Thursday, May 28, 2009

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8

Discrimination Against Gays and Mormon-Bashing Equally Distasteful

West Steps

It was a hot Sacramento day in the late spring of 2009, when the California state Supreme Court voted 6-1 to uphold a the discriminatory Proposition 8, voted into law in 2008, invalidating same-sex marriages. But the demonstrators gathered on the Capitol building’s west steps seemed less drained than energized by the heat – as if our skin were made of photovoltaic cells.

The large crowd marched from the Gay and Lesbian center on L Streets with signs reading “ImaginEquality,” “Second Class Citizen,” “Trash 8,” and “‘I Do’ Support the Freedom to Marry.’” We shouted, chanted, sang, cheered, and showed our solidarity. We were addressed by the flamboyant and hilarious State Assembly member Tom Ammiano, couples married after the 2008 Supreme Court decision gave them that right, reverends, and organizers.

Sweat dripped into our eyes, and a thin woman wrapped in a rainbow flag grinned. Couples held hands.

Across the street, a small group – noticeably reduced in size since the rallies following the election – held pro-Prop 8 signs and chanted, “Celebrate Prop 8!”

I didn’t see much to celebrate. We were there because we were incensed by the court ruling… Nonetheless, we also gathered in a spirit of solidarity, love, and levity.

A temporary setback is what yesterday was.

“The arc of history is long,” a speaker quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “but it bends toward justice.”

Quit Mormon-Bashing, Friends.

I realize there are many issues surrounding Proposition 8, ranging from our electoral system and constitution to the debate surrounding the institution of marriage itself… but the one in particular I want to address is this recent bout of Mormon bashing.

I don’t like it.

First and foremost, why make hypocrites of ourselves by stooping to the level of those whose points we disagree with by using their tools - i.e. thoughtless vitriol, broad-brush painting, and bigotry? These are the very acts we disparage.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t boycott select businesses that supported Prop 8. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strongly voice our values and perspectives. But I am saying we don’t need to be jerks about it.

My second point is: it's not just the Mormons, folks. Plenty of other groups and individuals voted for Prop 8. And perhaps in that way, we supporters of same-sex marriage, religious and non-religious alike, should take a long, hard look at our approach. How can we better work with religious and other communities to show them our perspective?

Among the fallacies passed off as truth by pro-Prop 8 advertisements during the campaign season was the idea that schools would be forced to teach same-sex marriage to students. The fear played upon was that same-sex couples would be “forcing their lifestyle” upon the general population. Interestingly enough, most same-sex couples would argue that not allowing them to marry is, in effect, discriminating against them by forcing a mainstream idea – a straight lifestyle – upon them. This is a perfect instance in which simple grassroots efforts can be effective. Both debunking the forcible teaching of same-sex marriage myth and talking to your neighbors about basic rights is a simple way to plant seeds of new ideas.

Finally, I want to state that alienating ourselves from other people is never the way to build a revolution, win an election, gain friends, or influence people. Dr. King spoke of using “an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind” as a tool to find common ground among all people:

“This oft-misunderstood concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions [and read: peaceful revolutions] have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

Pretty much every group of people has been discriminated against at one point or another – including Mormons themselves, who were historically persecuted for their religious beliefs and practices… including their marriages! Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “then they are being hypocrites!” Possibly. But instead of being pompous about it, let those of us who hold the banner of love, justice and equality, not also succumb to the base emotion of hatred or the shameful tendency to “other” those we disagree with. Instead, let us use the tools of love to find common humanity and open a dialog with anyone who might initially disagree with you with regard to Prop 8.

I know it’s cliché, but some of my best, dearest friends are Mormon, or disagree with me for some other reason about Prop 8. It is my sincere hope that they will someday see that love is love in any form, and that my hypothetical marriage to a woman would be just as valid as my hypothetical marriage to a man. But they are much more likely to see my point of view if I present it with love instead of with anger.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Loneliness

I was reading the latest issue* of The Sun Magazine this evening, when I came across these two entries in Sy Safransky's Notebook:

If only I knew what my cats are thinking. If only I knew what the birds are singing. If only I knew why people who speak the same language rarely understand each other.

* * *

How alone I feel this morning, as alone as the earth in photographs taken from space. But am I alone? Really? Here on this planet with 6 billion brothers and sisters? Our superficial differences keep me from recognizing how much we have in common -- starting with the undeniable fact that we're all alive and breathing the same air. Breathing in. Breathing out. Hearts expanding with love and hearts contracting with fear. Is there anything I'm experiencing right now that hasn't also been experienced by innumerable others -- even my loneliness, my sadness, my longing for something I can't name?

