Yes, I read. A lot. It opens me up to other worlds and perspectives. I embrace that possibility, particularly since travelling over the past few years has been impossible and in my own life rather limited over the last decade or so.
Reni Eddo-Lodge‘s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race‘, is still one of the most important books I’ve read in the last few years. One of my students recommended it to me long before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. I bought it shortly after that recommendation and it sat on my shelf until the summer of 2020. Whilst focused on race history and racism in Britain / the UK, there are so many parallels to our history in the US, a painful yet important-to-understand history if we have any hope of ever truly creating a society based on justice and equity.
As inspiring as the summer of 2020 was, 2022 feels rather disappointing given … well… everything. From additional book bans and a paranoia around CRT to the House GOP voting together to not support efforts to root out white nationalists and Nazis from the military and police forces, it’s depressing in many ways.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend a rather intimate few hours at a reception for one of my writing heroes, Colson Whitehead. A quote of his was mentioned in the conversation from an interview he did with the Helsinki Sanomat, something to the effect that he viewed his place as a writer as not so much able to change attitudes or the world [I’m paraphrasing and likely butchering the conversation]. It struck me as odd, since I have found so much of his writing as well as the writing of others fundamentally shift my world and my perspective. And, historic events unknown previously to some after being fictionalised became known to others. Perhaps it isn’t for me to say how any one author’s works affect the broader public. But, I do feel like whether through random musings and social commentary or fictionalised worlds created, writers all have the power and ability to make us think and perhaps think in ways different to what we’ve always ‘known’. That ain’t nothing.
Following Reni’s lead, I am inclined to rely on the words of another writing hero, James Baldwin, a man long dead, but still painfully and rather chillingly seemingly more relevant now:
“The bottom line is this,” James Baldwin told the New York Times in 1979. “You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimetre, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.”
This book resonated with me on so many levels. I hope that everyone I know, particularly those who think of migrants / immigrants as individuals to fear, reads it. With an open mind and an open heart.
This week marks the beginning of the twenty-third year I’ve lived in a country other than my home country. And, I would not change a thing. Perhaps that is why I read it both with a sense of hope and a longing for my own home.
I am and always will be a citizen and product of the United States, and I remain steadfast in my hope for her future as a country and for her people, whether they’ve lived there for millennia or recently arrived. But, I also understand that as much, as I love her as a nation, both her troubled and horrific as well as impossibly hopeful history, that we as a people have much to learn from others and that we must look at ourselves not as exceptional but as one of many people who share this big beautiful blue planet.
I can only speak of my experiences as an American living abroad. I view the wealth of our nation in skewed terms these days given my own personal lens. Whilst migrants exist everywhere, those seeking a life in the US occupy a central position within this book.
Our richness as a nation does not come from simple monetary wealth, but in the richness of the various people who arrive on her shores in search of something better and brighter for themselves and their children. To me, the diversity of our people offers glimpses into the richness of us as a species. Our ways of life. Our traditions. Our glorious, luscious, delicious foods. And, this melding of ideas and ideologies as well as cuisines offers us bits and pieces we may both carry onward and leave aside or savour so completely and fully.
Yes, I am an American. But, I am also one of millions of migrants in this world. My circumstances are my own, but the reality of being a migrant — both setting up and creating a new home whilst missing that which I left — is a reality I share with every other migrant in this world. All we ever hope to find is a place of peace and acceptance, and an opportunity to flourish and survive. Not as outcasts or others, but as valued and valuable members of the communities we now choose to call home.
Normally, I’m quite content to spend time on my own or in the company of my little multispecies, multinational family, going days on end bonding with my freakishly fun kitten and The Cuban, foregoing the company of others, parties, large crowds and a busy disco card. As an only child, I learned early in life to find ways to entertain myself. In this home, there is no end to the entertainment on offer given my flatmates.
