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That time patriotic glitter got me in the news

9 Nov

img_5426I whipped up some last-minute homemade campaign posters today, and got interviewed by a couple news organization while hanging them up at my South Philly polling place. If you want to see the pics of my patriotic craftiness, just scroll to the end. If you want the backstory, here it is:

Election Day morning: Dave and I took Lars to vote first thing in the morning.

We immediately noticed that the brick wall of the polling place was plastered with lots of Trump signs. I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised, since we’ve seen plenty of Trump signs in our South Philly neighborhood. I asked a poll worker if that was legal, and he said it was.

As a non-Trump voter, I felt intimidated. It was intimidating not only because the signage was one-sided–it was also because the name of Trump has become synonymous with intimidation, including explicit threats of violence toward marginalized groups, the press, and anyone who offends him. To be clear, no one said or did anything threatening at my polling place, but I didn’t want other voters to feel intimidated. I saw a woman wearing a hijab walk into the polling place, and although no one bothered her either, I couldn’t help to think that the menacing specter of Trump felt even more real for her.

We went in to vote. I voted for who I hope will be our first woman president. Unfortunately, Hillary was the only person I was able to vote for, because I had taken Lars into the booth with me (trying to instill civic values, and all that good stuff), and the little stinker pressed the “Vote” button before I could get any further. Once the vote is submitted, that’s it. I was bummed not to be able to have my say in state and local issues, but I’ll survive. Lars repeated several times throughout the day “I pressed the ‘Vote’ button!” Good thing he’s cute!

Dave bid us farewell and headed to work. I glanced again at the wall of Trump posters and decided: I’m gonna make my own poster, and they’re going to be adorably patriotic (à la Nick Cage). So I picked up some posterboard at the store, and rushed home to whip up some lovely posters. I decided to reuse some letters I created for a previous crafty endeavor, when I decorated our living room wall with the words “Love is a Battlefield.” And I added some glitter stars and gemstones, BECAUSE AMERICA. Here’s me and Lars with my handiwork:

hillary-univisionAs soon as I hung up my first sign, a reporter from WHYY, a local news outlet, came to talk with me. You can read the story here. (It was briefly deleted this afternoon, but now it’s back up… hopefully it will stay that way!) I’m pretty darn proud of my quote that they used:

“I have a lot of friends who even though they don’t support Trump they have a hard time warming up to Hillary,” she said. “So I recently posted on my personal blog about how I’m not just voting for Hillary because I don’t like Trump, which most people agree on. I truly love her and I believe she does stand for love rather than hate. And I wanted to express that love with glitter and paint.”

leslieselfThen I chatted with a reporter from Univision. There’s a picture of me in their coverage here.

Then I chatted with a reporter from WNYC, who is working on a documentary about the election, which they said will come out in a few weeks. Shortly into this conversation, a woman came up to me and said that she was a judge of election (I asked her name but alas, I forget), and that I needed to move the signs, which I had placed on the brick wall of the polling place (a recreation center), next to some Trump signs. She said that they had to be official campaign signs, and that homemade election signs weren’t allowed. But she said that I could move them to the fence surrounding the polling place.

I asked her a couple of questions trying to clarify her claims, and although I was skeptical, I decided it wasn’t worth the fight. She insisted several times that it was not a partisan issue. I would have preferred that my signs be adjacent to the large, looming Trump signs, but at least at the fence people were able to see them as they came in. And I hope that the largest poster, #LoveTrumpsHate, sends an uplifting message for all voters. As I was putting them up, a couple people stopped by and thanked me for displaying something beautiful, and I was so glad to hear that.

Later that day, the WNYC reporter tweeted to let me know that he checked with an election expert, who said that the judge was incorrect, and there is no prohibition of homemade signs. From what I could tell in my own research, according to Pennsylvania state law, the only rule regarding campaign signage at polling places is that they must be 10 feet from the entrance of the polling place. Interestingly, some of the “official” campaign signs that were on the brick wall were definitely less than 10 feet from the entrance. For example:

img_5431So basically, regardless of whether they were official or homemade, those signs shouldn’t have been that close to the door. I considered complaining to a poll worker about it, but decided against it. Mostly, I was relieved that no one tore down my signs. (If anyone has a source to confirm or contradict my understanding of the rules, for future reference, I’d appreciate it!)

