Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tolerance is a two-way street

This weekend Seattle is flying the rainbow flags high and taking to the streets for the annual Pride parade. This year’s celebrations are sure to be extra festive as it was announced on Friday evening that New York has legalized gay marriage. Anyone who knows me knows I am extremely passionate and opinionated on this issue. I am more confident debating it than any other issue you could throw at me and I am fairly certain I will shoot down any argument against equality you can think of with logic and facts. So rather than spend my time preaching to the choir or trying to change the minds of those that are set in their ways, my topic today may come as a surprise. Today, on some level, I find myself defending The Other Guy.

Tolerance is something the more liberal-minded in this country love to preach, but some get so involved in fighting for others’ rights that they forget that tolerance works both ways. Just like we ask those who disagree with us to at least respect our rights to have our views, we must show them the same respect or this whole equality thing just isn’t going to work.

On June 13, two gay men placed an order with a print shop in Kent for flyers to promote their gay bar, Diesel, which will open this summer on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The next day, they received an email from an employee canceling their order. She said the owners had decided they couldn’t print the flyers knowing they would be promoting a kind of lifestyle that goes against their morals. “Not that we’re against homosexuals in any way,” she specified. Right. Needless to say, gay-friendly Seattle went ape shit. The bar owners scrambled to find someone else to print their flyers. Angry columns and blog posts appeared. The ACLU got wind of the incident and offered to help the bar owners with a case against the print shop.

And to all that I say… we’re doing this wrong, people. This isn’t the way.

This is not a big corporation… if it was, I’d tell them to get over it and just print the flyers already. This is a small print shop owned by a conservative Christian family just trying to pay their bills. Granted, owning a business means sometimes having to do things you don’t necessarily agree with. But where do you draw the line? I immediately imagined what I would do if I owned a print shop and someone placed an order for flyers for a pro-life rally calling women murderers or something. I have nothing against people who believe in the things I’m against, but I honestly don’t think I could bring myself to print the propaganda and further their agenda. I just don’t see it happening. And shouldn’t that be my right, as a small business owner? I think it should.

I saw on the news that the owner swears it wasn’t necessarily about homosexuality itself but the somewhat suggestive flyer and the fact that his kids are in the print shop and would potentially see it. I saw the flyer and while there is absolutely nothing profane about it, well, it’s not exactly something you’d show at church, either. I’m sure as hell not going to teach my child that there’s anything wrong with being gay nor will I tolerate anyone else doing so, but I can’t in good faith say I’d show that flyer to a kid who may be just old enough to get the implied suggestions on the flyer, either. I’m no prude, but I get it.

This is quite the gray area because, as the director of Equal Rights Washington says, “We would not tolerate it if a business were being denied services because its customers are Jewish, African American or Latino. We should be equally vigilant when services are being denied to LBGT establishments.” Point taken. Discrimination is discrimination and we are fighting for equality here.

But again, where do you draw the line? I have no doubt that these print shop owners didn’t refuse to print the flyers just because the people placing the order were gay. I also have no doubt they’re good people just trying to earn an honest living who just had a moral conflict over both the content of the flyers and the lifestyle they promote which, to them, is wrong. I may not agree with them, but I don’t think making them out to be the devil is the right thing to do. 

I’ll be the first to say I truly don’t understand those who are against homosexuality. I won’t even get into the Bible thing (though I could) because this would become a ten trillion word post. Why people are so damn concerned with something that has no effect on them personally is beyond me. However, I know there will always be people who don’t support it. That’s just life and people have the right to form their own opinions.

By fighting to legalize gay marriage, aren’t we asking them to tolerate it even though they personally don’t think it’s right? We certainly are. We’re asking them to look beyond themselves and see the big picture, that everyone deserves equal rights even if they don’t fit the mold of who you’d choose to be yourself. I have to do that with Mormons every day, and I do. The owners of this print shop deserve that same respect. Yes, it’s a gray area. Yes, on some level it probably is discrimination. But it’s their right to feel the way they feel and print what they feel is appropriate for their business. Forcing them to do something they aren’t comfortable with or attacking them with a lawsuit defeats the entire purpose of freedom and makes us, the fighters who I believe are in the right, look bad.

Tolerance isn’t one sided. It goes both ways. Let’s remember that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not even once

In honor of Fathers' Day (and definitely not because I don't have time to blog this week) I've decided to re-post an essay I wrote for a writing contest in 2009. I didn't win, but I'm pretty proud of this piece anyway.

“I wish I could get drunk with my dad, just once,” I’ve caught myself saying to my friends and husband.  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he quit, but to see that side of him just once would be great.  I bet we’d have so much fun.”

