Advent, 2017

A few years ago, I became aware of the time in the Christian calendar known as Advent. What most of us think of as Christmastime/tide actually happens after the birth of Christ. The time before, despite shop windows and Christmas carols on the radio from the instant you fall into your post-Thanksgiving turkey snooze, is actually Advent. Technically Advent started last Sunday, but I’m not one to get too semantic… about this anyway.

I was introduced to what Advent was all about during a beautiful message during a Christmas Carols and Lessons service at the National Cathedral, where I was singing at the time. The message was full of meaning, but one thing that stuck out for me was the description of Advent as the “almost, but not yet” of God. That which is promised and hoped for, but not yet here. What do we do in the waiting? How do we make the waiting an exquisite practice of faith?

Since that message I have learned more, that Advent is intended as the clearing away, the getting quiet, the preparing, for (re)birth and renewal. Like the blowing out of all the air in your lungs so you can take a deep, nourishing breath. KonMari for the soul. In the U.S. it unfortunately coincides with the hustle and bustle rush up to the holiday, leaving many if not most of us reeling from meal to meal, gift to gift, not really feeling any of it until we arrive exhausted and spent at the new year, vowing austerity and abstention.

What if it didn’t have to be like that? What if instead we got quiet and still, even in the midst of the madness, and breathed out, instead of sucking more in, in, in? What if we resisted the urge to do more, make more, find more time, and fit more into a day already too packed? What if we lived in the discomfort of the almost, but not yet?

This year has been a slog, I grant you. I don’t blame any of us for wishing it over and done with as fast as humanly possible. But I worry in the wishing we are missing it. The opportunity to get clear on what we want to carry into the next year, and leave behind in this one. So how do we resist, when everything is rushing us inexorably forward?

That’s what I plan to explore here, hopefully with you, over the next two short weeks of Advent. It’s a shorter season than usual this year, which just seems like a cruelty that’s part for the course of 2017, but no matter. We will do our best.

I’m starting with a practice of prayer. It’s been said that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God. But I think prayer can be both-an active conversation with the Divine. Now before you worry too much, I’m not hearing voices or anything. Just when I do-finally-let myself get quiet, I often find the answer to my question bubbles up like I always knew it.

And yet-I resist it. I spend so many minutes of my day in noise. I resist the quiet. I fight it. I run from it. And in doing so, I avoid prayer. I avoid that conversation with the Divine. Why? I’ve shared with you all openly about my faith and its place in my life. But prayer-woof. In the past few years it has gone so far to the back burner, it’s basically in the fridge. I know people who are reflexive in their prayer-it is the first tool for which they reach. For me, it’s the absolute last, I’ve-tried-everything-else, final, desperate thing I call upon-and sometimes not even then.

I think it’s because I don’t want to hear the answers. It’s the same reason I haven’t been writing much, in this year where I could have said so much. Give me time to actually get quiet and process this year of shit and I’m not sure I can handle the amount of rage and sadness that simmers just behind my smile.

But that’s what Advent calls us to do. Clear it out. Deal with it. Get it out in the open and out of the way so that you can make beautiful, clear space for what’s coming. Because Christ makes space, he will fit into any space available. He fit into a manger. You’ve just got to make a little, tiny, bit of room.


A More Perfect Union

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, [sic] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These words have given me solace over the last few months. I have often found solace in the Constitution, like other people turn to the Bible or the Quran. Not that I don’t also take some solace in religious texts, but the turmoil I’ve been feeling, while spiritual in a sense, is definitely about men, and their laws. So I look to our foundational documents, and this is what I meditate on.

The Preamble to the US Constitution, which is what I’ve quoted above, essentially functions as our national mission statement. It declares our aspirations for this enterprise-it is what we are striving for. We never said we were perfect. Right there, front and center, we admit that we are trying to form a “more perfect union.” More perfect implying, there is room for improvement. And there will always be room for improvement. So right there at the top, we admit that this is a process; the nation did not spring from Washington’s temple fully formed and raring to go like Athena-no matter what the Apotheosis of Washington would have you believe. We are a work in progress. We will always be a work in progress. We said so right at the jump.

But what else did we say? What other aspirations would we eventually hitch our wagon to, when we made a Declaration of Independence in that hot Philadelphia summer? Justice. Domestic Tranquility. Common Defense. General Welfare. The Blessings of Liberty.

