Wow. Well that sucked, didn’t it?
I know how you’re feeling, and I don’t mean that in a condescending, mock-sympathy, shoulder-rub way. I really do. On a brisk November night in 2004 I lit a candle at my college’s chapel and despaired precisely the way you are now. I remember all too well that pit of dread in my stomach and the disbelieving heat flushing my cheeks. I get it, I really do, and I’m sorry about that. Kind of.
Now it’s the days after. All us liberals are walking around with huge grins, holding doors for people, and being all cheery and spry. Even our hangovers taste sweet.
Despite all this, the election produced some very good news for you.
What is it? That the Republican Party—in its current form—is dead. Its heart monitor is screaming “BEEEEEEEE” in flatline and no matter how hard you pound on its chest you’re not bringing it back to life. Step back from the gurney, wipe the sweat from your brow, look at your watch and call it: time of death, 1:50 p.m., November 6, 2012. Why is this good news?
Yesterday’s Republican Party had become diseased with anachronistic, extremist, jingoistic, and xenophobic ideology. It was infected by the Tea Party, the religious right, and the Koch Brothers. The Party was no longer the moderate, dignified, intellectual conservatism of yore, championed by well-educated members of the middle class. It had mutated into the party of people who protest outside post offices with handwritten protest signs declaring Obama a Muslim “socalist” and that English should be our official “langauguage.” In short, your Grand Old Party poisoned its grand old self.
Do not mourn its passing though. The death of yesterday’s Republican Party was necessary to ensure tomorrow’s Republican Party is a viable political movement for the future. That movement must embody fiscal—not social—conservatism, small egalitarian government, and responsible free markets. Lastly and most importantly, base your political ideology on solid data, statistics, and reason, NOT fear, jingoism, and bigotry.
Look to sane conservatives—the Log Cabin Republicans, the Megan McCains, the John Hunstmans, even the Chris Christies. Approach political discourse like adults, not petulant children. Leave religion and your Bible totally and completely out of it—as per your favorite document, the U.S. Constitution.
The right-wing blogs are aflutter—this country is doomed, they say. America just died. In a sense, they’re right. The country they wanted, their ideal America, the country of backwards social policies where gay weddings will ruin your marriage and weed is bad mkay and women can’t look after their own bodies and anybody with dark skin is probably stealing shit be it TVs or jobs—that bizarre notion of America is dead.
What these people don’t get, and what they’ll never get, is that America’s laws and politics should always reflect the desires of the majority of its populace, and the majority of its populace isn’t interested in their version of America.
These people will never adapt to the changing times. They will prop up the party’s corpse and scream louder, spittle flying as they rage about the death of our Constitution, the sanctity of marriage, of God’s rape-given gifts. They will insist “Obama Hussein’s” reelection means WAR, dammit, REVOLUTION. When this happens—and it already is—here’s what you do:
Tell them to Fuck. Right. Off.
Why am I telling you this? Why tip my liberal hand and give you advice? Because we—the Democrats—we need you.
I know, that sounds weird. The liberals reading this just choked on their soy lattes. But I’m serious. We need a reasonable counterpoint, an opposing view, a dissenting opinion. When you challenge our ideas with sound argument it will force us to make them stronger. The arguments of yesterday’s Republican Party were not sound, and the electorate knew it. Democrats didn’t so much win this election as the GOP lost it.
If you want to stick to your old ideology, we liberals take great pleasure in thumping you again. If you don’t think we can, remember you’ve lost the popular vote five out of the last six elections, and your demographic is only getting worse.
So please. Realize that yesterday’s Republican Party sucked. Light its funeral pyre and say a few words as it burns. Then from its ashes, rebuild it to the respectable party it once was.
Much love, if you can believe it,
Your (liberal) fellow American
- Thanks, Wylie Overstreet
I tried out for derby again today. I almost didn’t go, because I’ve been off skates for so long and I knew I wouldn’t make it and it was raining and my pajamas and the television were calling my name, but I decided I would regret not giving it a shot.
And it actually didn’t go too badly. When I tried out last time, I was nervous and I fell over a couple of times, once doing my box turn and once while crossing up and down the track, which annoyed me because typically I’m pretty good at that skill. I still can’t do a box turn, but at least this time I didn’t fall over. And I muddled up one of the falls this time, but recovered easily. I even successfully did my backwards lap (though I wasn’t about to try my backwards crossover for the first time on the bank in tryouts). When I left the tryouts, I thought I actually had a decent shot at making it in to New Girl training—no less because there were 24 potential slots, and only 29 people tried out.
So it was a real bummer when I got the phone call this evening from one of the trainers, saying I just barely missed the cut. She was very nice and encouraging about it, told me I was one of a couple of people that were debated, that they decided I could benefit from a little more practice before starting New Girl Training. They only took 21 girls, after all. And she emphasized that I should not let this setback discourage me, that I have potential and she wants to see me back at the next tryout in March.
