CDS Column: Conway Daily Firestarter

Do you know of Friendsgiving? It comes once a year, and it’s a holiday that serves as refuge from family holiday drama. It’s traditional observance is a day or two after Thanksgiving, and it looks a lot like Thanksgiving only calmer.

Mine came on Friday this year. I went to the house of close friends and gorged myself on turkey pot pie, turkey soup, cooked carrots, brussel sprouts and a host of other leftovers that littered the kitchen. Some of us finished a Halloween puzzle while others watched Roger Moore race across the TV, jumping speedboats and judo chopping as James Bond. The kids ran around wild-eyed, and after dinner a handful of us pulled out musical instruments for a jam session. It was what the holidays are supposed to be, with more relaxed laughter than Thanksgiving, among chosen-family not just blood relatives.

About halfway through dinner the host’s sister flashed me a smile. “I hated your column the other day,” she said as she spooned soup into a bowl. “You totally missed the point. It was bad enough that I got mad at you, and I haven’t read any of your stuff since.”

I laughed. “At least you read it,” I said. “Which one was it?”

“I don’t remember,” she replied. “But I hated it. I stopped reading after that. At this point it’s been a little while.”

We eventually sorted out the offending piece was one I wrote prior to the election. It was about locker room talk and how male culture looks at sex. I’d missed an opportunity to talk about power dynamics and the nature of sexual assault, she said. I’d totally blown it. She was calm and articulate as she explained, and all her points were valid.

“I can see that,” I said, nodding as she talked. “Yeah.”

That is one of my favorite parts about writing for a small town paper — walking into International Mountain Equipment or Front Side Grind or the North Conway post office or any of my other usual stops and having people pull me aside.

“I read your piece in the paper the other day,” is how the conversation usually starts, and from that launch point it can go anywhere. Some people love it: “Best thing you’ve written!” they’ll say. Others hate it: “Why did you even write about that?” Some point out points I didn’t have space for. Others point out points I’d never thought of. All of it is lively discussion, usually with a handshake to start and a laugh or two over the course of conversation regardless of its beginning.

There is something about writing for a small newspaper in a small town that keeps you honest. There is no avoiding your neighbors, and your neighbors are your readers. If I write something a reader doesn’t like that reader may very well see me in Hannaford, or Cranmore, or out to dinner. There is no anonymity.

I remember being a kid and going to the grocery store with my dad. We lived in a small town on the Maine coast, and he always used shopping visits as a time to catch up with people. I would stand there bored as he blabbed on, me nagging and pulling at his hand.

Now when I walk through the grocery store I’m twice the offender my dad was: I slowly make my way between handshakes and cart conversations, maybe chatting with friends but more likely getting “feedback” on some piece I’ve written.

And I love it. It’s the point of the writing, the stories, of having something to say. I have reporter friends who have realized they have to avoid the grocery store all together if they ever want to make it home for dinner.

At the outset of any conversation I am almost always driving blind. A reader has something to say, but I don’t know what piece of writing they’re talking about. After a while they all blend together, and sometimes I forget what I just wrote, much less what ran two months ago. But usually my interlocutor can navigate me to the point I was making. Other times I just do my best to carry my side of the conversation despite being totally lost. Tricky business, but oh well.

Other times the notes arrive as emails rather than in person. The feeling is still the same: “You read it? Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I’m not sure why I’m always surprised, but I am. I’m also grateful.

One occasional commenter is another Sun columnist, and no matter what his emails say I take it as the highest compliment. He could have read and then stuffed the Sun in his wood stove. So many of us do. But he didn’t. He thought it worth a word.

Again, honored.

THAT is part of what makes writing worthwhile. Writers write for readers as much as we write for ourselves. I write columns about politics, economics and social issues because I want our community (and our state, and our country) to be its best. They are not meant to chide or lambaste, but to elevate. Maybe my ideas aren’t always complete, and maybe sometimes my thinking is downright wrongheaded (as my Friendsgiving friend gently explained), but they are intended to be sparks, little flashes that light conversations. And hopefully those conversations continue at work, at the grocery store, around the holiday table. They get people talking about issues, sharing diverging viewpoints, debating, discussing. It becomes a conversation between neighbors, community members, people who don’t see eye-to-eye but otherwise believe the person they’re talking to is reasonable, smart, engaged.

