Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Exile on Main Street

This is the day my Main Street Journal column would normally appear, but unfortunately, the site is now in extended hiatus and my column is on permanent vacation. I'd written one last piece that didn't run, however, so I'm posting it below.

Writing Southpaw was a great opportunity for me and I appreciate all the support I received for that work. Thanks for reading, y'all. And hey, if you need a columnist, drop me a line.

Babies, Elephants, Walks

On a recent summer afternoon, I stood with my two children outside the elephant enclosure at the Memphis Zoo. Because I’m a complete zoo nerd who knows such things, I encouraged my five-year-old son to call their names. As he said each one – Tyranza, Asali, and Gina – their gargantuan ears shuddered and their eyes glanced in his direction, but they couldn’t be distracted from their recently delivered lunch. The kids quickly lost interest and were ready to move on to the pandas and bonobos, but I had a harder time walking away. It had been a while since I saw those girls. I missed them.

Nearly nine years ago, as a brand-new mother with few friends in Memphis, I spent countless afternoons at the zoo. I lived within walking distance and packing my infant daughter into her stroller and making the wide loop to Prentiss Place and back was a regular part of our routine. As a zoo member, I didn’t feel a need to see every animal on every visit. But I almost always went to see the elephants.

There were only two then – Gina hadn’t get joined the herd. As often as possible, I’d coordinate my trips to the keeper chats and docent talks, and I felt even more connected to these animals as I learned about their histories and habits.

One afternoon, though, I was the only visitor at the exhibit. I held my baby on my hip and looked out on their miniaturized veldt. “Tyranza,” I said, my voice no louder than if I were talking to a friend beside me. The stately matriarch turned to look at me. “Tyranza,” I said again. The elephant walked toward us, her eyes bright and curious in her paleolithic head. She came as close as she could to the border of her enclosure, looked right at us, and lifted her trunk. The power of her presence, and her awareness, stunned me. I held her gaze for minutes, not able to look away until the baby began to fuss at my stillness.

Tyranza is the grandmother of the herd, twenty years older than her companions. She has been exempt from the recent reproductive efforts among the younger females, efforts that have ended in a late miscarriage for Gina and the tragic accidental death of Asali’s newborn calf. The latter captured the compassion and grief of Memphians in a way few local stories have. The loss of that animal seemed to galvanize our worst self-perception that nothing good can last here.

At the time I held my daughter and spoke to an elephant, I was fighting a hopelessness of my own. I felt isolated and overwhelmed, unaware that post-partum depression was coming over me like a shadow. Luckily, I soon found my own matriarchal troupe, a gathering of other new moms at a retail store and community center called Mothersville. This space was so essential to my early motherhood that I eventually became the owner, doing the best I could to create a place for women to find support and companionship during those powerfully, and often surreptitiously, difficult days. When I closed the store in 2008, my greatest sadness was for the mothers who might never find each other.

In the years since Mothersville’s  end and Asali’s terrible loss, however, something surprising has happened in Memphis. Even amid awareness of our tragicomic missteps, there is a growing civic pride that exists almost to spite our own long-standing modesty. (Just say the words “Mayor Wharton” to feel a sense of this new mentality.) And from the safe distance of a mother of school-age children, I see an ever-growing community among new moms, connecting through social media and planning time to get together in person.

I hope those women find the friendship and understanding that marked my time at Mothersville. I hope they grow into their motherhood together and still have each other’s numbers when they need help carting science projects and picking drivers’ ed instructors. And if they start to feel under that stealthy shadow, during those earliest, most dangerous days, I hope they’ll find a place where they can get some inner sun – a coffee shop, a friend’s porch, or of course, the zoo.

Tyranza and I will be happy to see them.


If you or a loved one is struggling with post-partum depression, visit www.JennysLight.org for information on when, how, and where to find help.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Our Pre-Existing Condition

[Ed. note: My Main Street Journal column this week had some formatting issues, so although I don't usually republish these pieces in their entirety, I had enough people tell me they couldn't open the original that I wanted to provide another viewing option. So on this Independence Week, I patriotically present the original rough draft of the Supreme Court's time-saving combined decision on immigration and healthcare ...]






