Dear Connor: Put on your listening ears

A message from your MamaDada

 

I’m taking a quick side trip with this post. It’s more personal than the others because sometimes we don’t understand the big picture if we don’t pay attention to the personal one.

You know you make your MamaDada nuts, right, Connor? Well, actually, at almost-four you probably don’t, but you do. You make them nuts because you are an extroverted, quick-to-decide, dreaming pragmatist.

Combine all that with a toddler’s ceaseless energy and, well, you just wear us out. But, even when we’re dead beat on our feet, nothing tops one of your sparkle-eyed grins.

And it’s to protect that grin that the rest of us will do whatever it takes.

Your great-grandpa, Dick Grist, loved watching his grandsons rear their children. He applauded the ways in which both mothers and fathers were so completely engaged with their kids. It was something his generation of fathers didn’t do. I’m pretty sure he always wished it might have been otherwise.

I love watching you create a family with your MamaDada. We make the two of them one word because that’s how in sync they are with you. Pretty sweet.

Your Dada was born at the beginning of the digital revolution. He remains a geeky early-adopter who’d rather solve a programming problem than shoot hoops. He and I can happily Facetime at 2 o’clock in the morning, working through some website challenge, while the rest of you are sleeping tight.

That makes me happy. I love that the interwebby world of possibilities keeps your Dada and me connected.

So I share here a post your Dada sent to me. It captures the dissonance and disillusion of today’s unraveling.

But it also captures the hope your Dada’s Millennial generation brings to this turning point in American history. And that’s what makes me say we are going to be OK. Put on your listening ears and understand Dada’s dreams for you and the ways in which he’s preparing you for your roles in our future.

Nov. 2, 11:25 a.m.: I strongly believe that we live in a time where extreme partisanship – along the lines of our allegiance to sports-ball teams – is both accepted and embraced.

Add to that, our growing ease and comfort with posting, ‘sharing,’ having a voice online (regardless of the legitimacy or truthfulness of that voice) and the troubling acceptance of substantiated non-traditional news sources that promote the comfortable echo chamber many people want to live in.

We now have a massive forum for misinformation, propaganda and a continuing push to remain ignorant and unable to have purposeful conversations as a community.

We are shifting from a society that works together to achieve, to one of divided in-group success at the detriment of the out-group.

It makes me sad to see people I like behave in this way. It troubles me deeply as I realize that it will probably take something catastrophic to bring us back together in a place of common goals and passion.

Maybe, hopefully I (and others) will be wrong about an impending precipice. But, I can’t sit back and willfully ignore that we are on a destructive path.

While I can’t fix or change it as an individual, I can write about it, I can teach my son and give him the tools to deal with the mess he, and his generation are going to inherit in 20 years. And I can pray (not that I am particularly religious) that there will be others that do the same.

 

“Dear Connor” is a collection of essays written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in final crisis generational turning of America.  

Dear Connor: Nine promises that we will be OK

We will be OK. If ………

 

My Facebook news feed Tuesday night and into the following morning was a microcosm of the voting population. The stunned grief of Hillary supporters. The shocked celebration of Trump supporters.

The happy folks didn’t much bother me. After all, it’s always been the victors right to do some happy dancing when their candidate — or their team — wins. Heck, imagine how awful Cleveland baseball fans felt when pretty much the whole country was rubbing Cubs blue in their faces.

But, I was worried — and still am — about the palpably painful grief and anger among Clinton supporters. It will take them a long time, maybe forever, to process that grief. They cannot and should not be rushed. I know these people and I am confident that most, if not all, will eventually turn right-side up.

I’m worried about the unleashing of vitriol among the Trump supporters. I’m not so naive that I thought our culture had moved past all the -isms. Lands, we’d just gotten to the point that we didn’t say those things in public. Didn’t mean we weren’t thinking them. But I still am sickened by the Trump supporters who’ve decided spewing their hatred is now OK.

During a slow point in Friday’s Key West Veterans Day parade, an Alabama-born friend recounted this: “First time something like this happened to me here in Key West,” he said. “Biking down Duval yesterday when this bunch of 60-ish guys, big, ol’ fat, good ol’ boys, tourists, started hollering ‘well, finally we can start to get rid of all these faggots like that guy.”

My friend kept on pedaling, refraining — this time, he said — from his customary retort: “Yeah, well, it’s an armed faggot.”

