Tuesday, June 30

Oh, and Yay Me


April and May stumped me, but June Nablopomo is a success! Yay!

On to July!

Monday, June 29

The Hermitage


Nope, nothin' to do with Andrew Jackson. Or Russia. It's just that I'm thinking it's better if I just don't leave the house anymore. No, it's not agoraphobia either (I've got my list of issues, but thankfully, that isn't one of 'em). At the risk of appearing to have turned into a sour old lady (which is about as far from how I see myself as possible), it's crappy out there.

I'm talkin' about parenting. I'm talkin' about kids. I'm talkin' about technology. I'm talkin' about culture. I'm talkin' about thinking. I'm talkin' about what we have done. I'm talkin' about what I'm always talkin' about except it seems like no one's listening (and by no one, I don't mean you, I mean them). Oy.

I think it all started a couple of weeks ago. My daughter's school has an event called Field Day on one of the final days of school. The kids play games out on the fields, and then there's a school-wide barbeque. A call went out for parents with strong arms to scoop ice cream. That was me, natch (clearly they didn't tell me about the atomic freezer the damn ice cream was going to come out of that kept it frozen as hard as a rock in 80 degree temperatures...I mean, I have strong arms, but you gotta be kidding.) Anyhow, I showed up, I scooped, I conducted a scientific observation of the combined effect of air temperature and overzealous children on a large black (qualities of variables can be important) bowl of sprinkles or jimmies or whatever it is you call them in your neck o' the woods.


I don't know what I call them. I don't care for them. I would share my research conclusions but they're coming out, complete with chi-squares and everything, in an upcoming journal of the American Association of Allied Associates of Dairy Confections, and I know you read that every month--silly me, I mean every couple of months, we all know it's a quarterly publication (snort)--and I don't want to spoil it for you. I'll give you a teaser though: Globulous.

So anyhow, back to scooping, which I did for longer than expected because that damn 1:30 shift didn't show up, or if they did, they didn't make themselves known. Suddenly, horror of all horrors, I was serving 4th and 5th graders (I thought they looked big) and I'm thinkin' wait a darn minute, what's happening here, and then a dad apparently noticed my apparently highly visible outrage at serving other than my homies (I think that is the one and only time I will ever be able to use that word in this blog, so I thought I should jump on it), which is kinda strange since I wasn't really outraged, it was really fine, I'm just making a big deal of it now because that's the fun of writing: elaboration. And he offered to step in and I handed him the messy scoop and went inside to wash off my hands for 20 minutes except I still had chocolate on my arm at 6:00 that evening, or so my observant child pointed out. It was fun.

Speaking of ice cream, have you tried the new Ben & Jerry's Flipped Out Ice Cream Sundae thingies? No? Well then let me report in. You see, I tried them not because I love ice cream, and not because in my semi-quasi-loving-or-not-loving-of-ice-cream I particularly like Ben & Jerry's over and above others (though that New York Super Fudge Chunk is really good. I mean, if I really liked ice cream a lot, it would be really good. Phew, that was close). No, my friends. I tried it because I am (occasionally) but a mere pawn in the world of corporate marketing. Have you seen the ad for this product? Well, here it is (this one taken in the Harvard Square subway station):

They rock. You listening, Snickers? This is advertising. You see, I'm a fairness and equity kinda gal. I don't buy stuff that exploits or objectifies women in their advertising, I don't buy stuff whose advertising is sexist or homophobic or racist or ageist. So it's only fair to buy stuff on purpose when someone does something kickass like this. So I did. It's pretty good. Go buy yourself some--reward them for their coolness of advertising. Report in.

Okay, back to kids and parenting and oy. So, there I was, scooping ice cream, my sore (but strong) arm struggling against the frozen mass, gazing out at a line of children that extended into the next state. And I learned something (yes, in addition to my ground-breaking research on sprinkles). Actually, I learned a couple of things. First, I got a good deal of insight into how children treat the cafeteria and food service workers at their school, which is probably a whole lot like how they treat them at any school, which is probably a whole lot like how most adults treat waitstaff and cashiers. What a thankless job. And I mean that literally. In the probably 150 kids--or more--that I served, I think there were two thank yous. But hey, it beat out the pleases by 200%, so that's something. As each child stepped up, they said something along the lines of "I'll have chocolate" or sometimes (and this is WAY polite) "Can I have some of both flavors?". Wait. One kid said "May I...". I remember him, because I almost kissed him. Not a please in the bunch. Not a single one. Not even an outlier (that whole sprinkles thing threw me right back into my graduate stats classes, sorry). I don't know about you. I was surprised. I was also surprised that I was the only parent who told kids that cut the line to go to the back---it's the teacher in me.

But here's the kicker: I was even more surprised that I was the only one who was surprised. I'm not gonna get up on my high horse here and insist that my daughter would have been the sole kid to say please and thank you (or either of em). I'm not delusional. She wouldn't. She'd be just like all the rest of them. But here I was writing that off to the fact that she is not the most social kid, imagining she would be one of the few not one of the many. And now apparently I have only myself to blame. Shoot.

This is one of those things I can't discuss with other parents. No one seems to be interested. Or surprised. Or distressed (even slightly--I'm not saying this is hissyfit-worthy). And it's got me wondering why that is. And what that means. And what it will mean in the future, not only for me, but for all of us. And it turns me into a sour old lady ("kids these days..."). Am I the only one who is surprised? Even a teeny bit?

I was gonna write about it that very day, but then I didn't, and then I thought well, Robin, let it fade, you'll get over it, it isn't that big a deal. And it kinda did fade. And, as you might have guessed by now, being the sharp cookies that you are, it kinda didn't. But I was okay, no great loss, not compelling enough to go back and write about that day--that's just not how I approach blogging. So...I let it go (sorta). Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Phoebe and I went on a an expotition (shame on you if you don't know that reference without clicking) to the Museum of Science in Boston (or is it in Cambridge? Whatever), which I have to say is a really crappy science museum, especially for its proximity to MIT and its sitting smack dab in the middle of a huge community of scientists and creative people, but I always forget that and decide to give it another chance, and I was glad I did because they have a cool exhibit right now on Crittercam, which some friends of mine in Hawaii worked on, but still, for all it could be, it's a lousy museum. And it's summer (even though you'd never know it here), so there are a lot of people there. And I learned something. Actually, I learned a couple of things.

I learned that, even in the face of a lot (and I mean a LOT, even a LOT A LOT) of hints, parents (with only one exception, or two counting me) do not encourage, tell, or in any way suggest to their children that they take turns or allow the next child who has been waiting patiently in line for 10 minutes to have their chance. If their child wants to have the only turn at that exhibit, they can damn well do it until the museum closes, if that's what their little heart desires. They also do not comment or interfere in any way if their children run (okay, barge) into an activity, running blindly past the kid or kids who are quietly waiting their turn. Yes, even with hints. Hints, hints, and more hints. Parents also do not seem to give a whit about signs, like, say, the one on the exhibit where you're supposed to try to see if distance offers more power to lift a 500 lb postal sack with a pulley (there are three ropes, at different distances, on pulleys). The sign on that exhibit says in large letters "ONE PERSON ONLY". Because, you know (duh) it's an experiment. Because, you know (duh), it's a science museum. Because, you know (duh) it's supposed to be about trying things out and learning something (duh). We tried to do that pulley experiment seven different times, trying to come back when it was less crowded in that section. Every time, some kid ran over and threw himself (which would be a sexist thing to say, except it was only boys) on one of the ropes while Phoebe was trying another of them. One kid, grinning, showed that he could climb to the top of the rope, with his mother beaming with pride next to him, because of course it was a science experiment to see who could climb to the top of the rope.
No, I'm not surprised at the kids. Kids are kids. But the parents? You know, "parents", as in the ones who are supposed to teach their children manners and how to behave? You remember them. It was all I could do to not model for my daughter the very finest in curse words under my breath.

