosed two years prior with the exact same stage IV ALK-positive lung cancer! It was such a remarkable coincidence. We shared our experiences with each other, and learned that Matt had been on death's door at diagnosis but had made a remarkable recovery after taking the same drug crizotinib that Cara was on. That drug had saved his life. That story was one of the main things that gave me hope.

I told Ally about what was going on and she could tell I was very upset. I told her how Dr. Feng had brought up the alectinib trial, but the fact that Cara had failed crizotinib so quickly made me worry that the same would happen. Ally told me that she and Matt knew of some people for whom alectinib had worked more effectively and for a longer time than had crizotinib. "Cara is going to get better. That clinical trial is going to work," she told me. "It has to, it just has to."

This made me feel slightly better. Slightly.

On the day of Cara's surgery, Cara's mother Joyce, Cara's aunt Jean, my mom, and I were all gathered in the waiting area. After the surgery, the surgeon came out to us and told us that the surgery had been successful, but based on what he had seen when he was in there (and he did point out to us that he was not an expert), things did not look good.

I'm pretty sure my immediate response was a sardonic smile, like, oh, of course.

During the course of Cara's illness, there were three main low points for me. The first was the time of her diagnosis. The third was the end of her life. This was the second.

After the surgeon was gone, Joyce said something about she wished he had given some sort of time table. Of course, he wasn't really the one who would be able to do so. But we were all given the clear impression that Cara probably didn't have much time left. Perhaps a few months, I remember thinking.

Late that afternoon, I posted a terse status update on Cara's Facebook account:
This is Jeff. Cara got out of surgery about 1:00. The procedure to put in a pericardial window was successful. She is in the recovery room now, still waiting until she is ready to be moved to a hospital room.
I remember sitting across from my mom in the cafe at the hotel across the street from the cancer center, and telling her that, although I had known that there was a good chance that Cara would not survive her illness, I had not expected things to go downhill so soon and so rapidly.

I also remember sitting next to Cara after she was back to a hospital room. I smiled at her. She told me that I looked much more at ease than I had before the surgery. The truth of it was that before the surgery I was so worried about what might happen, but now I was already coming to terms with the notion of her dying.

My mom and I agreed that Cara should be informed of what the surgeon had told us. It was hard to tell Cara, though. Eventually I decided that the best way to inform her of the bad news would be to ask the surgeon to come see Cara and tell her basically just what he had told us, in the same clinical way. Then she could react however she felt like reacting, rather than having my own grief over the words influence her reaction.

So he did come to her room and tell her. To my surprise, Cara seemed unfazed by the news. Like what he was telling her wasn't that big a deal. Perhaps the drugs she was on helped. Her attitude was basically, it is what it is, and now we're going to move on to the next thing.

There was some concern over whether Cara was healthy enough to be accepted into the clinical trial. On December 6, she signed the consent form.

On  December 12, she was officially accepted, and she started the trial the very next day.

When we spent that Thanksgiving in the ICU, I fully expected that it was Cara's last Thanksgiving. Even at Christmas the following month, I thought it was probably Cara's last Christmas. But over the next few months, Cara made the most amazing improvement. By spring she was even able to get back on her bicycle and do some long rides. And not only did alectinib work better against Cara's cancer than any of the other treatments she took during her twenty-month battle, it also had the least side effects. For a little while, in April and May, it was like Cara was almost back to her normal self!

It couldn't last forever, though. In late May we found out that there were some small metastases in Cara's brain and she had to stop the trial. She went through several other treatments over the next almost-year; they all helped temporarily but none worked as well as alectinib. (Alectinib, by the way, has been FDA approved and is now helping lots of lung cancer patients, and they all owe a debt of gratitude to Cara and everyone else who participated in that clinical trial.) Still, through all of that time Cara and I were able to enjoy so many great experiences together. It wasn't until the very last week of her life, in April 2015, that her health and ability to function returned to the low point they had been at in the week of Thanksgiving 2013. None of that would ever have happened without the heroic efforts of numerous doctors and research scientists who made Cara's treatments a reality. So, just like Cara was when she wrote that last post on her Girl About Cleveland blog, I am truly thankful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A plea to all Republicans and independents

Donald Trump has chosen a white supremacist to be his chief policy advisor.

In case that didn't really sink in the first time, let me repeat it: Donald Trump has chosen a white supremacist to be his chief policy advisor.

Under Steve Bannon's leadership, the conservative news website Breitbart took an extremist turn and became an online haven for the "alt-right," basically a conglomeration of a new generation of white supremacists, misogynists, and online trolls. Here are a few examples of headlines from articles Breitbart ran under Bannon:

Hoist it high and proud: the Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage

Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew

The solution to online 'harassment' is simple: Women should log off

Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy

No doubt there are plenty of people putting forth the idea that Bannon is really an okay guy and of course he's not a white supremacist, that's just crazy talk! So let's see what some notable white supremacists think of the hire.

Former KKK leader David Duke?
"I think that's excellent," former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told CNN's KFile. "I think that anyone that helps complete the program and the policies that President-elect Trump has developed during the campaign is a very good thing, obviously. So it's good to see that he's sticking to the issues and the ideas that he proposed as a candidate. Now he's president-elect and he's sticking to it and he's reaffirming those issues." 
Duke . . . argued Bannon's position was among the most important in the White House. 
"You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going," added Duke. "And ideology ultimately is the most important aspect of any government."
The American Nazi Party?
Chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky J. Suhayda, who wrote a post after Trump's election night victory celebrating it as a call to action, said he was surprised at the pick of Bannon, but said it showed him Trump could follow through on his campaign promises. 
"I must admit that I was a wee bit surprised that Mr. Trump finally chose Mr. Bannon, I thought that his stable of Washington insiders would have objected too vociferously," Suhayda wrote in an email. "Perhaps The Donald IS for 'REAL' and is not going to be another controlled puppet directed by the usual 'Wire Pullers,' and does indeed intend to ROCK the BOAT? Time will tell."
Need I go on?

Bannon isn't alone. Another key member of Trump's transition team, who has even been rumored as an Attorney General pick, is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In Arizona, Kobach was the architect of what has been called the most racist law in the country, the "papers, please" law that let police officers stop anyone they suspected (read: Hispanic people) and demand proof of citizenship. Kobach was recently a featured speaker at a white nationalist conference.

Obviously, progressives like me are up in arms about these stories. Many Democratic politicians have strongly condemned the Bannon hire. Prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan don't seem to be so concerned.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) defended Steve Bannon as a top advisor in Donald Trump's White House, praising the political strategist despite critics who note he has provided a platform for white nationalism. 
Ryan, who said he talks to Trump every day now, dismissed the furor over Bannon, saying the former editor of Breitbart News was crucial to the Republican president-elect's success. 
"This is a person who helped him win an incredible victory," Ryan said Tuesday. "We’re confident about moving forward. We’re confident about the transition."
There have been some Republican voices speaking up against the presence of white nationalism in the White House. John Weaver, strategist for Ohio's Governor John Kasich, tweeted this:

Sadly, such voices seem few and far between.

