Learning How to Walk Again

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning, stretching your legs against your sheets, and feeling a sharp pain deep in the ball of your right foot. You sit up in a slight panic and find yourself unable to stand. Your second toe looks twice its normal size and the bottom of your foot is hot with blood. You hop on your good foot to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror. 

Who would you rely on to do your shopping and cook your meals?

What summer trips would you have to cancel?

Would you be able to go to work?

What parts of your life would be on hold until you could walk again?

This happened to me nearly six weeks ago—and I’m still not better. In fact, I’m writing this from bed, my right foot elevated, where I’ve done most of my work since early May. I’ve missed most of my favorite late-spring weather in Oregon. Normally, I’d be hiking every day, watching the wildflowers transition from trilliums to orchids to bright red columbine. 

Some might welcome a couple of months of books, TV, and bed rest, but this period has been devastating for me.

Hiking is my life, my mental health outlet. I was sure-footed, quick, and able to walk without stopping, even on the most rigorous hikes. Last year in Glacier National Park, I hiked 53 challenging miles over three solo days and was barely sore. On a backpacking trip through the Enchantments, a doctor friend said that I was the most physically fit person—man or woman—that he’d ever seen. 

Glacier National Park, August 2021






Until now…

Folks ask what happened when they see me limping or wearing a surgical boot. What started as a mild pain in the ball of my foot bloomed into a debilitating, slow-healing injury. 

I have capsulitis—the inflammation of the ligaments beneath my second toe. Even after weeks of icing, elevation, metatarsal pads, expensive orthotics, doctor appointments, prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs, meditation, and canceling plans, I still don’t know when I’ll be able to walk again. 

For several weeks, I was depressed and crying, helpless to do anything for my unruly ligaments. I felt cheated and robbed. How could this happen when I’m such a healthy, active person who never wears high heels?

I have a theory, although it’s tough to confirm. My favorite pair of boots—tan Riekers with red laces—are the likely culprit. For years, I bought the same ones over and over, walking five miles or more in them daily.

Two friends of mine bought the same boots. They shared recently that they don’t provide the best support and often hurt their feet after a while. I’d worn them non-stop, never suffering in the moment, but I suspect that my ligaments steadily strained from the lack of cushioning and pressure on the ball of my foot over many miles walked. 

It all snuck up on me. I would have preferred to take this hiatus during the winter months, but we can’t choose when injuries present themselves. In my 20s, I’d even been proud of completing long hikes in ballet flats, traveling through Southeast Asia in flip flops, or traversing 212 kilometers through the Himalayas in cheap sneakers. 

I now regret every step I’ve taken in non-supportive footwear, probably tens of thousands of steps at this point. Being in peak physical shape, I’d assumed I was invincible—and now I begin again.

It’s been easy for me to feel sorry for myself as the sun shines and I’m stuck inside. I am grateful that I’m not a doctor, a server, a teacher, or any other profession that would require me to be on my feet. Working from my bed is a privilege. 

This is also a life stage where I have the financial means to buy six new pairs of shoes, fancy orthotics, and pay the podiatrist $250 to tell me what I already knew from WebMD. If this hit me while I was traveling the world solo on a shoestring budget, I would have had to move back home to recover. 

I have to resist the temptation to assume I will never heal—that life will just be like this moving forward. Those self-destructive thoughts remind me of the hopelessness many of us felt in the middle of 2020 when we weren’t sure how our lives would resume. The Covid-19 total shutdown didn’t last forever—and neither will this injury. 

I get to choose what to take from this difficult experience. Most importantly, I will feel much more empathy for those with mobility issues. Walking is such an integral part of life that most of us take it for granted. Slow walkers used to frustrate me as if they were wasting my time. I see now how selfish my point of view was. 

I’m also hoping that this experience helps me maintain proper perspective with future life challenges, both my own and for those closest to me. I have to be patient and compassionate with myself and others. Anger, irritability, restlessness, self-pity, and distress aren’t the path. 

If you have a moment, please send a healing thought for my busted stomper and be kind to someone today. You never know what they’re going through and how much small affections matter.

America’s New Political Parties: The Martyrs vs. The Denialists

In this divided era, I’ve noticed two general camps among my fellow Americans. These groups aren’t simply “conservatives” and “progressives”—these categories actually transcend political affiliation, counting members of both the Left and the Right in their ranks. The difference I’ve observed is related to how people are processing this era of uncertainty, turbulence, anger, and violence.

American turmoil and chaos (JMW Turner, The Snow Storm)

First, some people feel intensely aggrieved about marginalization, a group I’m calling the Martyrs. These folks may feel persecuted by the “mainstream media” and don’t feel adequately protected in an era of social change. They may fear the dissolution of the traditional family, the persecution of men at the hands of the #MeToo Movement, or the declining influence of white Christians. 

Alternatively, Martyrs may feel outraged by pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia, seeing everything through the lens of various oppressed groups. Demographic characteristics and identity are always at the top of mind for these folks, regardless their political affiliation.   

 The second group comprises those who want to move beyond divisions based on race, gender, sexuality, and culture. I’m calling them the Denialists. In this group, folks may claim to not see race, gender, or sexuality. They may contend that “Generation Wuss” has hijacked the narrative and the persecution Olympics are futile. They may be disgusted by the constant self-victimization of individuals based on immutable attributes and bemoan the chipping away of First Amendment rights by the PC enforcers.

On the other hand, people in this camp may have grown weary of the constant categorization, division, and outrage. They may want to turn down the heat of the social justice rhetoric and authoritarian tendencies on both sides of the political aisle. And ideally, in “denying” differences between individuals, they may be seeking unity and mutual respect among various groups.

It’s wild how Americans with radically different political positions may end up in the same camp. 

The Martyrs see difference and persecution everywhere. Their political beliefs guide the categories they consider to be most oppressed. On the Left, these groups may include BLM activists, feminists, and queer progressives. On the Right, these groups may include MAGA enthusiasts, gun-loving crusaders, and anti-choice religious zealots.

The Denialists, by contrast, do not see difference and persecution everywhere. They may be blind to historical inequalities and bigoted, or they simply may have grown frustrated with the constant maelstrom of demographic dissection and identity politics. They may consider themselves beyond the separation between individuals in a philosophical sense. These folks range from wealthy business owners who find politics bad for business to libertarians to pagan spiritualists who see the unity of all people and things.

