Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Backdoor Draft

Roxanne from Rox Populi directs my attention to a Seattle Weekly story about an upcoming case to be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court there. The story addresses the plight of Emiliano Santiago, a National Guardsman whose service with the Guard has been extended beyond eight years under a government policy called "stop loss." Even Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona considers the practice a "backdoor draft." I think of it as a "silent" draft, the forced and limitless indenture of American servicemen and women - citizens who at one time in their lives honorably volunteered to serve their country in the armed forces can now be all but enslaved because they did. Should we not be appalled by this practice? What justification should be able to salve the American conscience in such a way as to be satisfied with a blind eye turned toward this inexcusable suspension of fundamental liberty?

Of course we need soldiers to continue the interventions initiated by this country, and I realize the ranks of volunteers are shrinking, but should the answer to this situation then be to suspend the rights of honorable American citizens, particularly those who have already given so many years of their lives to protect and defend the freedoms the rest of us can take for granted?

Add this "prickly" issue to the list of concerns about which you'll dedicate yourself to knowing more. Then write an email to an American soldier with the assurance that you'll care about her(his) freedom to the same degree that your glad they care about yours.

Emiliano's freedom in on the line in Seattle soon. Two weeks before the completion of his initial eight-year commitment to the Guard, lawyers representing the U.S. Government (that’s you and me the last I checked) presented Emiliano with a revised contract – they still call it a contract - informing him of a new release date. If he loses his case in Seattle, Emiliano will not complete his commitment to the Army National Guard until the year 2031. He was 18 years old when he volunteered; he’s 26 right now, and he’ll be 52 years old if he serves the duration. Make sense of that or, for the love of liberty, make noise.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Advanced Citizenship

New resolve has realigned my priorities (again), and I’m back to my morning two-mile walks. These are treadmill walks – my nod to efficiency – that double as “movie time” in my day. I have a dandy little TV hanging with one of those wall mounts and noise-reduction headphones that make every other sound disappear (well, almost), and I can sink into the screen for 37 minutes, give or take depending on how much sleep I was able to get last night. Sleep refuses to be prioritized when school’s in session. Pardon me … I’m drifting. The conclusion to American President was playing for this morning’s walk, and one phrase from the big Michael Douglas inspirational speech near the end of that movie grabbed my attention today. “America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship.”

“Advanced citizenship” … advanced citizenship. The idea speaks to the confusion I continue to wrestle when I try to think about the war in Iraq, the Terri Schiavo situation in Florida, or the conditions contributing to the devastation that took place for the Red Lake Nation this past week – topics defining only the headlines on my mind today. There are others, of course.

One of the greatest difficulties I face when trying to think through these issues is the sound of so many voices around me seeming able to arrive at a solid understanding long before I do – they seem able to conclude, to be certain, and to develop answers - to arrive at a location in the universe of possibilities that continues to elude me. The phrase from the movie helped. The difficulty I experience is less about my inability to arrive at an answer or understanding; it’s about the complexity of “advanced citizenship” and the challenge inherent in resolving an understanding or advocated course of action with points of view equally cogent with mine yet diametrically opposed. “America isn’t easy.”

Bring the troops home? It isn’t that easy, but “Go, Team, Go” and “the U.S. occupation of Iraq is making life better for Iraqis” doesn’t cut a straight line of the subject either. $4.7 billion a month can do a lot of talking to “make life better” no matter where it’s spent. Let Terri die? It’s in her best interest? What? Have we thought this through? Who decides? If the spouse of the impaired person is the government sanctioned deciding agent, how can we then deny the civil office of “spouse” to thousands of citizens faithfully partnered in same-sex unions? Who holds the government sanction then? Doesn’t the Florida case (among others) demand a revaluation of the term “spouse” in light of the civil liberties being there attached? It gets complicated, doesn’t it? I can want to draw lines with the idea of “our nation’s beginnings” and anchor my answers there, recite the intentions of our forbearers as foundation for my conservative preferences today, thinking that makes some sense of how the recent losses to the Red Lake Nation could pass with so little of a nation’s attention being given. Social security? National health care? Gun control? The frightening shift of the cost of “progress” from the coffers of corporate America to the backs of its workers? Give me answers, oh yeah! But get dirty in the work of digging them up. Advanced citizenship takes hard work.

