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Say What Ya Mean, Mean What Ya Say, Will Ya?

Posted by Here's What I Don't Get on 3/02/2014 07:03:00 PM in , , , , , , ,
I'll just say it.  Words make me nuts.  In a good way.  In a bad way.  In every way.  But what really makes me nuts--dare I say "what I really don't get"--is when words are used carelessly, and then people who really like words and regard them as holy and read them carefully get confused and don't know what the words mean, and then they say so, and everyone else thinks they're nuts.  And difficult.  And picky.  And all of that, from words.

Well, yeah, of course I'm the one who doesn't understand.  Often.  And I don't get it.  Come on.  Say what ya mean and mean what ya say. Is it really that difficult?

You know what my crime is?  Not understanding what you were thinking when you said what you said, even though you did not say what you were thinking with your words.   Yeah.  That's a crime.  You didn't know?

Take the recent kerfuffle (speaking of words, that's a superb one) about the use and misuse  of the word "literally" and the resultant "allowance" that "literally" doesn't actually have to mean "literally".  Which is just stupid.   Yeah, evolution of words, common usage, popular culture, blah blah blah.  If words don't mean what they mean, then what do they mean?   You will notice that I refrained from saying "Words literally make me nuts" (in that second sentence up there).  That would be incorrect.  The list of things that literally make me nuts is too long to expound upon in this humble blog post.  Yes, I know that I just confirmed that I am nuts. That's what I mean by meaning what you say.

So here's what I'm talkin' about.  I'm talking' about specificity.  And I'm talkin' about how, in the absence of specificity--which you are free to ignore, of course, no one knows what the hell you really said.  If that doesn't bother you, no big deal.  Maybe you're one of those "gist" people, and it doesn't really matter.  Okay.  As long as you don't proceed to expect other people to figure out specifically what you mean without you saying what you mean.  Sure, do what you want.  Despite the indignant tone of this post, I'm not the word police (though some days, I'd like to be.)

Stand behind what you say.  Or what you don't say.  That's all I'm saying.

Or to put it another way, we've all heard the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword".  What does it mean?  It means that words are powerful weapons for influencing people.  And like weapons, we should be careful how we use them, no?

By now, you're wondering what triggered this particular rant on this particular Sunday afternoon.  I'm glad you asked.  I bet you think it's something little, something insignificant, because you know how even the littlest thing can get me going.  In the larger scheme of things, you're right on that one.  In the interest of defending my "sensitivity", I will say that anything that reaches the point at which I feel like pulling the hair out of my head in large clumps meets my standard for significant.  Oh, and mocking my inability to magically and psychically traverse the space between words on a page and intentions in some stranger's mind...that doesn't help, either.

So here's what happened. 
Every once in a while, but not that often, I park my car at the station that is at the end of the subway line that comes closest to my house.  It pisses me off that it costs $5  $7, but that's just me.  I've been doing this for years.  You go in, you take the little ticket, the gate lifts, you park, you go, you come back, you drive out, you give the distracted person watching a miniature television in the little exit booth your cash--because you can ONLY use cash (there's a big sign), so you have to be prepared, and you're all done.  Okay.  Got it.

So recently, I went there, cash in hand, like the good little rule follower (stop snickering) that I am.  Lo and behold, they have changed the system (much to the delight of most people, I understand.)  Now there is no more distracted person in the little exit booth.  The exit booths are empty.  Now you have to pay for parking with your little ticket inside the station before you go to your car. I didn't know this, so I drove to the exit, where I felt, well, stuck, until I realized that the machine at the exit will allow you to pay by credit card.  So I got out alive, is what I'm saying.  Okay.  I got it now.  Hey, I can adjust to change.  I'll know for next time.

A couple of weeks later, we had a snow storm.  I was on my way into the city, and I thought maybe I would park and take the train in.  I realized I had left my credit/debit card at home, and I wasn't sure if the machines inside (since, like the rest of society, leaves us with no actual human being with whom to interact) took cash.  I pulled over, took out my trusty smart phone, and looked it up.  It says "now you can pay with your debit or credit card".  Nothing about cash.

Yes, this story is still about words, and is not an analysis of either electronic commerce or public transportation.  Stay with me.  I'm getting there.

I wondered, and I didn't want to get trapped in there at 11 p.m. like Alice gone down the hole, so I let it be.  I vowed to get to the bottom of this another way, since there is no info on the website and the only way to go in there to check is, well, to park and pay 7 bucks.

So (I'm gettin' to it) yesterday something interesting happened.  On a local town listserve, someone asked the question I had been having.  She hadn't been there in a while, and she wanted to know "if you can still pay a human being in cash or at least pay a machine with a
credit card? I couldn't get a human on the phone to confirm ..."


Good question.  Glad you asked.

The questioner got four responses in pretty short order (it's a very helpful list):

"pay station...you can use a credit card...I suspect you can use cash, but never have"
"has machines where you can pay by credit card...think one of the other ones takes cash"
"there's a machine, no more humans"
"you pay at the machines now"

Shoot.  The conversation is over.  The questioner is satisfied (because she asked an "either" question).  I thought I was going to get my answer.  And I still don't know.

Let's review.

There is a machine instead of a person now.  Right.  Knew that.
You can pay by credit card.   Right.  Knew that.
A couple people think there might be a possibility of using cash, but don't know.

So.  I did what I do.  I asked the list.  I asked if there was anyone who knew if the machines take cash.

Get your yellow tape.  This is the start of the crime scene.

Now I should say, because it really does matter to the gist of the whole story, that I did get my answer, and I got it right away.  Like I said, it's a helpful list.