I find myself wavering between these two camps. I recognize that the Martyr position is exhausting, divisive, and unsustainable. I’ve also observed that the most rabid supporters of various causes often don’t even belong to the oppressed group in question. For example, why did predominantly white Portland, Oregon become ground zero for the BLM Movement? Or why are so many anti-choice legislators men who will never be forced into pregnancy?

The Denialist position, on the other hand, is ripe for abuse. By choosing to deemphasize the differences among people, folks might forget to consider personal, social, and institutional biases. There is a history of injustice against women, People of Color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ folks baked into every aspect of our lives. That does not go away when we don’t talk about it.

Can these deep-rooted problems be best addressed by Martyrs screaming about them or by Denialists ignoring them? The answer, for me at least, lies in the middle of these present extremes. 

Jesus Doesn’t Like Your AR-15

When an American myth fed to our kids collapses, what sound does it make? 

Is it the wail of an immigrant child, separated from her parents in a detention center? Is it the explosion of a U.S. drone strike on an Afghani wedding party? Is it George Floyd’s last breath with a cop’s knee on his neck? Is it the mechanical hum of minimum-wage workers packing goods into Amazon boxes? Is it the gurgled pour of white wine into an exhausted mother’s coffee cup? Is it the roar of a hurricane made invincible by global warming? Is it an exasperated chant behind a sign reading “My Body, My Choice”? Is it a gunshot ripping through a supermarket, movie theater, or classroom full of children?

Oaxaca City, Artist Unknown (2020)

I’ve slowly shed my childish delusions about what it means to be an American.

We aren’t the world’s greatest country. We’re constrained by the greed of our corporate and government leaders.

We aren’t the most free country. We’re plagued with a bloated prison system, virulent racism, and a perverse love of guns.

We don’t have a fair, meritocratic society. Wealth inequality, stagnant wages, and other factors have made upward mobility much harder than it used to be. 

We aren’t governed by democracy for the people. We live in an oligarchy, where most of our leaders are handpicked by the wealthiest among us.

We aren’t a land of religious freedom. Non-Christians are treated with suspicion and presidential candidates compete to see who has the biggest Bible. 

The patriotism of my public school education now strikes me as manipulative. The best way to produce U.S. workers, soldiers, and parents is to get little girls and boys super pumped about being born here. I was a proud member of the “America, Fuck Yeah” contingent until I realized how American Power considers me: to our government and economy, I am a simple tool to bring glory, competitiveness, and (ideally) babies to our miserable country.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate America. In fact, with all of the collapsed myths of my early education, I’m reminded of James Baldwin’s words: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

 I just want our country and culture to evolve with integrity, liberty, peace, reason, acceptance of differences, and love. I’m not a Christian, but Jesus Christ would agree with me on this. 

WWJD? He would support the love and marriage of LGBTQ+ folks. He would advocate for women’s bodily autonomy. He would welcome immigrant children rather than putting them in border cages. He would want affordable housing, education, and healthcare. He would champion a wider distribution of wealth and tax policies that don’t favor the obscenely rich. He would want to protect the environment. He would condemn American drone strikes. And he damn sure wouldn’t have a hard-on for AR-15s. 

I wish he were here to steer some of his followers back in the right direction. His name is being invoked to prop up many American myths that perpetuate hate, oppression, and violence. And until our culture outgrows its arrogance, intolerance, and anti-science stupidity, we’ll continue to have the leaders we deserve: folks who do nothing when a classroom full of children is massacred.

How I’m Going to Die (If I’m Lucky)

With every passing year, my mortality creeps steadily more into my thoughts. 

A throbbing ache in one leg—a blood clot? 

Cramping in my intestines—stomach cancer?

A rush of pain to my temples—an aneurysm? 

These discomforts eventually pass and my morbid imagination abates until the next ailment starts the cycle anew.

At 37, I don’t know how I’m going to die. But if I’m lucky, someday, I want to end my own life. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m far from suicidal. I’m healthy and active. I’m grateful to have an abundance of friends and a wonderful family. I just believe that euthanasia is a human right. I find peace in the idea that I can someday choose to end my life when the suffering becomes too great with no prospect of improvement.

Brittany Diaz (formerly Maynard) was a friend of mine at Berkeley. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she became an internationally famous activist for the Death With Dignity Movement. She had moved with her husband to Oregon—one of nine states with legalized (and highly regulated) euthanasia. She had recently gotten married and earned a graduate degree, but the disease gave her debilitating pain and seizures. She tried surgery and other medical interventions to no avail. Shortly before her 30th birthday, on November 1, 2014, she ended her own life surrounded by those she loved. 

Brittany (second from right) in 2009, San Francisco

Brittany’s decision to use her tragic diagnosis to educate the world took immense courage, strength, and love. Under the same circumstances, many would despair or withdraw. In her last message to me on October 8, she wrote, “DWD is a healthcare right for the terminally ill that warrants education, advocacy, and discussion.“ I fully agree.

Brittany educated the world about the Death with Dignity Movement (October 2014, The Week Magazine)

I don’t take my support for assisted suicide lightly. I know how it impacts loved ones firsthand. My grandfather killed himself when I was in college. It was a shock because he was relatively healthy and had recently lost a lot of weight. Like many folks left in death’s wake, I asked myself why I didn’t call, write, or visit more—as if there was something I could have done to change his mind. Although I felt undone in those years following his decision, I began to see his actions differently: he chose that day. It was the same day at the same age his father had died. He had been planning his death, and who was I to deny him that right?

I used to believe that taking one’s own life was a supremely selfish act, but is it? Why shouldn’t people of sound minds have control over when they make their Grand Exits? And why do we insist on dragging out people’s lives as long as possible? 

Doctors witness firsthand how excruciating (and expensive) lifesaving interventions can be. It’s not surprising that they are more likely than the general public to request DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders in their personal medical care. One’s quality of life can be severely compromised after aggressive end-of-life treatments. Like a majority of physicians, I would opt for a DNR. (That said, those who want to undergo any and all medical treatments should be free to do so. I’m 100 percent in support of bodily autonomy.)