Look, it’s summer. Not just regular summer, but some kind of sci-fi, stupid-hot, super-summer, with every American city including Washington D.C. hovering somewhere near 115 degrees. (Not that there’s global warming or anything, right, Scalia?) And we don’t know if you noticed, but the Court spends the day in ankle-length black wool. So let’s just save some time before Clarence goes commando and get right to what you’re all waiting for.

In 2010, Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in order to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care. An Arizona statute known as S. B. 1070 was also enacted in 2010 to address pressing issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens in the State. What do these two things have in common? Well, the Court submits that both laws seek to define the nature and character of what we generally refer to as an American, and in a little-known article tacked onto the Constitution by Daniel Webster, the responsibility of maintaining this definition is handed to the Court at any point in time in which the opinions of a majority of Americans are overpowered by an especially pushy and well-funded minority.

At the time of its passage, Americans found the Affordable Care Act to be a positive thing, by a margin of 49 percent to 401. And yet, by the time the Court ruled on the law, 72% of those polled felt the (misnamed) “individual mandate” provision of the ACA was “unconstitutional.2” Which the Court finds kind of funny, being that less than a third of Americans have actually read the thing3. Because you know who has eighteen thumbs and has totally read the Constitution? These guys. Well, more than a third of us, anyway. And we tend to believe that a non-stop flurry of talking points, scare tactics, and misinformation had much more influence on public opinion than anything found in Ol’ Connie (yeah, we nicknamed the Constitution. Jealous?).

Even those who favor repealing the ACA don’t generally believe the entire thing should be scrapped. Less than 1 percent of those polled felt that the coverage of those with pre-existing conditions and young adults under 26 should be revoked4. Which means that 99 percent of people agree with these two landmark reforms. And if memory serves, there hasn’t been 99 percent agreement on any provision of any law since the historic passage of the Cake at Birthday Parties Act of 1827.

Likewise, two thirds of Americans believe that immigration is a good thing for the country5. Now, asked specifically about border patrols and paper-checks and other methods of enforcing immigration laws, people tend to get a little less generous, but at heart, we are a nation that remembers, way back in our collective conscience, that we’re all immigrants. Well, except for Maricopa County, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose ancestors sprung fully formed from the Statue of Liberty’s torch. (What, the Court can’t be sarcastic?)

So here’s the deal. You can’t arrest undocumented immigrants for trying to get a job. You can’t set immigration policy on a state-by-state basis, because guess what? It’s a state. You can’t immigrate to a state. No one ever got on a boat and travelled for five months in filthy, overcrowded conditions to immigrate to Alabama.

And for those lucky enough to be born here, who never for a day have to worry about a traffic stop turning into a thousand-mile one-way trip, our responsibilities are even greater. If we are going to hold ourselves up as an example among nations, we better act like one. And step one is providing access to medical care for every citizen. We’re sure sorry that means that some healthy libertarians and off-the-grid homeopaths may have to pony up a few hundred bucks to remain insurance-free, but if the “mandate” eats at your conscience and sense of autonomy, consider it a tax that pays for you to be protected from the roaming gangs that would be fighting you for your land in any other country that doesn’t have national health care. (Okay, sometimes the Court exaggerates a little. But still.)

From the earliest peoples traveling across the Bering Strait from the mother continent to the immigrant workers upholding today’s industry, our very existence as a country depends on the transfer of individuals from other places to this one. And our continued esteem as a country depends on joining ourselves together for the collective good and assuring that something as basic as physical health is considered a right for all and not a privilege for some.

For centuries, citizens of other lands have risked their lives to find better ones here. In this country. In our America. Some of them were our ancestors, some of them are our neighbors. We owe it to all of them to make it worth the trouble.

Roberts out.

1 USA TODAY/Gallup, Mar. 24, 2010
2 USA TODAY/Gallup, Feb. 20-21, 2012
3 National Survey of Americans' Awareness and Understanding of the Constitution and Constitutional Concepts, Sponsored by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, Sept. 2010
4 New York Times/CBS News, Jan. 15-19, 2011
5 USA TODAY/Gallup, June 7-10, 2012