But that's not the only thing I got.  I got emails.  Several emails.  In each of them, the person copied and pasted what they had written the night before, pointing out to me that they had already answered my question.  No.  They had not.

I didn't answer all of them, just thanked them.  One of them, well, he was a little snarkier than the rest, and I just can't resist a good snark.  Don't worry, I didn't tell him to meet me in the alley at midnight or anything.  I explained that, for me (with my apparent disability), I didn't get from his statement a definitive answer about cash, so I was still confused, and I asked just to double check.  He answered, insisting that his answer was really "clear enough" and "covered it".   Okay.  Whatever.

It made me think of a infamous video that we used when I worked in Hawaii.  It was used to demonstrate the need for language and literacy intervention for young children, particularly those who do not speak Standard English at home, in order for them to succeed in school.  In this video, researchers asked students to give them detailed instructions, step by step, to make a peanut butter sandwich.  The answers went something like this:

"You put the peanut butter on the bread." (which resulted in the researcher getting the loaf of bread, sitting it on the table (in the wrapper), and balancing a jar of peanut butter on top, resulting in laughter and somewhat more detailed direction from the child).

Or "You use a knife" (which resulted in the researcher picking up a knife, but not knowing what to do with it).

This research made perfect sense to me.  If you have a particular question, you need a particular answer.  So why is it that these children need serious educational intervention, but people with graduate degrees who don't know the difference between giving a general vs a specific answer (and are defensive as all get out if you point out to them that you're looking for a clear answer to a particular question)?  I don't get it.

"Wait, you really got this worked up about an incomplete answer on an email list?"  No, not really.  It was just a really good example.  It irks me every day.   I was just, as they say, carpe-ing the diem.   It's a pet peeve.  We all have pet peeves.  This is one of mine.

Yeah, I process too much.  Is that supposed to be news?

You may now commence with the comments on my poor word choice, grammar, sentence structure, or composition.  All's fair in love and words, and I love irony as much as the next guy.

Have at it.  But put your pen away in it's scabbard first, k? Sphere: Related Content

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Methuselah Lived 900 Years

Posted by Here's What I Don't Get on 4/01/2013 08:09:00 PM

Nine, or ten, or eleven years ago, we were sitting in the office of the person who is arguably the greatest pediatrician on the face of the earth (i.e. ours), and we were chatting at some length and with great animation on all sides, like you do if you have this particular pediatrician, and I had to open my big mouth.  I suppose I was proud of it, and I thought somehow, this wonderful out-of-the-box doctor would nod in the way that she does, and smile.   So I told her.  I told her (beaming all the while) that we had a frame on our living room (Yeah.  Our Living Room) wall into which I had placed a red and white greeting card that said:


Because, you know, questioning authority (which, contrary to public opinion, didn't originate on a bumper sticker in the 1970's, but came from Benjamin Franklin) is good, but it just isn't enough.

Her reply?  Well, it wasn't a smile and a nod.  There was a smile, for sure, but it was a subtle, knowing smile, cultivated over years and years of pediatric practice (which, by default, involves dealing with parents, insane and otherwise).  Her words, though, were quick and decisive, and I'll never forget them.

"You reap what you sow.  You reap what you sow."

You could see her laughing on the inside.  Or maybe worrying a little bit.  Or both.  I can see it like it was yesterday.

The frame is still on our wall.

So what I'm saying is:  Okay.  This is my fault.

So.  Now it's those same nine, or ten, or eleven years later.  Bat Mitzvah Year (which not only means hers, which is long past now, but attendance at countless others.)  And Passover, replete with creative and engaging seders (if not the excitement of the dramatic productions of the past, which featured water turning to blood, large blow up locusts, ping pong ball hail, etc) is over tomorrow.

"I love matzah," she said today, as she gently spread a generous layer of butter on a piece for a quick after school snack.  (She also loves chopped liver, whitefish salad, lox, and gefilte fish.  It's good to remember how much she loves these things when we have a discussion like we did a couple of days ago.)

"I don't believe any of that stuff.  It's ridiculous.  They're stories that some man made up and wrote down a long time ago and everyone believes them like they're true.  None of it is true."

This is where it gets tricky.  For me, I mean.

Because here's the thing.  If you really believe in questioning everything, then you have to question your own stances, no matter what they are. You have to question disbelief in the same way that you question belief.

So I asked:  "So, you don't believe Abraham or Isaac or Rebekah existed?"

"No."

"How do you know?"

"They're just characters in a story, there's no evidence."  She is a scientist, through and through, this kid.  She has always been so, the same at two years old as at thirteen.  When we read a picture book about the story of Siddhartha when she was five or six, it took months and months to get her to understand that we needed to wait until she was older to go to Nepal to see the ruins of Siddhartha's palaces for herself so she could see if it was true or not.  It wasn't my idea.

"Well, there is a tomb in Israel where they are said to be buried."

"Oh.  There is?  Well, then, okay, maybe they lived (wow, she didn't ask how we know for sure they're buried in there).  But they didn't live to those ridiculous ages.  It's just like Jesus.  I believe that Jesus lived, but I don't believe that he did magic things or had special powers."

"So you don't believe Moses existed and that he led the people out of Egypt?"

"No.  I told you, I don't believe in any of that stuff."

Here's where I'm thinking well, the Passover story must be a little problematic for her, then.

So then I asked the question that to me, is the next logical step:  "So why do you think people believe this?  How, in the evolutionary process, did people come to adopt religion and believe in God?  And why do so many people believe in some sort of God, all over the world?"

"I don't know.  I've never thought about that."