How are we doing on these?

We are certainly not tranquil here domestically. It’s another hot summer (itself a political fact in a world where science is up for debate), and Justice isn’t being served in cases like that of the murder of Philando Castile. Our Common Defense has become our Common Offense, as we move to ramp up troops in what is now the longest war in American History. (Where, again? Oh, Afghanistan. Yeah, that’s still going on), as ISIS has become the predominant threat in an entirely different part of the world. General Welfare? Well if the congressional leadership has their way, 23 million Americans will be unenrolled from health insurance, which might have  a *slight* effect on their general welfare (and yes, a recognize some of that number is from healthy people choosing to leave the markets, but that is part of the problem at the heart of “general” welfare). And the biggie: the Blessings of Liberty? Well, with a revamped travel ban in place, I guess we were really focusing on the “for ourselves” part of that clause; “our posterity” will not be reviewed kindly for it.

So overall, I’d give us a D+. The only thing keeping us from failing entirely is the curve (of history).

Which all means that this Fourth of July I’m finding it a bit hard to be star-spangled. I don’t consider myself a fair-weather patriot, although I suppose I might agree with Sarah Vowell and her Partly Cloudy one. It’s not “my country, right or wrong,” but “my country, my duty to make right when wrong.”  I’ve written before about the difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. Patriotism is saying that America is great, right now, because we are constantly admitting our short comings and striving to perfect them. We are great, because by and large our people believe in justice, fairness, liberty, and equality, but we are not without fault. Nationalism is when we say we want to Make America Great Again, without acknowledging the internal conflicts, injustices, disparities, and inequalities and that prevent our greatness. Blind allegiance is anathema to a more perfect union.

It is not weakness to admit that we could be more perfect. To admit that you need to constantly tend the fires of liberty and justice, because people are imperfect and we create imperfect systems. It is not weakness to say that we have a long way to go, while celebrating how far we have come. It is not weakness to want to be better- for us to ALL be better, not just some.

It is not weakness and we declared it, right at the start, 241 years ago today.  Happy Independence Day, everyone. May it be a step towards a more perfect union.







The Fattest Girl in the Gym

It will surprise exactly no one to learn I dislike going to a gym. Any gym. But, lately I’ve been going to more exercise classes, and looking for a gym, because I’ve missed the feeling of having practice, like you did after school. That muscle-fatigue feeling I’d get in my bones after swim practice, the softness of slipping into sweats after a hot post-workout shower. I’ve missed having a third place, a place that isn’t work or school, but another place to spend my time and build community. I’ve found a yoga class specifically for larger bodies I really like, at a very chill studio close to my house, and building on that practice, today I decided to try aerial yoga.

I had heard good things about this type of yoga, where with the assistance of silks hanging from the ceiling you can do inversions (read: upside down-y things) and deepen stretches while taking the pressure off your low back. My low back having been bothering me since I was approximately 7 years old, I thought this was a good idea. Plus, I loved the thought of being able to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, suspended on my light hammock of silk.


Cut to my short, squat body having trouble even getting in the hammock, getting stuck upside down, watching in growing frustration and anger as the other participants pretzeled themselves around like fucking cirque du soleil acrobats (this of course was not the case, but in the midst of my struggle, it certainly seemed accurate). I knew I was in trouble the minute I walked in the studio, lined with mirrors like all the dance classes of my youth. I wasn’t any good at those either. The silk cut into my hips, thighs, and butt, and I couldn’t get comfortable even in the “rest” positions. By the second time we were attempting an inversion a could feel tears coming to my eyes, staring at the floor, willing myself to be a goddamn grown up and not cry in a yoga class.

But it wasn’t just frustration welling up inside of me. It was shame. Hot, salty, Brene Brown bestseller shame. I looked at myself upside down in that mirror, a pear-shaped plus-sized glob of Oompa Loompa, and I couldn’t even process the fact that I was doing it, I was doing the thing upside down hanging from the ceiling. All I could see was body, fat chunks of body suspended in space. The tape in my head started immediately. “You’re too fat to do this, you were fooling yourself. You should just give up, you have to lose weight before you can even try this. Look at yourself, can’t you see how fat and dumb you look? You have to lose weight before you can even think about having this sort of a life.”

