21 October 2012

A Vote for Love

There are few discussions in this world that get me more heated than that swirling around gay-marriage and rights for GLBTQ people in our country. It is a subject on which I find it hard to be tolerant. I understand that, for many people, it is a religious matter. But I cannot see past the faces of my friends, students, and family members who belong to the GLBTQ community. They are no less deserving of love and respect than any other person, and I refuse to accept any less than that for them.

In the past year,  Michele Bachmann goose-stepped this issue to center stage in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

We are facing this ban despite the fact same-sex marriage is (shamefully, I believe) already illegal in our state (thus making the amendment completely redundant). This brings us to the true challenge Minnesotans face now: to become the first state in the union to defeat a proposed constitutional same-sex marriage ban. Right now the polls are neck in neck, with 47% likely to vote for the amendment and 46% likely to vote against. I can only hope Minnesotans make the right choice. And so I (naturally) decided to throw in my two cents, hoping that my home state makes the right choice this November.

First, to dispel common myths: some who support the "vote yes" movement are attempting to portray a vote against the amendment as a vote for legalizing same-sex marriage. Rest assured, voting no does not legal gay-marriage in our state. Laws against gay marriage still exist. A vote no merely ensures that there is no constitutional amendment denying equality in Minnesota. Gay couples still won't be able to marry. We just won't have codified such intolerance into our constitution.

Many churches in our nation teach homosexuality--and by extension, same-sex marriage--is immoral. Do I agree? Absolutely not. I may not be Christian, but I was raised in a Catholic household and my Catholic-school education was pretty clear about the whole "love thy neighbor" thing. I'm pretty sure there was no exception made for gay people. Do churches have the right to deny same-sex marriages within their church? Absolutely. I may not like it--I may even vehemently believe it's contrary to the spirit of love and tolerance most religions preach--but I also passionately believe religions have every right to decide the rules for their congregations.

They do not, however, have the right to decide laws for the rest of the world. Despite what many people want us to believe, ours is a government meant to make secular laws. A Muslim lawmaker can no more require me to wear a veil than a Christian lawmaker can decide to make marriage laws based on his or her biblical interpretation. I'm pretty sure separation of church and state is a constitutional guarantee already.

My hope here is that those who are considering voting yes on the amendment think long and hard about what their vote means this fall. A vote yes means a little less freedom in Minnesota. A little less love. A little less tolerance, acceptance, and kindness in the world.

A vote yes means a lot more hatred; a lot more judgement; and most devastatingly, a lot more pain.

Do you have to support same-sex marriage to vote no? No. My father is a prime example. I've known for years that he doesn't support same-sex marriage; it's been a major source of contention between us since I was in high school. When I asked him about this amendment, however, he told me quite firmly that he plans to vote no, despite his disapproval and discomfort with homosexuality. Why? Because he's uncomfortable with the government amending its constitution to limit anyone's rights. He's uncomfortable with the government intruding into people's private lives. He's uncomfortable with making laws based on religion, even if it's his religion.

If only all people could be so courageous.

My plea, today, is to my fellow Minnesotans: This fall, no matter what your religion, no matter what your personal feelings about homosexuality, vote no. Do not allow our state to follow in the footsteps of so many others by limiting anyone's personal rights. Do not tell any group of people that their love is less than yours. In a world already beset by religious, economic and political strife, do not limit the one thing that binds us all together: love.

This fall, Minnesota has the opportunity to send a message to the rest of the country: hatred and intolerance have no place in Minnesota Nice. We have the chance to show the rest of the country that religion has a place in our world, but it's not in our laws. We have a chance to show future generations that we knew better.

Your religion may teach you homosexuality is immoral. That's your personal belief and you have every right to it. But our laws must be for everyone. Our laws must protect our rights. Our laws must accept each and every person, no matter what we personally believe.

A vote no is not a vote for homosexuality. A vote no is not even a vote for same-sex marriage. It's so much more than that.

A vote no is a vote for love. All love. Everyone's love. Wonderful, beautiful, healing love.

I sincerely hope that the Land of 10,000 Lakes makes the right choice in November and sends a clear message to all who are watching, to all those in the closet and out, to all those who have struggled for acceptance:

We are more than individual religions and beliefs. We are united in tolerance and love for everyone.