We can be sure that Democrats and liberals will speak up against Bannon and other white supremacist intrusions into Donald Trump's administration. But that's not enough.

Think about what it would say for our country if "Should white supremacists have positions of high power and influence in the presidential administration?" became just another left-vs.-right partisan argument, rather than the white supremacists vs. literally everyone else argument that it should be. We would be headed down a very dark path.

Many of you may have voted for Republicans in the past, in some cases on a regular basis, but did not vote for Trump. To you, I say thank you for recognizing how uniquely unqualified for the presidency Trump is compared to past candidates of both parties. But now that he has been elected, simply not having voted for the man is not enough. Some of you have thought or said, "We need to give Trump a chance now that he's been elected." I would not agree with that, because the way Trump ran his campaign was a clear indication of what sort of president he'd be. But I can understand why people would think that way. To those people I'd say, Trump has now had his chance, and hiring a white supremacist shows that he's failed. We all need to speak up against this. Call your representatives in Congress. Engage people you know. Write letters. Maybe even come out to a protest! The idea that Trump would be checked by more reasonable Republicans in Congress is looking more and more like a pipe dream, as evidenced by Speaker Ryan rolling over to men like Trump and Bannon who trashed him throughout the campaign. The only way that elected Republican officials will stand up to extremism in the Trump administration is if the constituents of those officials, including people who have supported them in the past, make it loud and clear that that support will not continue unless those officials stand up and take action.

There are also those of you who did vote for Trump. And a lot of you are probably resenting how Trump voters are being labeled as sexists and racists. I understand that being labeled as a sexist or racist can be very hurtful. But here's the thing. Your right to not have your feelings hurt does not outweigh the rights of people who will have their lives and well-beings damaged in very concrete ways by sexist and racist policies, like those that Steve Bannon will promote. If you don't want people to think you're a sexist or racist, if you truly believe that Donald Trump can be a president for all Americans, stand up and speak out against this.

(If the majority of Trump voters actually don't have a problem with the president-elect hiring someone endorsed by Nazis and the KKK, I'm not sure what to say other than that I weep for this country and its people.)

And to all of my liberal friends who are already outraged, don't let that outrage stay within your liberal bubble. Engage people who don't share your political views, who might be on the fence about these issues. If the next presidential administration has its policy decisions dictated by white supremacists, the damage done could be so enormous that our country might never recover. Don't think "it can't happen here," because anytime that "it" has happened, "it" started with people thinking "it can't happen here." Anyone who loves the United States of America and who loves the people of this great nation must take action to make sure that it does not happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Dear Cara (part two)

(Previous "Dear Cara" post)

There has been a lot of upheaval recently - in the household, in the local community, and in the nation and world.

I'll start with the household because that's the happiest news.

A little more than a month ago I was in Columbus and I was visiting your parents, and while the three of us were sitting outside, an adorable little black kitten walked up to us. Your mom reacted first, murmuring "oh oh" as a sort of knowing smirk appeared on her face. I looked to where she was looking and there the little guy was! He came right up to us, no fear at all. Your mom explained that he was a stray who had been hanging around the area recently and she had been feeding him sometimes. I picked him up and he started purring and almost immediately your mom was hinting, maybe I should take him home!

Believe me, I never had any intention of adding a third cat to the household. Poor Mitters is getting old and frail and I didn't want to introduce a new source of stress into her life. But the little guy was so cute and friendly - and sitting there, it occurred to me that it had been eighteen years since you adopted Mitters, and nine years since I adopted Eponine, so what if it was meant to be that every nine years a new black kitten joined the family? To my great surprise, I decided I was going to give it a try. Your mom let me use a carrier she had. That sweet little kitten slept almost the whole way from Columbus to Cleveland, which is funny because I've practically never seen him asleep since!

I decided to name him Gavroche, after the character in Les Miserables who is both (a) the character Eponine's younger brother and (b) a street urchin, so the name seemed doubly appropriate.

Meet Gavroche!

Little Gavvy (as I usually call him, often also just "Gav" or "Buddy") is such a delightful ball of energy. I know you'd adore him. He does want to play with the lady kitties and they don't want that, not surprisingly (I'd hoped maybe Eponine would be up for it, but nope). My biggest fear about getting a kitten was that Mitters would attack the kitten the way she attacked Eponine so much when we started living together, but that hasn't happened. Instead, both Mitters and Eponine are afraid of the new arrival. If Gavvy tries to pounce on Mitters, Mitters never retaliates the way she might do to Eponine; instead, she hisses and runs away. Meanwhile, Eponine seems unable to tell the difference between Gavroche's play attacks and Mitters's real attacks, and reacts in pretty much the same way to both. It's interesting to me that I sometimes find it funny when Gavvy goes after Eponine, but when he goes after Mitters I always feel bad and try to get him to stop right away. I think I'm projecting how you would react.

I do hope you wouldn't be mad at me for bringing this source of stress into the old lady's life. I'm doing my best to let her have her peace. Fortunately, the apartment has a lot more space than our place in Little Italy where we, and Eponine and Mitters, first lived together. I keep Gavvy shut in the back two rooms (where Mitters and Eponine didn't spend that much time anyway) whenever I'm not home or in bed for the night, and even part of the time when I am at home and awake. And he does seem to be getting better at not going after the girls as much as he did at first. It's so, so important to me that Mitters be happy - she's so precious to me because of how important she was to you. I remember sometimes you would ask me if I thought Mitters was happy. How can we really know if a cat is happy? But I think she still is. She still purrs a lot when I'm holding her or when I give her something yummy to eat. Going on nineteen years in a few months, the old lady is a tiny thing - at six months now (based on the vet's estimate), Gavroche already outweighs her - but she still seems to be in good health. I'm going to miss her so much when she's gone.

Having Gavroche around to play with (which he never tires of) has been a lot of fun for me. That's been good with the other things that have gone on recently.

