Since September

Not wanting to polarize the animal rescue effort with my politics and personal beliefs, I’ve been writing elsewhere, including here.

In September, as you may know, my kid and husband and I set out to volunteer at the State Fair of Texas with a local dog rescue group. We were looking for a way to get Bella interested in community service doing something that we felt she’d enjoy as well as find educational. I never expected it would change my life.

I knew the world was full of dark cracks in the pavement that we often avoid out of convenience. I didn’t know, however, that I could find such joy within those cracks. Animal rescue always seemed like an overwhelming task, and I wasn’t sure I could make a difference. I know that’s not true now, having seen exactly what happens when people stand together in responsible action.

We have a home with only two spoiled cats, both previously rescued before we ever thought to set out for the fair mission. I think frequently about how much I love them and how happy they’ve made us, about what a huge change their presence has brought in our home and about how lucky we were to find them before they were euthanized. Once at the fair, though, I quickly realized we could easily repay the rescue effort by offering to foster just one dog at a time.

Just one dog at a time made a difference to every family who is in love with their new forever pets, families who would never have had the opportunities to discover their new BFFs if rescues hadn’t stepped up. Just one dog at a time saved a dog on death row. Just one dog at a time saved a rescue from having to board an animal, enabling scarce resources to help other animals with medical needs. Just one dog at a time has taught us that the world is full of hope within those dark pockets.

Soon enough I discovered that people want to help, but sometimes aren’t sure where to begin. Even though we’re complete noobs in this world, friends who wanted to volunteer have asked us how to get involved, where to get low cost vaccines and care, how to avoid taking an animal to a shelter. Neighbors started alerting us to other animals who needed a hand. It seemed contagious, pleasantly, and that put a kind perspective on something I thought just a year ago was too daunting to undertake — even just one dog at a time.

During an adoption event, a sixth grade girl petted one of the dogs our group is fostering. She told me about how her parents divorced, that she wished she could have a dog or a cat, but that they couldn’t at that time. I asked her if she thought her parents would let her help me with the rescue cats who live at a local pet supply store, awaiting adoptive homes. Her dad agreed, so we exchanged info and agreed to meet the following Saturday.

That evening I received a barrage of the sweetest text messages ever from the excited girl: What should she bring? Could we play with the cats outside of the cat condos? Would it be okay if she helped every week? She thanked me with a lot of smiley-faced emoticons. I told her she needed to thank herself.

That Saturday the girl arrived fifteen minutes early, ready to scoop cat poo and disinfect the cats’ homes. She wanted to work and did so like a complete trouper.

Later in the evening, she again texted me about how happy she was to help. Remember, we’re talking about a kid here, folks. My heart melted.

Over the course of our past few play dates with the kitties, this young girl, kindly dropped off by her parents on their respective weekend visitation schedules, inspired me tremendously — maybe more so than anything else I’ve seen thus far in my journey. She’s giving up her Saturday evenings to help a total stranger care for animals who have no homes. This girl is going to, in turn, show other kids how easy it is to become involved in whatever is important to them.

Really, that’s all it’s about, right? Passion is a great thing, but action has to follow.

The dogs and cats have taught me a valuable lesson about people. We’re a good lot when we put our hearts and minds together, you know. So grateful for this opportunity.

Just one dog at a time.

Just one person at a time.

For Frank

Sometimes people ask why I write. They point out, “You don’t get paid for it.”

I get that. I understand how it’s possible to forget what’s important.

Every billboard, every TV ad, every everything is selling something incredible for us to drag around for the rest of our lives (or at least until the next version comes out in six months). You’re a failure at my age if your home hasn’t been demolished by an IKEA warhead. It’s growing harder and harder to keep up, too. Even in a tough economy, diamonds are getting bigger, cell phones are becoming more expensive, and manufactured beauty is referred to as “maintenance.” We’re taught to risk logic and forsake our budgets in order to consume happiness.

That’s crazytown, and I’m glad I’ve lived to care otherwise.