The second thing that I learned (yeah, I said there were two things and I know you're dying for more)--it is my lesson number two which is the second lesson that I learned--(sorry about that link, I couldn't help it, it's a legacy)--is not really something new, but is a reemergence of something I learned and talked about a lot when I was in school. It has to do with Sesame Street. And MTV. And ADHD. And about those of us who grew up in the 60's. To get to the point (hey, now there's something new) I learned that the expectations that I carry about children and museums and science museums and experimentation and learning are just...well, apparently archaic. At least 90% of the kids (mine included) run (and I mean run) from exhibit to exhibit, basically looking for something they can push (usually repeatedly like pressing an elevator button a hundred times), something they can climb, something they can swing back and forth. On some exhibits, there were trackballs to move to the different questions on the screen. Most of the kids I saw barely noticed what was on the screen, but raced their hands along the trackball as if they were trying to beat the clock on a video version of Nascar or trying to have their little character move the fastest in a race in order to win more tickets, like the arcade game at Chuck E. Cheese (aka Hades). The signs on the exhibits are absolutely superfluous. The static exhibits, like the optical illusions, forget about it. The crittercams (fascinating stuff, by the way) were about how many kids could fit into the plastic bubble that makes them look as if they are inside an observation tube watching penguins, and how many faces they can make by smashing their faces up agains the plexiglass and how many noises they can made by banging their hands on the inside of the plexiglass dome as hard as they could. I won't go on (though I could at some length, and you know it). You get the idea.

We have done this. We have created this. And we must shift with it. Which I get means that I need to completely shift my expectations. But it also means that we need to shift our activities. Get rid of science museums like this. What a waste of time. I'm sad. Very sad, about the shift, about the actual changes in brain functioning and chemistry and synaptic connections and neuron firings and pathways that has taken place. Maybe that's just me, having difficulty with the transition. I can accept that. But I'm aware that it's not just me, because nothing has shifted. Education hasn't shifted. Museums haven't shifted. Lots of things haven't shifted. We're still harping about how kids don't like to read as much and how we have to stay on them to get them to follow directions and how upsetting it is that they are glued to their nintendos or why don't kids invent things the way we did when we were kids. Oh. Maybe we aren't harping on those things. Maybe just I am. Is it only me? Maybe it's just that we don't have kids (or parents, far more importantly) who are suited for this anymore. And it's agonizing for people like me, who are either living unevolved in the dark ages or under some sort of illusion that we are still invested in kids having observation and methodical scientific inquiry skills. So I guess it's selfish, but I wish we'd cut it out. You know, it's like that great Far Side cartoon: Fish or Cut Bait. Because it's making me effin' nuts.

Oh, maybe you want to know what I was saying about Sesame Street and MTV (in case you don't). There has been quite a bit of research that has suggested, for children who watch a lot of TV in early childhood, that the rapid fire of Sesame Street (how the skit changes once a minute or less) rewires children's brains (especially since it's early childhood, a time of a lot of development and plasticity) so that they're only really able to deal easily with short bits of information with fast movement, and exciting visual images (movement and color). Is this related to ADHD? Maybe, but it need not be that dramatic. MTV and the expansion of video games emerged when the first generation of Sesame Street watchers grew up, succeeding massively because in essence, they're exactly the same thing as Sesame Street, only for teenagers and young adults. You could say the same thing about Google (have you seen those new ads for Bing? I love 'em, they illustrate the point perfectly...oh no, more corporate pawning), about Twitter, about Facebook. They're all a variation on the same medium. I can even observe the effect in myself, as disturbing as that is, and am wondering if others have as well.

I'm willing to accept that this is just my lot, a consequence of being an educator for too many years. And of course, a consequence of being a sour old lady. Shoot.

Kindred Spirits

Yeah, I know this blog goes back and forth. A lot. One day I'm talking God, the next day, I'm talking Disney movies, and the next day, I'm a radical feminist. What can I say...it's all in here. Kinda like Prego, but different. Hang on. It's a wild ride, but it all adds up, and even sometimes overlaps in the most unexpected ways. In the end, it's who I am--someone who feels deeply, wonders frequently, thinks too much, rejects the dominant paradigm, plays freely, and laughs far more than average. I'm trusting you, you're smart, you can deal, you're a go-with-the-flow kinda person (or if you aren't, get workin' on that, it's good for your health, not that I'm always the best example myself).

So here's the deal for today...

Don't you love it when you find someone or some blog on the web that says exactly what you want to say but either haven't found a way to say it or haven't gotten around to saying it or are maybe a wee bit shy of the flogging that will ensue? Sure ya do.

Well, today, thanks to my friend Ron on facebook, that happened to me. And so I'm just doing the good do-bee thing, and passing it on.

I'm tired of pretending that it's over--not only for queer people, but hell, for half (more than half?) of the human race. I'm tired of the naivete and lie-down-and-roll-over ethic expressed by the people holding signs saying "We Are Equal" or "Freedom=Equal Marriage" because marriage has become legal in six states. I'm tired of assimilation, of a movement that has morphed into a fight to be regarded as "normal". I'm tired of a movement that, without criticism, adopts overly sexualized heterosexual norms in order to advocate for a civil rights issue (one which, frankly, has very little to do with sex, and a lot to do with justice) without regard for the fuel that they provide to the oppression of women (which, believe it or not, is not up for trade in exchange for gay rights). I'm tired of the political correctness which has made frank and analytical discussion about some subjects taboo, even within the gay and lesbian community--that we have become a people who silence one another for not going along with the "party line"--the very antithesis of our genesis. I'm distressed at the misogyny that is inherent in the disappearance of butch women in the lesbian community (and the lack of conversation about it).

No, despite all appearances, I'm not a killjoy. I like a parade. I like a party (well, by some people's definitions of party, since I don't drink and don't understand its relationship to fun). I like celebrating. I like marching with friends. I am proud of who I am. I just think we've lost sight. In a big way.

I'm someone who believes in history. I'm someone who believes in honoring those who came before--not through holding them up as tokens or heroes (which serves our purposes rather than theirs)--but by digging in, reading, understanding what they did, why they did it, who they were, and what they have to say about what is happening now. I'm someone who believes that every action is a political action, that, in the parlance of the 70's, the personal is political. Sadly, I am someone who, like a lot of us, folds a bit too easily under the pressure or even subtle ostracism of peers, who can't always live up to the excellent advice to speak your mind, even when your voice shakes.

I'm someone who has no shame in my age, in my grey hair, in my history in the women's movement, in the earlier days of the gay and lesbian movement, in the women's music movement. I'm someone who has no qualms about being a feminist first, that I have and will always have--not individually but as a rule--far more in common with women than with gay men. I'm not embarrassed at the music I like, the shoes I wear, the clothes I wear, or my size.

I sound angry. It is shocking to say, but in the almost 30 years since I came out, I feel as if have been increasingly and steadily isolated from my community by my own (purported) community. It continues to this day. In our "transformation" into "everyone else", into an indiscernible part of the dominant culture, those of us who used to be welcomed in our renegade troupe are once again nearing the fringes.

I don't know, I think that would piss anyone off.

Sunday, June 28

Well, Hello There, Mr. Frederickson

Damn, I love it when things like this happen. I love discovering things like this. I know they do stuff like this on purpose all the time, but god, I love the moment of noticing.

I mean, here I am, just sitting here, thinking that after a seven hour chorus board meeting today, I just don't have anything in particular to say, and here it is only two more days to go in June, and I've managed to post every day this month without any extreme pain or contortions, and then I open Parade magazine (I love the Sunday paper, even more so for the inserts), and there ya go.

Have you seen the Pixar film Up yet? Oh...see it. (Squirrel!) And when you do, keep this in mind.









This is even better than Fenton's Ice Cream. God, I love movie people.

Saturday, June 27

Around A Blind Curve


If they ever get around to resurfacing this road, I'm gonna suggest some better banking on those curves. It's way too easy to flip, and that's just one more hazard that, believe you me, this journey doesn't need. I mean sure, you can slow down, and that helps. That's what I do every time. And it's not like I'm looking to maximize speed, either. I've never been one for that. I shy away from sports in which speed is an element, like downhill skiing for example. It's more that I'd like to keep a close to steady speed. It helps with mileage, ya know, not that that's my primary concern. I just want to keep going.