I bet we would.  I’ve heard stories about my father in his younger days.  He was once having so much fun (and tequila) at a party that he didn’t want to leave when my mother, who was very pregnant with me, was ready to go to bed.  In defiance, he climbed a tree and hid from her.   My dad’s drinking stories are legendary.  The pictures in the photo albums from the late 70s show one crazy bastard who knew how to have a good time.  With his bright red hair, a permanent grin and the can of Rainier Beer in his hand, my father was always the life of the party.

Obviously, not all of the stories I heard are funny.  In recent years, my mother has told me that my father’s drinking caused big problems between them.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to see the love of your life so addicted to something that he put it before everything.  She always thought once they got married and had children, he’d settle down.  And he did- at least in part.  But after work every day, he’d come home and open a can of Rainer and drink until he went to bed.  He was a good father when my brother and I were little and I’m sure he was, for the most part, a good husband.  He just couldn’t quit drinking.

But then, suddenly, he did.  I was still a little girl when the cans of beer disappeared forever from the refrigerator.  I didn’t know why it happened, but one day daddy drank and the next he didn’t.  There was no cutting back or twelve steps.  He just stopped.   I was proud of him. I understood even then that too much alcohol was bad. 

The mind of a child is a funny thing.  I remember parts of our fishing trip on Labor Day weekend in 1991 and how it went from fun to serious.  One minute we were packing up our things and bringing the boat in, the next we were speeding to our hometown hospital, dead silent except for the sound of my four year old brother gasping for air and crying in pain.  Even as a nine year old, I knew he must be very sick because he didn’t drink his milkshake we got him at the gas station.  We always looked forward to those post-fishing milkshakes.

Hours later, my brother was in the ER with a serious case of pneumonia.  For children with asthma, pneumonia can be deadly.  It nearly was.  I didn’t realize at the time how serious it was, but my baby brother was very sick.  And for several days, he wasn’t getting better.

It was nearly thirteen years later when his own father lay dying in a hospital bed that my dad told my mother what had really happened that weekend.  He’d gone home from the hospital, worried and scared, and all he’d been able to think about was having a beer.  He opened that can of Rainer, drank it, and realized how pathetic it was that his focus was on alcohol at such a critical time.  For the majority of his life, alcohol had been there for him in times of celebration, despair, and everything in between.  On that day, he realized he had others there for him who were more important- he had a family who needed him.  That night, sitting alone in the house with his empty beer can, my father promised God that if my brother got better, he would never let alcohol touch his lips again.

My brother got better almost instantly.  Today, he’s a 22 year old baseball player and over six feet of solid muscle.  My dad kept his promise.  He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since that night.  As he told me, when you make a promise to God, you’d better not go back on it.  Where many have failed, he succeeded.  We’ll never know for sure whether my father’s promise saved my brother, but on that day, my father saved our family.

I don’t know why my he chose that time to tell my mother about his promise or why she shared it with me.  My grandfather’s death was the hardest thing we’d ever gone through as a family and emotions were high.  I was surprised and touched to learn the reason behind my father’s sobriety.  When it comes to religion, my dad and I are a lot alike- believers to the core, but very private about our faith.  We don’t feel the need to shout it from the mountain tops or sing loudly in church.  Our faith is personal, but it’s strong.

I inherited many things from my father- his blue eyes, his fiery temper and his sweet tooth.  By the grace of God, I didn’t inherit his addiction.  I enjoy drinking socially with friends, but my subsequent hangover always deters me from alcohol for weeks at a time.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so dependent on something every day and then have to stop using it completely.  The withdrawal must have been hell, but he never complained.

There are many things I’ll never do.  I’ll never skydive, I’ll never ride a motorcycle and I’ll never get drunk with my dad- not even once.  My dad was there for my graduation, every father’s weekend in college, and danced with me at my wedding- all sober.  He has given his family the greatest gift he could, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you it has been worth it.  To me, that’s worth not having a beer with the crazy redhead from those pictures of the past.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My life in Choose Your Own Adventure format

Do you ever feel like your life is one big Choose-Your-Own Adventure book? You know, those little books we all read in grade school that allowed us to make choices in our stories. That’s kind of how I felt about my day on Thursday. Of course, with those books, I usually ended up in a situation that led to a violent death. Fortunately that didn’t happen. It went something like this:

7:15 AM. Your cell phone alarm goes off and boy, is it annoying. Why did you choose that ringtone to wake you, you sadist? You have two choices:

A.    Wake up, as planned, and immediately do the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, thus beginning your day with an energizing workout and using your time productively.

B.  Shut the alarm off and snooze for another 40 minutes before you absolutely must shower.

You chose B. Way to go, asshole. Now you have to workout after work when you’re tired and you’ve wasted time already.