From there it was a hop, skip, and mental jump to the dark place I like to call: “You’re fat, so you can’t have nice things.” It starts simply enough: “you’re fat, so you can’t have that piece of pizza.” Then it goes to “you’re fat, so you can’t have that dress.” “You’re fat, so you can’t do this fun activity (in this case, aerial yoga).” And then the whopper, the place I always get to eventually: “You’re fat, so you will always be alone and no man will ever love you.”

Fun, right? It was at about that point in my mid-yoga breakdown that I excused myself from the class to go ugly cry in the hallway.

Look, I do a good job of keeping that voice at bay most days. Usually I can go weeks at a time without letting that bitch have her say. But sometimes she sneaks up on me when I least expect her, when I let my guard down, when I try something new I’ve never done before. She doesn’t like new. She doesn’t like change. She likes me right where I am. But in this one area of my life, weight and fitness, I’ve started to realize that I have let her take almost totally over. I’ve carefully curated my life to avoid challenge. To avoid facing the reality that something needs to change. To admit that I can be body positive and still admit to being deeply unhappy in this body. Because I know what happens when I admit that. In the past, when I’ve lost weight before, I’ve had to go to a very dark, self loathing place, where facing myself honestly leads to hating myself. It’s just next door to where the voice lives. The voice is really strong there.

I’ve avoided it because I don’t have an answer for her. I don’t have evidence yet to prove her wrong. And now, as I step out boldly, trying new things, trying to be the brave person I am in every other facet of life, that bitch is SCREAMING. She is screaming that the moment I walk in the door, I’m the fattest girl in the gym. I’m the fattest girl almost anywhere. And that makes me unlovable. My inability to right-off-the-bat, never-tried-it-before fly through the air like a goddamn bird is just one paragraph in her dissertation entitled “How You Will Die Alone Eaten by Your Cats Because You are a Fat Ungraceful Moron.”


She’s impossible, this voice. How can I ever learn anything, if I have to already be good at it? How can I change myself if I don’t challenge myself? I realized as I was getting so upset with myself for not being able to do an inversion-as I was actually doing the inversion-that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be progress. The perfectionist in me, that voice, hates progress. Progress means you have to work at it, that people can see you sweat. And today I was really sweating. Red faced, puffy, sweating. She hated it. But I want to fly like a bird. I want to be better. No matter what that bitch says. So I’m focusing on that. That I challenged myself. That I showed up. That I cried in a yoga class, but I was in a yoga class. I was the fattest girl in the gym. But I was in the fucking gym.





Puppy Chakra

“You’re leaking energy all over the place,” he said, over sour beers at the hipster bar. He proceeded to tell me about reiki, and chakras, and how my heart chakra was just overflowing with misdirected energy. Of course this was also an excuse to touch my heart chakra, conveniently located beneath my decolletage, but as he did so he told me, “you’re giving up your energy to all sorts of unworthy things, like other people.”

My first thought was: like you, on what only a very generous person would call a date.

I’d been on this date before, with the Intense New Age Guy(tm), who was really just an egotistical douchebag in hemp sheep’s clothing. For a while I was exclusively into that guy. But after being strung out on a guy that dressed like a hobo and ended up married to a yoga instructor named Rain, I get romantic PTSD whenever I smell patchouli. This guy is pretty easy to spot; you can tell by how he’ll start talking about the inequality of feminism and how so many women are sexually repressed, as though not wanting to have sex with him was a repression of anything other than my own self-loathing. At the end of the night, he leaned in close, and murmured “I know we want different things, but I still think I want to kiss you.” Well, swoon. Thanks for doing me the favor.

Now, this one wanted to balance my chakras, but plenty of others have wanted to teach me about Tantra, or the joys of non-monogamy, because as we all know, monogamy is not natural for primates. Yes, but so is suppressing the urge to fling feces at bullshit peddlers like you, and still, we manage. And frankly, I’m open to learning about all of these things, from people who are not so transparently using the language of healing and self-awareness to score.

What bothered me here, though, was the casual way in which he suggested that giving my energy to other people was a misuse of it. Now, I grant you, I am an extreme extrovert and empath, so it’s pretty easy for me to give every ounce of my energy to causes outside myself without noticing, but I don’t think of it as a drain. Providing for others, loving others, sharing with others is part of my emotional DNA. If you keep me locked up away from people for too long I get stir crazy. So the idea that I was leaking energy, that the energy would be better spent kept close to me, just made me wonder: for what? What purpose does that serve?