I don't believe in God. I don't know if I've mentioned that. Or maybe I should say that I don't believe in God as people mean God when they say God. Yeah, that's so much clearer. That's not to say that I don't believe in anything, though even in saying that I am not sure that I know what "believing" means, aside from its role in fairy tales and pretend play. I shy away from any images, even the feminine. They seem so restricting. And I'm not so keen on God or gods or whatever that come with predetermined rules or rituals--which can be just as true for Wicca as it is for Catholicism. Not my style. I do believe in energy. I believe in power. I believe in nature. I believe in infinity. Most of all, I believe in the ocean (which, conveniently, encompasses the three features I just mentioned). And I believe in messages. I just don't get picky about where they come from, nor do I try to find out. I just try to listen.

I'm aware that, in this description, there are those--you may be among them--who will say that it sounds, from the above, that I do, in fact, believe in God. That Martin Buber spoke about God as nature in Judaism. That a "power greater than ourselves" is simply another way to describe the nature of God. That if I believe in "messages" then they must be coming from "someone". Not to me. But suit yourself.

I have long been afraid to say what I really feel and think about organized religion (of any sort), so I just say "it's not my thing". Really, it's a lot more than that. This is my blog, and as such I can write anything I like, but honestly, I'm still afraid. Even the people who I have spoken to at length, the people who, in reading this, will think that they truly understand my position through talking with me at length--even those people, I have not told what I really think. At heart, I'm afraid of the sudden power and energy and what feels to me like ferocity that emerges in even the meekest souls when they feel their religious observance is under attack. Not that I'm trying to attack it--believe and practice what you will--but I do have strong opinions and I love a good discussion (what you would probably call argument), and I do get that it feels like an attack to most. I am discouraged by the degree to which zeal and what seems to me like fanaticism increase exponentially as the conversations continue. That characteristic has always bothered me...the way in which, when I present a contrary viewpoint and insist on being heard (not agreed with), that the other person's position intensifies, gravitating continually toward the extreme, even if often even beyond their own inclination. It goes something like this:

"How'd you like that movie?"
"It was okay, nothing great. What about you?"
"I really liked it. I liked the way it ended"
"Really? I thought the ending was so contrived!"
"Hmm. It didn't feel that way to me. I also really liked the relationship between the main characters. It felt familiar to me"
"Are you kidding? The acting was horrible!"
"Wow, we sure left with different impressions. Over all, I wouldn't say it was my favorite movie, but I liked it a lot"
"Oh my god, it was like the worst movie I've ever seen!"

There. We've gone from "okay" to "worst" in a two minute conversation. That's happened a lot when I've tried to discuss my beliefs about religion, and in particular justify (which seems to be necessary more than I would expect) my aversion to group ritual and "membership" in a religious community. "Oh, you just haven't found the right place! You should try [x]!" No. You don't get it. "You should give it a try--the people are so wonderful!" I believe you. That's great. No thanks.

I do learn from experience (sometimes), so I tend not to discuss it (you know, religion and politics...). But it can be a lonely place to be, because there are things I believe, and I do relish community. It's a conundrum, that's for sure. I am always on the lookout for people who believe deeply and yet love conversation and whose practice can withstand scrutiny. I haven't found many. I've met people who feel as I do (that's no fun). I've met people who I respect immensely who will default to their desire for community when pressed (which I can't really argue with, but I still don't get why community--which I agree is essential--is in any way connected to religion). I've talked with people who write me off as judgmental, which I suppose I am, though in their writing me off and/or dismissal, they are judging me as well, no? Oh, well.

If you made it this far, I imagine you're wondering where this is all coming from. I mean, here we were just talking about Michael Jackson and the infidelity of senators and demolishing patriarchy, and suddenly here we are in God-land. Got me. That's what happens when you try to blog every day, I guess. As one of my favorite blogs says, "they can't all be gems". So true.

Okay. I lied. I do know where it's coming from.

It's coming from the unique set of circumstances that are currently converging in my life, setting me on a different road than I have ever been on before. I've seen this road before--several times--I've just never gotten in the car and put it on cruise control. I've never committed to the route. I've never done it without a navigator riding shotgun. But now I have set out, and I gotta tell you, it's a trip (okay, pun intended, I just couldn't help myself). I'm gonna try to write more about it in the days to come, though I'm not promising anything--it's a lot safer and a lot more comfortable to write about that which I know. It's easier to write about the things that infuriate me, confuse me, enthrall me, than to write about this uncertain place, in which my largest task is to listen.

As awkward as it makes me feel to say it, it's also coming from the movie Field of Dreams, which I love and which strikes me differently every time I watch it. I recently turned my daughter on to it, and now she loves it. She watched it for the second time this morning, and I realized that at several points in that film, I get a strong chill through my body and the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. I've always attributed it to the music cues (which it might be, and which I'm really sensitive to), to the movie's intentional "hooks", to my being a sap in general when it comes to movies. But today, it was different. Today, even the dead father bit didn't get me. Today, it was about listening. About listening and following directions because you know you have to, not because you understand it or because there's something in it for you or because it makes sense or because it's what's expected of you. About listening even if people think you're crazy, even if it looks like you're going to lose everything, even if you thought you were already done, even if you've already poured yourself into something else. Listening.

That's what I'm doing. Listening. It's scary as all hell. But I'm doing it.

And only now, just now, just this moment, am I realizing that when some people--maybe even most people--see that movie, they think that it is God that is talking to him. In the maybe ten times that I've seen the film, I don't think that has ever occurred to me. Of course, now that it has occurred to me, I still gotta say that it just doesn't matter to me. I don't know who it is. I don't care who it is. In the credits, it says "The Voice". Yes.

I've always been a sucker for a good road trip. For any road trip. No wonder.

Friday, June 26

Hypocrisy

Governor Mark Sanford (S.C.)
Senator John Ensign (R, Nevada)
Senator John Edwards (D, N.C., Candidate for President)
Representative Vito Fosella (R, New York)
Governor David Paterson (N.Y.)
Governor Eliot Spitzer (N.Y.)
Senator David Vitter (R, Louisiana)

(and these are just politicians.  and these are just recent.  
and this is just a quick pass, there are more)

It is abudantly clear that heterosexual men do not have respect for the sanctity of marriage, nor do they believe in and abide by the one-man one-woman rule.  

Yes.  I'm generalizing.  What's good for the goose, ya know?

I just want it known, right here, and right now, that we should demand a series of citizens petitions, changing the marriage laws--we could called it the Defense of Marriage Act...catchy name, eh?--to prohibit straight men (0r maybe just elected officials) from getting married.  The point, we are reminded again and again, is about stability for children, the sanctity of one man-one woman, and the laws of God.  

So which way is it going to be, boys?

We're waiting.



Thursday, June 25

I'll Be There

I'm not one to mourn celebrity deaths; I've written here before about my utter confusion at the cult of celebrity. I feel no differently today. I was never a screaming fan, and I am not one who would hold vigil outside a hospital or a home.

And yet, the sudden death of Michael Jackson has left me surprisingly saddened. I thought it must be wrong. I thought surely that he staged it (like Elvis? Unlike Elvis?). I pondered the possibility that this was not his body that they removed from the house. I'm still pondering. But only a little.

I grew up with Michael Jackson. We were born the same year. I watched and admired his voice, his dancing, his showmanship from the earliest age. There was not a moment in which I did not feel awestruck by the idea that he and I were the same age. When I was 16, I went to see the Jackson Five in concert at the now defunct Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California, where I grew up. Imagine. The Jackson Five in my town! I remember the show like it was yesterday. I swooned as he sang "I'll Be There".



I did not really remain a fan as he grew older. The songs were still good, the dancing was still amazing, but it just wasn't my thing. I know that most people know him for Thriller, and admire that era of his music. I'll always be a Jackson Five fan. It takes me back.