As Leo Rosten says in one of my family's favorite stories....AHA!!!

Just so you know, in our family, the point of "I don't know" is the official launching pad for "I'm going to find out."

And so the research has begun.  Damn, this is interesting stuff.

I have spent the last 24 hours reading all about the land bridge under the Red Sea (or the Reed sea), about the wack-job that has "proven" that he found horse and human bones and chariot wheels under the water, about the legend of Moses (which, as far as I can see, does not resemble the story we tell in most ways), about the way the story might be borrowed from the Babylonians of Mesopotamia (now Iraq).  I have learned that those who believe in the stories as absolute truth (there are a LOT of those people) insist that the environmental change brought on by the great flood changed the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere and that before Noah's Ark, people routinely lived to 600, 700, 900 years old, and after the flood, because the whole living conditions of the earth changed, people only lived to between 70 and 200 years, which is, you know, proof of why people don't live that long anymore (wow).  I have just begun to read, barely scratched the surface of, the countless philosphical perspectives (not all of them as cynical as mine) of why it is that people believe in a higher power, and how that came about via evolution.  You know, so I can have an intelligent conversation with my daughter.

I have also thought long and hard about the parallel conversations of the last week, about how I really dislike and speak out against "poor us", "we can't help it", and "people hate us" as the foundation of arguments for equal rights for LGBTQ people and our families, and how I disassociate myself from organizations that use those strategies.  And about how the telling of endless stories about Jews as victims ("They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat")  as a way to keep ourselves strong in our faith has a similar ring to it, an undeniable irony, even if it is sacrilege to say so.  (I suspect this is why I love the work of Shalom Auslander, but that's another conversation.)

Some of you, at this point, are chomping at the bit.  You want to tell us, teach us, remind us, about the value of myth, about the power of stories, about allegory, about how it's not important if it is scientifically true, if every fact is just as it we present or recite it.  You want to remind us, teach us, tell us about the history and tradition and culture of a people--or peoples--that lies in the stories that have stood the test of time, the stories we repeat to our children, the prayers that we still say together.  You want to teach us, remind us, tell us of the grace of community and the power of shared belief systems and how there are no atheists in foxholes, and how we honor our elders by observing the traditions of their youth.  You want to say that we do this for the millions who died (yes, we do).

And to this, I say that I love matzah (et al) too.  I love the haggadah that I painstakingly put together so as to ensure a meaningful, engaging, seder.  I honor my mother, who taught me to question everything, and my father, who would add "it's all nonsense."  I honor my Orthodox grandfather who believed in "being and doing good" as the heart of it all, even in the absence of traditional observance.

And she knows these things, too.  All of them.  She knows of the power of myth, as do I.  She knows all of those things, about allegory, about how faith and science coexist for many people.  Yes.  We have talked about, modeled, lived all of these things.  She is a scientist.  She'll make her own way to a a faith that makes sense to her.  Or she won't.  It ain't necessarily so.

Yeah.  It's my fault.  I reap what I sow.  

Thank God.



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Seeing Red, or Why I Left Facebook (Baaaaaa)


See me, right there?  Hi.

So, in case you didn't see it on CNN or Huffington Post, I've left facebook.

If you couldn't give a hoot--an opinion to which you are most genuinely entitled, because after all, who am I to think anyone should care, it's not like it's a world event--you can stop reading now.  Just sayin'.   Don't be reading all of this and then leaving some comment like "Who cares?" (not that anyone will see it since I moderate comments...bwah ha ha....but still), even if "Who cares?" is the most frequently posted comment on most news sites.... and of course People magazine.  Really.  People read articles about the pregnancy weight of whichever one of the Kardashian sisters is pregnant right now (I have no idea), and then they take the time to leave a comment that says "Who cares?" Who cares?  Um....You.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

On the other hand, if you're interested (which I am, because, well, it's me) or curious (because you're that kind of person...I love me some curious people) or perhaps a wee bit jealous (which I know some of you are), read on.

So here's the deal.

I didn't leave facebook because it ate (or killed, depending on the generosity of my mood) my blog a couple of years back, although I've thought of that many times.

I didn't leave facebook because it's one huge addictive massive time suck that has negatively impacted much of  my work and my life. That's a really good reason, though.

I didn't leave facebook because I don't value community or staying in touch with my friends from kindergarten, summer camp, music festivals, or chorus.  Those are good things about facebook, and I'll miss them.  Although, come to think of it, you're getting warm.

It is possible that I may not have left facebook permanently.  While I'm away, I'm going to spend some good time working out at the bullshit gym, strengthening my bullshit deflecting muscles.  I'm gonna devote some portion of my day to working at the lab, testing out those new sprays that make facebook posts slide right off without leaving any powdery residue or unsightly stains.  I'm going to go to Use-Facebook-Infrequently-And-Don't-Care-About-Anything-You-Read Camp.  We'll see.

I understand that this is new, because, well, I just left, so I haven't thought this through so perfectly yet.  But my reasons are timely, and hell, this is my blog, so I'm gonna write about them.

The short version, for those of you who have read about as much as your attention span will tolerate, is: I left facebook over gay marriage.

I mean, that's completely inaccurate and incomplete and doesn't even resemble the truth, but I am aware that, if you're a good little soldier and you read this post all the way to the end, that's what some of you are going to come out saying.  It will be wrong, but that's all you will have gotten out of it.  So I'm saving you some time.  Okay.  Fine.  I left facebook over gay marriage.



Ding ding!  Tram Stop Number Two.  We will be stopped here for thirty seconds for those who wish to disembark at this point.

You see, I'm singl.....