In the meantime, I’m all for noise. Noise generates effective citizenship, and while I’m in the process of excavating a substantive understanding on one or another of the topics most mattering to me right now, I am celebrating the noise that is being made on all manner of issues still coming to light for me. Read as much as you can and as widely as you can; listen, discuss, read more, but, one way or the other, get in the conversation! If noise is all you can do in the beginning, that’s ok. You, me, and Anchorman’s Brick Tamland can begin with “LOUD NOISES” and make it grow from there.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

She Was Still There

I had only just reconnected to the digital network last Wednesday when the Yahoo “doorbell” rang to let me know that Tommi had logged on. The message window opened with hungry and excited questions “Are you there?” and “Is that you?” and “Where have you been?” I was so good to see her, to hear her voice again as words on a screen gave sound to the image of her in my head. I always miss her, but that particular moment made my distance from her more evident at the same time it overwhelmed me with emotion for knowing once again that she was still safe.

It was a time of keyboard catching up, a fast exchange of one-liners to tell whole stories of episodes come and gone with the two weeks of computer “disconnect” brought on by digital down-time. “There was this guy …” and “You’ll never believe was the commander said …” and “Oh, yeah, I got news from …” And then, without sign of a break in the flow, the words “Big guns today … mortar fired … close … real close … made me wonder if I’d make it.” And I took my breath and calculated next questions, asking only the obvious, needing only those answers that were easy to give. It was enough that she was still there. And the subject soon changed … and changed again …“I got a package from …” And she was still there

A New York Times story the same day reported 80 insurgents killed in a U.S. backed raid by Iraqi forces on the largest guerrilla training camp for anti-government fighters yet discovered. Col. Robert Potter, spokesman for the American command in Baghdad characterized the firefight as “one of the largest such engagements” yet. The Times reported the camp to be located northwest of Baghdad. But the day had passed, and Tommi was still there.

Attached image: A View From the Gate

Friday, March 25, 2005

The "E" Word

You may recall that my initial motivation for writing this blog came from course expectations attached to a class in “new media” at Purdue University. It’s a great course of study, and my being in the world is noticeably changed as a result, but like many of the more important contributors to the composition of a life, familiarity can reduce digital ubiquity to the status of air … life-sustainingly vital but almost entirely beyond our awareness. If you regard this as a kind of sleep-state, I’m wide awake right now!

Reading from Manuel Castells recently, I came across a passage from his discussion of the cultural transformation currently underway where he refers to technology as “the indispensable medium.” Two weeks of troubling computer glitches recently gave way to a twelve-day, total-system collapse of my digital home – a complete loss of record (now only partially recovered) from which I am only just awaking – my own private tsunami. Dr. Castell’s turn of phrase is lived experience for me.

Though, for the most part, I prefer an exchange of (“E”)xplanations only when requested as they otherwise drift toward (E)xcuses and multiply like bunnies, I am offering this writing as a quick answer to any curious among you who may have noticed the recent dearth of posting to this blog. I would’ve if I could’ve … and blah blah blah and so it goes. Here add the grrrrr-growl those who know me best might easily imagine well fitted to these passing days.

I am now happily restored to a new electronic home and working through the sobering reality of rebuilding/refurnishing/resituating. Cleaning up after a digital “disaster” can be a brutal chaser to the celebration of being “back on line” – discovering lost what I didn’t remember to miss only at that particular moment of most needing it. But that’s life in many permutations, so I’ll restrain my grumble and complaint. In the meantime, I’ll be clicking away at an effort to rebuild bookmarks, address books, networked connections, internal organizations, and photo files while I exhale in waves of gratitude for external servers that have preserved files of my identity at a safe distance from my own personal breakdown. It isn’t exactly grave digging, but there is a feel of camaraderie with Dr. Frankenstein as I stitch a digital self back together again from the pieces tucked into corners of the World Wide Web.

