With a Whisper, Not a Bang

Note: I feel it important to note here explicitly, though it is always the case, that my views on this page are exclusively my own personal opinions, and not endorsed in any way by my employer. Further, I am not sharing any information gained from my position, just my general thoughts from working in the field of cybersecurity. Basically, this ain’t policy, folks.

When I first arrived at the Senate they handed me a stack of papers and told me I’d be working on passing the Senator’s cybersecurity legislation. I was bummed. I didn’t know anything about cybersecurity and I didn’t want to. It intimidated me, because I thought it was highly technical, and deeply unsexy.

I was wrong. The best thing that ever happened to my career was being handed that stack of papers and told to get smart on cybersecurity. It changed the trajectory of my work and enabled me to carve out a niche for myself where I am privileged to work with some of the smartest people in the country. It allows me to learn more every day, because the field is changing and growing every day. But I love the field most because it is simply the newest arena for the discussions we have been having since the country was founded, around privacy, the free flow of information, and the appropriate locus of power in a still young nation.

When you work where I work doing what I do, people really like to ask what keeps me up at night. I think they’re expecting an answer out of 24, so I don’t want to disappoint them with the truth, which would be something along the lines of “Well Bob, you know there this existential dread about our inexorable march towards death coupled with my increasing terror over finding myself single and solidly in my mid-thirties, plus student loans.” They want to know what you’re afraid is going to go bang in the middle of the night. People understand the bang.

But here’s the deal: the future isn’t going to have a lot of bangs. In some ways this is great: cyber “war” can have a much lower death toll in an immediate battle sense, leaving aside what might happen if critical infrastructure (dams, electrical grids, telecom etc.) gets attacked. But the bang is also an announcement of trouble. We all know that the bang is bad. But what about an intrusion onto our networks? What about the use of information gained through hacking to wreak havoc on our cultural and social systems?

People in my field are freaking the fuck out about this news regarding a nation state hack of the DNC (and possibly also the RNC) and the subsequent leak of private emails, with the intention of influencing the outcome of our Presidential election. But they seem to be the only ones. Perhaps the idea is too abstract, or seems like it’s not a big deal, because no one died. But the public is more incensed over hacked and leaked nude photos of starlets than they are about the intended undermining of our election*. Maybe it is because there is a visual, in those cases. So let me put it in terms that we can all understand and be enraged by: this hack grabbed the nation by the pussy and then put it on reddit.

Pundits, the few who are actually discussing this, keep trying to draw inaccurate parallels calling things  a “cyber 9/11” or a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” I wish they would stop. There’s no reason to undermine the horror of both of those days by comparing cyber attacks with kinetic ones. But it is an excellent example of how our dependence on intersecting technologies, and our reliance on an increasingly hurried news cycle makes us less discerning, thoughtful, and vigilant.  And I want to be very clear, I am not saying that this hack actually changed the outcome of the election. I leave that to others to determine. This is a not a piece about how I think the election was rigged. This is a piece about how our nation’s institutions were attacked, and perhaps, Cassandra-like, my attempt to rally us to a new way of thinking about attacks.

In my work, I often tell people they are worried about the wrong things. They are worried about someone hacking into their car and driving it off a cliff, not the smartphone with every ounce of their personal data that they’re plugging into the car each morning. But humans beings are drawn to fire, and to the bangs, not to nuanced and unseen activities that they can’t wrap their arms around. I get that. I’m sympathetic. But are going to need to change what we’re looking for, what keeps us awake at night. Turns out the future will not be televised, but it will be online.

*Of course this is also terrible and part of rape culture, I’m just saying we need to be paying attention to all of it, not just what’s sensational.


The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Someone offered to help me pick up my Christmas tree today, but I wasn’t ready. They admonished me that I only had two more weeks before Christmas, but to me, that feels like an eternity of time.  In my family we’ve always waited to decorate or put up the tree until later in December, sometimes waiting until Christmas Eve, because my grandmother’s birthday was the day after Epiphany, and we would leave the tree up at least that long, if not longer. I have grown up with the idea that “’twas in the bleak midwinter, when half spent was the night” refers mostly to January, which is a crappy, wet, month.

I have written before about Advent. I wasn’t really formally aware of the season or practice of Advent until a couple of years ago, when listening to a gut-wrenching, yet delicate sermon by the Reverend Gina Campbell. She spoke of Advent, the season before the birth of Jesus that is the actual beginning of Christmastide, as the “almost, but not quite yet of God” and I thought it was perhaps the most poignant phrase I’d ever heard. Advent is actually how the Christian year starts- in darkness, uncertainty, confusion, pain. Something about this information adhered me even closer to my faith, a faith I have chosen not for the certainty, but for the questions. For the Jesus who said “take this cup away from me,” not the triumphant risen Christ. Since that sermon I’ve become an Advent junky. An Advent Advocate. An Adventocate, if you will.

