7.18.2015

Nine years.

Hi smoosher, 
 
It's been nine years to the day and boy does the thought of your death still send me.  That awful day we lost you after months of fighting.  And no matter how I  spin it  - you're still gone.  Still can't hear you tell me how you are.  Still can't laugh at your crazy faces or voices.  Still can't hold your hand or hear your heartbeat. 
 
Your death is the only thing in my life I can honestly say I cannot fix.  I can mend relationships; work harder professionally; do research to improve my parenting; exercise and mind my nutrition to get healthy... but your death is the only thing I truly cannot change.  And that, my friend, is simply maddening.
Edie (who is now 5) was home with me today and yesterday with a fever.   Yesterday she was looking out the back window in a fever-induced fog and said, "Mama,  look.  Daddy Mike's tree.  It's just... so beautiful." 
Because,  somehow, that tree, the one that Heide picked up randomly for me,  the one that  I planted on our wedding anniversary a year after you died,  the one with your ashes beneath it. That fucking tree is at its peak bloom every single year on July 18th - the very day you died. Once again, this year.  It is beautiful.

So, here on earth, in the shadow of your absence, things go on.  I just wrapped up my first sabbatical, which was pretty productive.  Baxter finished 4th grade and Edie is going to start Kindergarten in the fall.  PJ got moved to the homicide unit, which, while super prestigious, is also stressful as hell.  I remember your remarking about how Jim Carpenter had an insanely difficult and serious job as a Philly DA, and you found it hard to understand  how he could put that all aside  to "make the funny" in ComedySportz.  That job?  That insane job?  That's what PJ does, too.

You know, I miss the simplicity of the life you and I had, but  there are so many variables  wrapped up into one, it's hard to say  what I miss.  I miss being in the city and getting together with our friends ...whenever.  But that is something that  disappeared once we all started families and fled to the burbs - not just because you died.  I miss having a perpetually playful homelife, where  the stakes were low and we were just... silly all the  time.    But perhaps that would have receded with parenthood anyway.  Since you got  sick when Bax  was 10 months old and died 8 months later, it's hard to  know.  But it's definitely all confounded in this little mind of mine.

What I do know is that I married someone who you would love and respect, though he is quite different from you.  PJ is morally serious.  He is playful and funny, sure... but he also feels the weight of many social problems with his every breath.  He and I often talk about the kind of emotional  detachment he needs to have from his profession.  He can't  win every trial.  He certainly can't  bring victims back  through his courtroom successes... but he still feels it - and I can see the furrow  in his brow at the end of a long and troublesome week.  When I lament this stressful life we  have,  he reminds me that this morally serious person is the one who, at age 27,  was ready to date a widow with a child, and to assume the role of Baxter's father.  As I always say, "it's a complete  package.  No substitutions."  I think I have changed a lot, too.  I am still playful, but not as lighthearted.  I miss that me.  Because  you left  when I was just  becoming a real grown-up, I can  never  know if  I would have missed that "old me" anyhow.  But your departure sure left  an inconvenient causal agent on which I can continue to blame my lack of silliness.
In terms of the big picture  --- Bax is doing great.  He has lots of friends,  is doing exceptionally well at school, is playing the piano like a boss, and is a happy and  confident kid.  He sometimes caves under the weight of frustration (like, from having to fold his clothes or having to shut off Minecratft), which does worry me.  I actually talked to him today about how  he can't have a broken spirit from such minute obstacles and setbacks.  He seemed to get it, but I know the next time I tell him he can't  watch TV until his room is cleaned,  he'll look like I just snapped him with a whip.  Meanwhile, Edie continues to be a handful.  She never caves.   Quite opposite of Bax, Edie's spirit is NEVER broken.   Instead, she fights tooth and nail for everything.  While this might serve her well at the U.N., here in our home it can be particularly trying.  And yet,  she also  loves with abandon, hugs so hard that your wind gets  knocked out, and will  tell any member of the household that they "are the best person... EVER."  
 
Oh... and we got a dog.  A floppy muppet of a dog named Lucy - and I am in love with her. She lays down at my feet while I work and write.  She walks with me and licks my face.  She endures the children's insane affections.  And... I love her.
You will be excited to hear that ComedySportz is doing very well.  We are the exclusive  renters in the Playground space.  We have increased  programming, education opportunities and Red League.  Our crowds continue to be  decent size and our product continues to be super solid.  The improv scene in Philly is blowing up.  We are not the only show in town.  But, I would say, we are still the best and most consistently strong improv show in the city.
Smoosher, I want to write forever because it fools me into thinking you're right here, but I can't.  I need to help put the kids to bed and reorient myself to the world that is here now.  That is the double-edged sword of grief - the desire to connect with the past while still being firmly rooted in the present.  And now, my daughter is crying for me and Baxter is begging dad for a "mama snuggle," so I must go. I love you, smoosher


4.30.2015

Efficacy. Translating #BaltimoreUprising into a Movement towards Social Justice




Image result for brave new films racism



I'm a girl who was born and raised in New Hampshire, a state that, at the time, had a black population of less than 1% (it's at 1.6% now). I now live in a South Jersey town that is 1.5% African American.  My town has a median household income of $70,000/year.  Our town is literally 3 miles away from Camden, NJ, with a 76% African American population.  With a median household income of $18,000 (earning it the badge of America’s poorest city).  