Reading this reminded me of the following bit from my friend Trevor's travel blog Where the Hell Is My Towel?:

There is no night culture here. I miss that sense of camaraderie I used to feel whenever I'd be out driving at four in the morning in the rain and I'd pass some other lonely pair of headlights going the opposite direction. It was the strongest sense of understanding I've ever felt. There is nothing like that here...

I was also reminded of this piece from Natalie Goldberg's book for writers called Writing Down the Bones:

Last night I was sitting with a very old friend in my living room. "You know, Natalie, I know you've talked about being lonely, but last week when I was really lonely, I felt that I was the only person in the world who ever felt it." That's what loneliness is about. If we felt connected to people, even other lonely people, we wouldn't feel alone anymore.

When I was separated from my husband, [my mentor] Katagiri Roshi said to me, "You should live alone. You should learn about that. It is the terminal abode."

"Roshi, will I get used to loneliness?"

"No, you don't get used to it. I take a cold shower every morning and every morning it shocks me, but I continue to stand up in the shower. Loneliness always has a bite, but learn to stand up in it and not be tossed away."

Later that year I went to Roshi again: "It's really hard. I come home and I'm alone and I get panicky." He asked me what I did when I was alone. Suddenly, it had a fascination. "Well, I wash the dishes, I daydream and doodle on pieces of paper, draw hearts and color them in. I pick the dead leaves off the plants and I listen to music a lot." I began to study my own desolation and I became interested in it. I stopped fighting it.

Goldberg goes on to discuss how writers can use loneliness as a tool for expression. "Reach out of the deep chasm of loneliness and express yourself to another human being," she writes.

To be sure, loneliness is a nearly universal human emotion - at least in our culture. Isn't this fact one of life's greatest ironies?

But perhaps that is not so unexpected. After all, it's well-established by social scientists that the intimacy provided by companionship and relationships is a significant human need. But our own life experience will tell us that, won't it?

Loneliness compels us to seek further and greater companionship -- or to flip that around, loneliness is merely a symptom of the (hopefully temporary) inability to connect with other humans in an intimate way. Since humans are such an interconnected and interdependent species, perhaps loneliness itself plays a fundamental role in our survival. So ponder that next time you're feeling sorry for yourself and listening to your entire collection of The Cure records on a rainy day. ;)

Any sociologists, psychologists, biologists, or other scientists out there - or anyone else for that matter - want to share your ideas on the function and role of loneliness?

Any artists want to share how you use loneliness as inspiration for your work?

What do you do to overcome loneliness? How do you use it to your advantage?

*As of today, May 20, the May issue is still posted online so you won't find this entry from the June issue.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009



Tonight my neighbor A asked me "do you have a position on Palestine/Israel?"

It was such a great question. I'm glad she asked! It gave me a chance to think about and articulate my perspective. It's not a subject I spend a lot of time talking/thinking about. Maybe I should...

Sacramento Area Peace Action is actually putting on a speaker series on Palestine. Next Tuesday the 19th is the next to last event. (More about that below.)

My answer to A is as follows:

So I am not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, per se. I'm pro-peace... meaning I'm an advocate of finding a solution that creates social justice and quells violence for both sides. And no matter what, I believe that the US has no business funding a violent, inhumane, and illegal occupation.

To tell the truth, the more I learn about Israel/Palestine, the more I realize how much I have to learn. My general position is that it's NOT okay the way Israel (through the massive support of the US) treats the Palestinians. Regardless of the history of the region and picking sides and all that, the fact remains that Israel's occupation is illegal according to international law. It's also inhumane and against international conventions to do what Israel did by blockading Gaza earlier this year and not allowing humanitarian aid and basic supplies in. Palestinians don't have the same rights as Israelis. Palestinians routinely have their crops, their homes, their businesses destroyed by Israeli tanks and machines. They have to go through checkpoints all the time, as if they're criminals or foreigners. I heard a personal story of someone who was with a woman who could not get through the border even though she was in labor, and had to be driven hours out of the way to receive medical care. These kinds of things happen all the time.

That said, I'm not really well-versed even in modern Israel/Palestine history, let alone the thousands of years of history surrounding the different groups in the region. To be totally cliche, some of my best friends are Jewish, and are supporters of the state of Israel. I have no opinion on what kind of political structure should be in place... I just know that the Palestinians should not be being treated the way they are. Also, I know that the violence keeps festering because it is perpetuated by both sides. Neither side is right in resorting to violence, regardless of whether one uses tanks and the other uses car bombs.