All the while, Lars was contentedly driving a toy truck around on the sidewalk. He got a bit antsy toward the end, though, and once we were finally done relocating the posters and chatting with the WNYC folks, we headed over to the rec center’s playground.

It’s been a whirlwind Election Day, and now I can only hope that it has a positive outcome. (Dave is continually refreshing FiveThirtyEight, and it’s causing anxiety, but I’m trying to remain optimistic.)

Now, here are all the posters!

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img_5417(I also weighed in on local candidates and issues, because they matter too!)

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Send a #RefugeesWelcome postcard!

18 Nov

Postcard_AmericanThis week the governors of more than half the states in the country, and several Republican presidential candidates, proclaimed that they would not accept Syrian refugees in their states, or that only Christian refugees should be permitted.

I believe this rhetoric is shameful on many fronts. It flagrantly ignores the reality that prospective immigrants to the U.S. are already subject to a lengthy, rigorous screening process. It pretends that security can be achieved by discriminating against a broad swath of people based on their religion and nationality, and that doing so is not an affront to American values. It sneers at compassion and revels in enmity–and only for the sake of enmity.

I have been disheartened by the displays of fear and prejudice in the name of Christianity, but heartened that several religious groups have shown support for the plight of refugees, and hope that those voices prevail over the fear-mongering ones. In particular, I appreciate the statements by Pope Francis, the National Association of Evangelicals, and (my peeps) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sympathizing with the refugees.

If you, like me, want to show support for welcoming refugees to the U.S., may I offer a suggestion?

Send a postcard.

Postcard_Liberty2

According to this TED talk, a handwritten note is one of the best and simplest ways to reach your elected representative. And according to my own experience, putting pen to paper and then slipping a card into the mailbox feels so much more joyful and human than sending an email that slithers off into the abyss. (Although even an email to your representative is better than just complaining on Facebook or mumbling discontentedly to yourself whilst reading the news.)

Are you on board? It’s quite simple, then.

1. Download a PDF of a postcard. (I adapted them from vintage government posters, available here and here at the Library of Congress.)

Download “For Liberty’s Sake” postcard [PDF]

Download “Thrill of Liberty” postcard [PDF]

2. Print it on cardstock.

3. Write your message on the back. (If you’re out of practice with postcards, just remember: message on the left, recipient’s address on the center right, stamp in the top right.)

4. Find out who your elected representatives are with an online search tool, follow the link to the representative’s website. The address is usually listed on the bottom of the home page, or you can search for the contact or office locations page. (And keep that info on file for next time you have something to say!)

+50 points to Gryffindor good citizenship if you write to more than one representative

+10 points if you review the representative’s website to find statements he or she has made on this issue, and respond specifically to those statements

+10 points if you sincerely thank them for their service (even, and especially, if you disagree with them)

5. Address it, stamp it, and slip it in the mail!

The conversation about refugees will continue to evolve, but I hope you join in this simple, concrete way to share your thoughts with your elected representatives.

P.S. You can also donate to groups that provide on-the-ground support to refugees, like the International Rescue Committee or UNHCR.

 

My toddler and Chewbacca, a comparison

26 Jul

140517-news-mcconaughey-starwarsWe are all Matthew McConaughey watching the Star Wars trailer.

Of the innumerable utterances of my two-year-old, I can decode about 70 to 80 percent. My husband is close behind that, and other folks tend to fall into the 30 to 50 percent range in translation accuracy.

Sometimes I flatter myself that my knack at understanding Little L’s toddlerspeak dialect is thanks to an unbreakable parent-child bond. But the fact is, it’s more a matter of quantity than quality: I am his primary caretaker. I am there every time he discovers a new word or constructs a new phrase. I have the context of remembering (if fuzzily) how he has spent virtually every waking minute and how he and his language have evolved, word by word.

* * *

When I saw the trailer for the new Star Wars movie, what really got my Matthew McConaughey tears pumping was the final shot:

anigif_enhanced-9098-1429208948-4Image from here.