“Hell,” he said. “It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve heard that shit. And, that ‘armed faggot’ thing usually settles ’em down. But, this isn’t good.”

There are countless other examples; feel free to Google.

In the meantime, I’m grabbing hold of belt loops. I posted these notes to Facebook just hours before Trump’s acceptance speech and repeat them here because I do, sincerely, believe we will be OK. But, it’s going to get worse before it gets better:

10:45 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 8: The anger, the dissonance, has been building since the mid-1990s. It’s not a surprise if one has paid attention to more than just one’s like minds. We have to weather the anger and the fallout from it for another five-10 years. It won’t be easy. It likely could be cataclysmic. But once done, our country will heal. And that’s going to happen regardless of who wins tonight. Keep the faith. Do the right things. We’ll be OK.

12:59 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9: I’m posting this before we know the outcome. I post it knowing I have friends and family who are horrified and those who are celebrating. I post it now because I am praying we will do everything within our power to avoid shredding our country. We did that once in 1860. It killed almost a million of us. I am an American who believes this country can rise to its best and resist the siren lure to sink to its worst instincts. To do that, the next president must pledge — and then act — to be the president of all Americans. And that means a full-throated pledge to pull back from the rhetoric that fuels the politics of dissonance. Remember. Half of us, give or take a few, are not celebrating this morning. We are devastated and most assuredly afraid. Godspeed, my friends.

Being OK doesn’t mean the next several years will be moonbeams and unicorns. The next decade will be harsh, unsteady, inexplicable and frightening. We will, as a country, walk with that awesome shadow of the valley of death. History tells us that we must face our worst selves before we can create our best.

History says it will take 10 years to fully resolve the fragmentation that has become our lives. I think it will come faster than that because our 24-7-365 social media culture makes for fast-moving events and shortened cycles.

We will be OK. If…..

  • If we do good by those who need us
  • If we share our gifts according to the gifts we have received. The more you get, the more you give
  • If we refuse to stand silently when injustice rears its head next to us
  • If we refuse to look away when another is hurting
  • If we pick up the trash instead of walking past it
  • If we offer a smile rather than a frown.
  • If we do the little things that matter and eventually pile up into a remarkable force for good
  • If we stand steadfast against the haters — and learn the difference between a willful hater and an ignorant one. Most of us a teachable, my friends.
  • If we hope for the best, protect ourselves and others from the worst, and work for the good of all. Back in cliched corporate days, the boss used to make us say “opportunity” instead of “problem.” It was dumb. It worked.

My faithful optimism is neither willfully ignorant of the challenges ahead, nor is it rainbows and unicorn thinking. Instead it is nurtured in decades of faith and decades of learning.

The 5.375 words I’ve written come down to this prayer:

 

Show me my path. Teach me along the way. Grant me peace. Sustain my hope. Let me laugh.

 

“Dear Connor” is a collection of essays written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in final crisis generational turning of America.  

Dear Connor | Key West Pokemon and the Outrage Button

Good afternoon, Connor.

I did the eye roll thing over the latest iteration of Pokemon and figured it was just another mindless time suck best left to the younguns. That was before I read these two words: AUGMENTED REALITY.

No self-respecting, shiny-ball-loving geek could pass up that challenge. I’ve speculated about the pragmatic possibilities of virtual and augmented for longer than your MadaDada is old. (Hundreds of journalists will do their own eye rolls when they read this. They suffered through an eternity of hours listening to me ramble.)

Anyway, I downloaded the app and (shivers along the spine), there’s a Pokemon thingy right down the street from me. Sorely tempted to dash out the doors in search of Bulbasaur in the real world, I just smacked him with a virtual ball. Cute thing, though.

It’s taken less than 24 hours for my social media news feeds to meltdown over the Pokemon Go phenomena. In between news headlines, cat videos, recipes and friends’ birthdays — all the glorious, confused and cluttered stuff of life that makes me love social media — there’s all the adorable Pokemon characters.

A surprising number of people are hitting the Outrage Button, with comments along the lines of “what the heck is this waste; aren’t there more important things in the world”?

cropped-KWWM_Letters.pngI’d say conclusively that starving children, dying parents and the implosion of the world as we know it are but three of today’s Top 100 Most Important Things Over Which We Should Hit The Outrage Button.