Stand together, Minnesota.

Vote no.

14 August 2012

The Longest Sunday

State Fair commercials began last week. If you've been here before, suffice it to say you know how I feel about the MN State Fair.

August is not my least favorite month--that distinction belongs to the dark, cold months of November and January (sometimes February, too. The promise of presents is the only thing that saves December). But August is a peculiar month in the mind of teachers. Let me explain.

I think all working people understand the dread that accompanies Sundays. It's a joyous day because there's no work--it's technically a weekend--but at about 5pm, it suddenly becomes a "school night." We must go to bed early and behave like adults so we can get up early the next morning and begin the grind of the work week. It's an irritable sort of day.

August is just one long Sunday.

Make no mistakes, I love my job. I truly do. My students are amazing and challenging and make me laugh. My colleagues are the best a girl could possibly ask for and have gotten me through many tough days--work related or not. I am living out one of my dreams--I am a teacher--and I know how lucky I am. I do not take it for granted. But there is something glorious in a Minnesotan summer.

Minnesota is, to most people (especially those who have not been here) a cold place. They have never had the joy of the three other seasons. Yes, they do exist, though they can be somewhat short. But summer, summer is the reason a place like Minnesota exists.

There is nothing better than summer in the land of 10,000 (technically 14,000, as all true Minnesotans know) lakes. Sunlight spins out the hours, the light fading well after 9pm during the longest days. The temperature climbs into the 80s and 90s for weeks at at time. The heat becomes hazy, the days languid. Time itself seems to slow down. Unless you've had to enjoy a summer here, it's impossible to explain the sadness inherent in its passing.

Perhaps it's because, as I've explained before, August is the end of a year for me, the passing of time that (as I am trying desperately to deny I am getting older) is becoming harder and harder to accept for me. But that's another--much more melancholy--entry. For now, all I care about is that August is sprinting by, summer is receding into the distance, and at night, autumn is most definitely in the air, crisp and stinging.

Yes, like Sundays, there is a glory to be had in August and the freedom it supplies. But it is tempered by the sadness of the ending it signals. Perhaps there is a freedom in endings.


But my longest Sunday is ending, and I must enjoy the freedom while I can.

30 July 2012

An Ode to Stretchy Pants or Why Metabolism Sucks

Ten years ago, my metabolism kicked ass. I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining a pound. Now, granted my near-constant hangover from the drinking bouts each night probably helped keep the weight off; turns out, you don't gain much when you're vomiting up vodka almost everyday before your 8am class. But still, you get what I mean. For most of my life, I ate what I wanted, sat around as much as I wanted, and still looked pretty damn good.

Now I'm 28. I still eat what I want and sit around a good deal. I still look pretty good. But that look might have to do more with the fact that, during the summer months, when I am off from work, most of my clothing involves pants/shorts with elastic waistbands.

Almost two weeks ago, however, I threw on a pair of jeans to go out with my sister. And gasped in horror.

They fit. But gaining even two more pounds was going to necissitate new clothing, and since I have a lot of clothes, I realized I could ill-afford to replace them all simply so I could continue eating Doritos. My wallet finally convinced me of something I have been long trying to deny: I need to work out.

Make no mistake--I am not overweight. I'm on the low side of normal, in fact, and I look perfectly fine. But losing 5-7lbs would give me--literally--a bit more breathing room. And besides, I am 28, closing on 30 faster than I would like. It's probably time to stop relying on the metabolism fairy and get healthy so I can avoid a heart-attack at the age of 35. I don't have the best genes in the world--my great-grandfather had his first heart attack at 27 and there's nary a genetic disease absent in my family history--so it's not a bad idea to get some control at this point. There's only one problem:

I loathe working out.

I don't just dislike it; I loathe it with every fibre of my being. I've been in the midst of a pseudo-work-out kick for the past 13 days, and common thoughts as I work out include: "Good God, this is really hard!," "Yeah, that's not going to happen," "Gross, I'm sweating!" and a string of cuss words it'd be best not to repeat here. Nothing about working out is fun or rewarding for me. Since starting my routine (yes, I know it's only been two weeks), I've lost three and a half of the seven pounds I set out to lose, and those were mostly lost in the first few days--probably from cutting out all soda and any and all chips/junk food from my diet. Since that initial drop, my weight has been constant.

