How the Starbucks Controversy and Mizzou Are Related

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of this Starbucks red cup controversy. I’m sick of spending my precious time and energy–which is so limited these days, in the midst of defending a thesis and teaching and trying to maintain my social life/marriage–arguing over a plastic cup. Because isn’t that what it comes down to? A plastic cup? A cup that we use for an hour or two before tossing into the nearest trash bin?

I want to say yes. And until yesterday, I would’ve said yes. It’s just a cup. A waste of my time.

But it’s not just a cup.

What the Starbucks controversy comes down to is an aversion to diversity. It’s proof that our nation is not as accepting of differences as we claim to be. What we’re doing when we complain about a non-Christmas cup is saying that those of us who practice Christmas should be privileged. Because we are the majority, we should have our holidays and our beliefs tacked on every marketable thing. And how dare a company refuse us that privilege?

This thought process is selfish and, frankly, bigoted. What of those who practice Hanukkah or Kwanza? Have you seen them boycotting Starbucks in the past decades when Starbucks cups have failed to depict the holidays they hold so dear?

No.

As minorities, they have silently accepted the status quo while they watch us parade our beliefs loudly and proudly, comfortable in our majority, in the huge thumbs-up that stores and business and society-at-large give us by selling goods that represent our holiday.

Racism operates under the same sense of privilege. It says (wrongly) that because whites are the majority, our history is more important, our education is more important, and our lives are more important.

So when the news brings us reports of racist slurs and death threats directed at black students at Mizzou (here’s a list of the reports), why are we skeptical? Why is it that we read this news almost dismissively, thinking, “Racism isn’t an issue anymore. This is the twenty-first century.”

The Starbucks controversy is proof that racism (or, at the very least, privileged thinking) is still very much an issue. When we expect our beliefs to be privileged because we are a majority, we are feeding into the exact same thought process that fuels racism–the majority-rules thought process.

Now, I’m not saying that you’re a racist for wanting Santa on a Starbucks cup. What I’m saying is that a lack of awareness is dangerous. It’s so easy to believe that we are “right” and that we are “privileged” when our beliefs are validated by society-at-large. But let us remember that the media is only a reflection, a life-size mirror. The media parrots what we believe in order to convince as many consumers as possible to buy, buy, buy. Society-at-large only gives us privilege because we give ourselves privilege.

And it’s not until we break that cycle that racism will finally die.

So am I surprised by the racist acts at MIzzou? No. Appalled, yes. Heart-broken for the students, yes. But surprised? Unfortunately not.

Until we can learn to put aside our sense of privilege as a majority (whatever majority that may be), we will still see racism and sexism and religious intolerance in our world, perhaps even into the twenty-second century.

Absence

I haven’t posted a blog since last year, since I posted about the Ice Bucket Challenge and received so many thoughtful and inspiring comments. I have been going through a bit of a rough patch, which partially explains my absence. But I have to admit, another part of me is afraid to post again out of fear that I’ll let you all down. I don’t know how to follow up my last blog, which came straight from my heart, from a place of genuine passion. But I do know that I want to start blogging again. So I’m going to.

Expect to see more from me soon. I love writing and I love discussing the hard issues, so I can’t stay away.

Dear ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Haters,

You’re wrong.

My dad died two years ago from complications related to ALS, and I’m here to tell you that the Ice Bucket challenge is not “stupid.” It is not “worthless” or “annoying” or “retarded.” You are just ignorant.

(A reminder that ignorance is not the same as stupidity, and that ignorance can be cured. Here is your cure.)

Many people complain that dumping a bucket of ice over your head won’t solve anything. It’s simply a fad, it’s clogging up news feeds, it’s not doing anything for the actual cause. The term “slacktivism” has been thrown around, implying that these people are akin to those who “Like” causes on Facebook from the comfort of their own home without so much as getting off the couch. I understand the accusation. But ultimately, it is false.

Here’s why.

1. Watching people dump ice over their heads and seeing their resultant expressions of surprise/panic is entertaining. You can’t deny that watching Oprah drench herself with freezing water is hilarious. Then you have people like Bill Gates who create intricate contraptions for ice dumping, which adds another factor of entertainment. And yes, I can see why it would seem like a fad. But without the entertainment factor, do you really think this challenge would’ve gotten as far as it did?

ALS was discovered in 1869, and until this Ice Bucket Challenge happened, people still stopped me (pretty regularly) to ask what my Cure ALS shirt meant. There have been so many fundraising efforts and some have seen modest success, including the walk I attended in Cleveland in September 2012. But the turnout was nowhere close to other fundraising walks, such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and funding is nowhere close to the $4.9 billion given to the National Cancer Institute each year for research and treatment.

But the Ice Bucket Challenge is changing that. The Ice Bucket Challenge is, by far, the greatest fundraising effort in the history of ALS. Every single person participating in the challenge or sharing videos on their social media accounts is acting as a vehicle for the cause. The fact that I am even writing this blog post means that awareness is spreading. The letters ALS mean something now.