People call us the Conway Daily Firestarter. They say it for all the wood stoves we fill. Yes, that may be true. But those aren’t our only sparks.

And again, as always, thank you for reading.


This column ran in today’s Conway Daily Sun.

Love and Thanks

messages-image1395101098I read a short story the other day, and in it the author did all the things I admire. Her writing was playful, light, a drift of thrushes flitting about a thicket. I was deeply taken with her.

My writing, by contrast, is more goose-like: heavy, waddling from here to there. Sometimes it flies, but it only takes flight through powerful strokes. And once airborne it soars; the light dance is not for me.

I wish it were. There is a pixie-ness in erratic movement, a detachment from worry and the future. My writing is too serious, too focused on getting a point across. Responsibility for understanding sits with me, the writer, rather than on you, the reader, and therefore every sentence is planned, deliberate.

But for a book on love that technique will never work. There words can’t fall like stones too heavy to lift again. I’d be lighting a tea candle with a flamethrower. Love deserves better treatment than that. It deserves starlings and pigeons, packs that move in unison though they have nowhere to go. That’s love. Or a version.

I know a girl who holds her heart like a grasshopper tucked in cupped hands and covered. She wants it to leap, but everywhere are frogs waiting so she keeps her hands closed.

Another woman’s beauty is her curse. She’s not sure if it’s her that men love or her container. They profess everything but whenever she speaks they go blank. Her words become an echo. Her physical beauty is only a reflection, that a woman so stunning will accept them is to say they are enough. It is the acceptance they care about. She is lost to them.

I married the same thing once, only it was smart that mattered rather than pretty. She was pretty, mind you, but it was the quick-talking brain I fell in love with. That is to say, if she was that smart and loved me then maybe I was that smart too. I couldn’t tell—I’d never been very good at looking at myself. But with her as my rearview I stared quite contentedly. It didn’t last long.

What is love? Is it a joke? A tease? Because it never seems to go as we’d like. I have an answer, one that leans on trademark and is likely deeply unsatisfying for many. But it was shown to me, so I must tell.

Love is the Force, the Matrix. It is everywhere. It binds the world together. It flows into people and pets and chairs. It moves inanimate objects and pulls apart windmills. It’s a fingerprint from god, and it’s on you.

I wish I could explain it more precisely, but there it is. Love is a hummingbird, not a goose. The goose we can predict. It takes to the sky in great heart-shaped flocks and soars south to north with seasonal efficiency. But love isn’t like that. Love is Canada, where the geese land, and the rain that slows their way. It is the hunter looking to fell them. It is the marshes where they take refuge. It is the bullet and the reed. It is all those things. But we keep looking for the goose alone.

If I love you I don’t care who you are. I look at you and I know. I look at you and see brilliance. I see you for who you are and love that thing. I love it unceasingly, without reciprocation. Love is in the viewing, the standing next to, the breathing in. It is in your scent, the brush of your eyelash, the movement of your throat as you swallow. I love madly because I must love. It has nothing to do with being loved back. Those two are not connected.

Love honors, but it does not keep. How hard to remember! But I do not honor your walk by demanding it parallel mine. I honor your walk by watching you take it, by being blown away by each stumbling step, by admiring your courage those times your heart calls you to walk alone and you heed it, cast me to dust. That tearing sound? It is me. Your walk may leave me bloody, but it amazes me just the same. Love cannot kill me because it is me. It never leaves. It flows in and out of things. Sometimes it flows into you and out of me. A river in springtime, sometimes swelled with snowmelt and rain, a river in fall, sometimes lean and rocky. All versions of love are as equal.

So where does my love live? Where can it reside if not in you, with you? Nowhere. Everywhere. In me. Because you are fleeting, and if I love you I want you to be. I want your transformation to end, for the you that is to be you always. But you are the hummingbird. Your dance I cannot understand. Your shimmer changes with every twitch. I can only watch. I can only follow you with my eyes, my hands, my body. You might linger for a time, but I can not pour myself into you. Such acts are temporary.

So where does my love live? It lives in me. It is me. It is my body and being. It is my every heartbeat and breath. That is where my love lives. I boil with it, and it overflows me. I see you and recognize another such creation, perfect and wild. But I cannot give you anything. I can only hold that love myself, let the wonder of you live in my eyes. I know that love boils in you too, that the grasshopper you carry is a feint, a distracting jellybean. Your love is not for you to give away; it radiates like a second sun. It gives no greater light for my proximity. Find a place to entrust your heart inside of you and let it power the shining. Your heart is everything—the goose and the hunter.

