Monday, March 30, 2015

Rahm or Chuy: A Crisis of Choice

I like to think I'm a gal who pays attention. So I've been circling the mayoral campaign in Chicago for most of the months of its duration, and I'm still not entirely decided.

I'd like to tell my teacher friends that Rahm is an ass and for that reason alone I can vote for the 'anyone-but' candidate. The truth is being an ass is not always the wrong thing for some jobs. We may not like the change Rahm has implemented, or the manner in which he has shoved it down our throats, but I do wonder at the faulty notion that gentlemanly demeanor would have somehow assuaged the pain of change. It would not.

If charters and selective enrollment and wall-to-wall IB and de-funding language and SPED programming will not be the answers (they will not) we will learn it on the backs of our children, yes. We will learn it just as we have learned that fiscal mismanagement, protection of bad teachers, and institutionalized poverty also screw our children. Those problems were here before he got here, not helped much by the hard-to-take-too CTU leader, Karen Lewis. Her moral outrage was wasted on me most of the time. Whether I think he's made good choices or not, I don't lay the entire CPS mess at Rahm's feet; it's not a one-issue election for me.

So then I ask: Polishing up downtown? Adding big business? George Lucas? Is that who we are? I look at the sloppy, inefficient management of city services, the quality of care I get as a resident of this city, and I ask 'Is this the best there is?' No. It's not the city I feel in my bones and blood, and I live on the north side. If I lived on the south side I might wonder if I lived here at all.

Chuy's a little more 'city', right? He is. But Chuy doesn't know jack about education, from what I can tell. He doesn't seem to be super-clear headed about anything, actually. He's awfully nice and seems at times less ready to be pushed over than what we might think, but most often he's more affable than alert. I suppose that works well at the county level.

I like that he sounds like us, still lives with us - I like that a lot, actually. But who among us thinks he's the guy to shove his foot down Rauner's throat? (Ironically, Rahm could and won't because they're aligned on too many platforms.) I've prayed many times for Madigan's atrophy to finally force his retirement, now I hope he can hang in there for a few more precious cycles or all is surely lost.

Chuy's ED experience with a civic organization seems to have held great promise until trouble struck and the finances fell apart. Having been involved in a similar circumstance myself, I can tell you that managing a community service-oriented endeavor during a global economic free-fall is noble work and not for the weak-minded, no matter the outcome. I don't fault him his troubles, as has been the story. It was a hard time for everyone.

The truth is, Chuy says all the right things - stop starving the neighborhoods, put cops on the streets, give people your time and attention - it's the least a mayor can do. Yes, yes! But if it were so easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it? Where is the money coming from? I don't feel satisfied.

He says he can have the hard conversations with all the stakeholders and his voice will be respected because he is not adversarial in his approach. Friend, if you try to screw thousands of people out of their retirement funds, the situation will be adversarial, just take my word for it.

So. Chuy or Rahm?

The truth is there's a cultural identity crisis at hand, and these two candidates could not be more perfect for its poster.

Are we a little angry, a little bitter about being shorter than our siblings, hungry for more money and more polish to neutralize the dark we carry? Or are we a little hapless, the kind uncle, soft in the middle with strong, working hands? Are we earnest but ill-prepared?

I waited for my answer at the last debate; I paraphrase the question: "Tell me why someone should stay in Chicago - with all these problems you intend to address as mayor - why should someone stay?"

And neither man could answer that question convincingly. So neither deserves my vote.

I stay because this is a city that works - that toils - and continues to do so no matter how many jewels you hang on our collar. I stay because what is rough about us is just as beautiful as what is shiny, we have it all and life is like that. I stay because for every crappy teacher I've encountered in CPS, there are twenty amazing, devoted, wonderful, sincere, and smart teachers entirely invested in children others don't even think about. Where would I be without them? I stay because my city vibrates with the variety of interest and amenity that is always bursting at its seams, stretching, teetering. My city gets dirty, she cries, sweats,  screeches along the rails and then arrives safely, strong, flush with victory. I love, love, love my city, her color, her language, her wicked politics.