(You won’t. You shouldn’t.)

I think Advent resonates so hard for me because so much of life is taken up by anticipation, by expectation, and by anxiety. If we’re lucky, mixed in there is hope. Advent is a quiet, contemplative season, a darkness before the dawn, where you are asked to go inward and think of what you are willing to make space for, to invite Christ in. Unfortunately, it coincides in our culture with the brightest, and sometimes most commercial, outwardly focused time of the year. Christmas music of celebration is everywhere, lights and greenery and heavy appetizers abound, but I’m not there-yet.

Because the truth is, it’s still fall, and I am not yet ready for Christmas right now. I am still in my fear, in my pain, in my anger, in my questions. I do not yet long for Christmas; I am not yet open to Christmas. But I will. I will need Christmas in the middle of January, when it is dark and bleak and there’s not much to look forward to. I will need Christmas then- even more so in this particular January, knowing what’s coming for our country- and luckily that is actually when Christmas is. People take down their trees on Boxing Day because they’ve had them up since the day after Thanksgiving, and they’re now a fire hazard, but I hate to tell you folks: that was an Advent Tree. And it’s fine, if that’s how you like to celebrate, if you need Christmas in December, good for you! Chronos and Kairos, ordinary time and divine time, do not track the same for every person, and you may find that you need a little Christmas, right this very minute- in the dead of summer. But I come today to defend Advent. To cherish, or perhaps even protect it a bit from it’s flashier sister of Christmastide. To remember that to everything there is a season, and this season of darkness, of longing, of deep inner exploration, is the contrasting blackness against which the light of Christmastide shines all the brighter.

And perhaps that is the greater lesson that I hope we can take away this season, which is a unique season unto itself. That there is meaning in the quiet before the storm, in the sadness, the longing, the before-ing that makes the joy of the having all the greater. I get it, 2016 was a son of a bitch of a year, and I think we’re all more than ready to shove it out the door. But I think we should try and linger over it a moment longer, to catch our breath, regroup, and take stock. To not rush headlong into the next thing without appreciating the gravity of what was, and what is to come. The waiting is the hardest part, but it is a necessary part, for Christmas is a new beginning; Advent is the sweet space in which we get to decide what it is we want to begin.

Swamp Creature

DC is a swamp. It’s true, it was built on a marshy tidal basin. The logic of the Founding Fathers focused on its placement between the agricultural South and the commerce-driven North, at the intersection of two major rivers, not unlike the Tigris and Euphrates surrounding the cradle of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Those Founding Fathers had a flair for the dramatic, as DC’s particular rivers are somewhat slow and stagnant, cradling a lot of mosquitos and some intrepid kayakers (see, the Electoral College for other bright ideas).

And yes, it gets humid about 100% of the time, summer, winter or otherwise. It snows in one giant dump a year that renders us incapable of response. Otherwise it’s muggy, rainy, and hot as hell in the summers. It’s not that close to either mountains or ocean, and the reputation for Northern hospitality with Southern efficiency may or may not be accurate, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

But it seems to escape those screaming to “drain the swamp” that we did not choose it. The nation was given a muddy backwater and instead of getting stuck or complaining, on it we built a city of great power and beauty (well, slaves built much of it, to be clear). We took this swamp and made something remarkable out of it-made it strong enough to hold the marble tonnage of the Lincoln Memorial, and the societal change of the March on Washington in 1965. It’s easy to criticize this swamp from afar, but those who do don’t spend their time here, toiling in the hard work of the nation, up to our necks in bureaucracy (a saving grace right now) and trying each day to make something better for other people. On the streets of this swamp, men and women from every single country in the world come together to try and make a difference. In this swamp, I am always the dumbest person in a room, and being in that position causes us all to up our game, constantly.

So when I hear people talk about “draining the swamp” I want to ask them what they think that swamp is holding up. Do they understand it’s supporting the political and practical infrastructure of this entire nation? That our ideals, or meaning as a nation, is embedded in every muddy inch of this swamp? That you can’t gut something and expect it to live? But I know the answer: that’s the point. Those who see this place as only a swamp are not interested in saving our nation. They’re interested in the nation that comes after it. Instead of striving together towards a more perfect union, they’d rather watch it all go down the drain, leaving a sucking hole in its wake.

Not on my watch.

Something in me changed after the election, and my feelings toward this place solidified. It is far from perfect. I won’t argue that. I wish there were more late night dining options and that the Metro didn’t light on fire whenever it rained. But you don’t get to call it a swamp if you’re not in it, doing the work. History is made by those who show up, and I have lost every bit of patience for those who are not willing to put their necks on the line , but complain about the way the work is done. How about instead of draining the swamp, you come lend your hand to the sand bag line stemming the tide from overtaking us? But you want the tide to turn. I see that now. I understand it. It is a lesson I will not soon forget. But this swamp water is murky, and those who would seek to drain it will swiftly find out (are finding out) they are out of their depth.