And what of the fear that they are here because of the container? I suffer that fear myself, but only when I am in search of a container too, when my motives are shallow too. My covered eyes allow the world to fool me. Because what is a container? If you love, you offer the world you. That is the gift. Your container is destined to die. I may love the look of you, but look with an eye for beauty and everyone is beautiful. Smart, funny, pretty, kind, everyone has pieces. The other day I drew a woman who had the most stunning lips. I wanted to kiss them, but that’s not what she was there for. All the beauty of the world sat right there beneath her nose: full, red, alive. The rest of her form, what does it matter? Where are your lips?

I can’t fully explain. Either you get this or you don’t. But if you don’t, please come back to me. Reread, looking for pigeons rather than eagles. Majesty cures for a while, but humility allows a glimpse of the world around us. I am not wise, I can barely explain. But the river in springtime flood can carry us away without explanation. Love is like that. Don’t worry about the words themselves. Trust the feeling. Wade in. Worry about nothing. Worry about not drowning. That would be scary.

From the Backseat: Hipster Hunting

Hipster hunting doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I’ve been doing it for about a year. And no, the quarry doesn’t wear flannel or a beard (although if it did, Portland would be rich game grounds). Hipster hunting is hunting as a return to the past, as a return to authenticity, an homage to killing. It’s hunting to personally experience what goes into every meal containing meat.

Because, let’s face it, killing is something we’ve forgotten how to do.

Not as a society — as a people we’re quite adept at killing chickens, cows, pigs, the planet, whatever — but as individuals we’re bad at it. It’s one of many things we’ve outsourced. When was the last time you wrung a bird’s neck? Or smashed a fish over the head with a wooden baton? Sounds brutal, right? A bit barbaric? But here’s the thing: Chicken is GOOD. Fish is GOOD. Who would want to live without fish tacos? Almost every time I order a meal out, I get chicken, fish, lamb, a burger, something made of flesh. So really each time I go out I’m killing a chicken, a sheep, a cow. I mean sure, I’m not the one chopping off its head — that work goes to someone else — but my hunger is the architect of death. I’m basically the chicken Gestapo.

Last night I ordered a burger with bacon on top — not just cow, but a pig on a cow. I killed them, both in one meal. Devastation.

Earlier in the day I grabbed a pair of Otto’s pizza slices, one with bacon, the other turkey. Two more beasts — BAM! — gone.

Some days my fork is set to full auto.

Now I want to be clear: I have no problem with meat. We’re built to eat it, and animals taste awesome. I want cows and chickens and pigs to live happy lives, but I don’t think it’s wrong to eat them.

But we have grown pretty far removed from our food. Some people plant gardens as a reminder of where their carrots come from, but I’ve never been good at half-measures: I signed up to take my proper place in the killing fields—I took a hunter safety course.

But like most half-baked hipster ideas, it’s just not that easy. I’ve been stumbling around the woods for weeks draped in blaze orange and dragging a 12-gauge, but I have yet to experience the primal mix of elation and guilt I imagine accompanies killing.

Hunting is HARD. It may seem like an unfair game — sweet woodland creatures up against a man with a loaded gun — but when the person hunting has no idea what he’s doing the woodland creatures do just fine. I’ve been out a dozen times, and I haven’t shot a thing. I haven’t even swung my gun to my shoulder. The only thing I’ve shot is a paper plate, and if it were moving I’d bet money I’d miss.

I’ve seen game in the woods, but they are a lot faster than I am, a lot stealthier and probably a lot smarter. My best look is their backsides before they disappear into the underbrush.

On a recent trip I got so lost I had to use a compass to find my way back to my car. I followed a course east to the river and then hopped boulders upstream until I came to a bridge. I was tired, thirsty and overheated by the time I got back to my car, and over my two-plus-hour adventure I saw one bird. I didn’t get more than a snap look at him. Trying to follow him I nearly fell in a river. If it weren’t for Hannaford’s rotisserie oven I’d be poultry-starved.

So hipster hunting is thus far not a resounding success. All my meat still comes ordered off a menu. I’ve found new respect for those who can actually go out and harvest something for the table, but my personal ethical escapade has been fruitless.

