Dear #EvanKlinger: Open Letter № 3
Again, I am late in posting my open letter! I promised to have this finished by the 28th of February, but here I am, publishing on the Ides of March. Forgive the belatedness of this letter. The simple truth of the matter is that there are a multitude of activities I prefer over sitting down and continuing my one-sided correspondence with you, but I think it is important work that I committed to doing, so here I am. I must finish. Better late than never, right?
Evan, you’re going to be in a film! It’s called Motherload, and it’s a crowd-sourced and crowd-funded documentary about moms and bikes — or rather, moms on bikes, specifically cargo bikes. Motherload is the brainchild of a remarkable woman, a competitive cyclist turned cargo bike enthusiast and mother, Liz Canning. She gave birth to her idea a little over 8 years ago when she, in her words at the film’s start, sought to “find a better way to exist as a mom”.
Modern motherhood is an isolating experience, especially motherhood in America. Have you ever asked your mother about her experience as a mom or her experience as a woman in America? Did you ever think to ask your mother such a question about her existence or did your Chaddy Daddy (link leads to a NSFW poem; sorry if you find it objectionable, but I’m a fan of all forms of art, prose, and poetry) fail to foster that kind of thoughtfulness in you? I’m curious what she’d tell you, and I often wonder how similar or different our responses would be.
My husband and I recently took our three daughters to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. Have you ever visited, Evan, or are you not a fan of Snoopy ? (Who isn’t a fan of comic dogs?) It’s just a bit north of San Francisco — I highly recommend you stop by if you haven’t already. In the adjacent gift store, on the second floor, they have a newspaper article memorialized on a wall that features an interview with Mr. Schulz. In it, he remarked that mothers really have no idea what their sons go through, which I found interesting. He’s likely correct. Mothers probably barely have an inkling about the normalized toxic masculinity their sons endure. Likewise, do you think sons really understand what mothers, or women in general, go through? Toxic masculinity is like a coin, and I think men and women experience different sides of the same coin. (Before anyone leaves any stupid, far-reaching comments for me, no, I do not think all masculinity is toxic 🙄)
Anyway, back to the film that you’re in.
Liz Canning’s story starts here in the 21st century, but she takes us on a journey back in time to 1888, when the pneumatic bicycle was invented. Two years was all it took before the rise of the bicycle began to mobilize those who were “barred from public transit because of youth, race, gender, or poverty”, according to the film.
Then came the automobile. The bike revolutionized society at the advent of the 1900s, but it wasn’t long before the automobile captured the imaginations of city planners all over the world, especially after WWII. The groundwork many city planners laid in the mid-century shaped and continues to shape our cities, communities, and our culture to this very day (to the detriment of places like Los Angeles). It’s interesting how certain decisions stretch through time to affect our daily lives in the present, especially when those decisions pertain to infrastructure — both physical and organizational structures. Environmentally speaking, their shortsightedness may very well be our death sentence. It’s fascinating how the choices of generations before us shape the choices we have — or don’t have — available to us today. In some places like the Netherlands, activists and anarchists managed to force city planners to remember the human. The Dutch prioritized bikes over cars, which has probably paid dividends in the form of benefits to their physical and mental health.
A very memorable part of Motherload for me was the segment featuring Dave Cohen, a cargo bike enthusiast and psychotherapist practicing in Brattleboro, Vermont, who also consults with Go! Vermont, a very cool statewide resource for Vermonters who want to reduce the cost and environmental impact of driving. Dave had this to say about humans, our brains, and cars:
We are sensory beings. We evolved to sense the world, engage with the world in deep levels, in ways that we sometimes don’t even realize. We need emotional bonding and affiliation with this world we inhabit. We have the limbic brain that absolutely wants us to bond and connect with the things that we love and cherish. The automobile restricts and severs all those sensory ties we have to the planet, the world, our communities.
Evan, I bike and I drive. Like many teens in California, I started driving at the age of 15 ½, which means I’ve been driving for more than half my life. Given my experience biking and driving, I know how much a car can sever the sensory ties we have with the world and with people, and I’m intimately aware of how biking can accomplish the opposite. I absolutely believe this contributed greatly to why you found it so easy to repeatedly call me a bitch as I attempted to make that legal left. However, I think there is more to it than that.
Mr. Klinger, in my previous letter to you, I mentioned memes. Do you know what a meme is? No, I don’t mean the image macros posted and passed around ad nauseam in online communities or among friends. Richard Dawkins coined the term in 1976 in his book about evolution, The Selfish Gene. In it, he wrote:
We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. “Mimeme” comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like “gene.” I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to “memory,” or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with “cream.” Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
Your behavior is a meme. The way we choose to exist in the world is a meme. Cultural norms are memes, and I agree with Dawkins when he suggests later in his book that memes mutate and evolve in a manner analogous to genes. I think the method by which memes are transmitted is what makes art as powerful and as impactful as it is.