I know it hasn't been long, but this is my problem: I go in for instant gratification. If I work out, I want to weigh myself immediately after I'm done and see the weight loss. I know it doesn't work like that, but after a few days of exhaustion and sweat and a steady scale, I start to get defeated. Frustrated. Angry. Convinced that I could probably afford to just buy new jeans.

I like instant gratification, and exercise doesn't provide it. Food, on the other hand, does. You see my problem.

Fitness enthusiasts claim that exercise releases endorphins, making you feel energized and increasing your sense of well-being in general. I've been working out for 30-60 minutes a day for two weeks. Fitness enthusiasts are asshats. Working out makes you feel tired, cranky, and in need of a shower.

That doesn't mean I am going to give up on my quest to lose these last three and a half pounds. They just don't make stretchy pants that are work appropriate (despite what some of the people who work in my school apparently believe) and so the weight has to come off. But lately, short-cuts have been starting to seem more attractive--SlimFast anyone?--and excersize more futile. I've been watching the Olympics nonstop for the past three days, and while I see the fantastic shape these men and women are in, I can't help but think the soft, pudgy South Korean and Italian archers looked pretty damn happy.

I continue to curse my slowing metabolism--yet another reason to hate approaching 30, as if I didn't have enough reasons already--and throw on my yoga pants or running shorts everyday for the next month to delay facing the truth: weight aside, I should be healthy. I should work out.

But there's something attractive about the idea of instead drinking a SlimFast and watching the Olympics while sitting on my couch.

In stretchy pants.

28 July 2012

Feeling the Olympic Spirit

I love the Olympics, irrationally and with wild abandon.  Sports 99% of the world couldn't care less about for 3 years and 50 weeks at a time suddenly have me at the edge of my seat. Fencing? Synchronized swimming? Archery? And oh man, please don't ever let me miss the table tennis, a sport in which, I am utterly convinced, I would be an Olympic athlete if only my parents had provided adequate training when I was a child.

One of my favorite parts is, of course, the opening ceremonies. I wasn't so much disappointed in London's pageantry as totally baffled by it. Why was there a 100 foot tall blow-up doll of Voldemort? And while I respect British history and contributions to the world, Danny Boyle (the director of Slumdog Millionaire and the artistic creator behind the ceremonies) was a little too conceptual for my taste. And it ended up making British history look--frankly--lame. An English meadow that morphs into a weird symbol of London industrialization that inexplicably turns into children jumping on beds and teenagers dancing outside a house? Anyone without commentary must had felt like they were experiencing a bad acid trip.

But--weirdness aside--that's not why I watch the Opening Ceremony. I watch it for the Parade of Nations; that to me is the epitome of the what the Olympics are about. And the idealist in me gets a little choked up. Last night was historic--though many people probably didn't know. For the first time in history, every country competing was represented by a female athlete. With the addition of Saudi Arabia's two female athletes, a barrier has been broken. Of course, Saudi Arabia is far from gender equality, but it's nonetheless something worth noting.

As the athletes paraded in, I couldn't help but think about the places where these men and women had come from, and what many of them must have endured to get there. Athletes from Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, North Korea, Iran and Iraq should leave the world speechless. These men and women have endured political upheaval and uncertainty, revolution and danger, and no matter what their stories, these people walking into the stadium are proud of who they are and where they come from. And no matter what their politics or religion, for one night they are all in one stadium--united.

The Olympics, particularly the Opening Ceremony, reminds the world that our differences are perhaps not so profound. I am not naive--I know that history, religion and politics will always divide us--but there is something beautiful about seeing every athlete from every country on a level playing field that night. Here, hajib or miniskirt, the world is united in excitement and pride. Before the medals and races, everyone is equal and reduced to a teary-eyed child, honored and excited to be representing their countries.

For one night, Palestinians (their very title and inclusion as a separate nation a source of controversy) stand next to Israelis. Iranians file in mere moments before Iraqis, and stand together, waiting for the flames. North Koreans stand peacefully in the same stadium as Americans and South Koreans.

For one night, politics and religion are set aside and in one place on earth, the nations of the world stand together. Peacefully.

