Sunday, February 08, 2015

Scenes from the Pet Parade in Soulard

It was a beautiful day for the Mardi Gras Pet Parade in the Soulard neighborhood. We didn't even need coats. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the afternoon - and one PSA.

These guys didn't actually appear to be in the parade, but just look at those faces.

Captain America made an appearance.

This photo is courtesy Joe.

The "love train" definitely stole the show.

 That's a pretty serious costume.

Cool shades.

There were a lot of beads. And a lot of Cardinals gear.

Sometimes I really want a sheepdog. Look at that buddy.

I could also go for a collie...

or a Bernese. Or two. They're basically the dog form of Dash (our cat).

Hello, little miss.

 PSA: This is not appropriate parade behavior. The front of the crowded spectator area is to the left in this picture, where all of us who arrived a half-hour early are standing, on the sidewalk. Halfway through, a bunch of latecomers decided it was fine to completely obscure our view. Not OK, people.

But I don't want to end on a grouchy note, so here are two more happy shots.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

All we expect

Fresh out of college, I found the job of a reporter both trying and satisfying. I relished the opportunity to gather worthwhile information and a variety of perspectives, aiming with each week’s issue of the Westminster Window for a carefully rendered look at a community I’d grown to love.

When Wal-Mart proposed a vast new big-box in a less prosperous part of the suburb, igniting months of opposition among the retailer's would-be neighbors, I spent countless hours and inches of copy capturing the range of clashing voices on the topic. As it evolved from proposal to protest to ballot issue to reality, my role was to observe, inquire, record and communicate.

Approaching something from at least a couple angles wasn't heroic, of course, but simply expected in the newsroom. We sought to maintain its reputation as a trustworthy source of information and to foster a more informed citizenry. And we wanted to get the story right.

Gateway Arch
One thing that the job did not require of me was my opinions about the news. That's not to say I lacked them or was denied them – only that those opinions were beside the point and didn’t often come up. I was busy trying to become "the resident expert" on my beat, as the publisher put it. The other reporters and I left the occasional op-eds to him and the managing editor.

Now, no longer a journalist, I often feel that my opinion is all that is expected, or all we expect from each other. Instead of the demanding yet straightforward tasks associated with getting the story, I’m digesting it, reacting to it, comparing accounts, unsure what to make of it all – yet awkwardly eager to determine where I stand ("Whose side are you on?"). I don't have the luxury of being a witness, the public-service-oriented excuse of being a necessary bystander, so my engagement with the events of the day must take some other form, if any.

Outrage is a common one, and social media brings it to a whole new level. We think-piece ourselves to death, reading and writing the narratives that provide us with the most comfort and personal catharsis possible.

Twin to outrage is a sort of jaded epistemological reinforcement. Another cyclist or pedestrian is killed by a hit-and-run driver here in St. Louis, and I am saddened, but more than anything I am not surprised. It's a validation of my attitude toward drivers as a lot. Or when it turns out that the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress can’t find any wrongdoing on the part of the Obama administration when it comes to Benghazi, it's a smirky satisfaction that I feel, not relief.

But then history marches closer to home, and, for once, more is in fact expected of us. The magnitude of the cognitive dissonance sparked by events here in St. Louis has defied my attempts to mentally collapse it, to file away the discomfort.

Watching parts of the Ferguson community erupt in flames that night in late November, I cried. At the same time, part of me felt that I shouldn’t be sad but angry – and not at the photogenic destruction on TV but rather at the appalling lack of justice, love and social progress around race and poverty.

An Indianapolis family visiting Ferguson
Another part of me has sensed that I should be out in the streets among the peaceful protesters, in solidarity. We lived in Selma, Ala., when I was small, and my white parents frequently joined the anniversary marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge a mile from our home and predominantly black church. It was important to them to be present. It mattered.

One recurring thought with which I’ve excused my own absence from the Ferguson-spurred demonstrations is that there is too much shrill rhetoric and generalization, despite the legitimacy of the movement overall. For instance, I can get behind a chant like "Hands up! Don’t shoot!" but not "Fuck the police!" That's a genuine hangup for me (not the f-bomb itself but what feels like a viscerally unhelpful sentiment/demonization), but I’m not sure it should be, given the stakes. I don’t know.

Watching Selma in a St. Louis theater last month was convicting. During the part where the bridge and state highway near my childhood home first loom large (heartbreakingly so) in the film, I couldn't help thinking of the attempts to briefly shut down highways here in St. Louis – or of my initial reaction to those efforts.

"How is that peaceful?" I remember telling friends at one point this fall. "It seems more than 'disruptive' to shut down I-70 [right near work]. That seems threatening and could cause accidents. And it's not going to result in goodwill or changed hearts."

If I'd thought at the time about the Selma-to-Montgomery march and its prelude and repercussions, perhaps I would not have been so quick to react as I did, about the idea of pedestrians-with-a-purpose temporarily taking over a busy roadway. That's not to say that my off-the-cuff concerns weren't somewhat valid, but they also betray an insensitive forgetfulness of history and the bigger picture.

While we often grapple with what to think and how to respond to this or that in our super-connected world, Michael Brown’s death and the aftermath insist on more than my opinions or outrage. I'm not sure what all that "more" is, exactly, but I think it's here to stay. And that's probably a good thing.