I use the Outrage Button frequently. It’s a galvanizing tool when one writes columns and editorials. See, read, hear, smack the Outrage Button and your fingers roar across the keyboard. Put a period on it. Hit send. Grab a smoke and a drink with friends. Outrage spent. Gear up. Do it again. Occasionally the outrage makes a difference, which, of course, is a good thing. A lot of time, the outrage fades in whispers.

These days smacking the Outrage Button is a split second click of Facebook’s angry face. That’s a problem because too much outrage exhausts us, makes us ineffective, encourages us to substitute a click of the Outrage Button for getting off our backsides and doing something to make a difference.

And then there’s Pokemon. It makes us smile. It’s a respite from the staggeringly challenging world. Pokemon Go an extraordinarily simple, fun integration of advanced technology, social interaction and walking around your neighborhood. Not a lot of downside.

In the midst of all the things over which we must be outraged, taking a few minutes to find pleasure restores us and makes us strong for the work on which we then turn our efforts. I walked to the White Street Pier this morning playing my version of Pokemon Go: Find half a dozen tiny things along the way that make me smile and remind me there a good things in the world.

Here’s my list:

  • The now-fading-a-little-bit-everyday black asphalt that made the pier one hot walk a month ago
  • Tourists take the time to explore the island
  • The Conch Train conductors who repeat the same things a dozen times and make them sound like the first time
  • A string of a 15 rental bike folks who streamed through the park, each smiling and nodding as they passed me
  • Two mangoes from our tree that dropped in the pool and didn’t split or bruise
  • Herbie the Frog, whom your Ghee painted one day for no reason at all, except it was fun

If I can figure out how not to scare the neighbors so they won’t call the cops, I’m going to find that Pokemon thingy up the street.

Love you, Connor Cunningham. Don’t forget your prayers.

“Dear Connor” will become a collection of occasional blog posts written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in the summer of 2016.  

 

 

Dear Connor | Being a grownup sucks

Lee and Sarah

Good morning, Connor.

Being a grownup sucks. You’re three so you’re thinking about things like blue PlayDoh. You think Henny-Penny is a great kids’ book about a nutso chicken, not a description of this summer’s run amok world. But, yeah, being a grownup sucks because, well, you’re the grown up and you have to make all manner of decisions you wish someone else would make.

One of the hardest things about being a grownup is figuring out how to be a good parent. When your Dada was little like you, I used to say (not totally in jest) that if he turned into an ax murderer it would be because I went back to work when he was six weeks old. Your Dada did not become an ax murderer, so we must have done something right along the way.

Anyway, I’ve been texting with your Dada about these Dear Connor columns I’ve begun to write to help me make sense of this world we live in. I thought you might someday like to know how smart your MamaDada are. Here’s a column your dad wrote after he read my first Dear Connor columns.

My parents have always been there, first to keep me safe, then to teach, then to laugh and experience life. There were times growing up that I would turn to one or the other for a sounding board, guidance and some insight.

In the last 3+ years, as Sarah and I raise our son Connor, those moments for guidance and insight have increased. Most notably the past few months as it looks and feels like much of our social fabric is being ripped apart by divisive words, hateful actions and a truly uncertain and somewhat scary patch into the future.

We worry for the future our son will inherit from our, our parents and all those before him have worked to create – many times with good intentions, other times with only a single thought for the self and ‘us’ in a situation.

We are, and will be challenged as his parents to not just keep him healthy, but to also go beyond the standard education. Provide him with the social, technical and mental tools to confront a world that I personally believe no one has envisioned or can even predict. Sarah and I are still working out how to accomplish that monumental task – all while preserving the sparkle in his eyes and the love and kindness in his heart. We will probably have to take it one day at a time, adjusting our target as we go, and remain vigilant to ward off the anger and hate that feels so close some days.

Today, my mom Linda Grist Cunningham did what she does best and processed some of her feelings through writing. Her voice is always best when she has a passion, and I believe that today, she found a big pile of that passion writing about the world we are in today, where it came from and most importantly, leaving a legacy of advice and anecdotes for her grandson Connor to one day read.

As she just texted to me while I was writing this “it’s not original,” but I replied back that the voice and message bring something unique. I believe these and her future writings will resonate with many of my friends and followers. Perhaps you to will want to pass on the words to others. Or, be inspired to do something yourself.

I think your Dada turned out pretty good.

Love you, Connor Cunningham. Don’t forget your prayers.

“Dear Connor” will become a collection of occasional blog posts written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in the summer of 2016.  