My husband spends his days prosecuting violent crime in our neighboring city of Camden.  Sometimes it’s a drug deal gone wrong.  Sometimes a rival drug set feels wronged by another drug set.   Often it has gang-related elements.  Usually within the gangs themselves – arguing over status within the system they’ve created for themselves.  Sometimes these “negotiations” turn into shoot-outs - sometimes in the middle of the day.  With people around... moms and kids.  It's like the Wild West. 

We spend hours debating the causes of this vast racial/economic divide and how to fix it.  But it’s so fucking complicated.  

So, yes, my husband is in law enforcement.  Not the kind with a gun or a baton.  The kind in a suit with a briefcase.  And he spends lots of time with the families of the victims.  Sometimes, the families have little interest in talking with law enforcement (to put it mildly).  But, not all.  Many of these parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents work so goddamned hard to keep these kids on a good path, but the options are simply not there.  The individual benefits of engaging in criminal activity in these neighborhoods vastly outweighs the costs for many of these young men.    


My husband and I inhabit two very different worlds.  I am a professor who spends her day with idealistic, engaged young people who are ready to change the world.  Young people from all different backgrounds who come to the University of Delaware, major in Communication or Political Science (the two subjects I teach) and are preparing to embark on some great path.   I have students who are the first in their families to go to college.  These students often come to the university without the same solid academic background from which their more affluent classmates have had the luxury of benefiting.  But they work hard and are in it to win it.  


I’m also a social scientist who explores the various factors (individual, environmental, political, social, and psychological) that increase the likelihood that a person might engage in a particular action.  I study these factors with an eye towards behavior change or prevention.  The goal in social science is partly to explain behaviors and partly to predict behaviors.  We do this – when we’re doing it right – in an effort to develop interventions.  Interventions are usually communication-based messages that might help change or shape these factors in a way that will maximize functional behavioral outcomes - like, getting people to vote, stopping people from smoking, getting people to get an HIV test, reducing anti-social behaviors (like bullying, for example). 


On the other hand, Husband deals with the action itself.  Homicide, for example.  Regardless of the factors that come beforehand, in the eyes of the law, certain behaviors are treated pretty much the same.  As you can imagine, our perspectives are quite different, but both of us benefit greatly from the exchange.  


What he is reminded of, when talking to me, is that, yes, every person has free will.  Every person can choose a specific course of action in a given moment.  But, to deny the impact of the obstacles and factors that poor, inner city youth have to overcome just to SURVIVE from one day to the next, imposes a myopic, decontextualized moral judgment onto an infinitely complex social problem.   


What I am reminded of, when talking to him, is that, if we explain people’s behaviors ONLY in terms of the social, racial, political or economic factors that brought them to that act (homicide, shooting, drug-dealing), then we  are  basically saying that an individual is no more than an automaton who has no free will.  If that is the case, then what is the policy solution?  Lock up everyone who has a particular set of background factors because “chances are” they will engage in certain criminal acts?  Of course not.  


The key is in identifying those factors, those efficacy factors, that can lead people to – in spite of all the obstacles working against them– make the functional choice in a given moment.   


What are those efficacy factors?  Efficacy is our sense of empowerment and confidence in our ability to take certain actions.  It’s the feeling that “I can DO this,  even if it’s hard.”  Is efficacy an immutable factor that only exist within us? Either we have efficacy or we don’t? No. Sure, some people just seem “grittier” than others, but efficacy is something that has shown itself to be quite malleable.  Through education, information, face-to-face, and media-based messages, efficacy goes up – and behavior follows.  This is true in the realm of health behaviors, political behaviors, and even stopping certain addictive behaviors. 


So, when I watched this short video today, from Brave New Films, I felt this groundswell, this eye-opening movement, as a sort of organic efficacy intervention.  


Maybe some of the overwhelming power of those negative systemic factors that trap young urban youth can be muted through increases in efficacy.  


And perhaps efficacy comes from something as simple as… finally feeling heard.  




We hear you.