Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Great American Vote-Off 2016

I used to hate politics. Mostly because I didn't understand it, partly because it seemed irrelevant, a little because it was cool to be "jaded" about it. (You know, when you're so young that you're jaded about everything.) I voted for the first time in the 2000 presidential election at 18 years old, following the sage advice of my dear Republican parents ("Just tick all the Rs"), which meant, yes, I helped Dubya get into office.
Then I buggered off to the UK and left y'all to it.  

In the UK, as a non-citizen indefinite-leave-to-remain resident, I had no voting rights, so I paid little attention to British politics either. Besides, things seemed to be going better over there, what with free health care and all that, so it didn't matter much to me if we were Tories or Labour - I was getting socialized medicine and child benefit! (I was not, on the other hand, eligible for most other social programs, like the dole.)  

Then the SNP started talking about actually holding the referendum they'd promised when they first came into power, and I started paying a little more attention. There had been a council tax freeze, thanks to the SNP? Oh, England doesn't get free prescriptions like Scotland? Nick Clegg wasn't the saviour the Lib Dems thought he'd be? Hmm. I'm possibly quite in favour of this idea of independence.

(Like all the u's I did there, as I reverted to British English?)

And then I buggered back off to the US and left y'all to it. Not that it mattered; I couldn't vote in the referendum anyway. I could only cheer my support and hope someone cared what the American thought about Scottish independence.

I came back to America much more open-eyed politically than I'd left it. I'd lived socialism up close and personal; I'd seen the benefits and the pitfalls. I had also looked at America through American eyes and a foreigner's; I recognized our strengths and our weaknesses.

Upon returning to the States, I decided it was time to get involved in politics. I dove into research for the gubernatorial primaries and elections in 2014. I started reading about budgets and spending, foreign policy, tax revenues, social issues, environmental issues, immigration. I started talking to people about these things, listening and arguing (usually not both at the same time), trying to understand.

(Let me add here, that in this time, I discovered Bernie Sanders and was already a fan and Facebook follower well before he announced he was running for President.)

I am still learning and still listening. (Sometimes, still arguing.) I have much to learn, but I'm in it now.  And now, all my political self-education leads me to this critical point in history, and I have to ask:

Are the presidential elections always this insane?

I keep hearing everyone say "all bets are off" with this one. Everyone's saying this is the strangest election cycle in a long time. Part of me wonders if this is just near-sighted, past-forgetting, hyperactive hysteria, or if no, really, this is madness.

I mean, the front-runner of the Republican party makes public remarks about a woman "bleeding out of her whatever", wanting to punch protesters, how he could shoot someone and still have followers, how much he loves "the poorly educated" because he won their vote, that all Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists (sorry, "some are probably okay") and calls for Muslims to be banned from the country, and voters are flocking to the polls to vote for him. Then trailing a sad ways behind him are a myriad of unlikely characters, of which only one - maybe two - actually seem like real people and not drawings in a bitterly sarcastic political cartoon. 

On the other side, we have a woman who is pretty well reviled amongst virtually all Republicans (and a fair number of Democrats) and an elderly socialist from Vermont of all places. (I recently had to look up Vermont on a US map, because I literally wasn't sure where it was.) I'm a Democrat, and I will strongly support either candidate because I think they would both make great leaders, but even I can admit they must look just as insane to Republicans as the current GOP lineup looks to me.

Any combination of this motley crew brings up multiple question marks. How on earth is this election going to go? I have no idea. Trump v. Clinton?  Cruz v. Sanders? Rubio v. Clinton/Sanders ticket v. wounded third party candidate Trump? How do you even predict outcomes like these?

One thing is for sure.  This election hasn't been much about "politics".  The issues I've been spending so much time researching seem to come up much less than, say, how many lies so-and-so has told, how many flip-flops so-and-so has made, how much so-and-so hates so-and-so, and how so-and-so is "the only person on this stage who".  I'm referring to both parties here, having watched a majority of both parties' debates. Are they usually so full of vitriol, ignorant rhetoric and blind partisanship?

(I'm going to go with "yes" here. I'm going to go with "this is why young people are jaded about politics even before they're old enough to vote in a general election". I'm going to go with "that's why there are so many bitterly sarcastic cartoons out there".)

One more thing is for sure.  No matter who wins this next presidential election, the future of American politics and its parties are going to change drastically. Or is that what they say every four years? I guess we're about to find out.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

40 Questions - Nearly Two Months Late

I'll be honest: I pretty much had decided to be done with this.  This is the eleventh year in a row for me to answer these annual questions, and I am just sort of tired of it. I also can barely remember 2015 - it was such a blur. However, it's been almost a month since I've posted on my blog (sad, exhausted face), so to kick myself in the arse and get back to trying to regularly blog, I'm starting with something easy-hard - the 40 Questions.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
As long as you don't count my ebook, I published a book for the first time! As in, a real book in print that you should order, because it doesn't cost much, given I used a 10 point font and narrow margins to reduce the number of sheets per copy, thus reducing the base cost of producing said book. Also, I think it's a pretty good book (even though I can't read it anymore because I've found two typos and I can't bear to read any further in case there are more). (Also, I keep thinking of things I should've added.) (Second edition looks very likely.) (Oh, and yeah, The Last Petal Falling is also an ebook, if that's what floats your boat.)

