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Solo Travels: Spokane

Nothing quite says adulthood like renting a car for the first time. It means you are free from age constraints and limitations (one can’t rent a car without huge fees until one is 25 years of age or older). It means you are traveling for one reason or another (work, school, play). It means you are as independent as you can be within your limited travel budget (I guess not all that independent–wah, wah).

I rented a car for the first time this past weekend in Spokane, Washington. I had never been to Washington before, so it was a weekend of firsts. My proclaimed primary reason for visiting Spokane was to visit Gonzaga University School of Law. (Apparently you pronounce the ‘zag’ as in zig-zag, not as in zahg as I’ve been saying it.) I say proclaimed because I had mostly decided against law school in general prior to my trip. Still, it was nice to visit and have a confirmation that that is not where I need to be. Other than the few hours I spent at Gonzaga, I spent my days exploring, hiking, taking photos, and absorbing–all the things one ought to do while traveling.

Rental Car

As a first time car renter, that detail played a big part in my trip. True, it wasn’t as exciting as one might hope looking forward to it, but it was a first and a milestone. That rental car was mine (for the next few days, at least).

I will say that the person at the rental counter quickly became an irritant. She began with a nice conversation, asking what brought me to Spokane and whatnot. And then–the switch! Over and over again she asked me to upgrade. I really wanted to throw up my hands and yell, “Hey! I have no money! I’m on a strict budget! STOP WITH THE PESTERING!” But I didn’t. Instead, I just said no time and again until she finally handed me the keys to my inexpensive compact car, perfect for one person.

When I made my way to the small Hyundai and sat inside I thought, “So this is what it’s like to fit in the driver’s seat.” You wouldn’t think 5 foot 4 inches would be that short, but in most cars I have to crane quite a bit to see blindspots. If I ever buy a car, a compact one might be in my future.

When I turned on the radio, a university jazz station filled the car. It was then I decided Spokane and I would probably be friends.

Where to Hike

With only a few days in Spokane, I only had time for two hikes. But of those two hikes, Iller Creek was the more amazing and noteworthy.

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I had planned to go straight from the airport to Iller Creek. However, Google Maps led me astray so I spent about an hour being lost before I finally found the trailhead. Having landed in the morning, this wasn’t a problem and I started hiking the five-mile loop at about 11:30 a.m.

When I got out of the car and while I gathered my gear, I noticed an unusual smell. What was that smell, you ask? Pine! To my desert-accustomed senses the smell of pine was surprising and delightful. The bold fragrance perfectly matched the vibrant green of the surrounding forest.

Iller Creek trail takes you to a stunning view of farmland and forest. At the top are “Rocks of Sharon,” a collection of giant boulders, perfect for climbing and catching a view. I climbed, I sat, I looked, I enjoyed. The peace and beauty made me excited to see what else was ahead on the trail.

After the rocks, the trail heads downward. It was a pleasant descent with wildflowers in abundance and a cozy afternoon sun. I reached a slightly muddy patch during my downhill, which when stepped in triggered the flight of about twenty blue moths (butterflies?) that fluttered around my ankles. It was like being in a forest fairy tale.

With a lot of uphill behind me and a rumble beginning to intensify in my stomach, I looked forward to reaching my rental car and heading to Spokane proper for some well-earned food (the uphill on Iller Creek while not the most intense I’ve ever done, does make you earn your downhill). I reached the parking lot and… it was the wrong parking lot.

Of the two trails I did in Washington, both were criss-crossed with side trails and alternate routes. I missed my turnoff to continue on the Iller Creek loop and ended up at Stevens Creek trailhead. The trailhead map said nothing about a road to Iller Creek so I figured my safest bet for not getting lost was to retrace my steps and find where I went wrong, tacking an extra two miles onto my overall hike, including one mile of the most intense uphill of the walk–back up the steep switchbacks I had just descended.

The extra two miles were fine–I’ve done more than seven miles in a day many times in my life of hiking. However, I ran out of water and food, and was not fully convinced I was on the right trail until I finally saw the familiar trailhead, the stress of which probably added to my need of adequate supplies.

Overall, this is a great trail. But, when hiking in Washington, pay attention to all trails.

Riverfront Park

You can’t go to Spokane without visiting Riverfront Park. The Spokane River runs right through this park and features multiple stunning bridges. There are also rides, a giant Radio Flyer wagon slide, statues, a carousel. It’s a great park. I explored the park after checking into my hotel and ordering what felt like decadent room service after my tough hike with depleted resources. A trail runs alongside the Spokane River, and my hotel had easy access to it making my walk to the park a breeze.

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As I made my way to the suspension bridge to look at the raging river, sirens blared and cops put “Police Do Not Cross” tape along the opening of that particular bridge. Apparently a woman had just leapt from it and they were searching for her body from that bridge and all bridges downriver from it. The way the Spokane River rages, it is tragic and disturbing to contemplate her experience. Suffice it to say, the Spokane Falls are likely an efficient way to accomplish what she sought.

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Suicide notwithstanding, Riverfront Park is a great addition to the city. It’s unique, it’s fun, it has character. It unites nature, history, and modernity in a beautiful design.

Where to Eat

As a note to Benny and Joon fans, that movie was filmed in Spokane. As such, I took it upon myself to honor said film and make grilled cheese sandwiches in my hotel room with an iron. It was effective, though it is important to clean the ironing board and iron very well when you are done so future hotel guests don’t get melted cheese and crumbs on their clothing.

The two restaurants that captured my attention the most were Sante and Madeleines Cafe &  Patisserie. Both are French in theme (perhaps it’s time for me to visit France again, there seems to be a trend in my habits and interests) and both are delicious.

Sante

Sante is a charcuterie with incredible food and a stylish ambiance. The staff knows their stuff in regards to what food is being served and is very concerned with making sure you enjoy your meal. Prepare to spend a lot here, but also know that the price is worth it–you’re tastebuds will agree.

The chef at Sante orders entire animals from local farmers, curing the meat himself on the premises, while doing his best to use the whole animal. That is meat consumption I can stand behind.

I ordered an item from every course, something I had never done before and now know requires minimal eating for the day leading up to such a meal. My tummy was happy but tight by the time I finished my meal.

Sante starts your meal by giving you an amuse bouche, a gastronomic bite to whet your appetite. The amuse bouche of the day I visited was a blini (a tiny pancake) topped with tomato whipped cream, cashew crumbles, and a touch of oregano. I was instructed to eat it all in one bite, so that’s what I did. That tiny bite was a nutty extravagance in my mouth. As it was just one bite, it left me wanting more and I suppose that was its intent.