Killing. It’s grisly business to be sure, but so far my tally is zero. Maybe I’ll have better luck next week.

CDS Column: Lost Hiker

I don’t hike much anymore.

I used to. I used to hike all the time. Through high school it’s all I wanted to do. When I graduated I wasn’t ready for college, so instead I went hiking — first on a cross-country road trip to hike Colorado, the Grand Canyon and Jackson Hole, then on the Appalachian Trail. At 18, I walked from Georgia to Maine. It took four months and transformed me from relative backcountry novice to old hand. Night after night, firing up a tiny backpacking stove, filtering water, sleeping among the pines, hiking became my first full-time job.

From there I moved to mountains, to rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering and skiing, added tools to get me to the top, techniques to push adventures to new heights. “Hiking” became something I did to get to the fun part: the snow, the rock, the vertical parts where the rope came out. I hiked on 14ers in Colorado (the state’s highest peaks), volcanos in Washington and the knife-like ridges of the Tetons, to rock faces in the Shawangunks in New York and Yosemite Valley in California, but keep in mind none of it was hiking.

And over time it moved even further aside. It got renamed “the approach” as I traveled to South America, Europe and Africa for mountains, rock and ice climbs. “Hiking” meant carrying a rope, harness, helmet and all the climbing gear for the adventure ahead, and thus weighted it became more work than fun. The sport once again found itself on my periphery.

But recently I’ve found myself back in the woods. I find myself there with no summit in sight, tramping between trees and ducking under spruce bows, the trail unbeaten and unmarked. I’m out there wandering, splashing through creeks and past logs downed by beavers. It feels like a return, a recovery of my hiking spirit.

But it’s not. It’s from before my high school days, before hiking boots and Gore-Tex and double-walled tents. It’s from my very first explorations of the woods, back in late elementary and middle school when I would pull on duck boots, grab the dog and vanish into the trees out past the cemetery at the end of the street. There were trails, but they were serpentine and poorly marked. The spruce and pine hung close, and though it was only a few hundred acres hemmed in by road on one side and ocean on the other, it was enough to get lost in. There were rotting logs and moss-covered rocks to climb over, and a canopy so thick sunlight struggled to reach the forest floor. It was just woods, more rugged than any hiking trail. My Australian shepherd Cody and I would walk for hours, wandering deer-paths looking for stray antlers and animal signs, imagining ourselves intrepid explorers, Native Americans maybe.

But that’s where hiking began for me, those first forays into woods as pretend hunters and explorers. The nylon windshirts, LED headlamps and ultralight stoves came later, the slick well-marketed modern trappings that now adorn that early call.

My earliest role models weren’t looking to stand on top of things. “Because it’s there” is a modern concept. They were looking to survive, to find enough to eat or the safest/quickest route. “Adventure” was an accident borne of necessity. Hiking wasn’t the approach to those explorers, it was the pre-industrial equivalent to a trip to the grocery store. It wasn’t sport, it was just part of life.

What brought me back to my roots? To the root of my roots? My new hiking partner—not an Australian shepherd, but a 30-year-old Sears and Roebuck 12-gauge.

That’s right, hunting is my new hiking. With my dad’s old shotgun I wander, no vertical objective calling from the horizon. I find myself stumbling through undergrowth, pushing aside tree branches, mucking across marshes and otherwise tramping, the original forest call. I’m not ticking off another peakbagging summit or trying to break my speed record up Washington; I’m just walking, wandering the woods, looking for antlers and animal sign.

And with the walking the wonder returned. The things I used to love about hiking — noticing the feathers scattered among the tree roots marking some kill, walking an old logging road in the cold morning air that eventually peters into nothing, tripping on the rusted hulk of an old peavey left by some long forgotten logger — now lives in blaze orange. It’s exploration with a walking stick of wood and steel.

And just like those early walks with Cody, when I go hunting I have no idea what I’m doing. I get lost. I get wet. I find myself tired and hungry and running low on water. I overdress or underdress, wear the wrong socks or wrong hat. It’s all those things I used to struggle through while hiking, but when there are summits involved I’ve long since learned my lessons. Not in hunting though. In hunting I’m still the utter beginner, more akin to that elementary school kid than ever.