Dear Connor | What’s for dinner? You decide

Family Reunion

Good afternoon, Connor.

Did you know there are only two kinds of people in the world? Yeah, I know it looks like there are millions, but I think all those millions can be divided into  two groups: the ones who know what they want for dinner — and the ones who don’t.

I call the ones who don’t “people of possibilities,” although I likely do so with an eye-roll because what I’d rather call them is “people who dither.” I make decisions quickly and I am frustrated when I have to wait around for others.

OK, so maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you can tell who is which by asking one question: What do you want for dinner? Those who decide can tell you. Those who dither, can’t.

You’re three and you are not one of those who dither. Your MamaDada sent us this text this week with a picture of your breakfast pasta:

Lee created this…he said “what does everyone want for breakfast.” Connor said “pasta.” Lee tried to talk him out of it and you can see how that turned out. He’s a happy boy after Lee conceded and made the pasta sauce. Originally Lee tried to just give him buttered noodles. Connor knows what he wants. Like last night as we were picking out a new shower curtain for his room. I gave him three options…he said “Momma, quit showing me stuff, I already picked.” And with that he was done.

“Quit showing me stuff. I already picked.” OMG, Connor, you are so going to make your parents (and a huge chunk of your extended family) nuts. You are the mirror of my mind. And, I am going to love-laugh — until your decision and my decision roar together in some grandson-grandmother clash of wills.

KWWM_LettersHere’s the catch. Brains that make quick decisions often make wrong decisions. Why? Because those brains, like yours and mine, can fail to consider other options. We’ll dismiss the exploration of alternatives as just too much trouble. We want to make a decision — sometimes any decision — and move on. We’re compelled to decide; it’s how our brains work. We sit in brainstorming conversations and grumble about wasted time. Just pick the paint color for crying out loud.

The people of possibilities have just the opposite challenge. They’re open to so many possibilities that their decision-making can be paralyzed. We can explore that some other day.

Today, I’m wrestling with our country’s fascination with instant decisions; one-sentence solutions to complex challenges. A handful of examples:

  • Build a wall. Keep out bad people
  • No more immigration. Keep out the Muslims and anyone else not Western European
  • Let the smart, rich folks decide. The best will trickle down
  • Tax the rich; give to the poor. Because, of course, individual or corporate wealth is automatically bad
  • Buy a gun and carry it to the grocery story. Be safe from boogeypeople
  • Zero tolerance. Fill up prisons with anything that scares us
  • Safe zones. So we don’t have to confront ideas different from our own
  • Black lives matters. Cops lives matter. All lives matter. And, we’re off to blame anyone who doesn’t fit
  • And, the mother of all whistle words. “Make America great again.”

Connor, when a decision-making brain runs amok, it morphs into a very scary thing, and right now, we have run-amok decision-making brains leading this country. It’s not a right or left, liberal or conservative thing. Heck, it’s not even a right or wrong thing.

It’s a big, hairy, scary thing because those brains are tuned into a scared-out-of-its wits collective of Americans, paralyzed by too many possibilities, too many problems, too many frustrations and, well, just too many and too much of everything. And, when the country’s collective brain shuts down out of sheer exhaustion, the sound-bite deciders swoop in with simplistic solutions and the collective brain gives a sigh of relief.

That’s where we are here in the summer of 2016. As a country, we are dismayed at what we have become. We offer up our “thoughts and prayers” for whatever latest atrocity fills our news feeds, knowing full well we don’t mean it and certainly aren’t going to do the work or make the decisions thoughts and prayers require.

The headlines exhaust us. We’re done. Let someone else fix it. I’m going to the beach. Do that and I guarantee that my silence and my deliberate disengagement ensures the demagogues win.

Do this instead:

  • Quiet your brain
  • Take a break from the relentless news cycles
  • Choose three things you can do today to make someone’s life better. Like buying diapers for the local shelter, or sending an email or text to a friend, or smiling at the clerk and saying thank you. Take a deep breath before swearing at the driver who just cut you off
  • Repeat these words: Show me my path. Teach me along the way. Grant me peace. Sustain my hope
  • And, then take up the mantle again.

This is from a text from your MamaDada. They’re smart people.