Once upon forever ago’s yonder morn, NPR broadcasted a segment of StoryCorps that drove a nail through my hardened, commercialized shell. It was a simple dialogue between Frankie DeVito and his mom, Diana, as they supported one another in sharing their loss of Bill Steckman, Frankie’s grandfather, who died during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers. It wasn’t the only time I’d felt strongly about what happened that day, but hearing the unique combination of strength and devastation in ten-year-old Frankie’s voice was the first time I was truly overcome. Certainly, as often happens with great accounts of triumph and tragedy, this story lent itself to me at a time I most needed to hear it. Thus, I committed to change: What was once so tangible and important officially didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to value life like Frankie did and I didn’t want to wait around until I had to learn that lesson through extreme grief.

So I recounted it all here as well as in a couple of other places. And I wrote his mom through StoryCorps. I never thought I’d hear back.

Last night, years later, Frank, now older and minus the “-ie,” found my commentary. My heart stopped when I saw his name in my inbox because I think about this kid’s story all the time. He appreciates the things everybody has said about his grandfather, “…who I still miss so dearly in my heart,” Frank wrote.

Listen up. This is why I write, and there is no greater payment. Storytelling vs. Bank Telling? No contest. You can’t buy this.

When we die, like it or not, we leave the footprint of what we’ve accomplished. Having waded through nine bazillion funerals as a preacher’s kid, I can promise nobody ever eulogized: “He had the most expensive car. He bought his wife the biggest boobs. His children wore the most expensive shoes. What a great guy.” Things can be cool, but there is no greater legacy than being sincerely loved, being missed “so dearly in my heart.”

Frank, keep these priorities with you for all of your days, and your grandfather’s legacy will survive within the hearts of all who were transformed by your story, kid. I encourage everybody to spend a minute and a half listening to young Frank here, as he was brave enough to share his painful memories with StoryCorps. It is the least you can do to honor his efforts and the life of Bill Steckman, his grandpa.

Naysayers? Payment received in full…circle.

Burnsy

Rare is the anticipated Friday night spent seated next to this motliest of crews:

  • Mom;
  • Mom’s super duper Republican, ultra-conservative Sunday school teacher;
  • Mom’s liberal, neighboring friend and photographer;
  • Bella;
  • Bella’s Hot Topic-loving, fashionably nerdy, film club BFF;
  • Russell, who’s got to be up the next morning at 6 a.m.;
  • Protestors.

This is what happens when Ken Burns comes to town.

Famous for his decades’ worth of stylized, American documentaries about the subjects and characters who’ve molded our culture, Burns was lauded by noted historian Stephen Ambrose, who said, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.” Ken Burns has so efficiently worked his way into my subconscious that there’ve been times when I’ve realized I was thinking in Keith David’s voice…about whatever I was doing at the moment…and in third person. Ken’s a Jedi.

Of course, every Jedi has to have his battles. After numerous years spent whipping out documentaries many reviews charged as more focused on the persecutions of different races by white Americans rather than what the critics deemed more relevant to subject matter, Burns recently was labeled oppositely as a racist for the interview selection of his 2007 series about World War II. According to Burns, the filming team reported complete lack of involvement and response from Hispanic veterans, and, rather than seeking further cooperation, filmed the candidates who did respond. The outcome generated a massive outcry in the Mexican community for all public funding to be revoked from future filming. Burns responded by inviting empathetic, fellow filmmaker Hector Galan to film thirty minutes of additional footage, which focused on Latino involvement in the war. He defended the 900-minute documentary:

“We were not seeking any specific ethnic group. We were looking for universal experiences about battle. We spent five years in the four towns. We […] advertised our presence. Everyone who was possibly within our earshot knew we were there, and in the course of it not a single Hispanic came forward, nor did a single WAC or WAV, nor did a Submariner, nor did a Filipino-American or a German-American, who had a difficult experience — a much larger, in fact, one of the largest ethnic groups. We weren’t looking to tell every story. We wished to have […] forty people, really ten people, who would stand in for all the experiences. The Hispanic veterans who we found said, ‘We weren’t Hispanic; we were American.’ “

The New York Public Library hosted a fantastic, in depth conversation between brainiac storyteller Professor Robert Stone and Burns on FORA.tv. In the segment, Burns answers questions posed by Stone and the audience regarding everything from his musical selection processes to accusations of racism. If you’re not joining my multifarious army this evening, you should definitely check out the following video (if for no other reason than it took me forever to upload the monster in its entirety, heh).

