Categories
current events social media

Good Things in Bad Times

I’m used to working from home. I’ve done it for years. What I’m not used to is the hit my attention span has taken while trying to grapple with what’s going on in the world – both in my home and outside of it. My routine is totally shot, and all attempts to bring it back in line have failed so far.

But, I have discovered (or rediscovered) some good things that have been helpful in keeping up with the news and keeping slightly distracted during all of this.

  • The Your Daily Drive generated playlist on Spotify. It’s a mix of news from NPR and the BBC and podcasts that I’m not familiar with. It’s like drive time radio on a station built just for me.
  • The Washington Post’s live updates page. Short, well-reported, frequently updated stories. I now check it several times a day. It’s a one-stop-shop for everything I need to know about the national news related to the virus.
  • Journalism. This is dumb, but I think I’d gotten complacent with how important good journalism is. With the constant stream of lies, rumors, nonsense and hysteria, having a few good sources of news and analysis has been super important. I already mentioned the Post, but Talking Points Memo, The Daily from the New York Times and others have all been great.
  • Jackbox games. We’ve been playing them at work when everyone needs a break, and I played with my kids and sister over the weekend, and they stream pretty well over Zoom. You can play a game in as little as ten minutes, blow off some steam, have a laugh, see other people’s laughing faces. It’s great.
  • Constraint-inspired creativity. Seeing all the couch concerts, virtual happy hours, 3D printed masks, and the way educators have figured out how to reinvent the entire education system in a weekend, has been inspiring. When people are given constraints, they’ll find creative ways to play with them.
  • My blog. It doesn’t even know what to do right now. Five posts in a week? That hasn’t happened in years. But, I’ve enjoyed coming back and writing here, and using it as a little journal of the current crisis.
  • Twitter. I had drifted away from it over the last year. During normal times, Twitter is a sewer of hate and sarcasm. Now, at least among the people I follow and interact with, it feels like we’re all back in 2007-2010 when it was the world’s largest dinner party.

Those are the good things. I’ll spare you my list of annoyances. You probably have the same ones.

Categories
current events love

Standing

Standing alone in my driveway
On a empty street
On a small island
Next to a big ocean
I looked around at the houses
I looked up at the big sky, pink with dusk

Alone is a trick of perception
Based on the size of your container
Alone in your room
Maybe in your house too
But under that big evening sky now going purple
We’re all together

Categories
family Kevin love politics savannah

On Mister Rogers

I just finished listening to the last episode of Finding Fred, a wonderful podcast exploring Mr. Rogers’ legacy, and impact, and I thought it was time to finally write out these thoughts that have swirled around in my head about him, about love, kindness, thoughtfulness and community since the election that put Donald Trump in the White House. Don’t worry, that’s the last time I’ll mention Mr. Trump and this post isn’t political – it’s about reacting to pain and finding myself wanting.

After the election, I saw my friends in pain, while I felt little more than disappointment. I didn’t see it coming, but I also kind of thought we deserved it. My friends’ reactions were visceral, full of fear and anguish, and I didn’t get it. Shortly after the Women’s March, I volunteered to live stream an event in Savannah where women who marched told their stories. It was heavy, and heartfelt, and I finally got it.

That night, I decided I needed to work on myself – to make the effort to be more empathetic, thoughtful, cause less harm, and to become more useful in the world to hopefully ease some of the pain, hurt and fear I was seeing.

I got books on meditation, racism, diet and exercise, and… didn’t move very quickly, considering it’s been three years and I’m just now writing this. It took me a very long time to read Understanding and Dismantling Racism, because it was so hard to come to terms with the racism I held in my heart without realizing it. I read books on meditation, but none of it made sense. I just couldn’t grasp the mechanics of it. I’ve always struggled with my weight, so that also made halting progress.

I went to therapy for the first time since I was 5, and started dealing with all the anger I’ve kept around unprocessed, that bubbles up unexpectedly, ruining moods and days.

But, I eventually finished the books, and picked up others. I learned a lot about meditation in therapy, and worked through a lot of my anger. I’ve been trying to be less sarcastic, more thoughtful, and more empathetic – and hopefully cause less pain to others. I’ve been trying to figure out my own emotions, and regulate them so I can better hold the space for other people’s emotions.

And this brings us back to Mr. Rogers. He and I share a birthday, and he’s been a hero of mine since I was a kid, but I could never articulate why. Why would I choose this kind gentle man as a hero?

I think I know now. Mr. Rogers is my hero because he embodied all the things I struggle with. He is patient where I’m impulsive. Kind where my natural reaction is sarcasm. Soft where I can be hard. Understanding where I am frequently clueless.