I did not remain a fan as he clearly became stranger and stranger, as the concrete manifestation of phenomenal childhood pressures (and abuse?) took hold--he wouldn't be the first. I did not attend any more concerts--only that first one. I did not buy any more records (yes, records), even Thriller. As speculation regarding his abuse of children swirled, I never felt "hooked in"--the Michael Jackson I knew was 12, 16, 20. Not this one. And the one that I knew remained--in recordings, in videos, in my memory. Now he was clearly a deeply troubled entertainer that bore no resemblance (in any way) to the child whose poster was on my bedroom wall. In those days, I often remarked to friends that I would not be surprised if he killed himself rather than grow old. Who could possibly imagine an aged Michael Jackson, tell me that. Not me.

To me, he was always a child with the voice of an angel.

So tonight, when I heard the news, after double and triple and quadruple checking, I did what I often do to instantly cheer me up when I feel glum--today was, ironically, no different in that way. I turned on Jackson Five music at high volume. I Want You Back. ABC. I'll Be There. I opened the windows and the front door to throw the music out into the world. And I danced.

Here you go. With a little pre-Huxtable Bill Cosby and Tommy Smothers as a bonus...but the real genius is there in yellow and green. Dance with me, k?

Wednesday, June 24

Leave Her Be

Here's what I don't get: The almost fanatical primacy of biology. I don't get it at all.

Yesterday, a newborn baby was found in a shoebox in a vestibule of an apartment building in New York. The box was closed to protect the baby from the rain outside, and was placed in a warm spot. The baby, a girl, was found alive, had a warm hat on, was wrapped warmly, was clean, was in excellent health, had the umbilical cord appropriately tied off with dental floss to prevent bleeding, and is doing fine.

And without getting started about Evil Envoys of Satan (not that I even believe in Satan, but this time I'm making a temporary exception) like Nancy Grace on CNN, we are, as a culture and as a community, "up in arms". There is rage at the mother (presumedly it was she who left the child) for abandoning the child. There is a full police investigation, with fingerprints, "analysis" of the clothing that was left, review of possible witnesses, etc. They are saying that charges will be filed, likely felony charges. (Hmm....will the biological father be charged with child abandonment?)

What an obscene waste of time and taxpayer money.

Someone had a baby. For whatever reason, she made a decision to do this. The news report says "it seems almost like she wanted someone to find the baby". Almost? Someone takes the time to wrap up a baby warmly, put a hat on to retain body heat, protect it from the elements, put it in a place where people are coming and going and where there is adequate heat, and she "almost wanted" someone to find her? They are guessing that the baby was there for about an hour before being found. An hour? Seems like pretty good planning to me.

Why do we demonize these people? For that matter, in a case like this in which the baby was found and is fine and healthy and being cared for...why do we even care who they are or what they have done? Why do we spend time and energy and outrage and emotion decrying this "heartless" person? There is a baby. She is healthy. She is with people who will care for her. There are countless people who are waiting to adopt healthy newborns. What, exactly, is the problem here?

Well, you know and I know what the problem is. Biology. And property rights.

I have written on this before, and now it's come around again.

Children are property. They belong to the people whose microscopic seeds made them, or failing that, to the people whose microscopic DNA is shared in some way with the people whose microscopic seeds made them. Call me a heretic. I think this is absurd.

No, I'm not suggesting that the rights of parents to raise their own children be called into question. I'm not advocating parental fitness tests (though I don't think that's such a bad idea in some variation). I'm not saying that children are a free-for-all and should or could belong to anyone the state wants them to (how scary is that idea). I am saying that the fanatical zeal that we attach to the primacy of biology is both frightening and inappropriate.

Infants remain in foster care, sometimes in multiple placements, for far too long nearly everywhere in the United States. There is plentiful research on the importance of consistency and reliability of attachment to a primary caregiver in infancy, and the impact of its disruption on a whole laundry list of outcomes. But it's more important that we give biological families--families that have made it clear, sometimes multiple times, that they do not want or are not able to care for the child, families that may not know the child exists (and why would that be?), ones in which multiple serious risks for the child may abound--first "crack". That's how we regard children. As something people have "dibs" on. In this case, they say it will take six months to place this child for adoption. Why is that? So they can find every possible person with a genetic tie to the child to see if they want her? She could be placed with a loving permanent family tomorrow. Oh. I forgot. That would be against the rules.

This process may be "normal". It may be what we are used to. It may even be what we believe. Whatever it is, it appears to bear little if any relationship to the best interest of the child as primary. I know, it can be argued that the "best interest" of the child is in being raised by their biological family. But that is an assumption. Why? Why is it automatically in a child's best interest to be cared for by people who share their DNA? I don't get it.

Such a philosophy, residing as it does deep in the cord of our society, is also undermining to adoption. We can't have it both ways. If biological relationship is so primary, so primal, then what does that say about how we see adoption, no matter how we extol its virtues? Does it mean that, underneath the rhetoric, that we have always and will always see adopted children as objects of some degree of pity, as children who unfortunately had to settle for "second best"? Oh, I can hear the defensive answers to that one. "No, no, that's not what we mean! Of course adoption is wonderful and entirely legitimate!" Sorry. Like I said, you can't have it both ways.

When a case such as this one arises, even the well-meaning people are lying through their teeth. We want to find the mother because we're concerned about her. We want to make sure she's okay. Bullshit. We want to find her to publicly shame her for abandoning her newborn child, to publicly burn her at the stake for her "heartless" act. For not behaving the way that "we" (whoever that is) think good and rational people should behave. If she couldn't take care of the baby, she could have made arrangements for adoption. She lives in a Safe Haven state--if she was in crisis, she could have brought the baby to a fire station or a hospital. She could have done this. She could have done that. But she didn't. And thankfully, the baby is okay.

Sure. Something might have happened. The baby might have died. But she didn't.

Since when do we punish people for what might have happened?

I know it's a rather outlandish analogy, but why do we honor the pilot who so brilliantly landed that plane in the Hudson River, saving all those people? They might have died. There might have been a collision with a boat. He wasn't supposed to land a plane on water, he was supposed to try to get it to an airport. He should have noticed sooner that there was a problem and turn the plane around immediately where it took off. People could have died. But they didn't. He was heroic. He made quick and highly unorthodox decisions in a crisis, he implemented them perfectly, and he saved lives.

Do we punish pilots of uneventful flights because something "might have happened"? I mean, the very nature of what they're doing is risky on some level. Do we punish owners who restrain dogs who lunge at people, barking ferociously, because someone may have received a bite? Do we file charges against parents whose children are injured in auto accidents, because they might have been killed? I mean, cars are dangerous, and they were clearly not driving carefully enough, and so isn't that child endangerment?

Yes, of course I know these are not the same thing. She knew that she was going to have a baby and that something would have to happen when it was born. But really, what do we know? Maybe she didn't know or fully understand (that has happened, as hard as it is for us to believe). Maybe she thought she could handle it, and then, in a moment of crisis, realized she couldn't. Maybe she wasn't thinking clearly. Maybe she was under a threat of violence. Why do we presume the worst about this woman, whoever she is?

Leave her be. She behaved protectively, if not the way we would choose for her to behave. The baby is fine. Leave her be.

On a last note, as of 2008, all 50 states have Safe Haven laws. So now is the time to ask yourself: do you know about those laws in your community? Are they publicized? Do we let young people know about them in schools, in buses, in subways, in clinics (my bet is that this mom didn't know)? Or are we too afraid, as the critics would suggest, that we are going to "invite" people to abandon their babies, a thought just about as absurd as how we "invite" kids to have sex by offering sex education. Yup, the opponents are from the same camp--what a surprise.

Stop demonizing young women. Stop allowing news outlets to demonize young women. Speak up.

In one article I read about this story online this morning, the writer described the mother as "careless" and "selfish". We treat infants and young children as property rather than as people. I can't think of anything more careless and selfish than that.

Tuesday, June 23

Collataral Damage: A Whole New Definition


This isn't often the stuff of this blog. But this time, I am making an exception.

Wow. And wow again. Now this is an interesting and possibly unanticipated side effect.