There’s a beauty in choosing when and how to let go. Like abortion, when Death with Dignity is denied to people, suicide doesn’t go away—it just gets pushed into a lonelier, darker underground. Many Americans are surprised to learn, for example, that the leading cause of gun deaths in the U.S. isn’t homicide. It’s suicide

But what if those people had other options? What if they didn’t feel the need to end their lives in the shadows? What if they could speak with counselors and doctors about their feelings? And if they decided to go through with it, what if choosing death were treated differently? 

Dying is inevitable, and having as much control as possible over one’s death is a fundamental human right. I want to embrace death as Brittany did: with open eyes, grace, courage, and love. I want it to be a party. I want to be listening to Nina Simone, Bill Withers, and Allen Toussaint. I want a belly full of Thai food. Perhaps I’ll have someone to assist my transition—a death doula if I can find the right person. 

If it were up to me, my Grand Exit would be 100 years from now. Maybe it will be. My second choice would follow one of my favorite Irish toasts: “May you die warm in your bed at 95, shot by a jealous spouse.” A close third would be at age 107, falling into a volcano while taking a selfie for my mistress. 

Who knows how I’ll go, but I hope more people consider the importance of Death with Dignity. 

What Do Oprah, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jesus Christ Have in Common?

A few months before the pandemic, I published one of my most shared and controversial pieces titled “I’d Rather Be a Dad.” I explained why I was still on the fence about having kids after getting married at 34. After re-reading it, however, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t fence-sitting at all. The truth is that I’m happily childfree.

What are the stereotypes associated with childfree women?

Becoming a mother—specifically an American mother—seems like an irrational proposition. Aliens might observe that U.S. women trade their bodies, time, money, and identities for a thankless job kept only mildly tolerable by mind-warping hormones. Keep in mind that this was before the Covid-19 pandemic, before the schools and daycares closed, before women (especially mothers) across the country started drinking more heavily than ever. 

Not only are there few institutional and legal support systems in place for U.S. parents compared to other developed countries, but mothers here simply don’t get the credit they deserve. They do most of the work and yet even half-involved dads are likely to receive greater praise and respect.

There’s even evidence that men benefit financially by becoming fathers while women are punished by becoming mothers. On average, men’s wages increased more than 6 percent if they had children, while women’s earnings decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Even more shockingly, childfree married women earned 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers were paid 76 cents on the dollar. Women stretch and tear their organs for each new generation and are paid in macaroni portraits. 

Readers who are parents are shaking their heads, thinking, “Jocelyn, you just don’t get it! You can never understand what it feels like to experience pure joy until you have your own child.” 

That’s valid, but if parents are so enamored with rearing their young children, why is childcare typically outsourced by wealthy families? Why do the rich and powerful choose to spend relatively little time with their families? Are they too busy to engage in “the most important job in the world,” or do they simply want to do other things with their time?

Sure, there are some working folks who would prefer to spend more time with their babies, but I suspect that many others recognize how grueling parenting can be. Like cleaning one’s house or doing one’s taxes, those who have the money are inclined to hire a professional to help carry the load. 

When I was 16, I was a full-time nanny for a summer, working for an MTV executive. She was amazing, but her toddler daughter and the two other little ones were all-consuming. Taking care of young kids all day was both challenging and extremely boring, watching fat fingers sort shapes and reading the same books. Observing an entire bookshelf get emptied and putting it back together over and over. The constant stickiness. There were baffling breaches in conduct that even the most cherubic faces couldn’t exculpate. The only children whose company I actually enjoy are the most adult-like ones: those who are mature and intelligent.

Most parents, of course, would insist that their children are much smarter and better behaved than other people’s kids. This mass delusion is propped up by brains drugged by parenting that keep (most) people from murdering the little shits while they sleep.

I’m self-conscious even writing about this because as a woman, I feel social pressure to both have and like children. My partner—a man—is actually much better with kids than I am. He relishes in playing make-believe games and being silly (even if he’s never changed a diaper). 

Being real about my maternal ambivalence makes me uneasy because becoming a mother is presented as part of a complete life. My dear friend (who is also childfree) shared this cringe-worthy quote a therapist posted to social media:  “The value of marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.” 

I understand the spirit of this sentiment—that parents (in theory) must outgrow childish tendencies to raise kids successfully—but it is irritating on many levels:

  • What about childfree marriages? Are those folks not fully realized adults because they didn’t breed? 
  • Is producing children the only function of (or value in) a marriage?
  • What about parents who aren’t married? Are they not adults because they didn’t register as a couple with the state?
  • And what about shitty parents, who regardless of getting married and having children, continue to be childish people?

I resent that having kids is assumed to be THE way that women fulfill their capacity for love. When I published “I’d Rather Be a Dad,” one of my friends commented: “I know you will do whatever is best for you and Jon, whether it is having kids or growing old together while traveling and sleeping in and doing whatever the fuck you want without anyone else to answer to.” 

The subtext is that childfree adults are selfish—just as Pope Francis recently said. We non-breeders just do “whatever the fuck [we] want without anyone else to answer to.” That also presupposes that the only people in our lives who require our love and attention are our unborn children—to say nothing of our aging parents, family, friends, or other people in need. 

The notion of non-breeders as “selfish” is what really chaps my hide. Perhaps for me, it’s personal. After all, I was an only child and some of the stereotypes ring true within me: I desire a lot of alone time and I like to have things my way. I also have problems sharing my food with my ravenous spouse. Even if being raised by a single mom schoolteacher was largely absent the coddling, I have to acknowledge that my only-child selfishness may be part of my non-maternal nature.

I would counter, however, that not having kids actually enables me to devote my love and time to a broader circle. The demands of early childrearing leave little time for parents to devote to anyone outside of their homes, whether it’s volunteer work or spending time with friends. If I need to call someone in an emergency, I’m not going to call one of my friends with kids who I assume is too busy with their families.

With a growing share of Americans choosing not to have kids, I’d like folks to reconsider their assumptions about being childfree: 

  • We aren’t being deprived of an essential life experience. 
  • We aren’t lesser adults or worse people because we didn’t procreate.
  • We aren’t selfish or unloving.
  • We aren’t jeopardizing the future of our species.