Is it so bad to have a heart (chakra) cracked wide open? Has that perhaps been the problem all along- that I’m walking around with my heart not just on my sleeve but beating in my outstretched hands, and the men I’m dating see that as a weakness? As something to be fixed and managed? I’m drawn to these austere, worldly men that always keep me at arms length, perhaps because it is so unlike the puppy-hearted person that I am, and I judge that part of myself. That puppy is constantly eating shoes and piddling on the carpet, upsetting the careful equilibrium of my life. And so over the last few years, as I’ve dated more and more in this city, I’ve felt myself learn to play the game, spackling over the vulnerable parts, become jaded and able to laugh it all off, even as I become more and more dissatisfied with the rules of it, because what is the alternative? A bruised and battered bag of rags that was once a glorious and juicy heart?

I don’t know, maybe the time has come to let the puppy back out. I’m going to get hurt either way, I might as well be authentic. And stop letting dumb poser boys do anything at all with my chakras.


Look for the Helpers

There’s a quote that’s been running around my head the last few days, from Mr. Rogers: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.’

That’s what came to mind every single time I’d see footage of people camped out with their laptops at the airports, watch friends and colleagues blasting immigration law pointers on Facebook, providing free advice left, right, and sideways, acting as conduits and go-betweens for families and clients.  This past week I was never so proud to be a lawyer, to belong to a profession that has at its core not just the ability but the ethical requirement to speak truth to power. I’ve been proud before. My mother has put away rapists and murderers, stood in a dead girl’s blood in the middle of the night filing warrants to find her killer, and I’ve spent the last 6 years since law school trying to get even remotely close to a shadow of what she’s done for the American public. But seeing all of these lawyers, en mass, show up for strangers without a thought for their own careers or safety, my passion for the profession was renewed.

People like to hate lawyers, and I get it. We can come off as focused on semantics, holier-than-thou, and unnecessarily fastidious. We can be seen as a barrier to efficiency, and turned on by getting to tell people no. We aren’t swayed by emotion and we employ reason and directness when other people want to fall apart. I went into law school full of passion and not a lot of facts or logic. I came out able to use both facts and logic to intellectually beat my opponent into submission, regarding those things about which I was passionate. As one of my law school professors put it, we’re sharks. Dead eyed and looking for meat. We’re unsettling. I get it.

But as this last week proved, you need us on that wall. You want us there. Because when they come for our rights, they come for us all. When chaos is everywhere, you want someone who can compartmentalize their emotions and stick to the facts. When cancer attacks a body, you want a doctor. When the Constitution is threatened, you want a lawyer. You need one. And we’ll show up. Day or night, all across the country, we show the fuck up to defend us all.

And it worked. The US District Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the immigration Executive Order, and the 9th Circuit, the pot-smoking hippy of the US Court of Appeals, refused to grant the the Government a stay, or reverse the TRO. Do you understand what magic this is? This is checks and balances in real time. This is one part of our government standing up for our people, against another part of our government; one part understanding that they work for the people, not the other way around. It is a Constitutional marvel, and it worked.

So come at us with your lawyer jokes, your divorce horror stories, your ambulance chasing preconceptions. We can take it. And when they come for you, we’ll take that on too.

Requiem for an Office

They’re taking down all the photos in my office. Laying strewn about the carpet are the faces of my colleagues, the Secretary, the Vice President, and the President. My inbox is filling with goodbye messages, 27 at last count.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel… numb.

Most of you probably know that when a presidential administration changes, the cabinet secretaries and senior appointed officials leave, to make way for the new administration to make their own political appointees. That’s the circus going on in the news right now, the cabinet secretaries appointment process. What many people don’t know-what the President Elect himself seemed to not know on November 9- was that in every agency there are political appointees intertwined throughout, at every level. In my office, 3 of 8 of us are political appointees. We have political appointees answering the phones, and political appointees making decisions. Everyone between me and the Secretary (including the Secretary) is a political appointee. And on Monday they will all be gone, like some sort of office rapture.

Political appointees can get a bad wrap. It can smell of cronyism when done poorly. But when done well, it is a process that brings literally the most passionate and committed souls and the brightest minds into an agency to transform the culture and change national policy. And I can safely say, with admittedly a few notable exceptions, that it’s been done exceedingly well in the people I have worked with over the last 6 years.