I know how you think.  I was about to start a sentence with "I'm single, not partnered..." and I could hear your brains clicking and saying "aha!" and linking that sentence to that "I left facebook over gay marriage" thing.   See how that works?  Well, you're gonna think what you're gonna think.

I'm single.  Not partnered.  So I mostly have myself to talk to.   Yeah.  You might think it doesn't make a difference (especially from the privileged perspective of being partnered).  But it does.

I live in a town that I moved to solely so that there would be really good public schools for my daughter (an admittedly questionable elitist and capitalist choice that I still struggle with every day)--perhaps needless to say, I don't live in a hotbed of radical lesbian feminist politics.  Hmm.  Come to think of it, I don't think that there is such a thing as a hotbed of radical lesbian feminist politics anymore, but, hey, a girl can dream.  So I don't feel a lot of community where I live and spend a lot of my time. 

I'm a mom.  I'm the kind of mom that believes when you're a mom, that goes at the top of your list.  I get that not everyone feels that way.  I do.  So I spend a lot of my time with 13 year olds, cooking, packing lunch, and driving to events.  (This stretches my anti-assimilation muscles further than they can bear, all on its own.)

I'm a lesbian who came out into an enveloping community of strong, resistant, proud women.....and into a community of some loving, wonderful men, the great majority of whom were dead by the time I'd been out for six or seven years.


Facebook is perfect (or deadly) for people like me.  It's a little glimpse of community, a tease.  One of my friends said, a while back now, that facebook was like "sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name".  So...like a bar, I guess (which could explain my dissatisfaction right there)...but that's not how I took it.  I know that feeling.  We all know that feeling.  Hanging out with friends.  A place where people are glad when you pop in to visit.  Where you chat a bit and then you go back.  Nothin' wrong with that.   That's why I am was there.  Keep up with the latest, chat with friends, see what people are up to, take a break from being a single mom in an affluent (gag) suburb.  The way life used to be when LGBT people weren't so focused on being "just like you."

I assure you, this is not a procedural issue, or even a fit of cynicism.  It's about community.  The kicker leads back to that age old conversation, the one that was used to represent "us" (whoever "us" is) in the Supreme Court of the United States (did you hear it?) the one that is one of my least favorite conversations anywhere, anytime.   "We deserve rights because we can't help it", "who would choose this?", "no one in their right mind would choose to be gay"Yeah.  The argument in our favor before the Supreme Court included the sentence:  "[it became unconstitutional] when we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control."  Great.  Now it's enshrined in the federal record.

Poor us, we couldn't change this if we wanted to.

Bullshit.  There are plenty of us out there who could change it.  And have.   Some of us (especially women, whose stories are buried under the "legitimate" research that focuses exclusively on gay men)  did choose it, and aren't sorry, and aren't victims of this "horrible life where everyone hates us".   I'm one of those.  And WHY did I choose it?  Not because of the sex.  Not because I think women are "hot" (I don't care for, or even understand that concept, no matter who it applies to).  Because the women's community, which has long been, at least in part, a euphemism for the lesbian community, at least in the place that I came out, was a wonderful, wonderful place.  Warm.  Welcoming.  Alternative.  Accepting.  Diverse.  Contrary.  Loud.  Activist.  Feminist.  Radical.   A positive, wonderful, political choice.

So.  This week.

The massive proliferation of red HRC (no, I'm not linking to them) logos made it clear to me, in a more final, permanent, way, that that community is dead, at least in my pretty large circle.  I've kind of known it for awhile.  But I have been practicing my best denial skills, and it's been working pretty well.  Until this.

I have always held, deep in my soul, that if I were ever to find myself in this sort of crowd, I would leave:


 I'm Jewish.  When a family member dies, we cover our mirrors.  It symbolizes a withdrawal from society's gaze, a recognition that mourning is lonely and silent.

And so I left.

Ironically, a few weeks ago, a facebook friend posted a meme that said, aptly: "The only thing worse than being alone is being with people who make you feel alone."   Touché.

So now you probably want the brief takeaway, because that's how people are these days (you see?  I'm catching on).  I told you already.  You can say "Robin left facebook because of gay marriage."

Oh.  You want the REAL takeaway?

Robin left facebook because she felt as if she found herself in a massive community of people who, almost without exception, have no qualms about playing right into the marketing scheme of a big, wealthy, corporation, and then defending it as benign.   Because I found myself nearly swept along in a nationalistic, flag-waving march for assimilation.  Because, in an almost flawless enactment of quasi-Orwellian groupthink, a voice of dissent is like screaming into a chasm--and frankly, I have enough of that in my life already without inviting it into my living space through a brightly lit screen.

Lighten up, Robin.  It was great.  It's a history making event.  People were supporting us, everywhere.  I loved seeing that sea of red.  It meant so many people were with us.  It's not a reason to leave.  It's just a symbol for marriage equality, and we were just saying we're in favor of it.  You're making too big a deal of it. I don't understand why you wouldn't be excited about gay people getting equal rights.

I am excited about gay people getting equal rights.  I'm excited about all people getting equal rights, leaving none behind.   Ya know, with the emphasis on the none.

And it's not a "symbol of marriage".  It's a logo.  Like this:



Or this:

Or this:


(Just in case you don't know what that last logo is (I know you know the first two), it's the logo of the ACLU.  You know.  The people who argued the case in our favor before the Supreme Court.  You know.  An organization that is actually related to the cases currently before the highest court in the land.   An organization that doesn't focus its time and money on slick marketing campaigns.)