My cheese plate was next. As a lover of cheese, this was heaven. However, the cheese plate is also what did me in in terms of eating too much. The cheese plate is probably designed for two to three people, but I was on my own. I ate as much as I could but had the rest boxed up.

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The cheese plate consisted of a double cream French brie, a valdeon blue, and a cana de Oveja sheeps milk cheese. The cheeses were complimented with strawberry jam, mustard, and curry chicken charcuterie with toasted baguette slices as a vessel for the luxury of cheese. It ended up being too much, but it was oh so delicious.

The brie was smooth and ripe. The blue tart and pungent. The cana nutty and buttery. The charcuterie chicken was my first venture into eating meat in years, and it was a good venture. Spicy and fragrant, it went well with the mustard and blue cheese.

My soup course featured a curry carrot and ginger soup. Creamy and smooth, it had an obvious bite of curry flavor accented with a strong taste of carrot. The layers of flavor opened with the carrot and closed with the spice lingering on your tongue as it dripped down your throat. Yum.

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A palette cleanser was brought in between soup and the main course. This was a strawberry and ginger ice sorbet. Light and tangy, it was very effective at cleansing the spicy curry from my palette in preparation for the main course.

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My main course was a fish course consisting of tomato risotto and arctic charr. This dish was beautiful to behold and scrumptious to ingest. The collard greens were light and fresh. The fish was flavorful and featured a subtle kick. The foamy basil beurre fondue was to die for, and the crunchy parsnips added a final and elegant touch to the dish. My only complaint was that the risotto was a bit salty for my taste. But, after three cheeses, charcuterie, and a soup, maybe my sodium intake had simply met its limit.

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For dessert (yes, I even ordered a dessert), I had basil ice cream with a basil sauce over a bed of chocolate “sand.” I had reservations about ordering dessert because I was so full, I thought I might bust. But, I ordered it because I was determined to have every course and because basil ice cream. I did not regret my choice. In fact, contrary to what I would have guessed, the ice cream helped to settle my very full stomach. Maybe it was the change from savory to sweet, maybe it was the cool temperature, or maybe it was the light freshness of the basil. Whatever it was, my stomach felt more at ease after my scoop of basil ice cream. The chocolate sand was bitter and crunchy, giving the ice cream a perfect contrast of textures. The sauce added just enough extra basil flavor to give the ice cream a solid basil taste. It was decadent and wonderful.

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Overall, Sante is unique, fun, and delicious. The use of local ingredients and the entire animal is applaudable, while the ambiance is the perfect blend of modern flair and French haute-cuisine.

Madeleines Cafe & Patisserie

I won’t go into as much detail for this cafe as I did for Sante. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy French pastries and a casual dining experience, this is the place for you. Madeleines offers delicious breakfast and unusual details. For example, my blueberry pancakes were topped with maple butter. The pastries are excellent and the various prepared foods (such as quiche, salads, and pastas) looked wonderful.

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Where to Watch Movies

Coming from Salt Lake City, I am spoiled with the Salt Lake Film Society and the many independent films they offer. Nonetheless, Spokane’s Magic Lantern Theatre is available for viewing independent film. It is charmingly shabby and has only two screens. I saw Hello, My Name is Doris for the second time at this theatre. Wherever there is independent film, find it and imbibe.

Where to Buy Books

Apparently when I am on vacation I buy books. I found two great bookstores: Giant Nerd Books and Auntie’s Bookstore.

If Giant Nerd Books hadn’t been real, it would possibly have been cliche. The store was small with stacks of used books and the proprietor played obscure punk rock. The books smelled delightful and with a large selection, it was easy to pick out a few.

Auntie’s Bookstore features a mix of used and new books, and regularly has events such as book signings and poetry readings. It has a rich children’s section and a small second floor. Auntie’s is a bookstore that makes me giddy upon entering.

All in all, Spokane is a great city. It is small and features fabulous details that give it character and life. The neighborhoods feature historical and beautiful architecture and are lined with trees. With nature nearby it is a perfect destination for outdoorsy types and will surprise you with its hidden treasures.

Utah Claims Porn a Crisis, Does Nothing About It

The big news in Utah for the last few days is that our state government has officially declared pornography a public health crisis for Utah. I don’t disagree with the legislature that porn is problematic. Studies show Utah has a high use of porn. Other studies show the damage porn addiction can inflict on the porn user as well as current or potential relationships a porn user might have. Not to mention porn’s connection to sex trafficking and rape culture.

However, for the last few days I have encountered a niggling voice saying, “There’s something wrong with this.” So, here’s what’s wrong with it:
Utah lacks comprehensive sex education in schools. What exists is abstinence-based (a form of sex edo-MEN-WOMEN-DIFFERENCES-facebook notorious for being ineffectual), if there is any discussion at all. In my high school health class, there was NO sex ed. There were snippets of anatomy, but even that was incomplete. My school pretended sex didn’t exist and sent pregnant teens to a “special” school.

Utah also has a culture that is extremely sex-negative. With no proper sex ed in schools, and a sex-negative culture that limits teens’ comfort in asking questions, teens turn to porn for their education.

It’s a nice gesture to call porn a public health crisis, but if during the last legislative session, our representatives vetoed a bill that would have broadened sex ed to be comprehensive, a nice gesture is all it is–it accomplishes nothing.

Oh, and let’s not forget the number of untested rape kits in Utah. More than 60 percent of rape kits in Utah are untested. If you’re going to decry porn because you think it can lead to rape (it can), you have to do something about the rape culture at large!

And what about Utah’s other great public health crisis? It doesn’t take much research to know that our air is toxic–a deep breath outside in January will suffice on that front. Doctors say the air can cause infertility, miscarriage, and other fetal health risks. Those at risk for asthma or other respiratory ailments are warned to limit their exposure to outside. Runners have to choose between continuing to run and risk their health, or hightail it to a treadmill–neither one a compelling option.

Air-Quality-Utah-2And what has the legislature done about that public health crisis? Not much, that’s what. But don’t worry, they did sign a bill to invest in a Californian coal port.

Another potential crisis is our location on the Wasatch Fault. A recent study suggests the Wasatch Front could have a 6.7 earthquake within the next 50 years. It’s not a secret that the Wasatch Front is an earthquake waiting to happen, yet we are woefully unprepared for a large quake. Studies estimate that the death and injury toll would be devastating. And yet all we have in terms of preparation is the ridiculous Great Shake Out each spring. Hiding under my desk for a few minutes while I’m at work does nothing to prepare for an earthquake. We need investments to retrofit hazardous buildings, not a yearly gimmick that most people ignore.