What our friends overseas may not understand, what people in the Netherlands might struggle to fathom, is that in California — yes, progressive California that sued the EPA over 10 years ago in order to have far more stringent environmental standards than the rest of the United States — the car remains king. While the sentiment has been slowly, slowly, slowly changing, biking is still widely regarded as a second-rate mode of transportation reserved for second-rate citizens or undocumented migrants too poor to afford cars, especially if the cyclist happens to be Brown or Black. The exception, of course, are those who signal with technical cycling apparel and costly, lightweight road bikes that biking is their very expensive and very serious hobby.
So why am I mentioning memes? I am mentioning memes because it ties into why I’ve chosen to embark on this year-long project that involves penning four open letters to you. Our behavior, the way we choose to interact with people and our environment are memes. Your decision to begin harassing me while you were in a 2-ton vehicle and my daughter and I were relatively unprotected on our bikes wasn’t an action that sprung from a vacuum; your behavior was a culmination and evolution of memes you learned throughout your life about bicyclists, women, the superiority of motor vehicles, and maybe even about non-White people. Genes and memes are passed on, transmitted, and evolve. They can also be disrupted.
There are two reasons I embarked on this project. The first reason I committed to this project is because I want to demonstrate a practical groundwork to resolve interpersonal issues in a creative, restorative manner. I hoped to be able to do this with you. I want to collaborate with you to show average people like us that the power to disrupt Dawkinsian memes is entirely within our grasp, and it all begins with one word — one simple, single question — why?
When people are confronted with behavior like you exhibited, Evan, it’s easy for the recipients and witnesses of said behavior to fall into a sort of shocked silence. I think psychologists may refer to this as the diffusion of responsibility. As someone who, as both a cyclist and a driver, has witnessed the harassment of bikers, I’m tired of seeing this kind of behavior unaddressed. I’m actually really tired of seeing lots of things unaddressed. Failing to address behavior like yours is what leads to the propagation of undesirable, harmful memes. People in my position are encouraged to “move on”, as if questioning and examining something indicates an inability to move forward. This is a false dichotomy. People are perfectly capable of moving forward, of growing and existing in the present, while constructively ruminating on past experiences. In fact, it may be through the mindful examination of our past actions and choices that helps us evolve the most.
Sunnyvale pastor's 'Racists Anonymous' group celebrates two years
Much has changed for pastor Ron Buford's group Racists Anonymous since he started hosting meetings at his church nearly…
Evan, meet with me. Life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. I don’t think you should be shamed or punished. My purpose isn’t to humiliate you. I think shame only hinders solutions, and innovative solutions is what the world is in dire need of most, especially now. We have a saying in my family — not my family of origin, but the family I created with my husband. That saying is, “Think about how we’ll laugh about this years from now.” I can’t promise that we will become friends, but we could very well become acquaintances who can creatively collaborate with one another and inspire people to find a better way to live, a better way to interact with one another and their environment. Maybe people need to be shown how to transform and defuse initially contentious connections like ours. Maybe new memes need to be conscientiously forged.
The second reason I embarked on this project is because I thought it would be valuable to publicly demonstrate how I process experiences. This isn’t because I think there is something special in the way that I personally process my experiences. A wise man told me that once we begin tracking something, we have the power to change it. I guess I see this project as my attempt to track how my attitude and perceptions evolve over time. Maybe when enough time passes, I’ll be able to look back at how I approached this, how I approached you, and glean some wisdom that refines the way I approach and perceive things in the future. I had no expectations going into this project, and I still have no idea where this is headed. I have hope, and I have faith. I have hope and faith in humanity (myself included). I’ve been told that people who have faith live differently. Evan, let’s forge a different way, a new way to live. I really hope you respond to me before I post my last letter to you on June 29, 2019.
See you later, Space Cowboy,
Paula G. Nuguid
Mx. Nuguid is a storyteller, a multimedia & performance artist, and a burgeoning cultural theorist. Their work revolves around colonization and its reverberating modern effects, cusp identities, migration, credentialism, and the unique intersection of racism and sexism in daily life. Their interests include metamodernism, metamodernist millennial meme forrealism, the diasporic Filipinx community, and intersectionality.They enjoy the honor of being the highest Priestess of Kek, SatoshisCat himself made it rain Kek$ upon her, the Trap Kween of Memes Supreme, Lady Lakan of the Lake, the distiller of De Stijl, the BAE.MoM 🐸 🐸 🐸