Humanity’s success actually depends on some people choosing to be childfree, especially in Western countries. Without us, the world’s resources would be more rapidly depleted and global warming would be worse than it is. One of the best things a person can do for the environment in a developed economy is to decide not to have children (or have fewer of them). This graphic from The Guardian shows how much CO2 can be saved annually by common solutions to the climate crisis:

The alarmist articles about declining birth rates in Western countries often ignore one simple solution: increase immigration. There are still plenty of babies being born all over the world—many of them into countries lacking economic opportunities. Those who complain that “native-born babies” are more desirable for population growth are being racist. If we’re so concerned about a lopsided age demographic or the collapse of Social Security, admit more young families into our country. Problem solved.

Overall, let everyone decide for themselves their reproductive futures and spare childfree folks the moralizing. For my part, I’ll continue to fight for increasing education budgets, as well as for better legal and institutional protections for parents. It is a tough job and deserves much better from a country as wealthy as ours. 

Just stop assuming that breeding makes a person better or complete. Betty White, Copernicus, Oprah, Louis Armstrong, Jane Austen, Francis Bacon, Simone de Beauvoir, Bob Barker, Coco Chanel, Leonardo da Vinci, Julia Child, Rene Descartes, Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Disraeli, Amelia Earhart, Francis Drake, Katherine Hepburn, Immanuel Kant, Mother Teresa, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), Grace Hopper, Nikola Tesla, Dolly Parton, Jesus Christ, and many, many other childfree folks serve as evidence to the contrary.

Five Silver Linings of Two Batshit Years

Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, what seemed important in the Before Times has faded into a swirling tide of cancellations, closures, and numbing intoxication. The simple pleasures we took for granted—dining at a restaurant, seeing a movie, attending a concert—are now infused with the constant thrum of low-grade anxiety. We all await the end of this Great Pause on Life As We Knew It. (Except for Floridians and anti-maskers, of course, who never really accepted the gravity of our situation.)

Is this the explosive grand finale, or are there more deadly mutations around the corner? Will the novel coronavirus dissolve into endemicity like the flu, or will some regions require masks for decades? How will the threat of the disease linger in international relationships? And how will that fear be abused by corrupt or racist governments?

We’re drowning in a high tide of uncertainty and a lack of leadership. It’s a difficult time to be kind to strangers or extend ourselves beyond our own maintenance, as even our best tools, masking and vaccination, seem tenuous amidst the Omicron surge. 

Since early 2020, we’ve been bumbling through a dark cave without light. It’s been a supremely shitty era for everyone. Even the most stubborn optimists have thrown up their hands in surrender in the face of so much death, poverty, instability, injustice, and discord. 

As with all challenging times, however, there are some lessons, practices, and full cultural movements worth carrying into the future.

See those silver linings? (Yachats, Oregon in December 2021)

Here are my embers of optimism still burning through these fucked up years: 

1) American labor has reasserted its power. Customer service and factory jobs in particular, with their low wages and high risk of infection, are changing. Fewer people are tolerating the dodgy conditions, strikes have been widespread, and unions are finally confronting our country’s largest companies such as Amazon and Starbucks. 

Before now, labor has never been powerful within my lifetime—from the early 80s on, the deck was stacked heavily in favor of the wealthy, both within our government’s policies and our culture. There was only a negligible distrust of the country’s tycoons; the overwhelming majority of Americans idolized and envied the rich and powerful. This has changed, especially among young people in a trend that likely started around the Great Recession. 

Part of this movement is recognizing appalling American wealth inequality.  Mass economic need creates the conditions for political conflagrations. Folks on the left and the right can (and must) realize their real quarrel is not with each other, but rather with those at the top who have profited exorbitantly through the pandemic, those who have paid for their elected leaders to loosen regulations and enact tax cuts in their favor. Billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk paid 0.98 and 3.27 percent income tax rates between 2014 and 2018. Nobody cares how much they’re investing in the interest of their own tax deductions—when the wealthiest folks pay less taxes to our government than teachers or truck drivers, there’s something deeply wrong with our system.

If a broader swath of Americans had policies that helped them as handsomely as the billionaires, there would be less fuel for the squabbles between the left and right. The resurgent labor movement is evidence that Americans are waking up to economic inequality and realizing their own power.

2) We’re reconsidering the centrality of a job in our individual identities. One peculiar American habit is how important one’s career is in shaping our self-concept and place in society. One of our first questions in meeting new people is “What do you do?” In many other countries, this would be unusual as it’s assumed that there is more to a person than where they work. 

With folks questioning the importance of employment in their self-concepts, we’re outgrowing the old constraints of who we can be. People are much more than their job titles or educational attainment, especially since our economy simply isn’t set up for everyone to align their occupations with their dreams. 

3) We’re focusing our time and energy on our most valuable relationships and activities. Before the pandemic, It was easy to spread ourselves thin among mediocre acquaintances, pastimes, and expectations. Covid-19 has brought into focus the most significant parts of our lives.

I didn’t realize how much time I wasted maintaining dispensable branches of my existence. The Great Pause, with all of its associated risks and constant reminders of mortality, has helped me reevaluate what’s deserving of my precious time.

4) We’ve learned how much we rely on educators, healthcare workers, and caretakers. In the midst of a crisis, it’s not the overpaid stockbrokers or business consultants who matter—it’s the largely female workers whom our country underpays and takes for granted: teachers, home health aides, nurses, and others. The significance of these workers and how much we depend on them is now top of mind for many Americans. 

I’m hoping that these fields continue to assert their power through strikes, demonstrations, and salary negotiations. They deserve more respect and better pay. And by increasing the wages within these essential fields, they will be able to attract even more talent. I’d prefer to live in a country with the smartest people attracted to education and healthcare rather than banking.

5) The pandemic has sweetened what used to be considered mundane. I’ll never forget the first performance I attended in the middle of the pandemic: an October 2020 drag and burlesque show at a cocktail bar called Golden Era in Nevada City. In the presence of my friends and convivial strangers, my dopamine and serotonin receptors were firing on all cylinders. It was one of my most memorable evenings in a decade. The evening still sticks out like an erection in my life’s timeline after many months of solitude and restrictions. 

Since then, every maskless dinner we host at our house and every weekend trip with friends are imbued with more substance and magnitude than they used to be. 

There they are: my diamonds from our era’s mound of infected batshit. 