That’s powerful ice.

2. Let’s remove the ice bucket from the equation for a second (which we can’t, really, as it is the vehicle for the great amount of attention this cause has received) and look at the facts.

According to The ALS Association webpage, “As of Monday, August 18, The ALS Association has received $15.6 million in donations compared to $1.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 18). These donations have come from existing donors and 307,598 new donors to The Association.”

Wow.

I have no doubt that those numbers will continue to rise. That amount of money could find a cure.

3. Even if the vast majority of people are just dumping ice water over their heads and not donating a cent, even if some do it for attention or self-promotion, awareness of ALS has skyrocketed. Do not underestimate the power of raising awareness.

A good friend of mine, Jen Evans, recently did the ice bucket challenge. She posted a video (due to privacy settings I cannot post it at this moment) in which she explains what ALS is (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), what it does (degenerates motoneurons in the brain which causes patients to lose more and more muscle control “until you’ve lost all muscle control in your body”), and who it affects (“approximately 30,000 at any one time”).

Hers is not the only video of its kind, and for that I am filled with deep gratitude. The day is quickly coming when I can share my father’s story without having to explain what ALS is. I can share his moments of grief and of joy and of hope, which is what the ALS journey is all about. When a person has ALS, they are still, first and foremost, a person. And once we have a shared language, a way to talk about ALS, we can go back to focusing on people.

(if you want to learn more, alsa.org is a great place to start.)

4. Ultimately, people with ALS are real people. Their family members and friends are real people, too, and they are real people that get left behind. They are real people who watch their loved ones lose all control until they are paralyzed, mute, and can’t eat or breathe on their own. They watch and feel paralyzed themselves because there is nothing that can save them.

ALS is a fatal disease. There are treatments that ease pain and prolong life, but there is no treatment that saves life. The Ice Bucket Challenge has the opportunity to change that. I will support anything (within reason) that will give ALS research a fighting chance, and that is exactly what this challenge has done.

Who are we to argue?

 

Videos of people living with ALS taking on the Ice Bucket Challenge:

1. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203666426919984

2. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10202192377959446&set=vb.1489244898&type=2&theater

3. http://wjbq.com/the-best-ice-bucket-challenge-yet-video/?trackback=fbshare_top

4. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=442913792517387

Earning the Title “Novelist”

Iphoto-23 just finished up a class called Writing the Young Adult Novel. In graduate school. In a program for Literature. Yeah, I don’t think life could get any better than this.

Now that I am on the other side of the hill, I can tell you that the grass isn’t any greener on the other side. Even practiced novelists don’t know what makes a good novel. But they do pretend to know from time to time. So for the sake of this blog, I’m going to pretend that I know what it takes to write a novel (I have written one, after all) by offering some advice:

  • Writing 1,000 words a day is much easier than binge-writing 5,000 words in one sitting.
  • A passive protagonist equals a plotless novel.
  • The first draft is all about plot (and is subsequently allowed to suck).
  • Adjectives and adverbs should be subtracted as often as possible.
  • A novel(ist) earns its title through lots and lots (and lots) of revision.
  • Using the passive voice is a calculated decision, not an oversight.
  • MDQ stands for Major Dramatic Question–every novel should have at least one, and readers pay attention until it’s answered.
  • Young Adults understand more than we give them credit for, so cut the patronizing and give them a book that lets them think.

As I wrote the last scene in my now-completed, first-draft novel, I didn’t cry or cheer or ponder my life as a novelist. Instead, I looked at my computer screen and said, “Screw it, that’s good enough.” Writing a novel is mostly painful; there are few moments of beauty and inspiration, so appreciate them when they come, knowing that more will visit you in various stages of revision.

Most novelists will tell you this, and I can now vouch for its truth: It is far better to have written than to write.

Amen.

Lucid: A Book Review

Review Blurb: Remember that rule in middle school writing class about not ending a story with “and then he woke up”? This novel breaks that rule. And unlike most writing rules, this is a rule that should not–and I mean really should not–be broken.

What if you could dream your way into a different life? What if you could choose to live that life forever?

Sloane and Maggie have never met. Sloane is a straight-A student with a big and loving family. Maggie lives a glamorously independent life as an up-and-coming actress in New York. The two girls couldn’t be more different–except for one thing. They share a secret that they can’t tell a soul. At night, they dream that they’re each other.

The deeper they’re pulled into the promise of their own lives, the more their worlds begin to blur dangerously together. Before long, Sloane and Maggie can no longer tell which life is real and which is just a dream. They realize that eventually they will have to choose one life to wake up to, or risk spiraling into insanity. But that means giving up one world, one love, and one self, forever.

I plucked this book off the shelf for two reasons: 1) I thought this would be a psychological thriller, in a sense, because I thought that one of these girls, one of these lives, had to be real, and 2) selfishly I thought it would help me with the YA project I’m working on. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on both accounts.