Despite my constant companions and sources of fun, support and love, I genuinely miss lunches with friends and colleagues. I miss being out and about in the world beyond our lovely neighbourhood. I miss interacting in person with people other than at the supermarket and postal office. I miss the three-dimensional world. I miss a lot of things I took for granted, much as I suspect we all do. It’s no comfort really that I am not alone in missing these things. Beyond a few lunches with friends safely distanced outside our flat and bumping into a friend or two in the neighbourhood, we’ve spent the last 17 months on our own. And, it’s seriously fucked with my mental health.
After the pandemic forced us all to spend more time on our own and largely exist within our own homes and following a rather heart-breaking early beginning to 2020 for other reasons entirely, I confess: my own ability to find hope and joy waned. So, I did what I do when depression and anxiety hit: I laced up and resumed running. Remaining rather inconsistent until March and April of last year, I improved, I logging more miles and steadily progressing more than I had in… years. July of 2020 found me getting out and moving each and every day, either walking or running, an accomplishment which seemed impossible just a few months previously. Following a foot injury in August, in October to cope with pre-election nervousness and stress, I attempted a running streak — a period of time whereby runners log at least 1 mile or 1.6 km on each and every run each day. That streak lasted until election day on 3 November — 33 days — when I freakishly stubbed my big toe and broke it whilst cleaning my desk of all things, leaving me pretty much unable to walk much less run, despite trying to lace up that day. [I made it down the stairs in our building before giving up and heading back up the stairs feeling rather defeated if not thoroughly silly.] Through that first streak, I logged about 112 km. And, you know, I was proud of myself. Gutted that the streak ended, but I gained so much confidence in the process and along the way.
It wasn’t until 1 January that I resumed running. And, again, I began a running streak. That streak was short-lived (15 days), however, since I incurred yet another injury. Too much, too fast, and another valuable lesson was learned: listen to your damn body, V.
For the remainder of the winter and early spring, once my foot (and pride) healed sufficiently, I resumed running, albeit more modestly this time around. With the deep freeze of February, my runs were short yet thrilling. My plan was simple: no training programmes or plans (like couch to 5k or 10k), opting instead to simply listen to and adjust the length and pace of my runs individually based upon what my body told me it could take each day. One run at a time. I started with 1-mile runs, supplemented with walk–run intervals, typically lasting no more than or just a bit more than 30 minutes. The runs lengthened incrementally, although some days all I managed was a measly mile. But, week on week, the distances grew and my confidence did as well. At some point, I decided that my goal was to comfortably run 5.1 km by my birthday when I turned 51. And, you know what? On 22 May – the day after my birthday – I did it! (I would have accomplished this on my birthday, but the weather that day was absolutely dreadful. So, the next day it was.)
And, this, my friends, is where it gets interesting. From 22 May until this past Sunday, 1 August, I did not miss a single day of working out – either logging a run, a walk or an Ashtanga yoga practice. Not. One. Day.
But, something else happened within this period: from 30 May through 31 July, I ran at least 1 mile or 1.6 km every single day. During that time, I also walked and/or practiced yoga each day as well.
Y’all, I am proud.
My running streak lasted for 63 days, meagre amongst streakers, but massive for me. And, really, the only person I’m competing with is myself.
The only reason my streak ended is because the second Covid-19 vaccine messed with my body a bit, leaving me feeling incredibly poorly on Sunday and Monday after the jab on Saturday. So, rather than risk injury and making myself feel even more miserable, I took two days off.
So, what did I learn?
First, the first mile always lies. It’s rather like depression, curiously – don’t trust anything that first mile says.
Second, ignore the voices of doubt. Running a full 5k is now something I know definitively I can do. It may not be a quick 5k. That little inner voice of doubt once silenced means nothing when it comes to getting to 5k.
Third, pace means nothing, although adjusting it can mean the difference between struggling and finishing strong. I no longer focus on checking my Garmin often to see how fast (or slow) I’m going. The less I look, typically the more surprised I am by how steady my pace is and how fast that last km becomes. I run by feel: starting as slow as humanly possible and focusing on my posture and foot falls, as well as my breath. Slow and steady and further beats fast and short, unless I am short on time, when I will push myself just to see how fast I can go.
Fourth, did I mention telling that inner voice telling me that I can’t to shut up?