As a result the animals of the forest are safe. I see game, but everything in the woods moves so much faster than me. I have yet to get my gun to my shoulder much less get a shot off before my quarry disappears. It’ll be a long time before I kill anything. When I see something I wind up chasing, but the animals know the hiding spots better than I do. So I search, walk in circles sometimes for hours.

It’s the most hiking I’ve done in years.


This column appeared in today’s Conway Daily Sun.

CDS: Heroin “Ground Zero”

CONWAY — By this point, we are used to hearing about an opiate crisis has reached pandemic proportions. More people dying from overdoses each year than car crashes. A cheaper, stronger heroin that is often mixed with powerful synthetics like fentanyl and destroying lives across the social spectrum.

And while it’s in every corner of the country, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Deputy Administrator Jack Riley, who spoke to WMUR last month, “the Northeast, in particular New Hampshire, is ground zero,” he said.

As if on cue, two days later, the New Hampshire branch of the U.S. Department of Justice announced indicting more than two dozen individuals, mostly from Massachusetts and Manchester, on heroin-trafficking charges.

Locally, news stories about heroin show up with regularity: a Conway man out on bail for one heroin complaint arrested a week later on a second; a Bartlett couple arrested with more than 5 grams of heroin and $4,000 cash; a selectman’s adult son charged with conspiracy to sell heroin; a pair arrested at the public library allegedly using heroin; a homeless man arrested for heroin possession with intent to distribute; a man arrested twice in two months on heroin-related charges. Police are doing what they can to combat addiction and trafficking, but the uptick continues.

But heroin is more than just a headline or a quick story. It is the everyday experience of many in the Mount Washington Valley, from police officers to doctors, EMTs to midwives.

“The question is how we deal with this problem,” Conway Police Lt. Chris Mattei said after a bust in March of 2015. “When we hinder the accessibility of one drug, addicts have proven that they will find another source to feed their addiction. The way to attack the drug issues long-term within a community is to help the addicts who utilize these illicit drugs.”

He is not the only local police official pushing for more prevention.

“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this,” Bartlett Police Chief Janet Hadley Champlin said last month. “As long as there is demand for drugs, there will be suppliers. For all of those in our community who are addicted to drugs, now is the time to get help.”

But there are few options for recovery. The state’s own report on New Hampshire’s substance use disorder treatment service capacity lists Carroll County as one of four regions without any residential programs, and according to addicted.org there is not a single long-term recovery program northeast of Lebanon and Tilton.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, ranks third in the nation for prescription rates of long-acting/extended-release opioids, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report released in September. Neighboring Coös County ranks as one of seven counties in New England with an overdose mortality rate of more than 20 per 100,000 deaths. And Carroll County is not far behind: one of the 20 New England counties with overdose mortality rate above 16 per 100,000.

Dr. Matt Dunn works nights in Memorial Hospital’s emergency department. He grew up in the valley, graduated from Kennett High in 1991, but he did his medical training in Albany, N.Y. He worked in a 400-bed hospital in Glen Falls, N.Y., before returning here almost three years ago. Dunn sees patients with opiate-related complaints “multiple times a week,” he said. “I see much more frequent issues with heroin here than I ever did in New York.”

The heroin-related complaints Dunn deals with fall into three categories: overdoses where the patient “is just about to die,” injection-related infections and people coming in asking for help.

These days, it is EMS personnel who do the heavy lifting in overdose cases. New protocols have enabled almost anyone to administer naloxone (Narcan), an opiate antidote, and “often by the time overdose patients get to me they’re awake and talking,” Dunn said. Many, he said, “get up and leave.”

Ambulance personnel see something else.

“The heroin snore,” Rick Murnik, director of the Bartlett/Jackson Ambulance Service, said referring the depressed breathing of overdose patients. “Once you see it, you’ll never forget what it looks like.”

An overdose leaves the patient taking only four or five breaths a minute — too few to keep them alive.

“Our first heroin overdose was five or six years ago,” Murnik said. “We didn’t know what it was.”

Now the service, which responds to only about 500 calls a year, sees several a month.

Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon described what his EMTs see all too often: a patient reported to be unconscious, pale, breathing at less than half the normal rate, maybe lodged between the bed and a wall or sprawled in the bathroom.

“We’ll find well-meaning people have tried to revive them by pouring water on them,” he said. But water doesn’t work.

What does work is Narcan, which in Conway is usually given via IV and nasally in Bartlett.