I’ll grab a phrase from Arnold and tell you, "I'll be back." Just give me a minute or two to burn a back-up on this file. Ha!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Forgetting a War

I haven’t talked to Tommi for several days now, though we manage to pass IM greetings in moments we steal from busy schedules, each on her own side of the planet. This blog serves to house responsive reflections between us, and it distressed me to read comments recently posted by Tommi reporting a challenge received from peers questioning her worth in friendship. I might otherwise have dismissed such a difficulty as common to workplace negotiations; under current circumstances, however, it became a troubling concern and preoccupation – but only for time before my thoughts returned to my own day, my own workplace, and the difficult demands of negotiating my own challenges.

It bothers me to find that Tommi can fade from my thoughts just like the war in which she is ordered to participate. I drilled myself last November in anticipation of this experience, “practicing” considerations of the everydayness that would be and now is the normal through which I’m passing, and it still doesn’t feel at all right now that I’m here. I ought to be praying, for example, but the truth is I forget to pray – I can forget entirely that Tommi is even in Iraq, that there’s a war going on at all, and that there are people dying in a fight for something – freedom …though the word is far too easily said without a responsible interrogation of what that means and from whose point of view the value is assessed.

I’m on my way home from school as I write this piece – a week of spring break in Minnesota. James is driving; Abe and Jen have supper waiting, and Brad has been cleaning all day in anticipation of our arrival. I’ll have coffee with friends this week, take in a yoga session, get my hair done, my teeth cleaned, and catch up on reading that still needs doing before classes resume in a week. I’ll think of Tommi, and people I’ll see for the first time in a while will make conversation with questions about how she’s doing over there. They’ll ask for her address with intentions of writing, but, like mine, their days will fill with more immediate engagements … not more important – no, just more immediate.

I wonder if it’s easier to pay billions and billions of dollars for a war that is this easy to forget? The truth is that I’m more aware of the $2.17 a gallon I just paid for gas than I am of whether or not (or how many more) suicide bombs went off in Baghdad today. And strange as it is to make a war disappear, it’s somehow worse – wrong, I think – to feel Tommi “disappear” in exchange for a day full of hours themselves full of casual chatter, and laughter, and an occasional glass of wine with friends.

In fact, I am fundamentally opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq in which our country is currently engaged, but I know, too, there’s no easy way out of that picture now, however moral (or not) the initial prompt for invasion was. I wonder what “bringing home the troops” will look like this time? And I wonder if a war where there are heroes serving is easier to forget than a war where the villains are the men and women “we” sent to fight it. I’m proud of Tommi for the work she’s doing on duty in Iraq; I’m proud of the men and women with whom she serves, but all the yellow ribbons fade into easy icons as the days pass by. And even when we remember to remember the troops we’re sending (and re-sending) to Iraq, I wonder if that’s enough. What does it mean to remember why we sent them there in the first place, and can we remember now what we thought then about when they would come home?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Soldier Eyes

I have received my fair share of photos from Iraq, but it is in this image that I most find my daughter. Here are eyes to tell a story of their own. I give them to you for the reading.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

He Thinks I'm "Hot"

A class in “new media” at Purdue University is rearranging my world and redecorating my living space. Every sunny day begs a break from reading to “snap” a few digital images – handheld and tripod-mounted cameras at the ready. Webcam paraphernalia wires me for real time image access to Tommi on post in Iraq at the same time as Abe in Minnesota. Skype, a free online phone service – I’m all for “free,” gets us voice and a bit of feeling together at home. All this “hook-up” is not to mention an expanding connectivity taking shape around the work I do, the news I read, or the family photos I share with those I meet in the universe of blogging opening itself to me. Keeping up with course assignments rarely leaves time to reflect on the velocity and volume in all this change, but frankly, when I do … Wowzer! I can still see the shoreline from which I set sail in a pre-digital world, but it’s receding to horizon fast.