In my non-professional opinion, the most destructive thing that causes breakdown in the dialog about Israel & Palestine is the flawed and overly-simplistic framing of the issue in the US media. Generally Palestinians are portrayed as anti-Semitic terrorists, whereas Israelis are innocent freedom fighters defending their homeland. There are so many fallacies in that. To begin with, an act is only called terrorism when it's a non-governmental group perpetrating it. Also, Israel is not exclusively Jewish; neither is Palestine exclusively Arab nor Muslim (some people don't even understand the difference between Arab and Muslim). And finally, Jerusalem and the entire country of Israel - is the historic homeland of BOTH groups.

Here's info about the Sacramento Area Peace Action event:
Tuesday, May 19, 7pm, Palestine Speaker Series: Current Realities/One State presented by Dr. Jess Ghanam, clinical professor of psychiatry and chief of medical psychology at UC San Francisco. Dr. Ghanam is on the board of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and on the national board of Al-Awda the Palestine Right of Return Coalition. 909 12th St, Sac. Info: 916-448-7157,;

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bicycle Commute Month

May is Sacramento Region Bike Commute Month!

I registered and pledged to ride a certain number of miles on I've been logging my miles there. I ride to work every day because, well, I live so close, and it's much easier than dealing with parking! Also I love to get the exercise, and enjoy the fresh air.

Last Friday, it rained in the afternoon. Riding the 14 blocks home, I saw only two other cyclists - one woman and one man. That makes for a ratio of one man two two women in Sacramento who are hardcore and perseverent enough to ride even when it's raining. (Among my statistically representative sample, you understand).

Yesterday and the day before, rain was forecasted but none actually appeared... save for a thin film of wetness on the streets when I woke up yesterday. It was pretty warm and muggy both Monday and Tuesday. Monday was especially cloudy, and I really thought it would rain, but it never did.

I got my state tax refund this week. I hopped over to City Bicycle Works right after work, under the BEAUTIFUL blue sky and puffy clouds. I picked up a kickstand; a rack for hauling stuff on the back of my bike (forgot what it's called); a new "I ♥ My Bike" bell (DING DING DING!!); and a new side mirror, since I cracked the other one running into a tree last summer. Oops. I cruised over to the Bicycle Kitchen, where I installed my goodies. My bike is totally tricked out now. Hee hee...

On the way home, I got bell-happy and ding-a-linged down P, R, 10th, and other streets. A man in front of the Fox and Goose called out, "Mmm-mmm! Good Humor bars!", and some other cyclists dinged their bells in response from half a block away. I heart my "I ♥ My Bike" bell almost as much as I heart my bike.


So, I suppose y'all want to know how I'm enjoying my job?

My first day, I walked in to "Welcome to BWARD (my Division) Heather Woodford" signs, and a pink vase of red tulips at my desk! Everyone keeps telling me how glad they are to have me there. The Division was super understaffed before, and my position was vacant for four months before I started working there, so I can only imagine they're relieved... and not just because my reputation as an amazing person and awesome worker has preceded me. Hee hee...

Well, they're keeping me busy, to be sure. I am the only Executive Secretary in my Division, so there's no one to sit with me and train me, really. I have to be super resourceful and ask lots of questions of the Exec Secs in other Divisions and the Department office. The Division Chief (my bigger boss) has been out ever since my first day, and so the poor Assistant Division Chief has been super stressed. There's been lots of trial by fire for me. I guess I should take it as a compliment that they just throw me in and trust me to figure things out. I have been asking lots of questions... of everyone. :) My co-workers are all super nice and helpful, and avail themselves to me whenever I need them.

I work just across the street from the Capitol Rose Garden, and I LOVE to stroll around the grounds during my breaks (when I remember to take them - SUPER BUSY!) and at lunch. It's amazing the way each variety of rose has its own scent and color. On Monday, the groundskeeper showed me to his favorite bush.

"Isn't that unique?" he asked, showing me to a beautiful hybrid. "It's like nothing you've ever smelled!" He was right - it has a light, clean sort of jasmine-y smell.

Today, I was super pleased to see a man in a suit witha small a briefcase taking time to - well, you know! "Gotta make time for that," I called to him from another bush. "You sure do!"

Cafe Rolle

On Friday evening, L&B and I had dinner with K&J at Cafe Rolle on H Street in East Sacramento. Absolutely exquisite. We sampled everything from salads and appetizers to lentils and sandwiches. The wine was amazing - a crisp, light white and two warm, round reds. We topped everything off with two creme brulees, including their special, the chocolate toffee brulee! Apparently, they will be featured soon on the Food Network. L&B wrote down the date, so we'll be watching for it that night, and I'll try to remember to post a link here.

On Friday night after riding home from work in the rain, I busted out my new pair of Havaianas because I couldn't find my other ones. I started laughing when I realized what I was doing, and had to tell B when I saw her, "You know you're from California when you bust out a new pair of Havaianas because you can't find your 0ther pair, and you don't want to wear any of your other five pairs of flip-flops... and it's RAINING!"