The cycling community here received a huge jolt in September when Shelli, who had been riding her bike from Cleveland to Seattle(!!) where she was moving to live with her boyfriend Max, was struck from behind by a car traveling 60 mph in Montana. I was so shocked and devastated when I learned of the news. We were all afraid she would die, but she's still here, now back in Cleveland at MetroHealth, and on the long road to recovery. It's been really wonderful how the community has come together in the wake of this horrible incident. The cycling community here in Cleveland is a great community to be part of, and I wish I would have involved myself in it more when you were still alive. I know you tried and were sometimes disappointed that I didn't come out to those events very often. In June 2014, you wrote this on your cancer blog:
This is the first Slow Roll my husband tagged along for, and I know he already knows this but it really made my day for him to go with us. I feel like I'm predominantly a social rider (though I have done plenty of distance tours and even a few time trials) and he's not - so it was sort of a big deal to me for him to ride along. Riding a bicycle is a huge part of my life, and my marriage is also a huge part of my life - it is nice when the two come together.
The sad truth is, for most of the time we were together, I felt limited in the amount of cycling I could do by knee and/or hip pain that would be aggravated by cycling. I chose to use most of that limited amount on recreational/fitness riding rather than social riding. This year, for whatever reason, I have been able to do a whole lot more cycling than in the past without incurring excessive pain, and have done a lot of riding both by myself and on social outings. I've finally been able to see what you loved so much about those Critical Mass rides! Shelli has played a big part in bringing me out for those rides since we lost you. She is such a great friend. Yvonne, another close friend of Shelli's who I befriended after meeting through Shelli at Critical Mass, has told me that Shelli would talk about you and me all the time.

For Critical Mass in September, we all put pink streamers on our bikes in honor of Shelli, and we rode to the hospital. Shelli was still in a medically induced coma at that time, but her mom and Kathy were able to see us out the window. It reminded me of when you were in the ICU at UH in November 2014 and Critical Mass rode there. I'm really glad to be part of such a great group of people - thank you for helping bring me into it!

I've also taken up mountain biking this year and I love it. I do wonder sometimes when I'm out on the trails if it's something you would have given a try - I bet you'd have enjoyed it if you did. In any case, I think of you whenever I'm riding either of my bikes.

So, those are the big upheavals in the household and local community. The national/world news? Donald Trump was just elected president. Of the United States. Yeah, I know.

I just looked it up, and he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, so you were already gone. Back then, nobody really thought he might win. My biggest memory of Trump prior to this campaign is from back when The Apprentice was new (and I didn't watch the show itself), Conan O'Brien did a really funny Trump impression on his show, mimicking The Donald's signature "You're fired" line. Ah, Conan. I remember how when we used to spend hours every night chatting on AIM, you learned to expect that at 12:35 am I would take a break for "Conan time" and then come back afterwards. Good memories. We stayed up so late back then...

But anyway, that's Donald Trump. A reality TV star. That's basically who he is. He has no qualifications whatsoever to be president. And now he's the president-elect.

The worst part is everything that he did and that came out about him during the campaign, and the fact that people still voted for him in spite of, or for some people because of, it. He was openly racist and misogynistic throughout the campaign in a way totally unlike anything I've ever seen in my life. He characterized Mexicans as rapists and talked about banning Muslims from entering the country and forcing current Muslim residents to register in a database. He encouraged violence against African-American protesters at his rallies. He insulted women in so many different ways. He picked for his VP the governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, who has one of the worst anti-women's and gay rights records in the country. Even worse, not long before the election a tape came out in which Trump had bragged about assaulting women, just going up to them and kissing them ("I don't even wait") and even "grab[bing] them by the pussy." And then when he denied having actually assaulted any women and characterized the tape as "locker room talk" (wtf?), more than a dozen different women came forward and said he had assaulted them similarly to how he described it in the tape.

It disgusts me even writing that out. And enough people were willing to write that off or ignore it that now this horrific person is going to be our next president.

I've tried to imagine how you would react. Obviously, you'd be horrified. You had so much compassion for people and the rights of women, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups were such important issues to you. Would you be as shocked as I was? I think hardly anyone actually expected him to win, but some people were more shocked than others. Both at Trump winning and at what has happened afterwards. I feel like, although your attitude about having cancer was amazingly hopeful and optimistic, when it came to human nature you might have been a little more cynical than me, so maybe you wouldn't have found it quite as shocking. But I know you'd be so saddened to see all the incidents that are happening now of Trump supporters harassing and intimidating minorities and women. It is a really scary time in our country and world. It's like living in a nightmare. I can honestly say the only events in my whole life that could compare in their effect on me are 9/11 and your death. In certain ways, this is worse. Because in both of those cases, I felt a great sense of togetherness as people united after a tragedy. In this case, I and others do have a lot of support from friends and family, but I also know there are a whole lot of people out there who are against me and against people I care about, and that the representative of those people was just elected to lead our country. It's nauseating and terrifying. On the night of the election and in the days since, I've really missed you a lot, more than usual. I'm glad my parents came to visit me on Thursday; it was planned weeks ahead without thinking about the date (and back then I wasn't expecting this election outcome) but it turned out to be good timing. We went to L'Albatros, my first time there since your death, and had a great dinner as always. I'm so grateful for everything my parents have done for me and for the fact that, although their political views have often differed from yours and mine, they are very compassionate people who fully recognize how awful Trump is. I can only hope and pray that more people like them who are closer to the middle of the political spectrum will come around and see what a danger this all is to our country and help stand up against it, because the far right wing seems to be past the point of no return. And it's really, really frightening.

I had a nice outing today. I was taking my bikes (yep, both of them!) over to Blazing Saddle on the west side, and when driving through Gordon Square I noticed a lot of people walking around outside. I decided to check it out after dropping the bikes off and I discovered it was an event called SouperBowl CLE at which, for $25 (going to the West Side Catholic Center, a homeless shelter), participants could walk around the neighborhood and sample almost thirty different flavors of soup, each made by a local restaurant and served at a local business (some bars or restaurants and some other shops as well). It was a great day for it, sunny and brisk - reminded me of November 4, 2006! Being out there in the community, getting a taste of all the great local businesses and supporting a great cause, it made me feel a little better about the world. A very good thing at this time. There was so much delicious soup. You'd have loved this event and I wish you could have been there with me. Along the way, I bought a couple of items that made me think of you:

I've started to pick up your penchant for wearing colorful socks. I've picked up a lot of things from you in the last year and a half, actually. When I'm out with friends or my parents, I often marvel to myself at how much more talkative I am than I used to be. I've also picked up your love of baking pies. I've actually gained something of a reputation for making both delicious pies and delicious ice cream. For your birthday I hosted an ice cream social and made twelve different kinds of ice cream myself, and I was told that I should go into the ice cream business! Who knows, perhaps some day I will.

There were a few particular stops in the SouperBowl that reminded me of you as well. One of the restaurants that supplied soup was Aladdin's, so that one's obvious. Another soup, made by the restaurant Vita Urbana, was a roasted apple and sweet potato soup and I swear, it really reminded me of the soup at the restaurant the two of us had lunch at in Monteverde on our honeymoon. For a moment I was transported back to Costa Rica. The final, and most emotional, of the memory inducers was a stop at Stone Mad Pub. As I approached the establishment I realized I'd been there before. Just once. And I was with both you and Shelli. I went inside and just stared at the bar where the three of us had sat for a little while, my eyes welling up. That was the night (May 31, 2014) after Critical Mass when this picture of Shelli riding in the back of our car was taken:

I'm pretty sure we were right outside Stone Mad when we took that picture. Such fun times!