Part of it was my nostalgia and affection for the characters and their relationship and the entire Star Wars universe. And part of it was the thought, “Whoa! My linguistic relationship with my toddler is like Han and Chewie’s relationship!”

tumblr_looetiRWvW1qe8di7o1_r1_500Not unlike this revelation in Community.

The initial connection I made was that Han must have learned to speak Chewbacca’s language simply because they spent a lot of time together, much like L and I do. They hang out on the Millennium Falcon and roam the galaxy; L and I hang out in our apartment and roam the parks and bus routes of our city.

It seemed unusual, though, that a scoundrel like Han Solo managed to communicate so fluently in another tongue. He just never struck me as a polyglot, you know?

Turns out, according to (natch) Wookieepedia, “It was not uncommon for beings to speak at least two languages in addition to their native tongue, particularly among those involved in space-faring occupations and those who had attended military or educational academies.”

So perhaps the toddler/Chewie analogy wouldn’t work, I thought. Darn, no nerd points for me! But then I read further in Wookieepedia, reaching the entry about Shyriiwook, the language of the Wookiees. Here’s the peculiar thing about Shyriiwook:

“The unique shape of the Wookiee throat made Shyriiwook a very difficult, even impossible language to speak for most non-Wookiees. … It was also incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for most Wookiees to learn to speak Basic [English]. As a result, most inter-species communication involving Wookiees had to be carried out in a bilingual format, usually with the Wookiee speaking Shyriiwook and the other party speaking Basic.”

Now here’s an analogy I could work with–because sometimes it does feel like I’m talking to my toddler bilingually. When he speaks his own little version of English, I can (usually) understand him, but I don’t exactly replicate what he said–either because it was too garbled for me to catch or because I prefer to model standard grown-up English (even though I adore how he says “Yegos” instead of “Legos”). So, much like Han and Chewie speaking Basic and Shyriiwook, Little L and I speak grown-up and toddlerspeak, and we manage just fine.* Of course, unlike Chewbacca, L has the vocal chords to eventually be able to speak grown-up. Though if he grew up to speak Shyriiwook I would not be disappointed.

I realize my linguistic Star Wars parallel is a stretch. Maybe I just really enjoy attempting to liken Star Wars to my life, OK? (It was fun dressing my kid as an ewok.) But there is also the obvious toddler–Wookiee analogy: they both have a short temper. L’s second birthday has ushered in a new affinity for tantrums, and just as with a Wookiee, it’s often wise to let them win if you want to keep your arm sockets and sanity intact.

* * *

Language acquisition is hands-down my favorite part about being a parent so far. Nothing has made my heart swell with joy and exhilaration and pride and love and awe quite as much as hearing my two-year-old fashion complex concepts into coherent strings of words. “I play in room.” “Don’t hit; hitting’s bad.” “Cookies! I eat it?” “I wuv you, Daddy.” “Mama. Read stories? Sit next to me?”

Plenty of times, Little L is simply parroting what my husband and I say or what he hears when we’re out and about (he cheerfully echoes “Stop Re-quest-ed!” on the bus). But much of his speech is carefully self-constructed. And it’s not that my kid is some Baby Einstein; delightful TED talks like this and this and books like this testify of the hidden grammatical and statistical genius of all babies. Young children are an absolute marvel.

Day-to-day, minute-to-minute child care is often mundane, but it is a privilege to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home parent, not only for the relative financial stability that implies but also for the opportunity to watch this tiny being observe and make sense of the world–the chance to serve as copilot for this tiny being during his first few years of roaming the galaxy.

 

* Sometimes I wonder if Little L thinks I’m the one who’s the novice at this whole language thing. One day he asked for a “paci” and I said sorry, he couldn’t have it for now. He frowned, made firm eye contact, and sounded it out slowly: “Pac-i-fi-er.” As if the only possible explanation for me denying his request was that I am too dimwitted to understand him. (You do what I tell you. Capisce, Mom?) Now I am imagining a series of books written for toddlers like How to Deal with Your Slow Parent, filled with advice just as reassuring and inane as any parenting book. Get on that!