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So, yes, porn is an addictive media that causes problems for relationships and society. Many feminists have been saying so for years (while also broadening the scope of the problem to include regular movies, ads, TV and other media, decrying female objectification and normalized porn). But what’s the plan here? This nice gesture feels like an attempt at a moral high ground that ignores the obvious realities that surround it, that others have noted for years and years. It feels like a slap in the face to other health issues that have more direct solutions.

Thanks for the nice gesture Herbie, but if it’s not followed up with some serious action, I’m going to continue to assume you are next to useless.

How We Lose to ISIS

There is nothing simple about warfare, terrorism, or the senseless deaths of innocent people. But there is something simple about love.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” –Jesus Christ

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” –eden ahbez

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” –His Holiness the Dalai Lama

And with love comes inclusion and seeing in your fellow human a reflection of yourself. And yet, there are those who would try to make you believe that the best way to end hate is to to perpetuate it in other forms. We lose to ISIS when we do this. And more importantly, we lose our souls when we do this. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The funny thing about humanity is we spend so much time trying to divide ourselves but when it comes down to it, we’re all pretty much the same. We want love, sustenance of the body and spirit. We have likes and dislikes, we laugh, we play–we live.

ISIS doesn’t represent Islam. Most members of Islam in this world are decent people, just like you and me. Most Muslims don’t have an enemy in Americans or other Westerners or Western countries. But we give them an enemy when we murder their family members and destroy their livelihoods through carpet bombing and other modes of destruction. We give them an enemy when we treat Muslim-American citizens or residents like criminals and second class humans. We give them an enemy when we deny compassion to people fleeing for their lives from the same enemy we strive to defeat. We give them an enemy when we remove love from our hearts and replace it with fear.

I don’t need to mention the GOP candidates who would cause us to lose to ISIS so I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks. But these people are full of hate and fury and fear. They will not lead us to peace, but instead will create the problems they purport to solve.

Choose peace and love today. The world already has too much hate.

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And because I quoted a song used in Moulin Rouge, here’s Ewan McGregor.

On Ad Hominem, Empathy, and Other Things

It is entirely rare for someone who disagrees with me on almost every point to argue against me in a calm, considerate, respectful and thoughtful way. Instead, people rely on ad hominem arguments, complaining that I am a millennial thus idiotic and ignorant; that I simply have no idea what I’m on about; that I’m a crazy feminist therefore should be ignored.

Do you see how that gets us nowhere? I am not perfect, but one of my talents is listening to what people say and trying to understand their perspective, even if I disagree with everything coming out of their mouth. Just yesterday I listened for a good while to someone go on about how supporting Bernie Sanders means I don’t support the Constitution, even daring to ask if I’d ever heard of our founding fathers. I listened and listened. When I finally had a chance to explain my perspective, he immediately interrupted me, trying to talk over me. And when I touched his shoulder and said, “Stop interrupting me, you have to listen sometimes,” he acted miffed that I would dare suggest he doesn’t listen because he is such a good listener.

This kind of behavior is not conducive to solving problems. The argument itself becomes a problem instead of the issues we claim we are trying to solve.

I am tired of ad hominem arguments. I am tired of being interrupted all the time. I am tired of people looking at the bad behavior of the few and punishing the masses because of it, such as in cases of welfare programs (a favorite of the GOP to attack).

Do you know how to overcome these hangups, at least to some degree? Empathy. It’s okay to disagree with people. But by putting yourself in their place, you can at least try to understand why they feel the way they do. Sometimes it’s still too difficult to understand. (For example, I can’t wrap my head around why any decent human being would support Trump. If elected he just might be the American Hitler.) But even the effort allows you to connect with someone just a little bit more, and that connection is a first step to accomplishing something beyond pointless arguments and hurt feelings.

A while ago as I drove home from work listening to NPR, I heard Marco Rubio say in reference to Republican candidate bickering during debates that the enemy isn’t each other, the enemy is the democrats. That attitude is a perfect way to run a nation into the ground. Different philosophies and parties might disagree on how to accomplish certain tasks and solve problems, but those differences should never amount to seeing each other as the enemy. When you approach a colleague as an enemy, your tactics will be like those in a war or vendetta. If you approach each other as friends with different philosophies, you can work together to find solutions. We need to commit to a political ceasefire, and instead be like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who despite their political differences and different interpretations of the law, were great friends and had a successful working relationship.

The recent death of Justice Scalia is a perfect example of what not to do. It is the president’s job to appoint new justices and yet GOP members are already lining up to deny President Obama’s constitutional right to appoint a new justice. Not even a day after Scalia was found deceased did the GOP start to raise their hackles at the idea of Obama appointing a new justice. That Obama has less than a year left as president is irrelevant. He is still the president and if we wait for the election to be over and the new president to be sworn in and the appointing process to take place, we’re looking at likely over a year for a ninth justice to take the bench. That is unacceptable. We need a fully functioning judicial branch of our government, and an even number of justices does not a fully functioning court make. Regardless of the need for all branches of government to be in working order, it appears to be more important to the GOP to stop Obama from doing his job at any cost. That is not what the founding fathers had in mind.

(I know it probably seems like I am picking on conservatives, and I apologize. Liberals are in no way perfect, but I have to admit in my personal realm of acquaintances, friends, and family members, it is usually my good ol’ conservative pallies who issue the ad hominem attacks and forget their empathy. That is not a fair representation of all conservatives, but this is what I have to work with. In addition, the GOP in this primary election cycle is a farce and we all know it. That’s where we are, that’s why the GOP keeps being the example in my points.)

We need to stop this. It’s not okay to doubt people’s understanding of U.S. history or the Constitution simply because you disagree with them. It is not okay to hold that history and Constitution hostage because your views are reactionary. The Constitution is a living document thus enabling us as a nation to make needed changes as time progresses, and new and unforeseen problems arise.

We need to stop blaming the other party. We need to stop punishing the poor and the underrepresented. We need to embrace empathy and set aside pride long enough to listen and understand. There are many wise quotes about the importance of listening but this one is probably the most apropos to political debates:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. –Stephen Covey

Don’t be “most people.” Interrupting and shouting and grinding your teeth while you wait to speak again, it’s all about pride. It isn’t about solving problems, it isn’t about understanding. If we build this nation on pride, we are doomed to fall.

Everyone could stand to lose a little pride, myself included. Dare yourself to listen to someone you disagree with. Dare yourself to understand. If we refuse to do such things, this great nation, regardless of your interpretation of the Constitution, will never be the land of the free and brave. It will be the land of the arguing children who pointed fingers while the union plummeted into the annals of history as a nation that merely once was.