What else? Well, you'd probably like to know that Cleveland finally won a major sports championship this year! Yep, the Cavs won the NBA Finals in a seven-game thriller over Golden State. It was so amazing to experience. And the Indians made it all the way to extra innings in game seven of the World Series before losing - to the Cubs, of all teams. A lot of people said that was a sign of the apocalypse. And then Trump was elected...

I wish you could have watched those series with me. I know you weren't as big a sports fan as me, but you were always excited to see Cleveland teams do well. You would have loved it.

I've also been to a lot of really good concerts. I got to talk to both Daniel Brummel (who was filling in on bass for Nada Surf) and Will Sheff at recent shows, and I told them about you and what their music had meant to us! I'm really glad I was able to do that. I also got sad thinking about how if you were still alive, the two of us together could have had similar conversations with them, minus the tragic parts.

All in all, I've been having a pretty good 2016. This week has been very tough, though, for me and for many, many other people. I hope we can all continue to find the good in life through hard times, and to fight to make the world a better place, just as you always did.

I love you. As you would often say to me, now more than ever.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dear white people

Some of the thoughts in this post have been bouncing around inside my head for much of this year. Events have transpired that make it impossible to keep them inside any longer.

The United States of America just elected to the presidency the most dangerous and least qualified candidate ever - a narcissistic bully with the temperament of a toddler, with no apparent grasp of any important policy issues, and with a long history of denigrating women and members of various minority groups, and probably of sexually assaulting women as well. Said bully received the majority of the vote share from both sexes and all age ranges of whites, and was roundly rejected by all other voters.

There is something deeply wrong with White America.

Donald Trump's campaign was largely based on demonizing groups like immigrants, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Muslims. He actively courted the support of white supremacists, often retweeting them, and was endorsed by the KKK. The sad reality is that anyone who would support the man who ran such a campaign is at worst an active supporter of, and at best fairly indifferent toward, white nationalism. And therefore the majority of white people in this country are at worst active supporters of, and at best fairly indifferent toward, white nationalism. I do believe, and hopefully it's not just me trying to be charitable, that for most it is indifference, not active support, and that this indifference comes out of ignorance, not actual malice. Nonetheless, it is all extremely troubling. I weep for all the people out there, especially the children, who are members of these already marginalized communities. The message this country has just sent to them is appalling.

I know that most of the people reading this will not have been Trump supporters. But that doesn't mean we shoulder no responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves. Figuring out how this happened and how to find our way out requires confronting some uncomfortable topics.

I remember when I was growing up, and the civil rights movement was covered in school. We learned about how black people used to be held as slaves. Then the Civil War happened and slavery ended, but they were still discriminated against in many ways. But then, in the middle of what's now the last century, we had the civil rights movement. Discrimination was outlawed! Schools were desegregated! Racism (at a societal level, even if some individual folks continued to hold racist beliefs) became largely a thing of the past! Or so it seemed, based on what we were presented in school.

No one ever brought up the curious fact, when we learned about desegregation of schools, that we were sitting in a classroom in one of Ohio's best public school districts and our classmates were almost 99% white. And just miles away was a much larger district with failing schools, in which most of the students were black.

This isn't something that happened by accident. And it certainly isn't the fault of those black students or their families. It's the result of centuries of discrimination at every level of society. Discrimination that may have lessened over time, but did not go away. And even when it lessened, the carryover effects of more overt discrimination in the past are not easily washed out. I'm not going to expound here on all the ways in which this is true. There's a lot of good reading out there if you want to know more about it. One such article is The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It really astonishes me how I was able to go so long in life being oblivious to all of this. It's only in the last couple of years that I've become fully aware of my past ignorance, thanks in large part to the heightened focus on police killings of unarmed black people, killings that have gone on for ages but have only now received widespread attention thanks to social media and the ubiquity of smartphones with cameras. The Black Lives Matter movement has done a great service in bringing these issues to the forefront of the national consciousness. And the reaction by many to that movement has done so much to illuminate just how big of a problem racism still is.

I really did spend most of my life living in a bubble. I'm fairly certain that in the last year and a half I've had easily more interaction with black people (in contexts other than their being employees of businesses I was patronizing) than I had in the entire rest of my life combined, which is due mainly to three events: I became very close friends with a black woman who was one of Cara's best friends, another black woman joined the research lab in which I work, and I started participating in pickup basketball games at the fitness center at work. And looking back now over the course of my life, it just stuns me how easy it is for a white person to go through life like that in a country that supposedly prides itself on being a diverse place in which people of all backgrounds can chase that American Dream.

In the online game Psychobabble where Cara and I met, our group of players often enjoyed trying to make very offensive sentences - we found it hilarious to take a set of innocuous words and come up with something shocking. Some of the offensive sentences were racist in nature. I totally did not believe any of those racist statements were true. To me, it was all absurdist shock value humor. Looking back on all my old screenshots today, I still find a lot of the other offensive sentences funny, but the racist ones now disgust and embarrass me. Because there are so many people who still genuinely hold such beliefs, and the effects of such beliefs continue to be so embedded in the power structures of our country, I no longer find it at all funny to make "ironically racist" statements as jokes. Yet somehow, ten years ago I was apparently under the impression that racism was no longer a major problem in our society!

Fortunately I had a good upbringing and was raised to respect all people, and I never held any overtly racist beliefs, but I still picked up prejudices that I've had to try to shake (as all people inevitably do in a society that bombards them with subtle and not-so-subtle racist messages). The reality is, though, that if you go through life not knowing any people from a certain group, it is much easier for demagogues to instill in you a fear of that group. And so we see that the places with overwhelming Trump support tend to be the places in which white people can go through their daily lives without interacting on a personal level with any minorities. Trump played to the fears that have been stoked by the right-wing media for decades and told those people that he would "make America great again." Which means what, exactly? When in the past was America more great than it has been in the Obama years? Was it when Jim Crow was legal? Really, "make America great again" means make America a safe space (yes, that concept so derided by conservatives) for white people who are afraid their privileged position in society will disappear.

What is there to do about all this?

That's a very difficult question to answer.

But one thing that has become clear to me is that we as white people have the privilege of basically ignoring racism because talking about it is too difficult, and it doesn't have a direct effect on our lives. Whereas minorities don't have that privilege. So when I see or hear someone express a prejudiced opinion, I can just shrug it off and not challenge them because I don't want that conflict. I'm sure a lot of us have had that experience. Today it seems like a lot of white Americans find calling someone racist for their expression of racist sentiments to be a greater offense than the expression of those racist sentiments. That is really not right and it has to change. We have to be willing to challenge prejudice where and when we see it.

It's a conundrum, of course, because if someone says something racist and you call them out on it, it's not likely their mind will be changed. They will probably take being called out as a personal insult, and might even cling more tightly to the racist belief. But there are other people watching and listening. People whose beliefs aren't so set in stone. Especially children. And it is the battle for the hearts and minds of those people that we have to fight.