You shower, get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast and decide to curl your hair. Midway through the curls, your husband informs you he must leave for work 45 minutes ahead of his normal departure because an expensive and important delivery must be made .He is normally your ride. You have two choices:

A.    Ride with him and dodge the “what happened to your hair?” questions all day

B.     Catch the bus that stops mere feet from your front door and allow yourself another 30 minutes to finish.

You chose B. You kiss your husband goodbye and return to the task of curling your hair. By the time you finish, you see you have exactly five minutes until the bus arrives. Noting how fickle the buses in the city are and recalling that time you tried to go to the Vashon Island ferry terminal and went to Capitol Hill, you set down the curling iron and haul ass to your shoes. Smiling and happy, you grab your purse and keys, sticking your hand in your wallet to count out bus fare……

You realize you have exactly $1.00 in cash. The bus ride costs $2.25. They do not accept debit cards, credit cards or pleas for mercy. You scrounge around the apartment for change only to realize that your husband has taken every single cent for his parking fees. You call your husband and prepare to curse him out as if he’s to blame. Your husband is apologetic and you realize this is the result of your stupidity, not his. You check the schedule for the water taxi, which does accept cards, only to realize that the last ferry departed at 9:15 and wouldn’t return until 11 AM. The time is now 9:25 and you must be at work at 10. You have two choices:

  1. Walk the two blocks to the ATM outside Starbucks on Alki, pay Chase bank’s ridiculous fees, get $20 in cash, buy a coffee, and use the change for bus fare.

  1. Give up, lie down, cry, rip freshly-curled hair out, likely lose job.

You chose A. Great! You haul ass to the ATM, cutting off a couple who is surprisingly cheerful about your rudeness. You take your cash, turn around, and notice that it is an absolutely gorgeous day at Alki Beach. You have two choices:

  1. Continue on this crazy frantic attempt to get to work, or

  1. Take the one sick day you’ve earned so far, you pathetic newbie, and spend the day at the beach.

You chose A. Good call, your Seattle rent is almost as much as your mortgage on your big house was and you need to pay it. You head into the local coffee shop next to Starbucks (no lines) and order the smallest Americano they have. You spill coffee all over yourself as you’re adding cream and remind yourself to slow down. As you head to the bus stop, you hear the unmistakable sound of a bus behind you. Your bus isn’t due for ten minutes, but the buses here suck so much, it’s entirely possible that you’re about to miss yours. You have two choices:

  1. Run like mad, trying not to spill your coffee

  1. Relax! This is likely not your bus.

You chose A. You run until you’ve reached the bus stop, turn, and discover it was only a school bus and now thirty little brats are laughing at you. And now you’re sweaty and your curls have already started to fall. You sigh, Google the number of your company, get a frustrating menu and end up calling customer service to try and reach your boss. “No really,” you tell the rep. “I work there!” At last, you’re given the cell phone number of your boss and you leave a message saying you’ll be 20 minutes late. On your fourth week. You’re an idiot.
You finally board the bus, take a seat, and have a somewhat pleasant ride to work. You have put entirely too much sugar in your coffee. You recall you’re supposed to be eating clean this week and you’ve just fucked that all up with the sugar. You look around for a garbage can and see none. You give up and drink it all.
You arrive at work at 10:25 and realize that no one who has any authority over you even noticed your tardiness. You recall your voicemail to your boss and slap your face into your palm. You open your email and begin writing about Paris Hilton shoes. They are surprisingly fabulous. The coffee and sugar is like crack and you crank out the copy. Before you know it, your stomach is growling and it’s lunch time. You didn’t have time to make your usual salad but now you have $15 in cash. You open the Yelp app on your phone and see you have approximately 15 choices. You consider your diet and your budget and narrow it down to three:

  1. Pho
  2. Grand Central Bakery and their delicious soup and salad combo
  3. That cute little place you went with Cheryl that one time that uses organic everything and is overprices but so good

You chose C. Good choice! You can’t resist grand Central’s fattening quiche and that place by your house makes the world’s best pho, anyway. You head to the cafĂ© and order a red lentil veggie burger with tomato relish. You have two choices:

  1. Cous cous salad
  2. Corn tortilla chips

You chose B. And you ate every chip. You’re an idiot who can’t even stick to clean eating for one week. Regardless, your burger is the best thing ever and you devour it happily. As you’re wrapping up your lunch, your brother calls to tell you he’s put dish soap in the dishwasher, there are bubbles everywhere and he can’t find the dogs. You suggest he Google how to fix his mess. You have to work! You head back to work and write about children’s headbands. Before you know it, it’s time to leave. You have two choices.

  1. The shitty, crowded, noisy bus and its unpredictability
  2. The beautiful, serene water taxi

You chose B. Now you’re getting it! You head home across the Puget Sound. Your husband collets you at the ferry landing and you head for home. You have two choices:

  1. Do the 30 Day Shred you blew off this morning
  2. Collapse on the couch before starting dinner

You chose A and you do every move except that final push up you can never quite complete. Better yet, dinner is a spinach salad with leftover wild caught salmon from your dad. Best of all, your husband agrees to catch up on Days on Hulu with you. Before long, it is past your bedtime and you brush your teeth and turn out the lights. Your husband gives you “that look.” You have two choices……

… let’s just say you made the smart one.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It will be OK. Really!