(There is also this fantastic thought by His Holiness the Dalai Lama):

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The Little Big Problems in the Mormon Anti-Porn Video

I am a Mormon and am against porn. I commend the effort behind a video released by the LDS church that provides support and instruction on how to react if one accidentally views pornography.

The video–which was released in September, but which I hadn’t seen until now–is aimed at older children and young teens and encourages open communication and is free of shame for accidental viewing. The video distinguishes that a body’s natural urges and reactions are normal and are not sinful or shameful. These are great things that I fully support. It is difficult to impossible to overcome a problem such as porn addiction if at the onset the viewer is met with shame.

However, there are two instances in the video that I must nitpick because they send incredibly toxic messages. It is one o’clock in the morning and I am in recovery from surgery so really should be sleeping, but my mind keeps going back to those two moments in the video and I won’t sleep until I decry them.

First, when defining pornography, the video describes it as, “bad pictures of people with little or no clothing on.” This video stars children, so perhaps the intent was to avoid making them uncomfortable by including a more well-rounded and accurate description, but this definition is horrendous.

What does “bad” even mean? It’s too ambiguous to be helpful. And “people with little or no clothing” is a perfect definition of pornography if your intent is instill a Puritan-esque abhorrence of all nudity and to teach that the human body is sinful and shameful. But… I suspect that is not the message we want to send to our children, right?

Nudity isn’t inherently sexual.

There are cultures in the world where little to no clothing is worn. Images of these people are not pornography.

Underwear is a fact of every day life for most people. Advertisements for such items are not necessarily pornography.

Women breast feed. Not pornography.

Beautiful art and photography often include nudity. Not pornography.

I don’t deny that normalized porn exists in the world. The ladies at Beauty Redefined have done wonderful research on normalized porn as it exists in our culture. But to equate all nudity to pornography sets the stage for sexualization to occur where there is none, and paves the way for objectification of the body.

The definition also fails to include video, which is an important inclusion if you are attempting to prepare kids for what to do if they accidentally encounter porn.

The second moment that bothers me (and this one makes me grit my teeth quiver with buried rage) is when the video starts to list three steps of what to do if you see pornography. The first step is to Call It What It Is, telling you to say, “That’s pornography, that’s immodest.”

Ahem… Immodesty is NOT pornography! I am tempted to copy and paste my previous sentence a hundred times just to drive the point home. Modesty standards and pornography have no business being in the same conversation. Modesty and pornography have about as much business being together as organic chemistry and literary theory: they belong to completely different worlds. They are not the same, they are two separate conversations, and equating them is unbelievably toxic.

Modesty is relative. As a lifelong Mormon I know there are plenty of people in the church who think we have a monopoly on what constitutes modesty, but we really don’t. What is considered modest varies from culture to culture and holding other people to your own standards of modesty only creates judgement and shame.

Modesty is not a matter of inches and styles. True modesty is in your attitude and your behavior. One can be covered from head to toe and not be modest, while another can be scantily clad and as humble as can be.

What happens when we equate modesty to pornography is, for example, a guy sees a girl dressed how he considers to be immodest. He finds her attractive, perhaps he feels aroused. He feels ashamed, like he did something wrong (though he shouldn’t, these things are normal and natural). He remembers learning that immodesty is akin to pornography and blames her for how he feels and turns her into a sexualized object.

Girls and women–no matter how they are dressed–are not pornography. 

You may not be able to control who you are attracted to, but objectifying someone is a choice you make. When you equate modesty to pornography, you choose to place blame and shame on someone else for what you think and do.

This is a big deal. It is one of the most damaging and toxic messages taught in Young Women and seminary classes all over. I for one had a major struggle overcoming body shame because I was convinced that my curvy body was a “problem” for guys and it was my fault. And that’s just bollocks. No one should have to feel they are responsible or to blame for someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or acts. That is the kind of thinking that leads to rape culture and victim-blaming.

In short, pornography is pictures or video of a sexual nature designed to stimulate sexual arousal. Expanding the definition to include nudity in general and immodesty is dangerous, inaccurate, and can cause long-term harm.

Here is the video:

“What’s With Today, Today?” Musings on Trump and Christmas

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The Nativity by Brian Kershisnik

I don’t know if it’s just me feeling suddenly overwhelmed, or if this Yuletide season in the good ol’ U.S. of A is abnormally… turbulent.

In the midst of putting up Christmas trees and Nativity scenes and lauding the Christmas Spirit, and through bold defenses of the Second Amendment, Americans nationwide are decrying Muslims and refugees, seeming to forget or purposefully ignore the tragic irony of it all. Too many have forgotten that before the Second Amendment comes the First, which guarantees citizens the freedom of religion; and that there is a Fourteenth, which protects citizens from laws that infringe upon privileges and freedoms.

And that brings me to Trump, the fascist running for president. I have withheld from writing about Trump because I keep hoping he’ll just go away and I really don’t want to direct anymore attention to that ghastly soul. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gone away and what I hoped when he first announced his candidacy for President of the United States of America would be a short-lived joke of a run, has instead resulted in Donald Trump as the frontrunner for the Republican candidate as of the time of my writing this blog post.

Time and again I have heard my more conservative fellows complain about Wars on Christmas, Constitutional rights being removed, and how un-American various policies have become. And yet, Donald Trump is the current conservative leader in the polls.

Donald Trump, who generalized Latino immigrants as rapists and murderers. Donald Trump, who wants to register Muslim Americans and monitor mosques. Donald Trump, who insulted a New York Times journalist with a physical disability. Donald Trump, whose creative insults about women are never-ending. And let’s not forget that time he tried to dupe black religious leaders into supporting him and even went so far as to claim certain leaders had given him their support when they never did. Oh, and when he tried to stir up even more Islamophobia claiming he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey post-9/11, claims that have gone unsubstantiated. (Trump is so ridiculous and disgraceful it is difficult to keep up with all his horrific nonsense.)

And now, Trump wants to close U.S. borders to all Muslims, in addition to having Muslim Americans in a database.

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This is the photo approved for the cover of his book. Scary.

If these were just the ramblings of an anomalous character whom no one takes seriously, while still alarming, it would not be as disconcerting as it has become. But, Trump is first place in the polls for Republican candidate.

When he speaks, people cheer.

Trump represents everything America claims to be against, and yet he is the GOP favorite–and that is utterly terrifying.

Trump is just one man so, despite all the outlined evidence decrying Trump’s humanity I just presented, I really want to address the American people as a whole because it is the populace that elects frightening people like Trump.