Although tickets for the north Texan event were completely swiped up earlier this week, KERA is filming the onstage discussion with Think moderator Krys Boyd. Information about the nationally televised broadcast (and how to snag a no-show seat) available here.

Open Letter to the Children of Westboro Baptist Church

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Dear Westboro Kids,

First of all, I’d like to thank you for coming to our city. Because of your visit, which our community turned into a fundraiser, we were able to generate almost three times the amount needed in order to assist the Resource Center Dallas. Plus, the Holocaust Museum enjoyed a record breaking day.

I know we can’t really be friends since you’re sold on the notion I might be headed for Hell. You made that clear this weekend when I watched your organization protest several locations. As your parents and church family paraded you from the vans to the sidewalk while holding signs printed with hate-filled slogans, I felt overwhelming sadness for you. I must admit, I was unable to comprehend your confusing messages, but read your shame and humiliation with a degree of certainty as the crowd yelled its disgust toward your parents.

It doesn’t feel good, does it? No, and I am deeply sorry. I understand in that regard because it hurts me to hear people scream mean things about my father. He’s gay. He’s not some kind of deviant mutant of his own free will or someone who has chosen a ridiculously inconvenient life. Dad is human – full of sin and flaw – just like you.

Aside from being totally gay, my sixty-seven year-old father is also a retired minister who now devotes his time to the church as its organist. I’d love for your Pastor Phelps to meet him because Dad actually holds a doctorate in theology, which is an advanced degree your church’s leader has yet to earn. Coupled with his many years of professional experience, my “fag” dad’s extensive religious qualifications could be beneficial in helping your Pastor Phelps correct his biblical misgivings, which have caused your lives to be unnecessarily restrictive. Your grandpa and my father could also discuss the reality of helping God’s sick and dying within our community based upon his personal experience chartering one of north Texas’s early AIDS support groups in the mid-eighties. My parent went as far as to care for AIDS patients in his own home and then even bury one in our plot when families like yours turned their cold hearts away. (R.I.P., Bruce. Here’s a ‘penny’ for you, friend.) Ugh, those “fag beasts” are so revolting with their good deeds, right? Kids, come on.

Then again, maybe folks like your dad and my dad have pushed you to the point where you’re completely turned off to the whole religious concept, and that’s okay. You are free to have faith in your own beliefs. Look to Lauren. Look to Nate. If you’re uncomfortable remembering the examples provided by those who have left your family after questioning its hypocrisies, then look to me. I don’t subscribe to my father’s faith, yet he and his former congregations embrace who I am with the same love and kindness. Just understand, there will always be unwanted politics behind every pulpit, but hate is something that should never be tolerated.

Another thing that should never be tolerated is child abuse. The US Department of Health and Human Services defines abuse and neglect within the state of Kansas to include:

  • The infliction of physical, mental, or emotional harm, or the causing of a deterioration of a child, and may include, but shall not be limited to, maltreatment or exploiting a child to the extent that the child’s health or emotional well-being is endangered [Ann. Stat. § 38-2202];
  • Acts or omissions by a parent, guardian, or person responsible for the care of a child that results in harm to a child or presents a likelihood of harm [Ann. Stat. § 38-2202];
  • Failure to [. . .] remove a child from a situation that requires judgment or actions beyond the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities and that results in bodily injury or a likelihood of harm to the child [Ann. Stat. § 38-2202].

Furthermore, nowhere within the department publication does it allow for religious exclusions to the above definitions, except in the case of medical treatment.