Of course, that doesn't stop politics as usual in the rest of the world, but it is a symbol of which it is worth taking note. Our differences and disputes are not the core of our humanity. Far more unites us than separates us. Our world is not perfect--nor will it ever be--but there is cause for hope. And seeing our nations of the world standing together is perhaps the reason that we keep fighting for a better future and a little more peace in the world. Because the people of the world united under one flame may seem impossible--but it's an ideal worth working for. The cauldron created by London, made up of a small copper piece carried in by each country, is a reminder that our world is a mosaic of experiences, beliefs, and futures.

And when united, they can come together to create something beautiful.

06 July 2012

Just Your Average-Leader-of-the-Free-World-Type of Guy

There is a question that has been plaguing me since George W. Bush began campaigning for his first presidential term over twelve years ago. I have noticed, during this current presidential campaign, the same issue popping up in a much subtler--but no less annoying--manner, the idea that the best thing our president can be is a "normal" guy.  Why, oh why, in our country do we want our president to be so average? Are we so threatened by our own fear of being "average" that we have to demand our politicians meet us here, in the middle?

Governor Romney has had to battle against President Obama's "everyman" status throughout the election; Obama, as the child of a single parent, with his charming stories of college debt and normal dad-of-two-young-girls-who-still-have-to-make-their-own-beds-even-in-the-white-house image, is hard to fight when you're the son of a former Governor who sent you to one of the toniest private high schools in Michigan. But, alas, Mitt is going to give it the old college try. In an April Washington Post opinion piece, Mitt Romney was praised for being such a "normal guy." In fact, the author referred to Governor Romney as "a normal, middle-aged American guy." Someone who we would "all like to have as our neighbor."

Well, I definitely want him as my neighbor because that means I get a kick-ass mansion, right? I get to be worth $250 million? Totally down with it; move right in, Mitt. Bring your yacht.

Let's be honest, neither Obama nor Romney are "normal, middle-aged American" guys. Both of them are worth millions (okay, so Obama's $6 million net worth looks paltry next to Romney's $250 million, but speaking as a solidly middle-class teacher living in a household with a combined income not yet hitting six figures, I'm going to go ahead and say millions are millions). Both are internationally known and haven't been more than six feet from a heavily armed secret service agent in months. Both have more power than most people can even fathom. This is not normal. But they're our leaders; they're grappling with political, cultural, and economic issues 99% of humans could never understand. I'm okay with them being in the 1%.

Many people praised George W. Bush for being such an "average guy," while disparaging those running against him for horrible crimes like being "too rich" (::cough cough:: son of a president:: cough cough::) or being--gasps of horror would be appropriate here--"too intellectual." Because why would we want a president who knows things?

I must be the minority. I want a president with the Chuck Norris of intelligence. I could care less about him being normal. Okay, so maybe it's best if our president isn't a raging cross-dresser, but really, what do I care if Obama shows up in the situation room in an A-line halter that hits just below the knee as long as he gets the job done?

The bottom line is, our country needs to stop being afraid of people being exceptional. Our politicians should be the best and the brightest. So what if they don't seem like someone you'd sit down to have a beer with? You're never going to have that chance anyway. He's too boring? Who cares, he's never going to talk to you, so let him bore the pants off some foreign dignitary; he's probably boring, too. We need to stop looking and encouraging mediocrity in this country, especially if we want to believe we live in the greatest nation on earth. We need to expect our politicians to be smarter. We need to expect them to know more things than we do. We need to demand that they know more so they can do more. They've always been richer than most Americans, now we need them to be smarter.

Because I am an average American, and I know I sure as hell shouldn't be running the country.

No offense, but I think I can say the same for the rest of you normal guys.

10 June 2012

Well Now They Tell Me

It's the end of another school year. Despite my griping about 5am mornings, long drives, and general student ass-hat-ery, I always get a little weepy on the last day of school. As students file out, I am reminded of the first day. I can't help but think how far they've come (hopefully) and the fun I've had (most days). The hardest part of teaching is always the letting go. But I finally have enough experience to know that, as sad as it is, come September I'll have a whole new group of students who will quickly consume my time and replace the old. I'll fall in love with 190 new kids next year. They'll make me laugh (and want to tear my hair out) all over again, and the cycle will continue. It's beautiful.