Plot-wise, this book lags. While the premise is certainly interesting, it becomes the entire novel, along with a sprinkling of petty teen romance drama. Sure, some kid died before the book start and that’s upsetting. And one of the girls is an aspiring actress… Oooh! But honestly, there was little there to keep me interested.

Character-wise, this review gets complicated. Because we have exhibit A: the inhumanly gorgeous new kid who hasn’t loved anyone since his passionate love affair in Paris at age sixteen, yet falls head over heels for–guess who–the protagonist(s?). And exhibit B: her best friend since, well, forever ago obviously who is also obviously in love with her.

But then we have Jade, little sister of the protagonist(s?), who is quirky and spicy and everything adorable. And we have Thomas, who is frustrating and manipulative and everything darkly attractive (and also a bit of a pedophile, but that’s a discussion for another day).

What bothered me the most about this novel was its ending. I was a bit ho hum about the book, but kept reading for all the hype about its “brilliant, mind-boggling ending.” So I powered through the last hundred or so pages in one sitting, ready to be done with it and move on to something else, only to be so angry that I couldn’t sleep (it was already 2:18 AM at this point). I’m not exaggerating here. I even posted my very first review on a two-year-old Goodreads account to flame these poor authors. Yikes.

Now that I’ve slept on it, I’m feeling a bit calmer. But I also still feel like I’ve wasted a week reading nothing.

*SPOILER ALERT*

At the end, she wakes up as one person and is happy. Do we discover which life was real? No. Do we discover why she was split? Sort of, but not really. Do we discover what happens to ANYONE else? No. Nothing and everything turns out to be real, so, in essence, this book wasn’t about two girls dreaming they were each other–it was entirely a dream. It was made up. I know nothing about the real girl who wakes up–yet that’s the story I wanted all along.

I’m getting worked up again.

Needless to say, this novel does not get a good rating from me. Along with the above comments, the dialogue was contrived, the plot “twists” cliche, and the writing poor. I expected more from two seasoned screenwriters.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

The Lost Cat Saga

This post is goingphoto-21 to have a moral. And that moral is to follow your intuition, because sometimes the universe spills circumstances (read: stray cats) on your lap because YOU are the person who is meant to solve them or fix them or learn from them (read: find their owners).

At 10:30 PM on Wednesday night, my husband called me. I expected this was his traditional “I’m on my way home from work” message, but instead he said, “Come outside now.” So I grabbed my friend (who came over to keep me company) and we headed outside my humble apartment to find a cat slinking around my husbands ankles, mewling.

So of course we took it in (never mind our apartment’s strict “no pet policy”).

The poor thing panicked for a solid hour, but his friendliness reassured us. He had been declawed and had no collar, which meant domestic and it meant house cat, which clued us in to post a notice on our apartment complex’s Facebook page about a missing cat.

This is where things got crazy. Who knew taking in a stray cat would cause such controversy?

The following comprise a summary of the responses we received:

  • The expected message from our community aides that we shouldn’t have taken the pet in, because of the policy, to which we apologized and everything was subsequently settled.
  • A string of messages telling us to let the cat go, because a) it would be euthanized if we brought it to a shelter and b) cats are smart and this one could find its way back home. And when I mean a string, I mean enough to make me feel pressured and to question my ability to make the right decision.
  • A couple helpful messages offering a cat carrier and cat food and the addresses to no-kill shelters.

While my husband cheerfully played with our new kitten friend, getting him an empty box which he proceeded to pounce in and out of, I fretted over our options. I felt pressured to let the cat free, but, let me repeat: DECLAWED, as in DEFENSELESS. I played through a myriad of ways this kitty could get killed–a car, a raccoon, a kitty gang, starvation–and knew that, despite my insistent neighbors, this cat was going to a shelter. A no-kill shelter.

I hurried off to class while my husband drove twenty minutes to the nearest Humane Society shelter. He passed the kitty off and I worried more. We had fallen for this little cat–it had grown comfortable with us in the twelve hours we housed it, and became a sweet little presence in our home. I wanted nothing more than for it to find its people.

Then, miraculously, at around 10 pm Thursday night, I got a Facebook message inquiring about the cat. The man provided a picture of his missing cat, and it matched the picture I had taken earlier that day. I gave him the address of the shelter and he thanked me (multiple times). We discovered that the cat’s name was Fito (we had tried out multiple names–Chester, Gandolf, Sisyphus, Copperpot–to no avail) and that he had gone missing the very same night we found him.

I had tears in my eyes throughout the entire digital conversation.

We did it. We followed our instinct and now, as I write this, cat and owner are reunited. Which wouldn’t have happened had I listened to the group telling me to let him go (which I’m sure were well meaning).

That cat landed on our doorstep because my husband is a cat lover (aficionado, perhaps?) and could read the signs indicating his domesticity. The cat landed on our doorstep because I have a heart that melts at the sight of an animal in need, which gave me strength to do what was best despite the external pressure.

And the best part? We know where the kitty lives and therefore can go visit him.

Yesterday was a good day.