If you set up a Nativity and claim you seek to be Christ-like, you can’t turn away people seeking refuge, like the thousands of people fleeing Syria. If you claim to adhere to America’s ideals, you can’t be comfortable registering an entire portion of our population in a database. If you care so much about the Second Amendment, you can’t ignore the First and Fourteenth Amendments because you are scared or bigoted.

Furthermore, if you don’t claim that all Christians are terrorists after the shooting at Planned Parenthood, you can’t claim all Muslims are terrorists after the shooting in San Bernadino. The fact that one shooter’s culture and belief system is unfamiliar to you doesn’t make that shooter representative of all people you classify as similar.

I read an article today in my local newspaper about a Muslim community leader who is contemplating whether or not she should stop wearing her hijab in order to preserve her safety. If Muslim American women feel they are unsafe in their religious garb, we fail as a nation. Americans need to stand united in defense of all citizens, and dispel fear and misunderstanding.

We don’t have the best track record in that regard. Japanese internment camps, slavery, the Trail of Tears, and the extreme necessity for civil rights all come to mind, among others. But we have the power to stop this ship before it even sets sail. We can say no to Trump and others like him, and instead embrace our fellow Muslim Americans. This doesn’t need to become another blight on America’s history.

So this Christmas season if you really want to get in the Christmas Spirit, don’t say there’s no room at the figurative inn that is our country. Instead, truly embrace the Christmas Spirit and channel Tiny Tim’s notion for God to bless each and every one of us.

*Quote in title is from Empire Records–1995

Musings on Gun Violence in America

second-amendment-rifleI feel like a mere drop of water in a sea of voices now discussing guns in the United States. But, I still feel the need to contribute my thoughts on the matter.

The gun culture in the United States is unique. To us, guns are a romantic vestige of the Wild Wild West and a fierce reminder that there will always be a need to defend ourselves. In a culture born of revolution, guns have remained a hard-wired need in our collective consciousness.

At the time the Second Amendment was penned, Americans were fresh from brutal treatment at the hands of the British Army. It made sense to include a method for protection against similar violence in our new Constitution. However, whenever people declare, “But the Second Amendment!” in defending gun ownership rights, I wonder what “well regulated Militia,” that person is a part of. That is a line I don’t think people think about, and I honestly think many of the people touting the Second Amendment probably haven’t even read it. In case you are wondering, the Second Amendment reads thusly:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

In the span of a week, three campus shootings occurred, two on the same day. During the summer, I spent about a month in Alaska two weeks at a time. During my first two weeks there, two shootings occurred, with another happening just before I arrived. And I can think of a handful of recent shootings besides. So many mass shootings happen in this country whenever I read about another one I feel no shock, no surprise, just mere numbness. Mass shootings are so common, they are no longer news.

Let’s get a little more personal. About two years ago, I was training for a half marathon and did one of my long runs up a seven-mile trail near my home. It was a Sunday and pouring rain, which meant the trail was mostly empty. However, on my way down I encountered a hunter. He was also heading down so didn’t see me coming. When he heard me behind him, he whipped around and stuck his rifle in my face. Needless to say, I was terrified. The hunter quickly put down his gun, apologized, and explained that he had thought I was a deer.

First of all, a hunter shouldn’t be sticking his gun up on a trail even if it is a deer coming along instead of a human. Actual trails are generally too populated to safely take down a deer. Second of all, if this guy is so trigger-happy his instinct is to stick a gun in a human’s face, he shouldn’t have a gun.

I didn’t stick around after he put his gun down. I took off and learned what it feels like to run from something instead of just run for exercise.

I reported this incident to the local police department. They said because it was on the mountain instead of in town it wasn’t their jurisdiction and did nothing to help.

Here in America, we’re not going to give up our guns lightly. That is plain cultural fact. But, when we choose what could arguably be called a certain level of lawlessness about our guns, we ignore a huge problem. We ignore the lives that have been lost because our collective pride matters more than human life. And that is an atrocious sin against humankind.

All this is not to say I think all guns should be banned. Despite my horrid encounter with a hunter, I do think subsistence living is a good thing. Hunting responsibly and sustainably can be an enormously positive lifestyle. I also have a hard time imagining a farm or a ranch being without guns. Regardless, things regarding guns in our country must change.

imagesPeople can’t have the ability wantonly stock their gun safes. The function of a gun is to rip a hole through a body. That function shouldn’t be taken lightly, and as such people who want to own guns should have to prove they have the training and health to safeguard and handle their weapons responsibly.

And you know, we need to stop calling every person who commits a mass shooting crazy. Mental illness is complicated and comes with a massive stigma that isn’t helped by calling every criminal crazy.

Sometimes mental illness is a factor in committing a crime, sometimes it isn’t. The reality is, a mentally ill person is more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Calling every shooter crazy doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It denies the many facets of our culture that contribute to violence, a major one being that we simply have a high tolerance for violence, another being that we glorify warfare in our history and our entertainment. It also does a huge disservice to people who suffer from any kind of mental illness. And let’s not forget that most people in their lifetime will have to deal with some kind of mental illness at some point, whether it is minor or major. So in light of that ask yourself: do most people go on shooting rampages?

Now, a lot of people argue that we shouldn’t change the gun laws because criminals will always find a way to hurt people if they want to. Humans unfortunately excel when it comes to devising ways to hurt each other, so it is probably true criminals will always find a way. However, many of the people shooting up schools and churches aren’t hardened criminals with connections to the black market. These are people who had easy access to a weapon capable of large impact with fairly minimal effort. These are people who obtained their weapons legally and didn’t have criminal backgrounds. For many of these people, there was no reason prior to their crime to suspect they would commit such atrocities. So. Tell me again how “criminals will always find a way” is relevant.

Criminals will find a way, if they are clever or determined enough. But does that mean we stop trying? Does that mean we make it as easy as possible for them, just because we have this romantic and fantastical misunderstanding of what the Second Amendment actually says? Without hesitation, no. I’m going to throw in a Hell no, in fact. If we stop trying, we are part of the problem. If we stop trying, we might as well be pulling the trigger ourselves.

On International Service Trips: America’s Feel-Good Hobby

I don’t doubt other countries participate as well, but as an American I’m going to write about America’s love of voluntourism, the participation in international service trips.

First, let me assure you there is nothing wrong with wanting to help people. Obviously. But we as Americans seem to have a paternalistic view of helping people in different countries, thinking we know best and that if other countries would just do as we do there wouldn’t be a problem.

It’s not a mystery as to why people like these trips. If you participate in these trips you get to travel, you get to feel good about yourself, and you get to help other people. It’s a win-win-win situation.