The equal sign, red or not, is a logo, created in 1995 by Stone Yamashita design firm.  A logo of a $50 million dollar business, that overpays its executives and which many people within the LGBTQ community (especially those ambivalent about assimilation) do not regard as their advocate of choice.

So, you still want the "blurb".

I am a lesbian. But before that, I am a woman and a feminist.  And before that, I am a person who believes in the inherent danger of groupthink, especially in the current culture of corporate capitalism run amok.  And before THAT, I'm one of those moms who did not let her kid wear shirts with promiment "GAP" or other logos on them...I long ago joined the surprisingly large league of mothers who have told their children (as part of their education), "If they want us to advertise for them, they can pay us."

That'll do.

Hot tip:  I already mentioned that I moderate comments.  I don't do that because I like some of you and not others (though that might be true).  I do it because there is a HUGE amount of spam that floods into the comments sections of blogs, and it's a LOT to keep up with.  So it's easier to moderate.  That being said, please don't send me comments that tell me that I need to learn not to take this stuff so personally.  I've been listening to that shit my whole life.   I am who I am, and I like that I'm principled and analytical, and I have people in my life who like that I'm that way, too.  Actually, say it if you must, but be aware that I can respond to comments, and I will then feel free to tell you what you need to learn.  Deal?

P.S.  Oh.  Even though I'm not seeing them anymore, much gratitude to my few friends who changed their facebook profile pictures to GLAD, or Lambda Legal, or the ACLU. Even one or two different ones (not including knockoffs of the HRC logo) helped.  And even more gratitude to people who changed their profile photos to pictures of themselves at their weddings or commitment ceremonies, or just together with their families of choice.  And even more to those who just left it all alone, so we could all see your face and remember who we're doing all of this for.



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Rainbow Hat: 0 Robin: 1


What I want to do is to hurl a similar set of expletives back at you.  What I want to do is to get on this blog and rant and rave, and rant and rave some more.  What I want to do is to put on my detective hat and find out who you are and throw eggs at your house and let the air out of your car tires and say terrible things (which are of course true) about you in ways that will be as public as possible and hopefully shaming, things that will ring true for your wife, or your family, or others who know you, as they have felt alone in dealing with you for all of these years, feeling like no one would believe them about your behavior.  What I want to do is intellectualize and moan about the death of civility.  What I want to do is scream.

But instead, I am crying. 

This week, I have been in more than my fair share of discussions, both online and in real life, about bullying, perhaps bolstered a bit by the recent studies that have been all over the media that affirm the long term effects of bullying in childhood.  Not that these results are surprising--any one of us could tell you that they're true--but it's good to be validated, I guess.

This week, I spoke with a guy who talked about how he was bullied in childhood, and he got over it, and in fact, it made him stronger.  He then proceeded to reveal his definition of bullying, which included having someone tell you that your clothes are ugly, or that you're stupid, or pretty much anything that could be categorized as "mean", leaving me to wonder if he had ever experienced bullying at all, or if he just felt free, as so many do these days, to use the term to cover anything that hurts someone's feelings, which is a huge load of crap and a massive disservice to those who are bullied.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for him that he "got over it" and that it "made him stronger".  I'm happy for him that he was somehow able to internalize his parents' assurances that the insults were about the person who threw them, and not about him.  How nice for him that he had a family that acted, in effect, as a buffer, rather than as a parallel wound.

This week, I made a decision.  I decided not to use that worn assurance anymore.  It's what my mother said to me, and as these things happen, it's what I say to my daughter.  "When your friend insults the way you dress, that's about her insecurity."  "When someone tells you you're always copying another friend, that it's her that has all the original ideas, that has nothing to do with you."  "When people say mean things, it reflects on them, not on you."  I've always thought, right up to this week, that these were pretty good things to say, ways to help a child navigate the world.   Now I think they're missing the point.

This week, I read and grieved and yelled and read some more about the Steubenville rape case.  And I thought about the victim, and how she is continuing to be viciously bullied.  And I thought about whether we would say such a thing to her.  "When those boys raped you and took photographs and everyone talked and laughed, that said something about all of them, not about you."  Nice try.  Well, OF COURSE it said something about them and not her.  Rape is a violent crime (which would make you wonder why it would receive a one year sentence, but that's another conversation) for which the perpetrator--usually male--bears responsibility.  But would we say such a thing?  I suspect not.  I hope not.  Because it doesn't help.  It's minimizing, and most importantly, it misses the point.  She has been violated.  She will have to live with this violation and trauma.  She continues to endure emotional torture.  Assurance that it's not about her doesn't make one bit of difference.  She was still the victim, and the pain is hers.  If we have any empathy at all, we want to support her and validate her in her pain, not try to help her to rationalize that it's their fault.  Yeah.  It's their fault.  Duh.  Can we move on to something that matters?

So why do we feel so free to use those phrases with our kids when they endure the daily torture of peers?  Because emotional and verbal violence doesn't count?  Because we still believe in that nonsense that starts "sticks and stones.."?  Because, well, some pain is legitimate and some pain is "oversensitivity"?  Who decides?  Because we don't want to nurture a culture of victimhood?  As if victimhood is more of a societal problem than victimization?

Last night, I made a stop at Trader Joe's.  I was tired.  My poor dog was in the car, as she had been for most of the day.  I pulled into the lot, littered with red plastic shopping carts (which people call "carriages" here, something I've never gotten used to), all of the carts thoughtfully (I presume) placed in such a way that did not effectively block parking spaces.  I got out of my car, took one of those carts that were strewn around the lot, went into the store, grabbed the few things I needed, went back out, and put my single grocery bag in the trunk.

