A Letter to the Person Who Was Randomly Assigned My Old Phone Number

It’s been one year and nine months since I changed my phone number. And I know you still get messages and phone calls from people expecting to find me at the other end. I know this, because you’ve asked them–if they find me–to tell me that there are a lot of people looking for me at that number, which now belongs to you.

It just happened last week. I was at a conference and someone with your number, which used to be my number, texted you to let you know that I should meet them on the 22nd floor instead of the hotel lobby.  You probably didn’t respond. You probably already knew it was for me.

The whole situation here, it’s awful, really. How could you have known that when you got your new phone number it would be the old number of a horrible person who didn’t take the time to tell her family and friends that she’d changed it? Continue reading “A Letter to the Person Who Was Randomly Assigned My Old Phone Number”

Goodbye, Hello

There are many facts of life and one of them is that people change jobs.

There are a few reasons that people change jobs–they move, they get laid off, they get a better job–but there’s one constant to the act of job changing, and that is that people are always sad to leave.

I never watched the final season of “The Office” when it aired but I suppose that’s just as well because over the last two weeks it has been my dinner table companion. If you haven’t seen the final season of “The Office” I won’t spoil too much for you. But I will say that in wrapping up the show that final season, every reason you would ever leave an office happens: some move, others get laid off and still others get a better job. And there’s crying into cake, goodbye dance parties, promises to stay in touch…the usual components that come along with the act of leaving.

We all know that sometimes it is our friends leaving and sometimes it is us who will leave, but when it comes right down to it, it’s part of our shared human experience that transitions will happen.

Taxi Protest
Me, trying to find out why the taxi drivers were protesting by honking and driving around the Capitol in circles. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

So why–when we know this is coming be it tomorrow or next month or next year–why do we struggle to balance the sadness of leaving something behind with the excitement of starting something new?

I’m leaving National Journal. My first real job out of college, where I succeeded and stumbled, figuring out who I was and what I was capable of. I started out on the health care beat, where after a month and a half on the job, HealthCare.gov debuted and crashed and I spent the rest of the fall covering what would become the 2013 AP News Story of the Year.

After former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, I snapped a photo of Speaker John Boehner. I probably gained 300 Twitter followers that day.
After former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, I snapped a photo of Speaker John Boehner. I probably gained 300 Twitter followers that day.

From there I transitioned to covering Congress, studying the faces of lawmakers on the long metro commute to Capitol Hill only to realize that they’re all much older now than when their directory photos were taken. I quickly took to the foreign policy beat, writing about the one issue that will keep on going even when the political parties can’t agree on how deal with it. And it’s been a busy summer too; between the advances of ISIS in Iraq, Russia’s encroachment (invasion?) of Ukraine and the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, each story that it feels like I was there for from the start will keep on going until it morphs into the next chapter.

You'll always be my ominous House of Cards Capitol but I'll never be your Zoe Barnes.
You’ll always be my ominous House of Cards Capitol but I’ll never be your Zoe Barnes.

It’s been a good run. I walk away having learned who’s the friendliest face in the Senate, why the U.S. can’t keep its boots off the ground in the Middle East, and how to challenge charges from my health insurance company. I’ll miss my friends, my colleagues, my editors, and Rosita, the woman makes sure there’s coffee waiting for our tired souls as we start each day. I won’t miss the never-ending PR emails or the vitriolic commenters.

Waiting for a press conference to begin in the basement of the Capitol after a Pentagon briefing.
Waiting for a press conference to begin in the basement of the Capitol after a Pentagon briefing.

I’m headed to Green Buzz Agency. My second real job and I can’t keep my face from lighting up when people ask me about it. I’m going to be the new Assistant Producer, working on corporate client videos and expanding our film work into original documentaries. I’ll be doing everything from researching to interviewing to script writing to working on set to editing, but I’ll also be writing the blog, public speaking, managing the intern program and planning events. It’s a start-up, so I get to wear a lot of hats, and with such a small team, my input will really shape the direction and the success of our work. And it’s going to be a lot of work. But multimedia storytelling is where my heart has always been, and I’m so thrilled about the chance to build my creative visual skills. I’ll still be in the D.C. area, so despite the fact that I’m leaving, it’s not really goodbye.

It still feels like it though. It’s a strange limbo, knowing you are closing the door, knowing what you’re saying goodbye to, but not having the familiar comfort of knowing what comes next.

In the final season of “The Office,” people who had left come back. They weren’t gone forever, they were just doing something else, having their own adjacent narrative.

A new adventure.

And you can see it in their eyes. They’re really happy.

Family

I think the only reason adults get tired of spending time with their family is because they realize that they can’t control them, and they get frustrated. Siblings hold each other accountable for the dreadful boy band the other was into in high school. Parents reveal quirks about their grown children, or tell stories about the time their children did something stupid. Not being able to stop your family from embarrassing you is frustrating. Any effort is impossible and it’s a worthless preoccupation to try.

When I went to Wisconsin to visit my dad’s side of the family, I didn’t really have that experience. I was on full vacation mode. Nothing was going to get in my way of relaxing and reconnecting with myself and what matters to me. And I’m really glad I did. Check out my Instagram to see how I documented some of the memorable moments of the trip. Including this photo, which captured the moment I was trying to get my dad to take the perfect picture of me at my happiest, eating ice cream from the Windmill. Somehow at every turn there was my sister, determined to mess it up.