Fifth, consistency. I knew each day that I would go for a run, even if it was short. Adjusting my plans or schedules or to-do list necessitating putting a run in there somewhere. I knew each day I would practice yoga after my run once I figured out that it was a nice way to get some stretching in. I missed maybe one day a week, but that was intentional. I knew that each day or at least most I’d go for a walk with my husband in the evening. And, whatever else I planned or needed to do, at least 30 minutes of my day was set aside to run.
Sixth, try not to have too many expectations for a run. The days when I expected my runs to rock were typically my worst. The days when I expected my runs to suck were typically when they were awesome. Weird. But, now I know.
And, finally, take support from wherever you can find it. There was one day recently in that last week when I was certain my streak was already over. Rain and thunderstorms plagued our neighbourhood all day and it wasn’t until about 9 in the evening that a window opened up. The rain wasn’t the issue; lightning was. My darling husband, knowing how much this streak meant to me and providing the support I needed, watched the weather and declared, ‘You’ve got a window! Go! Go for your run now!’ Quick change into my kit, I laced up and ran. And, it was sweet and glorious. (Thank you, Tweetie!) I’ve also received some incredible support from fellow runners and streakers, both individuals I know beyond running and individuals I’ve connected with virtually via various running groups and applications. We all need cheerleaders and I’m grateful to and for mine.
Here are a few statistics (‘STATISTICS!’, as my super supportive says) from this run streak:
Run streak days (RSDs): Kilometres (miles) run: Total distance (walking + running): Number of individual workouts: [Runs] [Walks] [Ashtanga yoga practices] Hours spent running:
The journey of a 1000 miles (or a run streak) begins with a single step (or, in this case, a single run). Thus, I’ve already begun my next run streak. Today, once I complete my run I will be on RSD2.
My first goal is to reach RSD64, to pick up where I left off. My second goal is to reach RSD100 for the triple digits. And, then, who knows? I’m also aiming to finish the year logging 2021 km total distance on foot (I’m at 1402 km as of today) and finish the year with more kilometres logged running than walking, although I’m allowing myself an out on this goal. Injuries, yo.
Running may not allow me to resume lunches with friends or bring this bloody pandemic to an end any sooner. I may offer me the peace of mind I crave knowing that my loved ones, whilst impossibly far away, are safe and out of harm’s way. But, running does afford me some sense of accomplishment and does give me a bit of a respite from obsessing over the news every few minutes and far more frightening statistics. Running certainly keeps me from doom scrolling. Running lifts my spirits, because it really is a form of therapy for me even during relatively carefree days (remember those?). And, that ain’t nothing.
So, rather than focus on the Covid-19 statistics, I’m focusing on my own stats. At least a little bit. And, it helps.
I did not intend on sitting down and ploughing through the remaining two-thirds of Masha Gessen‘s latest book, Surviving Autocracy, yesterday evening. But, that’s precisely what I did.
I regret nothing. (Although I did completely lose track of time and miss my weekly Ashtanga Zoom class, damnit. Let’s talk about white privilege and first-world problems a bit later, eh?)
It’s incredible to me how much of the past four-plus years have faded into our distant, collective memory. So, so much happened during the Trump administration, so many things which are frankly unimaginable, and so, so many things frankly made infinitely worse during the pandemic.
And, yet, so many of those atrocities were normalised rather efficiently and easily, as we moved from one insanity to another at a breakneck, mind-numbing and soul-crushing speed during his presidency (and seem to be continuing in his post-presidency period). It seems only fitting that now, just a week after his reign of terror (and I chose the word specifically) has ended officially he will also be tried in the Senate for a Second Impeachment. [It is not entirely lost on me or many that 45 Senators whose lives were also put in harm’s way during the Capitol siege voted to not proceed with that Impeachment trial because of course they did. I’m looking at you, Senator McConnell. Directly at you.]
Congratulations, asshole. You truly are the best at impeachments. No one single president has more, and you have 50% of them all to yourself. Well done.