Maybe it's cultural.  Maybe it's geographical.  Maybe it's generational.  Maybe it's laziness.  Maybe it's conforming to a cultural norm (like "driving with the flow of traffic", even if everyone is going 10 miles over the speed limit, something I'm sure none of us have ever done).  Sometimes (get ready to gasp) I leave my shopping cart in the parking lot.

Mostly, I return my cart, a task admittedly made easier by the invention of "cart returns" in parking lots, something that people a bit younger than me seem to think were always in existence.  Mostly, I return my cart because I have a daughter who feels very strongly about such things.  Yeah.  I want to be her when I grow up.  Mostly, I return my cart because it's the right thing to do.  Mostly, I return my cart because I've been known to be highly irritated by shopping carts that are left blocking parking spaces. But yeah, sometimes I don't return them.  No, I haven't done a sociological analysis of the factors involved.  And no, I have never--EVER--left a shopping cart in a place that would block a parking space (you know how they roll, so  you have to be careful).  It is only just now, however, that I have learned that this behavior is a violation akin to rape or murder.  Good to know.

Yeah.  Apparently (and here is something I never knew before), every individual who, at any time, has not returned a shopping cart to the grocery store--for any reason--is a heartless waste of life who deserves to be called names and filed in the drawer labeled "100 top reasons to hate people and wish them dead."   Yeah, no kidding.  People feel more strongly about this than I could ever have imagined.  Which I found out first hand in the parking lot of Trader Joe's last night.

Yes, your honor.  Yes, I plead guilty.  Yes, I was in the process of positioning the wheels of my shopping cart at the front edge of my parking space, in a way which I felt would be certain not to obstruct cars from parking in any of the adjacent spaces.  Yes, your honor, I understand that it was wrong.  Yes, your honor, I will return my carts from now on.  Yes, your honor.  I understand.

As I was doing this, a small blue car pulled into the parking space next to me (unobstructed by me or my cart).  It then continued into the space directly in front of that space, so that it would be parked facing outward.  Plenty of spaces at that time of night, apparently.

He got out of his car, looked at me.  White guy, tall, probably early 60's, gaunt, a little unshaven, rainbow striped knit hat (just for the irony, I suppose),  a bit of the People's Republic of Cambridge communal housing kind of look.  I smiled at him.  Because I do that.  And then it began.

"Put the f*#kin' cart back at the front of the store, you lazy b@#tch."

Pause.  I froze.

"How f#*@ing selfish can you be, blocking parking spaces!"

So here's where the long term effects of bullying come in.  I am like a deer in the headlights.  Inside my body, where you can't see, I shrink into the smallest possible person you can imagine.   I can't possibly think of a productive thing to say or do (see the first paragraph above for the list of the options that generally present themselves).  I often think of great things to say about 15 minutes after something like this, but never in the moment.  I have never been able to think of something to say in the moment.  Except this time.

I looked up at him.  I said: "There's a nicer way to say that." I think I raised my voice a bit, but I can't be sure, since I wasn't there at the time.

And then I went and returned the cart, despite the other two carts nearby in the parking lot.  I almost took those, too, because that's what it's like being me in such a situation..."Oh, I spilled a small bit of coffee?  Don't worry, I'll clean the whole floor!"  I heard him behind me.  Mostly, I heard that he took one of the carts from the parking lot, as I had about ten minutes prior, to use for his shopping.  "He could have just offered to take mine, I do that all the time when I see someone emptying their cart," I mumbled under my breath.  Mostly, I was thinking "When I get back to the store and return my cart, I'm going to have to turn around and he'll be right behind me heading into the store, and I'll have to look him in the face again."  Mostly, I was trying to figure out where I might have stashed my invisibility cloak, so that that last point would be moot.

I returned my cart.  I turned around to head back to my car.   There he was, right behind me.  I looked into his eyes, and I said (calmly this time, I'm sure of that)  "That was a good idea. And a good reminder.  There are just a lot of nicer ways that you could have said that to me."

He gave an odd tilt of his head that, on one hand, looked like "Well, I got you to do it, didn't I"....and on the other hand looked like he couldn't possibly think of something to say in response.  I'll take the second one.

When you behave in this way, you don't know who you're talking to.  You don't know that person's story.  You don't know that a few simple words, uttered in irritation on your part, might equal an hour of shaking and crying for someone else, even when they come up with the right thing to say.

You don't know anything about me.  And I don't know anything about you.  But I've got one up on you.  I know that it is possible to be kind to people I don't know anything about.

F@*^k the hour of crying and shaking.

Rainbow Hat: 0    Robin:  1

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A Match Made in Heaven

Posted by Here's What I Don't Get on 3/15/2013 02:37:00 PM in , , , , , ,
Carnival Cruise Lines, meet Fung Wah Bus Company.  Fung Wah, I'd like to introduce you to Carnival.  You two have a lot in common, I really think you'll hit it off.  















Everybody sing!


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Click Your Heels Together Three Times

Posted by Here's What I Don't Get on 3/14/2013 10:20:00 PM in , , , , , , ,
Look at that.  I was just about to say "Well, now that the hubbub over the pope has settled down a bit..."  So silly.

So this has been an interesting couple of days.  You know it's been an over the top media event when I've been watching it, and I am perhaps one of the least interested people you could meet.  For me, watching it is more akin to the way in which some people settle down in front of the TV or computer to watch endless hours of repetitive coverage about a school shooting, or a terrorist attack, more akin to the highway rubbernecking that seems almost instinctual. You know, wondering how these kind of things happen, how we allow them to happen, and what it is in human nature that makes people act in strange and irrational ways.

But what I've really been thinking about is the red shoes.  