Audacious Hospitality

I went to a wedding last night-WAIT! Don’t go, I promise this isn’t another mournful post about my singleness!!!

As I was saying: I went to a beautiful wedding last night, joining two lovely, social conscious souls in a joyful but very aware Jewish ceremony. I’ve always found Jewish wedding ceremonies to be particularly moving, maybe because it’s not my tradition, or maybe because the Jewish weddings I’ve been to have by and large been for particularly moving, soulful, globally-minded people who see their union as one that brings us that much closer to a united world. Either way, it was gorgeous.

At one point the Rabbi was discussing the chuppah, and how it symbolized home, and specifically Abraham and Sarah’s tent, open on all sides, to provide access for travelers and others to join them. The Rabbi referred to this as “audacious hospitality” and it struck me. I rolled those words around in my head and in my heart all night, marinating on them and what they meant for me. What does it mean to be in a time of crisis, and still meet it with loving kindness towards others? Not just your friends and family, but specifically and especially towards the outsiders, the others.

Arabs also have a deep tradition of hospitality. You want to give a couple of Palestinians anxiety? Ask them if there’s enough food for a party. You’ll have food for literal days. You can’t come empty handed to a person’s home, you can’t not offer people food when their in yours, and any discomfort felt by a guest must be immediately attended to or it will bother you like a mosquito the entire night. Dinners out are a one-ups-manship of who pays-there have been legitimate fights in my family over who gets the dinner bill. That might seem like it’s defeating the point of generosity, but not allowing someone to take care of you is deeply shaming. It suggests that they can’t or don’t want to. And that is simply untrue.

In the last few days, my heart has been sore, and closed. I have sought out comfort in every way- from what I’ve been wearing (fleece-lined hipster penguin slip-ons? Check. Fur vest? Check.) to eating (all of the cheese, please) to hanging out with (no new people. Bunker friends only). But eventually I have to shake it off, and figure out a way to be in this new (or newly revealed?) reality. The idea of audacious hospitality got me thinking.

What if I continued to open my heart to not only my friends, but to these people that I don’t understand, to the new administration? As hard as it seems, what if I responded to what I perceive to be hate, with generosity? What if I counteracted their fear and mistrust with radical faith? What if, as St. Francis asked us to, a made myself into an instrument of God’s own peace?

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love…”.

In other words, instead of going low, go high. It’s not a matter of giving up the fight, or of denying the wrongness where there is wrongness, but about raising my own vibration in the hopes it will elevate others. Come to the fight from a place of audacious hospitality, both towards the persecuted and the persecutors, in the belief that love will actually trump hate.

Let’s see how it goes.


Face the Nation

First: Hi guys. How are you doing? Are you eating anything? Are you making sure to take breaks from social media? Did you get a good night’s sleep last night? How about a nap?

I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I found out last night that the America I thought I lived in is not real. And I don’t know how to process that type of dissonance. I don’t know how to deal with that sort of betrayal of trust. My trust in the people around me, the places I came from, the place I live, to do the right thing. To recognize that no matter their hurt or anger, the answer wasn’t fear, or hate. The answer was to dig deeper and work together to get us all out. A rising tide. I thought that’s what we stood for.

But now I know that approximately half of my fellow Americans hate me, what I stand for, and large parts of my friends and family. I don’t know how to process that information either. I don’t know how to shake off the nagging suspicion that they’ve never been with me, they were just pretending. That’s what I have to take away from these votes for a man that has been openly and incessantly hostile to those I hold near and dear. Before you tell me I am engaging in hyperbole, you weren’t there last night when the friends with whom I was watching the returns, mostly female members of the LGBTQ community, began to cry. In fear. In disappointment. In rage. You weren’t there as I received panicked texts from my friends across the country, friends of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, like they’d just been hit by a natural disaster. I don’t know what to do with this helplessness. I can’t help them. I can’t help me.

Because I will work for this man. This demagogue. It’s my job. I could leave my job. I might. But I feel like I owe it to the American people, even the half of them that hate me, to work towards a better future. To fight the tide of nationalism. Call me a glutton for punishment. I don’t know how I’d feel better on the sidelines. I’m probably going to have to buy more pantyhose. There’s really only one way to be a woman in a Trump administration. I’m pretty sure I’m not that kind of girl.

I walked down the street today, bleary eyed and exhausted, enfeebled, and in every face I met I searched for signs that the other person was with me, or against me. I got nothing back. I think we’re all numb. People in my office keep openly weeping. Me too. Crying at work isn’t professional, but we’re all giving each other a pass today. Maybe tomorrow.