The guy who gets that, gets my vote.

I'm writing in Daley.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why It Can't Be Cruz

Because none among us wishes to claim Christianity as paranoid, indifferent to the pain of others, focused on the punitive, and hypocritical. So it cannot be Cruz.

Women who seek power don't proclaim their places after ceding the spotlight to their husbands. That is no model for my daughter in her search for self. So, no matter her credentials, it cannot be Clinton.

Aristocracy dressed as democracy is abhorred in this country. We are founded on that disdain. No to Bush, too.

We are not pretend. We are the real thing. So it's time for our young country to grow up.

We cannot keep pinging and ponging between extremes screeching all the while about compromise and middle ground. We cannot keep pouting over our imagined injuries, forwarding bully candidates to do the work we are too weak or, in the best light, too right-headed to do ourselves. If we enjoy the candy our friend stole from the corner store, we are just as much delinquent.

We need to do what is right and what is hard, whether liberally or conservatively suggested. We need to get over those labels and teach our children, feed our families, produce products that matter and can be touched rather than clicked on a screen. We need to say 'no' to ourselves and to others when we cannot afford to do something. We need to care for our elderly, our disabled, our veterans, even if it means we only get one TV and one car. We need to suck it up a bit. We need to be what we say we are, instead of talking about what we are and being something entirely different.

Our elections need to be fair and ambitious and exciting, and they need to focus on reality and pragmatic solutions to solvable problems. Exit the bombastic, the entitled, the just-as-likely-to-run-for-president-as-take-a-round-of-golf.

This country can no longer brag on its reputation. The shine on that medal is getting old. It's been a long time since we stood up to the power of the overbearing, flush with integrity and promise. What have we become in the years since? Who speaks for us?

Cruz? Clinton? Bush?


Monday, March 9, 2015

You Be The Judge

Have you ever read the story of Mary Magdalene? Not the conspiracy theory about how she and Jesus married and had two children. The basic story from the bible. It's very simple, provided here as written in John 8 -

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

I've been rolling these ideas about fairness and profiling and justice in my head for weeks - for a lifetime, honestly. I can't understand why we keep killing one another, but neither can I understand how we expect any of us not to be afraid of people who are scary. The uniform of a thug is not quite so formal as that of a police officer, but no less threatening depending on what side of his thuggery you stand. So, too, a police officer can appear as thug, no matter how shiny his shoes or how dignified his arrangement. Our problem is not in the uniform or the thuggery. It is in the judgement.

So we see Mary, she appears as a sinner, we know her to be a sinner, she herself cowers for her sin. And those among us willing to cast stones need to ask ourselves what would happen if we were called for our sins. Have we always been honest? Have we always been fair? Truthful? Law-abiding in every sense?If the whiteness of your skin were as shameful as the black of his would you cry for each child killed bearing your appearance? Would you be meek when your name was called?

In truth, we are all like Mary and we must all strive to be more like Jesus.

An Ordinary American

I was talking to my mom the other day and she said, randomly, as she is wont to do with age, "I hate that term - 'ordinary American'. I don't think anyone is ordinary. Everyone is extraordinary if you just take notice." She went on about that a bit until she sent herself on another tangent, I think about bananas being on sale at Jewel.

The idea stayed with me.

A few weeks ago, I'd gone on a listing appointment. I pulled up to a pretty basic-looking bungalow tucked away into the city's most common anonymity. I walked in, greeted by a genteel man transplanted from the south, his twang funny and out of synch with my Chicago bawl. I followed him through generous rooms lined with books, trailing along soft yellow walls behind him. There were fine furnishings, photos, the treats of travel. The house, like the man, was unpretentious but rich, funny in places, unabashedly simple.  An interesting man lived here, an ordinary American.

I walked back to my car and looked along the row of bungalows hunched against the sidewalk and wondered about them, every one.

Then Ernie Banks passed away, as fine an American as you'll find.