Now, this diaspora would happen even if Hillary had won. It happens often between Presidential terms, too. But the mood in the office today is somber. People aren’t necessarily going on to better things. Many don’t have things to go to. I’m sure some Trump supporters will cheer for this, see it as an example of draining the swamp. All I see are dedicated public servants being unceremoniously shown the door, with no one to replace them (as I write this, we’re still waiting on notification of who might). To quote Aaron Sorkin via Ainsley Hayes, “say they’re smug and superior, say their approach to public policy makes you want to tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders, but don’t call them worthless. At least don’t do it in front of me. The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified, their intent is good. Their commitment is true, they are righteous, and they are patriots.” (She finished with, “I’m their lawyer,” which, while technically true for me, is not, you know, the point here.)

So, I don’t have a good way to end this, because I don’t know how it ends. It doesn’t feel like an ending, honestly, it feels like the beginning of something hard and different, and while change is always hard, it’s harder when the smart, committed, competent, passionate people have left the room.

Goodbye, and good luck. I’ll see you on the other side.


Don’t They Know

I met Kelly the first night of accepted students weekend at Roger Williams University School of Law, only I didn’t remember it. For weeks afterward, this very kind girl on an email chain offered to be my local eyes while trying to find an apartment, and provided me advice and counsel based on her years in Rhode Island, but I had no idea who she was. I had spent most of that night joking and drinking with other people, and could not for the life of me put a face to the name.

When I did finally meet her, I remembered her as the girl I’d judged for not wearing business attire to the event. She was in a denim skirt, and I remember thinking it was inappropriate. It’s funny to think that now, because Kelly is so often the person who I go to for advice about how to steer my wardrobe away from what I refer to as “Womyn’s Studies Professor at Santa Fe Community College having a Chico’s Kind of Life.” Which is to say, she’s an impeccable dresser, she just hadn’t known about that particular event until two hours before, and at the time she was a college student, because she’s a tiny fetus-like genius who graduated from law school before she was 24.

I thought I was going to be best friends with someone else in law school. Someone very different, who was serious and a little intense and ultimately broke up with me., which was weird, because we were friends. But it ended up being the best thing that could have happened. I went to Kelly’s apartment afterward, to try to wrap my mind around it, and drink much white wine, and I sat there next to this woman, with the friendship I needed: one that would never judge me, even when I was being ridiculous. And I was often ridiculous in those years. I often still am. And Kelly is still there, reminding me to be kind to myself. Loyal, the quality I most value in a friend.

I could tell you story after story, about how we were sharing a room in a terrible hotel on a school trip to Washington DC, and she woke up in the middle of the night, Exorcist style, and just started clapping. When questioned, her response was “it was a really good speech, Hala!” Later she would blame it on the Golden Girls. I could tell you about our adventures in the Boom Boom Room, Newport’s premiere dance spot (but I won’t). I could write about the numerous bottomless brunches where one, if not both of us, fell off our chairs. Or the countless trips to Seekonk to shop at Home Goods, our Stop and Shop grocery buying dates, how she and my other friend Regina became weeknight barflies at the family run Portuguese restaurant I worked at, drinking Miller lites and eating chorico and peppers sandwiches. We weren’t allowed to give discounts, so I knew it was true friendship. I could tell you about the one time I texted her that I was feeling blue and didn’t have a dutch oven, and then three days later a dutch oven shows up in the mail. A purple one. It’s like a Grimace you can cook coq au vin inside. Do you know how heavy a dutch oven is? What a bitch it is to mail?

Suffice it to say there aren’t enough letters in the English language to share how important this woman has been to me. The sister I never had, and didn’t even know I wanted. We joke about getting old and living out our own Golden Girls fantasy, lanai and all, but it’s not a joke. We’ve got other people vying for the other chairs.