I will keep training, both because I do hope to eventually make it on to the league and because I just enjoy it. I want to get really good at these skills. But it’s hard not to be a little discouraged, when success was just so close I could taste it. Granted, it would have only been the first of several steps I would have to take before I actually made it on to the league, let alone get drafted onto a team. But it would have been nice to keep training as an official New Girl.
I suppose this is just one of those things—if I really want to do this, I have to work for it. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.
(Who knew this would turn out to be an after-school special?)
Anyways, Electric Sadieland (eh? possible derby name?) will be coming back for take 3. Now time to hit the track…
I am afraid of only a couple things. I have a fear of normalcy. Averageness. Being totally ordinary. I’m afraid of wasting my youth. I’ve found that recognizing how much you have goes hand in hand with a deep fear of losing it.
And birds. Birds are fucking terrifying.
Really, though. Maybe it comes from being a member of Generation Z, the you’re-all-special-and-unique generation of shameless self promotion on the Internet (which is so NOT what I’m doing here…), but the idea of being completely average scares me. What if I never accomplish anything great? What if I live a totally normal, boring life, working a 9-to-5 job and living in the suburbs, with 2.2 children, an SUV, and a collie? What if the only distinguishing aspect of me (me, me, ME) is that I’m just like one jillion other white Americans?
It’s ironic that I am afraid of what I am. Because I am average. I’m reasonably good looking, but not outstandingly beautiful. I’m fairly smart, but not a genius. At best, I’m slightly ahead of the curve, but I’m not an outlier in any category.
All the same, I grew up hearing the same message as my millions of other peers across the country: you’re special. You can achieve greatness. You can do anything you want to do. When you hear that enough times, you really start to believe it. Those thoughts have been at the back of my mind since I was a kid—no megalomania or illusions of grandeur, just a vague but assured belief that I was destined for extraordinary accomplishment in…something.
Which makes the realization that no, in fact, I’m only one of millions of “special” kids out there, neither a fuckup nor a prodigy but firmly in the middle of the masses, all that much more terrifying. Suddenly, I have to come to terms with the fact that remarkable success is not a foregone conclusion, and in all likelihood won’t happen. I have to resign myself to the life of boring normalcy, instead of the adventure and acclaim I was trained to expect.
I look at people around me—people I know, people in the media, people I read and hear about—who are so successful, and I feel incompetent because I have not been able to achieve what they have. Lena Dunham, the creator and star of HBO’s Girls, is only 26, did you know that? I read an article today about a girl that founded a large and nationally-recognized NGO when she was 18. (Granted, it’s an ethically questionable pro-life NGO, but still.) Or take a look at the list of Rhodes Scholars in any given year. Their lists of accomplishments are unbelievable…and they’re all between the ages of 18 and 23 (besides the fact that getting a Rhodes Scholarship basically guarantees you’ll be successful in whatever your field is. Just look at the past recipients). I turned 24 this year. I’ll never be a Rhodes Scholar.
Which brings me to my other fear, that I’m wasting time, my youth, opportunities I have. At 24 years old I have yet to do anything notable. What if I already missed my only opportunity for greatness? What if I’m not doing enough, not studying enough, not working hard enough? Am I letting my life pass by without me?
I don’t know what the answer to this all is. I think the solution is probably to learn to be content, to temper my ambition with contentment. To recognize that I don’t have to be great to be happy. To stop comparing myself to others, their skills, their achievements. If I learn how to do that, I’ll let you know.
But I’m serious about the bird thing.
Who am I?
No, seriously. Who the hell am I? Am I flirty? Fun? Wild? Scary? Fierce?
Let me explain.
I have an infatuation with the sport of roller derby. Every time I see a bout, or see photos of a bout, or just think about a bout (heh), the next thought in my head is, “I want to DO THAT!”
So I started learning. I practiced and fell down a lot and practiced some more. I did a boot camp and tried out (and didn’t make it). So I kept practicing.
I have never been an athletic person. I’m not in terrible shape, but working out is something I do because I have to, because it’s good for me, not because I actually enjoy it. I was never into sports as a kid either—I was the bookish sort, and then in high school the weirdo theater geek. When I played soccer (like every good middle class suburban kid), the coach (my dad) usually just tried to put me in whatever position where I would do the least amount of damage. Not the makings of a star athlete.