But here’s the problem: We tend to go on these trips with the attitude that if only these people we are trying to help would be more like Americans they would have better lives. We try to help them in such a way that in the long run does’t help at all, but instead forgets the traditions and beliefs and abilities of the culture we are trying to help. We go, we “help,” we leave and show people our photos of the “unfortunates” we helped.

Here’s the part where I admit I’ve been on one of these trips. In many ways, it was wonderful. I travelled to a place called Santa Rosa, Peru. It is a village right on the Amazon River smack dab in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. It is only accessible by river boat and is about two hours away from the nearest city, which in turn is only accessible by boat or airplane. It’s a fantastic place.

My two weeks in the Peruvian jungle showed me how resilient humans can be. It showed me how wonderful the Peruvian Amazon culture is. It showed me that often the simplest food is the most delicious (Beans, rice, and fried yucca anyone? Best. Food. Ever.). It also showed me how blind well-intentioned Americans can be.

I travelled with an organization called Youthlinc. While I have come to see problems with my specific trip, I think Youthlinc does have great philosophies. In order to go on an international service trip with Youthlinc, participants must do a certain number of local community service hours. These hours of service help to offset the cost of the trip through an agreement with the local Rotary Club. What is exceptional is, even if you can afford to pay for the entire trip without help from the Rotary Club, you are not allowed to go without providing the local service hours. Youthlinc’s goal is to create lifelong humanitarians, not simply to provide opportunities for Facebook photos that make you look like you are a deep and caring and adventurous person. In terms of genuine intent and a desire to help the entire world, Youthlinc is the real deal.

I went on a trip in 2008 so I don’t know how much Youthlinc has changed over the years. But as of 2008, there were problems. First, we took a bunch of toothbrushes and t-shirts and other things to donate. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a problem. But if you think about it you realize there isn’t garbage removal in the middle of the jungle. Worn out toothbrushes can’t simply be thrown into the recycling bin and forgotten–there simply isn’t a place for them to go. Additionally, even if a group of Americans donates a bunch of toothpaste to go with these donated toothbrushes, toothpaste runs out. Then what? The locals can no longer brush their teeth, which the visiting Americans assured them is essential for their health, and where does that get anyone?

Second, we told the locals that the Amazon River, which is their lifeline, is not clean so they shouldn’t use it. Prior to my arrival, filtered water towers had been installed in the village by the Rotary Club. I hope I don’t need to point out that telling a culture they should no long use the thing they rely on for almost everything is a bad idea.

Third, we built sidewalks through the village. The main problem with this is, the locals can’t maintain them without donations of money and/or supplies from outside sources thus the sidewalks are likely to fall into disrepair and become safety hazards.

The overall problem with the things we did on my service trip was we provided what we considered great services and improvements without consideration of resources Santa Rosa already had for maintenance and development. Neither did we consider self-reliance or the overall culture. Our services were short-term solutions instead of long-term self-reliance.

If a village in the jungle needs help with oral health, it is much better to work with that village to determine what resources they already have to take care of their teeth instead of bringing a bunch of toothbrushes, leaving them, and saying hasta luego.

There are a couple of experiences that led me down this path of rethinking how Americans do international service. First, while on my trip with Youthlinc, there was a participant from Colorado who joined us as part of research for her schooling. As best as my recollection serves, she was studying water and usage or some such thing. She mentioned one day that if you take a bucket of Amazon River water and store it covered, it will have the same amount of microbes as would a bucket of water from the water towers stored uncovered. This got me thinking about the usefulness of the donated water towers and how strange it was to tell a bunch of Amazonians their primary water source is bad. (Interestingly, I recently ran into this girl and she didn’t remember telling me any of this, despite how much of an impact it had on me. Isn’t that often how it goes?)

Then, I studied Anthropology in college. I learned about ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. I heard anecdotes and studies about how well-meaning groups would enter a culture and improve overall health (seems like a great idea, obviously), but would leave, not taking into consideration that improved health means a bigger population, which can mean having less food availability so instead of people dying from disease they are dying from starvation.

I learned about roads in Haiti that had been paved by service organizations, but left to fall into disrepair because the local infrastructure couldn’t maintain them. This meant that the paved roads became so hazardous cars had to travel on the side of the road instead.

In short, I learned that the American Way isn’t the Only Way and that being well-meaning in your service isn’t good enough, and can in fact do more harm than good.

I don’t think the solution to all this is to stop doing service. People worldwide need help, and helping your fellow man is good. I do think the solutions are fairly simple.

First, work locally. Youthlinc is unique in its approach because of the local service requirement. Plenty of organizations will take you on an international service trip without consideration for local service. But ask yourself, “Why am I so amped to go on an international service trip if I don’t even think about what is needed locally?” If you don’t serve in your own backyard, traveling abroad to do so is plain illogical, and I would hazard to submit doesn’t come from a place of true love and service. Pardon my bluntness, but if you want to do international service but don’t care about local opportunities, what the Hell are you doing? It’s a common bumper sticker and full of truth: Think Globally, Act Locally. If you can’t act locally, revisit your intentions.

Second, service organizations need to work with the cultures they are visiting to figure out what can be done to both provide service where needed, but also to ensure self-reliance. It isn’t helpful at all to donate a bunch of American t-shirts if the culture you visit doesn’t have a way to clothe themselves on their own (and while I’m on the subject, let’s make sure we understand that dressing in Western clothing is not the only or best option; there are innumerable facets to every culture and clothing is just one of them). It does no good to pave a road if the local infrastructure can’t maintain it. It does no good to assume you know more about the local river than the locals themselves.

Third, we need to do better at learning about and understanding the culture we visit. If the only thing you know about a place where you are about to provide service is where it is on a map, you don’t know enough to fully understand how to help. Having a well-rounded understanding of the culture’s beliefs, values, traditions, daily activities, etc. will only help volunteers understand how temporary service can become long-term help.

I’m not claiming to know everything–I really know nothing. But, going with the example of the supposed contaminated river, in the future instead of saying, “This river i contaminated. Don’t use it anymore,” I would approach it thusly, “What do you use this water for? Do you see a need for something else? Am I being an overbearing ethnocentric jerk? Teach me things, and show me how I can help.”