Promoting my book like a boss at my first book fair.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
Last year, I resolved to get back on keto and lose the last of my weight. I am pleased to say I got down to within five pounds of my goal weight and maintained that for months... until I began working full time in an office job. I have since gained just about all my weight back. Dagnabit.

I also resolved to do another "stuff" clear out. I did have a garage sale, but I'm thinking now I really should've purged more.

This year, I made several resolutions. I am both sorry and not surprised that I have already broken each and every one.
- Spend less, save more? Haven't done that at all.
- Read books I have, don't buy new books? Well, I have read some books I already had but hadn't read, yet I have also already spent way too much money at the bookstore for it being on February. (See failed resolution "Spend less, save more".)
- Lose office 15? I lost 5 pounds, then put it back on, because I love food and think maybe I should just be happy with my body for once instead of always trying to be skinnier.
- Exercise more? I have been to the gym ONCE. I also took my dog out for a walk... once.
- Put another book into print? Okay, I haven't failed at that yet, since there are still ten months left to accomplish that in. I do have a plan to turn that aforementioned ebook into an updated print edition. That really needs to happen.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Scott's brother and his wife (my brother/sister-in-law) had their fourth little bundle, wee Rohn. Yay! And my college BFF Amanda had her first baby, little miss Stella. If I've forgotten anyone else, it's because I barely remember 2015, and I also might be a terrible person.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Eh... I don't think so? If someone did, I am so sorry. Again, 2015 = blur. And terrible person.

However, though he was not super close to me, my dear friend Paula lost her husband to cancer this year, and she is close to me, and I really grieved for her. Being a continent away from people you love has been my constant thorn-in-the-flesh for the last twelve years.

5. What places did you visit?
We visited Texas in August to celebrate my brother-in-law Pete's 30th birthday. It was the first time we have seen their family's adorable wee home and town. And as an added bonus, Scott's cousin Amy was visiting at the same time from Scotland!

Scottish family

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
So two years ago I said, "by the end of 2014 I'd like to have a plan.  A life plan... I'd like to know where we are going to finally settle."  Last year I hoped that meant moving to Seattle, WA. That was what I hoped my "life plan" would be. But here's the thing: my plans NEVER go according to plan. So here we are, almost three years back in America, and you know what? We're just gonna keep on winging it. As for where we are going to finally settle? For the now, it's here.

Last year, I wanted a little more adventure and excitement. I suppose we managed that, in many small ways. Again, it didn't include a cross-country move, but it included a new job and a new chapter in my life, which is pretty exciting.

This year, I'm asking the universe for balance, something I severely lacked after going back into the workforce.

7. What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory?
July 1st - the date I launched my book.  One week later, I started my new job. Three weeks after that, we moved to a new house in a new town. (It was kind of a hectic summer.)

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Broken record here: Book published.  Job acquired.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Gaining back all that damn weight I worked so hard to lose.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I don't recall any trips to the ER, so I'm going to guess no. (Touch wood.)

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Here's the thing - Scott and I spent most of our marriage on one income, struggling to make ends meet, broke as a feckin' joke. Things got better when we moved to the US, but when I started working and suddenly we had actual spending money again, I bought ALL THE THINGS. Was any of it worth it? Probably not. Except for these kickass shoes.

Yes, that's a velociraptor tattoo. 

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Not Donald Trump.

But seriously, I don't know. My book club friends should get mentioned somewhere, so here. Thanks for accepting me, girls, even though we're different, even though we don't believe the same things. You ladies make living in Arkansas, dare I say it, enjoyable.

Drinking cocktails in book club tees.

13. What regrets do you have about the past year?
I don't think I have any regrets about the past year, but I do still grieve being a stay-at-home-mum. I feel in many ways I've done my children a disservice by going back to work full time, outside of the house. I like my job, and I like feeling like a Powerful Career Woman (PCW, just made that up), but I do feel like it's at the expense of my kids and of someone I used to be.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Two things - new furniture and books. Books, glorious books!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The release of Quiet Company's album Transgressor, which I listened to non-stop from February to like August. And the release of my book, too, duh.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2015?
Crap. I remember thinking at one point, "Remember this album for your 40 Questions!" But I have no idea what it was.

