Sunday, September 20, 2020

Locker Room Talk


So, starting on September 8, the Columbia Association has reopened locker rooms at its health club facilities. There’s a link to the new rules on their Facebook page. I know I saw some adverts about their fancy new sanitizing capabilities, but, since they are adverts, I can’t nail down their exact location. So, I headed to the website.

The Columbia Association website at the moment is primarily a launchpad to get people back to the gym. You wouldn’t know from the look of it that CA has any other function. You can learn about how they are striving to bring people back through their Reopening Playbook. They’re touting:

  • More alcohol-based hand sanitizer units throughout our facilities.
  • More gym wipe canisters (anti-bacterial/virus wipes), available everywhere.
  • New Air Purifying Fans with UV light filters designed to kill over 99% of surface bacteria and viruses and 97% of airborne viruses.
  • HVAC systems have been adjusted in all locations to increase the air turnover rate by increasing the intake of outside air and operating the exhaust fans on high.
  • Electrostatic sanitizing units are used in all fitness centers and Haven that kill 99% of cold/rhinovirus and flu viruses and MRSA. All gym equipment and facility surfaces are sprayed daily.

So, what do you think? Are we at a point in this pandemic that it is safe to use shared locker room facilities, which, by nature, are filled with plenty of moist air? Do we have confidence that other CA members will respect public health boundaries while at the gym and in the locker rooms? 

Do we really know for sure that any of these new-fangled sanitizing methods are effective against COVID? This could be a devoted community organization springing into action to meet the needs of its customers or it could be a desperate act of “security theatre” to bring people back in the door when funds are dangerously low.

 I don’t know.

If you are the kind of person who has made it a regular practice to work out at a CA facility, then you know far more than I what this decision means. I’m not a go-to-the gym kind of person. If you rely on regular exercise for your well-being you may have been struggling during a time when this has been limited or down right taken away. So, I’m asking you. 

How important is it for CA to reopen locker rooms at this point? Would you use them? Do you have concerns about locker rooms becoming a vector for the further spread of COVID as we continue to “reopen” in Howard County?

Oh, and while we are at it, I used to get regular emails from CA cluing me in on all this stuff. I miss those.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


It was a long night. 

I opened my eyes so many times and it was still dark. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone. The justice she worked for all her life hangs in the balance. The world feels palpably less safe. 

I wish I had something valuable to say.

I’m an adult. I feel like I should know what to do. There’s a particular kind of of fear and grief when the world is going up in flames around you and none of your years of life experience is remotely helpful. I’ve always thought that generations before us who faced similar horrors knew how to step up: Brave, resolute, ready.

But maybe they felt small and unprepared. As I do today.

I’ve made my contributions in life in the small things. The small things will not be big enough now.

I am so, so grateful for people like Justice Ginsburg who were willing to make contributions in the big things. Her life is an illustration of how crucial it is for women to take up space, push forward, open up worlds. I pray that more such women will grow from the seeds she has planted. 

To my daughters: live big. To your daughters: be bold. Do not oblige those around you by shrinking down or fitting in or apologizing for your brilliance. Our country needs you. You are exactly who you ought to be. 

I will fight for you.

There was a point during the night when I began to wonder if daylight might not come. I kept willing myself to close my eyes again and bring morning and some sense of reality with it.

Grief is like that, and shock. We struggle to come back into focus. We don’t really want to.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Arts Within Reach


It’s finally happening. Tomorrow is the Grand Opening of DoodleHATCH  in the Long Reach Village Center. You may remember that DoodleHATCH is newest brainchild of Lee Andersen, founder of Manneqart. You’ve also seen her whimsical creations at the Fantasywood Festival at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

What is DoodleHATCH? It’s described as a “Department Store for Mythological Creatures, Time Travelers, Gallactic Tourists.” It sounds like a hotbed of immersive creativity. If you are feeling playful, come in costume. Looking for a place to get out of the house with your kids? This looks good. Lamenting the canceled RenFests and Fantasy Cons? This might provide a longed-for taste of what you are missing. 

From their website:

A Unique, Fun, and Affordable Experience! 