I’m weary. I’m baffled. I’m disgusted. I’m despondent. 

But I’m still optimistic. Time might render me a Pangloss, but it sure as hell beats moping around.

Feminism’s Quiet Liberation of American Men

Within my mother’s lifetime, women’s choices and rights have eclipsed my grandmother’s wildest dreams. It’s difficult for a Millennial like me to imagine asking my husband to co-sign for a credit card, being excluded from serving on a jury, being denied admission to most Ivy League schools, or getting fired for being pregnant. Sexism (like racism) still endures in our institutions and culture, but the progress we’ve made over the past century is remarkable.

While women’s liberation has been largely successful on the surface, “feminist” remains a controversial word. The term is still ignored, spit on, dragged through the mud, pilloried, and burned at the stake. Part of the problem is a zero-sum mentality that assumes women gain additional rights at the expense of men and traditional families. This inaccurate framework posits that:

  • Women are taking men’s jobs and educational opportunities.
  • Women aren’t acting or dressing as women should.
  • Women don’t want to take care of children or be nurturing.

Especially among older generations of men, the abrupt shift in women’s opportunities has been startling. It’s natural that they feel confused, threatened, or left behind because there has been less public discussion of how feminism benefits men specifically. 

Just as American women’s rights have expanded over the decades, there’s been a quieter, slower expansion of men’s choices and freedoms. The vision feels less realized than women’s recent advancements, perhaps because it has been more difficult to measure. We can compare unequal salaries or health insurance premiums—areas where men have enjoyed the upper hand—but explaining the intangible constraints of traditional masculinity has proved more challenging.

For example, compared to women, American men generally are expected to suppress their emotions. From an early age, they are trained to avoid crying or making themselves vulnerable. Many boys are not allowed to play with girls’ toys, wear dresses and makeup, or perform ballet. Some who break these rules are ridiculed or even sent to gay conversion therapy, which is still legal in roughly half of U.S. states.

These gendered restrictions stem from the American debasement of women and femininity. Misogyny is at the root of homophobia and transphobia. And if traits associated with women weren’t cheapened in our society, boys would feel more at liberty to express their emotions and engage in activities that appeal to them. The work of feminists is to foster a new respect for femininity and women in our culture and institutions, an objective that benefits everyone.

By J.J. Blore (2020)

Feminism isn’t about acting like men—it’s about throwing off the shackles and expectations assigned to everyone at birth. It allows for a wider range of thoughts and behaviors, regardless of one’s sex. It’s about celebrating both the feminine and the masculine, letting individuals embrace the traits that feel most natural. It’s also about rethinking our leadership, economic system, and institutions to pay thought to feminine characteristics (collaboration, compromise, nurturing, compassion) rather than embracing almost exclusively masculine values (competitiveness, aggression, overconfidence).

When I talk about femininity and masculinity, I’m talking about traits and behaviors typically associated with these categories—qualities that are not necessarily determined by one’s biological sex. Traditional parents tend to inculcate masculine traits in boys and feminine traits in girls by treating them differently. There are also biological differences in people such as hormone levels (testosterone and estrogen) which can foster traits associated with masculinity or femininity.

In general, here are some qualities associated with masculinity that have been overemphasized in American culture:

  • Dominance
  • Exploitation of others
  • Stoicism
  • Overconfidence
  • Aggression and violence
  • Individualism

And here are some qualities associated with femininity that have been degraded and understated in American culture:

  • Compassion 
  • Cultivation of others
  • Expressive communication
  • Compromise
  • Nurturing
  • Collectivism

Americans have been living out of balance since the founding of our country. There has always been an assumed superiority of the masculine over the feminine. It shapes our language, systems of production, military build-up, and international relations. To be called a “woman” is construed as an insult to half of the population. Our deeply rooted misogyny has stifled our growth and humanity by elevating the masculine at the expense of the feminine. 

Some of the evidence for this imbalance include our country’s expensive military build-up (masculine) while our leaders refuse to properly fund education, healthcare, or parental leave (feminine). We enter into international agreements with presumed superiority (masculine) rather than equal footing, shared goals, and empathy (feminine). Many workplaces reward those who overconfidently advocate for themselves (masculine) rather than those who work diligently behind the scenes (feminine). Our country’s policies have privileged the interests of capitalism (masculine) over the protection of our environment (feminine). Our economy pays vast sums to people who work in extractive and exploitative industries (masculine) and pays pauper’s wages to those who educate and nurture our people (feminine).

Our country would be healthier and our people more prosperous if we could achieve a balance between the masculine and the feminine. Individuals would feel freer to express traits that feel most comfortable to them rather than succumbing to pressure to conform to society’s gendered spheres. 

To me, this is what it means to be a feminist: fighting to assign equal value to women and femininity that we ascribe to men and masculinity.

Nobody should be constrained by their sex or gender to behave in a certain way. Promoting respect for the feminine holds a better future for everyone.

Tiptoeing Over American Vipers

“If a pregnant woman steps over a viper, she will be sure to miscarry.”

Historia Naturalis, Pliny the Elder (77 CE)

When I was 15, I had a pregnancy scare. I was in a long-term relationship and a condom had broken. I wasn’t sure if I could secure the morning-after pill as a minor, and I hadn’t yet discovered the Laguna Beach Community Clinic near my high school where I’d later receive free birth control pills.

I panicked and began leaning over a chair, letting it jut sharply into my abdomen and womb. I hoped it would disrupt any zygotes from developing in my adolescent body, not unlike the meat pulverizers desperate women used to hammer their stomachs in the decades before Roe vs. Wade. Fortunately, I got my period a week or two later, but that experience taught me that women walk a razor’s edge when it comes to sex.

Feminist Gadsden Flag, Artist Unknown

I’d always assumed that in the United States—the so-called “Land of the Free”—we would never again force women to give birth. Our mothers, our grandmothers, and our allies had fought hard for our right to choose. They had exposed the shameful hell of pre-Roe America with its poisons, bloodied staircases, abusive maternity shelters, and suicides. Even as red states slowly curtailed access to abortion over the decades, I thought the days of enslaving women as unwilling agents of religious fundamentalism were over. I was wrong.

As always, poor women will be more adversely affected by the overturning of Roe and pressed into prenatal state servitude. Rich women always have more choices, even in the most misogynistic places.