Windmill ice cream

Shrugs.

Those People

You know who I am talking about. Those people. The people in public. Waiting for the metro. Pressed against your shoulder blade in the elevator. Standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Those people who talk. You don’t realize it until it has happened and suddenly they’re having a full blown conversation not with you, but at you. You stand there, politely, because you’re taken by surprise and you’re not quick enough to figure out an escape plan. It’s not the right time of day for this, you think. You’re sweaty from your walk to wherever you’re going and you’d rather no one acknowledge that you look like this, you think. You’re running errands in peace, running through the day ahead of you in your mind, until you can’t ignore that someone else desperately needs you to acknowledge that they exist.

And they talk like they know you. Or maybe it’s that they talk like they want to know you. But actually it’s more like they want you to want to know them. To validate them. To let them know that their problems are your problems too. That we’re all in this world together and it’s going to be okay. Together we will make it through. Their eyes plead for you to utter words of acceptance. They want you to hug them with your words. Probably they wouldn’t mind if you reached out and hugged them too. Because now you’re best friends. And you’d go to coffee right this very second so you can continue to share in this human experience together but you’re in the middle of going to work and they’re in the middle of… Do they work? you wonder. No, probably not. Or maybe they do and it’s in a place with lollipops and rainbows and no clocks to alert their bosses that they’re late. You’re late. You look at them again and think, yes, that must be it because it is 7:45 in the morning and no one can talk with this much enthusiasm unless they’ve had too much sugar and cheer in their life. Right? People aren’t like this, right? It’s just those people, right?

And then as you depart–because finally, finally it is time to go your separate ways–you are left to wonder whether it is not those people but instead you, a lonely shell of a person, unable to connect with the strangers around you, those people who have stories to tell and experiences to share and you, you’re too self-important to share with them.

The Case That Could Save the Contraception Mandate

Anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision?

To help pass the time this weekend, dive down this rabbit hole with me and read about the case that could save the contraception mandate.

The Case: U.S. vs. Lee (1982)amish

The Supreme Court ruled that an Amish employer, Edwin Lee, did not have the right to avoid paying Social Security tax on employees, despite his religious beliefs that is was immoral to do so. The Court agreed that his religious rights had been violated, but ruled that the broad public interest served in maintaining a tax system was so important that the conflict did not afford him a basis for not paying the tax. Furthermore, it ruled that it would impose his religious beliefs on others.

The Precedent: Obamacare is a Tax, and Taxes Serve the Public Interest

At the March hearing on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, Justice Sonia Sottomayor admonished the businesses’ attorney, Paul Clement, for his incorrect classification of the financial responsibility businesses carry if they do not provide health insurance or provide health insurance but exclude contraceptive coverage.

“It’s not called a penalty, it’s called a tax,” she said, met with a round of laughter from the audience, and a note of approval from Chief Justice John Roberts.

Her words hearken back to the first time the Court weighed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act–and it’s no small distinction. That the Supreme Court ruled the financial cost of not insuring, or insuring but excluding contraception, “a tax” means there’s already judicial precedent to save the contraception mandate.

“Does the creation of the exemption relieve me from paying taxes when I have a sincere religious belief that taxes are immoral?” Sottomayor asked Clement.

“I think Lee says that taxes are different, and not all exemptions are created equal, because some exemptions undermine the compelling interest,” Clement replied.

Here’s what that means: Hobby Lobby objects, on religious grounds, to the contraception mandate. In order to get out of the contraception mandate, they would have to pay the tax for not providing health insurance. Hobby Lobby does not want to do this because they say it is expensive and therefore a burden on their religious practice.uterus-property-of-hobby-lobby

Like in U.S. vs. Lee, the justices–and that includes Sottomayor–were very clearly leaning toward a decision that yes, Hobby Lobby’s has a right to the protection of their religious identity.

But U.S. vs. Lee resolved that paying taxes is different. And the same arguments can be made for the contraception mandate. There’s a broad public interest in maintaining the tax for not providing health insurance and the tax for not providing contraceptive coverage, to get businesses to provide the full range of benefits or allow workers to obtain those benefits, with subsidies on the exchange.

One Hang-Up: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993)

After Lee, Congress introduced the  Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which added to the “compelling government interest” standard set down by Lee a new standard: “the least-restrictive means test.”

There’s not a clear case that there’s a less-restrictive means of getting women access to contraception. Clement and his clients disagree, but the science is very clear.

“This is not about access to contraception,” Clement said. “It’s about who’s going to pay for the government’s preferred subsidy.”hobbylobby

But the reason the government mandated free access was because of the number of studies presented to the Health and Human Services Department in advance of the rule showing that the cost of contraception was a barrier to access for women.

Granted, the two businesses don’t object to covering all forms of contraception. But the Court can’t grant Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood exemptions from certain types of contraception without opening the door to all contraceptives being exempt, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out during the oral arguments (and Clement agreed). That’s because the argument Clement and his clients have presented to the Court is that whatever the religious employer objects to, in this case, would be a substantial burden.

And to grant Hobby Lobby an exemption, as federal attorney General Donald Verrilli Jr. argued, could violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by prioritizing the employers’ religion over the employees’.

The least restrictive means test certainly muddies the waters. But I think that if the court wanted, it could rule that there isn’t a less-restrictive means of getting women access to contraceptives. And that would mean the case rests on the precedent of U.S. vs. Lee–the case that could save the contraception mandate.