So …

I’m sitting in front of my computer a couple of days ago, and my webcam is set to broadcast – a bit of digital me for Tommi. I’m doing the flannel pants and sweatshirt thing on a still chilly Indiana morning while I race through paper grading and lesson preparations for my students in freshman composition. Tommi’s broadcasting, too – and pardon the “mom” comment on the side, but her room doesn’t seem to have changed much. Anyway, she just gets home from work, types in a “hey you” on the Yahoo messenger window that is always open between us, and my attention is immediately her’s.

I hear about work, her fatigue, and a comment or two about the people who have passed though the gate that day before she tells me that her friend, Pat, is there with her. “Pat?” and the “mom” me jumps to the front once more. “…male or female?”

“male” she replies.

“marred ro sinegle?” Typing fast costs accuracy, but that doesn’t matter when you’re instant messaging – one of the perks of the exchange. I can almost hear Tommi laughing as her words appear on my screen.

“married, mom. don’t worry. he’s my E-8 … my “right-hand man” at the gate.”

“he’s an NCO … a master sgt here but he’s been a first sgt at home – a big deal.”

“besides … if he was gonna be attracted to anyone, it would be you.”

“he thinks you’re “hot”

I lace my own words with laughter as I write in return, “Ok. I like Pat. Pat’s a good man,” before I remember the sweatshirt and flannels and add a quick addendum, “ahhhh, Tommi … can he see me right now?!”

LOL … LOL … “girl stuff” and electronic hugs put Tommi here/almost here while she tells me more about her friend and co-worker. “he’s beautiful, mom … he has a beautiful heart … and you know me,” she writes, “i always look for the beauty on the inside”

“I know, baby,” I write in return. “We’re seam people.”

She questions my turn of phrase, and I explain that “seam people” are those who turn a thing inside out to see what they’ve got a hold of – look on the inside to measure the strength of a fabric – it’s hold, it’s finish. They read the seams. “yep,” she writes in return, “i’ll have to remember that one” And there’s laughter again and she’s gotta go now and she’ll be back when she can and she loves me and i shouldn’t forget and she’ll say “hi” to pat for me. bye. bye. love you. bye. And the screen drops to gray reporting “Sentinel_47 has left the conversation.” I miss her. Touching is good. And ...

“Cool,” I think to myself in the afterglow of conversation. “He thinks I’m ‘hot’… .”

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

(Pro)Claiming Age

There is more to tell you about Tommi, and I’ll get back to that again in a next post or two, but I must step aside from that line of thinking for a moment to bring your attention to a great post by a fellow celebrant of the beauty and strength to be found in aging. Ronni of “As Time Goes By” has captured in her writing the very sentiment I mean to express in my own as I advocate for the (Pro)clamation of age.

In her candid discussion “The Youth of Age,” she revisits and reassesses sentiments of the 60s and 70s popularly expressing a determined albeit misguided conclusion about getting and being “old.” She comments on the understandable compulsion to chase after “the look” or the claim of youth “in a culture awash with youth worship and ageism” but poignantly reflects a sense of shared embarrassment for the obvious foolishness practiced in an effort to contest the passing of time.

She writes, “We were wrong in the 60s about people over 30. And we are still wrong about them. It is up to us, the older generations, to set it right by refusing the false and foolish cultural imperative to deny our age and to put our collective experience and wisdom to the best possible use.”

Right on, Ronni! These years of the “second half” are the power decades – the gift of age emotionally enriched, deeply beautiful, possessed of wisdom, and wonderfully liberated from dehydrated sensibilities. Other questions can be asked now, beginning with “What’s next?!” And other answers are being given as we learn to shape the aging process through differently composed possibilities. It’s an adventure I plan to ride all the way to the end.

In her New York Times review “Milan Fall Fashion 2005” (see interactive feature), Cathy Horyn deftly critiques the puzzling and surreal offerings from this season's Giorgio Armani collection but adds, as if by way of explanation, “Mr. Armani is a Milan powerhouse. He is close to 70, and at that age, I suppose, you can do whatever you like.” With deep chocolaty voice Ms. Horyn frosts the sentiment deliciously: At this age, “you can do whatever you like.” (Pro)claiming age is the productive act of living into the permissions we’re now old enough to realize. Bring it on!