I recall on my last day in Santa Rosa, the Youthlinc team leaders met with the local leaders to discuss what could be done for the next year’s trip. I wasn’t in on that meeting so I don’t know all that was said or how detailed of a discussion it was or how culturally relative it was. Regardless, it says to me that with Youthilinc at least there is some level of working directly with Santa Rosa to see what is needed. However, based on what I saw and did, there was still a certain level of paternalism and ethnocentrism. Perhaps by now it has changed. (I currently have a desire to interview Youthlinc just to find out. We shall see.) But even if Youthlinc has improved, America’s overall attitude towards international service is paternalistic, ethnocentric, and often rooted in appearances and a temporary warm, fuzzy feeling instead of doing actual, long-lasting good.

To recap, wanting to provide international service is not inherently bad. Humans helping humans is good. But the way it is gone about can often have bad effects. Working locally and letting go of your own cultural biases is a great way to make international service a genuinely positive experience.

*Note: If anyone from Youthlinc is reading this, please know I love you all as well as my experience in Peru, and don’t at all think of Youthlinc in a negative light. I merely have anecdotal criticism of things in which I participated. Hopefully we can all improve. Also, if you think anything I’ve said is inaccurate let me know. I would love to do that interview I mentioned in this post.

If You Want to Wear the Bikini, Wear the Damn Bikini

Every so often a blog post or article begins to make the rounds on social media that just drives me up a wall or fills me with rage. The latest is a blog post explaining why wearing a bikini is dehumanizing and leads to bad thoughts in other people. Let me make this absolutely clear: The only thing that makes a person see another person as an object is the person doing the looking. It doesn’t matter what I am wearing, if someone looks at me and reduces me to my parts or appearance, that’s all on the looker.

The blog post is entitled, “I Never Knew a Bikini Could Hide So Much.” The writer details an experience in which she was at the pool wearing a bikini and had an enlightening moment upon seeing a mother in a one-piece laughing with her child and husband. To the writer, this scene was in stark contrast to other women who wore bikinis and seemed to be caught in self-consciousness. For the author of this blog, this moment signaled a shift in how she dressed, preferring to cover up more thereafter.

I’m a big supporter of dressing how you want. The problem I have with the sentiment behind this blog post is the idea that you, the wearer of clothing, are in charge of what other people think about you. The writer says,

Whether the women walked confidently, or insecurely, or somewhere in between, one thing struck me about each of them. Not once in my observations that day had I asked myself “I wonder what is on her heart today” or “I wonder what her personality is like” or “I wonder what she dreams of doing some day.” Not once. All of my thoughts had been directed towards her swimsuit or her body.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go around looking at strangers and wonder what their dreams are. It’s just not something most people do. So to use the absence of such a thought as an excuse to demonize bikinis is plain silly. The author followed up with, “As a woman, that may just mean I am wondering where she got her suit or comparing my body to her body, but imagine what that is like for a man!”

Let me just take a moment to speak on behalf of men: Men aren’t born objectifying women–they’re taught to objectify women. Men aren’t incapable of seeing women as complete human beings, regardless of what women might be wearing. Men–regardless of what a woman might be wearing–are perfectly capable of thinking of women as more than mere sexual objects. To deny this is to call all men inherent rapists and lewd observers. I cannot and will not accept this claim.

The reality is, a bikini doesn’t turn a woman into an object. A person looking at a woman in a bikini turns her into an object.

I recently travelled to Italy and had an experience quite opposite to the writer of the blog post condemning bikinis. While on the beach I noticed most women wore bikinis if they wore any swimming suit at all. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes. And you know what? Everyone on that beach looked confidant and comfortable. Not a one was trying to cover up “flaws.” I on the other hand, was wearing an ill-fitting suit because of a long-lasting fear of being a “problem” for men. You see, I’m quite busty. It is nearly impossible to find a one-piece or tankini that fits as well as it covers. So I squeezed into a tankini top that didn’t fit my bust. But, hey! I was covered so no big deal, right? Wrong. I felt miserable every time I wore it. I felt self-conscious, probably because my motivations for wearing it were external instead of internal. But seeing all those happy, confident, bikini-clad women made me determined to lose the tankini and find a bikini that fit! And I did! And I love it!

Finding the swimming suit that works for you–whatever style that is–is what promotes self-confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from covering up because you feel obligated to or because you don’t think the poor men can handle it.

And let’s not forget that people are perfectly capable of objectifying women even if they’re covered from their necks to their toes. The author claims, “[Modesty] prevents lust, harmful comparisons, and insecurity…” This is a complete fallacy. If the number of inches on a bathing suit or hemline determined the amount of lust, rape and other sexual violence would not exist in places where women are completely covered up. If how much skin showing is what determines insecurity, insecurity would be a relatively new complaint that didn’t exist in Western cultures until arguably the 1920s when women’s clothing became much less restrictive. But rape does exist no matter the dress code. Harmful comparisons and insecurity is determined not by the inches of clothing, but by a culture that puts so much focus on what a woman wears and what she looks like. The blog post about which I’m writing, for example, is something that promotes insecurity. Anything that effectively says, “You’re more beautiful and valuable if you where X instead of Y,” creates insecurity. To the author’s credit, I think what she is mostly going for is a focus on inner beauty. But the way she went about it just doesn’t work.

Don’t mistake my purpose here as saying everyone should don bikinis. If you are more comfortable in a one-pice bathing suit, by all means wear it! But If, while you wear your one-pice, you look around at all the women wearing bikinis and judge them for it–even if by your reckoning it is merely concern for their welfare–you are part of the problem.

Personally, I hate once-piece bathing suits. I find them to be terribly uncomfortable and impractical. Two-pieces on the other hand, are more comfortable, fit better, and just look all around better on my body. But that’s just me. Women should be free to wear any kind of bathing suit they want without worrying someone is on the sidelines judging them. It’s 2015, can we be done with the body and clothing policing, please?

So, to women everywhere: If you want to wear a bikini, just wear the damn bikini.

I Read Go Set A Watchman

UnknownI read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman today. I bought it at about 10:30 a.m., started reading around 11:00, and finished it up around 4:00. It was a reading marathon, and one I needed to complete.

As the release date for Watchman approached I deliberately avoided any articles about it. I didn’t read the released first chapter, I didn’t read speculation or spoilers. I wanted a clean slate. However, I did accidentally read a few headlines and began to feel deep apprehension and terror at reading the book. I have for several years romanticized and idealized Atticus to the point that if people ask me what kind of guy I want to date I might respond, “Like Atticus but maybe more outdoorsy.” I was not sure if I could handle Atticus being anything but what he was in To Kill A Mockingbird. And this is all in addition to the hubbub and controversy of whether or not Harper Lee consented to have this book published in the first place.

But, despite it all I knew I had to read it and I am incredibly glad I did. There is so much to this book that writing this review a mere few hours after reading it seems dangerous because I probably need more time to fully digest it. But, I have to write. My reaction to reading Watchman was so nuanced I have to begin a review, even if after days or weeks my reaction becomes more full or clear. I have to discuss now.