“Within a minute or two, that person will wake up,” Solomon said, and sometimes they’ll be grateful that the EMTs that just saved their life. But some will be angry, upset that someone interrupted their high.

“We’re using Narcan to bring these people back from death,” Solomon said, and ambulance staff may end up getting yelled at.

In Conway, there may be no overdoses for a while, Solomon said, and then the next day there’s one at noontime, another in the evening, two more at night. His guess is overdoses surge when a new batch of drugs comes to town. “It’s not so much there are more people doing drugs,” he said. “It’s that the drugs have changed. The dose they give themselves to get high is now a lethal dose.”

One girl in her 20s “we’ve brought back from the dead three times,” Solomon said. “Most of our narcotic overdose patients we’ve seen before.”

But, says Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University and a fellow with the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, “we’re not going to Narcan our way out of this.” What her research has uncovered is that addiction takes root in rural communities and small cities left stagnant by structural economic change.

In the face of sustained economic hardship and uncertainty, “drugs and alcohol are a way to cope.”

“The problem is not a new problem,” she said. “The problem has been building for three decades.”

Access to Narcan and improved mental health services are “important first steps,” but “we need to get to the underlying cause. People without a college education need opportunities for a livable wage,” she said. “People need to feel their role in this country is important.”

In the valley, organizations are still figuring out how to serve a population with growing addictions.

Memorial Hospital, for instance, launched a prenatal program in March after more than a year of watching the number of heroin-addicted mothers-to-be skyrocket.

“We were seeing more and more moms coming in who were addicted,” said Dr. Marni Madnick, an OB/GYN at Memorial. “We felt we had to do something.”

Ten percent of pregnancies at Memorial involve opioid — primarily heroin — dependence. In 2014, that meant roughly 24 women.

Infants born to addicted moms require more treatment than traditional moms, which can mean days in an acute care setting.

But concentrated support upfront can reduce the services addicted babies need. So Memorial’s midwives, OB/GYNs and birthing center staff drew up plans for the New Life prenatal program, combining pre- and postnatal care, community support services and access to social workers with drug treatment and substance abuse counseling.

“It’s a lot more work,” Madnick said. These moms often face additional challenges even beyond addiction, like transportation problems, financial limitations and domestic violence issues. But if the team can meet these challenges, they can make a real difference.

Since the center opened, it has helped four women give birth. Each received the prescription drug Subutex to treat the mom’s opiate cravings and the fetus’ addiction.

“Our goal is to keep these moms with us for one year postpartum,” Madnick said.

Ten more moms are set to deliver at New Life over the next nine months.

Dr. Dunn, meanwhile, focuses his prevention efforts on high school students. Research shows the majority of heroin users report first experimenting with opiates between age 17 and 25, so he has been holding forums at Kennett High to talk about the risks.

“Once this decision is made, it often becomes a lifelong issue,” Dunn said. Therefore, it is vitally important to reach people before they take their first dose.

“I’ve seen straight-A honor students die,” he said.

“This can be anyone, from any walk of life,” he said. “It’s a tragedy everywhere. But this is where we live.”


This story ran in the Conway Daily Sun.

From the Backseat: Fear, the Biggest Liar

I will not be afraid.

Fear is a mask without holes to see through. It pulls at us, weighs us down. It is a yoke, a liar. I will not be afraid.

I will, however, say thank you to the women in my life: my sister Liz, my mom Nell, my nieces Charlie, Kennedy and Mackenzie. My sister-in-law. My step-mother. My cousin Lisa. My friends Helga, Lindsay, Terry, Nicole, Ana, and others too many to list and too strong to hold down. You are breathtaking. Powerful. Worthy. Equal. Unique. Amazing. I can only imagine your thoughts, the frustrations spinning inside. There is nothing I can say or do, but I hear you, grieve with you. Not for a missed political opportunity, but for the national sidestep around your inherent equality, our collective rejection of your internal capacity. For the continued elevation of your bodies as objects. For the grinding lack of respect you endure.

And to my friends of color — Jahad, Cynthia, Sinclair, Ish, Katie, Miguel, Helga, Lisa — my Muslim friends — Wasim, Farah, Selma — I can only imagine this moment for you, the feelings of exclusion, of otherness. You are the blood and bones of America. Your Haitian heritage, Salvadoran past and Saudi roots add texture to our fabric, your Friday prayers as sacred as Sunday. Worth does not live in color, sex or religion. It just is. Do not dim your light for anything, for anyone — doing so robs both you and the world.