Advances in contraception and abortion pills by mail will be helpful in the battles ahead, but the reality is sobering: the Supreme Court has the power to impose its fringe theology on all of us. This injustice is both ironic and distinctly anti-American, as many of our ancestors migrated here to escape religious persecution.

The levers of power have been hijacked by a God-fearing cabal. Six of the nine SCOTUS justices (Thomas, Roberts, Gorsuch, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh, and Barrett) went to Catholic high schools. And two of them, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, attended the same all-boys private Georgetown Preparatory School. The rightward lurch of SCOTUS is not representative of our increasingly secular country. A majority of us do not want Roe overturned and support a woman’s right to choose. 

I have a dear friend in her mid-30s who got her tubes tied a couple of years ago. I asked her what prompted such an invasive surgery. She shared that when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, she needed to make sure she was never handcuffed by pregnancy. She wasn’t only concerned about losing her right to have an abortion—she was afraid of losing access to any type of contraceptive. She’d always known she didn’t want kids and if the U.S. would deny her agency over her future, well fuck them.

To put this into terms that conservative congressmen can understand: when you remove legal access to a service people need or want, it doesn’t disappear. It just gets pushed into an expensive, seedy underground. It would be much safer and less stigmatized if we could keep women’s reproductive rights out of the dangerous sewers of American society. 

Abortion has been steadily creeping back into those dark alleys. Texas banned the procedure at six weeks in May 2021 and the law went into effect in September. When the second-most populous state abridged women’s right to bodily autonomy, Roe felt doomed. 

Denying a person healthcare or imposing a condition—pregnancy—doesn’t have any corollaries among folks without uteruses. Imagine a country where the state gets to deny individuals health services or impose unwanted bodily states:

  • Should the state be able to deny fertility treatments to people with risky genetic disorders?
  • Should the state be able to impose a condition—castration—on convicted sex offenders? 
  • Should the state be able to impose gastric bypass surgery on morbidly obese people who cost Medicare/Medicaid millions of dollars annually?
  • Should the state be able to force a person to get the Covid-19 vaccine? 

These issues of bodily self-determination expose the hypocrisy of anti-choice activists. And many of these “pro-life” Americans are the same people who support capital punishment, the same people who support deadly drone strikes in the Middle East, the same people who praised teenager Kyle Rittenhouse for murdering two protesters with an AR-15. Also, many anti-choice Americans are up in arms about mask mandates in the midst of a deadly pandemic and yet they think women should be denied life-altering healthcare. 

Republican voters don’t realize that abortion has been made a contentious issue to stir up their emotions, another steaming dish in the buffet of lies the GOP uses to galvanize their political base. Contrary to their misinformation:

  • Nobody uses abortion as birth control.
  • A zygote, embryo, or fetus is not a baby. 
  • Contraception sometimes fails.
  • Men commit rape and women are typically the only ones who face the consequences.
  • Safe haven laws don’t “take care of [the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy]” as suggested by Amy Coney Barrett. Pregnancy is a risky health condition—not a simple inconvenience.

The Supreme Court will issue a ruling on Dobbs vs. Jackson in June 2022, which could effectively overturn Roe by banning pre-viability abortions. The cutoff would be 15 weeks in Mississippi, but all states would be allowed to set their own parameters. It’s infuriating that this will likely happen, especially since three of the nine SCOTUS justices were appointed by a disgraced, twice-impeached president who lost the popular vote.

If Roe falls, I’m most concerned about low-income women living in red states. Please help spread the word about services such as Women Helping Women and Aid Access, which offers online consultations and abortion pills by mail, effective up to 10 weeks. The FDA recently decided that obtaining this medication by mail will be allowed regardless of a person’s state of residence.

Don’t let American women’s bodies be used as tools of the government’s religious zealots. The political party that supports citizens owning assault weapons is not the party of protecting life—it’s the party of oppressing women and limiting their choices. I hope that the women of Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, and other red states seeking to ban abortion have the ability to move somewhere that respects their dignity, humanity, and reproductive rights. 

Call-Outs Are Cathartic—But Affirmations Are Persuasive

For much of my life as a writer, I’ve been a fire-and-brimstone critic. My favorite targets these days are elected Republicans, whom I consider to be existential threats to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and non-Americans. It feels as if most conservatives want me to shut up, embrace God, wave my American flag, support the police, submit to my husband, and make lots of white babies

There’s a lot to fight against in those assumptions! And I’m beginning to realize that this flat, simple characterization of my political opposites may be cathartic—but it’s not persuasive or useful. 

Denunciations are black and white—affirmations are more nuanced
(Yachats, Oregon on 9/11/2021, “Statue of Liberty”)

This toxic polarization of the U.S. is an excruciating cancer within our society. We suffer a media landscape that thrives on feelings of indignation. As Facebook’s research has shown, angry clicks are the key to engaging our attention. And with so many local networks failing or being gobbled up by conglomerates such as Gannett or Sinclair, struggling outlets are left with little choice than to go for someone’s jugular. There are no repercussions for stirring Americans into a fevered frenzy on the right or the left—and if news organizations don’t get people’s attention, they’re outperformed and they die.

None of this is conducive to civil society, which is built on discourse, empathy, honesty, compromise, and non-judgment. Our collective condemnation of leftists or right-wingers stultifies the soul of our country—and I want to change that within myself. 

Here’s the thing: Every denunciation can be expressed affirmatively, painting a picture of my ideals rather than shooting down their antitheses. It’s more difficult to build a vision than it is to knock someone else’s down, but it’s much more effective.

Criticism makes folks clam up, retreat, withdraw, and prepare their defenses. Calling people out doesn’t change hearts and minds but it causes them to dig in their heels and bite back. I may think that someone’s views are reprehensible, but unless I present a positive alternative with room for discussion, we remain at a hardened impasse with mutual animosity.

The most powerful progressives throughout history have mastered this technique: Mahatma Gandhi, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and others have a gift for expressing the world they’re trying to create rather than simply denouncing their opponents. They have more universal appeal than figures I also admire such as Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez—folks who are known for attacking racism and misogyny head-on. 

Don’t get me wrong: I adore leaders known for their eloquent take-downs of autocrats, bigots, and liars, and I believe their statements will age well because they’re on the right side of history. But in day-to-day dealings with those with whom I disagree, embracing a firm, positive expression of my ideals is more compelling. 