Created by artists, students, fashion designers, craftspeople and an army of volunteers, The DoodleHATCH Department Store has transformed an empty supermarket space into an immersive experience for the young, the curious, the creative and those who mistakenly believe they are not.

I’m particularly excited about this venture because it feels to me like a taste of the community’s desire for an arts hub in the Long Reach Village Center is finally coming to pass. In addition,  in the years-long battle about what reinventing an aging Columbia Village Center really means, it seems like a combination of creative thinking and mom and pop ventures is coalescing into something new. Get over there and check them out for their grand opening or in the near future. 

To learn more about the revitalization of the Long Reach Village Center, check out the County’s press release here.

You’ll need to reserve a time for your group to ensure adequate spacing for public health considerations. Contact DoodleHATCH here to buy a ticket and reserve your time window. They remind you to wear masks, wash your hands, and observe the distancing footprints on site. (Be forewarned that there is strobe lighting at the entrance, if that’s a consideration for you.)

I’m still self-isolating so I’m going to miss this. Please, please, if you go:  let me know how it went! 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Protest vs Process


Yesterday County Executive Calvin Ball, Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano, and Chair of the Board of Education Mavis Ellis release a joint statement addressing the issue of SRO’s in the Howard County Schools. You can find it in a number of places. I read it on the County Exective’s Facebook page. This morning Ilana Bittner of HoCoMoJo posted a narrative account of events beginning with SMOB’s proposal in last week’s BOE meeting to remove SRO’s from the schools. 

I’m still going over the joint statement, so I won’t speak to it today.

What I do want to address is how difficult it appears to be for many in Howard County to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, specifically, when it comes to issues of race. And, to be clear, I mean white people. 

A parable: once there was a young mother who was struggling with her four year old daughter and she saw in herself the evolution of toxic behaviors of her mother in her own childhood. And so she sought out a therapist whose field of expertise was this particular kind of work. The mother learned a lot about herself over time. She learned better parenting skills, too. But much of the work centered on addressing ways that she was damaged by her own relationship with her mother.

One day, some years in, she sat in a session and lamented a feeling of on going brokenness. 

“When am I ever going to fixed? I thought I was coming to therapy to get fixed.”

In that moment she realized she could never go back and erase the harm that had been done to her. Being in therapy was to learn to fully see the truth, and learn to live in a healthy way with that truth. This was not a happy realization. It initially made her angry. She grieved for a long time.

I tell this story because I see many white people who do not want to do the work of addressing the violence and injustice that was present in our nation from the start. They don’t want to dig deep enough to see how it was perpetuated far beyond slavery into system after system deeply interwoven into what they think of as “the American Way.” For them the American Way centers whiteness as the norm and they feel uncomfortable when faced with ugly truths that reveal what that norm is built of.

In Howard County there are people who can read page after page of student testimony about racism in our schools and, instead of wanting to address it, would be far more comfortable questioning the lived experiences of our children. There are those who want to remove language about racism from an official statement about equity. Indeed, some have gone on the record that our Student Member should have no official voice, now that he has used his voice in support of Black and Brown students and families.

“Why do they want to make everything about race? We shouldn’t be talking about race.”

Why? Because we cannot go back and erase the harm that has been done by white supremacy. Our responsibility is learn to fully see the truth, and learn to live in a healthy way with that truth. And that means being willing to be uncomfortable. In this particular case it means being willing to take action to deconstruct systems that benefit whiteness and harm Black and Brown students. 

I have had several online conversations with people who insist this isn’t about race, it’s about process. Parents who have seen their children’s educational experiences diminished by school policing would disagree. Acts of protest, acts which are meant specifically to adress injustice, are not often subtle and they are not designed to make people feel comfortable. 

That is a good thing. That’s what brings about change. If we care more about what makes us uncomfortable instead of accepting the lived truth of our Black and Brown students and families, we reveal that centering whiteness is our number one priority. 

It is very, very hard to accept that we cannot easily “fix” the generational injustice in our country. It’s very uncomfortable to sit with that and to begin to realize our complicity in it merely by existing peaceably with the status quo. It is scary to realize how much work there is to do and that we don’t truly know the outcome of that work.