I have a lot of experience with seeing prejudiced comments from people I know and just letting them slide because I wanted to be polite and didn't want to cause conflict. This is primarily with certain relatives. Let me be very clear that there are no purely good or purely bad people. These relatives of mine have many good qualities and in most ways are decent people. I don't think of them as "deplorable" people. But at the same time, they do hold some deplorable beliefs.

Furthermore, I think one of the problems with the discourse on race is that most people associate racism with extremists like the KKK, and when someone says "that's racist" to a prejudiced statement they make, what they hear is "you are racist, and therefore a bad person." When in reality it wouldn't really be inaccurate to say that everyone is racist, in the sense of harboring (often subconscious) racial biases that affect one's worldview, because it's impossible to avoid picking up such biases when you live your whole life in a world full of them. The important thing is how you respond to them - do you actively work to suppress them, or do you let them control you?

The point I'm trying to make is that when I talk about these examples of racism by people I know, I'm not saying that they are terrible people, or that I don't care about them. But I also can't continue to just let such troubling and destructive views go unchallenged.

I have an uncle who has made racist statements on a number of occasions over the years, in a family email list. Not KKK-level racism, not even close, but still things that are undeniably racist. Such as saying that the generally worse outcomes for members of the African-American community must be the fault of African-Americans, because other minority groups (such as Asian immigrants) tend to be more successful. Which ignores the whole history of anti-black racism in this country, from slavery through Jim Crow through all sorts of things that still persist to this day. Years ago there were a few times when I would, often snarkily, challenge something he said (usually not even a directly race-related issue but something else political), and there would be a little spat on the family email list. And then I learned to be more polite, but I also learned to most of the time just ignore such troublingly prejudiced claims. And I've watched in dismay over the last eight years as some of his siblings seem to have become more influenced by that sort of worldview.

Here's the thing: none of them supported Trump. They all despise Trump. My uncle is appalled by Trump. But my uncle also spent years as an editorial columnist in which a number of his columns, without using explicitly racist language, nonetheless helped to promote fears of blacks and of Muslims in his readers. And it seemed like most of the time no one in the family would challenge this. So I mostly gave up trying to do so. Because I was tired of the conflict and tired of being alone in putting up an opposing voice. Obviously, my trying to be a more active anti-racist voice would not by itself have prevented Trump from being elected. But if all of us who care about such things and have been silent because we cared more about politeness and avoiding conflict had instead repeatedly spoken up over the years? Who knows?

On the other side of the family, I have an aunt who is a Trump supporter. When I posted something on Facebook about the plagiarism in Melania Trump's convention speech, my aunt replied with something about how Melania had still done a better job than "Aunt Esther." I didn't know what this meant so I looked it up and learned that Aunt Esther was a character on the TV show Sanford and Son who was basically a stereotypical "angry black woman," and that some right-wingers call Michelle Obama that. So basically, that comment was racist as hell. I just ignored it. I know, speaking up probably wouldn't have changed my aunt's mind about anything. But if all of us together make an effort to consistently speak up on such matters, it can change some minds.

It's a very difficult and delicate situation. It can be tempting to want to just cut Trump supporters out of your life. But doing that will only serve to further radicalize them. Yet constantly just letting their prejudiced statements slide will only help validate those beliefs in their minds. I think we have to try to constantly show people, regardless of their beliefs, that we do care about them as people, but also that we cannot accept their denigration of those who are different.

It would be so easy to just give in to hating Trump supporters the way that the more extreme among that faction seem to hate so many other groups of people. There's a tendency among many to blame "both sides" of an issue. "Trump supporters are prejudiced against Muslims and immigrants, but Hillary supporters are prejudiced against rural white people. They're both just as bad as each other." And there are indeed many liberals who are too dismissive of the concerns of the white working class. The difference for me, and I would hope for most people on the left, is that although I vehemently disagree with Republicans on most issues, I have no desire to take away their citizenship, their health care, their quality of life. I just want to stop them from taking those things away from other people I care about.

I hope that a coherent message is coming through in this rambling post. This whole situation is so very upsetting to me. Even had Hillary won, the fact that someone like Trump came so close to being elected president would have been deeply upsetting for the ugly truths revealed about our society. The fact that he actually won is devastating to me on a level perhaps only exceeded, in my life, by the death of my wife Cara, and has largely shattered my faith in humanity. But, I don't want to give up hope. Because Cara wouldn't.

I should also mention that, although my post is focused on the issue of racism, the issue of sexism is equally important. Rape culture has been a hot topic for the last few years (I urge you to read Jon Krakauer's excellent book Missoula for more on this topic), and Trump, disgustingly, is now clearly the president of rape culture. I've seen some people today bemoan the fact that Hillary was nominated because they feel Bernie Sanders would have beaten Trump. I'm skeptical of the notion that the same country that just elected Donald Trump would have elected a Jewish socialist, but I'll acknowledge it is possible that Bernie would have won. If it is true, though, that Bernie would have been more successful than Hillary, I have to say that the main advantage for Bernie over Hillary would have been that this country is really fucking sexist.

Where do we go from here? We have to all vow to be there for each other, and especially for the members of all groups threatened by Trump (which, sadly, includes pretty much anyone who isn't a straight white male), because unlike Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, we can be very confident that Donald Trump will not be there for those people. Speak out against prejudice, racism and sexism. Don't just let it pass because you'd rather be polite. Organize to resist at every step of the way the potentially catastrophic effects of a Trump presidency (the potential repeal of Obamacare and the likely reversal of progress on climate issues alone are utterly terrifying). At the same time, vow to do good for others - even for those who would do harm to you or someone you care about. Because we are all in this together. And we have to show everyone that that is still true.

Monday, November 7, 2016

With liberty and justice for all

Having driven all the way to Philadelphia on Friday to see the kickoff show for Temple of the Dog's first ever tour, I thought I should see whether there was anything else interesting that I could spend a couple hours doing before setting out on my return trip the following day. Looking at a map, I noticed Valley Forge National Historical Park was conveniently located, and especially in light of the good weather forecast, decided to put a visit there on my agenda. It turned out that the visit was a really great and powerful experience that far exceeded any expectations I might have had.

I first drove to the visitor center and picked up some maps of the park and its numerous walking trails. I decided that I definitely wanted to go visit George Washington's headquarters from the Continental Army's famous encampment at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Looking at a map, I formed out a rough plan in my mind that should fill the two or so hours I had - drive over to the Washington Memorial Chapel (which I knew nothing about but thought sounded interesting), park there, check out the chapel, then head out on one of the trails that would take me to Washington's headquarters, and then continue on some other trails to eventually loop back to my car.

