Friday, August 24, 2012

Thinking About Integrity

This morning, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of heroes. When we're children, we have a lot of heroes. For some people, a hero may be a parent, teacher, or favorite character. For example, a child might admire a firefighter, her first grade teacher, or a superhero like Spiderman or Superman.

As we get older though, our heroes start to become tarnished. The child may learn that the firefighter isn’t that heroic or may outgrow his admiration of Superman. As adults, we assume that everyone is tarnished, everyone is flawed and we stop admiring people who aren’t “perfect.” We stop believing in the idea of heroism, and we become cynical and jaded about human nature.

I think many of us still have an idealism about what a hero should be, but real life experience teaches us that there are no heroes because a real human can’t live up to the perfect ideal. Perhaps we need to change our definition of heroism. Maybe a hero is not a person without flaws. Instead, the true hero is someone who overcomes her or his flaws when doing so matters most.

Personally, I have four people I admire greatly. Three of my heroes are fairly well-known, while I don’t know the name of my fourth hero. For those who know me well, it won't be a surprise that my four heroes are members of the gay and lesbian community. My first hero is U.S. diver and Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis. Mr. Louganis overcame so much to accomplish his diving records, and I admire the fact that he was flawed but still great. Anyone who hasn’t read is memoir “Breaking the Surface” should buy a copy and read it.

My second hero is Col. Greta Cammermeyer, the Army nurse who challenged “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” in the early 1990s. Col. Cammermeyer served with integrity, and her suit against the Army made her the highest-ranking officer to challenge that law. She later had an unsuccessful bid for Congress. Again, those who haven’t read “Serving in Silence,” the memoir of her service, should get a copy soon.

My third hero is Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on United Flight 93. Mr. Bingham was about my age and also born in Arizona. More importantly, he was among those passengers who rushed the hijackers and kept Flight 93 from reaching its target. I should also add that I respect his mother because she didn't let the media “whitewash” his story. That is, she made sure America knew that one of its 9/11 heroes was gay. I think too many parents would have tried to hide that fact, and I admire her for being true to Mr. Bingham’s memory.

My fourth hero is a woman whose name I have never known. However, her face is seared in my mind. Following the horrific 1989 earthquake in California when two sections of the freeway collapsed onto one another like pancakes, she was regularly shown on the news walking that stretch, tears streaming down her face, searching for her “friend.” I don't know if it's true, but I've heard in the years since then that she was looking for her lost partner. Of course, no news agency would say that in 1989, and I’ve never been able to find out what her name was or for whom she was searching. Whether or not she was actually a lesbian, her devotion and her sorrow will forever haunt my memory.

These four people were not perfect. They were human, which means they made mistakes, they had flaws, and they sometimes did things that weren't admirable. What sets them apart is that when it really mattered, they were true to themselves and they faced adversity with integrity. That's a model we all should follow. I wonder how many of us would have our legacies whitewashed and “straightened up” by those we leave behind?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Creatively Adrift

This week, my online poetry writing class started. I love reading poetry, and I admire those who write good poetry. To me, a good poet is the most gifted writer because she or he can convey important information in the most concise way possible. I also love the wordplay involved with poetics, the way poets use a word’s multiple meanings in the same text.

While I love poetry, I’ve never considered myself a poet. I’ve dabbled in it a bit, which I think is true of many writers. But, I’ve never shared my efforts with anyone. I’m a perfectionist, and my work has never felt “worthy” of sharing. While that’s also true of my prose, I’m more comfortable sharing my prose works with others because I write in prose more often. And, I’m opinionated. (Hence, this blog.)

My poetry class requires us to post poems for our instructor to review each week. Twice during the class, we’ll also post poems for our classmates to read, which terrifies me. However, I’m trying to approach this class with a willingness to take risks. That’s because Jen recently reminded me of an article I read about a year ago, which talked about how many people aren’t afraid of failure. Instead, they’re afraid of success. That article was a bit unnerving because I saw a reflection of myself.

Because of that article, I think my fear of this class is prompted by an opportunity for growth. That is, my terror at writing and sharing my poems could be a fear of success, meaning this is a step I ought to take in my writing life to become the writer I want to be. Since that could be possible, I’m trying to face my fear in hopes that some growth and improvement as a writer will be the end result. Keep your fingers crossed this works out.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fast Food Insanity

In the past couple of weeks, social networking has fueled a brouhaha over the fast food chain Chick –fil –A and the owner’s public stance opposing same-sex marriage. The company has donated large sums of money to groups opposing same-sex marriage, based on the owner’s interpretations of Christian doctrine.

In response, liberal groups organized a boycott of the company, while conservatives planned an appreciation day, in hopes of boosting the company’s sales. Conservatives positioned their event as a “free speech” issue, claiming that liberal activists were trying to deny the company owners Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and religion by boycotting the company.

The claim is patently absurd, although many on the left would be only too happy to deny free-speech rights to conservatives. Of course, conservatives are equally ready to permanently gag the left. No one active in politics can remember that we’re Americans first and political ideologues second. Since both sides of the debate are equally rabid and ridiculous, I won’t address the absurdities they’ve been spouting.

My issue about this entire debate comes from the political arena. Various elected officials in different cities and states have taken sides in the debate over the company and its activities. The mayors of Boston and Chicago announced that they would actively oppose any attempts to open either corporate-owned stores or franchises in their cities. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn originally supported these kinds of stances, but she later revised her comments, indicating that she is only siding with New York University students who are petitioning to close the only location in New York City, which is on the NYU campus.

I read a brilliantly worded Op-Ed on the New York Times by Steve Salbu titled “Let Chick-fil-A Fly Free.” Mr. Salbu’s essay argued that political figures have no business trying to keep Chick-fil-A from opening new stores in their cites, and he argues that attempts to do so are violations of citizens’ rights by these elected officials. That is, he positions his argument to say that an elected official who uses the office to suppress a business is making a choice for all the citizens, when citizens should be allowed to “vote” on the issue by either supporting or boycotting the company. His comments echo Mayor Bloomberg of New York, who said that he opposes the company’s stance but that it has a right to run its business as it sees fit.

While I think there are some holes to this argument, I agree with Mr. Salbu that citizens will vote on this issue, either by giving this company money or taking their custom elsewhere. Ironically, this isn’t the first time that Chick-fil-A has donated money to groups opposing gay rights. And, it won’t be the last. What is notable this time is that a wider portion of Americans is aware of the issue and is taking a stance. In the past, only members of the LGBTQ community and its closest allies were aware of Chick-fil-A’s business practices. In the long run, that suggests that companies like Chick-fil-A are on the losing end of history.