It was also because Mr. Rogers was the helper he told us all to look for. One of my favorite parts of Finding Fred was the discussion of that famous quote, where Fred told us to look for the helpers. All of us who watched him are now adults. We don’t need to find the helpers – we need to be the helpers and look for opportunities to help, to put into practice the kindness he shared with us, and share it with others.

The other big question from the show was what keeps us from being more like Mr. Rogers?  There were a lot of opinions on the show, but I’ve come up with my own answer: selfishness and thoughtlessness.  And I think that’s why Mr. Rogers is so missed right now.  We’re confronted with selfishness and greed on a mass scale.  We’re literally slapped in the face with it every time we read a news story.  It’s selfishness on a scale that feels like it blots out every other motive and emotion, and feels impossible to solve, since it feels like we’re completely outnumbered.

We are not outnumbered. Like Mr. Rogers, kindness isn’t loud.  It’s not going to grab headlines.  It’s not going to self-promote or rant in all caps on Twitter.  It is small, and quiet, and it means literally everything. 

In this effort to improve myself, I keep coming back to the idea of loving kindness.  It’s a main tenet of Buddhism and mindfulness, and it feels like it encapsulates everything.  It’s the Golden Rule applied to others, and myself.  If I am not kind to myself, I can’t be kind to others.  If I don’t practice mindfulness, I won’t see the many opportunities that come up all the time to be kind.  If I don’t practice mindfulness, I won’t be in the moment and appreciate it. If I don’t practice loving kindness daily, I won’t be able to apply it when it’s difficult – especially when it’s called for in the face of anger.  It requires vulnerability – which I am not good at. It requires patience, which I don’t have enough of. 

I don’t have it all figured out. I still get angry. I’m still sarcastic. I still don’t know what to do about white supremacy, or how to confront people about it. I’m still really uncomfortable with other peoples’ emotions, especially anger. But, I think I’m more useful today than I was yesterday. I think I know a little bit more than I did in January of 2017.

I know that loving kindness is the answer, even if I don’t always get it right. It’s called “practice” for a reason.

I’ll keep working on it.

Categories
politics social media

Toxic Data

The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits.

Nassim Taleb, found on Farnam Street

This is the most concise explanation I’ve seen of the problem of social media, how easily it’s manipulated by bad actors, and how hard it is for normal people to cope with it.

Our ability to manipulate people far outpaces our ability to resist that manipulation.

Categories
politics social media

Social Media is a Cancer

Back in January, I came up with my new social media rules and they worked for a while, but the more I actually looked at how I felt before and after a session on Facebook or Twitter, I decided they weren’t working – and worse, that at least those two platforms aren’t worth it.

Facebook is a cancer that’s taken our relationships and turned them against us in order to sell advertising. I’ve always called Facebook “what community would look like if designed by a sociopath” and it just gets truer. Facebook, as a company, has no ethics, no moral compass, and lies constantly about the effects it has on our society, and more importantly, our relationships. It’s powered by outrage and amping up emotions.

I started taking stock of my emotional state before I opened Facebook and then after I close it, and I never feel better after having scrolled through the outrage-of-the-day posts, dumb memes and gripes about this and that. Never. Not once.

Twitter’s even worse. I used to say that Twitter was the internet’s dinner party where you’re always two seats away from the best conversation. Now, it’s the internet’s brick fight. It’s constant outrage, clapbacks, sarcasm, and vain attempts at temporary viral glory. It’s gone from fun to toxic.

So, what to do about it? Eject. I now treat Facebook and Twitter like email addresses I don’t care about. I check it once or twice a day just to see if I have any new notifications and that’s it. I might post when I write something new here, or if there’s an event I’m organizing (like codebar), but that’s it. No more endless scrolling. No more posting in hopes of more likes. I still post photos to Instagram, because photos are great and it’s been somehow immune to the worst impulses of its parent company.

It’s taken a while to break the habit. Deleting the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone has helped. But, I also installed several new games on my phone to try to keep myself from going back to old habits (I’ll just start toxic new ones, yay!). Instead of compulsively opening Facebook when I pick up my phone, I’ll see what’s going on with the Angry Birds or if I can level up a hero in Fieldrunners Attack.

I’m sad about the state of social media. I had such hopes for them bringing people together and building empathy. Unfortunately, it’s brought together nazis, pedophiles and assholes – and the rest of us now have pointless arguments to make algorithms happy. It’s all so… stupid.

I don’t know where those platforms will end up, but at this point, I don’t care and they can go there without me being trapped there.

Categories
current events social media

My New Social Media Rules

Social Media, Social Media, Social Media! It’s awful! It’s ruining everything! Why are we all still using it then! I’ll leave it to experts to explain that part, but in an effort to extract myself from the worst of Facebook and Twitter, here are my new rules for myself. I’ve been following some form of them for over a year, and they’ve definitely made me feel better, almost as good as when I stopped watching cable news.