I really had no idea what was in store for me. When I got out of my car by the chapel, my jaw dropped just looking out at the scene I found - absolutely brilliant fall foliage lit up by the sun against a cloudless sky. Both the time of year and the day were simply ideal for my visit. I spent a few minutes just soaking up the sun and admiring the scenery (and taking pictures, of course).

I then entered the chapel, first coming into a side chamber in which I was met with a very interesting and remarkably timely sight.

The Justice Bell (I learned that day, never having heard of it before) was commissioned by Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger for the women's suffrage movement in 1915. It's a replica of the Liberty Bell (minus the famous crack) with the addition of the words "Establish Justice" near the top of the bell. The bell was taken on road tours in support of women's suffrage between 1915 and 1920. The clapper of the bell was chained up so that it could not ring until women finally gained the right to vote.

How fitting, I thought, that here I was 100 years later viewing the Justice Bell as this country is about to possibly elect its first ever woman president, another huge milestone in the struggle those brave women undertook!

And this led me to a train of thoughts that continued to fill my head for the rest of my visit to Valley Forge.

I wouldn't call myself a very patriotic person. I'm often pretty down on the good old U.S. of A. But this country, for all its many imperfections, does have a lot of good to say about it. It has been an inspiration to people all over the world for a long time now, and there are some good reasons for that.

Those men, camped out in the harsh winter at Valley Forge almost 240 years ago, they were fighting for an idea. The idea that all men are created equal, and endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, at the time "all men" really meant "white males," but that was still a novel thing. We've come a long way since then. Today we'd like to think that "all men" means "all people," and while we still aren't actually there, we're a lot closer than we were in the past. It can be tempting to view historical progress as inevitable, to think that society just naturally improves as the years go by, but that's really not the case. A lot of people, from those Revolutionary War soldiers to those suffragettes and many others before, between, and after, have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting us where we are today.

And where we are today is at a crossroads. More likely than not, we'll take another step in that great march of progress and finally elect a woman to the presidency. But on the other side, there are a lot of people who seem to be willing to risk blowing the whole thing up and electing the most dangerous and least qualified candidate in history.

Visiting the headquarters of General George Washington was another unexpectedly moving experience. I was awed by the knowledge that I was standing in the very same house in which the father of our country lived while leading his army those many years ago.

The previous night at the Temple of the Dog show, I had pondered what it would have been like on November 4, 2006, my first date with Cara, if I could have been given a vision of my life ten years in the future.

While in that house at Valley Forge, similar thoughts rose to mind. How would George Washington react if he could somehow have been told, "In the year 2016, the United States of America will have been the most powerful nation on Earth for many decades. The president will be a black man. There will be an election for the next president. One of the candidates will be a woman. The other candidate will be a fascist reality TV show host who likes to harass people on Twitter."

Of course, it would take a while to explain to someone from the 18th century what each part of the phrase "fascist reality TV show host who likes to harass people on Twitter" means. But I'm sure General Washington would have been quite astonished to learn of this turn of events.

This election season has been distressing to me. I like to think that most people are generally decent people at heart. The fact that so many people are supporting someone who is so outwardly racist and misogynist has definitely made me lose at least a little of my faith in humanity. When I drive through somewhere with a high concentration of Trump signs, it honestly makes me feel physically uncomfortable. And that's me, a straight white male, someone who is in about the least direct danger from Trump and his followers. I shudder to think of what it must be like for people who are more directly affected - for Muslims, racial minorities, members of the LGBT community, women - most especially, women who have been sexually assaulted. And whether you are aware of it or not, I can almost guarantee that for anyone reading this, you do know some women who have been sexually assaulted. Trump was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, then a bunch of women came out and corroborated his story by saying yeah, he sexually assaulted me just like how he described, and some of those women had their stories corroborated by still other people! So there's no real doubt that Trump has a history of sexually assaulting women! How can anyone just shrug that off and still support him? What kind of example would such a president set for all the potential future Brock Turners of the world? And for the last week the biggest story in the news has been, Hillary's emails? Seriously? Trump has literally done a hundred different things much worse than whatever Hillary did with her emails. Things that would be shattering to any normal campaign for president. Remember Mitt Romney's comments about 47% of Americans being moochers? Trump has had so many stories about him that are easily worse than that, that it seems like we've gotten so desensitized to Trump's horribleness, so none of the stories get the attention they really deserve. He still hasn't released his tax returns, which alone should disqualify him from the presidency, and that story has seemingly been forgotten!

And if you're one of the people who thinks Hillary Clinton is just as bad as Trump? Wake up to the fact that Hillary has been the victim both of a twenty-five year Republican smear campaign and of a whole host of sexist double standards that still plague our society. She has dedicated her life to public service and to improving the lives of children and families, and while yes, she is a flawed candidate, there are no flawless candidates, and there's nothing so horrible about Hillary that couldn't also be said about most people who have been in politics for that long.

Unlike her opponent.

I needed to get that off my chest. Rant over. Please vote (if you haven't already) for Hillary Clinton tomorrow.

Both the natural beauty and the history of the place, the latter especially in conjunction with the timing of my visit, made Valley Forge a memorable stop on my trip. I'd highly recommend it if you're in the Philadelphia area!

Before returning to Cleveland, I had one more stop on my trip. Tegan and Sara, another band I like, had a show in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and I decided that I might as well go because Pittsburgh is directly on the way from Philadelphia to Cleveland. Driving to Philadelphia, seeing Temple of the Dog, going to Valley Forge, driving to Pittsburgh, seeing Tegan and Sara, and driving back to Cleveland all in two days? As was stated on a pair of Cara's socks, "Carpe the fuck out of this diem." That's how I'm living my life.

I wish I knew where those socks were, by the way, because I'd wear them. I swear, though, Cara had some unnatural capacity for losing socks. When I dressed as her for the Halloween Critical Mass bike ride, wearing her pink tutu and her high school marching band letter jacket, I also looked through her socks, and every single sock I found that I liked was literally that - a single sock, missing its partner. (This was something I also often noticed when she was still alive and I did laundry.) I ended up going with a mismatched pair.

The show in Pittsburgh also brought memories of Cara - my previous visit to this particular venue (Stage AE) was to see Belle and Sebastian with Cara in the summer of 2013. Plus, Torres, who opened for Tegan and Sara, also opened for Okkervil River the last time Cara saw them with me.

The show was a lot of fun. I laughed to myself at the realization that at a concert with a mostly female audience, I felt even taller than I normally do! And while the memories stirred by seeing Temple of the Dog on Friday and by going to Stage AE on Saturday were predictable, seeing Tegan and Sara also brought up a memory of Cara that was completely unexpected - always a nice surprise! For the almost nine months (from September 2008 until the start of June 2009) when she lived in Cleveland but we did not yet live together, I would often go over to her apartment at night. Although it was only about an eight minute walk for me to go from my place in University Circle to hers in Little Italy, I would often listen to music on my iPod during the walk, and pick out songs or little playlists that would last about 8-9 minutes. One such playlist that I used at least once, probably several times, was my three favorite songs from Tegan and Sara's album The Con: "The Con," "Nineteen," and "Call It Off." During the show on Saturday there was a segment featuring several songs in a row from that album, most of them performed acoustically, and it included all three of those songs, and that memory of walking over to Cara's place in the dark just came rushing back to me.