Masha Gessen lays out with surgical precision just how utterly dangerous and quickly all of this has happened. And, I’m guessing, somewhat unintentionally provides sufficient evidence for why we are not quite out of danger of succumbing to Trumpism or quelling full-fledged and inescapable autocracy just yet. Chapter after eye- and wound-opening chapter, and in each of the three primary sections, Gessen provides more than ample evidence that we are in the midst of surviving autocracy.
Years of gaslighting, some of which predates Trump’s ascension, and more than 30,000 lies — not tiny embellishments or repeated falsehoods, but full on lies — and we are still dealing with those untruths, thanking no longer from his Twitter account. But, they are there. And, they continue, perhaps articulated a bit more eloquently and in a better package from a more polished messenger. But, those lies and the gaslighting continue. And, so many lap them up all for individuals so reckless, so vile and so callous and with a blatant disregard for lives of others in their charge.
But, this book is not a pity party or focused entirely on the rage-inducing history we are living. There is hope in between the despair. For instance, Masha applauds the civil society institutions and those with the moral authority who continually and unabashedly stood up to the injustices and atrocities and crimes these last four-plus years. Those institutions, sadly and surgically decimated in Putin’s Russia before they really had an opportunity to flourish and gain a foothold in Russian society and so precious to our own American experiment both at home and abroad, largely saved us. Yet, even they are exhausted and battered and bruised after four-plus years of battle. This final year, specifically, the final moments of mayhem notwithstanding, it’s a wonder any of those civil society agencies or agents still exist. But, resistance is a long war, not a single battle. And, that continued, tireless and sustained pushback has helped us perhaps prevented us from sliding in to complete autocracy. We still have far to go, however, and we can’t forget that more than 400,000 individuals have now lost their lives to Covid-19 in the USb alone from the inactions and lies spun by a White House and administration who cared not about us, but a great deal about themselves and holding on to power by any means necessary.
Since Masha finished this book in April of 2020, they did not have the opportunity to add their reflections on the protests that sprung up nationally and globally following the 8-minute live-lynching of George Floyd or the slaughter of Breonna Taylor of the hunting down and slaughtering of Ahmaud Arbery. Nor did they have an opportunity to fold into their book the genuine attempted to coup in the wake of the November elections and the siege of the Capitol as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ wins were verified, albeit somewhat delayed by those who sought to undermine free and fair(ish) elections in the US. Both of those broader events and the administration’s role in them are incredibly relevant to Surviving Autocracy. I’ll be looking for those reflections.
To me, the power of this book lies not just in Gessen’s arguments and the weaving together of a narrative that fits these last four-plus years flawlessly alongside the brutal realties of autocratic leaders elsewhere in the world. The power lies in Masha’s own history. Maybe it takes an individual who stood up to and faced Putin to rip off the mask of ugliness in a second homeland for us all, showing us those parallels we often think of as ‘other’, when in fact it is ‘us’ in this specific moment. That is, it takes the clarity of hindsight after witnessing an autocratic takeover of your homeland once to lay it all out for those who are too naïve or too hopeful or too optimistic and blindly faithful to an idea to realise that it is already happening to them in your second home.
But, we have survived (most of us), and we must endure and ensure that this never happens again. First, however, we really must stop the autocratic designs being laid out so carefully from taking a firmer hold over us and over those institutions we trust to prevail and protect us.
It might take all of us. But, we can survive autocracy.
Sarah Kendzior is a writer and journalist I admire, for her ability to cut through the noise and get to the point. For her ability to pinpoint larger, more systemic issues which remain largely ignored by far too many. The View From Flyover Country is necessary reading. And, so is this.
Despite buying this book shortly after its release, I put off reading it for some time because I knew it would be too enraging and I was too fragile. I knew, in part, it would break me just a little bit more.
That’s quite something given where we have collectively been these last five years, how we got here and where we are headed.
Because many of those remaining 197 Representatives, all of whom swore an Oath to uphold and protect the US Constitution, despite having survived that horrid event and admitting during the debate that the President was directly responsible for inviting the siege and encouraging the attempt to overthrow the Legislative branch of the government, still voted against impeachment.