My Facebook Rules:

  1. Remorselessly snooze and unfollow toxic people, even if they’re close friends or family. I’m trying a two snooze then unfollowing if I still can’t deal with their posts showing up in my feed.
  2. Don’t dive into comments on a post where you don’t know everyone. There are too many trolls, and it’s not worth it.
  3. Don’t join new groups unless you have to.
  4. Never ever ever click ads. They’re almost always a scam anyway.
  5. No quizzes ever, not even the funny ones.
  6. Don’t share content from pages you don’t run.
  7. Set a timer. That’s your “mindlessly wandering Facebook” time. When the timer goes off, close the app.
  8. Use Facebook in a browser you don’t use for anything else (or use the Firefox Facebook Container extension).
  9. Before you post, think “should this be a blog post?” and post it here instead of on Facebook. It’ll last longer, and you’ll be able to find it again.

My Twitter Rules:

  • Don’t leave twitter open all the time. Check it like you would email.
  • Don’t speak in the internet’s, and especially twitter’s, default “sarcastic jackass” tone. Be conversational. Be helpful. Be fun. Because there’s too little of all of that.
  • Don’t feed the trolls (this is evergreen, but twitter is now majority troll and it’s just not worth it).

I don’t always follow them. I’m human. I screw up, and I can’t think of a case where I didn’t regret it almost immediately. I hope they’re helpful to you.

Categories
family politics

On Uncomfortable Topics: Rules and Sexual Harassment

I realized I’ve never written these down, so… here are the rules I try to follow, and that I’ve given my kids in some form or another over the years. I haven’t always followed them, because I honestly didn’t know they were a problem, and needed to be rules. Some of them are a lot easier to follow because I’m married. Some of them still require work, because I’ll hopefully never be done getting better.

There are a lot of reasons we need to stamp out sexual harassment. The first being that women are human beings and deserve to be allowed to not be threatened, abused, molested or coerced… ever, anywhere. I’d hope that would go without saying, but, it apparently needs to be said… a lot.

If we make our communities, workplaces, families, churches, etc, places where people feel threatened, uncomfortable or violated, then they’re not going to be productive. We’re missing out on their ideas, their contributions, their genius, because some of us can’t control our urges. The benefits of creating inclusive, diverse and welcoming places is that we get to benefit from everyone’s contributions. If we’re doing something that decreases someone’s ability to participate, then we should stop. That sounds stupid when we’re talking about sexual harassment, but if you can’t be convinced to treat women as equal humans, then maybe a productivity argument is what you need?

So, I said there were rules. Here they are. This list isn’t complete, but it’s a start:

  1. Don’t touch people unless you ask them first, AND THEY SAY YES. If someone is asleep, they can’t say yes. If someone is passed out, they can’t say yes.
  2. You never have to hug or touch anyone you don’t want to. If you’re a man, don’t initiate a hug unless you’ve been hugged by that person before.
  3. Do not, or attempt to, date people you have power or influence over. If you’re in management, don’t ever attempt to date anyone at work.
  4. Don’t stare. You can conquer “the male gaze”. It makes people really uncomfortable, is objectifying, and is just a bad habit – so break it.
  5. Don’t talk about, or comment on, other peoples’ bodies.
  6. Be kind. Be gentle. Be someone people can feel comfortable and safe around.

I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever harassed anyone, but I’m sure I’ve made people uncomfortable, and I’m sorry. Hopefully, I’m better now than I was, and I’ll be better tomorrow than I am today.

I appreciate the women who do speak up, and especially the women over the years who were brave enough to tell me their harassment stories, and take the time to educate me, and point me in the right direction.

This isn’t fun to talk about, but we have to stop forcing women to run the gauntlet of abuse it takes to report harassment and abuse. Men, this is OUR problem to solve, because we’re the perpetrators. If you work with harassers, pull them aside, talk to them. Report them. We have to police ourselves, and be better.

Categories
politics religion

Constantly Late and Begging for Applause

Kind of tired of watching big organizations (political parties, churches, etc, etc, etc) look for a standing ovation when they finally come around on an issue (doesn’t matter what it is, pick your favorite).

No, sorry, you don’t get credit for being a late follower. If you project an air of infallibility and want everyone to believe that you’re on the side of truth and justice and love and all that other good stuff you say you believe – YOU’D HAVE BEEN EARLY TO THE PARTY. You should have helped organize it.

You don’t get to show up at the last minute after people have spent decades fighting your lies and pretend that this is some great thing you’re doing. You’re LATE. You were on the wrong side the whole time and don’t even have the courage to admit it other than a couple of trite press releases written by your lawyers and a couple of donations to charities that helped all the people you hurt.