Is CPS investigating your case? You and your brothers and sisters are made to regularly carry incendiary signage and endure harsh weather conditions for extended periods in front of angry onlookers. You’ve been told this is the work of the Lord, when it’s more like child labor for the Phelps’ cause. Routinely, you are subjected to unpredictable violence, threats, verbal demeaning assaults from counter-protestors, and must have police protection, which has been responsible for helping you escape the dangerous rush of enraged mobs. On top of that, your parents allow their daughters to wiggle and writhe around like the Fly Girls in tight-fitting and shortly hemmed clothing and then broadcast that on the internet for the entire world to view in the name of religious parody. If you’re truly doing right by God, why has he failed to send a well-equipped army of followers to assist you in delivering his message (or at the very least sent someone with less outdated video editing expertise who could make the organization appear less like a cult from an eighties sitcom and more like a credible, religious organization)? Is your life truly relegated to pacing sidewalks around the nation, developing hand cramps from holding multiple signs of precautionary hate and skewed snippets from the Bible? No, it doesn’t have to be. If you need help and your parents refuse to honor your request for assistance, please call 911 and let the authorities know how you feel.

Now, look, I know you’ve been taught to hate gays based on so-called biblical references, but have you truly read the Bible regarding that topic? Of course, you haven’t. You’re children. Jesus says nothing about homosexuality anywhere in the entire book, and, remember, he alone was the chosen one — the son of God. Many people choose to reference the writings of Apostle Paul — a man who, like Jerry Falwell, believed he was chosen to deliver prophecy — in Romans 1 when he discusses the wickedness he’s witnessed amongst Jews and Gentiles who have worshipped men as gods, serving the creature rather than the creator. Yet, many fail to read the full passage into the eighth verse of the second chapter, which makes it clear that Paul, who is also considered a possible homosexual by a variety of theological scholars, has consulted with, of all people, King Soloman, who infamously had many wives and his own questionable sexual behaviors. Paul goes on to address hypocrites, such as your family full of sinners, and preaches that we are all capable of being freed from the bondage of our wrongdoings. This, he echoed from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In effect, God doesn’t hate fags.

Moving right along to other fun spots in the Bible. Leviticus…oh, brother. If all you’ve learned from Leviticus is that men shouldn’t do the same things with men that they would do out of love with women, I worry for your Christian soul. There’s a world of forewarning you’ve missed in the exciting readings of Leviticus. Also, when I saw your references to Sodom this weekend, I was confused. Sodom didn’t fall because of rampant gays flaming around the city in fits of lust. The sins of Sodom mentioned by Jesus and the five prophets who discussed the ruination thereof within the Old Testament revealed nothing about homosexuality. The city was prideful, arrogant, unwilling to care for its poor and hungry according to the teachings of Ezekiel. Are the Westboro Baptist Church members Sodomites according to the Bible’s definition? Perhaps. Whatever the case, one point holds true: the Bible is rendered useless when prophets treat the work of man on behalf of God as a Cliff Note’s masterpiece.

By the way, have you gotten to the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ part of the Bible yet? It’s not particularly children’s reading. I’d give it an NC-17 rating in a heartbeat. Good stuff.

You don’t have to agree with me, of course. I’ll still like you if that matters. Hey, my mother is probably reading this and about to pass out from irritation over my possible blasphemy. What if we’re all wrong? I support and respect the rights of all, whether we’re on the same page of religious doctrine or not. My beliefs might bother them, and their beliefs might seem strange to me, but love conquers all who are willing. It’s no one’s place to judge.

This girl was a jewel.

That said, I love you all, even those with hearts full of hatred. When you grow up, I hope you will not look back at what your parents have made you do to Jews, gays, your fellow Baptist churches, Catholic churches, fallen servicemen and women’s families during military funerals, etc., and swell with guilt. The pain inflicted on mankind by your family and church is not your fault. You are granted opportunities in life to make a new path if and when you’re ready, but you must choose this yourself.

“Hate costs plenty. Love would have been free.”

With hope,

Kristan

Palin and Brewer 2012? Yes, please.