As an exercise, here are some of my beliefs expressed as prickly call-outs and reframed as affirmations:

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are racists. Just look at their virulent attacks on Black Lives Matter.”

My affirmation: “The economic prosperity of the United States was built on the institution of slavery. We’re only a few generations removed from that inhumanity and we still live with the noxious effects throughout our systems and society. Harvard’s School of Public Health found that Black folks are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites. Black Lives Matter is a necessary response to these inequities and injustices. It’s not an anti-white movement—it’s anti-racism, and I support that.”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are racists. Just look at their defense of Confederate monuments.”

My affirmation: “Many Confederate statues in the United States were built during the Jim Crow era to reassert white supremacy. We don’t need public sculptures of incendiary figures to remember their place in history. The South has many people more deserving of public monuments. For example, Robert Smalls from Beaufort, SC was born into slavery. He stole the Confederate ship CSS Planter, freeing his family and crew. He eventually founded the Republican Party of SC and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. He’s a hero we all should know and celebrate.”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are cheaters. Just look at their targeted voter suppression tactics.”

My affirmation: “We need to support making voting easier because everyone’s voice is important. The International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance just added the U.S. to its annual list of backsliding democracies. We need to turn that around. It’s unfair that some folks—especially in predominantly Black areas such as Union City, Georgia—have to wait in line for hours because there are too few polling places. My state Oregon has automatic voter registration at the DMV and universal vote-by-mail. As a result, we have one of the highest voter turn-outs in the nation. Implementing that model across the country would facilitate access to the ballot—a right enshrined in the American Constitution.” 

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are misogynists. Just look at their anti-abortion views.”

My affirmation: “Forcing a woman to be pregnant against her will is an assault on her rights. We should all be able to determine our individual reproductive and medical choices without the intervention of any government, court, or church. Bodily autonomy is the foundation of liberty. ”

My call-out: “Elected Republicans are anti-science morons. Just look at their refusal to support any climate change legislation.”

My affirmation: “Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels will benefit our people and planet. Just as Nixon’s EPA helped to clear the smog from America’s skies and litter from her streets in the 70s, we can lay the foundation for a healthier global future. It also presents a unique economic opportunity as we transition to more sustainable forms of energy, such as wind, solar, and nuclear.”

You get the picture. It’s always easier to say “Fuck those guys,” but in talking to folks about any issue, it’s more convincing to give an impartial assessment, planting seeds in people’s minds about how to create another way. Drawing a vibrant picture of how we can improve upon the society and institutions we inherited is the way forward. 

Also, we must leave the door open for folks to evolve, giving a clear path to redemption for those who have strayed. Rage hardens conflicts and polarizes opponents—dialogue helps to bridge divides and chart the best path for the future.

I’m going to do my best at softening my criticisms and sharpening my affirmations. The clearer I can express my ideals without judging others, the more persuasive I can be.

Reno, Nevada (2021). Artist unknown.

Creative Expression or Cultural Appropriation?

Even the most dedicated liberals have an issue that reveals to them the limits of their progressive views. For me, that issue is cultural appropriation, especially with my clothes, jewelry, and art.

Some folks believe that everyone should be free to wear what they’d like. They think that white women can wear box braids or large feathered headdresses at Coachella. Others believe that people should be more considerate with their style, especially when wearing items from cultures decimated by white colonizers, slaveholders, industrialists, and gentrifying yuppies. I’m in the second camp, but I still struggle to define what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate in practice.

The problem is that white Americans are the apex predators in the hierarchy of capitalism. White culture vultures have gobbled up and commercialized every element of other traditions while actively killing or excluding those who don’t speak like them or look like them. Even as I decry those injustices, however, sometimes I get into trouble for my fashion.

A few months ago, I was wearing my favorite jacket when a white woman approached me in downtown Eugene. She asked if the garment was Pendleton and then proceeded to berate me because the designs had been “stolen from Native Americans.” (Pendleton actually employs Native artists and supports those communities through various funds and initiatives, although it’s true the company isn’t owned by Indigenous folks and has profited immensely off of their designs.) 

My beloved and notorious Pendleton garment

Even though it’s my favorite jacket, I haven’t worn it as much recently. It feels tarnished by that woman’s judgment and a reminder of this country’s ruthless persecution of non-whites. 

Then again, there’s something odd about this dynamic: I’ve noticed that the most ardent gatekeepers of what’s cultural appropriation often are woke whites. I appreciate that woman’s intentions, but I consider her criticism a catharsis of her own guilt. It’s easier to perform a disparaging call-out on a stranger than it is to examine what constitutes respectful creative expression. Or, you know, to actually do something that helps marginalized folks.

The United States is unique in that we are people from all across the globe. We have different levels of remove from our ancestral lands and cultures. We’re all immigrants (or their descendants) on a long enough timeline. That aspect of our country makes me proud—at our best, we’re a microcosm of the world.

Of course, this kumbaya sentiment doesn’t make defining cultural appropriation any easier. Dr. Kelly Chong, a University of Kansas professor, was quoted in Bustle with the most succinct explanation I’ve found:“[Cultural appropriation] is the adoption, often unacknowledged or inappropriate, of the ideas, practices, customs, and cultural identity markers of one society or group by members of another group or society that typically has greater privilege or power.”

But what is the “unacknowledged” or “inappropriate” use of another culture? Sometimes it’s obvious. For example, if a behavior is reinforcing stereotypes or turning a profit for a non-member of that group, that’s inappropriate. So if a white woman travels to Mexico City to learn traditional dishes and then publishes a book of recipes, many would consider that an inappropriate use. 

What if she had lived in CDMX for 15 years? Or 20? Or what about if a Filipino man did the same thing? Or a Black woman? Would it be different since they’re also members of oppressed groups? And what happens when the folks in CDMX  have varying opinions about what constitutes respectful use? Who gets to be the arbiter? 

There are other more cut-and-dry situations that are patently absurd. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of white women with curly or kinky hair being accused of cultural appropriation because they go to Black salons or use Black hair products. Where are they supposed to turn when white stylists don’t know how to deal with their hair or when certain products aren’t up to task? Abusing the term “cultural appropriation” in cases like this is divisive and counterproductive.