We need to do it anyway.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cupcake Stories

True confession: this blog post began with a conversation with my daughter Alice, aka HoCo House Hon

Know any good cupcake stories?

     Not really.

I sort of backed myself into writing about cupcakes.

     Oh goodness. Did you not have a plan???

It was a joke to begin with...

     Oh my gosh this whole time I’ve been thinking you had a cupcake post all sketched out.

Well by tomorrow I will, by golly.

     “Do we need our news to be bite sized in order to process it?”

With filling?

     Do we depend on the fallacy of choice when most outcomes are arranged by the machine of capitalism?

 Alright, that’s a doctoral thesis.

     Hahaha but cupcakes come in lots of flavors but they are all cake!

“What kind of cupcake are you? Take this quiz to find out!”

     Maybe it should be: what your favorite cupcake reveals about you & where you live in HoCo.

Oh my word.

     Red velvet: Clarksville.

Hmmm... Columbia: Party sprinkles.

     “Is a muffin a cupcake: the great debate!” What we call things matters. No one would eat a piece of “cake” for breakfast, but a muffin...

“Are you a cake or an icing person? Residents are divided.”



     The ancient feud.

 “The cupcakes these people bought reveal more about their voting habits than you might think.” 

     Hahahaha you should write about this conversation!

Cupcakes were all the rage some years back. They’ve been surpassed by other food crazes such as bubble tea, poke bowls, healthy smoothies, among others. I hear that crab cake egg rolls are taking off in Baltimore at the moment.

I’m still a fan of cupcakes as long as they actually tast like something and aren’t overburdened by frosting. I enjoyed the cupcakes (from Whole Foods) pictured above because the fresh fruit kept them from being too cloyingly sweet. I’ve also had delicious cupcakes with fancy fillings from Touché Touchet. 

Now it’s your turn! I want to know where you’ve had the best cupcake in Columbia/HoCo. Tell me what kind of cupcake it was: cake, frosting, filling (if any). Why do you think it was the best? Respond in the comments section on Facebook or reach out to the email account associated with blog.

And if this post inspires you to try out a few new places in search of the perfect cupcake, I want to know about that, too. Submissions will be shared in a future post. 

Can we stir up a little local cupcake interest? I bet we can. After all, everyone has at least one good cupcake story.

Monday, September 14, 2020

It Never Fails


I used to be concerned that my blog posts did not receive many comments from men. A high percentage of the responses on the blog’s Facebook page come from women. I’ve written about this before. I suppose my underlying concern was that, for some reason, men didn’t take my blog seriously. It was’t worth the trouble of engaging. 

Why this would bother me is probably something I should give some thought to at some future date.

While I am grateful for all the people who read the blog and interact in the comments, it seemed odd to me that it was somehow viewed as a “women’s blog”. My topics are not stereotypically “women’s topics.”

Yesterday was, perhaps, a reminder of why I should be happy with what I’ve got.

I had several visits from angry white men who were there to set me straight. One was aggressive and accusatory and went after other commenters. One took the approach that my comments section was a place for him to post multiple arguments, links, etc, to prove me wrong. I began to wonder if my page should have a “post no bills” warning.

This was less like commenting and more like spam.

The thing that never fails to amaze me is that it’s only the angry white guys who come to my blog and admonish, “You can’t say that!” Of course I can say that. It’s *my* blog. By the end of the day I was actually searching the Internet for some kind of a meme that articulated the sentiment:

Do I look like a woman who was just waiting for a man to tell her what to think?

There isn’t one. Yet.

I have banned only three people from the page since I put the comments on Facebook. All are angry, agressive white men. Part of the reason I moved comments from the blog to Facebook so that folks like this could no longer troll in anonymity. It has helped quite a bit.

There is no requirement that readers agree with what I write. I’ve had many fascinating conversations in the comments that began with disagreements. I do object to boundary-violating behavior, though. Some people are amazed that I enforce that.

So far, they have all been men.

Tomorrow I may write about cupcakes. Get your good arguments ready.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

All Deliberate Speed


If you were surprised this week that Student Member of the Board Zach Koung made a motion to remove School Resource Officers from the Howard County Public Schools, you have not been paying attention. 