One of my favorite traditions at my high school is one a science teacher started. On the last day, she gives students the opportunity--it is not required--to write thank you cards to teachers who made a difference in their lives that year. She delivers them to all the teachers after school as a reminder that, despite the stress, pain, and parent emails (let's be honest people), what we do does matter. My cards this year made me laugh, but one card made me tear up. It was utterly unexpected. It meant a lot to me, and so I want to share it here, not to brag, but to remind teachers everywhere that--spoken or not--our students appreciate and care about what we do.

Mrs. H---Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher this year. You didn't just teach me about english, but you pushed me to be confident in myself. You made me want to try harder and be a better person. Thank you so much for everything. I couldn't ask for a better english teacher! My dad says you'll always remember at least one teacher from high school and you're that teacher for me. I look forward to your class everyday & I'll definitely miss it! Love you. :)     -K----

We become teachers to change lives. But to all the students out here, here's a little secret:

You change ours, too.

Happy summer.

08 February 2012

An Open Letter to the State of North Dakota

Dear North Dakota,

First, my sympathies. I understand your state is a vast wilderness--er...field of...well, whatever the hell is there. I understand that living in the "Flickertail State," the state that ranks 48th in population, with no major cities, tourist attractions, or major sports franchises, has likely made you all a little crazy.  But hey, when the only fact outsiders remember about your state is that "it's the one that doesn't have Mount Rushmore, right?" I can imagine feathers start to get ruffled. 

But alas, North Dakota, you do have a claim to fame. You have a notoriously successful college hockey team, a team that has turned out an astonishing number of talented athletes. It's a tradition any school could be proud of. But unfortunately, North Dakota, your talented team is marred by the controversy surrounding your school mascot: The Fighting Sioux. And if the offensive nickname wasn't enough, when your state was asked to change their racist mascot by the NCAA, you crazy cats passed a state law requiring the school to keep the name. Because in a state like North Dakota, there's no such thing as an overreaction. Apparently.

I'm attempting to set aside the fact that I do, personally, believe that Native American nicknames not sanctioned by the tribes they are supposed to represent are offensive. My real issue is that, despite NCAA pressure, negative national media attention, sanctions, and the repeated protests of the local Sioux band, you continue to cling the nickname, blindly insisting it's a tradition meant to honor your heritage. Never mind the fact that North Dakota is over 90% white, or the fact that the people the logo is meant to honor find it offensive. Nope, that's not it.

It's the $100 million dollar hockey arena. A beautiful, state-of-the-art arena built with money donated by Ralph Englestad, a man who celebrated Hitler's birthday on several occassions. A man who, when he learned his alma mater was considering changing the nickname to comply with the NCAA ruling, threatened to pull funding for the new arena unless the name stayed. So what did this noble institution of higher learning decide to do? This bastion of ethical and civic preparation for future generations?

It caved to blackmail. Of course.

Do you know how many zeroes are in 100 million?

And so, seven years later, the state continues to fight a battle that can--at best--be described as a public relations nightmare and at worst as a stubbornly racist refusal to join the 21st century. I understand your nickname is a part of your tradition--and that that tradition is one of the precious few your 683,000 residents strong state has to celebrate. I understand you are proud of your team and your past.

But your pride is misplaced--you have other things to be proud of. I mean, your state has more churches per capita than any other in the country! And you do have a major university with a talented sports team. It's not the logo that brings you honor. Move into the new century and allow your school to move forward unencumbered by the controversy so your talent and accomplishments make CNN, not your insistence that "it's not really that racist." You're holding yourselves back. And shame on you for that.

I respect teams like the Seminoles in Florida, who were granted permission from local Seminole tribes to keep their name. But as an institution of higher education, the onus was on the school's administration to resist the blackmail by a crazy Nazi-lover and make the right decision, not one colored by greed for a new sports arena. UND made the wrong choice. It is not so much the mascot that I find offensive as the reasons behind the continued use of it. And that, coming from a university that should know better, is unforgivable.

And, you know . . . it is racist.

So to end this letter, I ask you--you crazy NoDaks--to give up the madness. Let your team and your university speak for themselves. Let them speak louder than their mascot for the first time in 82 years.

Besides, I think "Go Flickertails" has a nice ring to it.