Women in Iran daring men to hit them. A woman who walks down the street in a revealing dress, "displaying her long curly hair". Another woman acknowledging her boldness. Women not surrendering to fear despite nearly unparalleled risk.

Some time ago, in this blog, I spoke bluntly about martyrs and heroes, about the people and about those words, and about how they are, in my opinion, used too freely. It was for precisely this reason. Neda. Even in this case, I don't know if the words are fitting or precise--she surely did not die "voluntarily". But there is no doubt that she is now the face of struggle. Her father risked his life to take the video. I can't possibly imagine what that took.

If you do not know of Neda Agha-Soltan, or have not seen the video, please be sure to do that, as horrifying as it is to watch--I do not include it here, either embedded or as a link, despite it's importance, because I simply cannot watch it again, I cannot deal with the spirit of violence that it illustrates living within the life of this blog. But every adult should watch it--it's easy to find.

We should watch it because we too easily forget. We forget that war is ugly, horrendous, unthinkable. We forget that violent death is not the stuff of video games. This is our chance to witness.

Collateral damage, indeed.

In the honor of these brave women, both those who have died and those who are joining their hands and raising their voices together, a poem by Forugh Farrokhzad, an Iranian woman poet. Not a poem of violence, but of the spirit that women bring to this struggle, to all struggles.


I WILL GREET THE SUN AGAIN


I will greet the sun again;

I will greet the streams which flowed in me;

I will greet the clouds which were

my lengthy thoughts;

I will greet the painful growth of poplars

Which pass through the dry seasons;

I will greet the flocks of crows

Which brought me, as presents,

The sweet smells of the fields at night;

I will greet my mother who lived in the mirror

And was the image of my old age;

And I will also greet the earth whose burning womb

Is filled with, green seeds by the passion she has

for reproducing me.

I will come, I will come,

I will come with my hair,

As the continuation of the smells of the soil;

With my eyes, as the dense experiences of darkness,

Carrying the bushes I have picked in the woodlands

beyond the wall.

I will come, I will come,

I will come and the entrance will be filled with love;

And at the entrance I will greet again

those who are in love,

And also the girl who is still standing

At the entrance in diffusion of love.

Forugh Farrokhzad

( 1933 - 1967 )



Monday, June 22

Art. Sheesh, It Keeps You Busy.

I have come to the conclusion that it is both a blessing and curse to see art in everything all the time.

This, for example.



Why yes, as a matter of fact, it is the front window of my car in the rain (because what else is there in June in Boston, really?). I was waiting in the pickup line at Phoebe's school. Of course, I was there, and this is a movie, and this movie is streamed over the web, so I will understand if you don't see it, but here's what happened to me. There I was, sitting there with my engine off (it's a No Exhaust zone, I love that), with light rain falling, thinking about nothing in particular. Obviously, since my engine was off, my wipers were off, so I was getting that interesting impressionistic view of the world around me that some people spend hours in a Photoshop class trying to achieve. But what I noticed most of all is that each drop looked as if it were a drop or point of paint, like pointilism, like one shard in a very fine mosaic, like one stitch in a tapestry. It was as if an image of the car in front of me (and everything else, for that matter) was being painted on canvas, one drop at a time. It was amazing.

I know. I'm weird. This is why it's hard to drive with me.

I mean, all of us have, at one point or another, seen animals or shapes or figures in clouds. I see them in everything. Ivy. Cracks in the sidewalk. Stucco. Tree bark. I see them all the time. They are usually highly detailed and realistic, not puffy cumulus bunnies....although the other day, I did see a rabbit in my neighborhood--they're all over the place--standing up exactly like a chocolate easter bunny, with its paws up and its ears up and everything. Oh great, now I'm hungry.

I am also under some sort of illusion, every time I see them (not the rabbits, the figures), that if I only had a pencil and paper, I could draw them and suddenly be able to render a version that was as realistic and lifelike as the lion that I see, toothy jaws yawning wide, in a ripped poster that has been tacked on a telephone pole in the rain. The thing is, I do usually have a pencil and paper, and it somehow just doesn't work out that way. I draw just as badly when I am struck with the sudden appearance of images as I am any other time. Bummer. It has occurred to me that I might be able to draw those particular images better (in the moment, that is) with my eyes closed, or with my "other" hand, or with my eyes fixated on the object, but never looking at the paper, a kind of "blind" drawing. I've been thinking on that one for a long time, but have never managed to try it. Maybe that's because I'm often in traffic or otherwise in transit when I see this stuff, and getting out drawing materials and closing one's eyes is generally frowned upon while in control of a motor vehicle. I don't know why that would be. Have you ever tried that (not driving with your eyes closed, I'm talking about drawing)? I've heard of it somewhere. If you know anything about that, let me know. It's a nice illusion, in any case. I feel like a brilliant artist for a few seconds, and who could argue with that? Okay, so there's no evidence--what's it to you?

Of course, in cases where we're supposed to see shapes, like constellations, I never see them, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many people point and say, usually in increasingly exasperated tones "It's right there!". It figures, doesn't it? Maybe it's because I don't get how anyone can point into space. It seems kinda nonspecific, doesn't it? Hardly like pointing at that third pastry from the left in the glass case and saying "I'd like that one." I mean, really. "You see that star right there?" Ohhh. That star. Sure thing.

I guess what I'm saying is that it can make it hard to get things done. Where I live, for example, people throw out the most amazing things on a regular basis (no, I'm not talking about going through people's trash, though I'm not above that given the right purpose). I don't get how people can drive the streets, with all that stuff that is ripe for art, for recycling in any form, and just focus on where they're headed. I don't get that at all. Today I stopped three times. It was raining, so the cool stuff was largely ruined. Of course, rather than saying "Oh, well, I guess I'll just go home today, most stuff is wrecked", I am cursing the stupid people who put such lovely and wonderful things out on a rainy day. I ask you: Would they put the Mona Lisa out in the rain? Well then why are they putting those rusted 1950's aluminum TV trays or that broken Lite Brite out there? Tell me that, why don't you. I mean, Come On! Don't they know budding art when they see it?

In a few weeks, it will be time again for Brimfield, the largest outdoor antique market in the United States. 6000 dealers.

I love it. A lot. I love to go with other people. But it somehow just hasn't worked too well. We walk around, and they say "I'm hoping to find a period mirror that matches my dresser that I picked up at that antique store" (which, of course, they will, because it's Brimfield, and you can find damn near anything there, and they also have terrific french fries, but the Brimfield "food court" is a whole 'nother subject). And me? I'm looking under tables, to see if there's a junk box that the dealer of--well, anything--has thrown all those little spare pieces, hardware, buttons, pages, and whatever that falls off of their good stuff into. The stuff they can't sell. The stuff that they don't know what it is, what it goes to, or what to do with it. You have no idea how great some of that stuff is. Last time I went, I got a couple large ziploc bags full of antique watch parts from an estates dealer who cleaned out a watch shop. Free. Now that's my idea of a day well spent.

I make things. I see things. I pick things up. I use things. I save things. I investigate. I imagine things. I play with things. I create things. Take two, they're small. I think that's my new motto.

I've heard--no, I know--that there are people who are brave enough to live their lives seeking treasure, eschewing the "should". I'm not there yet. But I'm closer than I've ever been.

Ooh! Look!

Sorry, gotta go.


Sunday, June 21

Father's Day

Robert S. Einzig, 1921-2007

In one week, on June 28th, it will be two years since my father was suddenly weak and went to the hospital.

In eight days, on June 29th, shortly after noon, west coast time, it will be two years since my father died.

I don't know if I called him that Father's Day--in 2007, it was June 17. I sometimes did, I sometimes didn't--my family was never big on such things. But maybe I did. He was fine then. Hell, he was fine (at least as far as I knew) on June 27th, when I chatted with him on the phone.

When I cleaned up his desk after his death, still not sure of his diagnosis (we didn't get test results until a week later), I found all of the profiles of doctors that he had printed out, all the specialists that he had researched. And a scribbled note in his writing, that said "Lymphoma?" "Leukemia?". He was right, on both counts. He hadn't wanted to bother anyone until he knew for sure. That was typical. I had no idea.