Trump tells it like it is, or like they believe it to be. He gives them a pressure valve to let off the steam I didn’t know was building. Don’t we want to be on a trajectory towards more freedom? Towards more common dignity? Weren’t we all in this together?  No. Apparently not. There’s been a lot of talk about how liberals lost because we’re disconnected from reality, and live in an ivory tower. I don’t think that’s right. I think we believe in the best of people. That people, when given the option, will tend to listen to their better angels, rather than demons. I don’t know how to process the idea that I was wrong about that.

And men. I realized last night, in a flash of total clarity, that the number of men I really trust can be counted on one hand, and I don’t need all five fingers. As I watched that roving pack of Bud Light-drunk dude bros gloat at Trump HQ, a shiver of fear ran through me. Van Jones referenced a “white lash” last night, and I don’t think he’s wrong. But I think there was also a a repudiation of female power; not just Hillary, but the notion that women are equals at all. And what scares me the most is how many women seem to agree. It’s not that anyone should have voted for Hillary because she was a women- it was moving and historic, yes, but I would have voted for a man who said the same things. It’s that people should have voted against Trump because of the hateful things about women and minorities he has said. I don’t know how you vote for a man who has shown total disdain for you just because of your gender or your ethnicity.  Perhaps other things are more important to you, and I can respect that. But I never heard a single policy initiative from this man. I have no idea what affirmative things he stands for. I only know what he’s against, and that’s almost everything I love and hold dear.

And then there’s the silent majority (I won’t even get into the popular vote vs electoral college which somehow seems to always screw the Dems). Silent why? If you believe in this man, and what he stands for, if you were willing to vote for him, why be quiet about it? Are you ashamed? Do you understand that it’s a vote of self interest at the expense of your fellow Americans? You must. Otherwise why be silent. That silent majority terrifies me, the ones who voted against their own conscience and didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to be proud about it. If you’re really looking for a new world order, don’t be a coward about it.

Some say now is not the time for name calling. I think if you scroll up you’ll see there were no names called (ok, except dude bros. But you’ve seen the photos, I stand by my statements). But don’t ask me to move on, or forward. Not yet. Not today. I’m still reeling and I’m still numb, and I have whiplash from being asked to get on board with a platform that has repeatedly told me I am not welcome. I have more self-respect than that. I am not going to beg for crumbs at the feet of an institution that does not want me, or my kind. That tells me the only way to be a woman is as object, or opportunity. That names five old white men, one man of color, and exactly no women for their support when accepting the presidency.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get there tomorrow. But not today.



This is Not a Political Post

By now I know we’re all fatigued from this election, sick of the sniping, the lies, the backbiting, the complete media saturation, your one weird cousin who won’t shut the fuck up on Facebook. I myself have been guilty of posting about a meme an hour. But the time for laughs is over.  I’ve hesitated to write this post, not because I’m at all shy about my feelings about this particular election, but because I have had trouble condensing all the anger, fear, confusion, and disgust I have into one coherent series of sentences. So I guess I’ll settle for incoherent ones.

This is not a political post, because I don’t believe our votes this time around are a political choice. They are a moral choice. A moral imperative, if you will.

Voting for Trump is an immoral choice.

I imagine I will get a lot of angry push-back on this post, for a variety of reasons (don’t worry, if not here, I’ll probably piss you off below). I don’t care. It does not change the truth. Maya Angelou famously said (I think to Oprah?) that “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Trump has shown us who he is, time and time again. He has shown us that he believes in himself first, and perhaps only. He has shown us that he does not value other opinions, has no time or patience for disagreement, and cannot tolerate anyone telling him he is mistaken, even about something minor. He has shown us he is mean-spirited, hostile, and capricious. He has shown us that he does not care about women, minorities, or the poor. He has shown us that he takes pride in taking advantage of those that do not share his privilege, his money, or his gender.

Having been in an intimate relationship with a narcissistic sociopath, I recognize this behavior. I am not engaging in an ad hominem attack or hyperbole. He is unhinged, and dangerously so. He has shown us who he is, and he is a demagogue-a demagogue for whom I may have to work, come January, a thought that occurs to me as I post these things, because I legitimately fear retribution under a Trump presidency. But post I must.

So, what are you going to do on Tuesday?