Where to go from here? Part of me wants to drop the anger, to push for healing and national unity. But another part realizes this is a false choice, that the repudiation of Clinton and Obama grew out of racism and misogyny. Anger at the extreme right, meanwhile, is a rejection of these most American characteristics.

So how do we extract hate and exclusions from America? How do we instead spread ideals like tolerance, inclusivity and religious liberty? By yelling at opponents? No. We have to try something else.

Hurt people hurt people, a friend told me. Hurt people lash out. They react. They do damage. America today is full of hurt people. Will we, the tolerant, now become hurt too? Will this rejection grow to anger?

No. I will not be afraid. Fear is what got us here. I am sad, disheartened, but I will not move forward in anger. America has had enough of that.

Instead, I will look for the bright spots. Like Pious Ali, who was elected to Portland’s City Council. The first African-born Muslim to hold the office, he is a resounding voice for America’s integrated future. I heard Ali speak in September on young immigrants and people of color in America. His message was clear: We are stronger together. The gaps that divide us are narrow. The success of our newest citizens mark success for us all. Ali is not a man of fear. His eyes are open. He sees the American challenge with clarity, and instead of cowering in its shadow he smiles at it. He brings an unfettered heart to the fight. We must do the same.

The forces of inclusivity are strong, woven deep within the American experiment. We, the tolerant, are not alone. Fear and exclusionary violence will erupt from time to time, but those blows cannot overcome America’s inevitable grind towards equality. Over the long arc we are moving forward, and that movement continues, however awkwardly.

But our fight will always be hamstrung. We are cursed with the knowledge our opponents are as human as we are, as worthy and valuable as ourselves. We cannot demonize; even those who see us as abhorrent are our brothers.

How do we rise from such handicap? Like Ali: With clear eyes. By refusing to cower and rejecting the shadows. By realizing our commonalities will always be stronger than our rifts are deep. By engaging even our adversaries with curiosity and compassion. By refusing to be afraid. Fear is a liar. Put down that mask.


This column appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Wednesday After

13403970_1509050489121031_6107610005133950721_oI caught the most amazing wave today.

My arms and shoulders were still tired from handstand class, but the waves were peeling long. My friend Mike sent me a note that he was going to Higgins Beach, and in the aftermath I decided to join. I entered the water in full neoprene—hood, gloves and booties even—and hopped my way out as far as I could against the surge. At the last break of whitewater I started paddling. A few waves crested over me, crashed and pushed me under, but after a few surf sessions in recent weeks I’ve developed enough fitness that I got out.

But barely. These were big waves, and by the time I pulled beyond them my shoulders were spent, my arms slapping the water. I sat up, let the ocean roll beneath me. I’d done the hard part, made it past the breakers, and now was recovery. I sat for 7 or 8 minutes, bobbing.

Then I started chasing waves. They were big and loose, I kept missing their pull. They came with enough force, but I was far out and they lacked shape. I kept sitting up and looking for something to carry me.

Then it came. I’m not nearly the surfer as I am a climber, but this wave wanted to teach me. I felt it buck underneath me, steep and rowdy. I paddled to match, pulled with everything left in the marrow of my shoulders. And it took me. Suddenly I was sliding down its face. I hopped up, shooting forward in the gathering maelstrom, turned and grabbed the wave’s shoulder, its crest roaring and tumbling white at my back. I felt it catching up, saw churning in my periphery, but I augured deep, carved into her flesh as the wave rolled forward. I was on the brink, just a step ahead of the tumbling, in the pocket, my board carving a dividing line between blue face and crashing white. I’d landed here before, but never on anything nearly so big—it was taller than me, snarling like a wolf at my feet. But my fingers were in its mane, and I held fast.

I don’t know how long it lasted—like those infrequent moments where I hold a handstand it felt like forever, but it was seconds, 20 or 25 maybe, or maybe only 10. I rode the flashing teeth, danced in their spray, felt the board rock and toss, dragged my fingers against the ocean’s lips. She seemed to rise to meet me, to push me with an angry kiss. I shot forward, ahead of the white and onto a less turbulent elbow. I bounced down these final tendrils to the foam of the beach, where I jumped, leaving the beast to the rodeo clowns.

It was incredible, perfect. It still feels like someone else’s memory.