Some of you may shiver to see the sight of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in such close proximity to Whatever-She-Is-Now Sarah Palin. Not me.

 

Sarah and Jan in April 2010 at a Diamondbacks game. AP photo: Paul Connors

 

Holy moly, I would never have writer’s block ever again! Yes, I know it’s selfish, but, hey, they’re not gonna win. Plus, the SNL skits would be amazing. I know this because I’ve already seen most of them back when they were called Absolutely Fabulous.

Jan Brewer is what you’d get if Skeletor‘s sister and David Duke had a baby. Does that really sound like something America needs next?

It would be the first time C-Span was considered a comedy network, I guess. That’s a plus. Imagine:

Watching Fox News defend daily hot messes like that could also be entertaining. Republicans might finally get sick of themselves and quit blaming former president Bill Clinton for everything that has gone wrong since the end of slavery. Or not.

Not everything all-American Sarah Palin does cracks me up. Never fear. Those tacky Juicy Couture sunglasses she wears with the GIGANTIC name brand printed in near-billboard-sized, garish lettering on the frames? I hope there’s an afterlife for her where she has to wait hand and foot on all the Americans who have lost their jobs to corporate offshoring practices. Go buy some Oakleys, ya old wolf-killing hag. If you want to be president, you probably need to quit walking around like an advertisement for the very thing responsible for our economic crisis — cheap labor and corp tax shelters/assistance.

But back to things that are amusing . . .

I was sure the following snippet was Jan Brewer upon initial viewing. Turns out, I was wrong. It’s drag queen Donna Sachet singing the anthem during the opening of an MLB game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the SF Giants. Hey, I was close. No offense, Donna.

Maybe Edina and Patsy were there for that one?

Let Me See Your Sushi Roll, Your Sushi Roll!

“Bella, what sounds good for dinner?”

“Anything really.”

“Sushi?”

Insert total disgust and a heavy side eye here. “No way, Mom. Not that.”

bait

Having failed so many previous sushi coercion attempts, I went straight for the bribe: “Ok, what if I sweetened the offer with extra computer time?”

Ding, ding, ding! “Really?”

“Yeah, but you have to act like it was all your idea and that you’re totally into trying new stuff with us so that Russell will think it’s opposite day and freak out.”

“Mom, you’re so weird.”

“Aaaannnnd?”

“Okay, it’s a deal if there is nothing too gross, like a fish head or…you know. That stuff.”

“Fair enough.”

And we shook on it.

An hour later, we sat at the sushi bar with one very confused Russell. “Bella, you wanted to eat sushi? What happened?”

“Nothing, Russ. I just really respect you and Mom and am trying to give the things you love a shot.”

Oh, brother.

When Russell stepped away, I leaned over, “That was over the top a little with the respect part and the ‘things we love’ and all that, but other than that, you’re doing an outstanding job.”

“Yeah, when I said that, I knew it was a little corny, but I’m kinda on the spot here, Mom.”

We exchanged a low key high five right as the sushi chef passed a “treat” over the glass for the three of us. I had zero clue what the heck it was other than some kind of fried chip with fish eggs and crab, I think, and a fish part. It was an ambitious beginning for poor Bell, who forced the fakest half-smile ever as she bit into half of the whatever-it-was. Then came the involuntary shiver. And the partial gag. And the hilarious: “Mmmm [gag], that was…what was that? That’s not fish egg, is it?”

Shock, shock, horror, horror. Shock, Shock, horror.

Russell told her it was Japanese Berry.

She leaned behind Russell and silently mouthed toward me, “Do I have to eat the rest of that stuff?” To which I gladly mouthed back, “No, no, that was awesome. Good job.” Man, whatever she wanted extra computer time for must’ve been important.

When the chef finished Bella’s sushi virgin order, the California roll, she looked panicked.

what bella saw when her california roll arrived

All the chefs were staring at her, making it even easier. I was proud, though, as Bella soldiered through this strange new food.

“What is this one?”

“Crab.”

Blank stare and determination. “Okay.” Swallow. Water. More water. More blank staring. This was like when Dad used to drag me to pipe organ concerts. Poor Bella.