If you’re a Republican, I am so, so sorry, my friends. I know that this man does not stand for the principles of your party, and I truly feel for your lack of a legitimate choice this election. I hope that this causes a true come-to-Jesus moment for your party, to be able to stop your leadership from embracing fringe elements of the far right, and fomenting racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the base. Trump is an attack dog; he does his job from the porch, and GOP leaders have been happy to let him, thinking he was safely chained up outside. But somehow he got inside the house, and now they’re are shaking their heads as he tears apart the pillows and shits on the rug. He’s an attack dog. That’s what they do. But the Republicans I know are people of conscience, reasonable people with whom I simply disagree on policy, but I know would never put this man in power. And so you have my sympathies. I know it may be painful, but I urge you to vote against Trump, and spend the next four years fighting the Democrats in the Senate and the House, in service to our democracy (or come over to the Dark Side, friends! We have Beyonce!).

If you want to vote for a third party candidate, please don’t. I get it. You don’t like Hillary or Trump. But we’re not in an election where you get to be a special fucking snowflake. I’m sorry. As a 2000 Nader voter (calm down, Minnesota still went Gore), take it from me: now is the time to hold your nose and get on board. Even Bernie has been telling you so.

If you don’t want to vote at all: grow the fuck up. It is 100% ok to vote against someone. Pick the one you like least and vote for the other person, against that person you most dislike. Just fucking vote. You’re not a child, and whining that you’re not going to vote because you don’t like anyone is what a child does. We all often have to make a choice between the lesser of two evils, and while I don’t think that’s accurate, if you do, fine. Choose between a human dumpster fire who has openly embraced the KKK and doesn’t understand why we don’t use our nukes more often, and a hawkish, somewhat out of touch, quasi-Dem who misused an email server. But vote. People died for the right, and again, that is not hyperbole. It is the height of privilege to not vote. Don’t be a douchbag.

I’ll admit it: Hillary might be a terrible President. I don’t think she will be, but she might be. But I know for certain Trump would be a terrible President- he has shown us that he would be. And, not just for us, for the rest of the world; that is what’s really at stake. Most of the people reading this will not be all that effected by a Trump Presidency, because they are insulated by class, money, race, etc. But this is an election, perhaps more than any I’ve lived through, where my vote is not for myself. It’s for all the people who Trump has explicitly said he would persecute: my friends in the LGBTQ community. My friends of various races and immigration statuses. My family from Palestine. Every woman I know. The elderly living on a fixed income. My friends in other countries whose jobs depend on positive relationships with the United States. Children. Veterans. We vote for them.

Look, I know you’re tired. I’m tired too. But we’re almost done. And tired isn’t a sufficient excuse. Justice, fairness, doing what is right, is exhausting. Doing what is easy, what is simplistic, what appeals to our base natures, that wastes no effort at all. And this country is worth an effort. It has always been worth it. This isn’t about politics. It’s about being the people we believe ourselves to be, worthy of a great nation. Worthy of one another.


Which Wichita?


When I first tell people I’m from Kansas, I usually get something to the effect of:

“How many times did a tornado hit your farm?”

I then try to explain that Wichita, where I grew up, was and still is the largest city in Kansas, sitting at about 450,000 people, and all of it developed, not rural. True, you can drive about 5 minutes outside of the city limits and be in wide open spaces, but I was raised in a house in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town, on a tree-lined street, next to the river, and a park, aptly called: Riverside Park (in the Sunflower State we don’t see much point in getting fancy with names). The neighborhood is situated in a small plot of land that for a short stretch separates the Big and Little Arkansas River (pronounced Our-Kansas, if you must know- to the point where when I see the state of Bill Clinton’s governorship written out, I have to pause to mentally correct myself). Because of its place in the middle of the river, it has historically never been hit by a tornado. At least that’s what people say the local Native Americans, the Wichita tribe, told the settlers.  So far it has proven to be true. Suffice it to say, my childhood, while seemingly bucolic and thoroughly Midwestern, was not some Dorothy and Toto fantasy.

I recently flew home for the weekend to celebrate a milestone birthday of my Dad’s, succeeding in actually surprising the world’s most suspicious human- well, second to my Mom. I hadn’t been home since Thanksgiving, and as the years have gone on, I frankly don’t go home that much. My parents tend to come to DC, or we meet for a trip (usually to the beach), and getting to Wichita remains something of a remote and tedious journey. I tend to get stranded as well, several times I’ve had to rebook flight and gotten back days later. I wanted so badly to leave, it doesn’t want to let me go when I return.

When I started looking at colleges I didn’t look at a single school in Kansas. At one point I’d forgotten something on a drive up to see the college I ended up attending, and my father threatened to make me attend Wichita State University, because I clearly wasn’t capable of taking care of myself. It was a long drive and he was scared of his only daughter moving away, but the threat resonated in my mind for days. Not because WSU is a bad school, it’s not. But it was in Wichita. It was in Kansas. And neither of those places, I was 100% convinced, were where I belonged. Despite an excellent public school education, a loving family, and a wonderful group of friends, I was firm in my deeply held belief that Wichita was a great place to be “from,” but not a great place to “live.” At least not when your life had no foreseeable plans to settle down and start a family, which my life at 18 did not.  After I left Wichita, I rolled my eyes at the mention of it, or Kansas. So culturally myopic. Full of Republicans.