One song that will always remind me of last year is John Legend's "All of Me". Paula told a story about when her husband first really heard the words to that song, how he broke down. Now I break down every time I hear it, feeling their pain, their love, their helplessness. Shit, where are my tissues?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
happier or sadder? Happier! I don't live in Nowheresville anymore. I'm in Somewheresville now! (Still not as awesome as WeveMadeItville, but I'm still happy!)
thinner or fatter? Fatter! And damnit, I'm going to just go with it!
richer or poorer? Richer! Double incomes! We get to pay more taxes now! (Which I'm more than happy to do, I should add.)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Exercise. The second half of the year at least. And I miss doing volunteer work, something I aim to correct this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Stress about stuff.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We had a great Christmas this year. I was actually super into the Christmas spirit. We went to a carol service (at a church! An atheist in a church!) late on Christmas Eve, then went out for an even later Indian meal with the kids. When we got home, we each opened one present - a book each. I'm hoping it'll be our new Christmas Eve tradition, to exchange books. The next morning, we opened presents, then my dad and stepmom came over for breakfast. Later in the day we went to my aunt's house for family Christmas. The next day we went to my mom's for Christmas. The next day we went to my dad's for Christmas. Or something along those lines. It was a LOT of Christmases in a row. And a lot of fun!

Jaguar fell asleep and missed Xmas Eve book exchange.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
Vendors and work colleagues. I spend a lot of time at work on the phone.

22. What's your best memory from 2015?
Blur blur it's all a blur. Visiting Texas. Getting told, "We'd like to offer you the job." Getting a book endorsement from Hemant Mehta, and then him promoting it on his blog.

23. How have you seen yourself grow as a person this year?
First, I think I should copy some of what I put last year, because it's still true, and I'm still growing this way:  "I've learned that in order for anything to ever get better, we are going to have to actually do something about it. I can't sit back and hope someone else does something, but I myself must take action... I think we all have our part to play in the big stuff, but even in the small things - keeping a friend's kids so they can get out, donating money or time to tornado relief, bringing someone groceries when they are sick, writing a little note to encourage someone.  All the little things that take so little of me but give so much to someone else. "

Secondly, I feel I'm turning back into a PCW (Powerful Career Woman TM). No, but seriously, I feel I'm getting that confidence back, that belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. Not that I was unconfident before, because I wasn't. (I was one heck of a supermum sometimes, and I also wrote a book!) But I didn't have that workplace ambition I'm now seeing in myself. I like it. Although I'll say again, it usually feels that this comes at the cost of my family life. Oh, Balance, Balance, where for art thou, Balance?

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
TV? Did I watch TV in 2015?

26. What was the best book(s) you read? What books would you like to read in the next year?
Y'all, I did the 2015 Reading Challenge and read so many good books.  Off the top of my head, the ones that stick out the most:

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

But here's a list of all of them:

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
So, a little story about that.

I used to be a big Pedro the Lion fan like every good Christian Indie kid.  Then I was sad when he "left the faith". I tried to be open-minded and listen to some of his post-Christian stuff but just couldn't get into it. ("Too angsty", I recall saying.)

But so then I became one of those post-Christian types who left the faith, and I decided to give David Bazan another chance. I started listening to his album Curse Your Branches and like WHOA. So my greatest musical RE-discovery is David Bazan (whom Scott and I just went to see play a house show a couple weeks ago).

28. What did you want and get?
A job! And royalty payments!

29. What did you want and not get?
To move away. (That's what I said last year too. But I'm happy, it's cool.)

30. What were your favorite films of this year?
Since Deadpool was just now, um... Ooh, The Force Awakens was last year, right? And Spotlight was good.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Me and my gal pals went to Painting With A Twist for my birthday. My gym friends, my book club friends, and my old best high school friends. It was really fun.

I love these peeps!

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Being able to remember it. Blurrrrr.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
January - July: Workout chic.
July - December: Business casual.

Heels and shit.

34. What kept you sane?
Scott reminding me constantly that my brain had NOT turned to mush, and that I CAN be a PCW again! And wine.

35. Which holiday or special occasion meant the most to you?
My birthday, being surrounded by friends, was special. Especially since 2014 was the year of wishing I had friends and missing my Scottish people.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Apparently this is the third year I'm saying this but it remains true: Health care and same-sex marriage.  This year, add Citizens United and campaign finance reform and income inequality. #FeelTheBern

37. Who did you miss?
All my Scottish friends who I loved so, so much: Paula, Heather, and Elaine. Maria and Carol. Sheila and Robyn. Gordy, Kieran, and Lee, Lynda, Arthur, Pauline. The list goes on. I miss y'all.

38. Who was the best new person (people) you met?
The Velociraptors in an Opium Den. (Aka., the book club.) I also quite like a lot of the people I've met at work.

(Remember that velociraptor tattoo? That's how much I love book club.)

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
I don't have to be supermom.  It's okay to just be the World's Okayest Mom.

It's true.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as (parklife)
And morning soup can be avoided if you take a route straight through what is known as (parklife).
John's got brewers droop, he gets intimidated by the dirty pigeons. They love a bit of it (parklife).
Who's that gut lord marching... you should cut down on your porklife mate... get some exercise.


(Know what I mean?)
I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the dustmen (parklife).
I put my trousers on, have a cup of tea, and I think about leaving the house (parklife).
I feed the pigeons. I sometimes feed the sparrows too -
It gives me a sense of enormous well-being (parklife) -
And then I'm happy for the rest of the day, safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it (parklife).

It's got nothing to do with vorsprung durch technic, you know,
And it's not about you joggers who go round and round and round...

(Also, get it? Blur?)