There has been steady and increasingly frequent feedback against having police in schools, from:

Current Students
Former students
Community Members
Board of Education candidates and elected members 

There are locally generated reports and state studies on discipline disparities in our schools by race. 

Koung himself raised these issues as a candidate for Student Member of the Board. The students who voted for him knew where he stood. 

Let me be blunt here. Having police presence in our schools is wrong. Putting police into schools was never sound practice from the start, because the history of policing in the United States is profoundly anti-Black. 

White parents may think of a police officer as a protector or role model. They may have warm and fuzzy memories about “Officer Friendly”.

But Black and Brown community members have seldom been assured of this kind of respect from the police. Study after study bears this out. One need only read the news or scan social media to see how grievously policing has harmed and is harming those who are not protected by whiteness. Placing that culture into schools causes distress for students whose families, friends, and neighbors have suffered disrespect, harassment, even violence, from people who wear the same uniform. 

From this summer’s petition on racism to the Board of Education:

My first major concern was the presence of a police officer in the school who usually followed Black students around and made many of my peers feel targeted and under surveillance in a place that’s supposed to be a learning environment. - - Iftekar Husain, HCPSS graduate.

In addition, statistics show that having police in schools has resulted in the growing trend of criminalizing behaviors of Black and Brown students which, in white students, are considered typical student misbehaviors.  Overall, school policing does not make schools safer and it makes the educational experience for Black and Brown students substantially less safe.

It was bad policy. It has been found to be both ineffective and harmful.

But Howard County wants more time. These things take time, right?

Let’s talk about time. 

1952  The Supreme Court hears arguments in Brown v. Board of Education.

Early 1950s  Kingdon and Mary Gould saw a need for an independent, non-sectarian school in Howard County.

1954 In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy and declares that separate schools are "inherently unequal."

1954 The Goulds, along with Mr. and Mrs. John T. Mason Jr., Judge James Macgill, Mr. Albert Gallatin Warfield, and Mr. and Mrs. William Shippen, opened Glenelg Country School in Howard County on September 23.

Update: I’ve been challenged on the following paragraph, which I wrote in good faith, based on information I had. If I’m not able to confirm it satisfactorily I will retract. - - jam

Will you look at that. A group of highly motivated Howard County citizens got an all-white segregation academy* up and going in just a few years. Speedy.

1955 In Brown II, the Supreme Court orders the lower federal courts to require desegregation "with all deliberate speed."

1965 Howard County School are fully integrated.

Yes, you read that right. Full integration of schools as required by law took eleven years.

Segregation was always wrong. It reinforced racist ideas and shortchanged generations of Americans  from the quality of education that should have been theirs by right. School segregation walked hand in hand with other strictures imposed on Black Americans to uphold institutional white supremacy. 

To review: School segregation was bad policy. It did nothing to promote education and was actually harmful.

But Howard County wanted more time. And those in power took their time, to the detriment of every student whose education was compromised, every young person who was less prepared for higher education or a decent paying job. And all of that meant fewer possibilities, lower salaries, less access to health care, reduced life expectancy. This was not a victimless crime. 

White Howard County was in no hurry to do the right thing because the pain of segregation was not borne by them or their children. And so they moved “with all deliberate speed” for eleven whole years before meeting the requirements of the law.

There’s no wisdom in that. There’s nothing reasonable, or balanced, or admirable about that. People who had it in their power to do good did their utmost to perpetuate harm to school children, for as long as they possibly could.

Refusing to take action on something because you yourself have not experienced the harm in it is precisely where we are today. It reminds me very much of a cartoon by Nathan Pyle:

I’m not surprised that Koung raised the motion to remove SRO’s from schools. Anyone who has been paying attention could have seen this coming. I’m also not surprised that it failed. Howard County’s reputation on ‘taking its time’ on issues concerning race is well-established. But it needs to be raised again. And again. 

School policing actively diminishes the futures of Black and Brown students. Gaslighting community members who bring this issue to the Board is not a victimless crime. 

Moving “with all deliberate speed” is not enough. 

* Information on Brown v. Board taken from the Teaching Tolerance website.
**Glenelg Country School has long since evolved from its racist beginnings, but its origins are widely known.