He was an atheist. He believed definitively that when you go, that's it, it's over. And it wasn't an idle belief, either. When I feel myself reaching out to speak with him--in whatever form such a thing is possible--I have to do it through a thick curtain of "What a lot of nonsense". I've learned to deal with it. Do I have a choice?

There was no funeral. No memorial service. No grave. No obituary. These were his wishes. In the days foll0wing his funeral, people would say "Did you tell him that [these rituals] were not for him?", probably because they couldn't imagine not having those tethering points themselves. As for me, I'd want my wishes honored. I'm like him, I guess.

So, in the absence of funeral, service, grave, obituary, I am left with....well, Everything.

I am left with the memory of reading the play of Fiddler on the Roof to him in the living room when I was ten or eleven, complete with all voices and songs, as he listened attentively.

I am left with the memory of the "jobs" he gave me, like cutting out marked articles in the newspapers (he was an "x", and my mom was a "check") with the enormous pointy scissors or checking the change from his pockets to see if there were any old silver coins.

I am left with that hat that he's wearing in the picture. I wear it for warmth. I wear it for remembrance. It looked better on him.

I am left with the memory of playing Bookshelf games with him as a child, most notably "Stocks and Bonds", a game I chose because I knew he'd like that. And Probe, which was a great word game. And cards. Lots of cards--gin rummy, blackjack (which we called "21"), War.

I am left with the sound of his shoes coming down the hallway as I ran into my room, slamming the door behind me, in trouble again. I am left with the sound of his voice, singing lullabies in Hungarian and French. I am left with the whirring sound of the juicer, every single morning in recent years, as he made fresh orange juice for breakfast. I am left with the sound of his skipping rope--he could skip rope like a boxer, fast and smooth. I could never jump rope like that, I had to do that double jump little-girl rope-jumping thing. I was amazed.

I am left with the memory of picking him up at the train station on the day I got my driver's license.

I am left with the sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter memory of his laughter, which was hearty and wonderful and welcome, except when it wasn't.

I am left with the memory of how he loved sailing, how he bought two sailboats and named them both after me, something that never really sunk in. Of pulling the El Toro out of the boat rack, putting on the orange lifejacket and bobbing around in the Redwood City harbor by the huge salt pile. Of sitting on the bigger boat that he barely ever took out of its berth, but loved and was so proud of anyway.

I am left with the memory of someone shouting "Daddy's on TV!" (maybe it was me) and running and sliding in my stocking feet into the TV room to see him there, on the black and white TV, talking about something I couldn't understand (economics) on a show I didn't even know existed (probably something like Wall Street Week). It wasn't Father Knows Best. Though I guess it kinda was.

I am left with the vivid memory of the two houses that he thought about buying (not both of them, just one or the other) when I was in my early teens--I remember everything about them, even where they are. I could drive to either one now, almost 40 years later. I am left with the memory of his memory of the houses, and his shaking his head and remarking, even in recent years, "I shoulda bought that house".

I am left with his watch, which I have worn every day since shortly after he died. I am left with a few of his drawing supplies, which he hadn't used in years but loved dearly. "Your father used to doodle on everything" she says. Me too. Even just looking at the colorful old boxes of pencil lead makes me smile.


I am left with the acute perception of his presence in Paris 10 months after his death. How I could suddenly speak French far better than I expected, though nowhere near the fluency that made someone argue with him at least once that he could not be, in fact, an American.

I am left with the legacy of disdain for religion, for stupidity, for lots of things.

I am left with memory of an amazing meal in the French countryside when I was thirteen, where there was a waiter stationed behind each person's chair. I don't even remember the food (I probably didn't like it), other than the sorbet that was served between courses (ice cream in the middle of a meal? O-Kay!!!). I was focused on the fact that every time I took a sip of water, the man standing behind me stepped forward and filled my glass. Or so I recall.

I am left with the memory of him telling me that he loved me a lot when he was in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery, and how I attributed his softness to pain medication, but I didn't care.

I am left with the memory of food. He loved chocolate, goat cheese, bananas and sour cream, cholent, Hungarian food. He picked all of the chestnuts out of the chestnut stuffing at Thanksgiving. He made a mean oatmeal in later years.

I am left with photos, from the red plaid photo box in the high cabinet in the TV room, the one that he was always the only one tall enough to retrieve, the one that I can now take down with ease. Photos that I admired of him as a young man, goofing around with his friends, or just so suave.

Photos from the Army.

Photos from the liberation of Nordhausen concentration camp, stuffed into a small manila envelope that mysteriously was whisked away out of my hand every time I came upon it and asked "What is this?", until, of course, I was old enough to find it on my own. Photos of my parents, gorgeous in their happiness and youth (dig those saddle shoes).

I am left with memories of my father with my daughter--walking with her in the back yard when she was a baby,

playing card games, especially War (he'd say "you stinker!" when she won, just like he did to me),


the two of them gazing at each other in admiration.


He always seemed surprised when I did well.

He told other people he was proud of me, but could never tell me.

He wasn't perfect. But he was a good man. And he was my dad.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

And no, this doesn't mean that I think you can hear me. Feel better?

Here's What THEY Don't Get

Or maybe you could just call it WTF, Part Deux.

Check this out.



Is feminism obsolete? Are you kidding me?

There are more than 2 million women beaten and abused by their husbands every year. That does not include ex-husbands, boyfriends, fathers, uncles, woman on woman violence, or anyone else.

Domestic Violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States - more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Family Violence has killed more women in the last ten years then the total number of Americans who were killed in the Vietnam war.

U.S. Women, as a whole, continue to earn only three-quarters of what men earn, 75 cents to the dollar. Before you say well, that's becuase they are concentrated in lower paying occupations, let me say "Duh". And pat you on the head (pat pat). That's right, dear. That's what sexism is. You can read this study (among others, to be sure) if you want to get a more complete picture.

Lest you think this is old news, check out this article from exactly one month ago that discusses the ruling by the United States Supreme Court that effectively sanctioned discrimination. Yes, in May 2009, they ruled that it was acceptable for female retirees to get smaller pensions than their male colleagues because they got pregnant and took maternity leaves before Congress made such discrimination illegal. Shame on them for having babies during their childbearing years, eh? Of course, we can't blame it all on them. In April of 2008 (remember way back when?), the Senate Republicans killed a bill with a 56-42 vote that sought equal pay for women (.related to the Supreme Court case just mentioned).

Povery rates are higher for women than men in the U.S., across all ethnic groups. The gap in poverty rates between men and women is wider in America than anywhere else in the Western World. You can read all about it here.

For the most part, women are still the primary parent, more likely to be involved in their child's school, and still responsible for most of the housework, cooking, and shopping, and this is when BOTH mothers and fathers work full time.

When women take care of their children on an evening when their husbands go out, they are parenting. When men take care of their children on an evening when their wives go out, they are often said to be "babysitting".

It is well documented that there are far fewer women full professors (i.e. tenured) in major research universities, and that the process of tenure remains discriminatory.

Women all over the world are still sold into slavery. Yes, even in the United States. The argument could also easily be made that some women--a minority, but true nonetheless--are effectively sold into slavery when they get married to controlling and misogynistic men.

Women and girls are repressed and stifled and killed all over the world for simply being female.

And just for the record, Mary Matalin, 70's feminism (I was there, too) was not simply about getting to make whatever choice you want (which of course, is still not the case, but that's another story). That was part of the dream, yes, and is a very common and frequently used "short version" of what it was about. But the foundation of feminism was and is the analysis and eradication of patriarchal oppression. It saw cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked, and it encouraged women to understand aspects of their own personal lives as deeply politicized, and reflective of a sexist structure of power (Freedman, Estelle B., No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women). It was and is about the empowerment of women. All women. That game is still on.