Mad Men, Granite Flats, and “family-friendly” TV

8 Apr

graniteflatsUpdate 5/7/15: I just read an article in BYU Magazine by Scott Swofford, the producer of Granite Flats. It’s a must-read for Mormons who, let’s face it, could all use a little more humility, authenticity, and love in their efforts to share their beliefs with others. But it also provides some interesting background about the evolution of the show and of BYUtv. Also, some cast members (including my girl crush Parker Posey) were apparently on the Today Show this morning, so that’s cool.

I originally wrote this just to convince friends to start binge-watching this show so I have more people with which to wildly speculate about exciting plot points. Then it devolved into philosophizing! Yay! (If you’re not into that, maybe scroll down to the bulleted list.)

Do you like Mad Men? Do you hate Mad Men? Either way, you’ll probably enjoy Granite Flats.

The show, which just released all episodes for its third season online, begins in the same decade as Mad Men, but is set in a small military town rather than on Madison Avenue. The first season offers intrigue in the form of a deadly explosion, a mysterious crash landing, and an eerie psych ward. The second and third seasons escalate into a tangled web of secrets involving the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, and a trio of meddling kids. There is also a police chief with uncannily Don Draper–like chiseled features and brooding gazes.

mormondondraperReally, he’s just Don Draper minus the ennui.

When it comes to Mad Men, I relate to both fans and haters: I quit watching after three episodes because I found it too depressing, but I’m still intrigued enough by the show to indulge in reading the occasional think-piece about it (like this, this, or bwahahaha this).

Granite Flats offers some of the elements that make Mad Men shine—complex characters and storylines and a meticulous historical authenticity that captures both the aesthetic (read: awesome vintage dresses!) and the spirit of the times in 1960s America. Yet Granite Flats strives for a decidedly more hopeful spirit than Mad Men, and it’s just as realistic and compelling. As a New York Times article said of the decade: “Glamorous debauchery and cynicism may have underpinned the marketing of floor wax and cigarettes, but earnest yearning and anxiety were twitchingly, poignantly alive then, too.”

Granite Flats can be seen as a reaction to the “debauchery” depicted in Mad Men, but it’s also a reaction to, well, debauchery writ large: The producer said the explicit goal was to create an entertaining, watchable show that forgoes the violence, sex, and profanity prevalent on most hit shows. That’s why they chose to wind back the clock by fifty years—“to make conservative social mores feel intrinsic.”

A show steeped in nostalgia for the sixties also makes sense given that the show is hosted by BYUtv, the network of the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University (my alma mater). The fact is, the 1950s and early 1960s was a good time for Mormons. A New York Times article chronicles a moment in 1962 when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir starred in a Cold War satellite broadcast that vaunted American culture to audiences abroad–the choir sang with Mount Rushmore in the background, interspersed with feel-good scenes of baseball games and Niagara Falls. After nearly a century of tension and anti-Mormon sentiment, Mormons appeared to have finally assimilated: “The Church had become closer to mainstream American life than probably any period in history, before or since.” Then, as Neylan McBaine points out in her book Women at Church, it wasn’t long before “Latter-day Saints in the 1960s and ’70s weathered cultural wars that forced us to leave behind the comfortable acceptance of the 1950s.”

While Granite Flats eschews any distinctly Mormon identifiers, it does embrace faith. And rather than promoting a particular faith, it supports the idea of many paths to faith. (The show’s producer has touted the fact that the writing team comprises a Buddhist, an Orthodox Jew, a lapsed Catholic, and two Mormons.) Many characters attend a generic Protestant church, with varying levels of devotion. Some are ambivalent, some seem to go through the motions, and some routinely seek out the pastor for counsel. There’s even a family of secular humanists, and although one of them may be considering conversion, their lack of religious belief isn’t fixated on as something to be fixed.

What pleasantly surprised me (and the New York Times) is that the show doesn’t use the vintage setting and the no-swearing policy as an excuse to avoid storylines about people with real flaws and struggles. Unfortunately, this is less true of Season 1, which is often sluggish and one-dimensional. As the Mormon Iconoclast blog observed, “By insisting on creating an entertainment that doesn’t have certain elements, they haven’t really defined what they want to do instead. As a result, the show seems peculiarly undramatic.” But the second and third seasons evolve to show actual drama and characters who are more morally complex.