For about a month now, I’ve officially been a part of the 9-to-5 work crowd. Having been opposed to such a lifestyle for much of my adult life, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. After all, I’m Jessica, the one who lives on permanent vacation. Yes, I work- hard, actually, since I was 16- but I’ve managed to do so at my convenience for the most part. While I was grateful to land full-time employment so quickly, I was apprehensive.

I love it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s demanding and mentally taxing and some days I just want to work on my other projects or have a “me” day. It has been an adjustment figuring out when to do all the things that I used to have time for. But the company I’m working for is a good one. They treat their employees well. They’re fair. They actually give a shit about the people who work for them, something I have never experienced in the workforce before. I won’t ever call the company by name in this blog because it’s public, but so far I have a great respect for the way they do things.

 And every single time I even think of complaining about something, I can’t because I am just so grateful to have a steady job right now in this transitionary phase of my life. In a time where so many are unemployed and terrified (and I, too, have been underemployed and terrified), I’m working and that’s amazing.

A steady paycheck is also something foreign to me. Over the last decade I’ve had periods where I’ve had more money than most people my age and periods where I’ve had a lot less… within months of each other. It was just a way of life. And forget about things like sick days, inclusive health coverage and vacation time. And while I am an entrepreneur at heart and eventually desire to return to that scary but rewarding way of life, I have to admit it’s damn nice knowing what my paychecks will be and having a bit of security.

I absolutely loved being self-employed. No, I didn’t get the benefits employees get. Yes, my parents have ulcers from trying to explain to people what it is I do and wondering if this will be the month I finally call them crying because I need money (never happened, by the way). Yes, it’s a giant scary headache and you have to work ten times as hard for sometimes half the money and nothing is guaranteed. But it’s not about security. It’s about the adventure. It’s about being able to, within reason, create your own schedule and live your own life.

But here’s a secret: all that time, I thought of myself as a total screw up in my professional life. I had friends who made their way up the corporate ladder before I’d even graduated college, who earned awards and had prestigious titles while I was serving drinks and selling credit card terminals and writing articles in my pajamas at noon on Tuesdays. Some of them admitted they envied me, but I always felt like I didn’t measure up. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I always felt guilty. Who was I to think I shouldn’t have to get up at 6 am and begin a day I dreaded? Why couldn’t I just suck it up and give my poor parents something to brag about already?

It finally hit me a few days ago that I never should have allowed myself to feel that guilt. Not even once. Because now I see what I was doing exactly what I was meant to do at the right time for me. Everything ended up being OK in the long run and I got that 9 to 5 job when I was good and ready. And when the day comes to leave it again, I should have no guilt either. I’m on the right track. I finally get it now.

On Thursday afternoon at the office, a young woman made her way around the cubicles telling everyone goodbye. She was off on a month-long trip to New York and Europe. My fellow copywriters expressed their jealousy. And these sweet 24 year old girls (yes, everyone in my department is younger than me, and this isn’t even an entry level job which means they’re younger than me with experience) traded stories of how jealous they are. They spoke of how none of them have had a real vacation in years, if ever. They haven’t traveled. They went to school and went straight to work like society dictated to them.

And it hit me that I am So. Damn. Lucky. Instead of joining in their conversation, I closed my eyes and I pictured the glorious decade that was my twenties. The initial trip to New York when Mr. W and I were still a new couple and the incredible trip that followed in 2009. The journeys to Mexico. Vegas…. God, all the Vegas. The road trip. And every single thing in between that I’d only been able to do because I hadn’t followed society’s norms. All that and I ended up in the same seat they’re in, a little older with a few more wrinkles and hard lessons, but the same seat nonetheless.

I certainly wouldn’t advise just anyone to follow my path. It’s reckless, irresponsible and sometimes downright insane. Some of the reasons I always ended up OK were sheer luck and things could’ve gone a lot worse for me. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even the corner office on the top floor of our building and a salary ten times the size of mine. Had I not gone that route, I would’ve missed so much and been complaining with my fellow copywriters about all the trips I haven’t taken. And traveling is such an essential part of who I am, I can’t imagine how miserable an unfulfilled I’d be.

I wish I could go back and tell myself to just relax, to erase the guilt from my mind and stop the voices in my head that told me I didn’t deserve it. I wish I knew then that everything would and will be OK in the end. I certainly know it now.

No matter where you are in life, embrace it. Don’t listen to anyone else’s opinions and follow your own path. Trust me on that. It will be OK.

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