You know the ones.
 
And I'm wondering (a lot) if this new guy, this Francis guy (I hear that's a good name for him to have picked) is going to wear the red shoes.  Well, not THE red shoes.  Not the same ones that his predecessor wore (see above), which I hear were made by Prada (ooh la la).  Any red shoes.  Becuase this whole red shoes thing is really interesting to me.

For years now, whenever given an opening, I have been an evangelist for red shoes.  Not religious red shoes (if there is such a thing).  Just red shoes.  Ask anyone I know.  At some point, I probably have asked them if they own a pair of red shoes (and the cool, and somewhat strange, thing is that most people just nod, like they know that rule, and of COURSE they have a pair of red shoes).  I have definitely said that it is my belief that everyone should own a pair of red shoes (and by everyone, I mean women...I admit that I have never thought about whether men should own a pair of red shoes, and I can't say I'm inclined to start now).  I don't really know why.  It's just a thing.  I think it's important. Red shoes put a spring in your step.  They stand out, they ensure that you are not invisible.  They make people smile...or scowl.  Either one is good.  Red shoes say that you're not afraid.  Everyone (see definition above) should own (and wear) a pair of red shoes. 

Which, being who I am, has got me thinking.  I know.  Unusual.

What is the deal with red shoes?  How is it that I am such a maverick, spreading the good word about red shoes long before they became a topic of papal discussion?  I mean, it's not the first time I've been ahead of the curve, but still.

So back to this Pope for a minute.  Did you hear about how he wouldn't ride in the car, but took the bus?  Did you hear how he took off the showiest vestments (or whatever they're called, there are so many words that I don't know) very quickly, as soon as he could?  Did you hear about how he refused the fancy white chair in the Sistine Chapel, and just sat with the other cardinals?  I think these things are pretty decent.

And yes, I know he's anti-abortion.  I know he said that gay people adopting is discrimination against children and "child abuse".  I know that he said gay marriage is evil.  I've gotten all the emails from every LGBT organization, I've seen the posts on facebook.  Get real.  He's the POPE.  He's the head of the Catholic church.  Those things are pretty much a given.  Did someone (even one person...yeah, in the whole world) imagine that the cardinals would vote in a person who thinks all of those things are a-ok?  Give me a break.  Yeah.  I don't like those things about him.  Or the church.  Or the followers.  Maybe it's just that I'm a person who is able to hold two conflicting things in mind at one time.  Yeah.  He's a conservative Catholic whose social and moral positions are far different from mine.   Yeah, he may have some horrible political history in Argentina (and the other popes didn't have horrible political histories?).  I don't know about you, but it's not like I've been sitting around wondering when the Pope and I are going to agree and have coffee or something.  

Still, he appears to have some degree of humility, which is kinda unusual for a Pope, and at least is somewhat in line with the whole religion thing, certainly more than gold chalices and a $350K Mercedes.  Humility about something.  Anything.  That seems like a pretty good thing.  That's all.  And that's why I bet he's not gonna wear red shoes.

The real question remains:  What is the deal with red shoes?  Dorothy.  Hans Christian Anderson.  The Pope.  Me.  

See what I mean?

I'm not alone.  Apparently, Elaine Webster, a sociologist from New Zealand, has done extensive research on why women wear red shoes (another fine use of research).  She reports that "some men may become befuddled and even confused [at the sight of women wearing red shoes]" What power--I'm thinking that's a good reason for women to wear red shoes right there.  There are guides on how to wear red shoes.  There's a red shoe movement.  There's a history of red shoes.

The best I can tell, they're about power.  And about being noticed.  And about magic, and desire, and wishes.  And about shoes that won't come off your feet or that go on dancing even after your feet are cut off.  Ew.

I don't think he's gonna wear the red shoes.

I still think you should, though.



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Bloggal Infallibiity

Posted by Here's What I Don't Get on 3/10/2013 11:50:00 PM in , , , , , , , , , ,


You learn something new every day.  That’s what they say.  That’s what I’ve always said, and for the most part, it’s true.  I mean it.  It's definitely true.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of those opportunities.  For learning something, I mean.  And now, as I listen to the radio and hear reports of all that they are doing to prepare theSistine Chapel, including false floors and anti-media strategies (I think that’s a little like the anti-Christ, but I’m not exactly clear on that), and all other things secret (because secret equals good, in case you didn’t know), I’m thinking it’s time to not keep my recently gained knowledge in hiding any more.  It’s time to share.

It’s not only about false floors and preventing the highest ranking cardinals from tweeting about the deliberations (I don’t know about you, but it seems like the conclave would be a group of people who you could pretty much count on not to leak information, but hey, what do I know).  There’s a whole lot of talk going on on the radio (day and night, night and day) about this whole pope (does the pope get capitalized?  Not on my blog). resignation thing, this whole new pope thing.   It’s been going on for weeks now.  You know, how it’s been 400 or 600 or however many years since a pope resigned, how there are rumors that it’s because there is some investigation about him in relation one of the umpteen sexual or abuse scandals related to the Catholic church, about how he resigned but he’s still going to live at the Vatican with the new pope (how cozy!), which is going to be kind of odd and unprecedented, because how does that work, having a pope and an ex-pope livingin the same place.  I know I wouldn’t want to try it.

So, in the middle of one of these radio shows, they were talking about just that, about how things are going to work (or not) when a pope and an ex-pope are living in the same place, how’s that going to work when theoretically both of them are pope material, which is really saying something, or so I’ve heard.  There was some kind of expert* on there, someone who really understands Catholicism and Pope-itude, and he was explaining the whole thing.  And somehow the conversation wound its way into the issue of “papal infallibility”. 