But here’s what I didn’t appreciate about Wichita when I left it. It took me making comparisons to towns across the country, up to and including DC, to see it clearly. We had an enviable arts scene (Music Theater of Wichita is legitimately the premier summer stock training ground for Broadway stars, not to mention Music Theater for Young People, Wichita Children’s Theater where I “honed my craft” from an early age; and, our Art Museum has Nighthawks four Hoppers and a Chiluly for goodness’ sake!), fun outdoor attractions (Cowtown, which is an educational olde timey western town, and Botanica, which is a truly beautiful collection of gardens, not to mention Exploration Place for the kids), a great annual festival (RiverFest- again, we’ve got a river, why get more complicated than that?) and delicious food from many nations (three words: deep fried flour tacos. Three more words: best pho ever).

Those are all great things, but weren’t enough to get me to stay in the town I grew up in. But the Wichita I left at barely 18, like a bat out of hell I admit, was not the Wichita I visited in August. And on this visit, I saw a new energy and vitality in the city that I hadn’t seen before. I could see the ghosts of the town’s former glory, reminded that in its heyday, when the airplane manufacturing plants were going full bore 24 hours a day, so were the movie theaters and bars, supplying a bustling commerce and social scene to young professionals, men and women. The brew pubs, the pop-up parks, the charcuterie bar, the public art spaces, all hallmarks of those great mid-American hipster meccas, like Austin and Nashville. We even have a bridge troll, like in Portland. It reminded me of Parks and Rec’s Pawnee, Indiana after Gryzzl had moved in–unironically.

It’s morphed politically as well. The younger, hipper crowd, those who’ve gone away and come back, or those that stayed and wanted to make it better, have brought with them a more egalitarian ethos that is inclusive and community-minded.  Growing up it was the sort of place where people would gladly help their neighbors of any color or creed, but would still react with racism, xenophobia, and hatred towards groups of people in the opinion line calls in the Wichita Eagle newspaper each morning. What I noticed most was a change out into the common spaces, not just kindness on a micro level, but on the macro. In the midst of this vitriolic election, in the most traditional of Red States, I was exceedingly proud of my town for turning a protest into a cookout, with cops and the community coming together. Not that there isn’t a time for protest, there definitely is. But Kansans believe things can usually be solved by looking someone in the eye (preferably over a hunk of meat). Even if CNN did report we were in Nebraska…

Every place my parents showed me, every new building or business, I felt like there were phantom memories-opaque, younger versions of me riding my bike, or singing in my Toyota Corolla, or walking out of class at East High, just out of the corner of my eye. What would those other Halas be doing now, if they’d stayed? Where else might they have gone? If Wichita can reinvent itself, could I? I left because I wasn’t planning to settle down and have a family, I didn’t want to be surrounded by picket fences and ranch houses. But it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma-do you come (or stay) in places like Wichita because you want that sort of life, or does that sort of life happen when you come (or stay) there?

I’ve been gone from Wichita longer than I lived there. What does it mean to be from a place? Especially when that place has changed. Wichita has grown up a bit, into something hip, comfortable, accessible, and community-minded. But I suppose, so did I. We’ve both softened around the edges. Learned to see more beauty in the middle spaces. And still appreciate the singular pleasure of a deep fried flour taco (Connie’s, Cortez, or Felipe’s, you take your pick).

Cuffing Season: In which I’m admittedly whiny.

Fall is a naturally introspective season, one could argue. Temperatures drop, driving people inside their caves, to sit by the fire and contemplate life. The last two years for me around this end of September beginning of October time frame have been life altering, literally, between the onset of medical emergencies and the end of toxic relationships, so I think it’s normal for me to be reflective, taking stock of where I’ve been and where I’d like to be.

It’s also cuddle (or “cuffing” which I recognize some feel is cultural appropriation but will hopefully be seen as an homage) season, where you find the closest suitable warm body and hunker down with them for the duration of the winter, only to shed them like a sweatshirt come the first hint of summer. It’s like the NFL draft, but for sex. Even my uber driver commented on it yesterday… sort of out of nowhere, there were no hand-holding couples in front of us. Maybe he was on the lookout too.

But, as you well know, I have been perpetually and perennially uncuffed. The life of an unaccompanied woman, as she travels through life and across the country, could have a romantic air to it. I certainly hope that’s what strangers think about my life, galavanting from coast to coast and over oceans, passionate about work, full of fulfilling friendships and interesting hobbies. It’s an experience and an aura I’d like to project, even if it’s just half the truth. True, I take cool trips on the regular to new tech hubs- but there’s no one waiting for me to call that I landed safely (ok, not entirely true, my parents always want a call. And I am grateful for that). I was reminded of this strongly a couple of nights ago, when I was asked to speak on a panel at a young government happy hour. I get asked to speak at a lot of things, and I love it. I’m always super flattered and surprised, because in my mind I’m a hot mess who doesn’t know anything about tech. Obviously not true, but #impostersyndrome #thestruggleisreal.