Because, yet, another smoking gun from the President himself was ignored. And, whilst individuals in positions to hold him accountable, individuals who feel he is not fit to lead or occupy the Oval Office, watched him hold that smouldering gun and refused to use the very tools in place to preserve the rule of law and those precious checks and balances they claim to hold up as so sacred.
They did nothing. One hundred and ninety seven of them did nothing.
As enraging and tragic and heart-breaking it is to read, Kendzior’s writing is so, so beautiful. Sadly, it is also necessary, primarily to preserve this tale of American tragedy for future historians. Perhaps they can better describe and disentangle how the US ended up here, and ultimately how half of us cheered this madness on.
As an academic editor and instructor for those seeking to communicate the results of their research as well as their ultimate ambitions as researchers and scientists, I obsess about words, primarily the words of others. I understand that words can and do carry incredible meaning and a power we often forget or neglect. Particularly, when they matter most. Particularly, when emotions run high. Particularly, when we most need to use and wield them carefully.
As an American, I absolutely and unequivocally support an individual’s freedom to express themselves. So long as it does not incite violence. So long as they accept when speaking what they say and to whom and how may carry consequences, and before speaking they be ready to accept those consequences.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.
I use this space to express my own beliefs. My own ideology. My own random musings on current events and odd occurrences in the world around me and further afield. But, I do so accepting fully that I will offend some and alienate others at times. I write and share here in the hope that it also inspires some, primarily to use their own voices and their own words, to allow others a glimpse into divergent world and views or to simply think about the world in a slightly different way. But, I also understand that what I have said elsewhere and written here about my own beliefs carries consequences for me. And, I accept those consequences. Because I understand the responsibility that speaking out carries.
As debates once again rage about the First Amendment and the Freedom of Expression as the US President is banned from social media platforms perhaps permanently and a social media platform loses its hosting services given the violence that was fomented and organised via it, it seems like we all need to re-examine what the right and freedom to express ourselves means.
It seems to me when someone uses a platform to plan and/or organise an assault on a body of government, where individuals are running around that chamber actively searching for the Vice President as well as the Speak of the House, the Senate Majority Leader and various other elected officials, so that they can kidnap or kill them, we might want to question what constitutes ‘speech’. When such actions are encouraged by a sitting President, who continues to lie after making nearly 30 000 false or misleading claims through the election in 2020, allowing him to continue to do so whilst he also encourages violence against members of a body of government might carry some consequences.
Furthermore, if a private business owner can refuse providing their service to an individual for no other reason than they object to that potential client being gay, another private business can also decide that they do not want to do business with a company or group or individual that fosters and foments violence in any form (Think: No shirt. No shoes. No service.).
Individuals can say what they want. But, they also need to accept that actions have consequences, particularly when dealing with private businesses and companies. (Isn’t that what many said in response to Colin Kaepernick not being signed after he took a knee?)
The Freedom of Expression also demands we use that right and freedom responsibly.
Words matter. And, the words of the President (and others) this particular week as well as for quite some time have been inflammatory, intentionally spread misinformation and outright lies, incited violence and fomented hatred. He can say whatever he wants. But, he must also accept that those words may carry consequences.
At the very least, the rest of us need to reflect upon what we are willing to say and do, and the responsibilities afforded and put upon each of us when we do so, as well as what consequences we are willing to face given our choices.
And, if nothing else, we must remember: words matter.
Before he died, John Lewis stated, ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act.’
This week, the world watched events unfold in the Capitol, encouraged by a madman and fuelled by falsehoods and misinformation pushed by fellow elected officials.
Yes, we must only endure another 11-12 days of an administration that has taken us to the brink. However, given the pace at which events appear to escalate within this administration, I am terrified by what could occur and unfold further. Thus, I’ve written to my own representatives in the Congress, along with the leadership, to demand action. The President must not be allowed to sit in the Oval Office one minute longer. He is not just a threat to other nations, he is a threat to our own. And, no one is above the law.
Furthermore, if a Justice can be seated to SCOTUS in days, surely something that is clearly a threat to our own national security can also be pushed through swiftly.