Today I am sad for the future that Connor will have to live in. … Lee and I have decided to take a break from FB and TV.  Especially with TV as I don’t want that on in my house with the energy that can seep into my sweet boy who knows no hate, no color, no political affiliation, no sexual preference nothing…it is our job to teach him love and acceptance.  I just hope that is enough.

Love you, Connor Cunningham. Don’t forget your prayers.

“Dear Connor” will become a collection of occasional blog posts written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in the summer of 2016.  

Dear Connor | Which super hero will you be?

Baton Rouge police and woman

 

Good morning, Connor. I loved the picture of you and Charlie Rex Junior that your MamaDada texted this morning. You’re both wearing striped gray “cat” pajamas and that made me smile. Nothing beats a kid and a kitten with my morning coffee. Did you sleep in your own bed last night? I wondered because the covers were all cat-a-wam-pus, so to speak.

I have a question for you this morning: What super hero are you going to be when you grow up?

You don’t have to decide when you’re only three, But come 23 and 33? Well, I’m going to need you to be a super hero. Over the next two decades your MamaDada and the grownups who love you — and the ones who don’t know you, but will need you — are going to teach you how to be a super hero. Because, if we think things are a mess now, they’re going to get a whole lot worse. And, you will have to fix them.

Our country walks an inexorable path to implosion. We took the first steps in the late 1960s when young baby boomers first flexed their “me first” might and stopped a war, murdered civil rights leaders, burned down universities and cities and blew up businesses. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over 30” and we dismantled the very institutions — from family structures and charitable organizations to big businesses and cultural values — that allowed us the freedom to tear them down.

Over the next five decades, baby boomers powered the roller coaster, and while the litany is long, we tore down whatever stood in our collective paths to “get mine.”  We brought the Fair Voting Rights Act of 1965 to today’s Jerry-rigged, political districts that take away most of those rights. We twisted the Second Amendment into an excuse to arm your neighbors in case the folks in Sugar Hill feel they’re being invaded. All in the name of “I’m right’ you’re wrong; get out of my face.”

I saw a beautiful picture the other day out of Baton Rouge, where residents were demonstrating peacefully following the shooting in Dallas where a sniper killed five police officers. The woman — unarmed — was standing gracefully alone in front of a line of combat-armed policemen. Powerful and peaceful picture; you can look it up someday.

We’ve seen hundreds of peace-versus-power photos over history. There’s something heart-warming and reassuring about those “make love, not war” photographs that Americans sanctimoniously intone they prefer over violence. It’s a lie we perpetuate to cloak our secret preference for swaggering hostility. We equate strong with brutal. Women in flowing dresses; children with flowers? Just so much window dressing.,

I guess the photo should have been comforting. Maybe it would have been in a different time, when we were not a country armed to the teeth and just spoiling for a showdown. Instead, what I saw was the specter of future confrontations. Confrontations when thousands of legally armed American citizens stand opposite each other and pull the trigger.

We did that once before, you know. Back in the 1860s when 600,000 Americans died in a civil war over doing the right thing and protecting the wrong thing. I believe we are perilously close to doing it again, and, from where I sit this beautiful summer morning in Key West, I don’t think we can avoid it.

Which is why we need you to become a super hero. We grownups are likely to finish over the next few years the destruction we started in the 1960s. But during that inevitable firestorm, babies will be born, people will fall in love, jobs will be found and lost and found again. Meals will be prepared and your MamaDada will hug you every night. Life, as they say, will go on amidst the conflagration.

So what do you need to learn to be a super hero? Really, just five things:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Accept the possibility that what you know and how you perceive things is not right — and be open to change
  • Say “I’ll do it” even when you are tired and would rather play or let someone else do it
  • Explore the wonders and possibilities of unknown places, ideas, people and things, even when they are scary
  • Know when to speak and when to be silent

Those are good reminders to grownups, too, as we cast about for solutions to the awful place we are in right now. We cannot fix the big things, but we can do one thing every day that makes us a super hero.

Today, I’m speaking. It is not a time for me to be silent. And, I’m saying “I’ll do it,” even when I’d rather being sitting down by the ocean enjoying the Key West breeze.

Love you, Connor Cunningham. Don’t forget your prayers.

“Dear Connor” will become a collection of occasional blog posts written for Connor Cunningham by his grandmother, Linda Grist Cunningham. I began writing these as my construct for making sense of the unraveling American community. Connor may never read them, nor might others; but they’ll help me distill solutions from the cacophony that passes for discourse in the summer of 2016.  

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