Pay attention.  This is where there is something really interesting to be learned.  Unless you know it already.  But I bet you don’t.

So.  It turns out that people have an incorrect understanding of papal infallibility.  We think it means that, well, he’s the pope and he’s infallible.  Strict reading and all..  Apparently not.  Apparently, the pope isn’t always infallible.  He’s only infallible under a couple of sets of conditions.

I am NOT going to interrupt here and say that I don’t get how this whole papal infallibility thing, and the nature of his whole position, his regalia and opulent living, etc. is not idol worship, and thus in violation of all biblical principles.  I mean, isn’t he kind of a sanctioned golden calf with a pointy hat and a fancy dress?  Oh.  I guess I just did interrupt and say that. Well, I still don’t get it.

So.  The conditions.  For infallibility.  In case you’re still paying attention.

It was on a show on the BBC.  They did a whole hour about the pope resigning.  The thing that I liked about it is that they were a little irreverent.  Irreverance seems particularly called for in this case (or in any case, but that’s another conversation, too).   And they started talking about papal infallibility. 

This is where it got really interesting.  Or funny.   Or something.

They were talking with Father Martin, and asked about a really interesting conundrum.  The commentator (sorry, don’t know his name) said that the Pope resigning as a result of the decline of age and inability to carry out the responsibilities of the post implied human fallibility, and how did that jibe with papal infallibility.  Father Martin responded:

“Papal infallibility is sometimes misunderstood….” 

Okay.

“…The Pope is only infallible in very specific occasions…”

Okay.

“…First of all, when he declares that he is speaking infallibly, and second of all, in matters of faith and morals..”

Umm…..

When he is speaking infallibly, he tells you, and those occasions are very limited.”

Wait.  Shut the front door.

When he is speaking infallibly, he TELLS YOU?

Now just to be clear, I was driving when I heard this.  I almost had to pull over.  I’m really glad I wasn’t drinking coffee or anything at the time or there might have been a mess.  I’ll tell you one thing.  I answered that one out loud.  Here’s what I said.

“I WANT THAT!”

No kidding.  That is just completely amazing.  He’s not usually infallible, but on the rare occasions in which he is, you know that what he saying is infallible because he tells you.  I mean, how does THAT work?  Does he interrupt himself (you know, in case he forgot to mention it) and say “Oops.  This next part is infallible”  (or maybe something more like “Mea culpa.  Quod dicturus sum certus.”, so much more pope-like).  Really?  I want that.

I mean, that could really come in handy.  In my daily life—heck, in ALL our daily lives-- there are many times that it would be helpful to notify people (like, say, teenagers.  Or spouses.  Or bosses.  Or whoever) that we are definitely correct and not subject to questioning.  So cool.

But then it occurred to me that there was another place in which that sort of “warning” (if you want to call it that) would be really helpful.  Blogging.  It would be really helpful in blogging.  Because you know, all those pesky comments, and people saying they disagree, and arguing (like you do).  It gets tiring.  

So that got me thinking. 

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my more than a half century (gasp) of living and being female, it’s that you’ve got to stake your claim.  You’ve got to speak up.  You’ve got to stop being a doormat and stand up and say what you want.  If you don’t ask for what you want, you’ll never get it (I know I saw that on one of those dreamy little facebook photos).  In addition to taking back the night, and taking back our bodies, we’ve got to take back words.  And rights.  And power.  Yeah.  Power.

So here’s what I’ve decided.  You deserve some fair notice.  And I don’t want you to miss it.  I don’t want to be misunderstood.  So let’s make this easy. 

I’ve developed what I’m calling an Infallibility Badge.  It’s big.  It’s bold.  It’s red.  It's an I.  You know, for Infallible.  You won’t miss it.  Here it is:



If and when (and you know there’s gonna be a when) I write a blog post that is about to be infallible, I’m going to put the Infallibility Badge at the top.  Then you’ll know.   Sound good?  Good.

It won’t be often.  Only “in very specific occasions”.  And those will be “very limited”.  But you know, sometimes I’m right.  And I think it’s only fair that I let you know ahead of time. 

So that’s the plan. 

Capisce?




*It turned out that the expert who knew all about these things (at least according to the BBC) is Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest from New York.  I looked him up, checked out his HuffPost blog, including the post in which he briefly eulogized JeanneManford, the recently deceased founder of PFLAG, and he looks like a pretty okay guy (an impression which was only fortified with his more recent entry, entitled “12 Pretty Good Reasons Why I Should Be Pope”).  This led me to check him out  even more (and got an education—more learning!) with a friend of mine who knows a whole heck of a lot (wait, am I supposed to use that word “heck” in a post about Catholicism?  The learning continues) about this stuff than I do (which is pretty much anybody, but she understands this way better than your average anybody).  I learned a little about the difference, to the extent that there is a difference, between Roman Catholics and Jesuits and Franciscans and, you know, the other variations not named here, including those guys that made the wine in California.  It was really helpful and interesting, especially since my prior knowledge (if you can call it that) was a vague sense that the Jesuits were “the good ones”, whatever that means—although I’m pretty sure it has something to do with having a HuffPost blog and being on the Colbert Report and joking around about being made pope and having a Twitter account and a Facebook page, which you should definitely check out (yesterday’s tweet: “Conclave Tip: Black smoke: No Pope. White smoke: Pope. Gray smoke: The College of Cardinals can't figure out how to use the @#$%&%* stove.”).  I mean, I’m a Jewish atheist, and now I’m following this guy.  What can I say, I likes me a guy with a sense of humor about religion.
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