I’m an emotional being, which you might of picked up on. How emotional? All weekend long, “The End of the World” has been playing in my head. You know, “why do the birds go on singing? why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world, it ended when we said goodbye?” That’s how maudlin and emotional. And Kelly isn’t. She’s a yankee, as I always tease her, who’s motto (on her instagram account no less) is “I’ll live.” Remind me to tell you about the time she asked if she could borrow my car but forgot to mention it was because she’d been in a terrible accident. But that’s another story. I share this only to convey that while I am an emotional basket-case, that is not how Kelly processes her emotions. She makes space for me to, but she’s never gonna join me in the emotional morass of my feelings. And that’s ok, I need that balance. I need to have someone throwing me a buoy instead of an anchor, or making jokes and reminding me to be silly. Kelly brought out my silliness again in law school, something that was in short supply and that I didn’t bring a lot of to the table in the first place. She was goofy, and encouraged my goofiness. We could be goofy together. We can be.

So the night she told me she was thinking about leaving, I knew thinking about meant: would. And indeed, a few months later, she and her husband are traveling further south for an awesome job opportunity and to continue building a life they love. I co-hosted a going a away brunch for them on Sunday, and instead of actually sitting and talking or dealing with my feelings, I did what every good Palestinian woman does and overfed people. I was afraid if I let myself process things I’d start crying, and no one want’s tear-soaked quiche. It’s not goodbye, of course, it’s just til next time. But it will be different, and this time I’m uncertain how.  I’m usually the leaver, after all. I do the leaving. I always have. I’ve moved a lot, and I’ve always been the one moving onto a new adventure. I don’t know how to navigate being the stayer. It feels itchy and sad, like a bulky grey wool sweater. There’s no answer for it, it just is. One day it will be warm enough I’ll want to take the sweater off.

That night, we discussed her leaving, and we took an uber home together because we lived nearer to one another in DC than we did even in law school. The driver had on some serious 90s jams, like N’Sync and Enrique Iglesias and Savage Garden, and in unison Kelly and I both started singing. At the top of our lungs. There were harmonies, there were beat breakdowns, we were laughing and singing all the way across town. Because there wasn’t anything that we could say to make it better. So we just sang.

Bye, Felicia.

2016 guys. 20-muthafuckin’-16.

It’s been said before, but 2016 was a stone-cold serial killer. We lost so many greats this year, it doesn’t even make sense to list them out. We elected a caricature to the highest office in the land, finally ripping the band-aid off the gaping head wound that was cultural, racial, socio-economic, and gender division in this country-evidenced throughout the year by, oh, I don’t know, race riots, extra-judicial killings, the trivialization of sexual assault… take your pick. Not to mention what was happening beyond our borders in the form of geo-political upheaval, refugee crises, and assassinations.

Seriously. GTFO 2016.

But it would be a mistake to blame it on the year itself, and think tonight at midnight it will all get better. It won’t. 2016 has been building for a while, and we will not be magically transformed at 12:01am. It would be a waste of an opportunity to think so. Life doesn’t happen that way, though we like the artificial demarcation of time to tell us when we can be suddenly made new. I particularly like it, but if my illness over the last few years has taught me anything, it’s that we don’t get better all at once. Things-people, situations-get better as a process, and there are a lot of dark nights while it happens. And then one day, perhaps you don’t even realize it, things are sort of brighter. But I know that 12:01am won’t be that moment. This too will take time. This too shall pass.

In times like these my best friend Kelly employs the Zora Neale Hurston quote: “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” I can’t promise that 2017 will answer the questions posed by 2016, but I know that I’ve certainly been jolted awake, out of my comfortable elite liberal stupor in my east coast uber-educated enclave. I’d become navel-gazing and selfish, a bit, mired in my own personal issues. I’d lost sight of what brought me to this place, and law school before it: social justice.  It no longer feels ok to cleverly moan about not finding a boyfriend when so many can’t find a safe place to sleep or food to eat. Yes- I realize I have still made this election, and the other things that contributed to the clusterfuck that is 2016, about me. It’s gonna take some practice to break the habit. But in 2017 I hope you’ll find me instead searching for answers, aggressively, proactively, and thoughtfully. That’s my intention for the new year, to stay curious, and conscious. And hopefully, I’ll see you on the other side of the year with some answers, and better, some actions.

So tonight I’m gathering with some favorite humans, sitting in front of a fire, and burning away a few vestiges of 2016. It’s silly and symbolic, but we need it. We’ll drink and we’ll hug and we’ll laugh and we’ll cry and we’ll remind ourselves that we are not alone in this year of questions. That is one sure bet, in a year where nothing and no one was safe. Tomorrow the sun will rise and things will be much the same, but I hope that we’ll be able to face it with a bit of renewed energy, as we go searching.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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.

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