The panel was fun, I got some laughs, I did well. I felt good about myself, and I was happy with my performance. I got in an uber back to my apartment, which I love, and opened the door, and just… stood there. And realized there was no one for me to tell about my triumph. Sure, I could call my parents. I could text a friend. But there was no warm body to greet me and ask me how my day was, how things went, what would I want to do differently.  Even the men I’m chatting with currently couldn’t be bothered to ask how things went. And why should they? I’m not one of the their people. I’m looking for boyfriend behavior from a bunch of strangers.

I could get a roommate, it’s true. I could pick up the phone and Facetime with a friend, and it would be almost as good. But it wouldn’t be. It’s the shared experience of life that I crave. Carrie Bradshaw opined about the fear of letting someone in, who would see her SSB: Secret Single Behavior. I think her example was eating jelly on saltines while reading magazine. Quelle horreur.  Seriously, the shit I do while I’m alone in my house would terrify people, I’m sure. Ask any of my friends about nakey time. Ask them. But something shifted in me and I’m no longer afraid of someone observing my weird quirks. I want them to. I want to share why I love them and what makes them not weird to me.

I think it’s hard for my friends to understand why the search for a partner has taken on existential proportions for me. Why I can’t just focus on my admittedly full and beautiful life. I can, and I do. But my experience of life as a single woman is fundamentally different from that of most of my friends. Everyone is generous and opens their home, and I do the same, but I’ve got no built-in go-to buddy or activity. While others are safely ensconced on their couches, cuddled up for actual netflix and chill through the dreary months ahead, I’m out here alone, left scrounging out in the elements, and winter is coming.

The New Drug

Hello, my name is Hala, and I am an addict.

Shoes? No. Rose all day? Yes, but no. Brunch? Yes.

But no, I’m talking about the new drug: Online dating.

I know I talk a lot about my adventures in online dating on here, both the comedy and the tragedy, the laughter and the horror. It’s objectively funny, I know, when it’s not your life. And while I’ve been on some site on and off for probably the last two years since my last breakup, for whatever reason in the last few months I’ve gotten aggressive. It started out as signing up for Match, thinking if people are paying for the site they might be more serious. But after my 75th message from some guy with no teeth from the hinterlands of West Virginia, I realized that maybe this wasn’t my crowd.

So next I got onto okcupid, Match’s free, and easier sibling. There I got messages from guys closer to my age and interests, but way more overtly sexual. Look, I like sex, but maybe I should know your name before you’re asking me about my position preferences, Mr. Hunggg69? Plus the interface was annoying, and for some reason I was super popular with 25 year old guys from Egypt and Morocco, who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to talk to them… I believe in the power of love, but that’s a bit of distance to contend with, am I right?

So in a fit of frustration, I did the unthinkable, and downloaded Tinder. My thought was I could more quickly weed out the sexually aggressive weirdos, and might get to an actual meeting more quickly (something between the first message “let’s get drinks” and the interminable 37 email volley about the weather).

And once I’d downloaded Tinder, it made sense to also download Bumble, the “feminist Tinder” which is different from actual Tinder only insofar as when you match the woman must message first on Bumble. I don’t really understand the logic, but the premise is the men on Bumble might be more evolved. They are not. They are actually worse than the guys on Tinder, because in additional to being sexually aggressive right-swipe monkeys, they also do not even have to form a thought to talk to you. You do all the work, and call it empowerment… there’s a broader metaphor for modern feminism in there, but I’m too tired from both bringing home the bacon and frying it in the pan to actually work it out.

So now I was on a total of four different sites, four different apps, all pinging and buzzing and red light flashing whenever I got a new match or a new message. It started to feel like I was doing nothing but responded to people I didn’t really want to be talking to in the first place. This amount of frenzy, this anxiety-provoking technology did not feel like the way I was going to meet the father of my future children, but I didn’t know what else to do. This was love in the time of techno-cholera. This was modern romance.

It was at about the 5th night in a row, staying up until 3am talking to strangers on the internet that I realized this might be a problem. That living for the little red exclamation point notifications on my iPad was no way to live. I was losing sleep and patience, anxiously craving the next hit of validating dopamine in the form of a like or a “hey” from some (maybe?) handsome internet stranger.