But there’s something about derby—the strategy, the speed of the game, the spectacle, the pure, untainted badassery of the players—that I just can’t get out of my head. I love the team spirit. I love the rowdiness. I love the fact that these ladies show that you can be feminine and tough and that they don’t back down from the physical challenge. And it’s FUN. Once I could actually stand up on my skates, I never wanted to take them off, never wanted to leave the rink, even once I was exhausted and sweaty and my legs felt like Jello. I leave almost every practice with a huge smile on my face, because there’s just something about this sport. Every new skill I master, every new trick I learn, I’m one step closer to that goal of being an ass kicking, take-no-prisoners rollergirl. I can’t wait.
I’m definitely not there yet. I need a lot more practice. But I’m not planning on giving up any time soon. I have this image in my head of me, cruising around the track at top speed, making that perfect block, slipping through the most impossible space to score a point—I’m not letting that go any time soon. I’m determined to get there. I’m going to keep practicing, and eventually I’ll make it on to a league. (I’ve already planned the perfect pair of skates I’m going to buy once I make it—Antik boots and Avenger magnesium plates, I’ll be unstoppable!)
So we’re back to the identity question. The one part of my roller derby vision that I haven’t been able to figure out is the name, an essential part of crafting your derby persona and—let’s face it—a chance to take on that identity that you really want to be, that badass, sexy, hardcore lady that no one in their right mind would want to fuck with. The perfect derby name has an element of the skater, plus a dash of cheeky wit and a pinch of fuck you. And I just can’t come up with the right combination (and all my good ideas are taken already. Damn the increased popularity of this sport).
Who am I? What part of my identity as me, Sarah, the girl from Texas, do I want to carry into my derby persona? I’m Cajun, and I like using some element of that, but I can’t think of any good puns. I thought of a couple of plays on “fleur de lis”, but they were all taken. I also like music…maybe there’s something there? A good band that I can turn into a cheeky name? Nothing has quite the right ring to it. I like the name Sadie, like “Sexy Sadie” from the Beatles song, but then what to do with it? My best idea so far is Electric SadieLand (from Electric Ladyland, the Jimi Hendrix song) but I think the reference is too obscure (but at least it’s unique! And maybe I don’t care if people don’t get it?…).
One thing is for sure: my path towards a new identity, a new me, as not just Sarah, the Cajun from Austin, but as Sarah, the Cajun from Austin who also happens to play roller derby, is just beginning.
Today is day 10 of my adventure in Togo. I leave tomorrow evening, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how I feel about this place. This trip has been difficult for a number of reasons (my eternally lost bag, my first time in a really underdeveloped country, the struggle to regain my French comprehension, my whiny and often unpleasant traveling companion), but it’s a trip I’m glad I’ve taken. If it weren’t for my research project, I doubt I ever would have come to Togo, of all the places in the world. (And it seems like most people that do come here have some other connection to the place, be it family or something like the Peace Corps…very few tourists seem to end up here of their own accord.)
How to describe Togo? It is beautiful but decaying, colorful but very poor. The buildings were once grand, though most (all?) of them are badly maintained and crumbling, looking like the dystopian predictions of a 1970s sci-fi film. The landscape is lush and green, but scarred by potholed roads and piles of garbage. The whole country is filthy and old, but also warm and welcoming. It is shocking, a full assault on the senses—and not always a pleasant one—but it is also the gentle embrace of friendly people, eager to welcome you to their country and into their homes. It is probably not so different than many other West African countries, though also with a character completely its own, one mostly unmarred by the many tracks of tourists’ feet. Togo is smog and traffic and noise and sweat and dust and heat and music and dance and wax-printed cloth and children chanting “Yovo! Yovo! Bonsoir!”
It was not easy to become accustomed to living here, even for just ten days. Getting around can be a challenge; though Lome is not that big, it seems like most taxi drivers are less than familiar about where to find things (at least, the places that we were looking for). As it turns out, I do not like fufu. We drag ourselves home at the end of each day, exhausted and absolutely filthy with sweat and dust, and me longing for a clean change of clothes (preferably that belonged to me). Once I got over hoping that my bag would ever arrive, it got easier. We learned how to find our hotel. We ate at some good restaurants around town (which were usually empty, seeing as there are basically no tourists in this country). We also got some good work done, and had some really productive interviews with some very helpful people. It got easier.
And now its over. Will I ever come back to Togo? Probably not, not without some particular reason. But now I can say that I got off the beaten track, I ventured into the unknown, and I did it all with little besides my computer, a notebook, my guidebook, and a friend who lent me a change of clothes. It’s not really that great of an accomplishment, but it’s mine, and I feel pretty good about it.
I hope that the research we have done leads to some improvement for Togo. I hope the U.S. Government does something good for a change—contributes to a canal-building project or sends some aid to these people who live underwater for six months at a time. I hope I have contributed to something good.
In the meantime, I know that if I ever return, I might still have some friends here who would welcome me with a smile and a plate of (ugh) fufu.