And sometimes, art gets swallowed by the flames of these disagreements. Here in Eugene, that’s what happened to the Ritz Story Pole at the Oregon Country Fair. 

Here’s some background: OCF is a 52-year-old annual festival with food stalls, art installations, costumes, music, and other performances. It’s held along “the 8”—a forested infinity path in Veneta, Oregon. It’s colorful, playful, nature-inspired, and mostly a celebration of the Pacific Northwest.

The Ritz Sauna & Showers are where you can bathe nude, enjoying live music next to a large bonfire and vibrant wood carvings. Recently, they hired Pattrick Price, a Tlingit Native from Alaska, to create art for the main space. And every year, the  Ritz “Flamingo Clan” builds and runs the day-and-night spa that keeps OCF folks clean and happy throughout the sweaty, dusty weekend.

Photo Credit: Pattrick Price

In 2012, Ritz director George Braddock and artist Brad Bolton were talking about how to tell the long history of the Ritz through art. Bolton had been practicing formline art for 25 years—a style created by North Coast Indigenous groups.

It took three years of back and forth, but the Ritz finally got the First Nations and the Canadian Provincial Government of British Columbia to select and ship an 8,000-lb. Alaskan Yellow Cedar log to the OCF for carving. The Ritz got the log (and approval) from our northern neighbors because the Haida—the Natives from whom the Story Pole tradition comes—are based off the northern coast of British Columbia. And for several years, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Fairgoers assisted in the carving of the Ritz Story Pole.

Before approving the raising of the Pole, Oregon Country Fair reached out to several local tribal governments (including the Grand Ronde) but did not receive position statements from any of them. 

The Pole was first mentioned in an OCF Board meeting in July 2012. There was no further mention (according to the publicly available minutes) until September 2014 when logistics were discussed. For several months, the comments about the Pole were unremarkable, apart from an archeological survey that redirected the planned location away from a “sensitive” area.

In December 2015, the OCF Diversity Task Force contacted two local tribe members about the Story Pole project: David Lewis, a cultural anthropologist and member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, and Esther Stutzman, a storyteller and member of the Kalapuya and Coos. Their main criticism was that the placement of the Haida-style Pole was not only cultural appropriation but it was especially offensive to place it on ancestral Kalapuya lands.

Despite these objections, the Story Pole was formally approved by the OCF Board in April 2016. One of the conditions of its future installation was the following: “An informational display addressing the issues concerning the ‘Story Pole’ as Culturally Inspired Art or Cultural Appropriation shall be developed and placed by Fair Operations in the vicinity of the ‘Story Pole’…This display shall have a component whereby people may give feedback concerning the issues pertaining to the ‘Story Pole.’” 

Fairgoers Carving the Ritz Story Pole

The communal carving continued at OCF 2016, but about a year later, the public reception of the Pole had soured. In May 2017, several local Indigenous members had spoken up against the project and the Board hastily rescinded its approval. I recommend reading all of the minutes from that Board meeting, but the following statements illustrate the diverging sentiments on the matter:

Statements in support of the Story Pole:

  • Paul: “When does art not challenge some culture?…This Pole has stainless steel and lights on it. If we are going to respect cultural purity in art, then no Native American or any other culture should have art sold at the Oregon Country Fair.”
  • George Braddock (Ritz Director): “I truly apologize that people were offended by the art we have made for the last 27 years. We celebrate it for its beauty, strength, and its story…The Haida carvers of the Pacific Northwest are without question the best. Why would you not want to learn from the best carvers? Why would you not want to emulate and celebrate the art?”
  • Brad Bolton (Main Story Pole Artist): “I’ve been studying the formline style for the last 27 years. Both Natives and Anglos alike have said they like the art. I have [meant] no disrespect by these carvings. It tells the story of the sauna. We are not claiming we are Natives…The Fair is of the ‘60s and it was about cultural sharing. We reached across lines of race and culture and became brothers and sisters. To see this divisiveness makes me really sad.”

Statements against the Story Pole:

  • Erika: “I am an Indigenous woman from South America…what we see is that the Board and the family at the Fair need an emergency cultural competency class. There is the need to understand white privilege. It is not our job to come and teach you.”
  • NisaJo: “[White supremacy] is an institutional view that white people have by their birth some kind of privilege and rights, and experience the law differently than others. . .This time, this place, we stand on the side of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
  • Ada (Siletz Member): “I want to say thank you so much for listening to your Indigenous community members who drew a boundary and were firm about the distinction [between] creative expression and cultural appropriation.” 

This story highlights the tension inherent in the space between culturally inspired art and cultural appropriation. Both sides have legitimate positions. On the one hand, the Ritz should have done more due diligence before the project had been nearly completed—especially by enlisting at least one Haida carver to lead the work. 

Then again, even this wouldn’t have solved the main contention of the Pole’s local Indigenous opponents: they argued that it was an abomination to have Haida-inspired art on ancestral Kalapuya lands. 

This is a difficult standard, and perhaps reveals to my readers the limits of my progressive views. Here’s the thing: there are also gas stations, shopping malls, grocery chains, sex shops, and McDonald’s on these lands. Why would the presence of other Indigenous art be a particular insult? It is important to preserve the heritage of local groups, but excluding other forms of expression isn’t a realistic requirement when the land has already been privatized and irrevocably transformed.

These are uncomfortable questions for me. Like most progressives, I want to do right by those crushed under history’s yokes of slavery, genocide, and colonialism. I also want to do the difficult work of listening and reckoning with the shame, pain, and injustices of the past. And one important part of shaping a more just future is understanding cultural appropriation. What’s the best way for us to acknowledge and celebrate another culture when we want to share in their art or customs? 

Where these lines are drawn is far from a settled issue. If we try to appease the most sensitive extremists—those who believe white people can’t respectfully engage with any elements of non-white cultures—everything is subject to criticism, artistic expression becomes siloed by race, and nothing is shared. And if we take a free-market approach where folks choose and use the cultures of others, then disrespect, theft, and exploitation are inevitable. 

The Pole could have served as an opportunity to explore this thorny issue, but instead, it sits in storage collecting dust and nobody is satisfied. 

I’m hoping others can share their thoughts. Thanks for reading.

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