If you don’t want spoilers, please DON’T read on. Please do as I did prior to reading Go Set A Watchman and avoid this post as if it were your worst nightmare. If you’ve read the book or don’t care about spoilers or don’t ever plan on reading it, please continue.

First of all, it is great seeing Scout as an adult. She has shed her childhood name and now goes by Jean Louise, but she is every bit as stubborn and just as much a firecracker. She still has it out with Aunt Alexandra on the regular but nowadays, when she says something to irritate Aunty it might be more calculated. She still prefers pants to dresses and still can’t fathom the traditions of the ladies of Maycomb. She is a delight.

cxh2vkgmhxkcqlmnjrjjjdcxhqk9kaftoaldidqbrdx028tqmytni46gxfpxur8rWhat I find to be the most poignant aspect of this book–at least for my personal edification–is, Jean Louise feels all the feelings we as readers do. We idolized Atticus because Scout did in To Kill A Mockingbird. As an adult Jean Louise learns her father is fallible and makes mistakes. We as readers understand her duress upon seeing Atticus at a Citizens’ Council (a white supremacist group), because we literally feel it ourselves. Figurative empathizing with a character goes out the window here–Jean Louise feels sick to her stomach and so do we. How could Atticus, who behaved the same way in his front yard as he did in his living room, go to a meeting that portrayed black people as subhuman? How do we not feel the same rage that leaves Jean Louise yelling in the street when Atticus tries to defend his stance? He who defended Tom Robinson and treated Cal like a member of the family? It is nearly intolerable.

But, here is one thing I gathered from this book: While it could be said To Kill A Mockingbird was about Scout and Jem and childhood and justice and seeing Atticus as a hero, Go Set A Watchman is more about Jean Louise developing her own conscience outside of what Atticus would do. That’s not a very deep revelation, Harper Lee spells it out with the help of Uncle Jack Finch. But it is an important distinction to make. We all idolized Atticus, but because our perceptions were set by a child consumed by hero worship, we forgot that Atticus was a man of the South. He, as are we all, was a product of his culture. He is imperfect. He is human. Does that justify attending meetings and arguing that integration would only harm Maycomb’s black citizens because they are too far behind to catch up to their white counterparts? No, it doesn’t. But I don’t think it means we have to stop loving Atticus.

Atticus makes it very clear he still loves everyone. He still treats every person with respect and dignity. But, he’s not perfect. He doesn’t want the big federal government telling southern people how to live, a common refrain from that part of the country still heard today. He is still very much Atticus, despite this painful revelation of his character.

All in all, there are many things Atticus says that hurt. As a reader I, like Jean Louise, want there to be some kind of explanation. I want it to be a misunderstanding or a joke. It isn’t a joke and it isn’t quite a misunderstanding. However, Atticus is still Atticus. Jean Louise hurls at him accusations of being just as bad as a man who speaks at the Citizens’ Council who was, “…the political symbol of everything her father and men like him despised,” but later learns Atticus still doesn’t agree with that man. Like any other situation in which he might find himself, Atticus will let people speak their piece and do what they do. But, the moment any person–be they black, white, rich, poor–tries to hurt someone else, he will use every ounce of his skill and the entire justice system to mount a defense. Justice and law are ultimately what guide Atticus Finch.

I think it is also important to remember that Go Set A Watchman isn’t a proper sequel. It was written first and we see plainly that many details changed when it was rewritten to become To Kill A Mockingbird. We don’t know what inspired those changes or what felt the most true to Harper Lee. We don’t know why there seems to be such a disconnect between the Atticus we have come to love and the Atticus in this new light. We don’t need to read these two books as if one supersedes the other. They are two different parts of a long history. It’s also key to remember that Go Set A Watchman isn’t the end result, To Kill A Mockingbird is. I don’t think we can responsibly take everything we read in Watchman as the final say in the matter of Maycomb and its citizens.

There is no excuse for a Citizens’ Council. But after reading this, I still love Atticus. It is probable that Watchman is too distant from Mockingbird to taint my love for Atticus or Calpurnia or anyone. They are 55 years apart in publication, 20 years apart in storyline, and leaps and bounds apart in creative skill on Harper Lee’s part. Go Set A Watchman, it seems, is where Harper Lee learned to write a book. It is not as great as To Kill A Mockingbird, and not just because we lose our idealized view of Atticus.

Watchman isn’t as rich. It isn’t as well worked out. It is a good read, but if it weren’t for Mockingbird, it probably wouldn’t be much of a blip on the literary landscape. It is the novel written so that Lee could change the world with To Kill A Mockingbird. There are sentences and entire paragraphs taken directly from this book and put into To Kill A Mockingbird. There are themes and patterns seen in both books. There are also details we see played out in Mockingbird that we can tell from Watchman were changed in later drafts. For example, the details surrounding the pivotal rape and race case in Mockingbird are dramatically different in Watchman. I have read To Kill A Mockingbird at least 11 times now, and as such a frequent reader of that book, reading Watchman was kind of like reading original notes and ideas that eventually changed shape and took a wholly different form in the end. It was amazing. Atticus’s racist tendencies aside, reading this book was amazing.

I can’t even begin to comment on what Harper Lee’s intentions were for this book. But it seems in Go Set A Watchman, all the rage and betrayal she might have felt as a Southern woman maturing during the Civil Rights Movement were expressed in this book. And it seems possible To Kill A Mockingbird was the hope that followed.

As Jean Louise says, “[Atticus] has left [us] flopping like a flounder at low tide.” It is a side of Atticus we never dreamed possible. But this book is remarkable, in its way. Had this book been published in 1960, it would not have gone well. In fact, without the existence of To Kill A Mockingbird it probably still wouldn’t go well.

Watchman depicts white southerners, including Atticus, as the antagonizers of Civil Rights. America loves its heroes, especially its white heroes. In this book, Scout is heroic but not in the same way as Atticus in Mockingbird. While Mockingbird is a glimmer of hope, Watchman is a cold calling out of segregation and racist practices. There isn’t a holy white Savior–a white man is just as likely to be racist as he is to say Hidy-do. America prefers to see white heroes coming to the defense of black people in plight, and that simply doesn’t happen in Go Set A Watchman.

Ultimately, Go Set A Watchman isn’t as romantic or warmhearted or endearing as To Kill A Mockingbird. It is more an evolution of personal conscience. It revisits a few old characters, breaks our hearts a time or two, but shows us the wonderful human Scout turned out to be.