I was in the full grip of chasing this particular dragon as I drove to North Carolina to see a friend get married. Now I will confess that this wedding wasn’t easy for me. I had wanted to bring a date, that hadn’t worked out for a variety of reasons. And everything about this wedding was so fucking perfect to a T exactly what I’ve always wanted for myself, it was a bit like going as a guest to your own dream wedding. Which coupled with my emotional state, was not the easiest thing to endure. But seeing two people who love each other so authentically and sweetly celebrate with 40 of their closest friends in a beautiful setting brought into stark contrast how unaligned my actions were to my goals. Online dating wasn’t the problem, in fact, these two had met online. But they way I was using it, to validate, to make me feel better, to scratch an itch and push away the dark feelings of disappointment and loneliness were a problem.

So I gave it up. I ended my meaningless conversations, I deleted the pinging apps. I am still on Match, because I paid for an account, but I actually have to *gasp* log into a computer to access those messages. It is a more deliberate, thoughtful process than just mindlessly swiping. I’m reading, I’m sleeping, I’m journaling. I’m working through the sadness and disappointment with my therapist. I’m not hiding behind the cynicism and laughter. This is something that I want. This is something that I do not have, and do not have any idea how to make happen. It is an existential reality over which I feel like I have very little control, and I fucking hate it. But covering it up with a narcotic-like band-aid of validation from strangers isn’t going to make it go away. It will just make me numb. And I don’t think you can fall in love when you’re numb. So I’m going to choose to feel the pain, in the hopes that feeling something bad means I’ll notice when I feel something good.

So what does this mean? Well, it may mean that you get to see fewer funny instagram posts about the asinine shit that happens to me online, and for that I am sorry. But I think I’m finally figuring out that my mental health and sense of wellbeing are not worth a funny brunch story. I hope you’ll understand. I can be funny about other things.


Embrace the Wobble

It’s been a hot summer so far. I hate the heat. While I far prefer summer to winter, as soon as humidity gets involved I experience a deep and unquenchable rage. I expect it to be a light and breezy 80 degrees with no humidity at all times, and find myself unreasonably disappointed to discover, each and every morning, that I voluntarily moved myself to a fetid, inland swamp. Every time someone lauds the foresight of our nation’s forefathers, I get out a map and point to the bizarre and unforgivable location of Washington, DC, a place that manages to be miserable both summer and winter, with a brief reprieve of about a week a piece in spring and fall. You wonder why people get to damn excited about Cherry Blossom Season? It’s because it’s the only nice weather we get all effing year. And we can’t even go outside or go anywhere because of the tourists.

You see? It’s hot. I’m upset.

But that’s not the only reason it feels hotter than usual this summer. I haven’t written about what’s going on recently, because every time I sit down to collect my thoughts, a new trauma emerges. Race riots, police brutality, a fascist as the legitimate head of a major politcal party, violence in France, a coup d’etat in Turkey- could everyone please calm the fuck down for a hot minute? But the answer is of course, no. They can’t wait. It’s my privilege as someone watching this shit unfold from a comfortable distance, to ask of others to calm down. It’s my discomfort that asks, because I value my own comfort above the systematic discomfort of others. But I know, in my gut, that waiting for calm, waiting for the right time to talk about it, waiting, waiting, waiting will get us no where.

Not to be bougie, but my yoga teacher said something that resonated with me this morning, and I think applies here (stick with me, it’ll get less basic, I promise). We were in the middle of Warrior 2, and I should note this is an awesome yoga class specifically for people with larger bodies. Full of modifications, explanations, and support. It makes yoga feel doable and accessible for people who don’t have “yoga bodies” (which is a fallacy, because like a bikini body, if you do yoga and have a body, you have a yoga body… but I digress). Since the class has a lot of newbies in it, there’s a lot of repositioning, and adjusting, and wobbling. And my teacher says: “embrace the wobble.”

I’ve been working a lot in my personal life and my relationship to my body and health on embracing the wobble, but still it’s good to hear it explained and exclaimed so succinctly. But I haven’t been embracing the wobble in my social justice practice. And let’s be real, my social justice practice has been a bit of a joke lately. I used to be an activist, but I got a real job, and I work in the government, and I got busy, and, and, and…. and all those people I intended to help still need fucking help. My busy-ness is not an excuse. I shouldn’t wait for the *right* time to engage, the perfect free block on my schedule to encounter my own inherent racism and face my culpability in domestic and international systems of oppression. It doesn’t fit neatly between yoga and getting my nails done and my business trip to San Francisco. I can’t hide behind my government job and expect that people will understand as I sit on the sidelines of real change. I say I’m watching from a distance, but that’s a lazy choice and I know better than to make it. Oppression that is felt by others ultimately is also felt by me, either as the oppressor, or as one who watched it and allowed it to happen.

There is no safe distance. There is no safe space. We are in the thick of it, and we are wobbling. That’s ok. Better to wobble than to walk away.



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