Noting Bell’s hesitation, the chef slipped her a tray of fried fish, trying to pass it off as the beloved children’s delicacy: le fishstick.

“Mmmm, now this is not bad! For real, Russ. What do you think?”

“Oh, this is delicious, Bella.”

“It is!”

“You know that’s baby harp seal, right?”

Bella started to spit it out on her tray and gagged abdominally. It took a few minutes to convince her Russell was joking, but even longer for the chefs and the people surrounding us to quit laughing. Nevertheless, Bella ate the entire serving of “harp seal”.

At the end of the meal, our server brought apples dipped in chocolate syrup, and I could tell my kid was scared there was going to be a fish eyeball or something stuck inside. Russell waited until she’d eaten them all to tell her it was “shark heart,” but it backfired with a barrage of irritated eyerolling.

Tomorrow The Bell gets her well-deserved extra computer time…and macaroni and cheese.

And that nerd Russell? Maybe I’ll make him some of this:

baby harp seal nigiri

The Bell, Letter Writer Extraordinaire. Snap, snap, snap.

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A while back I scanned some of Bella’s awesome letters — tattle telling quandaries and Mom-and-Dad billet-douxs, mostly. In a scavenger hunt through Photobucket tonight, I rediscovered a few of those.

The urgent letter to the Principal of W.T. Hanes Elementary:

Dear Mrs. Blevins

If I had to pick a favorite, the letter to Mrs. Blevins would probably be it. It’s got third-grade narcing, “panting,” and is signed with “love.” More importantly, this one demonstrates proper, early parenthetical usage, which makes this maternal word nerd’s heart swell times nine million. I remember scanning it, too, as I only had a few seconds to confiscate the note and replace it in order to avoid suspicion.

The Rick Perry Letter:

Oh, Rick Perry. You foolish politician, you.

The Perry letter was read aloud in a faculty meeting. THEN it was read again at an ATPE function later in the week. I’m tellin’ ya, the teachers really dug this one. I’ll never forget when Bella emerged from her room with her pen and notebook paper, wanting to know what Rick Perry’s address was. He never wrote back, but The Bell wasn’t worried about it. She told me, “Mom, didn’t you see the fake email address I put down there at the bottom? I didn’t want to hear his song and dance, but I didn’t wanna be rude either.”

I was confused, “Wait, huh?”

“Mom, it was a decoder email address. He wasn’t going to tell me anything I haven’t already heard before. Politicians. You know what I mean.”

“I think you mean a ‘decoy’, Bella.”

“Yes, that.”

Great.

The Colorado Vacation Letter:

Letter from Vacation with Nana

If I could spend just a few minutes with Bella again at any previous age, this would be the phase I’d revisit. She missed me “so much.” With an exclamation point, even. She wanted to know if Getoff’s baby was born yet, but, in typical Isobel fashion, didn’t want anyone to write back because she was belting out this letter on her way home in Nana’s rental car. The best part: a post script full of danger sure to freak out any mom included “…real prisoners and a dust devil and a cattle drive!”

The Birthday Card for Her Dad:

For Dad

It wasn’t so much the birthday card as it was the backstory. Inside the envelope, she’d enclosed a dollar and forty-seven cents. It was all of her money at the time. She’d overheard us arguing about bills.

Sometimes people with newborns ask me what my favorite age has been of Bella’s. Truly, I have loved them all just as much as they’ve each been challenging in their own ways. When I see her these days trying so hard to be a teenager, but without the teen suffix just yet, I feel incredibly close to her even though she’s pushing me further and further away. Recently, I read a fantastic quote in Mary Pipher’s book about adolescent girls Bella’s age, Reviving Ophelia, in which a mother perfectly sums up every thought in my head at this point:

“I hurl you into the universe and pray.”

The clever, young girl who wrote these letters surely deserves an addendum to the above quote, though, and that makes me less nervous, if nothing else:

“I hurl you into the universe and pray — for others.

I love, love, love this child forever.