Just like the bungalow, Ernie was also as Chicago as you could get.  Because I am Chicago, and he is Chicago, he is mine and so his feats belong to me in a way, to us all. Most who expressed condolence repeated the experience of meeting him, knowing him, shaking his hand. These, too, are mine, because these are not athletic talents, they are human expressions, endeavors of the ordinary. But then -  ordinary? This man? Not one bit.

I worry a great deal, which is not to say that I'm a worrier, but a mother and worry just comes with the job.

I worry about the world into which I deliver my children. I worry about our politics and our global affairs. I worry about whether I'll have enough money saved, enough good health to take care of myself and not burden my family. I worry that the world has gone mad and I can't relate to anyone because everyone is completely off the rails, skittering, teetering, screeching. I'm just one ordinary American, in a quiet panic.

And then I stop to notice people. I notice their book collections and affection for their grandparents' old furniture. I notice their genuine smiles and patience for children. I notice their soft hands when they kiss me and touch my face before toddling off to the grocery store to buy what should be a lifetime supply of bananas (on sale!) and I think. It's all fine.

In fact, it's better than fine.

It's quite good to be an ordinary American.

On Fairness and What it Costs

So I helped a friend buy a house last year. After we closed, the agent for the other side claimed I was not entitled to get paid and held back my commission. After months of catting and mousing to no avail, we are set to face a panel of colleagues who will review the facts of our transaction history and determine whether I am entitled to be paid for my work.

I don't know if I will prevail, not because I have doubt about whether or not I am right. I am right. I don't know because sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and being right is nearly irrelevant. That doesn't bother me; it is what it is.

If I lose, it'll cost me the entire commission.

At one point, I had the option to settle. In fact, I still have that option. I could throw up my hands, give way to the entitled and the belligerent, and let 'em have what they want.

If I do that, I get paid some of what I'm owed, but not all. It's not like I couldn't use the money; I'm not working entirely for pleasure.

But something about just giving up tastes bad. So I asked my kids what they thought I should do. To a one they said I should do what is right, outcome be damned. They told me they were proud of me, would support me no matter what. Cue the music. It's easy to be an idealist when you don't have your name on the mortgage note.

So I'm at this crossroads - do what is fair? do what is easy? I look down the easy road and find nothing there for me - no honor, no satisfaction, no moment to share with my children. I look down the fair road and there is uncertainty, yes, but there is also clarity and purpose and alignment with my better self.

I might lose the entire thing. I don't care. When I'm done, no matter the final word, I'll sit with my kids and recount the day, maybe over a pizza, maybe over a more elegant dinner funded by my slightly more padded bank account.

The expense of pursuing fairness is worth every penny, just as the cost of injustice is far too great to accept.

I Can't Sing.

Some people jog. Some people eat or pour their hearts out in music. When I can't resolve something I take to writing. I look to see if by the act of putting all my thoughts on paper some logical thread reveals itself. That usually works pretty well. Then, depending on my state of mind, I either follow the thread to some better conclusion or I pull on it and everything unravels. The 80s were a very thread-pulling time for me.

Now and more, I work hard to be a thread follower rather than a puller, with varying degrees of success.

However, most recently I've become caught in a conundrum, not by my own design or inclination, for which no thread to salve appears. No matter how often I write I cannot place words in the order needed for the peace to reveal. I'm so disturbed by this I find myself distracting from the original problem to dwell on the failure of my process. It's been such a good and faithful process. Why isn't it working?

(I find my futility worsened by being in a houseful of teenagers who wander from morose and despairing to giddy and delirious, often within thirty minutes, and many times over the same issue. Clearly my process will not work for them either, unless the tweet can be considered a thesis in the modern age. I digress.)

This blur simply will not do, and the curried feelings all around by those injured on their own and by my hand, my failure, only serve to burn more and more.

I find I rather hate having to care and I wonder if I could ice that interest in how others feel so I wouldn't have to hurt for their hurt. Then I circle back to the feeling that if I were a better person I could find the kinder truth for everyone. As it turns out, I may not be the better person.

In any case I have been disappointed many times and still I return, I embrace. If another can't should I chase? Or find peace where I stand? I think the latter.

So there it is. I think my system works after all.

Thank goodness. I'm not much of a singer-songwriter.