That being said, there is one thing I do agree with in the video. Carol Costello says: "But if every woman has her own definition of what feminism is, what's the point of even using the word?" She's got that one right. The diffuse definition offered by the young woman in the video is precisely what has happened to feminism--it has been diluted over and over again, mostly by those (in my opinion) afraid of their own full power and of course what that power might do to their attractiveness to men. It's barely recognizable any more, more like water. Sorry, gals, feminism is NOT just whatever you want it to be, whatever fits neatly into your life. It is a political stance, a sociological analysis, a fight to end oppression of women--all women--not just something some braless women did in the 70's so that you could live with your boyfriend in the dorms.

No, the word is not obsolete--it has never lost its meaning. But the memories of what has been sacrificed, those are largely missing. The political and social context of feminism has faded under the cloak of privilege and entitlement experienced as "normality" by relatively highly educated young women (the cohort that fired the feminism of the 70's). You know what they say...sadly, people don't fight until they get what it has to do with them.

And of course, sexism is subsumed. Broken into pieces, shared between causes. There are some--like, say, me--that would suggest that misogyny is really the meat and bones of homophobia. There is no doubt whatsoever that the longstanding abortion debate is about nothing if not control of women. The struggle over labor and sweatshops is, in many cases, about exploitation of women. The clash of religions--of all stripes-- has, at its core, the preservation of male power. But we forget. We fight for equal marriage, we march for abortion rights, we (well, a few of us) try to buy things not made in sweatshops, we chalk the wars up to the age-old battles over who knows God. And we forget that these institutions and battles share a poured foundation of misogyny. We have forgotten.

Feminism is no more over because Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State than racism is over with the election of Barack Obama (another claim that has seemed utterly ridiculous). One or two or three or a hundred successes, as inspirational and important as they may be, do not a sea change make.

I can't say it better than a comment I found in an online discussion of feminism and equality:

"Around the world, every day, in millions of small and large ways, we uphold the masculine principle as the commanding principle that drives all things, to such an extent that we denigrate, shame, and invalidate things viewed as feminine in nature: grilling is better than baking, sex is better than love, work comes before family, punishment over compassion, thinking over feeling, straight superior to gay, doing is better than being, heaven better than earth, track & field better than gymnastics, the penis more revered than the womb, etc, etc…"

Amen.

Saturday, June 20

Entitlement

There is very little in this world that bothers me as much as entitlement.

When I am its presence, its putrid smell that nauseates in an instant nearly knocks me to the ground. As I will not surrender to the wretching and weakness, my response is to fight back. An instant rage replaces the nausea in the interest of self-preservation, and I rise screaming. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

Today, I am regretting so many of my choices. I am livid at the vivid demarcations created solely by economic status. I am furious with myself for my inability to counter the overt and pounding messages of the media and the more covert messages of the neighborhood in which I live. I am angry at myself for not being able to counter them not only in her, but in myself as well.

My daughter is ashamed to invite friends to her house. Because it is small. No, she doesn't say this, but yesterday, an expression told all. And then there is the constant--and I mean constant--envy of other people's houses, other people's "stuff", other peoples families. The chatter is nearly non-stop. The fantasizing, the what-if's, the mood that goes from gloomy to elated when there is discussion of going to a friend's house--well, some friends' houses--for a playdate. I can look forward to the ad nauseum reporting when she returns.

She is ashamed to invite friends to her house. Because it is small. Because it is in a neighborhood in which small houses, one by one, have been razed, and replaced with McMansions, enormous houses that all look the same and all have the same front yard. Because her friends at school---some of them--the ones she fixates on, anyway--live in said McMansions. Because she watches obnoxious shows on television about children who live in five star hotels and teenagers who live in absolute luxury with no apparent source of income (and no parents, natch). Because, in moments, I am also ashamed to invite people over, because I am still grieveing for having given up a home in which friends rightly and frequently remarked on how "comfortable" it was, a place where people could stretch out and make themselves at home, which they frequently did. Because among my artistic talents and strengths, an ability to make a home comfy and beautiful is not one of them, although I recall a time when it was. Where did that get lost?

We live in this neighborhood because the schools are the best around (in a high-income community, what a shock). We live in this house because it is what we can afford, and barely so, especially since the rent went up this month. We live in this area because there are no sidewalks and there are children everywhere riding bikes in the street, and not coming in until dark, just as childhood should be. We live in this place becuase of my brief idiotic assumption that children in this community, with their privilege and their economic stability, would somehow make good friends--as if those things have anything to do with one another. As if they aren't, in fact, just as likely to be mutually exclusive.

What is the matter with me, that I have been unable to impart any sense of gratitude, that I have fallen prey, allowed my child to fall prey, to the materialism and values that I abhor, that I sought to avoid? What is it I have sold out by accepting the status quo--that good schools come with money, that education is something that is bought, not given, despite the illusion and rhetoric of equality and justice? What is it in me, from childhood, that has bought into the myth?

What have I done?

And how do I undo it?

Friday, June 19

M is for...music?

I saw the future (okay, just a piece of the future, but still) today. It was horrifying.

Didn't the M in MTV used to stand for music?

Aren't there an awful lot of books and articles and editorials and blogs and commentary about teenagers and disrespect and entitlement? And lots of people making money off of bootcamps and treatment programs?

I know this is what happens if you take a ten (or twenty) year hiatus from certain segments of television, but really, I had no idea it had gotten quite this bad.

Today, I did the unthinkable and took a day off from my non-job. I wanted to sleep, in hopes of ridding myself of this beastly chest cold, and since I stink at taking naps (even when that's what i want, which just makes no sense at all), I settled in on my purple down couch and turned on the TV, cuz if anything puts me to sleep, it's television. I'm a bit of a sucker for reality shows--some of 'em, anyway--which you have to admit have a look about them that you can't miss. I saw it as I flipped by, so I stopped to take a look for a moment. I ended up watching for. well let's just say it was for sociological research. It was a mistake.

It was the "incredibly popular dating show" (source: MTV) called "Parental Control". Have you heard of this show, by any chance? Here's a tip: Don't watch it.

It's about parents who (theoretically) don't like their child's boyfriend or girlfriend, so they hold interviews and set up blind dates with two "alternatives". At the end, their child picks the one they want to keep dating.

What kind of parents go on this show? Where do they find these people who have no boundaries whatsoever--as parents, as teens, as guests in someone's house? And who in god's name watches this show, which is blatantly (and badly) scripted, making its status as a reality show more like a poorly written high school play with a cast of inconceivably bad actors?

I'll tell you who watches it. Kids.

I really had no idea.

Kids are sitting in their living rooms, watching teens cussing out and disrespecting their date's parents (yeah, it's not even their own parents!). Kids are in their rooms, watching teenage boys make repeated overt sexual comments to their girlfriend's mother. Kids may be laughing at the the lame script, but they are at the same time soaking in the glorification of wildly inappropriate behavior and parenting.

Now, to their credit, reviews of this show (even by kids) do recognize that it's "fake" and "horrific". But there are plenty of reviews like this one:

"....there is alot of harsh words said between the parents and the person they don't like and thats pretty funny. I love Mtv and this show is good and pretty funny, especially when they pick the ones their parents don't like haha. Overall its actaully a pretty good show I would give it an A."

I may be old. I may be a fuddy-duddy. But the generation who is making this show "incredibly popular" will be running the country (well, not the actual people on these shows, they'll probably be in jail) when I am genuinely old. Scary.

Yeah, I know that the people who go on these shows nearly always do it out of a simple narcissistic desire to be on TV. I know. And I know that the casting is always done exclusively in the L.A. area, which pretty much speaks for itself. Still. I even know that this does not represent a majority of youth--but I also know that the ones who find it appalling are not lobbying for its cancellation, and that market share of audience is what determines longevity on television.

Okay. Fine. Next time I'll just go in and take a nap.

Thursday, June 18

Breath

I'm a big believer in karma, not so much as a deep spiritual principle, but as a feature of the slender threads that connect all of us in this weird world where nothing is as far from anything else as it appears (oh.  maybe that is a deep spiritual principle.  never mind).   And then there's "karmic payback", where the "rewards" (so to speak) of our actions are heaped upon us without warning--I find that generally true as well, even when it pisses me off.