If you, like me, feel like you need to do something, feel free to use the text in the file below. I sent letters to my own Representative and Senators, and adjusted the text and sent it to Speaker Pelosi, as well as the Minority and Majority Leaders in the Senate. As much as I loathe Mitch McConnell, I was moved by his speech in the Senate this week. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he needs to be voted out. But, credit where credit is due, if only to further my own interests.) Once drafted, it took just a few minutes to fill out the online email forms for each Representatives office and send it. Even if you only contact your specific Representative and Senators, it’s something. And, every little bit helps.
I’ll also be writing to Republican Congressional members who have already voiced their support for the President’s removal. They need to know that they are supported as well, perhaps more so at this particular moment given the threats they are undoubtedly receiving.
If one of your elected Representatives or Senators falls within the category of individuals who objected to the Electoral College, you can also write to them demanding their resignations for a dereliction of duty and violating their sworn Oaths of Office to uphold the Constitution. At the very least, let them know that you’ll be working to support whomever runs against them in their next election. (The list of those seditious conspirators are here.)
I’ve long been an adherent to the principle that ‘decisions are made by those who show up’ (thank you, Aaron Sorkin). Voting is one way we let those running for office know our wishes and hopes and desires. But, we can also exercise our voices by contacting those who are elected from time to time and engaging with them through various public fora. They represent us. To do so effectively, they need to hear from us to know what we want them to do. You don’t need to obsess over it like I do. [I do not advocate or wish that on anyone — I haven’t slept well in years, in all honesty!] But, if those who hold office hear only our silence, we can’t really complain when they do not act in ways we support or like. This is one of those moments in which a few minutes of your time may just make a huge difference longer term.
Thank you for reading this. And, thank you for sending any letters to your elected officials. Please encourage those within your own networks to do the same.
I wasn’t expecting to plough through a book this morning before sitting down to work, but that’s precisely what I did.
What an incredibly important, thought-provoking, emotional, heart-breaking and yet hope-filled gem of a novel.
I cannot imagine what it is like to be a young, black man in today’s world. But, this book certainly does much to help me to understand the unreal expectations and choices, the absurd stereotypes they must respond to and attempt to dispel, and the unending pain and confusion and frustration and anger as well as joys tempered by bullshit that they face every minute of every single day.
Damn…. What a profoundly important and beautiful book. I need to sit with this for a while.
There’s a brilliant little book by the same name by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s far more eloquent than I, and I agree with her every word. We should all be feminists.
Indeed. There’s nothing more that I really need to say about this, is there?
If I do, here’s what I have to say: More rights for you does not mean fewer for me. It means we all benefit and enjoy equal rights and protections for and of those rights. And, it might just mean that women will not receive less pay for equal amounts of work, not needing to pull double duty by caring for all things related to the home and childcare whilst also excelling in our careers. And, it might just mean that we are finally be seen as belonging in positions of leadership. That we are capable.
Because, we are more than capable. And, we do it wearing heals and whilst also taking on the primary household management responsibilities.
I’m not sure why ‘feminism’ as a word conjures up man-hating women with no tolerance for men. But, it does. And, that fundamentally speaks to the primary reason why we need feminism.
I’m a bit behind — work and rest both kept me from posting a daily protest postcard here. [In my defence, I’ve done so elsewhere!]
In our house, we live by each of these phrases, particularly the phrase in the middle.
We are not threatened by equality; we embrace and work towards it. And, those individuals who strive towards equality are truly quality folks we’d like in our circle.
We seek to ensure that all human rights are honoured, particularly amongst and for women and girls.
Black lives matter. Full fucking stop.
Love is love, and it is a thing to behold and celebrate. The day marriage equality became a reality for all in the US was an incredibly happy day for us.
And humans can never be illegal. Their reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex, and largely depend on bureaucracies just as difficult to navigate as their journeys and attempts to escape unnamed or unknown horrors.
Standing up for any one of these principles doesn’t negate us or any of our own struggles nor does it diminish our own worth. In fact, standing up for the rights of others strengthens rights for all and helps to enshrine these principles into our society and community. And, that renders each of us more valuable and our communities more just and inclusive.