The approach of Granite Flats to a morally complex world is, unsurprisingly, different from that of Mad Men. In Mad Men, love is merely something invented to sell nylons, and characters frequently spiral into self-destruction and rationalize (or are oblivious to) selfishness, to the point where such a path seems inevitable. (But hey, I’ve only seen three episodes! Correct me if I’m wrong here!) In contrast, Granite Flats depicts a world where people struggle, and often make mistakes, but also find ways to extend forgiveness to each other and themselves, to comfort each other, and to press on despite darkness and confusion.

A more important difference than Granite Flats vs. Mad Men is Granite Flats vs. typical “clean” or “family-friendly” entertainment, which too often is dull, preachy, or unrealistic. (As Jim Gaffigan wrote in Dad Is Fat: “As a parent, I know ‘family-friendly’ is really just a synonym for bad.”) But over the course of the series, people negotiate complicated relationships (like a woman with her foster son and his alcoholic father) and confront ethically fraught situations (like a nurse deciding whether to stay involved in a questionable government program in which she is trying to protect a patient from harm)–and that’s what makes it interesting. And while some characters come off as one-dimensional heroes or villains in the first season, a fuller picture of their motivations is gradually revealed.

GFLTS_LargeSee what they did there?

Granite Flats isn’t perfect, of course, but I’m grateful it’s out there. It shows that “family-friendly” or “faith-based” doesn’t have to be boring, and more importantly that it doesn’t have to mean tidy black-and-white moral choices. In fact, faith cannot exist in black and white. It’s natural to crave black and white. Everything is easier that way! But it’s when we feel we are in the grey—or in the utter dark—that we have to reflect on what we know and what we feel, then act in faith. And as we experience the consequences of our choices, we continue to learn and grow.

This touches on the distinctive Mormon view that the purpose of this life is to be tested and thereby refined so we can ultimately become like God in the next life. Answers that are self-evident don’t make a very effective test—nor do they make for interesting television. In life and in TV, we require nuance and paradox to uncover and mold our best selves. That’s just the sort of idea Don Draper might say he invented to sell nylons, but it’s what I believe, and I’m glad Granite Flats is attempting to articulate it in a way that appeals to audiences.

* * *

On a not so high-minded note, here’s an assorted list of what I like and don’t like about Granite Flats. If you’re convinced to check it out, you can watch the series online. (And then let’s talk!!)

Bad:

  • Season 1: Sluggish and one-dimensional compared to Seasons 2 and 3 (but worth watching for the setup of various plot points).
  • Kids: Two of the kid characters are painful to watch. Their dialogue and storylines together are overwrought, like a garish parody of Hermione and Ron. Anytime they’re onscreen together, my husband and I are just like BARF BARF PLEASE MAKE IT STOP PLEASE INTRODUCE A STORYLINE WHERE THEY GET HIT ON THE HEADS WITH A METEOR.
  • Stiff acting and dialogue: It’s hard to tell which is the culprit. The writers are ambitious in sprinkling casual conversation with literary references; sometimes it comes out clunky. And the actors earnestly try to channel the dialects and manners of the era; again, sometimes it comes out clunky.

Good:

  • The plot!!! The tangled web of espionage and family secrets is delicious, particularly because the storyline about a secret government program called MKUltra is based on real (and troubling) events.
  • Parker Posey: She steals every scene she’s in and elevates the rest of the show. And she rocks blue eyeshadow.

parkerposey

  • Other guest stars: George Newbern (from Scandal) lends a natural ease to his scenes. And Cary Elwes and Christopher Lloyd do an excellent job of channeling the character types they’re well-known for.
  • Character development: Even the admirable characters have flaws and make mistakes, and even the unlikeable characters have understandable motivations at times.
  • Intertextuality: Each episode has a lofty-sounding title drawn from literature or scripture, and characters frequently cite Shakespeare, Whitman, and the Bible. Sometimes it’s executed gracefully, sometimes not, but either way it deepens the meaning of the story.
  • High production quality: I’m no film expert, but the set and costume design, cinematography, etc. is lovely.