At heart, I'm a scientist as well.  So yes, I know full well that viruses cause colds and flu, and that we're all human (well, most of us anyway) and none of us escape the occasional malady.  It is true, however, that some of us whine a lot more about it than others (not that I know anyone like that).  And it's also true that we don't all get ill the same way.  We each get our own special flavor.  Isn't that special?

So here's the thing with me.  I'm really not such a good breather (shh...don't tell anyone). I don't mean when I'm sick (like now) or when I'm really really sick (like now).  I mean in my daily life.  I hold my breath a lot.  I breathe shallow.  I am a bottom breather (which does not mean I'm a catfish, that's a bottom feeder, get your terms straight), which is not all that typical, or so I hear.  For the uninitiated, it means that the space in which I breathe congregates around the end of the exhale, not the "top" of the inhale.  I don't "hold my breath", even though I just said I do.  I stop breathing at the exhalation point, which is kinda like holding your breath, and kinda different.  There are a few people (you know who you are) who actually notice and remind me that inhaling at some point might be a good idea again,.  There are far more people that wonder why I sigh a lot, some of whom worry that they're boring me or that I'm fed up or exhausted.  No.  I just have to take a breath occasionally. Damn.

Before you wonder about my lung capacity (huge) and my lung strength (strong) and whether I've ever smoked (no) or anything else that might affect my breath in an organic fashion, the answer to everything is no, no, no, and no.  I can blow up a damn air mattress.  I can pretty easily swim 25 meter wind sprints (swimming the length of a standard racing pool without breathing).  I can hold a note while singing.  I can--and do--snorkel (no, no tanks) to 30 feet and hang around down there, swimming with the turtles and browsing around shipwrecks and enjoying the white noise of the underwater world.  I can hold my breath through long tunnels (do you know that rule?) with the best of 'em.  There's nothing wrong with my lungs.

I just don't breathe.  It's a matter of principle, I guess.  Or habit.  Or dysfunction.  Or something.

So, when I get allergies, guess what happens?  Yup.  Asthma.

And when I get a cold, guess what happens?  I can't breathe.  Except for real.  No foolin' around.  Bronchitis is my middle name.  And there's no wind-up...it's zero to sixty in five seconds.  Because I guess warnings just wouldn't be as fun. Honestly, it is as if the universe is laughing and saying "So, you think you don't really need to breathe, eh?  Try this on for size, and see how you like it!"

Writing tonight, in this fog of spasmodic half-breath, in the profound discomfort and heaviness that does not respond in the least to steam or medication or chicken soup, without the free will to choose to breath at the bottom or at the top or to swim with the turtles, I just gotta say..I don't.

I don't like it at all.

Happy now?


Wednesday, June 17

Resistance is Futile

Look at me, quoting Star Trek.  Who knew?  (hint:  not me)

My daughter's art teacher ripped up one of her works.

So, I'm struggling.  Again.  You know what they say:  same shit, different day. 

I'm struggling--as ever--with school, with schooling, with everything that comes along with it. Again.

I'm struggling with the state of public education, in which standardized tests are central, worksheets are rampant, and innovative and creative attempts at promoting social development, including reducing bullying and interpersonal conflict are but gestures.

I'm struggling mightily with the idea of "art class" existing within such a system.  I am struggling with the bastardization of the word "art" that is the natural consequence. Art is not "making things".  Art is Art.

I'm struggling with my own internal conflict about teachers, teacher competence, teacher training, certification, merit-based pay, and teacher unions, and finding myself, much to my chagrin, a cynical critic of a system that vigorously supports mediocrity and strategizes about how teachers can keep their jobs (at any cost) rather than strategizing about how to reach kids. 

I'm struggling with the juxtaposition of books like A New Mind, which is all the rage in education and cultural circles, and the parallel universe of schools, teachers, and pedagogy.  I'm struggling with understanding how important ideas and innovations fail to trickle down to those in the trenches.

I'm struggling with the decision, made last November, to move my daughter from a small private school that addresses many of these concerns, to a public school.  I'm struggling with the knowledge that, despite the fact that many of the concerns were met in that private school, there was still something in the "school-ness" and hierarchy of it that didn't work.

I'm struggling with the awareness that for most kids, it works okay (I would dispute the idea that it's terrific for anyone).  And I'm struggling with what that says about me, about my child, about the system, about those other kids. I'm struggling with the evil little voices in my head that dwell on what you are thinking about me and about my child when you read this.  I am swirling in the talk about how it seems fine to you despite its weaknesses, about how your kids love it and are thriving, and what must be wrong with my kid that it doesn't work.

There's nothing wrong with my kid.  

Read this--its conclusion is unschooling, which may not be feasible for us, but read it anyway, if only for the description of her child.  This is my daughter.

You know it, and I know it.  You can't put a square peg in a round hole.  At least not without destroying its integrity, that is.

I'm struggling--perhaps most of all--with the ruthlessness of childhood and peer relations.  I am wondering why that is so, why we accept it as "normal", and what can be done about it.  "Yeah, kids are mean." Or it's more apt variation "Girls are mean".  I've said it.  You've said.  Probably even your kids have said it.  Mine certainly has. We say it like it's fact, not like it's something we can change as parents, as teachers, as adults.  This disgusts me, infuriates me, and smacks of abandoning responsibility.  This is not to say that my child does not engage in some of those behaviors.  It is only to say that they are never allowed to slide in the guise of "that's how kids are". No.

There is one thing I know for sure.  Like any parent, I want the best education and the best social relationships and the best self-esteem and the best outcomes for my child, who is very bright, kind, generous, sensitive, argumentative, and definitely out-of-the box.  Different.  

And the other thing that I know for sure is that, in standing for her, I don't have very many people around me.  And even fewer systems or institutions.

When I feel like this, I look around. It's not a misery-loves-company thing, like you might expect. It's more like a rebel-loves-company thing. It's different. Have you ever been the odd one out? The "different" one? And yet one that somehow knows that things could be different, that this is not your "lot in life" or an inevitable outcome of your peculiarity? In that state--believe me--you're looking not for someone to moan with you, but someone who will mirror back the absurdities that prevent a company, a bureaucracy, a school system, a culture, from adapting or even considering anything new, anything "different". You know. Peers.

Anyway, I looked around. And thanks to this big 'ol huge party called the internet, it's nearly always possible to find what you're looking for (confetti, cheering). When i saw the title of the piece in the google results, I had a feeling. "How The Public School System Crushes Souls" Yup. And yup.

I know, it worked fine for you. It even worked fine for me, and I'm "different". 

Wait a minute. Did it?  

First of all, I was compliant (for a while, anyway).  So any conclusions that might be formed about the effectiveness of public school for me, or lack thereof, are pretty much tainted right from the start.  Schools--public schools, private schools--are predicated on compliance and conformity.  If you've got that, then they basically work.  That's not to say they give you a top-notch education, but if you've got as part of your anatomy the Tab A that goes into their Slot A, you've got a better chance of it.  

Secondly, I was pretty smart.  Not that smart is always a good thing in public school, but I was "Mom-can-I-please-please-please-get-that-math-workbook-it-looks-s0-fun" kinda smart.  When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I used to write research papers in our free time for fun.  You get the idea.  Anyway, that works well in public school.  

Although if it all worked so well, I do wonder why I emerged from high school with barely a B average, and why I got C's, D's (and one F!) in college, leading me to graduate late with barely a B average (again).  I do know one thing.  It pretty much ruled out graduate school.  It eliminated a whole group of professions that I had longed for, but which work better when you start young (that's all I'm gonna say on that--don't get me started).  And it left me in the work world, at 22, with the idea that I was not particularly bright at all.  More to the point, I thought I was dumb. 

It took me until I was 36 to get it that I wasn't dumb.  It took a year at Harvard Graduate School of Education with some kick-ass professors (never before, and never again, have I had as powerful a lesson about the importance of the teacher).  It took living and working for only nine months in a community of peers.  It took a few friends who "got me", and who reflected back.

After eight months in public school, my daughter thinks that she is stupid, and that no one wants to be friends with her.  And she loves her school and wants to stay there.

I can't watch this.  I can't support it.