Also from The Con was the song "I Was Married." This too made me think of the upcoming election (a topic that was also directly addressed during Tegan and Sara's stage banter, I might add). The song is about gay marriage. Ten years ago, when they made the album, that was still a hot topic and was nowhere near receiving nationwide acceptance. (See, progress can be made!) Lyrics include:

Now we look up in 
(Tell me who, tell me who)
Into the eyes of bullies 
Breaking backs
They seem so very tough 
(It’s a lie, it’s a lie)
They seem so very scared of us
I look into the mirror 
(Look into)
For evil that just does not exist
I don’t see what they see 
(Tell them that, tell them that)

And this made me think of all the people - immigrants, Muslims, transgender people, women exercising their right to choose, etc. - who are in danger from a potential Trump presidency.  People who far too many of Trump's supporters look at and see something to fear. Something evil.

Evil that just does not exist.

Because whatever Trump would like us to believe, we are stronger together.

So again, I implore you to make the right choice tomorrow.

November 4

I went to Philadelphia on Friday to see a very special concert by Temple of the Dog. The trip was a moving experience - for multiple reasons. The concert, that was something I expected to move me, and boy did it live up to those expectations. My visit the next day to Valley Forge National Historical Park? That took me by surprise.

But first, Temple of the Dog.

You might not recognize the name, but there's a good chance you've at least heard their hit song "Hunger Strike." In any case, some background is in order. Andrew Wood, lead singer of the band Mother Love Bone, died of a heroin overdose on March 19, 1990. Wood had been the roommate of Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden. Inspired by his good friend's death, Cornell started writing songs, then joined up with Wood's Mother Love Bone bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, as well as guitarist Mike McCready (who had recently started collaborating with Ament and Gossard) and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and the project turned into a full-fledged album - Temple of the Dog. A little-known at the time vocalist named Eddie Vedder also came in to share lead vocals with Cornell on "Hunger Strike."

Soon, Vedder, Ament, Gossard, and McCready would become famous as four of the five members of Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden's popularity would also soar as the Seattle grunge scene took the early '90s music world by storm. And thus Temple of the Dog, a band that would otherwise have been mostly forgotten, started to get a lot of airplay.

I've been a big Pearl Jam fan for most of my life, and a fan of Soundgarden as well. When I got the Temple of the Dog album, I fell in love instantly. It's been one of my all-time favorite albums ever since. I never expected to see a live Temple of the Dog show - Temple had been a one-off project; they never even toured to support the album, playing just a few shows. So I was simultaneously shocked and exhilarated when it was announced earlier this year that, to mark the album's 25th anniversary, the first ever Temple of the Dog tour would be taking place.

I was even more shocked when I saw the date of the very first show on the tour: November 4, 2016.

You see, November 4, 2016 would be the 10-year anniversary of my dating Cara.

These things keep happening. Oddly significant timing of significant concerts. Cara and I planned our wedding on June 12, 2011 in Columbus, and then Okkervil River announced a tour with a show in Columbus on June 11, the night before the wedding (we went to the show, of course). Bowerbirds, the band whose song "Northern Lights" was the first dance song at our wedding, played a show in Cleveland on June 12, 2012 - and so we got to dance to a live performance of our first dance song on our first wedding anniversary. The last concert I ever went to while Cara was still alive (and although she had little more than a week to live, I had absolutely no idea of this at the time) was by Sufjan Stevens, and as I had so often done in the past when I was at shows without her, I called her so she could listen to a song she liked - and it was the last song of the concert - and that song was "Chicago," the recessional music at our wedding. The first time Cara's birthday, September 22, came around after her death, Godspeed You! Black Emperor - the band whose 2011 show in Chicago was easily one of the most powerful and memorable shows we ever attended together - had a show in Cleveland.

On November 4, 2006, Cara drove up from Columbus to Cleveland, the first of many such drives she'd make. I remember feeling simultaneously very excited and very nervous. There had been a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach intensifying since at least the day before. Having become amazingly close friends with Cara over the past seven-and-a-half months, and having suspected for a while that she had a crush on me, I'd finally come around to deciding that yes, I did want to try being more than friends with her. Having been an exceptionally shy person my whole life, I'd never told a girl something like this before. Hence the combination of excitement and nervousness. It was a sunny day, a bit chilly but not too cold, nice weather for a walk. Going for walks was something we'd done before, so it was natural that we'd go for a walk that afternoon after she arrived. We headed out from my apartment on East 115th Street near Case's North Residential Village, down Hessler Road and through the campus to the lagoon by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Early in the walk, Cara remarked that her hands were cold. I don't remember how I reacted. We walked around the lagoon, enjoying a nice conversation as we always did together. We made at least three loops of the lagoon. I was kind of stalling for time, to be honest. Trying to muster up the nerve to say something about the feelings I had developed for Cara. I was almost completely certain those feelings were mutual - but what if I was wrong? I'd never done anything like this before!

By the lagoon, Cara took this picture of me. (I borrowed her scarf for the picture.) I don't have any pictures of her from that day. Back then, she didn't like having her picture taken.

Another snippet of conversation that I recall from by the lagoon: Cara said something about how all the guys who liked her were weird or creepy. "All the guys?" I said, trying to hint at but not actually saying "what about me?"

After several times around the lagoon and me still not overcoming my fears, we headed back in the direction of my apartment, but did not go directly there; instead, I suggested we go see the new dorms and stadium. While walking up Bellflower I asked Cara if her hands were still cold. She said yes. We reached the stadium and paused "beneath a great brick arch" (as Cara put it in the storybook she made me for Valentine's Day three months later). This was the view from where we stood (well, almost; the building in the background between the scoreboard and bleachers wasn't there at the time):

Standing there next to each other, I said to Cara (paraphrasing of course; this was ten years ago), "Well, I was going to say if your hands are cold, maybe it would help if we held hands?"

(Aaaah! So corny! So awkward! And yet, so right for that moment and for our friendship/romance! The next day on AIM chat after Cara had returned home, I said, "The way you reacted when I asked if we should hold hands was so adorable" and Cara replied, "Teehee. I don't even remember what I said. Everything went fuzzy then.")

So we did hold hands as we walked around the stadium and back to my apartment. I recall we both had a fresh spring in our steps for that last portion of the walk. It was really a magical feeling. And for the whole rest of her visit that day, we were both finally able to open up about so many things we had both been keeping secret.

Upon returning to my apartment, if my memory serves me correctly, we sat together at my kitchen table and played a game of Scrabble (we had occasionally been playing online Scrabble with each other so it seemed like a natural thing to do).