You get no credit. Screw you.

Welcome to the party, but we were just wrapping up. There might be a couple crackers left. Sorry, but all the dip’s been eaten and we’re out of wine. Feel free to make your own.

Categories
politics religion

Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

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The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

Categories
current events non-profits politics savannah

Of Safety Pins and Paperclips

I’m conflicted about the whole safety pin thing. It’s an easy gesture and I’m afraid that it will provide comfort only to the people who wear it, not to those actually in need of comfort. I’m afraid that the people who wear it will think their work is done because they put on their safety pin, when it should be just the beginning. I’m skeptical because we’ve made these gestures before and not followed through, not finished the work, and we’ve abandoned those in need because our attention spans are short, and there’s always a shiny new cause to support that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I wanted to find out more about its origins and found an article about the Norwegian version – the paperclip.

Like a safety pin, the paperclip works as a symbol because it binds things together. Like the safety pin in the Netherlands, wearing a paperclip became a crime; there was real risk in wearing one.

The thing that struck me from the story was in the “bonus facts” below. The paperclip was just the beginning. Ordered to teach Naziism in school, 12,000 Norwegian teachers went on strike. Many were sent to prison camps. The Nazis realized having kids out of school hurt more than the teachers not promoting their cause, so they relented.

The clergy was ordered to teach obedience to the “leader and the state”. When every bishop and 90% of the clergy in the country resigned, the Nazis again relented.

More than 1,000 Jews were smuggled into Sweden by the resistance.

The Dutch were no slouches either. They carried out repeated demonstrations and non-violent strikes against the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. No other country had as may strikes and protests as the Dutch – and they faced harsh reprisals from the Nazis each time.

The Dutch had a massive underground press with over 1,100 different titles, some of which are still around and are major papers in the country. They set up underground financing and had a massive social services network that provided financial, medical and other support to the Dutch people.

All of that is to say, they didn’t just wear safety pins and paperclips. They got to work and did what they could, under terrible conditions and at great personal risk.

I like the idea of the safety pin, because it’s meant to be temporary until you actually repair the damage.

I think donating, and setting up a recurring donation, to national non-profits is a great thing to do. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign and others will be kept really busy for the next four years, as we can expect the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to be gutted like it was during the Bush years or worse (probably worse). But, while you’re donating, please look for a local non-profit to donate money and time to.

I’ll elaborate… This election came as a shock to a lot of us who thought we were farther along as a country than we really are. It was easy to call ourselves progressive and cheer on those doing the work from the sidelines, post to social media about the issue of the day, and feel like we’d done something of value. It turns out, no one was listening, and we didn’t change any minds.

Before anyone still reading this post and starts tutting… I accept the results of the election:

  • Two very unpopular people were the two major parties’ nominees for president.
  • One of them got over two million more votes and lost to a man who (this is a partial list) called immigrants racists, criminals and terrorists, called for the banning of an entire religion from the country, denied knowing anything about David Duke or the KKK, openly mocked a disabled reporter, called for protestors to be beaten, has said (and probably done) terrible things about women, and that almost seventy percent of the country feel is unfit to be President.
  • A lot of people stayed home because they couldn’t decide between two people they didn’t trust.

That result is real, and it’s not going to change. Me being sad about it will not change it. Me being angry will not change it. Me trying to decide who’s to blame for the result will not change it. All I can do is decide what I do about it after accepting that I can’t change it.

For me, this is a wake up call. If I sit on the sidelines now, and assume someone else will do the work, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror or call myself a progressive.

I could shake my tiny fist at the sky and lament what’s happening in Washington, but that won’t change anything. So, I’ll be watching them, but I’m going to act locally. My neighbors will be affected by the policies enacted in the next four years. Many of them are afraid and a lot of them are already being targeted by hate.

I wasn’t doing nothing before, but that no longer feels like enough.

There are already great non-profits in Savannah working on things I care about: poverty, education, technology literacy. There are probably great non-profits working in your community too. I’m trying to resist the urge to start something new – because that’s alway my first instinct. Starting things is exciting because I can design it from scratch, and I don’t have to understand an existing dynamic – but it’s a waste of time. Starting things is expensive, both in time and resources, and we don’t have enough of either. So, I’ll pick something (or a few things) with the biggest overlap in the Venn diagram of things I care about, things I can help with, and what will have the biggest impact.

Because we won’t make this country a better place by having another comment duel on Facebook, favoriting a tweet, posting a pithy meme, or by standing on the sidelines of democracy or of our communities and watching people do the work. The world has enough cheerleaders and more than enough pundits. The world needs more people to roll up their sleeves and serve; there’s a lot to do.

I don’t think I’ll wear a safety pin on my collar… I’m going to learn how to sew.