Stop Whispering, Start Shouting

I got into a shouting match with another man today on the phone. It was not one of my better moments.

After yesterday’s mass shooting in Florida, I knew I would call this morning on my commute and try to convince one of the staffers for Kansas Senator Pat Roberts that perhaps it might be time for their boss to do something, anything about the epidemic of gun violence and dead children in our country. Pat Roberts’ staffers are notoriously rude, very rarely answering the phone with a pleasant tone. Most of the time they don’t even give you a name when you call, which makes it very hard to follow up. They also generally lack basic empathy, especially the guys. When I used to call over the summer and tell them our story, they would say, almost mechanically, “I’ll let the senator know.” Sometimes they would tell me just how wrong I was about the senator, his politics, or life in general.

For the record, when I’d call Jerry Moran’s office, his staffers—especially the women—wouldn’t immediately launch into a correction. They would actually tell me, politely, how sorry they were that I was calling them and talking about my dead child for the tenth time. They would let me speak. And more often than not, they didn’t betray a sense of impatience when I’d invariably have to take a second to compose myself or simply break down in tears while talking to a complete stranger.

None of them have ever listened to me give my name, address, and ZIP Code and then say, “Well, ma’am, we’ll pass those concerns along.”

As someone with a voice that isn’t particularly deep, I’ve been called “ma’am” in restaurant drive-thru lanes more than a few times. I’m not bothered by the misgendering, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women or femininity.

But something today made me snap. Maybe it was the staffer’s response to the question, “What does the senator plan to do to stem this epidemic?” with “I’ll pass this message along.”

I told him, “No, this is not a message. This is a question. And it’s a question that you should be comfortable answering, as it invariably gets asked again and again.”

He did not have an answer.

So I asked him a follow-up, which was what I as a middle-class Kansan had to do for my voice and concerns to carry the same weight as the National Rifle Association, from whom Roberts has received thousands of dollars in total campaign donations.

“I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question like that, ma’am,” he said.

And that’s when it happened. A full year’s worth of pent-up rage at being ignored on virtually all issues burst forth, and I started yelling.

“Stop calling me ma’am. You’ve done it four times. My name is Doug. D-O-U-G.”

“Stop yelling at me,” he said. “It’s not fair to yell at me because I called you ma’am on accident. I didn’t get that your name was Doug.”

And that was the most upsetting part.

Since Donald Trump’s election, I have called my elected officials hundreds of times in regard to issues of importance. I’ve followed all the rules set forth by people like Celeste P. and others, to give my name and address and phone number and ZIP Code.

But if the person on the other end of the line isn’t even going to get my name right, how closely are they really listening?

The next few minutes were spent yelling at each other, trying to scrabble and crawl over one another to find the moral high ground. He said it wasn’t his fault that he misheard me, that he didn’t deserve to be abused; I told him his job was to listen to the abuse, and that I wasn’t going to be lectured by a senate staffer in a DC office on whether my anger and annoyance at being unheard was warranted.

We went back and forth like this for a while. And I finally apologized. Because maybe I did overreact. His job is not easy, I’d imagine. I’ve worked in customer service. I’ve dealt with angry customers yelling, cursing, etc. I thanked him for his time. It can’t be fun to be told, repeatedly, that your boss is a racist, sexist, rotting soulless ghoul*.

I imagine he went back to answering the phones or got up to stretch and grab a cup of coffee. Maybe he hung up and found someone to vent about the giant prick who just yelled at him.

I pulled into the parking lot at the office and dialed the next number to beg Jerry Moran to do something about the glut of corpses in our classrooms.

No one answered. I had to leave a message. Maybe that was a good thing.

If you want to make a difference, I still believe the best way to do so on a daily basis is to call your elected representatives and make some noise. Even with my bad experience today. I use the 5 Calls app to reach out to them about the issues that are important to me. Of course, you can always donate to the candidates who share your beliefs or even run for office yourself.

*Make no mistake: Pat Roberts is a ghoul. He doesn’t even live in Kansas anymore. We haven’t had a town hall for years. For all intents and purposes, Virginia has three senators. He’s the worst.

coffee cup that says begin, caption with lyrics from fresh feeling by Eels

Fresh Feeling

Sometimes, when you’re feeling low and blue, an adjustment is necessary. Maybe you change your hair. You buy a new shirt. Try something you haven’t done before.

Or, if you’re me, you tear down your portfolio website and decide to get back to basics. You pick up a pen, take a deep breath, and try to figure out if you still have it; you look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if maybe you still have words left.

Bonus points if they don’t have anything to do with grief or politics.

But it’s a cop-out, and you know it. Everything is political. And your perspective has shifted due to circumstance. But you are tired of writing about your circumstance, of leaning down and pressing pen to paper or fingers to keys and bleeding out words about loss and grief and trying to not show how fundamentally broken you are in the aftermath of the Worst Year of Your Life™.

So at night, sometimes when you listen to your wife breathe beside you as she sleeps in the darkness of your bedroom, you muster up the willpower to say a tiny little prayer to be changed for the better. To be more positive. To not say mean things on social media. To just be better. If you’re being a little honest, you’re not sure if it’ll work. You spent a lot of time praying a year ago and it didn’t really pan out all that well.

Just saying.

But then you look at all the Good Things™ that have happened in the past year. You have a job that challenges you and pays you well, and you finally feel like you’re in a good place. You shed 25 pounds over the summer and now you feel confident again when it comes to your love of fashion. You don’t snore as much. You feel better, and you wonder how many years you’ve added back to your life in the process. Because you think a lot about mortality these days and how short of a spark a life can be.

You’re registering for a nursery and holding your breath the entire time, because each day your wife is pregnant is another day longer than her previous pregnancy. You do not want to consider car seats and animal pictures for the walls. You might jinx it if you clean your daughter’s room up for her brother. So you put it off for another day. And another. And another.

As you watch the Winter Olympics, you consider that perhaps you have earned your very own gold medal in procrastination.

Since the election of 2016—and even well before it—I’ve been so, so angry. And it just gets worse and worse. Every day is a parade of ugliness. I am addicted to Facebook and Twitter but put myself in positions to more or less rely on them for work. But they are a never-ending torrent of awfulness that only serve the purpose of making me so upset that I nearly break down in tears at my desk. I don’t know how other people who are even more closely affected by the things seen there manage to get anything done.

If we’re being honest, I can’t continue with this negativity any longer. I can’t politely (read: rudely) suggest that people make love to power tools or ingest household chemicals no matter what abhorrent public policies or anti-immigrant/healthcare/livable wage things they promote. Part of trying to make a more positive world for my kid is fighting like hell for the things that matter to me, but doing it in a way that doesn’t dehumanize others. Even as those people try to dehumanize the poor, or the LGBTQ community, or people who don’t fit into typical squares.

If all of this sounds familiar—and I suspect it does—it’s because I have said some or all of this stuff before. I am obsessed with self-reflection and improvement without putting in the actual effort to make it happen. Just ask Erin. She will tell you.

Is that trying too hard? I feel like it might be too enthusiastically naive. But what’s the point in being so damned toxic all the time, even to toxic people? It feels good in the short-term. But more often than not I end up deleting what I wrote in the first place; if my legacy is telling the President of the United States to screw a chainsaw, what does that tell the people who follow after me? What does that make me look like? Images of creative applications of household appliances aside, I don’t think it’s going to prove anything.

So that’s it. Each day includes three things to accomplish, something I’m thankful for, and maybe a picture of my dog. All for perspective. All for a smile. Because God knows I need as many as I can get.

Will it work? I don’t know.

Is it worth a shot? Absolutely.