Actually, my memory is rather hazy on that. I do remember playing Scrabble, but had thought it was before the walk. What I don't have to rely on my memory for, though, is what music we listened to that day and when we listened to it. That's thanks to the listening history in my profile.

You might be wondering what this all has to do with Temple of the Dog (or maybe you've forgotten that this post started out as being about the grunge supergroup).

The first album we listened to that day? Temple of the Dog.

That's why it was so astonishing to see that the first show of the band's first-ever tour was scheduled for November 4, 2016.

From about 4:40 pm to 6:15 pm on 11/4/06, we listened to the Temple album and then the first nine tracks of Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy. I think we must have played Scrabble during that time because the timing makes more sense that way. Then there was a two-and-a-half hour gap, during which we went out to dinner at Aladdin's. Every year from then on, we again went to Aladdin's to celebrate our anniversary, usually on November 4 itself but with some exceptions (such as in 2008 when November 4 was Election Day and we were Obama volunteers, and in 2011 when my aunts Mary Beth and Lynn had their wedding that weekend). That night, we sat across from each other at a table in the upper level of the restaurant, conversing in a way that was simultaneously very familiar and very new, each of us adjusting to the idea that we were now, finally, on an actual date with each other. I ordered a bowl of chili and a pita wrap. Cara got the Garden Pocket ("Garden Pocket? Garden Pocket!!!" we no doubt joked with each other), which she some time (months or maybe even years) later confessed she didn't actually like very much but she wanted to have something light because she was afraid I would think badly of her if she ate too much. I remember at one point her telling me a story about being in high school and she and a friend would go on dates with guys and order salad and just pick at it, then go home and order pizza together. Because they thought that was how girls were supposed to act on dates. A lot more could be written about that, but it's not the point of this post. Fortunately, on all our subsequent visits to Aladdin's Cara got things that she enjoyed a lot more!

When we returned to my apartment we listened to a single (22 minute long) track, "Storm," by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band opened with the first section of this track at both the Chicago show we attended together and the Cleveland show on September 22, 2015. Both times I was brought nearly to tears by the beauty of the music. Perhaps I subconsciously recalled listening to it on that long-ago November night and that had a little something to do with my reaction. After this there was another long gap in the music listening, during which we watched Return of the Jedi, which I suggested because Cara had told me that she had seen only the first two movies of the original Star Wars trilogy (whereas I was a huge Star Wars fan). I did not have a sofa in my tiny apartment. We laid next to each other on the floor, on our stomachs with our heads facing the TV - which also sat on the floor; my place was quite sparsely furnished - to watch the movie. I'm not sure how into the movie Cara was, really, but we were both very happy to be with each other.

After that came the last album we listened to, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky. During this time we were sitting together on the floor, spilling our guts out to each other. And then the last song of the album, "Your Hand in Mine," became the soundtrack to our first kiss at about one in the morning.

I didn't have a bed in my apartment either, just a single mattress on the floor. I feel stupid to this day for not offering the mattress to her and instead having her sleep next to it in my sleeping bag, but fortunately she didn't hold that against me! During future visits we would take turns sleeping on the mattress and floor - Cara's apartment, by contrast, had a king-size bed so there was no such issue there. The two of us did, however, both experience a great deal of difficulty falling asleep while we were in each other's presence, bed or no bed. We were afraid that this would be an issue that would never go away! Of course, it eventually did (I really don't remember how long that took).

If you've been keeping track while reading this and my other recent blog posts, you might have noticed that, of the four artists whose music we listened to on our first date, three (Temple of the Dog, Okkervil River, and Explosions in the Sky) are bands I've seen live in just the last two months and the fourth (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) I saw live on Cara's birthday last year!

Going to that Temple of the Dog show in Philadelphia on Friday, it struck me, how would I have reacted if I could somehow have been told, sitting in my apartment with Cara on November 4, 2006 and listening to that great album, that in exactly ten years I'd be going to the first show of the band's first ever tour? I'm sure I'd be thrilled and amazed, and then I'd probably wonder, "Will Cara be there?"

"No," would be the answer.

"Oh, what happens with her?"

"She moves to Cleveland in 2008 and the two of you get married in 2011." And that wouldn't really surprise me. This, on the other hand: "Then she dies of lung cancer in 2015."

Life really does have a way of taking the oddest turns, in ways both wonderful and horrifying.

While waiting for the show at the Tower Theater on Friday night, I'm sure I was far from alone in thinking that it was hard to believe that this was really happening. When the band took the stage, the roar from the crowd in the sold out theater was like nothing I'd ever heard at the beginning of a concert. "Welcome to the first, ever, full length Temple of the Dog show," Chris Cornell said to the audience, sparking another roar just as loud. I mean, wow. How often do you get an opportunity to experience something like that?

The band opened with album opener "Say Hello 2 Heaven," and as I've experienced many times over the last year and a half, a particular few lines of a song reached out and grabbed me right in the heart. Those lyrics on this occasion?

I, I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of things we'll never do

The show was everything I'd ever hoped a Temple of the Dog show might be. Well, almost everything. Eddie Vedder (who, on the original album, was more a guest vocalist than an actual band member) was not present. But this hardly detracted from the highly emotional evening. On "Hunger Strike," Cornell had the audience sing Vedder's part, and it was beautiful. By the end of their two hour, ten minute performance, the band had played not only all ten songs from their album, but also the fantastic Chris Cornell song "Seasons" from the Singles movie soundtrack, several Mother Love Bone songs, and a number of other covers of artists ranging from Black Sabbath to The Cure. It was a night I will absolutely never forget.

(Whether I would have been able to talk Cara into going with me is something I'll just have to go on wondering about. She liked Temple of the Dog a lot but not nearly to the level I do. She'd certainly have been interested in the show and in taking a trip together but she'd also certainly have been apprehensive about the price. The show sold out instantly and I ended up dropping $250 after fees on StubHub for a very good seat in the 12th row of the theater. I wrote earlier this year that a Florence + the Machine show was the most expensive concert ticket I'd ever purchased but was well worth the price - this show was far more expensive, and again, was worth every penny.)

I remember that before we got married, I told Cara that I thought November 4 would always be very significant to me, perhaps even more significant than our wedding anniversary. After we got married, I decided that November 4 and June 12 were about equal in significance. But as more time has passed since Cara's death? I'm once more leaning toward November 4 being on top. It was so much more than a typical first date. It was two people who had already formed an amazing connection with each other, at long last really opening up to each other and taking that connection to a whole new wonderful level.

And what a way to commemorate the tenth anniversary of that occasion.

I had originally intended for this post to cover my whole trip to Philadelphia, but I guess once I get going with a story about Cara and me, it's hard for me to stop! So my visit to Valley Forge will have to wait for my next post, which will be coming soon.